Tag Archives: Akiem Hicks

Who Are the Key Players To Watch Patriots-Bears Week 7?

Steve Balestrieri
October 19, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

Another Big Game, Another Explosive Offense  

The New England Patriots are off to the Windy City this week as they take on the Chicago Bears for what is a rare 1:00 p.m. start for the visiting team. The last two games have been prime time affairs and next week, it is back to another late game as the Pats will be on Monday Night Football against the Bills.

This week, the Bears return home disappointed after they let the chance to return 4-1 and atop the division with some breathing room slip away. They melted late in the game in the South Florida heat, something the Patriots are well familiar with dropped the game in overtime. At 3-2, they have a half-game lead on the Vikings and Packers.

The Patriots at 4-2, have won three in a row and are tied with Miami for the top spot in the AFC East. They’re entering a tough stretch with KC, Chicago, the MNF on the road and the Packers, before taking on Tennessee before their bye.

The Bears offensively run a similar offense to what the Chiefs do and have some explosive offensive players in Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, and Allen Robinson to go along with the mobile quarterback Mitch Trubiski. The Bears and Trubiski exploded a few weeks for six touchdown passes in the blowout win over Tampa Bay.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

LaAdrian Waddle:

The Patriots swing tackle will no doubt get the start this week at right tackle as Marcus Cannon hasn’t practiced this week after leaving the KC game with a concussion. This is the reason the Patriots resigned Waddle this spring when he was a free agent. They knew that at some point they’d need him.

He may or may not be facing the Bears’ Khalil Mack, who also hasn’t practiced this week with an ankle injury and is considered day-to-day. Waddle faced Mack a year ago when Mack was a member of the Raiders defense. The Patriots beat Oakland in Mexico City 33-8 and Waddle was in for Cannon that day. Mack against Waddle that day had a sack, a tackle for a loss and three QB hits.

But regardless of whether Mack plays or not, Waddle will have a very important role in the Patriots game plan this week. Not only will he be responsible with protecting Brady’s right side from whoever rushes off the edge (Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks), but he’ll have to be solid in the running game as well.    

Josh Gordon

The Patriots wide receiver is still working on his chemistry with Tom Brady. The deep out routes, the comebacks, and the back shoulder throws are all things that they’ve not worked the kinks out of yet. Those things will come in time, but this week, Gordon could see his role expanded a bit more.

The Bears have a pretty stout front seven and the running game may need the passing game to get it going instead of the opposite. Gordon has the size and athleticism to stretch the field vertically a bit more this week. They tried it a few times against KC. On one play, Gordon was open and ready to catch a deep ball before being interfered with, drawing a 37-yard penalty.

We’d look for the offense to begin expanding Gordon’s range more and more as he gets a bigger comfort level in the offense. Gordon will probably draw Prince Amukamara on the outside, the big, veteran corner should be an intriguing matchup to watch this week.

Dont’a Hightower:

The Patriots big linebacker had a pretty productive game against the Chiefs despite the team allowing 31 second-half points. Hightower had an interception, a tipped pass and had quarterback pressure on Patrick Mahomes which forced him to throw an interception in the end zone, wiping out a Chiefs scoring threat.

This week the Patriots will have to contend with the diminutive but lightning-fast Tarik Cohen out of the Bears backfield. He’s a threat to run the ball or catch it out of the backfield and can be the Bears “X-Factor” in their offense this week.

How well (or badly) the Patriots defense does this week, will have a lot to do with how well they defend Cohen. While a bit different, the Bears offense does run a similar look to the Chiefs and they utilize the RPO (run/pass option) concepts which try to freeze and take advantage of the opposing linebackers. And for New England, that begins with the big man in the middle.

Julian Edelman:

With a Bears defense that gets a lot of sacks (18) and is much better at stopping the run that the past few opponents that the Patriots have faced, they’ll look to what has always worked for them. The short passing game with Julian Edelman will be key this week, helping Tom Brady get the ball out fast and keeping the chains moving.

Edelman’s short area quickness and ability to find the open seams of the defense are a hallmark at the chemistry that he’s enjoyed with Tom Brady for many years.

The Bears defense will have their hands full with trying to jam, throw off the timing and re-route Edelman off the line. That will no doubt fall to the veteran corner Bryce Callahan. The Bears are really happy with the play of  Callahan and resigned the smaller (5’9, 188), but very feisty cornerback this spring.

With the Patriots looking to use the middle of the field, players like Callahan and Danny Trevathan will be tasked with taking that away. The matchup between Edelman and Callahan will be an intriguing one to watch this week.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots defense has not been good at getting home against opposing quarterbacks and creating consistent pressure this year. Now they’re facing another mobile quarterback that can move and more importantly, throw on the move in Trubiski. That means the defense will have to set the edge and keep him in the pocket.

Flowers has been the best Patriots defensive lineman and although he has only two sacks on the season, he’s played very well. He got a lot of praise from the Bears’ coach Matt Nagy this week, “He’s not the ‘big-name guy,’ but he’s the big-name guy among the coaching world,” Nagy said. “He can hold the point. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s fast, he plays in front of the quarterback. So, we know that he’s a good football player. … We have a lot of respect for his game.”

The Patriots are going to need a big game out of Flowers this week, setting the edge, and getting after Trubiski if they want their defense to have a better showing than they had with Kansas City. And they’ll need their best defensive player to lead the way.

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.

Patriots-Bears Week 7, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 18, 2018 at 7:29 am ET

The New England Patriots head back out on the road for the next two weeks. They face the Chicago Bears on Sunday at 1 p.m. before heading off to Buffalo and facing the Bills in a prime-time Monday Night Football matchup.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (4-2) defeated the Chiefs on a last-second field goal 43-40.  Tom Brady threw for 340 yards and Sony Michel ran for 106 as the Patriots rolled up 500 yards of offense. But the defense, which had a 24-9 first-half lead, allowed 31 points after intermission.

The Bears (3-2)  lost to the Miami Dolphins 31-28 in overtime. Cody Parkey had a chance to win in it OT but his kick was wide right. The Bears defense allowed Brock Osweiler to pass for 380 yards and three TDs. Mitch Tribuski threw for 316 yards and three TDs in the loss.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Bears will meet for just the 14th time in their history with the Pats holding a 9-4 advantage in those contests. The only meeting in the postseason, however, was a crushing 46-10 blowout in Super Bowl XX. The Pats are 5-3 vs the Bears on the road. The last time the team’s faced in Chicago was back in 2010 in a snowstorm. The Patriots rolled 36-7. The Patriots have won the last four meetings including the last meeting between the two teams 51-23 at Foxboro back in 2014.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Bears Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game has really found its rhythm the past three weeks. They’ve rushed for an average of 148.3 yards in the games against the Dolphins, Colts and the Chiefs. The offensive line is doing a tremendous job of opening holes for Sony Michel and James White. In this three-game streak, Michel has gained 315 yards in those wins and seems to be getting better every week. James Develin has been outstanding as a lead blocker.

The Bears have been good against the run allowing an average of just 84.3 yards per game. It starts up front with a very good front seven. Former Patriot Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman anchor the front three in the Bears 3-4 scheme. They boast very good linebackers in Danny Trevathan, rookie Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd and of course, Khalil Mack.

Look for the Patriots to attack the Bears front by running right at it between the tackles and guards with Michel and White. Miami did this last week and was very successful running the ball gaining 161 yards on the ground with 101 of them going to Frank Gore. The NFL is a copycat league and after watching the Dolphins carve them up a bit in the heat, look for the Patriots to attempt the same.  

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

The Patriots passing game has really taken off with the return of Julian Edelman and with Josh Gordon just now beginning to assimilate into the Patriots offense. Tom Brady started slowly this year, with all of the injuries at WR, but is getting better every week. Against Kansas City, he completed 24-35 for 340 yards with a TD. He, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski have a built-in chemistry thru years of playing together and they’re beginning to ramp up the production.

The Bears have a ball-hawking defense and have 10 interceptions in just five games. They also have 18 sacks led by Mack with five. He’s banged up right now and may not be 100 percent on Sunday. But in reality, most of the big edge rushers don’t have big games against Brady and the Patriots. It is the interior guys like Hicks that disrupt things. He’s the one to watch. If Brady can’t step up or slide in the pocket, then edge guys like Mack can be productive.

Look for Brady to attack the middle of the field with Edelman and Gronkowski this week. With Gordon and Hogan outside the numbers, they’ll take a fair share of deep shots and when they do that, they’ll try to use James White underneath in the open spaces underneath. I look for Brady to continue his hot streak in the Windy City this weekend

Next up the Chicago offense:

Bears RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Chicago

The Bears have their own two-pronged rushing attack with big back Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen as their speedier back out of the backfield and can inject some quickness off the line. Howard is averaging just 3.5 yards a carry this season as the Bears offensive line has been inconsistent at opening up holes for him. Cohen, however at just 5’6, 181 has been electric both in the running game and catching the ball out of the backfield.

The Patriots were getting gashed early in the season in the running game, but then back-to-back games, albeit against weak running teams in Miami and the Colts had the needle pointing up. Last week, the Chiefs Kareem Hunt had 80 yards in just 10 carries so they are back to square one.

I would expect the Bears to use Cohen a lot in this one. He’s the kind of player with the speed that gives them a lot of headaches. Look for coach Matt Nagy to look for creative ways to get him the ball a lot in this one.

Bears WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Chicago

The Bears for the first time in a while have a large assortment of weapons and thus far, QB Mitch Trubiski has been having a very good season at getting them all the ball. The second-year QB is coming into his own and spreads the ball around nicely. Newcomer  Taylor Gabriel is the player to watch, he has the speed to be a game breaker. Allen Robinson looks healthy after tearing an ACL last year and tight end Trey Burton leads the team with 3 TD receptions and a 13.3 yard per catch average. Cohen is a big (if diminutive) factor out of the backfield.

The Patriots corners have played very well this year, it is the play of the safeties that have been up and down. But the real issue is the lack of consistent pressure on the QB. The Patriots have just seven sacks, that isn’t going to get it done, they have to start creating ways to get more pressure on the QB.

I’m looking for Trubiski to get Burton and Cohen involved in this one early. Running the RPO (run/pass option) similar but not exactly the same as KC, they’ll try to freeze up the Patriots linebackers, get Trubiski outside the pocket and hit his WRs downfield.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have a slight advantage here in the kicking game with Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen over Cody Parkey and Pat O’Donnell. Parkey had a chance to win the game in Miami in overtime and sailed it wide right. Gostkowski has been very solid for over a decade. The Bears have the fast Cohen in the return game but the Patriots counter with Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman on their own. Look for the Patriots to tighten up their coverage units this week. They’ve been uncharacteristically leaky.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This is a big game for both teams. Both are sitting atop of their respective divisions but have other teams tied with them and must keep pace. The Bears have a dynamic offense for a change and things are definitely trending in the right direction for them. The Patriots are turning it on as well after a slow start. They’ve won three in a row and are averaging nearly 40 points a game in those.

Look for Tom Brady to throw first and then run against the Bears defense this week. Breaking what they have been doing in establishing the running game first. I’m looking for him to try to get Edelman and Gronkowski involved early. With all of the focus on Mack and his health, Hicks and Trevathan are the X-Factors for the Bears defense this week. The Bears watched the tape of the KC game and running a similar offense, they’ll try to do much of the same things utilizing their team speed.

The key from a New England perspective is to start fast and get the Bears in a catch-up/keep up mode. The turnover battle will be huge here. This one will be close for three quarters but a late Brady TD pass puts NE over the top. Patriots 34-21

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.

Patriots Announce Joint Practices With Bears August 15th and 16th

Robert Alvarez
May 16, 2016 at 10:26 pm ET

The New England Patriots announced on Monday that they have reached an agreement with the Chicago Bears on a series of joint practices together in Foxborough on August 15th and 16th as a lead up to their preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 18th.

The joint practices continue a tradition by head coach Bill Belichick where he works with other franchises during training camp. In recent seasons the Patriots went to West Virginia to practice with the New Orleans Saints in 2015, and the Philadelphia Eagles came to Foxborough in 2014.

There are multiple connections between the Bears and Patriots going into the session. Bears guard Kyle Long tweeted this message upon learning the news, his brother Chris was recently signed by the Patriots during free agency.

https://twitter.com/Ky1eLong/status/732257694816571392?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

There are also a number of current players that have played with both franchises, to name a few include tight end Martellus Bennett who played for the Bears from 2013-2015, and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks who played for the Patriots last season. Also returning to Foxborough is former backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, now behind Jay Cutler.

NFL Legal Tampering Window Opens March 7

Steve Balestrieri
March 5, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The NFL’s much talked about three-day negotiating window leading into free agency opens on Monday, March 7 and remains an interesting topic and a source of debate.

The basically farcical Legal Tampering Window begins on March 7 will continue until free agency begins on March 9 at 4 p.m. The NFL sent out a memo in 2013 when they first allowed this window of honeymooning free agents spelling out the parameters of what is and isn’t allowed during these negotiations.

Clubs were advised in PP-26-13 that during the three-day negotiating period for prospective Unrestricted Free Agents, they are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12, and that no contract can be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12.

Clubs are further advised that prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year. Any announcement of an agreement or an agreement in principle by a club or another party, including, but not limited to, a certified agent, player, or media organization may subject the club to a tampering investigation.

The league talked of shortening the window down from three days to just two, ostensibly to cut down on the amount of leaked information that is being learned about the contracts that are already signed, sealed and delivered prior to actual free agency beginning. But the official word was to allow better negotiations between agents and teams.

The Dolphins six-year, $114 million-dollar deal with Ndamakong Suh was widely reported prior to free agency starting in 2015…and they weren’t the only ones. Which prompted the league to send out a memo to all the teams to stop the practice of making monetary pledges to players prior to free agency.

“Any attempt to undermine the purpose of this negotiating period may be considered conduct detrimental to the League.’ At this time, the League office is beginning investigations into a number of reported agreements with clubs. Violations will be dealt with accordingly.” Uh huh.

What does this mean for the Patriots? Not much. Their biggest free agent Akiem Hicks is set to test free agency and he’ll be sure to get some interest from several teams among them the Pats. Safety Nate Ebner isn’t expected to draw much interest, although players already released such as Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler and Darius Fleming are free to sign with another team immediately.

The Patriots will do their due diligence and interview a free agent or two but don’t expect to hear much about how those visits go. They are notoriously closed lipped about these things.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

Patriots Free Agent Profile Sealver Siliga

Steve Balestrieri
February 11, 2016 at 6:43 am ET

The Patriots have a couple of decisions to make in regard to free agents this offseason, but they are mainly to do with their role players and not with the starters like last year or the upcoming 2017 season.

The Patriots are deep at the defensive tackle position; starters last season were rookie Malcom Brown and Alan Branch, the latter who played very well but is entering into the last season on his contract. The rotation consisted of Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Akiem Hicks and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. The team also has Chris Jones returning as well as Joe Vellano. Easley was the team’s top draft choice in 2014 but has never played a full season due to injuries.

Siliga was signed to the Patriots practice squad back in October 2013 and if re-signed will start his fourth season with the team. With the departure of Vince Wilfork last spring, it was penciled in that he’d take over the starting tackle position while the rookie Brown found his feet in the pro game.

But after starting the first few games, Siliga had a poor outing against the Colts in Week 5, losing containment on several plays. The next week, he lost the starting job to Brown and played only 10 defensive snaps against the Jets, although chipping in with three tackles.

The big 6’2, 325-pound run stuffer is one of two free agents (Hicks), the Patriots have in their interior. He’ll turn 26 in April and still has plenty of tread left on his tires. Now the question is, after losing his starting job and a lot of snaps to the duo of Brown and Branch, will the Patriots bring Siliga back for the 2016 season?

Why Siliga Will Return: Siliga is one of those big bodied guys who are invaluable as run stuffers. One of the indelible moments of training camp was his crunching hit of Tyler Gaffney on August 1, shooting across the gap and leveling the runner as he was trying to get to the second level. That’s his type of play and frankly the type that the Patriots need more of.

With the injury history of both Easley and Jones and Branch’s uncertain future given his age (31) and his contract status, it would certainly bode well for the Patriots to at least bring him back to compete for a slot in training camp. He certainly shouldn’t break the bank and with Hicks possibly commanding a lot of money in free agency, their depth would certainly take a hit if they were to lose both.

At a minimum, if Hicks returns and Easley is healthy, Siliga would provide the big-bodied run stuffing rotation against the run heavy teams that the Patriots will face in 2016.

Why Siliga Won’t Return: The Patriots may see the diminishing returns of Siliga this season as a sign of things to come. If they re-sign Hicks then their rotation with he, Branch, Brown and Easley would be close to being set and Siliga would be relegated to a #5 role.

The big man has also battled some injury concerns as well and that will also have to be taken into consideration.

Bottom Line:  It makes too much sense for the Patriots not to offer Siliga a team-friendly deal and bring him back to compete for playing time during the spring and summer workouts. Training camp snaps will become important as they have potentially a lot of depth to work with.

There shouldn’t be a ton of pursuers coming after Siliga so a bidding war isn’t in the cards. Much of their decision may come down to how their negotiations go with Hicks and monitoring the health of Easley and Jones in the spring. Easley didn’t need surgery on his injured quad so that was a positive sign for the 2nd year player.

Siliga has been a nice part of the team’s rotation up front and given the extent of the injuries the team has suffered the past few years, the chances are 60/40 or better that they’ll bring him back in 2016.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

 

Patriots Free Agent Profile Akiem Hicks

Steve Balestrieri
January 29, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots defensive line entered the 2015 season with some questions. It was the first time in more than a decade that they’d not have big Vince Wilfork clogging the middle. And with questions about how the rookie 1st round draft pick Malcom Brown would work out, the Patriots ability to stop the run as well as push the pocket from the interior was not as sure as in years past.

The Patriots traded for Akiem Hicks on September 30, sending backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the New Orleans Saints for his services. At the time the trade made little fanfare, but it ended up being a steal for New England. Now at the end of the 2015 season, Hicks is the team’s biggest free agent priority to bring back in 2016.

Hicks was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Saints and after three seasons due to a change in philosophy as well as diminishing returns, he was relegated to a backup role in New Orleans. There were some whisperings of his work ethic, which made the trade seem like a bust. But Hicks just needed a fresh start and has been a valued member of the team.

He started slowly as the four-man rotation featuring Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga was already set. But when Dominique Easley went down with a season ending injury, Hicks stepped in to the third player in the rotation and played very well.

The big 6’4, 325-pound lineman is versatile, a Bill Belichick staple and can play anywhere from 0-technique to a 5-technique. His ability to stop the run and collapse the pocket were big parts of the Patriots defense down the stretch. His role increased as he became more familiar with the Patriots system and given a better defined role once Easley went down.

Playing a 5-technique defensive end in the Big Easy, he played more of a defensive tackle role in New England moving in different spots on the line. He logged 21 tackles, including 15 in the final four games, with three sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in 2015. He uses his big frame and plays with good leverage in the running game but has long arms that he can shed blockers in pass rushing, his specialty.

“I think that my time here has been spent well, focusing on what I need to do to become a better player, in general,” Hicks said just prior to the playoffs beginning. “And then, along with the coaches, keeping me as a part of the defense and pushing me forward.”

And it never hurts to get a little love from the head coach. Bill Belichick was singing his praises to the media earlier this month.

“We change things a little bit fairly regularly, Belichick said. “So there is definitely an element of game planning and things we do specific to one team that don’t necessarily carry over from the week before, so I think that’s an adjustment for a lot of players that come in here. But he’s done a good job, he works hard, he’s certainly improved and gotten a lot better in all those areas.”

Why Hicks Will Return: Versatility, leadership and production. And he’s only 26 years old so he’s just entering his prime. Hicks seems to have found a second lease on his career in New England this season and his signing will align him with Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins to give the team an incredibly young and talented nucleus for the front seven.

The Patriots had their eye on Hicks this season at the joint practices in West Virginia, Belichick said as much back in September when they made the trade for what was their fourth tight end on the depth chart.

They know what they have in Hicks and he was just finding his groove at the end of the season after a slow start. He should only get better in 2016.

Why Hicks Won’t Return: Money. Hicks’ performance may put him in-line for a huge payday that the Patriots may decide that is too rich for their blood. Belichick is a pragmatist when it comes to contracts. He will pay a player what he feels that player is worth and not a penny more.

If another team comes in with an offer for big money, Hicks could be moving on next season. The Patriots won’t be the only team vying for his services as Hicks plays a position that is always paid and paid well in free agency.

Bottom line: Our take is that there is a better than 50/50 chance that Hicks will return to wear the Flying Elvis in 2016. He’s more than shown he’s a fit. And once he got to play regularly, he played and played well. Now that he’s comfortable in the system, he should be even better next season.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

ICYMI Patriots vs Titans: Best of Patriots Social Media Week 15

Robert Alvarez
December 21, 2015 at 3:03 pm ET

Heading into the New England Patriots Week 15 matchup with the Tennessee Titans, it began on a somber note as news was passed along via Rob Gronkowski’s Facebook account that a friend and trainer of his named Dana Parenteau passed away at the age of 42 , and he was going to dedicate the game in his honor.

This one's for Dana. #GameTime

Posted by Rob Gronkowski -Gronk on Sunday, December 20, 2015

During pregame warmups, teammate Chandler Jones did his best to lift Gronkowski’s spirits and fire him up with some chest bumps.

It didn’t take Gronkowski long to pay tribute to his friend, Gronk would score a touchdown on a third and three play from the five yard line in the first quarter. As soon as Gronkowski crossed over into the end zone, he raised his arms and pointed to the sky. The Patriots took the early 7-0 lead.

(Courtesy @PP_Rich_Hill)

Following the Gronkowski touchdown pass, Chandler Jones continued his torrid pace this season after causing this strip fumble that was recovered by Akiem Hicks and returned for a touchdown giving the Patriots a 14-0 lead and the rout was on.

https://twitter.com/Chan95Jones/status/678779465313312768

Hicks was asked following the game on whether or not his teammates got a laugh from his unlikely score, he told The Boston Globe, ““I’m sure somebody’s gonna get ahold of [the tape] and say, ‘rumbling, bumbling, stumbling,’ I know that’s coming,’’ he said. “I’m comfortable with that, I’ve been a big guy all my life.”

Fullback Josey Iosefa, who came off the practice squad just days before Sunday’s game, made his presence known on the field during his first game action of the season. The Patriots appear to have a growing list of finding “diamonds in the rough” for the running game despite the mounting injuries.

The Patriots defense remained stout throughout the game, Malcom Butler collected this interception at the goal line late in the first half and it the Titans defense couldn’t muster much more as the Patriots won their 12th game of the season by a final score of 33-16.

(Courtesy @PP_Rich_Hill)

Defensive end Alan Branch busted out some moves.

Patriots fans hearts briefly stopped at this moment.

https://twitter.com/BenVolin/status/679017265031806976/photo/1

A lone Titans highlight from the afternoon was this touchdown pass on a  57-yard bomb by quarterback Zach Mettenberger to wide receiver Delanie Walker after breaking multiple tackles.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Denver Broncos later on Sunday evening 34-27 which ensured the Patriots a first round bye and no less than a two seed in the NFL playoffs for a record sixth consecutive season.

Good team win #LB91 #FindersKeepers

A post shared by Jamie Collins (@j_collins91) on

Devin McCourty was feeling “fresh as lettuce” monday morning following the victory as he recovers from his ankle injury.

Last but not least, we take you into the Christmas holiday with a festive singing rendition by (sort of) head coach Bill Belichick of the classic song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

(Courtesy NFL on FOX)

Monday Observations, Patriots Drop Titans, Earn Bye

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:30 am ET

The best news of the day was that despite a game that wasn’t their best, the Patriots took care of business defeating the Tennessee Titans 33-16 Sunday at Foxboro and have earned a bye for the Wildcard Round of the playoffs.

This marks the sixth straight season the Patriots have earned a bye, an NFL record. And it has to come as great news as the injuries continue to pile up at a near ridiculous rate for a team with the best record in the AFC.

This one won’t go down as one of their highlight games but on a day where the team was hurting, the Patriots did what they do best. They circled the wagons and did what they had to do.

Their win coupled with the Steelers win over Denver have given the Patriots no worse than a #2 seed and a bye for the divisional round of NFL playoffs. Pittsburgh vaults up to the #6 seed, knocking the Jets back via a tie-breaker. That makes the game in the Meadowlands next week even more dire for Gang Green.

Other observations from Sunday include:

Gronk Plays with heavy heart and dedicates game to friend: Rob Gronkowski missed Friday’s practice when it was learned that his personal trainer and close friend Dana Parenteau passed away Friday at the age of 42.

Gronkowski, on his Facebook page dedicated the game to his friend and after scoring a touchdown on the Patriots opening drive raised both arms in the air in a salute.

“My good friend loved the game of football, (he) loved being at all my games, always had my back,” Gronkowski said. “I definitely dedicate that touchdown to him. I pointed up. I know he was up there watching. I just definitely made that score for him and I know he was going crazy knowing that it was dedicated to him.”

Patriots center Brian Stork missed the game due to a death in his close family according to reports after the game.

Next Man Up Isn’t Just a Mantra: Around New England, many of the fans of Patriots Nation react with the well-used (and well needed), phrase “Next Man Up” when a player goes down with an injury.

That phrase may be getting a bit cliché in other places but just take a look around at some of the key moments of the game for the Patriots and it just isn’t a mantra for the team.

James White, who was all but an afterthought at the beginning of the season given the accomplishments of Dion Lewis, had another big day in the passing game. White had seven catches for 71 yards including a highlight reel 30-yard touchdown. He also had a 65-yard pass and run from Brady that was wiped out by another ridiculous Offensive PI penalty that is a subject for another time.

Joey Iosefa who wasn’t on any team just two months ago, was activated from the practice squad this week and promptly led the team in rushing. His run where he trucked over CB Coty Sensabaugh has already become legend on YouTube and thru GIFs. He gained 51 yards on 14 carries and immediately has become a fan favorite. The man from Pago Pago was a great midseason under the radar pickup.

Duron Harmon had to replace Devin McCourty as the Patriots centerfielder on defense as the free safety. Harmon played more than adequately in lieu of the QB for the secondary and acquitted himself well. He’s been a solid role player in his time here and now will have to step up in DMac’s absence.

Akiem Hicks had worn out his welcome in New Orleans; he was acquired in a trade for backup TE Michael Hoomanawanui and with Dominique Easley on IR has stepped up. He got two sacks in Houston last week and followed that up with another sack and a touchdown on a fumble return. Hicks rolled into the end zone after Chandler Jones strip sacked Marcus Mariota and it gave the Patriots their first defensive score of the year.

While certain players (Brady, Gronk Collins, Butler among others) are irreplaceable, if the Patriots are going to go on a deep run again, they’ll need these lunch pail types to step up at a high level.

Welcome Back to the party Mr. Jones: Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones who has been quiet the past month burst back into the spotlight on Sunday with a pair of sacks giving him 12.5 for the season, a new career high.

Jones’ strip sack of Mariota resulted in a Patriots defensive touchdown. New England was one of only four teams without a defensive or special teams score in 2015. His two sacks were part of five of the day for the Patriots. Hicks, Jabaal Sheard and Jamie Collins got the other sacks for the Patriots.

But it is important to see Jones back in the box score again. When he’s on top of his game, he gives the Patriots along with Sheard and Rob Ninkovich, three quality edge rushers who they’ll need against the suddenly pass-happy Jets.

Injuries Decimate team again: Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the football field the injury bug once again ripped thru the Patriots roster.

Danny Amendola tweaked an already bad knee in the first half while returning a punt and limped off the field. He was examined on the sideline and tried to return in the second half before heading off for good prior to the second half kickoff.

Dont’a Hightower who returned to action on Sunday after sitting out the last two games with a strained MCL also re-aggravated his injury and didn’t return.

Pat Chung took a nasty hit from teammate Jon Bostic on his knee/hip area while trying to wrap up TE Delanie Walker and went down in a lot of pain. After being attended to by the training staff, he attempted to jog off the field and then went gingerly to the sideline. He, like Amendola and Hightower didn’t return.

Brady Passes Another Milestone: QB Tom Brady started hot going 8-8 for 70 yards and a touchdown on the Patriots first drive. After that, he wasn’t at his absolute best, but like the rest of the team, he got the job done.

Brady finished 23 of 35 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. His second, to James White was his league leading 35th of the season. And it also marks his fourth season with 35 or more touchdown passes, tying Peyton Manning for most all-time.

Special Teams turnover again costs Pats: The normally sure-handed Danny Amendola coughed up a fumble on a punt return Sunday marking the fourth game in a row that the Patriots have suffered a turnover on Special Teams.

The Titans turned that turnover into three points despite moving backwards five yards on the possession. It has been an alarming trend the past month since the Denver game and something the team will have to tighten up moving forward.

Stephen Gostkowski proved that he is indeed human when he missed a field goal from 48 yards, just his second miss of the season and had another near miss. But overall on the day, Mr. Automatic kicked 4 of 5 field goals as well as all three extra points.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

Patriots Defensive Line Was Big Difference in Houston, All-22 Study

Steve Balestrieri
December 15, 2015 at 9:14 am ET

The Patriots got back on the winning track in Houston on Sunday Night Football with a convincing 27-6 win as the defense dominated the Texans offense and limited them to just a pair of first half field goals. Houston could only muster 189 total yards of offense with just 102 net yards thru the air.

Part of that reason was the very good coverage by cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Leonard Johnson who all had solid performances. Johnson had been on the team less than a week and just seven days before had worked out for the team. He received a lot of praise from Bill Belichick for the hard work he put in, trying to learn the Patriots defense in a very short amount of time.

But the defensive linemen were the ones who really turned the tide in this one; they notched six sacks of Texans quarterbacks and were putting them under pressure all night long. It was a total group effort with the interior players pushing the pocket and the edge rushers bringing pressure outside. Surprisingly, the dominant performance by the Pats defensive line was on a night where the team’s lead in sacks, Chandler Jones had a pretty quiet night.

But Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich more than made for that on the other edge. Sheard has regained his health now after having some ankle issues and is playing once again at a very high level. Unlike some dedicated pass rushers that the team has had in the past, Sheard is far from a one-trick pony. He’s smart, versatile and plays the run extremely well. His signing this spring was a coup; at the time an under the radar steal from the Browns.

Akiem Hicks in the interior is playing some of his best football right now. The team traded for him with New Orleans and he’s beginning to return to form that they had hoped for. He, Alan Branch, Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown have put together quite a rotation inside.

Here’s a look at the Patriots sacks via the coaches’ film from the NFL’s All-22 Game Pass:

On the Texans first series, Easley uses a bull rush to defeat his blocker and just overpowers him, pushing him violently back into Brian Hoyer causing  a third down sack and forcing the Texans to punt. Jones looped around the inside was right there with Easley giving Hoyer no chance at escape.

DEasley sack2

It was a great effort by the defensive line as a whole as they totally collapsed the pocket and didn’t allow Hoyer to step up or have the time to make a play.

On Jabaal Sheard’s first sack, it was significant because the loss of 21 yards took the Texans out of field goal position and nearly resulted in a turnover at midfield. Sheard lined up wide at left DE. There was confusion in the Texans OL. The right tackle, Brown, took Jamie Collins who lined up inside of Sheard and was showing blitz. Sheard was unblocked and flew off the edge. The running back should have at least chipped Sheard on the way out into the flat. It was a breakdown all around and Sheard came in untouched and knocked the ball loose.

Sheard sack -21 (3)

Ninkovich follows with a sack of his own. He lines up wide at the LDE position, Sheard is playing inside and brings pressure up the middle along with Akiem Hicks who also pushes the pocket from the RT position. Ninkovich does a nice should dip and blows right past Brown who won’t enjoy his film review this week for the Texans.

Ninkovich sack(2)

Sheard comes up with another gem, which ultimately leads to a Patriots touchdown. He lines up wide at LDE and this time takes an inside move and runs a stunt behind Alan Branch. He wins the matchup cleanly and as he gets to Hoyer he flings him to the ground causing a fumble. Malcom Brown who was playing on the nose, was double-teamed but didn’t quit on the play and alertly jumped on the ball recovering at the seven-yard line.

Sheard strip sack(2)

Hicks who had a very strong game, lines up on this play at 0-technique right over the center. He pushes the pocket back onto Hoyer. Sheard brings pressure from the outside again and is visibly held (non-call), but his play forces Hoyer to step up, right into the arms of Hicks who flings him down. Hoyer was injured on the play and didn’t return.

Hicks sack Hoyer(2)

Hicks then welcomed Yates to the party by sacking him at the six yard line. Hicks lined up at LDT and once again pushes the pocket back. Sheard brings tremendous pressure off of the LDE side and once again is obviously being held. But Hicks is able to push through his blockers and get to Yates. Ninkovich is also bringing pressure from the outside RDE position.

Hicks sack Yates(2)

This was a great performance by the Patriots defensive line on Sunday night. Coupled with strong play by the secondary, it was a dominant effort  against albeit a limited offensive team but doesn’t take away from their production as a unit.

Bill Belichick always states that defense is a team effort with the pass rush and coverage working in concert. Sunday was another big game for this unit. Normally they rely on A-gap pressure from Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. But this was a night for the defensive line. If the Patriots can get consistent pressure like this from the line, it will serve them well down the stretch and into the playoffs.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

 

 

Getting Social with Bob Socci – Three Questions For Week Five

Robert Alvarez
October 9, 2015 at 7:30 am ET

In a new weekly column introduced on PatsFans.com entitled “Getting Social with Bob Socci”, I was graciously granted the opportunity to interview 98.5 The Sports Hub Patriots radio play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci for his insight and predictions into this upcoming week five matchup with the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Who is your breakout player for either Dallas or NE this week?

“If it sounds too strange to say an eighth-year veteran with two Pro Bowls will be a breakout player, then let’s predict that this Sunday’s game in Dallas will mark the re-emergence of Jerod Mayo.  After very limited reps the first three weeks of the season, coming off injury in 2014 and left off the field in ‘sub’ packages (themselves a misnomer, because the old ‘sub’ defenses are the new norm), I suspect Mayo will have a much more integral role at Dallas.  The Cowboys’ best (maybe their only) chance to succeed on Sunday relies on being able to run the ball.  They’re also limited in personnel in the passing game, due to the injuries they’ve sustained at both receiver and in the backfield.  So I foresee a much greater role for Mayo in this game than in Weeks 1-3.”

Position matchup/battle to look for? 

“Dallas’ offensive line vs. Pats’ front seven.  I’m very curious about the roles that newcomers Akiem Hicks, Khyri Thornton and Jonathan Bostic are going to occupy in the next month and a half.  Naturally, if/when they’re employed defensively, they bear watching (closely).  Overall, it will be extremely important for the Pats to set and hold the edge defensively.  They had some problems toward this end, it seemed, at the outset of the season.  Let’s see how they do that this week, and if they become a bit stouter inside.  Considering that the Jets and Washington await in the next month, it will be imperative to improve against the run.  But they’ll have their work cut out for them against the Cowboys’ offensive line.”

What Patriot players will make the most improvement going into this week? 


So long as he’s on the field, if he gets on the field, there’s only one way to go for Bradley Fletcher – Bob Socci on Fletcher heading into Week 4.

“I’m stretching it a bit, because this player struggled in Weeks 1-2 and was inactive in Week 3.  So long as he’s on the field, if he gets on the field, there’s only one way to go for Bradley Fletcher.  That said, I won’t be surprised if we see him (at 6-0, 205 pounds) back out there against the Cowboys, perhaps involved in their coverage of Whitten.  Unlike in the past, including his struggles against Dallas a year ago, Fletcher won’t be asked to cover Dez Bryant.  Plus, Brandon Weeden has thrown mostly short check-downs underneath.  Maybe we see Fletcher this week utilized the way Brandon Browner was at times a year ago; asked to be more physical at the line with a tight end, with help, combining some man and zone concepts.”

Bob Socci has held the position of Patriots radio broadcaster since the beginning of the 2013 NFL season, taking over for longtime play-by-play man Gil Santos. He has called two AFC Championship games and the Patriots Super Bowl XLIX victory in February 2015.  He can also be heard weekly during football season on Patriots.com.