Tag Archives: Adam Butler

Patriots Defense Looks Ready For 2019 With 10-3 Win Over Carolina

Steve Balestrieri
August 23, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots improved to 3-0 in the preseason with a 10-3 win over the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. 

As we’ve seen during the first two preseason games with mainly the backup defense, the starting unit played for the first time and was dominating, holding Carolina to just 29 yards in five first-half drives. The Panthers could only manage two first downs and were 0-5 on third downs, managing just 1.7 yards per play. 

Once again, despite not having “a dominant pass rusher” the unit hounded Cam Newton for a few series before he left with a foot injury after being sacked by Adam Butler. Newton played in his first preseason action after offseason surgery. 

The starting unit registered three sacks with Butler, Michael Bennett, and Kyle Van Noy taking down the Panthers’ QB. Ufombra Kamalu had the Patriots other sack. Carolina only had a total of 99 yards of offense with 48 passing and 51 rushing and could only muster seven first downs in the entire game.

Other observations include:

Brady Looks Sharp In Preseason Debut:

Tom Brady and much of the first unit offense were in for three series and scored one touchdown, with the other two drives wiped out by penalties. With no Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Demaryius Thomas, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, and Josh Gordon [NFI] in the lineup, Brady was targeting mainly Phillip Dorsett [5 targets, 5 catches for 41 yards] and rookie Jakobi Meyers.

Meyers got off to a rough start with Brady. He stopped running on a deep route, had a drop on a drag route where the pass was slightly behind him and had another pass batted away by cornerback James Bradberry. 

Brady ended up 8-12 for 75 yards, his two best throws were an 18-yard laser down the seam to Ryan Izzo and a nicely zipped pass on the outside to Dorsett. He looks ready to go. 

Dorsett and Michel Shine in Early Action: 

Dorsett was targeted five times by Brady and twice by Stidham and hauled in all seven passes thrown his way.  He looked quick off the line and sure-handed as he and Brady were locked in one another. It was a good veteran performance as he stepped up with all of the other players missing and with Harris missing, Dorsett has solidified his grip on a roster spot. Many have him neck and neck with Harris. He didn’t hurt his chances with a solid game tonight.

Michel looked quick to the hole, decisive and elusive. He made people miss with some outstanding, explosive cuts and looks absolutely ready for the regular season. While he had just 36 yards on 10 carries, those numbers are skewed somewhat as he had two runs including a really nice 30-yard run wiped out by a holding penalty downfield, [Meyers] and was stuffed on the goal line twice, once where the TE [Saubert] missed his block.  

Starting Offensive Line Play Encouraging, Backups…Not So Much:

The Patriots starting unit did a good job of protecting Brady and other than some holding penalties that have to be cleaned up, did a nice job of opening holes for Michel and the running game. And this was against a very good Carolina front seven. 

The starting unit of Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon was solid overall. Wynn, other than a whiff on a screen to Dorsett once again appears to be well on his way after his injury last summer that wiped out his rookie season.

The backup offensive linemen had a rougher evening. Carolina sacked Jarrett Stidham five times and registered eight QB hits. While two of the sacks were the result of the rookie QB holding the ball too long, this wasn’t a great night for the backups.

Injuries Pile Up:

There were several players who didn’t suit up on Thursday night. N’Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Josh Gordon [NFI], Cam Meredith [PUP], Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater, Obi Melifonwu, Patrick Chung, Trent Harris, Martez Ivey, Yodny Cajuste [NFI], Matt LaCosse, Shalique Calhoun, and Derek Rivers. Edelman, James White, and Demaryius Thomas dressed but didn’t play.

During the game, Kyle Van Noy, Nate Ebner, Damien Harris, Ben Watson, Gunner Olszewski, Lance Kendricks, and Stephen Anderson all left with injuries. Van Noy and Ebner returned, the rest did not. Brandon King was carted off with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. 

Quick Hitters:

Jarrett Stidham – once again appeared good, not as good as last week but his protection wasn’t nearly as strong. Belichick made the decision to replace Brady not with Brian Hoyer, but with the rookie. This was a chance to see what the rookie can do against the better players who will be there in the fall. They know what they have in Hoyer, so he sat. Stidham completed 15-19 for 134 yards. He hit some tight windows.

Gunner Olszewski – had a really good night in the punt return game. He called for a fair catch on his first where it appeared he had plenty of room to run, but after that he had four returns for 63 yards. He caught one pass for 15 yards from Stidham and it was then that he was injured and didn’t return.

Stephen Gostkowski – missed a field goal for the third straight game although this one was firmly on the hands of rookie Jake Bailey who put the ball down with the laces facing the kicker….”laces out Dan!” This will have to be cleaned up moving forward.

Jake Bailey – Speaking of the rookie, despite his gaffe holding for the field goal, he was outstanding in his punting, averaging 48 yards in his four attempts, putting two inside the 20-yard line and with excellent hang time. The Panthers had just five yards on three punt returns, because of how long the ball was in the air. 

Calvin Munson – continues his strong summer. He appears quick and is all over the field. He had four tackles, one for a loss, plays special teams and with King down, may just crack the 53-man roster.

Jakobi Meyers – After an inauspicious start with Brady, the rookie WR settled down with Stidham and made seven catches 74 yards. He’s shown good chemistry with Brady during joint practices, he’ll have to learn from this and shake it off. 

Penalties – The yellow flags continue to pile up against the Patriots, this has to be a very sore spot with Belichick and the coaching staff. Last week they got flagged numerous times for hands to the face, tonight it was holding. However, the Panthers did challenge two non-call Defensive Pass Interference plays and both were upheld.

The Giants come in a week from tonight for the final preseason tilt. 

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.

Patriots Bringing Back DL Danny Shelton

Steve Balestrieri
May 21, 2019 at 6:33 am ET

The Patriots have been much more active it seems in the May portion of Free Agency than they were earlier this spring. They signed DT Danny Shelton to a one-year which will add depth to their defensive line, first reported by Field Yates of ESPN.

A 6’2, 345-pound run-stuffing interior lineman, Shelton was acquired by the Patriots in trade in March of 2018 for a fifth-round draft pick. He played in 13 games and had 21 tackles. He was a healthy scratch for three straight games in Weeks 13-15, where the Patriots struggled to contain the run.

He appeared in two of the Patriots post-season games (scratched against KC), and made two tackles and generally played very well. The Patriots declined the fifth-year option for Shelton which made him a free agent. That would have paid him over $5 million.

He was drafted by the Browns in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft (12th overall) out of Washington. He never blossomed into the player Cleveland hoped he would and was considered expendable and was dealt to the Patriots. In his three seasons with the Browns, he appeared in 46 games, starting 45, and notched 128 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Shelton’s addition gives the Patriots two large run-stuffing tackles (he and Mike Pennel) and two interior disruptors Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. The team also has David Parry and this year’s fifth-round draft choice Byron Cowart. He was brought in by Cincinnati early in free agency for a visit but wasn’t offered a contract.

In a corresponding move, the Patriots released OL Jake Eldrenkamp who they signed earlier this season. Originally an UDFA signed by the Rams in 2017, the 6’5, 305-pound Eldrenkamp spent time on the Rams and Browns practice squads the past two years.

Patriots 2019 Draft Profiles – Defensive Tackle

Steve Balestrieri
April 1, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is never easy.

So, with that in mind, we’ve been taking a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And next up is the defensive tackle position. The Patriots lost former first-round pick Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton during free agency. But then they turned around and signed Mike Pennel of the Jets, who we called for before free agency began on one of our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts. You can go back and listen to that here .

With a plethora of draft picks, the Patriots could still swing a trade for an established veteran, which we assume, they’ll try to do. One veteran who has been linked to the Patriots (I know, isn’t everybody?), is Chiefs DT Allen Bailey. Or the team can add thru the draft and they can possibly do both.

Here’s a list of some guys slotted to go early in the draft, in the mid-rounds and some late round guys that we believe would be a good fit here. We can start off by saying that we’d love Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver from Houston, or Christian Wilkins from Clemson. But none of those guys in our opinion will last long enough for the Patriots to pounce…so we move on. One name to keep an eye on is Mississippi State’s, Jeffery Simmons. He was a top 4 interior DL on most boards but tore his ACL while prepping for the draft. He could be a steal later.  

Dexter Lawrence, Clemson:

Lawrence is a natural two-gap run stuff who was an anchor in Clemson’s outstanding defense in 2018. He is a huge 6’4, 342-pound immovable object in the middle of the defense, but is not fat. He’s surprisingly athletic for his size with incredible size and strength. He’s a natural nose guard in the Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata mold.

Pros :

  • Outstanding run defender
  • Quick off the line
  • Doesn’t give ground on double teams
  • Very disruptive inside

Cons:

  • Not a great pass rusher
  • Can tire easily, works best in a rotation
  • PED red flag caused him to be suspended for the playoffs and championship

What his Role Will Be: Lawrence could step in and start on Day 1 as a two-down run stuffer. The Pats love big guys who can play over the nose.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Not much, he should have a big role right off the bat, if anything, with some improved pass rush moves, he could see more snaps

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Lawrence would replace either Shelton or Brown as another big body on the inside as a run stuffer

What is his ST Value? None

Lawrence has that big red flag when he tested positive for Ostarine and was suspended for all of Clemson’s playoff run. But if those issues are capped, he would immediately provide a huge presence inside against the run and would immediately become quite popular with the linebackers.

Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame:

Tillery is a guy that has been frequently linked to the Patriots lately in many mock drafts. Tillery played in a rotation his first two years and was a starter for his final two. He has excellent size, (6’6, 295), speed (4.93), and athleticism (7.45 in the Three Cone) for a man of his size.  

Pros :

  • Excellent penetrator in a one-gap scheme
  • Quick off the snap
  • Good closing speed on runners
  • Improving as a pass rusher, went from 4.5 to 8 sacks in 2018

Cons:

  • Plays too tall and upright at times
  • Had maturity issues earlier in college
  • Many interests outside of football have some questioning his commitment

What his Role Will Be: Tillery also could step in and start on Day 1 as a one-gap penetrating interior lineman.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Depending on how much is asked of him in Year 1, he could see a huge uptick in snaps in Year 2

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Tillery would replace the aforementioned free agents but could cut into the snap totals of Adam Butler, the interior pass rusher in the NE defense

What is his ST Value? Minimal, potential kick blocker on FGs/EPs.

Watching the tape of Tillery, one is immediately reminded of Stephon Tuitt. He is an interesting prospect and there were times last year, where he appeared absolutely dominant inside. He has that potential. If the Patriots go after him, they’d be more of a one-gap penetration type of defensive call. Tillery, like Lawrence, is a 1st or 2nd round pick.

Gerald Willis, Miami:

Willis is another one-gap penetrator who has had some off-field issues but was a very productive player for the Canes this season. Willis was very disruptive in the backfield with a terrific blend of quickness, and agility with excellent hand usage. He had 18 tackles for a loss and 4 sacks rushing from the interior.

Pros :

  • Very athletic for a big man
  • Very quick off the snap
  • Hands are quick and powerful
  • Ideal fit is a 3-technique in a 4-3 defense

Cons:

  • Gets too upright at times
  • Red flags at Florida and Miami earlier will have to be checked out.
  • Could add some size and strength at the NFL level

What his Role Will Be: Willis could initially start as a 3rd down interior guy and gradually work his way up to being a three-down lineman

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With improved size, strength and technique, Willis could become a very effective all-around player.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one, he isn’t a two-gapping space eater

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Willis is a guy who when he’s on his game, literally jumps off the screen on tape. He’s very disruptive and has the type of penetration skills the NFL is looking for. He can get washed out at times in the running game and won’t be a two-gap guy but has a ton of upside.

Isaiah Buggs, Alabama:

Buggs is another one of those Alabama defensive linemen who they played out on the edge but will move inside at the next level. Good size at 6’3, 306 pounds. He’s versatile and can one-gap or two-gap. Buggs didn’t test well at the NFL Combine and that may cause his draft stock to go down.

Pros :

  • Had a productive 2018, with 9.5 sacks
  • Very quick off the snap and instinctive
  • Very good physicality
  • Versatile, interior pass rusher

Cons:

  • Very short arms
  • Long speed a question
  • Pass rush repertoire lacking

What his Role Will Be: Buggs will be a guy that will have to be more consistent at the next level. But it seems he could fill in at any down as a one, or two-gapping lineman.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With coaching and consistency, he has the talent to be an every-down player from the interior for the team

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Brown or Shelton on the interior, but has work to do.

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Buggs is a good, but not a great interior pass rusher. He cleaned up last year because of Quinnen Williams being next to him. But he can be a productive interior rusher at the pro level. He’s versatile and can play 3-technique, 5-technique, out wide in a 3-4 look or as a nose shade defensively. Buggs is a mid-round prospect whose versatility good be a good fit with the Patriots.

Renell Wren, Arizona State:

Wren is kind of a sleeper and could be a “boom or bust” prospect at the next level. At this time he may be a better athlete than football player and whatever team drafts him may require patience until he can show his potential.

Pros :

  • Physically imposing
  • Freaky athlete, great explosion
  • Disruptive in the gaps
  • Can play one or two-gap style

Cons:

  • Production doesn’t match physical traits
  • Bad footwork needs fixing
  • Plays upright too much

What his Role Will Be: Wrenn is a developmental guy, in his first year, he may see the field only sparingly but has the physical capability for much more.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With hard work with his coaches on his hand and footwork, he has the ability to be a pocket pusher inside.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one, he’ll be trying to make the roster as a project.

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Wrenn is a good gamble for a late round pick, if he’s there in the 6th or 7th round, he could be an enticing player with a lot of potential upside. He’s got the size at 6’5, 318 pounds to be a very enticing prospect.

Daylon Mack, Texas A&M:

Mack is still somewhat of a raw talent and plays the zero technique, as a true nose tackle. Mack underwhelmed for three years at A&M but a coaching shuffle brought the most out of him in his senior season. He’s a 6’1, 336 bowling ball who flashed big time at the Senior Bowl, being basically immovable at the point of attack.

Pros :

  • Very stout, thick build, perfect for a NT
  • Immovable object against double teams
  • Excellent leg drive
  • Can disrupt with good initial quickness

Cons:

  • Just phone booth quickness
  • Not a good pass rusher
  • Gets too upright as he tires

What his Role Will Be: Mack is a classic nose tackle in the Wilfork, Ngata mold. He can eat two gaps and be a two-down run stuffer.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With some increased pass rush moves, he could see a slight uptick in playing time

How Many Downs Can He Play? Two

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He is a good run stuffing replacement for the departed Brown and Shelton.

What is his ST Value? None

Mack is a guy who the NFL is moving away from, with the trend moving towards pass rushing specialists, but the Patriots love a big guy who can set the anchor and two gap over the nose. He’s probably going to go later in the draft and would be a big body who can defend the run and be a good disruptor for two downs.

Other players that could fit the Patriots defense depending on how the board plays out, include Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M, Ed Alexander, LSU, Chris Slayton, Syracuse, and Daniel Wise, Kansas (brother of Deatrich)

_______________________

The Patriots will address the defensive tackle position in the draft and still possibly add a veteran free agent. After losing Brown and Shelton in free agency, they were thin there but the addition of Mike Pennel should immediately ease some of that as he should get starter reps right off the bat.

They have Adam Butler who is more of an interior pass rusher like Wise who they can kick inside, Lawrence Guy is a big man who can stuff the run and generate some pass rush. I’d look for another big man inside who can anchor and take on double teams but there are some very disruptive, penetrating tackles in this draft. It should be interesting to see how they approach this year’s crop of rookies.

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.

Best Of Social Media: Preseason Week 3 Patriots vs Panthers

Robert Alvarez
August 25, 2018 at 6:51 pm ET

The New England Patriots entered Thursday nights preseason matchup with the Carolina Panthers for the final “dress rehearsal” before the opening of the 2018 regular season.

Before the game, it was reported that quarterback Tom Brady was expected to play “extensively” and into the second half.

#Lfg ✈️

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Work time

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Charles Darwin.

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https://twitter.com/JoeGiza/status/1033095299357712390

https://twitter.com/JoeGiza/status/1033126652123996162

In the first quarter, the Patriots offense struggled to find the red zone on their few drives, but the defense made big plays and held the Panthers to two Graham Gano field goals.

After one, 6-0 Panthers.

In the second, wide receiver Julian Edelman showed of his recovery progress as he returned to his old ways of being clutch on third down.

https://twitter.com/Patriots/status/1033349640114950145

In what could be a sign of things to come in 2018, Brady connected with Phillp Dorsett following an audible at the line.

https://twitter.com/CaseyBake16/status/1033150178965037056

The drive led to the Patriots first points of the game, a 27-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.

Unfortunately despite Brady’s solid first half, the team was unable to get much going in the red zone and found themselves down a pair of field goals heading into halftime at 9-3.

Halftime 9-3 Panthers.

As the second half opened, things got a little weird for returner Cyrus Jones, who’s jersey looked like some Spider-Man webbing.

The Panthers meanwhile, extended their lead to eleven following a 7 play 50 yard drive capped off by a Taylor Heinicke one yard run.

15-3 Panthers with 9:09 remaining in the third.

Gano would tack on a 47 yard field goal to up the score to 18-3 after three. The Patriots offense remained silent.

In the fourth, the Panthers broke it open when backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert found Mose Frazier for a six yard touchdown. 25-3 Panthers.

With just three minutes remaining in the game, the Patriots delt with another injury situation as running back Jeremy Hill limped off the field following this play.

Hill appeared to be okay in the locker room after the game.

With the game winding down, the Patriots finally found the end zone on a Mike Gillislee two yard run, he would then convert the two point conversion.

25-14 Panthers and that would be how it would end.

The Patriots conclude the 2018 preseason with a trip to the Meadowlands to take on the New York Giants next Thursday night at 7pm.

Super Cam & TB12.

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Pass Rush, Brady Shine in Patriots Preseason Win Over Philly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other observations include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New England Patriots News 1-21, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 21, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-21, & AFC East Notes.

Another week, another crazy news week as Tom Brady’s hand injury has dominated the talk all week. We know that he indeed injured his hand during practice this week during a collision with a running back. And thankfully the X-Rays were negative. But the amount of speculation on what exactly the injury is, especially by trying to diagnose it from a picture at practice while his hand was covered with a glove? Over the top.

We’ll see how badly (or not) his hand is injured today just after 3 p.m. today.

Gronkowski’s Postseason Numbers are Impressive: One other quick tidbit for today’s game. In his last six postseason games, Rob Gronkowski has totaled 37 catches for 512 yards and seven touchdowns. And the big man is healthy this year and anxious to play.

It will be interesting to see how well the Jaguars cover him today and how they go about it. If they can cover him with single coverage, it will go a long way in being a great day for their defense. If they are forced to double him, it pulls coverage away from someone else. We’ll be looking for them to rotate different looks at him.  

Belichick Skews the Parity Numbers of the NFL:
In a league that is supposed to be obsessed with the idea of parity, the Patriots under Bill Belichick have thumbed their collective noses at that suggestion once again. Today will mark the Patriots seventh straight conference championship appearance another record and a feather in the cap for Belichick who remains without peer as an NFL coach. The amazing thing is he does it year after year and is never even one of the top names for coach of the year. Head shaking to say the least.

Speaking of Belichick, Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated penned a fantastic piece this week of Bill and his long-time friendship with Nick Saban, the six-time National Championship winning coach at Alabama. Belichick recalled that his father Steve, working with Saban as a young secondary coach at Navy in 1982, called him “one of the best coaches I worked with.”

The two coaches, vastly different in their approaches but exactly the same in the burning desire to learn all of the answers, aren’t the type to feel like they know everything. Instead, what makes them both so great is their continued desire to learn.

Harrison Signing Looking Better and Better:
When the Patriots signed James Harrison after he was released by the Steelers, many, too many believed it was simply a ploy to learn the Steelers playbook by Bill Belichick. It was a short-sighted take at best.

Harrison has been a valuable contributor to the Patriots defense and in the regular season finale as well as the playoff game against the Titans, he’s played well while learning the New England defense on the fly. Harrison has played in over 45 percent of the defensive snaps and has been very good at setting the edge in the running game.

Bill Belichick spoke about his work on a conference call after the Tennessee game.  “He’s been good to work with,” Belichick said. “He’s a very experienced player. Some of our terminology is different, but he understands basic football concepts very well, and what his responsibility is, and how to play that responsibility.”

“He’s been good. He’s been very dependable. You can count on him, and that’s a good thing. It allows everybody to play aggressively. He’s an aggressive player and he’s been productive. He’s very professional. He wants to do well. He studies. He asks questions. I’ve enjoyed working with him.”

With the big, physical Leonard Fournette in the backfield for the Jaguars, Harrison could see an added workload this week. With a Patriots victory this afternoon, Harrison could be suiting up for New England in the Super Bowl. That won’t play out well in Pittsburgh.

By the Numbers:
Leading into today’s AFC Championship Game against the Jaguars, here are some interesting numbers that may be of interest:
2: Number of field goals Stephen Gostkowski needs to become the #3 kicker in postseason field goals made behind Adam Vinatieri and David Akers.
2: Number of Special Teams tackles that Matthew Slater needs to become the Patriots all-time postseason leader.
5: Number of defensive tackles that Devin McCourty needs to pass both Rodney Harrison and Vince Wilfork to become the #4 leading tackler in team postseason history.
6: Number of Red Zone takeaways by the Patriots defense in 2017, most in the NFL.
7: Amount of catches needed by Rob Gronkowski to pass Dallas Clark and become the NFL’s All-Time leading TE in postseason receptions.
7: The amount of 13-win seasons by Bill Belichick, the most in NFL history. George Seifert is second with 4.
11: The number of times the Patriots scored in the final minute of the first half in 2017.
12: Today will mark the 12th conference championship that Tom Brady will play in. He already owns the record at 11. Gene Upshaw and George Blanda (10) are in 2nd.
12: The number of seasons the Patriots defense has held opponents to 20 points or less since 2001. In 2017, 18.5 points allowed per game, 5th in the NFL.
13: Number of yards receiving that Rob Gronkowski needs to become the all-time playoff leader at tight end.
13: With his 337 yard passing performance last week, Tom Brady has 13, 300-yard passing games in the playoffs, the most in NFL history.
18: Home playoff wins by Tom Brady with a home record of 18-3 in the postseason.
40: Number of 25+ yard passes by Tom Brady, most by a QB in the NFL in 2017.
53: Amount of 4th Quarter comebacks by Tom Brady with the score tied or behind.
76: Touchdown receptions by Rob Gronkowski since 2010, most in the NFL
88: Most wins by a team since the 2012 season, next closest team is Green Bay (73)

Mitchell, Jones Go to IR,  the Injury Bug Continues:
The Patriots did not activate WR Malcolm Mitchell off of IR and the Patriots talented second-year player will have lost the entire season due to injury. There was the slim hope that he could be activated during the playoffs and possibly contribute in the conference title game or the Super Bowl if the team moves on.

Mitchell, a rookie in 2016 had a strong second half of the regular season and had a solid Super Bowl performance that had many predicting a nice jump in production this season. But an injury in training camp landed him on IR and he never recovered

Jonathan Jones, a key special teams performer as well as the team’s valuable nickel back contributor was injured in the Titans game and was also placed on season-ending IR this week. His place on the STs unit will be taken by Jonathan Bademosi.

Patriots Rookies, Ignore the Wall, Play Key Roles on Defense:
When one talks about the rookies who play in their first NFL season, the talk usually gets to the “Rookie Wall” in their first year in the league. The season is much longer than in college, then factor in preseason and playoffs and many times, the rookies, who’ve never played this long in a season, wear down.

But the Patriots have been fortunate that two of their rookies Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler have continued to play well and be key role players in the team’s front seven thru the end of the regular season and into the playoffs which continue today.

Wise, a 4th round draft pick from Arkansas impressed observers since the beginning of training camp. He carried himself like a seasoned pro and has had a solid 2017 rookie season with 5 sacks and 26 tackles playing in about half of the team’s defensive snaps.

Butler was an undrafted rookie free agent from Vanderbilt who no one gave a shot at making the 53-man roster in training camp. So he ended up on the roster the old-fashioned way…he earned it. Butler played in just under half the defensive snaps and has grown into his role, improving from week-to-week. Both young players will have to continue to step if the Patriots are to win today and continue on to Minnesota.  

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Divisional Weekend:
Divisional Weekend Last week 1-3 mark.

Conference Championship Weekend Picks
New England over Jacksonville
Minnesota over Philadelphia

Eastbound and Down – AFC East Notes:

Bills Get a Coup, Sign Daboll as Offensive Coordinator:
The Buffalo Bills started their offseason off with a bang, signing former Alabama OC Brian Daboll to run the Bills offense in 2018. Daboll brings a loaded resume with him to Orchard Park and the Buffalo offense will definitely look different next season.

Daboll has a National Championship in his only season on Nick Saban’s staff along with two Super Bowl wins as part of Bill Belichick’s crew in New England. Now Daboll and Head Coach Sean McDermott will have to decide what direction they’re going to go at the QB position. Will they stick with either Tyrod Taylor or Nathan Peterman or look to the Free Agents/NFL Draft to find their franchise QB. Most people believe Daboll would prefer a pure passer. This spring should be quite interesting for Bills fans.

Baker Mayfield Ignites Twitter with “Get Me to Miami” Post:
Oklahoma QB and Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield lit Twitter on fire with his comments on the social media page when he posted “#Get me to Miami” on his Instagram account this week.

Social media, being what it is at times exploded with hot takes with Mayfield supposedly taking the track that he only wanted to play for Miami.

The truth, is it so often is, was much more benign. Mayfield explained that he was just sending a message to former Oklahoma wide receiver standout and Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills. Mayfield’s post caused him to have to remark, “Just so everybody knows. … I commented about playing for Miami because I was talking to a former Sooner in Kenny Stills,” Mayfield said.

“Everybody can relax, I will play anywhere that gives me a chance. I’m not picky, I will go anywhere and strive to uplift a franchise and win ball games.”

Robby Anderson Gets Arrested and Threatens Cop: The Jets’ offseason didn’t get off swimmingly. NY wide receiver Robby Anderson was arrested by police in Sunrise, FL for going 105mph in a 45 mph zone. The police officer who arrested Anderson stated that he couldn’t maintain his lane and was “all over the roadway.”

Worse still was the fact that Anderson then threatened the police officer’s wife,  stating allegedly “I’m going to  f**k her and nut in her eye.” He’s facing nine charges and was arrested last spring at a music festival after refusing to sit on the ground and pushing a police officer.

Anderson totaled 63 catches for 941 yards and 7 touchdowns during the 2017 regular season.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Make No More Moves at the Trade Deadline, What About the Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2017 at 10:52 am ET

With the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, many people assumed that the Patriots would make another move bolster their edge rushing capability, either using that early 2nd round draft pick which is essentially a late first rounder to trade for an impact player or to use other trade capital to pick up another depth guy who could impact the pass rush.

But as the old saying goes, “It takes two to Tango” and one has to wonder if anyone out there was willing to help Bill Belichick and New England unless getting an exorbitant return.

But now the trading deadline is over and the question remains, what do they do about getting the pass rush up to an acceptable level. While it hasn’t been completely awful, it hasn’t blown anyone away either. The team obviously felt like they were in a good enough position that even with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving, that they’d be fine. Trey Flowers who came on strong late last season and Rob Ninkovich, the aging but still productive defensive end, gave them a good place to start. They drafted two young kids in top draft choice Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise. They brought in Kony Ealy, from the Carolina Panthers who they hoped would be a productive player from the inside. And they still had linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, all of whom had shown the ability the blitz either off the edge or up the A-gap.

But things haven’t worked out smoothly, Ninkovich retired in training camp, leaving a big hole of experience. Ealy couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the Patriots system and was released. The light was just beginning to come on a little bit for Rivers during camp when he was injured and placed on IR. McClellin was injured and placed on IR, but with the chance to return later this season. And the worst of all possible scenarios, Hightower, their leader and best player on the front seven, the captain who called the signals and the guy they could least afford to lose was injured against the Falcons and lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. What now?

Forced to Look Within: With a dearth of trading partners, the team now has to fill their needs from players that are already on the roster. Trey Flowers is already playing nearly all of the snaps defensively and asking him to do more is frankly not possible. However, if other players show the ability to step up, it would no doubt boost his productivity.

The team brought over Cassius Marsh from the Seahawks. He was known as primarily as a Special Teams guy there but was a guy, the other members of the defense raved about as an ascending player. He plays with a non-stop motor and is an excellent STs guy but is still learning the defense here. He’s not set the edge consistently and has lost containment on a few occasions. That happens with players that lack consistent playing time. But Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia and DL coach Brendan Daly will work with him on maintaining his edge responsibilities and he will be given plenty of chances to play himself into a bigger role.

Rookie Deatrich Wise and UDFA Adam Butler have both flashed at times. Wise too needs to maintain his edge responsibilities but they’ve both shown upside. Butler has interior pass rush potential. With Hightower down, the team moved Van Noy back to a more comfortable place with him on the outside now. David Harris who had been almost a ghost in the first six weeks of the season is sharing the inside linebacker role with Elandon Roberts.

Van Noy now calls the signals and wears the green dot for the receiving the calls from the sidelines. He can also chip in with pressure off the edge. The good news is that McClellin is back to practice and is eligible to return against the Broncos. He can do a bit of everything. Drop into coverage, rush the quarterback off the edge, and .play inside support in the running game. I foresee him doing more of the first two than the latter.

The much-maligned depth at the linebacking spot is actually looking pretty good once McClellin returns to the field. However, they can’t afford any more injuries there.

But with no trade help forthcoming at the deadline, the Patriots are going to need either one of the above-mentioned players to step up or have another role player take on added responsibility.

They have the week off with the bye and now is the time for the coaches to do some experimenting and possibly moving players around to shift the responsibilities around and see who can possibly step from the shadows to help the pass rush.

Could other Special Teams’ players such as Marquis Flowers or Trevor Reilly step up and play a bigger role? It is a possibility and don’t be surprised if the coaches put them out there to see if they can make the leap into a bigger part of the defense.

But now more than ever, they’ll have to use that Patriots mantra “Next Man Up”  

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 9-3, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 3, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning and welcome to your Sunday Patriots news 9-3 and AFC East notes.  One of the more interesting notes from Saturday was that the Patriots were waiting until after their scheduled 12:15 p.m. practice to make their final cuts. It isn’t like they didn’t already know who is going to make or not make the team. It does seem odd with their timing of things. I’d love to find out their reasoning behind it, although we never may.

Quick Analysis on the Four Trades this Weekend:
The Patriots made four moves over the period between Friday and Saturday by the time of the initial 53-man roster cut-down.

  • The trade of CB Justin Coleman to Seattle for a 7th Round draft pick was a win for both teams. Coleman had been outplayed by the top four corners as well as (in our opinion) Kenny Moore and D.J. Killings. By getting something for him, it was a win for NE as he didn’t fit in their plans.
  • The trade for Detroit’s Johnson Bademosi was a nice boost for the Pats. He didn’t fit into the Lion’s plans and they netted a 6th rounder in 2019. The Patriots got a good STs gunner in Bademosi and with several of the team’s STs performers banged up and facing KC with Tyreek Hill this week, smart move.
  • The team’s trade with Indianapolis was again, a win for both teams. Phillip Dorsett obviously didn’t fit in the Colts long-term plans. Ditto for Brissett in New England. Folks, Bill Belichick isn’t going to trade a QB that fits into their plans. That position is the hardest to fill in the NFL. With Julian Edelman on IR and Malcolm Mitchell banged up all summer, the Patriots will try to find a way to harness his 4.33 speed. With Dorsett, Cooks, and Hogan, the Patriots now have speed merchants to create matchup nightmares. Will it work? Time will tell.
  • The trade with Seattle later on Saturday afternoon was another good move by Bill Belichick. The team was releasing STs stalwart, Geneo Grissom. But he never made a dent on defense and with the team thin at the DE position, made the deal for the same draft pick they got from Seattle to give it back for DE Cassius Marsh. Marsh played nearly 80 percent of the Seahawks STs snaps in 2016 and is a versatile guy that plays on the edge or as an interior pass rusher.

Overall all of the trades worked out for the Patriots and the teams they dealt with. Seeing reports that the Pats “fleeced” the Colts is hogwash. The Colts were reportedly taking offers for Dorsett this week and with Andrew Luck not yet ready for action, they were in need of another QB. Brissett’s sharp performance on Thursday night must have been the deciding factor. Will all of these moves work out? Time will tell but overall the moves make sense for both teams across the board.

Patriots “Initial” 53-Man Roster Hardly Will Resemble Unit Later:
While the Patriots have made their initial cuts to get down to the 53-man roster limit, don’t get too wrapped up in who is here, especially at the bottom end of the roster.

If Bill Belichick and the staff have shown anything in the past several years it is that the roster will change, sometimes a lot in the early days of the season. I would expect the team to tweak the roster quite a bit in the next two weeks as we’ll see the coaches tinker with and find the players who best fit what they’re trying to do.

Then, as we’ve usually seen, the team will make a deal or two in-season to fill a need or to bolster the team’s depth. And as with the practice squad, which will be announced later today, this unit will see plenty of faces. So, don’t get too worked up over the roster construction, as it is currently constructed. There will be more changes coming.

Belichick Waxes Long on the Differences Between KRs/PRs:
There are times when Bill Belichick’s press conferences become “must-see” and great learning tools for the media and fans (live cast on Patriots.com). Whenever he’s talking about football history is always a perfect example. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at one last year when he spoke at length about forming a practice squad. On Friday, he was at it again when asked if a punt returner, as in a player who might not contribute much offensively or defensively, was worthy of a roster spot. His answer, long and articulate is the kind of stuff that makes his Friday pressers those must-attend events.

“I mean I’d say the ball-handling is critical,” Belichick said. “It’s like the long-snapper. How many plays is a long-snapper in for a game? Call it 10? I don’t know. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Eight to 10 extra-points, punts, field goals. But everybody carries a long-snapper.

“Of course the easy answer is if one person does both, that makes it a lot easier, and it also makes the overall roster discussion a lot easier,” Belichick stated. “The big difference, of course, is on kickoff returns you have a chance to build up your speed. You get a chance to handle the ball cleanly, and there’s nobody on top of you when you’re catching it. You’re able to run and set up your blocks and hit things full-speed . . . usually between the 20 and 30-yard line, where the coverage and the blockers and the wedge all sort of come together and the returners get a chance to set those blocks up and hit them and try to get through there.

The Patriots are looking for a punt returner now that Cyrus Jones has gone on IR. (SBalestrieri photo)

“Between the kick-returns and the punt-returns, maybe a couple less than that. But I’d say the difficulty of those jobs and the importance of them and core ball-handling, there’s not much of a way to lose a game quicker than that. I think it’s a high priority for everybody. When I say everybody, I say every team . . . We’ll have to see how it turns out, but it’s not an afterthought at all. It’s a priority.”

“The punting game is a lot more situational. Mostly on kickoffs, the ball’s always kicked from the same place. Rarely is there a difference; there are some, but they’re minimal — after a safety or that type of thing. But punting, the ball can be anywhere. The situation that they’re punting in can be quite diverse and sometimes complex. Punters are very good at directional punting and kicking different types of punts — end-over-end punts, spiral punts, spirals that don’t turn over and so forth. The ball-handling is a little more complex.

“And you have to deal with players around you as you’re catching the ball sooner or later. Sometimes a punter will outkick his coverage, but the majority of the time there’s some decision making involved on whether to catch it and how to make the first coverage player or two miss to get the return started, or fair-catch it, or to let it go and not catch the ball, or to let it go over your head and go into the end zone for a touchback. There’s a lot of decision-making on whether to just catch the ball, or whether to catch it and run with it, or whether to catch it and just fair-catch it that are quite different than the kickoffs.

“And then in addition to that, you’re dealing with defenders and coverage players that are on you a lot quicker on punt returns. Sometimes you only have a yard or two, or a couple yards, to get into space, make a guy miss, break a tackle, whereas kickoffs are much more of a build-up play. Because they’re so different a lot of times you don’t have the same player doing both.

“And on a personal opinion, because they’re so different, I find the two plays very fascinating and intriguing and a great part of the strategy of football. Just because the plays themselves are so different in the teaching… the rules, the skills and so forth. So that’s why I’m not in favor of . . . I take an opposing view to the people that want to eliminate kickoffs from the game and try to have as few kickoffs as possible. I think it’s an exciting play. It’s a unique play and one that is a big momentum play because of what happened the play before — the score or possibly the times at the start of the half where it’s kind of a tone-setter or a pace-setter for that opening play.

“So yeah they’re plenty different. And of course the same thing in the blocking. You have a chance to set up a return (on kickoffs), whereas on the punting side of it you have an option of trying to pressure the punter and block it or return it, but you kind of have to return it from the line of scrimmage. You can’t drop off too far because of the possibilities of fakes. So you have to keep enough guys up on the line of scrimmage to ensure that that ball is punted. And you have to ensure you’re not getting an onside kick, too, but again, that’s much less frequent and the rules are in the kick-return team’s favor on the onsides kick. It’s a big gamble for the kicking team to do that as a surprise tactic. So the blocking patterns and techniques of blocking are quite different on the punt returns compared to what they are on kickoff returns.” Mic drop.

Jacob Hollister was a surprise UDFA who made the initial 53-man roster out of preseason. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jacob Hollister Makes Initial 53-man Roster:
One of the good stories this spring was the Patriots signing of twin brothers Jacob and Cody Hollister as UDFAs.  And the news that Hollister at least initially made the roster was exciting news. He’s one of a few UDFAs that made the team along with Adam Butler, Harvey Langi, and Cole Croston. However, his brother Cody was released but may be brought back onto the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Hollister was (again in our opinion) the better option in the passing game than James O’Shaughnessy. He’s able to stretch the field, has good hands and has shown the ability to hold onto the ball. He’s more of a move tight-end and still needs some work on his blocking. But he got some good STs work in as well this summer. We liked him as soon as they signed him with his work in college and got to do one of his first interviews during training camp. Which can be revisited here:

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills Trade Seymour to Panthers for WR/KR Clay:
The Buffalo Bills have traded for Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kaelin Clay. Carolina got the Bills sent second-year cornerback Kevon Seymour. The Bills also acquired Carolina’s seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Clay will be expected to be a vertical threat for the Bills offense this season and will be called on to return kicks as well. He played for the Ravens in 2015 before getting injured and going on IR. He was out of football before signing with the Panthers this spring.

Miami Signs T.J. McDonald to a Four-Year Extension Worth $24 Million:
The Dolphins signed safety T.J. McDonald to a four-year extension on Saturday.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal is reportedly worth $24 million and includes $10 million in guarantees.

McDonald signed a one-year deal with Miami in the spring despite being hit with an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. The suspension begins this week.

Jets Trade Seahawks for Jermaine Kearse and Give Up Sheldon Richardson:
The New York Jets addressed one of their needs by getting wide receiver help by trading DL Sheldon Richardson to Seattle for WR Jermaine Kearse. The Jets also get a 2nd round draft pick in 2018. The teams also swapped their 5th round draft picks.

Kearse has always been very productive but is coming off of a down year in 2016 when he logged only 41 catches for 510 yards and one touchdown. The Jets will obviously be expecting much more.

Richardson, 26, has spent his entire career with the Jets. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year made the Pro Bowl in 2014.But his maturity has been called into question several times and he’s been suspended by the league twice.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Final New England Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 4.0

Steve Balestrieri
August 28, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

As we’ve been saying all summer, the New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make when the final 53-man cut down is due after the Giants game. The hour glass is running out and if players are going to make a move, they have a week remaining to convince the coaches that they’re worth keeping.

With some serious injuries to Derek Rivers and Julian Edelman, that will open up two spots that we had as locks. Ditto for the release of Kony Ealy. So, despite that, we can expect that the Patriots initial 53-man roster will change rather quickly as they’ll probably pick up a player or two via the waiver wire. I wouldn’t rule out a trade for an edge player either as they are really thin there right now.

With that in mind, we’ll take our final crack at the roster here on Sunday night with time to digest and re-watch the Lions game.

First up is the offense…

OFFENSE (24)
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Out: None
New England has traditionally kept two QBs on their roster. Last year they kept three because of the crazy Brady suspension. I didn’t expect Brissett to push Garoppolo for the #2 slot this season, but his play has been really disappointing. He holds the ball far too long and his arm, though cannon-like has the accuracy of an old smooth-bore musket and not where it should be.

But I just don’t see them cutting bait with Brissett yet. Is it possible? You betcha, but not this year. I think they will stick with three but Brissett isn’t a lock by any means.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
No changes here, I really wanted to find a way to keep both Foster and Bolden. Foster is going to be on a roster somewhere on Opening Weekend. If it isn’t here, it will be somewhere else. I thought of keeping only two TEs and utilizing him in an RB/Slot receiver mode where Devlin and an extra tackle can help in the blocking. And they still may do that.

Bolden is a superb STs performer but with Gillislee back and looking healthy, I don’t see how they keep him without cutting from somewhere else.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy

Out: Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton, Jacob Hollister
While he’s played well the past few weeks, O’Shaughnessy’s slot is still tenuous at best. He’s a better blocker but not as good as a receiver as Hollister. The UDFA rookie from Wyoming had a big game against Jax and then was barely used after that. It is obvious the team likes O’Shaughnessy and wants to keep him. Lengel, who is banged up didn’t show enough to warrant keeping him around.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Austin Carr

Out: Julian Edelman (IR), Matthew Slater (IR), Devin Lucien, Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
Julian Edelman’s injury opens the door for the Patriots to keep Austin Carr, who to me has just barely edged out Devin Lucien for the final spot at the position. Both Edelman and Slater go to IR, Slater will return later this season, which will make for another interesting decision. The top four are locks and will be needed to step up a bit more.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

No changes here. Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year, are locked and have played well this summer. Karras gets the nod over Ferentz who will be a primary practice squad candidate

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks (IR)
The good news is that Nate Solder is back at practice and although he didn’t make the trip to Detroit, he should be ready for the Chiefs game on Opening Night. Garcia has been banged up, does his injury preclude him from making the roster and going on IR? That may open the door a crack for Conor McDermott or LaAdrian Waddle (also banged up) to step in. But it appears that Solder, Cannon, and Fleming are locked in right now.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSE (25):
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Adam Butler

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta,
With the lack of enough edge players and the release of Kony Ealy, this opens the door for another player to step up inside and that is Adam Butler who has had a very solid camp. He’s shown the ability to penetrate inside and disrupt things in the running game. Branch, Brown, and Lawrence Guy are locked. Guy had a solid camp and with Butler, the team may opt for more of a 3-4 look with the bigger bodies inside.

Hamilton, Kilgo, and Augusta played well this summer and are victims of numbers more than anything else.

EDGE RUSHER (3): Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom,

Out: Derek Rivers (IR), Caleb Kidder, Keionta Davis
Ealy was released early…which means that he was in no way in their plans for 2017 after an up and down training camp. Depth has become a serious issue here. Wise will be looked to now, to provide the pressure with Trey Flowers. Grissom right now is my 53rd player on the roster. He could be replaced somewhere else but sticks around for his STs play. But he’s been virtually invisible on defense and that isn’t a good sign.

Look for the linebackers to provide help in this realm. Dont’a Hightower, Van Noy, and Langi will all be utilized as edge rushers as well. This is an area they may cherry pick off of the waiver wire and/or swing a trade. I think Davis will go to the practice squad and possibly play a factor down the road sometime in the future.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi, Trevor Bates

Out: Elandon Roberts (IR), Jonathan Freeny, Brooks Ellis
I had the team keeping just five linebackers all summer but with the dearth of edge players, they keep an extra LB and those guys will help out on the edge as well. David Harris is an early-down inside run stuffer who is a liability in coverage (see Roberts). But the difference is, he’s a guy who is an established, smart veteran and will be rarely out of position. Hightower is a guy who can play inside or on the edge as a rusher, as well as Van Noy.

Langi and Bates, the last addition to the linebacking crew both had a good summer and training camp. Langi was a bit overaggressive at times as a pass rusher, but he’ll learn to temper those tendencies. Bates noses out Belichick favorite and STs standout Freeny and Roberts goes to IR.

CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Kenny Moore, Cyrus Jones

Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely
The top four are locked and ready for the season. Gilmore had, in my opinion, a terrific summer. He’s adapted extremely well to the Patriots system and should be an outstanding addition. He and Butler promise to be a dynamic pair of corners on the edge. Rowe and Jonathan Jones have split the nickel corner duties and will continue to do so, depending on the matchups. Both played well this summer. Kenny More displayed a nose for the ball all summer and just beats out the veteran Justin Coleman. Cyrus Jones, for now, is a corner in name only. He’s the primary Kick returner but the team may ultimately decide to go with Dion Lewis/Amendola, in which case he’d be expendable.

SAFETY (5): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Brandon King, Nate Ebner

Out:  Jordan Richards, David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid and are locked. The team has depth for those two with Nate Ebner and Brandon King who are mainly special teamers, neither of whom plays much defense although Ebner has played in spots in the past.

Jordan Richards is a favorite of Belichick and the team is trying every way of keeping him around. They switched him to the linebacker position in the “Big Nickel” look, the Pat Chung role and he was as inconsistent as he’s been elsewhere. Too slow, too stiff with a penchant for taking bad angles. Jones was hurt all summer, Travis played well in spots. Both may be candidates for the practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona,

Out: None
A good solid group who have had a good camp thus far. Gostkowski still seems to have a mental block for extra points. But is solid on his field goal attempts and his kickoffs which are outstanding at getting the team great field position on defense. Allen has had a very strong camp. We haven’t mentioned Cardona much at all….which tells you his snaps have been right on the money.

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