Tag Archives: New England Patriots

Patriots – Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots go back out on the road for their fifth game in the last six and their last in the 2017 regular season as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is still a hat and t-shirt game for the Patriots. With a win or a tie, the Patriots clinch the AFC East once again for the ninth straight time and the 17th since Robert Kraft took over the team in 1994.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work 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 (10-3) are coming off an ugly 27-20 loss to Miami on Monday night. The offense struggled all night long and the defense couldn’t stop Kenyan Drake either running or receiving. They’ll be looking for a bounce-back game.

The Steelers (11-2) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 Steelers are meeting for the 31st time and the Steeler and Patriots are tied with 15 wins each. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 10-3 against the Steelers and have won the last four meetings including the 2016 AFC Championship Game  36-17 in Gillette Stadium last January.

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 Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots running game was steadily gaining momentum with the duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead giving them big-play potential. The gained nearly 200 yards two weeks in a row against Miami and Buffalo before hitting the wall last week against the Dolphins and abandoning the running game too soon.

The Steelers run defense has been pretty good all season but in a short week after losing LB Ryan Shazier to a potential career-threatening injury, they were gashed by the Ravens for 152 yards while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Now they’ve had time to work out the kinks of replacing Shazier and this will be a key area to watch. If Lewis and Burkhead regain their game this week, it will go a long way in negating the Steelers pass rush and make their job of slowing down Tom Brady and Co. much, much harder. The key from a New England perspective is getting the running game going early and opening up the middle of the field.

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

The Patriots passing game is still tops in the NFL and this week they get Rob Gronkowski back from his one-game suspension. Chris Hogan returned from a shoulder injury last week but was ineffective last week. Ditto for Brandin Cooks. The versatility of the Patriots lies with the multiple running backs they can utilize in the passing game, Lewis, Burkhead and James White. And Danny Amendola does nothing but move the sticks every time he catches the ball.

Pittsburgh’s pass defense is the #4 unit in the league, while second in sacks with 41. They can get after the passer in a variety of ways with Cameron Heyward providing them with a career year with nine sacks, Vince Williams with seven and rookie T.J. Watt has six. The Steelers have only allowed an opposing QB to throw for more than 264 yards once (M.Stafford). The pressure on Brady will be the key for them… And will they change their defense from their zone to more of a man scheme?

We don’t have to repeat the stats Brady has against Pittsburgh, he’s had his way with them for 16 years. And with the Patriots offense, it is all about spreading the ball around. Gronkowski leads the team with 55 receptions, White and Cooks have 54 each while Amendola has 52. Hogan who missed four games has 34. While everything goes thru Gronkowski, for Brady it is about sharing the wealth. If he has time to throw.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Steelers running game is based on the incredibly patient Le’Veon Bell who has the vision and physical tools to wait for the slightest crack in the defense and then burst thru the hole. Bell not only leads the league in rushing with 1105 yards rushing, but has 75 catches for 579 yards. He carries a tremendous workload on his shoulders and behind a very good offensive line is a guy who can easily take over a game by himself.

The Patriots run defense has suffered all season. Injuries have piled up both on the edge and inside, the latest with Alan Branch who will miss Sunday’s game is a big blow for a Patriots unit that has struggled to stand up inside.

This matchup is a clear, big advantage for the Steelers. Bell can control the game either on the ground or in the passing game and the Patriots will be hard pressed to keep him in check this week. If he consistently can grind out big gains on 1st and 2nd down, it will make the potent Pittsburgh air attack more deadly.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a plethora of weapons, arguably the best he’s ever had in a Steelers uniform to use in the passing game. Antonio Brown easily leads the NFL with 99 catches for 1509 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown is another guy that can take over a game and he had 213 yards against the Ravens last Sunday night. Roethlisberger uses Bell out of the backfield, Jesse James at the tight end position as well as JuJu Smith Schuster, Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers. They’re heating up at just the right time of the year.

The Patriots pass defense has undergone a transformation in the past seven games. Since a horrible start in September, the New England pass defense in the last seven is allowing an average of 193.1 yards per game. The secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones at corner have really picked up their game. And they’ll need to against this Pittsburgh talented group of receivers.

Obviously, the keys from a New England perspective is how well they can slow down Brown and Bell, they won’t stop them. Even in games where the Patriots have won comfortably, have got their yards. The key is getting a few stops in the red zone. They’ll have to manufacture some pass rush pressure on Roethlisberger who has been sacked just 19 times this season. And force him into getting rid of the ball before he can find one of his receivers downfield.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski, and the Steelers’ Chris Boswell are both having outstanding seasons. Both have been money on big kicks from long range. What has made Gostkowski so special this season are his kickoffs, which are pinning teams deep.  The Patriots’ outstanding coverage units are smothering the opposition. They’ve also gotten some big plays from Special Teams. The Steelers units rank lower to the bottom of the league in punt and kick returns. The Patriots could use a big play on Special Teams this week on the road.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers instant classic. With the top seed of the AFC on the line, whoever wins this one will have the inside track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Pittsburgh has been openly clamoring for this one since March and have proclaimed themselves to be “a team of destiny.” Coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t shied away from it either saying the Steelers should win the Super Bowl.

The contrast is, of course, Bill Belichick, while the Patriots know what is at stake, he never lets the team’s focus get too far ahead. To them, this week is a big game, obviously but they say that about every week.

Everything is breaking right for the Steelers, they’re hitting their peak at just the right time and get a Patriots team that is banged up with 13 players on IR and 10 more questionable to play on Sunday. Plus they get it at home where they have a better home record in the last decade-plus than anyone…except New England.

A lot has been made about the changes to the Steelers defense, but until they show those changes on the field, Brady’s dominance over them for the past 16 years is the driving factor here. It will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Patriots 30-28

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  Week 14  Report Card, Dolphins Dump Patriots 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
December 13, 2017 at 10:36 am ET

First things first, and we’ve said this many times in the past, however this time the script was flipped. The score is far from indicative of how the game played out on the field. Miami dominated this one from start to finish in all three phases of the game. That the Patriots were still within striking distance late in the game to attempt an onside kick was a testament to their resiliency because they really had no business winning this game.

It was a very disappointing effort on all accounts as they had an opportunity to wrap up the division with a win and played their worst game in the past two months.

So we’ll go thru the positions after rewatching the tape and see what the grades say this week.

Quarterback: C-

Tom Brady had what he characterized as his worst game of the season, which is pretty accurate. The Dolphins switched up their defense, took away the middle of the field,  and were getting constant pressure on him while their corners completely shut down the Patriots wide receivers on the perimeter. Brady was forced into forcing low percentage passes down the field. He was picked off twice and nearly had a third.

He was forced to throw to the backs time and again because he had nowhere else to go.It was a very frustrating night for the team and its quarterback. It didn’t help matters that the offensive line wasn’t having a good night either. The Patriots were 0-11 on third down and Brady’s ability to slide and move in the pocket was the only reason the Dolphins didn’t have half a dozen sacks.

Running Backs: C

The Patriots didn’t run the ball effectively enough and then abandoned the idea way too soon in the second half. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead had just 10 carries between them, James White had one. When the offense, which has been so balanced falls into that kind of ratio, bad things can happen and on a night where their top two receivers (Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski) weren’t in the lineup…bad things abounded.

Lewis had a fantastic one-handed stab of a pass Brady floated out when the Dolphins blitzed and Lewis, running a wheel route turned it into a 20-yard gain.

Burkhead turned one screen into a 23-yard play and had a nice run behind a block from James Develin into the first touchdown of the game.

James White made a really nice catch on a low throw from Brady and was able to keep his balance and dove for the pylon for a touchdown.

Wide Receivers: D

The wide receivers probably didn’t get the memo that the game started at 8:30 because they didn’t show up and then barely at that until the second half. Xavien Howard completely shut down Brandin Cooks, he wasn’t able to do anything on the Dolphins corner who picked off two passes. He had no catches until late in the game when he snagged a 38-yard pass when Miami had gone to a zone and blew the coverage and left him all alone. Chris Hogan caught one pass for one yard on five targets, being much less a factor in his return than was thought.

Danny Amendola had six catches including a nice 23-yard grab where he just came up short of falling into the end zone with just under two minutes to go in the game. Had the onside kick worked, it would have been a much bigger play.

Tight Ends: D

No Rob Gronkowski this week equated to zero production from the tight end position. With Gronk out, the Dolphins left a safety in the middle and Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister were not able to make any production at all where it was needed most.

Allen was targeted five times although not all of Brady’s throws were on the mark. He ended up with two catches for 10 yards. Not nearly enough.

Offensive Line: D

The offensive line had a night that they’d rather forget although, with Dante Scarnecchia as their coach, they’ll hear about it this week. The running game rushed for 25 yards, Brady has hit hard all night and the Dolphins blitzes weren’t being picked up nearly as sharply as they should have. The fact that Brady was sacked only twice speaks much more about his ability to move and slide in the pocket and unload the ball than it did about their ability to protect him.

The bad night was shared equally. All of the members were getting beat at different times on Monday night. Ndamukong Suh had a very strong game, he overmatched them inside all night long.

Defensive Line: C-

The defensive line was thin, missing Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy who plays both on the edge and as a linebacker. Then Alan Branch went down with a knee injury, tried to come back and left for good. That left Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy and Eric Lee playing a lot of snaps with little rest. That is an awful lot of inexperience there. Only Guy has played in the league longer than this season. And he had a terrific game and really stepped up his play. He had two run stuffs and nearly had a pick-six when Jay Cutler literally threw the ball right to him on a botched screen.

Butler had a few flashes, especially late in the game when the defense stiffened in the fourth quarter, but the run defense was gashed by Kenyan Drake and their inability to set the edge hurt. Lee was caught a few time not doing that, and for a guy with three games of experience in the NFL, that is what happens when the next man up mantra gets overused. No pass rush to speak of, Cutler was way too comfortable for most of the night. This unit needs to get healthy quickly this week.

Linebackers: D+

Elandon Roberts had arguably his best game as a Patriot two weeks ago against Miami but the script was flipped on him this time around and he had one of his worst. Due to injuries and David Harris being a healthy scratch, it was just Roberts and Marquis Flowers for the majority of the night. The run support wasn’t great, (Roberts’ specialty). Matt Patricia called a run blitz and instead of stuffing it behind the line, Roberts whiffed (a common occurrence all night) and Drake ran for 26 yards. Miami isolated him with Drake split wide and the results were what one would expect. That isn’t Roberts fault, the Patriots often do the exact same thing. It is up to the coaches to get him some help. Letting the speedy Drake run a 47-yard fly on Roberts is a win for Miami. Marquis Flowers had a forgettable night but did have one nice stop on Drake for a loss. Trevor Reilly made a cameo.

Secondary: C

The secondary had its weakest game in the last two months. Malcolm Butler had a very rough night. He was burned by 5’6 wide receiver Jakeem Grant for a 25-yard touchdown and should have given up another. Grant flew by him and was wide open. Cutler put the ball perfectly in his hands and Grant dropped it.

Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones were simply okay and not playing anywhere near the level they had been in the past month plus. The players looked like the dreaded communication issues were resurfacing with all of the crosses and bunch formations Miami was running. Pat Chung got faked out completely on a beauty of a spin move by Drake…that is one you just tip your hat to the foe.

Devin McCourty was solid and came unblocked on a blitz where he made a big sack of Cutler keeping the Patriots close. Jordan Richards came on another similar play and whiffed completely, resulting in a first down and later a Miami touchdown.

Special Teams: B-

The star here was Ryan Allen, who had his best game in quite awhile. He had a strong 46.4 net punting average with incredible hang time which really limited Miami’s ability to return the ball. He dropped several inside the 20. That fact alone kept the Patriots hanging around late in the game. Stephen Gostkowski hit both field goals and his kickoffs once again were outstanding, Miami’s kick return game was stifled by excellent coverage. The Patriots return game was stuffed completely as Miami’s coverage units were likewise outstanding.

What in the world was up with that onside kick? That had to be one of the uglier attempts I’ve seen, rivaling the Colts fake punt. Ugly design, uglier execution.

Coaches: C-

Bill Belichick was outcoached by Adam Gase, something that doesn’t happen all too often. The team came out flat and seemed unprepared. They usually have one of these type of games every year but this was the worst of all possible times to have that happen.

Josh McDaniels had some curious play calls and abandoned the run far too soon which seemed a bit of a panic move especially with the team down only three at the half. Matt Patricia’s MASH unit on defense was gashed both on the ground and in the air. But he did what he had to do, got creative with some blitzes and the defense made five straight stops late in the game to give them a chance to come back.

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.

Butler Will Likely Be Looking to Make Brown ‘Pout’ Again This Weekend

Ian Logue
at 6:00 am ET

Watching Antonio Brown run up and down the field against the Ravens last week was a reminder that the Patriots will definitely have their hands full as they try and slow down an explosive Steelers’ offense on the road.

During their last meeting in the AFC Championship Game, it was Malcolm Butler who once again was given the duty of trying to slow him down, and he was relatively successful.  Butler and Brown battled it out and the Steelers’ receiver was held to just 77 yards on 7 catches on an afternoon where the Steelers couldn’t get much going.  But the bigger story after the game was the fact that even when his team did have success, Brown was seen “pouting”, which happened after DeAnegelo Williams scored Pittsburgh’s first touchdown.

Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network reported on the incident after the game, which showed a different side of Pittsburgh’s star receiver.

“I was sitting with Hines Ward … we were sitting next to each other last night, DeAngelo Williams scores the Steelers first touchdown. Antonio Brown was wide open in the back of the end zone and he pouted,” said Kinkhabwala.  “Guys, he pouted! His team just scored a touchdown and he was upset that he was wide open and Roethlisberger didn’t go to him. Roethlisberger was then waiting on the sideline, Brown was the last player off the field. Roethlisberger had to talk to him.”

“Instead of those minutes next to Todd Haley … he had to sit and worry about Antonio Brown’s ego.”

There’s a reason why Brown might have been so miserable.  According to Pro Football Focus, Brown caught just two passes with Butler on him that day,  clearly frustrating the Steelers’ receiver to the point where after the game he was too embarrassed to talk to the media.

That seems to be the theme with the Steelers.  When things are going well, they’re on top of the world and tend to talk about what a great team they are.  When things don’t go their way, they hang their heads, contemplate quitting, and things get ugly.  That seems to be the mantra of a Pittsburgh team that just hasn’t been able to figure out a way to win the big game and you tend to learn a lot by how clubs react during times of adversity.

Needless to say, hopefully if all goes well, Butler will have Brown pouting again this weekend.

Steelers Tomlin Fired Up For Patriots Showdown

Ian Logue
at 5:00 am ET

It’s only Wednesday and Mike Tomlin sounds like a kid who can’t wait for Christmas as the Steelers await their long anticipated showdown with the Patriots this weekend.

He likely enjoyed himself Monday night as his hated rivals from New England fell apart on national television in a loss that put the Steelers atop the AFC for this week with the best record in the Conference.  That now puts the Patriots in a must-win situation this week, as a victory will tie them with Pittsburgh record-wise at 11-3, but give them the advantage with a head-to-head victory for the tie-breaker for the top seed with two games to play.

Fortunately, unlike back in January when the Patriots ended the Steelers’ run in the AFC Championship Game, Pittsburgh will get to play this one on their home turf.  This one still has plenty riding on it, and Tomlin is certainly fired up for it.

“It’s good to be in the kitchen.  The kitchen’s in Pittsburgh, PA, this week in the National Football League, and at Heinz Field,” Tomlin said via ESPN. “That’s where you want to be in the middle of December. We don’t take it for granted.”

Had New England beaten Miami, it would have likely put even more hype into one of the biggest match-ups of the season.  Up until Monday night, the Patriots and Steelers were the two teams in the AFC who were both playing well and seemed to be the most likely to end up in Minnesota this February.  Now, it’s Pittsburgh who has been the team that despite struggling against lesser opponents, they’ve still found a way to win.  New England, meanwhile, saw Rob Gronkowski get suspended against the Bills last weekend, leaving the Patriots vulnerable against a Dolphins team who smelled blood and took advantage.

Oddly enough, even as bad as everything went, the Patriots were still very much in the game but just couldn’t quite make enough plays to pull off the victory.  To Le’Veon Bell, that’s one of the things he feels should now separate the Steelers and give them the advantage as the Super Bowl favorites.

“I’m obviously going to say yeah, we should be the Super Bowl favorite and we have the talent to back it up,” said Bell via Yahoo! Sports.  “I think we haven’t been necessarily playing our best football, but we’ve been getting the job done for the last eight weeks or so that we’ve won. It may not be pretty, we may not win by 25, 30 points or play a style everybody likes, but we find a way to get the job done.”

“I think us beating Baltimore [in Week 14] 39-38 really showed a lot because that’s a divisional rivalry, against a team that’s been playing really good football. Then you see a team like New England [during the same week] they played a division rival and they didn’t get the job done. Some people don’t like the way we win, but at the end of the day we are winning the games. So I’m confident and I think the rest of our team is too.”

As a result, New England’s misery has Pittsburgh riding high heading into Sunday’s game.  The Patriots have history on their side since Tom Brady holds the 7-2 regular season advantage, as well as a perfect 3-0 postseason record, but Pittsburgh has the momentum.  The good news for Patriots fans is the fact that while Monday night’s game might not have gone the way they hoped, the one thing it likely will do is make the focus a little sharper this week and raise the motivation even a little bit higher as the Patriots try and get back to playing good football.

Either way, this is a pivotal game for both teams, and Tomlin says they’re looking forward to being in the spotlight on National Television for a chance to knock off their nemesis this weekend.

“It’s good to be in big games. It’s better to be in big games than ones nobody’s watching,” he said. “We better be appreciative of this spot and not resistant in any way, but embrace it.”

“This is what we’ve been fighting for since March, to be in these types of games against these types of people. Why would you fight that? It’s an awesome thing.”

Podcast: We Are On To Pittsburgh

Russ Goldman
December 12, 2017 at 12:09 pm ET

In this episode, we looked back at the loss for the Patriots against the Dolphins. Later on we previewed the upcoming game against the Steelers.

Ugly MNF Loss As Miami Dominates the Flat Patriots 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
at 8:30 am ET

Yes, we know how short-handed the Patriots were on Monday night, missing several key players and losing another in the first half, but that wasn’t the story on Monday night in Miami. The Dolphins were the team ready to play on Monday night and it showed. They dominated in all three phases of the game and the final 27-20 score doesn’t do justice to how much they pressured and stymied the Patriots offense.

Monday night was the Patriots worst game since their early season struggles. They were sluggish from the opening snap and Miami’s offense set the tone early. The Dolphins were running short crossing routes and the Patriots defenders were having trouble with their communication and the crossers and rub routes were very effective. Jay Cutler didn’t resemble anything close to the aging QB who has struggled all season in South Beach and had arguably his best game of the season. Cutler, scraggly neck beard and all, even showed some fire on the field as he beat New England for the first time in his career.

On the opposite side, Tom Brady was flustered and off-balance all night. The Patriots offense had to rely on their running backs as their wide receivers were MIA in Miami all game long and were a complete non-factor. The Patriots also ended their streak of allowing 17 points or less as well as their 14-game road winning streak. Other observations from tonight’s game include:

Play Calling Curious: Josh McDaniels abandoned the running game far too early in this one. Despite being dominated in the first half, the team was down only 13-10 at halftime. The last time the two teams met, New England rushed for nearly 200 yards. To only give your running backs 10 carries? Curious.

Late in the game, needing two scores, Danny Amendola was tackled right near the goal line giving the team first and goal at the one-foot line. Rather than attempting to run it in, they passed, steadily moving backward until they faced a 3rd and goal from the 15-yard line. They kicked a field goal but the onside kick was comically bad and Miami recovered and killed the clock.

But had they scored a touchdown there, a field goal would have been all that was needed to tie the score. Very un-Patriot like.

Offensive Line Issues Abound: With the running game an after-thought, the Patriots offensive line was not up to the task of protecting Brady. Miami was blitzing all night, normally a sign that New England would be eating them up offensively, but not tonight.

Brady was under duress from all points of the compass and pointing the finger at just Cameron Fleming is wrong. They were beat all along the line and the communication there wasn’t the best.

The worst part is, the pressure Miami was bringing was right up the middle, not allowing Brady to step up enough and throw in the pocket.

Dolphins Secondary Dominates: Miami did a great job of taking away the middle of the field. Granted, that is a spot where Gronkowski normally dominates, but other than passes to the running backs, Brady and the wide receivers were never able to get anything going in the middle of the field until very late in the game.

Xavien Howard erased Brandin Cooks tonight, and intercepted Brady twice. Cooks was shut out until the fourth quarter when the Dolphins dropped into a zone and had a bad bust in coverage. But holding Cooks and Hogan to one catch a piece is a big win for their secondary.

Danny Amendola ended up with six catches with all of them coming in the second half. Miami forced Brady into his first two-interception game in the regular season since 2015 against Philadelphia. And the Patriots were an astounding 0-11 on third down.

Brady Battered and Flustered: Tom Brady was hit hard again and this time, the effects were shown. He finished 24-43 for 233 yards with one touchdown and two picks. His QB rating of 59.5 was his lowest since 2013.

Unable to convert a single third down and a combined 2-12 when targeting Cooks and Hogan, Brady was unloading those low percentage deep balls time and again. In the first quarter, the Patriots got two (2) yards of offense. Two, that is not the way you want to start.  In the second half, they got away from targeting the running backs as they were forced to stay in and help with pass protection.

Kenyan Drake Shreds the Defense: The former Alabama third down specialist is now an every-down back and he’s electric. The Dolphins wanted to get him the ball more as he’s got tremendous speed. And his array of moves was on full display tonight. He faked Pat Chung with a spin move leaving Chung holding air that was amazing. And once he hits the hole, if the defense doesn’t lay a hand on him, he has the speed to take it to the house.

Drake finished with 25 carries for 114 yards and five catches for 79 more in the passing game. They split him out wide and isolated him on Elandon Roberts which is a total mismatch. While Roberts has issues in coverage, asking him to cover Drake deep is a win-win for Miami. He burned Roberts for a 47-yard gain deep down the right sideline.

If Drake can hold up physically, he’s going to be an intriguing member of the Fins to watch next year.

Butler Has Rough Game: Malcolm Butler had one of his least memorable games in Miami tonight. He was constantly behind in coverage and was beaten badly by Jakeem Grant a couple of times, one for a 25-yard touchdown and on another on a deep pass by Cutler that was perfectly thrown and the wide-open Grant dropped it.

Butler is going to have to have a very short memory this week as he’ll be facing Antonio Brown this week in Pittsburgh. And judging from the game Brown had on Sunday and Butler had last night, the Steelers will be going to the well early and often against Butler this Sunday afternoon.

Branch Injury Leaves Defense More Depleted: The Patriots defensive line took another shot as Alan Branch injured his knee in the first half, tried to return but left for good leaving an already depleted defense even thinner. Facing the Steelers offensive line and Le’Veon Bell on a short week, if Branch is unable to go, that will be a huge loss.

Right now they have Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler inside, with Guy playing some on the edge as well with Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy out. Vincent Valentine hasn’t even begun practicing yet so expecting help from him this week is not going to happen.

The Patriots simply were outplayed from start to finish in this one. Miami was hungrier, more motivated and came out with a purpose. This is what we expected from New England. So the Dolphins are alive for one more week and the Patriots still hold their destiny in their hands. With a win over the Steelers, they’d still own the #1 seed.  We’ll have more on this game later in the week.

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

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

New England Patriots News 12-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 12-10, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are playing in their first Hat and T-shirt game of 2017 on Monday Night Football. Any scenario of a Bills loss/tie or a Patriots win/tie guarantees them the AFC East crown for the ninth year in a row. We know that they set their sights much higher, but it all begins with winning the division. And they’ve been remarkably consistent in the Bill Belichick era at doing just that.

Tom Brady began his Saturday presser with an apology to Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, saying that it had bothered him all week after his outburst early in the game in Buffalo last week. “I’ve been feeling bad all week and haven’t had a chance to say it. He knows how much I love him.” Brady said.

Chris Hogan Could Return This Week:
The Patriots could really use the return of Chris Hogan this week as they head down to Miami today without Rob Gronkowski who is suspended for this game. Hogan practiced, albeit in a limited capacity this week, but his return would be a shot in the arm for the Patriots passing game.

Both Malcolm Mitchell and Vincent Valentine have been spotted in the locker room this week. The Patriots only have one IR slot for a player to return remaining, so it may be one or the other depending on what the team needs are. Mitchell was a nice target in the red zone down the stretch last season. If he’s ready to go, he could be a nice addition to the offense.

Nate Solder, A Worthy Choice for the Team’s Walter Payton Award :
With the Patriots, as most of the NFL teams do, the players have to make so many appearances in the community as part of their contracts to give back. But many of the players go far beyond the minimum as they embrace their role in the community.

One player who has been out in the community a lot has been left tackle Nate Solder. Solder and his wife have been very active in supporting hospitals that deal with childhood cancer. His own 2-year-old son Hudson is undergoing treatment for his second go-round with cancer treatments after previously been in remission. Solder was the Patriots’ team choice to represent them in the NFL Walter Payton Award that recognizes a player’s strong play on the field with his involvement with the community off the gridiron.  Bill Belichick was asked about Solder last week before the Bills game and had this to say:

“Nate has a lot of maturity and discipline and physical and mental toughness to do what he does day after day, week after week. We have a lot of respect for him, Lexi, Hudson and the entire family.”

McDaniels, Caserio At the top of the List for the GIants Potential Fits::
Whenever there is a turn over in a head coaching or General Manager position, the Patriots’ Nick Caserio, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Patricia are always names that seem to come up at the top of lists. And once the Giants announced that they’d fired both their coach and GM, that got the tongues wagging once again.

Caserio and McDaniels both would be great fits in New York with the G-men. If there is someone who could light a fire out of that offense and get those players pulling in the same direction it is McDaniels. And Caserio is about as solid as a GM candidate as there is.

One has to wonder if the Giants are interested in them and with the current regime with Bill Belichick and his feelings known about the Mara family, he’d support the move there if it came down to it. It would be a tremendous loss for the team but Belichick would understand that the men were looking for the next big step in their career progression and being in New York with the Giants is big time.

“They Know Who He is Now”, Eric Lee Making An Impact:
The Patriots plucked DE Eric Lee off of the Buffalo Bills practice squad just a few weeks ago and the young player has certainly made an impact in his first two NFL games. After just a few days of practice, he played in about 40 percent of the snaps against the Dolphins, mostly in the second half and notched his first NFL sack. Last week against the Bills with Trey Flowers out, Lee was pressed into a lot of snaps [85 %] and the rookie made some major impact right away on the first drive of the game.

Although the Bills were running at him early, on that first drive of the game, once they got down in the red zone, Lee dropped into the throwing lane and intercepted Tyrod Taylor to snuff out the Bills’ scoring chance and he added 1.5 sacks, a couple QB hits and a tackle for a loss. His good, far outweighed the bad. And the rookie has now caught the eye of his fellow players as well as the coaches.

During the telecast last week, Tony Romo told the funny story how Lee in his first game, made a play and on the Patriots bench Tom Brady and Danny Amendola were talking and didn’t know who Lee was. Amendola said, “Eric Lee? Who is that? Wait, he’s on our team?”

“Brady looked at Amendola and says, ‘Who is Eric Lee?”  Romo added on the telecast that “They know who he is now.”

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 14:
Last week 12-4 mark. Season Total: 125-67.

This week’s Thursday games I went with New Orleans (0-1) over Atlanta. Now for the rest of the slate:
Colts at Bills – Buffalo
Cowboys at Giants – Dallas
Lions at Buccaneers  – Detroit
Raiders at Chiefs – Oakland
49ers at Texans  – Houston
Packers at Browns – Green Bay
Bears at Bengals – Cincy
Vikings at Panthers – Minnesota
Redskins at Chargers – Los Angeles
Jets at Broncos – New York
Titans at Cardinals – Tennessee
Eagles at Rams – Philadelphia
Seahawks at Jaguars – Jax
SNF Ravens at Steelers – Pittsburgh
MNF Patriots at Dolphins – New England
Next Thursday Denver over the Indy:

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Taylor’s Status a Game-time Decision for the Bills:

The Buffalo Bills enter today’s game against the Colts with more uncertainty at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor, who injured his knee against the Patriots last week is officially a game-time decision on whether or not he can go and if he can’t Nathan Peterman may get his second NFL start.

Taylor was just a limited participant all week and although he’s had plenty of snaps of practice in the past, it may just be that he’s not physically capable of playing this week. Peterman threw five interceptions in his only start against the Chargers and then played late in the game last week against the Patriots after Taylor left the game.

If Peterman does get the call, his coach, Sean McDermott praised the rookie’s poise and control and stated that he is very steady for such a young player.

Dolphins’s Gase and Cutler talk about facing New England:

The Miami Dolphins face the Patriots for the second time in just three weeks on MNF  and Miami coach Adam Gates was asked about the Patriots pass rush.

“They’re a little bit more difficult than people give them credit for. There’s a reason why they haven’t let up more than 17 points since about the fourth week of the season,” Gase said.

“They force you to get the ball out quick. We had a couple of protection errors. That really put Matt [Moore] in a bad spot where a few times he thought he was good and all of a sudden somebody came free in his face, whether it was oline, running back, tight end – we all took our turns – play calling. There were a couple of those in there where I didn’t really give him a good chance and kind of put him in a bad spot. We’ve just got to do a better job of making sure that we handle that up front. They make it difficult because those guys, they do a good job game planning. They find your weakness and they try to maximize using the information they have.

QB Jay Cutler was asked about facing the Patriots defense and had this to say:
“I think it’s the whole team in general. It’s a very, very smart team. [They are] situationally aware. They do things the right way. I think they tackle well on defense.”

 

He added, “Their assignments are on point. I think he’s [Bill Belichick] notoriously taken away your number one receiver. He makes you get to two and three. (He) makes you do things that are maybe a little bit out of your comfort zone. I think they do a really good job of keeping things in front of them, making offenses go the long road – three, four or five first downs – to score. We’ve just got to figure it out.

Jets Now Have a Nice WR Tandem in Kearse, Anderson :

The New York Jets haven’t followed the script this season. They were supposed to be a team that may go winless, but this scrappy bunch of players from Coach Todd Bowles have ignored the noise and have been in nearly every game this season while going a respectable 5-7.

The Jets have found their wide receivers for QB Josh McCown in Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson and the duo have both gone over 100 yards in the past two games. They now face the Denver Broncos defense which will be a big test for the pair on Sunday. Anderson leads the Jets with 871 yards receiving and Kearse has set a career high in catches with 51 for Gang Green in 2017.Both were undrafted free agents.

If the Jets are to beat Denver today, they’ll need both Kearse and Anderson to step up their game. Anderson was undrafted out of Temple and had some off the field issues plague him in college. Kearse’s time in the 40 during the Combine caused his stock to fall but carved out a solid role with the Seahawks. The Patriots will see this duo in Foxboro in a few weeks.

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

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

Patriots – Dolphins MNF Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2017 at 12:10 pm ET

The Patriots go back out on the road for their fourth game in the last five as they take on the Miami Dolphins in South Florida on Monday Night Football. This is a hat and t-shirt game for the Patriots. With a win or a tie, the Patriots clinch the AFC East once again for the ninth straight time and the 17th since Robert Kraft took over the team in 1994.

This week’s game will be broadcast by ESPN on Monday, December 11 at 8:30 p.m. and can be seen on WCVB, Channel 5 in Boston. Sean McDonough will handle play-by-play duties with Jon Gruden as the color analyst. Lisa Salters 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 (10-2) are coming off a 23-3 blowout win over the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. The running game ran for nearly 200 yards while the defense for the eighth game in a row allowed 17 points or less.The Patriots secondary held Buffalo to just 82 yards passing

The Dolphins (5-7) are coming off of a 35-9 blowout win over Denver. The team snapped a five-game losing streak and are looking to get some consistency.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 are meeting for the 105th time overall with Miami holding a 53-51 lead all-time in the teams’ rivalry. However, the Patriots have won 12 of the last 15 meetings including the lone from two weeks ago where the Patriots rolled 35-17 behind 196 yards on the ground.

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 has been steadily improving behind the tandem of Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. Two weeks ago against Miami, Lewis ran for 112 yards on 15 carries. They controlled the clock, the tempo and the line of scrimmage./

Miami has issues with the run with DE Andre Branch and DT Jordan Phillips having problems in the running game. If the Patriots see these two on the same side, look for them to run right at them. While they may not roll up 200 yards on the ground again, they should still find plenty of room to be more than a complimentary piece.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging 292 yards per game, tops in the NFL. Tom Brady however, won’t have his top receiver, Rob Gronkowski in the game as he’ll be serving a one-game suspension. But…the team may get back Chris Hogan this week. He’s been at practice all week and if he’s able to go would signal a huge boost in the Patriots passing game outside the numbers.

Miami got after Brady with very good pressure from everyone across the defensive line in the first matchup. They’ll need an effort like that again because their best corner  Cordrea Tankersley could miss this week with ankle and knee woes. Without Gronkowski look for Brady to spread them out and try to use their quickness all over the field. They’ll try to get Brandin Cooks the ball in space and Hogan (if he plays) may get the chance to go deep on a few plays down the field. The backs will again be a major factor in both the running and passing games.

Next up the Dolphins offense:

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

The Dolphins running game hasn’t been the same since they traded the freelancing Jay Ajayi to the Eagles. The carries have been shared between Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, but Williams is dealing with a shoulder issue and may not go.

The Patriots run defense has not been good and was gashed pretty well by the Bills last week although the return of Malcom Brown should help things. But will the Dolphins have the depth to force enough leverage there? The feeling here is no especially if they find themselves falling behind again.

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

Miami will have Jay Cutler back under center this week. He’s a different player than Matt Moore, so we’ll probably see some more shots down the field. Jarvis Landry had eight catches for 70 yards in the first one and he, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker with tight end Julius Thomas should be much more productive than they are.

The Patriots pass defense is playing tremendous right now. It is a possibility that we’ll see some of Eric Rowe on Landry this week as he has a bit of size, although Jonathan Jones matched up well with Landry in the first meeting.

Look for the Patriots to be much more aggressive against this beatable Miami offensive line again. They teed off in the second half and got six sacks. Cutler isn’t mobile and the Patriots may call down the dogs this week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having an outstanding season. His kickoffs are pinning teams deep and the outstanding coverage units are smothering the opposition. The Dolphins have solid kickers but aren’t generating anything in the return game. The Patriots Special Teams has been scoring points, blocking kicks, and last time ran a fake punt for a big first down that set up a touchdown.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a divisional matchup on Monday Night so, as we’ve seen all season, anything can happen. But unless the Patriots implode, I can’t see the Dolphins beating New England this week. However, the Patriots have traditionally not played well in the heat of Miami. It does help that this one is at night so that shouldn’t be a big factor.

Having No Rob Gronkowski is a big blow for the Patriots offense but if Chris Hogan is able to come back and play this week it will be a nice boost to the outside passing game. Look for the running game to continue their solid play and Brady to spread the Dolphins defense out. Miami may run the ball effectively, but I don’t see Cutler having a good night against the secondary. New England heads to Pittsburgh 11-2 setting up a big game next week.  Patriots 30-13

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.

Gronkowski Suspension Upheld, Costly For Him and the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2017 at 6:51 pm ET

The Cost of an Elbow: Gronkowski Loses Big Money, Patriots Lose Top Player

The NFL has upheld the suspension of Rob Gronkowski and he will not be available for the Patriots on Monday Night Football in Miami. Gronkowski was suspended for an ugly, unnecessary cheap shot after a play against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. With playoff seeding on the line, the Patriots will need to continue their winning ways to gain home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Currently, they are the #2 seed although Pittsburgh and New England are tied for the best record in both the AFC and the NFL at 10-2. They will meet in Pittsburgh in two weeks with the winner no doubt getting home field advantage throughout the postseason.

Both teams are either way in a great position to earn a first-round bye as they hold a two-game lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars with four to play. So, to the crux of the matter, with a roster already majorly depleted by injury, the Patriots can ill-afford to lose arguably their most talented skill position player other than Tom Brady.

From a team standpoint, he’s taking a big part of the Patriots offense, and their leading receiver in terms of catches out of the equation on Monday Night. You just can’t replace Gronkowski in the offense with one player, others will have to step up and take a piece of his production, as there is no one in the NFL with his skill sets. For an offense already banged up and thin at receiver, it puts more burden on #12.

That is sure to be the message that Bill Belichick puts in his ear this week. Can they beat Miami without him? Of course, but it just made it that much harder. If the game is close, having Gronkowski on the field is a force multiplier and a tremendous target for Brady in the passing game.

Not only is it hurting the team, this suspension will hit Gronkowski in his pocketbook. He’ll lose his $250,000 game day check, his $31,250 game day roster bonus, but as our friend Miguel @Patscap posted on December 4, the tiers for Gronkowski’s bonus incentives in his contract will be affected. The upper tier $2.5 million dollars is now unlikely to be earned now. He hit his first tier at $1million. The middle $2 million dollar tier is now up in the air and his upper tier now in danger.

That’s a lot of money that just came off the table for the big man. He let his team and his coaches down for an incident that was totally unnecessary. This will do harm to his reputation as well, not to mention the cost to TreDavious White who is in the concussion protocol.

Was it worth it?

Podcast: Patriots Take Care Of Business In Buffalo

Russ Goldman
at 12:20 pm ET

In this episode, we looked back at the Patriots victory against the Bills. Later on, we previewed the upcoming game for the Pats against the Dolphins. On top of that we did share our thoughts briefly on the Rob Gronkowski suspension.