FOXBORO, Mass. — No one has any idea who’s playing quarterback for the Browns this weekend.
We may not know until Saturday, either. Hey, we may not know for sure until the Browns take their first offensive snaps on Sunday. Rob Ninkovich said it didn’t really matter when he spoke to the media on Wednesday afternoon, though. The Patriots will study Cleveland’s offensive concepts and work off those. And since none of the options are known for their rushing prowess, it makes an easier study.
Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden have concussions, meaning the two currently healthy options are Alex Tanney (best known for this trick shot video), signed Nov. 27, and Caleb Hanie, signed on Tuesday. The most dangerous option is Campbell, which is saying something in itself.
The Patriots’ pass defense has been strong this season, so out of those options, it really shouldn’t matter who New England has to face on Sunday. Whoever is under center will have Josh Gordon to throw to, though. He has excelled with Brian Hoyer, Campbell and Weeden. He has yet to receive a pass from Tanney or Hanie, but if they can throw it deep, Gordon can probably catch up to it.
We’ll start in on this week’s No-Huddle Offense with one of the players who will be held responsible for Gordon if he gets too far downfield.
1. Devin McCourty deserves your vote.
The Patriots tweeted out how their players are faring in Pro Bowl voting.
#Patriots in the Top 10 in Pro Bowl voting: Gostkowski-1, Talib-2, Brady-4, Jones-4, Gronk-7, Mankins-7, Allen-9, Edelman(PR)-9, McCourty-10—
New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 04, 2013
This year’s voting is unconferenced, so, for example, Tom Brady is fourth in voting among all NFL quarterbacks. It’s odd to see Rob Gronkowski seventh and Julian Edelman ninth, but the most glaring oversight is Devin McCourty 10th.
In doing some further research, I see that McCourty is listed as a strong safety, which makes no sense whatsoever. Still, though. McCourty has probably been the best safety, free or strong, in the AFC this season. If he shouldn’t be first in voting (despite being listed at the wrong position), he should definitely be in the top three.
2. Rob Ninkovich is still underrated.
It’s interesting to see Chandler Jones listed fourth in voting at defensive end. Obviously a lot of that is thanks to the 10 1/2 sacks Jones has racked up this season. Jones has been great, but I think Rob Ninkovich has probably been a little better over on the left end, despite having less sacks.
Jones has just one more total pressure than Ninkovich on the season, but Ninkovich has been the more consistent run defender. He’s both more active and more adept at setting the edge.
I could argue either is deserving of a Pro Bowl spot, so it’s certainly fair that Jones is ranked so high, but Ninkovich tends to get forgotten at times.
3. Patriots need Isaaco Sopoaga to play more snaps.
It was interesting to see how little the Patriots used Isaac Sopoaga despite being in their base 3-4 defense for much of Sunday’s game against the Texans. Sopoaga played just 21 snaps, while Sealver Siliga, who was just brought up off the practice squad, was in for 16. I was asked recently why Sopoaga isn’t being used more, and I really don’t have an answer.
New England needs the stout presence he brings to the middle of the defense against the run.
4. Tom Brady could be left without an “X.”
Aaron Dobson missed practice on Wednesday, and Kenbrell Thompkins missed the final three quarters in Houston with a hip injury after he came down funny when he leaped for a pass.
The Patriots used Josh Boyce in the “X” receiver role for a while, but he was ineffective, so New England rolled with either two backs or two tight ends for most of the rest of the game.
Brady definitely didn’t miss having a receiver who could run deep against Houston. He still carved up the Texans in the second half. But Brady will miss having that player as the season progresses.
5. Patriots could sign a wide receiver.
With Dobson and Thompkins hurt, it could make sense to sign a veteran receiver. The Patriots have had LaQuan Williams and Austin Collie this season. Collie suffered a knee injury while he was in New England. If he’s healthy, he could be an option. There was no word on how severe his injury was before he was released. (Update: The Patriots signed Collie on Thursday morning.)
6. James Develin finds himself in the middle of a scrum.
After James Develin‘s surprising performance on Sunday, the fullback found himself in the middle of a massive media scrum in the locker room. I guess that’s what happens when there aren’t many players left to speak. Develin scored his first career touchdown against Houston. It was an impressive play. Develin has carved out a nice role for himself this season.
7. D.J. Williams was not around long.
D.J. Williams‘ Patriots career was short-lived. He was cut the same day Michael Hoomawanui returned to practice.
His release is obviously good news for Hoomanawanui’s health, but it also shows New England has no desire to return to a tight end-heavy offense this season. The Patriots still have their fair share of two-tight end sets, but they don’t have another player like Williams on the roster. Matthew Mulligan and Hoomanawanui are used as blockers much more than receivers. The same goes for Develin, who plays some tight end for New England.
8. Ryan Wendell has had a rough season.
After a pleasantly surprising first full year as a starter, the Patriots center has had a rough go this year. Pro Football Focus has Wendell rated with the worst pass-blocking efficiency among centers in the NFL this year. They have him allowing 31 total pressures, the most among centers.
Wendell’s been OK against the run, but he was much better last season. The Patriots have played an unusual amount of strong interior rushers, but it is concerning to see Wendell struggle so much. New England could be in the market for a center this offseason.
9. Logan Ryan is exceeding expectations.
Ryan seemed like a safe pick when he was taken in the third round of the 2013 draft. It seemed like he could contribute right away but might not be a star.
Ryan’s been great this season, though, and appears to be getting better and better each week. Ryan doesn’t have elite top-end speed, but his quickness, strength, ball skills and instincts are evident.
10. Will Svitek filled in well — even against J.J. Watt.
It seems whoever the Patriots throw in at right tackle plays well. Sebastian Vollmer was great to start the season, then Marcus Cannon played well in his place, and now Will Svitek had had two straight strong performances. Svitek got beat by J.J. Watt a couple times. But for the most part, he played like the nine-year veteran that he is.
11. Jordan Cameron is a tough matchup for New England.
The Patriots have a strong pass defense, but they still don’t have a player to cover top-tier tight ends, especially while Aqib Talib is focused on a No. 1 receiver, like he will be this week against Josh Gordon.
Cameron’s not much larger than some of the bigger wide receivers in the NFL, so New England may decide to throw Ryan on him. If not, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower could each take turns on the athletic tight end.