Fangio: 'Every week is a challenge; this is more of a challenge'
SANTA CLARA – When it comes to the New England Patriots’ offense, there’s little question that quarterback Tom Brady is the proverbial head of the snake.
But this season, there’s much more than the 35-year-old San Mateo native and his impressive corps of receivers. The New England running game in amongst the best in the NFL, and brings another dimension to an already explosive group that can put up points in a hurry.
Stevan Ridley, a 23-year-old second year pro out of LSU, leads the way. A third round pick of the Patriots in 2011, Ridley has already accumulated 1,082 yards on the ground, the most for a Patriots running back since Corey Dillon scampered for more than 1600 yards in 2004. In fact, Ridley is just the second New Englander to surpass the thousand-yard plateau in the last nine seasons.
It’s just another weapon that Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s group must prepare for, as it gets set for the Patriots on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
“Every week in this league is a challenge. This week it’s more of a challenge, obviously because of Brady and their offense and they do a great job, but they do a great job of running the ball, too,” Fangio said. “They are way up there in the running stats.”
He’s right. The Patriots lead the league in total offense (425.7 yards per game, and 36.3 points per game), including the seventh-ranked rushing attack (139.9 yards per game).
They have a league-leading 20 rushing touchdowns, 10 by Ridley. Brady and Shane Vereen have three apiece, while Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden each have a pair.
“I just think their running game as a whole has really complimented their passing game and their overall offensive production,” Fangio said.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman credits the Pats’ success on the ground to a scheming offense, which at times relies heavily on the no-huddle.
“They do a good job of play-faking off of the same type of run scheme, so we definitely have to have big eyes out there and make you’re seeing everything you need to see to have a good read,” Bowman said.
As for the no-huddle, Bowman said: “It speeds up the pace of the game. You have to really be on it, and be able to think fast out there. Having a good quarterback like Tom Brady, it makes it more difficult. We’ve been gearing up for it, we know that they like to do it, and I think we’ll handle it well.”
The Patriots’ rushers have also done a more-than-admirable job of protecting the football after the handoff. Ridley has lost just one fumble on 243 carries, while wide receiver Julian Edelman also lost one on a rushing attempt. That’s it.
“That’s, to me, one of the amazing things they’re doing well, too,” Fangio said. “They are a high-octane offense yet they haven’t turned the ball over hardly at all this year. When you put those two things together, that’s why they’re a tough assignment.”
Bowman would like to see the 49ers force more turnovers, especially in terms of fumble recoveries. San Francisco has just one of those in its last four games.
In fact, the recently extended linebacker was sporting a new fashion accessory on Thursday, in the form of a wristband. The slogan wrapped around the band had the phrase “To It, See It, Get It.” It, of course, being the football.
According to Bowman, he came up with the phrase with secondary coach Ed Donatell, and the bands will soon be passed out to other members of the defense. They arrived yesterday and are still in a big bag, and only Bowman had one on so far.
“We’ve got to get to it, we’ve got to see it, and we’ve got to get it,” explained Bowman. “We try to pride ourselves on defense with turnovers and going after turnovers, and I think if you do that you give your team a better chance to win the game.”
It won’t be easy, but playing the Patriots rarely is.