Tag Archives: Adam Butler

Patriots Players To Watch, Week 7 MNF  Against the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
October 21, 2019 at 7:41 am ET

The Patriots are on the road again and are taking on the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. They’ve had some extra time off since their Thursday Night Football game but will the time off help them to prepare or will they lose a bit of their edge? They will be missing several members of the offense this week.

Here are our Patriots players to watch this week as they try to improve to 7-0 on the season against the Jets. 

Tom Brady: 

The Patriots, despite having the extra time off since last Thursday’s game are entering this game shorthanded and banged up on offense. That means more pressure on the QB to get it done with less. WR Josh Gordon, TEs Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, and RB Rex Burkhead are out, while WRs Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Gunner Olszewski are all questionable. 

Brady will be operating with one healthy receiver (Jakobi Meyers) and two tight ends that have been on the team for a week (Eric Tomlinson and Ben Watson), although Watson spent all of the training camp here with New England.

Couple that with an offensive line that has been missing two players all season and things won’t be easy for the Patriots QB. He and Josh McDaniels are going to have to get creative this week. 

Jamie Collins:

The Patriots linebacker is enjoying arguably his finest season with the Patriots and is turning back the clock with the way he’s been playing. With the Jets getting Sam Darnold back last week, they got much more aggressive offensively, throwing on first down more and with Darnold’s mobility he can move in the pocket and make plays with his legs. 

Collins will be one of the players who will be very important for the Patriots to ensure that Darnold doesn’t get out of the pocket. With LT Kelvin Beachum out this week, Brandon Shell will be getting his first NFL start. The Patriots will no doubt want to test Shell and Collins, as well as Kyle Van Noy, will be line up on the right side of the defense to try to bring pressure on Darnold.

Collins had a monster game against the Jets a month ago, with 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits, and a pass defensed. The defense will be looking for him to have another big game this week against a much different offensive team.

Julian Edelman/James White:

We’re lumping these two together this week since they will no doubt be the two players that Brady will target the most and the Jets will put the onus on stopping. Edelman against Brian Poole is a mismatch and one that he’d win easily, but expect Poole to have some help this time around. I’d expect the Jets to use a linebacker or safety on occasion to double up Edelman and force Brady to beat them elsewhere. 

James White missed the first game due to the birth of his son, and Rex Burkhead had 17 touches (11 carries, six receptions) in his absence. I’d expect that White will have a similar workload this week. In the passing game, Sony Michel may see a few touches as well as Brandon Bolden but maybe it would a nice time to let 3rd-round pick Damien Harris get his feet wet. UDFA Jakobi Meyers is the only WR not on the injury report.

The Patriots are going to have to ride Edelman and White heavily, something the Jets coaches are well aware of. The adjustments made in-game will ultimately tell the tale here. 

Adam Butler:

Butler is playing more snaps than any Patriots defensive lineman thus far this season. That speaks volumes to his progression in Year 3, and his versatility in being able to adapt to different situations. It is his play, which is the reason that Michael Bennett’s snaps have decreased so rapidly, more than anything else. 

With Bennett suspended this week, more will be thrust on Butler’s plate. With the ever-dangerous Le’Veon Bell in the Jets backfield, the Patriots defensive linemen have to stop Bell from penetrating and allow the linebackers to clean up. They also have to push the pocket on Sam Darnold and create pressure from the inside. 

Butler has been very good at being a disruptive penetrator inside and this will be a big opportunity to shine. The Bennett news will have him thrust more into the spotlight. And with a national audience tonight, Butler has a chance to create even more playing time for himself with a big game against the Jets.  

Ben Watson: 

Watson will be playing in his first game with the Patriots since the 2009 playoff loss to the Ravens at Gillette Stadium. He spent all of training camp with the team and was a frequent side session participant with Tom Brady getting some 1-on-1 work. But with just a week of practice, his first since the end of camp, it isn’t known how much he’ll play. 

The Patriots need some production from the tight end position, something they’ve gotten very little from Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse who has been hurt most of the season. Especially, this week with the situation involving the injuries to the wide receivers, they need someone to step up.

Watson, despite being 38-years old, still runs well and looks like someone much younger. If he can stretch the seams of the defense, just a little bit and give them some production in the middle of the field, it will open things up for Edelman and White.     

_________

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/

 

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.

 

Adam Butler Has Stepped Up His Game For the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
October 17, 2019 at 7:58 am ET

The New England Patriots defense is off to a tremendous start in 2019, thru the first six games, they’re off to an unprecedented start and are playing some tremendous football. As Bill Belichick would say, “there is a long way to go”, (there is), and the true meat of their schedule lies in front of them. However, regardless of the opponents, the way the defense is playing right now is awfully impressive. 

And speaking of an unprecedented start, third-year defensive lineman Adam Butler has been playing tremendous football. In his first two seasons, the UDFA from Vanderbilt was used mainly as a third-down pass rusher. In 2018, Butler played on 36 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and garnered 3 sacks, 2 passes batted down and one forced fumble. 

Through the first six games this season, Butler’s playing has increased to 50 percent of the defensive snaps. This off-season the Patriots 4-3 base defense has morphed into more of a 3-4 base but they are very multiple and switch fronts and looks constantly. And Butler’s rise in the interior DL has given way to better production, he’s already notched 2.5 sacks, a pair of passes knocked down and 3 quarterback hits. 

Butler’s rise has been a major factor in the reason that Michael Bennett’s snap counts have decreased so much. It isn’t so much that Bennett has been playing poorly, but that Butler has played so well. 

Butler and defensive line coach Bret Bielema spoke in the spring about Butler having a bigger impact and becoming a more complete player. Bielema, it should be noted, that besides being a head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas, he was a defensive coordinator prior to that at both Kansas State and Wisconsin. He comes from a defensive background. And he’s liking what he’s seeing from the 3rd-year lineman. 

“He’s long, he’s athletic; he has a way to bend. He’s one of those guys that really does very seldom ever get out of position. He has very good balance; understands leverage. He’s a very intelligent player,” Bielema said on a conference call to the media. 

“He truly is a guy that really gets it, understands it, can process it and the thing this year working with him during the course of a game, he literally understands when things happen literally on the spot. He can come to the sideline, digest what just happened, what they’re trying to do, how we can combat it. He gives a lot of really good information. As coaches, sometimes you don’t get all the most accurate information sometimes, but I will say that AB really does take a lot of pride in his skill set on game day and that’s what’s really shown up.”

Butler still is playing his role as a designated interior pass rusher but has expanded his role into more of a base role and has earned his coaches’ respect. Bill Belichick spoke about him after the Buffalo game. 

“Adam’s a very intelligent player and he has very good football instincts,” said Belichick. “So you can give him a lot of information and he kind of knows when to apply it and when not to apply it. So his ability to do the right thing at the right time based on a call, or based on the way that the line blocks, or kind of the protections they use, things like that in the pass rush, even in the running game; he does a good job of recognizing those things quickly and making good decisions, which is really hard to do when you’re in-line like that.”

Belichick added, “All players get better with coaching, all players get better with experience, but his growth in three years now has really been impressive.”

Butler’s rise has been impressive in his third year. On a defense that has been firing on all cylinders, Butler doesn’t do a lot of the flashy stuff that ends up on the highlight reels but he’s been playing his role extremely well and for the 6’5, 300-pound lineman, his coaches have seen his value. And they’re rewarding him with more playing time and responsibility. 

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.

 

New England Patriots News 10-6, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 6, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-06 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day,.and the Patriots a pretty unfamiliar foe in the Washington Redskins, as the two teams have only met 10 times in the regular season. This week unlike last week’s game in Buffalo highlights teams moving in different directions. The Patriots are 4-0 while the Redskins are 0-4 and appear to be ready for another house cleaning.  

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tom Brady – already owns several milestones in the NFL record books but with a big game today could pass Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the #2 QB in terms of career yardage. Favre would be passed of Brady throws for 264 yards which is pretty attainable, but he’d have to throw for 365 yards to pass Manning, which is looking pretty doubtful right now.  

Ted Harper – is the Patriots dietitian and is in charge of overseeing what the players eat while they’re in the facility. Our own Robert Alvarez posted a longer video than was shown on Patriots All-Access and shows how much detail and planning as well as the amount of food the team goes through each week. Harper came from the US Special Operations Command where he had a similar position taking care of Army commandos. I wish we had a guy like Harper back when I was in Special Ops. What a difference nutrition makes today for athletes and tactical operators.    

Matthew Slater – The Patriots STs ace was the subject of a column here last Sunday as we said, after his superb play against the Jets, Slater should get some love from the NFL Hall of Fame. Well, just a few hours later, the Pats’ J.C. Jackson blocked a punt and Slater returned it for the first touchdown of his outstanding 12-year career. 

Stefon Diggs – was the subject of countless rumors about being traded to the Patriots this week, fueled in part by Diggs’ frustration with the way things are going in Minnesota. But it makes no sense for the Vikings to trade such a young, dynamic playmaker away. They need to make a move, but not with their WRs, with the guy who is in charge of getting them the ball. 

We don’t even know if the Patriots are in the market for more WR help other than rumors. The AB scenario played out and was too good to pass up [from a football standpoint]. They may feel they are good enough until N’Keal Harry comes off IR in a few weeks. But a more realistic trading partner may be  the Denver Broncos. Emmanuel Sanders is in the final year of his contract. The Broncos are 0-4 and going nowhere. Sanders was signed to an offer sheet a few years ago by Bill Belichick, but the Steelers matched it.

Younghoe Koo – The Korean-born kicker has been signed to the Patriots practice squad. His name is pronounced, “young-way” and he played for the Chargers for four games connecting on 3-6 field goals and all nine EP attempts. He played in the AAF for the Atlanta Legends this spring.

Nugent Takes Over For Gostkowski as the Team’s Kicker:

After Stephen Gostkowski was placed on IR for a hip ailment, it answered the questions as to what was wrong with the Pats kicker early this season. Gostkowski had a hip issue last year, but it was believed that rest and therapy would fix the problem without needing surgery. But his issues popped back up again this year and he’s lost for the year. 

After trying out several kickers to take Gostkowski’s place, the team settled on veteran Mike Nugent. Nugent has played for several teams but lasted the longest with the Cincinnati Bengals, but was released after missing five extra points.

Nugent last played for the Raiders in 2018 and for the Bears and Cowboys in 2017 as a fill-in for their injured kickers. He made 17 of 19 field goals, including a 55-yarder which is a career long. He was 20-22 on extra points. 

The Patriots have been remarkably stable at the kicker position having Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski there since 1996. When Gostkowski was hurt in 2010, Shayne Graham was brought in, but the Patriots have been quite fortunate in that regard.  

Bennett Frustrated With His Role [or Lack of One]? Possibly:

The Patriots brought in Michael Bennett this spring and it was thought to be a tit-for-tat reaction to losing Trey Flowers in free agency. We thought that Bennett would be a very valuable piece to the Patriots defense moving forward. And all seemed well, he had a personal issue at the beginning of training camp, which caused him to miss the first few days. However, he was excused by Bill Belichick, something Bennett spoke glowingly about when he arrived this summer.

And early this season, with Bennett playing a limited role, we felt like the coaches were putting him on a pitch count against lesser opponents, in an attempt to save him for the stretch run when he will really be needed. Plus, he’s had a minor shoulder issue. 

But apparently, Bennett may be getting a bit dissatisfied with his playing time. Bennett said to Henry McKenna who covers the team for PatriotsWire that he’s been playing the “zero role” thus far this year. When pressed further, he said he was joking.

But then he also added, “It’s different,” Bennett said. “I just try to adjust to it as best I can. We’ll see how I keep going. But all the guys are playing good. We’ve got such good players. Lawrence Guy’s just so good at what he does. A lot of guys are good at what they do. It’s different. I’m just used to guys playing one position all the time, and I’ve just got to get used to it.”

Adam Butler is getting the lion’s share of the snaps right now and is playing very well. We’ll see how this plays out moving forward, it could be that the team is just saving Bennett for a much bigger role down the stretch. 

Devin McCourty is the AFC Defensive Player of the Month:

The Patriots long-time safety Devin McCourty is playing some of the best football in his career this season and he has been recognized as the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for September. McCourty has four interceptions in the team’s first four games, something that hasn’t been done in the NFL since 2003. 

The Patriots have never had a player start the season with picks in the first four games, however, Mike Haynes did a have a four-game stretch in midseason where he picked off passes in four straight games back in 1976. Bill Belichick said that while interceptions are great but that McCourty’s value goes well beyond what is on the stat sheet at the end of the day. 

“In addition to all of the plays that we see or that he’s in position to make, or tackles and things like that, there’s the communication aspect of making decisions for the entire defensive unit that are critical,” Belichick said. “He also does a great job of that. It’s a little too much to just put it all on stats.

“Look, interceptions are big plays and we love to see them and love to have them. There are other critical plays in the game, too, that don’t show up on the stat sheet, and we recognize those as well, he added.”

If you’ve never seen McCourty’s speeches to fire up the safeties before the game, you should check them out. They’re all excellent and make you want to run out on the field. D-Mac could have a second career as a ‘fire and brimstone’ preacher when his playing days are done. Congrats, well deserved #32.

NFL Schedule Week 5, 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 [Yikes that’s terrible!]
Season: 39-23-1

TNF Seattle over LA Rams 1-0 

Carolina over Jacksonville
New England over Washington
Tennessee over Buffalo [Super Bowl hangover?]
Baltimore over Pittsburgh
Cincinnati over Arizona
Houston over Atlanta
New Orleans over Tampa Bay
Minnesota over NY Giants
Chicago over Oakland
Philadelphia over NY Jets
LA Chargers over Denver
Dallas over Green Bay
SNF Kansas CityS over Indy
MNF Cleveland over SF

Bye Week – Miami, Detroit 

Early Thursday Night Football pick New England  over NY Giants

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Defense Front and Center Again As They Take on the Titans:

The Buffalo Bills lost a close one last week to New England at home but have to turn the page quickly as they head to Tennessee to take on a tough Titans team that always plays well at home.  And the Bills will have to wait until game-time decisions on whether they have two of their biggest offensive weapons in QB Josh Allen and RB Devin Singletary. 

Regardless, they’ll need another big game from their defense as they take Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota who has thrown 7 TDs and 0 interceptions thru the first month of the season.  RB Derrick Henry is a bruiser who is coming off a 100-yard game against the Falcons, and the Buffalo secondary will have to cover a trio of receivers in Corey Davis, A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries that is playing well. The Titans can also add Tajae Sharp, tight end Delanie Walker as well as Dion Lewis out of the backfield. 

Last year the Buffalo defense created three turnovers [2 fumbles and an interception] in a 13-12 victory. They’ll need another effort like that, especially if Allen and Singletary aren’t ready to go. 

Dolphins Get a Bye at Just the Right Time:

When the Miami Dolphins hired Brian Flores, they knew that the team needed a complete overhaul and things could get frustrating in 2019. But no one could foresee how bad the Dolphins defense, specifically the pass defense would be at the quarter pole of the season. 

The Fins first four games had them facing tough teams in the Ravens, Patriots, Cowboys, and Chargers. But Miami allowed 163 points in those games…ouch. Worse still, the opposing QB rating for the first month was 137.6.  A perfect QB rating is 158.3 and Miami’s pass defense has been nearly a perfect nightmare thus far. 

Flores needs to take a page out of his Patriots playbook and spend the week doing a ton of self-scouting. On deck in the next four weeks are the Redskins, Bills, Steelers, and the Jets. A repeat of the first four weeks can’t be allowed to happen. Stay tuned.

Darnold Won’t Play, It Will Luke Falk Time Jets-Eagles:

The New York Jets won’t have Sam Darnold to return this week when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles. But although Luke Falk isn’t anything close to Darnold in terms of talent, the Jets offensive line has to step things up this week. 

Gang Green’s offensive line has been terrible and Darnold or not, they have to play better or their season will be lost before it even begins. At 0-3, the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets are in big danger of falling to 0-4 this week. And with the Eagles, Cowboys, and the Patriots on deck in the next three weeks, things could ugly quickly for Adam Gase.

Obviously they need Darnold back, but can’t risk his life with an enlarged spleen due to his mono sickness. But they do need to get Le’Veon Bell involved and that begins with the offensive line. With an 0-6 start [which is entirely feasible right now], the NY tabloids will be screaming for Gase’s scalp. 

________________

“Devin has a lot of experience in our system so he’s very well-versed in what we do, but he’s a smart player that understands the entire defensive concept, not just his position, what everybody else does, what the strengths and weaknesses of the defense are, as kind of the last line of defense where to position himself to have the most impact on the play, to take away threats or to fill voids or space in the defense based on what we’re in, their personnel and their formation and so forth. Just instinctively he does a lot of things right. He’s a very good communicator. All of those things are strong points..” – Bill Belichick after being asked about what makes Devin McCourty a special player.

________________

“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 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 ✈️

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

Work time

A post shared by Patrick Chung (@23patrickchung) on

Charles Darwin.

A post shared by Ralph Webb (@turnupwebb7) on

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.

A post shared by New England Patriots (@patriots) on

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.