Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Patriots 2019 Preseason Preview

Well, hi there, how have you been lately?!

The Patriots finish a semi-eventful off-season tomorrow night, when they take on the Detroit Lions in the preseason. There's been a lot of angst about next year and the year after. But take my advice -- enjoy this year, it could be a special one!

As for the preseason, here are four things I'll be watching for when the real players and scrubs take the field the next four weeks.

1. N'Keal Harry

Harry was the Patriots first pick in the draft, a 6' 4" 225-pound receiver out of Arizona State. By all accounts he's had a great camp, making spectacular catches in most practices and building trust with QB Tom Brady.

Harry will be important in the passing game, with Rob Gronkowski "retired" and wideout Josh Gordon not reinstated yet. So I'll be watching for him to do those little things, block downfield and in the running game, fight for jump balls, and be in the right place at the right time for Brady to hit him in stride.

2. Left Tackle


Long-gone Trent Brown had a very good year here last season. But the Pats coaches trusted the position to redshirt freshman Isaiah Wynn and coach Dante Scarnecchia. Wynn was drafted in the first round last year but never saw the field in the regular season. And Scarnecchia is an offensive-line magician, who will either mold Wynn into a good LT or plug in someone else.

I'll be looking for how many snaps Wynn plays, whether QB pressure comes from his side of the formation, and how he handles stunts and games up front. It'll also be interesting to see how he run blocks, given the Pats recent emphasis on running the ball.

3. Two Linebackers

Ja'Whaun Bentley and Jamie Collins are listed as backups on the depth chart. But if I had to guess, one or both will start by mid-season at the latest.

During last year's preseason, Bentley was really the only defensive player who stood out. He was all over the field and seemed to grasp the defense much quicker than most veterans can. Alas he was injured early and didn't get much playing time in the 2018 regular season.

Collins was traded to NFL Hell in Cleveland for two years. He got paid there, and now that he's willing to take less to win, he's back in the fold. He wasn't great toward the end, but he knows the defense and when he is on-point, he was great when paired with starter Dont'a Hightower.

I'll be looking for continued playmaking by Bentley and a return to form for Collins. And I will keep an eye on their playing time, especially with the starters.

4. Defensive End

Trey Flowers took his considerable talents to the aforementioned Lions this off-season. Who can blame him -- every player deserves a shot at one big payday. And that was his chance.

The Pats brought in Michael Bennett to help replace him. But Bennett is more of a stout player than a long-and-lean freak of nature like Flowers.

So I'll be watching how Bennett does holding the edge against the run, whether they have either DE drop into coverage at all, and whether anyone botches their assignments (which is easy in this defense).

Summary

There you are; four things to watch in four preseason games. Hope you enjoy the games and that the Patriots stay healthy.

Enjoy the summery weather and I'll check back with a season preview sooner than you think!

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Pats Win SB LIII, 13-3!

"Well, well, well... what abouuuut dat?" (My friend, Leo Pasetti, 1982.)

So the team that didn't train enough in the off-season, that went a "pathetic" 3-5 on the road, that "wasted" a first-round pick on a running back, that didn't get enough in the Garoppollo trade, that "blew their chance" at a playoff Bye with a loss in Miami, and that couldn't possibly beat the Chiefs in Kansas City -- THAT team just won the Super Bowl!

The Patriots capped an improbable playoff run with a 13-3 win that was actually a lot closer than the score indicated. They did it with a great defensive game plan, outstanding special teams play, and a grinding, time-of-possession offense that did just enough to outscore the high-flying Rams.

In a game that paired the #2 and #4 scoring offenses, the biggest stars were the defensive coordinators.

Rams' DC Wade Phillips devised great disguise schemes that confused Patriots QB Tom Brady. They got an interception when Brady mistakenly thought it was man coverage. And time after time the Patriots drove into Rams territory, only to be thwarted before getting into scoring position.

And in his Patriots' swan song, DC Brian Flores crafted a plan to attack the Rams offense up the field, cutting off the misdirection lanes. He added timely blitzes and games that kept Rams QB Jared Goff off balance and out of sorts. And all season he employed far more stunts, games, and exotic defenses, sometimes switching between them five or six times within the same drive.

Flores is headed to Miami tomorrow, to be introduced as the head coach of the Dolphins. And I'll predict right here that he will be the next head coach to win the AFC East. Might not be for a few years, with Belichick around. But he is that good, and he will be sorely missed, no matter whom they bring in to coach the defense next year.

The offensive star was Julian Edelman, the Super Bowl LIII MVP, who kept the chains moving over and over with 10 catches for 141 yards. Rob Gronkowski had a few clutch catches on the lone touchdown drive of the game, but aside from that, the receivers were mostly effective blocking for the run game.

Two running backs were key, led by Sony Michel's 94 yards on 18 carries (5.2 ypc) and that one touchdown. And surprisingly, Rex Burkhead added 43 yards, averaging 6.1 ypc himself. And it wouldn't be right not to mention one back with zero carries -- James Develin didn't touch the ball but his blocking was key in this entire playoff run.

Brady was spot on when he deciphered the defense properly, but it was strange to see all the misfires when he didn't read things properly. He wasn't pressured as much as expected by the Rams D-line, but he did take more hits and was sacked more than in the prior two playoff games combined.

On defense, the line and linebackers simply ran up the field to get to the QB or the RB, whomever had the ball. There weren't any standouts, but the scheme put the front seven near Goff time after time, and it bottled up the running game, too.

But the star was the secondary, which blanketed the receivers on 95% of the plays. Stephon Gilmore earned his rep as the highest rated corner in the NFL. He shut down wideout Brandin Cooks, knocking away three passes, had a forced fumble and an interception.

Additionally, oft-maligned Jason McCourty ran from the other side of the field to knock away a sure touchdown when Cooks got free in the end zone. And when safety Patrick Chung went down with a broken arm, Duron Harmon stepped in, knocking down another potential touchdown and blitzing to force a bad throw on the Gilmore INT.

As for special teams, they played great despite the missed field goal by Gostkowski. Punter Ryan Allen was a legit candidate for MVP, as was gunner Matthew Slater. Allen booted three punts that were downed inside the 10 yard-line, all three by Slater. Giving the Rams the long field went a long way to keeping them off the scoreboard.

I already went over the coaching job on defense. And honestly, the offensive plan wasn't great, entering the game or adjustment-wise. Good enough in the end, but without that defensive game plan, the Pats wouldn't even have been in the game.

Where does that leave us? SUPER BOWL CHAMPS of course! Leave the off-season questions for another day, just enjoy this for the next week, and don't sweat the small stuff :D

Non-Brady MVP: Allen. I know Julian got the MVP award, but if Allen doesn't have one of his best games of the year, it's likely a loss.

Statistical Oddity: The Patriots have faced the Rams in two Super Bowls, and in those games, the Pats allowed 69% fewer points than the Rams averaged during the regular year:
  • 2001: 31.4ppg in the regular season, 17 points in the Super Bowl
  • 2018: 32.9ppg in the regular season, 3 points in the Super Bowl
Water-cooler Wisdom: "We're Still Here!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 14-5 & 3-0!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Pats Rams SB Preview

As you've no doubt noticed, there was a disturbing lack of emails and updates during the playoffs. Sorry folks, but life intruded and I just didn't have the time.

However, I did have a few thoughts on the big game, now that they've gotten there. Mostly, it's the keys to the game when the Pats are on offense and defense. Here we go...

When the Patriots have the ball

When the Pats are on offense, it'll come down to how LA defensive coordinator Wade Phillips does. He struggled to stop Brady for years (his defenses literally went almost 10 years without intercepting a single Brady pass), but he's beaten the GOAT the last two times. And he won those games by bringing pressure instead of sitting back in a zone. (Also, it didn't hurt that Peyton Manning helmed the offense for those Broncos teams.)

You can bank on Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have a great plan entering the game. Because in the first two playoff games, his plans have been nearly flawless. Here are the numbers for the first two drives of the games against the Chargers and Chiefs:

  • 25:00 of possession time
  • 286 yards
  • 9 of 10 on third down conversions
  • 21 points

And if not for a foolish interception by Brady, it would have been 10 of 10 on third down and 28 points in four possessions. Impressive beginnings to both games, to say the least.

McDaniels is dialed in this year. The previous seven playoff games, New England failed to score a first-drive touchdown. This year, they were unstoppable early in their first two games.

This is where Phillips comes in. In the two games he beat Brady, his defense totaled 7 sacks and an amazing 26 QB hits! He brought pressure and it paid off.

For the record, both games were in Denver, where the crowd noise made it harder for the Patriots O-line to communicate. And that won't be the case in the Super Bowl; that corporate crowd will only be slightly louder than a theater playing "A Quiet Place."

But Phillips should have learned his lesson by now. He took one thrashing after another playing his usual "four man rush, seven man zone." If he tries it again this Sunday, the Patriots will already be over halfway to a victory.

When the Rams have the ball

On Los Angeles possessions, it'll all come down to whether Jared Goff turns the ball over in the first half. The LA quarterback gave up 18 turnovers (5 fumbles lost, 13 interceptions) this past season, which is slightly more than 1 per game. And Belichick defenses usually confused young quarterbacks, especially the first time they face a Belichick defense.

Add to that this year's D-coordinator (and soon-to-be Miami head coach) Brian Flores, who employs multiple exotic defenses and schemes all over the field. The Patriots ran more stunts and games up front, and deployed more of the Amoeba, Bullseye, and "one down lineman" fronts than in past years. It's paid off by masking a general talent drain, but that aside, it's been extremely effective.

But it works best in the first half. Best evidence of that is the two Chiefs games. KC scored a total of 9 first half points in the two games, but they scored 62 total in the combined second halves. This shows the Patriots defense is hard to decipher at first, but once good offensive teams figure it out, watch out!

Goff doesn't need to get off to an amazing start. His young counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, didn't for the Chiefs, but they still came back to tie the game in the second half.

However, if Goff commits the cardinal sin, if he turns over the ball (especially in the first half), it'll spell real trouble for the Rams.

The rest of it

As for the rest of it, it's mostly a wash. The Patriots have much more experience, but the Rams have more talent. The Pats have a perceived coaching advantage, but no one has seen LA wunderkind Sean McVay in the big game, so no telling how he will do.

Each team's special teams have advantages and weaknesses, but those should mostly cancel each other out. And both offensive and defensive lines are playing their best football of the season right now.

Aside from the experience advantage, the Patriots do have one other thing in their favor: the two-week break. Think back to how dominant they were from the get-go against the LA Chargers. That was after a Bye week.

Rest can't be overrated for a team with this many veteran players. And the first two playoff games showed how much it helps.

That's about it; hope you enjoy the game and that you enjoyed my thoughts on the season. I'm sure I'll write up something post-game -- here's hoping it's a celebration, not a lamentation :D

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 13-5 & 2-0!