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.
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.
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.
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.
These are some of the things I will be looking to see in this Sunday’s divisional matchup against the Miami Dolphins.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Linebacker: Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Kamu Grugier-Hill. (5) Not too much depth at linebacker butCollins 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.
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.
It’s been a long six months but what we’ve all been waiting for is almost finally here with the Patriots set to open Training Camp Wednesday, with the first practice open to the public on Thursday. Here are some things I will be watching for once the Patriots kick off training camp.
Maybe the most obvious thing that will be mentioned on this list and for good reason as it will be the most important. As we all know Tom Brady ended his DeflateGate appeal snd will be missing the first four games of the regular season. As part of this suspension brady can not be around the team, practice with the team, be at the stadium, or even have contact with anyone from the team until his suspension is over. This puts the Patriots in a tough position of how they should split first team reps in training camp and preseason games between Brady, Garoppolo and even rookie third round pick Jacoby Brissett. Brady has been the leader of the team the past 15 years and has been playing with the core of the offense with the past three seasons, though he has the chemistry with Gronk, Edelman and Amendola you don’t want him not taking many snaps with these guys in camp then missing the first four games and have him come back where the guys could be out of chemistry and out of sync a little bit. Then you face the problem of having to make sure Garoppolo is ready to play in those first four games and can build up a chemistry with the first team offense. Garoppolo has yet to really play a true meaningful down in the NFL and getting him prepared is the biggest key for the team heading into the regular season. The team even has to mix Jacoby Brissett in for snaps just incase Garoppolo gets injured or isn’t playing well and the team has to make a change during the first four weeks of the season.
D.J. Foster is a name that is not known by many, but one people will be hearing a lot about this preseason. Foster is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Arizona State who is listed as a running back, but is more of a receiver than a running back which will help him and was known as more of an offensive weapon for the Sun Devils. It’s no secret that coach Bill Belichick loves versatility in his players and that a receiving back has played a huge role in the teams offense during the Belichick era. Dion Lewis will be starting training camp off on the PUP list which will give Foster even more of an opportunity to show what he can do on the field and fight for his roster spot. With running backs LaGarrette Blount and James White very much fighting for their own spot on the roster, Foster should get many opportunities to prove himself and earn a spot on the teams final roster.
The Patriots offensive line was absolutely terrible last year, partly due to injury and partly due to all around poor play. Long time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia even came out of retirement because he couldn’t stand watching his offensive line play so bad anymore. The Patriots made a few offensive line acquisitions this offseason most notably Jonathan Cooper in a trade from Arizona and third round pick Joe Thuney from NC State. Cooper was the seventh overall pick of the first round pick back in 2013 and struggled in Arizona in large part due to injury, as well as the team trying to move him from guard to center. Cooper is known for having a little bit of a mean streak which is something that Dante Scarnecchia loves in his players and something that really all offensive lineman should have. Thuney played tackle during his time at NC State but said he sees himself as more of a guard in the NFL.Even with Thuney being more of a guard than a tackle at the pro level the versatility he can provide is something that the Patriots covet in him. With offensive lineman Shaq Mason, Tre Jackson and Sebastian Vollmer all being placed on the PUP list to start training camp Cooper and Thuney should get a lot of snaps with the first team offense and could very well be the week one starters.
The Patriots traded their top pass rusher this offseason to Arizona for a second round pick and the aforementioned Jonathan Cooper as Jones was entering the final year of his rookie contract and the team was unlikely to sign him after the season. Jamaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich are locks to make the roster and be starters after both played very well last season. The team also added veteran defensive end Chris Long who was released by the St. Louis Rams this offseason. Long has taken a few steps back the past few seasons from his former Pro Bowl days at the beginning of his career. Long signed a very team friendly deal with New England because he wanted to go to a place where he could not only contribute but more importantly win. If Long can stay healthy and play in a limited role like Jabaal Sheard did last season, Long could have a very good season in New England. The Patriots will also look to second year men Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers to step up and contribute to the teams pass rush this season. Both Grissom and Flowers looked good in preseason last year but saw very limited playing time during the regular season with Grissom only collecting one sack and Flowers only appearing in one game. Flowers is more of a true pass rusher than Grissom and can’t wait to see how they involve him in the defense once camp starts.The teams pass rush this year could be a weak spot on this defense or be quietly very good.
Cyrus Jones and Darryl Roberts
The Patriots secondary was very good last season and better than most people had expected. Malcolm Butler proved that he could be a true number one corner in the NFL and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his young career. Logan Ryan went on to have a fantastic season and at times outshining Butler in the secondary and had a good 5-6 game span where he was dominant lining up opposite from Butler. Where the Patriots did tend to struggle last season was the slot corner. Guys were constantly being mixed in such as Justin Coleman and Leonard Johnson, and though they had their moments they often struggled. The team went on to draft Alabama corner Cyrus Jones in the second round, Jones has been deemed a little undersized but has very good speed and quickness as well as playmaking skills which could make him a great fit as the teams slot corner.Jones would constantly go up against some of college football’s top wide receivers playing in the SEC and would hardly ever get beaten. Jones should make an immediate impact in the secondary whether he be the teams slot corner or end up being a starter at some point throughout the season. Jones was also the top returner in college football last season and is expected to take over the kickoff and punt returning duties in New England. Darryl Roberts is a former seventh round pick out of Marshall who is entering his second season with the Patriots. Roberts was generating a lot of buzz for himself last preseason during training camp and was looked at as a potential starter to begin the season. Roberts ended up starting the first preseason game opposite Malcolm Butler against the Green Bay Packers, and then ended up breaking his arm on the second defensive series. He was later placed on season-ending injured reserve. Roberts should be easily 100% healthy entering training camp and will hopefully continue where he left off last year. If Roberts can come back healthy and looking as good as he can be, and Jones can step in and be a contributor the Patriots could build up a very good and very young secondary.
This week’s Patriots vs. Jaguars matchup includes two of the leagues up and coming talent and potential superstars in Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler and Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson facing off against each other.
As we all know Malcolm Butler has done a good job replacing Darrelle Revis as the Patriots number one cornerback and has the making to be one of the leagues top cornerbacks with continued improvement. Jaguars wide receiver is another guy who with more experience and improvement could work himself up the ranks of a top receiver in the NFL. Both players are in their second year and have had strong performances so far this year as well as good showing during their rookie seasons last year. Robinson is coming off a six reception, 155 yard, two-touchdown performance against the Dolphins last week, who were thought to have one of the best defenses in the league entering this season. Robinson was the key in last week’s victory and will be the key for the Jags offense going forward this season and further into the future. Robinson was having a good rookie year before having his season ended early due to a broken foot. He finished his rookie season with 48 receptions for 548 yards and two touchdowns. The biggest key to Robinson’s development may be the play of Jaguars second year quarterback Blake Bortles, who was taken third overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Bortles had an inconsistent rookie partly due to a lack of offensive weapons and the poor play from the teams offensive lineman and defense. If Bortles can play with more consistency and get the ball to Robinson, Robinson could be a very good wide receiver in the NFL.
We all have seen Butler’s amazing Super Bowl interception and have seen how well he has improved following during training camp, preseason and so far in the regular season. Butler showed his great ball skills again last week when making a great play to pick off a tipped Tyrod Taylor pass. Butler played well covering another one of the leagues top young receivers in Sammy Watkins playing him tight in man coverage and even played well against in my opinion the NFL’s best wide receiver in Antonio Brown. Though Brown has a good game collecting 9 receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown, Butler made a few good plays and played good tight coverage on Brown the whole game but like I said Brown’s the best receiver in the NFL and is going to get his each and every game regardless whose covering him. This week will be a different test for Butler going up against Allen Robinson, who stands at 6’3 and runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. I think Butler will be able to cover Robinson well, but the only thing that does worry me is Robinson’s speed and quickness with his height and could be dangerous if he goes deep.
You never want to go into a game thinking its an easy win, but lets face it it’s the Patriots versus the jaguars this week the Patriots should win pretty easy. The Jaguars haven’t looked bad so far this season starting off 1-1, beating Miami last week and losing a close game against Carolina in week 1 but this is not a team that can beat the Patriots and this will be the biggest matchup to watch during this weeks game.
One of the biggest keys entering Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills was for the Patriots to contain and limit Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The Patriots ended up doing this and one of the biggest reasons for this was Chandler Jones, who had a great game recording three sacks on the day.
Entering the game I said Tyrod Taylor would give the Patriots defense problems due to his mobility, he did do this at times but New England’s defense was able to transition throughout the game and limit Taylor’s effectiveness. On the day Taylor was 23 of 30 passing the ball for 242 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He also added 43 rushing yards on five carries with a touchdown. Taylor had a decent game and the numbers make it look better than he performed, besides the three interceptions and a strong comeback performance towards the end of the game when the Patriots began to struggle. The first drive of the game for Buffalo was a strong one, driving down the field and scoring a touchdown. New England defense then stepped up for majority of the game shutting down Buffalo’s offense.
Two key players were defensive end Chandler Jones, and linebacker Jamie Collins. Both recorded multiple sacks on Taylor (Jones 3, Collins 2.5), and also set the outside edge, which stopped Taylor from being able to scramble to the outside and break off large gains. Another player who played well defensively for New England was cornerback Malcolm Butler. This is nothing new to hear for Patriots fans, Butler has been making headlines with his play over the past few months and is looking like he can be a number one corner in the NFL. Butler made a great play off a tipped pass to make his first career regular season interception.
With the good of the Patriots defense against the Bills there was also some bad. The team gave up 160 yards on the ground. Stopping the run has been a problem for the Patriots over the past few seasons and has been so far this year against both the Bills and the Steelers. Another problem was the team allowed Tyrod Taylor to complete 76.7 percent of his passes. Elite quarterbacks will take more advantage of that than Taylor did, though he performed well besides the three interceptions. Part of the defensive struggles are due to the offense, who struggled in the second half including two failed fourth down conversions, which gave Buffalo good field position on both occasions.
Overall it wasn’t a great defensive performance from the Patriots but it definitely was not terrible. There are things they did really well and some things they need to improve on over the next few weeks. What I can say though is at this point in the season the Patriots look like the best team in the NFL, and it isn’t that close.
On Thursday night the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers will kick off the 2015 NFL season. As Bill Belichick would say, “The circus is in town.” The Patriots will finally put 2014 in the rear view mirror when they raise the championship banner. With Judge Richard Berman’s ruling coming out last week, and vacating Tom Brady’s four game suspension, most fans believe that the Patriots will just roll to victory. Not the case.
The Steelers were an elite team last regular season, and even though they will be without Le’Veon Bell, Marquice Pouncey, and Martavis Bryant they still have one of the best quarterbacks and wide receivers in the game. The Patriots need to bring their A game, and here is the five players that I feel are essential to victory, (besides the obvious ones).
5. Devin McCourty: Thursday night will be Devin McCourty’s first chance to prove himself, since the team handed him a hefty five-year 47.5 million dollar contract in March. Now, he will be the focal point of the Patriots secondary. Ben Roethilisberger will want to throw the ball all over the field no matter who is out there. McCourty needs to make sure he patrols the field and not let anything over the top.
In addition, McCourty may be asked to cover a tight end such as Heath Miller one-on-one in the red zone, as he did many times in the preseason. Safeties such as Patrick Chung have had issues covering tight ends in the past, and McCourty needs to make sure he can get the job done on Thursday.
4. Brandon Bolden: In my opinion, with LeGarrette Blount suspended for Thursday night’s game, Brandon Bolden will receive solid reps at running back. Although it will be a running back by committee system, Bolden is a very good pass blocker and that could be key Thursday night with an inexperienced offensive line. There is a good chance that the two rookie guards in Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason could be starting the game with, Bryan Stork injured.
That means that pressure coming up the middle and blitzing linebackers could disrupt Tom Brady and the passing game. Many think that new defensive coordinator Keith Butler will try to get after Tom Brady more than Dick Lebeau did. Therefore, Bolden has more veteran awareness to pick up those blockers than other running backs. In addition, he will play a big role in kick and punt coverage making sure Antonio Brown doesn’t break free.
3. Danny Amendola: The Patriots will be without Brandon LaFell on Thursday night, and in his place as the number two receiver, Danny Amendola will try to take over the work load. In his first two seasons in New England, Amendola has been mostly irrelevant. However, at the tail end of last season and into the playoffs, he was huge. For much of the preseason, Amendola was the only main wide receiver on the practice field with Tom Brady.
You would have to figure that the Steelers and Keith Butler will focus heavily on Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowksi, leaving Danny Amendola in lighter coverage. When it comes down to big third down plays where Gronkowski is double covered and Edelman is getting jammed at the line, Danny Amendola needs to be able to slip underneath on crossing routes for the first down. Also, he is a tremendous blocker on sweeps and screens, and expect to see some of those with Dion Lewis on Thursday.
2. Chandler Jones: It is certain, that Ben Roethilisberger is licking his chops waiting to pick apart the Patriots inexperienced cornerbacks on Thursday night. Many fans have probably been having nightmares of Antonio Brown and Marcus Wheaton running all over the field on the Patriots secondary. With a weak secondary, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will need to dial up some pressure up front. The most important player in getting to the quarterback will be defensive end Chandler Jones.
Jones played as a 3-4 defensive end in the preseason, as well as a stand up in a 4-3. On Thursday, Jones needs to take care of multiple duties. He needs to collapse the pocket and keep pressure on Ben Roethlisberger as well as keep contain and not allow him to make plays outside the pocket. That is what has made him so dangerous throughout his career.
1. Malcolm Butler: This is an obvious choice. Malcolm Butler has earned his role as the Patriots left cornerback during training camp, and now he needs to prove himself once again on the big stage. Butler could be covering both Antonio Brown and Marcus Wheaton at times on Thursday. The chances are that wherever Antonio Brown goes, the Patriots will be double covering him.
When Antonio Brown is double covered by Butler and McCourty, I wouldn’t be as nervous as when Butler is manned up with Marcus Wheaton. He needs to put Marcus Wheaton on the island and not allow him to get big yardage, which is the Pittsburgh bread and butter. If Butler performs well in a Patriots victory Thursday night, fans should feel comfortable about the secondary, but that if a monumental, “if.”
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