When linebacker Kyle Van Noy arrived from Detroit via trade in late October, four days before the Patriots were set to play the Bills, Bill Belichick bluffed a little when asked how Van Noy could possibly get ready in time for the game.
“Well, it starts with he’s played [in the league],” Belichick said. Without committing to playing Van Noy and mentioning that preparing to be part of the defense’s communication system was critical, Belichick made it seem possible that Van Noy could play on four days notice.
Of course, Van Noy didn’t play that Sunday or in the Patriots’ following game against Seattle, even after the bye week. Apparently, Van Noy used his study time well. He finally got some game action in Week 11, has been used more and more in each game since, and got involved communicating play calls and adjustments Sunday, when he was in on defense for 79 percent of the snaps.
“All of the guys that are in linebacker roles or even safety roles or sometimes defensive end roles are prepared to communicate or do anything on the field that depending on packages or the situation or whatever the case may be,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said.
The Patriots won’t rely on other defenders to help a new addition stay on the right page in games. If a player isn’t where he needs to be with the game plan and playbook, he can’t play. Depending on when a player joins the team, getting there is more or less of a scramble.
“Certainly in different points of the year when we have people that come into the program, there’s going to be different time allotments as far as how much we can get done with them in that particular course. So if a guy comes in midweek, and sometimes maybe it’s a week or so before we can even kind of see really what they’re doing,” Patricia said.
Van Noy has won his playing time through production, with nine tackles, one pass defensed, one interception, and one sack in three games.
It has helped that he’s a fast and curious learner, Patricia said.
“He’s extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game. He’s very cerebral; he’ll ask a lot of questions, he really wants to understand what we’re doing and why, which is great,” Patricia said.
Call to action?
Since the beginning of the season, the Patriots have carried much of their depth at wide receiver on the practice squad. They began the season with only four players — Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola — at the position.
Now, with Amendola reportedly expected to miss the remainder of the season, the Patriots must either dip into their reserves or seek outside help.
On the practice squad, receivers Devin Lucien and DeAndrew White have been silent insurance options stashed away since September.
Neither has much experience. White, an undrafted free agent in 2015 out of Alabama who played four games last season for the 49ers, was signed to the practice squad on Sept. 14.
Lucien was a seventh-round draft choice of the Patriots in May and played at UCLA before transferring to Arizona State. He’s been with the Patriots through the summer and through training camp, but has never played in an NFL game.
It’s possible the Patriots will have to test the progress of one or both players.
“They both have been consistent,” Belichick said. “They’ve been out there every day. They work hard. They’ve made plays for us in practice on the scout team against our defense, so overall our guys on the practice squad do a good job.
“They certainly help us get ready for the games by simulating our opponent’s schemes and playing styles and at the same time they’ve improved with their individual skills and techniques. Both of those guys – they’ve done a good job for us,” Belichick said.
Edelman, Hogan, and Mitchell will get quite a bit of work together regardless of whom the Patriots choose as a fourth receiver, but they’ll still need a solid option. Amendola’s snaps stood to increase with Rob Gronkowski done for the year. Amendola played a season-high 42 snaps against the 49ers, the only game in which he has been on the field with the offense more than half the time, when Gronkowski was left home.
Filling Amendola’s limited snaps is one thing. Replicating his production in clutch situations is another.
“He’s an incredibly dependable guy, knows what to do, creates separation or finds the soft spots in zones and has incredibly dependable hands, comes up big with a lot of big catches in critical situations and has helped us win a lot of games,” McDaniels said.
“He’s a guy that does whatever you ask him to do and has really been a big part of what we’ve done on third down and really on every down since he’s been here.”
The Patriots are more than familiar with Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who worked in New England from 2004-2009 as the linebackers coach and then defensive coordinator.
Now, Pees calls the plays for the NFL’s No. 1 defense, both overall and against the run.
“They challenge you on every play and they don’t give up any easy yards. That’s the sign of a team that’s well-coached, disciplined, knows their scheme really well,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said.
Unfortunately for McDaniels, knowing Pees won’t help him much in preparing to play his unit.
“I don’t try to guess, that’s for sure. Dean is going to change things up,” McDaniels said.
Tried and true
The Patriots faced two fourth-and-1 situations Sunday, went for it both times and converted both with essentially the same play — a LeGarrette Blount run to the right end. They tried it for the first time in the first quarter and, after it led to a 43-yard touchdown run, figured it was worth another go.
“That’s always something to consider as whether to run a play again after they’ve already seen it, kind of with the mentality of ‘Make them stop it. Let’s see if they’ve got it figured out,’ versus running it again and feeling like not running it again and saying ‘Well, they’re probably going to make the adjustment to that. Let’s move on to something else.’ It’s a great question,” Belichick said. Blount picked up 6 yards the second time . . . The Patriots-Rams television broadcast got a 31.5 household rating and a 68 market share, the highest market share ever for a Week 13 Patriots broadcast . . . The jersey Tom Brady wore during his record-setting 201st victory, as well as a game ball, are now on display in The Hall at Patriot Place.