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Patriots – Broncos, Who Has the Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups

Tom Brady and the Patriots take on the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning for the 16th time on Sunday. (SBalestrieri photo) Tom Brady and the Patriots take on the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning for the 16th time on Sunday. (SBalestrieri photo)

The New England Patriots take on the Denver Broncos at Foxboro Stadium in a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m. and will be televised on CBS with their top announcing crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call.

The Patriots (6-2) have won four in a row and steamrolled the Chicago Bears 51-23 last week as Tom Brady threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski came thru huge for the offense catching 9 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns.

The Patriots defense led by Darrelle Revis, did a great job of limiting the many weapons of the Bears offense, holding Brandon Marshall to just three catches for 35 yards.

The Broncos (6-1) have also won four in a row since their overtime loss to Seattle and last week dominated a very good San Diego team at home 35-21. Peyton Manning has been outstanding thus far in 2014, tossing 22 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions.

The defense has been stellar, leading the league in rush defense allowing only 72.4 yards per game while boasting arguably the best pair of edge rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. The duo have combined for 16 sacks in the first seven games.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2014 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Broncos have met a total of 48 times in their history dating back to the AFL’s first game in 1960 with Denver holding a 28-20 advantage in those contests. The Patriots have the edge at home holding a slight 11-9 advantage over Denver. The teams met twice in 2013 with the Patriots winning a 34-31 OT November tilt in Foxboro and the Broncos winning the AFC Championship Game 26-16 in Denver in January.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

Patriots RBs vs Broncos Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Broncos
As we mentioned above, the Broncos have been outstanding at stopping the run allowing less than 75 yards per game. The middle of the defensive line with Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams are excellent at stuffing the middle. Runs to the perimeter have gotten little as the Broncos flow to the ball with a faster more athletic team than they had in 2013.

The Patriots are still feeling their way around the loss of Stevan Ridley who blew out his MCL and ACL in Buffalo a few weeks ago. Shane Vereen and rookie James White are more of a third down back than a road grader in the backfield. The team promoted Jonas Gray from the practice squad and he turned in a nice 17 carry, 86 yard performance against the Bears. Gray is big, physical and runs the ball hard between the tackles.

Going to be tough sledding against this group, look for FB James Develin to get some work trying to stay balanced in the run game. Also look for the team to try some mis-direction to get something going. With play-action passing so important to the offense, the team must stay patient with the running game this week.

Patriots WRs vs Broncos Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
After an abysmal September, the Patriots passing offense with Tom Brady has taken off in October as Rob Gronkowski has returned to health and energized the team.

Brady has also found a comfort level with new WR Brandon LaFell who has become a much bigger piece of the passing game. LaFell had career highs in catches (11) and yards (124) against the Bears last week. LaFell joins the reliable Gronkowski and Julian Edelman as Brady averaged over 317 yards passing in the past four games.

Denver’s secondary is much improved with the additions of CB Aqib Talib and Safety T.J. Ward this season, to go along with the underrated CB Chris Harris. But the strength of the unit is the pass rush with Ware and Miller who can quickly kill drives with pressure from the edge.

As we pointed out here in our All-22 focus, the only potential weakness of the Broncos defense is down the middle with Gronkowski and perhaps TE Tim Wright (7 rcpts, 61 yards TD last wk) in more of a 2-TE look this week. There was some talk this week that Talib would slide over to cover Gronkowski, similar to like he did last season when with the Patriots covering Saints TE Jimmy Graham. That should be interesting to monitor.

Protection is the key once again, if the Patriots give Brady time to throw, he’ll find ways to get the offense moving and scoring as this offense has been hot in the last month.

Broncos RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Broncos
The Broncos Ronnie Hillman who took over for the injured Montee Ball in the backfield has ignited the running game bringing an element of speed to the attack that wasn’t there before. Hillman isn’t the biggest guy at 5’10, 195 but he can get to the edge quickly and cut back against the grain which makes him particularly effective against the sub-packages the Denver offense usually faces.

The Patriots have had issues with their run defense all season. With the season ending loss of Jerod Mayo and the injury to Chandler Jones which will keep him out for at least a month it makes it even tougher. It will be interesting to see how the team uses DT Alan Branch who was just signed this week, if he plays at all. But the team must improve its tackling which has been sub-par thru most of the season.

Facing probably mostly sub-package looks to counter Manning, Hillman should have a productive game on Sunday. With a solid offensive line, look for Denver to take advantage of the lighter looks they’ll face right up the middle.

Broncos WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Broncos
Manning has a plethora of weapons that he can bring to bear in the passing game. DeMaryius Thomas and new teammate Emmanuel Sanders each have 47 catches on the season. Tight end Julius Thomas has nine touchdown catches and is a matchup problem for defenses taxed to the limit. Wes Welker remains in the slot and gives Manning his outlet safety valve.

New England has been very good against the pass this season allowing only 210.9 yards per game, good for second in the league. The team upgraded the secondary with the additions of CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. These moves can be specifically tracked to face teams like the Broncos; this week they’ll get the chance to do so.

The problem has been an inconsistent pass rush, now even more magnified with the loss of Jones, the team’s best pass rusher. In the ever-changing chess match of matchups, we’ll probably see Revis and DeMaryius Thomas as well as Julius Thomas matched up with Browner. That’s where things get interesting…

Kyle Arrington is best in the slot which means he’d draw Welker which would leave Sanders with either Alfonzo Dennard or Logan Ryan. There’s your mismatch if you are Manning.

From a Patriots perspective, they’ll have to play tight press coverage and contest everything in the short and intermediate area. That will throw off the timing of Manning and his wide receivers. Of particular interest there are those short crossing routes that Manning excels on, (158.3 QB rating) which defeats the press.

They’ll have to create pressure rushing only four as Manning like Brady annihilates blitzes and challenge the Broncos to throw deep. This should be a fun matchup to watch with all the new pieces in place on both teams.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Patriots
This will be a key area to watch as the Patriots STs units have been playing well. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been superb, his only FG this season occurring on a bad snap. Ryan Allen is turning in a solid season with a 46.2 yard average. Danny Amendola has given a boost to the Pats moribund kick return unit and Julian Edelman last week broke a punt return 42 yards to set the team up in the red zone.

Denver has Brandon McManus handling the kicking duties this season and hasn’t been asked to do much as the team has been very good at putting the ball in the end zone. Britton Colquitt is a solid punter with a 45.2 average and no touchbacks. Their coverage units have been solid.

Prediction:
This one should be another classic Manning – Brady matchup with the winner taking control of the AFC’s top seed. This marks only the third game on the road for the Broncos who opened with five or their first seven at home.

Homefield advantage is huge here, if this game were in Denver, I’d take the Broncos easily but Gillette has been a huge safety blanket for Brady and Belichick. The keys from a Patriots perspective is they have to, have to, have to (did I say have to?) play mistake free football. They can’t have any turnovers in this one and expect to beat the Broncos.

On the flip side, they will need to get a turnover or two and perhaps a big play of STs similar to what they did last season. With both offenses operating at a high rate, this one should have plenty of fireworks. The one thing that may tip the scales is the absence of Jones. Without him the Patriots may not generate enough pressure on Manning to force an early throw or an interception. Denver wins a thriller 28-27

Patriots Player to Watch-  Darrelle Revis
Last week was a tour-de-force for the Patriots newest and best addition to the defense. He blanketed Brandon Marshall and kept him bottled up all day and even turned in an interception late in the first half.

This week he faces the uber-talented DeMaryius Thomas and the national spotlight will be on. No one has been more scrutinized and under-appreciated this season than Revis, who has been excellent. Every minor catch has been talked about in detail on Twitter as if he isn’t supposed to allow a single catch.

The Patriots defensive philosophy this season has been to limit the big play in the passing game. To date they are the only team that hasn’t allowed a 40 yard pass play in 2014 and Revis has been a big part of that. Sunday will be the team’s biggest test and he’ll be looked to first.

 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Beating The Broncos, All-22 Look At How The Patriots Can Buck The Odds


Here we go again, Manning and Brady will face off the 16th time on Sunday in Foxboro. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos will face each other for the third time in less than a year on Sunday afternoon in Foxboro. As it always seems to be, this is a big game for both teams in both divisional and conference standings.

Denver presents some great challenges for New England; their offense has plenty of weapons to bring to bear and it all starts with QB Peyton Manning. Manning shows little signs of slowing down at age 38 and has 22 touchdown passes and just 3 interceptions on the season.

Having DeMaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Ronnie Hillman gives Manning plenty of options to utilize offensively. DeMaryius Thomas is the most talented and has the ability to beat opponents in the short, intermediate and deep passing games. Sanders has seamlessly transitioned into the Broncos passing attack, and Julius Thomas remains a matchup problem for defenses.

The Broncos defense is #1 in the NFL at stopping the run, allowing only 74.3 yards per game and they’ve upgraded their pass defense by signing CB Aqib Talib, Safety T.J. Ward and DE DeMarcus Ware.

How Does The Defense Stop Manning: So with their work cut out for them, how do the Patriots defeat the Broncos? First they’ll need to get an excellent game from their secondary with no mistakes made. Darrelle Revis will probably draw DeMaryius Thomas, Brandon Browner will probably draw Julius Thomas, that’s what they were brought here for. Julius Thomas missed the first game in Foxboro last year and was missed. But he was a big factor in the AFCCG in Denver. The corners will have to play tight, press man coverage and disrupt the timing of Manning and his receivers.

That would put Kyle Arrington on Wes Welker in the slot and the difficult job of covering Sanders? That un-enviable task will fall to either Alfonzo Dennard or Logan Ryan. That matchup on Sanders more than any other will bear close watching.

New England did well last November, and challenged Manning to throw deep, the elements, which should be similar on Sunday, didn’t loan themselves to being accurate throwing down the field. QB pressure will be key, and no Chandler Jones isn’t a good thing for the NE defense. Manning like Tom Brady, destroys defenses when they blitz, he’ll recognize it quickly and make you pay.

Stopping the Bread and Butter:Here are a few examples that Denver has shown using the NFL’s All-22 film. This is how they attack opposing defenses; they’ve been very successful using these plays multiple times.

Throwing crossing routes, Peyton Manning has a perfect QB rating 158.3 in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), the Broncos operate it to perfection and it is a staple of their offense.

On this play versus Arizona, the Broncos line up with Trips (3WR) left and Sanders wide right. Manning is in the shotgun and the Cards defense is showing blitz with the LBs sneaking up to the line of scrimmage.

Sanders cross AZ

At the snap Sanders cut across the formation just beyond the line of scrimmage. Welker in the slot crosses with Andre Caldwell who runs across the formation to the right, crosses over Sanders and rubs (knocks) Peterson who is trailing Sanders off the route. The result is a 16 yard gain.
Sanders cross AZ2

In the red-zone the Broncos, Julius Thomas has been very successful this year scoring nine touchdowns in just seven games. The Broncos have isolated him in single coverage on a safety and it is an easy mismatch for them to exploit.

Against the Jets they aligned in the Trips right (3WR) with Thomas split wide right singled up on a safety, who was playing off, about 5 yards deep allowing a free release.
Manning Thomas3JPG
At the snap, the three wide receivers stay on the left side of the field; Manning glanced at Welker running a corner route, drawing the deep safety to that side of the field. Thomas runs a slant and easily beats the defender to the end zone for the touchdown.
Manning Thomas2

They ran a similar play against the Colts on the 2-yard line with Thomas beating LaRon Landry on a slant where Landry was shading to the outside after having already been beaten there for a touchdown in the same game. This time he cuts inside and Manning hits him for an easy six.
Thomas 5 yd TD indy
Thomas 5 yd TD indy2

NE Offense This Week Must Attack The Middle Again: If there is a weakness to the Denver defense, it is defending the middle of the field, especially against the tight ends. Rob Gronkowski torched the Bears defense last week doing the same thing but this week’s matchup all-around will be much tougher.

I would expect to see more of the 2-TE sets this week with Gronkowski and Tim Wright as the Patriots will attempt to attack the middle of the field. Wright has been gradually getting more in sync with Brady and the offense and should see more snaps this week.

Against the 49ers Vernon Davis had success attacking the seams of the Broncos defense. On this particular play at the Niners 35 yard line, Davis runs a deep hook about 15 yards downfield and has good separation between the LBs and safety.
SF Davis 15 yds

Colin Kaepernick delivers it for a big gain out to midfield and also had Brandon Lloyd also at the numbers on the left side. The Niners ran this same play again later in the game but Davis dropped the ball for an incompletion.
SF VDavis 15 yds2

Last week against the San Diego Chargers, the Bolts faced a 3rd and 20 from the Denver 33 yard line. The Chargers were going spread with Antonio Gates lined up on the left side.
Gates 3rd 20

Gates just runs a straight post down the seam and beats the single deep safety easily for a gain of 31 to set the Chargers up at the 3-yard line for a first and goal. Philip Rivers delivered it perfectly and Gates hauled it in and nearly scores on the play.
SF VDavis 15 yds2

The Patriots will have to do much of the same things to beat the defense and the keys to stopping Manning are nothing new. This has been the blueprint for the past decade. But executing it and getting it done is another thing. If they are to be successful, they’ll need a big effort on both sides of the ball to defeat a more talented Broncos team on Sunday.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Broncos

DSC_0196195Patriots Broncos Oct 7
Demaryius Thomas is just one of many weapons the Broncos can bring to bear against New England. (SBalestrieri photo)

The New England Patriots face off against a familiar opponent when the Denver Broncos come to Foxboro on Sunday afternoon for a re-match of the AFC Championship Game participants of 2013. Kick-off is slated for 4:05 p.m. and the early weather reports call for rain and snow showers for the game.

The Broncos have made the trip to Foxboro the past three seasons and last year the teams met twice, once in Foxboro in November and in Denver for the AFCCG.

The Patriots (6-2) have won four in a row during which time they’ve averaged 39.5 points per game as the offense has begun to operate at a high level. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been hot in the last month. Brady in the month of October threw 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Gronkowski was unstoppable against the Bears on Sunday, catching 9 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns before leaving the game for dehydration in the 3rd quarter. He was instrumental in the team’s 51-23 drubbing of Chicago on Sunday.

The defense, missing two big pieces in Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones has been able to shut down opponents passing games with the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Sunday will be another big test against arguably the most complete team in the league.

The Broncos (6-1) are also riding a four game winning streak and are firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball. They dismantled the San Diego Chargers 35-21 last Thursday night and have had a “mini-bye” similar to what New England had last week before facing off against the Bears. They are rested and remarkably healthy.

Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense is once again the top unit in the NFL, with so many weapons to choose from, it is simply “pick your poison” as they’ve been nearly unstoppable in their first seven games of the season.

Emmanuel Sanders has more than made up for the loss of Eric Decker in the passing game. Sanders has tied for the team lead in receptions with 47 along with Demaryius Thomas and coupled with Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Ronnie Hillman the Broncos offense has the ability to create mismatches all over the field.

All-time History: This will be the 49th meeting between the two teams dating back to 1960. Denver leads the all-time series 28-20. The Broncos have played the Patriots at four different venues in those games, Nickerson Field at BU, Fenway Park, Schaffer Stadium and now Gillette.

New England at home leads all-time with an 11-9 record including a playoff win in 2011. The teams met twice last year with each team winning at home, however the game in Denver was for the AFC Championship and vaulted the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

As part of the lead-up to the game on Sunday, we’ll have a detailed breakdown of the matchups later in the week, but here are Five First Impressions of the Broncos:

Defense Much Improved: The Broncos were aggressive in free agency this past off season and the team went out and vastly improved their defense. The team signed former Patriots CB Aqib Talib, Safety T.J. Ward and DE Demarcus Ware and all three have played significant roles for the Denver defense.

The Broncos are the top team in the league in rush defense, allowing only 72.4 yards per game. The Denver front seven is consistently winning the battle at the point of attack. Look no farther than last week’s game against the Chargers, six of San Diego’s first 15 plays went for negative yardage.

One under the radar player to watch is LB Brandon Marshall, a practice squad player a year ago, Marshall is fast, athletic and makes plays all over the field. He made 10 tackles a week ago against the Bolts.

Sanders Thriving In Mile High: One player that has been fun to watch this season has been WR Emmanuel Sanders. After spending the first four years of his career in Pittsburgh, Sanders has taken off in his first half-season with Denver.

Sanders’ best season came last year when he caught 67 passes for the Steelers, he’s already caught 47 (tied for team high) for 634 yards and four touchdowns. With so many weapons on the offense, whenever Peyton Manning sees Sanders in single coverage, he looks his way and the results have been a big positive for the Broncos.

Sanders was nearly a member of the Patriots as the team had signed him to an offer sheet in 2013, but at the time he was a restricted free agent and the Steelers matched the offer. With the team losing Eric Decker in FA to the Jets, Sanders has more than made up for his loss with an impressive start to 2014.

Ware/Miller Tandem One To Watch: The Broncos pass rushing duo on the outside of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller is a key matchup this week for both teams to monitor. Ware, 32 is finally healthy after a series of injuries in Dallas and has been rejuvenated opposite the ever dangerous Miller. The two have combined for 16 sacks thus far in 2014.

These two will be especially interesting to watch as the New England offensive line which struggled earlier in the season, was vulnerable to speed rushers on the edge.

Manning Keeps Firing Away:Peyton Manning has led the Broncos offense to nearly 400 yards and 32 points per game in 2014, like fine wine he just keeps getting better with age. Manning recently passed Brett Favre with his 509th TD pass and now owns the NFL record and his numbers continue to grow.

Manning finished October on a hot streak completing 100-141 (70.9%) for 1320 yards, 14 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions for a QB rating of 127.4. He always provides a tough matchup for the Patriots and Bill Belichick and Sunday will be no different.

Hillman Matchup One To Watch: Since replacing Montee Ball as the starter in the Bronco’s backfield, Hillman has brought an element of speed along with Sanders to the Denver offense that has made him very effective.

Not the biggest guy at 5’10, 195, Hillman uses his speed to slash into the smallest of openings and break into the open for a big gain. His running has really given the Broncos the balance they’ll need in January when the playoffs start.

Look for Hillman to get a lot of looks against New England this week, as they’ll probably play a lot of nickel and dime coverage trying to slow the potent Denver passing game.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots 2014 Mid-Season Grades By Position


Tom Brady and the Patriots had a strong October to improve to 6-2 at the halfway point of the season. (USA TODAY Images)

With the first half of the 2014 NFL season in the books the New England Patriots stand at 6-2 and leading the AFC East by a game over the Buffalo Bills.

The team now begins the heavy lifting of the season with the next five games against some of the best teams in the league. As Bill Belichick likes to say, you don’t really know what you have in a team until after Thanksgiving. But the halfway point is always a good place to stop and take stock at where the team is in terms of development.

Thus far in the season it has been a tale of two months, September was not a good one as the team struggled in many facets of both offense and defense and stumbled out to a 2-2 start with many fans and in the media calling for the end of the Tom Brady era.

October has been much kinder to both Brady and the Patriots, the team has gone 4-0 and Brady has been much closer to the Brady that we’ve become accustomed to as the offense has taken off. Questions about the defense as well as injuries continue but overall things are looking much more positive.

Injuries Continue To Haunt Team: Much like the past several years, the Patriots have been bitten by the injury bug especially on the defensive side.

DT Sealver Siliga was placed on IR-Return and can be expected back after the Lions game on Nov. 23.

DE Michael Buchanan was placed on IR after the Cincinnati game (Week5) and was lost for the season.

RB Stevan Ridley was injured in Buffalo and was lost for the season being placed on IR after suffering a knee injury.

LB Jerod Mayo was also lost for the season and placed on IR after suffering a knee injury in the Buffalo game.

DE Chandler Jones was lost for at least a month and possibly longer after suffering a hip injury against the Jets in Week 7

So here at PatsFans, we’ll break down the team by position and give our mid-term grades for the 2014 season.

Brady, Gronkowski Carve Up Bears, As Patriots Rout Chicago 51-23


Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were an unstoppable dup for the Patriots against the Bears on Sunday . (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots absolutely dismantled the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon in Foxboro by the score of 51-23.

This one was over by half-time as New England raced out to a 35-7 lead at the break as the Bears defense couldn’t slow down never mind stop the Patriots offense all day long. It was an ugly game for Chicago who disintegrated before our eyes in the final two minutes before the half, but was an even more impressive win for a Patriots squad that looked as bad a month ago as Chicago did today.

With Chicago banged up on defense, the immediate plan was to attack the middle of the field with TE Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots did attack the middle and the Bears had no answer for QB Tom Brady or Gronkowski on the day as those two time and again tortured the Bears secondary.

The Patriots defense showed up in a big way on Sunday as well, keeping the high-powered Chicago offense under wraps until this one was already in the books.

Here are some observations on Sunday’s victory:

Brady On Fire: Tom Brady was laser-sharp on the day, the vintage Brady that played today had as many touchdowns (five) as incompletions on the day, completing 30-35 for 354 yards, 5 touchdowns, zero interceptions and most importantly zero sacks. An even more telling stat on the day on how sharp Brady was, of his five incompletions, three were drops.

This was Brady’s best overall game by far in 2014 and having the offensive line intact and in-place on Sunday was huge. Brady had time to throw all day long and against a Bears pass rush that can after the passer.

Gronkowski With a Monster Game: We said in our pregame write up as well as an All-22 piece the place to attack the Bears was right down the middle with Gronk. And the Patriots did in spades. Gronkowski was immense on Sunday, virtually uncoverable as he came up time and again with big plays no matter who covered him.

The final numbers for the big man were 9 catches for 149 yards and 3 touchdowns before he left with dehydration in the third quarter. He is when healthy, the best all-around tight end in the business and besides in the passing game, he put some punishing blocks out there for the running game.

His best moments were the 46-yard touchdown where he was able to break contain, shake off a tackle then out-race the safeties and linebackers to the end zone. He also came thru on a 3rd and 21 when he caught 24 yard pass from Brady to set the Patriots up at the two. And in the second half, facing a 3rd and 14 from the 15-yard line, he caught a Brady pass to keep the sticks moving which eventually ended up with a NE touchdown.

The New England offense is so much better when a healthy Gronk is on the field, and today was notice to the rest of the league that the big man is back.

LaFell With A Career Day: As impressive as Gronkowski was in the passing game, WR Brandon LaFell was as well with career highs in receptions (11) and yards (124) and also had a nice touchdown reception. After some struggles in training camp as well as being blanked in the first two games, LaFell has been getting progressively better as the season winds on at the half-way point.

LaFell provides Brady with a big, physical target on the outside who isn’t afraid of contact and helps out with blocking in the running game. Brady targeted LaFell and Gronkowski 20 times on the day. And he completed 20 passes for 173-yards and four touchdowns.

Tim Wright Getting Work In: Playing mostly in the second half after Gronkowski sat down, TE Tim Wright continues to get more comfortable in the offense. Wright chipped in with some nice numbers as well, 7-catches, for 61 yards and a first half touchdown.

Patriots’ tight ends on the day? 16 catches on 16 targets, 273 yards and 4 touchdowns… Total domination in the middle of the field.

Defense Steps Up: The Patriots secondary was facing its stiffest challenge of the year with the Bears having plenty of weapons to bear in the passing game. The tandem of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner was more than up to the challenge.

They shadowed the Bears wide receivers and were a physical, blanketing presence throughout the game. The Bears passing game at the end of the day netted 231 yards but the vast majority was garnered long after this one was over. Good news for a team facing the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

The rush defense wasn’t great but again most of the damage being done late in the game when the game was out of hand. The pass rush was not good however as Jay Cutler had plenty of time to throw for most of the game.

Jonas Gray also had a nice day running the ball for the Patriots, providing a nice physical edge. Gray rushed 17 times for 86 yards.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Oh My God, Revis Gave Up An 8 Yard Reception! Patriots CB A Bargain

Darrelle Revis has been outstanding all season for the Patriots and is indeed back. (SBalestrieri photo)

Darrelle Revis has been outstanding all season for the Patriots and is indeed back. (SBalestrieri photo)

Back in the spring, the New England Patriots signed two veteran cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to upgrade their secondary to now arguably the best secondary in the AFC.

Very little fanfare was heard throughout the summer as Revis, now fully healed from ACL surgery two years ago was outstanding in training camp and then in pre-season. But oh my my….his game has been dissected more than a frog in 7th grade science class in the first half of the season.

Twitter has been alive and kicking during every game this season, “Revis gave up an eight yard gain on that throw” …. “So-and-so caught that pass in front of Revis” etc, etc. Or as Jerry Seinfeld once said….yada, yada.

It is time to put that stuff to rest.

Through the first seven games of the season, the Patriots had the number one pass defense in the NFL allowing only 208 yards per game. But all we heard was, “well they haven’t played anyone yet…let’s wait until Chicago gets in town, followed by Denver.”

Chicago has as talented a group as anyone in the NFL with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte. Today, they accounted for very little until this one was over and done with. And this is the Patriots generating nearly zero pass rush to boot on the day against Jay Cutler.

Revis covered Marshall like a glove and was outstanding …as he has been all season. He’s still fast, deceptively strong and has the best technique of any corner in the game. And he was ready for this matchup against Marshall today and even got a pick in the process.

Browner was the same as he has been throughout his career, a big, physical corner who can punish opponents when they go out to catch the ball. Browner was beaten on a touchdown by Bennett late in the game and was flagged for pass interference. But there was plenty that could have been called on Bennett as well, who made a fantastic catch by the way.

Brandon Browner brings a physical edge to the Patriots secondary. (SBalestrieri photo)

Brandon Browner brings a physical edge to the Patriots secondary. (SBalestrieri photo)

Chicago had 67 yards passing when this game was essentially over, at half-time with the Patriots up 35-7. And Revis and Browner get a lion’s share of that credit. This secondary is light years better than the unit the team put on the field in 2013 or in any of the past ten years.

Is this defense perfect? Far from it, but the talk about Revis being not worth the money or not being the same player is bunk. He’s back and even with no pass rush, this team has a shot at beating the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

He and Browner give the Patriots, with McCourty at deep safety a secondary that we’ve seen in Foxboro in many a year. Quit the sharp-shooting and sniping over every pass reception allowed and enjoy the ride.

51-23 is hard to argue with…Now we’re off to Denver.

Patriots One of Many Teams That Call About Vincent Jackson Trade

Vincent Jackson is supposedly the target of the Patriots at the trade deadline. (SBalestrieri photo)

Vincent Jackson is supposedly the target of the Patriots at the trade deadline. (SBalestrieri photo)

On Sunday morning NFL.com’s Ian Rapopport has reported the New England Patriots are one of several teams that has called about a possible trade for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson. The trade deadline for the NFL is  Tuesday at 4 p.m. The Patriots are looking to boost their team for a stretch run and supposedly are looking for running back help as well.

Jackson at 6’5, 240 lbs is a big, physical WR who can stretch the field vertically as well as horizontally, the sticking point will be Jackson’s contract in which he has 2 years left on a 5-year, $56 million dollar deal. His base salary this season is $10 million. Reportedly Tampa is searching for a 2nd round draft pick. That along with his salary may take New England out of the running.

Jackson thus far in 2014 has 25 catches for 344 yards and 2 touchdowns. Coupled with the big TEs in Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright and WR Brandon LaFell would give the Patriots a huge receiver core for Tom Brady to work with.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted earlier on Sunday that Bucs running back Doug Martin is more likely to be traded than Jackson. Martin could be of interest to New England as well as he’s a threat to both run or receive out of the backfield.

While many Patriots fans are clamoring for defensive help given the injuries to Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones, it may be (if done) just a simple one for Bill Belichick to best improve his team. The Patriots haven’t been shy about deadline deals in the past and have had some good and bad luck with those. Aqib Talib in 2012, Isaac Sopoaga in 2013 are examples of both. The team has already traded for LB/DE Akeem Ayers earlier this week with the Tennessee Titans.

Defeating the Bears, Some All-22 Film Looks At How The Patriots Can


The Patriots will need a big game from Darrelle Revis to slow down the Bears offense on Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots take on the Chicago Bears on Sunday at 1p.m. in Foxboro. The game will be televised by Fox with Sam Rosen and John Lynch on the call. For New England, they’ll be facing an opponent with a diverse attack on offense and with a defense that is very good at rushing the passer.

Looking back at a couple of the Bears’ recent games on the NFL Game Rewind All-22 film, we’ve picked out a couple of plays that show how the Bears offense can hurt an opposing defense and a few that show where the Patriots should attack when they have the ball.

First the Bears’ offense, the guy that is arguably the most dangerous is RB Matt Forte. Forte has nearly 450 yards rushing and leads the NFL in receptions with 52; he’s capable of turning a two-yard pass into a 70 yard one and taking it to the house.

Against the Dolphins in the red-zone at the nine yard line, QB Jay Cutler lined up in the shotgun with Forte to his left. At the snap, Forte appears to stay in to pass block and just slides past the defensive end into the flat all alone on the left side.
Forte 10 yd TD

All of the Bears receivers pull coverage away from Forte, who was lost by the linebackers. Cutler flips an easy pass to Forte who scores easily. The Miami linebackers failed to keep track of Forte, something the Patriots should note. They may provide a linebacker to “spy” Forte wherever he goes on the field.

Forte 10 yd TD2

Against the Carolina Panthers, the Bears came out with their wide receivers spread wide. The Panthers were playing tight, press man coverage with 10 men in the box and only one deep safety. Recognizing single coverage with no safety help, Cutler immediately knew he was going to WR Alshon Jeffrey who was split wide to the right.
Jeffrey 31 yd

Jeffrey ran straight down the sideline and Cutler just flipped a pass about 25 yards in the air and hit Jeffrey with pin-point accuracy. He put the ball up high where only Jeffrey could get it and he made a superb leaping one-handed grab for a gain of 31 yards.
Jeffrey 31 yd2

New England’s corners will be tested in this one and even when they have tight coverage, they will still be hard-pressed to make a play. The key will be to play tight and not allow the big Bears’ receivers a free release.

On defense, the most obvious place for the Patriots to attack is the middle of the field. The Bears’ LBs and safeties are banged up and as of the Friday injury report both Lance Briggs and Jonathan Bostic are doubtful to play on Sunday.

Opponents have been targeting the Bears LBs and this is an area where Rob Gronkowski could be in-line for a huge game. Gronkowski possesses a unique ability to stretch the defense in the passing game and be a devastating blocker in the running game. The Patriots may use a lot of 2-TE sets on Sunday with Gronkowski and Tim Wright trying to work the middle of the field.

Having Gronkowski line up in-line and then take on a linebacker is something some of the Bears’ most recent opponents have down quite well recently.

The Panthers had the ball on the Bears’ nine-yard line and TE Greg Olsen lined up to the right side of the formation. QB Cam Newton was in the shotgun and at the snap the Bears were in good shape with two linebackers covering the middle.
Olsen 9 yd TD

But Olsen took a step inside and then broke on a slant to the right side. The LBs were out of position and Olsen had an easy catch for the touchdown.
Olsen 9 yd TD2

Later in the same game, the Bears were in zone-coverage and Olsen who lined up on the left side ran a post, perfectly splitting the linebackers and under the safety help over the top and had a big 19 yard catch, finally being brought down around the Bears 40.
Olsen 19 yd gain

Against Miami, the Dolphins had the ball on 13 yard line, the Bears were in a one-deep safety look, playing softer coverage. Miami was in a 2-WR/2-TE (12 pers) set with TE Charles Clay lined up in-line to the left of Ryan Tannehill who was in the shotgun. TE Dion Sims was split to the right.
Clay 13 yd TD

At the snap, Clay ran a corner route and was wide open beating the Bears’ LBs in coverage. Tannehill hit Clay for the touchdown pass as WR Mike Wallace pulled his coverage deep and to the middle of the field.
Clay 13 yd TD2

Also against the Bears, Clay lined up to the left side of the formation and ran a deep slant towards the right sideline in single coverage on a linebacker. An obvious mismatch, Tannehill hit Clay for a 25 yard gain.
Clay 25 yard gain

The keys for the Patriots will be to get QB Tom Brady the time to throw and recognizing the mismatches that Gronkowski creates and hit him with accuracy to create yards after catch. Once the Bears bring more help to the linebackers for Gronk, it will create single coverage elsewhere and the Bears CBs are also hurting. Peanut Tillman is out for the season and rookie Kyle Fuller is expected to play although he has a hip injury as well as a broken hand.

It doesn’t guarantee victory, but if they are able to take advantage of these mismatches and slow down the Bears offense, it should go a long way to having a successful day on Sunday against a talented team.

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Patriots – Bears, Who Has The Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups


Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright will be looking to continue a recent streak of success for the Patriots offense against Chicago on Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots return to action after a 10 day “mini-bye” and take on the Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The game will be televised on Fox Sports with Sam Rosen and John Lynch on the call. Kickoff is slated for 1:05 p.m.

The Patriots (5-2) have won three in a row and defeated the New York Jets 27-25 last Thursday night as Chris Jones blocked a last second 58 yard field goal attempt to preserve the victory.

The run defense was gashed for over 200 yards and the Jets controlled the time of possession for over 40 minutes. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense had the ball for only 19 minutes but were able to score 27 points. Brady continued his recent sharp play passing for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns including two to RB Shane Vereen.

The Bears (3-4) lost to the Miami Dolphins 27-14 dropping their home record to 0-3 on the season. The Bears have dropped three of their past four games and there were reports of players having to be separated in the locker room after the game.

The offense which has been inconsistent this season, has also turned the ball over too much in 2014. They will be looking to get RB Matt Forte involved in a big way, Forte leads the NFL in pass receptions and has rushed for 448 yards on the season.

The Chicago defense which has been banged up at the linebacker position was victimized by Ryan Tannehill last week. Tannehill completed 25 of 32 for over 270 yards. However as much as Chicago has struggled at home, they’ve been a very good 3-1 road team thus far in 2014.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2014 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Bears have only met 12 times in their history with the biggest matchup being the Bears 46-10 rout in Super Bowl XX. Overall the Patriots hold an 8-4 edge over Chicago with the last meeting being a 36-7 win in a snowy Chicago in 2010. Sunday will mark the Bears only fourth trip to Foxboro with the Patriots winning the first three.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

Patriots RBs vs Bears Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Bears
The Patriots running game took a big hit with the season-ending loss of Stevan Ridley during the Pats win in Buffalo two weeks ago. They are still trying to figure out how to share the carries with Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray who was recently promoted from the practice squad.

The Bears defense, normally stout against the run has been banged up especially with LBs Lance Briggs and Jonathan Bostic missing the past two games. Both returned to practice this week, albeit in a limited role.

This matchup should favor the Bears defense although it is imperative that the NE offense continue to stick with the run as the balance is important in keeping the play action passing a threat.

Patriots WRs vs Bears Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
Tom Brady and the Patriots passing game has been catching fire lately, Brady has passed for over 900 yards and 9 TDs with 0 INTs in the past three games, a far cry from the first month of the season when the passing game was scuffling along.

The recent success has been buoyed by the return to health of TE Rob Gronkowski who is rounding into form after his ACL surgery from last year. Gronk, Julian Edelman and Brady have had good chemistry and as WR Brandon LaFell and TE Tim Wright become more comfortable with the Patriots offense, they’re becoming bigger parts of the passing game.

The Bears can bring a lot of pressure on opposing QBs, DEs Willie Young and Jared Allen provide good edge pressure and the interior pressure by Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea will be key against a NE OL that has struggled to protect Brady at times in 2014.

As always that protection is key with the good news that OL Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have returned to practice this week. Brady will attempt to target the middle of the field against the banged up LBs and safeties with Gronkowski and Edelman. Look for Tim Wright to have a bigger role this week as the offense may go with more 2-TE sets.

Bears RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Bears
The Bears running game features the multi-dimensional Forte who has rushed for 448 yards this season. Forte is fifth in the league in rushing and provides a tough matchup for a banged up Patriots defense that has been gashed at times this season. It is interesting that the Bears only average 94.5 yards per game running the ball, as they should seem to doing it much more effectively.

The Patriots run defense took two big hits in the past two weeks as LB Jerod Mayo was lost for the season in the win over Buffalo and then early this week, it was reported that DE Chandler Jones injured his hip in the win over the Jets and will miss the next month.

With the changing faces along the defensive line and linebacker positions this week, look for the Bears to give the running game a renewed emphasis this week. They should be able to run and how effectively will go a long way in determining this one.

Bears WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Jay Cutler has some outstanding weapons in WRs Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and TE Martellus Bennett along with Forte who has been very effective at catching the ball out of the backfield. They are all big and provide some matchup mismatches especially in the TE department as NE has seemed to continually struggle coverage there.

However, Cutler remains inconsistent in his second season with Trestman at the helm, at times like the Atlanta game he’s nearly unstoppable and then at others he makes awful decisions with the football and turns the ball over. His play will ultimately decide whether the offense takes off on Sunday or scuffles along. After the debacle on Sunday at home, maybe the road trip is a welcome relief.

The Patriots have been very good against the pass allowing only 208 yards per game, and this is a game that seems to fit exactly why they brought in CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to face the bigger WRs in Chicago. While the Jones absence takes away their best pass rusher, the other players on the defense will have to step up and the coaches more creative in getting some pressure.

The Pats get the slightest of edges here because of the turnover potential. This is a good ball-hawking defense that is currently listed at #2 in the NFL with a +9 differential. They always seem to find a way to create a key turnover or two. The Bears offense has had issues there, giving up 13 turnovers (7 INTs, 6 fumbles) so far in 2014. This is the week for Revis and Browner to step up.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push
Both teams are solid in the kicking game and have reliable kickers. Stephen Gostkowski for NE and Robbie Gould for the Bears are both reliable and have very good range. Gostkwoski’s only miss came on a bad snap in Buffalo.

Both punters are likewise having solid seasons with Ryan Allen for the Pats averaging 46.2 per punt while the Bears Pat O’Donnell is averaging a solid 45.2 per punt as well. Both teams are looking to getting the return games untracked, so this will be a matchup to watch in a close game.

Prediction:
This should be another good, hard-hitting close game. Expect the offenses to score more this week as each team should have some success in moving the ball. The key from a Patriots perspective on defense is to slow down Forte. The all-purpose threat can influence a game either running or receiving and has gained over 150 all-purpose yards in four of the Bears seven games.

For the Patriots offense to go, Brady will have to get Gronkowski going in the middle of the field to target the Bears safeties and LBs, an area where they are vulnerable. I look for the Patriots to play more 2-TE this week as their game plan specific offense changes from week to week.

The biggest tipping point may be in the turnover department, something the NE defense has been very good at. If they can force a turnover or two that should be enough to win the day and the Patriots are always good at home. Brady should have another good day throwing the ball as the Pats hold serve with a close 31-27 win.

Patriots Player to Watch- Rob Gronkowski
The big tight end is beginning to round into form as his recovery from ACL surgery continues to progress. The past three weeks has seen his playing time increase as he not only is involved in the passing game but as a run blocker as well.

Gronk’s production in the past three games, 18 catches, 264 yards and 1 TD resemble pre-injury Gronkowski like numbers. He also opens up a lot of room for the other receivers as he tends to generate a lot of attention from opposing defenses.

This is a game tailor made for him to have a big influence in. He along with Brady are the two most important members of the Patriots offense. Look for him to have a big game on Sunday.

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Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Bears

The Bears Brandon Marshall will be one of the key players to watch in Sunday's game in New England. (USA Today photo)

The Bears Brandon Marshall will be one of the key players to watch in Sunday’s game in New England. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots return to action after a much needed 10 day mini-bye to take on the Chicago Bears in Foxboro on Sunday. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox with Sam Rosen and John Lynch on the call.

The Patriots (5-2) defeated the New York Jets 27-25 last Thursday night as Chris Jones blocked a last second 58 yard field goal to preserve the victory. The game marked a tough stretch of four games in 18 days as the team needed a break both physically and mentally.

The offense scored 27 points while only possessing the ball for 19 minutes and Tom Brady continued on his recent hot streak, tossing three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The running game struggled with the absence of Stevan Ridley gaining on 63 yards on the ground.

The defense struggled against the run, getting gashed to the tune of 218 yards as the Jets held the ball for more than 40 minutes, totally owning the important time of possession subplot. Now with a breather, the defense will look to rebound.

The Bears (3-4) lost to the Miami Dolphins 27-14 on Sunday dropping them to a very improbable 0-3 at home in 2014. The Bears, who have missed the playoffs in six of the past seven years need to get going and soon if they wish to reverse that trend this season. However, the Bears are 3-1 on the road, so they’ll have that in their favor.

As part of the lead-up to the game on Sunday night, we’ll have a detailed breakdown of the matchups later in the week, but here are Five First Impressions of the Bears:

Meltdown Sunday Shows Frustration: After their third loss at home on Sunday there were reports of players pointing fingers and having to be physically separated. While those things can’t be allowed to happen, it shows the frustration level that exists as this is a team that should be (on paper) much better.

The very talented but mercurial WR Brandon Marshall was particularly bothered to not be getting the ball enough. The last thing the Bears need is for Marshall to revert to the player who worked himself out of Denver and Miami.

Patriots fans have seen some of that same frustration on Brady, however nothing to the level we’re allegedly hearing from Chicago. It will be interesting to see how much they Bears try to get Marshall involved quickly on Sunday.

Bears Receivers Offer Biggest Challenge Yet: While the Patriots pass defense has been at the top of the NFL thru the first seven weeks, four of the top ten passing teams will face them in the next six games. So we’ll have a much better appreciation as to where this pass defense is.

Chicago easily has one of the biggest receiver cores in the NFL, Marshall 6’4, Alshon Jeffrey 6’3 and TE Martellus Bennett 6’6 all give QB Jay Cutler tremendous size to box defenders out and be able to get jump balls in the red zone.

But it is the 6’2 RB Matt Forte who is the biggest target in the passing game. Forte has already caught 52 passes out of the backfield and adding in his 448 yards on 111 carries in the running game, the Bears have some very talented offensive weapons.

Pressure Key For Bears’ Defense: While Miami QB Ryan Tannehill torched the Bears for 277 yards and 123.6 QB rating, it was ability to scramble that was a key component in that game. Tannehill ran for 48 yards in the contest including a huge 30 yard scramble that set the tone.

The Bears’ DT Jeremiah Ratliff led the way for the pass rush logging in 3.5 sacks of the Bears four sack effort on the day. With the interior push, that will be key to playing the Patriots this week. DE Jared Allen can still bring some pressure from the edge and Willie Young who has seven sacks will push from the outside, but nothing makes the immobile Brady more ordinary than pressure up the middle.

This will be a big matchup this week for both units, with CB Kyle Fuller hurting and questionable to play this week with hand and hip injuries, the Bears will need pressure to slow down the Patriots passing game. Tannehill completed 25 of 32 passes, if Brady has similar numbers, it won’t bear well for the Bears defense.

Look For Run-Heavy Look This Week: New England has struggled to stop the run this season, in losses to the Dolphins and Chiefs and the near loss to the Jets they were gashed badly. The Bears offense has been somewhat Jekyll/Hyde this season as they’ve been extremely inconsistent.

One of the biggest reasons has been turnovers; QB Jay Cutler has turned the ball over 10 times this season. A big way to remedy that situation is to turn to the running game with Forte. Forte has the skills to take a game over and set the tone.

Facing a New England defense struggling to stop the run, the running game will keep the Patriots offense off the field and set up play-action to the big receivers that Cutler has to work with. Last week Chicago could only muster 63 yards on the ground, putting a lot of pressure on Cutler who lost an INT and also three fumbles with one lost.

Hot Cutler This Week?: With the Bears’ offense (read Cutler) being hot one week and cold the next, could this be the week for a hot Jay Cutler to light it up? The pressure will be on the 31 year old QB this week. After allegedly being loudly called out by WR Brandon Marshall at the end of last week’s game against Miami, Cutler will be on the hot seat somewhat to right the ship and stop the Bears from becoming a dysfunctional unit.

For the record, Bears coach Marc Trestman has denied a rift between their star QB and WR but after Marshall said the Bears’ offense and effort was unacceptable 17 times in the post-game press conference, the time is now for the team if they are to seriously contend for a playoff berth in the NFC North.

And it begins with Cutler, in the Bears four losses, they’ve turned the ball over nine times. That won’t cut it against anyone let alone Brady and the Patriots. So expect a much better effort this week.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.