Tag Archives: Kirk Cousins

Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Defense Dominates Vikes in 24-10 Win

Steve Balestrieri
December 4, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots returned home to face the Minnesota Vikings in a game that was very important to both teams. And this one was dominated by the Pats defense, they held Minnesota to just 10 points and just three in the second half. The Vikings duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs was held in check extremely effectively by the NE secondary.

The Patriots offense rolled up 471 yards to just 278 for Minnesota. The win puts the Patriots at 9-3 for their 18th straight winning season which is second in NFL history to the Cowboys who had 21 straight winning seasons.

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

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady, mostly threw underneath to the backs and WRs on screen passes and quick throws which really gouged the Minnesota defense. When the Vikings began to adapt their looks and adjust, Brady then moved the ball down the field. He finished 24-32 for 311 yards (9.7-yard average which is great) with 1 TD and 1 INT for a 102.5 passer rating.

Brady’s movement in the pocket was superb, he felt the pressure and would slide or step up in the pocket. On his one pick, he was hit by Harrison Smith as he was letting go of the ball. Against one of the better defenses in the league, this was a very good performance.

Brady didn’t make any what we’d characterize as “great” throws, but he got everyone involved and kept the chains moving. But he was very good and kept the Vikings off balance.

Running Backs: B-

The Patriots running backs played a huge role in this game, they combined for 40 carries and catches on the day. James White had a big day with 6 carries for 26 yards and 7 catches for 92 more. Sony Michel didn’t have the biggest day with only a 3.7-yard average but he ran hard and was going against one of the better run defenses (3rd)  in the league. Rex Burkhead returned from IR and had a good solid complementary effort.

Overall, the Patriots ran for 160 yards on 39 carries which is a 4.1-yard average. While good anytime, against the Vikings defense, that is a very big game. It shows the coaches have faith in the running game and the players. Contrast that to what Minnesota did with just 13 rushes on the day.

James Develin had a pair of touchdowns from the one and the two-yard lines. The team may have found what ails them in the red zone and short-yardage.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers, for the most part, had a pretty quiet game. Josh Gordon wasn’t even targeted until the closing moments of the 3rd Quarter. And then in the blink of an eye, Gordon has three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown as well as drawing a pass interference penalty.

Julian Edelman was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 25 yards) but added 35 more in the running game. Chris Hogan had a pair of catches on two targets and Patterson had a big day, rushing, receiving and returning kickoffs for 114 yards total.  Phillip Dorsett wasn’t targeted.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 26 yards) but was his usual beast-like self in the running game opening holes for the running backs. He also got flagged for a couple of penalties for a false start and holding.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line did a tremendous job considering the defense they were going up against. Minnesota entered the game with the third overall defense, 4th against the run, 5th against the pass and the Pats rolled up 471 yards.

The offensive line opened enough holes in the running game for the Pats to run for 160 yards. The pass protection, while solid wasn’t really tested much as Brady was throwing quick passes and the misdirection plays and screens kept the Vikings on their heels.

But when they did throw downfield later in the game, they did a tremendous job against one of the better defensive units in the league.

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had a very solid night. They were mixing and matching and shifting players around to bring pressure on Kirk Cousins and they sacrificed their run defense in order to take away what the Vikings do best.

Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy both turned in excellent games. Adam Butler and Adrian Clayborn both contributed and the front seven were a constant disruption of the Vikings offense all night long. The Patriots dusted off their muddled front with at times only Flowers as the only down lineman, and with others Flowers and Butler.

And BTW, Guy stopped Murray short on that 4th and 1, I still don’t think Murray has made the sticks yet. Awful call.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers easily had their best game of the season. With the coverage downfield solid, Cousins was forced to check down to his running backs which is a weakness of the LB unit right? Well on Sunday night. Dalvin Cook had eight catches, for just 22 yards. Latavius Murray had two catches for three yards.

All three of the linebackers (Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts) were all over the field. They were tackling receivers with no yards after the catch and rushing up in the rush against the QB.

Roberts set the tone early with a thunderous hit on Cook on the first snap. But he was victimized twice on runs over running the hole and those two plays went for 50 yards on the ground. While that knocks down the grade a bit, Roberts was all over the field and was hitting everything in sight.

Secondary: A-

The secondary was terrific. Adam Thielen came in with nine 100-yard games and the Patriots held him to just five catches for 28 yards and a score. The Patriots doubled him most of the game which took him effectively out of the game plan.

Stephon Gilmore was very effective on Stefon Diggs and the team felt confident enough in rookie J.C. Jackson that they slid him over on Diggs as well. That allowed them to get creative on third downs. Jason McCourty largely covered Thielen in the slot which then allowed the Pats to move the bigger Jackson outside.

The safeties,   Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Obi Melifonwu were very active and they confused Cousins with their crowding things up with their looks down low in the box. It all played a hand in how they limited the Vikings to just 201 yards thru the air. Jonathan Jones and Duron Harmon had interceptions.

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams was lauded by Belichick after the game for their results in the kicking game. Ryan Allen had another strong game pinning the Vikings inside the 10 and angling his punts along the sideline. Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman both had nice returns of 34 and 23 respectively. Jonathan Jones may have influenced a missed FG with his breaking thru the line. But they also gave up big returns in the kicking game and Brandon King got whistled for a hold that wiped out a nice punt return.

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff came up with a terrific game plan to take on the Vikings and the players executed it extremely well. There was no doubt that the Patriots were ready for this one, right from the opening snap. Brian Flores had a very aggressive game plan on tap right from the start and they didn’t deviate from it, even when the Vikings made them pay for it on their only touchdown drive of the game just before halftime.

Josh McDaniels was trying to take away the Vikings pass rush early in this one with screens, quick passes, and misdirection, and the defense was never able to assert itself in this game. They had their moments when they sputtered but going 7-14 on third down and 2-3 in the red zone against the Vikings defense, numbers which would have been even better if the referees called an interference on Edelman on third and goal (but we digress).

Bill Belichick had a firm hold on this one throughout. The team was prepared and they all executed the game plan in fine fashion.

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Patriots Strong Finish Buries Vikings 24-10, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots took a workman-like approach to the game on Sunday and ground out a hard-fought 24-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The victory moved the Pats to 9-3 and they have kept the #2 seed behind Kansas City who beat the Raiders on Sunday.

All week there has been some loud noise from the doubters stating that maybe this team wasn’t as good as some of the other Patriots teams in the past and that the defense, bereft of playmakers would be the Achilles Heel of them. That remains to be seen but the indications are that this team is rounding into form defensively.

It was the defense that stepped up, limiting the Vikings to just 10 points. Kirk Cousins was frustrated all night long as the Minnesota deep passing game was taken away and he was forced to check down for passes underneath.

He completed eight passes to Dalvin Cook out of the backfield but for just 22 yards. The tackling and coverage were terrific on those.

The Patriots secondary was outstanding, the dynamic duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs was held in check. Combined, they managed 10 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. Thielen who had nine 100 yard games entering the contest was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a score. Diggs had five for 49. Mission accomplished

It was truly a collaborative effort when combatting Thielen who has been tearing it up in the league this season. Jason McCourty drew the assignment when Thielen lined in the slot. Stephon Gilmore covered Thielen occasionally when he was on the outside. Rookie J.C. Jackson even lined up on him once or twice.

Some observations from the game include:

Patriots Offense Still A Work in Progress:

On some levels, it still seems like the team doesn’t really know what it has offensively. It really seems like Josh McDaniels and the offense is playing their cards close to their vest. They mixed things up nicely on their opening drive, a variety of runs, screen passes, and misdirection had the Vikings on their heels. They scored a touchdown but then would only add three points for the rest of the first half.

They stayed conservative until late in the third quarter and then Tom Brady began pushing the ball down the field and they quickly found their rhythm. While we believe that the Patriots should be scoring more than 24 points (they certainly believe that) the fact that they rolled up 471 yards of offense on the third-ranked defense in the NFL.

And on third down and the red zone what we believed was to be a key area of the game, they were 7-14 and 2 of 3 respectively against the #1 team. Tom Brady finished 24-32 for 311 yards (9.7-yard average) with a TD and an INT. His passer rating was 102.5

Brian Flores Is More Aggressive Than Patriots Teams in the Past:

The Patriots defense came into this one looking to try to limit the Minnesota deep passing game. They did it extremely well, with very good coverage and an aggressive blitz scheme that keep the Vikings on their heels and made them earn every yard down the field.

The Vikings were just 3-12 on third down for the game as Flores did a tremendous job of disguising their coverages and looks and dialing up the pressure that made Cousins have to get rid of the ball to his check down receivers.

Cousins burned them on it, as can happen when they beat the blitz during the Vikings only touchdown drive at the end of the first half. That’s the risk you take but overall the unit played very well. And they never went away from it. They were willing to concede the running game (95 yards on 13 carries) by getting after the passer. Trey Flowers was terrific once again.

We wrote before the game, lost in all of the talk about the yardage allowed by the Patriots defense thru the air was the fact that they were the 6th best team in the Opposing QB rating with a mark of 87.3. Cousins’ QB rating for Sunday was 70.3.

I like that the Patriots are working in Obi Melifonwu into the game plan covering tight ends in the dime package. He was competitive going against Kyle Rudolph and certainly looked like he knocked the ball out on the sidelines. But the officials ruled it a catch. On that subject, Lativius Murray still hasn’t reached the sticks on the 4th and 1 run…no evidence?

Gordon Invisible For a Half Then Bursts Out:

Something that goes along with McDaniels playing things close to his vest was the game of Josh Gordon. He wasn’t even targeted in the first half. Then after Minnesota tied the score, the offense looked his way when he and Brady began the next drive hooking up for a 24-yard catch and run. They’d finish the drive in a similar fashion.

On a 1st-and-10 from the Vikings 24-yard line, Brady stepped up in the pocket and found Gordon all alone inside the 10. He found the open spot in the Vikings zone coverage, and Brady zipped him the ball. Gordon caught the pass at the 7-yard line, and easily cruised into the end zone. He finished with three catches for 58 yards and the score.

After the game, he was asked the significance of catching Brady’s 500th TD pass and then his 579th career pass (including postseason) to tie Peyton Manning and he had this to say.

“It must be fate. I won’t say coincidence, but it’s great to be on the receiving end of it,” Gordon said. “Extremely humbled to come out here every Sunday and get a chance to play, let alone with Tom Brady, the greatest to ever do it. So to be part of history with him? I can’t really even put the words to describe what that means to me. It’s just great to have the opportunity.”

Patriots Offensive Line Deserves High Marks Again:

Coming into this game, the thought was that the Patriots couldn’t run the way they did against the Jets when they ran for over 200 yards. They didn’t, but they came pretty close, running for 160 yards against a much, much tougher Viking front seven. The offensive line led the way with a very strong performance and didn’t allow a sack of Brady on the night.

Sony Michel led the way with 63 yards on 17 carries but seven different Patriots ran the ball in a team-oriented win. Rex Burkhead returned and had seven carries and two pass receptions. James Develin showed some respite for the short-yardage game with two short touchdown runs.

Cordarrelle Patterson played against his former team and accounted for 114 yards with 1 carry for six yards, 2 catches for 53 yards and 2 kickoff returns for 55 more. James White had six carries for 26 and seven more catches for 92 for 118 yards.

So with the Pittsburgh Steelers blowing a big second-half lead to the Chargers, that drops them a game and a half behind New England for the #2 seed. But Houston won again and has the same record so they can’t falter now.

The Patriots move on to Miami for a “Hat and T-shirt” game for the division win next week. That’s always the first goal, win the division, get a first round bye….etc.

We’re on to Miami.

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Players To Watch Patriots-Vikings Week 13

Steve Balestrieri
November 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm ET

Big Game For Both Teams

The New England Patriots return home after a few games on the road and the bye week to take on the Minnesota Vikings in a late afternoon game that will be televised by Fox.

This is a very big game for both teams this week. The Patriots traditionally try to turn things up a notch in December and get ready for a deep playoff push. They are currently the #2 seed and still have a shot at being the #1 with a first-round bye.

The Vikings are currently the #5 seed with a shot at still winning their division with the Bears although they trail by a game and half with still one against each other still in play.

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

Rex Burkhead:

The Patriots versatile but injury-prone running back returns this week and the feeling here is that he may be eased back into things slowly. With Sony Michel playing excellent football right now, there is no need for the Patriots to overwork Burkhead right off the bat, as he hasn’t played since the first half of the Lions game in Week 3.

But one area that the Patriots could use Burkhead and his versatility is in the red zone where they’ve been struggling (for them) this season. The Patriots sit at a 63 percent touchdown rate in the red zone which is 13th in the league. Not bad, but much lower than they always are. Burkhead could change that. James White is an excellent receiver but just so-so as a runner. Sony Michel is having an excellent season running the ball but has yet to be fully integrated into the passing game. The team is a bit one-dimensional with those players in the game.

Burkhead is more than capable of running the ball between the tackles and catching it out of the backfield. He’s also a very good blocker in pass protection. With him having a smaller workload in his first game back, we could still see Josh McDaniels having a plan to utilize him in the red zone.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best player on their front seven and arguably on their defense is going to be looked to provide a bulk of the Patriots pass rush this week. With the weapons that the Vikings have on their offense, it is imperative that the Patriots bring pressure on Kirk Cousins before his talented wide receivers (Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs) shake loose in the secondary.

The Patriots pass rush this year (and for several of the past years) has been largely stuck in neutral. It puts the secondary in the bad position of having to cover for too long. They have addressed the issue with multiple players but thus far it is still a problem.

We’ll look to see if they move Flowers around some and utilize him as an interior pass rusher to get more speed and athleticism on the field. But a lot of eyes will be on the Pats best DL. They will try to attack the right side of the Minnesota offensive line, that is where they’ve been having issues protecting Cousins.

Julien Edelman:

The Patriots slot receiver has been terrific in several of the latest games, he set the tone for the offense last week, getting a 36-yard catch and run on the Patriots first drive of the game. He’ll be going against  MacKensie Alexander this week. Alexander has been terrific over the last month +, allowing a QB rating of just 45 when opposing QBs have targeted him.

Edelman has always been the guy to do the dirty work underneath and frequently takes a terrific beating while doing so. Alexander is a great matchup for Edelman and we expect to see those two battling all day long.

With the excellent pass rush of the Vikings, Tom Brady will be looking to get the ball out quickly. And there is no one who has the chemistry with Brady better than Edelman. We look for him to be targeted early and often in this one.

Pat Chung:

The Pats box safety had an excellent bounce-back game against the Jets last week. This week, the stakes are higher and the opposition is much better. The Vikings are a difficult matchup team for the Patriots defense due to their running back, Dalvin Cook and their tight end Kyle Rudolph, two areas that the Pats have issues defending.

Chung is the team’s best tackler in the box and he’ll have to be strong in run support against Cook while being one of the defenders against Rudolph in the passing game.

One thing we may see more of this week is the Patriots “Big Nickel” look with safeties taking the place of LBs in coverage. We saw just a glimpse of it last week as the Pats broke in newly signed S Obi Melifonwu and with his size and athleticism, he should be a natural at that. That would allow Chung to play closer to the line of scrimmage in the box. It is a chess match every week.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver has been slowly finding his way in New England, learning on the fly and while he may no longer be the athletic freak he was five years ago, he still has plenty of speed and with his size, opponents have to account for him on every play. With Xavier Rhodes banged up and questionable this week, Gordon may play a big role in the game plan.

But what is really exciting for Gordon is the motivation that comes with playing meaningful football games in December/January. That is a first for him and he told the media this week that he’s excited for it to happen.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s motivational for me and for everybody. I’ve never really got the opportunity before, considering the circumstances. So it’s great to have the opportunity now.”

Gordon told Mike Reiss of ESPN that, “I think there’s a lot more room to expand upon and potential to be reached. It just goes to how much work I put in, and let it manifest itself on the field,” he said. “The most I can do is just stay consistent with my work ethic and the rest will try to work itself out eventually.”

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Patriots-Vikings Week 13, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots came off their bye week with a 27-13 win over the Jets in the Meadowlands, a much-needed road win. Now, they’re taking on the Minnesota Vikings who appear to be a much better team than their record indicates at 6-4-1. This is a huge game for both teams.

Minnesota is second in their division, a game and a half behind the Bears who they play one more time on 12/30. But a loss to Chicago a few weeks ago and to the Bills early in the year have really hurt them.

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

The Patriots (8-3) are coming off of a win over the Jets 27-13 on the road. The offense rolled up nearly 500 yards and Sony Michel gained 133 yards on 21 carries.

The Vikings (6-4-1) beat the Packers 24-17 to keep their divisional hopes alive. Kirk Cousins threw for over 300 yards against the Packers despite being under pressure for most of the game.

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 New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings are meeting for just the 13th time, they last met in 2014 when Cordarrelle Patterson was a member of the Vikings. The Patriots are 8-4 in their brief history and have won the last four meetings. The last time the two teams met in Foxboro was in 2010 when Brett Favre was QB for Minnesota.

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 Vikings Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Minnesota

The Patriots running game was clicking on Sunday against the Jets as they rolled up 215 yards on the ground. Sony Michel led the way with 133 yards with James White picking up 72. Now they have Rex Burkhead back from IR with concussion/neck injuries. The Pats OL did a tremendous job of clearing out lanes for the backs to run, but this week they have a much tougher task.

The Minnesota front seven is excellent against the run, 4th best in the league allowing an average of just 93.6 yards per game. They’re big, physical and maintain outstanding gap integrity. Linval Joseph and a resurgent Sheldon Richardson are a very, very tough pair of DTs to move in the running game. They held the Packers to just 82 yards a week ago.

Look for the Patriots to mix things up, with the aggressiveness of the edge players, they may try to sneak Michel and Burkhead more toward the edge this week. But with the Vikings, they’ll have to stay patient because yards on the ground will be difficult to come by this week.

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

The Patriots passing game is currently 11th in the league but they just got back Rob Gronkowski last week and gets back Burkhead this week. When he’s been healthy, he’s been an outstanding option in the passing game. Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Chris Hogan all pose big matchup problems if Tom Brady has time to throw. The Pats OL will have their hands full with a very good pass rush.

Minnesota is currently fifth best against the pass in 2018, allowing just 221.1 yards per game. Something to keep in mind, the Vikes held both Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers to under 200 yards passing. They have excellent bookend pass rushers in Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, but the key is again inside. If Joseph and Richardson can push the pocket, Brady will not be able to step up and make his throws.

The secondary is aggressive and athletic. But Xavier Rhodes is questionable in this one. It will be him matched up with Gordon outside, but if he can’t go, then the Vikings may opt to give help over the top. Edelman and MacKensie Alexander will be another great matchup to watch. Alexander has been terrific over the last month-plus, allowing a QB rating of just 45 when targeting him.  

And then there is Gronkowski, I would think they’d put Anthony Barr with safety help on him but the Rhodes situation may have some bearing on that. Home cooking is always a big deal when talking offenses. Look for Brady and the offense to use play-action a lot in this one.

Of course, the Patriots will have to be aware of Harrison Smith and where he is on the field. Bill Belichick compared him to Ed Reed this week. Anyone who knows how BB feels about Reed knows that it isn’t a comparison he throws around lightly. It promises to be a fascinating matchup.

Next up the Vikings offense:

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

Minnesota’s running game is currently 30th in the league right now averaging just 85.3 yards per game. Dalvin Cook is the lead back, but he’s been hurt for much of the season and has appeared in just six games. Latavius Murray, Mike Boone, and Ameer Abdullah also can contribute. Don’t be put off by Cook’s 3.5-yard average, he looks to be getting his explosion back. The key will be the offensive line play.

The Patriots run defense has been up and down this year but they’ve been trending better in that department. Lawrence Guy has been very solid as has Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy in run support. The key here is setting the edge.

Cook is the kind of back who has traditionally given the Pats trouble. Although I don’t expect he’ll have big numbers running the ball, as we mentioned above, setting the edge on the side opposite of Flowers will be key and that is where the Vikings will attack.

Vikings WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Minnesota

The Vikings passing game is 7th in the league averaging 283.2 yards per game. They have one of the league’s most dynamic players in Adam Thielen who has caught 93 passes this season. Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell give them an excellent trio. Kirk Cousins has come in and completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 3289 yards (7.1-yard average) with 22 TDs and 7 INTs. TE Kyle Rudolph and Cook out of the backfield give them a plethora of targets in the passing game.

The Patriots have the league’s 25th pass defense giving up a lot of yards (269.7) but the opposing passer rating of 87.3 is the 6th best in the NFL (Minnesota is 8th). They’re competitive outside but have big issues covering tight ends and backs.

How the Patriots cover Thielen will be an intriguing matchup. The Vikings like to put him in the slot, I see the Patriots using Jason McCourty with over the help safety help on most downs with him. They’ll try to matchup Diggs with Stephon Gilmore. They’re not going to shut them down regardless. They’re going to get their yards, but I expect the Patriots to be competitive there.

It will be interesting to see if Belichick and Flores go back to Jonathan Jones who was benched last week for poor play or roll with the rookie J.C. Jackson who replaced him. The key here is with Rudolph and Cook. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty will have to be on top of their game’s this week. Could we see more of Obi Melifonwu helping on the tight end with his size and athleticism? Possibly. He could be the long-term answer there, but for now, I think the ball is in Chung and McCourty’s hands to do the job.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams normally play better at home and I think that Cordarrelle Patterson (playing against his former team) and Julian Edelman may have a big return or two in the cards for this one. The Patriots get the edge in the kicking game with Stephen Gostkowski over Dan Bailey while both punters are solid with Ryan Allen and Matt Wile for the Vikes.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This should be a hold-on-to-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of game this week. I fully expect it to go right down to the wire. Both teams need the win, the Vikings to keep their division hopes alive and for the time being, to maintain the #5 seed. The Patriots are currently the #2 seed, a game behind KC and with a Chiefs’ slip up, they could slide into the #1 spot due to a tie-breaker. Keys to the game from a New England perspective.

Third Down/Red Zone: Minnesota is one of the best defensive teams in each of these categories for a reason. Minnesota is 2nd in the RZ and 1st on 3rd Down. With a full complement of offensive weapons, the Patriots have to play better in each this week. Burkhead could be their “X-Factor” here. The playcalling from Josh McDaniels in the red zone will be something to watch this week. The calls have been a bit predictable and we’ll see if they mix it up.

Defensively, the Patriots must get off the field on 3rd down. Look for Brian Flores and Belichick to be more aggressive this week. They should take a few more risks in order to bring pressure on Cousins. If they’re getting the job done against the run, we could see more of the lighter fronts with moving Trey Flowers inside as an interior pass rusher or Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler in the same role.

No Turnovers: The Vikings are an aggressive bunch and can create turnovers on defense, they will at times roll the dice and be susceptible to a big play. Brady has to be spot on and recognize his opportunities and produce. Defensively, the Pats likewise will have to roll the dice and blitz Cousins. The pass rush has been nowhere near good enough. Could it cost them six? With this team, easily but that is what they’re going to have to do to slow them down.

Stay Balanced: The Pats are an excellent offense when they can run and pass. With everyone getting healthy offensively both in skill positions and on the OL, they have to remain balanced and not give the Vikings the advantage of dialing it up when they’re in 3rd and long.

The weather forecast is calling for rain early (like every weekend this fall) but may taper off later in the game. The wet ball could be a factor, we’ll have to see.

New England will have to attack the right side of the Minnesota offensive line and win there to keep Cousins from being flat-footed in the pocket. They’ve had troubles in pass protection, especially there. However, if Cousins has all day to throw it will be a long afternoon for the home team. Look for Gronkowski to play a big role in this one. Opening things up for the rest of the offensive weapons. I look for both Brady and Cousins to play well on Sunday. Hold on to your hats, folks,  the Pats will hold serve at home…barely.  But by one or 20, it counts the same in the standings.  Patriots 28-27

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Packers at Redskins – Preview, Odds, Prediction

John Morgan
January 10, 2016 at 10:00 am ET

The final game of wild card weekend pits the Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins. During the off season Green Bay was expected to be a Super Bowl contender, and the Pack is in the post-season for the seventh consecutive season. Washington on the other hand was viewed as being one of worst teams in the league before the season began; this is just their second winning season in eight years, and their last playoff victory came ten years ago when Joe Gibbs was still the head coach for Washington.

 

Who: #5 Green Bay Packers (10-6) at #4 Washington Redskins (9-7).

What: NFC Wild Card Game.

When: Sunday, January 10 at 4:40 pm ET on FOX.

Where: FedEx Field, Landover MD; surface is natural grass.

Weather: mid-50s, partly cloudy.

Coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (104-55-1, .653 in regular season; 7-6, .538 in playoffs; 8 winning seasons in 10 years).
Washington’s Jay Gruden (13-19, .406 in two seasons; zero playoff experience; one winning season in two years).

Odds: Washington opened as a 1-point favorite, but the line swung to a pick’em and then Green Bay minus one. As of Saturday night the betting line had swung back once again to Washington being favored by one in most venues, with many listing this as a pick’em. I found only one site (5Dimes) that was on the other side of the ledger, with Green Bay minus one point.

The over/under is 45½ and a typical Money Line has Washington -115 and Green Bay -105. The spread dollars are fairly evenly split (53% on Green Bay, 47% on Washington), but the ML dollars lean more heavily on the Pack (69%-31%). 83% of the betting public thinks this will be a high scoring game, taking the over.

 

Green Bay would have been a prohibitive favorite against whatever team came out of the NFC East, but after looking dismal in a 38-8 loss to Arizona and then laying an egg in last week’s loss to Minnesota, it is difficult to have any confidence in the Packers. Green Bay went 4-6 over their last ten games, and that would have been 3-7 if not for a Hail Mary against a poor Detroit defense after a questionable penalty. The Packers are beat up, with about one-third of their roster – 17 players – on the injury report. Two starters in particular stand out: CB Sam Shields (doubtful, concussion) and LT David Bakhtiari (questionable, ankle).

 

At first glance the absence of Shields is minimal, since he has not played in four weeks. However, Kirk Cousins has passed for 300 yards in three of Washington’s four straight wins. In the one other game Cousins completed 80% of his 15 passes, including three touchdowns. LG Josh Sitton (#71) has filled in for Bakhtiari (#69) the last two weeks, but HC Mike McCarthy has stated that will not be the case Sunday. Washington’s pass rush improved over the last month (20 sacks in the last four games), and Aaron Rodgers has been under duress of late, sacked an unacceptable 14 times for a loss of 95 yards over just the last two games. The Skins like to bring an extra pass rusher rather as often as any team in the league; the results of that feast or famine approach will likely determine the outcome of this game. That philosophy leaves their secondary in one-on-one coverage; with three of their six top defensive backs on injured reserve, Washington is vulnerable in the secondary. If Green Bay can be creative with their pass protection and give Aaron Rodgers time, then the Packers can exploit the Washington defense.

 

Washington scored an average of 33 points during a four-game win streak to finish the season, but the fact remains that the Skins were 0-3 against teams that finished with winning records. WR DeSean Jackson (#11) can beat defenses deep with his speed, WR Pierre Garcon (#88) has scored in three straight games, and now that he is healthy Jordan Reed (#86; 29 receptions for 378 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games) has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the league. However, the Washington defense is average overall. NT Pot Roast Knighton (#98) is a force up front, and WLB Ryan Kerrigan (#91) has become a force. The 2011 first round pick recorded 9½ sacks this season along with three hits and 46 hurries. The matchup between Kerrigan and Green Bay RT Bryan Bulaga (#75) could be pivotal to the outcome of this game.

 

Since Week 7 Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in completion percentage (72.4) and passer rating (119.1), and has a jaw dropping TD:INT ratio: 23 touchdown passes with only three interceptions. Cousins has thrown for 11 scores without a pick over his last three games, with Washington’s offense averaging 35.7 points and 429 yards in that span. His fifth-ranked passer rating of 101.6 included performances of 100-plus in each of the last six games. Looking at how the two clubs have played down the stretch, you would have to pick Washington at home. Add in the way that the Green Bay offense has underwhelmed over most of the last ten weeks, and there is plenty of logic to believe that the Cheese Heads’ season comes to a shocking end Sunday. However, Washington’s weak defense – specifically their secondary – could be exactly the cure for the Pack’s late season malaise.

 

Prediction: Redskins 31, Packers 27

A slight lean to Washington in this game.

 

 

Monday Observations: Patriots Rout Redskins in Costly Victory

Steve Balestrieri
November 9, 2015 at 6:00 am ET

DeGuglielmo Gets Game Ball in 27-10 win

The Patriots routed the Redskins easily 27-10 in a workman-like approach on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

Tom Brady and LaGarrette Blount were the big stars of the offense as the Patriots rolled easily to their second 8-0 start in team history. Brady completed 26 of 39 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an ill-advised interception in what was a sloppy but productive first quarter.

Blount rushed 29 times for 129 yards and a touchdown in what was his biggest workload of the season. The Patriots took the opening kickoff and marched down the field easily with Brady finishing off the drive with a touchdown pass to Edelman. Although they turned the ball over twice with a pick and an Edelman fumble, the offense set the tone early in this one and they cruised after that.

By the ten minute mark the Patriots had more touchdowns (2) than the Redskins had plays from scrimmage (1). Washington didn’t have the offensive weapons to challenge after that and this one was never in doubt.

But the victory was a costly one for New England. Dion Lewis went down with a knee injury in the second half and the prognosis isn’t good. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that there was looseness in his knee which usually means an ACL type injury. Lewis is scheduled for an MRI on Monday morning. Brandon Bolden and Blount finished up in the backfield for the Patriots as James White was inactive.

Sebastian Vollmer left in the first half with what was described as a head injury which probably means a concussion. Entering the game with six healthy offensive linemen, Vollmer’s left them with five and TE Michael Williams played some right tackle as did C Bryan Stork who returned in his first action since training camp.

DeGuglielmo Deserves Big Kudos: With the absolute injury epidemic along the offensive line the Patriots had a left tackle (Cameron Fleming) who was on the practice squad a few weeks ago playing left tackle, a position he’s never played before even in high school. Stork was playing right tackle as was a tight end Williams and the Patriots offense still scored 27 points.

The fact that they still operated at a high level despite these injuries is a feather in the cap for the 2nd year Patriots offensive line coach. DeGuglielmo is doing a magnificent job with his charges and the offensive continues to hum along. He is preparing his players to move anywhere along the line and as scary as the situation is right now, he’s been outstanding at allaying any fears about the offensive line. We wrote about him in our last Sunday news and notes, remarking on the job he’s doing and it needs repeating again.

While the play-calling definitely got more conservative with the makeshift line in the second half, they were still able to move the ball and scored a 4th quarter, 18-yard touchdown on a nice pass from Brady to Brandon Bolden , his first ever touchdown reception. Rob Gronkowski wasn’t targeted as much on the day and had a four catch, 47 yard effort for the game.

Defense With a Solid Effort: Once again the Patriots defense put out another solid effort limiting the Redskins to just three points until a garbage time drive scored their only touchdown with just 20 seconds left in the game.

Redskins’ running backs averaged only 2.5 yards per carry with Matt Jones carrying 11 times for 27 yards and Alfred Morris carrying four times for 10 yards. Kirk Cousins completed 22 of 40 passes for 217 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

But he was victimized all day with terrible drops by his receiver core, seven in all. But when all was said and done, he had only 134 yards passing before that final garbage time drive of 83 yards, all in the air.

Malcolm Butler was matched up against DeSean Jackson for most of the day and held the explosive Washington receiver to just three catches for 15 yards. It was a testament to how well he played (with over the top help), that we didn’t hear his name called much. Logan Ryan put together another solid performance and came away with his team leading fourth interception.

While the Skins offense won’t be confused with some of the better ones in the NFL, it was still a solid effort by the Patriots giving up a total of 254 total yards on the day.

LaFell Rounding into Shape: Brandon LaFell had a nice game for the Patriots on Sunday catching five passes for 102 yards. After missing all of the spring and summer, his first action since the Super Bowl was the game a few weeks ago against the Jets.

Since that one where he dropped half a dozen passes, he’s been progressively getting better and more in sync with Brady. Sunday was his best effort yet and makes the offense that much more dangerous. He was wide open for a deep touchdown early in the game but Brady was under pressure and was hit as he let the ball go and LaFell had to wait for the ball to come down. It was still a 48-yard reception, the longest of the day.

The Patriots move on to take on the New York Giants next week in the Meadowlands. The Giants offense should present a big challenge for the Patriots defense as Eli Manning and the Giants passing game has plenty of weapons.

The Giants defense has been horrid but with the return of Jason Pierre-Paul, gives them a pass rusher that can wreak havoc in the backfield. Given the state of the Patriots offensive line, that can’t be overlooked. We’ll have more about that next week.

So only two teams remain undefeated in the AFC with the Denver loss…We’re on to the Giants.

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
November 5, 2015 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots finish off a three game home stand with a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Washington Redskins. After wins over the Jets and Dolphins the Patriots are looking to go 8-0 to start the season.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. and the game will be televised on Fox with Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch on the call with Pam Oliver handling sideline duties. The game can be seen locally on Fox 25 and as always the radio call is on the Patriots flagship station 98.5 with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The Redskins (3-4) had a big come-from-behind win over the Tampa Bay Bucs 31-30. After falling behind 24-0, the Skins rallied behind Kirk Cousins who quarterbacked them to a game winning touchdown pass with under a minute left. In the downtrodden NFC East this season, Washington is only a half game out of the division lead.

The Patriots (7-0), dominated the Miami Dolphins 36-7 behind another stellar Tom Brady performance. Brady completed 26 – 38 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns and is leading the NFL in passer rating with 115.8. On the season he has 20 touchdown passes against only one interception.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2015 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History: The Patriots and Redskins will meet for only the 10th time in their history. The Redskins lead overall 6-3 and won six straight contests between 1978 and 2003. The Patriots won the last two including their last meeting a 34-27 meeting in Washington in 2011.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2015 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Redskins

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2015 at 10:01 am ET

The Patriots get ten days to prepare for the Washington Redskins after playing in Thursday night football last week against Miami. It is a needed break as the injuries have been piling up especially along the offensive line.

The Redskins (3-4), are coming off of their bye week and are locked into second place in the NFC East. In their last game action on Oct. 25, they scored 24 second-half points to come from behind to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-30.

Kirk Cousins threw for three second half touchdown passes, the last one with 32 seconds left as the team made its biggest comeback in franchise history. The Skins trailed 24-0 in the second quarter before mounting the comeback.

The Patriots blasted the Dolphins 36-7 on Thursday Night Football as Tom Brady led the way throwing for 356 yards and four touchdowns. The Patriots defense bottled up Lamar Miller and held him to just 15 yards on nine carries.

The game is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. at Gillette Stadium and will be televised by Fox and can be viewed locally on Fox 25 TV.

Here are our five first impressions of the Redskins:

Skins Still in the Hunt in the NFC East: One of the facts of life in the topsy-turvy NFL is that there aren’t a ton of teams with winning records in 2015. So the Skins are technically very much in the hunt for the division lead in the weak NFC East even at 3-4.

Without playing, the Skins picked up a half-game on the division leading Giants (4-4), courtesy of their 52-49 shootout loss to New Orleans. The Cowboys (2-5), dropped their fifth game in a row without QB Tony Romo. The Skins and Eagles are tied at 3-4 but in reality, everyone has a shot to win the division and the losers will undoubtedly miss the playoffs.

So after a big come-from-behind win and a bye week, expect to see a very fired up and motivated Redskins team that will take the field in Foxboro. Regardless of how bad the division is…and it is right now, Washington has four remaining division games left on the schedule and more than enough opportunity to win the division. Regardless of how this game plays out, expect them to play fast and loose the rest of the way.

Lack of Stability at QB Still Haunts Team: Even though Jay Gruden announced in preseason that starting QB position was Kirk Cousins’ and he’s performed well at times, it is still a position with more questions than answers at this stage.

Washington has spent five high round draft picks to acquire Cousins and Robert W. Griffin III since just 2012. Cousins is by far the best candidate to run Gruden’s West Coast offense, and he’s shown flashes of being a very good quarterback.

He orchestrated a 15 play, 90-yard drive in the final minutes to defeat the Eagles 23-20 in early October. His second half against the Bucs was very impressive as he went 21 for 25 with three touchdowns and put together an 11 play, 80-yard drive capped off with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed to win the game.

But far too often he makes critical mistakes and has been prone to turn the ball over often. In four games in 2015, he’s had two interceptions.  That isn’t going to be a winning formula for a team that has to claw and scratch every week to win.

Although he’s the better fit, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is enamored with 3rd string QB Griffin, who has only dressed for one game this season. He’s shown the inability to run the West Coast offense, or the ability to set the protection as well as an alarming lack of pocket presence. But Snyder has poked into things before, and Griffin may be just one bad performance by Cousins from starting again.

Washington Running Game Stuck in Neutral: The Redskins ran the ball very effectively the first two weeks of the season, rushing for 343 yards and being first in the NFL in that category. Since then, the offensive line has struggled to open holes for the backs and the Skins have fallen to 21st in rushing.

Alfred Morris and Matt Jones have been sharing reps at running back in Gruden’s system and have both suffered from the lack of consistent snaps to get a rhythm going. Morris, 5’10, 224 and Jones, 6’2, 231 are bigger backs that haven’t been utilized much in the passing game.

Morris had 121 yards in Week 1 but since then has only managed 181 yards since. Last week, partly because of falling behind 24-0 early in the game, he managed only five yards on six carries. In the last three weeks the OL has only been able to spring him for 41 yards on 25 carries. One of the Patriots goals will be to make the offense one-dimensional, so this will be an area to focus on this week.

Redskins Defensive Concepts Not a Great Matchup for NE: You can expect some changes to the Washington defense this week. The Redskins have liked to line up with a Cover 3 scheme for much of the season and go with four pass rushers.

The way to beat that is for the offense to go vertical which opens up big areas to work in underneath, particularly in the middle of the field. With an offense like NE’s where they split RB Dion Lewis out wide, it would force the Skins into more of a man coverage scheme and single up TE Rob Gronkowski on the linebackers.

That is a scenario you can expect the Patriots to try to exploit on Sunday. With Gronkowski and Lewis operating underneath, this will put a lot of stress on the Redskins linebackers.

Special Teams May Play a Big Role: Washington has struggled in punt coverage this season and overall the team’s special teams units struggled at the beginning of the season. Knowing the emphasis that Bill Belichick places on STs, this will be another key area to watch for.

They gave up a punt return for a touchdown in Week 1, and had blocked punt for a safety in Week 3. But lately their play has improved, Kicker Dustin Hopkins has made 11 of 12 field goals and has been good at putting his kickoffs into the end zone.

The team is doing a great job in the kick return game but still lagging badly in the punt return game. The Skins have blocked a punt and recovered an on-sides kick but their directional punting of Tress Way and their coverage of punts in general, (15.9 yards average) is an area that the Patriots with Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman will look to exploit.

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

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