Keep an eye on Patriots practice Wednesday. It’s possible running back Dion Lewis and guard Tre Jackson could make their returns from the PUP list. Coach Bill Belichick didn’t rule it out Tuesday morning.
“We’ll have to talk with our medical and conditioning staff and kind of get a sense of where everybody is and then figure that out from when practice starts on Wednesday, tomorrow,” said Belichick, “so we’ll take a look at that information and see where we are and then make a decision on it prior to Wednesday’s practice.”
That’s not a definite yes by any means, but it was a sharp departure from the way Belichick answered the same question a week earlier: “Probably not this week.”
Once Lewis (knee surgery) and Jackson (knee) return to practice, the Patriots will have three weeks to activate them to the 53-man roster or they would go back on PUP for the rest of the season.
Hold on there
The Patriots have struggled in an area that’s typically a strength: ball security. They are second in the league with 14 fumbles (the Chargers have 17) and are relatively lucky to have lost only six of them.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the team is setting aside portions of practice for work that will hopefully cure the sudden case of fumble-itis.
“There’s no question that our players and our coaches are emphasizing that,” McDaniels said. “We know there is no greater determinant of success than taking care of the football on offense, that’s for sure.”
Rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who is on IR, leads the team with three fumbles. Five players have fumbled twice, including rookie Cyrus Jones, who has been a healthy scratch for three weeks running in part because of that.
“Definitely, something that we’re looking to correct,” said McDaniels.
“Definitely, something that we’ve done too much of. We understand the significance of it and we’re going to do everything we can to work to correct that as we move on through the season.”
After tweaking his hamstring Sunday against the Dolphins, Bills running back LeSean McCoy isn’t a lock to play Sunday against New England. If he does, the Patriots will have to do a better job of shutting him down than last time the teams met, when McCoy gained 108 yards and a touchdown.
McCoy, 28, has helped the Bills to the second-best rushing offense in the NFL by gaining 598 yards on the ground through seven games.
Part of that, said Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, is due to a diversified set of runs that has McCoy doing more damage up the middle than in years past.
“They’re doing a good job of using him in a bunch of different runs and run packages,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “I would say, overall with him this year, much more of an inside threat in the run game. He’s obviously always been an outside threat.”
McCoy’s speed makes him most dangerous when he can get around the edge and find space to accelerate, but when his blocking is good, McCoy can add a dimension by getting the same result when he’s able to get past the first line of defenders.
In Week 4 at Gillette Stadium, 11 of McCoy’s rushes came behind tackles or ends — the “C-gap” runs Patricia noted as Buffalo’s bread and butter. But McCoy also rushed eight times up the middle or behind one of the guards.
“What he’s been able to do now, what he’s done a real good job of is downhill runs,” said Patricia. “The downhill runs, I would say out of him now, are much more dangerous, and really once he breaks, he’s into the secondary or into the safeties a lot quicker.”
Belichick didn’t deny that kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s struggles could be an unwanted side effect of the new strategy he’s employing on kickoffs, but he also said that balancing multiple skills is a necessary part of Gostkowski’s job.
“I think they’re definitely different. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Belichick said.
“It would be like a golfer,’ Belichick said. “You’ve got to be able to hit a sand wedge, you’ve got to be able to hit a 5-iron, you’ve got to be able to drive, you’ve got to be able to putt.
“That’s what kickers and punters do.”