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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, which is timely because the team’s recent deployment of wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as a running back has a Packers-like twist to it.

That was one of the points that running backs coach Ivan Fears made Wednesday when asked about Patterson leading the team with 10 carries for 38 yards in Monday’s win over the Buffalo Bills.

Emphasizing that it wasn’t a big deal, Fears noted that the Packers had done something similar when they turned Ty Montgomery from a receiver to a running back in 2016. It was often unusual to see No. 88 running the ball for the Packers the last two years before his trade to Baltimore, just as it was Monday night to watch No. 84 taking handoffs that a traditional running back would normally be getting.
Cordarrelle Patterson likely won’t get the 25 caries he talked about getting, in fact he may not get any if Sony Michel returns, but his versatility to be able to get 10 on Monday night helped the Patriots. Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
“Come on! It’s nothing new,” Fears said in his always-excitable delivery. “This is football. You have 11 guys and you take the best guys you can throw on the field, and if they can make a play for you, you try to get them in position. We had a need. We thought this was a great idea, because if you give that kid the ball, he makes things happen. So how many ways can we find a way to give him the ball? Hell, just line him up back there and give it to him! Let him run! Don’t make it harder than that.”

The Patriots did that 10 times with Patterson, compared to eight with James White and twice with Kenjon Barner, and Patterson – who had played some halfback with the Raiders, according to Bill Belichick — loved it. After the game, he said he hopes to get 25 carries this week.

It’s also possible that he might not get any if rookie running back Sony Michel (knee) is ready to return. Without Michel, the Patriots were down to just two healthy running backs. They could have promoted Kenneth Farrow from the practice squad, but that would have required another roster move to make room for him.

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Instead, they turned to Patterson.

“We needed help. The answers were not too many, not many choices,” Fears said of the team’s thought process in turning to Patterson. “There was one looking right at us, and he was willing. He was like, ‘Hey! I can do that.’ Really? Well, let’s see. And then you thought about it, well, yeah.

“You have injuries and stuff you have to deal with, you don’t always have space to get people. You have to use what you got.”

Prior to that point, the Patriots had used Patterson as more of a gadget option on offense.

 

As for how much Patterson might be used as a traditional running back in the weeks to come, Belichick hinted that what unfolded Monday was more of a short-term fix because of the temporary personnel shortage.

“We had a couple things for him and didn’t have a lot of depth at running back, so we were able to utilize him as part of the group at that position,” Belichick said on sports radio WEEI. “A couple plays he got whacked pretty good. But he runs hard, he’s tough, has good size, good power. I don’t think it’s … we’ll see how it goes.

“We’ll see where we’re at relative to who’s available and how we want to structure the game plan. But I’d say [running back depth is] a concern.”

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There’s good news as it comes to that largely useless video posted by NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron regarding the new rule against lowering the helmet and making contact with an opponent: It’s been revised both to ditch the Commodore 64 graphics and, more importantly, to add animation that highlights which player is or isn’t complying with the rule.

Here’s the bad news: It still lacks narration or explanation, making it only slightly less useless than it was. (It’s not clear why Riveron didn’t simply do a video that includes his explanation as to why a given play is or isn’t a foul.)

Here’s my quick assessment of the six plays shown on the video, with the first three not a foul and the last three examples of a violation.

In the first play not involving a foul, Rams safety Steven Parker closes in to make a form tackle. As he approaches the ball carrier, Parker LOWERS HIS HELMET. If the ball carrier had shifted slightly to his right (Parker’s left), Parker would have struck the opponent with the lowered helmet, and it would have been a foul.

In the second, Jets safety J.J. Wilcox approaches the Falcons receiver and Wilcox instinctively LOWERS HIS HELMET. Wilcox actually makes contact against the receiver with the helmet. So why wasn’t it a foul? As the grossly broad lowering-the-helmet rule is written, it should have been.

In the third, Jets cornerback Jeremy Clark makes a form tackle on a kickoff return. Just before impact, Clark LOWERS HIS HELMET. Clark manages to deliver the blow without making contact against the opponent with Clark’s helmet.

As to the two situations that clearly aren’t fouls, the outcome is driven more by happenstance than technique. Basically, Parker and Clark got lucky, in that the opponent didn’t move into the path of the lowered helmet. If they had, it would have been a foul, based on the manner in which the rule is written.

In the first play showing a violation, a Rams defender chases down a ball carrier and, at the point of impact, instinctively dips his helmet and makes contact. Technically, it’s a foul. But what was the player supposed to do differently? There will be many plays in which the defender won’t be able to square up and make a form tackle. If what the defender did in that case is a foul, what could he have done that wouldn’t have been a foul — other than sprint down the field and circle back in the hopes of maybe being able to approach him from the front?

In the second play, Browns tight end Orson Charles goes in motion from right to left before the snap, then goes back to the right and delivers a block that seals the path to the ball carrier. Charles instinctively lowers his helmet and seems to make contact with the helmet against the Giants defender Charles is trying to block. Again, what could he have done differently, other than collide with the defender while standing straight up, and in turn been blown up by the lower man? (An arguably more obviously foul appears on that play, when Giants defensive back Orion Stewart, wearing No. 45, performs a head-down lunge into the ball carrier while he is being tackled.)

The third play represents a mirror image of the second one, with a Saints player moving left to right to block Jaguars defensive lineman Lyndon Johnson, who lowers his helmet just before colliding with the blocker. It happens quickly, but it definitely appears to be a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the rule; Johnson could have at least tried to move his helmet to the side instead of putting his helmet in the blocker’s stomach.

Bottom line? The rule continues to be far too broad, its application will far too often be driven by chance and randomness, and it’s becoming far too late to implement a meaningful fix that requires the blow to be forcible and that carves out any incidental contact that happens while the tackler or blocker is attempting to deliver a hit without making contact with the helmet.

In 22 days, this rule will be applied to games that count.