New England Patriots News 8-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 25, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-25 and AFC East notes this week. 

The Patriots have one more game left in the preseason this week against the Giants and then will have the tough task of cutting down the 90 man roster to just 53 and then filling out the remaining ten spots [11 with Jakob Johnson who is an NFL International player if he doesn’t make the 53].

While the starters won’t play much if at all on Thursday for either team, the game will still be compelling because of the roster spots that are still on the line. Several players will be playing for their jobs, some will succeed and carve out a roster spot, others will be unemployed and waiting for the phone to ring.

Check back with us frequently on PatsFans.com as we’ll continue to post daily updates on the latest news and how the roster initially shakes out. 

 Quick Hitters:

Andrew Luck – Announced his retirement yesterday. Luck has been hobbled by injuries for much of his career and it was cut short after just seven seasons. He was once thought to be the “next great one” but it never materialized for him. For a Colts team that had made major strides in building up a legit contender, this is a huge setback. Jacoby Brissette is the man for the time being again in Indy.

Tom Brady – on the learning process with Jakobi Meyers said, “I think for all of us, you play with guys that are maybe new to the offense and so forth. Sometimes they think they’re not part of the route, and then a team plays a certain coverage and they’re part of the route. Early in the season, that’s part of this time of year. We don’t have the full week to prepare. We’re kind of putting things together on the fly.”

And BTW Tom, ditch that hat…not a good look

Bill Belichick [on the play of the defense] –  You know, I thought we played competitively. We still have a lot of things to work on. There’s a lot of things we can improve on, so we’ll just go back to work this week and just keep grinding away. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re making progress.

Devin McCourty – was asked about the changes to the new pass interference rules and if the referees have done a good job of explaining it to the players. He is not a fan. “I’m never a fan of those meetings. I feel like they go however we ask the question, and then once we get in the season you might as well throw that whole meeting away. So Bill always says it the best; week-by-week. We have to go how the game is being called, and we have to adjust to it.”

Jakobi Meyers – wasn’t pleased with the way his early snaps with Brady went, but was happy to be able to persevere. He had this to say about sitting down with Brady. “Tom has played for a long time so when he wants to sit down and talk, you sit down and talk with an open ear. I am just trying to listen to everything he says, soak it up and get better.”

 Jarrett Stidham Is Ahead of His Projections And Learning His Craft:

The NFL Draft isn’t an exact science, we all know that. Some players have superstar potential and never make it. Others, aren’t very highly sought after but thru hard work, belief in themselves, and a burning desire to succeed will rise far above their projected ceiling when the draft rolls around. 

Take Tom Brady, drafted in the 6th round,199th overall in 2000. No one thought he’d amount to much. Now 20 years later, he stands alone at the absolute pinnacle of the sport. Which brings us to this year’s 4th round draft choice Jarrett Stidham, the rookie QB from Auburn. 

Stidham played in an offense at Auburn that really stunted his growth as an NFL QB. He too wasn’t highly thought of and his selection barely registered across NFL circles. He struggled in minicamp and even threw an interception in a walkthru. When training camp started, he frequently held the ball too long and struggled to make a decision. Although he throws a really nice ball, he was struggling with his reads, things that not uncommon with rookie QBs. 

But with each passing day, he was learning …and improving. He’s steadily got better and watching him on Thursday night against the Panthers it didn’t resemble anything close to the kid who struggled so badly on Day 1 of Training Camp. I reached out to Mark Schofield, who is an outstanding analyst, especially when it comes to QBs. He wrote a very nice piece on QB Development for Pro Football Weekly in the annual draft issue. He writes for Inside the Pylon and does a really good podcast on Pats Pulpit. I had spoken to Mark in the spring after the Patriots had drafted Stidham and wanted to get his take on how far he’s progressed. He had several interesting takes on the rookie.

“Progress is probably the best way to phrase this,” Schofield said. “The really interesting thing is the mental development, you saw it against the Lions… I love those ‘no-throw’ moments when the QB doesn’t throw a pass that was expected and then go back and to find out why.”

On this particular play, the Patriots were running a two-receiver set known as “Rope”, where the slot receiver runs a slant and then breaks to the outside. The outside receiver runs a route that is dependent on the coverage but is normally a go route. This play is designed to defeat a Cover 2 which is what the Lions defense was aligned in. “The QB wants to throw that route in the flat,” Schofield said. Stidham held the ball and scrambled for five yards…no big deal right? Wrong, says Schofield. 

“The Lions were running what they call a ‘Cover 5 Cougar’ which is Cover 2 man underneath trap coverage, which is specifically designed to stop this kind of play. The cornerback backpedals for just a moment with the outside vertical route, and if he sees the inside receiver run this route to the flat, he peels off the outside receiver and crashes—or “traps”—the out route. But the corner is still reading the slot receiver. even with his back to him. This tells the quarterback that the CB is bailing, but it is really just a wrinkle looking to bait the quarterback into throwing the flat route, and potentially an interception.”

“Stidham sees the coverage, drops back and begins to throw the ball but recognizes what the Lions are doing. He stops the throw and pulls down the ball and runs. It is a real heads up play for a rookie because it is a coverage that fools even veteran QBs. And when you’re seeing the progress there, going from tossing picks in a walk-thru to recognizing the coverage and reacting like this, it is huge progress.”

“I think he’s made a huge impression on this coaching staff and his progress has been excellent, I’ve been really impressed with him,” Schofield added.

The Auburn offense wasn’t a great fit for a QB with his talents and until he hit the Senior Bowl this spring, he wasn’t considered a coveted prospect. But playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Mobile was an eye-opener. “There were times, that I thought he was the best QB down there…not Daniel Jones or anybody else,” Schofield said. 

Schofield added, “when I got a chance to talk to him, I asked him what his favorite offense was, in the ones he’d run, and he said, ‘Everything this week.’”

He was a really good fit in a pro-style offense, and Schofield said that you could see him moving defenders with his eyes, and going thru reads quickly. “So the fit with him coming to New England was pretty good.”

So, the question now is, do the Patriots believe that Stidham can handle the offense if anything were to happen to Brady and part ways with Hoyer, keeping only two quarterbacks. 

“It is a really tough question because they have so many tough decisions to make at other positions… when you look at some of the players that they have at, say…wide receiver or the defensive line, the coaches could say, we have to make a choice here. But ideally, they’d find a way to keep all three. But the fact that we’re having this conversation tells you how much he’s progressed.”

“This is another example of how the Patriots approach things,” Schofield said. “They don’t concern themselves with what he can’t do, they focus on the things that he does well. They saw the arm talent, his processing speed and they liked the potential in him and he’s in a good position to learn, not just from Tom Brady but from Josh McDaniels as well. It is a great environment to learn.”

While no one is anointing him for Canton just yet or that he’s the heir apparent to Tom Brady, it at least shows the coaching staff, that they may have something in him and he’s going to get more put on his plate as they attempt to further develop him.

We’ll have the entire interview with Mark Schofield available shortly on our YouTube channel.

Patriots Defense Ahead Of Schedule This Year:

The Patriots’ defense went through a ton of changes this spring. They lost the versatile and important Trey Flowers as well as former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But the losses on the coaching staff left the team with literally the cupboard bare. De facto DC and LBs coach Brian Flores went to Miami along with cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, while defensive line coach Brendan Daly bolted for Kansas City. 

Greg Schiano was hired as the new Defensive Coordinator but soon after stepped down. Jerod Mayo was hired the next day as the inside linebackers coach. Bret Bielema, who was already on the staff took over the d-line. DeMarcus Covington took over the outside linebackers coaching position, while Mike Pellegrino is now the cornerbacks’ coach. Steve Belichick remains the safeties coach.

On the field, it seems like this crew has been together for years. And Bill Belichick has assembled a really deep and talented crew from top to bottom with some very experienced players mixed in with 2nd-year players and rookies that are meshing together extremely well. 

The defense last year struggled especially against the run and getting after the QB early in the year. Their slow start wasn’t anything especially new, Belichick likes to add more and more as the season goes on and build on things. By the end of the season, they had things figured out and ended the regular season and went into the playoffs with a much more aggressive, attacking mindset. The results spoke for themselves, as they held the Rams to just three points in the Super Bowl. 

That slow build-up looks to have been accelerated this season. The 2019 Patriots have the potential to be a very special group, perhaps even rivaling the 2004 team. With depth at all three levels, this group is already a confident, versatile bunch and their play on the field bears that out.

While comparing them to the 2004 unit may be a stretch at this early juncture, look at the depth and versatility at the linebacker position. A year ago it was a position of concern, now, they may have to part with some players who could contribute, not just here but with other teams as well. The cornerback group is as deep as I’ve ever remembered and has the ability to mix and match with any opponent matchups.

Last year, the team couldn’t find any takers for joint practices and they entered the regular season not as prepared as the coaching staff would have liked, not surprisingly, the defense wasn’t good as the team limped out to a 1-2 start. 

The back-to-back joint practice sessions with the Lions and Titans have this team in a much better position. But the pieces were already in place this spring. There has been a collective confidence brewing since the first OTAs with the defensive group. Since training camp has started this unit has looked really strong. The Patriots offense really struggled in the first days of training camp which led to the question, “Is it the defense being really good, or just the offense being really bad?” 

The joint practices and the preseason game with the Lions reinforced that it was indeed the defense being “that good”. The Patriots offense looked very good in Detroit while the defense stifled the Lions. During the game, they wracked up nine sacks and held the Lions to just three points. 

At home against the Panthers, they held Carolina’s offense in the first half to just 29 yards, two first downs, and 0-5 on third down. The confidence that the unit is playing with is far ahead of where they normally are at this time of year. But what was more impressive is that they liberally rotated a lot of players with the top unit. Game planning for this unit? A total of 13 players have sacks thru three games.

They even dusted off the old Bears 46 Defense with two LBs on the line of scrimmage on the strong side which resulted in a sack. That will give the Steelers’ coaches something to think about in two weeks. That’s the first real test and a very big one as Pittsburgh’s offense looks stacked once again. 

Holding for Field Goals, Why Use Punters and Not WRs?

After the missed field goal connection between Jake Bailey and Stephen Gostkowski I got a good question on Twitter this Friday, a follower asked, “Why would the Patriots [and other teams] use a punter as a holder for extra points and field goals and not a wide receiver who is used to handling the ball?”

This is a very good question and I remember thinking the same thing several years ago. So, with that in mind, a few years ago Bill Belichick was asked about that. And he always has good reasons to play Special Teams. Here are a few good reasons why teams use a punter rather than a WR. 

Punters, kickers, and long-snappers can work all week on their delivery and timing of kicks. While the WRs will be working on another part of the game plan. That allows them to dedicate nearly all of their time to this when a WR may not have as much.

Punters have good hands and have to handle the ball quickly and seamlessly. Any bobble will result in a blocked punt. And punters are used to working under pressure. Imagine a slew of big defensive linemen rushing at you and everything depends on handling the ball quickly and letting a kick go. 

Plus, punters aren’t injured nearly as much as wide receivers are so the continuity factor is always there.

Replacing Chung Is No Easy Task in the Secondary:

Patriots safety Pat Chung is facing arraignment for possession of cocaine charges in New Hampshire this coming week. He may not actually see his court case heard until next year. So, any suspension from the NFL may not come until next year. But depending upon the circumstances of his case, the league could act sooner. 

Chung, however, may still not play in the season opener as he’s missed the entire preseason and has worn a red non-contact jersey all through training camp as he’s been recovering from a broken arm suffered in the Super Bowl as well as off-season shoulder surgery. So, who steps up and plays his role against the Steelers if he isn’t ready to go?

We may see a mixture of Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks if he’s out. Brooks was mainly a special teams’ contributor with the Jets but this summer, he’s gotten a lot of reps with the top defensive unit. Harmon has been used more as another deep safety. Brooks accounted well for himself in joint practices and the preseason and could step into the role, but Chung does so much it is no easy task. 

Chung plays the in-the-box safety run support role, a linebacker in dime coverage, at times even playing in the slot as well as providing backup support as a third punt returner for special teams when needed. One other player to watch may be rookie corner Joejuan Williams who can be asked to cover the tight ends with his size. 

Hopefully, Chung will be ready to go against Pittsburgh and in uniform that night. But if he isn’t, it would be expected his place would be taken not by one player but multiple ones.

Due to the longer than normal [nearly 3000 words] Patriots notes this week, we are not running our AFC East Notes this Sunday, but they’ll be back next week for sure.

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“I think Jarrett’s pocket presence is good. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. Certainly, when you’re comparing him to the other two quarterbacks on our roster, guys who have played a lot of football in this league, it’s quite a gap in experience. I’m sure those are things that Jarrett will get better at. [It is] probably about what you would think it would be given the difference in experience that you’re comparing him to – to players in our offense running the same plays that he does. So, it’s hard to compare one quarterback in one system to a quarterback in a completely different system, but in our case, we have three quarterbacks all in the same system. It’s an obvious comparison. He’s getting better. I think he does a good job, but there’s room for improvement, certainly.”
Bill Belichick on how Jarrett Stidham’s pocket presence has improved 8-23

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“So, how was your week?”

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.



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