Tag Archives: Dont’a Hightower

Patriots-Dolphins Week 2 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 12, 2019 at 7:50 am ET

The Patriots head out on the road for the first time in 2019 as they travel to South Florida, to take on the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots are looking to get off to a 2-0 start and put behind them the slow starts that have earmarked earlier seasons.

Miami has a new coaching staff in place with Brian Flores, the former de facto Defensive Coordinator for New England serving as their new head coach. He has taken several former New England assistants with him, including Chad O’Shea who is the Dolphins Offensive Coordinator. 

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, September 15 at 1:00 p.m. and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn 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 (1-0) are coming off a convincing 33-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Tom Brady threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

The Dolphins (0-1) were shellacked 59-10 by the Baltimore Ravens where Miami’s defense was gashed for 623 yards [265 on the ground, 378 in the air]. 

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

Series History:

The Patriots and Dolphins have been playing each other since 1966. Miami holds the overall edge 55-52 with each team holding a huge edge in home games. Miami is 38-16 at home against New England while the Patriots are 36-17 all-time at home against the Dolphins. Bill Belichick’s record versus Miami with the Patriots is 24-14. In games in Miami, Tom Brady is 7-10, and the team is just 1-5 in their last six games there. 

The teams split last year’s contests with the Patriots blowing out Miami 38-7 at home and then losing 34-33 in December in the “Miracle in Miami” game.

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 Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game didn’t have a great game last week, but it wasn’t all bad either. The team ended up with 99 yards on the ground against a very good Pittsburgh front seven. They’ll be looking to get Sony Michel untracked this week as he was bottled up against the Steelers last week. 

Miami was gashed badly by the Ravens in the opener to the tune of 265 yards and 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. They were overwhelmed at the point of attack and will be looking to do a much better job. They’ll need their big men up front, nose tackle Davon Godchaux, and ends John Jenkins and Christian Wilkins to be much better. If the Patriots big men in the middle, Ted Karras, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason can get a push to the second level, the ground game will be successful. 

Look for plenty of the two-back sets with Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White rotating in with James Develin leading the way. It will be interesting to see if the team activates Damien Harris this week, as he was removed from the injury report and having Brandon Bolden limited with a hamstring issue.

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

The Patriots passing game looked really good passing for 374 yards in the opener against the Steelers. Tom Brady was sharp and was getting everyone involved in the passing game. The pass protection against the top team in sacks from 2018 held up quite well. Isaiah Wynn shined in his first game but the team lost Marcus Cannon to a shoulder injury in the second half. His absence will be a place to watch this week. The team did sign veteran tackle Marshall Newhouse this week. 

The Dolphins pass defense was arguably more miserable than their run defense was last week. Lamar Jackson had a perfect passer rating and threw five touchdowns along with 324 yards passing. His backup RG III came in and was 6-6 for 55 yards with a touchdown. Ravens’ QBs were 23-26 for 378 yards with six TDs. The secondary has some good pieces there with Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, and Bobby McCain with a bunch of ex-Patriots, Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi, Jomal Wilz, and Ken Webster. 

The Patriots running game should open up play-action passing in this one. Seeing how the Dolphins choose to match up with Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, and Julian Edelman with White and Burkhead out of the backfield will be an interesting part of the chess match. Flores knows the Patriots weapons well and he’ll be trying to counter their moves. The pass rush for Miami is key here. If Brady has time to throw, he should light them up again. It is unknown right now whether Antonio Brown [on Wednesday evening] will play. It may depend on how much of the offense he can learn in practice this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

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

The Dolphins rushing attack was put on the backburner early last week when they fell behind so far, so early. They have Kenyon Drake and Kalen Ballage toting the rock behind an offensive line with new pieces everywhere. 

Jesse Davis was moved to left tackle from the right side. Michael Dieter and Daniel Kilgore at LG and C respectively are the only carryovers. Right guard Danny Isadora and right tackle Julien Davenport are both new and started last week after coming to Miami after the initial 53-man cutdown. 

The Patriots front seven stuffed the Steelers rushing attack last week holding them to just 32 total yards. James Conner only gained 21 yards on 10 carries. The big men up front Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, and Michael Bennett held firm and allowed the linebackers to clean up. 

Although Drake has had success against the Patriots in the past, with this patchwork offensive line, it is tough to see Miami getting much going on the ground without them getting really creative here.  

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

Miami has surprisingly gone with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick in the early going after they brought in second-year QB Josh Rosen earlier this year. Fitzpatrick has the capability to get really hot for a few games, as we’ve seen in the past, but overall he’s 2-9 in his career with the Bills and Jets against the Patriots. 

The skill players are good with DeVante Parker as their possession guy with Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant as their outside guys with speed to burn. Tight Mike Gesicki will be someone to watch. But this offensive line will decide this matchup. Can they hold up? 

The Patriots defense was outstanding against the Steelers, with the secondary of Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty taking away the outside threats. Look for Pat Chung to cover Gesicki and that will be a great matchup to watch. 

I look for the Patriots left side to attack Miami’s right side of the OL. Davenport who came over from the Texans in the Laremy Tunsil deal gave up 12 sacks, 65 QB pressures and committed 16 penalties last year. Look for the Patriots to bring their pressure attacking the right side. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots Stephen Gostkowski had a really solid game after an uneven preseason. He hit on all three extra points and all four field goal attempts. Jake Bailey hit one boomer and one dud last week. But his holds on the field goals were spot on, something they struggled with a bit in preseason. The coverage units were solid and Gunner Olszewski had a nice debut with punt returns of 20 and 15 yards. 

Miami’s Jason Sanders booted a 54-yard field goal last week in one of the few bright spots of that game. Punter Matt Haack averaged 53.7 yards per punt. Their return game didn’t net much on the day.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Another year heading to the Patriots House of Horrors? New England is just 1-5 in their last six games in South Florida, including the past two. They always seem to save some of their worst football for games in South Florida. Can they turn that around and start the year off 2-0 and avoid the slow starts that have plagued the team in recent years?

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Be Aggressive and Get After Fitzpatrick – Look for the Patriots defense to be aggressive and attack the Miami offensive line here, while they try to set the tone of this one from the outset. Fitzpatrick isn’t the most mobile of QBs and the OL hasn’t played together for very long. Show them different fronts [Amoeba look with one down lineman] bring pressure and try to generate some turnovers. 

Jamie Collins, Michael Bennett, and rookie Chase Winovich are the players to watch here. They don’t want to lay back and allow Fitzpatrick to get into a rhythm. This secondary has shown it can play blanket coverage across the field, take advantage of it and force the issue. 

Run the Ball to Open up Play Action: The Patriots running game is looking to get untracked this week and this is a perfect time and place to do so. Miami hasn’t sorted things out yet and the ground game can set the tone for this one early. Michel, Burkhead, and White should give them plenty of yardage to open things up in the passing game. With play-action, Brady will have more open room across the middle and allow him more time to hit Gordon and Dorsett on the perimeter. It will be interesting to see if they give rookie Jakobi Meyers more snaps this week. We’re not counting on Antonio Brown playing in this one, but we’ll have to see how that plays out. 

Put Them Down Early: The Patriots have had a bad habit of letting the Dolphins hang around in games down in Miami and those have come back to haunt them. Sunday, they need to come out firing and put the Dolphins in the rearview mirror early. The confidence can’t be high there right now after last week’s debacle. 

Bill Belichick needs to get the team coming out fired up like this is a playoff game and approach it in that way. A couple of quick scores early and have the Dolphins on their heels. They have done that at home against the Dolphins seemingly every game, it is time to do so down there.  

___________

So, a lot of Patriots fans and some media have been playing up the familiarity idea that the Dolphins’ coaches know the Patriots and their system and know exactly how to attack them. And they point, successfully at the Lions and Titans games from a year ago. And it is a valid point…to a degree. 

But this New England team is a better one than took the field last year, and this Dolphins team is frankly, one that is going to struggle to win 3-4 games in 2019. The only thing holding the Patriots back this week is themselves. They should establish dominance early in this one. There won’t be any miracles this time.  Patriots 42-13

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour moves back to New England next week to take on the Jets.

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

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

Best Of Social Media: Week 1 Steelers vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
September 11, 2019 at 9:55 am ET

At long last the 2019 New England season opener arrived at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night.

From the sixth Super Bowl banner ceremony to in-game sights and sounds, check out all of the best social media postings from week one.

View this post on Instagram

LFG #Week1

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

View this post on Instagram

Showtime. #LFG

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2KHbWDBgav/
View this post on Instagram

Game Day! #patsnation #darkside

A post shared by Lawrence Guy (@thatlguy) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2J_6KeJB-S/
https://www.instagram.com/p/B2J91h3gntw/

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2MuEujAe7t/
https://www.instagram.com/p/B2KyO8ohB57/
View this post on Instagram

6 trophies. 6 abs. 1 dent.

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

https://twitter.com/SNFonNBC/status/1170858641471225856?s=20

In the first quarter, Josh Gordon hauled in a 20 yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady for the first points of the season.

7-0 NE after one quarter of play.


In the second quarter a Stephen Gostkowski 25 yard Field Goal and a Phillip Dorsett 25 yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady gave the Patriots early separation from Pittsburgh. 17-0 New England.

A Stephen Gostkowski 41 yard field goal gave the Patriots a dominating 20-0 lead into halftime.

In the third quarter a Chris Boswell 19 yard field goal put Pittsburgh on the board, but that would be all they’d get on this night. 20-3 New England.

Phillip Dorsett found the end zone for a second time following a 58 yard bomb from Tom Brady that carved up the Steeler secondary. 27-3 New England.

A Stephen Gostkowski 35 yard field goal put the Patriots up 27 after three. 30-3 New England.

Things only continued to get worse for the Steelers in the fourth quarter.

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1170916198197923840?s=20

Another Stephen Gostkowski field goal extended the lead to 30 at 33-3.

https://twitter.com/ringer/status/1170897021542133760

With the game winding down Devin McCourty iced a dominating win with an interception.

The Patriots would walk away with another dominating win over the Steelers in Foxborough with a 33-3 final score.

The team will head to Miami to play the Dolphins next Sunday at 1:05 EST.

View this post on Instagram

Season premiere ✔️

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

View this post on Instagram

Sunday night vibes!!!! -Dmac

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

View this post on Instagram

Ayyyyy turn up @mccourtytwins #ontothenext

A post shared by J Jones (@getitonjones31) on

View this post on Instagram

Squadddd

A post shared by James White (@sweetfeet) on

View this post on Instagram

TheBeginning.

A post shared by Isaiah Wynn (@iwynn77) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2LUcrZhJEv/
View this post on Instagram

W.

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2NHgSyFOhA/
View this post on Instagram

Fun night. Good start. Much more to be done!

A post shared by Rex Burkhead (@rbrex34) on

View this post on Instagram

forward.

A post shared by Ja’Whaun Bentley (@warriormentality) on

View this post on Instagram

My goons!

A post shared by Patrick Chung (@23patrickchung) on

Patriots Week 1 Report Card, All Systems Go in Blowout Win Over the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 9, 2019 at 11:47 am ET

  The Patriots didn’t show any effects of having a Super Bowl hangover, an aging roster, or facing the last team to beat them, the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening night. The Patriots dominated the Steelers again at home from start to finish in a very impressive win to kickstart the 2019 season.

They looked like a much better-prepared team than their opponents, who after beating the Patriots last December, were looking to erase a lot of bad history when they play the Patriots on the road. Ben Roethlisberger’s only win in Gillette came in 2008, against Matt Cassel as that was the year that Tom Brady blew out his knee in Week 1. 

The Patriots coaches put together a superb game plan and the players executed to near flawless perfection. This was a tremendous win to start the 2019 season, as we’re off and running.  

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady, was in midseason form last night as he methodically and surgically picked apart the Steelers’ defense as he’s done so many times in the past  Brady was sharp, slid well in the pocket and was able to manipulate the safeties with his eyes as the offense rolled up 465 yards of offense.

Brady finished 24-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around to a number of different receivers and backs, and Pittsburgh had no answers for. 

His best throw was a dime to Phillip Dorsett for a 25-yard touchdown that was perfectly placed down the seam. Later he Dorsett again for a 52-yard touchdown where the WR was all alone. Dave Brown from the Concord Monitor referenced the hot take artists with his call of “Brady’s macaroni elbow was supposed to be the downfall of this team.” That is classic!

Running Backs: A-

The Patriots running backs were pegged by us as a key component to beating the Steelers last night. We thought they’d have to run the ball effectively and factor out of the backfield into the passing game. They did just that. Running out of a heavy set early, they picked up a couple of first downs before spreading the defense out and picking them apart. 

James White and Rex Burkhead were both outstanding in this game, each combining for over 80+ yards on the ground and in the air. White had 5 catches for 56 yards and added 26 more on the ground. Burkhead also had five catches for 41 yards and he added 44 yards on the ground. The team also got Brandon Bolden involved early, the do-everything back had an early carry for seven yards. 

The only downside was that the team couldn’t get Sony Michel involved effectively. The Steelers made a concerted effort to make other backs beat them and Michel was frequently hit in the backfield. He had only 14 yards on 15 carries. 

Wide Receivers: A

Questions, questions, questions about this group before the game last night. Not a peep this morning. The starting trio of Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Josh Gordon was terrific last night. The trio combined for  13 catches and 251 yards with three touchdowns.

Combined with the game the backs had out of the backfield, Brady just spread the wealth around nearly equally and the Steelers had no answer. Phillip Dorsett had four catches for 95 yards with two touchdowns [25 and 52], while Gordon had just three catches but for 73 yards and a score. His 20-yarder shows how difficult he can be in the open field to take down and he and Brady combined for a 44-yard bomb later in the game.

Julian Edelman looked in mid-season form, doing the dirty work underneath and across the middle and being a pain in the backside to anyone trying to cover him. He’s virtually uncoverable at times off the line and showed zero signs of the thumb ailment. Edelman had six catches for 83 yards. He had one carry for eight yards. 

Jakobi Meyers played only a handful of snaps but had a nice 22-yard reception where he took a big hit, was able to hold onto the ball and get yards after contact. The Patriots perimeter receivers averaged 23.75 yards per reception last night. Dink and Dunk? And they played without Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, and rookie N’Keal Harry. Let that sink in a second.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski is retired and everyone wants to know “Who replaces Gronk?” The short answer….the wide receivers and backs. James Develin and Ryan Izzo did a good job in the running game but they didn’t contribute much in the passing game. Izzo had one catch for three yards

They should receive a boost if Matt LaCosse is able to go in Miami but I wouldn’t expect bigger things from them until Ben Watson returns.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line was a big question mark coming into this game. Isaiah Wynn was playing in his first NFL game and Ted Karras was starting for David Andrews at center after the veteran went on IR. It is safe to say they aced their first test.

Facing a very good Steelers front seven that led the league in sacks a year ago, Brady was able to operate clean virtually the entire game. Overall, the pass protection was excellent. The run blocking was good but not great, but one should remember that Pittsburgh was the sixth-best team against the run last year. 

One thing to monitor is the status of Marcus Cannon who left the game with a shoulder injury and was seen with his arm in a sling. That could be a big loss if he’s out for an extended period of time.

Defensive Line: B

The defensive line was outstanding against the run, limiting the Steelers to just 32 yards on the ground. James Conner had just 21 yards on 10 carries. Jaylen Samuels had a pair of carries for four yards. Last year Samuels had 142 yards in the game at Pittsburgh. The linemen were holding at the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to make plays.

The only downside was the pass rush against that outstanding Steelers offensive line was negligible. The only sack by Deatrich Wise, where he stripped Roethlisberger of the ball was more of a coverage sack than anything else. But an overall very strong effort.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers were excellent last night. They filled the gaps in the running game, got some QB pressure and covered the backs well out of the backfield. The defense allowed just 87 yards and four first downs in the first half. 

Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Ja’Whaun Bentley were never out of position and consistently disrupting plays. With the top receivers blanketed, Ben Roethlisberger was looking for his secondary targets, and the linebackers helped shut those down as well. 

The front seven was suffocating, Roethlisberger was 27-47 for 277 yards and one interception. Many of those yards came with garbage time drives. He simply had no where to go and no one to throw to.

And their arguably best playmaker, Kyle Van Noy was inactive as his wife was having a baby on Sunday night. Van Noy was watching, however, and tweeted out “How about that defense?!?!?!?!? Them boys hungraaaayyyyyy!! My guys!!!!”

Secondary: A

The secondary has been a source of tremendous optimism since the spring. And they had a fantastic game against a fast and potent Pittsburgh offense. This secondary was lights out and taking away everything the Steelers tried to do. 

Stephon Gilmore was tasked with shadowing JuJu Smith-Schuster and took him out of the game. Don’t be fooled by some meaningless catches long after the game was decided, Gilmore easily won this matchup. Jonathan Jones was terrific in the slot. Jason McCourty similarly was very solid except for one deep pass to James Washington where he inexplicably pulled up, which resulted in a 45-yard completion.

Pat Chung was outstanding and took Vance McDonald out of the equation as well as providing excellent run support down low in the box. Devin McCourty had the only interception of the game. 

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had a very solid night. Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect three for three on extra points and four for four on field goal attempts. No issues were detected on the holds for his kicks with new punter Jake Bailey which had been an issue during the preseason. Bailey had one booming punt, one short one and one so-so punt. 

Gunner Olszewski had two punt returns, one for 20 yards and the other for 15 and looks very solid in the return game. The coverage units were solid

Coaches: A

The Patriots coaching staff totally dominated the matchup with Mike Tomlin and his staff. Josh McDaniels had a tremendous game plan, going at times with “20 personnel” [2 RBs, 0 TEs, 3WRs] to make up for the loss of Gronkowski. He constantly kept the Steelers guessing and defensively the plan was to take away Smith-Schuster and make the Steelers beat them with other options. It worked to a tee.

Bill Belichick had the team excellently prepared and it was clear, the preparation on the Patriots side paid big dividends. We’re on to Miami.

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.

PHOTO: Jamie Collins Is “Patiently Waiting” For Opening Night

Robert Alvarez
September 7, 2019 at 12:30 am ET

New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins is ready for his second run in Foxborough.

On Instagram Friday, Collins shared photos of himself sporting his new jersey with a caption that read “Patiently Waiting ⏰ 2 Days #BlessedByTheBest #LionBacker58 #FindersKeepersSeason.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2FiFf0pQnH/

After spending the last two and a half seasons with a struggling Cleveland Browns team, Collins seeks a return to Pro Bowl form with the team that drafted him in 2013.

During his Friday press conference, head coach Bill Belichick detailed Collins development since his trade to Cleveland.

“Jamie has three more years of experience…and so he’s very — he’s always been a smart football player. I think he’s more aware and just more experienced than he was when he was here before. He’s done a really good job for us.”

“We’ve asked him to fill multiple positions defensively. He’s done that. He did that before, but he’s, I’d say, probably expanded that a little bit. His experience allows him to communicate with more confidence — calls, adjustments, things like that, alerts that he picks up. He works well with (Dont’a Hightower), Elandon (Robert), all of the linebackers. He does a job of of that, Kyle (Van Noy). They all work well together. He’s done a good job.”

In other Collins related news, the Instagram post also confirms Jamie finally selected a number that suits the linebacker position, picking 58.

Collins number selection was a minor storyline in the preseason.

Collins signed a a one-year, $2 million deal with the Patriots back on May 19th.

“I’m trying to change — in general and as a man,” Collins told Mike Reiss last month.

Collins joins a deep linebacker corps alongside Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower, or as he calls the trio on Instagram, “The Three Musketeers”.

Best Of Social Media: Preseason Week 3 Panthers vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
August 28, 2019 at 12:20 pm ET

Week three of the 2019 preseason saw Tom Brady start for the Patriots for the first time.

Check out some of the best social media sights and sounds one final time from last Thursday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1gqbcNA5iC/
View this post on Instagram

Just keeeeeep it movin’ #GameDay

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1er38JgF17/

In what would become an unfortunate occurrence throughout the night, the Patriots medical tent saw frequent action.

With the first quarter winding down and the game still scoreless, Panthers safety Eric Reid delivered a controversial late hit on Ben Watson.

At the time of this posting, Eric Reid has reportedly apologized for the late hit but no NFL action has been made.

With the game scoreless through a quarter, Brady finally put together a scoring drive.

7-0 Patriots following a James Develin rushing touchdown.

Just before halftime, the Patriots special teams unit was delt a serious blow when Brandon King suffered a torn quadriceps muscle.

King was placed on season ending injured reserve.

Through one half of play the Patriots lead remained 7-0.

The second half remained quiet for both squads backup players as the Patriots and Panthers traded field goals in a 10-3 final score.

The Patriots will conclude the 2019 preseason on Thursday night against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1gilkAn2Ky/
View this post on Instagram

Visualize.

A post shared by Isaiah Wynn (@iwynn77) on

View this post on Instagram

Blessing came Perfect…i Timed it.

A post shared by Ja’Whaun Bentley (@warriormentality) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1gqH1mgd2w/

New England Patriots News 8-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 25, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-25 and AFC East notes this week. 

The Patriots have one more game left in the preseason this week against the Giants and then will have the tough task of cutting down the 90 man roster to just 53 and then filling out the remaining ten spots [11 with Jakob Johnson who is an NFL International player if he doesn’t make the 53].

While the starters won’t play much if at all on Thursday for either team, the game will still be compelling because of the roster spots that are still on the line. Several players will be playing for their jobs, some will succeed and carve out a roster spot, others will be unemployed and waiting for the phone to ring.

Check back with us frequently on PatsFans.com as we’ll continue to post daily updates on the latest news and how the roster initially shakes out. 

 Quick Hitters:

Andrew Luck – Announced his retirement yesterday. Luck has been hobbled by injuries for much of his career and it was cut short after just seven seasons. He was once thought to be the “next great one” but it never materialized for him. For a Colts team that had made major strides in building up a legit contender, this is a huge setback. Jacoby Brissette is the man for the time being again in Indy.

Tom Brady – on the learning process with Jakobi Meyers said, “I think for all of us, you play with guys that are maybe new to the offense and so forth. Sometimes they think they’re not part of the route, and then a team plays a certain coverage and they’re part of the route. Early in the season, that’s part of this time of year. We don’t have the full week to prepare. We’re kind of putting things together on the fly.”

And BTW Tom, ditch that hat…not a good look

Bill Belichick [on the play of the defense] –  You know, I thought we played competitively. We still have a lot of things to work on. There’s a lot of things we can improve on, so we’ll just go back to work this week and just keep grinding away. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re making progress.

Devin McCourty – was asked about the changes to the new pass interference rules and if the referees have done a good job of explaining it to the players. He is not a fan. “I’m never a fan of those meetings. I feel like they go however we ask the question, and then once we get in the season you might as well throw that whole meeting away. So Bill always says it the best; week-by-week. We have to go how the game is being called, and we have to adjust to it.”

Jakobi Meyers – wasn’t pleased with the way his early snaps with Brady went, but was happy to be able to persevere. He had this to say about sitting down with Brady. “Tom has played for a long time so when he wants to sit down and talk, you sit down and talk with an open ear. I am just trying to listen to everything he says, soak it up and get better.”

 Jarrett Stidham Is Ahead of His Projections And Learning His Craft:

The NFL Draft isn’t an exact science, we all know that. Some players have superstar potential and never make it. Others, aren’t very highly sought after but thru hard work, belief in themselves, and a burning desire to succeed will rise far above their projected ceiling when the draft rolls around. 

Take Tom Brady, drafted in the 6th round,199th overall in 2000. No one thought he’d amount to much. Now 20 years later, he stands alone at the absolute pinnacle of the sport. Which brings us to this year’s 4th round draft choice Jarrett Stidham, the rookie QB from Auburn. 

Stidham played in an offense at Auburn that really stunted his growth as an NFL QB. He too wasn’t highly thought of and his selection barely registered across NFL circles. He struggled in minicamp and even threw an interception in a walkthru. When training camp started, he frequently held the ball too long and struggled to make a decision. Although he throws a really nice ball, he was struggling with his reads, things that not uncommon with rookie QBs. 

But with each passing day, he was learning …and improving. He’s steadily got better and watching him on Thursday night against the Panthers it didn’t resemble anything close to the kid who struggled so badly on Day 1 of Training Camp. I reached out to Mark Schofield, who is an outstanding analyst, especially when it comes to QBs. He wrote a very nice piece on QB Development for Pro Football Weekly in the annual draft issue. He writes for Inside the Pylon and does a really good podcast on Pats Pulpit. I had spoken to Mark in the spring after the Patriots had drafted Stidham and wanted to get his take on how far he’s progressed. He had several interesting takes on the rookie.

“Progress is probably the best way to phrase this,” Schofield said. “The really interesting thing is the mental development, you saw it against the Lions… I love those ‘no-throw’ moments when the QB doesn’t throw a pass that was expected and then go back and to find out why.”

On this particular play, the Patriots were running a two-receiver set known as “Rope”, where the slot receiver runs a slant and then breaks to the outside. The outside receiver runs a route that is dependent on the coverage but is normally a go route. This play is designed to defeat a Cover 2 which is what the Lions defense was aligned in. “The QB wants to throw that route in the flat,” Schofield said. Stidham held the ball and scrambled for five yards…no big deal right? Wrong, says Schofield. 

“The Lions were running what they call a ‘Cover 5 Cougar’ which is Cover 2 man underneath trap coverage, which is specifically designed to stop this kind of play. The cornerback backpedals for just a moment with the outside vertical route, and if he sees the inside receiver run this route to the flat, he peels off the outside receiver and crashes—or “traps”—the out route. But the corner is still reading the slot receiver. even with his back to him. This tells the quarterback that the CB is bailing, but it is really just a wrinkle looking to bait the quarterback into throwing the flat route, and potentially an interception.”

“Stidham sees the coverage, drops back and begins to throw the ball but recognizes what the Lions are doing. He stops the throw and pulls down the ball and runs. It is a real heads up play for a rookie because it is a coverage that fools even veteran QBs. And when you’re seeing the progress there, going from tossing picks in a walk-thru to recognizing the coverage and reacting like this, it is huge progress.”

“I think he’s made a huge impression on this coaching staff and his progress has been excellent, I’ve been really impressed with him,” Schofield added.

The Auburn offense wasn’t a great fit for a QB with his talents and until he hit the Senior Bowl this spring, he wasn’t considered a coveted prospect. But playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Mobile was an eye-opener. “There were times, that I thought he was the best QB down there…not Daniel Jones or anybody else,” Schofield said. 

Schofield added, “when I got a chance to talk to him, I asked him what his favorite offense was, in the ones he’d run, and he said, ‘Everything this week.’”

He was a really good fit in a pro-style offense, and Schofield said that you could see him moving defenders with his eyes, and going thru reads quickly. “So the fit with him coming to New England was pretty good.”

So, the question now is, do the Patriots believe that Stidham can handle the offense if anything were to happen to Brady and part ways with Hoyer, keeping only two quarterbacks. 

“It is a really tough question because they have so many tough decisions to make at other positions… when you look at some of the players that they have at, say…wide receiver or the defensive line, the coaches could say, we have to make a choice here. But ideally, they’d find a way to keep all three. But the fact that we’re having this conversation tells you how much he’s progressed.”

“This is another example of how the Patriots approach things,” Schofield said. “They don’t concern themselves with what he can’t do, they focus on the things that he does well. They saw the arm talent, his processing speed and they liked the potential in him and he’s in a good position to learn, not just from Tom Brady but from Josh McDaniels as well. It is a great environment to learn.”

While no one is anointing him for Canton just yet or that he’s the heir apparent to Tom Brady, it at least shows the coaching staff, that they may have something in him and he’s going to get more put on his plate as they attempt to further develop him.

We’ll have the entire interview with Mark Schofield available shortly on our YouTube channel.

Patriots Defense Ahead Of Schedule This Year:

The Patriots’ defense went through a ton of changes this spring. They lost the versatile and important Trey Flowers as well as former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But the losses on the coaching staff left the team with literally the cupboard bare. De facto DC and LBs coach Brian Flores went to Miami along with cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, while defensive line coach Brendan Daly bolted for Kansas City. 

Greg Schiano was hired as the new Defensive Coordinator but soon after stepped down. Jerod Mayo was hired the next day as the inside linebackers coach. Bret Bielema, who was already on the staff took over the d-line. DeMarcus Covington took over the outside linebackers coaching position, while Mike Pellegrino is now the cornerbacks’ coach. Steve Belichick remains the safeties coach.

On the field, it seems like this crew has been together for years. And Bill Belichick has assembled a really deep and talented crew from top to bottom with some very experienced players mixed in with 2nd-year players and rookies that are meshing together extremely well. 

The defense last year struggled especially against the run and getting after the QB early in the year. Their slow start wasn’t anything especially new, Belichick likes to add more and more as the season goes on and build on things. By the end of the season, they had things figured out and ended the regular season and went into the playoffs with a much more aggressive, attacking mindset. The results spoke for themselves, as they held the Rams to just three points in the Super Bowl. 

That slow build-up looks to have been accelerated this season. The 2019 Patriots have the potential to be a very special group, perhaps even rivaling the 2004 team. With depth at all three levels, this group is already a confident, versatile bunch and their play on the field bears that out.

While comparing them to the 2004 unit may be a stretch at this early juncture, look at the depth and versatility at the linebacker position. A year ago it was a position of concern, now, they may have to part with some players who could contribute, not just here but with other teams as well. The cornerback group is as deep as I’ve ever remembered and has the ability to mix and match with any opponent matchups.

Last year, the team couldn’t find any takers for joint practices and they entered the regular season not as prepared as the coaching staff would have liked, not surprisingly, the defense wasn’t good as the team limped out to a 1-2 start. 

The back-to-back joint practice sessions with the Lions and Titans have this team in a much better position. But the pieces were already in place this spring. There has been a collective confidence brewing since the first OTAs with the defensive group. Since training camp has started this unit has looked really strong. The Patriots offense really struggled in the first days of training camp which led to the question, “Is it the defense being really good, or just the offense being really bad?” 

The joint practices and the preseason game with the Lions reinforced that it was indeed the defense being “that good”. The Patriots offense looked very good in Detroit while the defense stifled the Lions. During the game, they wracked up nine sacks and held the Lions to just three points. 

At home against the Panthers, they held Carolina’s offense in the first half to just 29 yards, two first downs, and 0-5 on third down. The confidence that the unit is playing with is far ahead of where they normally are at this time of year. But what was more impressive is that they liberally rotated a lot of players with the top unit. Game planning for this unit? A total of 13 players have sacks thru three games.

They even dusted off the old Bears 46 Defense with two LBs on the line of scrimmage on the strong side which resulted in a sack. That will give the Steelers’ coaches something to think about in two weeks. That’s the first real test and a very big one as Pittsburgh’s offense looks stacked once again. 

Holding for Field Goals, Why Use Punters and Not WRs?

After the missed field goal connection between Jake Bailey and Stephen Gostkowski I got a good question on Twitter this Friday, a follower asked, “Why would the Patriots [and other teams] use a punter as a holder for extra points and field goals and not a wide receiver who is used to handling the ball?”

This is a very good question and I remember thinking the same thing several years ago. So, with that in mind, a few years ago Bill Belichick was asked about that. And he always has good reasons to play Special Teams. Here are a few good reasons why teams use a punter rather than a WR. 

Punters, kickers, and long-snappers can work all week on their delivery and timing of kicks. While the WRs will be working on another part of the game plan. That allows them to dedicate nearly all of their time to this when a WR may not have as much.

Punters have good hands and have to handle the ball quickly and seamlessly. Any bobble will result in a blocked punt. And punters are used to working under pressure. Imagine a slew of big defensive linemen rushing at you and everything depends on handling the ball quickly and letting a kick go. 

Plus, punters aren’t injured nearly as much as wide receivers are so the continuity factor is always there.

Replacing Chung Is No Easy Task in the Secondary:

Patriots safety Pat Chung is facing arraignment for possession of cocaine charges in New Hampshire this coming week. He may not actually see his court case heard until next year. So, any suspension from the NFL may not come until next year. But depending upon the circumstances of his case, the league could act sooner. 

Chung, however, may still not play in the season opener as he’s missed the entire preseason and has worn a red non-contact jersey all through training camp as he’s been recovering from a broken arm suffered in the Super Bowl as well as off-season shoulder surgery. So, who steps up and plays his role against the Steelers if he isn’t ready to go?

We may see a mixture of Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks if he’s out. Brooks was mainly a special teams’ contributor with the Jets but this summer, he’s gotten a lot of reps with the top defensive unit. Harmon has been used more as another deep safety. Brooks accounted well for himself in joint practices and the preseason and could step into the role, but Chung does so much it is no easy task. 

Chung plays the in-the-box safety run support role, a linebacker in dime coverage, at times even playing in the slot as well as providing backup support as a third punt returner for special teams when needed. One other player to watch may be rookie corner Joejuan Williams who can be asked to cover the tight ends with his size. 

Hopefully, Chung will be ready to go against Pittsburgh and in uniform that night. But if he isn’t, it would be expected his place would be taken not by one player but multiple ones.

Due to the longer than normal [nearly 3000 words] Patriots notes this week, we are not running our AFC East Notes this Sunday, but they’ll be back next week for sure.

________________

“I think Jarrett’s pocket presence is good. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. Certainly, when you’re comparing him to the other two quarterbacks on our roster, guys who have played a lot of football in this league, it’s quite a gap in experience. I’m sure those are things that Jarrett will get better at. [It is] probably about what you would think it would be given the difference in experience that you’re comparing him to – to players in our offense running the same plays that he does. So, it’s hard to compare one quarterback in one system to a quarterback in a completely different system, but in our case, we have three quarterbacks all in the same system. It’s an obvious comparison. He’s getting better. I think he does a good job, but there’s room for improvement, certainly.”
Bill Belichick on how Jarrett Stidham’s pocket presence has improved 8-23

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

What to Watch For, Preseason Week 3 Patriots vs Panthers

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

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

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

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

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

Can Brady and the New Faces Click on Offense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching the Starting Secondary Gel On the Field:

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

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

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

Special Teams Get Ready For Week 1:

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 3.0, Several Vets Face the Axe

Steve Balestrieri
August 19, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

With the Patriots now halfway thru their preseason slate, we’re going to take stock of the roster once again and take a stab at predicting a 53-man roster projection. The preseason games in Detroit and Nashville along with several joint practices conducted with both teams have given the coaches much more information and play against an opponent to evaluate.

What is different about this particular projection is that several established veterans may now find themselves on the roster bubble as the coaches now find that the depth of this roster will make them face some really difficult decisions moving forward.

Offense –

Quarterbacks: (3)

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Out: none

No changes here. The Patriots could feel that Stidham can handle the backup duties for Brady, much like they did in 2009 when Brady was returning from his ACL injury and Brian Hoyer was a rookie backup. But Hoyer’s value lies in his experience, he is a sounding board for Brady and does a valuable and underrated job of running the scout team offense during the practice week. This could change, but for now we’re sticking with three QBs.

Running backs: (5)
Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Out: Rex Burkhead, Nick Brosette, Jakob Johnson* [NFL International Player]

A big change this time around. Develin could be lumped in with the tight ends but regardless of where he is, he’s not going anywhere. The Patriots are deep here and after the game in Nashville, Harris showed his versatility of being able to run the ball and made five catches out of the backfield. Something he shares with Burkhead. 

Could the increased versatility of Michel and now Harris, plus the return of Gordon mean that the Patriots cut Burkhead? Due to the depth and decisions, they have to make on the other side of the ball, [see more below], some very tough decisions will have to be made, and this one won’t be easy. Watch who is playing late in preseason games 3-4 and we may have our answer

Brosette has played well in limited action and lands on the practice squad. Johnson got a number of reps in Nashville who is automatically granted an extra spot on the PS due to his NFL International status

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

This all depends on how serious LaCosse’s injury situation is. If he’s going to be out for a while, this could open the door for one of the other veterans to step in. LaCosse has had a solid summer. Izzo is a good inline blocker, remember he made the 53-man roster last year before landing on IR.

Wide Receivers: (6)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers,  Braxton Berrios
Out: Maurice Harris (IR), Dontrelle Inman [asked for and granted his release Sunday], Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, Demaryius Thomas [PUP], Cameron Meredith [PUP]

Edelman, Harry, and Gordon project to be the top three. Gordon’s reinstatement puts him right smack on the roster in a lock status. They know his value.   

Meyers has been extremely impressive all summer and is now a lock. Harris was having a terrific spring/summer but he got injured and Tom E. Curran from NBC Sports Boston has reported he could be out “for a while”. So this is where the Pats will place him on IR with the possibility of returning later this season. Dorsett is injured as well. His position seems a bit unsure right now as well.

Berrios goes from out in our last projection to making the roster by virtue of his ability to return kicks and punts. Although they could tag Dorsett/Bolden for that. Thomas, although seen running full speed this week, along with Meredith begins the year on PUP.  With Gordon’s addition, the team will have to carry an extra wide receiver to protect themselves in the event that Gordon’s inner demons resurface. 

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

Wynn’s return to action and his performance in the game against the Titans has to be a big relief for the coaching staff. The team keeps Skipper as the swing tackle for now as Cajuste gets a red-shirt IR year. Froholdt and Ferentz battle it out for the final backup spot. But the team could opt for keeping just seven OL as they did at cut-down time a year ago.  

Defense –

Edge Players: (5)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers
Out: Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, Ufomba Kamalu

Rivers makes the cut this time around after very solid play this summer with a big caveat. He was hurt and helped off the field in Nashville. The severity of his injury may come into play here. Hopefully, he’s not injured badly this time around. 

Winovich has been very impressive this summer, Bennett, Simon, and Wise are established veterans. Harris has played well as a sub-rusher and could sneak in if Rivers is hurt more seriously.

Interior Defensive Line: (4)

Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler

Out: Bryon Cowart, David Parry

No changes. Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup nose tackle. Guy and Butler offer versatility in either inside DL in a 4-3 or as 3-4 DEs playing a five-technique. This is a solid group and Mike Pennel should be an immediate early downs producer. Cowart is playing really well and although pushing for a roster spot will end up on the practice squad. 

Linebacker: (5)
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Shalique Calhoun
Out: Elandon Roberts, Brandon King, Christian Sam. Terez Hall, Calvin Munson,

Big changes here, once again difficult decisions force the team to part ways with Roberts and King who is a special teams ace. Sam and Munson have looked good in limited availability but are victims of the numbers crunch. Calhoun has gotten better all summer long and brings good pressure off the edge. 

Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Keion Crossen
Out: Duke Dawson, Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross

Another area where changes are made. Gilmore, McCourty, and Jackson give the team three very good outside corners. Jones has clearly outperformed Dawson and will handle the slot. Williams has really come on and has played very well in the past few weeks. 

Will the Patriots cut ties with a 2nd round player [Dawson] who has never played a down? Unfortunately, that is the case.

Safety: (5)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Nate Ebner
Out: Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, AJ Howard

Ebner is back and edges out King for the STs slot. Toughest cut here is Melifonwu who has played well all summer long. The top three are locked in and Brooks has gotten a lot of work with the top unit. 

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

No changes here. Gostkowski and  Cardona faced no camp competition, although Gostkowski has missed kicks in consecutive games. Bailey has a huge leg and also can kickoff, he still gets the edge over the established solid veteran in Allen, who won’t be unemployed for long. Slater is tremendous as the Patriots gunner. 

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

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

Postcards From the Edge – Patriots Front Seven Primed For 2019

Steve Balestrieri
August 17, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

What a difference a year makes. Last season at this time, there were major questions about the depth of their linebacking corps and who…besides Trey Flowers could rush the passer. Now, they enter their second preseason game and the front seven has depth galore and an entirely new outlook on things. 

Flowers was tough to see leave, he did so much and a lot of it under the radar for the Patriots. But the team addressed it in several ways this year. The big men in the middle Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler, and Danny Shelton look better than they were a year ago inside. Rookie Byron Cowart is still a long shot for the roster but has come on after missing time early with an injury. He had a half-sack and a QB pressure last week in Detroit. 

Although Michael Bennett is 33 years old, as of today, he shows no sign of slowing down and has been dominant in our limited look at him so far. And Bennett is flashing some of the same versatility, lining up inside, outside and even over the nose.

He’s embracing his role and the defensive scheme and seems to have a healthy respect for the coaching staff. Deatrich Wise hasn’t been 100 percent yet but should now see some action. Consistency is the key for him in 2019.

Chase Winovich was picked up this spring in the third round of the draft and he’s been “exactly who we thought he was.” He has an incredible motor that goes non-stop, excellent hands [which will only get better with pass-rush consultant Joe Kim]. Winovich has looked terrific in his opportunities which included a 1.5 sack performance against the Lions last week. 

Derek Rivers keeps trending up. He too had a big game against Detroit [2 sacks], and put constant pressure on the QBs last week, both in practice and in the game. After being a total non-factor for his first two years, is he a shoo-in? No, but the way he’s playing has to be a huge confidence boost for not only him but the coaches. 

Shalique Calhoun is quickly becoming a steal. The veteran that came over from the Raiders this spring barely registered on the radar [here as well….], however, it seems like he’s another guy that wasn’t considered a nice pickup and who can pay big dividends for the team. His play was such that he was given reps with the starters. He responded in Detroit with a sack and a tackle for loss. 

And we haven’t even got to the linebackers. John Simon was the under the radar pickup last year.  He does a terrific job of setting the edge and had an interception last week. Jamie Collins was dynamic last week and has been a beast throughout training camp. He has the athleticism to be a movable chess piece anywhere they sense a mismatch to their advantage. He had a sack last week…. Are we sensing a pattern here?

Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are the linchpins for the front seven. They can rush off the edge or up in the A-gaps.  Hightower dropped weight this offseason and looks faster and a bit more athletic. He looked good back in his home state this week.

Van Noy was another Belichick highway robbery when they snatched him away from the Lions. He can do everything that Belichick and Mayo will ask of him. Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley hold down the middle. Two guys outside looking in are Calvin Munson and Christian Sam.  Munson has put back-to-back solid weeks together.

Last week, the Patriots had 17 QB pressures and nine sacks against the woefully unprepared Lions. This week against a better team, the front seven hounded Titans’ QBs in the joint practices. Can they do it again in the game on Saturday night? 

We shall see. But things are trending up for this defense in 2019. In about three weeks will be the first real test when they take on the Steelers in the season opener. Pittsburgh has one of the better offensive lines in the league. And this time around, there is growing confidence in the front seven.  

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

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

New England Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 2.0

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

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

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)

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

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

Running backs: (6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense –

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

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

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

Interior Defensive Line: (4)

Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler

Out: Bryon Cowart, David Parry

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

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

Linebacker: (6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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