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New England Patriots News 12-20 and Notes Around the AFC East

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
8 years ago at 5:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division.

Harmon in Spotlight Today: Today will be an interesting development as the injury epidemic for the Patriots now takes its toll on the secondary.  Devin McCourty will miss today’s game with a high ankle sprain and in his stead will be Duron Harmon.

Remember when the Patriots drafted Harmon and the call of “wasted pick” was roundly heard…before he ever took the field? Harmon has transitioned into a fine safety for the Patriots with a distinct role; one that he’s excelled on. Now he’ll have to take over DMac’s role for the time being. It will be a big test, but one that he should do very well at.

Yesterday we wrote a piece about the key players of the game and highlighted the outstanding stats that Harmon has put up for the Patriots. And with Harmon’s role taking over for McCourty look for this season’s 2nd round draft pick Jordan Richards to get a larger role against the Titans as well.

Brady’s Political Views Not Important: We live in the social media world; we all know that but when exactly is “the public’s right to know” over the line. This entire Tom Brady – Donald Trump storyline is ridiculous.

This was driven by a NY tabloid’s obsession with blasting either Brady or the Patriots at any turn. Who cares who Brady supports in the Presidential election? It isn’t news and while the media has the right to ask, sometimes they need to ask themselves….Should they?

Does anyone remember the press asking Peyton  and Eli Manning about their support for Jeb Bush? Why? Because it isn’t driven down from a tabloid. Brady’s choice on who he supports in the election is his business not ours. We don’t have “the right” to know unless he’s calling for a violent overthrow of the US government.

Until such a time, ask him how he’s planning on beating a zone blitz or compensate for the loss of another of his weapons. We DO have the right to know those answers and unlike his superficial friendship with Trump, we want to hear the answers to those questions.

James White Getting a Bigger Role in Offense: With the regular season winding down to the fourth quarter, the loss of so many weapons on the offense continues to be story line. But one player who is making the most of his opportunity is running back James White.

White was pretty much an after-thought in 2014 and early this season as Dion Lewis took Patriots Nation by storm. But after his season ending injury, White has really stepped up in the passing game. He’s done a great job of earning Tom Brady’s trust in the offense and will look to improve upon that as the regular season winds down.

He and Brandon Bolden should see plenty of reps in the running game as well as the Patriots try to compensate for the loss of LaGarrette Blount to IR this week. Look for White to have a large role today in the short passing game against the Titans today.

Malcolm Butler Didn’t Just Magically Appear in SB XLIX: The story line of Malcolm Butler and his game saving interception in the Super Bowl has been a recurring one. Now we’re seeing story after story about his making the team and what a surprise it was. Well that is true in a sort of way… Butler wasn’t given much of a chance to make the team out of training camp…that much is true.

Malcolm Butler
Malcolm Butler with no crowd around him after TC practice in 2014.
(SBalestrieri photo)

His playing for a small college in West Alabama and his slow 40 time during the Alabama Pro Day was considered a death knell for his chances. Even after an impressive spring, he wasn’t considered a favorite to even make the roster out of training camp. We approached him after practice (pictured) when no one in the media wanted to talk with him early in camp. Now… he draws a little bit bigger crowd.

But to those of us who watched him every day in practice, it was a leap that he’d make the roster because he made play after play every day, intercepting Tom Brady or whoever was throwing against him.

During the joint practices with Philly, Belichick put him right out against the Eagles’ offense. And Nick Foles wasted little time in going deep against the rookie. And Butler as he so often did, picked it off. He and Logan Ryan were joined at the hip of Darrelle Revis who imparted a ton of knowledge and experience on the two corners. And it paid off.


While the “he came out of nowhere” stories resonate with the fans, his rise was actually a slow and steady one from the first day of camp right up until the Super Bowl. And now his play of this season has been less of a shock to those who watched the journey from the outset.

A Strange Turn, Football, A training ground for Israeli Special Forces: Early this week I got a message from a close friend Lela Gilbert who is a journalist and author in Israel. She told me about a story that has been making the rounds over there that the Israeli football league that has been sponsored by Robert Kraft has become a training ground for those Israeli young men who want to be stars in the country’s Special Operations forces.

Itay Ashkenazi is the head coach of the country’s top football program in Kfar Saba. He also was one of the country’s elite Special Forces commandos.

”Football is a great tool for building a young man,” said Ashkenazi. ”The mentality of football is very similar to what you try to instill in elite combat units.”

The amazing thing about Israeli football is that it is one of the few places where Jews and Palestinians can get along. The teams have players from every background and the saying, “if you can’t get along here on the field, then you can’t play at all” is the mantra for the league.

Fox Sports then published a piece on the story that can be read here:  Thanks again to Lela for sharing that bit with us.

East Bound and Down…Notes Around the AFC East:

Jets’ Offense Evolving: The Jets opened the season as a run-heavy team featuring Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. That is changing as the season winds down. The Jets offense is now a pass heavy team led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and the team’s talented wide receivers.

Chan Gailey now trusts Fitzpatrick with running the offense and no one is throwing more from the spread offense with 3-4 WRs than the Jets. After starting the season with close to a 50/50 split in Run-pass, the Jets are now passing much more, 61/39 percent in the past seven games.

So when the Patriots face the Jets next week, don’t expect the ground and pound Rex Ryan-led Jets offense. They’ll be throwing much more than earlier this season.

Bills – Redskins Enter Pivotal Game: The Buffalo Bills have another big game against the Washington Redskins this week in a matchup of 6-7 teams. Washington is still in the running for the NFC East divisional crown, while the Bills’ playoff hopes are nearly on life support. This is a far cry from the high hopes of this spring when the 9-7 Bills hired Rex Ryan to replace Doug Marrone. Now Ryan’s troops will have to run the table to just equal Marrone’s mark last year and even then the playoffs wouldn’t be guaranteed.

The Bills Achilles Heel all season has been penalties; they were flagged 15 times against the Eagles last week and had four offside penalties in third and long situations for the Eagles.

The Bills offense will be facing a pretty good defense in the Skins…and one that has been particularly good at home.

Dolphins Going to Rebuild the Defense (Again) in 2016: Remember the huge confidence about the Miami Dolphins defense this spring/summer? Miami thought that they would have one of the better defenses in the conference after they made Ndamukong Suh the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.

Suh was supposed to backbone a so-so defense in 2014 and make them a force. Well that didn’t work out, Suh and his $114 million contract hasn’t been nearly the force that Miami thought it was buying. Miami averages only 2 sacks a game and their rush defense? It ranks 30th of 32 teams.

Overall the defense ranks 28 out of the league, 27th against the pass and 26th in points allowed. When the season’s over, Miami will once again have a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our 
Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season AFC East Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Buffalo Bills Chandler Jones Danny Amendola Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots Training Camp Photos predictions Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady

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