…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
…we’re talking about both the New England Patriots’ performance last Sunday against New Orleans, as well as the Blowhard’s Week Two pick performance (did anyone notice we predicted the exact score & winner of the KC/Philly game? No? Not surprised…but it happened!).
Now, we don’t necessarily have to go back and entirely analyze the Pats game from four days ago. But it was good to see the team get back to doing things that we know they are capable of doing.
However, I wouldn’t say all their problems are solved. And that’s ok, because it is still September. Plenty of time still to figure things out. But it was disappointing to see the offense kind of sputter a bit in the second half against a historically bad Saints defense. That’s one that stands out to me. They should have put up 50 against that putrid outfit.
Of course, the injuries didn’t help. Looked like Rex Burkhead was going to be a big part of the game plan. He left early. Phillip Dorsett was getting himself involved, then he left a little later. No need to even talk about Gronk…we know he is an injury waiting to happen. Every team has injuries and we will see what happens with these guys…including Danny Amendola and Dont’a Hightower, who of course did not play. As well as Eric Rowe, who also left the game early. But they seem to be hitting the Pats early this year.
More importantly, what is up with the playing time of Malcolm Butler and Alan Branch? Is Butler already starting to be “phased out”, seeing that he won’t be here next year? Is Branch causing problems somehow, as he has been wont to do in the past with other teams? Curious dip in PT for these two. And why did the team even sign David Harris when he has only played three snaps in the first two games…and the linebacking corps is suspect to begin with?
And where is Brandin Cooks? The team dressed only 3 wide receivers and Dorsett eventually went down. Plus, Burkhead apparently was going to play some receiver and he went down early. And Cooks only had 2 catches (4 targets). Seemed to me this was a game to get him involved more.
I won’t even start on Stephen Gostkowski. 3-3 on chip shot field goals, yes, but were any of them straight? Another missed PAT and I’m not sure the other three made PAT’s were straight either. And please recall that the game was played indoors.
Perhaps that is a little nitpicking for the second week of the season. But they are all relevant talking points. In any event, we are happy with the win, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
As for Week Three, here’s where we begin:
Los Angeles Rams (-2.5) at San Francisco
Another banner Thursday night game. This could possibly be a worse matchup than Texans/Bengals last Thursday night. Sure, the Rams have shown improvement from last year in their first two games of this season, but is anyone buying into them yet? Sure, the Niners played the Seahawks close last week, but they have scored TWELVE points thus far this season. Brian Hoyer is locking down that quarterbacking job at this point, I suppose that explains some things.
It’s a divisional battle, so maybe that’s something to grasp hold onto. The color rush thing is kind of stupid, but if you like it then you can cling to that too. But this sure smells like another Thursday night stinker. Will I watch it though? You bet!!
Los Angeles Rams 17, San Francisco 9.
Week (against the spread): 10-6
Week (straight up): 13-3
Season (against the spread): 16-15
Season (straight up): 22-9
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…