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New England Patriots News 3-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 12, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 3-12, & AFC East Notes.

Big Splash: The Patriots uncharacteristically were major players in the first two days of free agency. Signing CB Stephon Gilmore for a big money contract, trading for TE Dwayne Allen, DE Kony Ealy, re-signing FAs Duron Harmon and Alan Branch and then trading for Saints WR Brandon Cooks. They paid a hefty price (32nd pick in the 1st round and the third-round pick #103) but in return got a very speedy WR in Cooks and the Saints 4th rounder (#118).

The Patriots have plenty of quickness at WR but not a ton of speed.  Cooks will fix that issue. He has blinding speed and had touchdowns in 2016 of 98 and 87 yards. The Pats struggled with Atlanta’s speed early in the Super Bowl. The addition of Cooks should alleviate that and give Tom Brady a target to air the ball out when the defense sells out trying to crowd the box.

By bringing back Alan Branch and Duron Harmon, the Patriots made moves that were very affordable and allowed them to keep two of their better defensive playmakers. Branch signed a two-year deal worth around $12 million and was very good at stuffing the run and filling the gaps. Harmon inked a four-year deal worth $20 million and provided excellent production as the deep safety when the Patriots go to their big nickel package. Low key moves but very valuable ones in the big picture.

Patriots Sign Guy, Former Ravens DL on Saturday:
The Patriots added more depth to their DL this weekend by signing former Ravens DL Lawrence Guy to a four-year contract worth $20 million dollars.

Guy a veteran of six NFL seasons is only 26 years old, is 6’4, 305-pounds and is considered a solid interior run stuffer. He joins Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton and Darius Kilgo on the Patriots’ interior defensive line.

The team could still use another defensive end, with Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom on the roster at the present time.

Cooks, Allen Give Offense Shades of 2007 Feel:
The Patriots were going to lose TE Martellus Bennett in free agency so they went in on trading for a player that they’ve coveted for a few years in Dwayne Allen.  In adding Cooks, another Bill Belichick favorite, the offense has shades of the 2007 season when the team loaded up with Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and Donte Stallworth.

The 2017 version of the Patriots offense on paper looks ridiculously, scary good. Besides Rob Gronkowski and Allen at TE, the wide receiver position is stacked. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola (for now), return. Add in James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield and this becomes a pick your poison offensive unit.

Cooks brings an element of pure unadulterated speed to the table. He can split out wide or in the slot and is fast enough to blow by defenders if he gets a clean release. Depending on matchups, the Patriots can throw out a two-TE package, or a three or four wide receiver look.

While the price for Cooks was steep, he’s been a dynamic playmaker with QB Drew Brees. He had touchdowns of 98 and 87 yards a year ago, and his yards per reception have gone from 10 to 13.5 to 15.0 in 2016. He is still just 23 years old and should provide the offense with another viable weapon. Opposing defensive coordinators won’t get much sleep this season.

Ealy Trade a Low-Risk Win for the Patriots:
With the news of the Carolina Panthers signing Julius Peppers to a free agent contract on Friday, that made the talented but inconsistent DE Kony Ealy expendable. Ealy was a 2nd round pick (60th overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Ealy had a monster Super Bowl against the Broncos with three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. But the Panthers felt he plateaued in 2016 and got only five sacks. In stepped Bill Belichick. Belichick offered to swap the Patriots 2nd round pick #64 for Ealy and Carolina’s 3rd round selection, #72. So by sliding just eight spots, the Patriots get a player with a tremendous amount of upside. Plus, his salary hardly puts a dent in the salary cap at $803,660 for 2017.

The Patriots ask their DEs to do different things than most other teams. They must set the edge in the running game, and occasionally drop into the passing lanes for opposing QBs hot routes on blitzes. The Patriots must feel that Ealy is a fit for what they do. Regardless of how this move turns out, it was a very low risk, high reward move by Belichick.  Ealy seems to be a very good fit for the Patriots defense and should augment their pass rush by joining the rotation.

Team Loses Bennett, Sheard, Mingo, and Logan Ryan in Free Agency:
Not all of the news was good however for the Patriots. They lost Martellus Bennett, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Logan Ryan during free agency. While not surprising with any of them, their losses will still resonate inside Foxboro.

Bennett signed with the Green Bay Packers, with a three-year $21 million-dollar deal. Sheard and Mingo were signed by the Colts, and Logan Ryan signed a contract with the Tennessee Titans that will pay him between $9 -10 million dollars per year.

Plenty of Flexibility For the Patriots to Still Be Players in FA and the Draft:
Despite all the moves so early in free agency, the Patriots still have nearly $40 million dollars in cap space to work with, and even with the contract of Dont’a Hightower still lingering out there, they have lots of room to still sign some very good free agents on the market.

Having already added Kony Ealy at defensive end, the team could still use some added depth. Recently released DE Connor Barwin from the Eagles could garner a look as well as DeMarcus Ware. Ware may be looking at a one-year deal similar to Chris Long’s a year ago.

Even if they bring Hightower back, they could use some extra help at the position. They currently have Jonathan Freeny (IR in 2016), Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy. Roberts is a very good run stuffer but limited in coverage and McClellin and Van Noy are sub-backers on passing downs. A couple of interesting names out there include Datone Jones from Green Bay and Kevin Minter from Arizona. If Hightower leaves, Zach Brown from the Bills could be a fall-back option.

Butler Situation Will Remain a Sticky One:
Malcolm Butler has earned his payday; No one, not even the Patriots are arguing that. However, what remains a situation is how much he’s going to get paid. Butler, an UDFA who worked at Popeye’s before he got a chance with New England, doesn’t have the big college or high draft status pedigree that others (Gilmore for instance) have.

It sucks for him but it is what it is. The fact that he is a restricted free agent this season is another huge sticking point. The Patriots want to pay him as a restricted free agent and not an unrestricted one…which is a big, big difference.

He wants his money now, and no one can fault him for that and doesn’t want to wait until he’s 28 to get his big payday. The Patriots offered him an extension last year which was turned down and supposedly Butler was peeved at the amount offered. His agent, Derek Simpson has taken to social media to plead his case and reiterate that they’re not asking for the moon. But the Patriots haven’t budged. So now what?

If the situation is untenable and the two sides can’t work it out, then a trade becomes a very real possibility, but Butler would still have to sign his tender in order to get the trade approved. There were talks of the Patriots and Saints in the Cooks deal having Butler as part of the package. Those talks could resume. Or they could trade him elsewhere.

Butler could sign his tender, pocket $4 million for 2017 and go and become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Of course, Butler and the Patriots could work out a long-term deal that would make everyone happy.

Simpson and Butler have until April 21st to find a suitor to sign him to a free agent deal which isn’t likely since that team would have to cede their first-round pick to New England. That would put him in limbo unless he signs his tender.

The situation sucks….no ifs, and’s or buts about it. Butler has earned his payday but that is the system they play in. If the Patriots do work out a trade for him, they could opt for another free agent corner on the market, (Alteraun Verner, Nickell Robey-Coleman) or wait for the draft.

Currently, they have Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones and Justin Coleman on the roster.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Active in Free Agency, Beef Up Depth:
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been getting the headline of their divisional counterparts in New England but they’ve been very active thus far in free agency. After working out a revised contract with QB Tyrod Taylor, the Bills have signed K Steven Hauschka, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, and fullbacks Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco.

But the big news on Saturday was that LB Lorenzo Alexander was coming back. Alexander who had a breakout season in 2016 with 12.5 sacks and he was rewarded with a two-year contract.

The Bills, however have lost several free agents including safeties Corey Graham and Aaron Williams, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, and Nickell Robey-Coleman, kicker Dan Carpenter, wide receiver Marcus Easley, and long-snapper Garrison Sanborn.

Miami Also Active Early in Free Agency:
The Miami Dolphins had a pretty productive start to free agency with a flurry of signings. The biggest was perhaps LB Lawrence Timmons who came over from the Pittsburgh Steelers, an area that the Dolphins needed to upgrade.

But they also acquired two starting-caliber defensive ends Andre Branch, and William Hayes, tight end Julius Thomas, safety Nate Allen, guard Ted Larsen, and re-signed wide receiver Kenny Stills and added a backup tight end, Anthony Fasano.

Jets Sign OL Kelvin Beachum:
The New York Jets signed free agent OL Kelvin Beachum on Friday. Terms were for three years and a reported $24 million dollars. Beachum battled injuries in his 2016 season with Jacksonville but is a solid OL and is expected to play left tackle for the Jets.

The Jaguars declined a long-term option in Beachum’s contract in February. He was slated to receive a $5 million roster bonus on Feb. 15 as part of a five-year, $45 million deal he signed in March 2016, which featured a cap hit that steadily rose to $11 million by 2020, per Spotrac.

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.

NFL Combine, Patriots Have Plenty of Options at Edge Rusher

Steve Balestrieri
March 6, 2017 at 5:37 am ET

 The NFL is a passing league and the quarterbacks are the driving force in it. Some of the most important players on each team are the quarterbacks and those players trying to sack them.

The Patriots will have some work to do to replenish their players on the edge in 2017. Prior to the 2016 season, they traded away Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. And now Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard are free agents and neither is likely to return. That leaves them with Trey Flowers who shined down the stretch for the team and steady, reliable veteran Rob Ninkovich, who is closer to the end of his run than the beginning.

But the good news is, despite free agency starting this week, the NFL Draft will be chock full of talented edge rushers. There are several players available that may be of interest to the Patriots as either a defensive end or as an outside linebacker. We’ll list a few here, some have already been linked to the Patriots.

While Miles Garrett is far above everyone else with his combine showing, forget about him coming to New England. His performance solidified what we already knew, he’s going to be the #1 pick and is heading to the Cleveland Browns. Ditto for Solomon Thomas from Stanford and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. They should all be gone before New England is on the clock. And Malik McDowell who had a very good day at the Combine on Sunday? I think the Patriots pass on him, he doesn’t seem like their type of player with his lack of effort at times at MSU.

So. who may be around for the Pats to select? Here are some intriguing players to do some thinking about:

Taco Charlton from Michigan is an athletic big man at 6’6, 277-pounds and can play on the outside or kick in to be an interior pass rusher. He had 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss for a stout Michigan defense in 2016 and would be a great fit for what the Patriots love to do.

“I play a little bit of every position, inside, outside. I’ve played heavy, I’ve played light,” Charlton said at the Combine. “Look at my pass-rush moves, I’ve done a little of everything. My arsenal is wide, I can stab, I can bull, I can spin, I can speed rush. So, the arsenal I have and the combination of all the positions I’ve played: three-tech, four-tech, five-tech, weak-side end, all of those things kind of add up to separate me a little bit.”

Charlton is still filling out his massive frame and has possibly not even scratched the surface on his potential. Has the prototypical size, length, athleticism, to be a dominant pass rusher in the league.

Carl Lawson from Auburn looks the part as an edge rusher in the NFL. He’s 6’2, 253-pounds with a chiseled upper body and had the most bench presses for defensive linemen at the Combine with 35. He also had the fastest time in the 20-Yard Shuttle Run with a time of 4:19. The shuttle run measures lateral quickness and agility.

Lawson had issues with injuries in 2014-15 but he put it together for War Eagles this past season. He logged 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He has very good power off the edge and is aggressive.

With his injury history, Lawson may drop into the 2nd round which would be a nice pickup for a team looking for an explosive edge rusher.

Charles Harris from Missouri is a hybrid edge rusher who can be a DE/OLB at the next level. He ran a 1.65 split which is a good indicator of burst and explosion at the line. Harris is 6’2, 253, and has excellent agility and footwork.

He was arguably the smoothest dropping into coverage and changing direction at the Combine on Sunday. Missouri has a history of producing very good edge rushers and Harris in 2015-16 showed what he can do. With 30.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in those two seasons, Harris is another intriguing prospect.

He’s versatile can play defensive end on either side or stand up as an outside linebacker. Harris plays with a high motor and is very athletic.

Kansas State’s Jordan Willis had a tremendous showing at the Combine and seemed to put to rest the concerns that he was too stiff and sluggish to be an effective edge rusher. Willis finished second among defensive linemen only to Myles Garrett in the vertical jump with a leap of 39 inches. He finished second to Hasson Reddick in the 40-yard dash at 4.53 seconds. He won the all-important (especially to the Patriots), three-cone drill at 6.85 seconds and tied for third in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.28 seconds.

When looking at his game tape Willis appeared to be a nice complimentary sub-rusher. But with his dedication to improving himself this spring, he’s shown that with some more time in a strength and conditioning program, and his impressive showing in the agility drills, he could become an impact pass rusher.

His 10-yard split, which measures explosion off the snap at 1.54 was better than Jadaveon Clowney, Bruce Irvin, and Ziggy Ansah, via Mike Loyko NEPatriotsDraft.com. He really helped his own case on Sunday.

Haason Reddick from Temple is truly a jack of all trades, he walked on at Temple as a defensive back, bulked up and moved to defensive end, and now will probably play linebacker in the NFL. He’s got the straight-line speed, he ran a 4.52 in the 40 on Sunday.

He dropped into coverage for the first time at the Senior Bowl and turned scouts’ heads with how seasoned he appeared in coverage.  He may play outside or inside linebacker in the NFL or possibly both. He could be an inside backer on early downs and slow outside as an edge rusher on passing downs.

“Some want me at outside linebacker. Some want me inside. Some are willing to let me play both: inside on first and second down, and outside on third down.”

“I’m hoping to do both. I’m looking to take on a challenge. I want to dominate two positions.” He’s another guy that’s been linked to the Patriots and it is easy to see why.

One dark horse player to take a second look at is Trey Hendrickson from Florida Atlantic. He’s another hybrid DE/OLB who turned some heads at the Shrine Game. He ran very well with a 4.65 time in the 40 with a blistering 1.59 10-yard split.

He’s got good size at 6’4, 266 and showed his agility with a 4:20 time in the 20-yard shuttle and a top time of 11:43 in the 60-yard shuttle. He seems like a Patriots type of player, with nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss and four blocked kicks in 2016.

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

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

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Chris Long

Steve Balestrieri
February 23, 2017 at 8:36 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the players facing free agency is part-time starter defensive end, Chris Long.

The Patriots signed Chris Long to a modest contract ($2.375 million) in 2016 just after trading Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. Long had been a standout player for the Rams for eight years but had suffered injuries in back-to-back seasons and was thought to be on the downside of his career.

He drew interest from other teams but opted for New England. And for the first time in his NFL career, he played for a winner. Long played in 16 games with seven starts, 35 combined tackles, four sacks, three passes defended and one forced fumble. His playing time was cut back in the Super Bowl and he appeared in just 31 percent of the snaps. He did, however, make an impact in several of his snaps in Houston.

After the big win, he appeared on television to talk about the Super Bowl win and what the atmosphere was like in the Patriots locker room at halftime.

I really do think I just played on the toughest team of all time,” Long said. I was like, ‘Golly, I’ve got some doubts right now. We’ve got to play way better in the second half.’ .. But guys were like walking in, like Duron Harmon, who’s a safety for us, walked in and goes, ‘We’re about to make the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.’ And I was just like, ‘Dude, can we get a stop? Can we just do one good thing, maybe put one foot in front of the other?’

“But if it wasn’t for guys like Duron that had no doubt, you know, I’m not used to this winning thing,” Long added having played for some dreadful Rams teams in the past.

Long played a valuable role, providing a veteran presence along the defensive line. He totally bought into the team first concept, doing all the little things that Bill Belichick preaches. Although he’s known as an edge rusher, he provided solid run support, setting the edge in the running game and would drop into the throwing lanes when Matt Patricia would send blitzes up the A-gaps.

Chris Long was a valuable addition to the Patriots on and off the field in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Why Long Will Return: The Patriots and Long were a good fit in 2016 and there is no reason to think that they couldn’t bring him back for a modest pay raise. Bill Belichick compared Long to Corey Dillion who had played on losing teams before coming to New England for a Super Bowl run in 2004.

Long appeared to love it here in New England and was immediately welcomed by his new teammates. The respect was a two-way street and he assimilated into the locker room seamlessly. He wore a Julian Edelman mask in the locker room one day and cracked up the beat writers and Edelman with a spot-on imitation. That shows the comfort level he immediately had within the confines of the locker room. And that isn’t always the case.

Long would provide a veteran’s presence and savvy with the defense, especially with Jabaal Sheard a free agent. The team could still opt to bring in another free agent or draft a younger player and be part of the rotation with Trey Flowers.

Why Long Won’t Return: There are concerns that Long is closer to the end of his career than the beginning. And that would be correct. How much he has left in the tank is the question that the Patriots coaches have to ask at this point.

Money shouldn’t be the driving issue here. Although a team could come forth and drop some big cash on his doorstep (Detroit?), I don’t see that happening.

The ball is in the Patriots court, was his snap count in the Super Bowl just an exercise in game planning, or did they think his output wouldn’t match the other players. Regardless, he made the most of his opportunities.

But Belichick and Patricia may decide to go younger (Long turns 32 March 28) at the position and re-tool around Flowers and possibly Sheard, if he comes back.

Bottom Line: The Patriots have some interesting decisions to make this spring. With Long and Sheard free agents, and Rob Ninkovich, seemingly having lost a half-step last season, they’ll need to address the defensive end position.

However, if they opt to let Sheard walk for big money which he’ll probably see in free agency, it would make sense to have a proven veteran, something Bill Belichick has always liked on his teams, to help solidify things and help in the rotation. Long has proven that he’s bought into the team-first mentality and will do whatever it takes to ensure the team’s success.

He shouldn’t break the bank and the team could lock him up for another two years at a pretty, modest sum. Therefore I think the chances are better than 50/50 that Long will be in a Patriots uniform in 2017.

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

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

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Jabaal Sheard

Steve Balestrieri
February 20, 2017 at 8:50 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the early season starters was DE Jabaal Sheard.

The Patriots signed Sheard to a 2-year, $11 million-dollar contract with $5 million guaranteed including a $4 million-dollar signing bonus before the 2015 season. At the time the move generated little fanfare, however, we here were firmly behind the deal thinking that Sheard would fit in well with the Pats and be productive.

Sheard had a very productive 2015 season with 8.5 sacks while playing mostly as a passing down edge rusher. With the trade of Chandler Jones prior to 2016, he was penciled in as a starter and more was expected of him. But he struggled this season and after Jamie Collins was traded, Sheard was inactive a healthy scratch.

Jabaal Sheard is a talented defensive end who will be looking to cash in during free agency. (SBalestrieri photo)

Whatever message the coaches were trying to send, seemed to have worked. Sheard never complained publicly, he put his nose to the grindstone and worked hard and saw his playing time increase a bit down the stretch. He played well in the playoffs and logged a half-sack in the Super Bowl.

He finished the year with 33 tackles, 5 sacks and 4 passes defensed, numbers which were a disappointment considering how well he played in 2015. Now he has a Super Bowl ring, is a free agent and with Drew Rosenhaus as his agent is looking to cash in.

Why Sheard Will Return: The Patriots were a good fit for Sheard and vice versa. The Patriots were initially interested in Sheard when he came out in the 2011 NFL Draft before being selected by Cleveland with the 37th pick.

Sheard is very good at setting the edge in the running game, having spent the first four years of his career in the tough, AFC North facing a plethora of good running backs. He’s a very good but not elite edge rusher, having a lot of good moves and strong hands. He can bull-rush or cut to the inside with quickness.

He’s versatile and can bump inside and be an effective interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs and can drop into passing lanes.

The quiet, soft-spoken Sheard seems to be a popular player with his teammates and can have a bounce back year if he returns opposite of Trey Flowers. With his struggles in 2016, the Patriots could bring him back at a similar deal that he signed when arriving a few years ago without breaking the bank. Sheard would know that with Chris Long being a free agent, Rob Ninkovich looking like he lost a half-step and Geneo Grissom being primarily a special teams’ player, he can get right back on track and start.

Why Sheard Won’t Return: There is always a market for edge rushers in the NFL. When someone like Sheard who can also set the edge in the running game comes along, it is a bonus because he’s not a one-trick pony and can be a three-down player.

Having just been a member of a Super Bowl-winning team, many times that translates into a player getting slightly over-paid. Sheard still young at the age of 27, would definitely fall into that category.

Spotrac’s Market Value Tool sets Sheard’s price range at an expected $44 million over five years, $8.8 million annually. That seems pretty high for Sheard, whose single-season high in sacks is 8.5 was in 2015. Per Spotrac, that would make him the league’s 12th highest-paid defensive end.

If another team offers Sheard that kind of cash, he’s long gone. The Patriots aren’t going to match that kind of offer. The New York Giants, with Jason Pierre-Paul currently a free agent, are reported to be a possible landing spot for Sheard.

And for the Patriots, they must make a decision as well. Which season was the anomaly? Was it the early 2016 season where he under-achieved? Or was 2015 just a flash in the pan?

Bottom Line: This situation will bear watching how the early days of free agency play out. The Patriots will no doubt be in the wait-and-see mode. If a team is going to shell out the kind of money that was reported above, it will no doubt be early in the process. In which case Sheard is likely gone.

If he’s still not had any suitors in the first week or so, then the chances are such that the Patriots could bring him back in a deal they feel would fit his value. If Sheard and Long (look for our profile on him soon), both leave via free agency, that will leave the Patriots very thin at defensive end. That will put them in the position of having to pay another free agent anyway and then look to the draft to rebuild their depth.

Sheard is a very good defensive end but will probably never be an All-Pro. He won’t be a star but can be a valuable piece of the puzzle for a team looking to upgrade its pass rush.

While it is possible that Sheard returns in 2017, realistically the chances are less than 30 percent at this point. The feeling here is that there will be interest in him and someone is going to shell out some decent, but not great money for Sheard. But it will be more than the Patriots will want to shell out to retain him. He will be in another uniform in Week 1 of the 2017 season.

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

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

Patriots Report Card, Week 15 Win Over the Broncos

Steve Balestrieri
December 19, 2016 at 11:38 am ET

Blount Sets Pats Record as the Defense Shuts Down Denver

The Patriots dominated the game after the first quarter yesterday and shut down the Denver Broncos using good, solid defense and an efficient, quick running winning 16-3. While it won’t win many style points, it was a satisfying, team win with very good performances in all three phases of the game.

With the victory, the Pats clinched the AFC East for a record 8th straight year and for the 14th time in the past 16 years. And what made the victory even sweeter was that it can against a heated rival and in a stadium where they’ve had trouble winning for 56 years. Coupled with the fact that they put a big dent in Denver’s playoff chances makes the win even more satisfying.

The Patriots are 7-0 on the road and 12-2 overall, they hold the top seed in the AFC and control their own destiny in terms of home-field advantage in the AFC.

So, although we had to take a couple of weeks off from our report cards, it is time to get back to it. Before hitting the All-22 coaches’ film, here are our grades for the week. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: C+
Tom Brady didn’t have his greatest game, and certainly didn’t light up the stat sheet going just 16-32 for 188 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He started the game 0-6, not completing a pass in the first quarter.

This was part of that was part of the game plan where the Patriots didn’t want to have to rely on the passing game to win today. Instead, the plan was on to control the clock and line of scrimmage with the running game.

Brady moved extremely well in the pocket, stepping up or sliding to avoid pressure. He made a couple of really, nice throws to Julian Edelman. The first when the Pats faced a 1st and 20, he dropped the ball deep down the sideline where #11 did a toe-tap before going out of bounds. Later he dropped another dime over the outstretched arms of the defender to Edelman for a big first down.

So, after a rough start, Brady did just what they set out to do. The offense was conservative by design and they never relinquished control once they got it.

Running Backs: B+
LeGarrette Blount wasn’t a big part of the game plan that everyone thought he’d be. The Broncos speed in the back seven negated the advantage of having the big man bulldoze his way thru the pile. He had meager stats on the day with just 31 yards but again, that was partially by design. The Patriots for this game opted to go with the quicker and shiftier Lewis. Blount, however, did get the only touchdown of the game and it set a new franchise record for rushing touchdowns (15) which he’ll probably add to in the next two weeks.

Dion Lewis had a career day getting 95 yards on 18 carries. He was the perfect answer for the Broncos dime package. They’d bring in six defensive backs to counter the pass and Brady would hand it off to Lewis. He had his heaviest workload of his Patriots career and looks like a perfect complement to Blount with the postseason approaching.

James White wasn’t anywhere nearly as effective as we envisioned in this game in our pregame matchups. Although the Patriots tried to get him heavily involved early, he was ineffective including a couple of big drops which short-circuited drives. But he nearly broke a long touchdown reception later in the game when a shoe-string tackle was all between him and the end zone.

What a difference it has been having James Develin back this season. He rarely shows up on the stat sheet, he did make a catch for 14 yards today, but the holes he opens in the running game are invaluable. Phil Simms on the telecast equated Develin to a tackle and showed him pancake Sylvester Williams the Denver nose-tackle.

Wide Receivers: C
The Patriots other than Julian Edelman didn’t target the wide receivers much. That is a testament to the respect they have for the Denver corners. The conservative approach cut out the possibility for a turnover and wasn’t pretty at times but it worked.

Julian Edelman isn’t the biggest WR, nor the fastest, but there aren’t many with more heart or tougher. Edelman is fully healthy now and has always made a living of going in dangerous places making the tough catches in traffic. He made six catches for 75 yards but that sideline catch between two defenders where he toe-tapped before going out of bounds was a beauty.

Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell each had only one catch and were targeted just three times combined. Hogan had a tough drop that killed a drive. We were expecting a bit more from those two in the game

Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett only had two catches for 35 yards but it was the big one for 34 yards that set the team up for a field goal in the fourth quarter that helped put the team away.

Bennett did a good job of run blocking today and with him starting to get healthy, he should become a bigger factor in the passing game.

Matt Lengel got just a few snaps in but got a tongue-lashing from Bennett on one play. Presumably for lining up in the wrong place.

Offensive Line: A+
What else can we add about the offensive line? Remember the AFCCG last January? Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware wreaked havoc on Brady as the OL was bullied, bashed and beaten on nearly every snap. Well today it was the Pats offensive line who did the pushing around. The Patriots ground out 139 tough yards in the running game to control the clock and the tempo.

Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder were flat out excellent. Miller and Ware had zero sacks, zero tackles for loss, and zero QB hits. Cannon has been going thru a rejuvenation this season with Dante Scarnecchia but even the most die-hard fans circled these last two games against Baltimore and Denver as the big tests. Well, he aced them both. Game ball to Cannon.

There were a couple of ticky-tack holding penalties on David Andrews and Joe Thuney, especially considering the mugging that Denver’s OL was getting away with early in the game.  But overall this was a truly dominant effort. Redemption game for the OL.

Defensive Line: A
The Patriots defensive line dominated in the trenches again. Denver rushed for just 58 yards on the day and averaged 3.4 yards per attempt. Alan Branch who has been excellent all season and Malcom Brown were stout at the point of attack. Brown chipped in with a sack.

The edge rushers, Trey Flowers, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long had an outstanding day. Flowers chipped in with two sacks, his sixth and seventh of the year. He’s peaking at just the right time. And oh, by the way, remember the worry warts who were proclaiming the doom of the Pats defense without Chandler Jones? Jones is in the middle of another late-season swoon. In Jones’ last four games he’s gotten zero sacks.

Sheard had a fantastic game with a sack, two QB hits and was playing like a beast on the edge, consistently having his way with RT Donald Stephenson.

Linebackers: A
The Patriots’ other move this season that was lambasted was the trade of Jamie Collins to Cleveland. While the jury will be out on that one until the season is over, no one can argue with the production the team is getting out of Kyle Van Noy.

He’s neither the athletic freak nor a Pro-Bowler but what he is, is a damned-good addition to the Patriots defense. Van Noy can do a bunch of things, cover the running backs either in the flat or on wheel routes, rush the passer and help on the tight ends.

He covered an early wheel route in the end zone perfectly, which forced the Broncos into settling for a field goal. He also read a screen pass in the flat and flew up to nail the play in the backfield for a loss. He blitzed up the A-gap a few times as well.

Dont’a Hightower was his usual stout presence in the running game. He was questionable in this game due to a late addition to the injury report for a knee injury but was more than up for the task.

Shea McClellin even got into the act…on offense as a decoy. It was that kind of day.

Secondary: A
The Patriots secondary had a very solid game and it begins with the play of Malcolm Butler. Butler was lined up with Emmanuel Sanders and with over the top help, he relegated him to the side of a milk carton until he caught a couple of passes in garbage time late in the 4th quarter.

Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan matched up with Demaryius Thomas and had very solid outings, for the most part taking away the deep ball and forcing Denver to take the underneath stuff.  Trevor Siemian had a nice 1st quarter but after that, the defense, specifically the secondary adjusted and he and the Broncos passing game was held in check.

Ryan turned the game on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Facing a third and short, Siemian tried to hit Sanders on a quick out pattern at the Patriots 4-yard line. Ryan read it perfectly and jumped the route, easily intercepting the pass. He returned it 46 yards to the Denver 46. Brady then led a drive to put New England up for good. It was a 14-point turnaround.

Devin McCourty had another terrific game as the QB of the back seven. His thunderous hit on Thomas jarred the ball loose on a 4th down attempt late in the game.

Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski is no longer in a slump, he went back to the scene of his frustration like Cannon and helped erase some of the sting of his miss last year. He was 3-3 on field goals, right down the middle and good on his only extra point.

Ryan Allen once again did a terrific job of pinning the Broncos deep in their end. Allen’s only short punt was muffed by Jordan Norwood where Jonathan Jones was alert and recovered the ball leading to the Patriots first field goal.

The coverage units were solid although the return game was stuck in neutral. But they didn’t have any slipups this week. Edelman was back fielding punts as Cyrus Jones was a healthy scratch…not surprisingly.

Coaches: A
Bill Belichick’s game plan to use the running game wasn’t a surprise. What was, at least a little bit was the use of Lewis’ quick running instead of battering the Broncos with Blount. It worked very well and the offense controlled the clock and the tempo. Denver’s defense couldn’t tee off on Brady at all.

Josh McDaniels called a very solid game for the offense with the exception of one drive with just eight minutes left. He eschewed the running game for three straight passes which was a head-scratcher considering the success they were having at running the ball. But overall, he did exactly what they set out to do.

Matt Patricia who was under fire just a few weeks ago, has got the defense playing super situational football. After Denver moved the ball well in the first quarter, Patricia adjusted the defense and they shut them down and out from that point onward. Patricia has found roles for all of his players and not only are they comfortable within the system, their level of play has increased as they play much faster and instinctive now.

We’re on to the Jets…

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.

Podcast: Do The Patriots Have A Scheme Problem And Not a Talent Issue on Defense?

Russ Goldman
November 17, 2016 at 7:35 am ET

In this episode we talked again to Lee Schecther who is a writer for PatsFans.com and Bleacher Report. Lee was on to discuss his very interesting article entitled “The Patriots Have a “Scheme” Problem, Not a Talent Issue on Defense.” Co-hosting this episode was Steve Balestrieri.

During this episode, Lee and Steve shared their views on what went wrong on Sunday for the Patriots defense, which included a discussion on the defensive breakdowns and blown coverages during this game. I invite you to listen to our view on what went wrong on Sunday defensively for the Pats.

Week 10 Patriots Report Card, 31-24 Loss to Seattle

Steve Balestrieri
November 14, 2016 at 11:24 am ET

Sloppy Ball Control, Porous Defense Lead to Loss

The Patriots loss puts them at 7-2 and although they still own the AFC’s top record, they are now tied with Kansas City and Oakland. Denver is just a half-game back at 7-3 and the situation now isn’t quite as rosy.

Of course, as soon as the defense struggled, the calls went out, “They’re missing Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins right now” and to be perfectly clear….Bunk. I would use another descriptive term but, you get the drift here.

Jamie Collins wasn’t going to help cover the WRs of the Seahawks in this one, which was the problem and the wheel route that Seattle ran for a big gain to RB C.J. Prosise, Collins wasn’t making that stop either. It is easy and lazy to blanket statement that the absence of those two was the cause. It wasn’t.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets…if they dare

Quarterback: B+
Tom Brady threw his first interception of the season, a bad decision given that two Seahawks defenders were in the area. The ball may have slipped out of his hand a bit as it was well underthrown. And Brady didn’t throw any touchdowns for the first time this season as well.

Overall, he was 23 of 32 for 316 yards with the one pick. He averaged 9.9 yards per throw which is outstanding. He also threw a couple of beautiful passes at crunch time to get the Patriots in the position to tie things up. The first to Julian Edelman was for 30 yards and got them to the Seattle side of the field. The second, an over the shoulder throw to Gronk put them on the doorstep.

Brady was facing one of the better defenses in the NFL and he took what was there and played very well. An excellent goal line stand by Seattle stopped the Pats from scoring 30+ points. His play had nothing to do with the loss.

Running Backs: B+
LeGarrette Blount had a very strong game with three rushing touchdowns, two of which were highlight reel scores. Blount’s second score was a one-yard run where the Seahawks stood him up at the line of scrimmage and he kept sliding down the line until he could punch it in. His second was a nice 13-yard run to the left side where he followed his blockers and then burst down the left side for the score.

James White had only two carries in the running game which wasn’t very surprising but had just four catches in the passing game which was. The game started with White catching a pass out of the backfield for a first down. We thought the Patriots should have involved White much more in the passing game this week. James Develin was really solid in the run blocking department. He rarely shows up on the stat sheet but his value has always been as a blocker.

Wide Receivers: C-
The Patriots wide receivers were pretty much invisible in the first half and credit the Seattle secondary there. They were doing a great job in coverage, unlike their Patriots’ opponents. In the second half, things got better as Julian Edelman caught fire and was much more productive. He ended up with seven catches for 99 yards and seems like the Edelman we’ve become accustomed to.

Edelman always does the dirty work over the middle and against a defense as talented and tough as Seattle’s that comes with a steep price. Edelman was hit hard a few times but still came up with a couple of big plays to keep the offense moving. He did lose a key fumble which led to a touchdown

Chris Hogan was questionable with a bad back and was blanked. Danny Amendola had one target and made a key 14-yard catch. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell had a single catch for 13 yards and a costly false start penalty.

Tight Ends: A
The Patriots tight ends especially Rob Gronkowski were obviously going to be a focus of the Seahawks secondary on Sunday night. But as strange as it sounds, as good a job that the Seattle safeties did, they still managed to catch 10 passes for 158 yards.

Gronk caught just three passes for 56 yards but the 34-yarder at the end of the game on a corner was a beauty that put the Patriots in a great position to tie things up. He also drew two penalties, one pass interference and one holding which set them up nicely. He was also flagged for a false start.

You could certainly make a case for holding on the final play of the day for the offense, but that was just two big, physical guys going at it. I had no problem with the non-call. If that play was in the second quarter, perhaps they get it, but at that time of the game? No, it won’t happen.

Bennett had a very strong game with 7 catches for 102 yards. After Gronk was tattooed by Chancellor and Thomas in the first half, he stepped up with a couple of big receptions. Both Bennett and Gronk were outstanding in the blocking department. Bennett looks like he’s getting healthier as his ankle didn’t seem to be a problem.

Offensive Line: B+
The offensive line had a pretty solid day overall. Brady’s protection, for the most part, was very good. Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder did a good job of protecting the edges. Cliff Avril, Seattle’s best pass rusher with Michael Bennett out, was kept away from being a big part of the equation.

The run blocking had a tough task facing the Seahawks front seven but did a decent job, they found most of their success in running to the left behind Solder and Joe Thuney.

Defensive Line: C-
The Patriots defensive line wasn’t very stout in the running game despite the fact that Seattle came into this game unable to run on anyone. Alan Branch and Malcom Brown were frequently forced back by Seattle’s offensive line.

Trey Flowers had a pair of sacks which is good, but he doesn’t do a great job of setting the edge, much like Chandler Jones struggled with. Rob Ninkovich added his first sack of the year. But the pressure was very limited. Chris Long was flagged for a costly offsides call. Jabaal Sheard was basically benched for Flowers this week and barely saw the field.

So they didn’t do a great job in run support and the pass rush was still out to lunch. Where is there to go but up.

Linebackers: D
Dont’a Hightower had 10 tackles but was hampered by a passive defensive game plan [more to that later]. He picked up a few penalties, was beaten in coverage and had a lackluster game. He had a chance for an interception but couldn’t hold on, it was that kind of game for the defense.  And he was the best linebacker on the field.

Elandon Roberts had his worst game in a Patriots uniform and it happened to come at the time when all eyes were watching how he’d replace Collins. He did have one big stop on the goal line but overall his run support, his strong suit wasn’t on display. The Seahawks were pushing him around far more than we envisioned in this one.

He got burned by Prosise on the wheel route but flash back to the SB and Marshawn Lynch burned Collins twice on it. So the Seahawks were going to definitely test the waters on it regardless of who was back there.  Shea McClellin looked out of sorts again out there. How bad have the practices been for Barkevious Mingo when he can’t even log a snap on the defense?

Secondary: D-
The only thing saving this grade from a richly deserved F was the play of Malcolm Butler who was solid. Butler got beat for a short touchdown but the coverage was there, it was just executed perfectly.

The secondary play by whoever was playing opposite of Butler was targeted by Russell Wilson all game long and it was a “target-rich environment.” Eric Rowe was inactive and in his stead, was Justin Coleman. Coleman was in a word, awful. He was burned by Tyler Lockett for a 36-yard pass play and on another for a pass interference call. But the ugly part was, he wasn’t the worst guy out there for the Pats.

Logan Ryan was terrible on Sunday, and on a day when the secondary play was bad, that is saying something. He was in total chase mode as he had his own flashbacks to SB XLIX. How Doug Baldwin could get that far behind him from the 15-yard line on the Seahawks final touchdown will be a burning question for the coaches.

Devin McCourty should repaint his helmet red like a fire truck because he was running all over the field trying to put out fires. A very ugly effort.

Special Teams: C
The Patriots Special Teams units are like Jekyll and Hyde and Sunday’s game wasn’t one of their better efforts. Stephen Gostkowski made all four kicks he was tasked with…which was good. But was flagged for putting a kickoff out of bounds….Bad.

Cyrus Jones had a nice return on a punt and a great one on a kickoff which is fantastic. But Coleman got flagged for a clip and Jones put the ball on the ground again with a fumble on his long kickoff return. Nate Ebner made a heads-up play to recover the fumble.

Mingo had a big hit on a punt return and McClellin blocked an extra point.

Coaches: D
Josh McDaniels called a fair game for the offense until their final four plays inside the five-yard line with a chance to tie the score and possibly overtime. While I didn’t have an issue with the first QB sneak on first down, that was the time to throw the fade to Gronkowski.

The second QB sneak reeked of what has plagued McDaniels at times in NE and that is being too cute. Blount already had three scores and you have the jumbo package in. Run the ball with him on third and fourth down. And it cost them big time. Why did he get away from James White in the passing game?

Matt Patricia? He coached passively and afraid on Sunday night. The Patriots were so afraid of Wilson running, that they got very passive on defense and dropped into these deep zones. Against good wide receivers, they will find the holes and exploit them. Seattle did. Forget “bend-but-don’t-break”, not when you’re giving up huge chunks of real estate. And where were the adjustments? A blind man could see that it wasn’t working, so why not change things up? That awful performance lands on his and Belichick’s laps. Last week we heard that they were “way ahead” on their preparation for Seattle. We didn’t see it on defense. It looked like the Patriots were the ones on the short week and not the other way around.

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

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

New England Patriots News 11-6, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 11-6, and AFC East Notes for this week.

Mid-Season Awards:
We already did our report cards this week by positions but who gets the individual awards at the halfway point of the season? Who were the guys who stood out both positively and negatively?

Offensive MVP: LeGarrette Blount
I was definitely leaning towards Brady who has been absolutely lighting it up since his return [more to that below], but the much-maligned big man really stepped up this year, and when they needed him the most, during Brady’s suspension.

Blount has 609 rushing yards and an already career-high nine touchdowns. Raise your hand if you saw this coming…. That’s the good news. The better news is with Brady back, and the passing game coming around, there’s no reason to believe Blount won’t be any less effective once the weather turns ugly around here.

Honorable Mention: Martellus Bennett. With Rob Gronkowski out and then limited the first four games, Bennett more than stepped up and played fantastically.

Defensive MVP: Dont’a Hightower
Much is expected with the Patriots captain; he was given the spot in the locker room where players like Willie McGinest and Jerod Mayo reigned over the goings on among the players. It isn’t given lightly. And Hightower has delivered.

He’s logged 33 tackles…and when he hits people they’re tackled, 1.5 sacks and two safeties. His tackle of Andy Dalton for two points was the turning point of the game.

Top Rookie: Joe Thuney
No brainer here. Thuney has shined from Day 1 and has not only been an immediate starter but has thrived on the left side. He and Nate Solder have played very well together, and not surprisingly, those are the guys they look to run behind when closing out games.

Thuney has shown that he may be a fixture at the left guard position for years to come as this under-the-radar draft pick was a steal for the Patriots.

Biggest Surprise: Marcus Cannon
At the start of the season, there were very few people happy with the fact that Cannon was the starting right tackle in place of Sebastian Vollmer [PUP]. Well with improved health and much better technique [thanks to Dante Scarnecchia], Cannon has been very solid thru the first half, especially in the running game.

His pass protection has been improving in recent weeks as well, which Scarnecchia says has a lot to do with much better technique at using his arms and keeping opponents away from him. Happy to have been wrong on this one.

Biggest Disappointment: Cyrus Jones
The easier choice would have been to go with Collins since the Patriots felt their defense was better without the All-Pro and shipped him off to Cleveland for a song. But like the Cannon situation, this is one that no one saw coming, except in not a good way.

Jones was a highly regarded cornerback from a big school [Alabama] that plays in high-pressure situations. We thought he’d be pushing for starting reps by now. Instead, he’s been a healthy scratch for three games. And when he has been on the field, he’s been picked on by the opposition. A dynamic punt returner in college, this was a role that he was supposed to step into on Day 1. He’s shown a problem hanging onto the ball and has been replaced by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

Best Offseason Addition: tie Martellus Bennett/Chris Hogan
Again I feel like I’m would not be giving Bennett his due here if he isn’t the choice. Second on the team with 31 receptions for 402 yards and four touchdowns, he put the work in with Brady this offseason and he’s earned his way into that circle of trust that Brady demands to have with his receivers. And Bennett’s blocking has been superb in the both the running game and in pass protection.

But what about Hogan? Little fanfare was present when he signed [except here], after all, he was a guy that couldn’t break through with the Bills offense. Well, the guy nicknamed 7-11 because he’s always open has made the most of his opportunities. He has 19 catches for 391 yards [20.6 average], including 4 of 35 yards or more. Is he a #1 WR? No. But he doesn’t have to be in this offense. Bet Buffalo regrets letting him walk?

Top Offensive Play: Brady 53-Yard Touchdown Against Buffalo
Facing a third and 13 from the Patriots 47-yard line, Brady threw a perfect rainbow to Hogan who streaked past Stephon Gillmore down the left sideline for a 53-yard touchdown strike.

Not only was it a big touchdown in terms of the game, putting the Pats up 14-3, but for Hogan who was let to walk away this year by the Bills and Rex Ryan. We see Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo practice this play every day during training camp at the end of each session. They try to drop a deep pass into a trash can. Brady’s pass went dead center to Hogan in stride.

Top Defensive Play: Hightower’s safety of Dalton in the Cincinnati game
Hightower’s safety was the turning point of the game against the Bengals. Dalton had been having his way with the Patriots defense. But a penalty set them back and then on the next snap Hightower launched thru the line on a blitz and was able to wrestle Dalton to the turf for a safety.

Soon after the Patriots would take the lead and never look back. These are the type of impact plays that the team looks for from the leader of their defense.

Jamie Collins Trade Shows Why Belichick Isn’t Afraid to Make Tough Choices:
The trade of the talented Collins has been hashed about all week on social media as well as sports talk radio and we’re not going to rehash it again here.

But the thing that people should keep in mind is this; Belichick has made these difficult decisions before and he’s not worried about what the media believes, how the fans will react and could care less what the rest of the league thinks.

His only focus is doing what is best for the football team. Mike Lombardi who worked in the front office with Belichick until this summer had this to say on Fox Sports about his call to trade Collins.

And Jamie, for all the rhetoric that has gone around, when you really study what was going on, on the field, they were not producing.”

Does it mean that Belichick is infallible? No. One can easily question this decision and will. If the Pats fail this post season, this decision will surely pop up as a sticking point. But Belichick has the track record where he should be given the benefit of the doubt until proven wrong. And he isn’t afraid to make those decisions.

Tom Brady Player of the Month for October:
Since coming back from his suspension, Tom Brady has been lighting up the NFL like he’s playing the Madden video game. He’s always been sharp in the month of October and has more wins (49) than any QB in the history of the NFL, but this month was even more special.

He’s completed 98 of 134 passes, 73.1 percent for 1319 yards, 12 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. His passer rating is 133.9 and leads the league along with his completion percentage, as well as yards per attempt, 9.84 which would all be career highs.

In winning the Offensive Player of the Month, Brady now owns that record as this award was his ninth. He passed Peyton Manning (8) to take over sole possession. Rust? Not so much. Speaking of Brady…

Reggie Wayne Says Brady’s “Cheating” Should Disqualify Him for MVP:
Nope, this isn’t a typo.  For some of the Colts, or even former Colts, Brady’s four-game suspension wasn’t enough for the beating he put on them in the AFC Championship Game two years ago, they still want their pound of flesh.

Reggie Wayne, the former Colt, and Patriot (for a cup of coffee), WR believes that Brady’s Deflategate punishment should extend over this season as well.

“There is no way Tom Brady can win MVP because he was caught cheating this year,” Wayne said on the NFL Channel’s, All Access show.

News Flash Reg… the kangaroo court of Goodell never proved there was ever any cheating going on, however, he was indeed suspended for actions that happened two years ago. Not last year, and certainly not this year.  Wayne’s last game happened to be the AFCCG in which the Deflategate issue reared its ugly head. Hmm.

Wayne signed with the Pats and asked for his release a short while later stressing that the Pats worked too hard and it was “not fun”. There’s the reason for their success … But Wayne after being lambasted by Patriots fans this week, took to Twitter to rebut the “too hard, not fun” story, 14 months later.

Who Do You Like This Week:
Last week’s picks were 6-6-1 putting me at 66-51-2 on the year. So, who do you like today?

I am going with for the games on tap today Atlanta from TNF (picked last Sunday) Minn, NYG, NYJ, KC, Dallas, Pittsburgh, NO, Carolina, GB, SD, Denver, and Seattle on Monday Night Football

Early pick for Thursday Night Football, (Baltimore over Cleveland).

Eastbound and Down, AFC East Notes:

Bills Hopeful McCoy can Play on MNF, Gillmore Lashes Out at Fans:
The Buffalo Bills face the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football and hope to have their best offensive player, LeSean McCoy back on the field. Rex Ryan sounded very optimistic that he’ll play.

“I feel like he’s really close,” Ryan said. “Hopefully … I’m thinking he’s going.”

Cornerback Stephon Gillmore has been taking a ton of flak from fans and media members on social media for his poor play this week, especially for the 53-yard touchdown pass where Chris Hogan blew by him for an easy score. On the play, Gillmore began berating a teammate before Hogan even reached the end zone. Well, Gillmore didn’t mince words when asked about it.

“I’ve had it worse,” Gilmore said. “Playing corner, everybody wants to play from the stands and from the internet and don’t know nothing about football.”

Dolphins Going with “Safety By Committee” after losing Jones:
Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph admits the Miami defense hasn’t played well enough yet this season but has hope that the unit is turning things around. One of the reasons for the struggles… the loss of Reshad Jones.

So, the Dolphins will be using Isa Abdul-Quddus, Michael Thomas, and Bacarri Rambo in different places and situations to try to duplicate the production of the talented Jones. Miami is also happy keeping Mario Williams’ workload down to a minimum because, at his age, he’s much more effective when playing fewer snaps.

“So I think Mario understands now that playing 30 plays at 100 percent he helps us win versus 55 plays at 50 percent,” Joseph said. “So Mario playing less but playing harder helps us win. Sometimes you can’t play that hard for 50 plays at a certain stage of your career.”

Jets Want to Run the Ball at the Dolphins:
In an important matchup for both teams, the Jets are facing the Dolphins today and want to run the ball against the Fins 30th ranked run defense.

“It helps us to run the football,’’ Jets head coach Todd Bowles told the media on Friday. “We don’t want to be one-dimensional. If you can run the football and throw when you want to, that opens up a lot of things, so the last two games, we’ve been able to get that going. So that helps all around.’’

Not surprisingly, with Matt Forte carrying a heavy load the past two games, 55 carries for 182 yards, the Jets were victorious in both, beating both Baltimore and Cleveland. Now they want to do the same when they face Miami.

But the problem for Gang Green is the health of their offensive line. Center Nick Mangold will miss this one with a bad ankle and both Ryan Clady and Breno Giacomini are questionable with shoulder injuries.

Despite the banged up OL, look for Forte and Bilal Powell to have good games running the ball today.

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.

Where Do the Patriots Go Defensively Without Collins

Steve Balestrieri
November 1, 2016 at 6:44 am ET

The Patriots pulled a stunner with the decision to trade Jamie Collins on Monday. That move was one that no one saw coming and the move to Cleveland for a conditional 3rd round draft pick seems a bit light in terms of compensation. Now the bigger question is where do they go defensively without the most athletic player on the team.

But first, fans on social media are wanting to know why a team that is considered one of the frontrunners to make it to the Super Bowl would be a seller, rather than a buyer at the NFL trade deadline. And in doing so, trade arguably their best defensive player away.

The immediate knee jerk reaction was to think about Collins’ upcoming free agent status. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe wrote that the Patriots offered him a deal worth $11 million dollars a year but that he turned it down. Reports have filtered out that Collins is looking for “Von Miller kind of money” in his next contract.

That isn’t going to happen. At least not in New England. Mike Lombardi, until recently a member of Bill Belichick’s staff, and perhaps the one with the most insight into the what the Pats coach is thinking took to the airwaves Monday afternoon and said it wasn’t money related but play-based.

Lombardi said that Belichick and the coaches were getting peeved at the linebacker’s penchant for freelancing in the secondary and not following the called play. Some have called Collins overall play this season a disappointment and in that, I tend to agree with a point. We’ve come to expect so much from the freakishly athletic Collins while he’s on the field, that he can’t ever live up to expectations.

I thought he’s played pretty well this year. The Houston game was the one that stands out because in that one, Collins took over and the uber-dominant force we all think he should be every week. But there are other games where he just seemed to glide along for major portions of with the occasional splash play. I thought it was more of a scheme related thing than a play-based scenario.

As for Belichick, he’s repeating the mantra we’ve heard so many times before.

“In the end, we did what we thought was best for the football team. There are a lot of things to take into consideration. I’m sure we could bring up a lot of points to talk about, but in the end, that’s really the bottom line,” Bill Belichick said on WEEI Monday afternoon.

One thing about Belichick is that he doesn’t care what people think, doesn’t pay attention to the media and will put himself out there for criticism. The safe move could’ve been to keep Collins until the end of the year and let him walk. But he’s trying to send a message to his team that the play of the defense wasn’t good enough.

Just like with Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Logan Mankins, Randy Moss, Chandler Jones, and others Belichick isn’t worried about upsetting the apple cart. The move makes sense on one level, he did it during the bye week and once the players get over their shock, they’ll be off for a week and with extra time to prepare for Seattle.

Now all eyes will be on the Patriots defense and if the Patriots falter, Belichick will set himself up to take the heat. But just like the Honey Badger, “he doesn’t give a s**t.”

So now back to the subject at hand… Where do they go from here defensively without Collins. We got a glimpse of it on Sunday. On early downs, the team is obviously enamored with the play of inside thumper Elandon Roberts. He and Dont’a Hightower played most the early-down snaps. The rookie from Houston has been impressive with his downhill style and he plays much larger than a player his size. He’ll be getting an uptick in snaps from here on out.

The Patriots traded for Barkevious Mingo this summer from the Browns and while he rivals Collins in terms of uber-athleticism, he’s neither as big or as strong as Collins. But he can get after the QB and can cover the tight ends or backs out of the backfield. Last week the team traded for Kyle Van Noy who likewise can cover the tight ends and rush the passer a bit. They also can mix Rob Ninkovich back into the mix as well as Shea McClellin in there as well.

But it also means that the signal caller, Hightower will be leaned on more than ever. He’s the glue that holds all the pieces in place and the team doesn’t have anyone that can fill his shoes if he were to go down with an injury.

One thing we’ve all been clamoring for is for Matt Patricia to be more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots have been very passive and the “bend but don’t break” philosophy always gets on fans’ nerves. That doesn’t figure to change now. Their most explosive playmaker has been dealt away. So, this move isn’t going to alter that at all in the foreseeable future.

Are the Patriots better now than they were yesterday morning? No. I don’t subscribe to the “addition by subtraction” theme here. While I am not privy to the goings-on in the locker room, I doubt the very reserved and quiet Collins was a locker room distraction.

Are the moves done or as Lombardi hinted yesterday on FS1 more on the way? There are a few more hours until the trade deadline hits. The Patriots have proven time and again, they aren’t averse to making any moves if they feel it will help the football team.

But just like the days when guys like Milloy, Law, Mankins, et al were traded or let go, reserve judgment and let the chips fall where they will. How many times did we hear that the sky was falling in Foxboro and be proven wrong by Belichick? He’s earned that much in the years that he’s been pulling the strings in Foxboro. We all know that if this team falters now, that the blame will fall all on his shoulders and this deal will be the one that everyone points at. Belichick could care less.

“Honey Badger doesn’t give a s**t.”

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 By the Numbers, Fun Facts Before the Miami Home Opener

Steve Balestrieri
September 17, 2016 at 9:16 am ET

The Patriots will play their home opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. Since Bill Belichick has taken over the Patriots they are 20-12 overall versus Miami including 12-2 in Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots haven’t been swept by a division opponent since 2000. That year both the Dolphins and the Jets accomplished that in Belichick’s first season. The Pats and Miami have split the season series the past three years.

So with the wait before the game tomorrow afternoon, here are some interesting numbers to pore over.

4: Number of wins over the Dolphins in the Patriots home openers, 4-2 overall.

4: Super Bowl wins by HC Bill Belichick, tied for most with Chuck Noll

4: Number of times Tom Brady has led the NFL in TD passes. Tied with Len Dawson, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, and Steve Young

5: Number of consecutive Conference Title games by NE, tied with Oakland (73-77)

7: Number of consecutive Division Titles by NE, tied with Rams (73-79)

7: Number of consecutive years in the playoffs, only five teams have reached 8 in a row

9: Number of times the Patriots have swept Miami in the divisional series

  1. Number of times Miami has swept the Patriots in the divisional series

13: Number of Division Titles by Belichick, tied with Tom Landry, and Don Shula

13: Number of Division Titles by Tom Brady, most of any QB in NFL history, Peyton Manning is 2nd with 12

13: Number of consecutive 10-win seasons by NE

15: Consecutive winning seasons by NE, can tie SF, Dallas for most since 1970 merger

17: Number of seasons by Tom Brady, most in team history passing Steve Grogan

23: Postseason wins by Bill Belichick, most in NFL history. Landry (20) is second.

30: Consecutive games with a sack by NE the longest current streak in the NFL

32: Wins on opening day by the Patriots, overall record of 32-25

38: Number of playoff games played by the Patriots since Robert Kraft bought the team. Most in the NFL, Green Bay is second with 33.

39: Wins by the Pats since 2001 in games decided by 3 points or fewer. Top winning percentage in the NFL with .709 (39-15) during that time.

41: Since 2000 wins when a Patriot rushes for 100+ yards, record of 41-1. Only loss was at Miami in 2004, Corey Dillon rushed for 121 yards and Miami won 29-28

44: Number of wins (44-5) since 2008 when the Patriots don’t turn over the ball

46: Wins by the Patriots over NFC opponents since 2002, NFL best record of 46-11

56: Road wins since 2006, Pats road record of 56-25 best in the NFL

64: TD passes to Gronk from Tom Brady, second most in NFL history between a QB and TE. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates lead with 77

66: Career touchdowns by Rob Gronkowski, needs three to pass Stanley Morgan (68) for most in Patriots history.

66: Most sacks in team history, back in 1963, Most by a Belichick team, 49 in 2015

71: Divisional wins by NE since 2001 (71-21), most in the NFL. Indianapolis (67) is 2nd

81: Number of consecutive victories at home by NE when leading at halftime

84: Road wins by NE since 2000, tops in the NFL, Philadelphia is 2nd with 78

103: Wins since 2002 when not throwing an interception. NFL best 103-15

135: Pats record of 135-42 is the best in the NFL the last decade with a winning pct of .763. Indy next with 118 wins (118-59), winning pct of .667

194: Wins by Tom Brady combined regular/post season. Needs 7 to pass Manning (200), Favre (199) for most career wins by a QB

247: Career wins by Bill Belichick, 4th place all-time in wins. Tom Landry 270 is in 3rd

428: Career TD passes by Tom Brady, 4th all-time, Drew Brees is 3rd with 432

492: Franchise wins by the Patriots, most of any original AFL team, Denver 480 is 2nd

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.