Tag Archives: Patriots secondary

The Defense Never Rests in New England, But They’re Improving Every Week

Steve Balestrieri
November 27, 2017 at 10:22 am ET

Things have certainly turned around for Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s defense since the first month of the season. The constant breakdowns in communication, big plays being hit all over the field and the defense allowing a ton of yards and points now seem a distant memory. And it should. The defense has made remarkable strides in the past seven games, holding opponents to 17 points or less in each one.

There hasn’t been any magical elixir or fairy dust sprinkled on the players, just old-fashioned hard work as the players have put the time in, worked hard and have gotten more comfortable in their respective roles. It has put the team in very good shape heading into the final five games of the regular season.

Run-Defense, Pass Rush Still Issues: To be sure, they are far from perfect. The run defense is giving up far too many yards and could be much better. The pass rush has been very inconsistent, which sounds funny this morning a day after the team notched seven sacks for 61 yards against the Dolphins. But overall this year, opposing quarterbacks have had too much time to survey the field. Against the Dolphins, the Pats took advantage of the situation , in being well ahead and cut the dogs loose.

Malcom Brown returned after missing a few games and he definitely helped in the running game. He, Alan Branch, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Ricky Jean Francois have a good nucleus on the interior.

Trey Flowers led the way with a pair of sacks before injuring his ribs. He returned briefly but then left and went to the locker room for treatment. His situation will bear monitoring as the team is very thin and inexperienced at defensive end. Rookie Eric Lee who was on the roster for just a few days got his first NFL action and played about 20 snaps, and got his first NFL sack as well as a QB hit.

The coaches didn’t put too much on his plate, he was in a rush only situation so Lee was able to go out and play instinctively. He’s a bit bigger than Cassius Marsh so theoretically he should be able to set the edge in the running game. We’ll get a better feel for that in the coming weeks, but for his first NFL action…well done.

Kyle Van Noy had a very solid game as well until he too was injured. Elandon Roberts the past few weeks has been playing the best football of his brief NFL career. He came untouched on an A-Gap blitz and notched a pair of sacks.

Secondary Now Playing The Way it Was Envisioned: While the media is still basing the Patriots secondary off of those awful September numbers, the unit is playing tremendously better and each week has gotten better since Week 4. Malcolm Butler has shaken off the shaky early season play where his contract situation was affecting his play and is back to his normally solid self at left corner. Butler is relentless, has nice catch-up speed and has a very short memory. He won’t dwell on getting beat on a play and comes back and plays harder for the next snap.

Stephon Gilmore was the poster child for the “Belichick made a mistake signing him” group after struggling the first few weeks. Gilmore was one of the worst offenders in the communication gaffes in the first month of the season. However, all of that has changed. Starting in Week 5 he did a very solid job of shadowing Tampa’s Mike Evans. But he suffered a concussion that week and then missed the next three games. Since returning, he’s been the shutdown corner that everyone envisioned they were getting this spring. Besides shutting down DeVante Parker on Sunday, Gilmore had a huge interception at the end of the first half. And nearly had another on the Dolphins final play of the day.

Jonathan Jones has flourished in his increased workload since Eric Rowe suffered what has to have been a very serious groin injury and missed the past seven games. The safeties, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon have been excellent this season.

If you still think the pass defense is suspect, take a look at the numbers opposing quarterbacks have put up against them in the past five weeks. While it is a given that they’re not facing a murderers row, the fact is, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, and Derek Carr are far from slouches either. In the last five games Opposing QBs have the following.

Attempts – 179

Completions – 109

Completion % – 60.8%

Yards Allowed – 1118 yards  

Yards per game – 217.2

Touchdowns – 5

Interceptions – 5

Passer rating – 76.5

Sacks/Yards – 10/93 (a bit skewed after Sunday’s game)

Points per game – 13.1: Those are some pretty impressive numbers and this is what we expected to see this summer when training camp opened.

Injuries Need Monitoring: As we mentioned at the top, the win over the Dolphins almost has a feeling of a Pyrrhic victory to it. The Patriots suffered six injuries and at least one, to Nate Ebner is expected to be of the season-ending type.

The ones to Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy will be the ones to monitor closely as the team really can’t afford to lose either one. But Trevor Reilly and Marquis Flowers are not only standout special teams performers, like Ebner, but have been getting increasing amounts of snaps on defense as well.

With the next three games away from home, divisional games against Buffalo and in Miami before visiting Pittsburgh, the Patriots can wrap up the division and a first round bye with continued solid play. The offense has found its groove and now the defense is playing well too. That’s what the coaches want to see at this time of the year.

There is still work to do and they can definitely improve in a few areas but overall, this unit is playing very good football right now.

We’re on to Buffalo…

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

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

FG Gives Panthers Win over Patriots, Defense Historically Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the DBs Impressed, But Melifonwu, Patriots Are a Great Fit

Steve Balestrieri
March 6, 2017 at 4:01 pm ET

The Patriots have some holes to fill and some intriguing decisions to make in the coming weeks with Free Agency right around the corner and the NFL Draft coming up in April.  And in the Patriots secondary, with Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon probably leaving via free agency, the holes to fill are big. Well, UConn has a big safety that may be just what the doctor ordered in Obi Melifonwu.

Melifonwu crushed it at the Combine; he measured in at 6’4, 224-pounds. He’d be the biggest member of the secondary by far. But the kid can move, he had a broad jump of 11’9 and a vertical leap of 44 inches. But the thing was, when they announced his vertical leap, he seemed disappointed that it wasn’t more. He then ran a 4.40 in the 40 which is incredible for a player of his size.

Mike Mayock was raving about his versatility and that may be his biggest selling point. Melifonwu can play centerfield as a deep safety, has the size, physicality and tackling ability to play in the box. And as Mayock pointed out, with a matchup team like the Patriots and Bill Belichick, he can matchup with big tight ends one week and the next week be put outside on a big wide receiver the following week.

Melinfonwu was an outstanding player in Central Mass at Grafton High School before going to UConn. We reached out to his high school coach, Chris McMahon about what makes him tick and what kind of young man he is.

“He’s a great kid,” McMahon said on Monday afternoon. “He’s very quiet and very business-like. He took everything seriously and worked very hard for everything he’s gotten.”

McMahon credited Melifonwu’s mother, who kept his feet and those of his brothers firmly on the ground. “You’ll never find a nicer, polite group of kids and I credit Mrs. Melifonwu for raising them that way.”

“I knew he had unlimited potential, and you knew just from watching him if he could put everything together, he would explode. And his on-field performance today…that was just incredible. He’s a tremendous athlete and an extremely hard worker. Even during college spring breaks, the kids all go to Florida, he’d come back up here and hit the weight room,” McMahon said.

“Obi was one of the best players ever to come thru our program [Grafton] and one of the best in CMass in years. He played QB, RB, WR, and returned kicks he scored fifty-something touchdowns for us, and on defense, he played corner, safety, and even some linebacker.

“It seems like yesterday that came here as a freshman and amazing to see the man that he’s become. Like I said, you always knew it was there, and it happened really quick for him at UConn. McMahon talked about the buzz that is going on with the draft now and the fact that Melifonwu may end up being a first-round draft pick. “My phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” he added.

The crazy part is, Melifonwu may not even be the best football player in the family. His younger brother Ifeatu, known locally as “Iffy” just finished a stellar high school career at Grafton and is heading for Syracuse. Last summer while working out with the Syracuse coaches he ran a 4:50 in the 40….but that is for another day.

The Patriots could add a very intriguing, and versatile piece of the defense in April when the draft rolls around. It is easy to envision Melifonwu wearing a bunch of different hats depending on the opponent from week to week.

He’d be a tremendous fit in the Patriots defense as well as in the locker room. And he’d fulfill a position of need.

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.