The New England Patriots grinded out a 15-10 victory over the New York Jets in Week 3 for their first win of the 2023 season, giving them a much needed boost after a challenging few weeks to open the season. While there was a lot to like from this win, one of the more concerning aspects of the game was the continued struggles of star running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
A year after fully winning the starting running back job from Damien Harris, Stevenson has not looked good to start the season. His numbers through three games are pretty awful (46 CAR, 134 YDS, 1 TD, 10 REC, 77 YDS), and while he dealt with an illness in Week 1 and some subpar offensive line play to begin as well, it's clear that this is becoming an issue for New England.
On paper, Stevenson is supposed to be the Patriots best offensive player, so his disappearing act has hurt an offense that has generally looked pretty good in the air to this point. But in order for this team to reach their full potential, the ground game needs to get its act together, and all eyes will be on Stevenson in the upcoming weeks.
Patriots need Rhamondre Stevenson to get going
Through the first three games of the season, Mac Jones has looked solid under center for New England (81/125, 748 YDS, 5 TD, 2 INT). When you consider how he's received inconsistent pass protection up front, and virtually no help on the ground, that makes his play even more impressive. It also shows why it's so important for Stevenson to start making an impact.
In the Patriots first two games of the season, it was understandable why Stevenson struggled to get involved in the game. New England fell behind against the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins early, forcing the Pats to throw a bunch in order to catch up. When Stevenson got the ball, the offensive line was unable to really create any sort of room for him to find yards on the ground.
In Week 3 against the Jets it was a different story, though. New England led pretty much the entire way, and while the game was closer than it should have been, they ultimately managed to get the victory, which is what matters. The offense wasn't able to close things out when the Jets began rallying, though, and a big reason why is because of Stevenson.
While New York has a strong defensive line, Stevenson only managed to pick up 59 yards on 19 carries in this game, which simply isn't good enough considering the script of this game. It's also made even more concerning given how Stevenson's backfield partner in Ezekiel Elliott, who many believed had run out of gas at this point in his career, picked up 80 yards on 16 carries for the Pats.
Again, it ultimately didn't matter, but this was the sort of game that New England should have been able to dominate as time went on. Thanks to another awful performance from Zach Wilson, the Jets had nothing on offense. The Patriots, led by Stevenson and Elliott, should have been able to steamroll the Jets on the ground, and beat them into submission as the game went on.
Instead, Stevenson's inability to find running room forced Jones to throw more than he would have liked in rainy conditions against a talented secondary. While he succeeded early, Jones was continually being put in third-and-long situations that he couldn't convert because nobody was getting open for him. That's not all Stevenson's fault, but he's not exactly making Jones' life easier under center.
The Patriots offense is built to be successful when their ground game and passing attack are working in unison. Through three games, though, only the passing attack has shown up to this point. While that's encouraging in one sense, it's also a bit frustrating, because it makes you wonder whether New England could have won either of their first two games if they got any sort of rushing production.
You can't change what's in the past, though, and losing to legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the Eagles and Dolphins isn't something worth getting upset over. In upcoming games against tough defenses (such as their Week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys), they cannot accept the same mediocre results on the ground, particularly from Stevenson.
The offensive line is finally figuring things out now that the top group is playing more consistently together, and it's time for Stevenson to put their better work to use moving forward. After breaking out as one of the best running backs in the game last year, Stevenson needs to start producing like that guy again in order for New England's offense to reach the heights they are more than capable of hitting.