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Patriots Sunday Opening Drive: Kenjon Barner, Bob Quinn, and the always-in flux Buffalo Bills

NFL: New England Patriots at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
  1. With this week’s news that Sony Michel did not suffer serious damage to his knee in the team’s week-seven victory in Chicago, the Patriots clearly dodged a major bullet. With the emerging rookie’s status being week-to-week, and the bye week just two games away, the organization isn’t forced to look at acquiring a more long-term depth option at the deadline.

With a glass half full perspective, one thing can certainly be gleaned from the current circumstances: Kenjon Barner is better than advertised, and he has an opportunity to carve out a small role for himself beyond Michel’s return with a solid performance during this stretch.

Barner — a Chip Kelly product from the University of Oregon — possesses an athleticism not often seen from the Patriots’ depth-option running backs of the past. In the draft process he had better three-cone and vertical jump numbers than James White, and he ran a faster 40-yard dash than White and Sony Michel. His profile draws a strong comparison to Cleveland’s Duke Johnson.

After being drafted in the fifth round by Carolina and released after the 2014 season, he reunited with Chip Kelly in 2015 with the Eagles. In fact, on 28 carries that season, he led the team in rushing success rate. This season, although the sample size is small so far, he’s been effective when his name has been called.

2. Given Barner’s opportunity for an expanded role, it will be interesting to monitor how the Patriots choose to utilize him in regards to personnel packages and formations. Following Sony Michel’s injury last week — and partially due to not having Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister available — the Patriots immediately broke out a brand new personnel package that they hadn’t utilized all year: 20-personnel with two running backs (as opposed to one running back w/ James Develin). As the game progressed and the Patriots built a lead, Barner was used out of more conservative big-personnel looks, but it does leave one to ponder if that immediate reaction of theirs could be small glimpse into a move towards involving Barner with more dynamic personnel groupings.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea. Regardless of which running back is carrying the football, and when factoring in sample size, 11-personnel has been far and away New England’s most effective rushing package in terms of rushing success rate. Here’s how it breaks down:

3. Change — the Buffalo Bills’ bread and butter, and the one thing they do with more consistency than just about every other team in football. Outside of Cleveland, you would be hard pressed to find a franchise that has experienced more organizational turnover — from ownership, all the way down to the 53rd man on the roster — than Buffalo has since the current CBA was signed in 2011.

In keeping with that tradition — and as pointed out by CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar this week — when journeyman Derek Anderson takes the field on Monday night, he will become the Bills’ 13th quarterback to start against the Patriots this century.

Unfortunately for the Bills, in the NFL, nothing is more detrimental to a team’s performance in the win column than change. Obviously no team loves burning through staff while consistently putting out a disappointing on-field product, but the Bills’ inability to put the correct front office personnel and coaches in place — and allowing them to work through their processes — flies in the face of methods proven to sustain organizational success.

Consider this: the five teams with the most wins between 2011-2017 are the Patriots (88), Steelers (73), Packers (73), Broncos (72), and Seahawks (72). In those seven seasons, these teams combined for:

  • 378 regular season wins.
  • 35 wins in 28 trips postseason trips.
  • 8 Super Bowl appearances.
  • 4 Super Bowl championships.

Over that span, each of those organizations saw zero turnover in regards to the lead decision maker with regard to the team’s roster — whether that be a general manager or a head coach with player personnel authority. Of those five teams, the Broncos were the only one to experience turnover at their head coaching position; John Fox after the 2014 season, and Gary Kubiak, who retired due to health reasons following the 2016 season. Also, only twice did any of those teams change offensive coordinators for what they perceived as poor performance; Mike McCoy in Denver in 2016, and Todd Haley in Pittsburgh — whose contract wasn’t renewed following last season.

The average seven-year stretch for the five aforementioned franchises includes:

  • 75.6 wins.
  • Seven playoff victories in 5.6 postseason trips.
  • .8 Super Bowl Championship out of 1.6 appearances.
  • One individual with “final say” on player personnel.
  • 1.4 head coaches.
  • 2.4 offensive coordinators.

The Buffalo Bills over that same seven-year stretch:

  • 51 wins.
  • Zero playoff victories, one postseason trip.
  • Three general managers: Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley, and Brandon Beane.
  • Five head coaches (one interim): Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone, Rex Ryan, Anthony Lynn, and Sean McDermott.
  • Five offensive Coordinators: Curtis Modkins, Nathaniel Hackett, Greg Roman, Anthony Lynn (interim), and Rick Dennison.

Now in year-two with the Bills organization after lengthy stints in Carolina, head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have brought more sweeping changes to Orchard Park. They began that process last year by trading away names like Cordy Glenn, Reggie Ragland, Sammy Watkins, and Marcell Dareus — all in an effort to institute the ever-popular, always-clichéd culture change (ugh, that c-word again).

The good news? Moving forward, the Bills will have over $90 million in 2019 cap space and 10 picks in next year’s draft, including the extra fourth and fifth-rounders the acquired via trade for Reggie Ragland and AJ McCarron.

The bad news? They chose Josh Allen to be their quarterback of the future.

4. With the Detroit Lions’ acquisition of former New York Giants IDL Damon Harrison this week, it’s interesting to note just how fast sentiment towards teams can shift seemingly overnight.

After an 0-2 start that included an embarrassing home blowout loss on national television and a road defeat at the hands of the 49ers the following week, the seat of the Lions’ general manager Bob Quinn — now in his third season on the job — wasn’t as warm as some in the fan base would’ve liked, according to Pride of Detroit’s monthly Bob Quinn Approval Poll.

However, following a solid road victory in Miami last weekend that raised the team’s record to 3-3, and with the execution of a trade that will presumably sure up one of the league’s worst run defenses, Quinn — a 16-year member of the Patriots’ scouting department and front office — is now garnering praise from Detroit media. One would have to assume that October’s POD Bob Quinn Approval Poll results would follow suit.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_SB