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Patriots-Bills Week 16, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 21, 2018 at 7:35 am ET

Patriots-Bills Week 16, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The New England Patriots are sailing in some uncharted waters this week. When we looked at this game on the schedule back in the spring, we expected that the division would be wrapped up and this game would only figure in whether New England was still playing for the top seed. And….we were wrong.

This game is extremely important to the Patriots this week because the division isn’t wrapped up and they need a win to do just that. The team can still get the #2 seed and a bye but now they no longer control their own destiny. They need to win their final two games at home this week against Buffalo and the Jets next week and hope that the Texans lose to either the Eagles or the Jaguars. Uncharted waters indeed.

The Patriots (9-5) lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10 last week as the offense only scored 10 points and made a ton of mistakes. Dropped passes on third down, penalties (14) and breakdowns at key times was the story as they dropped their second in a row.

The Bills (5-9) beat the Detroit Lions 14-13 as Josh Allen hit Robert Foster with a 42-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to come from behind.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Bills are meeting for the 118th time and the Patriots have dominated overall 73-43-1. And since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have won 32 of 37 games between the two teams.

Tom Brady’s record against the Bills in games where he’s started and finished the game is 29-3. The Patriots won the last meeting between the two teams 25-6 on October 29 as the teams met on Monday Night Football.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 23 at 1:00 p.m.and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Greg Gumbel will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green and Bruce Arians as the color analysts. Melanie Collins will work from the sidelines.

The game will also be broadcast on the Patriots flagship station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci doing the play-by-play, with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

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 Buffalo

The Patriots running game has sputtered the past two weeks on the road as the play of the offensive line has been consistently, inconsistent. Sony Michel is leading the way for the Patriots along with Rex Burkhead and James White. Fullback James Develin has been getting the ball more in short yardage and goal line.

Buffalo is 10th in the league allowing just 104.8 yards per game on the ground and just 4.0 yards per rush.  It starts up front with the big men, Kyle Williams, and Adolphus Washington with the linebackers, Matt Milano and Preston Brown being very active. However, with Milano suffering a broken fibula against the Jets, it is a blow to the defense.

In the first meeting, the Patriots didn’t have either Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead who were both out with an injury. However, look for the Bills to put pressure on the Patriots on early downs to try to force them into third and long situations.

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

The Patriots passing game just lost a huge piece as Josh Gordon’s mental health issues are forcing him away for the game, possibly for good this time. He averaged 65 yards per game receiving in his 11 games with the Patriots and it won’t be easy to just say, “next man up” as they have around here in the past.

In the first meeting, Tom Brady threw for 324 yards in Buffalo. It will be difficult to throw for that much this time around despite still having Julian Edelman, James White, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett.

The Bills defense is #1 against the pass allowing just 187.4 yards per pass play. They’re getting very good play from their corners and linebackers and safeties in coverage. The Bills have 31 sacks on the season.

With Gordon gone Brady will have to lean on everybody else now to pick up the slack. I would expect him to go both Julian Edelman (9-104) and James White (10-79) as he did in the first meeting to keep the chains moving.  The Bills did a good with their safeties on Rob Gronkowski in the first meeting and I’d expect more of the same. Buffalo is outstanding at not allowing big pass plays and I’d expect Brady to keep the ball in the short passing game.  

Next up the Buffalo offense:

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

As yes as strange as this sounds I expect the Patriots run defense which has been awful for the past few weeks to be better this week. The Bills running game has been struggling with their backs running the ball. LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory have averaged just 3.3 and 3.4 yards per rush respectively in 2018. Part of the reason is the offensive line was bad earlier in the season but has been playing better of late.

However, Josh Allen has transformed the running game. He’s rushed for 506 yards on the season and without him, the Bills rushing average of 124.7 would transform to just 90.9 yards per game.

With the issues the Patriots have had stopping the run, I’d look for Danny Shelton to make a return this week. Buffalo has the 31st rated pass offense and they want to run the football. The Patriots need a player over the nose that can two-gap. He’s been a healthy scratch the past few weeks but this week, I’d expect him back.

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

The Bills passing game has been really struggling as Josh Allen has struggled in his rookie season. But he’s gradually learning his craft and he’s cutting down his mistakes. But overall, they average just 168.7 yards per game, 31st in the NFL. He has Robert Foster who is becoming the Bills big play WR, he’s averaged 25-yards per reception this year. Zay Jones is their leading receiver with 49 catches.

The Patriots pass defense is currently 23rd allowing 256 yards per game, however, the secondary has been playing quite well and it seems that they’ve found another quality UDFA in corner J.C. Jackson. The Patriots don’t generate a ton of sacks but are tied in the league at pressuring the QB without blitzing.

The Bills like to run deep crosses using a rub route to get Foster open deep across the middle of the field. For the Patriots, they’ll look to bring pressure and force Allen to throw from outside the pocket without allowing him to run…More of this below.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots tandem of Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen have a slight edge over Stephen Hauschka and Corey Bojorquez in the kicking game, especially being at home. But their numbers are pretty similar. But with Cordarrelle Patterson in the kick return game, the Patriots get the edge in there, although in the first meeting Micah Hyde had a 31-yard punt return.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will be closer than people are predicting. The Bills defense is tough and knows the Patriots well. They played them very tough in the first meeting back in October. I would expect this game to be much of the same.

Three keys to the game from a Patriots perspective include:

Win the Turnover Battle:

The Bills are -8 in the turnover department. Buffalo QBs have thrown 20 interceptions this season, with Allen tossing nine of them. They are the 31st team in the league in scoring averaging just 15.4 points per game. They don’t have the kind of offense that can afford to give away points. If the Patriots can play a clean game, they will put pressure on the Bills offense to take some chances.

Force Allen to Throw From Outside the Pocket:

Allen has played better of late as his pass protection has improved. But if the Patriots can generate pressure while keeping a spy on Allen and not allowing him to run, his numbers throwing outside the pocket are not good. ESPN’s Mike Rodak just posted some stats when Allen is forced to throw outside the pocket.
Completion percentage- 20 (33rd in the league)
Passing Yards per Attempt- 3.1 (30th in the league)
Off Target Throws- 40 % (most in the NFL)
Interception Percentage – 6.9 % (4th most in the NFL)

If the Patriots are successful in getting some pressure on Allen, they’d need to put a spy on him. I really don’t believe that their linebackers are fast enough to do the job…possibly Kyle Van Noy. But one possible piece would be to go to their “Big Nickel” with Obi Melifonwu substituting on obvious passing downs. He’d have the speed to keep up with Allen.

Spread the Ball Around:

The Patriots are at their best when Tom Brady spreads the wealth equally among the players. They need to run the ball better and will need a lot better effort from the offensive line. I’d expect to see the uptempo offense with the Pony formation with Burkhead and White a bit on passing downs.

This one will be close but eventually, the Pats will pull away and they’ll finally be able to break out the Hats and T-Shirts. Patriots 27-17

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.

Bills Look to Erase 17 Years of Frustration Against the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
November 30, 2017 at 9:42 am ET

The Patriots and Buffalo Bills will meet for the first time in 2017 on Sunday in Buffalo as the schedule makers don’t have the division rivals face each other until December. The rivalry has gone back and forth but the Bills have had a nightmarish record against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era.

The Patriots won 15 in a row at one point and Tom Brady has held mastery over Buffalo. Brady is 28-3 overall against the Bills but one loss was the season finale in 2014 where the Pats rested many of their starters and Brady played in the first half. But 2017 is a new year and this Buffalo team is still in the playoff hunt as the season enters Week 13. If the Bills are going to end their own 17-year playoff drought, they’ll have to start taking some of these matchups with New England.

A sweep by the Patriots this year would doom any post-season hopes the Bills have. The teams split last year but the Week 4 win in Foxboro last season was against the Patriots #3 QB Jacoby Brissett while Brady was serving his Deflategate suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo was hurt. So, the normally raucous crowd will be even louder this week, since the Bills actually have something to play for this week and it will have the crowd and the team fired up.

Here are some things that we’ve identified this week as things to keep an eye on:

Defense Regains its Swagger…. “We’re Back”: The Bills defense had been gashed and gashed badly during the three-game losing streak. In the three blowout losses to the Jets, Saints, and Chargers, the Buffalo defense gave up 638 yards rushing. In all of their other games, they allowed just 616 yards on the ground. Last week, they righted the ship and stuffed the Kansas City running game to the tune of just 57 yards on the ground and 236 yards overall in the 16-10 win in Kansas City.

This led linebacker Matt Milano to reflect on the re-emergence of the defense stating “It got lost,” l Milano said of the defensive swagger, “but it’s back. We’re back.”

The Bills have a young and talented secondary, they’ve gotten very good play from safety Micah Hyde. In the Bills victories earlier in the year, they were generating a ton of turnovers and that’s what they’ll need this week to slow the New England offense and keep up with them scoring wise. Much will have to come from the Bills pass rush which has just 17 sacks on the season. They’ll have to bring pressure on Brady if they’re going to win this one at home.

The Offense Still Goes Thru Shady McCoy: McCoy is averaging a very unMcCoy-like 3.9 yards per carry this season. And he had a rough day against the Chiefs defense running for just 49 yards on 22 carries. He leads the team with 758 yards rushing on the season, with four touchdowns, still good for eighth in the league. So, he’ll be amped up for this one in front of the home crowd, especially with things to play for.

McCoy leads the team in receptions with 46 as well, far ahead of the next most productive receiver in Charles Clay with 29. So the Patriots focus will be on slowing down McCoy this week. The Patriots run defense hasn’t been great and since Buffalo isn’t a dynamic passing team, they’ll be looking to run the ball with McCoy and Tyrod Taylor scrambling, which will set up their play-action passes and bootlegs to the perimeter of the defense.

It is possible that McCoy, who is playing in his ninth NFL season is starting to show some wear on the treads. But the Patriots won’t be looking at him this way and their defense will put him down as the #1 target to slow down. He’s nearly 33 percent of the Bills offense. Buffalo needs a big game from McCoy this week to pull off the upset.

Taylor Has To Step Up His Game…Now: Most people don’t believe that the Bills will carry quarterback Tyrod Taylor into the 2018 season. The Bills are figuring him to be gone by then. The fact that they went with rookie Nathan Peterman two weeks ago kind of confirmed that they are looking to upgrade. Taylor can throw a monkey wrench into their plans by giving them a good reason to hold on to him. He can win out, and bring the Bills a playoff berth, something they haven’t done in 17 years. But he’s going to have to step up and be able to put the team on his back, something he hasn’t been able to do in his three seasons at the helm.

A look at his stat sheet would put Taylor in the upper half of the NFL’s QB hierarchy. I’d dispute that. Taylor has a good completion percentage and very rarely turns the ball over. They like to roll him out where he can make the safe passes that are right in front of him. And he has the option to run, where he can make plays with his legs. When the Bills running game with McCoy is thriving, he puts up nice numbers. But he’s never been able to show the ability to put the team on his back and win games when the running game has slowed. He plays it safe, checks down too often and is too frequently completing passes short of the sticks on third down. This week and the game in New England later in December, Taylor can help himself out by putting the team on his back. Throwing for an average of 182.5 yards per game and 20 points won’t win many games against New England. The Bills have been outscored in every quarter but the fourth this season…that will have to change and it starts with Taylor.

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.

Mock Draft 3.0 – Patriots Get Depth, Fill Needs

Steve Balestrieri
April 21, 2017 at 8:13 am ET

After the flurry of activity this week, the Patriots are primed to enter the season with all the pieces they need for a serious bid to repeat in the Super Bowl. Malcolm Butler has signed his tender, Danny Amendola has re-done his deal for the third year in a row and the team made an offer for free agent RB Mike Gillislee who would be a great fit.

Of course, if the Bills decline to match the Patriots offer, New England will have to turn over their 5th round draft pick to Buffalo. But for now, until that is settled, we’re moving on under the assumption that they’ll choose in Round 5.

There is a fascinating tool to use for doing a mock draft made possible by the guys over at Fanspeak.com that we touted last year and it is even more, fun to use in 2017.
In their “On the Clock” simulator, you are the GM for any NFL team. You can choose how many rounds you’d like to draft for (1-7), and pick one of nine different big boards to choose from.

The big boards for each site differ and the site has a random selection process that picks for the other 31 teams based upon the best player available and team needs that are constantly updated until it is your time to pick.

For this second mock draft (4-20), I used the big board of Composite Big Board

Right now, the Patriots don’t pick until Round 3, #72 due to some of the trades that they’ve swung for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy. While they may still swing a deal to move up into the first two rounds, right now we’re going with what they have. In this mock, we’re going under the assumption that Malcolm Butler’s signing of his tender means that he will play in NE for at least the 2017 season so that changes our outlook considerably.

Here is our Patriots Mock Draft 3.0:

Round 3, Pick #72 Linebacker/Edge Tim Williams, Alabama:
Williams is a steal at #72. He’s a 6’4, 250-pound edge player with the frame to get bigger. He can play OLB or DE and fell in this mock down to the 3rd round over character concerns. He’s an outstanding athlete, with excellent explosion, long arms and a very consistent playmaker.

Williams played for Nick Saban at Alabama so Bill Belichick will have all the info he’d need on him. He’s a tremendous pass-rusher with excellent counter moves to get to the QB. The Patriots would use him as a DE primarily

Round 3, Pick #96 Tackle, Julie’n Davenport, Bucknell:
The Patriots have scouted Davenport and worked him out, so Dante Scarnecchia would have the final say if they can work with him. He has great size at 6’7, 318 pounds and a four-year starter. He was a team captain his final two years at Bucknell.

Has tremendous arm length and strength in his hands where he can disrupt pass rushers, has enough athleticism to get out to the second level in the running game. His balance and foot placement.

Davenport will be a developmental prospect that could be the long-term replacement for Nate Solder

Round 4, Pick #141 TE George Kittle, Iowa:
Kittle is a 6’4, 247-pound tight end that will help build the depth they need at the position. Kittle was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season, in 11 starts, he produced 22 catches for 314 yards and four TDs.

He’s got good size, has very good speed with a 4:52 time in the 40-yard dash with excellent hands. He had only one drop with 48 career receptions. He’s a good and willing blocker inside. Kittle has the speed to be a vertical threat down the seam, although his route-running needs polishing.

Round 5, Pick #163 S Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville:
Clemons has tremendous size at 6’4, 217-pounds and would be the heir apparent to Pat Chung as the box safety. He has rare size, length, and athleticism for a man his dimensions. He’s a physical, tough tackler and will be the in-the-box safety and be able to play the hybrid linebacker role, the “Big Nickel” for the Patriots.

He’s not a deep cover safety and at times takes poor angles to the runner. Was dismissed from Georgia after three failed tests for marijuana.

Round 5, Pick #183 LB Matt Milano, Boston College:
Boston College has been churning out very good linebackers from their program from Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly and now Milano, who stepped up big for the Eagles the past two seasons. He turned in a very solid 2016 season with 58 tackles, 11 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, one interception, and a blocked punt.

The undersized (6’0, 233-pounds) Milano plays “like a heat-seeking missile” on the defensive side of the ball, flying around the field looking for contact. He played 94 percent of the Eagles snaps in 2016 and has speed toughness with very good instincts in pass coverage as a converted safety.

Special teams’ standout in Chestnut Hill with three blocked punts and 24 STs tackles. We took him in our Mock 1.0 draft and he’s here again in the third and will be a great value pickup

Round 6, Pick #200 Edge Keionta Davis, Chattanooga:
Davis had his second straight FCS All-American season in 2016, tallying 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. At 6’3, 274-pounds he has the length and strength to take on offensive linemen in the trenches.

He plays low to the ground and sets the edge very well in the running game. However, he’s a bit stiff in the hips and doesn’t have the bend on the edge that you’d like to see in an edge rusher. The strength and conditioning coaches may have him bulk up another 10-15 pounds and kick him inside as a sub-package interior rusher.

Round 7, Pick #231 LB Riley Bullough, Michigan State:
Bullough comes from a football family devoted to the Spartans. His father (Rose Bowl 1982), uncle and brother all played at Michigan State. He’s very athletic, plays downhill and flies all over the field. He was named the team’s “Most Inspirational Player” for the past two seasons.

But at 6’2, 226, he’s not big enough to stand up to the physicality of the NFL as an inside linebacker. His path to the league will be as a special teams’ standout and his mentality, and athleticism will be a perfect fit.

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.

Mock Draft 1.0 – Post Early Free Agency Edition

Steve Balestrieri
April 8, 2017 at 8:57 am ET

Where will the Patriots look to first in 2017?

With Free Agency now over a few weeks old, it is time take an early crack at looking at the draft from a Patriots perspective. There are still moves that can be and will be made in free agency and possibly on the trade front that may affect the way the team looks at the draft. But with the initial free agency period winding down it is time to move to the draft.

There is a fascinating tool to use for doing a mock draft made possible by the guys over at Fanspeak.com that we touted last year and is, even more, fun to use in 2017.
In their “On the Clock” simulator, you are the GM for any NFL team. You can choose how many rounds you’d like to draft for (1-7), and pick one of nine different big boards to choose from.

The big boards for each site differ and the site has a random selection process that picks for the other 31 teams based on the best player available and team needs that are constantly updated until it is your time to pick.

For this opening mock draft (4-8), I used the big board of Fanspeak.

Right now, the Patriots don’t pick until Round 3, #72 due to some of the trades that they’ve swung for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy. While they may still swing a deal to move up into the first two rounds, right now we’re going with what they have.

Here is our Patriots Mock Draft 1.0 – Post Early Free Agency Edition:

Round 3, Pick #72 Edge Ryan Anderson, Alabama:
Anderson comes from a championship football program at Alabama with Bill Belichick buddy Nick Saban. He’ll pick up the Patriots system in no time and will be matched up next to fellow Tide alum Dont’a Hightower as the SAM linebacker.

He’s consistently as good setting the edge against the run as he is against the pass in coverage. He’s also a good pass rusher and can blitz off the edge with good pass rush moves and a power bull rush. He’s also a very good STs player something Belichick loves in his linebackers. Day 1 starter.

To see our draft profile on him click here:

Round 3, Pick #96 CB Sidney Jones, Washington:
The Patriots pick up a steal in Round 3 as Jones falls on draft boards due to his Achilles injury suffered on his Pro Day that will require extensive rehab. But with the depth of the Patriots roster, they can be patient and let Jones rehab and get healthy.

The third CB named Jones on the Pats is bound to make things interesting. He’s 6’0, 186-pounds, and despite being slender is a physical corner who contests every ball thrown his way. Had nine career interceptions and got his hands on over 21 percent of passes thrown his way.

Round 4, Pick #141 TE Jake Butt, Michigan:
Butt is steal #2 for the Pats as he falls down draft boards due to his ACL injury suffered in the Orange Bowl. Again, with Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Matt Lengel, and Michael Williams already on the roster. There is no reason to rush his rehab any faster.

Butt is a versatile productive tight end that line up split wide, inline or in the slot. He has good quickness off the line, runs good routes and has very sticky hands. His catch radius is excellent and has the ability to make YAC (yards after the catch).

He has good size at 6’5, 246-pounds and is a decent blocker in the running game. He’s tough, competitive and will get separation coming out of his cuts.

Butt’s draft profile from us can be seen here:

Round 5, Pick #163 RB Jamaal Williams, BYU:
Williams checks the block on the team getting a power running back to run between the tackles. They can stand to get younger at the position and Williams can step right into the rotation. But he has the stamina to be a bell-cow when the need presents itself especially when it is time to close out games.

He rushed 234 times in 2016, amassing 1,375 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns, even though he missed three games with an ankle injury. He finished fifth in the country with 137.5 yards per game. He’s got the size, power and ball security that the Patriots need.

Williams draft profile by us can be seen here:

Round 5, Pick #183 OT Erik Magnuson, Michigan:
Magnuson is a 37-game starter for the Wolverines and is a solid run blocker who can get to the second level, has very good pass protection skills. He uses his hands well and can mirror pass rushers. He’s strong, physical and tough with good athleticism at the position.

He’s 6’4, 303-pounds, he’s never played left tackle but right tackle and guard while at Michigan. He’s a versatile kid with upside but like Joe Thuney before him, the Patriots may decide to kick him inside at center.

Round 6, Pick #200 LB Matt Milano, Boston College:
Boston College has been churning out very good linebackers from their program from Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly and Milano stepped up big for the Eagles the past two seasons. He turned in a very solid 2016 season with 58 tackles, 11 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, one interception, and a blocked punt.

The undersized (6’0, 233-pounds) Milano plays “like a heat-seeking missile” on the defensive side of the ball, flying around the field looking for contact. He played 94 percent of the Eagles snaps in 2016 and has speed toughness with very good instincts in pass coverage as a converted safety.

Special teams’ standout in Chestnut Hill with three blocked punts and 24 STs tackles.

Round 7, Pick #231 S Delano Hill, Michigan:
Hill has good size at 6’1, 216-pounds at the safety position and runs well, he turned in a 4.47 time in the 40 Yard Dash at the NFL Combine. Like the current Pats SS Pat Chung, he’s better in the box than in space.

He plays well in the box as a strong safety, can shed blocks, provide good man coverage in the slot although he has shown some hip stiffness which could be a detriment in coverage. He’s not a tremendous athlete and doesn’t possess the quick change of direction skills, but as a box safety, providing good coverage down low and run support, he’s a nice addition.

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.