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New England Patriots News 1-21, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
January 21, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-21, & AFC East Notes.

Another week, another crazy news week as Tom Brady’s hand injury has dominated the talk all week. We know that he indeed injured his hand during practice this week during a collision with a running back. And thankfully the X-Rays were negative. But the amount of speculation on what exactly the injury is, especially by trying to diagnose it from a picture at practice while his hand was covered with a glove? Over the top.

We’ll see how badly (or not) his hand is injured today just after 3 p.m. today.

Gronkowski’s Postseason Numbers are Impressive: One other quick tidbit for today’s game. In his last six postseason games, Rob Gronkowski has totaled 37 catches for 512 yards and seven touchdowns. And the big man is healthy this year and anxious to play.

It will be interesting to see how well the Jaguars cover him today and how they go about it. If they can cover him with single coverage, it will go a long way in being a great day for their defense. If they are forced to double him, it pulls coverage away from someone else. We’ll be looking for them to rotate different looks at him.  

Belichick Skews the Parity Numbers of the NFL:
In a league that is supposed to be obsessed with the idea of parity, the Patriots under Bill Belichick have thumbed their collective noses at that suggestion once again. Today will mark the Patriots seventh straight conference championship appearance another record and a feather in the cap for Belichick who remains without peer as an NFL coach. The amazing thing is he does it year after year and is never even one of the top names for coach of the year. Head shaking to say the least.

Speaking of Belichick, Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated penned a fantastic piece this week of Bill and his long-time friendship with Nick Saban, the six-time National Championship winning coach at Alabama. Belichick recalled that his father Steve, working with Saban as a young secondary coach at Navy in 1982, called him “one of the best coaches I worked with.”

The two coaches, vastly different in their approaches but exactly the same in the burning desire to learn all of the answers, aren’t the type to feel like they know everything. Instead, what makes them both so great is their continued desire to learn.

Harrison Signing Looking Better and Better:
When the Patriots signed James Harrison after he was released by the Steelers, many, too many believed it was simply a ploy to learn the Steelers playbook by Bill Belichick. It was a short-sighted take at best.

Harrison has been a valuable contributor to the Patriots defense and in the regular season finale as well as the playoff game against the Titans, he’s played well while learning the New England defense on the fly. Harrison has played in over 45 percent of the defensive snaps and has been very good at setting the edge in the running game.

Bill Belichick spoke about his work on a conference call after the Tennessee game.  “He’s been good to work with,” Belichick said. “He’s a very experienced player. Some of our terminology is different, but he understands basic football concepts very well, and what his responsibility is, and how to play that responsibility.”

“He’s been good. He’s been very dependable. You can count on him, and that’s a good thing. It allows everybody to play aggressively. He’s an aggressive player and he’s been productive. He’s very professional. He wants to do well. He studies. He asks questions. I’ve enjoyed working with him.”

With the big, physical Leonard Fournette in the backfield for the Jaguars, Harrison could see an added workload this week. With a Patriots victory this afternoon, Harrison could be suiting up for New England in the Super Bowl. That won’t play out well in Pittsburgh.

By the Numbers:
Leading into today’s AFC Championship Game against the Jaguars, here are some interesting numbers that may be of interest:
2: Number of field goals Stephen Gostkowski needs to become the #3 kicker in postseason field goals made behind Adam Vinatieri and David Akers.
2: Number of Special Teams tackles that Matthew Slater needs to become the Patriots all-time postseason leader.
5: Number of defensive tackles that Devin McCourty needs to pass both Rodney Harrison and Vince Wilfork to become the #4 leading tackler in team postseason history.
6: Number of Red Zone takeaways by the Patriots defense in 2017, most in the NFL.
7: Amount of catches needed by Rob Gronkowski to pass Dallas Clark and become the NFL’s All-Time leading TE in postseason receptions.
7: The amount of 13-win seasons by Bill Belichick, the most in NFL history. George Seifert is second with 4.
11: The number of times the Patriots scored in the final minute of the first half in 2017.
12: Today will mark the 12th conference championship that Tom Brady will play in. He already owns the record at 11. Gene Upshaw and George Blanda (10) are in 2nd.
12: The number of seasons the Patriots defense has held opponents to 20 points or less since 2001. In 2017, 18.5 points allowed per game, 5th in the NFL.
13: Number of yards receiving that Rob Gronkowski needs to become the all-time playoff leader at tight end.
13: With his 337 yard passing performance last week, Tom Brady has 13, 300-yard passing games in the playoffs, the most in NFL history.
18: Home playoff wins by Tom Brady with a home record of 18-3 in the postseason.
40: Number of 25+ yard passes by Tom Brady, most by a QB in the NFL in 2017.
53: Amount of 4th Quarter comebacks by Tom Brady with the score tied or behind.
76: Touchdown receptions by Rob Gronkowski since 2010, most in the NFL
88: Most wins by a team since the 2012 season, next closest team is Green Bay (73)

Mitchell, Jones Go to IR,  the Injury Bug Continues:
The Patriots did not activate WR Malcolm Mitchell off of IR and the Patriots talented second-year player will have lost the entire season due to injury. There was the slim hope that he could be activated during the playoffs and possibly contribute in the conference title game or the Super Bowl if the team moves on.

Mitchell, a rookie in 2016 had a strong second half of the regular season and had a solid Super Bowl performance that had many predicting a nice jump in production this season. But an injury in training camp landed him on IR and he never recovered

Jonathan Jones, a key special teams performer as well as the team’s valuable nickel back contributor was injured in the Titans game and was also placed on season-ending IR this week. His place on the STs unit will be taken by Jonathan Bademosi.

Patriots Rookies, Ignore the Wall, Play Key Roles on Defense:
When one talks about the rookies who play in their first NFL season, the talk usually gets to the “Rookie Wall” in their first year in the league. The season is much longer than in college, then factor in preseason and playoffs and many times, the rookies, who’ve never played this long in a season, wear down.

But the Patriots have been fortunate that two of their rookies Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler have continued to play well and be key role players in the team’s front seven thru the end of the regular season and into the playoffs which continue today.

Wise, a 4th round draft pick from Arkansas impressed observers since the beginning of training camp. He carried himself like a seasoned pro and has had a solid 2017 rookie season with 5 sacks and 26 tackles playing in about half of the team’s defensive snaps.

Butler was an undrafted rookie free agent from Vanderbilt who no one gave a shot at making the 53-man roster in training camp. So he ended up on the roster the old-fashioned way…he earned it. Butler played in just under half the defensive snaps and has grown into his role, improving from week-to-week. Both young players will have to continue to step if the Patriots are to win today and continue on to Minnesota.  

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Divisional Weekend:
Divisional Weekend Last week 1-3 mark.

Conference Championship Weekend Picks
New England over Jacksonville
Minnesota over Philadelphia

Eastbound and Down – AFC East Notes:

Bills Get a Coup, Sign Daboll as Offensive Coordinator:
The Buffalo Bills started their offseason off with a bang, signing former Alabama OC Brian Daboll to run the Bills offense in 2018. Daboll brings a loaded resume with him to Orchard Park and the Buffalo offense will definitely look different next season.

Daboll has a National Championship in his only season on Nick Saban’s staff along with two Super Bowl wins as part of Bill Belichick’s crew in New England. Now Daboll and Head Coach Sean McDermott will have to decide what direction they’re going to go at the QB position. Will they stick with either Tyrod Taylor or Nathan Peterman or look to the Free Agents/NFL Draft to find their franchise QB. Most people believe Daboll would prefer a pure passer. This spring should be quite interesting for Bills fans.

Baker Mayfield Ignites Twitter with “Get Me to Miami” Post:
Oklahoma QB and Heisman trophy winner Baker Mayfield lit Twitter on fire with his comments on the social media page when he posted “#Get me to Miami” on his Instagram account this week.

Social media, being what it is at times exploded with hot takes with Mayfield supposedly taking the track that he only wanted to play for Miami.

The truth, is it so often is, was much more benign. Mayfield explained that he was just sending a message to former Oklahoma wide receiver standout and Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills. Mayfield’s post caused him to have to remark, “Just so everybody knows. … I commented about playing for Miami because I was talking to a former Sooner in Kenny Stills,” Mayfield said.

“Everybody can relax, I will play anywhere that gives me a chance. I’m not picky, I will go anywhere and strive to uplift a franchise and win ball games.”

Robby Anderson Gets Arrested and Threatens Cop: The Jets’ offseason didn’t get off swimmingly. NY wide receiver Robby Anderson was arrested by police in Sunrise, FL for going 105mph in a 45 mph zone. The police officer who arrested Anderson stated that he couldn’t maintain his lane and was “all over the roadway.”

Worse still was the fact that Anderson then threatened the police officer’s wife,  stating allegedly “I’m going to  f**k her and nut in her eye.” He’s facing nine charges and was arrested last spring at a music festival after refusing to sit on the ground and pushing a police officer.

Anderson totaled 63 catches for 941 yards and 7 touchdowns during the 2017 regular season.

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

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

Patriots – Jaguars Conference Championship Game, Key MatchUps

Steve Balestrieri
January 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm ET

The New England Patriots remain at home at Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, January 21, at 3:15 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolffson will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (14-3) took care of business in easy fashion by easily dispatching the Tennessee Titans 35-14 last Saturday night.

The Jaguars (12-6) jumped out to a huge 21-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers and then kept the heat on the Steelers defense by gouging them for 45 points in a 45-42 win in Pittsburgh.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 Jaguars have a limited history against one another since Jacksonville entered the league in 1995. Sunday’s game will only be the 12th time the two teams have met. But the conference championship game will mark the fifth time the teams have met in the playoffs.

New England holds a 10-1 overall record including 7-0 at home over the Jags. The only game Jacksonville has won was a Divisional Playoff game in 1999. The teams last met in Foxboro early in the 2015 season, but not much can be gleaned from that matchup as both rosters have undergone a host of changes since them.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

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

The Patriots running game has been extremely effective since Dion Lewis has taken over as the primary running back. He and Rex Burkhead, who should return from injury this week gives New England a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game.

The Jaguars have a big, physical front and speedy outside linebackers that flow to the ball really well. But as aggressive as they are on defense at rushing the quarterback, they can be run on if you run the ball right at them. The slow developing stretch runs to the outside won’t work with the speed of the linebackers.

Look for Lewis and Burkhead to run to the weakside this week. Yannick Ngakoue is a slightly undersized but athletic defensive end as they try to keep the Jaguars defense from just teeing off on the quarterback. The key from a New England perspective for the running game is keeping the third downs to manageable distances.

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

The Patriots passing game got some of their weapons back last weekend and it was no surprise that Tom Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Now with Burkhead back, the backs in the passing game should be able to be at full strength too with Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White. Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, and Danny Amendola are the outside wide receiver targets and TE Rob Gronkowski remains the big mismatch in the middle.

Jacksonville’s defense allowed just 169.9 yards per game during the regular season by combining an outstanding pass rush that got 55 sacks and great coverage by their cornerbacks on the outside with A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. Calais Campbell led the way with 14.5 sacks and Ngakoue was next with 12.

Look for the Patriots to mix their “11-personnel” with 3 WRs and 1 RB with Danny Amendola on the field with their “21 personnel” with 2 WRs, 2 RBs and a TE to keep the Jaguars defense guessing. With their big pass rushers, the key from NE’s perspective is to go hurry up as soon as the team makes a first down. They want to stop the Jaguars from substituting freely on the defensive line and hopefully wear them down.

Gronkowski and the backs are the keys for Brady this week in the passing game. Both of their safeties are dinged up a little bit and look for Brady to get Gronkowski involved early and often. The running backs are the big keys for New England in the passing game. The Jaguars corners should match up well with the wide receivers outside the numbers but another big key will be the quickness of Danny Amendola inside the numbers. Brady will look to get the ball out quickly, think of the game plan against the Seahawks (which is very similar to Jax), or the Falcons defenses.

Next up the Jacksonville offense:

Jaguars RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Jacksonville

The Jaguars have the top-rated running game in the league with the big man Leonard Fournette providing the bulk of the heavy lifting inside. Fournette smashed the Steelers to the tune of 109 tough yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. Chris Ivory was a healthy scratch and T.J. Yeldon is the change of pace and a good receiver out of the backfield with Fournette.

QB Blake Bortles has been very effective at scrambling out of the backfield and is very good at moving the sticks when there is no one open in the receiving patterns.

The Patriots struggled against the run all season and allowed 114.8 yards per game, which is coincidentally less than Jacksonville did (116.3 ypg). But in the last three games, the run defense has noticeably stiffened allowing a total of 189 yards (63 ypg). With Allen Branch and Kyle Van Noy back and healthy as well as the addition of James Harrison, it is a different unit now.

Look for the Jags to try to pound Fournette as they did all season to make third-down conversions for Bortles easier where they’ll have a run/pass option. Yeldon is a bit of a wildcard here. How well the Patriots do or do not cover the run will go a long way in this one. Their game plan will be to force the ball into Bortles’ hands and make the Jaguars win that way.

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

The Jaguars passing game is a microcosm how Bortles’ season has gone. When he has played well, the Jaguars have been very difficult to stop. And when he’s not, he’s looked at times awful. He had a poor playoff game against Buffalo which he turned around and had a very solid game against the Steelers.

With Allen Robinson on IR, the Jags have Marquise Lee, Allen Hurns and rookie Keelan Cole who shined when he was here during the joint practices/preseason game this summer. Tight end Marcedes Lewis is their leading touchdown receiver with five and provides a good weapon in the middle of the field.The aforementioned Fournette and Yeldon give Bortles good but not great weapons in the passing game.

The Patriots secondary has been much much better since the first month of the season. They have a trio of good corners in Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, and Eric Rowe. The pass rush has heated up down the stretch and had a franchise record eight sacks against Tennessee last week.

Look for Bortles to play action pass on first down a lot here, trying to catch the defense selling out to stop the run. That is a key for both teams this week. If the Patriots can force the ball into Bortles’ hands in constantly having to throw on third down, that’s the matchup the Patriots will win. The edge rushers must stay disciplined and not get past him to allow scrambling for first downs.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL, they excel in punt and kick coverage and continuously turn in big plays. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen is very adept at pinning opponents inside the 20 and the team has perennial Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Jaguars punter Brad Nortman had a punt blocked against the Steelers last week, something that STs coach Joe Judge may opt to try again. The Jaguars have good return teams and solid coverage teams as well. But at home, the nod goes to NE and Gostkowski who has had a very solid season.

 

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well with the hoopla around Tom Brady’s hand/thumb injury the past few days, unless rule him out, I’ll assume he’s playing and will be his usual self. Since his ACL injury in 2008, when the last time that Brady missed a start? Exactly.

This should be a good chess match as both teams will jockey for field position to give their offenses a shorter field.   Brady has faced similar defenses like the Jaguars run against the Seahawks in the past, I look for them to go hurry up as soon as they make a first down. The Jags corners and pass rush are very tough obstacles but as we’ve seen Brady will try to get the ball out in two seconds or less as they slowly work the underneath and middle routes, targeting the linebackers and safeties in coverage with Gronkowski and the trio of running backs. Danny Amendola may be the forgotten man in terms of defensive game planning, but he always rises to the occasion in the playoffs. And this is a battle-tested unit.

The Jaguars are a QB away from being a Super Bowl favorite soon but are they there yet with Bortles? I don’t think so. I equate him similar to Mark Sanchez with the 2010 Jets. They got to the conference championship game with great defense and a game manager QB. I see this one playing out similar to that season. With all the talk of the Jaguars defense (and it is deserved), no one is talking about New England’s defense which has been very stingy in allowing points. Well, they keep it going, Not Done Yet. Patriots 27-17

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.

Get to Know Jacksonville by Revisiting the Jaguars-Patriots Joint Practices

Steve Balestrieri
January 17, 2018 at 8:17 am ET

The Patriots and Jaguars meet on Sunday afternoon for the AFC Championship Game and the right to move on to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. The teams don’t play each other very much, and going back a couple of seasons to look at games played against one another is difficult since roster and coaching turnover is so great. You can get a much better idea at what they are about by going back to the joint practices this summer.

The two teams conducted a few days of very good, spirited practices (and just to reiterate, it is practice and not a game) but we got to watch plenty of one-on-one matchups as well as full team drills and situational football, (something Jacksonville’s last opponent doesn’t seem to practice). The first two days were the true joint practices, the third day was just a walk-thru before their preseason game.

Thankfully I still had my notes on the sessions and it reinforces what we’ve been seeing from the Jaguars this season. In those practices, the prevailing things to look at and for on Sunday were the following observations:

The Jacksonville Defensive Line is Big, Strong and Physical: One of the more intriguing things about their defense is their size. They are very big and strong and during the goal line work, they were very tough to get a push for the running game on. The Patriots were stuffed on several occasions.

Jax defensive line with pressure. (SBalestrieri photo)

They are very good at getting pressure with just their front four. Because of that they can drop seven into coverage and provide tighter windows to throw in. And unlike Tennessee, the Jaguars will rotate defensive linemen in, using seven players, they are deep and their backups are very good.

The outside linebackers, Miles Jack and Telvin Smith are fast and will contest the short areas of the passing game very well. The  guy that holds it together is Paul Posluszny, the big middle linebacker who is a thumper inside. It is amazing that Posluszny, who is in his 11th season, finally gets a chance to play for a winner.

One area that the Patriots can combat this is to go quick. If they go to the hurry up offense, the Jaguars big men inside could get worn down. Play action passing on first down and in a perfect world, running 65-75 offensive snaps will be something they’ll look to do.

The Corners are Big and Physical: Jacksonville has two excellent corners in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Many Patriots fans will remember Bouye from the Divisional Playoff game last season when he played for the Texans.

Both have good size, speed, and physicality. They’re very good at jamming at the line of scrimmage and disrupting the timing, something the Patriots offense is built on. During the joint workouts, there were some great battles going on where the Jags corners won plenty of one-on-one battles. The smaller Patriots wide receivers have struggled getting separation against tough, physical corners.

Jax corners are big, tough and physical. (SBalestrieri photo)

Unfortunately for New England, the one guy no one could cover was Julian Edelman. No matter who they trotted out there, Edelman’s quickness off the line was nearly impossible to stop and he was seemingly open on every play. But he’s lost for the season on IR, so will they attempt to use Danny Amendola and/or James White, in the same way, this week? But Jacksonville will attempt to flood the underneath zones and force Tom Brady into going to a deeper vertical passing game. The Steelers made them pay for those, but rewatching the tape, several of those catches were the type of highlight reel stuff and all were against extremely tight coverage.

The key from a New England perspective may be against the safeties using Rob Gronkowski. Both of the safeties (Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church) are banged up a bit this week, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Leonard Fournette is A Load in the Running Game: The Jaguars are built in the Tom Coughlin mode and coach Doug Marrone relies heavily on the running game, to wear down the opposition, control the clock and open up play action passing. Fournette was the highly touted prospect from LSU and the joint practices were our first look at him.

He didn’t disappoint. He’s big, physical with good speed and very good vision. He was impressive down on the goal line and at breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage. He will be the primary focus for the Patriots defense this week.

Don’t go to sleep on T.J. Yeldon. He’s a good runner in his own right and a very good pass receiver out of the backfield.

Bortles is the Wildcard This Week: It is hard to judge Bortles on what we saw during those practices because he struggled badly at the beginning of training camp and was particularly awful during the two days of practices that we watched. He had been throwing picks in practice and was gun shy about throwing downfield in 11-on-11. Everything was a check-down.

Bortles play is the wildcard this weekend. (SBalestrieri photo)

One of the Jacksonville beat guys we spoke with told us, that Tony Khan was actively trying to pry Jimmy G. away from the Patriots that week. Obviously, Bortles hasn’t played like that all season or the Jaguars wouldn’t be here now. But his consistency is the issue. Which one shows up? The one in control in Pittsburgh or the one leery to throw the ball downfield, like he did against Buffalo. Play action on first down will be key for his success this week. If he gets in third and long, it will be a long afternoon for the Jaguars offense.

One guy to watch is Marquise Lee. He had some great battles with Malcolm Butler and had his way with the Pats CB on many snaps during both days of workouts. Will the Pats use him or Stephon Gilmore against Lee? We’ll see.

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 Fourth And Two Podcast: AFC Championship Game Preview

Russ Goldman
January 16, 2018 at 11:39 am ET

In this episode, we previewed the upcoming AFC Championship Game as the Patriots will face the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium. We also looked back at the Divisional Round victory for the Pats against the Titans.

AFC Championship Game Will Be New England – Jacksonville

Steve Balestrieri
January 15, 2018 at 8:54 am ET

The much anticipated AFC Championship Game will not be a rematch between the Patriots and Steelers as the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second time this season went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 45-42 in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.

New England had already advanced on Saturday night by thrashing the Tennessee Titans 35-14 and will now face the Jaguars who won a close defensive struggle 10-3 over Buffalo and now a shootout against the over-confident Steelers.

The Jaguars, played the underdog role well all week, listening to several Pittsburgh players including safety Mike Mitchell and running back Le’Veon Bell openly talk about beating New England in a rematch, totally dismissing Jacksonville, which was doubly infuriating for the Jaguars since they blasted the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

Mitchell was even reported to be standing outside the Jacksonville locker room trash-talking the Jaguars before the game. Once again, this failure resides right in the lap of the Pittsburgh coaching staff. While talking up their “upcoming” game with New England, they forgot about Jacksonville and their performance on the field was easy to point at.

Jacksonville, behind the power running of Leonard Fournette, play-action passing of Blake Bortles and that tough opportunistic defense raced out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before the Steelers decided it was time to play. Ben Roethlisberger shook off a shaky, poor start to toss five touchdown passes, several of the highlight reel variety on fourth downs to keep the game close, but it was not to be.

Jacksonville came to play…this week. The Steelers were too fixated on next week and now go home with nobody to blame but themselves. To discount and overlook a tough team with the #1 defense in the NFL, and one that had routed you earlier in the year in your own building is unconscionable. He’ll have all spring and summer to answer those questions and they are legit ones. That locker room is way too loose.

Jacksonville is Ready: But for Doug Marrone’s team, they’re flying high right now. They entered the playoffs as the #3 seed and now part of the final four and they, (and rightfully so) feel like they can beat anybody. The pass defense is the #1 unit in the league and will present a tremendous obstacle for the Patriots.

Why? They can create plenty of QB pressure without blitzing just rushing their front four. That means they can drop seven men into coverage and fill up the passing lanes. Their cornerbacks are very good, we saw A.J. Bouye last year with the Texans in the playoffs.

Jalen Ramsey is the Jags other starting corner and he wasted little time in declaring the Jaguars as the next Super Bowl champions. Speaking to the fans upon return to Jacksonville, Ramsey said, “I ain’t got too much to say, but make sure you all bring that same energy out next week and the week after,” Ramsey said. “We are going to the Super Bowl and we are going to win that b***h. We are going to the win that b***h.”

Both starting corners are big, (6’0 and 6’1), fast, physical and athletic.

Teams Are Very Familiar With Each Other: This summer during training camp, the Jaguars and Patriots conducted joint practices with each other and there is much that can be learned about each other from those long looks on the Gillette upper fields.

You can guarantee that both sets of coaches will be looking at those tapes this week to see if they can catch the slightest nuance from their opponent. It also gives a good look at the role players, the guys that may only come in for a handful of snaps each week to see how the team may use them and get a better feel for their strengths and weaknesses.

Chris Hogan and A.J. Bouye battle during joint practices between Jax and NE in August. (SBalestrieri photo)

One player who gave the Jaguars fits (and who’ll be missed this week) was Julian Edelman who was nearly uncoverable in the workouts. For the Jaguars, Marquise Lee had his way with Malcolm Butler on several occasions. And Brandin Cook’s speed was something that the Jacksonville defense definitely struggled with. While Leonard Fournette showed why the Jaguars were so high on him.

We’ll have more on these matchups later this week.

Coughlin Factor Will be Overblown This Week: Tom Coughlin has his hands all over the Jaguars success this season. He knows how to build a solid football team. And it starts with his defense and then he builds a big physical offense built around the running game that feasts on play action when the defense over commits to stopping the run.

This is what he did here in Jacksonville to start the franchise, then brought it to the Giants and now he and Marrone are doing it here in Jacksonville again. They are a very physically tough, well-balanced football team. But less than 8 hours after their defeat of Pittsburgh, social media is already overflowing with the “Coughlin has the blueprint” on how to beat New England mantra, like he owns a secret talisman that is kryptonite against Tom Brady. That is what we’ll hear all week.

Coughlin’s teams win by being balanced and tough defensively. As we said above, they’ll present a very difficult challenge for the Patriots to beat this Sunday. And his defense in both Super Bowls slowed down the Patriots passing offense by making them one-dimensional and getting after Brady. In Super Bowl XLII they held New England to 45 yards rushing. In SB XLVI it was 83 but 21 of those belonged to Wes Welker.

And remember, for as stout as Coughlin’s defenses played in each, it took incredible deep, passing plays by Eli Manning to pull out each. The velcro catch down the middle in the former and the beautiful dime he threw to Mario Manningham in the latter.

It is just great team defense, there isn’t a secret or a blueprint. It is going out and producing. Both of these teams are vastly different from those teams and this will be a great chess match all on its own.

We’ll have a deeper look at the Jaguars here soon. Final Four Week is here. All four teams got here the old fashioned way…they earned it. This is what the postseason is all about.

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.

New England Patriots News 1-14, And the Beat Goes On…

Steve Balestrieri
January 14, 2018 at 7:44 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-14, & AFC East Notes.

What a crazy week it was, we began the week with below zero temperatures in a deep freeze only to see Friday and early Saturday reach a balmy 60. Then by the time the game ended last night it was cold once again with single digit wind chills. Couple that with the Patriots playoff game and so little talk surrounding the game itself, it was indeed a crazy week.

However, when all was said and done, the Patriots are moving on to their seventh straight conference championship. That’s some rarified air folks. Breathe it in, enjoy it and ignore the noise.

Reports of the Patriots Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated:
Since the Patriots are indeed flying in that rarified air, there is no shortage of media people that can’t wait to be the first to say “the Patriots run is over”, and there is feuding among the top three of Brady, Belichick, and Kraft.

Well if you thought (or were secretly wishing for) this latest flap over nada to distract the team and throw them off of their game, you were sadly mistaken. They handled this like everything else and used it as a tool to bring themselves together and blasted the Titans into the offseason.

Next week, they’ll face a very good team either way between Jacksonville or Pittsburgh with the chance to go to the Super Bowl. And if they do fail, it will have zero to do with distractions, or in-fighting or worrying about who is the “Patriot of the Week.” This team is mentally tough and blocks out distractions better than anyone else.

Brady Continues to Amaze:
Speaking of wishful thinking, so many of these dweebs with their hot take shows have been predicting the end of the line for Brady for so long that it has become almost comical. I first heard these “he could be done as an elite QB” since the 2008 season when he tore his ACL. Ten years. The Brady funeral procession has been waiting for ten years and the beat goes on.

After all of the talk about his struggling December was all about his age and ignoring the fact that he was missing nearly half a dozen of his offensive players, once he got most of his players back he did what he’s always done. Made the naysayers pay. Right, Kevin Byard? He didn’t look like Blake Bortles last night nor was he afraid to test Byard in the middle of the field. When will they ever learn…don’t poke the bear.

Brady improved to an incredible 6-2 in playoff action when attempting 50+ passes. How is that incredible you ask? All other QBs attempting 50+ are a combined 3-28. Put that on a cliff. And thanks, Kerry Byrne for that stat.

How About that Patriots Defense?
It is amazing what you see on social media, the talk we’ve been hearing since September was that the defense was the Achilles Heel of the team and the lack of a pass rush/setting the edge in the running game was going to be the death knell of this team.

The run defense has been steadily getting better down the stretch and the QB pressure has been getting better and better and Matt Patricia doesn’t have that “marquee pass rusher” he and Bill Belichick have schemed a pass around the pieces that they do have.

And while the panic level around New England went thru the roof after the Titans went on their first touchdown drive, the coaches did what they always have done. They figured out what was wrong, adjusted and stuffed Tennessee until a total garbage time touchdown when the game was over.

Tennessee gashed the Chiefs for over 200 yards rushing the week before with Derrick Henry accounting for 156 of them. On Saturday night, that number was 65. And Henry, who was supposed to be the equalizer rushed for 2.3 yards per carry gaining just 28 yards. They took away Mariota’s running lanes in the passing game and the pass rush hit the Titans’ QB for eight sacks which is a franchise record.

Amendola is Money Once Again:
We’ve been unabashed supporters of the Patriots slot receiver. In the last two Super Bowl wins, he was right in the mix of things in each victory. No one has better hands and he has a nose for moving the sticks, finding the sweet spot in the coverage and always saves his best for the biggest times at crunch times.

One fact that escaped us last night was that Amendola has never had a 100-yard receiving game. Well not any longer. With the Patriots getting healthier on offense, Tennessee was busy trying to defend everywhere and that’s where Amendola steps in. He’ll never be “the guy” and he’s usually the third or fourth option for Tom Brady in many of these passing plays, but woe to the defense that ignores him. He caught 11 passes on 13 targets for 112 yards last night including a superb play by him and Brady for a key third-down conversion. Brady was flushed out of the pocket and threw across his body where Amendola made a tremendous leaping grab.

Every spring and summer, the rumors always have the Patriots cutting ties to the diminutive wide receiver, and every playoff run has us wondering “how could they get rid of this guy?”

Patriots Offensive Line Answers the Bell:
One of the other storylines this week was that big, physical Titans defensive line, doing what they did to Alex Smith and the Chiefs doing the same thing to Tom Brady, bringing pressure up the middle and shutting down the Patriots offense that “hasn’t been good all December” and “this could be 2010 all over again.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying. The charges of Dante Scarnecchia had a very good game on Saturday night. They picked up the A Gap blitzes, did a solid job of protection all night long and allowed zero sacks and just four QB hits.

Coaching Carousel Keeps Turning; Staff May Be Quite Different in 2018 :
The Patriots coaching staff and front office is always being looked at from other teams, trying to catch lightning in a bottle and emulate the Patriots success. And with both Offensive and Defensive Coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia receiving serious consideration from two teams, it seems on the surface that both may soon be gone. Where does that leave the team in 2018?

Bill Belichick is always grooming, “the next man up” in the military tradition, he no doubt learned at Annapolis. He’s grooming the next guy to take the job. That’s the difference between successful coaches and unsuccessful ones. You don’t train your subordinates to follow but to lead. And the team should be fine on paper.

Both Linebackers Coach Brian Flores, as well as Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea, have been being groomed to step into the coordinator positions if indeed McDaniels and Patricia depart. Both are highly esteemed inside the building although the true test for each will come when they actually step into the roles. One potential, albeit long-shot snafu that could arise, is if Flores departs also. He’s already getting some consideration as a head coaching candidate from the Arizona Cardinals. If he were to leave as well, then that might open up the position for an outsider.

But Belichick always likes to promote from within and keep that continuity, so that would be intriguing if it were to occur. One name to keep an eye on if that occurs, … Greg Schiano, not really an outsider per se as he an Belichick have always been close.  

Gruden Lands in a Good Position to Thrive:
Jon Gruden leaving the ESPN Monday Night Football gig to return to coaching wasn’t a shock. Everyone who was close to him has stated that he is a coach, first and foremost and would eventually return to the coaching ranks sooner or later. Gruden was just waiting for the right spot. And he returned to the Raiders where he found success in the early 2000s.

A couple of years ago, he was interested in the Eagles coaching vacancy by Philly owner Jeff Lurie wasn’t interested in him, being out of the NFL for so long. But Mark Davis, the owner of the Raiders came calling with a boatload of cash and the rest, as they say, is history.

Gruden can coach, we’ve seen that with the job he did in Tampa with the Bucs. What he isn’t tremendous at is building a football team, as we’ve seen on the MNF telecasts, he loves everybody. But he doesn’t have to worry about that. He has a very good GM in Reggie McKenzie who has assembled some intriguing pieces around the roster for Gruden to work with. First of which is QB Derek Carr.

I can’t wait to see how those two interact and work around an offense that didn’t play to its full potential last year. The Raiders have some intriguing pieces on offense that seem tailor made for Gruden. That alone will keep the Raiders fans in the seats at the dump they play in until they make the move to Las Vegas. “Chucky Takes Las Vegas”…

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Divisional Weekend:
Wildcard Weekend Last week 3-1 mark.

Saturday: Falcons at Eagles – Atlanta
Titans at Patriots – New England

Sunday: Jaguars at Steelers – Pittsburgh
Saints at Vikings – New Orleans

****No AFC East Notes This Week****

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

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

Brady, Patriots Manhandle Titans 35-14, Advance To AFC Title Game

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2018 at 11:53 pm ET

For the seventh season in a row, the Patriots are going to the conference championship with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. After starting a bit slowly against a physically tough but overmatched Tennessee Titans team, the Patriots caught fire in the second quarter and scored 35 straight points before allowing a garbage time touchdown to win 35-14.

Tom Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, Danny Amendola had a fantastic game with 11 receptions for 113 yards and Dion Lewis and James White were basically unstoppable in the passing game. While the still much-maligned Patriots defense notched eight sacks of Marcus Mariota. The Titans QB threw for 254 yards but lost 52 of those back with sacks. The Titans gained a net total of 267 yards on the night.

The Patriots will host the winner of the Pittsburgh – Jacksonville game next week. Other observations include:

Brady Has His Way With LeBeau’s Defense Again: After the first two drives stalled without a pass to the running backs, the offense got it figured out and Brady picked apart the Titans defense by targeting the running backs, James White and Dion Lewis in the passing game where Tennessee had no answer.

The Titans were among the worst in the league defending backs in the passing game and it showed. Tennessee is stout against the run allowing an average of just 88 yards per game so Josh McDaniels and Brady eschewed the running game for the most part by throwing the ball short to the backs where they found great success.

While throwing to Dion Lewis out of the backfield, Brady was 9-10 for 79 yards. Overall he was 13-17 for 108 yards targeting the backs. White had a touchdown reception as well as running but also had a couple of drops. One on a wheel route was nearly a huge gainer but it bounced just off his fingertips.

Rob Gronkowski, despite being doubled most of the game caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

The Run Defense Put Derrick Henry on a Milk Carton: One of the big matchups entering the game was the Titans running game against the Pats defense which has struggled for much of the year. But like we saw down the stretch, the team has improved against the run and tonight, they shut down Henry who ran wild against KC a week ago.

Henry rushed for 28 yards on 12 carries, his longest run of the day was four yards. He was never a factor in the game and the Tennessee game plan of pounding the ball inside and keeping Brady off the field never materialized. Mariota had some nice, effective scrambles early but once Matt Patricia made his adjustments, the Titans running game was rendered ineffective. Overall they rushed 16 times for 65 yards while the Patriots rushed for 101 yards on 27 carries.

Amendola, Along with White and Lewis Were the “Little Big Men” for the Team:
The offense was clicking with the smaller players producing big-time. Amendola probably benefited the most from having White and Hogan back as with the different players in the lineup, and Tennessee opting to double cover Gronkowski, he had room to work underneath and if he can get his hand on the ball, he’s money.

Amendola is the subject of rumors every spring/summer that he’s on his way out and every year around playoff time, he reminds us all how valuable he is. Tonight was no exception. He made several catches of the difficult variety and is among Brady’s most trusted receivers with the game on the line.

The Patriots Pass Rush Continues to Improve: As the game went on, the pass rush kept getting better and better. The Pats pass rush notched eight sacks with them getting spread around. Deatrich Wise and Geneo Grissom each had two.

Others getting sacks were Trey Flowers, Adam Butler, Ricky Jean-Francois and Marquis Flowers. They were bringing the heat on Mariota and after the first few drives, he wasn’t able to scramble for yardage.

Stephon Gilmore didn’t give up a single catch during the game and had tremendous coverage all night. He made a nice diving pass breakup as well

This win has to be a big confidence builder for the team overall. The defense was supposed to be tested by the ground game of Henry and Mariota and they held up quite well. And to get after Mariota like they did with eight sacks? Off the charts.

Offensively, getting most of their missing pieces back was huge. The offense hasn’t looked this potent in weeks. Brady was cool, calm and collected, laser sharp and had a very impressive outing.

So…. We are on to the Conference Championship.

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.

Malcolm Mitchell Out For Divisional Playoffs vs Titans

Robert Alvarez
January 12, 2018 at 8:12 pm ET

On Friday, the deadline to place New England Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on the 53-man roster came and went at 4pm with no move being made. Mitchell will not play against the Tennessee Titans.

After a strong rookie season that saw him contribute in the Super Bowl comeback, Mitchell has been dealing with a knee injury that has kept him on injured reserve since September 7th.

Mitchell was spotted practicing with the team on Thursday and has been active on social media over the past few weeks indicating his attempts at coming back.

According to NESN’s Doug Kyed, should the Patriots advance to the next round, the team will have one more opportunity to activate Mitchell at 4pm on Wednesday, otherwise he will be ineligible for the remainder of the playoffs.

As for the current depth chart at wide receiver, there is some good news as Chris Hogan is expected to return for the first time after missing seven of the teams last eight games with a shoulder injury. Heading into Saturday night, the Patriots will have Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt available for quarterback Tom Brady.

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

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots return from the bye week to take on the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the 2017 Playoffs. The game will be played at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, where if the team is successful this week, will be the place for the AFC Championship Game.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Saturday, January 13, at 8:15 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (13-3) took care of business in Week 17 beating the Jets to end the season and had a much needed week off to heal up the many injuries that they have suffered this season.

The Titans (10-7) stormed back from a big 21-3 halftime deficit to stun the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round 22-21. The team rushed for 202 yards with Derrick Henry accounting for 156 of them. QB Marcus Mariota completed a TD pass….to himself in one of the crazier plays you’ll see.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 Titans are meeting for the 42nd time going back to the old days of the AFL and when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. Overall the Patriots hold a 24-16-1 edge. The Patriots have won the last six meetings including a 2003 season Divisional Playoff win.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Titans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots running game was firing on all cylinders until Rex Burkhead and James White went down with injuries. However, Dion Lewis has been simply outstanding in the second half of the season. Lewis will get the lion’s share of the work in the running game, even if both of those backs return.

The Titans are very stout against the run allowing just 88 yards per game. It starts with the big men in the middle, Sylvester Williams, Jurrell Casey and Austin Johnson. They’re big and physical and will make the going tough.

Look for the Patriots to pass to set up the run. The Patriots have run for more yards in the red zone in 2017 than any other team in the league. When they get down low, they like to run Lewis inside and catch teams in a pass rushing situation.

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

The Patriots passing game should get Chris Hogan, James White and maybe ….Burkhead back this week which will be a huge boost for the passing game.

The Titans can get after the passer and have 43 sacks, they also have the biggest ball hawk in All-Pro Safety Kevin Byard, but the two areas that they struggle in are the two are the Patriots strengths, covering running backs in the passing game and covering tight ends. They’re going to have to bring pressure up the middle if they’re going to slow down this passing offense.

Look for the Patriots to target Gronkowski and the backs early and often in this one. With the big men up front, the Patriots may try to keep them in their base look and then go hurry up to wear those big men down. If Brady has his full complement of receivers this week, this offense should easily have its way with Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Next up the Titans offense:

Titans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Titans have the big man, Derrick Henry at running back and Marcus Mariota, who is a dual threat to run or throw. They averaged just over 114 yards per game on the ground. Demarco Murray has already been ruled out of this one with an injury so it will be Henry. He gets better as the game goes on, so if the score is still close late in the game, that’s when he’s at his most effective.

The Patriots run defense has had major issues this season defending the run especially on the edge but they’ll be getting Alan Branch back inside and the addition of James Harrison should really pay dividends. That means Kyle Van Noy, who is also returning from injury can move inside where he’s more effective.

The Titans are a run-first team, but they’ll want to mix things up and keep New England off-balance. But will Henry influence the game enough to tip the scales for the Titans? He’ll get his yards but the Patriots have gotten better against the run down the stretch. Shutting down the Jets and Bills on the ground.

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

The Titans have 3rd year QB Mariota who had a great 2016 but slipped badly this year throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Tennessee has a talented group of receivers with Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and Corey Davis outside and Delanie Walker at tight end. Walker led the team with 74 catches for 807 yards and three scores.

The Patriots struggled horribly in September against the pass but since then, things have tightened up considerably. The Patriots on third down have the fourth best opponent passer rating of just 76.8. The corners and safeties have tightened things up. Look for Pat Chung to battle Walker which will be a key area to watch. Harrison may add a bit to the pass rush for the Patriots who got 42 sacks on the season. Mariota averaged just 199.4 yards per game passing this year. If the Patriots get off to a quick start, the big question is, can he throw enough to keep up?

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams are among the best in the NFL, they excel in punt and kick coverage and continuously turn in big plays. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen is very adept at pinning opponents inside the 20 and the team has perennial Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Titans punter Brett Kern led the league in punting average with 49.7 yards per punt and have Adoree Jackson on both their punt and kick return units.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Once again the key here from a Patriots perspective is to get off to a quick start. They haven’t been good at throwing the ball (23rd in the NFL) so they’re not going to be at their best if they have to throw and get away from the run.

With the Patriots getting most of their weapons back this week, look for Tom Brady to spread the wealth around and test this pass defense. Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz schemes are the same defenses that he ran in Pittsburgh. There is no mystery there for the Patriots or Brady. Will LeBeau mix things up and play more man coverage this week? That’s the big question here. If they sit back in a zone, the only chance they’ll have is if they get great pressure up the middle. Another key is ball security. With an offense that scores just about 20 points per game, the Pats can’t afford to give Mariota and the Titans offense short fields and easy scores. They have to feel pressure to score every time they get the ball in order to keep up.

Tennessee is at their best when the force the game into a physical slugfest where the score is a 17-14 type of game into the fourth quarter. Those are the games tailor-made for them to win. Mariota is a dual threat to run/pass but I don’t expect the Patriots to “spy” him with a linebacker. It will just come down to the players doing their job and the defensive ends not getting too far upfield.

Brady, Gronkowski, and Lewis will have big games this week and New England advances for the seventh straight year to the AFC Championship Game with a solid team victory as they pull away late.  Patriots 31-14

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: Wild Card Weekend Recap And Titans vs. Patriots Preview

Russ Goldman
January 9, 2018 at 11:10 am ET

In this episode, we started off by sharing our predictions on the possibility of the Patriots winning another title, and becoming a Double Dynasty. We then shared our views on the Seth Wickersham article on ESPN.com.

Next, we looked back at all of the games on Wild Card Weekend. After that we previewed the other Divisional Round games. We finished the show by previewing the upcoming game for the Patriots against the Titans.