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Monday Patriots Notebook 8/14: News and Notes

Ian Logue
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4 months ago at 10:55 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

Monday Patriots Notebook 8/14: News and NotesEric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Some news and notes on this Monday:

Gonzalez Quietly Has Notable Moments

One thing that stood out looking at the game film over the weekend was the fact that New England Patriots rookie defensive back Christian Gonzalez, despite getting knocked back on Houston’s first offensive play from scrimmage, really did end up having a solid night.

Watching all of his snaps, he blanketed every receiver and didn’t leave much open, showing the same fluidity and quickness he showed in college.  He was part of the reason why both C.J. Stroud and Davis Mills each held the ball an extra beat on a couple of plays where New England was able to get pressure.

The huge sack by Daniel Ekuale was a direct result of that.  After converting their first third down play, which was a two-yard run by Texans running back Devin Singletary, Stroud dropped back and was looking left to Gonzalez’s side, clearly waiting for receiver Niko Collins – who ran Gonzalez over on that aforementioned play – to open up again.

However, Gonzalez had him well-covered and by the time Stroud moved off him and looked to his right, Ekuale was already charging at him, and Stroud had no shot at getting the ball to his other read.

Ekuale then plowed into him and dropped him for a 15-yard loss, putting the Texans in long yardage, and it led to Jalen Mills’ interception just a couple of plays later.

The rookie also showed he isn’t afraid to be physical, coming up on the play where Mills came up from the right side in run support on the next Texans’ possession.  After running back Mike Boone slipped through, Mills chased him down, accelerating and getting his hands on him. He ended up getting a hold of Boone’s shirt, tearing it and slowing him down, with Gonzalez then coming in low while dropping his shoulder and torpedoing him for the tackle.

It ended up being a relatively innocuous play where Boone still picked up 12 yards, but it was one where Gonzalez also got his shoulder into where the ball was, which was notable as that’s the type of play where we’ve seen plenty of guys knock out the football on similar plays.

The one play where Gonzalez sort of got beaten, which was a 12-yard pass to Steven Sims on a drag route, Gonzalez still accelerated and closed on him and ended up knocking out the football, swatting it out with his left hand as he wrapped him up.

Granted, the ball went out of bounds, but those instincts and the way he plays are a great sign for a player who will likely be a big factor in New England’s defense this season.  While neither play resulted in a turnover, based on how he plays, it’s likely he’ll create one at some point.

McDermott Up and Down at Left Tackle

Conor McDermott got the starting nod at left tackle Thursday night, and he was surprisingly not New England’s biggest problem in a game where they certainly had plenty of issues.

Watching each of his snaps, he wasn’t perfect, missing a block on New England’s second offensive series to Houston defensive end Jonathan Greenard, who beat McDermott around the edge on a 2nd-and-7.  On the play, Greenard got his hands on Kevin Harris, with tackle Hassan Ridgeway meeting up with him and dropping Harris for a loss.

However, McDermott did a good job on the next play stopping Greenard and helping Atonio Mafi (who was playing left guard) with his man, which gave Bailey Zappe the time he needed to get the ball downfield to Tyquan Thornton for the 27-yard completion.

He did a good job protecting Zappe on the ensuing snap, which was a 9-yard completion to Tre Nixon, but got driven back a couple of plays later by defensive end Jacob Martin, who ended up pressuring Zappe into a throwaway.

He was also called for a false start two plays later.

But from there, he did a decent job the rest of the way and, overall, was far from the worst player Thursday night.  Most of their issues came from inside, with communication likely being the biggest problem for a group that had never played in an NFL game together.

McDermott played just the first half.  He ended up giving way to Andrew Stueber to begin the third quarter.

The move as a whole was likely an opportunity for the Patriots to let him get some work on that side while also potentially adding some depth behind Trent Brown, who has been battling an ailment so far during camp.

While many don’t love McDermott, give him credit for putting in the work to give the Patriots some versatility as they continue trying to work things out up front heading into the season.

Malik CunninghamCunningham’s emergence changes things at QB for the Patriots. (PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

Cunningham’s Performance Changes Things

After quite a performance on Thursday night, Malik Cunningham spent most of Sunday back at receiver, while getting a couple of reps at quarterback but wasn’t spotted wearing a red QB jersey.

That likely means Trace McSorely, who didn’t play well at all the other night, may be safe for at least one more week.  But it’s hard not to imagine the wheels may be turning when it comes to his role moving forward

Both Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe likely have the top two spots locked up, but it would be tough to think that given the value of roster spots, that Cunningham may ultimately be the player the Patriots try and keep as their #3 for the sake of keeping another spot open at wide receiver.

Cunningham started out playing receiver Thursday night but wasn’t targeted, with his time under center obviously being the highlight of the evening.  The rookie engineered a 14-play, 75-yard drive that saw him carry five times for 34-yards, the last of which was a 9-yard scoring run for New England’s only touchdown of the night.

With the Patriots’ offensive line still having difficulty, Cunningham’s quick instincts allowed him to evade the rush and pick up yards, which was a key part of that drive.

That’s the type of thing we’re obviously seeing around the league, and Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston appeared on WEEI’s Jones and Mego with Arcand on Friday and he believes one of the reasons head coach Bill Belichick may not be keen on having that type of player at quarterback is just due to the sheer unpredictability that goes along with it.

“I have a developing theory, and there’s no way to ask Bill about this and have him plainly answer it, but my developing theory is, part of Bill’s resistance to dual-threat quarterbacks, even though he gets torn a new one every time he sees one, is the unpredictability factor,” explained Curran.  “You have to let go of the wheel to an extent as a head coach when you have a dual-threat quarterback.”

“After 2.5 seconds, all bets are off.  There are no reads really anymore, he’s just going to run around like a chipmunk, and I think that’s where the NFL is going.  The Patriots now have an opportunity to foster a guy, turn him into something, develop him, and hopefully, he answers the bell on that.”

“But I’ll be interested to see the Patriots’ demeanor on developing Malik Cunningham, and I hope that Bill O’Brien has a lot of say in whatever direction they go because I think that Bill O’Brien – and I would imagine Bill Belichick would defer to Bill O’Brien to a degree – ‘Yeah, let’s see what we can do.'”

What the rookie does from here will be interesting to follow, but if the Patriots are hoping to sneak him onto the practice squad after Thursday night, that now seems like a longshot.

Waiving Cunningham could allow the former Louisville standout to become an answer elsewhere for another QB-starved team before he might pass through waivers, which likely increases his chances of making New England’s roster by the time the season begins.

Odds and Ends

According to reports, running back Pierre Strong Jr. was not spotted on the practice field on Sunday, which will be something to watch.  The club is still looking for help at running back, signing C.J. Marable over the weekend, as depth at that position remains a big question mark … Trey Flowers was spotted on the field Sunday getting some work.  Flowers remains on PUP after joining the team last week. … One of Keion White’s former coaches, Old Dominion head coach Ricky Rahne, who had White on his team in 2020, wasn’t surprised by the rookie’s performance.  “There are very few players with a pure physical combination of talents that are going to be able to match his,” Rahne told ESPN’s Mike Reiss.  “This is what I thought would happen.”  White played 27 snaps Thursday night, including three tackles and a QB pressure. … The Packers announced the times for their two joint practices against New England, which are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. CT on both Wednesday, Aug. 16, and Thursday, Aug. 17.  The two clubs will then play their second game of the exhibition season at 8pm ET on Friday night.

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