Why Chris Hogan's return could mitigate impact of Rob Gronkowski suspension


Why Chris Hogan's return could mitigate impact of Rob Gronkowski suspension

FOXBORO -- No one can give the Patriots what Rob Gronkowski gives them. That much is obvious. But if they could get Chris Hogan back in the lineup, that might lessen the impact of playing without their suspended tight end down in Miami on Monday night. 

Hogan participated in the team's fully-padded practice inside the Empower Field House on Wednesday. It was his first on-the-field session with his teammates since suffering a shoulder injury against the Chargers in Week 8.


While it's unclear as to whether or not he'll be healthy enough to play against the Dolphins, he was clearly pleased that he was able to finally get back to work.

“It was like a first day of school for me, to get back out on the field," he said. "I was excited to be out there. The competitor in me wants to be out there no matter what. I’m just taking it day-by-day, trying to get better and hopefully put myself in a position where I can be back on the field with these guys."

In Hogan's absence, the Patriots have turned to Phillip Dorsett in three-receiver sets. Though Dorsett has chipped in with a handful of effective down-the-field blocks, he's played 168 snaps since the bye and has just three targets. Should Hogan be able to return, Tom Brady would suddenly have one of his more dependable options available to him again in the passing game. 

Hogan would also provide a sneaky-effective red-zone target with Gronkowski out. 

Even after missing the last four games, Hogan is top 20 in the NFL in terms of red-zone touchdowns. His four receiving scores inside the 20-yard line are tied for 18th in the league with Kansas City's Travis Kelce and one more than San Diego's Keenan Allen, New Orleans' Michael Thomas and Denver's Demaryius Thomas.

And even with a quarter of the season lost to injury, Hogan is still in the top 30 in terms of red-zone targets. The 11 passes he's seen in that area are more than Philadelphia's Alshon Jeffery (10), Oakland's Amari Cooper (9) and Denver's Emmanuel Sanders (8).

"Chris has got good length,” Bill Belichick said earlier this season when asked about Hogan's red-zone productivity. "He catches the ball well. He catches away from his body, which a lot of passes in the red area, that’s what you have to do because the coverage is tight. The quarterback throws it to where the defender can’t get it, and the receiver has to extend to make the play. Good hands, being able to separate and good height definitely helps down there."

Before getting hurt, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder was on pace for career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns, and he was particularly busy in the one game Gronkowski missed this season due to a leg injury. In Week 5 against the Bucs, Hogan was targeted a season-high 11 times and caught a season-high 8 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. 

It's not certain Hogan will be able to play. But if he's a go, his presence in the lineup could go a long way in terms of helping to fill created by Gronkowski's suspension. 


Change to pass-interference rule is WAY overdue

AP Photo

Change to pass-interference rule is WAY overdue

Yes, please, on the proposed adjustment to defensive pass interference. No, thank you on the revised catch rule.

And I know I'm going to have my dreams crushed on both counts.

Despite all the arm-flapping and breath wasted that "NOBODY KNOWS WHAT A CATCH IS ANYMORE!!!!", long-distance pass interference has been a bigger bugaboo for the league for a much longer time.

In 2017, there were 129 pass interference calls longer than 15 yards. The proposed rule change that will be debated at next week's NFL Annual Meeting will make pass interference a 15-yard penalty unless it's egregious and intentional. In those cases, it will continue to be a spot foul

So overdue. For too long offenses have been rewarded by officials on 50-50 balls where DBs and receivers engage in subtle handfighting. It's absolutely illogical to expect middle-aged officials in okay (or worse) shape to keep pace with Gronk-sized receivers and whippet-quick defenders, then make calls on plays 40 yards downfield.

If you're going to throw a flag that gives the offense 40 yards, there should be an extreme degree of certainty accompanies that flag. And too often, the officials are forced to make educated guesses. Next thing you know, Joe Flacco and Rex Grossman are in the Super Bowl.

It's probably the most difficult penalty to call in football, yet it carries the greatest punishment for a defense? What sense does that make? 

I actually think the NFL should go a step beyond and make pass interference reviewable. I'll even make this concession -- it's reviewable only for DPI that puts the ball inside the 10 and is longer than 15 yards. How's that?

"More reviews?!?!? We don't need more reviews?!?!?!"

Okay, but you'll accept them when a dimwit coach argues a spot on a three-yard run that may or may not mean a first down, but not on a play that hands the offense half the field? Come on. Forward thinking.

As for the contention corners are going to begin bludgeoning receivers once they realize they're being beaten deep -- BAM! -- that's where you get the aggravated pass interference (API . . . trademarked 2018) that can be dropped on their heads.

A DB that doesn't turn to face the ball and runs through a receiver? An arm bar all the way downfield preventing a receiver from getting his hands up? A way-too-early arrival? That's API and it's a spot foul. What are the possible negative consequences?

It will now spawn debate as to what's aggravated PI and just garden variety PI. And it asks officials to make another judgment call.

But the truth is, it already is -- in many cases -- a judgment call. And if I were an official reaching for my flag on a Hail Mary from the 43 at the end of the game where there was jostling, I'd sure as hell be happy that I have the option to call garden variety PI and put the ball at the 28 rather than put the ball at the 1.

It's a rule change that makes the game better. That way you don't have calls like this or this. This 55-yarder would be an API (defender hugs Crabtree).

Tellingly, there's no outcry about the need to reform pass interference NOW like there is about the catch rule. You know what needs to happen? A few more plays like this where the Patriots profit. Then you'll see a damn MOVEMENT!


Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Bill Belichick is a teacher. His father was a teacher. His mother was a teacher. He is very much their son in that regard. 

The glimpses into Belichick's essence aren't as rare as you might think, but they still generate an inordinate amount of interest because he's arguably the best to ever execute the kind of teaching he's made his life's work.

Every time he takes several minutes to answer a conference call or press conference question thoughtfully, the hundreds of words found in the text of the transcribed answer typically create a stir on Twitter. NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, make every installment of the ‘Do Your Job’ series a must-watch.

Clips of Belichick on the practice field aren't necessarily hard to find, there just aren't many of them considering how many practices he's run over the course of his decades-long career. But thanks to more lax media policies at the college programs he visits for pro days, video of his on-the-field work pops up on a regular basis this time of year. They are mini-clinics dotting the internet. 

This is Belichick in his element. Even in the middle of a random university campus. Even with scouts, coaches and front-office people from around the league watching his every move. Whether he's coaching players one-on-one or three or four at a time, Belichick is imparting his wisdom on eager close-to-blank slates. All the while he's trying to evaluate how they're absorbing what he's giving them. Do they pay attention? How do they process information? Are they error-repeaters? 

It's a fascinating give-and-take between the 60-something coach trying to build a roster and the 20-something players trying to make one, some of whom hadn't yet hit kindergarten when Belichick won his first ring in New England. And he seems to enjoy it. 

Here's a quick look at some of what Belichick has been up to the last few days at Georgia, South Carolina and NC State.