By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – The Patriots will welcome in the 1-3 Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Hopefully it’s this Sunday.
The game was initially scheduled for last Sunday, then changed to Monday early evening, before ultimately being pushed to Week 6. Now we wait to see what the NFL will do after the Patriots had another positive test on Friday. It seems like the league is going to do everything it can to play the game, but COVID may have other plans.
But if it does get played, at least that week delay means the Patriots will have Cam Newton — and likely Stephon Gilmore — back in the fold for Sunday’s tilt. But Friday’s positive test means the Pats will have had just two practices in the last two weeks, which is not the best of ways to prepare for a football game.
At least the Pats are facing a Broncos team that isn’t very good. That lone win of theirs came against the Jets, so it doesn’t really count as a win.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for when Patriots football finally returns — we hope — on Sunday.
Cam Newton is expected to be back at quarterback, saving the Patriots and New England fans from another game of the Brian Hoyer/Jarrett Stidham mess. Rejoice!
It will be interesting to see how Cam looks after having the last two weeks off as he dealt with COVID. He was one of the lucky ones to go through it asymptomatically, and he was able to join the team in their remote meetings, but two weeks away from football is two weeks away from football. He had a chance to knock off some of the rust in practice, but it’ll be a bit different in game action. His conditioning will be something to watch throughout the game.
Lucky for him and the rest of the New England offense, the Broncos aren’t very good. The Pats shouldn’t have any issues with the Broncos defense, whether New England opts for a rush-heavy attack or lets Newton sling the pigskin around the field. Denver is allowing only 109 rush yards per game, but they’re about to see a whole new beast in the Patriots. If Sam Darnold could scamper for a 46-yard touchdown against the Denver D, just imagine what Cam Newton will be able to do with some fresh legs.
It’ll be nice to see how Damien Harris follows up his 100-yard evening against the Chiefs, and it would be nice to see Rex Burkhead bounce his way into the end zone few more times.
And seeing as though the Broncos are surrendering 256 passing yards per game, expect New England’s air attack to have a big day as well. Welcome back, Cam. Go have yourself an afternoon.
Dropping In With Jules
There is no denying that Julian Edelman is a gamer, a guy who gives it everything he’s got whenever he’s on the field. He’s usually pretty reliable, but so far this season, that has not been the case.
Julian Edelman PFF drop rate on catchable targets by season:
2013 – 11.0%
2014 – 10.7%
2015 – 10.3%
2016 – 10.9%
2018 – 9.8%
2019 – 9.1%
2020 – 21.7% <<<
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) October 8, 2020
Over the first four weeks, Edelman has dropped five passes, the most in the NFL so far this season. It hasn’t been pretty. His drop against the Chiefs that led to a Kansas City pick-six ended any slim shot the Patriots had at making a comeback in Week 4.
“It’s not the first time I dropped a ball, it probably won’t be the last. I mean, this is football,” Edelman told WEEI on Friday. “They’re unacceptable. It’s something you have to fix. That’s what we’re doing in practice. That’s what I’m trying to do all the time. Your job as a receiver is get open and catch the ball. I let my team down a little bit last week. I’m looking forward to go out this week and try to help them.”
He still leads the team in targets (30), receiving yards (294) and is tied with N’Keal Harry with the most receptions (18). So Edelman is still very much a gigantic part of the offense. He just isn’t as reliable as he once was, which could change at any moment. But it’s something we’ll be watching throughout the rest of the season.
Denver’s Only Threat
Denver really only has one threat at receiver, and that is rookie Jerry Jeudy. The 15th overall pick leads the Broncos with 234 receiving yards through three weeks, averaging a robust 15.6 yards per reception. He has five receptions of 20 yards or more.
He had just two receptions in Week 4, but one of those was a beautiful leaping snag that resulted in a 48-yard touchdown. Not a bad way to score the first touchdown of your career.
JERRY JEUDY WITH AN ELECTRIC FIRST NFL TOUCHDOWN ⚡️ @jerryjeudy
— Overtime (@overtime) October 2, 2020
The 6-foot-1, 193-pound Jeudy usually lines up in the slot, but if Stephon Gilmore suits up. he’ll likely be blanketing the rookie for the majority of Sunday’s game.
Getting After Whoever Is At QB For Denver
Had the Patriots and Broncos played last Sunday (or Monday), the New England defense would have seen Brett Rypien at QB for Denver. But the week break means they’ll likely be dealing with Drew Lock, who missed Denver’s last two games with a shoulder injury. He’s questionable for the game, but Vic Fangio expects him to play.
But really, does it even matter? Lock? Rypien? We’re just arguing semantics here.
Whoever it is taking snaps at QB for the Broncos, they’re probably going to find themselves under some distress throughout Sunday’s game. The Patriots aren’t necessarily a pass-rush machine, with just six sacks on the season, but the Broncos offensive line hasn’t done much to protect its quarterbacks this season.
Rypien wasn’t sacked by the Jets in that Thursday night win, but he was hit 10 times. In the two games prior, Broncos quarterbacks were sacked 13 times — six times against the Buccaneers and seven times against the Steelers.
Chase Winovich (2.5 sacks in his last three games) must be sick of hitting that punching bag in his house and is probably champing at the bit to get after a quarterback again. The Pats probably won’t have six sacks on Sunday, but they are going to make Lock feel the pressure whenever he drops back.
BONUS: Center Of Attention
David Andrews is on IR. James Ferentz is now on the reserve/COVID list. That means the Patriots be back to having Joe Thuney at center on Sunday.
Thuney got the start at center in Week 3 against the Raiders — his first career start at the position — and we didn’t hear his name. That’s always a good sign for a center. Let’s hope for another performance like that on Sunday.
Tune in to Patriots-Broncos on WBZ-TV! Pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. with Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for 1 p.m., and after the game stay tuned for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!