Without Sony Michel, Patriots offense was handcuffed by Bills defense

Without Sony Michel, Patriots offense was handcuffed by Bills defense

If you had any doubt whether the 2018 Patriots had grown to rely on a potent ground game and, in particular, Sony Michel, then the offensive output against the Bills should douse it.

The Patriots ran 26 times for 76 yards and nearly one-third of those came on a 22-yard burst by Cordarelle Patterson in the fourth quarter.

It was a key run, to be sure, as the Patriots scored their lone offensive touchdown of the night on that drive but, again, it was a wide receiver running it. From the running back spot. And it wasn’t a novelty act.

Patterson led the team with 10 carries while running backs James White and Kenjon Barner combined for 10 carries and 19 yards.


Michel’s absence and the lack of a play-action passing game that the Bills had to take seriously doesn’t explain wholly explain the Patriots offensive struggles.

The Bills defense when the Patriots got deep was as difficult to maneuver against as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady advertised all week.

Seven of the Patriots first nine drives crossed midfield. They stalled at the Buffalo 7, 22, 20, 32, 46 and 7. They punched it in on the seventh one on a James White run.

“They made us grind it out, grind out every yard,” said Belichick.

"They made it tough on us," said Brady, who finished with 324 passing yards on 29-for-45 passing but no touchdowns, the first time since Week 3 in 2005 that he passed for 320 or more yards with no TDs. "We’ll take the win however we can get it. They don’t give up any big plays. We'd get in the red area but couldn’t get in the end zone. If we scored those touchdowns we’d feel a lot better but they’ve been playing good all year."


Despite his lack of punch as a runner, White once again was the most effective part of the offense. He finished with 10 catches on 13 targets for 79 yards. The game’s key play was made by White -- as it so often has been this season. On a third-and-8 from the Patriots 47 with 12:03 left and the Patriots ahead by the still-meager margin of 12-6, Brady hit White in the left flat and he gave a shimmy that left linebacker Julian Stanford grasping at air. After that came the Patterson 22-yarder and a back-shoulder throw to Chris Hogan down to the Bills 1. White went in from there.

White now leads the AFC with 55 catches (he’s sixth in the NFL). His six touchdown receptions are tied for fourth.  

This was Julian Edelman’s best game as well. He went over 100 yards receiving (10 catches for 104) and had a big 26-yard gain earlier in the Patriots touchdown drive. Edelman also carried twice for 13 yards.

The Patriots are now pointed toward a Sunday Night Football showdown with the Packers. Green Bay will score. The Patriots – who put up 38, 38, 43 and 24 on offense in their past four games will need a bigger output than the 18 they put up Monday night.

With Marcus Cannon missing another game at right tackle, Shaq Mason being driven from the game with a calf injury and Michel dealing with his knee injury, the Patriots offense won’t be working at full strength on the ground again against the Packers.

Green Bay has its own issues to deal with after a demoralizing loss to the Rams and some anonymous locker room finger-pointing after the loss.

But the Patriots will need to get more on the ground. Since Michel went down, they’ve managed 154 yards on 49 carries (3.14 average) and 35 offensive points in the last seven quarters.

Even if this prompts a trade deadline move at the running back position, whoever they sign would have to fly into Foxboro and get on a moving train during a short week.

In short, they miss their running back.

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.