Tag Archives: Mike Vrabel

Patriots Week10 Report Card, Titans Tune Up the Pats in Music City

Steve Balestrieri
November 12, 2018 at 4:10 pm ET

The Patriots got their collective butts handed to them in Nashville on Sunday afternoon to the tune of 34-10. It was ugly from start to finish. They weren’t ready to play and Tennessee was. We wrote in our keys to the game, getting off to a quick start was imperative this week. The last thing you want to do is to play from behind with the size of their offensive and defensive lines, they’ll make life downright miserable for you if that is the case, and they did.

There was no magic elixir here, no, the Titans weren’t trotting out a gaggle of new plays and busting out a trick play to confuse the Patriots. They lined the same as they always do. And their execution was spot on. The Patriots? Far, far different story there. Tennessee came into this game averaging 16.8 points per game, just 10 minutes into the first quarter they had 17. It was that kind of day

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

Quarterback: C-

Tom Brady, like the rest of his offensive teammates, were not on the same page yesterday and not prepared to face a Titans team that was fired up and ready to go. The day started well enough with Brady firing a dime down the field to Josh Gordon for 44 yards right down the middle.

And just as quickly, that changed. Brady missed on several throws were his fault. And several others where the coverage was superb. He was under duress all day and was forced to get rid of the ball early several times. While that wasn’t his fault, we wrote yesterday that it is easy to tell when Brady is struggling because he always makes the same mistakes.

Yesterday, once again, when he and the offense struggle, he locks into receivers and ignores the rest of the field. He targeted Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, and James White 32 times out of 41 passes on the day. That isn’t going to get it done. On the 4th and 6 where Edelman was blanketed by Logan Ryan, Chris Hogan put a double move on Malcolm Butler and was wide open. That’s on Brady. But he did zip some throws into very tight windows. He has to be better down the stretch…no ifs, ands, or buts.

Running Backs: C-

James White was rendered totally ineffective for the first time this year. The team tried to get him the ball but he was held to just 31 yards on five catches. He had just one carry and was blown up badly in the backfield for a loss of five. And to illustrate how out of sync this team was yesterday. White was bad in his pass blocking, something he’s never been as long as I can remember. Sony Michel returned from a two and a half week absence and was ineffective due to the offensive line. He had only 11 carries for 31 yards, a 2.8-yard average. Cordarrelle Patterson likewise was a total non-factor carrying the ball four times for 11 yards, mirroring Michel’s 2.8-yard average.

James Develin had his first carry of the year and had a one-yard touchdown.

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers had trouble all day with gaining separation. Julian Edelman gets very high marks with nine catches on 12 targets for 104 very tough yards. He was taking a lot of punishment after the catch. He was the bright spot on the offense on Sunday, before hurting his ankle.

Josh Gordon had 4 catches for 81 yards including the aforementioned 44-yard bomb. But he was targeted 12 times boys and girls. That kind of ratio isn’t going to cut it…. Not for anyone, especially someone who is supposed to be the go-to guy.

Chris Hogan is being frozen out of the offense. Brady barely looks in his direction anymore. And he may be replaced as the #3 option by Phillip Dorsett. Hogan was wide open for what may have been a score behind Butler who he beat on a double move. Patterson and Hogan had zero production. Dorsett? Two catches for 18 yards. Not good enough.

On the 4th and 6, Edelman was blanketed, Hogan put a double move on Butler and was wide open. Tell me again, how he has no separation. (screenshot CBS/NFL)

Tight Ends: C-

Rob Gronkowski was out again. Worse, Dwayne Allen was shaken up twice during the game and was forced to leave. That left the Patriots with only Jacob Hollister who was active for the first time in about a month. Hollister is more of a move tight end and not an in-line blocker. He did make one nice grab down the seam for 17 yards on two targets. The team really needs Gronkowski, a healthy Gronkowski back.

Offensive Line: D-

The offensive line was atrocious on Sunday, the worst performance I’ve witnessed from this unit in quite some time. Brady was sacked three times and was under pressure all day. The Titans completely dominated the line of scrimmage. And it wasn’t close. With Shaq Mason out, Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon missing several snaps each, there was a revolving door on the front. That certainly didn’t help with communication. But replacements Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle were being beaten with regularity.

The running game? Non-existent which just added to the misery of the entire day. The Patriots gained just 40 yards on 19 carries. That won’t win many games, especially when the pass protection is shoddy.

Defensive Line: C-

The defensive line was shaky in the early going, they didn’t set the edge or nor contain Marcus Mariota on the first drive of the day. They settled down and held Dion Lewis to just 2.8 yards a carry on the day. But as we pointed out on Friday, the Titans with the lead or close to it will hammer defenses with Derrick Henry. And that is just what Tennessee did. Henry gashed them with frightening ease.

The pass rush was non-existent for much of the day. Trey Flowers was good but the rest of the edge? Very little was heard from them. After the first drive, they did a great job of containing Mariota in the pocket. But the pass rush is the other half. Last week was their best game of the year in that aspect. On Sunday it was poor.

Linebackers: D

The Patriots linebackers had a “Groundhog Day” moment. The unit looked slow and appeared to be a liability especially Dont’a Hightower. Elandon Roberts had a couple of nice stuffs but then flies up into the gap against Henry at the goal line and misses him. How in the wide world of sports can you run by and miss a 250-pound running back? With Roberts, this happens far too often. Kyle Van Noy made a bunch of plays and had 12 tackles but like the others seemed out of position at times too.

Secondary: D

The secondary had the same kind of day that everyone else had…awful. When your best player in the secondary has been beaten for 3 catches for 63 yards and a touchdown… plus a pass interference call, in the first two drives, then you know what kind of day you are going to have. Corey Davis roasted the Patriots for 7 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. The instinct is to look at the box score and say, “Mariota only threw for 225 yards.” But did the numbers pass the eyeball test? No. His QB rating was 125.0 and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt.

The safeties didn’t have a great game. On the Titans first touchdown, however, Mariota broke containment and had a clear path to the end zone. The Pats had Jonnu Smith bracketed with Devin McCourty underneath and Pat Chung in trail. McCourty was forced to come up and force Mariota to throw…he was right in the throwing lane, and he lobbed it over him for an easy TD since Chung wasn’t close enough to influence the play. McCourty in that instance was victimized by the defensive line.  Chung did have a couple of nice stops on third down where he came up and tackled the receiver short of the sticks. But after arguably their best game of the year last week against Green Bay, this was a very poor effort against a team that came in averaging just 178 yards passing per game.

Special Teams: C

The Special Teams had a very mixed bag and much of it started badly. The opening kickoff had the Patriots coverage unit again have a breakdown and allowed a 58-yard return. That set the tone for the day. The Patriots allowed an average of 14 yards per punt. Stephen Gostkowski missed a 52-yard field goal wide left. That’s the bad news.

The good news is Julian Edelman averaged about 15 yards per punt return, Patterson averaged 24.7 on kickoff returns, Ryan Allen averaged 49.7 yards per punt while Stephen Gostkowski hit a 52-yard field goal. So things kind of averaged out but the start was atrocious.  

Coaches: F

The Patriots coaching staff totally dropped the ball on this one. This team was flat out not ready to play on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. The Titans scored more points in the first 10 minutes of the game than they’ve been averaging in a game all season.

Offensively, you won’t win many games where you score 10 points. How did Josh McDaniels NOT target Malcolm Butler in this one? He was listed as the worst starting CB in all of football. Everyone has been feasting on him with double moves all season and the Patriots avoided him like Revis Island in his prime…That deserves a double F.

Defensively, they were gashed every way possible and Mike Vrable gave Belichick the big “Eff You” when they tried their own pass to the QB and gained 21 yards after Brady stumbled after catching it.  That’s something the Patriots are used to doing to the opposition.

Speaking of stumbling…Patriots players were stumbling all day, shouldn’t the equipment guys have adjusted their cleats during the game or did they take the day off too?

Burn the tape, write it off and come back from the bye week and show the previous six weeks tape. Get that team ready to play the Jets…preferably in the first quarter.

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-Titans Week 10, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 9, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots head back out on the road and are going down to Music City as they take on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon for a rare 1:00 p.m. start time. A win this week before the team’s bye week would ensure that the Patriots would finish with a .500 record or better for an 18th straight season.

A win would give the team seven wins in a row heading into their bye week and keep them firmly entrenched into the #2 spot in the AFC a game behind Kansas City, but the Patriots own the tiebreaker. Tom Brady is only 3 TD passes shy of Peyton Manning’s record of 579 (regular season and playoffs). Manning owns the record in the regular season with 539, Brett Favre is next with 508, Brady has 505.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS 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 (7-2) defeated the Packers on Sunday Night Football 31-17. Tom Brady threw for 294 yards and was a perfect 6-6 in the 4th quarter for 104 yards and a touchdown while holding Aaron Rodgers to 2-7 for 15 yards. The Patriots outscored the Packers 14-0 in the final stanza for the win.

The Titans (4-4) defeated the Dallas Cowboys 28-14 ending a three-game skid. But it didn’t start off well, Tennessee turned the ball over the first two times they possessed it in the game but in the end, they easily bested a poor Dallas team. Marcus Mariota led the Titans to their highest output of the season, points wise.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and the Titans history go back to the beginnings of the old AFL when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. But the Patriots have had the better of the matchups overall with a 25-16-1 record dating back to the early ‘60s. New England has won the last seven games between the two teams including a divisional playoff game last year in Foxboro 35-14 and the last time the two teams met in Nashville 34-13 on opening day in 2012.

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 Titans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game is expected to get back Sony Michel this week which will be a huge boost. But despite missing the rookie, the Pats received a shot in the arm by WR Cordarrelle Patterson filling in ably using his speed to his advantage. James White and Kenjon Barner have also been active.

The Titans have been much better against the run in recent weeks after having issues earlier in the season. On Monday night they held Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott to just 61 yards while the Cowboys averaged just 3.8 yards per rush.

Look for the Patriots to mix it up to keep the defense guessing and not able to pin their ears back. The key obviously is having Michel back and healthy for this one. The Titans have been much better lately against the run, but having an offense as diverse as the Patriots will present some problems. Look for Michel, White, and Patterson too to have a solid day running the ball between the tackles.

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

The Patriots passing game has been getting better despite missing Rob Gronkowski and Michel in recent weeks. They’ve had to get a bit more creative about spreading the ball around. Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman have stepped up and each had big games against the Packers. Edelman had 71 yards receiving, 28 yards rushing and 37 yards passing, while Gordon had 130 yards including a 55-yard touchdown.

The Titans have the #1 scoring defense in the NFL allowing just 17.6 points per game. They also have the #8 pass defense allowing just 226.2 yards per game. The Titans sacked Dak Prescott five times on Monday night and picked him off. They have former Pats Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan on the outside with Adoree Jackson at the nickel or slot corner, with Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro at safety.

We don’t expect to see Gronkowski again this week as they’ll give him an extra week before the bye to get healthy for the stretch run. Edelman and Jackson will likely be paired off, while Gordon will likely match up against Ryan. That leaves Chris Hogan/Phillip Dorsett against Butler outside. As always, the “X-Factor” is White out of the backfield. Until last week, the Titans had troubles getting after the QB with just 15 sacks. If Brady gets time to throw, as good as this defense has been, NE will be successful. Look for the Pats to spread them out and pick their way down the field.

Next up the Tennessee offense:

Titans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Tennessee running game has a pair of talented backs with big Derrick Henry and the elusive Dion Lewis but it hasn’t translated into the success that they envisioned this season. Henry averages just 3.3 yards per rush while Lewis is averaging just 3.7. Overall the Titans are averaging 3.9 yards per rush with QB Marcus Mariota bumping up that number with 217 yards rushing.

The Patriots have been much better against the run in recent weeks being able to slow down the opponents’ best rushing weapons. However, last week, they went to a much lighter package up front, basically daring Green Bay to run to help with the pass rush on Aaron Rodgers. Don’t expect that to continue this week.

Look for old pal Dion Lewis to give the Patriots some issues this week. He had a pretty solid game against the Cowboys last week and with the chance to show something against his former team, he’ll be very motivated. The NE defense has been good at setting the edge lately, but I’m looking for Lewis to have a good day inside.

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

The Titans passing game has been mired in neutral for much of the year, averaging just 178.2 yards per game. Mariota has been completing 67 percent of his passes but has just 1270 yards on the season with 5 TDs and 5 INTs. His biggest targets have been Corey Davis and Lewis out of the backfield. Tennessee quarterbacks have been sacked 26 times this season. Mariota was outstanding on Monday night in Dallas, spreading the ball around to nine different receivers and his ability to throw to a spot on the field well before his receivers were cutting was very impressive.

The Patriots secondary has been improving each week and held Aaron Rodgers to 259 yards and 17 points a week ago. They’ll be looking to continue that trend by forcing Mariota into obvious passing situations and bringing some pressure on him. Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn have stepped up their games in recent weeks and look for that trend to continue.

One way to get the 30th ranked passing game into sync is throwing the ball more early on downs and that is what I’d expect Tennessee to do. Look for Mariota to target Lewis out of the backfield and on screens early. And although their tight ends (Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith) have combined for just 15 catches, I expect Mariota to try to get them involved early and often. The Patriots front seven will have to be aware of Mariota’s scrambling ability and try to keep him contained in the pocket.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams were excellent on Sunday night. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen always give them outstanding production in the kicking game. Cordarrelle Patterson had two solid returns a week ago and the return game is beginning to look more and more dangerous if teams opt to not boot it out of the end zone. The coverage units have been inconsistent but the team just added STs ace, Albert McClellan

The Titans counter with Ryan Succop and Brett Kern (47.1 average), they also use Darius Jennings on kick returns and he has a 94-yard touchdown this season but have also allowed a 102-yard return.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This should prove to be a very interesting matchup. Mike Vrable will be the first former player of Bill Belichick’s to face his as a head coach. There is a lot of familiarity in the Tennessee locker room with Butler, Ryan, Lewis, and Vrable. How much that plays into this week, will remain to be seen.

Butler is the strange case here. Last year he wasn’t good as he was trying to overplay everything in trying to win a big contract. After the Titans paid him big money, he’s been worse this season as he’s now overplaying everything in trying to justify his money. Vrable will have to get to him to remind him to just play in the manner that got him here. But I would expect Brady to test him with double moves this week. You think Vrable will give him help this week? You betcha.

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective this week:

Start Fast: Last week was a big win for the team, it was obvious in the pregame and post-game reactions by both players and coaches. They can’t allow themselves to let down now. Getting off quickly is a must against Tennessee. They are tied for 29th in scoring with just 16.8 points per game. They aren’t built to play from behind.

Force Tennessee into Passing Situations: The Titans are #30 in passing. They don’t have the type of passing game that can afford to get into a shootout with Tom Brady. If the Patriots can keep the pressure on them to score and do it thru the air, it is a win-win for the visiting team.

NE Must Win on Third Down/Red Zone: The Titans are the #1 defense in the red zone in the NFL. The Pats can’t be kicking a bunch of FGs and allowing the Titans to hang around late in the game. They’ll have to find ways to convert this week, especially if they don’t have Gronkowski, who always draws a lot of attention there.

Look for Josh Gordon to continue his hot streak with Tom Brady. He may not have eye-popping numbers but we expect him to put in another solid effort this week. White and Michel will be key for the Patriots to pull out a road win by contributing both on the ground and in the air. Trey Flowers figures prominently again this week.

New England enters the bye week with a hard-fought, tough road win.  Patriots 27-14

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

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

Matt Light Inducted Into Patriots Hall Of Fame

Robert Alvarez
May 16, 2018 at 5:37 pm ET

On Wednesday, the New England Patriots formally announced that offensive tackle Matt Light was voted by the fans to be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame for 2018, beating out defensive end Richard Seymour and linebacker Mike Vrabel.

Light, who spent his entire 11-year NFL career as a Patriot from 2001-2011, played a key role in protecting quarterback Tom Brady’s blind side for three Super Bowl championships in five appearances.  Light joins former teammates Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown, and Tedy Bruschi as the only members of the team Hall of Fame with three Super Bowl rings.

Light was named to the Patriots’ 50th Anniversary Team in 2009 and earned Pro Bowl honors following the 2006, 2007 and 2010 seasons.  He earned first team All Pro in 2007, blocking for an offense that set a then-NFL record 589 total points and 75 touchdowns in a perfect regular season.

Patriots owner and CEO Robert Kraft issued a statement following the news of Light’s selection.

“For 11 seasons, Matt’s many accomplishments, both on and off the field, made him the consummate Patriot, His contributions helped the Patriots become champions on the field and in the community. For more than a decade, Matt fearlessly protected Tom Brady’s blind side and played an immeasurably important role in delivering three Super Bowl titles and five conference championships. As proud as I am of Matt’s many contributions to those championship teams, I truly believe that his lasting legacy will be measured by the many positive things he and his wife, Susie, have done to help others in the community. Their investment in the lives of children will pay dividends for generations to come.”  

According to the Patriots, “Light’s induction ceremony will be held on the NRG Plaza outside The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon on Saturday, Sept. 29, at a time yet to be determined. The outdoor hall of fame ceremony is free and open to the public. Fans of all ages are welcome and encouraged to attend. In addition, Light will be honored with a halftime ceremony during the Patriots home game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Sept. 30.”

Light is the 27th person to be inducted in the Patriots Hall of Fame since its official formation in 1991.

Patriots Announce 2018 Team Hall Of Fame Finalists

Robert Alvarez
April 18, 2018 at 2:15 pm ET

The finalists for the Patriots Hall Of Fame Class of 2018 were announced Wednesday.

Offensive tackle Matt Light, defensive lineman Richard Seymour and linebacker Mike Vrabel were selected as the three finalists.

Light makes the ballot for the first time in 2018, while Seymour is a finalist for a second consecutive season and Vrabel will attempt to make it in The Hall on his third straight appearance.

The ballot marks the first time all three finalists played together as teammates. From 2001-2008 the trio helped the Patriots to six AFC East titles, five AFC Championship game appearances, and the franchises first three Super Bowl championships.

This years selection will mark the 27th person to be enshrined in the The Hall at Patriot Place.

You can checkout the following video profiles on each finalist below and cast your vote HERE.

PHOTO: Bill Belichick Enjoying Training Camp In West Virginia

Robert Alvarez
August 16, 2017 at 8:35 pm ET

Over the course of Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England, it’s a common public perception thatt he future Hall of Fame head coach is often times viewed as a guy who’s “always serious” with a “business first” attitude, especially during the grind of training camp.

However this week the Patriots have been participating in joint practices with the Houston Texans in a far more relaxed setting at The Greenbrier luxury resort in rural West Virgina and with it came some rare smiles from the coach alongside his girlfriend Linda Holliday.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BX1P5T8lmvK/?taken-by=lindaholliday_

Belichick and Holliday also posed for a happy group photo with former Major League Baseball Manager Tony LaRussa, a close friend of the Belichick family.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BX3Vn7sFy2K/?taken-by=lindaholliday_

As with other recent meetings with the Texans, the matchup also provided the Patriots with a reunion of many former players and coaches that previously worked in New England.

Some ex Patriots include Head Coach Bill O’Brien, Assistant Head Coach Romeo Crennel, Defensive Coordinator Mike Vrabel, Special Teams Coordinator Larry Izzo, and Special Teams Assistant Wes Welker.

Raymond Clayborn Named 2017 Patriots Hall of Fame Inductee

Robert Alvarez
May 22, 2017 at 9:09 pm ET

The New England Patriots formally announced on Monday that cornerback Raymond Clayborn had been selected as the 26th member of the teams Hall of Fame following a vote by the fans.

This year, Clayborn beat out defensive end Richard Seymour and linebacker Mike Vrabel after previously losing the public ballot the last three years. (Law 2014, McGinest 2015 and Faulk 2016)

Per the Patriots press release;

“Clayborn was a three-time Pro Bowl player (1983, 1985, 1986) during his 13-year Patriots career that extended from 1977 through 1989. He was drafted by the Patriots in the first round (16th overall) out of Texas in 1977 and quickly established himself as one of the game’s best cornerbacks, as well as a superb kickoff returner. He set a franchise record with 36 career interceptions, a record which Ty Law tied in 2004 and remains today, 28 years after Clayborn finished his Patriots career. His 555 interception return yards rank second in franchise history to Law’s 583 return yards. Clayborn also returned 57 kickoffs for 1,538 yards and three touchdowns. As a rookie in 1977, he returned 28 kickoffs for 869 yards and led the NFL with a 31.0-yard return average and returned three kicks for touchdowns, both of which remain franchise records. He is one of just 20 NFL players since the 1970 merger to finish a season with a better than 30.0-yard average on kickoff returns (min. 20 returns) and is the only Patriots player to accomplish the feat.”

“I was fortunate to be a season ticket holder during Raymond’s entire Patriots career,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. “For the first half of his career, he teamed with Michael Haynes to form one of the best corner tandems in league history. Throughout his career, Raymond was a physical, shutdown corner. One of my favorite memories was watching the 1985 team advance to the Super Bowl after Raymond helped us break the Orange Bowl curse when he stymied future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino with a dominant performance against Pro Bowl receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Raymond had six passes defensed and an interception to help us claim our first conference title. It was the greatest upset victory in franchise history at the time and one the entire New England region celebrated. It is a well-deserved honor and I look forward to presenting him his hall of fame jacket.”

The Patriots will honor Clayborn in a special ceremony at The Hall at Patriot Place on a date to be determined around the time training camp opens.

https://twitter.com/PatriotGreat26/status/866733366548332544

https://twitter.com/bigsey93/status/866743058200657920

Patriots Announce 2017 Hall Of Fame Finalists

Robert Alvarez
April 21, 2017 at 7:19 pm ET

On Friday, the New England Patriots announced the three finalists for the 2017 induction into the teams Hall of Fame at Patriot Place.

This year’s finalists include cornerback Raymond Clayborn, defensive lineman Richard Seymour and linebacker Mike Vrabel.  Clayborn is a finalist for a fourth straight year, Vrabel is a finalist for the second straight year, while Seymour is a first-year eligible finalist.

Seymour and Vrabel were key contributors to a Patriots defense that helped bring three Super Bowl championships in four years back to New England and both were named to the 50th Anniversary and 2000’s all-decade teams.

Seymour was named to five straight Pro Bowls with the Patriots from 2002-2006 and earned four straight first team All-Pro honors from 2003-2006. Vrabel earned Pro Bowl and NFL All-Pro honors following the 2007 season after registering 12½ sacks and was named a team captain four times. His most memorable moments came in Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX when he caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady in both games.

Clayborn was selected to the Patriots 1970’s and 1980’s all-decade teams and is tied with cornerback Ty Law with a team-record 36 career interceptions.  His 555 interception return yards are second in franchise history to Law’s 583. During his 13 seasons with the Patriots, he helped the Patriots to 10 winning seasons, including four postseason berths.  He also set a franchise record by playing in 161 consecutive games, a record that still stands.

Fans have the opportunity to select the 26th member to The Hall through an online vote at patriots.com/2017hof 

If Vince Wilfork Retires, His Next Stop Should be Canton

Steve Balestrieri
January 16, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots defeated the Houston Texans last night 34-16 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and will host the AFC Championship Game next Sunday against either the Steelers or Chiefs. After the game, Vince Wilfork said he may have played his last game in the NFL and may retire. It was sad to watch the big man walk off the field for perhaps the last time.  If he indeed does retire, he should have a bust in Canton.

It won’t be easy, the voters for the NFL Hall of Fame don’t like the big heavies. The two-gap run stuffers who are so integral to what some teams do defensively. Why? We live in the era of fantasy football. Voters want the guys who have the impressive sack totals, the penetrators, the fast, speedy guys who make the crowd ooh and ah when they rush the quarterback.

Guys like Wilfork and Casey Hampton who played for the Steelers for a long time will never get those gaudy sack numbers and don’t have that streamlined physique that makes those guys the subject of so many articles and photos for the media. Nope, guys like Wilfork are built like a fire hydrant. Wide, squat, and low to the ground with legs like tree trunks. Built for the marathon of taking on double teams in the interior of the trenches.


Vince Wilfork was an immovable object inside for the Patriots for nine seasons. (USA TODAY Images)

Wilfork never had more than 3.5 sacks in any season but his worth went far beyond that. The Patriots defense relied on him to eat space and double teams at the point of attack in the running game and set the table for the linebackers to clean up. Early in his career, those linebackers were Ted Johnson, Tedy Bruschi, and Mike Vrabel. All of whom had great success in the Patriots defense.

Later, players like Jerod Mayo, Junior Seau, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower took their places and the defense continued to use Wilfork as the immovable object inside. The defensive philosophy demanded his solid play and the fact that he played on multiple Super Bowl teams speaks of his worth.

Another player that immediately comes to mind was Richard Seymour who was a dominant defensive lineman for the Patriots for several years and had a couple of very productive years for the Raiders. As adept at rushing the passer as stopping the run, Seymour didn’t have eye-popping sack totals but was a tremendous, versatile player who could play inside or outside.

There was an extended period of several seasons where it easy to make the argument that Wilfork was the best at his position, doing what he did better than anyone else in the NFL. From 2007 to 2012, Wilfork made the Pro-Bowl five times and was a first-team All-Pro member once. His 2011 season was arguably his best with 52 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a memorable interception of Philip Rivers, where the big man rumbled for 28 yards downfield. He added nine tackles and 2.5 sacks in three playoff games.

One thing is certain…if indeed Wilfork retires which it appears he will, in five years, he’ll be a first-ballot inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame. That is a no brainer. But Canton? That will be a difficult sell. Like the catcher in baseball that calls tremendous games for his pitchers and is integral to their success, no one remembers who caught the no-hitters or the perfect games, just the pitchers.

Wilfork is worthy of the gold jacket and will need some help in getting in there. Someone will have to stand up and advocate for him. Which is a shame really. Just turn on the tape from any number of years and watch the traffic jam inside the trenches. Right in the middle of it was #75.

Look around the Hall of Fame and see how many big, two-gapping run stuffers are in there. It is about time that Canton recognizes the excellence of one of them… Just clear off a big space, give his bust a two-gap and very large gold jacket.

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

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

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2017 at 7:45 am ET

Every Game Now is a One-Week Season

The Patriots take the field in the Divisional Playoff game against the Houston Texans on Saturday night in Foxboro. Kickoff is slated for 8:15 p.m. and the weather is supposed to get cold again with temperatures in low-to-mid 20s at the start of the game.

The Pats worked hard this season to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs and the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes thru Gillette. They’re taking a Houston team, basically playing with house money. Until the Raiders lost two QBs, nobody gave them much of a chance of reaching this round and few of the experts covering the NFL give them much of a shot this week. That’s why they play the games on the field.

I would expect Bill O’Brien to be very aggressive this week. Look for the Texans to empty the playbook and throw as much at the Patriots as they can. 4th and 1 at anywhere near mid-field, they’ll go for it….at least they should.

With a win on Saturday, the Patriots will set another record, passing the Oakland Raiders and be playing in their sixth straight conference championship. Nothing says sustained excellence better than that. So, with that in mind….

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

Quarterback Tom Brady: The Patriots QB had a tremendous season after coming off his league-imposed “vacation” for Weeks 1-4. Brady continues to amaze, even at the ripe old age of 39. In truth, he’s playing better now than he was at 29. In 2016, he set a new NFL record for touchdown to interception ratio, throwing 28 TDs to just 2 INTs. He’ll also add to his record just by taking the field on Saturday and play in his 32nd postseason game, the equivalent of two NFL seasons.

He’ll be facing a Texans defense that knows the Patriots well. DC Romeo Crennel held the same position here for the first three Super Bowls of the Patriots era. Linebacker coach Mike Vrabel played an integral part of those teams. Houston head coach Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator here. So, Houston knows what the Pats like to do, especially in certain downs and situations. Crennel will try to change his pre-snap looks to something different once the ball is hiked to slow Brady’s thought process down and give his pass rush that extra half-second to get home.

Of course, Brady knows this too, he’ll be ready for the shifting line just before the snap, to the secondary members shifting at the snap. It all will come down to execution. Brady will have all his WRs at his disposal this week. The team misses Rob Gronkowski, but they’ve adapted to absence the best that they can at this point. Brady will lean on his buddy Julian Edelman heavily, especially early in this one.

Cornerback Logan Ryan: The Pats corner has traditionally been tasked with covering the Texans best wide receiver and their most talented offensive player, DeAndre Hopkins in past meetings. He’ll probably get the nod there again. In two meetings between the teams in 2015 and in Week 3 this season, Ryan covered Hopkins and allowed only 5 catches on 11 targets for 96 yards with two passes defended.

Ryan began the year on the right, #2 CB opposite Malcolm Butler. But the team leaned on the 25-year old’s versatility and shifted him inside to the slot. That allowed the defense to move the bigger Eric Rowe outside with Butler. The results have been much better playing from the entire secondary. Ryan leads the team with 92 tackles and is solid in run support as well as three QB hits and a sack blitzing from the slot. He has logged 11 passes defended and a pair of interceptions on the year.

Look for Ryan to be tasked with covering Hopkins again with some over the top help and trying to bracket the Texans top receiver. He’s elevated his play down the stretch, allowing just around 40 percent of passes thrown his way to being caught.

Wide Receiver Julian Edelman: Edelman entered this season as a bit of question mark, at least physically. After his foot surgery in 2015, he re-injured it in training camp during a joint practice and things were looking a bit dicey. But after a somewhat slow start, Edelman answered the bell for all 16 games and turned in an excellent 98 catch, 1106-yard performance in 2016.

Now he’s healthy and leads the deepest group of wide receivers the Patriots have had in the Brady/Belichick era. He’ll be playing in his 13th playoff game of his career against the Texans and just needs two catches to pass Wes Welker for most post-season catches (69, you know what that means Gronk?) in Patriots history. But for Edelman, he’s like Brady and the rest of the Patriots under Belichick. Personal stats mean nothing, the only thing that matters is getting the win.

Look for him and Brady to try to get the chains moving quickly on Saturday night. Houston has a good pass defense that allowed just 201 yards per game during the regular season. The Patriots will attempt to use the quickness of Edelman to get those short, crossing routes open and create some space for the other receivers to work in.

Defensive End Trey Flowers: The Patriots defensive end has had a breakout season in 2016. After having an impressive training camp last year in his rookie campaign, he suffered some different injuries that caused him to play in just a single game. But the soft-spoken native of Alabama has really stepped up his game in 2016.

The Patriots under Belichick and Matt Patricia, like for their defensive players to be versatile and Flowers has fit the bill perfectly. He’s played defensive end and has frequently been pushed inside on passing downs as a smaller, interior pass rusher. He’s been just as good at setting the edge in the running game as rushing the QB from the edge and push the pocket from the inside. Frequently lauded by the coaches for his solid play, he’s been playfully nicknamed “Technique” by his teammates. But since the midway point of the season, Flowers has logged seven sacks, most on the team.

He’ll go against Duane Brown for part of this upcoming game. The Texans LT missed the first contest and he spearheaded an effort against Oakland last week that kept the Raiders pass rush from sacking Brock Osweiler once. Flowers will be looking to get into the pocket and disrupt the timing of the passing game. Patricia will move him around both inside and out but look for the 2nd year pro playing in his first playoff game to be a factor.

Offensive Tackle Nate Solder: Much of the talk during last week’s Wild Card game centered around the uber talented Houston DE/LB Jadaveon Clowney. Clowney is an athletic freak who had a tremendous impact on the game, blowing plays up in the backfield, creating pressure and intercepting a screen pass in the flat. Looking to neutralize him will be Patriots LT Nate Solder.

Solder was limited to just four games in 2015 before being placed on IR. He’s returned and has played outstanding this season. But with the unexpected emergence of RT Marcus Cannon, little has been mentioned about Solder’s play. He hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 10.

This promises to be a great matchup. Clowney was limited by injuries early in his career and came on at the end of 2015. Now fully healthy, he’s been the force that many foresaw for him when he was the #1 pick in the draft. Solder will have his hands full with the talented pass rusher and if need be, the Patriots will double him up. But look for the coaches to match them one-on-one initially.

Who Do You Got This Weekend: With the Divisional Round of the 2016 NFL Playoffs here, it usually means some of the best football of the season. These games are normally some of the best to watch and this week’s slate has some intriguing matchups. Last week, I went 3-1, whiffing on the Giants and their own version of the Love Boat cruise.

So, for this week:

New England over Houston- see our breakdown here.

Atlanta over Seattle- Matt Ryan finds holes in the LOB without Earl Thomas. Seattle just hasn’t been that good on the road this season, with the exception being their game in NE.

Kansas City over Pittsburgh- This will be one of those weird games where either the Chiefs win a close one or get blown out. I see the Chiefs holding serve over an explosive Pittsburgh offense with a late field goal to win the game. The home field advantage here, being in Arrowhead is the difference. But the “X-Factor” is LaVeon Bell for the Steelers. KC didn’t have a very good rush defense, and Bell can turn the game in a hurry.

Dallas over Green Bay: Ditto for home field. The Cowboys offensive line and their running game will be the difference at home as they control the clock and limit how much Aaron Rodgers and the Pack’s offense has the ball. Word to the wise for Dallas. You’ve ridden a rookie QB all the way to home-field advantage for the playoffs. Let him do the things he’s done all season. Don’t be like the OC for Alabama and get all conservative with Dak Prescott now.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as well have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

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

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

Patriots 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
September 20, 2016 at 8:02 am ET

Bill O’Brien Upgraded the Offense of a Playoff Team

The Patriots return to Foxboro just four days after their home opening win over Miami. They’ll be taking on the 2-0 Houston Texans who have been impressive the first two weeks of the season. The two teams met a year ago with the Patriots rolling to an easy win but this Houston team is vastly different than the one that the Patriots had their way with.

The teams will meet on Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network at 8:30 p.m. With Jimmy Garoppolo being hurt in the Miami game, the Texns will face rookie QB Jacoby Brissett in his first NFL start.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Texans:

Osweiler was an easy choice: When the Texans lost their playoff game to Kansas City 30-0 a year ago, it was obvious that some wholesale changes needed to be made with the offense and they started at the most pressing, at quarterback. Houston waved goodbye to former Patriots Brian Hoyer and signed free agent Brock Osweiler.

Osweiler had an extended cameo of his services when the Broncos sat down Peyton Manning during their Super Bowl run a year ago. When John Elway balked at giving the youngster a new contract this offseason when they tried to lure Manning back for a final season, Osweiler bolted for the Texans signing a 4-year, $72 million-dollar contract.

He has a ready-made excellent QB coach in Bill O’Brien who will be hard but fair with him. O’Brien will develop his talents to the utmost. So far, the big QB has played well. He’s had some hiccups with turnovers, he’s thrown three so far, including two against the Chiefs on Sunday, but O’Brien isn’t worried, as mistakes will happen while learning a new system. And the Texans is much like the Patriots, very different than what they ran in Denver with Gary Kubiak.

But Osweiler is a big upgrade at the position for Houston. They’ve added the pieces around him to make the offense much more difficult to stop in the coming weeks.

Miller Fuller Add Big Pieces to the Offense: The Texans made a couple of splashes in free agency, bringing Osweiller in and also bringing in running back Lamar Miller from the Miami Dolphins this spring. With Arian Foster on IR last year, the Texans were in need of an upgrade there. Foster ended up with the Dolphins, signing there this summer so the teams essentially traded backs.

Miller was a great pickup for Houston, he was very underused in Miami and is a good runner and pass receiver and at just 25 years old is an upgrade over Foster at this time of his career. He’s been the workhorse for Houston carrying the ball 53 times for 189 yards on the season adding six receptions for 26 yards. He was stopped for three quarters by the Chiefs but O’Brien stuck with the running game and Miller was able to grind out yards and kill the clock down the stretch.

The Texans drafted the speedster Will Fuller from Notre Dame in this year’s NFL Draft with the 21st pick in the first round. It was obvious they needed a threat opposite DeAndre Hopkins and they let Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts go. Fuller, a 6’0, 175-pound wide receiver has excellent speed and thus far has proven to be a perfect complement to Hopkins.

Thru the first two games, Fuller has nine catches for 211 yards (23.4 yard average), and a touchdown. He’s the first rookie since DeSean Jackson in 2008 to have two 100 yard receiving games in his first two NFL games. He and Hopkins are a dynamic duo and facing a Patriots secondary that did not have a good game on Sunday.

Watt is Still the Driving Force in a Good Texans Defense: Houston’s J.J. Watt seems to be completely recovered from offseason back surgery and he’s the guy to watch for a Houston defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in six quarters.

Watt missed all of July and nearly all of August’s workouts and is admittedly still working his way back into football shape. He told the media on Sunday, that in the opener he knocked off some rust and that he just added to that this week.

“I don’t think I’m all the way there yet,” Watt said. “But, I definitely felt a little bit better today than I did last week and I think it’s going to continue that way.”

Watt’s “a little bit better” totals on Sunday? Five tackles, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Houston held Kansas City out of the end zone on Sunday and sack QB Alex Smith four times in the 19-12 victory.

Now on the short week, Watt and Co. will be facing the Patriots rookie QB in Jacoby Brissett on Thursday night.

If Texans Seem to be Familiar, They Are: There are a lot of Patriots connections with the Houston Texans and head coach Bill O’Brien is building himself a team on a solid foundation of New England talent.

O’Brien was the QB coach and the offensive coordinator with the Pats from 2007-2011. Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crenel started in New England as the DL coach in 1993 and became the DC here from 2001-2004, including the first three Super Bowl wins.Texans offensive coordinator

George Godsey was the Patriots tight ends coach and was here from 2011-2013. Linebacker coach Mike Vrabel is one of the hottest coaches in terms of getting top job offers. He was a standout member of the Patriots during the first three Super Bowl winning teams as a linebacker and goal line tight end. Special teams coordinator Larry Izzo was a standout STs player on the Patriots between 2001-2008.

And of course the biggest Texan of them all is Vince Wilfork. The big man spent 12 seasons with the Patriots. Wilfork played in 158 games and tallied 517 tackles, 16.0 sacks, three interceptions for 48 yards, 35 quarterback hits, 28 tackles for loss, 12 fumble returns, four forced fumbles and 26 passes defensed.

When looking at the organization that O’Brien is building around him in Texas, it is easy to see where the emphasis on creating a winning atmosphere is coming from.

Special Teams Coverage Units Still Have Questions: One of the other weaknesses on the Texans a year ago was on their Special Teams. In the playoff loss to Kansas City they gave up an opening kickoff return for a touchdown which set up a frustrating day for the Texans as they lost badly.

That prompted the hiring of Izzo as the STs coordinator. During the preseason, the Houston coverage units were pretty solid but against the Chiefs again, breakdowns in coverage again reared their ugly head.

KC’s electric returner, rookie Tyreek Hill gave the Texans fits on Sunday. He averaged 15.8 yards per punt return, 27.7 yards per kickoff return, and took a kick back for a TD that was brought back on a very questionable holding call.

Is this just an anomaly due to a rookie returner that the team didn’t have enough tape on? Or is this an area that could be possibly exploited on Thursday. This will be an area that will bear watching.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

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

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