Tag Archives: Jamie Collins

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

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

Week Two Preview: Patriots vs. Dolphins

After a week one 23-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the Patriots will make their home season-opener against the division opponent Miami Dolphins in week two of the NFL season. The Dolphins are coming off a tough week one loss against the Seattle Seahawks, where they lost after Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson found wide receiver Doug Baldwin for a touchdown in the final seconds of the game. There should be a lot to watch for with both teams coming off close games against tough NFC West opponents. Here are things to watch for and the Patriots will need to do to come out victorious for a second straight week.

 

Patriots Offensive Line

I have to admit, the Patriots offensive line played surprisingly well week one against the Cardinals with the absences of Solder, Vollmer and Cooper. We all know offensive line has been an area of concern for the Patriots and both Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon stepped up and played well against the Cardinals. This week they could both be starting again against another tough defensive line in Miami, with Ndamakong Suh, Mario Williams and Cameron Wake all being top pass rushers. Miami was constantly pressuring Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson last week and caused a minor injury to the quarterback, which likely lead to the low-scoring final score. If Nate Solder is not able to play for a second straight week the play of Fleming and Cannon will be very important for the Patriots offense.

cameron-fleming
via patspulpit.com

Containing Arian Foster

Yes I know, this is not 2011 but in his first game back from injury and with his new team Foster proved to be a big part of the Miami Dolphins offense. Against Seattle, Foster led the Dolphins in both rushing and receiving yards tallying only 38 yards on the ground on 13 attempts but had 62 yards on three receptions. The Pats will need to use Jamie Collins or Jonathan Freeny or even possibly Barkeviovs Mingo to cover and follow Foster out of the backfield. Mingo did not play against Arizona and is more of a pass rushing linebacker than a coverage backer but with his speed he could be someone the team to turn to to cover Foster and other backs throughout the season in the passing game without having to alter their defensive gameplay by moving Collins or Hightower.

arian-foster-fox
via foxsports.com

Will Gronk play? 

The big question that no-one knows the answer to. After a minor injury in the preseason it seemed like the Patriots were just holding Gronk out of preseason games as a precaution, that is until he missed last weeks matchup. How serious is Gronk’s injury? How long will he be out for? No one knows these questions, one positive sign though is that Gronk did report to the field for Wednesday’s practice and was listed as limited on the teams injury report. The Patriots offense looked decent on Sunday night and Garoppolo played well, but adding arguably and most dynamic and best player in the entire NFL back into your offense will always be an improvement.

gronk-preshapereads
via preshapereads.com

Justin Coleman

Coleman was the teams third cornerback for most of Sunday Night and looked very impressive, almost picking off Carson Palmer on two separate occasions. Coleman was someone who I was personally down on during the preseason and struggled a lot, I even kept him out of my 53-man roster projections, but he seemed to prove myself and many others wrong with his play the other night. This week he’ll likely be up against wide receiver Kenny Stills, which isn’t as tough a matchup as Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd or John Brown, but I would still like to see how he performs and see if he can take a hold of that third cornerback spot, that at one point looked like could be trouble for the Patriots.

NFL: New York Jets at New England Patriots
via musketfire.com

 

These are some of the things I will be looking to see in this Sunday’s divisional matchup against the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots Defense Will Fix Offensive Injuries/Problems in 2016

The Patriots have been the kings of the AFC and the NFL for the past 15 years and will need this young defense to become elite to continue that in 2016.

 

It’s only August and the Patriots already have two major long-term injuries on the offensive side of the ball with news of running back Dion Lewis needing a second knee surgery to clean up his knee after a season-ending torn ACL last season and will stay on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the season, and with offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer likely going to be placed on the season-ending Injured Reserve list. Both Lewis and Vollmer have been on the PUP list and yet to participate in training camp with the team prior to both these reports that surfaced Sunday.

 

Running back and offensive line were the two biggest issues the Patriots had last season and were still the two biggest issues the team faced heading into training camp, now these issues just got a lot worse before the season has even started. We all remember Marcus Cannon’s disasterous performance in Denver in the AFC Championship game and now it appears that Cannon will be the full-time starter at right tackle for the Patriots with the news of Vollmer likely going to be placed on IR.

lewis bleacher report
via bleacherreport.com

On the surface many people will look to James White, LaGarrette Blount, Marcus Cannon or Cameron Fleming to try fixing these losses, but where you need to look is the defense. The Patriots have one of the youngest defenses in the league with loads of talent and loads of potential, and rather than a Marcus Cannon or James White, they are going to be what carries and powers New England through these injuries and to the top of the NFL yet again.

 

This Patriots defense has now drawn a lot of hype going into the season and is one that people don’t think of when discussing the top defenses in the NFL, and this year that will change. The Patriots have atlas five guys on this defense who could potentially make the Pro Bowl in Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, and Devin McCourty, the first four who are all in contract years which will give them a little something extra to prove. This is the core of the New England defense and should turn New England into one of the top defenses in the league, then you add second-year man Malcolm Brown who had a very good rookie season, corner Logan Ryan who is also in a contract year and played very well last season as the teams number two corner, Patrick Chung, Rob Ninkovich, Terrance Knighton, Duron Harmon and Cyrus Jones just to name a few guys and this is one of the best and talented defenses in the league with a lot of depth. This is a defense that shouldn’t allow more than 20 points per game at most and that is what will help and allow this offense to be successful, especially the first four weeks with Garoppolo under center.

Jamie Collins
via csnne.com

The Broncos proved it last year, defenses win championships and had in my opinion, one of the best defenses of all-time. I don’t think the Patriots defense will be as good as Denver’s from last season and they don’t need to be. The defense has some questions as well at corner after Butler and Ryan but in my opinion are one of the most complete defenses in the whole NFl. They still have one of the top offenses in the league with Brady under center with Gronkowski, Bennett, Edelman and Amendola, but the losses of Vollmer and Lewis are huge and the way the Patriots will overcome these injuries and issues they face, as well as others that will come throughout the season is through the defense.

 

New England Patriots 53-man roster projection

The regular season is fastly approaching and with that comes roster cuts. Over the next few weeks the Patriots have to cut their roster down from 90 to 53, which won’t be easy with this being the most talented and complete 90-man roster the team has had during the Bill Belichick era.  With only one preseason game played and a few weeks of practices here is how my Patriots roster projection looks

 

Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett.  (Brady suspended first 4 games) (2)      This ones pretty obvious, Garoppolo will be starting the first four games of the season while Brady is suspended and once Brady’s back he’s taking over. There was talk about the Patriots possibly bringing in a veteran QB with rookie Jacoby Brissett in the backup role but Bill Belichick shot those rumors down this week and the two QBs on the roster will be Garoppolo and Brissett.

 

patriots-garoppolo-brissett-081516
via @csnne.com

Running Back: LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, James White, Tyler Gaffney. (5)                                                                                                                                                          Let me start off by saying no Dion Lewis is not getting cut. Lewis is currently on the PUP list and has yet to practice after his season-ending torn ACL last season and I think the team leaves him on the PUP to start the season. There has been speculation that Blount could be cut but I don’t think that’ll happen, running back is probably the weakest position on the team right now and I don’t see them cutting the veteran and going into the year with a bunch of backs with not much if any NFL experience. White did a pretty good job after the Lewis injury last season and looked good in the teams first preseason game and can be the pass catching back out of the backfield until Lewis returns. Gaffney is finally healthy and looked pretty good in the first preseason game, breaking off a 44-yard touchdown run. If he can continue to look good in games and practice he could find a spot on the roster.

 

Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Aaron Dobson. (5)                                                                                                                                       The first four guys listed are obvious, Edelman and Amendola are your starters, Hogan signed a big contract this offseason and Mitchell was taken in the 4th round this year and has looked like a stud prior to his elbow injury, which thankfully he’ll only miss up to four weeks with and has been practicing with the team already in non-contact drills. Not listing Matthew Slater as a receiver because he never plays on offense and is a special teamer. Aaron Dobson is the luckiest man in the world and will somehow find a way to make the 53-man roster again. Dobson always shines in camp and the preseason but can never get it together in the regular season. Keyshawn Martin is still not practicing with the team due to an injury and though I’m a fan of Martin don’t think he’ll make the final roster if he can’t get healthy. Rookie Devin Lucien and Chris Harper I think will find their way to the practice squad.

malcolm mitchell
via bostonherald.com

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, A.J. Derby. (3)                                                             Gronk and Bennett are two of the best in their position in the entire league and are obvious roster locks. The third tight end spot will come down to either A.J. Derby or Bear Pascoe. The two are completely different players, with Derby being a receiving tight end and Pascoe being a blocker. Derby made a few nice plays in the first preseason game against the Saints which could help him earn a spot on the roster. Pascoe could take over the Michael Williams role from last year as pretty much being an extra lineman on the field. It depends which route the team chooses to go but right now I give Derby the slight edge. 

 

Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Joe Thuney, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Ted Karras, LaAdrian Waddle, Marcus Cannon. (9)                          Jonathan Cooper was a tough cut here but with him being injured and his injury history it could be tough for him to make the team. Joe Thuney has looked like the teams best offensive lineman and like a steal selecting him in the third round of this years draft. Bryan Stork was a tough cut but with his concussion problems and inconsistent play it shouldn’t be a total surprise if he doesn’t make the team. With versatile players such as Kline, Karras and Thuney able to move to center and backup David Andrews, Bryan Stork could be replaceable on the line. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE Marcus Cannon but it doesn’t look like the team will be cutting him, even though he couldn’t block my 12-year old cousin. Tackle is really weak with Solder, Vollmer, Waddle and Cannon and the team could look to make a move. From what I’ve seen and heard I really like Ted Karras, he’s a guy who can play a few positions on the line and adds a toughness to the line. I think Tre’ Jackson starts the season on the PUP list to get  completely healthy and see what they have Karras, if he struggles they could move him down to the practice squad when Jackson is healthy.

thuney
via bostonherald.com

Defensive Line: Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom, Vincent Valentine, Chris Long. (9)                                     The most complete area on the roster. No debates on who makes the team out of this group. Markus Kuhn is someone who Bill Belichick likes but I don’t see him beating out any of these guys for a roster spot. Ninkovich is already practicing after tearing his triceps and is unknown if he’ll be able to play week 1 but he’ll be on the roster. Heard is gonna replace Chandler Jones with the help of Trey Flowers who was electric against the Saints and was all over the place making plays. Brown, Branch, Knighton and Valentine will add some beef to this line that will be hard to run against.

Trey Flowers, Luke McCown
via wwlp.com

Linebacker: Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Kamu Grugier-Hill. (5)                                                                                                                                                Not too much depth at linebacker but Collins and Hightower are two of the best linebackers in the league and are obviously locks. Jonathan Freeny played well last year and should also be a roster lock. McClellin is a similar player to Ninkovich and can play both linebacker and defensive end, he doesn’t do anything great but can do a few things well. Grugier-Hill is a smaller linebacker and played defensive back in college and played well in pass coverage against the Saints. He could have a big role covering tight ends and backs out of the backfield. I expect to see a lot of two linebacker sets featuring Collins and Hightower if both can stay healthy.

 

Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc. (5)                                                                                                                                                             A very inexperienced group outside of Butler and Ryan. Cyrus Jones was the teams top draft pick taken in the second round this year and is a lock to make the team and looks like he will be the teams starting slot corner. Jonathan Jones generated a lot of buzz during OTAs and at the beginning of training camp. He got beat a few times against the Saints but also made a few nice plays and pass deflections. Cre’Von LeBlanc has also been generating some buzz in Foxborough after his amazing interception against the Saints. He had good, tight coverage throughout the game and performed well in joint practices this week against the Chicago Bears. Was tough to not include Justin Coleman because of experience over Jones and LeBlanc but he has not had a very good camp up to this point. Got beat a couple times against the Saints in the first preseason game and struggled this week in joint practices with the Bears. This is a young unit with a lot of potential, but also a lot of question marks.

leblanc interception
via twitter.com @CL7_ENT

Safety:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards. (4)                           A very strong safety unit that could hopefully help out the young corners. McCourty and  Chung are two of the best in the league with McCourty providing help to corners over the top and Chung playing down in the box and covering tight ends. Harmon is similar to McCourty providing help and creates a lot of plays in the secondary. Jordan Richards was very limited last year and will be interesting to see how he does this year and the different roles they could use him in. 

 

Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King. (6)                                                                                                                                  The best special teams unit in the entire NFL. Gostkowski is by far the best kicker in the league in my opinion, Matthew Slater might be the best special teams player of all-time, Ebner is back from the Olympics and who is another great special teams player, as well as Brandon King. Another big contributor to special teams is Brandon Bolden who I have listed with the running back group.

 

 

                        

 

New England Patriots: Preseason Win #1 Was Fun

We’ve been waiting for this ever since the Patriots lost to Denver in the Post-Season AFC Championship game last season. And no one was disappointed in the way the 1st pre-season game started with the defense forcing 4 turnovers.

PATRIOTS 33 SAINTS 22

Although it was just the first game, there was a lot to look for in deciding just how good this season could be. Questions weren’t fully answered, but there were positive signs…and some areas of concern, based on the victory.

Jimmy G: He was OK. Not great…not terrible…not ready to fill Tom Brady’s shoes. Went 11-18 for 168 yards. After a slow start he improved as the game progressed. Critics remain unconvinced, while others see enough to be comfortable that New England will survive the 1st four games without #12.

Offensive Line: Oh- Oh, looked a lot like last year. Hopefully we’re not saying this as the real games begin. The 1st quarter in particular was a disaster, but things did get better as the game progressed.

Defense: If this was a sample of what’s to come, other teams are in for trouble. Lots of forced turnovers (4), scoring (2 TDs) and aggressive play. Was surprised to see Dont’a  Hightower & Jamie Collins play as much as they did, and both looked ready for the real games to start.

New Players:

Martellus Bennett (TE) looked like the beast we expected. He played in the 1st half and showed all the skills we thought he had, both catching the ball and blocking. Played 37 snaps (+), was thrown to 4 times with 3 catches and a key block on a big run by James White. Fans will be happy with not only his pass catching skills, but need to watch how good this big guy is while blocking for others. Can’t wait to see him and Gronkowski paired up, but probably won’t until Game 1 against Arizona. We can dream they’ll be in against the Panthers in pre-season game 3, but don’t count on it.

Gronk & Bennett

Nate Washington (WR) played, but wasn’t a factor. Doubtful to make the opening roster unless more injuries occur to existing corps of wide receivers.

Cre’Von LaBlanc (CB) –what do you mean who? had the play of the game with a great end zone interception. The undrafted free agent will have a tough time sticking, but he certainly had his time in the spotlight Thursday evening at Gillette

Cyrus Jones (CB) looked like a solid 2nd round pick (1st for the Pats), but need to see more of him to get a feel for his possible impact on this year’s team. Had a fumble recovery.

Joe Thuney (LG) has been installed at left guard and it’s looking more & more like it’s his job to lose. Although the O-Line had it’s trouble, he did not look bad in his 1st real action

Jacoby Brissett (QB) showed off his arm, but has to learn there are times you need touch and times you can’t force the play. Overall, the young man was fun to watch as he played the entire 2nd half and does show promise. (7-13, 64 yards) Not about to leapfrog Jimmy G yet!

Malcolm Mitchell (WR) showed the best hands of any WR on the team before (in a gruesome looking play) he extended his elbow and won’t return for at least 3-4 weeks. Look to see the 4th round draft pick on  IR, keeping him out of action for the first 8 weeks (Thanks for info from Jeff Kane).

The Good & the Bad

Good:  Jamie Collins (23 snaps +), Dont’a Hightower, who is playing with a chip on his shoulder (23 snaps +), Trey Flowers (Blossoming), James White & Tyler Gaffney (9 carries, 64 yards, 1TD)

 

8-11 Tyler Gaffney
Tyler Gaffney

Bad: Nate Solder, in his 1st game back after an injury riddled 2015, & special teams

One down, 3 to go. Here’s a little about the watch-ability of pre-season games.

Warning: Watching preseason football can be painful.

Of the four pre-season games, only one features players that will actually be on the roster when the opening bell rings. For your enjoyment, here’s a rating of preseason games:

  • 1* –  “Bubble” players are on the field, as teams don’t want to get roster players hurt
  • 2** – at least the 1st half should be of interest
  • 3*** – Close to the 1st cut, as key players are in & out of the lineup
  • 4**** – This is the only game when you see many of the regulars throughout the entire game

Game 1 vs New Orleans was **, although this year the 2nd half held interest as players that have show some skills played until the end. I believe this is the first time I have watched the entire 1st preseason game with interest.

Game 2 vs Chicago (Thursday, 8/18 8PM Home) *** More regulars playing longer period of time. A few of the walking wounded may actually see some playing time, but not much.

Game 3 vs Carolina (Friday, 8/26 7:30 Road) **** This is the closest the pre-season comes to a real game. Watch beginning to end with a sense of what the strengths & weaknesses of both teams are. Wondering how much Brady will play?

Game 4 vs NYGiants (Thursday, 9/1 7PM Road * Scratch your head while watching this one! You’re ready for the regular season and both teams are holding back and playing Plain Jane football.

It’s another year of football, and it should be outstanding in New England.

(+Snap counts courtesy of Mike Reiss, ESPN Go)

 

Patriots Training Camp: Day One Observations

The day we’ve all been waiting for is finally upon us, Patriots football is back. The Patriots kicked off their season today with the start of training camp with thousands of fans in the stands to show support for their team. As always, today’s practice session was simulated and unpadded with no contact allowed.

 

The biggest storyline going into training camp is that quarterback Tom Brady will be serving his 4-game suspension, and third year man Jimmy Garoppolo will be the starter for the teams first four games. The big question heading into training camp is how the Patriots will divide up playing time during practices and preseason games for Brady, Garoppolo, and rookie Jacoby Brissett with the first team offense. When the team began 7 on 7 drills it was Brady who was under center with the first team offense going against the first team defense, with Garoppolo then coming in with the second unit and two would rotate throughout the drills. When the team got into its 2-minute 11 on 11 drills it was Garoppolo who got all the first team reps going 18 for 21, while Brady worked with the second unit.

IMG_4216

Someone who stood out to me today was Aaron Dobson, which was a bit of a surprise. Dobson is on the bubble this year and will be fighting for his roster spot after disappointing during his first three seasons in the league. Dobson had two great catches in the end zone during 7 on 7 drills, one from Brady and a one-handed grab from Garoppolo. Chris Harper was someone who also made a few nice plays as well as rookie wide receiver Devin Lucien. With wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola starting off training camp on the PUP list the rest of the receivers on the roster should get a lot of reps in with Garoppolo and Brady and fight for their spot on the roster.

 

The teams biggest offseason acquisition tight end Marcellus Bennett had a very good first day of camp. It’s only the first day of camp and can’t really tell much from the practices being simulated and having no contact, but from what I saw pairing Bennett up with Rob Gronkowski is going to create absolute nightmares for defenses. Having two guys who are 6’6′ and as big and long as they are will cause a lot of problems for defenses and help out slot receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.

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Rookies Cyrus Jones and V’Angelo Bentley were the two who were returning punts and kickoffs during special teams drills. Jones, a second round pick out of Alabama, was one of the best return men in college football last season and showed a lot of speed when returning kicks. Hopefully Jones, and Bentley if he makes the roster, can help sure up a Patriots special teams unit which had it’s share of struggles last season.

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Not present for today’s training camp session were wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, running back Dion Lewis, guards Tre jackson and Shaq Mason, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, tight end Clay Harbor who were all placed on the PUP list, defensive tackle Alan Branch who was placed on the Active?Non-Football related injury list, safety Nate Exner who is training with the U.S. Olympic Rugby team and linebacker Jamie Collins who showed up to camp yesterday but did not practice with the team today.

 

The first day of training camp is officially in the books and I’m happy to say that Patriots football is back.

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.

Follow me on twitter @SnowdonBob

 

 

 

 

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: Play The Subs…PLEASE!

Another goal was reached Sunday when the New England Patriots routed the terrible (3-11) Tennessee Titans 33-16 in their final regular season game at Gillette Stadium. The win brought the beat-up, battered bodies of the home team to 12-2, but, more importantly, Denver’s loss to Pittsburgh guaranteed them a first round bye. The Patriots have now earned that honor for an NFL-record six consecutive seasons.

Malcolm Butler had a big game, including this interception in the end zone in front of Harry Douglas (83) (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Malcolm Butler had a big game, including this interception in the end zone in front of Harry Douglas (83) (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

How’s This For The Most Dominant Team In This Decade

  • Second team to ever have at least 6 straight 12 win seasons
  • Most seasons earning a bye since 12 team playoff format since 1990
  • 5 sacks against Tennessee and at least one sack in every game in 2015
  • Bill Belichick is 55-11 (.833) in December with New England, the best record in December among head coaches with one team in NFL history (min. 25 games)
  • Tom Brady tied Peyton Manning for the NFL record with the most seasons with 35 TDs (4)

The Patriots wrap up the season with road games in NY against the Jets and Miami to take on the Dolphins. They need to win one of those two games to assure home field advantage up to the Super Bowl. How important is home field? Well, since 1996 the Patriots are 17-3 playing at home in the real games. ‘Nuf said?

So, Who Do You Rest & When?

With injuries piling up every week the question arises, at what point do you start resting some of the walking wounded? The answer seems simple, NOW.

We all know Tom Brady will grit it out until the end, but even with a rotation of healthy running backs (James White has really stepped up and who wasn’t impressed with Joey Iosefa, oh yeah, and now Steven Jackson), enough WRs to get by (Brandon LaFell, Keshawn Martin, Leonard Hankerson Chris Harper) and the World’s greatest tight end (no need to name him is there?) New England should be able to win one, if not both of their remaining games.

Let Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman get as healthy as possible. Keep them on the bench until the games really matter, 4 weeks from now.

The defense continues to shine, so sitting Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung shouldn’t matter. Yes, all 3 are critical players if the team is to play in Super Bowl 50, but right now they can be replaced in the short run.

Defense Shines Again

Akiem Hicks recovers the ball for a TD after it was stripped from Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Akiem Hicks recovers the ball for a TD after it was stripped from Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Despite an understandable let-up in the second half the defense once again dominated. The list of players impressing grows game-to-game. This week it was Akiem Hicks turn to step up with a strip-sack (Chandler Jones featured photo) fumble recovery for a TD, a sack of his own, 4 tackles and constant pressure up the middle.

  • Chandler Jones had a two-sack game, bringing his season total to 12 1/2
  • New England is tied for 1st with Denver in team sacks (47)
  • The Patriots are now in the Top 10 in all key defensive stats…Points (7th), Yards (6th), Passing (8th), Rushing (10th)

Next Game: 1PM Sunday vs the Jets

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

 

New England Patriots:Moving On Without Any Excuses

I am a Patriot fan and have been since the original Boston Patriots came into existence in 1960, so now you know I’m REALLY old. Hell, I remember when Elvis was still The King. Those following this now great franchise are as loyal as you will find anywhere, and more so than most.

Boston Patriots 1960

Now that I have that out there, I have to admit that I’m getting tired of the whining.  A team of mostly battered and bruised players at almost every position (I know, no player in the NFL is 100% healthy right now) in a meaningless game, an offensive line (and, yes it is offensive!) that can’t block, one of the youngest defenses in the NFL and a usually reliable group of special teamers gave away two games they should have won. As a result many (not all, but a lot) Patriot fans are ready to hang the officials, blame Roger (Mr. Integrity) Goodell and, worst of all, start doubting the team.

Hey, they are 10-2 and still control their destiny. New England is positioned to get a bye throughout the play-offs by winning their last 4 games against teams they should beat. Calm down…Sunday was about as bad as it will get. Bill Belichick said after their worst loss in Kansas City last year…It’s “on to Cincinnati” … this year it’s “on to Houston.”

Worst Loss Of The Belichick Era?

This was perhaps the worst loss of the Bill Belichick era. No, not in term of importance of the game, but just how bad the coaching was, lack of adjustments made and overall team performance. At least the loss to the Chiefs last year was against a decent team. Not the case Sunday. The Eagles were ready to cave when the Patriots went up 14-0. And then something happened that had occurred a few times early in the season.  The Pats decided they needed to pour it on and the world turned upside down (someone please explain to me what that means…but it seemed to fit here).

The Turning Point?

Tom E. Curran of CSNNE disagrees, but the game changed when the Patriots decided to try a play that rivals that used earlier this year by Indianapolis in their loss to this same Patriots team. Their blunder was a fake punt, our was a fake kick-off!

"Now let's see here. Wait, I know...let's try a drop-kick instead of kick-off. That should fool 'em" (Photo: AP /Charles Krupa)
“Damn this high tech stuff. Now let’s see here. Wait, I know…let’s try a drop-kick instead of kick-off. That should fool ’em” (Photo: AP /Charles Krupa)

At that time we mocked the Colt coaching staff for their ineptitude and were thankful our Patriots wouldn’t and couldn’t do anything that dumb. Well, guess what? Bill Belichick just took a step back into the crowded list of coaches who do really dumb things that look horrendous when they don’t work…which is usually the case (ergo the word dumb).

A few weeks back it was an onside kid that the Patriots were lucky to recover (again when up 14-0) and we all laughed and said…smart move. Go for the knock-out punch. Sunday the brain trust on the sideline decided to try…are you kidding me…a drop kick by Nate Ebner, and it was the beginning of the end.

Up 14-0 and having the Eagles ready to concede the game, the brilliant minds of New England’s football team gave them hope…and the ball in great field position. Before you could blink (well, maybe not that fast, but it sure seemed like it) the Eagles had tied the game 14-14.

The botched kick (BB said after the game it wasn’t an on-side kick) and a missed assignment that led to a blocked punt resulted in two TDs for an Eagle team that had been inept up to that point. If it wasn’t an on-side kick than was the attempt being made to give the Eagles a chance? Sorry, not buying it Bill.

Second Half Adjustment?

Throughout this season I have praised the Patriots for their ability to adjust on the fly. Well, for yesterday’s game, I take it back.  Any adjustments they made were either wrong, or just plain arrogant. It seemed like the strategy was, as in last week’s loss in Denver, let’s throw the ball long and let our fleet-footed (huh!) receivers outrun a poor Eagle secondary.

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin (98) sacks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the first half (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin (98) sacks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the first half (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

  • Forget the fact that Brady was being hammered in the pocket and long passes take time to develop
  • Who cares if the Eagles are 26th in rushing defense, let’s fool them and pass-pass-pass…Brady threw the ball 56 times.

With the score knotted at 14-14 the Patriots continued to look like the Detroit Lions (that’s about the worst thing I could say), only worse. New England usually owns the second half, especially at Gillette Stadium. Shoot, when they get the kick to start things off after the break fans know something good is going to happen.

Forget that “score at the end of the half and starting the 2nd half” strategy that has worked all year. This time it was, let the Eagles score five (yes, 5) straight TDs without scoring a point and see if you can come back.

How The Eagles Scored

This isn’t pretty, so take a deep breath:

  1. Botched on side kick = TD. Coaching blunder
  2. Blocked punt = TD. Missed blocking assignment
  3. 99 Yard interception = TD. Brady throws into a crowd and looks really foolish trying to tackle Malcom Jenkins as he runs through the entire Patriot team (see featured photo)
  4. 83 yard punt return for Daryl Sproles = TD. Patriot special teams part the waters as he scrambles to the end zone.
  5. Bradford to Matthews for 10 yards = TD. Once again Tom Brady was intercepted on an up-for-grabs long pass intended for Brandon LaFell which was nowhere near him. Wrong route? Bad pass? Only the Patriots know, but bottom line another Eagle TD.

Every Eagle score was a result of a Patriot miscues. The only impressive offensive drive by Philadelphia was after Brady’s second interception. They took over with 2:10 left in the 3rd quarter and marched 80 yards, scoring with 11:14 left in the game to make it 35-14..

Garbage Time

Despite the big lead in the 4th quarter the Eagles still were ready to

Scott Chandler had a nice TD catch ( Photo: Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com)
Scott Chandler had a nice TD catch ( Photo: Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com)

give the game away (this is a terrible team folks). After the Pats went three and out following the Eagles final score, the defense stepped up and forced a Philadelphia punt with 7:54 left in the game. Brady marched the Patriots 71 yards, culminating with a Brady to Scott Chandler 14 yard TD as the clock ticked down to 5:33. 35-21 Eagles

This time the Patriots successfully executed a regular on-side kick and recovered the ball on their 45. Nine plays later Brady scored on a 1-yard run and it was 35-28 with 3:02 left.

Tom Brady scores on a quarterback sneak (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Tom Brady scores on a quarterback sneak (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Many in the Gillette Stadium crowd had already left, but those headed to the exits at this point stopped in their tracks and scampered back to their seats.

Another Brady Miracle Finish?

The Patriots 3rd on-side kick almost worked again, as Philadelphia muffed the kick, but the ball went out-of-bounds as the Eagles took over on the NE 46.

The Eagles again tried to give the game back when, after getting to the Patriots 25, Jamie Collins (he’s back) forced a fumble. It was all in the hands of the greatest QB in NFL history. Well, actually, it was in the hands of the receiving corps, who, after getting 1 first down, had 3 drops and the game was over. Eagles win 35-28.

Game Notes:

  • If my memory is correct the Patriots last drop kick was an extra point by Doug Flutie against the Dolphins in his last game in the NFL
  • James White was finally given a legitimate chance to make a

    James White (28) runs from Philadelphia Eagles linebackers Brandon Graham (55), Kiko Alonso (50), and safety Walter Thurmond (26) (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
    James White (28) runs from Philadelphia Eagles linebackers Brandon Graham (55), Kiko Alonso (50), and safety Walter Thurmond (26) (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

    difference and he took advantage of the opportunity with 10 receptions (on 13 targets) for 115 yards and a TD

  • The running game, when given a chance was effective. Despite just 13 carries, LeGarrette Blount averaged 4.2 yards per touch while bowling his way to 59 yards.
  • Danny Amendola made a difference with 7 receptions (13 targets) for 62 yards and a TD
  • It looked like Brandon LaFell cut off a long route on Brady’s 2nd interception. He ended up with 9 targets and a poor 4 receptions for a measly 24 yards…and he was the intended receiver on most of Brady’s long throws
  • Brady was sacked 4 times while the Patriots only got to Bradford once. Tom has already been sacked more times than he was all of last season
  • Scott Chandler had one of his better games (that’s not saying much) since joining the team with 4 receptions (7 targets) for 61 yards and a tough TD catch

     Jamie Collins a little late as Bradford releases while getting hit( Photo: Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com)
    Jamie Collins a little late as Bradford releases while getting hit( Photo: Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com)
  • Jamie Collins returned and led the team with 7 tackles
  • Of the Eagles 5 TDs, 1 was on defense and 2 were by special teams
  • Brady, pressured all game, was 29/56 for a deceptive 312 yards, 3 TDs, 2 int’s and  a rating of 71.4. Bradford, with little pressure went 14-24 for 121 yards, 2 TDs, 0 int’s and a 99.3 rating

 Moving On

Get the Philadelphia fiasco out of your head now. Don’t dwell on it, it will just give you a headache. It’s on to Houston to face the Texans, who are suddenly playing some very good football.

Early in the season this looked like a no brainer. When they were crushed by the Dolphins Patriot fans set them aside as a non-entity. That’s just not the case anymore.

Despite losing to the Bills yesterday 30-21 the Texans are in the hunt in the weak AFC South, tied with the Colts for the division lead at 6-6. In case you missed it, the game has been moved to Sunday Night.

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob