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Blame the refs?

Well, that’s what everyone is doing.  But I am not going to.

Sure, there were a handful of questionable calls going against the New England Patriots in their loss against the Denver Broncos Sunday night.  And, in reality, the officiating across the NFL has been abysmal for some time now, especially this year.  Clock errors.  Bogus pass interference calls, specifically offensive.  Erroneous ball placements on the field.  What is a catch and what is not a catch?  Endless conferences and time under the hood.  Inadvertent whistles.  Etc.

Even though “reffing” this year has been bad, to be kind, I try not to get on their backs too much.  These guys have to make split second calls while looking at a few different things (hands, feet, boundary lines, etc.) while also having to kind of “interpret” the rule book…reception rules or injury time run off or inadvertent whistle decisions and so on.   Sure, these guys are supposed to be professionals and it is their job to know everything, but when retired guys in the booth such as Mike Carey or Gerry Austin get stuff wrong when the announcers throw it to them for analysis, do you expect guys on the field to know every nuance of the rule book by heart?  Maybe.  But then we can get into how this is a part-time job for these guys and also how the game has passed some of them by or there are several new guys on the job and all that.  Different topic for a different day.  And really, do YOU know every aspect of your own job head to toe?  If you do, I’m impressed.  But I would argue that assertion.

Anyway, I digress.  I try not to get on the refs too bad because they have to process everything quickly.  We, as TV viewers, get to see 8,000 replays at 2,000 different angles and make a decision from there.  When it comes down to it, the refs are right quite a bit.  They are only egregiously wrong a handful of times.  And those are the ones we focus on of course.  Because most of those are horrible mistakes.

Were the officials egregiously wrong last night?  Well, I wouldn’t have called the Gronk offensive PI late.  Or the Patrick Chung holding in the end zone late.  But you could make a case for both.  It’s been common knowledge that the league has targeted offensive pass interference more aggressively this year.  Gronk’s a big guy you say, and he can’t help it?  Maybe so.  But he did kind of push his forearm out there.  And Chung did grab some shoulder, however little it was.  The better question may have been why Chung seemed to be one on one against Demaryius Thomas, but whatever.  Pass interference, illegal contact, holding…these could likely be called on every play.  Probably 90% of the time the refs should just “let the boys play”.  Only 10% of those types of penalties are probably blatant enough to deserve a flag.  Unfortunately for the Pats, the refs decided to flag them for these marginal infractions at the wrong time of the game.

But that is NOT why they lost the game.

I can think of several reasons why they lost the game.  The refs may have had a small role.  I think the following had larger roles:

*Chris Harper.  Fumbling a punt with a 21-7 lead early in the final quarter after holding the Broncos to a three and out.  Not damaging in and of itself…if the D holds again.  But they didn’t.  And it essentially changed the momentum of the entire game.  Have to catch that punt.

*10 punts by Ryan Allen.  Sure the weather would hold down any offense.  But 10 punts?  This is a team that went an entire game without a punt against Jacksonville earlier this year.  Ok, Jacksonville.  But still.  More importantly, here is where 6 Patriot drives ended in punts:  Denver 49, Denver 42, Denver 49, New England 47, New England 48, New England 47.  The Pats had pretty good field position for the majority of the evening.  6 punts stalled around mid-field…where another first down or two would present a field goal opportunity.  If they kick even 3 field goals out of the 6 drives it’s a different game.

*Conservative drive at the end of the first half.  14-7 Pats, 2:07 left, all three timeouts in their pocket.  And 5 straight runs to end the half???!!  Surely this cannot be the Patriots.  7 point lead on the road in bad conditions with limited weapons against a good team…I can see maybe a little conservatism.  But this was ridiculous.  This is historically where the Pats make a move, especially considering they were to receive the 2nd half kickoff.  Completely mystifying here.

*Not trusting the running game at certain moments.  Ok, the running game was brutal.  But in a way they did not give it a chance.  There were certain times that they should have run the ball.  The most glaring was the play that Gronk got hurt.  2:53 left, 1st and 10 at NE 40, Denver had only 1 timeout remaining.  THIS was the play to run and make them use their last timeout.  Chances are Blount would have been stuffed for 2 yards or less.  But the timeouts would be gone.  Then a 2nd down run would’ve likely taken them to the 2 minute warning.  If you want to try a screen or something on 3rd down…maybe…but another run would’ve taken it down to less than a minute and a half.  I get that the pass is the Patriots’ way of closing out a game.  But it may have been smarter to run on these downs.  In this situation anyway.  Then put pressure on the kid to go the length of the field with 1:30 or less left and no timeouts.  You may say that Osweiler still did go downfield and score while only using 1:22 so it wouldn’t have mattered.  But I would say the circumstances between the two scenarios would have been different and he may have made quicker and more riskier decisions. Different plays may have been called.  Etc.

*Offensive line.  Maybe not as much as the previous game against Buffalo, but the OL had its struggles in this one too.  And the Broncos didn’t even have DeMarcus Ware.  People don’t think that Tre’ Jackson should’ve been called for the penalty that wiped out a 51 yard pass play.  I say if he doesn’t haul Von Miller down, Brady doesn’t get the pass off.  Looked like a legit penalty to me.  Anyway, they didn’t give Brady a ton of time I felt.  Which made all the 3rd and 10 bombs to Brandon LaFell even more mystifying to me.

*Defense in crunch time.  Sure, the fumbled punt and the offense shutting down in the 4th quarter didn’t help the D.  They may have been a little tired.  Losing Hightower hurt as well.  Special teamer Jonathan Freeny and the Ghost of Jerod Mayo played entirely too many snaps.  But there were several big plays in the 4th and OT as well.  Logan Ryan played well…until the end.  Malcolm Butler got torched a few times.  The safeties?  Seemed a little late on several plays.  23 points allowed in the 4th quarter and OT?  Awful.

That about sums it up.  Not all about the refs.  The Pats had a legit chance to go undefeated, even with all the injuries.  So will this loss help?  Maybe.  As long as they keep the #1 seed.  With the 5 cream puffs coming up on the schedule (please don’t try to sell me on the Texans or Jets, even in their house), the team should win those games and be able to manage playing time and injuries.  As long as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower return for the playoffs and the team suffers no more major injuries, the Super Bowl is within reach.  But we will cross that bridge when we get to it…

 

 

Patriot’s roster projection, v1…the rest…

Defense:

DE (4):

Locks:  Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

I wanted to split out the defensive ends and defensive tackles, but with the way the Patriots kind of shuffle these guys around, maybe that wasn’t such a smart idea.  In any event, it looks as if the team has more DL types than pure DE types as of right this second.  The possibility also exists that if Jamie Collins, Don’t’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo are all healthy, either Collins or Hightower will rush the passer more from this position.  So I went with all 4 pure DE types being locks.  Obviously changes if Flowers’ injury from the exhibition opener is serious.

DL (5):

Locks:  Dominique Easley, Malcolm Brown, Sealver Siliga, Geneo Grissom

In:  Zach Moore

Out:  Alan Branch, Joe Vellano, Casey Walker, Antonio Johnson

Way Out:  A.J. Pataiali’l

Not many people loved the Grissom pick…where it happened in the 3rd round anyway.  So regardless of how well he does now, it’s unlikely he won’t make the squad.  Moore seemed to have some potential last year and I wouldn’t think he would be cut either.  Though I do wonder why they moved him inside this year.  But he would seemingly be DE depth as well.  Branch is the vet on D that I could see them moving on from kind of unexpectedly.  I don’t think the salary is prohibitive.  But if they wanted to keep all of these younger bodies in tow it may be a move that has to be made.  The other vets are fringe guys anyway.  And A.J. Pahkjnafanjknj…I admittedly know nothing about.

LB (5):

Locks:  Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo

In:  Jonathan Freeny, James Morris

Out:  Darius Fleming, Cameron Gordon, Dekoda Watson, Rufus Johnson

Way Out:  Xzavier Dickson, L.J. Fort, Eric Martin

Can’t get any more solid than the locks above.  Yet again though, the backup LBs are a weak group.  Belichick seems to basically use his backup LBs as special team linchpins every year.  Even the 4 “outs” are probably known more as special team guys.  Anyway, didn’t think much of Freeny until they played him a ton in the first game and he was lauded by Bill this past week.  Morris was kept on IR all of last year and I’ve heard whispers that they seem to like him.  In any event, don’t be surprised to see Chris White back here once his injury heals.  I know, L.J. Fort was already released today.  But since I had the bulk of this written before I found out, I’m leaving him here.  Proves I got one thing right anyway.  Well, maybe it proves nothing, but…

CB (5):

Locks:  Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan

In:  Tarell Brown, Robert McClain, Darryl Roberts

Out:  Bradley Fletcher, Dax Swanson

Way Out:  Jimmy Jean, Brandon King

Letting go of arguably their 4 top cornerbacks on paper this offseason (Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard…ok, you can fight me on Fonzie) seemed to be a dicey proposition.  That hasn’t changed for me, sorry.  Butler goes from 5th or 6th CB to Super Bowl hero to now top CB…just like that?  Ryan played ok as a rookie, not so much in his sophomore year.  Brown and McClain are veterans who don’t seem to be special.  Roberts is a 7th round rookie.  If you want to add Fletcher here, throw him in the same category as Brown and McClain.  I have Bradley out since I’ve heard nothing from him since the start of camp.  He may still make it, especially if they stash Roberts on IR after his injury in the opener.  But you can’t tell me that you have any comfort with this group at all.  Scary.

S (5):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

In:  Tavon Wilson

Out:  Nate Ebner

Way Out:  None

Same goes for the safeties.  McCourty is a good one, but one of the highest paid?  Not so sure.  Richards was a reach in the 2nd round, according to everyone (nice reminder of how well Tavon Wilson has worked out as an unheard of 2nd rounder…oops).  The other guys?  Unexciting.  That may be the kindest word to describe them.  These DB’s scare the bejesus out of me.  That about sums it up.

Physically Unable to Perform (2):  Chris Jones, Dane Fletcher

There are 4 dudes on the preseason PUP list.  Keeping these 2 on for the regular season.  LaFell and Wendell tentatively break camp with the team.  Since no one really knows how their injuries are progressing, this could obviously change.

Injured Reserve (2):  A.J. Derby, Tyler Gaffney

At least we know these 2 guys are here.  Already on the list going forward.  And so much for the Gaffney Hall of Fame push.  All I heard was that Tyler was going to be a major cog in the backfield this year once healthy.  That they stole him from Carolina last year.  Listen, if Carolina absolutely wanted to hang onto the guy, they wouldn’t have exposed him to waivers at the time that they did.  They would have carried him and then put him on IR when they didn’t have to expose him to waivers.  They took a chance that no one would claim him.  They were wrong, but if he was that invaluable, he wouldn’t be here in the first place.  Plus, he wouldn’t have been a 6th round pick either.  But what do I know?

Non-Football Injury (1):  Caylin Hauptmann

I think this guy is still on the NFI list and I don’t even know what for.  Nor do I care.  The Pats did care enough about him to carry him on the practice squad for however long last year.  But I’m not expecting him to be a factor at any point, no offense to him or his family.

Practice squad (10):

Andrews

Barker

Bequette

Boyce

Gordon

Jean

Rufus Johnson

Krause

Mundine

Swanson

Total shots in the dark here, as obviously it is early in the preseason.  But also because of the eligibility rules.  I am not going to pretend I know who exactly is eligible for the practice squad and who is not.  Sure, I could do all the research.  But, ummmmm…no thanks.  Not for this projection anyway.  I did just briefly look at the eligibility rules though, for the record.  All sorts of stuff about accrued seasons and 46 man game day rosters and third practice squad seasons and changes for 2014 & 2015 that will revert back to 2013 rules for 2016 if there is no extension and blah blah blah.  For this exercise, I will just assume anyone with less than 3 year’s experience is eligible.  Thank you so much for your understanding…

That’s about it…along with Fort being released there was a trade today and some more roster moves.  So I guess I won’t be perfect…

Patriots free agency primer-Defense

Here’s what New England needs to compete for a Super Bowl Championship next year:

Keep Darrelle Revis on a longer term, more cap friendly deal; keep Revis, Gronk and Brady healthy, at least so they will be at the end of next season and…

…that’s it, simple as that!!

OK, maybe also acquire low-cost depth across all other positions, specifically both offensive and defensive lines.

But that about sums it up.

Oh, and have Rex Ryan chase after (Josh McCown) and/or land (Matt Cassel) mediocre quarterbacks and have the rest of the AFC East continue its ineptitude doesn’t hurt either.

I suppose we can get a little more specific.  And we will.  We’ll start with the defensive side of the ball.  Simply because Revis is clearly the most important piece that needs to be addressed.

Defensive End:

Under contract:  Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Dominique Easley, Zach Moore, Michael Buchanan, Jake Bequette

Free agents:  Akeem Ayers

Thoughts:  Ninkovich played more snaps than any defensive lineman in the NFL last year.  This fact still blows my mind.  I like him, but I’ve said for a couple years now that I’d love for him to be a kind of that “3rd pass rusher”.  Have him back up the 2 starters and play a little situational linebacker and still be on the field a great deal.  Acquire more of a pure pass rusher, even though he has performed pretty well in the role that they ask him to.  Putting him in that role is unlikely to happen though, especially considering the paycheck.  But I’d still like a strong 3rd pass rushing option to group with Ninkovich and Jones at the very least.  I wouldn’t break the bank on this position though.

Maybe it’s Easley, but he may play more DT…and can you even count on that anyway, with his injury history?  Moore seems far away still.  Not convinced it’s either Buchanan or Bequette.  Still trying to figure out why Jake is still here.  I put Ayers in this group because it seems that once Jones came back from injury last year, Ayers stopped playing.  Seems Akeem got a lot of Chandler’s reps then.  Liked what I saw when he was playing.  But I expect him to get more cash elsewhere.  Maybe it’s a draft pick.  But I’d add some better depth here, at a low cost.

Defensive Tackle:

Under contract:  Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Antonio Johnson

Free agents:  Vince Wilfork, Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch

Thoughts:  This is by far the biggest need for the Patriots, in my estimation.  It’s quite obvious actually, when you look at the bodies above.  Highlighted by the Wilfork move today.  Big Vince had an $8 million option.  I wouldn’t have exercised it either.  He had a decent year, by all accounts.  But he is not the same guy as he once was…an understatement, I know.  And the Big Man does not like to renegotiate.  So this was probably the best solution.  Personally, I’d be surprised if Vince was back.  I would bet that the Pats approached him about a renegotiation and he said no.  And after the contract haggles in the past, both sides probably determined that a clean split was best.  Some team will overpay him a little, especially for the “leadership” angle.  But as sad as it is, I am ok with it.  Siliga is actually a restricted free agent, so he will likely be back.  Branch may find better riches elsewhere.  As good as a piece as he was down the stretch, he can be replaced.

If I’m the Pats, I make a significant free agent move here first.  You can forget Ndamukong Suh.  But there has to be another somewhat big name or two who would come here for a decent paycheck.  Add some depth in the draft, as well as lower tier free agents and that would be a good start.

Linebacker:

Under contract:  Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Cameron Gordon, Darius Fleming, Eric Martin, Deontae Skinner, Rufus Johnson

Free agents:  Chris White, Jonathan Casillas, James Morris

Thoughts:  Kind of lumping them all together here, inside and outside linebackers, because in recent history the Patriots have had a few starters and all the backups have been essentially special teamers.  Also, these linebackers seem to move around a bit, and the team seems to have more 4-2-5 defensive alignments, so let’s just do it this way.

The most pressing issue here seems to be what to do with Mayo.  He has the 3rd highest cap number on the team at $10,287,500 (if Revis departs for good, it will be 2nd highest) and has missed the majority of the last 2 seasons due to injury.  Hightower seemed to flourish once Mayo was out this year and was forced into his role.  Hightower and Collins both need to play often.

I’d love to have Mayo back.  For one reason, even if the Pats play more of a 4-2-5 alignment, all 3 of the LB’s can be on the field where either Collins or Hightower is more of a pass rusher.  For another reason, the depth at the position is putrid, as you can clearly see.  The easy thing would be for Jerod to take a pay cut.  But will he?  Have they even approached him?  I am not sure what the team is thinking here.  This will be interesting to see as the next week unfolds.

The rest of the selection seems to be that special teams group.  Good enough.  Wouldn’t be surprised to see both White and Casillas back.  Morris is actually an exclusive rights free agent, so he will be in the mix, for whatever that will be worth.  To me, what they do with Mayo is the only thing to watch here.

Cornerback:

Under contract:  Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Alfonzo Dennard, Daxton Swanson, Justin Green

Free agents:  Darrelle Revis

Thoughts:  Putting Revis in the free agent box because there is no way the organization gives him 20 mil this year with a 25 mil cap number.  They CAN do it, but shedding a few more bodies from the roster other than Vince, but WILL they?  Unlikely.  This is the only move to talk about here.  The Patriots have plenty of other bodies at the position and they are all capable to some degree.  But having Revis at the top of the depth chart moves all these guys into appropriate levels and sets them up in a better position to succeed.  The team absolutely must do everything it can to keep him here.  Sets everything else up perfectly.  Not only the cornerbacks, but the whole secondary…and you could argue the defense as a whole as well.  This is a no-brainer.  The Pats cannot nickel and dime him.  Give him a fair salary that he will accept, or else he goes to the highest bidder.  Not more difficult than that.  There are no other moves here.

Safety:

Under contract:  Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner

Free agents:  Devin McCourty

Thoughts:  I will allow for the fact that the remaining group after McCourty looks wafer thin…and that may be being kind.  But I have to say that I am ok with them not franchising Devin.  A lot of money for a guy at that position that isn’t necessarily a difference maker.  Look, McCourty is a fine player.  And I would like to see him back on a reasonable deal, where he still makes himself some coin.  But I don’t know if I’m comfortable paying him at the top of the market.  For his role in the defense anyway, as well as the fact that the money could be better spent elsewhere, in my opinion.

To me, Revis is the key to the secondary.  I know, that is going out on a limb.  But the team can make do without Devin, I trust that.  Not with only the current group of course.  Maybe a high draft pick and an established veteran or two, someone at a lower pay scale than McCourty.  Not to mention, maybe one of the cornerbacks can switch to safety.  Devin took a step back his second year at CB and so did Logan Ryan in his 2nd year last year.  Maybe he switches to safety?  I just feel like there are better options than unloading a Brinks truck on McCourty’s yard, if that is what he is looking for.

Punter:

Under contract:  Ryan Allen

Free agents:  None

Thoughts:  None really, it’s the punter.  Allen is good enough and is fine at holding for kicks, while we are at it.  If the team feels it needs to upgrade, fine with me.  But either way, I am not losing sleep over this position.

 

 

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