Author Archives: Steve Balestrieri

Steve Balestrieri

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 writes as an Editor at and 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)

Patriots  Week 3 Report Card, Lions Crush New England

Steve Balestrieri
September 25, 2018 at 8:33 am ET

The Patriots were beaten badly for the second week in a row, and if possible, this one was more ugly than the last one. We’ve gotten used to these rotten apples in September before and the coaches always seem to get things figured out. But they face pretty much a must-win this week against 3-0 Miami. And there are lots of issues to fix right now on this team.

With no running game, wide receivers who can’t get separation and the inability to stop the run, you have a recipe for losing football. And they were again dominated at the line of scrimmage.  

So, once again the players won’t be rushing up to garner their grade sheets after this one. Burn the game film of this one, this was particularly bad..

Quarterback: C-

Tom Brady was visibly frustrated after the game and seemed to be pointing his finger at Josh McDaniels decision to force feed Sony Michel the ball this week in an attempt, not to shake the rust off, but to burn it off. Brady said, that James White, who had the Patriots’ only touchdown Sunday night needs more touches.  “He’s got to be involved. The guys who can make plays, those are the ones who should be involved.”

Brady badly forced a deep ball to Phillip Dorsett who was double covered and the pass was picked off. And with no one getting open in the short to intermediate game, he was forced to take deep shots down the field.

Running Backs: C-

The Patriots were obviously forcing the issue with Michel, and while he had just 50 yards on 14 carries, on many plays, there was absolutely nowhere to run, (wasn’t that a song by Martha and the Vandellas?). He also had a costly drop in the passing game. Michel will get it going, this is just his second game after missing almost a month of practice and all of the preseason. But the team is limited right now and hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later.

Rex Burkhead was limited again and left with concussion issues…sigh. James White was once again the most dependable back on the field. White made a nice catch in the back of the end zone while the defender had tight coverage…which we’ve come to expect from him.

Wide Receivers: D-

The wide receivers are struggling big time and they’re not winning the one-on-one matchups. After a couple of decent performances, Dorsett didn’t register a catch even though Brady threw to him five times.

Hogan had a couple of catches and Patterson had one along the sideline. But the issue is, they are all complimentary receivers and they’re good ones. But none are able to assume the mantle of a top WR in this offense.

The Patriots get back Julian Edelman after the Miami game and have Josh Gordon waiting in the wings. Will it be enough? We shall see.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was blanketed by the Lions who were treating him and rightfully so as the primary target and they’d be right. He had a detail assigned to shadow him like the President. With Jacob Hollister getting injured this week, it took away another possible weapon for Brady to target. But what Gronk needs is others to step up. He can’t be the only game in the pattern.

Dwayne Allen isn’t used in the passing game as a target and is strictly a blocker, at a time when they desperately need weapons. And he got blown up by Tavon Wilson (remember him?) on a third and short running play.  That one stung.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line did a good job in pass protection. The Lions sacks were mainly those of the coverage variety. One sack Brady held the ball for almost 5-6 seconds.

However, the run game blocking was for the most part atrocious. If you look at the stats, 89 yards on 19 carries, it doesn’t look so bad, but that would be a mirage. The Pats have for years ran to the right behind Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason. And those two were beaten consistently which is troubling.

On third and 1, Mason was blown up by Ricky Jean-Francois (remember him too?), and Michel was stuffed. On another, to the right side the Lions swooped in and blew up the play in the backfield. And this was from a team allowing an average of 179.5 yards per game.

Defensive Line: D

The defensive line was manhandled at the point of attack as the Lions obliterated the right side of the Patriots defense consistently with their running game, their other “supposed” weakness. Frank Ragnow had Malcom Brown on roller skates all night, consistently pushing him deep into the second level. On one play, Brown and Keionta Davis were driven so far to the left that they almost were out of screenshot. So, Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions running back in five years to rush for 100 yards.

The pass rush for the second straight week was MIA. Matthew Stafford had all day to throw. The team missed Trey Flowers but the others have to step up and show something. Deatrich Wise had a lone bright spot, beating Taylor Decker on a nice inside move to sack Stafford when the score was 13-10 and they actually had hope.

The Pats run defense is now second worst in the NFL allowing 143 yards per game….ugh.

Linebackers: D-

This was an absolutely awful game for the linebackers who appeared to be running in cement. They couldn’t cover the backs in the passing game and were late or ineffective at clogging the wide open holes in run support.

Perhaps the most troubling of the players is Dont’a Hightower. He looks really slow right now and he is far from his normally very physical self on the field. They tried to move him around as a pass rusher but he was ineffective there as well. It may soon become the time to question whether maybe his multitude of injuries are catching up with him.

Ja’Whaun Bentley had the only splash play with a nice interception of Stafford when he had excellent position on tight end Luke Wilson.

Secondary: C

The secondary was missing two starters in Pat Chung and Eric Rowe and their defensive approach was obvious because of it. Chung was really missed in run support where he is a sure tackler and that was an area that the defense as a whole struggled with on Sunday.

Stafford wasted no time exploiting rookie Keion Crossen on a third and long, matched up with Marvin Jones. Duron Harmon blew a coverage where he was supposed to take Jones from Stephon Gilmore and stayed put allowing a long touchdown pass. Watching the game tape again, there was no Lions receiver on that side even in the zip code. These simple communication mistakes are correctable but that one stung.

Special Teams: C

Cordarrelle Patterson got a nice 42-yard return to start the game when it looked like they may actually start fast. But the coverage units were a bit leaky again and were fortunate to have a 32-yard punt return called back for a penalty.

Coaches: D-

Where in the world were the defensive adjustments? Bueller? Bueller? They didn’t seem to try much. After being gashed by the run for three quarters they switched up to a 3-4 look for a short time, but by keeping the two safeties back to protect against the deep passing, the Lions ran right at their front seven and dominated totally.

The team played with no urgency, no fire and that is on Bill Belichick. The offensive game plan had some serious question marks and the play calling was very suspect in this one.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Mauled By Lions on SNF 26-10, Three Up, Three Down

Steve Balestrieri
September 24, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Apparently, the message wasn’t sent or received this week. After a disastrous first quarter in Jacksonville last week, the prevailing theme was the Patriots needed to show much more urgency and energy to start this week’s primetime game against the Detroit Lions. The Lions were entering 0-2, players and fans were already rumbling about new coach Matt Patricia and a quick start it was thought would get the crowd and players doubting themselves…. Well, that didn’t happen. At all.

If anything the Patriots got out to an even worse start than in Jacksonville and you can’t blame the 99-degree heat and Florida zip code for this week’s debacle. Once again the Patriots were manhandled at the line of scrimmage badly as Detroit could do whatever it pleased on both sides of the ball and the results spoke for themselves as they cruised to 26-10 mauling of the Pats on Sunday Night Football.

While the pregame hype had more people watching Josh Gordon play catch with a Patriots coach than t.v. cameras looking for a puff of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, they should have been watching the warmups for the offensive and defensive lines. Because for the second week in a row they were a no-show. Black smoke coming up for them.

The Patriots have some serious issues along the right side of the defense. We’ve been saying now since the Houston game, that teams were running to the left of the Patriots defense. One week in an anomaly, two weeks is concerning, three weeks is a trend. The game plan was for the Patriots to keep two safeties deep to take away the deep passing of the Lions. With three starters out on the defense, two in the secondary (Pat Chung and Eric Rowe), it made sense. But the DL didn’t hold up at all.

We mentioned in our key matchups that Detroit, after all, was averaging just 68.5 yards per game on the ground and hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush nearly five years ago. We also wrote that the Detroit running game was the key defensively to the game. Stop the run and they’re one-dimensional. If they can run the ball, then it will open up all kinds of other options for Matthew Stafford.

Detroit ran the ball down their throats at will targeting the left. Frank Ragnow totally dominated Malcom Brown at the point of attack and had him on roller skates blowing him 4-5 yards consistently off the ball. That kind of push opened the doors for Kerryon Johnson to run for 101 yards on the night on just 16 carries. That is a 6.3 yards per carry average. Worse for the Pats is the play of Dont’a Hightower, also on the left who appears slow, and physically nothing like the player we’ve come to expect.

The Patriots running game has for the past few years run to the opposite side, to the right behind Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. They weren’t getting any push at all against Detroit’s front seven, which had resembled a sieve the first two weeks of the season. Opponents had been gashing the Lions front seven to the tune of 179.5 yards per game. That front seven swallowed up the Pats running game and spit them out.

Their smaller, speedy linebackers did a great job of negating the short passing game and Tom Brady was reduced to taking deep shots down the field into double coverage where only one pass was picked off and a couple of others may have been. It was an ugly, ugly night for the Patriots offense which gained a total of 209 yards on the night.

Detroit led 13-0 before the Patriots even had a first down, where was the urgency there? Patricia made a questionable decision to kick a field goal on the Lions first possession facing a 4th and 1 after they gashed the Patriots down the field.

But then Kenny Golladay just got the ball over the goal line on the Lions next possession before Stephon Gilmore stripped it away and it was 10-0 and things were going from bad to worse. Detroit was running the ball at will and Stafford all day to throw the ball. Offensively the Patriots couldn’t get a first down, let alone put points up.

They finally got a field goal before the half after they got the offense moving a bit and were fortunate to be down just 10 points at 13-3. Stafford then made a huge blunder at the beginning of the third quarter, trying to force a ball into tight coverage with linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley in perfect position to pick it off.

Brady quickly moved the Patriots the 52 yards to a score, capping it off with a TD pass to James White making it 13-10. But any hopes for a turnaround were dashed when Stafford led the Lions on a 75-yard drive eating up six minutes of the clock and capped it off with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones.

Gilmore had Jones and was attempting to pass him off to safety Duron Harmon. Harmon however, continued to play downhill and totally whiffed, forcing Gilmore to stop and then attempt to close again and was left far behind for an easy score. Poor communication topped off a bad night all around.

Stafford ended up 27-36 for 262 yards with two TDs and a pick. Brady finished just 14-26 for just 133 yards with a TD and a pick.

Lots of changes need to be done and this team can fix a lot of what ails it. But they have a lot of work to do before Miami who is 3-0 comes to Foxboro next week.


UP: (was there players trending up? Maybe a stretch)

Deatrich Wise: The second-year DE playing with his hand in a cast, tried to fire up the rest of his moribund teammates with a run stuff and a sack. A rare bit of emotion and energy from a defense that was sorely lacking in both.

James White: The Patriots talented pass-catching running back was his usual dependable self and the coaching staff would have been better served getting him more touches than trying to force feed it to rookie Sony Michel when it was clear he was laboring. White finished with 37 yards on just four carries and three catches in the passing game including the 10-yard touchdown pass from Brady for the Pats only TD.

Ja’Whaun Bentley: The rookie linebacker made a play on the interception that the team sorely needed to start the second half, giving them at least a shot at coming back. He’s now taken over the play-calling responsibilities in the middle. A big jump for the rookie 5th round draft pick.


Malcom Brown/Dont’a Hightower: This can’t be overstated. Teams are attacking the left side and those two are playing very badly right now. The Patriots tried to switch things up in the second half, going to a 3-4 look, taking Brown out and going with an extra linebacker. The former first rounders are not playing anywhere near their potential right now and may force the team to make some moves.

Shaq Mason: What happened to that run mauler that we’ve come to expect every week? Mason is being badly outplayed and beaten in one-on-one matchups every week and it is time for Dante Scarnecchia to light a fire under him and the entire offensive line when it comes to run blocking.

Duron Harmon: While Patriots fans were screaming on social media that Gilmore was toasted on that long touchdown pass to Jones, nothing was further from the truth. That was clearly on Harmon who failed to recognize what was happening and left his corner out to dry. After the Patriots had closed the gap to just three points, a breakdown of that magnitude was inexcusable.

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

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

New England Patriots News 9-23, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 23, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-23, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning… just a quick reminder that you can check out our key matchups to the game here and our players to watch for tonight’s game can also be found here:  

Jacob Hollister was a late addition to the injury report on Friday and has been ruled out of tonight’s game. He was one of the players we had in our pregame matchups to watch. He may miss a game or two according to reports.

Cyrus Jones is back in the fold and will probably be returning punts tonight. He was part of the last cuts by New England and landed on the Ravens practice squad. But the Pats signed him back to the active roster this week and look for a hungry and motivated Jones this week. An interesting tidbit was that Jones was practicing with the safeties this week.

Resilience:  The Patriots success under Bill Belichick is always enhanced by the fact that they don’t lose many games back to back. As we pointed out earlier this week, the Patriots are 45-6 since 2003 following a loss. And for those conspiracy theorists that lament the Patriots playing in the AFC “Least”? Since realignment in 2002, the Patriots are 51-16 against the NFC, the best interconference record in the NFL. 

Tom Brady reportedly was testy and irritable all week in practice. Mike Giardi from NFL Network reported that Brady was quite unhappy with the level of execution that the Patriots showed in Jacksonville and wants to ensure that it doesn’t happen again this week against the Lions.

Corey Coleman the former 1st Round draft pick of the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft was released by the Patriots to make room for Josh Gordon. But the next day after clearing waivers, the Patriots signed him to the team’s practice squad.

Coleman had only spent a week in New England and was inactive for the Jacksonville game but Bill Belichick was highly complimentary of the former Baylor wide receiver.

“He’s a player we want to work with,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how it goes. We haven’t had him a long time but he’s done a good job with the opportunities that he’s had. We want to keep working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”

Malcolm Mitchell filed a grievance against the Patriots, as first reported by our old buddy Miguel Benzan, commonly known as @Patscap the salary cap guru. The former the receiver has filed an injury grievance against the team and was seeking his entire 2018 salary of $630,000.

Mitchell was released by the Patriots back on August 6. That release was not coupled with an injury designation, so the receiver could not recoup any money from his deal. Mitchell cleared waivers, however, late Friday night there were reports that the two sides had settled the dispute.

Pat Chung/Trey Flowers didn’t practice this week and are doubtful for tonight’s game. Their loss will be a big blow to the Patriots defense. Flowers is their best player on the defensive side of the ball and Chung is an excellent tackler and his presence will be missed in the running game and the covering of tight ends.

No One Wants to See Gordon Fail:

In the hoopla of the Josh Gordon trade this week, reactions were mixed but by far, most were exceedingly positive and the prevailing theme was, “Brady hasn’t had a target like this since Randy Moss.”

Others, including here in this column were against the trade. And my TL and DMs quickly jumped my mentions by explaining that it was a “low-risk, high reward” scenario. Other mentions accused me of wanting Gordon to fail, which is ridiculous.

But this move isn’t low risk, because Gordon isn’t being just brought in to be a complementary piece. All of the mentions states, the Patriots need a player who can stretch the field and take pressure off of the intermediate receivers. So, yes he will be expected to play a valuable role.

While the compensation is basically a wash, which is basically a no-risk scenario, the big risk here, as I pointed out in the Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on Tuesday is time. This wasn’t a trade you make in March and have six months to figure out if the player fits your offense, your locker room and has put his problems on the back burner enough for you to secure him a roster spot.

This scenario is after Week 2 of the NFL regular season. And the team doesn’t have the time to try to prepare for an upcoming opponent while trying to incorporate a new Wide Receiver into the fold while treading very lightly around said, player. And he is a player with serious addiction issues. It isn’t as some point out, “just weed” and is much deeper.

Saying all this can be easily fixed by just dropping him in the Patriots locker room is overly simplistic and doesn’t lend itself the seriousness of Gordon’s situation. What about when he goes home at night? That’s where his problems lie, not in the building.

Everyone here wants to see him be successful…at life, football is a far second to that. Addiction and drug use are big problems facing our nation as a whole. But his physical talents have never been in question.  Would we love to see him light it up and be a part of bringing Lombardi #6 home? Of course.

But it isn’t as simple or as easy as many will have you believe. Hopefully, Robert Kraft will put some quality off-field support mechanisms around Gordon to help him.

Derek Rivers Set To Make His NFL Debut?

The bad news of Trey Flowers having a concussion and having missed all of this week’s practice could be an opportunity for last year’s top draft pick Derek Rivers. Rivers has been a healthy scratch for both of the first two games of the season after falling behind Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise and Keionta Davis on the depth chart.

Rivers missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL during joint practices with the Jaguars last August. He started slowly in training camp this year but came on and started to round into form.

It will be interesting to see how he can produce in a regular season game, which will be his first NFL action if Flowers is a scratch for tonight’s game. Rivers told NESN’s Doug Kyed this week that he hasn’t been frustrated by his lack of playing time yet but he’s just working hard and waiting for his chance.

“I’d be excited,” he said.  “But this is what we’ve been doing since camp. I got to play in the preseason, and every game is similar. I know everybody puts a lot of pressure on preseason and regular season, but a football game is a football game. It’s a blessing to play in each and every one of them. It will be exciting times, and god-willing, if this is the week, then I’ll be excited.”

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 9-6-1 Season 18-12-2

Thursday night’s pick Cleveland over the Jets 1-0

New Orleans at Atlanta: Falcons
Green Bay at Washington: Packers
Indy at Philadelphia: Eagles
Buffalo at Minnesota: Vikings
Oakland at Miami: Dolphins
Denver at Baltimore:  Ravens
Cincinnati at Carolina: Panthers
Giants at Houston: Texans
Tennessee at Jacksonville: Titans
San Francisco at Kansas City: Chiefs
LA Rams at LA Chargers: Rams
Dallas at Seattle: Dallas
Chicago at Arizona: Cardinals
New England at Detroit: Patriots
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: Bucs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Tough Matchup on the Road in Minnesota:

Buffalo is 0-2 and heading to Minnesota to take on the 1-0-1 Vikings. Since opening their new stadium in 2016, the Vikes are 14-4 at home, third best in the NFL behind New England and Philadelphia.

Josh Allen has the unenviable task of going with a shaky offensive line and a dearth of playmakers against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Vikings have seven sacks as a team, while the Bills have already allowed 11.

After being hammered in the first half and allowing 28 points, Head Coach Sean McDermott took over the defensive play calling in the second half and the unit responded, allowing just three points in the second half. That will bear watching today.

While we were adamant that Allen should have been sitting and learning in his rookie year, McDermott hit the panic button after just one half of the first game. Allen was sacked five times last week and has been put in a nearly impossible position to succeed. Buffalo will have to tread carefully here, these type of situations have ruined other young QB’s confidence. And the Vikes will be bringing the heat.

Dolphins Have Big Game At Home Against the 0-2 Raiders:

Miami is 2-0 and has played very well against both the Titans and Jets and sit alone atop the AFC East after just two weeks. So why is this game against the winless Raiders such a big one? Because these are the types of games the Dolphins have consistently dropped when having a chance to get momentum going.

Today’s home game will put the Dolphins at 3-0 and guarantee them of no worse than a tie with New England with a road trip heading up to Foxboro next weekend. And a win will put the Dolphins of a chance of going undefeated thru the quarter pole of the season  That will boost a lot of confidence in the team as they move forward.

With kickoff time temps of about 88 degrees with high humidity, it is a built-in advantage. Also, factor in the Raiders are making an East Coast swing for a 1 p.m. game, something that West Coast teams don’t normally play well in, it is something to watch for.

Miami has a prime opportunity for them to pounce on a team that hasn’t played well yet in 2018. And look for their defense today to make a couple of big plays. That will set up some good drama for Week 4, which will pit them against the Pats for the first time this year.

Darnold Takes Blame For Loss, But the Fault Was With Jets Coaches:

The New York Jets lost on Thursday Night Football 21-17 to the Cleveland Browns, the Jets third game in 11 days and may have run out of gas at the end. And of course, the popular narrative was that Baker Mayfield outplayed Sam Darnold on the big stage.

While you can certainly point to the numbers to make that case, it was hardly that simple. When Mayfield came in, the Jets were rolling 14-0. But rather than put restrictions on him, the Cleveland coaches cut him loose and allowed him to throw the ball all over the field, in other words opening the playbook completely to him. And Mayfield looked very much the part of the 1st overall pick in the draft against what is a pretty darn good Jets defense.

Darnold, in contrast, was just 15-31 for 169 yards and two interceptions, both thrown with under a minute and a half left in the game on desperation throws.

“From my point of view, I just have to play better, simple as that,” Darnold said after the game. “It’s not acceptable, the way I played. I know that, and I have to take it like a man. I feel like I’m responsible for some of the stagnant offense we had. I just have to play better, that’s it.”

While standing up and taking responsibility is laudable, the coaches deserve as much if not more of the blame for the stagnant offense. They have saddled the rookie with a very limited playbook. Worried about the Browns blitzing, they gave him a steady diet of screen passes and other very conservative options. They never allowed him to test the field the way the Browns did.

Even Jets WR Quincy Enunwa hit on the issue, although he worded it carefully, there is no doubt what he said here. “He did as well as he could with the plays that were given to him,” Enunwa said. “They had a lot of pressure, and that kind of messed us up.”

The Jets aren’t helping his progression by limiting what he can do on the field. Making things simpler is one thing, hamstringing a QB’s options are another. It is like being thrown the keys to a muscle car and then being told, not to shift it out of second.

NFL fans lost out on what would have been an interesting matchup between two QBs of the future. Darnold didn’t regress in his third start, the coaching staff blinked. Let him play the way he’s capable of.

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

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

Players To Watch New England Patriots – Detroit Lions Week 3

Steve Balestrieri
September 21, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Sunday Night Football Primetime Matchup

The New England Patriots head back out on the road to take on the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football. Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is in his first year as a head coach of the Lions and is off to a rough start, going 0-2 to start the season.

The Patriots also lost last week in Jacksonville dropping them to 1-1 on the season and they’ll be looking to rebound. The Patriots defense will probably be without two of their best defensive players in Trey Flowers and Pat Chung who were in the concussion protocol all week and haven’t practiced.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have been outstanding at limiting losing streaks and are 45-6 in games following a loss since 2003 and have been 51-13 against NFC opponents since realignment in 2002.

The Lions with Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and Theo Riddick out of the backfield offer a serious challenge defensively, especially with the players missing this week. The Lions defense has eight sacks already and got six last week against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Sony Michel:

The Patriots rookie running back got into his first NFL action last week after missing all of the preseason and the first regular season game. This week should show a big uptick in his usage and he should probably be a big part of the Patriots game plan this week.

The Lions run defense has been gashed badly the first two weeks of the season. And look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of that fact with the very promising and explosive Michel.

Last week in shaking off the rust, Michel had ten carries, we look to see him get about double the touches this week between rushing the football and receiving out of the backfield with James White and Rex Burkhead.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots newest addition to the team just got on-board this week after coming over in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. He is still trying to learn the offense, (not surprisingly after just a few days of practice) and to boot hasn’t been 100 percent physically as he tweaked a hamstring last Friday.

In our pregame matchups, we wrote that we thought he’d be unlikely to play. But many of the national and local media types keep saying that although he’s not 100 percent that they believe the Patriots will install a small package of plays to get him on the field.

If that indeed is the case, then, of course, all eyes will be on the big, physical and athletic wide receiver. As to what he can bring to the table in such a short amount of time? No one knows and we’ll just have to wait and find out.

Cordarrelle Patterson/Cyrus Jones:

The Patriots picked up the very talented kick returner/wide receiver this offseason and he hasn’t been able to showcase any of his talents much in the return game. Jones was originally the Pats top pick a few seasons ago and tore his ACL last August before being released in September. He was a member of the Ravens practice squad but the Patriots signed him to the active roster just this week for his punt return abilities.

Both could play key roles this week. The Lions coverage units have allowed a 90-yard kickoff return and 74 and 43-yard punt returns already this season. This would be a primetime perfect time for the special teams’ units to break out and give the team a boost.

We’re looking for both of these players to make a splash on Sunday night. The Patriots special teams are always one of the strengths of this team and thus far, they’ve underperformed as to what we expect from them. A national television game is a perfect time to fix that and put some production on the board.

Derek Rivers:

The Patriots top rookie draft choice a year ago, also tore his ACL last August and was lost for the entire rookie season. He’s worked his way back and had a pretty good training camp but was passed on the depth chart by fellow DE Keionta Davis who also missed his rookie season of 2017 with a neck injury.

But with Flowers unlikely to play with a concussion, Rivers should be in line to make his professional debut on Sunday night in Detroit. It will be intriguing to see what he can bring to the table in terms of rushing the passer this week. He’s waited a long time to get on the field. Now maybe a chance to show what he can do.

Jason McCourty:

With Pat Chung likely out with a concussion, McCourty should see a big uptick in usage this week at the safety spot. Chung is an excellent tackler and always does a solid job of defending the tight ends so the “other” McCourty brother will have his work cut out for him this week.

McCourty could also see significant snaps at corner. When Eric Rowe was sat down last week in Jacksonville, McCourty came in and played nearly three-quarters of the snaps. Now Rowe is on the injury report with a groin issue and he’d normally be assigned the bigger Golladay (6’4, 213) to cover.

So depending on how the coaches see this week playing out in terms of player matchups McCourty could play significant snaps at either corner or safety, perhaps a bit of both. But he’ll definitely see the field quite a bit on Sunday night.

Rob Gronkowski/Jacob Hollister:

The Patriots tight ends may be a significant part of the game plan this week. Gronkowski had only two catches a week ago as the Jaguars used two, sometimes three different defenders to take him away. The Lions defense isn’t as deep as Jacksonville’s and they can’t afford to put that much capital to defend one man.

On a big national stage, we’re looking for Gronkowski to make a big rebound and for Tom Brady to try to get him involved early and often in the Patriots offense. It will be interesting to see how the Lions plan on matching him up.

For Hollister, the Patriots 2nd year tight end is a very good receiver in his own right and has the ability to stretch the field down the seams. We’re looking for Josh McDaniels and Brady to get him more involved this week. With the preponderance of the defensive effort geared to stopping Gronkowski, Hollister could have a nice productive game and we’ll look for Brady to get him more involved.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news

Patriots – Lions Key Match Ups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 20, 2018 at 7:00 am ET


The New England Patriots head back out on the road for a prime-time matchup against the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football. The marks the beginning of three games in four weeks on national television.

Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is now the head coach of the Lions and is looking for his first win and would love to do it against his old boss and mentor Bill Belichick. The next win by New England will be the 300th

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (1-1) lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 31-20 last week. Tom Brady completed 25-34 for 234 yards and two TDs to Chris Hogan but the defense allowed Blake Bortles to pass for 377 yards and four scores.

The Lions (0-2) Lost to the San Francisco 49ers 30-27. The Lions gave up 190 yards on the ground but Matthew Stafford completed 34-53 passes for 347 yards with three touchdown passes.

We here at are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and Lions are meeting for just the 12th time in the regular season. The Patriots have a 7-4 edge overall including the last four meetings. Detroit hasn’t beaten New England during the Tom Brady era. The last meeting was back in 2014, a 34-9 Patriots win in Foxboro.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Lions Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game misses Jeremy Hill who is gone for the year with Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel just working back from injuries. But the combination of Michel, Burkhead and James White should still find room to run against what has been a porous Lions run defense early this season.

The Lions run defense has surrendered 168 and 190 yards respectively in the first two weeks of the season. They are allowing an average of 5.7 yards per rush and have allowed two 60+ yard touchdowns on the ground this season.

Look for the Patriots to get Michel very involved in the running game early in this one. They’ll look to run inside and break things to the outside, where the Lions have had issues on the second level. This will open up the play action passing and get Tom Brady time to throw and look for open receivers.

Patriots WRs vs Lions Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game had issues getting the ball to their wide receivers in Jacksonville last week, but have the best tight end in the game with Rob Gronkowski and a trio of running backs who can be productive in the passing game. Tom Brady will look to spread the ball around to everyone on the field.

Detroit has one of the best corners in football in Darius Slay but he suffered a concussion in the 49ers game last week and his status will be up in the air until late in the week. If Slay doesn’t clear the concussion protocol, the Lions will roll with Teez Tabor and Nevin Lawson. Tabor is a talented corner who was benched briefly last week for blowing coverages. The Lions pass rush, however, is something to watch for. They sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times last week. The Patriots will have to watch for the Lions blitzing their linebackers and pick up the rushers.

Look for Brady to get Gronkowski involved early and often in this one after last week’s down performance where he had just two catches. The “X-Factor” this week is second-year tight end Jacob Hollister and not newcomer Josh Gordon who could be in line for a big day against the Lions linebackers and safeties worried about Gronkowski. Lions fans, however, are worried about Gordon’s matching up with Brady.

In a poll on-line Lions fans were asked how many touchdowns Gordon would score on Sunday night. In an amazing look at the pessimism in Detroit right now, 23 percent thought he’d score two touchdowns and 29 percent thinks he’ll score three or more. I really doubt he even suits up. But we’ll see.

Next up the Detroit offense:

Lions RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Lions have struggled to run the ball for quite some time. This year they signed former Patriot LeGarrette Blount to help pound the ball inside. They drafted Kerryon Johnson from Auburn in the 2nd round of the 2018 NFL Draft. And they also have Theo Riddick who is very good in catching the ball out of the backfield.

The Patriots have struggled to stop the run again in 2018. They were gashed by both Houston and Jacksonville in the running game and need to step their game up this week, against one of the poorer running teams in the NFL.

This is a big key to the game this week. The Patriots defense has to make Detroit one-dimensional on offense. If they consistently get into second and short or third and short situations, Matthew Stafford has the weapons to make it a long night for the Patriots defense. Look for the Lions to mix it up and try to keep the defense off balance. Johnson, who hasn’t been a big factor yet, could be Detroit’s “X-Factor” this week. He can run and catch the ball out of the backfield.  

Lions WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Detroit

The Lions have a group of good wide receivers and can give the Patriots a lot of trouble on the back end of the defense. Stafford has thrown for 4000 or more yards for the past several years and has plenty of weapons with Golden Tate, as well as Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, who both can win the one-on-one matchups and get open. Stafford has Riddick and Johnson out of the backfield who can make life miserable for opposing linebackers.

The Patriots will likely enter this one really shorthanded with some of their best players on the shelf. The top defensive player on the roster Trey Flowers went down with a concussion last week. As did safety Pat Chung. Defensive End Deatrich Wise injured his hand late last week and his status is unknown. The Patriots had big time issues getting after the QB last week and if two of their best DL are out, it doesn’t bode well with changing that.

Look for Stafford to get Tate and Jones involved early in this one. Golladay is the Lions’ leading receiver with 203 yards. If he can start stretching the field with them, it will open up a lot of room for Riddick and Johnson to work underneath against the linebackers which is a mismatch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams has had a big turnover this season and is still looking for their groove. This may be the week. Ryan Allen has been solid thus far and averaged 55.5 yards per punt last week. Stephen Gostkowski is always reliable. Cordarrelle Patterson is a dynamic return man and this may be the week for him to break out.

Detroit’s coverage units have already allowed a 90-yard kickoff return, and a 74 and 43 yard punt returns. Look for Patterson to make a splash this week.

The Lions have the normally reliable Matt Prater at kicker and Sam Martin at punter. Jamal Agnew has done a good job with kickoff returns averaging 28.5 yards per return.

Next up, who wins and why…


After getting their lunch handed to them in Jacksonville last week, the Patriots are back on the road and are trying to right the ship. One thing that has been remarkably consistent thru the Brady/Belichick era has been their ability to bounce back after a loss. The Patriots are 45-6 after a loss since 2003. And they’ve been tremendously successful against the NFC. Since realignment in 2002, the Patriots are 51-13 against NFC opponents, the best interconference record in the NFL.

After a 9-7 season a year ago, the Lions felt like they needed a new culture and brought in Patricia after firing Jim Caldwell. There have been big changes in everything the Lions do and there are already rumblings against Patricia from the media and in the locker room.

With this in mind, it is imperative for New England to get out to a very good start. The last thing they want is for the Lions to start feeling like it is their time to pull an upset and give them a reason to believe. It will also get the crowd sitting on their hands and make things easier for the Patriots offense to work.

I look for Brady and Josh McDaniels to mix things up this week, getting the running game going and hitting play action passes. Look for them to work the tight ends, Gronkowski and Hollister to attack the middle of the field and use the running backs on the perimeter.

Matthew Stafford will have a big day throwing the ball. With potentially three starters missing on the Patriots defense, I look for him to have success going to Tate, Jones, and Golladay. Riddick could be a big factor in the passing game again this week. But in the end, Brady will be the difference and they’ll keep the Lions offense on the sideline with a balanced attack.   Patriots 35-24

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots  Week 2 Report Card, Jacksonville Cruises Past New England

Steve Balestrieri
September 18, 2018 at 7:01 am ET

The Patriots road trip to Florida went exactly as so many others have gone in the past. They played like they left their luggage on the plane and were rushing to catch the last flight out of town. This one was ugly through and through.

There wasn’t a lot of positives to throw around, the offensive and defensive lines were pretty much dominated. The Patriots couldn’t run the ball and once again had issues stopping the run. But the pass defense was the real sore spot on Sunday. Blake Bortles had a career day as he sliced and diced the Patriots for 377 yards and four touchdowns. More yardage than they allowed thru the air in the Super Bowl….ouch.

However, the rookie Sony Michel who missed all of the preseason and the first week of the season got to get into some game action for the first time. He was obviously rusty but flashed a little bit and as he rounds into game shape, we should see some really nice production there. Jacob Hollister also got into some game action as he’s been hurt with a bad hamstring and looked good.

So, the players won’t be rushing up to garner their grade sheets after this one. I’m sure the coaches film session will be a particularly unpleasant affair this week.

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady was far from his prolific self. Although his numbers were pedestrian according to what we’ve come to expect from him, 25-34, 234 yards, 2 TDs 0 INTs, Passer Rating of 106.1, they weren’t bad either.

When Brady in his post-game talked about missed opportunities, he was speaking about himself and not just the offense as a whole. On the Patriots first drive, he had Cordarrelle Patterson across the middle wide open, and it would’ve gone for big yardage, possibly a TD with his speed. But Brady felt the pressure and threw it away and immediately knew he missed a big opportunity. It was that kind of day.

But he held the team in the game somehow and late in the game they were still very much alive when they had no business being there. That was because of #12.

Running Backs: C

The Patriots had big time troubles running the football against the Jaguars front seven and had just 82 yards rushing as a team on the day. On 24 rushes, it comes out to just 3.4 yards per carry. That isn’t going to get it down. Michel led the team with just 34 yards on 10 carries. Rex Burkhead had just 22 on six carries. James White, however, was pretty productive in the passing game catching seven passes for 73 yards.

The team misses Jeremy Hill, the big physical back that can come in and get the short yardage and play the power football, that White, Michel and Burkhead can’t do. But once Michel and Burkhead get back up to speed, the group should be fine.

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers didn’t have a big statistical day, catching just 11 passes for 104 yards. But Chris Hogan had two touchdown catches on the day which definitely helped. Patterson had just three catches for 18 yards but the play that Brady missed him as well as the screen pass that he lost his footing and lost yardage on a third and seven hurt. Especially since it looked like a clean transition would have resulted in a first down.

Phillip Dorsett had five catches for 44 yards and has already equaled his total of receptions from 2017. He and Hogan are fine complimentary receivers but neither is a true #1. With Julian Edelman missing two more games due to a suspension, the team is struggling to find that balance with its wide receivers in the passing game.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was blanketed by two and many times three players as the Jaguars made it clear that he wasn’t going to beat them. Taking a page out of the Patriots book, they made it clear, their #1 target would be taken away and the Patriots would be forced to look elsewhere. Gronkowski had just two catches for 15 yards on the day.

As we noted above, Jacob Hollister had three catches in his season debut which is a good sign for him this season.  If he can maintain 2-4 catches per game, it would be a great jump in production for him from Year 1 to 2. They went away from him in the second half however.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line had a rough day overall for the offensive line. They had trouble opening holes in the running game and although Jacksonville had only two sacks Brady was under pressure all game.

The Patriots first drive ended when Yannick Ngakoue blasted in and made Brady throw it away when he had Patterson wide open across the middle. Sony Michel got hit in the backfield on a third and one snuffing out another drive. And when the team had a chance to narrow the lead to one score, LaAdrian Waddle couldn’t block Dante Fowler who stripped Brady of the ball…tough day.

Defensive Line: D

Things weren’t much better on this side of the line. Trey Flowers was lost to a concussion early after he looked like he was off to a productive day. But it made no difference. The rest of the players didn’t pick up his slack. Deatrich Wise left the game with a hand injury.

Jacksonville gashed the Patriots to the tune of over seven yards a carry in the first half. And once again the right side of the defensive line was the side that opponents are attacking.

Blake Bortles had all day to throw and when they did get pressure, they didn’t set the edge allowing Bortles to escape and run for first downs.

Linebackers: C-

Kyle Van Noy had a nice heads-up play with an interception of Bortles that gave the Patriots late hope but otherwise, this was a rough outing for the Pats LBs.

Rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley struggled in coverage and when he was used on the blitz. Dont’a Hightower was largely ineffective and was coming off the field on passing downs, leaving Bentley and Van Noy out there.

Corey Grant once again tortured the Patriots running and catching the ball out of the backfield. That is on the linebackers.

Secondary: D

Stephon Gilmore had two splash plays, punching the ball out of D.J Chark’s hands for a fumble and made a nice tackle, taking down Bortles just short of the sticks on a third down scramble. But beyond that, the secondary was torched, repeatedly, all over the field.  

The Jaguars crossing routes gave the secondary fits, as they’ve never seen it before. Eric Rowe got torched, benched, came back for one play and got lit up for another 20+ yard reception…

The safeties were late in getting there to help and when the team went to zone, there were huge gaps that Jacksonville exploited. Pat Chung left with a concussion.

Special Teams: C

Ryan Allen had a nice day punting the football averaging 55.5 yards per punt, but Stephen Gostkowski badly missed a 54-yard field goal attempt but later hit two others.

Cordarrelle Patterson got one Kickoff return in for 25 yards but we’re still waiting to see him make a difference there, hopefully soon.

A block in the back set the team back on the opening kickoff and the return units still need some work.

Coaches: C-

Bill Belichick has one stinker every year early in the season and hopefully, this is the only one. The Patriots weren’t ready for Jacksonville to come out slinging the ball and seemed helpless to stop it.

The offense seemed to move the ball well early but a curious call, running on a 3rd and 5. Perhaps Josh McDaniels saw something and they just didn’t execute, which is why he ripped the team after the first quarter.  

The defense and Brian Flores….this was a bad one and they need to seriously regroup this week and put together a much better effort. Because this one was awful. There is a lot of work to be done, on both sides of the ball. But it is early in the season, and these types of struggles aren’t unheard of. Everything right now is fixable.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots Dismantled By the Jaguars 31-20, Three Up Three Down

Steve Balestrieri
September 17, 2018 at 9:39 am ET

Another Ugly Early Season Blowout

Welcome to overreaction Monday, lines for the Tobin are forming to the right…and it looks like they’re handling the overflow to the Zakim. Yes, the Patriots stunk up the joint earlier on Sunday. Yes, the score doesn’t nearly do justice to how soundly they were beaten…And yes, we’ve seen this before.

The Jaguars were by far the better team on Sunday afternoon, the most important thing was they completely dominated the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively. When that happens, you’ll tend to get those lopsided scores.

The team lost two of their best defenders to concussions, Trey Flowers and Pat Chung and Deatrich Wise left with a hand injury that looked serious. We’ll be watching how that plays out this week.

Blake Bortles torched the New England secondary to the point we haven’t seen since Week 1 of last year. He completed 29 of 45 for 377 yards with 4 TDs and one interception. The Jaguars receivers consistently beat man coverage and when the Patriots went to zone coverages, the Jaguar receivers found wide open spots like it was a 7-7 practice session.

We wrote here that the Jaguars would come out throwing and they did. The Patriots were playing to stuff the run and dared them to throw. They dared and won. Handily. The Jaguars played like this one like a perfect storm. The home opener, the heat and a very good game plan along with excellent execution doomed the Patriots.

Containment and setting the edge? After a very good week of doing that against Houston, the Patriots did a terrible job of it this week.

Offensively the Patriots couldn’t run the ball and the wide receivers struggled to get any kind of separation. Pats WRs had just 11 catches for 104 yards with two TDs, both from Chris Hogan. Keelan Cole alone had seven grabs for 116 yards and a score. That’s the kind of day it was all around.

The Patriots won the toss and elected to receive, wanting to start fast in the humid, hot conditions with a heat index of around 107 at kickoff. The actually moved the ball and got into Jacksonville territory.

Brady had Gronkowski on a crossing route with a lot of green in front of him. But the linebacker had a fistful of jersey and the white material stretched far out behind him, blending a perfect contrast to the green grass. Apparently it invisible to the naked (official’s) eye. On third down Brady’s pass was incomplete and he was pile driven to the turf…also with no call. On fourth down Stephen Gostkowski badly shanked a long field goal attempt.

Jacksonville got the ball and promptly moved down the field with ease. Bortles made a beauty of a pass, one of several on the day, to Donte Moncrief in the end zone and although it was only 7-0 at that point, the writing was already on the wall.

A Patriots three and out and another quick score and it was 14-0 and this one was already badly slipping away much like that woeful game in KC four years ago. At the end of the half, the Jags got a gift when they set a pick play and blocked Pat Chung far from the line of scrimmage and Austin Seferian-Jenkins was wide open to make it 21-3.

But as much as the media is playing up the storyline that the Jaguars finished this time unlike the AFC Championship Game, it wasn’t for lack of trying to give it away on their part. Brady in his post-game remarks lamented the loss of chances and Jacksonville tried to give it away but the Patriots just weren’t having any of it.

A fumble recovery off of D.J. Chark could only net three points. On the Jags next possession, Bortles made his only mistake of the day. He tried to force a ball inside with a pair of Patriots defenders in tight coverage the ball was deflected and Kyle Van Noy alertly picked it off.

The Patriots were just 25 yards away from making it a one-score game. But instead Dante Fowler knocked the ball out of Brady’s hand and the Jaguars recovered, ending a big chance to actually make it a game.

On the ensuing drive, James White’s dive for the first down marker was overturned by an official’s call. But Jacksonville tried to give it away again by jumping offside on the fourth down punt. But Brandon King, who is on the team strictly for his Special Teams’ ability stood there dumbfounded as if he were made of stone. If King touches the defender, it is a first down. These are the kind of mistakes the Patriots normally feast on.

On the first play after the punt, Bortles hit Dede Westbrook with a short slant and he cut across the field, leaving a sea of white jerseys in his wake for a 61-yard TD. Thank you for coming, please put your seats and trays in the upright position.

Still, Jacksonville attempted to play with fire. After Brady hit Chris Hogan for his second touchdown of the day to make it 31-20 with Jalen Ramsey in trail, the Jaguars started on their 15-yard line. Nathaniel Hackett who had called a tremendous game foolishly called a backward pass at the 10-yard line. They were fortunate that the play lost only five yards, had it hit the ground, anything could have happened. But didn’t. Regardless of the lost opportunities, this was a game, they had no business even being in at the end, never mind winning.

Three Up, Three Down:


Sony Michel – The Patriots rookie running back made his first appearance in a Patriots uniform after missing all four preseason games and the season opener. While there was certainly plenty of rust involved, it was good to finally see the rook on the field. He had just 10 rushes for 34 yards and one catch for seven, but he hasn’t played in a meaningful game since college.

He looked good, albeit in a small dose, and should be a very dynamic member of the offense once his feet are under him.

Jacob Hollister – The second-year tight end has missed some significant time with a hamstring issue and was also shaking off the rust as well as Michel. Hollister chipped in with three catches for 35 yards, which, if he can do consistently every week will eventually take a big load off of Rob Gronkowski.

Tom Brady – Considering the pressure that the Jaguars put him under all game, the fact they got only two sacks speaks well of Brady’s ability to move in the pocket and get the ball out quickly.

His numbers were pedestrian by his standards, 25-34, 234 yards with two TDs and O INTs. and he’d definitely like to have a few plays back, the throw-away where he had Patterson across the middle that looked like it could go for a TD was one. But overall, he hung in and somehow kept the team in the game late when they had no business being there.


Offensive/Defensive Lines – Take your pick, both were awful and were dominated at the point of attack. Plain and simple. After a very good effort on Week 1 on both sides of the ball, the offensive and defensive lines took a huge step back.

No sacks, very little pressure and not setting the edge are recipes for a loss. The Jags OL was getting a great push and the NE DL was consistently on roller skates. The OL couldn’t get anything going in the running game and the pass protection was iffy all game long.

Ja’Whaun Bentley – The rookie linebacker has been so impressive thus far in his short NFL career had a rough afternoon, especially in coverage. He was far from alone in that aspect but after looking so strong initially, this was a step back for the big, rookie LB.

This is a perfect learning experience for the young player and the coaches will point out where the mistakes were, and they were all correctable.

Eric Rowe – No one could have wanted to get on a Southwest Air commercial than Rowe yesterday “Want to Get Away?” Rowe had one of those days that everyone has and tries to put behind him as quick as possible.

The Jaguars picked on Rowe everytime they threw the ball in his direction. Keelan Cole smoked Rowe for a TD that made the score 14-3 and Belichick quickly sat the veteran. That wasn’t a good sign for the rest of the day. Good thing for Rowe was that Bortles and the Jags were equal opportunity abusers, they picked on everybody.


So, we’re well used to early season stinkers and this was a stinkeroo and the problems that we saw on Sunday are all correctable. As we said at the outset, this is overreaction Monday, the “AFC goes thru Jacksonville” talk in Week 2 is laughably ridiculous.

There are 14 weeks left in the season and as we’ve seen many times, this team will get it straightened out. Watch the tapes, fix the errors and then bury them with the game balls at the back of the practice field.

We’re on to Detroit.

New England Patriots News 9-16, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 16, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-16, & AFC East Notes.

We send good wishes today to our friends who live in the Southeast who are in the midst of a fierce hurricane that is pounding the Carolinas and Virginia. Although hurricanes are a fact of life down there, it never ceases to amaze the power of Mother Nature. And to our own neighbors in Massachusetts in North Andover, Andover and Lawrence, we hope everyone gets to get home soon…and safely.

Jacob Hollister is off of the injury report as of Friday and should make his season debut later today for the Patriots. One of those little “game within a game” situations. Hollister’s status may mean more Big Nickel for Jax. The Giants had some success against that last week. Stay tuned.

Sony Michel is itching to get on the field, but that probably won’t be today and with Rex Burkhead in the concussion protocol, the Pats may be really thin at RB today with just James White and recently signed Kenjon Barner.

Weather a factor… watch the heat and the resultant early season conditioning test for the Patriots today. With temps in the low 90s with a chance of thunderstorms in the area, the weather could be a big factor today. This could be a coaching point to get started quickly today.

Duron Harmon was fined $26.739 for a hit on an unnecessary roughness penalty on DeAndre Hopkins with 38 seconds left in the game on Sunday. Hopkins was going up for a contested ball with Devin McCourty and Harmon came in to break it up and appeared to use his shoulder to hit Hopkins, but his wallet is quite a bit lighter this week after that fine.

Kyle Van Noy was the subject of some personal attacks by members of the media for no apparent reason this week. Stating he was an “Ass” and a “Tool” and that he could stand his attitude, in the next breath, the same media member then stated he’s never met him. Even Paul Perillo from PFW who was a guest on that show seemed taken aback by the personal nature of the attack, which is all-too-familiar these days.

From our limited access and personal interaction with the players, we’ve never witnessed anything from Van Noy that didn’t come across as professional and ready to answer anything thrown his way.

And for the record, the Patriots got a steal from Detroit in the Van Noy trade. He’s been a starter here and a valuable cog in the defense and they gave up virtually nothing in return. Sometimes you just have to shrug and move on.

Bentley is a Pleasant Surprise For Everyone Except Belichick:

Ja’Whaun Bentley is off to a very nice start to his NFL career. The rookie from Purdue has turned heads since training camp, preseason and has carried it over thru Week 1 of the regular season. Bentley earned more snaps than any other front seven player against the Texans.

The three-year captain has turned heads with his play against the pass thus far. He was known as a big thumper in the running game, but his play against the pass has been a very pleasant surprise but not to everyone. Bill Belichick said the team isn’t surprised by his value at all.

“Well, I mean, first of all, I was surprised he wasn’t at the combine. That was surprise No. 1. I mean, it wasn’t to save airfare. The guy’s 20 minutes away. But, it is what it is.”

Belichick was asked about the rookie’s playing time and he summed it up, Bill style. “That’s up to them. But (it was) his first game, and he did a lot of good things out there. There were some things that we talked about during the game, some things he’ll improve in. We just need to keep working as a team and individually, collectively to try to get better in every area. “We have a long way to go.”

It will be interesting to see the workload that Bentley gets this week against the Jaguars.

“Must Win” Games in September? Not Hardly:

No one is discounting that today’s game is a big one between the two teams that played in the conference championship in January. But it is a September game and not much more. Far too much is being made of this because of the matchup that it is some kind of a “must win” game for each team. In Week 2? To quote Chad Johnson, “Child Please.”

This isn’t any more than an early season test and Patriots fans should be reminded that Bill Belichick treats the first month of the season like an extended preseason. We see just the basic installation of the offense and defense and this year will be no different.

I’m reading and hearing a lot of talk that playoff seeding in January is on the line over this one. One of our own colleagues here believes this game is more important to New England than to Jacksonville. What? We heard similar talk about the Chiefs after Week 1 last year. How did that work out?  The season is far too long with too many variables to be putting that kind of moniker on a Week 2 matchup.

So what happens if it is a “must win” game and you lose in Week 2? Do you tank the last 14 weeks? Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves

Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out Matty P:

The long and not-so-fine Boston tradition of kicking people on their way of town is alive and well. Just look at Matt Patricia. Much of New England took entirely too much delight in watching Patricia’s head coaching debut with the Lions go down the tubes badly. The Jets curb stomped Detroit badly on Monday and you would have thought that NE became Jets territory with the shade thrown Patricia’s way.

And now, we have the revisionist history buffs trying to sell us a bill of goods that Patricia was a terrible defensive coordinator in his time with New England….Doug Kyed of NESN tried to quell this bit of chicanery the other day and you’d have thought he stole the crown jewels.  

Take a look at the personnel that the Patriots had on defense during the Patricia years and ask yourself if man-to-man they were anywhere near, the most talented defensive units on the field? The answer is no. And yet every year, the Patriots ranked as one of the best defensive units in the league in terms of points allowed. And that’s what wins games folks points…

Yards gained and yards allowed are the fools’ gold of the NFL. They’re the shiny hood ornament that doesn’t make your car go. Foles shredded the Patriots in the SB for 373 yards and 3 TDs. Brady threw for 505 and 3 TDs but lost.

Since 2014, only the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Doom” have allowed fewer points than the Patriots. So did they do it with smoke and mirrors? It was coaching, plain and simple. While most people, (here included), lamented the style that they played, to say he was a terrible defensive coordinator is crazy talk.

One final thought on that Super Bowl, Patricia took the heat for the Patriots getting picked apart but what about the game before against the #1 defense in the league in points AND yards, the Minnesota Vikings?  Foles threw for 352 yards and 3 TDs in that one as Philly scored 38 unanswered points in a blowout win. By the same judging criteria, Minnesota’s defensive coordinator George Edwards is terrible too? Hardly. Philly got hot at just the right time, and much like Joe Flacco, a few years ago, that was all she wrote.

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 9-6-1 Ugh

Thursday night’s pick Cincinnati over Baltimore 1-0

Carolina at Atlanta: Falcons
Indy at Washington: Colts
Houston at Tennessee: Texans
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay: Eagles
Kansas City at Pittsburgh: Steelers
Miami at NY Jets; Dolphins
LA Chargers at Buffalo: Chargers
Minnesota at Green Bay: Vikings (regardless if Discount Double Check guy plays)
Cleveland at New Orleans: Saints
Detroit at San Francisco: 49ers
Arizona at LA Rams: Rams
New England at Jacksonville: Patriots
Oakland at Denver: Raiders
NY Giants at Dallas : Giants
Seattle at Chicago: Seahawks

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills’ Mistake in QB Derby Already Apparent:

The Buffalo Bills screwed up the placeholder job search for rookie Josh Allen and should have never traded A.J. McCarron. They decided to go with Nathan Peterman who struggled mightily with the Ravens on Week 1 and have hit the panic button and are rushing Allen into the breach with a surrounding cast that is not ready to help the rookie in his first NFL start.

“It’s the right move for our football team,” McDermott said. “I’m not going any further than that. I’ve got confidence in Josh, and it’s the right move for our football team.”

We couldn’t disagree more. Allen is the future of the franchise and this move could really backfire on McDermott and Allen. We’ll see how this turns out, but we’d expect a very simplified offense for the rookie and a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy.

And the Bills Mafia can’t be happy with the news that anyone caught table-slamming at a Bills tailgate is now subject to ejection and criminal charges….The horror.

Dolphins Take On the Jets in A Match of Unbeatens:

The Miami Dolphins travel to the Meadowlands to face the 1-0 New York Jets and rookie QB Sam Darnold. The Jets thumped the Lions last Monday night 48-17 and intercepted Matthew Stafford four times. The Jets bandwagon is back in full force since the “Sanchize” days (remember those?), they even trotted out Fire marshall Bill.

The Dolphins beat the Tennessee Titans in a game that was delayed for many hours due to lightning. But the Fins had an impressive win as well and the player to watch this week is Miami QB Ryan Tannehill.

The Jets have traditionally played him very tough, (4-5 record, 10 TDs, 9 INTs) but he has a lot better personnel around him now although the loss of Josh Sitton on the offensive line will hurt, this week and beyond.

Bowles and the Jets Trying to Bring Sanity to Darnold Hype:

The New York Jets stomped the Lions on Monday night in their opener and after a pick six in his first NFL snap, rookie QB Sam Darnold rebounded excellently and played a heck of a game. Of course, the New York tabloids had a field day with the win and loudly proclaimed, “B’Way Sam” next to a picture of Joe Namath and “INSAMITY”. These are the same tabloids that named a certain QB “Sanchize” which even led to a Sopranos mention.

They are also the same tabloids that will turn on the rookie in a second if things go south. Which is why coach Todd Bowles is trying to bring the hype machine back amongst the mortals here and not in that rarified air at the peak of Mt. Olympus.

“It’s only been one game,” he said. “To sit here and say whether he’s great or whether he’s trash or whether he’s anything else, it’s way too early for that. He’s played one game. He’s got a lot of years to go and he’ll build it as he goes.”

Asked if he’s a franchise QB, Bowles laughed and said it was one game, check back when he wins about 100.

Bowles is taking the right  approach with the rookie but he’ll be powerless to stop the hype train if the Jets win again today against the Dolphins. The tabloids will be all for petitioning the NFL to waive the five-year rule for Canton.

But Bowles will be sure to have one of his staff whispering in his rookie’s ear about Sanchize and how quickly that turned. He was the toast of New York until he had an awful game at mid season and got picked five times in an OT loss to the Bills. The next day the papers called him B’way Schmo.

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

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

Players To Watch Patriots – Jaguars Week 2

Steve Balestrieri
September 14, 2018 at 7:15 am ET


The rematch of the AFCCG  A Big Early Test

The New England Patriots hit the road to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in a big Week 2 matchup. After the two teams met in the conference championship in January, and Tom Brady led the Patriots to a big 4th quarter comeback win, many people believe that Jacksonville is ready to take the next step and challenge the Patriots for supremacy in the AFC.

Sunday’s game, in that respect, will be more important to Jacksonville than to New England, who under Bill Belichick, tend the treat the first quarter of the season as an extended preseason. But the hype is there for both teams and we would expect to see both teams approach this as a big, albeit early season game.

There has quite a bit of chirping from the talented but brash Jalen Ramsey about several members of the Patriots, including Rob Gronkowski. Ramsey doubled down on his comments this week, basically calling him out.

“I might be crazy, I don’t care,” Ramsey said. “He’s good, don’t get it twisted, he’s good. You saying this to me is supposed to bring fear to me or something? I don’t fear no man, period. So he’s going to have to come out there and line up on me.”

Actually, he backtracked a bit on what he said last month when he said Gronkowski is overrated so no, no one is getting it twisted.

“I don’t think Gronk’s good,” Ramsey said in an interview with ESPN Magazine. “Let me say, I don’t think Gronk is as great as people think he is. . . . Any time Gronk has been matched up with a corner, he’s had a very bad game, and that corner has had a very good game.”

So Ramsey will get what he wants, playing for a small market team, he’ll now be the focus on Sunday’s broadcast regardless of who lines across from him in a Patriots uniform. It won’t be the Jaguars defense but Ramsey that will be the subject of much of the talk this week. It has already begun.

However, the game will feature a number of key matchups that will determine the ultimate winner on Sunday around 8:00 p.m. and bragging rights, for a few weeks anyway. The Jaguars defense plays a very Seahawks-esque Cover 3 and they have tremendous speed all over the field. But they also have the capability to mix in man coverage as well when they want. The front is very hard to run against, they consistently get penetration across the board which interrupts the flow of the offense.

What seems to work against the run defense is some zone runs, misdirection, players in motion. The backs will have to have the vision to see some cutback lanes when they avail themselves.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady:

The Patriots QB is coming off a very solid game where he threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns but he knows that the Jaguars secondary is much better than Houston’s, something he witnessed firsthand in the conference championship.

The pass rush is very good and they get excellent pressure from the inside, which takes away from Brady’s ability to step up and slide from the outside edge pressure. Brady can counter that with getting the ball out quickly something he’s done for virtually his entire career.

He’ll look to spread the ball around and get everyone involved in the passing game. James Develin caught four passes last week after catching six all of last season. Brady will use his backs, James White and Rex Burkhead, (if he’s available) much like slot receivers and try to get them in motion.

Rob Gronkowski:

Gronkowski had a huge game last week and with the thin depth at Wide Receiver, his role becomes even more important to the offense. He’s Brady’s most trusted go-to guy on the roster and Jacksonville will try to take him away and force Brady to go elsewhere to beat them.

Last year, the Jaguars did a good job on Gronkowski with safety Barry Church in the first half of the conference championship. It was Church’s borderline head shot that knocked him out of the game with a concussion.

Look for Brady and Josh McDaniels to move Gronkowski around the formation trying to free him up as much as possible, especially right off the line. But McDaniels will also use Gronkowski as he did last week, to open up more field for the other wide receivers.

Chris Hogan/Cordarrelle Patterson

Phillip Dorsett seemed to make great strides last week in his development with the Patriots offense, making seven catches on the day. This week, the team may need similar efforts from Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson.

The team got Patterson involved early and he had four touches in the first half, but none in the second half. Hogan had a very disappointing game and had just one catch for 11 yards. That won’t be enough this week.

Both will have to step up their games to give Brady other options to work with. Patterson will likely see single coverage outside and other than his usual gadget type package that the team worked on with him this summer, he could be used to stretch the field along the boundaries.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best defensive lineman made his first appearance on the field last week and had a very impressive game. He’ll be looking to keep his production up this week as the Jaguars present a more difficult opponent for the Patriots, especially on the road in what promises to be a loud and raucous stadium.

I actually look for Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense to be more aggressive in the early going and throw early and then use their punishing ground game to wear down the Patriots defense in what promises to be 93-degree heat and keep the offense on the sideline.

Bortles can move and scramble with the ball, Flowers and the other edge players must push the pocket without losing containment and bring pressure on Bortles and try to disrupt their passing game. He’s the guy that sets the tone for the other Patriots edge players and he’s in the spotlight this week.  

Ja’Whaun Bentley:

The Patriots rookie linebacker had a very solid summer followed by an impressive rookie debut against the Texans last week. With the power running game of Jacksonville with Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon, the Patriots run defense must be much better than it was last week.

The Texans ran to the left and I expect that the Jaguars will as well. The inside running game will be a key area to watch and the big (6’2, 255) rookie from Purdue will have another big test this week. He played more snaps at linebacker than anyone last week and I would expect him to have a heavy workload again.

With the heat to play a factor late in the game, I’d look for the Patriots to rotate players in and out as often as possible. So Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and to a lesser extent Elandon Roberts should all see a significant amount of snaps. Third downs will be even more key this week with the heat factor. The team that wins third downs will wear down the other in the fourth quarter.  

James White:

The Patriots running back core was supposed to be one of the deepest areas of the team. But Sony Michel had his knee drained of fluid and has yet to see the field this season either in preseason or the regular season. Jeremy Hill was placed on IR  with an ACL tear and Rex Burkhead is limited in practice with a concussion. That leaves James White and the just signed Kenjon Barner as the only healthy backs on the roster.

Michel and Burkhead’s status this week is pretty murky so the team will lean heavily on the experience of James White. His plate is going to be full this week by default and add in facing a defense with the capability of the Jaguars and his workload will be extra heavy as the offense looks to find some room to maneuver.

While White is usually the Patriots go-to back in the passing game, this week, he may be forced to take on a larger role in the running game as well.

Pat Chung:

The Patriots veteran safety has had an increased role in his second stint with the team and has earned the trust of his fellow players and the coaches as well. With the changes the Jaguars had in their own wide receivers this year, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson left via free agency, Marquis Lee on IR, they’ll lean more on their tight ends.

Which means Chung will draw more of Austin Seferian-Jenkins this week. Jenkins played well against the Patriots a year ago with the Jets and this will be a key matchup to watch. Chung is always good in run support and he’ll be expected to help there as well.

But against the Jaguars this week, we’ll probably see more of the “Big Nickel” with more three-safety looks with Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon to lend more support for the run defense. Chung should factor prominently this week in the Patriots game plan.

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

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Patriots – Jaguars Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 13, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots head out on the road for their first road tilt of the 2018 season by taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two teams met in the AFC Championship Game and now will meet again in Week 2.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on, at 4:35 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (1-0) took care of business at home and defeated the Houston Texans 27-21 on Sunday in Foxboro. Tom Brady threw for three touchdowns and Rob Gronkowski had 123 yards receiving and a score.

The Jaguars (1-0) beat the New York Giants 20-15 on Sunday. Blake Bortles completed 18-33 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in the road win.

We here at are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and Jaguars are meeting for just the 13th time overall in their history. New England holds an 11-1 overall record including last season’s AFC Championship Game win over the Jags. The only game Jacksonville has won was a Divisional Playoff game in 1999. The teams met in the preseason a year ago and conducted joint practices together so they are familiar with one another.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Jaguars Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Jacksonville

The Patriots running game mixed things up with Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, James White and WR Cordarrelle Patterson last week and gained 122 yards against a good Texans front seven. But Hill is out, done for the season with a torn ACL and his big physical presence will be missed.

In typical overreaction Monday after Week 1, many were saying the Jags run defense was suspect after they gave up 137 yards to the Giants and rookie Saquon Barkley on Sunday. Caveat Emptor. The Jaguars front seven is just as solid if not more than Houston’s. With Malik Jackson and Marcel Dareus inside and Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue on the edges, there are no holes or weaknesses here.

Look for New England to mix things up with Burkhead, White, and Patterson again. The status of Sony Michel this week is still up in the air, he’d be a big positive for the team if he is able to suit up this week. Although I wouldn’t bet on it yet. The team signed Kenjon Barner this week. While he does have experience at returning punts, it is a bit of surprise since he is the approximate size of the other backs at 5’9, 190 and not the prototypical “big” back.

Patriots WRs vs Jaguars Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game was just fine against the Texans on Sunday, but although their front seven is outstanding, their secondary continues to struggle. Tom Brady spread the ball around to eight different wide receivers, but the big targets were Rob Gronkowski, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Phillip Dorsett.

The Jaguars have that excellent front seven but they also have an outstanding secondary as well. A.J. Boyue and Jalen Ramsey are arguably the best pair of corners in the NFL right now. They can bring pressure and cover. As we saw last year, they can give elite QBs (Brady, Roethlisberger) fits.

Look for the Patriots to use their RBs as slot receivers again, moving them around and splitting them out wide. Ditto for Gronkowski. The team could use a healthy Michel and Jacob Hollister in the passing game this week. Brady and Josh McDaniels will have to get creative at manufacturing some opportunities this week. But we’ve seen Brady do this for 19 years and he’s up to the task. Patterson may have to be a bigger part of the offense this week and could be the Patriots’ “X-Factor” this week in the passing game.

Next up the Jacksonville offense:

Jaguars RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Jacksonville

The Jaguars had the top-rated running game in the league a year ago, a two-headed attack with Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon. They are a dynamic tandem that helped average 141 yards per game on the ground. Fournette’s status is in doubt right now (Wednesday) because of a hamstring issue he tweaked against the Giants. If he can’t go, it is a big blow to the Jaguars running game.

The Patriots run defense was bad a year ago and they brought in the players to fix it. Danny Shelton is the big, two-gapping run stuffer they need. He and Lawrence Guy inside were solid a week ago. But the combination of Malcom Brown and Adam Butler struggled and the team allowed 167 yards on the ground. While some of it was scheme related, they played a short box and had two deep safeties for much of the second half, the run defense needs to be much, much better.

Look for the Jaguars to run inside this week, regardless of Fournette’s status. This is a problem area for New England who needs better interior play and for the linebackers to step up some more this week. This could be a big problem area for NE this week. But look for them to put a lot more emphasis on stopping the run.

Jaguars WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Jaguars passing game lost a lot of talent (sound familiar?) this offseason. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns left via free agency and Marquise Lee went on IR with an injury in preseason.  Keelan Cole led the team in receiving yards last year and is now the go-to guy. Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief round out the WRs with Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end.

Bortles is the “X-Factor” this year. He was thought to be the difference between Jacksonville being a very solid team and a Super Bowl contender. But the team believes in him and gave him a three-year $54 million dollar extension in the spring.

The Patriots secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones with Pat Chung and Devin McCourty is more than capable enough of shutting this group down enough to pull out a win, provided that the front seven keeps the mobile Bortles in the pocket. The Patriots did a very good job of bringing pressure and containing Deshaun Watson in the pocket. They need another similar effort.

Look for the Jaguars to use play action to hit some big chunk plays down the field once they get the running game going. The Patriot will try to force Bortles into obvious passing situations and bring pressure and maybe force a turnover or two.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams is normally outstanding at kick coverage and last week, they were gashed a bit and allowed a 31-yard average. Look for a much stronger effort in that realm this week. But no such questions arise from the kicking game with both punter Ryan Allen and Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, both logging in very solid performances. Look for Cordarrelle Patterson to maybe influence the game a bit this week in the return game.

The Jags counter with kicker Josh Lambo and punter Logan Cooke. Lambo took over at midseason in 2017 and solidified things in the kicking game but the Pats get the edge here with the experience factor.

Next up, who wins and why…


Well after the close game at home in the AFC Championship Game where Brady led the Patriots to overcome a 10-point 4th quarter deficit when the schedule was released, many immediately chalked this up as a loss.

Everyone circled it and we heard universally, “this one is a loss.” This plays perfectly into Tom Brady’s hands. You can set your clock on and bet the house that the team has seen all those prognostications as well. Brady loves when people doubt him. It is the extra dose of motivation that many times gets them over the hump. The one thing we’ve all should have learned by now is not to count this team and especially this quarterback out.

His numbers may not be pretty, nor will he have one of his patented ridiculous completion percentage days, but he’ll find a way to get it done. We’ve seen this movie too many times before, “hungry young team ready to feast on the Patriots.” But they forget the guy across the field is well-battle tested and ready.  Patriots 21-17

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