Tag Archives: Dante Scarnecchia

New England Patriots: Confidence Is Soaring As The Season Winds Down

2015 Ended Poorly

As the 2015 season wound down, Bill Belichick made some decisions that, looking back, turned out to be questionable (I know, that is heresy in New England, but look at the results).  After winning their first eleven games the Patriots started to wilt. With a bunch of walking wounded, a beat up Tom Brady and the play-offs with home field in game-one guaranteed, he rested some key players and went to a non-existent running game against the J-E-Ts and Dolphins. For the 1st time in may years the Patriots seemed to be playing not-to-lose. 

11-29-brady-hit-high-after-releasing-the-ball-no-penalty-on-this-play
2015 Brady got beat up in Denver

Well, as we all know (so why am I reminding you????) the Pats lost both those games and went into the play-offs having lost four of their last six games. They never completely recovered from those decisions. After winning a home play-off game against the Chiefs (27-20) they traveled to Denver and lost to the ultimate Super Bowl Champion Broncos (20-18) in the Conference Championship game.

How Different Is 2016?

Now, with two games remaining in the 2016 regular season, New England faces the same two teams, NY J-E-T-S and Miami, in a similar situation. The J-E-T-S are out of the race, but always give the Patriots a good fight…and the Dolphins continue to fight for a play-off spot.

So…why does it feel so different?  Here are 5 reasons:

  1. The 2016 Patriots are now playing their best football of the season, unlike 2015, when they were unsure if the defense or offense could hold up
  2. Tom Brady won’t be going into these games already bruised & battered thanks to Dante Scarnecchia and a rejuvenated OL (yeah, I know he’s back to limited practice & on the injury list…but he’s still in better shape than last year) 
  3. The running game is at it’s peak, with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 15 TDs and over 1,000 yards…a healthy Dion Lewis..a solid #3 with James White and the impressive blocking of James Develin. Last year neither Blount nor Lewis were playing due to injuries
  4. The defense is #1 in points against in the NFL. I’ll say that again, the defense is #1 in points against in the NFL
  5. Bill Belichick seems completely confident in all aspects of the Pats game. He’s willing to trust his defense (say what?), offense or special teams to make the crucial play at the end of the game. That’s something that has been missing for many years

Same Decision = Different Results

So, that said, what if Belichick makes the same decisions this year that he did in 2015? If he does, the results should be completely different. This team is tough and in no way resembles the 2015 version of the New England Patriots.

malcolm-mitchell-vs-sf
Mitchell vs 49ers courtesy of Boston Herald.com

They don’t have Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola and both are big losses. However, they do have a bruiser in Blount, a quick Lewis plus new heroes in Chris Hogan (highest yards-per-catch in the NFL) and the speed of rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell. Add in tough TE Martellis Bennett and, oh yeah, a well rested Tom Brady!

With a defense that is starting to click without Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins…but is lead by Trey Flowers, always reliable Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and, suddenly rejuvenated Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and a host of others…they are a formidable bunch.

NOTES:

  • Congratulations to Brady, Slater, Hightower & McCourty on their selection to the 2016 NFL Pro-Bowl. Hopefully none will be able to play as they prepare for the Super Bowl
  • Condolences to Malcolm Butler, Blount and Marcus Cannon (can’t believe I’m saying this), who all deserved a shot too
  • The NFL is always fair & objective…just look at their recent “punishment” to the Giants & their Head Coach for being caught cheating! #Integrity
  • This has been an outstanding year for Patriot Coaches Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Scarnecchia
  • Tom Brady is being penalized again! Many are saying he doesn’t deserve the MVP because he has played 4 fewer games than the others in the running. King Goodell strikes again
  • The Patriots are the only team in the NFL who have not lost a road game this year. Despite that, the advantage of playing in Foxborough in the playoffs is huge.

 

Dante Scarnecchia

 

Hard to believe, but, 14 games down (12-2) with just 2 more before the real season begins. This season has flown by.

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

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New England Patriots: 2016 – A Season Of Surprises

If nothing else, 2016 has been a season with many surprises for the New England Patriots. Some have been pleasant…and some haven’t turned out too well. Despite all the changes, this year’s team is once again a legitimate Super Bowl contender and are, at 10-2, right where most expected them to be. Here are my 5 biggest surprises as the season progressed.

#1 BRADY ACCEPTS 4 GAME SUSPENSION

tom-brady-accepts-suspensionHe gave it a gallant fight, but TB finally got tired of deflategate and moved on. Many were disappointed, but it was time to play football. He never acknowledged any guilt despite the Brady detractors using his acceptance of the 4 games to claim it a “win” for the NFL. Nothing about deflategate was a win for anyone…the NFL, Brady, the Patriots or fans anywhere.

#2 – DEFENSE

As the season started fans and prognosticators (my $50 word for the day) were saying the 2016 defense would be top 5 caliber. In one way people were right. As of now they are tied with their next opponent (Baltimore) for 2nd in the NFL for least points allowed (17.2 PPG), trailing only the Seahawks.

Well, we now look at the defense and wonder if it is capable of making the big stop once the playoffs come around. Bill Bodell  wrote  back in August ” The Patriots have at least five guys on this defense who could potentially make the Pro Bowl in Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Devin McCourty.” 

The big surprise from that group has been the departure of Collins, benching of Sheard and under performance by all but Butler. Overall the defense has not been as bad as it seems to the naked eye, but it certainly still hasn’t proven itself to be an elite unit.

The team is currently ranked in the top 10 in 4 key categories, but considering the weak offenses they have faced, questions still abound :

  • #2 points allowed (207)
  • #9 total defense
  • #12 passing defense
  • #10 rushing defense
  • #9 yards allowed
  • #14 sacks

It is a must for this unit to improve if the Patriots are to go far in the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl. Monday Night vs Baltimore will be a true test

#3 OFFENSIVE LINE

Shock would be the word I use to describe how well the OL has performed. Dante Scarnecchia’s goal coming into the season was to solidify a unified unit of 5 to play most snaps…and he has been highly successful with (LT) Nate Solder, (LG) rookie Joe Thuney, (C) UFA David Andrews, (RG) Shaq Mason, (RT) Marcus Cannon. Just how good has this group been?

  1. Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett have been sacked just 26 times while throwing 417 passes
  2. LeGarrette Blount has rushed for 957 yards and 13 TDs

dante-scarnecchiaAdd in that Marcus Cannon, who I have been known to chastise in the past, just had his contract renewed and is having his best season ever in his 6th year as a Patriot = you have realize just how much of a surprise this unit has been. Thank you “Scar.”

#4 – ROOKIE WR MALCOLM MITCHELL

The Patriots drafting of wide receivers has been beyond bad, but this year they hit a home-run (sorry for the baseball analogy) with 4th round pick (112th overall) Malcolm Mitchell. He has quickly gained Brady’s trust and has grown game-by-game while exhibiting his toughness, route running, speed and sure hands. Just look at what he has done over the past 3 games:

  • 8 receptions/82 yards vs Rams
  • 4 receptions/98 yards/1 TD vs 49ers
  • 5 receptions/42 yards/2 TDs vs J-E-T-S

Malcolm Mitchell.jpgThis young man will only get better. He needs to continue to improve with the loss of Danny Amendola & Rob Gronkowski for the offense to control the game. Mitchell is this year’s Dion Lewis. 

#5 – KICKING GAME

The inconsistency of the kicking game has truly been a surprise. This was consider an area of strength when the season began, but has been erratic throughout the first 12 games.

  • Stephen Gostkowski has been AFC special team player of the week twice, including last week against the Rams, but has missed 4 makeable field goals and 3 extra points…not good enough for the highest paid kicker in the NFL.
  • Ryan Allen (no, not Logan Ryan as identified during the Fox telecast Sunday) has given the Patriots great field position throughout his 4 year career in the NFL. This year he hasn’t been consistent, shanking some and leaving opponents in good shape. His net average is fractionally his highest ever (40.8 vs 40.4 for his career), but of his 52 punts only 17 have been inside the 20 yard line.

Playoff game are usually won and lost by field position (I have no data to prove this, but let’s net let facts get in the way of the story), so both Gostkowski & Allen need to be on-their-game as that part of the season rolls around.

Honorable Mention: LeGarrette Blount – read My Apologies to LeGarrette Blount

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New England Patriots: The Deepest Roster In Years

The New England Patriots have had a long run of exceptional success. The Bill Belichick-Tom Brady link has a lot to do with the dominance they have over the rest of the NFL. This year, despite losing Brady for the 1st four games (no comment necessary), they have what could be the deepest, if not most skilled, roster in years. Despite missing some key players early due to injury, fans will be rockin’ as the 2016 Patriots evolve.

Are there still areas of concern? Definitely… but all positions are filled with strong, talented young players chomping at the bit to replace seasoned vets. Think about it. The lack of training camp transactions and difficulty in selecting who will be among New England’s 53 man roster opening day this deep into camp is a strong indication that the back-end will have skills needed to survive the long season.

COMPETITION IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE 

After two pre-season games, the competition for playing time is fierce. And, let’s face it, that’s good for everyone. Shoot, even Tom Brady, arguable the best QB in NFL history, can’t find playing time when he wants to. OK, I know, he was playing with scissors and cut himself, keeping him out of game #2, which he was scheduled to start. But the point is, someone has stepped in and done the job. You may not be a fan of Jimmy Garoppolo as the “long-term” answer when TB retires, but he has shown the ability to hold things together while Brady is out. Let’s take a quick look at what we could see on offense opening night, September 11, in Arizona.

Jimmy Garoppolo looked good against the Bears . (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Jimmy Garoppolo looked good against the Bears (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

QB: (2) This one’s a no brainer,( so I qualify), and my prediction -ta dah- unequivocally: the two slots are owned by Goroppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett. How’s that for stepping out on a limb. It is doubtful the Patriots will sign a veteran back-up QB for the 1st four games unless one of those two get injured. Brady does not take up a roster spot until game 5.

WR: (6) Who needs a real deep threat when you have a roster full of good hands, elusive players battling it out for a limited number of positions. The days of Randy Moss are long gone, so, as they say in certain circles, “forgeddabout-it.”

  • Veterans include Danny Amendola, Jules Edelman, Nate Washington, Chris Hogan, Keshawn Martin, Aaron (yep, he’s still here) Dobson and old faithful Matthew Slater.
  • Young and looking to step in players are Chris Harper, Malcolm Mitchell, DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien.

Injuries will factor in the final six. The availability of Amendola and Mitchell are the two question marks. If healthy they are locks, along with Edelman, Slater, Hogan and Harper. That leaves Washington, Martin, Dobson, Carter & Lucien on the outside looking in. If either Amendola or Mitchell can’t go, look for Martin to fill their slot.

TE: (3) Like QB, the first two are easy – Rob Gronkowski & Martellus Bennett. After that is a big question. Do you want a blocking, athletic or flexible player filling that role? Based on his performance to-date, I’m going with AJ Derby (FB James Develin is capable of filling the blocking TE role). As of 8/21 veteran Clay Harbor is listed ahead of Derby on the Patriot’s unofficial depth chart.

8-18 AJ Derby (Photo courtesy patspulpit.com)Rookie TE AJ Derby (Photo courtesy patspulpit.com)

RB: (5) BULLETIN – CSNNE is reporting Dion Lewis needs more surgery. James White has looked good in that role, but lacks Lewis’ elusiveness. LeGarrette Blount has impressed in pre-season, but is vulnerable with the emergence of Tyler Gaffney. Branden Bolden’s value on special teams will be the determining factor for him, leaving Joey Iosofa and D.J. Foster with little chance. As mentioned under TEs, James Devlin’s flexibility as both a blocking back and TE make him seem a certainty.

Final five – Gaffney, White,  Devlin, Bolden Blount. Would not be shocked if either Blount or Bolden were cut. It seems like every year Belichick makes a surprise cut, so either Blount or Bolden could be this year’s shocker.

OL: (9) As in all but a few predictions, health is the determining factor. Sebastian Vollmer is out & Tre’ Jackson is hurt. A decision on Jackson needs to come shortly. (A player must open training camp on PUP in order to be eligible to be placed on the reserve/PUP list to open the regular season).  His leadership will be missed, but the offensive line is gradually revolving into a young aggressive group, with rookie Joe Thune at left guard and Shaq Mason (broken hand) looking at more playing time. Center Dave Andrews beats out Bryan Stork at center,  leaving veterans Nate Solder, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle & Josh Kline joined by youngsters Ted Karras & Tre’ Jackson. If Jackson isn’t available (heaven forbid). add Marcus Cannon (ugh) to the list. No sense at all about Jonathon Cooper, who has been suffering with foot problems since the 1st padded practice. Probable IR candidate.

DEFENSE COMING MONDAY 8/22)

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New England Patriots: Looking Forward

One of the great things about being a fan of the New England Patriots is, when one season ends you always know that next season will be exciting, with  another legitimate chance for the Lombardi Trophy. It’s really a thrill to look forward to what will happen next and have confidence that it all will work out fine.

Just think about it. How many fans of other teams in the NFL can legitimately make that statement? The answer is – zero!

  • The current Super Bowl Champion Bronco’s? Who is the QB again?
  • The runner-up Carolina Panthers? Hell, their fans are thrilled to just make the play-offs. Although they are the favorites going into the year (the Patriots are #2), they have to show they can perform year in and year out.
  • The Green Bay Packers? Close, but no cigar. Last year the were vulnerable all season and are rapidly deteriorating.
  • How about the Pittsburgh Steelers? The fans and former players are still griping about how they were
    Steeler fans are stunned by NE distruction of the Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game - photo sixteensundayscom
    Steeler fans leave the game stunned after Patriots 41-27 blow-out win in 2014 AFC Championship Game (Photo: sixteensundays.com)

    cheated out of a Super Bowl by….the Patriots…in the AFC Championship Game (No, not the Super Bowl)! That was 12 years ago, the Steelers lost 41-27 at home, and they are still crying about it. No looking forward there!

  • Seattle? With Pete Carroll making the final call 2 years ago the fans of the Seahawks were deflated (sorry, had to get that in). Carroll vs Belichick = a no brainer!

There are plenty of other teams that could be part of the conversation, Arizona, KC to name just a couple, but year-after-year, they haven’t proven good enough to carry the banner.

Another Year With The Two B’s

As we look ahead to the 2016 season we are, once again,

New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady celebr
Tom Brady celebrates with Bill Belichick (Photo:  JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)

concerned that the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady combination may not be available to start the season thanks to the continued obsession of the NFL and Commissioner Roger “Integrity of the game” Goodell, to punish Brady for a “crime” they haven’t proven ever occurred. I refuse to get into that again other than to say “so what.”

Belichick will be there to start things and Brady will, at some point early in the season, return. With a growing, young defense the team should be just fine and maybe Tom will be better off starting the season a little later (I know that’s heresy), so by the play-offs he won’t be so banged up.

Facts:

  • The offensive line will be better. Hell, it couldn’t be any worse. With the return of Dante Scarnecchia you know they’ll be better prepared. Rookies Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason will be in their second year and know their roll and the speed of the NFL better. Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder should be healthy. The addition of former 1st round pick Jonathan Cooper adds depth they lacked in 2015 when injuries destroyed any chance for consistency.
  • The two TE offense is back! Martellus Bennett is not Scott Chandler in any way, so please stop the comparisons. Provided he doesn’t tick off Belichick with his mouth, Bennett and Rob Gronkowski will ease the pressure on Brady (or Jimmy Garoppolo) and the red-zone offense with those two, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola (maybe), Nate Washington and Chris Hogan will be almost unstoppable.
  • Donta’ Hightower and Jamie Collins (both 26) are just coming into their prime years and are the key cogs in a defense that should be strong despite the loss of Chandler Jones.

2016 Schedule

HOME: BUF, MIA., NYJ, BAL, CIN, LA, SEA, HOU
AWAY: BUF, MIA., NYJ, CLE, PIT, ARI, SF, DEN

Although game dates have not yet been released, there is no reason to believe the Pats won’t have another run at the ring in 2016.. Along with in-conference games against teams that did not make the play-offs last year (J-E-T-S, Dolphins & Bills) they  play the clueless Browns, befuddled 49ers, sliding Ravens and homeless (???) Rams. That leaves Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Super Bowl Champion, but QB challenged, Denver as threats to a chance for ring #5 for Tom Brady, the oldest active non-kicker in the NFL.

So, no matter what, the best Head Coach/QB combo in the NFL and the New England Patriots are once again positioning the team for a run at the Lombardi Trophy and fans are having fun analyzing every move they make.

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New England Patriots: Who’s Next In Line? A Salute To The Hard Hats.

Well, as hard as it may be to believe, we’ve reached the halfway point of the regular season…and the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots are 8-0 and have already run away and hid from their AFC East foes.

As far as games go, the always troublesome NY Giants are next in line for a Sunday afternoon joust in mid-November. That’s set in stone. The Giants have spoiled perfect seasons in the past and most of Patriot Nation will never forgive them. This is a new year, with both teams having rotated most of their roster, but the anger is still there. Hell hath no fury like a Patriot fan scorned as Eli Manning and Tom Brady square off once again.

Talking about things you don’t talk about

Chandler Jones leads the NFL in sacks with 9 1/2 after 8 games (Photo: NFL.com)
Chandler Jones leads the NFL in sacks with 9 1/2 after 8 games (Photo: NFL.com)

When you talk about teams in the NFL, it’s usually a good thing when you don’t mention their offensive line. I mean, come on, talk about boring. The less you hear about them the better, ’cause it means they are playing well, that’s a given. Much is written about the glamour positions – QB, WR, TE, RB, DE…hell even CB’s!

But what about those guys down in the trenches? You know, the lunch bucket crew. The hard hats. Without looking it up most fans cannot name 10 offensive linemen from all the other teams in the NFL. My old Patriots Beat partner, Jeff Kane, is the exception, but he’s strange that way! And that group of grunts (I say that with affection) actually like it like that. They are happy just doing their job, heading home for a nice cool one (or two or three) and enjoying their anonymity.

Saying that, it’s impossible to talk about the Patriots’ success in 2015 without mentioning the turmoil that continues to occur every game with the biggest surprise of this year (no, not Dion Lewis, but he sure will be missed) – the unbelievable success of the no names in front of Tom Brady. They started the season without some big cogs in the machine that is in charge of protecting the life of the best QB in the history of the NFL, and it got worse week by week.

Who’s next up in the revolving door that is the offensive line?

So, let’s see who is next in line, as the names keep changing, but the results remain the same. The original front five were expected to be chosen from this group (in alphabetical order):

David Andrews, Chris Barker, Marcus Cannon, Blaine Clausell, Dan Connelly, Cameron Fleming, Tre Jackson, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, Nate Solder, Bryan Stork, Sebastian Vollmer & Ryan Wendell.

That’s a hearty mixture of 14 (as in fourteen) young and old bodies that should allow Bill Belichick to pick the chosen few for his game day roster each week, right? So, what’s the problem? Well, as the Patriots prepare for the Giants the majority of the names above have fallen aside, either through retirement (Connolly) or injury (Solder, Vollmer, Wendell to name the most obvious) leaving the available list mighty slim.

Undrafted free agent Dave Andrews is the only offensive lineman to played every snap this season (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Undrafted free agent center Dave Andrews (60) is the only offensive lineman to play every snap this season (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The team went into last Sunday’s game dressing six offensive lineman and by the end of the game the number had dwindled to five!

Tom Brady foolishly made the tackle after throwing an interception in the Patriots win over Washington (Photo: AP/Charles Krupa)
Tom Brady foolishly made the tackle after throwing an interception in the Patriots win over Washington (Photo: AP/Charles Krupa)

Yes, you read that right. Once Vollmer went out with a head injury, the Patriots had no available back-ups to protect (gulp) Tom Brady. You wonder why they went to the running game early in the second half and now you know. Thank God TEs Rob Gronkowski and Michael Williams are both solid blockers and LeGarrette Blount is a horse or we could be praying for Tom Brady’s recovery right now.

Based on all the injuries, rookies and the retirement of Connolly you would expect Brady to be getting pummeled in every game, but it just ain’t so my friends. The fastest gun in the NFL has been sacked 18 times while running 537 plays. Sure, we all cringe as the bodies fly around him each week and, heaven forbid, he throw an interception and foolishly decide it’s his job to bring down the interceptor…because in all honesty, he is the franchise.

New England Patriots Hard HatsSalute To The Hard Hats

So, it’s time for fans to step up and salute those unheralded hard hats that give up their bodies each week so that Mr. Brady can continue, at the “old” age of 38, with his best season ever in the NFL. The offensive line has done it with smoke and mirrors, along with great coaching by Offensive Line Coach Dave DeGuglielmo in his second season, after the retirement of longtime Patriots coach Dante Scarnecchia.

It’s not a pretty job, but someone has to do it (how’s that for original journalism) as the next in line steps up in the quest for another Super Bowl.

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