Tag Archives: Matt Patricia

New England Patriots News 6-16, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 16, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-16 and AFC East notes this week. And a Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there.

While anyone can become a father, the word Dad means so much more. My own Dad never gave me much advice but the way he conducted himself every day and the way he treated everyone around him was all the example that was ever needed.

Quick Hitters:

Bill Belichick – decided to cancel the final two days of OTAs last week and on the first day, took the players out to a team-building exercise…a paintball range. Belichick supposedly took out Kyle Van Noy with a headshot, the linebacker told Dont’a Hightower his tooth hurt where Bill nailed him. In cooler weather, those tend to hurt even more.

Michael Roberts – the Patriots traded for the Lions tight end on Thursday, but he failed his physical on Friday and the trade was voided. He was placed on IR last year for a shoulder injury. Upon reverting back to the Lions, Roberts was released.

Tom Brady – heard about a high school senior who missed his graduation while in the hospital and Brady sent him a video message. Shaun Patterson was suffering from a congenital heart defect and was the recipient of a heart transplant. Brady heard about it and sent the Missouri teen a message. You can watch the clip here:

Zdeno Chara – While the Bruins Game 7 loss to St. Louis will sting all summer long, the Bruins captain was as tough and gritty as they come. It was revealed later that Chara’s jaw was fractured in two places when he was hit by a puck in Game 4. He tried to return that night but doctors wouldn’t clear him but did return and play in Games 5-7. At 42 years old, he’s no longer the Bruins best defenseman but he’s what being a captain is all about. Get well soon Big Z.

Pat Bowlen – RIP to the Broncos long-time owner who passed away on Friday at age 75. He turned around the franchise and brought them a winner.

Training Camp to Begin around July 25.

Thoughts on the Caserio Mess With Houston:

In the end, the Houston Texans declined to pursue any further contact with Nick Caserio and the Patriots have removed their charges of tampering against the Texans. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle was the first to report the development that there is a clause in Caserio’s contract that would stop other teams from pursuing him.

The Texans released a statement from Texans owner Carl McNair.

“When we started the process to interview Nick Caserio for our EVP/GM position, we consulted the League office on numerous occasions, followed the procedures outlined in the League’s rules and believed we were in full compliance,” McNair said. “We have now been made aware of certain terms in Nick’s contract with the Patriots,” McNair added in the statement. “Once we were made aware of these contract terms, I informed Mr. Kraft that we would stop pursuing Nick.”

Nick Caserio

The pursuing of Caserio reportedly began at the Patriots ring ceremony at Robert Kraft’s home. Jack Easterby, the former Patriots character coach and now part of the Texans organization (Executive VP for Team Development) had allegedly made overtures toward Caserio. He reportedly did so before the Texans asked the Patriots permission to interview for their GM position.

The interesting thing is the timing. The next morning, that Friday, Houston fired their GM Brian Gaine after one season. Gaine went 11-5 in his only season at the helm of the Texans and had just completed the NFL Draft. It has also been reported that Gaine was targeting and firing black employees of the staff, which will be looked at as well.

Houston tried last year to interview Caserio after then-GM Rick Smith stepped away to be with his wife during her cancer treatments. The Patriots rebuffed that approach and denied them the opportunity to interview Caserio.

The statement by McNair answered one of the questions surrounding this entire mess.

Other Questions About Caserio Matter:

“How could the Patriots allow this to happen, possibly losing Caserio?” Well, with the language inserted in there, it certainly seems like they have protected themselves against this scenario. But in reality, this entire mess could have easily been avoided.

Had the Patriots given Caserio the title of an equivalent position, (former Patriot front office man Scott Pioli was the VP of Player Development) and a raise, this entire situation never comes to fruition.

“Did the Texans knowingly tamper with Caserio?” Again, no one knows for sure. It is strictly innuendo. However, if Easterby did, in fact, make overtures to Caserio at Kraft’s house, as was implied, before asking the team permission, then yes they did. Another interesting tidbit is the fact that Easterby and Caserio share the same agent. Wouldn’t the Texans know that there is language inserted in his contract that would preclude him from being pursued? Especially given how close Caserio is with both Easterby and O’Brien?

One would think so. And in Houston, Caserio wouldn’t have the final say in the formation of the 53-man roster. That rests with O’Brien.

“Do the Patriots Have Their Succession Plan in Place?” Another good question. The answer is yes and no. It would seem like Josh McDaniels is the next head coach in waiting for the Patriots when Bill Belichick finally decides to retire. Caserio would be the obvious choice for the GM position. But he’s only signed thru the 2020 season. That will have to be rectified…and soon. He previously was interviewed for the Miami and San Francisco GM positions.

Caserio has a unique job in that he wears many hats for the team. While officially the Director of Player Personnel, he has a direct line during game days …to McDaniels in the headsets and advises him on situations unfolding during games. That is unheard of for a man with his title.

He has held many positions in his years with the team, personnel assistant, offensive coaching assistant, area scout, director of pro personnel, wide receivers coach as well as his current position. During minicamp, he was throwing passes to wide receivers.

Bill Belichick has said on numerous occasions that Caserio does much more than his job description states.

“Nick does a great job,” Belichick said last winter. “He does a lot of different things for us. I’m sure he does more than anybody in the league at his position in terms of his interaction with the team, the coaching staff, and the college and pro scouting. He’s involved in a lot of different things and does a great job at all of them. His job description would be several pages.”

One thing is for certain. There is no way the Patriots could have afforded to lose Caserio this summer. With all of the other losses of the coaching staff, this would have been a huge blow. Now they need to lock him up long-term for the future regime. Stay tuned.

Michael Bennett Could Be An Under-the-Radar Addition in 2019:

The Patriots lost Trey Flowers in free agency to the Lions this spring when he signed a monster deal that he wasn’t going to get in Foxboro. But they traded just a fifth-round draft choice for Michael Bennett and a seventh rounder. And although Bennett turned 33 in November he had nine sacks for the Eagles in 2018 plus another one in their two playoff games.

So while the production from last season is about the same as Flowers, it was the versatility of Flowers that will be missed. He could line up all over the formation and play any number of roles that the defense would ask of him.

Super Bowl XLIX:

Rewind the tape to Super Bowl XLIX, on the Patriots first four offensive snaps, Bennett lined up at four different positions, left defensive end, left defensive tackle, right defensive end, and right defensive tackle. And he pressured Tom Brady on three of those plays.

Bennett is at the age where most edge rushers (emphasis on most), seem to begin to lose their ability to produce. We didn’t see anything, however, from Bennett last year that he was approaching that level, despite his age. In fact, one could make the argument that he was the Eagles best pass rusher down the stretch last year.

The fire still burns bright for him as he is hungry for another championship. It is tough to gauge the big men on the offensive and defensive lines in minicamp. The real test for them begins with training camp begins.

But one area that Bill Belichick has always had a high percentage of hitting on is his ability to recognize and identify veteran players who can fill important roles for far less money and cap space. We believe Bennett will be another case of that.

Patriots-Lions Teaming Up for Joint Practices This Summer:

The Patriots are set to begin training camp around the July 25 timeframe, and prior to the first preseason game against the Detroit Lions, the two teams are going to conduct three joint practices. Former Pats DC Matt Patricia, like his mentor Bill Belichick, has a healthy respect for the value of joint practices and it seemed like a no-brainer that the two teams would hook up this summer.

The Lions announced on their website the dates and times for the joint practices:

The Detroit Lions 2019 Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage will open at the team’s headquarters and training facility in Allen Park for a 13th-straight year beginning July 25. There will be three practices exclusive to season ticket members and eight practices free and accessible to all fans. This year’s camp will also feature three joint practices with the New England Patriots prior to the Preseason Week 1 matchup at Ford Field (Thursday, Aug. 8; 7:30 p.m. ET).

With the three joint practices will take place at their Allen Park training facility on Monday-Weds. August 5,6, and 7 with practice beginning at 9:30 a.m. on each day. The gates will open at 8:30 a.m. Any Patriots fans looking to see the preseason game can plan their trip accordingly.  

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Buck Trend And Remain Traveling For Training Camp:

The Buffalo Bills are one of the teams that remains convinced that traveling away to training camp is the right way to go. They believe that their team-building and the opportunity for players to become the best versions of themselves are best served while going away for camp.

One can make the argument for or against such a move, but both head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane are both on-board with that decision. On the Bills website, they both spelled out their reasoning behind the decision.

“First and foremost, we love going up to Rochester,” McDermott said. “We love going to Fisher. I think it’s a great venue for an NFL training camp. I think that the people and staff are first class. I’ve been around before when you go to a campus when you’re wanted contractually but not wanted maybe once you’re there. They open up their home to us. We love going up there. I love my early morning runs up there.”

Seating a challenge:

“The challenge a little bit is some of the location and the fields as it relates to the public practices,” McDermott added. “We’d love to make everything public, quite honestly. We’re just not able to do that necessarily with the physical location of things and trying to rotate fields and space.”

“It’s just when you go to that other field, that’s not the main one, it’s not conducive for the fans,” Beane said in reference to the grass field behind the St. John Fisher Fieldhouse. “It’s just hard to do that. It’s not fair for us to advertise — they don’t know which fields. We wouldn’t want someone driving multiple hours, bring kids and there’s no seating.”

Flores Changing the Dolphins Culture A Piece at a Time:

The Miami Dolphins have a new sheriff in town named Brian Flores and he knows that the rebuilding process takes time. But he also knows that the ownership group isn’t going to be overly generous with the time it takes to build a winner. They’re frustrated through years of mediocrity and are hungry for a winning team and attitude.

Flores saw what he perceives as a loose ship in South Beach and is trying to emulate the workman-like culture he was a part of in New England. And he didn’t waste any time in bringing that attitude to Miami.

Takes No Talent:

Flores trademark is the T.N.T. mantra (Takes No Talent), to build a winning attitude. The core values are hard work, discipline, and respect. It is easy to see some of the Patriot-way infused in Flores’ beliefs, but he’s put his own spin on it.

“I tell my players this — I can go out there and get conditioned if I just go out there and run every day. I’m not going to do that, not like they do; but I could do that,” Flores said, in a piece on ESPN.

“Any of us in here can do that. That really takes no talent; it just takes hard work, effort,” Flores said. “Everybody talks about, ‘This guy is talented; that guy is talented.’ The talent on the team and a lot of things in this game come down to focus, execution, not making a bad penalty. Really, that’s not a talent issue. It’s a focus issue; it’s a mindset issue. I try to, and us as a staff, we try to make an emphasis on those specific things. Things that take no talent, I think those are the details that help you win games.”

Little by little, Flores is putting his own stamp on things in Miami. By changing their work habits, discipline, and the overall culture, Flores is trying to speed up the rebuilding process.

Jets DC Williams Looking To Aggressively Use His Star Players:

The new defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, Gregg Williams has had seven different stops as defensive coordinator and one stint as a head coach, with the Buffalo Bills. And his units are always aggressive. And with a core of special players on defense, he has with Leonard Williams, Jamal Adams, and C.J. Mosely, the Jets will no doubt be aggressive again in 2019. And by adding arguably the best player in the draft in Quinnen Williams at DT, the Jets defense can be very tough this season.

Speaking of Mosely who the Jets signed as a free agent this spring, Williams raved about his play.

Leads by Example:

“He’s a really good leader and he leads by example first. All the great leaders that I’ve ever been a part of, have to show great example before you open your mouth, so he’s always doing that,” Williams said of Mosely.

“He’s always done that, he’s not an extremely highly vocal guy but he sets the example by how he goes about doing his job and he understands the routine of being a pro, being a real pro. Williams is excited about the flexibility now of all a sudden even being more of a quarterback of the defense and having the checks and the audible systems and the things that we teach. He’s been very good and it will be fun.”

In regard to Leonard Williams, his new DC is licking his chops at unleashing him on the competition. “I’m really looking forward to cutting him loose and he was high on my list to get a chance to draft,” he said to Jets.com.

“There is a drastic difference in just the philosophy of how we play up front and he’s had some really great springs, can’t wait to get him in pads and ready to go,” Williams said of the 25-year old. “But he’s another one I’m excited about the opportunity to help him be as good as he can be.”

________________

“It is a wise father that knows his own child.” William Shakespeare

“So, how was your 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 Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

VIDEO: Julian Edelman Serenades Danny Amendola

Robert Alvarez
April 17, 2019 at 10:52 pm ET

They haven’t been teammates since 2017, and haven’t played together since 2016, but the bromance between Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola continues to live on.

On Instagram Wednesday, Amendola shared a funny throwback video of Edelman serenading him with a rendition of The Kings’ “Lola” while they vacationed in Medellin, Colombia.

“Once upon a time me and uncle Edels take on Medellin. Book coming soon. #boyswillbeboys”, Amendola wrote in a caption.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BwWCYfUnu_6/

Amendola signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Detroit Lions that reunited him with Matt Patrica.

Patriots Not Unexpectedly Bid Adieu to Flowers, Brown

Steve Balestrieri
March 12, 2019 at 7:55 am ET

The Patriot Way Giveth and Taketh Away

While not shocking at all, it was nevertheless a blow to the Patriots as they waved goodbye and good luck to starting left tackle Trent Brown, who after one year is moving back to the Bay Area after agreeing to a big money deal with the Oakland Raiders.

It was more difficult, however, to part with Trey Flowers, the Patriots best defensive player on their front seven for the past several years and a consummate pro who spoke softly but led by his example on the field.

There is no way that the Patriots were going to match either offer. Call Brown and Flowers victims of the “Patriot Way”, where the team will not become enamored with any particular player. They’ll place a value on each player and will rarely if ever go over that amount when it comes to compensation.

It is why year after year, we watch players who came to Foxboro leave for big money contracts, much more than they would have received here. And it is also why, most of the big name, high-dollar free agents don’t sign here. So, every spring Patriots fans gnash their teeth in frustration over “the big fish that got away.”

It is also why, because the team won’t overspend for free agents that Patriots fans are glued to their television sets in late January and February every season. Because of their fiscal responsibility, they’ve been able to compete every year. The Patriots have been in the AFC Championship Game nine years in a row and have been in four of the past five Super Bowls. That isn’t a fluke. The Patriots build a complete team of 53 players every year. Because they won’t overspend and get into a bidding war over individual players, they’re able to sustain their success over the long haul.

It is why March is usually not fun to be a Patriots fan but February can be glorious. Which would you rather have?

Brown came to the Patriots with plenty of questions a year ago. Nobody…but the coaches were sure that he could play left tackle. But he hooked up OL coach Dante Scarnecchia and he parlayed that into a terrific 2018 season. Now he’s rewarded with a four-year deal worth $66 million dollars with $36.75 million guaranteed. He’s now the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Take a bow Dante…you’ve done it again.

Flowers came to the Patriots in the 2015 NFL Draft in the 4th round with the 101st pick that year. But he impressed right from the start and even when the Patriots had him tucked away in the far left corner of the locker room when they expand for training camp, one could sense that he wasn’t going to be tucked away for long.  

Flowers cashed in and has agreed to a four-year deal that is reportedly paying him between $16-17 million per year with the Detroit Lions and will join former NE defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who also signed former Pats WR Danny Amendola as well.

The Tennessee Titans supposedly outbid the Patriots for the services of free agent wide receiver Adam Humphries to the tune of a four-year deal worth $36 million. Humphries is a guy we said on these pages would have been a great fit in the Patriots offense. But he opted for the bigger payday with the Titans. It is the nature of the beast.

With the contracts of NFL players largely not guaranteed with their career spans in many cases woefully short, one should never fault the players for taking care of their future. In Brown and Flowers’ cases, the money they got was far beyond what the Patriots were going to offer. Nobody is going to argue that. How many of us would turn down millions of dollars? Not many I’d bet.

So what’s next for the Pats? Free agency in reality hasn’t even begun yet, because the league with their ridiculous “legal tampering period” has deemed that none of the deals are binding until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday when the league year officially begins.

So, with free agency beginning and the draft around the corner, the team will try to address these as well as other holes to fill. In Brown’s case, his replacement is already here. Isaiah Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago and he’ll team up with Scarnecchia and get to work on becoming the new left tackle. He tore an Achilles tendon in preseason last year, but is expected to be ready to go once training camp begins this summer.

Brown’s departure will also impact on how the Patriots may value swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who is also a free agent. A valuable, versatile, tough player, Waddle was re-signed a year ago but played little due to the offensive line remaining healthy in 2018. But now bringing him back makes a lot more sense. He can play on either side, is an established, solid veteran and now will be one of the team’s priorities.

Replacing Flowers is more problematic. His greatest gift was his versatility. He was very good at rushing from and setting the edge. But he really made hay by rushing from the interior when they’d slide him inside on passing downs. He was tailor-made for the Patriots defense and their style of playing.

The blow was lessened a bit by the trade for Michael Bennett who came over from the Philadelphia Eagles with a 7th round pick in 2020 for the Patriots fifth rounder next year. Bennett is more productive from a pure pass rusher perspective but will he be able to do all of the things Flowers was tasked? We’ll see. But at 33, while still very productive, his shelf life will probably be a year or two at the most here.

At least for now, Deatrich Wise will be looked at to provide more in terms of every down production. He played just under 60 percent of the snaps last year. The team also has Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris, and 2017 top draft choice Derek Rivers. Rivers tore his ACL in his rookie training camp and missed all of that year. Last year he came back but flashed very little. The 2019 season will be a very big year for him moving forward.

There are still some intriguing names in free agency in terms of pass rushing edge players including Justin Houston, Cameron Wake and Ezekiel Ansah. Although the prices for each of them may preclude any from coming to New England. The Patriots will no doubt be looking at the draft to find the next Flowers.

It is a fact of life, that when the team has success in February, others will try to poach your best players and coaches from your roster. It is the way of the league in March. And it is just beginning.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Mauled By Lions on SNF 26-10, Three Up, Three Down

Steve Balestrieri
September 24, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Apparently, the message wasn’t sent or received this week. After a disastrous first quarter in Jacksonville last week, the prevailing theme was the Patriots needed to show much more urgency and energy to start this week’s primetime game against the Detroit Lions. The Lions were entering 0-2, players and fans were already rumbling about new coach Matt Patricia and a quick start it was thought would get the crowd and players doubting themselves…. Well, that didn’t happen. At all.

If anything the Patriots got out to an even worse start than in Jacksonville and you can’t blame the 99-degree heat and Florida zip code for this week’s debacle. Once again the Patriots were manhandled at the line of scrimmage badly as Detroit could do whatever it pleased on both sides of the ball and the results spoke for themselves as they cruised to 26-10 mauling of the Pats on Sunday Night Football.

While the pregame hype had more people watching Josh Gordon play catch with a Patriots coach than t.v. cameras looking for a puff of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, they should have been watching the warmups for the offensive and defensive lines. Because for the second week in a row they were a no-show. Black smoke coming up for them.

The Patriots have some serious issues along the right side of the defense. We’ve been saying now since the Houston game, that teams were running to the left of the Patriots defense. One week in an anomaly, two weeks is concerning, three weeks is a trend. The game plan was for the Patriots to keep two safeties deep to take away the deep passing of the Lions. With three starters out on the defense, two in the secondary (Pat Chung and Eric Rowe), it made sense. But the DL didn’t hold up at all.

We mentioned in our key matchups that Detroit, after all, was averaging just 68.5 yards per game on the ground and hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush nearly five years ago. We also wrote that the Detroit running game was the key defensively to the game. Stop the run and they’re one-dimensional. If they can run the ball, then it will open up all kinds of other options for Matthew Stafford.

Detroit ran the ball down their throats at will targeting the left. Frank Ragnow totally dominated Malcom Brown at the point of attack and had him on roller skates blowing him 4-5 yards consistently off the ball. That kind of push opened the doors for Kerryon Johnson to run for 101 yards on the night on just 16 carries. That is a 6.3 yards per carry average. Worse for the Pats is the play of Dont’a Hightower, also on the left who appears slow, and physically nothing like the player we’ve come to expect.

The Patriots running game has for the past few years run to the opposite side, to the right behind Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. They weren’t getting any push at all against Detroit’s front seven, which had resembled a sieve the first two weeks of the season. Opponents had been gashing the Lions front seven to the tune of 179.5 yards per game. That front seven swallowed up the Pats running game and spit them out.

Their smaller, speedy linebackers did a great job of negating the short passing game and Tom Brady was reduced to taking deep shots down the field into double coverage where only one pass was picked off and a couple of others may have been. It was an ugly, ugly night for the Patriots offense which gained a total of 209 yards on the night.

Detroit led 13-0 before the Patriots even had a first down, where was the urgency there? Patricia made a questionable decision to kick a field goal on the Lions first possession facing a 4th and 1 after they gashed the Patriots down the field.

But then Kenny Golladay just got the ball over the goal line on the Lions next possession before Stephon Gilmore stripped it away and it was 10-0 and things were going from bad to worse. Detroit was running the ball at will and Stafford all day to throw the ball. Offensively the Patriots couldn’t get a first down, let alone put points up.

They finally got a field goal before the half after they got the offense moving a bit and were fortunate to be down just 10 points at 13-3. Stafford then made a huge blunder at the beginning of the third quarter, trying to force a ball into tight coverage with linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley in perfect position to pick it off.

Brady quickly moved the Patriots the 52 yards to a score, capping it off with a TD pass to James White making it 13-10. But any hopes for a turnaround were dashed when Stafford led the Lions on a 75-yard drive eating up six minutes of the clock and capped it off with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones.

Gilmore had Jones and was attempting to pass him off to safety Duron Harmon. Harmon however, continued to play downhill and totally whiffed, forcing Gilmore to stop and then attempt to close again and was left far behind for an easy score. Poor communication topped off a bad night all around.

Stafford ended up 27-36 for 262 yards with two TDs and a pick. Brady finished just 14-26 for just 133 yards with a TD and a pick.

Lots of changes need to be done and this team can fix a lot of what ails it. But they have a lot of work to do before Miami who is 3-0 comes to Foxboro next week.

UP AND DOWN –

UP: (was there players trending up? Maybe a stretch)

Deatrich Wise: The second-year DE playing with his hand in a cast, tried to fire up the rest of his moribund teammates with a run stuff and a sack. A rare bit of emotion and energy from a defense that was sorely lacking in both.

James White: The Patriots talented pass-catching running back was his usual dependable self and the coaching staff would have been better served getting him more touches than trying to force feed it to rookie Sony Michel when it was clear he was laboring. White finished with 37 yards on just four carries and three catches in the passing game including the 10-yard touchdown pass from Brady for the Pats only TD.

Ja’Whaun Bentley: The rookie linebacker made a play on the interception that the team sorely needed to start the second half, giving them at least a shot at coming back. He’s now taken over the play-calling responsibilities in the middle. A big jump for the rookie 5th round draft pick.

Down:

Malcom Brown/Dont’a Hightower: This can’t be overstated. Teams are attacking the left side and those two are playing very badly right now. The Patriots tried to switch things up in the second half, going to a 3-4 look, taking Brown out and going with an extra linebacker. The former first rounders are not playing anywhere near their potential right now and may force the team to make some moves.

Shaq Mason: What happened to that run mauler that we’ve come to expect every week? Mason is being badly outplayed and beaten in one-on-one matchups every week and it is time for Dante Scarnecchia to light a fire under him and the entire offensive line when it comes to run blocking.

Duron Harmon: While Patriots fans were screaming on social media that Gilmore was toasted on that long touchdown pass to Jones, nothing was further from the truth. That was clearly on Harmon who failed to recognize what was happening and left his corner out to dry. After the Patriots had closed the gap to just three points, a breakdown of that magnitude was inexcusable.

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.

New England Patriots News 9-23, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 23, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-23, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning… just a quick reminder that you can check out our key matchups to the game here and our players to watch for tonight’s game can also be found here:  

Jacob Hollister was a late addition to the injury report on Friday and has been ruled out of tonight’s game. He was one of the players we had in our pregame matchups to watch. He may miss a game or two according to reports.

Cyrus Jones is back in the fold and will probably be returning punts tonight. He was part of the last cuts by New England and landed on the Ravens practice squad. But the Pats signed him back to the active roster this week and look for a hungry and motivated Jones this week. An interesting tidbit was that Jones was practicing with the safeties this week.

Resilience:  The Patriots success under Bill Belichick is always enhanced by the fact that they don’t lose many games back to back. As we pointed out earlier this week, the Patriots are 45-6 since 2003 following a loss. And for those conspiracy theorists that lament the Patriots playing in the AFC “Least”? Since realignment in 2002, the Patriots are 51-16 against the NFC, the best interconference record in the NFL. 

Tom Brady reportedly was testy and irritable all week in practice. Mike Giardi from NFL Network reported that Brady was quite unhappy with the level of execution that the Patriots showed in Jacksonville and wants to ensure that it doesn’t happen again this week against the Lions.

Corey Coleman the former 1st Round draft pick of the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft was released by the Patriots to make room for Josh Gordon. But the next day after clearing waivers, the Patriots signed him to the team’s practice squad.

Coleman had only spent a week in New England and was inactive for the Jacksonville game but Bill Belichick was highly complimentary of the former Baylor wide receiver.

“He’s a player we want to work with,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how it goes. We haven’t had him a long time but he’s done a good job with the opportunities that he’s had. We want to keep working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”

Malcolm Mitchell filed a grievance against the Patriots, as first reported by our old buddy Miguel Benzan, commonly known as @Patscap the salary cap guru. The former the receiver has filed an injury grievance against the team and was seeking his entire 2018 salary of $630,000.

Mitchell was released by the Patriots back on August 6. That release was not coupled with an injury designation, so the receiver could not recoup any money from his deal. Mitchell cleared waivers, however, late Friday night there were reports that the two sides had settled the dispute.

Pat Chung/Trey Flowers didn’t practice this week and are doubtful for tonight’s game. Their loss will be a big blow to the Patriots defense. Flowers is their best player on the defensive side of the ball and Chung is an excellent tackler and his presence will be missed in the running game and the covering of tight ends.

No One Wants to See Gordon Fail:

In the hoopla of the Josh Gordon trade this week, reactions were mixed but by far, most were exceedingly positive and the prevailing theme was, “Brady hasn’t had a target like this since Randy Moss.”

Others, including here in this column were against the trade. And my TL and DMs quickly jumped my mentions by explaining that it was a “low-risk, high reward” scenario. Other mentions accused me of wanting Gordon to fail, which is ridiculous.

But this move isn’t low risk, because Gordon isn’t being just brought in to be a complementary piece. All of the mentions states, the Patriots need a player who can stretch the field and take pressure off of the intermediate receivers. So, yes he will be expected to play a valuable role.

While the compensation is basically a wash, which is basically a no-risk scenario, the big risk here, as I pointed out in the Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on Tuesday is time. This wasn’t a trade you make in March and have six months to figure out if the player fits your offense, your locker room and has put his problems on the back burner enough for you to secure him a roster spot.

This scenario is after Week 2 of the NFL regular season. And the team doesn’t have the time to try to prepare for an upcoming opponent while trying to incorporate a new Wide Receiver into the fold while treading very lightly around said, player. And he is a player with serious addiction issues. It isn’t as some point out, “just weed” and is much deeper.

Saying all this can be easily fixed by just dropping him in the Patriots locker room is overly simplistic and doesn’t lend itself the seriousness of Gordon’s situation. What about when he goes home at night? That’s where his problems lie, not in the building.

Everyone here wants to see him be successful…at life, football is a far second to that. Addiction and drug use are big problems facing our nation as a whole. But his physical talents have never been in question.  Would we love to see him light it up and be a part of bringing Lombardi #6 home? Of course.

But it isn’t as simple or as easy as many will have you believe. Hopefully, Robert Kraft will put some quality off-field support mechanisms around Gordon to help him.

Derek Rivers Set To Make His NFL Debut?

The bad news of Trey Flowers having a concussion and having missed all of this week’s practice could be an opportunity for last year’s top draft pick Derek Rivers. Rivers has been a healthy scratch for both of the first two games of the season after falling behind Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise and Keionta Davis on the depth chart.

Rivers missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL during joint practices with the Jaguars last August. He started slowly in training camp this year but came on and started to round into form.

It will be interesting to see how he can produce in a regular season game, which will be his first NFL action if Flowers is a scratch for tonight’s game. Rivers told NESN’s Doug Kyed this week that he hasn’t been frustrated by his lack of playing time yet but he’s just working hard and waiting for his chance.

“I’d be excited,” he said.  “But this is what we’ve been doing since camp. I got to play in the preseason, and every game is similar. I know everybody puts a lot of pressure on preseason and regular season, but a football game is a football game. It’s a blessing to play in each and every one of them. It will be exciting times, and god-willing, if this is the week, then I’ll be excited.”

Who You Have This Week, NFL Week 2 Predictions:

Last week: 9-6-1 Season 18-12-2

Thursday night’s pick Cleveland over the Jets 1-0

New Orleans at Atlanta: Falcons
Green Bay at Washington: Packers
Indy at Philadelphia: Eagles
Buffalo at Minnesota: Vikings
Oakland at Miami: Dolphins
Denver at Baltimore:  Ravens
Cincinnati at Carolina: Panthers
Giants at Houston: Texans
Tennessee at Jacksonville: Titans
San Francisco at Kansas City: Chiefs
LA Rams at LA Chargers: Rams
Dallas at Seattle: Dallas
Chicago at Arizona: Cardinals
New England at Detroit: Patriots
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: Bucs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have a Tough Matchup on the Road in Minnesota:

Buffalo is 0-2 and heading to Minnesota to take on the 1-0-1 Vikings. Since opening their new stadium in 2016, the Vikes are 14-4 at home, third best in the NFL behind New England and Philadelphia.

Josh Allen has the unenviable task of going with a shaky offensive line and a dearth of playmakers against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Vikings have seven sacks as a team, while the Bills have already allowed 11.

After being hammered in the first half and allowing 28 points, Head Coach Sean McDermott took over the defensive play calling in the second half and the unit responded, allowing just three points in the second half. That will bear watching today.

While we were adamant that Allen should have been sitting and learning in his rookie year, McDermott hit the panic button after just one half of the first game. Allen was sacked five times last week and has been put in a nearly impossible position to succeed. Buffalo will have to tread carefully here, these type of situations have ruined other young QB’s confidence. And the Vikes will be bringing the heat.

Dolphins Have Big Game At Home Against the 0-2 Raiders:

Miami is 2-0 and has played very well against both the Titans and Jets and sit alone atop the AFC East after just two weeks. So why is this game against the winless Raiders such a big one? Because these are the types of games the Dolphins have consistently dropped when having a chance to get momentum going.

Today’s home game will put the Dolphins at 3-0 and guarantee them of no worse than a tie with New England with a road trip heading up to Foxboro next weekend. And a win will put the Dolphins of a chance of going undefeated thru the quarter pole of the season  That will boost a lot of confidence in the team as they move forward.

With kickoff time temps of about 88 degrees with high humidity, it is a built-in advantage. Also, factor in the Raiders are making an East Coast swing for a 1 p.m. game, something that West Coast teams don’t normally play well in, it is something to watch for.

Miami has a prime opportunity for them to pounce on a team that hasn’t played well yet in 2018. And look for their defense today to make a couple of big plays. That will set up some good drama for Week 4, which will pit them against the Pats for the first time this year.

Darnold Takes Blame For Loss, But the Fault Was With Jets Coaches:

The New York Jets lost on Thursday Night Football 21-17 to the Cleveland Browns, the Jets third game in 11 days and may have run out of gas at the end. And of course, the popular narrative was that Baker Mayfield outplayed Sam Darnold on the big stage.

While you can certainly point to the numbers to make that case, it was hardly that simple. When Mayfield came in, the Jets were rolling 14-0. But rather than put restrictions on him, the Cleveland coaches cut him loose and allowed him to throw the ball all over the field, in other words opening the playbook completely to him. And Mayfield looked very much the part of the 1st overall pick in the draft against what is a pretty darn good Jets defense.

Darnold, in contrast, was just 15-31 for 169 yards and two interceptions, both thrown with under a minute and a half left in the game on desperation throws.

“From my point of view, I just have to play better, simple as that,” Darnold said after the game. “It’s not acceptable, the way I played. I know that, and I have to take it like a man. I feel like I’m responsible for some of the stagnant offense we had. I just have to play better, that’s it.”

While standing up and taking responsibility is laudable, the coaches deserve as much if not more of the blame for the stagnant offense. They have saddled the rookie with a very limited playbook. Worried about the Browns blitzing, they gave him a steady diet of screen passes and other very conservative options. They never allowed him to test the field the way the Browns did.

Even Jets WR Quincy Enunwa hit on the issue, although he worded it carefully, there is no doubt what he said here. “He did as well as he could with the plays that were given to him,” Enunwa said. “They had a lot of pressure, and that kind of messed us up.”

The Jets aren’t helping his progression by limiting what he can do on the field. Making things simpler is one thing, hamstringing a QB’s options are another. It is like being thrown the keys to a muscle car and then being told, not to shift it out of second.

NFL fans lost out on what would have been an interesting matchup between two QBs of the future. Darnold didn’t regress in his third start, the coaching staff blinked. Let him play the way he’s capable of.

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.

Players To Watch New England Patriots – Detroit Lions Week 3

Steve Balestrieri
September 21, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Sunday Night Football Primetime Matchup

The New England Patriots head back out on the road to take on the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football. Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is in his first year as a head coach of the Lions and is off to a rough start, going 0-2 to start the season.

The Patriots also lost last week in Jacksonville dropping them to 1-1 on the season and they’ll be looking to rebound. The Patriots defense will probably be without two of their best defensive players in Trey Flowers and Pat Chung who were in the concussion protocol all week and haven’t practiced.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have been outstanding at limiting losing streaks and are 45-6 in games following a loss since 2003 and have been 51-13 against NFC opponents since realignment in 2002.

The Lions with Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and Theo Riddick out of the backfield offer a serious challenge defensively, especially with the players missing this week. The Lions defense has eight sacks already and got six last week against Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers.

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

Sony Michel:

The Patriots rookie running back got into his first NFL action last week after missing all of the preseason and the first regular season game. This week should show a big uptick in his usage and he should probably be a big part of the Patriots game plan this week.

The Lions run defense has been gashed badly the first two weeks of the season. And look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of that fact with the very promising and explosive Michel.

Last week in shaking off the rust, Michel had ten carries, we look to see him get about double the touches this week between rushing the football and receiving out of the backfield with James White and Rex Burkhead.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots newest addition to the team just got on-board this week after coming over in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. He is still trying to learn the offense, (not surprisingly after just a few days of practice) and to boot hasn’t been 100 percent physically as he tweaked a hamstring last Friday.

In our pregame matchups, we wrote that we thought he’d be unlikely to play. But many of the national and local media types keep saying that although he’s not 100 percent that they believe the Patriots will install a small package of plays to get him on the field.

If that indeed is the case, then, of course, all eyes will be on the big, physical and athletic wide receiver. As to what he can bring to the table in such a short amount of time? No one knows and we’ll just have to wait and find out.

Cordarrelle Patterson/Cyrus Jones:

The Patriots picked up the very talented kick returner/wide receiver this offseason and he hasn’t been able to showcase any of his talents much in the return game. Jones was originally the Pats top pick a few seasons ago and tore his ACL last August before being released in September. He was a member of the Ravens practice squad but the Patriots signed him to the active roster just this week for his punt return abilities.

Both could play key roles this week. The Lions coverage units have allowed a 90-yard kickoff return and 74 and 43-yard punt returns already this season. This would be a primetime perfect time for the special teams’ units to break out and give the team a boost.

We’re looking for both of these players to make a splash on Sunday night. The Patriots special teams are always one of the strengths of this team and thus far, they’ve underperformed as to what we expect from them. A national television game is a perfect time to fix that and put some production on the board.

Derek Rivers:

The Patriots top rookie draft choice a year ago, also tore his ACL last August and was lost for the entire rookie season. He’s worked his way back and had a pretty good training camp but was passed on the depth chart by fellow DE Keionta Davis who also missed his rookie season of 2017 with a neck injury.

But with Flowers unlikely to play with a concussion, Rivers should be in line to make his professional debut on Sunday night in Detroit. It will be intriguing to see what he can bring to the table in terms of rushing the passer this week. He’s waited a long time to get on the field. Now maybe a chance to show what he can do.

Jason McCourty:

With Pat Chung likely out with a concussion, McCourty should see a big uptick in usage this week at the safety spot. Chung is an excellent tackler and always does a solid job of defending the tight ends so the “other” McCourty brother will have his work cut out for him this week.

McCourty could also see significant snaps at corner. When Eric Rowe was sat down last week in Jacksonville, McCourty came in and played nearly three-quarters of the snaps. Now Rowe is on the injury report with a groin issue and he’d normally be assigned the bigger Golladay (6’4, 213) to cover.

So depending on how the coaches see this week playing out in terms of player matchups McCourty could play significant snaps at either corner or safety, perhaps a bit of both. But he’ll definitely see the field quite a bit on Sunday night.

Rob Gronkowski/Jacob Hollister:

The Patriots tight ends may be a significant part of the game plan this week. Gronkowski had only two catches a week ago as the Jaguars used two, sometimes three different defenders to take him away. The Lions defense isn’t as deep as Jacksonville’s and they can’t afford to put that much capital to defend one man.

On a big national stage, we’re looking for Gronkowski to make a big rebound and for Tom Brady to try to get him involved early and often in the Patriots offense. It will be interesting to see how the Lions plan on matching him up.

For Hollister, the Patriots 2nd year tight end is a very good receiver in his own right and has the ability to stretch the field down the seams. We’re looking for Josh McDaniels and Brady to get him more involved this week. With the preponderance of the defensive effort geared to stopping Gronkowski, Hollister could have a nice productive game and we’ll look for Brady to get him more involved.  

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

FG Gives Panthers Win over Patriots, Defense Historically Bad

Steve Balestrieri
October 1, 2017 at 8:54 pm ET

Last Second FG Gives Panthers Win over Patriots, Defense Historically Bad

This one was settled long before Graham Gano boomed a 48-yard field goal easily thru the uprights of Gillette Stadium with no time on the clock for a 33-30 win for the Carolina Panthers over the Patriots.

New England had a chance to pull off another miracle finish. Tom Brady rallied the troops from two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter and the score was knotted at 30 apiece. The Patriots had the Panthers with a 3rd and 7 from the 27-yard line and Deatrich Wise sacked Cam Newton back on the 16. If the play holds up, Carolina punts from deep in their end and nobody in the stadium thought that Brady wouldn’t drive them for a game-winning score with 2:23 to go. But Stephon Gilmore got called for illegal hands to the face, (his second such penalty of the day) and the Panthers got a new life and you could see what was going to happen. Newton moved them easily down the field and they were well within range after a kind of ticky-tack 5-yard penalty on Pat Chung.

There were several ticky-tack calls on the Patriots today, the first on Gilmore was like the Ali invisible punch. And truth be told, Jerome Boger’s crew is easily the worst in football. They are singularly horrible. But if you’re trying to blame this one on the officiating, unlike the 2013 Carolina game, you’re seriously deluding yourself.

The Patriots didn’t deserve to win this game and were badly outplayed on the defensive side of the ball. I was thinking at half-time that three weeks from today will be the 50th anniversary of watching my first Patriots game. October 22, 1967, at Fenway Park and the Patriots were annihilated by the Oakland Raiders 48-14. The Raiders were on their way to the Super Bowl. The Pats? To a 3-win season and into the early 70s as arguably the worst team in pro football. The Raiders rolled up about 400 yards of offense and the Patriots managed just 83. Yep, just 43 yards on the ground and 40 thru the air.

And at halftime, I came to the realization, that right now, after four games this may just be the worst Patriots defense I’ve seen in 50 years. And there is no reason for it. Those teams had no talent, so there were no surprises when they lost and lost big.

Talent isn’t an issue here, these guys didn’t just forget how to play football all of a sudden. This was largely the same group that led the league in points against and won the Super Bowl last year.  They’re not getting beat physically, that would be easier to deal with I think. No, this team is getting beat mentally, which is what they pride themselves on. They were going to play mistake-free football, wait for the opponent to make the error and then capitalize on it. Now they are the ones making blunders…. And they’re making them all over the field.

The Patriots mantra is “Do Your Job”. We just watched the NFL Films documentary on that before the opening game. Well on the defensive side, no one is doing their job, not the coaches, not the captains and certainly not the players. It isn’t an anomaly, it is a trend, they’ve blown multiple coverages every game for four games and a quarter of the season is gone. I cringe when I see opposing QBs throw the ball deep because I expect to see someone running wide open down the field….much like we’ve seen every week. The Patriots just allowed two of the worst offenses in the NFL to put a combined 66 points and 861 yards on them the past two games and that is damn alarming right now. Think about how ugly this really could be. Because, despite the defense’s travails, the offense is playing tremendous football right now. Despite the defense allowing 128 points so far this season, the offense has scored 129. Think about that for a second. Imagine if the defense were just playing so-so, how many more opportunities would the offense have to score?

Those Patriots teams of yore were as equally inept on both sides of the ball. That 1967 team in the final four games of the season allowed 141 points, but their offense was only scoring 78. If Brady wasn’t playing at an all-world level right now, things could easily be really ugly.

The communication is really bad and asked if things could be simplified, Duron Harmon gave perhaps the scariest answer of all. He said they’ve simplified it as much as they can. And yet every game, players are running uncovered down the field. And before everyone gets all over Stephon Gilmore, he’s far from the only one missing the boat out there.

The 28-yard touchdown screen pass to Fozzy Whitaker was a microcosm of what ails this defense. At the snap, Devin McCourty, and Gilmore rushed from right to left. Inside linebacker Elandon Roberts also took a 45-degree angle to the left. But the Panthers ran the screen to the right and nobody was home. Just a sea of white jerseys blocking. The two long pass plays to Devin Funchess? Much the same. Nobody from the Patriots in the area code.

We keep saying the issues are mental and are fixable….well they’ve been making the same ones and a lot of them for four weeks. Now they have a game in four days against …. Yet another mobile quarterback.

I don’t know if the answer is to sit anyone in the secondary, but the coaches aren’t getting thru to the players out there. One issue that needs to happen on Thursday is to move Dont’a Hightower back to the inside linebacker position. Roberts is a situational player at best and not a starter inside. That will at least solidify the middle of the field and in the running game. Move Kyle Van Noy back to where he’s more comfortable. I saw that they actually did do that for a few snaps as Hightower was spying on Newton after he scrambled.

But beyond that, the coaches have their work cut out for them. Cam Newton played his best game in two years, and they haven’t faced the best QBs on their schedule yet, Derek Carr, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers…and Jameis Winston on Thursday. Buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

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 fromPatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Duron Harmon

Steve Balestrieri
February 21, 2017 at 7:34 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the players that is an important role player is safety, Duron Harmon.

The Patriots’ 26-year old safety from Rutgers has been a valuable member of the secondary. Harmon is kind of a closer for the team. Time and again, he’s shown the knack for making the big interception to close out games as the Patriots third safety. He had an interception against the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round and nearly had another in the Super Bowl against Matt Ryan. It was a play he normally comes down with.

Everyone remembers his interception against Joe Flacco and the Ravens in the 2014 Divisional Round that sealed the Patriots comeback win. It is typical of the play that we’ve come to expect from Harmon in big situations.

When the team goes to their “Big Nickel” look with three safeties, Harmon comes in and plays the deep centerfield role, something he’s excelled in. He’s almost a starter, logging about 49 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016.


Duron Harmon intercepts Joe Flacco in the 2014 Divisional Round of the playoffs. (USA TODAY Images)

The Patriots drafted Harmon in the 3rd Round, 91st overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.  His role has steadily evolved since then and he’s now a trusted integral part of the defense. Harmon finished his fourth year with a second Super Bowl ring, and he’s in line to get a nice pay increase. While the Patriots would surely be willing to increase his pay, the question now becomes, will another swoop in and wow Harmon with a big money contract and a chance to be a starter?

Why Harmon Will Return: The Patriots and Bill Belichick know that you can never have enough defensive backs, especially ones with the big play ability that Harmon has. He’s proven that the big moments of games aren’t too big for him, he has a knack for always being in the right place at the right time.

He knows the system, the coaches, and his fellow players. He’s a de facto starter with Devin McCourty and Pat Chung, the three work extremely well together. He’s the insurance for McCourty in the case of injury, something the Patriots no doubt recognize.

He shouldn’t break the bank to re-sign and given a nice pay raise, he could continue in his role with the team and provide them with solid play on the back end and insurance for McCourty. There is the subject of winning also. Harmon has two Super Bowl Rings in just four years. In his other two years, the Patriots went to the conference championship game. By now, he’s met several other players who’ve come to New England after toiling for years without a sniff of the playoffs. That is a draw that can’t be discounted.

Why Harmon Won’t Return: There is a very real possibility that another team will recognize Harmon’s talents for what they are and pay him much more than the Patriots would. While the money is one thing, the opportunity to go from being a de facto starter to becoming a starter and playing in 90 percent + of the reps is another.

While he’s not a household name with casual fans around the NFL, the scouts and GMs of opposing teams know his worth. And one of them may feel he’s ready to assume the mantle of leadership that McCourty enjoys here as the centerfielder and leader of the secondary.

Money is always an issue in free agency. One of the reasons the Patriots have enjoyed such success under Bill Belichick is because they won’t fall into the trap of overpaying for players, either their own or others who have hit the market. If another team offers Harmon more than the Pats deem his value is, then he’ll be gone.

Bottom Line: The Patriots have an eclectic group of safeties. The three ostensible starters, McCourty, Chung, and Harmon all have varying skill sets that makes them click so well. McCourty is the centerfielder who can move down into the box and cover the slot receivers like a cornerback.

Chung is an in-the-box safety who is outstanding in run support and can cover in the short areas of the field. He plays the role of a linebacker in the Patriots big nickel formations.

Harmon doesn’t have the versatility of McCourty and while not a detriment in run support, that isn’t a position of strength. But he’s a fantastic deep cover safety with excellent ball skills and anticipation. The other three safeties on the roster, Nate Ebner, Brandon King and Jordan Richards are mainly special teams’ mavens.

Together the three make a fantastic trio that locks down the deep part of the field and provides good support underneath. When was the last time, you saw the safeties get burned on a deep ball?

That’s why the Patriots should make a concerted effort to retain Harmon preferably before the March 9th, 4:00 p.m. deadline when free agency begins. They probably can convince him to stay put with a nice increase in pay. An added incentive is always the chance to play deep into the playoffs every year, something that can’t be discounted.

However, the chances of that happening are going to be low. There should be a decent amount of interest for Harmon’s services once free agency begins in earnest. Therefore, the chances of his returning are only about 50-50 in a Patriots uniform in 2017.

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 Free Agent Profile Alan Branch

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2017 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and a very important piece is defensive lineman Alan Branch.

The Patriots picked up Branch during the 2014 Super Bowl run after Chandler Jones injured his hip in midseason. The Buffalo Bills released Branch after a DUI arrest earlier that year. He then played very well but sparingly down the stretch for the Patriots and was an integral part of the team that defeated the Seahawks.

He was even more valuable this time around, being arguably the Patriots best interior defensive lineman all season long being a two-gap run stuffer inside and providing outstanding support against the run and the occasional pocket push against the pass.

Branch was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2007 NFL Draft and played four seasons for the Cardinals before playing well in two seasons for the Seahawks. Branch spent 2013 as a member of the Buffalo Bills. After playing well for Buffalo that year, he was given a three-year contract extension and paid a $3.1 million dollar signing bonus.

But like Michael Floyd this season, he let a lapse in judgment cost him. But since his release by Buffalo, he’s been a solid teammate and a veteran presence on the team providing very solid play next to two younger players inside with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine.

Alan Branch was a tremendous run-stuffer for the Patriots defense in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Why Branch Will Return: The Patriots don’t have a lot of depth inside with just Branch, Brown, and Valentine along with Woodrow Hamilton and the three players have little experience. Brown finished his 2nd season and the latter two were rookies in 2016.

Branch at 32, shouldn’t break the bank in terms of free agency. After the last Super Bowl run he signed a two-year deal for a moderate sum ($5 million-dollar range). If he is willing to accept a similar deal again, it would be easy to see the Patriots paying him around the same amount of money with weight and playing time incentives worked in.

The Patriots are happy with his play the past few years as Branch has been a very solid performer both on the practice and playing fields. There is no reason to think he couldn’t continue to perform at a high level for the next season or two and provide the big immovable object inside, eating up two gaps which allow the linebackers to come in and make plays.

The 6’6, 350-pound Branch while an immovable force inside is quite athletic for a big man and enjoys skateboarding since he was a kid in New Mexico. He didn’t panic after a slow start in Super Bowl LI by the Patriots defense. Instead, he said, the players just trusted in themselves and the process.

“Honestly, we just started finally executing,” he said after the game. “We were on the field and we knew what we had to do, but we weren’t getting it done in the first half. When we came into halftime, we talked to each other. We weren’t down, we didn’t give up. We weren’t talking about rolling over or anything. We just started talking about being on our job, being more positive, having fun out there.”

Branch actually leapfrogged Brown this season on the Patriots depth chart and played more snaps than the 2nd year player after Brown in his rookie year, led the defensive line in snap percentage in 2015. Branch played just under 60 percent of the snaps after playing in under 40 percent of them last year.

Why Branch Won’t Return: Branch has won a pair of Super Bowls with New England and may be wanting to cash in one final time. There are always teams looking for veteran run-stuffing help inside and it is possible that a team will pony up more money than the Patriots will feel fits his value. In that scenario, one could easily see Branch leaving for one final payday in the sun.

It is possible that the Patriots will want to get younger at the position and bring in a rookie player that can stuff the run and play for about 20 percent of what they’d have to pay Branch to return.

Branch is at that age when the big men begin to break down and perhaps the coaches will feel that they’ve already gotten the best that they can ask for from Branch at this stage of his career and be prepared to move on. Remember, they did much the same thing with Vince Wilfork after Super Bowl XLIX.

Bottom Line: The Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Branch earlier during the playoffs and praised his size and athleticism. The Providence Journal quoted Belichick as saying this about Branch:

“How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is — I mean they don’t grow on trees,” Belichick said. “They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard Seymour or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’re not too many of them. Gerard Warren was a big guy that ran well. Money [Warren] was a very athletic player who wasn’t quite as long as Branch, but moving into that range.”

“It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays, so all of that is good.”

It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out. Branch is a very valuable member of the defense. He was a key cog in a Patriots defense that was very solid against the run and his presence inside allowed players like Hightower and Roberts at linebacker to flow and make plays.

If the money is right, it is easy to see him returning for a final contract that will allow him to retire as a Patriot. He’s been very happy here in Matt Patricia’s defense and that factor may sway him to remain. But other teams love to pluck players off of Super Bowl-winning rosters to provide that type of presence and mentorship to their younger players. If someone ponies up the cash, he could bolt. Right now, I’d say it is even money that Branch returns in 2017.

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’ Defense Made Adjustments, Got the Stops When It Mattered

Steve Balestrieri
February 7, 2017 at 9:01 am ET

“They Haven’t played anybody…”

Well, now they have.

The Patriots defense, perhaps the most-maligned #1 scoring defense in NFL history, had its issues in the first half but did what they accomplished so often in 2016. Between Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick, they made their adjustments, played good overall team defense and smart situational football and made the plays at crunch time to allow the offense to make their comeback. The result was the Patriots are gearing up for their Super Bowl parade on Tuesday morning.

Since the halfway point of the season, this is a unit that kept getting better, despite the usual suspects who looked to denigrate everything the team accomplished and marginalize every victory. While the list of opposing QBs was hardly a “Murderer’s Row”, the team focused on getting things right and playing better, regardless of who was lined up opposite of them. And they did.

Allowing the fewest points in the NFL isn’t a fluke after a 16-game schedule, regardless of what some would have you believe. Was the defense, the best in the NFL? No, and no one is making that argument. But they were better than what some would have you believe and no longer can it be said, “they haven’t faced a top QB.”

Points Not Yards are Bottom-line: One can argue all day long about yards allowed, the Patriots will never lead the league in that category. Because their defensive philosophy is such that they’ll allow the short plays underneath because they won’t allow opponents to get the big chunk plays down the field. And they did that in the playoffs again.

In three playoff games, the Patriots defense allowed a total of 54 points. With 16 against the Texans and then just 17 against the Steelers’ offense and 21 against the #1 offense in the league against Atlanta. That’s allowing just 18 points per game.  And the final two games were against some high-powered offenses with Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan.

In the second half of their three postseason games, the defense allowed just 18 points with seven of them coming on a garbage time touchdown by the Steelers. The Falcons scored just seven points in the second half and most importantly none in the fourth quarter.

First Half in Houston was hardly super, but their finish was: Atlanta’s first play from scrimmage was a huge 37-yard run by Devonta Freeman. The play was perfectly executed by the Falcons with outstanding blocking from the offensive line and especially Julio Jones that sprung Freeman on his jaunt to get Atlanta out of a deep hole.

Freeman and Tevin Coleman were very effective in the first half, rushing for 86 yards, which is just 2.6 yards less than the Patriots were allowing for an entire game. But after halftime, it was a different story. Atlanta rushed for just 18 yards after the break.

Freeman ended up with 75 yards rushing on 11 carries which comes out to a stellar 6.8-yards per rush. But after that big run (which coincidentally netted zero points), he carried 10 times for 38 yards. Atlanta had scored on their opening possession for the previous nine games prior to the Super Bowl. That streak ended on Sunday.

So, while Kyle Shanahan is under fire for not running the ball more, especially in the fourth quarter (see Victory-Marginalization Pt1), there was a reason why he didn’t. And a lot of that had to do with the Patriots defense.

In the passing game, Freeman and Coleman combined for just three catches. While two of them were big plays, a 39-yarder to Freeman where he broke a few ankles making people miss and the TD to Coleman where it was another perfectly executed play where Ninkovich was caught up in the wash inside. They weren’t the consistent targets in the passing game that we envisioned Atlanta planning on prior to the game.

Ryan’s Performance Was Outstanding: Falcon’s QB Matt Ryan was the NFL’s MVP this year and his performance on Sunday night showed why that was so deserved. He completed 17-23 for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But a second look at some of his big throws, especially to Julio Jones shows that the Patriots couldn’t have defended many of those any better. Several of the throws were of the very low-percentage variety that Ryan just threw dimes on. And the plays by Jones on a few of those were just ridiculous.

Rather than find fault with the defense, those were some plays where one must tip their hat to the opposition.

Third Down Defense Outstanding: A key area that the Patriots like to stress with the defense under Belichick is getting off the field on third down. Atlanta only converted 1 of 8 third-down opportunities. They got a second one on a close call on Malcolm Butler who was flagged for pass interference.

But in the second half, the Falcons offense was 0-5 on third down. And that wasn’t against Brock Osweiler and the Texans. Atlanta was the #1 scoring offense in the NFL this season and Ryan was the MVP. Without a solid defensive effort in the 2nd half, there was no comeback in the cards.

“Where are the PlayMakers?” Right Here: Another knock that we constantly hear about the Patriots defense is the lack of playmakers. In reality, it is more about the lack of name recognition than actual playmakers.

When they needed big plays the defense got them. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower who is indispensable to the Pats defense came up with a huge strip sack on Ryan which flipped the game’s momentum to the Patriots.

Facing a 3rd and 1, Ryan and the Falcons were going for the homerun ball, Hightower blitzed off the edge and blew past a very half-hearted block attempt of Freeman and blasted Ryan just as he was about to release the ball. The Patriots took over at the Atlanta 25-yard line and soon scored to make it 28-20 and the Pats were right back in the game. Pay the man.

Trey Flowers continued his outstanding second half of the season with a super performance in the Super Bowl. Flowers led the team with 2.5 sacks of Matt Ryan as they piled up five sacks in just 23 pass attempts by the Falcons’ QB.

None were bigger than his fourth-quarter sack of Ryan which helped push Atlanta out of field goal range. Facing a 2nd and 11 at the Patriots 23, Flowers sacked Ryan for a loss of 12 yards back to the 35-yard line. The next play was a holding penalty on Atlanta that pushed the ball back to the 45-yard line.

There his third down pass was incomplete forcing a punt rather than a field goal attempt and Brady drove the ball 91 yards in 2:33 for his own “John Candy” moment to tie up the Super Bowl.

The Patriots defense held Atlanta’s high scoring offense to just 21 total points with seven in the second half with none in the fourth quarter. They held them to 1-8 on third downs including 0-5 in the second half. I think Ryan and the Falcons’ offense qualify as “having faced somebody.”  It was a tough game but they passed their test.

Now let’s go to a Super Bowl parade…

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