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Pats won't commit running ball; Green-Ellis, Woodhead, Ridley lack consistency.

Byline: Rich Garven

INDIANAPOLIS - Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien isn't going to have Tom Brady passing on every play in Super Bowl XLVI. So what can you expect to see when the Patriots opt to hand off against the Giants?

Good question, although no one can be quite certain of the answer due to the lack of consistency from the backs and commitment to the run this season.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis frequently looked like he was running in the kind of thick mud found in his native Mississippi, rookie Stevan Ridley apparently started spraying his hands with WD-40 in January, and Kevin Faulk clearly isn't the player he was prior to shredding his knee.

As for Danny Woodhead, he's best served in limited portions due to his small stature.

The pass-happy Patriots ranked 17th in the league in carries, were 20th in rushing yards per game (110.2), and tied for 21st in yards per carry (4.0) during the regular season. They were 31st with five runs of 20-plus yards, and were one of six teams without a run over 40 yards.

"We go out there to score points," Green-Ellis countered. "It doesn't matter whether we're passing or running. We just want to go out there and score points and win games."

The Patriots did both with regularity while advancing to the Super Bowl for the fifth time in 11 seasons Their 513 points are the third-highest total in franchise history, and their 13 wins led the AFC.

Still, it doesn't hurt to be able to pass and run with equal effectiveness. That's a guaranteed way to stifle the aggression and increase the hesitation in the heart of the Giants' defense - that dynamic and deep front line.

"You'd like to have balance, but whatever is working for your football team to win a game, that's what you're going to do," said Faulk, who's in his 13th, and quite possibly final, season. "You want to win a football game more than be a balanced football team."

Although they didn't have many long gains, the Patriots were able to get the hard yards when playing situational football.

Green-Ellis finished sixth in the league with 11 rushing touchdowns. They all came in the red zone, and all but one came inside the 10-yard line.

He and Brady combined to go 13 for 16 on third-and-1 rushes. That contributed to the Patriots getting 107 first downs out of their 438 rushes, an outstanding success rate of 24.4 percent.

Green-Ellis also showed some rarely seen pop the last time out, picking up 68 yards and six points on 15 carries against the rugged Ravens in the AFC Championship. He's hoping for more of the same against the Giants, who are surrendering 5 yards a carry during the postseason.

"You just can expect all that I have," Green-Ellis said. "It's the last game of the season, it's the Super Bowl. You're going to get 110 percent of whatever I have."

Ridley would love to give his all Sunday. But after fumbling twice (losing one) in consecutive games, he was inactive for the AFC Championship. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound youngster wasn't told why he sat, but he's smart enough to have figured it out.

"It was just coach's decision to sit me down," said Ridley, the Patriots' only home-run threat on the ground. "But I look at it like this: I put a high responsibility on carrying the football, and fumbles are unacceptable no matter what team you're on.

"So, if you can't man up on your own, you're not a real football player. So I know I messed up and, like I said, it's my job to come back and be there for my team and be responsible with the football."

The other wild cards with regard to the run game involve the tight ends.

Rob Gronkowski, arguably the best blocker in the league at his position, has a high ankle sprain. Hardly anyone thinks he won't play Sunday, but nobody is certain how he'll perform.

That could affect the way fellow sensational sophomore Aaron Hernandez is used. The Patriots have been deploying him in the backfield in the playoffs and he has responded with 70 yards on eight carries. But he may find himself spending more time blocking if Gronkowski isn't up to the task.

About the surest bet is that Green-Ellis won't fumble. He has had 510 carries since joining the Patriots as an undrafted rookie four years ago and has held onto the ball on each and every one of them.

"Just been blessed and fortunate, that's about it," Green-Ellis said. "There's no science to it."



CUTLINE: (1) BenJarvus Green-Ellis, left, Danny Woodhead, center, and Stevan Ridley lead a Patriots running game that ranked 17th in the league in carries, 20th in rushing yards per game and tied for 21st in yards per carry. (2) The Patriots work out yesterday in preparation for Super Bowl XLVI.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 2, 2012
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