Tag Archives: Chip Kelly

New England Patriots News 1-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 22, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 1-22, and AFC East Notes for this week.

With a win, this evening, either the Patriots or the Steelers return to the Super Bowl for a record ninth time. It just highlights that the two franchises from the AFC continue to play at an ultra-high level while the league is trying to push parity.

The Patriots with a victory are just one win away from title number 5.

On Saturday afternoon, I got to speak with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown who were in town to do some recruiting at Grafton High School.  Grafton’s Ifeatu Melifonwu is a CB/S that is a name to keep your eye on in the future. He’s a 6’3, 190-pound senior who is an athletic freak.  While his preferred position is on defense, he scored 25 touchdowns this fall for the Indians who made it to the state title game. His older brother Obi Melifonwu is graduating from UConn this spring and entering the NFL draft.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh with Grafton coach Mike Binkowski (left) and head coach Chris McMahon on Saturday.

Brown is a native of Spencer, Mass and has four children who still reside in the state. Harbaugh said that the team was already starting their strength and conditioning programs but it would begin in earnest after National Signing Day. For Harbaugh to fly out from Michigan to visit with the young man yesterday, they must have serious interest in him. Harbaugh was relaxed, personable and interacted with many of the fans in attendance after the game.

Chip Kelly to NE? May Not Be So Far-fetched:
Both ESPN and NESN are reporting that the recently fired head coach of the 49ers Chip Kelly may be heading to New England.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that after he interviewed recently for the Jacksonville Jaguars opening at offensive coordinator, one he didn’t get, that Kelly “was headed to New England to meet with Belichick.”

Getting the offensive coordinator position seems very unlikely now with the news that current OC Josh McDaniels will not be taking a head coaching job. One scenario could be with Bill Belichick, giving his good buddy Kelly an offensive assistant role in the booth, until he lands a new head coaching job. He did a similar thing with Packers DC Dom Capers a few years ago.

Goodell Going Back to Atlanta is a Good Thing:
Most Patriots fans want to see Roger Goodell come to New England so that they can vent their frustration on the Commissioner after the Deflategate fiasco.  Goodell, however, has decided to go back to Atlanta for the second week in a row. Wisely.

No good can come from Goodell coming to Foxboro to face the ire of Patriots fans, and it is a possibility that some oiled-up fans may take it a step farther and attempt physical harm to the Commissioner, what one member of the media stupidly called for.

That would be a stain, the kind of which the Patriots and Robert Kraft would never be able to shake. Instead, fans will have to live with the possibility of seeing Goodell hand the Lombardi Trophy to Kraft, Tom Brady, and Belichick if they win tonight and again in Houston in two weeks.

Besides, Goodell is just the spokesman for 31 other owners who were all too willing to buy into the phony science and petty jealousy. They, not just Goodell wanted to exact their pound of flesh from New England. Kraft, in an interview with the New York Times, hinted as such.

“Sometimes the league screws up, and I think they really messed this up badly, Kraft said… “There’s jealousy, there’s envy and there’s stupidity. Sometimes, life is unfair. You have to suck it up, move on and not use it as an excuse.

Patriots Add TE Depth With Housler Signing:
The Patriots are playing for the AFC Championship tonight but have already started planning for 2017 with the move they made on Thursday by signing TE Rob Housler to a reserve/future’s contract.

Housler didn’t play in 2016, being released by the Chicago Bears in the final cut-down to the 53-man roster at the end of training camp. He played from 2011-2014 for the Arizona Cardinals after being drafted in the 3rd Round, (69th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft.

During his time in Arizona Housler caught 105 passes for 1133 yards and a touchdown. In 2015 he spent time with both the Browns and Bears. Looking ahead to next season, his roster spot may hinge on whether or not the team resigns Martellus Bennett. Rob Gronkowski is returning from injured reserve and the team still has Matt Lengel and Michael Williams who went on IR.

He had two productive seasons in 2012 with 45 receptions for 417 yards and in 2013 with 39 receptions for 454 yards and a touchdown with the Cardinals.

Who Do You Like Today:
After last week’s Divisional Playoffs I went 2-2, having whiffed on Dallas and KC which puts me at 5-3 in the postseason. I’m sticking with the Patriots at home and Green Bay with the big win on the road against the Falcons.

Eastbound and Down, AFC East Notes:

Bills’ Williams Named to the Pro Bowl:
The Buffalo Bills have announced that DL Kyle Williams has been named to the Pro Bowl in 2017 to replace Miami DL Ndamukong Suh who can’t play due to an injury.

This is the fifth time in Williams’ career that he has earned Pro Bowl honors after being named a Pro Bowler in four straight seasons back in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Williams played in 15 games during the 2016 season for the Bills, notching 64 tackles, 5 sacks, 15 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss. Williams has tallied 40.5 sacks in his career—the most by any defensive tackle in Bills team history.

Dolphins to Play the Saints in London:
The Miami Dolphins will be playing in London again in 2017, playing the New Orleans Saints at Wembley Stadium.

The game will be played in either Week 3 or 4 on September 24 or October 1 according to NFL sources this week.

Another game to be played in either Week 3 or Week 4 at Wembley Stadium will be between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dolphins will lose one of their home games in Miami as they’ll be dubbed the “home team” for the Wembley contest.

Teams traditionally get a bye week after playing in London so Miami’s bye week will be an early one in 2017.

Two other games, to be played on Week 7 or Week 8 at Twickenham Stadium, will be between the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns, and between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams. Those game dates will be Oct. 22 and Oct. 29.

Former Jets’ Great Gastineau Has Dementia:
The Jets released the sad news that former defensive line great, Marc Gastineau is suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. The former DL, now 60, admitted this in a radio interview this week.

Gastineau, speaking to WOR Radio in New York, he was pushing the USA Football’s Heads Up program to promote safety in the sport.

”When my results came back, I had dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Those were three things that I have. … It’s something that I want every player that goes out and plays to be protected in the best way they can be protected,” Gastineau said.

ESPN posted a transcript where Gastineau claims that his own playing style was the cause of his brain injuries and that the new USA Football program will make it safer for kids, including his own, to play the game safer than when he played.

“I led with my head all the time,” he said. “Do you remember Marvin Powell? He was one of the best linemen in the NFL. He and I used to have wars [in practice]. … People would come and gather round because when we hit each other, I mean, you would hear pops, like a shotgun going off.”

”I’m not going to say that I’m not going to let my child play when I know there are techniques out there that if I would have had them, I know that I wouldn’t have the results that I have now,” he said.

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 Win Unsatisfying, But Show Steps in Improvement

Steve Balestrieri
November 21, 2016 at 8:24 am ET

The Patriots beat the San Francisco 49ers 30-17 on Sunday in Santa Clara, California and moved to 8-2 on the season. That’s the most important thing to take away from beating the 1-9 struggling Niners and moving on to the Jets. While it wasn’t always pretty, there were some steps in the right direction and positives to build upon for the team.

There will be plenty of film both good and bad for Bill Belichick to use as a teaching tool this week. There were positives and negatives for each unit of the team and while one should assess the quality of the opponent, the bottom line is they did what they needed to do and move on with home field advantage of the AFC intact.

A second look at the game in our film review is upcoming on Monday, but here are some notes and observations from the game.

Brady Puts Up Big Numbers: Tom Brady put the team on his back [again], and finished 24 of 40 for 280 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions for a passer rating of 114.6, which points to a particularly terrific day. And there were some great plays by #12, his ability to slide in the pocket is better than ever and his move to slide and deliver the ball to Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone for an early fourth quarter score was among the best of the day. He also made fantastic deliveries to Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell for touchdown throws in his homecoming to the SF Bay area.

But his overreliance on Edelman was at times troubling. Edelman, also making his return to the Bay area was targeted 17 times on Sunday, many of the deep ball variety. He did haul in 8 passes for 77 yards and the first score of the game. But it was clear that he missed Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan on those deep routes.

49ers Tried Taking Bennett Away: Without the benefit of the All-22 film, at first glance, it looked like Chip Kelly’s game plan for the Pats sans Gronk was to take away the middle of the field and take away Martellus Bennett. It will be worth a second look tomorrow but SF’s linebackers were seemingly dropping into those areas where the Patriots like to target the tight ends and forcing them to beat them elsewhere.

Bennett was targeted only twice and had just one catch for 14 yards. But the Patriots offense still has plenty of weapons even missing Gronkowski and Hogan and they had more than enough weapons to beat the struggling Niners.

With Bennett not getting a ton of looks, rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell had his best day as a pro today. He had four catches for 98 yards including a nice 56-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He’s had modest numbers on the season, but with a roster deep with targets, it is good to see that he’s picking up the offense very well and seems to have integrated himself in it with the trust of Brady.

The defense has Both Good and Bad Moments: Overall, the defense gets passing grades on Sunday. They held the 49ers to just 10 points until a garbage time touchdown drive in the final few minutes when the Patriots were playing a lot of backups. That’s ultimately what they’re judged on and there, they did their job.

There was plenty of shuffling of players as they tried to find combinations that work. One area that improved on Sunday, the pass rush. Matt Patricia got a little creative this week and he got things off to a good start. Pat Chung was playing an in-the-box Big Nickel LB role and blitzed on consecutive plays, the second where he sacked Colin Kaepernick. Overall the Patriots got five first-half sacks which is a very encouraging sign. They narrowly missed on a few others and the creativity definitely helped. Five different players had sacks including Kyle Van Noy who appeared in his first game.

They also gave up two long drives totaling ten points prior to the garbage time drive. And simply put, the Patriots can’t afford to lose Dont’a Hightower. He was rested for a spell and the defense was gashed. Watching Kaepernick and a below average offense move down the field at ease on those two drives was troubling as well.

Covering running backs out of the backfield is going to be a big area of concern moving forward. The Niners completed big passes to their backs, granted the first against Hightower was the result of a bunch formation and the big LB got caught in the wash. But Elandon Roberts is a detriment in coverage right now. He was targeted both against running backs and tight ends and opponents will continue to test him when he’s on the field. Against the Jets next week and Matt Forte, it is something to keep in mind.

The defense also had their moments in the second half, basically limiting the Niners to just about 70 yards of offense until that final drive. At one point Kaepernick was 0-10 passing in the second half.

Logan Ryan Bounces Back: Ryan, who is a lightning rod for criticism had a really solid day. The Patriots had Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe outside at corner and played Ryan mainly in the slot against the Niners’ Jeremy Kerley.

While no one is going to compare Kerley with Antonio Brown, he is the 49ers leading receiver and had 40 catches entering the game. He still has 40, as Ryan held him to zero catches on just two targets for the afternoon.

Ryan did a good job of sticking with Kerley all day long and took away Kaepernick’s biggest target. Those are the things that they can build off in the upcoming weeks.

LaGarrette Blount’s Big Day: The Niners made a concerted effort to stop the Patriots running game today and at times were able to hold them to minimal gains, but the running game got untracked and Blount put up big numbers.

Blount carried 19 times for 124 yards and a stellar 6.5-yard average on the day. He also had a nice 35-yard touchdown run get wiped off the books due to a penalty. While he didn’t make it into the end zone this week, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

The Patriots killed off the clock with a good, physical final drive where Blount carried them down inside the five-yard line. He got two cracks at the end zone before Belichick had Brady take a knee at the end of the game. It was a nice day for the Patriots big man as not only he but the team as well, they ran for 177 yards as a team today.

Dion Lewis Returns: There was some optimism with the news that the Patriots running back would make his 2016 debut after tearing his ACL a year ago. And Lewis was put right into the mix with Brady throwing him the ball on his first snap.

Lewis seems to have his trademark elusiveness intact and while obviously a bit rusty, looked good in his first game action in a year. He carried five times for 23 yards and added three catches for 26 more.

The Patriots experimented with a backfield of both he and James White on some passing downs and it will be interesting to see more of it. The two backs combined for nine catches for 89 yards.

Slater Injury Compounds Bad Day for STs: The Patriots reported that Matthew Slater was injured during Sunday’s game and was in a walking boot and on crutches after the game. Losing arguably the best STs player in the league is a big blow to the unit and will bear watching as the schedule unfolds.

Sunday’s rainy, sloppy weather was a perfect metaphor for the Pats plays on Special Teams in Santa Clara. Stephen Gostkowski pushed his first extra point to the right. Ryan Allen had a couple bad punts early in the game. Danny Amendola had a stellar 30-yard return on a punt return so there was some good to go with it. The coverage units looked solid as well.

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.

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the 49ers

Steve Balestrieri
November 18, 2016 at 12:00 pm ET

Good time to get back on track this week

The Patriots head out to the West Coast after a close loss last week to the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. They’ll be looking to get back on the winning track and keep their lead in the AFC with a win on Sunday versus the 49ers.

The Niners are 1-8 and have dropped eight games in a row. They’re looking to get off the shneid and Chip Kelly’s team will use the game a year ago when he coached the Eagles and they came into Foxboro and beat the Patriots as their motivation.

For the Patriots, they will look to continue their offensive hot streak since Tom Brady has returned. With Dion Lewis now activated, this Sunday we may get our first look at the talented and elusive running back. This week will also be a chance for the defense to get untracked. After they’re worst performance of the season last week, this will be a big opportunity to turn things around in a positive way.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

RB LaGarrette Blount: The Patriots big man in the backfield is having a very solid season and has 678 yards rushing in the team’s first nine games. He also leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns.

This week he’s facing the worst statistical rushing defense in San Francisco’s. The Niners defense is allowing more than 180 yards per game and seven opponents have had 100+ yard rushing days against them.

It would be a shock if Blount doesn’t get 20 or more carries in this week’s contest. Until the 49ers can show that they can stop the run, I’d feed him the ball and let him pound the rock as it will open up a lot of things for the rest of the offense.

QB Tom Brady: And the person who would benefit the most from the running game getting off to a great start? Tom Brady. The game plan this week has to have Blount pounding the ball down low and waiting for the Niners’ linebackers and safeties to start cheating up to the line of scrimmage to help in run support and using play action.

Brady is the master at play action and this scenario could set him up to have a big day throwing the football. He too must remember the game a year ago against Chip Kelly’s Eagles, where he didn’t have a great game. Nothing like a big win to erase the bad memories from that one.

Brady should be able to find plenty of room to attack the 49ers secondary with the plethora of weapons he has at his disposal. He’s also playing at home for the first time in his NFL career and will have a lot of friends and family in attendance. That alone should prompt him to be spot on with his preparation and his performance this week. A motivated Brady fresh off a tough loss is an even better indicator of good things for the Patriots offense this week.

LB Elandon Roberts: For better or worse, he’s going to be under the microscope for the rest of the season because he’s now the man in the middle since the Jamie Collins trade. He and Dont’a Hightower will be tasked with rebounding this week after a rough outing against Seattle.

The 49ers have a good running game with Carlos Hyde, DuJuan Harris, and Colin Kaepernick scrambling out of the backfield. The Patriots first task on defense will be to make the SF offense one-dimensional and take away the running game. That area will be compounded by having the front seven keep Kaepernick in the pocket. He’s not the most accurate thrower but has a very strong arm. The defense will want to pressure him into trying to fit the ball in tight spaces.

Roberts had a tough game in both run defense and trying to defend RB C.J. Prosise, a converted wide receiver out of the backfield last week. Truth be told, Collins wouldn’t have done any better at trying to cover him. But this being Boston, the coverage capabilities of Collins will now take on the status of a myth. The best way for the rookie Roberts to quiet the critics is to play solid and within himself. Here is a big chance.

TE Martellus Bennett: Bennett had a big game a week ago with seven catches for 102 yards and without Rob Gronkowski this week, he’ll be tasked with being a much bigger part of the offense. Bennett’s numbers would have been even higher a week ago had Tom Brady not missed him on a play down the seam.

On the play that Gronkowski was injured, Brady passed to him down the seam, with Kam Chancellor in coverage and fellow safety Earl Thomas moving up in support. What Brady missed was Bennett streaking down the opposite seam on the left, all alone.

But this week against the Niners, Bennett will once again play a key, dual role. He’s been a fantastic blocker in the Patriots running game and with the focus this week on running the ball, he’ll be a key contributor, hooking up with the outside linebackers and attempting to get Blount to the second level.

But in the passing game, he’ll be the sole target for Brady attacking the seams. We won’t see the two tight end set this week, as they’ll opt for more three wide receivers with Gronkowski out. So Brady’s focus will be on Bennett, who has proven to be up to the task earlier this season.

Safety Pat Chung: The Patriots veteran safety also had a tough game a week ago. Several of the communication breakdowns last week against Seattle involved Chung and he’ll be looking to get back on track. He’ll be a key component in trying to stop one of the 49ers most productive weapons.

Tight end Vance McDonald has been very productive averaging 18.4 yards per reception with three touchdowns this season. He and fellow tight end Garrett Celek, promise to be targeted often on Sunday by the Niners’ offense.

Chung will match up with them underneath and be the first line of defense in slowing down the tight ends in this week’s contest. He’ll also provide the in-the-box run support the Patriots will need to slow down the Niners running game. After a week where so many things went wrong for the defense, it is the veterans who must turn things around and show the leadership for the younger players to follow. This is a good opportunity for Chung to do just that.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

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 – 49ers Keys, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots attempt to get back on the winning track as they travel out to the Bay Area of California and take on the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET and will be the Patriots first visit to Levi Stadium which only opened in 2014. This will also mark the first visit to SF for QB Tom Brady who grew up in the area and was a Niners fan.

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ Channel 4 in Boston. Greg Gumble will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green as the color analyst. Jamie Erdahl will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (7-2) came off their bye week and dropped a tough but entertaining contest with the Seattle Seahawks 31-24 on SNF. The Pats had troubles with their defense and stopping Russell Wilson who passed for three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount ran for three scores for the Pats.

The 49ers (1-8) lost to the Arizona Cardinals 23-20 on a last-minute field goal. Although QB Colin Kaepernick tied the score with a TD run in the final two minutes, the Niners couldn’t stop the Cards and dropped their eighth game in a row.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 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 49ers meet for the 13th time on Sunday. The Niners hold an 8-4 advantage all-time against the Patriots including a 4-1 record at home. Three of those games were held at the venerable Candlestick Park and one held at Stanford.  The Patriots have won three of the last four meetings between

The last time these two teams met was in a Sunday Night Football matchup in a cold, wet, rainy Foxboro. Colin Kaepernick threw for four touchdowns and the Niners prevailed 41-34.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the 49ers

Steve Balestrieri
November 15, 2016 at 11:49 am ET

Niners Trying to Find a Spark With Chip Kelly

The Patriots head out to the West Coast after an entertaining but disappointing loss to the Seahawks on Sunday night. They’ll be taking on Chip Kelly, Colin Kaepernick, and the San Francisco 49ers. This will be the first time in his 17-year career that Tom Brady will play in front of his hometown, where he watched as a fan of Joe Montana.

The Patriots (7-2), played just well enough to lose to the Seahawks 31-24. They were sloppy with the football and turned over the ball twice and nearly had two more. The defense played soft and was picked apart by Russell Wilson. But they still nearly pulled even when they had four shots at a tying score in the final minute of the game before being stopped.

The still have a two-game lead in the division over the Dolphins who are 5-4 and are coming together and have won four in a row. The Pats are now tied for the best record in the AFC with KC and Oakland but hold the tiebreaker for the time being.

The Niners (1-8) lost on a last-minute field goal to the Arizona Cardinals 23-20. Colin Kaepernick had tied the score at 20 with a scramble and a four-yard touchdown run with just under two minutes to go. The Niners have now dropped eight straight.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the 49ers:

Kaepernick is Catching on to Chip Kelly’s System: The QB for at least the near future seems to be Colin Kaepernick for San Francisco. And after a rocky start in his first two games, he’s gaining confidence and a sense of comfort in Chip Kelly’s system.

In his last two games, he’s completed 41 of 69 passes for 608 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. And he can still scramble, in those last two games Kaepernick has run 15 times for 78 yards.

The past two weeks, unlike his nightmarish season a year ago, Kaepernick slid in the pocket away from pressure when he needed to, kept his eyes downfield and hit his targets. He’s always had a cannon for an arm and made strong, decisive, and above all, accurate throws to keep the chains moving.

And yes, he is another scrambling QB that type that typically gives the Patriots and Bill Belichick fits. With two minutes to go, Kaepernick scrambled on a read option play while facing a 3rd and 2 and rolled into the end zone for the tying score.

Before Patriots fans, pooh-pooh the idea that he can operate against them, one should recall the cold, wet December night in Gillette in 2012. Kaepernick and the Niners put up 41 points on the Patriots in a 41-34 win. He completed 14-25 for 221 yards and four touchdowns of 24, 27, 34 and 38 yards with one pick against the Patriots defense that night. He also scrambled seven times for 28 yards.

Run Defense is Horrible: The Niners have statistically the worst run defense in the NFL. Opponents have run the ball 317 times already against them for 1624 yards, good for a 5.1-yard average. The Niners are allowing a whopping 180.4 yards per game.

This may be good news for LeGarrette Blount and James White on Sunday as the Patriots will look to re-ignite their running game and keep the balance that they’ve enjoyed thus far this season.

But last week on the road against Arizona, there was also room for some confidence moving forward. The 49ers had allowed seven 100-yard rushers during the first eight weeks of the season. Facing the dangerous David Johnson who had gashed them for 157 yards in the first meeting, San Francisco held him to just 55 yards on 19 carries. And they held Arizona to just 80 yards rushing total, a full 100-yards off their season average. Just something to consider.

Kelly Has Eye to the Future: The Niners are a long way off from being a competitor for a playoff berth but with two good draft picks on the defense in Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, things are trending in the right direction. They have a way to go, but with the draft in the spring and perhaps the QB position being solidified behind an already good running game [more to that below], the Niners may be trending upward.

After losing their previous seven games by an average of more than 17 points, San Francisco played a tough football game and fought to the end, before just barely bowing by three to the Cardinals. While there are no “moral victories”, the team showed that they haven’t quit and are still putting in the effort for Kelly.

They’d love nothing better than to get off the schnide against the Patriots, in a game, that no one will be expecting them to win. Expect them to play hard in this one as they’ll look for a signature win on Sunday.

Niners Have a Good Running Game: San Francisco had done a very solid job of running the football in 2016. Carlos Hyde leads a group that also consists of Mike Davis, Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, and QB Colin Kaepernick.

They are averaging 119.7 yards per game which is good for 7th in the NFL this season. Obviously, having Kaepernick back in the pocket helps the overall offense as teams must respect his ability to scramble and keep the chains moving.

Hyde is the team’s leading rusher with 443 yards and six touchdowns on 122 carries. He was just coming off a shoulder injury last week in Arizona and wasn’t his normal self, being held to just 14 yards on 13 attempts. If they want to pull an upset on the Patriots this Sunday, they’ll have to get their running game going and keep the Patriots defense closer to the box.

Phil Dawson About to Join Select Group: San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson is about to join rare company. He currently has made 399 field goals in his very solid if underrated career and his next, his 400th will mark him as only the ninth player in NFL history to make 400 or more.

Despite playing most of his career in the football equivalent of Siberia in Cleveland, he’s been remarkably steady and has a higher field goal percentage than any of the eight players that are ahead of him.

Dawson has made 11 of his 12-field goal tries in 2016. His only miss was a 53-yarder in Seattle in Week 3. His field goal accuracy in his career is a stellar 84.6 percent which is better than Adam Vinatieri. He’s made all 18 extra points. At the age of 41, he’s having one of the best years of his 14-year career despite the lack of chances. By comparison, the Philadelphia Eagles kickers have attempted 27 field goals this season.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

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.

Monday Observations, Coaching, STs Blunders Cost Patriots in Costly Loss

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2015 at 6:44 am ET

The Patriots played very un-Patriot like football on Sunday on both the field and on their sidelines and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 35-28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

With very uncharacteristic blunders by Bill Belichick and a melt-down by one of the better special teams units in the league, the Patriots committed the cardinal sin in all of sports; don’t ever, ever let an inferior team hang around, because it will come back to bite you.

And it did, Philadelphia scored 35 straight points which never happens to a Belichick coached team to take a commanding 35-14 lead where Brady led a furious comeback in the final seven minutes that came up short. The loss dropped the Patriots from the top spot in the AFC all the way down to the #3 seed. They’re tied with Denver and Cincinnati with 10-2 records but the tiebreakers put them currently in third. If the playoffs started today, they’d be hosting a Wild Card playoff game.

Brady Gets it Going: After appearing to sleepwalk thru a scoreless first quarter, the Patriots offense began to get on track and Tom Brady led them to back-to-back 80-yard drives which were finished off with touchdown passes to James White and Danny Amendola. Amendola returned to action on Sunday and played very well.

Down 14-0, the Eagles looked dead in the water and things appeared to be playing out the way they had been envisioned all week. It was here that Belichick pulled an unbelievable boner by attempting an onsides kick …with Nate Ebner.

Poor timing and Decisions: Belichick had raved all last week at what a outstanding special teams unit the Eagles had. So why try an onside kick up 14-0 when the defense had been playing well and the Philly offense, besides a few nice runs from Darren Sproles, had done nothing?

Worse, once Stephen Gostkowski flipped the ball to Ebner, it alerted the Eagles that something was up and the element of surprise was gone. The play had little chance of success and gave Philly a boost and great field position at their own 41 where…lo and behold, they went right down to score a touchdown.

That charged up the defense and they started to play much better after that point. Belichick and Josh McDaniels refused to stick with the running game although LaGarrette Blount was showing some signs of being able to sustain a ground game and take some pressure off of Brady.

But late in the second quarter, the Pats got the ball back and had the chance to march down for a late score and then double dip while getting the ball to start the third quarter. It is a scenario we’ve seen so many times before. But the coaches couldn’t make up their minds whether to milk the clock or try to go down the field with their second tier group of receivers.

Last Minute Meltdown: That indecision cost them dearly. With under 15 seconds to play in the half, Brady attempted a sideline pass where both Scott Chandler and Keshawn Martin were in the same place. One of them ran the wrong route, Chandler attempted to corral the high pass that perhaps was earmarked for Martin and it bounced incomplete. That gaffe would force the Patriots to punt and the special teams unit that Belichick raved about last week, showed up in force.

Shooting multiple players up the center gap, Ebner as the designated punt protector was in a no-win position of having to block one or the other. Ryan Allen’s punt was blocked and the Eagles scored a tying touchdown with eight seconds left on the clock. It was Philly’s first scoring play in the final two minutes of the half for the first time in nearly two years. What looked to be an easy victory was now a dogfight.

After trading possessions to start the third quarter, Brady moved the Patriots down into scoring position. With a first and goal from the one, they attempted that quick run which hasn’t been fooling anyone lately and White was stuffed for a four-yard loss. On third down, Brady joined the gaffe parade. He attempted to force a pass to Amendola at the goal line into double coverage. The ball bounced up and Malcolm Jenkins returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. It was Brady’s third red zone interception of the season and a very costly one. The 14-point turnaround gave Philly the first lead of the day at 21-14.

Another special teams meltdown occurred after New England’s next possession. Darren Sproles received the punt at the Philadelphia 17-yard line and raced 83 yards for the score. The Pats were now in a 14-point hole and the handwriting was on the wall for this one.

The Pats tried a little trickery with a play we saw back in training camp. Brady moved out to the right, a direct snap to White who rolled left and then pitched the ball to Amendola. He came back across to the right and found Brady all alone down the right side line for a 36-yard gain. But on the very next snap Brady attempted to go deep to LaFell who broke off his route at the ten-yard line. Brady said afterward that he attempted to throw it away but didn’t put enough on it. It didn’t seem that way watching it live, and the Eagles picked him off for the second time.

Comeback Falls Short: The Eagles would score again this time with their offense to make the score 35-21 and fans started streaming for Route 1. With under seven minutes to go, Brady mounted a furious comeback. He moved the team down the field and hit Chandler on a fade to the back of the left side of the end zone to make it 35-21.

An onside kick was recovered by New England and Brady moved them down once again where he took the ball across from the 1-yard line to make things now interesting at 35-28. But the special teams gaffes resurfaced again. A third onside kick was again attempted by Ebner and the Eagles’ Riley Cooper smartly swatted the ball out of bounds. Why is Ebner kicking the ball twice on attempted onside kicks rather than the actual kicker Gostkowski?

Philly was killing the clock and was in easy field goal range when they committed a gaffe of their own.  Kenjon Barner who was having a nice day running the ball, carried a third down play into the center of the line. He was well short of the first down and instead of protecting the ball, he lunged up backwards trying in vain to make extra yardage. He was hit by Jamie Collins and stripped of the ball where Malcom Brown recovered at the Pats 25-yard line.

The energy was back in the stadium where Brady with no timeouts and just a minute to go had to get them in for a tying touchdown. They made it up to just shy of the 40 yard line where they had three straight drops by Martin, LaFell and Amendola. Game, set, match.

Double Digit Breakdown: For the second week in a row the Patriots had a double digit lead that they couldn’t hold because of special teams mistakes. This week’s blunders were much more egregious and they have no beef with the boys in stripes this time. These were wounds of the self-inflicted variety and it starts with the coaches Belichick, McDaniels and STs coach Joe Judge.

It isn’t often Belichick is criticized for his coaching but today it is warranted. There was absolutely no reason to attempt an onside kick at the early juncture of the game and his team up 14 points. McDaniels showed little confidence in the running game early and should have stuck with it. Once the game got out of hand, his options were then nil and Brady was again was battered in the pocket.

He was hit 12 more times on Sunday, bringing the total to 36 in the past three games. That is what they call playing with fire folks. And just to remind everyone, the Patriots play Houston next Sunday night with JJ Watt who’s been on fire lately with the Texans defense.

While social media was alive with the lamenting of missing Gronkowski, Edelman and Lewis, that had nothing to do with this loss. Sure they would have altered the way the offense approached that final 30 minutes but on a game where you give up two special teams’ scores, you won’t win many of those. On a day where the Patriots defense gave up just 120 yards passing and just 248 yards in total, this was a game they let slip away and may cost them in January.

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

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

Who are the Players to Watch for the Patriots vs Eagles

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2015 at 8:51 am ET

The Patriots and Eagles are set to meet in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon and this is a big game for both teams. The Patriots have an opportunity to clinch the AFC East and move a step closer to getting that all-important bye week and homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs.

The Eagles despite a 4-7 record are very much in the hunt for the NFC East, just a game back of the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. So the narrative that Philly is just playing out the string in the 2015 season is premature. But having lost three in a row, especially the way they lost the last two games has them in desperation mode. They need a much better effort this week if they’re going to challenge for the division.

We already broke down this game with our Key matchups breaking down the offensive, defensive and special team’s units for this week as well our keys to the game.

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week. Each team has a few players to keep an eye on as this matchup plays out.

Scott Chandler: The big tight end has had somewhat disappointing numbers in 2015. He’s brought in 19 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns on the season. After a spring and summer where he, Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady were so visible working together on the side, we were expecting huge numbers from the trio. But that hasn’t played out that way.

Chandler hasn’t been used nearly as much as expected and has suffered from some drops. With Gronk’s injury to likely keep him out at least two-to-three weeks, now is the time for Chandler to assert himself. He should see more looks from Brady in the passing game now and he can attack the seams of the defense, something that may happen on Sunday. For Chandler, stats mean little and he told the media this week that he’s only focused on 10-1 and wants to taste the postseason for the first time.

Key Stat- Of Tom Brady’s 294 completions this season, 143 of them or 49 percent go to tight ends and running backs. With a beat-up wide receiver position, that number may increase down the stretch; Chandler could be a major factor in the NE offense if he can produce in the next few weeks.

LaGarrette Blount: The Patriots big running back has found precious little room to run as the carousel at the offensive line position has really hampered the offense’s ability to run the football. Blount is at his best when he can reach the second level with speed, as there his size and physicality makes him a very difficult player to bring down.

With the depleted weapons around Brady in the passing game, Blount may see a big uptick in his carries this week. Danny Amendola may return on Sunday, but if he were to miss this game, 74 percent of Brady’s production would be missing from the passing game. So the pressure will be on Blount and the offensive line to produce.

Key Stat: Philadelphia’s run defense is currently ranked 27th in the league allowing 126.6 yards per game. But they were among the better teams in the early season against the run. In the last five games, the Philly defense has allowed 828 yards on the ground for an average of 165.6 yards per game. This is the time for Blount to get some yardage and take some pressure off the receivers.

Jamie Collins: The Patriots uber-athletic linebacker has missed the last four games with an illness and proclaimed himself good to go for this week. Collins lost a lot of weight during his illness which we heard rumors of mono but the team and Collins have remained mum on this.

With Dont’a Hightower probably sidelined for a week or two with a knee injury, Collins will be looked to cover the backs and tight ends in the passing game. With the tremendously fast tempo that the Philly offense operates, it will be curious to see how much Collins can play this week.

Key stat: Until Hightower went down in the Denver game, the Broncos rushing game only gained 46 yards on 15 carries. After he left, Denver rushed 16 times for 133 yards. With DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles this week, Collins will be looked to as always to provide that penetrating element to disrupt things in the Eagles backfield.

Tom Brady: Brady is always a key player to watch whatever the game, whoever the opponent. Brady remains the gold standard of NFL QBs, leading the league in passing yardage (3600), touchdowns (28), and passer rating (106.7), while only throwing four interceptions.

The fact that Brady continues to do it while his supporting cast of receivers and offensive line is decimated with injury defies description. Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly snorted when asked about the NE injuries. “Did they lose Brady,” Kelly quipped on a conference call with Boston media this week. “Because that is what would truly effect them.”

Key stat: Nobody turns the page faster than Brady after a Patriots loss. After the heartbreaker in Denver in OT, Brady is poised to get back to work. In his career after a Patriots loss, Brady’s record is a ridiculous 40-8. Look for him to be very sharp on Sunday.

Fletcher Cox: The Eagles big defensive lineman is perhaps their best player on the defense. Bill Belichick called him one of the best defensive linemen in the league this week. With 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss he’s been very disruptive inside. He’ll be going against Josh Kline who struggled with Denver’s Derek Wolfe last week.

Key Stat: One of the areas that most affects Brady and the Patriots passing game is inside pressure. Brady’s ability to step up in the pocket and make throws separates him from many of the other QBs in the league. Cox will be looking to push the pocket inside which will limit that and allow edge rushers, such as Connor Barwin to have the ability to either force an errant throw or get a sack.

Sam Bradford: Chip Kelly made a trade for the oft-injured Bradford this offseason bringing in the former Sooner QB for Nick Foles and thus far, it hasn’t worked out. Bradford started very slowly this season before suffering a sprained AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder and a concussion against Miami.

Key Stat: Prior to going down in the Miami game, Bradford showed signs of really coming around and getting the Eagles offense going. Against Dallas and Miami he was 44-61 for 531 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

With a sore shoulder and having missed two plus games, Bradford won’t have the luxury of being rusty when Sunday rolls around. The Eagles need a win and Foxboro is a tough place to place for opponents, especially for those from the NFC, which are 10-45 against New England since 2002.

Brent Celek: The Eagles tight end could be a big target for Bradford on Sunday. While Zach Ertz is a very talented player for Philly, he’s been battling concussion issues and is probable for Sunday. If he’s not fully back to speed this week, the reliable and steady Celek could be the outlet for Bradford against the Patriots.

Key stat: When Ertz went down with a concussion during an awful three-game losing skid, Celek remained a steady reliable performer. He hauled in a team high seven passes in the Week 11 loss to Tampa and on Thanksgiving caught a touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez.

On the road and facing teams like New England that can get after the quarterback (35 sacks), a reliable tight end is sometimes a QB’s best friend. Celek will bear watching this week.

Eric Rowe: The Eagles rookie cornerback will be making his first NFL start on Sunday and he’ll be going against Brady and the Patriots. Rowe came in for Nolan Carroll when the Eagles best corner broke his ankle and was victimized by the Lions Calvin Johnson. But “Megatron” does that to the most experienced of NFL corners so now Rowe has to have a short memory and regroup.

Key Stat: The Eagles defense the past two games has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 46-of-67 passes for 583 yards with 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions for a passer rating of 135.1, both games allowing 45 points.

With those type of numbers and being a rookie making his first NFL start, Rowe will have a bullseye as Brady will look to pick on the rookie right away on Sunday. This will be a big opportunity for Rowe to be playing for the future, not so much 2015 but for 2016 and beyond as he’ll be in the spotlight this week.

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

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

 

Patriots – Eagles Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2015 at 7:49 am ET

The New England Patriots return home to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon at 4:25 p.m.

The game will be televised by Fox with their announcing crew of Thom Brenneman, Charles Davis and Tony Siragusa on the call. It can be viewed locally on Fox 25 TV. The game will also be on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The Patriots (10-1) lost their first game of the season in overtime to the Denver Broncos 30-24. The Pats lost both LB Dont’a Hightower and Rob Gronkowski to injuries during the game. Tom Brady passed for 280 yards and three touchdowns in the loss.

The Eagles (4-7) lost to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day 45-14 just four days after allowing 45 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the first time in franchise history that the team has allowed 45 points in consecutive weeks. The good news is that QB Sam Bradford is expected back this week.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2015 to give a quick break down 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 Eagles will meet for the 13th time on Sunday. The all-time series is split evenly at 6-6, with the Patriots winning the last four meetings. The Patriots hold a 3-1 advantage at home and also beat the Eagles in Jacksonville 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX.

The last meeting between the teams was in November of 2011 with the Patriots taking a 38-20 victory in Philadelphia.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2015 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Eagles

Steve Balestrieri
December 1, 2015 at 6:45 am ET

The Patriots return home after their first loss of the season to face the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

The Eagles (4-7), lost on Thanksgiving Day 45-14 to the Detroit Lions marking the second consecutive game the Eagles defense gave up 45 points. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson had big days in handing the Eagles a big loss in terms of divisional placement.

The Patriots (10-1), lost to the Broncos in overtime 30-24 as C.J. Anderson ran 49 yards for the walk-off touchdown to cap a big fourth quarter comeback by Denver. Rob Gronkowski was injured in that game and is expected to miss this contest. Tom Brady did throw for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns in the game.

The game is scheduled for 4:25 p.m. and will be televised by Fox and will be available locally on Fox 25 TV.  It will also be carried by the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 FM the SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak.

Here are our five first impressions of the Eagles:

Chip Kelly Under Fire? Denies USC Rumor: With the Eagles record being what it is thus far in 2015, Philly will not match their record from the first two years under Chip Kelly and the coach is hearing doubters for the first time.

Kelly’s name has been bandied about in the college ranks every year but this week it was reported that he met with USC officials in Philadelphia the day after the Thanksgiving Day loss against the Lions about taking over the school.

Kelly denied the report stating he was in New Hampshire on Friday and blasted the report. “I’ve never discussed a college job since I came here,” he said.

“It’s kind of sad,” Kelly said. “Everybody can just write whatever they want or say whatever they want, and everybody just takes it as the truth. It’s the world we live in. If you have to sit there and combat everything that comes out, I think you’re wasting time.”

Kelly did say that he was concerned that this constant talk about his job status can affect his players. But for a team that many picked to be an NFC contender and having dropped three in a row, those things tend to occur.

Eagles Have to Get Defense Fixed… Now: The Eagles defense was the backbone of this team in the early season but now having given up 45 points in successive weeks puts the job of defensive coordinator Bill Davis in the crosshairs.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly was asked directly if Davis’ job was in jeopardy after the Thursday loss in Detroit. And he said yes that Davis will continue and the he (Kelly), has faith in the players in the room to get things turned around. It is never a good sign for a head coach to be asked if he’s going to replace a coordinator. And with seven losses in the first eleven games, this Eagles team is far from where people had them pegged to be early in the season.

“We gotta get it fixed. There’s not a whole lot to say today,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said to Comcast Sports Net Philly. “It’s two weeks in a row. I do believe in the group of men we have. I do believe we’ll … I said it last week, get it corrected. And we will. But the guys are fighting. I have to put them in better positions. It’s going to take all of us to get out of the hole. All of us got us into the hole. All of us have to get us out of it.”

They have their work cut out for them, Philly is just the first team since 1970 (Chicago) to give up five passing touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. And just the fifth team in the modern era to give up 45 points and 430+ yards in successive games.

In facing Tom Brady and the Patriots however, they won’t be facing the offensive juggernaut that rolled thru the early season. With the loss of Gronkowski on Sunday,  Brady was missing 74 percent of his pass production with all of the receivers injuries at the end of the game against Denver.

Davis believes they can get it done this week. “They don’t stop fighting and they won’t stop fighting. We will get it fixed. We’ve got a helluva challenge against New England. Of all the people we have to go up there and try to stop, we’ve got Brady and the Patriots coming at you. And this group will bow up and we’ll get it done.”

Eagles Fast Paced Offense, Wearing Out Own Defense: Everyone knows how the Eagles have the fastest, most break-neck pace of any offense in the NFL. And when it is working, it can wear down opponents and tire them out to the point that they’ll be out of gas in the second half.

The thought process is that the offense will wear down opponents, and keep his own defense off the field, keeping them fresher late in games. But the flip side of this is that even when the offense is working well, the defense is getting back on the field too soon and it is wearing them down.

Thru eleven games in 2015 the Philadelphia defense has been on the field for 83 minutes more than the offense. That huge time of possession deficit may have something to do with the struggles the defense has been going thru the past few games.

Running a break-neck paced offense can work in the college ranks with so many more players but with only 46 players allowed to dress on Sunday’s in the NFL? That isn’t going to work and the proof is there to see.

Marcus Hayes, one of the Eagles beat writers wrote that in the past four games the Eagles defense has been on the field for 36 minutes more than the defense. And the Eagles are 1-3 in those games with only an OT win against a Tony Romo-less Cowboys team to show for it. This is something to watch for on Sunday. If the Patriots get ahead, look for more running with LaGarrette Blount to further wear down an already overworked unit.

Bradford Will Test Arm Tuesday:  With quarterback Sam Bradford being out the last two weeks with a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury, the Eagles have dropped both games in bad fashion to the Bucs and Lions. At Tuesday’s practice, they’ll find out if Bradford is far enough along in his rehab to allow him to start Sunday in New England.

Bradford was a full participant in Wednesday’s short one-hour practice before the game against Detroit. The Eagles coaches want to see if he has any issues with soreness after a full practice load on Tuesday. If he’s ok, then he’ll be on track to start against the Patriots Sunday afternoon.

The non-throwing shoulder provides stability when passing the football and Kelly said the issues the Eagles have is if Bradford can sustain a hit there during a game. Kelly also said that after a slow start, Bradford turned things around with a very strong November before being hurt in the Dolphins game.

“There’s a comfort level with him. . . . When he’s around it and in it and practicing every day and playing every day, you can see him grow,” Kelly said to Philly.com.

“You could see him grow in the last couple of games (44-61 531 yards 2 TD 0 INT in Nov.). I thought he played really well in Dallas. And he was on track against Miami and then he got hurt.”
Eagles Sign Jones, Release Vandervelde:  The Eagles signed offensive lineman Barrett Jones off of the Bears practice squad this week. The former fourth round draft pick of the Rams in the 2013 season from Alabama was released by St. Louis and was on the Bears practice squad before Kelly snapped him up.

With injuries to the offensive line with Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, Jones will provide some depth moving forward if either one of them is unable to go. Plus Jones played with Bradford and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland at Alabama so there is a level of comfort there between the players and coach.

The Eagles have their own version of “RustyBenson35”  Ross Ventrone in Julian Vandervelde. In making room for Jones, the Eagles released Vandervelde for the eighth time, all in the Chip Kelly era. An interesting stat from Philly.com has Vandervelde being involved in 73.5 percent of all transactions of the Eagles under Kelly.

Ross Ventrone is nodding knowingly over that one…

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

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