In this episode, we looked back at the huge victory against the Steelers, and at the end of the show we previewed the upcming game against the Dolphins.
The Patriots didn’t show any effects of having a Super Bowl hangover, an aging roster, or facing the last team to beat them, the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening night. The Patriots dominated the Steelers again at home from start to finish in a very impressive win to kickstart the 2019 season.
They looked like a much better-prepared team than their opponents, who after beating the Patriots last December, were looking to erase a lot of bad history when they play the Patriots on the road. Ben Roethlisberger’s only win in Gillette came in 2008, against Matt Cassel as that was the year that Tom Brady blew out his knee in Week 1.
The Patriots coaches put together a superb game plan and the players executed to near flawless perfection. This was a tremendous win to start the 2019 season, as we’re off and running.
So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.
Tom Brady, was in midseason form last night as he methodically and surgically picked apart the Steelers’ defense as he’s done so many times in the past Brady was sharp, slid well in the pocket and was able to manipulate the safeties with his eyes as the offense rolled up 465 yards of offense.
Brady finished 24-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He spread the ball around to a number of different receivers and backs, and Pittsburgh had no answers for.
His best throw was a dime to Phillip Dorsett for a 25-yard touchdown that was perfectly placed down the seam. Later he Dorsett again for a 52-yard touchdown where the WR was all alone. Dave Brown from the Concord Monitor referenced the hot take artists with his call of “Brady’s macaroni elbow was supposed to be the downfall of this team.” That is classic!
Running Backs: A-
The Patriots running backs were pegged by us as a key component to beating the Steelers last night. We thought they’d have to run the ball effectively and factor out of the backfield into the passing game. They did just that. Running out of a heavy set early, they picked up a couple of first downs before spreading the defense out and picking them apart.
James White and Rex Burkhead were both outstanding in this game, each combining for over 80+ yards on the ground and in the air. White had 5 catches for 56 yards and added 26 more on the ground. Burkhead also had five catches for 41 yards and he added 44 yards on the ground. The team also got Brandon Bolden involved early, the do-everything back had an early carry for seven yards.
The only downside was that the team couldn’t get Sony Michel involved effectively. The Steelers made a concerted effort to make other backs beat them and Michel was frequently hit in the backfield. He had only 14 yards on 15 carries.
Wide Receivers: A
Questions, questions, questions about this group before the game last night. Not a peep this morning. The starting trio of Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Josh Gordon was terrific last night. The trio combined for 13 catches and 251 yards with three touchdowns.
Combined with the game the backs had out of the backfield, Brady just spread the wealth around nearly equally and the Steelers had no answer. Phillip Dorsett had four catches for 95 yards with two touchdowns [25 and 52], while Gordon had just three catches but for 73 yards and a score. His 20-yarder shows how difficult he can be in the open field to take down and he and Brady combined for a 44-yard bomb later in the game.
Julian Edelman looked in mid-season form, doing the dirty work underneath and across the middle and being a pain in the backside to anyone trying to cover him. He’s virtually uncoverable at times off the line and showed zero signs of the thumb ailment. Edelman had six catches for 83 yards. He had one carry for eight yards.
Jakobi Meyers played only a handful of snaps but had a nice 22-yard reception where he took a big hit, was able to hold onto the ball and get yards after contact. The Patriots perimeter receivers averaged 23.75 yards per reception last night. Dink and Dunk? And they played without Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, and rookie N’Keal Harry. Let that sink in a second.
Tight Ends: B-
Rob Gronkowski is retired and everyone wants to know “Who replaces Gronk?” The short answer….the wide receivers and backs. James Develin and Ryan Izzo did a good job in the running game but they didn’t contribute much in the passing game. Izzo had one catch for three yards
They should receive a boost if Matt LaCosse is able to go in Miami but I wouldn’t expect bigger things from them until Ben Watson returns.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line was a big question mark coming into this game. Isaiah Wynn was playing in his first NFL game and Ted Karras was starting for David Andrews at center after the veteran went on IR. It is safe to say they aced their first test.
Facing a very good Steelers front seven that led the league in sacks a year ago, Brady was able to operate clean virtually the entire game. Overall, the pass protection was excellent. The run blocking was good but not great, but one should remember that Pittsburgh was the sixth-best team against the run last year.
One thing to monitor is the status of Marcus Cannon who left the game with a shoulder injury and was seen with his arm in a sling. That could be a big loss if he’s out for an extended period of time.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line was outstanding against the run, limiting the Steelers to just 32 yards on the ground. James Conner had just 21 yards on 10 carries. Jaylen Samuels had a pair of carries for four yards. Last year Samuels had 142 yards in the game at Pittsburgh. The linemen were holding at the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to make plays.
The only downside was the pass rush against that outstanding Steelers offensive line was negligible. The only sack by Deatrich Wise, where he stripped Roethlisberger of the ball was more of a coverage sack than anything else. But an overall very strong effort.
The Patriots linebackers were excellent last night. They filled the gaps in the running game, got some QB pressure and covered the backs well out of the backfield. The defense allowed just 87 yards and four first downs in the first half.
Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Ja’Whaun Bentley were never out of position and consistently disrupting plays. With the top receivers blanketed, Ben Roethlisberger was looking for his secondary targets, and the linebackers helped shut those down as well.
The front seven was suffocating, Roethlisberger was 27-47 for 277 yards and one interception. Many of those yards came with garbage time drives. He simply had no where to go and no one to throw to.
And their arguably best playmaker, Kyle Van Noy was inactive as his wife was having a baby on Sunday night. Van Noy was watching, however, and tweeted out “How about that defense?!?!?!?!? Them boys hungraaaayyyyyy!! My guys!!!!”
The secondary has been a source of tremendous optimism since the spring. And they had a fantastic game against a fast and potent Pittsburgh offense. This secondary was lights out and taking away everything the Steelers tried to do.
Stephon Gilmore was tasked with shadowing JuJu Smith-Schuster and took him out of the game. Don’t be fooled by some meaningless catches long after the game was decided, Gilmore easily won this matchup. Jonathan Jones was terrific in the slot. Jason McCourty similarly was very solid except for one deep pass to James Washington where he inexplicably pulled up, which resulted in a 45-yard completion.
Pat Chung was outstanding and took Vance McDonald out of the equation as well as providing excellent run support down low in the box. Devin McCourty had the only interception of the game.
Special Teams: A-
The Special Teams had a very solid night. Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect three for three on extra points and four for four on field goal attempts. No issues were detected on the holds for his kicks with new punter Jake Bailey which had been an issue during the preseason. Bailey had one booming punt, one short one and one so-so punt.
Gunner Olszewski had two punt returns, one for 20 yards and the other for 15 and looks very solid in the return game. The coverage units were solid
The Patriots coaching staff totally dominated the matchup with Mike Tomlin and his staff. Josh McDaniels had a tremendous game plan, going at times with “20 personnel” [2 RBs, 0 TEs, 3WRs] to make up for the loss of Gronkowski. He constantly kept the Steelers guessing and defensively the plan was to take away Smith-Schuster and make the Steelers beat them with other options. It worked to a tee.
Bill Belichick had the team excellently prepared and it was clear, the preparation on the Patriots side paid big dividends. We’re on to Miami.
The Patriots got off to a solid start on Sunday night, making a statement in front of the home crowd after embarrassing the Steelers with a 33-3 win at Gillette Stadium. Here are some thoughts on the victory as New England gets off to a 1-0 start to begin the 2019 season.
1) With or without Antonio Brown, at 42-years old, Tom Brady certainly didn’t show any signs of a drop off to kickoff the season after putting together an impressive outing. Brady threw the football Sunday night about as good as we’ve ever seen him, hitting throws from pretty much every distance on the field, including two long bombs, one of which was an impressive 58-yard strike to Phillip Dorsett that delivered the knockout blow early in the 3rd quarter after it put the Patriots up 27-3. That came just 4-plays after the Steelers, trailing 20-3, fought their way down to New England’s one-yard line, only to settle for a field goal.
It was a nice start for Brady, who finished the night with over 300-yards passing, the 88th time in his career he’s reached that mark. He also completed passes to 7 different receivers. Needless to say, teams around the league should be concerned that New England is about to add Brown to an offense that put up over 30-points on opening night and only appears to be just getting started.
2) Given the amount of talent that Pittsburgh has offensively, you can’t say enough about how well New England’s defense played in this game. They were disruptive all night, getting pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and they also didn’t show any mercy with Pittsburgh’s ground game, holding the Steelers to just 2.5-yards per carry. But one of the most impressive stats of the night was the fact that they held the Steelers to just five carries of over 3-yards.
The tackling was one of the most impressive aspects of the game, with each of New England’s defensive players really doing a terrific job. There really wasn’t a play all night where a Patriots defender didn’t immediately wrap up and they made some big tackles in key moments, stopping the Steelers for either no gain or a loss on 3 plays, including twice on third down.
As good as the offense was, it was good to see such a terrific performance on that side of the football and one they’ll hopefully continue building on in the weeks to come.
Dorsett had a solid night for the Patriots.
3) Phillip Dorsett has been one of the most reliable receivers for Tom Brady in New England’s offense since he joined the team and Sunday night was another reminder of how valuable Dorsett is to this football team.
One of the interesting aspects for Dorsett is the fact that 2018 saw somewhat of a transformation in his targets, with the veteran receiver really improving on the perimeter part of his game. Prior to last season, one of the knocks on Dorsett was the fact he was often targeted by Brady primarily on deep attempts downfield, which didn’t see the two players have quite the success that they probably hoped for very often. However, Dorsett was used in a larger variety of routes last season, which ended up making him a much more dangerous target offensively.
To take it a step further, the precision in which Brady has found him has been pretty impressive. Brady was a perfect 4-of-4 targeting him last night for 95-yards, including two touchdowns. He’s actually got a solid streak with Dorsett which, not counting the postseason, started in last year’s outing against the Colts in Week 5. Brady finished last year’s regular-season 15-of-15 targeting Dorsett and last night’s performance extends their regular-season streak to 19-of-19.
Needless to say, in a stable of receivers that is pretty crowded at this point, Dorsett continues to make himself a valuable asset. Last night was another reminder of how far he’s come and it’s certainly been fun watching him evolve into such a lethal weapon for Brady and the offense.
4) One of the biggest things that stood out last night was the success the Patriots had on early downs, with Brady doing most of his damage on first down. Brady was 16-of-18 (89%) for 180-yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers’ defense on first down alone, which mixed things up and kept Pittsburgh off-balance.
Between the success Brady had, along with the fact they did a good job running the football, it made life difficult for a Steelers team that never really figured it out. It also left them vulnerable because it opened up opportunities for Brady to hit some deep plays, with the quarterback hitting on a combined five plays of 20+ yards on first and second down.
That success was one of the key reasons why they were able to take control of this one early and play the game on their terms as they got up early on Pittsburgh and never looked back.
Jason McCourty rebounded nicely after giving up a big play.
5) For the Patriots, the only real bad play of the night came on a 45-yard strike from Roethlisberger to receiver James Washington to begin the 3rd quarter. Trailing 20-3, the Steelers appeared to be on the verge of getting back into the game after Washington got behind cornerback Jason McCourty and pulled away, putting the Steelers at New England’s 18-yard line.
It was a frustrating play as McCourty wasn’t able to close on Washington and it appeared as though it could have been a costly miscue. Instead, after getting down to the one-yard line, New England’s defense kept the pressure on and forced Pittsburgh to settle for the field goal, ending the potential scoring threat.
Either way, credit McCourty for shaking it off because he came back and made a terrific play on the next snap against Donte Moncrief and it didn’t affect him the rest of the game. The veteran cornerback put it behind him and continued making plays, playing a key role in holding Moncrief to 3 receptions on a team-high 10 targets for Pittsburgh as the Patriots defense continued the relentless stranglehold they had on the Steelers’ offense.
6) There’s no way to finish this out without giving plenty of credit to Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who quietly finished with a terrific performance.
After a shaky preseason, which also included the transition to a new holder in new punter Jake Bailey, Gostkowski looked back to his old self Sunday night. The veteran went out and drilled all four of his field-goal attempts, hitting kicks of 25, 41, 35 and 39-yards respectively, accounting for 12 of the team’s 33-points.
There was never any doubt in any of his attempts, all of which hit right down the middle. It’s a nice start for a player who last season was a perfect 21/21 from 20-39 yards, with just two misses from 40-49 yards during the regular season, while hitting 2/5 from 50+. He also hit 4/5 during the postseason.
It was obvious in the preseason that working out the kinks was a focus and Sunday night was about as perfect as you could have asked for. In a game where their execution was pretty solid all the way around, Gostkowski certainly did his part in New England’s blowout win.
The Patriots will now spend the week getting ready to travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins next Sunday afternoon.
FOXBOROUGH – Never mind the banner. The buzz around Foxborough is all about Antonio Brown, the newest Patriot reclamation project.
A comment was made on the NBC broadcast of Sunday night’s season opener between the Super Bowl Champion Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cris Collinsworth mentioned that Brown “is probably at home watching the game on TV”, thinking to himself, “look what they’re doing without me”, and that “I guess I’d better try and fit in around here!” Even if that turns out to be true, one thing is for sure. The Patriots do not, absolutely, do not need Brown to be a championship team this year.
Because they throttled Brown’s former team, 33-3, without him.
The evening began with a ceremony that the Vegas Golden Knights would have been proud of, unveiling the sixth championship banner with as much drama and ceremony as was all over the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals. It ended with the Patriots looking better than when we last saw them in February, and their suffocation of the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. For the second game in a row that meant something, the Patriots held their opponent to just a field goal, and the offense looks just terrific even minus the power running game which evolved at the end of last season.
Tom Brady, all of 42 years old now, finished 24 of 36 passing for 341 yards, three touchdowns and a 124.9 passer rating. He threw two touchdown passes to Philip Dorsett and one to the most recent reclamation project, Josh Gordon. Brady looks like anything but a 42-year old, and remains arguably the single most intriguing professional athlete on the planet. He did it without much help at all from the rushing attack, especially Sony Michel, and looked totally unflappable all evening long against a team he usually does well against, especially at home in Foxborough.
Meanwhile, the defense allowed just the one field goal and surrendered only 308 total yards. Ben Roethlisberger was 27 of 47 passing for 276 yards and a 65.6 passer rating. He did complete passes to eight different receivers, but the Patriots did not allow any of them to dominate the game. With Brown now a Patriot, JuJu Smith-Schuster is now the top passing target for Roethlisberger, and despite leading the team with six catches and 78 yards, he never got into a rhythm with his quarterback and was generally covered well by Stephon Gilmore.
Dorsett led the Patriots with 95 receiving yards. His first touchdown came in the second quarter, a 25-yarder on a simple post pattern in the right seam. Brady laid in a perfect toss, and Dorsett got two steps on his defender, Mike Hilton. The throw was not a laser, but more of a touch pass that hit Dorsett right in the fingertips. His second touchdown reception came in the third quarter and was the product of busted coverage by the Steeler secondary. Brady took a shotgun snap and then lobbed a deep pass over the middle. Steeler safety Kameron Kelly let Dorsett go, but there was nobody back there to pick him up. Dorsett was completely wide open when he hauled in the 58-yard scoring toss.
Gordon got the Patriots on the board in the first quarter. After the Patriots pulled off a nifty double pass with James White catching a 32-yard pass from Julian Edelman, Gordon lined up in the left slot at the Steeler 20. He ran a crossing pattern left across the formation, caught the pass from Brady wide open, then took off to the corner of the end zone. At about the 5-yard line he put a neat juke on Terrell Edmunds and shot into the end zone. Gordon finished with three catches for 73 yards, but for all of Patriot Nation, seeing Gordon out there and contributing positively is perhaps better news than the Brown signing.
Saying that the Patriots had a limited rushing attack seems misleading given that the Patriots still managed 99 total yards rushing and averaged 3.4 yards a carry. Rex Burkhead had 44 yards on eight carries, while White had 26 yards on four carries. Only Michel found rough goings, with only 14 yards on 15 carries. With the Patriots seemingly converting to a run-first offense, especially given the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the fact that Brady carried the night against the Steelers is especially pleasing for all Patriot Nation to see.
The Patriots put the total clamps on the Steeler rushing attack, putting the game totally on Roethlisberger’s broad shoulders. James Conner, the very capable replacement for LeVeon Bell, was held to 21 yards on 10 carries. The Steelers only had 32 yards rushing as a team.
Perhaps the most telling moment as to how well the Patriot defense was playing came in the third quarter. The Steelers took the second-half kickoff and drove all the way to the Patriot one-yard line, helped greatly by a 45-yard completion from Roethlisberger to James Washington. On third and goal at the one, Roethlisberger tried to hit Donte Moncrief in the left corner of the end zone on a fade route, but overthrew him badly. Steeler coach Mike Tomlin elected to not go for it on fourth down and settled for a 19-yard field goal by Chris Boswell. The fact that Tomlin, trailing 20-0 at the time, wouldn’t go for it just one yard away from the end zone, speaks volumes over the mindset of the Steelers at that time.
Brady has never lost to the Steelers at home in his career. Sunday night was certainly no exception, but one has to wonder if Tomlin was spooked due to his past failures at Gillette Stadium. It behooved the Steelers to come away with a touchdown on the always critical first drive of the second half, and his settling for a field goal on fourth and goal at the one has to be very unsettling for Steeler fans on opening night.
The win pleased Bill Belichick very much. At his postgame press conference, he was unusually effusive in his praise for his team, and gave kinder answers to the questions asked of him. The only questions he flatly refused to answer were any questions related to Brown. Otherwise, he looked upbeat and actually happy to address the media. Even in victory, Belichick can sometimes be gruff and give either one-word answers or simply non-answers. On Sunday night, even though he conceded that the Patriots do poorly in Miami (their next game) and that they have an important week ahead, the coach seemed to be content with Week One.
The fans celebrated Banner Number Six, then left for home early still very happy with the final score no longer in doubt. The Patriots get a Dolphin squad next week down in hot and humid Miami, a Dolphin team with a new head coach named Brian Flores, but who got throttled by Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, 59-10. Miami may be playing for a high draft pick for next year already, as was suggested on a local Boston sports program. Belichick will have none of that, as he has already stated that the Patriots have trouble winning in Miami, and it’s even worse early in the year when it’s oppressive weather in Florida.
The Super Bowl champs are at least good on Week One. Looking every bit like a championship team, celebrating like one, it was all there on Sunday night. If they are to repeat this year, the Patriots are at least off to a great start.
Saying the New England Patriots got off to a good start in 2019 is an understatement. The night began with the team unveiling its sixth Super Bowl banner and then absolutely dismantling the Pittsburgh Steelers by a 33-3 that was every bit as dominant as the score would indicate.
We entered the season just a few hours ago with questions about the offensive line, and how the offense would gel with a wide receiver core that didn’t get a lot of practice time with Tom Brady. Demaryius Thomas and Damien Harris sat this one out with injuries but the remaining cast members were outstanding as the Patriots rolled up 465 yards of offense.
Isaiah Wynn and Ted Karras both handled their duties excellently as these two were under the microscope going against a very good Pittsburgh front seven that led the league in sacks a year ago. Karras’ shotgun snaps [as many commented on during the game] were fluttering to Brady and while it didn’t set back the offense a bit but it is something that will have to be worked on.
With aggressive play-calling by Josh McDaniels, the Steelers were reeling almost from the outset and the receivers looked in mid-season form. Pittsburgh had no answer for the Patriots backs out of the backfield while Tom Brady absolutely picked them apart, something he’s done to Pittsburgh every time they’ve played in Foxboro.
Brady finished the night 24-36 for 341 yards with three touchdowns.
The Patriots defense, which we’ve been excited about all summer long looked as dominant as hoped for. Pittsburgh was unable to mount any kind of sustained offense. Stephon Gilmore rendered the dangerous JuJu Smith-Schuster to an afterthought and forced Ben Roethlisberger to be constantly having to look at his second and third options. Pittsburgh’s ground game was held to just 32 yards, while the Steelers passing game piled up a bunch of garbage time yardage, they were frustrated all night long.
Other observations from tonight’s win include:
Josh McDaniels Play-calling – McDaniels had an aggressive game plan and the players executed it to near perfection. The Patriots ate the Steelers alive with quick throws, utilizing shallow crosses underneath which allowed the receivers to make yards after the catch. Pittsburgh beefed up the middle of their defense this year, but at least for tonight, they didn’t look like they were ready for the Patriots passing game.
McDaniels dusted off the double pass from Julian Edelman to James White which had blockers out front and netted the team a huge 32-yard gain that set up the first touchdown. Whenever the Patriots spread the Steelers out, they were able to find open receivers all night long.
Brady Razor Sharp – Rust? Is Father Time catching up? Not any time yet. Brady was methodical in his approach and surgical with his precision, something he’s done to Pittsburgh time and again in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium.
Brady’s best throw was a perfectly thrown ball right down the seam, a laser to Phillip Dorsett for a 25-yard touchdown. He put it in just the right place in a tight window for an easy score. Later in the second half, Brady uncorked a 52-yard strike to Dorsett for another easy touchdown when the deep safety blew the coverage and left the middle of the field wide open. With a national audience watching, Brady looked in vintage form.
Phillip Dorsett – Speaking of Dorsett, he’s often the forgotten man among the Patriots offensive playmakers. But tonight, he made the Steelers remember his name. He had four catches for 95 yards including two TDs [25, 52], and was a thorn in the secondary’s backside considering how many other players they had to cover.
The last 20 passes that Brady has attempted to Dorsett, dating back to last season have all been completions. Think about that for a second.
Josh Gordon – The troubled but uber-talented wide receiver was reinstated by the league just a few weeks ago but he too appears in mid-season form. Gordon has had good success against Pittsburgh in the past and tonight was no exception.
Gordon had three catches for 73 yards and included in that was a very impressive 20-yard touchdown where Gordon ran a crosser, broke tackles and powered his way into the end zone. Later, with the Patriots backed up in their own end, he and Brady connected with a 44-yard bomb right down the middle of the field.
James White/Rex Burkhead – On a night where the Steelers front seven bottled up and rendered Sony Michel ineffective, White and Burkhead constantly gashed the Steelers in both the running and passing games.
White had five catches for 56 yards and added 26 more on the ground in just four carries. Burkhead had 44 yards on eight carries and added five catches out of the backfield for 41 more. The versatility and the ability to spread the wealth around bodes very well for games down the road.
The Secondary is Outstanding – We’ve been beating the drum for this secondary all summer and tonight was a prime example of how good this group can be. They picked right back up where they left off from the Super Bowl. After holding the Rams to just three points, that was all the Steelers’ offense could muster tonight.
Stephon Gilmore neutralized Smith-Schuster all night long and on every big down, blanketed him like a glove forcing Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere. Smith-Schuster had a few catches in garbage time that made his numbers look better than the night he had overall.
Jonathan Jones, fresh off signing a long-term extension was brilliant in the slot, taking away the Steelers’ second options. He’s tough, physical and has excellent speed. Pat Chung was also outstanding, putting Vance McDonald, [someone we pegged as a possible safety blanket for Roethlisberger in our pregame] on a milk carton until the final drive of the game when he caught two meaningless passes.
Julian Edelman – Hurt thumb? No worries here. Lost in all of the hoopla with the rest of the offensive weapons was the fact that Edelman was his normal uncoverable self tonight, doing all of the dirty work across the middle of the field.
On the national broadcast, Chris Collinsworth called Edelman “fearless” as he knows he’s going to get tattooed with many of his catches. But it never stops him from completing his routes. With the offense spreading the wealth, Edelman had six catches [team high] for 83 yards.
The running game wasn’t as sharp as they had hoped, Michel had only 14 yards on 15 carries. They didn’t finish drives and had to settle for FGs. The pass rush didn’t generate much pressure on Roethlisberger [one sack]. So, the coaching staff will have plenty to pick apart in the film sessions to hammer home the point that they still have a long way to go. But it was a heckuva start.
Consider this, the offense looked as good as it did and they still didn’t have Demaryius Thomas, Damien Harris, and Antonio Brown, who signed with the team on Saturday…just in case you were on Mars over the weekend and hadn’t heard.
Arguably their best playmaker on defense, Kyle Van Noy missed the game due to the birth of his child tonight [we hope everyone is fine], So, this wasn’t even a fully-loaded roster.
The march to be “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” began in earnest tonight and put the rest of the league on notice… the Patriots are back and don’t look like they’re going anywhere any time soon.
We’re on to Miami.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Julian Edelman played a key role in the Patriots first touchdown Sunday night, completing a 32-yard pass to James White to help set up New England’s first touchdown of the evening:
According to the broadcast, Edelman is now a perfect 3/3 for 75-yards passing on similar plays like this during his career in the regular season.
There was a surprising development on Saturday as the saga with Antonio Brown came to an end in Oakland, but his future for 2019 with see him join Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense.
According to Adam Schefter, after being cut by the Raiders, Brown has agreed to a one-year deal with New England worth up to $15-million. The deal reportedly includes a $9-million signing bonus, $10 million guaranteed and $5 million in incentives.
Brown’s reaction on Instagram saw him post a photo of himself wearing a Patriots uniform with #84, captioned “LFG #GodsPlan”. However, tight end Ben Watson is currently #84 on New England’s roster.
Brown’s addition suddenly rounds out a pretty talented receiving core for New England, which will see Brown join Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, along with rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Given how well rookie N’Keal Harry played prior to his injury, it appears the Patriots should have a pretty deadly group this season once Harry returns from IR.
Brown is coming off of six consecutive seasons with over 100 receptions and over 1000-yards. He played in 15 games last season for Pittsburgh, finishing with 104 receptions for 1297-yards and 15 touchdowns.
Due to the timing of the signing, he won’t be eligible to play until Week 2 for his new team.
The NFL regular season is back and judging from the game tonight between the Packers and Bears, Thursday Night Football is in mid-season form. However, the Patriots and Steelers are set to kick off the Sunday Night Football season with what we hope is a much better product.
The first game of the season is always the toughest to get a great feel for because of so many of the starting players from either team barely played during the preseason. The offensive and defensive top units get only a cameo on the field.
But there are some players that we feel must step up for the team to be successful. With that in mind here are our Patriots players that we will be watching closely on Sunday night in the game against the Steelers.
Isaiah Wynn/Ted Karras:
Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago but suffered an injury in training camp which forced him to miss his entire rookie season. The Patriots eased him back on to the field and limited his reps until they felt he was really ready to go. He’s now protecting Tom Brady’s blindside at left tackle.
His conditioning will be an area to monitor as the game moves forward. Wynn will have his work cut out for him, the Steelers strength defensively is in their front seven. Wynn will probably draw a lot of Cam Heyward in this one. A very tough first test.
Karras has been a trusted but backup interior offensive lineman for the past few years. With David Andrews out for the season after suffering a blood clot in his lung during the preseason, Karras is now the Patriots starting center.
Now he’ll have to hold up inside and make all the right calls when it comes to protection. Look for the Steelers to test him right away by bringing A-gap pressure and blitzes to try and force the issue. Like Wynn, this is a big test for him in Week 1.
The Patriots other 1st round draft pick from a year ago is coming off a solid rookie season along with an outstanding playoff run where he posted over 300 yards and six touchdowns during the Super Bowl run.
Michel looked like the Georgia-version of himself this summer, explosive, with excellent vision and the ability to make plays at the second level. With some questions along the offensive line and Tom Brady’s receiving core, the running back position will be leaned on heavily in the early going this season. And that begins with Michel. They need to get a solid production night from Michel and all of the backs in this one, which should help in getting the rest of the offense untracked.
The Patriots are attempting to get Michel more involved in the passing game, they were trying to get he and rookie Damien Harris involved all summer. James White and Rex Burkhead have always had that versatility, but if they can get the two younger players more involved, especially Michel, it will make the offense difficult to stop.
Truth be told, we weren’t fans of the idea of bringing back Collins this year, but thus far, he’s proven to be a really big addition. The Patriots jettisoned him in 2016 for a third-round draft pick, but after getting paid by the Browns, Collins is back with the Patriots on a modest deal.
The linebacker position is deep with Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and last year’s rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who flashed early but was injured early in the season and lost to IR.
Collins’ athleticism and versatility were on full display this summer and he could be a really valuable chess piece for the defense in 2019. We’re looking for him to play a big role in the game plan as they try to move him around and try to disrupt things with the Steelers offense.
The Super Bowl LIII MVP was looking good this spring and seemed poised to pick right up where he left off in February. But then he injured his left thumb in the time before training camp and missed nearly all of it and the preseason.
Edelman didn’t appear until the final preseason game against the Giants. He played in only one series and caught a 20-yard pass. But in going to the ground, he appeared to fall on the injured thumb and came off the field shaking it. The team stated that it wasn’t reinjured but just a scare and he should be ready to go for the opener.
Edelman has always had tremendous chemistry with Brady. They’ll need that on Sunday night since neither Josh Gordon [suspended] or Demaryius Thomas [injured] was able to spend much time with Brady during the end of camp. Look for Brady to look for his favorite target early and often in this one.
Remember him? With all of the talk surrounding the OL and WRs lately, Bennett has been relegated to nearly an afterthought around these parts. After Trey Flowers got a huge payday from the Lions, many questioned where the pass rush was going to come from. The team swung a deal for Bennett, who was second on the Eagles in sacks with nine in 2018.
Bennett had a tremendous summer and dominated in one-on-ones during both training camp and the joint practices. Although he’s getting up there in age, there doesn’t seem to be any dropoff in his level of play. And like several other players in the front seven, he has the versatility to move around and create favorable matchups for the defense.
Look for the Patriots to try to ease Bennett’s workload a bit in the early going to bring some pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. I see Bill Belichick and the coaching staff using Bennett a lot this year from an interior position and try to collapse the pocket.
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 can be found here https://www.patsfans.com/new-england-patriots/messageboard/picks/
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
The Patriots begin their 2019 regular season with a very familiar foe as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium for the first Sunday Night Football broadcast of the year. Prior to kickoff, the team will unfurl their sixth Super Bowl banner as only the Patriots and Steelers have won as many Lombardi Trophies during the SB era.
This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC 10 in Boston. Al Michaels will handle the play-by-play with Cris Collinsworth doing the color commentary while Tracy Wolfson will work 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 (11-5) are coming off last year’s Super Bowl win over the Rams after beating the Chargers at home in the divisional round and the Chiefs on the road in a dramatic overtime win.
The Steelers (9-6-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltima disappointing 2018 where they missed the playoffs and finished second in the division to the Ravens.
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.
The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 33rd time where the teams are tied 16-16 overall. Pittsburgh owns a 15-12 advantage in the regular season while the Patriots own a 4-1 advantage in the postseason. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-4 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings in Gillette Stadium.
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 Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots running game should be a key strength of the team moving forward in 2019, as they were fifth in the NFL in rushing a year ago. Sony Michel looked strong in his only preseason cameo and is backed up by James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, fullback James Develin and rookie Damien Harris. They have depth and versatility here to be very effective.
The offensive line took a big hit when center David Andrews was placed on IR with a blood clot in his lung. Ted Karras takes over and he’ll be a focal point in both the run game and in pass protection. Isaiah Wynn, last year’s top draft pick takes over at left tackle and will be playing in his first NFL game
The Steelers were stout against the run in 2018 finishing 6th best. It starts up front with Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, and Javon Hargrave who stop things at the point of attack which allows the linebackers to clean up and make plays.
Look for a lot of two-back sets as the Patriots will try to move the defense around and hit them with runs between the tackles. Michel, Burkhead, and Harris should see plenty of play here. Develin will play a key role as he may line up as a TE or H-back in some of the different formations.
Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh
The Patriots passing game on paper looks daunting for opponents to stop. Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas have traditionally given the Steelers trouble in the past. But those two and Julian Edelman had virtually no training camp reps and very little preseason action. Their timing with Tom Brady, may not be as crisp as they want on Sunday night. Phillip Dorsett was the only WR to get a lot of time working with Brady this summer. He may see a lot of snaps here.
James White, Burkhead, and Harris may see plenty of reps in the passing game as well. This was an area that the Patriots tried to attack during the December game last year. But the Steelers defended it well holding White, Burkhead, and Develin to 10 catches for 61 yards. They are better suited now to counter those moves with rookie Devin Bush and Mark Barron who they signed from the Rams.
The Steelers led the league with 52 sacks a year ago. They are more than capable of bringing pressure right up the middle which doesn’t allow Brady to step up and slide in the pocket. This will be a key area to watch. With Joe Haden and Steven Nelson at the corner, the Pittsburgh defense can play more man coverage than the Tampa 2 zones which Brady has traditionally eviscerated, especially in Foxboro.
Next up the Pittsburgh offense:
Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
The Steelers replaced Le’Veon Bell with James Conner a year ago and haven’t looked back. Conner rushed for 973 yards and a dozen touchdowns in essentially 12 games and gives the offense a nice weapon running and receiving. He’s back by Jaylen Samuels who roasted the Patriots for 142 yards on the ground last December. The Pittsburgh offensive line is outstanding and always presents a tough challenge.
The Patriots look much better prepared to stop the run this year. Danny Shelton had a very good summer. He, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler are the anchors inside. This allows the inside linebackers Elandon Roberts and thumper Ja’Whaun Bentley to clean up and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
The Steelers were badly skewed in the run/pass ratio a year ago, running the ball on just 33.4 percent of the time while passing 66.6 percent. So, stopping the run early will be a priority and then forcing them into a more predictable pattern.
Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh
Ben Roethlisberger lost one of the more talented wide receivers in the league in Antonio Brown and although he may not admit it, he is probably happier for it. Brown has immense talent, he’s also an immense pain in the ass. His on-field production will be missed but the Steelers have a knack at developing quality WRs.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the team’s go-to guy, he had 1426 yards a year ago. He’s backed by Donte Moncrief, who is now their #2, James Washington, Ryan Switzer, TE Vance McDonald as well as Samuels and Conner out of the backfield. And they drafted Diontae Johnson in this spring’s draft.
The Patriots have plenty of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and rookie Joejuan Williams. It will be interesting to see who they match up with Smith-Schuster [Gilmore seems to be favorite], but we’ve seen in the past where they’ll put their 2nd corner on the top WR with safety help and then try to take away the #2 with their best coverage man.
The Patriots pass rush, which was outstanding this summer is key here. They can’t allow Roethlisberger to extend plays and hit secondary targets down the field. But that offensive line won’t be an easy nut to crack.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England
The kickers for both teams Stephen Gostkowski for New England and Chris Boswell for the Steelers had their issues a year ago. Gostkowski had some misses in the preseason which may have been an issue with going to a new holder, rookie punter Jake Bailey.
But Gostkowski is very solid and at home gives the Patriots the edge in the kicking game. It is going to be intriguing to watch Bailey in his first NFL action. He has a tremendous leg and can flip field position which is the reason he was brought here.
The return game will feature Ryan Switzer for the Steelers while it isn’t clear if Julian Edelman or rookie Gunner Olszewski will handle punt returns for the Patriots. The UDFA looked good enough to carve out a role for himself this summer.
Next up, who wins and why…
Another year, another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams want to start the season well, something even more important to Pittsburgh as they’ve traditionally been slow starters under Mike Tomlin. The Patriots too have started slowly in September.
The first games of the season are always the hardest to get a feel for as no one really knows how all the pieces are going to fit together once the rubber hits the road.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Run the Ball Effectively, Especially Early: The Patriots are going to lean on the ground game and with the passing attack trying to find their feet, it is especially true early this season. The offense has to get into third and manageable situations in this game. Pittsburgh’s defense has a lot of speed and can get after the QB. Third and long situations play right into their ability to get after it.
Therefore, Michel and Burkhead will be key players to watch in this one. If they can keep the chains moving and the defense on the field, it will slow the pass rush and possibly wear them down in the second half where conditioning may play a part. No one has played an entire game during the preseason. Then the passing game may start having more success with Brady having more time to throw. Pre-snap penalties? Last year in Pittsburgh, they had far too many…can’t have it.
Third Down Defense is Key This Week: The Patriots are going to try to take away Smith-Schuster and force Ben Roethlisberger to look elsewhere. Last year they did a pretty fair job of it, holding him to four catches for 40 yards. But with Moncrief, Washington [who had a solid game a year ago], Switzer et.al. they have a lot of weapons to bear.
Two players to watch in this one are Vance McDonald and Samuels. It would easy to see both of them becoming very valuable third-down targets this year with Brown gone. And consequently, it will be important for the Patriots to play solidly on third down and get off the field.
Jamie Collins is a key player to watch this week. The Patriots brought him back this spring and he’s got the ability to be a huge chess piece that they can move around and influence the play.
Finish Drives: Against the Steelers last year, the Patriots had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board and failed to do so. After a horribly blown coverage which resulted in a way too easy and early Chris Hogan touchdown, they managed three points the rest of the way.
Finishing drives is always important but especially against this team, as you don’t want to be playing from behind with their pass rush. Brady and Josh McDaniels will have to use the big men Gordon and Thomas [if he plays], down in the red zone to take some of the routes that Gronk ran in the past.
This one won’t be as high scoring as some people think, both teams may not be executing at the level that they will later on down the road. The Steelers may have an adjustment of their own for a bit with no Brown on the field. It should be another excellent football game between two of the best teams in the past decade. The Patriots are dropping banner #6 and hold serve at home. Patriots 24-21
“Knocking on Seven’s Door” begins Sunday night
In this episode, Steve and Derek shared their views on the final Patriots Roster for the new season. They also gave their season predictions for each Division. They finished up by previewing the upcoming season opener for the Patriots against the Steelers.