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Patriots News 10-16, Players To Watch Today, AFC East Notes

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

Patriots News 10-16, Players To Watch Today, AFC East NotesBob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, and happy game day for the Patriots as they travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns. 

This should prove to be a very interesting game, as both teams want to run the football and have been inconsistent at stopping the run. Ultimately, it will boil down to whoever makes the least mistakes should come out on top. Coaching will also play a large role this week. 

Did You Know? After Bailey Zappe’s win in his first start against the Lions last week, the Patriots under Bill Belichick are now 5-0 with QBs drafted outside the 1st round making their debut start.

The rest of the NFL is 30-80 since Belichick became the NE head coach in 2000.

Did You Know? Pt 2: Looking back on the past couple of seasons after the first five weeks, the AFC East standings in 2020:
AFC East

TEAM         W L T PCT

Bills             4 1 0 0.800

Patriots      2 2 0 0.500

Dolphins     2 3 0 0.400

Jets             0 5 0 0.000 

Here’s a look at the AFC East standings in 2021 after five weeks:
AFC East

TEAM           W L T PCT

Bills               4 1 0 0.800

Patriots        2 3 0 0.400

Dolphins      1 4 0 0.200

Jets               1 4 0 0.200

And with the Patriots’ 2-3 start in 2022, they’ve been consistently slow starting at the beginning of the season; last year, they started out 2-4 before going on a seven-game winning streak. This year is no exception, but can they turn things around again? Today will be a big test against a much better overall team than the Lions.

Patriots Players to Watch Against Cleveland: 

The Patriots and Browns meet today, and after the game, one of them will be back to .500, and the other will be 2-4. From our vantage point, 3-3 looks a lot better. 

However, the task will not be an easy one. The Browns have been running the heck out of the football, averaging 192 yards per game. And QB Jacoby Brissett, while not setting the world on fire, has been careful with the football and not turning it over. The Browns’ pass defense is good, but their run defense has been porous. Last week, they allowed a poor-running Chargers team to run over them for more than 200 yards. I expect the Patriots’ offensive line and RBs to have a big day. 

So, here are our Patriots players to watch today.

Rhamondre Stevenson — After a career-high 161 yards last week against the Lions, he was getting a lot of love from Bill Belichick. And why not? He was fantastic running the ball, showing excellent power, vision, and even elusiveness, and was very good in blitz pickups. 

With Damien Harris expected to miss a few games due to a hamstring injury, the onus will be placed on Stevenson’s shoulders, backed by rookies Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong. I expect that Stevenson having another big game today.

Tyquan Thornton — I may be way off here, but I think that Thornton will figure into the team’s plans in a meaningful way today. The Browns will probably try to stack the box, take away the run, and force rookie QB Bailey Zappe (more to him below) to beat them.

What better way to get them to ease up in the box than by using play-action and stretching the field horizontally as well as vertically?  Thornton has blistering speed and catching the ball in space is a ready-made big play. He may only catch 3-4 passes, but I can see two of those being big chunk plays. 

Bailey Zappe — The Patriots’ rookie 3rd-string QB will probably make his second start in a row against the Browns this week as they give Mac Jones an extra week to get ready for next Monday night at home against the Bears. The Patriots kept things simple for the rookie, and he has performed well. 

However, if they want those red-zone numbers to improve, they’ll have to loosen those training wheels up a bit and possibly utilize some RZ play-action, especially on first down. Look for the Patriots to still lean heavily on the running game, but Hunter Henry could be a big part of their RZ offense this week. 

Matthew Judon and the Front Seven — The Patriots will have to play sound football this week as they try to slow the Browns’ running game and force it into Brissett’s hands. It will take everyone as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are a true dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield.

The Patriots will probably opt for a bigger package on early downs as Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai inside with Anfernee Jennings and Matthew Judon outside at linebacker with Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise, and Christian Barmore up front, where they’ll have stand firm and possibly get some penetration to slow the backs before they hit the line of scrimmage. 

Judon was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week and was disruptive all over the field against the Lions. Managing his snaps this year, the team has him in a good position to maintain his torrid pace for making QBs run for their lives.

He and Deatrich Wise have been the best Patriots pass rushers in 2022; they’ll need big games setting the edge as well as getting after Brissett. 

Kyle Dugger/Adrian Phillips — The Patriots’ two strong safeties did a great job of limiting TE T.J. Hockenson to just a single catch for six yards late in the game. Their job will be even tougher this week as they face Cleveland TE David Njoku, a very tough player to cover.   

The pair will have to take care of business this week, limit Njoku’s production, and force Cleveland to go elsewhere with the football. I know it is easier said than done, but I believe Belichick, his son, and Jerod Mayo will scheme a way to slow down this Brown’s offense. 

Quick Hitters For the Patriots and the NFL:  

Bill Belichick: The Patriots’ head coach is approaching a career milestone that will tie him to one of the game’s true legends. 

With a win today in Cleveland, Belichick will tie Chicago legend George Halas with 324, and then only Don Shula with 347 will stand in front of him. It will realistically take at least two more seasons to catch Shula if the Patriots can string together some winning teams.

And don’t doubt for a minute that passing Shula is on his list of things to accomplish as his career winds down, especially after some of the comments Shula made about the Patriots and Belichick personally.  

Robert Kraft: The Patriots owner has said that his philanthropy has gotten very important to him in in his later years after leading the franchise to six Super Bowl wins.

And this week, Kraft made a $50 million dollar donation to Massachusetts General Hospital, where his son Jonathan is the board chair. It’s the largest donation in Mass General’s 200-year history and will fund a healthcare network that combats systemic inequities affecting Black and Hispanic communities.

“People like myself who have been privileged to do pretty well have to make sure that inequities in any form, we have to do our best to correct them,” Kraft said in an interview with Forbes magazine.

“Most of our giving now is to build bridges and things that will bring people together,” Kraft added.

There is No “QB Controversy: Sports talk radio has once again inflamed the fans with a controversy that simply doesn’t exist. Bill Belichick doesn’t have to “make a decision” on who will be the starting QB of the Patriots once Mac Jones is healthy. That job belongs to Jones. While Zappe has played well, it was for just two games and is far too small a sample size to make a drastic decision like that. 

The training wheel offense they ran with Zappe last week was similar to what they ran with Jones at the beginning of last year. Jones and the offense struggled all summer, learning a new system with the offensive line not protecting Jones well at all. Now the players are beginning to find their chemistry, and the OL is opening up huge holes for the running game and doing a much better protection job. 

Can there be a QB competition down the road? Absolutely, but as soon as Jones is ready, he’s back under center.

Mike Tomlin: The Steelers head coach is facing a lot of criticism from the fans and local media for the first time in his tenure. And most of the criticism is leveled against his continuing to support Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada.

The Steelers’ offense has only scored 75 points thus far this season. Only Indianapolis and Denver have scored less. The Steelers have dropped four in a row after upsetting Cincinnati in Week 1. And their nemesis Tom Brady is coming to town. Brady owns a 12-3 record against Pittsburgh.

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 Lions game last week and how the team matches up with the Browns; 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 6 Game Predictions:

The slate of games for Week 6 and my predictions are straight up for this week.
Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, and Tennessee are on the first bye week of the season.

Chicago over Washington  0-1
San Francisco over Atlanta
New England over Cleveland
Green Bay over NY Jets
Jacksonville over Indianapolis
Minnesota over Miami
Cincinnati over New Orleans
Baltimore over NY Giants
Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh
LA Rams over Carolina
Arizona over Seattle
Buffalo over Kansas City

Sunday Night Football:
Philadelphia over Dallas

Monday Night Football:
LA Chargers over Denver

Last Week:        10—6

This Season:     45—34—1
Last Season:   182—88—1

2020 Season:   169—86—1

2019 Season:   162—93—1

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills-Chiefs Matchup Promises To Be Epic:

The Bills and Chiefs are meeting this week in a rematch of the crazy and scintillating AFC Divisional Round Game of 2021. They have two of the best offenses and QBs in the league. It is a marquee matchup that brings one back to the days of Brady-Manning. 

Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes put on a show in January, and this one should prove to be another must-watch game that could have playoff implications down the road. I like the Bills today to win a tough road game in Arrowhead. 

Miami Going With 3rd String QB Thompson Against Minnesota:

The Dolphins’ top two QBs, Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater, remain in concussion protocol, and Tua is already ruled out. However, if Bridgewater is deemed ready this week, he will back up rookie Skylar Thompson. 

He will be facing the 4-1 Vikings but may have RB Raheem Mostert back, and Minnesota has had issues stopping the run. It should be an interesting chess match this week. “We’re starting Skylar because we thought it was best for the team to have the week to prepare,” head coach Mike McDaniel said.

Jets improved Pass Rush Key Against Aaron Rodgers This Week: 

The Jets’ pass rush has definitely picked up its pace in the few games and they have been extremely productive once they found the personnel grouping that gels the most. Bryce Huff was inactive the first three weeks of the season, but he is carving out a nice role for himself. In the past two weeks, he has seven QB pressures in 24 pass rush snaps. 

According to the JetsXFactor.com, when Huff is on the field along with Quinnen Williams and Carl Lawson (19 snaps), the Jets have 15 QB pressures, six QB hits, and three sacks, 

The defense will need that kind of production this week against Aaron Rodgers.  

______________

“Jakobi’s development as a player – honestly we’ve had a lot of guys like that, come in as a rookie free agent, expectations are low immediately. But then as things start to improve, such as his blocking, and his overall route running and instinctive, and savviness, different but kind of like Edleman in the development. Not saying they’re the same player, they’re not. But Edleman’s a guy who didn’t play much for a while and then became a great, great receiver here. One of the most dependable players we’ve ever had. That certainly wasn’t the case in year two or year three, as he was in that development stage. So, we’ve seen that from plenty of guys. Again, it’s hard work. 

“It’s taking the coaching and the instruction and applying it to fundamentals, to understanding our offense, to understanding the opponent’s defense, and leverage, and spacing and things like that. Which Players like Julian [Edleman] and Jakobi are both good examples of players who played quarterback, however good they were or weren’t a quarterback, that’s not really the point. The point is that they’ve seen the ball coming from their hand, as opposed to always being on the receiving end of it. Kind of where you wouldn’t want to throw, and how a receiver can help a quarterback, or how a receiver can kind of fool a quarterback and make it hard for the quarterback to throw it to them. So, I think in terms of being quarterback friendly, let’s call it, that’s something that I’d say came naturally to him. 

“But no, Jakobi’s worked extremely hard. He’s developed route running concepts and techniques at multiple positions, inside, outside, play-action, drop-back, quicker throws, knowing when he has more time to operate, knowing when he has to (*snaps fingers *) get open quicker, things like that. Based either on the timing of the play or the situation. So, he’s a very smart, savvy football player on a lot of levels. Not just in the passing game, but in the running game and in other formations and things like that. It’s been a great time of growth for him. It’s really fun to see guys develop like that. Come in and not be very far along but then progressively just keep stacking, and stacking, and stacking and stacking.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick asked how the development of WR Jakobi Meyers has evolved since he came to the team.

_______________

“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 Buffalo Bills Damien Harris Devin McCourty Jakobi Meyers Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Matthew Judon Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Jets Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rhamondre Stevenson

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