Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Sunday 7: James White is undoubtedly Patriots’ MVP so far this season

Ryan Hannable
November 11, 2018 - 6:25 am

1. When James White missed a few series in last week’s game against the Packers due to a leg issue, it was a reminder of just how important he is to the Patriots. New England really could not afford to lose him for any extended period of time, as through the first nine games he truly has been its MVP. The fifth-year player has done everything the team has asked of him, which has included having more of a role in the running game due to all the injuries at the position. Mostly a pass catcher, White has 60 carries for 235 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 61 receptions for 531 yards and six touchdowns. The 61 receptions are the second-most in the entire AFC and fourth-most in football. The Wisconsin product is on pace to set a NFL record for most catches in a season, as he’s current on pace for 108, which would pass Matt Forte (102 in 2014) for the most in a single season among running backs. He needs just 17 more catches to set the Patriots record for receptions by a running back (77, Tony Collins in 1986). With the instability in the passing game through the first half of the year, White has nearly doubled everyone else. He has been targeted on 81 passes this season and Julian Edelman is second with 44, while his 61 receptions are well ahead of Edelman’s 31. It’s scary to wonder where the Patriots offense, and Patriots team for that matter, would be this year without White. Pro Football Focus took things a step further this week as it made the case for White as not only the Patriots MVP, but the NFL MVP.

2. With Malcolm Butler’s poor start to the year, his numbers according to Pro Football Focus have been relied on heavily this week. It has him allowing 39 catches for 618 yards and seven touchdowns this season, all of which are the most among NFL cornerbacks. While the eye-test does say Butler is playing poorly, it does serve as a reminder to not always go by what PFF has to say. “I don’t pay attention to them much. That is analytics,” safety Duron Harmon said. “I mean, who runs that site? What football coaches, what GMs run that site? A lot of that stuff has to do with — like I can’t say they know the coverages that we’re in. It is all based on perception. I mean, I don’t really worry too much about it. I just worry about myself and playing good football.” While the website certainly has value, sometimes it’s hard to put stock in numbers like their coverage stats since it’s impossible to know the true story since the graders are not on the field getting the calls.

3. Tennessee selected Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans No. 22 overall in this year’s draft, one pick ahead of New England. The Patriots selected Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, but it’s worth wondering if Mike Vrabel had a hunch the Patriots had their eye on Evans. After all, there were reports the Patriots were interested in him. “We saw him. We saw him at Alabama. He visited here,” Bill Belichick said Friday. “Yeah, a good player. Played outside, played inside. Obviously., he's playing inside for Tennessee but he has a lot of experience in doing both, so playing outside linebacker, pass rushing, good blitzer, moved inside his last year in '17, good range, good tackler, tough kid.” Evans has 19 tackles so far this season.

4. It wasn’t a real surprise the Patriots signed 2017 Raiders second-round pick Obi Melifonwu this week. The Patriots signed him to a two-year deal, so it could be looked at as a move for the future at the safety position, or just a way to take a look at a former second-rounder and see what he has. It’s not like the team needed to give up anything to acquire him. New England will eventually have a need at safety with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung both in their 30s. But, seeing Melifonwu in person Friday, he is very tall for a safety and it is worth wondering about his ability to change direction quickly. But, as shown at the combine, he’s an athletic freak, so we’ll see what eventually happens. Just don’t pencil him in as strictly a safety.

5. Although it wasn’t a major surprise, it looks like the Patriots will get running back Rex Burkhead for the stretch run after going on injured reserve following Week 3. The veteran back returned to practice on Thursday making him the second of two players who can come off injured reserve. Although there’s no question he’s injury prone, if he can stay healthy for the five regular-season games plus the postseason it would be a major benefit to the Patriots offense as White wouldn’t need to be depended on as much. This would likely help his game as well, keeping him as fresh as possible.

6. Kevin Duffy of the Boston Herald had a great stat this week: Since 2014 the Patriots are 25-1 in games played between Weeks 5-10. McCourty gave a few reasons for why the defense seems to play its best this time of year. “I think just the continual work,” he said. “I think the NFL season starts with the first three or four games and all the predictions come out. You’re either great on offense, bad on defense, great on defense, bad on offense. You’re either going to have a Super Bowl chance or you won’t. And I think after that, people kind of think everything’s set in stone. I think here, everyone thinks of the season as a continual, gradual process of getting better. We work hard on the practice field – you guys see it. Days like last week, a short week, we were still in full pads on Thursday preparing and getting ready.”

7. The Patriots will have their bye week this coming week, and it is one of the later ones (Week 11) in the entire league. The latest week teams have a bye is Week 12, and that is just the Chiefs and Rams after they play their Monday night game in Mexico City. For the Patriots, it will work out well. They have made it through the first 10 weeks without many issues and this will allow them to go into the stretch run and postseason strong. On the other hand, potential playoff teams like the Steelers and Chargers had their bye weeks in Week 7 and 8 respectively, so if they don’t get a first-round bye, that’s a lot of football without any real extended time off.

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