The start of Patriots Training Camp is just days away and there has been a lot of change in the team’s roster than how it looked in February when the team won their sixth Lombardi trophy. The Patriots have a lot of depth throughout the roster and should be a couple compelling battles throughout camp for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Quarterbacks (3)- Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarred Stidham: The Patriots selected Stidham in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft and don’t think they’d be comfortable having him as the only option behind Tom Brady, especially with veteran Brian Hoyer on the roster.
Running Back (6)- Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (Fullback): The first three guys listed and Develin are locks to make the roster and expect all three to contribute this year, and with his contract I expect Bolden to be a lock as well and be a key contributor on special teams. The only potential question when it comes to this grouping is Rex Burkhead, who the team could choose to cut or trade due to his injury history and depth at the position, but expect the team to hold on to.
Wide Receiver (5)- Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Demaryius Thomas (PUP): The wide receiver battle in training camp and preseason is going to be an interesting one to watch as really no one besides Edelman and Harry are true locks to make the roster. Dorsett has been a solid contributor and a very consistent player when given the opportunity the past two seasons and expect him to make the team. After that the team could go in several different directions. Berrios had an impressive minicamp and hopes to become the heir slot receiver to Julian Edelman that the Patriots have struck out on finding the past few off-season’s with guys like Austin Carr and Riley McCarron. Inman didn’t have a good minicamp but has been a steady veteran his whole career and could add some size to the Patriots receiving core. The team could keep both, one, or neither Berrios or Inman and instead keep a player like Maurice Harris who had a good minicamp or Jakobi Meyers, who the team signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. Demaryius Thomas has reportedly been making positive strides towards being ready to play week one but I expect the veteran wideout to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the seaosn to fully recover from a torn achillies he suffered in December. Also, maybe a hopeful and potential Josh Gordon reinstatement at some point?
Tight End (2)-Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Ben Watson (Suspended): The position with the most change following Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Izzo has no NFL experience and LaCosse has virtually no experience, and with Watson being suspended the first four games for a PED violation I don’t see the tight end position being one to have any impact during that time.
Offensive Line (8)-Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Frodholdt: 2018 first round pick Isaiah Wynn is likely to fill the big shoes of Trent Brown who signed with the Raiders this offseason. Wynn is recovering from an achillies injury he suffered that forced him to miss all of last season. Karras and Froholdt both have the ability to play guard and under center, while Cajuste is likely to be the teams backup tackle. Cole Croston is a name who could also make this list depending on how many lineman the team decides to keep.
Defensive Line (8)-Adam Butler, Danny Shelton, Deatrich Wise, Michael Bennett, Chase Winovich, Mike Pennel, Lawrence Guy, John Simon: I loved the Patriots pick of Chase Winovich, who was great at Michigan both against the run and as a pass rusher despite being a little undersized. Both Winovich and Wise should be solid contributors at defensive end opposite Michael Bennett, who the team acquired this offseason in a trade with the Eagles.
Linebacker (5)-Donta’ Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts: This is the best the Patriots linebacking core has been in several years entering the season. Kyle Van Noy had a fantastic 2018 season and looks to continue that in 2019. The team brought back Jamie Collins this offseason after spending the last few seasons in Cleveland and he reportedly looked great during minicamp. Bentley was the star of training camp and preseason last year and got off to a good start in the regular season before suffering a torn biceps in week 3 that ended his season. If Bentley can get back to the form he was showing last year he could be in line for a great season.
Cornerback (7)-Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen: The best depth the Patriots have by far is at the cornerback position. Keeping seven corners is a lot but you can never have enough good corners in the NFL. I can’t wait to see the progression of J.C. Jackson and how good of a corner he could be building off his great rookie season. The selection of Williams in the second round of this year’s draft was somewhat surprising given the depth the team had at corner; but Williams is a big, physical corner who can also lineup at Safety and also be a potential Stephon Gilmore replacement in the future with his cap number being over $18 and $19 million in 2020 and 2021 or if the team decides to not bring him back when his contract is up after 2021 with the young pieces they have at the position. The Patriots may have the best cornerback group in the NFL.
Safety (4)-Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner: Ebner gets the nod over Terrence Brooks and Obi Melifonwu due to his special teams play. Melifonwu has a lot of potential as a former second round pick just two years ago and the team could see enough promise and potential in him to keep him on the roster.
Special Teams (5)-Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brandon King: At one point Ryan Allen was actually in the conversation for Super Bowl MVP against the Rams, but with the Patriots moving up in the draft to select Bailey there must be something that they see in Bailey that they like. Releasing Allen would also save the team $1.4 million in cap space.
The Patriots will take on the Giants tonight in the teams preseason finale before starting up the regular season. Before the start of the regular season comes roster cut-downs, which takes place Saturday, where the Patriots have to cut down the 90-man roster down to 53. The team has already made some cuts releasing wide receiver Eric Decker and safety Eddie Pleasant earlier in the week. It is assumed that most, if not all starters will not play tonight leaving bottom of the roster and roster bubble guys to show what they can do, and make one final push to make the final 53-man roster.
Riley McCarron and Devin Lucien
The Patriots wide receiving corps has gotten a lot of attention this summer as it is one of the weakest the team has had in recent years. With Julian Edelman slated to miss the first four weeks of the season due to suspension, the Patriots seem to only have three wide receivers who are locks to make the roster and contribute early on in the season in Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Only having three wide receivers is weak enough as it is, but having Dorsett as your number two and Patterson at your three is a sign of concern for many different reasons. I find it hard to believe that the Patriots would only carry three receivers and would add a fourth if not strictly for depth purposes incase of injury and expect that battle to come down to Riley McCarron and Devin Lucien. Both guys had good training camps, but have gotten limited action in the preseason so far. Lucien had a good performance against the Redskins having four catches for 71 yards, and then had no catches in the following two games in very limited action. Meanwhile, McCarron had no receptions against Washington and only one catch against Philadelphia and then four catches for 49 yards against Carolina and had gotten some snaps on the field with Brady, as well as contributed as a returner on special teams. If it comes down to these two I would expect McCarron to make the roster due to his special teams contributions, as well as a better fit into the offense as a true slot receiver. I would also expect the Patriots to try moving rookie Braxton Berrios to the practice squad to develop more after not playing in the previous two preseason games.
The defensive line is one of the biggest strengths and area of depth that the Patriots have, which makes it even harder fight for Davis to earn a roster spot. Davis has seen a lot of reps with the first team defense during the preseason as a situational pass rusher. Davis shined against the Eagles picking up 1.5 sacks and applying constant pressure. Davis was then quiet the following week against the Panthers where the Patriots seemed to struggle in every area of the game. In a game where I would not expect to see Trey Flowers or Adrian Clayborn, Davis should get plenty of opportunity to show why he is deserving of a roster spot.
Cyrus Jones and Jason McCourty
By now everyone knows the struggle Cyrus Jones had his rookie season and then tore his ACL prior to the start of his second season. Jones got his first action of the preseason last week where he contributed as on defense and as a returner. The talent is still there with Jones and has yet to be seen as both a corner and returner and could be too early to give up on the third year player. McCourty was one of the teams big offseason acquisitions, and has looked terrible up to this point in the preseason. After getting beat for a bad touchdown against the Eagles in week 2, McCourty played at both corner and safety last week against Carolina where he again struggled. As it looks McCourty might have a better shot at making the roster as a safety rather than a corner due to the depth the team has and how bad he has looked there. I want to see both of these guys get a lot of reps tonight as I believe they are potentially fighting against one another for a spot on the final roster. Something that wouldn’t be surprising is if the Patriots did release McCourty prior to the final 53-man roster cutdown and then brought him back at a lower salary.
With the news of first round pick Isaiah Wynn tearing his Achilles and likely being out for the year the Patriots are going to have to look elsewhere to fill the fourth offensive tackle position. The team has a number of journeyman and castoff veterans who are now fighting for that spot including Ulrick John, Matt Tobin, Cole Croston and Luke Bowanko. I give the upper edge to John, who has been a veteran in the league and had flexibility to be able to play both inside and outside on the offensive line. Croston spent time with the Patriots last year and due to familiarity between him and the team could earn the spot.
The Patriots have played two preseason games so far and have had several players stand out in an attempt to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster. Many things can change over the next few weeks and the final two preseason games, but here is my projection for the Patriots week 1 53-man roster.
Quarterback: (2) Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
No surprised here with only Brady and Hoyer making the roster at quarterback. Etling hasn’t shown near enough to be considered for a spot on the roster, but would expect the Patriots to keep Etling around on the practice squad if no one else claims him.
Runningback: (6) James White, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Another position group with no real surprises. At this point the biggest question at the running back position is the health of first round pick Sony Michel, who hasn’t practiced in about two weeks with a knee injury. Jeremy Hill has far outplayed Mike Gillislee in the first two preseason games and looks deserving of a roster spot.
Wide Receiver: (5) Julian Edelman*, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Matthew Slater, Eric Decker
This is the weakest wide receiving core the Patriots have had in some time. Outside of Chris Hogan and Matthew Slater, who is used mostly on special teams, there is no real lock for anyone else to make the roster with Edelman suspended for the first four weeks of the season. Dorsett was on the team last year and has gotten reps with the first team during the preseason and would expect to make the team. Patterson has shown some flashes on offense, as well as offers value in special teams as a returner. The last receiver spot will likely come down to Eric Decker or Kenny Britt. Decker has struggled in the preseason and training camp, but I give him the edge over Britt due to the fact that Britt hasn’t been able to get on the field due to injuries. Devin Lucien, Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron are names to watch for who could make a push for a roster spot during the final two preseason games.
Tight End: (3) Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen
No real surprises here as I believe all three of these players are locks to make the roster. The only way I could see this changing would be if the Patriots want to save money and get rid of Dwayne Allen and his $5 million salary and cap hit.
Offensive Lineman: (8) Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, La’Adrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Ulrick John
The loss of first round pick Isaiah Wynn hurts the depth of the offensive line group, as it was beginning to look like Wynn was going to contribute early for the Patriots. Trent Brown has looked phenomenal so far and looks like he could be an upgrade to Nate Solder, who the Patriots lost in free agency. I believe the first seven guys listed are locks as they were all members of the team last year outside of Brown. Ulrick John has looked decent in limited action so far in the preseason and offers flexibility being able to play at tackle and the interior of the offensive line. Guys like Cole Croston and Luke Bowanko could be in play for the final offensive lineman spot.
Defensive End: (5) Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise Jr., Keionta Davis
Clayborn, Rivers and Wise have all played really well so far in preseason and throughout training camp and are all locks to make the roster, as well as Trey Flowers. Keionta Davis is someone who Belichick seems to like and has spoken very highly of. Davis played a lot in the Patriots second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and did a good job of generating pressure. Davis has the flexibility to play inside and outside and generate pressure from both, and has an opportunity to be a name people wouldn’t expect to make the 53-man roster.
Defensive Tackle: (4) Danny Shelton, Malcolm Brown, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy
Shelton has looked great so far this summer and looks to be a big contributor to the Patriots defense. Both Shelton and Brown are in the final year of their contracts and look to have big years. Both Butler and Guy played well last year and offer flexibility being able to play all over the defensive line, with Butler being more of a pass rusher and Guy more of a run stopper. Vincent Valentine is currently on the roster bubble and could push someone like Keionta Davis off the roster.
Linebacker: (6) Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Brandon King
Hightower and Van Noy were obvious locks going into the season and have played well in limited action so far. The name of the preseason Ja’Whaun Bentley also looks like a lock after playing fantastic in the Patriots two preseason games so far, has been all over the field and returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Eagles. Bentley has been getting reps with the first team defense and if he continues to improve and translate his preseason success to the regular season will be a big contributor to the Patriots defense. Flowers and Roberts have been apart of the Patriots defense and expect them to make the team, as well as King who is used on special teams.
Cornerback: (6) Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones
The Patriots have a lot of bodies at the cornerback position and could go in many different ways. Jason McCourty was a big name acquisition this offseason but so far his play hasn’t translated to the buzz around him going into camp, and got beat badly on a touchdown last week against the Eagles. I expect him to stick around but am beginning to question the impact and role he could play. I think the real question comes with Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones, both who started off on the PUP list . Jonathan Jones played well last year as the teams primary slot corner before being injured, and then the team selected Duke Dawson in the second round of the NFL Draft, who was primarily a slot corner in college and has looked good in training camp so far and has been dealing with a small injury himself. Cyrus Jones was terrible on defense and special teams his rookie year, then missed his second year after tearing his ACL. I think it would be too early to move on from Cyrus after only seeing what he could do for one year really.
Safety: (5) Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Eddie Pleasant
McCourty, Chung, and Harmon are all locks and key members of the Patriots defense, as well as Ebner being a lock as a core member of the special teams. Eddie Pleasant has played decently in the first two preseason games, and I just absolutely hate Jordan Richards and will not give him a spot on my projection. So congrats Eddie Pleasant for not being Jordan Richards.
Specialists: (3) Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona
No surprises here as this has been the core the past few years and haven’t seen much out of Corey Bojorquez.
The rain couldn’t keep Patriots Nation away today as the Patriots opened up for their first training camp session of the 2018 NFL Season. As always quarterback Tom Brady received a standing and cheering ovation as he made his way to the practice field, as well as wide receiver Julian Edelman, who missed the 2017 season due to a torn ACL, also receiving a loud ovation from the fans as he walked onto the field for the first time.
For the first two days of training camp players aren’t in full pads and there’s no contact allowed which can make it tough to truly tell how the players look, there were definitely some players who stood out more than others. Two players who looked really well today were tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister. Gronkowski looking good shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone at this point as he’s the best tight end in the league when healthy. In simulated 11 on 11 drills Gronkowski was able to get free in the back of the end zone numerous times and catching everything that Brady threw to him. Hollister was someone who really impressed me today; making a tremendous catch in the back of the end zone that was contested by Eric Rowe and a perfect pass by Brady almost right in from of me. Later on in practice on the other side of the practice field he made another great catch in the back corner of the end zone from Brady which drew an applause from the crowd.
Someone who I wanted to keep an eye on today was rookie running back Sony Michel, who the Patriots selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. . Michel saw a lot of action with the first team offense during 11 on 11 drills and scored on a nice screen pass from Brady. The Patriots have a crowded backfield with Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, and Jeremy Hill; and can’t wait to see how Michel looks throughout the rest of training camp and the preseason and see if he can translate his success in college to the NFL.
While Michel was seeing some time with the first team offense today, the Patriots other first round pick Isaiah Wynn was running with the second team starting at left tackle. Like I’ve said it’s tough to tell how some players look during the first few days of training camp with no contact, this is especially true for offensive lineman. While Wynn started at left tackle with the second unit Trent Brown was the one taking reps at left tackle with the starters. The Patriots made a draft day trade to acquire Brown from the San Francisco 49ers, where he started at right tackle last season.
Something that I’m going to be paying attention to over the next couple weeks is the potential battle for a roster spot at wide receiver. With Julian Edelman suspended the first four games of the season, and the rumors of the Patriots moving on from Malcolm Mitchell look more and more true the wide receiver position could be one of need for the Patriots. After losing Danny Amendola to the Miami Dolphins this offseason the Patriots signed veteran Jordan Matthews, who on the outside looking in would seem to be a lock to make the final 53-man roster. The Patriots also re-signed Kenny Britt who spent some time with the Patriots towards the end of last season and the team likes apparently, who is starting off training camp on the PUP list. The team also has Phillip Dorsett who was with the team last season, but who I’m going to be watching are Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios. McCarron spent time on the Houston Texans practice squad last year and has drawn some comparisons to Wes Welker, who coached him last season while in Houston. McCarron looked very quick and explosive during kickoff return drills and looks like a prototypical Patriots slot receiver. Berrios was a sixth round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Miami, and while undersized at only 5’8-5’9 was a big time playmaker during his time with the Hurricanes. Both players were rotating around with the third team offense primarily, as well as returning kicks which could be the key for one of these guys to fight for a potential roster spot.
Day one is in the books and there will be plenty more to look for and see over the next couple weeks of training camp and preseason. But one thing thats clear is that the best time of the year is upon us as Patriots football is back!
Just when the Patriots defense starts to take a step forward in their play, they just took two steps backwards with the news that linebacker Dont’a Hightower will miss the rest of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Hightower is not only the leader on defense, but also the team’s top player at their weakest position which is linebacker. The team will have some decisions to make on how they go about replacing their star linebacker, whether it be through inside the organization or outside of it through a trade or signing someone off the streets.
The productivity and level of play that Hightower gives, the Patriots likely won’t be able to replace with just one player and might have to make several roster moves going forward. One move that the team is almost certain to make is removing linebacker Shea McClellin off of the injured reserve list when he is eligible to be taken off. The first game McClellin would be eligible to play in is on November 12th against the Denver Broncos following the team’s bye week. McClellin’s presence should help the Patriots linebackers in coverage against backs and tight ends, an area where the team has struggled mightily this season. Given the lack of depth at the linebacker position McClellin should be able to step in and contribute right away.
One thing that might be overlooked with the Hightower injury is his pass rushing ability and how this affects the defensive line. The Patriots really only have two true defensive ends and pass rushers in Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr., as well as Cassius Marsh who has goes into the game in certain third down situations but is primarily a special team’s player. Kyle Van Noy has the ability to rush the passer but doesn’t quite have the consistency and skill of Hightower of getting after the quarterback. The Patriots could turn to a couple of familiar faces to help in this aspect of the defense including Rob Ninkovich, who announced his retirement this summer but didn’t 100 percent rule out a possible comeback, and free agent Akeem Ayers who was a member of the Patriots 2014 Super Bowl team and is someone the team worked out at the beginning of the season. It is unknown what either guy has left in the tank and what they would be able to contribute, but their knowledge of the defense would allow them to be able to step in and contribute right away.
While its unknown what players could be on the trade block, someone who the Patriots could be interested in is also another familiar face in Jonathan Casillas. Like Ayers, Casillas was acquired by the Patriots mid-season in 2014 and was part of the Super Bowl Champion team and has familiarity with the defense. Following the 2014 Casillas signed with the New York Giants, with whom he still plays for, but with their 1-6 record they could look to trade some players and rebuild in the offseason. If available Casillas is someone I would expect the Patriots to look into before the trade deadline October 31st.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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