The New England Patriots escaped with a 38-31 win over the Chicago Bears last Sunday. That much we know. And when we consider the circumstances (the week after a big win against conference leader Kansas City, road game, no Gronk, unfamiliar team from the other conference, with that team having played fairly well thus far this year, Sony Michel going down early, etc.), maybe no one should get worked up over how close the game was, how sloppy the Pats were or how bad the Pats defense looked (again)?
But one thing is hard to overlook. As the schedule heads into November, the Patriots have historically “turned on the jets”, so to speak. We all know how Bill Belichick & Company treat September as the proverbial “extended preseason”. Then in October, they ramp things up and by the time November rolls around, they generally have become a well-oiled machine. They look like a completely different team than the one that showed up in September.
Does anyone feel that way with this team? The defense in particular? The offense has been pretty damn good the last month or so, despite more interceptions than usual from Tom Brady. And some fumbles. And now heading into next week’s game against Buffalo with just James White and Kenjon Barner (who?) at running back.
But that defense…sigh…once again, there were opposing players running wide open all over the field. As bad as Mitchell Trubisky was, he still threw for 333 yards to go along with his 81 rushing yards…including that ridiculous touchdown run where he ran like 60 yards on the field but like 8 yards on “paper”. Ridiculous meaning the Pats should have dropped him for like a 20-yard loss.
The linebackers are slow and the big guys up front don’t seem to be getting to the quarterback and if they do, they can’t bring him down. The secondary? Yikes! If they are trying to bring back Devin McCourty to his rookie year when he was a Pro Bowl cornerback and have him cover people now…welp, THAT ain’t workin’. J.C. Jackson is getting some snaps…is that a good thing? Not sure. But he can’t be worse than Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Jason McCourty though, right? I guess we shouldn’t worry, Duke Dawson has started practicing and is coming back soon!!
All kidding aside, this defense has given up a boatload of points this year and looks…bad. So my question, are the Pats still experimenting and it’s taking longer than anyone would have hoped and thought? Maybe we get a decent defense in December now and we just have to wait a little bit?
My guess? Nope. Maybe these players are not any good. Maybe guys like Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty and perhaps Patrick Chung are past their prime, Adrian Clayborn sure is. Maybe the young kids can play at some point. But the ones that actually play do not seem ready (Jackson, Derek Rivers, Jones, Keionta Davis…and perhaps Deatrich Wise, though he appears to be injured). I don’t know what happened to Malcom Brown.
What usually happens is that all of these guys fill a role. Most of the defense is comprised of actual role players. But they usually mesh better…and quicker. I don’t get the feeling that things will continue to get better the rest of the year. Not even to the recent years’ standards of “bend but don’t break”. I’ve been wrong before, but they are running out of time…
Miami at Houston (-7.5)
The Texans have rebounded from their 0-3 start to win 4 straight and take over first place in the AFC North standings. That may be more a reflection on how bad Jacksonville has been. And how mediocre the division appears to be overall. So seven weeks into the season, we still really don’t know how Houston is as a team. Deshaun Watson does not appear to be all the way back. But maybe the defense and running game can carry this squad until he is. Then, they may actually become…dangerous.
I can tell you that the Miami Dolphins aren’t any good. I know, they have the same record as the Texans. I just have zero faith in Brock Osweiler…and Ryan Tannehill, if and when he comes back. It also seems mystifying that the team is giving a young Kenyan Drake fewer carries than 153-year-old Frank Gore. It should also be troubling to ‘Phins fans that Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola have the top two receiving yard totals on the team. I know, Wilson is hurt now too. Those guys may be decent receivers and good to have as part of the overall unit. But they shouldn’t be leading ANY team in yards.
Houston 27, Miami 17.
Week (against the spread): 8-6
Week (straight up): 10-4
Season (against the spread): 54-53
Season (straight up): 66-41
As promised (threatened?), we will provide a snapshot of the New England Patriots roster as it stands now. Of course, there will be plenty of informative comments following each position group. Define the word “informative” as you may, but I’ll feel good about them anyway.
For the record, we will say where the player came from if they are an addition and where they went if they jumped ship. We will also note if they finished last season on the Patriots injured list (IR) or on the Patriot practice squad (PS). Just cuz I want to be informative, as I said…yup…
Enough of the nonsense, let’s get to it:
Holdovers: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
In limbo: None
Comments: Everyone knows that Brady will be 41, Jimmy Football was traded for a bag of footballs and a tackling sled and that Hoyer stinks. Not to mention that Jacoby Brissett was also traded last year for probably something less than Garoppolo. Even though I keep hearing from some talking heads recently that Phillip Dorsett actually had a pretty good year “…when he played…he was actually open a lot, Brady either didn’t see him or just didn’t throw it to him…” Ok, if you say so. In any event…an obvious need at some point…and soon.
I’d take a QB fairly high in the draft. Someone who the team thinks has potential to be that proverbial “next guy”. Not taking one just to take one. Brady (and his wife) were doing some whining on his little Facebook thing and some people took that to maybe mean he doesn’t plan on playing until he’s 125 like he has always said. I don’t buy it. It’ll all work out and he will be around for a while. If they draft a dude now, they will have time to groom him. It’s supposed to be a deep quarterback draft, but what do I know?
And no, I would pass on signing Matt Cassel or Matt Moore or any other Matt that is a veteran stiff…in case you were wondering.
Bottom line? Still in pretty good shape here, wouldn’t you say?
Holdovers: Rex Burkhead (re-signed), James Develin (FB), Mike Gillislee, James White
Arrivals: Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati)
Departures: Dion Lewis (Tennessee)
In limbo: None
Comments: We talked enough about Lewis yesterday. Hill has regressed from his fantastic rookie year in 2014 for the Bengals. But from what I understand, the Pats are on the hook for very little if he doesn’t pan out. I feel like Gillislee deserves another shot and I want to see more Rex. I feel ok with this collection…especially in this offense…and especially if they all keep Brandon Bolden off of the field. Moving on…
Holdovers: Kenny Britt, Brandin Cooks, Phillip Dorsett, Julian Edelman (IR), Chris Hogan, Cody Hollister (PS), Riley McCarron (PS), Malcolm Mitchell (IR)
Arrivals: Cordarrelle Patterson (Oakland)
Departures: Danny Amendola (Miami), Bernard Reedy (released)
In limbo: None
Comments: I’m not going to deny they will miss Amendola to some degree, especially when the chips are down. But again, we went through all that yesterday. I will also add that I am not sure that throwing multiple mediocre bodies at the end of the depth chart will help that cause. But that’s me.
If the depth chart shows Cooks, Edelman, Hogan and Mitchell, assuming good health of course (a BIG assumption), do we really need Britt, Dorsett or Patterson? Plus, McCarron has been getting a lot of love recently. How many receivers can you carry? What exactly are the first three bringing you anyway…especially if they are the 5th receiver on the depth chart?
That’s just it I suppose…depth. Who knows where Edelman and Mitchell will be health-wise going forward? I know, there appears to be little risk with the aforementioned three veterans, financially or otherwise. And I know, Patterson is a dynamic kick returner. Though I will agree with the talk radio chatter on Monday where it was pointed out that kick returns are a very small part of the game these days.
I have no inside info on the situation. But I have a feeling there may be another shoe to drop here before camp opens. There has been some smoke revolving around Cooks’ status for a couple of weeks now. Cooks was up and down last year and my feeling is that he will improve in his second year in the system. And none of those three vets mentioned appear to have the ability of Cooks. But I suppose you never know…
Holdovers: Dwayne Allen, Rob Gronkowski (we think?), Jacob Hollister, Will Tye (PS)
Departures: Martellus Bennett (IR, released)
In limbo: None
Comments: I do believe we have to take Gronks’ retirement “threats” seriously. Despite being a monster, he has taken quite a beating over his NFL career. And despite all the back surgeries, there is no doubt that the back will always hang over his head at least a little. I’m betting that throwing a little money at him will get him back into the fold mentally though. Isn’t that always the case?
Speaking of money, I am absolutely stunned that Allen is still here. 5 mil against the cap next season. Was he that good a blocker? Is he just hanging around in case Gronk does retire? I don’t see it. That’s money better spent elsewhere. I know Hollister and Tye aren’t appealing backup options if Allen departs. But there has to be someone else out there that is.
Let’s make Gronk happy and find a young tight end somewhere. Not an extremely pressing area of need (unless Gronk walks of course), but definitely a position to keep an eye on.
Holdovers: David Andrews (C), Marcus Cannon (T), Cole Croston (T), James Ferentz (C, PS), Antonio Garcia (T, IR), Andrew Jelks (T, IR), Ted Karras (G/C), Jason King (G, PS), Shaq Mason (G), Joe Thuney (G)
Arrivals: Matt Tobin (T) (Seattle)
Departures: Nate Solder (T) (New York Giants)
In limbo: Cameron Fleming (T), LaAdrian Waddle (T)
Comments: We ranted on Solder yesterday and I’m done talking about it. The other four members of the line return. It’s a solid, if unspectacular, group. So obviously the focus is on finding a new left tackle. And once again, I am not going to get worked up about it. Dante Scarnecchia and the team should be able to figure it out. Maybe it’s one of these guys above. Maybe it’s a draft pick. Maybe it’s someone released over the summer or early in camp. Who knows? Maybe I am being naive (or just plain stupid), but I am simply not concerned about it.
People are also seemingly terrified of losing Waddle and/or Fleming. Seriously? These guys were released in recent years. Now they are all of a sudden irreplaceable? Mystifying.
These guys are going to be alright next season without Solder. I feel like that isn’t even going out on much of a limb, to be honest…
Next: The Defense.
Welp, since the New England Patriots have certainly stepped up their free agency activity since I had started this piece, or better yet, had INTENDED to start this piece, perhaps the title above is not entirely appropriate. Then again, since the transactions have been somewhat underwhelming to most, maybe the title is indeed accurate.
In any event, people love it when the organization jumps into free agency right from the beginning and doles out huge dollars to big names. However, don’t we all know that this very rarely happens? I suppose that since they went out and locked Stephon Gilmore up to big dough the first morning of free agency last year, people expected that again this offseason. Add in the fact that Tom Brady will be 41 at the start of next season and they traded Jimmy Garoppolo and have no youngster ready to step in to carry the organization to the next chapter in their history, fans may have expected the Pats to load up for the short-term.
But it never fails. Patriot fans are always upset if the team doesn’t go after the marquee players right out of the gate. Then Bill Belichick invariably leads them to another AFC Championship Game in the upcoming season. With whatever flotsam and jetsam he does end up signing or trading for during the free agency process. Will we ever learn?
Probably not. But I’m here to help with that.
I know, there is all sorts of drama apparently going on down in Foxborough now. Brady is doing that Facebook stuff hinting at unhappiness. Rob Gronkowski is also hinting at unhappiness, but he goes through Twitter. Belichick is taking more offseason heat than he ever has in New England, simply due to his decision not to play Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl. My guess is that most, if not all of this goes away before the season starts. But what do I know?
Here’s what I DO know. Patriot backers have been completely delusional about the four marquee free agents to have already departed the organization. They are completely panicking about losing any and all of these guys. I will proceed to tell you why that is stupid, individually, and in no particular order:
*Nate Solder. Holy crap, this is the worst. Ok, maybe we are going in order. Anyway, this region has been going nuts about losing Solder for a few weeks now. Local sports talk radio, in particular, has been adamant that the Patriots re-sign Solder. My question is: Why? Listen, Solder has been a reliable, if unspectacular, left tackle for 7 years here. They could have done a whole lot worse at that spot over the years. But they also could have done somewhat better. He was never an All-Pro. He was never even in the Pro Bowl. More importantly, how many times did you yell at your TV screen after someone blew by him and knocked down Brady? Or he committed a stupid penalty?
Ok, I am probably exaggerating the situation. But my point is, he was an average to maybe a smidge above average left tackle for the team for those 7 years. And now everyone wanted to lock him up to 13-15 million a year for several years?! Seems inexplicable to me. Always did. I said during my Super Bowl recap piece that I wouldn’t sign him for 10-11 mil a year. He got 15.5. For 4 years. With 35 mil guaranteed. Just insane to me.
Let’s also not forget that the Patriots more than likely intended all along to move on from Solder after this past season. They drafted two tackles last year. Antonio Garcia in the third round and Conor McDermott in the sixth. Undrafted Cole Croston beat out McDermott for a spot on the roster last fall. And Garcia ended up missing the season after developing a blood clot. But they still drafted two guys. And did not extend Solder’s contract at any point during the year (obviously). Was the writing not on the wall last preseason? Sure, McDermott is gone, Croston may not be ready and Garcia most assuredly is not after reportedly losing 40 pounds due to the blood clot. But it sure looks like the decision to move on from Solder had been made long ago.
And certainly, circumstances did change with Garcia getting the clot and all. I imagine the plan was for him to be the 3rd or 4th tackle last season and then more than likely take the starting left tackle job this year. He will likely need another year to get back to where he was. So if the timetable just gets pushed back a year, does that necessitate re-signing Solder to massive dollars for 4 more years? I say no.
The simple fact is that they should be able to replace Nate with someone else for a fraction of the cost. At close to the same performance level. If Garcia was the plan and he needs another year, can’t they figure it out for that one year? With the supposed “offensive line whisperer” Dante Scarnecchia still around to coach whoever that is up? I think they can. I know, Brady will be 41 and left tackle is an important position. But I’m sure they can figure it out at a much lower cost.
*Danny Amendola. Make no mistake, the Blowhard is a huge DA fan. And the Blowhard did not care much when Danny initially signed here before the 2013 season. He turned us around for sure. We LOVE his clutch play. The fact that he consistently took pay cuts to stay here. The fact that he became one of Brady’s most reliable weapons. All of that and then some.
But let’s be real here. If everyone is healthy, the Pats would probably slot Amendola at least 4th on the depth chart at wide receiver, behind Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan. Perhaps even behind Malcolm Mitchell as well. They also have guys like Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt lying around…as well as everyone’s new favorite all of a sudden…Riley McCarron. We won’t even count for the trade for Cordarrelle Patterson, which just happened as I type this I think.
Amendola’s snaps also no doubt have to be managed since he gets dinged up quite a bit. I just looked it up and was surprised to find he has only missed 11 games total in his five years as a Patriot. Feels like a lot more. Then again, he was never really healthy in Year One. And the games where he left and didn’t return probably add up to a fair share as well.
Just seems to me that Brady still has plenty of reliable weapons. Don’t blame Danny for taking the money at all. But the money saved here by the Pats is better spent elsewhere.
*Dion Lewis. Let’s take a look at Lewis’ career. Doesn’t play much in 2011-2012. Missed 2013 to injury. Out of football in 2014. Played two half, albeit productive, seasons in 2015-2016. Then has a career year in 2o17…in which he was mothballed for the first half of the season, probably, or at least possibly, to keep him healthy for the stretch run.
So the Pats were supposed to break the bank to keep him here? Many people thought so. I did not. Not for a running back. A fungible position here in New England.
I’m happy for Lewis. He deserves some sort of payday for his perseverance…and of course performance. But I’m glad it’s not here. I said all year that I liked what I saw from Rex Burkhead when he was healthy. And yeah, he was hurt a lot too. But with the re-signing of Rex and the addition of Jeremy Hill to add to James White and I would guess Mike Gillislee still, there is plenty enough remaining in the backfield at a reasonable cost.
*Malcolm Butler. I would say Patriot fans are still more fired up on why Butler didn’t play in the Super Bowl, and rightfully so. Seems as if his value did not decrease across the league, as interest in signing him was apparently fairly widespread. Including reported interest from the Detroit Lions, now coached by Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator of the runner-up Pats last year. Hmmmmmm. Butler didn’t say much when he signed. So we may never know the real reason why he didn’t play.
In any event, the second the Pats signed Gilmore last year, we all should have known Butler was done after this past season at the latest. So most rational Patriot fans did not throw a fit when he signed with Tennessee. Thankfully.
The Patriots have of course lost other guys since free agency started. But no one significant. Unless you count the loss of Johnson Bademosi as significant. I do not.
Next? We will take a snapshot of the roster as it currently stands. And despite all the hullabaloo, it’s really not all that bad.