Tag Archives: Patriots 2015 Opponents

Patriots need to improve third down defense against Broncos

John Morgan
January 24, 2016 at 10:00 am ET

For most of the season the topic of conversation in regards to the New England Patriots has centered on the performance of the offensive line. While that unit has at times deserved scrutiny, the return of Sebastian Vollmer has seemed to have stabilized the group. Overlooked has been what may be the real Achilles heel for this squad as they battle the Denver Broncos on Sunday: the team’s third down defense.


Last week the Chiefs converted on an astounding 12 out of 20 third down attempts. Add in a fourth down conversion, and Kansas City was able to stay on the field 65% of the time on third down against the Pats. To put that in perspective the New York Giants, with an atrocious pass defense that led to the exit of Tom Coughlin, had the NFL’s worst third down defense in 2015 – and opponents converted on only 47% of their third down opportunities. Logan Ryan in particular had a rough day, with opposing players catching eight out of ten passes thrown his way, plus committing a penalty that resulted in a first down and led to a touchdown on the next play.


To be fair we are comparing the small sample size of one game (against a playoff caliber team) versus a defense’s entire season, but every New England fan watching last week’s game had to be very frustrated watching KC convert over and over, after the Patriot defense won first and second down to set up third and long. Considering the opponent, some of that should not have been totally unexpected also. The Patriots’ defensive game plan was to contain Alex Smith and force him to beat the Pats through while limiting his runs. Smith averaged 5.9 yards per carry and quietly rushed for 498 yards and 30 first downs in 2015. Rather than bringing an aggressive pass rush, Matt Patricia’s group focused on gap integrity and setting the edge to contain Smith.


In addition the secondary was in zone coverage more often than usual; that should change Sunday. Peyton Manning simply cannot get the ball downfield with any velocity at this point in his career. Pittsburgh made a critical defense with their game plan last week, positioning their defenders as if Manning could still throw the football like he did five or ten years ago. Although Bill Belichick stated that he would never underestimate Manning, I am sure that he saw the same thing I did. Belichick game plans to take away an opponent’s strength and dares them to beat his team with a weaker asset – in this case, that is Manning having to throw the ball deep or outside the numbers.


The good news for the Patriots is that Denver’s offense struggled mightily against a Steeler defense that is not nearly as proficient as New England’s. The Broncos were a woeful 2-12 on third down last week, and also failed to convert on two fourth downs. Some of that can be attributed to Pittsburgh’s defense being much better against the run (3.8 yards per carry, 6th in 2015; 91 yards per game, 6th) than they are in pass defense (7.5 yards per pass attempt, 18th; 64.3% completion rate, 22nd; 272 yards per game, 30th). Gary Kubiak wanted to run the ball (33 rushing attempts in the game) even if that was playing to Pittsburgh’s strength. The Denver head coach counted on his team’s defense being able to contain Pittsburgh without Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. It was a smart game plan, figuring that the Steelers’ best chance to pull off an upset was if Manning threw a couple of wounded ducks that ended up as pick-sixes. Facing Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman this week, he won’t have that luxury.


In regards to the previous meeting between the Patriots and Broncos this season, I believe the most important factor that many (especially in Denver) are overlooking is that Jamie Collins did not play, and Dont’a Hightower left early with an injury. The game took a huge change when Hightower went out; once that happened the Broncos were suddenly able to run the ball. The absence of Jerod Mayo is relatively minor; he was on the field for just 36.1% of the defense’s snaps, and many of those came when Collins and Hightower missed time earlier this season. As for Denver fans that counter that the Broncos were equally distressed by having to start Brock Osweiler at quarterback, that argument does not hold water. The reality is that based on how he was performing, the removal of Manning was an improvement, not a downgrade.


Kansas City Chiefs Offensive 3rd Downs vs New England Patriots

Drive #1 – with score Patriots 7, Chiefs 0
17 plays, 64 yards in 8:31
3rd and 7 at KC 33 (8:14 – 1st)
Alex Smith pass to short middle to Jeremy Maclin to KC 44 for 11 yards (Logan Ryan)
First Down

3rd and 3 at NE 49 (6:15 – 1st)
Alex Smith pass to short middle to Travis Kelce to NE 44 for 5 yards (Rob Ninkovich)
First Down

3rd and 13 at NE 47 (4:52 – 1st)
Alex Smith scrambles off left tackle to NE 32 for 15 yards (Jabaal Sheard)
First Down

3rd and 4 at NE 26 (3:27 – 1st)
Charcandrick West off left end to NE 20 for 6 yards (Justin Coleman)
First Down

3rd and 6 at NE 16 (2:03 – 1st)
Alex Smith pass incomplete, thrown away from outside the pocket to short left [Jamie Collins]
Stop forces KC to settle for a field goal

Drive #2 – with score Patriots 7, Chiefs 3
7 plays, 25 yards in 3:22
3rd and 2 at NE 48 (13:39 – 2nd)
Charcandrick West up the middle to NE 45 for 3 yards (Alan Branch)
First Down

3rd and 7 at NE 42 (11:40 – 2nd)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short middle to Travis Kelce
Penalty on KC, Illegal Use of Hands; declined
Stop forces KC to punt

Drive #3 – with score Patriots 7, Chiefs 3
3 plays, minus-1 yard, 1:38
3rd and 12 at NE 38 (9:51 – 2nd)
Alex Smith pass to short right to Travis Kelce to NE 37 for 1 yard (Patrick Chung; Dont’a Hightower)
Stop forces KC to punt

Drive #4 – with score Patriots 14, Chiefs 3
11 plays, 52 yards in 3:11
3rd and 7 at NE 46 (2:00 – 2nd)
Alex Smith pass to deep right to Jason Avant to NE 20 for 26 yards (Devin McCourty)
First Down

3rd and Goal at NE 9 (0:21 – 2nd)
Penalty on KC – Alex Smith, Delay of Game, 5 yards, enforced at NE 9
No Play

3rd and Goal at NE 14 (0:21 – 2nd)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short left to Chris Conley
Stop forces KC to settle for field goal

Drive #5 – with score Patriots 14, Chiefs 6
8 plays, 44 yards in 4:29
3rd and 10 at KC 25 (14:13 – 3rd)
Alex Smith pass to short right to Jeremy Maclin, ran out of bounds at KC 37 for 12 yards
First Down
Drive ended when the Patriots recovered a fumble.

Drive #6 – with score Patriots 21, Chiefs 6
12 plays, 80 yards in 6:12
3rd and 7 at KC 23 (7:39 – 3rd)
Alex Smith pass to deep left to Jason Avant to KC 49 for 26 yards (Logan Ryan)
First Down

3rd and 3 at NE 29 (4:51 – 3rd)
Alex Smith scrambles off right end, ran out of bounds at NE 22 for 7 yards
First Down

3rd and 3 at NE 15 (2:50 – 3rd)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short left to Chris Conley (Justin Coleman)

4th and 3 at NE 15 (2:45 – 3rd)
Alex Smith pass short to left to Jason Avant to NE 11 for 4 yards (Logan Ryan)
Penalty on NE (Akiem Hicks), Illegal Use of Hands, 5 yards, enforced at NE 15
First Down
Result of drive: touchdown

Drive #7 – with score Patriots 24, Chiefs 13
3 plays, minus-8 yards in 2:20
3rd and 10 at KC 20 (13:24 – 4th)
Alex Smith sacked at KC 17 for -3 yards (Chandler Jones)
Stop forces KC to punt

Drive #8 – with score Patriots 27, Chiefs 13
8 plays, 29 yards in 2:52
3rd and 1 at KC 29 (9:16 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass to short right to Albert Wilson to KC 37 for 8 yards (Malcolm Butler)
First Down

3rd and 10 at KC 49 (7:45 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to deep left to Chris Conley (Devin McCourty)

4th and 10 at KC 49 (7:28 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass to deep right intended for Albert Wilson: intercepted by Duron Harmon at NE 23.
The Replay Official reviewed the pass completion ruling, and the play was reversed.
Alex Smith pass incomplete to deep right to Albert Wilson (Duron Harmon)
Stop forces ball to be turned over on downs.

Drive #9 – with score Patriots 27, Chiefs 13
16 plays, 80 yards in 5:16
3rd and 8 at KC 22 (5:52 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass to short left to Chris Conley to KC 38 for 16 yards (Justin Coleman)
First Down

3rd and 8 at KC 40 (4:51 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short left to Knile Davis

4th and 8 at KC 40 (4:42 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass to short middle to Jason Avant to NE 47 for 13 yards (Logan Ryan)
First Down

3rd and Goal at NE 3 (1:22 – 4th)
Alex Smith pass incomplete to short right to Jason Avant.
Penalty on NE (Logan Ryan), Defensive Pass Interference, 2 yards, enforced at NE 3
First Down
Drive results in a touchdown.


NFL Week 16 Early Advanced Lines: Patriots open as 3-point favorites at Jets

John Morgan
December 21, 2015 at 11:48 am ET

On Thursday, prior to the start of any Week 15 games, the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published early ‘look ahead’ odds for the following week’s NFL action. The line originator installed the New England Patriots as three-point road favorites over the New York Jets in what will be  the 114th meeting of these two bitter rivals from the AFL. Since the finish of Sunday’s NFL games 14 other venues have followed suit and list the Pats as three-point favorites, while four are placing New England at minus 3½ points.

The Patriots lead the all-time series 59-53-1 and have won eight of the last nine contests, including a tough 30-23 Week 7 victory. The game kicks off at 1:00 pm eastern time and will be televised on CBS. The Patriots clinched a much needed first round bye Sunday, and can wrap up the number one seed and home field throughout the playoffs with either a victory over the Jets or a Bengals loss to Denver next week. The Jets saw their playoff chances dim when Pittsburgh rallied to beat Denver; if Gang Green loses and the Chiefs, Steelers and Broncos all win then the Jets will be eliminated from the post-season.

Elsewhere, if there was any doubt that the NFC East is a dumpster fire burning out of control, consider this. Last week all four NFCE teams were underdogs – at home! This week the woeful division does have one team listed as a favorite – but that’s only because Washington is playing at Philadelphia.

NFL Week 16 Odds

4-10 San Diego Chargers at 6-8 Oakland Raiders
Thursday Dec 24 at 8:25 pm ET on NFLN
Raiders opened as 6½ point favorites on 12/17
On Sunday Oakland was favored by 6; as of Monday down to 5½
Point total has increased from 45 to 47

7-7 Washington Redskins at 6-8 Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday Dec 26 at 8:25 pm ET on NFLN
Eagles opened as a 4-point favorite on 12/17
On Monday the line dropped to Eagles -3½
Over/under has dropped from 47½ to 47

5-9 Chicago Bears at 6-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX
Bucs opened as 3-point favorites on 12/17
On Sunday it was down to 2½, but back up to 3 on Monday
Over/under has moved up from 44½ to 46

14-0 Carolina Panthers at 7-7 Atlanta Falcons
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX
Panthers listed as 6½-point favorites on 12/17
Still at 6½ on Sunday, but up to 7-points on Monday
Point total has shifted from 46 to 47½

4-10 Dallas Cowboys at 6-8 Buffalo Bills
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX
Bills opened as 5½-point favorites on 12/17
Still at 5½ on Sunday; inched up to 6-points on Monday
Over/under was 43 and now at 43½

4-10 San Francisco 49ers at 4-9 Detroit Lions
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET on FOX
Lions opened as 7-point favorites on 12/17
Odds increased to 8½-point Sunday, where it still remains
Over/under steady at 40½

3-11 Cleveland Browns at 9-5 Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS
On 12/17 KC opened with the second largest spread of the week, 11½ points
Line moved up another point to 12½ on Sunday, where it still stands

6-8 Indianapolis Colts at 5-9 Miami Dolphins
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET
Game cross-flexed from CBS to FOX
Still no betting line due to uncertainty of Andrew Luck possibly playing

12-2 New England Patriots at 9-5 New York Jets
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS
Patriots opened as 3-point favorites on 12/17
15 out of 19 venues surveyed still list the Pats as 3-point favorites
Four sites have the Jets as 3½-point home dogs
Over/under has inched up from 45½ to 46

7-7 Houston Texans at 3-11 Tennessee Titans
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS
Still no line based on uncertainty of both team’s starting quarterbacks

9-5 Pittsburgh Steelers at 4-10 Baltimore Ravens
Game booted out from prime time to early kickoff due to the hot mess that
John Harbaugh has with his team in Baltimore
Sunday Dec 27 at 1:00 pm ET on CBS
No look-ahead line published on 12/17
Opened on Sunday with Steelers favored by 9½-points
As of Monday most venues were at Pittsburgh minus-10, with some as high as 11 points
Over/under has dropped from 48½ to 47½

5-9 Jacksonville Jaguars at 5-8 New Orleans Saints
Game time moved back from early kickoff to late start
Sunday Dec 27 at 4:05 pm ET on CBS
Saints opened as 3½-point favorites 12/17
Line has remained steady since then
Point total has also been constant at 51½

10-4 Green Bay Packers at 12-2 Arizona Cardinals
Sunday Dec 27 at 4:25 pm ET on FOX
Cardinals opened as 4½-point favorites on 12/17
On Sunday the Pack was listed as 4-point favorites, where most places still have them
Most have the over/under at 49, with some as high as 50

6-8 St. Louis Rams at 9-5 Seattle Seahawks
Sunday Dec 27 at 4:25 pm ET on FOX
On 12/17 the Seahawks opened with largest spread of the week, at 14 points
Line was still 14 on Sunday but has dipped to 13½ as of Monday
Over/under has inched up from 40½ to 41, with some venues as high as 41½

6-8 New York Giants at 9-5 Minnesota Vikings
Game flexed from 1:00 kickoff to Sunday Night Football
Sunday Dec 27 at 8:30 pm ET on NBC
Vikings opened as 3-point favorites on 12/17
On Sunday the line moved up to 4, where it remains as of Monday
Over/under has dropped from 45 to 44½

11-3 Cincinnati Bengals at 10-4 Denver Broncos
Monday Dec 28 at 8:30 pm ET on ESPN
Broncos opened as 4-point favorites on 12/17
Line dropped to 3½ on Sunday, where it still remains


Patriots 2015 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Titans

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2015 at 6:36 am ET

The Patriots return to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro for their final home game of the season to face the Tennessee Titans. The Patriots will finish the last two regular season games on the road as the stadium prepares for the construction of the ice rink for the NHL’s Winter Classic to be played at Gillette on New Year’s Day.

The Titans (3-10) were blasted by the New York Jets 30-8 on Sunday. The Titans lost the chance for consecutive wins for the first time since 2013. Their only score was on a pass from RB Antonio Andrews to QB Marcus Mariota.

The Patriots (11-2), beat the Houston Texans 27-6 to clinch a playoff berth and with the Giants win over Miami on Monday night, the Patriots won the AFC East Division crown for the seventh year in a row and their 13th in the past fifteen years. They now have a chance to clinch a bye on Sunday against the Titans.

The game will be televised by CBS with the announcing crew of Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts.  The game will also be carried by the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 FM the SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

The history between the Patriots and Titans stretches all the way back to the early days of the AFL when they were known as the Houston Oilers. The teams have met 40 times with the Patriots holding an all-time 23-16-1 edge overall against the Titans.

The Patriots also hold a sizable advantage at home with a 16-6-1 mark. The last time the teams met was in September of 2012 and the Patriots beat Tennessee 34-13. In case you missed it, the last time Tennessee played in Foxboro was the snow game back in 2009 where the Patriots rolled 59-0.

Here are our five first impressions of the Titans:

Big Shakeup Coming at the end of the year? Tennessee gave a five-year contract to coach Ken Whisenhunt prior to the 2014 season and he was fired this year after a 1-6 start. Interim head coach Mike Mularkey, who had previous stops at Jacksonville and Buffalo as a head coach started off ok with a 2-3 record. But the loss against the Jets where it seemed the team didn’t show up could be a big blow to his staying on.

General Manager Ruston Webster is likely on very thin ice as well. Although the team drafted QB Marcus Mariota just this season, the Titans were expected to be much better and they just haven’t done that.

The 3-10 record puts them in last place in the AFC South, where the division leader is only 6-7. The fact that as weak as the division is this year and the Titans are a full three games back speaks volumes. There could be major changes coming.

Mariota/Walker Have Tenn. on the right track: Rookie QB Marcus Mariota came in with a lot of hype and he’s off to a very good start. He’s completing 62.4 percent of his passes and has thrown for 2786 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His 91.9 passer rating is really solid especially considering the team’s record, his lack of quality weapons and the fact that he’s a rookie.

Mariota is also very mobile and can move around the pocket as well as pull the ball down and run with it. He’ll be a threat to scramble and move the chains at any time.

Mariota’s favorite target has been TE Delanie Walker; Walker isn’t a traditional type tight end at 6’0, 248 pounds, he’s more of a move-type tight end. He’s played wide receiver while with the 49ers. Walker has 70 receptions on the season, the most of any tight end in the NFL, for 871 yards and four touchdowns.

Walker and Mariota are a dynamic duo and these two will be garnering a lot of attention by the Patriots this weekend. They also should be safe after what promises to be a housecleaning in the offseason.

McCluster/Morgan Lost for the year: The Titans suffered a pair of costly losses adding to an already trying season by losing LB Derrick Morgan and RB Dexter McCluster who were placed on IR.

Morgan was the outside linebacker opposite Brian Orakpo that was supposed to take the pressure off of him and give them a pair of bookend pass rushers. Morgan started well with 4.5 sacks in the first four games, but has been slowed by a bad shoulder that now requires surgery. He’ll be a big loss down the stretch. David Bass played well filling in for spot duty but has struggled thus far as a starter.

McCluster is a scat-back who can do a variety of roles, running the football, catching it out of the backfield as well as returning punts and kickoffs. He had 55 rushes for 247 yards (4.5 ypa) with a touchdown. He also caught 31 passes for 260 yards and a score. McCluster also returned 24 punts for 9.0 average as well as 13 kickoffs with a 21.9 average per return.

In his stead the team will return to Bishop Sankey the top running back picked in last season’s draft. He started off well but has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. He has 41 carries for 166 yards, 4.0 average and 1 touchdown as well having caught eight passes out of the backfield for another score.

Dick LeBeau’s defense was playing well but has struggled lately: The former Steeler defensive coordinator LeBeau is now in his first season in the same position with the Titans.

The Tennessee defense definitely has his stamp on things; they play an aggressive 3-4 scheme with active linebackers that like to come on the blitz.  While they’ll miss Morgan, Orakpo is their most prolific pass rusher with seven sacks followed by DE Jurrell Casey who plays on the same side with six. ILBs Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson are frequent blitzers as well up the middle. The Titans have 35 sacks on the season.

The Titans are middle of the road defending the run which is a huge improvement over 2014 and are 11th overall in yards allowed with 344 yards per game. But their corners can be a liability in coverage, they miss Jason McCourty who is on IR and the middle of the field in the passing game can be an attractive target for opponents. The Titans are allowing a whopping 8.1 yards per pass attempt with opposing QB’s having a passer rating of 102.2 against them.

Limited Weapons have hurt Tennessee’s Offense: The Titans offense struggles with the lack of playmakers for Mariota. They really miss WR Kendall Wright who gives them a second quality target with Delanie Walker. Wright can at least put defensive game planners in the position of having to account for them.

Harry Douglas the former Falcon and Dorial Green-Beckham are the other two wide receivers. Green-Beckham has the ability to go deep but has only caught 24 passes for 415 yards with three touchdowns. Douglas has 26 catches for 298 yards and two scores.

Their lead running back Antonio Andrews has good size at 5’10, 225 pounds but has had only so-so production with 127 carries for 474 yards, good for only a 3.7 yard per attempt average and just three touchdowns. With McCluster on IR, Sankey will have to pick up the slack. But there is no doubt they really need Wright back in the lineup.

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