Tag Archives: Patriots edge rushers

 Patriots Week 11 Report Card, Defense Steps Up In 17-10 Win Over Philly 

Steve Balestrieri
November 19, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots are 9-1 and heading home to Face Dallas

The Patriots gutted out a tough,17-10 road win against a tough NFC team in Philadelphia on Sunday. After allowing a touchdown early in the second quarter, the defense shut them out the rest of the way and held them to just 152 yards from that point on. The defense had a turnover and five sacks from five different players.

The offense was another matter as they looked nothing like a team that had two weeks to prepare for Philadelphia. The last time they faced them with a two-week window they rolled up over 600 yards of offense. On Sunday afternoon, they didn’t get half of that. 

This is who they are right now, they can’t run behind the offensive line and they can’t hold up for long in pass protection. That means it puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the quarterback to work through his progressions really fast. The wide receivers had a tough night getting any kind of separation from the Eagles secondary who played outstanding in coverage. 

So, check out our grades and let’s take another look at the Eagles game.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady struggled with the punchless Patriots offense on Sunday and the numbers played that out. He completed just 26 of 47 passes on Sunday for just 216 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs. The offensive line can’t open up any holes for the backs and can’t protect the QB. The wide receivers have a dearth of speed to get separation. 

That puts a lot of the onus on him and they don’t have the offensive playmakers to make it happen right now. Will things get better? Yes, Josh McDaniels can find a combination to make things work while N’Keal Harry and Isaiah Wynn round into form. But right now the offense has zero identity. It is a struggle. 

All you need to know about how Brady feels about the offense right now is the way he approached his post-game press conference. He knows that they don’t have the talent to get into a shootout with anyone right now. And they’re relying on the defense. “I don’t think it matters what I think. It matters what we do.”

Running Backs: C

The running game can’t get going, the blocking from the offensive line just isn’t there. They try to run to the edge and there are frequently one or two defenders hitting the backs deep in the backfield. Against a tough Eagles front seven, the Patriots managed 75 yards on 21 carries and a Brady kneel down. Sony Michel had 10 carries for 33 yards for a 3.3-yard average which is exactly his season average. James White had 5 carries for 20 yards and Rex Burkhead had 5 for 14. 

They have a deep and talented backfield with nowhere to run. 

Burkhead had two catches for 34 yards, the big one being where it looked like he was about to be tackled for a loss in the backfield, he kept his balance and rolled down the sidelines for a gain of 30-yards. James White had four catches for just 16 yards while Sony Michel had two for 11. 

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers had a rough time getting separation from an Eagles secondary that is rounding into form. Nearly everything on every down was contested. Julian Edelman, as always led the way with five catches for 53 yards. He also threw the only touchdown, a 15-yard double pass to Phillip Dorsett. 

Mohamad Sanu had only two catches for 4 yards, a disappointing game for him. Phillip Dorsett had three catches for 33 yards and a score, while rookie N’Keal Harry had his first NFL action with three catches for 18 yards. Jakobi Meyers had one catch for 7. 

Tight Ends: C

Ben Watson had a nice game with three receptions for 52 yards on four targets. Matt LaCosse made his return to the field and had a forgettable game. He had two catches for three yards.  LaCosse nearly turned the ball over with a fumble and Watson was flagged for holding. The blocking in the running game remains inconsistent.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line was getting pushed around in the running game, Fletcher Cox was immovable in the center. The pass protection was spotty at best. Marshall Newhouse was turnstiled several times by Derek Barnett, and he gave up some run stuffs but he wasn’t alone. Brady was being pressured constantly. The coaches called so many screen passes to slow down the Eagles and Brady continues to get the ball away so quickly, Philly ended up with one sack. But that doesn’t mean the OL played well. 

Tony Romo kept repeating that Isaiah Wynn will right the ship during the telecast. In the running game it may have a domino effect, they could then bring Newhouse in as an extra tight end on short-yardage, but the pass protection is not good. 

The Patriots were only one for three in the red zone and when they had to run the ball at the end of the game, the Eagles knew they had to run the ball and stopped them from doing it twice. 

 Defensive Line: A-

The defensive line made a nice comeback week, going against one of the best offensive lines in football, the Eagles running backs combined for only 64 yards on the ground against the Patriots defense. Carson Wentz added 17 more on a few scrambles but overall it was a tremendous effort. 

They had the one hiccup where the Eagles drove the ball 95 yards in nearly 10 minutes of clock that they looked like they were passive and slow. But once Bill Belichick pulled them aside and made his adjustments, in the final nearly 43 minutes of the game, Philly had a total of 152 yards, and 30 of those were in the final garbage-time drive with 30 seconds to go in prevent.   

Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy had excellent games and were penetrating upfront and disrupting things at the point of attack. The play at the Eagles two-yard line was a standout. Guy split the double-team block and nearly had a safety. Great penetration. This was exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Linebackers: A-

The linebackers returned to form as well against Philadelphia and were outstanding on Sunday afternoon. It begins with Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, they were all over the field and dominated upfront. Van Noy had a sack, a tackle for a loss (TFL) and two quarterback hits. Hightower had a sack, a TFL, and three quarterback hits. 

Elandon Roberts had a sack, a TFL, and a QB hit. Chase Winovich had three tackles and two QB hits. Only Jamie Collins had a quiet night for this group as he was used in coverage for much of the game. He had a pass defensed.  

The Patriots wanted to pressure Carson Wentz and they did so with five sacks and seven QB hits. Mission accomplished.

Secondary: A

The secondary was as solid as ever as they held Carson Wentz and the Eagles to just 174 yards net passing. The Eagles wide receivers were banged up and the ones who did play were held in check.  Eagles WRs had six catches for 75 yards. Zach Ertz did most of the damage with 9 catches for 94 yards but as good as he is, he didn’t make any catches at critical moments as the Patriots rotated Stephon Gilmore on him on third downs, which was a brilliant move. 

With Pat Chung out, Terrence Brooks filled in and did a good job, playing down low and defending against the tight ends. Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, and J.C. Jackson were all excellent. Wentz on several occasions would look and have nowhere to throw.   

Special Teams: A

Jake Bailey continued his outstanding rookie season, averaging 47.6 yards per punt and put the Eagles in bad starting field position time and again. He put six punts inside the 20 and forced Wentz and the Eagles to start from the 12 (twice), the 6, 5, and 3-yard line. That is just outstanding work. Belichick traded up to get him in the 5th round this year (with the Eagles), and he’s been a steal. 

Nick Folk was 3-3 on field goals, none of them far but with the gusty winds in Philly on Sunday, nothing was a given. The coverage units were very solid once again.

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff made a number of good moves in this game. After giving up a 95-yard drive, Belichick called the defense over and Philly offense sputtered the rest of the game and was shut out from that point on. Putting Gilmore on Ertz for third downs was brilliant as they took him away.  

With all of the hand-wringing over  Josh McDaniels play calling, he’s more like Merlin right now, the offense is smoking and mirroring right now. McDaniels is pulling out all the stops trying everything to get the offense going. He and Brady drew up a play to get James White involved and boom! They go to it on first down and it works. McDaniels had them go uptempo early in the 3rd quarter and they got their only touchdown of the day. 

Great job by the Patriots coaching staff on Sunday. Nothing came easy but they put their players in the best position to win. 

 

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Patriots Defense Rebounds, Shuts Down Eagles 17-10

Steve Balestrieri
November 17, 2019 at 11:15 pm ET

The Patriots improved to 9-1 on the season, gutting out a tough 17-10 win on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly was trying to keep pace with Dallas at the top of the NFC East while the Patriots wanted to maintain their two-game lead over Buffalo in the division and keep a game ahead of the Ravens in the AFC. 

This definitely wasn’t a replay of Super Bowl LII. While the talk all week was about a Super Bowl rematch where there was one punt and over 1100 yards of offense, this on was a defensive game where neither team had 300 yards of offense. 

While the defense had a big rebound night, the offense sputtered and once again struggled with red-zone production. The pass protection problems remain an issue and not just with Marshall Newhouse. The Eagles were getting pressure from all over the defensive line. The running game again didn’t do much gaining 75 yards on 21 carries before a Brady kneel down. 

Here are our other observations on the game:

Defense Has a Very Solid Game: 

The Patriots defense had a much better night than they did in Baltimore two weeks ago, although they did once again start slow.  After a 49-yard pass interference play set up a field goal, the third Eagles drive covered nearly 10 minutes and went 95 yards as they went out to a 10-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter. 

After that, Philadelphia had 152 yards of offense, including 30 in garbage time with 30 seconds left in the game. That comes out to 122 yards over nearly three-quarters of a game. Whatever changes Bill Belichick made as he pulled the defense over after that long Philadelphia drive, it worked because they struggled to move the ball the rest of the night. 

The Patriots defense got five sacks and a turnover on a strip-sack of Carson Wentz, holding the Eagles to just 174 net passing yards. The Eagles were just 3 of 14 on third or fourth downs. And the Eagles running game after that scoring drive went nowhere. Philly finished with just 81 yards on 21 carries. 

Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy had terrific games inside. Both were able to penetrate and disrupt at the point of attack. Shelton had seven tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and a QB hit.

Terrence Brooks filling in for an injured Pat Chung had a big game with seven tackles, two passes defensed, and two quarterback hits. The five sacks came from five different players, Shelton, Van Noy, Hightower, Butler, and Roberts. 

Stephon Gilmore was his usual shutdown self, although later in the game, they shifted him over on TE Zach Ertz on third downs, similar to what they did with Travis Kelce in the AFC Championship Game. J.C. Jackson was also very solid once again. He was targeted seven times and allowed four catches for 22 yards. 

The Eagles wide receivers were beat up entering the game and the box score shows it. The wide receivers caught only six passes for 65 yards on the night. Jonathan Jones nearly had an interception on the Eagles touchdown as he tried to rip the ball away from TE Dallas Goedert. Initially, the play was ruled an interception but was overturned on replay. And although it was very close, it did appear that Goedert had possession as he crossed the goal line. So, the officials did get one right…for a change. 

Offensive Woes Continue:

We mentioned the issues with the offensive line, those are the key to what ails the team for much of their problems. Tom Brady was under duress for the majority of the night and he’s forced to get rid of the ball far too quickly. However, the Eagles secondary is getting healthy and they played a heckuva game, doing a great job of shadowing the receivers and breaking up plays. 

Brady ended up with pedestrian numbers, 26-47 for just 214 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs although Julian Edelman dropped a touchdown in the end zone and they were forced to settle for a field goal. 

With the red-zone woes, Josh McDaniels broke out the double-pass play, that we saw against the Ravens in the divisional playoffs a few years ago. This time they ran it to the right and Julian Edelman hit Phillip Dorsett for a 15-yard touchdown. Dorsett was injured on the play, suffering a head injury and didn’t return. 

Ben Watson was a bright spot in the passing game, catching three passes on four targets for 52 yards. N’Keal Harry made his NFL debut and had three catches for 18 yards. Mohamad Sanu was quiet, with just two catches for four yards. 

Rex Burkhead made a really nice move on a screen pass that looked like he was going to be hit for a loss. But he kept his balance and then rolled for a 30-yard gain. Jakobi Meyers had one catch, Dorsett had three catches for 33 yards and a score. Matt Lacosse returned to action and two catches for 3 yards. 

That’s Why They Moved Up to Draft Jake Bailey:

Interestingly enough, it was the Eagles who the Patriots traded with to move up in the draft to nab Jake Bailey. The rookie punter has a mammoth leg and can put the ball high in the sky with incredible hang time. 

But with each and every week, his directional punting gets better and better. Tonight he pinned the Eagles at the 12-yard line (twice), the 6, the 5, and the 3-yard lines. That while dealing with a really stiff wind tonight is outstanding. Bailey punted eight times for a 47.6-yard average. Can you say AFC Special Teams Player of the Week again? 

Nick Folk was perfect when called on, going 3-3 on field goals, granted they were all short, the long was just 39 yards, but in the conditions and given the low score of the game, he gets high marks tonight. 

So, we’re on to Dallas and a home game. 

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Patriots – Eagles Week 11 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 14, 2019 at 8:51 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road and come off of their bye week to face the Philadelphia Eagles in a big game for both teams.

The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. Philadelphia got off to a slow start but is locked in a tight divisional race with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East and won their last two games to go into their own bye week at 5-4. 

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

The Patriots (8-1) are coming off their bye week. But in their last game, they were defeated by the Ravens 37-20.

The Eagles (5-4) are coming off their bye week. In their last two games they defeated the Buffalo Bills and the Chicago Bears.

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

Series History:

The Patriots and Eagles have met twice in the Super Bowl with the Patriots winning SB XXXIX and the Eagles winning SB LII.

During the regular season, the two teams have met 12 times with Philadelphia holding a 7-5 edge overall. The last regular-season meeting was in Foxboro in December 2015 with the Eagles winning 35-28. 

 

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 Eagles Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Patriots running game has not had the production that was envisioned this summer. It is plodding along averaging just 92.9 yards per game, just 23rd in the NFL. That isn’t good enough. Sony Michel is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry. Against Baltimore, he had just four carries but that may have had more to do with the Ravens jumping out to an early 17-0 lead that forced the Patriots to abandon the running game a bit.  

Philly’s run defense is playing very good thus far in 2019 allowing just 87.3 yards per game, good for 4th best in the NFL. Buoyed by the big men upfront Fletcher Cox and Teddy Jernigan inside and Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham at the edge with a group of athletic linebackers at the second level. 

Expect to see more what the Patriots did in Baltimore two weeks ago and using Rex Burkhead and James White running occasionally out of the shotgun formations to keep the Eagles defense honest, but this won’t be a big Sony Michel week.            

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

The Patriots passing game has been given a boost by the addition of Mohamad Sanu. He and Julian Edelman give Tom Brady a pair of inside receivers that can move inside or outside, depending on the matchups. With an extra two weeks in the Patriots system, Sanu should be farther along in his development. Phillip Dorsett rounds out the top three at WR while Burkhead and White out of the backfield add the extra dimension for defenses to account for. Ben Watson at tight end should see more looks in the passing game down the stretch. 

The Eagles pass defense has been middle of the road allowing 239 yards per game (16th). Their strength is again up front where they’ve logged 24 sacks on the season. Graham, Cox, and Barnett can be very disruptive. Their secondary hasn’t been good, they’ve been banged up but are getting healthy and rounding into form. 

Look for Brady to try to slow down the pass rush and account for less than stellar pass protection by getting the ball out quickly to Sanu and Edelman. If the Eagles pass rush begins to get home, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the offense go to an uptempo, hurry-up mode that slowed down the Ravens front seven. 

Philadelphia has been susceptible to the deep ball this season, something that isn’t necessarily a strength of the Patriots offense but I’d imagine they’ll test the waters a few times to try to loosen them up. Will we see N’Keal Harry this week? And how much, if at all will he play???? Inquiring minds want to know.

Next up the Eagles offense:

Eagles RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Philadelphia rushing attack has been featured in their last two games against the Bills and Bears and Philly has held the ball for 77 minutes compared to 44 for their opposition in those two contests. They feature Jordan Howard (525 yards, 6 TDs), Miles Sanders (336 yards, 1 TD) and Darren Sproles running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. 

The Patriots defensive front seven took a big hit in the Baltimore game, getting gashed by the Ravens ground game. While some of that was playing the wrong schemes, they’ve had some uncharacteristic tackling issues as well. They will be looking to slow down that running attack this week and get back on track where they’ve been prior to the past two games. On the season, the defense is 11th against the run, allowing 99.1 yards per game.

Look for the Eagles to run more of their 12 personnel looks this week with two tight ends. They’ve been successfully doing that lately and Carson Wentz is always a threat to scramble. The dreaded RPOs (run-pass options) that Philly runs and ripped the Patriots in SB LII will an area to watch. 

If the Philly guards get to the second level and are able to attack the Patriots linebackers there, it will be a long afternoon for the defense again. The Patriots will be looking to stuff the run at the point of attack. Look for them to be more aggressive this week and ditch some of the two-gapping style we saw in Baltimore. 

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

The Philly passing game has been beset by injuries and inconsistency. They wanted to base the passing game on DeSean Jackson but he’s been hurt. Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor have been bedeviled by drops at inopportune times. However, they boast two outstanding tight ends in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and those two will be a handful to cover, especially on third down and in the red zone. 

The Patriots secondary has been outstanding this season. Stephon Gilmore has been showcasing his talents since early this summer. Jonathan Jones is having a Pro Bowl type of season and J.C. Jackson as well as Jason McCourty have been very solid. 

When Philly has struggled, it has been because of protection issues for Wentz. The Patriots with 32 sacks this season have the capability to be very disruptive and force Wentz into scrambling behind the line. The key to this week will be how well they cover Ertz and Goedert. Ertz is one of the best tight ends in the league and Pat Chung, who’s been banged up will draw him…if he’s available. The Patriots secondary can handle the wide receivers, but the key here will be the tight ends. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Patriots special teams are now on their third kicker Nick Folk who they hope won’t be forced into making a pressure kick from long distance at this stage of his career. Punter Jake Bailey has been outstanding in his rookie season, skying long punts and getting better and better and pinning opponents inside the 20. The coverage units have been excellent although the return game has been only so-so.

The Eagles have Jake Elliott who hasn’t missed a field goal this season… hmm. Cameron Johnson has also done a terrific job at pinning the opposition inside the 20. The Eagles have Sanders and Sproles returning kicks and punts respectively. But because of Elliott and his consistency, they get the nod here. 

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 9-1 and this should prove to be a fascinating matchup of two very good teams. The inconsistency that plagued Philly seems to have been eradicated and Doug Pederson is a very game-plan specific coach. Look for different looks and formations that the Patriots haven’t seen given that he’s had two weeks to prepare.  

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

Spread Them Out – Look for the Patriots offense to once again go to a more spread look and hit the quick passing game with an uptempo look. Using only three wide receivers as they did in Baltimore isn’t the answer, so look for Jakobi Meyers and fellow rookie N’Keal Harry to get some play this week. 

As always this is a Julian Edelman, James White type of game for Tom Brady. Those two will be targeted a lot by Brady and the Eagles defense. The “X-Factor” in this one is Mohamad Sanu. If he shows more of the development that we expect at this point, then he should be in line for a big day. 

Run Defense Has to Rebound – The Eagles running game will present a huge test for the Patriots defense. This game will hinge on the play of the offensive and defensive lines this week. While that sounds cliche, it is especially true this week. The Patriots front seven has to be more aggressive in attacking the running schemes of the Eagles and try to blow plays up in the backfield. 

Win Third Down – The Patriots struggled both offensively and defensively on third down in Baltimore. That will have to change this week. Offensively they have to keep the chains moving and wear down that front seven of the Eagles. On the defensive side, allowing Philly and Wentz to have those easily manageable third downs (3rd & 2, 3rd & 3 or less) is a recipe for the tight ends to kill them in the short passing game. 

They have to get the Eagles in those 3rd and long situations where they can bring pressure on the QB, something they’ve been excellent at doing this season. Forcing Wentz to have to throw in those longer situations, plays to the strength of the secondary.

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Prediction: 

We’ve already said this is a fascinating matchup and this should be one of the best games to watch this week. We expect a really great, close game although not quite as high scoring as the last time these two teams met. 

I think both teams will move the ball at times and struggle at others. The experience factor with Brady will play a huge role here, he’ll lead the offense to a late score and the Patriots defense returns to form with a big stop as New England returns to the win column.  Patriots 27-24

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour returns home to Foxboro next week as the Eagles will become Patriots fans as the Dallas Cowboys visit Gillette Stadium.

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

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

 

Patriots Week 8 Report Card, Defense Shines in 27-13 Win Over Cleveland

Steve Balestrieri
October 29, 2019 at 7:18 am ET

 Patriots Improve to 8-0 at the halfway mark of the season

The Patriots defense put the team on their back early in this one, forcing three Cleveland turnovers in three consecutive snaps to springboard the team out to an early 17-0 lead in the first quarter. They held Baker Mayfield to under 200 yards passing and frustrated the talented Browns wide receivers.

The shorthanded offense sputtered a bit but came up with a key drive in the third quarter when the Browns threatened to crawl back into the game. The Patriot played perhaps their worst game of the year, but it was more than enough to down the mistake-filled Browns.

So, while the Patriots aren’t perfect, they are certainly undefeated. Check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s win.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady completed 20 of 36 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns in Sunday’s win. Dealing with the absence of three starting offensive linemen, two tight ends, both fullbacks and with a WR who had been on the team just a few days, he ran the offense as well as one could expect. 

Despite having to get rid of the ball very quickly because of pass protection issues, Brady still had several nice throws. His movement in the pocket, sliding to the right and hitting Julian Edelman for a 14-yard touchdown was a nice play. He delivered a beautiful deep ball right on the money to Phillip Dorsett. And threw a dart down the seam to Ben Watson. 

Running Backs: B-

The running game continues to sputter but things got off to a good start on Sunday afternoon before grinding to a halt later in the game. Sony Michel got off to a nice start and broke a couple of nice runs, breaking tackles, giving the Patriots some early balance. Michel finished with 74 yards on 21 carries (3.5-yard average). 

But when Cleveland knew they were going to run late in the game, the running game ceased. James White and Rex Burkhead didn’t fare any better with five carries for eight yards. The issue wasn’t with the running backs but with the blocking up front.

White, however, was a big factor in the passing game catching four passes for 75 yards including a huge 59-yarder that led to a touchdown that broke the game open in the second half. Burkhead after missing the past few games had one catch for nine yards.

Wide Receivers: B

Julian Edelman and James White were the biggest targets in the passing game (no surprises there) and each came through in their normal fashion. Edelman had a game-high eight receptions for 78 yards with two touchdown catches. White, as mentioned above had four for 75. Phillip Dorsett had three catches for 43 yards. 

Newcomer Mohamed Sanu played in 37 snaps, which was over half, considering he just arrived last week, that number was surprisingly high. He chipped in with a pair of catches for 23 yards. His numbers will increase every week as he gains a better grasp of the offense. He was right with White downfield blocking on his 59-yard catch and run. That had to get the attention of the coaching staff. 

Jakobi Meyers was targeted just twice and had one catch for five yards.

Tight Ends: B-

Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson both saw considerable action with Tomlinson logging in nearly half of the offensive snaps and Watson around 70 percent. Tomlinson did a good job in the run blocking game inside, he sprang Michel for a nice run up the middle sealing the linebacker off in a play that was highlighted on the telecast.

Watson caught the only pass he was targeted with but it was a big one, a 26-yard rope from Brady down the seam that set up the team inside the 10-yard line. We can Watson’s role in the passing game expanding in the near future.

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line was missing another key piece in Shaq Mason, the left guard was ruled out and James Ferentz took his place. Ferentz stepped up and played all 69 offensive snaps. However, with three of the five starters out, it is little wonder that the unit struggled in both the running game and pass protection. 

Early results were good in the running game, but they tapered off to nearly nothing late in the game when the Browns knew the Patriots were going to run. Trying to close out the game by running the ball once again failed and continues to be an issue. 

Pass protection wasn’t good on Sunday. The Browns sacked Brady three times and he was forced to get rid of the ball far too often. Health is the biggest factor in holding back this unit right now. 

 Defensive Line: B

The defensive line had some issues in the running game, part of it was by design as they were being aggressive in getting after QB Baker Mayfield, but they were pushed around a bit as well. But they tightened things up when they had to. It is an issue that they’ll address in the meeting rooms to be sure. 

But they did a very good job of getting pressure on Mayfield. Lawrence Guy perfectly read the shovel pass coming to Jarvis Landry and blew up the play in the backfield intercepting the pass to boot. Adam Butler continues his high level of play with two sacks, three tackles for loss and a pair of QB hits.

Linebackers: A-

Jamie Collins was the star of the group again. Seemingly everywhere on the field, Collins logged 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits. Kyle Van Noy caused the first turnover, setting the edge and as the blocker was going to the ground he kicked the ball out of his own runner’s hands. Van Noy added a sack.

Dont’a Hightower scored the first touchdown of the game on a scoop and score off a Nick Chubb fumble, caused by Van Noy. Hightower was beaten for a 21-yard touchdown pass in the first half where he took the wrong angle inside and was beaten to the pylon. 

Chase Winovich in limited snaps added a half-sack and a QB hit. Overall the Patriots sacked Mayfield five times. ***Note*** The Patriots defense in 2018 had 30 sacks for the entire season. The defense this year has 31 with the season just half gone.  

Secondary: A

The secondary continues their outstanding play of 2019 limiting the Browns to under 200 yards passing. Stephon Gilmore once again goes to the head of the class. Going against the dangerous and explosive Odell Beckham Jr., Gilmore easily won this matchup. He held Beckham to four catches for 21 yards until a late garbage time 31 yarder. The Patriots will take that all day long. 

Jonathan Jones continues his strong play in the slot and showed tremendous speed while chasing down Chubb and causing the fumble to take away a scoring opportunity from the Browns. Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson were solid.  

Pat Chung returned from injury and he, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon continue their strong play at the back end and in the box. Missed tackles were an issue for the entire defense but the weather no doubt had a hand in that. But give Chubb credit, he runs hard and is a tough guy to bring down, rain or shine.

Special Teams: C+

Mike Nugent had a block on a 29-yard field goal attempt and badly missed another. Jake Bailey had a good game with a 45.4 yard average with one punt inside the 20 and another that was a touchback. The coverage units did a very good job on a dangerous returner in Dontrelle Hilliard. The return game didn’t do much

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff were working on a short week. They wanted to get off to a quick start and they did, racing out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. That was huge in putting the Browns and their coaches behind the eight-ball. They weren’t up to the task. 

Bill Belichick got his 300th career win while Freddy Kitchens showed he has a long, long way to go. Josh McDaniels because of injuries and new personnel had to limit the playbook somewhat, and he’s still searching to find the offense its identity.   

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Patriots Week 4 Report Card, in Tough 16-10 Win Over the Bills

Steve Balestrieri
October 1, 2019 at 7:42 am ET

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

The Patriots are, despite the hand-wringing going on 4-0 and have already beaten every team in the division. And yes, with the way the defense played, they did deserve to win. The offense, on the other hand, struggled mightily. And the Bills had the same issue, while their defense was lights out, their offense threw four interceptions and had another turnover on downs inside the five-yard line. So it was a tale of two cities…if you will.

Special teams once again played a big role, both positively and negatively in this game but in the end, it was a knock-down grind out contest that the Patriots won, on the road in a very hostile environment. 

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

Quarterback: D+

Tom Brady had a pretty awful day by his standards, completing 18-39 for just 150 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. The pick in the end zone [his first of the season] was particularly bad as it took points off the field and was a bad mental mistake, something that Brady rarely makes. His best throw was early on a 26-yard drop in the bucket to James White that set up the Patriots first touchdown.

But he wasn’t getting a ton of support from his wide receivers nor his offensive line in this game. There was plenty of negativity to go around…and will. 

Running Backs: B-

The Patriots got back James White this week, and as we pointed out in our keys, he figured to be a big part of the passing game [like the Buffalo game a year ago] and he was. White caught eight passes for 57 yards and was his normal, clutch self out there, setting up the Patriots first TD on a 26-yard wheel route where he beat Matt Milano. 

Sony Michel had 63 yards on 17 carries [3.7-yard average] and showed some signs of getting the running game going. He does, however, seem to take an extra half-second or so, with hitting the hole. And in his defense, maybe it is because there isn’t any there. 

Brandon Bolden again got some early work and scored on a nicely designed 4-yard run. Rex Burkhead was limited with a foot injury and got no carries, and had one reception for 7 yards. [More to this below] Jakob Johnson had some nice moments in the blocking game, including a nice clean out of Milano that sprung Michel on a 10-yard run.

Wide Receivers: D

The Buffalo secondary totally dominated this matchup on Sunday as the wide receivers got very little in the way of separation on Sunday. Josh Gordon had 3 catches for 46 yards including a big 31-yard drag route that the Bills challenged. Julian Edelman was banged up and not targeted nearly as much as normal and had only four catches for 30 yards. He also had a drop where he was in the clear and had a lot of running room. Phillip Dorsett, “the man that catches everything thrown his way” was taken away by the Bills. He was targeted 9 times and had 2 catches for 10 yards. Jakobi Meyers wasn’t targeted but once all game.

Last week the top three Edelman, Gordon, and Dorsett had 19 catches for 198 yards. This week they were targeted 23 times and had 9 catches for 86. That ain’t getting it done folks. 

Tight Ends: D-

Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo weren’t targeted once in the passing game. When the TEs’ biggest contribution is whether or not his rub route was a foul or not, the production isn’t getting there. And the blocking has not been great either, not bad per se, but not great. It makes one appreciate Gronk so much more when he blocked like another tackle out there.  

Offensive Line: C-

The offensive line still is having struggles opening holes in the running game, and they’re not getting a push on the opponent. Too many times the Bills stood them up at the line of scrimmage. The stretch runs don’t seem to be nearly as effective as the middle runs are. They were able to spring Michel on a few of them. 

The pass blocking didn’t allow a sack, but a lot of that has to do with Brady being able to get rid of the ball so fast, as in the second half, the Bills pressure put Brady on rollerskates far too many times. 

Coach Scarnecchia is always preaching everyone pulling together, and I believe that he’s going to sort this out. 

Defensive Line: A-

The defensive line led by Lawrence Guy was excellent. Guy constantly takes on double teams and stops the offensive line from getting any push. Danny Shelton, who is really playing well in his second stint in Foxboro, had another strong game inside. 

The Patriots pass rush racked up another five sacks for 40 yards and eight QB hits this week against the Bills QBs. While Frank Gore rolled up 109 yards on 17 carries, [6.4yard average], two of those runs totaled 61 yards and were from players other than the DL not making the plays at or near the line of scrimmage. 

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers even without Dont’a Hightower had another excellent game on Sunday. Kyle Van Noy, [becoming one of Bill Belichick’s biggest steals] was outstanding on the field for the Patriots. Van Noy was everywhere, eight tackles, including two for a loss, two sacks and four QB hits, including the final play for the defense where he hit Matt Barkley as he was releasing the ball, and allowed Jamie Collins an easy interception. 

Collins was again very good and has to be loving his second go ‘round with the Patriots.He had four tackles, one tackle for a loss, one sack, one QB hit, one pass defensed and one huge interception to seal the deal. 

Ja’Whaun Bentley was solid in filling in for Hightower, but he had one major gaffe early in the game. Gore showed a run to the outside, Bentley reacted too quickly and tried to fill a gap that was set on the edge. Gore recognized it and cut back to a wide-open B gap and ran it for 20 yards. 

Secondary: A-

The secondary had another big day intercepting three passes and limiting the Bills to just 10 points. J.C. Jackson had a pair of interceptions and provided very solid coverage. Zay Jones was held to 2 catches for 4 yards on 8 targets. John Brown and Stephon Gilmore battled hard all day with Brown coming away with 5 catches for 69 yards on 11 targets. Cole Beasley led Buffalo with seven catches for 75 yards with most of them later in the game after matching up with Jonathan Jones. 

Jackson had two mistakes that he’ll hear about from Belichick. On Frank Gore’s 41-yard run, Jackson had a clear attempt to wrap him up about two yards from the line of scrimmage. He turned and attempted a shoulder block that Gore shook off like a dog coming in from the rain and rolled for 41 yard…tsk, tsk. He also left his feet on a blitz against a mobile QB. Uh-oh, BB will take umbrage with that. But overall the second year UDFA had an excellent day.

Pat Chung had a solid game and had excellent coverage on Dawson Knox who just made a fantastic over the shoulder 26-yard catch on a third down. Couldn’t defend it any better than that.  Devin McCourty had his fourth interception in as many games. 

Special Teams: B

Stephen Gostkowski had another miss on the first extra point of the day in an increasingly puzzling development. That miss may have loomed large if the Bills had scored in their final drive.

But the special teams’ units scored a touchdown on a blocked punt by J.C. Jackson that was returned for a score by Matthew Slater, his first touchdown in a stellar 12-year career. Jake Bailey was outstanding again punting nine times for a 48.1 average including two punts of more than 60 yards.

Coaches: B-

The Patriots coaching staff had the team prepared and they made nearly all of the correct calls on defense and special teams. Obviously, they saw something on tape that showed them the Bills were ripe for a punt block and they executed it flawlessly. 

The offense and Joss McDaniels, however, struggled and the play calling was seemingly stagnant. They were relying on too many screens at or behind the line of scrimmage that the Bills were not fooled by all game. The Bills weakness on defense is the middle of the field targeting the linebackers but the Patriots attempted precious few attempts there. Perhaps Edelman being banged up and lack of confidence in the TEs has something to do with that. But Ben Watson should return just in time. 

We’re on to the nation’s capital to take on the Redskins at 4-0, so there is a reason for optimism around these parts. The “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” 2019 tour continues. 

 

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

 

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

 

Players To Watch Patriots-Dolphins Week 14

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Playoff Atmosphere in South Beach This Weekend

The New England Patriots head to Miami to take on the Dolphins on Sunday and would love to exorcize some South Florida demons that have plagued them down there. Like a week ago, this game is important for both teams. The Patriots want to at least keep the #2 seed for the time being with the Houston Texans having the same record where the Patriots own the tiebreaker having won head-to-head. And they’re just a game behind the Chiefs for the #1 seed, also with a tiebreaker in hand.

Miami at 6-6 is still very much in the Wild Card hunt but has a rough road if they want to make up any ground. Following the Patriots, they have to go to the Minnesota Vikings, the Jacksonville Jaguars before finishing up on the road in Buffalo.

Yesterday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally.

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

Sony Michel:

The Patriots rookie running back is a key part of the New England attack and the go-to guy in the running game. On the season Michel has carried the ball 144 times for 649 yards (4.5-yard average) with five touchdowns.

He’s facing a Miami defense that is allowing 144.7 yards per game and 5.0-yards per carry this season. Michel had his coming out party against Miami in Foxboro Week 4 when he carried 25 times for 125 yards and a 10-yard touchdown.

While the Patriots will probably use all three running backs heavily in this one, with Rex Burkhead and James White in the passing game, Michel should be a key component in the offensive game plan this week against a team that is struggling to stop the run.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best defensive lineman has been outstanding this season. And this week they’ll probably be moving him to the left side to attack what has been the Dolphins weak spot, the right side of their offensive line.

Setting the edge will be important this week with both Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore in the backfield for Miami and Flowers has been the best at doing that for the Pats all season.

Miami has given up 31 sacks on the season and they’ll have to bring pressure on Ryan Tannehill to get him to get rid of the ball quickly and hopefully force him into making some mistakes. Flowers has notched sacks in three of the past four games and could be in line for another big game this week. Last week, Miami RG Jesse Davis gave up a pair of sacks, was flagged for holding as well as a false start.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver is someone opponents have to account for him on every play, given his size and speed. With Xavien Howard out this week with a knee injury, Gordon’s role may become much larger this week as the Dolphins will have to shuffle personnel around to cover for their ball-hawking corner.

Gordon will draw either Minkah Fitzpatrick or second-year UDFA Torry McTyer and they are matchups that Tom Brady will be testing out early in this one. Gordon has been solid for the Patriots since arriving in mid-stream this season but has only had two 100-yard games, Chicago (4-100) and Green Bay (5-130-1TD). Could this be #3 for him?

Gordon wasn’t part of the game plan until late in the third quarter last week against Minnesota before ending up with 3 catches for 58 yards, and a score as well as drawing a big pass interference penalty. We expect that will change this week.

Kyle Van Noy:

The Patriots under the radar linebacker doesn’t have that concern when it comes to the Miami Dolphins. Dolphins coach Adam Gase called Van Noy a “nightmare for us” the past two seasons. And indeed Van Noy, when he’s been in the lineup has been exactly that when facing the Dolphins.

In the win in Foxboro in 2017, Van Noy had six tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, two QB pressures and a QB hit. This year in the 38-7 win in Week 4, four tackles, two pressures, a QB hit, and a fumble recovery. It is interesting to note, that Van Noy was injured and missed the late season game in Miami last year. Doug Kyed from NESN reported that Gase said that Van Noy on their radar.

“He does a great job. He disrupts. He does a great job setting the edge,” Gase said. “He always does a great job any time we — if we ever try to run the ball to the edge, it’s getting to the point where it’s kind of pointless. He shuts down the run to his side. That whole defensive line does a great job as far as when they’re working their stunts and you got the TEs and the ETs, they set each other up so well. There’s a lot of unselfish football going on along the defensive front. He plays a big part in it. He causes all kinds of problems.”

Chris Hogan:

The Patriots wide receiver has kind of been the forgotten man in the Patriots offense in the second half of the season. He went thru two straight games without being targeted at all. In the last two games, Hogan’s been targeted twice with two catches in each. And although it seems like his production is way off his previous seasons, it isn’t really. If Hogan can average two catches or more for the final four games of the season, he’d be right about the same production he’s been in the past.

We wrote that he may be an “X-Factor” in the offense this week. With Miami banged up across their roster and missing Howard in their secondary, it puts more pressure on the backup players. The trickle-down effect means that Hogan could be facing lesser competition with the Dolphins top defenders worrying about Gordon, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski.

He could be in line for a game like he had against either Kansas City or Chicago in back-to-back weeks where he had four catches for 78 yards or six for 63 respectively. One area where they’ve not targeted Hogan or Edelman as much this season is in the red zone. Especially that play along the back of the end zone. This may be a perfect time to dust that one off.

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.

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

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

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

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

Things you can set your watch/calendar by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Defense Dominates Vikes in 24-10 Win

Steve Balestrieri
December 4, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots returned home to face the Minnesota Vikings in a game that was very important to both teams. And this one was dominated by the Pats defense, they held Minnesota to just 10 points and just three in the second half. The Vikings duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs was held in check extremely effectively by the NE secondary.

The Patriots offense rolled up 471 yards to just 278 for Minnesota. The win puts the Patriots at 9-3 for their 18th straight winning season which is second in NFL history to the Cowboys who had 21 straight winning seasons.

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

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady, mostly threw underneath to the backs and WRs on screen passes and quick throws which really gouged the Minnesota defense. When the Vikings began to adapt their looks and adjust, Brady then moved the ball down the field. He finished 24-32 for 311 yards (9.7-yard average which is great) with 1 TD and 1 INT for a 102.5 passer rating.

Brady’s movement in the pocket was superb, he felt the pressure and would slide or step up in the pocket. On his one pick, he was hit by Harrison Smith as he was letting go of the ball. Against one of the better defenses in the league, this was a very good performance.

Brady didn’t make any what we’d characterize as “great” throws, but he got everyone involved and kept the chains moving. But he was very good and kept the Vikings off balance.

Running Backs: B-

The Patriots running backs played a huge role in this game, they combined for 40 carries and catches on the day. James White had a big day with 6 carries for 26 yards and 7 catches for 92 more. Sony Michel didn’t have the biggest day with only a 3.7-yard average but he ran hard and was going against one of the better run defenses (3rd)  in the league. Rex Burkhead returned from IR and had a good solid complementary effort.

Overall, the Patriots ran for 160 yards on 39 carries which is a 4.1-yard average. While good anytime, against the Vikings defense, that is a very big game. It shows the coaches have faith in the running game and the players. Contrast that to what Minnesota did with just 13 rushes on the day.

James Develin had a pair of touchdowns from the one and the two-yard lines. The team may have found what ails them in the red zone and short-yardage.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers, for the most part, had a pretty quiet game. Josh Gordon wasn’t even targeted until the closing moments of the 3rd Quarter. And then in the blink of an eye, Gordon has three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown as well as drawing a pass interference penalty.

Julian Edelman was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 25 yards) but added 35 more in the running game. Chris Hogan had a pair of catches on two targets and Patterson had a big day, rushing, receiving and returning kickoffs for 114 yards total.  Phillip Dorsett wasn’t targeted.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 26 yards) but was his usual beast-like self in the running game opening holes for the running backs. He also got flagged for a couple of penalties for a false start and holding.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line did a tremendous job considering the defense they were going up against. Minnesota entered the game with the third overall defense, 4th against the run, 5th against the pass and the Pats rolled up 471 yards.

The offensive line opened enough holes in the running game for the Pats to run for 160 yards. The pass protection, while solid wasn’t really tested much as Brady was throwing quick passes and the misdirection plays and screens kept the Vikings on their heels.

But when they did throw downfield later in the game, they did a tremendous job against one of the better defensive units in the league.

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had a very solid night. They were mixing and matching and shifting players around to bring pressure on Kirk Cousins and they sacrificed their run defense in order to take away what the Vikings do best.

Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy both turned in excellent games. Adam Butler and Adrian Clayborn both contributed and the front seven were a constant disruption of the Vikings offense all night long. The Patriots dusted off their muddled front with at times only Flowers as the only down lineman, and with others Flowers and Butler.

And BTW, Guy stopped Murray short on that 4th and 1, I still don’t think Murray has made the sticks yet. Awful call.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers easily had their best game of the season. With the coverage downfield solid, Cousins was forced to check down to his running backs which is a weakness of the LB unit right? Well on Sunday night. Dalvin Cook had eight catches, for just 22 yards. Latavius Murray had two catches for three yards.

All three of the linebackers (Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts) were all over the field. They were tackling receivers with no yards after the catch and rushing up in the rush against the QB.

Roberts set the tone early with a thunderous hit on Cook on the first snap. But he was victimized twice on runs over running the hole and those two plays went for 50 yards on the ground. While that knocks down the grade a bit, Roberts was all over the field and was hitting everything in sight.

Secondary: A-

The secondary was terrific. Adam Thielen came in with nine 100-yard games and the Patriots held him to just five catches for 28 yards and a score. The Patriots doubled him most of the game which took him effectively out of the game plan.

Stephon Gilmore was very effective on Stefon Diggs and the team felt confident enough in rookie J.C. Jackson that they slid him over on Diggs as well. That allowed them to get creative on third downs. Jason McCourty largely covered Thielen in the slot which then allowed the Pats to move the bigger Jackson outside.

The safeties,   Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Obi Melifonwu were very active and they confused Cousins with their crowding things up with their looks down low in the box. It all played a hand in how they limited the Vikings to just 201 yards thru the air. Jonathan Jones and Duron Harmon had interceptions.

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams was lauded by Belichick after the game for their results in the kicking game. Ryan Allen had another strong game pinning the Vikings inside the 10 and angling his punts along the sideline. Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman both had nice returns of 34 and 23 respectively. Jonathan Jones may have influenced a missed FG with his breaking thru the line. But they also gave up big returns in the kicking game and Brandon King got whistled for a hold that wiped out a nice punt return.

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff came up with a terrific game plan to take on the Vikings and the players executed it extremely well. There was no doubt that the Patriots were ready for this one, right from the opening snap. Brian Flores had a very aggressive game plan on tap right from the start and they didn’t deviate from it, even when the Vikings made them pay for it on their only touchdown drive of the game just before halftime.

Josh McDaniels was trying to take away the Vikings pass rush early in this one with screens, quick passes, and misdirection, and the defense was never able to assert itself in this game. They had their moments when they sputtered but going 7-14 on third down and 2-3 in the red zone against the Vikings defense, numbers which would have been even better if the referees called an interference on Edelman on third and goal (but we digress).

Bill Belichick had a firm hold on this one throughout. The team was prepared and they all executed the game plan in fine fashion.

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

Patriots Strong Finish Buries Vikings 24-10, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots took a workman-like approach to the game on Sunday and ground out a hard-fought 24-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The victory moved the Pats to 9-3 and they have kept the #2 seed behind Kansas City who beat the Raiders on Sunday.

All week there has been some loud noise from the doubters stating that maybe this team wasn’t as good as some of the other Patriots teams in the past and that the defense, bereft of playmakers would be the Achilles Heel of them. That remains to be seen but the indications are that this team is rounding into form defensively.

It was the defense that stepped up, limiting the Vikings to just 10 points. Kirk Cousins was frustrated all night long as the Minnesota deep passing game was taken away and he was forced to check down for passes underneath.

He completed eight passes to Dalvin Cook out of the backfield but for just 22 yards. The tackling and coverage were terrific on those.

The Patriots secondary was outstanding, the dynamic duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs was held in check. Combined, they managed 10 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. Thielen who had nine 100 yard games entering the contest was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a score. Diggs had five for 49. Mission accomplished

It was truly a collaborative effort when combatting Thielen who has been tearing it up in the league this season. Jason McCourty drew the assignment when Thielen lined in the slot. Stephon Gilmore covered Thielen occasionally when he was on the outside. Rookie J.C. Jackson even lined up on him once or twice.

Some observations from the game include:

Patriots Offense Still A Work in Progress:

On some levels, it still seems like the team doesn’t really know what it has offensively. It really seems like Josh McDaniels and the offense is playing their cards close to their vest. They mixed things up nicely on their opening drive, a variety of runs, screen passes, and misdirection had the Vikings on their heels. They scored a touchdown but then would only add three points for the rest of the first half.

They stayed conservative until late in the third quarter and then Tom Brady began pushing the ball down the field and they quickly found their rhythm. While we believe that the Patriots should be scoring more than 24 points (they certainly believe that) the fact that they rolled up 471 yards of offense on the third-ranked defense in the NFL.

And on third down and the red zone what we believed was to be a key area of the game, they were 7-14 and 2 of 3 respectively against the #1 team. Tom Brady finished 24-32 for 311 yards (9.7-yard average) with a TD and an INT. His passer rating was 102.5

Brian Flores Is More Aggressive Than Patriots Teams in the Past:

The Patriots defense came into this one looking to try to limit the Minnesota deep passing game. They did it extremely well, with very good coverage and an aggressive blitz scheme that keep the Vikings on their heels and made them earn every yard down the field.

The Vikings were just 3-12 on third down for the game as Flores did a tremendous job of disguising their coverages and looks and dialing up the pressure that made Cousins have to get rid of the ball to his check down receivers.

Cousins burned them on it, as can happen when they beat the blitz during the Vikings only touchdown drive at the end of the first half. That’s the risk you take but overall the unit played very well. And they never went away from it. They were willing to concede the running game (95 yards on 13 carries) by getting after the passer. Trey Flowers was terrific once again.

We wrote before the game, lost in all of the talk about the yardage allowed by the Patriots defense thru the air was the fact that they were the 6th best team in the Opposing QB rating with a mark of 87.3. Cousins’ QB rating for Sunday was 70.3.

I like that the Patriots are working in Obi Melifonwu into the game plan covering tight ends in the dime package. He was competitive going against Kyle Rudolph and certainly looked like he knocked the ball out on the sidelines. But the officials ruled it a catch. On that subject, Lativius Murray still hasn’t reached the sticks on the 4th and 1 run…no evidence?

Gordon Invisible For a Half Then Bursts Out:

Something that goes along with McDaniels playing things close to his vest was the game of Josh Gordon. He wasn’t even targeted in the first half. Then after Minnesota tied the score, the offense looked his way when he and Brady began the next drive hooking up for a 24-yard catch and run. They’d finish the drive in a similar fashion.

On a 1st-and-10 from the Vikings 24-yard line, Brady stepped up in the pocket and found Gordon all alone inside the 10. He found the open spot in the Vikings zone coverage, and Brady zipped him the ball. Gordon caught the pass at the 7-yard line, and easily cruised into the end zone. He finished with three catches for 58 yards and the score.

After the game, he was asked the significance of catching Brady’s 500th TD pass and then his 579th career pass (including postseason) to tie Peyton Manning and he had this to say.

“It must be fate. I won’t say coincidence, but it’s great to be on the receiving end of it,” Gordon said. “Extremely humbled to come out here every Sunday and get a chance to play, let alone with Tom Brady, the greatest to ever do it. So to be part of history with him? I can’t really even put the words to describe what that means to me. It’s just great to have the opportunity.”

Patriots Offensive Line Deserves High Marks Again:

Coming into this game, the thought was that the Patriots couldn’t run the way they did against the Jets when they ran for over 200 yards. They didn’t, but they came pretty close, running for 160 yards against a much, much tougher Viking front seven. The offensive line led the way with a very strong performance and didn’t allow a sack of Brady on the night.

Sony Michel led the way with 63 yards on 17 carries but seven different Patriots ran the ball in a team-oriented win. Rex Burkhead returned and had seven carries and two pass receptions. James Develin showed some respite for the short-yardage game with two short touchdown runs.

Cordarrelle Patterson played against his former team and accounted for 114 yards with 1 carry for six yards, 2 catches for 53 yards and 2 kickoff returns for 55 more. James White had six carries for 26 and seven more catches for 92 for 118 yards.

So with the Pittsburgh Steelers blowing a big second-half lead to the Chargers, that drops them a game and a half behind New England for the #2 seed. But Houston won again and has the same record so they can’t falter now.

The Patriots move on to Miami for a “Hat and T-shirt” game for the division win next week. That’s always the first goal, win the division, get a first round bye….etc.

We’re on to Miami.

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.

New England Patriots News 12-02, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 2, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-02, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
And our players to watch from a Patriots perspective by clicking on the links:

Trey Flowers missed practice on Friday, and immediately alarm bells went off. But then it was announced that his absence was not injury related. He published the reason for his absence later and it was a good one.

Did you Know? With two touchdown passes, Brady will move past Brett Favre for the second-most TD passes in the regular season with 509, (Manning has 539), and he’d move ahead of Manning for the most TD passes for both the regular and postseason combined with 580.

Did you Know Pt.2? Since 2001, the Patriots are 91-12 (.883) when they don’t turn the ball over and 144-12 (.923) with a positive turnover margin.

Did you Know Pt. 3: With a win, the Patriots will own a 54-14 (.794) record vs. NFC teams since
realignment in 2002, which is the best interconference record in the NFL during that time, including a 17-3 mark against the NFC North. With a win today the Patriots will improve their home record versus the NFC to 27-7 (.794)

Bill Belichick coaches his 300th regular season game for the Patriots today. Since 2000, he has a record of 222-77 (.742) and led the Patriots to 15 division titles in 18 seasons.

The NFL and KC Chiefs organizations continue to hit the low bar when it comes to violence against women. The Chiefs released Kareem Hunt on Friday after the video of an assault against a woman he had spent the day with surfaced on TMZ.

The Chiefs and NFL knew about this when it happened in February and the league with a large investigative branch of ex-cops, FBI agents and private investigators couldn’t find in nine months what TMZ did? They turned a blind eye toward it until it hit them in the face (Ray Rice video ring a bell?) The truth is…the Chiefs didn’t want to know, they were content, chalking this up to being young and inexperienced. Which is worse.

McDaniels Leaving? Doubtful:

Every year when the list for potential new NFL head coaches come out, Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels normally is one of the most mentioned coaches that may be on the market.  I highlight “may-be” because I really don’t think that McDaniels is going anywhere this spring, although stranger things have happened.

After the Indianapolis Colts had their flirtation with McDaniels and he bolted at the last possible second and opted to remain with the Patriots, he was signed to a five-year deal which supposedly pays him in the top tier of assistant coaches in the NFL.

If there was one place where he could possibly be enticed, it would be Cleveland. The Browns have seemingly turned a corner and it was known that McDaniels really liked Baker Mayfield in last spring’s NFL Draft. But one would have to believe that as long as Tom Brady is playing, that McDaniels is staying put as well.

Belichick is Pleased With Patterson in 2018:

The Patriots picked up Cordarrelle Patterson this year and no one was really sure how’d he’d do in the New England system. Patterson has always been a dynamic kick returner and this season has been no exception, he’s returned one for a TD, while most times teams are content with booting the ball out of the end zone and giving the Patriots the ball at the 25-yard line. But beyond that, it was a question mark.

Patterson has fit in quite well, doing a little bit where ever he’s been needed. Early in the year when the team was woefully thin at WR, he filled in and had some production there. Later as injuries wracked the running back position, Patterson accepted the challenge and filled in there as well. On the season Patterson has caught 13 passes for 122 yards with 2 TDs including a 55-yarder. He’s carried the ball 37 times for 156 yards and a score. In the kicking game, he’s returned 17 kicks for 525 yards (30.9-yard average) with a 95-yard return for a TD.

Bill Belichick mentioned Patterson during his comments on Weds. “…he’s been a good player with two different organizations,” Belichick said.  “You know, he ran the ball, he caught it, he ran with it, he returned it, he covered kicks, he blocked – he has a lot of skill and he’s a big guy that can run, he’s tough, and he shows up every day.

“So, we thought were getting that, that’s what we got and we’ve used him in different ways.  He’s embraced it, he’s worked hard to learn and accept different roles and he’s done them well.  So, he’s been a pleasure to coach, he’s been a great addition to our team and he’s given us a lot of versatility, and times where we’ve really needed him to step in and help us, and he has.”

Tom Brady has blessed Patterson with the nickname, “The Experiment” and it is one the player has embraced. “Oh man, I like any nickname Tom gives me,” Patterson said.  “I’m enjoying my time here. I am having fun, as always. No matter where I am I am going to have fun and enjoy myself like it’s my last.”

McCourty Helping Melinfonwu Get Up to Speed with the Safties:

Zack Cox from NESN had a nice piece this week on the website about how veteran Devin McCourty and the other safeties are aiding newcomer Obi Melifonwu to get fully acclimated to the Patriots defense. After saying that the Grafton, Mass. native and UConn alum was “freaking huge”, McCourty said the 6’4, 224-lb safety is doing all the right things with his teammates.

“He’s a bigger, physical guy,” McCourty said to Cox “and I thought he’s done a great job, whether it’s staying after with (Steve Belichick), talking to myself, (Pat) Chung or (Duron Harmon) (about) when he’s out there, what we expect of him and what we need him to do and then what he expects of us and what we need to do to help him.”

McCourty reiterated what we’ve said here, Melifonwu may be the team’s long-term answer covering opponent’s tight ends. “(He’s a) very athletic guy,” McCourty added. “He’s able to go up there and match up on some tight ends, and where we’re talking about being undersized against them, he lines up and is mano-a-mano, same size.

We’ve been on the Obi bandwagon since the 2017 NFL Draft, so to say we’re optimists here would be an understatement.

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 13 Predictions:

Last week: 10-5 Season 114-60-2

Thursday night’s picks Saints over the Cowboys 0-1

Baltimore at Atlanta: Falcons
Denver at Cincinnati: Broncos
LA Rams at Detroit: Rams
Arizona at Green Bay: Packers
Buffalo at Miami: Dolphins
Chicago at NY Giants: Bears
Carolina at Tampa Bay: Panthers
Indianapolis at Jacksonville: Colts
Cleveland at Houston: Texans
NY Jets at Tennessee: Titans
KC at Oakland: Chiefs
Minnesota at New England: Patriots
San Francisco at Seattle: Seahawks
LA Chargers at Pittsburgh SNF: Chargers
Washington at Philadelphia MNF: Eagles

Thursday Early Pick: Titans over Jaguars

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Look To Continue Winning Ways In Miami:

The Buffalo Bills own a modest two-game winning streak, but when you’re 4-7, you look for positives where they may fall. Technically the Bills still have a minuscule chance at the post-season, they’d have to run the table and finish at 9-7 and still need help but they are playing a Dolphins team that is also struggling at 5-6 and on defense.

Rookie QB Josh Allen has struggled this season but against a Miami defense that is  29th in total yards allowed, 30th in passing yards per attempt, 29th in sacks and 29th in rushing yards allowed, things are looking better for a Bills offense that has struggled.

But the Buffalo defense will have to be much better against the run this week. They were gashed by the Jaguars to the tune of 225 yards before Leonard Fournette foolishly got himself ejected from the game. And they’ll have to deal with Frank Gore and Kenyon Drake who gives Miami a nice 1-2 punch.

Clock Running Out on Dolphins/Tannehill:

The Miami Dolphins have been patient, very patient in waiting for Ryan Tannehill to become the franchise QB that they hoped they drafted in 2012 when they selected him with the 8th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

But here he is and will be entering the fourth year of a six-year, $95.272 million deal that he signed in 2015. And the Dolphins are still waiting. Tannehill has only played in six games this year, getting injured in his throwing shoulder. But in those games, the Dolphins are 3-3, with Tannehill going 102-154 for 1,176 yards, 10 touchdowns, and five interceptions.

Miami, like Buffalo, has to go on a roll at the end of the season to make the playoffs. That may be the only thing that saves Tannehill’s tenure with the Dolphins. He can be jettisoned next spring when he’ll be owed a cap hit of $26,611,666. Miami will absorb a $13,423,334 dead cap hit if they release him in March.

McCown Expected to Start in Tenn. for the Jets:

The New York Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold is rapidly getting back to normal from his injured foot and was removed from the injury report on Friday. But even still, the Jets are expected to roll with the veteran Josh McCown this week and possibly start Darnold against Buffalo next week.

At 3-8, the Jets season is over and now they’re playing for pride…and jobs for next year. But this week, they’re facing a 5-6 Tennessee team that still has a shot at a playoff berth but was smarting from a loss at Houston last week.

The Jets are reeling, losers of five in a row and have allowed back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances by the opposition. Facing a rush-heavy Titans attack with Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, and QB Marcus Mariota, the pressure will be on the Jets front seven to play much better this 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.