Sony Michel

Fantasy football Week 7: Patriots can't count on Sony Michel to carry load vs. Jets

Fantasy football Week 7: Patriots can't count on Sony Michel to carry load vs. Jets

Fantasy football players seem to get smarter every year. The leagues get deeper. The competition gets better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in.

But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps by providing you with information we've gleaned by being on the Patriots beat

MARQUEE MATCHUP: JAKOBI MEYERS V. JETS SECONDARY

I know. I know. Tom Brady has done everything he can to temper expectations when it comes to his rookie receivers. So there's no possible way an undrafted player like Jakobi Meyers should be trusted on Monday night... right? Well, consider this: Josh Gordon was missing from the start of Patriots practice on Thursday after suffering an ugly knee injury against the Giants last week, and it's conceivable that he's not ready to play at MetLife Stadium.

If he's out, then Meyers could be in line for significant work as part of New England's 11-personnel packages. Phillip Dorsett is coming back off of a hamstring injury that's forced him to miss most of the last two weeks, and if he's at all limited, then that could occasionally bump Meyers into the No. 2 receiver role, potentially playing in any 21-personnel or 12-personnel packages that the Patriots opt to deploy. If Meyers has that kind of opportunity, he'll have fantasy relevance.

The Jets are much stouter against the run than they are against the pass this season, and Meyers is coming off of a four-catch, 54-yard performance after seeing four targets against the Giants. He won't carry your team by any means, but if you need a roster fill-in because there are so many receiver injuries around the league at the moment — or if you're looking for an inexpensive option in daily leagues — you could do worse than Meyers this week.

SEE 'EM POPPING

JAMES WHITE: White is on pace for another huge year despite missing a game earlier in the season. He has a shot at breaking 80 receptions for the second consecutive season, and he should continue to see plenty of targets against the Jets this week. When teams lock down on Julian Edelman on third downs, White has been the guy Brady looks to. He had nine receptions last week and he has 23 in the last three weeks. Even if Rex Burkhead returns (more on him in a bit), you should feel confident firing up White as an RB2 in point-per-reception leagues.

JULIAN EDELMAN: There's just no way you can have Julian Edelman out of your lineup these days. Even with banged-up ribs. Even with defenses focusing in on him as Brady's other receivers lick their wounds. All he does is provided consistent production week after week. And Brady continues to go to him with a heavy dose of targets week after week. In his last four games, he's racked up 41 targets, leading to 315 yards and two scores. Even when he's not 100 percent, he's one of the most reliable fantasy receivers in football. And the extra rest going from a Thursday game to a Monday game should do him a world of good.

LE'VEON BELL: Last time Bell saw the Patriots, it was a pretty easy call to keep him benched. Luke Falk was New York's starting quarterback. As long as Bill Belichick had a plan to slow down Bell, his team would be fine. They held him to 63 total yards and the Patriots won 30-14. This time? With Darnold in the fold, Bell was pointed to by Belichick as one of the second-year passer's favorite bail-out options. He only saw one target last week against the Cowboys, but against the Patriots and their hard-charging pass-rush, Bell could be used much more as an outlet receiver. Plus, one area where the Patriots defense is closer to the middle of the pack than the top of the league is their rushing defense. They allow 4.2 yards per carry (12th in football), and if the Jets can keep the game close enough to keep their rush attack relevant then Bell could have himself a nice little fantasy day. He's a fringe top-10 option for me this week. 

TOM BRADY: Despite working with lesser talent and an offensive line that's been defined by its moving parts through the early part of the season, Brady is the No. 8 quarterback in football when it comes to fantasy scoring. Can you depend on quarterback sneaks week after week? Probably not. One would think the Patriots would figure something out on the goal line — Sony Michel found himself on the sidelines in favor of Brandon Bolden during goal-line work last week — so that they don't have their 42-year-old quarterback plunging into a mass of humanity multiple times a week. But Brady is still a solid top-10 option against the Jets this week, primarily because it looks like it'll be much more efficient for the Patriots to try to move the ball with their passing game as opposed to continuing to ram their heads into a proverbial wall with the run. 

JAMISON CROWDER: Sam Darnold's return means good things for Jamison Crowder fantasy owners. In Darnold's two games this season, Crowder has averaged 12 targets per game and 98.5 yards. That's almost three times the targets he was seeing with Darnold out (4.6 targets in Weeks 2, 3 and 5) and over 70 more yards per game. Even against the Patriots, Crowder isn't a bad option this week based on volume alone. They'll have to throw to someone. He's that someone.

REX BURKHEAD: This suggestion comes with obvious caveat: You're going to have to make sure the guy is active. Dealing with a foot injury that's kept him out of action the last two weeks, Burkhead was at practice Thursday and could be available Monday. If he is, the Patriots would likely use him to help make up for any lack of depth at the receiver spot. Patriots two-back "Pony" sets were largely unsuccessful through the first month of the season, but it might be wise to run White and Burkhead out onto the field together against the Jets. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Jets are 27th in the league in terms of success rate allowed to pass-catching running backs. They're also 22nd in yards per target to backs in the passing game. Burkhead shouldn't have to play a full workload to have some fantasy relevance. I like him as a buy-low daily option this week, again, if he's active. 

SEE 'EM DROPPING

SONY MICHEL: Michel had a nice 26-yard run to help end the game for the Patriots last week, but prior to that play he'd picked up 60 yards on 21 attempts. Not ideal. Even with that long run added in, he couldn't crack 4.0 yards per carry for the fourth time this year. The way the blocking has worked for Michel this season simply hasn't lent itself to big days for the 2018 first-rounder. Additionally, he found himself no longer the goal-line back of choice for the Patriots last week. That has to give fantasy owners some hesitation when it comes to putting him in their starting lineups. I'd say — if you can avoid it this week — don't.

The Jets are a sneaky good run defense, allowing just 3.5 yards per carry this season, putting them fifth in the league in that category. I wouldn't predict that this is going to be the week the Patriots rediscover their running-game form from the second half of Week 5, which has been the lone half of football this year that the Patriots have been able to sustain much in the way of rush success.

SAM DARNOLD: Darnold did enough against the Cowboys to end up the 10th-best fantasy quarterback for Week 6. He can't be starting for you this week against the Patriots defense, but we'll mention him here as someone you should think about acquiring soon. After the Patriots, he sees the Jaguars (17th most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks this season), Dolphins (most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks), Giants (fifth), Redskins (eighth), Raiders (12th) and Dolphins again. 

ROBBY ANDERSON: Here's what we wrote back in Week 3 about Anderson's fantasy prospects against the Patriots: "Simple answer here for why you shouldn't be relying on Anderson this week: Stephon Gilmore. Yes, the Jets are going to have to throw. Yes, Anderson is their top target. And yes, Anderson could end up with fantasy points late in the game with the Patriots playing prevent. Even so, the fantasy dent he makes while working against the league's best corner -- apologies to Jalen Ramsey -- won't be worth a spot in your starting lineup." Same will hold true for Week 7. Even with Darnold back in the lineup. Anderson caught three passes for 11 yards against Gilmore and the Patriots a month ago. 

JOSH GORDON: This goes without saying, but until he's on the practice field and is participating, you can't consider Gordon for your starting lineup. 

Belichick's candid response to Demaryius Thomas' critical comments>>>>>

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Tom E. Curran's Takeaways: Uneven offensive performance a sign of the times for Patriots

Tom E. Curran's Takeaways: Uneven offensive performance a sign of the times for Patriots

FOXBORO – When the Patriots started the final drive of the first half on Thursday night, their offense consisted of wide receivers Gunner Olszewski, Jakobi Meyers and Julian Edelman. Their tight end was Ryan Izzo. Their left tackle was Marshall Newhouse. Their center was Ted Karras.

Injuries pushed several of those players into the spots they were in. Phillip Dorsett’s hamstring went last week and Josh Gordon’s ankle went while he was trying to make a tackle after Brady was strip-sacked. Newhouse is in because of Isaiah Wynn’s turf toe and Karras is in because David Andrews is lost for the year with blood clots. Tight end Matt Lacosse left with a knee injury in the first half and N’Keal Harry hasn’t played since the first preseason game because of a lower leg injury.  

But the why of it is somewhat moot. The Patriots offense hasn’t been charging up and down the field since the first quarter of the third game against the Jets.

On their first drive of the night, their drive stalled after they got stacked up on second, third and fourth down.

Later, after a Duron Harmon pick put them in business at the Giants 20, Brady found Meyers (who had an encouraging game) with a back-shoulder throw down to the Giants 2. It took three tries before Brandon Bolden crammed it in from the 1.

That Bolden was taking those short-yardage carries instead of Michel indicates that the more urgent and aggressive running style of Bolden is worth a shot since the more patient Michel isn’t a pile-moving back when there’s no room to operate.

And Bolden was getting offensive snaps, in part, because Rex Burkhead was out.

Brady wasn’t great. On the strip-sack, Izzo’s man made the play but he did the right thing running his man upfield and Brady probably could have stepped up a bit to avoid it. He also threw a pick on a pass intended to Edelman down the seam when he threw on the opposite side of the wide receiver.

The 2018 Patriots were – on both sides of the ball – incredibly healthy. That was one of the underappreciated reasons behind their run to the Super Bowl. Right now, they aren’t. The injuries are impacting the offensive performance and the offensive performance wasn’t so hot before that.

The Patriots are 6-0 but the offensive travails don’t have a chance to get better until some of their players get better. And even then, it may be a labor.

***

The numbers for Brady – 31-for-41 for 334 with two rushing touchdowns (and five carries for six yards) wound up being decent but the way they were arrived at is not what the Patriots are looking for. They clearly came out hoping to show the same kind of effectiveness on the ground they showed last week in the second half against Washington but they just couldn’t clear room for Michel who – while despite all my protests that he’s not the issue – seems to be getting more and more tentative. Hence the reps for Bolden. But the ineffectiveness of the running game (17-for 53 in the first half) meant the Patriots had to use the short passing game to augment the ground attack. And that meant a ton of throws for Brady who was 25-for-34 by the end of the first half. 

In addition to the pick and the strip-sack, there were a number of misfires. One to Meyers on a screen that Meyers came up with. Another to Izzo on a little throw out to the flat. A low throw to Edelman. Wide throws to Edelman and Izzo on the first drive of the second half. Protection and separation. Without them, a quarterback looks kind of normal. That’s what the now-deposed coach of the Redskins, Jay Gruden, said in the days before they played New England. And that’s what Brady is experiencing as well which is causing him to be less decisive.

***

Bill Belichick declared there was no room at the inn when the Patriots released Benjamin Watson. But watching Ryan Izzo get walked through with great frequency was alarming. The second-year tight end is barely a speed bump on some plays. The Patriots' third-down run early in the fourth when they tried a toss to James White around the left end was a perfect example. Safety Jabril Peppers discarded Izzo and dropped White for a 2-yard loss.

***

Between the wind and the fact they had a new kicker, the Patriots decided to roll the dice on fourth down a couple of times. They got stuffed on their first attempt at the end of their first drive. On their first possession of the second half, an incompletion by Brady on fourth-and-7 from the Giants 29 was wiped out by a defensive holding penalty. When they moved five yards closer, they let Mike Nugent give it a go. His attempt from 40 hit the left upright. The laces were facing Nugent thanks to the hold from rookie punter Jake Bailey.

***

A slew of injuries hit the team Thursday night. In addition to the ones mentioned – Lacosse and Gordon – Donta Hightower left with a shoulder injury, Patrick Chung hurt his chest, Jakob Johnson hurt his shoulder. All were down for the rest of the game. J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty both missed some time but returned.  

***

In his maiden voyage as a FOX analyst, Rob Gronkowski said he’d “leave the door open” on a return. That statement followed a comment by Patriots owner Robert Kraft who noted Gronk hadn’t filed his retirement papers and that “We can always pray and hope. There is hope for us still with Gronk.” 

The filing of retirement papers is a formality. It just starts the process of players getting their post-career benefits. On one hand, you hear Kraft stirring the pot about a Gronk return when the player was clearly at wit’s end by the time he called it quits seems tone-deaf. Leave the guy alone. But if Gronk’s going to keep pushing the notion he might come back – whether he’s serious about it or just doing it to keep people showing up when he holds a press conference – then all bets are off. For what it’s worth, sources have told me several times that Gronk is not coming back.

***

Meyers and Gunner Olszewski combined to catch six of the seven balls they were targeted with for 88 yards. For Meyers, in particular, it was an encouraging performance. He may not have the offense down pat but the hands he showed in camp when everything near him he pulled in was very much in evidence Thursday night.

***
After Julian Edelman’s highlight reel diving catch that set up the Patriots final score, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur ended up on the field for some reason. Edelman, seeing Shurmur well out near the numbers, pointed at the coach and gestured at him as if to say, “What are you doing out here?” Shurmur chirped back. Edelman returned fire. Shurmur chirped back … and then they wandered away from each other glancing over their shoulders at each other.

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Turning Point: Patriots running game finally woke up in Redskins blowout

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AP Images

Turning Point: Patriots running game finally woke up in Redskins blowout

LANDOVER, Md. -- In the official play-by-play of Sunday's game between the Patriots and Redskins, there are three plays that don't look all that impressive, but they were three plays that turned the tide at FedEx Field. 

Coming out of the locker room, with the Patriots leading 12-7 and having trouble finding any kind of momentum offensively, Josh McDaniels turned to his running game once again. 

The numbers showed that the Patriots were far more efficient throwing than they were running through the season's first month. When they did run, they were often better off with smaller backs and spread-formation looks than they were with a we're-going-to-run-it-down-your-throat-and-we-don't-care-if-you-know-it's-coming approach -- even though the latter was what helped carry them to Lombardi Trophy No. 6 last season. 

Yet with an offensive line that was having trouble protecting Tom Brady, and with a banged-up receiver corps, McDaniels wanted to run it. They were determined to reverse the trends they'd established through September. Clearly. 

Sony Michel took the first play of the second half for a two-yard run. He took the second play of the second half for a rush of three. After converting on a third-down pass to James White . . . McDaniels went right back to the run. 

It finally found some traction. 

Here are the three plays: Michel ran for five; he ran for 11 more on the next snap; then Brandon Bolden went for four. Those three runs combined to give the Patriots more rushing yards than they had in the entire first half, when on their first drive they opted not to hand off once. 

It's as if the Patriots said, "Well, we haven't been able to run for four weeks, but we can't throw today so we might as well give the ground-and-pound thing a shot."

It worked. By the time they'd gone up on the Skins 33-7, they'd rushed for an average of 6.8 yards per carry. They rushed for 2.7 yards per carry through the game's first 30 minutes. 

The floodgates opened for New England's offensive line and backs after the halftime adjustments they'd made. Before the game got out of hand, Michel put together runs of 6, 7, 12, 14 and 25 yards. He finished with 91 yards on 16 carries (5.7 yards per carry) after averaging 2.8 yards per carry on the season through Week 4. 

If that's how the Patriots run game is going to look moving forward, those three plays to start the second half at FedEx Field won't be just a turning point for what happened on Sunday. They could end up being a turning point for their entire season.

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