Besieged by multiple injuries, the New England Patriots backfield may be set to add a notable running back Wednesday. According to ESPN’s Ed Werder, the AFC leaders have brought in veteran free agent Steven Jackson for a meeting.
Jackson, who spent nine seasons with the St. Louis Rams, could finally play for a Super Bowl contender, while New England is in need of a replacement for leading rusher LeGarrette Blount, who will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a hip injury in Sunday’s win over Houston. It’s the second season-ending injury to a Patriots’ running back after Dion Lewis tore his left ACL in November.
The rushing game wasn't a strong suit for the New England, despite having the No. 3 scoring offense (20.8). They rank No. 26 in rushing attempts (308) and No. 27 in rushing yards (90.6) per game and have rushed for over 100 yards in just six of 13 games. By contrast, the league-leading Seattle Seahawks (144.8 yards per game) have surpassed 100 yards on the ground in every game this season.
Jackson, 32, last played for the Atlanta Falcons before his release following last season. He ran for 707 yards on 190 attempts (3.7 average) in 2014. Jackson has not played a down since Dec. 21, 2014, when he rushed for nine yards on four carries against the New Orleans Saints.
In 11 seasons, Jackson has rushed for 11,388 yards, just behind Adrian Peterson for 18th on the all-time rushing list. He also has 3,663 receiving yards to go with 77 all-purpose touchdowns. From 2005 to 2012, Jackson rushed for over 1,000 yards each season but none of his teams ever finished above .500. If he indeed signs with New England, he would be guaranteed to reach the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season in 2004 with the Rams.
While the ground game has had its struggles, Blount provided some solid efforts in 2015. Blount leads the team in attempts (165), yards (703) and touchdowns (6). He led the Patriots on the ground in 10 of the team’s 13 games and is the only New England runner to go over 100 yards this season, racking up 129 on Nov. 8 against Washington.
Blount was replaced in Week 14 by Brandon Bolden, who has 35 carries this season for 110 yards. Bolden's biggest contribution was a 63-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos in Week 12. James White has also been contributing out of the backfield but is used far more as a pass catcher than a runner. The 23-year-old has 26 receptions for 248 yards and just 16 rushing attempts for 41 yards, although he did punch in a short touchdown run on Sunday.
Bill Belichick has favored the passing game with the departure of running backs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray in the offseason. The Patriots have thrown the ball 63.5 percent of the time this season, with Tom Brady throwing 538 times compared to the team's 308 total rushing attempts. In 2014, Brady threw 609 passes but the Patriots ran the ball 438 times for a passing percentage of 58.1 percent.