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Patriots News 12-03, Players To Watch Against The Bolts

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
December 3, 2023 at 5:00 am ET

Patriots News 12-03, Players To Watch Against The Bolts(PHOTO: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: Dec 03, 2023 05:00
🕑 Read Time: 8 minutes

Good morning, and Happy Gameday. Here are our Sunday 12-03 Patriots news and notes. Apologies for the lack of the key matchups and my prediction for the Patriots and Chargers game today. I’ve been really under the weather. I had a flu shot and got sick anyway…don’t get me started on vaccines…LOL.

Anyway, that was a really good TNF game this week. Hopefully, we’ll see a good one today. One thing is for certain: with the Patriots and Chargers wearing their throwback uniforms this week, it will have the feel of an old AFL matchup. 

The Chargers (Like Bill, I keep wanting to say San Diego) are surprisingly in last place of the AFC West with a 4-7 record. Brandon Staley’s seat is hot right now, possibly the hottest in the league.

There are already reports that he’ll be let go at the end of the season, perhaps earlier if the Patriots win today. So, barring a miracle finish and a long playoff run, Staley will be let go. 

The Chargers defense has been the biggest issue this season, but Justin Herbert remains the Teflon QB. He’s always skating when the truth remains: he has had ample opportunities in the team’s six of their seven losses to either tie or win the game in the fourth quarter. Sounds oddly familiar.

After an outstanding rookie season, Herbert has been oddly absent of any criticism. Even when they blew a 27-point lead against the Jags in the playoffs last year. The Bolts are 29-31 in his starts. His talent is undeniable, but the results haven’t been there. And his contract is paying him about $262 million. Hmm. 

Of course, he’ll probably throw for four TDs and 400 yards today. 

Quick Hitters For the Patriots and NFL News: 

Patriots-Chiefs Flexed: The Patriots and Chiefs Week 15 matchup at Gillette Stadium, slated for Monday Night Football, has been flexed to Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Instead, the MNF crew will air the Philadelphia Eagles visiting the Seattle Seahawks at 8:15 p.m.

Can’t be surprised that the game has been flexed, considering how the Patriots season has gone. This is the first time a MNF game has been flexed.

Jabrill Peppers: The Patriots’ safety and former Giant spoke with Saquon Barkley after the Patriots’ loss on Sunday and was picked up by a hot mic as the two friends spoke. 

“You lucky we a$$,” Peppers said. The team couldn’t be happy to hear that picked up, but Peppers was telling the truth. However, on Friday, Peppers took responsibility for his words and issued an apology to the team. Mike Reiss from ESPN was there and filmed that. 

Rex Ryan: The former Jets head coach and now ESPN analyst has been waiting for this opportunity for years. And now he launched a tirade at Bill Belichick on the ESPN “Get Up” morning show. 

“This team plays like they’re exhausted. And the Patriot Way, that’s it: It exhausts these kids. And Tom Brady was the only reason you won anyway, all right?” Ryan said. “I’m just telling you the difference. Tom Brady was the absolute difference. I said from the jump they would never win again. I said they would never win again when that guy trotted down to Tampa.”

Former Steeler Ryan Clark danced around the set, unable to contain his glee. Ryan tried to soften his tone a bit but still went after Belichick with the Brady card.

“Bill Belichick, greatest in the history, I will never dispute that,” Ryan added. “Had my ass kicked by him a million times. But if you think for a minute that it wasn’t about Tom Brady, you’re absolutely crazy.”

While Ryan admitted to the Patriots beating him regularly, he was 3-9 against the Patriots, and one of those victories was against Jacoby Brissett. Clark also has an axe to grind. Tom Brady was 12-4 against the Steelers, having never lost to them at home or in the playoffs. 

Caleb Williams: One of the top QBs in the draft, Williams, is rumored to be on the Patriots radar. Of course, it is way too early to proclaim him one way or the other, but you can be sure that the Patriots are doing their due diligence on him.  Former Patriot QB Matt Cassel, a USC alum, has covered Williams due to his work with USC.  Cassel spoke with Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston on his take on Williams.  He said that, at times, he trusts his athletic ability too much and improvises when Perry asked him about possible issues with Williams.

“I think one of his biggest weaknesses is that he has so much confidence in himself to extend the play, to make the big play, that sometimes he’ll bypass a wide-open wide receiver,” said Cassel.  “Like, I was watching some film on him earlier in the season. We had him for the USC/Notre Dame [game], which wasn’t his best game, don’t get me wrong, and Notre Dame did a great job.  But watching that film prior to that, there would be a go route on the outside, and Tahj Washington was running an out route, and he was open right now, but for some reason, he bypassed him and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to check down the field for something,’ held onto the ball a little bit longer, but then he extended the play, made seven people miss, turned around, and found a guy in the back of the end zone.”

“So there are times where that confidence that he has in his own skillset, his ability to extend plays and look for that big play downfield, he’ll bypass something that is within the structure of the offense.  And I think it’s hard sometimes as a coach because you’re looking at him and when you see what his abilities allow you to do and how many big plays that you have, to say, “Hey, you’ve just got to throw the out route right here, alright?”  But it resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass, which was a highlight reel play.  So I think that’s the challenge when you take a guy like Caleb Williams, is how, one, are you going to structure the offense to fit his skillset? Two, how can you make him play disciplined within the offensive structure?”

There is no denying his athletic ability; he has that and then some. But I would have concerns, if I’m the Patriots, about his mental toughness. Again, it is far too early for these conversations, but he is someone who is expected to be the #1 or #2 QB taken in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t listened to our PatsFans.com podcast, Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Patriots 4th & 2 has expanded. 

Derek Havens and I spoke briefly about the Giants game as well as the upcoming Chargers matchup. Earlier in the week, Russ Goldman and I spoke about the Patriots’ Big Three: The owner, the coach, and the QB, and how they are positioned for 2024 and beyond. 

Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that Francis isn’t in 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. Casper is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Francis’ numbers stand up well against Casper’s, yet he isn’t in the team’s. 

Players To Watch Against the Chargers —

The Patriots and Chargers are both mired in losing streaks. However, they are polar opposites in terms of strengths and weaknesses. LA has an offense that can put points up on the board, while the defense has been victimized too often this season. 

The Patriots’ defense has been mostly solid this year and held their last two opponents to just 10 points each. The offense? Well, see Peppers’ comments above. The team is now 31st in the league in scoring.

Here are the players, from a Patriots perspective, that will have to show up for the team to pull off a victory this week.

Bailey Zappe: All indications point to a Zappe start this week. Mac Jones needs a mental break from the frustrations that have led to a total breakdown of his mechanics, his decision-making, and his confidence. 

Zappe has been the backup all season for a reason. He was outperformed by Jones all spring and summer. The team released him at the end of training camp. But desperately in need of a spark, he’ll get his first start of the season today.

But with Kendrick Bourne on IR, Demario Douglas out with a concussion, and Kayshon Boutte out with a shoulder injury, he’s dealing with a depleted core of an already lesser positional group. Zappe has a tough row to hoe this week. 

Rhamondre Stevenson: With the Patriots passing game scuffling along, Rhamondre Stevenson (and Ezekiel Elliott) has been consistently getting results, netting over 100 scrimmage yards for three weeks in a row. His rushing totals have gone from 87-88-98 in the past three games.  

Stevenson and Elliott are a good 1-2 punch, but the Chargers’ weakness defensively is in pass defense, something the Patriots will find difficulty in taking advantage of. Look for LA to stack the box to take away the run and daring Zappe to beat them deep.

I still believe Stevenson can have a solid game, as he’s been getting better again at making yards after contact. He still has a shot at another 1,000-yard season. He needs to average 70 yards per game down the stretch; not impossible to do. That’d be a bright spot for the offense this season. 

Jonathan Jones: The best corner of the positional group left this season has been battling injuries all year. Today, he’ll draw LA’s best, Keenan Allen, who is battling injury concerns of his own. 

This will be a key matchup to watch. Belichick, as always, was effusive in his praise of Allen. “Keenan [Allen], as good as he’s been, which has been great, he’s having his best year, which is pretty scary,” said Belichick. “He’s a very difficult player to cover, very strong, great hands, instincts, hard guy to tackle. Obviously, Herbert’s got a lot of confidence in him.”

But in this case, there isn’t much hyperbole here. Allen has been targeted 129 times this season and has 97 catches for 1,117 yards and 7 TDs. 

Trent Brown: The Patriot left tackle is back in the lineup and will have a big task ahead of him this week. Although Joey Bosa is out, Khalil Mack and his 13 sacks will be a handful for Brown. 

Mack and Morgan Fox inside bring a ton of pressure on opposing offenses. And if Zappe is to have any success, the big men up front, Brown and Michael Onwenu, will have to keep Mack at bay. 

Hunter Henry: Last week, Henry had zero targets. This will have to change this week. Henry has always been one of Mac Jones’ most trusted targets, and there is no reason why he can’t be one of Zappe’s.

Something to keep in mind: the Chargers are the 4th worst-rated defenses in terms of covering TEs. And they’ve allowed the third-most yards per game (65) against TEs in the NFL. 

Henry has 30 catches and three TDs this season. Look for those numbers to increase this week. He could be the perfect safety valve for Zappe to attack the middle of the field. 

Week 13 Predictions

Thursday Night Football:
Dallas over Washington 1-0

Sunday Day Games:

Indianapolis over Tennessee
Pittsburgh over Arizona
LA Chargers over New England
Detroit over New Orleans
Atlanta over NYJ
Miami over Washington
Denver over Houston
Tampa Bay over Carolina
Cleveland over LA Rams
San Francisco over Philadelphia

Sunday Night Football:

Kansas City over Green Bay

Monday Night Football: 

Jacksonville over Cincinnati 

Bye Week: Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, LA Rams, Minnesota, NYG

Last Week          11—5

2023 Season    115—65

2022 Season:   178—92—2

2021 Season:   183—88—1

2020 Season:   169—86—1 

2019 Season:   162—93—1

______________

“Well, I think Coach Moore has kind of a West Coast background. We saw him in Dallas and the offense they ran down there. How much was him and how much was [Mike] McCarthy, but I think there’s a little bit of both anyway. So, primarily, it looks like a west-coast-based passing game – good quarterback, good receivers, good back. Not similar to what they did in Dallas, but there are similarities to what they did in Dallas. It’s a similar scheme.

“Herbert’s had a lot of production with it – spreads the ball around a lot, besides Allen, but Allen obviously is the go-to guy. But, after that, they give a lot of touches to the other receivers, the tight ends, the backs, and it creates some explosive plays. 

“Herbert creates some plays on his own when there really isn’t anything there. He pulls something out with a scramble or an extended play or throwing into tight coverage there aren’t too many guys who can get in there, but he can. 

“So, good opportunity for us this week, and a team that we kind of know a little bit about but need to re-familiarize ourselves with here in the next few days.”

Bill Belichick on the Chargers and the play-calling of Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore.

_______________

“Talent sets the floor; Character sets the ceiling.” Bill Belichick

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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Patriots Take Next Step Towards Top Draft Pick Following Chargers Loss

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at SpecialOperations.com, 1945.com as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)


Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Austin Ekeler Bailey Zappe Bill Belichick Demario Douglas Ezekiel Elliott Jabrill Peppers Joey Bosa Jonathan Jones Justin Herbert Keenan Allen Kendrick Bourne Khalil Mack LA Chargers Mac Jones Michael Onwenu New England Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson Trent Brown

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