WR Kendrick Bourne could help New England Patriots create more on-field separation in Week 2 – Reuters
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots receivers failed to create above-average separation in their 20-7 season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins — a problem that dates back to last season .
That’s one of the many things that need to change Sunday against host Pittsburgh Steelers (1 p.m. ET, CBS) if the Patriots are to avoid sliding into an 0-2 hole.
An obvious quick fix: Play Kendrick Bourne, who had a catch for 41 yards in the fourth quarter, just two more snaps. He brought a surge of energy, suddenness and explosiveness to the field that was needed.
Consider these numbers:
On quarterback Mac Jones’ five 20+ yards aerial targets on Sunday, receivers averaged 1.2 yards of separation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The Week 1 average for all NFL receivers on those plays was 2.2 yards of separation.
Those results reflected 2021 when Patriots receivers ranked 25th in the NFL with just 1.6 yards of separation on deep balls (according to NFL Next Gen Stats).
The way the Patriots deployed their receivers against the Dolphins seemed to contribute to the lack of separation. DeVante Parker played 57 of a possible 57 snaps, followed by Jakobi Meyers (50), Nelson Agholor (33), Lil’Jordan Humphrey (3) and Bourne (2).
Parker leads the NFL in tight-window catches the past five seasons. Creating separation isn’t his forte, but using his 6-foot-3, 219-pound frame as physical presence can be. Meyers wins primarily with accurate routes and as a technician, rather than a burner.
So, the Patriots intentionally put less speed on the court by pairing Parker and Meyers with tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith as the Patriots fielded more two-TE sets in Week 1.
That they change course against Pittsburgh — injecting more of Bourne’s suddenness and Agholor’s speed — will be a notable scenario.
“They’re all different, with unique skill sets, and it’s up to us as coaches to take advantage of that and make the most of it,” assistant coach Troy Brown said of the recipient body. “It’s up to us to do a better job of training these guys.”
As for Bourne, Brown previously said the receiver hasn’t had as good an offseason as last year, when he was second on the team with 55 receptions for 800 yards and 5 touchdowns. This included being kicked out of a joint practice with the Carolina Panthers for getting into a fight, being kicked out of a practice by an official for an issue with his equipment, and then showing up late for a meeting before a preseason game against the Panthers.
Bourne, who drew a large media crowd to the locker room after Sunday’s loss, took ownership of his limited role saying, “I don’t give coaches what they want and need to see. I just need to improve.
Coach Bill Belichick said Bourne’s limited workload on Sunday was not based on discipline and later told sports radio WEEI: “I think KB has done a great job stepping in where we we needed him. Made a big play for us. I’m sure he will have many opportunities, like all our talented players, in the future.
Assistant receivers coach Ross Douglas added, “KB is a great player, great teammate, great guy to work with. Whenever he’s on the pitch, we expect nothing less than what we saw in Sunday’s game. He can make a lot of big plays.
The Patriots, one of four teams to score less than 10 points in Week 1, need more.
That’s why creating better separation on the field — and giving Jones a chance to capitalize on it with strong pass protection — will be key to the team’s plan for Week 2 against the Steelers.