Category Archives: 2018 Patriots Offseason

Players To Watch Patriots-Vikings Week 13

Steve Balestrieri
November 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm ET

Big Game For Both Teams

The New England Patriots return home after a few games on the road and the bye week to take on the Minnesota Vikings in a late afternoon game that will be televised by Fox.

This is a very big game for both teams this week. The Patriots traditionally try to turn things up a notch in December and get ready for a deep playoff push. They are currently the #2 seed and still have a shot at being the #1 with a first-round bye.

The Vikings are currently the #5 seed with a shot at still winning their division with the Bears although they trail by a game and half with still one against each other still in play.

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

Rex Burkhead:

The Patriots versatile but injury-prone running back returns this week and the feeling here is that he may be eased back into things slowly. With Sony Michel playing excellent football right now, there is no need for the Patriots to overwork Burkhead right off the bat, as he hasn’t played since the first half of the Lions game in Week 3.

But one area that the Patriots could use Burkhead and his versatility is in the red zone where they’ve been struggling (for them) this season. The Patriots sit at a 63 percent touchdown rate in the red zone which is 13th in the league. Not bad, but much lower than they always are. Burkhead could change that. James White is an excellent receiver but just so-so as a runner. Sony Michel is having an excellent season running the ball but has yet to be fully integrated into the passing game. The team is a bit one-dimensional with those players in the game.

Burkhead is more than capable of running the ball between the tackles and catching it out of the backfield. He’s also a very good blocker in pass protection. With him having a smaller workload in his first game back, we could still see Josh McDaniels having a plan to utilize him in the red zone.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best player on their front seven and arguably on their defense is going to be looked to provide a bulk of the Patriots pass rush this week. With the weapons that the Vikings have on their offense, it is imperative that the Patriots bring pressure on Kirk Cousins before his talented wide receivers (Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs) shake loose in the secondary.

The Patriots pass rush this year (and for several of the past years) has been largely stuck in neutral. It puts the secondary in the bad position of having to cover for too long. They have addressed the issue with multiple players but thus far it is still a problem.

We’ll look to see if they move Flowers around some and utilize him as an interior pass rusher to get more speed and athleticism on the field. But a lot of eyes will be on the Pats best DL. They will try to attack the right side of the Minnesota offensive line, that is where they’ve been having issues protecting Cousins.

Julien Edelman:

The Patriots slot receiver has been terrific in several of the latest games, he set the tone for the offense last week, getting a 36-yard catch and run on the Patriots first drive of the game. He’ll be going against  MacKensie Alexander this week. Alexander has been terrific over the last month +, allowing a QB rating of just 45 when opposing QBs have targeted him.

Edelman has always been the guy to do the dirty work underneath and frequently takes a terrific beating while doing so. Alexander is a great matchup for Edelman and we expect to see those two battling all day long.

With the excellent pass rush of the Vikings, Tom Brady will be looking to get the ball out quickly. And there is no one who has the chemistry with Brady better than Edelman. We look for him to be targeted early and often in this one.

Pat Chung:

The Pats box safety had an excellent bounce-back game against the Jets last week. This week, the stakes are higher and the opposition is much better. The Vikings are a difficult matchup team for the Patriots defense due to their running back, Dalvin Cook and their tight end Kyle Rudolph, two areas that the Pats have issues defending.

Chung is the team’s best tackler in the box and he’ll have to be strong in run support against Cook while being one of the defenders against Rudolph in the passing game.

One thing we may see more of this week is the Patriots “Big Nickel” look with safeties taking the place of LBs in coverage. We saw just a glimpse of it last week as the Pats broke in newly signed S Obi Melifonwu and with his size and athleticism, he should be a natural at that. That would allow Chung to play closer to the line of scrimmage in the box. It is a chess match every week.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver has been slowly finding his way in New England, learning on the fly and while he may no longer be the athletic freak he was five years ago, he still has plenty of speed and with his size, opponents have to account for him on every play. With Xavier Rhodes banged up and questionable this week, Gordon may play a big role in the game plan.

But what is really exciting for Gordon is the motivation that comes with playing meaningful football games in December/January. That is a first for him and he told the media this week that he’s excited for it to happen.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s motivational for me and for everybody. I’ve never really got the opportunity before, considering the circumstances. So it’s great to have the opportunity now.”

Gordon told Mike Reiss of ESPN that, “I think there’s a lot more room to expand upon and potential to be reached. It just goes to how much work I put in, and let it manifest itself on the field,” he said. “The most I can do is just stay consistent with my work ethic and the rest will try to work itself out eventually.”

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.

5 Things We Learned From the Patriots Win Over the Chiefs

Ian Logue
October 15, 2018 at 9:13 am ET

While the world was waiting for Tom Brady and the Patriots to falter against Patrick Mahomes and the high-flying undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, they ended up coming away disappointed after an incredible 43-40 by Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

Sunday night’s game will go down as one for the ages, with Brady not yet ready to be brushed aside in favor of a player who many feel will be among the league’s future elite quarterbacks in the coming years. Mahomes certainly played well, throwing 4 touchdowns on the night but his two critical interceptions ended up being the difference in a game where every possession mattered.

As for Brady, he passed for over 300-yards and his most notable moment came when he scored on a gutsy 4-yard rush that put the Patriots back in front 37-33 after the Chiefs had earlier retaken the lead. The victory improved them to 4-2 on the season and more importantly, gave the Chiefs their first loss of the season and potentially puts New England in the driver’s seat for home field down the road should they meet again in January.

The win was also a milestone for Brady, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to win 200 regular season games.

Here are some things we learned after a wild night at Gillette Stadium.

1) Michel Establishing Himself as a solid NFL Back – It’s amazing how many people were ready to crucify Sony Michel during his first couple of games, but it’s clear that the Patriots found themselves a gem when they selected him in the first round of the draft earlier in the offseason.

Michel ran well all night as he piled up 106-yards on the ground and accounted for 9 of the team’s 15 rushing first downs, including two touchdowns.  The biggest thing that stands out with Michel is he reads the holes well and shows great acceleration and doesn’t go down after first contact.  He’s been better than expected and played a critical role in New England being able to control the football and keep the Chiefs defense off balance.

While the Patriots offensive line certainly deserves some credit, Michel has been consistent and continues to improve each week.  Provided he can remain healthy over the rest of the season, he may end up being a name we talk about at the end of the year as a key reason why this team ultimately ends up having success down the road.

2) Hunt and Hill Proved to Be a Big Problem Again – Chiefs offensive standouts Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill are each known for their respective speeds and both players ended up wreaking havoc again against New England’s defense.

Even with the Patriots’ defenders in relatively good position against them on several occasions Sunday night, they still couldn’t get there quick enough to make the tackle and keep either player from making plays.  Both players finished the night with over 100-yards receiving, with Hill and Hunt hauling in touchdown passes of 75 and 67 yards respectively.  The 67-yard reception by Hunt was big, as it came on the third play of the third quarter and got the Chiefs back in the game at 24-16 less than two minutes into the second half.

Hill’s 75-yard touchdown was also key as it came on the first play of the Chiefs ensuing possession after Stephen Gostkowski hit a 50-yard field goal to put the Patriots ahead by 7 points at 40-33.  The play knotted the score at 40-40 with 3:03 left to play in the game, with Hill getting deep into the secondary and then accelerating away, stealing back the momentum for Kansas City and setting up an unbelievable finish.

Those two scoring plays were two longest receiving plays of the season by a Patriots opponent and Hill’s 75-yard touchdown matches the 75-yard touchdown he scored back in Week 1 of 2017 which, coincidentally, came in the 4th quarter of the Chiefs win in Foxboro.  He finished the night with 142-yards receiving along with three touchdowns and proved to be a player that the Patriots just didn’t have an answer for.


Gronkowski was dominant Sunday night. (USA TODAY Images)

3) Gronkowski Makes a Statement – Tight end Rob Gronkowski likely heard people talking all week about how he wasn’t as good of a player as Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, but he certainly made a pretty big statement during Sunday night’s win.

The veteran finished the night with 3 catches for 97-yards, including a 42-yard reception that saw him power past safety Ron Parker, with Gronk throwing him down with one hand as Parker moved in to try and make the tackle.

Parker had no chance, as Gronkowski showed his power after knocking him completely off his feet as he scampered for his huge gain.  It was a critical play, as it helped set up Gostkowski’s 50-yard field goal.

Gronkwoski later came up big yet again as he picked up 39-yards on what proved to be New England’s game-winning drive, taking the Patriots from the Chiefs’ 48 down the Kansas City 9yd line.  From there, Brady ran it and shifted over to better set up Gostkowski’s 28-yard attempt, which he easily hit and sent everyone at Gillette Stadium home happy.

But give Gronkowski credit.  He proved to anyone watching the game that he remains the best tight end in the league and his clutch play ended up being a key reason why Kansas City is no longer unbeaten.

4) Terrific Showing for Dont’a Hightower – Hightower has taken a little bit of criticism in recent weeks after some questioned whether or not he’s lost a step, but he stepped up Sunday night during the Patriots win.

Hightower’s interception early in the game (surprisingly the first regular-season interception of his career) played a key role in New England grabbing the control in the first quarter, with the turnover giving the Patriots the football at the Chiefs’ 4-yard line.  One play later, Michel punched it in and the Patriots took an early 10-3 lead.

Hightower was also part of another turnover after he jammed Kelce and put pressure on Mahomes toward the end of the first half when the Chiefs appeared to be on the verge of getting points right before halftime.  The play, which saw Hightower run Mahomes down and get a hand on him as he released the football, led to the interception by Duron Harmon and killed Kansas City’s threat while preserving New England’s 24-9 first-half advantage.

While he only finished with two tackles on the score sheet, Hightower’s performance overall can’t be understated as he had a strong showing on a night where the Patriots definitely needed it most.


Gostkowski was clutch Sunday night. (USA TODAY Images)

5)  Gostkowski Finishes as the Unsung Hero – After an offseason with whispers by some fans who felt the Patriots should start exploring options at kicker, Stephen Gostkowski quietly came away as an unsung hero in the win over Kansas City.

The veteran kicker obviously hit the 28-yard game-winner, but he also hit a critical (and certainly not easy) 50-yard field goal with just over 3-minutes to go that put New England up by 7-points.  It proved to be a big one as the Chiefs would score a touchdown one play later after Hill’s 75-yard scoring reception.  Had Gostkowski missed, it would have forced New England into having to score a touchdown to win the game and it can’t be understated how important that field goal was.

Overall, Gostkowski was a perfect 5-for-5, hitting field goals of 48, 24, 39, 50 and 28-yards on the evening.  He also hit all of his extra points.  For anyone who follows football around the NFL, the kicker position has been one that has been incredibly inconsistent for other teams this season and the Patriots remain fortunate where they have a player who doesn’t fall into that category.

The win improves the Patriots to 4-2 on the season and they’ll now move on to the Bears, with a trip to Chicago up next for the team next Sunday at 1pm ET.

Patriots – Dolphins Week 4, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 27, 2018 at 7:47 am ET

The New England Patriots return home after a 0-2 road trip and having been soundly defeated in both contests by Jacksonville and Detroit. While it early, since we’re still in September to call anything a “must-win” game, but it is rapidly sh

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Kevin Harlan will handle play-by-play duties with Rich Gannon as the color analyst. Steve Tasker 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 (1-2) lost to the Detroit Lions 26-10 on Sunday Night Football as they couldn’t get anything going offensively or defensively. Tom Brady threw for just 133 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Dolphins (3-0) had a late big comeback to defeat the Oakland Raiders 28-20.  Ryan Tannehill passed for 289 yards and 3 TDs while Albert Wilson also threw for a 52-yard score.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and the Dolphins are meeting for the 106th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-51 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Foxboro, Tom Brady is 14-1 with the only loss coming in 2005 when he was pulled in the first quarter of the regular season finale.

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 Miami

The Patriots running game has taken two big hits in the injury department losing both Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead to IR. That leaves only Sony Michel, James White, and the recently signed Kenjon Barner. What was looked upon as a deep position just a few weeks ago is now thin.

The Dolphins run defense has been much improved in 2018. They’ve done a great job of keeping opponents from running the ball effectively and the front seven has been very solid. Last week, they did a very solid job of bottling up the Raiders Marshawn Lynch which was particularly important when the Raiders were trying to run the clock in the second half.

The Patriots run blocking has not been up to their usual standards and they’ve struggled to consistently run the ball. The team has made a concerted effort to get Michel going after he missed nearly a month of practice. Look for the Pats to just try to mix things up this week and keep Miami honest. But not a lot of room to run this week.

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

The Patriots passing game has been mired in neutral the past two weeks. The wide receivers haven’t been getting open and teams are doubling down on Rob Gronkowski. Losing Burkhead really hurts in the passing game, which means that even more will be put on James White’s plate. Could we see some Josh Gordon this week?

Miami’s pass defense has been generating a lot of turnovers thru three weeks and the pass rush with Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn is a daunting task this week. The secondary has been very good, the Dolphins have invested a lot of draft and free agent capital into improving it. Xavien Howard had two interceptions last week vs Oakland.

Look for Josh McDaniels to switch up the conservative game planning and put the ball where it belongs this week, in Tom Brady’s hands. Yes, they’ve struggled to throw the ball but an offense that is run based and throwing on second and third and long isn’t conducive to winning. Look for much more James White this week. Jacob Hollister probably won’t play this week, (they could use him to take some heat off of Gronkowski) but with Gordon getting into the game, it should open things up for the other wide receivers. Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett are under the microscope this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

Miami RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push

The Dolphins running game hasn’t been setting the world on fire (like Detroit) and their running back by committee has not been where they envisioned it yet so far this season. Kenyon Drake and Frank Gore present different challenges and are a good 1-2 punch once they work out the kinks. Last week the duo ran just 11 times for 15 yards against the Raiders.

The Patriots run defense, especially to the opponent’s left side has been awful so far this season. This was supposed to be much improved this year but it hasn’t panned out that way. Things should be improved this week with the team getting Trey Flowers and Pat Chung back from concussion protocol. Flowers is the team’s best defensive lineman and Chung is a very effective tackler in the running game.

Look for the Dolphins to attack the left side, as we’ve seen all three opponents do this season. If they consistently get in those second and three yards or fewer scenarios, then it will be another long afternoon for the Patriots defense. Maybe this week it would bode well for Brian Flores to eschew most of the two-gap responsibilities and allow the DL to attack a bit more looking for some penetration and disruption up front. We’ll see.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Miami

The Miami passing offense boasts a number of very good pass receivers in Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson who also threw a 52-yard touchdown on a trick play last week. Ryan Tannehill has been incredibly accurate (73% completion rate) while amassing a 121.8 passer rating. They also have Drake out of the backfield and rookie TE Mike Gesicki.

The Patriots pass defense has suffered from a lack of pressure the past two weeks as both Matthew Stafford and Blake Bortles had all day to throw, frequently in very manageable situations. That has to change this week. Getting back three starters on defense (Flowers, Chung, Eric Rowe) would help.

I’d look for Tannehill to target Amendola a lot in this one. He knows the Patriots defense as well as anyone, he practiced against them every day for several years. They’ll try to move the ball down the field while taking the occasional deep shot with Stills. The matchup with Amendola with Jonathan Jones will be one to watch. Stills will probably be matched up with Stephon Gilmore while Rowe will draw either Wilson or Grant which will the other big matchup to watch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots’ Special Teams have yet to find their groove in 2018. The coverage units haven’t been anywhere near where they need to be and the return game has largely been stuck. However, last week, Cordarrelle Patterson opened the game with a 42-yard kickoff return, which is exactly what the team is looking for. Cyrus Jones is back and will be returning punts now and the team could use a boost by him.

Miami boasts the speedy and dangerous Grant in their return units. He had a 102-yard return for a touchdown against the Titans. However, the Dolphins have also given up a 94-yard touchdown return as well. Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a much bigger game for both teams than a normal September divisional game. Miami leads the Patriots by two games, going up by three with a tiebreaker would put them far ahead in the divisional standings.

Tom Brady has been nearly unbeatable at home against Miami and on the flip side, much like Miami has been Brady’s kryptonite, Foxboro has been that for Ryan Tannehill. Miami’s QB is 0-5 in Gillette Stadium and has thrown 5 TDs and 9 INTs in those games where the Dolphins have been outscored 163-61.

While New England has been struggling, we’ve seen this before in the early season. Are we going to fall for the “banana in the tailpipe” again? This is the 2018 Patriots “We’re on to Cincinnati” game. We’ll learn something about each team after Sunday’s game.

We’re looking for Brady to get it done enough on offense this week as they begin to get things figured out. One “X-Factor” for New England may be John Simon, the ex-Colts LB/DE is best suited as a 3-4 OLB than a 4-3 DE, so could we see some 3-4 looks or the other 5-2 fronts we’ve seen in the past to try to confuse Tannehill? Possibly.

Our feeling here is that the Brady/Belichick combination in New England isn’t quite done just yet.    Patriots 24-23

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.

New England Patriots News, 9-02, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 2, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-02, & AFC East Notes.

It never fails that whenever the cut down to the 53-man roster occurs, some players who played significant snaps the year before finds themselves on the outside looking in. Eric Lee and Jordan Richards both played quite a bit in the Super Bowl and were cut on Saturday. That’s a good sign for the defense improving this year.

Of course, we are always reminded of the team’s and Bill Belichick misses in the earlier rounds of the draft. In essence, the Patriots are no worse nor better than everyone else with the ratio of hits to misses on the roster.

Of course, when speaking of Belichick, his misses don’t seem as glaring when one takes into consideration WHERE the team drafts every year.

Patriots Set Initial *52-Man Roster* After Cutdown:

The Patriots only kept 52 players on their initial roster cutdown on Saturday. We say initial because there will probably be plenty of changes in the next few days and also set the 10-man practice squad, with their initial group set to become official later today.

Why 52? Without knowing what is in the works, it would appear that a trade…or two is on the horizon and they are keeping a spot open once a deal is finished or a physical taken. We shall see. Right now, the team is very light at WR and along the OL. It should also be noted that Ryan Izzo, the rookie tight end is supposed to go on IR tomorrow which will open up another slot.

The Patriots obviously like what they have in Izzo who will be available to come off of IR during the season, but it appears they are looking at him with 2019 in mind. A minor surprise with Geneo Grissom making the roster. Grissom has always been a standout special teams player but has turned up his play defensively a notch. He had a pair of sacks in the Divisional Playoff win over Tennessee last year and has been fairly productive this summer.

And for the 15th year in a row, the Patriots will have an undrafted player make the initial 53-man roster as corner J.C. Jackson has made the team. Another surprise was 3rd-year cornerback/kick returner Cyrus Jones was cut. After a tough rookie season, the light seemed to have come on a bit last summer when he tore his ACL. After fighting to get back on the field, he once again seemed to get it figured out but it wasn’t enough.

Here is what the initial roster looks like, remember there are only 52 players.

Quarterbacks (2) –

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Running Backs (5)

James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, James Develin

Wide Receiver (3)

Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett

Tight End (4)

Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen, Ryan Izzo

Offensive Line (7)

Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras

Defensive End (6)

Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom

Defensive Tackle (4)

Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler

Linebacker (5)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Nicholas Grigsby

Cornerback (6)

Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson

Safety (5)

Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jason McCourty

Special Teams (5)

Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater

Pepper Johnson Interview Reveals an End to Another Belichick Myth:

The Pepper Johnson interview with Deadspin provided some fascinating insight into the former Giant great and longtime Patriots assistant coach. Johnson spent 30 years as a player and coach in the NFL and served nearly all of it with Bill Belichick as a player and then later as a defensive line coach. He knows him as well as anyone. Which is why the interview was a fascinating look at not just Johnson but of Belichick.

One of the many myths that have surrounded Bill Belichick in his long and ridiculously successful stint with the Patriots is that Belichick surrounds himself with only his own people and there is a shortage of coaches who will have their say or disagree with the coach. We’ve always heard the oft-repeated phrase, “Bill doesn’t have anyone around him that will say no.”

Johnson sunk that myth right off when he spoke about the exact thing on other teams, he experienced that in both Buffalo and with the Jets but not in New England. Johnson related in the interview that Belichick relies heavily on his staff.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with winning. One of the things that I enjoyed so much when I first started coaching in New England was we had the roundtable, so to speak. It was more of a rectangle but we had the knights at the table,” he said.

“And everybody’s opinion was worthy. We knew at the end of the day whatever coach Belichick said was what we were going to do. But your voice was heard. Your voice was heard. Your opinions were taken [seriously], and it made you feel so good when either the next day or that week, or when you saw something that was your view was being used.”

This leadership principle is no news to anyone who ever served in the military, especially in the realm of Special Operations and can be directly traced to his roots at the Naval Academy. In Special Forces, everyone had a say in the plan, but once the commander made his choice, everyone had to be onboard with it 100 percent.

As we’ve seen in the Johnson interview, not all other coaches welcome that kind of input from their assistants. In Buffalo, Johnson’s input was not welcomed.

“When I first left New England and went to Buffalo, I was told to stay in my lane. Never heard that philosophy or statement or whatever before.”

“And I’m like ‘What does stay in your lane mean?’ ‘Ah, well, you’re going to learn it.’ Some things happen, and I learned it fast. One of the reasons why I bring up that is that this is something else that I felt like I was learning outside of that New England Patriot experience of how I started coaching. Okay. So stay in your lane. But it’s tough every time when I would ask someone about that statement, I couldn’t really get a clear answer.”

So when it came to Bill Belichick, the one thing that stood out to Johnson, was that Belichick allowed him to solve his own problems, he just gave him a mission and let him accomplish it as he saw fit.

“One of my attractions to him was he was the first coach that, granted, it was my first experience in the NFL, that didn’t try to tell me how to do something. He told me what he wanted done, and then he allowed me the freedom to get it done,” Johnson said. “However I had to get it done, and if I if I couldn’t find a way, then I would ask him—I was big enough I would ask him, and he would tell me.”

Once again it is a military maxim of leadership that Belichick is following. General George Patton once said, Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Jordan Richards Trade a Small Surprise:

The Patriots trade of the much-maligned safety Jordan Richards bore unexpected fruit as the Atlanta Falcons traded a conditional 7th round draft pick for the special teamer who is expected to be the Falcons new personal protector for the punting unit.

Richards was a very good player on the Patriots special teams units, but really struggled whenever he was asked to play defense. His penchant for taking bad angles and missing tackles was the antithesis of his play on special teams. Part of the bile Pats fans had for him centered around that, last season, his play in the Pittsburgh game and in the Super Bowl, had the fan base howling.

Another part of the bad feelings against Richards was the round in which he was drafted. The Patriots liked him and took him in the second round. If he’d been a 5th or 6th round draft pick, there probably wouldn’t have been as much of the vitriol leveled at him.

Richards by all accounts is a great locker room guy and a nice guy at that. We’ve had the opportunity to see that first hand and maybe like another 2nd round safety that bombed in New England (Tavon Wilson), a change of scenery is all that is needed.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Allen’s 5 Sacks Should Be  Warning for the Bills Not to Start the Rookie:

The Buffalo Bills invested heavily in the QB position in the draft this spring, picking up rookie Josh Allen. They gave him the start in their third preseason game, normally considered a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season opener. If the game against the Bengals was any indication, they should sit Allen for the foreseeable future until he’s quite ready to take on the starting QB duties.

Allen was sacked five times, and although he took the high road, and blamed himself for holding the ball too long, the Bills offensive line is a mess. The fact that all of the sacks of him occurred in the first half was telling of the state of that unit. Mercifully, Allen was removed because of the concussion protocol before he was seriously injured.

There is going to be a lot of pressure on the Bills to push Allen into the starting role, especially if they get off to a slow start. But after investing a lot of capital into finding what they hope is a franchise QB for the next decade, playing him behind the OL as it currently exists, risks shaking the young man’s confidence. They should start Nathan Peterman or McCarron.  

Dolphins Look To Change Culture, Identity in 2018:

The Miami Dolphins stumbled badly to a 6-10 season in 2017 after making the playoffs the year before. Now in Adam Gase’s third season, the Dolphins are coming in with a lot of new faces, veterans who they feel will set a different tone after cutting loose several veteran familiar faces this spring.

It will need to start on offense where Miami averaged just 17.6 points per game a year ago, which isn’t going to cut it in today’s NFL. QB Ryan Tannehill is back and healthy and he has several new weapons to use. Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, as well as the ageless RB Frank Gore, will be looked to, to keep the chains moving and make big-time plays at crunch time in games.

Another area is the turnover margin where Miami was -14 or 29th in the league. Tannehill will have to really cut down on the picks thrown by Jay Cutler a year ago. But with the opener against an opponent who made the playoffs last season in the Titans, it will be a good test. A September 30th trip to Foxboro, where Julian Edelman will still be on suspension will also be a big measuring stick for the Fins.

Jets Trade Bridgewater, Darnold Will Start the Opener:

The New York Jets made big waves this week when they traded QB Teddy Bridgewater and a 6th round draft pick to the New Orleans Saints for a 3rd round draft in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Jets signed him this spring for $6 million, of which, they are on the hook for just his $1 million dollar bonus, the remaining $5 million will be paid by the Saints.

While the deal definitely worked out in the Jets favor, we appear to be in the minority here. I wouldn’t have moved Bridgewater this season at all. Darnold is a rookie and with a very questionable OL, he may struggle early in the process. The question of whether or not to start him right away, given that OL is now moot.

But while the Jets did indeed get the Saints’ 3rd rounder, if they had just let Bridgewater walk at the end of the year in free agency, they’d have gotten a 3rd rounder in compensation. But with a QB class that isn’t considered strong, his price may have been higher and he gives the Jets a much better chance to win now if he’s pressed into service.

For at least this season, he’ll back up Drew Brees in New Orleans, and then will be a free agent unless the Saints work out a new deal with him during the season. I wouldn’t have traded him this year, but we’ll see how it shakes out.

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

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Patriots Down Giants 17-12 in Preseason Finale, Quick Observations

Steve Balestrieri
August 31, 2018 at 7:06 am ET

The preseason is over, and the Patriots ended it in the Meadowlands as their backups downed the Giants’ backups 17-12 to finish off the preseason 3-1, not that it matters. The starters for both teams took a seat and let the backups get their playing time in, as many were putting together an audition tape for the 31 other teams in the league.

Rookie quarterback Danny Etling went wire to wire under center tonight, we’ll have more on him below, as both Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer got the night off. The team may have suffered one significant injury as OL Ulrick John who is considered one of the players definitely in the mix for a backup lineman’s spot on the 53-man roster, left with a foot injury and didn’t return. He was seen after the game in a walking boot.

Marquis Flowers and J.C. Jackson also left via injury during the game, but neither was considered serious. Flowers was evaluated for a concussion but did return to the game, while Jackson was treated for dehydration.

Bill Belichick was upbeat and smiling after the game in his post-game press conference and stated that the team only played about three dozen players tonight, similar to last season’s finale as well.

“Really proud of our team tonight. The guys played hard,” Belichick said. “Those guys really did a good job. It was a good warm night. I thought they showed up well. We’ll see on film but I think I learned a lot about these guys. I like the way they competed. We’ll see.

“It was a good competitive football game.”

So, now the coaches will go about the business of paring down the roster to the initial 53-man limit by Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and then announce a practice squad on Sunday by 1:00 p.m. We say initially because you can expect the bottom of the roster to be a fluid place for the first week or so of the regular season, right up to when the team plays the Houston Texans to begin the regular season.

So here is our quick observations from tonight’s game and how certain players may fare in the roster cutdown.

J.C. Jackson: The undrafted rookie from Maryland had a big night, intercepting two passes and defending three others. He showed very good ball skills on both picks, high pointing the ball and snagging both.

But he had his not-so-great moments as well. He totally whiffed on Amba Etta-Tawo’s 41-yard touchdown play and looked awful there. He was also beaten several times in the game as well. But his compete level is very high and he had the production you’re looking for in a game like this. Belichick said he had a long way to go, but they like his skills. He may have earned a roster spot, but at least a practice squad slot.

Cyrus Jones: Jones had a disappointing night, he didn’t flash much in the return game, not being able to make the first man miss and break tackles which is his specialty. He played significant snaps both on the edge and at slot corner and didn’t stand out. He could lose his spot if the team feels McCarron or Berrios can handle punt return duties.

Danny Etling: The rookie quarterback didn’t have a great night, his first half was particularly bad, but he played a little better in the second half and was seeing the field for really the first time for any sustained action. He had the highlight play of the preseason when he took a naked bootleg 86 yards for a touchdown with just under four minutes to go in the game. Belichick smiled and cracked, “When’s the last time a quarterback has run more than 85 yards for the New England Patriots,” he joked. “At least 20 years.”

Etling completed 18-32 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He rushed for 113 yards on seven carries. He still struggles with accuracy and consistency, which isn’t a shock considering his limited snaps this summer. His footwork suffered while he was under pressure, but these are correctable.

He showed enough to warrant a practice squad slot and the team can see how much he can develop this season. He is more athletic than perhaps he was given credit for, throws a good tight spiral and has very good arm strength.

Mike Gillislee/Riley McCarron: Two players seemingly on the bubble before the game, didn’t play and are probably safe…for now on the roster. With the shortage of wide receivers on the roster, McCarron probably gets a spot initially on the 53-man roster. While fans on social media are clamoring for Braxton Berrios, he missed nearly as many practices as he attended this summer. And he didn’t stand out anymore so than McCarron either offensively or as a returner. But we’ll see.

Gillislee, we wrote on Monday, may get a reprieve if either or both Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel aren’t ready for the regular season. It appears that way after the Giants game. Speaking of backs…

Ralph Webb: The rookie from Vandy had another solid performance in the finale. He rushed 12 times for 41 yards and found the end zone again when Etling’s pass at the goal line was behind him and he made a nice catch, reaching behind himself and hauling it in. He definitely rates a practice squad look and we wrote here, that he may rate a higher ceiling than Gillislee at this point, but the coaches may opt to go with a veteran back early this season.

Derek Rivers/ Vincent Valentine: The pair of players who both missed all of 2017 played a significant amount of snaps, well into the second half but seemingly for different reasons. Valentine seems firmly on the bubble. The rotation of big men inside has him on the outside looking in right now, unless a trade of someone else is made this week. We wrote about that as well earlier on Monday.

Rivers doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing a roster spot, but after missing all of his rookie season due to injury, the team clearly wants him to get in as much action as possible. He should be a member of the edge rotation this fall.

Keionta Davis: The big, 6’4, 280-pound 1st-year player had a disappointing finale on Thursday night. It started off well when he showed good power and split a double team coming off the left edge and pressured Giants QB Kyle Lauletta and forced an incompletion.

However, he lost containment on an end around, crashing down inside and allowing the runner to get to the edge with speed and the result was a 19-yard gain. Going against the twos and threes, we expected Davis to flash more than he did. But he should still be in consideration for a practice squad spot.

Jason McCourty: The 10-year veteran started at safety and played the entire first half. When an injury occurred in the third quarter, he returned to the field before being replaced by Jordan Richards. That can’t be a good sign for him moving forward.

On the broadcast, it was said that the coaches may just want him to get as much work as possible at safety before the regular season begins. That is possible, but we’re putting him squarely on the bubble here.

Big time props have to go to WR K.J. Maye, and RBs Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad. The three were signed to the team just this week and had very limited time to prepare and practice before playing the Giants. They all knew they had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the roster but all were intent on maximizing an opportunity to audition for a slot in the league. All acquitted themselves well.

Maye led all Patriots receivers with five catches for 71 yards. Farrow had five carries for 24 yards. Muhammad had four for 21 yards. Excellent work

Patriots – Giants Preseason Finale, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 30, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

After all of the draft preparation, OTAs, mini-camps, training camps and three preseason games, it all comes down to the final preseason game for the fringe players on the rosters for both the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Most of the players who will see action tonight won’t make either team. And many will be playing in the final game of their NFL careers.

For many others, they’ll be trying to create as much good tape as they can as a demo for the 31 other teams in the league to garner a practice squad invitation and a chance to further their NFL dreams.

The starters, especially the quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Eli Manning will not see the field and watch from the sidelines until the games are for real beginning next week. In last year’s finale, also against the Giants, the Patriots used 38 players.

Other than the long snapper Joe Cardona, punter Ryan Allen, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who had no competition in camp, only seven of those players made the 53-man roster. Only one of the fifteen players on defense in last season’s finale against the Giants made the roster, DE Geneo Grissom.

However, for those few players that are trending up as the preseason winds down, this final audition can make a big difference. Bill Belichick spoke about that earlier this week.

“We evaluate everything, but if there’s a rising trend, that carries a lot of weight,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “So, this is the last opportunity. If guys that have been improving the last couple weeks can add onto that, it will absolutely help them. It could help them a lot.”

The game will be broadcast locally on WBZ-TV in Boston with Bob Socci, doing the play-by-play, Scott Zolak handling the color commentary and Rob Ninkovich and Steve Burton handling the sideline reporter duties. Andy Hart and Paul Perillo from PFW will be live in the studio offering instant analysis as well.

So from a New England perspective, here’s what to watch for when the Giants and Patriots meet again to end the preseason.

Who’s Starting on Offense, Defense: There will be plenty of decisions to be made at the bottom end of the roster. Most of these players will be left out of the final roster cuts but a few may be looking to get at least practice squad consideration. Among them are:

RB Ralph Webb – Webb was a dark horse candidate to make the squad given the depth that the team had at the position when training camp began. But Webb worked hard and in his limited snaps in practice played well. He had a very impressive debut against the Redskins in the first preseason game. Since then, he’s been nearly invisible. It could mean that the team will likely try to hide him on the practice squad.

The Patriots added RBs Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad this week. Look for them to get a lot of work in the game as an audition for other teams. Webb? Not so much tonight.

RB Mike Gillislee – The veteran back who was a starter at the beginning of 2017 is likely gone. Jeremy Hill has (in our opinion) clearly outplayed him and is a bigger factor in the passing game, something the Patriots value highly in their backs.

He still has a shot at making the roster if the injuries to Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead are deemed long-term, although both returned, albeit limited, to practice this week. He’s auditioning for another team.

QB Danny Etling – The Patriots late-round draft choice is another player who hasn’t seen much of the field since the opener. Has he shown enough development in practice to warrant a practice squad spot? The feeling here is yes. He may go wire to wire tonight at QB, with a chance to show what he can do.

WR Devin Lucien – Lucien has made the rounds in the last year. He was with the Patriots in camp and then bounced around with several team’s practice squad a year ago before making his way back to New England this summer.

He’ll probably be the most targeted receiver in tonight’s game, but his chances of cracking the 53-man roster are pretty low.

On defense, there are plenty of decisions that likely have to be made and many of the players still in competition for roster spots may get a final look. Among them are:

DB Jason McCourty –  The move to safety was an intriguing one, was it a good or bad sign? Opinions seem to be mixed on that subject. I think if we see a lot of him on the field it will not be a good sign for the veteran to make the team.

DE Trent Harris – “Toolbox Trent” from Miami has had a difficult time getting thru the deep group of edge players to get significant snaps this summer. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been productive. He’s someone who may get snapped up by another team after the cutdowns are made.

LB Christian Sam – The “other” linebacker taken in the draft is athletic but hasn’t had nearly the impact that fellow rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley has had this summer. He’ll be looking for a performance that will convince the coaches that he’s worth developing long-term and may end up on the practice squad.

DE Keionta Davis – The first-year player has turned some heads with his play this summer. He’s far from a finished product but certainly has shown potential. The feeling here is he’s close to making the 53-man roster, so he may be one of those players who the coaches want a final look at.

Crowded secondary – The Patriots have a few difficult decisions to make in the secondary. Both Jonathan and Cyrus Jones have returned to full duty and Jonathan, I believe is a lock to make the roster. Cyrus however, is a different story.

With the uncertainty in the return game, his special teams’ versatility may be the difference in him getting a roster spot.

The team also has rookies J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen and practice squad player Ryan Lewis in the mix. All of these players have a legitimate shot at making the roster and tonight’s game may be the difference in who stays and who goes.

Corey Bojorquez – The UDFA rookie punter hasn’t seen the field in one preseason game yet. Bill Belichick and ST’s coach Joe Judge kind of danced around the subject of “Bojo” but the feeling is that they don’t want any tape on him to risk losing him to another team.

New England Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 3.0, Tough Cuts Loom

Steve Balestrieri
August 27, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

With the first three preseason games in the books, it is time to take another look at pinning the Patriots 53-man roster. We’ve gotten to see everyone on the playing field with the exception of punter Corey Bojorquez in game action.

The team has one more game left at the Giants before the cut down takes place and the coaches have a lot of decisions to make on the bottom third of the roster. With some injuries, the team has already made some changes and rest assured, the 53-man roster on cut down day will no doubt look much different around mid-November.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (2)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

No changes here, the team goes with two QBs and Danny Etling goes to the practice squad where he can learn and try to usurp Hoyer or someone else for the backup job in 2019.

Running backs: (6)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden, James Develin

No changes here either, however with both Michel and Burkhead hurt, if either is deemed long-term and placed on IR, it will open the door for another back to make the roster. Most believe that to be Mike Gillislee, I believe it would be Ralph Webb who didn’t play last night and they’ll be looking to stash on the practice squad.

Hill looks good this summer, he got dinged up against the Panthers but after the game said he was good to go. This group of running backs should be heavily involved in the passing game this year with Burkhead, White and Michel all bringing very good ability there. The backs and the tight ends will make up for the lack of depth at WR.

Tight ends: (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

Hollister is banged up now and missed the Carolina game. He’s projected to be a much bigger part of the offense this season. Allen was reportedly much more in tune with the passing game this year, but we’ve seen no evidence of that in the preseason. The blocking tight end Ryan Izzo is hurt but a candidate for the practice squad. I still find it amazing that Allen is going to still be paid $5 million this year, or half a million per each reception from last year.

Gronkowski is fine and was kept in bubble wrap all summer, but he’ll be a big part of the offense once the games are for real. With he and Hollister and the good options of the running backs in the passing game, we should see plenty of two back, two tight end sets this season, especially in the first month of the season.

Wide Receivers: (5)
Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Matthew Slater, (Suspended: Julian Edelman)

There are really only four wide receivers on the roster for the first week of the season due to Edelman’s suspension and Slater being an STs ace only. That lack of depth is of a concern due to the threat of injury and Eric Decker’s inability to morph into the offense, where he’s struggled to pick things up and then abruptly retired on Sunday afternoon.

Riley McCarron is on mighty thin ice here, he may only survive a few weeks until Edelman returns from suspension.  Braxton Berrios is a practice squad candidate. McCarron I believe was going to get the nod over Decker anyway since he actually got in some work with top offensive unit against the Panthers.

WIth the three releases, earlier this summer of Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt, this unit’s depth took a big hit and they may opt to scan the waiver wire or make a trade here and now. Malcom Brown is trade bait IMO.  And they may opt to move him and others in a package. Mike Reiss mentioned Detroit and Golden Tate… Makes more sense than Dez Whatshisname. 

Offensive line: (8)
Trent Brown, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Matt Tobin

The state of the offensive line took a hit when their top draft choice, tackle Isaiah Wynn tore his Achilles against the Eagles. Marcus Cannon has been out for a while now too. But once LaAdrian Waddle picked up that 15-yard penalty against Carolina, the coaches inserted Tobin at right tackle. He gets the nod over Cole Croston and Ulrick John right now although it is far from a certainty. Karras is tough and can play center or guard.

Defense
Defensive line: (8)
Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Derek Rivers, Adam Butler

Keionta Davis is the tough cut here, the team obviously likes what they see in him, he got extended plays with the starters in Carolina. He’ll be a practice squad candidate. Another tough cut is Vincent Valentine who came back from an injury last year and has looked okay out there at times this summer.

The addition of Danny Shelton should really help solidify the run defense in the middle. He and Lawrence Guy look from here to be the starting duo. Malcom Brown on the final year of his rookie contract is relegated to the top backup and possible trade bait, which if they make a move before September 1, could be good news for Valentine.

Linebacker: (7)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts, Nicholas Grigsby, Brandon King

Christian Sam is a practice squad candidate, Grigsby and King make it on Special Teams ability. Bentley has had a terrific summer and is primed to earn significant snaps on defense this year. Harvey Langi’s injury cuts short his comeback bid. They may opt to place him on IR or try to sneak him on the practice squad.

Having Hightower back and healthy is a big boost for the defense as a whole. It also allows Van Noy to move back to play to his own strengths. Flowers is a speedy linebacker who can help against mobile QBs and is another strong STs player.

Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, J.C. Jackson

Gilmore, Rowe, and Dawson are locked. The two Joneses are now healthy and Jonathan will take over the duties in the slot with Dawson backing him up. Tough cuts loom with rookies Keion Crossen, Ryan Lewis, and Jason McCourty. Cyrus Jones edges out them because of his kick return ability on special teams. I could easily see them opting for one of these final cuts here and this last preseason game may make a difference. McCourty could still make the squad, but was the move in Carolina, putting him in at safety a positive or a negative? His status has been a tough one to read all spring and summer.

Safety: (5)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards

The top three are locks and playing very well. Ebner is healthy now and is a special teams’ ace. The much-maligned Richards will make the squad (sigh) due to special teams ability over Eddie Pleasant who was vying for his spot and was released Sunday night, much to the chagrin of thousands of Patriots fans.

Specialists: (3)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, long-snapper Joe Cardona

It turns out the roster battle between Allen and rookie Corey Bojorquez wasn’t a battle after all. Bojorquez is the only player on the 90 man roster that didn’t play this preseason, other than injuries. Some are theorizing that Bojorquez wasn’t played for a reason so that the Patriots can stash him on the practice squad because they’ll be no game tape of him.

Gostkowski and Cardona had no competition at their respective positions this summer and probably slept better than anyone.

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.

New England Patriots News 8-26, Getting Back on Track

Steve Balestrieri
August 26, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 8-26, & AFC East Notes.

No AFC East Notes this week as we’ve been putting the finishing touches on our 53-man Roster Projection after the last two preseason games. Check that out tomorrow on PatsFans.com

Quick Hitters:  

Things that Make you go hmm: Alex Guerrero, after all of the hoopla surrounding him, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick all offseason, was on the team plane heading to Carolina. Guerrero won’t be on the sidelines during the game but will travel with and treat the players (Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman) that utilize his skills prior to the games.

Bill Belichick didn’t let the preseason game go without a teaching point. With the team being outplayed by a wide margin and down by multiple scores, several of the young players went overboard celebrating a stopped two-point conversion. Belichick lit into them and no doubt pointed out what the score was, it is no time to celebrate, one will remember the Derrick Mason bit with the Ravens several years ago.

Belichick’s assessment after the game left no doubt that the team has a long way to go. “The Panthers obviously did a good job,” Belichick said. “Coach Rivera, his staff, their team played well in all three phases of the game and outplayed us across the board for four quarters. So we’ve got a lot of work to do. There really wasn’t any part of the game that was very competitive. So we’ll just have to go back to work and see if we can find a way to do a few things better than we did them tonight. That’s really about all there is to say.”

The offensive and defensive lines were pretty much dominated by the units of the Panthers of Friday night. After last week’s performance against Philadelphia, that has to be a major disappointment for the coaching staff.

Eric Decker didn’t do much to justify a roster spot with another poor performance on Friday night in Charlotte. Targeted five times, he caught just two passes for 12 yards and didn’t play a snap with Tom Brady and the starting unit. His best hope to stick is that Julian Edelman’s suspension gives him a reprieve for a couple of weeks to get it sorted out. Even with depleted depth at WR, his chances of sticking at this point have to be getting slimmer each day.

Mike Gillislee likewise isn’t looking like he’s going to stick to the 53-man roster. Jeremy Hill looks quicker and more decisive in getting to the hole and his inability to be a factor in the passing game hurts his chances. Hill seems (at least from here) to have clearly won the battle for the bigger back duties. Like Decker, his chances of sticking now appear to center around uncertainty. With both Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel hurt, he may make the roster out of default. Burkhead looks to be much closer to return at this point and if Michel gets put on IR, then he too may work his way on the roster.

Red Zone Defense was one of the few bright spots on what was a pretty dismal first half for the Patriots overall. The Panthers marched down the field three times and while the defense didn’t play well, they did stiffen up in the red area and hold Carolina to just three field goals.

Stephon Gilmore had a nice pass breakup in the end zone after the initial ten-minute opening drive, forcing the Panthers to settle for three.

Keionta Davis played over Derek Rivers in the first half and saw a considerable amount of snaps with the first unit. It is a positive sign for the 1st year player that the coaches want to see what he can do against the top opposition. The staff obviously likes what they see in him.

Jordan Richards appears locked again on the 53-man roster, the much-maligned safety played on all four special teams units with the starters in the first half.  His main competition, Eddie Pleasant, played zero snaps with the starters.

Only one player hasn’t appeared in any of the three preseason games, rookie punter Corey Bojorquez has yet to make an appearance this summer. The strong-legged punter from New Mexico now has zero chance of unseating veteran Ryan Allen.

Jason McCourty will be a curious decision for the coaching staff at cut down time. The veteran corner was placed at safety and was very late getting over on Panthers’ touchdown pass in the second half. But then made a great play on the next red zone sequence, reading the play and shooting into the backfield to hit the runner for a loss. Playing a variety of positions may help his case with the coaching staff.

Wide Receiver Position Still in Flux:

We mentioned the struggles continuing with Eric Decker, with just two weeks remaining before the season opener, things are still unsettled there. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson are locks, that is only three for the first month of the season. It leaves plenty to be done in a short amount of time.

Dorsett helped his own cause in a nice game Friday night, catching all four passes thrown his way for 36 yards. Included in that was a key fourth down pass to keep the chains moving, a sign of trust from Brady that was encouraging.

Patterson played nearly the entire game which left many scratching their heads, but the belief here is that he is still working his way into the offense and the coaches just want to see the different ways they can possibly utilize his talents.

It looks right now like Riley McCarron may earn at least an early roster spot. He was on the field early last night and has punt return ability. He still catches the ball with his body too much but he got the opportunity over Decker in four WR sets in the first half. But his two drops late, didn’t help his chances.

Braxton Berrios is hurt and hasn’t played, a rookie isn’t going to make the team that way. Devin Lucien is a hard worker but appears as a very long shot to make the team at this point. Despite this, the passing game should be fine, especially after Edelman returns. With Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister at tight end, James White, Burkhead and Michel out of the backfield, there are plenty of targets for Brady to throw to. But some added depth would be on the coaches to-do list when the cut downs begin elsewhere around the league.

Bentley Continues Strong Preseason:

Rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley has been having a very solid summer. That continued on Friday night in Carolina. Although Elandon Roberts got the start, Bentley played a significant amount of snaps with the first unit in the first half and accounted for himself in another positive performance.

In the second half, with the backups, Bentley was calling the signals and acting like the leader of the defense, something that shouldn’t be lost on the coaches. Bentley has continually been improving his game since Day 1 of camp and should be in line to see significant snaps once the regular season begins.

Despite Roberts getting the start on Friday, we’d put Bentley on equal or better footing than the veteran and it shouldn’t be long before the big Purdue linebacker is getting the start on this defense.

Cyrus Jones Returns:

Less than a year from his ACL surgery, Patriots third-year cornerback Cyrus Jones returned to the playing field getting some work in with the secondary as well as in the return game.

That in itself was a very positive sign for the Alabama alum and he looked fast with some sharp cuts in the return game. His first kickoff return was his best a 27-yarder where he showed good vision and cut-back ability before it was wiped out by a penalty.

Jones has been the forgotten man after a nightmarish rookie season and his sophomore year wiped out by an ACL injury in the final preseason game. His speed and change of direction ability seem back to where they were and he fielded all of his attempts cleanly. His status for next week will bear watching.

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

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Dez Bryant Calls Tom Brady His “Favorite Player” On Instagram, Fuels More Rumors

Robert Alvarez
August 22, 2018 at 7:25 pm ET

With the news coming down Wednesday that the New England Patriots released wide receiver Kenny Britt, it created yet another opening on an already thin depth chart at the position.

The Patriots, who previously cut Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews due to injuries in camp, opened the door for additional fan and media speculation that the team should give free agent Dez Bryant a chance.

Bryant, who was last seen on HBO’s Hard Knocks leaving the Cleveland Browns without a contract, added more fire to the Patriots rumors when he was spotted calling Tom Brady his “favorite player” in response to an Instagram comment from a fan asking him to come to New England.

Could the comment be interpreted as Bryant seeking attention from the Patriots?

Surely he knows Bill Belichick doesn’t have a SnapFace or Pandarama account?

In the meantime, brace yourself for the Logan Airport “sightings” over the next few weeks.

Pass Rush, Brady Shine in Patriots Preseason Win Over Philly

Steve Balestrieri
August 17, 2018 at 7:07 am ET

The Patriots wanted to get off to a much better start than last week’s moribund beginning against the Redskins and they did exactly that with a very impressive first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles en route to a 37-20 win on Thursday night. It was the second preseason game for both teams.

Tom Brady quelled the critics for a night at least with a performance that showed he is as sharp as ever. Brady completed 19 of 26 for 172 yards with two touchdown passes and no interceptions. This was his first game action since the Super Bowl and despite all the hand-wringing about him missing OTAs this spring, he looked like Tom Brady which is cool, calm and collected.

Despite wearing the new-style helmet which looks particularly odd on him Brady  started off hot completing his first five passes on the opening drive and culminating it with him sliding in the pocket to buy time, which allowed Chris Hogan to break free and run along the back of the end zone against the flow where Brady hit him for an easy touchdown.

And with no Rob Gronkowski, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel and Kenny Britt, the offense hummed along pretty well in the early going. On the flip side, Nick Foles looked rusty and was off-target on many of his throws. But unlike the game in February where Foles had all day to throw, the Patriots pass rush had an outstanding game.

They logged eight sacks on the night but the key was, they were getting consistent pressure from the edge and the interior rushers were pushing the pocket enough where the Philly QBs weren’t able to step up into the pocket. Adrian Clayborn had an outstanding game. Although he was credited with just one sack, he was providing pressure and helped set up others to clean up. Derek Rivers was also very impressive, showing very good burst around the edge.

On the Eagles first drive, pressure by Clayborn forced Foles to be inaccurate on a deep sideline pass to a running back isolated on linebacker Ju’Whaun Bentley. This was followed by a six-yard loss on a running play and more pressure on third down where Devin McCourty nearly intercepted a tipped Foles pass.

On the Eagles next possession, Clayborn, and Rivers pressured Foles which allowed Pat Chung to come in and pick up a sack. Ditto for a sack by Adam Butler. Clayborn then had a strip sack of Foles where the ball bounced right into Bentley’s arms and the rookie raced 53 yards for a touchdown.

The Patriots had a nice two-minute drill at the end of the half where Brady appeared in vintage form where he led the team down the field in just 59 seconds where James White finished it off with a 20-yard screen pass from Brady for a touchdown. The blocking on which was outstanding where White wasn’t touched.

Other observations include:

Isaiah Wynn had a nice start to the game at right tackle and then came up hopping on a non-contact injury, was brought to the medical tent and then was carted off the field. From the looks of the way he was hopping, it may have been an Achilles injury. We’ll have to wait for an update, but it doesn’t look promising.

James White appeared in mid-season form. He caught six passes in six targets for 61 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed four times for 31 yards, a 7.8-yard average. He got the offense going in the early going and was very impressive.

Clayborn and Rivers looked very strong on the edges along with Deatrich Wise but late in the game, Trent Harris, a longshot to make the roster, looked very good in limited action. Ditto for the big edge player Keionta Davis who has been kicked inside and did a very good job of pushing the interior of the pocket.

With Rob Gronkowski sitting out the second preseason game, Jacob Hollister got extended playing time. He showed some improved blocking skills in the running game, not close to the Gronk level but better than a year ago.  He also made a nice catch down the seam in the two-minute drill, a 22-yarder where he was drilled but hung on for a key catch. Building a little chemistry and trust factor with #12 is always a positive.

Rough first half, almost a nightmarish one for rookie Keion Crossen, the Patriots slot corner who got the start. He actually got off to a promising start, flying up on a running play and dumping it for a six-yard loss. But then two awful pass interference penalties, (he’d add a third) set the Eagles up for an easy touchdown.

Overall rough night for the young Patriots corners, Crossen, J.C. Jackson and A.J. Moore who were picked on all night by Eagles QBs.

Speaking of which, Eagles third-string QB Nate Sudfeld was very impressive. He throws a beautiful deep ball and hit on a couple of those with perfect throws into coverage. He finished 22-39 for 312 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Dallas Goedert for the Eagles is also impressive. We really liked him in the lead up to the draft this year. And after a strong game in Week 1 against the Steelers, he topped it off with a good effort against the Pats. He caught three passes for 57 yards.  

Strong bounceback game for Stephon Gilmore, the Pats’ top corner blanketed Eagles receivers all night and the only pass attempted his way was defended well by him for an incompletion.

I absolutely hate this new rule about the leading with the helmet. The Eagles were victimized by it with a ticky tack call and then the Pats Jordan Richards got hit with it. After giving up a 28-yarder to Goedert, in trying to tackle him, an extra 15 was tacked on making it a 43-yard pass play. This rule sucks, plain and simple and will be the cause of much controversy this fall, you watch.