Tag Archives: Patriots edge rushers

Building the 2020 Patriots Roster, Where are the Biggest Needs?

Steve Balestrieri
January 17, 2020 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots have a lot of work to do in the offseason and although the new league year doesn’t begin until March, their 2020 season starts now. They have to replace another coordinator (STs/WR coach Joe Judge) and perhaps their college scouting director (Monti Ossenfort) who is being interviewed for the open Cleveland Browns GM position.

Then there are a slew of the team’s free agents to decide upon. We’ll get to those in good time as we’ll take a look at where the team needs are. And a lot of what drives the train is always money. The Patriots have about $49 million to spend. It sounds like a lot. It is not. Especially when considering if the Patriots cut ties with Tom Brady is will cost them $13.5 million in dead money and a new contract will not come cheaply. 

So, let’s take a dive into the roster by position …as currently constructed and see where they’re at.

Quarterback: 

Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
*Free agent: Tom Brady 

The Elephant in the room and all of the ridiculous (and it IS as ridiculous as it is maddening) drivel about non-existent homes in Greenwich, his luxury suite at Gillette and the amateur psychologists who became overnight experts at reading body language and hidden meaning in every word of his have gotten out of control.

Our feeling here hasn’t changed. We feel that Brady will return given that the Patriots don’t really want to ear $13.5 million bucks. Plus, there isn’t anyone on the roster that is a no-brainer to take over. Stidham may well be that guy, but we don’t know and haven’t seen him take a meaningful snap in months.  So until Bill Belichick or Brady comes out and definitely says he’s not returning, we’re going under the assumption he’ll be back.

Running Back:

Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris, Fullbacks James Develin, Jakob Johnson 

Here is where things can get interesting. The team is set here at running back. In fact they’re a little too deep. They could add $4 million in cap space by releasing Rex Burkhead. However, Burkhead was their most productive back down the stretch, as he was a year ago. But injuries always seem to cut into his season and the team just spent a good draft pick on Damien Harris. Burkhead is a guy to keep an eye on. 

Develin had a neck injury and those can be tough to come back from. Don’t be shocked if they add another fullback this spring.

Wide Receiver: 

Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo (future), Devin Ross (future)
*Free agent: Phillip Dorsett

The need for a speedy, reliable wide receiver here is critical. Edelman is going to be 34, Sanu will get all spring/summer to acclimate into the offense. Meyers and Harry will be fine. A lot of their issues had to do with overthinking things and that will be rectified in Year  2. Look for them to try to sign a fast, veteran outside wide receiver, possibly two and cut their ties with Dorsett. 

Tight End: 

Matt LaCosse Ryan Izzo
*Free agent: Ben Watson 

The most critical need of the Patriots, of the offense and the team overall. The offense really lacked a viable target down the seams all season.  Look for Ben Watson to retire and the team to double-dip here. Look for the team to sign a veteran free agent (Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry?) or try to swing a trade for an established veteran (O.J. Howard attempt again). And then address the need again with a young guy in the draft. 

Offensive Line:  

Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Korey Cunningham, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Najee Toran (future)
*Free agents: James Ferentz, Ted Karras, Marshall Newhouse, Joe Thuney, Jermaine Eluemunor (RFA) 

Another area of need. We heard through the grapevine that Marcus Cannon won’t be returning. If he doesn’t it will free up $5.8 million in cap space, despite him signing an extension last summer. Coupled with the unlikely scenario of Joe Thuney returning means the offensive line has a lot of work to do. 

Yodny Cajuste didn’t take a snap in either a game or practice last year. So, expecting him to just jump in and start is a very long shot. Is Froholdt going to be ready? Doubtful too. Look for the Patriots to bring back Karras and Eluemunor for sure and then address tackle and guard in either free agency or the draft. 

Defensive Line:  

Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman (future), Tashawn Bower (future)
*Free agents: Danny Shelton, Adam Butler (RFA), Keionta Davis (ERFA) 

Look for the team to attempt to bring back Shelton and Butler. But they’d still need at least another big run stuffer and a defensive end that can rush the QB. 

Linebacker:  

Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Brandon King, Terez Hall (future)
*Free agents: Shilique Calhoun, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy 

Winovich should be in line for a big uptick in snaps this season. He’s more of a pass rusher than a coverage guy and I’d expect he’ll be tasked with filling the big shoes of Van Noy. I don’t expect Van Noy back this year, he’s in line for a big payday. I do expect them to make a push to bring back both Collins and Roberts. 

Calhoun may come back and flashed some potential. Rivers is going to have to have a big spring or he may not even be around for training camp.  Retooling Hightower’s contract could free up some space.

Cornerback: 

Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, D’Angelo Ross 

The Patriots are in great shape here. With Gilmore, Jackson, and Jones, they have three starting corners who excel at their position. Williams played sparingly in his rookie season and could be ready for a big uptick in snaps. That could put McCourty on the block. If the team were to release him, they’d save an additional $3.8 million.  Also, reworking Gilmore’s contract could free up some cap space

Safety: 

Patrick Chung Duron Harmon Terrence Brooks Obi Melifonwu (future) Malik Gant Adarius Pickett (future)
*Free agent: Devin McCourty 

Big decisions loom here. McCourty arguably had the best season of his career in 2019 and would normally be ready for a big payday. But he’s 33 and with both he and Chung are getting older, the team needs to begin to address the future. Harmon has ostensibly been a starter for several years. Gant flashed a bit in camp last year while Brooks played well. I’d expect they’ll try to bring back McCourty for one more year, but it is time to bring in some younger players and get them groomed for down the road.  

Special Teams:  

K Stephen Gostkowski P Jake Bailey LS Joe Cardona
*Free agents: Nick Folk, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Justin Bethel 

I don’t see the team bringing Folk back and I think they’ll bring in another kicker for competition with Gostkowski this summer. Matthew Slater is the gold standard for special teams players. I expect the team to bring him back and to make an effort to bring back both Ebner and Bethel.

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

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

Patriots Players To Watch Against the Chiefs on Sunday

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2019 at 9:29 am ET

The Patriots take on the Kansas City Chiefs tomorrow afternoon (night) in a big AFC matchup between two of the best teams in the conference. The two meetings last season were fantastic right down to the wire contests with the Patriots holding serve at home 43-40 and then beating the Chiefs in overtime in the AFC Championship Game 37-31 at Arrowhead. 

While this one should be no less entertaining, we expect a lower-scoring affair this time around. The Patriots defense is much improved this season and the KC pass defense is also a lot better than the team that faced the Patriots in the AFC title game. 

So here are our Patriots players to watch in the game tomorrow. 

Tom Brady – 

Brady’s numbers are way down this year, but most of that has to do with the supporting cast. The Offensive line has been beset by injuries and struggled. The running game has sputtered and the revolving door at wide receiver has made life difficult. Is part of this on himself as well? Of course, but writing him off at this time of year is a fool’s errand.

But here we are. Brady always uses criticism and a big game as motivating factors. And there is plenty of both floating around this week (just listen to Boston sports radio) as the Pats gear up for the Chiefs.

We’re looking for Brady to have laser focus this week and play at his best, in what appears to be a great matchup of excellent quarterbacks as Patrick Mahomes is heating up at just the right time of the year.

Jonathan Jones – 

Jones is finally getting his due as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league this season. He’s having an outstanding season thus far and has been one of the Patriots’ best defenders. He’s invaluable in a secondary that has shined. 

This week Jones is tasked with covering one of the fast players in the NFL in Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs offense is built for speed and no one is faster than Hill. If he gets a step at the line of scrimmage he can turn a play into a one-play touchdown drive. 

Jones was tasked with primarily covering him during the AFC Championship Game where the Patriots held him to just a single catch. But that catch went for 42 yards. That’s how fast (pardon the pun) things can change. 

Rex Burkhead – 

Most of us will be watching Sony Michel in the running game and James White in the passing game. However,  it is Burkhead who is kind of the “X-Factor” for the Patriots offense out of the backfield. He can do a bit of both and presents the offense with the versatility to run or catch that keeps the defense guessing.

In the AFC title game, Burkhead did just that with 12 carries in the running game and four catches out of the backfield. He scored the Patriots final two touchdowns, both on the ground which sent the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. 

Look for Burkhead to see quite a few snaps tomorrow afternoon.

Jamie Collins –

The Patriots brought back Collins this season specifically for games like this. Kansas City has a mobile quarterback that can move and throw the ball down the field. The Patriots defense needs an athletic player who can rush the passer but also give chase he begins to move in the pocket. 

Collins, this season is having an excellent overall year, worthy of a Pro Bowl selection. He was one of the players who were under the weather with the flu a week ago and was a bit on the invisible side down in Houston. 

With Collins’ athleticism, he can turn a game around on his own, and with the Patriots having to disrupt Mahomes’ passing game before he’s ready to throw the ball, we expect Collins to play a big role in their game plan.

Mohamad Sanu –

Sanu was brought over from the Falcons to help the struggling passing game. In his second game, and pretty much lost in the loss at Baltimore was Sanu’s 10-catch, 81-yard effort that showed some hope that things would be soon on the upswing. 

But an ankle injury suffered against the Eagles forced him out of that game and Sanu missed the Dallas game before returning against the Texans. Still not 100 percent he managed just 3 catches for 14 yards in Houston last week. 

Now, getting closer to being all the way back, Brady and the offense really need Sanu to bring his game up another notch and become the receiver that they need him to be. Look for Brady to go to Sanu early and often and to get him more involved in the offense this week.

Stephon Gilmore –  

Gilmore has had an outstanding season and cemented himself as the best corner in the NFL. He’s often put on an island with the opposing team’s best wide receiver.  Left to cover the opponent’s best alone, Jones has excelled. That is the trust that the coaches show in Gilmore as his pass defense has been outstanding all season. 

With the Chiefs Hill being tasked with Jones, the Chiefs bigger receiver Sammy Watkins will fall to Gilmore. Watkins had a huge game in January with 114 yards on four catches including a big 54-yarder. 

This will be another intriguing matchup to watch as Gilmore and Watkins tangle in what is looking to be a great battle. Another wrinkle in January was that the Patriots rotated Gilmore on Travis Kelce on third downs. We may see more of that this week as they try to take away Mahomes’ favorite target.  

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

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

 

Patriots – Texans Week 13 Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 29, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road in a big Sunday Night Football matchup with the Houston Texans.   

The Patriots are trying to stay ahead of the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC while trying to keep some distance between themselves and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. The Texans are in first place in the tightly contested AFC South at 7-4, a game ahead of the Colts and Titans. 

With a win on Sunday night, the Patriots would win the 11th game of the year, marking 10 straight seasons with at least 11 wins, which is an NFL record.

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya 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 (10-1) are coming off another tough, defensive victory, beating Dallas 13-9 in a windy, rain-swept Gillette Stadium.

The Texans (7-4) are coming off of a big 20-17 win over the Colts last Thursday night which gave them the division lead. 

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

Series History:

The Patriots and Texans have met 11 times, twice in the playoffs and it is a series that has been dominated by New England, holding a 10-1 overall lead. The Patriots and Texans have met for the past five seasons and New England has won the last eight meetings including a 27-20 win last year 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 Texans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots running game finally showed some signs of breaking out of their year-long funk last week against Dallas. Did that have to do with the return of Isaiah Wynn to the starting left tackle position? It certainly didn’t hurt. Sony Michel ran very well, hitting the holes quickly and showing the ability to both make some defenders miss and to break some tackles as well. 

As we pointed out in yesterday’s quick look at Houston, their run defense is middling, 17th in the league and allowing 108 yards per game. With Jadeveon Clowney in Seattle and J.J. Watt on IR, the Texans are struggling across the board on defense. 

Look for the Patriots to establish the running game and set up play-action. Michel gained 85 yards a week ago and if he can hit the hole with that kind of burst the Patriots should be in good shape. But the Texans linebackers remain the strength of this unit.         

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

The Patriots passing game really missed Mohamad Sanu (ankle) and Phillip Dorsett (concussion) last week against Dallas, but the rookies stepped up and played fair well. Julian Edelman continues to play banged up but he had a very productive game a week ago. Wynn’s return definitely helped in the pass protection for Tom Brady.

Houston’s pass defense has been struggling all year. Their pass rush has generated 22 sacks and is 28th in sacks per pass play. They allow 260 yards per game through the air (25th) and allow the third-down conversions at 41 percent, 31st in the league. The secondary has been a revolving door due to injuries and they’re struggling to find answers. 

Look for Josh McDaniels to test the Texans secondary by mixing things up with lots of crossers and quick to intermediate plays testing the middle of the field. It would be nice to see Sanu and Dorsett back this week, but we’re seeing the growth of rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get increased roles. I believe the Patriots will try to target the Texans linebackers in space. 

Next up the Texans offense:

Texans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Houston

The Texans have a very good tandem in Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde with QB Deshaun Watson an able runner that can make plays with his legs. The Texans run more of that read-option offense, mainly with Hyde and Watson that has given the Patriots some issues. 

The Patriots run defense did a good job of defending the run last week against the Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott, although he got 86 yards on 21 carries, he didn’t have the impact of really influencing the game and they limited his effectiveness in the red zone.

Look for Houston to run some of the similar looks to what Baltimore did against the Patriots a few weeks ago. It will be up to the linebackers to set the edge and get some penetration to force Watson into obvious passing situations. And the big men up front, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton must get some penetration upfront to disrupt the flow of the running game. 

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

The Houston passing game with Deshaun Watson throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Kenny Stills at WR is a tough matchup for the New England secondary. They also have Daniel Fells at TE and Johnson out of the backfield. The passing offense is much more dangerous when Fuller is healthy. Problem is, he’s been banged up quite a bit and is not quite 100 percent with a hamstring issue now.

Hopkins is obviously the key here. He has 81 catches for 839 yards and 8 TDs this season. But the Patriots have done a good job of limiting his production when facing Houston. In five career games against New England, he has 24 catches for 339 yards and zero touchdowns. 

The Patriots secondary’s coverage has been simply outstanding and it begins with Stephon Gilmore, who has been the best in the game for the past two seasons. He’ll be matched up with Hopkins, Fuller will be covered by a combination of J.C. Jackson and/or Jason McCourty. While Jonathan Jones draws Stills. Houston’s OL has allowed 32 sacks, so the pressure on Watson will be interesting to monitor.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots special teams lost Nick Folk to appendicitis this week and he’s been replaced on the roster by Kai Forbath, the 4th kicker on the season. Jake Bailey has been outstanding this season as has the coverage units. Matthew Slater is having an outstanding season and blocked a punt last week versus Dallas. The return game has been so-so all season. 

The Texans kicking game has been as unpredictable as the Patriots. Ka’imi Fairbairn has missed five field goals (all from 40+) as well as five PATs. Bryan Anger is back with the team and doing an outstanding job at punting. Houston’s coverage teams have been tremendous, allowing only a 2.7-yard return average. The Texans return game hasn’t been strong either. 

Next up, who wins and why…

The Patriots are looking to improve to 11-1 and it is a very important game for both teams with big playoff implications on the line. Bill Belichick always likes to say that you don’t get a real feel for a team until after Thanksgiving. Well, here we are. 

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

No Big Chunk Plays Against the Run- Look for the Patriots defense to play a similar game plan like they did last week against the Cowboys, Hyde, Johnson and Watson will get their yards, but don’t let them dictate the pace and tempo of the game and stop them from consistently getting into those 3rd and 3 or less. 

Houston has consistently gotten those big chunk plays of 20 yards or more this season, their currently fourth-best in the league. The way to slow down this offense is to take those away and force them to confront your strength on defense, the secondary. 

Win On 3rd Down and the Red Zone – The Patriots offense has struggled on both 3rd down and the red zone this season. So has the Houston defense. Here is the chance for the offense to make some inroads with both of those issues. 

Here is where N’Keal Harry’s selection can start paying dividends. We saw a glimpse of what he can do with his 10-yard TD last week. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him targeted in the red zone moving forward. This seems like a big week to see either Rex Burkhead or James White in the pattern against the linebackers.

Time to Round Into Form  – This is the time of year for the Patriots that they traditionally begin to really play well and begin to build up for a postseason run. Sunday night will be the first game for that to start. That means for the offense to begin to find an identity and become more productive. If that means more Harry and Ben Watson, then they need to get it done. 

They’ve always risen to the occasion under Belichick. Facing a playoff team on the road for a Sunday night nationally televised game, is an opportunity for the team to make a statement, that they’re far from done.

**  Shameless Self-promotion** Our 3rd key last week was for the STs to step up. 

Look for them to go after a punt or two this weekend to help out the struggling offense. Justin Bethel or Brandon Bolden may be a key contributor this week.

___________

Prediction: 

This should be a very good Sunday night matchup. The Houston offense with Watson, Hopkins, Fuller, and Stills is a marquee matchup for the Patriots secondary. But never underestimate the power of doubt. The talking heads (usual suspects) have begun to throw dirt on Brady once again. 

Nothing fires up the 42-year old QB and brings out the best in him than doubt. Look for Brady to make a big statement on Sunday night.  Patriots  27-13

The “Knocking on Sevens’ Door” tour returns to Foxboro next week for a huge game against the Kansas City Chiefs.,.

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

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

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

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

Patriots are 9-1 and heading home to Face Dallas

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: C

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

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

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

Running Backs: C

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

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

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

Wide Receivers: C

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

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

Tight Ends: C

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

Offensive Line: C-

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

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

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

 Defensive Line: A-

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

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

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

Linebackers: A-

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

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

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

Secondary: A

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

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

Special Teams: A

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

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

Coaches: A-

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Patriots Defense Rebounds, Shuts Down Eagles 17-10

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

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

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

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

Here are our other observations on the game:

Defense Has a Very Solid Game: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offensive Woes Continue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________

Check back with PatsFans.com for all of our pregame and post-game analysis. And if you’re a wiz at predicting the NFL slate straight up, register for our message board and then post your picks every week. We’ll see who is the top dog at the end of the season. That page can be found here: https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/

 

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 and game analysis.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Series History:

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

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

 

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up the Eagles offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

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

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

Next up, who wins and why…

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

Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

___________

Prediction: 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: B

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

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

Running Backs: B-

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

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

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

Wide Receivers: B

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

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

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

Tight Ends: B-

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

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

Offensive Line: C-

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

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

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

 Defensive Line: B

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

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

Linebackers: A-

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

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

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

Secondary: A

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

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

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

Special Teams: C+

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

Coaches: A-

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarterback: D+

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

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

Running Backs: B-

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

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

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

Wide Receivers: D

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

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

Tight Ends: D-

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

Offensive Line: C-

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

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

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

Defensive Line: A-

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

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

Linebackers: A-

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

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

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

Secondary: A-

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

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

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

Special Teams: B

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

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

Coaches: B-

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Players To Watch Patriots-Dolphins Week 14

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

Playoff Atmosphere in South Beach This Weekend

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

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

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

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

Sony Michel:

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

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

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

Trey Flowers:

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

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

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

Josh Gordon:

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

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

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

Kyle Van Noy:

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

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

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

Chris Hogan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things you can set your watch/calendar by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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