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Why is the Patriots’ running game, thought to be a strength, struggling so much?

Rhamondre Stevenson is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry on the young season.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots have a player who rushed for 1,040 yards and averaged 5 yards per carry last season in Rhamondre Stevenson. They also have a former All-Pro who rushed for more than 1,000 yards four times and averaged 4.4 yards per carry in his first seven NFL seasons in Ezekiel Elliott.

So, why has the running game been so underwhelming in the first two games?

New England has 164 rushing yards (27th in the league), an average of 3.5 yards per carry (22nd), and just one rushing touchdown (21st). Stevenson has 27 carries for 75 yards (2.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown, while Elliott has 12 carries for 42 yards (3.5 yards per carry).


It’s a small sample size, but what was thought to be a strength has been pedestrian at best.

Here are three reasons why the ground game has been sluggish:

▪ The Patriots have not had a lead at any point, and have trailed by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter. Second-half deficits usually dictate that you throw the ball to try and get back in the game. (That’s one of the reasons why Mac Jones leads the league in pass attempts with 96).

▪ The offensive line has seen multiple combinations, and running backs and linemen need to get as much work together as they can to learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies.

“For any runner, you have to get used to who’s running it, who’s blocking, who they’re blocking,” said Stevenson. “You have to repeat it, and get used to doing it. I feel like there are some areas where you need to get comfortable with everybody on the field. But I feel like for the most part we’re pretty comfortable. We just need to execute.”


▪ Stevenson and Elliott have simply not been effective. Last season, Stevenson tied for second in the league in yards after contact per attempt at 3.4 (via Pro Football Focus). This year, he has the third-fewest yards after contact per attempt (1.7). As for Elliott, his career yards after contact per attempt is 2.9. This year, it’s 1.7.

Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott have both seen their yards after contact per rushing attempt significantly decrease.Maddie Meyer/Getty

So, how can the Patriots turn things around? Playing with a lead would be a good start. A fully healthy offensive line would be another plus. And Stevenson and Elliott have to do their part.

“We’ve just got to run hard, not miss any holes, and just know where the run play is going to hit — even before the ball is snapped,” said Stevenson.

“We’ve got to come off good on our double teams and just — no other way to put it — just win the line of scrimmage,” Elliott added.

Straight talk

There’s been plenty of frank talk in the locker room the last couple of weeks, but linebacker Matthew Judon it’s been constructive.

After Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, the veteran said the Patriots are “not a bad team.” Judon said the statement was a preemptive move, as he anticipated some of the negativity that was going to come their way.

“We’re not going to act like it’s all good,” Judon said Thursday. “We’re going to say what we need to improve on. We’re going to say what we need to do to get wins. But we’re not just going to talk negatively. I think when you let negative talk creep in or you let external factors creep into a locker room or into your head, people kind of hang their head a little bit more.”


Judon said the talk in the locker room is honest, realistic, and ultimately, constructive.

“I think we all know where we’re at,” he said. “We don’t [have] to have a come-to-Jesus meeting after the second week. We’ve got a long season to go. I think that’s kind of looking when you get more down the line and you come together without the coaches, without anybody and you actually talk honest.

“But I think the good thing about our locker room is that we do that freely. We talk honest. We talk to each other harsh sometimes, but sometimes you need to hear it. Sometimes you need to hear it from your brother, and it’s better to come from somebody that actually goes out there to fight and bleed with you than somebody that’s just chilling on the sideline drinking Gatorade.”

Marcus Jones on IR

Cornerback Marcus Jones, who suffered a shoulder injury against the Dolphins, was placed on injured reserve. Offensive lineman Sidy Sow, who missed Sunday’s game because of a concussion, did not practice on Thursday . . . Defensive lineman Christian Barmore (knee), offensive lineman Trent Brown (concussion), cornerback Jonathan Jones (ankle), offensive lineman Mike Onwenu (ankle), wide receiver DeVante Parker (knee), and offensive lineman Cole Strange (knee) were limited . . . The Patriots signed a pair of cornerbacks to their practice squad. Breon Borders is a 28-year-old who has been a part of 12 NFL franchises, most recently the Falcons. The Patriots also added Azizi Hearn, who spent the summer with the Raiders after going undrafted.


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him @cpriceglobe.