FOXBORO -- Rhamondre Stevenson says he's feeling fine.
"I feel like Rhamondre," he said on Wednesday.
Through three games, though, he just hasn't always looked like the same runner he was a year ago. In his second season, he was inarguably New England's best offensive player, racking up 1,040 yards and five touchdowns on 210 attempts. He also caught 69 passes on 88 targets for 421 yards and a score. Those averaged out to 86.0 yards per game on 16.5 touches -- a 5.2 yards-per-touch average.
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This year, after dealing with an illness that limited him in practice leading up to the season opener, he's averaging 3.8 yards per touch and just 2.9 yards per carry. Though there was more available to the Patriots as a team in the running game in Week 3 (157 yards on 40 attempts), Stevenson still didn't look quite himself with 59 yards on 19 carries (3.1 average).
"I think we played well," he said. "We played hard. There wasn't much yards there, but it was tough yards. I appreciate those yards. I love those yards. I had a pretty good game. I just have to get back to making people miss and breaking some more tackles... I didn't break a couple tackles I think I should've run through."
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Bill Belichick has long said that the mark of a good running back is what he can get on his own, including yards after contact. He reiterated that stance earlier this week when asked about how he evaluates that position.
"I think the big thing for running backs is the amount of yards they can gain, let’s call it, on their own," Belichick said. "That includes setting the blocks and using the blockers. So, any of us can run in there and get what the play is blocked for. The good backs get more than that, whether that’s, again, setting up blocks to create more space for themselves to run or breaking tackles and getting extra yards when the defense has a chance to get them down.
"Look, there can be great two and three-yard runs. Sometimes, there’s nothing there. There’s not even a yard there, and a back can get two or three yards out of it, and those are good runs. So, I think you just have to evaluate the plays and evaluate the way that the player is carrying the ball. You know, is he getting the most out of the way it’s blocked? He can’t do anything about the blocking other than use what’s there and make the most of it, and, of course, obviously, ball security is a big part of this."
Belichick praised Stevenson all throughout last season for what he did for the Patriots running game. While the production isn't quite to the same level yet this season, Belichick still lauded Stevenson this week for his vision and his ability to find the right hole in a given play.
"I think Rhamondre reads blocks really well, probably as good as anybody we’ve had here," he said. "He’s got really good vision. He can find space in the defense, and he’s very good at lateral cuts and getting downhill and running with power. So yeah, I think his vision’s really good."
For his part, Stevenson also feels good about how he's seeing what's playing out in front of him.
"It'd be great to start out hot and just start out very confident and everything like that," he said, "but I like the hard yards I've been getting. Haven't really missed any holes or things like that... I'm happy with the way I'm running right now. Just need to make more happen."
Stevenson is currently 39th among qualifying backs in total rush yards over expected (-42), per Next Gen Stats. He's 35th in rush yards over expected per attempt (-0.93). Per Sports Info Solutions, he's 42nd in yards after contact per attempt (1.8) after ranking ninth in that category (3.4) last season.
While Stevenson told NBC Sports Boston after the win over the Jets that he was fine with a split in carries with new teammate Ezekiel Elliott, he said on Wednesday that -- like any back -- he likes to get into a rhythm with more work.
"I think that's safe to say for any running back," he explained. "Getting those reps under your belt in games, getting behind that offensive line, seeing how that defense is moving around, and just wearing that defense down. I think getting those reps back to back and getting warm is a big deal."
The Patriots have an opportunity to continue to go with a ground-and-pound attack in Week 4 against the Cowboys, whose defense just allowed 180 yards in the first half (and 222 overall) to the Cardinals in their first loss of the season.
Stevenson figures to be a key part of a plan despite his slow start.
"I know who I am," he said. "I know what I can do. Just going back to the basics, doing what I did to get myself here to this point. Nothing I need to do extra or anything like that, just getting back to my game."