The Patriots unfortunately lost the heart of their running back group in Week 6 against the Bills and the replacement for Stevan Ridley is still up in the air. The team has leaned heavily on Jonas Gray to run between the tackles, but they substitute in all-purpose back Shane Vereen when it comes to what could be considered the more important opportunities.
Ridley ran with power and I'll always argue that he was one of the most consistent running backs in the league; he was good for 4 or 5 yards every single carry. In short yardage situations, with less than 2 yards for a first down or a touchdown, Ridley converted on 9 of his 12 attempts. That 75% clip is extremely impressive and it's an element to the offense that the Patriots definitely miss.
In Ridley's place, Gray would make the most sense as the short yardage back; his 5'10, 225-pound frame perfect for hitting the pile and gaining the needed yards. Instead, Gray has only had his number called on short yardage plays twice in his three games- and both came against the Bears.
Vereen, the defacto back, has converted just twice in his nine attempts. That's a 22.2% rate.
For disclosure, it should be noted that the Patriots only had a short yardage play once against the Jets in Week 7 (and Julian Edelman converted that end-around). But there were eight short yardage plays between the Bears and Broncos games. Here's the breakdown.
Week 8 Bears: six attempts, five within the Bears 10 yard line, four within two yards of the goal line. The lone exception was the Tim Wright run for -2 yards.
The five runs inside the 10 yard line? Tom Brady goal line sneak (no gain). Shane Vereen 2x goal line runs (1 total yard, no scores). Jonas Gray run from the 9 yard line (3 yard gain, first down), goal line run (no gain).
The Patriots converted one out of six short yardage attempts.
Week 9 Broncos: two attempts, consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, both Tom Brady and Shane Vereen rushed for no gain.
Yes, the past two weeks the Patriots are 1/8 in short yardage plays, or 12.5%; compare that to the 57.1% the Patriots were converting with Ridley on the roster.
Luckily the Patriots have a bye week to reassess their short yardage packages and hopefully they can find an answer. Ridley isn't walking through the door this season. Someone else will have to kick it down.