…or “disgraceful”? Or “disgusting”? I don’t know, maybe all of them. Atrocious is another one, but that obviously doesn’t start with “D”. And I am not talking about the Blowhard’s NFL picks last week. Those weren’t so great either. But we are talking about the Patriots’ defense here. If you can even call it that.
Three weeks in and the Pats are at the bottom of a lot of defensive rankings. I mean, the bottom. Last. I know…it’s only three games. And Dont’a Hightower hasn’t played a ton. And Eric Rowe missed the last game. And a lot of new players are being integrated in, like Stephon Gilmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Cassius Marsh, Adam Butler, David Harr…well, nevermind on him since he doesn’t actually play. And the Patriots figure it out every year. And on and on and on…
Sure, those are all valid points. But a lot of these guys were here last year. The safeties particularly have not played well. That shouldn’t happen with guys like Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and even Duron Harmon. Guys like Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts were here last year. Harris can’t play over those two guys? He has to be done if that’s the case. And if he is done, why is he on the roster? Van Noy just got himself a nice extension and I don’t think I’m the only one that has wondered why. Moving on to Alan Branch…he got extended in the offseason too. Is this where he reverts back to the problem that he has been in past organizations? Got a ring, got a new contract and then…stop caring?
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Matt Patricia. I HATE the way the defensive backs never seem to turn their heads around to look for the ball when it’s thrown downfield. I don’t love it that they seem to give a ton of space to receivers off the line. Among other things. Yes, Patricia is obviously an extension of Bill Belichick, but still, he is the main man on defense. And his troops have been abysmal thus far.
That being said, they usually figure it out over the course of the season. I will of course allow for that. But I don’t believe they have ever started in this deep a hole. Not to mention guys like Jonathan Jones and Jordan Richards are playing entirely too much right out of the gate. Probably Roberts, Van Noy, Marsh and Adam Butler too. I think I saw that Van Noy has played EVERY defensive snap this year. Really?! And if they are truly trying to phase Malcolm Butler out this year, seeing that he won’t be here next year, then that doesn’t help.
So am I panicking? A little. I mean, how can you not? Giving up a boatload of yards to Drew Brees isn’t something to be ashamed of. But doing the same to mediocre quarterbacks like Alex Smith and rookie QB’s like Deshaun Watson is something that just shouldn’t happen. Cam Newton this week too. Well, he has played poorly this year thus far, so maybe it’s not as daunting a challenge as it seems on paper. But it’s still not encouraging.
I think they will figure some of it out as the year goes along, like they always do. As they always say about the team, “September is an extension of the preseason”. But I’m not getting giddy about the defense’s long-term prospects. I don’t think we are looking at a Top Ten defense at all, as currently constructed.
You know what will happen next though, right? Pats will give up only like 10 points on Sunday and their defense will all of a sudden click and start to take off for the year. Seems about right…
Chicago at Green Bay (-7.5)
Chicago is coming off a somewhat shocking win against Pittsburgh. Even though they were home. And even though that jackass on the Bears tried to showboat his way to the end zone after the blocked field goal before the half…only to never make it. Hate the Steelers myself personally. But loved the play. Sometimes players are just boneheads. And that’s being kind.
Green Bay is coming off a surprisingly tough win at home against the Bengals. It’s a Thursday night game, sometimes a crapshoot with the short week and all. Not to mention a divisional battle. Last week’s Thursday night divisional matchup between the 49ers and Rams was an exciting game…and close.
All adds up to a close game…a probably Green Bay win, but a Chicago cover, no?
Well…no. Thursday night games are usually putrid. Last week may have been the one exception. Divisional games can be hard to predict. But I’m feeling a Packer rout.
Green Bay 38, Chicago 24.
Week (against the spread): 6-10
Week (straight up): 9-7
Season (against the spread): 22-25
Season (straight up): 31-16
Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days. Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up. Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster. Anyway, here goes:
Locks: Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise
In: Geneo Grissom
Way Out: Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)
Comments: This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year: “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.” Oops. At least on Flowers. Welp, I’ve been completely off before. And most assuredly will be again. Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season. Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team. So I wasn’t the only one. There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp. His attitude. His fit on the team. His “coachability”. And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports. But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”. I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet. Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks. Not likely to go anywhere. And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point. Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot. It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well. Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement. But maybe we shouldn’t have been. He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension. Yup…
Locks: Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo
Way Out: Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
Comments: Pretty much cut and dried here. Branch re-signed on a nice deal. Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere. May be a little push for Brown in his third year. But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway. Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year. Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season. And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them. Good enough for me.
Locks: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris
In: Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi
Out: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates
Way Out: Brooks Ellis
Comments: When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock. Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc. Seemed to be a prime candidate for that. Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense. I know, that is “early in camp” too. But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong. McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now. Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes. He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough. Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability. Bates is from Maine and that’s nice. Ellis? Yup, no idea who he is.
Locks: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones
In: Cyrus Jones
Out: Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings
Way Out: William Likely, Dwayne Thomas
Comments: Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year: “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?” And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”. Oops. And. Oops. But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year. Wouldn’t be unprecedented though. Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp. Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock. Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.
As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me. Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago. Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that. I mean, he knows how this organization operates. But still. Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened. Not typical Patriot behavior. Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed. Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them. Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal. And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it. And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year. That will also benefit the Patriots of course. But did the team play this out right? Time will tell. But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…
Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room. Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point. Likely & Thomas? Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon
Out: Jordan Richards
Way Out: Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore
Comments: Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp. Three safeties is kind of thin. But the other guys? You know what I am going to say.
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)
Way Out: None
Comments: Nothing really to say here. Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year. I’m not. There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year. No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker. Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.
That’s about the size of it. I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists. Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year. Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list. Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…
I told you yesterday the roster would be in flux. The Patriots are clearly playing games with the Blowhard. Shortly after I posted the first part of this projection, Danny Amendola did indeed restructure his contract (which now makes him a “lock”) and Joey Iosefa was released (he was “out” anyway). Plus, they signed 8 undrafted free agents…where the original list was 9. And one of the eight is TE Bryce Williams (“way out”, for completeness), who was not on the original list of 9. It appears that they also did NOT sign an apparent “Blowhard” favorite, D’Runnya Wilson, either. Oh well. Let’s just blow through the rest of this before the roster changes again.
Onto the defense:
Locks: Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard
In: Geneo Grissom
Out: Trey Flowers, Frank Kearse
Way Out: None
Comments: I’m assuming Long has something left. This may be a bad assumption. We’ve seen the “high-profile player on the downside of his career come to New England and not even make the team” guy here before. The team did not exactly extend for him and he isn’t as old as some of the guys that fell into this category in prior years. So I’m thinking he’s pretty safe…for now. Nink and Sheard are no-brainers. You could go in any direction for the 4th spot. Flowers didn’t even come close to the field for the most part last year. Grissom played some, and also some on special teams…but on one occasion let someone blow by him to get a punt blocked…so I am not sure that even matters. Kearse is a 5 year veteran, who if I remember correctly, played like 79 snaps last YEAR. Maybe it’s someone else by the onset of the season. Maybe they keep more DT’s or LB’s and use them as ends. I just went with Grissom at this point.
One thing I did notice is that Long, Ninkovich, Sheard and Kearse appear to be only signed through the end of this year. Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making. Chandler Jones is gone. Not that we care too much…yet. But 2017…yikes!!
Locks: Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Terrance Knighton, Vincent Valentine
Out: Joe Vellano, Marcus Kuhn
Way Out: Woodrow Hamilton
Comments: Looks pretty set in stone here with what they have now. Not as many bodies as last year, seems a little thin to me. Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley and Akiem Hicks are gone. Vince Wilfork didn’t come back through that door. Though Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton may be a reasonable facsimile…as long as he doesn’t come in at 5 bills. Would’ve liked to have seen them keep Hicks, who seemed to thrive last year once he arrived. It’s not like the Chicago Bears wildly overpaid him. Still not sure what the deal is with Easley, but he is still a free agent, so maybe the team was right. Valentine may have been a questionable pick according to the experts…but they kind of need him. Vellano always seems to be on the fringe, like the Chris Barker of the D. He may always be an option in-season. Maybe they keep a Kuhn here because of the lack of bodies.
Locks: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McLellin
In: Jonathan Freeny, Ramon Humber
Out: Rufus Johnson, Jon Bostic, Tony Steward, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Elandon Roberts, Kevin Snyder
Way Out: C.J. Johnson
Comments: Freeny is probably a lock with the first three. Bill and the staff seems to have a lot of confidence in him, based on how much he played last year. And of course the special team abilities! That’s what made me put Humber on over the rest. Maybe Bostic developed in the time he has been here…adding in the full offseason. After all, he was drafted 2 spots ahead of Collins in 2013, if that means anything to ya. How many times did you hear that last year?? Johnson was a nice story early last season, but once he got that “illness”, they didn’t waste any time putting him on IR. That should tell you something. Steward was a 6th rounder on the Buffalo Bills last year, Grugier-Hill and Roberts were 6th rounders this year. Snyder was signed in the playoffs last year after going undrafted before the season. Seems like one of them would really have to stand out to make it beyond the practice squad this year. Though Snyder went to Rutgers, so all bets are off there with the way Bill loves his Rutgers guys.
And…the hype-train may have already started with Grugier-Hill. To wit, I borrow (steal?) the following quote from an article by Doug Kyed on NESN yesterday, “Kamu Grugier-Hill looks like a safety, plays like a linebacker and has the athleticism of a slot cornerback. So, where will the sixth-round pick play for the New England Patriots? The NFL needs to decide on a name for the position made popular by Arizona Cardinals safety/linebacker hybrid Deone Bucannon, whether that be “moneybacker,” “rover” or something else. The hybrid role is becoming more and more popular in the NFL, and Grugier-Hill seems to fit the bill perfectly. For now, he’s listed as a linebacker on the Patriots’ roster.” Fits the bill perfectly…of course!!! I’m not blaming Kyed, by any means. I’m sure he’s pumped to be quoted in the Blowhard. I have heard this stuff elsewhere plenty of times since the draft, so I am sure he has too. “Moneybacker.” Sheeeesh.
Locks: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones
In: Justin Coleman
Out: Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers
Way Out: V’Angelo Bentley, Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc
Comments: Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he? Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher, Coleman, Doug Johnson, Rashaan Melvin…I feel like I’m missing others, but you get the point. I’m just hoping that Logan Ryan doesn’t remember that he is…Logan Ryan…and builds off his pretty good year last year. I still wouldn’t pay him when he is a free agent after this year, but that’s me.
The Pats went with three corners in many games last year, so they could start this year the same way. I don’t see it though. Coleman did make a few plays, so we will see. I keep hearing Roberts “flashed” in training camp last year from various writers. But “flashing” in training camp does nothing for me. Biggers is a long-time vet that is another special teamer, so we can’t rule him out. I suppose we can’t rule any of the undrafted guys out here because of Butler’s rise. But since I have no idea who they are, I will dismiss them at this point…until one of them “flashes” in camp, that is…
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards
Out: Brock Vereen
Way Out: Devonta Burns, Cedric Thompson
Comments: Seems pretty cut and dried here too. A couple of the specialists can play a little safety in a pinch. Hopefully that doesn’t need to happen though. Vereen and Thompson are mid-rounders that may be practice squad-types. It appears that they never even signed the undrafted Burns, as I noted with the difference between initial reports and actual signings above. But I am leaving him here anyway. Because again, with the roster shuffling, he may actually be here next week. Never can tell.
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)
Way Out: Christian Yount (LS)
Comments: I’ve expanded the specialist section even more this year. Just had the first four last year. Added Ebner and King. These guys simply do not play defense at all. If they do, many other options have been exhausted. So that’s what these guys are, simply specialists. You may even be able to put a guy like Humber here too. Because if the linebackers stay healthy, he won’t play there. But since the Pats’ linebackers never stay healthy, I left him at that position.
The only wild card here is if Cardona has Navy obligations which take him out of the region. He had Navy obligations last year, but was able to play in all the games as he fulfilled them locally. From what I have seen and heard, that may not be the case for the upcoming season. I’m not convinced Yount would be the guy to actually replace him. But he will be the guy getting the reps for now. Since, you know, he is the only one actually here.
I suppose another wild card is if Ebner gets hurt playing for the U.S. Rugby team this spring/summer. I have no issues with him playing. He is a good special teamer, but not necessarily integral to the success of the 2016-17 team. I just hope he doesn’t come back with more ideas and options for more “rugby kicks” for Bill. I still blame those needless kicks turning the tide for the “ready to quit” Philadelphia Eagles team and the Chris Harper fumbled punt against Denver for preventing the Pats from getting home-field advantage in the playoffs and probably (definitely?) playing in another Super Bowl. I’m not really that bitter though…no…not at all.
Anyway, that’s about it. I’ll wait until August to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists. As hinted at earlier and in the titles, projecting the 53-man roster at this point is really kind of silly. But I did enjoy putting it together, I have to admit. As pathetic as that may sound to some…