Patriots

Why Phillip Dorsett will need to be ready for more in Denver

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Why Phillip Dorsett will need to be ready for more in Denver

The Patriots make use of myriad personnel groupings and formations offensively, but like the rest of the NFL, there's one set that they favor over all others: 11 personnel. 

One back. One tight end. Three receivers. It is the modern NFL's primary offensive setup. According to Football Outsiders, 2016 was the sixth consecutive year that three-wideout formations saw an increase. Eleven personnel accounted for more than 60 percent of all offensive plays, and every offense in the league used it for at least 40 percent of their snaps. It was more than 3.5 times as common as any other formation, per Football Outsiders.

Though the Patriots still make great use of two-back sets -- deploying both "pony" formations as well as more traditional power formations with a fullback -- they have favored 11-personnel groupings over all others this season, running with three receivers on the field for 48 percent of their offensive snaps. 

With that in mind, Phillip Dorsett may have to be ready for a steep increase in playing time this weekend. If Chris Hogan, who injured his shoulder in Week 8 against the Chargers, can't play then it could be up to Dorsett to fill in. 

Brandin Cooks is the clear-cut No. 1, having played almost 92 percent of snaps this season. And Danny Amendola (49 percent) would likely slot in as the No. 2 if Hogan misses time. That would leave Dorsett (19 percent) as the likely No. 3 in New England's three-receiver looks. 

The Patriots could turn to their pass-catching backs more often to help make up for Hogan's loss. They have three they can rely upon in James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. But there will certainly be 11-personnel plays the Patriots will want to keep available to them in Denver. And for those they'll need Dorsett.

"Yeah, Phillip – he came in and didn’t really have a whole lot of extra practices from camp and the spring, like some of our guys or most of our guys did," Josh McDaniels said during a conference call on Monday morning. "He just kind of got thrown in there, and he’s really doing a good job of working hard, working extra with Coach [Chad] O’Shea. Chad’s doing a great job of trying to get him caught up on some of the things, the foundational things that you need to be able to go from one week to the next and feel like you’re not learning a new offense every single week.

"Phillip’s a smart kid, he works hard, he’s got a good work ethic, good attitude and he’s continued to work at playing different spots and being ready to go when his opportunities come up. Hopefully, that will continue to progress as we go through the season. I know that’s what he wants. I know that’s what we want, and we’re looking forward to that."

Dorsett has seen eight snaps for the Patriots in each of the last two weeks despite being given a start Week 7 against the Falcons. He's caught four passes on seven targets for 85 yards for an average of 21.3 yards per catch. He last saw a pass come his way in Week 6 against the Jets, though he didn't catch any of the three targets he saw that day, and one was intercepted deep down the middle of the field by corner Buster Skrine.

Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

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Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

Third in our series looking ahead to the opening of Patriots training camp July 26.

Figure the Patriots will keep five wideouts (not including special teams ace Matthew Slater) when they enter into Week 1 of the regular season. Even with Julian Edelman scheduled to serve a four-game suspension to start the year, even with that slot opening up the potential for a receiver on the bubble to make the club, this figures to be one of the most competitive positions in camp. 

 

 

Chris Hogan will be relied upon thanks to his experience and versatility. And figure Cordarrelle Patterson has a place on the roster as the entire league ventures into a post-kickoff rules change world. 

 

After that? Hard to say. 

 

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Jordan Matthews should have the inside track on a role for an offense that will likely be looking for some help on the inside. He's the most experienced slot receiver on the roster after Edelman, but Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron could make a run themselves -- particularly if the punt-return work is up for grabs and they snatch it. 

 

On the outside, the competition is tougher. There may not be room for Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Mitchell on the same roster even though their skill sets differ. Britt has the size and athleticism to make good on the potential he showed as a first-round pick in 2009. Will being paired with Tom Brady help him finally break through consistently? Dorsett's size and speed may make him the closest thing on the roster to Brandin Cooks. Do the Patriots feel there's room for him to grow now that he's back for Year 2? For Mitchell, the question is always the same: Will he be healthy?

 

 

How those three questions are answered could determine who has a place in New England and who doesn't. The way their contracts are structured, none of them are locks. It'll come down to how they look during what Bill Belichick annually refers to as a "competition camp." Spring practices were for learning. Now it's time to go. 

Curran: Are Patriots fans wishing away the final years of a kicking savant?

Curran: Are Patriots fans wishing away the final years of a kicking savant?

SUDBURY – It’s the last Saturday before training camp and on this blue sky/no cloud/light breeze afternoon, Stephen Gostkowski is working a stopwatch at a youth football camp at Lincoln-Sudbury High School.

Paid, not paid, I have no idea (probably paid, though). Still, the second-longest tenured Patriot is giving the organizers their money’s worth in terms of involvement and enthusiasm. I snap a shot of Gostowski timing a pack of tweens leaning for the tape in a 40-yard dash and tweet it out. 

A total of two replies come back. The second one asks, “When are they gonna cut his bum ass? Lost them the AFCCG in '15, almost lost them the SB in '16, missed a FG in SB 52.” 

It’s Twitter so the “ACKNOWLEDGE MY BLOODTHIRSTY CANDOR!!!” factor enters into our friend’s ruthless panning of the third most accurate kicker in NFL history 

But @DrJones37 isn’t on an island either.

Gostkowski is a two-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler who’s made 340 of 388 field goals and 593 of 599 PATs in the 11 regular seasons since 2006. He’s missed just 10 of 140 postseason kicks (field goals and PATs) . And plenty of New Englanders sneer at the mention of his name and can’t wait to see his allegedly bum-ass shrinking over the horizon.

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Gostkowski’s perceived sin against Patriots football isn’t really the misses DrJones correctly catalogued. It’s the absence of season-saving or Super Bowl clinching kicks that his predecessor Adam Vinatieri made. Even now, a dozen years after he fled for more money and kinder kicking conditions with the Colts, Hall of Fame-bound Automatic Adam throws a shadow Gostkowski can’t escape.

And there’s no way to change that. Vinatieri made the most memorable field goal in NFL history in the Snow Bowl and validated that kick with the OT game-winner a half-hour later. Two weeks after that, he creased a 48-yarder in New Orleans to win Super Bowl 36. Two seasons later, he clinched Super Bowl 39 with another relative bomb against the Panthers.

It doesn’t matter that he was an 82 percent regular-season kicker with the Patriots or that he was 1 for 3 on field goals in SB39 and 26 of 37 overall in the playoffs while here. Vinatieri’s makes were so massive that misses were forgiven and forgotten. With the “money on the table,” as the late Gil Santos would say, you could start packing up your stuff when Vinatieri was kicking.

It’s not supposed to feel like that. But since it once did, clutch-kicking nirvana is seen as a standard. Gostkowski’s never measured up to it.

In contrast to Vinatieri, Gostkowski’s PAT miss at Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship is probably his most memorable kick https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/new-england-patriots/gostkowski-sick-about-missed-pat-was-key-loss . Even though he hadn’t missed one all season in spite of the NFL’s pushing the kick back 15 yards in 2015 (with the Patriots hearty support), even though he held the NFL record for consecutive PATs made, that miss cost the Patriots dearly against noodle-armed Peyton Manning and – in large part – kept the team from getting a shot at the very vulnerable Panthers in the Super Bowl.

That miss begot a 2016 slump that was capped by an “Oh, shit!” PAT miss in the Super Bowl that was immediately followed by a botched onsides kick.

Those are the “Yeah, but…” trump cards slammed down in front of anyone who wants to argue the merits of Gostkowski.

And with the 34-year-old entering the final year of his current contract, the chance looms that the Good Riddance Gostkowski crew may realize its wish.

And then realize what it really feels like when every kick is closer to a coin flip than a layup.

For the past three seasons, 17 teams made more than 85 percent of their regular-season field goals. My math tells me that those 15 teams – nearly half the league – live in Puckertown.

Nine teams were under 80 percent last year. There were eight in 2016 and just three in 2015. By contrast, Gostkowski’s been south of 90 percent once since 2013 (84.4 percent in 2016).

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Even if Gostkowski hasn’t been as steady as a metronome, he’s a damn sight better at kicking field goals and PATs than 90 percent of the league. Not to mention the fact he’s accustomed to the kickoff nuances the Patriots demand as they consistently try to win field position.

On Saturday, Gostkowski acknowledged the passage of time since he was a rookie in 2006.

“It’s a good and a bad thing,” he said. “I have some white hairs in my beard now. Getting a little thin up top. It’s a blessing to think that I would have played professional sports for over a decade and going into my 13th year. I’ve got nothing but gratitude and thankfulness.”

Asked by ESPN’s Mike Reiss if he’s in a year-to-year mode at this point, Gostkowski answered, “I really don’t think like that. You reassess things every year. It’s easy to say after a year, ‘I might do this or I might do that…’ but as long as I’m happy, healthy and good I’m gonna do it.”

The Patriots report on Wednesday and camp opens for real on Thursday. This is his 12th camp – two more than Vinatieri was here for.

“It’s like the first day of school. Even though we’ll see how I feel three weeks from now. But I really do look forward to it,” Gostkowski said. “Sometimes having a little too much free time can be dangerous. When you play football you’re used to someone telling you what to do and where to be and you kind of miss that.”

It takes some perspective to appreciate that you’ve got it good even when it’s not always perfect. 

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