FOXBORO, Mass. — It seemed preposterous to say Tom Brady was in the running for MVP as recently as Week 8, when the Patriots signal caller slogged through the first half of a comeback win over the Dolphins.
Since that final disappointing half of football, Brady has been on a tear. He’s completed 93-of-137 passes — 67.9-percent completion percentage — for 1,163 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception, good for a 112.9 quarterback rating.
He’s raised his season completion percentage to 59.8 and he’s on pace for 4,212 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, though those numbers will likely be much higher given the trajectory he’s been on the past 3 1/2 weeks.
It depends on how the rest of the season goes, of course, but currently there’s no obvious pick for the league MVP. Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Jamaal Charles and J.J. Watt are all deserving, but there are cases to be made against all those players.
With a good end of the season, and given what Brady was working with in the first half of the season, the future Hall of Famer could take home his third MVP. Though, I’m sure he would rather have a fourth Super Bowl victory.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into this week’s No-Huddle Offense, where I’ll give 11 random thoughts on the state of the Patriots.
1. Julian Edelman has outperformed Danny Amendola.
A lot can be gleaned from looking at snap counts. Since Amendola came back in Week 8, he’s played 40, 45, 49 and 59 snaps against Miami, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Denver, respectively. Edelman has played 33, 53, 59 and 74. That’s 193 snaps for Amendola and 219 for Edelman. Amendola has played in 63.3 percent of snaps in those four weeks while Edelman has played in 71.8.
Obviously that’s not a huge difference. And no receiver on the Patriots is playing every snap, but it does indicate that Edelman is viewed as more of the Patriots’ No. 2 receiver while Amendola is coming on more in the slot for three-receiver sets.
I know I did not expect Edelman to lead the team’s receivers in snaps. He currently ranks 15th in the NFL in that category among receivers. He’s also 11th in catch percentage (receptions/targets) among starting receivers and 10th in receptions. That’s a pretty decent performance for a guy who couldn’t get any guaranteed money in free agency this offseason.
2. D.J. Williams’ signing doesn’t necessarily signal the end of Michael Hoomanawanui’s season.
Hoomanawanui was spotted walking around without much of a limp after Sunday night’s game. The fact that Hoomanawanui was not part of Tuesday or Wednesday’s roster moves indicates he may not be placed on injured reserve, after all, despite the Williams signing.
Hooman was not at practice on Wednesday while Williams was.
Williams is a former teammate of backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. I asked Mallett about his chemistry with the former Mackey Award-winning tight end and the signal caller said laughing, “It’s been a few years, but I think we’ll be all right.”
3. Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan have breakout performances against Denver.
Ryan has been decent all season, but he was nearly perfect in shutting down Eric Decker on Sunday night. He allowed just one catch for four yards on four targets. His interception was a huge play. That’s why his teammates call him “Instant Offense.”
Collins was all over the field against Denver. He was the player the Patriots were likely hoping for when they drafted him in April. He looked good in pass rush and pass coverage and he wasn’t a liability against the run. He had two plays that really stood out. He trucked Knowshon Moreno on a Peyton Manning fumble and he knocked the ball out of Wes Welker‘s hands late in overtime.
4. Aaron Dobson’s absence from practice partially explains his lack of snaps in the second half against the Broncos.
Dobson was missing from practice on Wednesday. That may indicate that he got hurt against the Broncos. He was absent for the second half.
I assumed his absence was related to performance, not injury, since nothing was announced in the press box. He wasn’t getting open against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and really struggled when he was pressed. The rookie wasn’t targeted.
Kenbrell Thompkins caught six passes on nine targets for 56 yards. He was doing a nice job getting open quickly, though DRC was out of the game by that time.
5. Dane Fletcher shined in place of Dont’a Hightower.
Hightower appeared to be benched after giving up a touchdown in the end zone to Jacob Tamme. Fletcher took over at linebacker and with the communication helmet. He played very well, forcing a fumble and being active against the run and pass.
There could be a linebacker controversy in New England. That’s not quite as sexy as the quarterback controversies we usually see around the league, but we take what we can get in New England. Brandon Spikes continues to be a force against the run and Collins played well too. That all could mean less snaps for Hightower.
6. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano never come off the field.
It’s pretty insane how many snaps these two rookie defensive tackles are playing. Jones has missed just 13 snaps since becoming a starter in Week 6 against the Saints. Vellano has been used slightly more sparingly, missing 96 snaps since taking over as a starter Week 5 against the Bengals.
Jones has played 97.2 percent of snaps since taking over as a starter. Vellano has played 82 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. That’s a lot for two 300-pounders.
Vellano is 11th in total snaps among NFL defensive tackles this season. Jones is 17th.
7. Using Devin McCourty as the team’s kick returner is a little too dangerous.
McCourty is probably the most valuable player on the Patriots’ defense right now. To have that guy returning kicks is a little too risky for my blood. As many have stated, it would be interesting to see Josh Boyce back there.
8. The new defense forces Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich into coverage too often.
It always seems like a bit of a waste to see these two players dropping back into coverage. Jones actually did a nice job against Virgil Green on Sunday night, but he should be getting after the quarterback on every play.
9. The Patriots signed a practice squad tackle.
There was a No. 69 out on the practice field on Wednesday. When I spotted him in the locker room, I asked him what his name is. For those wondering, it’s Patrick Ford and he’s a rookie out of Eastern Kentucky.
10. The Patriots are collecting “elite” talent.
I was always a fan of reading Michael Lombardi‘s blue-chip and red-chip players column while he was an analyst at NFL Network.
I think it would be safe to put that Brady guy in the blue chip category. Rob Gronkowski and Devin McCourty would join him in the truly “elite” column. New England has a bevy of players that would be “red-chippers.” I’d put Chandler Jones, Ninkovich, Aqib Talib, Nate Solder and Logan Mankins in that category. They’re teetering between “elite” and just “very good.”
That’s only the players on the current 53-man roster. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Sebastian Vollmer would have to be considered for at least one of those lists.
Brandon Spikes, Shane Vereen and Kyle Arrington are very good in their specific roles, but they can’t be considered red-chippers just yet. Alfonzo Dennard is getting there, though.
11. Putting Alfonzo Dennard on the field against the Broncos was risky.
Speaking of Dennard, I thought it was too big of a risk to put Dennard on the field after he had a knee scope. He reinjured himself on Tamme’s touchdown and the Patriots were lucky he was back on the practice field on Wednesday.
Ryan did well enough in that game that they didn’t need to play Dennard.