Friday, August 11, 2017

The Patriots' 53: Knee Jerk Reaction To Thursday's Loss To The Jaguars

Coaching points.

That's what the preseason is all about, putting players in certain situations and to see how they respond to them.  It's not unlike Pavlov's experimentation with conditioned response, only in football the subjects are human beings, and the ringing of a bell doesn't elicit a drooling response.

Well, maybe some drooling is involved, but that is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of football.  What does matter is that players with little or no experience in the professional game are put into actual game situations, giving the coaches a body of work from which to do things like correcting mechanical flaws, improving technique and just plain making things become routine for them.
Jacob Hollister with one of his seven catches

For every player coming out of college that makes a roster in the NFL, there are a dozen others who don't - and much of the difference comes in whether they take to coaching or not.

Players like Jordan Richards and Cyrus Jones have held onto roster spots despite no improvement in their game while players with developmental potential have been cast by the wayside in order to give the two second round draft picks the benefit of their draft position - but this year there are too many good players pushing them and if they don't show vast improvement next Saturday night against the Texans, they could find themselves on the bread lines come September.

But something that has to be remembered is that none of the Patriots starters on either side of the ball played in the game, and the gameday roster was pieced together - the result was a delay in the lineup achieving the type of cohesiveness that allows them to meld with the talents of their teammates, so some of the poor play around the roster can be attributed to that, but some of it, like what is covered in the following position sections, is all technique.

Quarterbacks:  Training camp is pretty much business as usual for Patriots' quarterbacks: Tom Brady looks in mid-season form, Jimmy Garoppolo is "struggling" and Jacoby Brissett is hot and cold.

Hearing that Garoppolo is struggling in training camp is like hearing that the sun always sets in the west - you can count on it, but sure as shooting when the guy gets into an actual game situation, he steps up and delivers.  He explained this very phenomenon a couple of weeks ago by claiming that he takes more chances in practice to put receivers in situations where he can determine such things as what their catch radius is, their willingness to go after high or low balls, etc, etc...

...which he saw plenty of on Thursday night while running for his life behind a make-shift offensive line and throwing to a gaggle of rookie receivers.  He was stuck in neutral in the first quarter while trying to find his gears, but once he did, he put on a show in the second and third quarters.

As far as Brissett is concerned, Belichick sliding past a question in regard to him in his Tuesday presser could be taken as a sign of things to come.  Usually when asked a question about a player, the Dark Master gives his usual, "He's a hard working kid, does what we ask, meow, meow, meow", but when cornered about Brissett and his development in his second camp, Belichick was unusually abrupt, even for him.

"Well, it's a work in progress." Belichick offered hastily. "We'll see."

Yikes! Well, Brissett didn't get much work in the loss to the Jaguars and, in fact, confirmed that his mechanics are still an issue, overthrowing folks badly on anything more than a dump off.  Some believe that Brissett's late entry into the game combined with his poor showing makes him camp fodder, but despite his cryptic evaluation before the game, Belichick isn't going to slice a guy from the roster over this poor outing...

...but if he struggles against the Texans with his mechanics and decision making, you could see the depth chart at quarterback look like it does below:

Tom Brady
Jimmy Garoppolo

Running Backs: Bill Belichick wants to keep the defense guessing, but he knows that he needs more than just an effective running game to complement the passing game.

To truly open up the playbook, he needs a back on the field that can run the ball with authority, willing to pick up the blitz and be a consistent threat out of the backfield in the passing game.  Gone are the days when backs were labeled as power backs or passing backs, as the only label needed for his kennel of young greyhounds is "all-purpose".

But what we saw on Thursday night was Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden splitting some carries and undrafted rookie free agent LeShun Daniels making a few decent plays down the stretch.  One thing that was consistent with the Patriots over the years is them using their backs as vital cogs in the passing game, and Thursday night was no exception as Lewis worked the flat and D.J. Foster got some good looks over the middle.

Overall, there wasn't anything happening to cause any changes to the list of locked in backs.

James White
Mike Gillislee
Dion Lewis
Rex Burkhead
James Develin

Receivers: The Patriots receivers are a fragile bunch early in camp, with seemingly everyone plagued with one malady or another, all except, that is, for Brandin Cooks who is instead making the defensive backs sick from eating his dust.

But none of the "roster locks" played against the Jaguars, healthy or not, as Thursday night was about exposing the youngsters to the professional game - and in the process, the Patriots were able to get some good film on some prospects, especially much-hyped rookie Austin Carr, who made some dazzling plays on some rockets launched by Garoppolo.

Carr showed some veteran savvy in showing Grop his numbers in the back of the end zone, then showed his athleticism in high-pointing the ball in traffic and coming down with it for six, then pulled a Julio Jones on a toe-tapper along the home sidelines.  Not enough, mind you, to bump a veteran at this stage, but a similar performance against the Texans next Saturday could have impact on the roster.

The one thing that could introduce a youngster to the roster is the injury incurred by special teamer Matthew Slater.  If it is significant enough, Slater could be placed on the IR with a designation to return, giving a player like Carr or Devin Lucien a chance to see the regular season.

Julian Edelman
Brandin Cooks
Chris Hogan
Malcolm Mitchell
Danny Amendola
Matthew Slater (IR)
Austin Carr

Tight Ends: The only question mark for the Patriots' tight ends is whether or not they are going to keep three tight ends on the roster, and if so, who will that third one be?

Gronkowski is a given, and Brady is targeting Allen like a mad man in the scrimmages, but Thursday night was all about the race for the number three tight end, and while rookie Sam Cotton showed up well on the inline blocking mode, it was Jacob Hollister that made the big splash, displaying solid route running and a willingness to break off route and to high-point balls in traffic...

...even taking some nasty shots coming back down to earth that cost the Jaguars 30 yards in personal fouls - and while that is just football, Hollister popping right back up, going back to the huddle and performing again has to be given some serious consideration.

Rob Gronkowski
Dwayne Allen
Jacob Hollister

Offensive Tackles:  Perhaps Belichick was giving us all a lesson in appreciation for the starters on the offensive line as none of them played, leaving Cam Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle and rookie Conor McDermott to shoulder the load as bookends, the the results left us wanting Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon.

Solder, however, is dealing with some mysterious malady and has missed a sizable portion of camp, and whether it is a recurrence of his previous medical issues, be it cancer or torn bicep, the prognosis for the offensive line is not good, if last night's performance has any bearing on the situation.

Now, we don't know what Solder is dealing with, so it would be unfair to speculate, but what we do know is that if he can't go in the regular season, the job will most likely fall to rookie Antonio Garcia who has a nasty streak a mile wide - but while the other tackles had a poor night against the Jaquars pass rush, they did perform well in the running game, all except rookie Conor McDermott, who tried to cut block a would-be tackler on a running play in the first quarter and whiffed badly.

It was good thought, putting McDermott at right tackle as he is a better run blocker than a pass protector, but he did himself no favors last night.

Nate Solder
Marcus Cannon
Cam Fleming
Antonio Garcia
LaAdrien Waddle

Interior Offensive Line: Joe Thuney seems to be figuring out what his lot in football is, as he has shown up as a solid pass protector in camp - which in comparison to his well-documented struggles last season isn't saying a whole lot.  But there seems to be an edge to his game now.

We won't know for certain until he sees the field against the Texans next Saturday night when the Patriots should be starting their regulars - unless they really want Watt, Clowney and company to get free shots at their quarterbacks - and there is no better way to discover where your line is in terms of cohesiveness than going up against the best.

Joe Thuney
Shaq Mason
David Andrews
Ted Karras

Defensive Line: The Patriots have the ability to morph into anything they want, or need, to be, and the defensive line is no exception.  Who remains on the depth chart isn't so much a question as is where would they line up on each play?

At the moment, it would appear that the Universities of Texas and Arkansas are dominating the top of said depth chart, with nose tackle Malcom Brown (Texas) and defensive ends Trey Flowers and rookie Deatrich Wise (Go Hogs!) displaying excellent form, though we didn't see Brown at all last night and Wise's night ended early when he suffered a concussion taking a knee to the helmet.

The depth was atrocious otherwise, and the linebackers were forced to set the hard edge most of the night on the outside.

Malcolm Brown
Alan Branch
Trey Flowers
Vincent Valentine
Kony Ealy
Lawrence Guy
Deatrich Wise

Linebackers:  Just a few months ago, this group was considered a weak link in the defense.  Now we're trying to figure out what to do with all of the talent.

Elandon Roberts went helmet-to-helmet with someone in the middle of a scrum and had the look of a fighter on wobbly legs.  Harvey Langi filled in ably and Jonathan Freeney showed that he's not quite ready to surrender the roster spot he's held for a couple of seasons, as he an Langi were setting the edge all night long.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, the middle of their run defense was like jell-o and the Jaguars ran roughshod on them without any of their starters playing in the game - so last night certainly wasn't an indication of what we will see when the games are for real, nor did it change any minds on what the final depth chart will look like, unless injuries mount in camp.

Dont'a Hightower
Kyle Van Noy
Shea McClellin
Derek Rivers
David Harris
Elandon Roberts
Harvey Langi

Cornerbacks: Oh, what an awesome problem to have!  The Patriots sport three starting-quality corners on the 2017 roster, with second-year speedster Jonathan Jones making all kinds of waves in mincamp, taking most of the slot reps, but he also got repeatedly torched by the Jaguars, mostly on the same dig routes that he sees all the time in practice...

Butler is more than capable in the phone booth, where Cyrus Jones could also see some action, because it is becoming increasingly more obvious that Jones can not stick with receivers on the outside - in fact, Belichick used him as a safety on Thursday night, in part so that he could keep the action in front of him because as a boundary corner, he looked lost.

Gilmore and 2016 pickup Eric Rowe are taller corners and could get the call on the outside against the bigger receivers that New England is likely to see this year, though Butler will see time on the outside against the likes of Antonio Brown and Jarvis Landry.

The diversity of the cornerback corps gives Patricia many options in the Patriots' week-to-week game planning, and if either of the Joneses contribute, Gillette Stadium could easily turn into a no-fly zone...

Stephon Gilmore
Malcolm Butler
Eric Rowe
Jonathan Jones
Cyrus Jones

Safeties: There is not a better combination of safeties in the league than Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, and all three are signed to multi-year contracts - while Nate Ebner and Brandon King more than earn their bones on special teams.  The problem is that in order for the Patriots to run their preferred Big Nickel alignment (one high safety and two in the box), they need McCourty, Chung and Harmon healthy and on the field.

Injuries haven't been a huge problem, but if one of them hits the shelf, it disrupts the entire defensive philosophy, so the search is on for players who can fill in at any of those positions.  While not drafting any blue liners, Belichick did pick up Big Nickel-type defensive backs in Richmond's David Jones and Minnesota's Damarius Travis, with Travis being the versatile box safety that could potentially spell Chung.

And Travis actually accounted well for himself on Thursday night, starting the game and contributing three stops and a pass defended before being replaced by Jordan Richards, who had a night he wishes he could forget, particularly since he appeared to dislocate his wrist in the fourth quarter, forcing Belichick to use Cyrus Jones to replace him.

This means that Richards is the odd man out no matter which undrafted player remains, with Jones making his way to the practice squad...

Devin McCourty
Patrick Chung
Duron Harmon
Nate Ebner
Brandon King
Damarius Travis

Specialists: The only question here is if Stephen Gostkowski is going to rebound from his less-than-stellar 2016, when he missed several extra points, seeming to push everything to the right, which if put in terms of physics, means that he isn't striking the ball as consistently as he should be.

Some attribute that to Belichick's preference of easing up on kickoffs to force the opposition to return kicks rather that take a touchback out to the 25 yard line, perhaps throwing off his natural leg swing on field goals and extra points - but he is excellent at pinning the other guys deep on his kickoffs, so the trade off is congruent.

But against the Jaguars, "Ghost" was shaky once again, pulling a 56 yard kick that had no chance from the second it left his foot, though his kickoffs were money.

Allen is a field position weapon that has gotten the offense out of plenty of holes in his career, and is clutch when he absolutely needs to be, while Cardona's worth is in never hearing his name, which means he is spot on in his long snaps.

Joe Cardona
Ryan Allen
Stephen Gostkowski


  1. Nate Solder
    Marcus Cannon
    Cam Fleming
    Antonio Garcia
    LaAdrien Waddle

    I believe we will see Waddle/Solder at left tackle and Cannon at right, I said I had a feeling we would not have Solder, his injury count has been rising for years, I think he has the will, but I feel his body is failing him.

    Joe Thuney
    Shaq Mason
    David Andrews
    Ted Karras

    David Andrews will be center, I have heard he added some size so he we may see an improvement. I think Thuney had a great season for a rookie starter, and this season I see him getting measurably better. However I feel neither Karras or Mason are worth a damn.

    So I see us as weak at left tackled and right guard, and I do not see a solution on the team.