Tag Archives: Khalil Mack

Sloppy Patriots Beat Bears 38-31, Observations, Three Up, Three Down

Steve Balestrieri
October 22, 2018 at 7:29 am ET

This win, the Patriots first win on the road this season, wasn’t the way they drew it up on the chalkboard but it is a win. And in what is turning out to be a wacky 2018 NFL season, the team will take it. The Patriots made far too many mistakes but turned things around with some big plays on special teams and left Chicago 5-2 after downing the Bears 38-31 on Sunday afternoon. The craziness extended to the final play of the game where the Bears tried…and converted a Hail Mary on the final play of the game but the play was stopped at the one-yard line. 

But the biggest news was that rookie running back Sony Michel left the game in the first half in what looked like a serious knee injury. Michel was hit and wrapped up at the line and was twisted in the pile. It was one of those plays that just didn’t look good for the rookie as he was being helped off the field. He’s scheduled for an MRI on Monday.

Other observations from the game include:

The Patriots offensive line once again did a tremendous job. The Bears came in with 18 sacks, boasting edge rushers Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, and interior pass rusher Akiem Hicks.  They sacked Tom Brady only once and generally were handled easily. However, the Bears helped the Patriots cause by dropping both edge rushers frequently into coverage. Despite that, the offensive line gave Brady plenty of time to throw.

Despite the sloppy play, which initially caused the team to fall behind 17-7, the Patriots found a way, to persevere and come away with the victory. Granted, there won’t be high marks for style points in this one, but they beat a division leader on the road and they did what they had to do.

Speaking of Mack, while he did miss most of last week’s practice, he played and clearly wasn’t 100 percent. But he didn’t line up against LaAdrian Waddle, but Trent Brown who clearly handled him easily. Mack was pancaked by Dwayne Allen on a running play in the second half. Much like Mexico City a year ago, Mack was a non-factor.

The game started off with one of the Patriots most impressive drives of the year. Taking the kickoff and starting at their 25, Brady and Josh McDaniels had the Bears totally discombobulated on defense marching 75 yards on 9 plays capped off with a Brady 9-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. It also featured a lot of Sony Michel.

Taking advantage of the aggressive Bears defense, they ran a run delay play to Michel for 18 yards and then utilized the screen game to perfection. James White had a 14-yard screen, Michel had another for 13 more. It was a great start that soon went awry.

The three turnovers will have the coaching staff seeing red. The one fumble by Michel is a free pass. He was injured, apparently severely and him dropping the ball there isn’t something we or anyone else should point the finger at. But the fumble by Cordarrelle Patterson was a play where he has to take better care of the ball in that situation. And once again a Brady pass into the hands of a receiver is bobbled and deflected right into the hands of a defender. Unbelievable.

Patterson did redeem himself, showing why he is the best kick returner in the NFL returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, narrowing the gap to 17-14. He later nearly broke another, returning a kick for 38 more.

An area that the team continues to struggle (badly) in is containing mobile quarterbacks. Mitch Trubisky looked like Bobby Douglass out there on Sunday. He rushed six times for 81 and his running kept the Bears in the game when they couldn’t do anything offensively in the first half. Trubisky had an 8-yard touchdown run where he ran around the field for about 65 before getting in untouched.

His 39-yard scramble in the second half was an ugly sequence for the defense where he kept making defenders miss. The defense keeps losing containment and once these mobile QBs get free, the lack of speed at linebacker is concerning. Two words…. Deone Bucannon. Anyone? Bueller?

Besides the fumble by Patterson, the Patriots special teams continued to make several gaffes that cost the team, a pair of 15-yard penalties, unsportsmanlike conduct for the gunner going out of bounds and a facemask really hurt. Ryan Allen’s punt at the end of the game was far from one of his good ones. Julian Edelman muffed a punt inside the 10 but was able to avert disaster by falling on it. 

Bill Belichick played the odds at the end of the game and with 29 seconds left and facing a 4th and 6 at the Bears 33. Rather than try a long field goal, he decided to punt and pin them deep. Allen who normally is excellent at putting punts inside the 10, boomed this one nine yards into the end zone.

The sloppy play hit the coaches too. The Pats were flagged for a delay of game on a kickoff of all things and then only had 10 men on the field while the Bears were attempting a 4th down and 2. This cost them a timeout. Could they have used it at the end of the half? Possibly. But the field position may have played much into it.

Rookies J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen were victimized by several penalties but Jackson was redeemed by an interception, one of two the defense had. The other was a terrific play by Jonathan Jones who high pointed the ball perfectly. In reality, the defense should have had two more interceptions. Trubiski forced a pass into the end zone where he threw it right to Elandon Roberts for what should have been a gift pick. But he couldn’t hold on.

Later Stephon Gilmore jumped a route and was in great position to make another pick, but he too dropped it. On both sequences, one play after Roberts’ drop and two after Gilmore’s the Bears scored touchdowns. That was a huge swing. The Pats make those two plays and this is a blowout win.

The special teams did redeem itself with the Patterson return, later they saw something on film and inserted Dont’a Hightower into the punt team. Hightower burst thru the protection and smothered a punt for a block that Kyle Van Noy scooped up and returned for a touchdown. That 29-yard score put the Pats up for good.

Patriots Three Up, Three Down:

Trending Up:

Josh Gordon – This was Gordon’s first game with 100 yards receiving, catching 5 passes for 100 yards including a 55-yarder where he ran out of gas and was tackled at the one. Gordon, who’s been limited with a hamstring admitted that the 96-yard drive had him gassed there.

But the conversion he made where he went up, fought for the ball and came down on his head causing his helmet to fly off but still holding on to the ball was a fantastic play. He’s just scratching the surface of his potential. I would expect to see his role increase as he gets more in tune with the offense.

James White – Already missing Rob Gronkowski on the offense this week, out with a back and ankle injury, the team lost Michel on the first play of the second quarter. White picked up the slack and was his normal productive self in the passing game, 8 catches 57 yards, two touchdowns. He also carried 11 times for 40 yards and helped the Patriots kill nearly all of the clock at the end.

While the Patriots offense goes thru Tom Brady and will until he ultimately hangs it up, White has become the second most important piece of the puzzle. With the injury epidemic at running back, White is now even more important to both the running and passing games.

Tom Brady– Facing a Bears defense that has gotten a lot of props as one of the best in the league, Brady completed 25 of 36 passes for 277 yards with three touchdowns and the one interception, that we mentioned above.

Brady was in control all day despite missing two of his biggest offensive weapons in Gronkowski and Michel. He spread the ball around and had the Patriots in position, twice…to put the game away late.

Honorable Mention: Patterson, Offensive Line, Chris Hogan

Trending Down:

Sony Michel – The Patriots rookie running back appeared to suffer a serious leg injury and was in excruciating pain as he was twisted to the turf. We won’t know until Monday how serious it is, but his injury was a huge blow to the Patriots offense as he’s been the featured back in the running game.

Michel was off to another dynamic start in the game and was featured on the Patriots opening touchdown drive. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that he dodged a bullet on that one.  

DL “Containment”– Yes, this one could easily have been labeled, “non-containment”.  Time and again, Trubiski hurt the Patriots with his running and the team looked, at times, powerless to stop it. He ran both outside and inside up the middle and the Patriots didn’t seem to have an answer.

One would have thought that the Patriots would have (at least by the 2nd quarter), assigned a linebacker to spy on Trubiski in case he decided to…you know scramble all over the field.

Sloppy Patriots STs Play – Granted they balanced the ledger with two huge scoring plays on Patterson’s TD return and the blocked punt TD return. And yes they nearly had a third, but the uncharacteristic mistakes this unit is making is beginning to be a concern. Could the loss of Bolden and Richards off the STs units mean more than we ever believed possible?

A fumble by Patterson, two costly penalties and another near turnover where Julian Edelman muffed a punt inside the Patriots 10-yard line, (Edelman alertly scooped it up), are the types of plays this unit isn’t known for. The coverage units were only okay on Sunday and allowed a 17-yard punt return to the speedy Tarik Cohen.  

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Who Are the Key Players To Watch Patriots-Bears Week 7?

Steve Balestrieri
October 19, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

Another Big Game, Another Explosive Offense  

The New England Patriots are off to the Windy City this week as they take on the Chicago Bears for what is a rare 1:00 p.m. start for the visiting team. The last two games have been prime time affairs and next week, it is back to another late game as the Pats will be on Monday Night Football against the Bills.

This week, the Bears return home disappointed after they let the chance to return 4-1 and atop the division with some breathing room slip away. They melted late in the game in the South Florida heat, something the Patriots are well familiar with dropped the game in overtime. At 3-2, they have a half-game lead on the Vikings and Packers.

The Patriots at 4-2, have won three in a row and are tied with Miami for the top spot in the AFC East. They’re entering a tough stretch with KC, Chicago, the MNF on the road and the Packers, before taking on Tennessee before their bye.

The Bears offensively run a similar offense to what the Chiefs do and have some explosive offensive players in Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, and Allen Robinson to go along with the mobile quarterback Mitch Trubiski. The Bears and Trubiski exploded a few weeks for six touchdown passes in the blowout win over Tampa Bay.

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

LaAdrian Waddle:

The Patriots swing tackle will no doubt get the start this week at right tackle as Marcus Cannon hasn’t practiced this week after leaving the KC game with a concussion. This is the reason the Patriots resigned Waddle this spring when he was a free agent. They knew that at some point they’d need him.

He may or may not be facing the Bears’ Khalil Mack, who also hasn’t practiced this week with an ankle injury and is considered day-to-day. Waddle faced Mack a year ago when Mack was a member of the Raiders defense. The Patriots beat Oakland in Mexico City 33-8 and Waddle was in for Cannon that day. Mack against Waddle that day had a sack, a tackle for a loss and three QB hits.

But regardless of whether Mack plays or not, Waddle will have a very important role in the Patriots game plan this week. Not only will he be responsible with protecting Brady’s right side from whoever rushes off the edge (Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks), but he’ll have to be solid in the running game as well.    

Josh Gordon

The Patriots wide receiver is still working on his chemistry with Tom Brady. The deep out routes, the comebacks, and the back shoulder throws are all things that they’ve not worked the kinks out of yet. Those things will come in time, but this week, Gordon could see his role expanded a bit more.

The Bears have a pretty stout front seven and the running game may need the passing game to get it going instead of the opposite. Gordon has the size and athleticism to stretch the field vertically a bit more this week. They tried it a few times against KC. On one play, Gordon was open and ready to catch a deep ball before being interfered with, drawing a 37-yard penalty.

We’d look for the offense to begin expanding Gordon’s range more and more as he gets a bigger comfort level in the offense. Gordon will probably draw Prince Amukamara on the outside, the big, veteran corner should be an intriguing matchup to watch this week.

Dont’a Hightower:

The Patriots big linebacker had a pretty productive game against the Chiefs despite the team allowing 31 second-half points. Hightower had an interception, a tipped pass and had quarterback pressure on Patrick Mahomes which forced him to throw an interception in the end zone, wiping out a Chiefs scoring threat.

This week the Patriots will have to contend with the diminutive but lightning-fast Tarik Cohen out of the Bears backfield. He’s a threat to run the ball or catch it out of the backfield and can be the Bears “X-Factor” in their offense this week.

How well (or badly) the Patriots defense does this week, will have a lot to do with how well they defend Cohen. While a bit different, the Bears offense does run a similar look to the Chiefs and they utilize the RPO (run/pass option) concepts which try to freeze and take advantage of the opposing linebackers. And for New England, that begins with the big man in the middle.

Julian Edelman:

With a Bears defense that gets a lot of sacks (18) and is much better at stopping the run that the past few opponents that the Patriots have faced, they’ll look to what has always worked for them. The short passing game with Julian Edelman will be key this week, helping Tom Brady get the ball out fast and keeping the chains moving.

Edelman’s short area quickness and ability to find the open seams of the defense are a hallmark at the chemistry that he’s enjoyed with Tom Brady for many years.

The Bears defense will have their hands full with trying to jam, throw off the timing and re-route Edelman off the line. That will no doubt fall to the veteran corner Bryce Callahan. The Bears are really happy with the play of  Callahan and resigned the smaller (5’9, 188), but very feisty cornerback this spring.

With the Patriots looking to use the middle of the field, players like Callahan and Danny Trevathan will be tasked with taking that away. The matchup between Edelman and Callahan will be an intriguing one to watch this week.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots defense has not been good at getting home against opposing quarterbacks and creating consistent pressure this year. Now they’re facing another mobile quarterback that can move and more importantly, throw on the move in Trubiski. That means the defense will have to set the edge and keep him in the pocket.

Flowers has been the best Patriots defensive lineman and although he has only two sacks on the season, he’s played very well. He got a lot of praise from the Bears’ coach Matt Nagy this week, “He’s not the ‘big-name guy,’ but he’s the big-name guy among the coaching world,” Nagy said. “He can hold the point. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s fast, he plays in front of the quarterback. So, we know that he’s a good football player. … We have a lot of respect for his game.”

The Patriots are going to need a big game out of Flowers this week, setting the edge, and getting after Trubiski if they want their defense to have a better showing than they had with Kansas City. And they’ll need their best defensive player to lead the way.

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Patriots-Bears Week 7, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 18, 2018 at 7:29 am ET

The New England Patriots head back out on the road for the next two weeks. They face the Chicago Bears on Sunday at 1 p.m. before heading off to Buffalo and facing the Bills in a prime-time Monday Night Football matchup.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work 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 (4-2) defeated the Chiefs on a last-second field goal 43-40.  Tom Brady threw for 340 yards and Sony Michel ran for 106 as the Patriots rolled up 500 yards of offense. But the defense, which had a 24-9 first-half lead, allowed 31 points after intermission.

The Bears (3-2)  lost to the Miami Dolphins 31-28 in overtime. Cody Parkey had a chance to win in it OT but his kick was wide right. The Bears defense allowed Brock Osweiler to pass for 380 yards and three TDs. Mitch Tribuski threw for 316 yards and three TDs in the loss.

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 Bears will meet for just the 14th time in their history with the Pats holding a 9-4 advantage in those contests. The only meeting in the postseason, however, was a crushing 46-10 blowout in Super Bowl XX. The Pats are 5-3 vs the Bears on the road. The last time the team’s faced in Chicago was back in 2010 in a snowstorm. The Patriots rolled 36-7. The Patriots have won the last four meetings including the last meeting between the two teams 51-23 at Foxboro back in 2014.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

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

The Patriots running game has really found its rhythm the past three weeks. They’ve rushed for an average of 148.3 yards in the games against the Dolphins, Colts and the Chiefs. The offensive line is doing a tremendous job of opening holes for Sony Michel and James White. In this three-game streak, Michel has gained 315 yards in those wins and seems to be getting better every week. James Develin has been outstanding as a lead blocker.

The Bears have been good against the run allowing an average of just 84.3 yards per game. It starts up front with a very good front seven. Former Patriot Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman anchor the front three in the Bears 3-4 scheme. They boast very good linebackers in Danny Trevathan, rookie Roquan Smith, Leonard Floyd and of course, Khalil Mack.

Look for the Patriots to attack the Bears front by running right at it between the tackles and guards with Michel and White. Miami did this last week and was very successful running the ball gaining 161 yards on the ground with 101 of them going to Frank Gore. The NFL is a copycat league and after watching the Dolphins carve them up a bit in the heat, look for the Patriots to attempt the same.  

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

The Patriots passing game has really taken off with the return of Julian Edelman and with Josh Gordon just now beginning to assimilate into the Patriots offense. Tom Brady started slowly this year, with all of the injuries at WR, but is getting better every week. Against Kansas City, he completed 24-35 for 340 yards with a TD. He, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski have a built-in chemistry thru years of playing together and they’re beginning to ramp up the production.

The Bears have a ball-hawking defense and have 10 interceptions in just five games. They also have 18 sacks led by Mack with five. He’s banged up right now and may not be 100 percent on Sunday. But in reality, most of the big edge rushers don’t have big games against Brady and the Patriots. It is the interior guys like Hicks that disrupt things. He’s the one to watch. If Brady can’t step up or slide in the pocket, then edge guys like Mack can be productive.

Look for Brady to attack the middle of the field with Edelman and Gronkowski this week. With Gordon and Hogan outside the numbers, they’ll take a fair share of deep shots and when they do that, they’ll try to use James White underneath in the open spaces underneath. I look for Brady to continue his hot streak in the Windy City this weekend

Next up the Chicago offense:

Bears RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Chicago

The Bears have their own two-pronged rushing attack with big back Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen as their speedier back out of the backfield and can inject some quickness off the line. Howard is averaging just 3.5 yards a carry this season as the Bears offensive line has been inconsistent at opening up holes for him. Cohen, however at just 5’6, 181 has been electric both in the running game and catching the ball out of the backfield.

The Patriots were getting gashed early in the season in the running game, but then back-to-back games, albeit against weak running teams in Miami and the Colts had the needle pointing up. Last week, the Chiefs Kareem Hunt had 80 yards in just 10 carries so they are back to square one.

I would expect the Bears to use Cohen a lot in this one. He’s the kind of player with the speed that gives them a lot of headaches. Look for coach Matt Nagy to look for creative ways to get him the ball a lot in this one.

Bears WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Chicago

The Bears for the first time in a while have a large assortment of weapons and thus far, QB Mitch Trubiski has been having a very good season at getting them all the ball. The second-year QB is coming into his own and spreads the ball around nicely. Newcomer  Taylor Gabriel is the player to watch, he has the speed to be a game breaker. Allen Robinson looks healthy after tearing an ACL last year and tight end Trey Burton leads the team with 3 TD receptions and a 13.3 yard per catch average. Cohen is a big (if diminutive) factor out of the backfield.

The Patriots corners have played very well this year, it is the play of the safeties that have been up and down. But the real issue is the lack of consistent pressure on the QB. The Patriots have just seven sacks, that isn’t going to get it done, they have to start creating ways to get more pressure on the QB.

I’m looking for Trubiski to get Burton and Cohen involved in this one early. Running the RPO (run/pass option) similar but not exactly the same as KC, they’ll try to freeze up the Patriots linebackers, get Trubiski outside the pocket and hit his WRs downfield.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have a slight advantage here in the kicking game with Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen over Cody Parkey and Pat O’Donnell. Parkey had a chance to win the game in Miami in overtime and sailed it wide right. Gostkowski has been very solid for over a decade. The Bears have the fast Cohen in the return game but the Patriots counter with Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman on their own. Look for the Patriots to tighten up their coverage units this week. They’ve been uncharacteristically leaky.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This is a big game for both teams. Both are sitting atop of their respective divisions but have other teams tied with them and must keep pace. The Bears have a dynamic offense for a change and things are definitely trending in the right direction for them. The Patriots are turning it on as well after a slow start. They’ve won three in a row and are averaging nearly 40 points a game in those.

Look for Tom Brady to throw first and then run against the Bears defense this week. Breaking what they have been doing in establishing the running game first. I’m looking for him to try to get Edelman and Gronkowski involved early. With all of the focus on Mack and his health, Hicks and Trevathan are the X-Factors for the Bears defense this week. The Bears watched the tape of the KC game and running a similar offense, they’ll try to do much of the same things utilizing their team speed.

The key from a New England perspective is to start fast and get the Bears in a catch-up/keep up mode. The turnover battle will be huge here. This one will be close for three quarters but a late Brady TD pass puts NE over the top. Patriots 34-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: A

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

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

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

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

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

Running Backs: B

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

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

Wide Receivers: A

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

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

Tight Ends: B+

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

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

Offensive Line: A

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

Defensive Line: C

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

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

Linebackers: B-

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

Secondary: A

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

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

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

Special Teams: A

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

Coaches: A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 4:25 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (7-2) are coming off a big 41-16 win in Denver, Tom Brady and Dion Lewis were AFC Offensive and Special Teams Players of the Week respectively as the Pats rolled to an easy victory.

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

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

Series History:

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

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

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Raiders Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Oakland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up the Raiders offense:

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

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

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

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

Raiders WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Oakland

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

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

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

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

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

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

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

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¡Bienvenidos a México!

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.