Patriots

Patriots training camp battles: Ryan Allen vs. Jake Bailey

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Patriots training camp battles: Ryan Allen vs. Jake Bailey

ALLEN PARK, Michigan — Now that the Patriots are through 10 training camp practices, it makes sense to roll through a few of the camp battles taking place between teammates. 

There are several. They're happening along the edge of the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. They're happening at high-profile position groups (corner) and less-sexy position groups (defensive tackle). 

But today we'll focus in on Patriots punters and find out who's offering what in a matchup that pits veteran Ryan Allen against rookie Jake Bailey.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Allen: Six-year veteran, 29, re-signed in the offseason, 6-2, 220 pounds

Bailey: Rookie fifth-round draft pick, 22, 6-2, 205

STRENGTHS

Allen: You could make the case that Ryan Allen was the best big-game punter in the league last year — has anyone ever had that argument? — after what he did in Super Bowl LIII, out-punting "weapon" Johnny Hekker to help the Patriots win the battle of field position in a low-scoring slugfest. The left-footed punter (long considered a strength by Bill Belichick) had six punts dropped inside the 20 during last year's postseason run, tied for the most with Hekker, and only four were returned for a combined . . . one yard. Allen has been the team's choice at the position since 2013 and he has three Super Bowl rings as a result. While he might not have the biggest leg in the league, he has been a reliable directional kicker on a team that has generally not found itself in many gotta-have-it, field-flipping situations over the years because it's rare the offense stalls deep in its own territory. 

Bailey: We know far less about Bailey, but we do know this: When he gets ahold of one, he murders it. His punts sound different off his foot, and the best of the best hang for over five seconds with ease. Bailey, who is seven years younger than Allen, also has the ability to kick off. He's been used as the team's kicker in multiple kickoff periods through camp this year, including one on Tuesday. Having someone to handle those duties this year could be beneficial to the Patriots in a couple of different ways: a) He might save Stephen Gostkowski, 35, the wear-and-tear of swinging his leg as hard as he possibly can over and over again, allowing him to focus on his work as a field-goal kicker. b) The Patriots were last in the league when it came to opponent starting field position after kickoffs in 2018. (Back in May I wrote extensively about the struggles the Patriots and Gostkowski had kicking off last season and how Bailey might help them out.)

WEAKNESSES

Allen: Not all punters are created equal, and not all punters get the same opportunities. Some are asked to boom it as high and far as possible. Some are asked to angle it out of bounds. Allen probably did more of the latter than the former last season. With all that said, here are some of his numbers from 2018, according to Pro Football Focus: 12th in cumulative return yards (255), 16th in average distance (45.1 yards), 21st in net yards (39.5), 22nd in punts inside the 20 (22). Those numbers don't scream for a replacement, necessarily, and the Patriots went out of their way to sign Allen to a new deal (one-year, $1.5 million) this offseason. But his $100,000 guaranteed figure doesn't tether him to the team, and soon after the deal was signed the Patriots traded up in the fifth round (where they've drafted special teamers Zoltan Mesko, Matthew Slater and Joe Cardona in the past) to take Bailey. If they were to keep Bailey and release Allen, it'd save the Patriots almost $1 million in cap dollars.

Bailey: For as strong as Bailey's leg appears to be, consistency has been an issue. Through eight camp practices at GIllette Stadium, it seemed as though for every bomb he hit with his right foot, another would be shanked. On Monday, he had an opportunity to kick five in a row to the Lions. Four of the five were skyscrapers. He mis-hit one that sailed sideways and out of bounds. Joe Judge has been in his ear about some of the bad balls — and Allen hasn't been immune to them either this summer — and we're still waiting to see him string together multiple days of consistent punting. 

AND THE EDGE GOES TO...

Bailey. Between his draft position, his salary, his potential as a "weapon" to flip field position (an asset that might be viewed as more valuable for a team with an offense that looks like it might not be as potent as it has been in recent years), and his ability to kick off, Bailey seems like the logical choice. Even after Allen's big-time performance in Super Bowl LIII. But if Bailey can't prevent himself from spraying punts all over the field on every other attempt, as has been the case for much of camp, then the door remains open for his predecessor.

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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.