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)

Whitewash in Miami, Patriots Defense Rocks in 43-0 Blowout

Steve Balestrieri
September 15, 2019 at 8:49 pm ET

No miracle finish this time, and for the Miami Dolphins, the only thing close to a miracle was that the Patriots were missing both of their offensive tackles or else this one could have been much, much worse.

The Patriots dominated this one from start to finish, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Miami managed only 184 yards of total offense, with the vast majority of those coming well after this game was over.  In the first two games of the 2019 season, the Patriots have allowed just three points. 

The only big downside to the blowout win was the loss of left tackle Isaiah Wynn to a foot injury at the end of the first quarter. He didn’t return. With right tackle Marcus Cannon missing this one with a shoulder injury, it definitely affected the play of the offensive line overall. Marshall Newhouse, the 11-year veteran had been on the team for all of three days, stepped in to play left tackle. This situation will bear close watching. 

Here are some of our observations from the blowout win. While it won’t exorcise all of the demons of playing in Miami, it has to feel pretty good for the team as they improve to 2-0 on the season.

  • The Patriots sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen seven times and intercepted four passes, returning two of those for touchdowns.
  • Stephon Gilmore had the first pick-six of his career. As Fitzpatrick rolled to his right, he tried to force a short pass to DeVante Parker. Gilmore stepped in front of him and picked it off and sauntered into the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown. 
  • Gilmore also caused the first interception of the day. On a deep pass down the right sideline, he went up and deflected the ball which went straight to Devin McCourty.
  • Jamie Collins had a monster game. He made five tackles, [one for a loss], had a sack and then had an interception that he returned 74 yards for a touchdown. On the last play of the game, Collins intercepted Rosen and then took the ball straight into the Patriots locker room. 
  • Rookie Chase Winovich made two tackles, one for a loss and had 1.5 sacks
  • Antonio Brown did play and scored a 20-yard touchdown on a nice back-shoulder throw from Tom Brady to him in the end zone. Brady was impressed with Brown’s quick grasp of the offense and said after the game that he had “good snap” off the line early in this one. Brown finished the game with four receptions for 56 yards and the score.
  • Brady finished 20-28 for 264 yards with two touchdowns passing and one rushing. 
  • Sony Michel had 85 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown. He also had a fumble lost later in the 4th Quarter. Rex Burkhead was once again impressive as he had 68 yards combined rushing and receiving on just seven touches. 
  • Julian Edelman had four catches for 51 yards. Josh Gordon had two catches for 19 while Phillip Dorsett had three catches for 39. His catch on third and 18 was a beauty, however. He went right to the sticks and dove for the hard pass from Brady.
  • James White didn’t get a ton of touches in this one [3 rushes for 10 yards, 3 catches for 19 more] but had a too easy touchdown late in the game. Miami sent a blitz at Brady and the screen pass had three offensive linemen with no one to block as White sauntered into the end zone. 
  • Miami has saddled former Patriot DC Brian Flores, their new head coach with a truly awful football team and their performance in their first two games have played that out. They have been embarrassed on their home turf for two weeks in a row. First by the Ravens and then again 43-0 against the Patriots, the first time in their history that Miami has been shut out at home by New England. 
  • Stephen Gostkowski had a rough, rough day, missing a field goal and two extra points. But for all of Patriots fans calling for him to be immediately cut, we’ll ask this. Replace him with who? While it certainly is a concern moving forward, it is not going to cause him to be jettisoned that fast. Bill Belichick will work with him this week and they’ll try to get him back on track. Calm your jets folks…

Miami gained only 42 yards on the ground on 15 carries which worked out to just 2.8 yards per rushing attempt. In two games the Patriots have allowed 74 yards on the ground an average of 37 per game. Fitzpatrick completed just 11 of 21 passes for just 89 yards with three interceptions. His passer rating was just 23.8. Rosen came in with just over eight minutes remaining in the game and completed 7-18 for 97 yards with an interception. His passer rating was just 33.8.

Overall, the Dolphins QBs were 18-39 for 142 yards with 0 TDs and 4 INTs with seven sacks for 44 yards. Fitzpatrick was under duress all game long with nowhere to throw the ball due to the blanket coverage. 

Offensively, with both tackles out, it made both running and passing the ball more difficult but the team still rolled up 381 yards of offense, 126 on the ground and 255 more thru the air. Brown only had a handful of practices this week, but he has already shown how effective he can be once he gets on the same sheet of music with Brady. 

As always I find it amusing that national writers accuse Belichick of running it up but last week, after scoring 42 points in the first half, the Ravens ran a fake punt…crickets. And as to why Brady and Co. were still in the game late into the 4th quarter. Brady said, Belichick’s message all week was to play solid for 60 minutes. In Bill’s mind, football players play football so, while some a few people were lamenting seeing the starters in there, the coach wants to see them continue to work to get ready for the long season ahead.

For now, the team is 2-0 and rolling very impressively defensively. Next week they return home to take on the New York Jets who play Cleveland on Monday Night Football this week.  

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

New England Patriots News 9-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 09-15 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, and a return to football… hopefully, this afternoon. This past week has been a ridiculously, needless testament to what the news has become in this country. The Antonio Brown saga has been in full-blown TMZ mode all week to where the Patriots opening season big win over the Steelers and the upcoming game at Miami were swept aside like unnecessary backdrops. 

“Should Belichick Release Him?”, “When did the Patriots know?” “Why Didn’t the Patriots Know?” “What Number/Helmet/cleats is AB wearing?” Non-stop since Tuesday.

You know it has gotten ridiculous when CNN fixes a GPS map finder to someone’s car so that he can find Gillette Stadium and then attempt to harangue Bill Belichick with the same question three times like they would third rate politicians as if that is really going to make him answer. 

*Hint for today* – When the team releases a statement stating they are aware of an investigation and will not comment further until there is a resolution…and you ask once, you are doing your job. Ask the same thing twice and you’re getting into rude territory. Push it a third time by talking over the coach saying “you didn’t answer it”, then you’re just a jerk who is making this about yourself…but they have a penchant for that. 

The only thing missing was for Harvey Levin to have one of his dweebs outside the stadium with a video camera. “We got Belichick coming out at 2 a.m. after meetings and film study. ‘So Bill, do you really like football?’” 

So, for a few hours, we can watch the game(s) and not have to be subjected to the same “All Antonio, All the Time” drivel non-stop. Unless Brown does play and has a big game…

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Malcolm Mitchell – opened up to NBC in an interview on how difficult it is to move on to life after football. His career ended prematurely due to numerous injuries and it was derailed just as it should have been taking off. 

“I guess I knew I would have this breakup with football, someday. I just didn’t know how bad it would be on my mental health. It’s like I’ve been reincarnated, as somebody else. And I don’t want to be anybody else,” Mitchell said. 

“I have to move on,” he added. “I know that. I have to come out of this grieving phase, and I’m working on that. I can’t stay here, because if I do, I’m as good as dead.”

Patriots Baby Boom  – Last week Kyle Van Noy was inactive for the Steelers game due to his wife going into labor and then welcoming his son into the world. On Friday it was reported that James White wouldn’t travel as his wife was giving birth as well. But on Saturday it was reported that he indeed did travel to Miami. However, it seems like there may have been a slight boom during the post-regular season time frame. Perhaps, it was across the region as well. 

Rob Gronkowski – The big man remains in the news as he’s been doing interviews and promoting his new business [CBD Oil] which he claims has healed him. Gronk told an interviewer this week, that despite nine surgeries, he had at least 20 concussions of which five were “total blackouts”. He did add that although not yet a father, he would allow his son to play football as long as he was made aware of the risks involved.

Obi Melifonwu – After being let go with the addition of Antonio Brown, the big safety from Grafton cleared waivers and the Patriots brought him back onto the practice squad. And the team did him a big solid. While the bottom line for pay for practice squad players is $8000 a week, the Patriots frequently pay more and in Melifonwu’s case, much more. The team brought him back at his regular salary of $645,000 or in this case $37,941 a week. When people talk about “how cheap” the Patriots are…remind them of this little tidbit. Melifonwu may still fit in the team’s long-term plans with Pat Chung and Devin McCourty possibly retiring soon. 

Week 1 Overreaction? Say it ain’t so – After the Patriots dismantled the Steelers on opening night, optimism was running very high in New England, and why not? Despite some uneven play at times, they dominated from start to finish, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. First, it is one game, and we all remember the horrific opener against the Chiefs a few years ago, right? And second, despite the optimism emanating from Western PA, the Patriots have owned the Steelers in Foxboro. 

That said, the defense played as advertised and the offense despite going 0-3 in the red zone looked much better than advertised. It is a good, no, very good start. But remember, today is another day and let’s wait to see how they play in Miami, where they traditionally lay an egg. FWIW, I still believe Pittsburgh wins their division.

The Patriots Passing Game Now a Position of Strength? You Bet:

The strong showing by Tom Brady and company on Sunday night, plus the addition of the aforementioned Antonio Brown definitely played a hand in the trade of WR Demaryius Thomas to the Jets. We’ll get to more of that below. But as of right now, the passing attack is, at least for one week, much farther along than we would have believed just a few short weeks ago.

With Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers at wide receiver and James White along with Rex Burkhead out of the backfield, the offense has plenty of weapons for Brady to utilize. This is before even adding Brown, running back Damien Harris, rookie WR N’Keal Harry (IR) and veteran WR Cameron Meredith (PUP) to the mix for depth purposes later in the year. Now the possibilities are very optimistic. 

So even though the situation at tight end is far from perfect with Matt LaCosse banged up and Ryan Izzo more of a blocker, there are still plenty of options for Brady to target. Ben Watson can return after the Bills game and he should help there. 

But in Thomas’ case, I received a DM on Twitter asking, “if the Patriots had known about the AB claims, would they still have traded Thomas?” It is a good question, but my answer is yes. The passing game was clicking and even without considering Brown, they still have Harris, Harry, and Meredith. So, they really didn’t need him, and were able to unload his contract so there is no dead money involved. 

But their choice of trading partners was really intriguing. I was also asked what I thought of the choice of the Jets for his landing spot. Bill Belichick has traded with 30 other NFL teams since taking over the Patriots. Until this week, the only team he hadn’t traded with was the Jets. 

My feeling is, and this is strictly just an opinion, that they didn’t feel that Thomas was ever going to recapture enough of his game to be a viable receiver once again. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have traded him to the Jets…we’ll see next week. 

Time to Get Michel More Involved in the Passing Game:

The Patriots will be looking to get Sony Michel more involved in the running game today and get him untracked but they can help in that regard by getting him more involved in the passing game. Last week the Steelers keyed off of Michel’s being on the field by crowding the box and playing the run. And in that, they were very successful as Michel had only 14 yards on 15 carries.

According to my feeble math skills, with Michel on the field, the Patriots ran the ball nearly 75 percent of the time. Pittsburgh, having watched the postseason tape of the Patriots played run-heavy and was able to stuff it time and again. After rewatching the game tape, when the Patriots passed with Michel on the field, they were very successful. Now I get it, it is a minuscule sample size, but they averaged about 15 yards per play. 

Getting Michel more involved in the passing game just removes some of the predictability that other teams will have noticed and make this offense that much harder to stop. Today would be a perfect time to start giving opposing defensive coordinators even more to consider. 

Bulked Up Josh Gordon “In the Best Shape of My Career”:

Josh Gordon is playing at nearly 240 pounds this season as he may be in line for some of Rob Gronkowski’s work in the slot. Gordon’s bulked up presence may have been by design to take on the extra workload of Gronk’s absence. He played only about 10 percent out of the slot in 2018. On Sunday it was around 35 percent.

Gordon spoke about his workload and how he feels physically this week and he’s very optimistic of his long-term outlook. NFL Network’s Mike Giardi asked him if he’s in the best shape of his career and Gordon was quick to agree.

“Oh yeah, by far. By far,” Gordon told Giardi. “I don’t have any injuries this year, fortunately. Me and [strength and conditioning coach] Moses Cabrera have been in the training room every morning getting after it and continue to grow. It’s only Week 2. I’m excited, we’re all excited to see what happens halfways toward the end of the season. I think it’s going to be a huge upside at that point.”

Gordon’s upbeat attitude is definitely a plus and we can expect him to get even more looks in the passing game as the season winds on today.

NFL Schedule Week 2, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 11-4-1

TNF Carolina over Tampa Bay 0-1 

Dallas over Washington
Tennessee over Indy
Pittsburgh over Seattle
Buffalo over NY Giants
Patriots over Miami
Houston over Jacksonville
Green Bay over Minnesota
LA Chargers over Detroit
Cincinnati over San Francisco
Baltimore over Arizona
Kansas City over Oakland
Chicago over Denver
LA Rams over New Orleans – Rematch of the NFC Championship
SNF Philly over Atlanta
MNF Cleveland over NY Jets

Early Thursday Night Football pick Tennessee over Jacksonville

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Need to Slow Down Saquon Barkley Today:

The Buffalo Bills can go to 2-0 by winning in the same stadium on the road, two weeks in a row. The Bills scored 17 straight points by beating the Jets in MetLife Stadium last week and take on the Giants today. But they face a very talented back in Saquon Barkley and he’ll be a big difference in who wins or loses.

The Bills pass defense is the strength of their team and they’ve allowed 217 yards or less for nine straight weeks, heading back to last season. And the Giants are banged up at WR. So, it stands to reason that the Giants may opt to feed one of the best RBs in the business in Barkley.

Barkley averaged 10.9 yards per rushing attempt last week in Dallas garnering 120 yards on just 11 carries. Which begs the question, why didn’t they use him more? On the flip side, watch for Bills rookie Devin Singletary to get more work today. The rookie RB had 70 yards on just four carries and added 28 more on five receptions. He was fun to watch. 

Dolphins Minkah Fitzpatrick Possibly Going to Dallas:

The Miami Dolphins agreed this week to allow safety/cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick to seek a trade partner.  And while there will no doubt be several teams interested, one team, the Dallas Cowboys have already publicly expressed interest. 

Fitzpatrick was a first-round draft pick just a year ago, but he’s unhappy with the way he’s being used by the new coaching staff and wants out. Dallas has been trying to upgrade the safety position all year. They courted the idea of bringing in Earl Thomas and Eric Berry but signed neither. They signed George Iloka. But the veteran was released, beaten out by veteran Jeff Heath and rookie Donovan Wilson. Fitzpatrick is a big upgrade over either of those two. So, this will bear watching.

What would be the asking price? Some circles are pointing to DL Taco Charlton who isn’t playing much because of a deep Dallas front seven. This development may have some bearing on how much Fitzpatrick plays today.

Jets Are Banged Up and Now Lose Darnold to Mono:

The New York Jets have already suffered a rash of injuries this season, Quincy Enunwa is out for the year with a neck injury. C.J. Moseley was forced to leave last week’s opener with a groin injury. RB Le’Veon Bell hurt his shoulder and had an MRI on it. But now they’ve lost QB Sam Darnold to mononucleosis, which is expected to keep him shelved indefinitely. And the schedule isn’t doing them any favors.

Trevor Siemian takes over for Darnold and faces a daunting schedule. The Jets play a Cleveland Browns team that was embarrassed last week on Monday Night Football, then head to Foxboro to take on the Patriots, followed by games against the Eagles, Cowboys, and then the Patriots again. That is a tough five-game stretch even if Darnold was in the lineup.

The Jets offensive line will also have to deal with a very less mobile QB than Darnold as Siemian can’t make plays outside the pocket as Darnold can. 

________________

“Yeah, Troy’s done a good job. You know, we have three rookie receivers, and Troy was in the same type of situation when he came. Obviously, that was in a different system, but he’s seen a lot of guys come through that. He did it himself, and I think he can help everybody – from the rookies, the guys who have never played before, to new players, to players who have played here a long time like Julian.” – Bill Belichick on the difference former Patriot Troy Brown has made helping coach the WRs.

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Patriots Players To Watch, Week 2 Against the Dolphins

Steve Balestrieri
September 13, 2019 at 12:02 pm ET

The Patriots have a game in the books against the Steelers and now head out on the road for the first time in 2019. Away games were the bane of the team in 2019, as the team went 3-5 away from Foxboro. This week they’re traveling to Miami which has been a non-stop bummer for the Patriots since the Dolphins entered the league in 1966.

Slow starts have plagued the team in September in recent years, with a win on Sunday against the Dolphins the Patriots have the chance to begin the season 2-0 and more importantly, win their first divisional game, with two more against the Jets and Bills to follow in the ensuing weeks. 

Here are our Patriots players to watch this week down in South Florida as the Patriots try to break out of the 1-5 slump they’ve had down there the past six visits. 

Sony Michel: 

Michel had an impressive summer and looked like the explosive Georgia version of himself during training camp and in limited reps in the preseason. We were excited to see what he could bring to the table against a very stout Pittsburgh front seven last week. But the Steelers ensured that Michel wasn’t going to beat him and keyed on him and the run when he was in the game. He ended up with only 14 yards on 15 carries.

The Dolphins struggled in run support last week and were gashed for 265 yards on the ground by the Ravens. We expect the Patriots to put some emphasis this week on establishing the run and to also open up play-action passes. 

We’re looking for Michel to get a lot of work early in this one to help spring the offense into high gear. The Patriots offensive line will be also looking to set the tone for this one early. Look for Michel to run behind some good holes in this one.

Phillip Dorsett:

Whenever we discuss the Patriots wide receivers, Dorsett is always kind of an afterthought. But Dorsett and the Patriots are fine if Miami forgets about him as well. He had a huge game on Sunday, catching all four passes thrown his way for 95 yards and two touchdowns of 25 and 58 yards from Tom Brady.

Dating back to last year, Dorsett has caught the last 20 passes thrown in his direction, 19 from Brady, and one from Brian Hoyer. The last time he was targeted and the pass was incomplete was the Miami game in Foxboro during Week 4 in 2018. So, while he doesn’t get targeted a lot when he is thrown to, he makes the catch.

This week should be more of the same, Brady and Josh McDaniels should have some plays where Dorsett is going to be the “forgotten man” by the defense and facing a backup corner. And he will be counted on to come thru. We’re looking for Brady to give Dorsett a few more looks this week in the passing game. It is never a bad idea to ride the hot hand.

Kyle Van Noy:

Van Noy missed last week’s game due to his wife giving birth to a child on Sunday. But it didn’t stop the Patriots’ linebacker to tweet out during the game as he was keeping an eye on the events that unfolded. Van Noy has been an absolute steal since coming over from Detroit. He’s arguably one of the biggest playmakers on the defense. 

The linebacker position is stacked this year with Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Ja’Whaun Bentley. So much so that Roberts, one of the Patriots’ team captains didn’t play a snap. 

Van Noy had a very good summer and was primed to begin the season exactly where he left off last year. After missing the Steelers game, he has to be chomping at the bit to get back on the field. Look for him to have a big impact on Sunday. 

Josh Gordon:

Gordon was/is a question mark heading into the 2019 season due to his repeated suspensions and his struggle to stay on the straight and narrow. Last week, many were questioning whether he’d be sharp as he was suspended from December until late August when he was reinstated. But he played well and chipped in with 73 yards receiving in Week 1, including a 44-yard bomb from Brady. 

If there is a silver lining to the circus surrounding anything and everything Antonio Brown it is that Gordon is now pushed onto a back burner by the media a bit. And he’s free to prepare for Miami without all of the scrutinies that he’d otherwise be subjected to.

Gordon is a tough matchup for the Dolphins, with his size, speed, and athleticism. I’d look for Xavien Howard to lineup opposite him and this should be an intriguing one to watch. Howard is easily Miami’s best cover corner and it promises to be entertaining.

Tom Brady: 

Ah yes, the GOAT. Although he owns a nice 22-11 record against the Dolphins, that number falls to 7-10 in Miami. Brady will no doubt be asked about it, if anyone, …ever decides to ask a football question again [do we detect a pattern here?] and we know Brady thrives on a challenge. 

Forget what happened last week against Baltimore…doesn’t matter. Pundits picking Miami to be the worst team in the NFL? He could care less. The way that game ended last year in Miami and for the Patriots to go home with a loss is a major factor with #12 and it has been festering since last December.

Look for Brady to come out just like this is a playoff game was laser intensity and focus. He’ll approach it as if Miami was trying to take his spot away from him. A big day awaits if they execute well enough.  

_________

Check back with PatsFans.com for all of our pregame and post-game analysis. And if you’re a wiz at predicting the NFL slate straight up, register for our message board and then post your picks every week. We’ll see who is the top dog at the end of the season. That page can be found here: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

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 PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots-Dolphins Week 2 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 12, 2019 at 7:50 am ET

The Patriots head out on the road for the first time in 2019 as they travel to South Florida, to take on the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots are looking to get off to a 2-0 start and put behind them the slow starts that have earmarked earlier seasons.

Miami has a new coaching staff in place with Brian Flores, the former de facto Defensive Coordinator for New England serving as their new head coach. He has taken several former New England assistants with him, including Chad O’Shea who is the Dolphins Offensive Coordinator. 

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, September 15 at 1:00 p.m. and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn 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) are coming off a convincing 33-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Tom Brady threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

The Dolphins (0-1) were shellacked 59-10 by the Baltimore Ravens where Miami’s defense was gashed for 623 yards [265 on the ground, 378 in the air]. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis 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 Dolphins have been playing each other since 1966. Miami holds the overall edge 55-52 with each team holding a huge edge in home games. Miami is 38-16 at home against New England while the Patriots are 36-17 all-time at home against the Dolphins. Bill Belichick’s record versus Miami with the Patriots is 24-14. In games in Miami, Tom Brady is 7-10, and the team is just 1-5 in their last six games there. 

The teams split last year’s contests with the Patriots blowing out Miami 38-7 at home and then losing 34-33 in December in the “Miracle in Miami” 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 Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game didn’t have a great game last week, but it wasn’t all bad either. The team ended up with 99 yards on the ground against a very good Pittsburgh front seven. They’ll be looking to get Sony Michel untracked this week as he was bottled up against the Steelers last week. 

Miami was gashed badly by the Ravens in the opener to the tune of 265 yards and 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. They were overwhelmed at the point of attack and will be looking to do a much better job. They’ll need their big men up front, nose tackle Davon Godchaux, and ends John Jenkins and Christian Wilkins to be much better. If the Patriots big men in the middle, Ted Karras, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason can get a push to the second level, the ground game will be successful. 

Look for plenty of the two-back sets with Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White rotating in with James Develin leading the way. It will be interesting to see if the team activates Damien Harris this week, as he was removed from the injury report and having Brandon Bolden limited with a hamstring issue.

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

The Patriots passing game looked really good passing for 374 yards in the opener against the Steelers. Tom Brady was sharp and was getting everyone involved in the passing game. The pass protection against the top team in sacks from 2018 held up quite well. Isaiah Wynn shined in his first game but the team lost Marcus Cannon to a shoulder injury in the second half. His absence will be a place to watch this week. The team did sign veteran tackle Marshall Newhouse this week. 

The Dolphins pass defense was arguably more miserable than their run defense was last week. Lamar Jackson had a perfect passer rating and threw five touchdowns along with 324 yards passing. His backup RG III came in and was 6-6 for 55 yards with a touchdown. Ravens’ QBs were 23-26 for 378 yards with six TDs. The secondary has some good pieces there with Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, and Bobby McCain with a bunch of ex-Patriots, Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi, Jomal Wilz, and Ken Webster. 

The Patriots running game should open up play-action passing in this one. Seeing how the Dolphins choose to match up with Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, and Julian Edelman with White and Burkhead out of the backfield will be an interesting part of the chess match. Flores knows the Patriots weapons well and he’ll be trying to counter their moves. The pass rush for Miami is key here. If Brady has time to throw, he should light them up again. It is unknown right now whether Antonio Brown [on Wednesday evening] will play. It may depend on how much of the offense he can learn in practice this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

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

The Dolphins rushing attack was put on the backburner early last week when they fell behind so far, so early. They have Kenyon Drake and Kalen Ballage toting the rock behind an offensive line with new pieces everywhere. 

Jesse Davis was moved to left tackle from the right side. Michael Dieter and Daniel Kilgore at LG and C respectively are the only carryovers. Right guard Danny Isadora and right tackle Julien Davenport are both new and started last week after coming to Miami after the initial 53-man cutdown. 

The Patriots front seven stuffed the Steelers rushing attack last week holding them to just 32 total yards. James Conner only gained 21 yards on 10 carries. The big men up front Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, and Michael Bennett held firm and allowed the linebackers to clean up. 

Although Drake has had success against the Patriots in the past, with this patchwork offensive line, it is tough to see Miami getting much going on the ground without them getting really creative here.  

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

Miami has surprisingly gone with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick in the early going after they brought in second-year QB Josh Rosen earlier this year. Fitzpatrick has the capability to get really hot for a few games, as we’ve seen in the past, but overall he’s 2-9 in his career with the Bills and Jets against the Patriots. 

The skill players are good with DeVante Parker as their possession guy with Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant as their outside guys with speed to burn. Tight Mike Gesicki will be someone to watch. But this offensive line will decide this matchup. Can they hold up? 

The Patriots defense was outstanding against the Steelers, with the secondary of Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty taking away the outside threats. Look for Pat Chung to cover Gesicki and that will be a great matchup to watch. 

I look for the Patriots left side to attack Miami’s right side of the OL. Davenport who came over from the Texans in the Laremy Tunsil deal gave up 12 sacks, 65 QB pressures and committed 16 penalties last year. Look for the Patriots to bring their pressure attacking the right side. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots Stephen Gostkowski had a really solid game after an uneven preseason. He hit on all three extra points and all four field goal attempts. Jake Bailey hit one boomer and one dud last week. But his holds on the field goals were spot on, something they struggled with a bit in preseason. The coverage units were solid and Gunner Olszewski had a nice debut with punt returns of 20 and 15 yards. 

Miami’s Jason Sanders booted a 54-yard field goal last week in one of the few bright spots of that game. Punter Matt Haack averaged 53.7 yards per punt. Their return game didn’t net much on the day.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Another year heading to the Patriots House of Horrors? New England is just 1-5 in their last six games in South Florida, including the past two. They always seem to save some of their worst football for games in South Florida. Can they turn that around and start the year off 2-0 and avoid the slow starts that have plagued the team in recent years?

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Be Aggressive and Get After Fitzpatrick – Look for the Patriots defense to be aggressive and attack the Miami offensive line here, while they try to set the tone of this one from the outset. Fitzpatrick isn’t the most mobile of QBs and the OL hasn’t played together for very long. Show them different fronts [Amoeba look with one down lineman] bring pressure and try to generate some turnovers. 

Jamie Collins, Michael Bennett, and rookie Chase Winovich are the players to watch here. They don’t want to lay back and allow Fitzpatrick to get into a rhythm. This secondary has shown it can play blanket coverage across the field, take advantage of it and force the issue. 

Run the Ball to Open up Play Action: The Patriots running game is looking to get untracked this week and this is a perfect time and place to do so. Miami hasn’t sorted things out yet and the ground game can set the tone for this one early. Michel, Burkhead, and White should give them plenty of yardage to open things up in the passing game. With play-action, Brady will have more open room across the middle and allow him more time to hit Gordon and Dorsett on the perimeter. It will be interesting to see if they give rookie Jakobi Meyers more snaps this week. We’re not counting on Antonio Brown playing in this one, but we’ll have to see how that plays out. 

Put Them Down Early: The Patriots have had a bad habit of letting the Dolphins hang around in games down in Miami and those have come back to haunt them. Sunday, they need to come out firing and put the Dolphins in the rearview mirror early. The confidence can’t be high there right now after last week’s debacle. 

Bill Belichick needs to get the team coming out fired up like this is a playoff game and approach it in that way. A couple of quick scores early and have the Dolphins on their heels. They have done that at home against the Dolphins seemingly every game, it is time to do so down there.  

___________

So, a lot of Patriots fans and some media have been playing up the familiarity idea that the Dolphins’ coaches know the Patriots and their system and know exactly how to attack them. And they point, successfully at the Lions and Titans games from a year ago. And it is a valid point…to a degree. 

But this New England team is a better one than took the field last year, and this Dolphins team is frankly, one that is going to struggle to win 3-4 games in 2019. The only thing holding the Patriots back this week is themselves. They should establish dominance early in this one. There won’t be any miracles this time.  Patriots 42-13

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour moves back to New England next week to take on the Jets.

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 and breakdown game analysis

Patriots 2019 Opponents, First Impressions of the Dolphins

Steve Balestrieri
September 11, 2019 at 9:07 am ET

The Miami Dolphins cleaned house this past spring and brought in a new coach, GM and cut their ties with several players. The new head coach Brian Flores spent many years in New England and played a big part in their Super Bowl championship over the Rams in February. 

So Miami came calling, feeling that they were heading nowhere with Adam Gase at the helm, where he was tied to QB Ryan Tannehill who, despite getting paid like a franchise QB, never produced on the field like one. 

If things didn’t seem bad enough, where many NFL analysts had the Dolphins finishing among the worst teams in the NFL in 2019, right before the regular season worse news hit. The front office traded left tackle Laremy Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills to the Texans.

Their first game was a nightmare with the Raven annihilating Miami 59-10. Baltimore rolled up an incredible 643 yards of offense, 378 through the air and 265 more rushing. Lamar Jackson threw five touchdown passes completing 17-20. Miami could only muster 200 yards of offense of their own. Fans were leaving in droves long before the game ended. 

So, here are our first impressions of the Dolphins of 2019:

Brian Flores and His Staff Have a Lot of Work to Do:

Flores, known affectionately as B-Flo by the players here knew that the Dolphins needed to clean house when he over the team this past winter. But perhaps maybe he didn’t realize how far they had to go. He brought several coaches from New England with him, including former Patriots WR coach Chad O’Shea, who is now the offensive coordinator. After coaching a team that was always in the running for a Super Bowl, Flores and his staff went about trying to change the culture in South Beach.

Management’s decision to jettison both Tunsil and Stills was a sign that the front office is intent on tanking the season, possibly with the hope of landing Tua Tagovailoa, the QB from Alabama despite the fact that they brought in Josh Rosen, a top 10 pick from just a year ago from the Cardinals. 

Last Sunday, the Dolphins had 14 players on the opening week roster that weren’t with the team during the preseason. And it showed on the field. With his former boss Bill Belichick and the Patriots coming to town this week, the Dolphins have a lot of issues to correct, in all three phases of the game. 

Several Dolphins Players Reportedly Already Want Out:

Following the 59-10 debacle in South Beach last week, there were reports that several players are wanting to jump ship. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that  “multiple Dolphins players contacted their agents after Sunday’s season-opening blowout loss and directed them to attempt to engineer trades elsewhere.”

Florio added that the players in question believe that some of the coaching staff, “aren’t serious about competing and winning and, by all appearances, have bought into the notion that the Dolphins will take their lumps now in the hopes of laying the foundation via high draft picks for building a successful team later.” Ouch.

Flores has denied this stating, “I can’t really speak to the accuracy of that one,” he said on Monday. “We haven’t received any information like that.” But the players know that the front office has decided to tank this season to gain a more advantageous draft position in 2020. 

The Dolphins are basically holding a fire sale. And one player who several teams covet, cornerback Xavien Howard may soon be traded away as by GM Chris Grier. As for this week, Flores has announced that QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will once again get the start against the Patriots.  

Baker and Eguavoen Were the Ironmen for the  Defense:

The Dolphins didn’t have many bright spots in the 59 -10 thumping they took last week from the Ravens, but Flores and the coaching staff have to be pleased with the efforts of linebackers Jerome Baker and Sam Eguavoen who showcased their skills and conditioning, especially in the South Florida heat by answering the bell all day long.

Baker led the way by playing in 84 snaps, including 12 on special teams, while Eguavoen logged 83 of his own. And despite the way the game unfolded, Baker, who was a 3rd round draft pick of the Dolphins in the 2018 NFL Draft [73rd overall], remained upbeat about his teammates. 

On his Twitter account, Baker posted “I’ll go to war with this team every day!” which he tweeted with the hashtag PhinsUp and a dolphin emoji. He was asked about it after the game on Monday and he doubled down.

“It’s just a part of the game,” Baker said. “I don’t want anybody to question that we’ll all stick together. It’s just one loss. We’ve got to bounce back and ultimately stick together.”

Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham is keeping an open mind and an open door for his players to help turn things around, being open to suggestions that will help the team find some answers. 

 “I think we’re all doing this job together,” Graham said. “There’s definitely a leadership role. It starts with our head coach. It trickles down to me and then to the players and then the leadership within the player group as well, but my door is always open. I’m always open to hear and listen and get communication from the players and input because we are doing this thing together. We spend so much time with one another.”

Fitzpatrick Hoping to Capture Some “Fitzmagic” This Week:

With the Dolphins in full rebuild mode, many fans expected that the team would start second-year QB Josh Rosen to see what they had in the young QB who was saddled with arguably the worst supporting cast in the NFL last year. But the team instead opted for journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick finished the game just 14-29 for 185 yards with one TD and one INT. He gave way to Rosen who mopped up in the loss. Rosen completed one of three passes for five yards with an interception. Fitzpatrick set two records on Sunday, one of them was of the dubious quality. With his touchdown pass, he became the first QB to throw a TD pass for his eighth different team. And of course, his interception also meant that he has now thrown interceptions for eight different teams, also a record.

Fitzpatrick has faced the Patriots 11 times in his career and has a 2-9 record against them, seven of those as a member of the Bills [1-6] and four as a member of the Jets [1-3]. He has completed 238 of 388 passes [61.3 percent], for 3035 yards with 20 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. His passer rating is 82.6 in those 11 games. He’s also been sacked 20 times. 

If the Dolphins expect another “Miami Miracle” this Sunday, they’re going to need a lot more Fitzmagic and less of the Fitzpatrick that has faced the Patriots for much of his career. 

Questions Abound About the Offensive Line:

The trade of left tackle Laremy Tunsil was expected to necessitate change for the Miami offensive line in 2019, but nobody foresaw what ensued in Week 1. The coaches moved RT Jesse Davis to the left side, and then started two players, Julien Davenport at right tackle and Danny Isidora at right guard who had been on the team less than a week, the starting nod while benching Shalique Calhoun. 

The only two constants from the preseason were center Daniel Kilgore and left guard Michael Dieter. The results would speak for themselves. Miami could only manage 200 yards of offense and just 21 yards on the ground.

Both new players on the right side struggled mightily as the Ravens attacked that side and consistently won the one-on-one matchups. Expect the Patriots to do the same until the new players to get up to speed with the playbook, the offense and improve the communication. 

Both Davenport and Isadora struggle with pass blocking. As a member of the Texans last year, Davenport allowed 12 sacks, 65 QB hurries and committed 16 penalties. Expect the Patriots to be very aggressive on the Dolphins’ right side.

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

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Patriots Week 1 Report Card, All Systems Go in Blowout Win Over the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 9, 2019 at 11:47 am ET

  The Patriots didn’t show any effects of having a Super Bowl hangover, an aging roster, or facing the last team to beat them, the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening night. The Patriots dominated the Steelers again at home from start to finish in a very impressive win to kickstart the 2019 season.

They looked like a much better-prepared team than their opponents, who after beating the Patriots last December, were looking to erase a lot of bad history when they play the Patriots on the road. Ben Roethlisberger’s only win in Gillette came in 2008, against Matt Cassel as that was the year that Tom Brady blew out his knee in Week 1. 

The Patriots coaches put together a superb game plan and the players executed to near flawless perfection. This was a tremendous win to start the 2019 season, as we’re off and running.  

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady, was in midseason form last night as he methodically and surgically picked apart the Steelers’ defense as he’s done so many times in the past  Brady was sharp, slid well in the pocket and was able to manipulate the safeties with his eyes as the offense rolled up 465 yards of offense.

Brady finished 24-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around to a number of different receivers and backs, and Pittsburgh had no answers for. 

His best throw was a dime to Phillip Dorsett for a 25-yard touchdown that was perfectly placed down the seam. Later he Dorsett again for a 52-yard touchdown where the WR was all alone. Dave Brown from the Concord Monitor referenced the hot take artists with his call of “Brady’s macaroni elbow was supposed to be the downfall of this team.” That is classic!

Running Backs: A-

The Patriots running backs were pegged by us as a key component to beating the Steelers last night. We thought they’d have to run the ball effectively and factor out of the backfield into the passing game. They did just that. Running out of a heavy set early, they picked up a couple of first downs before spreading the defense out and picking them apart. 

James White and Rex Burkhead were both outstanding in this game, each combining for over 80+ yards on the ground and in the air. White had 5 catches for 56 yards and added 26 more on the ground. Burkhead also had five catches for 41 yards and he added 44 yards on the ground. The team also got Brandon Bolden involved early, the do-everything back had an early carry for seven yards. 

The only downside was that the team couldn’t get Sony Michel involved effectively. The Steelers made a concerted effort to make other backs beat them and Michel was frequently hit in the backfield. He had only 14 yards on 15 carries. 

Wide Receivers: A

Questions, questions, questions about this group before the game last night. Not a peep this morning. The starting trio of Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Josh Gordon was terrific last night. The trio combined for  13 catches and 251 yards with three touchdowns.

Combined with the game the backs had out of the backfield, Brady just spread the wealth around nearly equally and the Steelers had no answer. Phillip Dorsett had four catches for 95 yards with two touchdowns [25 and 52], while Gordon had just three catches but for 73 yards and a score. His 20-yarder shows how difficult he can be in the open field to take down and he and Brady combined for a 44-yard bomb later in the game.

Julian Edelman looked in mid-season form, doing the dirty work underneath and across the middle and being a pain in the backside to anyone trying to cover him. He’s virtually uncoverable at times off the line and showed zero signs of the thumb ailment. Edelman had six catches for 83 yards. He had one carry for eight yards. 

Jakobi Meyers played only a handful of snaps but had a nice 22-yard reception where he took a big hit, was able to hold onto the ball and get yards after contact. The Patriots perimeter receivers averaged 23.75 yards per reception last night. Dink and Dunk? And they played without Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, and rookie N’Keal Harry. Let that sink in a second.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski is retired and everyone wants to know “Who replaces Gronk?” The short answer….the wide receivers and backs. James Develin and Ryan Izzo did a good job in the running game but they didn’t contribute much in the passing game. Izzo had one catch for three yards

They should receive a boost if Matt LaCosse is able to go in Miami but I wouldn’t expect bigger things from them until Ben Watson returns.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line was a big question mark coming into this game. Isaiah Wynn was playing in his first NFL game and Ted Karras was starting for David Andrews at center after the veteran went on IR. It is safe to say they aced their first test.

Facing a very good Steelers front seven that led the league in sacks a year ago, Brady was able to operate clean virtually the entire game. Overall, the pass protection was excellent. The run blocking was good but not great, but one should remember that Pittsburgh was the sixth-best team against the run last year. 

One thing to monitor is the status of Marcus Cannon who left the game with a shoulder injury and was seen with his arm in a sling. That could be a big loss if he’s out for an extended period of time.

Defensive Line: B

The defensive line was outstanding against the run, limiting the Steelers to just 32 yards on the ground. James Conner had just 21 yards on 10 carries. Jaylen Samuels had a pair of carries for four yards. Last year Samuels had 142 yards in the game at Pittsburgh. The linemen were holding at the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to make plays.

The only downside was the pass rush against that outstanding Steelers offensive line was negligible. The only sack by Deatrich Wise, where he stripped Roethlisberger of the ball was more of a coverage sack than anything else. But an overall very strong effort.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers were excellent last night. They filled the gaps in the running game, got some QB pressure and covered the backs well out of the backfield. The defense allowed just 87 yards and four first downs in the first half. 

Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Ja’Whaun Bentley were never out of position and consistently disrupting plays. With the top receivers blanketed, Ben Roethlisberger was looking for his secondary targets, and the linebackers helped shut those down as well. 

The front seven was suffocating, Roethlisberger was 27-47 for 277 yards and one interception. Many of those yards came with garbage time drives. He simply had no where to go and no one to throw to.

And their arguably best playmaker, Kyle Van Noy was inactive as his wife was having a baby on Sunday night. Van Noy was watching, however, and tweeted out “How about that defense?!?!?!?!? Them boys hungraaaayyyyyy!! My guys!!!!”

Secondary: A

The secondary has been a source of tremendous optimism since the spring. And they had a fantastic game against a fast and potent Pittsburgh offense. This secondary was lights out and taking away everything the Steelers tried to do. 

Stephon Gilmore was tasked with shadowing JuJu Smith-Schuster and took him out of the game. Don’t be fooled by some meaningless catches long after the game was decided, Gilmore easily won this matchup. Jonathan Jones was terrific in the slot. Jason McCourty similarly was very solid except for one deep pass to James Washington where he inexplicably pulled up, which resulted in a 45-yard completion.

Pat Chung was outstanding and took Vance McDonald out of the equation as well as providing excellent run support down low in the box. Devin McCourty had the only interception of the game. 

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had a very solid night. Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect three for three on extra points and four for four on field goal attempts. No issues were detected on the holds for his kicks with new punter Jake Bailey which had been an issue during the preseason. Bailey had one booming punt, one short one and one so-so punt. 

Gunner Olszewski had two punt returns, one for 20 yards and the other for 15 and looks very solid in the return game. The coverage units were solid

Coaches: A

The Patriots coaching staff totally dominated the matchup with Mike Tomlin and his staff. Josh McDaniels had a tremendous game plan, going at times with “20 personnel” [2 RBs, 0 TEs, 3WRs] to make up for the loss of Gronkowski. He constantly kept the Steelers guessing and defensively the plan was to take away Smith-Schuster and make the Steelers beat them with other options. It worked to a tee.

Bill Belichick had the team excellently prepared and it was clear, the preparation on the Patriots side paid big dividends. We’re on to Miami.

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Patriots Drop Banner #6, Throttle Steelers 33-3, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:21 am ET

Saying the New England Patriots got off to a good start in 2019 is an understatement. The night began with the team unveiling its sixth Super Bowl banner and then absolutely dismantling the Pittsburgh Steelers by a 33-3 that was every bit as dominant as the score would indicate.

We entered the season just a few hours ago with questions about the offensive line, and how the offense would gel with a wide receiver core that didn’t get a lot of practice time with Tom Brady. Demaryius Thomas and Damien Harris sat this one out with injuries but the remaining cast members were outstanding as the Patriots rolled up 465 yards of offense. 

Isaiah Wynn and Ted Karras both handled their duties excellently as these two were under the microscope going against a very good Pittsburgh front seven that led the league in sacks a year ago. Karras’ shotgun snaps [as many commented on during the game] were fluttering to Brady and while it didn’t set back the offense a bit but it is something that will have to be worked on. 

With aggressive play-calling by Josh McDaniels, the Steelers were reeling almost from the outset and the receivers looked in mid-season form. Pittsburgh had no answer for the Patriots backs out of the backfield while Tom Brady absolutely picked them apart, something he’s done to Pittsburgh every time they’ve played in Foxboro.

Brady finished the night 24-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns. 

The Patriots defense, which we’ve been excited about all summer long looked as dominant as hoped for. Pittsburgh was unable to mount any kind of sustained offense. Stephon Gilmore rendered the dangerous JuJu Smith-Schuster to an afterthought and forced Ben Roethlisberger to be constantly having to look at his second and third options. Pittsburgh’s ground game was held to just 32 yards, while the Steelers passing game piled up a bunch of garbage time yardage, they were frustrated all night long.

Other observations from tonight’s win include:

Josh McDaniels Play-calling – McDaniels had an aggressive game plan and the players executed it to near perfection. The Patriots ate the Steelers alive with quick throws, utilizing shallow crosses underneath which allowed the receivers to make yards after the catch. Pittsburgh beefed up the middle of their defense this year, but at least for tonight, they didn’t look like they were ready for the Patriots passing game. 

McDaniels dusted off the double pass from Julian Edelman to James White which had blockers out front and netted the team a huge 32-yard gain that set up the first touchdown. Whenever the Patriots spread the Steelers out, they were able to find open receivers all night long. 

Brady Razor Sharp – Rust? Is Father Time catching up? Not any time yet. Brady was methodical in his approach and surgical with his precision, something he’s done to Pittsburgh time and again in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. 

Brady’s best throw was a perfectly thrown ball right down the seam, a laser to Phillip Dorsett for a 25-yard touchdown. He put it in just the right place in a tight window for an easy score. Later in the second half, Brady uncorked a 52-yard strike to Dorsett for another easy touchdown when the deep safety blew the coverage and left the middle of the field wide open. With a national audience watching, Brady looked in vintage form. 

Phillip Dorsett – Speaking of Dorsett, he’s often the forgotten man among the Patriots offensive playmakers. But tonight, he made the Steelers remember his name. He had four catches for 95 yards including two TDs [25, 52], and was a thorn in the secondary’s backside considering how many other players they had to cover. 

The last 20 passes that Brady has attempted to Dorsett, dating back to last season have all been completions. Think about that for a second. 

Josh Gordon – The troubled but uber-talented wide receiver was reinstated by the league just a few weeks ago but he too appears in mid-season form. Gordon has had good success against Pittsburgh in the past and tonight was no exception. 

Gordon had three catches for 73 yards and included in that was a very impressive 20-yard touchdown where Gordon ran a crosser, broke tackles and powered his way into the end zone. Later, with the Patriots backed up in their own end, he and Brady connected with a 44-yard bomb right down the middle of the field. 

James White/Rex Burkhead – On a night where the Steelers front seven bottled up and rendered Sony Michel ineffective, White and Burkhead constantly gashed the Steelers in both the running and passing games. 

White had five catches for 56 yards and added 26 more on the ground in just four carries. Burkhead had 44 yards on eight carries and added five catches out of the backfield for 41 more. The versatility and the ability to spread the wealth around bodes very well for games down the road. 

The Secondary is Outstanding – We’ve been beating the drum for this secondary all summer and tonight was a prime example of how good this group can be. They picked right back up where they left off from the Super Bowl. After holding the Rams to just three points, that was all the Steelers’ offense could muster tonight. 

Stephon Gilmore neutralized Smith-Schuster all night long and on every big down, blanketed him like a glove forcing Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere. Smith-Schuster had a few catches in garbage time that made his numbers look better than the night he had overall.

Jonathan Jones, fresh off signing a long-term extension was brilliant in the slot, taking away the Steelers’ second options. He’s tough, physical and has excellent speed. Pat Chung was also outstanding, putting Vance McDonald, [someone we pegged as a possible safety blanket for Roethlisberger in our pregame] on a milk carton until the final drive of the game when he caught two meaningless passes. 

Julian Edelman – Hurt thumb? No worries here. Lost in all of the hoopla with the rest of the offensive weapons was the fact that Edelman was his normal uncoverable self tonight, doing all of the dirty work across the middle of the field. 

On the national broadcast, Chris Collinsworth called Edelman “fearless” as he knows he’s going to get tattooed with many of his catches. But it never stops him from completing his routes. With the offense spreading the wealth, Edelman had six catches [team high] for 83 yards. 

_________

The running game wasn’t as sharp as they had hoped, Michel had only 14 yards on 15 carries. They didn’t finish drives and had to settle for FGs. The pass rush didn’t generate much pressure on Roethlisberger [one sack]. So, the coaching staff will have plenty to pick apart in the film sessions to hammer home the point that they still have a long way to go. But it was a heckuva start.

Consider this, the offense looked as good as it did and they still didn’t have Demaryius Thomas, Damien Harris, and Antonio Brown, who signed with the team on Saturday…just in case you were on Mars over the weekend and hadn’t heard. 

Arguably their best playmaker on defense, Kyle Van Noy missed the game due to the birth of his child tonight [we hope everyone is fine], So, this wasn’t even a fully-loaded roster. 

The march to be “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” began in earnest tonight and put the rest of the league on notice… the Patriots are back and don’t look like they’re going anywhere any time soon. 

We’re on to Miami.

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

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New England Patriots News 9-08, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 8, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 09-08 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, Banner Day, the first Sunday of the 2019 NFL season and it is right on time. Watching the banner drop into place later tonight will hammer home the fact of how truly blessed we have been here. Looking back into my experience, watching the Patriots struggle year after year without a home in Fenway, Harvard, etc., the idea of one Super Bowl championship seemed like a pipe dream. Now we’re ready to drop #6. Enjoy it, folks. 

However, we have to temper our glad tidings with thoughts for those people from the Bahamas to the Carolinas as the hurricane that moved along the East Coast wrought havoc to too many people’s lives in the past week or so. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Elandon Roberts – my what a difference a week makes. Many [including here] had him on the roster bubble at the end of training camp. And now he’s voted a team captain. Congratulations. It speaks highly of how his coaches and peers, the men in the locker room regard him. 

Mitch Trubisky  – The QB from UNC didn’t throw a pass in the preseason, and boy it certainly seemed like it on Thursday night. Week 1 of the season is always full of overreactions and with the Thursday night game, there was nothing else to discuss, so the Bears and Trubisky were roasted on Friday morning. But there was no other way to dress that one up. It was ugly. 

Stephon Gilmore – It seems the loss of the All-Pro CB is still a sore subject with some of the press in Upstate NY. A glance at the headline “Buffalo Bills fleece New England Patriots in OL trade”, was based on the fact that the Bills traded center Russell Bodine to New England in the wake of the David Andrews to IR scenario. Fleeced? NE sent a sixth-round draft pick for Bodine who was released this week. But, hey when you’re 3-28 against Tom Brady, then you have to claim small victories.

Jonathan Jones – was given a three-year contract extension on Saturday that will pay him an estimated $7 million a year. This will keep him in New England thru 2022. Once the Patriots cut ties with former 2nd round pick Duke Dawson, we’ve been clamoring for the Patriots to lock him up long-term. The former UDFA is an outstanding, underrated slot corner.

Nike – dropped the 6x Super Bowl Champion Air Force 1 shoes on the market on Saturday. You can pick these up at the Patriots Pro Shop.

Raiders Reward Bad Behavior, Pay for Brown to Go to New England:

The Oakland Raiders have been played by Antonio Brown …twice. And the second one will cost them, both in their checkbook and in the draft. 

After Brown quit on the Steelers who were fighting for a playoff spot last year, he maneuvered his way out of Pittsburgh and into the Raiders building. Oakland gave him a big pay raise, which was just the tip of the iceberg for the fiasco. 

From his feet, to the fiasco over his helmet, Brown was intent on making all of the headlines about him, all while the Steelers were enjoying a drama-free and football-centric training camp with no distractions. With each passing day, it seemed Pittsburgh made the right call in getting rid of the immensely talented but also the headache that Brown is. 

GM Mike Mayock was at wit’s end and had to publicly ask if Brown was “all in or all out” which prompted the WR to show up for practice, but that wasn’t the end of it. He was fined by the Raiders for sitting out practices. Brown posted the letter on social media, like the petulant child that he is and then in a move that screams “dump me please”, unfollowed the Raiders and Derek Carr on social media.

Worse, he cussed out Mayock on the practice field and attempted to go after him in a physical altercation. He was held back by Vontaze Burfict of all people. When Burfict is the voice of reason, you’re way over the top.

The Raiders said that they were prepared to play on Monday without him, which could have cleared the way for them to cut their ties to Brown and not pay him a dime. Then, the deluge of Twitterati began with Brown playing his way right into New England. 

And, the Raiders played right into Brown’s and Rosenhaus’ plans by releasing him. Truth be told, I believe that this was their intent all along with Brown going to New England and parlaying that into a big-money deal to a place of Brown’s choosing. They both knew that there was no way the Steelers front office was going to trade Brown to New England.

So in less time than it took for Brown to get to the locker room to the field in Oakland, he signs with New England. It isn’t a good look. According to NFL sources, Brown gets a one-year [read 4-month] deal for $15 million with $9 million tied to a signing bonus. So even if he flames out here with his diva show, he’ll still get his money.

But he can play the game and act the good teammate for four months and if the Patriots go deep into the postseason again, he’ll cash in…again in a big way during free agency next spring. There’s no doubt he can be a tremendous talent on the field. With Brady, Edelman, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and the big stable of running backs, the Patriots have an embarrassment of riches at WR. He’ll take some time to get up to speed but he’ll put the time in…he’s investing in himself, not so much the team.

The Steelers and the Patriots won this and the Raiders lost, sad as it is to say. Pittsburgh got rid of a huge talented headache. The Patriots got him off the street for nothing. The Raiders, in essence, paid Pittsburgh a 3rd and a 5th round draft pick for Brown to move to New England. You can’t make this stuff up. It is a crazy world but on the Patriots side of the house, it is never boring. I can’t imagine the league will be happy with the way this fiasco unfolded.

Belichick/McDaniels “Do Your Job” Was a Great Look:

The NFL and the NFL Network dropped “Do Your Job III” this week in time for the season opener and it was, just like the other videos in the past, must-watch television. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels appeared together and they gave a compelling look at how the two managed to reinvent the team on the fly at the end of the season and won another Super Bowl. 

At the beginning of the video Belichick is shown at the ring ceremony at Robert Kraft’s house in June. And he said, “Josh, I’m glad you didn’t go to Indianapolis. Let’s start with that.”

But the best line in the show came after the loss to the Steelers, the team had lost two in a row and the doubters were out in force. Belichick knew that the team needed to change its focus and do what they do best. He told McDaniels, 

“ Belichick said, ‘If you keep holding on to what you’d rather be — no-huddle, spread formations, 34 points a game — then you’re probably going to end up regretting a lot of things at the end of the year.’ What are we really good at? What’s the most consistent part of our team offensively? And then you commit to it. We had been a pretty decent running football team. It was something that we felt like our personnel fit.”

That was great stuff, and the team harping on its doubters was a classic Belichick move. Us against the world, nobody believes in you. Edelman screaming at Brady during the AFC Championship Game, “You’re too old!” as he throws a deep TD to Dorsett. And then Belichick talks to the team in the locker room and repeats it all over again. 

“Don’t believe all the other (expletive) out there about how bad we are and how bad we suck and all that, or how old we are. Just keep doing what we’re doing.”

McDaniels summed up his relationship with Belichick, the two have been together for all six Super Bowl wins when he talked about his mentor. 

“It’s hard for me to imagine anybody being a better leader and a better role model for a young coach. He gives you responsibility, and then he lets you do your job.”

Josh Gordon Looking Only Forward From Here:

Josh Gordon hasn’t spoken to the media since his reinstatement by the league but he’s been at practice every day and is working with Tom Brady trying to get ready for the regular season without the benefit of any spring and nearly all of the summer workouts.

Gordon did release a statement where he states, he’s not looking at his past anymore and is only working towards his future. 

“Before the 2019 season starts, I would like to address an issue that arose toward the end of last season. It’s been well documented that I have battled substance abuse for quite some time. Unfortunately, I did not take the time to focus on a solution to my problem until this past year. I am eternally grateful for the constant support from the NFL, NFLPA and the Patriots organization. I also want to thank my family, friends and all the fans who supported me while I addressed this issue. Going forward, I will not be discussing the details of my past. I plan to focus on the present and getting better every day. I hope people will judge me on what I do now and in the future. I look forward to being a member of the Patriots once again this season and doing my part by contributing on and off the field.”

This means that Gordon and the team have already laid the groundwork for the season and beyond. Any questions about his past will be met with a reference to his statement. Gordon will be expected to speak with the media after tonight’s game with Pittsburgh.

NFL Schedule Week 1, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below.

Last Season: 165-89-2

Chicago over Green Bay – [hit it out of the park there] 0-1
Rams over Carolina – this one should be a good early game
Philly over Washington
Buffalo over the NY Jets
Minnesota over Atlanta
Cleveland over Tennessee
Kansas City over Jacksonville – Intriguing matchup with Foles in Jax
Baltimore over Miami
Seattle over Cincinnati
Chargers over Indy
Detroit over Arizona
Dallas over NY Giants
Tampa Bay over San Francisco
New England over Pittsburgh – [write up and details here:]
New Orleans over Houston
Denver over Oakland – Distraction Bowl

Early Thursday Pick Week 2, Carolina over Tampa Bay

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Announce Captains for the 2019 Season:

The Buffalo Bills announced on Friday the names of their captains for the upcoming 2019 season. Buffalo has six players designated as a captain, Lorenzo Alexander, Josh Allen, Dion Dawkins, Tremaine Edmunds, Reid Ferguson, and Stephen Hauschka.

Alexander and Hauschka have already been captains but they have four new faces this year. The new captains replace Kyle Williams, who retired after last season; running back LeSean McCoy, who was released; special teamer Taiwan Jones, who was signed by the Houston Texans during free agency; and fullback Patrick DiMarco, who is still with the Bills.

One interesting tidbit before the Bills – Jets game today is the friendship between starting QBs Josh Allen and Sam Darnold. The two were invited to a youth football summit by QB Coach Jordan Palmer along with then Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham. The two hit it off and have remained friends and vow to continue that friendship despite being rivals in the AFC East. Palmer characterized it saying there was an absence of jealousy between the two players. 

Dolphins Offensive Line Is a Big Question Mark Heading Into 2019:

The Miami Dolphins are trying to piece together an offensive line at the eleventh hour after trading left tackle Laremy Tunsil to the Houston Texans last week. And right now, things are not looking up. Today’s game against the Ravens will tell the early tale.

Tunsil’s replacement, Julien Davenport who wasn’t even on the team during the last preseason game. He came over in the Tunsil trade and is already penciled in as the starter, trying to learn the Dolphins offense on the fly. 

The rest of the offensive line consists of LG Michael Dieter, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Shaq Calhoun, and RT Jesse Davis. To lessen the effect on QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins and Offensive Coordinator Chad O’Shea will bring a Patriots-themed feel to the offense. They’ll try to get Fitzpatrick to get the ball out quickly to lessen the impact of the young offensive linemen on the team. 

The reason Davenport was included in the trade? According to sources in Houston, he allowed 15 sacks and had 12 penalties in 2018. OL coach Dave DeGugliemo will have his hands full with this group. 

Jets, Williams Going To Be Aggressive on Rushing the QB:

The New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has never been the shy, retiring type when it comes to playing defense. His teams have always been aggressive and the 2019 Jets will be no different. 

Despite not landing an “elite” pass rusher and third-round pick Jachai Polite flaming out in training camp, Williams is confident that the Jets will be successful at getting after the QB this year. Actually, confidence may be an understatement.

“I think there’s a lot of people here that people are going to be shocked about by the time the season is over,” Williams said. “You haven’t heard me say one thing about needs in that area [edge rusher]. I’m not worried about it.”

The Jets’ strength is with their interior DL in their 3-4 base defense with NT Steve McClendon, Henry Anderson, Leonard Williams, and rookie Quinnen Williams. But on the edge they’ll need to get creative with Jordan Jenkins, Harvey Langi, and Tarell Basham. New ILB C.J. Mosley may be a big chess piece for the defense. 

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“They really can’t beat us. We just can’t screw up now. If we’re honest, we know they don’t got anything.” – Bill Belichick just prior to Stephon Gilmore’s game-sealing interception during Super Bowl LIII

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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Patriots Players To Watch, Week 1 Against the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2019 at 7:20 am ET

The NFL regular season is back and judging from the game tonight between the Packers and Bears, Thursday Night Football is in mid-season form. However, the Patriots and Steelers are set to kick off the Sunday Night Football season with what we hope is a much better product. 

The first game of the season is always the toughest to get a great feel for because of so many of the starting players from either team barely played during the preseason. The offensive and defensive top units get only a cameo on the field. 

But there are some players that we feel must step up for the team to be successful. With that in mind here are our Patriots players that we will be watching closely on Sunday night in the game against the Steelers. 

Isaiah Wynn/Ted Karras:

Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago but suffered an injury in training camp which forced him to miss his entire rookie season. The Patriots eased him back on to the field and limited his reps until they felt he was really ready to go. He’s now protecting Tom Brady’s blindside at left tackle. 

His conditioning will be an area to monitor as the game moves forward. Wynn will have his work cut out for him, the Steelers strength defensively is in their front seven. Wynn will probably draw a lot of Cam Heyward in this one. A very tough first test. 

Karras has been a trusted but backup interior offensive lineman for the past few years. With David Andrews out for the season after suffering a blood clot in his lung during the preseason, Karras is now the Patriots starting center. 

Now he’ll have to hold up inside and make all the right calls when it comes to protection. Look for the Steelers to test him right away by bringing A-gap pressure and blitzes to try and force the issue. Like Wynn, this is a big test for him in Week 1.

Sony Michel: 

The Patriots other 1st round draft pick from a year ago is coming off a solid rookie season along with an outstanding playoff run where he posted over 300 yards and six touchdowns during the Super Bowl run. 

Michel looked like the Georgia-version of himself this summer, explosive, with excellent vision and the ability to make plays at the second level. With some questions along the offensive line and Tom Brady’s receiving core, the running back position will be leaned on heavily in the early going this season. And that begins with Michel. They need to get a solid production night from Michel and all of the backs in this one, which should help in getting the rest of the offense untracked.

The Patriots are attempting to get Michel more involved in the passing game, they were trying to get he and rookie Damien Harris involved all summer. James White and Rex Burkhead have always had that versatility, but if they can get the two younger players more involved, especially Michel, it will make the offense difficult to stop.

Jamie Collins:

Truth be told, we weren’t fans of the idea of bringing back Collins this year, but thus far, he’s proven to be a really big addition. The Patriots jettisoned him in 2016 for a third-round draft pick, but after getting paid by the Browns, Collins is back with the Patriots on a modest deal.

The linebacker position is deep with Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and last year’s rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who flashed early but was injured early in the season and lost to IR. 

Collins’ athleticism and versatility were on full display this summer and he could be a really valuable chess piece for the defense in 2019. We’re looking for him to play a big role in the game plan as they try to move him around and try to disrupt things with the Steelers offense. 

Julian Edelman:

The Super Bowl LIII MVP was looking good this spring and seemed poised to pick right up where he left off in February. But then he injured his left thumb in the time before training camp and missed nearly all of it and the preseason.  

Edelman didn’t appear until the final preseason game against the Giants. He played in only one series and caught a 20-yard pass. But in going to the ground, he appeared to fall on the injured thumb and came off the field shaking it. The team stated that it wasn’t reinjured but just a scare and he should be ready to go for the opener.

Edelman has always had tremendous chemistry with Brady. They’ll need that on Sunday night since neither Josh Gordon [suspended] or Demaryius Thomas [injured] was able to spend much time with Brady during the end of camp. Look for Brady to look for his favorite target early and often in this one. 

Michael Bennett: 

Remember him? With all of the talk surrounding the OL and WRs lately, Bennett has been relegated to nearly an afterthought around these parts.  After Trey Flowers got a huge payday from the Lions, many questioned where the pass rush was going to come from. The team swung a deal for Bennett, who was second on the Eagles in sacks with nine in 2018. 

Bennett had a tremendous summer and dominated in one-on-ones during both training camp and the joint practices. Although he’s getting up there in age, there doesn’t seem to be any dropoff in his level of play. And like several other players in the front seven, he has the versatility to move around and create favorable matchups for the defense.

Look for the Patriots to try to ease Bennett’s workload a bit in the early going to bring some pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. I see Bill Belichick and the coaching staff using Bennett a lot this year from an interior position and try to collapse the pocket. 

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Check back with PatsFans.com for all of our pregame and post-game analysis. And if you’re a wiz at predicting the NFL slate straight up, register for our message board and then post your picks every week. We’ll see who is the top dog at the end of the season. That can be found here https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/ 

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Patriots-Steelers Wk 1 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 5, 2019 at 9:10 am ET

The Patriots begin their 2019 regular season with a very familiar foe as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium for the first Sunday Night Football broadcast of the year. Prior to kickoff, the team will unfurl their sixth Super Bowl banner as only the Patriots and Steelers have won as many Lombardi Trophies during the SB era.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC 10 in Boston. Al Michaels will handle the play-by-play with Cris Collinsworth doing the color commentary while Tracy Wolfson will work 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 (11-5) are coming off last year’s Super Bowl win over the Rams after beating the Chargers at home in the divisional round and the Chiefs on the road in a dramatic overtime win.

The Steelers (9-6-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltima disappointing 2018 where they missed the playoffs and finished second in the division to the Ravens.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis 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 Steelers are meeting for the 33rd time where the teams are tied 16-16 overall. Pittsburgh owns a 15-12 advantage in the regular season while the Patriots own a 4-1 advantage in the postseason. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-4 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings in Gillette Stadium. 

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 Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game should be a key strength of the team moving forward in 2019, as they were fifth in the NFL in rushing a year ago. Sony Michel looked strong in his only preseason cameo and is backed up by James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, fullback James Develin and rookie Damien Harris. They have depth and versatility here to be very effective. 

The offensive line took a big hit when center David Andrews was placed on IR with a blood clot in his lung. Ted Karras takes over and he’ll be a focal point in both the run game and in pass protection. Isaiah Wynn, last year’s top draft pick takes over at left tackle and will be playing in his first NFL game

The Steelers were stout against the run in 2018 finishing 6th best. It starts up front with Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, and Javon Hargrave who stop things at the point of attack which allows the linebackers to clean up and make plays. 

Look for a lot of two-back sets as the Patriots will try to move the defense around and hit them with runs between the tackles. Michel, Burkhead, and Harris should see plenty of play here. Develin will play a key role as he may line up as a TE or H-back in some of the different formations. 

Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Patriots passing game on paper looks daunting for opponents to stop. Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas have traditionally given the Steelers trouble in the past. But those two and Julian Edelman had virtually no training camp reps and very little preseason action. Their timing with Tom Brady, may not be as crisp as they want on Sunday night. Phillip Dorsett was the only WR to get a lot of time working with Brady this summer. He may see a lot of snaps here.

James White, Burkhead, and Harris may see plenty of reps in the passing game as well. This was an area that the Patriots tried to attack during the December game last year. But the Steelers defended it well holding White, Burkhead, and Develin to 10 catches for 61 yards. They are better suited now to counter those moves with rookie Devin Bush and Mark Barron who they signed from the Rams.

The Steelers led the league with 52 sacks a year ago. They are more than capable of bringing pressure right up the middle which doesn’t allow Brady to step up and slide in the pocket. This will be a key area to watch. With Joe Haden and Steven Nelson at the corner, the Pittsburgh defense can play more man coverage than the Tampa 2 zones which Brady has traditionally eviscerated, especially in Foxboro. 

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

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

The Steelers replaced Le’Veon Bell with James Conner a year ago and haven’t looked back. Conner rushed for 973 yards and a dozen touchdowns in essentially 12 games and gives the offense a nice weapon running and receiving. He’s back by Jaylen Samuels who roasted the Patriots for 142 yards on the ground last December. The Pittsburgh offensive line is outstanding and always presents a tough challenge. 

The Patriots look much better prepared to stop the run this year. Danny Shelton had a very good summer. He, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler are the anchors inside. This allows the inside linebackers Elandon Roberts and thumper Ja’Whaun Bentley to clean up and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

The Steelers were badly skewed in the run/pass ratio a year ago, running the ball on just 33.4 percent of the time while passing 66.6 percent. So, stopping the run early will be a priority and then forcing them into a more predictable pattern. 

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger lost one of the more talented wide receivers in the league in Antonio Brown and although he may not admit it, he is probably happier for it. Brown has immense talent, he’s also an immense pain in the ass. His on-field production will be missed but the Steelers have a knack at developing quality WRs.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the team’s go-to guy, he had 1426 yards a year ago. He’s backed by Donte Moncrief, who is now their #2, James Washington, Ryan Switzer, TE Vance McDonald as well as Samuels and Conner out of the backfield. And they drafted Diontae Johnson in this spring’s draft. 

The Patriots have plenty of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and rookie Joejuan Williams. It will be interesting to see who they match up with Smith-Schuster [Gilmore seems to be favorite], but we’ve seen in the past where they’ll put their 2nd corner on the top WR with safety help and then try to take away the #2 with their best coverage man. 

The Patriots pass rush, which was outstanding this summer is key here. They can’t allow Roethlisberger to extend plays and hit secondary targets down the field. But that offensive line won’t be an easy nut to crack.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers for both teams Stephen Gostkowski for New England and Chris Boswell for the Steelers had their issues a year ago. Gostkowski had some misses in the preseason which may have been an issue with going to a new holder, rookie punter Jake Bailey.

But Gostkowski is very solid and at home gives the Patriots the edge in the kicking game. It is going to be intriguing to watch Bailey in his first NFL action. He has a tremendous leg and can flip field position which is the reason he was brought here.

The return game will feature Ryan Switzer for the Steelers while it isn’t clear if Julian Edelman or rookie Gunner Olszewski will handle punt returns for the Patriots. The UDFA looked good enough to carve out a role for himself this summer. 

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Another year, another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams want to start the season well, something even more important to Pittsburgh as they’ve traditionally been slow starters under Mike Tomlin. The Patriots too have started slowly in September. 

The first games of the season are always the hardest to get a feel for as no one really knows how all the pieces are going to fit together once the rubber hits the road. 

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Run the Ball Effectively, Especially Early: The Patriots are going to lean on the ground game and with the passing attack trying to find their feet, it is especially true early this season. The offense has to get into third and manageable situations in this game. Pittsburgh’s defense has a lot of speed and can get after the QB. Third and long situations play right into their ability to get after it. 

Therefore, Michel and Burkhead will be key players to watch in this one. If they can keep the chains moving and the defense on the field, it will slow the pass rush and possibly wear them down in the second half where conditioning may play a part. No one has played an entire game during the preseason. Then the passing game may start having more success with Brady having more time to throw. Pre-snap penalties? Last year in Pittsburgh, they had far too many…can’t have it.

Third Down Defense is Key This Week: The Patriots are going to try to take away Smith-Schuster and force Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere. Last year they did a pretty fair job of it, holding him to four catches for 40 yards. But with Moncrief, Washington [who had a solid game a year ago], Switzer et.al. they have a lot of weapons to bear. 

Two players to watch in this one are Vance McDonald and Samuels. It would easy to see both of them becoming very valuable third-down targets this year with Brown gone. And consequently, it will be important for the Patriots to play solidly on third down and get off the field. 

Jamie Collins is a key player to watch this week. The Patriots brought him back this spring and he’s got the ability to be a huge chess piece that they can move around and influence the play.  

Finish Drives: Against the Steelers last year, the Patriots had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board and failed to do so. After a horribly blown coverage which resulted in a way too easy and early Chris Hogan touchdown, they managed three points the rest of the way. 

Finishing drives is always important but especially against this team, as you don’t want to be playing from behind with their pass rush. Brady and Josh McDaniels will have to use the big men Gordon and Thomas [if he plays], down in the red zone to take some of the routes that Gronk ran in the past. 

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This one won’t be as high scoring as some people think, both teams may not be executing at the level that they will later on down the road. The Steelers may have an adjustment of their own for a bit with no Brown on the field. It should be another excellent football game between two of the best teams in the past decade. The Patriots are dropping banner #6 and hold serve at home. Patriots 24-21

“Knocking on Seven’s Door” begins Sunday night

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 and breakdown game analysis