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Quotes and Notes: Consistency the Word of the Week for Patriots Offense

Bill Belichick eschewed his usual lengthy opponent scouting report during today’s press conference, joking, “Alright, I think everyone is pretty familiar with the Dolphins, so I’ll save you the recap on them. A pretty explosive team.” Miami is, indeed, still an explosive team, ranking 1st in the NFL with 41 gains of 20+ yards. But Belichick acknowledged Miami isn’t the exact same team they saw in Week 2, saying, “I think everybody has evolved in the last few weeks. Every team has. So, they have. It’s just the normal evaluation. Some injuries and transitions in their schemes, pretty similar.”

The Dolphins have lost several key players to injured reserve over the past five games, including left tackle Terron Armstead, explosive running back De’Von Achane, and left guard Isaiah Wynn. Cornerback Xavien Howard (groin) and center Connor Williams (groin) were also inactive last week against the Eagles. Miami could be getting some reinforcements before Sunday’s matchup, with corners Jalen Ramsey and Nik Needham, as well as receivers River Cracraft and Erik Ezukanma being eligible to return from IR.

The Patriots have also suffered their share of losses since Week 2, with Matthew Judon (bicep), Christian Gonzalez (shoulder), Riley Reiff (knee), and Marcus Jones (shoulder) among several players on IR. But last week also saw Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu return to the lineup, and Josh Uche returned to practice today after missing all of last week with a foot injury.

It’s too early to know which banged-up players will miss Sunday’s rematch, but for now, here are some of the top quotes from Wednesday’s media availability.

Belichick Breaks Down Tuesday’s Roster Moves

Yesterday, the Patriots waived quarterback/wide receiver Malik Cunningham and released defensive end Trey Flowers from the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Cunningham signed to the active roster on a three-year deal heading into Week 6, serving as the top backup against the Raiders. Fans hoped the dual threat would help spark an anemic Patriots offense, but he wasn’t targeted when lined up at receiver, and both of his snaps at quarterback went for negative yards. These struggles were less of an indictment on the player and more on the steep learning curve for any rookie making a big jump in competition while filling multiple roles.

Cunningham was a healthy scratch last week against the Bills, hinting at yesterday’s move. When asked about the decision, Bill Belichick responded it was “what’s best for the team” and that Cunningham would be brought back to the practice squad if he goes unclaimed. The contract he signed to join the 53-man roster from the practice squad was also standard for any rookie in his situation. Despite the minor uproar surrounding Cunningham being waived, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reports that he has reverted back to the team’s practice squad.

Jalen Reagor seems like the most likely candidate to take Cunningham’s spot after the team used his third and final practice squad elevation last week. Reagor has played the 3rd-most offensive snaps among Patriots wide receivers the past two weeks, serving as a rotational X receiver being DeVante Parker. The former Eagle and Viking hasn’t made a huge impact, but he recorded his first catch as a Patriot and had a key block on Demario Douglas’ jet sweep against Buffalo.

Belichick says Reagor’s opportunities have stemmed from strong performances in practice, telling reporters, “We’ve played against a lot of top receivers, and he’s gotten a lot of good opportunities with some of the routes that those guys run to kind of be featured a little bit on some of the scout team plays. … He’s picking up the offense, and we’ll see how it goes.” Mac Jones echoed Reagor’s impressive play in practice, saying, “He’s a very fast football player. He does a great job learning the playbook quickly, and one of the other things is in practice just how impressive he is in getting open, finishing and catching the ball. So, I really have a lot of respect for him and how he works. Hopefully, he can continue to grow.”

Fans have been hoping to see more of Reagor and his big-play ability since Parker’s poor performance in Vegas, and they could get their wish sooner rather than later.

Belichick said Trey Flowers’ situation was a little different from Cunningham’s, noting, “There’s other rules and things involved that’s been a much longer discussion.” Flowers returned to the practice field on October 4th, hinting he would be activated from PUP as a candidate to help replace Matthew Judon. But with today being the final opportunity to activate Flowers during his 21-day window, releasing the veteran was the only way to avoid losing him for the season.

Consistency the Word of the Week for Mac Jones and the Offense

Mac Jones posted a 126.7 passer rating in last week’s comeback win, his highest mark since Week 17, 2021, and the first time he’s eclipsed a 95.0 rating in 2023. The plan included a healthy dose of quick-hitters, screens, play-action, and intermediate throws, and Jones credited offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien with using more concepts he was comfortable with in college.

The quarterback fielded multiple questions about the victory and its effect on the offense moving forward.  Jones repeated the importance of building on the momentum and sticking to their process in a one-week season, telling media members, “[Consistency is] really the word of the week for us. How can we do it over and over again and put good days and good plays together.”

Jones went 8-9 for 113 yards and a touchdown against the blitz-happy Bills, averaging a season-high 12.6 yards per attempt on such throws. When I asked about how New England can continue that success, he responded, “[The] biggest thing, like you said, is just trusting everything. It’s going to be different guys everywhere. You’re going to play against different guys. Trust in my rules, trust in my process.”

Only the Bills blitzed Jones more than the Dolphins did during their first matchup, and he went a modest 9-13 for 79 yards.

If Jones builds on his improved poise from last week, and the offensive line continues holding up its end of the bargain up front, Sunday’s matchup should have a much different outcome than Round 1.

New-Look Offensive Line Draws Praise

The Patriots’ new-look offensive line, which featured Mike Onwenu at right tackle with Sidy Sow beside him at guard, earned its best pass block efficiency of the season last week while allowing its 2nd-lowest pressure rate. Having key veterans like Onwenu and Cole Strange back in the lineup was an obvious boost, but Sow, who earned an 86.4 PFF grade against Buffalo, was also a big part of the group’s success.

Belichick offered insights into the rookie making multiple transitions between guard and tackle in his football career, saying, “[Sidy] played guard most of his college career, played a little tackle as a freshman, played a few snaps at tackle in the all-star game, then played tackle here. So, the move from tackle to guard, I think, was more comfortable for him than guard to tackle, kind of why we did it that way. Start him at tackle, figured we could move him to guard versus taking a guard and trying to move him out to tackle.” Belichick also praised Sow for his demeanor, work ethic, toughness, and ability to take coaching, calling him a “Big kid – strong, tough – but moves pretty well.”

Belichick was mum on whether Onwenu would continue to play outside this weekend, but Adrian Klemm was a bit more transparent yesterday, telling reporters, “We’ll see how that goes. It’s all dependent on what availability is for everybody across the board. So with Cole coming back and some other things happening in our group, it afforded us the opportunity to put him out there. So if it gives us an advantage, which it definitely did the last game, we’ll continue to do that.” Ownenu told the media he’s indifferent to the situation, saying, “It’s just about adjusting and going week to week, the team we’re playing.”

Through all of the offensive line’s ups and downs this season, David Andrews and Trent Brown have been the group’s bedrock. Andrews hasn’t missed a snap all season, and Brown is currently PFF’s 2nd-highest graded offensive tackle.

Belichick didn’t sound surprised by Brown’s impressive start, saying, “Trent’s played a lot of good football in his career. … I don’t want to sound like this is a big aberration. He’s a good player.”

The head coach was effusive when asked about Andrews’ leadership, saying, “[David’s] done a great job. … He’s playing well, and he really helps the quarterback, the offensive line. He’s a very good personality, calm but enthusiastic, aggressive and energetic, but at the same time, there’s not a panic to it. Really good; he does a great job.” Belichick also mentioned how Andrews’ communication has helped rookies like Sow in-game.

Mac Jones was also complimentary of the veteran center, saying, “Obviously, when you’re an older player in your room, I feel like the knowledge and experience that you have can really help young people. That’s something that stood out to me, regardless – receiver room with the older receivers, DBs, or whatever. Very good to have that on the team, and definitely has seen a lot of plays, played in a lot of different games, so that’s important to use someone like that as a resource.”

When asked about Strange’s return from a three-game absence (knee), Belichick said Strange has been limited due to rehab, but he hopes having the guard back will bring more consistency up front.

If that wish comes to fruition, and Mac Jones can build confidence behind the best combination the offensive line has fielded through seven weeks, New England could make a legitimate run after an unpredictably poor start.

Former ‘Bama Defenders Having Career-Best Starts

Replacing Matthew Judon was always going to be a group project, but two Alabama alumni have stepped up in the Pro Bowler’s absence.

Christian Barmore’s 265 defensive snaps are the most he’s played through seven weeks in his career, and his 19.0% pressure rate is the highest among Patriots with 50+ pass rushes.

Belichick credited health and a good offseason when asked about Barmore’s hot start, explaining, “[Christian] had a good offseason. I’d say this is the hardest that he’s trained or was able to train. Some of that’s been a little bit rehab-related. He’s had a good offseason, good training, and he’s playing well. I think those things usually go together.”

Availability and improved run defense have allowed Barmore to become the dominant every-down presence many were hoping for when he fell to New England in 2021. If he continues on his current trajectory,  the 2025 free agent could be in for a big payday.

Anfernee Jennings has also been a pleasant surprise for the defensive front. His snap count has gone up every game since his debut in Week 3, and he’s been one of the league’s best run-stoppers over that span.

The coach and history lover referenced Lou Gehrig and Wally Pipp while speaking about Jennings, noting that “He’s had an opportunity to play a lot [due to injuries at the position], and he’s definitely stepped up. Sometimes that’s what this league’s about, is getting an opportunity, however that happens, and taking advantage of it when you get it.”

Jennings’ pass rush prowess is more limited than Judon’s, relying mostly on stunts and sound discipline, but he’s been just as good, if not better, as a run defender. In my opinion, he’s a no-brainer re-signing next offseason.

Demario Douglas’ Growth

Demario Douglas had a career-high 74 all-purpose yards on offense last week, including a 20-yard gain on a jet sweep and impressive catches both underneath and downfield. But like each of the rookie’s performances this season, there was also a glaring mistake.

Jones offered encouraging words when asked about Douglas’ growth this season, saying, “I know that he’s always fought an uphill battle. He always talks about his size, right? He’s always going to keep fighting, and I know that about him. I can be hard on him and try to raise that standard because I know where he comes from. I know how hard he works, and he’s going to bring it every week.”

The Patriots will have to work through the growing pains associated with relying on a rookie, as Douglas has proven to be the offense’s most electric playmaker. He should also see a similarly significant workload this weekend, as New England had success forcing corners to tackle in space back in Week 2.

Spotlight on Rookie Specialists 

Rookie specialists Chad Ryland and Bryce Baringer had outstanding performances in a windy game against the Bills. Ryland made all three of his field goal attempts, setting a career-high. Baringer punted a 64-yard bomb to pin Buffalo inside their own territory, then dropped a coffin corner to the 3 yard-line before halftime.

When asked about Ryland and Baringer overcoming last week’s conditions, Belichick called less-than-ideal conditions the best training. While addressing first-year growing pains, he said, “I think, especially on the field goals, Bryce [Baringer], Chad [Ryland] and Joe [Cardona] working together, obviously, that’s new. That’s a little bit of a process. Kicking off and punting is more of just the specialist doing his thing. The snap’s involved, but for the most part, unless it’s extremely erratic, the timing on that is about the same.”

Taylor Kyles

Taylor Kyles is the lead NFL Analyst for CLNS Media covering players, schemes, and tendencies through a New England Patriots-centric lens.

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