Tag Archives: Patriots wide receivers

Slow Your Roll on the Patriots WRs… There’s a Long Way to Go

Steve Balestrieri
August 21, 2019 at 8:34 am ET

Social media was abuzz yesterday after and many Patriots fans were as happy as Christmas morning when the images of Josh Gordon stretching at practice and Demaryius Thomas in full uniform, off of PUP. With Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry also back at practice, the wide receiver position and situation was now much rosier and many folks were already checking flight availability to Miami in early February. Let’s just pump the brakes on that just yet. 

We’re always glass-half-full types here and if there is anything that the past two decades have taught us is they always, always get things figured out. Which is why we weren’t in full-blown panic mode a week ago when the same social media mavens were decrying Bill Belichick for leaving the cupboard bare when Tom Brady was throwing to Gunner Olszewski early in the joint practice with the Titans.

Now with the risk of sounding like Debbie Downer here, we’ll try to explain our “cautious optimism” when it comes to the receiver group. Having Edelman, Gordon, Harry, Thomas, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Maurice Harris, and Braxton Berrios at the position is certainly cause for optimism, and if it were 2012, I’d be calling friends in Florida and preparing them for houseguests in February. But it isn’t and I’m not ready to do that… just yet.

Gordon The Most Physically Gifted But Flawed WR:

Gordon’s talent is still undeniable, he showed that last year where he came in and produced at a very good level. And there is no reason to doubt that at age 28 that physically he couldn’t produce the same or even more if he plays 16 games. But he hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year of 2012. 

His issues have always been off the field and even with a great deal of support from the Patriots last season, his demons resurfaced and he once again found himself suspended by the league. While we certainly don’t want to see him backslide, more from a personal than a football standpoint, counting on him for an entire season is something the team can’t afford to do.

The Patriots made it clear that although they’d welcome him back [and gave him a tender], they weren’t planning on having him around. Hence the signings of Harris, Dontrelle Inman [now with the Bolts], Thomas and drafting Harry while adding Meyers after the fact. 

Can Thomas Reinvent Himself?

With Thomas, the opposite questions are in-effect. His on-field regression with the Texans last year was evident after he was traded by the Broncos. He didn’t look like the same receiver before he tore his Achilles. But he’s been rehabbing hard with the training staff and seems as upbeat as one can be. 

So what can be reasonably expected from Thomas at this juncture of his career? We didn’t think he’d even make the team, which is why the timing of his coming off of PUP was so intriguing. With just two days of practice before the Carolina preseason game, and then just a week of practice and a final tuneup with the Giants, it leaves him precious little time to get on the same page with Brady and the offense. 

Perhaps Thomas is going to reinvent himself as a more of a possession type of wide receiver and become a chain mover rather than the game-breaker he was earlier in his career. That is a possibility, but until we watch him on the field and see him run, I’d err on the side of caution, and not count on him making the 53-man roster. 

Harry and Meyers Have Upside But Are Still Rookies:

Patriots fans are justifiably pleased and should be with the selection and performance of both Harry and Meyers. And Meyers, the UDFA QB turned WR from NC State has probably been more impressive this summer. He’s shown a quickness off the line where he’s been able to gain separation and catch everything that’s been thrown his way.

Former Patriot and now analyst Matt Chatham said he looks like a six-year veteran on the field. He’s developed quite a rapport and chemistry with Brady and the QB has been throwing to his spots on the field before Meyers makes his breaks. 

Harry has all of the tools and the size to be a very productive WR in the league for years to come. He’s the only WR that Belichick has ever taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. He’s the master of the contested catch. However, his development has been slowed by a few nagging injuries this summer.

But something to keep in mind with both of these players is that they are rookies. Their production may take some time to get going. The speed and physicality of the NFL game is something they’ll have to get used to. They won’t be facing the twos and threes of an opponent’s defense but their top-line players. Patience is the word of the day.

So, while we believe that the offense is going to be just fine [never had any doubts], let’s just slow the talk of the “best WR group since 2007” for a bit …As Belichick is so fond of saying… “they have a long way to go.”

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

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

As More Patriots WRs Go Down, It is Opportunity Time for the Remainder

Steve Balestrieri
August 15, 2019 at 7:33 am ET

At the conclusion of the first joint practice with the Titans on Tuesday, the state of the Patriots receiver corps was more notable on who wasn’t in attendance rather than who was. Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Josh Gordon [still suspended] tight end Matt LaCosse and N’Keal Harry were not there for the beginning of practice, although Harry was in uniform, he didn’t take part in any activities and quickly moved off to work with members of the training staff. 

Then during the session, both Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris each left with various ailments. That left a thin wide receiver grouping even thinner. Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham were left with Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Gunner Olszewski, Damoun Patterson, and Ryan Davis. 

It isn’t known if the dings that Dorsett and Harris took were heat-related or more serious. Dorsett was reported to have returned and rode a stationary bike at the end of the practice session. This is in addition to reports that running back Damien Harris is dealing with a wrist injury, which has limited his pass=catching ability.

But rather than looking at this as a red flag [as it would be during the regular season], this is a time of opportunity, a chance to earn more reps with the starting unit and carve out a role for themselves for the players on the field.

Meyers has been a very pleasant surprise as to how fast he’s caught on to the Patriots system as well as his versatility and production in the passing game. If there is an area where he could improve it would be in special teams. The coaches have been getting him some reps in the punt return game, which to date haven’t been all smooth. 

Berrios has thrived during joint sessions and the preseason game with the Lions and is carrying that momentum into this week in Tennessee. Berrios looked very good in the return game last week in Detroit and that alone may win him a spot among the final 53-man roster. Away from the smothering Jonathan Jones in team practices, Berrios has found room to move and made some nice plays in the passing game. 

Dontrelle Inman may be the biggest benefactor from the recent spate of injuries to the wide receivers. After a very forgettable spring, Inman found himself deep in the bowels of the depth chart at the beginning of training camp. He helped himself with some good work against the Detroit third teamers last week. 

Now he’ll get more reps with Brady and the first team unit today. If that means more playing time on Saturday night, then it is a chance to move up in the pecking order. If he can find the comfort level and chemistry with Brady that he showed late last season with Andrew Luck, he could force himself into a much better situation. Maurice Harris had a tremendous start to camp. But he had a couple of big drops in Detroit, [granted one was a clear defensive pass interference] and with him now possibly on the shelf, this allows Inman a chance to push him a bit. 

LaCosse’s ankle injury last week opened the door for the team to bring in the third-year tight end Eric Sauber that they picked up from the Falcons for a conditional 7th round draft pick. Sauber has the size, 6’5, 255 pounds and the athleticism to play special teams and to attack the seams of the defense. But the knock on him is his hands, “manos de piedra” which have precluded him from having any impact in the league.

Sauber should get more and more work in the passing game as the team tries to lighten the load on 38-year old Ben Watson. Ryan Izzo is known more as a blocker. Rookie Andrew Beck is being used more as a fullback/H-back and Stephen Anderson has seemingly become an afterthought in the passing game. 

But like anything else, opportunities arise and players have to take advantage of them. 

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

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

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
July 16, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots have many questions heading into the 2019 season at wide receiver. Julian Edelman returns, the Super Bowl LIII MVP is still at the top of his game but at 33, one has to wonder how much longer he can perform at a high level. 

After him, the situation gets murkier. Phillip Dorsett has been fine whenever his number has been called but his production really could use an increase. Demaryius Thomas’s numbers have been steadily going down the past several years and now he’s coming off of an Achilles injury. Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely and no one knows if he’ll be allowed to play this year. 

The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round of the draft this spring and expectations with him are high. But rookie wide receivers have struggled to make an impact here in the past. Braxton Berrios had a very strong spring but spent his entire rookie season on IR. Maurice Harris and Dontrelle Inman are coming on to try to carve out roles for themselves after playing for the Redskins and Colts respectively. 

So, the opportunities are there for several players to carve out roles for themselves once training camp opens. There are 12 players that should be vying for reps, and possibly 13 if Thomas is ready to go. Gordon is forbidden to enter the facility or work out with the team during his suspension. Let’s take a look at who is in good shape and who has a lot of work to do at the wide receiver position

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.

Current roster – Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry, Matthew Slater, Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, Josh Gordon (suspended)

Locks – Edelman, Dorsett, Harry, Slater

Bubble – Berrios, Thomas, Harris, Inman, Meyers

Long Shot – Patterson, Davis, Olszewski, Gordon 

Discussion – Edelman, Dorsett, Slater, and Harry are all locks. Obviously, the conversation starts with Julian Edelman. Yes, Edelman is 33 but if you watched him in the Super Bowl he was uncoverable. The Rams threw several different defensive backs on him and nobody could lock him down. I watched him thru all three days of minicamp and he looks ready to go again. 

Dorsett was getting plenty of reps early last year but lost those after Gordon was brought in. The hope here is that he’ll be able to replicate what he did last year, and with an additional year in the system, be able to add to it. 

Slater is a WR in name only but is a Special Teams’ captain and one of the best at what he does both on and off the field. Harry is a first-round draft pick who has incredible upside but is just a rookie. With a first-round draft pedigree, he’s automatically on the 53-man roster. 

This is where it gets interesting. Berrios had a very strong spring but is in no way a lock at this point. He has a long way to go but is definitely trending in the right direction. The smaller but quick slot receiver recognizes the opportunity in front of him. Mike Reiss of ESPN has written that Berrios has already reported into camp. The hope is that he could fit into that Danny Amendola role in the Patriots offense.

Harris likewise had a very strong spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way with a few nice highlight-reel catches during minicamp. Can he do it again when the secondary players are allowed contact? Inman, on the other hand, didn’t have a good week at minicamp. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during the three sessions. He has a lot of ground to make up. 

Meyers is an interesting addition. A former QB turned WR, Meyers has good size for the position, (6’2, 203) with very good hands, tight route-running and the willingness to go into contested areas. He doesn’t have great top-end speed but could be an oversized slot receiver. What was intriguing about him was that during a side session with Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Josh McDaniels, during minicamp, Meyers was brought in with Harry to work on route selection. May end being nothing, but it could mean they have a plan in mind for him.

Patterson was on the practice squad a year ago but along with Davis, and Olszewski are all facing long odds of making the roster. 

In a perfect world, Gordon would get reinstated and Thomas would come back better than new. But we don’t live in a perfect world and the fact is, the Patriots can’t rely on Gordon being reinstated any time soon, if at all. And Thomas may end up on PUP to begin the season. That means other players will have to step up….Questions, questions. This will make training camp and the preseason so compelling this summer.

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.

New England Patriots News 5-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 12, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 05-12 and AFC East notes this week. And a very Happy Mothers Day to all those great Moms out there, not only in Patriots Nation but worldwide as well.

Quick Hitters:

Rodney Harrison was the 2019 fans’ choice for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame, he’ll join the veteran selection Leon Gray in being inducted this summer. That is scheduled for Monday, July 29, which should coincide with the first weekend of training camp. Circle the date folks, this ought to be a good one to attend.

Julian Edelman is finishing off his college degree this weekend at Kent State, something he began in 2006 and after nearly a decade in the NFL, he’s going to graduate. Edelman said on social media that he wanted to be a positive role model for his daughter and to finish something he started. Congrats.

Jarvis Green, the former Patriot defensive end is now a CEO of a shrimp company, Oceans 97, a salute to his uniform number. Green learned about the shrimping business from a friend and now his gourmet line is available all across New England and features easy-to-cook meals of shrimp packaged in bags with four sauce flavors to choose from, New Orleans Style BBQ, Cajun Curry, Chimichurri, and Garlic Butter.

Rookie Mini-camp for the Patriots begins tomorrow. The most recent draft picks and UDFAs will report to Foxboro, get physical examinations, meet the coaching staff, get down the daily routine and be introduced to the Patriots’ schemes that they’ll be expected to learn and quickly. These on-field sessions are not padded and no contact is allowed. For the 21 newest Patriots it is their first day of work in the NFL.

OBJ – caught a lot of flak last week for saying “I plan on being there for the next five years and trying to bring as many championships there as possible. Turning (the Browns) into the new Patriots,” There is nothing wrong with that at all. That SHOULD be the team’s goal, not just his.

I did poke some fun at him on Twitter for saying “I” instead of “we”, for failing to get the entire team thing mantra that is New England, but honestly, no one should have any problem with it. Tempering expectations, a least early? Sure, but as the old saying goes, “fortune favors the bold.” The Browns have a legitimate reason to be excited this year. When was the last time that happened.

White House Visit upcoming? The Patriots didn’t get a chance to visit the White House as is the tradition because of conflicts with dates, usually, it is done right after the NFL Draft. But there should be a date coming soon for the team to visit the White House and be recognized by the President soon.

Some Big Changes in the Coaching Staff, Joe Judge Gets Added Responsibility:

The Patriots have had a lot of turnover in the coaching ranks this offseason. Brian Flores is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, taking with him WR coach Chad O’Shea, CB coach Josh Boyer, and assistant QB coach Jerry Schuplinksi. DL coach Brendan Daly went to Kansas City in a lateral move.

With a smaller staff in 2019, the Patriots always have one of the smaller staffs in the NFL, the Patriots coaching staff now consists of the following:

Head coach: Bill Belichick
Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks coach: Josh McDaniels
Special teams coordinator/wide receivers coach: Joe Judge
Running backs coach: Ivan Fears
Tight ends coach: Nick Caley
Offensive line coach: Dante Scarnecchia
Defensive line coach: Bret Bielema
Inside linebackers coach: Jerod Mayo
Outside linebackers coach: DeMarcus Covington
Safeties coach: Steve Belichick
Defensive backs coach: Mike Pellegrino
Assistant special teams coordinator: Cameron Achord

The biggest changes occur on the defensive side of the ball. Bielema was primarily working with the defense last year and he takes over the DL and will probably inherit the job of making the calls. He’s been a defensive coordinator and head coach in the college ranks. Jerod Mayo has been brought in to coach the inside linebackers while Demarcus Covington takes over the outside linebackers. Mike Pellegrino is listed as a “defensive backs” coach but will probably coach the cornerbacks only. The only returning defensive coach is Steve Belichick who remains the safeties coach.

Joe Judge gets more on his plate as he retains his Special Teams coordinator position but also picks up the new title of WR coach as well. But with OC Josh McDaniels, OL coach Dante Scarnecchia, and RB coach Ivan Fears to return, the offense should be in really good shape.

Patriots Welcome N’Keal Harry Finally to New England:

The Patriots brought in N’Keal Harry to meet with the media on Friday and he was finally officially introduced as the Patriots first draft pick of 2019, (32nd overall in the first round). He posed for pictures with Robert and Jonathan Kraft and spoke with the press. Some of the highlights included:

On being drafted by the Patriots: “It means the world to me. This is a great organization. I feel like I couldn’t have been put in a better situation. I’m learning from the best of the best and I’m just excited to get to work and soak in as much information as possible.”

Asked about Tom Brady being hard on his WRs, Harry embraced the challenge. “That’s something I’m looking forward to. I’m the type of player that wants to get better, I want to get coached hard, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Harry spoke about giving back to his home on Saint Vincent and how much of an influence his grandmother was in his life. “She’s been everything. There’s no way I would have been in this position if my grandmother wasn’t a part of my life. She’s been a great role model. That’s where I get my work ethic from, just seeing how hard she works, seeing her come from a different country and having to start over. I really do know there’s no way I would be in this position without that woman.”

And asked what’s he’s been doing since being drafted, how he answered should be music to Patriots’ fans ears. “These past couple of weeks, my biggest things have been making sure I stay in shape and just making sure I’m studying a lot, watching a lot of film. I want to be the type of player that comes in and can be accountable from day one… with this transition, it’s all the work you put in, the time you put in, the effort you put in. So that’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

Patriots Sign Watson and Several Draft Picks:

Ben Watson is returning to the place where his NFL career began with the Patriots. The team announced the signing of the 15-year NFL veteran who spent the first six seasons in the NFL with the Patriots before signing with Cleveland. He also played for the Ravens and Saints. Watson has played in 195 games with 135 starts and has 530 catches, for 5885 yards and 44 TDs.

The Patriots also announced the signings of second-round draft pick DB JoeJuan Williams, third-round draft pick OL Yodny Cajuste, fourth-round draft pick OL Hjalte Froholdt, fourth-round draft pick QB Jarrett Stidham, fifth-round draft pick DL Byron Cowart, fifth-round draft pick P Jake Bailey and seventh-round draft pick DB Ken Webster.

Only three draft picks remain unsigned, top draft pick N’Keal Harry, and third-round picks Chase Winovich and Damien Harris. Those shouldn’t be too long in coming

Adjustments Are Just a Walk in the Park for the Patriots:

For the past couple of months, the fans and media have been discussing how the team will handle so many losses thru free agency, coach-poaching, and retirement.

“No Josh Gordon, Hogan, Patterson at WR…Who will Brady throw to?”
“RobGronkowski retired and the top three tight ends from last year are gone…how will the team adjust?”
“The team lost Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle at tackle…who’s going to protect Brady?”
“All of these changes at the coaching staff, does the rest of the AFC catchup in 2019?”

These are just a few of some of the questions we’ve all been hearing, or asking ourselves this spring. But as always, if there is one thing the Patriots do better than anyone is to adjust. No team has been better than adjusting to changing personnel, coaches, situations …whatever. They always figure it out. It has been a hallmark of this team for the past two decades is that they always figure it out.

So, while we’re all lamenting the loss of Gronk and openly wondering (as I did here) if they’re going to put an emphasis elsewhere, Belichick, McDaniels and don’t forget Brady will figure out a way to get this done. And until they don’t figure it out, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I found it intriguing this week that the Patriots were omitted from the NFL.com’s predicted “Top 10” offenses of 2019. I can think of nothing that will motivate Brady more. The Patriots love to play the role of the underdog and something tells me, the same people who omitted them from the list will be ridiculing New England for playing the underdog role next winter.   

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Get No Love from ESPN, Network Predicts a Losing Season:

The Buffalo Bills had a strong offseason in free agency and followed that up with a strong 2019 NFL Draft.  There they landed DL Ed Oliver, OT Cody Ford, RB Devin Singletary, and TE Dawson Knox in the first three rounds but are picked by the experts at ESPN to win just six games.

Buffalo fans are used to the media pundits taking shots at their team but from a perspective standpoint, the same experts had the Kansas City Chiefs as the best in the league with a probability of just 10.3 wins.

While much of how the season unfolds will depend on the 2nd year jump by QB Josh Allen, at first glance this doesn’t look like a six-win team.

Dolphins Defense Looking For a Hybrid Identity:

The Miami Dolphins are trying to build a defense that looks at times like a 4-3. At other times a 3-4. The base defense may have five defensive backs on the field. Their plan is to run a hybrid defense that morphs into whatever their opponents struggle against.   I

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it should. That is the kind of defense Brian Flores ran with the Patriots and he and Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham plan on running with the Dolphins.

But both Graham and Flores know that if the defense is going to be successful, then they’ll have to improve a woeful 2018 run defense. Miami allowed a whopping 2325 yards on the ground and 4.8 yards per rush. And in playing in a hybrid front, the players will have to set the edge, something that Graham is well aware of.

“There will be a bunch of guys who will learn to set the edge,” Graham said to the Sun Sentinel this week. “The edge comes down to this. You’ve got to get a feel for it. The traditional edge we grew up knowing, where [the offense] lines up with two tight ends and they are going to run outside, that doesn’t happen that often (anymore).

“Setting the edge is really getting a feel for it, and being physical at the point, using proper angles with our body. We’re teaching a bunch of guys to learn how to do it. It can be a safety. It can be a defensive end and outside linebacker…

Polite Getting a Fresh Start with the Jets:

The New York Jets picked up Jachai Polite in the 3rd Round of the 2019 NFL Draft after the very talented edge player from Florida began to fall in the draft.  Polite seemed like a sure-fire 1st rounder after a 2018 season that saw him produce 17.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks and six forced fumbles.

But he tested poorly at the NFL Combine and again at Florida’s Pro Day, prior to the draft. This, coupled with what was perceived as several poor interviews caused his draft stock to plummet.

But Jets coach Adam Gase isn’t worried about any of that. He said, “Well right now, we have a guy with pretty much a fresh start. What happened in the past is irrelevant to me.”

Gase added, “Moving forward it’s going to be about doing the right things, worrying about what he can control which is showing up every day, being on time, practice hard. If he does that, it’ll be smooth sailing for him.”

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Patriots Continue to Add Depth, Sign WR Dontrelle Inman

Steve Balestrieri
May 11, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

PThe Patriots brought in free agent WR Dontrelle Inman for a visit and despite the player reportedly having offers from four other teams on the table has agreed to sign with New England.

Inman, 30, has plenty of experience. After having gone undrafted after the 2011 draft, played two years in the CFL and won a Grey Cup with Toronto. He also played with the Chargers, Bears, and lastly with the Colts. He appeared in nine games with Indy in 2018 and had 28 catches for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns. He added eight more catches for 108 yards and a touchdown in the Colts two playoff games.

His best season was in 2016 with the Chargers where he caught 58 passes for 810 yards and 4 touchdowns. Like many of the new additions to the Patriots receiving corps, Inman brings good size at 6’3, 205 pounds.

Inman got positive reviews from Colts head coach Frank Reich who also worked with Inman with the Chargers for his work ethic, leadership, and his football I.Q. Added in midseason, he developed good chemistry with QB Andrew Luck and he quickly became a trusted target in the Colts offense.

In the final four games of the year for the Colts, Inman notched 17 catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns. He locked down the Indy #2 WR position behind T.Y. Hilton

After the Patriots jettisoned Bruce Ellington earlier this week, bringing Inman in on a one-year deal makes sense. We mentioned a few times this week, that we could see an additional veteran WR being added to the team would make sense and Inman will have an opportunity to create a role for himself.

He now joins Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon, Braxton Berrios, Jakobi Meyers, Xavier Ubosi, Ryan Davis, Maurice Harris, Damoun Patterson and Matthew Slater as the current wide receivers in the offense.

How they plan on using him as of yet is unknown but they have brought in plenty of players who can compete. Especially with Thomas coming off a serious injury and probably is not going to be ready for the season and with Gordon being indefinitely suspended

Terms of his deal are not known yet.

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 Find Their Big Wide Receiver in N’Keal Harry

Steve Balestrieri
April 26, 2019 at 7:10 am ET

The Patriots stayed put in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft and with the 32nd selection took N’Keal Harry, WR from Arizona State.

In selecting Harry, this is the first time the Patriots drafted a wide receiver in the first round since the days of Terry Glenn, back during the Bill Parcells era. He has long arms and uses his catch radius and body positioning to always seem to get open. He’s a threat for big yards after the catch (YAC) and while not a burner in the 4.3 range, he has good speed. He will immediately become a matchup issue for opposing defenses because of his size, physicality, and athleticism.

In our final pre-draft podcast on Patriots 4th & 2, Derek Havens and I had Harry mocked to the Patriots with the #32 pick.

The pick should have brought a big smile to the face of Patriots QB Tom Brady, he gets a big (6’2, 228) physical wide receiver who was extremely productive in college. In 37 career college games, Harry caught 213 passes for 2889 years and 22 touchdowns.P

Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio told the Patriots media after Round 1, the team was getting phone calls about moving back but decided that selecting Harry was the better option. Caserio said that Harry is, “a big, strong receiver with good hands … good with the ball after the catch.” Harry after being selected, spoke to the Patriots media and to the NFL Network and stated he thought his home state team the Arizona Cardinals would take him at #33 which may have convinced New England to stick with the pick and take him.

Nov 25, 2017; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver N’Keal Harry (1) catches a third quarter touchdown pass against Arizona Wildcats cornerback Jace Whittaker (17) during the Territorial Cup at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Within the Patriots system, Harry seems to be a tremendous fit. He can attack zones in the short to intermediate area and presents a big target with the ability to high point and win contested passes and those in traffic. Those quick slants that Brady likes to throw and did with Josh Gordon will quickly become a specialty with Harry. He has strong hands and is a tough run blocker.

He’s arguably one of the top three WRs in the draft and the Patriots just got him. Adding him to the mix with Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Demaryius Thomas and possibly Josh Gordon in the future just made the cupboard a lot less bare in the meantime. After Edelman, he’s already the best receiver among the WRs and TEs on the roster.

Former Patriots front office man Michael Lombardi called Harry “a beast with the ball n his hands.” Harry’s comments make him seem like a perfect Patriot. “I play with a lot of passion. Whenever that ball’s in the air, I’ll sacrifice anything to go get it,” he said to the media after being drafted. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win. Anything coach wants me to do — whether it’s on special teams, offense, anything — I’ll do it.”

And it should be noted, Harry ran back a punt 92 yards last fall against USC.

What Can the Patriots Realistically Expect From Demaryius Thomas?

Steve Balestrieri
April 17, 2019 at 6:38 am ET

The Patriots attempt to virtually sign every free agent wide receiver on the market this spring has finally borne fruit. The team has signed free agent Demaryius Thomas to a one-year deal worth up to $6 million dollars according to ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates.

The Patriots tried to bring Thomas in at the trade deadline last season but he was traded to the Houston Texans instead. It certainly appeared last season that Thomas, who has averaged about 15 yards per reception had lost a step. Of course, the subpar play of the Denver QBs may have played into that.

He played in seven games with the Texans before tearing an Achilles tendon ending his season. Therein lies the risk. Thomas will turn 32 late in the 2019 season and is coming off of a serious injury. His game is built on being able to gain separation and is not a physical receiver, despite his excellent size at 6’3, 229.

Back in 2010, Josh McDaniels, then-head coach of the Broncos had a lot to do with Denver taking him in the first round of the draft. So, he has had at least some experience with Thomas, albeit nearly a decade ago.

So what are the Patriots getting with this signing?

With any wide receiver signing, the first thing we always wonder is “will he be able to learn the Patriots playbook?” That is a legitimate question as we’ve seen several established wide receivers flame out here in New England as they had issues learning the route tree of the Patriots offense.

That shouldn’t be a big issue with Thomas. He played in the Houston Texans system, which was put in place by Bill O’Brien after he spent several years here in New England and is considered very similar. So, in that aspect, he should already be ahead of the game with his couple of months with Houston.

Is he going to be ready to go in training camp? Achilles injuries aren’t the easiest to recover from and at 31, it is not going to be a given that he’s going to be ready. However, the Patriots had him in for a visit last week and had to be encouraged enough to offer him a deal.

Thomas suffered an Achilles injury earlier in his career and was able to recover from that one in just six months, so that is in his favor.

Thomas’ game was always built around the elite athleticism that allowed him to gain tremendous yards after the catch. With an aging athlete, an Achilles injury could seriously impact that.

The Patriots are very thin at wide receiver with Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Bruce Ellington, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson, and STs ace Matthew Slater to round out the depth chart. Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely and shouldn’t be counted upon for any production this season.

To say that there will be plenty of opportunities for a WR to carve out a role opposite Edelman is a more than just a bit of understating things. Thomas, if he’s healthy could certainly be a key player in the offense in 2019. The wide receivers, however, will find the going much tougher this year with no Rob Gronkowski drawing so much attention from opposing defenses as he’s had in the past.

Thomas had five straight 1000 yard seasons between 2012-2016 but has had his numbers dropping off for the past several years. While some of that can definitely be attributed to QB play, (Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian) he definitely appeared to be losing a step on tape and that YAC wasn’t as big as before.

Coming off of a serious injury, that athleticism could be even more affected. As to his contract, the devil will lie in the details. Much of that cash may be tied up in performance-related bonuses. So, we will have to wait and see how that looks once the contract details are posted. As for on-field expectations, if fans are expecting the monster years of 2012-2014, they are going to be very disappointed. His career numbers have steadily dropped in the last 5 years, as has his yards after the catch.

Put expectations with Thomas as minimal and hope that he can provide a solid role player’s production at this point of his career. This signing shouldn’t impact at all the need for the team to select one of the better wide receivers in the upcoming draft.

The Patriots have been linked to several WRs including A.J. Brown(Ole Miss), Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) who said in an interview “C-ya next month Bill”, Hakeem Butler (Iowa State), and others, including UMass’ Andy Isabella.

In other news, the Patriots announced the re-signing of CB Jonathan Jones who signed his one-year tender.

_____________________

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

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

Patriots 2019 Draft Profiles – Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
March 28, 2019 at 7:42 am ET

As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is never easy.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And next up is the wide receiver position. They finished the 2018 season thin at the position. Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely and may not play this season if ever again. Chris Hogan is a free agent and not expected to return. Phillip Dorsett was resigned to a one-year prove it. Deal. Julian Edelman and Braxton Berrios return, but Berrios didn’t play a snap last year, going on IR at the end of training camp.

During the initial phase of free agency, the team missed out on several big name free agents but signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris. But those two are more depth than anything else. So along with tight end, the WR position is currently one of the thinnest on the roster.

With a plethora of draft picks, the Patriots could swing a trade for an established veteran, which we assume, they’ll try to do. Or add thru the draft….preferably both.

So, with that in mind here are a few prospects (BUT NOT ALL) that may be around for the Patriots to select from. We’ll list a couple of early rounds, mid-round and then late-round prospects who we feel would be a good fit in New England. This list isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, there are other players out there who would fit, this is just a few that we like here.

Deebo Samuel, South Carolina:

Samuel in our opinion, wouldn’t be a good fit in New England, he’d be a great fit. Samuel was the go-to guy for the Gamecocks and he can turn any pass on the field into a threat to score. With the ball in his hands, he’s more running back than wide receiver.

Pros :

  • Can separate right off the line of scrimmage
  • Plays inside in the slot or outside
  • He is a dangerous kick returner, returning four for TDs
  • Very productive, 2076 yards receiving, 23 TDs

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have ideal height (5’11)
  • Has injury history
  • Sometimes struggles against press coverage

What his Role Will Be: Samuel can compete for starting reps on Day 1. The Patriots can move him around with Julian Edelman to create mismatches.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? As he gains experience in the offense, he’ll have more and more put on his plate

How Many Downs Can He Play? Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He is a speedier version of Danny Amendola and I could see him fitting seamlessly into that role

What is his ST Value? He will immediately be a threat to return kicks and had four return TDs for the Gamecocks

Samuel went down to Mobile and turned heads all week during practice and then in the game. He’ll be a fan favorite immediately here in New England and he should enjoy an immediate rapport with Tom Brady. I really doubt however, he’ll last until pick #56, the Patriots may have to move up in Round 2 to get this guy.

Riley Ridley, Georgia:

Ridley is the younger brother of Calvin, the Falcons first-round pick from last year. He is a consistent chain mover and has good production in the red zone. Ridley is a very tough, possession receiver that runs very good routes with good body control.

Pros :

  • Very strong hands
  • Can win those contested catches
  • Very good at finding soft spots on the defense
  • Plays his best against the best competition

Cons:

  • Has occasional concentration drops
  • Run blocking needs work
  • Release off the line of scrimmage needs improvement

What his Role Will Be: Ridley will look initially to be a chain mover and red zone target

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Ridley can expect to see his role and looks in the passing game to expand with a year of experience

How Many Downs Can He Play? three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can look to replace Chris Hogan’s role on the team

What is his ST Value? None, no return experience

Ridley is one of those guys who, in the right situation and system become a better pro receiver than he was in college. He’s not a burner by any stretch of the imagination, running a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, but has enough speed for corners to respect. His ability to win contested catches and physicality should make him a starter really early. He is a late Round 2 or early Round 3 prospect.

Terry McLaurin, Ohio State:

McLaurin is a mid-round prospect with good size, excellent straight-line speed (4.38 in the 40), and a player who is just coming into his own. He’s got good physicality, is a very hard worker and a leader, he was voted as a two-time captain.

Pros :

  • Thickly built, physically strong
  • Very good blocker
  • Good, strong hands, route running is crisp
  • Special teams gunner

Cons:

  • Long strider, has to build up speed
  • Is a bit of a body catcher at times
  • Doesn’t have a huge catch radius

What his Role Will Be: McLaurin is a guy who can come in and compete for the #3-4 WR and immediately be a factor on STs as a gunner

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With experience, he can solidify the role as a #3 or even vie for #2 reps

How Many Downs Can He Play? Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can challenge Ellington and Harris for a roster spot and reps.

What is his ST Value? Excellent, he should get reps right away as a gunner

McLaurin had only so-so numbers at Ohio State, with 35 catches but he averaged 20 yards per catch and had 11 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. He was considered below average as a receiver and then went and put on an excellent showing during the Senior Bowl week. He looks like he’s beginning to come into his own. He’s a mid-round guy who will have an immediate impact on STs.

Miles Boykin, Notre Dame:

Boykin has tremendous size and length at 6’4 and 230 pounds who is a very good route runner with soft hands. He ran a 4.42 at the Combine and turned in a fantastic 6.77 time in the 3-Cone Drill.

Pros :

  • Height and length off the charts
  • Quick release for a big man
  • Huge catch radius
  • Can high point the ball over most defenders easily

Cons:

  • Has occasional concentration drops
  • Only one year of big production
  • Can sometimes let corners get into his chest and slow him down

What his Role Will Be: Boykin will try to earn reps as the Patriots “X” receiver

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Boykin can expect to see a huge uptick in passing game production to expand with a year of experience under his belt.

How Many Downs Can He Play? three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can look to replace some of the production that Josh Gordon had outside

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Boykin is a very intriguing guy. With his size, he reminds one of a young Calvin Johnson. But we’re not saying he’s going to have that kind of impact but that’s how big and physical he is in the passing game. He’s a size mismatch kind of player who can high point balls, win in contested areas with very strong hands. Boykin is another mid-round player who could immediately pay dividends for the Patriots.

Now for a couple of later round players…

Hunter Renfrow, Clemson:

Renfrow is… let’s see, too small, too slow, isn’t athletic enough, where have we heard this before? Yet, all he does is catch the ball at crunch time and move the chains. Every time Clemson was in a crunch situation, they looked Renfrow’s way and he delivered.

Pros :

  • Very clutch receiver
  • Excellent awareness when he’s the hot read
  • Outstanding at finding soft spots on the defense
  • Plays his best against the best competition

Cons:

  • Undersized, isn’t explosive
  • Quicker than fast
  • Obvious smaller catch radius

What his Role Will Be: Renfrow will immediately vie for reps in the slot

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Julian Edelman is beginning to get up there in years, Renfrow is the type of player that can be eased into the same type of role

How Many Downs Can He Play? three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one, he’ll be battling with Braxton Berrios for a roster spot.

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Renfrow is a quintessential Patriots kind of guy, that people spend too much time telling you what he can’t do while they find ways of taking advantage of the things he does well. He’s a gifted route runner and always finds ways to get open. Production? In 53 college games, he caught 186 passes for 2133 yards and 15 touchdowns. Clutch? In two National Championship games against Alabama, Renfrow caught 17 passes for 180 yards and 4 touchdowns. Yeah, I’ll take that.

Penny Hart, Georgia State:

Hart is another small, even smaller than Renfrow, wide receiver at 5’8, 180 pounds. He played at a lower level of competition at Georgia State, but got an invite to the Senior Bowl and turned heads there. He was too quick, too fast and too twitchy for the corners there to get their hands on.

Pros :

  • Very good production
  • Versatile, 203 receptions, 13 rushing attempts, 17 kick, 15 punt returns
  • Excellent field vision
  • Soft hands and had very few drops

Cons:

  • Very undersized
  • Can be stopped in press coverage
  • Smaller catch radius and doesn’t win many contested catches

What his Role Will Be: Hart can vie for reps in the slot while carving out a role as a kick and punt returner

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he shows he can step it up against the pros, he could definitely see an uptick in targets in Year 2.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one, he’ll be battling with Braxton Berrios, Bruce Ellington, and Maurice Harris for a roster spot.

What is his ST Value? Very good value as a kick or punt returner

Hart is a potential steal in the late rounds or even as an UDFA. He has had very good production and is a very versatile kind of player, he can run, catch and return kicks. He’s a natural slot receiver with outstanding change of direction. He’s going to land somewhere.

_______________________

The Patriots have to address the wide receiver position in the draft or possibly decide to make a trade with one of their 12 draft picks for an established veteran as well. The cupboard as it stands right now is too bare for the team to enter the 2019 season. However, it IS only March and like the TE position, they have plenty of time to rectify the situation. These players are some of the ones we feel would fit what they do. Obviously there are others.

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 Roster Building is Just Beginning, Including the WR Position

Steve Balestrieri
March 19, 2019 at 8:29 am ET

The Patriots are just in the infancy stages of building their roster and regardless of the big fish that got away in the hours and days before free agency even actually began, it is rarely if ever the way this team builds its roster.

The roster, as it currently stands will in no way resemble that which will take the field in Week 1 of the regular season nor at the end of the season. That especially will hold true for the Wide Receiver position.

We have seen the angst that many fans and media members have been feeling about the group of players that Tom Brady will be throwing to and rest assured, the team is not done addressing those issues. The team signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris after bringing back Phillip Dorsett and while those two players aren’t the names that people were looking for, they will add depth to the roster and in the case of Ellington, he’s a guy who has had some degree of success against the Patriots a few times with the Texans. Bill Belichick loves to bring in guys like that.

So, with 12 picks, including six in the first 101 of the upcoming NFL Draft, the Patriots approach to building up more production and depth at wide receiver will probably be two-fold. They will most assuredly draft a wide receiver …or two in April. But they probably will try to swing a trade with a team that has a wide receiver on the final year of his contract, much like how they got Brandin Cooks two years ago.

So who is out there in the final year of their contracts? Let’s look:

A.J. Green, Bengals: With Cincinnati in the rebuild mode, Green who is now 30, is the name you’ve seen most circled as a “Patriots target” for a trade. It makes sense on a couple of points. Green is 30 and probably isn’t circled by the Bengals as being part of their longterm plans. He’s also been very productive in his career but has never tasted a playoff victory.

But Green to New England isn’t happening. Why? I can give you 15 million reasons why. That’s what his salary is for 2019. With the Patriots already strapped for cash, they need to re-do a couple of contracts anyway to get themselves prepared for the rest of 2019 and the draft. Bringing in Green without the Bengals eating a significant amount of his contract would put them in a huge bind… That’s a non-starter.

Tyler Boyd, Bengals: If there is a guy on Cincinnati, I’d rather have its Boyd. When he came out in the draft a few years ago, our 4th & 2 podcast member Derek Havens and I both really liked Boyd and thought he’d be a great fit in the Patriots offense.

Boyd had a terrific 2018 catching 76 passes for 1028 yards and 7 TDs, even better, his contract for 2019, his last on a rookie deal pays him just $1,064,742. Which is peanuts for a player of his ability. However, if I am the Bengals, why would I want to trade him? He’s just 26, and unless I felt there was no way, he returns in 2020.

Allen Hurns, Cowboys: Most people remember the gruesome injury Hurns suffered in the playoffs when his ankle was dislocated in the Seahawks game. Hurns is considered a very good teammate and a popular one in the locker room. He is expected to be fully healthy to take part in training camp and the regular season.

He had 1000 yard season a few years ago in Jacksonville and can play all three receiver positions including the slot. He’s got good size at 6’3, 201 and will turn 28 in November. He’s due $6.000,000 in 2019.

He didn’t have a great first season in Dallas with just 20 catches as he saw his playing time take a nose dive after the team acquired Amani Cooper. The Patriots could possibly pry him away as Dallas may opt for a slot receiver in the draft.

Laquon Treadwell, Vikings: Treadwell was thought to be the next great one when the Vikings drafted him in the first round #23 in the 2016 NFL Draft. But it has never materialized for him, he struggled to get production and was a healthy scratch in late December when the Vikes were fighting for a playoff spot. He had just 35 catches for 302 yards and a TD in 2018.

His cap hit is just $3,161,132 in 2019 with a team option for a fifth season. He’s not going to be picked up by Minnesota who have to deal with Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen at the position. The question is, can Treadwell, who is just 23, turn his career around with a fresh start?

Sterling Shepard, Giants: Shepard plays both primarily in the slot and outside, and was thought to be possibly expendable with the Giants picking up Golden Tate recently. He caught 66 passes for 872 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal where he’s making just $1,891,464 in 2019.

Would the Giants let him go in a trade? It seems like the answer is no to that. Dave Gettleman, the Giants GM who has made some head scratching moves this spring, first by trading Odell Beckham Jr. and releasing Landon Collins, then signing Tate to a big money contract is saying their keeping both.

“Sterling played outside last year and did fine,” he said on a recent radio interview.” Will work well together with Tate.”

Shepard or Boyd remain the best case scenarios for the Patriots. Others like Emanuel Sanders of the Broncos is a very long shot. John Elway won’t trade him to New England. Another name to consider may be Josh Doctson of the Redskins. He’s another 1st round draft pick who thus far has been a bust in Washington. He’s never had more than six passes caught or gained more than 84 yards in any game thru his first three seasons.

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

Patriots-Bills Week 16, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 21, 2018 at 7:35 am ET

Patriots-Bills Week 16, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The New England Patriots are sailing in some uncharted waters this week. When we looked at this game on the schedule back in the spring, we expected that the division would be wrapped up and this game would only figure in whether New England was still playing for the top seed. And….we were wrong.

This game is extremely important to the Patriots this week because the division isn’t wrapped up and they need a win to do just that. The team can still get the #2 seed and a bye but now they no longer control their own destiny. They need to win their final two games at home this week against Buffalo and the Jets next week and hope that the Texans lose to either the Eagles or the Jaguars. Uncharted waters indeed.

The Patriots (9-5) lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10 last week as the offense only scored 10 points and made a ton of mistakes. Dropped passes on third down, penalties (14) and breakdowns at key times was the story as they dropped their second in a row.

The Bills (5-9) beat the Detroit Lions 14-13 as Josh Allen hit Robert Foster with a 42-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to come from behind.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Bills are meeting for the 118th time and the Patriots have dominated overall 73-43-1. And since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have won 32 of 37 games between the two teams.

Tom Brady’s record against the Bills in games where he’s started and finished the game is 29-3. The Patriots won the last meeting between the two teams 25-6 on October 29 as the teams met on Monday Night Football.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 23 at 1:00 p.m.and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Greg Gumbel will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green and Bruce Arians as the color analysts. Melanie Collins will work from the sidelines.

The game will also be broadcast on the Patriots flagship station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci doing the play-by-play, with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.

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 Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo

The Patriots running game has sputtered the past two weeks on the road as the play of the offensive line has been consistently, inconsistent. Sony Michel is leading the way for the Patriots along with Rex Burkhead and James White. Fullback James Develin has been getting the ball more in short yardage and goal line.

Buffalo is 10th in the league allowing just 104.8 yards per game on the ground and just 4.0 yards per rush.  It starts up front with the big men, Kyle Williams, and Adolphus Washington with the linebackers, Matt Milano and Preston Brown being very active. However, with Milano suffering a broken fibula against the Jets, it is a blow to the defense.

In the first meeting, the Patriots didn’t have either Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead who were both out with an injury. However, look for the Bills to put pressure on the Patriots on early downs to try to force them into third and long situations.

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

The Patriots passing game just lost a huge piece as Josh Gordon’s mental health issues are forcing him away for the game, possibly for good this time. He averaged 65 yards per game receiving in his 11 games with the Patriots and it won’t be easy to just say, “next man up” as they have around here in the past.

In the first meeting, Tom Brady threw for 324 yards in Buffalo. It will be difficult to throw for that much this time around despite still having Julian Edelman, James White, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett.

The Bills defense is #1 against the pass allowing just 187.4 yards per pass play. They’re getting very good play from their corners and linebackers and safeties in coverage. The Bills have 31 sacks on the season.

With Gordon gone Brady will have to lean on everybody else now to pick up the slack. I would expect him to go both Julian Edelman (9-104) and James White (10-79) as he did in the first meeting to keep the chains moving.  The Bills did a good with their safeties on Rob Gronkowski in the first meeting and I’d expect more of the same. Buffalo is outstanding at not allowing big pass plays and I’d expect Brady to keep the ball in the short passing game.  

Next up the Buffalo offense:

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

As yes as strange as this sounds I expect the Patriots run defense which has been awful for the past few weeks to be better this week. The Bills running game has been struggling with their backs running the ball. LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory have averaged just 3.3 and 3.4 yards per rush respectively in 2018. Part of the reason is the offensive line was bad earlier in the season but has been playing better of late.

However, Josh Allen has transformed the running game. He’s rushed for 506 yards on the season and without him, the Bills rushing average of 124.7 would transform to just 90.9 yards per game.

With the issues the Patriots have had stopping the run, I’d look for Danny Shelton to make a return this week. Buffalo has the 31st rated pass offense and they want to run the football. The Patriots need a player over the nose that can two-gap. He’s been a healthy scratch the past few weeks but this week, I’d expect him back.

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

The Bills passing game has been really struggling as Josh Allen has struggled in his rookie season. But he’s gradually learning his craft and he’s cutting down his mistakes. But overall, they average just 168.7 yards per game, 31st in the NFL. He has Robert Foster who is becoming the Bills big play WR, he’s averaged 25-yards per reception this year. Zay Jones is their leading receiver with 49 catches.

The Patriots pass defense is currently 23rd allowing 256 yards per game, however, the secondary has been playing quite well and it seems that they’ve found another quality UDFA in corner J.C. Jackson. The Patriots don’t generate a ton of sacks but are tied in the league at pressuring the QB without blitzing.

The Bills like to run deep crosses using a rub route to get Foster open deep across the middle of the field. For the Patriots, they’ll look to bring pressure and force Allen to throw from outside the pocket without allowing him to run…More of this below.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots tandem of Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen have a slight edge over Stephen Hauschka and Corey Bojorquez in the kicking game, especially being at home. But their numbers are pretty similar. But with Cordarrelle Patterson in the kick return game, the Patriots get the edge in there, although in the first meeting Micah Hyde had a 31-yard punt return.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will be closer than people are predicting. The Bills defense is tough and knows the Patriots well. They played them very tough in the first meeting back in October. I would expect this game to be much of the same.

Three keys to the game from a Patriots perspective include:

Win the Turnover Battle:

The Bills are -8 in the turnover department. Buffalo QBs have thrown 20 interceptions this season, with Allen tossing nine of them. They are the 31st team in the league in scoring averaging just 15.4 points per game. They don’t have the kind of offense that can afford to give away points. If the Patriots can play a clean game, they will put pressure on the Bills offense to take some chances.

Force Allen to Throw From Outside the Pocket:

Allen has played better of late as his pass protection has improved. But if the Patriots can generate pressure while keeping a spy on Allen and not allowing him to run, his numbers throwing outside the pocket are not good. ESPN’s Mike Rodak just posted some stats when Allen is forced to throw outside the pocket.
Completion percentage- 20 (33rd in the league)
Passing Yards per Attempt- 3.1 (30th in the league)
Off Target Throws- 40 % (most in the NFL)
Interception Percentage – 6.9 % (4th most in the NFL)

If the Patriots are successful in getting some pressure on Allen, they’d need to put a spy on him. I really don’t believe that their linebackers are fast enough to do the job…possibly Kyle Van Noy. But one possible piece would be to go to their “Big Nickel” with Obi Melifonwu substituting on obvious passing downs. He’d have the speed to keep up with Allen.

Spread the Ball Around:

The Patriots are at their best when Tom Brady spreads the wealth equally among the players. They need to run the ball better and will need a lot better effort from the offensive line. I’d expect to see the uptempo offense with the Pony formation with Burkhead and White a bit on passing downs.

This one will be close but eventually, the Pats will pull away and they’ll finally be able to break out the Hats and T-Shirts. Patriots 27-17

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.