The New England Patriots typically sign a couple players to the practice squad that can serve the scout team as a representation of an upcoming opponent. Unfortunately, the Patriots are about to face a fair of wide receivers unlike anyone on the squad in Jets wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
"They're good, big receivers," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "I mean look every receiver in this league has got skill or they wouldn't be out there. Some guys have size, some guys have speed, some guys have quickness, some guys have great route running technique, some guys have great hands or combinations of those things."
Decker is more of a possession receiver, while Marshall uses his physicality to outmuscle defender to make a play. Both are fast, both are smart, and both are big targets for Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to utilize down the field. The Patriots have usually had a player like Aaron Dobson or Brian Tyms on the roster that could fill in the role during practice, but now they're left with Brandon LaFell and the newly signed Leonard Hankerson.
It's difficult to ask LaFell and Hankerson to serve on the scout team when they also have to work on the first team offense, so the Patriots defense will have to dig deep to recall their past experiences.
"That's why you have different receivers in training camp," Belichick said. "That's why when you practice against a team like New Orleans or as we have in the past Tampa or Philly or whoever it happened to be, you get exposure to other guys in training camp, you get exposure to other types of players in preseason games. That's part of your preparation for the season.
"Somewhere along the line, if you don't have a guy like that on your team, eventually you'll see guys like that on other teams. Whatever your individual skillset is, you have to figure out how you match up against another guy's skillset, whether he's a fast, quick guy or a big, strong guy."
Over the course of the season, the Patriots have matched Logan Ryan with the bigger receiver, while Malcolm Butler shadowed the smaller, possession receiver with less safety support.
Ryan has covered Demaryius Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins and, in week 7, Ryan and safety Devin McCourty limited Marshall to his least productive game of the season. Butler has covered Emmanuel Sanders, Odell Beckham Jr., and he covered Decker in the first game.
New England will have to draw from their previous experience and the Jets can expect the same match-ups on Sunday.