By: Steve Balestrieri
This week’s offensive player to watch in the Patriots and Bengals Sunday football matchup against the Bengals, is Kenbrell Thompkins wide receiver for the Patriots.
In our Razor’s Edge piece from Thursday, we looked to Ron Ninkovich for the defensive side of the ball, but for the Patriots to go 5-0 this week the offense will have to produce against a better defense in Cincinnati’s and Thompkins will have to be once again a big part of the game plan.
Big Things To Come?: After struggling the first couple of games, Thompkins showed progress against the Bucs and then had his first 100 yard receiving game of his brief NFL career against Atlanta.
Unlike other players who struggled out of the gate, QB Tom Brady has stuck with Thompkins and continued to feed him the ball and while their chemistry is still a work in progress, it is beginning to pay off. Thompkins caught two touchdown passes against Tampa before hauling in 6 passes for 127 yards and another touchdown Sunday night in Atlanta.
Thompkins caught 6 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown Sunday night.
(USA TODAY Images)
Although he caught a beauty of a TD in the corner of the endzone, perhaps the biggest play of the night came early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots were backed up on their 12 yard line and facing a third and 16. Thompkins got open deep down the middle and Brady lasered a pass to him at the 38 yard line for a first down.
It was a sign of trust for the young receiver that Brady will go to him in clutch situations.
On the year, Thompkins has 15 receptions, and his 257 yards for a 17.1-yard average and 3 TDs. The Patriots believe he’s capable of even more and indeed he was beginning to get the respect that dangerous wide receivers get on Sunday night.
Running out of a stack formation, Thompkins went deep and drew the Falcons defenders with him, clearing out what seemed to be acres of room for Julian Edelman underneath. It was an easy pitch and catch for Brady to hook up with Edelman and it turned into a way-too-easy 44 yard game.
Once Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola return to the Patriots offense, it will open up more opportunities all over the field. Gronkowski will most certainly draw double teams down the seam with the safeties and it will probably free up Thompkins on single coverage, which he’s already shown that he can defeat.
It’s a classic case of you can’t double everyone, Amendola and Edelman will provide the short to intermediate area on crossing routes, Gronkowski attacking down the seams and Thompkins and fellow rookie Aaron Dobson working outside the numbers, this will be a dangerous offense and a fun one to watch.
Cincinnati Homecoming: Thompkins returns to the city where he played college football this week, although he has pooh-poohed the idea that it is anything special, just another football game, remaining grounded in his approach.
This week, he’ll have to continue his progression and he’ll be going against a Bengals secondary that while talented is beset by injuries. Terence Newman has a bad knee and Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick as well as Reggie Nelson all have hamstring issues.
Hall, the Bengals’ outstanding cornerback is expected back this week but much will depend on whether Nelson can play. If he can’t go, look for the Patriots to attack the middle of the Cincinnati defense. And one of the players doing that will be Thompkins.
He’ll have to cut down on his drops, which are still an issue with the young receiver but he’ll be looked to provide some big plays for the Patriots offense to stretch the field and take the Bengals out of the idea of flooding the middle of the field and taking away the short to medium passes.
He certainly has the confidence in Brady that he’ll work through any issues he has on the field. On Sunday night after his big performance, Brady said about Thompkins, “He’s really been an impressive young player. His attitude, his willingness to work, whatever it takes, he’s been great,” Brady said. “It’s really rare to see that, having a young player step in with the kind of confidence he has.”
On Sunday, the Patriots will still probably be without Gronkowski and more likely than not without Amendola as well. But Edelman, Dobson, the newly-signed Austin Collie and Thompkins will be looked at to provide the Patriots the offense to get them over the top and return 5-0, something that seemed like a pipe dream a short while ago.
Time to sit down and watch the young guys play, this experience will most definitely pay dividends in December and January.