Tag Archives: Stephon Gilmore

AFC Championship Game Will Be New England – Jacksonville

Steve Balestrieri
January 15, 2018 at 8:54 am ET

The much anticipated AFC Championship Game will not be a rematch between the Patriots and Steelers as the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second time this season went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 45-42 in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.

New England had already advanced on Saturday night by thrashing the Tennessee Titans 35-14 and will now face the Jaguars who won a close defensive struggle 10-3 over Buffalo and now a shootout against the over-confident Steelers.

The Jaguars, played the underdog role well all week, listening to several Pittsburgh players including safety Mike Mitchell and running back Le’Veon Bell openly talk about beating New England in a rematch, totally dismissing Jacksonville, which was doubly infuriating for the Jaguars since they blasted the Steelers 30-9 in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

Mitchell was even reported to be standing outside the Jacksonville locker room trash-talking the Jaguars before the game. Once again, this failure resides right in the lap of the Pittsburgh coaching staff. While talking up their “upcoming” game with New England, they forgot about Jacksonville and their performance on the field was easy to point at.

Jacksonville, behind the power running of Leonard Fournette, play-action passing of Blake Bortles and that tough opportunistic defense raced out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before the Steelers decided it was time to play. Ben Roethlisberger shook off a shaky, poor start to toss five touchdown passes, several of the highlight reel variety on fourth downs to keep the game close, but it was not to be.

Jacksonville came to play…this week. The Steelers were too fixated on next week and now go home with nobody to blame but themselves. To discount and overlook a tough team with the #1 defense in the NFL, and one that had routed you earlier in the year in your own building is unconscionable. He’ll have all spring and summer to answer those questions and they are legit ones. That locker room is way too loose.

Jacksonville is Ready: But for Doug Marrone’s team, they’re flying high right now. They entered the playoffs as the #3 seed and now part of the final four and they, (and rightfully so) feel like they can beat anybody. The pass defense is the #1 unit in the league and will present a tremendous obstacle for the Patriots.

Why? They can create plenty of QB pressure without blitzing just rushing their front four. That means they can drop seven men into coverage and fill up the passing lanes. Their cornerbacks are very good, we saw A.J. Bouye last year with the Texans in the playoffs.

Jalen Ramsey is the Jags other starting corner and he wasted little time in declaring the Jaguars as the next Super Bowl champions. Speaking to the fans upon return to Jacksonville, Ramsey said, “I ain’t got too much to say, but make sure you all bring that same energy out next week and the week after,” Ramsey said. “We are going to the Super Bowl and we are going to win that b***h. We are going to the win that b***h.”

Both starting corners are big, (6’0 and 6’1), fast, physical and athletic.

Teams Are Very Familiar With Each Other: This summer during training camp, the Jaguars and Patriots conducted joint practices with each other and there is much that can be learned about each other from those long looks on the Gillette upper fields.

You can guarantee that both sets of coaches will be looking at those tapes this week to see if they can catch the slightest nuance from their opponent. It also gives a good look at the role players, the guys that may only come in for a handful of snaps each week to see how the team may use them and get a better feel for their strengths and weaknesses.

Chris Hogan and A.J. Bouye battle during joint practices between Jax and NE in August. (SBalestrieri photo)

One player who gave the Jaguars fits (and who’ll be missed this week) was Julian Edelman who was nearly uncoverable in the workouts. For the Jaguars, Marquise Lee had his way with Malcolm Butler on several occasions. And Brandin Cook’s speed was something that the Jacksonville defense definitely struggled with. While Leonard Fournette showed why the Jaguars were so high on him.

We’ll have more on these matchups later this week.

Coughlin Factor Will be Overblown This Week: Tom Coughlin has his hands all over the Jaguars success this season. He knows how to build a solid football team. And it starts with his defense and then he builds a big physical offense built around the running game that feasts on play action when the defense over commits to stopping the run.

This is what he did here in Jacksonville to start the franchise, then brought it to the Giants and now he and Marrone are doing it here in Jacksonville again. They are a very physically tough, well-balanced football team. But less than 8 hours after their defeat of Pittsburgh, social media is already overflowing with the “Coughlin has the blueprint” on how to beat New England mantra, like he owns a secret talisman that is kryptonite against Tom Brady. That is what we’ll hear all week.

Coughlin’s teams win by being balanced and tough defensively. As we said above, they’ll present a very difficult challenge for the Patriots to beat this Sunday. And his defense in both Super Bowls slowed down the Patriots passing offense by making them one-dimensional and getting after Brady. In Super Bowl XLII they held New England to 45 yards rushing. In SB XLVI it was 83 but 21 of those belonged to Wes Welker.

And remember, for as stout as Coughlin’s defenses played in each, it took incredible deep, passing plays by Eli Manning to pull out each. The velcro catch down the middle in the former and the beautiful dime he threw to Mario Manningham in the latter.

It is just great team defense, there isn’t a secret or a blueprint. It is going out and producing. Both of these teams are vastly different from those teams and this will be a great chess match all on its own.

We’ll have a deeper look at the Jaguars here soon. Final Four Week is here. All four teams got here the old fashioned way…they earned it. This is what the postseason is all about.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

New England Patriots News 1-14, And the Beat Goes On…

Steve Balestrieri
January 14, 2018 at 7:44 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-14, & AFC East Notes.

What a crazy week it was, we began the week with below zero temperatures in a deep freeze only to see Friday and early Saturday reach a balmy 60. Then by the time the game ended last night it was cold once again with single digit wind chills. Couple that with the Patriots playoff game and so little talk surrounding the game itself, it was indeed a crazy week.

However, when all was said and done, the Patriots are moving on to their seventh straight conference championship. That’s some rarified air folks. Breathe it in, enjoy it and ignore the noise.

Reports of the Patriots Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated:
Since the Patriots are indeed flying in that rarified air, there is no shortage of media people that can’t wait to be the first to say “the Patriots run is over”, and there is feuding among the top three of Brady, Belichick, and Kraft.

Well if you thought (or were secretly wishing for) this latest flap over nada to distract the team and throw them off of their game, you were sadly mistaken. They handled this like everything else and used it as a tool to bring themselves together and blasted the Titans into the offseason.

Next week, they’ll face a very good team either way between Jacksonville or Pittsburgh with the chance to go to the Super Bowl. And if they do fail, it will have zero to do with distractions, or in-fighting or worrying about who is the “Patriot of the Week.” This team is mentally tough and blocks out distractions better than anyone else.

Brady Continues to Amaze:
Speaking of wishful thinking, so many of these dweebs with their hot take shows have been predicting the end of the line for Brady for so long that it has become almost comical. I first heard these “he could be done as an elite QB” since the 2008 season when he tore his ACL. Ten years. The Brady funeral procession has been waiting for ten years and the beat goes on.

After all of the talk about his struggling December was all about his age and ignoring the fact that he was missing nearly half a dozen of his offensive players, once he got most of his players back he did what he’s always done. Made the naysayers pay. Right, Kevin Byard? He didn’t look like Blake Bortles last night nor was he afraid to test Byard in the middle of the field. When will they ever learn…don’t poke the bear.

Brady improved to an incredible 6-2 in playoff action when attempting 50+ passes. How is that incredible you ask? All other QBs attempting 50+ are a combined 3-28. Put that on a cliff. And thanks, Kerry Byrne for that stat.

How About that Patriots Defense?
It is amazing what you see on social media, the talk we’ve been hearing since September was that the defense was the Achilles Heel of the team and the lack of a pass rush/setting the edge in the running game was going to be the death knell of this team.

The run defense has been steadily getting better down the stretch and the QB pressure has been getting better and better and Matt Patricia doesn’t have that “marquee pass rusher” he and Bill Belichick have schemed a pass around the pieces that they do have.

And while the panic level around New England went thru the roof after the Titans went on their first touchdown drive, the coaches did what they always have done. They figured out what was wrong, adjusted and stuffed Tennessee until a total garbage time touchdown when the game was over.

Tennessee gashed the Chiefs for over 200 yards rushing the week before with Derrick Henry accounting for 156 of them. On Saturday night, that number was 65. And Henry, who was supposed to be the equalizer rushed for 2.3 yards per carry gaining just 28 yards. They took away Mariota’s running lanes in the passing game and the pass rush hit the Titans’ QB for eight sacks which is a franchise record.

Amendola is Money Once Again:
We’ve been unabashed supporters of the Patriots slot receiver. In the last two Super Bowl wins, he was right in the mix of things in each victory. No one has better hands and he has a nose for moving the sticks, finding the sweet spot in the coverage and always saves his best for the biggest times at crunch times.

One fact that escaped us last night was that Amendola has never had a 100-yard receiving game. Well not any longer. With the Patriots getting healthier on offense, Tennessee was busy trying to defend everywhere and that’s where Amendola steps in. He’ll never be “the guy” and he’s usually the third or fourth option for Tom Brady in many of these passing plays, but woe to the defense that ignores him. He caught 11 passes on 13 targets for 112 yards last night including a superb play by him and Brady for a key third-down conversion. Brady was flushed out of the pocket and threw across his body where Amendola made a tremendous leaping grab.

Every spring and summer, the rumors always have the Patriots cutting ties to the diminutive wide receiver, and every playoff run has us wondering “how could they get rid of this guy?”

Patriots Offensive Line Answers the Bell:
One of the other storylines this week was that big, physical Titans defensive line, doing what they did to Alex Smith and the Chiefs doing the same thing to Tom Brady, bringing pressure up the middle and shutting down the Patriots offense that “hasn’t been good all December” and “this could be 2010 all over again.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying. The charges of Dante Scarnecchia had a very good game on Saturday night. They picked up the A Gap blitzes, did a solid job of protection all night long and allowed zero sacks and just four QB hits.

Coaching Carousel Keeps Turning; Staff May Be Quite Different in 2018 :
The Patriots coaching staff and front office is always being looked at from other teams, trying to catch lightning in a bottle and emulate the Patriots success. And with both Offensive and Defensive Coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia receiving serious consideration from two teams, it seems on the surface that both may soon be gone. Where does that leave the team in 2018?

Bill Belichick is always grooming, “the next man up” in the military tradition, he no doubt learned at Annapolis. He’s grooming the next guy to take the job. That’s the difference between successful coaches and unsuccessful ones. You don’t train your subordinates to follow but to lead. And the team should be fine on paper.

Both Linebackers Coach Brian Flores, as well as Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea, have been being groomed to step into the coordinator positions if indeed McDaniels and Patricia depart. Both are highly esteemed inside the building although the true test for each will come when they actually step into the roles. One potential, albeit long-shot snafu that could arise, is if Flores departs also. He’s already getting some consideration as a head coaching candidate from the Arizona Cardinals. If he were to leave as well, then that might open up the position for an outsider.

But Belichick always likes to promote from within and keep that continuity, so that would be intriguing if it were to occur. One name to keep an eye on if that occurs, … Greg Schiano, not really an outsider per se as he an Belichick have always been close.  

Gruden Lands in a Good Position to Thrive:
Jon Gruden leaving the ESPN Monday Night Football gig to return to coaching wasn’t a shock. Everyone who was close to him has stated that he is a coach, first and foremost and would eventually return to the coaching ranks sooner or later. Gruden was just waiting for the right spot. And he returned to the Raiders where he found success in the early 2000s.

A couple of years ago, he was interested in the Eagles coaching vacancy by Philly owner Jeff Lurie wasn’t interested in him, being out of the NFL for so long. But Mark Davis, the owner of the Raiders came calling with a boatload of cash and the rest, as they say, is history.

Gruden can coach, we’ve seen that with the job he did in Tampa with the Bucs. What he isn’t tremendous at is building a football team, as we’ve seen on the MNF telecasts, he loves everybody. But he doesn’t have to worry about that. He has a very good GM in Reggie McKenzie who has assembled some intriguing pieces around the roster for Gruden to work with. First of which is QB Derek Carr.

I can’t wait to see how those two interact and work around an offense that didn’t play to its full potential last year. The Raiders have some intriguing pieces on offense that seem tailor made for Gruden. That alone will keep the Raiders fans in the seats at the dump they play in until they make the move to Las Vegas. “Chucky Takes Las Vegas”…

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Divisional Weekend:
Wildcard Weekend Last week 3-1 mark.

Saturday: Falcons at Eagles – Atlanta
Titans at Patriots – New England

Sunday: Jaguars at Steelers – Pittsburgh
Saints at Vikings – New Orleans

****No AFC East Notes 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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Brady, Patriots Manhandle Titans 35-14, Advance To AFC Title Game

Steve Balestrieri
January 13, 2018 at 11:53 pm ET

For the seventh season in a row, the Patriots are going to the conference championship with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. After starting a bit slowly against a physically tough but overmatched Tennessee Titans team, the Patriots caught fire in the second quarter and scored 35 straight points before allowing a garbage time touchdown to win 35-14.

Tom Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns, Danny Amendola had a fantastic game with 11 receptions for 113 yards and Dion Lewis and James White were basically unstoppable in the passing game. While the still much-maligned Patriots defense notched eight sacks of Marcus Mariota. The Titans QB threw for 254 yards but lost 52 of those back with sacks. The Titans gained a net total of 267 yards on the night.

The Patriots will host the winner of the Pittsburgh – Jacksonville game next week. Other observations include:

Brady Has His Way With LeBeau’s Defense Again: After the first two drives stalled without a pass to the running backs, the offense got it figured out and Brady picked apart the Titans defense by targeting the running backs, James White and Dion Lewis in the passing game where Tennessee had no answer.

The Titans were among the worst in the league defending backs in the passing game and it showed. Tennessee is stout against the run allowing an average of just 88 yards per game so Josh McDaniels and Brady eschewed the running game for the most part by throwing the ball short to the backs where they found great success.

While throwing to Dion Lewis out of the backfield, Brady was 9-10 for 79 yards. Overall he was 13-17 for 108 yards targeting the backs. White had a touchdown reception as well as running but also had a couple of drops. One on a wheel route was nearly a huge gainer but it bounced just off his fingertips.

Rob Gronkowski, despite being doubled most of the game caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

The Run Defense Put Derrick Henry on a Milk Carton: One of the big matchups entering the game was the Titans running game against the Pats defense which has struggled for much of the year. But like we saw down the stretch, the team has improved against the run and tonight, they shut down Henry who ran wild against KC a week ago.

Henry rushed for 28 yards on 12 carries, his longest run of the day was four yards. He was never a factor in the game and the Tennessee game plan of pounding the ball inside and keeping Brady off the field never materialized. Mariota had some nice, effective scrambles early but once Matt Patricia made his adjustments, the Titans running game was rendered ineffective. Overall they rushed 16 times for 65 yards while the Patriots rushed for 101 yards on 27 carries.

Amendola, Along with White and Lewis Were the “Little Big Men” for the Team:
The offense was clicking with the smaller players producing big-time. Amendola probably benefited the most from having White and Hogan back as with the different players in the lineup, and Tennessee opting to double cover Gronkowski, he had room to work underneath and if he can get his hand on the ball, he’s money.

Amendola is the subject of rumors every spring/summer that he’s on his way out and every year around playoff time, he reminds us all how valuable he is. Tonight was no exception. He made several catches of the difficult variety and is among Brady’s most trusted receivers with the game on the line.

The Patriots Pass Rush Continues to Improve: As the game went on, the pass rush kept getting better and better. The Pats pass rush notched eight sacks with them getting spread around. Deatrich Wise and Geneo Grissom each had two.

Others getting sacks were Trey Flowers, Adam Butler, Ricky Jean-Francois and Marquis Flowers. They were bringing the heat on Mariota and after the first few drives, he wasn’t able to scramble for yardage.

Stephon Gilmore didn’t give up a single catch during the game and had tremendous coverage all night. He made a nice diving pass breakup as well

This win has to be a big confidence builder for the team overall. The defense was supposed to be tested by the ground game of Henry and Mariota and they held up quite well. And to get after Mariota like they did with eight sacks? Off the charts.

Offensively, getting most of their missing pieces back was huge. The offense hasn’t looked this potent in weeks. Brady was cool, calm and collected, laser sharp and had a very impressive outing.

So…. We are on to the Conference Championship.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.

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

Steve Balestrieri
January 12, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots return from the bye week to take on the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the 2017 Playoffs. The game will be played at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, where if the team is successful this week, will be the place for the AFC Championship Game.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Saturday, January 13, at 8:15 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 (13-3) took care of business in Week 17 beating the Jets to end the season and had a much needed week off to heal up the many injuries that they have suffered this season.

The Titans (10-7) stormed back from a big 21-3 halftime deficit to stun the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round 22-21. The team rushed for 202 yards with Derrick Henry accounting for 156 of them. QB Marcus Mariota completed a TD pass….to himself in one of the crazier plays you’ll see.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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.

Series History:

The Patriots and Titans are meeting for the 42nd time going back to the old days of the AFL and when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. Overall the Patriots hold a 24-16-1 edge. The Patriots have won the last six meetings including a 2003 season Divisional Playoff win.

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 Titans Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Patriots running game was firing on all cylinders until Rex Burkhead and James White went down with injuries. However, Dion Lewis has been simply outstanding in the second half of the season. Lewis will get the lion’s share of the work in the running game, even if both of those backs return.

The Titans are very stout against the run allowing just 88 yards per game. It starts with the big men in the middle, Sylvester Williams, Jurrell Casey and Austin Johnson. They’re big and physical and will make the going tough.

Look for the Patriots to pass to set up the run. The Patriots have run for more yards in the red zone in 2017 than any other team in the league. When they get down low, they like to run Lewis inside and catch teams in a pass rushing situation.

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

The Patriots passing game should get Chris Hogan, James White and maybe ….Burkhead back this week which will be a huge boost for the passing game.

The Titans can get after the passer and have 43 sacks, they also have the biggest ball hawk in All-Pro Safety Kevin Byard, but the two areas that they struggle in are the two are the Patriots strengths, covering running backs in the passing game and covering tight ends. They’re going to have to bring pressure up the middle if they’re going to slow down this passing offense.

Look for the Patriots to target Gronkowski and the backs early and often in this one. With the big men up front, the Patriots may try to keep them in their base look and then go hurry up to wear those big men down. If Brady has his full complement of receivers this week, this offense should easily have its way with Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Next up the Titans offense:

Titans RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tennessee

The Titans have the big man, Derrick Henry at running back and Marcus Mariota, who is a dual threat to run or throw. They averaged just over 114 yards per game on the ground. Demarco Murray has already been ruled out of this one with an injury so it will be Henry. He gets better as the game goes on, so if the score is still close late in the game, that’s when he’s at his most effective.

The Patriots run defense has had major issues this season defending the run especially on the edge but they’ll be getting Alan Branch back inside and the addition of James Harrison should really pay dividends. That means Kyle Van Noy, who is also returning from injury can move inside where he’s more effective.

The Titans are a run-first team, but they’ll want to mix things up and keep New England off-balance. But will Henry influence the game enough to tip the scales for the Titans? He’ll get his yards but the Patriots have gotten better against the run down the stretch. Shutting down the Jets and Bills on the ground.

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

The Titans have 3rd year QB Mariota who had a great 2016 but slipped badly this year throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Tennessee has a talented group of receivers with Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and Corey Davis outside and Delanie Walker at tight end. Walker led the team with 74 catches for 807 yards and three scores.

The Patriots struggled horribly in September against the pass but since then, things have tightened up considerably. The Patriots on third down have the fourth best opponent passer rating of just 76.8. The corners and safeties have tightened things up. Look for Pat Chung to battle Walker which will be a key area to watch. Harrison may add a bit to the pass rush for the Patriots who got 42 sacks on the season. Mariota averaged just 199.4 yards per game passing this year. If the Patriots get off to a quick start, the big question is, can he throw enough to keep up?

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams are among the best in the NFL, they excel in punt and kick coverage and continuously turn in big plays. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen is very adept at pinning opponents inside the 20 and the team has perennial Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Titans punter Brett Kern led the league in punting average with 49.7 yards per punt and have Adoree Jackson on both their punt and kick return units.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Once again the key here from a Patriots perspective is to get off to a quick start. They haven’t been good at throwing the ball (23rd in the NFL) so they’re not going to be at their best if they have to throw and get away from the run.

With the Patriots getting most of their weapons back this week, look for Tom Brady to spread the wealth around and test this pass defense. Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz schemes are the same defenses that he ran in Pittsburgh. There is no mystery there for the Patriots or Brady. Will LeBeau mix things up and play more man coverage this week? That’s the big question here. If they sit back in a zone, the only chance they’ll have is if they get great pressure up the middle. Another key is ball security. With an offense that scores just about 20 points per game, the Pats can’t afford to give Mariota and the Titans offense short fields and easy scores. They have to feel pressure to score every time they get the ball in order to keep up.

Tennessee is at their best when the force the game into a physical slugfest where the score is a 17-14 type of game into the fourth quarter. Those are the games tailor-made for them to win. Mariota is a dual threat to run/pass but I don’t expect the Patriots to “spy” him with a linebacker. It will just come down to the players doing their job and the defensive ends not getting too far upfield.

Brady, Gronkowski, and Lewis will have big games this week and New England advances for the seventh straight year to the AFC Championship Game with a solid team victory as they pull away late.  Patriots 31-14

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.

Patriots  Week 17  Report Card, Patriots Down Jets 26-6

Steve Balestrieri
January 2, 2018 at 8:56 am ET

The Patriots took care of business, downing the Jets 26-6 as they should have and enter the playoffs as the #1 seed. Which means that as long as they keep winning, the AFC path to the Super Bowl goes thru Foxboro. Just as importantly, the Patriots appeared to come out of the game relatively unscathed physically, something that really important as their injury list looks like a starting lineup most weeks.

But the win wasn’t your garden variety Patriots victory, the team didn’t execute exceptionally well offensively and looked sluggish for most of the game. Of course, the number of missing players and the cold would have had plenty to do with that.

While it isn’t worthy of sounding the alarm bells, they’ll be the first to say, this isn’t the way they wanted to head into the bye week. Defensively, the team allowed just two field goals and as we all know, the Patriots won’t lose many games allowing just six points.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: C

Tom Brady didn’t have a sharp game completing just 18 of 37 for just 190 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. His game was off and the communication with the wide receivers was off as well. He identified a mismatch and launched a ball where Brandin Cooks should have had an easy touchdown. But Cooks inexplicably stopped running. In the red zone, Brady threw to the corner and no one ran there and was flagged for intentional grounding.

Several of his passes were off the mark. He threw badly behind Danny Amendola and was nearly picked off on another. He had Cooks on a deep cross but overthrew it on what appeared to be a touchdown.

But his receivers dropped several passes as well, Brady was going to attempt to throw a block on a Jet Sweep and at the last moment, thought better or it and to be gracious, he at least got in the way.

Running Backs: A-

Once again there was no James White, no Rex Burkhead, and no Mike Gillislee. No problem. Dion Lewis, the little big man was the team’s workhorse logging 32 touches as he was the star of the game offensively getting 93 yards on the ground and another 40 thru the air. Lewis scored twice, one rushing, one receiving and continuously made yards after contact.

Lewis channeled his inner Le’Veon Bell on Sunday with several stops behind the line of scrimmage to allow his blockers to gain an edge. That’s someone who’s seeing the field well and his patience paid off.

Brandon Bolden had nine carries and averaged better than five yards per rush but was not good in pass protection, getting pushed back time and again. James Develin was his usual solid self, although Brady overthrew him badly on the first series of the game.

Wide Receivers: C
The wide receivers were targeted 25 times on Sunday and they were not great overall. But they made up by constantly drawing third-down penalties on the Jets secondary. We mentioned above, Cooks stopped on what would have been a deep post-touchdown route. He also dropped an easy quick screen. But he finished with 5 catches for 79 yards which included a nice 37-yard sluggo route where he and Brady hooked up nicely and drew a couple of defensive penalties including a 40+ yarder which would have been another touchdown. He caught a five-yard touchdown pass.

Danny Amendola was the cause for Cooks TD being so wide open. He ran a shallow cross and dragged his defender with him, causing two Jets (the other covering Cooks) to collide, leaving Cooks all alone in the end zone. But he too made an uncharacteristic mistake, misreading a hot route where Brady threw to air on the sideline and Amendola went out and up. But his quick pass on a Jets blitz was a classic Amendola nice catch and run for 12 yards and a first down.

Phillip Dorsett was wide open on a deep crossing pattern and misjudged the ball, diving for it when it wasn’t necessary and dropped it. But he made a nice sliding/diving catch across the middle.

Tight Ends: Incomplete

Rob Gronkowski officially played in this game but wasn’t targeted once in the passing game. Now the alarmists are hitting the panic buttons all over New England, “Oh my gawd, if the farkin’ Jets can take away Gronk, we’re one and done in the playoffs!” To quote Aaron Rodgers… R-E-L-A-X.

Not taking anything away from the Jets game plan, where they planned on doubling him all game, but Gronks absence in the passing game was completely by design…by the Patriots coaches. Brady didn’t look to him once…not once. They let him go out there and block a bit in the running game and he ran some routes to stay sharp, but they essentially bubble-wrapped him for the playoffs.

Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister each had one target in the passing game. “O” stands for zero

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line’s play was a notch down from last week. They were only okay in the run blocking scheme this week. Lewis was hit too much at or behind the line of scrimmage, the Jets did a pretty good job of slowing things at the point of attack. Lewis by virtue of his elusiveness made more on his own than he should have.

The pass blocking wasn’t as crisp either. While we mentioned Bolden whiffing a few times on A-gap blitzes, it wasn’t all on him. The Jets for a team that struggled to get consistent pressure all season, had more than they should have against Brady.

Nate Solder and Cam Fleming didn’t have great days at tackle, allowing too many pressures coming off the edge.

Defensive Line: A-

It was a very good day for the Patriots defensive line. When was the last time that they stuffed Bilal Powell, who usually tortures them? Powell had 13 carries for 46 yards but 24 of them came on one play where Eric Lee got washed inside and Elandon Roberts took a bad angle. After that, Powell had 12 carries for 22 yards. Overall, the Jets carried 19 times for 40 yards which averages out to 2.1 yards per carry.

Malcom Brown had another very solid day inside, stuffing a few plays and being stout at the point of attack. Ditto for Lawrence Guy who has had a quietly solid season. Guy does the dirty work between the tackles and had a couple of run stuffs as well.

Eric Lee had a so-so day but got Bryce Petty for a sack and a safety in the fourth quarter.

Linebackers: B

Marquis Flowers was the main guy on the edge as although Kyle Van Noy returned to action, they only played him about 15 snaps, just to get the rust off. Flowers and Roberts were okay for the most part, but they both blew the coverage allowing a big gain to the tight end Sterling.

James Harrison made his debut and played between 25-30 snaps and looks far from done initially. He does a very good job of setting the edge and reacted well to a third-down pass underneath by tattooing Robby Anderson with a thunderous hit short of the sticks. That one fired up the other defensive players.

Late in the game, Matt Patricia let him get after Petty, early in the game he was on the field mainly in run support as he only had a few days of practice in which to acclimate to the Patriots defense. Once he did rush, he was impressive, getting two sacks and forcing a fumble. On his one sack, he showed a rip move that was pure power. A nice start for Harrison. If he can give them 25 or so plays like that every week, the coaches will be very happy.  

Secondary: B

Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore had kind of a bounce-back week. Kind of? Well, they were rarely targeted, as the Jets don’t have a prolific pass receiving core. They were most often seen in run support. But when your opponent, even if it is the Jets go 0-12 on third down, you’re doing well.

New York was targeting Jonathan Jones, who was beaten by ArDarius Stewart for a 46-yard bomb that was perfectly thrown by Petty. Devin McCourty was good but uncharacteristically missed an open field tackle. While Petty threw for 242 yards, the Jets scored six points and were (again) 0-12 on third down.

Special Teams: A+

Ryan Allen had easily his best game of the year. He put five punts inside the 20 and in the second half, he dropped three inside the five. Matthew Slater downed two of them. It was a fantastic day for him. The coverage units were fantastic as usual although the return game was only so-so.

Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs are something we regularly laud here and once again he was spot on. They were constantly pinning the Jets deep. The only downer was when Belichick (perhaps wisely) decided to punt rather than try a 52-yard field goal. Why? Because had he made it, Gostkowski would have led the league in scoring for the sixth time in his career. Currently, he’s in a three-way tie with five, the most ever

Coaches: B+

Bill Belichick was playing some Jedi mind tricks on the Jets psyche by placing some big thermometers right outside the Jets locker room to remind them how cold it was. While he was sending a subtle message to his team to ignore the elements by doing his normal walk-thru before the game in a t-shirt and shorts.

Belichick went against his normal self by winning the toss and taking the ball to start the game which proved smart. They went right down the field and scored before settling into the deep freeze for the majority of the game.

Josh McDaniels got creative with an offense missing several key players by calling a multitude of different things and they did enough to win.

Matt Patricia’s defense has made a remarkable turnaround despite also missing some key players for most of the season. Remember when fans were calling for his head after the first four games where the defense was being gashed? Now he’s being interviewed by numerous teams to be their head coach.

The Patriots allowed 128 points in their first four games. In their last 12, they’ve allowed 168. Think about that one…

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.

Patriots  Week 15  Report Card, Patriots Beat Steelers 27-24

Steve Balestrieri
December 19, 2017 at 9:00 am ET

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you start but how you finish. Although the Steelers controlled the vast majority of this game with their offense dominating in terms of time of possession, it never really carried over to the scoreboard. Even when the Patriots were down by 8 points in the second half, you never had the feeling that they were out of this game and they were still only down by a single score.

The one thing we know about this team is that they are a resilient bunch and that if you’re going to beat them, you need to play a full 60 minutes. Pittsburgh controlled the majority of the game, but the last few minutes belonged to Tom Brady and company. Followed by a wild and wacky finish where there was a long pass play, a disallowed touchdown and an interception to seal the deal, it was a satisfying win that not only clinched the AFC East but put the Patriots back in control of the AFC with two games to play. Perfect? Far from it. Satisfying? You bet and the coaches will take it.

So we’ll go thru the positions after rewatching the tape and see what the grades say this week.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady had a very good game considering the circumstances. His wide receiver corps was thinned even further with no Chris Hogan and then lost Rex Burkhead and James White during the game but he persevered.

Pittsburgh played much more man coverage in this game when they tried to sprinkle in some zone, Brady immediately hit Cooks with a 43-yard pass down the left side. They got good pressure on him all game long which made him uncomfortable in the pocket.

That pressure forced him into a bad interception in the third quarter with Vince Williams being the first Steeler to pick him in a dozen years. He nearly had another in the final two minutes on a tipped pass at the line.

But after that he was brilliant. Brady was 5-7 on throws of more than 20 yards in the air. So much for the dink-dunk myth or that his arm strength is failing. He realized that Pittsburgh still has no answer for Rob Gronkowski and they did what they always do to the Steeler secondary, they eviscerated it in the second half. On the key 4th and 1 play, Brady recognized the defense and signaled Gronkowski, who was one-on-one with Sean Davis. The result was an easy 10 yard gain, which led to a touchdown to Cooks.

Running Backs: C+

The Patriots didn’t run the ball very much in this one as they were mostly playing from behind this week. But when they did there was some hit and miss. Dion Lewis had 12 carries for 67 yards including the game-winning run from eight yards out that totally caught the Steelers off-guard after Gronk tortured them down the field. But he didn’t  seem to get enough work between the tackles.

Rex Burkhead went down with what looked like a serious knee injury but luckily that wasn’t the case. He had a nice touchdown run inside. James White went down during the game but was able to return.

What was surprising was how little production the backs had in the passing game. Lewis had one catch for 13 yards, White had two catches for eight although Brady overthrew him when he had a lot of open space and Burkhead had one catch for five. James Develin had an uncharacteristic drop but was mostly good in the running game opening up holes for the backs when they did run

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers weren’t a big factor in the game, part of that is on them, partly on the Pittsburgh secondary. Brandin Cooks had a 43-yard reception early and a nice touchdown in the back of the end zone but he ran a deep, double move pattern too close to the sideline. That allowed the defender to ride him out of bounds. That wiped out a huge gain on what was Brady’s best throw of the game.

Chris Hogan was out, Kenny Britt made an early contribution after just a few days on the team. He’ll be looked at more as the schedule plays out. Danny Amendola had just two catches on the day and Phillip Dorsett had just one. Not enough production

Tight Ends: A++

Rob Gronkowski came back from his one-week suspension and played like a man possessed, especially in the second half. Gronkowski finished with 9 catches for 168 yards, where 135 of them were after halftime. He was simply dominating the game.

Pittsburgh had no answer for him and they were simply outmatched by his strength and speed. It is one thing saying that you’re going to be physical with him, it is another thing entirely going out and doing it.

He owned the field on the final Patriots touchdown drive gaining 26 yards on back to back plays taking the Patriots from deep in their own end to the Steelers 25 yard line. Then showing incredible flexibility, (TB 12 Clinc?) he reached down to pluck a low Brady pass off the turf and rumbled for 17 more setting up Dion Lewis’ touchdown run. On that play, both he and Dwayne Allen put punishing blocks on the Steelers defensive line.

And he’ll still hear it in the film room, he dropped a touchdown that he’d normally make the catch on. But his overall play more than made up for that. As games go this was a dominating performance as you’ll see.

Offensive Line: B-

The offensive line had a mixed game, they were allowing too much pressure, once again Joe Thuney struggled, as did Shaq Mason in pass protection and they didn’t get the consistent push in the running game but it was good enough. As is the norm with them, when the chips were on the line, they held up really well. Nate Solder had one of his best games of the year. Did anyone hear T.J. Watt’s name once in the game? He’s been a disruptor for the Pittsburgh defense and Solder kept him far away from Brady all day. Nice bounce back type of game for Dante Scarnecchia’s crew after the Miami mess of a week ago.

Defensive Line: C

Trey Flowers was back and he made his presence felt getting some pressure in the passing game. But overall the pass rush is still an issue and it is a case of them “almost getting there” it seems. No Alan Branch this week and the Steelers ran at the interior early but the middle of the line, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Ricky Jean-Francois did a pretty good job of gumming up the middle. Where the Steelers ran very effectively was on the edge. Both Deatrich Wise and Eric Lee were consistently washed out or pushed inside and Le’Veon Bell was eating them up on the outside.

Lee missed a sack that he should have had against Roethlisberger, he’s not as mobile as he used to be and Lee should have made that. The team dropped Flowers into the flat on a few passing plays and he was abused by Bell.

Linebackers: D

This is an area to watch moving forward and a possible Achilles Heel in January, especially with no Kyle Van Noy. Elandon Roberts, David Harris, and Marquis Flowers had games that won’t be pretty in the film room this week.

They were consistently blown up in the running game by the Steelers offensive line who once they got to the second level owned them. Roberts flew up into the wrong gap and had a handful of air on Bell’s touchdown run and looked lost there. Harris, whose specialty is the run game, was blown up quite a few times, too many.

Coverage isn’t their strong suit which is why the Steelers were successful on those shallow crosses. Matt Patricia tried blitzing them and they had an o-fer. Every time they blitzed Roethlisberger made them pay going a perfect 6-6 for 80 yards and a score.Ugly day again for the linebackers.

Secondary: B-

The secondary had its problems with the Pittsburgh speedy group of wide receivers. Overall the Steelers were 10-16 on third down which is very good, but the team stopped them on their final three attempts. When they’re having that kind of success, the secondary has to bear a lot of the burden but it goes hand-in-hand with the pass rush as well. Rewatching the film, Roethlisberger had so much time, the receivers had time to shake themselves open.

Stephon Gilmore had a rough day with Martavis Bryant who was giving him trouble with his combination of size and speed. Malcolm Butler didn’t have to cover Antonio Brown for long as he was injured, but made a great play tackling Heyward-Bey inbounds on the Steelers final drive keeping the clock moving… under the radar great play.

Eric Rowe made the tip on the final interception that Duron Harmon picked off. Don’t pay attention to that knucklehead on the radio. Harmon is a money player who is always around the ball. Devin McCourty and Pat Chung were solid as always. Jordan Richards? What in the wide world of sports was that attempt on the JuJu Schuster-Smith catch and run? That was singularly awful and nearly cost them the game. That’s a tackle he has to make and to whiff like that? Inexcusable.

The secondary as a whole deserves high marks for not falling for the fake spike. Roethlisberger threw that into triple coverage, something that been lost in the shuffle among the hysterical fan/media outrage over the James drop in the end zone.

Special Teams: B-

Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point but that was because of a rare snap miscue by Joe Cardona. Ryan Allen had to adjust and didn’t have a good hold, it forced Gostkowski’s timing off and he shanked it.
Allen had a net 47 yards on his punts and Gostkowski’s kickoffs consistently put the Steelers deep, behind the 20-25 yard line. Other than the one miscue, they were fine, but it could have been costly. Matthew Slater had a great play on a sliding downing of an Allen punt pinning the Steelers deep.

Coaches: B

Bill Belichick always preaches situational football, that’s why the Patriots pull out so many of these close games and opponents fail. No one bit on the fake spike, and the Steelers were unprepared for the final few plays after the James score was overturned. That is something the Patriots never have to worry about. Josh McDaniels’ crew couldn’t convert third downs again in the first half, but once he locked in on the Brady-Gronk connection, he rode it. Matt Patricia’s beat up crew on defense couldn’t get off the field on third down. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but they got the final three third downs including the final pick.

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.

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

Steve Balestrieri
December 16, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots go back out on the road for their fifth game in the last six and their last in the 2017 regular season as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is still a hat and t-shirt game for the Patriots. With a win or a tie, the Patriots clinch the AFC East once again for the ninth straight time and the 17th since Robert Kraft took over the team in 1994.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. 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 (10-3) are coming off an ugly 27-20 loss to Miami on Monday night. The offense struggled all night long and the defense couldn’t stop Kenyan Drake either running or receiving. They’ll be looking for a bounce-back game.

The Steelers (11-2) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 31st time and the Steeler and Patriots are tied with 15 wins each. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 10-3 against the Steelers and have won the last four meetings including the 2016 AFC Championship Game  36-17 in Gillette Stadium last January.

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 Push

The Patriots running game was steadily gaining momentum with the duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead giving them big-play potential. The gained nearly 200 yards two weeks in a row against Miami and Buffalo before hitting the wall last week against the Dolphins and abandoning the running game too soon.

The Steelers run defense has been pretty good all season but in a short week after losing LB Ryan Shazier to a potential career-threatening injury, they were gashed by the Ravens for 152 yards while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Now they’ve had time to work out the kinks of replacing Shazier and this will be a key area to watch. If Lewis and Burkhead regain their game this week, it will go a long way in negating the Steelers pass rush and make their job of slowing down Tom Brady and Co. much, much harder. The key from a New England perspective is getting the running game going early and opening up the middle of the field.

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

The Patriots passing game is still tops in the NFL and this week they get Rob Gronkowski back from his one-game suspension. Chris Hogan returned from a shoulder injury last week but was ineffective last week. Ditto for Brandin Cooks. The versatility of the Patriots lies with the multiple running backs they can utilize in the passing game, Lewis, Burkhead and James White. And Danny Amendola does nothing but move the sticks every time he catches the ball.

Pittsburgh’s pass defense is the #4 unit in the league, while second in sacks with 41. They can get after the passer in a variety of ways with Cameron Heyward providing them with a career year with nine sacks, Vince Williams with seven and rookie T.J. Watt has six. The Steelers have only allowed an opposing QB to throw for more than 264 yards once (M.Stafford). The pressure on Brady will be the key for them… And will they change their defense from their zone to more of a man scheme?

We don’t have to repeat the stats Brady has against Pittsburgh, he’s had his way with them for 16 years. And with the Patriots offense, it is all about spreading the ball around. Gronkowski leads the team with 55 receptions, White and Cooks have 54 each while Amendola has 52. Hogan who missed four games has 34. While everything goes thru Gronkowski, for Brady it is about sharing the wealth. If he has time to throw.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Steelers running game is based on the incredibly patient Le’Veon Bell who has the vision and physical tools to wait for the slightest crack in the defense and then burst thru the hole. Bell not only leads the league in rushing with 1105 yards rushing, but has 75 catches for 579 yards. He carries a tremendous workload on his shoulders and behind a very good offensive line is a guy who can easily take over a game by himself.

The Patriots run defense has suffered all season. Injuries have piled up both on the edge and inside, the latest with Alan Branch who will miss Sunday’s game is a big blow for a Patriots unit that has struggled to stand up inside.

This matchup is a clear, big advantage for the Steelers. Bell can control the game either on the ground or in the passing game and the Patriots will be hard pressed to keep him in check this week. If he consistently can grind out big gains on 1st and 2nd down, it will make the potent Pittsburgh air attack more deadly.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a plethora of weapons, arguably the best he’s ever had in a Steelers uniform to use in the passing game. Antonio Brown easily leads the NFL with 99 catches for 1509 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown is another guy that can take over a game and he had 213 yards against the Ravens last Sunday night. Roethlisberger uses Bell out of the backfield, Jesse James at the tight end position as well as JuJu Smith Schuster, Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers. They’re heating up at just the right time of the year.

The Patriots pass defense has undergone a transformation in the past seven games. Since a horrible start in September, the New England pass defense in the last seven is allowing an average of 193.1 yards per game. The secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones at corner have really picked up their game. And they’ll need to against this Pittsburgh talented group of receivers.

Obviously, the keys from a New England perspective is how well they can slow down Brown and Bell, they won’t stop them. Even in games where the Patriots have won comfortably, have got their yards. The key is getting a few stops in the red zone. They’ll have to manufacture some pass rush pressure on Roethlisberger who has been sacked just 19 times this season. And force him into getting rid of the ball before he can find one of his receivers downfield.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski, and the Steelers’ Chris Boswell are both having outstanding seasons. Both have been money on big kicks from long range. What has made Gostkowski so special this season are his kickoffs, which are pinning teams deep.  The Patriots’ outstanding coverage units are smothering the opposition. They’ve also gotten some big plays from Special Teams. The Steelers units rank lower to the bottom of the league in punt and kick returns. The Patriots could use a big play on Special Teams this week on the road.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers instant classic. With the top seed of the AFC on the line, whoever wins this one will have the inside track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Pittsburgh has been openly clamoring for this one since March and have proclaimed themselves to be “a team of destiny.” Coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t shied away from it either saying the Steelers should win the Super Bowl.

The contrast is, of course, Bill Belichick, while the Patriots know what is at stake, he never lets the team’s focus get too far ahead. To them, this week is a big game, obviously but they say that about every week.

Everything is breaking right for the Steelers, they’re hitting their peak at just the right time and get a Patriots team that is banged up with 13 players on IR and 10 more questionable to play on Sunday. Plus they get it at home where they have a better home record in the last decade-plus than anyone…except New England.

A lot has been made about the changes to the Steelers defense, but until they show those changes on the field, Brady’s dominance over them for the past 16 years is the driving factor here. It will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Patriots 30-28

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.

New England Patriots News 12-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 12-10, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are playing in their first Hat and T-shirt game of 2017 on Monday Night Football. Any scenario of a Bills loss/tie or a Patriots win/tie guarantees them the AFC East crown for the ninth year in a row. We know that they set their sights much higher, but it all begins with winning the division. And they’ve been remarkably consistent in the Bill Belichick era at doing just that.

Tom Brady began his Saturday presser with an apology to Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, saying that it had bothered him all week after his outburst early in the game in Buffalo last week. “I’ve been feeling bad all week and haven’t had a chance to say it. He knows how much I love him.” Brady said.

Chris Hogan Could Return This Week:
The Patriots could really use the return of Chris Hogan this week as they head down to Miami today without Rob Gronkowski who is suspended for this game. Hogan practiced, albeit in a limited capacity this week, but his return would be a shot in the arm for the Patriots passing game.

Both Malcolm Mitchell and Vincent Valentine have been spotted in the locker room this week. The Patriots only have one IR slot for a player to return remaining, so it may be one or the other depending on what the team needs are. Mitchell was a nice target in the red zone down the stretch last season. If he’s ready to go, he could be a nice addition to the offense.

Nate Solder, A Worthy Choice for the Team’s Walter Payton Award :
With the Patriots, as most of the NFL teams do, the players have to make so many appearances in the community as part of their contracts to give back. But many of the players go far beyond the minimum as they embrace their role in the community.

One player who has been out in the community a lot has been left tackle Nate Solder. Solder and his wife have been very active in supporting hospitals that deal with childhood cancer. His own 2-year-old son Hudson is undergoing treatment for his second go-round with cancer treatments after previously been in remission. Solder was the Patriots’ team choice to represent them in the NFL Walter Payton Award that recognizes a player’s strong play on the field with his involvement with the community off the gridiron.  Bill Belichick was asked about Solder last week before the Bills game and had this to say:

“Nate has a lot of maturity and discipline and physical and mental toughness to do what he does day after day, week after week. We have a lot of respect for him, Lexi, Hudson and the entire family.”

McDaniels, Caserio At the top of the List for the GIants Potential Fits::
Whenever there is a turn over in a head coaching or General Manager position, the Patriots’ Nick Caserio, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Patricia are always names that seem to come up at the top of lists. And once the Giants announced that they’d fired both their coach and GM, that got the tongues wagging once again.

Caserio and McDaniels both would be great fits in New York with the G-men. If there is someone who could light a fire out of that offense and get those players pulling in the same direction it is McDaniels. And Caserio is about as solid as a GM candidate as there is.

One has to wonder if the Giants are interested in them and with the current regime with Bill Belichick and his feelings known about the Mara family, he’d support the move there if it came down to it. It would be a tremendous loss for the team but Belichick would understand that the men were looking for the next big step in their career progression and being in New York with the Giants is big time.

“They Know Who He is Now”, Eric Lee Making An Impact:
The Patriots plucked DE Eric Lee off of the Buffalo Bills practice squad just a few weeks ago and the young player has certainly made an impact in his first two NFL games. After just a few days of practice, he played in about 40 percent of the snaps against the Dolphins, mostly in the second half and notched his first NFL sack. Last week against the Bills with Trey Flowers out, Lee was pressed into a lot of snaps [85 %] and the rookie made some major impact right away on the first drive of the game.

Although the Bills were running at him early, on that first drive of the game, once they got down in the red zone, Lee dropped into the throwing lane and intercepted Tyrod Taylor to snuff out the Bills’ scoring chance and he added 1.5 sacks, a couple QB hits and a tackle for a loss. His good, far outweighed the bad. And the rookie has now caught the eye of his fellow players as well as the coaches.

During the telecast last week, Tony Romo told the funny story how Lee in his first game, made a play and on the Patriots bench Tom Brady and Danny Amendola were talking and didn’t know who Lee was. Amendola said, “Eric Lee? Who is that? Wait, he’s on our team?”

“Brady looked at Amendola and says, ‘Who is Eric Lee?”  Romo added on the telecast that “They know who he is now.”

Who Do You Like This Week NFL Week 14:
Last week 12-4 mark. Season Total: 125-67.

This week’s Thursday games I went with New Orleans (0-1) over Atlanta. Now for the rest of the slate:
Colts at Bills – Buffalo
Cowboys at Giants – Dallas
Lions at Buccaneers  – Detroit
Raiders at Chiefs – Oakland
49ers at Texans  – Houston
Packers at Browns – Green Bay
Bears at Bengals – Cincy
Vikings at Panthers – Minnesota
Redskins at Chargers – Los Angeles
Jets at Broncos – New York
Titans at Cardinals – Tennessee
Eagles at Rams – Philadelphia
Seahawks at Jaguars – Jax
SNF Ravens at Steelers – Pittsburgh
MNF Patriots at Dolphins – New England
Next Thursday Denver over the Indy:

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Taylor’s Status a Game-time Decision for the Bills:

The Buffalo Bills enter today’s game against the Colts with more uncertainty at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor, who injured his knee against the Patriots last week is officially a game-time decision on whether or not he can go and if he can’t Nathan Peterman may get his second NFL start.

Taylor was just a limited participant all week and although he’s had plenty of snaps of practice in the past, it may just be that he’s not physically capable of playing this week. Peterman threw five interceptions in his only start against the Chargers and then played late in the game last week against the Patriots after Taylor left the game.

If Peterman does get the call, his coach, Sean McDermott praised the rookie’s poise and control and stated that he is very steady for such a young player.

Dolphins’s Gase and Cutler talk about facing New England:

The Miami Dolphins face the Patriots for the second time in just three weeks on MNF  and Miami coach Adam Gates was asked about the Patriots pass rush.

“They’re a little bit more difficult than people give them credit for. There’s a reason why they haven’t let up more than 17 points since about the fourth week of the season,” Gase said.

“They force you to get the ball out quick. We had a couple of protection errors. That really put Matt [Moore] in a bad spot where a few times he thought he was good and all of a sudden somebody came free in his face, whether it was oline, running back, tight end – we all took our turns – play calling. There were a couple of those in there where I didn’t really give him a good chance and kind of put him in a bad spot. We’ve just got to do a better job of making sure that we handle that up front. They make it difficult because those guys, they do a good job game planning. They find your weakness and they try to maximize using the information they have.

QB Jay Cutler was asked about facing the Patriots defense and had this to say:
“I think it’s the whole team in general. It’s a very, very smart team. [They are] situationally aware. They do things the right way. I think they tackle well on defense.”

 

He added, “Their assignments are on point. I think he’s [Bill Belichick] notoriously taken away your number one receiver. He makes you get to two and three. (He) makes you do things that are maybe a little bit out of your comfort zone. I think they do a really good job of keeping things in front of them, making offenses go the long road – three, four or five first downs – to score. We’ve just got to figure it out.

Jets Now Have a Nice WR Tandem in Kearse, Anderson :

The New York Jets haven’t followed the script this season. They were supposed to be a team that may go winless, but this scrappy bunch of players from Coach Todd Bowles have ignored the noise and have been in nearly every game this season while going a respectable 5-7.

The Jets have found their wide receivers for QB Josh McCown in Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson and the duo have both gone over 100 yards in the past two games. They now face the Denver Broncos defense which will be a big test for the pair on Sunday. Anderson leads the Jets with 871 yards receiving and Kearse has set a career high in catches with 51 for Gang Green in 2017.Both were undrafted free agents.

If the Jets are to beat Denver today, they’ll need both Kearse and Anderson to step up their game. Anderson was undrafted out of Temple and had some off the field issues plague him in college. Kearse’s time in the 40 during the Combine caused his stock to fall but carved out a solid role with the Seahawks. The Patriots will see this duo in Foxboro in a few weeks.

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

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

Patriots – Dolphins MNF Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2017 at 12:10 pm ET

The Patriots go back out on the road for their fourth game in the last five as they take on the Miami Dolphins in South Florida on Monday Night Football. This is a hat and t-shirt game for the Patriots. With a win or a tie, the Patriots clinch the AFC East once again for the ninth straight time and the 17th since Robert Kraft took over the team in 1994.

This week’s game will be broadcast by ESPN on Monday, December 11 at 8:30 p.m. and can be seen on WCVB, Channel 5 in Boston. Sean McDonough will handle play-by-play duties with Jon Gruden as the color analyst. Lisa Salters 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 (10-2) are coming off a 23-3 blowout win over the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. The running game ran for nearly 200 yards while the defense for the eighth game in a row allowed 17 points or less.The Patriots secondary held Buffalo to just 82 yards passing

The Dolphins (5-7) are coming off of a 35-9 blowout win over Denver. The team snapped a five-game losing streak and are looking to get some consistency.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 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.

Series History:

The Patriots and Dolphins are meeting for the 105th time overall with Miami holding a 53-51 lead all-time in the teams’ rivalry. However, the Patriots have won 12 of the last 15 meetings including the lone from two weeks ago where the Patriots rolled 35-17 behind 196 yards on the ground.

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 has been steadily improving behind the tandem of Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. Two weeks ago against Miami, Lewis ran for 112 yards on 15 carries. They controlled the clock, the tempo and the line of scrimmage./

Miami has issues with the run with DE Andre Branch and DT Jordan Phillips having problems in the running game. If the Patriots see these two on the same side, look for them to run right at them. While they may not roll up 200 yards on the ground again, they should still find plenty of room to be more than a complimentary piece.

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

The Patriots passing game is averaging 292 yards per game, tops in the NFL. Tom Brady however, won’t have his top receiver, Rob Gronkowski in the game as he’ll be serving a one-game suspension. But…the team may get back Chris Hogan this week. He’s been at practice all week and if he’s able to go would signal a huge boost in the Patriots passing game outside the numbers.

Miami got after Brady with very good pressure from everyone across the defensive line in the first matchup. They’ll need an effort like that again because their best corner  Cordrea Tankersley could miss this week with ankle and knee woes. Without Gronkowski look for Brady to spread them out and try to use their quickness all over the field. They’ll try to get Brandin Cooks the ball in space and Hogan (if he plays) may get the chance to go deep on a few plays down the field. The backs will again be a major factor in both the running and passing games.

Next up the Dolphins offense:

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

The Dolphins running game hasn’t been the same since they traded the freelancing Jay Ajayi to the Eagles. The carries have been shared between Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, but Williams is dealing with a shoulder issue and may not go.

The Patriots run defense has not been good and was gashed pretty well by the Bills last week although the return of Malcom Brown should help things. But will the Dolphins have the depth to force enough leverage there? The feeling here is no especially if they find themselves falling behind again.

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

Miami will have Jay Cutler back under center this week. He’s a different player than Matt Moore, so we’ll probably see some more shots down the field. Jarvis Landry had eight catches for 70 yards in the first one and he, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker with tight end Julius Thomas should be much more productive than they are.

The Patriots pass defense is playing tremendous right now. It is a possibility that we’ll see some of Eric Rowe on Landry this week as he has a bit of size, although Jonathan Jones matched up well with Landry in the first meeting.

Look for the Patriots to be much more aggressive against this beatable Miami offensive line again. They teed off in the second half and got six sacks. Cutler isn’t mobile and the Patriots may call down the dogs this week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski is having an outstanding season. His kickoffs are pinning teams deep and the outstanding coverage units are smothering the opposition. The Dolphins have solid kickers but aren’t generating anything in the return game. The Patriots Special Teams has been scoring points, blocking kicks, and last time ran a fake punt for a big first down that set up a touchdown.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a divisional matchup on Monday Night so, as we’ve seen all season, anything can happen. But unless the Patriots implode, I can’t see the Dolphins beating New England this week. However, the Patriots have traditionally not played well in the heat of Miami. It does help that this one is at night so that shouldn’t be a big factor.

Having No Rob Gronkowski is a big blow for the Patriots offense but if Chris Hogan is able to come back and play this week it will be a nice boost to the outside passing game. Look for the running game to continue their solid play and Brady to spread the Dolphins defense out. Miami may run the ball effectively, but I don’t see Cutler having a good night against the secondary. New England heads to Pittsburgh 11-2 setting up a big game next week.  Patriots 30-13

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.

Patriots  Week 13  Report Card, Patriots Pummel the Bills 23-3

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots took care of business in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon using a running game that gashed the Bills for nearly 200 yards behind Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead and the defense which held the Bills woeful passing game to just 85 net yards and three points.

Rob Gronkowski had nine catches for 147 yards and was uncoverable. He also committed a stupid, flagrant cheap shot after the whistle in the fourth quarter that will cost him. If he serves his one-game suspension, he’ll probably miss out on the final of his bonus incentives in his contract which will be expensive.

Simply put, the Patriots outplayed and outcoached the Bills again. Brady improved his record to a ridiculous 27-3 against the Bills and the team clinched a virtual tie for the division. Any Buffalo loss or New England win in the next month clinches the division again for the Patriots. Every spring and early summer we hear the “will this be the year that the Patriots are dethroned in the AFC East?” and this season, even after a slow start, it is essentially wrapped up with four games to go.

With the win, they improve to 10-2, and more importantly, they keep the pressure on the Steelers who will have to win against Cincinnati later tonight to keep pace as the top team in the AFC.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B-

Tom Brady wasn’t sharp, especially in the first half but he and the team heated up in the third quarter and they scored on two impressive drives and put this one away early. Brady ended up with pedestrian numbers (for him), 21-30, 258 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception. The pick was the play that Rob Gronkowski was flagged and suspended for and should have been a penalty (two actually) on TreDavious White.

But Brady missed a wide-open Phillip Dorsett on a deep incompletion to Brandin Cooks, which ignited a mini-brouhaha with Josh McDaniels, but he made a couple of really nice throws to Gronkowski. Brady also slides in the pocket and steps up better than anyone in the business. He has the innate ability to feel the rush and when to step up and slide left or right.

Running Backs: A

The Patriots two-headed monster of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead gashed the Bills defense badly. A week after holding the Chiefs to less than 60 yards on the ground, the Patriots ran for nearly 200 yards.

Burkhead ran 12 times for 78 yards with two scores and added three catches for 25 yards in the passing game. Lewis ran 15 times for 92 yards. Each broke a long gainer as the running game and the Bills were powerless to stop them.

James Develin and James White both were pressed into support status this week but each played a role and the Patriots running game is getting better and better each week. White had five carries for 18 yards and four catches for 32 more. Not bad production for the third man in the rotation this week.

Wide Receivers: C-

The wide receivers this week were a non-factor in the game. Buffalo’s secondary did a great job of bottling them up and taking away the deep chunks and the sideline routes of the wide receivers.

Brandin Cooks had just receptions for 17 yards, Danny Amendola had just two catches for 34 yards. Dorsett wasn’t targeted, however, he was wide open for that big gain where Brady missed him all alone down the left sideline.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski once again tortured the Bills defense in Buffalo. He caught fire in the second half and they don’t have anyone that can match up with him. He caught nine passes for 147 yards despite being held and hit downfield on seemingly every snap. But what followed after the pick was inexcusable.

We get that the frustration of seven years is taking its toll on the big guy, but he frankly has to be smarter than that. And while part of the blame has to fall to the referees who let every team clutch and grab Gronkowski on every down, while if he breathes on an opponent an OPI flag is thrown, it doesn’t excuse what he did…at all. Nuff said.

Dwayne Allen had one catch for three yards but has really improved in his run blocking and provided good support in the running game. Jacob Hollister had one target in the passing game and plays a regular role on Special Teams.

Offensive Line: B

The offensive line was missing right tackle Marcus Cannon again as well as swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle and had Cameron Fleming in there this week. Center David Andrews returned this week. The pass protection was a bit iffy this week again. Buffalo, who came in with just 17 sacks, had three on the day and was getting good pressure on Brady.

The running game was clicking again. The Patriots offensive line was winning the battles there and opened up big holes for the backs to exploit. They were getting to the second level and keeping the linebackers off the runners.  

Defensive Line: B

It was a mixed bag for the offensive line who gave up a whopping 183 yards to LeSean McCoy, Tyrod Taylor et al. but it seemed every time they needed a big stop they were getting it. McCoy had just 30 yards in the second half. And the Bills ended up with a total of three points in their own building. The pass rush was once again very good, the Patriots were getting a good push from everywhere. Malcom Brown had a really solid day in his return from injury with a sack, a pair of quarterback hits and a couple of run stuffs.

Eric Lee was victimized a little bit early in the running game, but he ended up having a big day, with an interception inside the red zone, 1.5 sacks, 3 QB hits, a tackle for a loss and two passes defensed. His interception was set up with nice pressure from Alan Branch who pushed his man into Taylor, possibly effecting the throw

Linebackers: B-

Kyle Van Noy who injured his calf in the game against Miami, seeming re-aggravated it in the third quarter and didn’t return. He did have a half sack, a QB hit, and a pass defensed. Elandon Roberts and David Harris had some issues in run support this week, as they got washed out on a few of the Bills running plays.  They struggled a bit in pass coverage as well. Harris had some good pass rushes in the interior and had 1.5 sacks and a QB hit.

Secondary: A

Stephon Gilmore had an outstanding day again. The Bills tried to attack him in his return to Buffalo this week. It failed miserably. Gilmore blanketed Zay Jones all day. Overall the Patriots secondary was outstanding. Buffalo had just 115 yards passing with a net of 85 and 3.4 yard per pass average. The Bills longest play of the day thru the air was 14 yards. Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman, and Joe Webb were a combined 15 -34 for 115 yards.

The Patriots secondary had their best game of the year. And the good news was that they got Eric Rowe back in the lineup after missing seven weeks with a groin injury. Rowe shook off the rust and had a pass defensed.

Special Teams: B

There wasn’t a heckuva lot to complain about here. Stephen Gostkowski is on a roll, he kicked all three field goal attempts despite having the wind be a factor in the kicking game. His kickoffs and the resultant excellent coverage by the Special Teams units kept Buffalo deep in their zone all day.

Newly signed Bernard Reedy returned one punt for 11 yards and Geneo Grissom replaced Nate Ebner on the STs roster. For a unit short Ebner, Trevor Reilly and Matthew Slater, they didn’t miss a beat.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick raked Sean McDermott over the coals in their first AFC East meeting on Sunday afternoon. McDermott didn’t come off remotely ready to challenge the Patriots for the division and when they needed to come up with an answer, they chose the Wildcat. That’s how you’re going to beat Belichick and the Patriots? By running the Wildcat? The team was focused, ready to go and had a good game plan that was effectively put into operation.

Josh McDaniels stayed patient with the running the football, and they took what was there. Matt Patricia’s unit gets high marks on Sunday. Buffalo’s best drive was their first one, and they came away with zero points.Overall very good marks for the Patriots. We’re on to Miami.

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.