Tag Archives: Patriots edge rushers

Patriots – Raiders Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 17, 2017 at 10:57 am ET

¡Bienvenidos a México! The Patriots finish up the first two-game leg of their road trip with an outside the border game in Mexico City this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, November 19 at 4:25 p.m. and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (7-2) are coming off a big 41-16 win in Denver, Tom Brady and Dion Lewis were AFC Offensive and Special Teams Players of the Week respectively as the Pats rolled to an easy victory.

The Raiders (4-5) are coming off of their bye week. This was a team that was picked by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this season. But they struggled in the early going and dug themselves into a deep hole. They’ll have to go no worse than 6-1 down the stretch to make the postseason and have a chance for a deep playoff run. For the Raiders, the playoffs start on Sunday.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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 Raiders have played one another since 1960 but have only met 34 times. However, the two playoff matchups both ended with very controversial calls. While many Raiders fans point to the “Tuck Rule” game of 2001, they forget the 1976 game in Oakland when referee Ben Dreith, an admitted Raiders fan called the phantom roughing the passer penalty on Ray Hamilton in the closing seconds of that one.

Overall the Patriots lead the series 18-15-1 and have won the last four meetings including a 16-9 win in Foxboro in 2014.

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 Raiders Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Oakland

The Patriots running game has been improving but still isn’t where they want it to be. They average just under 108 yards per game. The coaches seem to be settling on a duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead because it keeps opponents off balance and the team is just as likely to pass as run. James White is the third-down back and Mike Gillislee was a surprise healthy scratch last week.  

The Raiders run defense hasn’t been great allowing 116.6 yards per game but they’ve gotten a boost by adding NaVorro Bowman who was cut by the 49ers. The big man can’t move like he used to but remains a sure tackler inside and has been very productive in his three games with the Raiders.

Look for the Patriots to run just enough to keep the Raiders defense honest this week. I don’t expect a big game from either Lewis or Burkhead on the ground, but if they can get out to a lead, they may add some yards down the stretch.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging 301.6 per game and Tom Brady continues his torrid 2017 season. Even with a banged up receiving core, with Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell on IR and Chris Hogan injured, the beat goes on. Brady still has Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, and Phillip Dorsett outside, with Rob Gronkowski and newly added Martellus Bennett at tight end with White, Burkhead and Lewis out of the backfield. There are plenty of options still to use and Brady does. The team has five players with 30 or more catches. The favorite target? The open one.

The Raiders secondary has struggled badly this season, their top three cornerbacks were among the worst rated at their position in the NFL. They lost their top draft pick, rookie corner Gareon Conley to IR. Their pass rush despite having Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards have netted just 13 sacks. They have an issue covering the tight ends as well where it could be a big mismatch with Gronkowski.

Look for the Patriots and Tom Brady to air it out this week. Oakland’s secondary has yet to record an interception this season and with the WRs and TEs putting pressure on the back seven, the running backs in the passing game should give Brady a huge edge here. It will be interesting to see if Oakland puts rookie Obi Melifonwu on Gronkowski. He has the size and speed to keep up with the big man. That’s why they drafted him. But he began the season on IR and has one game under his belt. But Gronkowski against either Reggie Nelson or Karl Joseph is a huge mismatch. We’re one of Obi’s biggest fans here, but this may be a tough matchup in just his second game.

Next up the Raiders offense:

Raiders RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Raiders running game has been a disappointment in 2017. Last year the Raiders were 6th in the league and thought that adding former Bill and Seahawk Marshawn Lynch would vault them to the top. Things haven’t worked that way yet this season. The Raiders average just 87.6 yards per game this season, just 26th on the season.

The Patriots run defense has struggled in 2017, they were gashed early in the year with Dont’a Hightower playing outside and Alan Branch benched. Teams were running very effectively up the middle. But Branch has stepped up his game and although Hightower was lost for the year, veteran David Harris and Elandon Roberts are doing well in run support.

Look for the Raiders to try to get Lynch involved and active early in this game. It will help set up their big-play abilities in play action to take shots down the field. Lynch, if he can get going, gets more effective as the game goes on, so they’ll have to stay patient with the running game.   

Raiders WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Oakland

Oakland’s passing game got off to a very slow start. Part of the issue could be that they’re under a new Offensive Coordinator, Todd Dowling. They have all the necessary ingredients to be a tremendous passing offense with Derek Carr at QB, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Cordarrelle Patterson outside, Jared Cook at tight end and DeAndre Washington out of the backfield. But they’ve only averaged 237 yards per game throwing the ball.

The Patriots pass defense is playing much better since a nightmarish start to the season. Last week they got back Stephon Gilmore from a concussion injury and he held Demaryius Thomas to just 44 yards on five catches. He and Malcolm Butler are a fine tandem and if they get back Eric Rowe this week, it will be a huge boost. The Patriots pass rush is struggling as well, logging only 16 sacks themselves.

The Raiders passing game is beginning to round into form. In their last three games, Carr has thrown for 1025 yards against Kansas City, Buffalo, and Miami. Cooper is heating up as well as Cook. Cook has been thrown to 21 times the past three weeks and has 18 receptions. This will be a huge test for Matt Patricia’s defense. Have they truly turned the corner in the back seven? This will be a big measuring stick to find out.

The key from a Patriots perspective is to limit the big plays and make the Raiders work their way down the field. Carr is going to get his yards, but they must make the stops in the red zone and make the Raiders settle for threes.  

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having a very solid season. His kickoffs have been terrific to pin opponents deep.  The coverage units have been outstanding and keep getting better. The return game has been getting a boost by Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis. Lewis returned a kickoff 103 yards last week and 71 in the game prior. Ryan Allen has improved as the season has gone on.

The Raiders Special Teams boast one of the most dangerous returners in the game with Patterson and one of the best punters with Marquette King who owns a 50.3-yard average… (not a typo) In the thin air of Mexico City, King may put one in the traffic pattern at Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México. But the Patriots STs are operating on another plane right now and get the slightest of edges here.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one as we mentioned is a must-win game for the Raiders. A loss here will put them is in real danger of missing the postseason. The Patriots too need this game to keep pace with the Steelers who won on Thursday night to move to 8-2 in the AFC. The Raiders are coming off their bye and have had two weeks to prepare. But if there is a criticism of Jack Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr., they are a “we do what we do defense” If they don’t mix things up quite a bit, Brady will have a field day against this secondary. Mix in the unknown factor of playing in the altitude of Mexico City. The Patriots seem well prepared by their staying in Colorado this week.  Patriots 34-24

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

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

McClellin Setback Another Big Blow for the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
November 8, 2017 at 6:03 am ET

The news wasn’t good for the Patriots on Tuesday as they learned that LB Shea McClellin, who had been on IR since the end of preseason, had suffered a setback in his return and now he too will be likely lost for the season.

The Patriots linebacking core is already dealing with the loss of Dont’a Hightower and this one could be more damaging than meets the eye. Hightower’s loss meant that the Patriots lost an edge rusher as well as a linebacker who can stuff the run inside and be used in a coverage role. McClellin, who was brought over to New England in 2016 as a free agent can also perform all three of those roles, albeit not as well as Hightower but his versatility is what sets him apart.

The Patriots didn’t address the linebacker position at the end of the trading deadline possibly because they were expecting to get McClellin back this week. It was hoped that he’d be back in uniform this week in Denver. Now that possibility is dashed and he’ll probably not play at all this season.

Shea McClellin’s 2017 season may be over before it ever began. (SBalestrieri photo)

McClellin was placed on IR in what has now been reported as a concussion. He’s had a history of those prior to coming to New England. And once he was eligible to return to practice on October 18, he did which automatically began the 21-day window in which the Patriots had to either activate him, place him on season-ending IR or release him.

McClellin’s 21-day window ended on Tuesday at 4 p.m. If the Patriots wish to keep him on the active roster, they’d have to make a corresponding move and release another player off of the active roster.

Teams are allowed to make two such moves with players on IR each season. Since McClellin had already begun practicing, he counts as one. The added bad news is that now means that either DL Vincent Valentine or WR Malcolm Mitchell will likely be reverted to season-ending IR soon.

Neither one has begun practicing yet. It has been reported that Mitchell has begun running again but it also means that he isn’t close to returning anytime soon. Valentine’s chances may have taken a hit since the team signed DL Ricky Jean Francois on Tuesday. Francois is a two-gap run stuffer and he may see action in Denver with DL Malcom Brown likely out with an ankle injury.  

McClellin’s injury leaves the team thin again depth wise. Kyle Van Noy was moved outside as an edge rushing option more with Hightower gone. That leaves Elandon Roberts and veteran David Harris as interior run stuffers but neither one is considered viable in a coverage role.

Other players such as Trevor Reilly and Marquis Flowers are considered more Special Teams players than as linebackers. Reilly has the size and athleticism to potentially be used more in an edge role. While Flowers has speed and athleticism to be used in a coverage role. But since neither has played yet this season in either of those scenarios, it wouldn’t be expected that they’d contribute there now.

The Patriots defense has already been dealing with not only the Hightower injury but the absence of cornerbacks Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore. Now with Malcom Brown out with an injury, it really depletes a unit that has been struggling to find its 2016 form. With five of their next six games on the road, after traveling to Denver and Mexico City to face the Raiders, the team returns home for one week before going on the road to Buffalo, Miami and Pittsburgh, the defense is going to be facing some challenges.

So who is the “next man up” in the linebacking role? In the pass coverage realm expect to see more Pat Chung or Jordan Richards as the “Big Nickel” safety/LB role close to the line of scrimmage. Cassius Marsh who has played in about 50 percent of the snaps will probably see an uptick in work as a pass rusher, although he could do a better job of setting the edge more consistently.

It now opens the door for a potential reunion with OLB Akeem Ayers who spent the 2014 Super Bowl season with the Patriots after being picked up as a midseason trade addition. The 28-year old is currently a free agent and was in Foxboro for a workout in September. Many will remember he posted a cryptic tweet after Dont’a Hightower was injured against Atlanta. Now he could be getting a phone call as the depth at linebacker took another hit.

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

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

Patriots Mid-season Report Card: Still a Work in Progress But Trending Up

Steve Balestrieri
November 6, 2017 at 8:54 am ET

The Patriots enter the bye week at 6-2, a game ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East and now surprisingly in control of their own destiny in the AFC playoff seedings. After laying a stinker on opening night against the Chiefs, and dropping the home game to Carolina, they were essentially three games behind Kansas City. But courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys, the Chiefs have dropped three of their last four games which puts the Patriots and Steelers at 6-2 atop of the AFC. The two teams will meet later this season. It just goes to show how the season is a marathon and not a sprint.

The season started with the offense just clicking on nearly all cylinders and the defense looking historically bad. With the last four weeks, however, the offensive output has noticeably cooled while the defense, still far from perfect is allowing just 12.8 points per game and has backboned the team on the four-game winning streak.

This being New England, we always tend to focus on the what-ifs. And I’ve heard the same yada-yada that the team could easily be anywhere between 2-6 and 7-1. Well they’re not, they are what their record says they are…(sound familiar), which is 6-2

Here is our look at the team and where they stand at the midway point of the season. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady leads the league attempts (309), completions (206) and yards (2,541). He’s tied for second in fewest interceptions (two), tied for third in touchdowns (16) and is fifth in completion percentage (66.7). Those are tremendous numbers and he’s at the top of the list for players who could be in line for the MVP if the season were to end today.

But Brady is his own worst critic and after the victory over the Chargers (almost said San Diego), he lamented the lack of red zone production the team is suffering. He obviously has to share in some of that. He’s not immune to making mistakes and has made some.

I believe that he’s still missing his biggest target of the past several years in Julian Edelman. While everyone around him has stepped up, it is still a significant loss.

Running Backs: B

The running backs diverseness and versatility are the keys to what makes the offense so potentially lethal. They are deep and each of the top four backs brings something a little different to the table than the others.

James White is still at the head of the class. He followed up a tremendous Super Bowl with a very solid first half of the season. He leads the team with 43 receptions and ranks 2nd in the NFL in receptions by a running back. He remains a good runner between the tackles and a tremendous pass blocker. Dion Lewis was a ghost early in the season and the frequent target of trade rumors. No longer. Lewis has emerged as the lead back in the running game and is getting that shifty, waterbug elusiveness that we saw early in 2015. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry which is impressive.

Mike Gillislee has been a bit of a disappointment thus far. Although he has rushed for four touchdowns, he hasn’t been able to run with the consistency that we were expecting to see. We’ve seen flashes the past few weeks of him turning the corner, and maybe his comfort level in the offense will begin to take hold and we’ll see him turn it on.

Rex Burkhead missed four-plus games with a rib injury he suffered in the first half of Week Two in New Orleans. But as he’s been eased back into the lineup the past two games, he’s shown the ability to run the ball well as well as catch it and be a nice option in the passing game. James Develin remains one of the better blocking fullbacks in the league. The biggest issue facing this group has been the maddening inability to pick up short yardage runs. This is an area that must be improved down the stretch.

Wide Receivers: B+

The Patriots wide receivers despite missing Julian Edelman have performed very well in the first half of the season while dealing with a myriad of injuries. Besides Edelman, second-year receiver Malcolm Mitchell began the season on IR. Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola both have suffered from different injuries.

Brady has spread the wealth very equitably thus far, Brandin Cooks and Hogan have 33 receptions and Amendola 31. Add in tight end Rob Gronkowski’s 34 receptions and you have a true sharing of the spoils. Cooks has been the deep threat receiver that can stretch the field that they’ve lacked and is on pace for an 1100 yard season. He can be a bit more consistent in the short areas of the field but has been as good as advertised.

Hogan has stepped up his game from a year ago and has been very dependable and frequently makes plays despite taking some big shots this year. Amendola always seems to make the big catches at crunch time in big situations and has arguably the best hands on the team. Phillip Dorsett was brought in for depth and has contributed but not a lot as he’s been very limited in his snaps.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski has been able to stay healthy this season after coming back from back surgery last season that saw him land on IR. He’s on pace for a 70 catch, 1000 yard season despite being held more than any tight end on a consistent basis. As closely as the referees watch him from pushing off, they seem to miss him being mugged constantly as he’s running down the field.

Dwayne Allen has been a total bust thus far. Through eight games he’s still looking for his first reception as a member of the Patriots. His inability to carve out even the slightest of roles in the passing game has been a major disappointment and factors into the team’s red zone woes. It has affected his blocking as well.

Rookie Jacob Hollister is still a work in progress but has shown a nice ability to threaten the seams of the defense. He may see an uptick in red zone targets as he gets more comfortable in the offense.

 

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line has had their share of struggles this season. Tom Brady has been sacked more this season than he was all of last year. However, both Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon have been playing hurt and the number of sacks has trended down the last few weeks. They face a big test in Denver on Sunday night, and this will be a matchup worth watching closely this week.

The interior of the line has been solid in pass protection for the most part and they are beginning to find their comfort level in the running game. That being said, the offensive line has struggled to open holes for the team in short yardage. The Patriots rank only 21st in yards per carry with 3.7. That must improve down the stretch.

Defensive Line: C+

The Patriots defensive line started the season, like much of the defense woefully slow and the normally stout defensive line against the run was being gashed. Alan Branch started very slowly and saw little playing time and was a healthy scratch. Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy both had their issues early as well.

The pass rush, as expected, has struggled with bouts of inconsistency. Trey Flowers has been good but after that, it has been just flashes from everyone else. Deatrich Wise has shown good ability to get after the passer as has Cassius Marsh and Adam Butler. But they’ve struggled at times in setting the edge and maintaining their lanes. Those things are expected with young players. Dont’a Hightower missed time after the first game and then tore a pectoral muscle against Atlanta and is gone for the year which is a big blow.

Linebackers: C

With Dont’a Hightower out for the year, the onus is now on Kyle Van Noy. I thought the Patriots had both of those players out of position early this season. When they moved both back to positions of strength (inside for Hightower, outside for Van Noy), the defense responded much better.

David Harris was a forgotten man for much of the early season but is getting on the field more lately and he and Elandon Roberts provide excellent downhill run support while being limited in a coverage role.

Shea McClellin should be activated soon from IR and that should help the linebackers across the board with run support, coverage and the pass rushing potential. Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly are special teams players only at this point.

Secondary: C

This was supposed to be the Patriots strength on defense and instead for the first four games, was a nightmare of blown assignments, poor communication and the very alarming trend of allowing big plays.

Newcomer Stephon Gilmore struggled early but showed signs of turning things around when he suffered a concussion. Eric Rowe has missed significant time with a groin injury. But the good news is that depth players Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones have played surprisingly well at corner. Malcolm Butler also started slowly but has responded and is playing better each week.

Safeties Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon have all been solid at safety after a slow start and allowing some uncharacteristic big plays. Things are trending up for this unit.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski has missed a few field goals but overall has been very solid this season while making a career-long 58-yarder. His kickoffs continuously allow the Patriots coverage units to get downfield and stuff opponents deep in their territory. Those coverage units have been consistently good and getting better now that Matthew Slater has returned. Ryan Allen has had an up and down year. Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis are giving the team the needed boost in return yardage. The team has blocked two field goals with Marsh and Guy each notching one. The one other knock has been penalties, which need to be curtailed moving forward.

Coaches: B+

Bill Belichick has had to deal with injuries to two of his key players on offense and defense with Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower. The new faces on defense struggled badly in the early going. But as he always does, he finds a way to get things done. The team is playing much better now on defense which Matt Patricia also shares in the blame early and the credit now that they’ve turned it around.

Josh McDaniels has had to tinker with a constantly changing lineup and they have tremendous potential but have struggled lately to score and put teams away. And yet they’re tied for the lead in the AFC and are on top of the division. This is the time of year that they consistently begin aim to put things together. Belichick preaches that around Thanksgiving is when you see what kind of team you have. And the Patriots are trending upward. The only question that remains is, can they stay healthy for the stretch run?

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.

New England Patriots News 11-5, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
November 5, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 11-5, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are on the bye this week, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The team is beat-up with a slew of injuries and the extra time will hopefully give their hurt players a chance to heal up and get back on the field.  

Check back with us this week as we’ll give our Mid-Season Report Card by position and see where the team is in terms of getting to where they want to be.

Patriots Trade Garoppolo, Add Hoyer During the Bye:
The Pats made a very big surprise move at the trade deadline, moving Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Many felt (including us here), that after not trading him this spring that the team would make a move to keep him around Brady’s backup. Bill Belichick said in his comments after the trade that they wanted to keep Garoppolo but it wasn’t sustainable. The draft pick for Garoppolo is expected to be either the 33rd or 34th in the 2018 NFL Draft which is essentially a late first rounder.  

The team made another move the next day bringing back former Brady backup QB Brian Hoyer as the new backup quarterback, giving Hoyer a three-year deal. That could be a significant development as it could signify the team hopes to have Brady’s replacement in place by then, or it could mean nothing. According to ESPN’s Field Yates “the deal is worth a total of $4.41 million, with Hoyer set to earn $476,000 in 2017, $915,000 in 2018 and a base salary of $2.85 million ($1.5 million guaranteed with a $200,000 roster bonus) in 2019.”

Hoyer was a UDFA in 2009 from Michigan State and was here from 2009-11.He has since had stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2012), Arizona Cardinals (2012), Cleveland Browns (2013-14), Houston Texans (2015), Chicago Bears (2016) and 49ers (2017). He should quickly re-learn the Patriots offense as while some things have changed, the terminology remains the same. So, without further ado…

No Guarantee the 2018 Draft Will Hold Brady’s Successor:
With two early picks in the NFL Draft in the first 33-34 selection range, the Patriots will be expected to take another quarterback. That player will immediately be judged as Tom Brady’s successor. Right or wrong, good or bad, that player will be under the microscope from the first minicamp practice.

But as the Patriots well know, this is a calculated gamble. This wasn’t the arrogance that they can easily find another franchise QB. They know there is zero assurance that anyone they draft, early or late, can ever become “that guy” despite being outstanding at recognizing and building a talent-laden team, year in, year out. Look around the league at the players that have been drafted to replace legends. They’ve drafted a slew of QBs during the Belichick era and other than Brady and Garoppolo, most of them, including Hoyer, are eminently forgettable.

While there are some intriguing names out there this upcoming draft, it will be interesting to see who the team likes in the draft process, as this young player will be immediately tied to the Patriots which may drive up that player’s draft stock. The vultures are already circling around Patriots Place waiting for Belichick and Nick Caserio to make a big mistake and then scream, “gotcha!” Two factors will bear watching to ultimately tell if the trade was a good or a bad one. The first is how well Garoppolo plays as the #1 QB. Is he a true franchise signal-caller? And the second is how well the Patriots draft the “next” Patriots QB. That may take some time to find out. Because the drafting of Garoppolo lifted Brady’s play and at an age where he should have begun a steady decline, he elevated the level of his game to even higher heights.

Kraft, Jones Deposed in Kaepernick’s Lawsuit Against the NFL:
Well, this is going to get ugly quickly…. Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones are among the owners who have been deposed to testify at the Colin Kaepernick collusion case against the NFL.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported on Friday that Kraft will be deposed for the case and that he, Jones and others will be asked to turn over all cell phone records and emails in relation to the case. Kaepernick’s lawyers filed suit against the league on October 15, charging that the team’s owners colluded against him being offered another job as a quarterback in the NFL.

One owner being deposed is Texans’ owner Bob McNair. His team had Kaepernick in for a workout this week after DeShaun Watson blew out his ACL in practice this week. Despite the many people carrying a torch for Kaepernick on social media because of his social stances, the fact of the matter is, he’s no better than on par with most of the QBs already on rosters in the league. In five seasons he averaged less than 180 yards passing per game. Those are hardly the numbers of a “must sign” quarterback.

And there remains the question of a fit for his strengths. The Texans, Cowboys, Panthers and a few others that use a mobile quarterback where they have a run-pass option. Teams like New England? Zero fit. But that won’t stop the silly cacophony of every team “must sign CK.”

Thuney Fined Same Amount as Alonso, Suh? Nada:
Who would have “thunk” it? The NFL’s track record for being consistent in doling out player discipline has always been suspect at best so the news this week is hardly shocking, but it never fails to amaze, especially when the league is constantly touting “player safety” as one of its primary concerns.

During the Patriots-Chargers game, New England guard Joe Thuney was flagged for clipping and the Bolts’ Hayes Pullard got flagged for a facemask. Each of them was fined $9115 for their infractions. So what’s the beef?

The NFL flagged Dolphins LB Kiko Alonso the same amount for knocking Joe Flacco out of the game with a deliberate hit to his head. Flacco was going into a slide when Alonso who neither pulled up or tried to deflect away from Flacco’s head. Instead, he targeted him and delivered a crushing blow that caused a concussion.  Ndamukong Suh wasn’t fined at all after he grabbed QB Ryan Mallett around the throat because, in his words, he was afraid that Mallett was going to attack him. That defense is ludicrous concerning Suh’s track record and while not a slam on Mallett, but he isn’t exactly known for terrorizing those poor defenseless defensive linemen after the whistle. Once again, the league makes a joke over their lack of consistency concerning player discipline.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 8:
Last week was a good one with some of the easier picks of the season and I finished with an 11-2 mark. Season Total: 78-41.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with the Buffalo over the Jets (0-1). Now for the rest of the slate:
Falcons at Panthers – Carolina

Bengals at Jaguars- Jacksonville

Rams at Giants – New York

Bucs at Saints – New Orleans

Ravens at Titans – Baltimore

Redskins at Seahawks – Seattle

Colts  at Texans – Indianapolis

Cardinals at 49ers – San Francisco

Chiefs at Cowboys – Dallas

SNF Raiders at Dolphins –  Oakland
MNF Lions at Packers – Green Bay

Bye week: Bears, Browns, Chargers, Vikings, Patriots, Steelers

Next Thursday Night Seattle over Arizona.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Incognito Critical of Thursday Night Football:

The Buffalo Bills Richie Incognito wasted few words in slamming the league for the Thursday Night Football schedule. In a scathing review, Incognito blasted the NFL, ESPN’s Mike Rodak reported on Friday.

“They suck,” Incognito said. “They throw a wrench in our schedule. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we have to do this. As physical as this game is, as much work and preparation that goes into this, to force us to play games on four-day weeks, it’s completely unfair and bulls—. The league makes money off it, and that’s all they care about anyway.”

We are in total agreement with Incognito on this issue as well. Especially when a team has a physical contest on a Sunday and then has to travel? What you commonly witness is what we saw on Thursday night. The Bills were sloppy, missing tackles, and taking stupid penalties. However, Bills’ Coach Sean McDermott wasn’t buying that as an excuse.”[The Jets] were challenged with the same short week as us and had the same amount of time to prepare, so give them credit.”

It isn’t an excuse, but the fact remains most Thursday Night Football games are a far cry from the Sunday versions of the same games. And once again the issue of “player safety” rears its head as well.  

Gase Shakes Up Dolphins, Offense with Trade of Ajayi:

The Miami Dolphins are 4-3 but their offense which was supposed to be a juggernaut …or close to it this season has been awful. Adam Gase ripped his team and RB Jay Ajayi last week and just sent a big message to his team. He made a huge trade, shipping Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 4th round draft choice.

“I’m just trying to find ways to make sure that we can move in the direction that we need to move into, not just this year, but into the future,” Gase said. “We kind of need to figure out what we want to do [offensively] moving forward, see who we have and give guys opportunities. Really, at the end of the day, we need the offense to play a greater role in these games. Right now we’ve been holding this team back.”

The Dolphins currently rank last in the league in both total offense (252.4 yards per game) and points per game (13.1). Besides Ajayi, there were rumors that the team was trying to deal leading WR Jarvis Landry. Landry leads the team with 50 catches for 398 yards and three touchdowns but is a pending free agent. Rumors have it that he will be a difficult free agent to keep this offseason, but the team stood pat with him. Miami hosts the Oakland Raiders today, another team that has underachieved this year.

Jets Tanking for #1 Pick? No One Told Bowles, Players:

The New York Jets were supposed to be 0-16 in 2017, at best 2-14 and in firm control of the #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft so that they can draft the franchise quarterback that has eluded them for decades now.

The Jets were supposed to be bad, even historically bad. But no one told coach Todd Bowles and his Jets players. One can imagine him giving a speech like Lou Brown in Major League before the first game of the season.

Unlike the lovable inept Indians in that film, the Jets aren’t making the playoffs although, at 4-5, they are still alive. After a couple of close losses, the Jets could have been even more alive in the playoff hunt. Of course, this will no doubt hurt their draft position this next spring.

And while we’ll never be confused with Jets fans around here, I’ve always been a fan of their hiring of Bowles, who I think is a fine coach, there is something to be said for a coach getting his players to buy in. And the Jets players have bought into Bowles and his system this year. Josh McCown is having a career year at quarterback and some of their rookies and castoffs are playing very well. Tanking? Don’t tell that to the Bills who were looking to “make a statement” that they’ve arrived this season. They got run off the field in the Meadowlands to their hated division rival. It was just supposed to be the other way around.

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 from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Make No More Moves at the Trade Deadline, What About the Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2017 at 10:52 am ET

With the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, many people assumed that the Patriots would make another move bolster their edge rushing capability, either using that early 2nd round draft pick which is essentially a late first rounder to trade for an impact player or to use other trade capital to pick up another depth guy who could impact the pass rush.

But as the old saying goes, “It takes two to Tango” and one has to wonder if anyone out there was willing to help Bill Belichick and New England unless getting an exorbitant return.

But now the trading deadline is over and the question remains, what do they do about getting the pass rush up to an acceptable level. While it hasn’t been completely awful, it hasn’t blown anyone away either. The team obviously felt like they were in a good enough position that even with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving, that they’d be fine. Trey Flowers who came on strong late last season and Rob Ninkovich, the aging but still productive defensive end, gave them a good place to start. They drafted two young kids in top draft choice Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise. They brought in Kony Ealy, from the Carolina Panthers who they hoped would be a productive player from the inside. And they still had linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, all of whom had shown the ability the blitz either off the edge or up the A-gap.

But things haven’t worked out smoothly, Ninkovich retired in training camp, leaving a big hole of experience. Ealy couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the Patriots system and was released. The light was just beginning to come on a little bit for Rivers during camp when he was injured and placed on IR. McClellin was injured and placed on IR, but with the chance to return later this season. And the worst of all possible scenarios, Hightower, their leader and best player on the front seven, the captain who called the signals and the guy they could least afford to lose was injured against the Falcons and lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. What now?

Forced to Look Within: With a dearth of trading partners, the team now has to fill their needs from players that are already on the roster. Trey Flowers is already playing nearly all of the snaps defensively and asking him to do more is frankly not possible. However, if other players show the ability to step up, it would no doubt boost his productivity.

The team brought over Cassius Marsh from the Seahawks. He was known as primarily as a Special Teams guy there but was a guy, the other members of the defense raved about as an ascending player. He plays with a non-stop motor and is an excellent STs guy but is still learning the defense here. He’s not set the edge consistently and has lost containment on a few occasions. That happens with players that lack consistent playing time. But Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia and DL coach Brendan Daly will work with him on maintaining his edge responsibilities and he will be given plenty of chances to play himself into a bigger role.

Rookie Deatrich Wise and UDFA Adam Butler have both flashed at times. Wise too needs to maintain his edge responsibilities but they’ve both shown upside. Butler has interior pass rush potential. With Hightower down, the team moved Van Noy back to a more comfortable place with him on the outside now. David Harris who had been almost a ghost in the first six weeks of the season is sharing the inside linebacker role with Elandon Roberts.

Van Noy now calls the signals and wears the green dot for the receiving the calls from the sidelines. He can also chip in with pressure off the edge. The good news is that McClellin is back to practice and is eligible to return against the Broncos. He can do a bit of everything. Drop into coverage, rush the quarterback off the edge, and .play inside support in the running game. I foresee him doing more of the first two than the latter.

The much-maligned depth at the linebacking spot is actually looking pretty good once McClellin returns to the field. However, they can’t afford any more injuries there.

But with no trade help forthcoming at the deadline, the Patriots are going to need either one of the above-mentioned players to step up or have another role player take on added responsibility.

They have the week off with the bye and now is the time for the coaches to do some experimenting and possibly moving players around to shift the responsibilities around and see who can possibly step from the shadows to help the pass rush.

Could other Special Teams’ players such as Marquis Flowers or Trevor Reilly step up and play a bigger role? It is a possibility and don’t be surprised if the coaches put them out there to see if they can make the leap into a bigger part of the defense.

But now more than ever, they’ll have to use that Patriots mantra “Next Man Up”  

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

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

Patriots  Week 8 Report Card, Lack of Finish In Win Over the Chargers

Steve Balestrieri
October 30, 2017 at 11:55 am ET

The Patriots beat the Chargers 21-13 on Sunday in a soggy Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, in a game that went down to the final possession but really shouldn’t have. The offense stalled in the red zone going just 1-4, despite moving the ball well all day. It has been a recurring problem the past several weeks as they’ve had issues with punching the ball into the end zone. It is definitely something they’ll need to self-scout themselves on this week.

The defense held the Chargers to just 349 yards of total offense and 13 points, with Philip Rivers throwing for less than 200 yards net passing on the day. Other than the one big run they allowed, the defense did their job on Sunday.

So after a slow start to the season, the Patriots are 6-2 at the bye and halfway mark of the season. Which is right where they want to be. They are on top of the division and tied for the best record in the AFC. We’ll do a report card for the halfway point later this week, but for the day against the Chargers, while they may not get a ton of style points, they did what they needed to do and came away with a win. We’re on to the bye week.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady threw for 333 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, completing 32-47 passes in the win over the Chargers. But he knows and he said it clearly after the game that the offense continues to leave points on the field and they are not finishing drives.

Third down conversions in the red area continue to plague the offense and part of that rests with Brady. Although the team is on a four-game winning streak, they’ve done so by scoring 19, 24, 23, and 21 points, hardly the stuff we expect from this group. He missed some throws on Sunday to be sure, but he also made some fantastic ones.

Brady showed extreme coolness in the pocket and hung in there with his eyes downfield always looking to make a play. Against a very good pass defense of the Chargers who were allowing an average of just 185 yards per game, that was some very good work, driving the ball up and down the field, now they have to work on finishing drives.

Running Backs: B+

The running backs diverseness and versatility were the key ingredient in the Patriots win over LA (it just doesn’t sound right, NOT calling them SD). The four-headed monster, with an able assist from James Develin in the blocking department, were very good, especially in the receiving game yesterday.

The backs were virtually uncoverable in the passing game, they caught 14 passes out of 15 attempts as a group. Rex Burkhead caught 7 for 68 yards, while James White caught 5 for 85. The backs collectively rushed for 95 yards so, they were the go-to guys for the offense against the Chargers.

Short yardage especially, however, remains an issue for this team. Third and one and fourth and one is a sticky area with Mike Gillislee. Is it a problem with Gillislee? No, more of an offensive line/play-calling issue. But they will get it figured out. Overall the backs were the most productive part of the offense.

Wide Receivers: C+

The Patriots wide receivers didn’t have big statistical days on Sunday. Part of that was the Chargers pass defense, which is very good, made it their game plan to take away the deep ball which they did a great job on. The longest passes of the day from Tom Brady were to the running backs and tight ends. But the group didn’t get a lot of separation and was held out of the end zone.

Chris Hogan was the most productive member of the group on Sunday with 5 catches for 60 yards far below his season average. Ditto for Brandin Cooks who had five catches for just 26 yards with a long of just nine. Danny Amendola had just two catches for 14 yards. Not a great day for the wide receivers. A total of 12 catches for 100 yards. While Brady picked on the Bolts underneath with the backs, the WRs could’ve done more, especially in the red zone.

Hogan suffered a nasty looking injury late in the game, taking a hard but clean shot to his arm. It was officially listed as a shoulder injury but it looked like more of an upper arm, elbow type of injury, but we’ll have to wait for the results of his MRI, scheduled for Monday to see if he’s going to miss any time. If so, that would severely limit the team’s depth at the position.

Tight Ends: B

Rob Gronkowski had a fairly quiet day… for Gronk, catching five passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. He’s also held and interfered with more than anyone I watch, week and in and week out without getting the benefit of very many calls. The old standard of gauging defensive backs for PI (“if the left arm goes around the back, it is going to get called by the officials”) doesn’t apply to Gronkowski. Officials watch him so closely for pushing off, sometimes I think they forget to watch how often he’s getting tugged on.

Jacob Hollister showed up on the stat sheet with a catch for 13 yards in the passing game and also was key on Gronkowski’s touchdown. He fired out from his stance on the right side to the middle linebacker trying to sell run. It froze the safeties and linebackers just long enough with Brady’s play-action fake to allow Gronk, in one on one to get easily open on the outside for a 2-yard scoring play…It was a good effort but also dangerously close to offensive pass interference, but the refs let it slide as it was close to the line of scrimmage.

Dwayne Allen played about 20 snaps and ran a couple of patterns on the day but never got looked at. I believe he’s being frozen out now by Brady and McDaniels in the passing game. That well-known trust factor isn’t there and at the midway point of the season. Things aren’t looking good for Allen to have a role in this offense.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line overall did a great job of protecting Tom Brady. Nate Solder easily had his best game of the year and did a tremendous job of battling Joey Bosa all game long. Marcus Cannon injured his ankle and LaAdrian Waddle came in and played very solidly at right tackle. The big three of Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Chris McCain had just one sack between them on 47 passes attempted by Brady.

It was a concerted effort by the coaches to have Brady take a much shorter drop and stand closer to the line. So the tackles were allowing the edge rushers to burst to the outside where they kept pushing them farther and farther outside. Which means the interior of the line had to step up and play solidly….which they did.

However, the OL didn’t do a great job of opening up those running lanes for the backs. The Patriots rushed for just 97 yards on 32 carries which is just 3.0 yards per carry. LA came in allowing over 140 yards per game on the ground and it was thought, that the Pats would be able to run more efficiently.  

Defensive Line: B

The Patriots defensive line was missing arguably their best player in Malcom Brown on Sunday but they held up pretty well against the run. There was the one play in the first quarter, a Melvin Gordon run to the right side that deserves mention.

On the zone running play, the Chargers did a great job of sealing Cassius Marsh and forced him inside and creating a lane. The center fired out and cut MLB Elandon Roberts, stopping him from getting over to the outside in time. And the safeties took a bad angle to the play. The defense can survive any single one of those scenarios without any big trouble. Couple all three of those things together and you have a highlight reel 87-yard touchdown run by Gordon that put the Bolts up 7-0.

But for the rest of the game, the Chargers ran 20 times for 70 yards 3.5 yards per carry average, much, much better. Travis Benjamin had two Jet-Sweeps for 14 yards where the edge could have been set better.

The pass rush was for the most part inconsistent again, it is something they’ll have to either address internally by blitzing more (see below) or possibly adding a piece before the trade deadline.

Linebackers: B

With Dont’a Hightower gone for the season, Kyle Van Noy took over the green dot responsibilities for calling the defense but Hightower’s role as well, moving out on the edge. He had a very solid game. David Harris and Elandon Roberts were both solid inside in the middle in the running game. They are both at their best when playing aggressively downhill styles.

The coaches dusted off their Double A-Gap blitz for the first time in a while where both inside linebackers shot up the middle. Harris forced Philip Rivers out of the pocket on the play.

One area where we thought they’d struggle was in pass coverage against Gordon. But the productive back had just a single catch for seven yards. While they had help in that aspect…that was a win for the defense.

Secondary: A-

With Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore still out with injuries, the team once again with Malcolm Butler, Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones at cornerback. Was it perfect? No, but it was plenty good enough. Rivers threw for just 212 yards (192 net) and the coverage, for the most part, was very good.

Rivers caught the defense napping on the touchdown pass to Benjamin. They were still trying to get set and he alertly snapped the ball where Benjamin blew past Butler without the benefit of a jam for a 24-yard touchdown. Smart play by RIvers. We always praise Brady for making those kinds of plays and it was a good one by Rivers.

The safeties, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon played nearly the entire game each and they were very solid. We mentioned that Gordon caught just one pass for seven yards, TE Hunter Henry caught just two passes for 11 yards and Antonio Gates caught two for 25. That is a big win for the defense.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski made 4 of 6 field goal attempts in the rainy swirling conditions yesterday. While everyone is focusing on his two misses, his kickoffs were a big reason why the Chargers started with poor field position all game. Plus he made four kicks that were the difference in the game. The coverage units were simply outstanding. While Benjamin made a boneheaded play in an attempt to outrun the coverage, the Patriots had the numbers and nailed him for a safety. Dion Lewis had a tremendous 71-yard kickoff return that was unfortunately wasted at the 2nd half kickoff when the offense went three and out.

Coaches: A-

Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia had a very good game plan and for the majority of it, the team accomplished it. They held the Chargers to just 349 yards of offense and 13 points, which we’d take every week of the season. Offensively, the team moved the ball well but couldn’t finish drives. Is it an issue with play calling, or a production issue with Tom Brady and the skill position players? Probably a little of each.

But the team is in a great position at the bye week and the halfway point of the season at 6-2 where they are on top of the division and tied for the best record in the AFC.

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

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

Patriots  Week 6 Report Card, 24-17 Win Over the Jets

Steve Balestrieri
October 17, 2017 at 9:16 am ET

The Patriots are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time this season after their win over the Jets. That is the good news, the fact that it took until Week 6 of the season speaks on what a totally crazy NFL season 2017 has been thus far. The only constant this season across the board is that there haven’t been many constants as it has been a wild ride with little continuity.

The Patriots had ten days to prepare for this one but they started this one like they were wearing cement overshoes. Down 14-0 on the road against a divisional opponent after the first quarter is not the way you care to draw it up. But give the players and coaches credit. There was no panic. They regrouped and came back to score 24 straight points. And while we can point to a lot of different scenarios including the controversial fumble call in the fourth quarter, the bottom line is the defense, despite giving up far too many yards again, allowed just three points over the final three quarters.

But six games in, this team is still far from a well-oiled machine, as Bill Belichick pointed out in his Monday conference call with the media. But really at this point of the season, nearly every team is facing the same challenges. They have 10 more weeks to get the kinks worked out and possibly bring some needed help in. Until then, they plug along.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady was far from his normal sharp self on Sunday. Was it the injuries taking hold, the Jets playing him tough, as they always seem to do or just Brady having a bit of an off day? Probably a combination of the three. Brady made some uncharacteristic mistakes on Sunday, especially mental errors which we aren’t used to seeing.

He telegraphed a pass for Rob Gronkowski that should have been picked off by Buster Skrine on the sideline. It was one of those throws that should not have been made. Like his two deep throws into double coverage down the field, the second of which was picked off.

But Brady fired up the troops and they came back, the drives at the end of the first half and the first drive of the third quarter were vintage Brady and the Patriots offense. All of a sudden they’re up by seven in what seemed a blink of an eye. His throw to Cooks on the 42-yard bomb just before the half was a beauty. He dropped it right into the bucket perfectly.

Running Backs: B+

The running backs had productive games on the ground on Sunday afternoon. Dion Lewis had 52 yards on 11 carries and Mike Gillislee added 44 more on 10 carries. The only complaint, which isn’t on them is why didn’t the get the ball more? Gillislee had a fumble which nixed a nice drive that may have resulted in points and as a result saw the end of the bench for quite a while as a result. But Lewis appears to be the water bug that he was in 2015 before his ACL injury and he and Gillislee appear to be making a nice 1-2 punch in the running game. James White didn’t get a lot of work in the passing game this week, which I thought we’d see more of with Gronkowski drawing so much attention. James Develin was solid in leading the way with his blocking, as always.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers led by Brandin Cooks were good on Sunday. Cooks had a concentration drop early in the game where he began to run before fully securing the ball. But his 42-yarder (see above) from Brady was a beauty by both players. Once again, Cooks nearly broke a short slant to the house, a shoestring tackle was all that stopped him from going the distance. It is an area that looks like it could be exploited more in the future. It is simply a matter of time before these start falling. Cooks is on pace for 64 catch, 1259-yard season which is impressive considering he and Brady still haven’t fully clicked yet.

Chris Hogan had one catch for 19 yards and took a nasty but clean shot to the ribs. Danny Amendola was okay but didn’t have the production ( 3 catches for 40 yards) we envisioned in our matchups.

The Pats wide receivers do a bad job of selling these pick/rub routes that everyone uses and no one else gets called on. Obviously, the league’s officials are going to watch them closely on these and they have to do a better job of selling that they are getting out of the way of the opponents.

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski returned and was his dominant self. The Jets drafted two safeties in Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye to specifically handle the big man and they learned in their first outing what a daunting task that can be. Chalk it up as a learning experience for the young players. Gronk had six catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns. He was also interfered with horribly in the end zone despite not getting the call. He also drew one 24-yard PI call and was his normal tremendous self as a blocker in the running game. His 33-yard touchdown was classic Gronkowski where he beat one tackler (Adams) and then high-stepped his way past Maye en route to the end zone.

Dwayne Allen (six snaps), and Jacob Hollister (one), barely saw the field and were non-factors. For Allen, that isn’t a good sign.

Offensive Line: B+

The offensive line was much better in pass protection not allowing a sack for the first time this season. There were some pressures allowed and Brady did take a few hits but some of those were on the Jets blitzes. Overall this was easily their best performance, pass blocking of the season.

It was also their best run-blocking performance of the year, the team rushed for 118 yards and it definitely looked like there were more out there for them to utilize.

This was a good building block game for the offensive line and hopefully, this will signal a trend upward for the group.

Defensive Line: B+

The Patriots defensive line was much, much better against the run, Jets running backs averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. Malcom Brown had a couple of run stuffs for losses to go along with a sack. Alan Branch played 22 snaps and looked the 2016 version of himself inside.

Trey Flowers had another solid game as did Deatrich Wise with pressuring Josh McCown. The pass rush is still overall still too inconsistent but in this one, the line’s job was to stop the run (they did) first and force the game into McCown’s hands.

Weird calls on both Brown and Branch on the same series, getting flagged for holding, on running plays. Nothing comes as a total surprise in terms of officials, however.

Linebackers: B-

Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy both had productive games this week. Van Noy had a pair of sacks, a couple more QB hits and a tackle for a loss, while Hightower had a sack, and a QB hit while providing the leadership on the field he’s best at.

The team used Jordan Richards (gulp) as a dime linebacker for the first time since the opener. He made a few nice plays in run support. Elandon Roberts got fooled by McCown on a play-action fake for an easy touchdown by Austin Serferian-Jenkins. McCown used Roberts aggressiveness against him.

The good news is that Shea McClellin can begin practicing this week. Hopefully, we’ll see him back on the field in just a few weeks.

Secondary: B-

With Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore out this week, the Patriots were missing two of their top three corners. So, the really curious part of the Jets game plan was that they decided to attack Malcolm Butler instead of Johnson Bademosi who played pretty well in his first extended action on defense this season.

Butler had a very solid game, he did allow a touchdown pass but not much else. He picked off McCown, jumping a route on the sidelines before halftime and jarred the ball loose on Jenkins on the controversial fumble play. So why target Butler? A Very curious decision by the Jets.

The safeties, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung were solid. But what happened with the breakdowns ..once again that allowed the Jets to hit a couple of big plays where the coverage busted? You can’t blame Gilmore for these. The 44-yarder to Jermaine Kearse had no one in the zip code and the 32-yard pass to Robby Anderson down the middle on the final drive also had no one close. Too many busts.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal of the season on a bad hit knuckler, it seemed like the snap and hold were good, but it is rare to see him hit one that poorly. Ryan Allen was okay with his punting but the coverage units were outstanding. The Jets had minus yardage on their punt returns and the kick coverage likewise was solid, twice bringing down Jets kick returners inside the 15-yard line. Sunday was a much better day for Joe Judge’s men.

Coaches: B-

Bill Belichick likes his teams to show that they can play thru adversity and they certainly did that on Sunday, showing great mental toughness coming down from 14 points on the road. But with 10 days to prepare, for the team to come out that flat against a divisional opponent? What was up with that?

Josh McDaniels got too impatient a few times that may have cost the team some points. I don’t feel like he has total trust in the running game many times. But once the team got into a groove they were moving the ball well.

Matt Patricia got Bademosi ready to play and he acquitted himself well, but the secondary continues to have communications issues six weeks into the season, allowing receivers to run free down the field. But overall, it was a win, on the road, against a divisional opponent. They’ll take it.

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.

New England Patriots News 10-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
October 15, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 10-15, & AFC East Notes.

**Langi, Wife Involved in Serious Car Crash: **

Reports have been coming in all day on Saturday about a serious car crash that Patriots LB Harvey Langi and his wife were involved in Friday night about 9:30 in Foxborough. Early reports state that Langi and his wife were stopped at a red light when they were rear-ended in a three-car crash. Firefighters were forced to use the Jaws of Life to free some of the injured. The injuries suffered by Langi were considered serious but not life-threatening.The Patriots released a statement on the accident:

“We are aware of the traffic accident involving Harvey Langi and a passenger last night in Foxborough. The two were stopped at a traffic light when they were rear-ended by another vehicle,” the Patriots said. “They were both transported to a local hospital with injuries and are receiving medical attention. Our thoughts are with Harvey, the Langi family and those who sustained injuries in last night’s accident.”

Just a quick question to everyone… is there anyone out there, anyone who DOESN’T know that Tom Brady is 40 years old? Anyone? Bueller? Does every piece on Brady have to have in the first paragraph, “New England’s 40-year old QB” or a reasonable facsimile thereof? Between that and the talk of him approaching the cliff is old folks.

Let’s Hear it for the Rivalry: The Patriots and Jets renew unpleasantries for the 117th time on Sunday. There are rivalry games and there are rivalry games. And there is the Jets. The two teams have always had a healthy disdain for one another. I remember speaking with Steve Nelson, former Patriot team HOF-Linebacker and he said from the moment he was drafted, and he walked into the locker room for the first time, there was that palatable hate for the Jets, which exists the same down in NJ. Here’s to the next chapter in that rivalry.

Besides the rivalry and first place in the division which is online today, another streak that the Patriots have going since last season is their road record. The Pats have won their last 10 road games dating back to the beginning of the 2016 season.

Brady Can Set Another Record With a Win:
Tom Brady already owns the most wins in NFL history for a QB in both regular and postseason combined but for regular season wins only he’s tied with Brett Favre and Peyton Manning at 186. A win by the Patriots today in Brady’s start will put him over the top at 187 career regular season wins and add another career milestone for #12.

It is interesting to note that Sunday will be Brady’s 241st start. Manning had 266 and Favre 298. It shows the level of success that the Patriots have had with Brady under center with him having essentially almost 2 seasons less than Manning and nearly four less than Favre to reach this milestone.

Brady would like nothing more than to set the new career regular season record against the Jets. BTW Brady is 23-6 against the Jets during the regular season. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Goodell: No Policy Change on the National Anthem:
The NFL Commissioner has weighed in on the kneeling, standing, sitting, stretching, eating a banana issue on the National Anthem. In a joint statement with the NFLPA, they stated: “There has been no change in the current policy regarding the anthem. The agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military, and we are coming together to deal with these issues in a civil and constructive way.”

Goodell added, “What we want to do is get back to focusing on the actions that we want to take to really improve our communities and support our players to get things done,” Goodell said. “We want to get to from our current situation to where we are really making a difference in the community and get involved in action that is going to have a positive outcome for our law enforcement, for our communities, and for our country overall.”

And in a non-story hot take for the week centered around Roger Goodell’s wife who used an anonymous Twitter account to defend her husband. The Twitter account that has since been taken down, didn’t do anything that could be remotely considered controversial, she just defended her husband. Isn’t that what any good wife would do?

We’ve been super critical of Goodell and his policies on these pages but making a big deal out of an anonymous tweet that says “Roger is doing his job?” Nope. Hey, at least he has one loyal follower on his side. You go, Jane.    

NaVorro Bowman Could Be a Fit in New England:
I’ll be the first to say that I’m the first person to pooh-pooh the idea that every time a veteran player is released, Patriots nation clamors for him, regardless of fit or level of play. Due to listening to certain talking heads on the air, “they gotta have the name.”

But in this case, Bowman could be a nice addition to the Patriots defense. He was one of the best inside linebackers in the game, but injuries in 2014 and last season have taken their toll on Bowman. Despite still being the leading tackler on the Niners, the team is moving away from him and tried to find a trade partner, and barring that gave him his release. That part wasn’t surprising since the Niners are on the hook for his remaining salary the rest of the season.

Now any team, including New England could sign him as early as Monday according to his agent Drew Rosenhaus when he’ll choose his next team. They can reasonably sign him for the league minimum for veterans and Bowman can sign anywhere and not lose any cash this season.

In terms of fit, while he’s lost a step in coverage, he’s still a very effective run stopper on early downs and has the type of veteran savvy that David Harris possesses. Why would Bowman be a fit over Harris? Well, the Patriots haven’t used him at all this season. He’s played seven snaps in five games. Harvey Langi appears to be in a red-shirt type situation and the team is still weeks away from being able to activate Shea McClellin from IR. It will be something to monitor, especially today to see if Harris plays against his old team.   

Belichick Believes Run Game Will Open Up…We do too:
Bill Belichick in his weekly “Belestrator” break down of the Tampa game, he played Dion Lewis’ 31-yard scamper and spoke about Mike Gillislee’s body of work so far this season. Belichick believes that we’ll see Gillislee break out sooner rather than later and mentioned that the backs are running hard and playing better than their numbers may indicate this season.

We agree. While fans are clamoring for the return of LeGarrette Blount, the running game’s struggles would be the same…or worse with him back here. It is an offensive line issue as to why the backs have been struggling thus far to get untracked.

Today’s game may be a perfect time to get things untracked. With Muhammad Wilkerson either limited physically or out with an injury, the Patriots could make a concerted effort to run the ball. The Jets are allowing 143 yards per game and 4.6 yards per rush. With a unit that is trying to limit the hits on Tom Brady, having an effective ground game goes a long way in alleviating that. Opponents can’t pin back their ears as much and make play-action passing even more effective.

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 6:
Last week there were a few surprises and I picked a couple of upsets that didn’t pan out so I finished with a 9-5 mark. Season Total: 50-27.

This week’s Thursday Night Football Game I went with the Philadelphia over Carolina. Now for the rest (14 games now with bye weeks) of the slate:
Bears at Ravens – Baltimore

Packers at Vikings – Green Bay

Redskins- Washington

Lions at Saints – Detroit

Dolphins at Falcons – Atlanta

Browns at Texans – Houston

Patriots at Jets – New England

Buccaneers at Cardinals – Arizona

Rams at Jaguars – Los Angeles

Chargers at Raiders – Oakland

Steelers at Chiefs – Kansas City

Giants at Broncos – Denver

MNF Colts at Titans – Tennessee

Bye week: Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Seahawks

Next Thursday Night Oakland over Kansas City

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills On the Bye, Is Taylor the Man Moving Forward:
The Buffalo Bills are on a bye this week and will certainly be watching the Jets-Patriots game with more than just a passing interest. But the majority of the talk centered around the Bills this week and new coach Sean McDermott continues to be QB Tyrod Taylor.

The subject still hasn’t changed from when he took over in the 2015 season. Can Taylor lead the Bills to the playoffs? The long and short answer is both yes and no.

Now in his third season, Taylor can be a placeholder for Buffalo as long as the running game is going well and the defense plays to the level that they are playing at right now. But can Taylor put a team on his back like a franchise QB and lead them to a playoff spot and possibly playoff wins? No. What you see is what you get. There is a reason the Bills have the 29th passing offense in the league, averaging about 165 yards per game. And it starts behind the center.

Taylor hasn’t shown in three years that he’s capable of more than what he is. He can make things happen with his feet to extend the play and reach downfield, as long as the running game is getting big chunks of yardage. Look back over three seasons and see where the Bills running game has struggled and look at how the passing game responded. However, the team’s best chance for success…right now rests with Taylor. As long as Shady McCoy stays healthy and the defense holds up, the Bills will compete every week and have a good shot at making the playoffs. But he isn’t the answer, and the Bills already know that.

Dolphins Fans Chants for Moore at QB “Embarrassing”:
The Miami Dolphins, even more so than the Bills have struggled to throw the ball this season. Miami currently has the 32nd passing attack in the NFL, averaging just 156.5 yards per game. Jay Cutler who was signed to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill is completing 62 percent of his throws and averaging paltry 5.4 yards per attempt. Worse, he’s thrown for just three touchdowns against three interceptions and his passer rating thru four games is a career-worst 74.8.

When Dolphins fans began chanting for Matt Moore during last week’s 16-10 win over Tennessee, Miami WR Jarvis Landry called it embarrassing. From the Miami Herald, Landry said, “If they want to change the players, we can’t buy into all that. I believe it’s disrespectful. A man that comes out here and works his [expletive] off and for people to not really understand what’s really going on. Or to not even have touched the field before, to say we want somebody else to be playing, they don’t understand the situation or know what’s going on. They just want to be on Twitter. They just want to start a [expletive] chant and it’s embarrassing, as a player to have fans like that.”

Miami coach Adam Gase pretty much reiterated what Landry said, but with the weapons that Miami put around Tannehill this summer prior to his injury, the talk was that anything less than a big step up would mean the end of his tenure in Miami. Cutler has done very little in the first quarter of the season and a playoff team from 2016, the Dolphins can’t wait much longer. They face a very good Atlanta team on the road this week.

Jets’ Ealy Looking Forward to This Week’s Game:
The New York Jets, have a chance to take over first place in the AFC East this week and according to a piece on ESPN by Lenn Robbins, Kony Ealy is itching to play the team he spent training camp with.

Robbins wrote:
But for Ealy, this is personal. The Pats traded for him in the offseason. He was expected to be one of their two key free-agent acquisitions on defense along with cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

It became clear early on that Ealy and Belichick weren’t going to find common ground. Ealy was released. The Jets signed him.

Less than two months later, Ealy and Belichick will stand on opposite sidelines, each keenly aware of how this game could play out.

He did get one part of this piece wrong, after stating that the Patriots haven’t protected Brady well, (they haven’t), he wrote the Jets have 15 sacks. They don’t. They have gotten seven so far this season and have allowed 15. Ealy is still looking for his first however and that will be an area to watch.

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 from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Jets Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 13, 2017 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road to meet their old familiar rival, the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon in the Meadowlands.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, October 15 at 1:00 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn 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 (3-2) got back on the winning track by downing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Thursday night 19-14.Stephen Gostkowski booted four field goals and Tom Brady threw the only touchdown of the game for the Pats to Chris Hogan.

The Jets (3-2) beat the Cleveland Browns 17-14 for their third win in a row. Many people were thinking this Jets team wouldn’t  win one game and now in Week 6, they are playing at home with a chance to take over the division lead.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 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 Jets are meeting for the 117th time. The Patriots hold a 61-54-1 edge overall. The Patriots are 28-29 all-time on the road against the Jets, including 4-3 at MetLife Stadium. The Patriots swept the season series a year ago and in the last meeting at the end of the season, the Patriots blasted the Jets 41-3 at Gillette Stadium.The Patriots have also won their last ten road games dating back to last season.

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 Jets Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game has been disappointing so far this season. Whether it is the offensive line or the running backs that are underperforming, perhaps a combination of both, they aren’t helping the passing offense. The Patriots average just 99 yards per game. Mike Gillislee leads the team with 246 yards and four touchdowns but his yards per carry (3.6) like that of the team (3.87) is not where the team needs it to be.

The Jets run defense has struggled mightily so far this season. Gang Green has allowed an average of 143 yards per game. The Jets are the 29th ranked team against the run in terms of yards per game and 27th in rushing yards per attempt.

This may be a time for the Patriots to establish something of a consistent running game. They gave Dion Lewis some more reps last week and he responded with a solid game. Gillislee also had a decent game as well last week. The Jets may go to a lighter defense to stop the Patriots passing game and this would be the time to assert the push up front and get the running game going, not to mention not allow an opponent to pin their ears back and coming after the quarterback.

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

The Patriots passing game has been clicking despite the amount of pressure that Tom Brady has been under and the number of times he’s been hit and sacked. It is capable of being even more explosive if Brady gets decent time to throw the ball. Having the running game improve would be a big boost. Brady has plenty of productive targets in the passing game, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski should return this week as well as Phillip Dorsett, with James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield.

The Jets revamped their secondary this season and started it with two rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye who have come in as rookies and played much better than anyone could have hoped this early in their careers. They have two good corners in Buster Skrine and Morris Claiborne but they’ll face a much more potent passing game than they’ve seen thus far. One issue has been the lack of sacks, the team has just seven so far in 2017. Neither Leonard Williams or Muhammad Wilkerson have a sack yet this season.

Gronkowski will present the rookies in the middle with a big matchup to watch on Sunday. But the Patriots have enough other weapons to force the issue with the Jets defense. With time Brady has proven he can pick apart anyone, even without a ton of time this season he’s lighting it up. Look for him to have another big day.

Next up the Jets offense:

Jets RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New York

The Jets have good running backs in Bilal Powell and Matt Forte but both of them are banged up and it isn’t known if they’ll play or how much on Sunday. But if they can’t go, the onus will fall to youngster Elijah McGuire who is a capable backup. The Jets running game looked excellent a few weeks ago against Jacksonville running for over 250 yards but then fizzled last week against the Browns, gaining only 39 yards on the ground.

The Patriots run defense has been porous at times this season. With Alan Branch underperforming and riding the pine, they’ve been susceptible to runs up the middle. Ditto for having Dont’a Hightower missing time and then playing on the edge. They seemed to make some adjustments last week against Tampa Bay. They moved Hightower back in the middle on early downs and it helped. Now if they can get Branch back on the field and performing, it would be a bonus. Paging David Harris?

The Patriots game plan will probably be to slow or stop the run and force the ball into McCown’s hands since he doesn’t have a deep group of playmakers. How well they do that slowing of the run will be an intriguing part of the game.

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

Josh McCown is playing better than anyone expected this season. He’s completing about 71 percent of his passes although for just 1020 yards with five scores and four interceptions. Jermaine Kearse, Jeremy Kerley, and Robbie Anderson are the wideouts with Austin Seferian Jenkins is the tight end and he’s having a good season thus far. Like the Patriots, the Jets have given up a lot of pressure, McCown has been sacked 15 times on the season.

The Patriots pass defense may have turned the corner a bit last week. Through three quarters playing strictly man coverage, they allowed just 110 yards. Look for more man coverage with Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore this week. Jenkins will be McCown’s safety valve and a tough matchup. He’s already got the production that the Jets tight ends got all of last year. Kearse has seamlessly integrated into the offense and came up big with a 24-yard touchdown to seal the win against the Browns. We’ll see if the Patriots pass rush can get home more this week. The consistency hasn’t been there and this may be a good time to get it going.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski made all four field goal attempts last week and is 12-12 on the season. I never worry about him on field goal attempts only with extra points…is that strange? Ryan Allen hasn’t been the same this season. He’s been inconsistent and needs to re-find his comfort level out there. Danny Amendola gave the return unit with a shot in the arm with a big 40-yard return. But the STs units committed four penalties in the game. Not good.

The Jets counter with Chandler Catanzaro at kicker, who booted a 57-yarder last week and Lac Edwards at punter. But overall the Jets have been inconsistent on special teams this season.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will pit old rivals who get renew unpleasantries with one another. There is never any love lost between the two teams or the franchises. Here is where we normally throw in the caveat that you can throw out their records since it is a divisional matchup but both teams come in with identical 3-2 records.

I think it is imperative for the Patriots to get off to a good start this week. The crowd at MetLife Stadium will be loud at the start of this one. No one expected the Jets to be where they are right now. So, they’ll be loose and fired up. They’re basically playing with house money. The best way for the Pats to quiet the crowd is to get some distance quickly and get the crowd to sit on their hands. Turnovers will be key also. The Jets offense hasn’t been especially prolific so to make them match the New England offense score for score will be a difficult proposition. Not giving them any momentum or short fields with turnovers is important. On the flip side getting a turnover or two would be a big boost to a Patriots offense that has been moving the ball and scoring very well but hasn’t reached its optimum peak yet.

This one will be close for awhile but the New England offense will put pressure on the Jets to keep up. A second-half turnover will open the door for Brady and the offense to break it open late. Brady and Gronkowski lead the way to a road win.  Patriots 34-13

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

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

Patriots – Buccaneers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 5, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

The New England Patriots head back out on the road to meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a short week after Sunday’s games.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Thursday, October 5 at 8:25 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson and Jay Feely 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 (2-2) came back from a late 4th quarter two-touchdown deficit to tie the score at 30 behind a tremendous performance by Tom Brady,  only to have the Panthers drive down the field and win the game on a last second 48-yard field goal.

The Buccaneers (2-1) beat the New York Giants 25-23 as Jameis Winston threw for 332 yards including a 58-yard touchdown to tight end O.J. Howard. The team also gets back Doug Martin from suspension this week.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 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 Buccaneers are meeting for the ninth time. The Patriots hold a 6-2 overall advantage and a 3-1 edge in games played at each home stadium. Although the 2009 Bucs “home” game was played in London. The teams haven’t met since 2013 when the Patriots beat Tampa Bay 23-3 in Foxboro.

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 Buccaneers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay

The Patriots running game is still mired in neutral averaging just 95.5 yards per game. The offensive line hasn’t been opening enough holes for the running backs to get anything going. Mike Gillislee had a pretty decent game last week but due to New England being down by two scores, they didn’t run the ball as much.

It seems like the team is limiting the carries of Dion Lewis as they really need him to be the kickoff return man. But maybe on a short week he could see some extra work. Rex Burkhead’s status is probably doubtful to play in this week, they could use him in this one.

The Bucs are doing an excellent job against the run, allowing only 72.5 yards per game. They have a stout front seven anchored by Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers, and rookie linebacker Kendall Beckwith. However with LB Kwon Alexander out and LB Lavonte David, and safeties T.J. Ward and Keith Tandy questionable with injuries that could change things a bit.

This would be an excellent time for the Patriots to get the ground game untracked. Giving Tom Brady and the passing game more than just a semblance of a running game would make the passing attack that much more effective. But this looks to be another week where they’ll have to pass the ball to run effectively.

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

The Patriots passing game, despite Tom Brady being sacked and hit far too much, is off to a tremendous start of the season. Brady is spreading the ball around to a plethora of receivers including Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Phillip Dorsett on the outside, Rob Gronkowski at tight end and James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield. Brady is completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 1399 yards with ten touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The Bucs, like New England, are allowing a lot of yardage passing. Noah Spence with their pass rush has just a single sack thus far on the season. They have a pair of good corners in Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves who will try to take away the short, intermediate throws and force Brady into going deep. McCoy will be the guy to watch inside, creates outstanding pressure up the middle and that more than anything can get Brady off of his spot and prevent him from stepping into his throws.

Depending on the health of Rob Gronkowski, this looks to be a big week for him. I look for Brady to try to establish mismatches with Gronk both down the seams and split outside if the Bucs are in single coverage. Look for the backs, James White and Dion Lewis to be involved in the passing game a lot this week.

Next up the Tampa Bay offense:

Buccaneers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

Tampa’s running game has really missed Doug Martin as they’ve rushed for just 71.5 yards per game. The main man has been Jacquizz Rodgers but he’s more of a third-down back. It isn’t known how much if at all Martin will play. The Patriots will assume he’s going to play and prepare according. They’ll mix their formations a lot but I think we’ll see quite a bit of “12” personnel, with 2 WRs, 2TEs, and an RB.

The Patriots run defense has been poor allowing nearly 133 yards per game. They really need to move Dont’a Hightower back inside at the middle/inside linebacker role. It will accomplish two things. It will solidify the run defense and get the communication right down low. Alan Branch has been MIA for several weeks. In trying to stop the run and make the Bucs one-dimensional, he could be a bigger factor this week.

Buccaneers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay

Winston has made tremendous strides this season, going from a middle of the pack QB in terms of numbers to a top 10 starter this season. He’s completing 63 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and three picks with a passer rating of 94.8. He’s averaging 277 passing yards per game this season. The addition of DeSean Jackson, though he hasn’t really clicked…yet, has allowed the big Mike Evans to get off to a great start. Evans, 6’5, is open even when he is blanket covered as Winston can just throw it up there for him. Eric Rowe is out for this one, (not surprising) after retweaking his groin injury on Sunday.

Tampa has two good tight ends in Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. Brate is more of a receiving threat and has been productive with 10 TDs since last season. Howard had a 58-yard touchdown reception against the Giants. Rodgers is a good third down back out of the backfield.

The Patriots pass defense has been nightmarishly bad this season. The communication has been terrible, the blown coverages and terrible mental mistakes have been inexcusable. What was supposed to be the strength of the defense is approaching historically bad numbers. The pass rush has been inconsistent, however, it isn’t the reason for this unit to play this poorly.

Winston has shown the ability to escape the rush and will be looking to make the big plays (see Jackson) that have plagued the team all year. The two tight ends will be a load to cover. Look for Matt Patricia to simplify things, even more, this week. If I am Tampa, I’d run bunch formations all night long until they show the ability to not allow anyone to run free.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski had a big day kicking three field goals including a career long 58-yarder on Sunday. His pooch kickoffs have given the coverage units time to get down the field and stop opponents from reaching the 25 and many times the 20 yard line. Ryan Allen hasn’t been his usual self yet this season although he’s been good at directional punting. The coverage units have been very solid.

Tampa has a solid kicker in Nick Folk and in punter Bryan Anger. They too have had good solid coverage. They have the diminutive but explosive return man in Bernard Reedy. But this is the week I believe that the Patriots are going to get a big return from either Dion Lewis or Danny Amendola.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one has the makings to be a shootout. Neither pass defense has been standout yet this season and with two good QBs and talented wide receiver cores, the score could go into the high thirties. Since Sunday I’ve had this one chalked up as a loss. Losing on the last play of the game after playing poorly…at home no less. The signs are there for the Patriots to fall below .500. This was one of the games I had circled for a possible loss when the schedule came out.

However, we’ve seen this before. Whenever the chips get low and things are looking down, is when Tom Brady elevates his game the most. The Patriots offense is capable of exploding as much as anyone. And we’ve really yet to see that yet for a 60-minute game. A shootout may actually benefit New England. Winston is still a young QB and is still prone to the occasional interception. When he’s forced to throw a lot is when his pick ratio increases. But the secondary isn’t going to be able to let receivers run free.

The Patriots will have to weather the storm. Tampa is a quick starting team. If they can hang with them through the first quarter, things should go their way as the Bucs have been outscored in every quarter but the first.

Brady wills the Pats to a big win on Thursday night with another epic performance as he and Wintson light it up.  Patriots 38-35

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