How Will Patriots Handle Soon-To-Be Crowded Backfield?

Devon Clements

As if the New England Patriots' backfield didn't look deep enough in their 36-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3, it might get even deeper this week. 

Second-year running back Damien Harris, who had surgery on his pinkie finger in early September and was placed on injured reserve, is eligible to return this week. Along with him, James White, who has missed the last two games due to the death of his father, could return this week as well. 

So, with a plethora of talented running backs potentially coming back in Week 4, how will New England handle the difficult, but good situation they have coming in their backfield? 

"You just never know how that's going to work out," Bill Belichick said Monday to the media when asked if he could envision playing five running backs. "A couple years ago we had good depth at running back and then we ended up playing them at receiver and running back and everything else, and it all diminished in a hurry. That might not be the case here moving forward, we might have good depth there, we'll just try to do the best that we can in terms of game planning and creating opportunities and personnel groups and plays or whatever it is to try to attack our opponents. But you gotta be careful about changing our whole offense just to work a couple guys into the lineup. 

"There's a balance there, but it's good to have depth, as I said we've certainly had times when we haven't had it, so it's a good thing when we have it. We'll have to figure that out. It's a good problem to have, having a lot of good football players."

Against Las Vegas, a combination of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and J.J. Taylor combined for 209 rushing yards and two rushing scores. The former two players looked as explosive as they have all season, with Michel grabbing his first 100-yard game (117) in the regular season since Week 16 of the 2018 season, which included runs of 38 and 48 yards, respectively. 

The success of the bunch could help them earn plenty of touches in Week 4 when New England takes on the Chiefs in Kansas City. But after that, the backfield distribution is a total toss up. 

Whenever Damien Harris does return from injured reserve, it's hard to imagine he would get a large workload in his first game back. But based on how he performed during training camp, he should seen an uptick in snaps as the season progresses. As for James White, when he returns, he'll pick up where he left off as a key cog out of the backfield. 

Attempting to shift one of their backs onto the practice squad would likely result in that player getting claimed by another team. There's also the option of trading one of them, that way they can get compensation for one of their talented ball carriers.

But if New England wants to keep all of them, all five running backs would need to stay on the 53-man roster.  

The Patriots coaching staff has some tough decision to make soon in regards to their backfield. But as Bill Belichick said, that's a good problem to have. 

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Comments (3)
No. 1-2
Max McAuliffe
Max McAuliffe

This is going to be a wacky conundrum.

OFD
OFD

JJ Taylor will probably
not pass waivers to go back to practice squad so why gamble. Burkhead has been exceptional, Damien Harris is the future and James White is James White. That leave the enigma that is Sony Michel. Was he that good on Sunday or is the Raiders run defense that awful?
The Covid IR rules are a dream come true for Belichick. He can stash Michel or Taylor on 3 game IR and reassess later. Burkhead has an injury history so that’s a consideration also.


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