It wasn't necessarily the yards after contact, but it was the fact that he would always only get you what the play seemed to be designed for. With both Bolden and Ridley, there's that chance that they could break off a big run because they can make guys miss.
But a hard look at each back's runs shows some more interesting information. Bolden made 78 yards after contact (which I defined as any blow that slows the runner or causes a noticeable break in stride); Ridley had 60 yards.
Bolden had seven carries on which he was brought down by the first defender (or wave of defenders) with no gain after contact. Ridley had six of those.
That's really the key to a successful running game, breaking tackles. Bill Belichick said as much after Week 1 in his "Belistrator" segment on Patriots All-Access, and CSNNE has a quote from him on the topic.
"The thing that really matters the most with the backs is how many yards they gain on their own," said Belichick. "Any back can really run until the first guy gets to him, that’s not really that special, but it’s what guys do after they could or should be brought down, whether they can continue to add yards to the play after that. That’s the mark really of a good runner, which includes the receivers too."
It's something the Patriots haven't had, really in six years.
I'm very excited about the Patriots running game and I hope they sustain it. This was one of the reasons I was excited about Josh McDaniels coming in, I knew he would commit to the ground game.
Even though we have Tom Brady and so many weapons in the passing game, establishing the run is so important. We've just seen over and over again that smart teams, and one's with the right personnel, can take advantage of the Patriots finesse like offense. Even Pittsburgh, who the Patriots generally dominated, was able to change their defense to stifle the Pats.
A running game changes all of that. Tom Brady has said himself, several times, that no one wants to be a finesse team in this league. Back when the Patriots were winning Superbowls, they had a ground game. Look at every team that's won a Superbowl recently. Even if they were a predominantly passing team - they had the threat of the run. Hell, even the Packers had James Sparks on a hot streak during their playoff run.
We've seen the Patriots have big running days before, and we've seen them get away from it. I hope that doesn't happen Sunday against the Broncos.