Tag Archives: Patriots 2018 season

New England Patriots News, 2-3, “The Patriot Way” or Belichick’s?

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

Good morning, it is Super Bowl Sunday once again here in New England and here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-03.

Some Quick Hitters this morning: *No AFC East notes this week* They’ll be back next week after the Super Bowl when we begin looking at the NFL Combine and Draft. But first some kudos this week.

Congratulations to Ty Law for being enshrined in the Hall of Fame, very deserved to be sure. He was an integral part of those first Patriots championships, especially his pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVI. Hopefully, the voters will get it right with Richard Seymour next season.

Kudos to Patriots fans: Sunday, over 35,000 fans showed up for the Patriots send-off rally at Gillette Stadium. It was the biggest one yet of any of the Super Bowl teams with Brady and Belichick. This flies in the face of the hit piece in the Boston Globe that tried to claim that Patriots fans are growing bored with the team’s success.

The turnout on Sunday, television ratings all season long and merchandise sales all point in the absolute other direction. However, it should be noted that the flimsy “evidence” by the writer is coming from the same guy who said that Brady having a MAGA hat in his locker was hurting the team’s standing with the fan base two years ago.

Way to go Pats fans, that was an incredible send off rally. For the first time, could the Patriots fans outnumber the haters at a Super Bowl? …What a concept.

Kudos to WEEI: On Friday after with the buildup to the big game in full swing, ‘EEI swung … low and missed. How? By putting that noted hot-take artist Rob Parker on the air on Radio Row. Actually, calling Parker that is an insult to hot take artists, he hasn’t had an actual new thing or a hot take to say in years. WEEI decided to go for the lowest common denominator in their coverage. Don’t we have enough of that already on the air?  What’s next? Is Baghdad Bob going to be guesting on the air, to talk about the political climate of the Super Bowl?

Did you Know? With a win today, the Patriots will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins (6) in league history. They are currently tied with San Francisco and Dallas with 5 wins.

Did you Know Pt. 2: With a win today, the Patriots will move past the Steelers in all-time playoff victories with 37, the two teams are currently tied with 36. The Patriots already own the best postseason winning percentage with teams with a minimum of 15 playoff appearances.  
Team              Wins Losses Win Pct.
New England  36 20    .643
Baltimore        15 9 .625
Green Bay       34 22  .607
San Francisco 30     20 .600
Pittsburgh       36 25 .590

Did you Know Pt. 3: The Running game is a big part of the matchups this week. Since Bill Belichick took over the team in 2000, the Patriots are 51-1 when a running back cracks 100 yards rushing in a game. In 2018, Sony Michel had four 100-yard games and the Patriots were 4-0 in those contests.

“The Patriot Way” Is All About the Team and Belichick:

With the kickoff this evening, the Patriots will appear in their 11th Super Bowl and the ninth in the Belichick-Brady era and this dynasty is truly something to behold. The Patriots under Belichick have remained steadfast in his philosophy about building a team, which has been dubbed “the Patriot Way” and even today, two decades later, there are still misconceptions about that.

In the Patriot way, which should really be called, “the Belichick Way”, there is a right way and a wrong way about building a football team that is constructed for the long run. And since 2001, the Patriots have far and away blown away the rest of the league in terms of staying competitive for a Super Bowl. A down year for the Patriots has been 10 wins or in the case of 2018, 11 wins. And yes, this was written up all fall as a down year, despite the fact that they’re one win away from their 6th Super Bowl title in 18 years.

In watching some of the endless programs leading up to the big game, I’ve seen the same thing, much like we’ve seen every Sunday for the past 18 years. The analysts will point to the rosters and say “Team A has better personnel up and down the roster” and at that point, you just have to shrug and turn the channel. They don’t get it, have never gotten it and most unfortunately never will get it.

To quote Belichick, “It’s not about collecting talent, it’s about building a football team.”

And this one from Belichick is perhaps the most frequently overlooked but arguably most important.  “On a team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.”

Many teams, including this season’s Rams team, were the latest of the “dream teams” where they made a concerted effort to push all of their chips into the middle of the table and go all in for a title. They collected talent at every turn and didn’t see a free agent or trade scenario that they didn’t like. The fact that this team is unsustainable as it is currently constructed once they have to pay their QB who is still on a rookie deal is overlooked right now, but that day is coming.

Belichick has always kept an eye on the long-term goal of not just building a winner but maintaining it for the long haul. Which is why they A. never overpay for veteran players who are looking for the huge payday and B. done their shopping with many players who aren’t considered top players but will fit a role in the Patriots (read Belichick) system.

Look at this year’s Patriots defense, Kyle Van Noy and undrafted rookie free agent J.C. Jackson have become two of the most valuable players and some of their biggest performers down the stretch. Van Noy was considered a bust and the team got him for a song (6th round pick). Jackson went undrafted and has now worked himself into the starting rotation at cornerback.

On the subject of Van Noy, Belichick, rather than focusing on what he can’t do or trying to force him to do what the team wants, he’s learned what he does do well and puts him in a position to succeed. And he’s had a career resurgence with the Patriots. Belichick once spoke about the mistakes some coaches do with trying to squeeze a player into a system where the fit may not be the exact right fit.

“You definitely go through a stage, most coaches do, where you see a good player and you get enamored, you really like what the player does, but then when you put him into your system, it’s not quite the same player that he was in another system. He has some strengths, but you cant utilize all those strengths. If you try to utilize all his strengths, you end up weakening a lot of other players who are already in your system.”

That’s why the subject of “dream teams” is always interesting. Collecting all the talent doesn’t necessarily mean that those pieces will gel together. The Eagles a few years ago tried to buy a Super Bowl and then fell flat in the regular season. Not only do they have to fit what you’re doing but they also have to fit within the confines of the locker room.

Back to the Rams, watching television this week, I saw more than one analyst say, as we mentioned above, that the Rams defense is “more talented” at nearly every position than the Patriots. Is it true? Maybe so. But as a unit? Hmm, the numbers don’t attest to that. Looking at yardage, which everyone always has a fit over here in New England, the Rams allowed a half-yard less (yes 0.5 yards) per game than the Patriots. In points allowed (which Belichick preaches) the Rams were 19th, the Patriots 7th.  Hmm.

“A sense of humor is a huge thing with us. You’ve got to be able to laugh. You’ve got to be able to take a dig, give a dig — that sort of thing. And [you have to] feel comfortable in your own skin that you don’t have all the answers.”

Part of this philosophy is by design, Belichick knows how to build a football team and knows what will or won’t work. And part of it is by necessity. Because of their success, the Patriots are always picking in the #30-32 range in the NFL draft. You’re not going to find too many Khalil Macks or the next Randy Moss in that range very often, if at all. And the draft, as Belichick knows, beyond the first half of the first round is often times a crap shoot. Some players take longer to develop at the pro level and some peak in college and never work out. Which is why the Patriots would rather package picks and move down further to amass more selections which gives them a better chance at hitting on one of their prospects.

Belichick has a penchant for finding veteran players that fill a complementary role rather than being superstars and fit the team-first mentality. Which is why players like Van Noy and others that they’ve added in the years before have nearly always filled valuable roles for the team in their continued success.

One of the more prevalent myths that surround Belichick, and one we hear often is “GM Bill is hurting Coach Bill,” as if this is a no-brainer. And it is as wrong as rain on a wedding day. It isn’t “luck” as some talking heads would have you believe that the Patriots have been in 50 percent of the Super Bowls since 2001.

No doubt it has been fantastic coaching but it has also been having an outstanding eye for talent. Talent to fit your team, your system and your locker room. Have they hit on everyone? Of course, not. They’ve had plenty of swings and misses. However, Belichick and Nick Caserio have done a fantastic job of assembling a scouting staff that has been able to identify talent that is out there that nobody else has seen and identifying the players that want to win championships. And that is the final piece of the puzzle.   

“For a team to accomplish their goal, everybody’s got to give up a little bit of their individuality.”

Lots of teams make the noise and spout the old clichés about “team-first” mentality and such but much of what you hear is just that …noise. Belichick has said this also in the past during the draft process.

“We’re looking for people … [who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly,” Belichick said.

“You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it’s about them, or if they understand that they’re just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that.

Not many players are willing to give up their individuality, their stats, and their quest to get paid the most at their positions to win a championship. That’s another reason the Patriots success has lasted so long. They are like a chameleon, they can change their identity from week-to-week and adjust accordingly to create mismatches against their opponent.

A receiver could have 15 targets one week and be the team’s go-to guy and the next to be relegated to a mere decoy if the coaching staff feels, that they need to go run heavy and throw the ball elsewhere. If a player can’t handle that, he’ll either not sign here or soon find himself being released to take their talents elsewhere.

Brady is the final piece of Belichick’s “Patriot Way”. Having a QB who is the best to ever play his position and do it for so long has made Belichick’s job of sustaining excellence for so long much easier.

Brady was the outlier in the draft process. The guy no one including Belichick had the slightest idea would have ever thought would become the player he has. 198 players were selected before Brady in the 2000 draft, and the Patriots passed on him thru six rounds.

Brady outworked everyone and continues to inside the Patriots clubhouse. He’s totally bought into what Belichick preaches. And when the greatest QB to ever play the game buys in, if you’re a veteran and a role player, you think you’re going to buck the system?

And Brady has become the perfect foil for Belichick. We’ve all heard about the Monday film sessions where Belichick, as Tedy Bruschi as said, would “MF everyone”, even in big victories, pointing out mistakes in the endless quest for perfection. He frequently picks on plays made by Brady. The point being, if Brady’s going to get roasted, then you had better “Do Your Job” better than anyone else.

Brady has also totally bought into the team-first mentality by frequently taking team-friendly deals where he’s taking far below market value to allow the team to spend more on supporting cast members of the team. He’s not even in the Top 15 list of highest paid QBs in the league in 2018.  

How will all of this play out later this evening? Nobody knows, it is after all one game where anything can and will happen. But I wouldn’t bet against the Patriots, who are battle tested and playing their best football at exactly the right time. That just isn’t the Patriot Way, that’s the Belichick Way.

Defending the Rams Receivers All About the Matchups:

The Rams have a pair of dangerous 1000-yard receivers in Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks. How the Patriots choose to match up with the Rams tonight will be fascinating to watch.

Stephon Gilmore practiced against Brandin Cooks all of last season, so he knows him well. But I believe (we wrote about this earlier last week) that Gilmore will cover Woods, who isn’t quite as fast as Cooks but is bigger. I think Jonathan Jones will cover Cooks with safety help over the top. Jones is speedier but… the Rams often put Woods in the slot, so that may fall to J.C. Jackson. So who will draw Josh Reynolds? Reynolds at 6’3 is too big and would present a mismatch against Jones. It is a interesting scenario.

Our feeling here is Gilmore – Woods, Jones – Cooks, and Jackson – Reynolds. But anything can happen and the defense may end up switching things up. Jason McCourty is also in the mix and he could replace Jones in the matchups.  

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

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 14, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

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

The Patriots go back on the road for their final regular season road game of 2018 with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. This is, in essence, a playoff game for both teams. Each needs to win to try to lock down the #2 seed.

For Pittsburgh, it is even more important as they’ve dropped three in a row and their lead in the division has dwindled to just a half-game over the suddenly surging Ravens. By the time that the game starts, they should know the results of the Ravens-Bucs game. However, Baltimore ends the season with games at the Chargers and home against the Browns who are playing much better. Pittsburgh has New England this week, New Orleans next week and then the Bengals.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (9-4) are coming off an awful loss in Miami, just like a year ago on the last play of the game.  The run defense was terrible as was the run blocking for the offense. But Tom Brady had a big day throwing the ball, tossing for 358 yards and three TDs.

The Steelers (7-5-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 32nd time and the Patriots with a slight 16-15 edge. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-3 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings including last years meeting in Pittsburgh.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Slightly to New England

The Patriots running game has been very good this season until they hit a snag against one of the worst run defenses in the league in Miami last week. Sony Michel has been the workhorse for the Patriots in the running game with James White and Rex Burkhead in support roles.

The Steelers have the #6 run defense (96.9 yards a game) in the league and still use the same 3-4 defense that they’ve been running seemingly forever. It starts up front with the big men, Jason Hargrave at the nose tackle and Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward at the ends. The linebackers are quick and aggressive and will shoot the gaps.

Look for Josh McDaniels to throw in order to run this week. Look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of the Steelers aggressiveness at getting after the passer and try to get Michel going in that way. Some quick hitters with White and Burkhead could be on the agenda this week. The same with some Jet sweeps with Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson.

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

The Patriots passing game is ranked 15th in the league but much of that has to do with the slow start that they got off to in the first month of the season. Since Josh Gordon has arrived, Brady’s numbers are about the same as they were in 2017 when he was the league’s MVP. The good news is they are getting healthy, Rob Gronkowski had his best game of the season last week. Gordon is heating up and has traditionally played well against Pittsburgh. Rob Gronkowski and Brady have always played well against the Steelers. Brady also Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Patterson and White and Burkhead out of the backfield.

Pittsburgh is ranked 12th in pass defense allowing just 233.9 yards per game. They get after the QB very well with T.J. Watt leading the way with 10 sacks, Jason Hargrave has 6.5 from the nose which will be very telling in this game. The key to stopping Brady is pressure up the middle, if he can step up in the pocket, he will be very successful. Heyward has 6 sacks and Bud Dupree has 5.5.

It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh decides to defend Gronkowski. Last year they played him almost exclusively with Sean Davis and he torched them in the second half. They’ll have to decide on whether to go with Joe Haden on Gordon or Coty Sensabaugh. Edelman will also be a tough matchup for them. In the past, the Steelers have played the same defense they always have against Brady. Will they mix things up this week? Or will they continue to just run their defense and try to out-execute the Patriots? Under Mike Tomlin, that is their M.O. they preach execution but they aren’t a big adjustment defense.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

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

The Steelers running game is mired in 29th place in the NFL averaging just 89 yards per game. They haven’t shown the patience with it, even with James Conner in the lineup to stick with it. With Conner banged up and questionable to play, it will be interesting to watch if they do this week.

The Patriots rush defense is in the middle of the pack 15th in the league. But last week, against another team that struggles to run in Miami they were gashed for 189 yards on 21 carries. The defensive line was pushed around at the point of attack and the linebackers in run support were awful.

The Pittsburgh OL is one of the better lines in the league, and if they stay patient with the running game, even without Connor, they could dictate the pace and keep New England’s offense on the bench. From an NE perspective, the DL and LBs will have to play much better than a week ago.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a dynamic duo in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown on the outside for as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the NFL. Smith-Schuster has 91 catches for 1237 yards and 6 TDs. Brown has 86 for 1063 yards and 12 TDs. Ryan Switzer is the third option outside. Vance McDonald is having a career year with 44 catches at tight end while Jesse James is still out there as well. Jaylen Samuels will be a player to watch this week. We really liked him coming out of the draft this spring and he’s an intriguing player to watch.

The Patriots pass defense has been going thru ebbs and flows. Two weeks ago they had arguably their best game shutting down Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. But last week Kenny Stills gave them fits in Miami. They will no doubt try to roll their double teams from Smith-Schuster to Brown and disguise them. They have been good at getting pressure on opposing QBs but bad at getting home with sacks.

Look for Roethlisberger to work the middle of the field this week with McDonald and James to set up his top 2 WRs. They’ll try to isolate their TEs on the NE LBs which will be a mismatch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Steelers Chris Boswell both had a rough week. But Boswell has been struggling most of the season. The team brought in former kicker Shaun Suisham to work with him. Boswell is just 3-8 from 40-49 yards this year. Despite missing an extra point and a field goal last week, the Patriots have a big edge here in the kicking game with Gostkowski.

Ryan Switzer has done a good job with the return game for the Steelers but with Patterson and Edelman, I’m going to give the edge to the Patriots here as well.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams really need this game, last year at this time it was about the #1 seed, this season it is about #2. The Texans are right on their heels in the conference and the Steelers can’t afford to lose their fourth in a row. Even for a team that never puts coaches on a hot seat, if Tomlin were to lose four in a row after a 7-2-1 start, he will start to feel the heat.

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Put the Ball in Brady’s Hands: He’s had remarkable success against the Steelers thru the years. I know they want to push the running game, but this week, let #12 take the reins and trust in him to get it done.

Target the Big Men: I just have a feeling that the bigger WRs (Gordon and Patterson) are a more difficult matchup for the Steeler secondary this week. This is a situation the Patriots haven’t had much of thru the years. Their WRs tend to be the smaller quicker ones. But both Gordon and Patterson are big and very athletic. Add Gronk to the mix and they’ll be difficult to stop.

Play a Clean Game: The team can’t afford any turnovers this week. The Steelers offense is explosive and can score quickly and they don’t need to be giving them any short fields, especially on the road. No turnovers and win third downs and the red zone.

I think this one will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Brady works his magic in Pittsburgh once again. Patriots 31-27

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.