FOXBORO, Mass. — There’s going to be a Super Bowl XLIX reunion of sorts at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Former New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell now plays for Cincinnati as the Bengals’ No. 2 receiver behind A.J. Green. LaFell, who was cut by the Patriots this offseason, has 21 catches for 276 yards with two touchdowns in five games. The Patriots aren’t taking him lightly.
“He’s a good player — productive player for three different organizations, so it shows his work ethic,” Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan said. “He’s a guy I went up against a lot. It was fun. It’s going to be a good battle.”
So, will Ryan take a look at the tape from their practice sessions together?
“I think that’s just going to be an instinct from covering him in the past,” Ryan said. “Who knows? I’ll look at him and how he’s getting the ball in Cincinnati in this offense. See what he’s doing (with the Bengals), might be a little different than with us.”
Since the Bengals’ top two wideouts are over 6-feet, it’s tough to predict how the Patriots will cover them. Ryan usually takes the bigger wideout with safety help over the top, while fellow cornerback Malcolm Butler typically covers the smaller, shiftier option.
Both Green and LaFell are over 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds.
“With the attention that (Green) gets and he deserves, it opens things up,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said Wednesday. “And we all know LaFell — we know Jojo — and we know how good of a player he is, so it’s not a case where you can just stop A.J. Green and let everybody else go free. Jojo’s a great player.”
Butler said LaFell “looks pretty crispy to me.”
Since Green, who has 36 catches for 518 yards with two touchdowns, is one of the best receivers in the NFL, it makes sense to double cover him, which likely means it will be a combination of Ryan and either Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon on the top wideout, leaving Butler on LaFell.
Cincinnati’s third receiver is rookie Tyler Boyd, who’s 6-foot-2, 197 pounds. Because of Boyd’s size, the Patriots could elect to activate 6-foot-1 cornerback Eric Rowe for the first time this season. The Patriots declared Rowe and regular No. 3 cornerback Justin Coleman inactive in Week 5, making rookies Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones their Nos. 3 and 4 cornerbacks. Both players gave up touchdowns, and Cyrus Jones was ejected from the game for throwing a punch.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Cyrus Jones inactive after the gaffe, which could give Rowe an opportunity to take snaps against Boyd.
The Patriots will attempt to take out Green, because he’s the Bengals’ biggest weapon, so LaFell could be an X-factor. The Patriots’ defensive backs know LaFell well, but he might know them even better, and he has some extra motivation after being released this offseason. It will be fascinating to see who comes out on top Sunday.
Thumbnail photo via Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports Images