The New England Patriots looked much more prepared for the first week of preseason football than the Detroit Lions did. They were sharper, looked in better shape and appeared to be farther along in their installation than their opponents did.
While most of the starters on either team sat this one out, the final score is pretty much immaterial in these matchups. However, it was difficult not to be impressed with the production the Patriots players displayed in the Motor City as they whipped the Lions 31-3.
We wrote in our pregame piece we wanted to see the rookies in the passing game show what they can do in live game action. Jarrett Stidham, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, along with 2nd-year player Braxton Berrios, as well as newcomers Maurice Harris and Matt LaCosse are all going to be counted on at some point to produce when the games matter.
And with a deep and loaded defensive unit, we wanted to see how the edge rushers and secondary men held up. It is safe to say that they passed their first test quite well.
Here are some of our observations from the Patriots first game action of 2019.
Hoyer/Stidham Both Look Very Sharp:
Pats QBs Brian Hoyer and rookie Jarrett Stidham played extremely well in their first game action of the year. Hoyer looked very much in control of the offense, and afforded excellent protection, he was able to go thru his progressions and deliver the ball with good accuracy in the first half.
Hoyer finished 12 of 14 for 147 yards with 2 TD passes. He was very much in command of the offense and it seemed like they could move the ball at will over the Lions’ second-team defense.
Stidham, the rookie 4th round draft pick from Auburn had a very impressive first outing. As we’ve reported from Foxboro since the spring, he throws a very nice football and really puts some spin on it. But learning a new offense for a rookie QB is a daunting task. And he went thru the typical rookie growing pains early in camp.
In Detroit, Stidham looked like a player that already has a firm grasp of the offense. He looked extremely poised and in control, went thru his progressions really well and delivered the ball on-target. While he had a couple of hiccups where he double-clutched the ball, trying not to make a mistake, it was a very impressive debut for the rookie. He completed 14-24 for 174 yards with a TD. arguably, his two best passes, deep balls to Maurice Harris were dropped but could have been flagged for pass interference. But Stidham was justifiably pleased to get his first NFL action under his belt.
“I had a great time,” said Stidham. “This is my first NFL experience, getting to play. There are a lot of things to improve on, but overall it was a lot of fun. It was a great experience.”
Meyers, WRs Answers the Bell in First Game Action:
Jakobi Meyers has been the story of the Patriots training camp thus far, learning the offense and quickly gaining the trust of all of the quarterbacks on the roster. But we live in New England… where regardless of what has transpired, fans have been force-fed to accentuate the negative, “Well can he do it in a game?” has been a common refrain the past two weeks. Well, his first game action was a success.
Meyers isn’t a burner, he isn’t going to wow anyone by blowing the top of the defense. His slow 40 time at the NFL Combine was the reason he went undrafted after a 92-catch season at NC State. But he has a knack for getting open and finding the seams of opponents’ defenses. And he has sticky hands and makes the difficult catches.
He had six catches for 69 yards [Gronkowski approves] and two TDs in a very impressive first effort on Thursday night in Detroit. He mentioned going against a very stout Patriots defense in practice as a positive.
“Even before this week of practice with the Lions, practicing with ourselves for two weeks — I mean, that’s a tough group of guys,” Meyers said. “You see what they did today, the show that they put on today. Going against them, I feel like I got better. I kept trying to take one step forward every day, and I feel like it prepared me for this week and today.”
N’Keal Harry had two very impressive catches before suffering a minor injury but one that kept him out for the rest of the game. Braxton Berrios and Gunner Olszewski both looked impressive in the return game, something that may win them roster spots. Maurice Harris continued his solid camp with three catches including a touchdown from Brian Hoyer.
Yes, the schemes were vanilla and the starters weren’t in there, but all you can ask for your players in this situation to do is produce….and they did. Moving on to Tennessee.
Defense Smothers Lions All Night:
The Patriots defense was very impressive all night long holding Detroit to under 100 total yards of offense, , just 21 passing and allowing just a late field goal after going up by 31. Good stout run defense, excellent play in the secondary and a fearsome pass rush defanged the Lions all night long.
Derek Rivers led the way with 2 sacks, Chase Winovich, playing in front of many hometown fans chipped in with 1.5 and looked very impressive. Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Shalique Calhoun, Terez Hall, Ja’Whaun Bentley each had one sack while Byron Cowart chipped in with a half-sack.
The depth of the defense, something we’ve been harping on all spring and summer was on full display Thursday night.
“You saw me make the play maybe on a couple of occasions today, but really, we have so many guys up front,” Winovich said. “Sacks are very contagious. It’s a great thing anytime you can make a play and get the fans, even though we are in an opposing stadium I guess, and get your team into it. You really get into a groove feeling the game out. We are just playing great team defense I think”
Again, it is just a first step, but this was a very impressive one.
Hate to Be a Debbie Downer….But:
It wasn’t all roses on Thursday night. FIrst, on the injury front. Harry left with what appears to be a minor injury, but that will bear watching. Matt LaCosse went down in bad pain grasping his lower leg/ankle and didn’t return. Keion Crossen left with what appeared to be a concussion.
Rivers played well after he made a bad mistake in getting past the QB and allowing him to scramble for big yardage. He got an earful from Bill Belichick on the sideline after that one. But his play after that was a huge positive.
Joejuan Williams was really solid in the secondary and outstanding in the running game but then took a very stupid penalty by throwing a runner to the ground well out of bounds…he’ll hear about that in the film session tomorrow.
Overall, this performance on Thursday night capped off a productive week of joint practices and their first preseason game. It gave them plenty to build off of…we’re on to Tennessee next week.
The Patriots are wrapping up their final joint practice with the Lions on Wednesday and then all of the attention will turn to the first preseason game of the year. With that said, we should finally get a look at the Patriots rookie players with the real numbers that they’ll be wearing this season.
Don’t expect to see any of Tom Brady and most of the starting lineups in Thursday’s game, they’ll get eased more into the next two games. This one is usually about the rookies and the new players to the roster. Expect to see a lot of QB Jarrett Stidham in this one.
*For you who have been going to training camp, the following are the jersey numbers of the Patriots rookies for the game, unlike the funky numbers they’ve been wearing in training camp.
#4 Jarrett Stidham QB #7 Jake Bailey P #9 Gunner Olszewski WR/KR #10 N’Keal Harry WR #16 Jakobi Meyers WR #19 Ryan Davis WR #33 Joejuan Williams CB #37 Damien Harris RB #41 D’Angelo Ross DB #42 Nick Brossette, RB #42 Malik Gant, S #47 Ken Webster CB #50 Chase Winovich Edge #63 Martez Ivey OL #64 Hjalte Froholdt G #65 Yodny Cajuste T #67 Tyler Gauthier, OL #68 Tyree St. Louis OL #86 Andrew Beck TE #99 Byron Cowart DL
So, with all of the roster number hoopla out of the way, what exactly are we looking for after preseason Week 1?
Come Back to Foxboro Healthy:
Injuries are part of the game and we know they are inevitable, but the last thing you want to see is a player from either team going down with an injury. Just two years ago it was there in Detroit when Julian Edelman made a cut and went down with a torn ACL without being contacted. It ended his season before it began and may have cost the team down the road in Super Bowl LII.
So, while the coaches want to see their players perform well in all three phases of the game, coming out of the game as intact as possible, health-wise will be paramount.
Watching Stidham and Young Receivers in the Passing Game:
Stidham was drafted by the Patriots with little fanfare, he was hardly thought to be one of the best QB prospects in the draft. Part of the issue was the terrible offensive system they ran at Auburn. Stidham still has a long, long way to go but has been progressing nicely in camp and had a really good day on Tuesday’s joint practice.
Now, he’ll get to put his foot in the water for his first NFL game action. Thus far, he’s had a typical rookie spring/summer with issues holding the ball too long and trying to learn an entire new offensive system, to some sessions where he’s thrown the ball well.
And he’s got a plethora of receivers who are new to the Patriots. Unfortunately, top draft pick N’Keal Harry may not be among them. Harry tweaked a hamstring in Tuesday’s practice session, so he may be held out of this one…it will bear watching.
But rookies Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis, 2nd-year man Braxton Berrios, as well veteran newcomers Maurice Harris, and Dontrelle Inman are getting their first reps in Patriots uniforms.
Meyers is generating a ton of buzz around his play and his early grasp of the Patriots playbook but Berrios, who had a strong spring and a frustrating beginning to camp has shown signs of life against the Lions secondary. These preseason games will tell the tale of who earns more reps and carves out a role on the roster.
Harris and Inman are veterans but want to put forward solid contributions in preseason working against mainly vanilla coverages to earn more reps with Brady, who is doubtful to make an appearance.
Rookie Damien Harris has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield during camp sessions. It will interesting to see if the coaches decide to use him and Brandon Bolden in that capacity in their first game action of 2019.
Running Game Can Be Hit or Miss:
The problem with trying to judge running backs, and Harris should see a ton of action along with Nick Brossette and Jakob Johnson, is that the back-up offensive lines are in the game. And it frequently occurs that the offense can sputter in running situations as the backups don’t have the reps together to work in harmony with one another.
However, I’m intrigued to watch what Harris and Brossette can do. Brossette will have a very tough time cracking the 53-man roster as the position is loaded this year. But I liked what I saw of him in college and thus far in limited reps. He’s playing for a practice squad role.
Brandon Bolden is one of our favorite Patriots players to watch. The reserve running back and special teams ace should also see quite a bit of action in the preseason opener both in the running and passing game.
Special Teams Battle:
As much as I thought Ryan Allen could have made a case for Super Bowl LIII MVP, I’ve been sold on Jake Bailey since minicamp. He has a leg that puts distance and incredible hang time into the ball which almost puts it into the outer marker for Logan. He and Allen are battling it out for the punter’s job in 2019. While Bailey has the much stronger leg, Allen’s forte is directional punting and consistency, where he has the edge over the rookie.
One thing to watch all thru the preseason is kickoffs. Bailey is adept at it as well as being an emergency field goal kicker. He’s shared duties with Stephen Gostkowski on kickoffs in camp thus far and it could make a difference in the final cutdown.
Defense As a Whole, But Keep an Eye on the Secondary:
The Patriots defense looks to be much better, deeper and more versatile than last year’s unit. While many of the starting members may only play sparingly, the guys that really bear watching are the new players or those fighting for roster spots.
Chase Winovich has stepped up his game in the practices with the Lions, it promises to be intriguing to see A. How they use him and B. How well he does in his first game action. The rookie from Michigan looks to be a very promising player. Shilique Calhoun, we wrote the other day is having a very solid camp. He continued his strong play against the Lions and has a chance to earn more reps as camp progresses.
Other edge players on the bubble and bear watching are Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman. All of them have played well so far but need to step it up during the next four weeks.
In the secondary, with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty known quantities, the guys we really want to see are new 2nd round pick Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and D’Angelo Ross at cornerback.
At safety, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, and Malik Gant are all vying for roster spots behind Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon. Both Brooks and Melifonwu have played well and have gotten reps with the starting unit.
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-16 and AFC East notes this week. And a Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there.
While anyone can become a father, the word Dad means so much more. My own Dad never gave me much advice but the way he conducted himself every day and the way he treated everyone around him was all the example that was ever needed.
Bill Belichick – decided to cancel the final two days of OTAs last week and on the first day, took the players out to a team-building exercise…a paintball range. Belichick supposedly took out Kyle Van Noy with a headshot, the linebacker told Dont’a Hightower his tooth hurt where Bill nailed him. In cooler weather, those tend to hurt even more.
Michael Roberts – the Patriots traded for the Lions tight end on Thursday, but he failed his physical on Friday and the trade was voided. He was placed on IR last year for a shoulder injury. Upon reverting back to the Lions, Roberts was released.
Tom Brady – heard about a high school senior who missed his graduation while in the hospital and Brady sent him a video message. Shaun Patterson was suffering from a congenital heart defect and was the recipient of a heart transplant. Brady heard about it and sent the Missouri teen a message. You can watch the clip here:
Zdeno Chara – While the Bruins Game 7 loss to St. Louis will sting all summer long, the Bruins captain was as tough and gritty as they come. It was revealed later that Chara’s jaw was fractured in two places when he was hit by a puck in Game 4. He tried to return that night but doctors wouldn’t clear him but did return and play in Games 5-7. At 42 years old, he’s no longer the Bruins best defenseman but he’s what being a captain is all about. Get well soon Big Z.
Pat Bowlen – RIP to the Broncos long-time owner who passed away on Friday at age 75. He turned around the franchise and brought them a winner.
Thoughts on the Caserio Mess With Houston:
In the end, the Houston Texans declined to pursue any further contact with Nick Caserio and the Patriots have removed their charges of tampering against the Texans. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle was the first to report the development that there is a clause in Caserio’s contract that would stop other teams from pursuing him.
The Texans released a statement from Texans owner Carl McNair.
“When we started the process to interview Nick Caserio for our EVP/GM position, we consulted the League office on numerous occasions, followed the procedures outlined in the League’s rules and believed we were in full compliance,” McNair said. “We have now been made aware of certain terms in Nick’s contract with the Patriots,” McNair added in the statement. “Once we were made aware of these contract terms, I informed Mr. Kraft that we would stop pursuing Nick.”
The pursuing of Caserio reportedly began at the Patriots ring ceremony at Robert Kraft’s home. Jack Easterby, the former Patriots character coach and now part of the Texans organization (Executive VP for Team Development) had allegedly made overtures toward Caserio. He reportedly did so before the Texans asked the Patriots permission to interview for their GM position.
The interesting thing is the timing. The next morning, that Friday, Houston fired their GM Brian Gaine after one season. Gaine went 11-5 in his only season at the helm of the Texans and had just completed the NFL Draft. It has also been reported that Gaine was targeting and firing black employees of the staff, which will be looked at as well.
Houston tried last year to interview Caserio after then-GM Rick Smith stepped away to be with his wife during her cancer treatments. The Patriots rebuffed that approach and denied them the opportunity to interview Caserio.
The statement by McNair answered one of the questions surrounding this entire mess.
Other Questions About Caserio Matter:
“How could the Patriots allow this to happen, possibly losing Caserio?” Well, with the language inserted in there, it certainly seems like they have protected themselves against this scenario. But in reality, this entire mess could have easily been avoided.
Had the Patriots given Caserio the title of an equivalent position, (former Patriot front office man Scott Pioli was the VP of Player Development) and a raise, this entire situation never comes to fruition.
“Did the Texans knowingly tamper with Caserio?” Again, no one knows for sure. It is strictly innuendo. However, if Easterby did, in fact, make overtures to Caserio at Kraft’s house, as was implied, before asking the team permission, then yes they did. Another interesting tidbit is the fact that Easterby and Caserio share the same agent. Wouldn’t the Texans know that there is language inserted in his contract that would preclude him from being pursued? Especially given how close Caserio is with both Easterby and O’Brien?
One would think so. And in Houston, Caserio wouldn’t have the final say in the formation of the 53-man roster. That rests with O’Brien.
“Do the Patriots Have Their Succession Plan in Place?” Another good question. The answer is yes and no. It would seem like Josh McDaniels is the next head coach in waiting for the Patriots when Bill Belichick finally decides to retire. Caserio would be the obvious choice for the GM position. But he’s only signed thru the 2020 season. That will have to be rectified…and soon. He previously was interviewed for the Miami and San Francisco GM positions.
Caserio has a unique job in that he wears many hats for the team. While officially the Director of Player Personnel, he has a direct line during game days …to McDaniels in the headsets and advises him on situations unfolding during games. That is unheard of for a man with his title.
He has held many positions in his years with the team, personnel assistant, offensive coaching assistant, area scout, director of pro personnel, wide receivers coach as well as his current position. During minicamp, he was throwing passes to wide receivers.
Bill Belichick has said on numerous occasions that Caserio does much more than his job description states.
“Nick does a great job,” Belichick said last winter. “He does a lot of different things for us. I’m sure he does more than anybody in the league at his position in terms of his interaction with the team, the coaching staff, and the college and pro scouting. He’s involved in a lot of different things and does a great job at all of them. His job description would be several pages.”
One thing is for certain. There is no way the Patriots could have afforded to lose Caserio this summer. With all of the other losses of the coaching staff, this would have been a huge blow. Now they need to lock him up long-term for the future regime. Stay tuned.
Michael Bennett Could Be An Under-the-Radar Addition in 2019:
The Patriots lost Trey Flowers in free agency to the Lions this spring when he signed a monster deal that he wasn’t going to get in Foxboro. But they traded just a fifth-round draft choice for Michael Bennett and a seventh rounder. And although Bennett turned 33 in November he had nine sacks for the Eagles in 2018 plus another one in their two playoff games.
So while the production from last season is about the same as Flowers, it was the versatility of Flowers that will be missed. He could line up all over the formation and play any number of roles that the defense would ask of him.
Super Bowl XLIX:
Rewind the tape to Super Bowl XLIX, on the Patriots first four offensive snaps, Bennett lined up at four different positions, left defensive end, left defensive tackle, right defensive end, and right defensive tackle. And he pressured Tom Brady on three of those plays.
Bennett is at the age where most edge rushers (emphasis on most), seem to begin to lose their ability to produce. We didn’t see anything, however, from Bennett last year that he was approaching that level, despite his age. In fact, one could make the argument that he was the Eagles best pass rusher down the stretch last year.
The fire still burns bright for him as he is hungry for another championship. It is tough to gauge the big men on the offensive and defensive lines in minicamp. The real test for them begins with training camp begins.
But one area that Bill Belichick has always had a high percentage of hitting on is his ability to recognize and identify veteran players who can fill important roles for far less money and cap space. We believe Bennett will be another case of that.
Patriots-Lions Teaming Up for Joint Practices This Summer:
The Patriots are set to begin training camp around the July 25 timeframe, and prior to the first preseason game against the Detroit Lions, the two teams are going to conduct three joint practices. Former Pats DC Matt Patricia, like his mentor Bill Belichick, has a healthy respect for the value of joint practices and it seemed like a no-brainer that the two teams would hook up this summer.
The Lions announced on their website the dates and times for the joint practices:
The Detroit Lions 2019 Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage will open at the team’s headquarters and training facility in Allen Park for a 13th-straight year beginning July 25. There will be three practices exclusive to season ticket members and eight practices free and accessible to all fans. This year’s camp will also feature three joint practices with the New England Patriots prior to the Preseason Week 1 matchup at Ford Field (Thursday, Aug. 8; 7:30 p.m. ET).
With the three joint practices will take place at their Allen Park training facility on Monday-Weds. August 5,6, and 7 with practice beginning at 9:30 a.m. on each day. The gates will open at 8:30 a.m. Any Patriots fans looking to see the preseason game can plan their trip accordingly.
Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:
Bills Buck Trend And Remain Traveling For Training Camp:
The Buffalo Bills are one of the teams that remains convinced that traveling away to training camp is the right way to go. They believe that their team-building and the opportunity for players to become the best versions of themselves are best served while going away for camp.
One can make the argument for or against such a move, but both head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane are both on-board with that decision. On the Bills website, they both spelled out their reasoning behind the decision.
“First and foremost, we love going up to Rochester,” McDermott said. “We love going to Fisher. I think it’s a great venue for an NFL training camp. I think that the people and staff are first class. I’ve been around before when you go to a campus when you’re wanted contractually but not wanted maybe once you’re there. They open up their home to us. We love going up there. I love my early morning runs up there.”
Seating a challenge:
“The challenge a little bit is some of the location and the fields as it relates to the public practices,” McDermott added. “We’d love to make everything public, quite honestly. We’re just not able to do that necessarily with the physical location of things and trying to rotate fields and space.”
“It’s just when you go to that other field, that’s not the main one, it’s not conducive for the fans,” Beane said in reference to the grass field behind the St. John Fisher Fieldhouse. “It’s just hard to do that. It’s not fair for us to advertise — they don’t know which fields. We wouldn’t want someone driving multiple hours, bring kids and there’s no seating.”
Flores Changing the Dolphins Culture A Piece at a Time:
The Miami Dolphins have a new sheriff in town named Brian Flores and he knows that the rebuilding process takes time. But he also knows that the ownership group isn’t going to be overly generous with the time it takes to build a winner. They’re frustrated through years of mediocrity and are hungry for a winning team and attitude.
Flores saw what he perceives as a loose ship in South Beach and is trying to emulate the workman-like culture he was a part of in New England. And he didn’t waste any time in bringing that attitude to Miami.
Takes No Talent:
Flores trademark is the T.N.T. mantra (Takes No Talent), to build a winning attitude. The core values are hard work, discipline, and respect. It is easy to see some of the Patriot-way infused in Flores’ beliefs, but he’s put his own spin on it.
“I tell my players this — I can go out there and get conditioned if I just go out there and run every day. I’m not going to do that, not like they do; but I could do that,” Flores said, in a piece on ESPN.
“Any of us in here can do that. That really takes no talent; it just takes hard work, effort,” Flores said. “Everybody talks about, ‘This guy is talented; that guy is talented.’ The talent on the team and a lot of things in this game come down to focus, execution, not making a bad penalty. Really, that’s not a talent issue. It’s a focus issue; it’s a mindset issue. I try to, and us as a staff, we try to make an emphasis on those specific things. Things that take no talent, I think those are the details that help you win games.”
Little by little, Flores is putting his own stamp on things in Miami. By changing their work habits, discipline, and the overall culture, Flores is trying to speed up the rebuilding process.
Jets DC Williams Looking To Aggressively Use His Star Players:
The new defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, Gregg Williams has had seven different stops as defensive coordinator and one stint as a head coach, with the Buffalo Bills. And his units are always aggressive. And with a core of special players on defense, he has with Leonard Williams, Jamal Adams, and C.J. Mosely, the Jets will no doubt be aggressive again in 2019. And by adding arguably the best player in the draft in Quinnen Williams at DT, the Jets defense can be very tough this season.
Speaking of Mosely who the Jets signed as a free agent this spring, Williams raved about his play.
Leads by Example:
“He’s a really good leader and he leads by example first. All the great leaders that I’ve ever been a part of, have to show great example before you open your mouth, so he’s always doing that,” Williams said of Mosely.
“He’s always done that, he’s not an extremely highly vocal guy but he sets the example by how he goes about doing his job and he understands the routine of being a pro, being a real pro. Williams is excited about the flexibility now of all a sudden even being more of a quarterback of the defense and having the checks and the audible systems and the things that we teach. He’s been very good and it will be fun.”
In regard to Leonard Williams, his new DC is licking his chops at unleashing him on the competition. “I’m really looking forward to cutting him loose and he was high on my list to get a chance to draft,” he said to Jets.com.
“There is a drastic difference in just the philosophy of how we play up front and he’s had some really great springs, can’t wait to get him in pads and ready to go,” Williams said of the 25-year old. “But he’s another one I’m excited about the opportunity to help him be as good as he can be.”
“It is a wise father that knows his own child.” William Shakespeare
Several Detroit press outlets are reporting that the Lions are parting with tight end Michael Roberts and trading him to the Patriots for a late-round draft pick.
Roberts has been with the Lions since 2017 and has flashed promise but his career thus far has been beset by injuries. Roberts was red zone machine at Toledo, catching 16 touchdowns his senior year but hasn’t been able to stay on the field.
In 2018, he caught nine passes for 100 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. He suffered a knee injury early in the season and later a shoulder injury that put him on IR. This past offseason, the Lions signed free agent tight end Jesse James from the Steelers and then added T.J. Hockenson from Iowa with the #8 pick in the draft. Later adding Isaac Nauta from Georgia. They also have Logan Thomas, the converted QB/TE.
Now with the Patriots, Roberts will be given a chance to carve out a role for himself once training camp begins. His availability will be the biggest question mark facing him with the Patriots. It never seemed to be a talent issue.
He’ll enter Foxboro with a clean slate but if he suffers any setbacks in camp this summer, it won’t bode well for his chances.
While not shocking at all, it was nevertheless a blow to the Patriots as they waved goodbye and good luck to starting left tackle Trent Brown, who after one year is moving back to the Bay Area after agreeing to a big money deal with the Oakland Raiders.
It was more difficult, however, to part with Trey Flowers, the Patriots best defensive player on their front seven for the past several years and a consummate pro who spoke softly but led by his example on the field.
There is no way that the Patriots were going to match either offer. Call Brown and Flowers victims of the “Patriot Way”, where the team will not become enamored with any particular player. They’ll place a value on each player and will rarely if ever go over that amount when it comes to compensation.
It is why year after year, we watch players who came to Foxboro leave for big money contracts, much more than they would have received here. And it is also why, most of the big name, high-dollar free agents don’t sign here. So, every spring Patriots fans gnash their teeth in frustration over “the big fish that got away.”
It is also why, because the team won’t overspend for free agents that Patriots fans are glued to their television sets in late January and February every season. Because of their fiscal responsibility, they’ve been able to compete every year. The Patriots have been in the AFC Championship Game nine years in a row and have been in four of the past five Super Bowls. That isn’t a fluke. The Patriots build a complete team of 53 players every year. Because they won’t overspend and get into a bidding war over individual players, they’re able to sustain their success over the long haul.
It is why March is usually not fun to be a Patriots fan but February can be glorious. Which would you rather have?
Brown came to the Patriots with plenty of questions a year ago. Nobody…but the coaches were sure that he could play left tackle. But he hooked up OL coach Dante Scarnecchia and he parlayed that into a terrific 2018 season. Now he’s rewarded with a four-year deal worth $66 million dollars with $36.75 million guaranteed. He’s now the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Take a bow Dante…you’ve done it again.
Flowers came to the Patriots in the 2015 NFL Draft in the 4th round with the 101st pick that year. But he impressed right from the start and even when the Patriots had him tucked away in the far left corner of the locker room when they expand for training camp, one could sense that he wasn’t going to be tucked away for long.
Flowers cashed in and has agreed to a four-year deal that is reportedly paying him between $16-17 million per year with the Detroit Lions and will join former NE defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who also signed former Pats WR Danny Amendola as well.
The Tennessee Titans supposedly outbid the Patriots for the services of free agent wide receiver Adam Humphries to the tune of a four-year deal worth $36 million. Humphries is a guy we said on these pages would have been a great fit in the Patriots offense. But he opted for the bigger payday with the Titans. It is the nature of the beast.
With the contracts of NFL players largely not guaranteed with their career spans in many cases woefully short, one should never fault the players for taking care of their future. In Brown and Flowers’ cases, the money they got was far beyond what the Patriots were going to offer. Nobody is going to argue that. How many of us would turn down millions of dollars? Not many I’d bet.
So what’s next for the Pats? Free agency in reality hasn’t even begun yet, because the league with their ridiculous “legal tampering period” has deemed that none of the deals are binding until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday when the league year officially begins.
So, with free agency beginning and the draft around the corner, the team will try to address these as well as other holes to fill. In Brown’s case, his replacement is already here. Isaiah Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago and he’ll team up with Scarnecchia and get to work on becoming the new left tackle. He tore an Achilles tendon in preseason last year, but is expected to be ready to go once training camp begins this summer.
Brown’s departure will also impact on how the Patriots may value swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who is also a free agent. A valuable, versatile, tough player, Waddle was re-signed a year ago but played little due to the offensive line remaining healthy in 2018. But now bringing him back makes a lot more sense. He can play on either side, is an established, solid veteran and now will be one of the team’s priorities.
Replacing Flowers is more problematic. His greatest gift was his versatility. He was very good at rushing from and setting the edge. But he really made hay by rushing from the interior when they’d slide him inside on passing downs. He was tailor-made for the Patriots defense and their style of playing.
The blow was lessened a bit by the trade for Michael Bennett who came over from the Philadelphia Eagles with a 7th round pick in 2020 for the Patriots fifth rounder next year. Bennett is more productive from a pure pass rusher perspective but will he be able to do all of the things Flowers was tasked? We’ll see. But at 33, while still very productive, his shelf life will probably be a year or two at the most here.
At least for now, Deatrich Wise will be looked at to provide more in terms of every down production. He played just under 60 percent of the snaps last year. The team also has Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris, and 2017 top draft choice Derek Rivers. Rivers tore his ACL in his rookie training camp and missed all of that year. Last year he came back but flashed very little. The 2019 season will be a very big year for him moving forward.
There are still some intriguing names in free agency in terms of pass rushing edge players including Justin Houston, Cameron Wake and Ezekiel Ansah. Although the prices for each of them may preclude any from coming to New England. The Patriots will no doubt be looking at the draft to find the next Flowers.
It is a fact of life, that when the team has success in February, others will try to poach your best players and coaches from your roster. It is the way of the league in March. And it is just beginning.
Kyle Van Noy, From Bust to Key Cog in the Patriots Defense
There’s nothing like a change of scenery to alter one’s perceptions is there? For a player like Kyle Van Noy, that change of scenery in 2016 marked the first of three straight Super Bowl seasons he’s enjoyed.
And Van Noy was arguably the most impressive player the Patriots had on defense in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.
But much more than the change of venue, it is the career resurgence he’s had – on the field that has been astounding. The Lions took Van Noy with the 40th pick in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft and used him as a DE. It was a position that he was not suited for and it showed in his production.
After having core surgery which ruined his rookie season, he was moved to the SAM or strong side LBer role. He didn’t play much in his sophomore season either but was playing a larger role and starting in his third. However, the Lions were ready to move on from him.
The Patriots traded their 6th round draft pick (#217) for Detroit’s 7th rounder and Van Noy at the trade deadline in 2016. The Lions used that pick on Miami QB Brad Kaaya. It is a trade that was an absolute steal for the Patriots.
The Patriots took their time with him and he went from a healthy scratch to a sub-package linebacker in his first few weeks. But Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff did what they always do, they didn’t dwell on what Van Noy doesn’t do well, they focused more on putting him in positions where he’d succeed. And he has. Just a few weeks after the trade, Van Noy intercepted Rams QB Jared Goff, something the linebacker hopes he can replicate in about 10 days. By the Super Bowl against the Falcons, he was on the field for nearly 65 percent of the defensive snaps and had a half-sack, half of a tackle for a loss and a QB hit.
Last season with Dont’a Hightower on the shelf, Van Noy, despite having a nagging leg injury of his own he started 12 of 13 games for the Pats and was third on the team on the team in tackles with 73 and second on the defense in sacks with 5.5. Van Noy wore the green-dot communication device on the field and was asked to fill in at a number of different roles for the defense which went to and lost last year’s Super Bowl.
This summer during training camp, Bill Belichick spoke on how much Van Noy has grown into his role here in New England. “Kyle’s done a really good job for us. He was a player that didn’t start his career here, but has come in and really understood the way that we try to do things,” said Belichick. “He’s embraced it. He’s become very much of a leader in doing his job and doing it the right way but also helping other guys, particularly guys that transition on to the team as he did. He has a good perspective for that.”
“He’s been very durable, and dependable,” Belichick added. “He’s a smart football player. He’s versatile, can do a lot of different things defensively and in the running game, in the passing game, and in the kicking game. He’s got a good skill set, and he’s a smart player with experience and can fill a lot of different roles for us. Hard to find players like that. He’s been a valuable guy for us.”
This year, with a healthy Hightower playing in every game this season, Van Noy has been mostly terrific on the Patriots defense. The unit had their bumps on the road, especially early in the season, but they’ve been getting progressively better and since the bye week has been much, much better.
Against the Chargers Van Noy and Hightower were outstanding. With the Patriots trying to pressure Philip Rivers, the two were instrumental in disguising and creating pressure in the “Amoeba Defense” while keeping the Bolts offensive line off balance.
Last week against the Chiefs, as we said in our podcast this week, Van Noy was outstanding, he was flying all over the field, he made a game-high 10 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, five run stops and six QB pressures.
Thru it all, Van Noy has maintained a good relationship with the media and a great one with his teammates despite what one local radio talk show host continues to say about his “arrogance” off the field. Having been down there at Gillette, albeit infrequently, we’ve never seen that type of attitude as depicted. Van Noy has always been polite, funny and willing to talk.
This week in preparing to face the Rams, he was asked if he enjoys proving people wrong. He smiled and said, he’d rather prove people right, …family, teammates, and coaches who believe in one another and have each other’s backs. The entirety of that interview can be seen on Patriots.com here:
If the Patriots are to be victorious next Sunday, they’ll need another big performance both offensively and defensively. And rest assured, Van Noy will also play a big part of that. He’s been a steal for the team and winning a second Super Bowl in three years would be proving a ton of people right.
The Patriots were beaten badly for the second week in a row, and if possible, this one was more ugly than the last one. We’ve gotten used to these rotten apples in September before and the coaches always seem to get things figured out. But they face pretty much a must-win this week against 3-0 Miami. And there are lots of issues to fix right now on this team.
With no running game, wide receivers who can’t get separation and the inability to stop the run, you have a recipe for losing football. And they were again dominated at the line of scrimmage.
So, once again the players won’t be rushing up to garner their grade sheets after this one. Burn the game film of this one, this was particularly bad..
Tom Brady was visibly frustrated after the game and seemed to be pointing his finger at Josh McDaniels decision to force feed Sony Michel the ball this week in an attempt, not to shake the rust off, but to burn it off. Brady said, that James White, who had the Patriots’ only touchdown Sunday night needs more touches. “He’s got to be involved. The guys who can make plays, those are the ones who should be involved.”
Brady badly forced a deep ball to Phillip Dorsett who was double covered and the pass was picked off. And with no one getting open in the short to intermediate game, he was forced to take deep shots down the field.
Running Backs: C-
The Patriots were obviously forcing the issue with Michel, and while he had just 50 yards on 14 carries, on many plays, there was absolutely nowhere to run, (wasn’t that a song by Martha and the Vandellas?). He also had a costly drop in the passing game. Michel will get it going, this is just his second game after missing almost a month of practice and all of the preseason. But the team is limited right now and hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later.
Rex Burkhead was limited again and left with concussion issues…sigh. James White was once again the most dependable back on the field. White made a nice catch in the back of the end zone while the defender had tight coverage…which we’ve come to expect from him.
Wide Receivers: D-
The wide receivers are struggling big time and they’re not winning the one-on-one matchups. After a couple of decent performances, Dorsett didn’t register a catch even though Brady threw to him five times.
Hogan had a couple of catches and Patterson had one along the sideline. But the issue is, they are all complimentary receivers and they’re good ones. But none are able to assume the mantle of a top WR in this offense.
The Patriots get back Julian Edelman after the Miami game and have Josh Gordon waiting in the wings. Will it be enough? We shall see.
Tight Ends: C
Rob Gronkowski was blanketed by the Lions who were treating him and rightfully so as the primary target and they’d be right. He had a detail assigned to shadow him like the President. With Jacob Hollister getting injured this week, it took away another possible weapon for Brady to target. But what Gronk needs is others to step up. He can’t be the only game in the pattern.
Dwayne Allen isn’t used in the passing game as a target and is strictly a blocker, at a time when they desperately need weapons. And he got blown up by Tavon Wilson (remember him?) on a third and short running play. That one stung.
Offensive Line: C-
The offensive line did a good job in pass protection. The Lions sacks were mainly those of the coverage variety. One sack Brady held the ball for almost 5-6 seconds.
However, the run game blocking was for the most part atrocious. If you look at the stats, 89 yards on 19 carries, it doesn’t look so bad, but that would be a mirage. The Pats have for years ran to the right behind Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason. And those two were beaten consistently which is troubling.
On third and 1, Mason was blown up by Ricky Jean-Francois (remember him too?), and Michel was stuffed. On another, to the right side the Lions swooped in and blew up the play in the backfield. And this was from a team allowing an average of 179.5 yards per game.
Defensive Line: D
The defensive line was manhandled at the point of attack as the Lions obliterated the right side of the Patriots defense consistently with their running game, their other “supposed” weakness. Frank Ragnow had Malcom Brown on roller skates all night, consistently pushing him deep into the second level. On one play, Brown and Keionta Davis were driven so far to the left that they almost were out of screenshot. So, Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions running back in five years to rush for 100 yards.
The pass rush for the second straight week was MIA. Matthew Stafford had all day to throw. The team missed Trey Flowers but the others have to step up and show something. Deatrich Wise had a lone bright spot, beating Taylor Decker on a nice inside move to sack Stafford when the score was 13-10 and they actually had hope.
The Pats run defense is now second worst in the NFL allowing 143 yards per game….ugh.
This was an absolutely awful game for the linebackers who appeared to be running in cement. They couldn’t cover the backs in the passing game and were late or ineffective at clogging the wide open holes in run support.
Perhaps the most troubling of the players is Dont’a Hightower. He looks really slow right now and he is far from his normally very physical self on the field. They tried to move him around as a pass rusher but he was ineffective there as well. It may soon become the time to question whether maybe his multitude of injuries are catching up with him.
Ja’Whaun Bentley had the only splash play with a nice interception of Stafford when he had excellent position on tight end Luke Wilson.
The secondary was missing two starters in Pat Chung and Eric Rowe and their defensive approach was obvious because of it. Chung was really missed in run support where he is a sure tackler and that was an area that the defense as a whole struggled with on Sunday.
Stafford wasted no time exploiting rookie Keion Crossen on a third and long, matched up with Marvin Jones. Duron Harmon blew a coverage where he was supposed to take Jones from Stephon Gilmore and stayed put allowing a long touchdown pass. Watching the game tape again, there was no Lions receiver on that side even in the zip code. These simple communication mistakes are correctable but that one stung.
Special Teams: C
Cordarrelle Patterson got a nice 42-yard return to start the game when it looked like they may actually start fast. But the coverage units were a bit leaky again and were fortunate to have a 32-yard punt return called back for a penalty.
Where in the world were the defensive adjustments? Bueller? Bueller? They didn’t seem to try much. After being gashed by the run for three quarters they switched up to a 3-4 look for a short time, but by keeping the two safeties back to protect against the deep passing, the Lions ran right at their front seven and dominated totally.
The team played with no urgency, no fire and that is on Bill Belichick. The offensive game plan had some serious question marks and the play calling was very suspect in this one.
Apparently, the message wasn’t sent or received this week. After a disastrous first quarter in Jacksonville last week, the prevailing theme was the Patriots needed to show much more urgency and energy to start this week’s primetime game against the Detroit Lions. The Lions were entering 0-2, players and fans were already rumbling about new coach Matt Patricia and a quick start it was thought would get the crowd and players doubting themselves…. Well, that didn’t happen. At all.
If anything the Patriots got out to an even worse start than in Jacksonville and you can’t blame the 99-degree heat and Florida zip code for this week’s debacle. Once again the Patriots were manhandled at the line of scrimmage badly as Detroit could do whatever it pleased on both sides of the ball and the results spoke for themselves as they cruised to 26-10 mauling of the Pats on Sunday Night Football.
While the pregame hype had more people watching Josh Gordon play catch with a Patriots coach than t.v. cameras looking for a puff of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, they should have been watching the warmups for the offensive and defensive lines. Because for the second week in a row they were a no-show. Black smoke coming up for them.
The Patriots have some serious issues along the right side of the defense. We’ve been saying now since the Houston game, that teams were running to the left of the Patriots defense. One week in an anomaly, two weeks is concerning, three weeks is a trend. The game plan was for the Patriots to keep two safeties deep to take away the deep passing of the Lions. With three starters out on the defense, two in the secondary (Pat Chung and Eric Rowe), it made sense. But the DL didn’t hold up at all.
We mentioned in our key matchups that Detroit, after all, was averaging just 68.5 yards per game on the ground and hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush nearly five years ago. We also wrote that the Detroit running game was the key defensively to the game. Stop the run and they’re one-dimensional. If they can run the ball, then it will open up all kinds of other options for Matthew Stafford.
Detroit ran the ball down their throats at will targeting the left. Frank Ragnow totally dominated Malcom Brown at the point of attack and had him on roller skates blowing him 4-5 yards consistently off the ball. That kind of push opened the doors for Kerryon Johnson to run for 101 yards on the night on just 16 carries. That is a 6.3 yards per carry average. Worse for the Pats is the play of Dont’a Hightower, also on the left who appears slow, and physically nothing like the player we’ve come to expect.
The Patriots running game has for the past few years run to the opposite side, to the right behind Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. They weren’t getting any push at all against Detroit’s front seven, which had resembled a sieve the first two weeks of the season. Opponents had been gashing the Lions front seven to the tune of 179.5 yards per game. That front seven swallowed up the Pats running game and spit them out.
Their smaller, speedy linebackers did a great job of negating the short passing game and Tom Brady was reduced to taking deep shots down the field into double coverage where only one pass was picked off and a couple of others may have been. It was an ugly, ugly night for the Patriots offense which gained a total of 209 yards on the night.
Detroit led 13-0 before the Patriots even had a first down, where was the urgency there? Patricia made a questionable decision to kick a field goal on the Lions first possession facing a 4th and 1 after they gashed the Patriots down the field.
But then Kenny Golladay just got the ball over the goal line on the Lions next possession before Stephon Gilmore stripped it away and it was 10-0 and things were going from bad to worse. Detroit was running the ball at will and Stafford all day to throw the ball. Offensively the Patriots couldn’t get a first down, let alone put points up.
They finally got a field goal before the half after they got the offense moving a bit and were fortunate to be down just 10 points at 13-3. Stafford then made a huge blunder at the beginning of the third quarter, trying to force a ball into tight coverage with linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley in perfect position to pick it off.
Brady quickly moved the Patriots the 52 yards to a score, capping it off with a TD pass to James White making it 13-10. But any hopes for a turnaround were dashed when Stafford led the Lions on a 75-yard drive eating up six minutes of the clock and capped it off with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones.
Gilmore had Jones and was attempting to pass him off to safety Duron Harmon. Harmon however, continued to play downhill and totally whiffed, forcing Gilmore to stop and then attempt to close again and was left far behind for an easy score. Poor communication topped off a bad night all around.
Stafford ended up 27-36 for 262 yards with two TDs and a pick. Brady finished just 14-26 for just 133 yards with a TD and a pick.
Lots of changes need to be done and this team can fix a lot of what ails it. But they have a lot of work to do before Miami who is 3-0 comes to Foxboro next week.
UP AND DOWN –
UP: (was there players trending up? Maybe a stretch)
Deatrich Wise: The second-year DE playing with his hand in a cast, tried to fire up the rest of his moribund teammates with a run stuff and a sack. A rare bit of emotion and energy from a defense that was sorely lacking in both.
James White: The Patriots talented pass-catching running back was his usual dependable self and the coaching staff would have been better served getting him more touches than trying to force feed it to rookie Sony Michel when it was clear he was laboring. White finished with 37 yards on just four carries and three catches in the passing game including the 10-yard touchdown pass from Brady for the Pats only TD.
Ja’Whaun Bentley: The rookie linebacker made a play on the interception that the team sorely needed to start the second half, giving them at least a shot at coming back. He’s now taken over the play-calling responsibilities in the middle. A big jump for the rookie 5th round draft pick.
Malcom Brown/Dont’a Hightower: This can’t be overstated. Teams are attacking the left side and those two are playing very badly right now. The Patriots tried to switch things up in the second half, going to a 3-4 look, taking Brown out and going with an extra linebacker. The former first rounders are not playing anywhere near their potential right now and may force the team to make some moves.
Shaq Mason: What happened to that run mauler that we’ve come to expect every week? Mason is being badly outplayed and beaten in one-on-one matchups every week and it is time for Dante Scarnecchia to light a fire under him and the entire offensive line when it comes to run blocking.
Duron Harmon: While Patriots fans were screaming on social media that Gilmore was toasted on that long touchdown pass to Jones, nothing was further from the truth. That was clearly on Harmon who failed to recognize what was happening and left his corner out to dry. After the Patriots had closed the gap to just three points, a breakdown of that magnitude was inexcusable.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.