Tag Archives: Dion Lewis

Can the New England Patriots Keep Free Agent Rex Burkhead?

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited in others.

The Patriots have only $13.14 million dollars under the salary cap right now and will have to be creative in creating some room as well as decide who they want to retain. They’ll need to sign a few of their own free agents as well as grab some others who they covet from other teams. All the while knowing they have draft choices to sign.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the more intriguing players facing free agency is running back Rex Burkhead.

The Patriots made a very nice move last spring grabbing Burkhead off of the free agency pile in an under-the-radar move from the Cincinnati Bengals. Burkhead was stuck behind two very talented backs and didn’t see the field much. They signed him for the modest price of $3.15 million dollars.

The team liked his versatility, he can run the ball between the tackles, catch it out of the backfield and play a key role on special teams. We knew he’d fit right in here and it was easy to see that the coaches liked what they saw as well.

Burkhead hauls in a pass during Patriots minicamp in June. SBalestrieri photo

Why Burkhead Will Return: The Patriots and especially Bill Belichick love players who can do more than one thing. And versatility is Burkhead’s middle name. His season production, 264 yards on the ground with five touchdowns, 254 yards in the air with three more touchdowns. A blocked kick on Special Teams…

When the Patriots made the backfield a combination of Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White, the offense was extremely difficult to stop. The trio made it hard for opposing defenses to expect a pass or a run. All three also do a very good job as pass blockers as well, something the Patriots demand of their running backs

Burkhead was injured a couple of times this season and played in just 10 games in the regular season. And that may work in the Patriots favor this season. He showed the team he is an excellent fit in what they do and his two injuries last season may scare away, would-be suitors from investing heavily in a guy that they’re not sure if he can hold up for the long term.

Why Burkhead Won’t Return: There are enough of Burkhead’s good work with the Patriots on tape to show other teams what he can do. And let’s face it, the Patriots don’t pay their running backs to retain their services. They let them walk to other teams.

Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead ring a bell? All of them had fairly good success here in New England. Then when it was time to get paid, they moved on, just like LeGarrette Blount did…twice.

Players like him are rare, he can play four downs and do it all. If a team comes in with an offer that blows him away, he’d be foolish not to consider it. Careers in the NFL are woefully short and so is the window of peak earning potential. And Burkhead is right there. He’ll be 28 this season.

And of course, the Patriots could have cold feet themselves. Burkhead was injured twice last season and a Belichick mantra is availability is very important. Could they decide to walk away because of injury concerns? Absolutely.

Bottom Line: The Patriots love the selfless, egoless attitude of Burkhead. Bill Belichick lauded his work ethic speaking of him before the Super Bowl.

“Rex is really is a four-down player. He can play on first, second, third and fourth down at a good level. And those players are hard to find in the National Football League. He’s a very reliable, dependable player.”

Burkhead saw that for the first time he was given a chance to play meaningful snaps in an offense. And he thrived in it, before getting dinged up. He seemed as happy here as the coaches and other players were to have him here.

Both he and Dion Lewis are free agents this spring. Lewis had much more production this past season and is extremely elusive in the open field. If there is one back who will get a lot of money offered upfront, it is him.

Again this could work in the Patriots favor. They aren’t going to break the bank for Lewis and if another team scoops him up, the team could throw some decent but not crazy money after Burkhead on a short-term (2 years) deal that could lock him up for the foreseeable future.

Various cap-based projections put Burkhead in the $3.3 million dollar range for 2018. That is a modest raise from what the Patriots paid him in 2017, but if they can work out a deal in that vicinity, then there is a very good chance of Burkhead returning.

This is another intriguing decision that Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will have to make this spring. On one hand, they both know what Burkhead brought to the table when he was available on the field. But they also know in his only season in New England, he missed a lot of time.

That’s why a short-term deal would work for both sides. They won’t be able to keep both Lewis and Burkhead. In the end, they may not be able to keep either. But keeping Burkhead is a financially more doable situation for the Patriots. If the money is right…

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

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

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Dion Lewis

Steve Balestrieri
February 13, 2018 at 9:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited at others.

While the team has a limited amount of cap space, right now… they should be retooling a few contracts or cutting their ties with some players soon which will create more cap space.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the key players facing free agency is running back Dion Lewis. Lewis put it all together in 2017 and proved that he can withstand the rigors of a 16-game season as well as three playoff games and at 27 years old, is in the great position to cash in on free agency. He’s won a Super Bowl and now he wants to get paid.

Lewis’ situation is a bit different than other notable free agents as he’s missed so much time due to injury in the past, it will be interesting to see if there is a great demand for his services on the open market.

But as always, the question remains, who does the team feel is one of their priority free agents? Will Lewis be one of the guys that the Patriots feel like they must re-sign him?

Why Lewis Will Return: The Patriots settled on Lewis in the second half of the season as their go-to back and he didn’t disappoint. He carried the ball 180 times for 896 yards with six touchdowns. He added 32 receptions for 214 yards and three more touchdowns.

But the bottom line was, once they went with Lewis, the offense was much more difficult to stop. Opponents had to respect the run as well as the pass and his versatility was on full display. As we mentioned above, Lewis showed he can stand up to being a feature back. His previous career high for carries was 64 in 2016, this season he nearly tripled that.

Lewis displays the willingness to run the ball between the tackles and for a smaller back, showed remarkable ability to carry would-be tacklers for yards after contact. He also has the innate ability to make people miss in the open field.

Lewis is a well-respected player by his coaches and teammates and they know what he can bring to the table.

Why Lewis Won’t Return: There are a couple of considerations to think about here in regards to Lewis and his tenure here. First, the Patriots have never highly valued the running back position. So, will they pony up the kind of cash that they’ll have to, to keep Lewis in the fold? That is the big question. It will all come down to how much?

Lewis isn’t going to sign anything quickly here. He’s earned his payday and will want to test the waters to see what he can bring in during free agency. The Patriots have allowed Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman to test the waters of free agency in the past with the stipulation that the player gives them a chance to match any offer out there. You can expect the same with the Patriots.

Will another team try to wow Lewis away from New England with a big money contract offer? That is a distinct possibility. Other teams could see the potential with him and with the run/pass option he presents. He could easily be a fit with several other teams out there. It all comes down to money and the amount others are willing to spend. I could easily see the Patriots wish Lewis the best and wave goodbye this spring.

Bottom Line: The Patriots, do, however, recognize what they have in Lewis and the dynamic playmaking ability that he possesses, especially in the open field. Does that mean, the Patriots will break their mold and pay top dollar for a running back? That part is doubtful.

Bill Belichick has always been especially reluctant to pay big bucks to a running back, and one with an injury history like Lewis’.So have most other teams. The NFL really doesn’t value the running back position like in days of yore.

The Patriots have always eschewed the idea of a “feature” running back with the exception of Corey Dillon and have relied on a running back by committee with the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, and Antowain Smith. But this year was a bit different. Although they still used a committee, Lewis was the main guy down the stretch and he was equal to the task.

So what would it take to sign him to a new deal? Several sites have been throwing around the numbers of a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million dollars. If the Patriots are willing to pay Lewis that kind of cash, then I think the deal could definitely work.

Reliability? He caught 32 passes on just 35 targets in 2017, that is a 91 percent completion percentage when the ball is thrown his way. That isn’t good, that is outstanding. And of course, there is the little stat that the Patriots are 32-3 when Lewis is in the lineup and just 13-7 when he’s not.

So, the chances are good, better than 50/50 that Lewis returns to the Patriots for the next three years on a new contract. But it is far from a sure thing. He’s turned enough heads for other teams to look long and hard. And then Lewis will have to decide what is in his best interests for the long term before coming to a decision, but he’s earned that right. If the money is right, he’ll be back. If not, wish him well elsewhere.

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

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

Offense Anyone? Foles, Eagles Hold Off Brady, Patriots 41-33 in SB LII

Steve Balestrieri
February 4, 2018 at 11:42 pm ET

This one won’t go down as a defensive struggle as both teams combined for nearly 1200 yards of offense and 84 points, but it was the Philadelphia defense that made the one big stop when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball and it was the Eagles and Foles who played tremendous all game long walking over the Lombardi trophy and a huge win in Super Bowl LII.

Foles, who was the MVP completing 28-43 for 373 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He connected with Zach Ertz for a touchdown with 2:21 left to give the Eagles a 38-33 lead but it certainly appeared that the call would be reversed.

But the call didn’t matter a bit. It would have just 35-32 before the Brady sack.  There were a couple of close calls in terms of what is or what isn’t a catch… but again, when the defense couldn’t stop Foles and the Eagles offense all game, that wasn’t the reason for the loss.

It was simply another tremendous Super Bowl, maybe not if you like a defensive struggle in terms of drama, it doesn’t get much better. Right down to the final pass into the end zone as time expired. The Eagles made just one or two more plays than the Patriots did and that’s why they are the new Super Bowl champions.

Other observations include:

Philly’s Coaching Staff Called a Great Game:
Doug Pederson said after the game that the Eagles wanted to stay aggressive with their play calling and they did and the Patriots were completely unable to stop them. Alshon Jeffrey was getting the better or Eric Rowe early in this game. Nelson Agholor was beating everyone the Patriots trotted out there against him. The Eagles identified mismatches they felt they could win and exploited them. Agholor had nine catches on 11 targets…he was uncoverable all game long.

Zach Ertz had a very strong game and Corey Clement torched the Patriots for 100 yards receiving, including a 55-yarder where Jordan Richards took just a brutal angle on the play. Pederson’s best call was on 4th and 1 near the end of the first half, they ran the option pass to Foles. With him in the shotgun, no one accounts for him and he trotted all alone for a huge touchdown to put the Eagles up 10 at the break.

Defense Was MIA:
The Patriots defense was dissected and shredded for over 500 yards of offense (374 passing, 164 rushing) by the Eagles who also gashed them for 41 points. The Patriots defense was manhandled up front by a very good Philadelphia offensive line that opened up big holes in the running game while giving Foles plenty of time to throw.

The pass rush was missing most of the game, Trey Flowers had a very, very quiet Super Bowl and was not a factor at all. With the exception of Gilmore and perhaps Pat Chung, and James Harrison, it was their worst performance since Week 1.

Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick didn’t have the answers this week. With the exception of moving Gilmore on Jeffrey, who was shut down, they didn’t make any adjustments that worked. They were out-coached in Minneapolis.  It doesn’t happen often but it did tonight.

Brady Was Fantastic Despite the Loss:
Immediately after the game, I was reading criticism of Tom Brady which is laughable. Brady was shredding the Eagles defense in the second half as bad as they were being shredded.

Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns averaging 10.5 yards per attempt on the night. And the offense put up 33 points. I didn’t like the play call early in the game on 3rd and 2 with the end around to Brandin Cooks, where they were moving down the field, but that is the way the cookie crumbles, it could have been 40 with a better call.

Cooks left with a concussion on an awful collision with Malcolm Jenkins but Brady and the offense reacted well and spread the ball around. Danny Amendola was his clutch self, catching 8 passes for 152 yards, Gronkowski had nine catches for 116 yards with a pair of touchdowns, nearly all of it coming in the second half. Chris Hogan had six catches for 128 yards and a score. Overall the Patriots had three players with over 100 yards receiving.

The Butler “Didn’t Do It”, Benched for the Game:
With several players in the secondary struggling all game, it was more than curious that Malcolm Butler was benched for the entire game other than special teams. Bill Belichick said after the game that it wasn’t a disciplinary decision but a strict football one why he didn’t play.

Butler, who was very emotional during the National Anthem, may have realized that his last game in New England (and the chances of him returning now are practically nil) was coming to an end in the worst way possible, by riding the pine. What had to be particularly galling for Butler was that the secondary was being gashed.

With no one able to cover Agholor, in the biggest game of the year, was Butler the worst option between Rowe, Bademosi, Richards et al?

Changes are Coming:
Suffice to say, the team we see at the mini-camp in June will be quite different from the one that took the field tonight. Matt Patricia is gone. It was thought Josh McDaniels was gone too, but now, some in the media are saying to pump the brakes on that talk…at least for now. But the roster will see changes as the team will have several decisions to make in the coming days, which we’ll address later.

Sorry New England, no parade this year, we’re on to the NFL Combine.

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

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

New England Patriots News 2-4, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 2-4, & AFC East Notes.

***Update****  Tom Brady was announced as the MVP of the NFL, the third time that Brady has won the award. Julian Edelman accepted the award for Brady as he was busy preparing for Super Bowl LII.

Patriot great Ty Law came up short in his bid to be named to the NFL’s Hall of Fame and once again Bill Belichick gets zero consideration for the NFL’s Coach of the Year

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, the Patriots are back for the third time in four years and with a win, they’d cap a double dynasty, the three wins in four years during the 2001-04 seasons and the run now. With the eighth appearance in the Brady, Belichick era in the Super Bowl it is amazing the extended run of success that they’ve had and worked hard to achieve. For those of us who grew up in the not-so-great years, it never gets old nor taken for granted.

With the bye week of the Super Bowl filled up with the hype and over-the-top “reporting” from some crazy folks given media credentials from the league, thankfully that is done and we can focus on seeing the actual football game tonight. But there were some good highlights this week. Among them and not in any particular order are:

Edelman Has a Love/Hate Relationship W/BB But Ultimately…it is About Respect:
Julian Edelman did a pretty revealing interview this week at the Super Bowl, despite missing the entire season, he’s in Minneapolis with the team.

We’ve got to see a lot of Edelman this week, on the Tom vs Time documentary with Brady, we saw the back and forth jawing the two and Danny Amendola share with one another but the incredibly hard work that goes into their workouts to build their chemistry and timing. But in regards to the Two Bills special, Edelman pulled no punches on his relationship and respect he has for Belichick.

“I love Coach Belichick, he gave me my opportunity. He believed in me, and a lot of people didn’t. He’s an a’hole and I hate him a lot of the times, but I still love that man to death.”

“I know that the day my production goes down or I’m not playing well he’s going to get rid of me. Doesn’t mean I don’t love him for what he has given me right now in my life.”

“When other coaches tell you to do something, you’re kind of like, all right, …, but if Bill ever says anything, my shoulders are back, my head is tilted straight. I’m still terrified of him.”

“I’m getting to witness greatness just being around him, I feel like I’m a part of it.” Indeed he is…a very big part of it.

Brady’s Excellence at its Zenith in the 4th Quarter of Big Games:
We’ve been hearing about the Eagles’ defense for two weeks, and they’re very good. They can rush the passer with four and not have to blitz but do so effectively when they send six or more as we’ve seen in some game tape. But if this game is close in the 4th quarter, and we believe it will be, don’t bet against Tom Brady and the Patriots pulling off some more fourth-quarter magic when the chips are on the line. And he’s done it against some very good defenses as well.

In the 2014 playoff game and Super Bowl versus the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, Brady was a 17-18 with 3 TDs in the fourth quarter and leading the Patriots to come-from-behind victories. In the Super Bowl last season, Brady was a very impressive 21-27 for 246 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime sessions.

In this season’s AFC Championship Game, Brady led two late fourth-quarter touchdown drives after being down 10 points. He tossed two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola. These are the kind of games where he steps up big at crunch time.

Patriots By the Numbers:
Here are some interesting tidbits in terms of numbers for today’s Super Bowl.
4 – Number of points Stephen Gostkowski needs to score to move into a second-place tie all-time (175 David Akers) of points scored in postseason history. (Adam Vinatieri #1 with 234)

5 – Number of receptions TE Rob Gronkowski needs to become the #1 receiving TE in NFL postseason history. Currently, he’s fifth (Dallas Clark 64, Jay Novacek 62, Shannon Sharpe 62, Brent Jones 60)

5 – Brady is the only QB with five Super Bowl wins. He joined Hall of Fame DL Charles
Haley (5) as the only other NFL player with five Super Bowl wins.

8 – Number of Conference Championships by Bill Belichick, the most in the Super Bowl era. Second place belongs to Don Shula with six.

8 – Number of completions Tom Brady will need tonight to reach 900 career postseason completions.

11 – The Patriots scored in the final minute of the first half in 11 of 16 games in
2017.

11 – Super Bowl appearances by Belichick, eight as a head coach and three others as an assistant with the Giants

41 – Wins (regular and postseason) by three points or fewer, since 2001. The Patriots 41-17 .702 win percentage record in close games is the best in the NFL. Indianapolis is second with a 42-23 .646 win percentage.

51 – The number of Interconference wins by the Patriots since realignment in 2002. The Patriots 51-13 .797 is the best in the NFL. (#2 is Pittsburgh 43-20-1 .680

The “Two Bills”? A Fantastic Story: The ESPN 30 For 30 Series produced a classic and aired this week concerning the partnership and interaction of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.

The lead-in for the show contrasts the bombastic “wanting to buy the groceries” Parcells with the dour, quiet Belichick. The Giants players called Belichick “Doom” because of his harping on the minutiae of mistakes he’d pick out from a game film. Belichick’s arrival in Minneapolis fed into that perfectly on Monday. Wearing a black fedora, “Doom” Belichick was like one of the capos in the Godfather. “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”  Of course, the truth is always somewhat different, sometimes vastly so.

Belichick wasn’t embracing the bad guy role this week, we learned. The hat belonged to his father. And his embracing of the past and its history is what, in essence, this story was all about. We see the older clip of Belichick, growing teary-eyed, his voice cracking as he looks inside the Giants old coaching offices, talking about the hours he spent inside there, “trying to establish my coaching career.”

Parcells, looking a bit aged now at 75, his voice getting a bit raspy is a much more mellow and at peace with himself man now, than he was a few years ago. Although the two men have long since made their peace with one another, they were still both a bit guarded, but when they cut back and forth between the two men when airing fantastic interview clips with former coaches and players that played for the two, and even Patriots owner Robert Kraft, they’d share glances and smile genuinely.

The two men have won seven Super Bowls between them and will be forever linked. They were the perfect combination. Belichick was the detail guy, he’d leave nothing to chance. Parcells was the master manipulator. As Lawrence Taylor said, “he always knew the exact buttons to push.” Together, they were a tremendous team and the coaching staff that Parcells built around those teams with Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Al Groh et al were fantastic.

While the “Two Bills” didn’t really break a ton of new ground, it was a fascinating, well-done look at two very complicated, vastly different personalities that at the heart, shared a very common trait. The burning desire to be the best at their chosen profession. And when they worked together, they were a truly dynamic duo… led by Darth Vader (teaser alert). If you haven’t seen it yet, put it on the must-see list. The ending is an absolute classic.

Brady’s “Tom vs Time” is a Peek Inside A Closed World:
In the fascinating, docu-series that Tom Brady is airing, it gives an inside look at his life both inside and outside football that few people have ever been allowed to see before. The series has another segment which will air today before the Super Bowl and another segment which will air at a time TBD after the big game.

Filmmaker Gotham Chopra was granted some pretty incredible access and Brady wanted to show certain sides of him that we’re never allowed to see, namely his family and despite uber-ridiculous cheap shots taken at him and his children by some twisted people, it has been a fascinating watch for not only die-hard Patriots fans but anyone who is looking for an inside look at the life of the very rich and famous.

Chopra is an admitted die-hard Patriots fan who is excited (and rightfully so) about getting the chance of a lifetime. He spoke recently about wanting to show the different sides of Brady and not just football.

“There’s an emotional component,” Chopra said. “How do you manage all the stuff that’s going on with your family in your private, personal life with your desire to stay on top?”

As for Brady, he’s trying to show that he’s balancing the many facets of his life while letting people know what drives him. “I’m trying to find a deeper purpose,” Brady said.

“To live it through sports in a very authentic way makes so much sense to me. Having these dreams or goals or aspirations and waking up and putting in the work and miracles happening and all this magic that sports create, I’m in the middle of it. I get to live that through sports.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Sunday’s episode.

No AFC East Notes this week during the Super Bowl…

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.

New England Patriots – Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

And then there were two. The Patriots and the Eagles rightfully face off for the Super Bowl LII bragging rights for the final game of the 2017 NFL season. The teams are remarkably evenly matched. Each is the #1 seed in their respective conferences. Both were 13-3 in the regular season. Each had a close playoff game and a blowout.

The Eagles had a close win over Atlanta and blew out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots blew out Tennessee and then had a close, come-from-behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

During the season the Patriots scored one point more than Philadelphia offensively, 458-457, while the Eagles defense bested New England by a single point defensively 295-296. Even? I don’t know how it gets any closer.

This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Channel 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michelle Tafoya will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (15-3) came back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady firing two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola to beat Jacksonville 24-20.

The Eagles (15-3) blew out the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, by scoring 38 unanswered points. Nick Foles threw three touchdowns and the Eagles punched their ticket easily.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 Eagles are meeting for just the 14th time. Philadelphia leads the all-time series 7-6. The two teams met once in the Super Bowl already with New England beating Philadelphia 24-21 in SB XXXIX where Deion Branch took home MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Eagles Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia
The Patriots running game has been extremely effective with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead as a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game. Lewis will be the main guy in the running game and he’ll have a tall order this week.

Philadelphia had the #1 rush defense in the league in 2017 allowing only 79.2 yards per game. The big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan make it very hard to run inside, especially where the Patriots like to run by stuffing up everything at the point of attack.

In order for the Patriots to be successful, they are going to have to remain balanced. So play-action passing is key here. Josh McDaniels will have to get a bit creative here, mixing in some draws and Jet Sweeps to take advantage of their aggressive pass rush, but this will be some tough sledding this week.

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

The Patriots passing game will tremendously benefit by having Rob Gronkowski cleared for this game. Although he’s been practicing, as of right now (late Weds. night), he still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol.

Tom Brady can spread the ball around with Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and out of the backfield with James White, Lewis and Burkhead. But having Gronkowski out there and healthy makes it all go.

Philly’s pass defense is built around that terrific front four (read seven). They can freely mix things up and substitute. Their subpackage pass rush is especially effective where they move Brandon Graham inside next to Cox and have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as edge guys. Protection for Brady will be the key here as the Eagles don’t get tons of sacks but DO get tons of pressure.

One area to watch, Philly will probably play much more man coverage in this game. They played a lot of zone during the season and the Patriots, if Brady has time to throw will attack the linebackers with play action and Ronald Darby on the perimeter. Look for them to take some shots down the field early.

Next up the Philadelphia offense:

Eagles RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Eagles have two very good and varied backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the running game. Philly is using both in a committee approach and goes with the hot hand They are very effective at running the ball averaging 132.2 yards per game.

The Patriots run defense has been terrific down the stretch and into the playoffs. With Malcom Brown and Kyle Van Noy healthy again as well as the addition of James Harrison, they slowed the running games of both Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Eagles will want to run to take the pressure off of Nick Foles and give him the option of play action as well. While the Eagles will get their yards on the ground, I look for them to slow down the running game and force Foles to beat them.

Eagles WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Eagles passing game was a question mark after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. But Foles has answered his critics with a pair of playoff wins, including a blowout conference championship win where he carved up the NFC’s best defense in Minnesota. The RPO (run-pass option) we’ve all heard about is their bread and butter and Foles has Zach Ertz as the team’s leading receiver at tight end and their go-to guy. But Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor give them plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.

The Patriots defense has been very good down the stretch and the strength is the secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe at corner. Jonathan Jones who recently went on IR may have been a better matchup with Agholor because of his speed but it will be interesting to see how they line up.

The key for New England is to keep generating pressure with their front four, where coincidentally the Patriots have had 11 sacks in their two playoff games, something no one is mentioning. And relying on their corners to remain in tight coverage. Containing the RPOs (something Jax ran) requires discipline and gap control. The chess match here should be a fascinating one. Watch for Trey Flowers here, he’s primed for a big game. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his pooch kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen was the underrated difference in the conference championship game, pinning the Jags deep in their own end ….field position here will be key.  Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Eagles are very solid on Special Teams with kicker Jake Elliott and punter Donnie Jones. The coverage units are very good as well but no one’s STs units have been better than New England’s down the stretch.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well, here we go… .This one should be a Super Bowl worthy of its name. As we pointed to above, the teams are evenly matched and both, being the #1 seeds have earned the right to be here.

I look for a high scoring game, it may not begin that way, but like the 2003 game with Carolina and New England, I see things heating up. This one will be a back and forth affair. I see Agholor and Amendola having big games for each team. The key for each team will be field position and not be turning the ball over.

But in a close game like this, I don’t ever bet against Tom Brady and I think he gets it done once again with a late score to bring home Super Bowl victory number six. Cue up the Duck Boats Marty, there will be a parade next week. Patriots 31-28

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

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

Best Of Social Media: The Patriots Send Off Rally and Opening Night

Robert Alvarez
January 31, 2018 at 1:26 pm ET

On Monday. the New England Patriots held a send off rally at Gillette Stadium before the team departed for TF Green Airport in Warwick Rhode Island and a flight to Minneapolis for the Super Bowl Opening Night media session later that evening,

Below is a compilation of the best sights and sounds from the first day of Super Bowl week across New England Patriots social media.

https://twitter.com/SullyBunz/status/958002000641380355

https://twitter.com/SullyBunz/status/958070611758190594

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/958151762090762240

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/958165289069305856?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.boston.com%2Fsports%2Fnew-england-patriots%2F2018%2F01%2F29%2Flive-updates-super-bowl-lii-week-2018

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/958163999966679040

https://www.instagram.com/p/BelUiI5g_D2/?taken-by=thearcher14

Came a long way #SBLII

A post shared by Duron Harmon (@dharm30) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BelUkD0hiMx/?taken-by=sweetfeet

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bej8t7tAk2F/

https://www.instagram.com/p/BelStEEg2fb/?hl=en&taken-by=jhharrison92

What a time to be alive!!!#sb52

A post shared by Mike Gillislee (@nothingwasgiven35) on

 

Super Bowl Sneak Peek, Eagles and Patriots Are Evenly Matched

Steve Balestrieri
January 30, 2018 at 2:10 pm ET

This is shaping up to be a Super Bowl worthy of its name as the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for this Sunday’s championship. And in the Super Bowl, you’ll hardly find two teams more evenly matched.

The Patriots scored one more point offensively than the Eagles 458-457, and the Eagles allowed one less point defensively than the Patriots 295-296. It doesn’t get much closer than that points wise. Both are 13-3 and both are the #1 seed in their respective conference. Both have had to overcome serious injuries to get here.

Philadelphia lost MVP candidate, QB Carson Wentz late in the season, offensive tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles. The Patriots lost Julian Edelman, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and tackle Marcus Cannon amongst others.

While the teams met in the 2015 season, both are very different from the ones who played in Gillette. We’ll do a detailed break down of the key matchups later this week  But here is our quick look at the Philadelphia Eagles and what we’ve seen in watching the film of some of their games this season.

Foles Shook Off Criticism to Play Very Well in the Playoffs:
Nick Foles is in his second stint with the Eagles and they are certainly glad he’s back. After Wentz went down with a torn ACL, Foles stepped in and after some initial struggles to find his comfort level in the offense, he’s been excellent in the postseason.

Foles has completed 77 percent of his throws in the playoffs with three touchdowns and more importantly zero interceptions. The important factor for Philly has been, they didn’t have to change the offense with Foles at the helm.

With his comfort level in the pocket, the Eagles are clicking offensively. It will be the Patriots’ defense to change that comfort level early in the game by disguising looks and pressures. Otherwise, it could be a long evening.

Run-Pass Option (you’ll hear about this all week), RPO is NOT a New Star Wars Character:
One area of the Eagles offense that will be discussed a lot this week is the RPO.  Foles and the Eagles carved up Minnesota’s defense with this badly in the NFC Championship game. They took advantage of the Vikings aggressive nature and shredded them with it. The keys were the quick slants off of them, much in the manner that Jacksonville ran.

The Patriots, however, aren’t an aggressive defense, but more of a read and react group. So the key from New England’s perspective is maintaining gap integrity and setting the edge. Foles isn’t as mobile as Wentz so he’s not the threat to run that the starter was.

Linebacker play will be key here. With two good and very different styles of backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Foles will have the option of handing it off or faking it and passing the ball in the quick open field.

The Eagles Run Defense is Excellent:
Philadelphia’s run defense is #1 in the NFL allowing just 79.2 yards per game. It begins with the big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan. They are the big, immovable objects in the center of the line.

They make things very tough to run in the middle of the field, exactly where the Patriots like to run. The stretch plays and the slow developing runs to the outside are very tough on this defense because of the way they flow to the ball.

The Jaguars defense made running the ball tough last week on the Patriots offense. The opportunities will be there but Josh McDaniels will have to be creative. Which segways into our next topic…

The Patriots Need to Find Success on Early Downs:
Philadelphia’s subpackage defense is really tough. They go to a NASCAR type package in their pass rushers with Cox and moving Brandon Graham inside, then they still have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as their edge rushers.

While the Eagles don’t blitz a ton but will send safeties or corners on third and long situations and don’t rack up huge sack numbers, they do rack up a ton of QB pressure. Consistent pressure is what drives the defense and they’re very good at it.

So from a Patriots perspective, they need to be successful on first and second down. Mix things up, use play-action passes which should be very effective against their linebackers and use the hurry up once they get a first down to keep the Eagles from substituting. Of course, they’ll need to produce as well. Otherwise, it is just getting the Philly offense back on the field that much quicker.

The Eagles front four is deep and talented, arguably the best in the NFL. Getting in obvious passing situations on third down is inviting trouble and they’ll respond by bringing the pressure. In their last four games, Philly’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 10 points.

The Tight Ends for Both Teams are the Focus:
While both offenses operate quite differently, the tight end in each is a big part of what makes them go. The Eagles boast three good tight ends with Zack Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton. Ertz was their leading receiver in 2017 and was Foles’ go-to guy against the Vikings, completing first down after first down. He’ll be matched up with Pat Chung and if New England is going to be successful, Ertz can’t be allowed to become that kind of target again.

For New England, Rob Gronkowski (if he’s healthy) is the gold-standard for TEs in the NFL. While Malcolm Jenkins will probably see him a lot in this matchup. The Eagles may try to pull a page out of Jacksonville’s book and double up Gronk with Jenkins and Corey Graham. If that is the case, then the WRs will have to win one-on-one matchups.

Philly played a lot of zone coverage this year, Brady will pick those apart. Look for them to match up in man coverage. Their corners are ok but not great, they look better because of the pass rush, much like the Pittsburgh corners used to be in years past.

It is just another interesting piece of the chess match. We’ll be back later this week with the full matchups and our prediction.

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

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

Podcast: Super Bowl Preview

Russ Goldman
at 10:55 am ET

This is our preview of the Super Bowl. We go in depth into the match-ups between the Patriots and the Eagles. We also share our keys to victory for the Pats along with our predictions for the game.

New England Patriots News 1-28, Super Prep Started

Steve Balestrieri
January 28, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-28, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots (via Russell Baxter on PFW FB page) are 54-14 and 59-16 including Super Bowls against the NFC since the 2001 season. Something that should bode well in looking at next week’s game.

Distractions? Not Here: The Patriots are getting prepared to fly out tomorrow for Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII and once again are a game away from the pinnacle of the sport. The team has been all business in their preparation and despite a couple of comments that were highlighted this week, the Eagles are too.

While the rest of America is decidedly sick of the Patriots success, fans here are not. And much of that success has to be attributed to the attitude of Bill Belichick and his coaching staff. They never get too high, too low and keep their focus directly on what is in front of them. That focus carries over to their players.

While many teams are very successful for a year or two, they eventually stumble and fall. The Patriots have been largely immune to that for the past 17 seasons. And now they prepare for their 8th Super Bowl appearance in the Brady/Belichick era. It is crazy how successful they’ve been year after year with different supporting casts. The big game and all the hype will go over the top this week. They are prepared to handle it and the distractions. Not Done Yet.

Shots Across the Bow… From “Friendly Fire” This Week:
The Patriots are used to the barbs by national media members who never fail to pen poison pieces on the team in the week of the big game. The recent piece in ESPN about the supposed “crumbling” of the Belichick/Brady/Kraft relationship that came out just before the Divisional Round of the playoffs wasn’t a coincidence in the element of timing.

This week Dan LeBetard went right up to the line, circled it, put in an exclamation mark but stopped just short of accusing Brady of using PEDs. His only “proof”? That Brady’s age should have him playing poorly now. People forget how impressive Jerry Rice was at 40, at wide receiver no less. But people marveled at his workout regimen. Brady does the same with his guru Alex Guerrero. There are no drugs, the interview Colin Cowherd did with former Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh should have put that to bed, but we called that well over a month ago that this would be an issue….if the Patriots went to the Super Bowl…Again, surprised? You shouldn’t be.

But now they are taking the shots from within New England. And Murphy’s Rules of Combat apply to the media as they do in warfare…#1 Friendly Fire Isn’t.

One Boston radio personality claimed that David Andrews et al are on Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Granted this is the same writer who falsely accused the Patriots of filming the Rams walk-thru before SB XXXVI, which now repeated as gospel.

But then another radio voice described Tom Brady’s daughter in his video “Tom vs Time” as “an annoying little pissant” as the first impression of Brady’s video. And this is the station that Brady agrees to come on every Monday during the season.

Finally, another respected writer decided to pen a sarcastic piece about Brady’s video and it was all innocent enough, I read it. But what it suffered from was a horrible lack of timing. Patriots fans, already on edge after a week of having to listen to the ridiculous “the refs gave NE the game” against Jacksonville, coupled with the other three pieces, didn’t get the joke and unloaded on him. They’ve had enough, and aren’t taking it anymore.

What other breaking news should we expect this week? I can hardly wait…

A Double Dynasty? The Results May Play Out Again:
If the Patriots beat the Eagles next Sunday, this will be their second three Super Bowl win in four years scenario. When they completed the first in 2005, they’d won Super Bowls in the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons. After the defeat of the Eagles, Belichick, Charlie Weis, and Romeo Crennel shared a hug on the sidelines as both coordinators left for head coaching jobs elsewhere. Success breeds promotions.

Now they are on the edge of doing it again. If they beat the Eagles next Sunday, the Patriots will have won the Super Bowl in the 2014, 2016 and 2017 seasons. Both Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are expected to leave as offensive and defensive coordinators to take head coaching jobs elsewhere. Assistants Brian Flores and Special Teams’ coach Joe Judge may be gone as well.

So, regardless of what happens, the 2018 version of the Patriots should look decidedly different than the one that takes the field next week. But the two key cogs, Belichick and Brady should be around for one more rodeo at least.

Brady’s “Tom vs Time” is a Peek Inside A Closed World:
In a fascinating, albeit very limited peek into the world of Tom Brady, we finally get a look at what his training regimen looks like, his often painful sessions with Alex Guerrero, and his family up close and personal.

Brady and Gisele Bundchen have kept a very private existence while leading a pretty public life. They don’t hide in the back of limos being driven from place to place with legions of security personnel keeping the public at bay. They’ve kept their discreet home life exactly that and we’ve never been able to see how they interact daily. That has now changed… a bit.

Watching Brady interact with his kids is no different than any of us experience on a daily basis, perhaps not quite in the same type of home, but it decidedly normal. One scene that stood out was Brady driving home after the opening night loss to the Chiefs on Rte 1 and merging onto 95 with Gisele trying to comfort him.

But the workouts and the sessions with Guerrero were fascinating. Even Shannon Sharpe, a noted anti-Patriots’ commentator on television said that those scenes in particular resonated with him. Because it shows the dedication that is needed to not only perform at an elite level in the NFL but to do so at an age where most players are long since retired.

Episode 2 is today…

Chung One of Bill Belichick’s Biggest… and Best Mistakes:
Pat Chung is living proof of the power of second chances. The nine-year veteran has enjoyed a career rebirth in his second stint with the team and shows little sign of slowing down.

Chung was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2009 NFL Draft and was misused by Bill Belichick as a free safety in his first four seasons. He was considered a bust, and left for the Eagles in a good 3-year contract in 2013. That lasted a year, and Philly released Chung. The news that he was returning to New England wasn’t met with much fanfare by the media or the fanbase.

Chung and Belichick met before he signed and each vowed not to make the same mistakes twice. In his first stint with the team Belichick used Chung as a deep free safety, something he was ill-suited for. Starting in 2014, Belichick moved Chung to the box as a strong safety. There his natural physicality and the ability to stop the run and good ability to cover tight ends has him playing not good, but outstanding in his second go around with the Pats.

Bill Belichick, not one to hand out undue praise called Chung this week, one of the best players in the NFL, not safeties…players. Is that Belichick’s way of further lighting a fire under Chung because he knows he’ll need a big effort from the vet to counter Philadelphia’s excellent TE group? Quite possibly.

But if New England is indeed successful next week, it will be no doubt because of a strong performance from its stellar safety crew. And Belichick’s biggest mistake? Not any longer. Bringing him back was an exercise in self-scouting and the ability to admit he made a mistake in not utilizing a player right and fixing it.

No AFC East notes this week…

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

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

Brady, Amendola Lead Patriots to the Super Bowl in 24-20 Win Over Jax

Steve Balestrieri
January 21, 2018 at 9:42 pm ET

No matter how many times we see this script play out, it never gets old. Down by 10 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the best defense in the NFL, Tom Brady had a daunting task. And his two best receivers Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski weren’t available. So, Brady did what he always seems to do, he saved his best for last. He was absolutely spot on in the fourth quarter and his favorite target was Danny Amendola.

The diminutive but tough as nails slot receiver always seems to make a big catch at crunch time of big games and he scored both Patriots touchdowns in the fourth quarter but perhaps his biggest catch was on 3rd and 18. Brady, sore hand and all with a dozen stitches in the thumb web of his throwing hand, lasered a dime to Amendola down the middle for a huge first down that saved the Patriots season. Later, with the game on the line with under three minutes to go, Brady tried to find a receiver underneath just over the goal line.

It was covered and he launched a pass to the back of the end zone to Amendola. And the little guy with the best hands on the team made a great catch and got both feet inbounds before tumbling out of the end zone. Touchdown, Patriots take the lead, thank you very much, drive safely heading out on Route 1.

Brady was 26-38 for 290 yards with two touchdowns. Amendola had seven catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Brandin Cooks had six catches for 100 yards including drawing a couple of big pass interference penalties.

Lost in the late game heroics was the outstanding day by Blake Bortles, the Jaguars much-maligned quarterback. Even after putting up 45 points on the Steelers last week in Pittsburgh, Bortles still heard the talk. He played a cool, calm and collected game today, hitting the shallow crosses underneath all game long and never made a mistake.

Bortles finished 23-36 for 293 yards and a touchdown, a beautifully designed play where he rolled out sucking Eric Lee in. Pat Chung, stuck in no man’s land between Bortles and the receiver was frozen and Bortles lobbed a too easy touchdown to Marcedes Lewis for a 7-3 Jaguars lead.

On their next drive, the Jags mixed the run and pass perfectly and sliced and diced the Patriots defense much too easily for a 77-yard drive in 10 plays with Leonard Fournette powering in from four yards out to make it 14-3 and Foxboro was getting ominously quiet.

But right before the half, Jacksonville was hit with two major penalties and set the Patriots up for a touchdown right before the half. Barry Church tried to break up a pass to Rob Gronkowski and got flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit. It was clearly not a dirty hit, Church attempted to lead with his shoulder but was one of those bang-bang plays.

Gronkowski left with a concussion and didn’t return. His status for the Super Bowl will bear watching when the Patriots play Philadelphia.

The next penalty on A.J. Bouye was also an easy call. Bouye rode Cooks out of bounds while the ball was in the air, but the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists acted like it was the Brinks heist. Please. James White ran it in and the Patriots were back in the game at 14-10 at the break.

The Jaguars were controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the first half and if the Patriots were going to win, they needed to do a better job in the trenches.

The Jaguars got two field goals to push the lead to 20-10 but the Patriots defense stiffened down the stretch and they took away the run and began to finally get some pressure on Bortles, forcing him to unload the ball early on a few throws. And one of the key players was James Harrison who pressured Bortles and then knocked the ball out. He and Kyle Van Noy combined for a key sack of Bortles. Then it was Gilmore’s time to shine.

But the play of the game defensively, perhaps of the year was the 4th and 14  pass from Bortles to Dede Westbrook was broken up on just an incredible play by Gilmore. The cornerback from South Carolina has been a whipping boy for the fans since inking a big contract in free agency and struggling the first few weeks of the season. But since Gilmore has been simply excellent and he saved what would have a first and goal from about the six-yard line. The Patriots took over on downs and Dion Lewis iced it with a huge first down to send the team to Minneapolis.

The defense, while far from great, did a very good job of slowing down the Jaguars’ Fournette who had 76 yards rushing on 24 carries, an average of just 3.2 yards per carry. That took away the Jaguars ability to close the deal when they had the 10 point lead and set the stage for Brady’s heroics once again.

But it was Amendola who once again showed how clutch he is in big games, Bill Belichick was practically effusive in his praise for Amendola as well as Brady after the game. “Danny’s such a good football player,” Belichick said. When you look up ‘good football player’ in the dictionary, his picture is right there beside it. It doesn’t matter what it is. Fielding punts, third down, big play, red area, onside kick recovery — whatever we need him to do. He’s just a tremendous player, very instinctive, tough, great concentration. He had some big plays for us

Brady followed suit stating, “He’s got great hands and just a great sense about where he’s at on the field,” Brady said. “I mean, he’s made so many big plays for us, and this was huge, and without that, we don’t win. It was an incredible play.”

So the Patriot haters in the NFL world will all be rooting for the Eagles two weeks from tonight as the two tee off in Super Bowl LII. But the Patriots don’t care. They like it that way. Especially with a 40-year old QB who is always at his best when the biggest games on the biggest stage are at stake.

We’re on to Minneapolis…and the Eagles. Not Done Yet.

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

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