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Patriots Bounce Back, Beat Minnesota 30-7, Quick Observations


Chandler Jones had a huge day for the Patriots on Sunday with 2 sacks, 3 QB hits and a blocked FG attempt which he recovered and returned for a touchdown. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots bounced back in a big way, blowing out the Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota Vikings 30-7 on Sunday in Minneapolis. With the win, Head Coach Bill Belichick won his 200th career game in the regular season for his career.

While Peterson’s absence will be talked about all week, the Patriots defensive front seven responded after a poor showing in Miami, allowing only 54 yards rushing for Minnesota. But the running lanes, so prevalent a week ago weren’t there for Matt Asiata.

One interesting stat that CBS posted during the game is that Minnesota averages 142 yards per game rushing with Peterson, and 141 per game without him. Still there will be questions about this one but the line responded.

Here are some quick observations from the game:

Jones Moves Back and Produces: Pats DE Chandler Jones, played out of position as a 3-4 Defensive End, this week the team moved him back to a more natural position on the end of the line and Jones produced in a big way with 2 sacks, 3 QB hits and a blocked field goal that he recovered and returned for a touchdown that totally changed the outlook of this one.

We spoke about Jones needing to step up this week in our Razor’s Edge column stating Jones was the Patriots player to watch. Indeed he was on Sunday.

Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich had the advantage of playing from ahead this week and their performance is worthy of note. They pressured Vikes QB Matt Cassel time and again and sacked him six times while forcing four interceptions.

Cassel Has Rough Day: While getting shellacked at home after a big Week 1 performance is always tough, Cassel had an exceptionally rough outing with fans chanting for Teddy Bridgewater in the second half.

As we mentioned above, Cassel was under duress consistently and was sacked six times along with 8 QB hits. A couple of his interceptions were his fault as he misread the defense but he was also victimized by far too many drops and a total lack of a running game.

Edelman Has Big Day: Once again, Julian Edelman was a huge part of the Patriots success. He snagged 6 passes for 81 but even more importantly, he was huge in the punt return game returning 4 for 65 yards, averaging 16.5 yards per return.

Edelman has really continued his success from 2013 and has easily been the Patriots best player on offense in 2014 thru the first two games. While Brady didn’t have a big day statistically, he definitely targeted CB Xavier Rhodes who was less than 100 percent physically. But the team got a lot of flags while targeting the young corner

Ridley Gives the Patriots Exactly What Was Needed: Remember at the end of training camp when Ridley was rumored to be in danger of being cut? We said at the time that Ridley remains the team’s best big back option.

Ridley came thru in spades today, grinding out the tough yards between the tackles all day, carrying 25 times for 101 yards to spearhead a Patriots running game that gained 150 yards on Sunday. It wasn’t flashy and there weren’t a ton of highlight reel runs, but it was just what the doctor ordered.

Most importantly, Ridley secured the ball very well all day with no issues.

The game plan was to neutralize Mike Zimmer’s exotic looks and overloaded blitzes by controlling the tempo and making life a bit easier for the Patriots offensive line. And in that they succeeded. Speaking of the OL….

Offensive Line Finds 5 And Sticks With It: The Patriots OL was much maligned and deservedly so after the debacle in Miami. The starting unit consisted of Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Jordan Devey and Sebastian Vollmer. They were augmented quite a bit with Cameron Fleming checking in as an eligible tight end.

Rushing for 150 yards speaks for itself but more importantly their protection of Tom Brady was vastly improved over last week in Miami. While Brady only threw for 149 yards for the game, it was mainly by design as the team looked to target running the ball.

Penalties a Killer: During the game, I thought I couldn’t remember a Bill Belichick team penalized as much as what transpired today. It turns out that the 15 penalties were the most ever by the Pats under Belichick. 15 penalties for 163 yards is completely unacceptable in any conditions and this one will be talked about in meetings all week.

The Patriots were victimized by penalties all game and they killed important drives for the offense. These are the types of things that have to be cleaned up and quickly.

After an awful first defensive sequence, the Patriots defense this week adjusted and held Minnesota scoreless the remainder of the game. Most importantly, all of the talk about stopping Cordarrelle Patterson came thru as the big playmaker for the Vikings was a complete non-factor. Patterson did have 4 catches for 56 yards but was never the factor the Vikings needed him to be.

Overall it was a big bounce back win for the Patriots who responded to playing poorly in Week 1 to play much better for the second road game to open the season. The team will have its home opener next Sunday at 1 p.m. against the Oakland Raiders.

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 – Vikings, Who Has The Razor’s Edge?


Jerod Mayo and the Patriots defense face another tough test in trying to limit the Vikings Adrian Peterson this week. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots (0-1) travel for the second week in a row to take on the Minnesota Vikings (1-0) in Minneapolis. Game time is slated for 1 p.m. and will be televised locally on CBS.

The Patriots had a 20-10 halftime lead last week but wilted in the heat during a second half that saw Miami score 23 unanswered points while dropping the 33-20 season opener. Miami controlled both sides of the lines of scrimmage in that pivotal second half.

The Vikings opened the season winning a blowout 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on the road giving new coach Mike Zimmer an excellent start in his tenure. Zimmer brought his trademark tough defense to the Vikes as they forced five sacks while shutting down the Rams allowing only two field goals.

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 Vikings have met 11 times in their history with the Patriots holding a 7-4 all-time edge. The Patriots have won the last three meetings although the last time was back in 2010 in Foxboro with the Pats winning 28-18. All time in Minnesota the series is tied 2-2 with the last meeting on the road occurring in 2006.

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

Patriots RBs vs Vikings Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Vikings
Minnesota wasn’t a great team against the run in 2013 allowing an average of just under 125 yards per game which was 24th in the league. However, things are changing with the bringing in of Zimmer and his defense.

Bringing in Linval Joseph to complement Sharrif Floyd has solidified the Minnesota line. Stalwart Chad Greenway and rookie Anthony Barr at linebacker gives the Vikes a much better group in their rushing defense.

The Patriots offensive line had its troubles last week with a stout Miami defensive line and couldn’t take advantage of the Dolphins having all three starting linebackers out. They’ll be looking to right the ship and get more than 89 yards this week, but will have their work cut out for them.

Patriots WRs vs Vikings Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
Like last week this matchup all comes down to protection as Tom Brady can’t be under as much pressure and as fast as he was last week. On three different sacks by Miami, Brady was hit in under 3 seconds which is unacceptable.

Minnesota’s pass rush consists of edge rushers Everson Griffen (2 sacks last week) and Brian Robison but in watching the Rams game last week as well as the Cincy game from 2013 much more.  Zimmer loves to bring his defense up to the line and then mix up his pass rush by bringing five or more and overloading the offensive line. His defense held Brady and the Pats to just six points last year.

If (and a big if) the OL can hold up the Patriots have more than enough offensive weapons to make life tough for the Vikes secondary. Rob Gronkowski shook off some of the rust last week and is a matchup nightmare. Aaron Dobson should play this week bringing some pressure to the outside which should free up Brandon LaFell to work the intermediate area of the field. As always Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will do the dirty work underneath along with running back Shane Vereen.

Watch for Brady to get TE Tim Wright a little more involved this week working on the middle of the field. Wright is a big target (6’4, 220) who can also provide some matchup problems for the linebackers.

Minnesota has two significant injuries to monitor this week as both Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes are banged up. If they do play, their effectiveness may be less than 100 percent. One player to watch is SS Harrison Smith who is much more active in Zimmer’s defense and will be sent on some blitzes

Vikings RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Vikings
The Vikings have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson and any time he touches the ball is a threat to take it to the house. Last week against a very tough Rams front four, Peterson did the yeoman work grinding out 75 yards on 21 carries. WR Cordarrelle Patterson provided the fireworks carrying just three times but for 102 yards including a 67 yard touchdown.

The Patriots defense was gashed last week by the Dolphins zone blocking scheme as they got the DL moving laterally and RB Knowshon Moreno cut back with some huge gaps as Miami ran for 191 yards. While the debate rages over whether to ditch the 3-4 defense for the 4-3, one thing that must improve regardless is the tackling which was atrocious. The yards after contact garnered by Miami in the game was the difference and a repeat performance would spell disaster against someone like Peterson.

This is a tough matchup for anyone to slow down the Vikings but look for them to be a tad more aggressive in their approach in disrupting the running game, they’ll need a big performance in the middle by Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo but this one is a decided advantage for Minnesota.

Vikings WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots

Former Pats QB Matt Cassel has survived the competition from Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater for the time being and gives the Vikings the best chance at winning now. Eventually the team wants Bridgewater to assume control but for now, he’s watching and learning. Cassel did a good but unspectacular job in the opener and has former Packer Greg Jennings, Patterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph to go along with Peterson out of the backfield.

The Patriots will probably put Darrelle Revis on Patterson and Alfonzo Dennard on Jennings who is mainly their possession receiver now. The Patriots pass defense is much stouter than in 2013 with the addition of Revis and the key here will be stopping the tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, something they continue to struggle with.

The pass rush with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich off the edge was largely negated last week in Miami which is something the Patriots will be looking to rectify. Rookie Dominique Easley will also be looking to disrupt the flow with an inside pass rush to bring some pressure on Cassel and force some mistakes.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Vikings
The Vikings have a very solid kicker in Blair Walsh along with punter Jeff Locke give them an excellent tandem in the kicking game. The Patriots counter with Stephen Gostowski and Ryan Allen so the kicking games are about even.

But with Patterson returning kicks Minnesota has the decided advantage. He’s exciting, and dangerous and the Patriots will be looking for Gostowski to be limiting his returns by kicking out of the endzone as Patterson has returned kickoffs from as far as nine yards deep. The Patriots kick return game remains unsettled as Matthew Slater and Pat Chung handle duties for New England.

The team would love to get the dangerous Edelman loose on a few punt returns. Edelman remains one of the best punt returners in the business but the blocking hasn’t been there yet this season for him to showcase his open field talents.

Prediction:
This is going to be another tough road game for the Patriots, their struggles along both the offensive and defensive lines from last week will bear watching as they will either be a one week anomaly or a dangerous trend.

Minnesota’s ground game has the ability to dictate the game and open up play action passing which would make Cassel’s job much easier. The game plan from a Patriots perspective would be to get up early and force the game into Cassel’s hands thus negating Peterson. But last week they could only generate 10 points off of three turnovers which could have turned a 20-10 lead into much more at the half.

Zimmer’s defense really flummoxed Brady last year in Cincinnati and they’ll be looking to do the same this year by bringing pressure and getting in his face. But having Gronkowski and Vereen healthy for this one should really help get the offense moving.

This one should go down to the wire as Minnesota is far from the 5-10-1 team that they were a year ago. Peterson and Patterson will be matching the Pats offense tit-for-tat but in the end, the experience and advantage at QB for Brady should give New England the edge to eke out a tough road win. Patriots 27-24

Patriots Player to Watch-  Chandler Jones
Much was expected from Jones this season as with the additions in the secondary it was thought that Jones would be the beneficiary of opposing quarterbacks having to hold the ball longer and he’d be the disruptor off the edge.

But in Miami last week, Jones was held in check and this week his matchup with Vikings LT Matt Kalil will be one to watch. Jones does look ill-equipped to be a 3-4 DE and it would benefit him for the team to go to a four-man front on passing downs.

Regardless, the Patriots will need much more from Jones this week and if they want to come out with a victory on the road, he will have to step up his game 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.

Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Minnesota Vikings

Adrian Peterson remains the gold standard for running backs in the NFL and will provide a tough matchup for New England. (USA Today photo)

Adrian Peterson remains the gold standard for running backs in the NFL and will provide a tough matchup for New England. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots go on the road for the second consecutive week to open the 2014 NFL season to face the Minnesota Vikings. The Patriots were outplayed and outcoached in a second half meltdown that saw the Miami Dolphins score 23 unanswered points to take the opener 33-20.

Minnesota was very impressive in curb-stomping the St. Louis Rams 34-6 on the road giving new head coach Mike Zimmer a victory in his debut as the Vikes chief. Zimmer inherited a team that had been worst in the league in 2013 in points allowed and Sunday’s performance has the Minnesota faithful excited for the future.

Here are five first impressions of the Minnesota Vikings:

Zimmer Is Building A Defense Like Cincinnati: Zimmer after coming over from the Bengals to take the reins of a 5-10-1 team with the worst defense in terms of points allowed in 2013 has already revamped this unit.

Gone are the days where the pass rush consisted of Jared Allen off the edge and everyone else trying to contain. Zimmer has implemented the Cincy approach of mixing his fronts and bringing pressure from all points and overloading the offensive line.

Case in point on Sunday; the Vikings forced as many punts (6) as points allowed while registering 5 sacks from four different players (Everson Griffen had 2) with even safety Harrison Smith involved. Smith in the past languished deep in the Vikes Tampa 2, now he’s getting looks close to the line and will be brought as a blitzer.

Minnesota also got two interceptions and scored a touchdown on a pick-six as well as holding the Rams to just 4 for14 on third downs. After having a debacle in pass protection last week in Miami, New England can watch tape of last week’s Rams’ game as well as last year’s struggles in Cincinnati in preparing for what to expect.

Running Game Key for the Vikings: The Patriots were searching for answers after Miami gashed the Patriots rush defense in South Florida. Now they face arguably the best back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson and things don’t get any easier.

Peterson did all the heavy lifting for Minnesota last week against a very stout Rams front four rushing for 75 yards in 21 carries but remains a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.

But the big news of last week was Minnesota’s decision to place WR Cordarrelle Patterson in the backfield. He carried three times for 102 yards including a highlight reel 67 yard touchdown where he broke numerous tackles on the way to the end zone.

Minnesota’s offensive line did a good job on negating a very tough Rams front four on Sunday and the Patriots will have to come up with a much better effort on Sunday.

Jennings Highlights Good Receiving Group: Minnesota has former Green Bay standout Greg Jennings at one wide receiver position and Patterson at the other. They are flanked by emerging tight end Kyle Rudolph as a nice trio in coordinator’s Norv Turner’s offense.

Jennings isn’t going to blow by many defenders as in the past but can still get open and move the chains as more of a possession receiver. Patterson is just scratching the surface in the passing game as Rudolph is becoming a go-to guy especially in the red zone.

And if Turner decides to he can try to get Peterson in space against linebackers, something the Patriots haven’t been great at the past few years. So while the Vikings aren’t throwing a ton of weapons at the opposition in the passing game, they have some very nice options to utilize.

Matt Cassel Hanging In As Starting QB: With the drafting of Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 NFL Draft, many were writing the end for quarterback Matt Cassel who used to be Tom Brady’s backup in New England.

But Cassel has hung in there and quietly gone about his business and has developed good chemistry with Jennings, something that probably went a long way with the Vikes coaches to give him the starting nod over the much touted rookie.

Jennings minced few words in support of Cassel, stating the Pioneer Press, “Matt, obviously he’s worked hard…He does a lot of outstanding things. He understands the game, and obviously he puts us in the best position to win is…the conclusion coaches have come to.”

Cassel was efficient last week, not flashy but put up decent numbers against the Rams completing 17-25 for 170 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions for a QB rating of 113.8. After Week 1 he’s in the Top 5 for QB rating while his former teammate Brady languishes in the bottom five.

Last week Minnesota only attempted three passes longer than 10 yards out of respect for the St. Louis pass rush. Look for Cassel to stretch the field a bit more this week as New England doesn’t attack on defense like the Rams nor have the pieces to put him under a ton of pressure.

Milestone Days For the Vikes: A couple of records that could fall on Sunday in the Vikings first home game for 2014 include: Adrian Peterson needs 78 net yards to break Cris Carter’s record (12,410) for the most combined net yards in a career for a Viking.
Peterson also needs three touchdowns will move him past Randy Moss (93) for the second-most touchdowns in Vikings history. Cris Carter leads the franchise with 110 touchdowns. Greg Jennings’s next reception will be the 500th of his career.

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.

Dolphins, Moreno Dominate Patriots, Roll 33-20 Quick Observations


Chandler Jones was flagged twice for personal fouls against Ryan Tannehill in the Pats loss in Miami. (USA TODAY Images)

The Miami Dolphins rode on the shoulders of Knowshon Moreno in the season opener and dominated the second half scoring 23 unanswered points, beating the New England Patriots 33-20 in Miami.

Prior to the game much was made of the Dolphins new offense under coordinator Bill Lazor and their ability to push up the tempo. In the end it was much ado about nothing as Miami simply just pinned their ears back and dominated on both sides of the line. Moreno, who ran for 224 yards last season in New England and picked right up again rushing for 124 more as the Patriots defense resembled the one that was gashed so badly in 2013.

The Patriots offensive line fared little better, as Tom Brady was hurried, harassed and pounded relentlessly in the second half. Until the final drive, the Patriots had allowed more sacks (4) than first downs gained(2) and anytime your QB is throwing the football more than 50 times, your balance is out the window and means the running game isn’t getting the job done.

Tom Brady in the second half was 10-27 for 62 yards….ugly numbers.

Bill Belichick who always is so good at half-time adjustments, had zero answers in this one as Miami who were minus their entire starting linebacker core completely dominated the second half against the Patriots. Some other observations in this one:

Edelman Has Huge First Half: Prior to the second half melt-down, Julian Edelman picked up right where he left off in 2013. Edelman had 6 catches for 95 yards and 21 more rushing doing his best Percy Harvin imitation to put the Pats up by 10. On a day where the offense struggled, he stepped up in a big way.

Run Defense Gashed: One of the things we expected to see with Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo back in the fold was a much better performance than we did in Miami. The new re-tooled offensive line in Miami dominated the point of attack for the majority of the game. And when they did break thru, the tackling was poor as Moreno and Lamar Miller broke tackles again and again making something out of nothing.

Things don’t get any easier as the team travels to Minnesota next week and takes on the Vikings and perhaps the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson. The defense was helped by Miami’s lack of ability to hold onto the ball in the first half, but were pushed around all game forcing only one three and out.

The energy and aggressiveness we expected to see from the Patriots defense was non-existent on Sunday afternoon. They didn’t attack Ryan Tannehill much and other than throws he’d like to have back, the defense didn’t dictate the pace at all.

Offensive Line Dominated: The Miami front four of Cameron Wake, Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon took it to the Patriots offensive line in one of the most dominating displays to see New England suffer in the past several years.

One question was answered at least for the time being, on who would fill in for Logan Mankins at left guard after his trade to Tampa Bay as Marcus Cannon played the entire game at LG. Dan Connolly played center and right guard and the team chose to keep their starting tackles intact with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. Jordan Devey  filled in at RG and consistently pushed back forcing Connolly to move and Ryan Wendell to come in at center but he was consistently overmatched as well.

The running game was virtually non-existent and Tom Brady’s protection broke down continuously in the second half. Back to drawing board for OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo.

Special Teams Breakdown: After Miami forced a three and out to start the game, Long snapper Danny Aiken’s snap to Ryan Allen skipped on the ground and resulted in a blocked punt. That set up Miami on the 12 yard line and an easy touchdown drive.

Allen had a couple of other punts that were short but was fortunate to get a nice roll on a couple of punts. The kick return game consisted of Pat Chung and Matthew Slater and was once again a non-factor.

Gronk Returns and Scores: Rob Gronkowski returned to action and although rusty chipped in with 4 receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. He played in 20 snaps in the first half which was about we expected to see him for the entire game but was a frequent target of Brady.

As he was seeing his first game action of the season, both he and Brady weren’t on the same sheet of music on a couple of occasions but those issues are easily fixed with some more reps.

Brandon LaFell had a rough day; he was targeted six times by Brady and couldn’t come down with a catch. He was also flagged twice, once on an off-side on a kickoff and the other a pass interference call.

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.

Who Has The “Razor’s Edge?”, Patriots – Dolphins Key Matchups


Tom Brady is looking to lead the Patriots to another AFC East crown in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins in Miami to open the 2014 season. Game time is slated for 1 p.m. and will be televised locally on CBS.

The Patriots (12-4) won the AFC East but lost to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game in 2013. With their injured players back plus the addition of Darrelle Revis, they feel they’re primed for a deep run in the playoffs.

The Dolphins (8-8) opened the season winning three in a row but suffered from inconsistent play especially along the offensive line and missed the playoffs after dropping their last two games. With a revamped OL and their trademark tough defense they are primed to make a playoff run.

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 Dolphins have met 97 times all-time and the series has been remarkably close with the Dolphins holding a 51-46 edge. The series has been marked also with long winning streaks on each side. The teams split the series in 2013 with the Patriots holding serve at home with a 27-17 win and Miami holding on for a thriller 24-20 win intercepting a Tom Brady pass in the end zone with under a minute remaining.

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

Patriots RBs vs Dolphins Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Miami has a very stout defensive line and their middle is stacked with Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. Coupled with a new interior offensive line for the Patriots it should be a matchup to watch. They lost their dedicated run-stuffer in Paul Solai who signed with Atlanta.

The main weakness of the Dolphins run defense in 2013 (24th in the NFL) was the play of the linebackers, most notably Phillip Wheeler and Daniel Ellerbe. If teams got to the second level, they were successful. Look for the Patriots to do the same thing. In two games the Pats rushed for 248 yards. One player to watch is new safety Louis Delmas who brings a degree of physicality in the box to support the running game. Delmas came over from the Lions this season.

Something else the Patriots have taken advantage of in the past is running right at Miami’s Cameron Wake when he’s teeing off trying to get to the quarterback. With a running back by committee again with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White and Brandon Bolden, they’ll find some tough sledding in the early going as the Pats offense looks to remain balanced. But if they remain patient with, the running game should be able to grind out some yardage.

Patriots WRs vs Dolphins Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
This matchup all comes down to protection as Tom Brady will need time to throw his timing routes to make the Patriots offense go. Miami counters with two outstanding edge rushers in Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Look for the Dolphins to test the interior of the Patriots OL and try to bring pressure up the middle.

The biggest takeaway from the second meeting in 2013 was the Patriots inability to score in the red-zone. Tom Brady threw for over 350 yards utilizing Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman in the middle of the field, but with no big red area targets, the Pats stalled. With a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Dobson along with the additions of WR Brandon LaFell and TE Tim Wright, these issues should be alleviated.

Miami has two good corners in Brent Grimes and the newly signed Cortland Finnegan so this should be a nice matchup to watch as well. Rob Gronkowski is slated to play although exactly how much remains to be seen. But the one thing Gronkowski does do is elevate those around him. With the Dolphins LBs the point of focus, look for Brady to attack Wheeler and Ellerbe by matching up Gronk or Wright with either of them.

That should open things up for the “pygmies”, Edelman and Amendola underneath. Dobson and LaFell will be the targets outside the numbers. But it all comes down to Brady’s protection. Look for New England to keep RBs Shane Vereen and James White, who are big targets in the passing game, in more to block this week to help with protection.

Dolphins RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Dolphins
The Dolphins got decent production from Lamar Miller last season but he wasn’t consistently good enough to keep the offense balanced. On the surface his 709 yards rushing and 4.0 average seems good, but 140 of those yards, nearly 20 percent came on just four carries. The rest of the season he averaged around 3.3 yards per carry.

The Dolphins brass brought in Knowshon Moreno this off-season and Moreno seems to  have supplanted Miller as the starter and Moreno’s game against Dallas in the pre-season dress rehearsal looks like good justification.

The Dolphins have an entirely new offensive line and things may take a while to gel for this new unit but in this game it just remains a case of remaining patient with the running game. With the new up-tempo offense of Bill Lazor pushing the speed of the game and the heat and humidity of the South Florida weather, the plan is to keep grinding.

With that patience, late in the game it should bear fruit for Moreno to find better yardage as the game wears on.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots

The Dolphins definitely have some weapons that they can bring to bear on offense in the passing game. Their plan under Lazor is to emulate the Chip Kelly Eagles offense and attack the middle of the field and take their shots downfield all while speeding up the tempo of the game.

Look for Mike Wallace to be matched up with Darrelle Revis but Ryan Tannehill also has Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline, newcomer Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews outside at wide receiver. Last season the Patriots tried to take away TE Charles Clay by devoting a lot of resources to stopping him. He’s a big, target and attack the seams who provides mismatches for Tannehill. Look for Jamie Collins to be matchup with Clay a lot.

Tannehill has had his own protection problems in the past, the matchup with Albert and Chandler Jones should be one to watch.With the up-tempo it again just remains a question of getting comfortable in the new offense. How quickly Tannehill and his receivers get on the same page with Lazor’s system will ultimately decide how quickly this offense will click.

In the Dallas game, Tannehill made some poor decisions and poor throws as all the kinks haven’t been worked out. And this against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the offense is going to work but with a new system and a new offensive line, it may take them some time getting it going.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Dolphins
The Dolphins have a solid pair of kickers in punter Brandon Fields and kicker Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis has been bothered by a groin problem all summer but has declared himself ready to go and should handle all the duties on Sunday against the Pats.

Miami also has Jarvis Landry as the primary returner on both punts and kickoffs. Landry brings a nice level of explosiveness to the field and did well enough during camp to force Marcus Thigpen off the roster, Thigpen was released on Saturday and picked up by New England.

New England has two good kickers as well in punter Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski handling all the kicking duties. Gostkowski has been solid for years and nailed a 60 yard field goal against Philadelphia during the pre-season.

Julian Edelman remains the excellent option at punt returner but the team still has questions at kick returner and long snapper. Right now, the only long snapper the team has is DE Rob Ninkovich and kick returns have been an issue since Ellis Hobbs left town. The team did pick up Thigpen who was signed to the practice squad.

The team cut two rookie defensive linemen on Weds. and perhaps opens the door for the team to re-sign LS Danny Aiken and activate Thigpen to the active roster for Sunday.

Prediction:
Games in Miami have always held a special place in Patriots fans’ nightmares since Miami entered the league in 1966. The combination of the heat and teal seem to be Kryptonite for the Pats. Tom Brady owns a stellar 11-1 record against Miami at home. But in South Florida, it falls to .500 at a middling 6-6.

Being a divisional game, both teams know each other well, but also being the first game of the season and with a new offense in place for Miami there is a degree of the unexpected in place. But like all the games in Florida this will be a tightly contested matchup.

I expect a fairly low-scoring affair here as the new offense in place for the Dolphins will find some growing pains before they find their comfort level. In Sunday’s matchup having a healthy Gronkowski, even if a limited one makes all the difference for Tom Brady. Miami has always done a good job of limiting Gronkowski but he elevates the game of those around him and having some bigger weapons in the red zone should help Brady find the open seams as they attack the Dolphins linebackers in the middle of the field.

Miami will have a final chance as this one goes right to the wire but in a game that could easily go in either way, New England holds on for 24-20 win.

Patriots Player to Watch- Rob Gronkowski
There are plenty of players to watch from a Pats perspective, Dobson coming back from his off-season surgery, Wilfork in his first meaningful game since blowing out an Achilles, even Dominique Easley who may see his first action in a Patriots uniform. But the guy to watch is Gronkowski. Since blowing out his ACL nine months ago, we’ve heard about the rehab, and watched him slowly work his way back into shape.

Throughout training camp, the Patriots brought him along slowly although he exhibited little in the way of setbacks, he was held out of all three pre-season games. Now he’s supposedly ready to go and we’ll be watching him on Sunday as he slowly gets worked into game action.

While we don’t expect a full workload for Gronk for the first few weeks, just having him on the field should elevate the games of the wide receivers as well as Tom Brady. With him on the field, the Patriots offense has been a Top 5 unit, without him they’ve struggled, particularly in the red zone. That’s how big a mismatch he presents to opposing defensive coordinators.

 

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Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Dolphins


Logan Ryan sacks Miami QB Ryan Tannehill during a 2013 meeting in New England. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots open the season on Sunday in South Florida for a divisional game against the Miami Dolphins. Game time is slotted for 1 p.m. and will be televised locally on CBS.

Something we did at PatsFans.com last season that we’ll continue with this year is a quick look at the opposition (Our 5 First Impressions) and then followed later in the week by a key matchup look at each team and who has the “Razor’s Edge” in each phase of the game. Look for our “Razor’s Edge” piece on Thursday.

The Patriots (12-4 in 2013) come in with a healthy Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, three keys pieces to the team that were missing for most of last season. The team added WR Brandon LaFell in the off-season to bolster the wide receiving corps and traded just a week ago for TE Tim Wright who should become a nice weapon for the offense in the red zone.

But the biggest additions for the team come on defense, the Pats added CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (suspended first 4 games) in the off-season which immediately upgrades New England’s secondary and gives them unprecedented depth at the corner position.

The Dolphins survived the turmoil of the Richie Icognito – Jonathan Martin saga with a coaching staff that pulled the team together but went a disappointing 8-8. Late season losses to the Bills and Jets ruined a shot at a playoff spot but the team is looking forward.

Miami has an entirely new revamped offensive line (LT Brandon Albert, RT Ja’Wuan James) and also added some nice pieces to the offense bringing in Knowshon Moreno as well as drafting WR Jarvis Landry. The secondary got a boost with the addition of CB Cortland Finnegan. The advent of the up-tempo offense coupled with a strong defensive line has Miami thinking they could vault themselves into playoff contention.

Here are Five First Impressions of the Dolphins:

Defensive Line is Strength of this Team: For the past few years, Miami has had a very stout defensive line and this year’s squad is no exception. Every conversation about Miami’s defense starts with the explosive Cameron Wake but he’s joined by the equally productive Olivier Vernon giving the Dolphins outstanding disruption on the edge. Dion Jordan will miss this game while serving a league mandated suspension.

They will be looking to disrupt the timing of Tom Brady’s passing and force him into making mistakes. Miami has always given Brady a tough time and in the first meeting of  2013, Brady was held to 116 yards passing, getting sacked three times. In New England’s last 13 games in Miami, they are only 7-6.

The inside of the Dolphins defensive line consisting of Randy Starks and Jared Odrick should be of considerable concern for New England this week as the Pats have a new interior OL and have had trouble with this duo in the past.

With the Patriots looking to remain balanced in their offensive attack, it will be no easy task to run on this group although they did a decent job of it in 2013. In two games the Patriots ran 59 times for 248 yards and two rushing TDs. This battle will definitely be one of the keys on Sunday.

The Dolphins Offense Wants to Push the Tempo: Miami is looking to emulate the Eagles’ offense of Chip Kelly by going up-tempo in 2014. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor came over from Philly where he got a great season out of QB Nick Foles. Now he hopes to do the same thing with third year QB Ryan Tannehill.

They’ve shown only brief glimpses of it during the pre-season but have made it clear that they plan to show more of their cards once the season starts on Sunday. With the Patriots having to contend with a speeded up game as well as the stifling, steamy conditions in South Florida in September, the plan is to wear down New England.

Lazor’s offense is built to do just that, Miami likes to work in the intermediate area between the hashmarks and with Wallace and now with the rookie Landry, have the weapons to stretch the field and keep defenses guessing.

The RB Starter Is Moreno: The training camp battle to be the starter in the Dolphins backfield has been won by Knowshon Moreno who came over from the Denver Broncos. In his first pre-season action against the Dallas Cowboys in what is generally thought to be the tune-up for the regular season, Moreno carried 10 times for 64 yards and looked impressive.

Incumbent Lamar Miller has been under increasing scrutiny and hasn’t been effective as Moreno this summer. In 2013, Miller gained over 700 yards rushing and had a 4.0 average but 140 of those yards or nearly 20 percent came on just four carries. The rest of the season he averaged around 3.3 yards per carry. Some of that can be attributed to the poor play of the offensive line last year, but some of it has to fall on Miller’s shoulders. Now, he’ll come in to spell Moreno but for the time being he is no longer the go-to guy.

New OL But the Edges Are Better: After seeing QB Tannehill sacked an NFL leading 58 times in 2013, something had to be done. The first move was to bring in LT Brandon Albert from the KC Chiefs. He’s been solid throughout the summer and brings a needed measure of protection on Tannehill’s blindside. Right tackle Ju’Wuan James was drafted in the first round (19th pick) in the 2014 NFL Draft from the University of Tennessee. He’s stepped in and been a starter since OTAs.

Like New England, Miami has questions on the interior of the OL where C Mike Pouncey is recovering from off-season surgery and they have some different faces. Samson Satele, will fill in for Pouncey and Daryn Colledge and DallasThomas are the guards.

With an entirely new slate on the offensive line it may take some time for the unit to truly gel together, especially when using the up-tempo game. But the Patriots defense like Miami’s may choose to attack the passing game through the interior of the offensive line.

Tannehill Will Ultimately Decide How Far Miami Goes: The Dolphins have assembled a nice group of targets around QB Ryan Tannehill. They have Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, newcomer Jarvis Landry along with TE Charles Clay and Moreno out of the backfield; they have plenty of wealth to spread it around.

New Offensive Coordinator Lazor wants Tannehill to make quick decisions, get the ball out quickly and spread it around wearing down the opposition and then pounding the ball with Moreno and Miller to close out games.

They’ve certainly spent the money at wide receiver and now the ball is in Tannehill’s court. He’s has the confidence of the coaches and his teammates, who are convinced that the offense will “light it up” in 2014.

But against a generally poor defensive team in the Dallas Cowboys in the Dolphins “dress rehearsal” game, Tannehill was not at his sharpest and made some poor throws and decisions. Overall he finished 13 of 20 for 119 yards and one interception. If Miami is going to threaten New England seriously for the division, it will require Tannehill taking the next step. And Sunday is a perfect opportunity to do so…

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 Add DL Kelcy Quarles

Kelcy Quarles was picked up by the Patriots via the waiver from the Giants. (USA Today photo)

Kelcy Quarles was picked up by the Patriots via the waiver from the Giants. (USA Today photo)

Kelcy Quarles DL that was cut by the New York Giants was claimed by the Patriots on Sunday according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Quarles was a stand-out for South Carolina, logging 9.5 sacks in 2013 for the Gamecocks. We really liked him during the draft process and had him tagged for New England, thinking he’d be a great fit being able to spell Vince Wilfork inside.

Here are our draft notes on Quarles:

Quarles is a big interior DL at 6’4, 300 that has the versatility to line up inside at DT or slide outside as a 5-technique. While much of the focus in SC was on his heralded teammate Jadevon Clowney, Quarles was very productive for the Gamecocks putting up 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

Quarles uses a combination of quickness to shoot gaps and strength to bull-rush past blockers. Keeps his pad level low for a big man and can take on blockers at the point of attack. Bill Belichick loves his players to be versatile and Quarles would be a nice addition to the Patriots DL, given that Tommy Kelly is returning from injury as well as Vince Wilfork who may be released prior to the season beginning.

Quarles also has Patriots DNA in his background as his uncle is former Patriots TE Ben Coates.

After suffering an ankle injury in camp for the Giants his progress was slowed and was one of Tom Couglin’s last cuts in camp. He has a big supporter in former Giant great Carl Banks who tweeted Quarles twice on Sunday after learning of his pickup by New England:

quarles

quarles 2

It will be interesting to see how the Patriots plan on utilizing Quarles, now that Kelly is gone and with both Siliga and Chris Jones dinged up for the present. But if healthy he presents a big, penetrating presence on the interior who is versatile enough to line up outside in a 3-4 alignment. With Carl Banks offering encouragement, it would seem that he made a nice impression while in New York.

Here is a highlight video compilation put together by the Gamecocks staff:

 

Giants Edge Patriots 16-13 In Pre-season Finale, Quick Observations

Jimmy Garappolo went the distance at QB for the Patriots and played well for the most part. (USA Today photo)

Jimmy Garappolo went the distance at QB for the Patriots and played well for the most part. (USA Today photo)

That the New England Patriots dropped a 16-13 pre-season finale to the New York Giants was irrelevant.  The Patriots rested most of their starters for the entire game and let the backups fighting for jobs to give the coaches a final look at their body of work.

Both the Pats and Giants got plenty of good and bad play from their teams to make the decision to who stays and who goes for the final 53 man roster a very interesting one.

Here are some quick observations from Friday’s game:

Garappolo Shows Promise: Jimmy Garappolo went wire to wire as the Patriots quarterback and overall one has to come away with a positive vibe with his performance. There were certainly some plays left on the field but overall his play was positive. His quick release and ability to slide in the pocket were two things that stand out quickly.

The rookie QB shows nice poise and great touch on the deep ball as evidenced by his beauty of a 33 yard touchdown pass to Aaron Dobson in the first half. But he threw too high on another that Dobson made a great play on in the back of the end zone but the throw forced him to come down out of bounds. He also was consistently throwing behind his receivers on those short crossing routes.

Garappolo finished 22-42 for 284 yards with one TD and one INT. Overall,it was a good stepping stone for Garappolo who probably won’t see the field again until 2015.

The Wright Stuff: New Patriots tight end Tim Wright showed himself to be a quick study. We expected to see him play in a handful of snaps but he ended up playing around 40 snaps. He is a smooth route runner and showed some nice speed in working the seam and underneath routes.

Wright caught 4 passes for 43 yards as the “move” tight end moving both inside and outside the formation, similar to the role of what Aaron Hernandez used to do. He didn’t look like a guy who just 48 hours prior was a member of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

It is easy to see what the Patriots like about him and with his size and wing-span, he should provide another nice target for Tom Brady, especially in the red zone. With a healthy Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell and now Wright, Brady’s options in the red area just got a lot larger in the physical sense.

Dobson Returns and Delivers: Aaron Dobson got in his first action of 2014 and worked off the rust. Showing no sign of favoring his surgically repaired foot, he looks ready to go and should be the big outside the numbers target that the team wants him to be.

Dobson made a great play down the left sideline for a 33 yard touchdown by Garappolo and nearly had another but the throw forced him out the back of the end zone. Dobson had a nice showing for a guy who missed nearly all of the spring and summer workouts.

Tom Brady was certainly watching and once all the weapons are on the field at the same time, it will be interesting to see how Josh McDaniels decides to utilize them.

No Answers on the OL: With Logan Mankins wearing a pirate hat in Florida, the question was, “who takes his spot?” at left guard. At first glance it appears that Josh Kline has the position sewn up as he went wire to wire on the left side.

But it was hardly a blemish free performance as he was pushed back on a few occasions while pass blocking allowing one sack and few hurries and was part of a group that didn’t get the job done in the running game.

The rookie class along the OL with draft picks RG Jon Halapio, Center Brian Stork and RT Cameron Fleming got some extensive work in but the results were mixed although Stork played well for most of the game in his first pre-season action.

It appears that the starters will be LT Nate Solder, LG Kline, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer once the season starts in Miami but it is far from written in stone at this point.

Injuries Could Hurt: The Patriots came out of New Jersey with two injuries of note. LB James Morris got his knee rolled over by Steve Beauharnais  in a goal line situation in the first half and  was helped off the field in a lot of pain.

And DE/OLB Michael Buchanan suffered a foot or ankle injury in the second half and didn’t return. The severity of each’s injury may play a factor in Saturday’s roster cut-down. Buchanan was playing very well and showing a nice push off the edge.

Other observations…
Zach Moore gets more intriguing by the day, the big raw prospect from Div II Concordia St. Paul played all over the DL on Thursday night and looks impressive with his bull rush moves. He’s a keeper.

Josh Boyce had another forgettable night and may find his roster spot in danger. He and Garappolo had communication issues on two key plays one which resulted in an interception and the other, a fourth down and one incomplete pass. Overall, this was not a good summer for Boyce who started the spring with such good promise.

Who is the kick returner for the Patriots? At this point the job still seems wide open, which isn’t a good sign at the end of pre-season.

James White had a decent night overall and seems a lock to make the team but I just haven’t seen enough in the running game as he always seems to go down on first contact. He remains a nice option in the passing game.

Add in Fonzie to SS Mix: With Patrick Chung getting the night off, Alfonzo Dennard got the start at safety against the Giants. Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner and Duron Harmon all got significant reps as Devin McCourty also got the night off. Ebner played with a nice physical presence as did Wilson. Harmon struggled a little bit….another story line to monitor going forward.

For those keeping score at home, Eli Manning the Giants first team offense played two series and Manning finished the night 1-4 for 8 yards against mainly the Pats second teamers.

Patriots 53 Man Roster Projection 4.0, Only 2 QBs Remain


Bill Belichick has a lot of moves to make for a pretty deep Patriots roster in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots made some surprise moves this weekend cutting veterans Tommy Kelly, Will Smith, and James Anderson. Kelly seemed to be rehabbing well from his ACL surgery and took most of the first team reps on the defensive line. He played well during the past two pre-season games and seemed destined to start next to Vince Wilfork. But at 33, the team seems intent with going with younger players, still it seems strange to cut ties to Kelly with both Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga sidelined with injuries.

Anderson seemed to adapt well in the coverage linebacker role the team envisioned for him but perhaps they saw something in film that also projects them to go younger. Smith didn’t seem comfortable in the mainly 3-4 role that plugged him in so that in itself wasn’t a big surprise.

So,  here is a look at the: “53 Man Roster Projection 4.0 Training Camp” We’ll break down the positions and take a look at how the players fit and performed in training camp and try to name a Patriots roster for 2014.

Here’s a look at our first projection, done after the 2014 NFL Draft.

Projection #2 after mini-camp can be found here:

And Projection #3 mid-way thru training camp is here:

The team has to make some cuts to get down to the 75 man limit by 4 p.m. on Tuesday. So first up, the Offense…

Quick Observations From The Patriots 30-7 Win Over Carolina


Tom Brady was laser sharp in what was probably his last work in the pre-season. (USA TODAY Images)

There are no dress rehearsals, we are professionals
This is the big time…
Willie Nelson

Without wanting to put too much into a pre-season game with little game planning and preparation, the New England Patriots look like they are ready for the season to start. The Patriots dominated a tough Carolina Panthers team from start to finish and won their third pre-season game 30-7 on Friday night in Foxboro.

Jones/Defense Strong: The Patriots defense really stepped up, especially the run defense as they bottled up QB Cam Newton and didn’t allow him the room to run and the defensive line clogged up the middle not allowing the Panthers to get untracked.

Chandler Jones was on fire notching two sacks on Newton and generally was all over the field. Fellow DE/OLB Rob Ninkovich also sacked Newton and the secondary looked strong. The Panthers didn’t score until there was little more than a minute left in the game as the Pats defense definitely made a statement.

To be fair, Cam Newton still didn’t look anywhere close to 100 percent physically and the Panthers played on Sunday night just 5 nights ago. But the Patriots defense really answered the bell and if they can continue to play like this, the sky is the limit. By the fourth quarter the Panthers looked like a team that had played just a few nights before, as they were laboring out there.

The third down defense was impressive allowing only 5 of 13 attempts by the Panthers as they swarmed Newton time and again disrupting his timing.

Brady In Mid-season Form: On the offensive side of the ball, Tom Brady was razor sharp completing 17-21 for 204 yards and two TDs. He was intent on getting Brandon LaFell involved early and did as they two hooked up on a couple of plays. But more importantly, without a viable tight end option in the passing game the Patriots went to their “20” personnel package (2 RBs, 3 WRs) and used both James White and Shane Vereen very effectively in the passing game.

Brady found Vereen coming out of the backfield with Panthers LB A.J. Klein late on the play and Vereen turned it into a 40 yard touchdown. Vereen had 5 catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Brady didn’t throw an incompletion to Vereen, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola going 13-13.

Special teams play was much improved and provided an exclamation point when at the end of the first half Stephen Gostowski nailed a 60 yard field goal with just three seconds left. Gostowski had been hitting 60+ yard field goals when we watched him back in the June mini-camps and this one gave the team a huge lift going into halftime.

Jimmy Garappolo again looked poised in the pocket and put together a nice touchdown drive capped off with 11 yard touchdown pass to Taylor McCuller. The drive went 12 plays for 82 yards and Garappolo kept his eyes down the field and moved around the pocket well. He’s still got a long way to go, but he continues to improve.

Back-up LBs Get Long Looks: Steve Beauharnais wasn’t having a great night but he made a fantastic read on a Derek Anderson pass and picked off a pass around the Patriots four yard line and returned it 61 yards to the Panthers 35. It set up a 21 yard Gostowski field goal to make the score 23-0.

Ja’Gared Davis, James Morris and Darius Fleming all got extended reps and each had plays to help with their roster status as backup linebackers. The linebackers still struggled on some of the deep seam routes and especially in the short crossing routes run by Carolina’s tight ends and bigger WRs.

Josh Boyce again disappointed, he didn’t play on offense until late in the third quarter and didn’t get on the stat sheet. Will Smith likewise looks like he’s laboring out there and the veteran may find himself on the outside looking in on Tuesday.

On the plus side, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly look ready and completely healed now and the middle of the Pats defense now looks again to be stout. Edelman, Amendola and Brady seem to on the same page. Kenbrell Thompkins and LaFell are getting in sync with Brady and this is with Aaron Dobson as well as Rob Gronkowski yet to take the field. So the offense is pretty good shape. The protection was better as the team again mixed and matched along the offensive line.

The Patriots must cut at least 12 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, August 26 to get to the league mandated 75 player limit.