Tag Archives: Julius Peppers

Patriots Edge Rushers in 2018, Biggest Need is Health

Steve Balestrieri
February 26, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

If there was an area more snakebit than the edge for the Patriots in 2017, then please share. The team lost both Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long during free agency. But with Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy returning, they weren’t in terrible shape. Then they addressed it with two draft picks, Derek Rivers, and Deatrich Wise. Kony Ealy was brought in with a trade and Harvey Langi was added as an undrafted free agent. So things didn’t seem bad at all, …and then the wheels came off.

Ninkovich retired abruptly during training camp. Rivers and McClellin were hurt in training camp and lost for the season. McClellin may be gone for good as he’s suffered numerous concussions and this one may be it for him. Wise missed time during camp but came on strong afterward. Things weren’t helped when Ealy flamed out and the player they brought in from the Seahawks Cassius Marsh wasn’t a fit. Langi was shelved for the year after he and his wife were rear-ended at a traffic light and both got seriously injured.

Derek Rivers, here against the Jaguars, was just beginning to flash in TC when he got hurt. (SBalestrieri photo)

The team moved Hightower to the edge before he too was injured and ended up on IR. Keionta Davis never took the field as he had a bulging disk in his neck that didn’t hurt him in college but it made it where no one drafted him. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to contribute down the road.

The team brought in Eric Lee who displayed a decent ability to rush the passer but struggled to set the edge. And very late they brought in James Harrison who at 39 still set the edge very well and had some juice left to get after the passer. Harrison, as well as ST/Edge player Geneo Grissom, are both free agents.  Now entering 2018, the team is back to square one. Obviously, edge rusher is a big need, but good health is paramount.

Getting Hightower, Rivers, and Langi back is big. Hightower is a known commodity and he’s the Patriots best defender in the front seven…when healthy. Which is becoming an issue. We still don’t what they have in Rivers and Langi. But both flashed potential last season. Although they both got to sit in the meeting rooms last season, they’re still essentially rookies on the field. So while question marks on one side, they’re both like a free draft pick on the other.  McClellin will bear watching, it may be in his best interest to call it a career after multiple concussions and missing the entire season due to others.

Harvey Langi in coverage against Tommy Bohanon, was injured in a car wreck. (SBalestrieri photo)

Free Agency Options: So what is out there in Free Agency? Top tier pass rushers Demarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah are going to command much more cash than the Patriots can afford. Second tier players that may interest New England are Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons, who had 9.5 sacks in 2017. Trent Murphy from the Redskins had a nice 2016 but then missed all of 2017 with an injury.

Of course, they could bring back Harrison but one name to keep an eye on, could be Julius Peppers. The ageless, 38-year old pass rush specialist for the Panthers had 11 sacks last year in Carolina and could be one of those veteran players the Patriots and Belichick have brought in to bring some heat on the QB.

While we have been beating the drum that they need to get younger and more athletic on the edge, why bring in Peppers? Great question, while we’ll continue to believe that, there is nothing like solid production. Peppers hasn’t had less than seven sacks since 2007. He could be a nice fit with Belichick and the Patriots in a limited snap count role.

Names in the Draft: Now we’ll be the first to say, don’t even bother with draft scenarios until free agency is about played out. That will ultimately decide how the team decides to approach the draft and not the other way around. However, we always get a ton of questions about talented edge guys coming out in the draft.

Some guys to watch during the NFL Combine are Bradley Chubb, NC State, who will go far before the Pats select, and in no particular order (yet) are some edge rushers that could be of interest to New England:
Arden Key, LSU 6’6, 265
Marcus Davenport, UTSA, 6’6, 250
Harold Landry, BC, 6’3, 250
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State, 6’5, 266
Marcell Frazier, Mizzou, 6’5, 260
Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest, 6’3, 275

This list will grow as we get past the combine and get deeper into our NFL Draft coverage as we’ll look at some players whose skill sets may be of interest to the Patriots. If they opt for a guy like Peppers in free agency for instance, then they’ll likely look for an edge player closer to the middle rounds.

But regardless, the biggest thing the team needs now is health. Getting a healthy Hightower, Rivers, and Langi all on the field will do wonders for what ailed the team in 2017. Be intriguing to see if Davis, who was a productive college player can get a clean bill of health, ditto for McClellin.

We’ll be watching as free agency unfolds like everyone else, but with a limited amount of cash this spring, the Patriots will probably not be big players in free agency this season. They’ll have to do some creative work with the cap to make that happen and most of their big decisions will come down to whether or not to sign their own players. And while it won’t be the kind of moves that Patriots fans want to see, their biggest moves this spring may be just getting their own injured players back in the fold.

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
September 29, 2017 at 10:17 am ET

The New England Patriots will meet the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by WFXT Channel 25. Joe Buck will handle play-by-play duties with Troy Aikman as the color analyst. Erin Andrews will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (2-1) came back from a late 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady leading the Patriots to a touchdown drive with 23 seconds to go on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks for a 36-33 win.

The Panthers (2-1) dropped a 34-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Cam Newton struggled, throwing for just 167 yards with three interceptions.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Panthers will be meeting for just the 7th time with just the third game coming in Foxboro. The teams are evenly split 3-3 all-time and 1-1 in Foxboro. The last time the teams met was in 2013, with the Panthers taking home a come-from-behind 24-20 win. The ending was a controversial one, where Tom Brady drove the Patriots down the field in the final seconds and Rob Gronkowski was interfered with in the end zone. The officials threw a flag on the play and then picked it up saying the pass was uncatchable preserving a Carolina win.

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 Panthers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Carolina

The Patriots running game has yet to get untracked this season and while the Patriots running backs have come under a bit of criticism, the running lanes haven’t been there created by the offensive line. The backs are constantly getting hit in the backfield and the Patriots OL needs to do better.

Carolina has a very good front seven and in their first two games completely stuffed the running game of the 49ers (51 yards), and the Bills (69 yards), 55 of which were Tyrod Taylor scrambling out of the pocket. LeSean McCoy was held to just 9 yards on 12 carries as they completely took away the Bills running game.

Last week they had an anomaly all around as the Saints gashed them for 149 yards on the ground. But don’t look for another version of that. The front seven is very solid with a trio of linebackers (Luke Keuchly, Shaq Thompson, and Thomas Davis) that fly all over the field and make plays. One key to watch on Sunday if Star Lotulelei is able to go this week. But for the Patriots, they’re going to have to pass to run, once again.

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

The Patriots passing game has been clicking the past two weeks. Tom Brady has thrown for 855 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two games and despite a wide receiver corps that is banged up and missing some pieces has enough weapons that they can test anyone.

Tom Brady will look to Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski to continue their strong play again this week. The Panthers will be looking to stop those two first and take away their two biggest targets in the passing game. But Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett as well as James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield gives him plenty of options.

Carolina has a good pass rush and it is led by Julius Peppers who has returned for a second tilt with the Panthers and is off to a very good start with 2.5 sacks already. They’ll chip and blanket Gronkowski underneath and try to throw off the timing of the short/intermediate routes and take away the middle of the field.

The key here is, as always… time. If the Panthers get to Brady before he can get thru his progressions, then they’ll be successful, if Brady gets the time to throw, then the Patriots will find room to work. Look for Amendola and Hogan to get a lot of looks in this one. Curious if the team decides to use more of Dorsett in this one.

Next up the Carolina offense:

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

Carolina’s running game, like New England, has yet to take off yet. They have the talented Jonathan Stewart and the impressive rookie Christian McCaffrey as well as the scrambling ability of Newton, although he hasn’t run much yet, probably because his shoulder isn’t 100 percent yet.

The Patriots run defense hasn’t been consistent at all yet this season. And was run on for 125 yards by the Texans with a suspect offensive line last week. It will be interesting if Dont’a Hightower returns from an injury this week, where he’ll play. It may be beneficial for the Patriots to put him back in the middle and allow Kyle Van Noy to move back outside where he was more comfortable.

The Patriots will try to slow the running game down enough and force the game into Newton’s hands. Carolina’s backs haven’t had a breakout game…yet and they may push guys into the box.

Panthers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Carolina

Since Newton’s surgery on his shoulder this offseason, he hasn’t thrown the ball exceptionally well yet. He barely played in the preseason, and still, has quite a bit of rust still to work out. He’s missing his best, most reliable target in Greg Olsen who’ll be out until November. Kelvin Benjamin hurt his knee last week but is expected to start on Sunday. He and Devin Funchess give Newton bookend big receivers (6’4 and 6’5 respectively).

The Patriots pass defense is, to put it politically correct struggling right now. To put it another way, they’re close to being a sieve. The team is last in the league in yards allowed, last in points and last in pass yardage allowed. And they always struggle against mobile QBs. Throw in Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield and this is going to be a tough matchup again.

The Patriots always get passive defensively against mobile QBs, afraid of giving up the big run and play in a zone which doesn’t fit the strength of their defensive backs. I look for Carolina to split out McCaffrey wide and put him on the linebackers who have struggled to cover backs this year. I see McCaffrey having a big game on Sunday.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski was solid on Sunday including his kickoffs as he continues to pin teams deep. Ryan Allen is solid with excellent directional kicking and hang time. The Panthers counter with Graham Gano and Michael Palardy. McCaffrey hasn’t had a big game on STs yet and the Patriots coverage units are getting better every week. Carolina has solid coverage teams as well. But New England gets the slight nod here as they’re at home and Danny Amendola who had two big returns last week has reignited the return game a bit.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one has all the makings to be a barn-burner. Forget about the Panthers struggling passing game where Newton has had trouble hitting water out of a boat. He has right what the doctor ordered, a defense that is searching for answers and can’t stop anyone right now. And until they show signs of fixing their issues, they’re going to struggle.

The Patriots offense is the opposite side of the equation, they haven’t even hit their stride yet and have been averaging 33 points per game. I see Brady and Newton trading touchdown drives this week. McCaffrey will find the end zone twice but it won’t be enough as Brady will spread the ball around to his receivers to keep the Panthers pass rush at bay. Hold onto your seats again, this one goes right down to the wire.   Patriots 35-31

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

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