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Renewed running game gives Pats rare offensive balance

The SportsXchange

The New England Patriots are running the ball as well through the first month-plus of 2012 as they have at any point dating back to Corey Dillon's franchise-record 1,635 yards in 2004.

Second-year back Stevan Ridley leads the way with 490 yards on 102 carries, averaging 4.8 yards a carry. Undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden has chipped in with 206 yards, and change-of-pace back Danny Woodhead has 119 yards.

New England has topped 200 yards rushing in each of the past two weeks, the first time that's happened for the team since 1978.

Returning offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made it pretty clear this offseason that he wanted to improve the effort a ground attack that saw lead back BenJarvus Green-Ellis average just 3.7 a carry a year ago, to bring a better, complementary balance to the offense.

"It's always great to have a plan and to say you're going to get better at something, but it always just doesn't happen," Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins said Thursday. "It takes a lot of work, a lot of commitment from guys -- the coaches to stick with it."

That commitment has been there through five games. The Patriots have run the ball at least 34 times in four of the first five weeks, topping out with 54 attempts in last Sunday's win over the Denver Broncos.

But heading into Sunday's game in Seattle, against a Seahawks team that ranks third in the NFL allowing just 66 rushing yards per game, there is still something to prove for the Patriots' ground attack.

The team failed to reach 100 yards in its consecutive losses to the Arizona Cardinals and the Baltimore Ravens in Weeks 2 and 3 while averaging 3.2 yards and 2.3 yards in those games, respectively.

"It's week to week. Sometimes it's going to be good. This week, it might not be good," Mankins said as New England prepared to take on the Seahawks. "We're going up against a very good rush defense, so hopefully we can do good."

It's not as if the Patriots have to run the ball to win. Tom Brady and the passing attack remain among the best in the game. If the running game isn't working, the threat of spreading things out and going with a more aerial assault is more than a feasible option.

"As long as there is production and we're gaining yards and scoring points, we'll continue to try to do that," Mankins said. "I think our coaches do a good job of whatever is working the best, we'll continue to do. There is no reason to keep beating your head against the wall if it's not working."

The Patriots' No. 1 ranked offense faces the Seahawks' No. 1 ranked defense. New England heads into this rare 1 vs. 1 matchup with maybe its most balanced, diverse offensive attack in coach Bill Belichick's time in New England. The Ridley-led reborn rushing attack is a big reason for that.

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