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Patriots News 01-15, Patriots — Bills Act III, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
11 seconds ago at 7:33 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Patriots News 01-15, Patriots — Bills Act III, AFC East NotesDavid Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, the regular season is over and the playoffs are here, so… here are your Special Edition *Saturday* Patriots news 01-15 and AFC East notes.

With the Patriots playing Buffalo tonight in the Wild Card Game, our Sunday will no doubt be filled with post-game analysis and hopefully looking forward to a Divisional Playoff game but otherwise, we’ll be looking at putting a wrap on the season. 

Tonight will be the first time that the Patriots under Bill Belichick will be the road team during a Wild Card game. In fact, the Patriots have only played in four Wild Card games under Belichick where they are 2-2.  

The team will be missing Isaiah Wynn and Jalen Mills this week for the Wild Card playoff game. Wynn injured his ankle during the game in Miami and Mills was placed on the COVID list. Both will present significant losses on offense and defense. 

With Wynn out last week, the team moved Justin Herron to left tackle. He could replace him again this week or the team could slide Trent Brown, who told the media, he hadn’t practiced at LT all season, over to take his place and move Michael Onwenu to right tackle. 

Short-Handed Defense Has Matchup Problems:

Mills has been the starter as the boundary corner opposite J.C. Jackson all season. Mills has played very solidly and with him out, a thin secondary suddenly got thinner. With Myles Bryant just coming back and Kyle Dugger questionable, the team elevated CB De’Vante Bausby, DL Daniel Ekuale, DB D’Angelo Ross, and WR Kristian Wilkerson to the active roster from the practice squad. The team signed DB Cre’Von LeBlanc to the practice squad earlier this week, but it would be a surprise to see him activated this soon. 

That could mean Joejuan Williams, who has seen the field very little as of late may be thrust into a much bigger role this week. And if is, it will be probably facing Bills WR Gabriel Davis, which looks like a mismatch for the Bills, so that means they’ll have to give Williams some help. But since Bryant was torched by Isaiah McKenzie in the last meeting, the dilemma is where do they bring help. 

One thing for certain is that the New England pass rush will have to be much, much better than the game in Gillette where Josh Allen had all day to throw. The Patriots seemed to want to play the contain game and gradually squeeze the pocket. But in reality, they accomplished neither. Matthew Judon will have to really step up his game this time around. And the pass rush can help a thin secondary that appears overmatched and at a decided speed disadvantage. 

Wide Receiver Position Will Be One to Monitor:

Wilkerson’s activation will be interesting to see if he is part of the Patriots’ 46-man active roster tonight. The weather tonight is primed to make the passing game more difficult, however, the team needs to throw the ball much better than they did a few weeks ago against the Bills. So, if they’re going run-heavy, then N’Keal Harry would be the choice to see more snaps due to his prowess as a blocker. 

We know that they’re going to have to throw the ball more than the three times they did the last time they were in Buffalo and Wilkerson provides a much better target for the passing game than Harry did a few weeks ago. We’ll have to see how Josh McDaniels  decides to attack the Bills secondary which is #1 in the NFL against the pass. 

The Buffalo safeties may negate the New England tight ends, so the onus will be on the wide receivers and running backs to pick up the slack for Mac Jones. If Buffalo decides to stack the box again, it may come down to McDaniels spreading them out and mixing up the passes and runs. 

Turnovers Are the Key Between Winning and Losing: 

If there is one metric that sums up the Patriots’ season perfectly it is the turnover battle. When the Patriots win the turnover battle they are 8-0. When they lose the turnover battle they are 1-6. And when the turnover battle is even, they are 1-1.

It is imperative tonight, especially going against an explosive Buffalo offense that the Patriots win the turnover battle. An even or losing effort there is a bad sign for the team moving on. They’ll have to protect the football in the cold tonight and force a few of their own. There can’t be any of the dropped interceptions tonight. 

Have you checked out our PatsFans.com sortable stats for the Patriots? It is a great resource for all of the players on the roster.  

Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL: 

Josh McDaniels: The Patriots’ offensive coordinator won’t be moving to another team next year, he wasn’t requested for an interview by any of the eight teams seeking a new coach. The belief around the league is that no team is going to interview him unless they feel he’s interested in moving on, and right now that doesn’t seem to be the case. 

McDaniels turned down the Colts head coaching job, now taken by Frank Reich in 2018 after initially accepting it verbally. In an interview with WEEI, he said he has no regrets. 

“You make decisions in life and in your career that you feel like are the best decisions for you and your family, which is certainly what happened then,” he said. “You move forward and you do everything you can within your power to make those decisions the right ones.”

Mac Jones: The Patriots’ rookie QB was discussed on the NBC Sports Boston podcast with Phil Perry and Kurt Warner and of course, the discussion turned into a comparison between Jones and Tom Brady.  Warner said that in Super Bowl XXXVI, Brady wasn’t the legend he is now, but much like Jones is now…a game manager and complimentary piece. 

“As we went into that game, we were not worried about Tom Brady, which is almost unbelievable to say now, but at that time in his career, we weren’t worried about him. They were built on running and defense, and their quarterback was a complementary piece.

“It’ll be interesting to see how he’ll play out in these playoffs, but more importantly, how quickly he can become more like Tom Brady. Starting his career this way and then can he become a guy that can carry this team? With everything else they got, if he can become that guy or if they can get some pieces on the outside, then it’ll be fun to watch what this team can do over the next decade or so.”

All-Pro Teams: The Patriots didn’t have any 1st Team All-Pro members this year, but J.C. Jackson and Matthew Slater both were named to the 2nd Team All-Pro honors for 2021. Jackson led all Patriots players with 25 votes. Slater had 10.  

Mac Jones II: The rookie was listed by ESPN as the 3rd worst QB in the playoffs. The network listed former Alabama teammate Jalen Hurts and Ben Roethlisberger as the only QBs behind Jones on their list. Former Patriots’ Tom Brady was 2nd and Jimmy Garoppolo was one step above Jones at #11.

Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. Derek and I met on Thursday to talk about the lost game against the Dolphins and took an advanced look against Buffalo.

Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

African-American Head Coaches Remain a Rarity:

With the firing of David Culley and Brian Flores earlier in the week, leaving only one African-American coach Mike Tomlin of the Steelers…that should and probably will change in the upcoming days. But the NFL and the owners are only giving lip service to the Rooney Rule, which was supposed to support diversity.

Culley and Flores’ cases are similar in that both franchises they worked for are an absolute mess. Culley was set up for failure on Day 1. Handed a roster that was in the opening throes of a complete rebuild, Culley didn’t have the luxury of having his starting QB, Deshaun Watson, who sat out the season and has said that he’ll never play another down for the Texans. Nor did Culley have his 2nd stringer Tyrod Taylor who was injured and then benched late in the year. Culley had to go with his 3rd string QB Davis Mills and a poor supporting cast. It was surprising that he won four games, but he was fired after just one season. 

Firing Flores has to be the most surprising, absolutely Miami decision of the offseason. Flores was hired three years ago for a team that was an absolute mess. Think back a second. Miami’s leading rusher in 2019 was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Owner Stephen Ross wanted Flores to tank the season. Flores wanted to coach and win. That was the beginning of the end. But Flores did something no Miami team had done in nearly 20 years. He put back-to-back winning seasons together. 

Ross was pissed that Miami lost out on Joe Burrow, but they still selected QB Tua Tagovailoa over Justin Herbert. That is on the GM Chris Grier who has surprisingly had Teflon coating through his tenure. 

It just seems that African-American coaches can’t catch a break. They’re let go really quickly when things don’t go as planned while their counterparts are not. Just a few years ago Hue Jackson led the Raiders to an 8-8 record and was let go because the team “wasn’t moving in the right direction.” They then hired Dennis Allen who promptly went 4-12, and got a second season where he went 4-12 again. Tony Dungy was let go from the Bucs after one bad season. Caldwell supposedly wasn’t getting over the hump with the Lions going 36-28. They hired Matt Patricia who went 13-29-1.

Who doesn’t think that Todd Bowles was also set up to fail with the Jets. He was saddled with a horrible team and a GM that wasn’t going to spend the money or get him the players he needed to win. Last year it was Bowles defense that held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense to 9 points in a Super Bowl win blowout.  

In a league where about three-quarters of the players are black, there are only 4 offensive coordinators in the league. And at least one head coach. Flores may land on his feet pretty quickly. His old friend Nick Caserio from his New England days already interviewed him for the mess that is still Houston. 

However, Watson supposedly said he’d agree to be traded to Miami because Flores was the coach…if true, maybe Caserio can mend some broken fences with Watson if they hire Flores, who also has already interviewed for the Chicago job. Patriots coach Jerod Mayo is also considered a candidate for the Houston job. 

It seems like every year, we hear that Eric Bieniemy is interviewing for a head coaching job. He runs the Kansas City offense and has the absolute support of head coach Andy Reid (who finally has clock management skills thanks to Bieniemy) and has interviewed for a head coaching job 13 times (and counting) and still hasn’t been given a chance, while many retreads are hired and refired. 

Troy Vincent, the Executive Vice President for football operations for the NFL recently spoke with the Washington Post on the double standard that black head coaches face. 

“I don’t think that that is something that we should shy away from,” Vincent said. “But that is all part of some of the things that we need to fix in the system. We want to hold everyone to why does one, let’s say, gets the benefit of the doubt to be able to build or take bumps and bruises in this process of getting a franchise turned around when others are not afforded that latitude?”

That double standard is what caused the Rooney Rule to be instituted in the first place.

Besides those mentioned above, other African-American coaches deserving of real consideration include Leslie Frazier, Jim Caldwell, Byron Leftwich, Vance Joseph, and Thomas Brown are among the worthy candidates for head coaching jobs. Let’s hope that they get an actual fair shake in not only the hiring process but in being allowed to work their teams to success.

Wild Card Weekend Predictions:

The slate of games for Wild Card Weekend and my predictions are straight up for this week.

Saturday
Cincinnati over Las Vegas
Buffalo over New England

Sunday
Tampa Bay over Philadelphia
Dallas over San Francisco
Kansas City over Pittsburgh

Monday Night Football
LA Rams over Arizona

Bye Week: Tennessee, Green Bay

Last Week:         9-7
Season:            182-89-1

Last Season:    169-86-1

2019 Season:   162-93-1

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Search For Another Head Coach Begins:

The Dolphins’ search for a new head coach began before Brian Flores had even cleaned out his office and they’ve asked permission to speak with a number of other coaches around the league. 

A new candidate could be Los Angeles Rams RB coach/assistant head coach Thomas Brown according to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, joining others. The Dolphins are reportedly also interested in current defensive coordinators Dan Quinn of the Cowboys, Leslie Frazier of the Bills, and Vance Joseph of the Broncos, as well as offensive coordinators Brian Daboll of the Bills, Kellen Moore of the Cowboys, and Mike McDaniel of the San Francisco 49ers.

And there is of course the rumor that Miami will be trying to court Jim Harbaugh if (and when) he decides to leave Michigan. 

Jets Wilson Needs An Influx of “Weaponz”: 

The New York Jets have high hopes for last year’s #2 pick QB Zach Wilson. But his rookie season was hardly the stuff of legend. Wilson struggled with his accuracy all season. His completion percentage was just 55.6 percent which was the worst in the NFL with 9 TDs and 11 INTs.

Some of it can be tied to a subpar offensive line, a terrible (27th) rushing game, while some can be pointed to his WRs who include Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, and Keelan Cole who are all impending free agents. His most reliable targets are Corey Davis and Elijah Moore who both missed time with injuries.

The Jets have $53 million in free cap space and four picks in the first 40 picks in the upcoming NFL draft. And in another WR rich draft, the Jets have the capability to get him exactly the help he needs.   

_______________

“They’ve done a good job of that. Look, they’re a good offense. They’re well-coached. They have a good quarterback. They have good skill players. They have a good offensive line and they have an experienced offensive line. They’re hard to stop. I think the key for us is, when we get them in third down, we’ve got to be able to convert on third down. If they convert on third down, then literally, you’re out there all day. That’s pretty much what happened in the second game. We had a number of third-down opportunities: third down and eight, nine, 10 yards. I would say there were too many of those that we had opportunities to get off the field on and we couldn’t do it. Then, like I said, they stay out there and they get to the 3rd-and-1s, 3rd-and-2s, and 4th-and-1s. You know those are going to be hard. The percentages on those are a lot higher, but we didn’t do a good enough job, collectively, as a coaching staff and as a team to get off the field on third down to get the ball back for our offense. You’re right. If you can stay on the field, have possession plays, and have long drives, that’s great. When you get into long-yardage situations, if you can’t convert it, that all goes away. If you can convert it, then you kind of get off the hook on that 3rd-and-long play and you’re able to go back and do what you were just talking about. When we get a chance to get off the field, either turn the ball over or get off on third down and take advantage of our turnover opportunities: interceptions or opportunities to punch the ball out, that kind of thing. You’ve got to take advantage of those. Like I said, we didn’t. We weren’t able to do that in the second game.”

Bill Belichick when asked about the Bills’ patience on moving down the field in the last matchup. Ever the Navy man, Belichick was wearing a “Top Gun” hoodie with “Danger Zone” on the front at his press conference. That will throw Mike Dussault’s stats for his attire into a quandary. 

_______________

“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 Stitcher and Streamyard as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.


Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Black head coaches Brandon Bolden Brian Flores Buffalo Bills Cole Beasley Damien Harris Gabriel Davis Isaiah McKenzie Josh Allen Kyle Van Noy Mac Jones Matthew Judon Miami Dolphins N'Keal Harry New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson Stefon Diggs


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