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Patriots News September 19, Players to Watch, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
4 weeks ago at 5:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

Patriots News September 19, Players to Watch, AFC East NotesKevin R. Wexler-NorthJersey.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-19, and AFC East Notes.

Welcome to Gameday, as we put out in our key matchups on Thursday, this will be the first time in 125 meetings between the Patriots and the Jets that each team is starting a rookie quarterback. This brings a new dimension to the rivalry as each team is involved in a rebuilding process, although it seems Gang Green has done that quite a bit in recent years. 

But in hiring Robert Saleh, it seems the Jets have made the right hire. And with Zach Wilson, going against the Patriots and Mac Jones, it could set the table for a long renewed rivalry that has been one-sided on the side of New England since Bill Belichick took over the reins. Both are 1st round draft picks and bring a lot of optimism on the part of the fan bases with them. 

Have you checked out our PatsFans sortable stats for the Patriots? It is a great resource for all of the players on the roster.  

Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL: 

Stephon Gilmore: While many in the fanbase and media are openly wondering why Belichick hasn’t paid Gilmore yet, is it at least a possibility that the quad injury that Gilmore suffered is a much bigger factor than is being portrayed? I spoke with Karen Guregian earlier last week and we discussed this. Who would know better than the coaching staff how Gilmore looks when running. He’s now on the wrong side of 30 and this is about the same age where Darelle Revis lost a step. So we’ll have to wait until he actually (or doesn’t) appear in a game situation.

Quinn Nordin: The Patriots rookie kicker is expected to be placed on IR with an abdominal injury that will likely sideline him until November according to a report from NFL.com insider Ian Rapoport. 

“The hope is that, by November, he’s back and able to kick,” Rapoport said. Nordin was the only UDFA signed by the Patriots this spring and made the 53-man roster out of training camp. He was inactive for the Patriots game last week against Miami as the team called up veteran Nick Folk from the practice squad.

Adrian Phillips: The Patriot’s safety was a key free-agent signing last season and his versatility certainly paid dividends, even in a 7-9 season where the defense overall took a step backward. However, Phillips had a very solid season, playing sub-package linebacker and notching 107 tackles, including seven for a loss. He also recorded a sack, two interceptions, and four passes defensed.

But Phillips believes coming to New England, with Bill Belichick (take note dolts calling for BB’s firing) has made him a much better player.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on the league and how I attacked stuff, how I broke down film and things like that,” Phillips said. “Then I came here with Coach and being in this system and seeing how it’s just, like, something totally different. Like, dang, there was a lot that I didn’t know. It’s been fun to learn it, and it’s been a challenge to learn it, and I’ve accepted that challenge and used it to help me grow a whole lot more.

“So I would say that I’m a way better player than I was two years ago just from being in this system and learning something new.”

Kyle Van Noy: The Patriots’ linebacker has been ruled out for the Jets game with a throat injury that kept him out of practice all week. The Patriots’ injury list is getting longer this week. Kicker Quinn Nordin is expected to go on IR, TE Jonnu Smith was limited Thursday and Friday with a hip injury. Edge player Ronnie Perkins and tackle Yodny Cajuste were limited due to injuries. 

Trent Brown who left Sunday’s game early with a calf injury missed Wednesday and Thursday’s practice but did return on Friday. He’s questionable to play today.

4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. Derek, Russ, and I spoke with Clare Cooper about the upcoming season.

Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

Bill Belichick Waxes at Length On Long Snappers:

Bill Belichick’s Friday press conferences are usually ones to attend. With the work of the week normally complete, he tends to be relaxed and gives history lessons of the NFL. 

He was asked a question about carrying a long-snapper and went into a long soliloquy about the evolution of special teams in the NFL. 

“It’s an interesting conversation. One that’s really, I would say, honestly during the course of my coaching career, has kind of traveled that long and winding road from when I came into the league.

“First of all, there were no long snappers, but the specialists, the kickers, and the punters were frequently position players, and that’s where they came from in college as well, so a lot of the good college punters and placekickers also played a position, and then as time evolved, starting with like [Pete] Gogolak and guys like that, you know, they specialized in kicking, and then you had some of the punters that specialized in punting, so players like Danny White and Tom Tupa and guys like that who were very good position players, you know, Gino Cappelletti, that evolved into specialists because of, I would say, the importance of the kicking game the number of plays that the kicking game and opportunities that it provided. Same thing with returners. There were very few just pure returners.

“I think long snapping, to me, changed in the mid-’80s, and really the key guy in that was [Steve] DeOssie, in my opinion, because Steve was the first center that really, truly allowed a spread punt formation against the all-out rush. Prior to that, teams would generally pull. First of all, there weren’t that many gunners, but when teams started using gunners, they would pull one in and kick away from the free guy on the backside, and that was kind of the idea that protection was not to let the snapper block against a nine-man rush with a split player. 

“The return team would have one guy on the gun or the split, and one guy returns, so you got nine guys rushing against essentially the punter who wasn’t a blocker or the split guy who wasn’t a blocker and the snapper who really wasn’t a blocker, so it was nine on eight, and the idea was to block the most dangerous eight and let the ninth guy go and punt away from him. And then when the Cowboys went to spread punt and then the Cardinals followed that pretty quickly, and they kept two gunners split, and the snapper blocked a guy, then that created an eight on eight situations but put a lot of pressure on the snapper to deliver the ball 15 yards deep on the money and still block a good rusher offsetting and the A-gap.

“I mean, we’ve all seen offensive linemen have trouble making that block on a pass play, and so now you’re talking about a deep snap and a block, but as players got better at that, that skill became more, I would say, players became more efficient at that. Then teams decided to carry a long snapper rather than worry about getting a punt block. Plus, there was also a level of consistency and durability with those players, so if you lose a position player who is also a long snapper, you’re looking at some real problems, and that evolved into the punters, for the most part, becoming holders because of the amount of time that they could spend with the kickers versus having a wide receiver or quarterback be the holder, which again, you don’t see very much of that anymore. Assuming a punter is, you know, capable and good enough and has good enough hands to be the holder, and so then that kind of the whole unit has really evolved into, you know, specified snapper or a specified kicker, a specific punter, and generally the punter as the holder, so the three of those guys could work together all practice because they’re all available.

“I know, again, going back to when I first came into the league, you worked on field goals, and, I mean, it was maybe five minutes because that was only time the starting center and the starting receiver or backup quarterback or whatever were available to practice that, so, like, is it that hard? It’s a pretty hard job. Yeah. It’s a pretty hard job.

“It’s not as hard as it used to be because you’re not allowed to hit the center, especially on field goals, and run them over. There are some limitations on the punt rush based on what the formation is and so forth, but generally speaking, it’s a hard block, and I think you see most punt rushes attack the snapper. They loop guys back so the center thinks he’s going right, but then he has to come back to the left, or maybe they fake like they’re coming back, but they don’t come back, so he not only has to snap, and so then that gets into whether you’re a blind snapper and you look at the rush and just snap the ball, or whether you’re a look back snapper and snap it, and then after the snap, you have to look up and recognize what’s happened and make a proper block, but again, it’s man-to-man blocking. Like that guy’s got to block somebody or you’re a guy short, so it is a hard job, and the accuracy of the placekickers through the years, which has gone up dramatically. Part of that’s the surface. Part of that’s the not kicking outdoors and so forth. Part of it is the operation between the snapper, the holder, and the kicker, which I would say, generally speaking, is at a pretty high level, which it should be in the National Football League.

“I think if you go back and look at kicks from back when that wasn’t the case, you see balls rolling back and the holder coming out of a stance that catches the ball and the kind of things you see at times in a high school game and that kind of thing. There’s just a much higher level of skill, which there should be, but yeah. I think it’s a pretty tough position, and nobody knows or cares who the snapper is if there was a bad snap, and all of a sudden, that’s a front-page story. There’s a decent amount of pressure on that player as well, and not just the snap, but also, as I said, to the block and punt protection. The roster sizes have increased. It’s been a lot easier to carry that player just like it’s a lot easier to carry a true returner, and so in terms of depth and availability, you know, you really don’t want to be looking for one of those players in the middle of any time, in the middle of the game or middle of the season. But when you have him as a starting receiver, Lou Groza, a starting tackle, or whoever. Those guys and they’re playing and something happens and not only do you lose a player, but you lose a key specialist as well, so yeah.

“I mean, it’s a great question. There would be so much value in a player that could do a couple of things and save a roster spot, but I would say there are so few of those players available, even at the point where, you know, [Matt] Amendola did a great job last week. It’s so rare that you even see a combination punter and placekicker. Usually, it’s one or the other, and I think part of that is at one level it’s, I’ll say, relatively easy to put your foot on the ball, but at this level, you know, the difference in kicking mechanics and punting mechanics are so different that it’s really hard to be good at both. But you know, if a guy’s got a good leg and he’s a good athlete and he can make good contact with a ball, there’s a point where, high school, college, that maybe it’s good enough. Maybe he’s the best guy on the team to do that, but I’d say at this level, that will be asking a lot.

Jake Bailey gets ready to punt in a preseason game against the Giants. USA Today photo

“Now like Jake [Bailey] can punt. Jake can kick-off. Jake can kick field goals. To be at the kind of level you want it to be at, to have the person split their time between the two of those, again, I think is a lot to ask. I’m not saying it’s impossible or unheard of, but it’s a lot to ask, and that’s why you don’t see it very much.

“That’s a good question. It’s really interesting, and I’d say if you look at the evolution of those positions since I’ve been in the league, but even a little bit before then, because that’s really where it started to go was in the late sixties. I think [Pete] Gogolak was the first, or one of the first, where that trend really started to, OK, we’re just going to keep a guy, and all he does is kick. [Garo] Yepremian and guys like that. That’s all they did. That was a little bit unusual, but you know, gradually that has become the new normal.”

That was nearly 10 minutes and 1500 words…given his general demeanor at Friday’s press conference…I like the chances of the Patriots even more so today.

Patriots Players to Watch Today:

The game within a game today will no doubt be comparing the two rookie QBs and how they each fare in this week’s matchup. However, here are our players to watch from a Patriots perspective today. 

Mac Jones – Jones was impressive in Week 1 but will be looking to improve on that performance, especially in the red zone. Jones did and said all of the right things after the loss to Miami which is an encouraging sign for the young QB as he leads the offense into this Week 2 matchup.

He even showed a coolness on the field which was captured by video when former Patriot linebacker Elandon Roberts called out the play that the Patriots were going to attempt. Jones looked across the line, smiled, and winked at Roberts. “I was like, ‘Ah, nice catch,” Jones explained. 

Hunter Henry – The Patriots signed two tight ends during free agency, Henry and Jonnu Smith, however, Smith has been limited with a hip injury and is questionable to play today, which should force the onus onto Henry this week in the passing game. 

Henry had a quiet game against Miami with just three catches for 31 yards. But he should be gaining rapport with Mac Jones every week after he missed a chunk of training camp with a shoulder injury. Look for Henry to be targeted in the red zone. 

Damien Harris – Harris seemed poised to be leading the Patriots into a go-ahead touchdown late in the game against the Dolphins when disaster struck. His fumble around Miami’s 9-10-yard line was the difference as the Dolphins recovered and then subsequently ran out the clock. 

All eyes will be on Harris, the Patriots lead back this week to see how he reacts on the field to the adversity. One person who isn’t worried is running back’s coach Ivan Fears. 

“I’ll tell you, he’s the kind of guy that will come out alright,” said Fears.” He was trying to make a play. And something along the line, you have to realize the situation we were in.” Look for Harris to bounce back nicely this week.

Josh Uche – Uche didn’t play a ton of snaps last week but did make a huge splash play, trucking rookie tackle Liam Eichenberg and then sacking QB Tua Tagovailoa. With Kyle Van Noy out with a throat injury, Uche should be primed for a much bigger role today.

Uche had a very strong summer, many times appearing almost unblockable in his pursuit of the QB. Facing a mobile QB in Zach Wilson this week, the Patriots will need Uche’s athleticism to keep him in check and putting pressure on him.

Matthew Slater – The Patriots’ 11-year captain and nine-time Pro Bowler on Special Teams has been a stalwart for so long that it seems like he’s been on the team forever.

This week’s game on the road has all of the earmarks for a time for Slater to make a big play to break open the game. We’ll be keeping an eye on him today. 

Week 2 Predictions:

The slate of games for Week 2 and my predictions for this week, hopefully, are more accurate than Week 1’s.

Thursday Night Football –
Washington over the NY Giants 1-0

Sunday –
Cincinnati over Chicago
New Orleans over Carolina
Cleveland over Houston
Pittsburgh over Las Vegas
Buffalo over Miami
LA Rams over Indianapolis
San Francisco over Philadelphia
New England over NY Jets
Denver over Jacksonville
Arizona over Minnesota
Seattle over Tennessee
Tampa Bay over Atlanta
Dallas over LA Chargers

Sunday Night Football
Kansas City over Baltimore
Monday Night Football
Green Bay over Detroit

Season:              7-9

Last Season:  169-86-1

2019 Season: 162-93-1

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Beasley, Ferguson Buy Unvaccinated Fans Tix to Away Games:

The Buffalo Bills All-Pro slot receiver Cole Beasley, who has been one of the most vocal NFL players against calls for COVID-19 vaccination mandates, as well as long snapper Reid Ferguson each offered to purchase tickets for unvaccinated fans to the road game of their choice after the Bills announced a mandatory proof of vaccination to be allowed to attend home games.

When one fan from Albequerque lamented on social media that he bought tickets for his daughter and himself to attend a game in Buffalo, he isn’t vaccinated and said that he’d be forced to sell the tickets. Beasley, however, responded. 

“If you find an away game you are able to go to then I will buy the tickets for you guys. DM me names and everything and I’ll figure out the best way to make it happen. Wish she could witness the mafia!”

Fuller to Miss Buffalo Game Because of a Personal Matter: 

The Miami Dolphins WR Will Fuller who finished off a six-game suspension last week against the Patriots will miss this week’s game against Buffalo due to a personal matter. Dolphins coach Brian Flores confirmed that Fuller left the team facility Thursday and did not practice Thursday or Friday.

Flores didn’t reveal what the cause of the personal issue was and asked that his privacy be respected. Fuller was at practice Wednesday and said it was a pleasure to be back and catching passes from Tua Tagovailoa. 

“He has my support,” Flores said. Things happen. When they happen, they’re not part of normal everyday circumstances, it’s a surprise from that standpoint. He’s dealing with it. We’ll support him.”

How Will the Jets Rookie QB Wilson Fare Against Belichick:

We’ve all heard countless times this week how Bill Belichick fares against rookie QBs (21-6) and what they’ll likely try to do against Jets rookie Zach Wilson. If Belichick’s M.O. remains intact, they’ll give Wilson the short underneath stuff and force them to march the length of the field. 

Wilson is mobile and is very good at making big plays with tremendous arm strength. Look for the Patriots to keep him in the pocket and force him to make decisions away from his primary receivers. So, if you’re expecting a big blitz day… you will probably be disappointed. 

It will be interesting to see how today’s game plays out. While it is the first matchup between Wilson and the Bill Belichick defensive game plan, it won’t be the last. 

_______________

“First of all, I don’t really know or care anything about social media. I don’t even know what’s out there or isn’t out there so that’s irrelevant to me. But it doesn’t matter. We played football before there was social media. It didn’t matter then either. But I think any time you have a team that we all rely on each other, we’re all accountable to each other, we all support each other, and we all make mistakes,” the 69-year-old coach said.

“We can make a mistake in the beginning of the game and we can make a mistake at the end of the game. And sometimes that gets magnified because of the timing of it. There are other things that could’ve happened at different points of the game that would’ve had just as big or maybe an even bigger effect on the game.”

Bill Belichick’s comments when asked about helping players deal with negative Twitterati reactions over a play or on other social media. Don’t change Bill…

_______________

“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on Stitcher and Streamyard as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.


Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bill Belichick Bill Belichick's record vs rookie QBs Buffalo Bills Mac Jones Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Zach Wilson


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