The ninth Sunday of the NFL’s 2021 season has arrived, and there is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days: time for our Sunday Patriots Notes.
1. Why the Patriots won’t claim Odell Beckham Jr. off waivers even after his contract restructure. One of the wildest weeks in recent memory also saw the Cleveland Browns come to an agreement with star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to release him on Monday. The move will expose the 29-year-old to the waiver wire, meaning that every team will have a chance to put in a claim; the team with the worst record to do that will be awarded the Pro Bowler and his contract.
That contract is precisely why the Patriots will not claim Beckham Jr. even though there is a realistic chance they might end up acquiring him this way. While he did restructure his deal, his salary cap number for the remaining 2021 season is still $7.25 million if indeed claimed. With New England currently only $2.62 million under the cap, according to Miguel Benzan, the team would need to make some serious follow-up transactions to fit Beckham Jr. in.
That will not happen, and it would not be a surprise if other teams are also cautious when it comes to adding the wideout. Sure, it will take only one team and there are nine who currently have the resources to make it work no questions asked, but the belief is that Beckham Jr. will pass through waivers untouched.
At that point, he will be available for any team at a different price tag. The market will ultimately dictate what it will look like, but a team like New England might be in a decent position either way.
Beckham Jr. has spoken highly of head coach Bill Belichick in the past, after all, and landing with the Patriots — if only on a half-year prove-it deal — might be in the best interest for both parties: the wideout would land on a team with a well-known reputation of putting its players in a position to be successful, while New England would acquire an elite and possibly supremely motivated wide receiving option for rookie quarterback Mac Jones to work with.
2. Bill Belichick on in-season additions: “We’d do anything we could to help our football team.” During his Friday press conference, Bill Belichick was not directly asked about Odell Beckham Jr, but rather about in-season acquisitions in general. While he did not go into any detail, his answer was still a deviation from the standard “we’re only focused on the upcoming game” that had to be expected.
“I mean, we’ve done that before,” he said. “We brought in [Aqib] Talib in the middle of the season, so… You’d have to evaluate any situation. I don’t know any specifics to talk about, so at this point there’s nothing to really talk about. But, we’d do anything we could to help our football team. We brought in James Harrison with one game to go in the season.”
The message is clear: if the Patriots believe a player — in this particular case Odell Beckham Jr. — can help them out at a reasonable cost, they will never be afraid of going after him.
3. Projecting the second running back for Week 9. The Patriots offense has played some solid football as of late — more on that in a second — but it will face a serious task in Week 9. The Carolina Panthers, after all, are among the best overall defensive teams in football. New England will need to bring its A-game, which extends beyond player performance but also game-planning as well as pre- and in-game decision-making.
One of the decisions to be made by the Patriots’ coaching staff is which running back to use alongside number one Damien Harris. So far, the team has rotated both J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson in and out of the lineup. The two have never been active at the same time, however:
- Week 1 (vs. Miami): Rhamondre Stevenson
- Week 2 (at New York): J.J. Taylor
- Week 3 (vs. New Orleans): J.J. Taylor
- Week 4 (vs. Tampa Bay): J.J. Taylor
- Week 5 (at Houston): Rhamondre Stevenson
- Week 6 (vs. Dallas): Rhamondre Stevenson
- Week 7 (vs. New York): J.J. Taylor
- Week 8 (at Los Angeles): Rhamondre Stevenson
So, who will get the call this week? Based on the opponent, the educated guess would be Rhamondre Stevenson: Carolina built its defense around speed rather than raw power, which might lead New England to use two bruiser-type backs rather than the shiftier Taylor.
4. Gunner Olszewski is on a historic punt return pace. Just like last season, Gunner Olszewski is among the best punt returners in football this year as well. The reigning first All-Pro, who has also seen increased action on kickoff returns, has run back 16 punts for 213 yards and an average of 13.3 yard per return.
His career-long average might be slightly below that, but it is still the best in league history among players with a minimum of 50 punt returns on their résumé:
Update:— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) October 31, 2021
Now has the highest punt return average in the Super Bowl era - (min 50 career punt returns)
1. GUNNER OLSZEWSKI - 13.18
2. Jeff Ogden - 13.14
Olszewski’s contributions at his listed position of wide receiver may be limited — he has caught one 22-yard pass so far this year — but there is no denying he is a weapon when it comes to changing field position. It will be interesting to see at which level the Patriots will tender the soon-to-be restricted free agent next offseason.
5. Josh McDaniels speaks about Trent Brown. Just seven snaps into his second tenure with the Patriots, Trent Brown left the field due to a calf injury. He did participate in practice afterwards, but did not play in any games again before eventually being sent to injured reserve in early October.
While eligible to return, Brown remains on IR for now. Will his status change anytime soon? That remains to be seen, but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spoke about him earlier this week.
“I know he’s working really hard to get back as soon as possible” McDaniels said. “I’m eager for that to happen, like I’m sure everybody is. I’m sure if there’s any chance he could [return to practice], he would. But I know he’s working really hard and I’m hopeful to see him as soon as possible.”
6. The Patriots offense had a productive October... With first-round rookie quarterback Mac Jones getting settled into the New England offense, the unit has started to play some solid football as of late. While nobody will confuse it with more explosive units at its current stadium, or with the Tom Brady-led teams of years past for that matter, it has been quite productive:
Patriots— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) November 2, 2021
Scored the 8th most points per game (30.4) in October, in the Belichick era
A whopping 152 total points scored
Perspective, last year the Pats scored (9.3) per game in October pic.twitter.com/yMsBDxPtjo
Sure, the 54-13 blowout win over the New York Jets heavily impacted the final tally, but the fact remains: New England’s offense is getting better, with the team scoring noticeably more points in October (30.4 per game) than September (18 per game). The arrow is pointing up.
7. ...but it will face its fair share of challenges down the stretch. For as well as the unit has developed recently, the New England offense still has some ways to go: it still is up-and-down in the red zone, for example, and has only played two turnover-free games all year (both against the Jets). Improving in those key areas will be important down the stretch, especially given that the Patriots will face some tough defenses — especially in the passing game: according to Pro Football Focus, only the Panthers will face a tougher slate of pass defenses between Weeks 9 and 18.
8. Don’t believe the Mac Jones “dink and dunk” narrative. Speaking of Mac Jones, the Patriots’ rookie QB has looked very good so far this season. One popular narrative about the first-round rookie, however, is that his production is based on the fact that he is playing a “dink and dunk” style of football and rarely going deep.
While it is true that Jones won’t launch one deep throw after another, the numbers show that he has some interesting company when it comes to his average depth of target: Mac Jones’ average target is 8.0 yards deep — the same number as the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert. The Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (8.2) is not that far away, nor are the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (8.4) and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray (8.4).
Mac Jones may never become this generation’s Daryle Lamonica, but that is by design: he is taught to make the safe play rather than go for the home run throw at all costs, and to not be afraid to throw short passes to just keep moving the sticks. So far, it seems as if this approach has worked well for him.
9. The Lombardi Brothers will meet on Sunday. The Week 9 game between the Patriots and Panthers will be a family reunion for the Lombardis. New England wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi and Carolina assistant quarterbacks coach, Matt Lombardi, are brothers. The two are sons of former New England executive Mike Lombardi and will meet for only the third time in their respective coaching careers.
The first two meetings between the Lombardi Brothers took place in 2019, when Mick was serving as assistant quarterbacks coach in New England and Matt as a quality control coach with the Miami Dolphins. The two teams split the series 1-1 back then, meaning that one of the brothers will move ahead on Sunday.