Boston Sports Tonight

Can Rhamondre Stevenson get back on track vs. Cowboys run defense?

Stevenson is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry in 2023.

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Rhamondre Stevenson had a career year in 2022 and was the New England Patriots' best offensive player.

He ran for 1,040 yards (5.0 per carry) and five touchdowns while adding a team-high 69 receptions plus 421 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown.

Stevenson was projected to improve on those numbers in 2023, but so far he has fell woefully short of expectations. The third-year running back has run for just 139 yards (2.9 per attempt) with one touchdown through three games. He also has caught 10 passes, putting him on pace to tally fewer receptions than last season.

What's wrong with Stevenson?

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The Boston Herald's Andrew Callahan gave his take on Friday's episode of NBC Sports Boston's Boston Sports Tonight.

"Last year, he's getting over two yards after contact," Callahan said. "You touch him, he's still falling forward. This year, he's at 0.2 (yards after contact). I look at the first two weeks and go, OK, they're not run blocking for anybody. Zeke didn't have success, Zeke fumbled. You go to your real guy, and he's not doing anything. But when he has an opportunity to get you extra yards, he's just not doing it. And you had more opportunities (in Week 3). Who looked better when the Patriots finally run-blocked? It was Zeke Elliott.

"I don't think that's going to hold up over the course of the season. But it's worth noting, the Patriots did a strange thing with Stevenson this summer. They let him sit out like four practices. They said, 'Go over there and run on the field.' I asked him at the beginning of camp, in the middle of camp, and at the end, 'Hey, have they told you why yet that you just get to hang out at Camp Foxboro?' (He said), 'No, you'd have to ask Bill (Belichick).' He was genuine. So I don't know if he's playing catch up, but he's not breaking yards after contact like he did last year."

The good news for Stevenson is he has a favorable matchup in Week 4 when the Patriots travel on the road to play the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are a top contender in the NFC, but their run defense has been porous through three games.

They rank 30th in yards allowed per rushing attempt (5.3), 25th in rushing yards allowed per game (131.3) and 25th in opponent rushing first down percentage (39.13 percent).

The Arizona Cardinals dominated the Cowboys run defense in Week 3 en route to a surprise 28-16 upset victory. Cardinals running back James Conner ran for 98 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. Arizona quarterback Josh Dobbs ran for 55 yards on six attempts, and wide receiver Rondale Moore rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown on three carries. Conner's longest run was 26 yards, while Dobbs (44 yards) and Moore (45 yards) had long runs, too.

In total, the Cardinals gained 222 yards (7.4 per carry) and two scores on the ground.

The Cowboys have a great pass rush led by Micah Parsons. That's not good news for the Patriots because their offensive line has struggled so much in three games. One of the best ways to neutralize a quality pass rush is to run the football.

So don't be surprised if the Patriots lean heavily on Stevenson and ex-Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday. That potential situation, plus Dallas' issues defending the run, could be what Stevenson needs to get back on track.

It's hard to imagine the Patriots offense ever firing on all cylinders if Stevenson consistently produces at the level we've seen from him over the first three games.

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