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Thursday Patriots Notebook 9/28: News and Notes

Ian Logue
Ian Logue on Twitter
September 28, 2023 at 10:57 am ET

Thursday Patriots Notebook 9/28: News and Notes(PHOTO: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: Sep 28, 2023 10:57
🕑 Read Time: 5 minutes

Some news and notes for this morning:

Questions Continue On Offense

A lot of the discussion over the last couple of weeks continues to center on the New England Patriots’ offensive line and their receiving corps, which has been shaky from a depth standpoint to start the season.

With injuries up front causing issues with their continuity, this past Sunday finally saw their offensive line mostly intact.  Trent Brown returned to action after spending last week in concussion protocol, with both Mike Onwenu and Cole Strange also managing to get the starting nod together.  Vederian Lowe anchored the right side for the second-straight week, playing in 100% of the snaps again as he continues settling in opposite Brown.

But overall, it was the first time in 2023 that Brown, Onwenu, and Strange reunited with center David Andrews and played a game together.

However, Strange played in 61% of the snaps and left the game late on Sunday, and was spotted on the sideline riding the stationary bike.  The team released its injury report on Wednesday and Strange was again listed as “limited” as he continues nursing what’s been reported by the club as a knee injury.

This marks the fourth straight week he’s been on the injury report so far in 2023.

JuJu Smith-SchusterPHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, JuJu Smith-Schuster remains the hot topic of conversation, with the veteran continuing to struggle in the early going thus far.

Jones threw just four passes in the fourth quarter during Sunday’s game, but the most notable of those were when he targeted Smith-Schuster as Jones went 0-for-2, both of which came on third down.

They remain a work in progress. While Smith-Schuster’s success in the passing game hasn’t panned out yet, he told reporters on Wednesday that he’s embraced his role here, even if it means instead being a factor blocking in the ground game and being part of the “dirty work.”

“I think it’s all coming along,” Smith-Schuster said via Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald. “I’ve played in this league for so long that you kind of learn to learn how to adapt and do things that the team needs. And I feel like me being here, I love my role. I embrace it. It’s fun. I do a lot of dirty work, which is nice too.”

Smith-Schuster blamed one of those incompletions on the fact he lost his footing, which was due to the fact they were playing in yet another wet and rainy outing.  He told Kyed that the fact they’ll be indoors in Dallas this week should help.

“A play where I just kind of slipped, and I can make those plays. It’s just the connection, it’s there, but thank god we don’t have another rainy game,” he said of one of his incompletions. “So, we’ll be in a dome. We’ll be a lot faster. There’s no climate to it. It will be fun.”

Overall, Jones is 10-of-16 for 66-yards targeting Smith-Schuster this season, with the veteran currently sitting with the lowest yards per reception total on the team among the starters at 6.6 yards per catch.  Demario Douglas (10.6), Kendrick Bourne (9.9), Mike Gesicki (9.7), Hunter Henry (9.6), and DeVante Parker (9.5) each sit well ahead of him in that department.

He’s been the player who has seemingly had the toughest time getting open early on this season, which remains the biggest concern heading into the rest of the season.  The hope would be that he would replace Jakobi Meyers’ role in the offense and do a better job of getting yards after the catch.

So far, that hasn’t been the case.  His 66 yards receiving total is also the lowest among the receivers to this point, and they’re definitely going to need more out of him if they hope to put together a run after their slow start.

“No One Is Coming”

With all of that in mind, the players were spotted in sweatshirts in the locker room Wednesday, with a slogan that was certainly curious.

On the back of those shirts, it said “No One is Coming” and “It’s Up to Us.”

ESPN’s Mike Reiss was apparently told by Smith-Schuster that the hoodies were handed out by assistant coach, Joe Judge.

That sounds an awful lot like the Patriots are trying to instill some confidence within the locker room among their current players that they may not have any plans of making any major acquisitions ahead of the trade deadline.  That likely puts the onus back on the players to continue working to overcome what shortcomings we’ve seen over the first few weeks of the season.

Still, Belichick has said in the past that they’re always exploring options and talking with teams, and should an opportunity come along that’s good for both sides, he’s not afraid to pull the trigger.  But the fact they handed those out was interesting, especially given the message.

Defensive Line Injuries Remain an Issue

Christian Barmore (knee) and Davon Godchaux (ankle) were both limited on Wednesday, with both players obviously being key contributors for New England defensively in the ground game.  Godchaux went down with his injury on Sunday, with both he and Daniel Ekuale getting hurt on back-to-back plays.

Ekuale suffered a reported torn biceps, which saw him get placed on injured reserve earlier this week.  That was a big blow to New England’s defense, who had been tough against the run through the first few weeks and Ekuale was certainly a big reason for that.

Losing Godchaux, if he’s out for any extended period would also be tough, which likely has the Patriots trying to make some adjustments up front ahead of this week’s game against Dallas.

Sam Roberts stepped in last week and contributed, with the second-year player notching two tackles over the course of his 18 snaps.

Barmore was listed as “limited” ahead of last week, but he played 41 snaps (65%) against the Jets, which was his largest workload so far this year. He finished with two tackles along with a sack.

Still, this remains an area to watch as if Godchaux misses time, it’s going to put a strain on a group that has certainly taken some hits in recent weeks.  Hopefully, they’ll be able to weather it.

Belichick added on Wednesday that things like this are tough to deal with, and they don’t have much choice other than to try and work through it.

“Well, I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of Hall of Fame defensive linemen walking around right now that just aren’t with a team,” he said. “We’ll manage the position and we’ll do the best we can, whatever that is.”

Odds and Ends

Coming off of last week’s game against the Jets where they managed just 15 points, 13 of which came on offense, Mac Jones acknowledged that they need to get better there.  Jones attributed their issues to just focusing on execution.  “Really, when you execute well, you score, and when you don’t, you don’t,” said Jones.  “It’s kind of a simple equation, we’ve just got to do better.” … He also dismissed questions about Sunday’s incident with Jets defensive back Sauce Gardner.  “Like I just said earlier, just really focused on the Cowboys as you can see,” he said. “Just trying to prepare for a good defense and that’s my focus.” … Belichick was asked about his thoughts on Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy on Wednesday, and noted that he’s tough to prepare for.  “You know, Mike has a well-balanced offense and well-balanced team,” said Belichick.  “That’s what’s hard, is it’s not just one thing. You’ve got to deal with a lot of different problems.” … He also talked about former defensive back Stephon Gilmore, who will be lining up at right cornerback this weekend.  “You’ve got to be careful throwing the ball around him,” said Belichick of Gilmore.  “He’ll catch it.” … Finally Belichick also talked about the loss of Ekuale, who he admitted was a tough one.  “Daniel was a good rotational player for us, played on all three downs,” said Belichick.  “So, it’s unfortunate, yeah, we’ll miss him.”

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About Ian Logue

Ian Logue is a Seacoast native and owner and senior writer for PatsFans.com, an independent media site covering the New England Patriots and has been running this site in one form or another since 1997.


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