Patriots

Fantasy Football: Patriots-Cowboys has the potential to be a fantasy wasteland

Fantasy Football: Patriots-Cowboys has the potential to be a fantasy wasteland

Fantasy football players seem to get smarter every year. The leagues get deeper. The competition gets better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in.

But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps by providing you with information we've gleaned by being on the Patriots beat.

MARQUEE MATCHUP: STEPHON GILMORE VS. AMARI COOPER

Dak Prescott is having one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the league this season. He's a legitimate MVP candidate, and a big reason why is that he's had a full season alongside a true No. 1 option in the passing game. His offensive line has been solid. He has a talented back to hand to.

But what Prescott has done — ranking first in the NFL with 8.8 yards per attempt, ranking second in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, ranking third in Next Gen Stats' competition percentage above expectation — has seemingly been thanks in large part to his best target. Cooper has 56 catches for 886 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging a whopping 11.2 yards per target.

But this isn't the week to start Prescott or Cooper. The Patriots defense has ruined games for opposing passers this year outside of Lamar Jackson, and Prescott simply does not have the running ability Jackson does — nor does he have the creative scheme Jackson does supporting him. Cooper figures to be a key part of the offensive plan for Dallas on Sunday, but if he gets the Stephon Gilmore treatment, you'll be kicking yourself for starting him.

Here's what Gilmore has done in his last five games: He's allowed 10 catches on 27 targets for 108 yards and broken up six passes. That's 4.0 yards per target. That's not wise. Prescott will go elsewhere with the football, he'll be willing to let Cooper's numbers dwindle, which means he doesn't care about your fantasy team.

It might be hard to bench the guy who's likely been your best wideout this fantasy season, but you'll be better off. Until someone goes off against Gilmore, you're in a holding pattern. 

SEE 'EM POPPING

EZEKIEL ELLIOTT: If the Cowboys have been paying attention, they know that the Patriots have been run on. Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy and Co. did a nice job up front in Philly, but Bill Belichick's defense understands teams will still try to run on them — even if they did hold the Eagles to fewer than 4.0 yards per carry last weekend. They're 26th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed through 10 weeks (4.6). "It's gonna be the same thing against Dallas when we play them next week," Devin McCourty said after beating the Eagles. "They're going to test us in the run game, and see if they can get some things that happened two weeks ago [or] early in the season."

JAMES WHITE: White didn't have a world-beating statistical line against the Eagles, but he still got you almost double-digit points in PPR formats. The number you should love if you've rostered White is that he had seven targets against Philly's aggressive front. The screen game was clearly a huge part of the plan — and I think it will be again this weekend. The Cowboys generate a ton of pressure with their front, which takes advantage of their speed and explosiveness along the defensive line. In order to slow that down, the Patriots will likely turn to their draw plays and screen game. Even if Rex Burkhead is in that mix, that should mean plenty of work for White, who may be one of the only veteran pass-catchers on the field for Tom Brady this weekend while Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett deal with injury. 

JULIAN EDELMAN: Well . . . that didn't last long. Coming off a bye week, Julian Edelman was briefly removed from the injury report. Then he saw double-digit targets yet again — his fifth consecutive game with at least 10 targets — and landed on the injury report this week with a shoulder issue. No matter. Get him in your starting lineup. He'll be banged up. He'll be doubled — again, particularly if Sanu is out. But Brady has to throw to someone. That someone will be Edelman. He hasn't had fewer than 13 fantasy points in PPR leagues since the calendar flipped to October. Start him and don't think twice. The Cowboys, though they're seventh in the league in yardage and points allowed, haven't been amazing against opposing wideouts — especially in critical situations. They're 23rd in the league in success rate allowed to wideouts.

SEE 'EM DROPPING

MICHAEL GALLUP: The Patriots have had success in the secondary for reasons far beyond Stephon Gilmore. He's No. 1 on the list, but this is a well-oiled machine against the passing game. With Devin McCourty calling the signals and a variety of versatile pieces who can change assignments on the fly, it makes life difficult on young quarterbacks. As good as Prescott has been, he's still relatively green, and he's taking more chances than ever before. That's a good thing for an offense that's benefitted from his explosive-play productivity, but against the most turnover-happy defense in football it could be his downfall. The Patriots still lead the league in yards per attempt allowed to wideouts at just 5.0. Whether it's Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson on him, it's not likely Gallup goes off.

MOHAMED SANU: Even if he's active, he's clearly dealing with an ankle injury that limited him in practice this week. There's an off-chance he ends up in the end zone — where his speed in a short area might not be as crucial — but it's hard to depend on anything from him while he recovers from an injury suffered in Philly. 

SONY MICHEL: Even with Isaiah Wynn back, it's hard to say this offense has the ability to run it down a defense's throat. When the Patriots have been at their best running the football, they've been in the hurry-up, with either White or Burkhead on the field. That's not necessarily Michel's game because he's not as versatile. And try as they might to incorporate him in the passing game, Michel might see fewer chances through the air. Yes, he caught the first pass of the game in Philly and ran for a gain of 12. But he also had a Brady pass bounce off his chest plate and very nearly land in the arms of a defender.

RANDALL COBB: Jonathan Jones figures to be the matchup here as Randall Cobb has started to turn things up of late for the Cowboys from his slot position. That's not excellent news for Cobb fantasy owners. Jones is the No. 2 graded corner in football this season — behind Washington's Quinton Dunbar — according to Pro Football Focus. What's helped Jones over the course of the last three games? He's been fresher. Why? The addition of Justin Bethel has allowed Jones to take a breather on Patriots punts. Previous to Bethel's arrival, Jones was a gunner, meaning he'd sprint about 60 yards and then be asked to perform in coverage soon thereafter. 

PHILLIP DORSETT: Another injury situation here. Worth monitoring, though. If Dorsett plays after suffering a concussion in Philly, and if Sanu sits out, starting Dorsett in your fantasy lineup would make some sense. Again, the number of experienced targets Brady will have to work with will make any available veteran a little more valuable on Sunday. 

N'KEAL HARRY: If you're desperate, I could see it. If Dorsett and Sanu miss time, Harry could be in line to be the No. 2 wideout on the roster, meaning he'd be in line to get almost every snap. His nerves showed a bit against the Eagles as he left his feet to try to reel in a pair of slants — one was caught, one wasn't — even though his frame is big enough that he doesn't have to protect the ball in that fashion. He acknowledged after the game that it felt good to get the first few grabs of his career out of the way so maybe he'll be less cautious and more willing to work back to the football, keep his feet, and pluck it out of the air with his hands. 

TOM BRADY: Just take a listen to what Brady himself has said this week. The strengths of this team are its defense and special teams units. That puts the offense in more of a management role, which means gaudy statistics for the quarterback should be hard to come by. His protection will be better with Wynn back — long gone should be the sprint-out passes that took Brady away from the left side of the offensive line in Wynn's absence — and that should help Brady feel more comfortable in the pocket. But his weapons, and the style of game called by Josh McDaniels if it's one built to protect the football, could make it a difficult day for Brady fantasy owners.

DAK PRESCOTT: See: Cooper, Amari; Gallup, Michael; Cobb, Randall.

JASON WITTEN/BEN WATSON: Impressive as it is that these two remain in the league and remain key pieces of their respective offensive attacks . . . you can't do it. Watson's ceiling is likely what we saw last week in Philadelphia, where he cracked 50 yards. Witten's is about the same. His season-high came on Nov. 4 when he caught eight passes for 58 yards. You might be desperate because it's a shallow position group across the league, but keep those expectations low.

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Perry's Mailbag: If not Foxboro, where's Brady going?

Perry's Mailbag: If not Foxboro, where's Brady going?

In this week's Patriots mailbag, Phil Perry revisits some of the 2019 draft, talks potential Brady locations for 2020 (including Foxboro), previews what to expect from old nemesis Steve Spagnuolo, and gives insight to why it's been such a down year for kickers.

Perry: Cherubin getting down to business. I like it. 1) It's been answered for you. Ready for another go-round with appendix-less Nick Folk? 2) I would've drafted Dawson Knox instead of Damien Harris. I like Damien Harris as a player. But the Patriots are deep at running back, and that's a position where the individuals who are game-changers on their own are few and far between. The bigger need? A tight end who can block -- Knox is the fifth-ranked blocking tight end in football this year, per Pro Football Focus -- and catch (25 grabs), who checked every box athletically, who walked onto an SEC power after playing quarterback in high school. Knox would've made a lot of sense here, and now the tight end unit in New England is still trying to figure things out. 3) The best fit, in my opinion, is Miami. He knows the coaching staff there and his offensive system would be in place. The market is ideal for someone in the fitness industry looking to grow a business. The team isn't very good . . . but that could change quickly. The Dolphins have $100 million in cap space. They could totally revamp the offensive line. They could add a veteran receiver (or two . . . both AJ Green and Emmanuel Sanders will be available) to rising talent Devante Parker. Suddenly, they'd be in the mix. They'll also have three first-rounders -- including their own, which could be in the top-five -- to spend however they see fit. Did we mention the owner there is a Michigan man?

CURRAN: Are we watching Tom Brady's final days with the Patriots?

Perry: You make fair points about Jared Cook and the draft. They wanted Cook. Indications at the time were that Cook didn't want them because Rob Gronkowski was still in the picture. And, yes, Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel and N'Keal Harry were high-end offensive investments. But you could also say that maybe they should've been in on Adam Humphries earlier. Or that they should've tried a different route to replacing Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola following 2017. The summer of 2018 was when they tried to pair Kenny Britt, Eric Decker, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson and a banged-up Malcolm Mitchell with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett. Out of desperation they signed Josh Gordon and then, a year later, Antonio Brown. Outside of Ryan Izzo (2018), AJ Derby (2015) and Lee Smith (2011), they haven't drafted a tight end since Aaron Hernandez. They've invested offensively. Two of the patchwork moves made this year (Brown, Mohamed Sanu) required significant financial commitment and draft capital, respectively. But I think it's also fair to take a long hard look at how aggressive they were to fill certain spots at critical times.

Perry: Good question, Karen. Steve Spagnuolo is the new defensive coordinator for the Chiefs, and he likes to play pattern-matching zone coverages. This is a style of zone defense, but it often ends up looking like man-to-man because it requires defenders to identify routes and route combinations, and then stick closely to the route that ends up in their zone. Some zone defenses like to "spot-drop," back-pedaling into a zone and reading the quarterback's eyes to make a play on the ball in a given area. That's not Kansas City. The Patriots are encouraging defenses to play more man because they have a hard time beating man right now when Julian Edelman is doubled and James White is checked by a defensive back. So Spagnuolo might say let's just forget the pattern-matching stuff and play man across the board so that no assignments are confused. But either way I'd expect coverage to be tight. This secondary is better than it was last year. The Chiefs run defense, though, is a mess. The Patriots should be able to run the ball against the league's 30th-ranked run-stopping unit. They've been more effective running the football over the last two weeks with Isaiah Wynn back.

Is Belichick sending a message to refs with his comment about RPOs?

Perry: Never say never, Gigi, but I doubt it. Not only is Stephon Gilmore's job important enough that the Patriots would in all likelihood like him to focus there. But Bill Belichick has said before that -- as talented as many defenders are -- there's a reason defensive players play defense. From 2016: “I mean look, a lot of defensive players get moved [from] offense because they’re not good enough on offense, right? High school coaches, college coaches, if they have somebody better and you have another good player at that position, instead of stacking them up, you just move them somewhere where he can get on the field quicker. If you’re a high school or college coach you’re not going to take your best running back and put him at – I mean it’d be rare to put him somewhere else. You’re going to give him the ball and let him be a productive scorer for you . . . That’s a general statement. It’s not meant towards any specific player. Although I think most of the defensive players need to understand that the reason they don’t play offense is because they’re not good enough to play offense." We've seen defensive players for the Patriots play offense before: Elandon Roberts is a recent example; Mike Vrabel. But we haven't seen a corner get receiver reps that I can remember. The Patriots, for instance, could've used a receiver in 2006 but Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel never got that chance.

Perry: I wouldn't trade up a significant amount in the first round to get him, Zack. If he falls, and if there is optimism about his physical condition, then I might pounce. It's not very often this team has the opportunity to draft a widely-regarded top player at that position. I'm still not sure the Patriots would draft him, though, if he slides to the end of the first round. He's not their "prototype," which we study every year ahead of the draft. His size and arm strength could be issues for a team that likes players who have the ability to drive the football through the elements. When your most important games are played outdoors in the Northeast in December and January, those things matter.

CURRAN & PERRY: If the Pats just did THIS, offense would improve

Perry: I think some of it, Tom, comes down to missed opportunities to invest in veteran talent at the position. They've gotten by with veteran additions for a long time -- Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks -- and they've had plenty of success. The problem is that the pool of potential "fits" who have NFL experience and are available is small. The draft unloads fresh receivers on the league year after year, and plenty become good players. Would they in New England? I'm not so sure. Depending on the player, I think the system can be a barrier. Is it too complex if you need to rely on hitting on trades or in free agency instead of the draft? . . . I still don't think so. The offensive system is part of why the Patriots are who they are, why they've had the success they've had. They might've had more rookie receiver standouts if the system was simpler. Sure. But the flip side of that is players like Julian Edelman or Wes Welker or even Rob Gronkowski might not have had the careers they had without it. Each was athletically gifted and could've succeeded at a range of places, but they all benefitted from being in a system that requires a high football IQ. They all did. They thrived. Hard to eschew a malleable, though intricate, system just to get the young guys involved. The question gets more complicated when the young guys *have* to be involved because there were veteran misses along the way. At that point, you do need to adjust some things to make life a little easier. And I think they have. We haven't seen the results yet, but looking at how they've used N'Keal Harry these last few games, I think it's safe to say they've tried to simplify things for him. I'll actually have a story out tomorrow looking at Harry's usage that will hopefully shed a little more light on what's going on with the Patriots passing game at the moment.

Perry: Thanks as always for checking in, Rich. It's not too complex for all young receivers, right? Malcolm Mitchell, I know, is an outlier of sorts. But it wasn't too complex for him. I think it's just complex, period. Phillip Dorsett had issues the other night and he's been around for multiple years now. I'd also just say that they have spent a fair amount for veteran help lately. Paying Antonio Brown what they did was a huge investment. Paying a second-rounder for Mohamed Sanu was a huge investment. Paying a second-rounder for Wes Welker back in the day was a huge investment. They try to be smart with their spending. Always have been. It's part of the reason they've sustained success as long as they have. They could've used a Brandon LaFell circa 2014 or a Chris Hogan circa 2016 signing this offseason and didn't end up landing anyone of consequence. Again, the pool of available players who have enough experience to grasp the Patriots system and the ability to execute is small.

Perry: Wouldn't shock me, Dave. It's December. The Patriots running game is trending in the right direction with Isaiah Wynn back in the mix. I don't think they'll be the team we saw at the end of the last year. But they're a team who'll want to have the option to get physical when it's warranted. (This weekend, against a bad Kansas City run defense, perhaps?) Roberts could help give them that backfield look that they liked so much with James Develin -- just not as often as Develin gave it to them when healthy. He might not be thrilled to be doing the job, but Roberts could end up having a real role in key spots for the offense.

Perry: Love this idea, Jim. It's one of the things he did really well at Arizona State. The Patriots threw him a bubble screen that might've gone for more than it did (four yards) had it not been for a missed Marshall Newhouse block on the outside. It wouldn't shock me if we saw something like that drawn up for him soon.

Perry: Mentioned above here, Dave, I think Miami makes a lot of sense. The Chargers do too, but Willie McGinest said this week that not everyone in the Brady household would necessarily be thrilled going to the West Coast. Your second question raises a fair question. They're right in the middle of the pack in terms of cap space available. Giving a significant percentage of that over to Brady -- if he were to stay -- would make it hard to add a high-priced receiver, in my opinion. To your last question, I think in a perfect world they'd like to give Stidham a little more time to see how he develops. That might mean a bridge quarterback is a possibility. Marcus Mariota, maybe? I know. I know. Not ideal. But he wouldn't be breaking the bank, and he might be able to manage the game for a very good Patriots defense. He was 13th in quarterback rating in 2018, ninth in PFF's accuracy percentage, and third in accuracy percentage when under pressure. If he's dealing with chronic injuries that inhibit his ability to throw the football, that's one thing. But as far as bargain-basement one-year plans go -- someone to take the reins until the Next Guy is ready, whether that's Stidham or someone else -- they could do worse.

 

 

Perry: Impossible to say, Jolyon. I've been a fan of Stidham's since before the draft. I think he has a lot of potential. I know the Patriots felt the same way. (Remember, he was considered a potential first-rounder after the 2017 college football season, then had a weird year in a wonky Auburn offense in 2018.) Here's what Belichick told us about Stidham earlier this season, when I asked for a quick assessment of how the rookie's first year had gone behind the scenes. "Yeah, good. Jarrett is a smart kid. He picks things up very quickly. He has a good grasp of the offense given where he is in his career. He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him. In practice, he does a good job. He gets a lot of passes on our defense and when he has the opportunity to get the offensive snaps, he’s prepared and does a good job of those. But you know, it’s always different in the game. I think he’s doing all he can do."

 

 

Perry: You do remember correctly. I'd say Jonathan Jones with safety help, likely Devin McCourty, would make the most sense for Tyreek Hill. I'm not sure Hill is fully healthy based on how he looked against Oakland, but the Patriots won't want to bank on the fact that he isn't. For Kelce, I'd use Stephon Gilmore. Using Gilmore on Sammy Watkins would be a waster of resources, in my opinion. Watkins has had a down year, including two catches in his last two games (against below average pass defenses from the Chargers and Raiders) despite playing 95 snaps. 

Perry: Definitely. It's how they got Stephen Gostkowski. Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal and the Las Vegas Review-Journal had an interesting look this week at why kickers are having a down year, and why it's tough to find capable players at that position these days.

Perry: Offensively? Run the football. Use play-action. Defensively? Double Hill. Don't blitz, even though you love to. Run games with your linemen and linebackers to confuse the offensive line protecting Patrick Mahomes. Confusing Mahomes himself will be much more difficult.

Perry: There's a lot of Joe Judge's plate as the receivers coach and special teams coach. But he has help at both spots with Troy Brown and Cam Achord, respectively.

Perry: I think so. He was a critical piece to the running game. The running game has struggled. The trickle-down effect for the rest of the offense has been real. I know my former co-host Rob Ninkovich thinks the Develin loss was even bigger than Rob Gronkowski's. I wouldn't go that far, but it was big. I'll never forget what Bill Belichick told Develin on the field after last year's Super Bowl that he was the one who gave them the toughness they needed to be the offense they were. 

Perry: He'd likely end up bringing back a third-round draft pick, RC. But the pick wouldn't be for the 2020 draft. It'd be for 2021. That's how the comp-pick formula works. It takes into account how (and how much) a player played for his new team as well as the deal he earned from his new team. The comp picks the Patriots get in the spring of 2020 will be related to their losing guys like Trey Flowers and Trent Brown. 

Perry: Sanu was still dealing with a balky ankle in Houston, Chris. Actually played fewer snaps than Harry did. If and when he gets healthy, he'll make a big difference. Brady likes him. Not in danger of being berated by Brady on the sideline anytime soon. I don't think. 

Perry: If your professor will accept a 2,500-word mailbag as your final exam, I've got you covered. Thanks to everyone who chipped in this week. Great questions as always. Enjoy the game.

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Tom Brady, Chase Winovich don Ohio State gear after Michigan loss

Tom Brady, Chase Winovich don Ohio State gear after Michigan loss

With the University of Michigan's latest loss to archrival Ohio State, proud alums and Patriots stars Tom Brady and Chase Winovich lost a bet with Buckeye teammates Nate Ebner and John Simon. The four were seen in the locker room all wearing OSU's familial Scarlet and Gray for a photo op that's quickly gone viral.

Ebner and Simon were more than happy to indulge in the spoils:

It's not the first time Brady has done something like this during his time in New England. Most famously, No. 12 practiced in Mike Vrabel's OSU jersey after a Michigan loss to the Buckeyes several years ago.

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