Tag Archives: Jeremy Maclin

Sunday Observations: Patriots Three Horsemen Lead to Win Over KC

Steve Balestrieri
January 17, 2016 at 7:04 am ET

Brady,Edelman, Gronkowski in mid-season form as Pats move on

The Patriots are heading back to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth year in a row due in no small part to the play of their big three on offense. Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski all played huge roles in the Pats 27-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs.

Tom Brady was back on top of his game on Saturday as he was able to stand and deliver the ball with authority. The return of Edelman gave him that short passing game that the Patriots have been able to use in lieu of a running game.

Brady was sharp, completing 28 of 42 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns on the day. His numbers would have been even better had not the Patriots suffered a case of the drops especially in the first half.  But most importantly, Brady wasn’t sacked nor turned the ball over.

The Patriots offensive line bolstered by the return of Sebastian Vollmer did a much better job of protecting Brady than they have in the last month, allowing zero sacks and pretty much giving him a clean pocket in which to work in.

The Chiefs defense has been very opportunistic during their 11-game winning streak, with a plus 20 turnover differential. It was one of our keys to the game that the Patriots had to keep from turning the ball over in order to move on…and they did just that.

Brady moved well in the pocket and felt the pressure when he had to was able to slide in the pocket while keeping his focus downfield. He even took off on a scramble down to the one-yard line where he appeared to score. But took it over himself from the one-yard line to put the Patriots up 14-3. That drive covered 98 yards in 11 plays and was a huge boost in momentum.

Brady’s scramble to the one ignited the crowd, and drew this post-game quip from Edelman. “When the Clydesdale gets running, the crowd goes wild.”

Edelman Gronkowski Step Up: Leading into the game, a lot of the talk centered around the return of Julian Edelman and if he’d be able to present the same level of production as well as cut and plant with his foot as we’ve been accustomed to. Also, rumors swirled around Rob Gronkowski as to his health with knee and back issues and he was listed as questionable as well as Edelman coming into the game.

In our Players to Watch pre-game piece, we answered those questions, Gronkowski was in Florida during the bye week relaxing and not at the facility getting treatment and as for Edelman and the “rust” factor, look at the Pittsburgh game in Week 1 after Edelman sat out the entire preseason. He caught 11 passes for 97 yards in that one.

Edelman looked to be the exact player he was when he went down in the Patriots ninth game of the season. He caught 10 passes for 100 yards and was the most dynamic player on the field on Saturday. He was involved from the first snap and was instrumental in setting the tone from the outset as the Patriots took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 12 plays to go up 7-0.

Gronkowski didn’t look like a guy who was suffering from knee and back woes and was his normal nightmarish self when it came to matchups. With Edelman and Amendola back in the lineup and healthy, the Patriots went 3-4 wide receivers often, spreading out the KC defense which frequently left Gronkowski in one-on-one matchups.

The big man caught seven passes for 83 yards and two huge touchdowns on the day. His second was a beautiful fake that he and Brady worked to perfection. At the snap Edelman ran a cross and Brady glanced that way, pulling the interior defense with him leaving Gronk alone with safety Eric Berry.

Brady executed a great pump fake and Gronkowski stopped as if on a comeback route. Berry bit hard, charging up to challenge and Gronkowski rolled around him to catch Brady’s pass for a 16-yard touchdown to make the score 21-6.

Of Brady’s 42 passes on the day, 24 of them (57%), were targeted to Edelman and Gronkowski…think #12 was happy to see them back in action?

Jones Makes Key Play Then Leaves Via Injury: With all of the hoopla surrounding Chandler Jones this week, there were questions surrounding him as well and many thought he may lose playing time as a result.

Well that didn’t happen as Bill Belichick, sent Jones out with the normal starting unit of the Patriots defense and Jones had two impact plays. He logged the only sack of the game for either team when he took down Alex Smith who proved to be very elusive all game long.

But the big play was a key turning point of the game. The Chiefs took the second half kickoff and were driving; down 14-6, a field goal or a touchdown puts the Chiefs right back in the game. Knile Davis appeared to pick-up a first down at the Patriots 31-yard line but in bringing him down, Jones stripped him of the ball. The Patriots recovered and went on a 69-yard drive to go up 21-6 in another big shift in momentum.

It was a huge play not only for the Patriots but for Jones as well as quickly made fans forget about his troubles earlier in the week. He later suffered a knee injury and didn’t return. But the good sign was he remained on the bench for the remainder of the game and his status will have to be monitored during the week.

Defense Steps Up in RZ, Back on 3rd Down: It was a mixed bag for the Patriots defense on Saturday. On one hand, they held Alex Smith to just a 58 percent completion percentage as he went 29 for 50 for 246 yards. His 4.9 yards per pass play was very good as well. They also were very good in the Red Zone, holding the Chiefs to a pair of field goals and really only one meaningful touchdown.

The second score was a long-drawn out drive where the Chiefs used horrible clock management (Andy Reid specialty). When they finally did score, the game was essentially over and forced them into trying an on-sides kick with just over a minute to go.

But the defense really struggled on third down all game long, credit Smith with making plays with his feet and being able to extend them and find receivers or scramble to keep the chains moving. KC was 12 of 20 on third down, at one point in the fourth quarter being 10 of 15. Those kind of numbers won’t cut it next week, and Bill Belichick stated in his post-game comments that the team, just couldn’t get the off the field on third down.

Welcome to the Milk Carton Mr. Kelce: Coming into this game, the Patriots knew that KC wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was either going to be either very limited or out. So they decided to put their main focus on taking Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce out of the equation, and did a fantastic job of doing just that.

Kelce aka “Baby Gronk” had torched the Texans the week before with eight catches for 128 yards but no one is better than Bill Belichick at taking away what you like to do best. While all teams do that, what makes Belichick’s method so effective is the manner in which they do that. They rolled different looks of linebackers and safeties on Kelce mixing it up but the onus of their coverage fell on Pat Chung.

Chung did an outstanding job of shadowing Kelce, with help all over the field. Sans Maclin, the Patriots were trying to force Smith and the Chiefs to beat them with Albert Wilson and Chris Conley. Kelce was invisible for the vast majority of the game and he finished with six catches for just 23 yards….Mission accomplished.

Injuries Rear Up…Again: With an injury list too long coming into the game, the last thing the Patriots needed was to lose any more players during the game, but that is exactly what happened.

We mentioned earlier that Jones went down with a knee injury and didn’t return. Jamie Collins left in the third quarter with a back injury and was out for the remainder of the contest and Jerod Mayo also went down with a shoulder injury. He went to the locker room and didn’t return.

Bryan Stork left briefly during the first half with an ankle injury, but after having it re-taped, he returned to the field and played the rest of the game.

With all eyes on the Denver – Pittsburgh game on Sunday to see who the Pats next opponent will be, We’re on the AFC Championship Game…

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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, Chiefs: Three Players to Watch AFC Divisional Playoff

Steve Balestrieri
January 16, 2016 at 11:07 am ET

The Patriots take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the 2015 NFL Playoffs at Foxboro today at 4:30 p.m. The winner will move on the AFC Championship Game next week; the loser goes home. There’s no more playing it safe with injuries and guys banged up. It’s all hands on deck and if you can get out there and contribute, you’re playing.

The Patriots injury list is as long as it has ever been after coming OFF of a bye week and there are still plenty of questions to be answered on who plays and who doesn’t. The injury list from Friday contains 12 questionable players include Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Danny Amendola, Jonathan Freeny, Nate Ebner, Scott Chandler, La Adrian Waddle and Justin Coleman.

The Chiefs come in with injury concerns of their own with Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Jeremy Maclin, Spencer Ware and Albert Wilson listed as questionable. KC has run off 11 straight wins heading into this week in stark contrast to the Patriots having lost their last two and four of their last six.

Matchups are always a prime concern regardless of the opponent and this week’s will ultimately decide whether the Patriots move on next week. And all of our Patriots players are on the questionable list. Which is telling in itself.

Here are our three players to watch from a Patriots perspective this week.

Julian Edelman: The Patriots and Tom Brady’s most trusted wide receiver hasn’t played since early in Week 9 against the Giants when he suffered a broken bone in his foot. Not surprisingly with Edelman in the lineup, the Patriots were 9-0; without him they were 3-4 and their third down conversions went from 50 percent to around 33 down the stretch.

He and a healthy Amendola keeps the Patriots short passing game going and the chains moving. Edelman is particularly effective at getting open at the line of scrimmage and allowing Brady to get the ball out quickly which helps an offensive line that is battered, bruised and has been leaky down the stretch.

Edelman is going against a secondary that is very good but tends to give a cushion and then breaks on the ball. That would not be a recipe for success against he and Brady. How effective he is today will go a long way in deciding this one.

No one is tougher than Edelman. He’s battle tested, his Super Bowl heroics in the 4th quarter were instrumental in getting New England, ring #4. As to his being rusty? Some food for thought. Edelman didn’t play at all in the preseason and was off from the SB until the opener against Pittsburgh. His totals against the Steelers in Week 1? Very Edelman-like numbers with 11 catches for 97 yards. Anything resembling that today is a great sign for New England.

Dont’a Hightower/Jamie Collins: The Patriots linebackers haven’t been on the field much together down the stretch but they really need them today. Hightower is a beast inside in the running game and when he’s healthy, he flies up in the gaps and stuffs runners at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Kansas City has a potent running game with Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and QB Alex Smith. They operate nearly a 50/50 balance in offense between running and passing and average 127.8 yards per game on the ground. They need the running game effective to make their own short passing game effective.

If Hightower is close to his normal self, he’ll be a big factor in filling in those gaps. A look at the rush defense when he isn’t in there shows that teams have been able to run at the front seven, particularly between the tackles and if KC does that today they’ll be in good shape for an upset.

Collins will probably be tasked with spying on Smith today. He’s adept at making big plays with his feet and bust a long run from the pocket or roll out and hit one of his receivers on the fly. Collins is the Pats most athletic linebacker and with Maclin either out or limited, Smith will be forced to take on a bigger role with the offense. How effective he is will depend on the day Collins has trying to keep him contained.

Rob Gronkowski: What a week it was in Foxboro; between the on-going saga of Chandler Jones and the black eye of Belichick and the possible return of Edelman, the Patriots couldn’t afford any more distractions right? Well Gronkowski missed the last two practices with what was listed as “knee/back” issues.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported he went to the hospital for injections in his knee while Ian Rapopport of NFL Network said that it wasn’t the case. Jeff Howe reported on Friday that “if” Gronk plays he’ll be far less than 100 percent.

We’ll see, the Patriots need Gronkowski threatening the middle of the field and stretching the seams, something they haven’t been able to do in recent weeks. That opens up some real estate underneath for guys like Edelman, Amendola and LaFell to operate in with Brady.

The feeling here is not only will Gronk play but play well. Normally when a player is hurt the team keeps them around the facility for treatment. Gronkowski was spotted last week in Florida relaxing poolside which unless he reinjured it this week, tells me that his knee isn’t as bad as some are making it out to be. We’ll know for sure at 4:30 p.m.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have the latest on breaking news for the Patriots as well as a complete breakdown of the game from Saturday.

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

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

Patriots – Chiefs, Key Matchups; Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 15, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots open their 2015 playoff season with a home game in the Divisional Round against the Kansas City Chiefs. The game will be televised by CBS with their announcing crew of Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn. The game can also be listened to on the Patriots flagship station 98.5 FM the Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

New England (12-4), had a rough ending to the season after starting on a 10-game winning streak. Injuries decimated the lineup as the team dropped four of their last six games to drop into the AFC’s #2 seed in the playoffs.

Kansas City (11-5), won ten games in a row to finish the season and secure the #5 seed in the playoffs. Given up for dead at 1-5, Andy Reid rallied his troops and reeled off game after game down the stretch as the Chiefs played inspired football. The team ran their streak to 11 games with a 30-0 demolishing of the Houston Texans in the Wild Card playoff game last week.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2015 to give a quick break down 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 Chiefs will meet for the 34th time on Saturday in a matchup of old rivals from the earliest days of the AFL. Since the merger, they’ve met rather infrequently and the rivalry between the two teams has cooled.

The matchup in recent years has been dominated by the home teams. New England has won the last three in Foxboro while the Chiefs have won seven of the last eight at Arrowhead including last year’s 41-14 blowout Monday Night Football win. The teams surprisingly have never met in the post-season.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2015 Playoff Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Chiefs

Steve Balestrieri
January 11, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots season in essence begins on Saturday as they take their first step in attempting to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Their opponent in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs are the Kansas City Chiefs. The game is scheduled for 4:35 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

The game will be televised by CBS with their announcing crew of Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Evan Washburn on the call. The game can also be heard on the Patriots flagship radio station of 98.5 the Sports Hub with the voice of the Pats Bob Socci on the call with Scott Zolak.

The Patriots (12-4), as the AFC’s #2 seed faces the highest remaining seed which are the Chiefs while Denver faces the lowest remaining seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers in Denver.

Kansas City (11-5), is the NFL’s hottest team having run off 11 wins in a row and on Saturday thrashed the Houston Texans on the road 30-0. They haven’t dropped a game since a road loss to the Vikings left them for dead at 1-5. The two teams have never met in the postseason but the Chiefs curb-stomped the Patriots in Arrowhead last year 41-14 on MNF.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Chiefs:

Defense is Excellent Across the Board: When looking at the Chiefs defense, they play the classic 3-4 with three big down linemen and have an outstanding linebacking core. During the 11-game winning streak, they allowed an average of 11.6 points per game.

The Chiefs have outstanding bookend pass rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston although both are a bit dinged up right now. But the Chiefs registered 47 sacks on the season and most came from the (pardon the wrestling pun), the Triple H’s; with Houston (7.5 sacks), Hali (6.5 sacks) and Howard with 5.5. The pass rush against Houston was particularly effective up the middle with Dontari Powe and Jaye Howard pushing the pocket back in Brian Hoyer’s face.

Powe and Howard are outstanding at the point of attack; they can take on double-teams and stuff the run or allow inside line backers Josh Mauga and Derrick Johnson to make plays. Their active and are good laterally as well.

The Chiefs secondary is outstanding with corners Sean Smith and rookie Marcus Peters who had eight picks this season. Opposing QBs targeting Peters had a 67.7 passer rating this season. Safety Eric Berry is recovered from his cancer treatment and plays down in the box and is very active. Many Patriots fans will remember S Hussain Abdulla from the pick-six he returned against Tom Brady a year ago.

Maclin’s Absence Could be Key: Chiefs top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin suffered an injury during the Texans game and it was initially thought to be an ACL injury but he’s been cleared for that. He did suffer a high ankle sprain which may keep him out of this weekend’s game.

Even if he does play, an ankle sprain may limit his effectiveness and Maclin has been their most productive WR by far in 2015.  He’s caught 87 passes for 1088 yards with eight touchdowns for KC this season. The next most productive wide receiver is Albert Wilson with 35 catches for 451 yards and two touchdowns.

If Maclin can’t go it would put more pressure on QB Alex Smith to find their excellent tight end Travis Kelce in the passing game as their best option. Maclin’s either limited status or absence will probably put Kelce on the Patriots radar as the player they most have to take away.

Smith Leads a Varied Offense: The Chiefs offense may be one of the most balanced that the Patriots see this season. They’re almost 50/50 with runs and passes with 473 passes attempted and 436 runs.  Last season their offensive line dominated up front and the KC rushing attack gashed the Patriots for 207 rushing yards.

With the dangerous Jamaal Charles on IR, the Chiefs turned to Charcandrick West, who averaged 4.0 yards per carry while racking up 634 yards and four scores as well as Spencer Ware who averaged an impressive 5.6 yards per carry while gaining 402 yards as well on the ground. They use some three tight end packages as well. But Andy Reid will mix it up; you’re as likely to see a run from the 3-4 WR spread as you are a pass from the 3-TE sets.

Smith is a very mobile quarterback who can hurt you with his legs as he was the Chiefs 2nd leading rusher this season with 498 yards. Knile Davis had only 28 carries this season but gashed New England for 102 yards on 16 carries last year.

Smith won’t throw the ball deep much or try to take many chances with low percentage throws, he’s careful with protecting it and had only seven interceptions this season. Besides Maclin, their biggest target is Kelce who is used in much the same manner that the Patriots use Rob Gronkowski.

Kelce will line up in-line, in the slot or split wide. He’s very good at generating yards after catch and will attack the seams. He had an impressive day against Houston with eight catches for 128 yards. On the season he caught 72 passes for 875 yards and five touchdowns. Kelce will undoubtedly draw the lion’s share of attention from the Patriots defense and he’ll be a handful, much like Gronkowski is.

They like to use secondary wide receiver Wilson in the running game, they’ll put him in motion and run the Jet Sweep and try to catch the defense over-committing. Rookie WR Chris Conley chipped in with 17 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown. West was effective out of the backfield with 20 catches and a 10.7 yard average per reception.

Turnover Battle Will Be Tough to Win: The Chiefs are outstanding at forcing turnovers. During the current 11-game winning streak, they’ve generated 28 turnovers and have a +20 turnover differential during that time.

They’re remarkably solid at not turning the ball over via fumble or interception and have been outstanding at generating them. With an offense that doesn’t generate a ton of big plays in the passing game, they feast on opponents’ mistakes and making them pay.

The Patriots are also one of the stingier teams in the league in regards to turnovers as they once again led the league with the least amount of fumbles in 2015. Tom Brady also threw only seven interceptions on the season as well. So one wouldn’t expect a lot of turnovers in this game and any generated by either team would be big.

Special Teams Will Bear Watching: As we witnessed on Saturday afternoon, the Chiefs special teams units can strike quickly. Knile Davis took the opening kickoff back 106 yards for a touchdown which quickly took the crowd out of the game and put the Texans firmly on the hot seat.

The Patriots special teams have had their issues in the second half of the season and the last thing they need is to give up a quick score to turn momentum or give the Chiefs a short field. With the injuries to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, the Patriots punt return unit hasn’t been as effective as they’ve been in the past. The Chiefs punt coverage unit has been solid, allowing only six and half yards per return.

Half of Dustin Colquitt’s 75 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line this season and he had only five touchbacks. Cairo Santos missed seven field goal attempts this season and was only 4 of 8 from 50 yards and beyond.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.