New England Patriots: The Clock Is Ticking

Greg Hardy’s Suspension Reduced

Arbitrator Harold Henderson has upheld Greg Hardy’s suspension for conduct detrimental to the league, but has reduced the ban from 10 to 4 games as announced Friday by the NFL.

Could the reduction in the Greg Hardy appeal have an impact on Brady’s appeal? It should, but until we hear from King Roger Goodell we won’t know for sure, however things are about to come to a head again. In an interview on Thursday (July 8) it was reported by sources that the NFL commissioner told CNBC a decision on Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension “is coming soon,” possibly as early as next week.

In the beginning…

On January 18, 2015 the world changed in the NFL and the clock is still ticking.  For this first time in NFL history an investigation into the air pressure (PSI) of the footballs used in an NFL game was opened (now referred to as “deflate-gate”).  At first everyone scoffed at the thought of this being anything but a farce. However, it quickly got legs (reporter talk) and became a national news story, far exceeding anyone’s expectations.

The original investigation took over four months before the Well’s Report was released and fines/suspensions were handed out.  Patriot’s fans were aghast, while others were crying hang ’em high. A $1M fine and a 1st round draft pick for the Patriots (who, by the way, were exonerated in the report) and an astounding four game suspension for QB Tom Brady.

In the four months it took for the report to be released a lot happened in the world. As training camp approaches, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is still pondering the ultimate fate of Brady. The original decision to suspend him for four games was arrived at when Ted Wells concluded Brady “was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities”

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Educational Part Of This Article

While we wait, here’s a quick glance at some things you may not know or chose to ignore which occurred while the investigation was under way.  If you honestly remember all 14 you are ready to join Mensa.

February

    • The Patriots, despite all the distractions, won one (try saying that fast five times) of the most exciting Super Bowls in history, 28-24, when unknown rookie Malcolm Butler made a goal line interception with just seconds left on the clock.

Malcolm Butler makes the play courtesy of USAToday Photo courtesy of USAToday.com

  • Dean Smith, former UNC head coach, passed away at 83
  • Researchers developed a robot that could help the US Navy battle shipboard fires
  • Facebook allowed users to bequeath control of their accounts to loved ones when they die (yep, you can now do that…but why?)

…and, after over a month, the NFL investigation continued as the Patriots were left dangling while wild rumors, many inaccurate, spread from “unidentified” sources

March

  • Former CIA Director David Petraeus pled guilty to mishandling classified information (now that’s a crime)
  • The Justice Department formally closed its investigation of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. That investigation took 9 months.
  • Apple’s hotly-anticipated smartwatch made it’s debut
  • Kentucky became the first major college basketball team to finish the regular season unbeaten since Indiana in 1976
  • The NFL filed suit seeking evidence gathered against Greg Hardy, the former Carolina Panther defensive end, in a domestic-abuse case. Over three months ago arbitrator Harold Henderson spent almost seven hours hearing evidence and arguments over the NFL’s decision for a 10-game suspension. Henderson ruled today (June 10) that Hardy was guilty…but reduced his suspension from 10 games to 4.

...with over two months of investigation into the deflation of footballs, the NFL still has nothing to report

April

  • Former NE Patriot Tight End Aaron Hernandez was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for his conviction of first-degree murder
  • The Boston Bruins fired general manager Peter Chiarelli four days after the team missed the playoffs
  • Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted on all 30 charges for the attack on the 2013 Boston Marathon

…oh yeah, and, by the way, still nothing new from the NFL

May

    • John Forbes Nash Jr., the Princeton University mathematician whose life story was the subject of the film “A Beautiful Mind,” and his wife of nearly 60 years died in a taxi crash on the New Jersey Turnpike,
    • GiGi Gordon was sentenced to 18 years in prison for manslaughter, after she claimed she murdered her child to prevent him from being sexually tortured (makes sense to me!)

After over 4 months of analyzing information, the Well’s Report was published. It concluded that, although there was no hard evidence, it was more likely than not Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady “was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities” by two team employees that resulted in balls being deflated in January’s AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.

I don’t think anyone can believe that after four months (since) the AFC championship game, we are still talking about air pressure and the psi in footballs,” Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft stated. “I have two options: I can try and end it, or I can extend it.” After an “emotionally charged couple of weeks,” He decided to reluctantly accept the penalties.

June

Brady & Goodell hug after TB is awarded the Super Bowl MVP award (Photo courtesy of  Jamie Squire / Getty Images
Brady & Goodell hug after TB is awarded the Super Bowl MVP award (Photo courtesy of Jamie Squire / Getty Images

On June 23 Brady met with Commissioner Goodell for the 1st time since being awarded the Super Bowl MVP trophy and this time they weren’t hugging. The meeting lasted almost 10 hours as his appeal was heard. King Goodell (I have promoted him to that rank, but am reviewing that decision) had already ruled that he could make an unbiased decision on whether his previous ruling had been fair and just. That is what is commonly referred to as “both judge, jury and executioner” on his own competency. He is now boxed in and any decision he makes will open even more arguments.

July

So, we now stand-by for his final “unbiased, fair & impartial” ruling as the arbitrator on Brady’s appeal. It’s been almost six months since this fiasco started and we may still be a long way from it’s conclusion. It’s hard to believe Brady would get the same punishment for a feeling he knew about footballs being deflated as Greg Hardy is now getting for a much more serious offense.  The big difference between the Hardy case and Brady’s is a legitimate arbitrator (Not Goodell) ruled, while Goodell is reviewing his own decision on Brady’s appeal.

Judge-Jury-Executioner
Judge-Jury-Executioner

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Patriots: A Look Back to See Where Belichick may be Going With The Patriots Secondary Moving Forward

Before last year with Darrelle Revis and the early 2000s with Ty Law the Patriots pass defense has tended to struggle and lacked a true shutdown corner. With Revis leaving New England and returning to the New York Jets the Patriots may again go into the 2015 season without a shutdown corner. Last season, New England ranked 17th in pass defense but the numbers didn’t really show how good and effective the Patriots secondary and defense as a whole was in 2015, with the Patriots often leading early in games and by a good margin teams were forced to throw the ball the whole game. Lets take a look at the Patriots pass defense throughout the Belichick era both with and without a shutdown corner and what we could expect to see out of this years defense.

In Belichick’s first year as coach the team ranked 21st in pass defense allowing 220 passing yards per game. The league wasn’t as big of a passing league at the time compared to how it is now. The secondary was lead by cornerback Ty Law and safety Lawyer Milloy who each led the team in interceptions with two a piece during the teams disappointing 5-11 season. The team also ranked 21st in rush defense, which is a compelling reason why the team finished at 5-11 with a poor pass and rush defense.

The following season is one all pats fans will remember, the year the franchise won its first Super Bowl championship, the year our franchise quarterback took the realms and the dynasty in New England started. That year the Patriots ranked 24th in pass defense but allowed less yards per game than it did the year before allowing 218 yards per game. Again, the league was more run oriented compared to the way the NFL is today. The team was again lead in the secondary by Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy and despite the low ranking in pass defense allowed less yards than the year before and had 22 interceptions as a team, returning 5 for touchdowns. The high interception total showed how with a top safety and corner the team was able to be more aggressive in play making.

image from boston.sportsthenandnow.com
image from boston.sportsthenandnow.com

The Patriots suffered a Super Bowl hangover in the 2002 season missing the playoffs for one of the three times in the Belichick era. Despite not making the playoffs the teams pass defense increased tremendously improving to the 11th ranked pass defense in the league allowing 198 yards per game. Where the Patriots increased in pass defense they decreased in rush defense ranking 31st in the league allowing 137 yards per game.

The Patriots secondary had a new look to it in the 2003 season compared to the seasons before. Veteran safety Rodney Harrison and cornerback Tyrone Poole both signed with the team in the offseason, drafting safety Eugene Wilson in the second round, cornerback Asante Samuel in the 4th round and releasing veteran safety Lawyer Milloy prior to the start of the season. Milloy signed with division rival Buffalo Bills and started off the year by beating the Patriots 31-0, which I’m sure made the Patriots question their decision to release Milloy. The team ended up ranking 15th in pass defense at the end of the year allowing 202 yards per game. The teams run defense had a huge improvement from the year ranking 4th in rushing yards allowing only 86 yards per game. Behind the teams strong defense the team went on to win their second Super Bowl in three years.

2004 was a tough season for the Patriots secondary suffering many injuries, which forced wide receiver Troy Brown to the defensive side of the ball to play corner. Brown played well and better than I and I’m sure most people expected and was the model of the “Patriot Way”, doing anything you can to win. Brown ended up finishing tied second on the team in interceptions with 3, with his first coming against former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The only member of the secondary to play in all 16 regular season games was safety Rodney Harrison. The team ranked 17th in pass defense allowing 212 yards per game despite all the injuries and went on to win their third Super Bowl ring in four years and started the Patriots dynasty.

image from gettyimages.com
image from gettyimages.com

Veteran cornerback Ty Law left the team in free agency, which made the Patriots bolster a new look secondary for the 2005 season without Law. Without Law the teams secondary struggled ranking 31st in the league in pass defense allowing 231 yards per game. The teams rush defense also struggled in 2005 ranking 25th in run defense. With Law leaving in free agency the Patriots struggled with not having a true shutdown corner despite Asante Samuel playing well and molding into a future number one corner.

After the defensive struggle in 2005, the team improved in both pass and rush defense ranking 12th in pass defense and 5th in run defense in 2006. The defense was led by corner Asante Samuel who had 10 interceptions on the year and became a dangerous threat for opposing quarterbacks to throw at and taking away one side of the field. Injuries again hit the Patriots secondary in the 2006 season with a variety of injuries to multiple members of the defense.

image via boston.com
image via boston.com

The Patriots had their famous 16-0 Regular Season and rewriting the whole record book while doing so. With Tom Brady and the offense setting new records every week and gaining the majority of the attention, the Patriots defense had one of if not their best defense statistically in the Belichick era. The team ranked 6th in passing allowing 190 yards per game and the run defense ranking 10th allowing 98 yards per game. Harrison and Samuel were again leaders of the New England secondary. Sadly what this team will be remembered for will be for falling just short of the perfect season with their only loss coming against the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. As well as the defense played all year they struggled in the Super Bowl against the Giants. The defense as a whole struggled and the offense didn’t play as well as they did all year long. If it also wasn’t for a miracle helmet catch by Giants receiver David Tyree the Patriots may have ended up winning the Super Bowl and completing the “perfect season”.

Harrison-Field-goal-separates-Pats-Giants-3FU6834-x-large

Coming off a devastating loss in the Super Bowl the Patriots were looking to return and were the early season favorites to win the Super Bowl in 2008. Then quarterback Tom Brady went down in the first quarter of week 1 with a torn ACL and MCL. The offense was now set to look different without their MVP quarterback. In free agency that year cornerback Asante Samuel left New England to join the Philadelphia Eagles. Safety Rodney Harrison only played in 6 games before being injured and out for the year. The defense was now led by rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo and 2nd year safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerbacks Deltha O’Neil (who was terrible at this point in his career), the inconsistent Ellis Hobbs and Jonathan Wilhite. With all the injuries and lack of a true number one corner the Patriots defense was better than ultimately expected. The defense ranked 11th in passing allowing 201 yards per game and 15th in defense allowing 107 yards per game. Even with the multitude of injuries on both side of the ball the team still finished at 10-6 but missed the playoffs after the Jets lost in week 17 to the Dolphins, which sent Miami to the playoffs. This helped show how great of a coach Bill Belichick is, doing as good as he did with the amount of injuries the team had and after losing arguably its best defensive player in free agency and still play well.

Veterans Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison retired prior to the 2009 season, which left New England with a loss of leadership and two key members of the teams defense, as well as trading star defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders. The team was also playing with Leigh Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite and Shawn Springs at cornerback, which is not very good to say the least. Wilhite struggled since the time he was drafted and Springs and Bodden were older veterans that were past their prime and weren’t nearly as productive as the team was hoping they would be when signed in free agency. Despite the lack of star power, especially in the secondary the team wasn’t too bad as a whole on defense ranking 12th in passing allowing 210 yards per game and ranking 13th in run defense allowing 110 yards per game. Again this showed that Belichick doesn’t need a “star” corner to lead his team.

The Patriots 2010 defense was ugly to say the least. The team ranked 30th in pass defense allowing 259 yards per game. One bright spot was rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who had 7 interceptions on the year and looked like he could be the shut down corner New England was missing the past few seasons. Despite the terrible pass defense the team played fairly well against the run ranking 11th in the league allowing 108 yards per game.

via nesn.com
via nesn.com

New year, same problems, the 2011 Patriots were again TERRIBLE against the pass ranking 31st in the league allowing 293 yards per game. It was ugly to watch, I remember watching the game against the Peyton Manningless Indianapolis Colts and Dan Orloksky was at quarterback and they just kept driving up the field and scoring. I remember my dad and I yelling at the TV and asking each other “are we really going to lose to the f***ing Colts?” before he threw the TV remote at the ground and broke it out of anger. The lone bright spot from the year before, Devin McCourty had a huge sophomore slump and couldn’t have covered me if I was out on the field. The defense was so bad andlacked depth that wide receivers Julian Edelman and matthew Slater were both playing in the secondary, and were playing better than just about all the other members of the secondary. New England played in way too many shoot-outs and close games this season. The offense would get up big to start the game and then the defense would play a prevent zone and just couldn’t stop anybody, it was painful to watch. Despite the terrible defense the Patriots still made it to the Super Bowl after a heroic pass deflection by Sterling Moore and a shanked Billy Cundiff field goal in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. New England again went onto lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl after a Wes Welker drop that would have sealed the victory for New England and another lucky pass by Eli Manning where his receiver again made an amazing catch bailing out Manning.

Yet again New England’s secondary struggled against the pass in 2012. Devin McCourty continued to struggle at cornerback, which prompted the team to move him to safety, where he has played great since, and make a mid-season trade for cornerback Aqib Talib. Adding Talib was huge for New England giving them a true number one cornerback and someone who could take away an opposing teams top receiver. Despite the acquisition of Talib the Patriots still ranked 29th in pass defense allowing 271 yards per game. If Talib was never acquired the rankings surely would have been lower. Talib was good during his time in New England besides constantly being banged up, especially in the big games. The Patriots ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship after a Talib injury sidelined him and forced Devin McCourty back to corner halfway through the game and forcing Kyle Arrington, a slot corner, to cover wide receiver Torrey Smith, a speedy deep threat.

via bleacherreport.com
via bleacherreport.com

With having a full season of Aqib Talib the Patriots pass defense improved drastically ranking 18th in the league allowing 239 yards per game. With Talib at corner allowed McCourty to play the center fielder role and roam around the secondary. Talib played like the top corner in the NFL for most of the 2013 season. Another bright spot for New England’s defense was rookie cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan led the team with 5 interceptions and showed a lot of promise for the future as a playmaker and potentially improving into a number one corner for the Patriots. Talib was again injured during the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos and the Patriots went on to lose to the Broncos and be eliminated from the playoffs.

And lastly we have last years 2014 pass defense. Last years pass defense was great and the best that I have seen and can remember the Patriots having. Darrelle Revis was, well Darrelle Revis, he shut down any receiver he was matched up against. Brandon Browner provided the physicality and swagger that the defense needed, always giving big hits and being physical with the receiver he was matched up against even if it would draw the occasional pass interference call. Kyle Arrington played a key role as the teams slot corner and did it very well most of the year. Second year rookie Logan Ryan, like Devin McCourty, had a sophomore slump and didn’t play nearly as well as he did during his rookie year. He was constantly getting beat by receivers and didn’t play the ball as well as he did the year before. Then there was Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler who played well when he was on the field and was a good depth player. Butler is now most popular for his Super Bowl interception, throughout the year Butler was impressive in limited action and showed very good man coverage skills. And with this secondary with the shut down corner in Revis and great complimentary number two corner in Browner the Patriots went on to win their 4th Super Bowl.

via sbnation.com
via sbnation.com

Based on the past teams during the Belichick era the team has won their Super Bowls with a top, shutdown corner. After losing Revis, Browner, and Arrington in free agency the secondary is set to look a lot different than it did in 2014. The current cornerbacks on the Patriots roster who are expected to make the roster and potentially play key roles for New England’s defense this upcoming year are Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, free agent signee Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and Derek Cox, as well as safety Devin McCourty who some have suspected could make the switch back to corner with the current cornerback depth.

Ryan and Butler have spent time in New England and are expected to be the team’s two starting cornerbacks to start the 2015 season. Ryan is looking to bounce back after struggling last year and go back to the form he showed as a promising rookie in 2013 when he recorded 5 interceptions and played a big part of the teams defense. Butler will look to continue to shine after his game-winning interception in the Super Bowl. Butler already has high expectations heading into the 2015 season and time will tell if he will live up to the hype that has surrounded him since the Super Bowl.

Bradley Fletcher spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles after spending his first 4 seasons in the league with the St. Louis Rams. Fletcher was inconsistent last season with the Eagles, with not much safety help over the top and would occasionally be beat on the deep ball with a lack of safety help. With safety Devin McCourty giving hep over the top to corners Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib the past few seasons, McCourty could also look to help Fletcher and transition Fletcher to potentially be a number one corner for New England. The Patriots are hoping that with the help of McCourty he could transition into that and not be the corner who was beat repeatedly by Dez Bryant and was seen crying on the sidelines at one point after constantly being targeted by Romo and beat by Bryant.

via totalprosports.com
via totalprosports.com

Robert McClain is a smaller corner at 5’9 and has primarily been a special teamer throughout his career. He played more defensively last year after injuries to Falcons corners. McClain could be used as a slot corner to replace Kyle Arrington, who was released by the Patriots this offseason and signed with the Baltimore Ravens. With McClain’s experience at both corner and special teams gives him a better chance to make the Patriots roster with Bill Belichick’s love for versatile players.

Derek Cox has been a journeyman throughout his NFL career playing for the Jaguars, Chargers and brief stints with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens. Cox was a member of the Ravens briefly last year and didn’t see the field before being released by the time. Cox is a bigger corner like Fletcher (Cox 6’1, Fletcher 6’0) and has been inconsistent throughout his career, like Fletcher. Cox is said to be more of a zone coverage defender than a man defender off the line of scrimmage. Cox role in New England is still unknown and isn’t a roster lock by any means but could provide nice veteran depth to the Patriots secondary.

Without a true number one corner to start the year the Patriots defense will look to rely more on their pass rush then the team has the past few seasons. The team is also expected by many people to switch to a zone defensive scheme rather than a man scheme like they have the past few seasons when they had a top corner.

Giant’s Jason Pierre-Paul has Finger Amputated After Fireworks Accident

Image from gcobb.com
Image from gcobb.com

Giant’s defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul sustained a severe hand injury over the weekend due to a fireworks accident. Pierre-Paul reportedly had a U-Haul truck filled completely with fireworks to set off with some friends in celebration of Independence Day. While lighting one of the fireworks himself, something went terribly wrong, and Pierre-Paul burned himself. While there have been all kinds of reports as to the extent of the injury, it has become clear that there were indeed injuries to both hands. At first, there were reports that Pierre-Paul could lose an entire hand, and that this could be a career-threatening injury.

After being hospitalized, these reports appear to be false. Details are still rolling in, but it seems as though Pierre-Paul (or JPP as he is sometimes referred to as) did indeed injure both hands, suffering severe burns on the palm of one hand and the tips of three fingers on the other. One finger is being tested for nerve damage. Other reports suggested at the very least JPP would need a few fingers amputated, but these reports also look to be an overreaction, as doctors believed there will be no permanent damage.

Not only does this injury not seem to be career threatening, on July 5, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen tweeted that, “It may not be game or season threatening, either.” The Giant’s have some concern that the injuries could cause him to miss training camp and the beginning of the regular season, but everyone is still awaiting more medical answers.

There is another twist to this story, as Jason Pierre-Paul has yet to sign the $14.8 million franchise tender, and therefore is technically not under contract. The Giants and JPP have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract, but the Giants have said publicly that they would be okay allowing JPP to play out the 2015 season under the one-year tender and then letting him hit free agency next year.

In the days following the accident, Giants team officials went down to South Florida, where Pierre-Paul lives, looking to see him and diagnose the injuries to his hands themselves. However, with JPP not currently under contract, he doesn’t have to let them see him, and he has avoided them since the accident. The Giants have yet to see Pierre-Paul’s hands, and the public has yet to be made aware of the extent of the injury as of Tuesday. JPP may end up as a free agent, not playing a snap for the Giants this year.

On Tuesday night, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted out a medical report that revealed JPP indeed had his right index finger amputated. It has been reported that Pierre-Paul should be able to play, “sooner than you think.” JPP reportedly chose to have the finger amputated because it would allow him to come back sooner.

JPP is certainly an important part of the Giants defense. Considered the team’s top pass rusher, the two-time Pro Bowler led the Giants in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback hits. The former first round-pick also recorded 76 tackles (third on the team), which was second only to J.J. Watt among defensive lineman in 2014.

If Pierre-Paul were to miss any time, let alone extensive time, it will certainly hurt a Giants team that has high expectations. Odell Beckham Jr. emerged as a star last year, they will get Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings back from injury, they’ve improved the offensive line, and Eli Manning is a 2-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback. Despite recent struggles, it isn’t inconceivable to think of the Giants as playoff contenders in 2015, but missing a top tier pass rusher like Jason Pierre-Paul could really put a damper on those playoff hopes. It certainly leads one to wonder about the six-week dead period the NFL has between OTAs and the start of training camp, and they will likely think about shortening the time period where the players go unsupervised, or perhaps, allowing more contact in order to supervise them during the six week offseason.

Patriots Training Camp Battles: Travaris Cadet Vs. James White For Third Down Running Back

Images from Apkfun.co and Real Saints Nation
Images from Apkfun.co and Real Saints Nation

Over the past fifteen seasons in New England, Patriots fans have gone into each season knowing that their team has a reliable pass-catching running back on the roster. Whether it was Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, or Shane Vereen,Tom Brady has always had the luxury of having a solid running back that he can dump the ball off to. Heading into the 2015 season, Tom Brady and the Patriots do not have the same luxury with Shane Vereen signing with the New York Giants this past offseason.

There is a multitude of running backs on the roster that seem to have the ability to take over the role, but they are all for the most part unproven. Two players that will be competing for the role are veteran free agent Travaris Cadet, and second-year back James White. 

Travaris Cadet has spent his first three seasons in the league with the New Orleans Saints, catching passes from Drew Brees. Cadet was basically irrelevant in his first two seasons, catching only seven passes, for 49 yards, and one touchdown. In year three Cadet took a miniature jump onto the NFL scene finishing with 38 receptions, for 296 yards, and one touchdown. 

Much like Shane Vereen, Travaris Cadet spends a lot of his time playing in the slot. At 6-1, 210 pounds Cadet is built like a running back-slot receiver hybrid. Also, with his size and physicality Cadet is able to pass protect for the quarterback, which is huge when playing for Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick. Cadet just doesn’t seem to have that burst potential. His spot on the roster is fairly safe, barring injury, and his ability to digest the playbook will determine whether or not he will earn a starting job.  

James White was one of the more interesting players in training camp last season. Throughout July and August, White received first team reps and performed well during practice. However, when the bright lights came on he couldn’t deliver. 

White was mediocre at best in preseason games. He never flashed in the passing game like he was labeled, and in the run game there was not much physicality or burst. His lack of production in the summer lead to his limited game action during the regular season. 

Going into training camp this year, White needs to show that he can really be a playmaker like Shane Vereen was at times during his tenure. He needs to play in the slot and also pass block, two essentials for a running back in the Patriots offense as fans have learned over the past couple of seasons. 

In the end, James White will most likely come out on top in this training camp battle, given his familiarity with the Patriots system. Nevertheless, in time Travaris Cadet will become more acclimated to the offense and take over the position. 

In addition, a change will be necessary due to that fact that at 5-10, 194 pounds James White will easily get exposed pass blocking and will get knocked down easily when running the ball. Cadet is better equipped physically to take over the job. The only way James White remains a starter is if he really flashes and becomes an essential piece to the offense. It is tough to imagine that happening in 2015.

Can the Kings of the AFC East be dethroned?

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Looking over the eight divisions in the NFL, the AFC East division has had a great deal of success over the past 15 years. Don’t remind any Bills, Jets and Dolphins fans about this though, for all twelve division titles, six Conference Championships and four Super Bowls won over this time belong to just one team – the New England Patriots.

But the reigning Super Bowl champs have had an offseason that has casted some reasonable doubt for fans ahead of the upcoming season. With the anchor to their defense and their two starting cornerbacks gone and an impending ruling yet to be handed down by the Ginger Hammer (#exonerateBrady), the rest of the AFC East has made moves to improve their teams with some key acquisitions. Is that enough to sink the tight ship run by Bill Belichick and Co.? Let’s take a look at how the three other teams stack up against the Kings of the AFC East:

Jets – Aside from the big (*cough* robbery *cough*) free agency signing of Darrelle Revis, the Jets also brought back Antonio Cromartie to the secondary to beef up an already tough and talented defense who will have Sheldon Richardson back by the time they face the Patriots in their Week 7 showdown. To complement the defense, the Jets improved their receiving corps by acquiring Brandon Marshall in free agency and drafting Devin Smith in this year’s draft. The bad news? The Jets may be in a better position to expose a weaker Patriots secondary by forcing them to put more cornerbacks on the field against a stronger set of wide receivers. The good news? The Jets don’t have Rex Ryan. Or a QB that can lead them to a division title. And while the Jets will have Sheldon Richardson back, the Patriots will have Tom Brady ready to go too, so I’ll be placing my bets on the Brady Bunch.

Dolphins – Ndamukong Suh decided to bring his talents to South Beach and that is huge for a franchise whose fans have been left with a sour taste in their mouths from watching teams full of hope and promise disintegrate the past two seasons. Having Suh join Earl Mitchell in the interior while Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon rush the edges will be the cause of many headaches for offensive coordinators in the division and across the league. The Dolphins also did a pretty good job of getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (a massive contract and) some new weapons by signing Greg Jennings and drafting DeVante Parker with the 14th pick of the draft to join a balanced run game for the offense. But are these improvements enough to overcome the major holes this team has at guard, linebacker and at the cornerback position? Or will Dolphins fans face another tumultuous season that will end in more heartbreak for their fans? Too soon to tell. One thing that is certain – Bill Belichick’s bread and butter is taking away what every team does best and making them beat his team without their strengths. If the offensive line for the Dolphins struggle to create openings for their running backs and keep Ryan Tannehill upright, their secondary won’t be able to save them from the Patriots’ elusive passing attack.

Bills – No other team in this division (or in the league for that matter) had quite the offseason the Bills had. No other team in this division will have the pleasure of potentially facing a Brady-less Patriots offense (*knocks on wood*) this season and that is quite the advantage to have on your side, especially with an elite defense led by Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. These three ended the season with double-digit sacks on a team that racked up 54 sacks in 2014. It only gets better for this team because guess who’s at the helm for this Bills this year? Rex Ryan, defensive mastermind. But, said defensive mastermind is no offensive mastermind, and he’s going from one quarterback debacle with Geno Smith and the Jets to another with E.J. Manuel and the Bills. His other options at quarterback (Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Tuel) don’t seem to represent the long term answer to lead a good running combo in Fred Jackson and LeSean McCoy and a good wide receiving corps that includes Sammy Watkins, who is coming off a stellar rookie season. It’ll be quite the chess match when these two teams meet up in Week 2 and in primetime on Week 11. Rex will focus on disguising his defense with intricate blitzing schemes to faze the Patriots quarterback while Bill will squash the running game and force the Bills quarterback to beat the defense with his arm. There is no doubt that the Bills have the biggest chance to dethrone the Patriots for the AFC East throne, but their biggest hole is at the most important position on the team. With that said, I will give Bill Belichick and Co. the benefit of the doubt and another division title for the 2015-16 NFL season.

Seattle Seahawks: Wilson’s Contract at a Stalemate?

Image from: nflbreakdown.com
Image from: nflbreakdown.com

With the ball on the one-yard line, less than a minute remaining on the clock, and a four-point deficit, Russell Wilson dropped back to throw a Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass. Rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted the pass and the Patriots went on to win Super Bowl XLVIX. Russell Wilson was that one pass away from winning his second Super Bowl, in just his third year as a starter. Now, entering the final year of his rookie contract, both the Seahawks and Wilson want Russell to sign an extension. However, the two camps are on different sides on what the money should look like. It was reported recently that Wilson is looking to become the highest paid player in the NFL.

Russell Wilson was a part of a recent wave of young talent into the NFL at the quarterback position, a group that includes Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick. Tannehill, Dalton, Newton, and Kaepernick have recently signed lucrative extensions. Newton and Kaepernick’s contracts are each worth over $100 million (though Kaepernick’s is incentive laden), Dalton’s is worth $96 million, and Tannehill’s is worth $77 million. The four-year deal Wilson received as a rookie is worth under $3 million. Currently, Aaron Rodgers is the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, with an average yearly salary of $22 million. That’s the number Wilson and his agent are using to negotiate.

The Seahawks have gotten off easy with Wilson the past three years. They essentially had a free quarterback, able to funnel a lot more money into their defense and easily stay within the salary cap requirements. Pete Carroll’s NFL head coaching resume before Russell Wilson was: fired, fired, 7-9, 7-9. Then in his third year with Seattle, he names rookie Russell Wilson his starting quarterback. All of a sudden he wins a playoff game, wins the Super Bowl the next year and comes one play away from repeating last year. Is Russell Wilson the best player in the National Football League? No. Is he the best quarterback in the National Football League? No. But right now, that’s irrelevant.

In today’s NFL, finding an elite quarterback that can win a Super Bowl is becoming harder and harder. Wilson, Tom Brady, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger have won 13 of the last 14 Super Bowls. It’s possible to win games with average quarterback play, but it is impossible to win a Super Bowl without an elite quarterback in today’s NFL. It’s not that quarterbacks have gotten worse, they’ve actually gotten much better, but the responsibility of playing quarterback has gotten much more difficult. With the introduction of the no-huddle offense, quarterbacks not only have more responsibility at the line of scrimmage, they also have an extra 20-30 plays a game with the ball in their hands. The debate over Russell Wilson’s contract isn’t a debate over how he ranks in comparison to other quarterbacks in the league; it’s a debate over how valuable he is to the Seahawks. There’s a reason average quarterbacks like Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill just got big contracts. Even at the level they’re at ability-wise, they’re extremely hard to replace. When all these things are considered, the Seahawks have no choice but to pay him.

This contract doesn’t have to get done immediately. Wilson is still under contract for the upcoming year, and he has no intention of holding out. Next year, if Wilson remains unsigned, the Seahawks will have the ability to franchise him, and Wilson has said he would be willing to play under the franchise tag. This would either mean him playing for one year, or the two sides hashing out a long-term deal. Either way, it doesn’t seem likely that Wilson will hit the open market. The only plausible questions that remain are when he signs, how long he signs for, and how much he signs for.

By: Rory MacCallum

New England Patriots: Changing Places, Welcoming New Faces

The defending Super Bowl champs will have a lot of different faces on both sides of the ball to start the 2015 season.

On the defensive side of the ball the team will look to replace akeem113longtime Patriot Vince Wilfork, linebackers Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas who were good depth and situational players for the team last season, as well as cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis who went back to the division rival New York Jets. The losses of Browner and Revis will hurt the Patriots the most. Last year New England played primarily a man coverage defense, this year it looks like the team will be focusing on more of a zone defense and pressuring the quarterback through their front seven.

The Patriots defense will look to rely on 1st round pick defensive tackle Malcolm Brown to replace Wilfork, cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler to take on larger roles this season as well as free agent signee Jabaal Sheard to add to New England’s pass rush and pressure the quarterback for the new look defense.

Offensively the Patriots will look similar to last year, only losing running back Shane Vereen to the New York Giants in free agency.

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01:  Shane Vereen #34 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ – FEBRUARY 01: Shane Vereen #34 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Also guard Dan Connolly is currently a free agent and according to some reports is considering retiring from football after winning the Super Bowl. The Patriots will also be without running back LaGarrette Blount for the first week of the season for a violation of the leagues substance abuse policy last year as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who New England plays week one. New England may also be without quarterback Tom Brady who is currently appealing his 4-game suspension handed down to him by the league for the “DeflateGate” scandal and there is no timetable for the league to make their decision regarding Brady’s appeal.

The offense could look a lot different than it has the past 15 years if Brady ends up losing his appeal and accepting his suspension (which I do not think will happen). 2nd year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would likely be the starter for the duration of Brady’s suspension and though no one knows how the offense would operate with Garoppolo under center, it is almost guaranteed to take a step back to when Brady is under center. With Blount out for week 1 and running backs Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley gone the offense could look very different than it did back in February when the Patriots were playing for the Super Bowl.

Premature Evaluation: A way Too Early Look at the NFL Power Rankings, Part 1 AFC

Image via NFL
Image via NFL

With the league offices on Park Avenue literally turning into the Big Apple Circus, I figured why not have fun at the expense of the thirty two franchises whom keep this “non-profit” organization going.  This is considered “down-time” for the NFL, when coaches and staff take a month or so off, to unwind before going full tilt into training camp.   Bill is most likely parading around Nantucket on his newly renamed boat.  Mr. Kraft is off in the mother land being an evangelist for Israeli football.  The Forehead is figuring out if Denver really did want to trade him to Houston for God only knows how many draft picks.  With the Brady appeal decision looming, we take a look at the league as a whole and why this year is the year YOUR franchise wins the Lombardi Trophy.

AFC East

BUFFALO BILLS:

Season tickets are at an all-time high.

Rex gives Brady more trouble than anyone.

Shady McCoy is going to run for 2,000 yards.

Translation:

Buffalo is still a cesspool and almost had Bon Jovi as their owner.

Agreed, but his record is still under five hundred.

Until he has a hamstring pull and starts calling Rex a racist as well.

MIAMI DOLPHINS:

Suh!

We own Brady in Miami and the AFC is weak.

Our coach is coaching for his job, he has a lot to prove.

Translation:

O/U on the amount of games before Suh gets suspended is 3.5.  I’ll take the under.

As soon as the weather drops below South Beach, the Dolphins turn into guppies.

The doppelganger from the father in Step Brothers is a pud.  Plain and simple.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS:

They are the defending world champions.

We have Brady and Belichick.

Our schedule is much easier than last year, the AFC goes through Foxboro.

Translation:

True, but nobody has won back to back titles since…..

God, I love them both.  I’d take a bullet for them.

Patriots always seem to have that “WTF” game somewhere early/mid-season.

NEW YORK JETS:

Brandon Marshall and Decker will be unstoppable.

Our defense is the best in the league!

Todd Bowles is a no nonsense coach.

Translation:

Whom is going to throw them the ball?

Cromartie is a shell of himself, but their front seven is solid.

He also has a permanent grin on.  He reminds me of the Joker.  Actually from this day on he will be referred to as the Joker.

AFC North

PITTSBURGH STEELERS:

Dick Lebeau needed to go, time for new blood on defense.

Big Ben had one of his best years as a pro last season, the Steelers were very close.

Winning in Pittsburgh is tough in the cold weather.

Translation:

Pittsburgh hasn’t been stout on defense in years, especially against the pass.  This is a building process for them.

Can the Pittsburgh offense stay out of the tub and off the drugs long enough to sustain success?

You lost to Tampa Bay at home last season, enough said.

CINCINNATI BENGALS:

Andy Dalton is going to take the next step this year.

Geno Atkins leading that front seven is scary.

The Jungle is becoming a very tough place for opposing teams to play.

Translation:

Andy Dalton is going to take another step in which direction?

Geno Atkins wasn’t the same player after he got hurt.  Case closed.

Marvin Lewis continues to hold a franchise back with more talent on both sides of the ball than most other teams.

BALTIMORE RAVENS:

Flacco is a proven winner.

Our defense is solid and will continue to win us big games.

Harbaugh is one of the best in the business.  He can coach up holes in all three phases of the game.

Translation:

Flacco threw two gifts to the Patriots in the biggest game of the year.

Your defense blew two fourteen point leads in the playoffs.

Harbaugh is a cry baby like his twin and folded when BB put the heat on him.

CLEVELAND BROWNS:

Josh McCown is legit and will win us more games than lose them.

Our secondary is one of the best in the business.  Haden is the GOAT.

It’s been fifty-one years!  Our time is now.

Translation:

McCown has Matt Flynn syndrome.  The Denim King went down with a concussion and he played decent against second tier defense.

Haden is good against mediocre receivers.  Look at his numbers against the elite.

Exactly, it has fifty-one years.  If Lebron couldn’t get it done.  Josh McCown isn’t going to be either.

AFC South

 

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS:

We got Frank Gore to carry the rock and Andre Johnson as another target for The Neck Beard.

Our division is so weak, we’ve all but guaranteed a home playoff game.

Luck is going to take that next step into elite status, and should win the AFC.

Translation:

You are still soft and I have no words to describe what is going to happen to you week six when New England comes to town.

Raise a banner for that one too.

Ask Luck and the drug addict owner their record against BB and TB12 led teams.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS:

Bortles got some much needed experience last year and our line is much improved.

Julius Thomas is going to be a monster in the red zone.

Our team is resilient and going to surprise a lot of people next year.

Translation:

Bortles did improve, but whom is going to carry the rock?  MJD isn’t coming through that door.

Who are the other playmakers on that offense? And Julius Thomas is soft as well.

Your coach was surprised when you didn’t turn the ball over.  Plain and simple.

TENNESSEE TITANS:

The Silent Hawaiian is going no-huddle straight out of the gate.

Sankey will surprise people this year and go for over 1,500 yards.

Our secondary is one of the best in the league, we’re going to be tough to throw against.

Translation:

How many college quarterbacks who don’t run a pro-style offense do anything in year one?

Sankey looks like Tyrion Lannister in football pads.

Luckily you’re playing against the AFC East this year.  Outside of TB12, you have paper bags throwing against you.

HOUSTON TEXANS:

Foster is going to reestablish his dominance in the running game.

JJ Watt is an “All-World” talent.  Who is going to stop him?

We have two Brady understudies fighting for the QB job.  They are both Pro Bowl talents.

Translation:

You can keep Arian Foster and his rubber band hamstrings.

JJ Watt IS an all-world player.  But he is only one of 22.

Matt Cassel, Kevin O’Connell, Michael Bishop, etc. etc.

AFC West

DENVER BRONCOS:

Manning is the best to play the game, he is due for his second Lombardi.

Our front seven is going to be dominant.  Miller and Ware paired with our rookie class will be giving nightmares to defensive coordinators.

Our offense is going to be more balanced this year, and not depend on 18 to win every game.

Translation:

As of today, whom is his number one receiver? Soft Thomas went to Jacksonville and Hard Thomas doesn’t want to take part in OTA’s.

Miller feasts on bad quarterbacks and disappears against physical offensive linemen.  Watch the tape.

CJ Anderson and Monte Ball are NOT the saviors in the Mile High City.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS:

Alex Smith is as good a game manager as there is in this league.

Jamal Charles may run for 2,000 yards this year with a healthy offensive line.

Houston, Hali and Poe are the second coming of the Steel Curtain.

Translation:

Alex Smith also forgot how to throw touchdowns to his wide receivers.

There is a lot of tread on Jamal’s tires.  Not to mention he is creeping up on the wrong side of 30.

The secondary is the question mark here.  Here is hoping Eric Berry gets healthy.  In all seriousness, prayers to him.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS:

This is a contract year for Rivers, he is going to be playing like a man possessed.

San Diego is one of the toughest places for opposing teams to play, especially east coast teams.

Antonio Gates came into OTA’s leaner and quicker than he is looked in years.

Translation:

This could also be a contract year for the Chargers in general.

Tell that to New England whom came in on short rest last season.

Any tight end with a bad foot, spells bad news for everyone involved.

OAKLAND RAIDERS:

Derek Carr showed promise in year one, he could surprise some people this year.

Latavius Murray is a beast pounding the rock.  He may go for 2,000 yards this year.

Khalil Mack may win defensive player of the year.

Translation:

He may, but his offensive line may get him killed before Halloween.

Murray was a flash in the pan last season and won’t break 1,000 yards this year.  I’ll throw some money on that as well.

Sadly Khalil is only one of twenty two out there, and you are still the Raiders.

As I said before, this is the most boring of times for any NFL fan.  Many of us are waiting with baited breath on the fate of Thomas Edward Brady.   The fans of the other thirty one franchises are anticipating big things from their team this year, and feel they are only a piece or two away from surprising people.  In reality, the NFL is a tricky place and things happen that can change the entire competitive landscape in the blink of an eye.   Personally, my sites are set on opening weekend when the Steelers come to town.  We’ll see if the loss of the entire cornerback platoon has any effect on the BB run defense.  Oh, and there is also that slight detail if the greatest quarterback to ever play the game will be suiting up for it as well.   We are just about a month out from training camps folks, hang tight.

By: Mike Procopio

Patriots Training Camp Battles: Tyms Vs Dobson for #4 WR

Images via NESN
Images via NESN

As it stands right now, the Patriots have their top three wide receivers on the depth chart set. Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Danny Amendola seem to be locked in as the the primary three starters. Then there is the fourth wide receiver spot that is up in the air as of right now. Free agent acquisition Brandon Gibson reportedly received solid reps during OTA’s, but the real competition for the fourth spot will be between Aaron Dobson and Brian Tyms.

Aaron Dobson’s Patriots career started right out of the gate his rookie season. Due to a severe lack of wide receivers, Dobson was thrown into the fire right away, and it took him a while to become acclimated to the complex Patriots offense. As time progressed, Dobson became comfortable and he became one of the league’s best rookie receivers in 2013 finishing with 37 receptions, for 519, with four touchdowns in only 12 games. During the most important offseason of his career, (year one heading into year two) he spent his time rehabbing from ankle surgery, which killed his progression. The ankle continued to bother Dobson, and it lead to him playing in only three games in 2014, along with a hamstring injury.

After a full offseason in which he was healthy, Aaron Dobson has had time to get back on track. He spent much of his time at the highly acclaimed Fischer Sports Institute in Arizona, which is famous for helping players recover from surgery. Dobson’s biggest asset is his size. He is one of the tallest receivers on the team, and he has great athletic ability. Dobson showed his rookie season that he has the ability to stretch the field, and be valuable in the red zone. Strength and health is his main issue. For his own sake, he needs to prove in training camp that he can stay healthy, be a solid run blocker, and shake free of corner jams off the line, because if he doesn’t he may be out of a job.

The Patriots re-signed Brian Tyms this offseason, to basically a one-year make or break deal. With virtually zero guaranteed money, it won’t be a difficult decision for the Patriots to cut Tyms if they decide to at the end of camp. Although, many reports from OTA’s and minicamp have been that Tyms is getting the majority of first team reps, over Aaron Dobson.

Of course, it is never the best idea to read into minicamp reports because players are in shorts and t-shirts, but it is something to keep in mind when training camp starts next month. With Dobson being injured for the majority of last season, Tyms received his chances to really take control of the fourth receiver spot, but he failed to truly capitalize. He finished the year with only five receptions on twelve targets. He made one significant play and that was the 43-yard touchdown reception in Buffalo during their week six contest.

In order for Brian Tyms to secure his spot on the Patriots roster, he will need to prove he can be more than a, “one-trick pony. ” At 6-3, 210 pounds Tyms runs the vertical route with the same look as Randy Moss, who was his mentor of his in San Francisco. However, Tyms doesn’t run with nearly the same speed, and the, “go-route” is the only weapon in his arsenal. He will need to show that he can be effective in more than one way.

In conclusion, the training camp battle for the fourth wide receiver spot on the Patriots roster will most likely be won by Aaron Dobson. What it comes down to is who has more raw talent, and Dobson certainly wins that contest. When fully healthy, Aaron Dobson can stretch the field and also catch the ball over the middle of the field. In addition, the strength and physicality is there more with Dobson, and of course the most important thing is he has more trust from Tom Brady. Tyms is a little awkward when running routes, and hasn’t shown yet that he can valuable in any situation. With only twelve targets from Brady last year, the trust doesn’t look to be there. It will certainly be one the more interesting competitions to keep an eye on in Foxborough this summer.

By: Jake Mackey