Tag Archives: Malcolm Butler

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots go back out on the road for their fifth game in the last six and their last in the 2017 regular season as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is still a hat and t-shirt game for the Patriots. With a win or a tie, the Patriots clinch the AFC East once again for the ninth straight time and the 17th since Robert Kraft took over the team in 1994.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson 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 (10-3) are coming off an ugly 27-20 loss to Miami on Monday night. The offense struggled all night long and the defense couldn’t stop Kenyan Drake either running or receiving. They’ll be looking for a bounce-back game.

The Steelers (11-2) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

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 Steelers are meeting for the 31st time and the Steeler and Patriots are tied with 15 wins each. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 10-3 against the Steelers and have won the last four meetings including the 2016 AFC Championship Game  36-17 in Gillette Stadium last January.

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 Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots running game was steadily gaining momentum with the duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead giving them big-play potential. The gained nearly 200 yards two weeks in a row against Miami and Buffalo before hitting the wall last week against the Dolphins and abandoning the running game too soon.

The Steelers run defense has been pretty good all season but in a short week after losing LB Ryan Shazier to a potential career-threatening injury, they were gashed by the Ravens for 152 yards while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Now they’ve had time to work out the kinks of replacing Shazier and this will be a key area to watch. If Lewis and Burkhead regain their game this week, it will go a long way in negating the Steelers pass rush and make their job of slowing down Tom Brady and Co. much, much harder. The key from a New England perspective is getting the running game going early and opening up the middle of the field.

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

The Patriots passing game is still tops in the NFL and this week they get Rob Gronkowski back from his one-game suspension. Chris Hogan returned from a shoulder injury last week but was ineffective last week. Ditto for Brandin Cooks. The versatility of the Patriots lies with the multiple running backs they can utilize in the passing game, Lewis, Burkhead and James White. And Danny Amendola does nothing but move the sticks every time he catches the ball.

Pittsburgh’s pass defense is the #4 unit in the league, while second in sacks with 41. They can get after the passer in a variety of ways with Cameron Heyward providing them with a career year with nine sacks, Vince Williams with seven and rookie T.J. Watt has six. The Steelers have only allowed an opposing QB to throw for more than 264 yards once (M.Stafford). The pressure on Brady will be the key for them… And will they change their defense from their zone to more of a man scheme?

We don’t have to repeat the stats Brady has against Pittsburgh, he’s had his way with them for 16 years. And with the Patriots offense, it is all about spreading the ball around. Gronkowski leads the team with 55 receptions, White and Cooks have 54 each while Amendola has 52. Hogan who missed four games has 34. While everything goes thru Gronkowski, for Brady it is about sharing the wealth. If he has time to throw.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Steelers running game is based on the incredibly patient Le’Veon Bell who has the vision and physical tools to wait for the slightest crack in the defense and then burst thru the hole. Bell not only leads the league in rushing with 1105 yards rushing, but has 75 catches for 579 yards. He carries a tremendous workload on his shoulders and behind a very good offensive line is a guy who can easily take over a game by himself.

The Patriots run defense has suffered all season. Injuries have piled up both on the edge and inside, the latest with Alan Branch who will miss Sunday’s game is a big blow for a Patriots unit that has struggled to stand up inside.

This matchup is a clear, big advantage for the Steelers. Bell can control the game either on the ground or in the passing game and the Patriots will be hard pressed to keep him in check this week. If he consistently can grind out big gains on 1st and 2nd down, it will make the potent Pittsburgh air attack more deadly.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a plethora of weapons, arguably the best he’s ever had in a Steelers uniform to use in the passing game. Antonio Brown easily leads the NFL with 99 catches for 1509 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown is another guy that can take over a game and he had 213 yards against the Ravens last Sunday night. Roethlisberger uses Bell out of the backfield, Jesse James at the tight end position as well as JuJu Smith Schuster, Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers. They’re heating up at just the right time of the year.

The Patriots pass defense has undergone a transformation in the past seven games. Since a horrible start in September, the New England pass defense in the last seven is allowing an average of 193.1 yards per game. The secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones at corner have really picked up their game. And they’ll need to against this Pittsburgh talented group of receivers.

Obviously, the keys from a New England perspective is how well they can slow down Brown and Bell, they won’t stop them. Even in games where the Patriots have won comfortably, have got their yards. The key is getting a few stops in the red zone. They’ll have to manufacture some pass rush pressure on Roethlisberger who has been sacked just 19 times this season. And force him into getting rid of the ball before he can find one of his receivers downfield.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski, and the Steelers’ Chris Boswell are both having outstanding seasons. Both have been money on big kicks from long range. What has made Gostkowski so special this season are his kickoffs, which are pinning teams deep.  The Patriots’ outstanding coverage units are smothering the opposition. They’ve also gotten some big plays from Special Teams. The Steelers units rank lower to the bottom of the league in punt and kick returns. The Patriots could use a big play on Special Teams this week on the road.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers instant classic. With the top seed of the AFC on the line, whoever wins this one will have the inside track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Pittsburgh has been openly clamoring for this one since March and have proclaimed themselves to be “a team of destiny.” Coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t shied away from it either saying the Steelers should win the Super Bowl.

The contrast is, of course, Bill Belichick, while the Patriots know what is at stake, he never lets the team’s focus get too far ahead. To them, this week is a big game, obviously but they say that about every week.

Everything is breaking right for the Steelers, they’re hitting their peak at just the right time and get a Patriots team that is banged up with 13 players on IR and 10 more questionable to play on Sunday. Plus they get it at home where they have a better home record in the last decade-plus than anyone…except New England.

A lot has been made about the changes to the Steelers defense, but until they show those changes on the field, Brady’s dominance over them for the past 16 years is the driving factor here. It will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Patriots 30-28

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  Week 14  Report Card, Dolphins Dump Patriots 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
December 13, 2017 at 10:36 am ET

First things first, and we’ve said this many times in the past, however this time the script was flipped. The score is far from indicative of how the game played out on the field. Miami dominated this one from start to finish in all three phases of the game. That the Patriots were still within striking distance late in the game to attempt an onside kick was a testament to their resiliency because they really had no business winning this game.

It was a very disappointing effort on all accounts as they had an opportunity to wrap up the division with a win and played their worst game in the past two months.

So we’ll go thru the positions after rewatching the tape and see what the grades say this week.

Quarterback: C-

Tom Brady had what he characterized as his worst game of the season, which is pretty accurate. The Dolphins switched up their defense, took away the middle of the field,  and were getting constant pressure on him while their corners completely shut down the Patriots wide receivers on the perimeter. Brady was forced into forcing low percentage passes down the field. He was picked off twice and nearly had a third.

He was forced to throw to the backs time and again because he had nowhere else to go.It was a very frustrating night for the team and its quarterback. It didn’t help matters that the offensive line wasn’t having a good night either. The Patriots were 0-11 on third down and Brady’s ability to slide and move in the pocket was the only reason the Dolphins didn’t have half a dozen sacks.

Running Backs: C

The Patriots didn’t run the ball effectively enough and then abandoned the idea way too soon in the second half. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead had just 10 carries between them, James White had one. When the offense, which has been so balanced falls into that kind of ratio, bad things can happen and on a night where their top two receivers (Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski) weren’t in the lineup…bad things abounded.

Lewis had a fantastic one-handed stab of a pass Brady floated out when the Dolphins blitzed and Lewis, running a wheel route turned it into a 20-yard gain.

Burkhead turned one screen into a 23-yard play and had a nice run behind a block from James Develin into the first touchdown of the game.

James White made a really nice catch on a low throw from Brady and was able to keep his balance and dove for the pylon for a touchdown.

Wide Receivers: D

The wide receivers probably didn’t get the memo that the game started at 8:30 because they didn’t show up and then barely at that until the second half. Xavien Howard completely shut down Brandin Cooks, he wasn’t able to do anything on the Dolphins corner who picked off two passes. He had no catches until late in the game when he snagged a 38-yard pass when Miami had gone to a zone and blew the coverage and left him all alone. Chris Hogan caught one pass for one yard on five targets, being much less a factor in his return than was thought.

Danny Amendola had six catches including a nice 23-yard grab where he just came up short of falling into the end zone with just under two minutes to go in the game. Had the onside kick worked, it would have been a much bigger play.

Tight Ends: D

No Rob Gronkowski this week equated to zero production from the tight end position. With Gronk out, the Dolphins left a safety in the middle and Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister were not able to make any production at all where it was needed most.

Allen was targeted five times although not all of Brady’s throws were on the mark. He ended up with two catches for 10 yards. Not nearly enough.

Offensive Line: D

The offensive line had a night that they’d rather forget although, with Dante Scarnecchia as their coach, they’ll hear about it this week. The running game rushed for 25 yards, Brady has hit hard all night and the Dolphins blitzes weren’t being picked up nearly as sharply as they should have. The fact that Brady was sacked only twice speaks much more about his ability to move and slide in the pocket and unload the ball than it did about their ability to protect him.

The bad night was shared equally. All of the members were getting beat at different times on Monday night. Ndamukong Suh had a very strong game, he overmatched them inside all night long.

Defensive Line: C-

The defensive line was thin, missing Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy who plays both on the edge and as a linebacker. Then Alan Branch went down with a knee injury, tried to come back and left for good. That left Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy and Eric Lee playing a lot of snaps with little rest. That is an awful lot of inexperience there. Only Guy has played in the league longer than this season. And he had a terrific game and really stepped up his play. He had two run stuffs and nearly had a pick-six when Jay Cutler literally threw the ball right to him on a botched screen.

Butler had a few flashes, especially late in the game when the defense stiffened in the fourth quarter, but the run defense was gashed by Kenyan Drake and their inability to set the edge hurt. Lee was caught a few time not doing that, and for a guy with three games of experience in the NFL, that is what happens when the next man up mantra gets overused. No pass rush to speak of, Cutler was way too comfortable for most of the night. This unit needs to get healthy quickly this week.

Linebackers: D+

Elandon Roberts had arguably his best game as a Patriot two weeks ago against Miami but the script was flipped on him this time around and he had one of his worst. Due to injuries and David Harris being a healthy scratch, it was just Roberts and Marquis Flowers for the majority of the night. The run support wasn’t great, (Roberts’ specialty). Matt Patricia called a run blitz and instead of stuffing it behind the line, Roberts whiffed (a common occurrence all night) and Drake ran for 26 yards. Miami isolated him with Drake split wide and the results were what one would expect. That isn’t Roberts fault, the Patriots often do the exact same thing. It is up to the coaches to get him some help. Letting the speedy Drake run a 47-yard fly on Roberts is a win for Miami. Marquis Flowers had a forgettable night but did have one nice stop on Drake for a loss. Trevor Reilly made a cameo.

Secondary: C

The secondary had its weakest game in the last two months. Malcolm Butler had a very rough night. He was burned by 5’6 wide receiver Jakeem Grant for a 25-yard touchdown and should have given up another. Grant flew by him and was wide open. Cutler put the ball perfectly in his hands and Grant dropped it.

Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones were simply okay and not playing anywhere near the level they had been in the past month plus. The players looked like the dreaded communication issues were resurfacing with all of the crosses and bunch formations Miami was running. Pat Chung got faked out completely on a beauty of a spin move by Drake…that is one you just tip your hat to the foe.

Devin McCourty was solid and came unblocked on a blitz where he made a big sack of Cutler keeping the Patriots close. Jordan Richards came on another similar play and whiffed completely, resulting in a first down and later a Miami touchdown.

Special Teams: B-

The star here was Ryan Allen, who had his best game in quite awhile. He had a strong 46.4 net punting average with incredible hang time which really limited Miami’s ability to return the ball. He dropped several inside the 20. That fact alone kept the Patriots hanging around late in the game. Stephen Gostkowski hit both field goals and his kickoffs once again were outstanding, Miami’s kick return game was stifled by excellent coverage. The Patriots return game was stuffed completely as Miami’s coverage units were likewise outstanding.

What in the world was up with that onside kick? That had to be one of the uglier attempts I’ve seen, rivaling the Colts fake punt. Ugly design, uglier execution.

Coaches: C-

Bill Belichick was outcoached by Adam Gase, something that doesn’t happen all too often. The team came out flat and seemed unprepared. They usually have one of these type of games every year but this was the worst of all possible times to have that happen.

Josh McDaniels had some curious play calls and abandoned the run far too soon which seemed a bit of a panic move especially with the team down only three at the half. Matt Patricia’s MASH unit on defense was gashed both on the ground and in the air. But he did what he had to do, got creative with some blitzes and the defense made five straight stops late in the game to give them a chance to come back.

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.

Butler Will Likely Be Looking to Make Brown ‘Pout’ Again This Weekend

Ian Logue
at 6:00 am ET

Watching Antonio Brown run up and down the field against the Ravens last week was a reminder that the Patriots will definitely have their hands full as they try and slow down an explosive Steelers’ offense on the road.

During their last meeting in the AFC Championship Game, it was Malcolm Butler who once again was given the duty of trying to slow him down, and he was relatively successful.  Butler and Brown battled it out and the Steelers’ receiver was held to just 77 yards on 7 catches on an afternoon where the Steelers couldn’t get much going.  But the bigger story after the game was the fact that even when his team did have success, Brown was seen “pouting”, which happened after DeAnegelo Williams scored Pittsburgh’s first touchdown.

Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network reported on the incident after the game, which showed a different side of Pittsburgh’s star receiver.

“I was sitting with Hines Ward … we were sitting next to each other last night, DeAngelo Williams scores the Steelers first touchdown. Antonio Brown was wide open in the back of the end zone and he pouted,” said Kinkhabwala.  “Guys, he pouted! His team just scored a touchdown and he was upset that he was wide open and Roethlisberger didn’t go to him. Roethlisberger was then waiting on the sideline, Brown was the last player off the field. Roethlisberger had to talk to him.”

“Instead of those minutes next to Todd Haley … he had to sit and worry about Antonio Brown’s ego.”

There’s a reason why Brown might have been so miserable.  According to Pro Football Focus, Brown caught just two passes with Butler on him that day,  clearly frustrating the Steelers’ receiver to the point where after the game he was too embarrassed to talk to the media.

That seems to be the theme with the Steelers.  When things are going well, they’re on top of the world and tend to talk about what a great team they are.  When things don’t go their way, they hang their heads, contemplate quitting, and things get ugly.  That seems to be the mantra of a Pittsburgh team that just hasn’t been able to figure out a way to win the big game and you tend to learn a lot by how clubs react during times of adversity.

Needless to say, hopefully if all goes well, Butler will have Brown pouting again this weekend.

Ugly MNF Loss As Miami Dominates the Flat Patriots 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
December 12, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

Yes, we know how short-handed the Patriots were on Monday night, missing several key players and losing another in the first half, but that wasn’t the story on Monday night in Miami. The Dolphins were the team ready to play on Monday night and it showed. They dominated in all three phases of the game and the final 27-20 score doesn’t do justice to how much they pressured and stymied the Patriots offense.

Monday night was the Patriots worst game since their early season struggles. They were sluggish from the opening snap and Miami’s offense set the tone early. The Dolphins were running short crossing routes and the Patriots defenders were having trouble with their communication and the crossers and rub routes were very effective. Jay Cutler didn’t resemble anything close to the aging QB who has struggled all season in South Beach and had arguably his best game of the season. Cutler, scraggly neck beard and all, even showed some fire on the field as he beat New England for the first time in his career.

On the opposite side, Tom Brady was flustered and off-balance all night. The Patriots offense had to rely on their running backs as their wide receivers were MIA in Miami all game long and were a complete non-factor. The Patriots also ended their streak of allowing 17 points or less as well as their 14-game road winning streak. Other observations from tonight’s game include:

Play Calling Curious: Josh McDaniels abandoned the running game far too early in this one. Despite being dominated in the first half, the team was down only 13-10 at halftime. The last time the two teams met, New England rushed for nearly 200 yards. To only give your running backs 10 carries? Curious.

Late in the game, needing two scores, Danny Amendola was tackled right near the goal line giving the team first and goal at the one-foot line. Rather than attempting to run it in, they passed, steadily moving backward until they faced a 3rd and goal from the 15-yard line. They kicked a field goal but the onside kick was comically bad and Miami recovered and killed the clock.

But had they scored a touchdown there, a field goal would have been all that was needed to tie the score. Very un-Patriot like.

Offensive Line Issues Abound: With the running game an after-thought, the Patriots offensive line was not up to the task of protecting Brady. Miami was blitzing all night, normally a sign that New England would be eating them up offensively, but not tonight.

Brady was under duress from all points of the compass and pointing the finger at just Cameron Fleming is wrong. They were beat all along the line and the communication there wasn’t the best.

The worst part is, the pressure Miami was bringing was right up the middle, not allowing Brady to step up enough and throw in the pocket.

Dolphins Secondary Dominates: Miami did a great job of taking away the middle of the field. Granted, that is a spot where Gronkowski normally dominates, but other than passes to the running backs, Brady and the wide receivers were never able to get anything going in the middle of the field until very late in the game.

Xavien Howard erased Brandin Cooks tonight, and intercepted Brady twice. Cooks was shut out until the fourth quarter when the Dolphins dropped into a zone and had a bad bust in coverage. But holding Cooks and Hogan to one catch a piece is a big win for their secondary.

Danny Amendola ended up with six catches with all of them coming in the second half. Miami forced Brady into his first two-interception game in the regular season since 2015 against Philadelphia. And the Patriots were an astounding 0-11 on third down.

Brady Battered and Flustered: Tom Brady was hit hard again and this time, the effects were shown. He finished 24-43 for 233 yards with one touchdown and two picks. His QB rating of 59.5 was his lowest since 2013.

Unable to convert a single third down and a combined 2-12 when targeting Cooks and Hogan, Brady was unloading those low percentage deep balls time and again. In the first quarter, the Patriots got two (2) yards of offense. Two, that is not the way you want to start.  In the second half, they got away from targeting the running backs as they were forced to stay in and help with pass protection.

Kenyan Drake Shreds the Defense: The former Alabama third down specialist is now an every-down back and he’s electric. The Dolphins wanted to get him the ball more as he’s got tremendous speed. And his array of moves was on full display tonight. He faked Pat Chung with a spin move leaving Chung holding air that was amazing. And once he hits the hole, if the defense doesn’t lay a hand on him, he has the speed to take it to the house.

Drake finished with 25 carries for 114 yards and five catches for 79 more in the passing game. They split him out wide and isolated him on Elandon Roberts which is a total mismatch. While Roberts has issues in coverage, asking him to cover Drake deep is a win-win for Miami. He burned Roberts for a 47-yard gain deep down the right sideline.

If Drake can hold up physically, he’s going to be an intriguing member of the Fins to watch next year.

Butler Has Rough Game: Malcolm Butler had one of his least memorable games in Miami tonight. He was constantly behind in coverage and was beaten badly by Jakeem Grant a couple of times, one for a 25-yard touchdown and on another on a deep pass by Cutler that was perfectly thrown and the wide-open Grant dropped it.

Butler is going to have to have a very short memory this week as he’ll be facing Antonio Brown this week in Pittsburgh. And judging from the game Brown had on Sunday and Butler had last night, the Steelers will be going to the well early and often against Butler this Sunday afternoon.

Branch Injury Leaves Defense More Depleted: The Patriots defensive line took another shot as Alan Branch injured his knee in the first half, tried to return but left for good leaving an already depleted defense even thinner. Facing the Steelers offensive line and Le’Veon Bell on a short week, if Branch is unable to go, that will be a huge loss.

Right now they have Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler inside, with Guy playing some on the edge as well with Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy out. Vincent Valentine hasn’t even begun practicing yet so expecting help from him this week is not going to happen.

The Patriots simply were outplayed from start to finish in this one. Miami was hungrier, more motivated and came out with a purpose. This is what we expected from New England. So the Dolphins are alive for one more week and the Patriots still hold their destiny in their hands. With a win over the Steelers, they’d still own the #1 seed.  We’ll have more on this game later in the week.

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2017 at 12:10 pm ET

The Patriots go back out on the road for their fourth game in the last five as they take on the Miami Dolphins in South Florida on Monday Night Football. This is a hat and t-shirt game for the Patriots. With a win or a tie, the Patriots clinch the AFC East once again for the ninth straight time and the 17th since Robert Kraft took over the team in 1994.

This week’s game will be broadcast by ESPN on Monday, December 11 at 8:30 p.m. and can be seen on WCVB, Channel 5 in Boston. Sean McDonough will handle play-by-play duties with Jon Gruden as the color analyst. Lisa Salters will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (10-2) are coming off a 23-3 blowout win over the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. The running game ran for nearly 200 yards while the defense for the eighth game in a row allowed 17 points or less.The Patriots secondary held Buffalo to just 82 yards passing

The Dolphins (5-7) are coming off of a 35-9 blowout win over Denver. The team snapped a five-game losing streak and are looking to get some consistency.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and Dolphins are meeting for the 105th time overall with Miami holding a 53-51 lead all-time in the teams’ rivalry. However, the Patriots have won 12 of the last 15 meetings including the lone from two weeks ago where the Patriots rolled 35-17 behind 196 yards on the ground.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

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

The Patriots running game has been steadily improving behind the tandem of Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. Two weeks ago against Miami, Lewis ran for 112 yards on 15 carries. They controlled the clock, the tempo and the line of scrimmage./

Miami has issues with the run with DE Andre Branch and DT Jordan Phillips having problems in the running game. If the Patriots see these two on the same side, look for them to run right at them. While they may not roll up 200 yards on the ground again, they should still find plenty of room to be more than a complimentary piece.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging 292 yards per game, tops in the NFL. Tom Brady however, won’t have his top receiver, Rob Gronkowski in the game as he’ll be serving a one-game suspension. But…the team may get back Chris Hogan this week. He’s been at practice all week and if he’s able to go would signal a huge boost in the Patriots passing game outside the numbers.

Miami got after Brady with very good pressure from everyone across the defensive line in the first matchup. They’ll need an effort like that again because their best corner  Cordrea Tankersley could miss this week with ankle and knee woes. Without Gronkowski look for Brady to spread them out and try to use their quickness all over the field. They’ll try to get Brandin Cooks the ball in space and Hogan (if he plays) may get the chance to go deep on a few plays down the field. The backs will again be a major factor in both the running and passing games.

Next up the Dolphins offense:

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

The Dolphins running game hasn’t been the same since they traded the freelancing Jay Ajayi to the Eagles. The carries have been shared between Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, but Williams is dealing with a shoulder issue and may not go.

The Patriots run defense has not been good and was gashed pretty well by the Bills last week although the return of Malcom Brown should help things. But will the Dolphins have the depth to force enough leverage there? The feeling here is no especially if they find themselves falling behind again.

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

Miami will have Jay Cutler back under center this week. He’s a different player than Matt Moore, so we’ll probably see some more shots down the field. Jarvis Landry had eight catches for 70 yards in the first one and he, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker with tight end Julius Thomas should be much more productive than they are.

The Patriots pass defense is playing tremendous right now. It is a possibility that we’ll see some of Eric Rowe on Landry this week as he has a bit of size, although Jonathan Jones matched up well with Landry in the first meeting.

Look for the Patriots to be much more aggressive against this beatable Miami offensive line again. They teed off in the second half and got six sacks. Cutler isn’t mobile and the Patriots may call down the dogs this week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having an outstanding season. His kickoffs are pinning teams deep and the outstanding coverage units are smothering the opposition. The Dolphins have solid kickers but aren’t generating anything in the return game. The Patriots Special Teams has been scoring points, blocking kicks, and last time ran a fake punt for a big first down that set up a touchdown.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a divisional matchup on Monday Night so, as we’ve seen all season, anything can happen. But unless the Patriots implode, I can’t see the Dolphins beating New England this week. However, the Patriots have traditionally not played well in the heat of Miami. It does help that this one is at night so that shouldn’t be a big factor.

Having No Rob Gronkowski is a big blow for the Patriots offense but if Chris Hogan is able to come back and play this week it will be a nice boost to the outside passing game. Look for the running game to continue their solid play and Brady to spread the Dolphins defense out. Miami may run the ball effectively, but I don’t see Cutler having a good night against the secondary. New England heads to Pittsburgh 11-2 setting up a big game next week.  Patriots 30-13

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.

Best Of Social Media: Week 13 Patriots vs Bills

Robert Alvarez
December 7, 2017 at 10:44 pm ET

The New England Patriots entered their week 13 matchup with the Buffalo Bills seeking to get one step closer to locking up yet another AFC East division title and would continue a stretch of five divisional games in six weeks to round out the 2017 regular season.

let’s go boys #gameday

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BcPnr_EAYdT/?hl=en&taken-by=bbhulksmash

In the first quarter it appeared the Bills would draw first, until a former teammate just recently released from their practice squad, came back to haunt his former team. New England, meet your new defensive end Eric Lee.

A red zone interception by Lee thwarted early Bills points.

Getting the ball back and an early momentum shift, it appeared the Patriots would make the Bills pay for their costly interception, but Tom Brady missed his recievers on third down and were forced to settle with an early field goal.

CBS cameras would catch Brady in a heated argument with offesnive coordinator Josh McDaniels over the missed connections downfield.

3-0 Patriots after a quarter.

Althought the Patriots still struggled to find a rhythm in the end zone, Eric Lee continued to punish his former team on defense.

In the second quarter, the Patriots running game stepped up, with Dion Lewis tallying the teams longest running play of the season.

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Unfortunately the Patriots again would comeup short in the red zone and have to settle for a second field goal. 6-0 Patriots at the 6:20 mark of the second quarter.

The Bills would finally get on the board with a Stephen Hauscka field goal to cut the lead in half to 6-3 but the Patriots running game continued to shine, this time with Rex Burkhead.

The career long 31 yard run by Burkhead would setup a third Gostkowski field goal and the Patriots would go into the half surprisingly only up six with no touchdowns.

In the second half, the trio of Lewis and Burkhead continued their big day, and would finally setup the first touchdown of the game. Burkhead would find the end zone and a 16-3 Patriots lead.

Despite the lack of touchdowns, Buffalo native Rob Gronkowski also had a big day on the stat sheet,  nine receptions for 147 yards, including this ridiculous catch.

Unfortunately a short time later, it would all be overshadowed by an uncharacteristic dirty play by Gronkowski after losing his cool about being held with no flag.

Gronkowski dove onto Bills cornerback Tre’davious White well after a play was over that resulted in a Bills interception. Gronk earned a one game suspension as a result and heavy criticism from around the league.

 

Rex Burkhead continued his strong game with his second touchdown of the quarter, and the Patriots all but put away the Bills with a 23-3 lead that would stand as the final score.

The Patriots would earn their tenth win of 2017 and eighth in a row.

#tbtimes

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Great team win in Buffalo and @nfl weekend for #mycausemycleats @teamjackfoundation

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Patriots  Week 13  Report Card, Patriots Pummel the Bills 23-3

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots took care of business in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon using a running game that gashed the Bills for nearly 200 yards behind Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead and the defense which held the Bills woeful passing game to just 85 net yards and three points.

Rob Gronkowski had nine catches for 147 yards and was uncoverable. He also committed a stupid, flagrant cheap shot after the whistle in the fourth quarter that will cost him. If he serves his one-game suspension, he’ll probably miss out on the final of his bonus incentives in his contract which will be expensive.

Simply put, the Patriots outplayed and outcoached the Bills again. Brady improved his record to a ridiculous 27-3 against the Bills and the team clinched a virtual tie for the division. Any Buffalo loss or New England win in the next month clinches the division again for the Patriots. Every spring and early summer we hear the “will this be the year that the Patriots are dethroned in the AFC East?” and this season, even after a slow start, it is essentially wrapped up with four games to go.

With the win, they improve to 10-2, and more importantly, they keep the pressure on the Steelers who will have to win against Cincinnati later tonight to keep pace as the top team in the AFC.

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

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady wasn’t sharp, especially in the first half but he and the team heated up in the third quarter and they scored on two impressive drives and put this one away early. Brady ended up with pedestrian numbers (for him), 21-30, 258 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception. The pick was the play that Rob Gronkowski was flagged and suspended for and should have been a penalty (two actually) on TreDavious White.

But Brady missed a wide-open Phillip Dorsett on a deep incompletion to Brandin Cooks, which ignited a mini-brouhaha with Josh McDaniels, but he made a couple of really nice throws to Gronkowski. Brady also slides in the pocket and steps up better than anyone in the business. He has the innate ability to feel the rush and when to step up and slide left or right.

Running Backs: A

The Patriots two-headed monster of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead gashed the Bills defense badly. A week after holding the Chiefs to less than 60 yards on the ground, the Patriots ran for nearly 200 yards.

Burkhead ran 12 times for 78 yards with two scores and added three catches for 25 yards in the passing game. Lewis ran 15 times for 92 yards. Each broke a long gainer as the running game and the Bills were powerless to stop them.

James Develin and James White both were pressed into support status this week but each played a role and the Patriots running game is getting better and better each week. White had five carries for 18 yards and four catches for 32 more. Not bad production for the third man in the rotation this week.

Wide Receivers: C-

The wide receivers this week were a non-factor in the game. Buffalo’s secondary did a great job of bottling them up and taking away the deep chunks and the sideline routes of the wide receivers.

Brandin Cooks had just receptions for 17 yards, Danny Amendola had just two catches for 34 yards. Dorsett wasn’t targeted, however, he was wide open for that big gain where Brady missed him all alone down the left sideline.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski once again tortured the Bills defense in Buffalo. He caught fire in the second half and they don’t have anyone that can match up with him. He caught nine passes for 147 yards despite being held and hit downfield on seemingly every snap. But what followed after the pick was inexcusable.

We get that the frustration of seven years is taking its toll on the big guy, but he frankly has to be smarter than that. And while part of the blame has to fall to the referees who let every team clutch and grab Gronkowski on every down, while if he breathes on an opponent an OPI flag is thrown, it doesn’t excuse what he did…at all. Nuff said.

Dwayne Allen had one catch for three yards but has really improved in his run blocking and provided good support in the running game. Jacob Hollister had one target in the passing game and plays a regular role on Special Teams.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line was missing right tackle Marcus Cannon again as well as swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle and had Cameron Fleming in there this week. Center David Andrews returned this week. The pass protection was a bit iffy this week again. Buffalo, who came in with just 17 sacks, had three on the day and was getting good pressure on Brady.

The running game was clicking again. The Patriots offensive line was winning the battles there and opened up big holes for the backs to exploit. They were getting to the second level and keeping the linebackers off the runners.  

Defensive Line: B

It was a mixed bag for the offensive line who gave up a whopping 183 yards to LeSean McCoy, Tyrod Taylor et al. but it seemed every time they needed a big stop they were getting it. McCoy had just 30 yards in the second half. And the Bills ended up with a total of three points in their own building. The pass rush was once again very good, the Patriots were getting a good push from everywhere. Malcom Brown had a really solid day in his return from injury with a sack, a pair of quarterback hits and a couple of run stuffs.

Eric Lee was victimized a little bit early in the running game, but he ended up having a big day, with an interception inside the red zone, 1.5 sacks, 3 QB hits, a tackle for a loss and two passes defensed. His interception was set up with nice pressure from Alan Branch who pushed his man into Taylor, possibly effecting the throw

Linebackers: B-

Kyle Van Noy who injured his calf in the game against Miami, seeming re-aggravated it in the third quarter and didn’t return. He did have a half sack, a QB hit, and a pass defensed. Elandon Roberts and David Harris had some issues in run support this week, as they got washed out on a few of the Bills running plays.  They struggled a bit in pass coverage as well. Harris had some good pass rushes in the interior and had 1.5 sacks and a QB hit.

Secondary: A

Stephon Gilmore had an outstanding day again. The Bills tried to attack him in his return to Buffalo this week. It failed miserably. Gilmore blanketed Zay Jones all day. Overall the Patriots secondary was outstanding. Buffalo had just 115 yards passing with a net of 85 and 3.4 yard per pass average. The Bills longest play of the day thru the air was 14 yards. Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman, and Joe Webb were a combined 15 -34 for 115 yards.

The Patriots secondary had their best game of the year. And the good news was that they got Eric Rowe back in the lineup after missing seven weeks with a groin injury. Rowe shook off the rust and had a pass defensed.

Special Teams: B

There wasn’t a heckuva lot to complain about here. Stephen Gostkowski is on a roll, he kicked all three field goal attempts despite having the wind be a factor in the kicking game. His kickoffs and the resultant excellent coverage by the Special Teams units kept Buffalo deep in their zone all day.

Newly signed Bernard Reedy returned one punt for 11 yards and Geneo Grissom replaced Nate Ebner on the STs roster. For a unit short Ebner, Trevor Reilly and Matthew Slater, they didn’t miss a beat.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick raked Sean McDermott over the coals in their first AFC East meeting on Sunday afternoon. McDermott didn’t come off remotely ready to challenge the Patriots for the division and when they needed to come up with an answer, they chose the Wildcat. That’s how you’re going to beat Belichick and the Patriots? By running the Wildcat? The team was focused, ready to go and had a good game plan that was effectively put into operation.

Josh McDaniels stayed patient with the running the football, and they took what was there. Matt Patricia’s unit gets high marks on Sunday. Buffalo’s best drive was their first one, and they came away with zero points.Overall very good marks for the Patriots. We’re on to Miami.

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 Running Game, Defense Throttle the Bills 23-3

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2017 at 7:33 pm ET

The Patriots offense this year is no longer the chuck-it 50 times a game and run it once in a while kind of show. For the second week in a row, they took advantage of a team trying to sell out to protect against the passing of Tom Brady and they made them pay. Buffalo couldn’t stop the Patriots running game and New England for the second week in a row running for nearly 200 yards on the day and the defense stuffed the Bills in a 23-3 blowout win in Buffalo.

With the victory, the Patriots improved to 10-2 and for the next 24 hours hold the top spot in the AFC until Pittsburgh plays Cincinnati on Monday Night Football. They have effectively clinched a tie for the AFC East once again, they are four games up on Buffalo with four to play. Tom Brady improved to 27-3 against the Bills all time which is a new NFL record for wins against one franchise.

There was also some fireworks at the end of the day with Rob Gronkowski that may see him get a hefty fine for an inexcusable cheap shot. Other observations include:

Pass Defense Steps Up Big Again: Remember the calls that Stephon Gilmore is a bust? That the pass defense was historically bad? Well in the last eight games the Patriots allowed 17 points or fewer in each of them, averaging 11.9 points allowed. The pass defense? Buffalo had 85 net passing yards today. Stephon Gilmore was outstanding once again in coverage on Sunday. Buffalo tried to make some kind of point by repeatedly trying to beat him for a touchdown down in the red zone. They didn’t and turned the ball over on downs….that is so Buffalo.

In the last six games, the Patriots pass defense is allowing 195.1 yards per game. Let that one roll around for a minute. What a turnaround for Matt Patricia’s crew.

“Who the H**L is Eric Lee?”: I must have heard this about 3-4 times during the game today. The youngster, plucked off of Buffalo’s practice squad just last week had himself a day in just his second NFL game.

Lee stopped the Bills’ first drive of the game, Buffalo took the opening kickoff and drove easily down the field. But inside the 10-yard line, Lee dropped back into the passing lane where the Bills like to throw a slant and Tyrod Taylor obliged by the throwing a pass right to him.

Lee’s stat line on the day? One and a half sacks, a tackle for a loss, three QB hits and an interception. These last two weeks have to be a whirlwind for the young man. He gets plucked off of the Bills practice squad, gets pressed into action just a few days later and gets his first sack against Miami. Then coming back to face his former team, has a tremendously productive day.

Brady Has Mostly a Quiet Day: Tom Brady’s stat line on the day was a modest 21-30 for 258 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The pick shouldn’t have counted as there were at least two fouls on Gronkowski on the play but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Brady did, however, move in the pocket extremely well and it was his ability to slide away from pressure, step up and deliver is what separates the men from the boys so to speak. He did this time and again. He had a bit of frustration as he and Josh McDaniels had a small tiff on the sidelines.

Brady’s best drive was the opening one in the second half, Brady moved them easily down the field for the first touchdown of the game. On the drive, he mixed in runs and passes and hit Gronkowski three times for 50 yards before Rex Burkhead powered in for the score.

The Two-Headed Monster With Lewis and Burkhead was Outstanding: Buffalo tried to stymie Tom Brady by selling out in pass defense. The Patriots made them pay by gashing them for 193 yards on the ground before two Brian Hoyer kneel downs. This offense is varied and versatile and led by Lewis and Burkhead, they’re getting better and better every week.

Lewis led the way with 92 yards on 15 carries and narrowly missed back-to-back 100 yards games. He’s having an incredible season. Hard to believe Lewis was the subject of trade rumors in October. Burkhead had another very solid outing rushing for 78 yards on with two touchdowns. Burkhead had a long for 31 yards while Lewis added a 44-yarder as the running game is beginning to break some big chunk plays every week.

Gronkowski Has a Big Second Half Until a Huge Gaffe: The Patriots and Brady didn’t target Rob Gronkowski much in the first half, the big man had just a pair of catches for 28 yards. But all of that changed after half-time.

As we mentioned above, Brady targeted him three times for 50 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter. Gronkowski ended up with nine catches for 147 yards. And that is when all hell broke loose.

Facing a 3rd and long, Brady was looking for Gronkowski who was held and interfered with twice by TreDavious White. White actually came down with the ball, having intercepted it on the play. Gronkowski’s frustration spilled over and he delivered a very cheap shot to the head of White on the ground. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior however and Gronkowski should know better.

We get that no one is held more and interfered with more than Gronk. He also always gets these ticky-tack BS offensive pass interference penalties that no one else ever gets called on. As he said after the game, it has been going on for seven years.

As for a suspension? No. He’s never been accused of anything dirty before. Usually, it is him that opponents are taking cheap shots on, going after his knees and his head. Micah Hyde rushed to judgment saying that the league can’t tolerate plays like that. He conveniently neglected to mention that on the same play, he ripped Danny Amendola’s helmet off his head in a very dirty and unnecessary as well move. And then complained that he didn’t know what he had done… so Buffalo.

Gronk has no priors so a healthy fine should be on the way. But 9-147? He definitely likes playing in front of his old hometown. Just imagine the day he could have if he wasn’t held or interfered with on every play.

Tyrod Taylor Crowd is Eerily Quiet: We’ve been saying this for three years that Taylor is not a good QB. It isn’t rocket science why Buffalo averages under 200 yards passing a game for the past several years. It is why stats, which are good, can be very, very misleading. Taylor was 9-18 for 65 yards with no touchdowns and a pick. He lost 25 yards on three sacks so he netted 40 yards passing. That’s a 2.2 yard net on every pass attempt.

But the Twitter-verse is chocked full of Taylor apologists and they continually sing this guy’s praises. When Buffalo’s running game isn’t operating at peak capacity, he’s incapable of putting a team on his back and leading them to a victory.

Taylor suffered a leg injury and was carted off the field late making way for Nathan Peterman. On the day, the Bills averaged 3.4 yards per pass play.

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.

New England Patriots News 12-3, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-26, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots and Bills game today marks the 115th time the two teams have met. And while the crowd at Orchard Park is loud and boisterous, the Patriots and specifically Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have had great success there. In the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots have owned the Bills in Buffalo, winning the last five meetings and 12 of their last 13 up there. It will be interesting to see if they can get out to fast start today that they’ve been doing well, especially in the last month.

Buffalo has been outscored in every quarter but the fourth, coincidentally, the Patriots have outscored their opponents in every quarter but the fourth, so something has to give… right?

To Remove Brady Early in Blowouts? Belichick Doesn’t Think So:
With the Patriots seemingly comfortably ahead in the win over Miami, questions naturally were being asked, if it was time to remove Brady and not risk him to injury. Dan Fouts even mentioned it on the telecast. So, after the game is over, the media did its job and asked Bill Belichick if he thought about taking Brady out. Belichick, already not happy with the somewhat at times the sloppy performance of the team, got snarky with the reporter, in this case, Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. It went down like this:

Guregian: “Did you have any thoughts about taking Tom Brady out of the game late with the score out of hand?”
Belichick: “What, on the kneel-downs? What difference does it make?”
Guregian: “What about before that?”
Belichick: “No. I mean it’s easy for you to sit there and say the game is out of hand. I mean, if you watch games in the National Football League, a lot can change in a hurry. The only time I think the game is in hand is when they’re not going to have enough possessions to get the number of points that they need. Sorry, we just see that one totally differently.”

There are certainly cases where removing Brady from the game is a good idea. And while there have been times that I’d be inclined to agree, Sunday wasn’t one of them. When Miami scored with 11 minutes to go, the score of the game was still close enough to warrant Brady remaining in. But it was a legitimate question and Guregian, was within her rights to ask. She isn’t one of those reporters who is looking to pick at anything negative. She’s one of the good guys/gals who put the work in every day at Gillette. To her credit, she asked her questions and didn’t make a big deal of it, unlike some other writers who did later.

Could Belichick have handled that question better? No doubt. One has to think he was still salty about the way the team had played in his mind as he wasn’t looking like a coach whose team had just won by 18 points. Or perhaps the way the Dolphins were playing as they seemed intent on taking as many cheap shots as they could in the second half. But wouldn’t that lend itself to removing Brady from the line of fire?

Injuries Piling Up for the Patriots in 2017:
With both Martellus Bennett and Nate Ebner being placed on IR this week, that brings the total of players on IR or on the non-Football Injury/Illness list to 13 players. Bennett’s loss was not entirely unexpected, the team knew they were taking a risk when he was released from Green Bay with his shoulder that required surgery. It was hoped that he’d be able to play thru it, and he gave them two games but it was too much to bear.

Besides the players on IR, the team has eight questionable players for the Buffalo game this week. If we saw one thing that can derail this team’s chances, it is injuries. In both 2013 and 2015, the team was beset by injuries and that had a big hand in their undoing.

They haven’t reached that tipping point yet but Sunday’s win was a costly one with Ebner, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Marquis Flowers, LaAdrian Waddle and Trevor Reilly all leaving via injuries. We’ll see today if those losses last week factor into the game in Orchard Park.

Ebner Loss Difficult to Replace: Bill Belichick wasn’t at a loss for words when describing the value he, and the team placed on Nate Ebner and his role on Special Teams. Ebner was lost for the season after injuring his knee on a fake punt in the first quarter of the Miami game last Sunday.
Ebner’s role as the “personal protector” of the punter. Belichick said, was one of the most difficult spots to play.

“It’s kind of like playing quarterback,” Belichick said. “But you play quarterback for, you call 60 plays a game, 70 plays a game. You only punt five to 10 times. Somewhere in there. But there’s a lot of different variables, … a good personal protector takes all those into consideration, just like a quarterback does. A: Protect the punter. B: He’s the last line of defense. “So a lot of times, even if your protection is not right on the front, if that guy gets the right guy and does the right thing, you still could possibly save a blocked punt by just him doing the right thing, even though somebody else has made a mistake in the front of it.”

“It’s not an easy job at all if you want to do it right and get the most out of it.”

With Ebner out for the season, that job has fallen to Jordan Richards who fulfilled it on Sunday. Pat Chung has also played that position in the past.

Van Noy’s Role Has Evolved to be a Key Member of NE Defense:
Kyle Van Noy is a player that seems like a typical New England Patriots pickup. A former high draft pick that didn’t pan out with his former team, Bill Belichick picks him up in a low-key move and finds a role for the player to be successful.

Kyle Van Noy has become one of the most versatile pieces of the Patriots defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

But in Van Noy’s case, he’s morphed into much more than just a role player in the Patriots defense. Because of injuries to Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Derek Rivers and Harvey Langi and the retirement of Rob Ninkovich, he’s been moved all over the place. And to his credit, he’s responded well no matter where he’s been asked to play. He’s been the coverage linebacker, the middle linebacker calling the signals as well as the outside rush player on the edge.

“Kyle’s a smart guy,” Belichick said. “Something maybe a little bit different this week. He’s a good communicator, so he’s good at getting other people around him coordinated and in the run spot or when we need to make a call, he’ll make the call, and he’s decisive. He’ll make it with good judgment but also make it decisively so everyone has the confidence to be able to execute it. “So, he does a good job of that. That’s one of the advantages of having him in different positions. And since he’s played other spots, he understands what that person needs to know and maybe what the stress is on.”

Belichick loves players who are versatile and can do multiple things, and while Van Noy may not have been the team’s first to do certain things, [MLB, Ninkovich’s role on the edge], he’s thriving. It was thought that Rivers was going to be groomed to take over that role after being drafted by the team with their first pick in the draft. But a training camp injury sidelined him for the duration of the season. Van Noy still doesn’t get much love around the league’s media types, but Belichick sees his value and that is all that matters,

“Everybody doesn’t have to be able to do 11 different things,” Belichick said. “It’s good to have the guys who can do one thing really well. That’s great, but somewhere along the line with the variety of offenses we see and different formations … for someone to be able to have some versatility to help us handle those multiple situations, it’s a lot easier than having to send guys on and off the field and try to get them matched up and so forth. “If you can just move one or two players around to do that. Guys like Kyle and Pat Chung, Devin [McCourty], guys who give us linebacker to safety, linebacker to defensive end, those kinds of comparable spots, dependent on what we’re facing, there’s a lot of value to that.”

With Ninkovich, Hightower, McClellin, Rivers, and Langi gone, if the Patriots are going to have postseason success in 2017, they’re going to need Van Noy to step up. And he’s shown that he’s been equal to the task.

Belichick- “I’m Really Happy When We Score”:  The Patriots’ Bill Belichick was miked up last week for the Dolphins game and one of the funnier scenes is the reaction of the Patriots bench when the Patriots scored all five of their touchdowns. As the players all celebrate, with the radio call of Bob Socci on the play-by-play nails down the exact time of the scores, Belichick remained stoic. He was asked (jokingly) if he was happy when the team scored.

Belichick’s response was classic Bill, “Yeah, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “I mean, I’m happy when we score. I’m really happy when we score, but there’s a decision to be made on the next play, and the next play and the next series.”

Bill Belichick addresses the media before practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

“So we have a lot of fans that come to the game,” he added. “They cheer. They do a great job. I feel like a big part of my job is decision making and planning ahead for the next play, the next series, the next situation. There is sometimes a little bit of time between a score and the kickoff when you go out on defense or how you’re going to kick the ball off or so forth that I feel like I need to do a good job at that. I don’t want to let the team down in the responsibilities that I have.”

Manning the Least of the Giants Worries: Look, there are a lot of ways to take the Eli Manning benching for the Giants. If his level of play were so awful or he completely lost the team in the huddle, then you’re forced to make a move. But his offensive line has been a sieve. The play-calling by McAdoo has been awful and their playmakers are either hurt, not producing or not utilized right.

If New York had a young QB, like a Patrick Mahomes for example, making a move now makes sense. You’re 2-9 and not going anywhere and you can see what you have in the youngster. But Geno Smith? Are there any illusions about Smith at this point? Does McAdoo really think Smith gives the G-Men a better chance of winning than Manning? Bad move Giants. One can see the entire regime being cleaned out of there as soon as this season is over.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 13:
Last week 11-5 mark. Season Total: 113-63.

This week’s Thursday games I went with Washington (0-1). Now for the rest of the slate:
Vikings at Falcons – Atlanta
Texans at Titans – Tennessee
Chiefs at Jets – Kansas City

Broncos at Dolphins – Miami
Colts at Jaguars – Jacksonville
Buccaneers at Packers – Green Bay
Lions at Ravens – Baltimore
Patriots at Bills – New England
49ers at Bears – San Francisco
Browns at Chargers – Los Angeles

Giants at Raiders – Oakland
Panthers at Saints – New Orleans

Rams at Cardinals – Los Angeles

SNF Eagles at Seahawks – Philadelphia

MNF Steelers at Bengals – Pittsburgh

Next Thursday New Orleans over the Atlanta

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Have to Limit Gronkowski on Defense:

The Buffalo Bills are going to try to reverse the trend of the Patriots dominating on the Bills home turf and to do so, they’ll need a complete team effort. And part of that is the play of the defense covering tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots big man has been at his best when playing before his former hometown. Last year, Gronkowski torched Buffalo for 109 yards and a touchdown on five catches in Orchard Park.

To slow down the big man will take a collective effort between the linebackers and the safeties, the Bills don’t have anyone that can cover Gronk 1-on-1. Preston Brown, on the Bills website, spoke about the difficulty covering Gronkowski.

“When you are matched up against him just try to get some pass breakups and no run after the catch,” Brown said. He always seems like he’s dragging people down the field and people are jumping on his back and he’s still running for 10 yards. No yards after the catch.”

Brown may draw Gronkowski off the line and knows he’ll need to get a good jam to slow him down. “He does everything to get open. He has the speed to get by people. He’s just a good tight end,” Brown said. “You have to find ways to slow him up any way you can. Sometimes you have to double team him. Sometimes you have a safety over top. Anything you can do to slow him down because he’s going to try and make plays, especially coming back home.”

Is Cameron Wake Going to Chase a Ring? Nope, He’s Staying with the Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins reached the playoff last season with a 10-6 record. But the season of promise in 2017 where they thought they’d make the next step has evaporated. The team is 4-7 and not going anywhere. Not this year. While some players have plenty of time to get a shot at a ring, Cameron Wake doesn’t.

Wake will soon be 36 years old and although the sack specialist is still productive, he needs two sacks to reach his fifth season with 10 or more sacks, he knows he’s closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning or even the middle.

So, the question that was posed to him by the Miami Herald this week, would he consider leaving South Beach for a winner?  The short answer was no but sometimes these situations take a life of their own. Wake was keeping his eyes on the present for the time being.

“Another team has not crossed my mind for years,” Wake said. “Legacy hasn’t. Again, I’m a laser-focused guy. I’ve got blinders on. That’s way out of left field. I couldn’t care less about that right now.”

So he isn’t considering leaving despite Miami’s lack of success, but he remains optimistic. “Every time’s a little different,” Wake said. “Last time I came back it was because obviously, I felt a tremendous amount of comfort and history here and this organization. I have belief in the players, belief in the coaching staff. The city, fans, all of the above. For me to go somewhere else it would have to be a dramatically different opportunity, and I feel like the best opportunity is right here in Miami.”

Revis Returns to NY, This Time to Face the Jets in a Chiefs Uniform:

The New York Jets face a desperate team in Kansas City today that has been free-falling after a red-hot start. The Chiefs started 5-0 and have since five of their last six. But this week, at least at the start of the game, all eyes will be on the Chiefs newest player, cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Revis was released by the Jets after the 2016 season and has been looking for a team all year. So the injury-bitten Chiefs signed him, hoping he can help their defense regain their winning ways and hold onto a division lead that has suddenly tightened up. For Revis though, returning to New Jersey holds no special motivation.

“I don’t think it’s any extra motivation,” said Revis, to ESPN. “For me throughout my career, it’s always been about timing. I just felt where I was at in my training that I was fit and ready to come back and play football.”

So, Revis was asked, is there any ill-will towards his former team?

“We have a long history … I had an awesome time there. Most of my legacy was with the Jets, so I don’t think it’s anything [personal]. I’m just on another team. This is my fourth ball club throughout my career, and now I’m focused on our team goals and what we’re trying to do as a team and accomplish.”

“For me personally, I don’t think there’s any ill will or anything to take a stab at or get back at the Jets for any reason.” His welcome may not be too warm, however.

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 1, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road for the next three weeks and begin their road trip in Buffalo to take on the Bills. The games there are always loud and raucous and with playoff implications for both teams for a change, this one takes on added meaning.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. 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 (9-2) are coming off a 35-17 blowout of the Miami Dolphins at home. Tom Brady passed for four touchdowns, Dion Lewis rushed for 112 yards as the Patriots as a team rushed for 196 on the day. The defense forced three turnovers and held the Miami offense to just 10 points.

The Bills (6-5) snapped a three-game losing streak with a big 16-10 win in Kansas City to put them back into the playoff race. Tyrod Taylor returned to the starting lineup and tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones while the defense smothered the Chiefs offense, holding them to under 250 yards and 2 for 13 on third down

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 Bills history go back to the earliest days of the AFL in 1960. Sunday will mark the 115th meeting between the two franchises. Overall the Patriots hold a 70-43-1 edge, including a 34-22-1 record in Buffalo. The Patriots have dominated in the Bill Belichick era, taking 29 of 33, including 12 of the last 13 games in Buffalo. Last year the teams split the series with Buffalo shutting out New England with Jacoby Brissett at QB 16-0. The Patriots then took the final game in Buffalo 41-25.

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 Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game had its best game of the year last week gashing the Dolphins for 196 yards, Dion Lewis led the way with 112 and Rex Burkhead chipped in with 50 of his own.

The Bills run defense was excellent during the first seven weeks of the season. But during their recent three-game losing streak they allowed 638 yards rushing. Last week they righted the ship and allowed the Chiefs only 55 yards on the ground. So who shows up this week the unit that got gashed or the one that allowed only 616 yards rushing in all their other games?

I look for the Patriots to try to continue with what they’ve been doing, spreading out opponents and try to run inside. The key for the offensive line is whether or not they can move Buffalo’s big men inside, Adolphus Washington and Kyle Williams on the interior line and Preston Brown at linebacker. It seems like the Bills stopped the bleeding there in the run defense, so it may be tough sledding for the running game this week. Especially with two starters on the offensive line that may be missing again as well as the top swing tackle.

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

The Patriots passing game despite missing key receivers has continued to hum along averaging just under 300 yards per game. Again, the key is the health of the offensive line and if they can hold up to a defense that hasn’t gotten many sacks this season but will probably be aggressive this week.

Buffalo’s pass defense has been ok against the pass, they’ve allowed a good amount of yards but have been ball hawks, especially when they’ve won, they’ve generated a ton of turnovers. They’ll be looking to do exactly that this week to give their offense a boost and keep the score close.

The key here is the quickness that Tom Brady gets rid of the ball and Rob Gronkowski. Gronk had shredded the Bills, especially in Buffalo, his hometown. In six career games, Gronk has 35 catches for 583 yards (97.1 yards per game) and seven touchdowns. Over a full season that would come out to 1553 yards and 17 touchdowns. Look for Brady to try to get Gronkowski involved early. It will be a big matchup against Micah Hyde this week, who was the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November.

Next up the Bills offense:

Bills RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo

The Bills running game still goes thru LeSean McCoy and he leads the team with 758 yards although his yards per carry is way down (for him) to 3.9. The Patriots will have to be aware of Taylor scrambling as well. The Bills offense works best when he’s making plays with his feet.

The Patriots run defense has struggled inside in 2017, with Malcom Brown injured and Vincent Valentine and Dont’a Hightower on IR, the middle of the line has been suspect. Alan Branch will be playing against his former team this week and we’d expect him to turn his game up a notch this week.  

Look for Buffalo to test the edges with Taylor and McCoy this week, that is an area where the defensive line has struggled at times this year in setting the edge. They’ll want to dictate the pace, keep NE’s defense on the field and limit the chances for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense to score.

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

Buffalo’s passing game has been middling along about 15th in the league averaging just 182.5 yards per game. Taylor doesn’t turn the ball over, he likes to roll out where he can see the field in front of him and make the safe pass. A key this week will be getting outside the pocket and making plays with his feet.

The Patriots pass defense has been vastly improved the past five games. They’re allowing just 217 yards per game in the past five contests. The secondary play has been much, much better, although because of a mobile QB, they will be playing more zone this week, which isn’t their strength.

Look for Taylor to try to make plays with his feet. They’ll lean on McCoy as well in the passing game. This is a “Big Nickel” kind of week for the Patriots defense with three safeties. Containment of Taylor in the pocket is essential.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski has been having a very good season. His short kickoffs coupled with outstanding coverage has put the Patriots in excellent field position defensively every week. He’s been very steady in the kicking game and has scored 111 points already. Ryan Allen’s punting has been okay this year. But the coverage units, the field goal, and punt blocking units have been very tough.

The Bills Special teams have been very good as well Stephen Hauschka has been money from beyond 50 yards, making 14 in a row. Colton Schmidt has had a very good season as well. With the high level of play the New England STs have been performing it is tough to give anyone else the edge. But the loss of Nate Ebner, and the injuries to Trevor Reilly and Marquis Flowers will bear watching to see if it affects the Special Teams this week. 

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will have a playoff-type atmosphere this week because it essentially is for the Bills. They need to win and keep winning to get into the playoffs. The crowd will be loud and rowdy (as always) and the Bills will be playing for something in December for the first time in a very long time.

The key from the Patriots perspective is getting off to a fast start and forcing the Bills to play catchup, which is not their strength. With all of the injuries facing the team, however, they may be hard-pressed to take advantage of their edge in many positions. Brady will have to be aware of where Hyde is, he’s been the Bills’ biggest ballhawk. But the Patriots just have too many weapons for Buffalo this week. Look for the backs to get involved early as well in the passing game. Having time to throw will be a big factor in whether or not Brady and Brandin Cooks attempt to stretch the field this week. It is going to be close, probably a lot closer than many Patriots fans expect but I think this one goes down to the wire in a close divisional matchup. Brady will make more plays than Taylor and the Patriots hold serve with a big divisional win and will head to South Beach at 10-2.  Patriots 28-20

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.