Tag Archives: Patriots defense

6 Thoughts Following the Patriots Win Over the Steelers

Ian Logue
September 9, 2019 at 10:05 am ET

The Patriots got off to a solid start on Sunday night, making a statement in front of the home crowd after embarrassing the Steelers with a 33-3 win at Gillette Stadium. Here are some thoughts on the victory as New England gets off to a 1-0 start to begin the 2019 season.

1) With or without Antonio Brown, at 42-years old, Tom Brady certainly didn’t show any signs of a drop off to kickoff the season after putting together an impressive outing. Brady threw the football Sunday night about as good as we’ve ever seen him, hitting throws from pretty much every distance on the field, including two long bombs, one of which was an impressive 58-yard strike to Phillip Dorsett that delivered the knockout blow early in the 3rd quarter after it put the Patriots up 27-3. That came just 4-plays after the Steelers, trailing 20-3, fought their way down to New England’s one-yard line, only to settle for a field goal.

It was a nice start for Brady, who finished the night with over 300-yards passing, the 88th time in his career he’s reached that mark. He also completed passes to 7 different receivers. Needless to say, teams around the league should be concerned that New England is about to add Brown to an offense that put up over 30-points on opening night and only appears to be just getting started.

2) Given the amount of talent that Pittsburgh has offensively, you can’t say enough about how well New England’s defense played in this game. They were disruptive all night, getting pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and they also didn’t show any mercy with Pittsburgh’s ground game, holding the Steelers to just 2.5-yards per carry. But one of the most impressive stats of the night was the fact that they held the Steelers to just five carries of over 3-yards.

The tackling was one of the most impressive aspects of the game, with each of New England’s defensive players really doing a terrific job. There really wasn’t a play all night where a Patriots defender didn’t immediately wrap up and they made some big tackles in key moments, stopping the Steelers for either no gain or a loss on 3 plays, including twice on third down.

As good as the offense was, it was good to see such a terrific performance on that side of the football and one they’ll hopefully continue building on in the weeks to come.


Dorsett had a solid night for the Patriots.

3) Phillip Dorsett has been one of the most reliable receivers for Tom Brady in New England’s offense since he joined the team and Sunday night was another reminder of how valuable Dorsett is to this football team.

One of the interesting aspects for Dorsett is the fact that 2018 saw somewhat of a transformation in his targets, with the veteran receiver really improving on the perimeter part of his game. Prior to last season, one of the knocks on Dorsett was the fact he was often targeted by Brady primarily on deep attempts downfield, which didn’t see the two players have quite the success that they probably hoped for very often. However, Dorsett was used in a larger variety of routes last season, which ended up making him a much more dangerous target offensively.

To take it a step further, the precision in which Brady has found him has been pretty impressive. Brady was a perfect 4-of-4 targeting him last night for 95-yards, including two touchdowns. He’s actually got a solid streak with Dorsett which, not counting the postseason, started in last year’s outing against the Colts in Week 5. Brady finished last year’s regular-season 15-of-15 targeting Dorsett and last night’s performance extends their regular-season streak to 19-of-19.

Needless to say, in a stable of receivers that is pretty crowded at this point, Dorsett continues to make himself a valuable asset. Last night was another reminder of how far he’s come and it’s certainly been fun watching him evolve into such a lethal weapon for Brady and the offense.

4) One of the biggest things that stood out last night was the success the Patriots had on early downs, with Brady doing most of his damage on first down. Brady was 16-of-18 (89%) for 180-yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers’ defense on first down alone, which mixed things up and kept Pittsburgh off-balance.

Between the success Brady had, along with the fact they did a good job running the football, it made life difficult for a Steelers team that never really figured it out. It also left them vulnerable because it opened up opportunities for Brady to hit some deep plays, with the quarterback hitting on a combined five plays of 20+ yards on first and second down.

That success was one of the key reasons why they were able to take control of this one early and play the game on their terms as they got up early on Pittsburgh and never looked back.


Jason McCourty rebounded nicely after giving up a big play.

5) For the Patriots, the only real bad play of the night came on a 45-yard strike from Roethlisberger to receiver James Washington to begin the 3rd quarter. Trailing 20-3, the Steelers appeared to be on the verge of getting back into the game after Washington got behind cornerback Jason McCourty and pulled away, putting the Steelers at New England’s 18-yard line.

It was a frustrating play as McCourty wasn’t able to close on Washington and it appeared as though it could have been a costly miscue. Instead, after getting down to the one-yard line, New England’s defense kept the pressure on and forced Pittsburgh to settle for the field goal, ending the potential scoring threat.

Either way, credit McCourty for shaking it off because he came back and made a terrific play on the next snap against Donte Moncrief and it didn’t affect him the rest of the game. The veteran cornerback put it behind him and continued making plays, playing a key role in holding Moncrief to 3 receptions on a team-high 10 targets for Pittsburgh as the Patriots defense continued the relentless stranglehold they had on the Steelers’ offense.

6) There’s no way to finish this out without giving plenty of credit to Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who quietly finished with a terrific performance.

After a shaky preseason, which also included the transition to a new holder in new punter Jake Bailey, Gostkowski looked back to his old self Sunday night. The veteran went out and drilled all four of his field-goal attempts, hitting kicks of 25, 41, 35 and 39-yards respectively, accounting for 12 of the team’s 33-points.

There was never any doubt in any of his attempts, all of which hit right down the middle. It’s a nice start for a player who last season was a perfect 21/21 from 20-39 yards, with just two misses from 40-49 yards during the regular season, while hitting 2/5 from 50+. He also hit 4/5 during the postseason.

It was obvious in the preseason that working out the kinks was a focus and Sunday night was about as perfect as you could have asked for. In a game where their execution was pretty solid all the way around, Gostkowski certainly did his part in New England’s blowout win.

The Patriots will now spend the week getting ready to travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins next Sunday afternoon.

New England Patriots News 8-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 25, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-25 and AFC East notes this week. 

The Patriots have one more game left in the preseason this week against the Giants and then will have the tough task of cutting down the 90 man roster to just 53 and then filling out the remaining ten spots [11 with Jakob Johnson who is an NFL International player if he doesn’t make the 53].

While the starters won’t play much if at all on Thursday for either team, the game will still be compelling because of the roster spots that are still on the line. Several players will be playing for their jobs, some will succeed and carve out a roster spot, others will be unemployed and waiting for the phone to ring.

Check back with us frequently on PatsFans.com as we’ll continue to post daily updates on the latest news and how the roster initially shakes out. 

 Quick Hitters:

Andrew Luck – Announced his retirement yesterday. Luck has been hobbled by injuries for much of his career and it was cut short after just seven seasons. He was once thought to be the “next great one” but it never materialized for him. For a Colts team that had made major strides in building up a legit contender, this is a huge setback. Jacoby Brissette is the man for the time being again in Indy.

Tom Brady – on the learning process with Jakobi Meyers said, “I think for all of us, you play with guys that are maybe new to the offense and so forth. Sometimes they think they’re not part of the route, and then a team plays a certain coverage and they’re part of the route. Early in the season, that’s part of this time of year. We don’t have the full week to prepare. We’re kind of putting things together on the fly.”

And BTW Tom, ditch that hat…not a good look

Bill Belichick [on the play of the defense] –  You know, I thought we played competitively. We still have a lot of things to work on. There’s a lot of things we can improve on, so we’ll just go back to work this week and just keep grinding away. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re making progress.

Devin McCourty – was asked about the changes to the new pass interference rules and if the referees have done a good job of explaining it to the players. He is not a fan. “I’m never a fan of those meetings. I feel like they go however we ask the question, and then once we get in the season you might as well throw that whole meeting away. So Bill always says it the best; week-by-week. We have to go how the game is being called, and we have to adjust to it.”

Jakobi Meyers – wasn’t pleased with the way his early snaps with Brady went, but was happy to be able to persevere. He had this to say about sitting down with Brady. “Tom has played for a long time so when he wants to sit down and talk, you sit down and talk with an open ear. I am just trying to listen to everything he says, soak it up and get better.”

 Jarrett Stidham Is Ahead of His Projections And Learning His Craft:

The NFL Draft isn’t an exact science, we all know that. Some players have superstar potential and never make it. Others, aren’t very highly sought after but thru hard work, belief in themselves, and a burning desire to succeed will rise far above their projected ceiling when the draft rolls around. 

Take Tom Brady, drafted in the 6th round,199th overall in 2000. No one thought he’d amount to much. Now 20 years later, he stands alone at the absolute pinnacle of the sport. Which brings us to this year’s 4th round draft choice Jarrett Stidham, the rookie QB from Auburn. 

Stidham played in an offense at Auburn that really stunted his growth as an NFL QB. He too wasn’t highly thought of and his selection barely registered across NFL circles. He struggled in minicamp and even threw an interception in a walkthru. When training camp started, he frequently held the ball too long and struggled to make a decision. Although he throws a really nice ball, he was struggling with his reads, things that not uncommon with rookie QBs. 

But with each passing day, he was learning …and improving. He’s steadily got better and watching him on Thursday night against the Panthers it didn’t resemble anything close to the kid who struggled so badly on Day 1 of Training Camp. I reached out to Mark Schofield, who is an outstanding analyst, especially when it comes to QBs. He wrote a very nice piece on QB Development for Pro Football Weekly in the annual draft issue. He writes for Inside the Pylon and does a really good podcast on Pats Pulpit. I had spoken to Mark in the spring after the Patriots had drafted Stidham and wanted to get his take on how far he’s progressed. He had several interesting takes on the rookie.

“Progress is probably the best way to phrase this,” Schofield said. “The really interesting thing is the mental development, you saw it against the Lions… I love those ‘no-throw’ moments when the QB doesn’t throw a pass that was expected and then go back and to find out why.”

On this particular play, the Patriots were running a two-receiver set known as “Rope”, where the slot receiver runs a slant and then breaks to the outside. The outside receiver runs a route that is dependent on the coverage but is normally a go route. This play is designed to defeat a Cover 2 which is what the Lions defense was aligned in. “The QB wants to throw that route in the flat,” Schofield said. Stidham held the ball and scrambled for five yards…no big deal right? Wrong, says Schofield. 

“The Lions were running what they call a ‘Cover 5 Cougar’ which is Cover 2 man underneath trap coverage, which is specifically designed to stop this kind of play. The cornerback backpedals for just a moment with the outside vertical route, and if he sees the inside receiver run this route to the flat, he peels off the outside receiver and crashes—or “traps”—the out route. But the corner is still reading the slot receiver. even with his back to him. This tells the quarterback that the CB is bailing, but it is really just a wrinkle looking to bait the quarterback into throwing the flat route, and potentially an interception.”

“Stidham sees the coverage, drops back and begins to throw the ball but recognizes what the Lions are doing. He stops the throw and pulls down the ball and runs. It is a real heads up play for a rookie because it is a coverage that fools even veteran QBs. And when you’re seeing the progress there, going from tossing picks in a walk-thru to recognizing the coverage and reacting like this, it is huge progress.”

“I think he’s made a huge impression on this coaching staff and his progress has been excellent, I’ve been really impressed with him,” Schofield added.

The Auburn offense wasn’t a great fit for a QB with his talents and until he hit the Senior Bowl this spring, he wasn’t considered a coveted prospect. But playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Mobile was an eye-opener. “There were times, that I thought he was the best QB down there…not Daniel Jones or anybody else,” Schofield said. 

Schofield added, “when I got a chance to talk to him, I asked him what his favorite offense was, in the ones he’d run, and he said, ‘Everything this week.’”

He was a really good fit in a pro-style offense, and Schofield said that you could see him moving defenders with his eyes, and going thru reads quickly. “So the fit with him coming to New England was pretty good.”

So, the question now is, do the Patriots believe that Stidham can handle the offense if anything were to happen to Brady and part ways with Hoyer, keeping only two quarterbacks. 

“It is a really tough question because they have so many tough decisions to make at other positions… when you look at some of the players that they have at, say…wide receiver or the defensive line, the coaches could say, we have to make a choice here. But ideally, they’d find a way to keep all three. But the fact that we’re having this conversation tells you how much he’s progressed.”

“This is another example of how the Patriots approach things,” Schofield said. “They don’t concern themselves with what he can’t do, they focus on the things that he does well. They saw the arm talent, his processing speed and they liked the potential in him and he’s in a good position to learn, not just from Tom Brady but from Josh McDaniels as well. It is a great environment to learn.”

While no one is anointing him for Canton just yet or that he’s the heir apparent to Tom Brady, it at least shows the coaching staff, that they may have something in him and he’s going to get more put on his plate as they attempt to further develop him.

We’ll have the entire interview with Mark Schofield available shortly on our YouTube channel.

Patriots Defense Ahead Of Schedule This Year:

The Patriots’ defense went through a ton of changes this spring. They lost the versatile and important Trey Flowers as well as former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But the losses on the coaching staff left the team with literally the cupboard bare. De facto DC and LBs coach Brian Flores went to Miami along with cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, while defensive line coach Brendan Daly bolted for Kansas City. 

Greg Schiano was hired as the new Defensive Coordinator but soon after stepped down. Jerod Mayo was hired the next day as the inside linebackers coach. Bret Bielema, who was already on the staff took over the d-line. DeMarcus Covington took over the outside linebackers coaching position, while Mike Pellegrino is now the cornerbacks’ coach. Steve Belichick remains the safeties coach.

On the field, it seems like this crew has been together for years. And Bill Belichick has assembled a really deep and talented crew from top to bottom with some very experienced players mixed in with 2nd-year players and rookies that are meshing together extremely well. 

The defense last year struggled especially against the run and getting after the QB early in the year. Their slow start wasn’t anything especially new, Belichick likes to add more and more as the season goes on and build on things. By the end of the season, they had things figured out and ended the regular season and went into the playoffs with a much more aggressive, attacking mindset. The results spoke for themselves, as they held the Rams to just three points in the Super Bowl. 

That slow build-up looks to have been accelerated this season. The 2019 Patriots have the potential to be a very special group, perhaps even rivaling the 2004 team. With depth at all three levels, this group is already a confident, versatile bunch and their play on the field bears that out.

While comparing them to the 2004 unit may be a stretch at this early juncture, look at the depth and versatility at the linebacker position. A year ago it was a position of concern, now, they may have to part with some players who could contribute, not just here but with other teams as well. The cornerback group is as deep as I’ve ever remembered and has the ability to mix and match with any opponent matchups.

Last year, the team couldn’t find any takers for joint practices and they entered the regular season not as prepared as the coaching staff would have liked, not surprisingly, the defense wasn’t good as the team limped out to a 1-2 start. 

The back-to-back joint practice sessions with the Lions and Titans have this team in a much better position. But the pieces were already in place this spring. There has been a collective confidence brewing since the first OTAs with the defensive group. Since training camp has started this unit has looked really strong. The Patriots offense really struggled in the first days of training camp which led to the question, “Is it the defense being really good, or just the offense being really bad?” 

The joint practices and the preseason game with the Lions reinforced that it was indeed the defense being “that good”. The Patriots offense looked very good in Detroit while the defense stifled the Lions. During the game, they wracked up nine sacks and held the Lions to just three points. 

At home against the Panthers, they held Carolina’s offense in the first half to just 29 yards, two first downs, and 0-5 on third down. The confidence that the unit is playing with is far ahead of where they normally are at this time of year. But what was more impressive is that they liberally rotated a lot of players with the top unit. Game planning for this unit? A total of 13 players have sacks thru three games.

They even dusted off the old Bears 46 Defense with two LBs on the line of scrimmage on the strong side which resulted in a sack. That will give the Steelers’ coaches something to think about in two weeks. That’s the first real test and a very big one as Pittsburgh’s offense looks stacked once again. 

Holding for Field Goals, Why Use Punters and Not WRs?

After the missed field goal connection between Jake Bailey and Stephen Gostkowski I got a good question on Twitter this Friday, a follower asked, “Why would the Patriots [and other teams] use a punter as a holder for extra points and field goals and not a wide receiver who is used to handling the ball?”

This is a very good question and I remember thinking the same thing several years ago. So, with that in mind, a few years ago Bill Belichick was asked about that. And he always has good reasons to play Special Teams. Here are a few good reasons why teams use a punter rather than a WR. 

Punters, kickers, and long-snappers can work all week on their delivery and timing of kicks. While the WRs will be working on another part of the game plan. That allows them to dedicate nearly all of their time to this when a WR may not have as much.

Punters have good hands and have to handle the ball quickly and seamlessly. Any bobble will result in a blocked punt. And punters are used to working under pressure. Imagine a slew of big defensive linemen rushing at you and everything depends on handling the ball quickly and letting a kick go. 

Plus, punters aren’t injured nearly as much as wide receivers are so the continuity factor is always there.

Replacing Chung Is No Easy Task in the Secondary:

Patriots safety Pat Chung is facing arraignment for possession of cocaine charges in New Hampshire this coming week. He may not actually see his court case heard until next year. So, any suspension from the NFL may not come until next year. But depending upon the circumstances of his case, the league could act sooner. 

Chung, however, may still not play in the season opener as he’s missed the entire preseason and has worn a red non-contact jersey all through training camp as he’s been recovering from a broken arm suffered in the Super Bowl as well as off-season shoulder surgery. So, who steps up and plays his role against the Steelers if he isn’t ready to go?

We may see a mixture of Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks if he’s out. Brooks was mainly a special teams’ contributor with the Jets but this summer, he’s gotten a lot of reps with the top defensive unit. Harmon has been used more as another deep safety. Brooks accounted well for himself in joint practices and the preseason and could step into the role, but Chung does so much it is no easy task. 

Chung plays the in-the-box safety run support role, a linebacker in dime coverage, at times even playing in the slot as well as providing backup support as a third punt returner for special teams when needed. One other player to watch may be rookie corner Joejuan Williams who can be asked to cover the tight ends with his size. 

Hopefully, Chung will be ready to go against Pittsburgh and in uniform that night. But if he isn’t, it would be expected his place would be taken not by one player but multiple ones.

Due to the longer than normal [nearly 3000 words] Patriots notes this week, we are not running our AFC East Notes this Sunday, but they’ll be back next week for sure.

________________

“I think Jarrett’s pocket presence is good. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. Certainly, when you’re comparing him to the other two quarterbacks on our roster, guys who have played a lot of football in this league, it’s quite a gap in experience. I’m sure those are things that Jarrett will get better at. [It is] probably about what you would think it would be given the difference in experience that you’re comparing him to – to players in our offense running the same plays that he does. So, it’s hard to compare one quarterback in one system to a quarterback in a completely different system, but in our case, we have three quarterbacks all in the same system. It’s an obvious comparison. He’s getting better. I think he does a good job, but there’s room for improvement, certainly.”
Bill Belichick on how Jarrett Stidham’s pocket presence has improved 8-23

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Linebackers

Steve Balestrieri
July 20, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots begin training camp in just a few days and once that starts we’ll have football back with us until the winter and snow return with a vengeance. Hard to picture that right now with the heat index pushing 110.

Last year at this time, there were a lot of questions at the linebacker position. This season it is considered a position of strength heading into the 2019 season. The three main starters return, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts. The team also gets back last year’s promising rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who played very well all summer and began the season getting a lot of quality reps before getting injured and ending up on IR. 

Another rookie from last season, Christian Sam, who spent the entire season on IR returns. Brandon King is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart but is essentially a special teams player only. 

But the big surprise was in bringing back former Patriot Jamie Collins. It seemed like those bridges were burned when he was traded to Cleveland but the team added him back this spring. Collins was one of the better players on the field for the Patriots during OTAs and the mandatory June minicamp. Shilique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, and Terez Hall round out the players at the position.

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp. 

So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.

Current roster – Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Christian Sam, Brandon King, Shalique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, Terez Hall

Locks – Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, Collins

Near Locks –  Roberts, King

Bubble – Sam, Calhoun

Long Shot – Munson, Hall

Discussion – With the return of their three main starters from the Super Bowl, the team is going to be looking very similar in 2019. Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, and Collins are all locks for the roster in 2019.

Hightower stayed healthy last year and played very well. What is a factor to be especially optimistic about is that it always seems Hightower saves his best plays and his best games for times when the games matter most and in the playoffs. He’s a fixture on this defense and what we’ve stated here many times rings true about him. Is he a perennial league All-Pro? No, but in the Patriots defense, he is.

Van Noy has blossomed in New England and is arguably one of their bigger chess pieces on the defensive side. He was even better than Hightower during the playoffs and despite what some talk-radio folks would have you believe, he’s a playmaker and one of the leaders of this defense. 

Bentley had a fantastic summer followed by a pretty impressive start to his career before getting injured early last season and ended up on IR. It is interesting to wonder how his development would have played out last year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. But he’s healthy now and should vie for plenty of work. 

Collins is the wild card here. With an already solid cast around him, it will be interesting to see how the team decides to use him once the season starts. Collins was all over the field this spring, if the Patriots can find a way to showcase his talents with the cast already in place, he could be in line for a very solid season. 

Roberts has been up and down in his career but had a very solid 2018. Consistency is the key for him. In mentioning the defensive line yesterday, we said that they may be better suited for a 3-4 than the 4-3. Roberts and Bentley could definitely benefit from that as well. Being an ILB in a 3-4, it would lend itself well to Roberts, downhill, run-thumping style. It would also create plenty of opportunities to move Hightower and Van Noy around, inside and outside and give them more chances to make plays. 

King is technically (by the depth chart) a linebacker, but to my knowledge hasn’t played any time there. He is, however, a very solid, dependable special teams’ player. While maybe not a lock for the 53 per se, knocking him out of there will take a very big effort from someone beneath him on the team’s overall roster. Or him having an awful camp. Other than that, we’d expect to see him come September. 

Christian Sam is a 2nd-year outside linebacker who never got to show what he can do last year, ending up on IR out of training camp. His value is a total unknown and he’ll have some work to do this summer. He’ll have to show he can contribute on special teams right away and then flash some ability on defense. Calhoun is a newcomer to New England but has been in the league for a while. Can the journeyman find himself a home and a role in New England? It has been done before, so he’s not a write off by any means but also has a lot of work to do. 

Munson spent last year on the Patriots practice squad, so they like what they’ve seen from him. Hall is a real long shot and will have to flash big time on STs in order to stick. He and Munson are candidates for the practice squad. 

So, entering 2019, the linebacker position, which was one full of questions a year ago, enters this year as a position of strength. There should be no movement at the top unless of injury, so there may be only one or two spots that are open for competition. But watching to see how the Patriots and new linebacker coach Jerod Mayo plans on using his troops this year will make camp another must-see event daily.

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.

Kyle Van Noy, “Proving People Right” for the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
January 25, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Kyle Van Noy, From Bust to Key Cog in the Patriots Defense

There’s nothing like a change of scenery to alter one’s perceptions is there? For a player like Kyle Van Noy, that change of scenery in 2016 marked the first of three straight Super Bowl seasons he’s enjoyed.

And Van Noy was arguably the most impressive player the Patriots had on defense in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.

But much more than the change of venue, it is the career resurgence he’s had – on the field that has been astounding.  The Lions took Van Noy with the 40th pick in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft and used him as a DE. It was a position that he was not suited for and it showed in his production.

After having core surgery which ruined his rookie season, he was moved to the SAM or strong side LBer role. He didn’t play much in his sophomore season either but was playing a larger role and starting in his third. However, the Lions were ready to move on from him.

The Patriots traded their 6th round draft pick (#217) for Detroit’s 7th rounder and Van Noy at the trade deadline in 2016. The Lions used that pick on Miami QB Brad Kaaya. It is a trade that was an absolute steal for the Patriots.  

The Patriots took their time with him and he went from a healthy scratch to a sub-package linebacker in his first few weeks. But Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff did what they always do, they didn’t dwell on what Van Noy doesn’t do well, they focused more on putting him in positions where he’d succeed. And he has. Just a few weeks after the trade, Van Noy intercepted Rams QB Jared Goff, something the linebacker hopes he can replicate in about 10 days. By the Super Bowl against the Falcons, he was on the field for nearly 65 percent of the defensive snaps and had a half-sack, half of a tackle for a loss and a QB hit.

Last season with Dont’a Hightower on the shelf, Van Noy, despite having a nagging leg injury of his own he started 12 of 13 games for the Pats and was third on the team on the team in tackles with 73 and second on the defense in sacks with 5.5. Van Noy wore the green-dot communication device on the field and was asked to fill in at a number of different roles for the defense which went to and lost last year’s Super Bowl.

This summer during training camp, Bill Belichick spoke on how much Van Noy has grown into his role here in New England. “Kyle’s done a really good job for us. He was a player that didn’t start his career here, but has come in and really understood the way that we try to do things,” said Belichick. “He’s embraced it. He’s become very much of a leader in doing his job and doing it the right way but also helping other guys, particularly guys that transition on to the team as he did. He has a good perspective for that.”

“He’s been very durable, and dependable,” Belichick added. “He’s a smart football player. He’s versatile, can do a lot of different things defensively and in the running game, in the passing game, and in the kicking game. He’s got a good skill set, and he’s a smart player with experience and can fill a lot of different roles for us. Hard to find players like that. He’s been a valuable guy for us.”

This year, with a healthy Hightower playing in every game this season, Van Noy has been mostly terrific on the Patriots defense. The unit had their bumps on the road, especially early in the season, but they’ve been getting progressively better and since the bye week has been much, much better.

Against the Chargers Van Noy and Hightower were outstanding. With the Patriots trying to pressure Philip Rivers, the two were instrumental in disguising and creating pressure in the “Amoeba Defense” while keeping the Bolts offensive line off balance.

Last week against the Chiefs, as we said in our podcast this week, Van Noy was outstanding, he was flying all over the field, he made a game-high 10 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, five run stops and six QB pressures.

Thru it all, Van Noy has maintained a good relationship with the media and a great one with his teammates despite what one local radio talk show host continues to say about his “arrogance” off the field. Having been down there at Gillette, albeit infrequently, we’ve never seen that type of attitude as depicted. Van Noy has always been polite, funny and willing to talk.

This week in preparing to face the Rams, he was asked if he enjoys proving people wrong. He smiled and said, he’d rather prove people right, …family, teammates, and coaches who believe in one another and have each other’s backs. The entirety of that interview can be seen on Patriots.com here:

If the Patriots are to be victorious next Sunday, they’ll need another big performance both offensively and defensively. And rest assured, Van Noy will also play a big part of that. He’s been a steal for the team and winning a second Super Bowl in three years would be proving a ton of people right.

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

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.

Best and Most Important Off-season Additions for the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
May 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm ET

Sometimes it is unfair to base everything on the previous season on just one game but when that game is the Super Bowl, it is hard to erase those memories. And for the Patriots, the problems that were plain to see in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia were symptomatic of problems the team faced all season and was able to overcome.

But against a team with a hot quarterback and an offense that blew out the prevailing #1 defense in the NFL, perhaps we should not have been so surprised at the outcome. Specifically, the defense all season struggled to stop the run, especially inside, they struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback as well as setting the edge and the coverage by the linebackers was spotty at best.

So how did the team address these deficiencies? It is important to note that the Patriots consider free agency and the draft inexorably linked. They use their draft capital for veteran players as the feeling is, their quality is a more known value than a college player who has yet to play in the NFL. So when looking at the offseason and the draft, for New England, it is always important to use Free Agency when judging the merits of the General Manager’s prowess at team building. (clears throat)

So who is the most important off-season addition in 2018? Adrian Clayborn.

Clayborn checks the block for two of the most important areas that need to be addressed. Setting the edge and getting after the quarterback. The Patriots like their edge guys to be a bit bigger than the greyhounds that populate the NFL landscape today. Because the value setting the edge as a priority. And Clayborn is big, 6’5, 280 pounds of relentless

After an offseason of losing Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long to free agency, Rob Ninkovich to retirement and Dont’a Hightower, top 2017 draft choice Derek Rivers as well as rookie Harvey Langi on IR last year, they were notoriously thin at the position.

One bright spot was the play of rookie Deatrich Wise who chipped in 26 total tackles and five sacks. He added an additional four tackles and two sacks in three playoff games. Less impressive, however, was the play of Cassius Marsh, who wasn’t a fit in the Patriots system and Eric Lee, both of whom had issues setting the edge. That’s why they brought James Harrison late in the season. It put too much pressure on Trey Flowers and the defense suffered for it.

Hightower, Langi, and Rivers are back, which is huge. Wise will be better in Year 2 which helps but in getting Clayborn, the Patriots should have plenty of depth, and production…if everyone can stay healthy.

The Patriots and Bill Belichick have known Clayborn’s value for some time now. He played at Iowa under Belichick close friend Kirk Ferentz, they watched him in joint practices where he played for another Belichick close confidant in Greg Schiano.

“He’s had a good career,” head coach Bill Belichick told Patriots.com. “He’s been a very productive player in multiple positions. So, again, look forward to working with him. I know he’s a solid person, works hard, tough kid. I think he’ll be a good addition to our program. We’ll see how it all goes.”

He’s had injury issues over his career but was healthy for all of 2017 and had a career-high 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Falcons. He’s yet another former 1st round draft pick (#20 overall in 2011), that the Patriots have brought in later in their career.

With the addition of Danny Shelton inside with Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and the return of Vincent Valentine, the interior of the defensive line should be much improved over 2017. They also double-dipped at linebacker in Rounds 5-6 in the 2018 NFL Draft with Ja’Whaun Bentley (#143) and Christian Sam (#178) which should also help the issues with the position.

Overall on paper, the unit they have now, with the additional players they’ve added in the secondary looks much, much better than the squad that took the field in the Super Bowl. So who is the most important addition to the defense?

He actually isn’t an addition at all, but his responsibilities are added on to. Brian Flores.

With Matt Patricia now a head coach in Detroit, Flores has the play-calling responsibilities as a defensive coordinator but not the title, which he doesn’t care for anyway. Flores himself, the Patriots linebacker coach/defensive coordinator has gotten consideration from the Arizona Cardinals for their head coaching position. Flores has been with the Pats since 2004 and will be watched closely in 2018 to see how he handles the pressure.

When he met with the media about a week ago, it is pretty obvious why so many speak so highly of him. He says all the right things and has his head screwed on straight. His main defensive philosophy is to help the players become the best version of themselves — on and off the field.

Belichick had to be smiling when he saw that Flores, after being asked many times about putting his own personal stamp on the defense, deferred. Instead, he mentioned making a “team imprint” on defense.

Flores said that he’s hard on the players but gets the best out of them. “I’m tough on the players. I think you need to be tough on them so they can be disciplined. You need the discipline to play this game.”

His goal he said, is “going to sound like a Bill Belichick-coached team.” Flores spoke about playing under pressure, being tough, smart and dependable. All of these things are exactly the right thing to say if you’re Flores. Now he’ll have to do it on the field and prove that he’s up to the task. Something about that leads one to believe that he will be just fine as the team’s new defensive coordinator.

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.

FG Gives Panthers Win over Patriots, Defense Historically Bad

Steve Balestrieri
October 1, 2017 at 8:54 pm ET

Last Second FG Gives Panthers Win over Patriots, Defense Historically Bad

This one was settled long before Graham Gano boomed a 48-yard field goal easily thru the uprights of Gillette Stadium with no time on the clock for a 33-30 win for the Carolina Panthers over the Patriots.

New England had a chance to pull off another miracle finish. Tom Brady rallied the troops from two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter and the score was knotted at 30 apiece. The Patriots had the Panthers with a 3rd and 7 from the 27-yard line and Deatrich Wise sacked Cam Newton back on the 16. If the play holds up, Carolina punts from deep in their end and nobody in the stadium thought that Brady wouldn’t drive them for a game-winning score with 2:23 to go. But Stephon Gilmore got called for illegal hands to the face, (his second such penalty of the day) and the Panthers got a new life and you could see what was going to happen. Newton moved them easily down the field and they were well within range after a kind of ticky-tack 5-yard penalty on Pat Chung.

There were several ticky-tack calls on the Patriots today, the first on Gilmore was like the Ali invisible punch. And truth be told, Jerome Boger’s crew is easily the worst in football. They are singularly horrible. But if you’re trying to blame this one on the officiating, unlike the 2013 Carolina game, you’re seriously deluding yourself.

The Patriots didn’t deserve to win this game and were badly outplayed on the defensive side of the ball. I was thinking at half-time that three weeks from today will be the 50th anniversary of watching my first Patriots game. October 22, 1967, at Fenway Park and the Patriots were annihilated by the Oakland Raiders 48-14. The Raiders were on their way to the Super Bowl. The Pats? To a 3-win season and into the early 70s as arguably the worst team in pro football. The Raiders rolled up about 400 yards of offense and the Patriots managed just 83. Yep, just 43 yards on the ground and 40 thru the air.

And at halftime, I came to the realization, that right now, after four games this may just be the worst Patriots defense I’ve seen in 50 years. And there is no reason for it. Those teams had no talent, so there were no surprises when they lost and lost big.

Talent isn’t an issue here, these guys didn’t just forget how to play football all of a sudden. This was largely the same group that led the league in points against and won the Super Bowl last year.  They’re not getting beat physically, that would be easier to deal with I think. No, this team is getting beat mentally, which is what they pride themselves on. They were going to play mistake-free football, wait for the opponent to make the error and then capitalize on it. Now they are the ones making blunders…. And they’re making them all over the field.

The Patriots mantra is “Do Your Job”. We just watched the NFL Films documentary on that before the opening game. Well on the defensive side, no one is doing their job, not the coaches, not the captains and certainly not the players. It isn’t an anomaly, it is a trend, they’ve blown multiple coverages every game for four games and a quarter of the season is gone. I cringe when I see opposing QBs throw the ball deep because I expect to see someone running wide open down the field….much like we’ve seen every week. The Patriots just allowed two of the worst offenses in the NFL to put a combined 66 points and 861 yards on them the past two games and that is damn alarming right now. Think about how ugly this really could be. Because, despite the defense’s travails, the offense is playing tremendous football right now. Despite the defense allowing 128 points so far this season, the offense has scored 129. Think about that for a second. Imagine if the defense were just playing so-so, how many more opportunities would the offense have to score?

Those Patriots teams of yore were as equally inept on both sides of the ball. That 1967 team in the final four games of the season allowed 141 points, but their offense was only scoring 78. If Brady wasn’t playing at an all-world level right now, things could easily be really ugly.

The communication is really bad and asked if things could be simplified, Duron Harmon gave perhaps the scariest answer of all. He said they’ve simplified it as much as they can. And yet every game, players are running uncovered down the field. And before everyone gets all over Stephon Gilmore, he’s far from the only one missing the boat out there.

The 28-yard touchdown screen pass to Fozzy Whitaker was a microcosm of what ails this defense. At the snap, Devin McCourty, and Gilmore rushed from right to left. Inside linebacker Elandon Roberts also took a 45-degree angle to the left. But the Panthers ran the screen to the right and nobody was home. Just a sea of white jerseys blocking. The two long pass plays to Devin Funchess? Much the same. Nobody from the Patriots in the area code.

We keep saying the issues are mental and are fixable….well they’ve been making the same ones and a lot of them for four weeks. Now they have a game in four days against …. Yet another mobile quarterback.

I don’t know if the answer is to sit anyone in the secondary, but the coaches aren’t getting thru to the players out there. One issue that needs to happen on Thursday is to move Dont’a Hightower back to the inside linebacker position. Roberts is a situational player at best and not a starter inside. That will at least solidify the middle of the field and in the running game. Move Kyle Van Noy back to where he’s more comfortable. I saw that they actually did do that for a few snaps as Hightower was spying on Newton after he scrambled.

But beyond that, the coaches have their work cut out for them. Cam Newton played his best game in two years, and they haven’t faced the best QBs on their schedule yet, Derek Carr, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers…and Jameis Winston on Thursday. Buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

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

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