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Patriots QB Tom Brady hopes to get the offense on track in a hostile environment Monday night. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots go on the road this week to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. This is the Patriots third road game in four weeks, coming off a 16-9 victory against the Oakland Raiders.

The last time these two teams played was Nov. 21, 2011, when the Patriots defeated the visiting Chiefs 34-3 on (coincidentally) Monday Night Football. New England has not traveled to Kansas City since the 2005 season.

The Chiefs are coming off a dominating 34-15 performance against the Miami Dolphins. Kansas City is off to a 1-2 start this season and have lost the last four straight home games dating back to last year. Patriots QB Tom Brady is 4-1 all-time against the Chiefs, 1-1 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Pregame Thoughts¬†–¬†

First Impressions: The Chiefs have some talent, but look incomplete at some areas on the roster. When head coach Andy Reid took over the team at the beginning of last year, they started 9-0, but have been a combined 3-7 to this point during the regular season.

Star tailback Jamaal Charles’ health situation, is obviously a big factor to monitor, but there’s no question the Chiefs are a run-oriented offense. Defensively, they are suspect in the middle of their defense, especially after losing linebacker Derrick Johnson to injury earlier this season. They do have an outstanding pass rush, though, which is a big concern since New England has struggled along the offensive line.

Chiefs Pass Rush Trio:¬†Kansas City has a solid defense, which is highlighted by three terrific players in the front seven. Pass rush duo Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on the edge, with penetrating lineman Dontari Poe in the middle. All three could have an impact Monday night and will have to be accounted for throughout the contest. Given New England’s offensive line troubles, this will be a huge challenge. All three players had a sack last week in the team’s win against Miami.

Communication will also be key for the Patriots. Arrowhead stadium is one of the most hostile environments in the NFL, the loudest documented with Seattle a close second. One of the hot-button topics throughout the week for New England was who will start at center?

Dan Connolly has struggled and Ryan Wendell has been removed from the injury report. Would the team consider rookie Bryan Stork? A tough spot for his first career start, but players and coaches have praised the Florida State product for his communication since his arrival. The offensive line will be under a microscope throughout the game.

Defending the Run a Priority:¬†Jamaal Charles may be hobbled with an ankle injury, but that didn’t slow down the Chiefs rushing attack in week three. Knile Davis stepped in for 132 yards on 32 attempts and a touchdown. Kansas City had 174 yards on the ground as a team.

Whether it’s Charles, Davis or another Chiefs’ taliback, New England has to focus on taking that element away and making them one-dimensional. The Patriots currently rank 11th in the league in run defense, with opponents averaging 104 yards on the ground through three games.New England has not let up a run bigger than 15 yards and allowed only one running touchdown.

Captain Jerod Mayo and the front seven will have their work cut out for them in this contest and fellow linebacker Jamie Collins’ availability could be huge facing so much speed in Kansas City’s backfield.

Third Down Battles: On both sides of the ball, the Chiefs play well on third-down. In fact, both units are currently ranked 7th; 48% offense and 36% defense. Obviously the Patriots will have to covert on third-down to find success offensively and also get off the field defensively in order to win this game.

Opposite Ends of Turnover Spectrum: Turnovers are huge in a football game and both teams this week are on opposite ends of the spectrum to start the season. The Patriots are first (tied with the Cincinnati Bengals) at plus-six. On the flip side, the Chiefs are dead last at minus-five. Kansas City has yet to force a turnover this season, which is surprising considering they were second in the NFL a season ago.

Players To Watch:

Patriots Center –¬†Sounds weird, but a big focus of this contest will be New England’s offensive line. How will they handle the loud environment in Kansas City and the Chiefs strong front seven. Who starts at center? Will there be a change made along the offensive line? Can they effectively communicate with Brady and the other lineman? We’ll see.

Tom Brady¬†–¬† There’s been a lot of criticism on the Patriots offense and Brady. Fair or not, there’s no doubt Brady has heard fans and analysts all week. What better time to silence the critics than on Monday Night Football? He is 216 passing yards shy of eclipsing 50,000 for his career and has thrown the third most touchdowns in MNF history (42). Look for the Patriots offense to adjust and Brady to have a big game this week.

Chandler Jones¬†–¬†After losing Brandon Albert in free agency, Kansas City moved 2013 no.1 overall pick Eric Fisher to the left side during the offseason. Chandler Jones has played pretty well and Fisher has struggled so far this season. Jones needs to win this match-up and pressure Chiefs QB Alex Smith.

Key Matchup:¬†Tamba Hali vs Nate Solder –

This will be one of the most exciting and pivotal match-ups of the game. Hali brings an incredible amount of power and tenacity in his game. Patriots left tackle, Nate Solder, has struggled so far this season. Hali has 29 career forced fumbles and the Chiefs have had four sacks in two of their three games this year.

Prediction: Patriots 23, Chiefs, 16

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Five Takeaways from the Patriots Victory Over the Raiders


Tom Brady and the Patriots offense must make big adjustments moving forward. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots defeated the visiting Oakland Raiders 16-9 Sunday, lifting the team to a 2-1 record on the year.

Despite the victory, getting New England above the .500 mark for the first time this season, Sunday was not the Patriots’ best performance. There are a lot of issues right now for the Patriots, starting with the offense.

Expectations are high, so naturally Sunday’s performance was uninspiring to say the least. There’s a lot to digest after this game, but let’s start with these five thoughts on the contest. –

Offensive Line Woes a Major Concern:¬†It’s not time to panic (yet), but there are some serious deficiencies along the offensive line. The unit struggles to run block, protect in the passing game and their inconsistent play is hurting the offense’s momentum.

During training camp and into the preseason, the Patriots were shuffling lineman on a regular basis. That trend has continued somewhat into the season, with some personnel changes happening in each of the first three games. With the shuffling and trade of Logan Mankins, it’s hard not to question the coaching staff. You have to wonder if they have confidence in their best five players and¬†if these problems can be resolved.

Nate Solder is not playing like a first-round,¬†franchise¬†left tackle. Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey are missing blocks and allowing too much pressure up the middle. Dan Connolly has made some mistakes at center and perhaps would be better suited to play guard. Whatever the solution is, something needs to change. Tom Brady has taken way too many hits and it’s hard not to be concerned about his health if this continues. He was sacked twice and hit six times Sunday.

Passing Game Out of Sync:¬†The Patriots passing game is limited right now, to say the least. It’s Julian Edelman, with a dash of Rob Gronkowski, and nothing else. With no inside knowledge of the specific reads in passing plays, it’s hard to pinpoint the blame of Josh McDaniels or Tom Brady. Maybe both.

Danny Amendola has not caught a pass since the fourth quarter of week one’s loss to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon LaFell has caught only four passes of the fourteen targets his direction through three weeks. Tim Wright has four catches this year, only targeted once Sunday. Aaron Dobson was a “healthy scratch” (since he wasn’t on the injury report) and Kenbrell Thompkins wasn’t involved either.

Plain and simple, they need a shakeup. The weapons aren’t stellar, but more than capable of being a productive unit. After all, the team has not scored a touchdown in the second half through three games. Unacceptable with no.12 at the helm.¬†It’s ok to target your best weapons, Edelman and Gronkowski, but you need other players to get involved.

Dont’a Hightower Continues to Impress: Who has been the best defensive player for the Patriots this season? Not Jerod Mayo or Darrelle Revis, but Dont’a Hightower. The third-year linebacker has been terrific through three weeks, playing with confidence and tenacity. Run or pass, Hightower has made an impact and clearly playing closer to the line of scrimmage is more in his comfort zone.

The 6’3, 270 linebacker had seven tackles, one for a loss, a QB hit and a pass breakup 30-yards down the field defending Raiders tailback, Darren McFadden, in Sunday’s contest. Through three games he’s had two sacks, five Qb hits and 14 pressures. His play has stood out on film in each game and his continued development is a great sign moving forward.

Patriots Must Stick with Ground Attack: One of the most disappointing results from Sunday’s game, was the lack of success on the ground against Oakland’s defense. Going into week three, the Raiders were the worst run defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 200 yards in the first two games.

New England attempted 29 rushes, but came up with only 83 yards on the day. Stevan Ridley, who had 101 yards in week two, had 19 carries for only 54 yards and 11 of those runs were for two or fewer yards. Not only did the Pats’ offensive line fail to get push up front, New England’s tailbacks were unable to make much happen in the process.

Despite the mediocre performance, the team cannot abandon the ground attack all together. In fact, they should lean upon the run game to start opening up more plays down the field and utilize play-action passes. For instance, it was surprising to see the team open up week three with all passes on the first series. A balanced offense would alleviate some of the pressure on the offensive line and help get the unit into a rhythm.

Special Teams Play Rebounds: The third, and often forgotten phase of the game, special teams, can often have a big impact on games. The Patriots had relatively poor performances to start the season, particularly to open the year against the Dolphins in Miami, but rebounded big Sunday.

Team captain, Matthew Slater, put on an absolute clinic in Sunday’s contest. If you have the ability to re-watch games or plays, watch Slater covering punts. Despite double-teams, he was able to make two huge plays.

Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on the day, making all three attempts from relatively close range. Punter Ryan Allen, placed two of his five punts inside the 20 and had a booming 58-yard kick that flipped field position.

The one critique, that has been a big issue for several years, is the lack of a threat in the kick return game. Slater’s 26-yard attempt was the lone-highlight, but the team does not have anyone who excels in that area of the game. On the bright side, the Patriots were not penalized on special teams in week three, which had not been the case in each of the first two contests.

Overall, it’s always nice to get a win in the NFL, but the correct adjustments need to be made moving forward. Back to the film room — and the drawing board — before the team travels into a hostile environment, at Kansas City to play the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, in week four. More on that game shortly.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Pregame Thoughts and Analysis: Patriots Host Raiders in Home Opener


The Patriots may lean on Stevan Ridley and the ground attack in week three. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots host the Oakland Raiders in their home opener at Gillette Stadium Sunday. This is the first meeting in New England since the 2005 season, although the last contest was Oct. 2, 2011 in Oakland. The Raiders lost to the Houston Texans 30-14 last week, while the Patriots rolled 30-7 over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Raiders look to get their first victory of the 2014 season, while the Patriots attempt to get over the .500 mark. This will be Oakland Head Coach Dennis Allen’s first game facing New England in his tenure, Bill Belichick is 4-1 against the Raiders since he’s been with the Patriots.

Pregame Thoughts¬†–¬†

First Impressions: The Raiders are off to a slow start, and while there have been some positives, Oakland has serious deficiencies on both sides of the ball. They have struggled to run and defend the ground attack, putting a lot of pressure of rookie QB Derek Carr. Despite adding a lot of veteran talent, Oakland has allowed 24.5 points-per-game.

Run Game Could Be Factor: The run game will be key for both teams. The Patriots will look to stay balanced offensively and should find some success. Oakland has allowed the most rushing yards to opponents this season, averaging 200 yards on the ground each contest.

The Raiders have the 31st ranked rushing attack in the NFL, averaging only 63 yards-per-game. Taking the running attack away from Oakland and forcing them to be one-dimensional could prove to be a huge advantage for New England. It was a similar situation last week against the Vikings and the Patriots had four interceptions on the day.

Defending Derek Carr:¬†While Carr has played respectable through his first two career starts, he has struggled to push the ball down the field, illustrated by his 5.6 yards per attempt. As aforementioned, the Raiders have struggled to run the ball efficiently. Putting cornerback, Darrelle Revis, against Oakland’s apparent top receiver, James Jones, and taking away their rushing attack, could fluster the rookie. If the Patriots jump out to an early lead, do the Raiders have the fire power to overcome the deficit?

Third Down Success: Looking at the box score after a game, third down success can often translate to wins. The Patriots need to capitalize on both sides of the ball this week. The Raiders have converted just 23.8% of third downs offensively (31st in NFL). On the flip side, Oakland’s defense ranks 29th on third downs, allowing opposing teams to convert 51.9% of the time.

Players To Watch:

Stevan Ridley¬†–¬†While Tom Brady gets the passing attack in sync, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a weak Raiders run defense. They want to stay balanced and getting Ridley on track early might be the remedy to their offensive woes. He was effective in week two (25 carries for 101 yards) would expect a similar workload Sunday.

Aaron Dobson¬†–¬†¬†There’s been a lot of talk about Brady relying too heavily on Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. With Dobson back in the mix, he could be a much-needed boost for a lackluster passing game. If Dobson can win his one-on-one opportunities, New England might have more success through the air.

Dont’a Hightower –¬†With opposing offenses focusing on Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, Hightower has put together back-to-back impressive performances this year. Playing much closer to the line of scrimmage has proved to be beneficial and look for him to have an impact on the edge.

Key Matchup:¬†Tyvon Branch vs Rob Gronkowski –

Both teams are vastly different from their last contest in 2011, but Oakland safety Tyvon Branch matched-up against Rob Gronkowski throughout the day. Gronk was held to just one catch for 15 yards. Branch is a physical, athletic player and could be once again called with the tall task of covering one of the NFL’s best weapons.

Prediction: Patriots 41, Raiders, 17

After a week one loss, the Patriots responded with a solid win on the road against the Vikings. While New England’s offense has been hot-and-cold through two weeks, they won’t face much resistance in this contest. Expect the Pats’ defense to have another big day, putting the offense in position to rack up points throughout the day.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Monday Hangover: Dolphins Dominate in the Trenches, Leave Patriots Looking for Answers


The Patriots leave Miami searching for answers after losing to the Dolphins 33-20 in week one. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots opened the 2014 season on the road to face the Miami Dolphins. Sunday’s contest¬†was a hot-and-cold performance, resulting in a 33-20 Dolphins victory.¬†The Patriots find themselves in unfamiliar territory, last place in the AFC East and the only team in the division to not get a victory in week one.

Expectations are high¬†in New England, so naturally Sunday’s performance was uninspiring to say the least. There’s a lot to digest after this game, but let’s start with these five thoughts on the contest. –

Patriots Crumbled in Second Half: New England had a rough start to the game, but settled down to a produce a solid first half. The Patriots led 20-10 through the first 30 minutes of play, then the bottom fell out. The offense could not get on the same page, the defense struggled to contain and the Dolphins ran away with the early division showdown.

There are several areas of concern, but the coaching staffs inability to adjust and put the players in the best position to succeed stood out. Of course, the team needed to execute better too. Just an all-around bad performance by the team.

Dolphins Dominate Line of Scrimmage: Miami took care of business in the trenches Sunday, having their way on both sides of the ball. The rebuilt Dolphins offensive line took advantage of a light 3-4 New England front, allowing running back, Knowshon Moreno, to gash the Patriots defense for 134 yards. The lack of gap integrity and poor tackling was frustrating, especially after the return of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, the core of the Pats defense.

Chandler Jones was quiet, stone-walled by Pro Bowl left tackle, Brandon Albert. While Bill Belichick might want to play a 3-4 defense, a 4-3 front looks like the better fit for the current personnel. An adjustment of Wilfork paired with Sealver Siliga in the middle, with Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the ends could be worth a try. Playing Jones as a 3-4 defensive end, does not maximize his athleticism on the edge.

The Dolphins defensive line outmatched New England’s offensive front Sunday as well. Cameron Wake and the Miami pass rush sacked Tom Brady four times. The Patriots rotated at center and right guard throughout the game, which could be a reflection of the coaching staff not confident in their best unit moving forward.

Brady, Passing Attack Out of Sync:¬†The Patriots offense was a mess for the majority of Sunday’s contest. Brady did not look like himself, delivering one of his worst games in recent memory. Blame it on the offensive line, his injured calf, the bugaboo of playing in Miami, whatever; it wasn’t good enough.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, though. Rob Gronkowski 11 targets, 4 receptions; Kenbrell Thompkins 10 targets, 5 receptions; Brandon Lafell 6 targets, 0 receptions; Amendola had 3 catches for 16 yards, simply not good enough all around. Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman were stellar in the first half, but were not as involved in the second half; one of the many coaching criticisms from Sunday.

Special Teams Meltdown: An often forgotten element of football games is special teams, but it reared it’s ugly head Sunday. After a three-and-out to start the game, long-snapper Danny Aiken’s snap skipped to punter Ryan Allen allowing the Dolphins to block and recover. Allen struggled in other attempts, too. Kickoff return men, Matthew Slater and Patrick Chung, could not make anything happen, something that has been lacking for way too long.

Overshadowed Performances: While the overall result was poor, there were several players that had strong performances Sunday. Linebacker Jamie Collins flew around the field, forced a fumble and delivered some big hits. Edelman had six catches for 95 yards, building off his strong summer. Shane Vereen had 71 total yards and got into the endzone, his versatility gives the offense an extra dimension.

Overall, time to regroup and make the correct adjustments moving forward. Back to the film room — and the drawing board — before week two at the Minnesota Vikings.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Pregame Thoughts and Analysis: Patriots Take on Dolphins in Season Opener


Patriots tailback Shane Vereen could be a big factor in Sunday’s game. (USA TODAY Images)

After a long offseason, the NFL is back in action.

The New England Patriots travel to Miami to open the season against the division rival Dolphins. Last season, the teams split the two-game series with the Dolphins losing at New England 27-17 before winning at Miami 24-20. 

The Patriots start the 2014 season with three of their first four games on the road. New England has struggled in Miami, illustrated by Tom Brady’s 7-6 record. The Dolphins look to take the AFC East reins and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, while the Patriots are determined to put together another championship run. It starts this Sunday.

Pregame Thoughts¬†–¬†

Miami Heat:¬†As I mentioned before, the Patriots have struggled in Miami. In fact, they have been average when they travel into Sunlife Stadium. But could facing the Dolphins to start the year be a positive? I believe so. They have been practicing in primarily warm weather over the past few weeks and have had several weeks to prepare. If this contest was in the middle of the season, it would make sense if they had more issues. It won’t be easy, but starting the year in Miami could be a blessing in disguise.

Can the Patriots Offense Get on Track Early: At the beginning of the year, offenses are usually less efficent and high-powered than midseason. The Patriots have Rob Gronkowski as well as Aaron Dobson¬†returning from injury, newly acquired Tim Wright and a solid group of receivers to spread out defenses. Brady’s ability to get in a rhythm and find the open target will be key. Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen stand out as players to be relied upon early while the others get on track.

Dolphins Bring Balanced Attack: The Dolphins have a rebuilt offensive line, which they desperately needed to keep third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill upright. Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno will shoulder the load on the ground, while Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay and Jarvis Landry stretch the field. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will bring a balanced attack and has some weapons to be effective.

Battle in the Trenches Key for Both Teams: The Dolphins want to knock Brady around Sunday. It’s their best chance to win. The Patriots have done a lot of shuffling along the offensive line and they moved on from long-time assistant Dante Scarnecchia. There’s a lot of uncertainty and Miami will be turning up the heat featuring pass rush terror, Cameron Wake.

On the other side, the Patriots could be aggressive versus a rebuilt Miami line. No quarterback was sacked more than Ryan Tannehill last season and he has shown to make mistakes under pressure. After Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, though, who will step up for New England? Expect some linebacker blitzes and a lot of personnel changes. First-round selection Dominique Easley could offer some interior pressure if he’s ready to go.

Players To Watch:

Rob Gronkowski – Gronk announced he will play earlier in the week. How much action will he see? That will be up to Bill Belichick. In his first three games back last year, he was on the field for 60.4% of the snaps on offense. He won’t be in midseason form at the start, but he’ll have an impact. Last season the team averaged 11 points-per-game more when he was on the field.

Shane Vereen – With Gronkowski working his way back, I expect Vereen to see a lot of action. His skill set is unique and he’s a tough matchup for defenses. Whether it’s in the backfield, next to Brady in shotgun or split out wide, he’ll be utilized and leaned upon in this contest.

Chandler Jones – The Patriots defense is poised for a strong 2014 season. The key pass rusher will be Jones and he’ll be needed in this game. Tannehill is prone to mistakes, so getting in his face early-and-often would give a huge edge to New England. The Dolphins allowed 58 sacks in 2013.

Key Matchup: 

Charles Clay vs the Patriots Defense – New England has struggled with opposing tight ends in recent years. Clay is a utility weapon that presents a ton of issues. He had a strong 2013 season, hauling in 69 passes for 759 yards and six touchdowns.

Will Jamie Collins be called to matchup? Darrelle Revis? A safety?  Who knows. Last season Belichick double covered Clay at times in their second meeting, clearly game planning to take him out of the Dolphins offense; he finished with only one catch for six yards. It might take that type of effort again in this contest.

Prediction: Patriots 23, Dolphins, 17

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 2.0


Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick has some tough decisions to make as the 2014 season rapidly approaches. (USA TODAY Images)

With training camp and preseason complete, the Patriots roster is taking shape. While there is more clarity at some positions, the roster is by no means a finished product.

After the first round of cuts, the team must trim their roster yet again. There’s 53 spots, along with an additional¬†10 for the practice squad.¬†New England has some tough decisions to make across the board.

While I expect some changes to be made even after Saturday’s 4 p.m. EST deadline, here is my final 53-man projection. –

Quarterback: 3

Tom Brady
Ryan Mallett
Jimmy Garoppolo

Brady is the face of the franchise, so the question has been who will be the backup? Garoppolo has impressed and shown growth, but Mallett remains on the team as well.

Running Back: 3

Steven Ridley
Shane Vereen
James White

Vereen and White are¬†locks to make the roster. Some have speculated Ridley could be on the outside looking in, but I believe he’s safe. Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray might not carry enough weight to earn a spot on the team’s roster. Roy Finch could be an intriguing guy to keep around on the practice squad.

Full Back: 1

James Develin 

Last season, Develin carved out a solid role within the offense. He brings toughness in short-yardage situations and performs on special teams. The Pats experimented moving him around, even lining up at tight end. Could we see an expanded role this year?

Wide Receiver: 5

Julian Edelman
Aaron Dobson
Brandon LaFell
Danny Amendola
Kenbrell Thompkins

As of now, five wide receivers seem like they have a legitimate shot at making the roster.¬†Josh Boyce has underwhelmed and I don’t believe he’s earned a spot to this point unless the team values his special teams ability enough. Brian Tyms, suspended for the first four games of the season, could be around the team in some way when he’s available.

Tight End (3)

Rob Gronkowski
Michael Hoomanawanui
Tim Wright

The surprise trade for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player, Tim Wright, added some depth as a pass catching tight end. Essentially, it’s been Gronkowski or bust for the tight end position. It still seems possible he returns week one, but it’s not a guarantee. “Hooman”¬†has missed time with an injury, but he seems like a better player than converted tackle, Steve Maneri.

Tackle: 4

Nate Solder
Sebastian Vollmer

Marcus Cannon
Cameron Fleming

While I see Solder and Vollmer as the set starters, both Cannon and Fleming have the versatility the Pats covet in lineman.

Guard: 3

Dan Connolly
Josh Kline
Jon Halapio 

The number of three guards is somewhat misleading because of the versatility on the Patriots roster. This position has little clarity after Logan Mankins was dealt earlier this week. It’s almost impossible to predict who will be starting at left guard, center and right guard week 1 in Miami. Despite playing a tremendous amount of snaps during the preseason, Jordan Devey was somewhat underwhelming.

Center: 2

Ryan Wendell
Bryan Stork

Wendell¬†had a very good season two years ago, but came up small in 2013. Stork missed a good amount of time during training camp, which hurt his ability to compete for the starting role. I see both making the team, but if Wendell isn’t the starter at center he’ll be cut.

Defensive Ends: 4

Chandler Jones
Rob Ninkovich

Michael Buchanan
Zach Moore

After Jones and Ninkovich, there’s a noticeable drop off. The depth is very concerning at the defensive end position. Buchanan offers intriguing upside, but the injury sustained in Thursday’s preseason finale will need to be monitored closely. Moore might need some time to develop, but had a good preseason and shown versatility. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team look for some veteran help when the dust settles from Saturday’s league-wide cutdown deadline.

Defensive Tackles: 5

Vince Wilfork
Dominique Easley
Chris Jones
Sealver Siligia 
Joe Vellano

The cut of Tommy Kelly was a surprise, but it also speaks to the confidence in the young players on the roster. Wilfork appears ready to go and poised for a big bounce-back year. How quickly Easley, Jones and Siliga can return from their injuries will be key, but all have a spot. Vellano impressed over the past few weeks, edging out  Jerel Worthy.

Linebackers: 6

Jerod Mayo
Dont’a Hightower
Jamie Collins
Steve Beauharnais
Darius Fleming
James Morris

Mayo, Hightower and Collins are locks. After that, the depth is a little shaky. Beauharnais looks to make an impact after a quiet rookie year. The release of veteran James Anderson opens the door for Darius Fleming, who has a similar skill-set. Bill Belichick has spoken highly of James Morris, he could be a nice developmental player if he can stay healthy.

Cornerbacks: 5

Darrelle Revis
Alfonzo Dennard
Kyle Arrington
Logan Ryan

Malcolm Butler

The surprise big name throughout preseason was undrafted rookie, Malcolm Butler. All five listed cornerbacks should find a spot on the team’s 53-man roster, giving New England a deep group. Brandon Browner, suspended for the first four games of the season, should have a role when he returns in week five.

Safeties: 5

Devin McCourty
Duron Harmon
Patrick Chung
Nate Ebner
Tavon Wilson

Similar to the interior offensive line, there has been little clarity at the safety position. We know McCourty will be one of the starters. Harmon, Chung, Ebner and Wilson — along with many of the team’s cornerbacks — have spent time rotating at safety over the past few weeks. Chung could have a valued role as an in-the-box safety. Ebner and Wilson make the team for their ability on special teams.

Special Teams: 4

Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Punter: Ryan Allen
Long Snapper: Danny Aiken
Specialist: Matthew Slater

No surprises here, all four players are locks. Aiken beat out rookie Tyler Ott for the long snapping duties and Slater, a special team standout and team captain, also earns a spot on the roster.

Breakdown –¬†Offense: 24 ¬† Defense: 25 ¬†Special Teams: 4

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Patriots Announce Several Roster Transactions, Including Mankins Trade to Buccaneers


The Patriots made a surprising move Tuesday, trading Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots traded Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tuesday afternoon in exchange for Tim Wright and a fourth-round draft pick in 2015.

The trade was not the only transaction New England made Tuesday. The Patriots placed two players on Injured-Reserve and released six players to get down to the NFL mandatory 75 roster limit by the 4 p.m deadline.

WR Wilson Van Hooser, DL Ben Bass, DB Travis Hawkins, WR Derrick Johnson, LB Deontae Skinner and DB Jemea Thomas were released. RB Tyler Gaffney and LB Cameron Gordon were both placed on Injured-Reserve. 

Bill Belichick released this statement on Logan Mankins:

“Logan Mankins is everything we would ever want in a football player. It is hard to imagine a better player at his position, a tougher competitor or a person to represent our program. He is one of the all-time great Patriots and the best guard I ever coached. Logan brought a quiet but unmistakable presence and leadership that will be impossible to duplicate. Unfortunately, this is the time of year when difficult decisions have to be made – and this is one of the most difficult we will ever make – but like every other decision it was made for what we feel is in the best interests of the team.”¬†

Analysis: 

Mankins, a first-round pick in 2005, spent his entire career with the Patriots. The six-time Pro Bowl guard was a leader in the locker room and a fixture on the offensive line.

Pats players were told of the Mankins trade before practice. Cornerback Darrelle Revis said, “the atmosphere was a little down.”

Mankins was set to count $10.5 million against the cap in 2014. With this move, the trade saves about $5.775 million this season. There will also be another $4 million cap charge for 2015.

Wright is coming into his second season in the NFL. The 24-year-old –listed at 6’4, 220 — is a converted wide receiver and played at Rutgers before signing with the Buccaneers last year.

Wright caught 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. He appears to fit in a similar role to former player Aaron Hernandez.

The Patriots selected defensive back Jemea Thomas in the sixth-round only a few months ago, so it was a little surprising seeing them move on this quickly. He could find himself on the practice squad, but not making it past the first round of cuts says a lot. He never stood out in training camp practices I attended or in preseason contests.

The Patriots must trim their roster from 75 to 53 in four days, Aug. 30 at 4 p.m. Stay tuned.

Panthers vs Patriots: Five Thoughts on Friday’s Preseason Victory


Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich turned up the heat Friday night, combining for three sacks in the Patriots 30-7 win over the Panthers. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots hosted the Carolina Panthers on Friday night.

Friday¬†night’s game gave fans and analysts the chance to get an in-depth look at some of these players¬†in a more competitive setting than on the practice field.¬†Here are five takeaways from the 30-7 victory. -

1) Strong Team Performance:¬†It’s the preseason, so the score doesn’t really matter. What you should be looking (and hoping) for is week-to-week progression as the team gears up for the upcoming season. Overall, I thought the Patriots had a solid, well-rounded performance Friday. It wasn’t perfect, but you have to like what you saw in all three phases of the game.

2) Defense Makes a Statement: The run defense was suffocating tonight. Carolina likes to run the ball, but the Patriots were all over the ground attack. New England controlled their gaps well, set the edge and had control more often than not. The secondary was upgraded during the offseason, but the front seven could be very dangerous if healthy. The unit looks poised for a strong season and played with a lot of confidence throughout the contest.

3) Offense Without Gronk Shows Promise: Tight end Rob Gronkowski did not play Friday night, but there is still optimism he will be able to take the field when the season kicks off in Miami. Obviously, he’s a huge factor in the offense and we hope he can play a full season, but we have seen the offense struggle when he’s missed time.

Friday night showcased some of the other players offensively and offered hope if Gronk wasn’t able to suit up at any point during the upcoming season. Julian Edelman had a very productive night (8 catches, 99 yards), Danny Amendola also got into the mix. We’ve also seen Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell make progress in development, but both struggle with consistency at times. Nevertheless, it’s a good sign Brady has several weapons to distribute the ball to during the season.

4) Preparing for Browner’s Suspension: With cornerback, Brandon Browner, suspended for the first four games of the season, it appeared the team was getting ready for his absence. While he isn’t a lock for a starting role, Browner should be in the mix at defensive back, but did not take the field for a defensive snap until the fourth quarter. Malcolm Butler started across from Darrelle Revis, with Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington getting involved as well. When active and healthy, this could be the best — and deepest — cornerback group we’ve seen from New England in many years.

5) Last Look at Some Players: The NFL’s first round of cuts is rapidly approaching. On Tuesday (Aug. 26), all 32 teams must trim their rosters to 75 players by 4 p.m EST. Right now the Patriots roster has 87 players, so at least 12 will not make it to the fourth and final preseason game next week. The coaching staff has a lot to digest and some tough decisions to make in the coming days.

Three Stars:

Chandler Jones¬†–¬†The¬†defensive end was all over the field Friday. He registered two sacks and made plays for the Pats in key situations. His continued growth going into his third season would be huge for this defense. So far this year he’s off to a nice start.

Tom Brady РThe offense started slow, but the franchise QB got the unit in gear. Brady spread the ball around and put points on the board. He finished 17 of 21 for 204 yards and two touchdowns.

Shane Vereen РThe tailback had a good night, highlighted by a 40-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Vereen displayed what he can bring to the offense and Pats fans should hope to see him on the field the entire year. His playmaking ability is incredible and he adds a dynamic presence that opposing teams will struggle to defend.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Patriots Risers and Fallers: Which Direction are Some Players Trending?


Undrafted rookie cornerback, Malcolm Butler, has stood out for the Patriots this summer. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots have gotten back to work in recent weeks, preparing for their 2014 season.

The current 90-man roster has players battling each other for jobs heading into the regular season. With first cuts looming (Aug. 26 to 75) the intensity has picked up. With training camp and two exhibition games under their belt, which players have been trending up and which players have seemingly declined?

Trending Up:

Jimmy Garoppolo – When the Patriots took the rookie signal-caller in the second round, it sparked some debate in New England. Heading into training camp, many were fixated on what the Eastern Illinois prospect could do on the field and if he could challenge fourth-year QB, Ryan Mallett, for the backup job. It hasn’t been perfect, but Garoppolo has shown steady improvement from week-to-week and has shown promise moving forward.

James Develin – Last year, Develin was on the bubble and fighting for a job. As of now, however, he looks like a key contributor. I’m not expecting huge statistical production, but a tough, versatile and reliable player often finds himself a job with Bill Belichick. His physical, tone-setting style of play could bring some much-needed attitude in certain situations.

Brandon LaFell – The former Carolina Panthers wideout had a rough start to camp, but has looked much better as of late. He came with the reputation of dropping too many passes, which has been on display at times, but his large frame gives the Patriots a needed element to the offense and has begun to develop a rapport with Tom Brady. If he continues to grow within the offense, he could (and hopefully will be) a key contributor in the passing game.

Vince Wilfork – The¬†32-year-old defensive lineman, coming off a season-ending achilles injury, has been under scrutiny throughout the offseason. It’s fair to speculate whether he can return to the probowl player he was before getting hurt earlier in 2013. But throughout camp and to this point, the defensive captain has looked healthy and poised for a strong comeback. His presence on the interior will have a huge ripple effect on the entire defense.

Darrelle Revis – The All-Pro defensive back was the highlight of the offseason and expectations have been high since no. 24 took the field for the first time a few weeks ago. But “Revis Island” has looked spectacular on the field thus far and his ability to blanket opponent’s¬†top receivers could bring tremendous value to the defense in the upcoming season.

Malcolm Butler – Every year there seems to be an undrafted player that sneaks onto New England’s roster. This year the Western Alabama cornerback has stood out and looks like an NFL caliber player. Cornerback is one of — if not the — hardest positions to play at the professional level and the Patriots have some quality depth on the roster. Butler’s competitive nature has flashed on the practice field and in games over the past few weeks.

Trending Down:

Aaron Dobson/Dominique Easley/Bryan Stork – Fair or not, these young players are in the down category. While I think all can return to field and contribute this year, injuries have limited their time on the field to the point. Dobson (foot), Easley (knee) and Stork (leg) all could have roles if they can return relatively soon.

Dobson may be hurt the most by his missed time on the field, because often a player’s most significant “jump” happens between year one and year two. I’m still holding out hope Easley can return to action soon and add depth to the pass rush.

Will Smith – The veteran defensive end has been almost invisible on the field and does not look like he’ll be on the roster at the end of the month. The idea of a veteran adding situational pass rush ability is intriguing, but Smith does not seem like he possess the same explosiveness on the edge since returning from his knee injury that ended his 2013 season.

Josh Boyce – The second-year receiver has been disappointing over the past few weeks. While his timed speed and dynamic ability displayed in college is known, it has yet to be displayed on a consistent basis since being drafted last May. Simply put, he is being out-played by other receivers on the roster.

Duron Harmon – Going into training camp, the consensus was Harmon would be the starting safety next to Devin McCourty. Since camp as opened, though, he has been very quiet while other players continue to see a high number of snaps played at the position. Figuring out what the Patriots want to do in the secondary is almost impossible without any inside knowledge, but Harmon seems less and less like a guy poised for a starting role and more like a player fighting to keep a spot on the active roster for 2014.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Eagles vs Patriots: Five Thoughts on Friday’s Preseason Victory


All three Patriots quarterbacks played well Friday night, carving up the Eagles in a 42-35 victory. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots hosted the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night.

Friday¬†night’s game gave fans and analysts the chance to get an in-depth look at some of these players¬†in a more competitive setting than on the practice field.¬†Here are five takeaways from the 42-35 victory. -

1) Improved performance:¬†Last week’s game was ugly, but the Patriots put together a better outing Friday night. It wasn’t perfect, but there were a lot more positives than the first exhibition contest. The offense was well-rounded and the defense made some plays. The score doesn’t really matter in preseason, but you want to see improvement and development from week-to-week. No apparent injuries is one of the biggest positives from the night.

2) Quarterbacks Played Well: Tom Brady started, Jimmy Garoppolo followed and Ryan Mallett finished the game. All three signal-callers played well and put points on the board. I love what Garoppolo has shown through two contests, a lot of poise in the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield. Mallett was really impressive, putting some nice touch on his passes. The QB competition seems to be pushing all three players, even though the starter is set in stone.

3) Safety Position Still Unclear: If there’s one position I wish we could have some clarity on, it would be the safety spot opposite of Devin McCourty. Throughout training camp and into the preseason there has been a rotation of several players.

Friday night wasn’t much different. Pat Chung, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Nate Ebner and Jemea Thomas all saw time at safety. Tavon Wilson, whose also gotten reps at the position, did not dress for the game. If I had to pick a “starter” for week one right now, I might say Chung, but it’s by no means a certainty. It makes you wonder how much of a personnel rotation we’ll see in the regular season.

4) Darkhorses Make a Push for the 53: Every year there’s a player or two who sneak onto New England’s roster. This year cornerback, Malcolm Butler, stands out as a guy who looks like a strong candidate. He continues to make plays in practice and in the preseason, taking advantage of his opportunities.

Wide receiver, Brian Tyms, is also starting to make a case for a roster spot. Second-year wideout, Josh Boyce, has struggled and Tyms has shown the ability to make plays downfield. I would like to see him get more opportunities with the first-team offense, particularly Brady at QB, to see if he can compete with more talented players. Something to monitor moving forward.

5) Special Teams Units Struggle: One of the biggest negatives from Friday night’s game was the Patriots’ special teams performance. A missed blocking assignment by rookie long snapper, Tyler Ott, led to a Ryan Allen blocked punt. Stephen Gostkowski later missed a 43-yard attempt wide left.¬†Needless to say the unit has a tough week of practice ahead of them, starting with coach Scott O’Brien in the film room.

Three Stars:

CB Malcolm Butler –¬†The rookie defensive back gets the start across from Darrelle Revis, forces two fumbles and recovers one of them. He continues to stand out on the practice field and in games. The undrafted cornerback has shown the willingness and ability to tackle as well as perform adequately¬†in coverage. He looks like he belongs on an NFL field.

QB Ryan Mallett¬†–¬†With rookie, Jimmy Garoppolo, getting most of the attention coming into the contest, Mallett stepped up and delivered a big performance. He went 7-11, for 92 yards and a touchdown. Mallett’s touch on his intermediate – deep passes was great to see.

RB Jonas Gray¬†–¬†The Patriots wanted to establish the run and Gray carried the rock well. He rushed for 98 yards on 12 attempts, finding the holes well and finishing runs with authority. Last week he looked tentative, but he displayed some nice¬†burst and assertiveness in this contest.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!


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