Tag Archives: Michael Bennett

Patriots – Cowboys Week 12 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 22, 2019 at 6:38 am ET

The Patriots return home for a big matchup against the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium. This will be the second straight week facing an NFC East team as the Patriots were in Philadelphia last Sunday.  

The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Cowboys are leading the NFC East with a 6-4 record, a game ahead of the Eagles…thanks to New England. 

This will be a match of strength vs strength as the #1 offense of the Cowboys is facing the #1 defense of the Patriots.  

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

The Patriots (9-1) are coming off a hard-fought, tough 17-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The defense logged five sacks of Carson Wentz and shut them out for the final 42+ minutes 

The Cowboys (6-4) are coming off of a big 35-27 win over the Detroit Lions. Dak Prescott threw for 444 yards and is leading the league. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Cowboys have met 12 times in their history, including the first-ever game in Texas Stadium in Irving. Dallas won the first seven and the Patriots the last five. The teams last met in October 2015 in Dallas where the Patriots won 30-6.

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 Cowboys Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Dallas

The Patriots running game remains frustratingly mired in neutral, they have tried different combinations and backs but the issue remains the offensive line has not played well as a group. However, starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn returns after being on IR for eight weeks (turf toe). Will it help to have Wynn back? Of course. Will it make them a juggernaut running the ball or even consistently good? Nope. Their problems running the ball are deeper than just one man can fix. But it should be better. 

The Cowboys run defense is middle of the road allowing 105.2 yards per game which is tied for 15th in the league. Their defense is small and very fast and athletic. (More to this below). This is a matchup a year ago that the Patriots ground game would have eaten them alive in the second half. This year? Hmm…

Look for Josh McDaniels to mix things up but this may be a straight-ahead type of game for the running backs. Trying to run those stretch plays to the outside against a fast, athletic defense is pure folly.  A straight-ahead game would favor more Rex Burkhead and possible Brandon Bolden than Sony Michel but we’ll see.         

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

Caveat here…. A big maybe considering who may miss this game. The Patriots passing game has been limited by the pass blocking of the offensive line. Again, it hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. That means Tom Brady can’t wait long enough for plays to develop. The Patriots have good possession guys in Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu who are very quick off the line and can eat up the short-intermediate areas of the field. Sanu is dealing with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss this week’s game. A big loss. 

Dallas is 7th in the league against the pass allowing 216.9 yards per game. Their strength is their pass rush. Robert Quinn has 8.5 sacks while DeMarcus Lawrence has 4.5. Michael Bennett has garnered three sacks in three games. 

Wynn’s return will definitely help because Marshall Newhouse struggled against speed rushers. And Quinn is an excellent speed rusher off the blindside. With Sanu and possibly Phillip Dorsett out, it means Edelman, James White, and Rex Burkhead will be leaned on heavily. The offense will need rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers to step up big this week. Ben Watson has been coming on a bit and should see more targets this week. 

Next up the Cowboys offense:

Cowboys RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Dallas

The Cowboys running game with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard with Prescott scrambling out of the pocket is very effective. It helps to have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL to run behind. An area to watch is the health of the Cowboys’ bookend tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, both of whom have been banged up. 

The Patriots have been a Top 10 defense against the run allowing 97.3 yards per game. They’ll need the big men inside, Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy to penetrate and slow down the running game at the point of attack. 

For the Patriots it isn’t so much stopping Elliott, he’s going to get his yards, but they have to slow him down with their nickel package to force Prescott into obvious passing situations on third down. If they can do that, they’ll be successful. If Dallas constantly has third and short, they’ll get burned by play action. 

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

The Dallas passing game has a plethora of weapons. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb at wide receiver, Jason Witten at tight end and Elliott out of the backfield is a tough group to cover. Dallas is the #1 team in the NFL on 3rd down. 

The Patriots #1 pass defense will be tested here. Stephon Gilmore is the best corner in the league and will be matched up with Cooper. But the key for New England is QB pressure where the Patriots have 37 sacks on the season. Covering the secondary receivers Gallup and Cobb will take on an increased focus for J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty.

Prescott will continue to spread it around, look for Witten to play a big role this week. The Patriots will try to pressure him and force him into making a mistake. Third downs and keeping the sticks moving will be key for the offense. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams have Nick Folk who has settled things down in the kicking game although he hasn’t been asked to do much from distance yet. Jake Bailey is having an outstanding season and last week put six of eight punts inside the 20-yard line. The coverage units have been terrific. The return game has been stuck in neutral.

The Cowboys have the very steady Brett Maher who is 32-32 for PATs and has been okay in the FG department but has missed 4-6 from 50 yards and beyond. The Dallas return game has been only so-so. Because they’re at home and Bailey is on a roll, the Patriots get the nod this week.

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 10-1 but have their work cut out for them this week as the Cowboys are a very tough matchup this week. But Dallas has been inconsistent this season. One week they look awful and lose to the Jets and then they totally blow out the Eagles. I’d expect them to bring their A-Game to Gillette this week.

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Slow Down the Run- Look for the Patriots defense to give some different looks this week. If Pat Chung can return to game action this week it will help as he typically plays in the box. The Cowboys like to play mainly out of their 11 personnel package, (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and even with Elliot, they’ll be in their nickel package. 

Instead of the normal two-gapping the big men, the Patriots may try to have Guy and Shelton penetrate and slow things before they have a chance to get off the line. This is a big key for the defense. It seems crazy to say that they want to force the ball in Prescott’s hands but that would match against the Patriots strength, their secondary. 

Get the RBs into the Passing Game – The Patriots offense has struggled lately and with Sanu and possibly Dorsett out, this could get ugly. Therefore. James White and Rex Burkhead have to step up and keep the chains moving. Look for the Patriots to go up-tempo and try to control the clock. 

Michael Lombardi was on Dallas radio and had some interesting things to say. 

“In the last 2 seasons when the Cowboys play 30 minutes or more on defense they’re 5-17. When they play 30 min or less they’re 20-4. 

Why is that? It’s because the Cowboys are small on defense, they rely on quickness, they rely on speed, they rely on their movement to make plays.  When they have to stand in the middle of the ring for 32, 33 minutes, they wear down. That’s the essence of this game and I think what you’ll see from the Patriots is you’ll see tempo, you’ll see them control, you’ll see them want to hold the ball 34+ minutes and keep Zeke and Dak off the field.” 

Will this work without Sanu and Dorsett? We’ll see. Bill Belichick is the master at finding the adjustments needed to win and in the coaching department, he gets the edge over Garrett, but the team may be very short-handed on offense. 

Special Teams Will Have to Step Up – The Patriots have been getting great special teams play and they’ll need more of that this week to earn a victory. Bailey has been outstanding at pinning teams deep and they’ll need more of that on a rainy Sunday in Gillette. 

Look for them to go after a punt or two this weekend to help out the struggling offense. Justin Bethel or Brandon Bolden may be a key contributor this week.

___________

Prediction: 

As we’ve said, the Cowboys present a great matchup of two really good football teams. The Cowboys offense is tough and will not be easy to stop. They’ll get their yards and points this week, especially with the Patriots offense scuffling along right now. The Patriots will get it figured out, they always do.

But with Sanu and Dorsett out, that may be too much for the offense to work around. The Patriots drop their first game at home this year and fall to 9-2 on the season.  Cowboys 24-16

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour goes back out on the road next week as the Patriots take on the Houston Texans.

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 and breakdown game analysis

 

Patriots 2019 Opponents, The Cowboys Coming in on a Roll

Steve Balestrieri
November 21, 2019 at 6:58 am ET

The Patriots return home for a late afternoon matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. It has been an up and down season in Dallas, but right now the Cowboys are on a roll offensively. Dak Prescott behind a superb offensive line and a talented and deep group of receivers is lighting it up in 2019. They also have Ezekiel Elliot in the running game and a fast, flowing to the ball defense. 

Dallas is trying to be the first team since the 2003-2004 Eagles to win the NFC East back-to-back times. Right now at 6-4, they are a game up on Philly with six to go, but hold the tiebreaker after crushing Philly 37-10 about a month ago.

So, let’s take a look at the 2019 version of the Cowboys and what’s happening in Jerry’s World down in “Big D” as we approach Week 12

The Offense Is Riding Prescott’s Hot Hand:

The Cowboys entered the 2019 season with some question marks as RB Ezekiel Elliott was a holdout and after a stellar rookie season, QB Dak Prescott had two so-so years in 2017-18. Any doubts about Prescott are now in the rearview mirror as he’s been outstanding in 2019 and nearing career highs in yards and touchdown passes only 10 games in. 

Prescott has completed 247 of 365 passes (67.7 %) for 3221 yards with 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. In the Cowboys’ last three games against the Giants, Vikings, and the Lions, he’s completed 79 of 122 passes for 1098 yards with 9 touchdowns and 1 interception. 

Prescott is now considered an MVP candidate and has a plethora of good targets to throw to. And he’s been spreading the ball around. In the Cowboys win over Detroit, Prescott targeted Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, and Jason Witten seven or more times each as they rolled up 444 passing yards.  

Stopping Elliott Will Present a Tough Matchup:

Despite Prescott’s very high numbers in the passing game, one of the toughest matchups, and a key one for the Patriots defense on Sunday will be trying to slow down the Dallas running game behind Ezekiel Elliott. 

Elliott runs behind one of the premier offensive lines in the NFL and he’s enjoyed great success in his career up to this point. So far in 2019, Elliott has rushed 194 times for 833 yards (4.3-yard avg) with 7 touchdowns. He’s also caught 28 passes out of the backfield for 220 yards and a score. 

His numbers receiving are way down from a year ago but that has to do with two main factors. The Cowboys have so many talented receivers, they’re just spreading the ball around more and keeping everyone involved and secondly, they’re putting him on a pitch count a bit to keep him fresh for a stretch run that they hope will lead to a deep playoff run.

But with the passing game hot right now, Elliott isn’t sweating seeing his touches go down the past two weeks. “The passing game is rolling right now so you’ve got to ride it and ride it while it’s hot,” Elliott said. Slowing him down and forcing the Cowboys into obvious passing situations will be a tough task on Sunday. 

Watch the Dallas Pass Rush Closely:

Dallas, as we stated earlier has a very fast and athletic defense. And the Cowboys’ pass rush will bear consistent watching this week as they take on a Patriots offense where the offensive line is struggling. 

The Cowboys have 26 sacks and are led by Robert Quinn who has 8.5 already this season. Quinn is enjoying a career renaissance in Dallas and besides his sack total has 30 QB pressures on the season. Not bad numbers for a guy who missed the first two games of the season. 

Quinn has been an absolute steal for the Cowboys, Dallas got him for a 6th round draft pick from the Dolphins. His speed rush is his patented move and Isaiah Wynn, in his first game back will have his hands full. Marshall Newhouse, who filled in for Wynn while he was injured struggled mightily with speed rushers. Welcome back Isaiah, your plate is filled already. 

Quinn isn’t even the Cowboys best defensive lineman, that title belongs to DeMarcus Lawrence, who although he has just 4.5 sacks is a load to handle. Lawrence banged up a shoulder against the Lions and may be limited this week. 

Dallas picked up Michael Bennett from the Patriots a few weeks ago and Bennett has 3 sacks in 3 games with Big D. It will be interesting to see how Rod Marinelli the Dallas defensive coordinator game plans this week. I look for the Cowboys to be uber-aggressive in coming after Tom Brady. 

Jason Witten Calls Sunday “A Defining Game” For the Cowboys: 

The Cowboys veteran tight end who has been around the block a few times and spent time in the broadcast booth after a brief one-year retirement isn’t one to make statements lightly. 

That’s why it was interesting to see his comments on the upcoming game. Witten was asked if Sunday’s game is a type of measuring-stick affair for the Cowboys.

“Yeah, I think it is,” Witten said. “These are defining games that happen. You look at last year’s season … and you beat a good New Orleans team. This is one of those games. There’s still a lot of games out there, so I don’t think it’s “make or break”. But at the same time, to be able to go on the road and play against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and their team — they’re 9-1 like they are. A great opportunity for us.”

Expect Dallas to bring their A-Game on Sunday. 

We’ll have our keys to the game and key matchups later tomorrow. Stay tuned… 

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 Players To Watch, Week 7 MNF  Against the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
October 21, 2019 at 7:41 am ET

The Patriots are on the road again and are taking on the New York Jets on Monday Night Football. They’ve had some extra time off since their Thursday Night Football game but will the time off help them to prepare or will they lose a bit of their edge? They will be missing several members of the offense this week.

Here are our Patriots players to watch this week as they try to improve to 7-0 on the season against the Jets. 

Tom Brady: 

The Patriots, despite having the extra time off since last Thursday’s game are entering this game shorthanded and banged up on offense. That means more pressure on the QB to get it done with less. WR Josh Gordon, TEs Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, and RB Rex Burkhead are out, while WRs Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Gunner Olszewski are all questionable. 

Brady will be operating with one healthy receiver (Jakobi Meyers) and two tight ends that have been on the team for a week (Eric Tomlinson and Ben Watson), although Watson spent all of the training camp here with New England.

Couple that with an offensive line that has been missing two players all season and things won’t be easy for the Patriots QB. He and Josh McDaniels are going to have to get creative this week. 

Jamie Collins:

The Patriots linebacker is enjoying arguably his finest season with the Patriots and is turning back the clock with the way he’s been playing. With the Jets getting Sam Darnold back last week, they got much more aggressive offensively, throwing on first down more and with Darnold’s mobility he can move in the pocket and make plays with his legs. 

Collins will be one of the players who will be very important for the Patriots to ensure that Darnold doesn’t get out of the pocket. With LT Kelvin Beachum out this week, Brandon Shell will be getting his first NFL start. The Patriots will no doubt want to test Shell and Collins, as well as Kyle Van Noy, will be line up on the right side of the defense to try to bring pressure on Darnold.

Collins had a monster game against the Jets a month ago, with 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits, and a pass defensed. The defense will be looking for him to have another big game this week against a much different offensive team.

Julian Edelman/James White:

We’re lumping these two together this week since they will no doubt be the two players that Brady will target the most and the Jets will put the onus on stopping. Edelman against Brian Poole is a mismatch and one that he’d win easily, but expect Poole to have some help this time around. I’d expect the Jets to use a linebacker or safety on occasion to double up Edelman and force Brady to beat them elsewhere. 

James White missed the first game due to the birth of his son, and Rex Burkhead had 17 touches (11 carries, six receptions) in his absence. I’d expect that White will have a similar workload this week. In the passing game, Sony Michel may see a few touches as well as Brandon Bolden but maybe it would a nice time to let 3rd-round pick Damien Harris get his feet wet. UDFA Jakobi Meyers is the only WR not on the injury report.

The Patriots are going to have to ride Edelman and White heavily, something the Jets coaches are well aware of. The adjustments made in-game will ultimately tell the tale here. 

Adam Butler:

Butler is playing more snaps than any Patriots defensive lineman thus far this season. That speaks volumes to his progression in Year 3, and his versatility in being able to adapt to different situations. It is his play, which is the reason that Michael Bennett’s snaps have decreased so rapidly, more than anything else. 

With Bennett suspended this week, more will be thrust on Butler’s plate. With the ever-dangerous Le’Veon Bell in the Jets backfield, the Patriots defensive linemen have to stop Bell from penetrating and allow the linebackers to clean up. They also have to push the pocket on Sam Darnold and create pressure from the inside. 

Butler has been very good at being a disruptive penetrator inside and this will be a big opportunity to shine. The Bennett news will have him thrust more into the spotlight. And with a national audience tonight, Butler has a chance to create even more playing time for himself with a big game against the Jets.  

Ben Watson: 

Watson will be playing in his first game with the Patriots since the 2009 playoff loss to the Ravens at Gillette Stadium. He spent all of training camp with the team and was a frequent side session participant with Tom Brady getting some 1-on-1 work. But with just a week of practice, his first since the end of camp, it isn’t known how much he’ll play. 

The Patriots need some production from the tight end position, something they’ve gotten very little from Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse who has been hurt most of the season. Especially, this week with the situation involving the injuries to the wide receivers, they need someone to step up.

Watson, despite being 38-years old, still runs well and looks like someone much younger. If he can stretch the seams of the defense, just a little bit and give them some production in the middle of the field, it will open things up for Edelman and White.     

_________

Check back with PatsFans.com for all of our pregame and post-game analysis. And if you’re a wiz at predicting the NFL slate straight up, register for our message board and then post your picks every week. We’ll see who is the top dog at the end of the season. That page can be found here: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

 

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 10-28, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 20, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-20 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, but not for the Patriots who play the Jets on Monday Night Football tomorrow night.   

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Patrick Mahomes – it seems dodged a serious injury on Thursday night in Denver. And that is a good thing not just for Mahomes and the Chiefs but for the league as a whole. Mahomes’ star is rising and he’s quickly becoming one of the new faces of the league. No one wants to see any player, let alone a star suffer a serious injury. Anyone who would do so, needs to seriously reevaluate the lives. 

However, what the heck is wrong with some media types who before Mahomes is even off the deck, turn his injury into some kind of an anti-Patriots diatribe. It was a disgusting lack of empathy. We know you can’t help the slant against the Patriots but for cryin’ out loud, have a little humanity.  His injury at the time had zero to do with NE, a horrible lack of timing there, but it has become par for the course in some places.

Andy Reid – He knows he dodged a bullet with Mahomes’ injury and he’ll return at some point this season. Hopefully, he won’t rush his QB back too soon and risk further injury. Despite the game on Thursday, they have a woeful defense, but they still have plenty enough playmakers on offense to remain competitive in Mahomes’ absence. They’ll still be in a position to carry their division with Matt Moore. They’ll get their QB back for the stretch run and go from there. 

Eric Tomlinson – had a crazy week. According to NESN, the Patriots new tight end signed and practiced with the team on Tuesday, and then jetted off to Texas for the birth of his son who was delivered by Caesarian section on Wednesday morning. He’s back in Foxboro and preparing for his former team the Jets and may see reps at both tight end and fullback.  

Two-Point for Tua? Seemed So- The Miami Dolphins scored a late touchdown last week against the Washington Redskins in the closing moments of the game and trailed 17-16.  Rather than attempt an extra point to tie the game and send it into overtime, Miami, winless like the Redskins, decided to go for the win. But their attempt seemed like they were determined to fail rather than succeed. The Redskins snuffed it out in the backfield and came away with a victory in the debut of interim coach Bill Callahan.

Trent Brown – In case anyone was wondering is a member of the Oakland Raiders. In fact, Oakland signed Brown to the highest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history this spring. But once Brown was charged with domestic assault, Brown wasn’t a Raider at all. Several media outlets including those here in Boston led off with “Former Patriots OL Trent Brown…” Funny thing is when all of the sexual assault allegations came against Antonio Brown, I didn’t see a single headline stating “Former Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown…” and yet every allegation against him occurred when he was a member of the Steelers. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Brady Rightfully Pi$$ed At Supposed Kraft Dig:

Tom Brady is livid that people who saw a clip of a new Paul Rudd Netflix film, took it to mean that it was a dig against Robert Kraft. And unless everything we’ve ever believed about Brady and his relationship with Kraft is wrong, then yes, people jumped to conclusions before bothering to research the clip and the meaning.

“That’s not what that was about,” Brady said. “I think that was taken out of context, just like you’re taking it out of context and trying to make it a story for yourself, which has a negative connotation to it, which I don’t appreciate. It was meant to be something different than that. The fact it’s a distraction or you’re bringing it up is not something I want to be talking about.”

“It was shot on a green screen,” he said, remarking it was not filmed at a strip mall. “It was agreed to a year ago. It was written four years ago. Again, it’s unfortunate that people would choose to think I would ever do something like that about Mr. Kraft. I think that’s a very bad assessment of my relationship with him. I would never do that.”

Timothy Greenberg, a fan of the New York Jets, said that he wrote the scene as a “subtle dig” at Brady, who at the time was coming off his “Deflategate” suspension. Brady, while exiting the spa is supposed to be a clone of himself, not receiving a “happy ending” at a massage parlor.

“There was this implication that maybe he’s a clone and he’s cheating,” Greenberg said in an interview. “When I wrote it, he was 37 and had won four Super Bowls. And then by the time I actually make the thing, he’s now 41 and he’s just coming off his sixth Super Bowl win. So he became even more perfect. He was our number one choice for that.”

The media ran with the clip without bothering to do due diligence in an attempt to get it out there first and tried to paint it as Brady slamming his boss when the fact of the matter is that it had nothing to do with Kraft or his situation. I’d say we’re shocked, but no…we’re not here. He’s been raked over the coals for nothing for the past several years and one has to wonder when he’ll decide it isn’t worth it anymore.

The filmmakers knew what they were doing, they filmed Brady on a green screen and then after the Kraft situation, superimposed the strip mall to make it look like the Florida spa. They did him dirty, but no worse than all of the sites who ran with the false narrative. The total a$$-covering by the rest is… not surprising.

Will Michael Bennett’s Situation Play Out? Probably Not Well:

After the Patriots suspended DL Michael Bennett for “conduct detrimental to the team”,  it naturally opened up conversations if Bennett is on his way out of Foxboro. It certainly would appear so, his snaps have been steadily decreasing and last Thursday he played in only a handful of snaps against the Giants, most of which at garbage time. That led to what Bennett described as a “philosophical disagreement” with positional coach Bret Bielema. 

Bennett was brought in to help replace Trey Flowers after he bolted in free agency. Bennett thrives in a 4-3 system as a defensive end, which is what the Patriots played in 2018. But the defense morphed into more of a 3-4 defense this season and that hasn’t played into Bennett’s strengths. Because the down linemen in the Patriots 3-4 still have the same two-gap responsibility that they’ve always had. 

Bennett has always been an attacking 4-3 end and a 3-4 defensive end is more of an interior lineman. It hasn’t been a great fit, scheme-wise. When he’s able to pin his ears back and rush the QB, he’s been pretty successful. But with the depth and the production of the linebackers, he’s been relegated to a subpackage interior pass rusher. So, now the question arises, where do they go from here?

The trade market would be very limited, given Bennett’s age and the state of the league. Few of the teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot would be willing to take on or need a player with his strengths. The Lions or the Raiders would possibly make sense or maybe the Rams who are looking for a spark defensively. If the Patriots were to trade Bennett it would free up about $2 million in salary-cap space where they’re right up against the cap.

Releasing Bennett is, of course, an option, if those philosophical disagreements get any worse or continue for that matter. That would free up the cap space and possibly rid the team of any distractions in the locker room. But then you run the risk of another rival picking him up for nothing and adding him to the mix against you down the road in the postseason. And if the team suffered an injury on the defensive front, it would leave the team thinner with their depth. 

Or they could choose to ride things out and hope that they can get Bennett to buy-in for the duration of the season. With several tougher games on the slate, a player like Bennett, especially in the postseason has the experience and pedigree to give the team some outstanding production in those game-changing moments. 

But Bennett is a proud player and in reality, not a great fit for what the Patriots are running defensively right now. And I will be surprised if he’s still with the team by the end of the season. 

Demaryius Thomas’ Tenure With NE as “A Waste of Time” :

The Patriots traded WR Demaryius Thomas to the Jets in the fallout of the signing of Antonio Brown and hindsight being 20/20 it shows that now it was a mistake. Both in trading Thomas and of course signing Brown.

Thomas on Wednesday didn’t mince any words over how things played out and characterized the Patriots and Bill Belichick’s actions as “disrespectful”. 

“Like, you know, you could trust me and I could trust you,” Thomas said. “You told me when you cut me at the [final] cut, sit around you’ll bring me back. And I stayed. I could have easily become a Jet once I got cut.… I could have been here the next day after I got released. But I chose to stay.”

“Bill Belichick came up to me and was like, ‘Uh, we got too many guys. We can’t get the ball around enough and we’re going to trade you to the Jets,’” Thomas added. “And that was that…. Ain’t no reason to yell. They’ve won championships without me. I was only trying to be a part of something that was going to be good when I was there… They’re doing a hell of a job.”

Thomas’ frustration is certainly understandable but he must remember that he told the media that the Patriots were the only team who contacted him after his Achilles injury with the Texans. They worked with him all spring and summer, and in retrospect should have stuck with him. But from a pure football standpoint, the decision between Thomas at this point in his career and Brown is truly a no-brainer.

NFL Schedule Week 7, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 7-7
Season: 54-37-1

TNF Kansas City over Denver 1-0 

Buffalo over Miami
Jacksonville over Cincinnati
Minnesota over Detroit
Green Bay over Oakland
LA Rams over Atlanta
Indy over Houston
49ers over Washington
NY Giants over Arizona
Tennessee over LA Chargers
Saints over Bears
Seahawks over Ravens
SNF Philadelphia over Dallas
MNF Patriots over NY Jets

Bye Week – Panthers, Browns, Steelers, Bucs

Early Thursday Night Football pick Minnesota over Washington

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Looking to Be Buyers at the Trade Deadline:

The Buffalo Bills currently have the second-best record in the AFC behind the Patriots and will almost certainly improve that today with a home tilt against the Dolphins. With the trade deadline approaching in less than 10 days, the Bills aren’t looking to unload talent, but bring some in to help for a postseason push where they are still very much alive in the AFC East. 

Buffalo’s defense is stacked although if they were to add a piece there, they may want a defensive end who can get after the QB. The Bills have plenty of depth there but not a ton of production. But overall, their defense is solid and the strength of the team. 

If they can use some help, it would probably be at wide receiver. A.J. Green has been mentioned as a possible Buffalo target (including here), he’d give the Bills a big, physical target who has had plenty of production in his career but has had issues with staying healthy and on the field. 

Other names that have been supposedly tied to Buffalo include the Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, Giants wideout Golden Tate, and TE O.J. Howard. Sanu has played mainly in the slot for the Falcons but can slide inside or outside and has made an average of 64 catches for over 700 yards in his time in Atlanta. 

Tate is a talented receiver but the Giants, who aren’t going anywhere this season have two young talented WRs in Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard and may decide to dangle Tate as a search for draft capital. 

Howard is a very talented tight end who is not being utilized in the Tampa Bay offense. Coupled with the young and talented Dawson Knox, he could give the Bills a huge and athletic target in the passing game. He’s also an excellent blocker.  

Dolphins Drake on the Trading Block:

The Miami Dolphins in the midst of an awful rebuilding program where the fans are either on the “Tanking for Tua” or “Bailing for Burrow” storylines won’t be surprised to see that several teams are contacting the Dolphins about the availability of running back Kenyan Drake for a possible deadline trade. 

The former 3rd-round draft pick has always somewhat under-utilized in Miami’s system under both Adam Gase and now Brian Flores. With the bad offensive line play, Drake is on par for his worst statistical season of his career. 

Drake is in the final year of his rookie deal and would be a really nice pickup for any playoff teams looking for a reliable, versatile player. 

Jets/Docs Dispute Extent of G Kelechi Osemele’s Shoulder Injury:

The New York Jets are facing some backlash over the shoulder injury suffered by guard Kelechi Osemele. He’s been out for four weeks with his injury and the Jets team doctor and an independent doctor have cleared him for play. And if he doesn’t return to practice by Saturday, Osemele is subject to fines and/or suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team.” 

The rub is Osemele is saying he needs surgery to repair his shoulder. The Jets counter that the injury is a pre-existing one that can wait until the season is over. 

“It’s been killing me,” Osemele said to the media on Friday. “I’m just trying to get this done. I’ve done everything I can. I’ve been at work every day, waking up at 5 in the morning, doing all the rehab and the treatments and stuff like that. I’m like the last dude out of here at night. I’m doing everything I can.

“I’m working with my agent. We’re communicating with the team. There’s just no communication between the team and my doctor and my agent. It’s just been butting heads for whatever reason. Hopefully, it gets resolved soon.”

There is a source who reported to the Jets media that Osemele wasn’t cleared by the two doctors and that surgery was recommended, due to a torn labrum. The same source also said Osemele was told to take the painkiller Toradol, prescribed by the Jets’ doctor, so he could play. He did and aggravated it against the Patriots a month ago. He’s making $11.7 million dollars this season (non-guaranteed) but if he’s injured, the Jets can’t cut him loose without forking over the rest of his money.

________________

“Demaryius is a great kid. I have a ton of respect for him. He’s very professional and did everything we asked him to do. Our circumstances changed a couple times in that period leading up to when he was traded, and so I felt like I was always truthful with him, but things changed, and therefore what I said was not the same as what it was – what I had said previously. So, it is what it is..” – Bill Belichick being asked about the comments by Demaryius Thomas on the “insulting and disrespectful” trade by the Patriots with the Jets.

________________

“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.

 

Adam Butler Has Stepped Up His Game For the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
October 17, 2019 at 7:58 am ET

The New England Patriots defense is off to a tremendous start in 2019, thru the first six games, they’re off to an unprecedented start and are playing some tremendous football. As Bill Belichick would say, “there is a long way to go”, (there is), and the true meat of their schedule lies in front of them. However, regardless of the opponents, the way the defense is playing right now is awfully impressive. 

And speaking of an unprecedented start, third-year defensive lineman Adam Butler has been playing tremendous football. In his first two seasons, the UDFA from Vanderbilt was used mainly as a third-down pass rusher. In 2018, Butler played on 36 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and garnered 3 sacks, 2 passes batted down and one forced fumble. 

Through the first six games this season, Butler’s playing has increased to 50 percent of the defensive snaps. This off-season the Patriots 4-3 base defense has morphed into more of a 3-4 base but they are very multiple and switch fronts and looks constantly. And Butler’s rise in the interior DL has given way to better production, he’s already notched 2.5 sacks, a pair of passes knocked down and 3 quarterback hits. 

Butler’s rise has been a major factor in the reason that Michael Bennett’s snap counts have decreased so much. It isn’t so much that Bennett has been playing poorly, but that Butler has played so well. 

Butler and defensive line coach Bret Bielema spoke in the spring about Butler having a bigger impact and becoming a more complete player. Bielema, it should be noted, that besides being a head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas, he was a defensive coordinator prior to that at both Kansas State and Wisconsin. He comes from a defensive background. And he’s liking what he’s seeing from the 3rd-year lineman. 

“He’s long, he’s athletic; he has a way to bend. He’s one of those guys that really does very seldom ever get out of position. He has very good balance; understands leverage. He’s a very intelligent player,” Bielema said on a conference call to the media. 

“He truly is a guy that really gets it, understands it, can process it and the thing this year working with him during the course of a game, he literally understands when things happen literally on the spot. He can come to the sideline, digest what just happened, what they’re trying to do, how we can combat it. He gives a lot of really good information. As coaches, sometimes you don’t get all the most accurate information sometimes, but I will say that AB really does take a lot of pride in his skill set on game day and that’s what’s really shown up.”

Butler still is playing his role as a designated interior pass rusher but has expanded his role into more of a base role and has earned his coaches’ respect. Bill Belichick spoke about him after the Buffalo game. 

“Adam’s a very intelligent player and he has very good football instincts,” said Belichick. “So you can give him a lot of information and he kind of knows when to apply it and when not to apply it. So his ability to do the right thing at the right time based on a call, or based on the way that the line blocks, or kind of the protections they use, things like that in the pass rush, even in the running game; he does a good job of recognizing those things quickly and making good decisions, which is really hard to do when you’re in-line like that.”

Belichick added, “All players get better with coaching, all players get better with experience, but his growth in three years now has really been impressive.”

Butler’s rise has been impressive in his third year. On a defense that has been firing on all cylinders, Butler doesn’t do a lot of the flashy stuff that ends up on the highlight reels but he’s been playing his role extremely well and for the 6’5, 300-pound lineman, his coaches have seen his value. And they’re rewarding him with more playing time and responsibility. 

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 10-6, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 6, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 10-06 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day,.and the Patriots a pretty unfamiliar foe in the Washington Redskins, as the two teams have only met 10 times in the regular season. This week unlike last week’s game in Buffalo highlights teams moving in different directions. The Patriots are 4-0 while the Redskins are 0-4 and appear to be ready for another house cleaning.  

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Tom Brady – already owns several milestones in the NFL record books but with a big game today could pass Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the #2 QB in terms of career yardage. Favre would be passed of Brady throws for 264 yards which is pretty attainable, but he’d have to throw for 365 yards to pass Manning, which is looking pretty doubtful right now.  

Ted Harper – is the Patriots dietitian and is in charge of overseeing what the players eat while they’re in the facility. Our own Robert Alvarez posted a longer video than was shown on Patriots All-Access and shows how much detail and planning as well as the amount of food the team goes through each week. Harper came from the US Special Operations Command where he had a similar position taking care of Army commandos. I wish we had a guy like Harper back when I was in Special Ops. What a difference nutrition makes today for athletes and tactical operators.    

Matthew Slater – The Patriots STs ace was the subject of a column here last Sunday as we said, after his superb play against the Jets, Slater should get some love from the NFL Hall of Fame. Well, just a few hours later, the Pats’ J.C. Jackson blocked a punt and Slater returned it for the first touchdown of his outstanding 12-year career. 

Stefon Diggs – was the subject of countless rumors about being traded to the Patriots this week, fueled in part by Diggs’ frustration with the way things are going in Minnesota. But it makes no sense for the Vikings to trade such a young, dynamic playmaker away. They need to make a move, but not with their WRs, with the guy who is in charge of getting them the ball. 

We don’t even know if the Patriots are in the market for more WR help other than rumors. The AB scenario played out and was too good to pass up [from a football standpoint]. They may feel they are good enough until N’Keal Harry comes off IR in a few weeks. But a more realistic trading partner may be  the Denver Broncos. Emmanuel Sanders is in the final year of his contract. The Broncos are 0-4 and going nowhere. Sanders was signed to an offer sheet a few years ago by Bill Belichick, but the Steelers matched it.

Younghoe Koo – The Korean-born kicker has been signed to the Patriots practice squad. His name is pronounced, “young-way” and he played for the Chargers for four games connecting on 3-6 field goals and all nine EP attempts. He played in the AAF for the Atlanta Legends this spring.

Nugent Takes Over For Gostkowski as the Team’s Kicker:

After Stephen Gostkowski was placed on IR for a hip ailment, it answered the questions as to what was wrong with the Pats kicker early this season. Gostkowski had a hip issue last year, but it was believed that rest and therapy would fix the problem without needing surgery. But his issues popped back up again this year and he’s lost for the year. 

After trying out several kickers to take Gostkowski’s place, the team settled on veteran Mike Nugent. Nugent has played for several teams but lasted the longest with the Cincinnati Bengals, but was released after missing five extra points.

Nugent last played for the Raiders in 2018 and for the Bears and Cowboys in 2017 as a fill-in for their injured kickers. He made 17 of 19 field goals, including a 55-yarder which is a career long. He was 20-22 on extra points. 

The Patriots have been remarkably stable at the kicker position having Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski there since 1996. When Gostkowski was hurt in 2010, Shayne Graham was brought in, but the Patriots have been quite fortunate in that regard.  

Bennett Frustrated With His Role [or Lack of One]? Possibly:

The Patriots brought in Michael Bennett this spring and it was thought to be a tit-for-tat reaction to losing Trey Flowers in free agency. We thought that Bennett would be a very valuable piece to the Patriots defense moving forward. And all seemed well, he had a personal issue at the beginning of training camp, which caused him to miss the first few days. However, he was excused by Bill Belichick, something Bennett spoke glowingly about when he arrived this summer.

And early this season, with Bennett playing a limited role, we felt like the coaches were putting him on a pitch count against lesser opponents, in an attempt to save him for the stretch run when he will really be needed. Plus, he’s had a minor shoulder issue. 

But apparently, Bennett may be getting a bit dissatisfied with his playing time. Bennett said to Henry McKenna who covers the team for PatriotsWire that he’s been playing the “zero role” thus far this year. When pressed further, he said he was joking.

But then he also added, “It’s different,” Bennett said. “I just try to adjust to it as best I can. We’ll see how I keep going. But all the guys are playing good. We’ve got such good players. Lawrence Guy’s just so good at what he does. A lot of guys are good at what they do. It’s different. I’m just used to guys playing one position all the time, and I’ve just got to get used to it.”

Adam Butler is getting the lion’s share of the snaps right now and is playing very well. We’ll see how this plays out moving forward, it could be that the team is just saving Bennett for a much bigger role down the stretch. 

Devin McCourty is the AFC Defensive Player of the Month:

The Patriots long-time safety Devin McCourty is playing some of the best football in his career this season and he has been recognized as the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for September. McCourty has four interceptions in the team’s first four games, something that hasn’t been done in the NFL since 2003. 

The Patriots have never had a player start the season with picks in the first four games, however, Mike Haynes did a have a four-game stretch in midseason where he picked off passes in four straight games back in 1976. Bill Belichick said that while interceptions are great but that McCourty’s value goes well beyond what is on the stat sheet at the end of the day. 

“In addition to all of the plays that we see or that he’s in position to make, or tackles and things like that, there’s the communication aspect of making decisions for the entire defensive unit that are critical,” Belichick said. “He also does a great job of that. It’s a little too much to just put it all on stats.

“Look, interceptions are big plays and we love to see them and love to have them. There are other critical plays in the game, too, that don’t show up on the stat sheet, and we recognize those as well, he added.”

If you’ve never seen McCourty’s speeches to fire up the safeties before the game, you should check them out. They’re all excellent and make you want to run out on the field. D-Mac could have a second career as a ‘fire and brimstone’ preacher when his playing days are done. Congrats, well deserved #32.

NFL Schedule Week 5, Who Are Your Winners:

How are you feeling about the games this week? We have a post on our PatsFans Forum where our readers can predict the slate of games for that week. I did it on our weekly Sunday column here and will post it up below. Here is the link if you’d care to pick your own: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

Last Week: 8-7 [Yikes that’s terrible!]
Season: 39-23-1

TNF Seattle over LA Rams 1-0 

Carolina over Jacksonville
New England over Washington
Tennessee over Buffalo [Super Bowl hangover?]
Baltimore over Pittsburgh
Cincinnati over Arizona
Houston over Atlanta
New Orleans over Tampa Bay
Minnesota over NY Giants
Chicago over Oakland
Philadelphia over NY Jets
LA Chargers over Denver
Dallas over Green Bay
SNF Kansas CityS over Indy
MNF Cleveland over SF

Bye Week – Miami, Detroit 

Early Thursday Night Football pick New England  over NY Giants

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Defense Front and Center Again As They Take on the Titans:

The Buffalo Bills lost a close one last week to New England at home but have to turn the page quickly as they head to Tennessee to take on a tough Titans team that always plays well at home.  And the Bills will have to wait until game-time decisions on whether they have two of their biggest offensive weapons in QB Josh Allen and RB Devin Singletary. 

Regardless, they’ll need another big game from their defense as they take Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota who has thrown 7 TDs and 0 interceptions thru the first month of the season.  RB Derrick Henry is a bruiser who is coming off a 100-yard game against the Falcons, and the Buffalo secondary will have to cover a trio of receivers in Corey Davis, A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries that is playing well. The Titans can also add Tajae Sharp, tight end Delanie Walker as well as Dion Lewis out of the backfield. 

Last year the Buffalo defense created three turnovers [2 fumbles and an interception] in a 13-12 victory. They’ll need another effort like that, especially if Allen and Singletary aren’t ready to go. 

Dolphins Get a Bye at Just the Right Time:

When the Miami Dolphins hired Brian Flores, they knew that the team needed a complete overhaul and things could get frustrating in 2019. But no one could foresee how bad the Dolphins defense, specifically the pass defense would be at the quarter pole of the season. 

The Fins first four games had them facing tough teams in the Ravens, Patriots, Cowboys, and Chargers. But Miami allowed 163 points in those games…ouch. Worse still, the opposing QB rating for the first month was 137.6.  A perfect QB rating is 158.3 and Miami’s pass defense has been nearly a perfect nightmare thus far. 

Flores needs to take a page out of his Patriots playbook and spend the week doing a ton of self-scouting. On deck in the next four weeks are the Redskins, Bills, Steelers, and the Jets. A repeat of the first four weeks can’t be allowed to happen. Stay tuned.

Darnold Won’t Play, It Will Luke Falk Time Jets-Eagles:

The New York Jets won’t have Sam Darnold to return this week when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles. But although Luke Falk isn’t anything close to Darnold in terms of talent, the Jets offensive line has to step things up this week. 

Gang Green’s offensive line has been terrible and Darnold or not, they have to play better or their season will be lost before it even begins. At 0-3, the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets are in big danger of falling to 0-4 this week. And with the Eagles, Cowboys, and the Patriots on deck in the next three weeks, things could ugly quickly for Adam Gase.

Obviously they need Darnold back, but can’t risk his life with an enlarged spleen due to his mono sickness. But they do need to get Le’Veon Bell involved and that begins with the offensive line. With an 0-6 start [which is entirely feasible right now], the NY tabloids will be screaming for Gase’s scalp. 

________________

“Devin has a lot of experience in our system so he’s very well-versed in what we do, but he’s a smart player that understands the entire defensive concept, not just his position, what everybody else does, what the strengths and weaknesses of the defense are, as kind of the last line of defense where to position himself to have the most impact on the play, to take away threats or to fill voids or space in the defense based on what we’re in, their personnel and their formation and so forth. Just instinctively he does a lot of things right. He’s a very good communicator. All of those things are strong points..” – Bill Belichick after being asked about what makes Devin McCourty a special player.

________________

“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.

 

Patriots Week 3 Report Card, 30-14 Win Over the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
September 24, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

 The Patriots returned home and had the most one-sided 30-14 win over the Jets on Sunday that you will probably ever see. The Pats led 30-0 and gave up two late scores, one on a muffed punt and the other on a pick-six by the Jets defense of rookie Jarrett Stidham. 

The offense started fast and scored 20 points before the Jets had time to catch their breath. After that, the Jets made adjustments and the going got much tougher. They held the Patriots to just 10 second-half points. 

Defensively, the Patriots held Gang Green to just 105 total yards with just 69 net yards passing. The Jets never came close to threatening to score offensively in this one. The defense held Le’Veon Bell to under 2 yards per carry and the Jets overall to just 36 yards rushing.  

The Patriots are the first team since the 1937  Bears to not allow a defensive touchdown in their first three games. They are the first team in the Super Bowl era to do so, however. 

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

Quarterback: B+

Tom Brady finished the day 28-42 for 306 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 103.4. New England fans are rushing out to buy customized Patriots #12 jerseys with Cliff on the back. Because if this is the cliff that we’ve heard so much about, let’s hope he continues for another 2-3 years falling like this. 

Brady protects his receivers from big hits by throwing those low passes over the middle that his guys can get to without being lit up. When they’re wide open, he adjusts his trajectory, as we saw with Phillip Dorsett and he went for an easy 25-yard touchdown. The little things… He wasn’t great on Sunday but he was very good

Running Backs: B-

The Patriots were minus James White (birth of his son), so they went with mainly Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel, with a little bit of Brandon Bolden mixed in early in the game. Jakob Johnson got in for the final kneel down at the end of the game. 

First the good, Burkhead had another very impressive game. He rushed for 47 yards on 11 carries (4.7 y.p.c.) and a touchdown. He was once again master of cutting against the grain and getting good yardage. He added 6 catches for 22 yards. 

Sony Michel continues to struggle to find any running room, he’s not making people miss but the bigger issue is that he’s consistently getting hit in the backfield. He had 9 carries for only 11 yards, one of which was a five-yard touchdown. 

Bolden got the start… and Brady went to him right away, catching the Jets off guard… as well as the fans too. .

Wide Receivers: A-

Phillip Dorsett was the recipient of many more snaps with AB out of the picture. And he made the most of them. He had six catches for 53 yards including the 25-yard TD. The one incompletion thrown in his direction looked like a catch from the cheap seats. 

Josh Gordon had 6 catches for 83 yards including two highlight-reel plays. Facing a 3rd and 22, Brady uncorked a beautiful back-shoulder throw that Gordon high pointed and brought it down before tumbling out of bounds. Later he caught a deep seam pass where he used his height to haul it in. 

Julian Edelman had seven catches for 62 yards and a touchdown before leaving with an injury in the second quarter. Jakobi Meyers had two catches for 38. Brady’s top three targets had 19 catches for 198 yards on the day. Good day.

Tight Ends: C+

Matt LaCosse was inactive and Ryan Izzo had one big catch for 41 yards. His blocking looks okay in the run game but could be a lot better.  He was getting pushed around at times and his strong suit is blocking. Jakob Johnson lined up as a blocker for the final snap of the game. 

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line got Marcus Cannon back at right tackle. That was a big bonus, especially with the big game against the undefeated Bills looming next week.  Their protection of Brady was very good, for the most part he had plenty of time to throw and Stidham, not Brady was sacked only once. 

The run blocking was not great, however, and while the Jets are a very good team at defending the run, the Patriots could only muster 68 yards rushing. That stat must improve down the line. After rewatching the game tape there were too many times during the game that the Jets were pushing the New England offensive line back 1-2 yards off the ball. And not just at tackle but the interior guys as well. Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were included in that. 

Marshall Newhouse is still finding his feet here in Foxboro. Dante Scarnecchia will work on his fundamentals in the coming weeks. Overall he was okay but tends to lunge a bit, that comes from not having his hands and feet in sync. Coach Scar will fix that. 

Defensive Line: A

The defensive line was once again outstanding. Coming into this game, we knew that because the Jets offense was short-handed, that they’d lean on the outstanding Le’Veon Bell. And of course, the Patriots knew that too. The defensive line was great at standing up the Jets offensive line and allowing the linebackers to clean up.

Danny Shelton was excellent continuing his very solid start to the season. The Jets could only manage 36 yards on the ground on 20 carries. The front seven brought excellent pressure on QB Luke Falk sacking him five times, with 10 QB hits and 10 tackles for a loss. Michael Bennett, Chase Winovich and Adam Butler were all very solid. The very underrated John Simon added 1.5 sacks. 

Linebackers: A+

The Patriots linebackers are off to an amazing start this season. They are flying all over the field, never out of position [Belichick may disagree], and making plays everywhere. No one is a better example of that than Jamie Collins.   

Collins had seven tackles including 3.5 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits and a pass defensed. He was the Jets biggest pain in the backside as he was seemingly everywhere. Dont’a Hightower prior to injuring his shoulder was solid. He and Elandon Roberts each had .5 sack. 

The Patriots brought pressure on Falk early using what they call the “Casino” blitz, rushing six and then later showing it and dropping eight into coverage. It was too much for a young QB to decipher in his first game.

Kyle Van Noy, who after the game credited the defense as a whole for having great communication, had 1.5 sacks. See the trend here? There is no one “sack master”, it is a group effort. And this group is playing lights out.

Secondary: A

The secondary bottled up the Jets WRs and shut them down. Stephon Gilmore wrapped himself around Robby Anderson and basically put him on a milk carton. Ditto for Jonathan Jones covering Jamison Crowder. The Jets two top WRs had five receptions for 36 yards combined… ouch. Jason McCourty is off to a great start for 2019. 

Pat Chung and Devin McCourty are playing some of the best football of their respective careers. Bell had four catches for 28 yards in the passing game. The Jets were 0-12 on third down and had just 98 yards [69 net] passing. Incredible start in the first three games for the defense. 

Special Teams: B-

Stephen Gostkowski had another rough start missing his first extra point. After that, he hit three in a row and a field goal. Gunner Olszewski.muffed a punt which resulted in a Jets TD. That, as he pointed out after the game is unacceptable. But he came right back out, fielded the next one cleanly and returned it for 11 yards.  

Jake Bailey punted seven times for a 44.3-yard average, placing five inside the 20-yard line. Matthew Slater had an outstanding play where he chased down a punt that seemed destined for the end zone and knocked it back where it was downed on the one-yard line. 

Coaches: A

The Patriots coaching clearly were two steps ahead of Adam Gase and his staff on Sunday. By the time Gase and his defensive coordinator adjusted, the Patriots were up by three touchdowns and this one was “ovah Mike!”

Bill Belichick will pick the team apart during their Monday film session as several players noted on Sunday, but they were much better prepared than the Jets and totally dominated this one from start to finish, especially on the defensive side of the ball. 

We’re on to Buffalo. The “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” 2019 tour continues. 

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.

Patriots – Jets Week 3 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 19, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots return home this Sunday to take on the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium. This is the first of two meetings between the two teams, and the rivals will play again in the Meadowlands on Oct. 21 on Monday Night Football.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, September 22 at 1:00 p.m. and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Kevin Harlan will handle play-by-play duties with Rich Gannon as the color analyst. Dana Jacobson will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (2-0) trounced the Miami Dolphins 43-0 where the defense forced four interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns. Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.

The Jets (0-2) lost at home 23-3 to the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football. With QB Sam Darnold, already sidelined for at least a month with an illness, backup QB Trevor Siemian got the start before he too was injured and lost for the year. Luke Falk finished up the game and will get the start this week. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Jets have been rivals since the earliest days of the old AFL. The Patriots lead the all-time series 65-54-1 including a 35-25-1 record at home against the Jets. The two teams have met three times in the postseason with the Patriots holding a 2-1 edge there. 

The Patriots have swept the season series the past three years. Since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, the Patriots are 14-3 against the Jets at home.

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 Jets Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New York Jets

The Patriots running game still hasn’t gotten untracked yet, which definitely has something to do with the injuries along the offensive line. With the starting center on IR and both tackles out last week, they still managed to run for 126 yards. 

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White are an impressive trio, especially with James Develin opening holes for them. But the offensive line’s play in the running game has been inconsistent. 

The Jets are stout upfront with nose tackle Steve McLendon and interior linemen Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson. Rookie first-rounder Quinnen Williams has been banged up but may be back for this one. Ditto for LBs Jordan Jenkins and C.J. Mosley. 

During MNF the Jets defense stifled the Browns running game holding them to just 70 yards on the ground. They are allowing only 99 yards per game so far in 2019.

With several new faces on the Patriots offensive line, the slogging may find itself to be tough for the Patriots backs to find traction early. However, if the Jets offense continues to struggle and leave their defense on the field for a large portion of the game, then this could change. But this is one time when the Jets front seven handles the Patriots running game and wins the matchup                     

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

The Patriots passing game got a boost with the addition of Antonio Brown last week and his production after only three days of practice was good, 4 receptions 56 yards and a touchdown. Brown along with Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, as well as backs White and Burkhead out of the backfield gives Tom Brady a plethora of weapons.

The only thing that can hold back this unit is the offensive line. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn was placed on IR with turf toe, while right tackle Marcus Cannon missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury. So will it be Marshall Newhouse and Korey Cunningham at tackle or will they move Joe Thuney to tackle then after fill in another new body at the guard position? Dante Scarnecchia will have the boys working overtime this week.

The Jets, when everyone is healthy, have a very good front seven. They have Leonard and Quinnen Williams inside and can push the pocket. But the secondary, especially the corners are not going to shut anyone down for long. Former Patriot Darryl Roberts mans one side while Trumaine Johnson who was paid a big-money contract just a year ago was manning the other. Johnson was benched for poor play and in his stead came Nate Hairston and Brian Poole. 

Those corners are no match for the Patriots receivers, but the Jets and DC Gregg Williams may try to take advantage of the offensive line flux of the Patriots by bringing overload blitzes and stunts to test their communication. Look for Brady to use the quick passing game first and the backs if the Jets come after him. If he gets good protection, they should shred the secondary. After his flurry of outrage earlier this week, it will be interesting to see how Jamal Adams plays and is used this week.

Next up the Jets offense:

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

The Jets picked up Le’Veon Bell this offseason from the Steelers and he’s one of the most talented backs in the league. Despite having a sore shoulder that required an MRI this week, Bell had 31 touches on MNF [21 rushes and 10 receptions]. But the Jets offensive line has struggled to get him into areas where he can break free. They also have Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell in the backfield.

The Patriots front seven has been outstanding against the run allowing just 37 yards per game. The defensive line led by Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, and Michael Bennett has stuffed the opposition at the point of attack, allowing the deep and versatile linebacking crew to clean up and attack. 

Look for the Jets to try to get creative here to get Bell going. If the Jets have any chance of pulling an upset, they have to win this matchup and have Bell being a difference-maker and keep the defense honest. If not, it will be a long afternoon for Gang Green. 

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

The Jets brought Luke Falk off the practice squad for Monday Night’s game after Trevor Siemian [ankle] and Sam Darnold [illness] were knocked out of the starting lineup. Falk performed as well as could be expected, coming in cold after Siemian was hurt. But his issue is having enough weapons in the passing game. 

Quincy Enunwa is on IR with a neck injury. Newcomer Demaryius Thomas reaggravated the hamstring injury he had with the Patriots. That leaves Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, tight end Ryan Griffin, and Bell out of the backfield.

The Patriots’ secondary has been outstanding in the passing game. And the pass rush sacked Dolphins’ QBs seven times last week. They’ll attempt to test a Jets OL that has struggled so far in 2019. 

Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones should matchup with the Jets two big targets outside, while Pat Chung will draw Griffin. It comes back to Bell against the host of New England’s linebackers. On paper, it appears Falk will have a long, frustrating afternoon. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots Stephen Gostkowski had a singularly awful day in Miami with 2 missed extra points and a missed field goal. The good news is he returns to Gillette where he’s been solid. Jake Bailey has done well with his first punting action although he has struggled it seems with the holding for FGs and extra points. The return game has been so-so but the coverage units have been solid.

The Jets have had struggles of their own and have Sam Ficken as their placekicker. Lachlan Edwards has done a solid job of punting but Braxton Berrios and Trenton Cannon haven’t provided much in the return game.  

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

So, do the Patriots improve to 3-0 or do the Jets pull a huge upset in Gillette being three-touchdown underdogs?  The signs point to the former rather than the latter. This is a game even without the myriad of injuries the Jets have suffered, is one the Patriots, on paper should win. That’s why they play the games.

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Stay Aggressive and Get After Falk – Look for the Patriots defense to remain aggressive and challenge the Jets receivers. They’ll feel like the Jets WRs can’t beat them deep, so they’ll challenge the short to intermediate routes and give Falk nothing to find open. Falk was actually processing the plays too quickly early on Monday and got rid of the ball before the play developed. Later in the second half, he was holding the ball too long. If the Patriots can force him to do that again on Sunday, they’ll be successful and may force some turnovers.

They’ll show different fronts and packages [show man, play zone] to try to confuse Falk, who is a smart kid but doesn’t possess great arm strength. With a pass rush that doesn’t have any single “dedicated pass rusher”, the Patriots should utilize bringing pressure from all different areas. 

Make the Jets win while passing the ball is what they’re going to try to do this week. With a banged-up and depleted WR core and the third QB under center, the key is to make Luke Falk beat them.

Short, Quick Passing Game To Move the Ball: The Patriots passing game and Tom Brady’s protection will be put to the test early in this one as I believe Gregg Williams, who is always aggressive, will try to overwhelm the new faces on the offensive line. The Patriots counter the Jets blitzes by using their quickness off the line, Julian Edelman and Antonio Brown are two of the best at this and are nearly uncoverable out of the slot. 

James White and Rex Burkhead are also the great equalizers in both blitz pickup and getting out of the backfield and getting open. It will be a great part of the chess match to see when and where Williams decides to send his blitzes. Josh Gordon can work the short areas as well with slants while Phillip Dorsett along with Gordon will attack the intermediate areas of the field. 

Win the Turnover Battle: The Patriots, especially right now are much deeper than the Jets and have the superior team. The Jets offense has struggled to move the ball and to score points. They can’t afford to get into a situation where they have to match Brady and Co. score for score. They have to shorten the game, keep the NE offense on the bench and help out their young QB by giving him some short fields to work with. That’s why turnovers are so important this week. 

If you’re the Patriots, if you win the turnover battle this week, this should be a runaway.  By being aggressive and forcing the issue, the Patriots should be in a good position to do just that.

___________

Never underestimate divisional games and how tough they can be, despite the apparent lopsidedness of the Vegas odds.  The Patriots and Jets’ games are always hard-hitting and physical contests. This one should be no different. The two teams by virtue of playing twice a year, know each other well and will look to use that knowledge against one another. 

The Patriots are the better team and that will play out as the game unfolds. It may be close for a half, but Brady and Co. find holes in the Jets secondary and the defense once again rises to the occasion.  Patriots 30-6

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour heads back out on the road next week as the Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills.

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 and breakdown game analysis

Patriots-Dolphins Week 2 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 12, 2019 at 7:50 am ET

The Patriots head out on the road for the first time in 2019 as they travel to South Florida, to take on the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots are looking to get off to a 2-0 start and put behind them the slow starts that have earmarked earlier seasons.

Miami has a new coaching staff in place with Brian Flores, the former de facto Defensive Coordinator for New England serving as their new head coach. He has taken several former New England assistants with him, including Chad O’Shea who is the Dolphins Offensive Coordinator. 

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, September 15 at 1:00 p.m. and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines.. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (1-0) are coming off a convincing 33-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Tom Brady threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

The Dolphins (0-1) were shellacked 59-10 by the Baltimore Ravens where Miami’s defense was gashed for 623 yards [265 on the ground, 378 in the air]. 

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Dolphins have been playing each other since 1966. Miami holds the overall edge 55-52 with each team holding a huge edge in home games. Miami is 38-16 at home against New England while the Patriots are 36-17 all-time at home against the Dolphins. Bill Belichick’s record versus Miami with the Patriots is 24-14. In games in Miami, Tom Brady is 7-10, and the team is just 1-5 in their last six games there. 

The teams split last year’s contests with the Patriots blowing out Miami 38-7 at home and then losing 34-33 in December in the “Miracle in Miami” game.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

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

The Patriots running game didn’t have a great game last week, but it wasn’t all bad either. The team ended up with 99 yards on the ground against a very good Pittsburgh front seven. They’ll be looking to get Sony Michel untracked this week as he was bottled up against the Steelers last week. 

Miami was gashed badly by the Ravens in the opener to the tune of 265 yards and 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. They were overwhelmed at the point of attack and will be looking to do a much better job. They’ll need their big men up front, nose tackle Davon Godchaux, and ends John Jenkins and Christian Wilkins to be much better. If the Patriots big men in the middle, Ted Karras, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason can get a push to the second level, the ground game will be successful. 

Look for plenty of the two-back sets with Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White rotating in with James Develin leading the way. It will be interesting to see if the team activates Damien Harris this week, as he was removed from the injury report and having Brandon Bolden limited with a hamstring issue.

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

The Patriots passing game looked really good passing for 374 yards in the opener against the Steelers. Tom Brady was sharp and was getting everyone involved in the passing game. The pass protection against the top team in sacks from 2018 held up quite well. Isaiah Wynn shined in his first game but the team lost Marcus Cannon to a shoulder injury in the second half. His absence will be a place to watch this week. The team did sign veteran tackle Marshall Newhouse this week. 

The Dolphins pass defense was arguably more miserable than their run defense was last week. Lamar Jackson had a perfect passer rating and threw five touchdowns along with 324 yards passing. His backup RG III came in and was 6-6 for 55 yards with a touchdown. Ravens’ QBs were 23-26 for 378 yards with six TDs. The secondary has some good pieces there with Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, and Bobby McCain with a bunch of ex-Patriots, Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi, Jomal Wilz, and Ken Webster. 

The Patriots running game should open up play-action passing in this one. Seeing how the Dolphins choose to match up with Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, and Julian Edelman with White and Burkhead out of the backfield will be an interesting part of the chess match. Flores knows the Patriots weapons well and he’ll be trying to counter their moves. The pass rush for Miami is key here. If Brady has time to throw, he should light them up again. It is unknown right now whether Antonio Brown [on Wednesday evening] will play. It may depend on how much of the offense he can learn in practice this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

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

The Dolphins rushing attack was put on the backburner early last week when they fell behind so far, so early. They have Kenyon Drake and Kalen Ballage toting the rock behind an offensive line with new pieces everywhere. 

Jesse Davis was moved to left tackle from the right side. Michael Dieter and Daniel Kilgore at LG and C respectively are the only carryovers. Right guard Danny Isadora and right tackle Julien Davenport are both new and started last week after coming to Miami after the initial 53-man cutdown. 

The Patriots front seven stuffed the Steelers rushing attack last week holding them to just 32 total yards. James Conner only gained 21 yards on 10 carries. The big men up front Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, and Michael Bennett held firm and allowed the linebackers to clean up. 

Although Drake has had success against the Patriots in the past, with this patchwork offensive line, it is tough to see Miami getting much going on the ground without them getting really creative here.  

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

Miami has surprisingly gone with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick in the early going after they brought in second-year QB Josh Rosen earlier this year. Fitzpatrick has the capability to get really hot for a few games, as we’ve seen in the past, but overall he’s 2-9 in his career with the Bills and Jets against the Patriots. 

The skill players are good with DeVante Parker as their possession guy with Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant as their outside guys with speed to burn. Tight Mike Gesicki will be someone to watch. But this offensive line will decide this matchup. Can they hold up? 

The Patriots defense was outstanding against the Steelers, with the secondary of Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty taking away the outside threats. Look for Pat Chung to cover Gesicki and that will be a great matchup to watch. 

I look for the Patriots left side to attack Miami’s right side of the OL. Davenport who came over from the Texans in the Laremy Tunsil deal gave up 12 sacks, 65 QB pressures and committed 16 penalties last year. Look for the Patriots to bring their pressure attacking the right side. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots Stephen Gostkowski had a really solid game after an uneven preseason. He hit on all three extra points and all four field goal attempts. Jake Bailey hit one boomer and one dud last week. But his holds on the field goals were spot on, something they struggled with a bit in preseason. The coverage units were solid and Gunner Olszewski had a nice debut with punt returns of 20 and 15 yards. 

Miami’s Jason Sanders booted a 54-yard field goal last week in one of the few bright spots of that game. Punter Matt Haack averaged 53.7 yards per punt. Their return game didn’t net much on the day.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Another year heading to the Patriots House of Horrors? New England is just 1-5 in their last six games in South Florida, including the past two. They always seem to save some of their worst football for games in South Florida. Can they turn that around and start the year off 2-0 and avoid the slow starts that have plagued the team in recent years?

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Be Aggressive and Get After Fitzpatrick – Look for the Patriots defense to be aggressive and attack the Miami offensive line here, while they try to set the tone of this one from the outset. Fitzpatrick isn’t the most mobile of QBs and the OL hasn’t played together for very long. Show them different fronts [Amoeba look with one down lineman] bring pressure and try to generate some turnovers. 

Jamie Collins, Michael Bennett, and rookie Chase Winovich are the players to watch here. They don’t want to lay back and allow Fitzpatrick to get into a rhythm. This secondary has shown it can play blanket coverage across the field, take advantage of it and force the issue. 

Run the Ball to Open up Play Action: The Patriots running game is looking to get untracked this week and this is a perfect time and place to do so. Miami hasn’t sorted things out yet and the ground game can set the tone for this one early. Michel, Burkhead, and White should give them plenty of yardage to open things up in the passing game. With play-action, Brady will have more open room across the middle and allow him more time to hit Gordon and Dorsett on the perimeter. It will be interesting to see if they give rookie Jakobi Meyers more snaps this week. We’re not counting on Antonio Brown playing in this one, but we’ll have to see how that plays out. 

Put Them Down Early: The Patriots have had a bad habit of letting the Dolphins hang around in games down in Miami and those have come back to haunt them. Sunday, they need to come out firing and put the Dolphins in the rearview mirror early. The confidence can’t be high there right now after last week’s debacle. 

Bill Belichick needs to get the team coming out fired up like this is a playoff game and approach it in that way. A couple of quick scores early and have the Dolphins on their heels. They have done that at home against the Dolphins seemingly every game, it is time to do so down there.  

___________

So, a lot of Patriots fans and some media have been playing up the familiarity idea that the Dolphins’ coaches know the Patriots and their system and know exactly how to attack them. And they point, successfully at the Lions and Titans games from a year ago. And it is a valid point…to a degree. 

But this New England team is a better one than took the field last year, and this Dolphins team is frankly, one that is going to struggle to win 3-4 games in 2019. The only thing holding the Patriots back this week is themselves. They should establish dominance early in this one. There won’t be any miracles this time.  Patriots 42-13

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour moves back to New England next week to take on the Jets.

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 and breakdown game analysis

Patriots Players To Watch, Week 1 Against the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2019 at 7:20 am ET

The NFL regular season is back and judging from the game tonight between the Packers and Bears, Thursday Night Football is in mid-season form. However, the Patriots and Steelers are set to kick off the Sunday Night Football season with what we hope is a much better product. 

The first game of the season is always the toughest to get a great feel for because of so many of the starting players from either team barely played during the preseason. The offensive and defensive top units get only a cameo on the field. 

But there are some players that we feel must step up for the team to be successful. With that in mind here are our Patriots players that we will be watching closely on Sunday night in the game against the Steelers. 

Isaiah Wynn/Ted Karras:

Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago but suffered an injury in training camp which forced him to miss his entire rookie season. The Patriots eased him back on to the field and limited his reps until they felt he was really ready to go. He’s now protecting Tom Brady’s blindside at left tackle. 

His conditioning will be an area to monitor as the game moves forward. Wynn will have his work cut out for him, the Steelers strength defensively is in their front seven. Wynn will probably draw a lot of Cam Heyward in this one. A very tough first test. 

Karras has been a trusted but backup interior offensive lineman for the past few years. With David Andrews out for the season after suffering a blood clot in his lung during the preseason, Karras is now the Patriots starting center. 

Now he’ll have to hold up inside and make all the right calls when it comes to protection. Look for the Steelers to test him right away by bringing A-gap pressure and blitzes to try and force the issue. Like Wynn, this is a big test for him in Week 1.

Sony Michel: 

The Patriots other 1st round draft pick from a year ago is coming off a solid rookie season along with an outstanding playoff run where he posted over 300 yards and six touchdowns during the Super Bowl run. 

Michel looked like the Georgia-version of himself this summer, explosive, with excellent vision and the ability to make plays at the second level. With some questions along the offensive line and Tom Brady’s receiving core, the running back position will be leaned on heavily in the early going this season. And that begins with Michel. They need to get a solid production night from Michel and all of the backs in this one, which should help in getting the rest of the offense untracked.

The Patriots are attempting to get Michel more involved in the passing game, they were trying to get he and rookie Damien Harris involved all summer. James White and Rex Burkhead have always had that versatility, but if they can get the two younger players more involved, especially Michel, it will make the offense difficult to stop.

Jamie Collins:

Truth be told, we weren’t fans of the idea of bringing back Collins this year, but thus far, he’s proven to be a really big addition. The Patriots jettisoned him in 2016 for a third-round draft pick, but after getting paid by the Browns, Collins is back with the Patriots on a modest deal.

The linebacker position is deep with Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and last year’s rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who flashed early but was injured early in the season and lost to IR. 

Collins’ athleticism and versatility were on full display this summer and he could be a really valuable chess piece for the defense in 2019. We’re looking for him to play a big role in the game plan as they try to move him around and try to disrupt things with the Steelers offense. 

Julian Edelman:

The Super Bowl LIII MVP was looking good this spring and seemed poised to pick right up where he left off in February. But then he injured his left thumb in the time before training camp and missed nearly all of it and the preseason.  

Edelman didn’t appear until the final preseason game against the Giants. He played in only one series and caught a 20-yard pass. But in going to the ground, he appeared to fall on the injured thumb and came off the field shaking it. The team stated that it wasn’t reinjured but just a scare and he should be ready to go for the opener.

Edelman has always had tremendous chemistry with Brady. They’ll need that on Sunday night since neither Josh Gordon [suspended] or Demaryius Thomas [injured] was able to spend much time with Brady during the end of camp. Look for Brady to look for his favorite target early and often in this one. 

Michael Bennett: 

Remember him? With all of the talk surrounding the OL and WRs lately, Bennett has been relegated to nearly an afterthought around these parts.  After Trey Flowers got a huge payday from the Lions, many questioned where the pass rush was going to come from. The team swung a deal for Bennett, who was second on the Eagles in sacks with nine in 2018. 

Bennett had a tremendous summer and dominated in one-on-ones during both training camp and the joint practices. Although he’s getting up there in age, there doesn’t seem to be any dropoff in his level of play. And like several other players in the front seven, he has the versatility to move around and create favorable matchups for the defense.

Look for the Patriots to try to ease Bennett’s workload a bit in the early going to bring some pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. I see Bill Belichick and the coaching staff using Bennett a lot this year from an interior position and try to collapse the pocket. 

_________

Check back with PatsFans.com for all of our pregame and post-game analysis. And if you’re a wiz at predicting the NFL slate straight up, register for our message board and then post your picks every week. We’ll see who is the top dog at the end of the season. That can be found here https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/ 

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.