Tag Archives: Bill Belichick

Patriots-Chiefs Week 14 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 6, 2019 at 6:42 am ET

The Patriots return home to Gillette Stadium for a big matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon.  This one has serious playoff implications for the AFC East and in the conference. 

The Patriots no longer control their own destiny for the AFC’s top seed, with the Baltimore Ravens holding the top seed virtue of the tiebreaker, beating New England head-to-head. And the Patriots lead over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East has been decreased to just one game. The Bills and Ravens play each other on Sunday in Buffalo, so the opportunity to gain ground on one of them exists, but only if the Patriots can come away with a victory.  A loss to Kansas City would put them only a game behind New England in the conference.

With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from 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 (10-2) are returning home after losing to the Houston Texans 28-22 on Sunday night. 

The Chiefs (8-4) are coming off of a big 40-9 win over the Oakland Raiders. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Chiefs have been meeting since the early days of the AFL and used to meet twice a year from 1960 through the AFL-NFL Merger in 1970. The Chiefs hold an 18-14 series edge overall. At home, the Patriots are 11-7-2. Recently, however, either at Gillette or at Arrowhead, both teams hold a 5-1 advantage at home. The teams met twice last year with the Patriots holding serve at home 43-40 and then defeating the Chiefs in Arrowhead 37-31 in the AFC Championship Game.

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 Chiefs Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game had its best game of the season last week in Houston running for 145 yards. James White and Sony Michel combined for most of the production on the ground. However, a lot of that yardage came after Houston was comfortably ahead. But they did run the ball much more effectively there and against Dallas the week prior.

The Chiefs run defense is their biggest weakness and they allow a whopping 141.3 yards per game. One bright spot for them has been the play of Mike Pennel who spent training camp and preseason with the Patriots. 

This is a huge key to the game for the Patriots. With their offense struggling to score points, they need to establish the running game to keep the chains moving and to slow the game down. The Chiefs defense struggles to stop the run on first down and that is where the Patriots have to be consistent and get production. 

Look for the trio of running backs, Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead to get plenty of work as they try to establish the run and set up play-action passing against a KC defense that likes to pin their ears back and get after the QB.

Patriots WRs vs Chiefs Secondary – Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Patriots passing game has sputtered in the second half of the season and it has become a case where the players are overthinking things, which slows down their game and ultimately has led to mental mistakes. Julian Edelman remains Tom Brady’s go-to guy and he’s been excellent, but opponents know that and have been doubling Edelman and then using a corner or safety on James White, essentially daring the Patriots to beat them elsewhere. 

The Chiefs pass defense is in the middle (16th) in the league allowing 230 yards per game. Their coverage has improved with four corners (Bashaud Breeland, Chavarius Ward, Morris Claiborne, and Kendall Fuller) providing depth. Tyrann Mathieu has solidified the safety position. New Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo likes to get after the QB and KC has racked up 34 sacks with Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Emanuel Ogbah, Tanoh Kpassagnon, and Alex Okafor all having good production. 

The Chiefs want to get opponents in obvious third-down passing situations, where their pass rush turns into ball-hawking opportunities. On 3rd down the Chiefs defense is 3rd in the league in sacks and 4th in turnover percentage. The Patriots desperately need secondary receivers not named Edelman or White to step up. Phillip Dorsett, Mohamad Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry with tight ends Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse need to step it up. If they continue their production as is, it will be a long afternoon again for the offense.  

Next up the Chiefs offense:

Chiefs RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Chiefs have a trio of their own at running back with Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy and Darrel Williams, but they are banged up right now. Darrel Williams was placed on IR and Damien has been bothered with a rib injury, McCoy leads the Chiefs with just 410 yards on the ground. The Chiefs average just 94 yards per game on the ground. 

The Patriots run defense has really looked much better the past two weeks with Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton anchoring down the front and not allowing opponents to get to the second level. We look for Andy Reid to try to get McCoy going against his old divisional foe just enough to keep the defense honest, but this is a matchup the Patriots should be able to win. 

Chiefs WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Chiefs passing game unlike New England’s is built for speed. Patrick Mahomes has Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman who can all go to the house if they get the ball in space. Mahomes’ main target is Travis Kelce who leads the team with 68 receptions, 928 yards with four TDs. Mahomes has 20 TD passes against just two interceptions this year. 

The Patriots secondary has been outstanding this year, however, last week in Houston they allowed four TD passes after just allowing only four all season. Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones will be stressed this week, it would help matters to have Jason McCourty back this week as well. The pass rush will have to be better this week and trying to force Mahomes to get rid of the ball before he’s ready to. 

Mahomes is in his third year, (2nd as a starter). The Patriots were able to confuse him at times last year, but those days are coming to an end as he’ll recognize more and more of what they’ll be trying to do. Which is why they pass rush is so important this week. If the Chiefs turn this into a track meet, they’ll put up a boatload of points. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Kansas City

The Patriots special teams doesn’t have a kicker (Thursday afternoon), will they be going with Jake Bailey kicking and Jarrett Stidham as the holder this week? Bailey has been outstanding punting this season and the coverage units superb.

Kansas City has Harrison Butker who is 25-29 on FG attempts this season. Three of his four misses were beyond 50 yards. Dustin Colquitt is having a great season with just two touchbacks on his 39 punts. The Chiefs coverage units have been outstanding. 

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-2 and this one may be of more importance to them than the Chiefs. They have their division pretty much locked in having beat Oakland twice and up essentially three games with four to go.  

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Run, Run, Run the Ball – The Patriots have to take the pressure off the passing game and give them much more manageable third downs this week. They have to run the ball, slow the game down and allow them to dictate the pace and tempo. 

Kansas City’s run defense is poor and running effectively will bring up those linebackers and make them susceptible to play-action passing, which hopefully, will allow those struggling secondary receivers to get some needed separation this week.  

The Defense Can’t Allow 1-Play Drives – The Patriots defense has to make the Chiefs chip away and move slowly down the field, a small piece at a time. In both matchups last season, the Chiefs ate them up with big plays in the second half. This year, the Chiefs are among the best first-half teams in football and get off to fast starts. 

The defense will get stressed by the speed of this offense and they’ll need to weather the storm. Being physical at the line of scrimmage and challenging the Chiefs WRs is a difficult proposition. But allowing them a free release off the line is a recipe for disaster.

Time to Revisit the Turnover Machine  – This is the time for the Patriots to get some turnovers rolling again. With the offense struggling to score points, they’re going to need help from the defense or special teams to get them some cheap points either through a fumble or a rare Mahomes interception.

___________

Prediction: 

This should be another great matchup between Andy Reid and Bill Belichick. The Chiefs struggled early this season, but are healthy now and rolling along looking better every week. The Patriots, on the other hand, were rolling early but are struggling now going 2-2 in their last month. 

I’m going to drink the Kool-Aid this week and say, that at home, the Patriots and the offense find a way to slap some points together. They’ll start to get who they are offensively figured out a bit and play much better. The defense will get a key turnover and get that one big stop as they hold serve at home.  Patriots  27-24

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” heads back out on the road next week to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. 

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 breakdown game analysis

 

No Panic Necessary, Patriots To Stay the Course With the Offense in 2019

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2019 at 10:00 am ET

The Patriots offense has been scuffling along for the majority of the 2019 season and we’re now three-quarters of the way through. The team struggles in the red zone, on third down and doesn’t seem to have an offensive identity. 

Much of the fanbase has descended into full-blown panic mode, begging the owner of the team to sign one of the most self-centered players to suit up in the NFL within memory. Forgetting that the same player has only himself to blame for his ouster. All he had to do was shut up and play football. That was too much to ask. Ciao…

So, with the offensive struggles, we’ve heard the same things, we hear every year, “the Patriots are done, Brady is done, they can’t win…yawn. Wash, rinse, and repeat. As my friend Terry said the other day, “Bashing Tom Brady has become a cottage industry.”

After the loss to the Texans that dropped the team to 10-2, (gasp, how horrible!) the crescendo rose even louder. But what about the Patriots? Is there any panic coming from Gillette Stadium? Nope. Frustration, sure, who wouldn’t be? 

Flashback to Week 15 last year, the offense was ugly in the 17-10 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and everyone (again) wrote the team off. They figured things out and then won their last two games of the regular season averaging 31 points and then three playoff games where they averaged 30 more.

We’re in Week 13 now, with the Chiefs who are playing much better now than they were about a month or two ago. So, they have a month instead of two weeks to figure it out. 

I know, I know, “this team doesn’t have that feeling that they can turn it around” right? How many times have we heard that one? The issues on offense, HAVE been consistent, so is the panic justified this time or is it just more of the same old rot?

However, the fact remains that what ails this offense is execution issues. The plays are there, they’re schemed up but for some reason, aren’t getting done.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been one to say that they lack speed on the outside and it influences the way opponents play them. And I’ll stand by that, however, (comma), the Patriots have never really had a bunch of speedy wide receivers. 

So, what’s the difference this year (so far), execution. Just like Bill Belichick says all the time that pass defense is a combination of pass coverage and pass rush, the passing game is a combination of three things. 

The offensive line has to give the quarterback enough protection to allow him to go through his progressions to hit the open receiver. The wide receivers have to run precise routes and be on the same page as the quarterback in terms of route selection. And the quarterback has to make his reads and deliver the ball accurately to where the receivers are. 

Too often this year, one or more of those three items have broken down, sometimes several on the same play. These items are still fixable. Two of the wide receivers (Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry) are rookies with Harry only playing in a couple of games due to injury. Mohamad Sanu came over in midseason from the Falcons and may still be hobbled a bit by his ankle injury. 

Phillip Dorsett is coming off a concussion, however, he’s now in his third season with the Patriots and his production is far from what it should be now. It seems like ages ago we were discussing his streak of completed passes thrown his way. 

All of them can be better, and in doing so, take some of the pressure off Julian Edelman. 

The offensive line has been in flux all season. Isaiah Wynn was taking over at left tackle and then was injured and put on IR. He’s been back just two games. David Andrews was lost for the year on IR, Ted Karras took over at center, now he’s hurt and may miss a few weeks. Marcus Cannon has been fighting an illness for two weeks. And Shaq Mason just isn’t having the type of season we’re accustomed to seeing from him. 

We have seen some improvement in the run blocking, the team ran for a season-high 145 yards on Sunday, facing a team (KC) that is pretty awful at defending the run (141.3-yard average), it is imperative that they run the ball well. 

Which leads us to Brady. Of course, the national bobos who glance at stats and will have you believe that he’s done have been saying that BS for years. But if you see the game and not just watch it, the truth says differently. Can he be better? Of course, but the lack of a running game, hit or miss protection and an inexperienced WR core have taken its toll. Is the trust factor real or imagined? I tend to believe it, but some ex-players have pooh-poohed the idea as overrated.

Josh McDaniels on a conference call with the media earlier today (Dec.4) spoke about what the team needs to do to right the ship. 

“I think there’s a lot of factors in the passing game that would determine what being on the same page really means, but practice, repetition – there’s no shortcut to it, he said. 

“Every rep we take in practice, every pass we throw, every side session that we’re able to take part in, every conversation, every one-on-one drill that we do in practice, every film session that we’re in, it just continues to try to build off of the last one. I think patience is something that – I know everybody wants everything to be a finished product, and we do too, but at the same time you have to understand there’s going to be a process and we’re going to try to stick to it.” 

He added, “We have to be committed to it, and we know that it’s productive when we stay the course and continue to coach the right things and fix the right things and then the players go out and make corrections and they have success with it.”

There is a month to go, tough matchups with KC and Buffalo are at home where they tend to play better. Those games are sandwiched around their last away game in Cincinnati and at home against Miami. Both of those are eminently winnable. 

They have a month to figure things out, can they do it? While many people tend to think that they can’t, their track record speaks otherwise. 

I’ve seen many, too many posts that say… “There’s no way they beat Kansas City this week!” I’m going to drink the Kool-Aid this week and say the offense plays much better and begins to turn things around. 

Who knows? That’s why they play the games. Check back later tomorrow and we’ll have the breakdown of the Chiefs game and the key matchups.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

 Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Texans Figure Out Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2019 at 8:44 am ET

Patriots fall to 10-2, Poor Execution, Doomed Team 

The Patriots were outplayed, outcoached and for the most part out of options until very late in the game on Sunday. The Houston Texans had a great game plan, executed it to near perfection and played smart situational football throughout. I wonder where Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel learned those things? 

For fifty minutes or so, Houston dominated this game. And then they tried to coast and it nearly cost them. An onside kick that bounced just over Brandon Bolden’s fingertips was all that stood between the Patriots having a loss and an improbable win. But this wasn’t an epic comeback like the last time New England played in Houston. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the film before moving on..

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady struggled badly and was visibly frustrated starting very early in this one. And remember last week, where his pedestrian numbers we said right here were misleading? That he played much better than the numbers would appear? Well, this week is the exact opposite. 

A peek at the stat sheet and you’d say, 326 yards and three touchdown passes isn’t bad, in fact, it is pretty good… right? Wrong. 

As we mentioned above, Houston (for whatever reason) got away from what was working all game and played very soft and were allowing Brady to hit easy completions and he racked up some big garbage time numbers. Still, Houston’s gaffe nearly ended up costing them dearly, and Brady took advantage. And he had a 13-yard scramble where he didn’t resemble Lamar Jackson at all…J/K TB.

Running Backs: B+

The Patriots running game had its best game of the year running for 145 yards. The coaching staff got away from the run game early as the Texans began to stack the box and then had to almost abandon it totally when they fell far behind. 

James White must love playing here. After that epic Super Bowl performance against Atlanta, White had a huge game, with season highs in rushing (14 carries, 79 yards, 5.6-yard average), receiving (8 catches, 98 yards), and two touchdowns. The Texans had a safety on him early, but late in the game he went off and was huge for the offense. 

Sony Michel looked very good on the Patriots first drive, grinding out 33 yards on a drive that stalled deep in Houston territory and resulted in a field goal. He ended up with 45 yards on just 10 carries but was rendered to the bench. Rex Burkhead had three carries for 15 yards.

Wide Receivers: D

Julian Edelman saves this positional group from a worse grade. Edelman was bracketed all game long and still gutted his way out to a 6-catch, 106-yard night with a touchdown reception. He’s been playing hurt since the first Jets game and it baffles the mind where this offense would be without him. 

The rest of the wide receivers were …in a word, awful. No separation, blown routes, lining up in the wrong place, not catching contested passes. Did we miss anything? A couple of cases in point. Dan Orlovsky caught this first…Brady was giving a hand signal to Phillip Dorsett to go deep. Dorsett cuts his route off and Brady’s pass sails to air at the pylon. On a scramble to the right side, Brady motions for Jakobi Meyers to also go deep. He stops and the pass sails to no one. 

Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu had a combined five catches for 29 yards on 11 targets. For your #2 and #3 WRs, that isn’t going to cut it. They need a lot more from both of them, especially against a secondary that has been getting abused pretty regularly.

Meyers had three catches for 46 yards, while fellow rookie N’Keal Harry was targeted once on the pass that Brady was intercepted. Harry ran a sloppy route and didn’t box out properly, allowing Bradley Roby to jump the route and intercept the pass. Harry was sent to Siberia (or so it seemed) the rest of the game. He wasn’t targeted again. More to that later…  

Tight Ends: C

Ben Watson was only targeted once and had one catch for 23 yards, breaking a tackle and converted a big 3rd and 17 on the Pats’ first touchdown drive. Matt LaCosse played a lot of snaps and provide good blocking in run support. He had one catch for 24 yards and also had a drop. 

The offense needs to target the tight ends more down the seam and they’ll need better production from each of them in the final month of the season. 

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line played a very good game on Sunday night overall. The run blocking was the best it has been all season, generating 145 yards on the ground and averaging 5.0 yards per rush. Guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were very good at opening lanes for the backs. 

The pass protection didn’t look great on the surface with Brady getting pressured on over a third of his dropbacks. But with Houston pinning their ears back in the second half with New England down by two or more scores and Brady often holding the ball for an inordinately long time (WRs not separating), it contributed to that.  

 Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had another very good day against the Texans. Houston wanted to establish the running game with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson and the Patriots defense stuffed them. 

Houston was able to generate 52 yards on 23 carries, 2.3 yards per rush. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton continue their stellar play, disrupting the runs at the point of attack and getting good penetration. 

John Simon had one very good pressure and nearly sacked Deshaun Watson for a big loss. But Watson was able to slip away and got back to the line of scrimmage before throwing an incomplete pass. They, later on, that drive went the length of the field for a touchdown. 

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers (Boogeymen) weren’t very scary this week as they were victimized in coverage for two touchdowns. Watson and the Houston coaches were able to isolate Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy and they were both beaten easily.  Elandon Roberts was flagged for an interference penalty and JaWhaun Bentley was beaten in coverage a few times as well.

The linebackers did, however, generate all three of the Patriots sacks with Hightower, Van Noy and rookie Chase Winovich each notching a sack of Watson. Tackling was an issue as well at times.  Jamie Collins had a quiet evening. 

Secondary: B-

Watson went right after Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones this week and DeAndre Hopkins had probably his best game against the Patriots with five catches for 64 yards. They went after Jones using their speed guys (Kenny Stills and Will Fuller) from the slot. 

Fuller beat Jones for a deep TD but upon review, Jones was able to knock the ball away. Undeterred, Watson went right back on the next snap and Stills beat Jones cleanly for the touchdown. 

Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Patriots had allowed only four TDs on the season and they allowed four more on Sunday night. Watson’s passer rating was a stellar 140.7 against a team that been allowing opposing QBs a rating of about 100 points less. 

Special Teams: C

The Special Teams didn’t have a great night, and Sunday may have been one of their quietest games of the season. Kai Forbath (since released) missed an extra point. Jake Bailey was okay averaging 44-yards per punt. He had one bad onside kick attempt and one excellent one, perfectly bouncing the ball over the Texans front. But it bounced just a tad too high. Brandon Bolden got a fingertip on it and very nearly hauled it in. The coverage units were so-so and the return game was not good. 

Coaches: C

The Patriots coaching staff made some curious decisions. Abandoning the run when they finally got it going seemed ridiculous at the time, however, rewatching on tape, it was clear Houston was stacking the box. But the bizarre call for the two-point conversion was a head-scratcher.

Brady saw that Houston was aligned defensively with something they didn’t like. But they didn’t call timeout allowing themselves to take a penalty for delay of the game. Then they flipped-flopped, opting for the kick where Forbath shanked it left. 

And freezing out Harry, whether that is Brady, McDaniels or Bill Belichick is flat out wrong. He made a rookie blunder, but benching him there especially with the WRs not named Julian Edelman doing next to nothing? Not a good move. They should have gone right back to him allowing him a chance to redeem his confidence…ah well. 

Houston’s coaches (save for the final 9:53), definitely got the better of Belichick and McDaniels. And that doesn’t happen often. 

So we’re on to Kansas City and a home game next week. Buckle your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy week on social media.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Five Thoughts Following the Patriots Loss to the Texans

Ian Logue
December 2, 2019 at 12:28 pm ET

After a week of misery where the Patriots saw their locker room get swept up with a team-wide illness, Sunday night’s performance in Houston certainly didn’t leave anyone feeling any better.

Bill Belichick took his healthy players on one plane and his sick players on another, clearly hoping to keep the illness from spreading. Instead, their 28-22 showing against the Texans likely ended up being nauseating for everyone and the team now finds itself with a remaining schedule full of must-win games if they hope to earn a top seed and possibly even win the AFC East.

With this one behind us, here are some thoughts coming off of the loss.

1) The discussion this week will likely center around the lack of offensive weapons at Tom Brady’s disposal but it’s hard not to look back at what happened in this game and not feel like the problem extends beyond their lack of experienced talent at the receiver position.

Obviously the miscue by rookie wideout N’Keal Harry that led to an interception was bad, especially since Houston took advantage and scored their first touchdown. But the fact he was essentially completely removed from the offense is pretty disappointing.

Harry wasn’t targeted again following the interception and was on the field for just 22 of the 87 offensive snaps Sunday night, clearly being penalized for the miscue. It was definitely a bad play, which saw him not fight through the defender for the football and led to the interception. But following that turnover, Harry appeared to see little of the field and it was surprising to see them completely give up on him.

For a team that used a 1st round pick on him, it’s surprising that he would be taken out and alienated considering they need every receiver they have to be involved right now. Some may say Harry’s disappearance might be on Brady, but the lack of playing time was clearly a coaching decision and that’s obviously not great news.

If that’s the case, it’s telling for the future of Harry this season, who a few weeks ago seemed like he might have been one of the answers this team has been in need of. Instead, he’s now become a question mark and it’s concerning not just for the remainder of this season, but potentially moving forward if they hope to avoid failing with developing yet another young receiver.

2) This group right now really is a mess, with the veterans accounting for the majority of Brady’s attention as he selectively tries to work the younger guys into the mix. One thing is obvious, as much as it’s going to irritate him, Brady is going to have to force himself to get other players involved in the offense, no matter how uncomfortable it makes him.

There weren’t many occasions where guys came open but there were a few where players like Matt LaCosse and Jakobi Meyers managed a little separation, but Brady instead opted to target his more trusted receivers in both Julian Edelman and James White, who each combined for 214 of the 326 passing yards Brady finished the evening with.

But for the most part, his usual guys were covered and some of his targets were forced, with Phillip Dorsett and Edelman both seeing several passes thrown their way that should never have happened, including two plays where the ball was heaved downfield both to Dorsett and to Edelman (who was double-covered) and nearly picked off, with Brady clearly hoping for either a miracle or a pass interference penalty. Neither happened.

Mohamed Sanu was a guy many hoped would be a difference-maker, but he’s been banged up and played just 19 offensive snaps Sunday night as he continues fighting through an ankle injury. Brady went to him early in the third quarter, which included a 3rd-and-4 where Sanu couldn’t quite reach the marker. The Patriots went for it on 4th-and-1 and Sanu, who was also interfered with on the play, was targeted again couldn’t quite come up with the football. That was a critical sequence because the Texans turned around and took the football the other way on the ensuing possession, with Watson hitting Kenny Stills for a 35-yard touchdown.

Brady clearly has his expectations of how he expects the offense to be run and he was spotted Sunday night imploring his receivers to be “faster”, “quicker” and “more explosive”. He’s got guys who are both quick and fast, but the mental complexity that goes with this offense is clearly creating a learning curve that the younger players have yet to master. You saw it on the play where Meyers didn’t turn upfield when the play broke down and you saw it again where the depth of his route didn’t change and he collided with Edelman, who was penalized for a pick play after Meyers crossed in front of him. Those are mental mistakes, but not reason enough to yet give up on guys who will potentially be valuable down the stretch.

Those are the plays which account for Brady’s frustration and is just going to require patience, because there isn’t another player walking through that door to help them out.

Brady may not realize it, but he’s getting what he wants. He might prefer older, more experienced players, but they need to get younger, faster and quicker and have two very good receivers that fit that description. Despite the growing pains, Brady is just going to have to accept the fact things aren’t going to be perfect and rather than ignoring them after a bad play, he’s going to have to stick with them if he hopes to see them become valuable assets in this offense. It needs to happen, because the offense can’t be stuck in neutral if they expect to beat another tough opponents in the Chiefs team this weekend.

Michel had a productive night against the Texans.

3) Speaking of the offense, it was surprising to see them completely give up on running the football, especially considering the success Sony Michel had early in this contest.

Part of the reason why is somewhat obvious. The fact Michel isn’t a dual threat is likely the reason he came out of the game in favor of James White, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels probably hoping to make things a little more unpredictable for the Texans’ defense.

The bad news is, it made the Patriots less effective and they struggled to sustain drives and give New England’s defense much of a break through much of the first half.

That remains a curious situation given that Michel has shown some good moments catching the football and working in the open field. The problem is, when he’s dropped a pass or not made a play, they completely get away from targeting him. That’s quietly been the story with several offensive players this season and it’s bizarre that they haven’t yet realized giving up on guys and not going back to them has become a pattern that has really hurt them and kept them from potentially getting to where they need to be. Michel has shown he can fill that role when he needs to and it’s strange that they didn’t use him more after he had been productive prior to them going away from him. Whether or not that changes remains to be seen, but that’s been how things have gone so far with the second-year running back who had 621-receiving yards and 6 touchdown receptions during his collegiate career at Georgia.

4) The loss of Stephen Gostkowski continues to loom large, especially after losing Nick Folk to an appendectomy coming into this game.

Newcomer Kai Forbath hit a 23-yard field goal to cap the team’s first drive of the game, but missed an extra point and he looked pretty shaky as the team struggled all game long to sustain drives.

Say what you want about Gostkowski, but he missed just one field goal in his eight attempts this season before getting injured, although he was 11/15 on his extra point kicks. But if the team was in field goal range, there wasn’t much doubt that Gostkowski had a good shot at hitting it. Instead, not having a reliable field goal kicker is something that has definitely hurt them this season and you saw again on Sunday night how it affected some of their decision making.

This will likely remain a problem and when you take into account their offensive struggles, it’s even more concerning as these games continue to become tighter and more meaningful heading into the end of the season.

Despite giving up a few big plays, the defense played about as well as could have been expected Sunday night.

5) Meanwhile, despite how much they struggled, the defense actually had a better game than people think, especially after Belichick pulled them aside late in the first half and started making adjustments.

They did a reasonably good job keeping Deshaun Watson in check, with the Texans really only putting together and scoring one good touchdown drive in the first half, which came on a 13 play, 88-yard possession where Houston held the ball for nearly 7-minutes and wore down the Patriots’ defense. The other touchdown came on the Brady/Harry interception, which gave Houston the football at the New England 21-yard line, setting the Texans up for an easy scoring play to Duke Johnson just 3-plays later.

They actually held Watson to just 3-of-7 in the Third quarter, but the problem was, each of those completions went for 15, 20 and a 35-yard touchdown pass, respectively. For a group that’s normally good about not allowing big plays, that was their Achilles heel as the Texans pulled away.

However, the fact the Patriots managed just 3 points really made things tough and it seemed like it was just a matter of time before the wheels eventually came off. That’s unfortunately, exactly what happened after Houston marched their way down to the Patriots 35-yard line early in the third quarter, with Watson tossing a 35-yard pass to Will Fuller, who appeared to haul in the football for the score. However, replay showed that Jonathan Jones got his hand in and kept Fuller from controlling the football and the call was reversed and called incomplete.

But the Texans wasted no time going right back at Jones, with Watson this time throwing a perfect 35-yard pass to Kenny Stills on the next play for a touchdown, which suddenly put the pressure on New England at 21-3. That play was a tough one, especially after the close call Jones had just one play earlier. It was also the second longest scoring pass play allowed all season, with the previous one coming all the way back in Week 6 against the Giants thanks to Golden Tate’s 64yd touchdown.

The Patriots answered with a scoring drive of their own on the next possession, but the failed extra point seemingly took the wind out of their sails and they trailed 21-9 at the end of the third quarter. Houston then put together a drive to begin the fourth quarter that ended with a toss to Deandre Hopkins, who then threw a touchdown to Watson on a play that looked like a pitch but was ruled a forward pass, with Watson diving into the pylon for the touchdown.

Either way, the real story of this game was the fact on a night where they were facing a good team who came in with a good game plan, the lack of complimentary football by the offense was really their bigger issue. Three first half points obviously wasn’t enough and unfortunately, it put them in a hole just deep enough where despite their last-second scoring run, they just couldn’t recover.

As good as this defense has been, expecting them to hold opposing teams scoreless if they can’t put up points is asking a little much and all things considered, especially considering the state they were in health-wise, they played about as well as could have been expected.

With the Chiefs up next it’s another big challenge and expecting this group to shut down Pat Mahomes and the rest of the Kansas City offense is going to be a tall order if they can’t put up any points. If that ends up being a problem again this weekend, they’re going to be in for another long afternoon.

Hopefully, they’ll figure it out. They’ll spend the rest of this week trying to put this one behind them and do just that before they kickoff against the Chiefs on Sunday at 4:25pm.

Texans Dominate Listless Patriots 28-22, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:50 am ET

It appeared that the plane carrying the players suffering from the flu was the only one that landed in Houston this weekend. The Patriots looked like a team suffering from a malaise that had them as a group, a step (or two) slower than the Texans. 

Houston dominated this game completely for about 50 minutes and then went to sleep, playing soft defense that allowed the Patriots to make the score much, much closer on the scoreboard than it was on the field. They nearly gave it away as Brandon Bolden got a hand on an onside kick that bounced just out of his reach or Houston may have given the game away completely. 

But don’t let that distract from the fact that the Patriots looked terrible all game long. The offense is adrift with no identity, no separation from their receivers, no team speed, and right now no answers.

Worse, the defense, which has been the strength of this team all season long looked slow, out of sorts and out-coached on Sunday night. And if the Texans made the defense look slow, the team has Kansas City next up on the slate. They blew out the Raiders earlier on Sunday.

The ugly loss in Houston, knocked the Patriots out of the #1 seed as the Baltimore Ravens now own that, courtesy of a knock-down, drag-out last-second win over the San Francisco 49ers. But the Patriots now have to look over their shoulder in the division at the 9-3 Buffalo Bills who are now just a game back. 

Here are four main observations from the game:

The Offense is Adrift In a Sea Of Mediocrity: 

Perhaps even mediocre is a stretch right now. This offense right now looks terrible. And there aren’t any excuses anymore about guys being injured. All week, we said that there was a chance that everyone could be back (they were) this week and that the Patriots offense would have their full complement of weapons (they did) as they’d have for the rest of the season. And if this is what they have, then it is a scary proposition. 

The lack of speed on this offense right now is alarming. Opposing defenses now know that they have to double cover Julian Edelman. And because of the dearth of speed outside, they can afford to put a safety on James White, because they don’t fear any of the other receivers or tight ends. 

As a result, the number of targets successfully completed to either Edelman or White has dropped. Last night Brady was just 14 of 23 targeting those two. And yes, many of those came in garbage time. The secondary players have to step up and make the defense pay. They haven’t and last night was a microcosm of what this offense is suffering from. The remaining receivers were targeted 23 times by Tom Brady and he completed only 10 of those. 

Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu were targeted 11 times and they combined for 5 catches for 29 yards. That just isn’t going to cut it in any way, shape or form. That is averaging just 2.6 yards per target and under 6 yards per reception. 

And it isn’t like the Texans have some sort of juggernaut defense. They entered the game with a suspect run defense and a pass defense that had been burned for most of the season. The shut down the receivers and blanketed them far too easily.

Coaching Staff Made Some Curious Decisions:

The Patriots usually are the ones who make the opposition crap their pants and make decisions that go a long way toward New England coming away with a win. In Houston, it was their turn to wear the propeller hat.

Down 14-3 late in the first half, they faced a 4th and 10 from the Houston 39-yard line with just 26 seconds to go. A first down would have given them a chance to at least kick a field goal to go into halftime with a bit of momentum and the opportunity to double score. 

Instead, they opt to punt conceding a scoring chance, which says a lot on how they feel right now about this offense and the lack of trust they had last night with the defense being able to stop Houston with 20 seconds to go. 

In the second half, they seemed to abandon the running game far too quickly, rendering Sony Michel to the bench. We thought that they would be able to run the ball against the Texans defense and in the first half, they did so, fairly effectively. This put even more pressure on a moribund passing game. 

James White ran effectively later in the game, but much of that had to do with Houston just trading space for time after they opened up a big lead. 

Then in the second half, after they scored a touchdown, they lined up to go for two. Seeing something they didn’t like with the Houston alignment on defense, instead of calling a time out, they took the five-yard penalty and then flipflopped, opting to kick the extra point. Kai Forbath then hooked it badly left…Ugly. 

And Then There is Harry:

Patriots 1st round draft pick N’Keal Harry was used as a blocker on the early drive and performed well, showing the willingness and ability to use his size and physicality to their advantage.  Then came Brady’s interception.

Harry ran a slant from the left side on a 3rd and 4 and allowed Bradley Roby, who gave him a slight tug on the jersey, to get inside and pick off Brady. Harry slowed his route, something he can’t do and didn’t use his body effectively enough. It was a rookie mistake and one that has to be corrected. 

But that was it essentially for Harry for the night. He had played 12 snaps up to that point. He wasn’t totally benched but only played 10 snaps the rest of the game. And wasn’t targeted again. We’ll have to rewatch the tape, but I didn’t see him in the second half. 

It doesn’t matter whose decision it was, Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Brady, but this is the kind of situation that needs to be looked at. Granted Harry made a mistake, but for him to get completely frozen out for the rest of the game over it? Ouch. And it wasn’t like the rest of the receivers were lighting it up making him expendable. 

Where do we go from here? Good question…

Texans’ Coaches Had the Patriots Defense Figured Out: 

This was a great coaching job by Houston and flawlessly executed by QB Deshaun Watson. The Patriots were a bit passive early and dropped back in zone coverage, respecting their speed at wide receiver and Watson’s ability to move in the pocket. 

When the Patriots played that way, Watson immediately targeted the middle of the field in the sweet spot and was hitting on those passes easily. Or they’d isolate a linebacker in coverage with Duke Johnson out of the backfield, which was a mismatch. 

When they switched to man coverage and specifically to their Cover 0 technique, the Texans went deep. Their speed (unlike New England) was on full display, DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, and Will Fuller gave them problems in this look.

The pass rush wasn’t much of a factor for much of this game, which hurt. And then when it did get home, Watson escaped with a great move and kept a drive alive which resulted in a Houston touchdown.

Give a ton of credit to Houston’s offensive game plan, they knew what they wanted to do and executed it extremely well. 

So, the Patriots return home at 10-2 with the Chiefs coming into town with many more questions than answers on this snowy Monday morning.

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-01, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 1, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-01 and AFC East notes this week. 

Gameday! The Patriots are on the road to face the Houston Texans later tonight on Sunday Night Football. And after three bad weather games in the past four, the Patriots will be playing indoors.

But first, we hope everyone had a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving holiday surrounded by family, food, and football. I was exceptionally blessed to be surrounded by all three. Thanksgiving morning I was lucky enough to cover and shoot a highschool game between long-time rivals Grafton and Millbury since I also work for each of the respective town’s newspapers. 

These small-town, early morning Turkey day games are so distinctly New England in their flavor, it would make a great Norman Rockwell painting and sets the tone for the entire day. And what a game this year, two outstanding coaching staffs, great kids and a great game that went right down the wire. It was more entertaining (for me anyway) than much of what I watched later on television. That’s what I was thankful for. 

Great high school game on Thursday set the tone for the weekend

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

M*A*S*H* Unit – The Patriots have over a third of their roster either out or questionable for tonight’s game against the Texans as the flu bug has ravaged the unit (Thanks Dallas) this week. The latest to go down was LB Kyle Van Noy who missed practice on Friday.  With one player ruled out (As of Friday night) Ryan Izzo, and 17 questionable, the list of inactive players will be scrutinized closely later tonight.

Kai Forbath – The veteran kicker is the 4th player to play the position in 2019 after Nick Folk suffered appendicitis and was released. Forbath has played for Washington, New Orleans, Minnesota, and Jacksonville. 

Forbath’s signing means that the team has had more kickers (4) in the past eight weeks than they did in the previous 23 years. Other than the final eight games of 2010 when Stephen Gostkowski was injured, the Patriots have had either him or Adam Vinatieri at the helm. 

Julian Edelman – The Patriots veteran WR has one of the most entertaining social media accounts out there. From his “cop” videos with Danny Amendola to others, it is always a must-see for Patriots fans. He didn’t disappoint on Thanksgiving having photoshopped the famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Day painting and adding Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, Sony Michel, Chase Winovich, Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty and of course his BFF Tom Brady.  

Edelman 2: Edelman on Friday was in a Star Wars state of mind. NESN’s Zach Cox wrote that the WR was asked about his leadership style when in the meeting room with the young Patriots WRs. Edelman didn’t disappoint. 

“I don’t think Yoda would go out there and tell his secrets of how he trains Jedis,” Edelman said. “So I’m not saying anything, buddy.”

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

It is That Time Again, Post-Thanksgiving Run: 

Bill Belichick has always said that you don’t really know what you have in a football team until after Thanksgiving. Well… here we are. The Thanksgiving tryptophan coma is in the books and tonight will the first game in the month of December. 

This is when the Patriots have traditionally have turned things up a notch and began to tighten things up for the stretch run and hopefully a long post-season run. Not that the team has a lot of things to tighten up on, being 10-1 entering Week 13. 

But with the Ravens right behind them in the AFC (with the tie-breaker) and the Bills playing really good football at 9-3, they can ill-afford any slip-ups. Especially with Chiefs awaiting after the Texans game and the Bills on tap soon after that. 

Tom Brady spoke about these things on Friday in his press conference and echoed that this is the time of year, for the team to take it up a notch. 

“Yeah, this is an important time of year for every team and the teams that are fortunate enough to really still be in it,” Brady said.

“This is the time where you’ve pretty much seen what you can do and what the other teams can do and the roles guys play and so forth. So, we’ve got to – we’re playing some really good teams, and this is the one that matters the most is the one that we’ve got ahead of us. It’s a great football team, well-coached, very good on offense, very good on defense. They don’t beat themselves, they’re explosive. It’s just a great football team. So, a big challenge for us, Sunday Night Football. I’m sure they’re going to give us everything they’ve got, and hopefully, we can go match it.”

Situational Football Practicing Pays Off:

The Patriots are always practicing situational football and while many teams pay it lip service, not many will practice it with the intensity that Bill Belichick’s teams do…and it highlights the sometimes razor-thin difference between winning and losing. 

Sunday’s game against the Cowboys was a prime example. There is a reason the Patriots practice outside in all weather conditions and Belichick frequently will douse the footballs with water, making it as difficult as possible in practice. Because they won’t blink if it happens in the game. 

With the very tough weather conditions on Sunday and in a tight defensive game, it became a field position, situational football game. The Patriots were very prepared for it, Dallas was not. Belichick knew that they couldn’t turn over the ball and may need a turnover or two to win. They got it and never put the ball on the ground. Dallas had one turnover and nearly had several others.

Just a look at how each team handled the kicking game was quite telling. The Patriots kicked off short and while the wind played tricks on the returners, the Cowboys nearly turned the ball over a few times. The Patriots left their deep man back and had a returner at about the 15-yard line in case of the same issue. 

The conditions on the field were such that practicing in conditions like this played in NE’s favor. Photo: SBalestrieri

Wonder why they always have so many guys practicing returning punts in practice? Late in the 3rd quarter, Rex Burkhead made a fair catch of the ball in the wind giving the Patriots excellent field position. No big deal right? Wrong. Burkhead, who had never fielded a punt in the NFL, had been practicing for this type of situation since training camp. New England got a field goal on the ensuing possession. 

And of course, Matthew Slater with a huge block of a Cowboys punt deep in their own end gave the struggling offense the ball at the 11-yard line. The result of which was a Patriots touchdown, the only one of the game. Chess-checkers. 

Patriots Players to Watch Tonight: 

With the Patriots in Houston tonight, we’ve compiled our list of players to watch in the game. This list will also be matched against who is available as 17 players are questionable for this one. 

Tom Brady – The Patriots QB hears the same drivel every year at this time from the hot take artists that he’s done, he’s in decline, yada, yada, wash, rinse and repeat. With the OL getting back together, and his #2 and #3 receivers possibly being back and his 1st round draft receiver getting back into the lineup, things are trending up. 

And this is a great week for turning things up a notch (as we stated above). With everyone talking about Deshaun Watson this week, Brady would love to stick a fork in all that with a big game against the Texans. The feeling here is that he will. 

Stephon Gilmore – The Patriots corner is making people rethink that Revis Island stuff we were all saying a few years ago. He’s been the best corner in the league for a couple of years now and is facing another daunting task of covering DeAndre Hopkins.

This is nothing new for the soft-spoken Gilmore, which is even rarer among NFL corners as they tend to be the bombastic, diva types. But his matchups with Hopkins, among the very best WRs in the league will be areas to watch all night.  Where are all those people who lamented paying Gilmore all that money over Malcolm Butler in 2017? 

Sony Michel – The Pats 2nd-year RB had a very solid game against the Cowboys last week. And it wasn’t just in the number of yards it was the way he ran. He hit the holes quickly and made a number of good cuts as well as got good yards after contact. 

Running against a middling Texans run defense, look for the Patriots to get Michel involved early this week to set up play action. Do you think Sony liked running behind his old college teammate at crunch time? 

Lawrence Guy – The Patriots’ very good and very underrated big man on the defensive line has had a couple of very good games back-to-back against the Eagles and Cowboys.

With the RPO (run, pass option) of the Texans and a very good Houston rushing offense, Guy will need a big game again. Look for him and fellow teammate Danny Shelton to try to penetrate inside to disrupt the timing and flow of those RPOs. 

Isaiah Wynn – Wynn made a nice return to the field this past week and had a solid game against the Cowboys. He looks like a player far beyond making just his fourth start in the NFL. The Patriots have put a lot of faith in him as their LT of the future and down the stretch and in the playoffs he can justify all of that faith. 

After what we saw in crunch time against Dallas, look for the Patriots to utilize him and Joe Thuney in the running game with TE Ben Watson more and more as they’ll attempt to run to the left in this one tonight. 

NFL Schedule Week 13, 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: 11-3
Season:116-59-1

Thanksgiving Day Football 1-2
Detroit over Chicago
Dallas over Buffalo
New Orleans over Atlanta  

Indianapolis over Titans
NY Jets over Cincinnati
Carolina over Washington
49ers over Baltimore
Jacksonville over Tampa Bay
Cleveland over Pittsburgh
Green Bay over NY Giants
Philadelphia over Miami
LA Rams over Arizona
LA Chargers over Denver
Kansas City over Oakland
SNF New England over Houston
MNF Seattle over Minnesota

Bye week: No teams

No AFC Notes this week, we’ll bring those back next week. 

________________

Yeah, they’ve been great. Joe’s got a lot of leadership, obviously ,and more experience, but Jake’s mature beyond his years. He’s handled everything as well or better than I could imagine anybody at his age and his experience level handling it, from the punts to the field goals to the holding to the kickoffs. He’s done a great job for us. They’ve both played great.”Bill Belichick being asked about the way Jake Bailey and Joe Cardona have handled the situation working with different kickers

________________

“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.

 

VIDEO: New Trailer For “Belichick And Saban” The Art Of Coaching

Robert Alvarez
November 29, 2019 at 9:14 am ET

A new trailer for the HBO documentary “Belichick & Saban: The Art Of Coaching” was released earlier this week.

The documentary has arguably the most successful coaches at the college and pro level sit down for an interview together.

The history of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban starts in 1991, when Saban was Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns.

Both coaches have combined to win over ten championships during their careers.

Check out the latest trailer released by HBO below.

The documentary will premiere December 10th on HBO.

Patriots – Texans Week 13 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road in a big Sunday Night Football matchup with the Houston Texans.   

The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Texans are in first place in the tightly contested AFC South at 7-4, a game ahead of the Colts and Titans. 

With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from 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 (10-1) are coming off another tough, defensive victory, beating Dallas 13-9 in a windy, rain-swept Gillette Stadium.

The Texans (7-4) are coming off of a big 20-17 win over the Colts last Thursday night which gave them the division lead. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Texans have met 11 times, twice in the playoffs and it is a series that has been dominated by New England, holding a 10-1 overall lead. The Patriots and Texans have met for the past five seasons and New England has won the last eight meetings including a 27-20 win last year in Foxboro.

 

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 Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots running game finally showed some signs of breaking out of their year-long funk last week against Dallas. Did that have to do with the return of Isaiah Wynn to the starting left tackle position? It certainly didn’t hurt. Sony Michel ran very well, hitting the holes quickly and showing the ability to both make some defenders miss and to break some tackles as well. 

As we pointed out in yesterday’s quick look at Houston, their run defense is middling, 17th in the league and allowing 108 yards per game. With Jadeveon Clowney in Seattle and J.J. Watt on IR, the Texans are struggling across the board on defense. 

Look for the Patriots to establish the running game and set up play-action. Michel gained 85 yards a week ago and if he can hit the hole with that kind of burst the Patriots should be in good shape. But the Texans linebackers remain the strength of this unit.         

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

The Patriots passing game really missed Mohamad Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) last week against Dallas, but the rookies stepped up and played fair well. Julian Edelman continues to play banged up but he had a very productive game a week ago. Wynn’s return definitely helped in the pass protection for Tom Brady.

Houston’s pass defense has been struggling all year. Their pass rush has generated 22 sacks and is 28th in sacks per pass play. They allow 260 yards per game through the air (25th) and allow the third-down conversions at 41 percent, 31st in the league. The secondary has been a revolving door due to injuries and they’re struggling to find answers. 

Look for Josh McDaniels to test the Texans secondary by mixing things up with lots of crossers and quick to intermediate plays testing the middle of the field. It would be nice to see Sanu and Dorsett back this week, but we’re seeing the growth of rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get increased roles. I believe the Patriots will try to target the Texans linebackers in space. 

Next up the Texans offense:

Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Texans have a very good tandem in Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde with QB Deshaun Watson an able runner that can make plays with his legs. The Texans run more of that read-option offense, mainly with Hyde and Watson that has given the Patriots some issues. 

The Patriots run defense did a good job of defending the run last week against the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, although he got 86 yards on 21 carries, he didn’t have the impact of really influencing the game and they limited his effectiveness in the red zone.

Look for Houston to run some of the similar looks to what Baltimore did against the Patriots a few weeks ago. It will be up to the linebackers to set the edge and get some penetration to force Watson into obvious passing situations. And the big men up front, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton must get some penetration upfront to disrupt the flow of the running game. 

Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Houston passing game with Deshaun Watson throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills at WR is a tough matchup for the New England secondary. They also have Daniel Fells at TE and Johnson out of the backfield. The passing offense is much more dangerous when Fuller is healthy. Problem is, he’s been banged up quite a bit and is not quite 100 percent with a hamstring issue now.

Hopkins is obviously the key here. He has 81 catches for 839 yards and 8 TDs this season. But the Patriots have done a good job of limiting his production when facing Houston. In five career games against New England, he has 24 catches for 339 yards and zero touchdowns. 

The Patriots secondary’s coverage has been simply outstanding and it begins with Stephon Gilmore, who has been the best in the game for the past two seasons. He’ll be matched up with Hopkins, Fuller will be covered by a combination of J.C. Jackson and/or Jason McCourty. While Jonathan Jones draws Stills. Houston’s OL has allowed 32 sacks, so the pressure on Watson will be interesting to monitor.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots special teams lost Nick Folk to appendicitis this week and he’s been replaced on the roster by Kai Forbath, the 4th kicker on the season. Jake Bailey has been outstanding this season as has the coverage units. Matthew Slater is having an outstanding season and blocked a punt last week versus Dallas. The return game has been so-so all season. 

The Texans kicking game has been as unpredictable as the Patriots. Ka’imi Fairbairn has missed five field goals (all from 40+) as well as five PATs. Bryan Anger is back with the team and doing an outstanding job at punting. Houston’s coverage teams have been tremendous, allowing only a 2.7-yard return average. The Texans return game hasn’t been strong either. 

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-1 and it is a very important game for both teams with big playoff implications on the line. Bill Belichick always likes to say that you don’t get a real feel for a team until after Thanksgiving. Well, here we are. 

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

No Big Chunk Plays Against the Run- Look for the Patriots defense to play a similar game plan like they did last week against the Cowboys, Hyde, Johnson and Watson will get their yards, but don’t let them dictate the pace and tempo of the game and stop them from consistently getting into those 3rd and 3 or less. 

Houston has consistently gotten those big chunk plays of 20 yards or more this season, their currently fourth-best in the league. The way to slow down this offense is to take those away and force them to confront your strength on defense, the secondary. 

Win On 3rd Down and the Red Zone – The Patriots offense has struggled on both 3rd down and the red zone this season. So has the Houston defense. Here is the chance for the offense to make some inroads with both of those issues. 

Here is where N’Keal Harry’s selection can start paying dividends. We saw a glimpse of what he can do with his 10-yard TD last week. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him targeted in the red zone moving forward. This seems like a big week to see either Rex Burkhead or James White in the pattern against the linebackers.

Time to Round Into Form  – This is the time of year for the Patriots that they traditionally begin to really play well and begin to build up for a postseason run. Sunday night will be the first game for that to start. That means for the offense to begin to find an identity and become more productive. If that means more Harry and Ben Watson, then they need to get it done. 

They’ve always risen to the occasion under Belichick. Facing a playoff team on the road for a Sunday night nationally televised game, is an opportunity for the team to make a statement, that they’re far from done.

**  Shameless Self-promotion** Our 3rd key last week was for the STs to step up. 

Look for them to go after a punt or two this weekend to help out the struggling offense. Justin Bethel or Brandon Bolden may be a key contributor this week.

___________

Prediction: 

This should be a very good Sunday night matchup. The Houston offense with Watson, Hopkins, Fuller, and Stills is a marquee matchup for the Patriots secondary. But never underestimate the power of doubt. The talking heads (usual suspects) have begun to throw dirt on Brady once again. 

Nothing fires up the 42-year old QB and brings out the best in him than doubt. Look for Brady to make a big statement on Sunday night.  Patriots  27-13

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour returns to Foxboro next week for a huge game against the Kansas City Chiefs.,.

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 breakdown game analysis

Patriots 2019 Opponents, The Texans Are a Familiar Foe

Steve Balestrieri
November 28, 2019 at 6:57 am ET

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a quick look at the Patriots’ next opponent, the Houston Texans while you wait for your turkey to cook. 

The Patriots head back out on the road this week for a prime-time game against the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football. At 10-1, the Patriots own the #1 seed in the AFC and still hold a two-game lead of the Bills in the division. 

The Texans are a familiar foe and it seems like they are almost a divisional opponent. The two teams have faced each other at least once in the past five seasons and former NE offensive coordinator and Texans coach Bill O’Brien conducted joint practices with the Patriots in 2017. 

So the familiarity and respect are there on both sidelines as the two teams meet up again.

Prime Time Watson Something to Watch:

John McClain the Texans’ outstanding beat writer penned a very intriguing piece on Houston QB Deshaun Watson this week and his ability to turn it on in prime time games. Watson has appeared in seven prime time games in his career and is 5-2 in those contests. 

Watson has tossed 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His quarterback rating is 118.6. Also included in those games, he’s rushed for 272 yards with three more touchdowns. And this week, under the bright lights, Watson and the Texans will be playing at home. 

Bill Belichick spoke about Watson early this week and the difficulties of trying to match up against Watson on Sunday night.

“He’s very, very good,” Belichick said. “He’s a very accurate downfield passer. He’s made some great throws on double-moves, seam routes, post patterns, go routes, things like that.

“And, of course, we all know he’s a very athletic guy with the ball in his hands. He can score from anywhere at any time. It’ll be a big challenge for us for 60 minutes. Any game’s a long way from being over if he has his hands on the ball.”

Big Three (Watson, Hopkins, Fuller) Present a Difficult Opponent :

The Houston offense features Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller presenting a very difficult trio to defend against. Fuller has had injury problems in his career and is nursing a balky hamstring right now. But when he’s in the lineup, opponents can’t focus on just stopping the outstanding Hopkins outside. 

In the last three seasons, the Houston offense has had that trio on the field for only 19 games. But in those games, they’ve lit it up offensively, averaging 28.6 points and nearly 400 yards of offense. 

And Watson’s numbers? (Courtesy of McClain) In those 19 games, Watson has thrown 45 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. He’s completed 8.8 yards per attempt, and his rating is 104.2. Hopkins has 124 receptions for 1,715 yards and 17 touchdowns. Fuller has 86 receptions for 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns. Besides the big three, Watson also has Kenny Stills, TEs Darren Fells, and Jordan Akins as well as Duke Johnson out of the backfield. 

The Patriots secondary which has been nothing short of outstanding this season faces another big challenge this week. 

Revamped Running Game Is Playing Well:

Houston has a new 1-2 punch at running back with Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde replacing the tandem the Patriots saw in Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. Houston has had very good balance this season churning out 136.9 yards per game, good for 7th in the league. 

Hyde has rushed the ball 174 times for 836 yards, good for a 4.8-yards per rushing attempt with 4 touchdowns. Johnson has rushed 65 times for 349 yards (5.4-yard avg) with a touchdown. Watson has rushed for 301 yards on 58 rushes (5.2-yard avg) with a team-leading 5 rushing touchdowns.

Hyde is the early-down back and getting the lion’s share of the rushes with Johnson coming in for third downs and getting more of the receptions out of the backfield. Watson is a threat to make plays with his feet at any time. 

Texans Defense Missing Clowney, Watt Down the Stretch: 

The Texans’ defense has been middle of the road to slightly below in most defensive categories in 2019. Houston has allowed 22.6 points a game, which is 17th in the league. On the ground they’re allowing 108.0 yards per game, also 17th while through the air, opponents are getting 259.3 yards per game passing which is 25th in the league.

They really miss Jadeveon Clowney who is now in Seattle as well as J.J. Watt who is on IR in their pass rush. Their strength remains the linebackers,  Whitney Mercilus, Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, Bill Belichick called them among the best in the NFL. 

They’ve also made changes in the secondary. CB Jonathan Joseph and S Justin Reed remain but now they’ve got Bradley Roby at the other corner slot and Tashaun Gipson at safety. 

We’ll have our keys to the game and key matchups later tomorrow. Stay tuned… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: B

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

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

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

Running Backs: B-

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

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

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

Wide Receivers: B

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

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

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

Tight Ends: C

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

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

Offensive Line: B

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

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

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

 Defensive Line: B+

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

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

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

Linebackers: A-

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

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

Secondary: A

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

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

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

Special Teams: A

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

Coaches: A+

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

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

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

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.