Good morning, and here’s a look at this morning’s top stories.
Looking at Where the Patriots Rank After Three Weeks – Now that we’re three weeks through the exhibition season, it was interesting take a few minutes and looking at where some players sit in terms of overall statistics after three games. Granted these numbers are a little useless given the fact the league doesn’t take into account playing time and quality of opponent (whether or not players are facing first or third string defenses, but nonetheless, there are a few Patriots who are in the top 10 in a few different categories.
Jimmy Garoppolo is second in the NFL in passing yards with 406, trailing Dallas’ Dak Prescott, who has 454. Prescott has the edge in terms of touchdown passes having thrown 5 compared to Garoppolo’s one, which is probably the bigger area of concern thus far as he struggled Friday night as he continues gaining experience in the offense. He only had three pass attempts down in the red area against the Panthers but did have two completions for 6-yards.
Meanwhile Tyler Gaffney checks in at #5 for rushing yards with 153, trailing DeMarco Murray’s (TEN) 153, Derrick Henry’s (TEN) 154, Malcolm Brown’s (LA) 155, and Christine Michael’s (SEA) 157. LeGarrette Blount is close behind at #7 with 115 behind Dallas’ Darius Jackson (120).
The leading receivers are tight end A.J. Derby, who comes in at #7 overall with 10 catches for 138 yards, followed by Chris Hogan, who shot up and comes in at #11 after his big performance Friday night. He now has 9 receptions for 115-yards through three games. The overall leaders right now starting at the top are the Jets’ Robby Anderson (11 catches, 203 yards), Atlanta’s Aldrick Robinson (7 catches, 202 yards), Buffalo’s Walter Powell (12 catches, 189 yards), Tennessee’s Tajae Sharpe (9 catches 163 yards), Houston’s Will Fuller (8 catches for 144 yards) and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans (8 catches, 143-yards).
Defensively, just one player for the Patriots made the list and that was Trey Flowers, who has 13 tackles, which has him tied with 10 other players for 6th most in the NFL. He’s also currently 4th in sacks this preseason with 2.5 trailing Minnesota’s Justin Trattou (4.5), Denver’s Dekoda Watson and San Francisco’s Marcus Rush (both tied with 4), Miami’s Julius Warmsley, as well as Baltimore’s Matt Judon and Tampa Bay’s Jacquies Smith (all three tied with 3).
One other name that stood out was defensive back Cre’von LeBlanc, who was tied for the 4th most passes defensed with 3, which is a crowded group that has him joined by 15 other players.
These numbers don’t include the results from Sunday night’s battle between the Jaguars and Bengals, which as of the writing of this isn’t quite over yet. But it gives you a glimpse at a few players who have had a productive preseason, and it’s going to be interesting to see how a couple of them end up when the team begins thinning out their roster.
Jones in the mix to return punts in 2016 – Cyrus Jones has had a good preseason returning punts, finishing with three returns for 85-yards, including a 60 yard return Friday night against the Panthers. Overall this preseason he’s returned six for 109 yards and one fair catch, with the rookie having more or less exclusively handled that role. D.J. Foster, Chris Harper, and V’Angelo Bentley are the only other players to have returned a punt, with each having one at this point in the preseason.
Bill Belichick was asked if he would consider giving Jones that responsibility to begin the season, and the Patriots head coach surprisingly gave Jones a pretty good endorsement.
“I think that’s a consideration,” said Belichick in a conference call on Saturday. “Obviously, Danny [Amendola] and Julian [Edelman] have a lot of experience returning punts for us as well as kickoffs in the past. We’ll see how it goes, but we have good depth at that position and that’s always a good thing to have.”
It makes sense for Jones to start the year and take over those responsibilities, especially since Amendola and Edelman are both still trying to get fully healthy heading into the season. Jones has also flashed in the secondary, including having made a pretty good play on an interception the previous week against Chicago.
For now Belichick said he has a lot of confidence in not just Jones, but in several of the guys who have gotten work in and he’ll wait and see how things play out heading into the regular season.
“We have confidence in all of those guys back there,” said Belichick. “Last night we even had D.J. [Foster] who got a chance to handle the ball. We’ll see how it goes going forward, but I think we have good competition and good depth at that position.”
Belichick Pleased With Brissett – Jacoby Brissett’s performance Friday night was noteworthy, especially given his perfect 9-of-9 passing performance along with a touchdown. Despite the fact Brissett saw most of his action late in the second half against lower tier players, Belichick was quick to dismiss that notion because in his mind, it was what he felt to be a pretty level playing field.
“I think particularly in this game, the competition was pretty level throughout the game in terms of when both teams substituted and who was out there, so it was a relatively level competitive playing field,” said Belichick Saturday. “I think Jacoby continued to do some really good things. His passing stats last night we’re good which is always a good thing; 9-9, no turnovers, that’s a good place to start. There are a number of things he could have done better, like every player that played. He’s certainly learning and getting better at things every week, but there are new things that happen every week; different situations, different matchups against different defenses, so it’s a process.”
The biggest thing Belichick has been pleased with so far is the fact that Brissett’s been working hard and paying attention, which he believes is obviously one of the most important attributes a player can have. So far for Brissett, it seems to be paying off.
“I think that’s the most important thing for any young player, to continue to improve, continue to make progress, to correct some of the things from the week before, or maybe from things that come up in practice,” said Belichick. “They’re going to experience new things; they’re not all going to go right. They’re going to have to correct those and build on those while progressing in other areas that have previously been addressed and just continue to keep improving on a daily basis and then when they get a chance to play, show progress.”
“That’s the most important thing, really for all players, but especially for young players, that we see that improvement. That’s a good thing if players are working hard and paying attention to the instruction that they’re being given and they improve. Then we’re on the right track and hopefully we can continue to build on that.”
New England’s pass rush has been terrific during the preseason. (USA TODAY Images)
Pass Rush Off to a Good Start For the Patriots – The Patriots have been making some noise on defense during the preseason and they made Cam Newton pretty miserable during their win Friday night.
So far through three games they have six interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns and were all over Newton, picking him off twice while holding him to a dismal 13-of-29 passing and a paltry QB rating of 25.1.
They’ve looked good for much of the preseason, and that’s definitely a good sign considering how they finished last season. As Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald pointed out on Sunday, the Patriots finished with 21 takeaways last season, which was their second-lowest total in 16 seasons under Belichick.
Logan Ryan was one of the players who picked off Newton, making a perfect read and a terrific leaping grab against receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Ryan said they’ve been working hard in drills during practice, which obviously paid off against Carolina.
“We’re continuing to get the ball, which is something that we’ve harped on. Turnovers are contagious,” Ryan said Sunday via Patriots.com. “We’re going to keep sticking to the drills in practice.”
“We always try to be a confident group. We put a lot of work in… I just know we’re having a lot of fun, taking it one week at a time.”
No Rift Between Belichick and Brady – One of the more annoying sports takes over the past two weeks has been the notion of frustration in the lack of playing time for Tom Brady creating a rift between he and Belichick.
Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who faced a 4-game suspension of his own during his career when he admitted in 2007 about his use of HGH while he was recovering from a significant injury, said that the two have too much respect to let anything come between them.
“First, it’s a very respectful relationship,” Harrison told the Boston Herald. “And knowing Tom, he wants to be out there. He’s a very competitive guy. He feels like the more reps you get, the better prepared you are, and even though he’s not playing those first four games, and even though he’s accomplished so much in his career, he still wants those reps to feel comfortable.”
“But it still comes down to Belichick. He’s the head coach and he has to make some tough decisions, and that’s giving Jimmy Garoppolo as many reps as possible. Tom’s had 15, 16, 17 years of reps. It’s time to give the young kid reps, build his confidence, and see what the team’s capable of doing with him.”
Former teammate Heath Evans, who is now with the NFL Network, also dismissed the notion, telling the Herald that the ‘stupid’ speculation is just nonsense.
“No one knows anything,” Evans said. “People are just speculating stupid stuff that never takes place in that building. Period. The end. That’s where I stand on it.”
But given the fact there will be four weeks where Jimmy Garoppolo’s development will likely fuel even more discussion, you can bet some of the topics that will arise between now and October should continue to be just as nauseating until Brady returns.
Kearse Heads off to Injured Reserve – Defensive lineman Frank Kearse never got much of a chance to get going in training camp and after battling an undisclosed injury, Kearse landed on injured reserve on Saturday.
The veteran was originally signed by New England as a free agent back on March 11th and is a former 7th round selection by the Dolphins.