Tag Archives: Derek Rivers

PHOTOS: Patriots To Wear Special Cleats For NFL “My Cause My Cleats” Campaign

Robert Alvarez
November 30, 2018 at 10:39 am ET

During Week 13 of the 2018 NFL season, players and coaches around the league will be participating in the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign.

According to the NFL, “My Cause My Cleats gives NFL players the opportunity to personalize their cleats and raise awareness for the charities and foundations they passionately support. The initiative also gives players a platform to share their stories and why the causes are important to them.”

On Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Vikings, more than a dozen players and coaches on the Patiots will wear their customized cleats and sneakers.

In total 19 Patriots players and head coach Bill Belichick will participate in the campaign.

Here is the full list of players and their foundation/cause of choice.

[Courtesy CBS Boston and PatsPulpit]

David Andrews (Warrior Dog Foundation)
Tom Brady (Best Buddies & The Ellie Fund)
Rex Burkhead (Team Jack Foundation)
Adrian Clayborn Brachial plexus injury awareness
Phillip Dorsett Depression and anti-bullying
Nate Ebner (Fuel Up To Play 60)
Stephon Gilmore Depression and anti-bullying
Lawrence Guy (My Life My Choice & Show Your Soft Side)
Duron Harmon (Autism Speaks)
Brian Hoyer (MSPCA-Angell)
Dont’a Hightower (One Family Inc.)
Chris Hogan (Headstrong)
Jacob Hollister (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
Devin McCourty (Players Coalition)
Jason McCourty (Embrace Kids Foundation)
Sony Michel (Earthquake In Haiti Relief)
Derek Rivers (Jar Of Hope)
Matthew Slater (International Justice Mission)
Kyle Van Noy (Van Noy Valor Foundation)

A few Patriots shared photos and video on their social media accounts but you can also check out the Patriots website for a full photo slideshow of all the cleats.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BqsqgC7H9yk/

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bqx6_6aBscG/?utm_source=ig_twitter_share&igshid=koqp2gt2jqzy

For more information, check out nfl.com/mycausemycleats

Best Of Social Media: The New England Patriots Celebrate Halloween

Robert Alvarez
November 1, 2018 at 9:52 pm ET

Coming off a week eight victory over the Buffalo Bills, the New England Patriots got in the Halloween spirit on Wednesday.

On Instagram, Tom Brady may have won for scariest costume, lurking in the background of a family photo as Pennywise the clown.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BpnYVsThpA1/?taken-by=tombrady

Chris Hogan shared a cute photo of his twin sons dressed as a mouse and cheese.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bpm-EWpAWZ9/?hl=en&taken-by=chrishogan_15

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bpnjs4xhc1p/?taken-by=dharm21

Lastly, multiple Patriots dressed up in costumes as part of the team’s annual Halloween party for pediatric cancer patients.

Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, David Andrews, Danny Shelton, Derek Rivers, Geneo Grissom and Eric Smith dressed up as Disney characters.

A few former Patriots also shared their Wednesday fun.

View this post on Instagram

Mummy Mayos

A post shared by Jerod Mayo (@jerod_mayo51) on

https://twitter.com/chatham58/status/1057812247098126336

New England Patriots News 9-23, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 23, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-23, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning… just a quick reminder that you can check out our key matchups to the game here and our players to watch for tonight’s game can also be found here:  

Jacob Hollister was a late addition to the injury report on Friday and has been ruled out of tonight’s game. He was one of the players we had in our pregame matchups to watch. He may miss a game or two according to reports.

Cyrus Jones is back in the fold and will probably be returning punts tonight. He was part of the last cuts by New England and landed on the Ravens practice squad. But the Pats signed him back to the active roster this week and look for a hungry and motivated Jones this week. An interesting tidbit was that Jones was practicing with the safeties this week.

Resilience:  The Patriots success under Bill Belichick is always enhanced by the fact that they don’t lose many games back to back. As we pointed out earlier this week, the Patriots are 45-6 since 2003 following a loss. And for those conspiracy theorists that lament the Patriots playing in the AFC “Least”? Since realignment in 2002, the Patriots are 51-16 against the NFC, the best interconference record in the NFL. 

Tom Brady reportedly was testy and irritable all week in practice. Mike Giardi from NFL Network reported that Brady was quite unhappy with the level of execution that the Patriots showed in Jacksonville and wants to ensure that it doesn’t happen again this week against the Lions.

Corey Coleman the former 1st Round draft pick of the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft was released by the Patriots to make room for Josh Gordon. But the next day after clearing waivers, the Patriots signed him to the team’s practice squad.

Coleman had only spent a week in New England and was inactive for the Jacksonville game but Bill Belichick was highly complimentary of the former Baylor wide receiver.

“He’s a player we want to work with,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how it goes. We haven’t had him a long time but he’s done a good job with the opportunities that he’s had. We want to keep working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”

Malcolm Mitchell filed a grievance against the Patriots, as first reported by our old buddy Miguel Benzan, commonly known as @Patscap the salary cap guru. The former the receiver has filed an injury grievance against the team and was seeking his entire 2018 salary of $630,000.

Mitchell was released by the Patriots back on August 6. That release was not coupled with an injury designation, so the receiver could not recoup any money from his deal. Mitchell cleared waivers, however, late Friday night there were reports that the two sides had settled the dispute.

Pat Chung/Trey Flowers didn’t practice this week and are doubtful for tonight’s game. Their loss will be a big blow to the Patriots defense. Flowers is their best player on the defensive side of the ball and Chung is an excellent tackler and his presence will be missed in the running game and the covering of tight ends.

No One Wants to See Gordon Fail:

In the hoopla of the Josh Gordon trade this week, reactions were mixed but by far, most were exceedingly positive and the prevailing theme was, “Brady hasn’t had a target like this since Randy Moss.”

Others, including here in this column were against the trade. And my TL and DMs quickly jumped my mentions by explaining that it was a “low-risk, high reward” scenario. Other mentions accused me of wanting Gordon to fail, which is ridiculous.

But this move isn’t low risk, because Gordon isn’t being just brought in to be a complementary piece. All of the mentions states, the Patriots need a player who can stretch the field and take pressure off of the intermediate receivers. So, yes he will be expected to play a valuable role.

While the compensation is basically a wash, which is basically a no-risk scenario, the big risk here, as I pointed out in the Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on Tuesday is time. This wasn’t a trade you make in March and have six months to figure out if the player fits your offense, your locker room and has put his problems on the back burner enough for you to secure him a roster spot.

This scenario is after Week 2 of the NFL regular season. And the team doesn’t have the time to try to prepare for an upcoming opponent while trying to incorporate a new Wide Receiver into the fold while treading very lightly around said, player. And he is a player with serious addiction issues. It isn’t as some point out, “just weed” and is much deeper.

Saying all this can be easily fixed by just dropping him in the Patriots locker room is overly simplistic and doesn’t lend itself the seriousness of Gordon’s situation. What about when he goes home at night? That’s where his problems lie, not in the building.

Everyone here wants to see him be successful…at life, football is a far second to that. Addiction and drug use are big problems facing our nation as a whole. But his physical talents have never been in question.  Would we love to see him light it up and be a part of bringing Lombardi #6 home? Of course.

But it isn’t as simple or as easy as many will have you believe. Hopefully, Robert Kraft will put some quality off-field support mechanisms around Gordon to help him.

Derek Rivers Set To Make His NFL Debut?

The bad news of Trey Flowers having a concussion and having missed all of this week’s practice could be an opportunity for last year’s top draft pick Derek Rivers. Rivers has been a healthy scratch for both of the first two games of the season after falling behind Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise and Keionta Davis on the depth chart.

Rivers missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL during joint practices with the Jaguars last August. He started slowly in training camp this year but came on and started to round into form.

It will be interesting to see how he can produce in a regular season game, which will be his first NFL action if Flowers is a scratch for tonight’s game. Rivers told NESN’s Doug Kyed this week that he hasn’t been frustrated by his lack of playing time yet but he’s just working hard and waiting for his chance.

“I’d be excited,” he said.  “But this is what we’ve been doing since camp. I got to play in the preseason, and every game is similar. I know everybody puts a lot of pressure on preseason and regular season, but a football game is a football game. It’s a blessing to play in each and every one of them. It will be exciting times, and god-willing, if this is the week, then I’ll be excited.”

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 9-6-1 Season 18-12-2

Thursday night’s pick Cleveland over the Jets 1-0

New Orleans at Atlanta: Falcons
Green Bay at Washington: Packers
Indy at Philadelphia: Eagles
Buffalo at Minnesota: Vikings
Oakland at Miami: Dolphins
Denver at Baltimore:  Ravens
Cincinnati at Carolina: Panthers
Giants at Houston: Texans
Tennessee at Jacksonville: Titans
San Francisco at Kansas City: Chiefs
LA Rams at LA Chargers: Rams
Dallas at Seattle: Dallas
Chicago at Arizona: Cardinals
New England at Detroit: Patriots
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: Bucs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Tough Matchup on the Road in Minnesota:

Buffalo is 0-2 and heading to Minnesota to take on the 1-0-1 Vikings. Since opening their new stadium in 2016, the Vikes are 14-4 at home, third best in the NFL behind New England and Philadelphia.

Josh Allen has the unenviable task of going with a shaky offensive line and a dearth of playmakers against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Vikings have seven sacks as a team, while the Bills have already allowed 11.

After being hammered in the first half and allowing 28 points, Head Coach Sean McDermott took over the defensive play calling in the second half and the unit responded, allowing just three points in the second half. That will bear watching today.

While we were adamant that Allen should have been sitting and learning in his rookie year, McDermott hit the panic button after just one half of the first game. Allen was sacked five times last week and has been put in a nearly impossible position to succeed. Buffalo will have to tread carefully here, these type of situations have ruined other young QB’s confidence. And the Vikes will be bringing the heat.

Dolphins Have Big Game At Home Against the 0-2 Raiders:

Miami is 2-0 and has played very well against both the Titans and Jets and sit alone atop the AFC East after just two weeks. So why is this game against the winless Raiders such a big one? Because these are the types of games the Dolphins have consistently dropped when having a chance to get momentum going.

Today’s home game will put the Dolphins at 3-0 and guarantee them of no worse than a tie with New England with a road trip heading up to Foxboro next weekend. And a win will put the Dolphins of a chance of going undefeated thru the quarter pole of the season  That will boost a lot of confidence in the team as they move forward.

With kickoff time temps of about 88 degrees with high humidity, it is a built-in advantage. Also, factor in the Raiders are making an East Coast swing for a 1 p.m. game, something that West Coast teams don’t normally play well in, it is something to watch for.

Miami has a prime opportunity for them to pounce on a team that hasn’t played well yet in 2018. And look for their defense today to make a couple of big plays. That will set up some good drama for Week 4, which will pit them against the Pats for the first time this year.

Darnold Takes Blame For Loss, But the Fault Was With Jets Coaches:

The New York Jets lost on Thursday Night Football 21-17 to the Cleveland Browns, the Jets third game in 11 days and may have run out of gas at the end. And of course, the popular narrative was that Baker Mayfield outplayed Sam Darnold on the big stage.

While you can certainly point to the numbers to make that case, it was hardly that simple. When Mayfield came in, the Jets were rolling 14-0. But rather than put restrictions on him, the Cleveland coaches cut him loose and allowed him to throw the ball all over the field, in other words opening the playbook completely to him. And Mayfield looked very much the part of the 1st overall pick in the draft against what is a pretty darn good Jets defense.

Darnold, in contrast, was just 15-31 for 169 yards and two interceptions, both thrown with under a minute and a half left in the game on desperation throws.

“From my point of view, I just have to play better, simple as that,” Darnold said after the game. “It’s not acceptable, the way I played. I know that, and I have to take it like a man. I feel like I’m responsible for some of the stagnant offense we had. I just have to play better, that’s it.”

While standing up and taking responsibility is laudable, the coaches deserve as much if not more of the blame for the stagnant offense. They have saddled the rookie with a very limited playbook. Worried about the Browns blitzing, they gave him a steady diet of screen passes and other very conservative options. They never allowed him to test the field the way the Browns did.

Even Jets WR Quincy Enunwa hit on the issue, although he worded it carefully, there is no doubt what he said here. “He did as well as he could with the plays that were given to him,” Enunwa said. “They had a lot of pressure, and that kind of messed us up.”

The Jets aren’t helping his progression by limiting what he can do on the field. Making things simpler is one thing, hamstringing a QB’s options are another. It is like being thrown the keys to a muscle car and then being told, not to shift it out of second.

NFL fans lost out on what would have been an interesting matchup between two QBs of the future. Darnold didn’t regress in his third start, the coaching staff blinked. Let him play the way he’s capable of.

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.

Players To Watch New England Patriots – Detroit Lions Week 3

Steve Balestrieri
September 21, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Sunday Night Football Primetime Matchup

The New England Patriots head back out on the road to take on the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football. Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is in his first year as a head coach of the Lions and is off to a rough start, going 0-2 to start the season.

The Patriots also lost last week in Jacksonville dropping them to 1-1 on the season and they’ll be looking to rebound. The Patriots defense will probably be without two of their best defensive players in Trey Flowers and Pat Chung who were in the concussion protocol all week and haven’t practiced.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have been outstanding at limiting losing streaks and are 45-6 in games following a loss since 2003 and have been 51-13 against NFC opponents since realignment in 2002.

The Lions with Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and Theo Riddick out of the backfield offer a serious challenge defensively, especially with the players missing this week. The Lions defense has eight sacks already and got six last week against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Sony Michel:

The Patriots rookie running back got into his first NFL action last week after missing all of the preseason and the first regular season game. This week should show a big uptick in his usage and he should probably be a big part of the Patriots game plan this week.

The Lions run defense has been gashed badly the first two weeks of the season. And look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of that fact with the very promising and explosive Michel.

Last week in shaking off the rust, Michel had ten carries, we look to see him get about double the touches this week between rushing the football and receiving out of the backfield with James White and Rex Burkhead.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots newest addition to the team just got on-board this week after coming over in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. He is still trying to learn the offense, (not surprisingly after just a few days of practice) and to boot hasn’t been 100 percent physically as he tweaked a hamstring last Friday.

In our pregame matchups, we wrote that we thought he’d be unlikely to play. But many of the national and local media types keep saying that although he’s not 100 percent that they believe the Patriots will install a small package of plays to get him on the field.

If that indeed is the case, then, of course, all eyes will be on the big, physical and athletic wide receiver. As to what he can bring to the table in such a short amount of time? No one knows and we’ll just have to wait and find out.

Cordarrelle Patterson/Cyrus Jones:

The Patriots picked up the very talented kick returner/wide receiver this offseason and he hasn’t been able to showcase any of his talents much in the return game. Jones was originally the Pats top pick a few seasons ago and tore his ACL last August before being released in September. He was a member of the Ravens practice squad but the Patriots signed him to the active roster just this week for his punt return abilities.

Both could play key roles this week. The Lions coverage units have allowed a 90-yard kickoff return and 74 and 43-yard punt returns already this season. This would be a primetime perfect time for the special teams’ units to break out and give the team a boost.

We’re looking for both of these players to make a splash on Sunday night. The Patriots special teams are always one of the strengths of this team and thus far, they’ve underperformed as to what we expect from them. A national television game is a perfect time to fix that and put some production on the board.

Derek Rivers:

The Patriots top rookie draft choice a year ago, also tore his ACL last August and was lost for the entire rookie season. He’s worked his way back and had a pretty good training camp but was passed on the depth chart by fellow DE Keionta Davis who also missed his rookie season of 2017 with a neck injury.

But with Flowers unlikely to play with a concussion, Rivers should be in line to make his professional debut on Sunday night in Detroit. It will be intriguing to see what he can bring to the table in terms of rushing the passer this week. He’s waited a long time to get on the field. Now maybe a chance to show what he can do.

Jason McCourty:

With Pat Chung likely out with a concussion, McCourty should see a big uptick in usage this week at the safety spot. Chung is an excellent tackler and always does a solid job of defending the tight ends so the “other” McCourty brother will have his work cut out for him this week.

McCourty could also see significant snaps at corner. When Eric Rowe was sat down last week in Jacksonville, McCourty came in and played nearly three-quarters of the snaps. Now Rowe is on the injury report with a groin issue and he’d normally be assigned the bigger Golladay (6’4, 213) to cover.

So depending on how the coaches see this week playing out in terms of player matchups McCourty could play significant snaps at either corner or safety, perhaps a bit of both. But he’ll definitely see the field quite a bit on Sunday night.

Rob Gronkowski/Jacob Hollister:

The Patriots tight ends may be a significant part of the game plan this week. Gronkowski had only two catches a week ago as the Jaguars used two, sometimes three different defenders to take him away. The Lions defense isn’t as deep as Jacksonville’s and they can’t afford to put that much capital to defend one man.

On a big national stage, we’re looking for Gronkowski to make a big rebound and for Tom Brady to try to get him involved early and often in the Patriots offense. It will be interesting to see how the Lions plan on matching him up.

For Hollister, the Patriots 2nd year tight end is a very good receiver in his own right and has the ability to stretch the field down the seams. We’re looking for Josh McDaniels and Brady to get him more involved this week. With the preponderance of the defensive effort geared to stopping Gronkowski, Hollister could have a nice productive game and we’ll look for Brady to get him more involved.  

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

Players To Watch Patriots Take on the Texans in Regular Season Opener

Steve Balestrieri
September 7, 2018 at 8:07 am ET

Familiar Faces, Familiar Opponents Face Each Other Again

The New England Patriots open the 2018 regular season against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon and the conditions are supposed to be nearly perfect. The blistering heat wave that rolled thru the East Coast is moving off and it is supposed to be replaced by much cooler, drier air which brings a fall feel to the game.

The Patriots and Texans have faced each other often in recent years and very familiar with one another. In 2017, the two teams shared joint practices together before playing a preseason game and then met again in Week 3 of the regular season. Now they’ll renew the competition as each team has sights set for the postseason.

Although the Texans have never won in Foxboro, they are a team that gets great respect from the Pats. If you’ve ever attended a training camp session and watch those coaching assistants wave those big tennis rackets around when Tom Brady throws in drills? That is the J.J. Watt effect, because the uber-talented, but lately oft-injured defensive lineman has a penchant for knocking down passes at the line.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady:

The Pats quarterback is entering his 19th season in the NFL and despite being 41 years old, looks as good as ever, winning the MVP of the league at 40 and then throwing for 505 yards against a very good Eagles defense in the Super Bowl.

Brady lost trusted targets in Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks this offseason and then skipped the OTAs to spend more time with his family. Now with a wide receiver core that is thinner than what they’re used to working with, until Julian Edelman returns, all eyes will be on Brady to see if he can continue to keep the offense clicking.

Houston has a formidable pass rush and sacked Brady five times last year, with a new left tackle (Trent Brown) and a right tackle just getting off an injury (Marcus Cannon), the Texans will be looking to disrupt things and Brady will have to be sharp, move the ball around to multiple targets and get it out quickly. Brady takes a lot of the pressure off of his tackles by getting rid of the ball very quickly and this season begins with a big test to see if the rust is gone from a long offseason.

Phillip Dorsett:

Dorsett was brought over from the Colts last year and was pretty much an afterthought in the offense for most of the year. With Amendola and Cooks gone, Edelman suspended for the first month, and Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews released, the onus of much of the wide receiver production is being pushed on his plate.

Dorsett began the summer hot and was looking like he was ready for the challenge, but as camp wore on, he faded a bit and wasn’t a big factor in the first two preseason games. That changed in the third game as he and Brady seemed to be working on their timing and chemistry against the Eagles.

Now the games are for real and a lot of eyes will be following Dorsett as the tries to be the go-to guy and a reliable chain mover for the Patriots offense along with Chris Hogan and the newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson.

Dont’a Hightower:

The Patriots big middle linebacker is back and looks healthy after missing most of last season. While Hightower isn’t an All-Pro, he is for this Patriots defense and his absence in the Super Bowl had more to do with them losing than Malcolm Butler’s absence did.

Hightower will have to control the running game inside and help out when Lamar Miller or Alfred Blue try to stretch them to the edge or head out in the passing game. With the scrambling ability of Deshaun Watson, the Patriot defenders on the edge will have to contain the mobile QB and keep him in the pocket. If he tries to run up the middle, Hightower will be tasked with minimizing the damage.

Having the big, physical Hightower back in the middle of the field is a huge boost for a Patriots defense that was woeful against the run in 2017. Everything with a Bill Belichick defense begins in the middle. Having Hightower back where he belongs is a big first step.

Eric Rowe:

The Patriots corner behind Stephon Gilmore has taken an undeserved bad rap from Patriots fans and will get a chance this season to erase a lot of those. With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, Rowe gets elevated to the top two slot. And despite the perception, he’s ready for the challenge.

The bigger, taller  (6’1, 205) Rowe who is beginning his fourth season has earned the right to be the starter. He had a very good spring and summer and fended off all competition from veterans and rookies alike to earn his way into the starters role.

This week he faces Will Fuller of the Texans who will play opposite DeAndre Hopkins and whose responsibilities fall to Gilmore. But an interesting footnote on Fuller, who is recovering from a hamstring issue and may not be 100 percent. Fuller and Watson developed a great chemistry last season. With both Hopkins and Fuller in the lineup with Watson under center, the Texans averaged nearly 40 points per game last year. Rowe’s season opener will have him facing a tough matchup. It should be a fun one to watch.

Rex Burkhead:

The Patriots brought back Burkhead this season after an injury shortened one in 2017. But there is no doubt when he was healthy and on the field, he was an integral part of the Patriots offense. That should not change in 2018 and in fact, his role may actually increase in the first month of the season with Edelman out.

Burkhead missed the Texans game last year after having a big game the week before against the Saints in the passing game. Look for Josh McDaniels to use Burkhead and James White as movable chess pieces in the backfield. The two will serve as slot receivers at times as they’ll put them in motion and try to create matchup problems.

In our key matchups, we said Burkhead may be the “X-Factor” in the game on Sunday. The Texans will be looking to put a lock on Rob Gronkowski and with him and the WRs clearing out some space, it could mean a big day for Burkhead.

Adrian Clayborn:

The Patriots signed the veteran edge player this spring and he was expected to show the veteran leadership role that befits someone of his standing. Clayborn has been the consummate pro since arriving, always being one of the first players on the field and helping the younger players

The Patriots pass rush and their play along the edge in 2017 was a big issue all season. Now, by adding Clayborn to Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise and getting Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis back from injuries that robbed their rookie seasons, the team is optimistic that they’ll be much improved.

But it all begins with Clayborn. He’ll be expected, and rightfully so, to lead the way on Sunday against a very good, young, mobile quarterback. It would do wonders for the confidence of a young group to get off to a good start this 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 I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news

Patriots – Texans Week 1, Key Match Ups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots will meet the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Their top announcing crew will cover the game with Jim Nance, who will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. 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 (13-3 in 2017) are looking to get 2018 off on a winning track. Tom Brady on the opening day of the season is 12-3, the best record for a QB during the Super Bowl era. The Patriots record in the past 10 years is 123-37, the best in the NFL

The Texans (4-12 in 2017) are healthy and looking to get back in the playoffs. They have a lot of their starters returning healthy after a disastrous 2017. Deshaun Watson was off to an electric start of his career before being placed on IR. They are looking to win in New England for the first time.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Texans will be meeting for just the 11th time as Houston entered the league in the 2002 season. The Patriots hold a 9-1 advantage in these contests while holding a perfect 5-0 advantage at home, including a pair of playoff wins over the Texans in Gillette.

The Patriots needed a vintage 4th quarter Tom Brady drive to beat Houston 36-33 last year in Week 3. Deshaun Watson was outstanding under center for Houston, passing for 301 yards and a pair of scores and the defense sacked Tom Brady five times.

Despite that, Brady passed for 378 yards and five touchdowns in the huge comeback win. The Pats defense didn’t have a great day but produced two interceptions of Watson.

So here are our Keys to the Game, and who gets the Razor’s Edge in the matchups. First up is the New England offense…

Patriots RBs vs Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Patriots running game once again made big changes during the offseason. Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden are gone. Jeremy Hill is in with James White. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead have knee injuries and while they’ve been practicing again, it is probably doubtful both plays this week.

The Texans front seven is very good and despite the myriad of injuries they suffered last season, they were very good (13th) against the run. The Patriots could only muster 59 yards a year ago. Can Hill and White muster more than that? We say no this week.

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

The Patriots passing game is thin at WR with only four on the roster plus Matthew Slater. But here’s where the chess match gets interesting. The Texans have a ridiculous plethora of pass rushers, J.J. Watt, Whitney Merciless, Jadeveon Clowney as well as promising rookie Duke Ejiofor and sacked Brady five times last year. But Brady torched them across the middle of the field to the tune of 378 yards a 5 TDs.

Look for lots of two RB, and two TE sets to offset the lack of WRs. James White and Rob Gronkowski will be moved around a lot in motion, splitting out wide to get favorable matchups. Houston has two new safeties, Tyrann Mathieu (Honey Badger) and converted corner Kareem Jackson who are 5’9 and 5’10 respectively. Look for Brady to test them in coverage against the much bigger Gronkowski. Burkhead, if he’s available is the “X-Factor” for the Patriots passing game.

Next up the Houston offense

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

Lamar Miller remains the workhorse for the Texans running game. He lost weight in the offseason to get back some of the explosiveness that was missing a year ago. However, second-year RB  D’Onta Foreman is on PUP for the Achilles he suffered last year. Watson burned the Patriots last year with his ability to scramble. After barely playing in the preseason, will he be given the green light to do it again?

The Patriots made some changes up front from last year, bringing in Danny Shelton who should anchor down the middle, in a rotation with Lawrence Guy, and Malcom Brown. Dont’a Hightower returns from his season-ending injury and should really help in the run defense which was porous last year. Houston has totally revamped their offensive line, which is still a question mark at this point.  

Texans WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Houston

Watson had the Texans offense exploding once he took over at QB last season, averaging nearly 40 points per game. He has one of the best WRs in the game in DeAndre Hopkins who caught 96 passes a year ago, most of the season with awful QB play. Will Fuller has been hurt but is supposed to play this week and he gives Watson a pair of extremely talented wide receivers. Tight End Ryan Griffin could be the “X-Factor” this week.

Last year the Patriots did a terrible job of containing Watson in the pocket, and if he gets out to the edge where he can run or throw, the defense will get gashed again. But unlike last year, when they went to a smaller, safety-centric look, I believe, they’ll go bigger here and look to anchor the edges and push the pocket from inside. The edge rushers, led by newcomer Adrian Clayborn, Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, and Keionta Davis will have their hands full. Can they bring pressure without losing containment and force Watson to get rid of the ball early? We’ll see.   

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen are back and very solid. Allen, in particular, had an outstanding summer after being pushed in training camp by some competition. The Patriots coverage units are always solid although they’ll be missing two of their stalwarts from the past few years in Jordan Richards and Brandon Bolden. But they get back Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater and have added one of the most dynamic kick returners in the league in Cordarrelle Patterson. Who return punts at this juncture remains a mystery.

The Texans special teams were just awful a year ago, especially their kickoff coverage. But they brought in former Patriots ST coach Brad Seely to right the ship. Long-time punter Shane Lechler was released, beaten out by rookie Trevor Daniel. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has a very strong but inaccurate at times leg.   

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

The first game of the season is always the most difficult to predict. Because the element of the unknown is still out there. The starters for the offenses and a bit on defense haven’t played an entire game since last season and there are always new moving parts on both teams.

The key for the Texans is to get Watt untracked and early. If he’s his normal explosive self, the Texans’ Romeo Crennel will move him around and disrupt everything. A healthy Watt just makes Clowney, who is becoming an elite edge rusher and Mercilus, that much better rushing the QB. The Texans inside backers Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, who is a sideline to sideline player will play key roles for them this week, trying to take away Gronkowski’s domain inside.

The Patriots will try to move their backs and tight ends around to create mismatches for Tom Brady to exploit. James White will probably be the most targeted member of the offense on Sunday. How well the offensive line holds up is always a key for the Patriots and especially against this excellent Houston front seven.

Defensively for New England, they try to match up against the Texans top two WRs but how well they do against the backs and tight ends will have a lot to say how this game goes. Containment of Watson in the pocket is key for Brian Flores group.

The Patriots are at home, which is always a big advantage for Brady and the offense. This one won’t be as high scoring as last year’s game, but Brady, White, and Gronkowski do enough to come away with a win.  Patriots 27-21

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Pass Rush, Brady Shine in Patriots Preseason Win Over Philly

Steve Balestrieri
August 17, 2018 at 7:07 am ET

The Patriots wanted to get off to a much better start than last week’s moribund beginning against the Redskins and they did exactly that with a very impressive first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles en route to a 37-20 win on Thursday night. It was the second preseason game for both teams.

Tom Brady quelled the critics for a night at least with a performance that showed he is as sharp as ever. Brady completed 19 of 26 for 172 yards with two touchdown passes and no interceptions. This was his first game action since the Super Bowl and despite all the hand-wringing about him missing OTAs this spring, he looked like Tom Brady which is cool, calm and collected.

Despite wearing the new-style helmet which looks particularly odd on him Brady  started off hot completing his first five passes on the opening drive and culminating it with him sliding in the pocket to buy time, which allowed Chris Hogan to break free and run along the back of the end zone against the flow where Brady hit him for an easy touchdown.

And with no Rob Gronkowski, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel and Kenny Britt, the offense hummed along pretty well in the early going. On the flip side, Nick Foles looked rusty and was off-target on many of his throws. But unlike the game in February where Foles had all day to throw, the Patriots pass rush had an outstanding game.

They logged eight sacks on the night but the key was, they were getting consistent pressure from the edge and the interior rushers were pushing the pocket enough where the Philly QBs weren’t able to step up into the pocket. Adrian Clayborn had an outstanding game. Although he was credited with just one sack, he was providing pressure and helped set up others to clean up. Derek Rivers was also very impressive, showing very good burst around the edge.

On the Eagles first drive, pressure by Clayborn forced Foles to be inaccurate on a deep sideline pass to a running back isolated on linebacker Ju’Whaun Bentley. This was followed by a six-yard loss on a running play and more pressure on third down where Devin McCourty nearly intercepted a tipped Foles pass.

On the Eagles next possession, Clayborn, and Rivers pressured Foles which allowed Pat Chung to come in and pick up a sack. Ditto for a sack by Adam Butler. Clayborn then had a strip sack of Foles where the ball bounced right into Bentley’s arms and the rookie raced 53 yards for a touchdown.

The Patriots had a nice two-minute drill at the end of the half where Brady appeared in vintage form where he led the team down the field in just 59 seconds where James White finished it off with a 20-yard screen pass from Brady for a touchdown. The blocking on which was outstanding where White wasn’t touched.

Other observations include:

Isaiah Wynn had a nice start to the game at right tackle and then came up hopping on a non-contact injury, was brought to the medical tent and then was carted off the field. From the looks of the way he was hopping, it may have been an Achilles injury. We’ll have to wait for an update, but it doesn’t look promising.

James White appeared in mid-season form. He caught six passes in six targets for 61 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed four times for 31 yards, a 7.8-yard average. He got the offense going in the early going and was very impressive.

Clayborn and Rivers looked very strong on the edges along with Deatrich Wise but late in the game, Trent Harris, a longshot to make the roster, looked very good in limited action. Ditto for the big edge player Keionta Davis who has been kicked inside and did a very good job of pushing the interior of the pocket.

With Rob Gronkowski sitting out the second preseason game, Jacob Hollister got extended playing time. He showed some improved blocking skills in the running game, not close to the Gronk level but better than a year ago.  He also made a nice catch down the seam in the two-minute drill, a 22-yarder where he was drilled but hung on for a key catch. Building a little chemistry and trust factor with #12 is always a positive.

Rough first half, almost a nightmarish one for rookie Keion Crossen, the Patriots slot corner who got the start. He actually got off to a promising start, flying up on a running play and dumping it for a six-yard loss. But then two awful pass interference penalties, (he’d add a third) set the Eagles up for an easy touchdown.

Overall rough night for the young Patriots corners, Crossen, J.C. Jackson and A.J. Moore who were picked on all night by Eagles QBs.

Speaking of which, Eagles third-string QB Nate Sudfeld was very impressive. He throws a beautiful deep ball and hit on a couple of those with perfect throws into coverage. He finished 22-39 for 312 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Dallas Goedert for the Eagles is also impressive. We really liked him in the lead up to the draft this year. And after a strong game in Week 1 against the Steelers, he topped it off with a good effort against the Pats. He caught three passes for 57 yards.  

Strong bounceback game for Stephon Gilmore, the Pats’ top corner blanketed Eagles receivers all night and the only pass attempted his way was defended well by him for an incompletion.

I absolutely hate this new rule about the leading with the helmet. The Eagles were victimized by it with a ticky tack call and then the Pats Jordan Richards got hit with it. After giving up a 28-yarder to Goedert, in trying to tackle him, an extra 15 was tacked on making it a 43-yard pass play. This rule sucks, plain and simple and will be the cause of much controversy this fall, you watch.

Patriots – Eagles Preseason Week 2, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 16, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots hit the field on Gillette for their last home preseason game tonight as they’ll take on the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason. The game will be televised on WBZ-TV 4 with Bob Socci on the play-by-play, Scott Zolak doing color commentary with Rob Ninkovich the sideline reporter and Andy Hart and Paul Perillo providing commentary from the studio.

The stakes are much lower for both teams since they last met in February for the Super Bowl where the Eagles won 41-33 for their first Lombardi Trophy. But although it is just preseason and the score ultimately doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day, each team is looking to accomplish several things and solidify their rosters. WIth the limit at 90 players right now (the Patriots have 89), the teams will have to get down to 53 in just a couple of weeks now. Each team has several spots up for grabs.

Neither Tom Brady, Carson Wentz or Nick Foles played in their team’s preseason opener but all three should see some playing time this week as it is time for the QBs now to work off the rust.

There have been some interesting newsworthy stories this week, especially so since this is a preseason game. Lane Johnson continues to talk smack about and to the Patriots as well as Patriots fans. His “look at me” schtick will no doubt continue after the game as regardless if he plays a down, as he’s a self-styled expert on all things about the Patriots locker room although he’s never played here.

And Philadelphia fans have purchased a billboard on Route 1 leading into the stadium in a hilarious dig at the Patriots similar to the 28-3 trolling New England did to Atlanta. Crazy to see these things before a preseason game.

So from a Patriots perspective, as there is a football game to be played here is our list of things we’ll be looking for this week as the Patriots play the next preseason game against a very good Eagles team.

How Long Will Tom Brady Play? Brady after having his snaps reduced in training camp for about a week has been right back at it this week, looking like he got a typical workload for training camp.

Jim McBride from the Globe reported that Brady was suffering from a sore back last week, although Brady probably could have played if it had been a regular season game, he sat out the 1st preseason contest. He typically doesn’t play in the first one anyway so he was a cheerleader on the sidelines for Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling.

I would expect Brady to play about midway thru the first quarter and try to get some chemistry going with his wide receivers, several of whom are banged up right now. But it is important that Brady gets his own work in before the regular season. This week and next are his two games to knock off the rust. The final preseason game is usually a final look at guys on the bubble and one he normally doesn’t play in. We expect to see him hook up with Rob Gronkowski a bit this week as Gronk sat last week as well.

Wide Receiver Reps Time For Stepping Up: Kenny Britt hasn’t been a full participant all summer and at the end of practices both Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman came up limping a bit. So the WR position has yet to look like the coaches have envisioned it for the regular season thus far. It is imperative that all of the wide receivers get some work in with Brady and build up their chemistry, timing and trust factor with the starting QB. Britt probably won’t play again and it will be interesting to see if Edelman and Dorsett make it on the field this week.

Of course, it is also an opportunity for everyone to showcase their talents, especially those players who are on the bubble. And in the case of Eric Decker, whom the team brought in just a couple of weeks ago, it should be a very important week. Decker is a player who has been very productive in the league but after a couple of serious injuries and at an age where it is fair to wonder if his best days are behind him, Decker is far from a lock at this point. Especially considering that he was just brought in. He doesn’t know the offense well yet and was plagued earlier in the week with several drops. Tonight’s game and next week will be a big measuring stick for him.

Cordarrelle Patterson is another guy who has had a strong camp but hasn’t had a ton of reps with or catches from Brady during the practice sessions. Tonight would be a prime opportunity for him to build some of the trust factor with #12 and work into an integral role in the offense. Ditto for young guns Devin Lucien, Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron.

Will To See See More From Ju’Whaun Bentley and J.C. Jackson: The two rookies both had strong outings in the first professional, albeit, preseason games. Both got off to impressive starts last week against the Redskins and this week, we’ll see if they can continue to build off of that against a much better football team in the Eagles.

Bentley showed the type of physicality on the goal line that the coaches love, where he read the play, and then flew up into the hole and blew up the play for no gain that we expect from Dont’a Hightower. But for a rookie, he showed a surprising level of comfort within the defense to call the plays and wear the green dot communication device. That shows a level of trust from the coaches and also that his development is coming along quickly, something Hightower alluded to early in training camp.

Jackson began turning heads at OTAs this spring and has carried it thru minicamp, training camp and the first preseason game. The UDFA rookie from Maryland has been impressive with his technique and compete level from Day 1 and was thrust early in the process opposite of Stephon Gilmore to show what he could do. The results have been very impressive thus far. He’s definitely in line to earn himself a roster spot on this year’s team and he’ll be a player to watch tonight.

And we could say the same thing about young RB Ralph Webb who looked strong in his professional debut last week. He still has a long way to go, can he parlay a strong performance into added reps and production two weeks in a row.

Jason McCourty’s Time to Shine is Now: Speaking of cornerbacks, the case of Jason McCourty has been a strange one thus far of his time in New England. He has been a regular member of the second rotation at the corner so far during training camp but didn’t play a snap against the Redskins. If the absence was injury related, McCourty didn’t say anything to the media about it.

Of course, Bill Belichick isn’t going to say much on the subject. He waxed mid-season form Bill when approached on McCourty’s lack of playing time last week.

“The guys we play, we play. The guys who didn’t play… didn’t play,” Belichick said on Monday. “We’ll play other guys this week, and we’ll see how it goes.

“We all know I’m not talking about anybody’s injuries, so there’s no point in bringing that up or going through that. Can’t look at everybody every week. There’s just too many guys. Some guys will play one week, some guys will play more the other week.”

We expect to see a lot more of McCourty this week against Philadelphia and perhaps get an extended amount of reps. He did practice with the first team unit on Monday so perhaps it was just a case of Belichick knowing what he has in some players and letting them sit to that he has an opportunity to gauge other players. Tonight will be an interesting one to see what McCourty brings to the table.

Eddie Pleasant or Jordan Richards: Most Patriots fans every summer have Richards circled on the cut list but he’s now in his fourth year with the team. He has been a good STs performer but has struggled mightily when asked to play defense. Last year, because of injuries, he played an extended role defensively and things didn’t go well at all for him, most notably in the Super Bowl. That carried over to the first preseason game against the Redskins where he missed several tackles due to taking a poor angle, something we’ve mentioned time and again here.

Pleasant is an established veteran who played for several years with the Texans as a player who fits the same mold. He’s been a solid STs presence who can fill in defensively when needed. Pleasant has looked better than Richards defensively so far, although that is almost like damning with faint praise. If he can pick up the STs role as well as Richards, he may supplant the veteran from the roster.

Both may see the intriguing rookie tight end Dallas Goedert on the field tonight. We really liked Goedert during the draft process, the rookie from S. Dakota St. had a very impressive debut of his own against the Steelers last week, he caught 4 passes on five targets for 66 yards and a touchdown.

Strong Play on the Edge From Wise/Rivers: The two second-year players on the edge had very solid games a week ago against Washington and we are looking to see more from them as they continue to progress this summer. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn, the Pats are looking to build a solid rotation on the edge, something that was woefully missing last season.

Wise has looked very solid in his second season and appears stronger with a better array of moves in rushing the passer this season. He had a good rookie campaign in 2017 and it was expected that he’d make a big jump in production with a year in the system and getting bigger and stronger in the strength and conditioning program.

Rivers seems completely recovered from his ACL surgery and looks bigger and stronger than he did a year ago after being the team’s top draft choice after coming from a small school in the NFL Draft. He showed good explosion off the line and good speed to power, pushing the offensive tackle backward on roller skates. It was a very encouraging sign that he’s all the way back.

If the team can keep getting similar production from their two 2nd year edge players, one of the bigger worries about the defense, their pass rush should be significantly better in 2018.

New England Patriots News 8-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 12, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-12, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting to back work this afternoon after their first preseason game on Thursday night. Bill Belichick has been taking a slower approach to training camp, having given the players several days off already. Belichick did say that the long 2017 season and the increased workload on the players definitely have an effect on how they approach the workload for the current training camp.

And lost in all the Malcolm Butler hoopla was this. On the Packers first drive of their preseason game against Tennessee, Brett Hundley completed a 48-yard bomb to Davante Adams who blew by Butler, giving the Packers a first and goal at the two. Maybe it is the conspiracy theorist in me, but if Butler had picked it off and went to the house, what would you think the odds would be that the play would have been all over the sports talk radio world?

Quick Hitters:  
With many missed tackles in the first preseason game and some general sloppy tackling all around, one reason (other than rust) could be the lack of live tackling and physicality in practice. It will be interesting to watch if that ramps up a bit now.

Ralph Webb had a really nice night in his professional debut scoring a pair of touchdowns and two, 2-pt conversions.  The former Vanderbilt running back was called up by Bill Belichick for congratulations after the team’s win and in his post-game press conference, Belichick had several compliments for the rookie. Washington lost very promising rookie RB Derrius Guice to a torn ACL for the season in the game. They stated that for the time being, they were going to stay with the players they have. However, Webb is still a longshot to make the 53-man roster. If the Patriots try to sneak him onto the practice squad in a few weeks, don’t be shocked if the Redskins make a move to bring him to their squad after his game this week.

Tom Brady’s $5 million dollar incentive clause into his contract was a head scratcher earlier this week. If earned, that $5 million will vault Brady up into the Top 10 of QB salaries, tied with Blake Bortles but less than Sam Darnold, who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL yet. Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston called it a band-aid fix and we’re inclined to agree here. A look at the list of QBs making more money than Brady, other than Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is a Who’s Who? Of QBs having never accomplished a smidgen of what Brady’s done. So his contract, even at 41 is still a bargain. But tying the $5 million to incentives? Really? I don’t get that one.

Terrible setback for Pats LB Harvey Langi who made the roster in 2017 and then was in an awful car wreck last fall while stopped at a red light. Langi returned this year and had been having a good camp thus far until he took a hit to his side and suffered an internal laceration according to Jeff Howe of the Athletic. Because of concerns to his kidney, he will be out 4-5 weeks.

Very sad news about former Patriots LB Jerod Mayo and his 5-year old Bulldog who went missing after supposedly going for a walk with the dog’s trainer. The family and police searched for the dog and after two months the dog’s body was found in plastic bags inside a closet in the trainer’s house outside of Cranston, RI. The trainer, Amelia Ferreira told Wrentham, MA police the dog Knox, disappeared after slipping his leash at a conservation area in Wrentham. Charges are pending. And hopefully will be severe.

Derek Rivers Looks Strong in First Game Back From ACL Tear:
Less than a year removed from his torn ACL surgery, not only was DE Derek Rivers back on the field, he played at a high level showing good physicality and exceptional strength. The 2nd year player got the start at defensive end and had several good plays.

Derek Rivers during 2016 training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Perhaps his best was when he bull rushed Redskins tackle, John Kling. Rivers exploded off the snap and had Kling on roller skates. He then gave Kling a big shove pushing him into QB Colt McCoy and getting his hand up trying to knock down the pass attempt. The move against Kling is a total body type of movement from Rivers who when asked about his ACL and repaired knee from Henry McKenna of USA Today said, “It felt awesome,” Rivers said. “No complaints. Praise God.”

Make no mistake, the mental part of getting over an ACL injury is the biggest hurdle. This summer I spoke with UMass Medical Center Dr. Brian Busconi, who has performed hundreds of ACL surgeries on MLB and NFL as well as college and high school athletes. It was rumored he performed the surgery on Julian Edelman. Busconi would neither confirm or deny it, however, a signed picture of Edelman hangs in the office and a source of ours passed Edelman in the office earlier this summer. So take it for what it is worth.

Busconi said the surgery was only 30 percent of the fix for the athlete. The other 70 percent was doing the rehab work, strengthening the muscles that will atrophy because of the injury and the resultant layoff and most importantly, the mental hurdle to test the joint once it is ready. Edelman admitted last week he “doesn’t have his football legs” back under him yet. He looks to be in terrific shape, it is probably more a mental block more than anything.

That’s why it was so important for Rivers (and Edelman) to get out on the field and run and cut and do all the things they did without thinking prior to their injury. Rivers looked good for the most part, he also had his not-so-good moments as well. On one play, he ducked his head and lost the running back, who zipped past his gap for a big gain.

However, for the first preseason game and after a year layoff from the field, Rivers took a great big leap back to being part of the edge player rotation. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn expected to be the starters, he and Deatrich Wise could combine and form a much better group at getting after the QB in 2018.

He leaped over the first hurdle. We’ll be watching him next week closely to see if he can continue to improve and produce when the Patriots play the Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason.

Hightower on the Block? Troy Brown Thinks It Could be a Possibility:

The Patriots welcomed back linebacker Dont’a Hightower in his first game action since October after the big man went on IR last season. Hightower played extensively, into the second quarter. At the time, we thought it nothing more than the coaching staff wanting to shake off the rust after not playing for about 10 months. But after the game, former Patriots WR Troy Brown thought the Patriots may be shopping the big LB.

Dont’a Hightower is back and played into the second quarter against Washington. (SBalestrieri photo)

Brown on NBC Sports Boston said, “Sometimes you gotta put people on the market and let people see what they can do.” At first glance, that stance would appear to be ludicrous, no one was more instrumental to the Patriots defense, Hightower was the one player on defense that they could ill afford to lose. While the talk centered around Malcolm Butler after the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, the absence of Hightower was a far greater loss overall.

Brown doubled down on his thought by adding, “You have to ask yourself…why is he still out there so long?” Assuming his take is correct, who would they trade Hightower to and what could they get in return that would help the team? Unless they’re making a push to the Raiders with Hightower a piece of a package for Khalil Mack, then it wouldn’t make sense.

From our view, we’re sticking with the “knocking the rust off”  scenario, but we’ve seen stranger things in Foxboro in the past.  

Bentley Makes a Strong Debut at Linebacker:
Ja’Whaun Bentley, the Patriots fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft wasn’t highly thought of when he was going thru the draft process, in fact, was considered to be a UDFA and wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine. But the Patriots liked what they saw from the big Purdue linebacker in his first NFL preseason action.

Bentley had six tackles, two for a loss and QB hit and should have been credited with a forced fumble that the officials ruled forward progress had been stopped. A play Bill Belichick tried to challenge and when told he couldn’t, said it was “F***ing BS.”

Bentley was considered a Brandon Spikes throwback, a two-down run stuffer who couldn’t cover on passing downs. So far, he’s proving the critics wrong. He has had a strong training camp and followed it up with good performance in the opening PS game.

Rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley has been impressive thus far thru camp, especially in coverage. (SBalestrieri photo)

“I just wanted to come out and put my best foot forward to do the best I could as far as assignments and just make sure all my guys were ready to go,” Bentley said. “And I feel like we did a good job of that. Of course, we got some kinks to work out, but we did a very good job.”

Bentley also had some time calling the signals with the green dot communication device which is a great learning step for a rookie on the defense to be able to learn his responsibilities but also everyone else’s to call out the signals is a testament to his learning the system quickly.

His best play came in the first half. With the Redskins inside the three-yard line, they tried to pound the ball in the middle for a touchdown. Bentley, at his MLB position, read the play, waited for the right time until the RB committed and flew into the hole, dropping him for no gain.

He still has a long way to go but for now, he’s looking very good and appears to be almost a lock for the 53-man roster.

Jeremy Hill Buys In, And Shows Impressive Burst in Opener:
After a disappointing 2017 from Mike Gillislee, the Patriots drafted Sony Michel this spring and then added veteran Jeremy Hill who had lost his starting gig with the Bengals. Hill is bigger (6’1, 230 pounds) than most of the Patriots running backs, but it is something they need for certain situations, (goal line and short-yardage) with the offense.

Hill, whose snaps and numbers have steadily gone down in Cincinnati, at first glance didn’t seem like a good fit. But Hill had surgery to remove some bone spurs in his ankles. He also bought into the Patriots offseason conditioning system and lost weight in an attempt to add a bit of quickness to his step.

Jeremy Hill had a big game on Thursday night and is looking to turn that into a roster spot. (SBalestrieri photo)

He certainly appeared that way on Thursday night, hitting the holes with authority and showing nice vision cutting back against the grain. He appeared much quicker than Gillislee with the ability to convert those short-yardage situations.

His ability to flash in the passing game helped. Facing a 3rd and 8 from the 30-yard line midway thru the third quarter, Hill caught a short pass from QB Brian Hoyer and then made the first tackler miss and was able to convert the first down by stiff-arming a linebacker and then lowering his head and getting past the sticks.

The Patriots insist all of their running backs pass block as well and Hill had a highlight reel play when he planted LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, giving Hoyer time to hit FB Henry Poggi on a check down out of the backfield.

Again, there is a long way to go, but Hill with his performance didn’t do a thing to hurt his chances to not only make the team but earn some significant snaps. Especially with Sony Michel on the shelf for the time being.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Allen Has Buffalo Abuzz After Preseason Debut:
The Buffalo Bills played the Carolina Panthers in their Week 1 preseason opener but it was strictly the Josh Allen show for the fans, and who can blame them? The Bills fans have been waiting for that next franchise QB since Jim Kelly retired. And after moving up to take him in the first round of the NFL Draft this spring, fans are excited.

Head coach Sean McDermott wasted little time in letting Allen uncork his arm which is his strongest asset. He lasered a 60-yard pass downfield on his first snap which was caught by WR Robert Foster but just out of bounds.

Yes, his footwork is inconsistent and his decision making can still be suspect but Allen possesses a cannon for an arm and it as well as his playmaking ability were on full display. He completed 9 of 19 for 119 yards and a touchdown while rushing three times for 29 yards, twice converting third downs with his feet.

For now, he’ll remain the 3rd QB on the depth chart and be the future. But Buffalo fans caught a glimpse of that and can’t wait for him to be the present.

Dolphins Tannehill Aces First Test:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill played his first football since the 2016 season in an albeit short but impressive stint against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tannehill played a series and took the Dolphins into field goal range but the most important feature was that he looked comfortable, cool in the pocket and in control of the offense. The offensive line gave him plenty of time to throw, coach Adam Gase said Tannehill was “back there peeling an orange.” to push home the point.

One thing that the Dolphins seem intent on doing is getting Mike Gesicki the ball in the end zone and that combination with the big rookie TE and Tannehill looks intriguing. We’ll expect to see more of it next week against Carolina.

Jets QBs Shine In Preseason Win Over Atlanta:
The New York Jets unleashed rookie QB Sam Darnold in their preseason opener and the rookie taken with the #3 pick in the draft didn’t disappoint. Darnold shined, completing 13-18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in a little over two-quarters worth of work. He received thunderous applause from the Jets fans and didn’t disappoint, hitting on eight of his first 9 throws.

Teddy Bridgewater on his first action of the season after returning from an injury was also very sharp hitting on 7-9 for 85 yards including a 16-yard touchdown. Coach Todd Bowles said Darnold looked poised out there and it is clear that the Jets organization is going to give Darnold every opportunity to win the starting job over veterans Josh McCown and Bridgewater.

McCown started the game but played only one series and completed the only pass he attempted for four yards. It will be interesting to see how the Jets decide to play this out. While the temptation is there to get Darnold on the field, with two good veterans, there should no attempt to rush him into the starting lineup until he’s ready for it.

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

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

Patriots Ground Game Provides Comeback in 26-17 Win Over Washington

Steve Balestrieri
August 10, 2018 at 7:07 am ET

After the offense looked lost until the final minute and a half of the first half and trailing 17-0, the Patriots offense finally got it going. After Brian Hoyer and Devin Lucien got the air attack going to kick a field goal just before the half, in the second half we saw what the coaches had been having the team practice for most of training camp thus far.

Jeremy Hill and UDFA rookie Ralph Webb keyed a Patriots ground game that pounded the ball relentlessly against the Redskins front seven. There was nothing fancy about it, they just lined up in a two-tight end set and drove the ball down their throat.

With Hoyer under center, the Pats took the second half kick off and ate up over 10 minutes of the clock on an 18-play drive before Hill pushed it in from the one-yard line to make it 17-10. Webb added a pair of touchdowns and two 2-pt conversions as the Pats scored 26 unanswered points to come away with the preseason win.

With Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel not playing in the first preseason tilt, Brian Hoyer started and played into the fourth quarter. He finished with 16 completions in 23 passes for 144 yards. Danny Etling came on in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots defense looked shaky in the first half and Washington and Colt McCoy were gashing them time and again as they were moving seemingly at will. McCoy finished 13-18 for 189 yards with two TDs and 259 yards of offense against a group of ostensibly the Patriots starters.

McCoy found a mismatch with RB Byron Marshall on LB Kyle Van Noy and they converted a third and seven for a 25-yard touchdown that had all of New England having flashbacks to the 2017 season and the Super Bowl.

The timing of the New England offense was really off in the first couple of drives. But give Washington credit. They provided really solid coverage early in the game. Hoyer on several occasions had time to throw but nowhere to throw to.

Hoyer finally got them going late in the half and connected with Lucien to move into Redskins territory where Stephen Gostkowski booted a 52-yard field goal just before the half to get the Pats on the board.

In the second half, it was the running game with Hill and Webb and a chance to see some of the backup defensive players show what they can do. UDFA DE “Tool Box” Trent Harris showed some nice moves getting a tackle for a loss in the backfield and a strip sack. Geneo Grissom alertly picked up the ball and was racing for what appeared to be a touchdown. CB Ryan Lewis began celebrating early and allowed a Redskin player to tackle Grissom at the one-yard line rather than block for him. The film room won’t be kind to Lewis today.

It is their first preseason game so I wouldn’t put too much stock in this one. But here are the Ups and Downs for Week 1.

Players Up:

Jeremy Hill – Hill showed nice burst, vision, and cut-back ability against the grain. Something an established veteran should. He made a nice catch and run in the passing game to convert a third and long. He finished with 51 yards on 11 carries and was impressive in his first outing. Player of the game for New England

Ralph Webb – The rookie running back didn’t do a thing to hurt his chances of sticking with his performance. He ran hard and decisively and made a nice grab of a low throw from Hoyer on the 2-pt try. Two TDs and a pair of 2-pt conversions…good debut.

Devin Lucien – With the Patriots offense looking offensive in the first half, he got them going just before halftime with a couple of catches to put them in position to get some points on the board. Finished with 71 yards on five catches and was easily the best WR on the field for the Pats.

Derek Rivers – Just a year removed from an ACL tear, he started the game at left DE and was moving well. A very encouraging sign. Showed good strength on the edge.

Trent Harris/Keionta Davis – The young players who are longshots to make the roster were playing against the third stringers in the second half, but the important thing was, they were productive. In their first NFL action, each flashed a bit, which is something to build on.

Run blocking OL – The Patriots offensive line in the second half had to have Dante Scarnecchia smiling. They lined up showing run and did just that. When you have a 41-year old QB, a pounding ground game doesn’t hurt.

Ja’Whaun Bentley – The rookie MLB flashed some potential inside to be a guy who could contribute this season. And if he can play, it would free up Dont’a Hightower to move around.

Players Down:

Stephon Gilmore – After an outstanding spring/summer, Gilmore wasn’t the same person on the field Thursday night. He was targeted three times and gave up all three completions.

Mike Gillislee – Slow to the hole, tentative and not productive. In a fight to keep his roster spot with Hill, Gillislee took a big step back tonight. Was stuffed on a couple of 3rd and short runs (sounds familiar?) although he converted a pair of 4th down runs right after.

Riley McCarron – With Etling in the game in the 4th quarter, he felt the pressure from the outside and stepped up in the pocket and delivered a bullet down the seam to McCarron. He let the ball come into his body and the pass bounced off his pads incomplete. Those are drive killers.

Phillip Dorsett – Was the opposite of what we’ve seen thru two weeks of training camp. Was a total non-factor and ran a sloppy route on third down. Not a good start.

Jordan Richards – Out of position (how many times do we say this?) and missed tackles. Was later knocked out with an injury.