The team’s best quarterback, Josh McCown, produced a below-average passer rating in 2016 (72.3) and he won’t have a veteran corps of receivers to rely on after a neck injury to wide receiver Quincy Enunwa cost him the season, leaving second-year pros Charone Peake (caught 19 of 35 targets for 186 yards in 2016) and Robby Anderson (caught 42 of 78 targets for 587 yards and two touchdowns last season) at the top of the depth chart.
The key will be how well they prevent New England’s running backs from catching passes in the backfield. Last season, running back James White was Brady’s most-targeted player (67) after Edelman (131) with the running backs as a group seeing more targets per game (8.6) than the tight ends (7.6). Some of that is obviously because Gronkowski was limited to just six starts last season, yet even in 2015, a year in which Gronkowski was healthy, running backs still saw nine targets per game.
But they can afford to be more patient on that than some other teams, with Lynch and Coach Kyle Shanahan in Year 1 of their regime and the very real possibility that they will be able to land Kirk Cousins in a year.
There were two marquee head-to-head matchups of running backs during Sunday’s late games. Todd Gurley rushed for 116 yards in the Rams’ 27-17 victory over the Jaguars and Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown. Fournette left the game with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter and did not return, although the announcers of the game said that he likely could have returned were the game not in its final minutes with the Jaguars trailing by 10 points. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, the Chiefs suffered their first loss of the season, despite 110 total yards from Kareem Hunt in a 19-13 loss to the Steelers, who got 184 rushing yards and a touchdown out of Le’Veon Bell.