Oh My Hoodie, what a video from Jules! (via Unto the Breach – YouTube)
The 2015 season is finally here!! At least that’s what it feels like, but even this week we’ve had to deal with the Chandler Jones situation and Gronk suddenly having problems with his knee again. When will it end?
Nothing is ever simple or easy with the Patriots, but somehow they usually are able to fend off all distractions and problems and put up a great fight no matter who the opponent is.
That will be put to the test this week against a Chiefs team that hasn’t beaten themselves nor been beaten by anyone else in three months. I know all the crap that Andy Reid gets for game management stuff, but he deserves plenty of credit and we know the respect that Belichick has for him.
What’s scary to me about the Chiefs is they have a lot of those elements needed to knock off the Pats. In many ways they remind me of the 2009-2012 Ravens, though I wouldn’t say they’re quite as fierce. That Ravens team knew how to take the Patriots to the limit, if not totally dominate them like the first half of the 2009 Wild Card game or the second half of the 2012 AFC Championship.
Still, the Chiefs have some injury issues of their own and that could really limit what they can do depending on who can go and who can’t.
For the Patriots it all comes down to one big SUCK IT UP FOR THREE GAMES. How seamlessly can guys like Edelman, Hightower and Vollmer step back in? Is Gronk really hobbled?
As I’ve been saying for weeks now, we just don’t know who the 2015 Patriots really are. Well, we’re about to find out Saturday night and that’s both exciting and scary.
Here’s the gameplan to get back to the AFC Championship for the fifth-straight year.
Welcome to the great unknown. Who doesn’t have any question marks outside of Tom Brady in this offense? I can’t think of a single player that I know what to expect from.
The who-knows running backs – Steven Jackson and James White
? The walking wounded – Julian Edelman
, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline? The sub par season guys – Brandon LaFell, Marcus Cannon, Bryan Stork? The rooks – Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Tre Jackson?
I can’t recall ever going into the playoffs with this many question marks and that muddies the projection of what they can and will do.
So the offensive gameplan is simple really – get back to what makes the old Patriots offense work. Edelman on the quick catch routes and Gronk up the seam. Amendola underneath. LaFell on some screens and down the sideline.
That’s what makes this offense work and they just haven’t had any of the pieces to even attempt it in a couple months.
But the true unknowns, for both us and the Chiefs, are Jackson and White. I can’t imagine Jackson running roughshod all over a very good Chiefs front, but I can see him picking up some key 3rd-and-shorts.
No, I think this is a White game in the same way Shane Vereen was under the radar in 2012 until the divisional game against the Texans and then it was like “where’s this version of Vereen been?”
White was the only player to consistently make things happen when the injuries started happening to Edelman, Amendola and Gronk. And with that trio back, things should finally open up for White in a way we haven’t seen yet.
So for all the talk of Edelman et al’s returns, it might James White who does the most damage.
Fundamentals. Fundamentals. Fundamentals. I can’t stress it enough. This isn’t one of those games where the Pats will live or die whether or not they get pass rush pressure. Those are the games everyone is used to in big spots.
No, this game is all about DO YOUR JOB. And with the veteran defenders we have, I feel pretty good that the defense will turn in a winning effort in this one.
Kansas City’s offense is in many ways a lot like the Patriots. They have far more gimmicks, but getting the ball to the open guy and letting him make plays is the foundation of what they do. There’s just a lot more read option, QB keepers, bootlegs, misdirection kind of stuff and that will stress an undisciplined defense.
That’s why the Pats got throttled last year. They were sloppy. They bit on the misdirection. They were missing tackles. They were losing contain. If that’s the defense that shows up Saturday night, it could very well get ugly once again.
But I trust that the Patriots defense will show up and play fundamentally sound because that’s who they are and that’s what Belichick has molded this defense into more than anything else.
The key player? Dont’a Hightower. The Chiefs can simply not be allowed to establish a consistent running game and Hightower is the biggest piece of the run-stopping puzzle.
The advantage the Pats have is that they shouldn’t be forced to stop the run from their sub-package with a light box. They should be in their “regular” 4-3 defense with Patrick Chung in box because the Chiefs don’t have the kind of weapons on the outside to force the Pats into nickel and dime unless they want to be.
I see Logan Ryan on Chris Conley (or Maclin if he plays), Malcolm Butler on Albert Wilson and McCourty playing true centerfield behind them. That leaves the eight man box to deal with Travis Kelce, who I expect to be taken out of the game by a combination of Chung/Collins/Hightower and perhaps Jordan Richards on pure passing downs, and the running game.
Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown and Akiem Hicks need to be at their best as well against the Chiefs running backs, clogging the middle and not getting too far upfield.
The final piece of the puzzle is Alex Smith’s running ability. The Patriots did a great job last year in the Super Bowl against Russell Wilson, keeping him in the pocket and fogging his reads. Wilson would tuck the ball to run but there was nowhere to go. Same thing here with Smith.
If the Patriots’ defense tackles well, and plays disciplined I see the odds firmly in their favor in this game.
Five Points of Emphasis
1. Defensive Fundamentals – I’m sorry to hit this again but it’s just so critical. If the Patriots contain Alex Smith and tackle well they will be fine. If they’re over-pursuing, missing tackles and trying to do too much, they’ll play right into the Chiefs’ hands. Boil it down and this is simply winning the physical battle. The Pats have the defensive pieces to do it and I have confidence they will.
2. Open Things Up For White – We know the Pats need Edelman, but I don’t think it’s smart to think he’s going to come in, catch 10 balls and take a bunch of big hits and be that same old Jules we know and love. No, the advantage of having Edelman back, even without the ball in his hands, is that the Chiefs will have to respect him and that alone does more than Keshawn Martin would do even if he caught a bunch of passes. The trickle down effect of all the attention Gronk and Edelman will get should be that James White often gets lost in the wash. He’s very much under the radar but this could be a breakout game for him. And I wouldn’t be opposed to some Steven Jackson screen passes either. Jackson likely doesn’t have the playbook knowledge to do it all, but they need to get him some touches that aren’t just running into the Chiefs brick wall front.
3. Special Teams Play Special – We saw it last week with the Chiefs returning the opening kickoff for a TD that they have game-changing ability on special teams. And we’re all well aware of the Patriots various snafus on special teams over the season. This could very well be where the game is won or lost and I’d expect the Pats to use plenty of veterans in key spots in the kicking game to ensure a mental breakdown doesn’t happen. Remember the Jets upset in 2010 got a huge boost from the second-year Patrick Chung’s fake punt attempt. Winning the special teams battle is vital.
4. Get the Lead – The Chiefs are not built, nor do they have the depth, to mount a major comeback if they get in a hole. No, they’re designed to get the lead and keep the lead with their ball control offense. The Pats must must must come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. A slow start could be a death sentence. Win the toss. Defer. Get off the field. Put points on the board. That’s the start we want.
5. 60 Minutes – No matter what happens the one thing I know is that the Patriots will fight the entire game. There is plenty we don’t know about this team, but this is one thing we can be sure of. Whether they’re in a huge hole quick or race out to a lead, the playoffs are about playing the entire game. Last year’s divisional game against the Ravens is the perfect example. I was shocked the Pats came out so flat and get into not one, but TWO 14-point holes. Whatever circumstances that led to that were hopefully corrected this year. The Patriots know firsthand what the Chiefs are capable of but they don’t have the same mystique the Ravens held over them. Regardless of how things unfold, it’s going to take a full game’s effort to go back to the AFC Championship.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Chiefs 13
Excited to announce I have a pair of tickets to give away courtesy of our friends at NRG! To get them I need to see your best #FanEnergy in a selfie and the theme… THE RETURN OF INCREDELMAN!!!!
Here are the specifics:
1. Tweet a pic of yourself/friends inspired by the Return of Julian Edelman.
2. Make sure to include/follow @PatsPropaganda, @NRGEnergy and tag #FanEnergy.
The cutoff will be Wednesday 9pm EST and a winner will be announced.
You’ve got three days. Make it Incredelman!
One of the things that I think gives this blog a unique perspective is the long-term stats that I focus on. This time of year, when the 2015 Patriots’ regular season is in the books, I love seeing how this team stacked up against the rest of Belichick’s teams.
Despite an incredible amount of injuries this season, the Patriots didn’t drop off a whole heck of a lot from last year’s Super Bowl team. They certainly had an easier regular season schedule, but despite all the key departures of last offseason plenty of guys stepped up and that bodes extremely well for the direction of the franchise.
Let’s start with the DVOA of the offense, defense and special teams.
As you can see, this year’s team and last year’s we almost identical as far as the efficiency is concerned. One major place the Pats had significant improvement on the defensive side of the ball was:
It shouldn’t be surprising that the season Belichick finally got a legit third defensive end (Jabaal Sheard) and had a pure interior rusher (Dominique Easley) for most of the season, that the third down numbers were top 10.
Here’s a closer look at how the Pats did against individual receivers:
We can’t really say these rankings reflect directly on Butler or Ryan as they weren’t always on specific threats.
The real concern I have, and it’s reflected here, is at the slot corner position where Leonard Johnson had a huge target on his back the last two games. This also follows how teams generally beat the Belichick philosophy of taking away what you do best. That results in guys like David Tyree or Chris Matthews (SB49) having big games. That could be where the playoff games are won or lost if Johnson (or Justin Coleman) isn’t up to the challenge.
Finally we look at the “Bend Don’t Break” chart:
Lots of interesting stuff happening here, starting with the Yards-per-Drive taking a major step forward, while Turnovers-per-Drive dropped to their worst rate in a decade.
The Patriots have had fewer interceptions the last five years in a row since 2010: 25-23-20-17-16-12. Yet the defense has gotten better in each of those years generally. What gives? Why would getting less turnovers and specifically interceptions be the sign of a better defense?
I relate it to the shift away from zone defense to more man coverage. The Pats D of the early ‘10s didn’t have much talent, so instead they played conservative zone defense, waiting to break on poorly thrown balls or deliver big downhill hits that forced fumbles.
Now, the secondary is in man coverage, so instead of sitting back and waiting to pounce, they’re running around tracking their receivers. It’s a lot easier to drop into zone then break on the pass than it is to be running stride-for-stride with a receiver, turn around, find the ball and pick it off.
All of this points to positive trends with the Patriots defense and I give the front seven a lot of credit. They’re as deep and talented now as they were during the first three Super Bowls, and good news, everyone of importance comes back next year.
The New England Patriots have an early home finale this regular season, welcoming the floundering Tennessee Titans in a game that has me less worried about the scoreboard and more worried about injuries. Is there anything worse than losing an important player in a blowout? That’s what I really don’t want to see, and given how this season has gone, each of these last three games will terrify me.
In the last 10 games the Pats have put nine guys on IR. So do the math. Yup, scary.
The Pats should very likely clinch a bye this weekend, assuming the Steelers beat the Broncos, but ensuring the AFC championship is in New England is paramount, so the Pats need to keep riding their horses until that #1 seed is locked up.
And let’s be honest, the offense hasn’t exactly been clicking on all cylinders. Especially since Edelman went out, they’ve been up and down and often un-clutch. So nothing would be better with Edelman waiting in the wings to return, to finally see the offense take a big step forward.
Here’s the gameplan…
We have to start at the running back position with LeGarrette Blount being the latest injury victim to have his season end on IR. The Pats signed Montee Ball to their practice squad and met with Steven Jackson on Thursday, and I’d be down with putting them both on the active roster for these last three games to see what they can bring in the playoffs.
It’s just not realistic to think the Pats can close out playoff games handing off to Brandon Bolden and James White. Generally I think the running back position is one that is pretty manageable when it comes to plug-and-play, and with three games left the Pats do have enough time to find someone they can lean on for early downs and short yardage situations, but they have to start on it this weekend.
The Pats also signed Leonard Hankerson this week after he was released by the Falcons with an IR settlement. Prior to that he had 26 catches for 327 yards and four touchdowns for Atlanta. Hankerson has good size (6′2″) and should give the Pats another big outside option aside from Brandon LaFell, essentially filling the role Aaron Dobson vacated. For the same reason as the running back position, and the recent average play of LaFell and Scott Chandler, there’s no reason not to throw Hankerson into the mix.
Things are really looking up with Julian Edelman participating in a full pads practice this week. It makes me think he could very well be close to 100% in the playoffs and that is huge news. We know he, Amendola and Gronk will be the straws stirring the drink, but I think the Patriots still need to figure out who will be the reliable options that go with them.
If Hankerson clicks it will open up the four-receiver portion of the playbook once again, and that’s a great tool to have for the playoffs and one they didn’t have last year.
Against the Titans I think it’s all about putting the ball in the hands of the new and unproven as much as possible. Keshawn Martin showed real strides last week before muffing that punt. I’d love to see him build upon that performance.
The Pats offensive line seems like they’re starting to gel. That’s a great sign. It’s just that there are still a lot of questions at running back and how the lower-level weapons will fit into the attack when it’s all on the line. Those are the things that need to be figured out starting this week, and I’d prefer to do it in a way that reduces the risk to Brady, Gronk and Amendola.
Outside of Dion Lewis, no player loss this season has bugged me more than Dominique Easley. Most of all I just wanted our pass rush at maximum firepower in the playoffs for once and without Easley it’s not going to be that.
Still, Akiem Hicks should be fine in Easley’s role and though he doesn’t have Easley’s explosion, it’s not like we’re going back to the days of having an ineffective Vince Wilfork trying to get pressure up the gut on third and long.
The developments that make me feel a little better is (hopefully) the return of Dont’a Hightower this weekend and how Jerod Mayo is starting to look like his old self. If the Pats trust Mayo to play a bigger role it will only free Hightower and Jamie Collins up to do more damage. That alone will help offset the loss of Easley.
Then there’s the Devin McCourty injury which, given the depth at safety, is manageable. Duron Harmon slips into the free safety role while Patrick Chung remains the strong safety, but the questions come when we look at the multiple safety packages where McCourty and Harmon were the deep safeties. Does that mean Chung has to play deep safety again (eeeek)? Or how do Wilson/Ebner/Richards fit? It will be interesting and hopefully everyone gets a chance to get some experience.
This directly fits into the big key for this game – taking away Delaney Walker. That should immediately reveal much of how the Patriots plan to replace McCourty and how Chung’s role might change from his usual tight end cover duties.
Otherwise there’s a lot to be excited about with this defense going into the playoffs if they can somehow avoid another major injury which seems impossible at this point given how the season has gone.
One big player I’ll be focusing on is Chandler Jones. In my film review of the Texans game he looked lethargic. He hasn’t had a sack in four games and failed to register a solo tackle against the Texans for just the second time this season. As I said earlier this season, I think the Pats Super Bowl hopes depend on Jones. Now I’ll walk that back a bit if Jabaal Sheard can continue to be as dominant as he’s been the last couple games, but they still really need Chandler to be much better than he was in Houston.
Five Areas of Emphasis
1. Nobody Get Hurt!!!!! – Okay, this is a stupid area of emphasis because it’s really just up to the Football Gods, but I’m so sick of putting someone on IR every week. This has been such a strange season, where it feels like we’re constantly in a state of “just get healthy”, but once one guy comes back someone else goes down. Thus it’s hard to really know the Patriots offensive identity. So please, let’s just be done with the injuries this year.
2. Feed the New Guys – This is as much about protecting Brady, Gronk and Amendola as it is finding who we can trust to come through in the big moments in the playoffs. So continue to put the ball in the hands of Martin, LaFell and whoever they suit up at running back. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a gem ala Jabar Gaffney circa 2006 who can chip in with some key plays in the playoffs.
3. Linebackers Back – Just what does this defense look like with a full strength Jerod Mayo playing alongside experienced veterans Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins? We don’t really know, but it’s certainly exciting to think about and this game could be our first taste of it. The versatility of Collins and Hightower to play on the line of scrimmage with Mayo at MLB taking away the flat all seem like the perfect storm for an unstoppable trio.
4. Special Teams Be Special – Special Teams have had some critical mistakes the last few games and that’s so uncharacteristic of the Patriots and something that absolutely cannot happen in the playoffs. Right now nothing scares me more than a turnover at a critical moment by the special teams in January. They need to restore everyone’s confidence with not just a safe performance, but one that shows why they were the best special teams unit in the league before things started going south against the Eagles.
5. Win – This is the most slamdunk game of the season and the Pats don’t often miss on those. We all know the playoff scenarios and it’s obviously far preferable to keep our fate in our own hands. This just isn’t a game the Pats can lose at this time of year. Most of all it would be nice to get a total team win, setting up the last major showdown of the season with a hungry and surging Jets team.
Prediction: Patriots 42, Titans 6
We’re going to the playoffs! After a two-game slide the Pats got back on track against the Texans, led by a suffocating defense that made plays with the pass rush and in coverage.
Houston converted just three of 14 third downs and had a total of 189 yards, 126 of which came on three plays. It was as good as this defense has played all season.
On offense, they made the plays they had to, but against a good defense they still looked out of sync at times. The biggest difference was having Gronk back. We all know he’s a game changer and that was once again proven against the Texans.
Now it’s back to home for a (hopefully) easy one against the Titans. Here are the Posits from the game:
– It’s time to give Logan Ryan
his due. A lot of us thought Butler would draw Hopkins in coverage, but it was Ryan and aside from one big catch, Ryan erased Hopkins. Ryan was so inconsistent last season and into the preseason this year, but he’s gotten better each week and has developed a calm savvy to his game.
– Malcolm Butler has been just as good. He and Ryan aren’t getting a ton of interceptions but they’re competitive on every ball thrown in their direction. Now we see Leonard Johnson step right into the slot and do a terrific job, breaking up two passes. Johnson is thicker than Coleman and clearly more experienced. If he can keep it up he might be an important addition for the stretch run.
– No one is harder on Brandon Bolden
than me, but with Blount going down with a hip injury, it was up to Bolden to be the early down back. This was the best game I’ve seen Bolden play as a running back (16 carries, 51 yards). He’s a fantastic special teams player but has lacked the ability to break tackles and make plays. Against the Texans he ran hard. Hopefully Blount isn’t out long, but credit to Bolden for stepping up and playing well.
– Not sure when Freeny got hurt, but Mayo was playing and had his best game of the season. Really looked like he was getting some of his “pop” back. He’s one to focus on in film review this week.
– Just as Keshawn Martin
was starting to click with Brady he muffs a punt and opens the door to a potential Texans comeback (that failed when the defense got a fourth-down stop. Martin needs to shrug this one off, he’s taken real strides in the offense and looked a lot more comfortable this week. The better he fills the Edelman role the more they can hold back on Amendola (by keeping him as the “slot” receiver), and who knows, with Amendola’s contract Martin could end up replacing him.
– Jabaal Sheard has been a beast coming back off his ankle injury that kept him sidelined far longer than we expected. The combination of him, Ninkovich and Jones finally give us a deep rotation of impressive passive rushers who can all set the edge as well.
– It seems like Easley dodged a bullett after going down grabbing his knee. He was riding the bike on the sideline and was seen laughing on the broadcast.
– The big injuries to monitor are LeGarrette Blount (hip) and Devin McCourty (ankle). Both looked fairly innocuous, but neither returned from the locker room. The at least have depth at safety to manage without McCourty, but going down to just Bolden and White would hurt.
– Injuries – Blount (hip), McCourty (ankle), Freeny (hand), Easley (knee)
– Nice to see the offense go 3-for-3 in the red zone but six punts and three three-and-outs made things look sluggish. They look nothing like the score-at-will team of September, but I still don’t think we’ve seen this offense’s capabilities post-Lewis. Hopefully we catch a glimpse of it against a floundering Titans team this weekend.
– All things considered I thought the offensive line was better than they’ve been, and that’s a good sign with two rookie guards playing the whole game. We knew they’d employ Michael Williams to help on Watt and they did a good job minimizing Watt’s impact.
Things have shifted quickly in the AFC with the Andy Dalton injury. Now it looks like Pittsburgh might be the biggest threat to the Pats’ AFC title hopes. At the least they’re the closest thing out there to healthy.
Broncos at Steelers will be big this weekend. With three games to go the Steelers are two behind the Bengals. The Bengals have a two-game western swing, first at San Fran then at Denver. The door is still very open on the Steelers getting the second seed.
The Pats game against the Jets in two weeks is shaping up to be a big one, but first the Titans!