Tag Archives: Pat Chung

Patriots-Chargers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
January 11, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

Patriots-Chargers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon as they play in the Divisional Round of the 2018 playoffs.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson 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 (11-5) beat the Jets two weeks ago but as the #2 seed were idle during the bye week. They are hoping to win on Sunday and move on to their 8th straight AFC Championship Game.

The Chargers (13-4) beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 on Sunday in Baltimore. The Chargers dominated the game and were comfortably ahead 23-3 when the Ravens scored two late touchdowns to make it interesting.

Series History:

The Patriots and Chargers have a history back to the beginnings of the AFL and will meet for the 42nd time in their shared history. The Chargers beat the Boston Patriots in the 1964 AFL Championship Game and the two teams met two more times in the playoffs following the 2006 and 2007 seasons. New England holds the overall lead in the series 24-15-2 including the playoffs.

The teams last met last year which was a Patriots 21-13 win in Gillette Stadium. Since opening Gillette Stadium, the Patriots are 11-1 against the Chargers at home.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

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

The Patriots running game (127.3 yards per game, 5th NFL) is now a three-headed committee with Sony Michel getting the lion’s share on the ground with Rex Burkhead and James White also getting in some work. But a large portion of what makes the ground game go is the use of wide receivers in Jet Sweeps with Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman.

The Chargers have a good run defense are were the 9th best unit against the run in 2018 allowing just 105.8 yards per game. They stuffed the powerful Ravens running game by utilizing a smaller defense consisting of seven defensive backs. This week they get back a big, big piece of their interior defensive line with Brandon Mebane who missed last week due to the tragic death of his daughter.

I think the Patriots will be able to run some at this defense by mixing things up. Look for the Patriots to run the pony formation with two backs on either side of Brady. I think the Jet sweeps would be of particular use when the Chargers line up in their Wide 9 look with some cutback lanes that they’ll try to exploit.

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

The Patriots passing game (266.1 yards per game, 8th NFL) will miss the speed, size and sure hands of Josh Gordon in the playoffs now that the pretenders have been wiped away from the schedule. While Patterson has the size and speed, he’s nowhere near the accomplished route runner or receiver that Gordon is. They still have a good, but not great group with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett out wide with Rob Gronkowski at tight end and White and Burkhead out of the backfield. The key for them is to utilize everyone, which makes them much harder to stop, something they’ve haven’t always done this season.

The  Chargers have also the 9th best unit against the pass this season, allowing just 227.9 yards per game thru the air. It starts up front with the pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Those two can disrupt the passing game of anyone. They frequently slide Ingram inside and line him up on a guard which can be a mismatch, and overload one side with both on one side, which frees up rushers on the opposite side to make plays.

Derwin James the rookie out of Florida State has been huge for the defense leading the team with 105 tackles with 13 passes defensed, 3.5 sacks, and 6 QB hits. Expect him to be lined up with Gronkowski and I like James to win that matchup.

Look for Brady to get the ball out quickly and target the Chargers LBs in the passing game. If they have a weakness it is there. Last year, Brady completed 14-15 for 163 yards against the Chargers when targeting his running backs. Protection will be key here. Look for Josh McDaniels to use uptempo too to keep the Chargers from substituting personnel. It won’t be an easy game on either part of the Patriots offense against this group, but if they play the way they have all season at home, they should find some success.

Next up the Chargers offense:

Chargers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Chargers running game is 8th in the league averaging 117.1 yards per game. They lean heavily on Melvin Gordon who gained 885 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per rush and had 10 touchdowns in 2018. They have Austin Ekeler as their secondary back and he too averaged a very good 5.2 yards per rush and had 552 yards with three scores. Patriots fans will long remember the 87-yard run he made in Gillette during the first quarter of the game last year, when they didn’t properly set the edge.

The Patriots run defense is ranked 11th in the league allowing 112.7 yards per game, but it has been very inconsistent. At times this season, they were gashed badly up the middle between the tackles. However, the last two regular season games they were much better, albeit against the Bills and Jets. Setting the edge will be a big factor in this one. As well as doing a good job of clogging the middle of the field at the point of attack.

I’m still not sold on this run defense between the tackles and believe Gordon and Ekeler will have some success running inside. Look for Brian Flores to roll the dice a bit and try to send ILB Elandon Roberts on some run blitzes to try to hit Gordon at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Chargers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

Philip Rivers had an outstanding season, passing for 4300+ yards, 32 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions for a 105.5 passer rating. He has plenty of weapons to throw to with Keenan Allen, 96 catches, 1196 yards, and six TDs, Mike and Tyrell Williams who each had about 650 yards receiving and Gordon and Ekeler out of the backfield. The venerable Antonio Gates is still a third-down target and they’ve activated Hunter Henry this week, he tore an ACL this spring and is ready to go.

The Patriots gave up an average of 246.7 yards thru the air this year but the secondary, particularly the corners are a position of strength. Stephon Gilmore is now one of the top corners in the league and with rookie J.C. Jackson playing very well, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones, the team is in good shape there. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty anchor the safety position with Duron Harmon.

The key for the Patriots is to get pressure on Rivers and force the Chargers to keep their running backs in for pass protection. If Gordon has a weakness it is his pass blocking. Both he and Ekeler are very good receivers and would present mismatches to the Patriots linebackers in the passing game. Look for the Pats to try to condense the inside and rushing the A-gap and try to cut down on Rivers’ time to throw downfield.

It will be the backs and tight ends that will either win or lose this matchup for New England. They have the corners to match up and be very competitive with the Chargers WRs. But if Antonio Gates, Gordon, Ekeler and Hunter Henry, who no one knows how effective he’ll be, have big days then it will be a long afternoon for the NE defense.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots have a very reliable tandem in the kicking game in Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen. The Chargers Michael Badgley had a tremendous game last week against the Ravens and was the difference in the game. But Donnie Jones had a punt blocked in Baltimore and that could be an issue against the Pats who’ve blocked a few down the stretch.

Both teams have big-play returners in the kicking game. Desmond King had a 72-yarder last week. The Pats answer with Patterson and Edelman. Look for NE to come after a punt early in this one.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be the best game of the weekend. The Charger provide a very capable opponent on both sides of the ball. They don’t have blazing speed on offense, like New England but have a plethora of playmakers that can keep a defense on their heels.

The Keys from a Patriots perspective are:

Stay Balanced on Offense:

The Patriots will have to run the ball effectively enough to keep those pass rushers on their toes and Brady, in particular, will have to spread the ball around to all of his receivers. That means running out of 11 personnel and passing out 21 personnel.

Keep the Pressure on Rivers and Keep the Backs In:

The Patriots front seven will have to mix things up and bring pressure on Rivers while forcing the RBs to remain in for pass protection. If they can do that and keep them out of the stat sheet in the passing game, it should go a long way.

Win the STs Battle:

There will be some points to be had in STs this week. Ryan Allen and Gostkowski are good at keeping the ball away from opponent’s return men. On the other hand they’ll have to get some production out of their own returners. And attack the punting game and get after a kick. They’ve blocked three kicks down the stretch, and could use another one this week.

This one will go down to the wire. If this game were in LA, I’d easily reverse this score, but the Pats have proven to be a much better team at home this season. Brady and Co. get it done and move on their 8th straight AFC Championship Game.  Patriots 27-24

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 16 Report Card, Hats and T-Shirts in Win Over Buffalo

Steve Balestrieri
December 25, 2018 at 7:59 am ET

The Patriots returned home and the results were much better than the previous two weeks as they clinched the AFC East with a 24-12 win over Buffalo. The defense held the Bills to just a pair of field goals until a late garbage-time touchdown, the offense rolled up 273 yards on the ground, and they got some splash from their special teams.

The win, coupled with the Texans loss vaulted the Patriots right back into the #2 seed and a bye if the season ended today. They could be the #1 seed amazingly enough, although both KC and the Chargers would have to lose and then the Pats beat the Jets.

But there was still a lot of sloppiness and they turned the ball over three times which can’t continue.

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

Quarterback: D

Tom Brady threw two interceptions, although neither was his fault. The first one had Rex Burkhead turn outside where Brady expected him to turn across the middle. The result was an easy pick for Lorenzo Alexander. The second was a short pass to Rob Gronkowski where the ball sailed right thru his hands…ditto Jordan Poyer.

The fact that the Pats only threw 25 passes wasn’t a bad thing considering the running game was pounding the ball against the Bills front seven. But with the running game so effective, the play-action passing game should have skewered Buffalo. It did not.

Brady was off on several throws which keeps giving rise to the rumors that his knee isn’t even close to 100 percent. Not one pass was completed beyond 5-6 yards past the line of scrimmage. The pass protection wasn’t great and although Brady moved and slid well in the pocket, he didn’t target Chris Hogan or Phillip Dorsett once. In 89 combined snaps they weren’t targeted at all.

Running Backs: B+

Sony Michel had a big day running the ball, piling up 116 yards in 18 carries. While he was getting good blocking up front (something that several media members hold against only him among running backs when he has a big day), the most impressive thing about his day was after contact. Michel kept his legs churning and carried the pile further for more yardage. It paid off with his touchdown run where he carried the pile into the end zone where he was contacted around the two-yard line.

James White had 41 yards on five carries but his 27-yard touchdown was a beauty. Facing a 3rd and 2, White sliced thru the line and broke to the outside and raced down the left side for a big touchdown run. He had just two catches for 13 yards on four targets in the passing game.

Rex Burkhead had a couple of good plays in both the passing and running games but was also involved in two turnovers. He got the ball punched out after catching a pass from Brady in the first half and then ran the wrong route across the middle leading to an easy interception. He took over for Michel down the stretch, in the kill the clock mode.

Wide Receivers: C

Julian Edelman contributed the only notable splash play in the passing game, catching a six-yard Brady pass on 4th and 4 from the Bills 32-yard line. He was tackled by two Bills defenders but landed on top of them and alertly rolled off and ran into the end zone for the touchdown. He was the only consistent target in the passing game for the WRs catching six passes for 70 yards on ten targets. But Edelman also had two costly penalties and a drop.

Cordarrelle Patterson was targeted twice in the passing game and had one catch for three yards. But Patterson was outstanding at running the ball on the Jet sweeps gaining 66 yards on 4 carries, using his speed to burn past Bills defenders.  Phillip Dorsett had 13 yards on two carries after Patterson tweaked his knee. One was blown up for a four-yard loss but the other was a nice 17-yard scamper.

But neither Dorsett or Chris Hogan was targeted once in the passing game…which is inexcusable.

Tight Ends: C-

Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen were both mainly excellent in the run blocking department, acting as an extra tackle and blowing Bills defenders off the ball which helped create nice running lanes for the running backs to follow.

But neither was a factor at all in the passing game. Gronk was targeted three times and zero catches. Worse, he had a pass zip right thru his hands on the first play of the second half which was picked off by Jordan Poyer.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the running game. Considering that they piled up 275 yards rushing before Brian Hoyer’s kneel-downs, that is exactly what the doctor ordered. Shaq Mason got downfield and put a huge block on Lorenzo Alexander on White’s long touchdown run. Trent Brown consistently was putting Bills defensive end Eddie Yarbrough on roller skates.

But the pass protection was not great. Although Brady was only sacked once, he was under duress far too often in the pocket. And this was on a day where the passing game was dinking and dunking along.

Defensive Line: A-

This was a huge bounce-back game for the defensive line. Danny Shelton was back over the nose and although he made only two tackles, having a big man that cover the two gaps made everything go much smoother in run defense. Bills running backs gained on 42 yards on 13 carries which is a 3.2-yard average.  The Bills only gained 72 yards overall on the ground, a big improvement over the past few weeks.

Trey Flowers was disruptive all game and Lawrence Guy was his normal solid self. Newcomer Ufomba Kamalu played about a dozen snaps and dropped Shady McCoy for a four-yard loss on his first snap as a Patriot.  

Linebackers: B

The Patriots linebackers biggest responsibility in this game was to keep Josh Allen from running rough-shod over them in scrambling from out of the pocket. In the Bills past four games Allen ran for 351 yards out of the pocket when things broke down. In this one, he was able to scramble for only 30 yards on five carries.

Linebackers John Simon and Kyle Van Noy were both very good at staying home and cutting off any lanes for Allen to run.  

Secondary: A-

The secondary had only two blips in the game. In the first quarter, Robert Foster had beaten Stephon Gilmore cleanly down the right sideline and then lost a well-thrown ball in the sun. And Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson collided on a crossing route late in the game allowing Zay Jones to be all alone for a 31-yard touchdown.  Other than that final garbage time drive, the secondary’s play was terrific.

Gilmore broke up a fourth-down pass to Foster in the first half and a 3rd and 3 to Jones in the second half. Jackson flashed great ball skills in picking off a pass which was a poor decision by Allen. He’s rapidly turning into a terrific player and a total steal.

Jason McCourty picked off a pass as well on a nice move. He also ripped the ball out of Jason Croom’s hands on the five-yard line. Pat Chung was a factor and making plays all over the field.

Special Teams: A-

The Special Teams had another strong game, Ryan Allen boomed a 55-yarder pinning the Bills back inside the 10-yard line. He pinned them inside the 20, three times. Julian Edelman had a beauty of a 25-yard punt return which set up a field goal. And Matthew Slater blocked a punt, the third in three weeks.

The only knocks were the final two kickoff returns by Patterson that were blown up by the Bills and Michel who filled in for him after he tweaked his knee, muffed the kick and then got stuffed at the 12. Julian Edelman took a dumb penalty and the second time he’s done this recently by calling for a fair catch and then blocking a gunner.

Coaches: B+

The Patriots coaching staff put the onus on the running game this week which Buffalo’s defense, the best at stopping the pass, was unable to cope with. They also put a premium on stopping Josh Allen from scrambling and opening up plays downfield, which they did quite well. And they obviously wanted to shut down Buffalo’s running game and force Allen into trying to beat them thru the air. They did that and the Bills showed they are incapable of doing that.

We’re on to the Jets…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

New England Patriots News 12-23, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 23, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-23, & AFC East Notes.
From all of us here, we wish you all an early very Merry Christmas.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:

Did you Know? That the Patriots currently have a regular season home winning streak of 11 games dating back to last season. That is currently the fifth longest in team history and can move into a 4th place tie with the team from 2006-2008.

Did you Know Pt.2? The Patriots picked up Cordarrelle Patterson to help with the kickoff return game. The Patriots currently rank 2nd in the league with a 28.6 yards per return average. If that number remains the same or increases, it will be the team’s best average in the Bill Belichick era, beating the 2006 team’s average of 26.8 yards per return.

Did you Know Pt. 3: With just 21 yards passing today, Tom Brady will reach the 4000-yard mark for the 10th time in his career, the 3rd most in NFL history. Also with just three catches, Julian Edelman will move past Ben Coates (490) in career catches with the team, which will put him in 5th place.

Points Allowed Stats: One of the more interesting stats especially for those who like to chime in with the “Bill can’t coach defense anymore” crowd is the fact that since 2001 the Patriots have the most seasons allowing 20 points per game or fewer with 12. The Ravens and Steelers are next with 11 each. Baltimore is a shoo-in for their 12th this season unless they allow 68 points in their last two games, which isn’t likely. The Patriots would have to hold the Bills and Jets combined for 10 points…very unlikely. The Steelers would have to hold their opponents (New Orleans today) to four points or less.

Josh Gordon’s Story Shows Why Mental Health Is Such an Issue :

With the news this week after Josh Gordon announced that he was stepping away from football to concentrate on his own mental health and addiction issues and the league announced that he failed another drug test, the social media world exploded.

Several noted hot take media types including a few here in the Boston market took to calling Gordon “selfish” and not taking “individual or personal responsibility” is short-sighted and wrong. We were guilty of it here as well, not being aware of how deep his mental health issues were initially until the team signed him.

And mental health and addiction issues DO go hand-in-hand. I keep reading and hearing people go on and on about “choices” which is patently ludicrous. Does anyone seriously think that a person with their first drink or taste of an illegal substance plan on becoming an alcoholic or drug addict?

Chris Carter who had his own issues with addiction during his playing career was very emotional about the entire Gordon issue and how he feels most people still don’t understand it all.

“And the kid needs help! He does not need football. He needs help. He needs tools that he can be able to say ‘no.’ No to those drugs. No to the world, and yes to his opportunities. Yes to relationships.

That’s what so upsetting [for] me is just the lack of understanding. This is what addicts do. They don’t show up for work. They lie. They deceive. That’s what they do. But addicts need help. Myself, I need help. Josh needs help. And I hope that he’s able to continue this long, long battle, because there is no cure. The day you’re cured is the day they put you in the ground.”

The Patriots, who are now being roasted by the “I told you so” crowd, certainly knew the risks with signing a player with a troubled history such as Gordon’s. They did everything they could as an organization to help him find his way here. They installed him with a locker right next to Tom Brady’s where the two would certainly interact more.

The coaches stayed late with him, helping him learn the offense and navigate the intricacies of it. Even the PR Dept. of Stacey James took great care with his interactions with the media, trying to keep everything on point and limit the talk about the off-field distractions that had derailed such a promising career.

There were even rumors to the effect that the team had hired people to hang with Gordon in the off-hours to keep him away from the demons that have haunted him. Not like Foxboro on a Friday night will be confused with Vegas. But even that, wasn’t enough for a person/addict with issues to fall back into their destructive behavior. For the first time in his professional career, Gordon was playing for a winner with a chance to write his own redemption story.

That’s the saddest part of the story. I would encourage anyone to attend an Alcoholic’s Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting sometime and listen to the stories of those who tried and failed many, many times before finally slipping away from the bonds of their demons. Rarely if ever it is done on the first attempt.

The Patriots issues at wide receiver are minuscule next to a man’s life. We hope that Gordon, the man, will find his way back to mental health and be able to live his life as normally as possible. Whether or not he ever gets another chance to play in the NFL is secondary at this point.

Ufomba Kamalu Presented With a Chance to Stick:

When the Patriots signed OLB Kamalu to their practice squad on November 5th, it barely registered on the social media spectrum, other than his unusual name. But what is really intriguing about Kamalu, who has been signed to the active roster in the fallout from the Josh Gordon situation is his size and athleticism.

Kamalu originally was an UDFA from Miami and signed with the Houston Texans in 2016. He’s 6’6 and weighs 295 pounds, but for a big man, he’s pretty athletic. Kamalu ran a 4.88 in the 40-yard dash, a 31.5-inch vertical leap, 7.32-second 3-cone drill, and a 4.58-second short shuttle at his pro day.

In his time with the Texans, they used him at OLB and in 13 games with three starts, he logged 11 tackles and three sacks before being let go in the final cutdown this year. He briefly spent time with the Cardinals on their practice squad before signing with the Pats.

Now he’s on the active roster and although Bill Belichick had been wondering how the Pats would use him, maybe this week and next against the Jets, he’ll see some snaps and we’ll catch a glimpse of what he can do. Belichick was asked by NESN’s Doug Kyed a few weeks ago how the team envisioned Kamalu.

“I think we’re trying to figure it out, but he’s an interesting player to work with and a good player to work with,” Belichick said. “He works hard, smart. He’s played outside linebacker to defensive end to defensive tackle. So, he hasn’t really done a lot in our defense. It’s been more scout team and so forth, drills.

“But he works hard, he’s smart. He picks things up. He’s … done and is able to do different things for us. We’ll see how it goes. But yeah, he’s an interesting guy. We don’t really have anyone like him from a skill-set standpoint, so I’d say we’re kind of trying to figure it out. But he gets better every day. So, we’ll keep working with him. We’ll see how it goes.”

With Kamalu’s size, he won’t be an OLB with the Patriots but probably a DE or kick into the interior on passing downs. If he is active today, that would mean he’s leapfrogged both Derek Rivers and Keionta Davis on the depth chart as both have been inactive lately. But it is also said that Belichick remembers when opponents have big games against them. Well in a 2017 preseason game, Kamalu had four tackles, a sack and two QB hits against the Patriots.

On a defense that could really use some help in the front seven, perhaps Kamalu could work himself into a job beginning today.

Patriots Secondary Deep and Underrated:

The most overlooked aspect of the Patriots this season has been the play of their secondary. Which overall this season has been very good. The team has their best corner, Stephon Gilmore playing at a high level, he’s been outstanding from the first snaps during OTAs and has continued that. Even though the team lost Eric Rowe to IR, they’ve scarcely missed a beat with Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, and rookie J.C.Jackson holding down the cornerback position.

They have been playing so well that this year’s 2nd round draft pick Duke Dawson who was injured for most of the first half of the season, hasn’t even played yet. Jackson, the UDFA from Maryland has been terrific so far as he’s making his presence felt in the 2nd half of the season.

At safety, the team still has Devin McCourty and Pat Chung along with the “closer” Duron Harmon and then the team added former 2nd round draft pick Obi Melifonwu. That’s a deep area as well.

Ah, you say, but what about the yards allowed. The Patriots allow 256 yards thru the air each week, only 23rd in the league. But opposing QBs are still not very efficient when facing the Pats secondary. They currently rank 9th in the league in opposing QB rating with an 88.5 mark.

Jackson leads the way (albeit in a limited body of work) with opposing QBs having a rating of just 26.0 when targeting him. Gilmore has an outstanding 60.1 rating, frequently covering the opposition’s top WR. Jonathan Jones who plays the very tough position in the slot where a WR can go in either direction has a rating of 79.5 when being targeted. McCourty brings up the rear with a 98.8 but has played tough all year.

It will be interesting to see if the pass rush picks up how well the secondary can keep playing to their strengths/

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 16 Predictions:

Last week: 9-7 Season 141-81-2

Saturday picks: Titans, Chargers

Cincinnati @ Cleveland: Browns
Tampa Bay @ Dallas: Cowboys
Minnesota @ Detroit: Vikings
Buffalo @ New England: Patriots
Green Bay @ NY Jets: Packers
Houston @ Philadelphia: Eagles
Atlanta @ Carolina: Panthers
NY Giants @ Indianapolis: Colts
Jacksonville @ Miami: Dolphins
LA Rams @ Arizona: Rams
Chicago @ San Francisco: Bears
Pittsburgh @ New Orleans: Saints
Kansas City @ Seattle SNF: Seahawks
Denver @ Oakland: Broncos

**Note, No Saturday Games Next Week**

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Want to Rely on Defense to Keep the Game Close:

The Buffalo Bills are smelling blood in the water this week as absurd as that sounds for a team that is 3-29 against Tom Brady. All of the talk out of Western New York this week centers around “3”. Can the Bills make it three in a row that the Patriots lose?

With their offense improving but still among the worst in the league, Buffalo will have to rely on their defense, including their top-ranked pass defense to keep the score close and give Josh Allen and the offense the opportunity to steal one on the road.

They’ll not only need a big game from their secondary but from the big guy Kyle Williams inside. Buffalo hasn’t got a sack in their last two games but they’ll need Williams to bring pressure inside where Brady can’t step into his throws. If they can do that, they’ll have a puncher’s chance, as they did in October.

Dolphins Trying to Break Out of Mediocrity Slump:

The Miami Dolphins are 7-7 and still in the playoff hunt but to get there they are going to need some help. But the ownership will be looking hard at once again making some changes at the end of the season and that begins with Executive VP of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and GM Chris Grier.

Tannenbaum has been at the helm for the Dolphins for the past four years and the franchise is no better or worse than they were when he took over. Is this the end for him? Very possibly. And he may not be alone. Head Coach Adam Gase, like his team, has been very inconsistent. These next two games may hold a lot of the future for these two. An 8-8 finish might be the end for the both of them.

The once proud Dolphin franchise is 199-1949 since the 1994 season. The Patriots in the same time frame in the regular season are 277-121. Plus they are 30-14 in the post-season. Since Gase has taken over, the mediocrity has continued with a 23-23 mark. Those numbers would both be under .500 if not for a “miracle” finish.

These next two games may decide a lot. Tannenbaum has the confidence of Matt Higgins, the Dolphins VP and a close confidante of owner Stephen Ross. Higgins is reportedly not happy with Gase. Stay tuned…

Jets Hoping Darnold Can Spark a Win Over the Packers:

The New York Jets 2018 season is over as far as any hopes for a playoff berth are, however, there is an awful lot to play for in the next two weeks against the Packers and then next week at the Patriots. And it isn’t just for pride and jobs in 2019. It is hope.

The Jets are looking for a sign that their fortunes are headed in the right direction. After two decades of having the Patriots dominate the division, the Jets invested heavily in QB Sam Darnold. Any rookie QB starting in the NFL is going to struggle at times and Darnold was no exception.

But he played his best game of the year last week against the #2 seed in the AFC, the Houston Texans and the Jets came up just short of upsetting Houston. Now Darnold gets to take on two of the best QBs of this generation. Aaron Rodgers this week and Tom Brady in the finale in Foxboro. This will be a huge opportunity for the Jets and Darnold to build some momentum for 2019.

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.

No “Yeah Buts” Patriots Defense Is Coming Together Right On Time

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2018 at 8:40 am ET

With the Patriots win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots are 9-3 and are currently the #2 seed of the AFC. They can clinch their division with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday, the first “hat and T-shirt” game of the season.

Nothing is guaranteed yet, there are still four games left to play and they could finish anywhere from the #1 seed to out of the playoffs if they drop all four. But is there anyone really out there that can see that scenario?

Things you can set your watch/calendar by:

  • The Pats laying a stinker or two in Sept.
  • National media rushing to be “first” to predict the end of NE’s run
  • Patriots fans screaming on social media every time an opponent completes a pass of more than 10 yards, “They’re trash!”
  • The team slogging thru the midway point of the season stringing together wins
  • Post-Thanksgiving, the team is suddenly among the AFC’s top seeds…again
  • After every win, especially against big opponents, the “yeah buts” come out
  • That “trash” defense begins to come together

Did we miss any? One fan who follows us on social media proclaimed during the Lions game that the team was “going 5-11 as Bill has gutted this team with terrible drafting”, and yet here we are again.

The best thing to watch on Sunday was the work of the Patriots defense. The one constant about the Patriots defense is that it is always changing. They don’t have the one signature aspect that everyone can point to and say, “Team “A” is going to have to deal with this” or that “Team “B” can’t match up with that”. It is, under Bill Belichick a unit that changes from week to week depending on the team and can morph into totally different entities.

Against the Jets, they went to a heavier package trying to stop the running game that was base-heavy. Against Minnesota, they went to nearly all sub-packages, at times having Trey Flowers as the only down lineman, daring them to run, while trying to stop the pass. They did a masterful job of disguising their blitzes and the safety group was moving all around which confused Kirk Cousins to where he was forced to check down time and again to outlet receivers where the defense cleaned them up.

This requires a massive amount of work and study and having players that are smart and versatile, especially the secondary which gets far too little credit. The Patriots have quietly amassed a very talented group in the secondary and they are getting better each week.

Last week, facing the Vikings talented duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Pats defense, didn’t do their normal M.O. which is to try to take away their top threat and make you beat them elsewhere, they DID take away both.

Thielen, who had amassed nine 100-yard games was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a 5-yard TD. Diggs had five catches for 49 yards. And right smack in the middle of it all was Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore is a corner who doesn’t get nearly the credit that he deserves for being the player that he is. Other than the Titans game where he and everyone else played terribly, he’s been lights out since the earliest days of OTAs. Joining him is Jason McCourty, who not only is playing meaningful games for the first time in his career, is also playing some of the best football of his career. Jonathan Jones and the surprising rookie emergence of J.C. Jackson has to be a source of confidence moving forward.

The safety group now has four players that the team can use in just about any situation. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty are both ramping their games up to an extremely high level with Duron (The Closer) Harmon and newcomer Obi Melifonwu providing depth and versatility for the coaches to throw different looks at the opposition.

While everyone south of the North Pole laments the amount of yardage that they allow. But yards passing doesn’t win football games…points do. Otherwise, the Pats would have cruised in the SB against the Eagles. And don’t look now, but that “trash” defense of the Patriots? They’re currently tied with Seattle for 9th best in points allowed with 21.6. Right on time. And the opposing passer rating, they’re currently 6th, with opponents QBs having a passer rating of just 85.9.

They aren’t the most talented group in the front seven, with the exception of Trey Flowers on the defensive line, there are a bunch of workmen who bring their lunch pails to the stadium every day. Lawrence Guy, in particular, has been a great pickup for them.

The Linebacker group is the same. Are Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy All-Pros? Nope but in this defense, they are as valuable as them. Elandon Roberts is someone we frequently criticize but he has the confidence of his coaches and on Sunday was flying around the field which is a good thing. They miss their rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley but who should be even better next season.

Are they now a Top-10 defense? Nope. But they’re competitive and with a confidence level that they feel they can match up and slow down anyone they meet. We all heard the noise (all year) but especially before last week’s game. “They can’t stop Thielen”, or “Diggs will eat them up”, “Who is going to cover Cook underneath.” It was the same when they faced Aaron Rodgers but of course, after that game, there were the endless…yeah buts.

One of the things that Bill Belichick talks about, and one of the hardest thing to do as a coach, is getting a team to “buy-in” to what they’re trying to get across with a team philosophy. We saw that fail in 2009 when he lamented on the sideline in New Orleans that the team wouldn’t do so. Judging from what we saw on Sunday, this team is all-in. What happens from here? Nobody knows, they could run the table or get booted in the first round. “Yeah but what about the Steelers’ offense?” But just this time, for once, sit back and enjoy the ride.

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

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Players To Watch Patriots-Vikings Week 13

Steve Balestrieri
November 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm ET

Big Game For Both Teams

The New England Patriots return home after a few games on the road and the bye week to take on the Minnesota Vikings in a late afternoon game that will be televised by Fox.

This is a very big game for both teams this week. The Patriots traditionally try to turn things up a notch in December and get ready for a deep playoff push. They are currently the #2 seed and still have a shot at being the #1 with a first-round bye.

The Vikings are currently the #5 seed with a shot at still winning their division with the Bears although they trail by a game and half with still one against each other still in play.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Rex Burkhead:

The Patriots versatile but injury-prone running back returns this week and the feeling here is that he may be eased back into things slowly. With Sony Michel playing excellent football right now, there is no need for the Patriots to overwork Burkhead right off the bat, as he hasn’t played since the first half of the Lions game in Week 3.

But one area that the Patriots could use Burkhead and his versatility is in the red zone where they’ve been struggling (for them) this season. The Patriots sit at a 63 percent touchdown rate in the red zone which is 13th in the league. Not bad, but much lower than they always are. Burkhead could change that. James White is an excellent receiver but just so-so as a runner. Sony Michel is having an excellent season running the ball but has yet to be fully integrated into the passing game. The team is a bit one-dimensional with those players in the game.

Burkhead is more than capable of running the ball between the tackles and catching it out of the backfield. He’s also a very good blocker in pass protection. With him having a smaller workload in his first game back, we could still see Josh McDaniels having a plan to utilize him in the red zone.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best player on their front seven and arguably on their defense is going to be looked to provide a bulk of the Patriots pass rush this week. With the weapons that the Vikings have on their offense, it is imperative that the Patriots bring pressure on Kirk Cousins before his talented wide receivers (Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs) shake loose in the secondary.

The Patriots pass rush this year (and for several of the past years) has been largely stuck in neutral. It puts the secondary in the bad position of having to cover for too long. They have addressed the issue with multiple players but thus far it is still a problem.

We’ll look to see if they move Flowers around some and utilize him as an interior pass rusher to get more speed and athleticism on the field. But a lot of eyes will be on the Pats best DL. They will try to attack the right side of the Minnesota offensive line, that is where they’ve been having issues protecting Cousins.

Julien Edelman:

The Patriots slot receiver has been terrific in several of the latest games, he set the tone for the offense last week, getting a 36-yard catch and run on the Patriots first drive of the game. He’ll be going against  MacKensie Alexander this week. Alexander has been terrific over the last month +, allowing a QB rating of just 45 when opposing QBs have targeted him.

Edelman has always been the guy to do the dirty work underneath and frequently takes a terrific beating while doing so. Alexander is a great matchup for Edelman and we expect to see those two battling all day long.

With the excellent pass rush of the Vikings, Tom Brady will be looking to get the ball out quickly. And there is no one who has the chemistry with Brady better than Edelman. We look for him to be targeted early and often in this one.

Pat Chung:

The Pats box safety had an excellent bounce-back game against the Jets last week. This week, the stakes are higher and the opposition is much better. The Vikings are a difficult matchup team for the Patriots defense due to their running back, Dalvin Cook and their tight end Kyle Rudolph, two areas that the Pats have issues defending.

Chung is the team’s best tackler in the box and he’ll have to be strong in run support against Cook while being one of the defenders against Rudolph in the passing game.

One thing we may see more of this week is the Patriots “Big Nickel” look with safeties taking the place of LBs in coverage. We saw just a glimpse of it last week as the Pats broke in newly signed S Obi Melifonwu and with his size and athleticism, he should be a natural at that. That would allow Chung to play closer to the line of scrimmage in the box. It is a chess match every week.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver has been slowly finding his way in New England, learning on the fly and while he may no longer be the athletic freak he was five years ago, he still has plenty of speed and with his size, opponents have to account for him on every play. With Xavier Rhodes banged up and questionable this week, Gordon may play a big role in the game plan.

But what is really exciting for Gordon is the motivation that comes with playing meaningful football games in December/January. That is a first for him and he told the media this week that he’s excited for it to happen.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s motivational for me and for everybody. I’ve never really got the opportunity before, considering the circumstances. So it’s great to have the opportunity now.”

Gordon told Mike Reiss of ESPN that, “I think there’s a lot more room to expand upon and potential to be reached. It just goes to how much work I put in, and let it manifest itself on the field,” he said. “The most I can do is just stay consistent with my work ethic and the rest will try to work itself out eventually.”

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

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

Patriots  Week 8 Report Card, New England Beats Buffalo 25-6

Steve Balestrieri
October 31, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots have won five in a row and have opened up a good bit of distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC East, at the halfway point of the season. They currently have a two-game (with a tiebreaker) lead over Miami. They took care of business in Buffalo winning 25-6 despite the offense struggling to finish drives.

The lack of Sony Michel really hurt the running game and that was a big reason for the lack of finish when it comes to the offense. They pressed Cordarrelle Patterson into running back duty for the game.

But the defense was very good against arguably the worst offensive team in the NFL. But regardless, they shut down the run and scored a touchdown defensively while holding the hapless Bills’ offense to just two field goals.

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

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady was not at his best in Buffalo with several passes that were off the mark, most notably, the red zone incompletion to James White that skipped off the ground a good 2-3 yards in front of White, which cost the team a touchdown and a late throw on a screen that was nearly picked off.

However, he was under pressure for a good portion of the night as the Bills were getting good pressure up the middle which definitely hinders his ability to step into his throws. The Bills did a very good job of getting after him, partly because of the lack of the running game.

Brady did have several excellent passes as well. His third down laser to Edelman for 26 yards was a beauty as well as his back shoulder passes in the red zone to Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski. Brady was the first passer in 16 games to throw for 300 yards (324) against the Bills.

Running Backs: B-

James White couldn’t get anything going in the running game but in the passing game, he was money as always catching 10 passes for 79 yards. Patterson, as we mentioned above, stepped into the tailback position. He did rip off a nice 22-yard run in the second half. While Patterson isn’t suited for that, it should be noted that he led all running backs (both teams) in terms of carries and yards…

Brady got into the act with a slow-motion eight-yard scramble for a first down and Edelman had a couple of carries on the jet sweep. James Develin was solid as usual in the blocking game and was targeted a few times in the passing game. Brady tried his best Develin impression on Lorenzo Alexander and was leveled, but he got in the way long enough to spring Edelman past the line of scrimmage.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers had to fight for everything as the Bills were dropping into a two-deep zone and allowing the short passes underneath but tried to take away everything in the vertical category. Julian Edelman had a terrific game, he was finding the soft spots in the zones and was being hammered when he caught the ball. His 26-yard reception was huge on third down. He finished with 9 catches for 104 yards.

Josh Gordon (who played the entire game despite reports to the contrary) didn’t have a big game. He misread a deep ball by Brady on the first series, that may have gotten knocked down with the wind when he had clear separation. But he made a nice 18-yard grab on a slant but finished with just 4 catches for 42 yards.

Chris Hogan had just two catches but for 49 yards and that back shoulder grab down to the one-yard line set up the Patriots lone offensive touchdown. He’s still well within that Brady circle of trust.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was coming off the injured list with ankle and back woes and he looked right neither in the passing game or in the running game. Gronk is normally a devastating blocker and he didn’t have that normal oomph which probably means that his back is still bothering him. He and Brady never got in sync in Buffalo and he was given extra special attention by the Bills secondary. He ended up with just 3 catches for 43 yards but his 22-yarder, with a defender all over him, while still having the presence of mind to get his feet down was a highlight reel catch.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line didn’t have a very good night. Granted, part of it was the lack of Sony Michel in the lineup. When Patterson was in the game, Buffalo knew they were going to run and they attacked the gaps. But the run blocking wasn’t there and because of that, Buffalo teed off with their pass rush.

The Bills only blitzed once or twice all night yet they got consistent pressure off of their front four and were pushing the offensive linemen back into Brady not allowing him to step into their throws. The proof was in the pudding, the Pats were just 1-3 in red zone opportunities and when you score one offensive touchdown but four field goals, you aren’t getting the push you need up front.

Defensive Line: B

The defensive line had a very solid game. Bills OC Brian Daboll emptied the playbook on the first series of the game with the Wildcat, direct snaps to Shady McCoy and a flea flicker. After McCoy got 12 yards on his first carry of the game, things went progressively downhill for the Bills running game. McCoy finished with 12 carries for 13 yards. Buffalo only rushed for 46 yards on 19 carries. For a team that is run-first…that is a good job for the defensive line.

Trey Flowers was huge in this game. He was immense and very disruptive in the running game with two tackles for a loss. He had two quarterback hits and two pressures in the passing game. It was easily his best game of the year. Adrian Clayborn had a sack for the second straight game.

Linebackers: B+

The Patriots linebackers were without Dont’a Hightower and we knew that Kyle Van Noy had to step up this week. And he certainly did. Van Noy was arguably the best Patriots defender on the field on Monday. He made 7 tackles, had 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 QB hits. He was all over the field and disruptive. John Simon had a run stuff in his first action since getting injured a few weeks ago. Elandon Roberts had another gift interception go right thru his hands…sigh.

Secondary: B+

The secondary albeit against a bad Buffalo offense had a very strong game. Devin McCourty put the game away with an 84-yard pick six where he perfectly read the play down the middle of the field. Stephon Gilmore was outstanding and did a great job of blanketing Kelvin Benjamin. Pat Chung was outstanding and allowed just five catches for 35 yards while being targeted 10 times. And he fell on and recovered the fumble that Van Noy forced. Overall, when your defense outscores the opponents’ offense you’ve had a very good effort by the team.

Special Teams: C-

The Special Teams are not performing to the level that we’ve been accustomed to (spoiled with?) the past several years. Once again we have to ask, was Brandon Bolden and Jordan Richards that valuable to the Patriots STs? A silly penalty on Julian Edelman for a block after calling for a fair catch, an illegal formation call on a kickoff, where a player holding the ball for Gostkowski wasn’t covered up right by the other players. A poor punt and worse coverage allowed the Bills a 30-yard return which put them in field goal position. Stephen Gostkowski was the lone bright spot kicking four out of five field goals. His lone miss from 50 we’ll give him a pass on since Lawrence Guy was flagged for holding on the play and would’ve wiped it out anyway. Joe Judge needs to light a fire under those guys this week.

Coaches: B

The Patriots had a good game plan coming into this one and they absolutely produced on one half of it. Defensively, they were going to take away the run as the Bills are a run-first team. They did, and they were going to take away the deep plays because they knew that Buffalo doesn’t have the horses to slowly work their way down the field. Check.

Offensively, the team never looked in sync and the play calling while at times very good was suspect in a few others. On the third and two call at the Patriots 12-yard line, Buffalo knew the Patriots were going to run and snuffed it out easily. That would have been time for a play-action pass.

But in the end, they were on the road against a divisional opponent with a loud, raucous crowd, intent on throwing sex toys on the field again…and got the job done. We’re on to Green Bay.

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

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Patriots  Week 5 Report Card, New England Downs Colts Again 38-24

Steve Balestrieri
October 5, 2018 at 11:29 am ET

The Patriots were facing a short week and a familiar nemesis or perhaps that is a harsh term, foe may be a better description. Other than the ones who began the entire Deflategate fiasco with the league, the Patriots have owned the Colts for the previous seven games winning by an average of about 20 points.

Thursday night began much the same way, the Pats were up by 21 at the half and it looked like they may hang a 50 burger on a very shorthanded Colts team. And by all accounts, they should have.  But sloppy ball control in the second half cost them and due to the outstanding effort of Andrew Luck, the Colts narrowed the score to 24-17 and it was a game.

The Patriots quickly responded and put two more scores up to put it back up by 21 before Luck led a late drive to make it seem respectable at 38-24. This was Thursday Night Football in a microcosm. Dropped passes on both sides, five turnovers, players getting hurt. Not to mention those god-awful all blue monstrosities that pass for uniforms. Hell Indianapolis couldn’t even field an entire 46-man team last night. But hey Commish, tell us again how the players’ safety is #1 in your book.

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

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady was totally in control last night and was meticulously picking the Colts zone defense apart from start to finish. He started the first drive of the game by going 9-9 and throwing a touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson. Of his first 13 passes, the only incompletion was a drop by Julian Edelman.

He did miss a few throws to Josh Gordon, but we chalk those up to be still working on their chemistry and timing together. But last night one got the feeling that the Colts defense wasn’t going to stop them, and it was correct. He threw for 341 yards and three TDs while completing 34-44,  and it could have been even more.

His two picks were not only preventable but right in the hands of his receivers, one of which looked more fumble than interception…but whatever. Brady passed two big milestones becoming the 3rd member of the 500 TD club and the only one to do it with one team.  He also set a new record by passing a TD to 71 different receivers, more than anyone else.

Running Backs: A-

The Patriots running backs had another very productive night. Sony Michel just missed a second 100-yard outing getting 98 yards on 18 carries. His 34-yard touchdown run was stuff we saw from him in college. In the past five days, Michel has gained 223 yards on the ground.  And he’s getting better every day.

James White was a guy we highlighted to have a big game and we were spot on there. White caught 10 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown and is so valuable in the Patriots passing game.

Michel needs to get better, and will, in the short-yardage running game, but that isn’t really his strength. James Develin continues to amaze as a blocker in the running game.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers are now finally all in place, and you know what, you can stop lining up at the Tobin because “Bill doesn’t give Tawmmy enuff weaponz”. This group looked very dangerous and they’re just scratching the surface of their potential.

Julian Edelman is back and answered the questions as to whether he’d still have the quickness that we’re accustomed to seeing. He made his mark on the game right off the bat, catching three passes on the opening drive.

Gordon is still learning the offense and was only targeted a few times but had two big catches including the highlight reel 34-yard touchdown pass from Brady. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Patterson are now the complementary guys and as such their production was just fine, 8 catches, 70 yards, and a touchdown. Hogan had the one brutal drop for a pick.

Tight Ends: B

Rob Gronkowski was obviously hobbled and in pain last night, one could see him limping several times after the play. But Brady and offense didn’t go thru Gronk and his numbers were OK, 6 catches for 75 yards. On the dropped/interception/ fumble, which we thought was a fumble, had it stood up he would have ended with 7-90, and yes we would gladly take that on a bad ankle.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line was once again outstanding last night. The Colts entered the game with 17 sacks in the first four games and Brady’s pass protection was, for the vast majority of the game terrific. They had just 4 QB hits and 0 sacks.

Michel had room to run again and the boys up front did a fantastic job. Rewatch Brady’s 500th TD to Gordon, and he had an unreal amount of time to throw the football.

Defensive Line: B-

The defensive line did an okay job of stuffing the sputtering running game against the Colts. They had a big run at the end of the first half and some yards late in the game, but overall, it was good enough to force Luck to have to pass 60 times.  

The team only had one sack, a nice play by Trey Flowers in the first quarter. Adam Butler made a nice play of recognizing a screen pass and stuffing it for a loss. Adrian Clayborn had his best game of the season and was getting a lot of pressure on Luck. His pressure caused the Chung interception.

Linebackers: B

This wasn’t the fantastic day they had on Sunday but it was good enough. The linebackers were tasked with covering the running backs and they did a decent job of it. Nyheim Hines led the Colts with 22 receptions and he made 7 last night but for just 45 yards, which while solid enough numbers, wasn’t what the Colts needed with an injury-depleted roster.  

Hightower got beat by Eric Ebron on their final touchdown with a minute and a half to go when he bit hard on a run fake.

Secondary: B

The secondary wasn’t quite as bad as some were pointing out last night. Luck put on a nice show and threw for 365 yards and was dropping some really nice throws that was belying the hot take that his arm strength was suspect.

He also threw 60 passes so he was averaging less than six yards per pass. His passer rating was around 84 so that wasn’t great either. Jason McCourty had another strong game and is quickly becoming a very solid as the second corner. Stephon Gilmore was solid all game long, he was burned on one deep route but the receiver dropped the ball.

Jonathan Jones had a rough night and Luck was picking on him. Luck’s best target was TE Eric Ebron who gave Devin McCourty fits. Pat Chung also shared coverage responsibilities with Ebron. The two safeties got low marks for that, however, Chung was making plays all over the field and had 11 tackles, an interception, and a QB hit. McCourty forced a turnover too, so again, it wasn’t as bad as Twitter would have you believe.

Special Teams: B

Stephen Gostkowski was 5-5 on extra points and nailed his only field goal attempt. Ryan Allen averaged 48.3 yards per punt but did outkick his coverage on one and it allowed the Colts to return it 32 yards. Julian Edelman was returning punts and looked very good. The Colts weren’t allowing Patterson to return any kickoffs and boomed them away.

Coaches: A-

Faced with a short week, was there any doubt which team was the most prepared to go on Thursday Night Football? Bill Belichick had the team ready to go and they had a good gameplan and the offense looked like a house on fire racing out to a 24-3 halftime lead.

After Luck and the Colts narrowed it down the one score early in the 4th quarter, the Patriots put them away with two big scoring drives.

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.

Players To Watch Patriots-Colts Week 5

Steve Balestrieri
October 4, 2018 at 7:12 am ET

“The Rivalry is Back!” TNF

The New England Patriots played a much better game than we’ve seen all season last week at home against Miami. The Pats dominated the Dolphins at the line of scrimmage on both the offensive and defensive sides, cruising to a 38-7 blowout.

The defense seemed to play much more physical and they stuffed the running game as well as covered in the secondary much better than they have in quite some time. The offense seemed to get untracked with the running game pounding the Dolphins for 175 yards while the passing game seemed to finally get untracked.

The Colts enter the game 1-3 but could easily be 3-1. They lost an overtime game last week against division rival Houston when head coach Frank Reich went for a 4th and 6 at midfield with time running out in the OT session and they were stopped.

Indy is really banged up right now with several players out for tonight’s game including leading receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Jack Doyle and starting corner Kenny Moore. The team played over 80 snaps on each side of the ball on Sunday and with the travel factored in, fatigue may become a factor in the second half.

The Patriots have a chance to put two wins together and move over the .500 mark and start building some momentum. They’d love to get a win and then have 10 days to prepare for the Kansas City Chiefs.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Julian Edelman:

The Patriots got back Edelman from his four-game suspension on Monday and immediately the other players were talking about the energy that he brings to the field, the locker room and how it has a carry-over effect to the other players.

But the reality is, despite Edelman appearing like his normal self all through training camp, he is coming off of ACL surgery where he missed all of the 2017 season. By Edelman’s own admission, he didn’t have his legs under him yet this summer, perhaps this month will have helped him get the rust out and have him ready to go.

It will be interesting to see how the coaches and Brady use him tonight. I’d expect that they will go to him very early to get the jitters over with but limit his snaps a bit until he gets some game action under his belt.

But with having him back and the addition of Josh Gordon last week, it has a snowball effect on the other Patriots receivers. Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett are more complementary WRs than a 1-2 combination, so now with Edelman and Gordon, drawing the top corners of the opposition, they’ll draw lesser competition and their production should increase.

Pat Chung:

The Patriots very versatile and very important cog in the defense will be looked to a great deal tonight. Chung is so versatile and can do so many things, he often is overlooked at how valuable his presence is. He can play in the box in run support and is a very sure tackler. He can cover tight ends and is usually very solid in doing so. And at times he can even cover in the slot.

Tonight with Andrew Luck missing a couple of his key weapons, look for him to try to get Eric Ebron heavily involved in the offense. Chung will no doubt see a lot of action against Ebron and it should be an intriguing matchup to watch.

It was no coincidence that the turnaround for the defense had something to do with the return of Chung and Trey Flowers last week after they missed the Detroit game. The fact that he’s a captain this year speaks volumes of how not only the coaches but his teammates view him. He’s always a big part of the defensive game plan but should be an even bigger piece this week.

James White:

The Patriots pass-catching running back had a big game on Sunday against the Dolphins. This was probably not a coincidence after Tom Brady had said the week before that they needed to get him more involved in the offense. White had a 22-yard touchdown and a highlight reel touchdown catch in the back of the end zone.

White is so versatile in the Patriots offense, he can run, pass block and is a terrific receiver out of the backfield. Brady will often put him in motion to get pre-snap reads of the defense and then try to create a mismatch with a linebacker.

With a Colts pass rush that is getting a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, White may be an answer for some of that tonight. One way of keeping defenses from constantly pinning their ears back is to use the screen game and White is outstanding in that aspect. He should see a lot of touches in the game tonight.

Tom Brady:

Last week, it seemed like the Patriots passing game was finally starting to click. Despite that, QB Tom Brady made some uncharacteristic mistakes and threw a couple of interceptions.  Brady holds himself to a ridiculously high standard and will be looking to cut down on those this week against the Colts.

Indianapolis has been outstanding at rushing the passer this season and has 17 sacks in just four games this season. So Brady will have to be spot on and be ready to get the ball out quickly this week.

After struggling badly thru the first three games of the season in the air, the addition of Josh Gordon seemed to help loosen up the coverage for the other WRs. Now Brady gets back not only his most productive receiver but his slot guy, an area that they’ve really struggled with in his absence. And also the player that Brady is closest to on the team. Edelman’s return should do wonders for Brady’s confidence.

Kyle Van Noy:

The Patriots linebacker had a very solid game on Sunday playing a part in keeping the dangerous Kenyan Drake from becoming a key part of the opposing offense. Van Noy is another one of the more unsung Patriots defensive members and he’s versatile and can do a lot in stopping the run, rushing the passer and covering backs out of the backfield.

The Patriots lost Ja’Whaun Bentley in Detroit and their depth took another hit when Elandon Roberts was banged up late in the game on Sunday. Which means that more will be expected of Van Noy and Hightower. The Colts are also missing some key members of their offense this week, so they may lean heavily on running back Nyheim Hines.

Hines leads all Indy receivers with 22 catches and is tied for second on the team with two TD receptions. He will be a key player to watch on the Indy side, therefore, stopping him and Ebron become very important. The Colts are converting third downs this season at a ridiculous 51.6 percent thru the quarter mark of the season. Part of the reason is the play of Hines, Van Noy may see a lot of action covering him tonight.

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.

Players To Watch Patriots-Dolphins Week 4

Steve Balestrieri
September 28, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

Big AFC East Matchup

The New England Patriots limp home after a 0-2 and uncharacteristically poor start on the road for 2018. The team is just 1-2, and although we’re used to seeing slow starts from the Pats in September, this week’s game, because of that slow start takes on very high significance.

Miami enters the game on a roll at 3-0 and is two games up on New England in the division. A win in Foxboro, where Miami rarely wins will put the Dolphins up three games plus the tiebreaker which puts the Pats far in the rearview mirror. No one picked Miami to make much noise this season, Adam Gase has his team believing and this is a big benchmark game for them.

The Patriots are searching for answers both offensively and defensively. Injuries are have already ravaged the team after just three weeks, with nearly their entire draft class of 2018 on IR. This is an even bigger game from New England’s point of view. They can ill-afford to drop a home game against a divisional opponent, and one that is already two games up on them in the division.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots traded for Gordon less than two weeks ago and his every move has been scrutinized despite being slowed by a hamstring problem that has left him limited in practice. And with that issue, along with him trying to learn the offense, would lend itself to lowered expectations, at least initially.

But the opposite is actually in effect here. Many people believe that Gordon is going to light it up immediately in Foxboro as soon as he hits the field, even if they have just a small package of plays for him to start.

Truthfully, whether you loved the trade or hated it bringing Gordon to New England, putting so much on this player’s plate after having barely played in the NFL for the past five years is a tad of a reach. But at this point, after such a buildup, we just want to see him on the field now.

John Simon:

The Patriots picked up the former Colts DE/LB this week and although he will only get a few days of practice, we do expect to see him on the field. Simon has had production in the NFL and was let go because the Colts were changing their system and his talents didn’t fit the direction they were going.

Which leads us to the intriguing question, how do the coaches visualize using Simon?  He’s at his best as a 3-4 outside linebacker and wasn’t greatly suited to be a 4-3 defensive end, hence his release from Indy. The Patriots have been primarily a 4-3 team, although Bill Belichick hates being pigeonholed. So, does this mean we’ll see some 3-4 looks or even some of those five-man fronts we’ve seen in the past?  Possibly, and with the issues they’ve had stopping the run, something had to be done.

Simon does have some talent at rushing the QB and setting the edge in the running game which is very important moving forward. It will be intriguing to see how Belichick and Brian Flores decide how to use Simon here.

James White:

The Patriots Swiss Army Knife of the offense had his looks and snaps curtailed a bit as the team was pushing Sony Michel, trying to shake the rust off of him after the rookie running back missed nearly a month of training camp, all of the preseason and the first game of the year. Now, they need the veteran to step up his game.

White’s versatility in the passing game will be put to the test this week. With the Patriots wide receivers struggling to win 1-on-1 matchups, the running backs will be looked to even more to take up the slack. Rex Burkhead was a favorite receiver of Tom Brady’s but he’s injured again and on IR. Michel is just finding his feet in the NFL so White will have to step up his game again.

Look for White to get a lot of looks against the Miami secondary this week. Brady will try to isolate him on a linebacker and create favorable matchups to keep the chains moving. White can also chip in with the running game but this week, they need him to get 7-10 catches out of the backfield.

Trey Flowers/Pat Chung:

Last week, the Patriots really missed these two starters against the Lions. Flowers is their best defensive lineman and arguably their best defensive player period. He’s excellent in run support and is a good pass rusher off the edge. Chung is outstanding in run support down in the box and has always given good coverage against opposing tight ends. With the defense reeling, they need both back this week.

They both were in concussion protocol last week and missed the game in Detroit, and both have still been limited in practice this week.  Having the two of them back for this game will be a big boost for a defense that is in search of a spark.

We’re looking for them to bounce back this week and play solid against a talented Dolphins offense. We’re watching the Flowers matchup against Miami RT Ju’Wuan James this week. If the Patriots are going to be successful, they’ll need Flowers to get the better of that one on Sunday afternoon.

Rob Gronkowski:

The Patriots big tight end has been off to a slow start during the past two games and the Patriots offense needs him to get it going. Gronkowski is a force multiplier when he’s on top of his game, it elevates the rest of the offensive players around him.

There are already some rumblings that he can’t run anymore, and that he needs to build up his speed down the field. Comments like that are always good fodder to get the competitive juices flowing even more.

Perhaps the addition of Gordon, if even for a few plays this week, will open up just enough space for Gronkowski to get his game back on track. There is nothing like a little home cooking with the crowd at Gillette to ignite the big man and awake this slumbering offense. Brady will be looking to get him involved early and often in this one.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at st[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.

Players To Watch Patriots – Jaguars Week 2

Steve Balestrieri
September 14, 2018 at 7:15 am ET

 

The rematch of the AFCCG  A Big Early Test

The New England Patriots hit the road to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in a big Week 2 matchup. After the two teams met in the conference championship in January, and Tom Brady led the Patriots to a big 4th quarter comeback win, many people believe that Jacksonville is ready to take the next step and challenge the Patriots for supremacy in the AFC.

Sunday’s game, in that respect, will be more important to Jacksonville than to New England, who under Bill Belichick, tend the treat the first quarter of the season as an extended preseason. But the hype is there for both teams and we would expect to see both teams approach this as a big, albeit early season game.

There has quite a bit of chirping from the talented but brash Jalen Ramsey about several members of the Patriots, including Rob Gronkowski. Ramsey doubled down on his comments this week, basically calling him out.

“I might be crazy, I don’t care,” Ramsey said. “He’s good, don’t get it twisted, he’s good. You saying this to me is supposed to bring fear to me or something? I don’t fear no man, period. So he’s going to have to come out there and line up on me.”

Actually, he backtracked a bit on what he said last month when he said Gronkowski is overrated so no, no one is getting it twisted.

“I don’t think Gronk’s good,” Ramsey said in an interview with ESPN Magazine. “Let me say, I don’t think Gronk is as great as people think he is. . . . Any time Gronk has been matched up with a corner, he’s had a very bad game, and that corner has had a very good game.”

So Ramsey will get what he wants, playing for a small market team, he’ll now be the focus on Sunday’s broadcast regardless of who lines across from him in a Patriots uniform. It won’t be the Jaguars defense but Ramsey that will be the subject of much of the talk this week. It has already begun.

However, the game will feature a number of key matchups that will determine the ultimate winner on Sunday around 8:00 p.m. and bragging rights, for a few weeks anyway. The Jaguars defense plays a very Seahawks-esque Cover 3 and they have tremendous speed all over the field. But they also have the capability to mix in man coverage as well when they want. The front is very hard to run against, they consistently get penetration across the board which interrupts the flow of the offense.

What seems to work against the run defense is some zone runs, misdirection, players in motion. The backs will have to have the vision to see some cutback lanes when they avail themselves.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Tom Brady:

The Patriots QB is coming off a very solid game where he threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns but he knows that the Jaguars secondary is much better than Houston’s, something he witnessed firsthand in the conference championship.

The pass rush is very good and they get excellent pressure from the inside, which takes away from Brady’s ability to step up and slide from the outside edge pressure. Brady can counter that with getting the ball out quickly something he’s done for virtually his entire career.

He’ll look to spread the ball around and get everyone involved in the passing game. James Develin caught four passes last week after catching six all of last season. Brady will use his backs, James White and Rex Burkhead, (if he’s available) much like slot receivers and try to get them in motion.

Rob Gronkowski:

Gronkowski had a huge game last week and with the thin depth at Wide Receiver, his role becomes even more important to the offense. He’s Brady’s most trusted go-to guy on the roster and Jacksonville will try to take him away and force Brady to go elsewhere to beat them.

Last year, the Jaguars did a good job on Gronkowski with safety Barry Church in the first half of the conference championship. It was Church’s borderline head shot that knocked him out of the game with a concussion.

Look for Brady and Josh McDaniels to move Gronkowski around the formation trying to free him up as much as possible, especially right off the line. But McDaniels will also use Gronkowski as he did last week, to open up more field for the other wide receivers.

Chris Hogan/Cordarrelle Patterson

Phillip Dorsett seemed to make great strides last week in his development with the Patriots offense, making seven catches on the day. This week, the team may need similar efforts from Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson.

The team got Patterson involved early and he had four touches in the first half, but none in the second half. Hogan had a very disappointing game and had just one catch for 11 yards. That won’t be enough this week.

Both will have to step up their games to give Brady other options to work with. Patterson will likely see single coverage outside and other than his usual gadget type package that the team worked on with him this summer, he could be used to stretch the field along the boundaries.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best defensive lineman made his first appearance on the field last week and had a very impressive game. He’ll be looking to keep his production up this week as the Jaguars present a more difficult opponent for the Patriots, especially on the road in what promises to be a loud and raucous stadium.

I actually look for Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense to be more aggressive in the early going and throw early and then use their punishing ground game to wear down the Patriots defense in what promises to be 93-degree heat and keep the offense on the sideline.

Bortles can move and scramble with the ball, Flowers and the other edge players must push the pocket without losing containment and bring pressure on Bortles and try to disrupt their passing game. He’s the guy that sets the tone for the other Patriots edge players and he’s in the spotlight this week.  

Ja’Whaun Bentley:

The Patriots rookie linebacker had a very solid summer followed by an impressive rookie debut against the Texans last week. With the power running game of Jacksonville with Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon, the Patriots run defense must be much better than it was last week.

The Texans ran to the left and I expect that the Jaguars will as well. The inside running game will be a key area to watch and the big (6’2, 255) rookie from Purdue will have another big test this week. He played more snaps at linebacker than anyone last week and I would expect him to have a heavy workload again.

With the heat to play a factor late in the game, I’d look for the Patriots to rotate players in and out as often as possible. So Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and to a lesser extent Elandon Roberts should all see a significant amount of snaps. Third downs will be even more key this week with the heat factor. The team that wins third downs will wear down the other in the fourth quarter.  

James White:

The Patriots running back core was supposed to be one of the deepest areas of the team. But Sony Michel had his knee drained of fluid and has yet to see the field this season either in preseason or the regular season. Jeremy Hill was placed on IR  with an ACL tear and Rex Burkhead is limited in practice with a concussion. That leaves James White and the just signed Kenjon Barner as the only healthy backs on the roster.

Michel and Burkhead’s status this week is pretty murky so the team will lean heavily on the experience of James White. His plate is going to be full this week by default and add in facing a defense with the capability of the Jaguars and his workload will be extra heavy as the offense looks to find some room to maneuver.

While White is usually the Patriots go-to back in the passing game, this week, he may be forced to take on a larger role in the running game as well.

Pat Chung:

The Patriots veteran safety has had an increased role in his second stint with the team and has earned the trust of his fellow players and the coaches as well. With the changes the Jaguars had in their own wide receivers this year, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson left via free agency, Marquis Lee on IR, they’ll lean more on their tight ends.

Which means Chung will draw more of Austin Seferian-Jenkins this week. Jenkins played well against the Patriots a year ago with the Jets and this will be a key matchup to watch. Chung is always good in run support and he’ll be expected to help there as well.

But against the Jaguars this week, we’ll probably see more of the “Big Nickel” with more three-safety looks with Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon to lend more support for the run defense. Chung should factor prominently this week in the Patriots game plan.

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