Tag Archives: Deatrich Wise

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.

Best Of Social Media: Week 15 Patriots vs Steelers

Robert Alvarez
December 20, 2017 at 8:49 pm ET

Entering Sunday’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rivals squared off with the winner seeking the AFC’s number one seed and home field advantage for the playoffs with three games to go in the season. Tom Brady came into the game seeking to continue his dominance over the Steel City sporting a 7-2 regular season record.

gameday #LetsGooooo

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc0BGcUAh19/?hl=en&taken-by=bbhulksmash

In the first quarter, the Patriots struck first, with Brandin Cooks immediately rebounding from last weeks struggles as he hauled in a 43 yard deep ball from Tom Brady which help setup the games first touchdown. Running back Rex Burkhead would bang it in from the goal line for an early 7-0 lead.

https://twitter.com/patriots/status/942512190262669312

The Steelers dynamic offense wasted no time and quickly responded to tie the game at 7 when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found Eli Rogers on this 18 yard touchdown strike.

In the second quarter, both teams traded field goals to knot the score at 10, but Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski provided some highlights leading to the scores.

https://twitter.com/steelers/status/942515740527116288

With the clock winding down on the first half, the Steelers found the end zone for a second time when Roethlisberger found Bryant and the Patriots headed to the locker room trailing, but only by 7 at 17-10.

https://twitter.com/steelers/status/942524754916884480

The Patriots got the ball to open the second half, and in what would be a recurrence all night long, Gronkowski continued to haul in big yardage.

The reception would lead to Brady’s first touchdown pass of the game, but a Stephen Gostkowski extra point was missed, and the Patriots had to settle trailing by one at 17-16.

Like in the first quarter, the Steelers again responded as another member of the “Killer B’s” found the end zone when Le’veon Bell ran the ball in from the three, 24-16 Steelers after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, the Patriots defense began to tighten up for the first time all game despite third down struggles, and Tom Brady drove the Patriots into field goal range for Gostkowski to cut the deficit to five at 24-19.

With two minutes to go in the game, the Patriots were given one more opportunity to retake the  lead following a big third down stop. Brady and Gronkowski went to work.

https://twitter.com/zeus30hightower/status/942547720677543937

Courtesy of three big receptions for 69 yards, Gronkowski helped setup the go ahead score, an eight yard run by the former Pitt Panther Dion Lewis. 27-24 Patriots.

https://twitter.com/kvn_03/status/942550304314273793

The clock had just under a minute for Big Ben to try and rally, and his rookie wideout Juju Smith-Schuster provided instant life on an incredible 69 yard catch and run.

The play setup what appeared to be tight end Jesse James game winning touchdown, but the play was reviewed and ruled not a catch by the officals.

Despite the controversy that ensued the Steelers still had time for another play despite no timeouts, but instead of spiking the ball to setup a game tying field goal, Roethlisberger gambled with a pass, and the result was Duron “The Closer” Harmon.

An incredible goal line stand that brought back memories of Super Bowl XLIX, and the Patriots survived and won in Pittsburgh yet again while taking over the number 1 seed in the AFC and another division title.

A 27-24 final in a thriller and just two divisional games at home remain where the Patriots control their destiny for playoff positioning.

(.gifs h/t reddit and u/timnog)

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc5hur8hqDs/?taken-by=tombrady

https://twitter.com/rayclayborn26/status/942550340095889408

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc01iBtAzMr/?taken-by=thearcher14

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc2agyWAT86/?taken-by=thearcher14

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc2OQTbnPpL/?taken-by=lindaholliday_

HAT AND T-SHIRTS!!!

A post shared by Jason+Devin McCourty (@mccourtytwins) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc07FUPhY8A/?taken-by=sweetfeet

Great team win tonight !!!!!!! #AFCEastChamps #DLine #GoPats

A post shared by KingWise (@deatrich) on

AFC East champs! #patriots #bigboys #myguys #LFG

A post shared by LaAdrian Waddle (@laadrianwaddle) on

Best Of Social Media: The New England Patriots Honor Veterans Day

Robert Alvarez
November 11, 2017 at 8:38 pm ET

As Veterans Day arrived on Saturday, current and former members of the New England Patriots made sure to thank the true Patriots of this country through a variety of social media tributes to those who serve. Social media provided a powerful and emotional look into the personal lives of a few members of the Patriots who have loved ones in the Armed Forces.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BbXJVXlh1xZ/?hl=en&taken-by=edelman11

Thank you to those who serve and keep us safe #VeteransDay

A post shared by Chris Hogan (@chrishogan_15) on

S/O our big bro @nthabldg and all the Veterans today…We thank you and appreciate ur service

A post shared by Jason+Devin McCourty (@mccourtytwins) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BbXmtGAlMeb/?taken-by=deatrich

https://www.instagram.com/p/BbXRKRDHh1H/

Former quarterback Drew Bledsoe also made a special return to New England to participate in a football game against local veterans to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project organization at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood MA.

Patriots Mid-season Report Card: Still a Work in Progress But Trending Up

Steve Balestrieri
November 6, 2017 at 8:54 am ET

The Patriots enter the bye week at 6-2, a game ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East and now surprisingly in control of their own destiny in the AFC playoff seedings. After laying a stinker on opening night against the Chiefs, and dropping the home game to Carolina, they were essentially three games behind Kansas City. But courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys, the Chiefs have dropped three of their last four games which puts the Patriots and Steelers at 6-2 atop of the AFC. The two teams will meet later this season. It just goes to show how the season is a marathon and not a sprint.

The season started with the offense just clicking on nearly all cylinders and the defense looking historically bad. With the last four weeks, however, the offensive output has noticeably cooled while the defense, still far from perfect is allowing just 12.8 points per game and has backboned the team on the four-game winning streak.

This being New England, we always tend to focus on the what-ifs. And I’ve heard the same yada-yada that the team could easily be anywhere between 2-6 and 7-1. Well they’re not, they are what their record says they are…(sound familiar), which is 6-2

Here is our look at the team and where they stand at the midway point of the season. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady leads the league attempts (309), completions (206) and yards (2,541). He’s tied for second in fewest interceptions (two), tied for third in touchdowns (16) and is fifth in completion percentage (66.7). Those are tremendous numbers and he’s at the top of the list for players who could be in line for the MVP if the season were to end today.

But Brady is his own worst critic and after the victory over the Chargers (almost said San Diego), he lamented the lack of red zone production the team is suffering. He obviously has to share in some of that. He’s not immune to making mistakes and has made some.

I believe that he’s still missing his biggest target of the past several years in Julian Edelman. While everyone around him has stepped up, it is still a significant loss.

Running Backs: B

The running backs diverseness and versatility are the keys to what makes the offense so potentially lethal. They are deep and each of the top four backs brings something a little different to the table than the others.

James White is still at the head of the class. He followed up a tremendous Super Bowl with a very solid first half of the season. He leads the team with 43 receptions and ranks 2nd in the NFL in receptions by a running back. He remains a good runner between the tackles and a tremendous pass blocker. Dion Lewis was a ghost early in the season and the frequent target of trade rumors. No longer. Lewis has emerged as the lead back in the running game and is getting that shifty, waterbug elusiveness that we saw early in 2015. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry which is impressive.

Mike Gillislee has been a bit of a disappointment thus far. Although he has rushed for four touchdowns, he hasn’t been able to run with the consistency that we were expecting to see. We’ve seen flashes the past few weeks of him turning the corner, and maybe his comfort level in the offense will begin to take hold and we’ll see him turn it on.

Rex Burkhead missed four-plus games with a rib injury he suffered in the first half of Week Two in New Orleans. But as he’s been eased back into the lineup the past two games, he’s shown the ability to run the ball well as well as catch it and be a nice option in the passing game. James Develin remains one of the better blocking fullbacks in the league. The biggest issue facing this group has been the maddening inability to pick up short yardage runs. This is an area that must be improved down the stretch.

Wide Receivers: B+

The Patriots wide receivers despite missing Julian Edelman have performed very well in the first half of the season while dealing with a myriad of injuries. Besides Edelman, second-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell began the season on IR. Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola both have suffered from different injuries.

Brady has spread the wealth very equitably thus far, Brandin Cooks and Hogan have 33 receptions and Amendola 31. Add in tight end Rob Gronkowski’s 34 receptions and you have a true sharing of the spoils. Cooks has been the deep threat receiver that can stretch the field that they’ve lacked and is on pace for an 1100 yard season. He can be a bit more consistent in the short areas of the field but has been as good as advertised.

Hogan has stepped up his game from a year ago and has been very dependable and frequently makes plays despite taking some big shots this year. Amendola always seems to make the big catches at crunch time in big situations and has arguably the best hands on the team. Phillip Dorsett was brought in for depth and has contributed but not a lot as he’s been very limited in his snaps.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski has been able to stay healthy this season after coming back from back surgery last season that saw him land on IR. He’s on pace for a 70 catch, 1000 yard season despite being held more than any tight end on a consistent basis. As closely as the referees watch him from pushing off, they seem to miss him being mugged constantly as he’s running down the field.

Dwayne Allen has been a total bust thus far. Through eight games he’s still looking for his first reception as a member of the Patriots. His inability to carve out even the slightest of roles in the passing game has been a major disappointment and factors into the team’s red zone woes. It has affected his blocking as well.

Rookie Jacob Hollister is still a work in progress but has shown a nice ability to threaten the seams of the defense. He may see an uptick in red zone targets as he gets more comfortable in the offense.

 

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line has had their share of struggles this season. Tom Brady has been sacked more this season than he was all of last year. However, both Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon have been playing hurt and the number of sacks has trended down the last few weeks. They face a big test in Denver on Sunday night, and this will be a matchup worth watching closely this week.

The interior of the line has been solid in pass protection for the most part and they are beginning to find their comfort level in the running game. That being said, the offensive line has struggled to open holes for the team in short yardage. The Patriots rank only 21st in yards per carry with 3.7. That must improve down the stretch.

Defensive Line: C+

The Patriots defensive line started the season, like much of the defense woefully slow and the normally stout defensive line against the run was being gashed. Alan Branch started very slowly and saw little playing time and was a healthy scratch. Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy both had their issues early as well.

The pass rush, as expected, has struggled with bouts of inconsistency. Trey Flowers has been good but after that, it has been just flashes from everyone else. Deatrich Wise has shown good ability to get after the passer as has Cassius Marsh and Adam Butler. But they’ve struggled at times in setting the edge and maintaining their lanes. Those things are expected with young players. Dont’a Hightower missed time after the first game and then tore a pectoral muscle against Atlanta and is gone for the year which is a big blow.

Linebackers: C

With Dont’a Hightower out for the year, the onus is now on Kyle Van Noy. I thought the Patriots had both of those players out of position early this season. When they moved both back to positions of strength (inside for Hightower, outside for Van Noy), the defense responded much better.

David Harris was a forgotten man for much of the early season but is getting on the field more lately and he and Elandon Roberts provide excellent downhill run support while being limited in a coverage role.

Shea McClellin should be activated soon from IR and that should help the linebackers across the board with run support, coverage and the pass rushing potential. Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly are special teams players only at this point.

Secondary: C

This was supposed to be the Patriots strength on defense and instead for the first four games, was a nightmare of blown assignments, poor communication and the very alarming trend of allowing big plays.

Newcomer Stephon Gilmore struggled early but showed signs of turning things around when he suffered a concussion. Eric Rowe has missed significant time with a groin injury. But the good news is that depth players Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones have played surprisingly well at corner. Malcolm Butler also started slowly but has responded and is playing better each week.

Safeties Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon have all been solid at safety after a slow start and allowing some uncharacteristic big plays. Things are trending up for this unit.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski has missed a few field goals but overall has been very solid this season while making a career-long 58-yarder. His kickoffs continuously allow the Patriots coverage units to get downfield and stuff opponents deep in their territory. Those coverage units have been consistently good and getting better now that Matthew Slater has returned. Ryan Allen has had an up and down year. Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis are giving the team the needed boost in return yardage. The team has blocked two field goals with Marsh and Guy each notching one. The one other knock has been penalties, which need to be curtailed moving forward.

Coaches: B+

Bill Belichick has had to deal with injuries to two of his key players on offense and defense with Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower. The new faces on defense struggled badly in the early going. But as he always does, he finds a way to get things done. The team is playing much better now on defense which Matt Patricia also shares in the blame early and the credit now that they’ve turned it around.

Josh McDaniels has had to tinker with a constantly changing lineup and they have tremendous potential but have struggled lately to score and put teams away. And yet they’re tied for the lead in the AFC and are on top of the division. This is the time of year that they consistently begin aim to put things together. Belichick preaches that around Thanksgiving is when you see what kind of team you have. And the Patriots are trending upward. The only question that remains is, can they stay healthy for the stretch run?

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

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

Patriots Make No More Moves at the Trade Deadline, What About the Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2017 at 10:52 am ET

With the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, many people assumed that the Patriots would make another move bolster their edge rushing capability, either using that early 2nd round draft pick which is essentially a late first rounder to trade for an impact player or to use other trade capital to pick up another depth guy who could impact the pass rush.

But as the old saying goes, “It takes two to Tango” and one has to wonder if anyone out there was willing to help Bill Belichick and New England unless getting an exorbitant return.

But now the trading deadline is over and the question remains, what do they do about getting the pass rush up to an acceptable level. While it hasn’t been completely awful, it hasn’t blown anyone away either. The team obviously felt like they were in a good enough position that even with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving, that they’d be fine. Trey Flowers who came on strong late last season and Rob Ninkovich, the aging but still productive defensive end, gave them a good place to start. They drafted two young kids in top draft choice Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise. They brought in Kony Ealy, from the Carolina Panthers who they hoped would be a productive player from the inside. And they still had linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, all of whom had shown the ability the blitz either off the edge or up the A-gap.

But things haven’t worked out smoothly, Ninkovich retired in training camp, leaving a big hole of experience. Ealy couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the Patriots system and was released. The light was just beginning to come on a little bit for Rivers during camp when he was injured and placed on IR. McClellin was injured and placed on IR, but with the chance to return later this season. And the worst of all possible scenarios, Hightower, their leader and best player on the front seven, the captain who called the signals and the guy they could least afford to lose was injured against the Falcons and lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. What now?

Forced to Look Within: With a dearth of trading partners, the team now has to fill their needs from players that are already on the roster. Trey Flowers is already playing nearly all of the snaps defensively and asking him to do more is frankly not possible. However, if other players show the ability to step up, it would no doubt boost his productivity.

The team brought over Cassius Marsh from the Seahawks. He was known as primarily as a Special Teams guy there but was a guy, the other members of the defense raved about as an ascending player. He plays with a non-stop motor and is an excellent STs guy but is still learning the defense here. He’s not set the edge consistently and has lost containment on a few occasions. That happens with players that lack consistent playing time. But Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia and DL coach Brendan Daly will work with him on maintaining his edge responsibilities and he will be given plenty of chances to play himself into a bigger role.

Rookie Deatrich Wise and UDFA Adam Butler have both flashed at times. Wise too needs to maintain his edge responsibilities but they’ve both shown upside. Butler has interior pass rush potential. With Hightower down, the team moved Van Noy back to a more comfortable place with him on the outside now. David Harris who had been almost a ghost in the first six weeks of the season is sharing the inside linebacker role with Elandon Roberts.

Van Noy now calls the signals and wears the green dot for the receiving the calls from the sidelines. He can also chip in with pressure off the edge. The good news is that McClellin is back to practice and is eligible to return against the Broncos. He can do a bit of everything. Drop into coverage, rush the quarterback off the edge, and .play inside support in the running game. I foresee him doing more of the first two than the latter.

The much-maligned depth at the linebacking spot is actually looking pretty good once McClellin returns to the field. However, they can’t afford any more injuries there.

But with no trade help forthcoming at the deadline, the Patriots are going to need either one of the above-mentioned players to step up or have another role player take on added responsibility.

They have the week off with the bye and now is the time for the coaches to do some experimenting and possibly moving players around to shift the responsibilities around and see who can possibly step from the shadows to help the pass rush.

Could other Special Teams’ players such as Marquis Flowers or Trevor Reilly step up and play a bigger role? It is a possibility and don’t be surprised if the coaches put them out there to see if they can make the leap into a bigger part of the defense.

But now more than ever, they’ll have to use that Patriots mantra “Next Man Up”  

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.

Best Of Social Media: Week 6 Patriots vs Jets

Robert Alvarez
October 18, 2017 at 3:41 pm ET

Heading into week 6 versus the rival New York Jets, the New England Patriots were seeking to take sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time in 2017.

In the first quarter, the Patriots got off to a terrible start as Jets quarterback Josh McCown attacked the secondary early, leading to the first score of the game.

The Patriots offense couldn’t get much going, and the Jets capitalized again to open the second, jumping out to a surprising 14-0 lead.

Desperately needing to get something going, the Patriots responded just before halftime with two quick touchdown drives in the final five minutes.

This Malcolm Butler interception then setup the Patriots game tying possession.

Brandon Cooks from DEEP.

https://twitter.com/patriots/status/919635824538292224

Tie Game. Cue the Gronk Spike.

Despite an ugly start, the Patriots clawed their way back to draw even at 14 going into halftime.

Getting the ball to open the third quarter, the Patriots capitalized as Rob Gronkowski found the end zone for a second time and their first lead of the game.

https://twitter.com/bingesports/status/919653012456509443

A Devin McCourty interception helped setup a Stephen Gostkowski field goal as all of sudden the Patriots found themselves with 24 unanswered points and a ten point lead at 24-14 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Needing to regain control of the game, it appeared the Jets were going to cut the deficit to three following a touchdown pass from McCown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins but it was ruled upon review that he fumbled the ball in the end zone resulting in a touchback and the Patriots ball.

Controversy ensued.

According to CBS announcer Ian Eagle, “It was a fumble because he landed out of bounds without complete control of the football.”

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The Jets would only be able to muster a field goal towards as the Patriots defense finished the game off leading to a 24-17 victory.

#tbtimes

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Patriots  Week 3 Report Card, Big Comeback Win over Houston

Steve Balestrieri
September 27, 2017 at 10:20 am ET

High Marks For Brady But What About the Defense?

The Patriots pulled out another win thanks to the continued brilliance of Tom Brady and were able to come from behind and defeat the Houston Texans 36-33 on a pass from #12 to Brandin Cooks with just 23 ticks left on the clock.

But there are some serious questions to be asked about the defense. New England’s defense now ranks 32nd in yards and more importantly 32nd in points allowed. A Houston team that had scored 20 points in its first two games lit them up for 33 and left some more points on the field.

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

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady was looking anything like the 40-year old that is A.) About to fall off a cliff. B.) Can’t throw the deep ball anymore, C.) A dink & dunk system QB on Sunday. Take your pick…did we leave any out? Rob Parker? Brady was under duress all afternoon and was sacked 5 times (4 by Houston and one by James White’s foot) and still managed to complete 25-35 for 378 yards and five TDs. Houston hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passer in over thirty + games. No more.

He was 5-8 throwing the deep ball and had the Texans very confused on the back end. He froze the deep safety by staring down the receiver on the game-winning TD giving Cooks time to get free and lofted a perfectly thrown ball right into the barrel. All of this with Jadeveon Clowney right in his grill. Tremendous poise and coolness under fire….again.

Running Backs: C

The backs weren’t targeted much in this one as they were mainly asked to stay in and either block or chip on their way out. James White had a nice 11-yard catch where he juked the defender and got the first down. But the backs were afterthoughts this week.

The running game was stuck in neutral. Mike Gillislee had just 31 yards on 12 carries as there was frequently nowhere to run (Cue up Martha and the Vandellas).

Wide Receivers: A+

These guys had their way with the Texans beat up secondary on Sunday. Chris Hogan scored two touchdowns on 7 and 47 yards that were ridiculously wide open. The wide receivers were creating space on the back end that the Texans couldn’t handle. As good as that front seven is, their backend is a liability. Brandin Cooks caught a bomb to start things off on the Patriots first drive, a really nice catch where he was interfered with and still brought down the pass.

Cooks had another nice catch on a 42-yard post where he caught the ball in the middle of the field with separation from newcomer Jonathan Banks and kicked his speed into high gear, leaving him in the dust for an easy touchdown. He then beat Kareem Jackson for the game-winner with under a minute to go.

Danny Amendola returned from a concussion and what a difference he made. Again, as we’ve said here many times, don’t judge him by his stats. He drew two defensive penalties and his catch on the Patriots final drive on third and 18 near midfield was a beauty. He got a bit of separation from Eddie Pleasant, went high up and came down the ball tucked away. Money.

Tight Ends: B

The Patriots got Rob Gronkowski back after tweaking a groin in New Orleans and he had a typical Gronk game. The big man had 8 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown and was giving the Houston safeties fits. He did a very good job of blocking, several times staying in to block JJ Watt or chip him on his way out in the pattern.

Dwayne Allen is really struggling right now, he had another drop and has zero catches so far this year. No one was expecting huge numbers from him but not this either. His blocking was okay but he did get taken to school on one play by Whitney Mercilus, but lots of guys do. Jacob Hollister had a nice catch down the seam for a nice game and then took a big shot but once again showed he was able to hold onto the ball. I think we’ll see more of him moving forward.

Offensive Line: C

The offensive line didn’t have a good day. With Marcus Cannon out the team used  Cam Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle and both of them had issues. JJ Watt blew threw each on the first two plays of the game and had run stuffs behind the line. Nate Solder is playing hurt and was beaten on several plays. The interior of the line fared little better. Joe Thuney was pushed back violently by Watt and fell into Solder’s legs, allowing Clowney a free rush and he crushed Brady.

On a day where the line allowed five sacks and opened precious little running room for the running backs, they didn’t have their best day. But as we pointed out, Houston’s front seven is among the best in football.

Defensive Line: C

The Patriots defensive line set up to stop the run, frequently putting ten men in the box, practically daring the rookie QB, DeShaun Watson to throw. And despite that, with an offensive line playing pretty horribly and being banged up, the Texans ran for 125 yards on the ground. That isn’t getting it done. They had a hard time bringing down the elusive, eel-like Watson on several plays, but one has the feeling that we’re going to see a lot of that moving forward.

The pass rush was inconsistent but did get some pressure at times. Cassius Marsh had a pretty good day with a sack and a couple of pressures. Deatrich Wise was bearing down on Watson early in the game and forced him into an errant throw that was easily picked off by Stephon Gilmore. But the line stepped up big at the end of the game with Alan Branch and Malcom Brown stuffing a 3rd and 1 at the Patriots 18-yard line forcing a field goal. If Houston converts there, they probably score six and walk away with the win.

Linebackers: C

Dont’a Hightower missed his second game (not surprisingly) and Kyle Van Noy played every snap on defense. He had some up and down moments but he guessed wrong and went for a pick on a pass to D’Onta Foreman in the flat. He didn’t get there and Foreman rolled for a 34-yard gain. His diving play on Lamar Miller was a beauty, stopping him from breaking off a big gain. Elandon Roberts was mostly solid in the run defense but is still a liability in coverage. David Harris is still MIA.

Secondary: C-

The team played a lot of zone coverage because of the presence of a running QB and as we’ve said before, this team doesn’t do zone well. Once again the big plays killed the secondary where they allowed a rookie QB to throw for over 300 yards on the day. The secondary allowed six passes of more than 20 yards. Malcolm Butler returned to the lineup with Eric Rowe injured and played well. Gilmore had an up and down day. He had an interception and a nice return but then took a needless penalty on a deep throw where he had good coverage as well as safety help. Jonathan Jones struggled on the day and was picked on a bit. Pat Chung gave up a big play as did Devin McCourty who was beaten for a touchdown to Ryan Griffin in the end zone. Unfortunately, we’ll probably see more zone this week as Cam Newton is coming to town.

Special Teams: B+

Stephen Gostkowski made all of his extra point attempts and his kickoffs were perfectly placed allowing the coverage units to go down and make plays. With Nate Ebner back, they did just that. Brandon Bolden made two very good plays on the coverage team.
Amendola’s return re-ignited a sleepy return game and he had big returns of 33 and 20 yards. The first of which set up the Patriots first touchdown (Did we say $$$).

Ryan Allen was okay, he put three punts inside the 20 but when they were pinned deep, he shanked one, giving the Texans excellent field position. But the overall coverage units were outstanding and this week. Once Matthew Slater returns, we expect it to get even better.

Coaches: B-

Bill Belichick’s best move of the day was allowing his team to be itself. There was none of this phony, “we’re all going to kneel or none of us are” BS or anything else. He let the players decide how to handle it and they seemed to become closer as a group because of it. The comments after the game seem to echo that. Brilliant move on his part. However….

We can stop with the narrative about rookie QBs facing a Bill Belichick defense for now. Yeah, sure they won the game because of the continued magnificence of Tom Brady. But it was Watson who for the vast majority of the game who took Belichick and Matt Patricia’s defense to school and the Texans who weren’t supposed to move the ball at all this season, pushed the Pats defense around easily. They tried to confuse Watson by constantly bringing ten men up in the box and daring him to throw….he did. The problem was, they never came thru with the threat of bringing pressure and Watson wasn’t intimidated at all.

Offensively, the plan was simple, they were going to attack the deep part of the field, and despite the issues on the offensive line, they accomplished that quite well. We could get nit picky with a few of Josh McDaniels play calls, but against that defense, putting up 36 points….is a very good day.

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

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

 Patriots Report Card, 36-20 Win Over the New Orleans Saints

Steve Balestrieri
September 19, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

High Marks For the Team in a Winning Effort

The Patriots are back in the win column and after 10 days of being subjected to questions about their makeup and roster moves, it comes at a perfect time. Was this a game they should have won? Yes …absolutely, but after Week 1, the team made a number of improvements…. Was it perfect? No. Are they where they want to be? Hardly. But in Week 2, they looked pretty darn good, especially on offense.

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

Quarterback: A
Tom Brady was masterful, in control and was obliterating that poor Saints defense. Only three healthy wide receivers? No problem. Brady goes 30-39 for 447 yards and three touchdowns, no picks, and a passer rating of 139.6.

The team wanted to get off to a good, fast start and put the Saints in catchup mode. Plus, it would take the crowd right out of the game. Brady threw for 177 yards and three scores in the first quarter as the team raced out to a 20-3 lead and never looked back.

Brady hung in the pocket all day and delivered the ball pretty much exactly where they wanted him to throw on Sunday. The few passes that were off the target had to do with either the pressure getting to him or in a few cases, he got hit as he released the ball.

He also spread the ball around nicely hitting nine different receivers for passes and throwing a touchdown to a wide receiver, tight end and running back….that’s getting everyone involved.

Running Backs: B+
In our pregame write-up on the key matchups, we wrote that the team needed to get the running backs more involved in the passing game. And that they did, the backs responded with 13 catches for 143 yards, led by James White who made eight catches for 85 yards. Rex Burkhead responded with a nice afternoon catching three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown before injuring his ribs.

In the running game, the backs picked up 96 of the 119 yards on the ground. Mike Gillislee led the way with 69 yards on 18 carries including his fourth touchdown of the season. While his numbers weren’t eye-popping, he’s giving them nice production in the red zone when they ask him to.

Wide Receivers: B
These guys hung in there and did their job on Sunday. With only three healthy players at the position, they finished the game with really only one (Brandin Cooks). Both Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett had gotten dinged up but they hung in there and finished the game. Hogan was dealing with a thigh injury, that doesn’t seem serious, however, he was obviously limping a bit during the game, which surely limited his effectiveness. But he ended up with five catches on six targets for 78 yards including a touchdown.

Dorsett showed that he’s coming along in his progression with the Patriots offense and made three catches for 68 yards including a nice deep ball from Brady for 38 yards down to the four-yard line. I would have liked to have seen more production from Cooks in this game but with Brady under pressure for much of it, he was clearing out the underneath routes for the guys over the middle and it was that kind of day. Cooks should have had had an easy touchdown on a post route and had a good five yards of separation, but the pressure on Brady made his throw very short where Cooks had stop and go down at the one-yard line to haul the pass in.

It is hard to be very critical of this group. How many times do you see a team come into a game with just three wide receivers and while their numbers weren’t off the charts (11 catches for 183 yards and a score), on a day when the team rolled up 447 yards thru the air, it was plenty good enough.

Tight Ends: A-
The Patriots and Rob Gronkowski were the subjects of many pieces after the Week 1 loss. Eric Berry did a masterful job of manning up on Gronk, and when that didn’t work, he grabbed a fistful of jersey. It isn’t against the rules if it isn’t being flagged. So, Gronkowski heard the “he’s losing a step”, “he looks old and slow” etc. last week.

Until he hurt his groin in the second half, he was having a typical Gronk, monster type of afternoon. He hauled in six catches for 116 yards including a 53-yard touchdown where he broke a couple of tackles and dragged two defenders into the end zone.

Dwayne Allen has been utilized mainly as a blocker and was targeted once, Jacob Hollister had his first catch in the NFL and got a couple of reps in.

Offensive Line: C
The offensive line specifically left tackle Nate Solder didn’t have a great day. There were a lot of plays where Brady was under duress. He got hit five times and sacked just twice but often his pocket was collapsing all around him. The offensive line didn’t do a great job in the running game as the team only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. It could have, should have been much better. Especially against this Saints defense.

Defensive Line: B+
The Patriots defensive line had a nice bounce-back type of game. It was great to see all the young guys (Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler) getting so much work in the game. The coaches sent a message to Alan Branch that his effort last week wasn’t good enough and he sat until the second quarter. The rush defense was much improved this week. New Orleans had 81 yards on the ground but 28 of them came off the final garbage time play of the day. After getting gashed by the Chiefs for nearly 200 yards, that is a good sign.

Wise had a terrific game, the big, talented rookie had a sack, five quarterback hits and a pair of tackles. While the pass rush is still a work in progress, Wise, Flowers, and Butler are showing some nice potential. Lawrence Guy was solid and Cassius Marsh saved a TD when he got pressure on and forced Drew Brees to throw short in the end zone when a player was open.

Linebackers: B-
Interesting that with Hightower out, David Harris was a total non-entity. Elandon Roberts had a pretty good game with eight tackles. He and Kyle Van Noy were getting the bulk of the work. The middle of the defense in the running game was much, stronger this week and it snowballed.

Hightower will probably miss at least this week’s game against the Texans, so they’ll need the rest of the guys to step it up a bit. But overall, this week’s game, against a tough opponent was a pretty good effort.

Secondary: B-
The bad news is that the Patriots allowed Drew Brees to pass for 356 yards this week. But, he does that against everyone when he’s at home in the dome so that in itself isn’t a bad sign per se. The good news is, the Patriots defense held him to just two touchdowns on Sunday. Let me ask a serious question here. If last week I said, the Pats defense would hold Brees and New Orleans to just two scores would you have taken it? Damned right you would have.

I had to read with amusement all of the “the last time the Patriots faced Brees in NO” …news flash. The Pats don’t have Jonathan Wilhite and Leigh Bodden at corner anymore…thankfully. They still have plenty of communication issues on those pick plays and rub routes but it is eminently fixable. A few of those deep balls were just absolute dimes by Brees and you just have to tip your hat to him.

Overall, again, a much better effort. Can it get better? Much. Will it? Yes.

Special Teams: B

Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point, again. He was perfect on three field goals, however. And the other three extra points. His kickoffs pinned the Saints deep but the coverage units did an okay job. The Patriots had zero return yards on one punt return for no yards and no kick returns at all.

Ryan Allen didn’t have to punt much on Sunday and had a so-so game by his standards with a 37.0-yard average.

Coaches: A
Bill Belichick had the team ready to go after a poor Week 1 showing. He made it clear that a lot had to change, and it did. They came out prepared, motivated and ran the Saints out of the building in that first quarter. After they had issues stopping the run in Week 1, they were much better and he and Matt Patricia put them in the right combinations to stop the Saints.

Josh McDaniels had everything going on early in the game. He had the Saints grasping at straws trying to find a way to stop the Patriots offense. Even as guys were getting banged up, McDaniels mixed things up nicely and the team responded. After only having Dorsett on the team for two weeks, McDaniels gets a lot of credit for getting him in tune with the offense.

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.

Final New England Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 4.0

Steve Balestrieri
August 28, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

As we’ve been saying all summer, the New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make when the final 53-man cut down is due after the Giants game. The hour glass is running out and if players are going to make a move, they have a week remaining to convince the coaches that they’re worth keeping.

With some serious injuries to Derek Rivers and Julian Edelman, that will open up two spots that we had as locks. Ditto for the release of Kony Ealy. So, despite that, we can expect that the Patriots initial 53-man roster will change rather quickly as they’ll probably pick up a player or two via the waiver wire. I wouldn’t rule out a trade for an edge player either as they are really thin there right now.

With that in mind, we’ll take our final crack at the roster here on Sunday night with time to digest and re-watch the Lions game.

First up is the offense…

OFFENSE (24)
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Out: None
New England has traditionally kept two QBs on their roster. Last year they kept three because of the crazy Brady suspension. I didn’t expect Brissett to push Garoppolo for the #2 slot this season, but his play has been really disappointing. He holds the ball far too long and his arm, though cannon-like has the accuracy of an old smooth-bore musket and not where it should be.

But I just don’t see them cutting bait with Brissett yet. Is it possible? You betcha, but not this year. I think they will stick with three but Brissett isn’t a lock by any means.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
No changes here, I really wanted to find a way to keep both Foster and Bolden. Foster is going to be on a roster somewhere on Opening Weekend. If it isn’t here, it will be somewhere else. I thought of keeping only two TEs and utilizing him in an RB/Slot receiver mode where Devlin and an extra tackle can help in the blocking. And they still may do that.

Bolden is a superb STs performer but with Gillislee back and looking healthy, I don’t see how they keep him without cutting from somewhere else.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy

Out: Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton, Jacob Hollister
While he’s played well the past few weeks, O’Shaughnessy’s slot is still tenuous at best. He’s a better blocker but not as good as a receiver as Hollister. The UDFA rookie from Wyoming had a big game against Jax and then was barely used after that. It is obvious the team likes O’Shaughnessy and wants to keep him. Lengel, who is banged up didn’t show enough to warrant keeping him around.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Austin Carr

Out: Julian Edelman (IR), Matthew Slater (IR), Devin Lucien, Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
Julian Edelman’s injury opens the door for the Patriots to keep Austin Carr, who to me has just barely edged out Devin Lucien for the final spot at the position. Both Edelman and Slater go to IR, Slater will return later this season, which will make for another interesting decision. The top four are locks and will be needed to step up a bit more.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

No changes here. Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year, are locked and have played well this summer. Karras gets the nod over Ferentz who will be a primary practice squad candidate

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks (IR)
The good news is that Nate Solder is back at practice and although he didn’t make the trip to Detroit, he should be ready for the Chiefs game on Opening Night. Garcia has been banged up, does his injury preclude him from making the roster and going on IR? That may open the door a crack for Conor McDermott or LaAdrian Waddle (also banged up) to step in. But it appears that Solder, Cannon, and Fleming are locked in right now.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSE (25):
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Adam Butler

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta,
With the lack of enough edge players and the release of Kony Ealy, this opens the door for another player to step up inside and that is Adam Butler who has had a very solid camp. He’s shown the ability to penetrate inside and disrupt things in the running game. Branch, Brown, and Lawrence Guy are locked. Guy had a solid camp and with Butler, the team may opt for more of a 3-4 look with the bigger bodies inside.

Hamilton, Kilgo, and Augusta played well this summer and are victims of numbers more than anything else.

EDGE RUSHER (3): Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom,

Out: Derek Rivers (IR), Caleb Kidder, Keionta Davis
Ealy was released early…which means that he was in no way in their plans for 2017 after an up and down training camp. Depth has become a serious issue here. Wise will be looked to now, to provide the pressure with Trey Flowers. Grissom right now is my 53rd player on the roster. He could be replaced somewhere else but sticks around for his STs play. But he’s been virtually invisible on defense and that isn’t a good sign.

Look for the linebackers to provide help in this realm. Dont’a Hightower, Van Noy, and Langi will all be utilized as edge rushers as well. This is an area they may cherry pick off of the waiver wire and/or swing a trade. I think Davis will go to the practice squad and possibly play a factor down the road sometime in the future.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi, Trevor Bates

Out: Elandon Roberts (IR), Jonathan Freeny, Brooks Ellis
I had the team keeping just five linebackers all summer but with the dearth of edge players, they keep an extra LB and those guys will help out on the edge as well. David Harris is an early-down inside run stuffer who is a liability in coverage (see Roberts). But the difference is, he’s a guy who is an established, smart veteran and will be rarely out of position. Hightower is a guy who can play inside or on the edge as a rusher, as well as Van Noy.

Langi and Bates, the last addition to the linebacking crew both had a good summer and training camp. Langi was a bit overaggressive at times as a pass rusher, but he’ll learn to temper those tendencies. Bates noses out Belichick favorite and STs standout Freeny and Roberts goes to IR.

CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Kenny Moore, Cyrus Jones

Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely
The top four are locked and ready for the season. Gilmore had, in my opinion, a terrific summer. He’s adapted extremely well to the Patriots system and should be an outstanding addition. He and Butler promise to be a dynamic pair of corners on the edge. Rowe and Jonathan Jones have split the nickel corner duties and will continue to do so, depending on the matchups. Both played well this summer. Kenny More displayed a nose for the ball all summer and just beats out the veteran Justin Coleman. Cyrus Jones, for now, is a corner in name only. He’s the primary Kick returner but the team may ultimately decide to go with Dion Lewis/Amendola, in which case he’d be expendable.

SAFETY (5): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Brandon King, Nate Ebner

Out:  Jordan Richards, David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid and are locked. The team has depth for those two with Nate Ebner and Brandon King who are mainly special teamers, neither of whom plays much defense although Ebner has played in spots in the past.

Jordan Richards is a favorite of Belichick and the team is trying every way of keeping him around. They switched him to the linebacker position in the “Big Nickel” look, the Pat Chung role and he was as inconsistent as he’s been elsewhere. Too slow, too stiff with a penchant for taking bad angles. Jones was hurt all summer, Travis played well in spots. Both may be candidates for the practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona,

Out: None
A good solid group who have had a good camp thus far. Gostkowski still seems to have a mental block for extra points. But is solid on his field goal attempts and his kickoffs which are outstanding at getting the team great field position on defense. Allen has had a very strong camp. We haven’t mentioned Cardona much at all….which tells you his snaps have been right on the money.

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.

Hightower’s Return Opens Up Possibilities for the Defense

Steve Balestrieri
August 24, 2017 at 10:31 am ET

The Patriots got a great bit of news this week when Dont’a Hightower came off of the PUP list and returned to practice. This was the first time that he’s been in full uniform since the Super Bowl.

Hightower is back in the fold after testing the waters during free agency this spring. The market wasn’t exactly hot for the big, 6’3, 265-pound linebacker who, as he admits, fits best with the Patriots. Although he was courted by both the Jets and the Steelers, Hightower returned to Foxboro with a four-year deal worth $35.5 million dollars with a full $19 million guaranteed including a $10 million dollar signing bonus.

Hightower has the skill set to play in the middle of the defense where he’s been in the Patriots scheme the past five years as the Mike linebacker as well as off the edge as a blitzer. His strip sack of Matt Ryan in the Super Bowl was one of the big turning points in the game. He’s been effective blitzing up the A-gaps but with David Harris in the fold in 2017, this will allow Hightower to play more on the edge. So he’ll be working on playing more on the edge in practice to get ready for the season.


The Patriots defense just got a huge boost with Dont’a Hightower returning this week to practice. (USA TODAY Images)

But with the Patriots defense, they have the versatility to move players around. Harris or Hightower can play the middle while players like Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin can line up as outside linebackers, drop into coverage or blitz off the edge. The Patriots are thin on the edge with Rob Ninkovich retiring as soon as camp opened and top draft choice Derek Rivers being on IR with an ACL injury.

Fellow rookie edge player Deatrich Wise was having a very impressive summer before suffering a concussion against the Jaguars. He missed all of last week’s practice, the preseason game against the Texans and won’t travel to Detroit this week as the Patriots are just being cautious with him. Hopefully, this won’t set back his progression as he looked to be carving out a spot for himself during training camp.

With Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and the defense, it is all about the matchups. I expect to see Hightower lineup all over the field this fall, although I do believe that they’ll utilize him more as a blitzer this season than in years past. Does this mean that he’s going to be a “designated pass rush specialist” for the Pats in 2017? Hardly. But whenever they seem a matchup they think they can exploit, then they’ll unleash him to come off the edge. And like in the Super Bowl, if Hightower sees an opening to blitz uncovered, he’ll be given the green light more frequently than he probably was allowed to in the past.

Having the big man back on the field is bound to give the defense overall a boost. Hightower is an extremely valuable member of the Patriots defense, and the rest of the league not seeing his value when he was in free agency is the Patriots gain. The two latest Super Bowl wins probably don’t happen without big plays from #54. In Super Bowl XLIX, he stopped Marshawn Lynch short of the goal line on first down, setting up the heroics for Malcolm Butler a play later to ice the victory. And last season’s strip sack of Matt Ryan set the Patriots up in prime field position to tie the game up and send it into overtime, where Tom Brady and James White, powered them to Lombardi #5.

His biggest asset, besides being a totally unselfish player, is his versatility and smarts. He’s worn the “Green Dot” communication device for the defense and is able, and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

And don’t forget, although he hasn’t had the opportunities here to rush the quarterback, he’s done some of that while he was a member of the Alabama defense. While the team is still a bit thin on the edge, with Wise and more importantly Hightower back on the field, things are looking a lot rosier for Matt Patricia’s defense.

The Patriots won’t lead the league in sacks this season, but they may be just fine with Hightower helping out the likes of Trey Flowers, Wise and Kony Ealy. It’s all about the matchups.

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.