Patriots

Pats aren't sleeping on McCoy, despite sluggish 2017

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Pats aren't sleeping on McCoy, despite sluggish 2017

FOXBORO -- To say the Buffalo Bills are riding LeSean McCoy would be an understatement. On a team full of flayed-legged foals, the Bills have had to put the saddle on the 29-year old running back this season to mixed results. 

McCoy has piled over a thousand yards from scrimmage with a handful of explosive plays. But a closer look at the numbers reveal a runner who’s averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, down a full yard-and-a-half from the year prior. However, that’s not the back Bill Belichick or his defensive players are seeing.

“It's a power running game with a back that can, literally, run the ball from sideline to sideline and make four guys miss in a phone booth,” Belichick said. “McCoy can take any play and turn it into a play that doesn't look like any other play you've seen before."

“I’ve been playing him since college where we had calls where you’ve got him in a phone booth and you come up with just his towel,” added Devin McCourty, recalling his days at Rutgers facing McCoy’s Pitt Panthers.

McCoy hasn’t had a ton of explosive plays this year, which again shows in the numbers. He has just three runs of 20 or more yards (long is 24). You think at his age and with his experience - this is his 9th NFL season - that maybe McCoy is finally starting to slow down. However, Buffalo’s offensive line has been inconsistent. Only guard Richie Incognito is playing at a level comparable to last year. Thus, some of McCoy’s best runs have been the ones where he avoids taking a loss thanks to his suddenness that - in many ways - reminds you of some of runs we’ve been seeing from Dion Lewis.

“Trying to tackle LeSean is scary in and of itself, the guy can be running this way and all of a sudden cut and he’s going in completely the opposite,” said safety Duron Harmon. “He’s probably the most - if not the most - elusive players in the league.”

“He stresses the defense, for sure,” said Lawrence Guy. “But this is a big game plan game. Do what you’re suppose to do when you’re suppose to do it.”

As part of that plan, the Pats have had it drilled into their heads this week that they must rally to the football, but also make sure they maintain their discipline when they do. That means proper spacing between would-be tacklers and never thinking the play is over until McCoy is on the ground.

“I think everyone else has to realize that when a guy gets a one-on-one shot on him, it doesn’t mean slow down,” said McCourty. “It means let’s all get there. If he makes him miss, let’s all try to get him down after that. For years, for nine years now, he’s been a very tough back to try to take down in the open field, and it’s going to be the same thing Sunday. But, I think we need to have the mentality of all 11 guys on run plays need to be in that coaches’ copy of the film where we talk about getting to the ball and trying to gang tackle him.”

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Five quick thoughts: Dolphins bring the heat to Brady, Patriots

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Five quick thoughts: Dolphins bring the heat to Brady, Patriots

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts from what transpired between the Patriots and Dolphins on Monday night . . . 

1) Might Tom Brady's slow start be attributable to what happened two weeks ago at Gillette Stadium? The Patriots quarterback was hit eight times that day, and he seemed jumpy from the start Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium. The Patriots went three-and-out on their first two drives of the game, and they gained two yards total in the first quarter. Brady was pressured when Lawrence Timmons came in unblocked on the second Patriots play of the game, but he underthrew Brandin Cooks for an interception when he had plenty of time in the pocket. (Brady was picked again by Howard on a slightly underthrown pass to Cooks early in the third quarter. Again, he had plenty of time.) He also missed James White on a relatively easy throw when he really wasn't pressured. Perhaps he sensed Ndamukong Suh coming, but he had time to get off a good throw without being contacted. That kind of misfire could be due in part to what happened when Suh and his teammates were all over Brady in Foxboro late last month. 

2) The Patriots might've regretted not getting Dion Lewis more involved early on. The hottest Patriots back went without a touch from scrimmage in the first quarter. When the team took over possession early in the second, Lewis saw the football on the first two plays of the series and picked up 18 yards. His one-handed catch -- on a tremendous throw from Brady as he was being hit by Kiko Alonso -- later in the second quarter went for 20 yards and helped set up the Patriots for their lone touchdown of the half. 

3) Can't blame the Dolphins for their approach in the passing game through the first two quarters: Find mismatches and take advantage. They were able to do just that by targeting Elandon Roberts in coverage on rookie running back Kenyan Drake. That matchup produced a 13-yard gain in the first quarter. In the second, Drake beat Roberts down the sideline for a 47-yard gain. Roberts also seemed to be the closest defender in coverage on Anthony Fasano when the Dolphins tight end reeled in a 17-yard gain during the same second-quarter drive. Five plays after the long Drake completion, the Dolphins scored on a quick-hitting throw to Jarvis Landry to take a 13-7 lead. 

4) The Dolphins utilized another smart tactic throughout the game, deploying bunch and stack formations for the Patriots to try to cover. Jarvis Landry's third-quarter touchdown came with the Dolphins going to a bunch formation near the goal line. With the Patriots in a true zone, and without a defender "buying" Landry off the snap, he found a soft spot and sat down in it for six. The Patriots had done a fine job of defending bunch sets through the first month of the season -- though they weren't tested nearly as often as expected -- but Monday night seemed to be a step back in that regard. 

5) Late in the third quarter, Patriots safety Duron Harmon laid into his defensive teammates on the sidelines with Matt Patricia standing by. Harmon has been dubbed "The Voice" by teammates this season for his increased role as one of the go-to players to shoulder media responsibilities. He was outspoken when the defense struggled in September, and he clearly wasn't afraid to let his opinions known as the Patriots were plagued by broken coverages and missed tackles in Miami.