Tag Archives: Kenny Stills

 Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Texans Figure Out Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2019 at 8:44 am ET

Patriots fall to 10-2, Poor Execution, Doomed Team 

The Patriots were outplayed, outcoached and for the most part out of options until very late in the game on Sunday. The Houston Texans had a great game plan, executed it to near perfection and played smart situational football throughout. I wonder where Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel learned those things? 

For fifty minutes or so, Houston dominated this game. And then they tried to coast and it nearly cost them. An onside kick that bounced just over Brandon Bolden’s fingertips was all that stood between the Patriots having a loss and an improbable win. But this wasn’t an epic comeback like the last time New England played in Houston. 

So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the film before moving on..

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady struggled badly and was visibly frustrated starting very early in this one. And remember last week, where his pedestrian numbers we said right here were misleading? That he played much better than the numbers would appear? Well, this week is the exact opposite. 

A peek at the stat sheet and you’d say, 326 yards and three touchdown passes isn’t bad, in fact, it is pretty good… right? Wrong. 

As we mentioned above, Houston (for whatever reason) got away from what was working all game and played very soft and were allowing Brady to hit easy completions and he racked up some big garbage time numbers. Still, Houston’s gaffe nearly ended up costing them dearly, and Brady took advantage. And he had a 13-yard scramble where he didn’t resemble Lamar Jackson at all…J/K TB.

Running Backs: B+

The Patriots running game had its best game of the year running for 145 yards. The coaching staff got away from the run game early as the Texans began to stack the box and then had to almost abandon it totally when they fell far behind. 

James White must love playing here. After that epic Super Bowl performance against Atlanta, White had a huge game, with season highs in rushing (14 carries, 79 yards, 5.6-yard average), receiving (8 catches, 98 yards), and two touchdowns. The Texans had a safety on him early, but late in the game he went off and was huge for the offense. 

Sony Michel looked very good on the Patriots first drive, grinding out 33 yards on a drive that stalled deep in Houston territory and resulted in a field goal. He ended up with 45 yards on just 10 carries but was rendered to the bench. Rex Burkhead had three carries for 15 yards.

Wide Receivers: D

Julian Edelman saves this positional group from a worse grade. Edelman was bracketed all game long and still gutted his way out to a 6-catch, 106-yard night with a touchdown reception. He’s been playing hurt since the first Jets game and it baffles the mind where this offense would be without him. 

The rest of the wide receivers were …in a word, awful. No separation, blown routes, lining up in the wrong place, not catching contested passes. Did we miss anything? A couple of cases in point. Dan Orlovsky caught this first…Brady was giving a hand signal to Phillip Dorsett to go deep. Dorsett cuts his route off and Brady’s pass sails to air at the pylon. On a scramble to the right side, Brady motions for Jakobi Meyers to also go deep. He stops and the pass sails to no one. 

Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu had a combined five catches for 29 yards on 11 targets. For your #2 and #3 WRs, that isn’t going to cut it. They need a lot more from both of them, especially against a secondary that has been getting abused pretty regularly.

Meyers had three catches for 46 yards, while fellow rookie N’Keal Harry was targeted once on the pass that Brady was intercepted. Harry ran a sloppy route and didn’t box out properly, allowing Bradley Roby to jump the route and intercept the pass. Harry was sent to Siberia (or so it seemed) the rest of the game. He wasn’t targeted again. More to that later…  

Tight Ends: C

Ben Watson was only targeted once and had one catch for 23 yards, breaking a tackle and converted a big 3rd and 17 on the Pats’ first touchdown drive. Matt LaCosse played a lot of snaps and provide good blocking in run support. He had one catch for 24 yards and also had a drop. 

The offense needs to target the tight ends more down the seam and they’ll need better production from each of them in the final month of the season. 

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line played a very good game on Sunday night overall. The run blocking was the best it has been all season, generating 145 yards on the ground and averaging 5.0 yards per rush. Guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were very good at opening lanes for the backs. 

The pass protection didn’t look great on the surface with Brady getting pressured on over a third of his dropbacks. But with Houston pinning their ears back in the second half with New England down by two or more scores and Brady often holding the ball for an inordinately long time (WRs not separating), it contributed to that.  

 Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had another very good day against the Texans. Houston wanted to establish the running game with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson and the Patriots defense stuffed them. 

Houston was able to generate 52 yards on 23 carries, 2.3 yards per rush. Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton continue their stellar play, disrupting the runs at the point of attack and getting good penetration. 

John Simon had one very good pressure and nearly sacked Deshaun Watson for a big loss. But Watson was able to slip away and got back to the line of scrimmage before throwing an incomplete pass. They, later on, that drive went the length of the field for a touchdown. 

Linebackers: B-

The linebackers (Boogeymen) weren’t very scary this week as they were victimized in coverage for two touchdowns. Watson and the Houston coaches were able to isolate Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy and they were both beaten easily.  Elandon Roberts was flagged for an interference penalty and JaWhaun Bentley was beaten in coverage a few times as well.

The linebackers did, however, generate all three of the Patriots sacks with Hightower, Van Noy and rookie Chase Winovich each notching a sack of Watson. Tackling was an issue as well at times.  Jamie Collins had a quiet evening. 

Secondary: B-

Watson went right after Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones this week and DeAndre Hopkins had probably his best game against the Patriots with five catches for 64 yards. They went after Jones using their speed guys (Kenny Stills and Will Fuller) from the slot. 

Fuller beat Jones for a deep TD but upon review, Jones was able to knock the ball away. Undeterred, Watson went right back on the next snap and Stills beat Jones cleanly for the touchdown. 

Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Patriots had allowed only four TDs on the season and they allowed four more on Sunday night. Watson’s passer rating was a stellar 140.7 against a team that been allowing opposing QBs a rating of about 100 points less. 

Special Teams: C

The Special Teams didn’t have a great night, and Sunday may have been one of their quietest games of the season. Kai Forbath (since released) missed an extra point. Jake Bailey was okay averaging 44-yards per punt. He had one bad onside kick attempt and one excellent one, perfectly bouncing the ball over the Texans front. But it bounced just a tad too high. Brandon Bolden got a fingertip on it and very nearly hauled it in. The coverage units were so-so and the return game was not good. 

Coaches: C

The Patriots coaching staff made some curious decisions. Abandoning the run when they finally got it going seemed ridiculous at the time, however, rewatching on tape, it was clear Houston was stacking the box. But the bizarre call for the two-point conversion was a head-scratcher.

Brady saw that Houston was aligned defensively with something they didn’t like. But they didn’t call timeout allowing themselves to take a penalty for delay of the game. Then they flipped-flopped, opting for the kick where Forbath shanked it left. 

And freezing out Harry, whether that is Brady, McDaniels or Bill Belichick is flat out wrong. He made a rookie blunder, but benching him there especially with the WRs not named Julian Edelman doing next to nothing? Not a good move. They should have gone right back to him allowing him a chance to redeem his confidence…ah well. 

Houston’s coaches (save for the final 9:53), definitely got the better of Belichick and McDaniels. And that doesn’t happen often. 

So we’re on to Kansas City and a home game next week. Buckle your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy week on social media.  

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

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

 

Texans Dominate Listless Patriots 28-22, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 2, 2019 at 7:50 am ET

It appeared that the plane carrying the players suffering from the flu was the only one that landed in Houston this weekend. The Patriots looked like a team suffering from a malaise that had them as a group, a step (or two) slower than the Texans. 

Houston dominated this game completely for about 50 minutes and then went to sleep, playing soft defense that allowed the Patriots to make the score much, much closer on the scoreboard than it was on the field. They nearly gave it away as Brandon Bolden got a hand on an onside kick that bounced just out of his reach or Houston may have given the game away completely. 

But don’t let that distract from the fact that the Patriots looked terrible all game long. The offense is adrift with no identity, no separation from their receivers, no team speed, and right now no answers.

Worse, the defense, which has been the strength of this team all season long looked slow, out of sorts and out-coached on Sunday night. And if the Texans made the defense look slow, the team has Kansas City next up on the slate. They blew out the Raiders earlier on Sunday.

The ugly loss in Houston, knocked the Patriots out of the #1 seed as the Baltimore Ravens now own that, courtesy of a knock-down, drag-out last-second win over the San Francisco 49ers. But the Patriots now have to look over their shoulder in the division at the 9-3 Buffalo Bills who are now just a game back. 

Here are four main observations from the game:

The Offense is Adrift In a Sea Of Mediocrity: 

Perhaps even mediocre is a stretch right now. This offense right now looks terrible. And there aren’t any excuses anymore about guys being injured. All week, we said that there was a chance that everyone could be back (they were) this week and that the Patriots offense would have their full complement of weapons (they did) as they’d have for the rest of the season. And if this is what they have, then it is a scary proposition. 

The lack of speed on this offense right now is alarming. Opposing defenses now know that they have to double cover Julian Edelman. And because of the dearth of speed outside, they can afford to put a safety on James White, because they don’t fear any of the other receivers or tight ends. 

As a result, the number of targets successfully completed to either Edelman or White has dropped. Last night Brady was just 14 of 23 targeting those two. And yes, many of those came in garbage time. The secondary players have to step up and make the defense pay. They haven’t and last night was a microcosm of what this offense is suffering from. The remaining receivers were targeted 23 times by Tom Brady and he completed only 10 of those. 

Phillip Dorsett and Mohamad Sanu were targeted 11 times and they combined for 5 catches for 29 yards. That just isn’t going to cut it in any way, shape or form. That is averaging just 2.6 yards per target and under 6 yards per reception. 

And it isn’t like the Texans have some sort of juggernaut defense. They entered the game with a suspect run defense and a pass defense that had been burned for most of the season. The shut down the receivers and blanketed them far too easily.

Coaching Staff Made Some Curious Decisions:

The Patriots usually are the ones who make the opposition crap their pants and make decisions that go a long way toward New England coming away with a win. In Houston, it was their turn to wear the propeller hat.

Down 14-3 late in the first half, they faced a 4th and 10 from the Houston 39-yard line with just 26 seconds to go. A first down would have given them a chance to at least kick a field goal to go into halftime with a bit of momentum and the opportunity to double score. 

Instead, they opt to punt conceding a scoring chance, which says a lot on how they feel right now about this offense and the lack of trust they had last night with the defense being able to stop Houston with 20 seconds to go. 

In the second half, they seemed to abandon the running game far too quickly, rendering Sony Michel to the bench. We thought that they would be able to run the ball against the Texans defense and in the first half, they did so, fairly effectively. This put even more pressure on a moribund passing game. 

James White ran effectively later in the game, but much of that had to do with Houston just trading space for time after they opened up a big lead. 

Then in the second half, after they scored a touchdown, they lined up to go for two. Seeing something they didn’t like with the Houston alignment on defense, instead of calling a time out, they took the five-yard penalty and then flipflopped, opting to kick the extra point. Kai Forbath then hooked it badly left…Ugly. 

And Then There is Harry:

Patriots 1st round draft pick N’Keal Harry was used as a blocker on the early drive and performed well, showing the willingness and ability to use his size and physicality to their advantage.  Then came Brady’s interception.

Harry ran a slant from the left side on a 3rd and 4 and allowed Bradley Roby, who gave him a slight tug on the jersey, to get inside and pick off Brady. Harry slowed his route, something he can’t do and didn’t use his body effectively enough. It was a rookie mistake and one that has to be corrected. 

But that was it essentially for Harry for the night. He had played 12 snaps up to that point. He wasn’t totally benched but only played 10 snaps the rest of the game. And wasn’t targeted again. We’ll have to rewatch the tape, but I didn’t see him in the second half. 

It doesn’t matter whose decision it was, Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Brady, but this is the kind of situation that needs to be looked at. Granted Harry made a mistake, but for him to get completely frozen out for the rest of the game over it? Ouch. And it wasn’t like the rest of the receivers were lighting it up making him expendable. 

Where do we go from here? Good question…

Texans’ Coaches Had the Patriots Defense Figured Out: 

This was a great coaching job by Houston and flawlessly executed by QB Deshaun Watson. The Patriots were a bit passive early and dropped back in zone coverage, respecting their speed at wide receiver and Watson’s ability to move in the pocket. 

When the Patriots played that way, Watson immediately targeted the middle of the field in the sweet spot and was hitting on those passes easily. Or they’d isolate a linebacker in coverage with Duke Johnson out of the backfield, which was a mismatch. 

When they switched to man coverage and specifically to their Cover 0 technique, the Texans went deep. Their speed (unlike New England) was on full display, DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, and Will Fuller gave them problems in this look.

The pass rush wasn’t much of a factor for much of this game, which hurt. And then when it did get home, Watson escaped with a great move and kept a drive alive which resulted in a Houston touchdown.

Give a ton of credit to Houston’s offensive game plan, they knew what they wanted to do and executed it extremely well. 

So, the Patriots return home at 10-2 with the Chiefs coming into town with many more questions than answers on this snowy Monday morning.

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.

Patriots – Texans Week 13 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 29, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road in a big Sunday Night Football matchup with the Houston Texans.   

The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Texans are in first place in the tightly contested AFC South at 7-4, a game ahead of the Colts and Titans. 

With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya 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 (10-1) are coming off another tough, defensive victory, beating Dallas 13-9 in a windy, rain-swept Gillette Stadium.

The Texans (7-4) are coming off of a big 20-17 win over the Colts last Thursday night which gave them the division lead. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 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 Texans have met 11 times, twice in the playoffs and it is a series that has been dominated by New England, holding a 10-1 overall lead. The Patriots and Texans have met for the past five seasons and New England has won the last eight meetings including a 27-20 win last year in Foxboro.

 

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 Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots running game finally showed some signs of breaking out of their year-long funk last week against Dallas. Did that have to do with the return of Isaiah Wynn to the starting left tackle position? It certainly didn’t hurt. Sony Michel ran very well, hitting the holes quickly and showing the ability to both make some defenders miss and to break some tackles as well. 

As we pointed out in yesterday’s quick look at Houston, their run defense is middling, 17th in the league and allowing 108 yards per game. With Jadeveon Clowney in Seattle and J.J. Watt on IR, the Texans are struggling across the board on defense. 

Look for the Patriots to establish the running game and set up play-action. Michel gained 85 yards a week ago and if he can hit the hole with that kind of burst the Patriots should be in good shape. But the Texans linebackers remain the strength of this unit.         

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

The Patriots passing game really missed Mohamad Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) last week against Dallas, but the rookies stepped up and played fair well. Julian Edelman continues to play banged up but he had a very productive game a week ago. Wynn’s return definitely helped in the pass protection for Tom Brady.

Houston’s pass defense has been struggling all year. Their pass rush has generated 22 sacks and is 28th in sacks per pass play. They allow 260 yards per game through the air (25th) and allow the third-down conversions at 41 percent, 31st in the league. The secondary has been a revolving door due to injuries and they’re struggling to find answers. 

Look for Josh McDaniels to test the Texans secondary by mixing things up with lots of crossers and quick to intermediate plays testing the middle of the field. It would be nice to see Sanu and Dorsett back this week, but we’re seeing the growth of rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get increased roles. I believe the Patriots will try to target the Texans linebackers in space. 

Next up the Texans offense:

Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Texans have a very good tandem in Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde with QB Deshaun Watson an able runner that can make plays with his legs. The Texans run more of that read-option offense, mainly with Hyde and Watson that has given the Patriots some issues. 

The Patriots run defense did a good job of defending the run last week against the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, although he got 86 yards on 21 carries, he didn’t have the impact of really influencing the game and they limited his effectiveness in the red zone.

Look for Houston to run some of the similar looks to what Baltimore did against the Patriots a few weeks ago. It will be up to the linebackers to set the edge and get some penetration to force Watson into obvious passing situations. And the big men up front, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton must get some penetration upfront to disrupt the flow of the running game. 

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

The Houston passing game with Deshaun Watson throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills at WR is a tough matchup for the New England secondary. They also have Daniel Fells at TE and Johnson out of the backfield. The passing offense is much more dangerous when Fuller is healthy. Problem is, he’s been banged up quite a bit and is not quite 100 percent with a hamstring issue now.

Hopkins is obviously the key here. He has 81 catches for 839 yards and 8 TDs this season. But the Patriots have done a good job of limiting his production when facing Houston. In five career games against New England, he has 24 catches for 339 yards and zero touchdowns. 

The Patriots secondary’s coverage has been simply outstanding and it begins with Stephon Gilmore, who has been the best in the game for the past two seasons. He’ll be matched up with Hopkins, Fuller will be covered by a combination of J.C. Jackson and/or Jason McCourty. While Jonathan Jones draws Stills. Houston’s OL has allowed 32 sacks, so the pressure on Watson will be interesting to monitor.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots special teams lost Nick Folk to appendicitis this week and he’s been replaced on the roster by Kai Forbath, the 4th kicker on the season. Jake Bailey has been outstanding this season as has the coverage units. Matthew Slater is having an outstanding season and blocked a punt last week versus Dallas. The return game has been so-so all season. 

The Texans kicking game has been as unpredictable as the Patriots. Ka’imi Fairbairn has missed five field goals (all from 40+) as well as five PATs. Bryan Anger is back with the team and doing an outstanding job at punting. Houston’s coverage teams have been tremendous, allowing only a 2.7-yard return average. The Texans return game hasn’t been strong either. 

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-1 and it is a very important game for both teams with big playoff implications on the line. Bill Belichick always likes to say that you don’t get a real feel for a team until after Thanksgiving. Well, here we are. 

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

No Big Chunk Plays Against the Run- Look for the Patriots defense to play a similar game plan like they did last week against the Cowboys, Hyde, Johnson and Watson will get their yards, but don’t let them dictate the pace and tempo of the game and stop them from consistently getting into those 3rd and 3 or less. 

Houston has consistently gotten those big chunk plays of 20 yards or more this season, their currently fourth-best in the league. The way to slow down this offense is to take those away and force them to confront your strength on defense, the secondary. 

Win On 3rd Down and the Red Zone – The Patriots offense has struggled on both 3rd down and the red zone this season. So has the Houston defense. Here is the chance for the offense to make some inroads with both of those issues. 

Here is where N’Keal Harry’s selection can start paying dividends. We saw a glimpse of what he can do with his 10-yard TD last week. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him targeted in the red zone moving forward. This seems like a big week to see either Rex Burkhead or James White in the pattern against the linebackers.

Time to Round Into Form  – This is the time of year for the Patriots that they traditionally begin to really play well and begin to build up for a postseason run. Sunday night will be the first game for that to start. That means for the offense to begin to find an identity and become more productive. If that means more Harry and Ben Watson, then they need to get it done. 

They’ve always risen to the occasion under Belichick. Facing a playoff team on the road for a Sunday night nationally televised game, is an opportunity for the team to make a statement, that they’re far from done.

**  Shameless Self-promotion** Our 3rd key last week was for the STs to step up. 

Look for them to go after a punt or two this weekend to help out the struggling offense. Justin Bethel or Brandon Bolden may be a key contributor this week.

___________

Prediction: 

This should be a very good Sunday night matchup. The Houston offense with Watson, Hopkins, Fuller, and Stills is a marquee matchup for the Patriots secondary. But never underestimate the power of doubt. The talking heads (usual suspects) have begun to throw dirt on Brady once again. 

Nothing fires up the 42-year old QB and brings out the best in him than doubt. Look for Brady to make a big statement on Sunday night.  Patriots  27-13

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour returns to Foxboro next week for a huge game against the Kansas City Chiefs.,.

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 breakdown game analysis

Patriots 2019 Opponents, The Texans Are a Familiar Foe

Steve Balestrieri
November 28, 2019 at 6:57 am ET

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a quick look at the Patriots’ next opponent, the Houston Texans while you wait for your turkey to cook. 

The Patriots head back out on the road this week for a prime-time game against the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football. At 10-1, the Patriots own the #1 seed in the AFC and still hold a two-game lead of the Bills in the division. 

The Texans are a familiar foe and it seems like they are almost a divisional opponent. The two teams have faced each other at least once in the past five seasons and former NE offensive coordinator and Texans coach Bill O’Brien conducted joint practices with the Patriots in 2017. 

So the familiarity and respect are there on both sidelines as the two teams meet up again.

Prime Time Watson Something to Watch:

John McClain the Texans’ outstanding beat writer penned a very intriguing piece on Houston QB Deshaun Watson this week and his ability to turn it on in prime time games. Watson has appeared in seven prime time games in his career and is 5-2 in those contests. 

Watson has tossed 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. His quarterback rating is 118.6. Also included in those games, he’s rushed for 272 yards with three more touchdowns. And this week, under the bright lights, Watson and the Texans will be playing at home. 

Bill Belichick spoke about Watson early this week and the difficulties of trying to match up against Watson on Sunday night.

“He’s very, very good,” Belichick said. “He’s a very accurate downfield passer. He’s made some great throws on double-moves, seam routes, post patterns, go routes, things like that.

“And, of course, we all know he’s a very athletic guy with the ball in his hands. He can score from anywhere at any time. It’ll be a big challenge for us for 60 minutes. Any game’s a long way from being over if he has his hands on the ball.”

Big Three (Watson, Hopkins, Fuller) Present a Difficult Opponent :

The Houston offense features Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller presenting a very difficult trio to defend against. Fuller has had injury problems in his career and is nursing a balky hamstring right now. But when he’s in the lineup, opponents can’t focus on just stopping the outstanding Hopkins outside. 

In the last three seasons, the Houston offense has had that trio on the field for only 19 games. But in those games, they’ve lit it up offensively, averaging 28.6 points and nearly 400 yards of offense. 

And Watson’s numbers? (Courtesy of McClain) In those 19 games, Watson has thrown 45 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions. He’s completed 8.8 yards per attempt, and his rating is 104.2. Hopkins has 124 receptions for 1,715 yards and 17 touchdowns. Fuller has 86 receptions for 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns. Besides the big three, Watson also has Kenny Stills, TEs Darren Fells, and Jordan Akins as well as Duke Johnson out of the backfield. 

The Patriots secondary which has been nothing short of outstanding this season faces another big challenge this week. 

Revamped Running Game Is Playing Well:

Houston has a new 1-2 punch at running back with Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde replacing the tandem the Patriots saw in Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. Houston has had very good balance this season churning out 136.9 yards per game, good for 7th in the league. 

Hyde has rushed the ball 174 times for 836 yards, good for a 4.8-yards per rushing attempt with 4 touchdowns. Johnson has rushed 65 times for 349 yards (5.4-yard avg) with a touchdown. Watson has rushed for 301 yards on 58 rushes (5.2-yard avg) with a team-leading 5 rushing touchdowns.

Hyde is the early-down back and getting the lion’s share of the rushes with Johnson coming in for third downs and getting more of the receptions out of the backfield. Watson is a threat to make plays with his feet at any time. 

Texans Defense Missing Clowney, Watt Down the Stretch: 

The Texans’ defense has been middle of the road to slightly below in most defensive categories in 2019. Houston has allowed 22.6 points a game, which is 17th in the league. On the ground they’re allowing 108.0 yards per game, also 17th while through the air, opponents are getting 259.3 yards per game passing which is 25th in the league.

They really miss Jadeveon Clowney who is now in Seattle as well as J.J. Watt who is on IR in their pass rush. Their strength remains the linebackers,  Whitney Mercilus, Bernardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, Bill Belichick called them among the best in the NFL. 

They’ve also made changes in the secondary. CB Jonathan Joseph and S Justin Reed remain but now they’ve got Bradley Roby at the other corner slot and Tashaun Gipson at safety. 

We’ll have our keys to the game and key matchups later tomorrow. Stay tuned… 

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.

 

Patriots Week 14 Report Card, A Very Mixed Bag in the Loss to Miami

Steve Balestrieri
December 11, 2018 at 7:20 am ET


The Patriots went down to Miami and played just well enough to keep a very inferior team in the game long enough for them to steal away a victory on a fluke play on the last snap of the game. Like John Houseman used to say in those old Smith Barney commercials, “They earn it.” And the Pats earned that loss in a game that they should have won.

Some parts of the Pats game was outstanding, others were absolutely terrible. On both sides of the ball. That’s what a wacky game this was. They will get over this one…or perhaps they won’t. They don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. A trip to Pittsburgh looms next week and don’t expect to see the same Steeler team that lost to the woeful Raiders next Sunday.

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

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady, save for one colossal mistake at the end of the first half was outstanding. Brady completed 27-43 passes for 358 yards (8.3 yards per pass) with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. His accuracy was very good throughout the game and those bogus hot take artists who regularly spew insipid bile about his arm strength need to watch back-to-back plays in the first half.

Facing a 3rd and 10, Brady lasered a rocket to Julian Edelman for 16 yards and a first down. On the next snap, Brady rocketed a 37-yard fastball down the field on a line where Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice grab for a 37-yard touchdown.  

Brady’s one gaffe was a very costly one. With time running down in the first half, Brady held on to the ball too long with no one open and took a sack. At that point, the clock ran out and the Patriots lost a golden opportunity to add points on the board. It was a rookie mistake, he lost track of how many timeouts they had used and it is something, he’s never done. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. That’s what knocks his grade down somewhat.

Running Backs: D

The Patriots running backs were rendered a total non-factor in this game. Despite the Dolphins having a sieve for a run defense for all of this season, they were a stone wall on Sunday and held the Patriots running backs to an awful 2.6 yards per rush average.

Sony Michel had 20 carries for just 57 yards. He had one nice run at the end of the game that looked like the Patriots were finally going to take over but it was wiped out by a holding penalty. It has been a familiar refrain for him all season. He could probably have close to 50 percent of his yardage added to his total that has been lost on flags.

James White whether by the Dolphins defense or the Patriots game plan was invisible on Sunday. Granted Brady was shredding the Dolphin secondary but when the team goes just 3-6 in the red zone, perhaps, White could have been used a bit more. Rex Burkhead also was invisible, carrying four times for two yards with just a single catch for three yards.

James Develin was solid in his blocking and added another short touchdown run. But his penalty hurt at the end of the game.

Wide Receivers: B

Both Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon had outstanding games on Sunday. Edelman had 9 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown and as always he goes into those dangerous spots over the middle. His score was reminiscent of his TD catch in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. He had a costly drop however where he began to run before securing the ball, a very uncommon mistake for him.

Gordon was outstanding and is looking every week like he’s getting better and better. He’s a monster on those quick, short slants where he uses his size and speed to get position and then is tough to bring down. He had five catches for 96 yards and added a pass interference call as well as a holding call.

Cordarrell Patterson had two catches for 51 yards including a beauty of a 37-yard touchdown. It was a perfect throw and a very nice catch as he stretched out and snagged the ball for the score.

Chris Hogan had only one target and Brady, under pressure overthrew it badly. It was a play we wrote about this weekend, the back of the end zone pass used to be a staple in the Patriots offense and that was one of the first times we’ve seen it in a long time. And it was open too.

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski had a very good game, arguably his best of the year on Sunday. He was targeted eight times and made eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was taking some big hit and gave the Dolphins a lot of trouble in the passing game. They were convinced that they could cover him with single coverage. They were wrong.

Gronk deserves no criticism for the ridiculousness at the end of the game. He should have never been out there in the first place.

Offensive Line: D+

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the passing game, Brady was sacked just twice and they did a very good job of keeping the interior of the pocket clean where he could step up and throw the ball.

But in the running game? They were singularly awful. Remember this is a Dolphins team that has been gashed all year long but this was their third lowest total allowed. Only two games against the anemic Jets offense did they allow less. The running backs had nowhere to run on Sunday. This was a matchup the offensive line was supposed to win and should have. They did not.

Defensive Line: D

The defensive line like the offensive line and much of the team was really good in one aspect and absolutely terrible in the other. Trey Flowers was once again terrific, he led the way with two sacks, two tackles for loss and four QB hits. And in the pass rush department, the defensive line had another strong game with 3 sacks and six QB hits.

But the Mr. Hyde part of the game was the run defense which was gashed. While that isn’t on just the DL (read below), they share in the grade as they were consistently pushed around in the running game.

Linebackers: D

The Patriots linebackers after their best game of the season against Minnesota had arguably their worst. They did do a good job of getting after Tannehill in blitzes with 1.5 sacks and a pair of QB hits.  Dont’a Hightower had his first sack of the season and John Simon was particularly effective in his best game in a Patriots uniform.

But in run support they were absolutely terrible, Miami rushed for 189 yards on just 21 carries which averages out to 9.0 yards per rush attempt. Brandon Bolden looked like Barry Sanders in his prime flying through open space for a 54-yard touchdown. No one could get off of their blocks. Elandon Roberts had a rough game, getting bulldozed on the Bolden first TD and then whiffing (how many times do we see this?) on an open field tackle attempt on Frank Gore. Hightower was fooled by Tannehill on the first series with a play fake where he ran for 13 yards.

Secondary: C

The secondary took a step back from their stellar game of a week ago. Kenny Stills was giving Jason McCourty fits all game long until he was eventually replaced by J.C. Jackson. Gilmore was beaten by Brice Butler for a touchdown on a post route that was an excellently thrown ball by Tannehill. But the rest of Miami’s receivers had no more than one catch apiece.

But on the topic of the elephant in the room or in this case a Mastodon, there were breakdowns all over the field which all help create a play which will forever be a New England Butt Fumble moment. Another look at the play, (and it is like watching a car wreck) shows some horrible situational football.

Jonathan Jones is in perfect position to make the tackle and end the game since Miami has no timeouts remaining. But instead, he foolishly tries to make a play on the ball and is then, way out of position.  Jackson and Gilmore appear to be more worried about defending another lateral and run like their feet are underwater. Devin McCourty wasn’t on the field (the only snap he missed all game) and Gronk, who isn’t a defender (more to this below) stumbled trying to get the angle on Drake. Epic fail.

Special Teams: C+

The Special Teams blocked two punts, Albert McClellan blocked both by rushing right up the middle. Ryan Allen’s punting was fantastic and the coverage units easily had their best game of the year. But Stephen Gostkowski’s two misses on easy kicks (an extra point and a chip shot 42-yard field goal) cost the team four points, which would have rendered the fiasco at the end moot. Nuff said.

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff which prides itself on not beating itself and good situational football failed on multiple accounts here. Why was Gronk in the game at all on that last play. With Miami back on its own 31, Tannehill isn’t throwing the ball 75+ yards in the air and even if he does, the team just signed 6’4 Obi Melifonwu who has a 40-inch vertical leap and can run like a scalded dog. It was unfathomable.

While the decision to go for the field goal was considered the “safe, smart” move, I’d have opted for another shot at a touchdown to put the game away and even if you don’t your forcing the Dolphins to start from inside their 5-yard line. Three points there doesn’t ice the game and you’re just giving them better field position to work from.

Just goes to show, Bill isn’t infallible, he can make mistakes. There were plenty of them to go around. We’re on to Pittsburgh…

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.

Miracle Finish Is Fitting End to Dolphins 34-33 Win, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2018 at 6:30 am ET

The Patriots got another loss in South Florida the old fashioned way…they earned it. Very uncharacteristic mental mistakes abounded and cost the team just about any slim chance they had at securing the #1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Lost in the wild, wacky, horribly-played lateral play was a plethora of unforced errors and bad situational football which placed them in the position in the first place.

From Stephen Gostkowski doinking an extra point off the goal post and then shanking a gimme 42-yard field goal, to Bill Belichick showing an almost Andy Reid-like clock management skills at the end of the first half, to Tom Brady inexplicably forgetting how many timeouts they had. It only gets better.

Julian Edelman running before he secures the ball on a screen, Stephon Gilmore dropping a gift pick-six by Ryan Tannehill, false starts, an offense that looked unstoppable in the first half, and then scores just six points in the fourth quarter, they set themselves up for just a finish.

The decision not to go for a touchdown on 4th down at the Miami one-yard line can be debated, but a field goal didn’t put the game away and even if a touchdown attempt failed, it would have left Miami with under 30 seconds and 99 yards to go. But the pièce de résistance was the decision to put Rob Gronkowski back as the deep safety with Miami on their 31-yard line with 0:07 seconds to go.

Did the coaching staff really think that Ryan Tannehill was going to (could) throw the ball 75 yards down the field on a final Hail Mary? And even if they did, the team just signed 6’4 safety Obi Melifonwu who had a 40” vertical leap and runs like a deer. Inexplicable…but it is over and you have to own it.

Other observations include:

With the loss, the Patriots have about zero chance of now getting the top seed in the AFC. Baltimore took Kansas City to overtime but ultimately lost. They are now two games back in the standings with just three games to play.

The #2 seed and a bye still remain a very doable proposition, however. The Texans lost to the Colts and the Steelers, like the Patriots, played down to the level of their competition and lost to the 2-10 Raiders.

On a day when the defense sacks the QB five times and you block two punts…you have to get pretty creative to lose but that’s exactly what they did.

The running game was non-existent today as the Patriots managed just 77 yards on 30 carries, a paltry 2.6-yard average. Facing a Miami defense that was being gouged for 144.7 yards a game and nearly double the average yards per carrying, that was a huge win for the Fins defense.

In contrast, the Miami running game, nearly an afterthought for much of the year absolutely gashed the Patriots defense to the tune of 189 yards on 21 carries for a whopping 9.0 yards per play. Old friend Brandon Bolden looked like he was shot out of a cannon and galloped 54-yards untouched for the first of two touchdowns in the first half and Frank Gore was outstanding, rushing 12 times for 92 yards.

Tom Brady was outstanding in the first half, he was virtually unstoppable until the final two minutes, but was held to just a pair of field goals down the stretch and it would come back to haunt them. Brady finished with 27 completions in 43 attempts for 358 yards with 3 TDs and 0 Interceptions.

Both offenses were scoring at will in the first half, up and down the field each team was moving the ball and scoring with ease.

The silly questions about Brady’s arm strength were put to rest (for now) on Sunday. On back-to-back plays, he lasered a 3rd and 10 pass to Edelman for 16 yards and then to Cordarrelle Patterson for a 37-yard touchdown.

Rob Gronkowski had arguably his best game of the season and caught 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. He also took some hard shots to his knees and lower body.

Kenny Stills was nearly uncoverable for Miami, turning in a great game catching 8 passes for 135 yards and a score on nine targets. He was consistently getting the better of Jason McCourty and easily won that matchup today.

Josh Gordon turned in another solid game catching 5 passes for 96 yards, several of the difficult variety. Gordon and Patterson give the Patriots the size and speed that they’ve lacked in the passing game. Julian Edelman, doing the dirty work underneath, caught 9 passes for 86 yards, but his drop of a screen pass where it appeared he had some room to run was a drive killer. We’ll have to rewatch the tape of that one.

Albert McClellan was signed to give the Special Teams a boost and today, he did exactly that. Blowing straight up the middle he not only blocked one but two punts. The second one with just under a minute to go in the half gave the Patriots the ball at the 15. Normally this is when the Patriots and Brady put a dagger into the hearts of opponents…however>>>

Clock Management Andy Reid Style 1.0: The Dolphins had the ball at their own 25-yard line with 3:49 left in the half. The Patriots forced a three-and-out but didn’t use their timeouts as the clock ticked down to the two-minute warning. But after taking over at their own 20, they did nothing punted back to Miami with one minute left.

Clock Management Andy Reid Style 2.0: After the Patriots sack Tannehill and have the Dolphins facing a 2nd-and-21, then they finally stop the clock with just 46 seconds left. They then sacked Brock Osweiler, then block the punt and take over at the Dolphins 15-yard line with 30 seconds left. Brady zipped another laser to Gronk put them at the Miami 2 with 21 seconds left. Brady then overthrew an open Chris Hogan along the back of the end zone, (a play we’ve been clamoring for)  and then inexplicably took a sack on third down with no timeouts left and come away with nothing.

Weird play in the third quarter when Trey Flowers punched the ball away from Gore causing a fumble. The officials signaled that Miami had recovered yet when the scrum had cleared the Patriots flipped the ball back to the official. Another one where maybe the tape will clear it up.

The final play will mask what was a pretty good day by the Patriots secondary. Other than Stills, the rest of Miami’s passing game was pretty much held in tow. But that isn’t how the game unfolded.

Then with 0:07 seconds to go, the Dolphins had the ball on their 31-yard line. The Patriots defenders said after the game, that they knew it was too far for a Hail Mary and it would be a lateral situation. Then why place Gronk back there for McCourty? Or Melifonwu for that matter. Tannehill hit Stills with about a 20-yard pass where Jonathan Jones took an angle that we haven’t seen since Jordan Richards whiffed on JuJu Smith Schuster in Pittsburgh a year ago.

Stills lateraled to DeVante Parker who then lateralled to Kenyan Drake and the play unfolded and it looked like Moses parting the Red Sea as Patriots defenders were lost in the wake. Gronkowski stumbled and missed a chance to knock him out at the two-yard line and Miami had the finish that kept alive their playoff hopes for another week.

Now the Pats are on to Pittsburgh, who have dropped three in a row. And lost again in stunning fashion to the lowly Raiders. But don’t expect that kind of performance from them next week. The Patriots coaches will have to work hard with the team after that meltdown.That is the kind of loss that can stick with a team.

Patriots Smash Dolphins 38-7 In Dominant Fashion, Three Up, Three Down

Steve Balestrieri
October 1, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

For one week at least, the Patriots have calmed the fears of fans of New England as they broke a two-game losing skid in dominant fashion, demolishing the not-ready-for-primetime Miami Dolphins 38-7.

On Sunday afternoon, Miami came in riding high at 3-0 while the Pats limped in at 1-2 and much was made of whether the Patriots defense, which seemed slow and unathletic would be able to keep up with the team speed of Miami. The defense answered the bell today and Miami never seriously threatened to score until a garbage time drive by their backup quarterback as New England dominated in all three phases of the game.

The Patriots won the physical game up front, both the offensive and defensive lines clearly won the 1-on-1 matchups as the Pats rolled for 175 yards on the ground, springing Sony Michel and James White for big chunks of yardage all game long, something that had been sorely missing for the past two weeks.

Michel who was foolishly labeled a draft bust by the hot takes crowd after just two weeks and after having missed all of the preseason rushed for 112 yards on 25 carries with a touchdown. White had 112 yards from scrimmage with 44 yards rushing, 68 yards receiving and had a touchdown rushing and receiving.

Defensively, the Patriots front seven stuffed the Dolphins on early downs, putting QB Ryan Tannehill in third and long situations all game long. Of course, getting two of their best defenders in Trey Flowers and Pat Chung back helped. We wrote in our pregame matchups that the defense had to get out of early holes that made third-down conversions easy. Tannehill faced third downs needing 12, 10, 10 (converted via penalty), 13, 8 and 24 yards in the pivotal first half. That is much, much better.

Miami was only 1-6 on third down in the first half, and that came as the half was winding down and the defense was giving them the underneath stuff.  By the time the first 30 minutes were over, the game was over with the Patriots going into intermission with a 24-0 lead.

Even more encouraging, the passing game got going against a very good Dolphins secondary. Tom Brady threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns but they got the big chunk plays that they’ve been missing. Brady hit Cordarrelle Patterson for a 55-yard touchdown, James White and Phillip Dorsett who caught a somersaulting 9-yard touchdown pass from Brady rounded out the scoring.

After having no success throwing to his wide receivers thru the first three weeks, they contributed 10 receptions for 166 yards. Hardly earthshattering numbers, but much better. And with the news that Julian Edelman returns on Monday, this should have an immediate impact on the passing game.

Newcomer Josh Gordon played only 18 snaps but did have an immediate impact. He caught two passes for 32 yards, both third-down conversions, and drew a penalty giving the offense another first down. But perhaps the best indicator from him was the nice block he made downfield on White’s 22-yard touchdown run. That is something the Patriots pride themselves on with the WRs and it is an early sign that Gordon is buying in.

The Patriots offensive line looked much, much better in springing the backs this week, and giving them the needed space to make the tough yards inside where they like to run and after the criticism, they’ve had to endure the past few weeks, this was a big, bounce-back game. Defensively, the line was penetrating, Miami had nowhere to run, with most of their 56 yards rushing coming long after this one was settled. Again in the pivotal first half, Miami rushed six times for seven yards.

The Dolphins had just 172 yards of offense, 75 of which came on the final garbage time drive led by backup QB Brock Osweiler where they scored with under three minutes to go. Tannehill, who entered the game completing 72 percent of his throws and with a passer rating of 121.8, completed just 11-20 for 100 yards with no touchdowns and an Interception.

Although he was sacked just twice, the Patriots had good pressure around the pocket all day where he wasn’t able to step into his throws all day. That’s why it seemed many of his passes sailed on him. His best throw was on the first snap of the game, where he drilled a 22-yard pass to Kenny Stills right between two defenders. That would be the Dolphins longest play of the day.

The Patriots defense allowed just 3.1 yards per rush and 4.3 yards per pass. Malcom Brown had a big bounce-back game as well as Dont’a Hightower. Lawrence Guy and Kyle Van Noy were particularly very good for the defense, who got solid contributions from everyone in the secondary, including rookie J.C. Jackson who got his first NFL interception on a pass that Tannehill underthrew a bit on a deep fly.

UP AND DOWN –

UP: Unlike a week ago, we could easily name several players here, and will add on to our three up just a tad this week.

Sony Michel: Imagine a rookie 1st round running back being labeled a bust after just two games when that back missed all of the preseason. Welcome to the world of New England overreaction sports radio. Michel looked much more comfortable in the Patriots offense this week and was showing more and more flashes of why the team thought so highly of him with a very solid performance.

Michel had 112 yards on 25 carries with a TD in the best game of his young career and quieted the critics for a week at least. As he gets more comfortable out there, his vision will continue to improve and we’re starting to see that burst he was so known for at Georgia.

James White: Last week, Tom Brady lamented that the coaches needed to get White more involved in the offense as he’s always a big playmaker. Mission accomplished. White had a typically big-play day with a 22-yard touchdown run and a 14-yard touchdown reception where Brady dropped a dime in the corner of the end zone as he was getting drilled.

Lawrence Guy: The big man inside is always one of the more underrated members of the Patriots defense and on Sunday afternoon he contributed big time to the overall defensive effort. The Patriots mixed up their fronts and at times, Guy shifted over to a DE spot and was outstanding, as the front seven was overall against the run.

Josh Gordon: His Patriots debut in front of a loud and raucous home crowd was just a small sample size (18 plays), but a successful one. His two catches were both on third down which signals that Brady wasn’t afraid to go to him right off the bat.

Both of his catches and a drawn penalty helped keep drives alive. He made a nice downfield block on White’s touchdown run and said all the right things after the game. So far, so good

Down:

Injuries: On a short week, with a game on Thursday night against the Colts, there are three injuries that need to be monitored. Rob Gronkowski, who was nursing an ankle injury before the game, left in the third quarter when he re-aggravated it.

Elandon Roberts who played a very solid, active game at middle linebacker left with looked like a fairly serious ankle or foot injury. Adam Butler was also injured in the second half and was on the ground in obvious pain.

Brady Decision Making: On what was otherwise a very good game by Tom Brady, he was victimized by the ball-hawking Dolphins secondary twice in the game, and both could be characterized by poor decision-making.

His first pick was actually a play where Brady was fooled by the Miami coverage. Bobby McCain was running with Chris Hogan on a deep post. Phillip Dorsett was supposed to cut inside Hogan for a deep cross. But McCain passed off Hogan to the safety and sat right in the throwing lane. He made a smart heads-up play for the pick.

On the second interception, Brady just got too greedy up 38-0 and tried to force the ball into tight coverage when he should have just thrown the ball away. It may be just a tad nitpicky here, but these are the kinds of mistake we generally don’t see from #12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello

The Patriots (8-2) are coming off a very successful two-game road trip with blowout wins coming against the Denver Broncos 41-16 and last week in Mexico City against the Oakland Raiders 33-8. Tom Brady continues his torrid pace in 2017 and the defense for the sixth game in a row allowed 17 points or less.

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

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

Series History:

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

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up the Dolphins offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

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

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

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving all….

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

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