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Monday Patriots Notebook 9/4: News and Notes

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
3 weeks ago at 12:11 pm ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

Monday Patriots Notebook 9/4: News and NotesBenny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Some news and notes for this morning:

Can Elliott Replace Harris as the one-two punch the Patriots Need?

Heading into the 2023 regular season, the New England Patriots certainly have questions along their offensive line, with one key one being whether or not the club can be as effective running the football this season compared to 2021.

That was one of their better performances in the last three seasons, after they averaged 126.5 yards per game (8th in the NFL), which included a 4.4 avg carry.

While former Patriots running back Damien Harris shouldered most of the load that season, carrying the football 202 times for 929 yards (4.6 avg) with 15 touchdowns, Rhamondre Stevenson was right there with him.  Stevenson carried the football 133 times for 606 yards (4.6 avg) along with his 5 touchdowns.

The result?  They had a well-balanced offense that went out and won 10 games, including three contests that saw them go over 40 points, along with hitting 50+ twice over that span.

Harris obviously took a back seat to Stevenson in his final season in 2022.   Stevenson went out and rushed for over 1,000 yards (1040yds) last season on 210 carries (5.0 avg), while Harris missed six games but still managed to finish with 462 yards on 106 carries (4.4 avg).

After enduring some offensive line issues early on in 2022, they averaged just 106.6 yards per game last season, which, unlike the previous year, was just 24th in the league.

Stevenson’s former teammate has since departed to Buffalo and has reportedly had an impressive preseason, with the Patriots set to battle Buffalo in Week 7 on October 22nd.

The club ended up adding former Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott this offseason, who is a similar dynamic back to Stevenson in terms of his ability to be a threat out of the backfield in the passing game.

Harris wasn’t as dynamic of a back as Elliott. (PHOTO:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

That’s a threat that Harris never really took on, which somewhat hurt their dynamic.  What’s sort of interesting is that in 2021, Harris was primarily a rusher yet Stevenson was the more dangerous of the two.

When he came into the game, the former standout from Oklahoma was so effective both carrying the football and out of the backfield that it left defenses unsure of what he would do in non-obvious rushing downs.

Last year was essentially the opposite.  Stevenson was the lead back, and when Harris did come into the game, his potential of being a threat in the passing game wasn’t the same.

Stevenson was targeted 89 times with 69 receptions for 421-yards (6.1 yards per catch) and a touchdown, while Harris was targeted just 23 times with 17 receptions for 97 yards (5.7 yards per catch).

That should change with Elliott joining Stevenson in the backfield.  ESPN’s Mike Reiss noted on Sunday that Elliott has settled into Harris’ old locker, and now the only thing fans are waiting for is whether or not he and Stevenson can be an even more dynamic duo than the Harris and Stevenson were two seasons ago.

If that ends up being the case, people should be fairly optimistic about whether or not this team can keep opponents off balance enough offensively to become a contender in the AFC in the coming months.

Belichick Praises Jones’ Consistency

There are certainly plenty of questions when it comes to the type of player we’ll see Mac Jones be in 2023, and it sounds like head coach Bill Belichick is happy with what he’s seen over these last several months.

Jones, who is now working under his third offensive coordinator in Bill O’Brien, appears that he’s comfortable in the club’s new system ahead of the start of the regular season.

Belichick credited Jones for putting in a lot of hours and plenty of effort since the end of last season, crediting Jones for his consistency throughout the process.

“Mac’s had a good offseason and has had a really good camp,” said Belichick.  “He comes to work every day, comes in early, stays late, works hard, understands the offense, how it works, how to get his teammates involved, how to help them be productive.”

“So, he’s had a really good stretch here in training camp and had a good spring to propel himself into this time period, so it’s been pretty consistent all the way through.”

Anderson Draws Praise

After missing the preseason with what’s been reported as a serious illness that might have even threatened not only his season but potentially his NFL career, it sounds like Calvin Anderson has turned a corner just in time after a long summer.

Anderson, who came off the Non-Football Injury List at the end of training camp, is a player that it sounded like after they signed him back in March could provide them some help up front.

Given all the problems and injuries this team has dealt with over the last few weeks, tackle certainly remains an area of concern.  The club made two trades last week, acquiring Vederian Lowe and Tyrone Wheatley Jr., both of which were slight moves of desperation given that the Patriots didn’t do much to solidify those spots over the off-season.

But the news of Anderson’s potential return at least helps give them a player who can play on both sides, which over the course of a 17-game season, could certainly be valuable.

Belichick said that getting him back, along with the other moves they made, was basically like acquiring three players in one day, and he’s pleased that Anderson’s back out there.

“It’s good to have Calvin back out there,” said Belichick on Monday. “It’s similar to what we saw from him in the spring and at Denver. He’s flexible, position flexibility to play both tackles. He’s a young player but he’s experienced enough to where he can handle a lot of things and pick things up quicker than a rookie would, even though he played for another team.”

“He’s been able to, I would say, transition pretty well from an assignment standpoint, technique standpoint and we’ll see how it goes. We’re kind of working through multiple moves there at tackle with Calvin, as you mentioned, and then the two players that we acquired with [Vederian] Lowe and [Tyrone] Wheatley [Jr.], so we’ll see how things come together.”

“We gained three tackles there in one day, it seemed like and it was good to get that.”

League Holds Contest to Improve Injuries

One bit of news that was pretty interesting came late last week after the NFL announced the winners of a Data Challenge, that was held to help the league predict injuries on the field using AI.

South Korea-based data scientist Nghia Van Ngoc Nguyen, won the challenge, with his algorithm generating a 31% increase in ability to identify on-field contact compared to currently available solutions.  That’s an improvement that is part of an effort of a newly developed ability to detect what happens when players are in contact with the ground.

Nguyen reportedly put together a model that used Next Gen Stats with multiple video angles to identify moments when players experience contact, strengthening the understanding of the link between contact and injury.

The idea behind it is to allow the NFL to get a better sense of which plays and situations generate the most injuries, with the league hoping to modify rule changes to reduce or avoid the types of plays that initiate unnecessary contact.

The total prize money for the event was $100,000 with Nguyen receiving $50,000 for his part of the challenge.

“I am very proud to be selected as the winner of this Contact Detection Challenge,” said Nguyen. “Simulating NGS tracking positions with the various camera angles available significantly improved the performance in measuring different types of impacts, both player-to-player and player-to-ground. I would be honored if my model is able to make football safer and protect players from injuries.”​

Odds and Ends

Belichick talked about the return of Bailey Zappe on Monday, with the coach expressing that they’re pleased he’s back with the club.  “We’re glad to have Bailey, going to continue to work with him, still think he’s a good, young developing player. So, we’ll keep working with him.” … When asked if newcomer Matt Corral will be the back-up behind Jones when the Patriots face the Eagles on Sunday, Belichick was non-committal.  “I don’t know what to tell you, he said of Corral.  “He hasn’t even been on the field yet, so yeah, we’ll see.” … Mike Reiss offered up a nice little bit of insight as to why the Vikings parted ways with receiver Jalen Reagor, who the Patriots added the practice squad last week.  “In a game against the Colts, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw two interceptions, and both were a result of Reagor miscues,” wrote Reiss. “That helps explain why the Vikings, who kept five receivers on their initial 2023 roster, had Reagor on the outside looking in.” … With the Patriots dealing with issues up front on their offensive line, one player to watch is going to be Eagles rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who was voted by fans to potentially be the 2023 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in a poll by Fox Sports.  Carter has reportedly turned a lot of heads in training camp, but the Eagles limited his preseason snaps.  He had just two in their opener against Baltimore, seven against the Browns in Week 2, and he was a spectator against their finale against Indianapolis.  The 9th overall pick in the draft out of Georgia will likely see more time Sunday, and he definitely looks like he’ll be a handful.

Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bill Belichick Calvin Anderson Ezekiel Elliott Jalen Carter Mac Jones Rhamondre Stevenson

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