Tag Archives: Chris Ivory

Patriots-Bills Week 8, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 26, 2018 at 6:54 am ET

The New England Patriots are heading off to Buffalo and facing the Bills in a prime-time Monday Night Football matchup. They have a chance to enter the halfway point of the season at 6-2, which is pretty impressive considering the 1-2 in September.

This week’s game will be broadcast by ESPN and can be seen locally on WCVB-TV Channel 5. Joe Tessitore will handle play-by-play duties with Jason Witten as the color analyst. Booger McFarland and Lisa Salters 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 (5-2) defeated the Bears on the road 38-31 last Sunday in a rare 1:00 p.m. start. They’ve won four in a row. The Special Teams scored 14 points on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a 95-yard kickoff return. Tom Brady threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bills (2-5)  lost to Indianapolis Colts 37-5. Derek Anderson, the 14-year veteran took over for the injured Josh Allen and threw three interceptions and also had a fumble as the Buffalo offense continues to struggle.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and the Bills are meeting for the 117th time and the Patriots have dominated overall 72-43-1. But since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have won 31 of 36 games between the two teams.

Tom Brady’s record against the Bills in games where he’s started and finished the game is 28-3. With a win on Monday Night, he will become the QB with the third most wins in Buffalo behind only Jim Kelly and Joe Ferguson.

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 Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo

The Patriots running game has been outstanding for the past month but they lost Sony Michel who has been the catalyst behind it all, to a knee injury against the Bears last week. The Bills have been good defensively, their issue has been the defense has been on the field far too long this season. They allow an average of 110 yards per game and have the big men inside, Star Lotuleilei, Kyle Williams, Jordan Phillips, with LBs Tremaine Edwards, and Lorenzo Alexander to make things difficult.

The Pats will go with James White and Kenjon Barner again this week but without Michel the running will be a bit harder to come by. They’ll look to pass first to get the running game going this week. The Colts gashed the Bills on the ground last week, so that will bear some watching here.

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

The Patriots passing game is looking more and more potent and last week, they were going much more vertical in their passing concepts than we’ve become used to. The good news is that Rob Gronkowski is expected to be back for this week’s game and his presence helps out the offense attacking the middle of the field.

The Bills pass defense is their strength and have not allowed a 300-yard passer in 15 consecutive games dating back to last year. The pass rush is improved with Jerry Hughes having a solid season and a very good secondary. The Bills have two good safeties in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde which will bear watching as the middle is where the Patriots like to attack offensively.

Look for Tom Brady to continue targeting Josh Gordon more and with him matched up with Bills talented corner Tre’Davious White, it promises to be a great matchup to watch. But with the outside receivers going more vertical, it should open things up for the Pats to work underneath with Julian Edelman and James White.

Next up the Buffalo offense:

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

The Bills have a pair of talented running backs that New England knows well in LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory. McCoy has been in the concussion protocol but will probably play this week. It will be interesting to see how Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll who knows the Patriots well will look to attack this week.

The Patriots run defense has been much better of late during the four-game winning streak. Last week’s numbers were skewed by scrambles by QB Mitch Trubiski who ran for 81 yards. Bears running backs averaged less than 3 yards per carry.

With their passing game dormant, the Bills need their running game to give them a boost and help get things jump-started. This will be a big matchup for the interior linebackers (Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts) this week. Hightower showed up on the injury report with a knee injury so that will bear watching.

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

The Bills passing game is a total mess right now averaging a league-low 129.4 yards per game thru the air. Top draft pick Josh Allen won’t play this week, he’s down with an elbow injury and journeyman Derek Anderson gets the nod. But the real problem is the Bills offensive line, which has been porous, allowing 29 sacks thus far. The Patriots pass rush has to be a difference maker this week. Zay Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, and tight end Charles Clay are decent enough weapons, but no Bills QB has had time to throw.

The Patriots pass defense has been good with the cornerbacks covering wide receivers but they’ve had far too many breakdowns in the safety play, allowing big plays. They’ve also had issues containing mobile QBs which shouldn’t be an issue this week.

Look for the Pats to continue their recent trend of being more aggressive in the pass rush against a bad Buffalo offensive line. Anderson isn’t the most mobile of QBs and A-gap pressure may be in the cards this week. Look for Anderson to target Clay early and often in this one. Watching the tape of a few of their games, they like to hit Clay with passes over the middle where he finds open spots to roam. That’s been an issue with New England and Buffalo has watched the tape,

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots seemed to have turned the corner in their special teams play last week. Patterson returned one kickoff for 95 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, he nearly had another, going 38 yards and almost breaking it again. The Patriots also had a punt block for a touchdown, and with Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen, they have a very solid kicking game.

The Bills had a punt blocked against Houston and had their own issues with muffing punts and kickoff returns. We will finally get a chance to see punter Corey Bojorquez on the field after he spent all of training camp with the Patriots. He and kicker Stephen Hauschka are solid, but the Pats get the nod here.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will require the Pats to get off to a good start. Buffalo hasn’t hosted a Monday Night Football game in a long time. The place will be rocking and the Bills will be looking to start quickly and get the crowd even more amped (lubed?) up.

The Patriots should take a page out of the Bills opponents this year, they’ve outscored Buffalo 110-40 in the first half. They need to start fast, get the people sitting on their hands and force the Bills to have to rely on Anderson to get them back in the game.

Brady may not have eye-popping numbers this week, but look for him and the offense to be efficient. That is, to convert third downs, score touchdowns in the red zone and take advantage of opportunities given to them. And there should be plenty to be had.   Patriots 38-14

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.

New England Patriots News 3-6 and AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division.

Brady/Pats Extend Contract to 2019: Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Diana Russini that the Patriots will extend QB Tom Brady’s contract thru the 2019 season. Brady was signed through the 2017 season and was set to make $10 million in 2017 and $9 million this year. His salary cap hit of $15 million will most certainly come down now as a result.

With the extension and if Brady plays the entire length of his contract, Brady will be 42-years old and will have spent at least 20 years with one team, becoming one of only three players to do so. He’ll join Jackie Slater and Darrell Green as the only players to do that.

The contract isn’t signed yet, but it is expected to save the team between $2-3 million dollars against this season’s cap which is important because the team is looking to extend defensive stars Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Malcolm Butler and Chandler Jones to long-term deals to keep them in New England for the foreseeable future.

Backup QB Jimmy Garappolo is signed thru the 2017 season.

Brady Court Hearing Takes a Bad Turn: In the latest court news fallout from the Deflategate fiasco, the NFL’s case seemingly looks stronger again as at least two of the three judges in the appeals case on the surface appeared to take the NFL’s side in their questioning.

Judge Barrington Daniels Parker brought up the issue of Brady’s cell phone and said that Brady’s explanation that he routinely destroys his cellphones when replacing them to protect his privacy, “made no sense whatsoever.”

Judge Denny Chin even commented on the shoddy science used in the Wells Report pointed to a conspiracy, calling the NFL’s evidence of ball tampering, “compelling if not overwhelming.”

Their decision isn’t expected to be handed down for several months but most onlookers in the court expect the league’s suspension to be reapplied.

Patriots Begin Roster Trimming: The team this week cut WR Brandon LaFell,  TE Scott Chandler and LB Darius Fleming as well as telling RFAs WR Brian Tyms and DT Sealver Siliga that they won’t be offered new deals, effectively ending their time in New England.

LaFell was only a year removed from a combined regular season and playoff run from a 1000-yard year. But offseason foot surgery held him out of all of spring and summer workouts. Once he did return, he struggled badly and ended up with only 37 catches and zero touchdowns in 2015. Chandler too struggled badly last year and finished with just 23 catches. His knee issues bothered him all down the stretch and he failed his physical. Fleming was a backup linebacker who played sparingly in the absence of both Hightower and Collins.

Both Tyms and Siliga were depth personnel and on the surface, their departure, as well as Fleming is a bit surprising as they won’t get a chance to win a spot at training camp. But since they don’t fit into the Patriots plans, the decision to release them now both frees up some cash and allows them a chance to latch on with another team quickly.

Free Agency Peek: With the honeymooning phase of free agency beginning on Monday, the Patriots aren’t flush with cash so don’t expect them to be making a flurry of big moves once it starts. The most pressing needs for the team remain:

  • Running Back Depth: The team desperately needs a big back who can run between the tackles and catch some passes out of the backfield. A couple of names that continue to surface for NE include Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, and Alfred Morris.
  • Offensive Line Depth: The core of the interior OL is set with either 2nd or 3rd -year players, an added veteran would serve them well, possibly a return of Josh Kline. At the tackle position, ideally, they would find a right tackle as a replacement for Sebastian Vollmer and move him to swing.
  • Wide Receiver: With Tyms and LaFell both gone, now this is more than a depth need, they need youth, size and some speed on the outside. Don’t expect a big splash name but some solid veterans include Chris Hogan, Rishard Matthews and Rod Streater with more pieces added in the NFL draft.
  • Linebacker Depth: Collins and Hightower are set, the team still has some depth behind them with Jon Bostic and Jonathan Freeny but could use another linebacker to augment them.
  • Tight End: With Chandler gone, it is Rob Gronkowski, Michael Williams who is a blocking tight end and 2nd year player A.J. Derby who missed all of 2015 on IR. Mike Reiss pointed to former Colts TE Dwayne Allen as a possible fit and he’s a good receiver and blocker who would be of interest…if the price is right.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Bring in Mario Williams: Miami is looking to augment its pass rush and brought in free agent Mario Williams for a visit on Saturday. Williams was released by Buffalo on Tuesday and is free to sign with any team now but has stated he will make several visits before deciding on a new team.

Miami placed a $12.734 million-dollar transitional franchise tag on DE Olivier Vernon. Which means he can negotiate with other teams but gives the Dolphins the right of first refusal. The status of DE Cameron Wake who is 34 and coming off an Achilles injury is still somewhat hazy at this point as well.

Williams struggled in Buffalo in the first year of the Rex Ryan regime and at times was outwardly critical of how he was used and the game planning. In his first three seasons in Buffalo Williams tallied 38 sacks but that number plummeted to just five in 2015.

Jets Aren’t Expected to Be Big Players in Free Agency: After making a splash last year with a number of big name signings, the Jets don’t have the flexibility monetarily to be big spenders in 2016.

The biggest question now is QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and how much and how long he gets. NY GM Mike Maccagnan can’t be a happy camper seeing the deal that Sam Bradford got with the Philadelphia Eagles because that just drove up the price for Fitzpatrick’s contract.

Damon Harrison should probably be back and then the team will have to make a decision on which running back Chris Ivory or Bilal Powell remains. Right now the money is on Powell remaining with Gang Green but it is possible the Jets could lose both in free agency. Look for them to start cutting some middle of the roster veterans to create some cap space.

Right now the Jets have about $7 million dollars in cap space to work with.

Bills Release Long-time CB Leodis McKelvin: Williams wasn’t the only notable member of the Bills released this week as the team released Leodis McKelvin after he refused to accept a pay cut.

McKelvin, 30 immediately becomes a free agent and should draw significant interest even though he suffered through an injury-shortened 2015 season that saw him play in only nine games. He’s been with the Bills since being drafted in the 2008 NFL Draft as the 11th overall pick by Buffalo.

The team is still in good shape at cornerback with Stephon Gillmore and 2nd year player Ronald Darby who shined as a rookie. The release of McKelvin is expected to free up $3.9 million dollars and now gives Buffalo around $13 million in cap space.

Help Save and Rescue Dogs and Meet a Patriots Legend: Odie’s Place is a registered 501c3 Animal Rescue organization run by Brian Harrington and his wife Kerrie down in Dartmouth, Mass.

They rescue dogs that are either in a bad situation or from shelters that are about to put them down. Rescuing these animals, placing them in temporary foster homes and finding them a safe, happy permanent home is time-consuming and takes money.

Today, Sunday, March 6 at the New Bedford Home Show, he’ll be doing a fundraiser with Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Nelson who’ll be signing autographs for a small fee with all of the money going to Odie’s Place. They’ll also be raffling off a Nelson jersey that will be autographed by Nellie on site as well as taking some pictures with fans.

Come down and support a great cause and talk some football with a Pats legend…BTW my own family recently adopted a two-year-old English Bulldog from Odie’s Place and we are happy to have added her to our household.

Odies place

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

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

Patriots Free Agency Outlook – Running Backs

Steve Balestrieri
February 15, 2016 at 10:37 am ET

The Patriots are set to enter the free agency phase of the 2016 off-season and we’ll explore some of the biggest needs of the team moving forward. And some of the names of their own free agents as well as some of their potential targets.

First up on the free agency positional list: Running Back

Team Need: High

Given the injuries to the offensive line and then losing both starters (Dion Lewis, LaGarrette Blount) to IR during the season doomed the Pats running game in 2015. Truth be told, they ran the ball very poorly overall for most of the season and it was a major reason for their failure in the AFC Championship Game. Play-action passing, a big staple of their offense was rendered moot, when they ran only 14 times, and were ineffective on all of them.

Returning players: Brandon Bolden, James White, Dion Lewis (IR), Tyler Gaffney (IR), Joey Iosefa

Free Agents: LaGarrette Blount, James Develin, Steven Jackson

The team really needs a big, physical running back that can grind out the yardage between the tackles, take the heat off of Tom Brady and the passing game and have the ability to put games away late.

Being in the Patriots offense, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as well as pass protection are things that are always important as well.

Here is a snapshot of the free agents that are available for New England when free agency begins on March 9:

Patriots Free Agent Profile, LeGarrette Blount

Steve Balestrieri
January 30, 2016 at 9:00 am ET

The Patriots have had issues running the football for the past several years and they’ve brought in LaGarrette Blount twice to help with those. Now they have to decide whether or not to test the waters with him one final time.

In a pass first, pass often offense, the team still needs a big, physical between the tackles running back. While Dion Lewis and James White are dynamic in the passing game, they don’t have the physicality to carry the load in the running game especially for the tough yards inside.

Blount’s season was cut short when he suffered a hip injury and was placed on IR in December. It was a season of unfulfilled promise as he showed up to training camp a bit lighter and with seemingly a bit faster jump in his step. It was an encouraging beginning to the season as he showed up ready to carve out a role for a team looking to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

But problems with the offensive line that manifested early in camp continued thru the season and the Patriots running game was constantly either stuck in neutral or relegated to an after-thought. That isn’t a knock on Blount or the other running backs, they simply had nowhere to run. Injuries forced the team’s hand and they had to start three rookies in the interior of the line. The running game suffered for that and never really recovered.

Blount for a big man (6’ 250 pounds), isn’t an exceptional short yardage runner. He takes his time, looks for an opening and then once he gets to the second level, accelerates and becomes very hard to bring down. That’s why he needs a lot of work in-game to really see his effectiveness come thru. He may get several carries for little or negative yardage but as the game wears on, he’ll break a couple for big gains.

Blount’s numbers through 12 games, 165 carries, 703 yards for a 4.3-yard average and 6 touchdowns are decent enough considering he often had very little room to run. Taking into account that the only options right now are to either bring him back or go with Brandon Bolden who is primarily a special teams’ stalwart or the twice injured and unproven Tyler Gaffney, it is clear to see the Patriots need to bring in some help at the big running back position.

Blount has played his best football as a member of the Patriots, his stays at Tampa and Pittsburgh were marred by off-field incidents and/or poor production. His two playoff games against the Colts in 2013 and 2014 were immediate stuff of legend for Patriots fans and he was a big part of the Super Bowl winning team a year ago.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported that Blount didn’t require surgery for his injured hip and he should be good to go for the start of training camp. While that is certainly a good sign, one has to question whether at age 29, the wear and tear on a big man that carry’s the ball inside will begin to take its toll. Hip injuries can tend to be of the chronic nature and it certainly will bear watching.

Blount is at the age where big backs begin to decline, this may be a factor in whether or not the Patriots will decide to bring him back or not in 2016. And as we’ve seen the Patriots tend to cut ties with a player a year too soon rather than a year too late.

Why Blount Will Return: Blount could easily return to Foxboro in 2016 because there probably won’t be much interest in him elsewhere. He hasn’t shown that he can be successful anywhere but in New England and his troubles off the field have manifested in other places.

He could be brought back in a minimum type deal with a contract heavily laden with incentives. Bill Belichick has always liked Blount and vice versa and he’s always been a good teammate and citizen here with no issues off the field. His comfort level here with the coaches and in the locker room is well known.

He knows the offense and is a known commodity, while he’s not going to set the world on fire, he can be a productive running back in the Patriots system and won’t worry about nor will complain about a lack of a work load.

Why Blount Won’t Return: The Patriots need an upgrade here. Blount has done well with his opportunities but the team can use a big back that can attack the holes in the running game and add a bit in the passing game, (not Blount’s strong suit).

When the season starts, he’ll be less than six months’ shy of his 30th birthday and that’s at the age when the big backs begin to decline. I think we’ve already seen the best that we will from Blount and the team best interests are that they need to find a better solution.

Bottom Line: There’s still an even money chance that the Patriots will give him a veteran minimum-type deal and allow him to compete for a job during training camp. But they really need to take the onus off of Tom Brady and the passing offense to throw on 80 percent of the snaps.

While there are several free agents out there (Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, Doug Martin) that are of interest to Patriots fans, those players will probably be way out of the price range that New England likes to spend. For that matter, Lamar Miller from Miami would be the perfect fit here, but likewise, would the Patriots invest the cash for a running back, a position they’ve traditionally devalued? History says no.

There are options in the NFL Draft coming up and we’ll bring along some names that we feel you should keep an eye on. The Patriots can find a suitable running back without having to use a 2nd or even a 3rd round draft pick on this season.

For that reason, I think that the Patriots will move on from Blount and he won’t return in 2016.

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

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

Who Are the Key Players to Watch, Patriots – Jets

Steve Balestrieri
December 26, 2015 at 9:35 am ET

The Patriots need just one more win to lock up the #1 seed and clinch home field advantage for the playoffs but they’ll have to travel down to the New Jersey Meadowlands and beat the New York Jets to do so.

The Pats (12-2), dispatched the lowly Tennessee Titans 33-16 last week but are banged up with 17 players on IR and another 13 dealing with different types of injuries. This will be a tough playoff-like test for the Patriots.

The Jets (9-5), are still very much in the playoff hunt but need to win both of their games and get some help as both the Chiefs and Steelers hold tiebreakers over them. The Jets enter on a roll having won four in a row.

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

Now it is time for our players to watch for this week:

Steven Jackson: The Patriots newest running back hasn’t played in a year and questions remain on how much the talented back for the Rams and Falcons has left in the tank as well as how sharp he will be having just a few practices under his belt.

Jackson is a big, powerful runner and a good receiver out of the backfield so the Patriots may opt to use him in the passing game on early downs as well. For a player who hasn’t been on the field for so long, ball security will be a key area to watch.

We expect Jackson to get between 10-15 touches in the game and if he can give the Patriots some semblance of balance in this one it will take a ton of pressure off of Brady and the offensive line in trying to pass protect.

Key stat: In the first meeting back in October the Patriots rushed only nine times for 16 yards on the day. Brady led the Patriots in rushing with 15 yards on four carries. The Jets allow an average of only 82 yards per game on the ground and have given up just two rushing touchdowns in 2015.

Brandon Marshall: The talented Jets receiver was frustrated in the opening game between the two teams. The Patriots used cornerback Logan Ryan with over-the-top safety help to neutralize Marshall and he had one of his least productive games in 2015.

Marshall also had two of his seven drops of the season in that game including a key drop in the end zone that would have increased the Jets lead to eight in the pivotal fourth quarter in the 30-23 loss.

The plan was to get him the ball more often which resulted in Ryan Fitzpatrick having to look elsewhere in the passing game. Look for the Jets to move him around a bit more in this one and possibly put him in motion with some short crossing routes to get him involved more quickly this time around.

“He’s a guy we always want to get the ball to,” said QB Ryan Fitzpatrck.  “But we’ve also just got to make sure that we kind of pick and choose the right time to do it. But he’s always going to be a big part of our offense.”

Key Stat: Marshall had only four catches for 67 yards in the Week 7 matchup, for the Jets most prolific receiver with 93 catches for nearly 1300 yards and 11 touchdowns, that was a win for the Patriots defense. This time around will be a bigger test as Marshall looks for some payback.

Tom Brady: In the first meeting in October, Brady with closer to a full-complement of weapons albeit with a banged up offensive line, eschewed the running game for the short passing game and completed 35 of 54 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns in the comeback win.

Brady will have to win this one without the services of both Julian Edelman (doubtful) and Danny Amendola (questionable), both of whom are key elements in the Patriots quick passing game. Brady will still have TE Rob Gronkowski who had a big game the first time around with 11 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. But the Jets will put a premium on stopping him Sunday. Both he and James White will need to step up.

Key Stat: Of Brady’s 19 incompletions the first game, 11 were drops including six by Brandon LaFell who was in his first action after missing all of the spring and summer. But in the pivotal 4th quarter with New England down by four, Brady was vintage; he hit on 14 of 17 for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the comeback win.

Muhammad Wilkerson: The Jets big man in the defensive line is having an outstanding season. He’s been a force at stopping the run as well as rushing the passer. He’s due to hit free-agency in March and his stellar play in 2015 is adding up to dollar signs for 6’4, 315 defensive end.

Normally facing a double team, Wilkerson is a tough man to account for in the running game. The Jets like to move him around a bit on the defensive line to find a mismatches in pass rushing situations and he’s a guy that can get after the opposing quarterback as he sacked Brady in the first matchup.

Whoever lines up opposite Wilkerson is likely to have some help as he’s proven to be a player the Patriots will have to account for on every down. He has 12 sacks this season, a career high and will be looking to get even more on Sunday.

Key Stat: Wilkerson has been very consistent this season notching sacks in seven of the Jets 14 games this season but his best game was perhaps against Tennessee where he sacked Titans QBs three times, had a pass defensed and forced a fumble.

If the Jets get any kind of production like that on Sunday, things will be looking good for Gang Green’s defense.

Malcolm Butler: The Patriots second-year corner has transformed from an undrafted free agent and part-time player as a rookie to the Patriots starting left corner. Butler was just named to the Pro Bowl this week in just his second season. The confidence that the coaching staff has shown in him is particularly telling; the team frequently leaves him out alone 1-on-1 with opponents best WRs.

This week, he’ll probably draw the Jets Eric Decker and he’ll have to be on top of his game. Decker is the Jets second leading receiver with 72 catches for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns. But Jets coach Todd Bowles says that Butler is already one of the top corners in the league.

“He studies the game,” Bowles said about Butler. “He’s not just a man-corner, he’s a zone corner too. He’s got very good technique which is rare. He’s got great hand-eye coordination, and reads the ball well and accepts all challenges. You can tell he works at it. I enjoy watching him play.”

Key Stat: In the first game Butler didn’t have one of his best games. The Jets were 5 for 11 for 82 yards when passing to Decker. But Butler was flagged three times; once for illegal use of hands, holding and an 18-yard pass interference penalty. He’ll be looking to improve on that performance this week.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: The Jets much-traveled quarterback seems to have found a home in New York. Fitzpatrick has transformed himself into a solid starter and is having a career year. Fitzpatrick’s 26 passing touchdowns are just three shy of the Jets all-time single season record set by Vinnie Testaverde.

During the Jets recent four-game winning streak, Fitzpatrick has been excellent, passing for 1229 yards, with 10 touchdown passes and only one interception. He’s been the catalyst to the Jets resurgent offense led by the passing game in the second half of the season. He may look to get RB Bilal Powell involved early in this game; Powell missed the first meeting with an ankle injury.

Fitzpatrick has developed a nice chemistry with the mercurial Marshall who is in the Top 10 of NFL WRs in catches, yards and touchdowns. The Jets 1-2 tandem of Marshall and Decker lead the NFL with 21 touchdown receptions. It is no surprise that during the winning streak Fitzpatrick has hit Marshall frequently, he’s had three 100-yard games.

Key Stat: Fitzpatrick passed for 295 yards in the first game between the two teams and was sacked just twice. The Jets have allowed only 20 sacks this season and Fitzpatrick has gone down just 17 times. The Patriots have 47 sacks on the season and have had at least one sack in the past 27 games, the longest current streak in the NFL.

The key on Sunday will be for New England to get to him much more frequently than they did the first time. He’s playing at a level now where if he gets the time, he’ll find one of the plethora of talented receivers the Jets own.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com and we’ll have post-game analysis of the opener as well as transcripts from Bill Belichick’s press conference immediately after the game.

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 – Jets II, Key Matchups; Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 24, 2015 at 6:09 am ET

The New England Patriots head back out on the road for a key game against the New York Jets. The normal rivalry aside, this one is even bigger in terms of playoff implications for both teams.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday and will have Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts on the call. The game can also be heard on the Patriots flagship station of 98.5 FM the Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The Jets (9-5) are on a four-game winning streak and need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They are currently tied with both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs at 9-5 but lose out on the tie breaker and are on the outside looking in. They beat the Dallas Cowboys 19-16 last week as they gutted out a close win in the final moments.

New England (12-2), beat a bad Tennessee Titans team 33-16 on Sunday to clinch a first round bye in the playoffs. It was the Patriots sixth straight 12-win season becoming only the second team (Indy with seven) to do so. With a win on Sunday the Patriots will clinch the #1 seed in the AFC and ensure home field advantage in the playoffs.

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 Jets will meet for the 114h time on Sunday including the playoffs. The Patriots hold a 59-53 overall edge against Gang Green but the series has been marked recently by very close games. The Jets maintain a 28-27 lead at home although the Patriots lead 3-2 in games at Met Life Stadium.

The most recent matchup was another classic Pats-Jets contest; New York led 20-16 in the fourth quarter before Tom Brady led the Patriots on two 10-play scoring drives for touchdowns in the Pats 30-23 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 2015 Opponents, Five More Impressions of the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
December 23, 2015 at 6:29 am ET

The Patriots go back out on the road to the New Jersey Meadowlands to take on the New York Jets with big playoff implications on the line for each team.

This rivalry with the Jets is always fierce regardless of either team’s record, now with each team fighting for playoff seeding and/or spots in the tournament it ratchets things ups even more.

The game is scheduled for Sunday with the kickoff slated for 1 p.m. and will be televised by CBS. They’ll have the same crew that worked the Pats – Titans game with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts on the call. The game can be watched locally on WBZ-TV. You can also listen to the game on the Patriots flagship station of 98.5 FM with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

Here are our five first…or second impressions of the Jets since the first meeting;

This Jets team is a passing team first now: When the teams met in October, the Jets were a run first team and looking to get complimentary passing game support from Ryan Fitzpatrick. No more. The Jets are passing much more frequently now and believe in Fitzpatrick to be able to get the job done.

Fitzpatrick is having the best season of his career completing 61 percent of his passes, with 3428 passing yards and 26 TDs and just 12 picks for 89.6 passer rating on the year. He’s been a find for the team who brought him in to back up Geno Smith in the spring. Now he has them on the cusp of the playoffs.

No one passes more out of the 3-4 WR set than the Jets now and with Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and a much better supporting cast of receivers they will provide a much tougher test for the Patriots secondary.

Teams with big WRs are the ones who give the Patriots problems and with Marshall and Decker the Jets have a 1-2 tandem of big receivers who will give the shorter Patriots corners all they can handle.

Jets are one of the surprise teams in the AFC: When the season started much was made of the changes the Bills and Dolphins had made in the offseason, (including spending a ton of money long-term), and it was thought that those two teams may push the Patriots for division supremacy for the first time in quite a few years.

Things haven’t worked out that way; the Dolphins melted down early and have scuffled along all season. They’re now looking at making big changes both in the front office as well as with the players this offseason. The Bills have actually performed worse under Rex Ryan than Doug Marrone….let that one sink in for a second.

No one gave the Jets a chance this season but with just two games left in the season, it is Gang Green who are fighting for a playoff spot. They have the same record as both the Chiefs and Steelers but due to tie-breakers are on the outside looking in.

Regardless of whether they make the post-season or not, this has been a big, successful season for Todd Bowles and the Jets staff. The Jets will need to win out and get some help to make it in the tournament, but who would have thought it would be the Jets playing a meaningful late December game and not the other two teams from the division.

For them the playoffs have already started so expect them to pull out all the stops in an attempt to pull out a win over the Patriots.

Bilal Powell is the X-Factor this week: We expect the Patriots will approach this game in much the same manner as the one in October, they’ll double Marshall, put Malcolm Butler on Decker 1-on-1 (he had six catches for 93 in the first meeting) and mix and match with the likes of Quincy Enunwa, Kenbrell Thompkins and Jeremy Kerley.

But the player to watch may be Bilal Powell the 5’11, 205 pound running back who is dangerous both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. Powell has 63 carries for 257 yards and touchdown on the ground and has 42 catches for  354 yards and two scores in the passing game.

The Patriots will counter with Jamie Collins this week as he’s rounding back into form after missing a month with an illness. The Jets have been increasing Powell’s workload as the season has progressed and he missed the first meeting in October due to an ankle injury.

Jets Trying to become the “Big Dogs” with Pats: After their fourth win in a row over Dallas, the most since 2010, Jets linebacker Erin Henderson was asked about going home to face the “big dogs” in the AFC meaning the Patriots this week.

Henderson took umbrage with the question and said “We’re the big dogs.”

“I mean…, why can’t we be the big dogs?” he added. “I don’t really look at it [the same way]. This is my first year here with the Jets. I don’t really have that same mentality that a lot of people may have, people that are familiar with the Patriots] I’m not familiar with them.”

“To me, they’re just another team. Somebody has to win. Somebody has to be the team that comes out on top. Why can’t it be us? Why shouldn’t it be us?”

Calvin Pryor echoed similar sentiments saying in the first meeting the Jets wanted to compete and hang with New England, now they want to dominate them.

They had their chances in the first matchup with the Jets holding a 20-16 lead in the fourth quarter before Brady led the Patriots on a pair of 10-play scoring drives to salt away another win. Now the Jets will try to turn the tables on New England and at the same time secure themselves a playoff spot.

Anderson a Feel-good Story for the Jets: In a story-line that befits the Christmas season, the Jets signed WR Joe Anderson to their practice squad this week.

Anderson held a sign written on a cardboard box outside of the Houston Texans facility back in October that read “Not homeless … but STARVING for success. He also wrote on the sign: “Will Run Routes 4 Food” and added the hashtags: #Whateverittakes, #UnderDog, #Hungry and #IBelieve.

Now he’ll get his chance to reunite with former Bears teammate Brandon Marshall and secure a spot on the roster. Anderson was with the Bears in 2012 and 2013 before injuries took a toll. He spent part of last off-season with the Philadelphia Eagles but has been out of football in 2015.

Hard to root against a guy like that.

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 Defense Stops Jets Running Game, Wins Slugfest

Steve Balestrieri
October 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm ET

Just like the offense in yesterday’s 30-23 win over the Jets, the Patriots defense made just enough plays to win. And like the offense, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always pretty but they got the job done and it was New England standing alone in the division when the final gun sounded.

The Jets entered the game with a pounding rush offense averaging 146 yards per game. Chris Ivory missed one game but was averaging 120 yards per game in those he did play, all Jet victories. There’s nothing cute or fancy about the Jets running game; they line up and drive you backwards and wear you down. And when the defense has to cheat up to slow up the running game, they play action pass and take advantage of an improved wide receiver core.

The Patriots entered the game with a somewhat suspect rush defense. I say somewhat because people tend to look at numbers and ignore what the focus of the defense was in the games that transpired. But you could certainly make the argument that the front four of the defense hasn’t done a great job of containing the run.

As we pointed out in our pre-game matchups, the Patriots game plan on Sunday was to limit and slow down the Jets running game and force the game into Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands. The thought was, if they force Fitzpatrick into throwing 40+ passes on Sunday, it is a game that New England’s chances of winning increase exponentially.

Fitzpatrick has been a turnover machine against the Patriots, in the previous four games against the Patriots defense; he’s thrown 11 interceptions and always made that critical mistake that led to a New England victory.

It is the hallmark of Bill Belichick’s teams that they always attempt to take away what you do best and force you to beat them in other ways. On Sunday the focus was on the Jets running game, specifically Ivory pounding the rock inside. Those three and four yard attempts in the first half, usually result in big gains in the second halves of games.

For the Patriots having linebacker Dont’a Hightower back was a tremendous shot in the arm for the defense. The big physical run-stuffer and blitzer was a much needed cog in this week’s game plan. He missed the previous game due to a rib injury, but was active on Sunday…and ever. Hightower was immense in the middle of the Patriots defense, shooting the gaps, stuffing running lanes and generally being a pain in the butt of the Jets running backs.

But the front four of rotating lineman did a great job; Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley and Sealver Siliga battled the Jets talented offensive line to a draw up front and weren’t allowing a push. That allowed Hightower and Jamie Collins to make plays.

Hightower finished with 10 tackles and was a huge factor in the Patriots stifling the Jets running game, something which was considered remote prior to the game. Jets running backs averaged only 2.5 yards per attempt for the game. Ivory, somewhat limited by a balky hamstring had little room to run and had only 41 yards on 17 carries, a 2.4 YPA average. Zac Stacy had just 19 yards on 7 carries, a 2.7 YPA average. Only Fitzpatrick, who did some impressive scrambling out of the pocket, ran well. Fitz ran for 29 yards on five carries when the Patriots had some issues with containment. But if you asked Belichick if the Patriots could hold the Jets to 89 yards rushing on 29 carries, he’d take that all day long.

The part of limiting Fitzpatrick in the passing game didn’t go down as smoothly. Early in the game, the Jets were eviscerating the Patriots coverage with short crossing routes as Gang Green completely dominated the first quarter. Fitzpatrick did turn the ball over once on the Jets first possession, a strip by Hightower, but never threw any picks on the day.

The Patriots certainly had some chances; they batted four passes at the line of scrimmage, including three by Rob Ninkovich. But the Patriots weren’t able to turn aby of those into interceptions as the ball bounced straight up in the air on a couple of occasions.

Fitpatrick and the Jets put together two beautifully constructed drives that each netted a touchdown. First, he led a 14-play, 80 yard drive that took more than seven and a half minutes off the clock in the second quarter and then a 13-play, 80 yard drive in the third to give the Jets the lead.

Third down was a particular trouble spot for the Patriots as the Jets converted on 8-14 third down attempts. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker each had some big catches on the day, especially on third down but something to remember is that Marshall entered the game with 100 yard receiving days in each of the Jets last three matchups.  Marshall finished with just four catches for 67 yards. Decker was obviously the third option after the running game and Marshall and finished with 6 receptions for 94 yards.

The Patriots cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman, didn’t have a great game. When Belichick replays the tape on this one, they’ll find plenty of fault. The coverage wasn’t near tight enough. But the overall scheme of the defense and the game plan of Belichick and Matt Patricia worked. They limited the Jets running game and forced the game into Fitzpatrick’s hands. And the Patriots are 6-0.

Plenty of work remains to be done, but there is no arguing with the results thus far.

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
October 22, 2015 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots return home for a three-game stretch after a very successful road trip with wins over the Cowboys and Colts. This week they take on a resurgent Jets team for first place in the AFC East. The Jets are playing much better football than preseason predictions gave them credit for.

The game will be televised on CBS with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts handling the play-by-play and analyst duties and will be carried locally on WBZ TV. Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m.

The Jets (4-1) have thrived under new coach Todd Bowles and a re-tooled secondary. The team brought back Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie as well as Buster Skrine and the pass defense is one of the best if not the best in the NFL.

The Jets offense has been keyed behind the physical running of Chris Ivory, who has been outstanding thru the first quarter plus of the season. Last week the Jets blew out the Washington Redskins 34-20 as Ivory gained 146 yards on the ground and 196 overall.

New England (5-0), was victorious over the Colts 34-27 on Sunday Night Football as Tom Brady continued his sharp play to start the season. Brady threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in the contest that featured one of the more bizarre special teams plays that one could imagine. The Colts tried a fake punt that had zero chance of success which led to a Patriots touchdown that put the game away in the second half.

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 Jets have met 115 times in their history with the results being pretty even throughout the history and rivalry between the two teams. New England holds a 60-54-1 edge overall as they’ve dominated in the win column the past several years although most of the games have been very close.

The Patriots are 31-25-1 overall against the Jets at home in their history. New England took both games last season with a total difference of three points in the matchups. A 27-25 win at home and a 17-16 win in the Meadowlands.

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 Jets

Steve Balestrieri
October 20, 2015 at 8:09 am ET

The Patriots return to their Gillette Stadium home after a successful two week road trip that saw impressive wins over Dallas and Indianapolis that puts the team at 5-0.

Now they face a familiar division rival the New York Jets. The Jets are off to a great start at 4-1 and fresh off a 34-20 thumping of the Washington Redskins. The rivalry with the Jets is always fierce regardless of either team’s record, with first place in the division on the line, even in Week 7 it will get ratcheted up a notch even more.

As is typical with these games, a little bit of gamesmanship comes into play every time the two teams meet. Just yesterday the Jets signed former Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins to the active roster from the practice squad. Of course it could just be that they were filling a roster spot with WR Quincy Enunwa being suspended for four games for a domestic violence incident from a year ago.

The game is scheduled for Sunday with the kickoff slated for 1 p.m. and will be televised by CBS. The game can be watched locally on WBZ-TV.

Here are our five first impressions of the Jets;

Todd Bowles Exceeding Expectations Quickly: Bowles came highly regarded from the Arizona Cardinals and inherited a team in turmoil. The Jets had a ton of cash in salary cap space and won only four games in 2014. Most preseason projections had the Jets finishing again in the AFC East basement.

But Bowles is much farther along in the rebuilding process and has the team already playing at a high level. Having already matched their win total of last season they now have their sights set on the champs and Bowles is an early front-runner for the coach of the year honors.

Known as a defensive coach, he showed off some of his knowledge and in the meantime gave the Patriots something else to consider in the Jets win over Washington. Getting DL Sheldon Richardson back last week, questions were asked how Bowles would work him back into the rotation along the defensive line.

Bowles scrapped his normal 3-4 base defense look and went to a more traditional 4-3 with Richardson and Damon Harrison at DT and impressive rookie Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson at DE. The move gave the Jets a tough unit for Washington to run on and they were able to disrupt the passing of QB Kirk Cousins.

Chris Ivory Off to a Stellar Start to 2015: The Jets running back Chris Ivory, behind a better than advertised offensive line is off and running to start the season. Ivory ran for 146 yards against the Redskins and had 196 total yards from scrimmage. After having 166 yards rushing against Miami, his 312 rushing yards are the most by a Jets running back in two games since 2009. He’s averaging a very impressive 5.5 yards per carry.

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall already believes that Ivory is not among the best in the NFL but that he is the best. “He’s already the best running back in the league right now,” Brandon Marshall said. “Just watch the tape — speed, quickness, agility, vision, endurance — he has it all. Eight-man box, nine-man box, they came out and said, ‘We don’t care about the wide receivers, we’re going to stop the run.’ Ivory, again, came out and put up over 140 yards. He’s amazing and he’s the best in the league.”

Ivory has given the Jets the balance that they need as offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has produced a nice mix of runs and passes by playing against an opponents’ weakness. The Jets only loss this season, against the Eagles was with Ivory on the sideline nursing a sore groin. In his four starts, he’s amassed 460 yards rushing with four touchdowns as well as his 5.5 yards per carry average.

Revis Leads Revamped Jets Secondary: Much like he did in 2014 with the Patriots, Darrelle Revis is leading a re-tooled secondary again but this time for the Jets. The Jets secondary last year was a mess and new GM Mike Maccagnan wasted little time in bringing in the pieces to make it better.

He signed Revis after the Pats declined on his $25 million dollar option, brought back Antonio Cromartie and signed slot corner Buster Skrine away from the Browns. The result is that the Jets now have the top defense in the league.

Revis and Cromartie give the Jets excellent coverage on the perimeter and Skrine has been one of the best men at playing inside in the slot all season. Skrine was injured against the Redskins, suffering a concussion and will have to be cleared by the league’s protocols this week, but the Jets corners will present a tough test for Tom Brady and Co.

As for Revis, he had this to say, “Last year was last year. We had a great time. We ended up winning,” Revis said. “We’ve been playing lights out,” he added. “We’ve just got to continue to make turnovers on defense. It’s going to be a battle next week. They’re a team, man. Any team can be beat any week, on any given Sunday.”

Jets Offensive Line, A Big Test for NE: One of the big strengths of the Jets this season has been the surprising play of the Jets offensive line. While everyone knows they like to run the ball and be physical up front, they’ve also been remarkably adept at protecting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and this will be one of the matchups to watch this week as they go up against a re-tooled Patriots front seven.

The Jets boast three first round draft picks on the OL with D’Brickashaw Ferguson, James Carpenter and Nick Mangold as well as Willie Colon and Breno Giacomini. And they’ve been playing lights out. Averaging 146 yards per game on the ground, the 2-3 yards they get in the first quarter turn into 8-10 late in the game as they wear down opponents. Plus, they’ve allowed a total of just two sacks of Fitzpatrick this season.

With the ground game of Ivory, the pass protection has allowed Fitzpatrick to utilize play action passing as the Jets now have plenty of weapons in the passing game. With that in mind…

Jets Wide Receivers Present Tough Challenge:  The Jets needed to upgrade their wide receiver corps this off-season, and they have. Bringing in veteran Brandon Marshall, to complement Eric Decker, they have a potent 1-2 punch in the passing game on the outside. But they didn’t stop there, drafting speedster Devin Smith from Ohio State. Their return game is handled by Jeremy Kerley who adds to the depth of the passing game as well as Chris Oswusu.

Unlike other seasons, Fitzpatrick as the Jets QB has a full complement of weapons at his disposal. Throw in tight ends, Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis and the offense has the capability of being a very tough one to stop.

One area that they’re working on is the deep passing game, with opponents loading up the box to stop the run, Fitzpatrick would love to hit some deep throws to soften things up and make some big plays.

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.