Tag Archives: Malcom Butler

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.

 

 

                        

 

Patriots Training Camp Preview: Things To Watch For

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.

 

Quarterback Reps

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.

NEL_0500.JPG
via bostonherald.com

 

D.J. Foster

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.

foster patriots
via patriots.com

 

Offensive Line

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.

Jonathan Cooper
vis bostonherald.com

 

Edge Rushers

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.

New England Patriots vs Green Bay Packers
via patriots.com

 

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.

cyrus jones
via patriots.com

The Battle of Rising Stars: Malcolm Butler vs. Allen Robinson

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.

via nfl.com
via nfl.com

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.

via www.cbssports.com
via http://www.cbssports.com

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.

Patriots Defensive Recap vs Buffalo: A Long Day For Tyrod Taylor

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.

via www.musketfire.com
via http://www.musketfire.com

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.

via www.cbssports.com
via http://www.cbssports.com

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.

Five Patriots Players That Need To Perform Well Against Steelers

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.

brandon bolden

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.

fansided.com
fansided.com

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.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

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.”

The Patriots Secondary Still Has Many Question Marks

Now that the third preseason game for the New England Patriots is in the books, we have seen just about all that we are going to see from what we believe is going to be the starting defense that has had so many question marks this offseason. With a complete turnaround in the secondary, fans did not know what to expect in training camp from so many young unproven players and cast off veterans.

Due to his second half of the Super Bowl heroics, Patriots followers were holding high hopes for Malcolm Butler to take control of the starting job. At the start of training camp it seemed like a far fetched fantasy, but Malcolm Butler has not only taken control of the number one spot, he has cemented himself there. Throughout the end of July and the month of August Butler has been making plays on the practice field, and when the bright lights of the preseason games come on.

When going up against the top tier quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton, Butler shut down receivers and didn’t allow many completed passes when the ball was thrown his way. Also, in New Orleans last weekend he showed some big time physicality coming up on sweep plays and laying the boom. However, it is only the preseason and I am still cautious about putting all my eggs in the Malcolm Butler basket.

Bostonglobe.com
Bostonglobe.com

Patriots cornerbacks have had a history of shining in their rookie season and falling off during their sophomore campaign. Examples include Devin McCourty, Darius Butler, and Alfonzo Dennard. Wait until he can prove himself against an elite receiver such as Antonio Brown, then you can say he is the real deal.

Another player that had expectations of starting at the beginning of the summer was third year cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan was very inconsistent his first two seasons, but the coaching staff seemed to like him judging on the amount of time he spent on the field. So far this preseason he has once again been underwhelming, getting beat often, and playing deep into each game which is not a good sign for a player with his experience.

He is very much in danger of losing his job. Although, he is a good contributor on special teams and he was drafted in the third round. That could be Bill Belichick’s excuse to keep him around unfortunately. The Patriots do need players at the cornerback spot, but Ryan has proven to be a liability when he is on the field.

Tarell Brown was a late addition to the Patriots roster right before training camp began. He has spent all of his career in the Bay Area with the 49ers and Raiders. He was a starter on the San Francisco defense that was in the tops of the league between the years 2011-2013. So far in a Patriots uniform Brown has impressed.

Last night against Carolina he received his first real game action, and even though he did not face and tough competition at receiver he made multiple plays breaking up passes. Most media members expect a rotation at cornerback for the Patriots to start the season. However, expect to see Tarell Brown at right corner more than others giving his experience. It might also be a benefit to have a young corner in Butler, match up with a savvy veteran like Brown.

With Bill Belichick surprisingly cutting Kyle Arrington late in the offseason, the nickel back position on the Patriots defense has basically been given to Robert McClain. The 5-9, 194 pound cornerback is in his first season with the Patriots after spending his first five season in Carolina, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. In the first preseason game against Green Bay he showed spurts of talent. His physicality and swagger is something the secondary could use this season because of a lack of talent.

He did however have a difficult night against the Panthers when back up quarterback Derek Anderson marched right down the field exploiting him. He was ranked out of the top forty best nickel backs in the league by Pro Football Focus. Arrington was in the top ten. The loss of Kyle Arrington has gone underrated up to now, but when the season begins fans will begin to realize just how influential he was.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

With rookie Darryl Roberts now on injured reserve, a spot could be opened for a second year players such as Daxston Swanson. He has been solid in the preseason, even though he has only seen time late in games. On the practice field he has received good reps. He was a practice squad player in 2014, and that’s where I would expect him to be in 2015 unless he has a stellar last preseason game.

At the safety spot the Patriots are all set as long as Devin McCourty stays at safety. Next to him there are a few questions. Last week at the Super Dome when McCourty was down playing corner, Duron Harmon was left alone as the top safety. he was picked apart by Drew Brees most notably on a forty-yard touchdown from Brees to Brandin Cooks who ran right past Harmon.

Not encouraging for fans due to the fact that Harmon will be asked to play a lot this season because of the amount of pass heavy teams they will face, and if McCourty were to get hit with injury it would be all up too Harmon. Patrick Chung and Jordan Richards will play heavily in run support.

In conclusion, Patriots fans should feel just as uneasy now about the secondary as they did at the start of the summer. Malcolm Butler has been a ray of hope and fans need to pray that he can continue some of his Super Bowl heroics in the regular season, and most importantly stay healthy. If not it will be back to 2011 and 2012 where the defense is constantly on the field giving up ridiculous yardage. Lastly, fans can’t rely on the old adage of, “Belichick will coach them up” because he has never proven that he can do that with a sub par secondary.

New England Patriots Evaluations And Observations From Preseason Victory Over Panthers

In the first half of the Patriots preseason week three matchup against the Carolina Panthers, the starters came out of the gates very slow on offense. Tom Brady did not have his key targets on the field in Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandon LaFell once again. He was left with players like Danny Amendola, Jonathan Krause, Michael Hoomanwanui, Aaron Dobson, Scott Chandler, and newly acquired Reggie Wayne to throw to.

For the better part of the half, all players had a tough time getting open leading Brady to scramble on multiple occasions. Once for a first down on a third down and three play. After Brady had set the Patriots up nicely with his first down scramble, Aaron Dobson spoiled the drive by dropping a nicely placed ball inside the ten-yard line into the hands of Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman.

Carolina then took the ball all the way down the field. However, they were stopped inside the five yard line when Devin McCourty blanketed Panthers tight end Greg Olsen on a third down in the end zone. It is safe to say McCourty proved Friday night that he belongs at safety. The starting secondary looked good as Tarrell Brown and Malcolm Butler made multiple pass breakups. That gives you confidence as a fan seeing how those are your two starting corners.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

On the next possession by the offense, the unit was off the field quickly as Brady fired the ball into the hands of Panthers safety Kurt Coleman. The defense once again picked up the slack of the offense, thanks to two very nice pass breakups by Malcolm Butler. Nevertheless, the offense continued to struggle due to bad interior offensive line play by the three rookie starters, not allowing running backs to go anywhere.

Also, Reggie Wayne’s only target was a terrible drop on an easy seven yard pitch and catch play. Cam Newton then proceeded to take his team down the field in a drive that should have ended with seven points. However, Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown dropped a ball in the end zone that couldn’t have been placed anymore perfectly in his hands, after he broke the ankles of Malcolm Butler. The drive ended in yet another Panthers field goal, putting them up by a score of 6-0.

With little time remaining in the first half, the Patriots offense had yet to accomplish anything and were concerning fans due to their lack of production throughout the preseason. This would be the last time fans would see Tom Brady on the field until possibly week six.

Brady did exactly what he needed to do, he brought his team down the field feeding the ball often to first-year Patriots tight end Scott Chandler. The Patriots were looking like they were stalling once again, until Tom Brady hit Danny Amendola, who was wide open, on a post route that put them inside the red zone. Then, Brady lobbed the ball up to the 6-7 Scott Chandler on a fade route in the corner of the end zone for his first touchdown pass of the preseason. The Patriots lead going into the break by a score of 7-6.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

At the start of the third quarter, it was obvious that Bill Belichick had told his starters in the locker room that their night was over. That was obvious for the Patriots defense, as Cam Newton took the Panthers right down the field and scored on a play action touchdown to Mike Tolbert in the flat. The coverage was awful, and they should have expected that play on third and two inside the five yard line seeing how that play is Carolina’s bread and butter. Panthers lead 13-7.

Jimmy Garoppolo then came into the game, and he started out a little bit to rambunctious. His first pass of the game should have been taken back for a touchdown by cornerback Bene Benwikere, on an out route intended for Jonathan Krause. Two plays later on a pass intended for Chris Harper, Josh Norman dropped a ball right in his hands that also would have been taken back for six. Those are mistakes the Patriots can’t afford for Garoppolo to make in the regular season. If that were to happen on opening night, they would be trailing early against one of the league’s top offenses. Not acceptable.

Later in the drive the Patriots were facing a tough third down and six situation. Garoppolo made a pro level play by stepping up in the pocket and firing the ball to Asante Cleveland right over the first down marker. Television broadcaster Dan Roche called the play, “Brady esque” which may have been a bit overzealous, but made some sense. However, on a fourth and four play a few plays later, Garoppolo made a another mistake throwing the ball to Jonathan Krause short of the marker where he was stopped. Not smart decision making on his part.

On the following possession by Carolina, back up quarterback Derek Anderson picked apart Patriots defensive backs Robert McClain, Nate Ebner, and Logan Ryan leading to a Panthers 39-yard field goal giving them a nine point, 16-7 lead. The Patriots were looking flat for the second week in a row, and Jimmy Garoppolo had to pick up the slack again.

Garoppolo took some time to get back into his groove. He under threw Aaron Dobson badly on a drag route across the middle of the field. Had he put it over his shoulder he would’ve been gone for a touchdown. He did bounce back, hitting Aaron Dobson down the sideline and putting the Patriots in the red zone. On the next play, running back Dion Lewis continued his stellar night by flexing out wide and running a slant route into the end zone where Jimmy put the ball right in his hands for the touchdown.

The Patriots then stopped the Panthers on their following drive thanks to tremendous pass break ups by Logan Ryan and Daxston Swanson, who had multiple on the night. The Patriots ended their next drive with a clutch 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski who has earned his money thus far this preseason.

Patriots.com
Patriots.com

The points did come with a price. James Develin looked like he suffered some sort of lower leg injury after catching a pass in the flat. He was carted off the field with his teammates, and coaches surrounding him. That is never a good sign. More than likely he will done for the year, which is a huge blow to the offense and he will be greatly missed.

The Patriots then made a very good stop on defense, and got the ball back with just over four-minutes to go in the game. Jimmy Garoppolo managed the offense very well handing the ball off and dinking and dunking the Carolina defense until the clock wore out. On a third down play with less than two-minutes to go, Garoppolo hit Zach D’Orazio on a screen play for a first down, sealing the Patriots victory.

In the end, the Patriots started off the game slow once again on offense Friday night, but Tom Brady’s final possession was very encouraging. The defense as a whole was solid. The starters made some great stops in the red zone, and are already living up to their reputation of, “bend don’t break.”

Next week against the Giants, we will hardly see any of the starters, therefore this was our last glimpse of the starting group before September tenth against the Steelers. That is not something fans should be over confident about, seeing how many of the same questions we had going into the preseason still remain. For example, will the secondary be able to hold up? Will the offensive line be able to protect Brady? I feel the same way about those situations now as I did going in. There are still starters that need to come back, but for right now I am a bit nervous as a Patriots fan.

New England Patriots: Finally A Game That Means Something

The first two pre-season games mean little to nothing.  They are an opportunity to shake the tree and see what falls out that may be a surprise among the newcomers.  The experienced vets play little and undrafted free agents and draft picks get their opportunity to catch the eye of the coaching staff…and most of all Head Coach Bill Belichick.

Now game three…that’s a different story!

New England vs Carolina: Finally A Game That Means Something

Pre-Season Game 3

Friday night’s Patriots’ game at Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC is important for many reasons. It will give fans their first chance to see most of the veterans in action and evaluate how things are expected to evolve when the season starts against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, September 10 at Gillette Stadium.

What to watch for Friday night:

  • How much playing time Patriots’ QB Jimmy Garoppolo gets with the first team unit against the Carolina Panthers first

    Luke Kuechly grabs Rob Gronkowski in the famous last play non-call loss (Photo: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com
    Luke Kuechly grabs Rob Gronkowski in the famous last play non-call loss (Photo: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

    team. Although most teams don’t “game plan” for preseason match-ups and keep things pretty vanilla this will be a true test against an always strong Panther defense featuring former Boston College Eagle Luke Kuechly. Last season the Middle Line-Backer was voted to the Pro Bowl and selected to the NFL All-Pro First Team for the second consecutive season.

Although Garoppolo took a huge step forward in last weeks comeback win against the Saints, every Patriot fan in the world is hoping Tom Brady is the starting QB when the opening bell rings. That said, the Patriots have to be ready if his suspension is upheld and Belichick is the best in football having his team prepared for every contingency. Sure Tom Terrific will play in this game and may get the majority of snaps…but this will be the only chance Garoppolo has to play with the offensive unit that will start the season and against an opponent who will also be using most of their “A” units on both defense and offense.

  • By 4 p.m Tuesday (9/1) all clubs must cut their rosters to 75 players on the active list.

That means many of the names you see on the current team roster will be gone shortly after this game. Those on-the-bubble players will be showcasing their talents in hopes they catch the eye of another team.  With limited playing time in this game they have to make every minute they are on the field count.

  • This will be a test of the evolving Patriots’ secondary and defense.

Malcom Butler makes the play in pre-season vs New Orleans (Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com photo)
Malcom Butler makes the play in pre-season vs New Orleans (Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com photo)

When starters have played against starters this pre-season (a small sampling at best) the Patriots secondary has been (I’m being kind here) challenged and, with the exception of Malcom Butler, have not met that challenge very well. Both the Packers (Game #1) & Saints (Game #2) seemed to march up and down the field with ease. On the positive side, as has been the case throughout most of the Belichick years, the team seemed to suck-it-up once the opponent got inside the Pats 20 yard line. The healthy return of Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo will be critical to this years defensive unit along with the addition of Jabaal Sheard and continued development of Jamie Collins. 

  • Gronkowski, Chandler and Wayne could see playing time

For the first time we could have a good look at Scott Chandler as he teams up with Rob GronkowskiAdd in the possible sighting of newcomer Reggie Wayne and it could make for an interesting mix despite the continued absence due to injury of Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. The playing time for Chris Harper will also be an indication of his likelihood to stick with New England while so many WRs are still hurting.

  • The annual shuffle on the offensive line continues

The return of Ryan Wendell should help quiet down the jitters of rookies Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason, who have both shown promise but also weaknesses that need to be worked on.  With Nate Solder and Sebastion Volmer back and the continued development of second year center Bryan Stork this unit should start to jell shortly.

  • The Shane Vereen question

As training camp started most (myself included) experts (did I just refer to myself as an expert? Surely not!) felt the Patriots would be hard pressed to replace the 3rd down efficiency of Shane Vereen.  Although his replacement has not yet been determined, a few leading candidates have stepped up and made themselves known. Last years 4th round pick, James White, has taken a gigantic leap in his second camp and is the favorite to step into the role. Keep a close eye on 24-year-old Dion Lewis who has bounced around since being a 5th round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2011 draft. He was out of football last year (leg injury) but has displayed some explosiveness, especially last week against the Saints.

Other developments will occur during the game, so enjoy this one all the way to the end.  Next week  the “locks” will sit while the bubble players will get most of the playing time before final cuts are made. The 1st and 4th games are usually the sloppiest and hardest to watch, so it’s nice to finally have a game that means something!

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