Bill Belichick liked what Cyrus Jones brought as a returner vs. Texans

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Bill Belichick liked what Cyrus Jones brought as a returner vs. Texans

Cyrus Jones brought back four punts for 58 yards during Saturday's preseason game with the Texans, showing the vision and burst that made him a dynamic return man at Alabama and helped make him Bill Belichick's second-round draft pick in 2016.

Two of those four returns -- he also had one kickoff return for 17 yards -- stood out as Jones made "something out of nothing," as Belichick put it after the game. 

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On the first, Jones caught a Shane Lechler boot at the Patriots 27-yard line with three Texans bearing down on him. He sidestepped Dylan Cole with a subtle move to his left, then turned on his speed. Using good blocks from Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon and Justin Coleman, Jones had himself a 32-yard gain. 

After the fact, Jones was congratulated by a large swath of his teammates on the Patriots bench. Jonathan Freeny, Jonathan Jones, Elandon Roberts, Brandin Cooks, Nate Ebner, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, James White and special teams coordinator Joe Judge all happily patted Jones on the helmet or shoulder pads to encourage the second-year corner. 

Jones has been open about how the difficulties he had holding onto the football as a rookie impacted him, but in the early going this year, ball-security has not seemed to be an issue. He muffed one punt on the first practice of training camp, he double caught another in West Virginia last week, but other than, he has handled his return responsibilities well. 

Defensively, he was involved on two long Jaguars touchdowns last week and opted not to speak with reporters afterward. Had his confidence been impacted, it didn't seem to last long. Belichick noted he liked the aggressiveness Jones showed as a returner, despite fielding one that turned into a loss of three deep in Patriots territory. 

"I though Cyrus did a good job in the return game, both in punts and kickoffs," Belichick said. "Ran hard. Ran aggressively. Made good decisions with and without the ball. Had a couple of situations where the ball either hit the ground or was going out of bounds. I thought he did a nice job."

The Patriots seem to have a solid top-four at corner with Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones. Cyrus Jones would seem to fall outside that group in competition for the fifth spot alongside players like Justin Coleman, Kenny Moore and DJ Killings.

But if Jones continues to show positive results in the return game, he could earn a roster spot for his abilities in that regard. Not only do the Patriots place a premium on the kicking game and the importance of field position, but if Jones could help take some of the load off of other returners like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, there would be value in that as well. 

Bill Belichick issues statement following Patriots kneeling

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Bill Belichick issues statement following Patriots kneeling

Bill Belichick issued the following statement on Monday, a day after 16 Patriots took a knee in protest of racial inequality and Donald Trump's comments against the NFL:

“I have immense respect and admiration for our players, for how they conduct themselves professionally as New England Patriots and for how they represent themselves, their families and community as men.  I have coached football for over four decades and one of the greatest things about being in this environment is the diversity of people, backgrounds, viewpoints and relationships we are fortunate to experience.  As with any large group of people, there is a variety of perspectives and opinions on many topics.  Discussions occur between myself, individual players, groups and the entire team on an ongoing basis.  They concern the team and other issues surrounding the team.  I am going to keep the specifics of those conversations private.  I will do what I feel is best for the team in my role as head coach and collectively, we will work together to find the best way to proceed.” 
 

Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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