Tag Archives: Dominique Easley

New England Patriots: What Needs To Happen Before The Play-Offs

The focus on Julian Edelman’s return to the Patriots line-up has rightfully been the center of attention since the season ended with the New England offense looking more like the Cleveland Browns than the juggernaut that started the season. His week 10 broken foot against the Giants crippled not only the player, but the entire Patriots offense.

Why Edelman’s Return Is So Critical

There are many reasons why his return will help rejuvenate a stagnant Patriot offense.

Julian Edelman broke his foot in this game against the Giants (AP Photo/Gary Hershorn)
Julian Edelman broke his foot in this game against the Giants (AP Photo/Gary Hershorn)

  1. He is, by a wide margin, the man Tom Brady trusts most (my apologies to Rob Gronkowski) to be in the right spot at the right time
  2. He seldom drops a pass and often makes the hard catch look easy
  3. When Edelman is in, defenses have to adjust, giving others – like Gronkowski – more space to make the catch
  4. The weakest part of the New England offense, the offensive line, is exposed less with Edelman playing because Brady has that security blanket available for his quick release. No one else filled that role during his absence. Danny Amendola did his best, but it wasn’t quite good enough.

Don’t underestimate the importance of #4. The bye-week does give time for the big guys up front to rest. However, at it’s best, this season it was mediocre…even when rested.

The return of Sebastian Vollmer helps, but even when he was playing Brady was getting hit hard and often. The most consistent players have been perennial back-up Josh Kline (per Mike Reiss 77.4% of offensive snaps) and rookie David Andrews (68.5%), which shows just how bad things have been.

Other Critical Pieces Of The Puzzle

The return of Edelman alone is not a cure-all. Although it should make a huge difference on offense, the defense needs to get back to the dominant group that intimidated QBs throughout the league. The return to health of some key defensive players should take a lot of pressure off the offense, allowing wins while falling short of scoring 30+ points a game.

Dont'a Hightower sacks Cowboy's QB Weeden
Dont’a Hightower sacks Cowboy’s QB Weeden

  • Dont’a Hightower

Remember three years ago when we were all questioning Hightower’s ability to diagnose offenses and actually make the big play? As we’ve seen over the past two seasons, he has dispelled any doubt…he was a great 1st round draft pick (25th overall) in 2012!

Arguably the most valuable player on the defense, Hightower has played injured for a while now…and it has shown with his hesitancy on the field. Hopefully this bye-week gets him confident that he is OK and he’ll return the All-Pro that he was prior to getting banged up.

One of 12 1/2 sacks by Chandler Jones (photo: Keith Nordstrom NewEnglandPatriots.com)
One of 12 1/2 sacks by Chandler Jones (photo: Keith Nordstrom NewEnglandPatriots.com)

  • Chandler Jones

When Hightower got injured Jones production suffered, despite the help he got from Jamie Collins and Jaball Sheard. At one point it felt like Jones was going to smash all Patriot sack records, but by seasons end he had an injured toe and was struggling to get to the QB. The two weeks off (he sat the last game) should re-energize his motor and the combination of Jones, Hightower, Sheard, Collins, Akiem Hicks, Malcom Brown and, old faithful,  Rob Ninkovich will have opposing teams scratching their head when they have the ball.

…And Let’s Not Forget

  • Danny Amendola

If Edelman hadn’t been out Amendola wouldn’t have played (injury)  at the end. No one can ever question his toughness to me. Here’s hoping fans appreciate how much he has done this year, beside building a car port in an upper class area of Rhode Island. The trio of Gronkowski, Edelman, Amendola along with  James White, Brandon LaFell (yes, as 4th receiver), Steven Jackson and Keshawn Martin should keep defenses on their heels, cutting back on the pressure being put on Brady.

  • Tom Brady

    Down goes Brady and it hurts
    Down goes Brady and it hurts

No, he’s not an afterthought. When he limped off the field in Miami, Patriot’s Nation held their collective breath and looked to the sky. Why, oh why, was he even playing? Despite the (high?) ankle sprain sustained on a low hit (no penalty?) by arguably the dirtiest player in the NFL (Ndamukong Suh) you know #12 will be on the field doing anything it takes to win.

…And No More Injuries, Please!

It seems every day something new pops up on the injury front. Whether it was Chandler Jones last week or Nate Ebner Thursday, enough is enough.

In case you forgot, the non-playing Injured Reserve list for the Patriots includes these names we were counting on to help get to Super Bowl 50:

  • Nate Solder & Ryan Wendell from the OL
  • Running backs Dion Lewis (sigh) & LeGarrette Blount plus FB James Develin
  • Oft injured DL Dominique Easley

There are more, but those six were key players.

So, everyone else, please, stay healthy for the 1st real game of the season, January 16 at Foxborough…as the next step to ring #5 commences.

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

New England Patriots: Forget Gronk, Who Is This Leonard Johnson Guy?

Let me start by saying it was great to see Rob Gronkowski back on the field. There’s no doubt he made a big difference in the Patriot offense as they destroyed the Houston Texans 27-6 on Sunday Night Football. The win & Miami’s Monday night loss to the Giants gave New England the AFC East Division title once again.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady explains to the officials why the call should be against Houston (AP Photo/George Bridges)

Tom Brady was efficient (22/30, 255 yds, 2 TDs, 0 ints). Heck, he even helped the officials out with a call (see photo). James White continued to show promise, Danny Amendola was solid and, once again, Brandon LaFell had the drops (caught 5 of 8 passes)…but make no mistake, this game was…

All About The Defense One of 6 sacks as Brian Hoyer is brought down by Dominique Easley with help from Ninkovich. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

One of 6 sacks as Brian Hoyer is brought down by Dominique Easley with help from Ninkovich. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Yes, the offense put up 27 points against what was a surging Texan’s defense, but this was a game dominated by the Patriots D. There was never a time when you felt Houston could score enough points to win from their opening 3 and out to Tom Brady kneeling to kill the clock over the last 2 minutes.

Keshawn Martin (82) fumbles a punt during the second half (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Keshawn Martin (82) fumbles a punt during the second half (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Even when Keshawn Martin muffed a punt (this is beginning to become a habit) and Houston recovered the ball on the Patriots 22 with 10:32 left in the 3rd quarter there was no concern. New England was up 20-6 at the time and, despite their recent troubles with 14 point leads, you just knew this team would not blow another double digit lead.

Obviously Houston Coach Bill O’Brien had no confidence in his team’s ability to move the ball long distances when he ignored the opportunity for a chip-shot field goal and went for it on 4th and 4 at the Pats’ 15 yard line. An incomplete pass from Brian Hoyer to Nate Washington, who was covered by Leonard Johnson, and the D had done it again.

It’s easy to question the decision to chase points that early in the game, and I have to confess I did. The game was within reach and putting any points on the board would have given the Texans a lift with most of the second half still to play. He proved to be right though, as that was the last time Houston had an opportunity to score.

So, Who Is Leonard Johnson

Leonard Johnson, a  previously unknown cornerback, played 42 snaps (courtesy of Mike Reiss) and had a solid game as the #3 CB behind Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan.  The Texans were 0-3 throwing in his direction and he had one of the better break-ups in the game. Johnson  joined the team this week after being released by Tampa, and Bill Belichick jumped at the chance to bring him in and sign him to a 2-year contract.

Belichick is slow to give praise to any player, let alone one who had just joined the team, but he had this to say about the 4th year undrafted free agent:

“He worked really hard this week,” “It was a long week, a lot of extra work, a lot of extra meetings, some good competitive time on the practice field. Got to give him a lot of credit — he came in, learned and his teammates embraced it … .”

As the year started everyone had concerns about the Patriots’ secondary, but, to the surprise of all, it has been pretty solid through the first 13 games. Butler has had some great and some not-so-great games, Logan Ryan has grown into a sold #2 and now it looks like (I know, it was just one game) Johnson brought the final piece to the puzzle.

It’s Nice To Be Back On Top

Everything fell into place on this Sunday as the Patriots went from the #3 AFC seed back to #1, aided by Cincinnati and Denver losses. Once again they have control of keeping an important bye-week in the play-offs and home field advantage throughout. With 3 games left (Titans at Gillette next week, J-E-T-S and Dolphins on the road) they could, and should, finish with another 14 win season and a healthier team when they play the real games.

Game Notes:

It wasn’t all good news though, as the injuries continue to mount.

LeGarrette Blount was on his way to a big game before injuring his hip early (99 J.J. Watt) (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
LeGarrette Blount was on his way to a big game before injuring his hip early (99 J.J. Watt) (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

LeGarrette Blount (Hip), Devin McCourty (Ankle), Dominique Easley (Thigh) and Jonathan Freeny (Hand) had all left the field with injuries by the end of the game.

Blount is walking with the aid of crutches and is reportedly out for the season, Freeney has a cast on his hand and McCourty has a high ankle sprain. Easley was put on season ending IR Tuesday

  •  Jerod Mayo had his best game of the season, leading the team with 7 tackles
  • Defensive Lineman Akiem Hicks,  acquired in a trade from the Saints for TE Michael Hoomanawanui , was outstanding with 2 of the Patriots 6 sacks and was credited with 6 tackles.
  • Jabaal Sheard seemed to spend the entire game in the Houston backfield, as he had 2 forced fumbles, 3 QB Hits, 2 sacks and 5 tackles
  • J.J. Watt was a non factor except for one late hit on Tom Brady long after he had released the ball
  • The Patriots clinched a playoff spot for the 17th time in the 22 years Robert Kraft has owned the team.
  • This is the 7th straight year the Pats have made it to the postseason

Rob Gronkowski's 10th TD catch (Photo: Patriots.com Keith Nordstrom)
Rob Gronkowski’s 10th TD catch (Photo: Patriots.com Keith Nordstrom)

  • Gronkowski notched his 10th touchdown, marking the fifth time he’s done that in his career. That’s the most 10-plus touchdown seasons for a tight end in history (From Paul Perillo)

The Patriots have already had their trap game (Philadelphia) so should not let up as they take on the hapless Titans in Foxborough this Sunday

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

Dominique Easley And Chandler Jones Will Make Or Break Patriots Defense

Questions surround the Patriots defense going into the 2015 season, and almost all of them come from the secondary. With the loss of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Kyle Arrington the cornerback depth chart is thin and will for sure be a work-in-progress throughout the summer and into the start of the regular season.

Also, at the safety position, Devin McCourty will be under heavy scrutiny given his expensive new contract in which the team basically chose him, over Darrelle Revis. Next to him, Duron Harmon is a wild card, and you can’t expect much from Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson in the passing game. The old cliche is that you can fix a weak secondary, with a good pass rush.

That is something that Patriots fans have been harping on all offseason long, and I understand the optimism. The front seven is bursting with young talent and athleticism, but some players have yet to break out and really help make the Patriots front seven an elite unit. In 2015, they have no other choice but to make that leap, due to the fact that the defense needs to be carried by the front seven.

Chandler Jones has been one of Bill Belichick’s more overrated first round picks. In his three seasons he still hasn’t become that constant pass rusher that he was drafted twenty-first overall to be in 2012. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have used him in multiple ways, and he has yet to truly find his spot.

bookofbelichick.com
bookofbelichick.com

Early on he played as a 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the dirt, and that did not pan out well leading to injury. Early last season Jones transitioned from a stand up player that would drop back into coverage, to a 3-4 defensive end. He was ineffective at both positions. In coverage he was much to slow, and inside in the 3-4 he was way too over matched physically.

His toughness has certainly been a question mark at times, especially during September of last season. In addition, when he went down with injury, the team proved that they can be just fine without him when they brought in Akeem Ayers to essentially take over his role.

Jones biggest issue has been his ability to stay on the field. He missed six games last year with a hip injury, and it has been reported that he had surgery in the offseason. Nevertheless, he has been on the field during every training camp practice with the first team defense.

In previous seasons, when healthy Jones has been on the field for about ninety-five percent of the defensive snaps. With the addition of Jabaal Sheard, Jones may be able to rest and stay more fresh on Sundays. This, along with Bill Belichick placing Jones in a better role as a stand up edge player in a 4-3 set, could lead to him finally making the leap to an elite pass pro-level pass rusher. He has the potential to be a fifteen sack player.

Dominique Easley is for sure a player that will need to heavily contribute in order for the Patriots front seven to be an elite unit. After a non-existent rookie season, fans were hoping to see a fresh legged Easley during training camp. This was not the case as he began camp on the physically unable to perform list.

He returned on day number three of camp, and has been in attendance every day since then. However, the team is taking it easy with him, not throwing him into action right away. Most of his reps are coming with the second team. On Thursday, he saw some time with the first team squad and he impressed, blowing right through the line untouched at one point.

Easley has a very unorthodox set of skills. His mixture of speed, power, and physicality really is unmatched to any Patriots defensive player in recent memory. He is not exactly an interior pass rusher or space eater, nor is he an edge setter that can get to the quarterback.

If his knees can hold up this upcoming season, Easley needs to be what he was labeled coming out of the University of Florida. He needs to be a,”disruptor.” Collapsing the pocket, creating lanes for blitzing linebackers, and plugging up space to block running lanes is what he was drafted to do. He was dubbed as a top ten talent if he did not get injured in college, and after a fully healthy offseason Patriots fans should expect to see that talent emerge at the pro level this year.

In the end, Chandler Jones and Dominique Easley are the two players that will make or break the Patriots defense in 2015. The front seven is going to need to carry the load because of the lack of talent in the secondary. The team has lacked an edge rusher since Willie McGinest departed in 2005, and Chandler Jones was drafted to be just that. This may be his last chance to prove he can be that in a Patriots uniform.

patspulpit.com
patspulpit.com

Dominique Easley needs to help fill the void of Vince Wilfork in the middle. Without Vince, there is a lot of space left barren at the core of the defense. Easley needs to prove he can stay healthy and show that aggressive nature that he shows on the practice field often. It is safe to say both Easley and Jones need to show some nastiness in 2015.