A slew of injuries has tested the Bills’ defense. While several key players may return this week, a looming question mark will be their ability to shut down the strength of the Patriots’ offense: its running game.
Running back Rhamondre Stevenson is in his second year with New England, and shouldering 70% of snaps for the Patriots at the position. A threat in the run game and passing game, Stevenson has been a problem for a few teams already. Let’s check in and see what Buffalo is in store for.
Stevenson’s lateral agility
Stevenson turns nothing into a four-yard gain thanks to a little dancing in the backfield. If I were pressed to name one thing with Stevenson that’s impressive, it’s this ability to spring side-to-side.
Stevenson’s contact balance
See what I mean? That’s a hell of a jump cut. Now, if you forced me to name a second thing that impressed me with Stevenson’s film, it would be something I hailed Devin Singletary for earlier this week: contact balance. For me, that means the ability to remain upright after contact. Stevenson looks a bit like a pinball at times on this run, but stays on his feet for a 49-yard gain. It wasn’t speed or strength that made this a long run, it was that quick spring to the side and contact balance.
Remember a few seconds ago when I said it wasn’t his strength that led to a long gain? I wouldn’t count on his strength ever leading to a long gain. I didn’t get the impression that Stevenson was all that good at plowing through people. There are two things to point out here: Stevenson has the option to lower the shoulder and try to drive forward, but doesn’t; and when the contact comes anyway, he’s driven to the right. To be fair, it’s likely he was also trying to move right to avoid the contact, but you can see at several points where the contact is creating a problem for him.
Stevenson’s effectiveness up the middle
Wait, you want to see him try to drive forward? Well here you go. The contact balance is again a positive, as it allows Stevenson to lean forward and gain a little ground. Make no mistake, though, the extra yard wasn’t because he pushed anyone.
Stevenson’s tendencies as a receiver
Against the Detroit Lions, Stevenson had his best day on the ground this season with 161 rushing yards. In his last game against the Minnesota Vikings, he only had 36 rushing yards, but made up for it with 76 receiving yards. Both his rushing and receiving yards have been highly variable this season, and this lack of predictability is a bit concerning.
While it may be tough to figure out how New England will look to add him into the game, his route tree does seem to contain a higher level of predictability. Hint: Look at the GIF this paragraph is meant to explain. Further hint: Here’s his Next Gen Stats route chart from the week prior to this game.
I picked this clip to show that Stevenson isn’t flawless, by any means. He still looks like he’s adapting to the league, which should be expected. Incidentally, sometimes the broadcast is the best angle. Some might choose this clip and give a sense of hope, but if you’ve read enough of what I do, you might expect me to bring up the occasional anomaly.
This is an anomaly. Stevenson has an 85% catch rate. He’s not asked to have a complex route tree, but he runs his simplified one well, and nearly always makes the catch. He also hasn’t fumbled this season. I hope I just jinxed him.
Stevenson forcing missed tackles
This might be closer to expectation. There’s that dang jump cut again.
Stevenson in NE’s screen game
Here’s another clip with two things I want to point out. This is similar to above. First, Stevenson isn’t winning with crazy athleticism. This is a 40-yard gain thanks to that ability to move laterally. Second, this is a total team effort for this gain. There are a few excellent blocks, and a few lucky ones.
I threw out Singletary’s name earlier because that seems like a reasonable comparison for Stevenson. He’s agile with great contact balance. He’s not overly fast or powerful, but he doesn’t need to be. Good play calling and execution can lead to respectable and sometimes excellent returns.