Patriots

Josh McDaniels details how he wants to help Patriots' N'Keal Harry be more impactful

Josh McDaniels details how he wants to help Patriots' N'Keal Harry be more impactful

Rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry, in four games with the New England Patriots, has shown flashes of the impressive talent that made the team select him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He just hasn't been able to show his skills on a consistent basis throughout these individual games.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, speaking on a media conference call Tuesday, talked about how he plans to put Harry in positions where he can use this athleticism and size to help the Patriots offense improve.

"We know he's big and not easy tackle," McDaniels said. "I need to do a better job of finding ways to get him in space, get him the ball, and let him have an opportunity to (make plays)."

One example of getting Harry into space came on perhaps the most controversial play of the Patriots' 23-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed a pass to Harry behind the line of scrimmage, and the Patriots wideout evaded a few defenders before diving toward the pylon. Harry was ruled out at the 3-yard line, even though replays showed he never stepped out of bounds. The Patriots couldn't challenge the play because they had no challenges remaining. They eventually settled for a field goal on that drive.

Despite the unfortunate ending to the play, it was a good example of what Harry can do when he has the ball in his hands in the open field.

"He made a great individual effort," McDaniels said of Harry's near-touchdown. "Broke a tackle, had good balance there to finish the play and give us an opportunity to score. He's a big guy. He's not easy to get to the ground."

It's easy to see why the Patriots are hesitant to make Harry one of the focal points of the offensive attack. He's still learning the offense. He has only four games of experience, and he doesn't have much of a rapport with Brady because of his lack of experience. However, it's not like the Patriots have a ton of other options right now. Veteran wideouts Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett have failed to make an impact in recent weeks. In fairness, injuries have impacted both players, but these veterans need to play at a much higher level if they're healthy enough to be on the field.

Several others contending teams have incorporated rookie wide receivers into their offense with plenty of success this season. Some of the best examples are Deebo Samuel with the San Francisco 49ers, D.K. Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks and A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans. 

The Patriots would be wise to use Harry more often, and Sunday's game against a last-place Cincinnati Bengals team is a great opportunity to give him a bunch of snaps.

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Aaron Rodgers describes how 'Belichick effect' has impacted the NFL

Aaron Rodgers describes how 'Belichick effect' has impacted the NFL

The Green Bay Packers are preparing for a battle the San Francisco 49ers on the NFL's championship Sunday. The two will square off in the NFC Championship for the right to advance to the Super Bowl.

While Aaron Rodgers and his teammates are doing what they can to be ready for the game, they still aren't exactly sure what to expect from the 49ers.

And Rodgers credited Bill Belichick's influence for that.

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Rodgers explained in a post-practice interview that not knowing what to expect from opposing defenses is something that has been popularized over the course of the past five years. And he called the defense's ability to change up week to week "the Belichick effect".

"I think that’s the NFL in the last five years, especially, it’s kind of the Belichick effect where teams are more reluctant to really try and scheme up opponents instead of relying on their base defense," Rodgers said to reporters.

"There’s less and less teams like the Lovie Smith Bears defenses over the years that say ‘Hey, screw it, we’re going to play four-man front, play Tampa-2 the entire game and make you go the whole field, and strip the ball and tackle securely and stop the run with a six-man, seven-man front.’

"There’s more teams that are scheming specifically up for teams. I think the tough part is it might be different than you saw on film. The drawback from that is a lot of these teams are used to playing coverages they’re not used to playing, they’re not super-comfortable playing, they don’t have a lot of reps in and that can cause some confusion at times."

Rodgers hit the nail on the head as the NFL's best defenses have become more versatile and game plan-dependent in recent seasons. Having multiple defensive looks is essential to success in the modern NFL and Belichick's ability to adjust week in and week out played a big role in kicking off the trend.

Though the Patriots won't have a chance to out scheme anyone on the defensive side of the ball until next season, they can be thankful that they have a forward-thinking coach at the helm. His ability to adjust on defense as well as Josh McDaniels' ability to change the Patriots offense look to match their best weapons have helped to make the team difficult to figure out.

And that's a big part of the reason that they have been able to make multiple deep postseason runs in recent seasons.

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Packers aiming to match rare playoff feat last accomplished by Patriots in 2001

Packers aiming to match rare playoff feat last accomplished by Patriots in 2001

The Green Bay Packers earned an impressive 13-3 record in the regular season, but they haven't always looked like an elite team.

The NFC North champs ranked 15th in points scored, 18th in yards gained and 18th in yards allowed. These numbers don't exactly jump off the page. The Packers also lacked a signature win, and with a chance to make a statement versus the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12, Green Bay was dominated in a 38-7 loss.

However, if veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads his team to an NFC Championship Game victory on the road against the 49ers on Sunday, the Packers will become the first team since the 2001 New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl after being outgained in the regular season (h/t to NFL Media's Mike Giardi).

The Packers defense gave up 5,642 total yards, while their offense racked up 5,528 total yards, resulting in a difference of minus-114 yards through 16 regular-season games.

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This trend continued in last weekend's NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers escaped with a 28-23 win at Lambeau Field, but the Seahawks outgained them by 31 yards. It also was the Packers' 10th game of the season decided by one score, and Green Bay owns a 9-1 mark in those matchups.

How have the Packers won so many games despite being outgained on a consistent basis? Well, it sure helps to have a quarterback as talented as Rodgers.

The future Hall of Famer sealed the Packers' victory last week with two clutch third-down conversions late in the fourth quarter. It wasn't an all-time performance from Rodgers, but when it's winning time, he usually steps up and makes a huge play. 

Rodgers' playoff experience and ability to come through in the clutch give the Packers an important advantage at the quarterback position entering Sunday's NFC title game. Oddsmakers, however, have still pegged the 49ers as an overwhelming betting favorite.