Highlighting Patriots' work on kickoffs

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In watching the Cincinnati Bengals' 17-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, with the idea of trying to get a better feel of the Bengals in anticipation of the New England Patriots' game at Cincinnati this Sunday, the role of kickoffs came to the forefront.

The Browns returned two kickoffs in the game, both for a solid 30 yards, so the following note was jotted down: Could be an opportunity to see more of the Patriots' kickoff return game on Sunday.

A second note was also included: Check on Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski's work on kickoffs in comparison to the rest of the NFL.

Specific to the Patriots' kickoff return game, running back LeGarrette Blount has been the primary returner. The results haven't been off the charts, as he has four returns for 84 yards (21.0 avg.), with a long of 25 yards.

We've previously noted it's been a bit puzzling not to see running back Leon Washington in the role (he played 14 offensive snaps on Sept. 12 but wasn't on the kickoff return), yet Bill Belichick noted yesterday that health (he has a thigh injury) is part of that decision. Belichick also pointed out what he likes about Blount (6-foot-0, 250 pounds) in the role.

"I think we’ve all seen his run skills," he said. "He’s got speed, he’s got good vision and he’s a big, strong guy that’s hard to tackle. He’s good with the ball in his hands. On kickoff returns, he’ll get it."

As for Gostkowski, he has 20 touchbacks on 22 kickoffs for a league-best 90.9 touchback percentage. All 22 of his kickoffs have carried into the end zone, making him one of just five players in the NFL to be 100 percent in that category.

Denver's Matt Prater is the only kicker in the NFL to have more touchbacks (25).

"We haven’t had to cover a lot of kickoffs. Steve has done an excellent job with the kickoffs giving us field position in that area too. It’s all been positive," Belichick said.

We'll be keeping a close eye on both of these areas on Sunday.