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 SpecialOperations.com 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)

New England Patriots 2017 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
September 20, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Patriots Favorites in Rematch With Texans

The Patriots return home after the first road trip of the season and a successful one down in New Orleans. Their next opponent may not have the explosive offensive potential of Drew Brees but the Houston Texans have one of the better defenses in the NFL and they’ve constructed it with beating the Patriots in mind. The teams met twice last season, a Thursday Night Football game in Week 2 when Tom Brady was still under suspension and in the Divisional Playoff game in Foxboro, both won by New England.

The Texans like the Patriots played very poorly in Week 1, getting beat at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball by the Jacksonville Jaguars who sacked Texans QBs 10 times. They rebounded nicely and put together a much better performance, especially on the defensive side which was dominant in their 13-9 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football. Rookie QB Deshaun Watson stepped in and played well.  He protected the ball and gave the Texans a chance to win the game. The Texans, also like the Patriots have been hit hard by the injury bug. They were without three tight ends in Cincinnati, lost both starting corners during the game and has to deal with LB Brian Cushing serving a 10-game suspension.

Here are our further Five Impressions of the Texans:

Watson Is In At QB…For Now: When the Texans drafted Deshaun Watson, they knew they were getting a big-time playmaker, as anyone who watched the college national championship game against Alabama can attest to. It is just that no one expected him to be starting this early in his career.

Head Coach Bill O’Brien ran an open QB competition this spring and summer and it was won by Tom Savage. But during the opener, O’Brien used the hook on Savage quickly, benching him after only a half when the entire team not just Savage played poorly. Those kinds of benchings can do irreparable damage to a young QBs confidence level.

Watson came on in the second half in the loss to Jacksonville and got the start against the Bengals. He played well and ran five times for a team-high 67 yards including a highlight reel 49-yard touchdown, the only score of the game and completed 15 of 24 passes for 125 yards with no interceptions and three sacks.

If Watson begins to struggle at some point and all rookie QBs do, how will O’Brien handle the very talented rookie? Don’t be surprised if O’Brien tries to cook up some trickery with the rookie since there is very little tape to study with him yet.

Miller and Foreman make for an Ideal 1-2 Punch: The Texans signed Lamar Miller away from the Dolphins a year ago and he has become their #1 back and was backed by big back Alfred Blue. But this season, the Texans drafted Texas running back D’Onta Foreman and he seems to be on the fast track to becoming the #2 back in the rotation as well as pushing for reps away from Miller.

Miller has gotten the lion’s share of the reps in the first two weeks, carrying the ball 35 times for 126 yards, good for only a 3.7 yard per carry average. Foreman, the 6’0, 233-lb back is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry. The problem isn’t with the two backs who are both very good, it has been the offensive line which has struggled to open lanes for them to run.

We were very high on Foreman coming out in the 2017 NFL Draft and thought he’d be a great fit here. Our draft profile on Foreman can be found here: During the preseason game in August, Foreman took a pass from Watson 63-yards against the Patriots defense.

Watt is Back and Leads the Texans Defense: With J.J. Watt back this season, the Houston defense has one of the best players in the NFL back to help an already very good defense. Watt leads a group of four excellent players on the front seven for Houston including Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and Benardrick McKinney.

The excellent front seven is difficult to contain as they have so many impact players it is difficult to double-team any one player as opponents have to account for all of them. They can rush three and drop eight into coverage and still bring pressure on the quarterback. In the playoff game a year ago, they brought continuous pressure up the middle on Brady and flooded the middle of the field, taking away the short passing game across the middle. Julian Edelman had a big game against them in January. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots try to attack their defense this time around.

After a very lackluster opening game and allowing 155 yards on the ground, their defense was resembling the Texans defense we all recognize against the Bengals. They allowed just 82 yards rushing and kept the Bengals out of the end zone, allowing just three field goals in a very impressive showing. Expect the Texans defense to be sky high for this one on Sunday afternoon.

Fuller Returns to Practice: Texans WR Will Fuller broke his collarbone during training camp on August 2 and was expected to miss 2-3 months. But the fact that the Texans didn’t place him on IR to begin the season spoke to the belief that they’d have him back sooner rather than later. And with the release of WR Jaelen Strong this week, it seems that it will indeed be sooner. Fuller returned to practice on Tuesday.

Fuller is now in his second season with the Texans after being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. Fuller finished his rookie season of 2016 with 47 catches for 635 yards and two touchdowns.

If he’s able to return on Sunday to play against the Patriots, it would be a huge boost to the passing game. Because right now their biggest threat is De’Andre Hopkins and not much else.

Houston was without all three top tight ends, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson against Cincinnati. All three suffered concussions against Jacksonville in the opener. We won’t know until later on Wednesday when the injury report comes out if the three are going to be available on Sunday.

Texans Sign Cornerback Jonathan Banks in a Depth Move: In the Thursday game against Cincinnati, Houston lost both starting cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Jonathan Joseph to injury. Joseph is expected to be back on the field this week in New England. However, Johnson is expected to miss about three weeks so the team added former Buccaneers corner, Jonathan Banks, to bolster their depth.

Kareem Jackson who came in for Johnson and played well is expected to get the start but the addition of Banks gives the Texans a much-needed boost of depth in their secondary.

The 27-year-old Banks was a second-round pick of the Bucs in 2013 out of Mississippi State. Banks was traded to the Detroit Lions in November of 2016 for a seventh-round pick. He was then released the next month and then signed with the Bears. He was just released by the Bears earlier this month.  He has recorded a total of 136 tackles, 17 pass deflections, seven interceptions and one touchdown during his NFL career

In a corresponding move, the team released TE Evan Baylis who was signed off the practice squad this week to fill in for the three tight ends who were out due to concussions. If Baylis clears waivers, he’s expected to be signed back to the practice squad.  

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

 Patriots Report Card, 36-20 Win Over the New Orleans Saints

Steve Balestrieri
September 19, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

High Marks For the Team in a Winning Effort

The Patriots are back in the win column and after 10 days of being subjected to questions about their makeup and roster moves, it comes at a perfect time. Was this a game they should have won? Yes …absolutely, but after Week 1, the team made a number of improvements…. Was it perfect? No. Are they where they want to be? Hardly. But in Week 2, they looked pretty darn good, especially on offense.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A
Tom Brady was masterful, in control and was obliterating that poor Saints defense. Only three healthy wide receivers? No problem. Brady goes 30-39 for 447 yards and three touchdowns, no picks, and a passer rating of 139.6.

The team wanted to get off to a good, fast start and put the Saints in catchup mode. Plus, it would take the crowd right out of the game. Brady threw for 177 yards and three scores in the first quarter as the team raced out to a 20-3 lead and never looked back.

Brady hung in the pocket all day and delivered the ball pretty much exactly where they wanted him to throw on Sunday. The few passes that were off the target had to do with either the pressure getting to him or in a few cases, he got hit as he released the ball.

He also spread the ball around nicely hitting nine different receivers for passes and throwing a touchdown to a wide receiver, tight end and running back….that’s getting everyone involved.

Running Backs: B+
In our pregame write-up on the key matchups, we wrote that the team needed to get the running backs more involved in the passing game. And that they did, the backs responded with 13 catches for 143 yards, led by James White who made eight catches for 85 yards. Rex Burkhead responded with a nice afternoon catching three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown before injuring his ribs.

In the running game, the backs picked up 96 of the 119 yards on the ground. Mike Gillislee led the way with 69 yards on 18 carries including his fourth touchdown of the season. While his numbers weren’t eye-popping, he’s giving them nice production in the red zone when they ask him to.

Wide Receivers: B
These guys hung in there and did their job on Sunday. With only three healthy players at the position, they finished the game with really only one (Brandin Cooks). Both Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett had gotten dinged up but they hung in there and finished the game. Hogan was dealing with a thigh injury, that doesn’t seem serious, however, he was obviously limping a bit during the game, which surely limited his effectiveness. But he ended up with five catches on six targets for 78 yards including a touchdown.

Dorsett showed that he’s coming along in his progression with the Patriots offense and made three catches for 68 yards including a nice deep ball from Brady for 38 yards down to the four-yard line. I would have liked to have seen more production from Cooks in this game but with Brady under pressure for much of it, he was clearing out the underneath routes for the guys over the middle and it was that kind of day. Cooks should have had had an easy touchdown on a post route and had a good five yards of separation, but the pressure on Brady made his throw very short where Cooks had stop and go down at the one-yard line to haul the pass in.

It is hard to be very critical of this group. How many times do you see a team come into a game with just three wide receivers and while their numbers weren’t off the charts (11 catches for 183 yards and a score), on a day when the team rolled up 447 yards thru the air, it was plenty good enough.

Tight Ends: A-
The Patriots and Rob Gronkowski were the subjects of many pieces after the Week 1 loss. Eric Berry did a masterful job of manning up on Gronk, and when that didn’t work, he grabbed a fistful of jersey. It isn’t against the rules if it isn’t being flagged. So, Gronkowski heard the “he’s losing a step”, “he looks old and slow” etc. last week.

Until he hurt his groin in the second half, he was having a typical Gronk, monster type of afternoon. He hauled in six catches for 116 yards including a 53-yard touchdown where he broke a couple of tackles and dragged two defenders into the end zone.

Dwayne Allen has been utilized mainly as a blocker and was targeted once, Jacob Hollister had his first catch in the NFL and got a couple of reps in.

Offensive Line: C
The offensive line specifically left tackle Nate Solder didn’t have a great day. There were a lot of plays where Brady was under duress. He got hit five times and sacked just twice but often his pocket was collapsing all around him. The offensive line didn’t do a great job in the running game as the team only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. It could have, should have been much better. Especially against this Saints defense.

Defensive Line: B+
The Patriots defensive line had a nice bounce-back type of game. It was great to see all the young guys (Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler) getting so much work in the game. The coaches sent a message to Alan Branch that his effort last week wasn’t good enough and he sat until the second quarter. The rush defense was much improved this week. New Orleans had 81 yards on the ground but 28 of them came off the final garbage time play of the day. After getting gashed by the Chiefs for nearly 200 yards, that is a good sign.

Wise had a terrific game, the big, talented rookie had a sack, five quarterback hits and a pair of tackles. While the pass rush is still a work in progress, Wise, Flowers, and Butler are showing some nice potential. Lawrence Guy was solid and Cassius Marsh saved a TD when he got pressure on and forced Drew Brees to throw short in the end zone when a player was open.

Linebackers: B-
Interesting that with Hightower out, David Harris was a total non-entity. Elandon Roberts had a pretty good game with eight tackles. He and Kyle Van Noy were getting the bulk of the work. The middle of the defense in the running game was much, stronger this week and it snowballed.

Hightower will probably miss at least this week’s game against the Texans, so they’ll need the rest of the guys to step it up a bit. But overall, this week’s game, against a tough opponent was a pretty good effort.

Secondary: B-
The bad news is that the Patriots allowed Drew Brees to pass for 356 yards this week. But, he does that against everyone when he’s at home in the dome so that in itself isn’t a bad sign per se. The good news is, the Patriots defense held him to just two touchdowns on Sunday. Let me ask a serious question here. If last week I said, the Pats defense would hold Brees and New Orleans to just two scores would you have taken it? Damned right you would have.

I had to read with amusement all of the “the last time the Patriots faced Brees in NO” …news flash. The Pats don’t have Jonathan Wilhite and Leigh Bodden at corner anymore…thankfully. They still have plenty of communication issues on those pick plays and rub routes but it is eminently fixable. A few of those deep balls were just absolute dimes by Brees and you just have to tip your hat to him.

Overall, again, a much better effort. Can it get better? Much. Will it? Yes.

Special Teams: B

Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point, again. He was perfect on three field goals, however. And the other three extra points. His kickoffs pinned the Saints deep but the coverage units did an okay job. The Patriots had zero return yards on one punt return for no yards and no kick returns at all.

Ryan Allen didn’t have to punt much on Sunday and had a so-so game by his standards with a 37.0-yard average.

Coaches: A
Bill Belichick had the team ready to go after a poor Week 1 showing. He made it clear that a lot had to change, and it did. They came out prepared, motivated and ran the Saints out of the building in that first quarter. After they had issues stopping the run in Week 1, they were much better and he and Matt Patricia put them in the right combinations to stop the Saints.

Josh McDaniels had everything going on early in the game. He had the Saints grasping at straws trying to find a way to stop the Patriots offense. Even as guys were getting banged up, McDaniels mixed things up nicely and the team responded. After only having Dorsett on the team for two weeks, McDaniels gets a lot of credit for getting him in tune with the offense.

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots, Brady Answer the Bell, Smother Saints 36-20 Observations

Steve Balestrieri
September 17, 2017 at 6:18 pm ET

Ok, now everyone can back away from the ledge. The Patriots did just what they needed to do after a bad performance in the Week 1 loss to the Chiefs, they dominated the game on offense and the Saints defense had on answers for the Patriots offense as the team ran out for 30 points in a pivotal first half and cruised to an easy win on the road.

It wasn’t all pretty, there are still several areas to tighten up on, but as we’ve seen for years with Bill Belichick and this team, it is always done be degrees and this team was infinitely better than the team that stepped on the field 10 days ago.

So after Buffalo thudded back to earth in Carolina, the Patriots find themselves tied with Buffalo at the top of the AFC East at 1-1. Miami and the Jets are still playing at this point although the Jets are trailing as we speak.  Here are some other observations on this one:

Tom Brady Skewers Saints “D”: We talked coming into this game that we’d be shocked if this offense didn’t score between 30-35 points. I predicted a 34-24 win. They actually went a bit more than that and left some points on the field in the process.

Brady entered the game with just three healthy wide receivers and put on an absolute clinic in the first quarter throwing for 177 yards and three touchdowns.

Brady overall was surgical, completing 30-39 for 447 yards and three touchdowns, no interceptions, no interceptions with a passer rating of 139.6

He went to his running backs more in this one, mostly James White and completed 13 passes for 143 yards to the backs who stepped up big time in the passing game this week. Brady was frequently under duress but stood tall in the pocket and delivered. Despite being short of WRs today, Brady completed passes to nine different players today.

Defense Steps Up: It still is far from what they’ll expect later in the season, but it is only Week 2. The defense was gashed a week ago by the Chiefs, and all week the lament was “what is Drew Brees and the Saints going to do?” Well, the defense stepped up big, especially in the running game. New Orleans ran for 81 yards, helped by a big run on the last play of the game by Mark Ingram. But that was much, much better for Matt Patricia’s unit. Take away that last run which skewed the stats and the Saints averaged 3.3. Yards per Rush.

Anytime you can go to New Orleans and hold Drew Brees and the Saints to two touchdowns, you’ve done your job. And this defense definitely did that today. They still need to work on their communications for the rub routes and pick plays but overall this was a much better effort.

Minnesota is supposed to have one of the best defenses in the NFL. They allowed 19 points at home to New Orleans. This same Saints offense at home where they are much more effective scored just one more point. Mission accomplished.

Gronk Has a Big Game Before Injuring Groin: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski heard the talk about him supposedly losing a step this week after Eric Berry did a masterful job of slowing him down this week.

He too, answered the bell this week, hauling in six passes for 116 yards and a score, including his broken play 53-yard touchdown where it was vintage Gronkowski. He got free down the sideline, got the pass and shook off a tackle and then the big man rumbled into the end zone for a score and treating the fans to the first Gronk spike since Week 8 a year ago.

He then left the game and running another seam route and taking the ball deep into New Orleans territory he went down awkwardly and went straight into the medical tent. He was seen later pedaling the exercise bike on the sideline. We’ll have to see what transpires this week on the Wednesday practice and injury report.

Situational Football Pays Off: One thing we always love to watch in practice is the team practicing their situational football scenarios. Bill Belichick calls out downs, distances and time on the clock and the team has to respond. No one does it more and better than the Pats.

Today was a prime example of this. After stopping the Saints just before the half, the Patriots were driving and in a position to score to go up big at halftime. Brady led them down the field and on third down he scrambled but came up two yards short of a first down.

The reacted perfectly. The kicking unit ran on the field, the offense got off and Stephen Gostkowski had time to get set and boot a field goal to end the half that put the team up 30-13 at the break. It was a huge switch in momentum and was a prime example of why they practice those plays.

Deatrich Wise Steps Up Nicely in His Second Game: The rookie defensive lineman got a ton of reps today. Looking at the defensive line, there was a ton of youth out there at times with Wise, Adam Butler and Trey Flowers providing the pass rush.

Wise finished with two tackles, a sack and five QB hits on Brees. The young lineman from Arkansas had a very good summer and is off to a very good start in his NFL career. The pass rush wasn’t great today, especially considering the state of the Saints offensive line but it was good enough.

Cassius Marsh only had a few snaps but got some good pressure as well. His coming off the left end saved a touchdown as Brees had to unload the ball early and his pass was short, with his wide receiver open in the end zone.

Offensive Line Didn’t Play Well: The offensive line play will be an area where the coaches will try to settle things down this week, with Houston coming into town. Brady was under pressure far too often although they only sacked him twice. Nate Solder, in particular, struggled with Cameron Jordan.

But they also had a mixed bag in the running game. Overall the Patriots managed 119 yards on the ground which is good but only for a 3.8 yard per carry average. The run blocking will have to be better as we go on but again when you score 36 points and run up 555 yards on offense, there aren’t too many dings against the offense. However, the coaches will point to the 3 of 7 in the red zone as a teaching point this week.

Call the MASH Unit: The injuries continue to pile up. New England entered the game with just three healthy wide receivers and had two of them plus Gronkowski going down. Chris Hogan looked like he had a thigh injury and Phillip Dorsett also came up limping in what looked to be an ankle or foot problem.

Eric Rowe was injured which opened the door for Jonathan Jones to come in and he played very well, breaking up a couple of passes, one in the end zone on a very head’s up play. Rex Burkhead suffered a rib injury and left the game. It will be interesting to see who is healthy enough to go next week against Houston.

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 9-17, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 9-17, and AFC East Notes for this week.

Good luck to former Patriots QB Jacoby Brissett, getting the start today for the Colts.

With many of the injured players not going to suit up today, it will be intriguing to see if TE Jacob Hollister sees some playing time. He has a good shot to be a game-day active and he was one of our favorites to watch during training camp.

The Patriots try to rebound today against the Saints in New Orleans. Since 2010, the two teams are the #1 and #2 scoring teams in the NFL. While everyone points to the 2009 game as a benchmark, remember this, that New Orleans team started 12-0. And other than the matchup of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the teams are altogether different. That Patriot team was 2-6 on the road and this one comes in with an 8-0 road record from 2016.

Shorthanded Pats Minus Hightower/Amendola: The team will be going today without Dont’a Hightower and Danny Amendola, leaving them potentially thin on the edge where they were gashed a week ago and at wide receiver where there is a mini-epidemic right now. Amendola is also the team’s punt returner so who fills in that duty today? Possibly Pat Chung [as we’re writing this on Friday night] Unless they activate a WR from the PS. It probably will NOT be Phillip Dorsett. Stay tuned.

Harvey Langi Should See His First Action:
Immediately upon seeing that Hightower didn’t practice this week, (not a surprise and don’t expect him against Houston), we sensed he’d be out. But the team got a bit of welcome news in that rookie linebacker Harvey Langi was taken off of the injury report.

Harvey Langi, seen here breaking up a pass, should see his first action of the season. (SBalestrieri photo)

Langi should see his first action of the year and we’re excited to see what the rookie can bring to the table. The Patriots experimented this summer with moving him around and trying him in a variety of different roles to learn what he can and can’t-do. He spoke to the Patriots.com website and said he’s excited to get on the field this week.

“It’s a day-to-day thing for me,” Langi said. “Got to go out there and play wherever they tell me to play. If it’s [defensive] end, if it’s outside [linebacker], if it’s on kickoff, kickoff return… whatever it is. I’m wanting to help out the team and do whatever I can to do that, to bring some urgency to practices.”

Patriots Front Seven Isn’t the Big Issue It is Being Made Out to Be:
The sky is falling crowd is reaching epic proportions now after a bad performance in Week 1. Look there weren’t any positives there, they were gashed, and badly by the Chiefs and Alex Smith. But does that mean that this team going to be forced into shootouts every week?

Obviously, the fanbase thinks so… The Patriots website asked a poll question if fans were concerned with the defense. The results? A whopping 85 percent answered yes. Bill Belichick’s teams always play better defense as the season progresses.

Increased snaps for rookie Deatrich Wise and a better performance by Kyle Van Noy this week are needed for the Patriots. (SBalestrieri photo)

While we’re not trying to discount what happened last week, the lack of faith in Belichick is always a thing in this town. At the first sight of trouble, there seems to be a lot of broken legs from people jumping off the bandwagon. This will get figured out, it always does. They’re still mixing with different combinations up front until they find one that works. But Alan Branch, who didn’t play well last week, is just getting into playing shape and now they’ll have to work thru missing Hightower and Shea McClellin.  It is a process and there is no one better than Belichick at figuring it out.

Let’s just say, this week, I’m looking for more of the Big Nickel on defense with Chung as the safety/linebacker and less of the dime look with four safeties and Jordan Richards in that role.

With Three Healthy WRs, Expect More RB Involvement in the Passing Game:
Much has been written about who will play the slot since Amendola will miss this week’s game. Again, don’t look to Dorsett, he’s an outside receiver in either the “X” or the “Y” mode. I’d look for Hogan to pick up the slack this week, with Cooks and Dorsett out wide. I’d also look for plenty of the “21” or “22” personnel packages.

The “21” package has two running backs, one tight end, and two wide receivers. The “22” has two running backs, two tight ends, and one wide receiver.

Look for James White and the Patriots running backs to be more involved in the passing game this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

They definitely have to get the backs much more involved in the passing game than a week ago. With James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis, they have plenty of weapons that they can utilize in the passing game. With only four receptions for 38 yards in the opener, that is far below what we envisioned.

Who Do You Like This Week? NFL Schedule Week 2:

Last week wasn’t great with a 9-6 record as the Dolphins game was postponed. This week started off well with the Texans win over Cincy. here’s the rest of the schedule for Week 2 in the NFL.

Browns at Ravens – Baltimore
Bears at Buccaneers – Tampa Bay
Vikings at Steelers – Pittsburgh
Patriots at Saints – New England
Eagles at Chiefs – Kansas City
Titans at Jaguars- Tennessee
Cardinals at Colts – Arizona
Bills at Panthers- Carolina
Jets at Raiders – Oakland
Dolphins at Chargers – Miami
49ers at Seahawks – Seattle
Redskins at Rams – Los Angeles
Cowboys at Broncos – Denver
Packers at Falcons – Atlanta
Lions at Giants – New York

Early pick for Thursday Night Football, (Rams over the 49ers).

Eastbound and Down, AFC East Notes:

Bills McDermott Returns to Carolina, in Big Early Season Matchup:

The Buffalo Bills go on their first road trip of the season and new coach Sean McDermott is returning to very familiar surroundings in Carolina. Having coached there, he knows the tendencies of the offense as well as their strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone. He also knows their defense as well and can game plan for their weaknesses. It should prove to be an interesting matchup.

The Bills nation was in total celebratory mode last week because at least for one week Buffalo sat alone atop the AFC East standings. And despite Cam Newton not playing especially well last week, the Panthers are at home and have a very good defense.

The feeling here? McDermott has the intel on his former team but not the horses to pull off the upset. I like Carolina to hold serve at home this week and Super Bowl reservations from Western New York get canceled.

Facing Cutler and the Dolphins, “No Problem” Says Chargers’ Ingram:

The Dolphins haven’t played a game yet this season, as their game was postponed last week due to the hurricane blasting South Florida. They flew out to California early as a result and have gotten extra practice time to prepare for the Chargers. But the Bolts, now in LA playing in a 30,000 seat stadium have had a short week to prepare for Miami and new QB Jay Cutler, having played on Monday night. What problems will Cutler bring to the Bolts defense, DE Melvin Ingram was asked?

“None,” Ingram said. “We don’t see him as a problem for us.” There are bulletin board material posts and then there is just utter stupidity. This falls as part of the latter. Why give the Dolphins any extra incentive. This is a team that is itching to get on the field after the awful events of last week in Florida and Ingram and the Bolts, coming off of a short week and the wrong end of a 24-21 score in Denver, have little room to talk.

The Bolts defense gave up 24 points to Trevor Siemian so they’re hardly in a position to talk a lot of smack. Advantage Dolphins. We had already picked Miami to win this game, I think you can add a little extra cushion in this one now.

Talent Starved Jets Offense Takes on Oakland :

The New York Jets gutted the roster earlier this spring and several of their high priced players on both sides of the ball are now gone. But nowhere it is more obvious than the offensive side of the ball. The Jets have a dearth of playmakers on offense as they doing a complete overhaul of the roster.

And that begins at quarterback. The Jets have three QBs and none fit the mold as someone that they will build the roster around. So it leaves the 38-year old Josh McCown in familiar territory. He will be the placeholder with an inferior array of weapons around him until the team finds their franchise QB. But he’s always been a good soldier and will continue to be. His 2-14 record as a starter the past few seasons doesn’t describe his capabilities to lead. Is he an even upper tier QB? No, but he’s not horrible. He didn’t play badly last week, but facing a Buffalo team that is looking for an offensive identity is much different than facing an Oakland team that many have competing for the Super Bowl this season.

Look for the Jets to get smoked on Sunday and the inevitable finger pointing will begin. But not many QBs can win with the talent level that McCown has around him right now.

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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

Steve Balestrieri
September 15, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

The New England Patriots find themselves in unfamiliar territory after the first week of the season at the wrong end of a 0-1 record. To even things up, they have to travel to the New Orleans Mercedes Benz Superdome where the Saints are always tough to beat. The Saints are also 0-1 and like New England didn’t play particularly well on Monday Night. Now with a short week, they return home to face a Patriots team that is looking to rebound in Week 2.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, September 17 at 1:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nance 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 on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The Patriots (0-1) lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 42-27 giving up 21 unanswered points in the 4th quarter. The defense struggled and gave up the most points and yards ever allowed by a Bill Belichick coached Patriots team.

The Saints (0-1) lost to the Minnesota Vikings 29-19. The offensive line struggled to protect Drew Brees and the defense gave up big plays on third down and had communication issues in the secondary. Not exactly unheard of on Week 1 with a young defense.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Saints have met thirteen times in their history dating back to 1972 with the Patriots holding a 9-4 advantage including 4-1 in New Orleans. The last meeting was in Foxboro in 2013 when Tom Brady hit Kenbrell Thompkins with a game winning touchdown with less than a few seconds left on the clock to pull it out 30-27.

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 Saints Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game is still looking to get untracked but did have a bit of success running the ball last week. Although stopped twice on 4th and 1 attempts, Mike Gillislee scored on three short yardage touchdown runs from 2,2, and 1 yard out.

The Saints did a pretty good job of stuffing the run last week against Minnesota holding Adrian Peterson and Co. in check. Cameron Jordan is their best pass rusher and a very good run defender.

Look for the Patriots to spread them out and run Rex Burkhead in between the tackles this week. I expect to see him get plenty of work in the passing game as well. Gillislee will be the designated goal line/short yardage back.

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

The Patriots passing game was very lackluster last week, Tom Brady completed only 16-36 for 267 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The Patriots were trying to stretch the field last week going deep vertically much more than they’re accustomed to. They have to get back to stretching the field horizontally this week.

The Saints have a young and talented secondary but they’re not ready yet. They had multiple breakdowns and communication issues in Week 1. They also struggle to cover the tight ends which should be a big matchup nightmare for them this week.

I’m looking for Brady to get the tight ends involved early and often this week. Even with an injury depleted wide receiver corps, Brady still has plenty of weapons to go to. Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen should be primary targets early in this one. Look for Josh McDaniels to get the running backs more involved in the passing game this week. As long as the offensive line gives Brady time to throw, he should find plenty of space to work in this week.

Next up the New Orleans offense:

Saints RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New Orleans

The Saints barely used Mark Ingram who rushed for over 1000 yards last year. And neither was Adrian Peterson who they signed this spring as they went with rookie Alvin Kamara who played well And after Peterson yelled at head coach Sean Payton late in the first half of his first game as a Saint, his time there may be short.

The Patriots played in a dime for most of the game last week with Jordan Richards as a linebacker and were gashed by the run. They allowed 185 yards and 6.9 yards per run. This week’s game should see them change that up quite a bit as that strategy plain didn’t work. Look for the Patriots to be much better against the run this week.

Saints WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New Orleans

Drew Brees struggled in the opener because of issues with his offensive line. But he has a very good wide receiver in Michael Thomas and a burner in Ted Ginn as well as TE Coby Fleener. If Brees gets time to throw, he can pick apart any defense.

The Patriots were gashed in the passing game as well, this secondary is much too talented for that. Look for the Patriots to go to the Big Nickel this week, with Pat Chung as the extra linebacker. Harvey Langi should see some action this week. The key will be the pass rush against a beat up New Orleans offensive line. Look for Trey Flowers to have a nice game this week putting pressure on Brees.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots special teams lost their punt returner when Danny Amendola went down with a concussion. That’s three punt returners and counting that have been lost so far this season. The coverage units and kicking game were solid last week. The kickoff return team was stuck in neutral.

Bill Belichick raved this week about Thomas Morstead this week, (he loves his punters) and he’s one of the better ones in the league. Their kicking game with Wil Lutz had a solid week, but the Saints allowed five kicks to be blocked last year. Look for the Patriots to try to get one this week.  

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be an entertaining one as two of the best quarterbacks in the league get together. Both have enormous respect for one another and both are ultra competitive who leave it all out on the field. The Patriots defense has some issues to work out or else Brees could have a huge day. Likewise, the Patriots offense, even with banged up WRs should have their way with this young defense.

This has the potential to be a shootout. But I like the Patriots to take control of this game with a much better effort defensively. It starts with the run defense and Alan Branch and Malcom Brown inside. Ditching the four-safety look this week should really help. Look for Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise to put some pressure on Brees against the younger tackles.

Offensively, if the Patriots don’t score between 30-35 points I’d be very surprised this week. A look at what Minnesota was able to do with a much less talented offense sets the bar this week. And it starts with Rob Gronkowski. Gronk had to hear the entire, “he can’t run anymore”, “he’s lost a step”, take your pick. He’s in line for a huge game this week. Brady will spread them out and find his mismatches. It may be newcomer Phillip Dorsett against nickel corner De’Vante Harris, who was picked on by the Vikings on Monday night. Look for the Patriots to rebound and play a much better game in New Orleans. Time for the fan base to come in off the ledge.

Patriots 34-24

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

New England Patriots 2017 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Saints

Steve Balestrieri
September 13, 2017 at 7:54 am ET

 

We are on Week 2 in the NFL and the schedule this weekend has the Patriots traveling down to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Neither team got off to the start that they wanted to kick off the season and both teams enter the week at 0-1.

The Patriots had a rare 4th quarter meltdown at home against the Chiefs and allowed 21 points in the fourth quarter to lose 42-27. The defense gave up big plays for touchdowns and the offense, despite scoring 27 points never got untracked.

The Saints went to Minnesota and dropped an ugly one as well 29-19. Drew Brees and the offense in five trips to the red zone could only manage four field goals and a touchdown. And the defense consistently gave up big plays on third down as Sam Bradford had his way with them.

Both teams will be looking to bounce back this week as teams that start the year 0-2 rarely have success in making the playoffs or reaching the Super Bowl. New Orleans, especially their offense, however, always play much better in the Super Dome.  Here are our five first impressions of the Saints before this week’s game.

Minnesota Picked on De’Vante Harris in the Opener: Week 1 is the classic overreaction week in the NFL. Just look around, the fans from 15 teams are already looking on StubHub for tickets to Super Bowl LII, while fans from 15 others are in panic mode. However, the Saints knew coming in this year that they are inexperienced at the cornerback position.

And the Vikings saw this and made it a point to pick on cornerback De’Vante Harris. The 2nd year UDFA from Texas A&M got the start and had a rough game. Minnesota QB Sam Bradford had a 100 passer rating when looking in his direction last week. Harris got caught peeking in the backfield at Bradford during a red-zone possession which allowed Stefon Diggs to get behind him for an 18-yard touchdown.

Diggs also beat him on a deep sideline pass in the second quarter that, despite pass interference by Harris was still able to pull it in. We know that the NFL is a copycat league, I’d expect Josh McDaniels to test the young corner early and often this week.

Young Linebackers Make A Good First Impression: The Saints have revamped their linebacking corps and the early results were encouraging. With A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o and rookie Alex Anzalone manning the Saints front seven at linebacker, they are looking for improved play this season.

Klein, who was brought over from the Carolina Panthers this spring had a very solid outing and was active making 11 tackles although he said there was plenty of room for improvement from the unit, especially on the first play of the game where the Saints had only 10 men on the field. “To know we started the season that way was just a lack of communication to start,” he said. “I think that can fall on me. I have to know who is on the field and personnel and make sure everyone is on the field. I take responsibility for that one.”

Anzalone had what coach Sean Payton called a pretty active night. The rookie from Florida had a pair of tackles and a pass defended. He broke up a pass in the end zone on the Vikings first drive that forced them to settle for a field goal.

Red Zone Offense Uncharacteristically Stalls: Last season the Saints were one of the best teams offensively in the red zone.  But on Monday night they struggled, albeit against one of the better defensive units in the NFL.

The Saints made five trips into the red zone, with four of them being inside the 10-yard line and of those four trips, they could only manage three field goals and a touchdown, that came in the final two minutes of the game when the score was basically out of reach.

Some of the play calling was curious as they didn’t target Michael Thomas in the red zone during the game. The 2nd year wide receiver caught 92 passes a year ago but on this night had just 5 catches for 45 yards.

Mark Ingram played very sparingly (only 26 snaps) and had just six carries for just 17 yards in the game. He was more effective in the passing game with five catches for 54 yards. The Saints were going mostly with rookie RB Alvin Kamara over Ingram and veteran addition Adrian Peterson.

But credit the Minnesota defense, although they sacked Drew Brees only once, they were able to bring pressure on him and he was constantly under duress.

Offensive Line Needs Work: The Saints brought in running backs Alvin Kamara and Adrian Peterson this season to bolster the already very good Mark Ingram in an attempt to make the offense more balanced and assert their will on opponents. It would also take some of the onus off of Drew Brees and the passing game. But the offensive line, which was supposed to open up the holes for the running game struggled in Week 1.

Injuries and playing the tough Minnesota defense certainly had a hand in that. Left tackle Terron Armistead was out of the lineup in Minnesota and right tackle Zach Strief left the game with an MCL sprain that may keep him out of the line up for the next few weeks. Those losses, coupled with the Vikes front seven made life difficult for the running backs to find any room to run. Kamara and Peterson managed just 18 yards a piece and Ingram gained just 17.

While the interior of the offensive line remains intact, one area that will bear close scrutiny this week will be the edges. If they can give Drew Brees time to throw and open up some holes for the talented running back trio, the Saints offense will be tough to stop. If not, then the Patriots defense will be looking to assert their own pressure.

Like the Loss of Edelman, the Saints Felt the Loss of Snead: Watching the Saints in the opener, one couldn’t help but notice that the New Orleans passing game was missing their slot receiver Willie Snead in this one. Much like the Patriots in their opener, the loss was even more keenly felt on third down.

While Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn give them production and speed on the outside and TE Coby Fleener is a good, productive pass receiver, having that go-to slot receiver in the middle of the field is always a plus and the Saints could have used Snead who is serving a three game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse rules.

It will be interesting to see if the Saints use Austin Carr this week against his former team. The Patriots signed the UDFA wide receiver this spring and he had a very solid training camp and preseason. He was cut as the team whittled down the 53-man roster and the Saints scooped him up.

Check back with us later this week as we’ll have a detailed breakdown of the key matchups between the Patriots and Saints as we try to piece together who wins and why.

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 9-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 10, 2017 at 5:30 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 9-10, and AFC East Notes for this week.

The Patriots put together a great celebration for the fans to drop the fifth Super Bowl banner on Thursday night. And the place was rocking. The team and Robert Kraft went all out to put together quite the event. The Chiefs and Andy Reid threw some cold water on the game that followed, but they played well and deserved to win.

And of course, there are lots of “the sky is falling” folks all over social media in the aftermath of the loss to the Chiefs. Amazing how so many people can predict 19-0 one week and then openly question the team the next. To quote Aaron Rodgers R-E-L-A-X folks. This isn’t Bill Belichick’s first rodeo. They have some work to do, but he and the staff are going to get things figured out. Speaking of which…

Belichick Doesn’t Care About Past Years or “What Happened When”:
Immediately after the loss, social media was full of, “the last time the Patriots lost the opener” and the “last time the Chiefs blew out the Patriots” and the like. So when his conference call on Friday rolled around, naturally Bill Belichick was going to be asked about these same happenings. And his answer was typically Belichick.

“I think I said it a thousand times. I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Belichick said. “I don’t think anything that we did really was good enough. I’m not really interested in living in the past in 2014, 2015, 2003, 2004, which constantly keeps coming up. I mean, everything’s about some other year but this year and this team. I don’t really think all that’s relevant because we’re talking about another team, but we’ve got a thousand questions about it every week. So, I’m really concerned about the 2017 team, what this team is, what this team needs to do. I’m not trying to live in the past like everybody else is.” Bingo…we’ve got Bingo here!

Patriots Lose and the Dolts Come Out in Force:
The sky is falling crowd certainly weren’t limited to the fans. The Patriots and Brady haters fell all over themselves to once again proclaim “this is the beginning of the end” for Brady. Please… We’ve been hearing this drivel since 2008 when Brady tore his ACL against the Chiefs in Foxboro and for the life of me I can’t understand why so many people flock to these inane, ridiculous “hot take” shows so that another clueless presenter can rub his hands and say…” aha! Told you so”

Among the absolute worst is Rob Parker. How he has a job is a testament to how much the prepubescent crowd is jonesing for sports hot takes. This is the guy who fell all over himself stating in 2012, that Tom Brady will never sniff another Super Bowl. And after that, and two Super Bowl wins, including the biggest comeback win ever, does soften his take? No, he doubles down on his own lameness.  His latest idiocy was sent to me by a friend who read this elsewhere. Have a look:

Keep at it though…because if you say it long enough, eventually (5 years and counting) it will come true and you take a victory lap.

Dion Lewis Drawing Trade Interest via Boston Herald:
Jeff Howe, Patriots beat writer for the Boston Herald mentioned on Saturday morning that the Patriots are getting a lot of feelers from other teams about Dion Lewis. With a dearth of returners on the team at the present moment, the Patriots will probably not be willing to part with Lewis.

But with  Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and James White on the active roster and D.J. Foster on the practice squad, if the compensation was good enough, would the team think twice about it? The feeling here says yes. But what would the Patriots and more importantly another team think is appropriate compensation.

Van Noy Gets Two-Year Extension:
Despite the bad game played by the team on Thursday night, the good news that came out of the aftermath is that the Patriots have agreed to a two-year extension with Linebacker Kyle Van Noy. He was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2018.

Kyle Van Noy lines up against the Jaguars in joint practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Van Noy was a former 2nd round pick of the Detroit Lions who was acquired along with a 7th round draft pick for a 6th rounder last year. He was a key role player in the Super Bowl run a year ago and played in all 69 defensive snaps Thursday night.

Van Noy was asked about he has fit in well in New England and said he’s happy here. “Everything,” he said. The atmosphere. The team. The coaches. I just fit pretty well with it. I’m happy to be a Patriot.”

Patriots Workout A Number of Quarterbacks:
The Patriots worked out a number of players this week including four quarterbacks. Among them were Thad Lewis, Matt McGloin, Matt Barkley and David Fales.

And, this being New England, the rumor mill began after many, trying to read the tea leaves, thought that the team was putting Jimmy Garoppolo on the trade market. I wouldn’t put much stock in that theory. However, one player who could be in line for a reunion with the Patriots would be a player they also worked out, LB Akeem Ayers.

Ayers was brought in for the Super Bowl run in 2014 and like Van Noy was a valuable role player playing in nearly 50 percent of the defensive snaps as an off the line linebacker who could occasionally rush the passer. If he can still move, he’d be an intriguing option to bring in, given his knowledge of the system and their need, based on the latest injury to Dont’a Hightower.

Bad Timing By NFL Mexico Prompts Apology: NFL Mexico is extremely popular with our neighbors south of the border. So when the Chiefs won the game on Thursday night, the twitter account of NFL Mexico was looking for an appropriate response to the Chiefs’ shocking upset. They tweeted in Spanish, “When Mexico City shakes with an #earthquake because it can’t believe the @Chiefs won the #Kickoff2017 game.”

Unfortunately, about 30 minutes later Mexico was rocked by their most severe earthquake in 50 years. Measuring 8.1 on the Richter Scale, the earthquake has thus far resulted in 61 deaths and over 200 people being injured. The NFL then deleted the tweet and apologized to the fans. Bad timing with the original tweet but good move on the league’s part of addressing it quickly.

Who Do You Like This Week? NFL Schedule Week 1:

After missing on the Patriots – Chiefs game on Thursday night 0-1, here’s the rest of the schedule for Week 1 in the NFL.

NYJets at the Bills – Buffalo
Eagles at Redskins – Philadelphia
Raiders at Titans – *Upset Special* Tennessee
Buccaneers at Dolphins – canceled
Jaguars at Texans – Houston
Cardinals at Lions – Detroit
Falcons at Bears – Atlanta
Ravens at Bengals – Cincinnati
Steelers at Browns – Pittsburgh
Colts at Rams – Rams
Seahawks at Packers – Seattle
Panthers at 49ers – Carolina
Giants at Cowboys – Dallas
Saints at Vikings – New Orleans
Chargers at Broncos – Denver

Early pick for Thursday Night Football, (Houston upset win over Cincy).

Eastbound and Down, AFC East Notes:

Bills Gear Up For Opener Against the Jets:

The Buffalo Bills have a new regime at the helm and are wanting to get off on the right foot. Coach Sean McDermott has hinted that the team is going to lean heavily on RB LeSean McCoy, which they’ve done the past few seasons, however, with the passing game secondary to the running game.

But the team wants to get off on the right foot and at least for one week, with a win on Sunday against the Jets, the team most likely to finish the season with the worst record in the NFL, the Bills would have first place all to themselves.

The Bills have scored a rushing touchdown in 12 straight games and will lean on it again, their percentage of receiving yards with current members of the team from a year ago is just 35, third lowest in the NFL. And nearly 80 percent of that comes from two players, the aforementioned McCoy and Charles Clay.

Dolphins Postponement Moves the Team to LA Early:

The Dolphins game against the Buccaneers was postponed due to Hurricane Irma as it threatens to bring a lot of damage (as this is written on Friday night), to the Miami area. Now the Dolphins must play a 16-week season with no bye week and have flown out to Los Angeles to spend extra time practicing, getting ready for the Chargers in Week 2.

Aside from the logistical standpoint of making last minute arrangements for staying and practicing out there, it has to be very tough on the players and coaches from a personal standpoint. They’re leaving behind, their families and friends and while they have work to do, their minds have to be…at least partly on the folks back home. It brings in the human element that we don’t talk much about much.But these guys are people first and NFL players second.

Ealy and the Jets Want to Show that they got it Right (Maybe):

The Patriots waived Kony Ealy this summer after trading for him this spring. After experimenting with him in a way that was unfamiliar to the former Panther, he was deemed to not fit with the style they want to play and was released.

Now both the Jets and Ealy would love to prove the Patriots wrong and the fact that the Jets got one right. However, in trying to spin this one ESPN’s Len Robbins got his facts a little skewed in what he wrote the Patriots gave up for Ealy.

The Jets recently signed Ealy after he was waived by the Pats. It cost Gang Green nothing.New England, by comparison, paid a significant price to acquire Ealy. The Patriots sent a 2017 second-round draft pick and a third-round pick to the Carolina Panthers for the former Super Bowl 50 standout.

That is incorrect. New England gave up its 2nd round pick for Ealy and Carolina’s 3rd round pick, which meant they essentially moved back only 8 spots in the draft  They did NOT give up a 2nd and a 3rd round pick. And Robbins take that Ealy was seething to prove New England wrong wasn’t evident in Ealy’s words.

“What I can do for this defense is be disruptive and give them my experience of being in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl,” Ealy said. “It’s not just a one-man show, obviously, but we’re going to work together. “We’ve got a great group of talented guys on this defense, and we’re going to turn some heads.”

Perhaps someone is just trying to stir up more stuff in the Jets-Patriots border war.

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Curbstomped by the Chiefs 42-27 in NFL Opener

Steve Balestrieri
September 8, 2017 at 6:47 am ET

 

You can nod your head if you’ve seen this one before. The Kansas City Chiefs physically dominated the Patriots at the point of attack on both sides of the ball and used a suffocating defense and an opportunistic and explosive offense to send the Pats to the locker room with plenty to digest on the wrong end of a 42-27 pasting at home.

The 42 points and 537 yards allowed were the most ever by a Bill Belichick coached Patriots team.

The turning point in this game was at the end of the first half. Leading 17-7, the Patriots got the ball at their 40-yard line with a little over three minutes to go and a chance to open up a big lead at intermission. After a nice gain by Dion Lewis on first down, Brady missed on his next two throws forcing a three and out. Worse, the incompletions took no time off the clock and the Chiefs got the ball back with plenty of time to go down the field. And they did just that, as they carved up the Patriots defense for a 92-yard scoring drive just before the half that cut the lead to 17-14 and you could feel this one turn.

Brady and the offense had the chance to put some distance between themselves and an opponent at halftime but couldn’t capitalize. Instead, the Chiefs outscored them 35-10 from that point on.

The Patriots defense showed that they have a lot of work to do and it can begin with the game plan. With Dont’a Hightower playing on the edge, the team played a lot of dime coverage which forced Kyle Van Noy into the middle and wearing the green dot. While he may find more comfort in that down the road, on Thursday night he looked uncomfortable and out of sorts. Speaking of out of sorts, in the dime look, the team went back to having Jordan Richards play a linebacker role in the Pat Chung kind of look. David Harris barely saw the field and the Chiefs took advantage.

But as we pointed out in our pre-game matchups, when the team ran this look in the preseason, opponents ran right at it and were very effective. Richards looked as lost as in preseason. He’s too slow to cover effectively and isn’t physical enough in the running game. Kansas City ran right at this group and did it extremely effectively rushing 27 times for 185 yards with two touchdowns, averaging a hefty 6.9 yards per pop.

Impressive rookie running back Kareem Hunt had a fantastic night, rushing 17 times for 148 yards and catching five passes out of the backfield for 98 more and a pair of scores. With Hightower out after getting his knee rolled up, the team put newcomer Cassius Marsh out on the edge and the Chiefs went after him in coverage and Hunt caught a short Alex Smith pass and took it to the house.


Hightower and the Patriots defense had a tough night.

Smith positively carved up the Patriots much ballyhooed secondary to the tune of 28-35 for 368 yards with four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Including long scoring passes to Tyreek Hill (75 yards) and Kareem Hunt (78 yards), it wasn’t a banner night (pardon the pun) for the secondary. We spent the summer talking up the speed of the Patriots offense, well on Thursday night, the Chiefs put on an absolute clinic with team speed with their offensive weapons. The Chiefs scored just one touchdown drive of 90 yards or more in 2016, on Thursday night they had three.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots are now dangerously thin at wide receiver. After losing Julian Edelman to IR in the preseason, just hours before the game, they placed 2nd year pro Malcolm Mitchell on IR with the hopes that he can return later this season. Then Danny Amendola, who was having a very good night with 6 catches for 100 yards suffered a concussion, leaving the team with Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, and newcomer Phillip Dorsett. But credit the Kansas City secondary. They played extremely well all night long and were sticking to their receivers like glue. Quarterback Tom Brady had all kinds of time to throw, except that there was no one to throw to. The windows were very tight and the Chiefs contested every throw. Brady’s numbers were uncharacteristically poor 16-36 for 267 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Chris Hogan, shadowed by Marcus Peters much of the night had one catch for eight yards. Rob Gronkowski was blanketed by All-Pro SS Eric Berry all game and had just two catches for 33 yards. We expected to see the backs utilized much more than the team did in this one. James White caught just three passes for 30 yards and Rex Burkhead caught one for eight yards.

The running game was flat out not good enough. And the Patriots came into this one with the mindset that they were going to run the ball. They ran the ball 30 times for just 107 yards, good for only a 3.6-yard average. What was worse is that three times needing 2 yards or less, including two, fourth and one plays, the Chiefs stuffed them. That’s called dominating the point of attack and that is what Belichick’s teams normally do to the opposition. The Patriots had six red zone opportunities and came away with just three touchdowns. That isn’t going to be good enough. Normally at home when you score 27 points, you should be coming home with a win, however, this wasn’t a normal game by any stretch of the imagination.

One bright spot in the running game was newcomer Mike Gillislee who scored all three Patriots touchdowns in the goal line situations.

So there remains a lot of work to do, especially on defense because the Patriots have nine days to fix some issues before they face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints offense. If Hightower and Amendola aren’t available, it is going to put even more strain on the respective units. Bill Belichick will have his work cut out for him but if there is one thing we’ve seen before, don’t bet against him, he and the coaching staff can figure this one out.

If there is a silver lining to this one, we can now put the silly 19-0 talk to bed. That and those even sillier blue towels that were barely seen on television last night. Looked like NBC was trying to limit how much those were visible on the screen. But make no mistake, this one wasn’t a fluke. The Chiefs (as we tried to point out) were a 12-win team a year ago and they dominated this one. Just like they did against the Patriots in a nationally televised game three years ago.

We’re on to New Orleans….

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2017 at 11:19 am ET

The New England Patriots begin the 2017 season trying to become the first team since the 2003-2004 Pats to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. They have a great first game of the season on tap as they face the Kansas City Chiefs who were the #2 seed in the AFC a year ago. 

The game will be televised by NBC with their top announcing crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth handling the play-by-play and analysis duties. The game will also be on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The Patriots (14-2) won the AFC East a year ago and were the top seed in the AFC They beat the Texans and Steelers at home before going to the Super Bowl LI and coming from 25 points down to wind up defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

The Chiefs (12-4) won the AFC West before losing to the Steelers 18-16 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Chiefs have met 34 times with Kansas City holding an all-time 17-14 edge (three ties). The series has been dominated by the home teams, with KC owning an 11-3-1 lead at home and the Patriots enjoy an 11-6-2 mark at home. The last time the teams met was in January 2016 when the Patriots defeated KC 27-20 in the Divisional Playoff Game.

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 Chiefs Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Patriots running game is really a new entity in 2017 With Mike Gillisllee and Rex Burkhead coming on board this spring, Dion Lewis is waiting in the wings as well with James White. They have plenty of weapons and they will be able to run the ball very well this season. But in Week 1? They haven’t worked together much on the field and although the unit is solid, they’ll need to get things sorted.

KC was uncharacteristically soft in their run defense in 2016 giving up 121 yards per game. Dontari Poe was let go as they felt he couldn’t handle the double teams anymore and the team brought in Bennie Logan. Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson return as well and this unit should be much tougher to run against than a year ago.

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

The Patriots passing game was outstanding for the 2016 season and they’ve added Brandin Cooks this spring. However, the loss of Julian Edelman is a huge blow to the offense, especially on third down. But with Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen with RBs White, Lewis and Burkhead coming out of the backfield, QB Tom Brady has a plethora of targets to use.

The Chiefs have an outstanding pass defense. With CB Marcus Peters and SS Eric Berry, they have two of the best players at their position in the league. With Houston back and healthy after two seasons of knee injuries and Dee Ford as their pass rushers, they can get after the QB. They suffered a big blow with CB Steven Nelson going on IR. Terrance Mitchell will fill in and will be tested.

Next up the Kansas City offense:

Chiefs RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Chiefs lost their starter Spencer Ware during the preseason and he was expected to be the lead back in Andy Reid’s offense. That was a big loss for them, but rookie Kareem Hunt from Toledo is an intriguing player with a lot of upside. Many of the pundits had him as one of the top RBs in this year’s draft class. Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller back him up. Tyreek Hill is the X-factor in the running game as is Alex Smith who can scramble. The KC Offensive line is very good.

The Patriots are set up very well to stop the run in 2017 with Alan Branch returning, Malcom Brown inside along with Lawrence Guy and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and David Harris. This preseason, opponents were running right at the center of the defense, albeit with many backups in the game. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues into the regular season.

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

Alex Smith had a stellar 2016 completing 67 percent of his passes. He rarely makes mistakes, and while he’s not an “elite” QB, he’s plenty good enough to take them deep into the playoffs if he gets help around him. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are his top two targets and they are each difficult to account for in their own way. With releasing Jeremy Maclin this spring, KC needs a third WR to step up.

The Patriots added CB Stephon Gillmore this spring to an already solid secondary. Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe (slot), along with Devin McCourty and Pat Chung give the Pats an (on paper), outstanding secondary. But the question this season will be is the pass rush going to be good enough? They get their first test on Thursday night against a good OL and a QB that can run.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Patriots special teams get the slight edge in the kicking game, where Stephen Gostkowski is among the best in the league at the pooch kickoffs stranding teams deep and he’s seeming back on track after a solid summer. He gives them the edge over Cairo Santos. Dustin Colquitt and Ryan Allen are both outstanding punters that excel in directional punting and hitting punts inside the 20  But in the return game, the Chiefs have a clear advantage. Hill is a dynamic returner who averaged 15.2 yards per return. With Cyrus Jones and Julian Edelman on IR, the Patriots return game is starting from scratch.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This game and the first game of every season are always among the most difficult to predict because there are so many unknowns out there with no regular season film to watch. The Patriots should get a huge boost from the home crowd especially with dropping Super Bowl banner #5 just prior to the game. But I worry about them coming out flat after all the emotion of the pregame celebrations.

I keep reading all over social media that the Pats are going to romp in this one. I couldn’t disagree more. This Chiefs team won 12 games a year ago and have a few of their key pieces back that was missing. I think this is going to be a tough, hard-fought one with almost a playoff atmosphere to it.

A couple of the key matchups to watch is Eric Rowe, who I think will draw Kelce on defense and if he can stand up to the physicality of him. Malcolm Butler will draw Hill with safety help. The Chiefs aren’t an air-it-out team but you can expect them to try a few times. I look for them to try to get Hill the ball in space. Look for shallow crosses or rub routes. When he gets the ball, he can fly.

On offense, look for Tom Brady to spread out the Chiefs defense and try to find the mismatches. With everyone talking about Cooks and newcomer Phillip Dorsett, who may not even play, they’re forgetting the main man for Brady and that is Gronkowski who is healthy now and wants to put on a show in primetime…much like Hill. With Brady stretching the seams and forcing some of the Chiefs excellent LBs into coverage, they should be able to find some space. This will be a tough, exciting matchup. I like the Patriots to hold serve at home.

Patriots 28-20

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

Patriots 2017 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Chiefs

Steve Balestrieri
September 5, 2017 at 9:36 am ET

The Patriots, as well as the 2017 NFL season, kicks off with a Thursday night prime time matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. The game will be televised nationally by NBC with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the call and Michelle Tafoya handling sideline duties. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m.

The Patriots begin their quest to defend their Super Bowl LI title and are the last team to successfully win back-to-back titles in 2003-2004. The team will unfurl their fifth Super Bowl banner prior to the game and have asked that fans be seated by 8:00 p.m. for the festivities planned.

The Chiefs (12-4) won the AFC West and were the AFC’s #2 seed heading into the playoffs. But they lost a home playoff tilt to Pittsburgh 18-16 or they would have met the Patriots in Foxboro for the AFC Championship. In a salary cap move, the team jettisoned former #1 wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in the offseason, feeling that 2nd-year player Tyreek Hill is more than ready to assume the mantle as their top receiver. Tight End Travis Kelce had 85 catches for 1125 yards and four TDs.

Tyreek Hill is the Chiefs “X-Factor” on Offense: When the two teams meet on Thursday night, all eyes will be on the Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. He’s the new #1 wide receiver in just his second year and can do it all. In his press conference on Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots have to be ready for everything.

“I’m sure they have a lot of different ways to use him and he’s a very versatile player,” Belichick said. “He can run, he can catch … I’m sure they use him a decoy. He’s a very explosive player.”

“I don’t know exactly where he’ll be, but you certainly have to be conscious of him whenever he’s on the field,” Belichick added.

Hill loves playing in prime-time games and relishes his chance to shine in them.  He shined last season on a Sunday night at Denver, when he became the first rookie since Gale Sayers to score a touchdown by rushing, receiving and kick return. In another prime-time game against the Raiders, he caught a 36-yard touchdown pass and had a 78-yard punt return for a score.

Then Christmas night against the Broncos, Hill gashed their division rivals for a 70-yard touchdown run.

“I’m always trying to make the big play under the lights because everyone’s watching,” Hill said. And everyone will be watching him on Thursday.

The Chiefs Have Invested Heavily in Their  Defense: Kansas City the past several years has pumped a lot of money into their defense. In fact, their salary cap money tied to the defense is nearly 2-1 in favor of the defensive side of the ball. And it shows.

Justin Houston, the Chiefs linebacker has struggled with knee injuries the past two years but is reportedly healthy finally and looking to recapture the form where in 2014, he led the NFL with 22 sacks. He and Derrick Johnson, and Dee Ford gives the Chiefs the pressure they’ll need to compete again in a very tough division.

The team thought enough of Bennie Logan, that they allowed Dontari Poe to walk in free agency this spring. And with the Chiefs defense, they have one of the top corners in the NFL with Marcus Peters. Safety Eric Berry returns this season as well.

Since the 2013 season, the Chiefs defense is second only to the Seahawks allowing just 18.5 points per game.

There is No QB Controversy With KC, Alex Smith is the Man: When the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes this spring, many predicted that the writing was on the wall for the steady, but unspectacular Alex Smith. And while Mahomes dazzled in the preseason, Andy Reid and the Chiefs coaching staff are sticking with Smith, at least for this season as the best chance to getting KC a deep playoff run.

Many Chiefs insiders have stated that despite the hype, Smith is still ahead of Mahomes by a wide margin. “Alex is so far advanced from the mental side,” GM Brett Veach said, “in regards to his ability to read coverages, to shift to better plays and really play the chess game. He’s so far ahead of what Pat is.”

Chiefs fans will have to be patient and let the rookie develop. In the meantime, Smith trudges along, and for the most part underappreciated. But rather than sulk about his successor being drafted, Smith relished his role. He has been a big help for the rookie and has doubled down on his own efforts at improving. It speaks volumes to his professionalism and to Reid’s staff.

Spencer Ware’s Injury Opens the Door for Kareem Hunt: The Chiefs, like the Patriots suffered an injury to a key member of their offense. The KC running game was supposed to funnel mainly thru Spencer Ware in 2017.  But after the talented back tore his PCL/LCL this summer, he was lost for the season. But also like the Patriots and their loss of Julian Edelman, the injury at least happened early enough for the team to be able to adjust accordingly. The next man up for the Chiefs is Kareem Hunt.

Hunt is a rookie from Toledo that had a terrific summer for Reid and the Chiefs. He brings a nice blend of power, speed and elusiveness to the backfield and behind a good offensive line should be primed to have a good season in KC. He’s a patient runner that reads the play and flow well and is a very good blocker in the passing game.

He’ll be backed up by veterans Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller in the backfield. Teams ran at the Patriots middle this summer. It will be interesting to see how the Chiefs use Hunt on Thursday night.

Steven Nelson’s Injury Opens Up Questions at Corner: We already mentioned that the Chiefs have one of the NFL’s best corners in Peters. They lost a very talented youngster in Steven Nelson to IR, but hope that he’ll be able to return later this season.

But that doesn’t help them in the meantime and specifically on Thursday night. Who will the Chiefs play opposite Peters when facing Brady and the Patriots offense?  KC will probably opt for veteran Phillip Gaines who they drafted in the 3rd round 2014. He was a starter early in 2015 but suffered an ACL injury and was lost for much of the season. He came back late in the year but struggled, which isn’t rare since it takes a good 12-18 months to regain one’s strength and mobility. Now he’s back and seemingly fully back to where he was.

The other option would be to use veteran Terrance Mitchell. Mitchell was a player who bounced around a bit and found a home in Kansas City. The Chiefs used him as the nickel/slot corner and he played extremely well for them down the stretch and into the playoffs. Odds are, Reid leaves him right where he’s at, but they could do some mixing and matching depending on the matchups. Of course, nothing helps the secondary and cornerback play like a pass rush and with Houston back, the Chiefs will be looking to bring the pressure.

Check back with us later tomorrow as we’ll have a breakdown of the matchups between the Chiefs and the Patriots on what promises to be a very good kickoff to the NFL season.  

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.