A key component of the New England Patriots running game may be (at the very least) a bit slowed for Sunday’s season-opener against the Miami Dolphins.
As first reported by The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Patriots rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson suffered a dislocated thumb during practice last week. Stevenson was able to practice Monday, and Howe’s source further indicated “some optimism he should be OK to play Sunday against the Dolphins.”
After being selected by New England in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Stevenson is coming off of an impressive preseason, compiling 217 rushing yards and five touchdowns in three preseason games. Though New England typically prefers to take a more temporant approach to developing their rookie running backs, their trade of Sony Michel seems to imply a more prominent role for the former Oklahoma Sooner. Stevenson possesses the necessary intangibles to be an effective option in both situational runs, or even receiving out of the backfield.
On Sunday, the Pats should be expected to test Miami’s ability to contain the run. In 2020, Miami's run defense ranked 16th in the league. While head coach Brian Flores and the Dolphins defensive coaching staff will look to improve on last season’s performance, the versatility of the Pats runners may cause some potential matchup problems. The Dolphins defensive front consisting of Emmanuel Ogbah, Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis will look to slow the Pats rushing attack. Though Damien Harris has proven himself quite capable of being the Pats early-down back, Miami’s first-and-second-level defenders will be intent on stopping him on first and second downs. Having Stevenson as a potential option would allow New England increased versatility when attempting to establish the run. The rookie’s ability to receive out of the backfield also provides some additional help for James White on third down attempts. Last season, Miami’s defense was first in the league in denying third-down conversions.
Still, the Patriots are still well-positioned to run the ball effectively, even if Stevenson is absent on Sunday. From top to bottom, New England’s positional grouping at running back is among the deepest on the team. Harris will remain the team’s feature back, while J.J. Taylor will assume the ‘change of pace’ role. Bolden is a special teams ace, and should be a viable option on third down to help lessen the workload of James White.
The Patriots will release their first injury report of the season Wednesday afternoon. Stevenson’s listing may provide additional context on his injury, and might give an indication regarding the team’s thoughts on his playing status. New England is set to host the Miami Dolphins at 4:25 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 12 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.