James White is on pace for 106 receptions this season, a number that would break Matt Forte’s season record for a running back of 102, set in 2014.
Looking at the Patriots remaining schedule, there’s little reason to think White (66 receptions through 10 games) won’t do it, even if setting individual records is far from the priority. Asked about the possibility Wednesday, White said he hadn’t known he was on pace for the record until media members told him.
“You guys made me aware of it,” he said. “I’m just doing whatever I can to help my team get wins. Whether it’s one catch or a million catches, it doesn’t matter. I’m just trying to help these guys get wins and make our team better.”
That’s nice, but back to the matter at hand. Looking statistically at the defenses the Patriots will face down the stretch, it should be slightly easier for White to collect catches in the remaining six games than it has been over the course of the first 10.
The 10 opponents the Patriots have faced have allowed an average of 107.3 completions of between 1 and 10 yards this season. The short passing game is where White, who’s averaging 8.5 yards per reception, does the most damage. Some of the previous 10 opponents have been very good in that area, such as the Lions (88 catches of 1-10 yards allowed, per STATS LLC) and some have not, such as the Chiefs (123 such catches allowed). That average would rank 13th in the NFL right now.
The Patriots six upcoming opponents, counting the Jets twice, would rank four slots lower at No. 17 league-wide. On average, those teams have allowed 109.8 completions of 1-10 yards.
It’s not a huge difference and there are many other factors that will influence whether White breaks Forte’s record. But he should be facing defenses that are slightly worse at defending the short passing game down the stretch.
Other elements, such as the possible return of Rob Gronkowski, could help create space for White to keep catching passes. Even though he’s the Patriots most reliable pass-catcher, the fact that he’s running short routes means that defenses are reluctant to double-team him if it means giving up big gains to players who run deeper downfield. The Patriots will gladly take it.
White’s a focal point of the Patriots offense. But it’s worth mentioning he’s had a few uncharacteristically bad moments in pass protection lately.
“Definitely need to be better just communicating and when we do — when we are on the same page — do a better job of getting Tom [Brady] enough time to read the coverage out and if he decides to hold the ball, still give him enough time to do that too, so we definitely could be better at that,” White said Wednesday of the team’s performance on blitz pick-ups. “There’s definitely things that we can fix when we get back.”
White wasn’t able to pick up Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard on a first-quarter blitz that led to a sack. The Titans had all four defensive linemen in a two-point stance on the play, making it hard to know who was rushing and who was dropping into coverage, but White reacted fairly quickly and was there to meet Woodyard as he shot through the A gap, he just couldn’t make the block. White also missed a pick-up on a delayed blitz by Green Bay linebacker Antonio Morrison in the third quarter of the Packers game and one on Bears safety Adrian Amos on a play that resulted in a Brady interception.
White said he didn’t think any issues in protection were schematic or related to communication rather than pure execution. The Titans, in particular, threw some complicated defensive looks the Patriots way, but White said the team hasn’t been flustered pre-snap by defensive changes, they just haven’t blocked well enough, which seemed like the case on the play that led to the Woodyard sack.
“It’s not just communicating – you actually have to block the guys too, so you’ve got to give them enough time,” White said.
Blitz pick-up is typically one of White’s strengths, so he should turn this around. Assuming he does, he’ll be giving a complete effort in addition to what could be a record-setting season as a pass-catcher.