Tag Archives: Michael Bennett

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. 

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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?”

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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. 

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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/ 

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Best Of Social Media: Preseason Week 3 Panthers vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
August 28, 2019 at 12:20 pm ET

Week three of the 2019 preseason saw Tom Brady start for the Patriots for the first time.

Check out some of the best social media sights and sounds one final time from last Thursday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1gqbcNA5iC/
View this post on Instagram

Just keeeeeep it movin’ #GameDay

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1er38JgF17/

In what would become an unfortunate occurrence throughout the night, the Patriots medical tent saw frequent action.

With the first quarter winding down and the game still scoreless, Panthers safety Eric Reid delivered a controversial late hit on Ben Watson.

At the time of this posting, Eric Reid has reportedly apologized for the late hit but no NFL action has been made.

With the game scoreless through a quarter, Brady finally put together a scoring drive.

7-0 Patriots following a James Develin rushing touchdown.

Just before halftime, the Patriots special teams unit was delt a serious blow when Brandon King suffered a torn quadriceps muscle.

King was placed on season ending injured reserve.

https://twitter.com/BB_HulkSmash/status/1164748988375019520?s=20

Through one half of play the Patriots lead remained 7-0.

The second half remained quiet for both squads backup players as the Patriots and Panthers traded field goals in a 10-3 final score.

The Patriots will conclude the 2019 preseason on Thursday night against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1gilkAn2Ky/
https://www.instagram.com/p/B1guX5gFtVM/
View this post on Instagram

Visualize.

A post shared by Isaiah Wynn (@iwynn77) on

View this post on Instagram

Blessing came Perfect…i Timed it.

A post shared by Ja’Whaun Bentley (@warriormentality) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1gqH1mgd2w/

New England Patriots News 8-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 25, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-25 and AFC East notes this week. 

The Patriots have one more game left in the preseason this week against the Giants and then will have the tough task of cutting down the 90 man roster to just 53 and then filling out the remaining ten spots [11 with Jakob Johnson who is an NFL International player if he doesn’t make the 53].

While the starters won’t play much if at all on Thursday for either team, the game will still be compelling because of the roster spots that are still on the line. Several players will be playing for their jobs, some will succeed and carve out a roster spot, others will be unemployed and waiting for the phone to ring.

Check back with us frequently on PatsFans.com as we’ll continue to post daily updates on the latest news and how the roster initially shakes out. 

 Quick Hitters:

Andrew Luck – Announced his retirement yesterday. Luck has been hobbled by injuries for much of his career and it was cut short after just seven seasons. He was once thought to be the “next great one” but it never materialized for him. For a Colts team that had made major strides in building up a legit contender, this is a huge setback. Jacoby Brissette is the man for the time being again in Indy.

Tom Brady – on the learning process with Jakobi Meyers said, “I think for all of us, you play with guys that are maybe new to the offense and so forth. Sometimes they think they’re not part of the route, and then a team plays a certain coverage and they’re part of the route. Early in the season, that’s part of this time of year. We don’t have the full week to prepare. We’re kind of putting things together on the fly.”

And BTW Tom, ditch that hat…not a good look

Bill Belichick [on the play of the defense] –  You know, I thought we played competitively. We still have a lot of things to work on. There’s a lot of things we can improve on, so we’ll just go back to work this week and just keep grinding away. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re making progress.

Devin McCourty – was asked about the changes to the new pass interference rules and if the referees have done a good job of explaining it to the players. He is not a fan. “I’m never a fan of those meetings. I feel like they go however we ask the question, and then once we get in the season you might as well throw that whole meeting away. So Bill always says it the best; week-by-week. We have to go how the game is being called, and we have to adjust to it.”

Jakobi Meyers – wasn’t pleased with the way his early snaps with Brady went, but was happy to be able to persevere. He had this to say about sitting down with Brady. “Tom has played for a long time so when he wants to sit down and talk, you sit down and talk with an open ear. I am just trying to listen to everything he says, soak it up and get better.”

 Jarrett Stidham Is Ahead of His Projections And Learning His Craft:

The NFL Draft isn’t an exact science, we all know that. Some players have superstar potential and never make it. Others, aren’t very highly sought after but thru hard work, belief in themselves, and a burning desire to succeed will rise far above their projected ceiling when the draft rolls around. 

Take Tom Brady, drafted in the 6th round,199th overall in 2000. No one thought he’d amount to much. Now 20 years later, he stands alone at the absolute pinnacle of the sport. Which brings us to this year’s 4th round draft choice Jarrett Stidham, the rookie QB from Auburn. 

Stidham played in an offense at Auburn that really stunted his growth as an NFL QB. He too wasn’t highly thought of and his selection barely registered across NFL circles. He struggled in minicamp and even threw an interception in a walkthru. When training camp started, he frequently held the ball too long and struggled to make a decision. Although he throws a really nice ball, he was struggling with his reads, things that not uncommon with rookie QBs. 

But with each passing day, he was learning …and improving. He’s steadily got better and watching him on Thursday night against the Panthers it didn’t resemble anything close to the kid who struggled so badly on Day 1 of Training Camp. I reached out to Mark Schofield, who is an outstanding analyst, especially when it comes to QBs. He wrote a very nice piece on QB Development for Pro Football Weekly in the annual draft issue. He writes for Inside the Pylon and does a really good podcast on Pats Pulpit. I had spoken to Mark in the spring after the Patriots had drafted Stidham and wanted to get his take on how far he’s progressed. He had several interesting takes on the rookie.

“Progress is probably the best way to phrase this,” Schofield said. “The really interesting thing is the mental development, you saw it against the Lions… I love those ‘no-throw’ moments when the QB doesn’t throw a pass that was expected and then go back and to find out why.”

On this particular play, the Patriots were running a two-receiver set known as “Rope”, where the slot receiver runs a slant and then breaks to the outside. The outside receiver runs a route that is dependent on the coverage but is normally a go route. This play is designed to defeat a Cover 2 which is what the Lions defense was aligned in. “The QB wants to throw that route in the flat,” Schofield said. Stidham held the ball and scrambled for five yards…no big deal right? Wrong, says Schofield. 

“The Lions were running what they call a ‘Cover 5 Cougar’ which is Cover 2 man underneath trap coverage, which is specifically designed to stop this kind of play. The cornerback backpedals for just a moment with the outside vertical route, and if he sees the inside receiver run this route to the flat, he peels off the outside receiver and crashes—or “traps”—the out route. But the corner is still reading the slot receiver. even with his back to him. This tells the quarterback that the CB is bailing, but it is really just a wrinkle looking to bait the quarterback into throwing the flat route, and potentially an interception.”

“Stidham sees the coverage, drops back and begins to throw the ball but recognizes what the Lions are doing. He stops the throw and pulls down the ball and runs. It is a real heads up play for a rookie because it is a coverage that fools even veteran QBs. And when you’re seeing the progress there, going from tossing picks in a walk-thru to recognizing the coverage and reacting like this, it is huge progress.”

“I think he’s made a huge impression on this coaching staff and his progress has been excellent, I’ve been really impressed with him,” Schofield added.

The Auburn offense wasn’t a great fit for a QB with his talents and until he hit the Senior Bowl this spring, he wasn’t considered a coveted prospect. But playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Mobile was an eye-opener. “There were times, that I thought he was the best QB down there…not Daniel Jones or anybody else,” Schofield said. 

Schofield added, “when I got a chance to talk to him, I asked him what his favorite offense was, in the ones he’d run, and he said, ‘Everything this week.’”

He was a really good fit in a pro-style offense, and Schofield said that you could see him moving defenders with his eyes, and going thru reads quickly. “So the fit with him coming to New England was pretty good.”

So, the question now is, do the Patriots believe that Stidham can handle the offense if anything were to happen to Brady and part ways with Hoyer, keeping only two quarterbacks. 

“It is a really tough question because they have so many tough decisions to make at other positions… when you look at some of the players that they have at, say…wide receiver or the defensive line, the coaches could say, we have to make a choice here. But ideally, they’d find a way to keep all three. But the fact that we’re having this conversation tells you how much he’s progressed.”

“This is another example of how the Patriots approach things,” Schofield said. “They don’t concern themselves with what he can’t do, they focus on the things that he does well. They saw the arm talent, his processing speed and they liked the potential in him and he’s in a good position to learn, not just from Tom Brady but from Josh McDaniels as well. It is a great environment to learn.”

While no one is anointing him for Canton just yet or that he’s the heir apparent to Tom Brady, it at least shows the coaching staff, that they may have something in him and he’s going to get more put on his plate as they attempt to further develop him.

We’ll have the entire interview with Mark Schofield available shortly on our YouTube channel.

Patriots Defense Ahead Of Schedule This Year:

The Patriots’ defense went through a ton of changes this spring. They lost the versatile and important Trey Flowers as well as former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But the losses on the coaching staff left the team with literally the cupboard bare. De facto DC and LBs coach Brian Flores went to Miami along with cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, while defensive line coach Brendan Daly bolted for Kansas City. 

Greg Schiano was hired as the new Defensive Coordinator but soon after stepped down. Jerod Mayo was hired the next day as the inside linebackers coach. Bret Bielema, who was already on the staff took over the d-line. DeMarcus Covington took over the outside linebackers coaching position, while Mike Pellegrino is now the cornerbacks’ coach. Steve Belichick remains the safeties coach.

On the field, it seems like this crew has been together for years. And Bill Belichick has assembled a really deep and talented crew from top to bottom with some very experienced players mixed in with 2nd-year players and rookies that are meshing together extremely well. 

The defense last year struggled especially against the run and getting after the QB early in the year. Their slow start wasn’t anything especially new, Belichick likes to add more and more as the season goes on and build on things. By the end of the season, they had things figured out and ended the regular season and went into the playoffs with a much more aggressive, attacking mindset. The results spoke for themselves, as they held the Rams to just three points in the Super Bowl. 

That slow build-up looks to have been accelerated this season. The 2019 Patriots have the potential to be a very special group, perhaps even rivaling the 2004 team. With depth at all three levels, this group is already a confident, versatile bunch and their play on the field bears that out.

While comparing them to the 2004 unit may be a stretch at this early juncture, look at the depth and versatility at the linebacker position. A year ago it was a position of concern, now, they may have to part with some players who could contribute, not just here but with other teams as well. The cornerback group is as deep as I’ve ever remembered and has the ability to mix and match with any opponent matchups.

Last year, the team couldn’t find any takers for joint practices and they entered the regular season not as prepared as the coaching staff would have liked, not surprisingly, the defense wasn’t good as the team limped out to a 1-2 start. 

The back-to-back joint practice sessions with the Lions and Titans have this team in a much better position. But the pieces were already in place this spring. There has been a collective confidence brewing since the first OTAs with the defensive group. Since training camp has started this unit has looked really strong. The Patriots offense really struggled in the first days of training camp which led to the question, “Is it the defense being really good, or just the offense being really bad?” 

The joint practices and the preseason game with the Lions reinforced that it was indeed the defense being “that good”. The Patriots offense looked very good in Detroit while the defense stifled the Lions. During the game, they wracked up nine sacks and held the Lions to just three points. 

At home against the Panthers, they held Carolina’s offense in the first half to just 29 yards, two first downs, and 0-5 on third down. The confidence that the unit is playing with is far ahead of where they normally are at this time of year. But what was more impressive is that they liberally rotated a lot of players with the top unit. Game planning for this unit? A total of 13 players have sacks thru three games.

They even dusted off the old Bears 46 Defense with two LBs on the line of scrimmage on the strong side which resulted in a sack. That will give the Steelers’ coaches something to think about in two weeks. That’s the first real test and a very big one as Pittsburgh’s offense looks stacked once again. 

Holding for Field Goals, Why Use Punters and Not WRs?

After the missed field goal connection between Jake Bailey and Stephen Gostkowski I got a good question on Twitter this Friday, a follower asked, “Why would the Patriots [and other teams] use a punter as a holder for extra points and field goals and not a wide receiver who is used to handling the ball?”

This is a very good question and I remember thinking the same thing several years ago. So, with that in mind, a few years ago Bill Belichick was asked about that. And he always has good reasons to play Special Teams. Here are a few good reasons why teams use a punter rather than a WR. 

Punters, kickers, and long-snappers can work all week on their delivery and timing of kicks. While the WRs will be working on another part of the game plan. That allows them to dedicate nearly all of their time to this when a WR may not have as much.

Punters have good hands and have to handle the ball quickly and seamlessly. Any bobble will result in a blocked punt. And punters are used to working under pressure. Imagine a slew of big defensive linemen rushing at you and everything depends on handling the ball quickly and letting a kick go. 

Plus, punters aren’t injured nearly as much as wide receivers are so the continuity factor is always there.

Replacing Chung Is No Easy Task in the Secondary:

Patriots safety Pat Chung is facing arraignment for possession of cocaine charges in New Hampshire this coming week. He may not actually see his court case heard until next year. So, any suspension from the NFL may not come until next year. But depending upon the circumstances of his case, the league could act sooner. 

Chung, however, may still not play in the season opener as he’s missed the entire preseason and has worn a red non-contact jersey all through training camp as he’s been recovering from a broken arm suffered in the Super Bowl as well as off-season shoulder surgery. So, who steps up and plays his role against the Steelers if he isn’t ready to go?

We may see a mixture of Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks if he’s out. Brooks was mainly a special teams’ contributor with the Jets but this summer, he’s gotten a lot of reps with the top defensive unit. Harmon has been used more as another deep safety. Brooks accounted well for himself in joint practices and the preseason and could step into the role, but Chung does so much it is no easy task. 

Chung plays the in-the-box safety run support role, a linebacker in dime coverage, at times even playing in the slot as well as providing backup support as a third punt returner for special teams when needed. One other player to watch may be rookie corner Joejuan Williams who can be asked to cover the tight ends with his size. 

Hopefully, Chung will be ready to go against Pittsburgh and in uniform that night. But if he isn’t, it would be expected his place would be taken not by one player but multiple ones.

Due to the longer than normal [nearly 3000 words] Patriots notes this week, we are not running our AFC East Notes this Sunday, but they’ll be back next week for sure.

________________

“I think Jarrett’s pocket presence is good. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. Certainly, when you’re comparing him to the other two quarterbacks on our roster, guys who have played a lot of football in this league, it’s quite a gap in experience. I’m sure those are things that Jarrett will get better at. [It is] probably about what you would think it would be given the difference in experience that you’re comparing him to – to players in our offense running the same plays that he does. So, it’s hard to compare one quarterback in one system to a quarterback in a completely different system, but in our case, we have three quarterbacks all in the same system. It’s an obvious comparison. He’s getting better. I think he does a good job, but there’s room for improvement, certainly.”
Bill Belichick on how Jarrett Stidham’s pocket presence has improved 8-23

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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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 Defense Looks Ready For 2019 With 10-3 Win Over Carolina

Steve Balestrieri
August 23, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots improved to 3-0 in the preseason with a 10-3 win over the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. 

As we’ve seen during the first two preseason games with mainly the backup defense, the starting unit played for the first time and was dominating, holding Carolina to just 29 yards in five first-half drives. The Panthers could only manage two first downs and were 0-5 on third downs, managing just 1.7 yards per play. 

Once again, despite not having “a dominant pass rusher” the unit hounded Cam Newton for a few series before he left with a foot injury after being sacked by Adam Butler. Newton played in his first preseason action after offseason surgery. 

The starting unit registered three sacks with Butler, Michael Bennett, and Kyle Van Noy taking down the Panthers’ QB. Ufombra Kamalu had the Patriots other sack. Carolina only had a total of 99 yards of offense with 48 passing and 51 rushing and could only muster seven first downs in the entire game.

Other observations include:

Brady Looks Sharp In Preseason Debut:

Tom Brady and much of the first unit offense were in for three series and scored one touchdown, with the other two drives wiped out by penalties. With no Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Demaryius Thomas, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, and Josh Gordon [NFI] in the lineup, Brady was targeting mainly Phillip Dorsett [5 targets, 5 catches for 41 yards] and rookie Jakobi Meyers.

Meyers got off to a rough start with Brady. He stopped running on a deep route, had a drop on a drag route where the pass was slightly behind him and had another pass batted away by cornerback James Bradberry. 

Brady ended up 8-12 for 75 yards, his two best throws were an 18-yard laser down the seam to Ryan Izzo and a nicely zipped pass on the outside to Dorsett. He looks ready to go. 

Dorsett and Michel Shine in Early Action: 

Dorsett was targeted five times by Brady and twice by Stidham and hauled in all seven passes thrown his way.  He looked quick off the line and sure-handed as he and Brady were locked in one another. It was a good veteran performance as he stepped up with all of the other players missing and with Harris missing, Dorsett has solidified his grip on a roster spot. Many have him neck and neck with Harris. He didn’t hurt his chances with a solid game tonight.

Michel looked quick to the hole, decisive and elusive. He made people miss with some outstanding, explosive cuts and looks absolutely ready for the regular season. While he had just 36 yards on 10 carries, those numbers are skewed somewhat as he had two runs including a really nice 30-yard run wiped out by a holding penalty downfield, [Meyers] and was stuffed on the goal line twice, once where the TE [Saubert] missed his block.  

Starting Offensive Line Play Encouraging, Backups…Not So Much:

The Patriots starting unit did a good job of protecting Brady and other than some holding penalties that have to be cleaned up, did a nice job of opening holes for Michel and the running game. And this was against a very good Carolina front seven. 

The starting unit of Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon was solid overall. Wynn, other than a whiff on a screen to Dorsett once again appears to be well on his way after his injury last summer that wiped out his rookie season.

The backup offensive linemen had a rougher evening. Carolina sacked Jarrett Stidham five times and registered eight QB hits. While two of the sacks were the result of the rookie QB holding the ball too long, this wasn’t a great night for the backups.

Injuries Pile Up:

There were several players who didn’t suit up on Thursday night. N’Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Josh Gordon [NFI], Cam Meredith [PUP], Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater, Obi Melifonwu, Patrick Chung, Trent Harris, Martez Ivey, Yodny Cajuste [NFI], Matt LaCosse, Shalique Calhoun, and Derek Rivers. Edelman, James White, and Demaryius Thomas dressed but didn’t play.

During the game, Kyle Van Noy, Nate Ebner, Damien Harris, Ben Watson, Gunner Olszewski, Lance Kendricks, and Stephen Anderson all left with injuries. Van Noy and Ebner returned, the rest did not. Brandon King was carted off with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. 

Quick Hitters:

Jarrett Stidham – once again appeared good, not as good as last week but his protection wasn’t nearly as strong. Belichick made the decision to replace Brady not with Brian Hoyer, but with the rookie. This was a chance to see what the rookie can do against the better players who will be there in the fall. They know what they have in Hoyer, so he sat. Stidham completed 15-19 for 134 yards. He hit some tight windows.

Gunner Olszewski – had a really good night in the punt return game. He called for a fair catch on his first where it appeared he had plenty of room to run, but after that he had four returns for 63 yards. He caught one pass for 15 yards from Stidham and it was then that he was injured and didn’t return.

Stephen Gostkowski – missed a field goal for the third straight game although this one was firmly on the hands of rookie Jake Bailey who put the ball down with the laces facing the kicker….”laces out Dan!” This will have to be cleaned up moving forward.

Jake Bailey – Speaking of the rookie, despite his gaffe holding for the field goal, he was outstanding in his punting, averaging 48 yards in his four attempts, putting two inside the 20-yard line and with excellent hang time. The Panthers had just five yards on three punt returns, because of how long the ball was in the air. 

Calvin Munson – continues his strong summer. He appears quick and is all over the field. He had four tackles, one for a loss, plays special teams and with King down, may just crack the 53-man roster.

Jakobi Meyers – After an inauspicious start with Brady, the rookie WR settled down with Stidham and made seven catches 74 yards. He’s shown good chemistry with Brady during joint practices, he’ll have to learn from this and shake it off. 

Penalties – The yellow flags continue to pile up against the Patriots, this has to be a very sore spot with Belichick and the coaching staff. Last week they got flagged numerous times for hands to the face, tonight it was holding. However, the Panthers did challenge two non-call Defensive Pass Interference plays and both were upheld.

The Giants come in a week from tonight for the final preseason tilt. 

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What to Watch For, Preseason Week 3 Patriots vs Panthers

Steve Balestrieri
August 22, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots are taking on the Carolina Panthers tonight in Foxboro for the third preseason game for both teams. This is the week that the starters traditionally see a lot of game action. But I have always disliked the term “dress rehearsal”, so for the eighth year in a row here at PatsFans.com, I’ll use my favorite quote from Willie Nelson. My wife and I spent time back and onstage with Willie at one venue and partied on his bus with him at others. [Those are stories for a different time.] But Willie’s words ring true.

“There are no dress rehearsals, we are professionals and this IS the big time”

So, both teams’ starters should see about a half of work and maybe a series in the second half to get acclimated to the entire process. This will be Cam Newton’s first game action this year after off-season shoulder surgery. So, he may not be as apt as he’s shown in the past about tucking the ball away and running with it. This will also be Tom Brady’s first preseason action this summer.

So, what are we looking for from a Patriots perspective tonight? 

Can Brady and the New Faces Click on Offense?

Julian Edelman came off of NFI on Monday, Demaryius Thomas was removed from PUP on Tuesday. I don’t imagine either will play. Josh Gordon is still on NFI and has already been ruled out of tonight’s game. N’Keal Harry just returned to practice this week and may not play either. 

So, this will be a really big test for Jakobi Meyers, going against the top Carolina defense as Brady’s go-to receiver. Phillip Dorsett and Braxton Berrios should also get a lot of snaps with the first unit. 

This should be a good time to see how Sony Michel and Damien Harris are used out of the backfield in the passing game, something they’ve worked on this summer. We know James White’s value there, but the coaches made a concerted effort to by more unpredictable this summer. Michel and Harris should handle the bulk of the work in the running game. Isaiah Wynn’s workload should increase this week and we want to see how he handles this as well as how he holds up against a stout Panthers defense.

Matt LaCosse is back on the field after being injured in Detroit, and this is his opportunity to shine. No one has really stepped up at tight end this summer, so this a big chance to carve out a role with the team. 

How Well the Front Seven [Starters] can Create Pressure:

We’ve seen the top guys dominate in workouts and joint practices. The second and third-tier guys have looked really good in preseason games, but now the starters get to show their stuff. And they get a good test against a Panthers team that has given them problems in the past.

With players like Micheal Bennett, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy getting into their first game action of the year, mixing in Jamie Collins, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, and John Simon, we’ll get a better idea on how they are planning on using these players. In particular, will the coaches continue to be aggressive and we’ll be wanting to see the personnel groupings that they will rollout.

This front seven looks deep and versatile, with guys like Chase Winovich, Shalique Calhoun, and Derek Rivers coming on later to spell the starters, the 2019 front seven is as deep a unit the Patriots have had since the 2003-2004 teams.

Watching the Starting Secondary Gel On the Field:

This secondary unit of the Patriots is one of the more stronger ones in the league and arguably the deepest secondary unit that Bill Belichick has coached since he took over the reins of the Patriots in 2000.

Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty give the team their top three boundary corners. Jonathan Jones has easily bested former 2nd round pick Duke Dawson for the top slot corner. Now watching the starters and their communication with Devin McCourty and Pat Chung at safety is a step. This unit hasn’t played together in a game since the Super Bowl. This is a big week of preparation for the season. Many of them probably won’t play next week. 

Dawson should see plenty of reps in the second half as he’s one of the guys who is fighting for a roster spot. Joejuan Williams, the rookie 2nd round CB, who has improved markedly since training camp began and Keion Crossen should also see a lot of work in the second half.

Special Teams Get Ready For Week 1:

With the release of Ryan Allen, Jake Bailey has won the starting punting position. But the pressure doesn’t let up now, it just gets even tougher. He’s replacing a very popular player with the fanbase and this will be his first game action in Foxboro. He’ll also be tasked with holding on field goal and extra-point attempts. It will be important for him to get off to a good, clean start.

Stephen Gostkowski has missed field goals in each of the first two games, whether that was all on him or something in the exchange between Joe Cardona and his new holder Bailey will bear watching. For all of the fans who would like to see the third most accurate kicker in NFL history replaced, who is out there and most importantly available? Other than the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, Gostkowski is right up there with the best kickers in the game. With a better career accuracy average than the guy he replaced 14 years ago.

The kick return game will bear particular watching tonight. Braxton Berrios or Gunner Olszewski’s roster spot may depend on how well they produce in the kick return game. 

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