Patriots

If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related topic. This week: Call me crazy, but if the Patriots would just do THIS offensively, they’d see a big improvement. 

Bang it to the tight ends. So far this season, the Patriots have 26 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown from Benjamin Watson, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo and Eric Tomlinson. The 27 catches have come on 38 total targets.

Tomlinson’s long gone and Izzo hasn’t played since Week 6 against the Giants. LaCosse, meanwhile, has missed five games. The 38-year-old Watson has been targeted twice in the past two games but has pulled in 12 of the 17 passes sent his way in the past six weeks.

Last season, a dinged-up Rob Gronkowski caught 26 passes for 304 yards by himself and that came on 43 targets. It’s astounding that an offense that’s been as reliant on the tight end as the Patriots has only directed 38 passes to the position through 12 games. Even in 2016, when Gronk missed a big chunk of the year, the team was still able to get 55 catches and 701 yards from Martellus Bennett.

I have a feeling the Josh McDaniels has noticed the absence of the tight end in their offense. I’m also sure that part of the reason it hasn’t been anything more than an afterthought is A) they’ve had a revolving door there with LaCosse injured and Watson suspended for the early part of the year; B) they’ve had woeful pass protection especially on the left while Isaiah Wynn was out and needed to keep a tight end in at times and C) they don’t have dynamic players at the spot.

But last week, the Patriots got a much-missed seam pass to Lacosse for 23 yards and a 32-yard catch-and-run from Watson. Could that be a motivator to get the ball out there a little more often? Couldn’t hurt.

***

I'm not sure there's anything they can do right now to see a BIG improvement. But there are improvements there to be made, no doubt. I'd focus on the red zone because that's the area of the field where there's the most obvious potential for growth for the Patriots.

There really is no reason for the Patriots not to be at least a little more effective at scoring touchdowns when they get inside the 20. They're currently 24th in the NFL when it comes to red-zone efficiency at 48.89 percent. That's a tick below bad offensive football teams like the Giants (53.12 percent, 22nd), Bears (59.46 percent, 14th), Bills (63.64 percent, 9th) and Dolphins (67.74 percent, 4th).

How do they improve? Go big. Go bigger in the passing game. Get those tight ends you mention, Tom, out there and allow them to use their bodies to post up on defenders in an area of the field where space is tight. Use N'Keal Harry, even if it's only as a specialty player in there, because he knows how to make a back-shoulder catch. Maybe give Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers a breather when you're in there.

And go big in the running game deep in opponent territory. Multiple tight ends. Maybe an extra offensive lineman at times. Since Isaiah Wynn's return, and since LaCosse has been healthy enough to be a factor as a blocker, the run game has improved. Especially out of two-tight end sets.

In the last two weeks, they've run for 4.2 yards per carry out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). That number was 3.4 yards per carry in Weeks 2-11 without Wynn. They picked up 3.3 yards per carry in games without Wynn this year, whereas they've averaged 4.4 yards per carry the past two weeks -- regardless of personnel package. They should be able to run it closer to the goal line with the offensive line and tight end spots healthier. And if they prove they can do that, that'll open up the play-action passing game down there.

Poof. Just like that, the red-zone offense will be better and the Patriots will see more points on the scoreboard as a result.

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NFL Rumors: Details of Lamar Miller's Patriots contract revealed

NFL Rumors: Details of Lamar Miller's Patriots contract revealed

The New England Patriots have signed another former Pro Bowler for pennies on the dollar, it appears.

Running back Lamar Miller officially signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in free agency Thursday, and now we know the reported details of that deal, thanks to ESPN's Field Yates.

Miller will make $1.05 million in base salary in 2020 with $200,000 guaranteed. He has an additional $1.5 million in incentives, per Yates, meaning he can earn up to $2.55 million this season. 

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That's a pretty steep discount for the 29-year-old running back, whose four-year, $26 million contract with the Houston Texans (with $14 million guaranteed) expired this spring.

Miller made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and has two 1,000-rushing-yard seasons under his belt but missed the entire 2019 campaign after tearing his ACL in the preseason.

Miller actually has the same base salary as Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, who took an even bigger pay cut to join New England in free agency. Newton's contract has more incentives, though: The three-time Pro Bowler can earn up to $7.5 million this season.

Starting running back Sony Michel is still recovering from ankle surgery and may not be ready for Week 1, so Miller has the opportunity to revive his career in New England, while the Patriots are hoping to find value in another talented player coming off an injury.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Jeff Benedict details process of writing 'The Dynasty'

Patriots Talk Podcast: Jeff Benedict details process of writing 'The Dynasty'

There’s one sentiment shared by everyone who’s covered the New England Patriots for the entirety of their dynastic run. Gratitude. 

It might not show up in the day-to-day coverage of reporting on the nitty-gritty of where the team is and where it’s headed. It might not seem like it when we probe and analyze the interpersonal relationships and shine a light on where the agitations are. 

But to have had a front-row seat to history for 20 years? To watch a once-failed head coach, an overlooked quarterback and an idealistic and sometimes naïve owner combine to lift the Patriots from NFL afterthought to the most successful team in the history of America’s most beloved sport? Right place, right time for me. 

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I coulda been born in Saint Augustine, Florida, and spent my career covering the Jaguars. I wasn’t. I got to cover the team I loved first. The team I cried over when it lost in the 1976 playoffs to the Oakland Raiders. I can still remember the sense of accomplishment I felt at the 1997 NFL Draft, the first event I covered in person on the Patriots beat. It was all I wanted to do. 

The Patriots drafted Chris Canty in the first round. It’s gotten better since then. 

When you cover the team this long, you develop a sense of “ownership.” A belief you know the story as well as anyone possibly could. It’s probably not healthy. Really, it’s a barrier to learning. But I’ll admit it lurks. So when it was announced that author Jeff Benedict would have a book called, “The Dynasty” coming out in September, there was a flash of, “I already know the story…” combined with a twinge of “Why’s he writing it? What’s he know that I don’t?"

Well, as it turns out – and as I expected from an author of Benedict’s ability – there’s a lot he knows about the Patriots that I didn’t.

I’m more than 200 pages into the 525-page book. Benedict spoke to 250 different people. He got everyone who matters on the record – Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Roger Goodell … the list goes on. I’m learning a lot. 

Benedict, who along with Armen Keteyian wrote the best-selling book, “Tiger Woods,” is a master at digging for details and anecdotes and putting his reader in a fly-on-the-wall position because he’s such a terrific reporter and storyteller. 

”The Dynasty” won’t be released by published Simon and Schuster until September 1. There’s an embargo on the content until then. But I did get to speak with Benedict on “Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast” about the two-year process of writing this book. 

Patriots Talk Podcast: Benedict explains the process behind upcoming book, "The Dynasty" | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

“To me, we’re talking about the greatest sports dynasty, certainly of this century in America and it’s in the conversation as being the greatest sports dynasty in America ever,” said Benedict. “I did feel a tremendous sense of being overwhelmed, a sense of foreboding because it’s such an epic story. 

“I’m not an insider,” Benedict said. “I know all these guys who have been around this franchise forever. I wasn’t there for any of it. I’ve literally never covered a Patriots game … And here’s an army of men and women who’ve been around the team, so it was sort of this idea of, ‘What can you bring that would actually add value and be different?’ 

“I tried to look at it from the perspective of the one thing I can relate to is, I’m a New Englander to the core. What I do feel is I really understand my audience. And the core audience for this book is people who live in New England and people who have followed this team and are in love with this team.

"It’s not to say I don’t want to write it for people in other parts of the country. I want them to read it too and there’s a great story there even if you’re a Jets fan or a Steelers fan. But the core audience is us who live in New England.”

The start of the book is Kraft-centric. The first 100 pages cover the machinations he went through to purchase the team, keep it in Foxboro and build a stadium, which have been somewhat been taken for granted around here and are laid out in detail by Benedict. I learned a lot.

“I have a wonderful editor,” said Benedict. “My editor gave me the same challenge with this as he did with Tiger Woods and that was, ‘I want the reader to learn something new on every single page of this book.’ So if the book is 500 pages long, that’s at least 500 things you need to find that no one else knew. 

“That’s really hard in the New England market,” Benedict added. “The Patriots are the most beloved team in New England. They’re the kings. They’re covered the most. It’s saturation coverage. So I took the approach that, this is not a book about a person, this is a book about a team, about a franchise.

"I went into it with two central questions that all Patriots fans are interested in. First, how was this dynasty built? How was it made? What distinguishes this team from all of those others is they ran their course in about a decade. And after that, their ship had sailed. This dynasty has doubled the length of any of its predecessors. And the second question is how did they sustain it?”

The book is current. It gets into the departure of Brady, the machinations that led to it and the sentiments of everyone involved. Again, I know the story and what I’ve been told. But nobody told me exactly what was said, where conversations took place and how people reacted. 

Benedict has that in The Dynasty. Which serves as further proof that, in life, you think you know. But often you don’t really know.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.