Monthly Archives: October 2017

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Kyle Van Noy has been one of the few stable elements of the New England Patriots defense this season. He has more sacks this season, 3.5, than he had in his entire career combined leading up to the year, but he has also been a meaningful contributor in coverage and against the run. With the rest of the unit in flux, Van Noy has been one of the only constants as they round into form.

Matthew Slater has taken notice, and according to Zack Cox of NESN, compared him to some of the best linebackers in Patriots history.

“I think he’s done a great job of being a leader this year and really growing more comfortable in his role,” Slater said Monday. “The thing about Kyle is he’s always been eager since he got here to improve. He’s been eager to earn the trust of his teammates. He’s been eager to do things the right way. He asks a ton of questions about (Jerod) Mayo and (Tedy) Bruschi and (Junior) Seau and those guys that some of us played with.

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Bill Belichick felt the same way during his Monday media conference call. He knows he can put Van Noy on the field for just about any situation.

“He’s the type of player that wants more responsibility and likes the challenges of doing different things — coverage, pass rush, playing the run, playing on the line, playing off the line,” Belichick said Monday in a conference call. “His hard work has paid off in a lot of opportunity and a lot of production in a number of different areas. The one area that stands out is, of course, the number of plays that he’s on the field for.”

The Patriots do this almost every year. They steal a player from some unsuspecting team and turn him into a valuable starter. First it was Aqib Talib, then Akeem Ayers, now Van Noy, and Johnson Bademosi is even looking like a potential find in that regard as well.

No team does a better job of utilizing undervalued players from other teams. Van Noy wasn’t even on the team a year ago, but now he seems like one of their leaders. Just like Bruschi was.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Without the benefit of film review, an initial look at which New England Patriots were “up” and “down” from the team’s 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday:

DOWN

Marcus Cannon — Returning after missing a game with a concussion, the starting right tackle looked like he was shaking off some rust, as Julius Peppers had two sacks for the Panthers. On one of them, Cannon appeared to have a technique breakdown in his drop, giving Peppers an easier time to gain the edge and beat Cannon over his outside shoulder. The pressure quarterback Tom Brady faced more often seemed to come from that side of the line instead of the back side, where left tackle Nate Solder appeared to play his best game of the season.

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Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Eric Rowe — On a tough day for the secondary, Gilmore and Rowe represent the cornerbacks and McCourty the safeties, as they looked to be most involved in costly breakdowns and/or penalties. Gilmore had two illegal-hands-to-the-face penalties, the second of which was a crusher because it negated a third-down stop on the Panthers’ game-winning drive. He was also involved in a communication breakdown with McCourty on Fozzy Whittaker’s 28-yard screen pass for a touchdown, while Rowe looked hesitant because of pre-snap confusion/uncertainty on Devin Funchess’ 10-yard touchdown reception. It’s hard to remember the last time the secondary had this many communication issues in a game.

Defensive coaches — It’s not all on the players, as head coach Bill Belichick pointed out after the game. “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching, a better job of playing,” he said. “We need to do better in all three phases for 60 minutes. It’s just too inconsistent.” When there are as many breakdowns as the Patriots had in this game, something is amiss — and it’s up to Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia & Co. to figure it out.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski connected on three field goals in Sunday’s loss, including a career-long 58-yarder at the end of the first half. AP Photo/Charles Krupa
UP

Danny Amendola — The wide receiver finished with six catches for 42 yards and one touchdown. Of his six receptions, four produced either a first down or touchdown. He was often Brady’s go-to target in got-to-have-it situations, such as a third-and-3 in the fourth quarter (Amendola took a big hit) and the fourth-and-1 touchdown catch in the final quarter to tie the game.
Stephen Gostkowski — He hit three extra points and also three field goals from 41, 35 and 58 yards, with the final field goal coming at the end of the first half as it clanged off the right upright and through. “You just try to be ready to go when you get a chance like that. It’s one of those kicks where it’s like you have nothing to lose,” Gostkowski said of the 58-yarder, which was a career long and also the longest in Patriots history. “You’re not expected to make it, so you kind of have a different attitude going out there. It was set up nice, the wind was behind my back and it was a nice day. But it kind of feels like a foul ball because we wound up losing. It took the wind out of my sails.”

Short-yardage running — A lingering issue after failing to gain a yard on two fourth-and-1 situations in the season opener, and then a third-and-1 run in Week 3, the Patriots were better in short-yardage situations against the Panthers with running back Mike Gillislee following lead-blocking fullback James Develin on a second-and-1 rush in the second quarter. The Patriots also picked up 8 yards on second-and-1 in the first quarter, while Brady successfully executed a sneak on third-and-1 for 2 yards in the second quarter. Outside of a second-and-1 rush that was stopped for no gain in the fourth quarter (Gillislee cut down), this was an overall bright spot for New England.

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NEW ORLEANS — Cornerback Malcolm Butler has been one of the New England Patriots’ most durable and available players in recent years. Two of his most impressive statistics over the past two seasons have been his playing-time totals:

2015: 98.8 percent

2016: 96.7 percent

Those reflect how Butler was almost always on the field, no matter the defensive package: base, traditional nickel, big nickel, dime or seven defensive backs.

What you need to know in the NFL

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So when the Patriots opened Sunday’s win over the New Orleans by voluntarily having Butler on the sideline, it was a decision that naturally caught the eye.

Instead of Butler, the Patriots used Eric Rowe at the cornerback spot opposite of Stephon Gilmore. The defensive grouping was their big nickel package, which has three safeties and two cornerbacks on the field.

Asked Monday morning why the Patriots felt that was the best decision for the team, Bill Belichick didn’t elaborate.

“A lot of things go into it,” he said. “But that’s what we decided to do.”

With Belichick electing to keep his reasons in-house, here are a few external points of analysis to consider:

Saints have big receivers. The Saints’ top receivers are bigger than the norm, with Brandon Coleman (6-foot-6, 225) and Michael Thomas (6-3, 212) leading the way. While Butler (5-11, 190) still matched up with them at times in the traditional nickel package, the decision to go more with Rowe — who is bigger at 6-1, 205 — might have simply been based on size.

Butler’s performance has dipped. When including the preseason and the regular-season opener, Butler has seemingly had some uncharacteristic technique breakdowns, particularly in the end zone. So it could be as simple as a performance-based decision.

He was still the No. 3 corner. The Patriots played the majority of the game in their big nickel package, but when they called on the traditional nickel with three cornerbacks, Butler came on to the field as the third corner. So it wasn’t as if he wasn’t part of the defensive plan (49 of 65 snaps). If Butler had been removed as a significant part of the plan, it might have signaled there was something other than football considerations at the root of the decision.

Butler could be back this week. With Rowe leaving the game in the second half with a groin injury, which he told reporters after the game didn’t seem serious, Butler could be back in the top spot Sunday against the Texans depending on how Rowe progresses.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady directly addressed remarks by President Donald Trump on Monday morning, saying, “I certainly disagree with what he said. I thought it was just divisive.”

EDITOR’S PICKS

Matt Light on players kneeling: First time I’m ashamed to be a Patriot
Retired OT Matt Light said he’s not the only former Patriot who finds it “disheartening” that 17 New England players knelt Sunday during the anthem.

Listen: How NFL players, coaches responded to President Trump’s criticism
Listen to players talk about why they locked arms, why they knelt, why they stood, why they stayed in the locker room during the singing of the national anthem

Trump-supporting PAC starts anti-NFL ad
A political action committee that supports President Trump began an advertising campaign Sunday that encourages NFL fans to turn off games and watch a patriotic movie instead, according to a source close to the committee.
Brady’s willingness to answer the question, which came during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan” program, was different from how he handled a similar query after the team’s 36-33 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday. At that time, Brady said he didn’t want to get into politics while speaking of the love he has for his teammates.

During his radio interview Monday, Brady was asked if he thought Trump had bigger things to worry about than whether a player kneels during the national anthem. After saying he disagreed with Trump’s remarks, Brady added, “I just want to support my teammates. I’m never one that says, ‘Oh, that’s wrong or that’s right.’ But I do believe in what I believe in, and I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me and that’s how I try to live every day.

“I’ve been blessed to be in a locker room with guys from all over the United States over the course of my career. Some of my great friends are from Florida, Virginia, New York, Montana, Colorado, Texas. I think one thing about football is that it brings so many guys together, guys that you would never have the opportunity to be around, whether it was in college and all the way into the pros. We’re all different. We’re all unique. That’s what makes us all so special.”

Brady was asked if he had ever had conversations with teammates who had questions about his friendship with Trump, and he said that has not happened.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick released a statement on Monday.

“I have immense respect and admiration for our players, for how they conduct themselves professionally as New England Patriots and for how they represent themselves, their families and community as men.

“I have coached football for over four decades and one of the greatest things about being in this environment is the diversity of people, backgrounds, viewpoints and relationships we are fortunate to experience. As with any large group of people, there is a variety of perspectives and opinions on many topics. Discussions occur between myself, individual players, groups and the entire team on an ongoing basis. They concern the team and other issues surrounding the team.

“I am going to keep the specifics of those conversations private. I will do what I feel is best for the team in my role as head coach and collectively, we will work together to find the best way to proceed.”

Trump on Friday night criticized NFL players who lodge protests during the national anthem. Speaking at a political rally in Huntsville, Alabama, Trump said: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!'”

Seventeen Patriots players kneeled during the national anthem Sunday, while Brady stood in a row with a handful of teammates whose arms were interlocked.

Fans at the Patriots’ home stadium booed the players who kneeled, with some calling for them to stand up. Brady acknowledged on sports radio WEEI that he heard the boos.

Asked if the boos disappointed him, Brady said, “No, I think everyone has a right to do whatever they want to do. If you don’t agree with it, that’s fine, you can voice your disagreement; I think that’s great. It’s part of our democracy, as long as it’s done in a peaceful, respectful way. That’s what this country has been all about.”

The players kneeling sparked a strong reaction from former Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light who was part of the franchise’s first three Super Bowl championships.

“As a guy that’s been there and helped set up the Patriot Way so they can walk in there and do what they do, it’s beyond disheartening,” Light told the Boston Herald. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been ashamed to be a Patriot. And I promise you I’m not the only one.”