Tag Archives: Rob Gronkowski

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: The Deepest Roster In Years

The New England Patriots have had a long run of exceptional success. The Bill Belichick-Tom Brady link has a lot to do with the dominance they have over the rest of the NFL. This year, despite losing Brady for the 1st four games (no comment necessary), they have what could be the deepest, if not most skilled, roster in years. Despite missing some key players early due to injury, fans will be rockin’ as the 2016 Patriots evolve.

Are there still areas of concern? Definitely… but all positions are filled with strong, talented young players chomping at the bit to replace seasoned vets. Think about it. The lack of training camp transactions and difficulty in selecting who will be among New England’s 53 man roster opening day this deep into camp is a strong indication that the back-end will have skills needed to survive the long season.

COMPETITION IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE 

After two pre-season games, the competition for playing time is fierce. And, let’s face it, that’s good for everyone. Shoot, even Tom Brady, arguable the best QB in NFL history, can’t find playing time when he wants to. OK, I know, he was playing with scissors and cut himself, keeping him out of game #2, which he was scheduled to start. But the point is, someone has stepped in and done the job. You may not be a fan of Jimmy Garoppolo as the “long-term” answer when TB retires, but he has shown the ability to hold things together while Brady is out. Let’s take a quick look at what we could see on offense opening night, September 11, in Arizona.

Jimmy Garoppolo looked good against the Bears . (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Jimmy Garoppolo looked good against the Bears (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

QB: (2) This one’s a no brainer,( so I qualify), and my prediction -ta dah- unequivocally: the two slots are owned by Goroppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett. How’s that for stepping out on a limb. It is doubtful the Patriots will sign a veteran back-up QB for the 1st four games unless one of those two get injured. Brady does not take up a roster spot until game 5.

WR: (6) Who needs a real deep threat when you have a roster full of good hands, elusive players battling it out for a limited number of positions. The days of Randy Moss are long gone, so, as they say in certain circles, “forgeddabout-it.”

  • Veterans include Danny Amendola, Jules Edelman, Nate Washington, Chris Hogan, Keshawn Martin, Aaron (yep, he’s still here) Dobson and old faithful Matthew Slater.
  • Young and looking to step in players are Chris Harper, Malcolm Mitchell, DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien.

Injuries will factor in the final six. The availability of Amendola and Mitchell are the two question marks. If healthy they are locks, along with Edelman, Slater, Hogan and Harper. That leaves Washington, Martin, Dobson, Carter & Lucien on the outside looking in. If either Amendola or Mitchell can’t go, look for Martin to fill their slot.

TE: (3) Like QB, the first two are easy – Rob Gronkowski & Martellus Bennett. After that is a big question. Do you want a blocking, athletic or flexible player filling that role? Based on his performance to-date, I’m going with AJ Derby (FB James Develin is capable of filling the blocking TE role). As of 8/21 veteran Clay Harbor is listed ahead of Derby on the Patriot’s unofficial depth chart.

8-18 AJ Derby (Photo courtesy patspulpit.com)Rookie TE AJ Derby (Photo courtesy patspulpit.com)

RB: (5) BULLETIN – CSNNE is reporting Dion Lewis needs more surgery. James White has looked good in that role, but lacks Lewis’ elusiveness. LeGarrette Blount has impressed in pre-season, but is vulnerable with the emergence of Tyler Gaffney. Branden Bolden’s value on special teams will be the determining factor for him, leaving Joey Iosofa and D.J. Foster with little chance. As mentioned under TEs, James Devlin’s flexibility as both a blocking back and TE make him seem a certainty.

Final five – Gaffney, White,  Devlin, Bolden Blount. Would not be shocked if either Blount or Bolden were cut. It seems like every year Belichick makes a surprise cut, so either Blount or Bolden could be this year’s shocker.

OL: (9) As in all but a few predictions, health is the determining factor. Sebastian Vollmer is out & Tre’ Jackson is hurt. A decision on Jackson needs to come shortly. (A player must open training camp on PUP in order to be eligible to be placed on the reserve/PUP list to open the regular season).  His leadership will be missed, but the offensive line is gradually revolving into a young aggressive group, with rookie Joe Thune at left guard and Shaq Mason (broken hand) looking at more playing time. Center Dave Andrews beats out Bryan Stork at center,  leaving veterans Nate Solder, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle & Josh Kline joined by youngsters Ted Karras & Tre’ Jackson. If Jackson isn’t available (heaven forbid). add Marcus Cannon (ugh) to the list. No sense at all about Jonathon Cooper, who has been suffering with foot problems since the 1st padded practice. Probable IR candidate.

DEFENSE COMING MONDAY 8/22)

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

 

 

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: 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.

IMG_4208.PNG

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.

IMG_4206.JPG

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: Break Out The Lifeboats?

The question is: Did the Patriots stink-up the joint in their last 2 games. The answer is, without a doubt, YES. But it’s not time to jump ship.

Entering the stadium you didn't see the usual fire in Tom Brady's eyes (Photo: AP Lynne Sladky)
Entering the stadium you didn’t see the usual fire in Tom Brady’s eyes (Photo: AP Lynne Sladky)

So, what has been the reaction from fans all over the world? If you read social media after the game Sunday (Facebook or Twitter) a full-blown panic had set in. It was time to get the lifeboats out, because, the number of fans jumping from a “sinking” ship was astounding…and relatively short lived.

How Soon We Forget

It’s hard to believe this is the team that started the season 10-0. Well, maybe not the same team, as injuries have decimated what looked like a sure Super Bowl 50 contender. Key players fell in every game, yet somehow the “genius” of the coaching staff, from Bill Belichick on down, was being lauded, as the “next man up” philosophy seemed to be working beyond belief.

Hell, even ESPN, the propaganda arm of the NFL, caved in and finally acknowledged what the Patriots and Tom Brady were doing was miraculous.  People who always picked against New England were actually debating whether this team could go undefeated.

New England’s fan base increased as the wins continued to pile up despite the off-season slander of deflategate. Commissioner Roger Goodell was noticeably quiet when it was announced Tom Brady jerseys had become the hottest product in the NFL.

Then Was Then…And Now Is Now

Steven Jackson scored his first TD as a Patriot (Photo AP - Lynne Sladky)
Steven Jackson scored his first TD as a Patriot (Photo AP – Lynne Sladky)

So, what happened to suddenly make this team draw these and many other negative comments from fans:

 

 

  • “couldn’t beat my high school team”
  • “I was embarrassed”
  • “The team was 10-0 because of the schedule, not because they were any good”
  • “Injuries aren’t an excuse”

Thank goodness Monday rolled around and the emotions of Sunday’s loss to a terrible Miami team had calmed down. Reality set in. People started to look forward and they had some legitimate concerns.

So, now that a little time has passed since the loss (and 4 of their last 6), let’s look at 10 somewhat hard to take facts:

  1. Bill Belichick had the team playing “safe” once they clinched everything but the #1 seed. They didn’t seem to care about the regular season and started preparing for the play-offs.  Winning would have been nice, but not critical. Was this a good strategy? We’ll know in a few weeks.
  2. The team that lost to the Eagles, J-E-T-S and Dolphins will not
    Linebacker Geneo Grissom (92) sacks Ryan Tannehill (17) (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
    Linebacker Geneo Grissom (92) sacks Ryan Tannehill (17) (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

    win many play-off games with those units. Game planning seemed almost non-existent and players were not playing to their strength, but being plugged in to cover for losses. Coaching was a big reason in all three losses, but even then the team had opportunities to win…right up until Miami.

  3. Young fans under 30 have never seen this team look so inept and not seem to care. It was the first time this had occurred during the Belichick-Brady years.
  4. There is legitimate reason for concern (not panic).  The belief that all will be well when Julian Edelman, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Sebastion Vollmer and the rest of the walking (or limping) wounded return is optimistic at best.
  5. Let’s face it, the offensive line scares the bejesus out of every Patriot fan… on every play.  Brady threw just 5 passes in the 1st half Sunday and still got crushed when he dropped back. The OL could well be the Achilles Heel that ultimately brings this team down.
  6. The 10-0 start was a little deceptive considering the weak schedule, but, that said, it is still difficult to go 10-0 if you are not very good. The Patriots that started the season had outstanding weapons to confuse defenses along with a young, solid defense of its own. Dion Lewis was far better than Shane Vereen, who he replaced. Brady, Edelman and Gronkowski had established a trust that takes years to develop. The defense was young and aggressive, despite the loss of Darrelle Revis.
  7. Injuries are part of the game. They are not an excuse, they are a fact. It’s a game of attrition and, eventually, if you lose enough quality players you just aren’t as good.
  8. The Patriots aren’t built for trick plays, yet they continuously outsmarted themselves and it cost them. C’mon guys, a drop kick on a kick-off!
  9. Even Tom Brady looked disinterested toward the end. The fire in his eyes wasn’t there when he came on the field the last few weeks. The number of hits he took this year had an impact as the season wore down. We like to call him “Super Tom,” but must be real…it hurts to keep getting hit.
  10. The special teams were below Patriot standards. Yes, the loss of
    Stephen Gostkowski (3) gestures after missing just his 3rd field goal of the season in the 20-10 loss (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
    Stephen Gostkowski (3) gestures after missing just his 3rd field goal of the season in the 20-10 loss (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Edelman (the most effective punt returner in the NFL) hurt, but it was more than that. Players took bad routes and missed tackles resulting in teams getting better field position. The kicking game remained strong, but other areas seemed to suffer.

 

What’s-Up, Doc?

An almost two-week lay-off between games is a Godsend. It may not be a cure-all, but no one can deny it is desperately needed. The early bye-week was a long time ago and many players are playing tired.

New England’s next game will be Saturday, January at 4:35PM (CBS)at Gillette Stadium. There are 3 teams they could face: Cincinnati, Houston or Kansas City.

Quotes after Sunday’s loss:

  • Bill Belichick: “Right now we have one game that we have to win. The next game, we don’t even know who it’s against yet. All our attention, focus and energy will be on that…”
  • Tom Brady on his leg: “pretty sore, but I’ll be alright”
  • Steven Jackson on his TD run: “Inside zone, I bounced the play outside and had a [defensive back] there, so I just had to lower my pads to get in the end zone.”
  • Devin McCourty: “hit the reset button”
  • Tom Brady again: “…Nothing over the last six weeks is going to matter. Nothing over the last 16 weeks is going to matter. What’s going to matter is how well we play in two weeks.”

And that Brady comment, my friends, says it all.

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

 

New England Patriots: Belichick Lost Faith In Brady!

You can disagree all you want, but if, as Bill Belichick claims, he meant to kick-off starting O/T against the New York Jets Sunday there can only be one reason. He lost confidence in Tom Brady’s ability to pull off another miracle comeback, and that’s sad. Brady has made a career out of pulling the team out of the fire, often with limited resources.

The officials meet New York Jets' Darrelle Revis (24), teammate Calvin Pryor (25) and New England Patriots' Matthew Slater (18) and teammate Rob Ninkovich (50) for the coin toss before the overtime period resulting in highly questionable Patriots decision (AP hoto/Peter Morgan)
The officials meet New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis (24), teammate Calvin Pryor (25) and New England Patriots’ Matthew Slater (18) and teammate Rob Ninkovich (50) for the coin toss before the overtime period resulting in highly questionable Patriots decision (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

Those making the claim that he was playing it smart because the defense was playing well (428 yards) and the offense looked stagnant are missing the point. You probably are right in his reasoning, but how many times does Brady have to carry the team on his back to victory for the Head Coach to trust him to do it again?

Instead, by electing to kick, Brady never had a chance to touch the ball. No one can predict what would have happened if the Pats had elected to receive. They may very well have still lost…but at least you gave it your best shot by putting the ball in the hands of the greatest QB in NFL history.

After the game Belichick stuck by his call and said he wouldn’t have changed his decision. “We just didn’t play good enough defense.”

No one takes Rob Gronkowski (87) down one on one ( New York Jets' Antonio Cromartie (31) (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)
No one takes Rob Gronkowski (87) down one on one ( New York Jets’ Antonio Cromartie (31) (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

Always outspoken Rob Gronkowski had this to say “You always want a shot to score,”  “It is what it is.”

And finally, the always politically correct Tom Brady said “Whatever coach decides, that’s what the team does,”

Jet’s receiver Brandon Marshall was shocked by the call. “After the game Josh McDaniels came up to me, my old ball coach in Denver, and I asked ‘What were you guys thinking?’ Marshall said, via CSN New England. He explained to me the situation a little bit but I didn’t believe him.”

As the Head Coach said “I clearly thought that was our best opportunity, so that’s why we did it. I didn’t like the way it worked out, but to me that was the right decision for our team at that time.”

History Repeats Itself

It reminded many Patriot long timers of a call Belichick made on November 11, 2009. New England was ahead of Indianapolis 34-28 with 4th and 2 at their own 28. With just over 2 minutes remaining common sense said punt, but instead the Head Coach went for it… and failed on a controversial call. The  Colts took over and scored an easy TD to win 35-34.

Later Belichick said “I thought it was our best chance to win (sounds familiar). I thought we needed to make that one play and then we could basically run out the clock. We weren’t able to make it.”

A few other factors came into play in that game:

  1. They were facing Payton Manning in his prime and didn’t want to give him the ball with an opportunity to win
  2. The New England defense was struggling after the offense built a 17 point lead (In other words he didn’t trust it to hold the lead)

Former Patriots disagreed vehemently with the call – Rodney Harrison called it “the worst coaching decision I’ve ever seen Bill Belichick make.”

Tedy Bruschi said, “The decision to go for it would be enough to make my blood boil for weeks. … I would look at this decision as a lack of confidence in our ability as a defensive unit to come up with a big play to win the game.”

Sorry fans, but it was a bad call in 2009 and just as bad Sunday!

On To Miami

The good news is, the loss really didn’t cost the Patriots their chance to host all their post-season games up to the Super Bowl. A win Sunday in Miami and the season has been a complete success no matter what happens between the Broncos and Bengals. Achieving 100% of their goals for the regular season is astounding considering the injuries they have overcome.

Game Notes:

  • The Patriots sat their walking wounded with the exception of Dant’a Hightower. It cost them, but was worth it to give Devon McCourty, Patrick Chung, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman another day of rest.
  • The loss of McCourty & Chung was noticeable throughout the game and particularly in O/T when confusion in the secondary resulted in a 48-yard completion to Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa on the second play of overtime
  • Not a bad game by Brady, but also not one of his best. 22 for 31, 231 yards, 1 TD & 1 bad interception when he and Gronkowski seemed to be on a different page.
  • Steven Jackson made his 1st appearance in a Patriot uniform. As expected he looked a little rusty, carrying the pigskin 7 times for 15 yards
  • Brandon LaFell was the forgotten man with just 1 reception for 9 yards
  • James White had the only TD by the offense (leading to Belichick’s O/T thought process?)
  • A strip sack fumble caused by Jabaal Sheard resulted in 7 by the
    Jabaal Sheard (93) strips the ball from New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
    Jabaal Sheard (93) strips the ball from New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    defense when Jamie Collins recovered the ball and ran it 14 yards for New England’s 1st TD

  • The Patriots were 1 for 10 on 3rd down, leading to their demise (hurry back Edelman & Amendola)
  • The defense gave up 428 net yards while the offense could muster just 284

So, now it’s time to move ahead. It will be interesting to see who suits up against the Dolphins. With Sebastian Vollmer going down the offensive line is once again in shambles, so it is anyone’s guess as to who (whom???) plays where.

Sebastian Vollmer (76) is carted off the field during the first half (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Sebastian Vollmer (76) is carted off the field during the first half (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

 

Return of the Gronk

via bleacherreport.com
via bleacherreport.com

“There goes the season”, unfortunately that is a statement New England Patriot fans have had to utter more than they would ever thought possible. What can bring forth such dismay in the New England fan base that they are willing to conclude that their chance at a Championship is all but gone? The Patriots have possibly the greatest Quarterback to ever play the game, along with a head coach that has a thirst for winning like no other. Yet, over the past six years it’s been the occasional loss of Superstar Tight End, Rob Gronkowski which has thrown a virtual javelin into the heart of Patriot nation.

Gronkowski was drafted by the Patriots with the 42nd pick in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. At the time, although thought of highly by draft pundits, Gronkowski’s stock dropped considerably due to a 2009 back surgery. The Patriots were already three time Super Bowl Champions and consistent playoff front runners who already had a 16-0 season in their rear view mirror. So how is it possible that a man who had no previous involvement in the first half of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots masterpiece and had been  passed over by all NFL teams (including the Patriots) became the lynch pin for post season success? Rob Gronkowski is not only exceptionally good at his position but is a match up nightmare for most teams that play the Patriots.

Standing at 6’6’’ and roughly 258lbs, Gronkowski traditionally takes up two defenders and is widely considered a severe red zone threat. Having considerable chemistry with a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Tom Brady no doubt helps Gronkowski flourish, but one would imagine that the star tight end would be successful no matter where he plays. Gronkowski’s mere presence on the Patriot’s offense allows Brady’s other weapons such as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon Lafell a chance to run their routes with success due to the attention the tight end receives. With his sheer size and solid catching ability, Brady only has to throw a capable pass in Gronkowski’s vicinity and more often than not he will come down with it. When running backs such as Dion Lewis, LaGarrette Blount and James White need to work their magic, Gronkowski blocks better than most linemen, giving the backs every opportunity for success. The level of trust that Tom Brady admittedly has in Rob Gronkowski cannot be underplayed or undervalued.

The reason why so many Patriot fans were ready to throw away the entire 2015 season a few weeks back in Denver is quite simple, Gronkowski is THAT much of a difference maker. In 2011 during Gronkowski’s second season, the Patriots were riding an impressive offense with the likes of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as their Tight End double threat. During an AFC Championship win against the Baltimore Ravens, Gronkowski suffered a high ankle sprain on a tackle by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. Granted Gronkowski still played in the Super Bowl loss but was merely a decoy for the Giants, as Rob was too injured to be effective. In 2012 during a week 11 game against the Indianapolis Colts the star tight end broke his left forearm in the fourth quarter during an extra point attempt. Rob was able to return later that season during week 15 but reinjured his arm in a divisional playoff win against the Houston Texans ending his season. The Patriots would fail to beat the Ravens in the AFC Championship the following week.

In the 2013 season, Gronkowski spent the first six weeks healing from forearm and back surgery he had done before the season. Once Gronkowski returned to the field in week 7, a Patriots offense filled with mostly new players began to hit its stride. Sadly in week 14, Cleveland Brown strong safety TJ Ward tackled Gronkowski tearing his ACL and MCL in his right knee. The Patriots limped to the AFC Championship ultimately losing to the Denver Broncos. In 2014 Rob Gronkowski stayed healthy the entire season and despite a slow start, by week 5 Gronkowski looked like his old self again as he helped lead the New England Patriots to their 4th Super Bowl victory in fourteen years.

It’s very easy to see why New Englanders and Patriot fans around the globe held their collective breaths as Rob Gronkowski writhed in pain during the week 12 game against the Denver Broncos. Post season success seems to hinge on Gronkowski’s availability and as noted his track record isn’t wonderful. Thankfully, the star tight end only suffered a very painful bone bruise, but the image on the field was horribly to vivid and familiar.

After an unexpected return last week, many a Patriot fan watched their team battle the Houston Texans, cringing every time Gronkowski was tackled. As much as fans love seeing “The Gronk” plow through the competition, injuries of yester year will always be front in center.  If Patriot Nation had it their way, Gronkowski would no doubt be cloaked in bubble wrap until the playoffs were upon them.