Category Archives: Patriots Film Room

Patriots Lose Tough One to Kansas City 23-16, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2019 at 10:12 pm ET

The Patriots dropped their second game in a row getting stopped on a 4th down pass in the end zone as they fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-16 in a very exciting if at times aggravating game.

And while fans will point to the truly awful officiating (and it was), the reason they were behind the eight-ball didn’t have to do with the officiating, but we’ll get to Jerome Boger’s crew in due time. 

The Patriots had to overcome a bad second quarter where the Chiefs went into halftime scoring 20 unanswered points and then found themselves down 23-7 and in a position where they could have easily been blown out. Andy Reid and the Chiefs offense had figured out what the Patriots were doing defensively and Patrick Mahomes was shredding them in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the Patriots offense after a nice opening drive was doing a lot of nothing. But they didn’t quit and forced a couple of key turnovers and put themselves in a position to either win or force overtime. And the defense made their own adjustments and held the Chiefs to just three second-half points. 

Other observations include:

Kansas City’s defense played a heckuva game, they did what I have said I’d do if I were an opposing defensive coordinator. I’d blitz the heck out of Tom Brady because other than Julian Edelman and James White, he has no one he can depend on to make plays consistently. And he doesn’t. 

Phillip Dorsett drew one long defensive pass interference penalty, and should have drawn another, but other than that? Zip, zilch, zero, nada. Zero catches, zero yards. Mohamad Sanu had one catch for 13 yards. As we said last week, when your #2 and #3 wide receivers have no production, it is awfully hard to win football games. 

The Patriots running game managed just 94 yards against a Chiefs defense that came in allowing 141.3 per game. That is a win for KC. The Chiefs defensive line was pushing around the offensive line of New England all night long. And their pass rush harried Brady on nearly every throw. 

Josh McDaniels has been pulling out all the stops and trying to find something that works offensively. On the first drive, they ran a flea-flicker with a very different look as James White took the handoff and ran to the right before tossing it back to Brady. Julian Edelman was wide open and he and Brady connected on a 37-yard touchdown pass that was aided by two pass interference calls on third down. 

The Patriots had chances to go up big, they intercepted Mahomes on the third snap for the Chiefs when J.C. Jackson undercut Tyreek Hill and picked it off at the Chiefs 40, but they went backward one yard and two passes went incomplete. 

After Mahomes led the Chiefs to a field goal, the Patriots then went on a 13-play, 56-yard drive that stalled at the Chiefs 23-yard line. Nick Folk’s 41-yard field goal was blocked when Tanoh Kpassagnon broke through the middle of the line cleanly and knocked it down. That was the turning point of the game and momentum. 

But the rest of the first half was all KC. Mahomes seemed to injure his throwing hand when it looked like he connected with one of his own players’ helmets with the pinkie on his hand. But he made some tremendous plays and had the Chiefs on the verge of a blowout. 

Facing a 3rd and 19 at their own 46, Mahomes was under heavy pressure and delivered a 21-yard strike to Tyreek Hill. Then on 2nd and 25 from the Patriots’ 48, he hit rookie Mecole Hardman for a 48-yard touchdown strike. That made the score 10-3.

Tom Brady was picked off on an unusual play on the first play of the ensuing series. Brady was attempting to hit Matt LaCosse down the numbers after he beat a linebacker in coverage. But Bashaud Breeland who was covering Julian Edelman outside on a short crossing route was fooled and kept running deep. He ran right into the play where Brady’s pass was going and picked it off, cutting in front of LaCosse 

Mahomes and the Chiefs wasted no time in converting their chance with Travis Kelce taking a direct snap on a 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line, scoring easily making it 17-7. 

The Patriots turned it over on downs. And a few plays highlight what has been troubling the offense. On 2nd a 7 from the Chiefs 27, they were showing an all-out blitz. And they did, Brady threw hot to Phillip Dorsett who ran a deep route down the numbers. He has to recognize that and cut his route short. On 3rd and 7, Jakobi Meyers dropped a pass that would have moved the sticks. 

Mahomes drove the Chiefs down just before the half with a chance to blow the game wide open. The Patriots defense stiffened and held them to a field goal and went into the half down 20-7.

The Chiefs took the second-half kickoff and went down and kicked another field goal to make it 23-7. It was then that the Patriots defense made their own adjustments and really tightened things up, holding the Chiefs scoreless for the final 25 minutes. 

On the Chiefs’ next possession, Nate Ebner burst up the middle and blocked a punt giving the Patriots excellent field position at the KC 19. Two plays later Brandon Bolden ran it in from 10 -yards out and the score was 23-13 after the two-point conversion failed.

During the Chiefs next possession is when the wheels on Boger’s staff came right off. Facing a 3rd and 4, from the KC 35, Mahomes drilled a crosser to Sammy Watkins who was tackled by Stephon Gilmore. The side judge gave Watkins a huge favorable spot at the 40-yard line when the replay clearly showed him catching it at the 39-yard line, very close to the yard marker. 

Bill Belichick threw a challenge flag, not only on the spot but asking for an offensive pass interference penalty on Travis Kelce. While the spot may have been a 1st down regardless, the officials ruled that the initial spot was correct. And Kelce clearly interfered with Gilmore. He ran a route about 2-3 yards and stopped and then stuck his ass out which clearly made contact with Gilmore. But both calls were denied by the replay officials. That would come back to haunt the Patriots. 

Five plays later, facing a 3rd and 2 at the NE 37, Mahomes hit Kelce on a short crosser. He initially made a first down but ran backward of his own accord and then was hit and fumbled. The ball bounced behind him where Gilmore made a scoop with a lot of green in front of him. But the officials blew the call dead and deemed Kelce down by contact. 

Normally, this year, the officials will let a play run itself out and then determine if a turnover occurred. But not here. Belichick was forced to use his second challenge. The call was reversed and the Patriots recovered but the scoop and probable score by Gilmore was negated. 

Brady drove the Patriots down to the KC 15 where on 1st down, he hit N’Keal Harry on a short pass to the left. Harry broke to the outside, and launched himself over the pylon for what appeared to be a touchdown. One official ruled him in, the other said he stepped out at the three. If they went with a touchdown it would have been automatically reviewed. The replays were clear, Harry was well within bounds, but because Boger’s crew had blown those two earlier calls, the Patriots had no challenges left. 

Worse, the players had begun to leave the field, believing a touchdown had been scored. With the play clock running out, Brady hurried them to the line and White was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on a play that had no chance of success. On 2nd down, Brady’s pass was dropped by Meyers in the end zone. A 3rd down sack forced a field goal making it 23-16. 

But Boger’s crew wasn’t done, on the Patriots final drive, Brady had a 3rd and 6 and went deep to Phillip Dorsett who was clearly interfered with but no flag was forthcoming. Brady did convert the 4th and 6, scrambling in slow motion for 17. They stalled and on 4th and 3 from the KC 5, Brady’s pass to Edelman was broken up. Ball game. 

Obviously, had the Harry score upheld, the 4h down would have been a field goal attempt to tie and send the game into another overtime. And while Boger’s crew deserve all of the bile that will come their way, (they remain the worst crew in the NFL), the reason the Patriots were in that position in the first place was their own lack of execution earlier and the Chiefs big second quarter. 

They didn’t quit and the defense showed why they are among the best in the league again. It is a frustrating loss but they’re still 10-3 and remain the #2 seed. 

We’re on to Cincinnati (that sounds vaguely familiar)  

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.

No Panic Necessary, Patriots To Stay the Course With the Offense in 2019

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2019 at 10:00 am ET

The Patriots offense has been scuffling along for the majority of the 2019 season and we’re now three-quarters of the way through. The team struggles in the red zone, on third down and doesn’t seem to have an offensive identity. 

Much of the fanbase has descended into full-blown panic mode, begging the owner of the team to sign one of the most self-centered players to suit up in the NFL within memory. Forgetting that the same player has only himself to blame for his ouster. All he had to do was shut up and play football. That was too much to ask. Ciao…

So, with the offensive struggles, we’ve heard the same things, we hear every year, “the Patriots are done, Brady is done, they can’t win…yawn. Wash, rinse, and repeat. As my friend Terry said the other day, “Bashing Tom Brady has become a cottage industry.”

After the loss to the Texans that dropped the team to 10-2, (gasp, how horrible!) the crescendo rose even louder. But what about the Patriots? Is there any panic coming from Gillette Stadium? Nope. Frustration, sure, who wouldn’t be? 

Flashback to Week 15 last year, the offense was ugly in the 17-10 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and everyone (again) wrote the team off. They figured things out and then won their last two games of the regular season averaging 31 points and then three playoff games where they averaged 30 more.

We’re in Week 13 now, with the Chiefs who are playing much better now than they were about a month or two ago. So, they have a month instead of two weeks to figure it out. 

I know, I know, “this team doesn’t have that feeling that they can turn it around” right? How many times have we heard that one? The issues on offense, HAVE been consistent, so is the panic justified this time or is it just more of the same old rot?

However, the fact remains that what ails this offense is execution issues. The plays are there, they’re schemed up but for some reason, aren’t getting done.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been one to say that they lack speed on the outside and it influences the way opponents play them. And I’ll stand by that, however, (comma), the Patriots have never really had a bunch of speedy wide receivers. 

So, what’s the difference this year (so far), execution. Just like Bill Belichick says all the time that pass defense is a combination of pass coverage and pass rush, the passing game is a combination of three things. 

The offensive line has to give the quarterback enough protection to allow him to go through his progressions to hit the open receiver. The wide receivers have to run precise routes and be on the same page as the quarterback in terms of route selection. And the quarterback has to make his reads and deliver the ball accurately to where the receivers are. 

Too often this year, one or more of those three items have broken down, sometimes several on the same play. These items are still fixable. Two of the wide receivers (Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry) are rookies with Harry only playing in a couple of games due to injury. Mohamad Sanu came over in midseason from the Falcons and may still be hobbled a bit by his ankle injury. 

Phillip Dorsett is coming off a concussion, however, he’s now in his third season with the Patriots and his production is far from what it should be now. It seems like ages ago we were discussing his streak of completed passes thrown his way. 

All of them can be better, and in doing so, take some of the pressure off Julian Edelman. 

The offensive line has been in flux all season. Isaiah Wynn was taking over at left tackle and then was injured and put on IR. He’s been back just two games. David Andrews was lost for the year on IR, Ted Karras took over at center, now he’s hurt and may miss a few weeks. Marcus Cannon has been fighting an illness for two weeks. And Shaq Mason just isn’t having the type of season we’re accustomed to seeing from him. 

We have seen some improvement in the run blocking, the team ran for a season-high 145 yards on Sunday, facing a team (KC) that is pretty awful at defending the run (141.3-yard average), it is imperative that they run the ball well. 

Which leads us to Brady. Of course, the national bobos who glance at stats and will have you believe that he’s done have been saying that BS for years. But if you see the game and not just watch it, the truth says differently. Can he be better? Of course, but the lack of a running game, hit or miss protection and an inexperienced WR core have taken its toll. Is the trust factor real or imagined? I tend to believe it, but some ex-players have pooh-poohed the idea as overrated.

Josh McDaniels on a conference call with the media earlier today (Dec.4) spoke about what the team needs to do to right the ship. 

“I think there’s a lot of factors in the passing game that would determine what being on the same page really means, but practice, repetition – there’s no shortcut to it, he said. 

“Every rep we take in practice, every pass we throw, every side session that we’re able to take part in, every conversation, every one-on-one drill that we do in practice, every film session that we’re in, it just continues to try to build off of the last one. I think patience is something that – I know everybody wants everything to be a finished product, and we do too, but at the same time you have to understand there’s going to be a process and we’re going to try to stick to it.” 

He added, “We have to be committed to it, and we know that it’s productive when we stay the course and continue to coach the right things and fix the right things and then the players go out and make corrections and they have success with it.”

There is a month to go, tough matchups with KC and Buffalo are at home where they tend to play better. Those games are sandwiched around their last away game in Cincinnati and at home against Miami. Both of those are eminently winnable. 

They have a month to figure things out, can they do it? While many people tend to think that they can’t, their track record speaks otherwise. 

I’ve seen many, too many posts that say… “There’s no way they beat Kansas City this week!” I’m going to drink the Kool-Aid this week and say the offense plays much better and begins to turn things around. 

Who knows? That’s why they play the games. Check back later tomorrow and we’ll have the breakdown of the Chiefs game and the key matchups.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

 Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Texans Figure Out Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2019 at 8:44 am ET

Patriots fall to 10-2, Poor Execution, Doomed Team 

The Patriots were outplayed, outcoached and for the most part out of options until very late in the game on Sunday. The Houston Texans had a great game plan, executed it to near perfection and played smart situational football throughout. I wonder where Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel learned those things? 

For fifty minutes or so, Houston dominated this game. And then they tried to coast and it nearly cost them. An onside kick that bounced just over Brandon Bolden’s fingertips was all that stood between the Patriots having a loss and an improbable win. But this wasn’t an epic comeback like the last time New England played in Houston. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the film before moving on..

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady struggled badly and was visibly frustrated starting very early in this one. And remember last week, where his pedestrian numbers we said right here were misleading? That he played much better than the numbers would appear? Well, this week is the exact opposite. 

A peek at the stat sheet and you’d say, 326 yards and three touchdown passes isn’t bad, in fact, it is pretty good… right? Wrong. 

As we mentioned above, Houston (for whatever reason) got away from what was working all game and played very soft and were allowing Brady to hit easy completions and he racked up some big garbage time numbers. Still, Houston’s gaffe nearly ended up costing them dearly, and Brady took advantage. And he had a 13-yard scramble where he didn’t resemble Lamar Jackson at all…J/K TB.

Running Backs: B+

The Patriots running game had its best game of the year running for 145 yards. The coaching staff got away from the run game early as the Texans began to stack the box and then had to almost abandon it totally when they fell far behind. 

James White must love playing here. After that epic Super Bowl performance against Atlanta, White had a huge game, with season highs in rushing (14 carries, 79 yards, 5.6-yard average), receiving (8 catches, 98 yards), and two touchdowns. The Texans had a safety on him early, but late in the game he went off and was huge for the offense. 

Sony Michel looked very good on the Patriots first drive, grinding out 33 yards on a drive that stalled deep in Houston territory and resulted in a field goal. He ended up with 45 yards on just 10 carries but was rendered to the bench. Rex Burkhead had three carries for 15 yards.

Wide Receivers: D

Julian Edelman saves this positional group from a worse grade. Edelman was bracketed all game long and still gutted his way out to a 6-catch, 106-yard night with a touchdown reception. He’s been playing hurt since the first Jets game and it baffles the mind where this offense would be without him. 

The rest of the wide receivers were …in a word, awful. No separation, blown routes, lining up in the wrong place, not catching contested passes. Did we miss anything? A couple of cases in point. Dan Orlovsky caught this first…Brady was giving a hand signal to Phillip Dorsett to go deep. Dorsett cuts his route off and Brady’s pass sails to air at the pylon. On a scramble to the right side, Brady motions for Jakobi Meyers to also go deep. He stops and the pass sails to no one. 

Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu had a combined five catches for 29 yards on 11 targets. For your #2 and #3 WRs, that isn’t going to cut it. They need a lot more from both of them, especially against a secondary that has been getting abused pretty regularly.

Meyers had three catches for 46 yards, while fellow rookie N’Keal Harry was targeted once on the pass that Brady was intercepted. Harry ran a sloppy route and didn’t box out properly, allowing Bradley Roby to jump the route and intercept the pass. Harry was sent to Siberia (or so it seemed) the rest of the game. He wasn’t targeted again. More to that later…  

Tight Ends: C

Ben Watson was only targeted once and had one catch for 23 yards, breaking a tackle and converted a big 3rd and 17 on the Pats’ first touchdown drive. Matt LaCosse played a lot of snaps and provide good blocking in run support. He had one catch for 24 yards and also had a drop. 

The offense needs to target the tight ends more down the seam and they’ll need better production from each of them in the final month of the season. 

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line played a very good game on Sunday night overall. The run blocking was the best it has been all season, generating 145 yards on the ground and averaging 5.0 yards per rush. Guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were very good at opening lanes for the backs. 

The pass protection didn’t look great on the surface with Brady getting pressured on over a third of his dropbacks. But with Houston pinning their ears back in the second half with New England down by two or more scores and Brady often holding the ball for an inordinately long time (WRs not separating), it contributed to that.  

 Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had another very good day against the Texans. Houston wanted to establish the running game with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson and the Patriots defense stuffed them. 

Houston was able to generate 52 yards on 23 carries, 2.3 yards per rush. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton continue their stellar play, disrupting the runs at the point of attack and getting good penetration. 

John Simon had one very good pressure and nearly sacked Deshaun Watson for a big loss. But Watson was able to slip away and got back to the line of scrimmage before throwing an incomplete pass. They, later on, that drive went the length of the field for a touchdown. 

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers (Boogeymen) weren’t very scary this week as they were victimized in coverage for two touchdowns. Watson and the Houston coaches were able to isolate Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy and they were both beaten easily.  Elandon Roberts was flagged for an interference penalty and JaWhaun Bentley was beaten in coverage a few times as well.

The linebackers did, however, generate all three of the Patriots sacks with Hightower, Van Noy and rookie Chase Winovich each notching a sack of Watson. Tackling was an issue as well at times.  Jamie Collins had a quiet evening. 

Secondary: B-

Watson went right after Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones this week and DeAndre Hopkins had probably his best game against the Patriots with five catches for 64 yards. They went after Jones using their speed guys (Kenny Stills and Will Fuller) from the slot. 

Fuller beat Jones for a deep TD but upon review, Jones was able to knock the ball away. Undeterred, Watson went right back on the next snap and Stills beat Jones cleanly for the touchdown. 

Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Patriots had allowed only four TDs on the season and they allowed four more on Sunday night. Watson’s passer rating was a stellar 140.7 against a team that been allowing opposing QBs a rating of about 100 points less. 

Special Teams: C

The Special Teams didn’t have a great night, and Sunday may have been one of their quietest games of the season. Kai Forbath (since released) missed an extra point. Jake Bailey was okay averaging 44-yards per punt. He had one bad onside kick attempt and one excellent one, perfectly bouncing the ball over the Texans front. But it bounced just a tad too high. Brandon Bolden got a fingertip on it and very nearly hauled it in. The coverage units were so-so and the return game was not good. 

Coaches: C

The Patriots coaching staff made some curious decisions. Abandoning the run when they finally got it going seemed ridiculous at the time, however, rewatching on tape, it was clear Houston was stacking the box. But the bizarre call for the two-point conversion was a head-scratcher.

Brady saw that Houston was aligned defensively with something they didn’t like. But they didn’t call timeout allowing themselves to take a penalty for delay of the game. Then they flipped-flopped, opting for the kick where Forbath shanked it left. 

And freezing out Harry, whether that is Brady, McDaniels or Bill Belichick is flat out wrong. He made a rookie blunder, but benching him there especially with the WRs not named Julian Edelman doing next to nothing? Not a good move. They should have gone right back to him allowing him a chance to redeem his confidence…ah well. 

Houston’s coaches (save for the final 9:53), definitely got the better of Belichick and McDaniels. And that doesn’t happen often. 

So we’re on to Kansas City and a home game next week. Buckle your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy week on social media.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Patriots 2019 Opponents, The Texans Are a Familiar Foe

Steve Balestrieri
November 28, 2019 at 6:57 am ET

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a quick look at the Patriots’ next opponent, the Houston Texans while you wait for your turkey to cook. 

The Patriots head back out on the road this week for a prime-time game against the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football. At 10-1, the Patriots own the #1 seed in the AFC and still hold a two-game lead of the Bills in the division. 

The Texans are a familiar foe and it seems like they are almost a divisional opponent. The two teams have faced each other at least once in the past five seasons and former NE offensive coordinator and Texans coach Bill O’Brien conducted joint practices with the Patriots in 2017. 

So the familiarity and respect are there on both sidelines as the two teams meet up again.

Prime Time Watson Something to Watch:

John McClain the Texans’ outstanding beat writer penned a very intriguing piece on Houston QB Deshaun Watson this week and his ability to turn it on in prime time games. Watson has appeared in seven prime time games in his career and is 5-2 in those contests. 

Watson has tossed 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His quarterback rating is 118.6. Also included in those games, he’s rushed for 272 yards with three more touchdowns. And this week, under the bright lights, Watson and the Texans will be playing at home. 

Bill Belichick spoke about Watson early this week and the difficulties of trying to match up against Watson on Sunday night.

“He’s very, very good,” Belichick said. “He’s a very accurate downfield passer. He’s made some great throws on double-moves, seam routes, post patterns, go routes, things like that.

“And, of course, we all know he’s a very athletic guy with the ball in his hands. He can score from anywhere at any time. It’ll be a big challenge for us for 60 minutes. Any game’s a long way from being over if he has his hands on the ball.”

Big Three (Watson, Hopkins, Fuller) Present a Difficult Opponent :

The Houston offense features Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller presenting a very difficult trio to defend against. Fuller has had injury problems in his career and is nursing a balky hamstring right now. But when he’s in the lineup, opponents can’t focus on just stopping the outstanding Hopkins outside. 

In the last three seasons, the Houston offense has had that trio on the field for only 19 games. But in those games, they’ve lit it up offensively, averaging 28.6 points and nearly 400 yards of offense. 

And Watson’s numbers? (Courtesy of McClain) In those 19 games, Watson has thrown 45 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. He’s completed 8.8 yards per attempt, and his rating is 104.2. Hopkins has 124 receptions for 1,715 yards and 17 touchdowns. Fuller has 86 receptions for 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns. Besides the big three, Watson also has Kenny Stills, TEs Darren Fells, and Jordan Akins as well as Duke Johnson out of the backfield. 

The Patriots secondary which has been nothing short of outstanding this season faces another big challenge this week. 

Revamped Running Game Is Playing Well:

Houston has a new 1-2 punch at running back with Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde replacing the tandem the Patriots saw in Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. Houston has had very good balance this season churning out 136.9 yards per game, good for 7th in the league. 

Hyde has rushed the ball 174 times for 836 yards, good for a 4.8-yards per rushing attempt with 4 touchdowns. Johnson has rushed 65 times for 349 yards (5.4-yard avg) with a touchdown. Watson has rushed for 301 yards on 58 rushes (5.2-yard avg) with a team-leading 5 rushing touchdowns.

Hyde is the early-down back and getting the lion’s share of the rushes with Johnson coming in for third downs and getting more of the receptions out of the backfield. Watson is a threat to make plays with his feet at any time. 

Texans Defense Missing Clowney, Watt Down the Stretch: 

The Texans’ defense has been middle of the road to slightly below in most defensive categories in 2019. Houston has allowed 22.6 points a game, which is 17th in the league. On the ground they’re allowing 108.0 yards per game, also 17th while through the air, opponents are getting 259.3 yards per game passing which is 25th in the league.

They really miss Jadeveon Clowney who is now in Seattle as well as J.J. Watt who is on IR in their pass rush. Their strength remains the linebackers,  Whitney Mercilus, Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, Bill Belichick called them among the best in the NFL. 

They’ve also made changes in the secondary. CB Jonathan Joseph and S Justin Reed remain but now they’ve got Bradley Roby at the other corner slot and Tashaun Gipson at safety. 

We’ll have our keys to the game and key matchups later tomorrow. Stay tuned… 

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 – Cowboys Week 12 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 22, 2019 at 6:38 am ET

The Patriots return home for a big matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium. This will be the second straight week facing an NFC East team as the Patriots were in Philadelphia last Sunday.  

The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Cowboys are leading the NFC East with a 6-4 record, a game ahead of the Eagles…thanks to New England. 

This will be a match of strength vs strength as the #1 offense of the Cowboys is facing the #1 defense of the Patriots.  

This week’s game will be broadcast by Fox and can be seen locally on WFXT Channel 25. Joe Buck will handle play-by-play duties with Troy Aikman as the color analyst. Erin Andrews will report 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 (9-1) are coming off a hard-fought, tough 17-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The defense logged five sacks of Carson Wentz and shut them out for the final 42+ minutes 

The Cowboys (6-4) are coming off of a big 35-27 win over the Detroit Lions. Dak Prescott threw for 444 yards and is leading the league. 

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 Cowboys have met 12 times in their history, including the first-ever game in Texas Stadium in Irving. Dallas won the first seven and the Patriots the last five. The teams last met in October 2015 in Dallas where the Patriots won 30-6.

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 Cowboys Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Dallas

The Patriots running game remains frustratingly mired in neutral, they have tried different combinations and backs but the issue remains the offensive line has not played well as a group. However, starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn returns after being on IR for eight weeks (turf toe). Will it help to have Wynn back? Of course. Will it make them a juggernaut running the ball or even consistently good? Nope. Their problems running the ball are deeper than just one man can fix. But it should be better. 

The Cowboys run defense is middle of the road allowing 105.2 yards per game which is tied for 15th in the league. Their defense is small and very fast and athletic. (More to this below). This is a matchup a year ago that the Patriots ground game would have eaten them alive in the second half. This year? Hmm…

Look for Josh McDaniels to mix things up but this may be a straight-ahead type of game for the running backs. Trying to run those stretch plays to the outside against a fast, athletic defense is pure folly.  A straight-ahead game would favor more Rex Burkhead and possible Brandon Bolden than Sony Michel but we’ll see.         

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

Caveat here…. A big maybe considering who may miss this game. The Patriots passing game has been limited by the pass blocking of the offensive line. Again, it hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. That means Tom Brady can’t wait long enough for plays to develop. The Patriots have good possession guys in Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu who are very quick off the line and can eat up the short-intermediate areas of the field. Sanu is dealing with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss this week’s game. A big loss. 

Dallas is 7th in the league against the pass allowing 216.9 yards per game. Their strength is their pass rush. Robert Quinn has 8.5 sacks while DeMarcus Lawrence has 4.5. Michael Bennett has garnered three sacks in three games. 

Wynn’s return will definitely help because Marshall Newhouse struggled against speed rushers. And Quinn is an excellent speed rusher off the blindside. With Sanu and possibly Phillip Dorsett out, it means Edelman, James White, and Rex Burkhead will be leaned on heavily. The offense will need rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers to step up big this week. Ben Watson has been coming on a bit and should see more targets this week. 

Next up the Cowboys offense:

Cowboys RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Dallas

The Cowboys running game with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard with Prescott scrambling out of the pocket is very effective. It helps to have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL to run behind. An area to watch is the health of the Cowboys’ bookend tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, both of whom have been banged up. 

The Patriots have been a Top 10 defense against the run allowing 97.3 yards per game. They’ll need the big men inside, Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy to penetrate and slow down the running game at the point of attack. 

For the Patriots it isn’t so much stopping Elliott, he’s going to get his yards, but they have to slow him down with their nickel package to force Prescott into obvious passing situations on third down. If they can do that, they’ll be successful. If Dallas constantly has third and short, they’ll get burned by play action. 

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

The Dallas passing game has a plethora of weapons. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb at wide receiver, Jason Witten at tight end and Elliott out of the backfield is a tough group to cover. Dallas is the #1 team in the NFL on 3rd down. 

The Patriots #1 pass defense will be tested here. Stephon Gilmore is the best corner in the league and will be matched up with Cooper. But the key for New England is QB pressure where the Patriots have 37 sacks on the season. Covering the secondary receivers Gallup and Cobb will take on an increased focus for J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty.

Prescott will continue to spread it around, look for Witten to play a big role this week. The Patriots will try to pressure him and force him into making a mistake. Third downs and keeping the sticks moving will be key for the offense. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams have Nick Folk who has settled things down in the kicking game although he hasn’t been asked to do much from distance yet. Jake Bailey is having an outstanding season and last week put six of eight punts inside the 20-yard line. The coverage units have been terrific. The return game has been stuck in neutral.

The Cowboys have the very steady Brett Maher who is 32-32 for PATs and has been okay in the FG department but has missed 4-6 from 50 yards and beyond. The Dallas return game has been only so-so. Because they’re at home and Bailey is on a roll, the Patriots get the nod this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 10-1 but have their work cut out for them this week as the Cowboys are a very tough matchup this week. But Dallas has been inconsistent this season. One week they look awful and lose to the Jets and then they totally blow out the Eagles. I’d expect them to bring their A-Game to Gillette this week.

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Slow Down the Run- Look for the Patriots defense to give some different looks this week. If Pat Chung can return to game action this week it will help as he typically plays in the box. The Cowboys like to play mainly out of their 11 personnel package, (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and even with Elliot, they’ll be in their nickel package. 

Instead of the normal two-gapping the big men, the Patriots may try to have Guy and Shelton penetrate and slow things before they have a chance to get off the line. This is a big key for the defense. It seems crazy to say that they want to force the ball in Prescott’s hands but that would match against the Patriots strength, their secondary. 

Get the RBs into the Passing Game – The Patriots offense has struggled lately and with Sanu and possibly Dorsett out, this could get ugly. Therefore. James White and Rex Burkhead have to step up and keep the chains moving. Look for the Patriots to go up-tempo and try to control the clock. 

Michael Lombardi was on Dallas radio and had some interesting things to say. 

“In the last 2 seasons when the Cowboys play 30 minutes or more on defense they’re 5-17. When they play 30 min or less they’re 20-4. 

Why is that? It’s because the Cowboys are small on defense, they rely on quickness, they rely on speed, they rely on their movement to make plays.  When they have to stand in the middle of the ring for 32, 33 minutes, they wear down. That’s the essence of this game and I think what you’ll see from the Patriots is you’ll see tempo, you’ll see them control, you’ll see them want to hold the ball 34+ minutes and keep Zeke and Dak off the field.” 

Will this work without Sanu and Dorsett? We’ll see. Bill Belichick is the master at finding the adjustments needed to win and in the coaching department, he gets the edge over Garrett, but the team may be very short-handed on offense. 

Special Teams Will Have to Step Up – The Patriots have been getting great special teams play and they’ll need more of that this week to earn a victory. Bailey has been outstanding at pinning teams deep and they’ll need more of that on a rainy Sunday in Gillette. 

Look for them to go after a punt or two this weekend to help out the struggling offense. Justin Bethel or Brandon Bolden may be a key contributor this week.

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Prediction: 

As we’ve said, the Cowboys present a great matchup of two really good football teams. The Cowboys offense is tough and will not be easy to stop. They’ll get their yards and points this week, especially with the Patriots offense scuffling along right now. The Patriots will get it figured out, they always do.

But with Sanu and Dorsett out, that may be too much for the offense to work around. The Patriots drop their first game at home this year and fall to 9-2 on the season.  Cowboys 24-16

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour goes back out on the road next week as the Patriots take on the Houston Texans.

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 Week 11 Report Card, Defense Steps Up In 17-10 Win Over Philly 

Steve Balestrieri
November 19, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots are 9-1 and heading home to Face Dallas

The Patriots gutted out a tough,17-10 road win against a tough NFC team in Philadelphia on Sunday. After allowing a touchdown early in the second quarter, the defense shut them out the rest of the way and held them to just 152 yards from that point on. The defense had a turnover and five sacks from five different players.

The offense was another matter as they looked nothing like a team that had two weeks to prepare for Philadelphia. The last time they faced them with a two-week window they rolled up over 600 yards of offense. On Sunday afternoon, they didn’t get half of that. 

This is who they are right now, they can’t run behind the offensive line and they can’t hold up for long in pass protection. That means it puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the quarterback to work through his progressions really fast. The wide receivers had a tough night getting any kind of separation from the Eagles secondary who played outstanding in coverage. 

So, check out our grades and let’s take another look at the Eagles game.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady struggled with the punchless Patriots offense on Sunday and the numbers played that out. He completed just 26 of 47 passes on Sunday for just 216 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs. The offensive line can’t open up any holes for the backs and can’t protect the QB. The wide receivers have a dearth of speed to get separation. 

That puts a lot of the onus on him and they don’t have the offensive playmakers to make it happen right now. Will things get better? Yes, Josh McDaniels can find a combination to make things work while N’Keal Harry and Isaiah Wynn round into form. But right now the offense has zero identity. It is a struggle. 

All you need to know about how Brady feels about the offense right now is the way he approached his post-game press conference. He knows that they don’t have the talent to get into a shootout with anyone right now. And they’re relying on the defense. “I don’t think it matters what I think. It matters what we do.”

Running Backs: C

The running game can’t get going, the blocking from the offensive line just isn’t there. They try to run to the edge and there are frequently one or two defenders hitting the backs deep in the backfield. Against a tough Eagles front seven, the Patriots managed 75 yards on 21 carries and a Brady kneel down. Sony Michel had 10 carries for 33 yards for a 3.3-yard average which is exactly his season average. James White had 5 carries for 20 yards and Rex Burkhead had 5 for 14. 

They have a deep and talented backfield with nowhere to run. 

Burkhead had two catches for 34 yards, the big one being where it looked like he was about to be tackled for a loss in the backfield, he kept his balance and rolled down the sidelines for a gain of 30-yards. James White had four catches for just 16 yards while Sony Michel had two for 11. 

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers had a rough time getting separation from an Eagles secondary that is rounding into form. Nearly everything on every down was contested. Julian Edelman, as always led the way with five catches for 53 yards. He also threw the only touchdown, a 15-yard double pass to Phillip Dorsett. 

Mohamad Sanu had only two catches for 4 yards, a disappointing game for him. Phillip Dorsett had three catches for 33 yards and a score, while rookie N’Keal Harry had his first NFL action with three catches for 18 yards. Jakobi Meyers had one catch for 7. 

Tight Ends: C

Ben Watson had a nice game with three receptions for 52 yards on four targets. Matt LaCosse made his return to the field and had a forgettable game. He had two catches for three yards.  LaCosse nearly turned the ball over with a fumble and Watson was flagged for holding. The blocking in the running game remains inconsistent.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line was getting pushed around in the running game, Fletcher Cox was immovable in the center. The pass protection was spotty at best. Marshall Newhouse was turnstiled several times by Derek Barnett, and he gave up some run stuffs but he wasn’t alone. Brady was being pressured constantly. The coaches called so many screen passes to slow down the Eagles and Brady continues to get the ball away so quickly, Philly ended up with one sack. But that doesn’t mean the OL played well. 

Tony Romo kept repeating that Isaiah Wynn will right the ship during the telecast. In the running game it may have a domino effect, they could then bring Newhouse in as an extra tight end on short-yardage, but the pass protection is not good. 

The Patriots were only one for three in the red zone and when they had to run the ball at the end of the game, the Eagles knew they had to run the ball and stopped them from doing it twice. 

 Defensive Line: A-

The defensive line made a nice comeback week, going against one of the best offensive lines in football, the Eagles running backs combined for only 64 yards on the ground against the Patriots defense. Carson Wentz added 17 more on a few scrambles but overall it was a tremendous effort. 

They had the one hiccup where the Eagles drove the ball 95 yards in nearly 10 minutes of clock that they looked like they were passive and slow. But once Bill Belichick pulled them aside and made his adjustments, in the final nearly 43 minutes of the game, Philly had a total of 152 yards, and 30 of those were in the final garbage-time drive with 30 seconds to go in prevent.   

Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy had excellent games and were penetrating upfront and disrupting things at the point of attack. The play at the Eagles two-yard line was a standout. Guy split the double-team block and nearly had a safety. Great penetration. This was exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Linebackers: A-

The linebackers returned to form as well against Philadelphia and were outstanding on Sunday afternoon. It begins with Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, they were all over the field and dominated upfront. Van Noy had a sack, a tackle for a loss (TFL) and two quarterback hits. Hightower had a sack, a TFL, and three quarterback hits. 

Elandon Roberts had a sack, a TFL, and a QB hit. Chase Winovich had three tackles and two QB hits. Only Jamie Collins had a quiet night for this group as he was used in coverage for much of the game. He had a pass defensed.  

The Patriots wanted to pressure Carson Wentz and they did so with five sacks and seven QB hits. Mission accomplished.

Secondary: A

The secondary was as solid as ever as they held Carson Wentz and the Eagles to just 174 yards net passing. The Eagles wide receivers were banged up and the ones who did play were held in check.  Eagles WRs had six catches for 75 yards. Zach Ertz did most of the damage with 9 catches for 94 yards but as good as he is, he didn’t make any catches at critical moments as the Patriots rotated Stephon Gilmore on him on third downs, which was a brilliant move. 

With Pat Chung out, Terrence Brooks filled in and did a good job, playing down low and defending against the tight ends. Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, and J.C. Jackson were all excellent. Wentz on several occasions would look and have nowhere to throw.   

Special Teams: A

Jake Bailey continued his outstanding rookie season, averaging 47.6 yards per punt and put the Eagles in bad starting field position time and again. He put six punts inside the 20 and forced Wentz and the Eagles to start from the 12 (twice), the 6, 5, and 3-yard line. That is just outstanding work. Belichick traded up to get him in the 5th round this year (with the Eagles), and he’s been a steal. 

Nick Folk was 3-3 on field goals, none of them far but with the gusty winds in Philly on Sunday, nothing was a given. The coverage units were very solid once again.

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff made a number of good moves in this game. After giving up a 95-yard drive, Belichick called the defense over and Philly offense sputtered the rest of the game and was shut out from that point on. Putting Gilmore on Ertz for third downs was brilliant as they took him away.  

With all of the hand-wringing over  Josh McDaniels play calling, he’s more like Merlin right now, the offense is smoking and mirroring right now. McDaniels is pulling out all the stops trying everything to get the offense going. He and Brady drew up a play to get James White involved and boom! They go to it on first down and it works. McDaniels had them go uptempo early in the 3rd quarter and they got their only touchdown of the day. 

Great job by the Patriots coaching staff on Sunday. Nothing came easy but they put their players in the best position to win. 

 

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Patriots Defense Rebounds, Shuts Down Eagles 17-10

Steve Balestrieri
November 17, 2019 at 11:15 pm ET

The Patriots improved to 9-1 on the season, gutting out a tough 17-10 win on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly was trying to keep pace with Dallas at the top of the NFC East while the Patriots wanted to maintain their two-game lead over Buffalo in the division and keep a game ahead of the Ravens in the AFC. 

This definitely wasn’t a replay of Super Bowl LII. While the talk all week was about a Super Bowl rematch where there was one punt and over 1100 yards of offense, this on was a defensive game where neither team had 300 yards of offense. 

While the defense had a big rebound night, the offense sputtered and once again struggled with red-zone production. The pass protection problems remain an issue and not just with Marshall Newhouse. The Eagles were getting pressure from all over the defensive line. The running game again didn’t do much gaining 75 yards on 21 carries before a Brady kneel down. 

Here are our other observations on the game:

Defense Has a Very Solid Game: 

The Patriots defense had a much better night than they did in Baltimore two weeks ago, although they did once again start slow.  After a 49-yard pass interference play set up a field goal, the third Eagles drive covered nearly 10 minutes and went 95 yards as they went out to a 10-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter. 

After that, Philadelphia had 152 yards of offense, including 30 in garbage time with 30 seconds left in the game. That comes out to 122 yards over nearly three-quarters of a game. Whatever changes Bill Belichick made as he pulled the defense over after that long Philadelphia drive, it worked because they struggled to move the ball the rest of the night. 

The Patriots defense got five sacks and a turnover on a strip-sack of Carson Wentz, holding the Eagles to just 174 net passing yards. The Eagles were just 3 of 14 on third or fourth downs. And the Eagles running game after that scoring drive went nowhere. Philly finished with just 81 yards on 21 carries. 

Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy had terrific games inside. Both were able to penetrate and disrupt at the point of attack. Shelton had seven tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and a QB hit.

Terrence Brooks filling in for an injured Pat Chung had a big game with seven tackles, two passes defensed, and two quarterback hits. The five sacks came from five different players, Shelton, Van Noy, Hightower, Butler, and Roberts. 

Stephon Gilmore was his usual shutdown self, although later in the game, they shifted him over on TE Zach Ertz on third downs, similar to what they did with Travis Kelce in the AFC Championship Game. J.C. Jackson was also very solid once again. He was targeted seven times and allowed four catches for 22 yards. 

The Eagles wide receivers were beat up entering the game and the box score shows it. The wide receivers caught only six passes for 65 yards on the night. Jonathan Jones nearly had an interception on the Eagles touchdown as he tried to rip the ball away from TE Dallas Goedert. Initially, the play was ruled an interception but was overturned on replay. And although it was very close, it did appear that Goedert had possession as he crossed the goal line. So, the officials did get one right…for a change. 

Offensive Woes Continue:

We mentioned the issues with the offensive line, those are the key to what ails the team for much of their problems. Tom Brady was under duress for the majority of the night and he’s forced to get rid of the ball far too quickly. However, the Eagles secondary is getting healthy and they played a heckuva game, doing a great job of shadowing the receivers and breaking up plays. 

Brady ended up with pedestrian numbers, 26-47 for just 214 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs although Julian Edelman dropped a touchdown in the end zone and they were forced to settle for a field goal. 

With the red-zone woes, Josh McDaniels broke out the double-pass play, that we saw against the Ravens in the divisional playoffs a few years ago. This time they ran it to the right and Julian Edelman hit Phillip Dorsett for a 15-yard touchdown. Dorsett was injured on the play, suffering a head injury and didn’t return. 

Ben Watson was a bright spot in the passing game, catching three passes on four targets for 52 yards. N’Keal Harry made his NFL debut and had three catches for 18 yards. Mohamad Sanu was quiet, with just two catches for four yards. 

Rex Burkhead made a really nice move on a screen pass that looked like he was going to be hit for a loss. But he kept his balance and then rolled for a 30-yard gain. Jakobi Meyers had one catch, Dorsett had three catches for 33 yards and a score. Matt Lacosse returned to action and two catches for 3 yards. 

That’s Why They Moved Up to Draft Jake Bailey:

Interestingly enough, it was the Eagles who the Patriots traded with to move up in the draft to nab Jake Bailey. The rookie punter has a mammoth leg and can put the ball high in the sky with incredible hang time. 

But with each and every week, his directional punting gets better and better. Tonight he pinned the Eagles at the 12-yard line (twice), the 6, the 5, and the 3-yard lines. That while dealing with a really stiff wind tonight is outstanding. Bailey punted eight times for a 47.6-yard average. Can you say AFC Special Teams Player of the Week again? 

Nick Folk was perfect when called on, going 3-3 on field goals, granted they were all short, the long was just 39 yards, but in the conditions and given the low score of the game, he gets high marks tonight. 

So, we’re on to Dallas and a home game. 

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Patriots Players To Watch, Week 11 Against the Eagles

Steve Balestrieri
November 15, 2019 at 8:31 am ET

The Patriots are on the road again and are taking on the Philadelphia Eagles after their bye week. The Eagles always seem to give the Patriots a tough matchup and we all remember SB LII which Philly won 41-33.

Don’t be fooled into believing this is a weaker or middle of the road Philadelphia team by their 5-4 record at this point in the season. Many picked them to be one of the teams to fight for the NFC crown this season. To be sure they were very inconsistent earlier this year, but enter winning two games in a row over the Bills and Bears before having their own bye week last Sunday. Both teams have had two weeks to prepare. 

Here are our Patriots players to watch this week as they try to improve to 9-1 on the season against the Eagles. 

Mohamad Sanu: 

The Patriots wide receiver has played in just two games with his new team but has already exhibited a familiarity and chemistry with Tom Brady that belies how little time he’s had here. He’s had 12 catches in his first contests with New England and he and Julian Edelman should provide a very potent duo that the Patriots can move inside or outside depending on the matchups.

Sanu fulfilled a need for another wide receiver to step up in this offense and the feeling is, that they are just scratching the surface of his potential thus far. We look for Sanu being targeted early and often against an Eagles secondary that has had its issues this season, although they are getting healthy now. 

Sanu has already proven to be a great fit for the Patriots offense. Now with the meat of the schedule here, is his chance to show how good he can be. Barring any health concerns, he should be in line for a career-high in receptions. A big game against the Eagles would be a nice way to kick off the second half of the season.

Pat Chung:

Chung has been limited in practice this week after missing last week’s only two bye-week practices, suffering from heel and chest injuries. Chung is tremendously versatile in the Patriots defense, doing a bit of everything. Bill Belichick has said continuously how valuable Chung has been in his second stint with the team.

Chung is especially needed this week. Philadelphia has two excellent tight ends in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Ertz is the Eagles go-to guy on 3rd down and covering him will probably fall to Chung, which is no easy task. 

Being able to limit Ertz’s effectiveness (notice we didn’t say shut down), will go a long way in giving the Patriots the advantage for the defense in being able to slow down and stop this Eagles team from scoring. Chung, if he’s available will be that guy. 

Julian Edelman:

We always seem to put Edelman in there because, after Tom Brady, he’s the most indispensable player on the roster. While the debate can rage across the NFL on whether Edelman is HOF worthy or is he a #1 WR, the fact is, in the Patriots offense, he IS their #1 WR and go-to guy in the passing game. 

Edelman has been banged up since the first half of the first Jets game (eight weeks ago) but is as tough as they come in the league. He’s absolutely fearless in going across the middle and doing the dirty work underneath, which is why the Patriots have had so much success in the past few years. 

Edelman will continue to be the focal point of the Patriots offense as well as the guy to stop for the Philadelphia defense. It is the matchup within the matchup that makes the game so fascinating.  

Jamie Collins:

The Patriots linebacker had an outstanding first eight weeks of the season, worthy of Defensive MVP consideration. Two weeks ago against the Ravens, he wasn’t put in a great position to succeed early in that game and he as well as the rest of the defense was gashed. 

While the Eagles use the run/pass option concepts in the running game and have a mobile quarterback of their own (Carson Wentz), it is a pretty different offense than the one the Patriots faced in Baltimore. However, with several excellent running backs and good WRs and TEs, they are no less a formidable task.

We look for Collins to get back on track as being a dominant, disruptive force on the Patriots defense. Look for him to be very aggressive this week as they look to get back to where they had been playing. 

Rex Burkhead: 

This is shaping up to be a game where the Patriots are throwing more than running. Philadelphia’s rush defense is excellent and is 4th best in the NFL. So, with Sony Michel presenting more of a one-dimensional threat at this point of his career, we expect to see more of Burkhead and James White in the backfield this week. 

Burkhead gives the Patriots a little bit more of a versatility factor in the offense. While he’s neither a great runner nor a great receiver, he’s very good at both. And they’ll need that versatility to keep the Eagles defense honest and keep them guessing. 

Look for his role to increase, similar to what we saw down the stretch last year and in the postseason. If he can stay healthy and on the field, he’ll see a lot more reps, which will hopefully get the running game going a bit more.    

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Sorting out the Patriots Issues During the Bye Week

Steve Balestrieri
November 8, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots only held one practice during the bye week, on Wednesday, and then the players were given some needed time off to rest and recuperate. If you bet that after the loss to the Ravens on Sunday night that the coaches would keep them here all week in pads, you’d have been wrong. 

This is telling in that it says that the issues facing the team aren’t physical and Bill Belichick doesn’t feel that they need to practice doing things that they aren’t doing well so that practice makes perfect. No, this means that the coaches have done, and are still doing no doubt a healthy dose of self-scouting. The issues that the team is facing are more scheme-related than physical. Which includes the defense, and we’ll get to those. 

But first, let’s take a quick look at what we feel are two of the biggest issues facing the team after deciphering the first nine games of game film have been watched, watched again and analyzed. 

The Team Needs to Fix Their Red Zone Production:

Despite being one of the top-scoring teams (1st in points, 2nd in Points per Game) in the NFL, the Patriots have not been anywhere near as efficient as they have in years past. In fact, in the red zone, the Patriots currently rank 21st in red-zone production tied with the (gasp!) New York Jets at 50 percent. That is down from 62.18 percent from a year ago. 

Part of the reason they have struggled in the red zone is three-fold. They have struggled to run the football. Their tight end production is way down, and so is the production from their outside or “X” wide receiver.  Missing their left tackle, center, fullback James Develin and having both starting tight ends being dinged up for most of this season doesn’t help with the running game. 

Not that anyone really expected Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo to block as much as well as Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen did a year ago. Having these issues compounds the entire picture. While some will point to Sony Michel as being the issue, that is too simplistic and ignores the fact that there is often nowhere to run and he’s getting hit in the backfield.

Gronkowski was a tremendous red-zone threat in the passing game. Izzo and LaCosse? Not so much. Missing Gronkowski in the passing game was known to be a given. But their lack of production in the red area combined by their big “X” WR and TE are both show stoppers. Much more was expected out of both positions. LaCosse has three catches for 55 yards on the season and has been hurt more than anyone on the offense. Izzo, a blocking specialist, has six catches for 114 yards and a score. Ben Watson has played in the last three games and has 8 catches for 72. Put together, the tight end production is not going to cut it. 

Josh Gordon was placed on IR and then released, being picked up by the Seahawks. But in six games, he only had 20 receptions for 287 yards and just one touchdown this season. Added together, it is a weakness that opponents have taken advantage of and needs fixing. 

The problems along the offensive line have been well documented at this point and the lion’s share of the blame has been heaped on backup left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Is it correct? Look he hasn’t been great, but putting all of the blame on him is unfair and untrue. Neither Shaq Mason nor Marcus Cannon has played anything close to their level that we’ve come to expect. Although Cannon was better on Sunday night against the Ravens. 

Getting Isaiah Wynn back against Dallas will certainly help but will be no panacea for the OL as a whole. Wynn should immediately help in the running game and we’ll have to see how well he holds up in the passing game. But the offensive line as a whole needs to get healthy and perform better. Wynn will help. But Newhouse has been the convenient whipping boy but in truth, it is the group that needs to improve overall. 

At tight end, Watson will continue to see more targets as he finds a comfort level in the offense and his timing gets better with Tom Brady. What the team really needs is for either Izzo or LaCosse to step up, preferably both. But at this point, they are what they are and I’d be surprised if they got anything different than what they’ve gotten up to this point. 

They’re going to have to live with what they have for the rest of this season. Watson, although 38-years old, is much more viable than the others in the passing game. The fades and crosses that we saw him practice with Brady during side sessions in training camp need to get dusted off and used again. This is a position that the team will need to address, and address in a big way next year, either through free agency or the draft, possibly both. 

At the WR position, it seems obvious that N’Keal Harry “should” provide a big part of the answer. The Patriots invested a 1st-round draft pick in Harry and despite some of the bobos who are already asking if he’s a bust, he was supposed to be one of the best WRs coming out of the draft at getting his hands on contested passes. 

He has the frame (6’4, 225) that is ready-made for working the same part of the field that Gordon was working earlier this season. He’s big, athletic and physical. He’s not going to stretch the field vertically but those side sessions with Brady during the summer had him working fades, back-shoulder throws, and quick outs and slants. 

But he’s not going to be the focus on the red zone production. It is a lot, too much to ask of a rookie who’s been hurt and hasn’t played a down yet. He should see plenty of reps but then who will the offense lean on more in the red area? Mohamed Sanu. 

Sanu has good size (6’2, 210) and should easily fulfill the Brandon Lafell role in the Super Bowl year. Sanu had 10 catches in just his second week with the team and caught a what? Yes, a red-zone touchdown last week. He and Julian Edelman will continue to work in and out of the slot and create some mismatches. 

So getting Wynn back, adding Harry and putting more on Sanu and Watson’s plates should help to get the passing game going. In the running game, look for Rex Burkhead (if he can stay on the field) and James White to get more play in the running game in the red zone. That’s not blaming Sony Michel for the lack of production, but if they use the other two more, it gives them a more versatile look with the run/pass option where Sony is more run focused.  

Is the Run Defense Vulnerable? Don’t Sweat It Too Much: 

Oh my, after Sunday, social media had the “blueprint” to beat New England. The run defense was the Achilles Heel and the sky was definitely falling. “Can they win any of the next four games?” Take a deep breath folks and relax. 

What we saw against Cleveland and then against Baltimore was scheme-related and is easily fixable. The Patriots against the Browns were protecting the pass playing a lighter front in an attempt to take away the pass and weren’t overly worried about giving up some yardage in the running game. Obviously, the long run that was fumbled by Nick Chubb was something that they accept, but that was more of a missed tackle(s) thing than anything. 

Against the Ravens, the OL of Baltimore did and should get a ton of credit for being the more physical and dominant unit. But the coaching staff, something Bill Belichick said in his postgame comments didn’t put the defense in a good position to succeed. 

The Patriots went to their 3-4 base and their interior players mainly Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy who have both been outstanding this season were asked to two-gap against the Ravens running schemes. 

Instead of zone running schemes that they normally employ, the Ravens attacked the gaps and the passive nature of the two-gap system was a poor choice and put their big men in a difficult position to win. 

After the first couple of possessions, they switched things up and went to a four-man front and were attempting to penetrate and disrupt the running game by attacking it. That is the correct way to try to counter the powerful Ravens running game. Does it guarantee success? Of course not, but it offered a better way. 

Instead of having Jamie Collins as an outside linebacker, where he got overplaying the running game early, he was moved inside with Dont’a Hightower and was asked to be a penetrator. 

We know the NFL is a copy-cat league, the Eagles will try some of what we saw from Baltimore, and the Cowboys and Texans can definitely attempt more of the same. Something tells me that the coaches will have this figured out by next week in Philadelphia. The Eagles are running the ball a lot more lately as they take advantage of a heavier running package…we’ll have more of that next week when we do our pregame look at the matchups. 

As it appears here, the issues they had were more scheme-related than a personnel weakness. And those are easily fixable. If there is anyone who can make changes on the fly and in mid-season better than Bill Belichick, we haven’t seen him. 

That’s why they play the games…  

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

 

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Injury-Riddled Patriots Move to 6-0 With 35-14 Win Over Injury-Riddled Giants

Steve Balestrieri
October 11, 2019 at 7:13 am ET

Mini-Bye Week Comes a Great Time for NE

The Patriots are 6-0 and defeated the New York Giants 35-14 but this one went unlike most had envisioned on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. Most had this one as a blowout which the final score indicated but in reality, it was anything but. 

Ah, the joys of Thursday Night Football…

With solid play and timely stops by their defense, the Giants were very much alive in this game with about nine minutes to play, with the score just 21-14. Then the Patriots defense, which was outstanding again, turned the game into the Pats’ favor for good. Jamie Collins jarred the ball loose from running back Jonathan Hilliman, where Kyle Van Noy scooped the ball up and rolled for a touchdown. Game over, thanks for coming, drive safely down Route 1.

New England could breathe a sigh of relief as this one was effectively over. Tom Brady added a final touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak to finish off the scoring, his second rushing touchdown of the game to put a bow on it, making the score 35-14.

It was the Giants who entered this game beat up missing three of their top offensive players [Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram], but it was the Patriots who limped out of this one. New England entered the game missing two of its own offensive performers, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and running back Rex Burkhead. But they then suffered a slew of injuries during the game.

Josh Gordon left after awkwardly twisting his ankle/knee and didn’t return. Fullback Jakob Johnson also left with an injury, as well as tight end Matt LaCosse who left early in this one. These losses would affect the way the offense was able to line up the rest of the game. With only one tight end and no fullback, the Patriots ran only 11 personnel grouping [3 WRs, 1TE, 1 RB] for nearly the entire second half. 

Gordon’s loss hit an already thin wide receiver position and forced undrafted rookie wide receivers, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, into prominent roles in the offense. 

On defense, Pat Chung, Dont’a Hightower, and J.C. Jackson left with injuries, although Jackson was able to return later. So, the mini-bye week with 10 days off before playing on Monday Night Football against the Jets, couldn’t come at a better time.

Other observations from tonight’s game include:

Defense Steps Up Again With Four More Turnovers:

The Patriots defense continues to play stellar team defense with great coverage in the secondary while generating turnovers. On a night where they generated just a single sack, the defense forced four turnovers with the aforementioned fumble and score by Van Noy and three interceptions by Duron Harmon, John Simon, and Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore almost had a fourth but dropped it when he jumped a route to Golden Tate on a third-down near midfield. 

The coverage was sticky all night long against a game but depleted Giants WR core. The defense did give up its first passing touchdown of the year, a 64-yard scoring pass from Daniel Jones to Tate, although Jonathan Jones had tight coverage and actually got his hand on the ball. But credit Tate with an outstanding play, he was able to keep his concentration and still able to haul it in for the score. 

But the defense limited the Giants to just 213 total yards [52 rushing, 161 passing] while being outstanding once again on third down, holding the G-men to just 2-10. 

You Think Bringing Back Brandon Bolden Was Worth It?

At the time Brandon Bolden was re-signed and brought back after a year with Miami, there were many who panned the signing,[including a hot-take dolt on the air] saying that Bill Belichick signs too many players with Special Teams talent only. As the Southwest Airlines commercial says, “Want to Get Away?” No, the return of Bolden has done nothing but pay dividends. 

Back in minicamp, I spoke with RB coach Ivan Fears prior to practice and asked him about bringing back the popular teammate inside the Patriots locker room. And what Fears said has rung true this season.  “No matter what we ask him to do, Brandon will do it, and do it well,” Fears said. 

In the last three games, Bolden has scored three touchdowns and figured prominently in a fourth. Bolden had a rushing touchdown against Buffalo, caught a 29-yard score from Brady against the Redskins and ran one in against the Giants in short-yardage tonight. But he caused the blocked punt in the first half which resulted in a Chase Winovich touchdown. 

Bolden rushed in on a punt block and drove Nate Stupar backward where Riley Dixon’s punt went off Stupar’s head. The ball bounced backward where Thor scooped and scored. This was all because of Bolden’s work while out on the field. 

Daniel Jones Can Sling It: 

What? you say, are you kidding? And a look at Jones’ numbers would seem to play that out. How so when he completed only 15 of 31 for 161 yards which was only good for 5.2 yards per pass and three interceptions?  

Granted Jones’ numbers weren’t good, nor his passer rating of 35.2, but his depleted receiving core was blanketed all night long and he frequently had nowhere to go with the football. 

But several of his throws, including the touchdown to Tate and another pass to Tate on a third-down slant were delivered in very tight windows, quickly and accurately. If you look past the boxscore and rewatch the tape, Jones did as well as could be expected given the circumstances.

The Giants, as we pointed out in our key matchups piece, would move Tate into the slot to take him away from Stephon Gilmore and have him battle Jonathan Jones. It was a good hard battle all night long.  

Jones had plenty of bad moments and plays to be sure, but he looks to be a good QB who was just placed in an unwinnable situation

Offense Needs Help But They Weren’t Quite As Bad As Believed:

  The Patriots struggled on offense for much of the night and had to claw and scratch for everything they got. The play of the offensive line continues to be suspect at times and they seem to be scuffling along in search of an identity. 

But at the end of the day, the generated 424 yards of offense and held the ball for nearly 40 minutes, which really tired out the Giants’ defense. 

Tom Brady struggled in the first half but ended up 31-41 for 334 yards. He scored on two short QB sneaks but threw a weird interception in the first half. While attempting a deep post to Julian Edelman, the ball was well behind Edelman where Janoris Jenkins picked it off. Was it miscommunication or the wind?  Edelman was outstanding with nine catches for 113 yards including a beautiful diving catch which set up Brady’s last TD dive. 

Sony Michel struggled for much of the night but ended up with 86 yards on 22 carries. The Patriots ground game, which struggled for much of the night ended up with 114 yards. But the offensive line and wide receivers need help. 

TE Ryan Izzo has really struggled with blocks to the edge which is supposed to be his strong suit. LaCosse can’t catch a break, or stay healthy, he’s hurt again. With the injuries to Dorsett and Gordon, an already hurting WR core was stretched mighty thin. Kudos to UDFA rookie wide receivers Meyers and Olszewski who both contributed in the passing game. Meyers had four catches for 54 yards including a nice 23-yarder where he high-pointed the ball and had the awareness to raise it over the defender to keep it from being knocked away. Olszewski chipped in with two catches for 34 yards. 

But within the next 10 days, they have some decisions to make. Even if Gordon and Dorsett are back, they should probably look at adding some help. One thing to keep in mind, 1st-round draft pick N’Keal Harry can begin practicing on Wednesday and return in another two weeks from then. 

And with LaCosse hurt again, it may be time to explore bringing in another tight end. The offense is getting by for now but with the meat of their schedule upcoming with Baltimore, Philadelphia, Dallas, Cleveland, Houston. and Kansas CIty yet to come, they need to get the offense figured out. 

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