Archive for August, 2010

Patriots Still Have Work To Do

It was a tough night for the New England Patriots, who suffered a 36 – 35 loss to the St. Louis Rams in their first exhibition loss of 2010 Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

After a very exciting start in which Brandon Tate had an explosive 97-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff, it went downhill quickly for the team. The number one overall pick Sam Bradford showed why he got paid the highest rookie contract in NFL history, with the Rams’ quarterback carving the Patriots’ defense for 189 yards, and 2 TDs.

On the opening drive for the Rams, Bradford drove down the field in 10 plays, 74-yards in 5:34, which isn’t exactly the way you want your defense to start against a team that won a mere one game last season.  That seemed to be the theme for the night as the Patriots defense had a difficult time stopping the Rams offense.   Not to mention the time-of-possession was completely lopsided in the defeat, only having control of the ball for a little over 16 minutes for the game. 

The Rams looked very good for a large majority of the game but that is simply no excuse for the Patriots.  Belichick kept the “first team” through the second half into the third quarter after the defensive unit had a near horrendous night. In the post-game press conference Belichick said, “In a game of no defense, we didn’t play any”,  “We just didn’t do a good job. We didn’t have a good night.” 

Obviously there is work to do across the board if the team wants to be successful in the coming weeks.

Some other notes – As spectacular as Bradford was, Tom Brady’s performance was superior as he once again looked sharp finishing 18-of-22 for 273 yards, and 3TDs. I expect more of the same greatness in the coming weeks and his pre-season has been very clean…Laurence Maroney sat on the sidelines and did not start, as Sammy Morris got the nod at running back. Patriot’s fans should start to question his position on the depth chart…On defense, James Sanders started for the team, perhaps to showcase his abilities in hopes for a trade. After all, safety is one of the Patriots deepest positions on the roster. Also, after a solid start for Devin McCourty he struggled greatly on almost every play. Hopefully this is a game he can put behind him…Tight ends were once again relevant in the Patriots offense and Rob Gronkowski continues to show why he was one of the top TE prospects coming in the NFL. At 6’6 265, he is a big target and very hard to bring down (Ask James Laurinaitis about that). He played fantastic and I very much enjoy watching him develop….The Patriots showed a serious lack of discipline with 3 helmet-to-helmet penalties throughout the game and also the serious time of possession differential. Not holding and sustaining drives combined with silly penalties is a formula for disaster…Brandon Tate showed why he could be a playmaker for this team. His return and receiving ability will surely make him relevant this year.

I could spend more time talking about the few positives of tonight’s game but they were simply overshadowed by the negatives. I am disappointed by the overall performance of the team but, this was just practice. With the regular season just a little over two weeks away, the Patriots need to utilize the rest of the time cleaning up their act. Simply put, tonight’s performance was simply unacceptable.

Fantasy Value for the 2010 Patriots

For all my fellow fantasy football players, the time is now to be reviewing draft kits, researching player value, perhaps participating in the mock drafts available through some websites. If you are really eager, there is a chance that you have already completed a draft in your league; however, for all of you who are interested in where these 2010 Patriots could be slotted, here is some insight.

Tom Brady – Everyone has there own opinion on Tom Brady in terms of fantasy value, as many do for nearly all players, the reality is he is still one of the elite quarterbacks. One year removed from knee surgery, coming off a solid season (for the QB’s not named Brady, Brees, and Manning) his value should be much higher. I would not draft him over Aaron Rodgers, who has scored the most fantasy points over the last two seasons, but Brady should be an elite fantasy quarterback taken in the first two rounds.

Patriot Running Backs – My fantasy advice, there is no running back on the Patriots worth taking. Harsh? Maybe to some but, in the committee system like the Patriots have, it is virtually impossible to guess who is in Belichick’s game plan for the week. Laurence Maroney could be an option in rounds 12 or later in case he starts to run “downhill” as he has recently pledged to do but I am not buying what he is selling. If a true starter emerges during the season, maybe go after a player on the waiver wire but I for one will be focusing on other teams running backs.

The receivers offer more promise for fantasy owners. Randy Moss is s still a number 1 fantasy receiver in all leagues, and should produce this year after leading the NFL in touchdowns last season with 13. I would still recommend Wes Welker for a number 2 or 3 wide out a long as you have a decent back up in case he misses some time. There is also a chance Brandon Tate could be a sleeper as he could start opposite of Moss (with Wes in the Slot) but he would be a late round reserve. If you participate in a league with points for return yards, Julian Edelman could most definitely be an option. His great first year, accompanied with a solid camp and good first game vs. the Saints shows his true abilities. The quarterback turned receiver is the real deal and could help out your team potentially. For non PPR (Points Per Reception) and leagues with points for return yards he should be considered a 4th or 5th receiver in your reserves at best.

For the Tight Ends, Rob Gronkowski has been a consistent red zone target and Aaron Hernandez has been a favorite for Tom Brady in training camp. While I am not sold just yet on their potential fantasy value for this season, I do believe either one of them could. I think Gronkowski will have more touchdowns; however, Aaron Hernandez is the better bet in my mind because, he will be targeted more. His overall versatility on offense could make him worth a look in the last round or two for future potential.

With many questions surrounding the offense at this point in the season, the best option is to choose the known commodities for the Patriots. In the last two or three rounds, when the reserve players are being selected, take a chance on players which could have big upside. My top 3 sleepers are Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman, and Brandon Tate. Although, make sure to monitor any roster changes and stay waiver wire active as the players responsibilities become more known. Good Luck!

Instant Analysis from the Patriots win over Atlanta

In the second pre-season game of the very young NFL season, the New England Patriots displayed another impressive effort. As the Patriots handled the Falcons almost effortlessly throughout the game, there were once again many more positives than negatives in the 28 – 10 win.

I was impressed by the way the offense started. Wes Welker made an appearance in which he caught 2 passes over the middle for 6 and 14 yards. On the first drive the patriots threw six straight passes before running the ball six straight times. The drive lasted 6:13 as the patriots drove 80 yards for a Fred Taylor 28 yard touchdown.

Balance seemed to be a priority throughout the game and the plan was obvious, be more physical. The Patriots offensive line showed dominance in each quarter against the Falcons defensive line. The Patriots ran the ball effectively nearly the entire game and the older backs had a lot to do with that. Here are some story lines that I came away from the game with:

Defense was hot and cold: I thought the defense was average almost the entire game. There were some positives but the pressure they generated and the poor coverage on check downs disappointed me. The secondary would play well against the receivers and then the defense would lapse when the Falcons QBs would go to their check down options. Yes, they only gave up 10 points, but I thought they struggled to get pressure on the Falcons first team offense. The starting OLBs were Derrick Burgess and Marques Murrell. Murrell started a second straight week as Burgess returned to action for the first time. Devin McCourty and Brandon Spikes had another solid game, although as I noted in the blog earlier, Gary Guyton and Leigh Bodden are out with injuries. So, I will be monitoring who the starters are when those two are healthy. The defense certainly needs to step up if this team has playoff aspirations. They got the job done tonight but, I certainly expect more from the unit as a whole as the season progresses.

Old legs run hard: As I predicted earlier Fred Taylor got the start tonight. I did not predict however, how well he would run. The 34 year old Taylor looked fresh and motivated to show the staff as well as fans he still could shoulder the load. I was impressed by how hard he hit the hole and it certainly did not hurt that the offensive line was dominant for the games entirety. Both Taylor and Sammy Morris ran exceptionally well and if that can continue, balance could be restored to the offense.

Dan Connelly continues to fill big shoes: In the first two games, Dan Connelly has played as well as anyone could have hoped. With Logan Mankins still holding out from the team, Connelly has filled in admirably and his play is starting to speak for itself. I have noticed him in multiple scenarios stand out when he “pulls” to block. In the first week he did just that to help Benjarvus Green – Ellis score a touchdown and he did the same for Fred Taylor tonight to help the Patriots score their first touchdown. If he can keep his play around this level, the patriots might be able to recover from what many thought was a crippling contract dispute.

Tight Ends play large role: Both of the Patriots young TEs, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, played exceptional throughout the game. Not only were the efficient, combined 8 for 9 receptions, they both scored in the red zone – a huge problem for the Pats last season. Both players caught four balls and I thought their play show cased there hard work to date this off-season. I think both futures are very promising and that will most definitely benefit the team. I expect more of the same in future games.

Third Downs play key role: The patriots were sensational on third downs throughout the game, converting on 11 of 17 times. That type of success is critical to closing out games and scoring more points. Those length of the field, time of possession, drives that the patriots use to thrive on were created by third down efficiency. If they can continue to have that kind of success throughout the year, the results could translate into more wins.

Overall, my first impressions of he game are a positive. I would give the team a B+, however; I would like to see more tenacity on the defensive side. I loved the balance and physical nature the Patriots brought to the game and I hope that continues. Tom Brady has played very well in the first two games. Brady is a combined 15 – 20, thrown for 152 yards, 1 touchdown, and is 2 – o. As the rookies progress, Patriots nation has to be pleased with Devin McCourty, Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski’s progression. In the Patriots third pre-season, next week, fans and coaching staff should hope to see more progress by the team as they have in the first two. As many coaches play their starters for an extended period of time in week three of the pre-season, next week should continue to give us an idea of what kind of team these Patriots can be.

What I will be Watching for Tonight vs. the Falcons

1)   The defenses’ aggressiveness: Last week verse the Saints, I enjoyed watching the tenacity that the defense brought with the first teamers. They were aggressive, blitzed heavy, and did not let Drew Brees carve up the secondary; the first two possessions for the Saints actually resulted in a three and out. I hope the team continues to play with that same “hit em in the mouth” mentality this week and into the regular season. Although, I hope if they do blitz, the cornerbacks will be playing press coverage because, I hate when the defensive backs play far off their man in that situation.

2)   Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty: Last week, both of these players started with the first team. Both Spikes and McCourty played solid in the pre-season debut, however; there were injuries to people who possibly rank ahead of them on the depth chart at their respective positions (Guyton, Bodden). I will be intrigued if both start again tonight, that could be telling of roles going into the season. If these two give performances such as the ones last week, the defense could be in better shape come September.

3) Who starts along the defensive line: With Ty Warren now on IR, done for the season, it is time for other members to step up. Last time the team played in a meaningful game, the defense was run over. Ty is a solid DE in this league and his run stopping ability should not be over looked. I love Mike Wright in a sub / rush the passer type role, however; I am not sold that he could handle the responsibilities of an every down player. So whom ever Belichick starts tonight could potentially play a large role on the defense in the coming weeks.

4) Tom Brady’s new toys: Brandon Tate and Rob Gronkowski played very well last week. There were some hiccups for both players, although I thought for a debut, both seemed to contribute positively. Tate’s toe tapping sideline grab showed why just 2 years ago, before his knee injury, he was widely considered a top-receiving prospect. If he can develop into an above par threat opposite of Moss, the team could have great flexibility with the receiving core. Rob on the other hand, was mostly blocking. I do not mean for that to sound disappointing, but because I had heard so much about his red zone presence in practice, I was hoping to see my fellow Arizona Wildcat catch a touch down pass. Nonetheless, his blocking should not be overlooked. At one point he did an exceptional job of blocking a Saints defensive tackle and certainly did his part on the first touch down run in the new three TE set. I will be looking for both players and maybe Aaron Hernandez tonight, to see how they can further contribute.

5) Running Back: With Benjarvus Green – Ellis getting the nod last week at running back, the line has most definitely been blurred in terms of roles. His start could be received as either a promising training camp performance, or a fight for a roster spot. In my mind there are only two running backs safe on the roster, Maroney and Faulk. All the others should be put on notice and fighting for their lives. I believe Fred Taylor will start tonight and each of the next 3 games could seal the fate of the players. 

Thoughts and Analysis of Patriots vs. Saints

Pre-Season exhibition games by the NFL can often be boring, as well as misleading. Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, that was not the case. The Patriots held their own against the Super Bowl winning New Orleans Saints, completing the game with a victory. The Patriots also seemed to provide a positive indication of what the team could offer during the regular season. Here are some thoughts and analysis from the game:

Players who did not dress included: WR Wes Welker, LB Jermaine Cunningham, WR Matthew Slater, CB Leigh Bodden, S Bret Lockett, CB Terrance Johnson, LB Gary Guyton, G Nick Kaczur, WR Torry Holt, DE Ty Warren, and DE Ron Brace.

I was happy Belichick decided to rest Wes Welker, as he did not need to prove anything in the opening preseason game. Jermaine Cunningham sitting out was a disappointment, but he is still bothered by an undisclosed injury suffered at Wednesday morning’s practice.

Starting Defensive Line-up: Gerard Warren DE, Vince Wilfork DT, Mike Wright DE, Tully Banta-Cain OLB, Jerod Mayo ILB, Brandon Spikes ILB, Marques Murrell OLB, Darius Butler CB, Devin McCourty CB, Brandon Meriweather S, Patrick Chung S

I loved what the Patriots did on the opening set defensively. They were aggressive and pressured Brees immediately, which I felt they should have done more of last season but clearly didn’t have the personnel. Marques Murrell got a sack on third down and Patriots nation had to enjoy the pressure the defense generated from the get-go. The cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Darius Butler could be an intriguing young duo as the team moves forward, but with Leigh Bodden sitting out due to injury, I am curious to see who will be a starter opposite him when he returns.  Butler struggled last night after an impressive camp and a solid rookie campaign.  McCourty played well defensively and contributed on special teams with a great return for 50 yards in the fourth quarter.

Starting Offensive Line-up: QB Tom Brady, T Matt Light, G Dan Connolly, C Dan Koppen, G Stephen Neal, T Sebastian Vollmer, TE Alge Crumpler, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Randy Moss, WR Julian Edelman, RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis

The Patriots started in a physical set with the surprise of Benjarvus Green-Ellis as the lead running back, playing in 21 of their 31 first half offensive snaps. Green-Ellis ran well the majority of the time and could be making a case for himself to be the lead running back if he keeps this up for opening day.

The patriots looked out of sync on offense on the opening drive as they went 3 and out after an excellent 41-yard return by Julian Edelman. Edelman continues to impress taking over as punt returner, as well as playing receiver (6 catches for 90 yards in the game). The Patriots offense did seem to operate more smoothly on the following drives.

Overall first impressions were very good, as the Patriots won 27 – 24. The team took an early lead that they later lost, only to come back and win. Edelman was by far the MVP for the night as he showcased his abilities and versatility. The pressure generated, on both defense and special teams, is an aspect to keep in mind going forward. I hope to see the tenacity of the defense stay elevated through the course of the season, much like the beginning of last night’s game. Also, the running back situation should be observed carefully as camp and pre-season progresses. I would say for the first game of the young NFL season, Patriots nation should be optimistic.

5 Rookies & Sophomores That Will Dictate the Patriots Season

In the last two years the Patriots have made 24 draft selections, more than any other team in the NFL. The inevitable roster turnover for the veteran laden team of the previous decade is seen as a long time coming from analysts, management, and fans alike. In terms of the upcoming season, the Patriots are dependant on these 24 draft selections stepping into starting and contributing roles. Unlike the dynasty era, there are starting jobs to be won on both sides of the ball and with the injection of youth into the current roster, some of these players will see immediate action on Sundays. These five players are listed below and keep in mind they’re are in no particular order:

1)   Patrick Chung, S, Oregon

The first pick made by the Patriots in the 2009 NFL draft was Patrick Chung at 34th overall. Chung registered 37 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 interception in his first season. While his play was inconsistent at times throughout the season’s entirety, he made strides as the season progressed. Last year, Chung was one of three players that split time next to Brandon Meriweather at the free safety position. Having a set starter next to Meriweather should let the two players build a chemistry that could possibly translate to better team communication and should add stability to the secondary. Poor defensive communication was definitely illustrated by the defenses play at times during last season.  If all goes well, Chung will be a 16 game starter for the Patriots at the free safety position in the coming season.

2)   Jermaine Cunningham, LB, Florida

Perhaps the player most under the microscope in the coming year is none other than Jermaine Cunningham. Drafted 53rd overall in the 2010 NFL draft, the defensive lineman turned outside linebacker had a productive college career registering 19.5 sacks as well as 34 tackles for a loss during his tenure at Florida. At the teams’ biggest area of need on the defense last season, outside linebacker, playing time should come early and often for Cunningham. If he can play the position at a solid level while generating a pass rush opposite of Tully Banta-Cain, the team could be in great shape. Although asking a rookie who has never played the position, coming from college to one of the NFL’s more intricate defenses is asking a lot.  However, Bill seems confident in Jermaine’s abilities and potential; which is apparent, as he has given Cunningham an exuberant amount of first team repetitions at training camp to date. If he continues to make strides in training camp and makes plays in the pre season, Cunningham could be looking at one of the starting outside linebacker spots this season.

3)   Aaron Hernandez, TE / H – Back, Florida

One of the more intriguing selections of the recent draft, Aaron Hernandez, is an athletic versatile player who offensively will be utilized in a countless number of ways this year by the patriots. The impact Hernandez has made in training camp as a fourth round pick (113th overall) has created a buzz in Foxboro. Tom Brady and Hernandez seem to be developing a rapport as they are seen spening time together and discussing the offense after each series in practice. Aaron will most likely be lined up in several different spots taking a Hybrid back type role with the team and should have an immediate impact in the passing game.

4)   Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona

Patriot Nation, meet Brady’s new favorite red zone target, Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski could have as much potential as anyone drafted last April.  At 6’6” and 265 lbs, he is a quarterback’s dream. With his size, strength, and production, he could be a force as well as a match up nightmare for defenses, if his health permits. The rookie had a herniated disc and minor nerve damage in his back, which was repaired in California back on September 24th of last year. Healthy and eager, Gronkowski runs very fluidly for his size and his run after the catch is remarkable. His hands, blocking, catch in traffic, and overall football IQ could potentially make him one of the leagues best tight ends in a few years. Gronkowski should be the starting tight end by week 1.

5)   Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers

The 27th overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft, is widely considered one of the top rookie cornerbacks. When commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Patriots had selected him, fans were left scratching their heads. Even though McCourty was a first round talent, many considered the position a lower priority.  Despite Darius Butler’s solid rookie campaign, expectations for McCourty compelled me to place him on the list over Butler, and I think McCourty has all the tools to compete on an NFL field and could be a star. Needless to say, expectations are high for this young man.  Veteran Leigh Bodden, along with Butler and McCourty, could be a strong trio for years to come. McCourty will slide into the nickel spot at corner right away if not the starting role across Bodden, and will also contribute on special teams as he did so well at Rutgers.

*Honorable Mention: Darius Butler, Brandon Spikes, Taylor Price, Tyrone McKenzie, and Sebastian Vollmer.

These five players will have the biggest impact on the team this season and their play could decide if the team returns to the postseason. As important to the teams success as these five players are, all 53 Patriots players along with the coaching staff, will have to put the team ahead of their individual selves in order to make a legitimate run deep into the postseason. With the potential of these young stars and Bill Belichick at the helm, there should optimism amongst fans as well as in the organization that a fourth Lombardi trophy could be in the teams near future.

Don’t Forget about Tyrone McKenzie…

With the incredible roster turnover throughout the past two years, there is one name that is forgotten by a large majority of Patriots fans; this player is none other than Tyrone McKenzie. 

With all of the hype surrounding Brandon Spikes the past few months, many forget the excitement revolving around the third round pick just one year ago.  McKenzie is a man who does not lack self confidence, comparing himself to Ray Lewis as a player his playing style most resembles, but his unfortunate ACL tear during rookie mini camp last year put an end to the excitement illustrated by him, the fans, and the coaching staff.

He is a guy who has been faced with obstacles in his life before transferring twice in college to be closer to his mother while she struggled with health issues. McKenzie first played at Michigan State where he played in 11 games. After sitting out an NCAA season to transfer to Iowa State, he led the team for tackles with 129.  Finally, he transferred to the last destination of his collegiate career to the University of South Florida. There he led the bulls in tackles for two consecutive years before being selected 97th overall by the New England Patriots in 2009.

McKenzie listed at 6’2” and 245 pounds, and is slated to play middle linebacker for the Patriots, although he did also play outside in college. However, with Bill Belichick’s mold for outside linebackers held to standards of around 6’4” and 265 lbs, his options could be limited. Nevertheless, with the outside linebacker position dangerously thin and the entire defense under construction, Belichick may choose to experiment in certain defensive situations.

As many media members and fans like to envision Mayo and Spikes in the middle of the Patriots defense, there are still questions regarding if Spikes has the speed to play in the NFL. If he proves he can be the thumper that many experts believe he could develop into, than I would definitely experiment with McKenzie outside. I believe his tenacity and mentality could be used in nickel situations to get after the quarterback. If he can learn to “set the edge” as Belichick likes his outside linebackers to do, McKenzie could be a force on the outside.

At the end of the day however, no one knows besides Bill Belichick what shape the defense will take once the season begins and where players will be slotted. There is a lot of potential at the middle linebacker position, and if all works out well for Patriots fans and coaches, the team could have flexibility come September.

Outside Linebacker Depth An Issue

For those people who think this is the same New England Patriot team of old, you may want to take look at the outside linebacker position of the current roster.

At one point in the previous decade, the team had what many thought around the league as an embarrassment of riches at the position. Names such as Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest are now in the past, and fans following the current roster have turned to veterans Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess, Rob Ninkovich, and Pierre Woods. Along with these four is 22 year old Jermaine Cunningham, who was selected by the Patriots 53rd overall from Florida in the previous draft. As of now, these five together will compete for playing time this season.

However, on July 29th reports broke at the start of training camp that Derrick Burgess is considering retirement, which hurt their depth, which they don’t have a lot of. They have other guys like Woods who has filled in nicely, but not to the extent that they need him to perform during his first four NFL seasons with New England.

With Derrick Burgess contemplating retirement, the Patriots could use some early contributions from rookie linebacker Jermaine Cunningham. (Photo: Icon/SMI)

As for Cunningham, he’s entering the NFL into what many believe is one of the more complex defenses in the league. Above and beyond the complexity of Belichick’s scheme, as Cunningham will be converting to a 3-4 outside linebacker position – which I believe is one of the hardest to do coming from a college system. I do think that Jermaine Cunningham can contribute, but to expect him to be an every down player from day one is absurd. It is never safe to assume, but lets take an educated guess Burgess retires based on the fact he is not in camp. Therefore, Ninkovich and Banta-Cain are the two players who will be starting September 12th against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Is that enough? My answer is simple, no. It seems Bill Belichick agrees with me as the rumor mill churned days ago that Burgess could hang up the cleats, the Patriots put in a waiver claim for Alex Hall of the Philadelphia Eagles. Unfortunately, Hall was rewarded to the New York Giants, however; this shows the Patriots are looking for outside linebackers.

Bill Belichick sparingly uses rookies in games but that could very well change in the near future, as Cunningham could be thrust on the field earlier than expected. That, of course, might not be such a bad thing as he could end up having a more hands on approach. One might say that with all the “depth” at the middle linebacker position, Belichick could easily slide one to the outside. However, Bill seems to have a model for outside linebackers that are somewhere in the neighborhood of 6’4 265 lbs. Gary Guyton is a player who comes close at 6’3 245lbs, but that may not be good enough for Belichick. That statement would seem to reign true as he did the rarity of looking outside the ball club for a player to bring in just days ago. Still, there is a chance Burgess could return to the team and contribute. Although, there could be a training camp surprise that will give the position much needed bodies.

Overall, this is the weakest position on the team and the teams’ playoff hopes are dependent on how well this unit performs in my eyes. The team will need to generate a pass rush to succeed and go deep in the playoffs, and I believe the defense will be the deciding factor on how well this team does in the coming months as that defense tries to put pressure on opposing QB’s.

So outside linebacker might not have the training camp battles that the safety or middle linebacker position may be facing, but fans should hold a spotlight as the team’s fate could be determined by it.