Tag Archives: Jabaal Sheard

Patriots  Week 5 Report Card, New England Downs Colts Again 38-24

Steve Balestrieri
October 5, 2018 at 11:29 am ET

The Patriots were facing a short week and a familiar nemesis or perhaps that is a harsh term, foe may be a better description. Other than the ones who began the entire Deflategate fiasco with the league, the Patriots have owned the Colts for the previous seven games winning by an average of about 20 points.

Thursday night began much the same way, the Pats were up by 21 at the half and it looked like they may hang a 50 burger on a very shorthanded Colts team. And by all accounts, they should have.  But sloppy ball control in the second half cost them and due to the outstanding effort of Andrew Luck, the Colts narrowed the score to 24-17 and it was a game.

The Patriots quickly responded and put two more scores up to put it back up by 21 before Luck led a late drive to make it seem respectable at 38-24. This was Thursday Night Football in a microcosm. Dropped passes on both sides, five turnovers, players getting hurt. Not to mention those god-awful all blue monstrosities that pass for uniforms. Hell Indianapolis couldn’t even field an entire 46-man team last night. But hey Commish, tell us again how the players’ safety is #1 in your book.

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

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady was totally in control last night and was meticulously picking the Colts zone defense apart from start to finish. He started the first drive of the game by going 9-9 and throwing a touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson. Of his first 13 passes, the only incompletion was a drop by Julian Edelman.

He did miss a few throws to Josh Gordon, but we chalk those up to be still working on their chemistry and timing together. But last night one got the feeling that the Colts defense wasn’t going to stop them, and it was correct. He threw for 341 yards and three TDs while completing 34-44,  and it could have been even more.

His two picks were not only preventable but right in the hands of his receivers, one of which looked more fumble than interception…but whatever. Brady passed two big milestones becoming the 3rd member of the 500 TD club and the only one to do it with one team.  He also set a new record by passing a TD to 71 different receivers, more than anyone else.

Running Backs: A-

The Patriots running backs had another very productive night. Sony Michel just missed a second 100-yard outing getting 98 yards on 18 carries. His 34-yard touchdown run was stuff we saw from him in college. In the past five days, Michel has gained 223 yards on the ground.  And he’s getting better every day.

James White was a guy we highlighted to have a big game and we were spot on there. White caught 10 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown and is so valuable in the Patriots passing game.

Michel needs to get better, and will, in the short-yardage running game, but that isn’t really his strength. James Develin continues to amaze as a blocker in the running game.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers are now finally all in place, and you know what, you can stop lining up at the Tobin because “Bill doesn’t give Tawmmy enuff weaponz”. This group looked very dangerous and they’re just scratching the surface of their potential.

Julian Edelman is back and answered the questions as to whether he’d still have the quickness that we’re accustomed to seeing. He made his mark on the game right off the bat, catching three passes on the opening drive.

Gordon is still learning the offense and was only targeted a few times but had two big catches including the highlight reel 34-yard touchdown pass from Brady. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Patterson are now the complementary guys and as such their production was just fine, 8 catches, 70 yards, and a touchdown. Hogan had the one brutal drop for a pick.

Tight Ends: B

Rob Gronkowski was obviously hobbled and in pain last night, one could see him limping several times after the play. But Brady and offense didn’t go thru Gronk and his numbers were OK, 6 catches for 75 yards. On the dropped/interception/ fumble, which we thought was a fumble, had it stood up he would have ended with 7-90, and yes we would gladly take that on a bad ankle.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line was once again outstanding last night. The Colts entered the game with 17 sacks in the first four games and Brady’s pass protection was, for the vast majority of the game terrific. They had just 4 QB hits and 0 sacks.

Michel had room to run again and the boys up front did a fantastic job. Rewatch Brady’s 500th TD to Gordon, and he had an unreal amount of time to throw the football.

Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line did an okay job of stuffing the sputtering running game against the Colts. They had a big run at the end of the first half and some yards late in the game, but overall, it was good enough to force Luck to have to pass 60 times.  

The team only had one sack, a nice play by Trey Flowers in the first quarter. Adam Butler made a nice play of recognizing a screen pass and stuffing it for a loss. Adrian Clayborn had his best game of the season and was getting a lot of pressure on Luck. His pressure caused the Chung interception.

Linebackers: B

This wasn’t the fantastic day they had on Sunday but it was good enough. The linebackers were tasked with covering the running backs and they did a decent job of it. Nyheim Hines led the Colts with 22 receptions and he made 7 last night but for just 45 yards, which while solid enough numbers, wasn’t what the Colts needed with an injury-depleted roster.  

Hightower got beat by Eric Ebron on their final touchdown with a minute and a half to go when he bit hard on a run fake.

Secondary: B

The secondary wasn’t quite as bad as some were pointing out last night. Luck put on a nice show and threw for 365 yards and was dropping some really nice throws that was belying the hot take that his arm strength was suspect.

He also threw 60 passes so he was averaging less than six yards per pass. His passer rating was around 84 so that wasn’t great either. Jason McCourty had another strong game and is quickly becoming a very solid as the second corner. Stephon Gilmore was solid all game long, he was burned on one deep route but the receiver dropped the ball.

Jonathan Jones had a rough night and Luck was picking on him. Luck’s best target was TE Eric Ebron who gave Devin McCourty fits. Pat Chung also shared coverage responsibilities with Ebron. The two safeties got low marks for that, however, Chung was making plays all over the field and had 11 tackles, an interception, and a QB hit. McCourty forced a turnover too, so again, it wasn’t as bad as Twitter would have you believe.

Special Teams: B

Stephen Gostkowski was 5-5 on extra points and nailed his only field goal attempt. Ryan Allen averaged 48.3 yards per punt but did outkick his coverage on one and it allowed the Colts to return it 32 yards. Julian Edelman was returning punts and looked very good. The Colts weren’t allowing Patterson to return any kickoffs and boomed them away.

Coaches: A-

Faced with a short week, was there any doubt which team was the most prepared to go on Thursday Night Football? Bill Belichick had the team ready to go and they had a good gameplan and the offense looked like a house on fire racing out to a 24-3 halftime lead.

After Luck and the Colts narrowed it down the one score early in the 4th quarter, the Patriots put them away with two big scoring drives.

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

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

Patriots-Colts Week 5, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 3, 2018 at 6:30 am ET

The New England Patriots host a Thursday Night Football game for the first time this season against the Indianapolis Colts. It is an important game for both teams as the Patriots are trying to stay on the winning track after dropping two in a row. The Colts are trying to get back on the winning track after dropping two close games to the Eagles and Texans.  

This week’s game will be broadcast by Fox on Thursday, October 4 at 8:20 PM ET and can be seen locally on WFXT Channel 25. Joe Buck will handle play-by-play duties with Troy Aikman as the color analyst. Erin Andrews and Kristina Pink 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 (2-2) defeated the Miami Dolphins 38-7 to even their record at .500. The Patriots dominated on both sides of the ball, holding Ryan Tannehill to just 100 yards passing. Sony Michel had 112 yards rushing, Tom Brady threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns. James White had a touchdown rushing and receiving.

The Colts (1-3) dropped a heart-breaking 37-34 overtime loss to the Houston Texans. Andrew Luck threw for 464 yards and 4 TDs, completing 40 of 62 passes. Luck completed passes to eight different receivers and the Colts had five receivers with 50 yards or more.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Colts are playing for the 81st time in a series dominated by the Patriots. New England holds a 51-29 overall lead in the all-time series lead including a 4-1 advantage in the postseason. At home, the Patriots hold an all-time 29-12 lead. They have won the last seven matchups and are 5-0 against Andrew Luck including two playoff victories.

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 Colts Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game showed some definite signs of life last week with the team racking up 175 yards against the Dolphins. Sony Michel led the way with 112 yards on 25 carries with a touchdown. James White added 44 more including a 22-yard touchdown run. The coaches have made a concerted effort to remain balanced this year and this game with a short prep week, look for more of the same.

The Colts aren’t the team that the Patriots routinely gashed left and right a few years ago. They’re bigger and built much better to stop the run than those sieve-like teams. They have a good size front four with former Patriot Jabaal Sheard at one end and big Margus Hunt at the other with Al Woods and Denico Autry inside.

Look for the Patriots to continue to their balanced attack and keep mixing things up against the Colts defense. The defense played nearly a 5-quarter game on Sunday and was on the field for 83 snaps. That may begin to take a toll on the road team in the fourth quarter. Especially if the Patriots can get ahead early and keep the pressure on them.

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

The Patriots passing game looked much better with the addition of Josh Gordon last week. This week they add Julian Edelman back into the mix. That is a good sign for New England. With Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan more complementary type of receivers, they will be placed in a much better position to succeed. With James White and Michel out of the backfield and Cordarelle Patterson as a small package type of player, all of a sudden, Brady has plenty of weapons to work with. The only question is whether Rob Gronkowski’s ankle will allow him to play.

The Colts are allowing about 268 yards per game thru the air. If Gronkowski is able to go this week, it will put them in a very difficult position to win many matchups. However, they did get seven sacks against Houston last week, two of which came from Autry inside. They’ll need that kind of push this week.

Look for Brady to test the Colts corners (Kenny Moore and Nate Hairston) with Gordon and Edelman. White is the X-Factor in the offense, as with his full complement of receivers this week,  Brady may be able to find mismatches for his talented running back. Their linebackers are young and inexperienced but have been playing really well. If Gronkowski is available to play (I’d lean toward no right now), then his matchup will be the key one to watch.

Next up the Indianapolis offense:

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

The Colts haven’t replaced Frank Gore yet although two rookies (Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines) look to eventually have the team in good shape. The Colts are having trouble running the football this year, averaging just 72 yards per game.

The Patriots had been getting gashed via the run until last week’s game against the Dolphins. They did a much better job against Miami holding them to just 56 yards on the ground. However, in the pivotal first half, Miami had six carries for seven yards. Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton were much better last week as was the play of the linebackers.

Look for Luck to pass to run. They’d love to get their backs going and get in favorable positions in terms of downs and yardage, but the Patriots should be able to slow them down enough to force Luck and the Colts into having to throw the ball. Elandon Roberts, who had a big game on Sunday left early with an injury, we’ll see what his availability is this week.

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

The Indy passing game has been limited thus far to the no-huddle, up-tempo short yardage game as they’ve wanted to ease Luck back into things and not do too much right away. That has led some to believe that his arm strength is gone. While it probably isn’t where it was a few years ago, it will grow stronger as the season wears on.

Luck’s most dangerous weapon, T.Y. Hilton is injured with a hamstring problem right now and may not play this week. That would really limit the stretching of the field that the Colts enjoy with him. He’ll lean heavily on Hines, out of the backfield who is the team’s leading receiver with 22 catches and Ryan Grant along tight end Eric Ebron. Jack Doyle is also injured with a bad hip.

The Patriots played much better coverage last week, getting aggressive and physical with the wide receivers off the line. The cornerbacks easily had their best game of the year and if the Colts are minus their best WR it is a plus for NE. Look for the Patriots to get more aggressive and try to put more pressure on Luck this week to generate some extra pass rush. Newcomer John Simon may see some extra work against his former team this week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots and Colts Special Teams both have very reliable kickers and punters. Adam Vinatieri was called the best kicker in NFL history by Bill Belichick this week, and unlike other times where he pumps the opponent’s tires, he isn’t stretching much there. The ageless Vinatieri is still money on FGs and EPs. The Colts have an excellent punter in Rigoberto Sanchez. The Patriots tandem of Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski are an excellent tandem of their own. Except for the year Gostkowski was injured, the Patriots have had only two kickers (Vinatieri or Gostkowski) for the past 23 years.

Both teams have solid coverage units. The Colts return game is stuck in neutral while the Patriots return men Cordarrelle Patterson and Cyrus Jones are just starting to show some life.  

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Thursday Night Games are always difficult to get a good feel for. With a very short week to prepare, you never know what you’re going to get. The Patriots have always traditionally prepared well for the short-week Thursday night contests.

We’re going to stick with what has been working and that is the Patriots will continue their winning streak against the Colts, especially at home until they show that they can win one here.

You have to factor in the Colts defense played 83 snaps on Sunday afternoon and they could still have some residual effect from that overtime contest. Factor in they may be missing their best wide receiver in Hilton and it adds to balance sheet for New England.

Brady will have Julian Edelman back this week for the first real game since the Super Bowl against Atlanta, so expect that they’ll try to get him involved early, but then limit his usage until he gets his game legs under him. I’d look for Indy to line up Hairston their bigger corner on Gordon which should be a good matchup to watch.

The Patriots and Brady have had Luck and the Colts number at home for some time now. Look for that to continue this week to kick off Week 5.  Patriots 34-17

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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.

Best and Most Important Off-season Additions for the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
May 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm ET

Sometimes it is unfair to base everything on the previous season on just one game but when that game is the Super Bowl, it is hard to erase those memories. And for the Patriots, the problems that were plain to see in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia were symptomatic of problems the team faced all season and was able to overcome.

But against a team with a hot quarterback and an offense that blew out the prevailing #1 defense in the NFL, perhaps we should not have been so surprised at the outcome. Specifically, the defense all season struggled to stop the run, especially inside, they struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback as well as setting the edge and the coverage by the linebackers was spotty at best.

So how did the team address these deficiencies? It is important to note that the Patriots consider free agency and the draft inexorably linked. They use their draft capital for veteran players as the feeling is, their quality is a more known value than a college player who has yet to play in the NFL. So when looking at the offseason and the draft, for New England, it is always important to use Free Agency when judging the merits of the General Manager’s prowess at team building. (clears throat)

So who is the most important off-season addition in 2018? Adrian Clayborn.

Clayborn checks the block for two of the most important areas that need to be addressed. Setting the edge and getting after the quarterback. The Patriots like their edge guys to be a bit bigger than the greyhounds that populate the NFL landscape today. Because the value setting the edge as a priority. And Clayborn is big, 6’5, 280 pounds of relentless

After an offseason of losing Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long to free agency, Rob Ninkovich to retirement and Dont’a Hightower, top 2017 draft choice Derek Rivers as well as rookie Harvey Langi on IR last year, they were notoriously thin at the position.

One bright spot was the play of rookie Deatrich Wise who chipped in 26 total tackles and five sacks. He added an additional four tackles and two sacks in three playoff games. Less impressive, however, was the play of Cassius Marsh, who wasn’t a fit in the Patriots system and Eric Lee, both of whom had issues setting the edge. That’s why they brought James Harrison late in the season. It put too much pressure on Trey Flowers and the defense suffered for it.

Hightower, Langi, and Rivers are back, which is huge. Wise will be better in Year 2 which helps but in getting Clayborn, the Patriots should have plenty of depth, and production…if everyone can stay healthy.

The Patriots and Bill Belichick have known Clayborn’s value for some time now. He played at Iowa under Belichick close friend Kirk Ferentz, they watched him in joint practices where he played for another Belichick close confidant in Greg Schiano.

“He’s had a good career,” head coach Bill Belichick told Patriots.com. “He’s been a very productive player in multiple positions. So, again, look forward to working with him. I know he’s a solid person, works hard, tough kid. I think he’ll be a good addition to our program. We’ll see how it all goes.”

He’s had injury issues over his career but was healthy for all of 2017 and had a career-high 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Falcons. He’s yet another former 1st round draft pick (#20 overall in 2011), that the Patriots have brought in later in their career.

With the addition of Danny Shelton inside with Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and the return of Vincent Valentine, the interior of the defensive line should be much improved over 2017. They also double-dipped at linebacker in Rounds 5-6 in the 2018 NFL Draft with Ja’Whaun Bentley (#143) and Christian Sam (#178) which should also help the issues with the position.

Overall on paper, the unit they have now, with the additional players they’ve added in the secondary looks much, much better than the squad that took the field in the Super Bowl. So who is the most important addition to the defense?

He actually isn’t an addition at all, but his responsibilities are added on to. Brian Flores.

With Matt Patricia now a head coach in Detroit, Flores has the play-calling responsibilities as a defensive coordinator but not the title, which he doesn’t care for anyway. Flores himself, the Patriots linebacker coach/defensive coordinator has gotten consideration from the Arizona Cardinals for their head coaching position. Flores has been with the Pats since 2004 and will be watched closely in 2018 to see how he handles the pressure.

When he met with the media about a week ago, it is pretty obvious why so many speak so highly of him. He says all the right things and has his head screwed on straight. His main defensive philosophy is to help the players become the best version of themselves — on and off the field.

Belichick had to be smiling when he saw that Flores, after being asked many times about putting his own personal stamp on the defense, deferred. Instead, he mentioned making a “team imprint” on defense.

Flores said that he’s hard on the players but gets the best out of them. “I’m tough on the players. I think you need to be tough on them so they can be disciplined. You need the discipline to play this game.”

His goal he said, is “going to sound like a Bill Belichick-coached team.” Flores spoke about playing under pressure, being tough, smart and dependable. All of these things are exactly the right thing to say if you’re Flores. Now he’ll have to do it on the field and prove that he’s up to the task. Something about that leads one to believe that he will be just fine as the team’s new defensive coordinator.

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 Draft Profile, Sam Hubbard, Edge, Ohio State

Steve Balestrieri
March 29, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Hubbard One of the Top Edge Players in the Draft

As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots were decimated on the edge in 2017. They lost Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency. But they brought over Kony Ealy in a trade with the Panthers and then drafted Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise in the draft. They were planning on having the old pro-Rob Ninkovich for one more season along with Shea McClellin and Dont’a Hightower who was moving to the edge last year.

Well, Ninkovich unexpectedly retired in training camp. McClellin and Rivers were injured in camp and were lost for the season. Ealy didn’t fit and was released. Hightower and rookie Harvey Langi who was pressed into some edge work were lost for the year as well. The team brought in Cassius Marsh, but he didn’t work out and later signed Eric Lee. Lee showed a nice ability to rush the passer but had trouble on the edge. They eventually brought James Harrison on late in the season.

The team signed Adrian Clayborn this spring which immediately helps. Hightower, Rivers and Langi return, they’ll join Trey Flowers, Deatrich, Lee, and Adam Butler but they could really use another young edge player which could facilitate moving Hightower and Langi back to linebacker.

Sam Hubbard from Ohio State has prototypical size for an edge player at 6’5, 265-pounds. He still had a year of eligibility left but decided to come out in this season’s draft and has first-round talent. He had a very productive final season with Buckeyes, garnering 42 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, and two forced fumbles.

He would be a nice fit for the Patriots defense and would be a Day 1 contributor as an edge player as part of their rotation. He could easily develop into an above average pass rusher and a starter.

Hubbard was a lacrosse player (oh yeah another lacrosse player) and is a converted safety before he packed on the muscle and became one of the stalwarts on the team’s defense. Hubbard is a high-motor guy as well as a high character one. He was a team captain as well as Academic All-American.  His work ethic will immediately win over the coaching staff and his tenacity will get kudos for the team’s fanbase.

He has a high football I.Q. and his instincts are excellent. While not an elite athlete, he produces thru his smarts and instinctive play.  He’s a sure tackler and does a good job at setting the edge in the running game.

He’s not an explosive pass rusher, and benefitted from the stunts and twists the Buckeyes ran in the passing game. But he displayed good, quick hands and is versatile and can play on either side of the line. While he’s not an elite pass rusher, he’s a very solid all-around player who can do it all.

Pros:

– Good Height and Length

– Sturdy setting the edge

– Great instincts

– Excellent motor

Cons

– Not an elite athlete

– A bit stiff at times when turning the edge

– Needs to keep pad level lower

What his Role Will Be:

Hubbard will be an immediate rotational player on the edge. With Flowers and Clayborn and possibly Rivers, he’ll be expected to play whenever they need to keep fresh legs out there.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, in Year 2 he should have packed on a few pounds in the strength and conditioning program. Then he can push for more reps and perhaps slide into the starting position with a solid rookie season.

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Geneo Grissom, who has been a very good Special Teams player but hasn’t contributed at all defensively. Hubbard could force him out.

What is his ST Value?

Limited, but he has done some coverage duties in the past

Conclusion:
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his profile wrote that:

“Hubbard will pass the eyeball test with his height, weight, and build, but he’s missing the plus athleticism to take him over the top as a pass rusher. His tape is solid, but nothing jumps off the screen. Teams looking for a big-time edge rusher won’t get too excited by him, but he will appeal to defensive coordinators looking for guys with size and motor to plug into a blitz-heavy, twist-happy defense. Hubbard could become an early starter as a strong-side defensive end for a 4-3 defense.”

Hubbard is what many draft experts call a “safe pick”, in that he has a very high floor and while he may not become an elite defensive end, because of his work ethic, excellent instincts and high motor could be a very good one.

While Patriots fans want the guys who can pin their ears back and rush the QB kind of players, that isn’t the defense that they run. The “read and react” defense is predicated on setting the edge first in the running game and then having the ability to push and squeeze the pocket forcing the opposing QB into making mistakes.

They want versatile guys who can do it all and Hubbard is the kind of player they covet. Bill Belichick will love this guy, he has a tremendous work ethic, high football I.Q., a non-stop motor and will be a productive member of the defense.

While he’s not that explosive guy at the line, he’s very quick and ran the 3-Cone Drill in a very impressive 6.84. He has the ability to be an above-average pass rusher in the NFL with a bit of experience. He should be an immediate Day 1 contributor to the defense if the Patriots decide to pull the trigger.

Hubbard’s highlight reel tape from Devo Highlights can be seen here: 

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 3-18, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 18, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-18, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: The Patriots have given safety Pat Chung another short-term extension on his contract that ran through the current 2018 season. Terms are not available. But since he returned for his second stint with the team, Chung has been a valuable, dependable defender. Good move all around.

No Honey Badger in NE, tonight we learned that Tyrann Mathieu was heading to the Houston Texans on a one-year deal as what so often happens plays out. It seems every free agent is rumored to be going to New England. And frequently as in Mathieu and Richard Sherman, the Patriots weren’t even in the game.

Often times, I believe that the agents push this agenda to drive up the price and market for their clients. Just like the Patriots were supposedly “in on” Ndamukong Suh and Jordy Nelson which is borderline ridiculous at this point. With about $15.6 million dollars of cap space, how would the team afford to sign a player like Suh or Nelson, if they even wanted them?

Free Agency- When will fans learn that the Patriots, unlike last year, much more often than not eschew the opening feeding frenzy of free agency where several players are in our opinion, are overpaid and then make the moves that they must to build the depth of the roster for the long haul.

This year, the cries of despair from the fan base have never been louder, as if the people that run the operation over at 1 Patriot Place all of a sudden forgot how to build a team. They’ve been to eight Super Bowls in the past 17 years. They know how to build a team that will be playing in February, not winning Day 1 of free agency in March.

And the intent of some to drive the narrative to question every move that Belichick makes like the Red Sox managers have had to endure since Dick Williams (Google his name) is laughable. “Grady Belichick” is the lamest yet, for some media members who are intent on forcing the issue.

Pats Lose Four Key Players Early in Free Agency:
Right after the season ended, we didn’t think there was a chance of Malcolm Butler returning in 2018, and that wasn’t a surprise when he left, for a big payday with the Titans. And with the draft class strong at running back, we’d didn’t feel the market would be that great for Dion Lewis, even though he’s shown how electrifying he can be. He’s had only one healthy season, 2017, but the market heated up for him and he too signed with a nice deal from Tennessee.

But the loss of Danny Amendola and Nate Solder hurt especially. Partly because we expected both to be back. Amendola because he was so clutch at crunch time for the past several years and was their punt returner as well as a go-to guy in the playoffs.  And Solder, because he’s protected Brady’s blind side for the past seven years and they really don’t have a replacement plan in place.

LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are fine swing tackles. But over a 16-game season? I don’t know that they’re the best options and both are free agents anyway. Tony Garcia? After missing all of 2017 with an illness, we’re not even sure he’ll be ready to play, much less be a capable player yet. The other alternatives (for now) are recently signed Matt Tobin, (depth player) Andrew Jelks and Cole Croston. So the loss of Solder hurt.

But it hard to find fault there, the deals for Amendola and Solder were much more than the Patriots could or would be willing to offer. The Patriots offer to Solder was 4 years, $50 million, while more than $12 million a year, was a full $12 million less than the Giants offered. That is substantial.

While the frustration level of losing those key players is understandable, it has to be tempered with the realization that the business model that the Patriots have stuck to for so long is the reason that they are able to remain so competitive for so long.

Patriots Add Five Players Including McCourty, Clayborn, and Hill:
The news wasn’t all bad, as usual, the team began building their roster depth, resigning special teamers Brandon King and Nate Ebner and running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead was an intriguing, New England kind of player. While he’s not outstanding in any one facet of his game, he does everything well. He runs between the tackles, can catch the ball, pass protect and be a key special teams guy.

The trade for Danny Shelton became official, which will immediately impact the Patriots rush defense. With an interior rotation of Malcom Brown, Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (who returns from IR) and Adam Butler, who is more of an interior sub rusher, they depth is much stronger now.

The Patriots addressed cornerback with the trade of Jason McCourty which we covered in a piece here:  I still believe that the team will add another corner in the upcoming draft, but they are building depth while adding a veteran presence there.

Then the team signed DE Adrian Clayborn as well as RB Jeremy Hill. So the Patriots have hardly been stagnant during free agency. Were they the splash moves everyone clamors for? No, but the roster is building up for the 90 man limit. And there is still a long, long way to go. We’ll give our thoughts on the newest additions below.

Adrian Clayborn Immediately Upgrades the Front Seven:
The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries along the front seven last season, coupled with the loss of Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency as well as the sudden retirement of Rob Ninkovich left them in a bind all season long.

Getting Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Valentine, and Derek Rivers back will no doubt help. But the team added another very nice piece in signing DE Adrian Clayborn the free agent from the Atlanta Falcons.

Clayborn who will turn 30 in July, is coming off of a 9.0 sack season (six in one game against Dallas) and is a very good but not great pass rusher. But what he does extremely well is set the edge in the running game. And in the Patriots defense, that is paramount. They aren’t, nor ever will be, that pin your ears back, attacking defense.

One play that Patriots fans may remember well with Clayborn is back during the joint practices in 2013. Clayborn bullrushed Nate Solder and their feet got tangled up and Tom Brady went down in a heap. It was an accidental play. Brady held his knee and was down for several moments before walking off. My pic from the practice was carried by Boston.com for their column that day.

Adrian Clayborn and Nate Solder got tied up and Solder fell into Brady but he wasn’t seriously injured. (SBalestrieri photo)

Clayborn will be just fine here, he has a relentless motor and will take a lot of heat off of Trey Flowers on the other side of the defensive line. After four seasons with the Bucs, he spent the last two with the Falcons. He’s had injury problems during his career but a healthy 2018 will be a successful one for the veteran in this scheme.

Jeremy Hill,  Gives the Patriots Needed Depth at RB:
When the Bengals drafted Joe Mixon in the 2017 NFL Draft, Hill became expendable. And at just 25-years old, Hill has plenty left in the tank. At 230 pounds, he is the big back that the Patriots had in LeGarrette Blount. And short yardage was a sore spot for the Patriots offense in 2017. The Pats ranked a lowly 24th in the league on converting third or fourth and one last season. Hill will definitely help in that aspect.

But for the immediate future, he gives the team options, he and Mike Gillislee will compete for the big back role in the Patriots offense. He’s had issues with ball security in the past but he knows how Belichick feels about those and it will be a key area for him to work on. Eventually, in camp, the team may have to decide whether to keep one or the other as the team’s big back. But for now, the team just added two much-needed depth backs with him and Burkhead, who were teammates in Cincinnati.

One area that may be in Hill’s favor is that he’s a decent pass receiver, something the Patriots like their running backs to do in their offense. It is the case of the more you can do which helps to secure a roster spot on the Patriots. So we’ll see what a fresh slate can do for Hill.

While the Patriots will still probably draft a running back this season, it now probably won’t be one in the top rounds, it will probably be a later round, developmental pick.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Are Very Active in Free Agency:
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been shy about making a slew of moves in free agency. After signing CB Vontae Davis, they shipped off LT Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and now have picks #12 and #22 in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

But that was hardly the tip of the iceberg as the Bills signed DT Star Lotulelei, re-signed DT Kyle Williams, then signed DE Trent Murphy from the Redskins strengthening their pass rush.

The Bills added depth to the running back position by signing veterans Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. And then after unloading QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns, they signed their bridge QB, A.J. McCarron for a 2-year, $10 million dollar price tag from the Bengals.

It has been a busy off-season for the Bills and they are far from done. It will be an interesting draft season in Buffalo. While I may think they overpaid Murphy and question the trade of Glenn, the Bills are still in much better shape than they were after their playoff loss to the Jaguars.

Dolphins Plan to be “Straight Up Flying” in 2018:
The Miami Dolphins are never ones to lack for confidence in the offseason. After trading Jarvis Landry to the Browns, the team has addressed his loss by adding former Patriot wide receiver Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson from the Chiefs and confidence is high in South Beach.

.“We’re straight up flying,” said Wilson. “I feel like the way we’re going to put the stretch on some defense is going to be crazy. The speed outright shows itself.”  Both Wilson and Amendola can play the slot or move outside. That will present matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Wilson, who was the fourth or fifth option in Kansas City, now will get a chance to see the ball a lot more. And with Amendola setting the table by making the chain moving catches, why shouldn’t the Fins be confident? Ryan Tannehill got an early Christmas present with his two new toys in the offense.

Plan “B” for the Jets, No Cousins? They Move Up to #3 in the Draft:
The New York Jets made a huge pitch to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency and they failed to bring him in. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Now they move on to their Plan B and it is to draft the best available quarterback.

So, on Saturday, the Jets moved from the 6th position to the #3 spot in the 2018 NFL Draft by trading for the Colts pick. But it won’t come cheap.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jets are giving the Colts the sixth pick, the 37th overall selection, the 49th overall pick, and a 2019 second-round pick. That is some pretty steep compensation for sliding up just three spots. The Colts hit a homer there in terms of compensation.

By signing bridge QBs Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, the Jets get to draft their QB of the future and groom him and allow him time to develop.With Buffalo thought to be ready to pick a QB at #6, the Jets have leapfrogged them and now are poised to pick ahead of the Bills. The next and most important question now becomes, WHO will be the Jets QB of the future with the #3 pick?

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 News 11-26, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 26, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-26, & AFC East Notes.

We hope that all of our readers had a happy and safe Thanksgiving with their families this week. And from all of us here, we’re thankful for all of you, our readers make it all possible here.

Gone too soon: Condolences go out to the family of former Patriots WR Terry Glenn who died tragically in a car accident this week. Glenn was a very talented, speedy wide receiver who the Patriots selected in the first round (7th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft.

Robert Kraft spoke about Glenn on the Patriots website:

“We were shocked and deeply saddened by today’s news that Terry Glenn died in an auto accident,” Kraft said. “Terry was one of the most gifted receivers we have ever had.”
“One of my favorite memories came when we hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional playoff game. It was my first home playoff game as an owner and just the second home playoff game in our history. It will always be remembered for the fog that filled Foxboro Stadium that day. Yet, on the first play from scrimmage, Drew Bledsoe threw a deep pass that disappeared in the fog and reappeared 53 yards downfield in Terry Glenn’s hands. We scored on the next play and ended up winning 28-3. Our thoughts and prayers are with Terry’s family, his former teammates, and friends who mourn his loss.”


Patriots Face the Dolphins Twice in 3 Weeks: The Patriots game today against the Dolphins will be the first of two meetings between the two teams in just three weeks. Due to a scheduling quirk, the two teams will meet again in Miami on Monday Night Football, December 11th.

That situation, playing an opponent twice so close together has only happened once before since Bill Belichick became the head coach. And it was against the Colts in his first season in 2000.

Marsh Release, Prompts the Inevitable Questions About Belichick the GM:
Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before. This spring everyone was raving about the terrific offseason the Patriots were having. And after the release of Kony Ealy and Cassius Marsh, now the same people that were openly predicting the Patriots were going 19-0 are now doing the backstroke and saying, “hold the fort here, maybe Belichick had a terrible spring after all.”

Well, to that, I say horse hockey… actually, I’d use a more fitting description but this being a family site, you get the idea. The second biggest myth surrounding the Patriots besides that “Brady is a system quarterback”, is the old—- “Belichick the GM is hurting Belichick the coach.”

Let’s take a look at the signings and trades that the team has done since the offseason began back in March to include signing some of their own free agents.

Trades: Dwayne Allen (Indy), Brandin Cooks (NO), Kony Ealy (Carolina), Marquis Flowers (Cincy), Cassius Marsh (Seattle), Johnson Bademosi (Detroit), Phillip Dorsett (Indy)
Free agents: Stephon Gilmore, Lawrence Guy, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, restricted FAs Brandon Bolden, Duron Harmon, Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Cameron Fleming, Brandon King, Malcolm Butler, David Harris, Ricky Jean-Francois, Martellus Bennett, Brian Hoyer, Eric Lee

Draft: Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Tony Garcia, Connor McDermott

UDFA: Adam Butler, Cole Croston, Jacob Hollister, Cody Hollister, Andrew Jelks, David Jones, Harvey Langi, Keionta Davis

The trade for Allen seemed like a total bust, he was invisible in the passing game and wasn’t doing his normal solid blocking job either. Then the team the brought back Bennett and either the light finally came on or it lit a fire under him. File under: Still could go either way. Ealy and Marsh were both clearly misses. But the Patriots gave up very little for Ealy, sliding back eight slots in the draft so it was worth the risk.

Cooks has been everything advertised since Day 1 of Minicamp. Anyone telling you different might be watching the games but not seeing them. Bademosi and Dorsett were both hits. Each came in and have done exactly what’s been asked of them. In Bademosi’s case even more so. He was deemed a Special Teams guy only and has stepped in and played some good, productive snaps at corner.

In the case of the free agents, Gilmore, Guy, and Burkhead have all played integral parts of the team all season. Gilmore and Burkhead were banged up and missed time but there is no doubt about their worth. Gilmore had his struggles in the first month of the season but no more. Burkhead is valuable as a runner, pass receiver and on STs.

Bringing back their own free agents was a no-brainer especially looking at Hightower, Harmon and Branch and Butler. David Harris has been getting more and more work now that Hightower is on IR. Bennett immediately paid dividends as he’s familiar with this offense. Lee may see some action this today so we’ll see how it plays out. He starts with a clean slate.

In regards to the draft, the Patriots drafted Rivers and Wise to replace the departed Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard. The thought was for Wise to be on the edge and Rivers to be a hybrid, edge rusher, and OLB at times with one more season of having Rob Ninkovich. If Belichick is to blame for not seeing Ninkovich retire in camp and Rivers getting hurt …so be it. Ditto for Tony Garcia who it was thought would challenge Fleming and/or Waddle for the top backup tackle position. Croston was brought in for future potential, same as Jelks and Davis who was an impressive edge rusher in college.

The UDFAs made the team out of training camp which always seems to happen each summer. Langi’s season was cut short as a result of an auto accident.

So taking a look at the overall picture, they had a couple of misses (Ealy and Marsh) and two others that could go that way (Allen, Gillislee) but for the rest, Belichick, like always assembles a team, not a fantasy football squad. The Patriots beginning to hit their stride now in late-November tied for the best record in the AFC is proof once again that he’s doing the right things. And yet every year we hear the same criticisms. After 17 years of solid decision making, and unparalleled success, one would think that he’d be given the benefit of the doubt.  

Touchdown Celebrations? They’re Getting Lamer By the Week:
The Patriots have yet to (thankfully) done one of those lame, ridiculous touchdown celebrations that are becoming the rage of the NFL. With each game, teams are trying to outdo each other with the over-the-top celebrations that are quickly resembling the reason that the league banned them in the first place.

It is only a matter of time before a player on the opposition is going to take offense at one of these canned celebrations and chaos will ensue.

Mark us down for good spontaneous celebrations, a Gronk spike or the like. But these take all of the spontaneity out of the celebration. As for the Patriots, again, thankfully we haven’t seen any of that stuff, as they’re taking the old adage of “act like you’ve been there” to heart. Of course, it may have something to do with Bill Belichick. Asked earlier this week about the celebrations across the league, he gave a typical Bill response.

Yeah, we’re really focused more on trying to keep the other team out of the end zone and trying to get into the end zone,” Belichick said. “We haven’t really spent a lot of time on the halftime show.”

Jerry Jones Finds, Like Kraft, the Other Owners Aren’t Biting:
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones now knows what it felt like to be Robert Kraft. During the Deflategate saga, Kraft tried to get the other owners on-board in bucking the system, and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s authority to punish Tom Brady when there was no credible evidence to suggest he or the Patriots did anything wrong.

During that time, Jones, jealous of the success of New England, practically rubbed his hands with glee and gushed over what a great job of Goodell was doing. Now with the shoe on the other foot and Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott in much the same predicament and getting a six-game suspension from the Commish, Jones is crying foul worse than a seventh-grade girl stood up at the Junior High Prom.

Jones wanted someone other than Goodell in the chair and wanted to abolish the compensation committee and have all 32 owners input on the compensation for Goodell. But Jones learned a cruel truth that Kraft found out two years ago. The other owners aren’t interested in rocking the boat while they are all raking in the dough with a very successful NFL product.

Jones made some comments about Kraft that were uncalled for, calling the Patriots owner “a pussy” because he backed down from his threat of a lawsuit while threatening to go to the mattresses against Goodell. I’m sure Jones doesn’t want to be reminded of that just now.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 12:
Last week 8-6 mark. Season Total: 102-58.

This week’s Thursday games I went with Detroit, Dallas, and Washington (1-2). Now for the rest of the slate:
Bills at Chiefs – Kansas City
Jaguars at Browns – Jacksonville
Titans at Colts – Tennessee
Browns at Bengals – Cincinnati
Buccaneers at Falcons – Atlanta
Dolphins at Patriots – New England
Bears at Eagles – Philadelphia
Panthers at Jets – Carolina
Seahawks  at 49ers- Seattle
Saints at Rams – New Orleans
Jaguars at Cardinals – Jacksonville
Broncos at Raiders-  Oakland
SNF Packers  at Steelers – Pittsburgh
MNF Texans at Ravens – Baltimore

Next Thursday Washington over the Cowboys

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Both Bills and Chiefs Struggling, the Time is Now For One to Step Up:

The Buffalo Bills are reeling. Losers of three straight blow-out games, they now have to travel to one of the tougher venues in the NFL in Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Chiefs are struggling as well and after a torrid start to the season, they’ve dropped four of their last five games. The Chiefs’ offense has cooled down quite a bit and their run defense is struggling, something the Bills have the power to take advantage of.

Both teams are still in the thick of the hunt in terms of playoff seeding, the Chiefs still own the lead in the AFC West and the Bills are in the wild-card hunt but a loss this week for either team could be disastrous, especially for the Bills. They have two games upcoming against the Patriots in four weeks and they have fared poorly against Tom Brady since 2001.

The key for Buffalo is to get the running game untracked with LeSean McCoy which would open up play-action passing by Tyrod Taylor who returns to the starting quarterback role after the debacle last week of Nathan Peterman.

Landry Keeps the Mindset that the Dolphins Will Sweep New England:

Jarvis Landry made the bold prediction this spring that the Miami Dolphins would sweep the Patriots in 2017. The Dolphins, fresh off of a playoff appearance were confident about taking the next step. Landry wasn’t trying to be cocky or arrogant, just alluding to the confidence that one needs to be a success in the NFL. And despite things having gone south for Miami this season, Landry feels that this may be the week they turn things around and save their season.

“Honestly, it’s a pride thing and also, it’s something for us, a mindset,” Landry said. “I spoke about it. They’re a team that I have great respect for always. I know guys over there, Tom. It’s nothing against them. It’s just something that, as a competitor, you want to win. Just like every game, I approach it the same, and that’s the mindset.”

The Miami Herald asked Landry if he was he surprised that those his remarks were being rebroadcast this week?

“Of course,” Landry said. “Of course. I knew you guys wouldn’t let that die. … I’m just excited about the opportunity, excited about the challenge with these guys. We have the opportunity to go up there and compete, just like every week.”

It is going to be tough sledding for the Dolphins. They haven’t won in New England since 2008 in the Wildcat game, but that was against Matt Cassel. The last time they beat New England in Foxboro with Brady at the helm was back in 2005 on the last day of the season. Brady started by sat after throwing just eight passes. Matt Cassel again was the QB who played the majority of that game. Doug Flutie kicked a drop kick an extra point in that one.

Asked if the Jets Must Win Out for Playoffs, Bowles Answers with a Gem:

The New York Jets have over-achieved in 2017 and entering Week 11 are still in the playoff hunt. Yes, the Jets are still very much alive for a playoff berth, which is surprising considering that many people picked them to finish winless.

So when the Jets media asked coach Todd Bowles, if the 4-6 Jets have to win-out to realistically have a shot at the postseason, Bowles gave an obvious if hilarious response that no one was expecting.

“Excuse the language, but that’s probably a no-s–t statement,” Bowles said as he shrugged as he takes it to be a no-brainer. “We’re trying to win every game.”

Veteran Morris Claiborne liked what he heard from the coach. “I agree totally,” Claiborne said. “We need to take advantage of all these games that are coming up.”

“As a team, we’re still together. We know what’s going on right now. We know that we’re still in this thing,” Claiborne said. “We just got to take care of our business on Sunday and the weeks after that.”

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

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

Patriots Make No More Moves at the Trade Deadline, What About the Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2017 at 10:52 am ET

With the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, many people assumed that the Patriots would make another move bolster their edge rushing capability, either using that early 2nd round draft pick which is essentially a late first rounder to trade for an impact player or to use other trade capital to pick up another depth guy who could impact the pass rush.

But as the old saying goes, “It takes two to Tango” and one has to wonder if anyone out there was willing to help Bill Belichick and New England unless getting an exorbitant return.

But now the trading deadline is over and the question remains, what do they do about getting the pass rush up to an acceptable level. While it hasn’t been completely awful, it hasn’t blown anyone away either. The team obviously felt like they were in a good enough position that even with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving, that they’d be fine. Trey Flowers who came on strong late last season and Rob Ninkovich, the aging but still productive defensive end, gave them a good place to start. They drafted two young kids in top draft choice Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise. They brought in Kony Ealy, from the Carolina Panthers who they hoped would be a productive player from the inside. And they still had linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, all of whom had shown the ability the blitz either off the edge or up the A-gap.

But things haven’t worked out smoothly, Ninkovich retired in training camp, leaving a big hole of experience. Ealy couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the Patriots system and was released. The light was just beginning to come on a little bit for Rivers during camp when he was injured and placed on IR. McClellin was injured and placed on IR, but with the chance to return later this season. And the worst of all possible scenarios, Hightower, their leader and best player on the front seven, the captain who called the signals and the guy they could least afford to lose was injured against the Falcons and lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. What now?

Forced to Look Within: With a dearth of trading partners, the team now has to fill their needs from players that are already on the roster. Trey Flowers is already playing nearly all of the snaps defensively and asking him to do more is frankly not possible. However, if other players show the ability to step up, it would no doubt boost his productivity.

The team brought over Cassius Marsh from the Seahawks. He was known as primarily as a Special Teams guy there but was a guy, the other members of the defense raved about as an ascending player. He plays with a non-stop motor and is an excellent STs guy but is still learning the defense here. He’s not set the edge consistently and has lost containment on a few occasions. That happens with players that lack consistent playing time. But Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia and DL coach Brendan Daly will work with him on maintaining his edge responsibilities and he will be given plenty of chances to play himself into a bigger role.

Rookie Deatrich Wise and UDFA Adam Butler have both flashed at times. Wise too needs to maintain his edge responsibilities but they’ve both shown upside. Butler has interior pass rush potential. With Hightower down, the team moved Van Noy back to a more comfortable place with him on the outside now. David Harris who had been almost a ghost in the first six weeks of the season is sharing the inside linebacker role with Elandon Roberts.

Van Noy now calls the signals and wears the green dot for the receiving the calls from the sidelines. He can also chip in with pressure off the edge. The good news is that McClellin is back to practice and is eligible to return against the Broncos. He can do a bit of everything. Drop into coverage, rush the quarterback off the edge, and .play inside support in the running game. I foresee him doing more of the first two than the latter.

The much-maligned depth at the linebacking spot is actually looking pretty good once McClellin returns to the field. However, they can’t afford any more injuries there.

But with no trade help forthcoming at the deadline, the Patriots are going to need either one of the above-mentioned players to step up or have another role player take on added responsibility.

They have the week off with the bye and now is the time for the coaches to do some experimenting and possibly moving players around to shift the responsibilities around and see who can possibly step from the shadows to help the pass rush.

Could other Special Teams’ players such as Marquis Flowers or Trevor Reilly step up and play a bigger role? It is a possibility and don’t be surprised if the coaches put them out there to see if they can make the leap into a bigger part of the defense.

But now more than ever, they’ll have to use that Patriots mantra “Next Man Up”  

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.

Who Are Those Jets Tied With the Patriots?, 5 Initial Impressions of Gang Green

Steve Balestrieri
October 11, 2017 at 9:37 am ET

Raise your hand if you saw that coming this summer. Don’t look now but the Jets are in first place. Yes they are, the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets, have overachieved this season thru the first five weeks as Todd Bowles crew has bought into his system and his message.

Many people believed that the Jets wouldn’t win one game in 2017, never mind three in a row as the players have ignored the noise and are gutting out wins. Bowles was saddled with a team gutted by the front office in a total purge of big salaries and most of the NFL pundits believed that they were tanking in hopes of getting the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to get the franchise quarterback that has eluded them. But Bowles, who is coaching for his job, not the #1 pick has the team playing hard every week. While their wins, especially last week against Cleveland wasn’t a pretty one, no one cares at the end of the season how many style points you have, wins and losses is the measuring stick.

The surprising Jets are 3-2 and tied with the Bills and Patriots for the top spot in the AFC East, the Dolphins are a half-game back at 2-2. No one would have thought that they would be playing the Patriots in Week 6 with the top spot in the AFC East on the line. They’re playing with house money right now. I’d expect them to come out loose and ready to empty the tank in front of the home crowd in an attempt to steal a win away.

Here are our five initial impressions of the Jets heading into this week:

Sacks Have Been Hard to Come By …For Now:
The Jets have two of the better interior defensive linemen in the league with Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson. And while the two have been solid thus far, the one thing that has been missing so far is the sacks. Neither one has been able to notch a sack this season.

That has been especially frustrating for Williams, a 2016 Pro-Bowl lineman who listed as one of his goals this season was to notch a sack a game. Bowles, for one, isn’t worried about the sack totals per se, “They’re playing hard. I don’t worry about their sacks,” Bowles said on his Monday conference call. “Their sacks will come, but they’re playing hard. They’re taking a lot of doubles up for everybody else, but there are certain schemes that require different things, and they are doing those different things. They are great team players and great individual players, so the sacks will come.”

This week they’re going against a New England offensive line that is giving up far too much pressure and sacks on quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots quarterback has been sacked more in the first five games (16) than he was in all 12 games of 2016. So, this may be the week where those two look to get off the schneid.

Jets Offense Hasn’t Been Bad in the Early Going:
After releasing so many of their skill position players in the spring and suffering injuries this summer, the outlook for them was really not looking good this season. And while the team is still #26 in terms of yardage in the NFL, they haven’t been as bad as advertised.

The running game with Bilal Powell is in the middle of the pack, 13th in the NFL averaging 111.4 yards per game. The passing game is currently 25th averaging just 189 yards per game. They are scoring an average of 18.4 points per game which is good for 23rd in the league.

Josh McCown, the journeyman QB in his 15th season has played well. He’s completing 71.4 percent of his passes but for only 1020 yards thus far. Translation, he’s doing the things he needs to do and throwing the safe passes underneath for the most part.

But his most impressive drive this year? Last week against the Browns, they stopped Cleveland on their three-yard line and McCown took them on a 97-yard touchdown drive that put the game away. While they’ve struggled at times, they’ve also had some good moments as well. But for the game, they managed only 212 yards and 34 on the ground.

Running Backs Hurting:
As of Tuesday evening, we don’t know if the Jets will be without running backs Matt Forte and Bilal Powell for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Forte has missed the last two games with a turf-toe injury and Powell is dealing with a calf strain. He exited the game on Sunday with the Browns just before halftime. He’s listed as day-to-day.

If those two aren’t able to go that would leave the job to rookie Elijah McGuire as the feature back and Travaris Cadet as their third down specialist. McGuire is a 5’11, 214-pound rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette. He’s run well thus far in 2017 carrying the ball 34 times for 176 yards, good for a 5.2-yard average, including a big, 69-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s an athletic, good runner with good ball security and shows good acceleration in getting to the hole. He has deceptive speed in getting to the edge. He’s also a decent pass receiver out of the backfield and has caught five passes thus far this year.

The Patriots will no doubt attempt to stop the run and force the Jets to beat them via the pass. So, we can expect that the play in the trenches will be key here. As of right now, Bowles told the press that the team doesn’t expect to sign another running back in the interim.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins Should Be a Big Target:
The Jets big tight end should see a lot of action going his way in the passing game this week. With the Patriots primed to slow or stop the run, play action passing from McCown will have to be spot on this week and the Jenkins may be the guy he turns to first.

Jenkins was one of the bright spots on an offense that didn’t have a great day against the Browns a week ago. He was targeted eight times in the game and hauled in six passes. While he gained just 29 yards, many of his receptions were just enough to keep the chains moving including a touchdown that gave the Jets the lead in the third quarter.

Jenkins will get matched up with either a safety (Pat Chung) or one of the linebackers and this will be a big matchup to watch this week. Despite playing in just three games this season, the big tight end has caught 15 passes for 106 yards and a score. Jets tight ends in 2016 caught a combined 18 passes in 2016. The Jets asked him to drop some weight this offseason and he did. He lost 30 pounds and moves much quicker and has shown better hands thus far than he has in the past.

Two Rookie Safeties Helping Turn the Defense Around:
Last season, the Jets defense was a mess and a lot of the struggles centered around weak play from the safety position. So they replaced Marcus Gilchrist and Calvin Pryor this spring by using a first and second-round draft picks to draft Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye respectively this April.

To be fair, Gilchrist and Pryor were far from the only problems on the Jets back end last year. But the team felt they needed a big upgrade there and so far it has worked very well. Adams and Maye became the first rookie starting safety tandem in the league since the AFL/NFL merger. The two rookies have impressed from Day 1 and won their starting jobs this summer and have not looked back.

Last year the Jets surrendered 13 plays of at least 40 yards in the passing game. Thus far in 2017, they’ve allowed one. This week, they’ll face a tough test in the form of Rob Gronkowski who Adams admits was one of the first people he thought of when he was drafted. Adams, in particular, has been very versatile. He’s lined up as a strong safety, free safety, nickel linebacker, slot corner, even splitting out wide as an edge corner a few times. The Jets took some heat drafting two safeties back to back but so far, they are performing even better than they could have hoped for and now offer positional stability for years to come.

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.

Patriots Training Camp Practice #5 Observations, Heat, Intensity Ramp Up

Steve Balestrieri
August 1, 2017 at 3:57 pm ET

The Patriots wrapped up their fifth practice of the 2017 training camp and their third practice in full pads in a row. The crowd was much smaller than the huge throngs over the weekend and the temperatures were much more summer-like than we saw over the weekend.

Bill Belichick said in his morning presser that this was going to be a big week for the team, that they had a lot to accomplish before Jacksonville comes in for joint workouts and preseason game #1.

He added that the evaluation process would really begin and you could tell that the message was received by the team. This session was by far the most intense that we’ve seen to date.

No Shows: Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower (PUP) and Andrew Jelks (NFI) didn’t practice but were in sweats on the sidelines. Cody Hollister and Duron Harmon were not present. Danny Amendola, David Jones and Malcolm Mitchell retreated to the lower fields for conditioning work as soon as warm-ups were completed. Amendola returned at the end of practice for punt return drills.

Quick Hitters:

  • Jimmy Garoppolo was a bit sloppy and careless with the ball again. He threw some poor passes that were picked off by both Demarius Travis and Justin Coleman. He appears to be forcing things a bit.
  • With the intensity ratcheted up a bit, some players were jumping off a bit too quickly and had to run penalty laps, including: Vincent Valentine, Josh Augusta, Harvey Langi, Joe Thuney. Jimmy G. and Ted Karras had to do a lap for a bobbled snap.
  • More drops today by the offense, including Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, Devin Lucien, and Tony Washington all had a case of the dropsies today.
  • Kenny Moore had a couple of nice plays today. One pass he deflected but Chris Hogan was able to regain control of the ball. But Moore seems to always be around the ball.
  • Devin McCourty made a nice jump in front of a receiver and was able to pick the ball off.
  • While not the biggest guy, Tony Garcia is feisty. He and Dwayne Allen got into it a little bit during 1-on-1s.
  • Some good work in the secondary today, Eric Rowe, D.J. Killings and Stephon Gilmore all got their hands on and deflected passes today. Gilmore’s was a nice one as he battled Brandin Cooks.
  • Cyrus Jones is getting better as camp goes along. He’s showing much better confidence and sure-handedness handling kickoffs.

Deatrich Wise continues to impress. He showed some good explosion and penetration again today and batted down a Brady pass at the line.

Elandon Roberts suffered an injury early in practice. It was a non-contact injury where he was helped off the field by the training staff. But after getting a breather and having his foot taped, he returned to practice as a full participant.

Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, and Deatrich Wise were given 1-on-1 instruction by Belichick on the finer skills, the angle and timing of punt blocking. In his morning presser BB had said that they’ll work on Ealy’s versatility this week. Belichick also worked with Harvey Langi while the rookie was doing pass rushing drills.

Jacoby Brissett was better today but still missed several makeable throws. Two that stood out were deep passes to Chris Hogan and TE Jacob Hollister. Both men had separation and Brissett has to make those

1-on-1 Battles: Some good ones took place today, Max Rich fought Josh Augusta to a draw. Karras later beat Augusta cleanly. Adam Butler beat Jamil Douglas and Tony Garcia held his ground against Kyle Van Noy. Marcus Cannon and Kony Ealy battled to a draw.

Play of the Day: Jimmy Garoppolo hit Matthew Slater with a 40-yard bomb where the speedy veteran ran a deep post over Justin Coleman. Coleman got a fingertip on the ball but Slater was able to pull it in with a beauty of a catch.

Dustup at the end: Julian Edelman and Stephon Gilmore got into it a bit at the end of practice. They were rolling around the field before other players and coaches got involved and broke it up. As per the Patriots usual M.O. both players were sent to the locker room.

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Patriots Training Camp – Quick Observations

Steve Balestrieri
July 27, 2017 at 1:27 pm ET

Football is back! The Patriots took to the field for the first time in pads in 2017 (albeit in shorts and shells) for their first training camp practice of 2017.

Temps were cooler than expected and the sky was overcast. The crowd was huge and raucous, any activity at all by Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski was immediate grounds for a huge cheer as the fans are excited to see the Super Bowl champs back on the field.

Speaking of Gronkowski, the big man looks as healthy as can be, he was moving very well all over the field and before practice, Bill Belichick was asked about Gronkowski’s health and if he was going to a be a full-go at practice. Belichick responded that those questions were answered in the spring and Gronkowski had no limitations on his practicing.

Team Healthy: Another very good sign, health-wise was concerning Dion Lewis. Now about 18 months removed from his surgery for a torn ACL, Lewis looked like the lightning-quick back with excellent cuts that we’ve become accustomed to. The Patriots called his number frequently out of the backfield and he passed the first test. The only concern with him or Gronkowski for that matter would be if their injuries acted up after a full day of practice. One notable absence was Rob Ninkovich.

The intensity level was toned down with just shorts and shells, so there wasn’t the hitting that one would be expecting on the first day of camp. So it was kind of like an intense version of mini-camp as the hitting was toned down a bit.

Brady – Jimmy G. Split Reps: Interesting to note, that although Tom Brady took all the “first team” reps (since BB hates to use that term in training camp), he and Jimmy G. split reps pretty evenly. Normally Brady takes a lion’s share of the reps with Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett to get what they can.

Brady looked sharp and on target, he overthrew Brandin Cooks on one deep throw in drills, but looked in control and in near mid-season form. Garoppolo had a mixed day, he gets the ball out quickly and for the most part was pretty accurate with his throws, he threw a dart to Chris Hogan in the back corner of the end zone with Justin Coleman in coverage. And then did the same thing on a nice grab by Cody Hollister. But he had some bad misses too…First day of camp norms.

Brissett still holds the ball too long. Time after time during drills, he wasn’t making the reads quick enough and wouldn’t even make a throw. His accuracy was better but still needs work. He has an incredibly strong arm and can make all the throws, but needs to work on his consistency. He got a lot of work today as well. His best play was a nice throw and grab at the back of the end to Devin Lucien during 11s.

Dion Lewis and Cyrus Jones took most of the first reps with the return units, Danny Amendola also took some reps. Both Jones and Lewis looked good with good speed heading down the lane and each fielded the ball cleanly. Tony Garcia got some one-on-one work with STs coach Joe Judge working on the punt return unit along with Ted Karras.

Other observations: This Patriots offense looks like it is going to be tough to stop. Spreading the field wide they can work underneath with Cooks and Edelman and the cushion they create is going to make it easy to move the chains. They can also flex Lewis or Burkhead out of the backfield, forcing the defense to cover with a linebacker and when they do this, the mismatches they force will be easily identified.

The running game had a quiet day as the team was just in shells so I wouldn’t read much into that. Austin Carr had a nice morning, he was moving around well with the backups, working with Brissett and speaking with him afterward, he seems like a very well grounded young player.

Players meeting with the media after practice included Julian Edelman, Gronk, David Harris, Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Derek Rivers, Chris Hogan, James White, Carr, and others.

Check back with PatsFans.com later and we’ll have some video interviews.