Category Archives: Patriots Rumors

Building the 2020 Patriots Roster, Where are the Biggest Needs?

Steve Balestrieri
January 17, 2020 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots have a lot of work to do in the offseason and although the new league year doesn’t begin until March, their 2020 season starts now. They have to replace another coordinator (STs/WR coach Joe Judge) and perhaps their college scouting director (Monti Ossenfort) who is being interviewed for the open Cleveland Browns GM position.

Then there are a slew of the team’s free agents to decide upon. We’ll get to those in good time as we’ll take a look at where the team needs are. And a lot of what drives the train is always money. The Patriots have about $49 million to spend. It sounds like a lot. It is not. Especially when considering if the Patriots cut ties with Tom Brady is will cost them $13.5 million in dead money and a new contract will not come cheaply. 

So, let’s take a dive into the roster by position …as currently constructed and see where they’re at.

Quarterback: 

Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
*Free agent: Tom Brady 

The Elephant in the room and all of the ridiculous (and it IS as ridiculous as it is maddening) drivel about non-existent homes in Greenwich, his luxury suite at Gillette and the amateur psychologists who became overnight experts at reading body language and hidden meaning in every word of his have gotten out of control.

Our feeling here hasn’t changed. We feel that Brady will return given that the Patriots don’t really want to ear $13.5 million bucks. Plus, there isn’t anyone on the roster that is a no-brainer to take over. Stidham may well be that guy, but we don’t know and haven’t seen him take a meaningful snap in months.  So until Bill Belichick or Brady comes out and definitely says he’s not returning, we’re going under the assumption he’ll be back.

Running Back:

Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris, Fullbacks James Develin, Jakob Johnson 

Here is where things can get interesting. The team is set here at running back. In fact they’re a little too deep. They could add $4 million in cap space by releasing Rex Burkhead. However, Burkhead was their most productive back down the stretch, as he was a year ago. But injuries always seem to cut into his season and the team just spent a good draft pick on Damien Harris. Burkhead is a guy to keep an eye on. 

Develin had a neck injury and those can be tough to come back from. Don’t be shocked if they add another fullback this spring.

Wide Receiver: 

Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo (future), Devin Ross (future)
*Free agent: Phillip Dorsett

The need for a speedy, reliable wide receiver here is critical. Edelman is going to be 34, Sanu will get all spring/summer to acclimate into the offense. Meyers and Harry will be fine. A lot of their issues had to do with overthinking things and that will be rectified in Year  2. Look for them to try to sign a fast, veteran outside wide receiver, possibly two and cut their ties with Dorsett. 

Tight End: 

Matt LaCosse Ryan Izzo
*Free agent: Ben Watson 

The most critical need of the Patriots, of the offense and the team overall. The offense really lacked a viable target down the seams all season.  Look for Ben Watson to retire and the team to double-dip here. Look for the team to sign a veteran free agent (Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry?) or try to swing a trade for an established veteran (O.J. Howard attempt again). And then address the need again with a young guy in the draft. 

Offensive Line:  

Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Korey Cunningham, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Najee Toran (future)
*Free agents: James Ferentz, Ted Karras, Marshall Newhouse, Joe Thuney, Jermaine Eluemunor (RFA) 

Another area of need. We heard through the grapevine that Marcus Cannon won’t be returning. If he doesn’t it will free up $5.8 million in cap space, despite him signing an extension last summer. Coupled with the unlikely scenario of Joe Thuney returning means the offensive line has a lot of work to do. 

Yodny Cajuste didn’t take a snap in either a game or practice last year. So, expecting him to just jump in and start is a very long shot. Is Froholdt going to be ready? Doubtful too. Look for the Patriots to bring back Karras and Eluemunor for sure and then address tackle and guard in either free agency or the draft. 

Defensive Line:  

Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman (future), Tashawn Bower (future)
*Free agents: Danny Shelton, Adam Butler (RFA), Keionta Davis (ERFA) 

Look for the team to attempt to bring back Shelton and Butler. But they’d still need at least another big run stuffer and a defensive end that can rush the QB. 

Linebacker:  

Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Brandon King, Terez Hall (future)
*Free agents: Shilique Calhoun, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy 

Winovich should be in line for a big uptick in snaps this season. He’s more of a pass rusher than a coverage guy and I’d expect he’ll be tasked with filling the big shoes of Van Noy. I don’t expect Van Noy back this year, he’s in line for a big payday. I do expect them to make a push to bring back both Collins and Roberts. 

Calhoun may come back and flashed some potential. Rivers is going to have to have a big spring or he may not even be around for training camp.  Retooling Hightower’s contract could free up some space.

Cornerback: 

Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, D’Angelo Ross 

The Patriots are in great shape here. With Gilmore, Jackson, and Jones, they have three starting corners who excel at their position. Williams played sparingly in his rookie season and could be ready for a big uptick in snaps. That could put McCourty on the block. If the team were to release him, they’d save an additional $3.8 million.  Also, reworking Gilmore’s contract could free up some cap space

Safety: 

Patrick Chung Duron Harmon Terrence Brooks Obi Melifonwu (future) Malik Gant Adarius Pickett (future)
*Free agent: Devin McCourty 

Big decisions loom here. McCourty arguably had the best season of his career in 2019 and would normally be ready for a big payday. But he’s 33 and with both he and Chung are getting older, the team needs to begin to address the future. Harmon has ostensibly been a starter for several years. Gant flashed a bit in camp last year while Brooks played well. I’d expect they’ll try to bring back McCourty for one more year, but it is time to bring in some younger players and get them groomed for down the road.  

Special Teams:  

K Stephen Gostkowski P Jake Bailey LS Joe Cardona
*Free agents: Nick Folk, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Justin Bethel 

I don’t see the team bringing Folk back and I think they’ll bring in another kicker for competition with Gostkowski this summer. Matthew Slater is the gold standard for special teams players. I expect the team to bring him back and to make an effort to bring back both Ebner and Bethel.

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 Free Agents Will Demand Several Important Decisions

Steve Balestrieri
January 7, 2020 at 1:12 pm ET

A look at the Patriots impending free agents shows that the team will be forced to make several very important decisions moving forward. There are several key players, especially on the defense that will require the team to decide whether to bring back those players or not once the new league year begins in March. 

The biggest question the Patriots have right now is are they all-in for another big push for a 7th Super Bowl, or is this a rebuilding year, where they break it down and start anew. Much of that answer will have to do with the first name on the list.

If he returns then it would most certainly mean that they’re planning on retooling for another run. The team has already lost STs/WR coach Joe Judge who is the new head coach of the New York Giants. That is the first big domino to fall.

First, here is a look at the Patriots free agents in 2020: 

Tom Brady
Devin McCourty
Kyle Van Noy
Matthew Slater
Phillip Dorsett
Nate Ebner
Jamie Collins
Danny Shelton
Nick Folk
Marshall Newhouse
Joe Thuney
Ben Watson
Shilique Calhoun
James Ferentz
Ted Karras
Elandon Roberts

Three players will be restricted free agents:
Keionta Davis
Jermaine Eluemunor
Adam Butler

Obviously, a lot hinges on Brady’s status. Are the Patriots going to bring him back for one more year? From a monetary standpoint, it would be beneficial to do so, if Brady leaves, the Patriots are on the hook for $13.5 million. Can the two sides work out fair compensation for both parties, but still allow them to retool and add enough weapons? 

This is the big one. Because if Brady returns (and we think he will), then they may feel they only lack a player or two to make another run. While they start the new year with seemingly plenty of cap space, a new Brady contract will eat a lot of that up. If they decide to move on from Brady, does this mean Jarrett Stidham is the man? And if so, does the offense change too? Interesting times ahead.

So who goes? I think that Kyle Van Noy will command a lot of cash in free agency and has earned his payday, with 6.5 sacks, 14 QB hits, and a team-leading 58 QB pressures. No one else had more than 33. I think he’s gone. 

Joe Thuney will be one of the most sought-after guards in free agency.  He earned 2nd team All-Pro and has never missed a game…he’s gone too as he’ll get a big payday.

Jamie Collins came back to NE on a one-year prove-it type deal and he had an outstanding start to the season. While he finished quietly, what he showed early this season should earn him a healthy payday. His type of athleticism can’t be taught. 

Phillip Dorsett is a popular guy in the locker room, but after a very nice start to the season, he disappeared down the stretch with three catches in the final five games of the season and had only 29 catches on the year. I’d be surprised if he comes back.

Ben Watson came out of retirement to play for the Patriots one more time this season. He was released early but brought back and handled it the way he always has, with class. One of the nicest people to play the game, he had a disappointing season but still led all NE tight ends in receptions. He is likely to retire again, judging from his postgame comments. 

One of the toughest calls to make will be with Devin McCourty, a team leader on and off the field, McCourty had arguably his best season with the Patriots in 2019. His age and the amount of money it will take to bring him back will make it a difficult proposition. It may get compounded by if the team decides to cut ties with his brother Jason. I think they’ll try to work out a deal with him to stay for one more year. But if one of his former coaches wows him with a big-money deal, who knows?

Danny Shelton went from a healthy scratch late in the 2018 season to one of the team’s most important defensive linemen. He and Lawrence Guy were outstanding this season in the interior as run stuffers. 

Matthew Slater is a borderline Hall of Famer for Special Teams, a team captain and a huge veteran presence in the locker room. Any signs of aging in this 12th season at age 34? Not a bit. He was a 1st team All-Pro this year. It would be a huge surprise not to see Slater back in 2020. 

Elandon Roberts’ snaps went to a career-low defensively this season but if anything he’s improved his stock with the team. With James Develin and Jakob Johnson on IR, Roberts stepped up and played fullback and did a very commendable job. Belichick loves versatile guys who put the team first. 

Nate Ebner is a Belichick guy, a tough as nails STs guy, one of the better STs guys in the league… Will he back? Belichick wore his rugby jersey at joint TC practice with the Saints a few years ago…any questions?

Nick Folk stepped in (twice) for the Patriots this year with Stephen Gostkowski on IR and played pretty well. The only FG he missed was blocked. Gostkowski’s status may have a play in this, but the feeling is here, they’ll move on but keep his number just in case.

Marshall Newhouse started nine games this season, eight at LT for Isaiah Wynn, one for Marcus Cannon at RT. He’s played for seven teams in his career and is now 31. We’ll have to see how the Patriots feel about the return of Yodny Cajuste but the feeling here is they’ll let Newhouse walk. 

Ted Karras filled in for David Andrews all year at center, when the veteran suffered from blood clots in his lungs. Can Andrews even return to football this year? I think Karras returns and will battle for a guard spot if Thuney leaves and Andrews returns or is the team’s center if he doesn’t. James Ferentz is a backup interior lineman and won’t break the bank to get to return. He did make two starts this year inside. It will be interesting to see how Hjalte Froholdt works out. 

Shalique Calhoun is a situational pass rusher and he played in 15 games this year, at times pretty well. If the money’s right, he’ll be back. Ditto for Keionta Davis who spent the entire season on IR.

Adam Butler should be brought back. He notched six sacks, nine QB hits, eight tackles for loss and five passes knocked down as an interior situational pass rusher. Great depth guy who can step up when needed. 

Jermaine Eluemunor is an interior OL who the Patriots traded a 4th round draft pick for this summer. He only played a handful of snaps this year and was a healthy scratch for most of the season. It shouldn’t break the bank for him as well. 

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.

New England Patriots News 01-05, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 5, 2020 at 7:14 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 01-05 and AFC East notes this week. 

With the Patriots eliminated from the playoffs by the Titans, it marks the first time they won’t be in an AFC Championship Game since the 2010 season when the Jets beat them in the divisional round.  

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Richard Seymour – The former Patriot defensive lineman is once again a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Big Sey is more than deserving and he was truly dominant in the middle of the Patriots defense and was an integral part of three Super Bowl championships here in New England. 

Here’s hoping that he gets the call from Canton and will be wearing a gold jacket this summer.

Julian Edelman – ThePatriots wide receiver always has some great video content that he drops on the fans before big games and this week was no exception. The video that he posted this week was one of his best and Patriots fans, if you haven’t seen it yet, should check it out.

Tom Brady – Not to be outdone, Tom Brady had an even better one, narrated by Christopher Walken… the only thing missing was the quote from Man on Fire, “he’s about to paint his masterpiece”….

Antonio Brown – Took to Instagram to take a shot at the Patriots and Bill Belichick. With the Patriots losing he tweeted a picture of he and Belichick hugging with the hashtag  “What Could Of Been #YouChangedOnMe, #LookAtMeNow, #ABForPresident.”

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, Please do check it out.  

Brady Puts Retirement Speculation At “Pretty Unlikely”: 

With the game winding down against the Titans, the talk picked up, which had talked about all week ad nauseam “Is this the last game for Tom Brady with the Patriots?” And it took Brady all of about five seconds to be asked that if he was going to return.

“Just very grateful for the experience playing this year for the team, this organization, and over the course of my career, too. I appreciate it. I hope I’ve always tried to do the right thing out there. Who knows what the future holds? So I’ll leave it at that.”

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, “and I’m not going to predict it. And no one needs to make choices at this point. I love playing football. I love playing football for this team. I’ve loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. And again, I don’t know what it looks like moving forward, so we’ll just take it day by day.”

We won’t really know anything for the next two months because Brady doesn’t become a free agent until March. But at this point, it would make no sense for the Patriots to move on from him unless they feel Jarrett Stidham was ready to be the next Brady. With a better receiving core around him in 2020, there is no reason the Patriots can’t be right back in the mix. But there is a slew of other free agents to make decisions on as well. 

NFL Releases Non-Statement on Video Taping Flap:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in Timbuktu, you’ll have noticed the NFL has been once again dragging its collective feet when it comes to an investigation regarding the Patriots. ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to release the NFL statement that they’re continuing this latest flap. “The investigation is ongoing and there has been no discussion of any potential discipline. Any suggestion of potential discipline or a timeline on an announcement is pure speculation.”

Last week, it was widely reported that “NFL investigators were frustrated that attempts to link the video crew with football operations”, think about that for a second. Instead of investigating whether there was a link or not. They were frustrated that there wasn’t. 

While Schefter posted this statement, he also did a 180 and speculated on possible punishment by listing infractions by Cleveland and Atlanta that all had to do with football operations. Hmm, think he knows something?

NFL Schedule Wildcard Weekend, Who Are Your Winners:

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

Last Week:8-8
Final Regular Season:162-93-1
Wild Card Weekend:

Saturday – Buffalo over Houston 
Tennessee over New England 1-1
Sunday –  New Orleans over Minnesota
Philadelphia over Seattle

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Miss Golden Opportunity to Advance:

The Buffalo Bills had dominated their road playoff game against the Houston Texans for better than 40 minutes, where it appeared they were destined to win and move on. But everything changed in an instant and they went home frustrated and still winless in the postseason since 1995. The Bills lost to Houston in overtime 22-19.

“We had opportunities to win the game and we came up short,” said coach Sean McDermott. “Not an easy thing, not an easy pill to swallow this time of year. A lot of pain in that locker room.”

The Bills had everything going their way until a sack by JJ Watt that forced Buffalo to kick a field goal to go up 16-0 lit a fire in the Houston sideline. If Buffalo goes up 20-0 there it is likely game over. But it woke up the Texans offense who were dead until then but were on fire after that. 

Still, the chances were there in overtime, they stopped Houston and were moving toward a game-winning field goal when they were stopped by a bad penalty. Then two huge breakdowns by their normally outstanding defense put the Texans in chip shot field goal range. It was a tough, tough loss for a team that is trending upwards. 

Dolphins #1 Need in 2020? A Franchise QB:

The Miami Dolphins started the season 0-7 and were embarrassed early in the season which had some wondering if they would tank the season for Tua. But Brian Flores wasn’t interested in the #1 pick and his players believed in him and what he’s trying to build in South Beach. The Dolphins finished 5-4 down the stretch and are still in decent position in the draft. 

With plenty of cash under the cap, the Dolphins need to decide if one of these QBs coming out is a guy they feel they can build their team around for the next decade. Josh Rosen obviously isn’t going to be that guy, but veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick has more than showed enough for Flores that he can be the steady veteran presence that can be a bridge until whoever they decide on is ready to go. 

Free-spending Jets Back to Square One:

The New York Jets parted ways with former GM Mike Maccagnan last June, but not before he spent a boatload of money in free agency. Now, GM Joe Douglas is put in the same position the Jets were in for the past several years. They have holes abounding in their roster and have a lot of free agents hitting the market. 

But the Jets really need help along the offensive line where they could use three new starters, in the secondary, and at edge rusher. Although they have about $60 million in cap space with potentially a third more if they cut some contracts, they have 22 free agents of their own this spring. And two of them are going to command some big money.

Safety Jamal Adams won’t come cheaply this spring and although he’s not a free agent yet, the time to resign him is now before he hits the market. He’s slated to make $3.5 million in 2020 and will be looking for a new deal. How much?  I think the Jets would begin with how much Landon Collins got (6-year, $84 million, $44.5 million guaranteed) as the starting spot. That won’t be bargain-basement territory.

Neither will WR Robby Anderson, who has the speed that all teams are coveting these days. At only 26 and with 52 catches in 2019, he’s a guy who can play, but at what cost? If I’m the Patriots, I’d kick the tires on Anderson if he hits the open market. A 6’3 WR with speed is a good thing to have.

________________

We gave up 14 points tonight but in this game, it was too much. Weren’t able to get the ball back at the end. There were a lot of good things, but just not quite good enough tonight and that’s what it was. I have a ton of respect for this football team, these guys competed all year, everybody, all three units. We played hard and just came up a little bit short tonight. Bill Belichick on the play of the defense in the second half. It was somewhat telling when Belichick said 14 points was too much. 

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

 

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.

 

New England Patriots News 10-13, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 13, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-13 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, but not for the Patriots who are off until next Monday evening when they take on the Jets on Monday Night Football.   

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tom Brady – so much hand-wringing over a QB who completed 31-41 for 334 yards on a short week throwing the ball to two UDFA wide receivers and a seventh round tight end. Look, no one is arguing that Brady was lights out in the Giants game…he wasn’t. But despite all the missing pieces, and the scuffling of the offense, he completed 15 in a row at one point and made some terrific throws. On that subject…. 

Wright, Kellerman, Parker – who or what exactly are the Three Stooges going to make asses of themselves with every week when Brady retires. How anyone can actually watch these bobos or take anything they say remotely seriously? I see the clips every week on social media. It is the dumbing down of America. Are the haters of everything Brady and Patriots so desperate for hope that they get their pablum from these people?    

Chase Winovich – The Patriots rookie LB scored his first NFL touchdown on a blocked punt in the Giants game and then hurled it deep into the stands…oops! His boundless enthusiasm and motor got the best of him there. Hopefully, the fan with the ball will get some face time with “Thor” and return it for some Pats swag.

Matthew Slater – was quoted as not being a fan of the Thursday night games and made his point in his usual eloquent style. “You could be 22 years old — it’s [still] tough. Player safety, player health? This doesn’t fit into that as far as I’m concerned,” Slater said. “I know we’ve had a lot of discussions about it as a union. I know it’s a good product as far as the consumers are concerned, and the fans enjoy these Thursday night products. But I think when you talk about the rigors of playing in an NFL game, and then what it takes to recover and be able to do it again the following week, to do a Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround is tough. It doesn’t fit under the umbrella of player safety as far as I’m concerned. But you guys know that — I’ve said that every year.”

TNF – I’ve made it clear I hate Thursday Night Football. From the lack of preparation/rest that creates sloppy football, it is dangerous to the players as well. The Patriots suffered six injuries on Thursday night. And yes it includes those awful “color rush” monstrosities that the NFL has sold the fans on what they “must-have”…heaven knows why. “If you take the blue pill..” However, I digress.

If the league was truly invested in player safety then make TNF after the opening week wait until teams come off their bye week [Thanks Murph]. Teams coming off the bye week can play on Thursday nights, and still, have 10 days until they play again. Problem solved. It can be done but would require some work by the good folks on Park Avenue. Although we’d still be subjected to those awful uniforms…

Sunday’s Games – One of the key games to watch today will be the Houston-Kansas City game with the Chiefs being the home team. This should be as exciting a matchup as we’ve seen all season. The Chiefs are coming off a home loss to the Colts and are getting Tyreek Hill back from injury. But Patrick Mahomes isn’t completely healthy, he injured an ankle against the Colts that could the mobility that makes him so dangerous.

For the Texans, they’re coming off a 50-point explosion where QB Deshaun Watson threw for five touchdowns. This one ought to be fun to watch and may come down to the team with the ball last wins. 

But the NFL is a Passing League: You know the old saying that the NFL is a copycat league? If you think teams didn’t notice how the Patriots ran the ball in the playoffs, think again. While going to these light fronts with smaller athletic players on defense, offensive coordinators are adjusting accordingly. Look at last week…

Carolina gashed Jacksonville for 285 yards rushing including 176 for my early MVP vote Christian McCaffrey. The Colts kept the potent KC offense sitting on their hands Sunday night while rushing for 180. San Francisco’s two-headed rushing attack had 275 yards against the Browns, while Arizona ran over Cincinnati to the tune of 266 yards on the ground. Think Bill Belichick may have been ahead of the curve once again?

Issues in the Running Game Start at Tight End:

After the lackluster game by the offense in the 35-14 win over the Giants, the lack of a consistent running game has really hurt the offense. The box score of the Patriots rolling up over 400 yards of offense and over 100 on the ground belies the fact that they were struggling for much of the night, especially on the ground. 

Naturally, the abuse gets piled on the head of Sony Michel [“He sucks, he blows” ring a bell?]. But while we can point fingers at Michel’s lack of quickness in getting to the hole at times, you can’t fault him when he’s being consistently hit behind the line of scrimmage.

The offensive line hasn’t been great by any stretch of the imagination, but a big part of the issue is at tight end. The Patriots were spoiled the past few years having Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen in the blocking role at tight end. They were like having an extra tackle out there. They drafted Ryan Izzo in the 7th round [250th overall] last year, and that was supposed to be his strength. But being put out on the edge hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. 

Look, comparing him to Gronkowski isn’t fair, we know that. But one stat that leaps off the page is this. The Patriots have run 18 outside zone runs this year. It is a staple of their offense…in the past. Gronkowski and Allen were outstanding at blocking in these. Those 18 runs this year have resulted in just 21 yards this year. Izzo and Matt LaCosse just aren’t getting it done. He’s constantly overmatched out there. Last week LaCosse and Izzo were better, but they took a step back against the Giants.

And now LaCosse is hurt again. He has been snakebit by injuries this season. The runs inside, between the tackles, have been much better, Michel’s big runs against Washington and his final big run against the Giants come to mind. Brandon Bolden has chipped in here as well. 

While everyone is clamoring for the Patriots to trade for a wide receiver [and with the injuries it may happen, more to that below] bringing in a blocking tight end, and yes, Dwayne Allen is available, maybe in the cards. They could still trade for one too.  

Wide Receiver Depth, Becoming a Show-stopping Issue:

The Patriots have a little bit of time to do some self-scouting they normally do during the bye week, but thanks to the TNF schedule have some time to do so again.  Julian Edelman has been banged up for the past few weeks but has toughened it out Phillip Dorsett has a hamstring injury where he missed nearly all of the Redskins game as well as this week. Josh Gordon injured his knee on Thursday and although it looked ugly, we’re told he didn’t injure it “significantly”. 

This left the Patriots with a hurting Edelman and two rookie UFDA wide receivers [Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski] as the only wideouts remaining. With the Monday night game coming in eight days, we still have no idea about the availability of either Gordon or Dorsett, but smart money suggests Gordon won’t be ready. 

And if both are out, that leaves the cupboard dangerously thin. One injury to any of the three listed above and they won’t have enough WRs to fill out their “11 personnel” package. They need to get healthy and still get some help there. 

The rumor mill has beaten the Stefon Diggs story to death and while others are beating the AB return to New England, that has a less likely chance of happening than the Patriots bringing in an Army guy. Rumors continue to swirl around A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders. Of those, Sanders would be the best, most logical choice. The Patriots liked him enough a few years ago to sign him to an offer sheet. He’s in the last year of a contract with a team with a real chance of being 1-6 by Thursday. He’d be a seamless fit in the offense if they can pry him away from Denver. But John Elway knows they need help and he’ll try to squeeze them for everything he can. 

However, help IS on the way. N’Keal Harry the Patriots 1st-round draft pick can begin practice on Wednesday. And he’s eligible to return two weeks hence. If Dorsett and Gordon can return soon, the coaches may opt to wait it out and have Harry help out the passing game. We’ll see how this plays out. 

Jakob Johnson to IR, Another Big Blow for the Offense:

Wait! What? Did I just hear myself say that? If I said back in June during minicamp that losing Jakob Johnson in early October would be a big blow to the Patriots offense, I can only imagine what my timeline would like. “You’re outta yur mind, you loosah!” But here we are.

After losing James Develin to a neck injury, the Patriots turned to Johnson who has looked good thus far but in the Giants game, he suffered a shoulder injury, that, according to Jim McBride of the Globe will put him on IR. The team is now lacking a fullback. And that is a big blow. 

No team relies on their fullback as much as the Patriots do. They rely on their fullback to open holes in the running game. So, what do they do from here? Well, they can sign one, and while there aren’t a ton of fullbacks out there, I’m sure they could bring one in for him to learn the offense. Or the answer may be internally answered. 

The team used Izzo a few times in that role on Thursday night. His size would lend itself well to that role…plus he already knows the offense. But with tight end bare already with LaCosse always hurt it may require more help. Enter Brandon Bolden. While he has nowhere near the size of a Develin/Johnson-type, he can add more in short-yardage as a ball carrier and pass receiver than those two plus he’s already on the roster and there isn’t much he can’t do.  

NFL Schedule Week 6, Who Are Your Winners:

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

Last Week: 8-7
Season: 47-30-1

TNF New England over NY Giants 1-0 

Carolina over Tampa Bay [London]
Washington over Miami
Philadelphia over Minnesota
Kansas City over Houston [Mahomes isn’t 100%, shootout]
New Orleans over Jacksonville
Seattle over Cleveland
Baltimore over Cincinnati
LA Rams over San Francisco
Atlanta over Arizona
Dallas over NY Jets
Tennessee over Denver
SNF LA Chargers over Pittsburgh
MNF Green Bay over Detroit

Bye Week – Buffalo, Chicago, Indy, Oakland 

Early Thursday Night Football pick Kansas City over Denver

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills on the Bye, A Likely Landing Spot for A.J. Green? Maybe:

The Buffalo Bills are 4-1 and on their bye week. They’ve had an impressive start to the season, with their only loss to the Patriots at home. Their defense has been top-notch and impressive but offensively, they’re in need of some help, as their division rival Patriots at the wide receiver position. While many people have A.J. Green on the Patriots radar, he could also be on the Bills’ and even more so. 

Buffalo has two good wide receivers in Cole Beasley and John Brown but lacks a viable third option. Beasley is the Edelman of the Bills offense but they lack that big wide receiver on the outside, [Beasley is 5’9, while Brown is 5’10,180]. They traded away Zay Jones this week. 

Green, if healthy, would give them a big, viable target who would instantly upgrade the offense. And, if the rumors of New England being interested are indeed true, it would keep him away from the Patriots while helping Josh Allen.  

Dolphins Take on the Redskins in the Tua Bowl:

When the Miami Dolphins take the field against the Washington Redskins, the fans for both teams will be torn in their loyalties. While both are winless, Washington is 0-5 and Miami is 0-4, their fans will balance their desire to see their team win with the knowledge that the worse record will result in a better position to draft the next big QB prospect, in this case, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

Miami, coming off of a bye week, is reeling with 11 players listed as questionable. Cornerback Johnson Bademosi, [ankle]; running back Kalen Ballage, [foot]; guard/tackle Jesse Davis, [elbow]; wide receiver Jakeem Grant, [hamstring]; linebacker Trent Harris, [foot]; cornerback Xavien Howard, [knee]; safety Reshad Jones, [ankle]; cornerback Chris Lammons, [toe]; safety Bobby McCain, [hamstring and shoulder]; wide receiver Albert Wilson, who is hoping [calf and hip]; and cornerback Jomal Wiltz, [groin]. 

The Redskins are beat up as well and have already ruled out several players. Tight end Vernon Davis is out of the game [concussion]; safety Deshazor Everett [ankle]; linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons [hamstring]; guard Wes Martin [chest injury]; and tight end Jordan Reed [concussion]. The team also listed tackle Donald Penn on the report, listing him as questionable, with a hamstring issue.

The big question is…other than the fanbases, will anyone be watching this one?

Jets Facing the “Laughably Overrated” Cowboys:

Leave it to Manish Mehta, the Jekyll and Hyde beat writer for the Jets, who proclaims every spring that the Jets will unthrone the Patriots in the AFC East, then calls for the coach to be canned in his next tweet. The 0-5 New York Jets face the 3-2 Cowboys who Mehta calls “laughably overrated”. 

Mehta was saying that “back-half of the 2019 [Jets] schedule is cupcake city.” If there is something the Jets and Adam Gase shouldn’t be doing, it is considering any of their upcoming opponents as cupcakes. 

But that never stopped Mehta from bloviating his usual tripe. He’s putting this one as eminently winnable despite the fact that the Jets rank near the bottom of every offensive category. If the Jets do pull the upset today [don’t hold your breath], then Mehta will go over the top with the Jets-Patriots predictions next week.

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“No, we’re trying to cover the receiver, and when he tries to catch the ball we use technique. Jon [Jones] did a pretty good job of that. He got his hands on the ball, but it just popped up in the air and went to Tate. I thought he played the ball well. It’s the National Football League. It was a good throw and they got a favorable bounce on it. We could’ve certainly played it better and done some other things better but Jon was in good position. He did what he was coached to do.” – Bill Belichick being asked about the touchdown pass allowed this week and specifically if Jonathan Jones played it correctly

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“So, how was your week?”

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

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

 

Patriots Players To Watch, Week 2 Against the Dolphins

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

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

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

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

Sony Michel: 

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

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

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

Phillip Dorsett:

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

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

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

Kyle Van Noy:

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

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

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

Josh Gordon:

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

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

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

Tom Brady: 

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

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

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

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

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New England Patriots News 9-08, AFC East Notes

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

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

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

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

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Gordon Looking Only Forward From Here:

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

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

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

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

NFL Schedule Week 1, Who Are Your Winners:

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

Last Season: 165-89-2

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

Early Thursday Pick Week 2, Carolina over Tampa Bay

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Announce Captains for the 2019 Season:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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.

What to Watch For, Patriots and Giants Preseason Finale

Steve Balestrieri
August 29, 2019 at 7:25 am ET

The Patriots wrap up their preseason slate later on tonight against a very familiar foe, the New York Giants. The two teams have faced each other 15 years in a row in the preseason finale, it is akin to the warning bell telling both teams that the preseason is over and the games count starting next week. 

However, despite the fact that the starters on either team will barely play if at all should not lead one to believe that this game is meaningless. A number of players from both teams are playing for their futures tonight and while most of the slots on each team are already decided a few may hinge on what happens tonight in Gillette. 

So, from a Patriots perspective, what are we looking for tonight and how will these scenarios shape the upcoming roster cuts?

Stidham Should Play the Entire Game at QB:

Tonight will be the Jarrett Stidham show from start to finish. Tom Brady will definitely not play and Brian Hoyer should only enter in case of an emergency, or injury to the rookie. If Hoyer were to play any snaps in a scenario other than what was mentioned, it definitely wouldn’t bode well for his chances of sticking. 

And…in a perfect world, these should be the last meaningful snaps we see Stidham take in live-action until next preseason.  He won’t have a full complement of backs and receivers but, the coaches will get to evaluate how he handles the huddle, situational football and how well he grasps the offense.

Nick Brosette and Brandon Bolden …C’mon Down:

Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Damien Harris should get the night off. So it will be up to Brosette and Bolden to handle the running back duties. It wouldn’t be crazy if the coaches decided to get Harris some more game action but the feeling here is that he’s shown them enough and he’s been slowed by a few injuries this preseason, that they don’t want to risk aggravating anything this close to the Steelers game. 

Brosette has played pretty well this summer, but he’s a victim of the numbers game as the team is really deep at running back. Bolden is a special teams ace but will spell Brosette here and there as well as catch the odd catch out of the backfield.

While Bolden is pretty much a lock for the roster with his STs experience, Brosette will either be auditioning for the Patriots practice squad or for another team. Jakob Johnson [NFL International Player] will be on the PS and he and Andrew Beck should see plenty of work at fullback.

No Edelman, Gordon, Thomas, Harry Tonight?

It would be very surprising to see Josh Gordon or Demaryius Thomas on the field tonight against the Giants. Neither played against the Panthers and it would appear that the coaches are satisfied that they’ll be ready to contribute vs the Steelers next week. Ditto for Phillip Dorsett, although they may opt for him to play a few series just to give Stidham some targets [ditto for Jakobi Meyers]. No way we’ll see Julian Edelman. 

So, Meyers, who has built quite a nice chemistry with Stidham should get the start and see plenty of work. This game will be very important to both Gunner Olszewski, and Braxton Berrios. Both showed good promise in the return game this summer. Berrios was beginning to catch on in the passing game before suffering an injury. Olszewski looked very good in the return game recently. 

But with the activation of Thomas from PUP and Gordon from suspension, the chances of either making the 53-man roster for their STs [read return] ability has really taken a hit. Either or both could be brought back to the practice squad. Of course, the question is, if they don’t make it, who are your kick returners? It would seem to fall to Dorsett and Bolden… stay tuned.

OL Shuffling, Newcomers to See Work?

The Patriots just traded a 6th round draft choice for swing tackle Korey Cunningham, he was a 7th round draft pick for the Cardinals last year who got six starts at left tackle. The 6’6”, 305-pound tackle should immediately vault over Dan Skipper and Cole Croston for a spot on the 53-man roster. 

With David Andrews sidelined for at least three months and possibly for the season, the Patriots brought in more depth in a trade with Baltimore for interior OL Jermaine Eluemunor. He was a 5th round draft pick of the Ravens in 2017 and has appeared in 17 games with three starts. He was named to the PFWA [Pro Football Writers of America] All-Rookie Team in 2017. 

Players like James Ferentz and Hjalte Froholdt will get plenty of playing time and it may come down to just one of those two making the roster,

Defense Is Set, Now Is the Time For Game Experience:

The Patriots defensive line looks pretty set right now so, with no Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, or Adam Butler expected to play tonight, the younger players should see plenty of action to get more game time snaps. That begins with impressive rookies Chase Winovich and Byron Cowart. 

Derek Rivers and Shalique Calhoun are still banged up so we’ll see a lot of Umfomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman and David Parry tonight. One big scenario to watch is for Deatrich Wise’s situation. Many have him on the bubble. If he sits it would seem his position is safe. If he plays, those rumors would appear to be true. 

The same holds true at linebacker where Elandon Roberts [trade bait?] and Calvin Munson appear to be fighting for one roster position. Munson has been impressive in the past few weeks. And with Brandon King on IR, Munson has taken many snaps on STs and it could swing in his favor. 

In the secondary, look for younger guys J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen, and Joejuan Williams to get a lot of work at cornerback. Duke Dawson has played a lot of STs and he may play some safety too. The final safety spot comes down to Nate Ebner [strictly STs] or Obi Melifonwu who offers some ST’s acumen and a much higher upside defensively.

Check back with us after the game for our observations and notes. 

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.

New England Patriots News 8-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 25, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-25 and AFC East notes this week. 

The Patriots have one more game left in the preseason this week against the Giants and then will have the tough task of cutting down the 90 man roster to just 53 and then filling out the remaining ten spots [11 with Jakob Johnson who is an NFL International player if he doesn’t make the 53].

While the starters won’t play much if at all on Thursday for either team, the game will still be compelling because of the roster spots that are still on the line. Several players will be playing for their jobs, some will succeed and carve out a roster spot, others will be unemployed and waiting for the phone to ring.

Check back with us frequently on PatsFans.com as we’ll continue to post daily updates on the latest news and how the roster initially shakes out. 

 Quick Hitters:

Andrew Luck – Announced his retirement yesterday. Luck has been hobbled by injuries for much of his career and it was cut short after just seven seasons. He was once thought to be the “next great one” but it never materialized for him. For a Colts team that had made major strides in building up a legit contender, this is a huge setback. Jacoby Brissette is the man for the time being again in Indy.

Tom Brady – on the learning process with Jakobi Meyers said, “I think for all of us, you play with guys that are maybe new to the offense and so forth. Sometimes they think they’re not part of the route, and then a team plays a certain coverage and they’re part of the route. Early in the season, that’s part of this time of year. We don’t have the full week to prepare. We’re kind of putting things together on the fly.”

And BTW Tom, ditch that hat…not a good look

Bill Belichick [on the play of the defense] –  You know, I thought we played competitively. We still have a lot of things to work on. There’s a lot of things we can improve on, so we’ll just go back to work this week and just keep grinding away. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re making progress.

Devin McCourty – was asked about the changes to the new pass interference rules and if the referees have done a good job of explaining it to the players. He is not a fan. “I’m never a fan of those meetings. I feel like they go however we ask the question, and then once we get in the season you might as well throw that whole meeting away. So Bill always says it the best; week-by-week. We have to go how the game is being called, and we have to adjust to it.”

Jakobi Meyers – wasn’t pleased with the way his early snaps with Brady went, but was happy to be able to persevere. He had this to say about sitting down with Brady. “Tom has played for a long time so when he wants to sit down and talk, you sit down and talk with an open ear. I am just trying to listen to everything he says, soak it up and get better.”

 Jarrett Stidham Is Ahead of His Projections And Learning His Craft:

The NFL Draft isn’t an exact science, we all know that. Some players have superstar potential and never make it. Others, aren’t very highly sought after but thru hard work, belief in themselves, and a burning desire to succeed will rise far above their projected ceiling when the draft rolls around. 

Take Tom Brady, drafted in the 6th round,199th overall in 2000. No one thought he’d amount to much. Now 20 years later, he stands alone at the absolute pinnacle of the sport. Which brings us to this year’s 4th round draft choice Jarrett Stidham, the rookie QB from Auburn. 

Stidham played in an offense at Auburn that really stunted his growth as an NFL QB. He too wasn’t highly thought of and his selection barely registered across NFL circles. He struggled in minicamp and even threw an interception in a walkthru. When training camp started, he frequently held the ball too long and struggled to make a decision. Although he throws a really nice ball, he was struggling with his reads, things that not uncommon with rookie QBs. 

But with each passing day, he was learning …and improving. He’s steadily got better and watching him on Thursday night against the Panthers it didn’t resemble anything close to the kid who struggled so badly on Day 1 of Training Camp. I reached out to Mark Schofield, who is an outstanding analyst, especially when it comes to QBs. He wrote a very nice piece on QB Development for Pro Football Weekly in the annual draft issue. He writes for Inside the Pylon and does a really good podcast on Pats Pulpit. I had spoken to Mark in the spring after the Patriots had drafted Stidham and wanted to get his take on how far he’s progressed. He had several interesting takes on the rookie.

“Progress is probably the best way to phrase this,” Schofield said. “The really interesting thing is the mental development, you saw it against the Lions… I love those ‘no-throw’ moments when the QB doesn’t throw a pass that was expected and then go back and to find out why.”

On this particular play, the Patriots were running a two-receiver set known as “Rope”, where the slot receiver runs a slant and then breaks to the outside. The outside receiver runs a route that is dependent on the coverage but is normally a go route. This play is designed to defeat a Cover 2 which is what the Lions defense was aligned in. “The QB wants to throw that route in the flat,” Schofield said. Stidham held the ball and scrambled for five yards…no big deal right? Wrong, says Schofield. 

“The Lions were running what they call a ‘Cover 5 Cougar’ which is Cover 2 man underneath trap coverage, which is specifically designed to stop this kind of play. The cornerback backpedals for just a moment with the outside vertical route, and if he sees the inside receiver run this route to the flat, he peels off the outside receiver and crashes—or “traps”—the out route. But the corner is still reading the slot receiver. even with his back to him. This tells the quarterback that the CB is bailing, but it is really just a wrinkle looking to bait the quarterback into throwing the flat route, and potentially an interception.”

“Stidham sees the coverage, drops back and begins to throw the ball but recognizes what the Lions are doing. He stops the throw and pulls down the ball and runs. It is a real heads up play for a rookie because it is a coverage that fools even veteran QBs. And when you’re seeing the progress there, going from tossing picks in a walk-thru to recognizing the coverage and reacting like this, it is huge progress.”

“I think he’s made a huge impression on this coaching staff and his progress has been excellent, I’ve been really impressed with him,” Schofield added.

The Auburn offense wasn’t a great fit for a QB with his talents and until he hit the Senior Bowl this spring, he wasn’t considered a coveted prospect. But playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Mobile was an eye-opener. “There were times, that I thought he was the best QB down there…not Daniel Jones or anybody else,” Schofield said. 

Schofield added, “when I got a chance to talk to him, I asked him what his favorite offense was, in the ones he’d run, and he said, ‘Everything this week.’”

He was a really good fit in a pro-style offense, and Schofield said that you could see him moving defenders with his eyes, and going thru reads quickly. “So the fit with him coming to New England was pretty good.”

So, the question now is, do the Patriots believe that Stidham can handle the offense if anything were to happen to Brady and part ways with Hoyer, keeping only two quarterbacks. 

“It is a really tough question because they have so many tough decisions to make at other positions… when you look at some of the players that they have at, say…wide receiver or the defensive line, the coaches could say, we have to make a choice here. But ideally, they’d find a way to keep all three. But the fact that we’re having this conversation tells you how much he’s progressed.”

“This is another example of how the Patriots approach things,” Schofield said. “They don’t concern themselves with what he can’t do, they focus on the things that he does well. They saw the arm talent, his processing speed and they liked the potential in him and he’s in a good position to learn, not just from Tom Brady but from Josh McDaniels as well. It is a great environment to learn.”

While no one is anointing him for Canton just yet or that he’s the heir apparent to Tom Brady, it at least shows the coaching staff, that they may have something in him and he’s going to get more put on his plate as they attempt to further develop him.

We’ll have the entire interview with Mark Schofield available shortly on our YouTube channel.

Patriots Defense Ahead Of Schedule This Year:

The Patriots’ defense went through a ton of changes this spring. They lost the versatile and important Trey Flowers as well as former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But the losses on the coaching staff left the team with literally the cupboard bare. De facto DC and LBs coach Brian Flores went to Miami along with cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, while defensive line coach Brendan Daly bolted for Kansas City. 

Greg Schiano was hired as the new Defensive Coordinator but soon after stepped down. Jerod Mayo was hired the next day as the inside linebackers coach. Bret Bielema, who was already on the staff took over the d-line. DeMarcus Covington took over the outside linebackers coaching position, while Mike Pellegrino is now the cornerbacks’ coach. Steve Belichick remains the safeties coach.

On the field, it seems like this crew has been together for years. And Bill Belichick has assembled a really deep and talented crew from top to bottom with some very experienced players mixed in with 2nd-year players and rookies that are meshing together extremely well. 

The defense last year struggled especially against the run and getting after the QB early in the year. Their slow start wasn’t anything especially new, Belichick likes to add more and more as the season goes on and build on things. By the end of the season, they had things figured out and ended the regular season and went into the playoffs with a much more aggressive, attacking mindset. The results spoke for themselves, as they held the Rams to just three points in the Super Bowl. 

That slow build-up looks to have been accelerated this season. The 2019 Patriots have the potential to be a very special group, perhaps even rivaling the 2004 team. With depth at all three levels, this group is already a confident, versatile bunch and their play on the field bears that out.

While comparing them to the 2004 unit may be a stretch at this early juncture, look at the depth and versatility at the linebacker position. A year ago it was a position of concern, now, they may have to part with some players who could contribute, not just here but with other teams as well. The cornerback group is as deep as I’ve ever remembered and has the ability to mix and match with any opponent matchups.

Last year, the team couldn’t find any takers for joint practices and they entered the regular season not as prepared as the coaching staff would have liked, not surprisingly, the defense wasn’t good as the team limped out to a 1-2 start. 

The back-to-back joint practice sessions with the Lions and Titans have this team in a much better position. But the pieces were already in place this spring. There has been a collective confidence brewing since the first OTAs with the defensive group. Since training camp has started this unit has looked really strong. The Patriots offense really struggled in the first days of training camp which led to the question, “Is it the defense being really good, or just the offense being really bad?” 

The joint practices and the preseason game with the Lions reinforced that it was indeed the defense being “that good”. The Patriots offense looked very good in Detroit while the defense stifled the Lions. During the game, they wracked up nine sacks and held the Lions to just three points. 

At home against the Panthers, they held Carolina’s offense in the first half to just 29 yards, two first downs, and 0-5 on third down. The confidence that the unit is playing with is far ahead of where they normally are at this time of year. But what was more impressive is that they liberally rotated a lot of players with the top unit. Game planning for this unit? A total of 13 players have sacks thru three games.

They even dusted off the old Bears 46 Defense with two LBs on the line of scrimmage on the strong side which resulted in a sack. That will give the Steelers’ coaches something to think about in two weeks. That’s the first real test and a very big one as Pittsburgh’s offense looks stacked once again. 

Holding for Field Goals, Why Use Punters and Not WRs?

After the missed field goal connection between Jake Bailey and Stephen Gostkowski I got a good question on Twitter this Friday, a follower asked, “Why would the Patriots [and other teams] use a punter as a holder for extra points and field goals and not a wide receiver who is used to handling the ball?”

This is a very good question and I remember thinking the same thing several years ago. So, with that in mind, a few years ago Bill Belichick was asked about that. And he always has good reasons to play Special Teams. Here are a few good reasons why teams use a punter rather than a WR. 

Punters, kickers, and long-snappers can work all week on their delivery and timing of kicks. While the WRs will be working on another part of the game plan. That allows them to dedicate nearly all of their time to this when a WR may not have as much.

Punters have good hands and have to handle the ball quickly and seamlessly. Any bobble will result in a blocked punt. And punters are used to working under pressure. Imagine a slew of big defensive linemen rushing at you and everything depends on handling the ball quickly and letting a kick go. 

Plus, punters aren’t injured nearly as much as wide receivers are so the continuity factor is always there.

Replacing Chung Is No Easy Task in the Secondary:

Patriots safety Pat Chung is facing arraignment for possession of cocaine charges in New Hampshire this coming week. He may not actually see his court case heard until next year. So, any suspension from the NFL may not come until next year. But depending upon the circumstances of his case, the league could act sooner. 

Chung, however, may still not play in the season opener as he’s missed the entire preseason and has worn a red non-contact jersey all through training camp as he’s been recovering from a broken arm suffered in the Super Bowl as well as off-season shoulder surgery. So, who steps up and plays his role against the Steelers if he isn’t ready to go?

We may see a mixture of Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks if he’s out. Brooks was mainly a special teams’ contributor with the Jets but this summer, he’s gotten a lot of reps with the top defensive unit. Harmon has been used more as another deep safety. Brooks accounted well for himself in joint practices and the preseason and could step into the role, but Chung does so much it is no easy task. 

Chung plays the in-the-box safety run support role, a linebacker in dime coverage, at times even playing in the slot as well as providing backup support as a third punt returner for special teams when needed. One other player to watch may be rookie corner Joejuan Williams who can be asked to cover the tight ends with his size. 

Hopefully, Chung will be ready to go against Pittsburgh and in uniform that night. But if he isn’t, it would be expected his place would be taken not by one player but multiple ones.

Due to the longer than normal [nearly 3000 words] Patriots notes this week, we are not running our AFC East Notes this Sunday, but they’ll be back next week for sure.

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“I think Jarrett’s pocket presence is good. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. Certainly, when you’re comparing him to the other two quarterbacks on our roster, guys who have played a lot of football in this league, it’s quite a gap in experience. I’m sure those are things that Jarrett will get better at. [It is] probably about what you would think it would be given the difference in experience that you’re comparing him to – to players in our offense running the same plays that he does. So, it’s hard to compare one quarterback in one system to a quarterback in a completely different system, but in our case, we have three quarterbacks all in the same system. It’s an obvious comparison. He’s getting better. I think he does a good job, but there’s room for improvement, certainly.”
Bill Belichick on how Jarrett Stidham’s pocket presence has improved 8-23

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

What to Watch For, Preseason Week 3 Patriots vs Panthers

Steve Balestrieri
August 22, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots are taking on the Carolina Panthers tonight in Foxboro for the third preseason game for both teams. This is the week that the starters traditionally see a lot of game action. But I have always disliked the term “dress rehearsal”, so for the eighth year in a row here at PatsFans.com, I’ll use my favorite quote from Willie Nelson. My wife and I spent time back and onstage with Willie at one venue and partied on his bus with him at others. [Those are stories for a different time.] But Willie’s words ring true.

“There are no dress rehearsals, we are professionals and this IS the big time”

So, both teams’ starters should see about a half of work and maybe a series in the second half to get acclimated to the entire process. This will be Cam Newton’s first game action this year after off-season shoulder surgery. So, he may not be as apt as he’s shown in the past about tucking the ball away and running with it. This will also be Tom Brady’s first preseason action this summer.

So, what are we looking for from a Patriots perspective tonight? 

Can Brady and the New Faces Click on Offense?

Julian Edelman came off of NFI on Monday, Demaryius Thomas was removed from PUP on Tuesday. I don’t imagine either will play. Josh Gordon is still on NFI and has already been ruled out of tonight’s game. N’Keal Harry just returned to practice this week and may not play either. 

So, this will be a really big test for Jakobi Meyers, going against the top Carolina defense as Brady’s go-to receiver. Phillip Dorsett and Braxton Berrios should also get a lot of snaps with the first unit. 

This should be a good time to see how Sony Michel and Damien Harris are used out of the backfield in the passing game, something they’ve worked on this summer. We know James White’s value there, but the coaches made a concerted effort to by more unpredictable this summer. Michel and Harris should handle the bulk of the work in the running game. Isaiah Wynn’s workload should increase this week and we want to see how he handles this as well as how he holds up against a stout Panthers defense.

Matt LaCosse is back on the field after being injured in Detroit, and this is his opportunity to shine. No one has really stepped up at tight end this summer, so this a big chance to carve out a role with the team. 

How Well the Front Seven [Starters] can Create Pressure:

We’ve seen the top guys dominate in workouts and joint practices. The second and third-tier guys have looked really good in preseason games, but now the starters get to show their stuff. And they get a good test against a Panthers team that has given them problems in the past.

With players like Micheal Bennett, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy getting into their first game action of the year, mixing in Jamie Collins, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, and John Simon, we’ll get a better idea on how they are planning on using these players. In particular, will the coaches continue to be aggressive and we’ll be wanting to see the personnel groupings that they will rollout.

This front seven looks deep and versatile, with guys like Chase Winovich, Shalique Calhoun, and Derek Rivers coming on later to spell the starters, the 2019 front seven is as deep a unit the Patriots have had since the 2003-2004 teams.

Watching the Starting Secondary Gel On the Field:

This secondary unit of the Patriots is one of the more stronger ones in the league and arguably the deepest secondary unit that Bill Belichick has coached since he took over the reins of the Patriots in 2000.

Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty give the team their top three boundary corners. Jonathan Jones has easily bested former 2nd round pick Duke Dawson for the top slot corner. Now watching the starters and their communication with Devin McCourty and Pat Chung at safety is a step. This unit hasn’t played together in a game since the Super Bowl. This is a big week of preparation for the season. Many of them probably won’t play next week. 

Dawson should see plenty of reps in the second half as he’s one of the guys who is fighting for a roster spot. Joejuan Williams, the rookie 2nd round CB, who has improved markedly since training camp began and Keion Crossen should also see a lot of work in the second half.

Special Teams Get Ready For Week 1:

With the release of Ryan Allen, Jake Bailey has won the starting punting position. But the pressure doesn’t let up now, it just gets even tougher. He’s replacing a very popular player with the fanbase and this will be his first game action in Foxboro. He’ll also be tasked with holding on field goal and extra-point attempts. It will be important for him to get off to a good, clean start.

Stephen Gostkowski has missed field goals in each of the first two games, whether that was all on him or something in the exchange between Joe Cardona and his new holder Bailey will bear watching. For all of the fans who would like to see the third most accurate kicker in NFL history replaced, who is out there and most importantly available? Other than the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, Gostkowski is right up there with the best kickers in the game. With a better career accuracy average than the guy he replaced 14 years ago.

The kick return game will bear particular watching tonight. Braxton Berrios or Gunner Olszewski’s roster spot may depend on how well they produce in the kick return game. 

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 game analysis.