While the Patriots dropped a crucial game to the Houston Texans on Sunday, there were a few bright spots for a team that is still in playoff contention. Most notably, wide receiver Damiere Byrd had the best game of his career
Byrd came to New England as a free agent this past offseason, as he had previous playing experience with quarterback Cam Newton. He produced 359 receiving yards in 11 games last season in Arizona, as he filled a complimentary role in their offense. When he came to New England, his playing time and role was likely to see an increase.
Byrd has been solid this season, consistently getting open and playing close to mistake-free football. Still, it felt as though New England wasn’t properly utilizing his speed over the first half of the season. Finally against Houston, Byrd earned more targets and he was on the receiving end of one of the best passes Cam Newton has thrown all season.
Byrd used a “stretch” release from a stacked wide receiver alignment, and then his speed flashed as he got on top of the cornerback. Notice that as Byrd tracks the ball, he slows down in order to use his body to protect the catchpoint and catch the ball over his shoulder. Not only was this a beautifully ran vertical route, but the play to catch the ball with the cornerback closing was equally as impressive.
Early in the game, Byrd ran an in-breaking route that required a horizontal break. You’ll see how crisp his footwork is, and how much faster he’s able to accelerate out of the break than the cornerback was. Byrd stayed flat across the field to maintain that separation he had created, which made the throw an easy one for Cam Newton.
Twice during the game, Byrd created yards worth of separation as Newton went through his progressions in the pocket. Byrd’s ability to uncover was highlighted on these routes, as the Texans defensive backs were unable to keep up with his speed. While Byrd is undersized for a boundary wide receiver, his speed is a weapon because he’s rarely contacted during his route stems.
On a crucial 3rd down early in the fourth quarter, Byrd made one of his most impressive receptions of the season.
Coming back towards the quarterback and working along the sideline, Byrd had the elevate off the ground and catch the ball while extending above his head. Despite being exposed and getting hit by defensive backs from two directions, Byrd quickly tucked the ball away while coming down to the ground to secure the catch and extend the drive.
Byrd was the Patriots best offensive weapon on Sunday, as his possession traits were seemingly equal to his success as a route runner. He posted a career high with 132 receiving yards, doing so on just 6 receptions. Byrd is now up to 469 receiving yards through 10 games this season, which is also a career high.
For an offense that has been starving to get more production from their wide receivers, Byrd’s strong performance was a welcome sight. His development has been close to linear throughout his career, and he continues to improve as the 2020 season progresses.