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“D” Is For “Disastrous”…

…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

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What the hell happened?

Thursday night, that is.

Kansas City is a good team for sure.  #2 seed in the East last year.  A lot of talented players.  And many thought the game would be close, including myself.  But to smoke the Patriots in the end?  Not sure a lot of people saw that coming.

Am I worried?

Nah.

Well, maybe a little.

Disappointing performance, but ultimately I think it is a little bump in the road.  Unless the injuries pile up.  But every team has to worry about that.  I mean, the Chiefs themselves lost Eric Berry for the year in that same game.

Tom Brady did not look like Tom Brady.  Part of it was of course the Chiefs’ game plan.  Maybe he was rusty, since he didn’t play much this preseason.  Maybe it was partly because in the second half he was throwing to the likes of Phillip Dorsett.  Probably a combination of those things and more.  But I’m not blaming his age.  That was a terrible opening throw to Dwayne Allen though.  Maybe we should have taken that as a sign for that particular night.

Hopefully the coaches were in preseason mode still.  Seemed as if the game plan on both sides of the ball left a lot to be desired.  I know the Patriots are thin at wide receiver.  Julian Edelman out and now Malcolm Mitchell as well.  But didn’t they know that playing Danny Amendola every snap was bound to backfire?  Love DA, but he is extremely brittle.  Add in him returning punts and it was asking for trouble.  Of course, then the concussion…Dorsett then had to play apparently.  And he has been here less than a week.

Why can’t one of the 15 running backs they carry line up at receiver?  Specifically, James White, Dion Lewis and/or Rex Burkhead?  White and Lewis have been here, so they should know the “route tree” and all that.  Seemed like a better idea playing them over Dorsett, especially since Rex only played 10 snaps and Dion 6.  Then they may not have resorted to just throwing the ball up for grabs the last quarter.

And the defense?  Ugh.  Starts with the game plan again.  Jordan Richards for half the game?  Yikes!  The guy seems to be a special teamer at best…and they are trying to make him a linebacker?  Not good.  I know the Chiefs have a lot of speed.  But they gave real money to David Harris.  And he plays 2 snaps?  I’m not saying he would be better than Richards or Kyle Van Noy or anyone else.  I’m just saying that if he’s playing only 2 snaps on Opening Night, perhaps that money was better spent elsewhere?

Is Dont’a Hightower really ready as well?  Was it necessary to rush him out there for Opening Day?  I know, Bill will say “football players play” and “if the doctor clears them, they are ready to go” and stuff like that.  But even with a seemingly weak front seven, perhaps maybe they should have given him some more time to recover from what ailed him this offseason?  Maybe even left him on PUP?  He doesn’t exactly play every game every year either.  Then, predictably, he goes down too.

I was actually OK with them going with the 2 4th and shorts they had.  I just didn’t love the play calls.  Mike Gillislee got stuffed on both.  But he had nowhere to go.  Where was the QB sneak, which seems to work 99.8% of the time?  Where was…any other play call?  Especially with all of KC up on the line?

Also of note, the Pats may have less depth all around this year…more than in recent years.  Is the decision to carry a slew of “special teams only” players going to come back to bite them…finally?  They always do it and it always seems to work.  But there seem to be more of them this year.  Bademosi, Bolden, Ebner, M. Flowers, J. Jones, King, Slater…and I would say Richards too (first names not necessary).  These guys are (or should be) special teams players only.  To carry 8 of them seems like a lot.

Ultimately, although this game did indeed finish ugly, I expect that the Pats will roll next week and be on their way to something like 13-3, a division championship and a likely appearance in the AFC Championship Game at least.

But…one last point to note:  Brady and other veteran players said after the game that the team has to have a better attitude and compete more and all that.  And to me, seemed like they borderline “gave up” on that last KC TD.  Uh oh.  Made me think of 2009 and that dysfunctional locker room.  If this is a problem, let’s get this taken care of…like, NOW.  Or all the talk will have quickly gone from “16-0” to “10-6, thanks to this team of underachievers”…and possibly worse…oh, 10-6 will likely still will win the division.  But it would also mean a quick exit in the playoffs.

On to the picks…short and sweet this week.  Not a whole lot of ammo in Week 1.  First week is always kind of a crapshoot.  Plus, I really didn’t pay close attention to the league this preseason.  For whatever the preseason is worth.

Pittsburgh (-9.5) at Cleveland

Cleveland definitely has improved and will be undoubtedly better this year.  Just not yet.

Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 13.

Arizona (-1.5) at Detroit

Going with the Lions at home.  Good enough for me.

Detroit 24, Arizona 20.

Jacksonville at Houston (-5.5)

The Jaguars still stink.  I don’t care how many running backs they want to use.

Houston 20, Jacksonville 10.

Baltimore at Cincinnati (-2.5)

Could go either way on this division game.  But is Joey Flacco ready to go?

Cincinnati 21, Baltimore 17.

Oakland at Tennessee (-1.5)

Lots of people on the Tennessee bandwagon this year.  Oakland coming to the East Coast for a 1:00 game.  Seems like a Tennessee pick, right?  Not today.

Oakland 34, Tennessee 30.

Atlanta (-6.5) at Chicago

Mike Glennon or Mitch Trubisky?  Who cares?  Atlanta on the road?  No matter.  I don’t believe Atlanta was as good as they ended up last year, when they got to the Super Bowl and chok…er, lost.  But they are probably going to still be in the mix this season.  And the Bears should still be putrid.

Atlanta 38, Chicago 17.

Philadelphia at Washington (-0.5)

No idea on this divisional battle.  The spread suggests no one else has an idea either.  Or “they” like Philly since “they” presumably gave the ‘Skins three points for being at home.  Either way, when in doubt, go with the home team…I guess.

Washington 28, Philadelphia 27.

New York Jets at Buffalo (-7.5)

Wretched.  Who’s watching this one?  Probably not even many Jets or Bills fans.  Jets are going to make a serious run at 0-16 this year.  That’s high on the list of things that make me happy.

Buffalo 27, New York Jets 6.

Indianapolis at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)

Another “must-watch” game.  Scott Tolzien vs. Jared Goff.  I’m sure the only person who predicted New England would actually trade Jacoby Brissett instead of releasing (or just keeping him) may want to see some Jacoby action in this game (there you go Batts!!).  But not sure that is going to happen.  I would have to think the St. Louis offense will be better this year, even out of the gates.  So I am going with Todd Gurley over the 150 year old Frank Gore in this one.

Los Angeles Rams 17, Indianapolis 13.

Seattle at Green Bay (-3.5)

Looks like a good one.  Normally I would go with the home team both to win and against the spread in what should be a fantastic game between two top contenders.  But Week 1, you just never know.

Green Bay 34, Seattle 31.

Carolina (-5.5) at San Francisco

Feel like Carolina rebounds this year.  Not the same feeling about the Niners.

Carolina 34, San Francisco 10.

New York Giants at Dallas (-3.5)

Ezekiel Elliott is ready to go.  Dak is back.  ‘Boys at home.  As much as it pains me though, going with G-Men.  Purely a hunch.

New York Giants 28, Dallas 24.

New Orleans at Minnesota (-3.5)

I have absolutely no insight here.  Just another hunch.

New Orleans 35, Minnesota 27.

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver (-3.5)

The Broncos at home.  Even though Trevor Siemian is still the QB, they presumably still have the stout defense and nice running game.  “Los Angeles” in front of Chargers instead of “San Diego” just sounds stupid and wrong.

Denver 27, San Diego 17.

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  0-1

Season (against the spread):  1-0

Season (straight up):  0-1

New England Patriot Roster Projection-Defense

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:

DE (5):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

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…

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

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.

LB (6):

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.

CB (5):

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.

S (3):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  None

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.

Specialists (6):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)

In:  None

Out:  None

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…

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