Sunday, September 27, 2020

Patriots Dispatch Raiders 36-20

The Pats took care of business, beating the visiting Raiders 36-10 at Gillette Stadium. The win kept them one game behind the 3-0 Bills in the division. Next up is a trip to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

If you'd never seen the Patriots under Bill Belichick, this was a clinic in how they won so much through the years. They didn't make critical mistakes, always took advantages of their opportunities, and waited for the other team to crumble under the pressure.

Las Vegas ran for 126 yards (5.7/carry) and their QB threw 2 TDs and 0 INTs for a rating of 119.4. Those stats might make you think they had a big day and won the game. But they lost three fumbles (including two by the QB), had too many penalties (6 total for 44 yards), and had three big special teams mistakes, including a killer missed field goal that would have tied the game in the second half.

On offense, it took a while for the Patriots to dump the run-pass-option plays, which were mostly stuffed early on. Once they started pitching to the outside and then doing quick-hitting inside runs, they took control of the clock and the game.

Rex Burkhead was the star of the game, running for 49 yards and 2 touchdowns and led the team with 7 catches for another 49 yards and 1 TD. Last week he was mediocre in the "James White" role, but with a week to prepare, he handled it a lot better.

The other running backs were no slouches, either. Sony Michel got 117 yards on just 9 carries (13 yards/carry) -- and he was very good on blitz-pickup. And rookie J.J. Taylor had 43 of his own on 11 carries. New England ran for 250 yards total, their second 200+ yard performance in three games.

Cam Newton was good, getting the Patriots into the right play repeatedly, although he did have a terrible interception. He was 17 of 28 for 162 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT (rating 73.8). Those are Tom Brady numbers... circa 2001, his first year as a Patriots starter.

Newton is developing nice chemistry with receivers N'Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd. But he does throw it downfield to covered receivers when there are receivers open for shorter gains. He threw into traffic twice and had that one really bad throw that was easily picked off.

The offensive line played great. The left tackle Isiah Wynn and fill-in left guard Mike Onwenu opened huge holes for the backs and most of the screen passes went that direction, too. The commentators pointed out that most of the snaps were under center (not shotgun), which probably owes Joe Thuney replacing the injured David Andrews at center.

The defense played well situationally, holding the Raiders to 3-of-9 conversions on third-down and forcing Las Vegas to settle for field goals early to keep the game close. The best example of that was after Newton's interception, when the Raiders got the ball at the Pats 14 yard line but had to settle for a field goal.

The secondary was up-and-down; sometimes with blanket coverage but giving up four passes of 20+ yards. The top three tacklers on the day were also from the secondary: Jonathan Jones (7), Adrian Phillips (7), and J.C. Jackson (6). And as a secondary, they knocked away 7 total passes and controlled one of the best receiving threats on the Raiders, Darren Waller

But Stephon Gilmore continues to struggle. It might be time to go back to last year's plan; man-up Gilmore on the opponents second best receiver and double-team their best receiver. Gilmore won the 2019 defensive player of the year, but he didn't take on the top receiver every week. The rules just don't allow a corner to shut down great receivers anymore; so it might be time to go back to the future in the secondary.

The defensive line held up well, especially doing a good job running sideline-to-sideline to cut off off-tackle runs. They sacked Derek Carr twice and recovered two fumbles -- one "returned" for a touchdown. Chase Winovich is playing great on the edge and Adam Butler is doing well stuffing the run inside.

The linebackers continue to be mostly invisible. Head coach Bill Belichick might have thought he could coach-up the young linebacking corps. But it's clear they simply lack the talent needed to cover the pass and are only serviceable against the run. Expect the Patriots to trade for at least one LB before the deadline.

Special teams were mostly very good. They kept the Raiders pinned back, only returned one kickoff they should have knelt on, and did a great job pushing Las Vegas on their last real possession -- when the defense sacked Carr in the end zone and recovered his fumble for a touchdown.

They did miss an extra point; but luckily it didn't come back to haunt them.

On the coaching front, offense coordinator Josh McDaniels excelled in his adjustments, coming up with a new plan when the initial one wasn't working. He called screen passes and outside runs to attack the Raiders both vertically and horizontally, and kept them off-balance the last three quarters of the game.

The only coaching hiccup was having to call three timeouts on defense in the second half. One was on the first play after they kicked off, and the last one was with 12:30 left in the game -- which meant they would not be able to challenge any really bad call on the field. No excuses; they need to do better and make sure the players know the personnel groupings so they don't make those mistakes.

Where does that leave us? 2-1 is good enough for now, and the game next week has they facing a Chiefs team that will be on a short week (just as the Raiders were this week). And after the next game, the "preseason" will be over and I'll write up my season preview :D

Biggest on-going problem: Line. Backer. See last week for details.

Non-QB MVP: Rex Burkhead went flying through the air and burrowing through small creases in the defense to be honored this week.

Statistical Oddity: As head coaches, Bill Belichick and Jon Gruden have only faced each other three times, and in those three games, Gruden's teams have scored fewer total points (33) than the Patriots scored yesterday (36). Probably goes without saying, Belichick is 3-0.

Water-cooler wisdom: "The Pats are building a strong team for the playoffs; tough defense and good running game."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 2-1!

Monday, September 21, 2020

Seahawks Outlast Patriots 35-30

The Patriots could not punch it in for the victory, falling 35-30 to the Seahawks. The loss leaves them one game back of the first-place Bills and one game ahead of the winless Bills and Jets. Next up the newly minted Las Vegas Raiders come to town for a 1:00 game at Gillette.

The Pats gave up way too many big plays in this game. The plan was obviously to let Seattle run the ball to keep it out of Russell Wilson's hands; but when Wilson threw, he killed them with long passes on a bunch of plays. And in the end, New England couldn't punch it in from the one yard-line as time expired, giving Seattle the win.

Four linebackers left in the off-season and it's starting to be a problem. Last night the Patriots started five defensive linemen and five defensive backs because the only linebacker they trusted was Ja'Whaun Bentley. Bentley at least has a few years in the system, but he is limited and has no pass-coverage skills at all.

Seattle torched them with short passes and a decent running game. And when the Pats brought players up to slow that down, Wilson hit three long bombs -- all for touchdowns. The Patriots gave up four total touchdowns to wide receivers last year; Seattle had that many last night.

The list of DBs who had decent games is short: Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty. Phillips arrival from the Chargers reminds me of a past safety who did the same -- Rodney Harrison. It could be a move that pays off well. McCourty had a pick-six to start the scoring.

But Jason McCourty miss-timed his jump and gave up a long touchdown at the pylon. Jonathan Jones gave up a bunch of short stuff across the field. And our best corner, Stephon Gilmore, continued his slump, giving up multiple big plays to D.K. Metcalf.

On the D-line, they got pretty good pressure most of the game. And they even contained Wilson better than most teams. But probably not enough sacks (2) or forced throws given all the pressure, and most definitely not enough run stopping given that they had five men on the line all night.

The Patriots started slowly on offense; trying to establish the run against the fast Seattle D. They were tied at the half mostly because of McCourty's pick-six. But as the game wore on, they let QB Cam Newton throw more often, and usually with greater success.

Newton threw his first pick as Patriots QB, but he also threw for 397 yards and a touchdown (and ran for 47 yards and two additional TDs). He's getting more comfortable with the offense but still needs to learn when to audible to a new play. Some key third downs he didn't change up the play and it force Patriots punts.

Additionally, Newton's ability to extend plays has led to more long passes. In fact, Julian Edelman set a career high with 179 yards but on only 8 catches. Receiver N'Keal Harry got involved, too, with 8 grabs for 72 yards, and supposed #2 receiver Damiere Byrd had 6 catches for 72 of his own.

It's good to see chemistry developing between the QB and receivers other than Edelman. That was always hard when TB12 was here; but with Newton extending plays and giving his receivers a chance, they appear to be building something.

Special teams were just plain odd. For some reason the Patriots kept returning kickoffs out of the end zone, even though they got past the 25 yard-line only once (and then only to the 28). They also appeared to be trying to make Seattle return kickoffs, even though they returned an early one to the 43 yard-line.

They also had Nick Folk try an ill-advised 51-yard field goal (way wide left). And they went for the all-out block near the end of the half (and didn't get close) instead of setting up a return and at least trying to score. I will say that punt was a beauty, dying at the Pats 1 yard-line and forcing them to kneel to end the half.

Most of the coaching decisions were good; except maybe the initial offensive game plan and those odd ideas in the kicking game. Turns out that Steve Belichick is indeed calling the plays from the sideline, so he is the de facto defensive coordinator.

Also, on the last play of the game, they ran the same formation and motion they'd done three other times in the game. One that last play, it made sense to go with something new or to run something different out of that formation. But they plowed toward the left, where 8 Patriots met 10 Seahawks -- with predictable results.

(My suggestion would have been run that same play but have Newton jab-step left and then run around right end. There was only one player there to beat and he was being blocked by the tight end.)

So where does that leave us? This loss was likely expected; Seattle is that good -- but it was a golden opportunity to take a game when they could surprise a team early in the year. 1-1 and looking up at Buffalo isn't great; but I suspect the Bills will come back to earth before the season is out.

Biggest on-going issue: it's a tie between the on-going kicker issues and the lack of linebackers. Can they call Tedy Bruschi to see if he can come out of retirement?

Statistical oddity: I've watched thousands of NFL games, but this is the first time I've seen a team play a 5-1-5 defense regularly. Seattle almost never had to identify the "Mike" linebacker because there was usually only one on the field! 

Water-cooler wisdom: "Tonight when Belichick said: 'Seattle just made a few more plays than us' it was actually true."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-1!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Patriots Outlast Dolphins 21-11

The Patriots mostly dominated the Dolphins, finishing with a 21-11 win over their AFC East rivals. Their 1-0 record puts them in a first-place tie with Buffalo for the division lead. Next week they travel to Seattle for an 8:30pm kick against Seahawks in what will undoubtedly be a much quieter CenturyLink Field.

This game wasn't really as close as the final score indicated. The defense started off almost as dominant as they did last year, picking off Miami QB Ryan Fitzpatrick three times and holding the Dolphins to 3.2 yards per rush and only one pass over 20 yards for the entire game.

If not for a N'Keal Harry fumble into the Miami end zone (which resulted in loss of possession and a touchback for the Dolphins), the game would have been a huge blowout.

New QB Cam Newton had an impressive debut. He led the team in rushing (75 yards and 2 touchdowns) and completed 15 of 19 passes (79%) for 155 yards and a QB rating of 100.7. He's still learning the offense, as several times he didn't get the team out of bad plays.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels used Newton's running ability to implement run-pass-option plays and even had a nifty play where RB James White went in motion and then curled around at the snap to run the actual Option play with Newton. Newton should get even better as he learns the offense, and no doubt McDaniels has more tricks up his sleeve.

One caveat: Newton came up limping after his last run of the day -- an ill-advised attempt at a first down to ice the game when it was already well in hand. The Patriots need to protect him late in games. The drop-off from Newton to either Jarred Stidham or Brian Hoyer is pretty steep.

The Patriots running game looked good, with veterans Sony Michel (37 yards and a TD) and Rex Burkhead (32 yards) doing the most work among running backs. I was impressed with the explosion of rookie J.J. Taylor out of Arizona. If he becomes comfortable with the pass protection schemes, he could help reduce the load on White.

The receivers had an off day. Old reliable Julian Edelman led with 5 catches for 57 yards, but he dropped an easy grab on the first drive, which ultimately led to a punt. Second-year man Harry had five catches of his own, but his fumble turned what could have been a 21-3 lead into a 14-11 tight game. At least Harry had some catches, and with Newton's ability to extend plays, Harry could have a big season.

The O-line was good, no huge mistakes and only showed some cracks when Miami overloaded the line with 8+ defenders. Guard Joe Thuney played well and it was great to see center David Andrews back after a career-threatening clot problem cost him all of the 2019 campaign.

On defense, the secondary impressed as you might expect. They are by far the strongest part of the entire team. Three interceptions, one each from Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and free agent signee Adrian Phillips (over from the L.A. Chargers), who also led the team with 9 tackles. The commentators mentioned often how few open receivers there were, and the depth was on display in four different players had passes knocked down.

Gilmore did have two pass interference calls, and the team had one other, too. And safety Devin McCourty looked just a hair late twice on passes he could have broken up or intercepted. In fact, the safety play wasn't great, as Terrence Brooks was called for the other P.I. penalty. Next week the Patriots play against Pete Carroll, who would probably say the secondary has to "clean it up."

Given that the Patriots list Chase Winovich as a defensive end, the linebackers were completely nondescript in this game. Ja'Whaun Bentley ended up with five tackles and Brandon Copeland had three, but not much to distinguish them. The Pats started the game with five DBs and two LBs (as predicted by yours truly), which owes to their lack of talent among the 'Backers.

The D-line did a great job stuffing the Dolphins running game. Winovich, Derek Rivers, and John Simon all had tackles for a loss, and they kept good pressure on the QB, with five QB hits and a sack.

Justin Bethel made the play of the day on special teams. Punter Jake Bailey outkicked his coverage a bit with a 55-yarder, but Bethel beat his man on the outside and made the return man change directions twice, and ultimately the rest of the coverage team tackled him for a three-yard loss. That drive ended with another Fitzpatrick interception.

Bailey was great, kicking off and punting. Kicker Nick Folk missed his only attempt at a field goal (but was perfect on extra points.). The Pats could really use a kicker like Stephen Gostkowski, but he signed with Tennessee a few weeks back.

On the coaching front, it was interesting to see how McDaniels integrated Newton's skills to diversify the attack. The defensive gameplan on Sunday is what the Pats needed last December 29 to secure a first-round playoff bye. They stuffed the run and then let Fitzpatrick become Fitzpatrick, a risk-taker who is good for two or three INTs per game.

Where does that leave us? In this year, I'll take a division victory with enough stuff for Belichick to correct for next week. The game in Seattle will be a lot different without the crowd noise. And at least they'll have one week of film to study before that one.

Biggest On-going Issue: It's still kicker; the team has to figure that out or commit to going for fourth downs and two-point conversions.

Statistical Oddity: Including yesterday the last three games the Pats rushed for over 200 yards are against each of their division rivals: 215 against the Jets (11/25/2018), 273 against the Bills (12/23/2018), and 217 yesterday.

Bonus Oddity: Newton's 75 yards rushing on Sunday are more yards than Tom Brady rushed in any season since 2012.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The win is most important, but to see how well the offense played was impressive."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-0!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Patriots 2020 Season Preview

Happy September everyone, hope you have been doing well and surviving the end-of-times here on Planet Earth!

It's that time of year; when we distract ourselves from our inevitable slide toward doom by obsessing over millionaires fighting on a 120x53-yard gridiron. In other words, bring on the 2020 NFL regular season 🏈🏈😎

Unlike past years, I have not kept a close eye on the Patriots off-season. Nor have I attended any practices. Nor have I been able to watch any pre-season games. The culprit was COVID-19, which disrupted the world enough to cost me the first one and was the literal cause of the second two.

Given that, I feel uniquely unqualified to assess where the Patriots stand, how the team is put together, how it will do, and where it will finish this season. In fact, I'm the guy who thought Cam Newton might not even make the team; so you'd have to take any predictions with a truckload of salt.

So I'm taking an oft-reported page out of Bill Belichick's books -- I'm treating the first four game of the year like the pre-season. That would make this sort of my like my annual Pre-Season Previews, where I give you some things I'll be watching for in the next four games.

Once I've had a chance to see four contests, assuming they have that many, I'll analyze how I expect the Patriots to do for the remainder of the year.

Fair enough? Yes?

Okay, with that in mind, here we go!



  • QB Tom Brady
  • TE Rob Gronkowski (unretired and traded)
  • T Marcus Cannon (opt-out)
  • RB Brandon Bolden (opt-out)
  • FB James Develin
  • TE Matt LaCosse (opt-out)


  • QB Cam Newton
  • C David Andrews
  • And a bunch of guys you never heard of

The GOAT is gone, long live the GOAT.

I wouldn't call Cam Newton a replacement for TB12; he's a much different quarterback than Brady. Newton is reportedly healthy and has developed some chemistry with WR Julian Edelman. What he brings is the ability to extend plays with his feet, more running ability, and the motivation of a one-year deal that could net him a nine-figure contract if he plays well.

This "pre-season" I'll be looking for whether the Pats changed their offense to use Newton's talents or if they tried to work Newton into their 2019 offense. If you see more extended plays and deep passes, then this is Newton's offense. If not, it will be business as usual.

It'll also be interesting to see if the Patriots run the ball more. They loaded up with running backs, have a new FB in place, their 2018 starting center returned. With Newton could work read-option into the mix. The Patriots offense passed 58% of the time last year; keep an eye on whether that percentage goes higher or lower.



  • LB Dont'a Hightower (opt-out)
  • LB Kyle Van Noy
  • LB Jamie Collins
  • LB Elandon Roberts
  • DT Danny Shelton
  • S Duron Harmon
  • S Patrick Chung (opt-out)


  • A bunch of guys you never heard of

It's a tough off-season when your four best linebackers aren't on the roster the next year. Especially when you sometimes only play three or four in an entire game. Ja'Whaun Bentley showed real ability and a good knowledge of the defense -- but that was two years ago, before an injury cost him one season and better players cost him another.

Bentley will wear the green-dot helmet, so he'll be calling the defense. I'll be watching for blown assignments or pre-snap confusion to see if Bentley can handle the pressure.

The Pats defensive strength is clearly their secondary, which ranks among the best in the NFL. Given their weakness and inexperience at linebacker, I wonder if they will play more five- six- or even seven-man backfields during the season. I'll pay attention to the starting lineups each game, checking to see how many defensive backs are on the field to start the game.

Special Teams


  • K Stephen Gostkowski
  • K Nick Folk (on the practice squad)
  • None

Does this glaring omission on the Pats depth chart worry anyone else?

My suspicion is that Folk will be promoted from the practice squad to kick field goals until a permanent replacement can be found. However, it would not shock me to see the Patriots go without a field goal kicker in a few 2020 games. Punter Jake Bailey kicked off most of last year and will likely do the same this year. With the running game and Newton's skills, the Pats might just go for two points more often.



  • Dante Scarnecchia (offensive line)
  • Joe Judge (special teams)


  • Troy Brown (running backs and kick returners)

There have been some shifting of roles, but no matter what the team does, they'll have a really hard time replacing Dante Scarnecchia. He was a magician with the offensive line. And for two decades, Bill Belichick spent less money and draft capital on the O-line, dedicating those resources to other places, precisely because "Scar" could make chicken salad out of chicken feathers year after year.

The other thing of note is that with Bentley being the defensive signal caller, Jerod Mayo will likely be the de facto defensive coordinator. He seemed to split those chores with safeties coach Steve Belichick in 2019. But now that the green dot will be firmly affixed to a LB's helmet, it should be Mayo.


This year reminds me a lot of 2001. Lots of new players and tons of free agents in and out all off-season. I suspect Bill Belichick is excited to show his coaching chops once again. And given his history, the team will mostly likely be playing better toward the end of the year.

With the uncertainty and all the new players, don't expect a 4-1 or 7-2 start to the season. But then again, I'm not predicting, right 😂

Biggest On-going Issue: Uncertainty in the kicking game. The team had the entire training camp to make sure the linebackers know the defense and Cam Newton knows the offense. But not having a field goal kicker? They need to fix that soon.

Statistical Oddity: Other than Bill Belichick, only one other current NFL head coach has won more than one Super Bowl as a head coach. Only one. (Trivia question: can you name that head coach? Answer below.)

Water-cooler Wisdom: "The Pats performance will be one thing that's better in 2020 than it was in 1990." (Credit to Al the Weather God)

Keep the faith and enjoy the beginning of the season!

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

PPS. Trivia answer:


















Mike Tomlin has two Super Bowl victories. Among current NFL coaches, only he and Belichick have more than one.