Tag Archives: Rex Burkhead

Players To Watch Patriots-Dolphins Week 14

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

Playoff Atmosphere in South Beach This Weekend

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

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

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

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

Sony Michel:

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

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

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

Trey Flowers:

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

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

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

Josh Gordon:

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

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

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

Kyle Van Noy:

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

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

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

Chris Hogan:

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

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

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

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

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Patriots-Dolphins Week 14, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

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

The New England Patriots head out for the first of their final two road games of the 2018 regular season. They play in Miami this week and Pittsburgh next week in games that will go a long way in determining where they stand in terms of AFC Playoff seeding.

The Patriots can clinch their 10th straight AFC East title with a win or a tie and would set a record for making the playoffs in10 straight years. They are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and the Indianapolis Colts (2002- 10) as the only teams to play in the postseason for nine straight seasons.

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

The Patriots (9-3) beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 in Foxboro as the defense was outstanding limiting the Vikings offense to just 278 yards while rolling up 471 of their own.

The Dolphins (6-6) beat the Buffalo Bills 21-17 as Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter come-from-behind win.

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 Dolphins are meeting for the 107th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-52 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Miami, the Patriots are 4-15 in the month of December.

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 Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game is nearly back to full strength with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead as the three main backs in the backfield. But Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson both will see some carries on Jet Sweeps. James Develin, their big blocking fullback is now a short-yardage option. He scored a pair of touchdowns last week against Minnesota.

The Dolphins run defense was first gashed by the Patriots to the tune of 175 yards this season after Miami began 3-0. Since then they allowed 164 to the Bears, 248 vs the Lions, 188 to Houston, 195 to Green Bay, and 198 to the Bills. Miami is allowing an average of 144.7 yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush, which is 30th in the league.

Look for the Patriots to try to pound the rock all day between the tackles. Miami’s defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence have not played well against the run and neither have linebackers, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso. If DC Matt Burke tries to bring the safeties up into the box in run support or blitz the linebackers, it will open up play-action passing.

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

The Patriots passing game has been playing their cards close to their vest lately as their being fairly conservative in the passing game. But in Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan at wide receiver, Rob Gronkowski at tight end and James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel out of the backfield, Tom Brady has a plethora of weapons. Add it Patterson and Phillip Dorsett and the depth is there for them to mix it up.

Miami may be without their best defensive player in Xavien Howard who has a knee injury. He’s an All-Pro talent who leads the team with seven interceptions this year. With him injured they’ve been forced to play Minkah Fitzpatrick at the other corner with Bobby McCain in the slot. If Howard can’t go, 2nd-year corner Torry McTyer will get the start. Miami has two very talented edge rushers in Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake but they’ll need to get pressure up the middle if they want to be successful there.

Look for Brady to utilize the “Pony” backfield with White and Burkhead on third down a lot in this one, they’ll try to isolate the linebackers in coverage and keep the sticks moving. If Howard is indeed out, look for Brady and Gordon to test McTyer. Chris Hogan could be an “X-Factor” this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

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

The Dolphins running game is averaging 102.7 yards per game (24th) this season with a 4.3 average yards per carry. They have two very good backs in the ageless Frank Gore who leads the team with 616 yards and the dangerous Kenyan Drake. Their problem has been the offensive line hasn’t been on the field enough because of injuries.

The Patriots rush defense is currently 13th allowing 106.7 yards per game. They’ve been trending up in that regard and this week, they’ll have their hands full as the Dolphins will try to mix things up by using both Gore and Drake. They’ll have to get a big game out of their linebackers, especially Kyle Van Noy who Adam Gase was talking about this week.

Look for the Patriots to go to a bigger front this week with Gore in the lineup and try to get Miami into the 3rd and long passing situations. They’ll have to set the edge this week as the Dolphins should be much more patient with their running game than the Vikings were.

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

The Miami passing game is 28th in the league averaging just 199.4 yards per game. But getting Ryan Tannehill back from injury has helped and in the last two games, he’s had a passer rating of over 100 against the Colts and Bills defenses. He has DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Danny Amendola as wide receivers with Nick O’Leary and Mike Gesicki at tight end with Drake out of the backfield. The team was much more explosive before Jakim Grant and Albert Wilson went on IR.

The Patriots defense had their best game of the year last week against the Vikings. The secondary stuck like glue to the receivers and they had constant pressure on QB Kirk Cousins. Can they do that again in South Florida?

I would expect they will try to match Stephon Gilmore on Stills which should be a great matchup to watch. And I’d expect either Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson on Parker with either McCourty or Jonathan Jones on Amendola in the slot. The key is getting pressure on Tannehill and look for the Patriots to attack the middle/right side where the Dolphins OL is banged up and RG Jesse Davis has not played well.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Miami

Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England. But Sanders gives the Dolphins the edge in the kicking game, especially at home. While Patterson in the return game is always a threat to return a big one. But although Miami misses Grant in the return game, the Pats coverage units have been uncharacteristically very inconsistent.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a playoff game for both teams. Unlike 2013 and 2015 when the Patriots came limping into Miami beat up, this year it is the Dolphins who are all banged up with injuries while the Patriots are as healthy as one can expect at this time of year.

Last year the Pats got caught looking ahead to Pittsburgh and got their butts handed to them. But last year they afford that loss and keep the #1 seed as long as they beat Pittsburgh the next week. This year they don’t have that luxury and they know Miami still has a shot for a playoff berth.

Three keys from a Pats perspective:

Run the Ball Between the Tackles:
Miami isn’t good against the run and they’re ranked 30th for a reason. Spread the wealth between the three RBs and keep their defense on their heels. Plus it will open up play action and slow down their edge rushers.

Win the Turnover Battle:
Miami isn’t an offense that scores a lot of points, they can’t afford to get into a shootout situation. Their 29th in offense and 29th in defense. They are still in the hunt because they force a lot of turnovers. Make them go the length of the field with no easy scoring drives is a win-win situation.

Get After Tannehill:
Dolphins QBs have been sacked 31 times this year, the offensive line is suspect. Especially in the center and on the right. The Patriots don’t have a lot of sacks this year but they are among the top teams at creating pressure. They need to do that and force Tannehill into making mistakes. When they’ve lost to Miami down there, he was standing flat-footed in the pocket for much of those games.

Look for the Pats to play much better this time around. Belichick will harp on the way they looked past them last December and they should be ready to play. Look for Michel, Burkhead, and White to all have big games for the Patriots as the defense clamps down this time in South Beach. The East goes thru New England again.   Patriots 27-13

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Miami’s Defense May Be Without Howard But the Focus Should Be on the Ground

Steve Balestrieri
December 6, 2018 at 7:56 am ET

With the news that Xavien Howard will be a game-time decision to play this week, the Miami Dolphins are possibly going to be missing their best defender on the defensive side of the ball.

Howard, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week has seven interceptions and is Miami’s lock-down corner. If he is able to play (and we feel he will), he’ll probably be locked up with Josh Gordon on the perimeter.

Adam Gase didn’t sound confident that he’ll be able to go this week for the Dolphins who at 6-6 are still very much in the Wildcard hunt.

“If you throw the ball at him and you’re inaccurate he’s not just going to knock it down,” Gase said. “He’s going to pick it off. And it’s an extreme value. He’s one of our best players, if not our best player on that side of the ball. It’s hard to say. But that’s what this game is. And that’s what the league is. We have to make some adjustments on defense. Be smart with that. And you know our guys have to step up. If he can’t go, you’re not going to replace him. But we’ve got to shuffle some things around.”

Torry McTyer would likely get the start if indeed Howard can’t go. McTyer, 6’0, 187 a 2nd-year UDFA from UNLV has started in two games this season (Chicago, Cincinnati) and has a confidence level matching Howard’s. However, the rest of Miami’s secondary has struggled in 2018.

When opposing quarterbacks have targeted any Dolphins defender not named Howard this year, they have completed 68.5 percent of their passes, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt, throwing 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 96.9. Miami has given up the 3rd most explosive plays this year (that is considered to be a 15-yard run or more and a 20-yard pass play or more). The Dolphins have allowed 12 touchdown passes of 20 yards or more thus far in 2018.

But the issues with Miami’s defense rests within their run defense. Remember the Dolphins started the season 3-0 and came into New England riding high. They were blown out in that game 38-7 and have gone 3-6 since because of issues stopping the run.

Miami is currently 30th in the league in run defense, allowing 5.0 yards per carry and a whopping 144.7 yards per game on the ground. The New England game where they allowed the Patriots to run for 175 yards started a bad trend where they gave up 164 on the ground to the Bears, 248 against the Lions, 188 against the Houston Texans, 195 against the Packers and 198 last week against the Bills, although most of those were Josh Allen scrambles, which gashed them badly.

Miami’s 4-3 defense hasn’t gotten great tackle play inside, their consistency has been poor and their linebackers notably MLB Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso haven’t been good against the run either.

The Miami run defense was leaky in 2017 as well and they had hoped to fix it going into the 2018 season. But their first couple of preseason games showed that perhaps that wasn’t the case as they were gashed but then things solidified somewhat. That 3-0 start masked what was still an issue and they’ve been battling this since then.

Unlike in other years when traveling to Miami (2013, 2015 come to mind) when the Patriots went into the games with a walking MASH unit, the Patriots are about as healthy as they’ve been all season.

They attacked a Minnesota defense that was a Top 5 unit against the run and garnered 160 yards on the ground. With Sony Michel back to full health and Rex Burkhead back from IR, look for New England to line up this week and try to pound the ball between the tackles. That should open up play-action passing for Tom Brady and the wide receivers.

This is essentially a playoff game for the Dolphins who have to finish strong for any chance to make the postseason. They face the Patriots this week, travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings, return home against Jacksonville and close out the regular season on the road in Buffalo.

Last season, the Patriots were caught looking ahead to the Pittsburgh game and were thrashed in every phase of the game losing 27-20 to Miami in a game that wasn’t even close to what the score indicated. That will be a big, big teaching point by Bill Belichick this week.

Lo and behold, the Steelers are again on the slate next week. Don’t expect the Patriots to make that same blunder twice. Last year, the Pats could afford to lose the game and still secure home-field advantage for the playoffs with a win over Pittsburgh. The 2018 version of the Pats does not have that luxury. Miami is on the cusp of a playoff berth themselves.

There won’t be no overlooking them this time. Expect a much better game this week. And look for the Patriots to pound the ball in the running game. We’ll have much more in our keys to the game tomorrow.

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

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

Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Defense Dominates Vikes in 24-10 Win

Steve Balestrieri
December 4, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots returned home to face the Minnesota Vikings in a game that was very important to both teams. And this one was dominated by the Pats defense, they held Minnesota to just 10 points and just three in the second half. The Vikings duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs was held in check extremely effectively by the NE secondary.

The Patriots offense rolled up 471 yards to just 278 for Minnesota. The win puts the Patriots at 9-3 for their 18th straight winning season which is second in NFL history to the Cowboys who had 21 straight winning seasons.

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

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady, mostly threw underneath to the backs and WRs on screen passes and quick throws which really gouged the Minnesota defense. When the Vikings began to adapt their looks and adjust, Brady then moved the ball down the field. He finished 24-32 for 311 yards (9.7-yard average which is great) with 1 TD and 1 INT for a 102.5 passer rating.

Brady’s movement in the pocket was superb, he felt the pressure and would slide or step up in the pocket. On his one pick, he was hit by Harrison Smith as he was letting go of the ball. Against one of the better defenses in the league, this was a very good performance.

Brady didn’t make any what we’d characterize as “great” throws, but he got everyone involved and kept the chains moving. But he was very good and kept the Vikings off balance.

Running Backs: B-

The Patriots running backs played a huge role in this game, they combined for 40 carries and catches on the day. James White had a big day with 6 carries for 26 yards and 7 catches for 92 more. Sony Michel didn’t have the biggest day with only a 3.7-yard average but he ran hard and was going against one of the better run defenses (3rd)  in the league. Rex Burkhead returned from IR and had a good solid complementary effort.

Overall, the Patriots ran for 160 yards on 39 carries which is a 4.1-yard average. While good anytime, against the Vikings defense, that is a very big game. It shows the coaches have faith in the running game and the players. Contrast that to what Minnesota did with just 13 rushes on the day.

James Develin had a pair of touchdowns from the one and the two-yard lines. The team may have found what ails them in the red zone and short-yardage.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers, for the most part, had a pretty quiet game. Josh Gordon wasn’t even targeted until the closing moments of the 3rd Quarter. And then in the blink of an eye, Gordon has three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown as well as drawing a pass interference penalty.

Julian Edelman was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 25 yards) but added 35 more in the running game. Chris Hogan had a pair of catches on two targets and Patterson had a big day, rushing, receiving and returning kickoffs for 114 yards total.  Phillip Dorsett wasn’t targeted.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 26 yards) but was his usual beast-like self in the running game opening holes for the running backs. He also got flagged for a couple of penalties for a false start and holding.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line did a tremendous job considering the defense they were going up against. Minnesota entered the game with the third overall defense, 4th against the run, 5th against the pass and the Pats rolled up 471 yards.

The offensive line opened enough holes in the running game for the Pats to run for 160 yards. The pass protection, while solid wasn’t really tested much as Brady was throwing quick passes and the misdirection plays and screens kept the Vikings on their heels.

But when they did throw downfield later in the game, they did a tremendous job against one of the better defensive units in the league.

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had a very solid night. They were mixing and matching and shifting players around to bring pressure on Kirk Cousins and they sacrificed their run defense in order to take away what the Vikings do best.

Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy both turned in excellent games. Adam Butler and Adrian Clayborn both contributed and the front seven were a constant disruption of the Vikings offense all night long. The Patriots dusted off their muddled front with at times only Flowers as the only down lineman, and with others Flowers and Butler.

And BTW, Guy stopped Murray short on that 4th and 1, I still don’t think Murray has made the sticks yet. Awful call.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers easily had their best game of the season. With the coverage downfield solid, Cousins was forced to check down to his running backs which is a weakness of the LB unit right? Well on Sunday night. Dalvin Cook had eight catches, for just 22 yards. Latavius Murray had two catches for three yards.

All three of the linebackers (Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts) were all over the field. They were tackling receivers with no yards after the catch and rushing up in the rush against the QB.

Roberts set the tone early with a thunderous hit on Cook on the first snap. But he was victimized twice on runs over running the hole and those two plays went for 50 yards on the ground. While that knocks down the grade a bit, Roberts was all over the field and was hitting everything in sight.

Secondary: A-

The secondary was terrific. Adam Thielen came in with nine 100-yard games and the Patriots held him to just five catches for 28 yards and a score. The Patriots doubled him most of the game which took him effectively out of the game plan.

Stephon Gilmore was very effective on Stefon Diggs and the team felt confident enough in rookie J.C. Jackson that they slid him over on Diggs as well. That allowed them to get creative on third downs. Jason McCourty largely covered Thielen in the slot which then allowed the Pats to move the bigger Jackson outside.

The safeties,   Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Obi Melifonwu were very active and they confused Cousins with their crowding things up with their looks down low in the box. It all played a hand in how they limited the Vikings to just 201 yards thru the air. Jonathan Jones and Duron Harmon had interceptions.

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams was lauded by Belichick after the game for their results in the kicking game. Ryan Allen had another strong game pinning the Vikings inside the 10 and angling his punts along the sideline. Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman both had nice returns of 34 and 23 respectively. Jonathan Jones may have influenced a missed FG with his breaking thru the line. But they also gave up big returns in the kicking game and Brandon King got whistled for a hold that wiped out a nice punt return.

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff came up with a terrific game plan to take on the Vikings and the players executed it extremely well. There was no doubt that the Patriots were ready for this one, right from the opening snap. Brian Flores had a very aggressive game plan on tap right from the start and they didn’t deviate from it, even when the Vikings made them pay for it on their only touchdown drive of the game just before halftime.

Josh McDaniels was trying to take away the Vikings pass rush early in this one with screens, quick passes, and misdirection, and the defense was never able to assert itself in this game. They had their moments when they sputtered but going 7-14 on third down and 2-3 in the red zone against the Vikings defense, numbers which would have been even better if the referees called an interference on Edelman on third and goal (but we digress).

Bill Belichick had a firm hold on this one throughout. The team was prepared and they all executed the game plan in fine fashion.

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

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

Players To Watch Patriots-Vikings Week 13

Steve Balestrieri
November 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm ET

Big Game For Both Teams

The New England Patriots return home after a few games on the road and the bye week to take on the Minnesota Vikings in a late afternoon game that will be televised by Fox.

This is a very big game for both teams this week. The Patriots traditionally try to turn things up a notch in December and get ready for a deep playoff push. They are currently the #2 seed and still have a shot at being the #1 with a first-round bye.

The Vikings are currently the #5 seed with a shot at still winning their division with the Bears although they trail by a game and half with still one against each other still in play.

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

Rex Burkhead:

The Patriots versatile but injury-prone running back returns this week and the feeling here is that he may be eased back into things slowly. With Sony Michel playing excellent football right now, there is no need for the Patriots to overwork Burkhead right off the bat, as he hasn’t played since the first half of the Lions game in Week 3.

But one area that the Patriots could use Burkhead and his versatility is in the red zone where they’ve been struggling (for them) this season. The Patriots sit at a 63 percent touchdown rate in the red zone which is 13th in the league. Not bad, but much lower than they always are. Burkhead could change that. James White is an excellent receiver but just so-so as a runner. Sony Michel is having an excellent season running the ball but has yet to be fully integrated into the passing game. The team is a bit one-dimensional with those players in the game.

Burkhead is more than capable of running the ball between the tackles and catching it out of the backfield. He’s also a very good blocker in pass protection. With him having a smaller workload in his first game back, we could still see Josh McDaniels having a plan to utilize him in the red zone.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best player on their front seven and arguably on their defense is going to be looked to provide a bulk of the Patriots pass rush this week. With the weapons that the Vikings have on their offense, it is imperative that the Patriots bring pressure on Kirk Cousins before his talented wide receivers (Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs) shake loose in the secondary.

The Patriots pass rush this year (and for several of the past years) has been largely stuck in neutral. It puts the secondary in the bad position of having to cover for too long. They have addressed the issue with multiple players but thus far it is still a problem.

We’ll look to see if they move Flowers around some and utilize him as an interior pass rusher to get more speed and athleticism on the field. But a lot of eyes will be on the Pats best DL. They will try to attack the right side of the Minnesota offensive line, that is where they’ve been having issues protecting Cousins.

Julien Edelman:

The Patriots slot receiver has been terrific in several of the latest games, he set the tone for the offense last week, getting a 36-yard catch and run on the Patriots first drive of the game. He’ll be going against  MacKensie Alexander this week. Alexander has been terrific over the last month +, allowing a QB rating of just 45 when opposing QBs have targeted him.

Edelman has always been the guy to do the dirty work underneath and frequently takes a terrific beating while doing so. Alexander is a great matchup for Edelman and we expect to see those two battling all day long.

With the excellent pass rush of the Vikings, Tom Brady will be looking to get the ball out quickly. And there is no one who has the chemistry with Brady better than Edelman. We look for him to be targeted early and often in this one.

Pat Chung:

The Pats box safety had an excellent bounce-back game against the Jets last week. This week, the stakes are higher and the opposition is much better. The Vikings are a difficult matchup team for the Patriots defense due to their running back, Dalvin Cook and their tight end Kyle Rudolph, two areas that the Pats have issues defending.

Chung is the team’s best tackler in the box and he’ll have to be strong in run support against Cook while being one of the defenders against Rudolph in the passing game.

One thing we may see more of this week is the Patriots “Big Nickel” look with safeties taking the place of LBs in coverage. We saw just a glimpse of it last week as the Pats broke in newly signed S Obi Melifonwu and with his size and athleticism, he should be a natural at that. That would allow Chung to play closer to the line of scrimmage in the box. It is a chess match every week.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver has been slowly finding his way in New England, learning on the fly and while he may no longer be the athletic freak he was five years ago, he still has plenty of speed and with his size, opponents have to account for him on every play. With Xavier Rhodes banged up and questionable this week, Gordon may play a big role in the game plan.

But what is really exciting for Gordon is the motivation that comes with playing meaningful football games in December/January. That is a first for him and he told the media this week that he’s excited for it to happen.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s motivational for me and for everybody. I’ve never really got the opportunity before, considering the circumstances. So it’s great to have the opportunity now.”

Gordon told Mike Reiss of ESPN that, “I think there’s a lot more room to expand upon and potential to be reached. It just goes to how much work I put in, and let it manifest itself on the field,” he said. “The most I can do is just stay consistent with my work ethic and the rest will try to work itself out eventually.”

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.

Titans Lewis Didn’t Hold Back After Win, Following Up Comments By Trolling Former Team Over Twitter

Robert Alvarez
November 12, 2018 at 4:27 pm ET

Following the Tennessee Titans 34-10 victory over the New England Patriots, running back Dion Lewis turned some heads with some emotional postgame comments about his former team.

Speaking with NFL Network’s Mike Giardi, Lewis said the following;

Lewis didn’t stop there, on his Twitter account he also shared some “trolling” tweets that contained laugh emoji’s and .gifs that were seemingly directed towards the Patriots.

So what caused Lewis’ surprise criticisms of the “cheap” Patriots? According to multiple reports, his strained relationship with the team wasn’t new and began in 2017 training camp.

With a chip on his shoulder, Lewis wound up leading the Patriots with a career-high 896 rushing yards after being originally told he wouldn’t be guaranteed a spot that summer. He became the top back by Week 5.

However come the 2017 playoffs, his usage dramatically dropped following the return of Rex Burkhead from injury. In Super Bowl LII, Lewis logged just 39 rushing yards and had zero receptions.

Lewis would sign a four-year, $19.8 million deal with Tennessee during the first week of free agency in March 2018. The Patriots were never serious contenders to sign him.

During his time in New England, Lewis was a valuable asset to the teams success, the Patriots went 32-3 when he played and 13-7 when he didn’t. Unfortunately in the end, Lewis wanted to stay, and the Patriots wanted to part ways. Although Lewis was ultimately rewarded for his efforts, it wasn’t by the team he hoped.

Players To Watch Patriots – Jaguars Week 2

Steve Balestrieri
September 14, 2018 at 7:15 am ET

 

The rematch of the AFCCG  A Big Early Test

The New England Patriots hit the road to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in a big Week 2 matchup. After the two teams met in the conference championship in January, and Tom Brady led the Patriots to a big 4th quarter comeback win, many people believe that Jacksonville is ready to take the next step and challenge the Patriots for supremacy in the AFC.

Sunday’s game, in that respect, will be more important to Jacksonville than to New England, who under Bill Belichick, tend the treat the first quarter of the season as an extended preseason. But the hype is there for both teams and we would expect to see both teams approach this as a big, albeit early season game.

There has quite a bit of chirping from the talented but brash Jalen Ramsey about several members of the Patriots, including Rob Gronkowski. Ramsey doubled down on his comments this week, basically calling him out.

“I might be crazy, I don’t care,” Ramsey said. “He’s good, don’t get it twisted, he’s good. You saying this to me is supposed to bring fear to me or something? I don’t fear no man, period. So he’s going to have to come out there and line up on me.”

Actually, he backtracked a bit on what he said last month when he said Gronkowski is overrated so no, no one is getting it twisted.

“I don’t think Gronk’s good,” Ramsey said in an interview with ESPN Magazine. “Let me say, I don’t think Gronk is as great as people think he is. . . . Any time Gronk has been matched up with a corner, he’s had a very bad game, and that corner has had a very good game.”

So Ramsey will get what he wants, playing for a small market team, he’ll now be the focus on Sunday’s broadcast regardless of who lines across from him in a Patriots uniform. It won’t be the Jaguars defense but Ramsey that will be the subject of much of the talk this week. It has already begun.

However, the game will feature a number of key matchups that will determine the ultimate winner on Sunday around 8:00 p.m. and bragging rights, for a few weeks anyway. The Jaguars defense plays a very Seahawks-esque Cover 3 and they have tremendous speed all over the field. But they also have the capability to mix in man coverage as well when they want. The front is very hard to run against, they consistently get penetration across the board which interrupts the flow of the offense.

What seems to work against the run defense is some zone runs, misdirection, players in motion. The backs will have to have the vision to see some cutback lanes when they avail themselves.

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

Tom Brady:

The Patriots QB is coming off a very solid game where he threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns but he knows that the Jaguars secondary is much better than Houston’s, something he witnessed firsthand in the conference championship.

The pass rush is very good and they get excellent pressure from the inside, which takes away from Brady’s ability to step up and slide from the outside edge pressure. Brady can counter that with getting the ball out quickly something he’s done for virtually his entire career.

He’ll look to spread the ball around and get everyone involved in the passing game. James Develin caught four passes last week after catching six all of last season. Brady will use his backs, James White and Rex Burkhead, (if he’s available) much like slot receivers and try to get them in motion.

Rob Gronkowski:

Gronkowski had a huge game last week and with the thin depth at Wide Receiver, his role becomes even more important to the offense. He’s Brady’s most trusted go-to guy on the roster and Jacksonville will try to take him away and force Brady to go elsewhere to beat them.

Last year, the Jaguars did a good job on Gronkowski with safety Barry Church in the first half of the conference championship. It was Church’s borderline head shot that knocked him out of the game with a concussion.

Look for Brady and Josh McDaniels to move Gronkowski around the formation trying to free him up as much as possible, especially right off the line. But McDaniels will also use Gronkowski as he did last week, to open up more field for the other wide receivers.

Chris Hogan/Cordarrelle Patterson

Phillip Dorsett seemed to make great strides last week in his development with the Patriots offense, making seven catches on the day. This week, the team may need similar efforts from Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson.

The team got Patterson involved early and he had four touches in the first half, but none in the second half. Hogan had a very disappointing game and had just one catch for 11 yards. That won’t be enough this week.

Both will have to step up their games to give Brady other options to work with. Patterson will likely see single coverage outside and other than his usual gadget type package that the team worked on with him this summer, he could be used to stretch the field along the boundaries.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best defensive lineman made his first appearance on the field last week and had a very impressive game. He’ll be looking to keep his production up this week as the Jaguars present a more difficult opponent for the Patriots, especially on the road in what promises to be a loud and raucous stadium.

I actually look for Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense to be more aggressive in the early going and throw early and then use their punishing ground game to wear down the Patriots defense in what promises to be 93-degree heat and keep the offense on the sideline.

Bortles can move and scramble with the ball, Flowers and the other edge players must push the pocket without losing containment and bring pressure on Bortles and try to disrupt their passing game. He’s the guy that sets the tone for the other Patriots edge players and he’s in the spotlight this week.  

Ja’Whaun Bentley:

The Patriots rookie linebacker had a very solid summer followed by an impressive rookie debut against the Texans last week. With the power running game of Jacksonville with Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon, the Patriots run defense must be much better than it was last week.

The Texans ran to the left and I expect that the Jaguars will as well. The inside running game will be a key area to watch and the big (6’2, 255) rookie from Purdue will have another big test this week. He played more snaps at linebacker than anyone last week and I would expect him to have a heavy workload again.

With the heat to play a factor late in the game, I’d look for the Patriots to rotate players in and out as often as possible. So Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and to a lesser extent Elandon Roberts should all see a significant amount of snaps. Third downs will be even more key this week with the heat factor. The team that wins third downs will wear down the other in the fourth quarter.  

James White:

The Patriots running back core was supposed to be one of the deepest areas of the team. But Sony Michel had his knee drained of fluid and has yet to see the field this season either in preseason or the regular season. Jeremy Hill was placed on IR  with an ACL tear and Rex Burkhead is limited in practice with a concussion. That leaves James White and the just signed Kenjon Barner as the only healthy backs on the roster.

Michel and Burkhead’s status this week is pretty murky so the team will lean heavily on the experience of James White. His plate is going to be full this week by default and add in facing a defense with the capability of the Jaguars and his workload will be extra heavy as the offense looks to find some room to maneuver.

While White is usually the Patriots go-to back in the passing game, this week, he may be forced to take on a larger role in the running game as well.

Pat Chung:

The Patriots veteran safety has had an increased role in his second stint with the team and has earned the trust of his fellow players and the coaches as well. With the changes the Jaguars had in their own wide receivers this year, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson left via free agency, Marquis Lee on IR, they’ll lean more on their tight ends.

Which means Chung will draw more of Austin Seferian-Jenkins this week. Jenkins played well against the Patriots a year ago with the Jets and this will be a key matchup to watch. Chung is always good in run support and he’ll be expected to help there as well.

But against the Jaguars this week, we’ll probably see more of the “Big Nickel” with more three-safety looks with Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon to lend more support for the run defense. Chung should factor prominently this week in the Patriots game plan.

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

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

Steve Balestrieri
September 13, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots head out on the road for their first road tilt of the 2018 season by taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two teams met in the AFC Championship Game and now will meet again in Week 2.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on, at 4:35 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (1-0) took care of business at home and defeated the Houston Texans 27-21 on Sunday in Foxboro. Tom Brady threw for three touchdowns and Rob Gronkowski had 123 yards receiving and a score.

The Jaguars (1-0) beat the New York Giants 20-15 on Sunday. Blake Bortles completed 18-33 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown in the road win.

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 Jaguars are meeting for just the 13th time overall in their history. New England holds an 11-1 overall record including last season’s AFC Championship Game win over the Jags. The only game Jacksonville has won was a Divisional Playoff game in 1999. The teams met in the preseason a year ago and conducted joint practices together so they are familiar with one another.

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 Jaguars Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Jacksonville

The Patriots running game mixed things up with Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, James White and WR Cordarrelle Patterson last week and gained 122 yards against a good Texans front seven. But Hill is out, done for the season with a torn ACL and his big physical presence will be missed.

In typical overreaction Monday after Week 1, many were saying the Jags run defense was suspect after they gave up 137 yards to the Giants and rookie Saquon Barkley on Sunday. Caveat Emptor. The Jaguars front seven is just as solid if not more than Houston’s. With Malik Jackson and Marcel Dareus inside and Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue on the edges, there are no holes or weaknesses here.

Look for New England to mix things up with Burkhead, White, and Patterson again. The status of Sony Michel this week is still up in the air, he’d be a big positive for the team if he is able to suit up this week. Although I wouldn’t bet on it yet. The team signed Kenjon Barner this week. While he does have experience at returning punts, it is a bit of surprise since he is the approximate size of the other backs at 5’9, 190 and not the prototypical “big” back.

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

The Patriots passing game was just fine against the Texans on Sunday, but although their front seven is outstanding, their secondary continues to struggle. Tom Brady spread the ball around to eight different wide receivers, but the big targets were Rob Gronkowski, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Phillip Dorsett.

The Jaguars have that excellent front seven but they also have an outstanding secondary as well. A.J. Boyue and Jalen Ramsey are arguably the best pair of corners in the NFL right now. They can bring pressure and cover. As we saw last year, they can give elite QBs (Brady, Roethlisberger) fits.

Look for the Patriots to use their RBs as slot receivers again, moving them around and splitting them out wide. Ditto for Gronkowski. The team could use a healthy Michel and Jacob Hollister in the passing game this week. Brady and Josh McDaniels will have to get creative at manufacturing some opportunities this week. But we’ve seen Brady do this for 19 years and he’s up to the task. Patterson may have to be a bigger part of the offense this week and could be the Patriots’ “X-Factor” this week in the passing game.

Next up the Jacksonville offense:

Jaguars RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Jacksonville

The Jaguars had the top-rated running game in the league a year ago, a two-headed attack with Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon. They are a dynamic tandem that helped average 141 yards per game on the ground. Fournette’s status is in doubt right now (Wednesday) because of a hamstring issue he tweaked against the Giants. If he can’t go, it is a big blow to the Jaguars running game.

The Patriots run defense was bad a year ago and they brought in the players to fix it. Danny Shelton is the big, two-gapping run stuffer they need. He and Lawrence Guy inside were solid a week ago. But the combination of Malcom Brown and Adam Butler struggled and the team allowed 167 yards on the ground. While some of it was scheme related, they played a short box and had two deep safeties for much of the second half, the run defense needs to be much, much better.

Look for the Jaguars to run inside this week, regardless of Fournette’s status. This is a problem area for New England who needs better interior play and for the linebackers to step up some more this week. This could be a big problem area for NE this week. But look for them to put a lot more emphasis on stopping the run.

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

The Jaguars passing game lost a lot of talent (sound familiar?) this offseason. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns left via free agency and Marquise Lee went on IR with an injury in preseason.  Keelan Cole led the team in receiving yards last year and is now the go-to guy. Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief round out the WRs with Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end.

Bortles is the “X-Factor” this year. He was thought to be the difference between Jacksonville being a very solid team and a Super Bowl contender. But the team believes in him and gave him a three-year $54 million dollar extension in the spring.

The Patriots secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones with Pat Chung and Devin McCourty is more than capable enough of shutting this group down enough to pull out a win, provided that the front seven keeps the mobile Bortles in the pocket. The Patriots did a very good job of bringing pressure and containing Deshaun Watson in the pocket. They need another similar effort.

Look for the Jaguars to use play action to hit some big chunk plays down the field once they get the running game going. The Patriot will try to force Bortles into obvious passing situations and bring pressure and maybe force a turnover or two.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams is normally outstanding at kick coverage and last week, they were gashed a bit and allowed a 31-yard average. Look for a much stronger effort in that realm this week. But no such questions arise from the kicking game with both punter Ryan Allen and Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, both logging in very solid performances. Look for Cordarrelle Patterson to maybe influence the game a bit this week in the return game.

The Jags counter with kicker Josh Lambo and punter Logan Cooke. Lambo took over at midseason in 2017 and solidified things in the kicking game but the Pats get the edge here with the experience factor.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well after the close game at home in the AFC Championship Game where Brady led the Patriots to overcome a 10-point 4th quarter deficit when the schedule was released, many immediately chalked this up as a loss.

Everyone circled it and we heard universally, “this one is a loss.” This plays perfectly into Tom Brady’s hands. You can set your clock on and bet the house that the team has seen all those prognostications as well. Brady loves when people doubt him. It is the extra dose of motivation that many times gets them over the hump. The one thing we’ve all should have learned by now is not to count this team and especially this quarterback out.

His numbers may not be pretty, nor will he have one of his patented ridiculous completion percentage days, but he’ll find a way to get it done. We’ve seen this movie too many times before, “hungry young team ready to feast on the Patriots.” But they forget the guy across the field is well-battle tested and ready.  Patriots 21-17

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.

Jeremy Hill Thanks Supporters Following Season Ending ACL Injury

Robert Alvarez
September 12, 2018 at 9:48 pm ET

The New England Patriots were hit with tough injury news following their 27-20 week one victory over the Houston Texans.

Running back Jeremy Hill, who had an impressive training camp and preseason, beating out Mike Gillislee for a roster spot, was placed on season ending injured reserve with a torn ACL in his right knee.

Before sustaining the injury in the third quarter, Hill played 12 offensive snaps and had 25 rushing yards off four carries, sharing time with Rex Burkhead and James White.

Hill also made an impact on special teams, partially blocking a Houston punt.

On Instagram Tuesday, Hill posted an Instagram message thanking supporters during his difficult time.

“Why me Why now is what I’ve been asking myself since Sunday but in actuality WHY NOT me. Adversity and hurdles have been my whole life this just seems to be another one in my journey. God doesn’t make mistakes and I know I’m being put through this for a reason. Thanks for all your prayers I truly appreciate them. Only the Beginning for me.” 

With Hill lost for the season, the Patriots running back depth consists of Burkhead, White, Sony Michel and newly signed Kenjan Barner.

Patriots  Week 1 Report Card, New England Downs Texans 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
September 11, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots took care of business at home against the Texans and they came away with the 27-20 victory that wasn’t really as close as the score would indicate. There was never the feeling that the Texans could take over and win this game and the muffed punt at the end, while it made it a one-score game, didn’t really change the momentum.

It was a good win, with plenty of positives and also plenty of negatives for the coaches to clean up before they travel to Jacksonville next week. With the NFL showing a ton of sloppy play across the board in Week 1, we’ve become accustomed to most of the teams playing below par since most of the players barely see the field during preseason. So, with that in mind, the coaches will take the victory and move on.

Overall the Patriots looked pretty good and were the better team throughout the game. The combination of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski seems to have not missed a beat and perhaps those missing OTAs sessions weren’t a big a negative as we were told to believe. There is a reason to feel much better about the pass rush this season, although the Houston OL is a bit suspect again. And the OL’s performance can only be described as a ton better than when the two teams met last year.

There were issues with the run defense, turnovers and special teams coverages on the minus side. So, with the season opener in the books, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B+

Tom Brady wasn’t at his very best, as he was quick to point out after the game on Sunday but he was pretty damned good. There was absolutely no rust factor involved with the offense under #12 and he was his normal cool, brutally efficient leader.

All summer we heard the same mantra we’ve heard for what now? Eight to ten years? They have no weapons…the offense will struggle…yada, yada. Brady eats that like M&Ms, (although he probably eschews chocolate). He threw a nice back shoulder throw to Gronkowski for the Patriots first touchdown where the big man then muscled his way into the end zone.

He also had touchdown passes to James White and Phillip Dorsett, who was the 69th player (Gronk approves this message) to catch a touchdown pass from Brady. And his best pass of the day was arguably the one in the fourth quarter when facing a third and long. Brady bought time, slid in the pocket and found his fourth option, FB James Develin for a key first down. He finished 26-39 for 277 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT.

Running Backs: B

The Patriots went with Rex Burkhead and James White mainly early in the game and then brought in Jeremy Hill later. Both Burkhead, who got the majority of the work in the running game and White were their normal solid performers on the field.

Hill came on and got just a few carries but appeared quick in the running game before going down with what appeared to be a nasty injury. That hit may require the Patriots to make a roster move if he’s out for an extended period, which it appears initially to be. **Update** Hill has torn his ACL and is done for the year**

James Develin provided his always solid game in the running game as a lead blocker but also chipped in with four catches for 22 yards. Develin had six catches all season in 2017 and nearly equaled that on Sunday. That’s nice stepping up. But overall, the running game went for 122 yards on 31 carries which isn’t bad at all.

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers entered the game pretty thin with just four on the roster, minus STer Matthew Slater. While their numbers weren’t earth shattering they performed okay for the first game of the season but in the future, they’ll have to step it up.

The bright spot was Phillip Dorsett who had just 12 catches all of last year. He had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive before the first half, Dorsett caught the last three passes Brady threw, including the four-yard touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson had four touches including three carries and one reception.

Chris Hogan’s day was a disappointment. He was targeted five times and had just one catch for 11 yards. Riley McCarron was targeted once and had no stats but he would figure prominently in special teams (more below). The third down conversion rate wasn’t good and it is the WRs who must step up and change that.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski is the best, most complete tight end in the NFL and it isn’t even close. The Texans decided that they were going to take him away with an athletic linebacker and a safety. It didn’t work. Gronkowski was the most dominant player on the field on Sunday.

He caught seven passes for 123 yards and a score, despite being the guy they tried to shut down. His 22-yard touchdown was a classic Gronkowski double coverage, back shoulder throw to Brady where he muscled his way in the end zone. At the end of the half, he split two defenders on a deep seam route where he made a fantastic catch despite a defender clearly pulling on his arm.

But Gronk is a force multiplier, he is a great decoy as well. On James White’s touchdown he lined up in the slot on the right and cut left and took all of the defenders with him, White was left with a huge hole in the defense to work in. Dorsett’s touchdown was similar. The guy continues to be unstoppable.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line was thought to be a question mark by some even though they had four of five starters returning. They were facing one of the best front sevens in the NFL and one that has a plethora of pass rushers. And for much of the day, Tom Brady could stand flat-footed in the pocket and go thru his progressions.

Trent Brown did a tremendous job on Jadeveon Clowney all game long and the talented pass rusher was invisible for most of the game. He and Whitney Mercilus were relegated to a milk carton in the game. Marcus Cannon did a tremendous job on J.J. Watt who did get a couple of hits on Brady when LaAdrian Waddle came on the second half. The Texans did get a couple of sacks from the interior of the line late in the game.

The only picky thing we can find is that the run blocking was just okay but not great. The team averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, again okay but not where they want to be. However, they did rush for 122 yards on that front seven, so we’re not going to harp on that at all.  

Defensive Line: B

It was a mixed bag for the defensive line on Sunday. They were outstanding at getting after the quarterback and (this time), containing him in the pocket. Trey Flowers had a tremendous game, he’s always an under-the-radar guy. Flowers logged 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and three QB hits. Deatrich Wise, in a limited role, due to the rotation, had 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and three QB hits. All in just 22 snaps

Unlike a year ago, the Patriots were for the majority of the afternoon, able to keep Deshaun Watson in the pocket and stop him from gaining the edge and making plays with his feet. The rotation of DEs was working and they kept fresh legs out there with Adrian Clayborn and newcomer Keionta Davis playing well too.

Lawrence Guy is the most underrated player on the Patriots. Guy had a great game and provided solid run support as well as pushed the pocket. He forced Watson’s throw that was picked off by Gilmore.

The run defense overall was not good, the Texans were running at Malcom Brown and Adam Butler and that will have to be tightened up. In the second half, however, it looked like the team was going to a smaller box and playing more two deep safeties, but we’ll have to rewatch the tape and see if some of the issues were by design.

Linebackers: B

Kyle Van Noy, rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Dont’a Hightower played the most snaps. Bentley was really good for the most part and moves all over the field pretty well for a big man. He was out of position, however, on the 31-yard run by Lamar Miller in the first half. Elandon Roberts came on in the second half and had one really bad series, where Alfred Blue and the Texans gashed them on the ground. Roberts has a penchant for filling the wrong gaps at times and that series was not good.

But in covering the backs and tight ends, the linebackers had a very good game. The running backs had just two catches and TE Ryan Griffin was shut out. It was a pretty good start to the season, while they have a lot of room for improvement, it was light years better than the start to 2017.

Secondary: A

Stephon Gilmore continued the outstanding play that he’s demonstrated since the midway point of last year. He had a strong spring and summer and he was matched up with one of the best WRs in the game with DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins had his catches, he ended up with eight for 78 yards but he wasn’t a difference maker in the game. The Texans were trying everything in their power to get him the ball but Gilmore blanketed him all game.

His interception was a phenomenal play. Gilmore ran from the other side of the field when he saw Eric Rowe in single coverage and covered a tremendous amount of field with the ball in the air and went up, high pointed the ball and snagged the interception out of the hands of Rowe.

Rowe had a pretty solid game as well, while Ellington had just four catches for 37 yards. The safeties did a very good job of communication (the opposite of 2017) and the bunch formations that gave the team fits in 2017 didn’t phase them this time around.

Special Teams: C-

The normally solid Patriots special teams coverage units laid a clunker against the Texans who were one of the worst STs units in the league last year. Houston averaged 31.2 yards per kickoff return, not what I would consider anywhere near the Patriots par. But it was the first game of the season and the team did lose a couple of their core special teamers in Brandon Bolden and Jordan Richards while Jacob Hollister missed the game due to injury.

Riley McCarron muffed a punt which allowed Houston to score on a short field to cut the score to a touchdown late in the game, but it was also his first NFL game. He’ll hear it from the coaches this week.

On the plus side, Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on three PATs and both FG attempts. And Ryan Allen had six punts for a 46.8-yard average. Included in that was his last-minute punt that went 55 yards and was downed on the one-yard line.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick had the team ready to go this season. The Texans tried to replicate their game from last year where they bunched their formations and got the Patriots secondary confused but this time, it didn’t work. The defense was well prepared for it plus the movement of Watson in the pocket.

Dante Scarnecchia had the OL extremely well prepared to face the Texans pass rush and stout front seven. The offense knew they were thin at WR but they worked up a game plan that got everyone involved. Josh McDaniels was still able to find ways to attack the secondary and the Patriots were still balanced in the running and passing games.

Brian Flores and the defense earn high marks of the week. The Patriots defense looked much, much better this week than they did at this time last year. Overall, very high marks for the coaching staff, but an even tougher test awaits this 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 the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.