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Patriots News 09-18, Players To Watch Against Pittsburgh

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
2 weeks ago at 5:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Patriots News 09-18, Players To Watch Against PittsburghDavid Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning; here are your weekly Patriots news 09-18, and some NFL notes this week. Patriots gameday! The team starts the season with two road games, which is a very tough place to play this week. The Patriots have had many memorable battles with the Steeler during the Belichick era. 

Since Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots and Steelers are #1 and #2 in NFL Wins, and the two have both allowed the same average number of points per game, 18.7, which is a remarkable stat.

We said last week that Overreaction Monday would take place, win or lose, and true to form, fans and media around the league were going overboard with their proclamations after just one game. 

Patriots Players to Watch Against Pittsburgh: 

The Patriots are facing a Steelers team with a new defensive coordinator, Terryl Austin, but also with former Patriots coach Brian Flores. That is two weeks in a row, they’ll face a coach with intimate knowledge of their system. With a New England offense that is in transition, it is definitely two tough games in a row.

So, without any further ado, here are our Patriots players to watch today.

Jonathan Jones — Jones had the tough task of following Tyreek Hill everywhere on the field in Miami. This week he’ll no doubt draw Diontae Johnson of the Steelers. Johnson was targeted 12 times last week and had 7 catches for only 55 yards against the Bengals. But his ridiculous catch in overtime was something to behold. However, the issue lay with QB Mitch Trubisky being unable to get him the ball. 

Jones will have to be on top of his game today because the Steelers offense, which struggled last week, needs Johnson to be productive to get untracked. Jones is more than capable of handling the task, but it won’t be an easy one. 

Mike Tomlin called Jones the Patriots’ matchup corner. “They play a really, really good matchup game,” Tomlin said earlier this week. “They’ve always got a lockdown-match corner over the years. In recent years, it’s been Gilmore, and then it was Jackson, and now it’s Jones. I think that’s what you get when you get continuity in a program if you will.

“The names may change, but the roles and how they go about business, their mode of operation very much remains the same. I turned on the tape from last week, and I see Jones tracking Tyreek Hill very much in ways like the No. 1 corners from New England usually do.”

Matthew Judon — The Steelers offensive line is arguably struggling more than the Patriots one is. With the expected defensive struggle today, the Patriots need to bottle up Pittsburgh’s offense and bring pressure on Trubiski. 

Judon had a good game last week in Miami, and the team will need him to do the same this week. Judon will also be the guy that the Steelers look to block and ensure that he isn’t a difference maker in the game. 

Look for the team to move him around to create mismatches along the offensive line. The team was -3 last week. That has to change, and this would be a good week to do it.  

Offensive line — The New England offensive line, for so long a strength of the team for so many years, right now is arguably the biggest problem area. 

Far too many blown assignments, communications issues, and subpar play are inexcusable for their talent. And it isn’t just pass protection, they have yet to open enough holes for the running game to be consistent. This week although TJ Watt is out with an injury, the Steelers still have Cameron Heyward and Alex Highsmith, who had 3 sacks, 4 QB hits, and 2 TFLs.

They’ve tried to run more of the Shanahan wide-zone scheme plays, but there have invariably been breakdowns in the blocking that have netted them little-to-negative yardage. This must improve if the team plans to play meaningful football past Thanksgiving.

Mac Jones — The Patriots QB was injured last week. Today he’s facing a team that generated 7 sacks and 5 turnovers last week. And if that is difficult enough, he has to face the Brian Flores factor. 

Jones will get the ball out quickly and accurately and always be aware of where Minkah Fitzpatrick is. His former teammate at Alabama was all over the field last week and had a monster game. He notched 14 tackles, a pick-six. and a blocked extra point attempt. 

Jones will hopefully get more of Kendrick Bourne this week if Matt Patricia can reinstate the player who has been benched for a month for missing a team meeting. He could be a difference maker for an offense with a lack of big playmakers a week ago. His one snap offensively last week was a 41-yard bomb catch from Jones. 

Jones will be facing a secondary that is very good, and their coverage had a lot to do with the 7 sacks the pass rush generated. He’s going to need his coaches to be more creative and work in play-action, misdirection, quick hitters, and screens this week.

Quick Hitters For the Patriots and the NFL:  

Shelby Jordan: The former Patriots offensive lineman who started 87 of 95 career games with the Patriots at right tackle passed away at 70. He played in the NFL for 12 seasons, eight of which were in New England from 1975 through 1982. 

He spent his last four years with the LA Raiders and was a member of their Super Bowl XVIII-winning team in 1984. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. RIP.

Brett Favre: The former Falcons, Packers, Vikings, and Jets QB was excoriated on Twitter this week by the man who wrote a glowing book about his exploits in the NFL. He told people on social media not to buy his book because Favre is a bad person who is not worthy of any “icon status.”

Jeff Pearlman started off by saying his book was fairly positive, and he mixed in some of Favre’s grossness, addictions, and treatment of women along with his heroics on the gridiron. 

“And now—taking money that was designated to help poor people in HIS STATE, and funneling it to build (checks notes) A F**KING VOLLEYBALL ARENA (!?!?!?) is so grotesque, so monstrous. I don’t know how someone like that looks in the mirror. I just don’t,” he added. (Favre used connections with the former Mississippi governor and others to finance a $5 million volleyball arena at Southern Miss where his daughter played, and he played football)

After repeating again for people not to buy the book or even take it out of the library, he added a final zinger for Favre. “I prefer crumbs like Brett Favre shuffle off into the abyss, shamed by greed and selfishness.”

Adrian Phillips: The Patriots’ versatile safety, who suffered a rib injury last week in Miami, is questionable to play this week but has made the trip with the team to Pittsburgh, and it is possible for him to play. Joshua Bledsoe, who was inactive last week with a groin injury, has already been ruled out for today’s game.

LeSean McCoy: The former Bills running back ripped Bill Belichick this past week, saying that “it’s over” for Belichick. “It’s over for Belichick. It’s over,” McCoy said on FOX Sports’ SPEAK. 

“I’ve never seen the Patriots pay so many guys on defense at one time. They’re doing it now that Tom is gone. It’s over. This is the real Belichick. The winning percentage playing with Brady is 77 percent. Without Tom Brady, you wouldn’t even guess. 47 percent. He don’t win no games without Tom Brady.

“Since Tom Brady has left, they look so regular. Seriously though, when I watch the tape, and I really watch them, they’re getting beat up front in the running game, defenders missing tackles – they look bad. They can’t do anything on offense. Every coach in the AFC, for all of these years, when they had Tom Brady, they’re saying the same thing I’m saying right now. Without Tom Brady, Belichick is a good coach. Stop with all of this he’s the greatest of all time. He’s not.”

Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Russ, Derek, and I looked at the Miami game last week and how the team matches up with the Steelers; be sure to check it out. 

Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that especially Francis isn’t is an absolute travesty. Francis and the Raiders’ Dave Casper changed the game with how teams used the tight end position…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

Week 2 Predictions:

The slate of games for Week 2 and my predictions are straight up for this week.

Chargers over Kansas City
Baltimore over Miami
Cleveland over NY Jets
Detroit over Washington
Indianapolis over Jacksonville
Tampa Bay over New Orleans
Carolina over NY Giants, (flip-flopped on this one)
Pittsburgh over New England
LA Rams over Atlanta
San Francisco over Seattle
Cincinnati over Dallas
Denver over Houston
Las Vegas over Arizona

Sunday Night Football:
Green Bay over Chicago

Monday Night Football:
Buffalo over Tennessee
Philadelphia over Minnesota

Last Week:           5—10—1
Last Season:    182—88—1

2020 Season:   169—86—1

2019 Season:   162—93—1

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Allen Lauded By Titans: Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen has gotten a lot of respect from the Tennessee Titans, especially head coach Mike Vrabel. “I have a lot of respect for Josh and what he does, the command that he has, his toughness, his physicality, and not only that but just his arm talent. It’s a huge challenge on the road,” Vrabel said to Titans.com.

“He’s a great athlete, freak athlete,” linebacker Rashad Weaver said. “He uses all the things he’s blessed with–His size, his speed, his ability to get out of the pocket to extend the plays. That’s where he really shows out and makes plays happen.”

Dan Marino Considered Leaving The Dolphins To Chase A SB:

Tom Brady spent 20 years with New England, winning six Super Bowls; the year he left for Tampa, he won another. Matthew Stafford played for the Detroit Lions, never having an opportunity to play for a Super Bowl. Last year, he was traded to the Rams and won his first. Dan Marino, who played his entire career with the Dolphins, admitted to USA Today that he considered changing teams late in his career.

“Yes, I definitely thought about it, to be honest with you,” Marino said. “I played 17 years for the Dolphins, and they were kind of going in a new direction and a new coach, and I had offers to go play other places and really thought about it, and maybe had a chance to win a championship like Matthew [Stafford] has done.”

After the 1999 season, Minnesota and his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers were both interested, but he decided to retire. “It just didn’t feel right,” Marino said about playing for another team. 

Jets Fans Overreaction Monday, Calling For White Over Flacco: 

The New York Jets lost their opener to Baltimore handily 24-9. The Jets’ offense was struggling to get anything going all day. Joe Flacco was hardly efficient, completing 37 of 59 passes for 307 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. But Flacco was hardly the only one to blame. His pass protection was shoddy, and he had receivers dropping passes, including a touchdown… Greg Zierlein missed an extra point and a field goal.

Flacco was sacked three times and hit 10 more. But Jets fans were calling for QB Mike White in the stands, and after the game, a poll of Jets fans wanted White by garnering 54 percent of the replies. QB Chris Streveler came in 2nd with 25 percent, and Flacco came in 3rd with 21 percent. Flacco garnered 69 percent of the vote right after the injury to Zach Wilson. 

Jets fans’ confidence has taken a hit after Week 1. Prior to Wilson’s injury, the fans believed the team was heading in the right direction by a whopping 91 percent. Prior to the Ravens game, that confidence fell to 77 percent. Now, only 59 percent of the fans believe that they are heading in the right direction. 

______________

“The Steelers have a brand of football, and they’ve been very consistent in it through the years. I think they deserve a lot of credit as an organization for that type of consistency that they’ve put out there. Through their head coaches and just their general playing style, regardless of exactly what the scheme was, or who the quarterback was, or so forth. They’ve had pretty consistent style there. It probably does go back to Coach [Noll]. I don’t when did he start, late 60’s? 70’s? Whatever it was. Definitely there in the 70’s. So I forget exactly what year it was, ’67? ’68? I don’t know something like that. So three coaches over how many years is that — 50. That’s a lot. Pretty good. Mike’s [Tomlin] done a great job. Fifteen straight winning seasons, that’s pretty impressive.”

“So it’s almost like you can look at a college player and say, ‘oh he would play there for the Steelers.’ Whether that’s this year, five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago – he player’s skills and how they would use them and this would be a perfect Steeler. He would play at this position for them. So they’ve had a lot of guys like that. Whether it’s the speed at inside linebacker, or from [James] Farrior, to [Lawrence] Timmons, to [Ryan] Shazier to [Devin] Bush, to Jack [Lambert]. Or the edge rushers from Kevin Greene, to [Joe] Gilliam, to [James] Harrison, and all the guys that go down there, to [T.J.] Watt. It’s kind of — they have a lot of good zone safeties, [Troy] Polamalu, [Minkah] Fitzpatrick and guys that kind of play the same position. Not saying they’re the same, but similar guys, similar positions, similar styles of play. They’ve gotten those guys, and they’ve put them into their system. They know what they’re looking for, and they find them. So there’s not too many teams that have been at that kind of consistency over that period of time I can think of.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick asked about the Steelers consistency through the years having their own brand of football that they’ve stuck with for more than 50 years with only three coaches during that time.

_______________

“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.

 


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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Alex Highsmith Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Chase Claypool Diontae Johnson Jakobi Meyers Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Matthew Judon Miami Dolphins Mike Tomlin Minkah Fitzpatrick New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Pittsburgh Steelers

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    4 Comments
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    Michael P. McGrath
    Michael P. McGrath
    15 days ago

    Regardless of last week’s Pats over Miami pick – pretty much everybody locally made the same call – I think you are the most objective of all local writers and simply do an excellent job. Hope all remains well. I miss your column when you are unavailable. And yes, Favre repeatedly has shown he is anything but a good, ethical and moral human being. Oh, and McCoy is an idiot. I guess there never has been any great coaches as all the winners always had great QBs.

    Michael P. McGrath
    Michael P. McGrath
    Reply to  Steve Balestrieri
    14 days ago

    I agree Reiss is the best but that does not preclude your excellence or objectivity – both top notch.

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