Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Would they trade Gilmore? Tuesday's trade deadline sparks an obvious question of how active the Patriots might be. Unlike past years, when the discussion was almost always about acquiring players, the team's 2-4 start puts the possibility of selling in play.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is arguably the Patriots' best asset in that type of conversation, although I haven't gotten the sense they have been actively shopping him in recent weeks. To me, Gilmore's status is more about the rest of the league than the Patriots, and now his knee injury that happened in Thursday's practice, per a source, adds another layer to it (Gilmore won't play in Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game against the Buffalo Bills).
If a team was willing to part with a high draft pick (e.g. first two rounds), my sense is that would be something coach Bill Belichick would consider acting on, knowing he has a possible up-and-coming star in J.C. Jackson already in house. Otherwise, I see Gilmore finishing out the season in New England as the team's No. 1 corner, and then the sides can figure out where to go from there in knowing that his contract -- an under-market $7 million base salary in 2021 after the team essentially gave him a $5 million advance this year -- requires attention.
Gilmore putting his home up for sale, somewhat similar to QB Tom Brady in 2019, could be viewed as a statement to the organization that he's pulling up roots. Perhaps he's saying contractual hardball is part of his plan next year.
Given that backdrop, Tuesday's trade deadline provides a checkpoint for the Patriots and Gilmore to clear.
2. Gilmore's play in 2020: Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has actually been targeted less often this season (17%) than he was last season (20%), according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That surprised me, as it seems as if opponents have been more willing to test him, especially in critical situations (e.g. San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo to tight end George Kittle on third-and-11 in Week 7).
Gilmore's production is notably down, as opponents are completing 56% of their passes when he is the nearest defender, compared to 47% last year. Opponents are averaging 7.9 yards per attempt when throwing in Gilmore's direction in 2020, compared to 5.5 in 2009.
Belichick was complimentary of Gilmore when asked this past week, saying, "He's always ready to go. We've changed up what he does based on our game plan and who we're matched up against, the team we're playing that particular week. But he's a very flexible player that understands what we're trying to do, how it all fits together, and works hard to do his part in it."
3. Expect to see more Winovich: The disappearance of second-year Patriots outside linebacker Chase Winovich has been hard to miss the past two weeks, as his snap counts have dipped to 22 (vs. Denver) and 13 (vs. San Francisco) after averaging 40 snaps per game over the first four weeks. He's one of the team's most talented young defenders, so one would think the team would want to see more of him, not less.
If the Bills stay true to their early-season identity -- playing the majority of their snaps with three- and four-receiver packages -- Winovich should see a big spike Sunday because he's essentially being viewed by the coaching staff as a passing-game type of player. Winovich's reduction in snaps the past two weeks might have been more about that (e.g. facing run-heavy San Francisco) than anything else.
So if the Bills don't take a dramatic turn from their norm, and Winovich remains on the sideline for most of the game, then there's probably a deeper problem.
4. Rohrwasser vs. Bass: The Patriots traded up in the draft to select their top-rated kicker, Marshall's Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round (No. 159). Meanwhile, the Bills took the draft's next kicker, Georgia Southern's Tyler Bass, in the sixth round (No. 188). So far, give the edge to the Bills. Rohrwasser was waived at the end of the preseason and is on the Patriots' practice squad, and Bass is 12-of-17 on field goal attempts and 18-of-19 on PATs as he navigates his way as a pro.
I asked special teams coordinator Cam Achord about Rohrwasser this past week and he said, "He's continuing to progress, to get better, and work forward. He's definitely doing everything we've asked of him. As long as he continues on this path, we're going to continue to see the results that we like seeing so far."
Maybe Rohrwasser ultimately emerges and shows why the Patriots invested so highly in him. But to this point, it hasn't gone according to plan.
5. Who is this year's Bryan Cox? The early-era Patriots Super Bowl championship teams had players who hated to lose more than they liked to win, and they played with an edge. Linebacker Bryan Cox's blistering hit of Colts receiver Jerome Pathon in 2001 was viewed by some as the type of play that defined that team, and was a catalyst for an unexpected, unheralded run to the Super Bowl. After watching the Patriots' defense get manhandled by ferocious Kittle and the 49ers last Sunday, here's my question in Week 8: Who could be this year's version of Cox to help turn things around? Shilique Calhoun rattling Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was the only thing I've seen that comes to mind.
6. Allen vs. man coverage: The Patriots have played man coverage 65% of the time this season, according to ESPN coverage analysis via NFL Next Gen Stats, which is the second-highest rate in the NFL after the Arizona Cardinals. This has been a successful approach against Bills quarterback Josh Allen in past years, but Allen has made a huge leap against man coverage in 2020. Allen had a QBR of 42 against man coverage last season (third worst among qualified passers) but has a 91 QBR this season (No. 4 in the NFL). That's the biggest increase in QBR year over year, followed by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (plus-37.9), Tampa Bay's Brady (plus-33.7) and Cleveland's Baker Mayfield (plus-33.1)
7. Stidham concerns: After an offseason in which it looked as if Jarrett Stidham had the inside track to become Brady's replacement -- which was thwarted by Cam Newton's summer arrival -- there seem to be more questions about him now than as a rookie. Stidham has been sporadic at times, and while a pick-six against the Chiefs was more receiver Julian Edelman's miscue than his own, there is a troubling statistic attached to his name: He has thrown four picks in his first 20 pass attempts, which is the second fewest attempts to reach four interceptions since 1978, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. Only Nathan Peterman (four picks in 19 attempts) got there faster.
8. Memories of '08 finale: The forecast for the Patriots-Bills game calls for cool temperatures, rain and wind gusts that could reach as high as 40-50 mph. That brings back memories of the 2008 finale when there was a similar forecast and the goalposts had be tied down because they kept tilting. In a game in which field position was critical, the Patriots beat the Bills 13-0 and punter Chris Hanson had a 46-yard punt into an intense wind gust Belichick later said was one of the best he has ever seen. The wind was so strong, the late, great Junior Seau joked after the game he found the "fountain of youth" while running with the wind at his back. Here's my story from the Boston Globe from that day.
9. Did You Know, Part I: Since taking over as Bills coach in 2017, Sean McDermott is 0-6 against Belichick and the Patriots. Since Belichick became coach in 2000, the only Bills head coach with more losses against him is Dick Jauron, who was 0-7 against New England as the Bills head coach.
10. Did You Know, Part II: Belichick's 35 wins against the Bills are tied with Don Shula for the most coaching wins vs. an opponent in the Super Bowl era and his winning percentage of .854 vs. the Bills is easily the best by any coach vs. a team in that span (minimum: 20 games). Shula recorded 35 victories apiece over the Bills and Colts.