Tag Archives: James White

Patriots – Dolphins Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
November 24, 2017 at 9:16 am ET

The Patriots return home for one game this week against the Miami Dolphins before heading back out on the road for a three-game road trip. In a weird quirk in the NFL’s scheduling, the Patriots and Dolphins meet twice in three weeks.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen 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 (8-2) are coming off a very successful two-game road trip with blowout wins coming against the Denver Broncos 41-16 and last week in Mexico City against the Oakland Raiders 33-8. Tom Brady continues his torrid pace in 2017 and the defense for the sixth game in a row allowed 17 points or less.

The Dolphins (4-6) have lost four in a row and in danger of falling out of the playoff race after entering the season with so much hope of earning back to back playoff berths.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Dolphins history has been a streaky one with Miami holding an overall 53-50 lead all-time in the teams’ rivalry. However, the Patriots have won 11 of the past 14 meetings including the last eight at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots swept the series last season, 31-24 in Week 2 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at the helm and in the regular season finale 35-14 in Miami.

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 has been improving with Dion Lewis taking over the bulk of the running game with Rex Burkhead getting the complimentary carries and James White just a few here and there. Mike Gillislee has been a healthy scratch for two weeks in a row. The Patriots haven’t run the ball a ton lately because they’ve been so adept at passing it but this week could see more emphasis on the running game.

Miami for the first month of the season looked vastly improved in the running game. But during their losing streak, they’ve been getting gashed by the run. Having released Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker won’t help matters as he was impressive as a run stuffer.

Look for the Patriots to mix things up quite a bit this week. Miami’s defensive ends will be looking to influence the passing game by teeing off, so they’ll attempt to run right at them on Sunday.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging over 300 yards per game, tops in the NFL. Tom Brady has been brilliant about spreading the ball around to a plethora of different receivers and they’re continually able to find mismatches. With their wide receivers banged up, they haven’t missed a beat.

Miami’s pass defense is allowing just 229 yards per game but opposing QBs are completing nearly 70 percent of their throws and have an average passer rating of 104.3 which is second worst in the league.

Look for Brady to work the tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett as well as the running backs, James White and Rex Burkhead heavily into the mix this week. The Dolphins pass rush has had issues getting to the QB, and if Brady has time, he’ll carve them up in death by 1000 cuts.

Next up the Dolphins offense:

Dolphins RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Miami

The Dolphins traded their top running back Jay Ajayi to the Eagles earlier in the season and now are going with Damien Williams and the intriguing Kenyan Drake who’s averaging about 5.5 yards per carry. The Dolphins have been struggling to run averaging just 80.4 yards per game and score, with just one rushing touchdown on the season.

The Patriots run defense has struggled in 2017, with Malcom Brown injured and Vincent Valentine and Dont’a Hightower on IR, the middle of the line has been suspect. Coupled with less than stellar play that we’ve come to expect from Alan Branch, it is an issue. The Raiders ran the ball effectively last week but the Patriots jumped out to such a big lead they were forced to abandon it.

Look for Miami to feature Drake more this week. Williams has been the de facto starter since Ajayi left but that may change as they are looking for answers to get their offense untracked. And we feel here, Drake will have a solid day on the ground.

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

Miami’s passing game has been mired in mediocrity since Ryan Tannehill went down in camp. The team signed Jay Cutler and he hasn’t gotten it done. With the targets he has in the passing game with Jarvis Landry (3rd in the NFL with 67 catches), Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Julius Thomas at tight end and the running backs, the Dolphins passing game should be its strength.

The Patriots pass defense is playing much better since a nightmarish start to the season. Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler did a fine job on the duo of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper last week. Landry is their go-to guy to move the sticks but Stills is the Miami big play guy and if Eric Rowe isn’t ready to go, that will fall to Jonathan Jones, who has played well this year.

Cutler was in concussion protocol this week but did return to practice, albeit in a limited fashion on Thursday, which means he probably passed. If so, he’ll probably get the start but one has to wonder if the Dolphins would be better suited to go with the steady if unspectacular Matt Moore in there.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski was the AFC STs Player of the Week after booting a pair of 50+ yard field goals (62 and 51) in a 4-4 day against the Raiders. His short kickoffs coupled with outstanding coverage has put the Patriots in great advantageous position. Ryan Allen’s punting has been steadily improving and it seems like every week the Patriots are getting big plays from their STs units.

The Dolphins Special teams have been playing very well. Their own coverage units are very solid and they have a pair of very good kickers but their return game hasn’t had a big impact. With the way New England’s STs units are playing right now, they get the nod.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will be an intriguing one to keep an eye on. The Patriots will want to get off to a fast start and see if Miami, who has dropped four in a row answer the bell or pack it in. Two of their four losses in the last month have been blowouts. The Patriots secondary has been much, much better the past month and I look for them to continue that trend this week. It is a much different atmosphere for the Dolphins when they play at Foxboro. They haven’t won in New England since the Wildcat game in 2008 when Matt Cassel was the QB for New England.

Look for Tom Brady to spread the Dolphins out and find the mismatches underneath. Getting T.J. McDonald back from an eight game suspension should help in defending the tight ends, but he and Reshad Jones can only do so much. The running backs in the passing game may open up some down the field options for Brandin Cooks.

The Patriots hold serve at home with another big win and head to Buffalo at 9-2.  Patriots 34-16

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 – Miami, Despite Dropping Four in a Row, Dolphins Still in the Hunt

Steve Balestrieri
November 22, 2017 at 11:15 am ET

After a very good 2016 where they made the playoffs, the confidence was high in Miami this season. The team had surrounded Ryan Tannehill with a very nice array of weapons and the defense was looking to make a big turnaround.

But things haven’t worked out that well. Tannehill was hurt in training camp and was lost for the season. The team signed Jay Cutler and he hasn’t worked out. The Dolphins offense has sputtered along and is currently 30th in the NFL in yards and 31st in scoring averaging just 15.7 points per game. Jay Ajayi was traded in midseason and the running game is mired in neutral.

The defense, while the middle of the road in terms of yardage is 25th in points allowed and hasn’t made the strides that they envisioned.

Here are some other of our first impressions of the Dolphins:

Down But Not Out: Miami’s dropped four in a row and is now sitting at 4-6, but they are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot. They’re only a game behind the Bills and Ravens who are 5-5 for the final playoff berth.

So while head coach Adam Gase must get things turned around quickly for the Dolphins, a loss this weekend doesn’t spell the end of their season although no one wants to lose five straight.

Parker Has Been Disappointing this Season: Jarvis Landry has been the go-to guy in the Dolphins passing offense in 2017. He’s been the guy to move the chains and leads the team with 67 catches and 6 touchdowns. Kenny Stills has been their home run threat averaging 14.7 yards per reception with 40 catches with 5 touchdowns. But the third part of their three-headed monster at wide receiver, DeVante Parker has been a disappointment this season. He has just 34 catches for 404 yards and one touchdown.

This was supposed to be both Parker and Tannehill’s coming out party this season and despite a stellar training camp where he turned heads and was expected to light it up in 2017. Part of the reason is a nagging ankle injury that caused him to miss some time.

He’s still not 100 percent and the feeling around Miami is beginning to develop that Parker is just one of those players that just won’t perform at a high level unless he’s feeling great.

While all eyes will be on Landry this week, the guy to watch is Stills who they’ll probably operate out of the slot against Jonathan Jones. Miami quarterbacks have a 117.4 passer rating when targeting Stills in 2017. For Parker, who was targeted nine times last week and caught just four passes for 26 yards, Dolphins QBs have just a 77.9 passer rating when targeting him.

Running on Empty: The Dolphins running game is averaging just 80.4 yards per game this season which is just 29th in the league. They jettisoned Jay Ajayi who is currently loving life in Philadelphia. That leaves them with Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. Williams has been getting the most reps but that may be about to change. Williams ripped off a 69 yard run last week. But his other 10 runs netted just 9 yards.

Drake meanwhile is averaging a stellar 5.5 yards per carry and has the blazing speed that makes him dangerous.

Tight end Anthony Fasano who has played with Jamaal Charles and DeMarco Murray likes what Drake in limited reps has been able to do and thinks he’s just scratching the surface. In an interview with Palm Beach Post, he raved about the 2nd year running back.

Once they break through the secondary, they’re a threat to go the entire field,” Fasano said Friday. “At any moment. That breakaway speed they all have in common. DeMarco has great vision. And can really find holes. Jamaal has elusiveness and can bounce it. And Drake is the same way. So I could just say the breakaway speed and the vision are similar.”

Dolphins Pass Defense Will Be Tested This Week: On the surface, Miami’s pass defense looks to be very stout. They’re allowing just 229.3 yards per game and have given up just one pass play of 45 yards or more all season.

But opposing quarterbacks can be patient and work their way down the field as opposing QBs have completed 67.6 percent of their passes. Miami has only three interceptions on the season and has allowed 18 touchdown passes. Opponents’ passer rating is 104.3. This type of game plays into what the Patriots and Tom Brady do well.

One area to monitor will be the tight ends. Miami has struggled to cover tight ends and the Patriots can throw to three at any given time. Rob Gronkowski will be a matchup to watch this week. Whoever gets him and it may be two defenders it will open up single coverage on someone else.

The Dolphins pass rush hasn’t been as productive as they’ve hoped. They’ve logged just 17 sacks, the same number that the Patriots have. Cameron Wake leads the way with six and Ndamukong Suh has 3.5 and as always, they’ll have to be accounted for. Wake seemed to tire at the end of games lately so it will be imperative for the coaches to limit his reps and work in Charles Harris and William Hayes into the lineup.

Check back later this week with us and we’ll have a detailed breakdown of all the key matchups in this game.

Happy Thanksgiving all….

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 Tuesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots  Week 11 Report Card, Fiesta in Mexico, Pats Blow Out Raiders

Steve Balestrieri
November 21, 2017 at 8:55 am ET

The Patriots put a definitive stamp on their two-game road trip with a second blowout win, dismantling the Oakland Raiders from start to finish in a 33-8 that was far more one-sided than the score would indicate.

The Patriots looked like the team coming off the bye instead of Oakland. They dominated in all phases of the game and the Raiders didn’t seem prepared at all. Not for New England’s offense, the elements at altitude and coping with a big game.

The win puts the Patriots at 8-2 with a three-game lead in the AFC East with Buffalo’s third blowout loss in a row and keeps them tied with Pittsburgh for home-field advantage in the AFC. The two teams will meet on December 17 in Pittsburgh, possibly for the first of two meetings in 2017.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A

The GOAT was masterful on Sunday. He was in control from the start and he and the coaches had a plan to pressure the shaky and thin Oakland secondary. Brady started off with a very sharp 12-12 performance in the first quarter and never looked back.

He finished 30-37 for 339 yards with 3 TDs and zero interceptions.

Brady’s first touchdown to Dion Lewis was classic Brady. He looked left and the safeties naturally drifted that way. Then he pump faked which froze the defenders and quickly turned right, where he was going all along and Lewis had gotten a step on linebacker Cory James and the eel-like RB split two Raiders before diving into the end zone.

Brady hit two deep bombs (diminishing arm strength?) to Brandin Cooks for 51 yards and a 64-yard touchdown to start the second half. But it was his poise in the situational drill at the end of the first half that separates the men from the boys.

Oakland fumbled at the Patriots seven-yard line with 33 seconds to go. Brady moved the Patriots brilliantly to the Oakland 45 where Stephen Gostkowski booted a 62-yard FG as time expired. Outstanding situational football. Three plays into the third quarter Brady hits Cooks streaking down the field for a score. Game over, thanks for coming, enjoy your flight home…don’t drink the tap water.

Running Backs: B

Dion Lewis has the hot hand and the Patriots are letting him run with it. Lewis had the first touchdown where he made an incredible cut and seems at times to be absolutely unstoppable with the moves he puts on people in the open field. That score reminded one of the Dallas game a few years ago. Lewis also averaged six yards a carry in the running game, definitely an afterthought this week, still looked pretty good running between the tackles.

Rex Burkhead had a fumble and a drop although the pass from Brady wasn’t one of his better throws on the day. James White was barely used but the Patriots are letting Lewis ride his hot streak. Nothing to worry about there. James Develin had some solid blocks inside in the running game as he does every week.

Wide Receivers: A

Brandin Cooks has a history of big games against the Raiders and Sunday he didn’t disappoint. Cooks had six catches for 149 yards with a 64-yard touchdown where he just blew by the coverage and the safety help over the top was late. On his 51-yarder he blew by double coverage to haul in Brady’s pass. After that, he was getting a large cushion underneath and that is an area that the Patriots will look to exploit in the future.

Danny Amendola was his usual money in the short to intermediate passing game. He was targeted nine times and caught eight including a nice touchdown running along the back of the end zone. Brady bought time by sliding in the pocket and Amendola broke free and made a nice catch, getting both feet down before being pushed out of bounds.

Tight Ends: B+

Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, and Martellus Bennett had a very solid day catching all eight throws to them for 75 yards. Gronkowski and Allen were constantly chipping the edge rushers especially Khalil Mack on their way out in the pattern and that can’t be overlooked.

Allen had a couple of catches, made several nice blocks in the running game but his biggest play was his fumble recovery after Rex Burkhead was stripped on the Pats opening drive, keeping the drive alive. On a day where the wide receivers were the focus, the tight ends were plenty good enough

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line was missing two starters, right tackle Marcus Cannon and center David Andrews and they never missed a beat. LaAdrian Waddle at RT had help by the tight ends chipping Mack but held up very well once again. Ted Karras who had never played center before stepped in for Andrews and was outstanding. On what was should have been a mismatch for the Raiders turned out to be a position of strength for New England. Brady was sacked just once. The run blocking was pretty solid all day as well.

Defensive Line: C

The Patriots defensive line got pushed around in the running game as Marshawn Lynch was off to his best start of the season, but thanks to the offense getting off to a big lead, it didn’t come back to haunt them. The Raiders were getting a good push inside in the running game. Lynch had a 25-yard run where Cassius Marsh was sealed outside and Lawrence Guy got pushed back inside allowing a big seam for Lynch to exploit.

The pass rush was non-existent for most of the first half but got a bit better later in the game. It is definitely an area that needs to improve. The Patriots must lead the league in “almost getting there” in pass rush situations

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers weren’t bad on Sunday but weren’t great either. David Harris and Kyle Van Noy both missed a few tackles in the running game although Van Noy looked good on a speed rush and got a sack of Carr. Elandon Roberts did a much better job in coverage this week and that is a positive sign. Marquis Flowers saw action on third down and showed great awareness on the play at the end of the first half. He punched the ball out of WR Seth Roberts’ hands who was carrying the ball way too far from his body.

Secondary: A

Malcolm Butler countered one of his worst games last Sunday with one of his best against the Raiders. Butler drew the talented Amari Cooper this week and basically rendered him a non-factor. Cooper had three catches for just 28 yards and a garbage-time touchdown when the score was 30-0 in the fourth quarter.

Stephon Gilmore had another very strong game going against Michael Crabtree and he provided very tight coverage all day. His confidence and comfort level in the defense is getting higher every week and other than having to leave for dehydration (along with Amendola) he had an outstanding day.

The safeties were tasked with covering Jared Cook who had been targeted 21 times with 18 catches the three previous weeks. Cooks was targeted five times and made just two catches for 36 yards. Duron Harmon made a great play on a deflected pass for an interception.

Special Teams: A

The Special Teams had another outstanding game. Stephen Gostkowski hit all four field goals including a personal and team record 62-yarder at the end of the half that would have been good from 72. He also hit kicks from 51,40 and 29 yards. Not wanting to allow the dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson to influence the return game, he boomed all of his kicks out of the end zone except one at the end of the game where the coverage unit stopped the return at the 23. Another win. Ryan Allen punted only twice but pinned Oakland each time. The only minus was the slightly ticky-tack penalty on Van Noy for running into the kicker. Oakland then went for a 4th and 1 and got stuffed but that could’ve turned out differently.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick leaves nothing to chance. And the preparation showed this week had one thinking it was New England coming off of the bye week rather than the Raiders who looked ill-prepared for New England or the altitude.

The Patriots stayed in Colorado to deal with the thin air to prepare for Mexico City and it didn’t seem to affect them much at all. They then tested the Raiders who elected to stay at sea-level by going hurry up and winding them.

The situational football that the Patriots practice so much of during training camp paid dividends at the end of the half. The huge swing and then coupled with a quick touchdown put the game away in the early moments of the third quarter. Josh McDaniels had an excellent game plan and the offensive performance was pretty flawless in carrying it out.

Matt Patricia’s defense continues to improve every week. In the past four games, their opponents are averaging just 217.7 yards per game passing and 11 points scoring. Contrast that with the first month of the season.

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

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

Brady, Patriots Defense Shine in Blowout of Raiders in Mexico City

Steve Balestrieri
November 20, 2017 at 8:52 am ET

Don’t look now but the Patriots defense has turned things around and looks like the unit we envisioned back this summer. The Pats defense held the Raiders to just eight points while Tom Brady carved up Jack Del Rio’s defense once again as the Patriots rolled to a 33-8 blowout win that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

Brady improved to 9-1 against Del Rio’s defenses with a ridiculous 25 touchdowns to one interception. Oh and Stephen Gostkowski booted a 62-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half that may have been good from 72. The win allows the Patriots to keep pace with the Steelers at 8-2 in the AFC and coupled with another blowout loss by the Bills gives New England a commanding three-game lead in the AFC East.

Bill Belichick earned another career milestone moving past Tom Landry in all-time wins by an NFL head coach with 271 with the victory. He now resides in third place all-time amongst NFL head coaches. Other observations without the benefit of a film review from the game include:

Brady likes the rarified air the past two weeks: Brady started off laser hot, hitting his first 12 passes and he finished 30-37 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the past two games in the altitude in Denver and Mexico City Brady is a combined 55 of 71 for 605 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a completion percentage of 77.4 and a passer rating of 130.3.

Those are some remarkable numbers for a guy who the national pundits proclaim every year that this will be the one that he falls off the cliff and shows his age. On the season, Brady is completing 68.7 percent of his passes, (261-380) for 3146 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a passer rating of 110.9.

Tony Romo made a good analogy before the game, Brady, he said, is like an old schoolteacher who already knows the answers to the questions on his tests. He knows his offense inside and out and against the Del Rio defense that he’s faced so many times, there were no surprises. Del Rio always runs a “we do, what we do” type of defense and Brady simply eviscerates them every time.

Brady made a terrific fake on the first touchdown, looking left and at the last second turning right and hitting Dion Lewis who juked and cut, leaving three Raiders in his wake for a beautiful touchdown putting the Patriots up 7-0. Lewis had another very solid day.

Patriots Defense Shines South of the Border: Matt Patricia’s unit has turned a corner and is playing some really good football during this current six-game winning streak. The Patriots haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points since the last minute loss to Carolina in Week 4.

In the past six games, the Patriots are allowing an average of just 12.5 points per game. That is winning football. The secondary is playing light years better than they were earlier in the year and the communication breakdowns that plagued the team are seemingly a distant memory.

Stephon Gillmore and Malcolm Butler are playing very solidly at corner and they’re being backed ably by Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi. They held the explosive two wideouts of the Raiders, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree under check today. Combined the two wideouts had nine catches for just 79 yards.

Jared Cook who entered the game red-hot had just two catches for 36 yards with the safeties, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon did a great job of keeping him under wraps. Elandon Roberts also played well in coverage on Sunday.

Issues persist with the run defense and pass rush, but this unit is in far better shape than the group who was struggling mightily the first month of the season.

Patriots Secondary Coming Together: To piggyback off the above paragraph, the Patriots secondary is really beginning to come together. The first half dozen games, teams were routinely throwing for 300 yards, not any longer. While the Raiders had a number of drops on Sunday, the play of the secondary has to be a bright spot with the coaches this week.

Raiders QB Derek Carr’s numbers reflect a very pedestrian day, 28-49 for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 68.2 on the afternoon. Carr didn’t even pass 100 yards through the air until early in the fourth quarter. On his last couple of drives, he piled on a number of yards underneath in garbage time as the Patriots with a big lead were more than content with allowing him to throw short underneath passes buying time for space. Carr averaged just 4.8 yards per throw on the day.

Scarnecchia Influence Felt on the Offensive Line: Game ball should go to Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle who filled in ably on the offensive line. Karras was filling in at center for David Andrews who was a late scratch due to what was characterized as altitude sickness late last week. Karras had played guard in college and had never played center before. There was no issue at all with his shotgun snaps during the game, the communication between the interior offensive linemen seemed fine and Karras did a good job in the running game as they ran the ball effectively between the tackles.

Waddle filled in for the second week in a row and faced one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in Khalil Mack. Last week he faced Von Miller. In both games, Waddle, with some help from chipping tight ends has fared extremely well. He allowed one sack to Mack in the two games and has been solid in pass protection.

The influence of Dante Scarnecchia can’t be overstated here. His attention to detail and the proper technique that he instills in his linemen are always in the best position to succeed. For Waddle, the road doesn’t get any easier, he’ll face Cameron Wake next week if Cannon is still banged up. But Scarnecchia will have them ready. Game balls for all three.

Situational Football, Gostkowski Has a Monster Day: The Patriots special teams had another big day and it was just highlighted by the team’s stress of practicing situational football. Because of the altitude, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski was able to make 70-yard field goals in the warm-ups and the team knew that if the situation arose they could count on him.

That came late in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 14-0. The Raiders were driving for a score and WR Seth Roberts caught a Carr pass and did a terrible job of securing the football on the Patriots five-yard line. Marquis Flowers punched the ball loose and the Pats recovered on the 7-yard line with just 33 seconds left in the half.

Like they’ve done so many times at practice and at training camp, the situational football drill was performed to perfection. Brady drove the Patriots from their seven to the Raiders 45-yard line in just 28 seconds setting the stage for Gostkowski.

Gostkowski boomed the 62-yarder for a field goal as time expired in the half and it wasn’t even close. The ball hit the netting beyond the goal posts and would have been good from 70-yards. The Patriots got the ball first in the second half. On the third play, Brady hit a streaking Brandin Cooks for a 64-yard touchdown, in the span of five plays the Patriots scored 10 points. Game over, thanks for coming, have a safe trip home.

Gostkowski added field goals from 51, 40 and 29 yards on the day. It was his third game where he’s had two field goals from 50+ yards in the same game. Situational football and special teams are hallmarks of Bill Belichick’s teams and on Sunday, they shined once again.

Brandin Cooks has a Monster Day: The Patriots wide receiver has been having a terrific 2017 season. But while he’s been consistently very good, he hasn’t had that one big day where he blew the game open. That block has been checked.

When he was brought in to the team this spring, it was immediately noted that Cooks brings a different element to the table. The Patriots were known as a quick team that thrived on the short, intermediate parts of the field. But they lacked that one true speed demon who can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Cooks has filled that need quite well. He and Brady went to great lengths this summer working on their deep ball game, something that Brady supposedly couldn’t do anymore.

After missing on a deep throw early in the second quarter on a third and five. On the Patriots next possession, Brady went right back to it on first down. He and Cooks hooked up perfectly for a 52-yard gain. That set up the second touchdown, a Brady pass to Danny Amendola.

He and Cooks hooked up again on the third play of the third quarter. The Raiders, short-handed at corner, had rookie safety Obi Melifonwu playing corner opposite Cooks. It was a poor matchup for Oakland and Brady caught the rookie peeking into the backfield while Cooks did a double move and was gone. Brady laid the ball in perfectly and the deep safety help was very late in getting over and Cooks was gone for a 64-yard score. He ended up with six catches for 149 yards and the score.

Cooks has bought into the team first concept where Brady is spreading the ball around to everyone and thus far he has just 45 catches on the season. But he’s on pace for a 1250 yard+ season, which would be a career high. He leads the league with catches of 40 yards or more with six. He also has a dozen catches for 20+ yards.

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 11-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 19, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-19, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots game today in Mexico today will be the first game they have played outside the US since they appeared in London in 2012, a 45-7 win over the Rams. This will be the Patriots and Raiders third appearance in the International Series, and the Patriots first in Mexico City. The team did play a preseason game there in 1998.

Just in case anyone was wondering, five teams have not played in the International Series, the Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans.

“Don’t Hand it to Me Buddy, it’s Yours” Lewis Nearly Commits a Gaffe:
Lost in the Patriots dominance on special teams last Sunday night in Denver was a mistake by Dion Lewis that could have been costly but luckily for the team was a non-factor.

When the Broncos kicked off, the ball soared deep into the end zone. Dion Lewis catches it cleanly about 7 yards deep and promptly flips the ball to the official. The issue was, Lewis hadn’t taken a knee yet and the play was still live.

The official, more out of instinct, caught it and promptly handed it back where Lewis took a knee. Had the official let the ball go, things could have gotten interesting especially if the ball had rolled out of the back of the end zone.

Patriots Two Starters on the Offensive Line This Week:
The Patriots were without Marcus Cannon last week in Denver, who had been dealing with an ankle injury and he was ably replaced by LaAdrian Waddle. Cannon is out again this week and will be joined by David Andrews. Andrews was a late addition to the injury report which was characterized as an illness. It was reported that Andrews was suffering from a delayed reaction to the altitude.

In his stead, the team is expected to start Ted Karras this week. Karras could play center or guard. If they move him to guard, they’d slide out Joe Thuney to center.

Belichick Flying High At the Air Force Academy:
The Patriots decided to remain in Colorado after the Denver game for a couple of different reasons. One, that it cut down on the travel time that the team would be forced to deal with. A secondary reason was that it allowed the team extra bonding time on the road, which can never be overlooked and third, perhaps most importantly, with the game today in Mexico City at about 7200 feet above sea level, the air is even thinner than in Denver which is about 2000 feet lower than Mexico City. Coupled with the smog, which at times is very thick, it can be very difficult to breathe there. I spent months there a few years ago and it is a tough place to play football.

But Belichick, who arranged for the team to stay at the service academy which is located 6000 feet above sea level, the location couldn’t have been a coincidence. Belichick grew up at the Naval Academy and has great respect for the military and their traditions. And on Friday, when Mike Reiss of ESPN reported that Belichick watched all 4000 cadets march to lunch, and had the opportunity to address them, he had to be in his glory. Reiss reported that Belichick was presented with an Air Force Academy hoodie by Lt. General Silveria, the Commandant of the Academy. Belichick then presented the general with a Patriots hoodie. Belichick then presented the general with a Patriots hoodie. Reiss stated that Mitchell Hall erupted.

While the trip logistically made perfect sense, I’m sure that Belichick used the time to give the team a tour of the facility and did an impromptu history lesson while they were there.

Mass Native Melifonwu Excited About the Opportunity to Play vs the Pats:
The Raiders drafted Grafton-native Obi Melifonwu in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft this spring. The big safety put on a show at the NFL Combine and he shot up draft boards. But an injury in training camp derailed the start of his career and began the season on IR.

Melifonwu grew up a fan of the Patriots, players like Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown and Antowain Smith, now he’ll be facing them. He played sparingly in his first action last week against Miami but logged three tackles. He’ll be looking across at TE Rob Gronkowski this week.

“He hasn’t been able to be available for us, but we’re expecting him to step up,” Raiders’ defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said to the media this week. “This is the world champions, the guys who have been doing it really well for a long time. Obi is going to get introduced at a high level, but he’s very confident. We’re expecting him to play at a high level and accept the challenge.”

“I think he’s ready to help us. He’s big, strong, fast and he cares a lot,” Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Hopefully we can get him more involved this week and he can play well for us.”

For the rookie, he knows the assignment is tough but excited for the challenge. “I feel like a lot of people try to out-physical him and it’s just, play to your strengths,” Melifonwu said. “He’s a big, physical guy with strong hands, so it’s definitely gonna be tough. But it’s a matchup that’s gonna be fun.”

Stop Empowering the “Tin-Foil Hat” Wearers:
There has never been a shortage of naysayers on the internet who try to take down the legacy of Tom Brady by repeating the ridiculous notion that he’s a “system QB” and more a product of his coach than anything else ad nauseam. One particular troll has a full-time job on Twitter trying to engage every Patriot fan by twisting around facts to make you believe that Brady really isn’t that good at all. Okay. and just in case anyone was wondering, this guy lives in Western PA and is a diehard Manning apologist.

So while it makes for good ratings by inflaming the masses, stop giving this nincompoop the air time by putting him on the radio. And if you do, don’t act all incredulous at the drivel he spews.

Years ago during the Reagan administration, there was a guy who stood across the street from the White House wearing nothing but black trash bags and would point and yell at tourists that, “Reagan is putting the nation in the trash” amongst other things not fit to print. I don’t remember that guy getting airtime on CNN. Take advice from Bill Belichick, “Ignore the Noise” and quit feeding the trolls.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 11:
Last week 10-4 mark. Season Total: 94-52.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with Pittsburgh over the Titans (1-0). Now for the rest of the slate:
Lions at Bears – Detroit
Jaguars at Browns – Jacksonville
Ravens at Packers – Baltimore
Panthers at Texans – Carolina
Buccaneers at Dolphins – Miami
Rams at Vikings – Los Angeles
Chiefs at Giants – Kansas City
Redskins at Saints – New Orleans
Bills  at Chargers- Los Angeles
Bengals at Broncos – Denver
Patriots at Raiders – New England
SNF Eagles  at Cowboys –  Philadelphia
MNF Falcons  at Seahawks – Seattle

Bye week: Panthers, Colts, Jets, 49ers

Next Thursday Detroit over Minnesota, Dallas over the Chargers and Washington over the Giants

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Peterman Gets the Start at Bills Quarterback:

The Buffalo Bills made a surprise decision to start rookie QB Nathan Peterman over Tyrod Taylor this week on the road in Los Angeles. Two weeks ago the Bills were making noise about overtaking New England and gaining control of the AFC East. But after two blowout losses in a row, they’re now reeling and Coach Sean McDermott has mixed things up by replacing Taylor who was never the long-term answer anyway.

Peterman was the fifth QB taken in this season’s draft, in the 5th round and the 171st player overall.

With the game out of hand last week, he came on in garbage time and completed 7-10 passes with a touchdown against the Saints. This week, he’ll be leaning on the running game of Shady McCoy and have to do the heavy lifting if the situation calls for it.

With Buffalo still locked in a playoff spot, it is a calculated gamble by McDermott that this will ignite his team. If he struggles and McDermott goes back to Taylor, it could really hurt their playoff hopes and possibly damage the rookie’s confidence. We’ll be watching that one.

Dolphins Season On the Brink With the Bucs This Week:

The Miami Dolphins have lost three straight games, scoring an average of just 15 points per game and losing by a combined 67 points in those three games. They sit at 4-5 and after going 10-6 a year ago are in danger of falling out of the playoff race. If they have any hopes of rescuing a playoff berth they have to beat the 3-6 Buccaneers today.

But it hasn’t just been the offense struggling, the defense has been faltering as well, having given up 112 points in those three games.

A loss will drop them to 4-6 with a road trip to New England next week where they haven’t won since the Wildcat game in 2008. One thing the Dolphins will try to do this week is getting the ball in RB Kenyan Drake’s hands more, especially in space. The speedster from Alabama is electric, as evidenced by his 66-yard touchdown run against the Panthers last week. In the last two games, Drake has runs of 66 and 42 yards. While Damien Williams is technically the starter right now, Drake’s role should see a big increase down the stretch.

Jets During the Bye Week are Sticking With McCown:

The New York Jets are off this week but are surprisingly 4-6 as they hit the bye. They’ve already won more games than anyone would have thought possible and although a real long shot, they still have a chance at making the postseason. Raise your hand if you thought that possible by Week 10.

So despite the slim postseason hopes, the team is not going to throw in the towel and go with young QBs, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. They’re going to stick with QB Josh McCown, who has played very well this season.

Any further wins may hurt the Jets’ chances of finding a franchise QB in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Head Coach Todd Bowles isn’t concerned with that. He’s got his players focusing on the now and keeping their jobs. Now the only question is, does the front office step in and demand to see what they have in the two young QBs, or do they already feel that the two aren’t going to be the answer?

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 – Raiders Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 17, 2017 at 10:57 am ET

¡Bienvenidos a México! The Patriots finish up the first two-game leg of their road trip with an outside the border game in Mexico City this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 4:25 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson 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 (7-2) are coming off a big 41-16 win in Denver, Tom Brady and Dion Lewis were AFC Offensive and Special Teams Players of the Week respectively as the Pats rolled to an easy victory.

The Raiders (4-5) are coming off of their bye week. This was a team that was picked by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season. But they struggled in the early going and dug themselves into a deep hole. They’ll have to go no worse than 6-1 down the stretch to make the postseason and have a chance for a deep playoff run. For the Raiders, the playoffs start on Sunday.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Raiders have played one another since 1960 but have only met 34 times. However, the two playoff matchups both ended with very controversial calls. While many Raiders fans point to the “Tuck Rule” game of 2001, they forget the 1976 game in Oakland when referee Ben Dreith, an admitted Raiders fan called the phantom roughing the passer penalty on Ray Hamilton in the closing seconds of that one.

Overall the Patriots lead the series 18-15-1 and have won the last four meetings including a 16-9 win in Foxboro in 2014.

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 Raiders Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Oakland

The Patriots running game has been improving but still isn’t where they want it to be. They average just under 108 yards per game. The coaches seem to be settling on a duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead because it keeps opponents off balance and the team is just as likely to pass as run. James White is the third-down back and Mike Gillislee was a surprise healthy scratch last week.  

The Raiders run defense hasn’t been great allowing 116.6 yards per game but they’ve gotten a boost by adding NaVorro Bowman who was cut by the 49ers. The big man can’t move like he used to but remains a sure tackler inside and has been very productive in his three games with the Raiders.

Look for the Patriots to run just enough to keep the Raiders defense honest this week. I don’t expect a big game from either Lewis or Burkhead on the ground, but if they can get out to a lead, they may add some yards down the stretch.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging 301.6 per game and Tom Brady continues his torrid 2017 season. Even with a banged up receiving core, with Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on IR and Chris Hogan injured, the beat goes on. Brady still has Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and Phillip Dorsett outside, with Rob Gronkowski and newly added Martellus Bennett at tight end with White, Burkhead and Lewis out of the backfield. There are plenty of options still to use and Brady does. The team has five players with 30 or more catches. The favorite target? The open one.

The Raiders secondary has struggled badly this season, their top three cornerbacks were among the worst rated at their position in the NFL. They lost their top draft pick, rookie corner Gareon Conley to IR. Their pass rush despite having Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards have netted just 13 sacks. They have an issue covering the tight ends as well where it could be a big mismatch with Gronkowski.

Look for the Patriots and Tom Brady to air it out this week. Oakland’s secondary has yet to record an interception this season and with the WRs and TEs putting pressure on the back seven, the running backs in the passing game should give Brady a huge edge here. It will be interesting to see if Oakland puts rookie Obi Melifonwu on Gronkowski. He has the size and speed to keep up with the big man. That’s why they drafted him. But he began the season on IR and has one game under his belt. But Gronkowski against either Reggie Nelson or Karl Joseph is a huge mismatch. We’re one of Obi’s biggest fans here, but this may be a tough matchup in just his second game.

Next up the Raiders offense:

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

The Raiders running game has been a disappointment in 2017. Last year the Raiders were 6th in the league and thought that adding former Bill and Seahawk Marshawn Lynch would vault them to the top. Things haven’t worked that way yet this season. The Raiders average just 87.6 yards per game this season, just 26th on the season.

The Patriots run defense has struggled in 2017, they were gashed early in the year with Dont’a Hightower playing outside and Alan Branch benched. Teams were running very effectively up the middle. But Branch has stepped up his game and although Hightower was lost for the year, veteran David Harris and Elandon Roberts are doing well in run support.

Look for the Raiders to try to get Lynch involved and active early in this game. It will help set up their big-play abilities in play action to take shots down the field. Lynch, if he can get going, gets more effective as the game goes on, so they’ll have to stay patient with the running game.   

Raiders WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Oakland

Oakland’s passing game got off to a very slow start. Part of the issue could be that they’re under a new Offensive Coordinator, Todd Dowling. They have all the necessary ingredients to be a tremendous passing offense with Derek Carr at QB, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Cordarrelle Patterson outside, Jared Cook at tight end and DeAndre Washington out of the backfield. But they’ve only averaged 237 yards per game throwing the ball.

The Patriots pass defense is playing much better since a nightmarish start to the season. Last week they got back Stephon Gilmore from a concussion injury and he held Demaryius Thomas to just 44 yards on five catches. He and Malcolm Butler are a fine tandem and if they get back Eric Rowe this week, it will be a huge boost. The Patriots pass rush is struggling as well, logging only 16 sacks themselves.

The Raiders passing game is beginning to round into form. In their last three games, Carr has thrown for 1025 yards against Kansas City, Buffalo, and Miami. Cooper is heating up as well as Cook. Cook has been thrown to 21 times the past three weeks and has 18 receptions. This will be a huge test for Matt Patricia’s defense. Have they truly turned the corner in the back seven? This will be a big measuring stick to find out.

The key from a Patriots perspective is to limit the big plays and make the Raiders work their way down the field. Carr is going to get his yards, but they must make the stops in the red zone and make the Raiders settle for threes.  

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having a very solid season. His kickoffs have been terrific to pin opponents deep.  The coverage units have been outstanding and keep getting better. The return game has been getting a boost by Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis. Lewis returned a kickoff 103 yards last week and 71 in the game prior. Ryan Allen has improved as the season has gone on.

The Raiders Special Teams boast one of the most dangerous returners in the game with Patterson and one of the best punters with Marquette King who owns a 50.3-yard average… (not a typo) In the thin air of Mexico City, King may put one in the traffic pattern at Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México. But the Patriots STs are operating on another plane right now and get the slightest of edges here.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one as we mentioned is a must-win game for the Raiders. A loss here will put them is in real danger of missing the postseason. The Patriots too need this game to keep pace with the Steelers who won on Thursday night to move to 8-2 in the AFC. The Raiders are coming off their bye and have had two weeks to prepare. But if there is a criticism of Jack Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr., they are a “we do what we do defense” If they don’t mix things up quite a bit, Brady will have a field day against this secondary. Mix in the unknown factor of playing in the altitude of Mexico City. The Patriots seem well prepared by their staying in Colorado this week.  Patriots 34-24

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.

Raiders in a “Must-Win” Position Against the Patriots This Week

Steve Balestrieri
November 15, 2017 at 10:28 am ET

The Patriots and the Raiders face off in Mexico City this week and while this is a big game for both teams, it has taken on an aura of a “must-win” for Oakland as their playoff hopes will take a big hit if they lose on Sunday.

The Raiders are 4-5 and coming off of their bye week, so they’ve had two weeks to prepare for the Patriots and they’ll no doubt have done their homework but one of the main reasons they are in the position they find themselves in is because of their defense.

The Raiders were one of the teams that were expected to push the Patriots in the AFC this season. Many of the pundits had them ready to leapfrog New England and represent the conference this season in the Super Bowl. A loss on Sunday may just about doom their hopes of even making the playoffs. The Raiders must really go no less than 6-1 down the stretch to have any shot at the playoffs, and even that may be a bit iffy. That is why this upcoming game for them is a must-win. And they’re going to need their defense to play much better than it has so far.

Bad Matchups Abound: The Raiders defense faces a tough task this week because overall they don’t match up well against the this Patriots offense. The defense has yet to post an interception on the year and their top three cornerbacks are among the lowest in the league statistically in opponent’s quarterback rating.

Oakland last year knew that they had to improve their defense to make the big jump they envisioned for this season. They spent their first two picks on their secondary with CB Gareon Conley and S Obi Melifonwu. But Conley was placed on IR this week and is gone for the season and Melifonwu, just came off of IR and played in his first game against Miami two weeks ago prior to the bye.

After watching some film on the Raiders, corners David Amerson and T.J. Carrie will probably get the start against Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett, as we expect Chris Hogan to sit again. That’s a matchup that favors the Patriots, but the real mismatches come inside.

The Raiders safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph do not match up well at all with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. The Raiders linebackers have been woeful in coverage. Factor in Danny Amendola in the slot and running backs James White and Rex Burkhead in the passing game and Brady should be able to find mismatches all over the field.

Oakland may opt to put the big Melifonwu on Gronkowski this week. He has the size at 6’4, 244 and ridiculous athleticism to hang with Gronk. Nobody has been higher on Melifonwu than us here, and he has a tremendous future. But is it fair to saddle a rookie in just his second NFL game with guarding the best tight end in the league?

Pass Rush Disappointing: With a front four that features Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, you would think Oakland would be one of the better pass rushing teams in the league. But they haven’t lived up to that. The Raiders have only 13 sacks on the season which is actually less than the Patriots 16 thus far this season. That is one reason why the team has zero interceptions thus far this season.

Without a pass rush getting home and a shaky back seven on the defense it is no wonder opponents are completing better than 71 percent of their passes against Oakland’s defense. Opponent’s QB rating against them is 109.4. That is higher than Tom Brady’s 108.3 which explains the struggles that the Raiders secondary has had thus far this season.

Death By 1000 Cuts: The Patriots will no doubt opt to do what they always do and that is, be patient, let Brady find the mismatches and work their way down the field. James White leads the team with 46 receptions but the Patriots have five receivers with more than 30 catches. And opponents can’t go to sleep on Burkhead who missed several games with a rib injury, Dion Lewis or Martellus Bennett who just returned to the team after he was waived by the Packers.

However, if the Raiders start trying to crowd the underneath and middle routes, Cooks and Dorsett have the speed to stretch the field deeply. Look for Brady to work the middle to find the outside the numbers this week. They don’t normally take a lot of shots downfield but this week they may try to do more of those.

The Raiders haven’t been great against the run this season either and that could be a factor as well this Sunday. Burkhead, Lewis, White and Mike Gillislee give them plenty of options to keep the defense honest.

It will be intriguing to see how Oakland’s defense opts to play this week. Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and Jack Del Rio have traditionally been a “do what we do” type of defense. If they don’t change things up this week, they could find themselves facing a tough uphill obstacle. But that’s why they play the games, every week is different and there are always surprises on the field.

¡Bienvenidos a México!

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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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots  Week 10 Report Card, Dominate Broncos on the Road

Steve Balestrieri
November 14, 2017 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots quickly put the Denver Broncos in the rear view mirror due to outstanding special teams play on Sunday night and then with a tremendous offensive game plan, kept Denver’s defense off-balance and in chase mode all night long in a 41-16 rout.

With the stadium at Mile High in Denver has been a house of horrors for the Patriots, they’ve now won there in back-to-back seasons. Even more importantly, the win allows the Patriots to keep pace with Pittsburgh having the best record in the AFC at 7-2 and opened up a two-game lead in the AFC East due to Buffalo getting spanked at home by New Orleans.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A

The “No-Fly Zone” didn’t apply to Tom Brady on Sunday night. Denver’s strength on defense is their three cornerbacks, who are arguably the best in the NFL and their pass rush. So Josh McDaniels and Brady did the smart thing. They got the ball out quickly to negate the pass rush and attacked their weakness, the linebackers in coverage.

In our pregame matchups we pointed out that the place to attack was the linebackers with the tight ends and backs. And Brady was absolutely clinical in doing so, Denver had no answer for that. Brady’s first touchdown was to Rex Burkhead who easily beat his coverage on a skinny post to open the scoring.

Brady used play action passing to freeze the linebackers on more than one occasion but the best one was arguably on the deep 26-yard completion to Gronkowski where there was a huge gap in the coverage. Brady finished 25-34 for 266 yards with three touchdowns and should have had a fourth with the call on Gronkowski being called incomplete when the ball never touched the ground.

Brian Hoyer got to come in late and got in a bit of working going 3-3 including a really nicely designed and conducted screen pass to Brandin Cooks that went for 27 yards.

Running Backs: A-

The running backs were part of the focus this week and they didn’t disappoint. On a night where Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis were the focal points and both had very solid outings.

While the running game wasn’t dominant, it was good enough. Denver, other than last week in Philly has been very stout against the run and getting just under 100 yards kept the defense honest and allowed Brady to run play action.

Lewis didn’t have a catch but was good in the running game, lugging the ball between the tackles. Burkhead provided good power also between the tackles, moving the pile a few times in short yardage and picking up a key fourth down run. He was also very productive in the passing game. Both featured key moments on STs which we’ll get to below.

James White didn’t get a ton of snaps this week but he had a nice touchdown reception from Brady where he put an excellent move on safety Will Parks and had an easy pitch and catch for the score. James Develin was outstanding in run support getting the ball carriers to the second level.

Wide Receivers: B-

This was more by design than anything else. The team was shorthanded with Chris Hogan out so, they attacked the Denver weak spots using the backs and tight ends. However, they kept Denver’s secondary honest by targeting Cooks 11 times, mostly in short underneath routes. Phillip Dorsett and Danny Amendola were only targeted six times total but responded with six catches.

On a night the coaches were putting the onus elsewhere, the wide receivers still had decent production and did exactly what was asked of them.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski had a typical Gronkowski evening, seeing double, at times triple coverage down close to the goal line but still had good production with four catches for 74 yards. He also had a diving 19-yard catch for a touchdown erased by an official ruling that the ball hit the ground, but we’ve beat that horse to death enough.

Martellus Bennett was back in a Patriots uniform and although he played only about 8 snaps made his presence felt, catching 3 passes for 38 yards. His first catch was a big 27-yarder where the Broncos had a communication breakdown (other teams have them too), and two linebackers went after Burkhead leaving Bennett all alone.

Dwayne Allen finally got a catch and it was a big one, a touchdown catch where he was held by Von Miller and then made a nice catch on an outside pass by Brady. He was also very good in the running game. Jacob Hollister didn’t play on offense but had a couple of big plays on Special Teams.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line heard all week about the fearsome Denver pass rush especially by Von Miller. Miller was facing backup swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle filling in for injured Marcus Cannon at right tackle and had one pressure all night on Brady. Waddle, receiving little extra help, was mainly left on his own and held up extremely well. Ditto for Nate Solder. Shane Ray on the other side was relegated to milk carton status. The only sack given up was on a safety blitz where James White uncharacteristically whiffed on a pass block, with Brady getting sacked inside Denver’s 10 yard forcing a field goal.

The run blocking was okay but not great. But the bottom line is that the Patriots scored on seven straight possessions. That doesn’t happen…ever unless Brady is getting excellent protection. And yes they aced this test.

Defensive Line: B-

The Patriots defensive line was good but not great in this one. They did a decent job of defending the run although the Broncos did have a couple of really good chunk plays, most of those came after the team was comfortably ahead. But they were stout in the red zone which is a plus, with the Broncos scoring only one touchdown.

The pass rush however was virtually non-existent. Brock Osweiler was nearly as comfortable as Brady was in the pocket. This will be an area to monitor moving forward but they couldn’t get any consistent pressure even when Matt Patricia dialed up some blitzes.

Linebackers: B-

Kyle Van Noy gets high marks for his continuing high level of play all over the field. With Hightower gone for the year, Van Noy calls the signals for the defense and will rush the passer, cover the backs in the flat and drop into coverage. He read a play perfectly and blasted in dropping Jamaal Charles for a loss on one running play. David Harris got the most work of the season and was very good in run support and put a jarring hit on TE Jeff Heuerman knocking the ball loose. Elandon Roberts got good pressure on an A-Gap delay blitz and forced Osweiler to unload the ball.

Special teamers Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly got some work in as Matt Patricia worked everyone into the system and all played well.

Secondary: B

While Malcolm Butler had a very rough first half, Emmanuel Sanders had 114 yards receiving by halftime. He recovered however, and played tough and physical in the second half where Sanders could manage just 23 yards after the break. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination but Butler has a short memory and he doesn’t get down or sulk when he’s not playing well.

Stephon Gilmore returned from his concussion and played well. He was tasked with coverage on Demaryius Thomas and neutralized him quite well. Thomas had five catches for 44 yards. In Thomas’ nine games previously against the Patriots he has averaged 92.5 yards per game and 16.6 yards per reception. Thomas did snag a touchdown on Gilmore but that was just a well designed play by Osweiler. His play action fake froze the linebackers just long enough and Roberts didn’t get a deep enough drop where he’d have been right in the throwing lane. Thomas had inside position on Gilmore and made the catch for the score.

Devin McCourty was his normally solid self in centerfield and was forced to make a couple of key tackles when Sanders was getting loose. Pat Chung and Duron Harmon played well and Chung got an interception off of Osweiler when he read the play and jumped the route in front of Heuerman.

Special Teams: A+

The Special Teams get very high marks this week for turning in three tremendous big plays that easily turned this game into the laugher that it was. After the Pats were held to a three and out on their first possession, Jonathan Jones flew up the field on punt coverage and Broncos returner Isaiah McKenzie, who has shown a tendency for bobbling punts muffed this one. Jones blasted him, allowing Jacob Hollister to recover the ball. The Patriots would then score on seven straight possessions.

Dion Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return for a score getting several key blocks including good ones from Hollister and Dwayne Allen. Once he reached the outside, he had clear sailing and no one was going to catch him. That silenced the crowd quickly.

Rex Burkhead came clean on a punt block after a fantastic play by Brandon Bolden freed him up. Bolden caused his man to step out wide and Burkhead burst thru the gap like he was shot out of a cannon. That set the Patriots up with a short field for a score.

Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs were a stake in the heart of the Broncos. He dropped them just short of the goal line time and again and the coverage units were outstanding. Trevor Reilly unloaded on McKenzie on one where it was amazing that McKenzie was able to hold onto the ball.

Denver made the night complete by jumping offside on a 4th and 5 where the Patriots lined up to punt. The first down resulted in the Patriots putting another score on the board where they completed a 16-play, 94-yard drive.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick’s team had two weeks to prepare to face a team that always seems to have its way with New England at home. Belichick and the staff came up with a fantastic game plan to attack the middle of the field with the tight ends and running backs and they simply eviscerated a very good, very proud defense where they scored on seven straight possessions. That doesn’t happen very often, if at all to Denver at home.

The players were focused and executed the game plan extremely well. Belichick likes to talk about producing in “All 3 Phases” of the game. The team did it and more. They allowed only one touchdown and just 16 points on defense, scored 41 points and had tremendous splash plays on special teams.

This was the perfect way to start off the second half of the season and a long road trip that will feature five of the next six games on the road.

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Patriots Smother Broncos 41-16, Move to 7-2, Quick Observations

Steve Balestrieri
November 13, 2017 at 12:50 am ET

Don’t look now but the Patriots have the same record as they did last year after nine games. And they won their fifth game in a row but blasting the Denver Broncos in Denver, winning there for the second season in a row 41-16 on Sunday Night Football.

The story of the game was the play of the Patriots Specials Teams. As we stated in our pregame matchups, Denver’s STs play has been awful and that would be an area to watch. A muffed punt, a blocked punt, a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dion Lewis and a too many man on the field penalty on a punt which resulted in a first down was just one of the nightmares that Denver will have to live with.

And the vaunted Denver pass rush was rendered immaterial by a tremendous game plan by Josh McDaniels and superior execution by Tom Brady. The Broncos have as talented a trio of cornerbacks as anyone. So Brady and the Patriots didn’t challenge them, they ignored them and worked the middle of the field with the tight ends and running backs and Denver couldn’t stop them. The Patriots scored on seven straight possessions until late in the fourth quarter when the game was over.

Brady was cool, calm and collected and consistently found the open man. He finished 25-34 for 266 yards and 3 TDs and no interceptions. He completed passes to nine different receivers and at least six of them had three or more catches. Rex Burkhead, with Mike Gillislee inactive, picked up a bunch of his slack and had a heck of a game. He carried 10 times for 36 yards, had 3 catches for 27 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown which opened the scoring and blocked a punt.

Denver can’t blame this blowout loss on the quarterback this week. Brock Osweiler played a pretty solid game, completing 18 of 33 passes for 221 yards with a TD and an interception. The vast majority of his success came with his finding Emmanuel Sanders open. Sanders caught 6 passes for 137 yards on the night with 114 of them coming in the first half. He gave Malcolm Butler fits all night long.

Other observations include:
LaAdrian Waddle Gets a Game Ball: How many times did we hear Von Miller’s name tonight? Waddle, filling in for an injured Marcus Cannon played a heckuva great game at right tackle. But the offensive line overall was outstanding. Denver’s strength is their pass rush and Brady had a clean pocket to work from nearly all night long. Nate Solder was also outstanding, as Shane Ray was invisible. The only sack Denver got was on a safety blitz and James White had a rare miss in pass blocking.

But Waddle gets very high marks tonight. Denver had to see that matchup as a mismatch but Waddle, frequently out there alone, more than held his own.

Gilmore Returns and Has a Very Solid Night: Stephon Gilmore returned from his concussion and played a very good game matching up with Demaryius Thomas. Gilmore had Osweiler looking elsewhere almost all night long. Thomas ended up with 5 catches for 44 yards with the one touchdown where he beat Gilmore on a slant but for the most part, was rendered ineffective. Gilmore looked sharp all night long and his return is definitely a good sign for the defense…

Matt Patricia’s Crew is Getting it Figured Out:  With the exception of Malcolm Butler who had a rough night with Sanders, the defense is looking better each week. Despite missing several key players, they did exactly what they needed to do and allowed just 16 points. During the five-game winning streak, the Patriots defense has allowed an average of just 13.4 points per game. While it still needs some work, overall, this unit looks light years better than the unit that struggled so badly the first few weeks of the season.

Red Zone Offense Looks Better: The Patriots “officially” went 4-6 in the red zone tonight, and against Denver’s defense, on the road, that is a big improvement. They lost one opportunity on a sack of Brady inside the 10-yard line and the other on a blown call by the officials. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on what looked like a touchdown pass, but the officials ruled it incomplete. The play was reviewed and the call was upheld. One has to wonder if Walt Coleman used the logo tablet to review the call or not. The ball never touched the ground. Coleman’s crew missed an obvious pass interference call on Chris Harris where he clearly grabbed Brandin Cooks arm on a deep pass by Brady in the end zone. Inexcusable.

Spreading the Wealth: Denver’s defense was done in by the Patriots versatility and depth on offense. Brady was brutally efficient at spreading the ball around in the passing game. Cooks had six catches for 74 yards, Gronkowski had four catches for 74 yards, Martellus Bennett had three catches for 38 yards, Danny Amendola had four catches for 36 yards and Burkhead chipped in with his three catches and a score. Dwayne Allen finally got off the schneid and got his first catch as a member of the Patriots and it ended being a touchdown. James White added a touchdown catch as well.

The running game was handled by Dion Lewis and Burkhead and they produced enough to keep the Broncos linebackers honest in the pass rush department. Overall, the Patriots kept the Broncos off-balance and reeling all game long. They dictated the pace and won the battle of the trenches.

Where Do We Go From Here: The Patriots improve to 7-2 tied with the Steelers for the top record of the AFC and game ahead of Kansas City. The win coupled with Buffalo’s loss gives New England a two-game lead in the AFC East.

The Patriots will remain in Colorado and work out at the Air Force Academy this week as they get further acclimated to the altitude when they travel to Mexico City next week to face the Raiders. The stadium in Mexico is about 2000 feet higher in altitude than Denver so it makes sense to remain, make it a shorter travel week and get more work in the thinner air.

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 11-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 12, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-12, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are coming off the bye tonight and traditionally under Bill Belichick, they’ve done well with the extra week to prepare but with all of the injuries they’re currently suffering from, and given that Denver has always been a tough place for them to win in, makes for a very intriguing game tonight.  

Patriots Bring Back Martellus Bennett After His Release From Green Bay:
The Patriots brought back tight end Martellus Bennett after he was released by the Green Bay Packers this week putting in a waiver claim on him. The Packers said is that he was released for “failure to report an injury designation.”  He is reportedly suffering from a torn rotator cuff and shoulder labrum which will require surgery.

But he’s going to attempt to play thru the pain as evidenced by his appearance at practice on Friday.  Bennett was a very well respected member of the team during their Super Bowl run in 2016. He was productive in the passing game, he had 55 catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns, as well as a tremendous blocker and he got high marks for playing through a myriad of ankle, knee and shoulder injuries all year.

Bennett took to social media on Friday to explain his side of the injury situation in Green Bay and lashed out at both team doctors and the front office.:
“The Packers examined my shoulder on my visit March 10 and cleared it,” he said “They even gave me an x-ray as well. It got worse during the season, specifically against the Cowboys [on Nov. 8], so I asked to have it checked and we checked it. After a few days of contemplating to play with it or get surgery, I chose surgery. Now here we are…”

“They tried to f— over me.”. “Dr. [Patrick] McKenzie trying to cover his own ass. After trying to persuade me to play thru a major injury and me choosing to get surgery. They have access to all my medical records. My shoulder wasn’t where it is now at the beginning of the season. I f—– it up playing for the Packers.”

“Dr. McKenzie didn’t make feel safe and was pushing to play, which I thought was weird. Not that he was trying to get me play thru it but the way he was saying things. I didn’t trust him. So I got three other opinions from doctors, who all said I need to get it fixed. So I decided to do that. And they decided to waive me with some bullshit excuse. Failure disclose.”

“Every week we do a body evaluation sheet in the weight and pretty much every week I circled my shoulder. I just kept playing, but it got worse. During the bye week, I got off anti-inflammatories to clean my system and could really feel the pain. So I asked to examine it [the] first day back in. And that’s when we found out it was really f—– up.”

“They knew.” “They panicked. Thinking that I was trying to go on the IR and be on their books next year. When I mentioned that I would possibly retire. So they tried to f— me before they thought I would f— them. This was all about the money. All about the money. I get it. But don’t lie, homie. You know wtf was up.”
“I had intentions of playing all eight games, as I mentioned in the post during the bye week, but found out it was worse than I felt after getting it checked out. Now I’m like f— it. I chose my health over the ‘team.’ They chose money over me.”

Patriots Minus At Least Three Starters Tonight, Several More Questionable:
The Patriots despite coming off of the bye week are still dealing with a multitude of injuries. Chris Hogan, dealing with a shoulder injury suffered against the Chargers is out. Likewise for starting right tackle Marcus Cannon and DL Malcom Brown.

There are five more players officially listed as questionable tonight who are also dealing with injuries. Tight end Martellus Bennett, wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle), defensive end Cassius Marsh (shoulder) and cornerback Eric Rowe (groin).

Gilmore spoke with the media early in the week and stated that he should be ready to return to game action. Amendola will probably suit up as well as the wide receiver position is banged up with Hogan hurting and Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on IR. Mitchell is eligible to come off of IR and has recently started running again so he’s still several weeks away.

Filling in for Hogan this week is WR Phillip Dorsett who came over in the Jacoby Brissett trade. Dorsett has played sparingly thus far in 2017 and has just three catches. He, Amendola and Brandin Cooks are the only healthy wide receivers right now.

Ricky Jean Francois, “I’m In Dunkin Donuts Heaven” :
With the injury to Malcom Brown in the interior of the Patriots defensive line, the team signed free-agent veteran Ricky Jean Francois to help with the depth of the team. It is especially thin given that Vincent Valentine is still on IR and hasn’t begun practicing yet.

Francois, 28, has been investing his money down South in a very New England franchise, Dunkin Donuts and owns 30 of them between Savannah Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

This week, ESPN’s Mike Reiss asked him about how he felt coming to New England where not only the Patriots but DDs is such a part of the fabric of the area. This brought a laugh from Francois. “Believe me, that was one thing as soon as I got off the airplane, every block I hit I saw a Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said. “I was laughing; I must be in Dunkin’ Donuts heaven here.”

Reiss asked Francois if he had seen the commercials with Rob Gronkowski, and he laughed again. “I love him, because he has business booming. I told him every time I look at that commercial, I smile now.”

Francois isn’t an interior pass rusher, he’s more in the mold of an Alan Branch, a two-gap eating run stuffer. And he should see some action this week against Denver. He’ll wear #94. So if the Patriots win tonight Ricky, will there be 94 cents coffee in Savannah on Monday?

Waddle Will Have the Tough Task of Blocking Von Miller Tonight:
With Marcus Cannon out for tonight’s game with an injury, his starting slot at right tackle will fall to LaAdrian Waddle and he knows all eyes will be on him on national television as Miller is one of the premier pass rushers in the league.

The 6’6, 315-pound Waddle started in place of Cannon earlier this season against the Houston Texans and has the confidence of the coaching staff to get the job done. He’s leapfrogged Cameron Fleming for the top swing tackle job on the team behind Cannon and Nate Solder.

The coaching staff will keep a close eye on things and if Waddle begins to have trouble with Miller, we can expect one of the running backs to stay in and block or a tight end to chip on their way out in the pattern. But this will be one of the areas to watch tonight.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 8:
Last week wasn’t  a great one with some of my picks and I finished with a 7-6 mark. Season Total: 84-48.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with the Seattle over the Cardinals (1-0). Now for the rest of the slate:
Packers at Bears – Green Bay
Browns at Lions – Detroit
Steelers at Colts – Pittsburgh
Chargers at Jaguars – Jacksonville
Saints at Bills – Buffalo
Jets at Buccaneers – Tampa Bay
Vikings at Redskins – Washington
Bengals at Titans – Tennessee
Texans at Rams – Los Angeles
Cowboys at Falcons – Dallas
Giants at 49ers – New York

SNF Patriots at Broncos- New England
MNF Dolphins  at Panthers – Carolina

Bye week: Ravens, Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles

Next Thursday Night Pittsburgh over Tennessee.

And They Are Dancing in Jacksonville:
The Jacksonville Jaguars are playing good football right now and the investments made in the defense are paying tremendous dividends. The Jaguars are 5-3 and tied for first in their division. They are there primarily because of the play of their defense.

The Jaguars are third in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and first in the league in points allowed with just 117 points scored against them in eight games. Which comes out to just 14.6 points per game which is excellent.

On Sunday the Jaguars on social media released an animated GIF on Twitter showing the team dancing in the locker room after a victory. And invited fans to send in a video of their own celebratory dance moves after a victory. The responses are fun to watch.

For a franchise that has been down for a number of years, it is good to see the Jaguars turning the corner and being relevant again.

So, to see some of the video responses, type in the link: Tweet a video of you celebrating with #JagsWinDanceSweeps for a chance to win a signed football.

http://bit.ly/JagsPromo  
#SponsoredByEA

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Playoff Quest Begins With Big Matchup Against Brees, New Orleans:

The Buffalo Bills have to pick themselves off the mat after a terrible performance against the Jets 10 days ago on Thursday Night Football. The 5-3 Bills are locked into the playoff race and can’t have any more meltdowns such as last week.

This week they welcome Drew Brees and the Saints who are the hottest team in the NFL right now with New Orleans rolling off six wins in a row. The Saints offense still goes thru the ageless Drew Brees who is throwing for about 275 yards per game, but they are much more balanced now which is keeping opponents honest.

The big changes have been on the New Orleans defense, they are young and very fast. After suffering through the growing pains of communications breakdowns thru the preseason and the first two games, the Saints have figured it out and are playing very well for the first time in many years on the defensive side of the ball.

However, the Bills are 4-0 at home and Brees has struggled somewhat in the colder weather….and it is going to be cold in Buffalo today. Look for the Bills defense to have a big, bounceback day today and win a very close contest to move to 6-3.

Copycat League? Carolina Will Use the TE in Attacking the Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins lost last week against the Oakland Raiders and during the game, one of Derek Carr’s biggest targets was tight end Jared Cook who caught nine passes for 126 yards and seemed to be dominating the matchup with LB Kiko Alonso as well as safety Reshad Jones. This week, we’ll watch as the Carolina Panthers may try to exploit the same matchups using Ed Dickson, the big tight end who is averaging 15.9 yards per catch. Dickson started off the season slowly but has been steadily getting better in the Carolina offense replacing All-Pro Eric Olsen who could come off IR in the coming weeks.

And it won’t just be the Panthers watching today’s contests; the NFL is a copycat league, all of Miami’s upcoming opponents have productive tight ends and they’ll see if last week was an anomaly or a trend.

The Patriots with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, have a pair of games upcoming, ditto for Buffalo’s Charles Clay. Kansas City with Travis Kelce, and Tampa Bay with O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate are all on the schedule. So the Dolphins defense, which has been better this season has some work ahead of it.

Jets Kearse Joins Chorus of NFL Players Who Want TNF Gone:

The New York Jets’ wide receiver Jermaine Kearse watched on Thursday night as his friend and former teammate suffered a season-ending injury, tearing his Achilles tendon against the Cardinals. Sherman didn’t practice all week leading up to the game for his Achilles already being injured.

Ah man, that sucks,” Kearse said of Sherman’s injury to the NY Daily News. “It’s definitely tough because I’ve seen that dude play through a lot of stuff, and I know it means a lot of him, especially him being out there with his teammates. I know it’s hurting him. But he’s going to bounce back. He has that grit and that perseverance.”

“Guys are putting their bodies on the line, day in and day out, even through practice. You see Deshaun Watson, who has a significant injury during practice, and not even in the game. So I think we definitely have to have a discussion on it.”

“You’re asking a lot of guys on one day to give it their all, and then have them come back and play just a couple days after, that’s asking a lot,” Kearse said. “This game is 100-percent injury rate. That’s the truth. That’s the facts. And…guys might be dealing with stuff from previous games that they’re still trying to recover from, but they’re still going out there on Sundays and playing and giving it their all and then you give them a short week like that, it’s tough.”

“Some guys are fighting their recovery until the night of the game,” Kearse added.

Could Sherman’s injury have occurred on Sunday if the teams had three more days of preparation? Of course, but in a physical game where the players are always getting banged up, asking them to turn around and do it again on three days rest doesn’t sit with the organization that constantly touts “player safety.”

The league saw a chance to increase profits by sticking these Thursday games into the season so now they rule on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays. The revenue pours in and the owners reap the benefits. The players, like Sherman, have to pay the bill.

This is a situation that the Players Association has to dig their heels in about when the next CBA comes about. They can’t take no for an answer. TNF must go.

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.