Category Archives: Patriots Report Card

 Patriots Week 17 Report Card, Crushing Loss to Miami, Bye-Bye Bye Week

Steve Balestrieri
January 1, 2020 at 8:05 am ET

Patriots Come Out Flat And Lose #2 Seed

Happy New Year, from all of us here, we hope that you all had a happy, safe and fun New Year’s Eve and an even better 2020.

The Patriots lost out on a big…and needed opportunity to earn themselves a bye week by losing to the Miami Dolphins at home 27-24 in the final regular-season game of  2019. Entering Sunday’s game Tom Brady had a 15-1 record at home against Miami but like last year, they lost a game to the Dolphins in the final seconds. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting the regular season behind us this week.

Quarterback: D

Tom Brady after one of his best performances against the Bills had one he’d rather forget. Brady was sailing the ball high on many of his incompletions and was wearing different cleats (looked like hightops) which may speak to having an ankle issue which would explain part of it. But both he and the team started slowly against a team that was 28th in pass defense. Brady was 2-4 for 10 yards in the first quarter.

His protection overall was outstanding, he had plenty of time to throw for the vast majority of the game. The accuracy and timing just weren’t there. Brady finished 16-29 for 221 yards with 2 TDs and a horrible pick-six to Eric Rowe. 

Running Backs: B

The Patriots running game once again had a pretty solid night rushing for 135 yards with some solid work by Sony Michel (74 yards on 18 carries) and Rex Burkhead (48 yards on six carries). Despite Miami cheating their linebackers up in the box and blitzing on running plays, they consistently gained yardage after contact and have turned it up a notch down the stretch. 

Elandon Roberts once again provided good blocking in the running game, opening the hole for Michel’s touchdown run. And he caught his first NFL pass, which just happened to go for a 38-yard TD.

Wide Receivers: C-

The Dolphins bracketed Julian Edelman all game long and dared the Patriots to beat them elsewhere. Edelman, hobbled by shoulder and knee issues, hasn’t been 100 percent for quite some time. On Sunday he was held to just three catches for 26 yards.

Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu once again failed to pickup the slack. Sanu had just three catches for 35 yards, that 2nd round draft pick trade is looking worse and worse. Dorsett meanwhile had just one catch a 50-yard bomb from Brady where he did do a nice job of tracking the ball and kept going for some yards after the catch. But that was it, and it isn’t enough. 

N’Keal Harry had three catches for 29 yards on seven targets. Brady’s two touchdowns came on passes to Roberts (38 yards) and to James White on a nicely designed screen pass for 11 yards with a great block by Shaq Mason. 

Tight Ends: C-

Are we seeing a trend here on the Patriots skill position players? Matt LaCosse has been much, much better in the run blocking department lately, helping to open some holes for the backs to get to the second level. But with Miami’s linebackers cheating up and blitzing inside in the running game, we kept waiting for the Patriots to attack the seams and make them pay… nothing materialized and LaCosse didn’t have a catch 

But he wasn’t alone. Ben Watson had just one catch for four yards. This was a disappointing end to what was a disappointing regular season for the tight ends. 

Offensive Line: B+

The offensive line play was not the reason for the team losing on Sunday, they opened holes for the running backs to run for 135 yards and if the defense had played their normally stellar game, then they’d have run for a lot more. Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were both excellent.

The pass protection for nearly the entire game was terrific, giving Brady oodles of time to throw and look downfield. The only sack given up was by Marcus Cannon on a nice speed rush move by Trent “Toolbox” Harris who may look familiar to Patriots fans. He spent the last two training camps here and was a member of the practice squad in 2018.                  

 Defensive Line: B

The defensive line once again played very solidly against the run, which wasn’t a big surprise as the Dolphins entered the game as the worst running team in the league averaging just 72.9 yards per game. They only managed 63 here, but their running backs had a combined 37 yards on 16 carries. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton were solid as usual. 

The defensive ends set the edge well but didn’t generate a lot of pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers had some issues with wrapping up and missing tackles which was a small issue but in what has become a concerning trend, the pass rush, while getting pressure has been just short of getting home. Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Dont’a Hightower was getting plenty of pressure on Fitzpatrick, but those big drive ending sacks or QB hits resulting in turnovers haven’t been there. 

Collins had one of their only two sacks and a QB hit, where they generated only four. They are going to need those players to step un next week.  

Secondary: D

The Patriots secondary had, by far, their worst game of the season. Stephon Gilmore had his worst game as a Patriot since perhaps his first month here. DeVante Parker clearly won the matchup against the Patriots top corner as no one has done yet. Parker had eight catches for 137 yards with the vast majority coming against Gilmore.

But Gilmore wasn’t alone, J.C. Jackson allowed six receptions while Jonathan Jones still hobbled by a bad groin allowed five catches on five targets. Mike Gesicki got the better of Pat Chung most of the game and beat him for the game-winning touchdown. 

Special Teams: B

The Special Teams had a solid game on Sunday. Brandon Bolden ripped off his longest return of the season for 38 yards which set the team up with excellent field position for a change. Nate Ebner had a couple of good tackles in coverage while Matthew Slater remains the gold standard for gunners in the league. Nick Folk converted all three extra points and his only field goal attempt. A good day for Joe Judge’s troops 

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff, and it begins with Bill Belichick had some head-scratching moments this week. After preaching like they were treating this as a playoff game, the Patriots came out flat and it was Miami who looked like it was playing for a playoff bye. And the end of the first half time management looked like the team was playing not to lose (Marty ball?) which isn’t the way the Patriots have performed under Belichick.

Defensively, the Belichicks (plural) were taken to school to Chad O’Shea, who, interestingly enough was fired after the game. They never found a way to counter what Miami was doing or to stop them…And that isn’t a great offense at all. 

Offensively, despite all the hand-wringing over Josh McDaniels play calling, this offense is very flawed, especially at wide receiver and while he may have waited a bit too long to adjust the power running game, he’s working with a short deck. 

We’re on to Tennessee and the Wild Card game… 

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 16 Report Card, Offense Reappears In Big Win Over Buffalo

Steve Balestrieri
December 24, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots Win 11th Straight Division Title

The Patriots all week leading up to this game stated that this was a playoff game, and judging from their preparation, intensity, and production, they totally bought in. They won their 12th game of the season, a hard-fought 24-17 win over the Buffalo Bills which clinched the AFC East for the 11th year in a row and puts them one step away from a playoff bye and the #2 seed. 

We’ll get to the grades for the players in just a moment, but first a word about the coaching staff. In any profession, perhaps the hardest thing to do is assess oneself critically and be able to say that something isn’t working, even if that something was your idea. The ability to self-assess, or in Patriots parlance “self-scout” is something they are head and shoulders above everyone else in the league since Bill Belichick took the reins. 

Everyone says they’re going to “self-scout” and they all will change up their gameplans, and occasionally many teams come up with a brilliant one. But nobody, nobody can morph their teams from one week to the next, depending upon their opponent and put in the time, preparation and commitment than the Patriots have done the past 20 years. 

And the players have to buy in completely or it doesn’t work. How many times have we heard the past 20 years, “well Team A is more talented across the board” and how many times has Team A looked up at the wrong end of the scoreboard at the end of the day. So at the end of the day, when the votes are in for the Coach du jour, Belichick will get no votes but his team will probably win 13 games, while the naysayers will tell us they can’t win it all again. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady was showing signs of age, decline and his elbow has been bothering him for several weeks. Plus he was facing a team that has increasingly played him tougher and tougher for the past few years and was in the top 3 of most defensive categories. So, how did that work out? Brady had his best game in several weeks, perhaps all season. 

Brady completed 26-33 for 271 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Completing nearly 79 percent of his passes while averaging 8.2 yards per pass attempt against this Bills defense is outstanding work. 

Brady got everyone involved and mixing things up and hitting nine different receivers kept the Bills defense off-balance all night long. His back-shoulder throw to Matt LaCosse for a touchdown showed perfect touch. This was a vintage Brady performance.  

Running Backs: B+

The Patriots running game followed up their most productive game of the season in Cincinnati with a game that was arguably more impressive considering the opponent. The team rushed for 143 yards against a tough Bills defense and were running physical, getting yards after contact and following the blocking well. 

Sony Michel had his best game of the season rushing 21 times for 96 yards. Rex Burkhead, once again turning it on late in the season, rushed 5 times for 20 yards, including the game-winning touchdown run where he was hit in the backfield and broke two tackles to get into the end zone. 

N’Keal Harry had 18 yards on a reverse, with a lead block by Brady (yes everyone bought in). James White chipped in with 13 yards. Brady picked up a key QB sneak to keep the chains moving. The running backs (Michel, Burkhead, and White) combined for 235 yards rushing and receiving. Solid night? You bet.

Wide Receivers: B-

The Patriots wide receivers led by #11 (Who else?) had a solid night. Julian Edelman was questionable with knee and shoulder issues. Then he missed a few series that nearly took a quarter going through concussion protocol. But he still led all WRs with 5 catches for 72 yards. And maybe the Bills thought that as hobbled as he was, they didn’t need to double him. That assessment was wrong. He was beating coverage consistently and late in the game…was doubled. In a league where all the players are physically tough, Edelman is one of the toughest. 

Burkhead led all Patriot receivers with 77 yards on 4 catches, yes he had a fumble on a good defensive play but more than made up for it. He showed excellent vision and followed his blocks well. Jakobi Meyers came off the bench when Edelman was down and collected 3 passes for 25 yards.

Harry caught two passes for 25 while Mohamad Sanu caught 3 passes for 24. Sanu was again a disappointment. While he may have gotten a poor spot on a third-down pass short of the sticks, he totally whiffed on a block on a 4th and 1 with Harry getting stopped by his man on a play that could have went for a big gain. 

Tight Ends: B-

Matt LaCosse scored his first touchdown of the season on an 8-yard pass from Brady down the seam. He also had his best game in the run blocking department, the offense put him in motion and he did a good job, even lining up in the backfield. His pass protection was much, much better this week. 

Ben Watson had three catches on three targets with two going for first downs. He also had a 33-yard touchdown wiped out on an offensive pass interference call on Edelman. This was a much better day for the tight ends than we’ve seen in a while. 

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line play was outstanding on Saturday. Buffalo didn’t sack Tom Brady and for the vast majority of the game he played with a clean pocket. They also cleared out big chunks of yardage in the running game. It is amazing what the backs can do when they are not getting hit four yards deep in the backfield. 

Shaq Mason had a very impressive game in the run department, looking like the guy we’re used to seeing blowing people up in the running game. Ted Karras and Joe Thuney were also excellent in the running game. 

Marcus Cannon hurt an ankle and was replaced by swing tackle Marshall Newhouse who played well, he did a good job in the running game but gave up a pair of QB hurries and a hit. But this unit going against the Bills performed as well as one could hope for.                      

 Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line did a tremendous job of bottling up Devin Singletary holding him to just 46 yards on 15 carries (3.1-yard average). And that begins with Lawrence Guy who was outstanding once again. Guy led the team with six tackles, a sack of Josh Allen and two QB hits. Danny Shelton was also solid in the running game. 

John Simon had a QB sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Chase Winovich who is looking like Lucius Malfoy these days with his dyed hair more white than blond, was his normal flying around the field self. 

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers were led by Dont’a Hightower with 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup while Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy weren’t as impactful as they can be and normally are. Ja’Whaun Bentley played his very tough, downhill style in the running game. 

Elandon Roberts played about 20 snaps as a fullback and seems to be relishing his role. “Same on defense, same on offense. When a linebacker steps into the hole, Imma run through their motherf***n’ face. Period. That’s all I think about, making my block, running through a motherf***r’s face.” How can one argue with that?

Secondary: B

The Patriots secondary had a good, but not great day against the Bills. While Josh Allen only completed 50 percent of his throws (13 of 26), hit on two long completions, one for a 53-yard touchdown and the other (33 yards to Dawson Knox) set up a 1-yard touchdown pass on a tackle eligible play. 

Stephon Gilmore got beat on a double move by John Brown and moved to the right. Brown cut left and safety Devin McCourty got caught peeking in the backfield at the pass rush and Brown then blew right by him too. However, it was his only catch of the game. Knox only caught the one big pass over Pat Chung, but was open on a couple of others but was overthrown. 

Cole Beasley caught 7 passes for 108 yards out of the slot and was finding excellent success all game long. The Patriots missed Jonathan Jones who was out with a groin injury. 

Special Teams: B

The Special Teams were led by Nick Folk on Saturday. Folk hit a 51-yarder to give the team the lead and was 3-3 on field goals for the day. You don’t have to hold your breath on kicks for the first time in a while this season. The return game was forgettable and the coverage units were okay but not their usual shutdown selves. Jake Bailey punted twice averaging 46.5 yards but didn’t drop either inside the 20.  

Coaches: A

The Patriots coaching staff gets excellent marks this week. And it begins with Josh McDaniels. McDaniels was extremely creative of trying to get everyone involved in the offense this week and used so many different looks and formations, there were times he had the Buffalo defense thoroughly confused. That doesn’t happen very often. With his play-calling, they were able to put together those long drives in the death-by-1000 cuts mold. 

Defensively, they had Allen very confused early in the game but give the 2nd year QB credit, he made a few outstanding throws and hung in there. But with the Bills driving late in the game, they brought pressure and got a sack and forced a throw off his back foot to get an incompletion in the end zone to salt the game away.  

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 15 Report Card, Back On Winning Track with 34-13 Win Over Cincy

Steve Balestrieri
December 17, 2019 at 6:25 pm ET

 Patriots Defense/Special Teams Key Big Win

The Patriots got back in the win column with a 34-13 win over the lowly and struggling Bengals, The win couldn’t have come at a better time, after dropping two in a row and three of their last five, the team needed this one to begin to try to build some momentum in the final few weeks of the season.

The offense continues to struggle but this week, the defense helped them out by getting four interceptions of Andy Dalton and giving the offense the benefits of short fields as well as a score on a pick-six. 

The win, the 11th of the season marks the 10th year in a row that the team has won 11 or more games. It also punched their ticket to the postseason. This sets up a huge game against the Buffalo Bills next week in Gillette for the division title. 

And with the all-important bye week that comes with the #2 seed still very much in doubt, the Patriots will need to win both of those games against Buffalo and Miami to end the regular season and let some players heal up a bit. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady was facing one of the worst defenses in the NFL on Sunday, and he and the passing offense could muster just 15-29  for 128 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. His elbow, which has been hurting for a while, was clearly bothering him. He sailed more than one pass well over his intended target. And he short-armed another to Sony Michel that was well behind him which cost the team a touchdown. 

The Patriots passing offense averaged just 4.4 yards per pass play. That is less than Sony Michel averaged on his 19 carries. Let that one sink in for a second. His pass protection was not good, getting pressured on about half of his dropbacks in the first half. And there are the drops, which usually come at the worst possible time. 

Brady really needs some rest which is why the bye week is so important, but there’ll be no rest this week with the Bills and their defense coming to town. 

Running Backs: B

The Patriots running game had their best game of the season, rushing for 177 yards on 30 carries before Brady had a couple of kneel-downs in victory formation. Granted the Bengals rush defense is awful, dead last in the league, but at least they made they look that way. Facing some other poor run defenses they haven’t been able to muster much. 

Sony Michel looked good, gaining 87 yards on 19 carries and showed good vision following his blocks and was able to drive through tackles and gain yards after contact. Rex Burkhead, right on time at the end of the season, chipped in 53 yards on 6 carries including a really nice 33-yard touchdown run. Burkhead ran straight ahead and burst through the line, dipped his shoulder and faked out the safety and had clear sailing into the end zone. 

James White had 13 yards on 3 carries. The team got N’Keal Harry involved on a couple of jet sweeps and the big rookie got 22 yards on two carries and two first downs. A much better day for the backs both in the running game and in the passing game. 

Wide Receivers: C-

The Patriots wide receivers almost rated an incomplete grade here. Julian Edelman tried to play through a myriad of issues and didn’t look anything like his normal self. He was laboring walking, never mind running but tried to gut through it like the professional and tough dude that he is. So it is of little surprise that he caught just two passes for nine yards on Sunday. 

Mohamad Sanu is also playing through an injury and he too isn’t moving anywhere near 100 percent. However, the 4th down drop was not injury-related and that is becoming a troubling trend for the Pats WR. He was targeted eight times and had just 2 catches for 13 yards.

N’Keal Harry had a pair of catches for 15 yards including a really nice 8-yard touchdown pass along the back of the end zone. His best play was wiped out due to a false start by Edelman. Harry beat the coverage down the right sideline and made a beautiful leaping catch that would have gone for 36 yards.

James White was the big recipient on Sunday, getting 3 catches for 49 yards including a nice 23-yard touchdown pass on a screen from Brady. Michel and Burkhead also chipped in as the backs combined for 6 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. 

Tight Ends: C-

Matt LaCosse was targeted 3 times and had 3 catches for 22 yards, that’s it for the group… Yuck. He played about 50 snaps compared to just 34 for Ben Watson who wasn’t targeted and pretty invisible all day. The run blocking overall was better this week. LaCosse had a really nice block on Burkhead’s touchdown run. However, in pass protection LaCosse was victimized several times and gave up several QB hits

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line play was a mixed bag on Sunday. While the team had a season-high number of yards rushing, the pass protection was not great as Tom Brady was pressured on about half of his pass plays in the first half. However, Isaiah Wynn looked much better this week. Joe Thuney was also very good and had an outstanding block that sprung White for his touchdown reception. Thuney got out in front of White and pancaked the in-the-box safety. 

Ted Karras returned to action and played in all 65 offensive snaps at center. Shaq Mason was looking more like himself, especially in the running game, albeit against the Bengals. Marcus Cannon both had a rough day. Mason injured an ankle which will require a close watch this week with the Bills coming into town.                     

 Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line had a rough day trying to contain Joe Mixon who rushed for 136 yards 25 carries. On the Bengals’ first few drives, they made it their intent to run the football and they just lined up and smashed it in there. The defensive line was getting pushed back a lot in the early going. 

Although they had issues with Mixon all game long, the defensive line keyed the big turning point in the game. On a 4th and 1 from the Patriots 30-yard line, they stuffed the run of Mixon getting him for about a half-yard loss. Danny Shelton had six tackles on the day With the only QB hit coming from Deatrich Wise, who made seven tackles and was very active. 

However, the pass rush? It seemed a half-step late, which is something we’re seeing more of in the second half of the season.

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers had some issues (among others on defense) with tackling in this game. Joe Mixon’s 29-yard run should have been a two-yard loss but Jamie Collins couldn’t wrap him up and he broke free. Collins was also so-so in coverage, although he did make a nice play and tipped a pass that appeared wide open. Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower had just five tackles between them, a quiet game for two who are normally near the top of the list. Most of the missed tackles were from the linebackers, which is a bit of an unpleasant surprise.

Ja’Whaun Bentley, however, had a big game using his size and downhill style as a run-thumper to perfection He led the team with eight tackles including 0.5 for a loss. Elandon Roberts gets high marks for playing 24 snaps on defense and 10 for being the fullback on offense.

Secondary: A

The Patriots secondary had a tremendous afternoon, allowing one touchdown an 8-yard pass play where Jonathan Jones fell down but scoring one on a 64-yard Stephon Gilmore pick-six. Gilmore and J.C. Jackson each had two interceptions and are #1 and #2 respectively in opposing QB rating when targeted. Opponents targeting Jackson have a 28.6 QBR while those targeting Gilmore have a QBR of 32.8. 

The Bengals had 6 receptions for 51 yards on 15 targets when targeting either Gilmore or Jackson on Sunday. They had four interceptions including a pick-six and two pass breakups in those plays. That is domination. Gilmore is just in a league of his own. And to think he got outvoted to the Pro Bowl by Marcus Peters? Child, please…

Overall, Andy Dalton was 17-31 for 151 yards with 1 TD and 4 INTs for a QB rating of 39.2 which is great defense, regardless of the opponent. Jonathan Jones was injured on Sunday and his injury is a big one to monitor this week. 

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams came up with yet another big play made by the outstanding tandem of Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel. Slater as a gunner, flew down the field and jarred the ball loose on Alex Ericson when he tried to field a punt with perhaps far too little room. Bethel recovered and the Patriots took the lead right before the half. 

Nick Folk made all four extra points and two field goals in two attempts. He’s solidified the position. He doesn’t have the range to go for much over 50 yards but he’s playing well and with confidence, something we haven’t had this year. 

Coaches: B

The Patriots coaching staff, especially Josh McDaniels is working overtime, trying to breathe some life into the offense. And for the 2nd week in a row, he put together a drive that went 75 yards for a touchdown. Then the offense struggled to move the ball. 

The defense was getting gashed early (a troubling trend) but then shut down the Bengals holding them to just three points after allowing them to score 10 points in the first quarter. 

Bill Belichick and the staff always seem to make good adjustments to whatever the opponent is doing well and countering it.

So the Patriots last two regular-season games will be at Gillette Stadium.  Starting with the Buffalo Bills. A win gets the Patriots the division-clinching win. But unlike other years with a late-season game against the Bills, this one won’t be easy. 

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 14 Report Card, Loss to the Chiefs 23-16

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2019 at 4:24 pm ET

Patriots fall to 10-3, Poor Execution Once Again Offensively Sinks Team 

The Patriots dropped their second game in a row, a hard-fought 23-16 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Once again, as in all three losses, they fell behind big early and weren’t able to dig themselves out of a hole.

The defense got figured out by Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes who had a big second quarter where KC entered halftime with a 20-7 lead. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, the Chiefs are the most explosive 2nd quarter team in the NFL. But the Belichicks (plural) figured it out. 

The defense really tightened up in the 2nd half and held the Chiefs to just three points on an opening drive field goal and created some turnovers giving their team a chance to win. The offense, however, was another story and struggled once again. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week. Unless you’re hung up on the latest scandal involving the Patriots. (We’ll have more to say about that later). But for us… We’re on Cincinnati.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady had another struggle from start to finish on Sunday. For the hot-take dweebs on national television, this is manna from heaven. But starting with the offensive line and going through his wide receivers and tight ends, this is arguably the worst supporting cast Brady has had to deal with in his 20 seasons with the team. 

Very little of Brady’s struggles had to do with his play per se, he was either not getting time (more to that below), no one was getting open, and his WRs were dropping third-down conversions or touchdowns. 

Brady got a boatload of criticism for ignoring Jakobi Meyers on the Patriots’ final offensive play of the game, who was wide open. But I’m not blaming Brady for that. Meyers seems to be fighting the ball right now and had dropped two passes, including a touchdown.  

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots running game was once again unable to get anything going, gaining only 94 yards on 22 carries (4.3-yard average). This was against a KC run defense that has been abysmal this season allowing nearly 50 yards more per game. 

James White (no surprise) goes to the head of the class. He averaged 5.5 yards per rush (6 attempts for 33 yards) and added 27 yards on 5 catches. He is making it easy for the coaches to give him the lion’s share of work down the stretch. 

Sony Michel was once again victimized by poor blocking. Opponents are sniffing run whenever he’s in the backfield, and it seemed like white jerseys were in the backfield whenever he carried the ball.

We thought Rex Burkhead would play a large role in Sunday’s game but his impact, like the vast majority of the offense was negligible. Just 7 carries for 15 yards on the ground, and 0 catches on one target through the air. 

Brandon Bolden got one carry, for 10 yards and a TD, his fourth of the season. We know he’s not a world-beater, but on a season where the offense has precious few producing, hasn’t he at least earned a few more carries, especially on short-yardage and the around the goal line? 

Wide Receivers: D-

If you are a die-hard Patriots fan, you should pray and pray very hard to the football gods that Julian Edelman can make it through the end of the season and playoffs. Without him, this offense is absolutely awful. And it isn’t great with him on it, but just imagine if he was forced to miss any time.  Edelman had eight catches for 95 yards including a 37-yard touchdown on the team’s first possession. 

Phillip Dorsett? No catches, no yards. He did draw a slightly questionable pass interference penalty. And should have drawn a second. But his production is non-existent, as is his presence outside. 

Mohamad Sanu has to be playing through pain because his production has flat-lined in the past few games. He had one catch for 13 yards and was invisible the rest of the game was invisible. 

N’Keal Harry played just two snaps (why?) and caught one pass that officially went for 12 yards but was truly a 15-yard touchdown pass. Jerome Boger’s crew screwed the pooch on that one. It was eminently fixable, but the call like Boger’s crew was lost. 

Jakobi Meyers is fighting the ball right now and dropped two big passes on Sunday, one of them a touchdown. He did catch a flip from James White for 35-yards. As a group, the WRs are overthinking things, playing tight and playing terribly. 

Tight Ends: C-

Ben Watson was targeted three times and had a single catch for 7 yards. Matt LaCosse was targeted four times and 2 catches for 14 yards. Those numbers are just not good enough, especially when it seemed like Josh McDaniels wanted to attack the Chiefs down the seams in this one. That failed. Their blocking in the running game isn’t good enough.

Offensive Line: D

The offensive line was terrible on Sunday against the Chiefs. Joe Thuney stopped the grade from being lower than it already was. The Chiefs’ front, dominated on the ground all year, controlled the line of scrimmage and shut down the running game. 

KC does have a good pass rush and they were bringing the heat on Brady on nearly 50 percent of his dropbacks. Isaiah Wynn had a rough outing, allowing a sack, constant QB pressure as well as getting flagged for a false start. Brian Ferentz got overwhelmed a few times. Shaq Mason’s struggles continue this season.

Kansas City’s run defense entered the game 30th in the league, watch the tape and the amount of preening they’re doing after the plays and you’d think it was 3rd. That’s how poorly the offensive line play was.                     

 Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line once again did a really good job of bottling up the Chiefs running game. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton did a great job of shutting down the running game. The Chiefs averaged just 2.6 yards per rush on 29 attempts. 

The defensive line didn’t do a great job, however, in the pass-rushing department getting only one sack (Deatrich Wise) and were only so-so in QB pressure. 

Linebackers: B

The linebackers had a good but not great game. The running game was an area they were doing a great job in. Jamie Collins chased down a play to the sideline and just thumped the tackle Schwartz, knocking him to the ground and then hitting the ball carrier. Collins also broke up a pass. 

Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy were both very solid in run support but weren’t their usual disruptive selves in the pass rush side of things. Shalique Calhoun forced a fumble and rookie Chase Winovich got in on a big hit on Mahomes. 

Secondary: B

The Patriots secondary had a rough second quarter but after that was pretty solid. Stephon Gilmore did a bang-up job on Sammy Watkins and should have had a possible scoop and score if not for the incompetence of the Boger officiating crew. J.C. Jackson had a nice interception. 

Lots of fans are on Jonathan Jones but covering Tyreek Hill and Hardman (48-yard TD) is no routine assignment, especially when the pass rush isn’t getting home. But he missed on several tackles though, something that will certainly draw the coaches ire. 

Devin McCourty’s one-two punch on Travis Kelce got the ball out for a fumble and was a fantastic play when the team really needed it. Jason McCourty returned after missing two games with a groin injury. 

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams were up and down. Nate Ebner blocked a punt, giving the Patriots life in the 2nd half. But Nick Folk had a field goal blocked with some uncharacteristic poor blocking up front. Jake Bailey dropped a pair of punts inside the 20.

The coverage units did well but the return game, as it has most of the year was terrible. 

Coaches: C+

The Patriots coaching staff had an up and down night as well. After Andy Reid and the Chiefs figured out what the Patriots were doing defensively and had a big 2nd quarter, the Patriots made their adjustments and did a great job of limiting their passing game and were making them take small pieces at a time and as a result did a good job of shutting them down in the final 30 minutes. 

Offensively, the Patriots wanted to run the ball, needed to run the ball and tried to run the ball. Running on nearly every first down early in the game is great if you’re successful. But they weren’t, so the Chiefs were able to pin their ears back and pressure Brady on about 50 percent of his throws. 

Josh McDaniels is resigned to using trick plays to get the offense moving. He really needs to get Harry more involved in the passing game. And Bolden more in the running game. 

So we’re on to Cincinnati (Sounds vaguely familiar) and their final regular-season away game.  

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 Week 12 Report Card, Defense Rules Again in 13-9 Win Over Dallas

Steve Balestrieri
November 26, 2019 at 10:30 am ET

 Patriots are 10-1 and head off to Houston for SNF

The Patriots played another defensive gem in horrible weather conditions in Gillette Stadium stopping the #1 offense in the league in the Dallas Cowboys and holding them without a touchdown. The Patriots would grind out a 13-9 in the wind and the rain in Gillette Stadium by once again leaning on the defense and special teams. 

The Patriots offense was shorthanded and banged up but couldn’t muster much either as the Dallas defense also played a strong game. It was a tough day to throw the ball with the way both defenses played coupled with the weather conditions.

So, check out our grades and let’s take a final look at the Cowboys game.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady would appear to have struggled mightily if one were to look strictly at his numbers. Brady completed 17-37 for just 190 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. But his top wide receiver is playing hurt and probably should be sitting. His number 2 and 3 wide receivers missed the game with injuries.  And in the poor conditions, his receivers dropped six passes and about 4-5 more that were defended well, could have gone either way. 

Brady ran the offense well despite those limitations and while he sailed a few of his throws, he also threw a few beauties including the touchdown pass to N’Keal Harry on a fade right at the pylon where only Harry could catch it.

On the 3rd and 20, where he slid in the pocket away from inside pressure from Robert Quinn and ripped a laser down the middle to Julian Edelman. He had another nice pass to Jakobi Meyers who was wide open down the seam but the safety Xavier Woods closed quickly and tattooed Meyers separating him from the ball.

Running Backs: B-

The running game showed some signs of life on Sunday afternoon and the backs had 104 yards on 25 carries before a couple of Brady kneeldowns at the end of the game. Sony Michel had a pretty decent day, rushing for 85 yards on 20 carries. He made some nice cutbacks against the grain and generally took whatever was available. Sony had four runs of 10 yards+ on Sunday. 

Brandon Bolden (1 carry, 11 yards), James White ( 2 carries, 5 yds), and Rex Burkhead (2 carries, 3 yds) were used only sparingly as this was a Michel day for the vast majority of the game on the ground.  

Is it time to start to worry about the health of James White? His production and usage is way down from what we’d normally expect and he just doesn’t look like himself on the field. 

Wide Receivers: B

Julian Edelman gets high marks here. He’s dealing with a shoulder injury and it seemed like every other play he was rotating it around in the huddle. He must be in a lot of discomfort. And in a perfect world, he’d probably sit for a week. But he can’t right now so he guts it out and continues to produce. Edelman had eight catches for 93 yards. On the 3rd and 20, he displayed a veteran’s savvy, recognizing the soft spot in the Cowboys Cover 2 shell and sitting down just over the yard marker.  

Jakobi Meyers had a few stellar plays and a few he’d probably like to have back. His drops are something that he’ll have to deal with, I think it is a mental thing where he’s pressing a bit too much. But he also had some very nice plays as well and filling in for Mohamad Sanu he had a solid four catches for 74 yards. He caught a short Brady pass and shook off a tackle and broke it for a big gain. His 32-yard reception was the Patriots longest play of the day. 

N’Keal Harry had only one catch for 10 yards but it was a very big one and the only touchdown of the day for either team. Harry has a ton of upside and we saw that he can be a red-zone target. He matched up with Byron Jones and ran a nice fade where he high-pointed the ball and snatched it out of the air. He missed on another later, but his potential is there and we expect he’ll carve out a larger role as the weeks roll on.

Tight Ends: C

Ben Watson was only targeted once and had no catches. Matt LaCosse had one catch for five yards. This seemed like a matchup on paper where they would see more targets but it didn’t work out that way. 

Watson did a good job in the running game, however. He and Isaiah Wynn teamed up for the key block on the Michel run to ice the game.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line had a much better game this week against the Cowboys. Isaiah Wynn returned and generally got stronger as the game went on. The running game showed some signs of life, and while it was far from perfect it was much better.  The pass blocking for Brady was much better as well, there were several plays where he had all day long to throw. 

Bill Belichick spoke about the toughness of Marcus Cannon after the game. Cannon had an illness all week and Belichick spoke to how he had a tough time even suiting up on Sunday. But he toughed it out and played nearly the entire game. He was spelled by Marshall Newhouse who is the swing tackle now that Wynn is back. 

It wasn’t great or perfect but much better for Dante Scarnecchia’s charges. Let’s see if they can start building off of that. 

 Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had another nice day against the Cowboys. The Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in football and they like to run the ball to open up the passing game. While they did run for 109 yards, with Ezekiel Elliott getting 86 of those on 21 carries, he didn’t take over the game and they limited the big plays, the third-down conversions and the ones in the red zone. 

Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton continue to have very solid seasons and they are getting penetration and disrupting the running game. The Patriots didn’t get a ton of pressure on Dak Prescott however. 

Adam Butler pressured Prescott just enough though to force him as he was rolling out to loft the ball too high for Blake Jarwin to stay inbounds.

Linebackers: A-

The linebackers had another tremendous game led by Jamie Collins who had 10 tackles including one for a loss. That was a typical Collins play where he diagnosed a run by Elliott to the right side and shot the gap to hit him in the backfield. He also made a tremendous play later in the game. Collins was covering Jason Witten on a drag route across the middle. But he kept his eyes on the QB and when Prescott began to scramble, Collins disengaged from Witten and hit Prescott two yards short of a first down. 

Don’t Hightower had another strong game and Chase Winovich showed sideline to sideline hustle coming all the way from the right side to chase down Pollard from behind  on a screen pass to the left. 

Secondary: A

The secondary was tremendous, Prescott came into this game leading the league in passing and he didn’t crack 200 yards until the final snap of the game. The Patriots took away his top two favorite targets, Amari Cooper and Jason Witten and rendering them to MIA for the day. 

Stephon Gilmore held Cooper without a catch and had an interception on an ill-advised throw from Prescott in the first half. Witten was held to one catch for 5 yards. Gilmore nearly had another pick in the end zone. Witten was covered by Chung and Prescott tried to gun the ball in the back corner of the end zone. Gilmore read it perfectly and disengaged from Cooper and nearly came up with his second pick.

On 3rd down Dallas was 2-13, and on 3rd and 3 or less the Cowboys were 0-4.  Devin McCourty made an excellent play on a 3rd and 6 screen to Pollard to stop that one. 

Special Teams: A

Matthew Slater is still amazing at his age and one of the best STs players in the league. He blocked a punt, timing it perfectly setting up the Patriots first touchdown. Nick Folk missed two field goals at the open end of the stadium where the wind was really gusting. He also made two down that end. He gets a pass for those. Jake Bailey was trying to hang his punts up in the air as the return game was hampered by weather. 

Coaches: A+

The Patriots coaching staff had the team excellently prepared to play in those conditions, something the Cowboys staff did not. Bill Belichick knew that Sunday would be a game of field position and situational football. The Patriots excel at that, and that was the difference. 

The defense had a tremendous game plan of taking away Prescott’s two big receivers and forcing them to beat them elsewhere…they didn’t and could only muster three field goals. 

Coaching goes a long way in this league and the Patriots had a big advantage in that department on Sunday. It was the difference and the reason they are now 10-1. We’re on to Houston.

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 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. 

 

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 9 Report Card, Defense Struggles in 37-20 Loss to Baltimore

Steve Balestrieri
November 5, 2019 at 8:26 am ET

Patriots are 8-1 at the Bye Week

The Patriots weren’t going undefeated, we’ve been saying it all year since the summer but yet people continued to predict it like it is a walk in the park. Think about this, it has only been done twice in the past 50 years and four times in 100 seasons of the NFL.

The point is they were bound to have a game where they were making too many mistakes and ran into a hot team. Earlier on Sunday, I watched Green Bay scarcely resemble the team they’ve been all year play sluggishly on the road in LA. And wondered if it was the Patriots’ time. Baltimore, rested after a bye week was the perfect storm and pretty much kicked the Patriots defense behind all game long. 

So, please stop with the over the top reactions to a single loss. Although some of them were unintentionally hilarious.  Check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s game in Baltimore.

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady got off to a rough start but was able to get it going in the second and third quarters when the team went to the hurry-up, up-tempo offense. Brady finished 30-46 for 285 yards with a touchdown and an interception. 

Brady put the team on his back when they were trying to dig out from the big hole they got in and targeted Edelman and Sanu almost exclusively in this one. Everyone else was an afterthought. The best throw of the night was his 30-yard completion to James White, however. 

Running Backs: C-

The running game either by design or the way the game unfolded early was relegated to the back burner on Sunday night. We said in our pregame keys that we thought they’d eschew the ground game for the most part and try to attack Baltimore through the air. 

They ran just enough to keep the defense honest and ended up with just 17 carries for 74 yards (4.2-yard average). While no one stood out as outstanding, neither did anyone stand out badly either. Going into a 17-0 hole in the first quarter will take an offense out of their game plan if indeed they did plan on running more. 

James White had the most production out of the group with 38 yards on 9 carries. He tripped and ended up just short of the goal line just before the half where the team actually had a chance to tie the game up. He later added a touchdown. 

Wide Receivers: B

Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu were both featured in this one and it is easy to see that Sanu is going to fit this offense quite well. Edelman was targeted 11 times and had 10 catches for 89 yards. Sanu was targeted 14 times and had 10 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, his first as a Patriot. 

Sanu in just his second week on the team has already been determined to having the trust factor with Brady. In our keys, we also thought that both he and Edelman would have good games with the short quick passing game against the Ravens secondary.

Edelman’s fumble hurt. After crawling out of a 17-point deficit, the team actually had the chance to take the lead early in the 3rd quarter, the idea of which seemed ridiculous earlier in the game. It happens. Give the Ravens defense the credit there. It flipped the momentum right back into their corner. They didn’t relinquish it again.

Phillip Dorsett had just two catches. Jakobi Meyers played one snap. White, Burkhead and Michel had only four combined catches out of the backfield.

Tight Ends: C

Ben Watson went the distance for the Patriots at tight end and had four catches for 28 yards on five targets. Ryan Izzo was active but didn’t play a snap. Watson played pretty well but did have a drop on a contested 2nd-down catch, that set up the 3rd and 10 play where Brady was picked off deep. 

The team can’t expect Watson to play all the snaps down the stretch at 38-years old and will need somebody else to step up. 

Offensive Line: C

The offensive line got back Shaq Mason this week although he didn’t play particularly well in his return. Marcus Cannon did have arguably his best game of the season. After a tough start, the line did a decent job of pass protection when the team decided to spread out the defense and go up-tempo. But although they gave up just two sacks, 10 QB hits is a lot, but considering the score, it could have been worse.

The run blocking was fair enough this week, the Ravens are a tough team to run against and they didn’t really ever get the chance to establish anything considering the early deficit. But the 4.2-yard average was better. 

 Defensive Line: C-

The defensive line struggled for the first time this year against an opponent. There wasn’t anything exotic, the Ravens didn’t scheme up some things that they hadn’t seen before. They just lined up and played very physical. What did give the line problems was the option plays where Jackson stuck the ball in the hands of a back and either kept it or left it depending on the play of the defense. They never really figured that out.

Baltimore’s running game, especially Mark Ingram gashed the Patriots for 210 yards on 41 carries. Ingram had 115 yards on just 15 carries. The team also did a much poorer job of setting the edge, it is rare to see a back or QB turn the corner and see no one there. It happened more than once. 

The group was able to generate just one sack and three QB hits.  

Linebackers: C

The linebackers had their most lackluster game of the season. Dont’a Hightower’s fiery speech on the sidelines lit a fire under the group for a bit and their play improved…for a bit. He led the team with 13 tackles and one tackle for loss, something the unit had precious little of on Sunday night. Kyle Van Noy had a solid game, providing backside coverage when Lamar Jackson would cut back. 

Jamie Collins had a rough game, getting taken in on those option plays by Jackson early, he certainly wasn’t alone. Elandon Roberts struggled as well.   

Secondary: B

The secondary wasn’t really tested by the Ravens wide receivers, mainly out of design. They passed for only 163 yards because their running game was a difference-maker for them. When they did pass it was to the tight ends. 

Stephon Gilmore matched up with Marquise Brown who had three catches for 48 yards. Willie Snead had two grabs for 15. That was it for the wide receivers. The tight ends did the damage with Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, and Hayden Hurst combining for 9 catches for 63 yards and a score. On the surface, it doesn’t add up to much, but it seemed every catch was a key first down.  

Special Teams: B+

Nick Folk gets passing marks this week, he made both extra points and both chip shot field goal attempts. It is a strange night when Justin Tucker misses an extra point or field goal but he did although it didn’t hurt the overall scheme of things. 

Brandon Bolden did well in the kick return game and the coverage units were outstanding. Lost in the hot takes of the dynasty crumbling was the STs coverage units. This was easily their best game of the year. The Ravens averaged just 12.7 yards on kick returns and 3.5 yards on punts. They forced a fumble on a Cyrus Jones muff and recovered by newcomer Justin Bethel. 

Jake Bailey continued his stellar rookie season, averaging 46.6 yards per punt while dropping three inside the 20. 

Coaches: C

The Patriots coaching staff didn’t have the team properly prepared to handle the Ravens running game, especially those options by Jackson. As Bill Belichick said after the game, they didn’t do anything well enough to win, coaching, playing, or preparation.

The offense played in “11 personnel” all game long and it is a head-scratcher when the team has struggled all season long to find a viable red-zone target for Tom Brady and you have a big 1st-round draft pick at WR who is inactive for a tight end that you didn’t play a single snap.   

There will be plenty of self-scouting to do this week before they take off for a few days during the bye week before preparing for Philadelphia.   

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 8 Report Card, Defense Shines in 27-13 Win Over Cleveland

Steve Balestrieri
October 29, 2019 at 7:18 am ET

 Patriots Improve to 8-0 at the halfway mark of the season

The Patriots defense put the team on their back early in this one, forcing three Cleveland turnovers in three consecutive snaps to springboard the team out to an early 17-0 lead in the first quarter. They held Baker Mayfield to under 200 yards passing and frustrated the talented Browns wide receivers.

The shorthanded offense sputtered a bit but came up with a key drive in the third quarter when the Browns threatened to crawl back into the game. The Patriot played perhaps their worst game of the year, but it was more than enough to down the mistake-filled Browns.

So, while the Patriots aren’t perfect, they are certainly undefeated. Check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s win.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady completed 20 of 36 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns in Sunday’s win. Dealing with the absence of three starting offensive linemen, two tight ends, both fullbacks and with a WR who had been on the team just a few days, he ran the offense as well as one could expect. 

Despite having to get rid of the ball very quickly because of pass protection issues, Brady still had several nice throws. His movement in the pocket, sliding to the right and hitting Julian Edelman for a 14-yard touchdown was a nice play. He delivered a beautiful deep ball right on the money to Phillip Dorsett. And threw a dart down the seam to Ben Watson. 

Running Backs: B-

The running game continues to sputter but things got off to a good start on Sunday afternoon before grinding to a halt later in the game. Sony Michel got off to a nice start and broke a couple of nice runs, breaking tackles, giving the Patriots some early balance. Michel finished with 74 yards on 21 carries (3.5-yard average). 

But when Cleveland knew they were going to run late in the game, the running game ceased. James White and Rex Burkhead didn’t fare any better with five carries for eight yards. The issue wasn’t with the running backs but with the blocking up front.

White, however, was a big factor in the passing game catching four passes for 75 yards including a huge 59-yarder that led to a touchdown that broke the game open in the second half. Burkhead after missing the past few games had one catch for nine yards.

Wide Receivers: B

Julian Edelman and James White were the biggest targets in the passing game (no surprises there) and each came through in their normal fashion. Edelman had a game-high eight receptions for 78 yards with two touchdown catches. White, as mentioned above had four for 75. Phillip Dorsett had three catches for 43 yards. 

Newcomer Mohamed Sanu played in 37 snaps, which was over half, considering he just arrived last week, that number was surprisingly high. He chipped in with a pair of catches for 23 yards. His numbers will increase every week as he gains a better grasp of the offense. He was right with White downfield blocking on his 59-yard catch and run. That had to get the attention of the coaching staff. 

Jakobi Meyers was targeted just twice and had one catch for five yards.

Tight Ends: B-

Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson both saw considerable action with Tomlinson logging in nearly half of the offensive snaps and Watson around 70 percent. Tomlinson did a good job in the run blocking game inside, he sprang Michel for a nice run up the middle sealing the linebacker off in a play that was highlighted on the telecast.

Watson caught the only pass he was targeted with but it was a big one, a 26-yard rope from Brady down the seam that set up the team inside the 10-yard line. We can Watson’s role in the passing game expanding in the near future.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line was missing another key piece in Shaq Mason, the left guard was ruled out and James Ferentz took his place. Ferentz stepped up and played all 69 offensive snaps. However, with three of the five starters out, it is little wonder that the unit struggled in both the running game and pass protection. 

Early results were good in the running game, but they tapered off to nearly nothing late in the game when the Browns knew the Patriots were going to run. Trying to close out the game by running the ball once again failed and continues to be an issue. 

Pass protection wasn’t good on Sunday. The Browns sacked Brady three times and he was forced to get rid of the ball far too often. Health is the biggest factor in holding back this unit right now. 

 Defensive Line: B

The defensive line had some issues in the running game, part of it was by design as they were being aggressive in getting after QB Baker Mayfield, but they were pushed around a bit as well. But they tightened things up when they had to. It is an issue that they’ll address in the meeting rooms to be sure. 

But they did a very good job of getting pressure on Mayfield. Lawrence Guy perfectly read the shovel pass coming to Jarvis Landry and blew up the play in the backfield intercepting the pass to boot. Adam Butler continues his high level of play with two sacks, three tackles for loss and a pair of QB hits.

Linebackers: A-

Jamie Collins was the star of the group again. Seemingly everywhere on the field, Collins logged 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits. Kyle Van Noy caused the first turnover, setting the edge and as the blocker was going to the ground he kicked the ball out of his own runner’s hands. Van Noy added a sack.

Dont’a Hightower scored the first touchdown of the game on a scoop and score off a Nick Chubb fumble, caused by Van Noy. Hightower was beaten for a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first half where he took the wrong angle inside and was beaten to the pylon. 

Chase Winovich in limited snaps added a half-sack and a QB hit. Overall the Patriots sacked Mayfield five times. ***Note*** The Patriots defense in 2018 had 30 sacks for the entire season. The defense this year has 31 with the season just half gone.  

Secondary: A

The secondary continues their outstanding play of 2019 limiting the Browns to under 200 yards passing. Stephon Gilmore once again goes to the head of the class. Going against the dangerous and explosive Odell Beckham Jr., Gilmore easily won this matchup. He held Beckham to four catches for 21 yards until a late garbage time 31 yarder. The Patriots will take that all day long. 

Jonathan Jones continues his strong play in the slot and showed tremendous speed while chasing down Chubb and causing the fumble to take away a scoring opportunity from the Browns. Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson were solid.  

Pat Chung returned from injury and he, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon continue their strong play at the back end and in the box. Missed tackles were an issue for the entire defense but the weather no doubt had a hand in that. But give Chubb credit, he runs hard and is a tough guy to bring down, rain or shine.

Special Teams: C+

Mike Nugent had a block on a 29-yard field goal attempt and badly missed another. Jake Bailey had a good game with a 45.4 yard average with one punt inside the 20 and another that was a touchback. The coverage units did a very good job on a dangerous returner in Dontrelle Hilliard. The return game didn’t do much

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff were working on a short week. They wanted to get off to a quick start and they did, racing out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. That was huge in putting the Browns and their coaches behind the eight-ball. They weren’t up to the task. 

Bill Belichick got his 300th career win while Freddy Kitchens showed he has a long, long way to go. Josh McDaniels because of injuries and new personnel had to limit the playbook somewhat, and he’s still searching to find the offense its identity.   

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

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Patriots Week 7 Report Card, 33-0 Shutout Win Over the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
October 23, 2019 at 7:32 am ET

 Patriots Improve to 7-0 In Impressive Defensive Showing

The Patriots put this one away early, jumping out to an early 17-0 lead in the first quarter and then never looked back as they cruised to a 33-0 blanking of the Jets. The defense was outstanding, allowing zero points, holding the Jets to just 154 yards total and just 2 of 11 on third down. 

The shorthanded offense was clicking early but had their issues later in the game, although it is hard to find fault after they put up 33 points. Most everyone, including the Jets, had this one as being much closer than the first meeting. It wasn’t. 

So, while it wasn’t perfect, it was plenty good enough. Check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s blowout win.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady once again had so-so numbers, 31-45, 249 yards one TD, one INT. But his TD numbers could have been inflated if not for two near scores with James White and an obvious DPI on Trumaine Johnson when got beaten by Jakobi Meyers on a double move as well as a Michel drop where it looked like a score. Regardless, Brady ran the offense very smoothly, especially early, scoring on three of their first four possessions which put the game into the win column. 

He had a pick where he was hit as he threw and that was partially on him for holding the ball too long and an intentional grounding call. The microphones on ESPN picked him up yelling “He was right there!” Ah, no Tom he wasn’t. But he was also victimized by some drops. Overall, with a short-handed offense, he ran it very well. 

Running Backs: C

The running game remains an issue, and while we can point at the running backs, in reality, there is far too frequently nowhere for them to go. As a group, the backs averaged only 2.2 yards per carry. Sony Michel had only 42 yards on 19 carries but did have three touchdown runs. 

Damien Harris got his first carries as a Patriot and finally got some work in, which is a positive sign. Brandon Bolden and James White had very little production in the running game this week. With no fullback, LB Elandon Roberts filled in as a goalline blocker and used his downhill, thumping style to good use. 

Wide Receivers: B

Julian Edelman and James White (as we pointed out in our keys to the game) were the biggest pass receivers, each hauling in seven passes and filled in their roles well. White just missed a pair of TD receptions, getting knocked out of bounds at the one-yard line and scampering down the right sideline and just being taken down around the ankles. 

Jakobi Meyers is gaining the all-important trust factor with Brady, he had five catches for 47 yards including some nice grabs in traffic. While his snaps may see a downtick with the addition of Mohamed Sanu and the return of Josh Gordon and N’Keal Harry, he’s building his rapport with #12 and that will come in hand down the stretch.

Phillip Dorsett returned from his hamstring injury and had a really nice 23-yard TD where he dusted Johnson down the seam. Brandon Bolden had a beauty of a catch along the sideline. A pretty back-shoulder catch for 28-yards where he got his feet in like a top-flight wide receiver. Next week, maybe they’ll try him as a kicker…

Tight Ends: B

Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson combined for 100 snaps (Watson 62, Tomlinson 38) after not being on the team a week ago. Considering Tomlinson had to jet to Texas for the birth of his child and then zip back this week, was a testament to hard work. The Patriots early in the game went with the heavier two-TE look and it worked pretty well. 

Watson’s timing was off a bit early, he turned too late for the first pass from Brady and it bounced off his face mask but after that, he contributed in the passing game with three catches including a key fourth-down conversion (Trust factor). Tomlinson had a catch but provided decent in-line blocking but did have a holding penalty. 

Offensive Line: C

The offensive line did a good job of pass protection overall, Brady wasn’t sacked and hit just two or three times. But of course, much of that has to do with Brady himself. He was getting the ball out incredibly fast which has to frustrate the pass rushers who have no chance of getting home. Marshall Newhouse continues to struggle against pressure from the outside, however. 

The run blocking remains a hit or miss operation, mainly miss. We can all point the finger at Sony Michel and say he isn’t hitting the hole fast enough, but there frequently isn’t a hole to hit and he’s getting met in the backfield. 

With the game salted away in the fourth quarter, the Patriots attempted eight rushes. This is where they traditionally eat the clock up and go home happy. Those eight rushes netted 10 yards. That isn’t going to get it done. 

 Defensive Line: A-

The defensive line once again was outstanding. Le’Veon Bell had a decent game numbers-wise but was a total non-factor. He got most of them on his own. Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler were stuffing everything at the point of attack. And they created lanes for the pass rush to get home. 

On a day where the Patriots had just one sack, the pass rush was the difference here. As was picked up by ESPN microphones, Sam Darnold was “seeing ghosts” 

Linebackers: A

The Patriots linebackers are having an outstanding season, the depth and versatility in this group are the strength of the defense. Utilizing the “0-blitz” early in the game, they were rushing free and caused Darnold to throw interceptions and sail his throws off his back foot. 

John Simon came free on one and knocked the ball out of Darnold’s hands, which was scooped up by Kyle Van Noy who jumped up and rushed into the end zone. It was eventually blown dead as a Jet TE had bumped legs with Van Noy on the ground. 

Dont’a Hightower rocked Bell on one of the few screens the Jets attempted on a bone-jarring hit that put a bow on the evening. 

Secondary: A

The secondary continued their stellar play, no touchdowns, no points, only 86 yards passing and four interceptions. Robby Anderson who had a huge game against Dallas was rendered to a milk carton by Stephon Gilmore. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder had just four catches for 26 yards, blanketed by Jonathan Jones. The Jets only had four first downs passing. 

Bill Belichick and Jerod Mayo utilized the “Cover 0” technique for much of the game, telling the Jets that they weren’t afraid of getting beaten deep. They weren’t. Before the game, Darnold told the NY media, that Jets offense was going to become unstoppable. Maybe soon but not on Monday Night. 

The only downside was the play of J.C. Jackson who was too grabby on Demaryius Thomas and was flagged three times. 

Special Teams: A

Mike Nugent had a clean game, one field goal and four extra points with no misses. A look at Jake Bailey’s 37.3 net average on Monday and you’d think he had a bad game. That would be wrong. He did have a shank early in the game, but his plus-50 punting was outstanding dropping four inside the 20-yard line including a beauty he dropped on the one which bounced out of bounds at the three. He skied a 59-yarder that should have been put in orbit, with over a five-second hang time.

The return game was good and they recovered a muffed punt by former Patriot Braxton Berrios. A great night for the STs

Coaches: A+

The Patriots coaching staff had extra time to prepare and it showed. The first quarter was complete domination for the Patriots in a game the Jets were hoping to show that they were on their way. They were, but not where they expected. Bill Belichick took Adam Gase to school and Josh McDaniels deserves high marks for scheming up an impressive start with a very banged up offense missing several key pieces.

The defensive coaches knew what they needed to do against Darnold and their players produced much better than anyone could have hoped for, and certainly better than most expected.   

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.