Tag Archives: N’Keal Harry

Sorting out the Patriots Issues During the Bye Week

Steve Balestrieri
November 8, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots only held one practice during the bye week, on Wednesday, and then the players were given some needed time off to rest and recuperate. If you bet that after the loss to the Ravens on Sunday night that the coaches would keep them here all week in pads, you’d have been wrong. 

This is telling in that it says that the issues facing the team aren’t physical and Bill Belichick doesn’t feel that they need to practice doing things that they aren’t doing well so that practice makes perfect. No, this means that the coaches have done, and are still doing no doubt a healthy dose of self-scouting. The issues that the team is facing are more scheme-related than physical. Which includes the defense, and we’ll get to those. 

But first, let’s take a quick look at what we feel are two of the biggest issues facing the team after deciphering the first nine games of game film have been watched, watched again and analyzed. 

The Team Needs to Fix Their Red Zone Production:

Despite being one of the top-scoring teams (1st in points, 2nd in Points per Game) in the NFL, the Patriots have not been anywhere near as efficient as they have in years past. In fact, in the red zone, the Patriots currently rank 21st in red-zone production tied with the (gasp!) New York Jets at 50 percent. That is down from 62.18 percent from a year ago. 

Part of the reason they have struggled in the red zone is three-fold. They have struggled to run the football. Their tight end production is way down, and so is the production from their outside or “X” wide receiver.  Missing their left tackle, center, fullback James Develin and having both starting tight ends being dinged up for most of this season doesn’t help with the running game. 

Not that anyone really expected Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo to block as much as well as Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen did a year ago. Having these issues compounds the entire picture. While some will point to Sony Michel as being the issue, that is too simplistic and ignores the fact that there is often nowhere to run and he’s getting hit in the backfield.

Gronkowski was a tremendous red-zone threat in the passing game. Izzo and LaCosse? Not so much. Missing Gronkowski in the passing game was known to be a given. But their lack of production in the red area combined by their big “X” WR and TE are both show stoppers. Much more was expected out of both positions. LaCosse has three catches for 55 yards on the season and has been hurt more than anyone on the offense. Izzo, a blocking specialist, has six catches for 114 yards and a score. Ben Watson has played in the last three games and has 8 catches for 72. Put together, the tight end production is not going to cut it. 

Josh Gordon was placed on IR and then released, being picked up by the Seahawks. But in six games, he only had 20 receptions for 287 yards and just one touchdown this season. Added together, it is a weakness that opponents have taken advantage of and needs fixing. 

The problems along the offensive line have been well documented at this point and the lion’s share of the blame has been heaped on backup left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Is it correct? Look he hasn’t been great, but putting all of the blame on him is unfair and untrue. Neither Shaq Mason nor Marcus Cannon has played anything close to their level that we’ve come to expect. Although Cannon was better on Sunday night against the Ravens. 

Getting Isaiah Wynn back against Dallas will certainly help but will be no panacea for the OL as a whole. Wynn should immediately help in the running game and we’ll have to see how well he holds up in the passing game. But the offensive line as a whole needs to get healthy and perform better. Wynn will help. But Newhouse has been the convenient whipping boy but in truth, it is the group that needs to improve overall. 

At tight end, Watson will continue to see more targets as he finds a comfort level in the offense and his timing gets better with Tom Brady. What the team really needs is for either Izzo or LaCosse to step up, preferably both. But at this point, they are what they are and I’d be surprised if they got anything different than what they’ve gotten up to this point. 

They’re going to have to live with what they have for the rest of this season. Watson, although 38-years old, is much more viable than the others in the passing game. The fades and crosses that we saw him practice with Brady during side sessions in training camp need to get dusted off and used again. This is a position that the team will need to address, and address in a big way next year, either through free agency or the draft, possibly both. 

At the WR position, it seems obvious that N’Keal Harry “should” provide a big part of the answer. The Patriots invested a 1st-round draft pick in Harry and despite some of the bobos who are already asking if he’s a bust, he was supposed to be one of the best WRs coming out of the draft at getting his hands on contested passes. 

He has the frame (6’4, 225) that is ready-made for working the same part of the field that Gordon was working earlier this season. He’s big, athletic and physical. He’s not going to stretch the field vertically but those side sessions with Brady during the summer had him working fades, back-shoulder throws, and quick outs and slants. 

But he’s not going to be the focus on the red zone production. It is a lot, too much to ask of a rookie who’s been hurt and hasn’t played a down yet. He should see plenty of reps but then who will the offense lean on more in the red area? Mohamed Sanu. 

Sanu has good size (6’2, 210) and should easily fulfill the Brandon Lafell role in the Super Bowl year. Sanu had 10 catches in just his second week with the team and caught a what? Yes, a red-zone touchdown last week. He and Julian Edelman will continue to work in and out of the slot and create some mismatches. 

So getting Wynn back, adding Harry and putting more on Sanu and Watson’s plates should help to get the passing game going. In the running game, look for Rex Burkhead (if he can stay on the field) and James White to get more play in the running game in the red zone. That’s not blaming Sony Michel for the lack of production, but if they use the other two more, it gives them a more versatile look with the run/pass option where Sony is more run focused.  

Is the Run Defense Vulnerable? Don’t Sweat It Too Much: 

Oh my, after Sunday, social media had the “blueprint” to beat New England. The run defense was the Achilles Heel and the sky was definitely falling. “Can they win any of the next four games?” Take a deep breath folks and relax. 

What we saw against Cleveland and then against Baltimore was scheme-related and is easily fixable. The Patriots against the Browns were protecting the pass playing a lighter front in an attempt to take away the pass and weren’t overly worried about giving up some yardage in the running game. Obviously, the long run that was fumbled by Nick Chubb was something that they accept, but that was more of a missed tackle(s) thing than anything. 

Against the Ravens, the OL of Baltimore did and should get a ton of credit for being the more physical and dominant unit. But the coaching staff, something Bill Belichick said in his postgame comments didn’t put the defense in a good position to succeed. 

The Patriots went to their 3-4 base and their interior players mainly Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy who have both been outstanding this season were asked to two-gap against the Ravens running schemes. 

Instead of zone running schemes that they normally employ, the Ravens attacked the gaps and the passive nature of the two-gap system was a poor choice and put their big men in a difficult position to win. 

After the first couple of possessions, they switched things up and went to a four-man front and were attempting to penetrate and disrupt the running game by attacking it. That is the correct way to try to counter the powerful Ravens running game. Does it guarantee success? Of course not, but it offered a better way. 

Instead of having Jamie Collins as an outside linebacker, where he got overplaying the running game early, he was moved inside with Dont’a Hightower and was asked to be a penetrator. 

We know the NFL is a copy-cat league, the Eagles will try some of what we saw from Baltimore, and the Cowboys and Texans can definitely attempt more of the same. Something tells me that the coaches will have this figured out by next week in Philadelphia. The Eagles are running the ball a lot more lately as they take advantage of a heavier running package…we’ll have more of that next week when we do our pregame look at the matchups. 

As it appears here, the issues they had were more scheme-related than a personnel weakness. And those are easily fixable. If there is anyone who can make changes on the fly and in mid-season better than Bill Belichick, we haven’t seen him. 

That’s why they play the games…  

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

 

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 11-03, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 3, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 11-03 and AFC East notes this week. 

Game Day, as the Patriots are in Baltimore to take on the Ravens on Sunday Night Football on NBC.

 Quick Hitters For the Pats and the NFL:

Oh, those Frequent Flier Miles – NFL teams in 2016 flew a total of 564,820 miles during the course of the season. Traveling around the world equals 25,000 miles, so NFL teams basically circled the globe 22.5 times in 2016. That is a lot of logistics to cover.  

Tomlin, Steelers Fined – The Steelers were fined $75,000 and head coach Mike Tomlin an additional $25,000 for failing to accurately report Ben Roethlisberger’s injury during Week 2. The Steelers’ QB hasn’t played since then but the team listed him missing practice as non-injury related. 

Boogeymen 2? Child Please – The 49ers defense has been outstanding this season, but perhaps they need pointers on originality. Yes, the Niners are calling their defense “the Boogeymen” as well as the Patriots. On the Niners Instagram page on Thursday night, they posted a picture of DeForrest Buckner sacking Kyler Murray with the caption, “the Boogeymen live in the backfield.” 

Brady/Gisele Buying in CT – The Patriots QB has been the subject of endless rumors of the TMZ variety, i.e. “Rift with BB, “Taking shots at Kraft”, Playing elsewhere in 2020” yada, yada. So the news they just bought a house in Greenwich, CT won’t slow those down at all. It’s a long commute to Foxboro … However, if you’re wondering about the home they just purchased, “The home sits on 10 acres of land and was built in 1990. It features approximately 14,862 square feet of living space with 7 bedrooms, 8 full and 4 half bathrooms, 2-story foyer with staircase, 2-story great room, formal dining room, gourmet kitchen, breakfast room, family room, gym, indoor pool, 3-car garage and more. Outdoor features include a motor court, balcony, patios, gardens, swimming pool, and a tennis court.” 8 full, 4 half bathrooms? Never have to wait there… 

If you care to take a look at the humble manse of the Brady clan, check out the pictures of the new place here:

Sad End For Josh Gordon in New England: 

After the Patriots announced that Josh Gordon was going on IR and would then be released, one’s immediate reaction was to believe that he was having a relapse of his well-known substance abuse problems. That is perhaps unfair but hardly a stretch since it has been a constant thorn in his development and his career. 

Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston was the first to report that the Patriots were growing concerned with Gordon being consistently late to things. That is troubling because that is where it started with Cleveland so long ago. And as Curran said, “he was showing signs of undependability.” That, the team couldn’t afford to play around with. 

And with diminishing production, just 20 catches for 287 yards this season, perhaps they felt that he was not going to ever recapture the speed and athleticism that he once dominated the league with, albeit for a very brief time. 

But they had a decision to make. The team invested in a first-round draft pick in N’Keal Harry this spring and as Curran points out, right now, he’s faster and more athletic than Gordon. But after missing the first half of the season, could the team have moved on too quickly from Gordon? Certainly but we aren’t in the building there every day so at this point, you’d have to assume the coaches know better. 

But after watching Gordon here for the past two years, you can’t help but root for him personally to conquer the inner demons that have haunted him for most of his life. He’s now a Seattle Seahawk, but more than anything we all root for the per    Watching those tapes of 2013, my what a player he could’ve been. 

Steve Belichick, Calling the Plays For the Defense:

It is hard to argue with the job that the Patriots defense is doing these days. And while the naysayers will point out the schedule, regardless of who you are playing when your defense is scoring as many touchdowns as they are allowing, then you’re on to something special. 

Of course, some radio hot take artists will tell you that the only reason Steve Belichick got hired by his father was through nepotism. Now, it turns out that Steve is the one that is calling the defensive signals in from the sidelines. Many believed that it was Jerod Mayo who was calling the signals or that the two were sharing the responsibility. 

But this week, Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald reported that several players confirmed that it is the younger Belichick is the one calling the signals. And when you hear him speak, he sounds exactly like his father. And if his football mind is half as keen as his father (and early results play out that he’s on the right track), then the future is bright indeed for the younger Belichick. 

Patriots Players to Watch Today :

With the Patriots taking on the Ravens tonight, here are our Patriots players to watch for the game. If they are to leave Baltimore victorious these players will have to step up for them in a big way tonight. 

Jamie Collins: The Patriots linebacker is in the middle of an outstanding career renaissance in his second stint with the team. The most athletic linebacker in a very solid group, he’s been tremendous through the first half of 2019. 

He’ll have to be on top of his game tonight.  The Ravens running game, through the read-option is where they make things difficult defensively. One of the key players to combat that is Collins. 

Mohamed Sanu: The wide receiver is in his second week with the team and should be a little bit farther along in the offense this week than he was against the Browns. The team really needs him to learn the offense as quickly as possible to become a trusted member of the passing game. 

We expect that he’ll see more targets tonight as he begins to settle into this offense. We look for Sanu and Julian Edelman to be a dangerous pair inside for Tom Brady to utilize. 

Pat Chung: One of the Patriots’ most versatile and important players on the defense, Chung is somehow always overlooked when talking about his worth to this team. 

Chung plays a huge role in run support and he’ll be the first line of defense against the Ravens’ tight ends, where Mark Andrews is the team’s leading receiver. 

Julian Edelman: The Patriots offense’s most irreplaceable piece after Brady should play a big role in the offense tonight. The Ravens defense is quite different than the ones we were used to seeing in the past. After watching several of their games if there is a weakness in this unit, it is with the short, quick passing game.

That is a recipe for Edelman and Sanu to become big factors in the game tonight. If they are successful, the offense should be in better shape than we’ve witnessed lately. If the Ravens shut them down, it will be a long evening for Brady & Co. 

N’Keal Harry: Harry hasn’t even been activated yet, so we’re leaning a bit forward in the foxhole here (Friday night), but the feeling here is that not only will Harry be activated, but he will play as well. 

We’re going to temper expectations in his first NFL game action, but it is really important for him to get some game action and get his feet wet before the bye week. He can do all the things that Josh Gordon did for the offense, but now the 1st-round pick will have to go out and prove it. Welcome to the NFL… 

NFL Schedule Week 9, Who Are Your Winners:

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

Last Week: 14-1
Season:79-41-1

TNF San Francisco over Arizona 1-0

Houston over Jacksonville (9:30 a.m. London)
Philadelphia over Chicago
Indy over Pittsburgh
NY Jets over Miami
Kansas City over Minnesota
Carolina over Tennesse
Buffalo over Washington
Seattle over Tampa Bay
Oakland over Detroit
Green Bay over LA Chargers
Cleveland over Denver
SNF New England over Baltimore
MNF Dallas over NY Giants

Bye week: Falcons, Bengals, Rams, Saints

Week 9 Thursday Night Football Raiders over LA Chargers

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Look to Rebound Vs Haskins, Skins:

The Buffalo Bills went through a rough patch to a small degree, after a close win over the Titans, they had more trouble with the Dolphins than perceived and then played poorly in a 31-13 loss to the Eagles last week. But this week, their defense is facing rookie QB Dwayne Haskins, in the loud, friendly confines of Buffalo. 

For the Bills defense, this should be a prime time to get their A-game back under control and going against a rookie 1st-round QB in Haskins who, the Redskins were loathing to put in the game because the coaches felt he wasn’t ready. Now, they have no choice and Haskins is being thrown into the deep end of the pool. 

This Bills defense is excellent and is a tough test for even the most experienced pro QBs. For a rookie making his first start and on the road in Buffalo? This could get ugly early. Expect the Bills to roll big today. 

Dolphins Continue to Lose But Confidence in Flores Grows:

The Miami Dolphins may be winless and going nowhere, but the fans see the growth (baby steps) and the players’ trust and belief in Brian Flores and what he’s trying to accomplish down in South Beach. 

The Dolphins will be meeting the Jets for the 108th time in their history today and they’re going to have to accomplish a few things if they want to get off their winless streak and sink the Jets even lower in the standings. 

They’ll have to limit LeVeon Bell and the Jets running game, Bell’s offensive line is a far cry from what he enjoyed in Pittsburgh and he’s been a non-factor. Miami will be looking to continue the struggles of Sam Darnold. After returning from illness with a stellar game against the Cowboys, Darnold was awful against New England and that continued last week with more interceptions. His confidence was shaken by that nightmarish New England game, and the Dolphins defense has to continue that trend. 

Finally, Miami has to empty the tank to get the offense going, try every trick and gadget play they can think of. What a way to end their winless streak if they could get B-Flo a win over their long-time rival Jets.

Jets Once Again Teetering on the Brink of the Abyss :

The New York Jets are back in familiar territory, and that is they’re straight into the eye of another really bad season. Disfunction has followed this franchise around gum on your shoe for too many years. The 2019 season was supposed to usher in a new era, with a franchise QB, a new coach, and a new attitude. But so far, we’ve seen that nothing has changed. 

Granted, some things that happened were completely out of their control. Sam Darnold’s illness and then Trevor Siemian’s gruesome injury were just horrible bad fortune. How many teams could rely on a practice squad QB by the first quarter of Week 2 and be successful? Not many. 

But since Darnold’s return, the wheels have seemingly came off again. After a huge win over the Cowboys, everything was pointing in the right direction and confidence was sky-high. Then came the debacle against the Patriots where the team was shellacked 33-0. Darnold looked lost and Adam Gase left him in there long after the game was decided. 

Darnold’s struggles continued against the Jaguars and the team lost 29-15 as he threw for three more interceptions. With the trade deadline, the team jettisoned former 1st-round pick (6th overall) Leonard Williams and stated that they were open to trading Le’Veon Bell, who they just rewarded with a huge FA contract this spring. They then dangled Jamal Adams who is their best player on defense. 

Now, the Jets are facing a must-win against the winless Dolphins or this season the team may implode again. And this won’t bode well for Gase…

________________

“Well, we have a lot of confidence in our secondary. There’s a give and take with the rush and the coverage, so the more guys you have in coverage, the fewer guys you have rushing. The more guys you have rushing, the fewer guys you have in coverage. I mean, it’s pretty basic so you try to do what you think is best in a particular situation or against a particular team and the matchups that you have. There’s an element of changing it up, but ultimately it comes down to that decision – do you want to rush more and cover with less, or cover more and rush fewer. There’s middle ground there. We’ve done all of the above and I’m sure we’ll continue to do that, like we always have. It’ll just depend on the situation, the team, so forth.” – Bill Belichick being asked about bringing extra pressure on opposing QBs and the pressure it puts on the secondary.

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

 

Patriots – Ravens Week 9 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 1, 2019 at 6:45 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road to take on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football. This should be the marquee matchup of the week as Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense has been lighting it up thus far in 2019. 

They’ll be going against the Patriots defense which has been the stingiest unit in the league. The game will be taking place in Baltimore where the crowd is always loud and where the games are always tough

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya 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 (8-0) beat the Cleveland Browns 27-13, Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes to Julian Edelman while the defense held the Browns to just 13 points.

The Ravens (5-2) are coming off their bye week. 

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

Series History:

The Patriots and Ravens have had some memorable matchups in the past, and this one figures to add to that. Overall the Patriots are 8-1 against Baltimore in the regular season and 2-2 against them in the playoffs.  

One memorable Sunday night game in 2012 featured a last-second field goal by Justin Tucker that was ruled good but appeared to miss. Bill Belichick was livid over that one. 

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 Ravens Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Baltimore

This matchup clearly favors Baltimore. The Patriots running game remains stuck in neutral. Sony Michel has clearly not found the holes he enjoyed a year ago and his yards per carry average has suffered. Rex Burkhead, James White, and Brandon Bolden have all struggled to find consistent running room. 

The Ravens run defense has been outstanding thus far in 2019 allowing just 84.3 yards per game, good for third-best in the league.  The big men up front, Matthew Judon, L.J. Fort, and Josh Bynes have done a tremendous job of limiting any push from the opposing offensive line and stopping the run in its tracks.

Don’t look for Josh McDaniels to try to establish the run this week as they’ve done in other games. They’ll run enough just to keep the defense honest, but this week, they’ll look to get it done elsewhere. It would like banging your head against the wall.                  

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

The Patriots passing game is getting 1st round draft pick N’Keal Harry on the field for the first time in 2019. He’ll be asked to fill the Josh Gordon “X” role outside. Mohamed Sanu will be playing in his second game and is still learning the offense. But Tom Brady’s passing game still goes through Julian Edelman and James White out of the backfield. Ben Watson is getting more comfortable in the offense as well. 

Baltimore’s pass defense is 26th in the league, their secondary was hit hard by injuries and their pass rush hasn’t been what they’re used to there and has only 12 sacks. They traded for Marcus Peters who is a boom or bust type of player but will be up for a prime time game. They have Jimmy Smith returning this week and his availability gives them good depth with Marlon Humphries and Brandon Carr also at the corner.

This will be a “spread ‘em out” type of week for the Patriots passing game. If Shaq Mason is back, the pass protection should be improved and will give Brady time to work the routes to Edelman and Sanu. Phillip Dorsett can always be counted on to hit a couple of key plays while White out of the backfield is always a matchup problem.

Next up the Ravens offense:

Ravens RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Baltimore

Baltimore has the top rushing attack in the league and it begins with QB Lamar Jackson. Although he is more than capable of scrambling, many of his runs (he leads the team in rushing) are designed runs, schemed to take advantage of his talent. Mark Ingram is another weapon in the running game, he is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The Ravens are averaging 204.1 yards per game on the ground, the best in the league. 

The Patriots run defense is allowing 85.3 yards per game on the ground, fourth-best in the league, just behind Baltimore, but we’ve seen some issues prop up in recent weeks in the running game with Le’Veon Bell and Nick Chubb. This rushing attack will be a big, big test this week.

The big men inside, Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy will have to control the gaps inside to allow the linebackers to make some plays and try to limit the running game, which has averaged 35+ minutes of possession time this year. Setting the edge will take on paramount importance when Jackson takes off.

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

The Ravens passing game is middle of the road but improving.  A big key for them is if Marquise Brown is able to go this week, he’s been injured with an ankle issue and is the Ravens deep threat receiver. He’ll be matched up with Stephon Gilmore. The Ravens also use Miles Boykin and Willie Snead at wide receiver.  Jackson’s most targeted receiver, however, is Mark Andrews at tight end. 

The Patriots have been outstanding against the pass this season, allowing just 148.8 yards per game. They’ve intercepted opposing passers 19 times and have 31 sacks. Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Jason McCourty give New England arguably the deepest cornerback roster in the league. Pat Chung, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon have been excellent at safety. 

But the secondary play has been stellar this year and while Jackson is steadily improving, he still isn’t the most accurate passer in the league and the opportunity will avail itself to more turnovers this week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Baltimore

The Patriots special teams signed former Raven All-Pro ST/S Justin Bethel last week. He, Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden, and others form an excellent unit. Mike Nugent was released and kicker Nick Folk was signed. Rookie punter Jake Bailey is having an excellent rookie season. 

The Ravens have a kicker who is as automatic as there exists in Justin Tucker. There’s Tucker and then everyone else.  Sam Koch is excellent at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. Former Patriot Cyrus Jones is the Ravens’ punt returner averaging 10.6 yards per return. 

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 9-0 before heading home for their bye week. Then follows games against the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and the Chiefs. They begin the meat of their schedule right now.  

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Spread Them Out – Look for the Patriots offense to go more to a 4-wide look this week and attempt to get the passing game going quickly. How much can they get or expect from N’Keal Harry this week? We may not see much from him until after the bye week when he starts to find his stride. Edelman and White remain the go-to guys until Sanu too finds his comfort level in the offense. Ben Watson may see more targets this week. 

Limit The Running Game For Baltimore: The Ravens are going to get their yards on the ground, but the key is to force them to have to throw to beat you and then it plays into the strength of your defense. Jackson is a dynamic player and the type of mobile QB that used to give New England fits. But the defense is much better equipped to slow down a runner like Jackson. Can they do it? That may be the key to this game.

Keep the Turnover Machine Going: The Patriots have been ridiculous at forcing turnovers this season. They obviously want to keep that going and if they can force a couple more this Sunday, it will go a long way towards earning another victory. They’ll have to bring pressure and force Jackson into making mistakes, while not allowing him to use his legs to hurt the defense.

___________

Prediction: 

We’ve said all along that the Patriots aren’t going undefeated this season and with this five-game stretch, this may be a perfect time for the Ravens to knock them off. The Ravens are coming off of their bye week and have had two weeks to prepare.

With them getting their top draft choice just on the field and having Sanu for just the second game, the passing offense could struggle somewhat, albeit against a secondary that hasn’t been great. And we’ve already put out how effective the Baltimore ground game has been. But until someone puts a lick on this New England defense, I’m sticking with Bill Belichick finding a way to make them settle for field goals.

Brady and the offense will score just enough, with some help by the defense with a key turnover as the boys of Foxboro improve to 9-0. Patriots 24-16

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour hits the bye week before they head back out on the road to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on November 17.

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

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

 

What is the Plan for the Patriots at WR with Josh Gordon Gone?

Steve Balestrieri
October 24, 2019 at 7:45 am ET

It would seem that the Josh Gordon era in Foxboro is over. Multiple national writers are stating that the Patriots, who placed Gordon on IR on Wednesday afternoon are planning on releasing the oft-troubled wide receiver as soon as he is healthy.

It was a bizarre ending of the day to be certain. Earlier in the day, the Patriots conducted a walk-through practice and Gordon was visible, joking with new WR Mohamed Sanu, then two hours later the news that he was being placed on IR, followed by reports that he was done in New England. 

That he was being placed on IR was no great shock, everyone who saw that awkward tackle against the Giants and the way he went down thought that he perhaps suffered a serious, season-ending injury. But then reports stated that he wasn’t hurt badly and that he could return to action soon. 

But the reports of his impending release were…surprising. At the very least, the timing was. And of course, speculation was running rampant. Did Gordon have another relapse in his battle to counter his substance abuse problems? 

Things were confused even more when the Instagram post by the Patriots went out that they had placed Gordon on IR. Gordon responded to the post by stating “Interesting”. This set off every amateur psychoanalyst on social media, who all insist on poring over one-word posts and over-analyzing those to the point of craziness. 

No one wanted to see Gordon fail here, most especially at life. But it seems he’s gone and now the world keeps turning. 

So, What Happens Now With the Patriots WR Group?

The team couldn’t keep eight WRs if you’re counting Matthew Slater in the group. We all knew that wouldn’t happen.  So, someone had to go. The Patriots weren’t going to part with Julian Edelman or Phillip Dorsett. And they had just traded for Sanu. Jakobi Meyers is young and is showing great promise, Slater is a Special Teams’ captain. N’Keal Harry is the future for the wide receivers, and they just used a 1st round draft pick this spring on him. Gunner Olszewski returns kicks so the cut had to come from somewhere. 

We’re just spitballing here, but despite Gordon’s good production in his time here (60 receptions, 1000 yards, 5 TDs) perhaps the Patriots thought that they were in a time of diminishing returns with Gordon. It was clear that he wasn’t running with the same athleticism that we’ve seen in the past. No one ever really expected to see that athletic freak who tore the league up back in 2013. And perhaps the coaches may feel that they can get the same production from Harry once he returns (eligible next week), down the stretch. 

The short-term problem is, at least for now, who lines up where? 

Gordon was the outside “X” receiver. Sanu isn’t an X, he’s been mostly used in the slot like Edelman or outside in the “Z” like Dorsett. But perhaps the Patriots could envision him doing that for now. It isn’t unprecedented. Both Chris Hogan and Jo-Jo LaFell were used as an X receiver. 

Dorsett isn’t an X either, he’s most comfortable as the Z and an occasional snap in the slot. He and Edelman are both best utilized in the slot or the Z. This week at least we may see Jakobi Meyers or Sanu there. He’s shown he is capable of running the slants and back-shoulder throws that Brady was tossing to Gordon.

The Job Will Soon Belong to N’Keal Harry: 

Whenever Harry is ready to return, he should be in the X role, hopefully for the Ravens game. He’s got the size (6’4, 225) and the athleticism to take over the Gordon role in the Patriots offense. The two have very similar body types when they both entered the league. 

The Patriots were already working with Harry in training camp to catch the same slants, back-shoulder, and fades that Brady and Gordon were working with. During training camp, Brady and Harry had numerous side sessions where they worked on those very things one-on-one.

Brady is meticulous in where he wants his receivers and when. They were working on as soon as he made his break, the ball would be there. It isn’t an easy timing sequence, there were hiccups on the way and no doubt many will occur in the coming weeks. 

More than anything, this is Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels giving a vote of confidence to the rookie 1st rounder. And with Meyers learning quickly on the job, Harry has a lot of catching up to do. With nine weeks remaining in the season, the offense has the time to find itself and what works best for them. 

Hopefully, they’ll get Isaiah Wynn back soon for the stretch run. And then we’ll see how well the unit can operate. As we’ve seen here, on a daily basis, the Patriots may be many things, boring is never one of them. 

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

 

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How Will Mohamed Sanu Fit in the Patriots Offense?

Steve Balestrieri
October 22, 2019 at 12:00 pm ET

The Patriots, flush off their win over the Jets in the Meadowlands 33-0 on Monday night, have made a trade to bolster their wide receiving core. They parted with a 2nd round draft pick to bring in former Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. 

At first glance, the 2nd round price tag seems a bit high for Sanu but remember, the Patriots draft picks are generally later in the round and it is essentially a 3rd round draft pick. The other consideration is that Sanu isn’t a rental for this season only. He’s signed through the 2020 season and his cap hit is an affordable $6.5 million. 

Last year Sanu caught 66 passes for 838 yards and four TDs. So far in 2019, he’s caught 33 passes for 313 yards and a score. With Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and the emergence of TE Austin Hooper, Sanu was becoming the 4th option in an offense that has a 1-6 record. The move makes sense for Atlanta who will be doing some rebuilding next spring. 

But from a Patriots perspective, how will Sanu fit in with the Patriots offense? Quite well actually. All you really need to know is that Bill Belichick tried to trade for Sanu during the 2019 NFL Draft this spring. But Atlanta at that time had planned on making a deep playoff run. 

Sanu is a 6’2, 210 possession wide receiver that has good yards-after-catch (YAC) capability. In Atlanta’s system, he played mainly in the slot because of the presence of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. But here, he has the versatility to be a movable chess piece. He can play in the slot or slide outside. 

Look for Josh McDaniels to move Sanu and Edelman inside and out depending on the matchups and to create mismatches. Sanu gives them a proven wide receiver who should fit in perfectly in this offense. He’s 30 years old which means he should have plenty of good years left in the tank. 

Sanu is a good and willing blocker for the running game or to support another wide receiver when they throw it elsewhere. And he’s been used on occasion like Edelman for the odd pass out of the backfield with the Falcons. 

Now the Patriots depth chart at wide receiver seems much deeper, especially with 1st round pick N’Keal Harry soon able to return to the team. 

  •  Julian Edelman
  •  Mohamed Sanu
  •  Josh Gordon
  • Phillip Dorsett
  • N’Keal Harry (eligible to return in Week 9)
  • Jakobi Meyers
  • Gunner Olszewski
  • Matthew Slater

Many fans were hoping that this doesn’t mean the end of Jakobi Meyers in the offense. I don’t believe that to be the case. Meyers is showing that he is gaining and earning Brady’s trust in the passing game. If anyone loses snaps it may be Olszewski. 

He’s still quite raw in the passing game although he’s working hard and has had some receptions. I found it curious last night that Edelman returned the free-kick, and if they try to slide Olszewski onto the practice squad, they may use Dorsett and Bolden to return kicks and punts. Would he make it to the PS? I’d say no right now, but stranger things have happened. 

But with two bigger guys with Gordon and Sanu, with Harry another to return soon to go along with Edelman, Dorsett, and Meyers, all of a sudden the WR position looks like a position of strength.

This was a very solid move by the team and have Sanu, Edelman, Meyers, and Olszewski locked up for the next couple of seasons. Now Sanu just needs to learn the playbook

_________

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PHOTO: N’Keal Harry Returns To Practicing With Patriots

Robert Alvarez
October 16, 2019 at 9:01 pm ET

The Patriots offense has help on the way.

On Tuesday, wide receiver N’Keal Harry was back on the Gillette Stadium practices fields.

The 2019 first round draft pick has been on injured reserve with an ankle injury through the first six weeks.

“Felt great to be out there with the boys. #GodsPlan,” Harry wrote in an Instagram caption accompanying a practice photo.

Harry will be eligible to return Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens per NFL injured reserve rules.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B3p4pTyFT4r/

Tom Brady voiced his support of Harry over Instagram later in the day.

Patriots Addressing Tight End With Tomlinson, Watson

Steve Balestrieri
October 15, 2019 at 7:07 am ET

 Ch-ch-changes, There’s gonna have to be a different man

The Patriots are looking to make some needed additions at tight end this week as they prepare for the Jets on Monday Night Football next week.  NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport has reported that the Patriots are signing former Jets and Giants tight end Eric Tomlinson to the 53-man roster. 

Yesterday, Field Yates of ESPN reported that the team was bringing back veteran Ben Watson. Watson was signed this spring but was suspended through the first four games by the league. The team then balked at adding him to the roster, releasing him. Bill Belichick said at the time that there just wasn’t a roster spot for Watson at this time. Apparently, now there is room. 

Matt LaCosse was injured early in the Giants game and reportedly has an injured MCL that will require him to miss several weeks. He’s been dealing with nagging injuries all year. A roster spot was opened up when the Patriots placed fullback Jakob Johnson on IR with a shoulder injury. 

If the Patriots are to add both Tomlinson and Watson, another corresponding roster move must be made and perhaps it is moving LaCosse to IR. But that isn’t official, just speculation at this point. 

The tight end position has been a weak spot for the team through the first six games of the season. LaCosse has only 3 catches for 55 yards while Izzo has made 6 receptions for 114. But neither has done a consistent job in the blocking department. Which is something that has really hurt the Patriots running game. 

The Patriots were starting from scratch this year, with all three TEs from the 2018 roster gone. Rob Gronkowski retired and Dwayne Allen signed with Miami and is now a free agent, while Jacob Hollister is with Seattle and was just added to their 53-man roster. 

If there is one area that the Patriots front office neglected this spring, it is the tight end position. After losing all three including a Hall of Famer in Gronkowski, the team opted to bypass several viable tight ends in the draft and instead, signed veterans Watson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Seferian-Jenkins was given his release to attend to personal problems and Watson, to date, has yet to suit up in a game. Izzo returned from IR and later the team added LaCosse.

Watson is an experienced pass catcher and should immediately help in attacking the seams of the defenses. Tomlinson who has good size at 6’6, 253 has caught only 16 passes, for 193 yards and one touchdown in his NFL career but is known more as a blocker, (something Izzo has struggled with) and STs contributor. 

With injuries at WRs Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett as well, 1st-round draft pick N’Keal Harry is expected to be back at practice tomorrow.  While he has been active in the meeting room with the offense and wide receivers as is allowed by the NFL rules while on IR, he hasn’t practiced with the team since training camp. Bill Belichick said yesterday, he’ll have to show he can out and physically compete at practice. 

He is eligible to return to the active roster in two weeks after the Wednesday date and, if healthy enough, play against the Ravens on November 3.  

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Slow Your Roll on the Patriots WRs… There’s a Long Way to Go

Steve Balestrieri
August 21, 2019 at 8:34 am ET

Social media was abuzz yesterday after and many Patriots fans were as happy as Christmas morning when the images of Josh Gordon stretching at practice and Demaryius Thomas in full uniform, off of PUP. With Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry also back at practice, the wide receiver position and situation was now much rosier and many folks were already checking flight availability to Miami in early February. Let’s just pump the brakes on that just yet. 

We’re always glass-half-full types here and if there is anything that the past two decades have taught us is they always, always get things figured out. Which is why we weren’t in full-blown panic mode a week ago when the same social media mavens were decrying Bill Belichick for leaving the cupboard bare when Tom Brady was throwing to Gunner Olszewski early in the joint practice with the Titans.

Now with the risk of sounding like Debbie Downer here, we’ll try to explain our “cautious optimism” when it comes to the receiver group. Having Edelman, Gordon, Harry, Thomas, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Maurice Harris, and Braxton Berrios at the position is certainly cause for optimism, and if it were 2012, I’d be calling friends in Florida and preparing them for houseguests in February. But it isn’t and I’m not ready to do that… just yet.

Gordon The Most Physically Gifted But Flawed WR:

Gordon’s talent is still undeniable, he showed that last year where he came in and produced at a very good level. And there is no reason to doubt that at age 28 that physically he couldn’t produce the same or even more if he plays 16 games. But he hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year of 2012. 

His issues have always been off the field and even with a great deal of support from the Patriots last season, his demons resurfaced and he once again found himself suspended by the league. While we certainly don’t want to see him backslide, more from a personal than a football standpoint, counting on him for an entire season is something the team can’t afford to do.

The Patriots made it clear that although they’d welcome him back [and gave him a tender], they weren’t planning on having him around. Hence the signings of Harris, Dontrelle Inman [now with the Bolts], Thomas and drafting Harry while adding Meyers after the fact. 

Can Thomas Reinvent Himself?

With Thomas, the opposite questions are in-effect. His on-field regression with the Texans last year was evident after he was traded by the Broncos. He didn’t look like the same receiver before he tore his Achilles. But he’s been rehabbing hard with the training staff and seems as upbeat as one can be. 

So what can be reasonably expected from Thomas at this juncture of his career? We didn’t think he’d even make the team, which is why the timing of his coming off of PUP was so intriguing. With just two days of practice before the Carolina preseason game, and then just a week of practice and a final tuneup with the Giants, it leaves him precious little time to get on the same page with Brady and the offense. 

Perhaps Thomas is going to reinvent himself as a more of a possession type of wide receiver and become a chain mover rather than the game-breaker he was earlier in his career. That is a possibility, but until we watch him on the field and see him run, I’d err on the side of caution, and not count on him making the 53-man roster. 

Harry and Meyers Have Upside But Are Still Rookies:

Patriots fans are justifiably pleased and should be with the selection and performance of both Harry and Meyers. And Meyers, the UDFA QB turned WR from NC State has probably been more impressive this summer. He’s shown a quickness off the line where he’s been able to gain separation and catch everything that’s been thrown his way.

Former Patriot and now analyst Matt Chatham said he looks like a six-year veteran on the field. He’s developed quite a rapport and chemistry with Brady and the QB has been throwing to his spots on the field before Meyers makes his breaks. 

Harry has all of the tools and the size to be a very productive WR in the league for years to come. He’s the only WR that Belichick has ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. He’s the master of the contested catch. However, his development has been slowed by a few nagging injuries this summer.

But something to keep in mind with both of these players is that they are rookies. Their production may take some time to get going. The speed and physicality of the NFL game is something they’ll have to get used to. They won’t be facing the twos and threes of an opponent’s defense but their top-line players. Patience is the word of the day.

So, while we believe that the offense is going to be just fine [never had any doubts], let’s just slow the talk of the “best WR group since 2007” for a bit …As Belichick is so fond of saying… “they have a long way to go.”

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5 Monday Patriots Thoughts: Interesting Storylines Starting to Develop

Ian Logue
August 19, 2019 at 10:03 am ET

Here are some Patriots thoughts on this Monday morning:

1) One of the best stories coming out of this year’s training camp has certainly been the emergence of the defense, which seemingly appears like it could be one of the deeper and faster groups this team has had in quite a long time.

They’ve been impressive, with the ability to get after the quarterback having been a strength through two games. That success carried over again Saturday night down in Tennessee as New England put together another strong performance in their win over the Titans.

Overall, thus far, the’ve totaled 11 sacks, which is just 3 shy of what they finished with during last year’s preseason (14) and well ahead of 2017’s exhibition total (4). The only thing they haven’t done much of is force turnovers. They have just one interception so far, after having finished with five takeaways last preseason (3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries).

But it’s hard not to be a little excited at what could be in store for this football team this season and Saturday night’s game was yet another reminder of the potential this group has heading into the season.


Stidham’s fast development has been a pleasant surprise.

2) That being said, one of the more interesting situations may ultimately be what ends up happening with the quarterback position after Jarrett Stidham’s performances through two games.

The rookie is 28-of-43 throwing the football with 372-yards passing with 2 touchdowns and a QB rating of 107.9. The latter stat ranks him 2nd in the NFL and he’s averaging 8.7 yards per throw, which also ties him for 2nd this preseason.

While it’s too early to get too excited, the bigger issue now could potentially see the team opt to take a chance on playing him behind Brady and open up a roster spot to address the depth they have on both sides of the football. Bill Belichick knows better than anyone that it’s a long season and injuries certainly happen, but Stidham’s recent growth could have just changed the future of another player who might have been on the outside looking in had Stidham not played as well as he has this preseason.

3) Another player who has also been a nice surprise is Jakobi Meyers, who finds himself 2nd in the NFL in receptions with 12 and tied for the league lead in touchdowns with 2. His 151 receiving yards are third-best in the league behind Buccaneers receiver Tanner Hudson (177yds) and the Steelers James Washington (162yds) and he’s been explosive to watch.

This has been mentioned before but given what we’ve seen from N’Keal Harry and now Meyers, along with Julian Edelman set to hopefully be ready to go in week one and the return of Josh Gordon, the Patriots could have one of the deadliest receiving cores in quite some time.

For a position that had a lot of question marks heading into this season, all of a sudden, the answers should have most fans pretty excited about what could be in store for this group this season.


Winovich has had a terrific preseason so far.

4) Chase Winovich has been one of the most pleasant surprises this preseason and he’s certainly living up to the hype he received during the draft.

Watching film of him back then, even in college he was a player who plays with a ton of energy and emotion, which are two traits that make anyone at his position fun to watch.

He already has 2.5 sacks this preseason, which is second in the NFL behind Philadelphia’s Daeshon Hall (3.0). He’s essentially looked like the same player he was at Michigan and so far he’s carried his tenacity and explosiveness over to the NFL level. He’s worked hard this preseason and it’s obvious he’s going to be a player who the Patriots should be able to have success with. It may only still be August, but the future appears bright for the former Wolverine here in New England.

5) While the Patriots have spent the preseason with a punting battle going on between incumbent Ryan Allen and newcomer Jake Bailey, Saturday night’s game put the spotlight on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed another field goal in as many weeks.

While Belichick has been one of the kicker’s biggest supporters, Gostkowski really needs to start settling in as the season approaches. Some will remember his difficulties in the Super Bowl, but a loss in his family the day before helped provide some context with that performance.

However, seeing him struggle again this preseason raises a red flag and one would hope he can start turning things around. It’s easy to make the suggestion of finding another kicker, but it’s a completely different story to actually find a reliable, consistent bad-weather kicker.

After a relatively good 2018, Gostkowski brought enough currency into this year to believe the kicker position shouldn’t be a concern. However, one would think these next two weeks will be important for him to start building some positive momentum heading into the season as the Patriots will need Gostkowski to be at his best heading into 2019.

The Patriots will play their first home preseason game of the year this Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium.

Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 3.0, Several Vets Face the Axe

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:30 am ET

With the Patriots now halfway thru their preseason slate, we’re going to take stock of the roster once again and take a stab at predicting a 53-man roster projection. The preseason games in Detroit and Nashville along with several joint practices conducted with both teams have given the coaches much more information and play against an opponent to evaluate.

What is different about this particular projection is that several established veterans may now find themselves on the roster bubble as the coaches now find that the depth of this roster will make them face some really difficult decisions moving forward.

Offense –

Quarterbacks: (3)

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Out: none

No changes here. The Patriots could feel that Stidham can handle the backup duties for Brady, much like they did in 2009 when Brady was returning from his ACL injury and Brian Hoyer was a rookie backup. But Hoyer’s value lies in his experience, he is a sounding board for Brady and does a valuable and underrated job of running the scout team offense during the practice week. This could change, but for now we’re sticking with three QBs.

Running backs: (5)
Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Out: Rex Burkhead, Nick Brosette, Jakob Johnson* [NFL International Player]

A big change this time around. Develin could be lumped in with the tight ends but regardless of where he is, he’s not going anywhere. The Patriots are deep here and after the game in Nashville, Harris showed his versatility of being able to run the ball and made five catches out of the backfield. Something he shares with Burkhead. 

Could the increased versatility of Michel and now Harris, plus the return of Gordon mean that the Patriots cut Burkhead? Due to the depth and decisions, they have to make on the other side of the ball, [see more below], some very tough decisions will have to be made, and this one won’t be easy. Watch who is playing late in preseason games 3-4 and we may have our answer

Brosette has played well in limited action and lands on the practice squad. Johnson got a number of reps in Nashville who is automatically granted an extra spot on the PS due to his NFL International status

Tight ends: (2)
Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, **Ben Watson Suspended**
Out: Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert

This all depends on how serious LaCosse’s injury situation is. If he’s going to be out for a while, this could open the door for one of the other veterans to step in. LaCosse has had a solid summer. Izzo is a good inline blocker, remember he made the 53-man roster last year before landing on IR.

Wide Receivers: (6)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers,  Braxton Berrios
Out: Maurice Harris (IR), Dontrelle Inman [asked for and granted his release Sunday], Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, Demaryius Thomas [PUP], Cameron Meredith [PUP]

Edelman, Harry, and Gordon project to be the top three. Gordon’s reinstatement puts him right smack on the roster in a lock status. They know his value.   

Meyers has been extremely impressive all summer and is now a lock. Harris was having a terrific spring/summer but he got injured and Tom E. Curran from NBC Sports Boston has reported he could be out “for a while”. So this is where the Pats will place him on IR with the possibility of returning later this season. Dorsett is injured as well. His position seems a bit unsure right now as well.

Berrios goes from out in our last projection to making the roster by virtue of his ability to return kicks and punts. Although they could tag Dorsett/Bolden for that. Thomas, although seen running full speed this week, along with Meredith begins the year on PUP.  With Gordon’s addition, the team will have to carry an extra wide receiver to protect themselves in the event that Gordon’s inner demons resurface. 

Offensive line: (8)
Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Dan Skipper, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
Out: Yodny Cajuste [NFI], James Ferentz, Cedric Lang, Tyree St. Louis, Martez Ivey, Cole Croston

Wynn’s return to action and his performance in the game against the Titans has to be a big relief for the coaching staff. The team keeps Skipper as the swing tackle for now as Cajuste gets a red-shirt IR year. Froholdt and Ferentz battle it out for the final backup spot. But the team could opt for keeping just seven OL as they did at cut-down time a year ago.  

Defense –

Edge Players: (5)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers
Out: Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, Ufomba Kamalu

Rivers makes the cut this time around after very solid play this summer with a big caveat. He was hurt and helped off the field in Nashville. The severity of his injury may come into play here. Hopefully, he’s not injured badly this time around. 

Winovich has been very impressive this summer, Bennett, Simon, and Wise are established veterans. Harris has played well as a sub-rusher and could sneak in if Rivers is hurt more seriously.

Interior Defensive Line: (4)

Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler

Out: Bryon Cowart, David Parry

No changes. Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup nose tackle. Guy and Butler offer versatility in either inside DL in a 4-3 or as 3-4 DEs playing a five-technique. This is a solid group and Mike Pennel should be an immediate early downs producer. Cowart is playing really well and although pushing for a roster spot will end up on the practice squad. 

Linebacker: (5)
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Shalique Calhoun
Out: Elandon Roberts, Brandon King, Christian Sam. Terez Hall, Calvin Munson,

Big changes here, once again difficult decisions force the team to part ways with Roberts and King who is a special teams ace. Sam and Munson have looked good in limited availability but are victims of the numbers crunch. Calhoun has gotten better all summer long and brings good pressure off the edge. 

Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Keion Crossen
Out: Duke Dawson, Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross

Another area where changes are made. Gilmore, McCourty, and Jackson give the team three very good outside corners. Jones has clearly outperformed Dawson and will handle the slot. Williams has really come on and has played very well in the past few weeks. 

Will the Patriots cut ties with a 2nd round player [Dawson] who has never played a down? Unfortunately, that is the case.

Safety: (5)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Nate Ebner
Out: Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, AJ Howard

Ebner is back and edges out King for the STs slot. Toughest cut here is Melifonwu who has played well all summer long. The top three are locked in and Brooks has gotten a lot of work with the top unit. 

Specialists: (4)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater
Out: Ryan Allen

No changes here. Gostkowski and  Cardona faced no camp competition, although Gostkowski has missed kicks in consecutive games. Bailey has a huge leg and also can kickoff, he still gets the edge over the established solid veteran in Allen, who won’t be unemployed for long. Slater is tremendous as the Patriots gunner. 

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