Tag Archives: Demaryius Thomas

New England Patriots News 10-28, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 20, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-20 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, but not for the Patriots who play the Jets on Monday Night Football tomorrow night.   

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Patrick Mahomes – it seems dodged a serious injury on Thursday night in Denver. And that is a good thing not just for Mahomes and the Chiefs but for the league as a whole. Mahomes’ star is rising and he’s quickly becoming one of the new faces of the league. No one wants to see any player, let alone a star suffer a serious injury. Anyone who would do so, needs to seriously reevaluate the lives. 

However, what the heck is wrong with some media types who before Mahomes is even off the deck, turn his injury into some kind of an anti-Patriots diatribe. It was a disgusting lack of empathy. We know you can’t help the slant against the Patriots but for cryin’ out loud, have a little humanity.  His injury at the time had zero to do with NE, a horrible lack of timing there, but it has become par for the course in some places.

Andy Reid – He knows he dodged a bullet with Mahomes’ injury and he’ll return at some point this season. Hopefully, he won’t rush his QB back too soon and risk further injury. Despite the game on Thursday, they have a woeful defense, but they still have plenty enough playmakers on offense to remain competitive in Mahomes’ absence. They’ll still be in a position to carry their division with Matt Moore. They’ll get their QB back for the stretch run and go from there. 

Eric Tomlinson – had a crazy week. According to NESN, the Patriots new tight end signed and practiced with the team on Tuesday, and then jetted off to Texas for the birth of his son who was delivered by Caesarian section on Wednesday morning. He’s back in Foxboro and preparing for his former team the Jets and may see reps at both tight end and fullback.  

Two-Point for Tua? Seemed So- The Miami Dolphins scored a late touchdown last week against the Washington Redskins in the closing moments of the game and trailed 17-16.  Rather than attempt an extra point to tie the game and send it into overtime, Miami, winless like the Redskins, decided to go for the win. But their attempt seemed like they were determined to fail rather than succeed. The Redskins snuffed it out in the backfield and came away with a victory in the debut of interim coach Bill Callahan.

Trent Brown – In case anyone was wondering is a member of the Oakland Raiders. In fact, Oakland signed Brown to the highest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history this spring. But once Brown was charged with domestic assault, Brown wasn’t a Raider at all. Several media outlets including those here in Boston led off with “Former Patriots OL Trent Brown…” Funny thing is when all of the sexual assault allegations came against Antonio Brown, I didn’t see a single headline stating “Former Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown…” and yet every allegation against him occurred when he was a member of the Steelers. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Brady Rightfully Pi$$ed At Supposed Kraft Dig:

Tom Brady is livid that people who saw a clip of a new Paul Rudd Netflix film, took it to mean that it was a dig against Robert Kraft. And unless everything we’ve ever believed about Brady and his relationship with Kraft is wrong, then yes, people jumped to conclusions before bothering to research the clip and the meaning.

“That’s not what that was about,” Brady said. “I think that was taken out of context, just like you’re taking it out of context and trying to make it a story for yourself, which has a negative connotation to it, which I don’t appreciate. It was meant to be something different than that. The fact it’s a distraction or you’re bringing it up is not something I want to be talking about.”

“It was shot on a green screen,” he said, remarking it was not filmed at a strip mall. “It was agreed to a year ago. It was written four years ago. Again, it’s unfortunate that people would choose to think I would ever do something like that about Mr. Kraft. I think that’s a very bad assessment of my relationship with him. I would never do that.”

Timothy Greenberg, a fan of the New York Jets, said that he wrote the scene as a “subtle dig” at Brady, who at the time was coming off his “Deflategate” suspension. Brady, while exiting the spa is supposed to be a clone of himself, not receiving a “happy ending” at a massage parlor.

“There was this implication that maybe he’s a clone and he’s cheating,” Greenberg said in an interview. “When I wrote it, he was 37 and had won four Super Bowls. And then by the time I actually make the thing, he’s now 41 and he’s just coming off his sixth Super Bowl win. So he became even more perfect. He was our number one choice for that.”

The media ran with the clip without bothering to do due diligence in an attempt to get it out there first and tried to paint it as Brady slamming his boss when the fact of the matter is that it had nothing to do with Kraft or his situation. I’d say we’re shocked, but no…we’re not here. He’s been raked over the coals for nothing for the past several years and one has to wonder when he’ll decide it isn’t worth it anymore.

The filmmakers knew what they were doing, they filmed Brady on a green screen and then after the Kraft situation, superimposed the strip mall to make it look like the Florida spa. They did him dirty, but no worse than all of the sites who ran with the false narrative. The total a$$-covering by the rest is… not surprising.

Will Michael Bennett’s Situation Play Out? Probably Not Well:

After the Patriots suspended DL Michael Bennett for “conduct detrimental to the team”,  it naturally opened up conversations if Bennett is on his way out of Foxboro. It certainly would appear so, his snaps have been steadily decreasing and last Thursday he played in only a handful of snaps against the Giants, most of which at garbage time. That led to what Bennett described as a “philosophical disagreement” with positional coach Bret Bielema. 

Bennett was brought in to help replace Trey Flowers after he bolted in free agency. Bennett thrives in a 4-3 system as a defensive end, which is what the Patriots played in 2018. But the defense morphed into more of a 3-4 defense this season and that hasn’t played into Bennett’s strengths. Because the down linemen in the Patriots 3-4 still have the same two-gap responsibility that they’ve always had. 

Bennett has always been an attacking 4-3 end and a 3-4 defensive end is more of an interior lineman. It hasn’t been a great fit, scheme-wise. When he’s able to pin his ears back and rush the QB, he’s been pretty successful. But with the depth and the production of the linebackers, he’s been relegated to a subpackage interior pass rusher. So, now the question arises, where do they go from here?

The trade market would be very limited, given Bennett’s age and the state of the league. Few of the teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot would be willing to take on or need a player with his strengths. The Lions or the Raiders would possibly make sense or maybe the Rams who are looking for a spark defensively. If the Patriots were to trade Bennett it would free up about $2 million in salary-cap space where they’re right up against the cap.

Releasing Bennett is, of course, an option, if those philosophical disagreements get any worse or continue for that matter. That would free up the cap space and possibly rid the team of any distractions in the locker room. But then you run the risk of another rival picking him up for nothing and adding him to the mix against you down the road in the postseason. And if the team suffered an injury on the defensive front, it would leave the team thinner with their depth. 

Or they could choose to ride things out and hope that they can get Bennett to buy-in for the duration of the season. With several tougher games on the slate, a player like Bennett, especially in the postseason has the experience and pedigree to give the team some outstanding production in those game-changing moments. 

But Bennett is a proud player and in reality, not a great fit for what the Patriots are running defensively right now. And I will be surprised if he’s still with the team by the end of the season. 

Demaryius Thomas’ Tenure With NE as “A Waste of Time” :

The Patriots traded WR Demaryius Thomas to the Jets in the fallout of the signing of Antonio Brown and hindsight being 20/20 it shows that now it was a mistake. Both in trading Thomas and of course signing Brown.

Thomas on Wednesday didn’t mince any words over how things played out and characterized the Patriots and Bill Belichick’s actions as “disrespectful”. 

“Like, you know, you could trust me and I could trust you,” Thomas said. “You told me when you cut me at the [final] cut, sit around you’ll bring me back. And I stayed. I could have easily become a Jet once I got cut.… I could have been here the next day after I got released. But I chose to stay.”

“Bill Belichick came up to me and was like, ‘Uh, we got too many guys. We can’t get the ball around enough and we’re going to trade you to the Jets,’” Thomas added. “And that was that…. Ain’t no reason to yell. They’ve won championships without me. I was only trying to be a part of something that was going to be good when I was there… They’re doing a hell of a job.”

Thomas’ frustration is certainly understandable but he must remember that he told the media that the Patriots were the only team who contacted him after his Achilles injury with the Texans. They worked with him all spring and summer, and in retrospect should have stuck with him. But from a pure football standpoint, the decision between Thomas at this point in his career and Brown is truly a no-brainer.

NFL Schedule Week 7, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 7-7
Season: 54-37-1

TNF Kansas City over Denver 1-0 

Buffalo over Miami
Jacksonville over Cincinnati
Minnesota over Detroit
Green Bay over Oakland
LA Rams over Atlanta
Indy over Houston
49ers over Washington
NY Giants over Arizona
Tennessee over LA Chargers
Saints over Bears
Seahawks over Ravens
SNF Philadelphia over Dallas
MNF Patriots over NY Jets

Bye Week – Panthers, Browns, Steelers, Bucs

Early Thursday Night Football pick Minnesota over Washington

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Looking to Be Buyers at the Trade Deadline:

The Buffalo Bills currently have the second-best record in the AFC behind the Patriots and will almost certainly improve that today with a home tilt against the Dolphins. With the trade deadline approaching in less than 10 days, the Bills aren’t looking to unload talent, but bring some in to help for a postseason push where they are still very much alive in the AFC East. 

Buffalo’s defense is stacked although if they were to add a piece there, they may want a defensive end who can get after the QB. The Bills have plenty of depth there but not a ton of production. But overall, their defense is solid and the strength of the team. 

If they can use some help, it would probably be at wide receiver. A.J. Green has been mentioned as a possible Buffalo target (including here), he’d give the Bills a big, physical target who has had plenty of production in his career but has had issues with staying healthy and on the field. 

Other names that have been supposedly tied to Buffalo include the Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, Giants wideout Golden Tate, and TE O.J. Howard. Sanu has played mainly in the slot for the Falcons but can slide inside or outside and has made an average of 64 catches for over 700 yards in his time in Atlanta. 

Tate is a talented receiver but the Giants, who aren’t going anywhere this season have two young talented WRs in Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard and may decide to dangle Tate as a search for draft capital. 

Howard is a very talented tight end who is not being utilized in the Tampa Bay offense. Coupled with the young and talented Dawson Knox, he could give the Bills a huge and athletic target in the passing game. He’s also an excellent blocker.  

Dolphins Drake on the Trading Block:

The Miami Dolphins in the midst of an awful rebuilding program where the fans are either on the “Tanking for Tua” or “Bailing for Burrow” storylines won’t be surprised to see that several teams are contacting the Dolphins about the availability of running back Kenyan Drake for a possible deadline trade. 

The former 3rd-round draft pick has always somewhat under-utilized in Miami’s system under both Adam Gase and now Brian Flores. With the bad offensive line play, Drake is on par for his worst statistical season of his career. 

Drake is in the final year of his rookie deal and would be a really nice pickup for any playoff teams looking for a reliable, versatile player. 

Jets/Docs Dispute Extent of G Kelechi Osemele’s Shoulder Injury:

The New York Jets are facing some backlash over the shoulder injury suffered by guard Kelechi Osemele. He’s been out for four weeks with his injury and the Jets team doctor and an independent doctor have cleared him for play. And if he doesn’t return to practice by Saturday, Osemele is subject to fines and/or suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team.” 

The rub is Osemele is saying he needs surgery to repair his shoulder. The Jets counter that the injury is a pre-existing one that can wait until the season is over. 

“It’s been killing me,” Osemele said to the media on Friday. “I’m just trying to get this done. I’ve done everything I can. I’ve been at work every day, waking up at 5 in the morning, doing all the rehab and the treatments and stuff like that. I’m like the last dude out of here at night. I’m doing everything I can.

“I’m working with my agent. We’re communicating with the team. There’s just no communication between the team and my doctor and my agent. It’s just been butting heads for whatever reason. Hopefully, it gets resolved soon.”

There is a source who reported to the Jets media that Osemele wasn’t cleared by the two doctors and that surgery was recommended, due to a torn labrum. The same source also said Osemele was told to take the painkiller Toradol, prescribed by the Jets’ doctor, so he could play. He did and aggravated it against the Patriots a month ago. He’s making $11.7 million dollars this season (non-guaranteed) but if he’s injured, the Jets can’t cut him loose without forking over the rest of his money.

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“Demaryius is a great kid. I have a ton of respect for him. He’s very professional and did everything we asked him to do. Our circumstances changed a couple times in that period leading up to when he was traded, and so I felt like I was always truthful with him, but things changed, and therefore what I said was not the same as what it was – what I had said previously. So, it is what it is..” – Bill Belichick being asked about the comments by Demaryius Thomas on the “insulting and disrespectful” trade by the Patriots with the Jets.

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“So, how was your week?”

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

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

 

Patriots 2019 Opponents, First Impressions of the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
September 18, 2019 at 8:17 am ET

The New York Jets had very different designs on the start of the 2019 season. After firing everyone and beginning a fresh start, they hired head coach Adam Gase, who they hoped would jump-start Year 2 for QB Sam Darnold, were big spenders in free agency signing Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley to big-money contracts.

But a combination of injuries and illness have taken their toll on the roster and the Jets find themselves in an 0-2 hole. Now they’re coming to Foxboro to take on their hated rival New England Patriots who have dominated the matchups in recent years. 

With the offense banged up and already on their third starting QB of the season, they’ll have to lean on their running game and their defense this week if they want to pull an upset. Here’s our first look at the 2019 J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.

Luke Falk is the Starting QB for Now:

Luke Falk went from practice squad QB and running the scout team to being the Jets starting QB in a matter of hours.

The football gods dealt the Jets a couple of haymakers early this season. Starting QB Sam Darnold was feeling sick before the opener against the Bills and later it was learned that he contracted mononucleosis and will be out for at least a month. With the weight loss and fatigue that is associated with the illness, there is a dangerous chance of his spleen becoming enlarged, which would put him at serious risk of injury if he were to play before being completely healed.

The team had signed free agent Trevor Siemian this offseason. He spent 2018 with the Vikings after three years of being on the QB carousel with John Elway and the Broncos. Siemian is a smart, strong-armed passer but has had accuracy issues. He got the starting nod [13-11 record as a starting QB] against the Browns. But on a hit by Miles Garrett as he was releasing the ball caused his foot to get caught up in the turf under him. The result was a gruesome-looking injury. He tore the ligaments in his ankle and is lost for the year. 

Luke Falk, c’mon down… It is a tough position for Falk to step into. The Jets will be signing another QB this week to back up Falk but Gase said he will be the starter until Darnold returns from his illness. Falk also signed with the Jets this spring after spending much of his rookie season on IR with the Dolphins. He entered in the second quarter after Siemian went down and completed 20 of 25 passes for 198 yards. He had a 99.7 passer rating. 

Injuries Everywhere For the Jets:

It isn’t just being down two quarterbacks where the Jets are hurting. They are banged up everywhere. WR Quincy Enunwa was lost for the season on IR after suffering a serious neck injury. Le’Veon Bell had an MRI on his shoulder after getting banged up on Week 1 against the Bills. He did play and play well against the Browns but will be operating on a short week.

Newly acquired wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was already dealing with a hamstring issue with the Patriots before his trade to Gang Green, reinjured it on Monday night and it would be surprising to see him play on Sunday. That leaves Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder at WR with Bell out of the backfield, Ryan Griffin at tight end and a lot of question marks.

The defense is banged up too. ILB C.J. Mosley who the Jets signed to a huge free-agent contract was playing outstanding in the opener, scoring a TD on a pick-six as the Jets raced out to a 16-0 lead. But once he left with a groin injury, the Bills scored 17 unanswered points and took the game 17-16. He missed the Browns game and is considered day-to-day for New England this week. 

Quinnen Williams, the #3 pick overall in this spring’s NFL Draft injured his ankle against the Bills and also missed the Browns game. Jordan Jenkins injured his calf against the Browns and isn’t expected to be ready for the Patriots game this weekend.

Le’Veon Bell “Frustrated By 0-2 Start”, Vows to Remain Upbeat:

The Jets laid out some big money for running back Le’Veon Bell this spring and thus far he’s done everything they’ve asked and then some, totaling up 229 all-purpose yards on offense for the Jets after sitting out the 2018 season in a contract squabble with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But the look on his face on Monday Night was unmistakable as he was visibly frustrated as the Jets fell to 0-2 with a 23-3 loss to the Browns. Now the Jets travel to New England, whose defense has been playing outstanding for the first two games. Bell, who was not used to losing in Pittsburgh was quick to point out that he was looking forward.

Bell took to Twitter and put any questions to rest…for now. “It’s easy to get down, but I don’t let that negativity affect me. I’m BLESSED! I’m healthy, secure, & back doing what I love! Yea, I’m frustrated things haven’t went our way. But I look at life and think, how can I complain? I’m grateful to be in this position & to play this game.”

Expect the Jets to lean heavily on Bell in both the running and passing games on Sunday in Foxboro. 

Jamal Adams Benched, Trying to Force His Way Out of NJ?

During Monday night’s 23-3 loss to the Browns, Jets safety Jamal Adams was benched, albeit shortly [five snaps], but it was his reaction that set tongues wagging. After the game, Adams, changed his Twitter bio that previously read “Former LSU All-American – Defensive Back for the New York Jets.” to “Let the lord fight your battles. He hasn’t lost one yet!”

This immediately got the social media world gaga over his comments, believing that he, like Antonio Brown and Minkah Fitzpatrick was trying to force his way off the Jets and move on to greener pastures. His comments after the fact did little to dispel those rumors. 

He called the questions to his bio change just “outside noise” and insisted he was “just focused on this team.” But his explanation of his benching, although brief, was alarming in its tone. “Yeah, I was benched. They benched me. I tried to anticipate a play … and I anticipated wrong,” Adams said in an interview with WFAN Sports Radio on Tuesday. “It happens.”

The Jets also benched high-priced cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who they gave a five-year $72 million dollar contract last year, but his benching was for the entire game. Whether they are just sending a message or they’re done with Johnson will be an area to watch this Sunday.

Gregg Williams Aggressive Defense Will Be Front and Center on Sunday:

There are fewer controversial figures than the Jets defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. Williams is no shrinking violet the way he coaches his defense and the manner in which they play. But sometimes, both he and they cross the line. 

Prior to MNF, Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. called out Williams and accused Williams of coaching “dirty football.” He cited a 2017 preseason game where Beckham Jr. said, Cleveland players told him after the game that Williams wanted the WR targeted for dirty or late hits. 

Williams was suspended for the 2012 season following a tape that was made while he was the defensive coordinator of the Saints where he openly encouraged Saints players to take out opposing players for a monetary bonus.“Kill the head and the body will die”, he was recorded as saying. The tape made its way to the league and both he and head coach Sean Payton were suspended. 

Regardless of those charges, the Jets and Williams should be even more aggressive on Sunday. His team’s offense is struggling and the defense will have to keep them close enough to try to force an upset. The Patriots offensive line is minus three starters including both starting tackles. Williams’ defenses are always aggressive and use the blitz liberally. Come Sunday, look for him to be even more aggressive.

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.

Patriots-Steelers Wk 1 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 5, 2019 at 9:10 am ET

The Patriots begin their 2019 regular season with a very familiar foe as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium for the first Sunday Night Football broadcast of the year. Prior to kickoff, the team will unfurl their sixth Super Bowl banner as only the Patriots and Steelers have won as many Lombardi Trophies during the SB era.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC 10 in Boston. Al Michaels will handle the play-by-play with Cris Collinsworth doing the color commentary while Tracy Wolfson will work 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 (11-5) are coming off last year’s Super Bowl win over the Rams after beating the Chargers at home in the divisional round and the Chiefs on the road in a dramatic overtime win.

The Steelers (9-6-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltima disappointing 2018 where they missed the playoffs and finished second in the division to the Ravens.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 33rd time where the teams are tied 16-16 overall. Pittsburgh owns a 15-12 advantage in the regular season while the Patriots own a 4-1 advantage in the postseason. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-4 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings in Gillette Stadium. 

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 Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game should be a key strength of the team moving forward in 2019, as they were fifth in the NFL in rushing a year ago. Sony Michel looked strong in his only preseason cameo and is backed up by James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, fullback James Develin and rookie Damien Harris. They have depth and versatility here to be very effective. 

The offensive line took a big hit when center David Andrews was placed on IR with a blood clot in his lung. Ted Karras takes over and he’ll be a focal point in both the run game and in pass protection. Isaiah Wynn, last year’s top draft pick takes over at left tackle and will be playing in his first NFL game

The Steelers were stout against the run in 2018 finishing 6th best. It starts up front with Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, and Javon Hargrave who stop things at the point of attack which allows the linebackers to clean up and make plays. 

Look for a lot of two-back sets as the Patriots will try to move the defense around and hit them with runs between the tackles. Michel, Burkhead, and Harris should see plenty of play here. Develin will play a key role as he may line up as a TE or H-back in some of the different formations. 

Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Patriots passing game on paper looks daunting for opponents to stop. Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas have traditionally given the Steelers trouble in the past. But those two and Julian Edelman had virtually no training camp reps and very little preseason action. Their timing with Tom Brady, may not be as crisp as they want on Sunday night. Phillip Dorsett was the only WR to get a lot of time working with Brady this summer. He may see a lot of snaps here.

James White, Burkhead, and Harris may see plenty of reps in the passing game as well. This was an area that the Patriots tried to attack during the December game last year. But the Steelers defended it well holding White, Burkhead, and Develin to 10 catches for 61 yards. They are better suited now to counter those moves with rookie Devin Bush and Mark Barron who they signed from the Rams.

The Steelers led the league with 52 sacks a year ago. They are more than capable of bringing pressure right up the middle which doesn’t allow Brady to step up and slide in the pocket. This will be a key area to watch. With Joe Haden and Steven Nelson at the corner, the Pittsburgh defense can play more man coverage than the Tampa 2 zones which Brady has traditionally eviscerated, especially in Foxboro. 

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

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

The Steelers replaced Le’Veon Bell with James Conner a year ago and haven’t looked back. Conner rushed for 973 yards and a dozen touchdowns in essentially 12 games and gives the offense a nice weapon running and receiving. He’s back by Jaylen Samuels who roasted the Patriots for 142 yards on the ground last December. The Pittsburgh offensive line is outstanding and always presents a tough challenge. 

The Patriots look much better prepared to stop the run this year. Danny Shelton had a very good summer. He, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler are the anchors inside. This allows the inside linebackers Elandon Roberts and thumper Ja’Whaun Bentley to clean up and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

The Steelers were badly skewed in the run/pass ratio a year ago, running the ball on just 33.4 percent of the time while passing 66.6 percent. So, stopping the run early will be a priority and then forcing them into a more predictable pattern. 

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger lost one of the more talented wide receivers in the league in Antonio Brown and although he may not admit it, he is probably happier for it. Brown has immense talent, he’s also an immense pain in the ass. His on-field production will be missed but the Steelers have a knack at developing quality WRs.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the team’s go-to guy, he had 1426 yards a year ago. He’s backed by Donte Moncrief, who is now their #2, James Washington, Ryan Switzer, TE Vance McDonald as well as Samuels and Conner out of the backfield. And they drafted Diontae Johnson in this spring’s draft. 

The Patriots have plenty of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and rookie Joejuan Williams. It will be interesting to see who they match up with Smith-Schuster [Gilmore seems to be favorite], but we’ve seen in the past where they’ll put their 2nd corner on the top WR with safety help and then try to take away the #2 with their best coverage man. 

The Patriots pass rush, which was outstanding this summer is key here. They can’t allow Roethlisberger to extend plays and hit secondary targets down the field. But that offensive line won’t be an easy nut to crack.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers for both teams Stephen Gostkowski for New England and Chris Boswell for the Steelers had their issues a year ago. Gostkowski had some misses in the preseason which may have been an issue with going to a new holder, rookie punter Jake Bailey.

But Gostkowski is very solid and at home gives the Patriots the edge in the kicking game. It is going to be intriguing to watch Bailey in his first NFL action. He has a tremendous leg and can flip field position which is the reason he was brought here.

The return game will feature Ryan Switzer for the Steelers while it isn’t clear if Julian Edelman or rookie Gunner Olszewski will handle punt returns for the Patriots. The UDFA looked good enough to carve out a role for himself this summer. 

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Another year, another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams want to start the season well, something even more important to Pittsburgh as they’ve traditionally been slow starters under Mike Tomlin. The Patriots too have started slowly in September. 

The first games of the season are always the hardest to get a feel for as no one really knows how all the pieces are going to fit together once the rubber hits the road. 

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Run the Ball Effectively, Especially Early: The Patriots are going to lean on the ground game and with the passing attack trying to find their feet, it is especially true early this season. The offense has to get into third and manageable situations in this game. Pittsburgh’s defense has a lot of speed and can get after the QB. Third and long situations play right into their ability to get after it. 

Therefore, Michel and Burkhead will be key players to watch in this one. If they can keep the chains moving and the defense on the field, it will slow the pass rush and possibly wear them down in the second half where conditioning may play a part. No one has played an entire game during the preseason. Then the passing game may start having more success with Brady having more time to throw. Pre-snap penalties? Last year in Pittsburgh, they had far too many…can’t have it.

Third Down Defense is Key This Week: The Patriots are going to try to take away Smith-Schuster and force Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere. Last year they did a pretty fair job of it, holding him to four catches for 40 yards. But with Moncrief, Washington [who had a solid game a year ago], Switzer et.al. they have a lot of weapons to bear. 

Two players to watch in this one are Vance McDonald and Samuels. It would easy to see both of them becoming very valuable third-down targets this year with Brown gone. And consequently, it will be important for the Patriots to play solidly on third down and get off the field. 

Jamie Collins is a key player to watch this week. The Patriots brought him back this spring and he’s got the ability to be a huge chess piece that they can move around and influence the play.  

Finish Drives: Against the Steelers last year, the Patriots had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board and failed to do so. After a horribly blown coverage which resulted in a way too easy and early Chris Hogan touchdown, they managed three points the rest of the way. 

Finishing drives is always important but especially against this team, as you don’t want to be playing from behind with their pass rush. Brady and Josh McDaniels will have to use the big men Gordon and Thomas [if he plays], down in the red zone to take some of the routes that Gronk ran in the past. 

___________

This one won’t be as high scoring as some people think, both teams may not be executing at the level that they will later on down the road. The Steelers may have an adjustment of their own for a bit with no Brown on the field. It should be another excellent football game between two of the best teams in the past decade. The Patriots are dropping banner #6 and hold serve at home. Patriots 24-21

“Knocking on Seven’s Door” begins Sunday night

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 and breakdown game analysis

New England Patriots News 9-01, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 1, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 09-01 and AFC East notes this week. 

September is back among us and yes that means the NFL regular season is beginning in just a few days while the Patriots season begins a week from tonight. The beauty of it all is that everyone is square with the house, and starting with a clean slate. There are 512 regular-season games on the slate for 2019 and let’s all look forward to seeing some great football this fall.  

All eyes, however, are right now on the state of Florida as a huge hurricane is barreling towards them. Stay safe folks. It looks to be a bad one.

 Quick Hitters:

Tom Brady – was photographed lining up behind Chase Winovich and measuring his hair for the famous Patriot rookie haircut event which takes place every year. The two were going back and forth with one another on Instagram about it which just heightens the sense of “Tom-foolery” one can expect sometime today.

Julian Edelman  – Along with Brady were spotted doing some balancing poses on the sideline during Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Giants…which harkens back to our days of physical therapy for aching knees where we had to do the same…but not quite. 

Jadeveon Clowney – was traded to the Seattle Seahawks after refusing to go to Miami. The Texans got two linebackers and a third-round draft pick. Miami then traded LT Laremy Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills to the Texans for a bevy of draft picks. Could Miami be tanking for Trevor Lawrence? 

Bill Belichick – [on cutting the 4th preseason game],”‘The more games you play, the more opportunities you have. Look at the Giants last night, you want to go ahead and cut out this game then go ahead and cut it out. It gave [Kyle] Lauletta a chance to play half the game. It gave [Alex] Tanney a chance to play half the game and gave [Daniel] Jones a chance to play. If you want to get rid of the game then go ahead and get rid of the game, and then don’t play those guys. Do whatever you want on that.”

 “Bill Whiffed on Another 2nd Rounder, Grab Yer Torch & Pitchforks:

The NFL Draft isn’t an exact science, we all know that. And no one knows it better than Bill Belichick. He likes to amass picks because, in his mind, it gives you a better chance of hitting on players than rolling the dice on just a few players. 

So, when to no one’s surprise, the Patriots parted ways with 2nd-year cornerback Duke Dawson, trading him and a 7th rounder to Denver for a 6th round draft pick, the boo-birds were out in force. But, after watching Dawson all spring/summer in minicamp, training camp and the preseason, he didn’t deserve a spot on the 53-man roster. He was clearly outplayed by the incumbent slot corner Jonathan Jones for the starting position as well as other young players, J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen. 

So, should the Patriots have kept Dawson around, simply by the aspect of his draft position? Of course not. It was why Belichick has never cared one iota where a player is drafted, only how he performs on the field. And that line of reasoning has worked pretty well wouldn’t you say? Nine Super Bowl appearances in 18 years, including four out of the last five? 

But several media members [and ones who know better] started with now annual and very tired “Bill has another draft flop” routine while another posted “Duke Dawson added to the Ras-I Dowling-Chad Jackson memorial Belichick 2nd round pick trash heap” 

While it is true that Belichick has whiffed on several 2nd rounders, what was forgotten, [perhaps conveniently ignored] are Belichick’s own feelings on the second round of the NFL Draft. In case any of our readers have, we are posting them here. 

Several years ago, Michael Holley wrote a New York Times bestseller [and one that every one of these media folks read] called “Inside the War Room” which detailed how Belichick goes about trying to build the perfect football team. Belichick has frequently said that the 2nd round frequently has the highest ‘bust’ rate of the entire draft league-wide and there is where the team frequently may take a chance on a guy. 

“In the second round you find a lot of players with first-round talent but not first-round performance or production,” Belichick said. “The highest bust factor is in the second.” That line of thinking has been reiterated by Nick Caserio as well during the draft. 

Belichick has stated that some of those players may be a better football player than an athlete [Brandon Spikes] or more of speed guy than a true football player [Bethel Johnson]. “One guy may work out, others will not,” Belichick said.
“If you want that kind of upside, you want that kind of potential, that’s where you have to take it, [a chance] because it isn’t going to be there in the third round.”

Belichick has had more than his share of misses in the second round where the team took a shot at some players they liked. Including in those are Chad Jackson, Ron Brace, Terrence Wheatley, Jermaine Cunningham, Aaron Dobson, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones as well as Dawson last year. 

But while everyone is quick to point out Ras-I Dowling in 2011, they fail to mention Shane Vereen. You know, the guy who caught 11 passes in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks?

Some notable hits in the 2nd round for Belichick include Matt Light, Deion Branch, Eugene Wilson, Pat Chung, Sebastian Vollmer, Vereen, Jamie Collins, Jimmy Garoppolo, and this year’s draftee Joejuan Williams. Belichick’s best 2nd rounder? Oh yeah, it was a kid named Gronkowski. Oh wait, what did he ever do in the league?  

It is a well-known fact that Belichick will take a chance on a second-rounder. Instead of cherry-picking that fact and accentuating the busts, look at the big picture. Dawson didn’t pan out. He himself was considered a bit of a reach in the 2nd round. Most draft analysts had him pegged for Rounds 3-4. But the simple fact of the matter is, Dawson would still be here as a backup, project DB except that a 7th round pick Crossen, and a UDFA, Jackson, clearly outperformed him. 

Let’s all remember that fact when Dawson finds his game elsewhere and then the same people decry “GM Bill trading away his top draft picks.” Enough already.  

Patriots Initial 53-man Roster Takes Shape:

The Patriots’ cut down from the 90 man roster to their initial 53 is complete. And we stress the word ‘initial’ as the roster we see today may not be the same next week against the Steelers and definitely won’t be the same in December. It will continue to evolve as the season rolls. 

As always there were some big surprises. Demaryius Thomas being released was one. After activating him on just August 20, he seemed a slam-dunk for the roster. However, Mike Giardi of NFL.com has said that both sides are amenable to his return, so we’ll watch for that. 

Brian Hoyer’s release was also something that came as a surprise. Our feeling was that he would be here for 2019, but with all the other players they wanted to keep, it became a numbers crunch. 

Gunner Olszewski had a heckuva ride this summer and yesterday was one for the books. First, he was told he was being released before noon. But a late trade with the Texans sending CB Keion Crossen to Houston opened up a spot for him. And then he was told that he’ll be remaining. The team will go with five corners and six safeties with Obi Melifonwu who many had on the outside making the initial cut. Here’s a look at the initial 53…expect some changes before the Steelers get to town. The 10-man [11 with Jakob Johnson, NFL International Player] can be filled out today at 1:00 p.m. 

QB (2) Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham

RB (6) Sony Michel, James Develin, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden

WR (7) Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett,Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater, Jakobi Meyers

TE (2) Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

C  (2) Ted Karras, Russell Bodine

G  (2) Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, 

T  (4) Marcus Cannon, Isaiah Wynn, Jermaine Eluemenor, Korey Cunningham

DE (5) Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Chase Winovich, John Simon, Shalique Calhoun

DT (4) Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Byron Cowart, Danny Shelton

LB(5) Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle VanNoy, Elandon Roberts, Jamie Collins

CB (5) Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson

S (6) Pat Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Nate Ebner, Obi Melifonwu

ST (3) Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona

Luck Boos, Slams, Misunderstood at Best:

How anyone could think lesser of Andrew Luck when it became apparent that he couldn’t play anymore is beyond the pale. Luck has suffered an inordinate amount of serious and painful injuries and his press conference where he spelled it all out should have been all anyone needed to hear. 

But some fans and media members, many of whom have never done anything similar in their lives and have never suffered a serious injury descended on Luck like sharks smelling blood in the water. Calling him out as cowardly, wishing “he was wired differently” [same exact thing but splitting proverbial hairs] and any other thing he heard or read is not seeing the forest for the trees. 

Listen to what Rob Gronkowski said this week in an emotional response to the pain he felt after the Super Bowl. Read Rich Ohrnberger’s story on his decision. The former Patriots OL is now a radio host in San Diego. Who are these people to question his courage without having ever walked in his shoes? 

As for others who bemoaned the timing of his decision? Sorry, your body doesn’t punch a clock in regards as to when the NFL schedule happens to fall. Gimme a break. I sincerely hope that none of these buffoons ever have to wake up in the morning and worry about how long it takes to get out of bed and moving…ever.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Trade Guard, Center Prior to Cut Down Day:

The Buffalo Bills, as many already know, traded center Russell Bodine to the Patriots for a sixth-round draft pick in 2020. Bodine, 27, made 10 starts for the Bills last season and had been a four-year starter in Cincinnati. 

Buffalo also sent left guard Wyatt Teller and a 2021 seventh-round draft pick to the Browns for two draft picks, a fifth and a sixth-round pick. Teller, 24, was a fifth-round pick in 2018 for the Bills and started the final seven games last year. But recent acquisitions Ike Boettger, and Ryan Bates made Teller expendable.

QB Josh Allen told Adam Schein on his radio show that he expects special things in 2019. “Not trying to get too ahead of ourselves, taking it one game at a time. I know it’s cliché, but this team is special. I love all the guys that we have on this team and I think it’s going to be a special year for us.”

Dolphins HOF Jim Langer, Member of Undefeated Team Dies at 71:

The Miami Dolphins lost one of their legends last week as Jim Langer, the center on the Dolphins undefeated 1972 team has died. He was 71. Langer was a Minnesota native and passed away from heart-related problems in Coon Rapids, MN on Thursday.

“Jim was a true success story,”  Dolphins coach Don Shula said in a statement via Dolphins.com. “He joined us as a free agent in 1970 and ended up as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was the steadying force in the middle of an offensive line which was key to our championship teams.

“But Jim was more than a great football player,” Shula added. “He was one of the finest human beings that I have ever had the opportunity to know and also to coach. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was loved and respected by everyone who knew him. My thoughts are with his wife, Linda, and their children.”

Langer played every offensive snap during the team’s 1972 undefeated run. He was voted to six straight Pro Bowls and was the Fins’ MVP in 1975. He was a first-ballot HOFer inducted in 1987. 

Jets Looking For RB Help? Roster Position Appears Deep:

The New York Jets running back position seems deep with Le’Veon Bell, Ty Montgomery, Bilal Powell, and Trent Cannon set to make the 53-man roster. However, after the team released Elijah McGuire, Aaron Wilson, who covers the NFL and the Texans for the Houston Chronicle, reported that the Jets are looking to swing a trade for another running back. 

He posted on Twitter that, “Texans and Jets are actively looking for running backs via the trade market, according to league sources.”

This may be something to monitor moving forward. 

________________

“You take all of the things into consideration that you possibly can and just try to make the best decisions for your team. There’s a lot of considerations long term, short term, depth, the next game, games later in the year, next year. You just try to do the best you can to balance it out. You can’t do it all, so each decision has a consequence or some kind of residual. There’s always good arguments for doing things one way or the contrary point of view. In the end, you just have to try and figure out what’s best for the team by putting all of that into consideration.”
Bill Belichick on establishing the 53-man roster, 8-30

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Best Of Social Media: Preseason Week 4 Giants vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
August 30, 2019 at 8:47 pm ET

The Patriots wrapped up the 2019 preseason with the New York Giants on Thursday night.

Check out all the best social media postings and videos from the final tuneup before the regular season.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1wsl0Fg8IJ/
https://www.instagram.com/p/B1wtRD1AwXS/
https://www.instagram.com/p/B1w8gdmHPfV/
https://twitter.com/Patriots/status/1167210229467156480?s=20
https://twitter.com/NBCSCameraGuys/status/1167216037735088130

In the first quarter Josh Gordon made his first appearance since being reinstated.

A Stephen Gostkowski 31 yard field goal gave the Patriots an early 3-0 lead.

The Giants would answer back with a 35 yard pass from Alex Tanney to Alonzo Russell.

7-3 New York Giants.

https://twitter.com/Giants/status/1167228155402211328?s=20

A 32 yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas gave the Giants their first lead of the game after one quarter of play.

10-3 NYG.

The second quarter became the Demaryius Thomas Show.

Thomas, who missed the remainder of the 2018 season with an achilles injury, looked sharp.

Thomas hauled in a 35 yard highlight catch for a touchdown from Jarrett Stidham, the two point attempt failed.

10-9 ballgame early in the second quarter.

The Patriots retook the lead when Stidham again found Thomas for a score completing a perfect drive for the rookie quarterback.

16-10 Patriots at the eight minute mark of the second.

Stephen Gostkowski tacked on a 40 yard field goal to extend the Patriot lead to nine.

A Nick Brossette rushing score opened up a 26-10 Patriots lead.

https://twitter.com/NBrossette/status/1167408480564723712?s=20

Don’t tell Tom Brady and Julian Edelman that its week four of preseason.

A Stephen Gostkowski 51 yard field goal just before halftime pushed the Patriot lead to 29-10.

In the third quarter the Giants mounted a comeback following a field goal and Kyle Lauletta touchdown to Scott Simonson to cut the Patriots lead to ten at 29-19 after three.

Gunner Olszewski captured the attention of many in the second half for his versatility to play multiple positions, will it earn him a roster spot, we will see?

The Giants comeback continued into the fourth quarter as Wayne Gallman brought big blue within three at 29-25.

https://twitter.com/Giants/status/1167261768516694017?s=20

With the clock winding down on the game late fourth, Alonzo Russell hauled in a stunning buzzer beater, game winning touchdown from Kyle Lauletta.

The Giants once again foiled a Patriots perfect (pre) season attempt with a come from behind 31-29 victory.

The regular season at long last begins for real on September 8th at 8:25 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

https://twitter.com/Giants/status/1167273440677466112?s=20

31-29 FINAL NYG

https://twitter.com/Giants/status/1167279830246842368?s=20

Patriots Close Out Preseason, Now It is Decision Time

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:00 am ET

For the fifteenth year in a row, the Patriots and Giants ended their preseason with a game against each other and the Giants, courtesy of a last-second Kyle Lauletta touchdown pass [albeit one where the play clock ran out well before the snap], beat the Patriots 31-29, scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half.

With the preseason over, now comes the cut-down from the 90 man roster limit to the active 53-man roster by Saturday at 4:00 p.m. On Sunday at 1:00 p.m. the teams can fill out their 10 man practice squad. The Patriots actually have a waiver for an 11th player, Jakob Johnson due to his being an NFL International Player if he doesn’t make the 53.

Here are our quick observations from tonight’s game:

Tough Ending for Olszewski:

Gunner Olszewski was beaten on the final play of the game in the end zone when Lauletta launched a 14-yard touchdown to Alonzo Russell with no time left on the clock. It was a disappointing ending of what was a good night and a truly outstanding summer for the UDFA rookie from Bemidji State.

Nobody gave the Division 2 cornerback that the Patriots turned into a wide receiver much of a shot to make the team. But he’s worked hard and has been able to contribute in the kick return game and a bit offensively. He may not make the 53-man roster but he put some distance between himself and Braxton Berrios who was thought to have the inside track on the position. 

On Thursday night, Olszewski returned three kicks for 77 yards, one punt for seven, and had two catches for 35 yards including a nice 29-yard reception. At the end of the game, he went back to playing defense on the Giants last possession and was at big size mismatch against Russell who beat him for the touchdown. 

Olszewski has been a really nice story this summer, and there is still a shot that he’ll make the team as a returner. 

Gordon, Thomas, and Edelman at WR, Who Would Have Predicted That?

Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, and Julian Edelman all played in the first half, giving the Patriots a look offensively that one wouldn’t normally enjoy for the 4th preseason game. But none of them had played at all this preseason and the coaches obviously felt that they could use some live game action. 

Edelman had one catch for 20-yards but landed on his injured thumb and quickly left the game, having had it checked out by the medical staff on the sideline. That tweak sent Patriots fans on social media from unbridled optimism to near panic… “Why’s he out there in a meaningless 4th preseason game, Bill!” sigh.

Thomas looked like he was moving pretty well, with no discomfort and had seven catches for 87 yards with 2 touchdowns on eight targets. It had to be a promising start for a guy who had surgery for a torn Achilles about eight months ago. 

The offense and Gordon had trouble clicking as Stidham and he didn’t have their timing down. Which isn’t surprising since he was suspended since December and just began work with the team last Sunday. He was on NFI until this week. However, despite catching just two passes for 30 yards on six targets, Gordon’s night was particularly optimistic looking forward. He also drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty. Gordon showed he still has the explosiveness off the line and has the ability to stretch the field vertically which should lend itself well to the offense.

Stidham Plays the Entire Game:

This wasn’t a surprise, we felt that the Patriots would approach the game by giving the rookie QB all the work in this final tilt. Barring catastrophic injury, this should be the last meaningful game action until the 2020 preseason. 

Stidham completed 18-25 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. His pick resulted from a big hit he took as he was releasing the ball causing his pass to flutter straight up where safety Sean Chandler picked it off. 

But the only way for Stidham to improve is by getting game reps so that he can work on his decision making, his speed in processing plays and getting a better overall feel of the offense. He’s made very impressive strides since the first time we watched him back in minicamp. As we said in our podcast earlier this week, the Patriots should keep three QBs on the 53-man roster. 

Rookie Froholdt Injured, OL Depth Takes a Hit:

The team started Hjalte Froholdt at guard tonight, the rookie from Denmark is considered a project for the offensive line this year. He’s been battling a shoulder issue but then went down with an injury in the first half, holding his right arm. After going into the blue medical tent, he was taken to the locker room where he didn’t return. 

The team just made a couple of trades yesterday for tackle Korey Cunningham and guard Jermaine Eluemunor but Froholdt was still on our list for players making the 53-man roster. This injury may change that. If he’s hurt and going to be out for an extended period of time, the Patriots may opt to place him on IR, which may open the door for James Ferentz. 

Coaches Test Versatility With Olszewski, Williams, Johnson: 

We mentioned above that the coaching staff had Gunner Olszewski in all three phases of the game, offense, defense, and special teams. But he wasn’t alone. Jakob Johnson played fullback and in the second half was also logging snaps as an outside linebacker, and even generated some pressure on the QB. But the real story was the team moving rookie Joejuan Williams to safety. 

Williams is a corner but he has the size of a safety at 6’3, 212. He has the size and physicality that is slightly reminiscent of Brandon Browner. And while this may be nothing more than to see what the rookie can handle, We view Williams as a matchup piece where the coaching staff figures to use him against bigger wide receivers and/or tight ends. But with Belichick, it is always a case of “the more you can do…” 

Williams played next to Malik Gant who was injured and was carted off during the game. It was curious that Obi Melifonwu who was dressed didn’t play tonight. 

So, the coaches have to make their roster cuts, one player who was just signed on Sunday, LB Scooby Wright, acquitted himself quite well. He had four tackles, two sacks and two tackles for losses. Another linebacker, Calvin Munson is making a case for himself to make the roster as well. 

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

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

What to Watch For, Preseason Week 3 Patriots vs Panthers

Steve Balestrieri
August 22, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots are taking on the Carolina Panthers tonight in Foxboro for the third preseason game for both teams. This is the week that the starters traditionally see a lot of game action. But I have always disliked the term “dress rehearsal”, so for the eighth year in a row here at PatsFans.com, I’ll use my favorite quote from Willie Nelson. My wife and I spent time back and onstage with Willie at one venue and partied on his bus with him at others. [Those are stories for a different time.] But Willie’s words ring true.

“There are no dress rehearsals, we are professionals and this IS the big time”

So, both teams’ starters should see about a half of work and maybe a series in the second half to get acclimated to the entire process. This will be Cam Newton’s first game action this year after off-season shoulder surgery. So, he may not be as apt as he’s shown in the past about tucking the ball away and running with it. This will also be Tom Brady’s first preseason action this summer.

So, what are we looking for from a Patriots perspective tonight? 

Can Brady and the New Faces Click on Offense?

Julian Edelman came off of NFI on Monday, Demaryius Thomas was removed from PUP on Tuesday. I don’t imagine either will play. Josh Gordon is still on NFI and has already been ruled out of tonight’s game. N’Keal Harry just returned to practice this week and may not play either. 

So, this will be a really big test for Jakobi Meyers, going against the top Carolina defense as Brady’s go-to receiver. Phillip Dorsett and Braxton Berrios should also get a lot of snaps with the first unit. 

This should be a good time to see how Sony Michel and Damien Harris are used out of the backfield in the passing game, something they’ve worked on this summer. We know James White’s value there, but the coaches made a concerted effort to by more unpredictable this summer. Michel and Harris should handle the bulk of the work in the running game. Isaiah Wynn’s workload should increase this week and we want to see how he handles this as well as how he holds up against a stout Panthers defense.

Matt LaCosse is back on the field after being injured in Detroit, and this is his opportunity to shine. No one has really stepped up at tight end this summer, so this a big chance to carve out a role with the team. 

How Well the Front Seven [Starters] can Create Pressure:

We’ve seen the top guys dominate in workouts and joint practices. The second and third-tier guys have looked really good in preseason games, but now the starters get to show their stuff. And they get a good test against a Panthers team that has given them problems in the past.

With players like Micheal Bennett, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy getting into their first game action of the year, mixing in Jamie Collins, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, and John Simon, we’ll get a better idea on how they are planning on using these players. In particular, will the coaches continue to be aggressive and we’ll be wanting to see the personnel groupings that they will rollout.

This front seven looks deep and versatile, with guys like Chase Winovich, Shalique Calhoun, and Derek Rivers coming on later to spell the starters, the 2019 front seven is as deep a unit the Patriots have had since the 2003-2004 teams.

Watching the Starting Secondary Gel On the Field:

This secondary unit of the Patriots is one of the more stronger ones in the league and arguably the deepest secondary unit that Bill Belichick has coached since he took over the reins of the Patriots in 2000.

Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty give the team their top three boundary corners. Jonathan Jones has easily bested former 2nd round pick Duke Dawson for the top slot corner. Now watching the starters and their communication with Devin McCourty and Pat Chung at safety is a step. This unit hasn’t played together in a game since the Super Bowl. This is a big week of preparation for the season. Many of them probably won’t play next week. 

Dawson should see plenty of reps in the second half as he’s one of the guys who is fighting for a roster spot. Joejuan Williams, the rookie 2nd round CB, who has improved markedly since training camp began and Keion Crossen should also see a lot of work in the second half.

Special Teams Get Ready For Week 1:

With the release of Ryan Allen, Jake Bailey has won the starting punting position. But the pressure doesn’t let up now, it just gets even tougher. He’s replacing a very popular player with the fanbase and this will be his first game action in Foxboro. He’ll also be tasked with holding on field goal and extra-point attempts. It will be important for him to get off to a good, clean start.

Stephen Gostkowski has missed field goals in each of the first two games, whether that was all on him or something in the exchange between Joe Cardona and his new holder Bailey will bear watching. For all of the fans who would like to see the third most accurate kicker in NFL history replaced, who is out there and most importantly available? Other than the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, Gostkowski is right up there with the best kickers in the game. With a better career accuracy average than the guy he replaced 14 years ago.

The kick return game will bear particular watching tonight. Braxton Berrios or Gunner Olszewski’s roster spot may depend on how well they produce in the kick return game. 

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 and game analysis.

Slow Your Roll on the Patriots WRs… There’s a Long Way to Go

Steve Balestrieri
August 21, 2019 at 8:34 am ET

Social media was abuzz yesterday after and many Patriots fans were as happy as Christmas morning when the images of Josh Gordon stretching at practice and Demaryius Thomas in full uniform, off of PUP. With Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry also back at practice, the wide receiver position and situation was now much rosier and many folks were already checking flight availability to Miami in early February. Let’s just pump the brakes on that just yet. 

We’re always glass-half-full types here and if there is anything that the past two decades have taught us is they always, always get things figured out. Which is why we weren’t in full-blown panic mode a week ago when the same social media mavens were decrying Bill Belichick for leaving the cupboard bare when Tom Brady was throwing to Gunner Olszewski early in the joint practice with the Titans.

Now with the risk of sounding like Debbie Downer here, we’ll try to explain our “cautious optimism” when it comes to the receiver group. Having Edelman, Gordon, Harry, Thomas, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Maurice Harris, and Braxton Berrios at the position is certainly cause for optimism, and if it were 2012, I’d be calling friends in Florida and preparing them for houseguests in February. But it isn’t and I’m not ready to do that… just yet.

Gordon The Most Physically Gifted But Flawed WR:

Gordon’s talent is still undeniable, he showed that last year where he came in and produced at a very good level. And there is no reason to doubt that at age 28 that physically he couldn’t produce the same or even more if he plays 16 games. But he hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year of 2012. 

His issues have always been off the field and even with a great deal of support from the Patriots last season, his demons resurfaced and he once again found himself suspended by the league. While we certainly don’t want to see him backslide, more from a personal than a football standpoint, counting on him for an entire season is something the team can’t afford to do.

The Patriots made it clear that although they’d welcome him back [and gave him a tender], they weren’t planning on having him around. Hence the signings of Harris, Dontrelle Inman [now with the Bolts], Thomas and drafting Harry while adding Meyers after the fact. 

Can Thomas Reinvent Himself?

With Thomas, the opposite questions are in-effect. His on-field regression with the Texans last year was evident after he was traded by the Broncos. He didn’t look like the same receiver before he tore his Achilles. But he’s been rehabbing hard with the training staff and seems as upbeat as one can be. 

So what can be reasonably expected from Thomas at this juncture of his career? We didn’t think he’d even make the team, which is why the timing of his coming off of PUP was so intriguing. With just two days of practice before the Carolina preseason game, and then just a week of practice and a final tuneup with the Giants, it leaves him precious little time to get on the same page with Brady and the offense. 

Perhaps Thomas is going to reinvent himself as a more of a possession type of wide receiver and become a chain mover rather than the game-breaker he was earlier in his career. That is a possibility, but until we watch him on the field and see him run, I’d err on the side of caution, and not count on him making the 53-man roster. 

Harry and Meyers Have Upside But Are Still Rookies:

Patriots fans are justifiably pleased and should be with the selection and performance of both Harry and Meyers. And Meyers, the UDFA QB turned WR from NC State has probably been more impressive this summer. He’s shown a quickness off the line where he’s been able to gain separation and catch everything that’s been thrown his way.

Former Patriot and now analyst Matt Chatham said he looks like a six-year veteran on the field. He’s developed quite a rapport and chemistry with Brady and the QB has been throwing to his spots on the field before Meyers makes his breaks. 

Harry has all of the tools and the size to be a very productive WR in the league for years to come. He’s the only WR that Belichick has ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. He’s the master of the contested catch. However, his development has been slowed by a few nagging injuries this summer.

But something to keep in mind with both of these players is that they are rookies. Their production may take some time to get going. The speed and physicality of the NFL game is something they’ll have to get used to. They won’t be facing the twos and threes of an opponent’s defense but their top-line players. Patience is the word of the day.

So, while we believe that the offense is going to be just fine [never had any doubts], let’s just slow the talk of the “best WR group since 2007” for a bit …As Belichick is so fond of saying… “they have a long way to go.”

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 and game analysis.

As More Patriots WRs Go Down, It is Opportunity Time for the Remainder

Steve Balestrieri
August 15, 2019 at 7:33 am ET

At the conclusion of the first joint practice with the Titans on Tuesday, the state of the Patriots receiver corps was more notable on who wasn’t in attendance rather than who was. Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Josh Gordon [still suspended] tight end Matt LaCosse and N’Keal Harry were not there for the beginning of practice, although Harry was in uniform, he didn’t take part in any activities and quickly moved off to work with members of the training staff. 

Then during the session, both Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris each left with various ailments. That left a thin wide receiver grouping even thinner. Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham were left with Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Gunner Olszewski, Damoun Patterson, and Ryan Davis. 

It isn’t known if the dings that Dorsett and Harris took were heat-related or more serious. Dorsett was reported to have returned and rode a stationary bike at the end of the practice session. This is in addition to reports that running back Damien Harris is dealing with a wrist injury, which has limited his pass=catching ability.

But rather than looking at this as a red flag [as it would be during the regular season], this is a time of opportunity, a chance to earn more reps with the starting unit and carve out a role for themselves for the players on the field.

Meyers has been a very pleasant surprise as to how fast he’s caught on to the Patriots system as well as his versatility and production in the passing game. If there is an area where he could improve it would be in special teams. The coaches have been getting him some reps in the punt return game, which to date haven’t been all smooth. 

Berrios has thrived during joint sessions and the preseason game with the Lions and is carrying that momentum into this week in Tennessee. Berrios looked very good in the return game last week in Detroit and that alone may win him a spot among the final 53-man roster. Away from the smothering Jonathan Jones in team practices, Berrios has found room to move and made some nice plays in the passing game. 

Dontrelle Inman may be the biggest benefactor from the recent spate of injuries to the wide receivers. After a very forgettable spring, Inman found himself deep in the bowels of the depth chart at the beginning of training camp. He helped himself with some good work against the Detroit third teamers last week. 

Now he’ll get more reps with Brady and the first team unit today. If that means more playing time on Saturday night, then it is a chance to move up in the pecking order. If he can find the comfort level and chemistry with Brady that he showed late last season with Andrew Luck, he could force himself into a much better situation. Maurice Harris had a tremendous start to camp. But he had a couple of big drops in Detroit, [granted one was a clear defensive pass interference] and with him now possibly on the shelf, this allows Inman a chance to push him a bit. 

LaCosse’s ankle injury last week opened the door for the team to bring in the third-year tight end Eric Sauber that they picked up from the Falcons for a conditional 7th round draft pick. Sauber has the size, 6’5, 255 pounds and the athleticism to play special teams and to attack the seams of the defense. But the knock on him is his hands, “manos de piedra” which have precluded him from having any impact in the league.

Sauber should get more and more work in the passing game as the team tries to lighten the load on 38-year old Ben Watson. Ryan Izzo is known more as a blocker. Rookie Andrew Beck is being used more as a fullback/H-back and Stephen Anderson has seemingly become an afterthought in the passing game. 

But like anything else, opportunities arise and players have to take advantage of them. 

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

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New England Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 2.0

Steve Balestrieri
August 5, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

With the Patriots first ten days of training camp over, it is time to take another crack at our New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. With eight practices in, several of them fully padded, we’ll look at the early risers and whose falling. We’ll revisit this after a week with the Detroit Lions and their first preseason game.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Out: Danny Etling

The Patriots will continue to go with three QBs as Brady, Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham will man the position this year. It will be interesting to see if Stidham shows enough in the upcoming preseason games to push Hoyer as Brady’s backup in case of emergency.

Running backs: (6)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Out: Nick Brosette, Jakob Johnson* [NFL International Player]

Sony Michel looks good, now that he is back on the field and he and Damien Harris are getting more frequent looks in the passing game. James White looks as good as ever while Brandon Bolden isn’t going anywhere, he’s a good depth guy and outstanding on STs. Develin could easily be posted with the tight ends as he practices with them frequently. If the Patriots decide five is enough would that make Burkhead expendable? Possibly, but for now, he sticks.

Brosette is a victim of the numbers and lands on the practice squad. Ditto for Johnson who is automatically granted an extra spot on the PS due to his NFL International status

Tight ends: (2)
Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, **Ben Watson Suspended**
Out: Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck

The Patriots have Lacosse being the receiving tight end with Izzo as the blocker who nudges out Anderson, the move tight end thus far. Ben Watson will return after the first month which means they’ll have to make another cut somewhere.

Beck got a fair amount of guaranteed money and could become another fullback option if Develin gets hurt, he’ll be a practice squad candidate.

Wide Receivers: (5)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers
Out: Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, **Josh Gordon Suspended** Demaryius Thomas [PUP], Cameron Meredith [PUP]

Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are the top three, Dorsett is still an intriguing case. He has all of the tools to be a very productive receiver but only produces in short flashes. But given the cuts, he’s the only viable kick returner on the roster unless the coaches want to push Edelman or Michel back out there. 

Harris has been the most consistent receiver on the field thus far and Meyers is already beginning to develop the chemistry with Brady that will be needed. Thomas has yet to see the field so no one knows if he has anything left in the tank. Gordon has applied for reinstatement by the league so we’ll be watching to see how that unfolds.  

Berrios can’t get any separation and after a strong showing in the spring, has taken a step back. This coming week with the Lions will be huge for him. Inman has been largely invisible but just began making progress this week. Patterson, Davis, and Olszewski are practice squad candidates.

However, Berrios and/or Olszewski could carve out a role in the return game. Preseason will tell the tale.

Offensive line: (8)
Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, James Ferentz, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
Out: Yodny Cajuste [NFI], Dan Skipper, Cedric Lang, Tyree St. Louis, Martez Ivey

Hmm, depth at tackle remains a dicey situation with Isaiah Wynn still not a full go at practice. At this point, they need to start getting him real reps and not a walk-thru if he’s going to be ready for the regular season. The team is giving Dan Skipper every opportunity to win a roster spot but he’s shown that even against the 2nd tier guys, he’s getting beat. Not good for a left tackle.

Cajuste is still on NFI and the longer it drags on, the more it seems that he won’t be ready until midseason. The answer for the short term? Joe Thuney at LT, Karras at LG and now it makes more sense to keep Ferentz. 

Defense –

Edge Players: (4)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
Out: Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, Ufomba Kamalu

Bennett and Wise are your defensive ends in a base 3-4, which they’ve run a lot of this spring/summer. Simon and Winovich could easily be lumped in with the linebackers. It is curious if they do run a 3-4, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler could be 3-4 DEs as well. Rivers has looked good so far, but Winovich is looking just a strong right now and would, IMO get the nod. 

Nobody is closing the door on Davis, Harris, Thurman, or Kamalu at this point. All of them have had good moments in camp. Plenty can happen in the next few weeks, but as of today, they’re on the wrong side of the numbers crunch.

Interior Defensive Line: (4)

Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler

Out: Bryon Cowart, David Parry

Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup nose tackle. Guy and Butler offer versatility in either inside DL in a 4-3 or as 3-4 DEs playing a five-technique. This is a solid group and Mike Pennel should be an immediate early downs producer. 

Cowart and Parry have some ground to make up but are for the time being, outside looking in. 

Linebacker: (6)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King
Out: Christian Sam. Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, Shalique Calhoun

Linebacker is a position of strength and the Patriots could still play Winovich and Simon here as well. If they were to add another roster spot for extra depth, Sam, who is having an under the radar camp or Calhoun who has played well in limited reps could find their way on the roster. 

Hightower, Bentley, and Roberts will handle the inside duties while the others will play outside, but moving players around seems like a given this year. 

Cornerback: (7)
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen
Out: Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross

You can never have enough talented corners…right? Gilmore, McCourty, and Jackson give the team three very good to excellent boundary corners. Jones and Dawson will handle the slot. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or matchup with tight ends. 

The versatility and depth of this group give the Patriots their deepest part of the roster. Both Ross and Webster are candidates for the practice squad.

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks
Out: Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, Nate Ebner [PUP], AJ Howard

Brooks has been seeing a lot of reps on defense with the top unit and the veteran ST’s ace edges out Obi Melifonwu right now. Obi has had a good camp and has gotten a lot of reps himself with the top unit. His size and athleticism make this one a tough choice. But the competition continues. 

Ebner is on PUP for now and Gant is a candidate for the practice squad.

Specialists: (4)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater
Out: Ryan Allen

Gostkowski and  Cardona aren’t facing any competition in camp and other than Brady, perhaps, these two should rest easiest in training camp. Bailey the strong-legged punter and Allen are locked in a good camp battle. Bailey has a booming leg with incredible hang time while Allen is the steady vet. But Bailey can also kickoff and fill in for Gostkowski on FGs if need be. Slater practices hard on his own all session long with a staff member, working on his gunner skills. 

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 and game analysis.