Tag Archives: John Simon

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 19, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

Less Than a Week Before the Patriots are “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” 

The Patriots lost a couple of their key starters on the defensive line from last year’s Super Bowl team. Trey Flowers was their biggest loss, he was versatile, and could play on the edge as well as kick inside as an interior pass rusher. The team also lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown who signed with the Saints in free agency. Adrian Clayborn left in free agency as well.

But the team didn’t stand pat and signed former Jets DL Mike Pennel, the big nose tackle is a space-eater and can two-gap over the ball and take on double teams. Pennel’s signing is one of the most under-the-radar and underrated signings of the spring. The team also re-signed Danny Shelton for the interior of the line. David Parry and rookie Byron Cowart will be fighting for a roster spot. 

Pennel after minicamp session. SBalestrieri photo

Bill Belichick also swung a trade with Philadelphia, just a few hours after Flowers signed with Detroit. The Patriots gave up a 5th round draft pick for Michael Bennett and a 7th. While Bennett’s best days are behind him, he’s still a very viable pass rusher. He notched nine sacks for the Eagles last year, which would have led the Patriots. They also addressed the pass rush by drafting Michigan’s Chase Winovich in the third round. 

The very good and underrated Lawrence Guy returns as does Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler on the interior line. This is a big year for former top draft pick Derek Rivers. He’ll be fighting for a roster spot with Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman on the edge. 

With the breakdown of personnel that the team has this year, we could see more multiple looks and the team switching between a 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts. We’ll get more to that below. 

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp. 

Current roster – 

Interior DL – Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, David Parry, Byron Cowart

Locks – Guy, Pennel, Butler

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Shelton, Parry, Cowart

Long Shot – none

Edge Players – Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Chase Winovich, John Simon, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman

Locks – Bennett, Wise, Winovich, Simon

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Rivers, Davis, Harris, Kamalu, Thurman

Long Shot – none

Discussion – We’ll start with the interior big men. Pennel, Guy, and Butler are all locks for the roster. Pennel is a perfect fit with what the Patriots ask for their big men over the nose. Standing at 6’4, 332 pounds, Pennel is a very thick, powerful man with a huge lower body that is built for eating up two gaps. Guy has been a very nice addition to the Patriots since he arrived from Baltimore. Butler is a 300-pound penetrator who provides the team a nice interior pass rush on passing downs. 

Vying for the fourth spot on the interior DL is Danny Shelton, the former 1st round pick who the Patriots brought over from Cleveland last year. He suffered thru a lapse of poor play where he sat and was a healthy scratch a few times. But he elevated his game down the stretch and played better in the playoffs. David Parry is a four-year veteran who played for the Colts, Saints, and Vikings. Byron Cowart is a rookie out of Maryland who flashed a bit in his senior season and is a dark horse to make the roster. However, some analysts believe that he’s just coming into his own and could make some noise this summer. 

Essentially, the trio of Shelton, Parry, and Cowart may very well be vying for one roster spot unless they decide to keep five interior players, which is doubtful. Cowart has practice squad eligibility, which could come into play. 

On the edge, the Patriots have Bennett, Wise, Winovich (by virtue of his draft stock), and Simon as locks. Bennett is still a very good pass rusher and should continue to be very productive in the Patriots system. Wise is coming off a decent if a slightly inconsistent year with 4.5 sacks. Simon was cut loose by the Colts last year and the Patriots wasted little time in signing him. His role increased down the stretch and showed he could get after the QB, set the edge and drop into coverage a bit. The Patriots gave him a two-year deal worth $4 million with $1.65 million guaranteed. 

Winovich is a wild card here this season. The Patriots drafted him with a third-round pick and he’s a guy who plays with his hair on fire, going all out on every snap. His non-stop motor and excellent hands should see him logging some significant snaps. 

With possibly two more roster spots remaining,  the competition gets fierce here. Derek Rivers is in a make-or-break season. He’ll be competing with Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman, and Trent Harris for the remaining edge roster spots. Another guy who could factor into the edge is a fourth-year linebacker, Shilique Calhoun.

Looking at this defensive line and the way it is constructed, it would lend itself to being more of a 3-4 unit than a 4-3. Pennel and Shelton are prototypical nose tackles. Lawrence Guy was a 3-4 DE with Baltimore and guys like Deatrich Wise, Kamalu, and Thurman are best suited for a 5-technique role. 

Bennett, Winovich, and Simon would then revert to edge-rushing OLBs. We know Bill Belichick hates to categorize it one way or the other. And they’ll stay multiple and mix and match their personnel depending upon the opponent. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins could all see some work along the edge as well, depending on the opponent and the front in which they line up. 

With a lot of the talk this spring and early summer being that the defensive line will be weaker this season, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. While losing Flowers will definitely be a blow, gaining Bennett and Winovich is a nice way to address it. Pennel, in my opinion, will more than makeup for the loss of Brown. But we’ll have to see. That’s what makes the watching of training camp and preseason so intriguing.

With training camp starting next week, the competition among the defensive linemen should be extremely fun to watch. 

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

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

New England Patriots News 06-30, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 30, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-30 and AFC East notes this week. 

 Quick Hitters:

Jared Veldheer – retired shortly after signing with the Patriots on May 13. He recently came out and stated why in an interview he did earlier last week with MLive.

“It was easy (decision) because of knowing what my body was telling me, but it was hard because I was leaving a very good situation being with the Patriots,” Veldheer said. “(Belichick) understood, and everyone in the NFL building understands that the sport can do a number on your body and different guys have different timelines on how long they can make it through.”

Veldheer said that his hips, “Particularly my left one, was in pretty bad shape (after the season).”

DeAngelo Hall – former NFL DB was a guest on Good Morning Football and stated that Tom Brady was the best QB he ever faced and added that he didn’t have many regrets in his NFL career but one was not signing with the Patriots when they offered him a good deal but less money than he eventually signed for. The Patriots offered him 3 years and $27 million and the Redskins offered 3 years and $30 million. Hall said he now regrets not taking a little less and having a chance at a Super Bowl.

Isaiah Wynn – Is running at full speed and should be ready for training camp according to Jeff Howe of the Athletic. He reported that Wynn should be a full go at training camp which is a very good sign for the 23rd player selected in 2018 NFL Draft. And the Pats offensive line. 

Patriots Charitable Foundation – Patriot Place and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care are teaming up to build an adaptive home for an American veteran. Chelsea resident Brandon Korona lost a leg to an IED in Afghanistan. On Friday morning, the Patriots invited Korona and his family to Patriot Place to break the news that the three organizations will donate $50,000 to adapt his home for his needs. WCVB Channel 5 was the first to break the news.

Rob Gronkowski – has really trimmed down since announcing his retirement from the NFL. After seeing pictures of him recently, anyone harboring hopes of a comeback from the big guy and not being realistic. And any thoughts of him joining the WWE seem far-fetched as well.

Jonah Williams – Tough to see arguably, the best OL in this year’s draft go down with an injury before training camp starts and be lost for the season. Williams tore the labrum in his shoulder and required surgery which will sideline him for the entire 2019 season. The Bengals drafted Williams in the 1st round, 11th overall in the recent draft.

Julian Edelman’s Story Goes to Showtime:

The documentary “100% Julian Edelman” went live on Showtime on Friday night and was mostly filmed during the 2017-2018 timeframe when the Patriots WR was rehabbing from his ACL surgery.

There is a lot of humor in the hour-plus long video but some serious items as well. Edelman grew up terrified of his dad, who was a demanding taskmaster of a coach and demanded the best out of his son every day. The story goes over some of the drills that his father made him perform and they weren’t easy and were designed to make him tougher mentally. 

There is also a bit where Edelman talked about only being five feet tall until his senior year of high school, where he went thru a growth spurt where he grew eight inches and his football career, thanks to the hard work with his father paid off.

It delves into some interesting subjects like his PED suspension where he and his Dad didn’t speak for 81 days. Edelman says the pair speak every day and the two disagreed over how it was handled. 

Edelman – Welker, Is it Really Necessary to Compare?:

We realize that it is the summer doldrums where there isn’t much shaking…news-wise for the Patriots and these things are just exercises for discussion. We get it but there comes a time when it really doesn’t do either player justice when comparing players and their production to the team. 

Which brings us to the Julian Edelman – Wes Welker debate that is all over social media.  Edelman, is an icon in New England now, after playing a huge roll in the last three Super Bowl wins, including Super Bowl MVP honors for SB LIII. He’s Tom Brady’s best friend and most trusted receiver. 

Welker is now, unfairly remembered mostly for the one that got away. The SB XLVI catch that could have closed out the Giants. And the fact that the Patriots didn’t re-sign him in 2013 and he bolted for Denver to play for the Broncos and Peyton Manning while wearing that ginormous “Dark Helmet” piece of headgear. 

But in his six years in New England, Welker was beyond productive catching 112, 111, 123, 86, 122, and 118 passes. The only season he didn’t catch over 100 passes was the 2010 season, where after tearing his ACL in January in a game against the Texans, he returned in September and still put up very good numbers; 86 passes, 848 yards with seven touchdowns. 

If there was a knock on Welker, it is that his post-season numbers didn’t quite match up to his regular season excellence. But make no mistake, the numbers were still very good. But if one cares to recall, the Patriots were perhaps, too reliant on Welker, something Bill Belichick himself was recorded as saying on the sidelines. Welker in reality, despite the one pass in Super Bowl XLVI, had better hands than Edelman.

Edelman has upped his game in the post-season, especially in the Super Bowl. His three games, 9-109 and the game-winning touchdown against Seattle, in addition to that mammoth hit he took from Kam Chancellor down the middle, was the stuff of legend. 

Against the Falcons, he had five catches for 87 yards, including that incredible catch in traffic at crunch time where he snagged the ball just before it hit the turf. It is one of the more iconic Super Bowl catches ever, up there with the Lynn Swann catch of the 70s.

And of course, the SB MVP game against the Rams (10 catches, 141 yards) where he was basically uncoverable the entire game. The Rams tried everyone to slow him down and no one could. For a guy who doesn’t fit the poster image as a dominant wide receiver, it was one of the most dominant wide receiver performances in the history of the Super Bowl. 

Welker should receive his red jacket and his rightful place in the Hall soon. If you don’t remember how good he was, play back his very first game in a Patriots uniform. Belichick was called out by the bobos on talk radio for giving up multiple draft picks for a guy who couldn’t hack it with the Dolphins and Bolts. That first game against the Jets answered all of those questions. You could see it happening right before your eyes. 

Do we really have to go thru these mental gymnastics that are all the rage over, “Is so-and-so the best ever?” Be thankful we had both, and a seamless transition between when Welker left and Edelman truly took over. The offense was different then, it evolved and has become even better than it was then. In a big game, give me either in his prime and I’m confident that I’ll win.

Attention Belichick GM Haters…PFF Has the Patriots With the Best Roster in the NFL:

The site Pro Football Focus (PFF) is bound to be taking heat amongst the Bill Belichick haters, especially among the ones that are always beating the drum that “GM Bill is hurting, Coach Bill” and that “Belichick can’t draft.” Sound familiar?

PFF put together a piece for ESPN where they compared every roster in the NFL and despite losing Trey Flowers, Trent Brown, and Adrian Clayborn in free agency and Rob Gronkowski to retirement, the Patriots still have the best roster in the league. 

PFF cited the Pats strength down the middle and it begins with QB Tom Brady. Brady, according to PFF had his fourth “elite” season in a row, (oopsie to the Simms, Kellerman trolls).

Despite always picking at the bottom of every round in the NFL Draft, Belichick has put together the top roster of the league. The Rams, Saints, and Eagles round out the Top 4. PFF listed, not tight end but the pass rush as a potential weak spot…more below.

Is the Patriots Pass Rush a Worrisome Spot? Not Presently: 

In the ESPN piece that was referenced above, as we said the Patriots pass rush was listed as a potential problem spot. After losing Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn during free agency, the Patriots who finished 31st in sacks in 2018 could be conceivably on the short end of the pass rush totals again this season. 

Trey Flowers had 7.5 sacks but was very versatile, fulfilling a variety of roles for the defense. Clayborn had just 2.5 sacks during the regular season but upped his play in the post-season. 

The post-season was a different story. The Patriots were much more aggressive and after logging just 30 sacks in 16 regular season games, they logged 10 in just three playoff tilts. And it wasn’t from one player, they got contributions from everyone. Kyle Van Noy led the team with three, while Dont’a Hightower and Flowers each had two apiece. 

In the Super Bowl, quite a difference from the year before, the pass rush hounded Jared Goff all game long. The defense had 13 QB hurries, eight QB hits, and four sacks. One of the pressures on Goff resulted in Stephon Gillmore’s interception at the end of the game.

But the team didn’t stand pat and signed free agent Michael Bennett from the Eagles and then drafted Chase Winovich in the 3rd round. And if the spring workouts with the unpadded workouts and no contact are any indication, LB Jamie Collins should be in-line for some quality playing time.  

Bennett, despite being 33 is still a quality pass rusher and like Flowers, has the ability to move inside and bring pressure up the middle. Winovich was somewhat of a steal, with the Patriots snagging him with the 77th overall pick. While neither has played a snap with pads on yet, this isn’t to suggest that either is a cure-all but the cupboard isn’t bare either. 

Deatrich Wise can kick inside and will have to up his play this season, while John Simon, Hightower, and Van Noy all have shown the ability to rush the QB on occasion. Collins is the wild card, having had a very good spring. Will the Patriots ever reap any reward out of Derek Rivers? He lost his rookie year to a torn ACL. Last year, he didn’t show much and will be under the microscope in Year 3. 

So, this will be an area to watch for sure during training camp, especially when the one-on-one battles take place between the OL and the DL. But the scheme will play a huge role as well. Will the defense continue their aggressive ways after a very successful playoff run in 2018-19? 

We aren’t predicting a Top 5 sack season, but we aren’t looking for them being near the bottom either. As always, the defense will no doubt start off slowly.  Bill Belichick, as always, adds elements to it as the year progresses. A weakness? Not right now it isn’t. But like every year, we’ll have to watch for injuries and players to step up first. Our view here is that the 2019 version of the defense should be much better in the pass rush department….we’ll see.

AFC East Notes will return soon….

________________

Julian Edelman’s motto for 2019? “Just got to keep it going.” That is a good motto for the team as they try to keep “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door.”

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

VIDEO: Watch The Patriots Discuss What The Super Bowl LIII Ring Means To Them

Robert Alvarez
June 14, 2019 at 5:00 pm ET

The Patriots shared new footage from the Super Bowl LIII ring party on Friday over social media.

Check out the video below containing a few players and coaches discussing the importance of their Super Bowl LIII championship ring.

Video courtesy: Patriots.com

New England Patriots News, 3-17, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 17, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-17 and AFC East Notes.
We hope everyone has a great, happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.

Favorite St. Patrick’s Day memory? Taking the train into North Station in a blizzard and my Dad taking me, my brother and two cousins to my first Bruins game. Against the Montreal Canadiens.

Quick Hitters:

Adrian Clayborn – the veteran pass rusher will only complete one season as a Patriots and was released on Friday as per his wishes. His release gives the team an extra almost $3.5 million dollars in salary cap room.

Clayborn wrote on Twitter a thank-you note to the Patriots.

“Thank you Patriots for my time with the organization. gained so much respect for how you do things and win championships. It’s done the right way through hard work. Thank you for granting my release. I’m ready for this next chapter.”

He garnered 2.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, and a forced fumble after signing a two-year free-agent deal last spring. He added a sack and five QB hits during the Patriots Super Bowl run. With Trey Flowers a member of the Detroit Lions and Clayborn released, the Patriots depth chart on the edge consists of Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., John Simon, Ufomba Kamalu, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, and Trent  “Toolbox” Harris.

Michael Bennett – Speaking of the latest addition, Bennett spoke with Patriots.com

“I used to hate the Patriots,” he said. “I hated it because they would win so much. I hated it because Tom Brady’s hair was long. I hated that Belichick would wear sweaters. But now that I’m here, I love it. I love Tom Brady’s hair. I love being a Patriot obviously because it is all about winning. I think everything about the organization is being team-first, and just about doing what we need to do to get to where we want to go as a group. I love that.”

KC’s Hill Under Investigation For Child Abuse – Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill is under scrutiny by law enforcement personnel for battery against a minor. This is the second brush with the law in 10 days. Police were called to his home for a child abuse/neglect call on March 5 but closed the case without any charges being filed.

Again on March 14 police officers received a call at the same address and Hill’s three-year-old son was reportedly the victim with a broken arm. Hill has not been charged with any crime at this point.

Law enforcement officials won’t comment on an on-going investigation. Hill back in 2015 pleaded guilty of  domestic assault and battery by strangulation in August 2015. He received three years probation.

He reportedly punched and choked Espinal, who was then eight weeks pregnant with their son, on Dec. 11, 2014.  She is now pregnant with twins. Hill has been in negotiations with the Chiefs on a new deal that would make him among the highest players at his position. But for now, those negotiations are probably on hold. Both the Chiefs and the NFL said that they are aware of the incident.

“The club is aware of the investigation involving Tyreek Hill,” the Chiefs said in a statement. “We’re in the process of gathering information and have been in contact with the league and local authorities. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

This isn’t good news for Hill, the Chiefs or the NFL. The league just suspended former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt for eight games in 2019 for violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. After he was captured on video kicking and shoving a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel. 

Bolden and McCourty Return – After a year in Miami, Patriots special teams ace and backup running back Brandon Bolden is returning to Foxboro on a two-year deal. The popular locker room presence spent the first six years of his career in Foxboro. Tom Brady responded to Bolden’s Instagram post about his return with an “F**k Yeah!”

Jason McCourty is also returning on a 2-year deal. The 31-year old, came on board with the team last year and played very well, giving the cornerback position another veteran presence along with Stephon Gilmore.

Dorsett and Simon Back – The Patriots also brought back two more of their own free agents by re-signing WR Phillip Dorsett and DE John Simon.  Dorsett seemed primed for a big role in the offense after a solid training camp but he never really had a big impact, catching 32 passes for 290 yards and three TDs. Once the team brought in Josh Gordon, Dorsett lost most of his reps. He has a one-year, prove-it type deal in 2019. The one strange thing in this, however, was whenever his number was called, he generally came thru, with a 76 percent catch rate. Will the third season be a charm?

Simon was signed in late September after being released by the Colts. He was a valuable role player both defensively and on STs, where his role increased down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. He was one of the players who found a nice role when the team used their “Amoeba Defense.” The deal was for two years and $7.2 million dollars.

Melifonwu Surprised by Grafton High School Honor – Patriots reserve safety Obi Melifonwu was asked by his old high school in Grafton, Mass. to come in and speak with the students. I was covering it for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Grafton News.

He did and spoke about the importance of schoolwork and how it helped a freshman struggling to fit in find his way into a college where he not only starred in football but graduated with two degrees in 2017. But the school surprised Melifonwu by presenting him with his high school jersey which will be permanently displayed at the school. He was a star both offensively and defensively in CMass football before moving on to UConn and then the NFL.

He admitted he was shocked by the gesture and very appreciative. Afterward, he spoke about preparing for this upcoming season, he’s working with a trainer in Foxboro, outside the facility to prepare himself. He also spoke about learning how to better prepare his body, something he learned the hard way, after being injured for the first time and the resultant therapy.

“Sometimes you train a certain way thru high school and into college that you believe is preparing your body correctly,” he said. “But you learn that certain body parts have been neglected which can lead to overcompensating in certain areas, which ultimately lead to injuries.”

Asked about his Super Bowl experiences, he said, although he didn’t play, his focus was on helping his teammates. “I knew early in the week that I wasn’t going to play, so your focus is completely different,” he said. “Then, your entire mindset is to help the offense, by trying to emulate the Rams defense the best that you can in practice.”

Obi Melifonwu poses with his high school jersey at Grafton High School. (SBalestrieri photo)

While CMass Division III football isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL players, the Indians have had a few make their mark. Beside Melifonwu, another former Grafton alum, Steve Spagnuolo is now the Defensive Coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.

The draft and spring workouts will be an interesting one for Melifonwu. When the Patriots signed him it was for two years, with 2019 in mind. How they feel about the ridiculously athletic safety will be put to the test in April. They normally target a safety early in the draft. If they do or don’t take a strong safety early will probably tell you how they feel about his long-term viability in their system.

Patriots Add Five Free Agents But No Sexy Names…Surprised? Shouldn’t Be:

We knew this was coming…right? While teams were overpaying for the premium name free agents in a feeding frenzy before the actual free agency period even began, the Patriots stood pat. They did bid on a couple of free agent wide receivers, especially Adam Humphries and to a lesser extent Cole Beasley. But if you really expecting OBJ or Golden Tate, you were bound to be disappointed, just like nearly every other spring.

The team did add five free agents, but they weren’t any of the sexy names fans were clamoring for. The Patriots signed wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris, tight end Matt LaCosse, special teams safety Terrence Brooks and defensive tackle Mike Pennel.

Fans shouldn’t be worried at this point in just mid-March about the state of the wide receiver position. Team building is just in the infantile stages here. Trades are still available and with 12 draft picks, there will be some deals to be made. And with 12 picks in the upcoming draft, they have the capital to move around or make a deal

Of all the players the biggest impact player may just be Mike Pennel. If you listen to our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts, you’d have heard me say, I believe the Patriots were going to add Pennel as a free agent. He’s a big, 6’4, 330-pound space eater who will be the nose tackle in 2019. With Malcom Brown a Saint and Danny Shelton a free agent, the team needed a big body to anchor the middle of the field, something they needed a year ago.

As Bill Belichick said a year ago before the Patriots played the Jets, guys who are 330 pounds don’t grow on trees. He’s big, very strong and will be a very good addition against the run. He’ll be a starter on Day 1.

Bruce Ellington is a small, 5’9 WR who has had trouble staying healthy and on the field. He has excellent speed and had 31 catches in just seven games a year ago. He has KR and PR ability and this may be why the team brought him in to replace Corrdarrelle Patterson this season. In 2017, he had a good game against the Patriots in Foxboro, catching four passes for 59 yards including a 29-yard touchdown from Deshaun Watson. Bill Belichick loves bringing in players who have done well against his team in the past.

Maurice Harris is a former Redskins WR who has never really put things together. He has very good size at 6’3, 200 pounds with some return ability as well. An UDFA in 2016, he seemed destined to break out last year after a big training camp. But he never did and gets a fresh start with New England. He had 28 catches for 304 yards a year ago, however, over half of those receptions (15) came in two back-to-back games.

Matt Lacosse from the Broncos has boom or bust written all over him. He signed a two-year deal worth $4.8 million dollars and has the frame (6’6, 255) to be a very good blocker in the running game.

He caught 24 passes for 250 yards and a TD last year after working his way from the #3 TE to being the starter after injuries hurt the position. He too will be getting a fresh start in New England. He’ll get the chance to be the #2 or #3 TE here in 2019.

Terrence Brooks is a safety but is more known for his special teams’ acumen. He was one of the standout players on one of the better STs units in the league last year. The Patriots struggled in the kicking game especially kickoff and punt coverage early last season. Once they brought in Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber, both free agents, things solidified. Bringing back Bolden and signing Brooks should be a boost overall for the ST units in 2019.

Patriots ST’s Kickers Remain Unsigned:

The Patriots are getting a lot of air time with the usual hot take hosts about their lack of depth at wide receiver. But right now, they have no players in the kicking game with the exception of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Both kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen remain unsigned. Gostkowski has been with the team for longer than Adam Vinatieri was and is one of the top kickers in the league. Allen, while in the middle of the road in terms of gross punting average is outstanding at directional punting and could have been a legitimate Super Bowl MVP candidate by pinning the Rams back deep in their zone all game long.

Bottom line here is there isn’t a better kicker on the market than Gostkowski. We still expect both to return at some point, but it remains an area to monitor.

Patriots Still “Tentatively Planning” on Having Gronk Back in 2019:

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t announced his decision on whether to return to the team in 2019 or retire. He’s openly talked retirement in the past but the opportunity to have one last shot at the team’s seventh Super Bowl championship may be a big draw for him.

Of course, Gronkowski can also point to the cash he’s due, he’ll count for $11,859,375 against the salary cap in 2019. If he retires, the team will have an additional $9,859,375 to spend this year.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported, “My understanding is when you talk to people close to him, they think there is a better chance that he comes back again than he doesn’t. And I do believe that the Patriots are at least tentatively planning as if they will have Gronk for the 2019 season.”

With the release of Dwayne Allen, the Patriots depth chart at tight end consists of the newly signed Matt Lacosse, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Bring In Weapons for Josh Allen:

The Buffalo Bills signed some very needed receivers for their offense in free agency inking WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, tight end Tyler Kroft as well as offensive line help in Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe. This should aid in helping QB Josh Allen in helping transform what was a moribund offense in 2018.

The team also inked the ageless Frank Gore at running back on a one-year deal, giving Buffalo the oldest RB group with Gore who will be 36 along with Chris Ivory (30) and LeSean McCoy (30). It should be noted, however, that Gore averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year with the Dolphins.

Brown gives the Bills the deep speed they lack and he had his best season last year in Baltimore catching 65 passes for 1003 yards. Beasley is a Julian Edelman clone, who the Bills hope will transform their short passing game, where Allen was 32nd in the league a year ago. Kroft had a breakout season with 42 catches in 2017 but broke his foot and played in only five games a year ago.

This will be an interesting year to see how much Allen can progress, the Bills spent a lot of cash to upgrade their weapons for him and added two WRs and a badly needed TE. With the draft upcoming, the Bills will probably still address WR and RB to get a bit younger there.

Dolphins Trade QB Tannehill to the Titans:

The Miami Dolphins have traded their seven-year starter at QB, Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans on Friday. The Dolphins packaged a 6th round draft pick in 2019 along with Tannehill for the Titans 7th round pick in 2019 and a 4th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Tannehill had his moments but could never put it all together for Miami who paid him a few years ago as their franchise QB. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,979 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games last year. Now he’ll serve as the backup to Marcus Mariota. Tannehill is playing on a one-year deal with $7 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The one-year deal goes to $12 million+ with playtime and other incentives. The Dolphins are on the hook for $5 million of the $7 million guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.

Miami, which tried to bring in QB Teddy Bridgewater, now has only Jake Rudock and Luke Falk at QB. They’ll either try to swing a trade for an established QB, or draft a young one in the NFL Draft, perhaps both.

Jets Go All in On Free Agency:

The New York Jets were expected to make a splash in free agency with a ton of cap space to spend it on and they didn’t disappoint. The laid out big money for RB Le’Veon Bell, ILB C.J. Mosely, slot receiver Jamison Crowder and then added slot corner Brian Poole who came over after spending three years with the Falcons.

Bell, is the most notable free agent having sat out 2018 in a contract dispute with the Steelers, and the money he signed for is actually less than the Steelers offer of five-years and $70 million. Bell signed for four years and $52 million with $25 million guaranteed. He has a ton of wear on his tires but after taking a year off, he may go into the season refreshed. But the Jets offensive line scarcely resembles the Steelers unit that helped Bell launch in his career. The Jets did make a move in that direction by trading for LG Kelechi Osemele from Oakland.

Mosely is one of the best interior linebackers in the league, a true leader for the defense and a smart, physical player who will be on the field for all three downs. He’s an instant upgrade for them at the position, but the Jets ponied up a ton of money, guaranteeing a whopping $51 million. They also had Anthony Barr agree to a deal but he ended up getting cold feet and ultimately left the Jets at the altar.

Crowder gives the Jets a big play option in the slot with the speed to make a ton of YAC. This should allow them to move Quincy Enunwa to the outside. But the question with Crowder is can he stay healthy? He missed seven games a year ago.

The Jets made a big splash, but will these moves pay off? We’ll see, but it never stops Manish Mehta from making one of his patented silly predictions. In Manish’s latest “look at me” moment, he made his prediction for the top QBs for the AFC East in 2019.

Current starting QBs in the AFC East… from projected best to worst in 2019:

1) Sam Darnold
2) Tom Brady
3) Josh Allen
4) Luke Falk

But before you get too hard on Manish, he got exactly what he was looking for as Boston sports radio couldn’t wait to get him on to defend his position…hmm

So, how was your week?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Which of the Patriots Free Agents Return in 2019?

Steve Balestrieri
February 14, 2019 at 8:32 am ET

Which of the Patriots Free Agents Return in 2019?

The Patriots are facing a ton of potential turnover in their roster in the upcoming 2019 season and to go along with a slew of coaching changes, it presents a difficult challenge in the days ahead.  

Most Super Bowl winners suffer a turnover of more than 20 players from the Super Bowl to Week 1 of the following NFL season. This year’s Patriot team will no doubt be any different.

So, now that the post-Super Bowl celebrations are over and we’ve had a chance to let the dust settle, we are going to take a look at some of the Patriots free agents and try to get a feel on who may return and who may be moving on. And let’s start with the two biggest of them.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots defensive end was a fourth-round pick from Arkansas just four years ago and at 25 is just now entering the prime of his career. Flowers led the team in sacks the past three years but he’s much more than just a sack specialist.

In the varied scheme that the Patriots run on defense, they ask their edge players to do a lot of different things. And Flowers can do them all. He sets the edge, rushes the passer from the outside, can kick inside as an interior pass rusher and drop occasionally into the passing lanes in the flat.

Flowers has arguably been the Patriots’ best defensive player for the past several years and they know and appreciate his value. How will the rest of the league value Flowers? In an increasing fantasy football mindset, many fans and writers may not believe that he’s a top-tier defensive player. But the coaches see what he brings, especially two ex-New England coaches in Detroit and Miami.

The chances of Flowers returning are probably less than 50/50, and if they can’t get anything done by the time the signing frenzy begins, it will probably be less than that. Flowers would look awful in teal…

Trent Brown:

My, my, my, (Joe Kenda voice), what a difference a year makes. When the Patriots got Brown in a trade with the 49ers there were a lot of very unconvinced people (including right here) that wondered why the Niners would let him go if he was as good as Von Miller proclaimed him to be.

Miller, the Broncos pass rush specialist, called Brown the best right tackles in the NFL and considered him one of the best tackles …period. Brown is absolutely enormous at 6’8, 380-pounds but for a man so big, he moves incredibly well. He took over the starting left tackle position in the first days of training camp and never looked back.

He started all 16 regular season games and all three playoff games and was simply outstanding. So, yes… he can play left tackle in the NFL, and do so at an elite level. Having feet as quick as his for such a large man allows him to keep pass rushers at bay and he can be a road grader in the running game.

Will another team throw a boatload of money at his feet this spring? With the protection of QBs blindsides always at a premium, the answer is probably yes. Will the Patriots match? Probably not. They invested their top pick last year in Isaiah Wynn who ended up on IR with a torn Achilles last year. Marcus Cannon is under contract for the next three years. The Patriots believe Wynn is more than capable, however, they’ll want to take him along slowly with his injury.

If the Patriots do re-sign Brown, then swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle will probably go, if not he’ll return for another year. The chances of Brown returning are far less than 50 percent in 2019.

Stephen Gostkowski/Ryan Allen:

Both of the Patriots kicking tandem are free agents this season. Gostkowski has been with the Patriots since Adam Vinatieri left in 2006, (the Patriots have essentially had two kickers since 1995), and Gostkowski has been remarkably consistent for a very long time. Last season he was 27-32 on FG attempts, three of his misses were beyond 50 yards and 49-50 on extra points. His work on kickoffs is a subject that Bill Belichick has long complimented on as exemplary.

Allen has been outstanding at angling punts to the sidelines and dropping them inside the 20-yard line of opponents. During the Super Bowl, he pinned the Rams deep three times inside their 10-yard line. And don’t forget, it is Allen that does the holding on all of the extra points and field goals.

Both are extremely valuable and trusted. The odds of each returning is well over 50 percent for 2019.

Jason McCourty:

J-Mac was a very valuable contributor in 2018, his solid play, experience, and leadership were all key factors in the team’s success in the secondary. And playing in the playoffs for the first time in his career, was an experience that McCourty relished, a valuable teaching point to the younger players to never take anything for granted. Especially for a player who went from 0-16 to a Super Bowl win.

The Patriots have a lot of depth at the cornerback position with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones (RFA), Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and Eric Rowe (UFA). McCourty’s veteran presence would be very valuable in 2019, but much of his future may be tied into his brother’s retirement consideration. If Devin decides to return for one more year, Jason would be much more inclined to remain. He’s a 50/50 proposition to return.

Chris Hogan/Phillip Dorsett/Cordarrelle Patterson:

The Patriots three complementary wide receivers are all unrestricted free agents this spring. Hogan has spent the past three seasons here after signing a three-year deal bringing him over from Buffalo. Hogan was a key contributor on the two Super Bowl teams his first two seasons but this year, he seemed to be frozen out of the offense, where he was forgotten for very long stretches. A classy vet, on and off the field. He’s a great teammate who works hard every day and can be a valuable complementary piece in any offense.

Dorsett seemed primed to have a nice role in the offense after a really strong training camp. But when the team signed Josh Gordon, he saw his playing time slashed. However, when his number was called, he contributed some big plays, most notably the touchdown pass in KC during the conference championship game right before the half. He never lived up to his first-round draft pick expectations but can be a nice role player.

Patterson remains one of the premier kick returners in the game and the opening kickoff in the Super Bowl showed how dynamic he can be, nearly breaking it for a TD. The Patriots installed a package on offense to take advantage of his blazing speed and he chipped in with three receiving touchdowns. He also jumped into the mix at running back when injuries piled up at mid-season and acquitted himself pretty well there. That concept of doing whatever the team needs you to do wasn’t lost on the coaching staff.

The belief here is that Hogan is gone and Dorsett is slightly less than 50 percent to be returning, probably looking for a spot that will allow him more playing time. Patterson seemed to really like it here and if the Patriots offer him anything close to what he gets on the open market, then his chances of returning are better than 50 percent.

Malcom Brown/Danny Shelton:

The two big men in the middle both had the team decline fifth-year options for each in 2019 which says that they are prepared to move away from either or both unless the money is right. Brown had a good but unspectacular 2018 season and like his previous four years, had bouts of inconsistency. He was much better down the stretch and into the playoffs. But in truth, he never really lived up to his first-round draft expectations.

The Patriots picked up Shelton from the Browns last spring and he too was plagued by consistency problems. He was a healthy scratch for three late-season games including the AFC Championship Game but was active and very good in Super Bowl LIII.

The belief here is that the team could easily bring one of the two back on a team-friendly deal, but the chances that either return are under 50 percent.

John Simon/Albert McClellan/Ramon Humber:

The Patriots love their special teams’ guys and in a year when the normally stellar STs units were struggling with their consistency early in the year, they brought these three into to the fold to steady the boat.

Simon proved to be a valuable role player on the defense first and STs second. He did a very good job when called upon in setting the edge and getting after the passer as well as dropping into coverage. In the sub-packages the team runs, he provided a valuable role and fit in well.

McClellan was an outstanding addition to the STs and blocked a couple of kicks, forced a key fumble. But in the punt coverage teams? Before McClellan’s arrival, the team was allowing nearly 13 yards per punt return. After he came on board, it was cut in half. That isn’t a coincidence.

Humber is another STs maven and he’s terrific on kick coverage and recovered a blocked punt. The chances of these three returning are better than 50 percent, it would be nice to see the team re-sign all three this spring.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots  Week 4 Report Card, New England Routs Miami 38-7

Steve Balestrieri
October 2, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots looked much more like the team that we are accustomed to seeing on Sunday afternoon in Foxboro. They played their best complete game in quite some time with a dominant, offensive and defensive effort. While it is only one game and they have to start stringing some games like this together, this was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Miami entered this week 3-0 and with a two-game lead in the division and with a chance to go up by three with a tie-breaker. They had been playing well and the Patriots had looked terrible for two weeks in a row.

But the coaches put together an outstanding game plan and the players executed it in fantastic fashion. The team came out immediately, energized, with a tough physical presence and a sense of urgency that has been sorely lacking in a while.

This one was over by halftime with the Pats up 24-0 and then they just put it on cruise control the rest of the way. It was a great game offensively for Sony Michel and James White, with Josh Gordon having an impact immediately. Defensively, Lawrence Guy and Kyle Van Noy were outstanding as the defense pitched a shutout for 57 minutes.

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

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady got off to a bit of a slow start but got the passing game going and he ended up with 274 yards and three touchdowns. This was on a day where the running game was gashing the Dolphins defense. But his two picks hurt his overall grade, where each was preventable because of uncharacteristic mistakes.

But he did get the wide receivers going, hitting a 55-yard touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson for his first Patriots touchdown. A nice 9-yard dart to Phillip Dorsett for another score. And he lasered a third-down pass to newcomer Josh Gordon on a slant for a 13-yard gain to get him his first reception on the team. And his best pass of the day was a gorgeous rainbow pass to James White in the corner of the end zone where he was getting drilled as he released it. Just like they draw it up in the bucket drill during camp.

But his two picks were preventable. On the first, he got fooled when Bobby McCain was running with Chris Hogan. Dorsett was to cut under the Hogan route, where it was supposed to generate some open space. But McCain passed off Hogan to a deep safety and sat down right on the spot that Dorsett was crossing. He made a very good head’s up play. On Brady’s second INT, he was just trying the force the ball into a very tight, well-covered window. Miami had two defenders located right there while under a heavy rush. He also threw a high pass on the goal line to Patterson which was knocked away and nearly picked. Normally,  Brady delivers that ball low where it can’t be deflected and only catchable by his man.

Running Backs: A

The Patriots running backs had a fantastic productive day.  Sony Michel, who last week had to hear in some circles that he’s already a bust, had he first 100-yard day and NFL touchdown. He rushed 25 times for 112 yards and is beginning to show the trademark burst that he was known for in college.

A cool stat courtesy of Tedy Bruschi, 65 yards of Michel’s 112 came after contact. He’s also seeing the field much better as he becomes more comfortable in the offense.

James White had 112 total yards of offense, with 44 yards rushing including a nice 22-yard touchdown run and 68 yards receiving including the beautiful aforementioned rainbow from Brady for a score. He also ran a perfect rub route on Patterson’s 55-yard TD catch which freed up the receiver for an easy pitch and catch.

James Develin was his usual solid self in the running game, delivering big blocks to get the backs to the second level. Kenjon Barner got some work in at garbage time and got some snaps in which may set the table for more work down the road.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers had a much more productive day. The arrival of Josh Gordon and his small sample size (18 plays), belied his influence on the field. While he had just two catches for 32 yards, both were on third down and Brady made it clear he was not just a decoy. He also drew a penalty that resulted in another first down and made a nice block downfield on White’s TD run. His arrival opened up some space for the other receivers. It was a good start.

Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan are complimentary type receivers and not the #1 types that they been forced to assume early this season. Dorsett had four catches for 55 yards including the somersaulting TD grab. Hogan had one catch for 25 yards, and Patterson had the 55-yard touchdown catch as well as an 11-yard carry.

The overall group will get even better with the arrival of Julian Edelman who was back in the facility on Monday but is not yet part of the 53-man roster as the team will have to make a corresponding roster move.

Tight Ends: B

Rob Gronkowski has been bothered by an ankle injury which has limited him in practice the past 10 days. He aggravated the injury late in the game and with the blowout score was taken out. He’s considered day-to-day but with the short week, it would seem that he is doubtful to play this week.

Gronk had a couple of good catches in traffic and ended up with 4 catches for 44 yards on the day. Dwayne Allen had a very good day in the run blocking department as he was clearing house for the backs. He was targeted on a deep route that was knocked away and caught a pass behind the line, that perhaps Brady should have thrown away where the Dolphins were all over him for a loss.

Offensive Line: B+

The offensive line had a tremendous bounce-back day. After being manhandled for two straight weeks, a little home cooking was just what the doctor ordered. Dante Scarnecchia’s crew took it to the Dolphins front seven and the Patriots running game carved them up for 175 yards on the ground.

Unlike the past few games where they couldn’t open up holes, they were getting a good push and did a very good job of protecting Tom Brady. Miami has a pair of outstanding edge rushers in Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn and both had quiet days which is a big win for New England.

Defensive Line: A-

The defensive line simplified things a bit and rather than being reactive and pushed around, they were setting the tone of things and dominated up front.  After getting gashed two weeks in a row, the run defense allowed the Dolphins only 56 yards rushing, most of which long after the outcome was settled. Miami averaged 3.1 yards per rush.

Lawrence Guy had an outstanding game inside, Malcom Brown was much improved and the line was bolstered by the return of Trey Flowers who is always very solid. The Patriots did a great job of pushing the pocket and collapsing it around Ryan Tannehill. He frequently couldn’t step into his throws, which is why so many sailed high for him.

The unit only had two sacks, one by Adam Butler and one by newcomer John Simon but they had good pressure all game long around the QB’s feet.

Linebackers: A-

This was a fantastic day for the Patriots linebackers despite them barely registering on the stat sheet. The linebackers were active, chipping the Dolphins receivers, tight ends, and backs and looked quite the antithesis to the slow, plodding group that we saw for two weeks.

Kyle Van Noy was outstanding all game long mixing in run and pass coverage.  He recovered a fumble when the Dolphins backup center snapped the ball over Tannehill’s head before he was ready. Elandon Roberts was playing his downhill, thumping game and was a thorn in the backfield before he was injured late in the game. Dont’a Hightower had a very active, physical game.

One way to combat their lack of speed is to chip the backs and receivers off the line. On Sunday that was the game plan and they worked it to perfection. The Dolphins speed was negated and their backs and tight ends were not a factor. Dolphins running backs had just three catches for 29 yards, and two of those came in garbage time.

Secondary: A-

The secondary played their best game of the season and arguably their best in quite some time. The game plan was to get physical with the Dolphins receivers at the line of scrimmage. This was conducted to throw off their timing as well as negating their team speed.

The game plan worked to perfection as the Dolphins wide receivers were blanketed by the Patriots secondary all game long. Tannehill had nowhere to throw the ball. He entered the game completing 72 percent of his throws with a passer rating of 121.8 on the season. He finished just 11 of 20 for 100 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The Dolphins wide receivers had 11 receptions for just 97 yards. Rookie J.C. Jackson had his first career interception.

Pat Chung was back and in this Patriots defense, he is outstanding. He is extremely versatile and can play as an in-the-box safety, cover tight ends or even play in the slot. He’s an excellent tackler and a smart savvy player. Mike Gesicki the talented rookie tight end had just one catch for 9 yards.

Special Teams: B

Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t get many opportunities to strut his stuff as the Dolphins only kicked off twice. But Cyrus Jones had a very nice 24-yard punt return at the beginning of the second quarter. The Dolphins return game didn’t do much despite having the dangerous Jakeem Grant and the always elusive Danny Amendola. Was that Danny Amendola starting to run to the Patriots sidelines after returning a punt in the first half? Ryan Allen only had to punt twice and Stephen Gostkowski had a chip shot (20-yard) FG and extra points to make.

Coaches: A

What a difference a week makes. The Patriots had a great game plan to combat the Dolphins speed and worked it perfectly. It was a tad reminiscent of those old Patriots-Colts games of the early 2000s in the old stadium. They were physical with the Miami receivers and wouldn’t allow them any separation.

Bill Belichick had the team ready to go on Sunday.  They played with the urgency and energy that we’ve come to expect of Patriots teams. Josh McDaniels called a superb game, mixing in the run and pass perfectly.  He was calling the right plays to get everyone involved. The offense for the first time this season looked like the offense that we expected to see.

This overall was a very solid team win. Now they have to start stringing a few together. They have a short week with Indy coming into Foxboro on Thursday night.  Then they will have 10 days to come up with a game plan to slow down the Chiefs offense.

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

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Players To Watch Patriots-Dolphins Week 4

Steve Balestrieri
September 28, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

Big AFC East Matchup

The New England Patriots limp home after a 0-2 and uncharacteristically poor start on the road for 2018. The team is just 1-2, and although we’re used to seeing slow starts from the Pats in September, this week’s game, because of that slow start takes on very high significance.

Miami enters the game on a roll at 3-0 and is two games up on New England in the division. A win in Foxboro, where Miami rarely wins will put the Dolphins up three games plus the tiebreaker which puts the Pats far in the rearview mirror. No one picked Miami to make much noise this season, Adam Gase has his team believing and this is a big benchmark game for them.

The Patriots are searching for answers both offensively and defensively. Injuries are have already ravaged the team after just three weeks, with nearly their entire draft class of 2018 on IR. This is an even bigger game from New England’s point of view. They can ill-afford to drop a home game against a divisional opponent, and one that is already two games up on them in the division.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots traded for Gordon less than two weeks ago and his every move has been scrutinized despite being slowed by a hamstring problem that has left him limited in practice. And with that issue, along with him trying to learn the offense, would lend itself to lowered expectations, at least initially.

But the opposite is actually in effect here. Many people believe that Gordon is going to light it up immediately in Foxboro as soon as he hits the field, even if they have just a small package of plays for him to start.

Truthfully, whether you loved the trade or hated it bringing Gordon to New England, putting so much on this player’s plate after having barely played in the NFL for the past five years is a tad of a reach. But at this point, after such a buildup, we just want to see him on the field now.

John Simon:

The Patriots picked up the former Colts DE/LB this week and although he will only get a few days of practice, we do expect to see him on the field. Simon has had production in the NFL and was let go because the Colts were changing their system and his talents didn’t fit the direction they were going.

Which leads us to the intriguing question, how do the coaches visualize using Simon?  He’s at his best as a 3-4 outside linebacker and wasn’t greatly suited to be a 4-3 defensive end, hence his release from Indy. The Patriots have been primarily a 4-3 team, although Bill Belichick hates being pigeonholed. So, does this mean we’ll see some 3-4 looks or even some of those five-man fronts we’ve seen in the past?  Possibly, and with the issues they’ve had stopping the run, something had to be done.

Simon does have some talent at rushing the QB and setting the edge in the running game which is very important moving forward. It will be intriguing to see how Belichick and Brian Flores decide how to use Simon here.

James White:

The Patriots Swiss Army Knife of the offense had his looks and snaps curtailed a bit as the team was pushing Sony Michel, trying to shake the rust off of him after the rookie running back missed nearly a month of training camp, all of the preseason and the first game of the year. Now, they need the veteran to step up his game.

White’s versatility in the passing game will be put to the test this week. With the Patriots wide receivers struggling to win 1-on-1 matchups, the running backs will be looked to even more to take up the slack. Rex Burkhead was a favorite receiver of Tom Brady’s but he’s injured again and on IR. Michel is just finding his feet in the NFL so White will have to step up his game again.

Look for White to get a lot of looks against the Miami secondary this week. Brady will try to isolate him on a linebacker and create favorable matchups to keep the chains moving. White can also chip in with the running game but this week, they need him to get 7-10 catches out of the backfield.

Trey Flowers/Pat Chung:

Last week, the Patriots really missed these two starters against the Lions. Flowers is their best defensive lineman and arguably their best defensive player period. He’s excellent in run support and is a good pass rusher off the edge. Chung is outstanding in run support down in the box and has always given good coverage against opposing tight ends. With the defense reeling, they need both back this week.

They both were in concussion protocol last week and missed the game in Detroit, and both have still been limited in practice this week.  Having the two of them back for this game will be a big boost for a defense that is in search of a spark.

We’re looking for them to bounce back this week and play solid against a talented Dolphins offense. We’re watching the Flowers matchup against Miami RT Ju’Wuan James this week. If the Patriots are going to be successful, they’ll need Flowers to get the better of that one on Sunday afternoon.

Rob Gronkowski:

The Patriots big tight end has been off to a slow start during the past two games and the Patriots offense needs him to get it going. Gronkowski is a force multiplier when he’s on top of his game, it elevates the rest of the offensive players around him.

There are already some rumblings that he can’t run anymore, and that he needs to build up his speed down the field. Comments like that are always good fodder to get the competitive juices flowing even more.

Perhaps the addition of Gordon, if even for a few plays this week, will open up just enough space for Gronkowski to get his game back on track. There is nothing like a little home cooking with the crowd at Gillette to ignite the big man and awake this slumbering offense. Brady will be looking to get him involved early and often in this one.

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

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Patriots – Dolphins Week 4, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 27, 2018 at 7:47 am ET

The New England Patriots return home after a 0-2 road trip and having been soundly defeated in both contests by Jacksonville and Detroit. While it early, since we’re still in September to call anything a “must-win” game, but it is rapidly sh

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Kevin Harlan will handle play-by-play duties with Rich Gannon as the color analyst. Steve Tasker will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (1-2) lost to the Detroit Lions 26-10 on Sunday Night Football as they couldn’t get anything going offensively or defensively. Tom Brady threw for just 133 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Dolphins (3-0) had a late big comeback to defeat the Oakland Raiders 28-20.  Ryan Tannehill passed for 289 yards and 3 TDs while Albert Wilson also threw for a 52-yard score.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and the Dolphins are meeting for the 106th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-51 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Foxboro, Tom Brady is 14-1 with the only loss coming in 2005 when he was pulled in the first quarter of the regular season finale.

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 Miami

The Patriots running game has taken two big hits in the injury department losing both Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead to IR. That leaves only Sony Michel, James White, and the recently signed Kenjon Barner. What was looked upon as a deep position just a few weeks ago is now thin.

The Dolphins run defense has been much improved in 2018. They’ve done a great job of keeping opponents from running the ball effectively and the front seven has been very solid. Last week, they did a very solid job of bottling up the Raiders Marshawn Lynch which was particularly important when the Raiders were trying to run the clock in the second half.

The Patriots run blocking has not been up to their usual standards and they’ve struggled to consistently run the ball. The team has made a concerted effort to get Michel going after he missed nearly a month of practice. Look for the Pats to just try to mix things up this week and keep Miami honest. But not a lot of room to run this week.

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

The Patriots passing game has been mired in neutral the past two weeks. The wide receivers haven’t been getting open and teams are doubling down on Rob Gronkowski. Losing Burkhead really hurts in the passing game, which means that even more will be put on James White’s plate. Could we see some Josh Gordon this week?

Miami’s pass defense has been generating a lot of turnovers thru three weeks and the pass rush with Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn is a daunting task this week. The secondary has been very good, the Dolphins have invested a lot of draft and free agent capital into improving it. Xavien Howard had two interceptions last week vs Oakland.

Look for Josh McDaniels to switch up the conservative game planning and put the ball where it belongs this week, in Tom Brady’s hands. Yes, they’ve struggled to throw the ball but an offense that is run based and throwing on second and third and long isn’t conducive to winning. Look for much more James White this week. Jacob Hollister probably won’t play this week, (they could use him to take some heat off of Gronkowski) but with Gordon getting into the game, it should open things up for the other wide receivers. Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett are under the microscope this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

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

The Dolphins running game hasn’t been setting the world on fire (like Detroit) and their running back by committee has not been where they envisioned it yet so far this season. Kenyon Drake and Frank Gore present different challenges and are a good 1-2 punch once they work out the kinks. Last week the duo ran just 11 times for 15 yards against the Raiders.

The Patriots run defense, especially to the opponent’s left side has been awful so far this season. This was supposed to be much improved this year but it hasn’t panned out that way. Things should be improved this week with the team getting Trey Flowers and Pat Chung back from concussion protocol. Flowers is the team’s best defensive lineman and Chung is a very effective tackler in the running game.

Look for the Dolphins to attack the left side, as we’ve seen all three opponents do this season. If they consistently get in those second and three yards or fewer scenarios, then it will be another long afternoon for the Patriots defense. Maybe this week it would bode well for Brian Flores to eschew most of the two-gap responsibilities and allow the DL to attack a bit more looking for some penetration and disruption up front. We’ll see.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Miami

The Miami passing offense boasts a number of very good pass receivers in Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson who also threw a 52-yard touchdown on a trick play last week. Ryan Tannehill has been incredibly accurate (73% completion rate) while amassing a 121.8 passer rating. They also have Drake out of the backfield and rookie TE Mike Gesicki.

The Patriots pass defense has suffered from a lack of pressure the past two weeks as both Matthew Stafford and Blake Bortles had all day to throw, frequently in very manageable situations. That has to change this week. Getting back three starters on defense (Flowers, Chung, Eric Rowe) would help.

I’d look for Tannehill to target Amendola a lot in this one. He knows the Patriots defense as well as anyone, he practiced against them every day for several years. They’ll try to move the ball down the field while taking the occasional deep shot with Stills. The matchup with Amendola with Jonathan Jones will be one to watch. Stills will probably be matched up with Stephon Gilmore while Rowe will draw either Wilson or Grant which will the other big matchup to watch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots’ Special Teams have yet to find their groove in 2018. The coverage units haven’t been anywhere near where they need to be and the return game has largely been stuck. However, last week, Cordarrelle Patterson opened the game with a 42-yard kickoff return, which is exactly what the team is looking for. Cyrus Jones is back and will be returning punts now and the team could use a boost by him.

Miami boasts the speedy and dangerous Grant in their return units. He had a 102-yard return for a touchdown against the Titans. However, the Dolphins have also given up a 94-yard touchdown return as well. Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a much bigger game for both teams than a normal September divisional game. Miami leads the Patriots by two games, going up by three with a tiebreaker would put them far ahead in the divisional standings.

Tom Brady has been nearly unbeatable at home against Miami and on the flip side, much like Miami has been Brady’s kryptonite, Foxboro has been that for Ryan Tannehill. Miami’s QB is 0-5 in Gillette Stadium and has thrown 5 TDs and 9 INTs in those games where the Dolphins have been outscored 163-61.

While New England has been struggling, we’ve seen this before in the early season. Are we going to fall for the “banana in the tailpipe” again? This is the 2018 Patriots “We’re on to Cincinnati” game. We’ll learn something about each team after Sunday’s game.

We’re looking for Brady to get it done enough on offense this week as they begin to get things figured out. One “X-Factor” for New England may be John Simon, the ex-Colts LB/DE is best suited as a 3-4 OLB than a 4-3 DE, so could we see some 3-4 looks or the other 5-2 fronts we’ve seen in the past to try to confuse Tannehill? Possibly.

Our feeling here is that the Brady/Belichick combination in New England isn’t quite done just yet.    Patriots 24-23

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