Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Opinion: Time Is Now For Rookie Backs To Enter The Fray

The New England Patriots placed fullback James Develin on their Injured/Reserved list on Monday afternoon with a neck injury that he suffered last weekend against the Miami Dolphins.

Those who understand what Develin means to the offense are mourning the loss, perhaps for the season. But those who understand and watched what Johnson did in extended playing time during the preseason see a glimmer of hope for a vital position on the Patriots' offense.

During the Patriots' run to the title last season, Develin was on the field for every single rushing touchdown, plowing the row like a pack mule and knocking the chocolate out of anything in his way. Needless to say, that kind of explosive lead blocking is required in short yardage situations and for the running game in general.
Rookie running back Damien Harris

Develin also displayed soft hands for such a monstrous entity, and took handoffs from quarterback Tom Brady on a few of those short yardage situations, and no one on the opposing defense really looked thrilled to be taking him on with the ball in his hands, but those who did dealt with a bruise or three.

So the question begs, how do the Patriots reach for effectiveness in the running game without Develin leading the way?

And the answer is simple: If Jakob Johnson is the run-blocking load that he showed in the preseason, if he can ragdoll defensive ends like he did regularly, the Patriots may have a true fortuitous find in a player who was essentially forced on Belichick by the league, as the German-born Johnson was "assigned" to New England as a part of their relentless pursuit of global domination...

...trying to get football (soccer)-mad Europe to love their brand of football by making training camp exemptions to the roster limit of teams who accept European-born players into their camp as part of the league's "Pathway to the NFL" program.

Johnson's chances of making the team were slim-to-none before he arrived in Foxborough by way of North Carolina State University, and as camp wore on and as the intense German kept staggering defensive linemen and linebackers during practice, scrimmages and in preseason games, his chances of making the team really didn't increase all that much due to Develin having a stranglehold on the fullback spot, but his chances of hanging around on the practice squad increased exponentially.

And if you're on the practice squad, you are one injury away from being on the active 53.

Go ahead and YouTube the lick he put on a Carolina Panthers defensive end on a Brandon Bolden touchdown run, then while you're at it, watch the video of him catching offerings from Jarrett Stidham in the same game. If that small sample size is the real Jakob Johnson and if he can come close to replicating such against starting NFL defensive fronts, the Patriots will be ok.

Just ok? Truth be told, that would be better than what we've seen of the Patriots' running game so far this season.

New England Patriots' fans breathed a collective sigh of relief on Sony Michel's first quarter touchdown run against the New York Jets this past Sunday, thinking that the real Michel had emerged and whatever imposter had been wearing his uniform in the Patriots' backfield had been tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, in the best of New England judicial tradition.

But when Michel reverted back to his early-season funk on his next run, and his next and his next, one thing became painfully clear: Michel still possesses only two tools in his toolbox, running the ball and picking up the blitz in pass protection, despite the team's off-season assertion that he would be used more in the passing game.

But he hasn’t been, targeted out of the backfield just once in three games - not nearly enough to put a scare into defensive coordinators, who obviously have caught on to the fact that when Michel was on the field last season, almost eighty percent of the time, the play call was a run.

How this impacts the overall effectiveness of the offense is two-fold. The opposition will key on Michel, knowing that they will be right eight out of ten snaps. That brings the residual effect of the opposition bringing run blitzes to overwhelm the offensive line, which re-establishes the line of scrimmage two or three yards deep in the backfield.

The result? How about 2.4 yards per carry. Ouch.

That average places the Patriots' running attack third from the bottom of the league, and this despite having more rushing attempts than all but five other teams - not the performance anyone was expecting, based on how the Patriots dominated teams on the ground at the end of last season and how they performed in the preseason.

But in the preseason, rookie third-round pick Damien Harris handled the majority of the load and was impressive in doing so, bringing a bit of a fullback mentality in powering through contact between the tackles while displaying elusiveness with a wicked jump cut when running in space.

In other words, he gets more than what's blocked for him. Add to that his sharp route running and soft hands out of the backfield and what you get is what the Patriots need to counter the aggressiveness that opposing defenses are enjoying on early downs.

It's no secret that I've been critical of Michel, not because of anything other than his motivation seems to melt when he doesn't have room to run. He looks disinterested after a negative run or two and has been replaced in the lineup by Rex Burkhead in each of the first three games.

Burkhead is running at a clip of 4.7 yards per carry, and while not elusive at all, he gets more that what's blocked for him by sheer determination. James White is averaging 5.1 yards per carry with his short-area elusiveness and despite the fact that he's not going to power through many tacklers in the box.

Why the disparity between Michel's production and the other backs on the roster? Simply, Michel's one dimension allows opposing defenses to stack the box with confidence, while Burkhead and White offer passing game versatility, which forces defenses to play a lighter box which poses less resistance between the tackles.

It's as simple as that. Having a versatile back in the lineup lightens the box, which allows the offensive line to dictate to the defensive front instead of being bull rushed into the backfield. It got so bad against the New York Jets on Sunday that the Patriots' offensive line looked like they were pass blocking on running plays...

...the Jets' forcing a pocket to contain Michel as if he was a quarterback dropping back to pass. Even when the Patriots tried running wide, the aggressiveness of the defense overwhelming the offensive line allowed their edge-setters to force the play back inside.

So it's no mystery why Burkhead has replaced Michel in all three games. In fact, both Burkhead and White are skilled enough in both phases of the offense that they can be split wide, pulling a linebacker or safety to the perimeter, helping the offensive line, which is starting two backups and has little to no help from the tight end position without the retired Rob Gronkowski or Dwayne Allen.

But the best of both worlds rests in the hands of Harris, who is a hybrid of White and Burkhead.
Harris has been active for just one of three games this season, dressed and on the sideline against the Jets, but only so because White was excused from Sunday's game to witness the birth of his son - but Harris saw no action on offense.

That said, it's time for Harris, particularly given the fact that New England's receiver corps is also crippled by the injury bug, which may force White to play more of a wide receiver role just so Brady has a full complement of pass catchers to target.

The other part of this equation is Johnson.

In addition to being placed on the IR, Develin was given a designation to return, meaning that he could be taken off IR sometime in November - but that is a stretch for two reasons. First, neck injuries are weird. Nothing throws the fear of God into a football player quite like injuring a susceptible area, and with Develin's brute force attacking style, any collision carries the possibility of compression.

So teams are very careful when dealing with neck injuries. But secondly, the IR already carries starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn and rookie wideout N'Keal Harry - and since NFL rules prohibit more than two players returning from the injured list during the season, it forces Belichick to make a tough decision.

Wynn has to return. Nobody wants to see Marshall Newhouse protecting Brady's backside if there is another option in the wings - so that takes care of one spot. Harry's status is a little more muddled, but if injuries continue to pile up in the pass-catching corps, Harry becomes a priority to return, if he isn't already.

That leaves Develin out in the cold, which means Jakob Johnson for the rest of the season.

So James Develin is probably gone for the season, and Michel is bogged down by his lack of versatility. The Patriots may be able to get away with that scenario against the cupcakes that they play the first half of the season, but will need an effective running game to get past the border wall that they face in the second half...

...so there's no time like the present to get Harris and Johnson incorporated into the system, so that they can acclimate and gain the experience that will help the offense when the weather turns cold and running the ball is key.


Monday, September 23, 2019

Patriots' Machine Overcomes Rookie Mistakes In Blowout Of Jets

The New England Patriots' defense is on an epic, historic run, allowing just three points in as many games. Too bad the same cannot be said about the Patriots' offense or special teams.

Football is a team game, and the statisticians confirm that by counting any points scored by the opposition as "points allowed", so anyone who didn't watch the Patriots' 30-14 victory over the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon would be predisposed to think that the Jets scored twice on New England's defense...

...but in reality, the Patriots' stoppers held New York's anemic offense to barely one hundred yards of total offense and allowed them to cross midfield just once, forcing ten punts on twelve possessions and picking off Jets' quarterback Luke Falk to end another drive in yet another dominating performance.
Collins celebrates one of his two sacks on Sunday

But then, rookies happened.

The Jets crossed midfield for the first time in the game late in the third quarter on a personal foul by the defense, which then stiffened and drove the Jets backwards from there, forcing another punt - and that's when things took a turn to the absurd.

Rookie returner Gunner Olszewski muffed the ensuing punt that the Jets' Aurther Maulet recovered in the end zone for their first points of the day, and then backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham threw an interception that was returned for another score, blowing the shutout in comical fashion and making the final score appear as if the Jets put up an epic fight, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Rookies. What are you gonna do?

The fumble by Olszewski was the lone tweak on an otherwise solid day for the Patriots' special teams - save another missed point after touchdown by an increasingly erratic Stephen Gostkowski - which made the score 30-7...

...then head ball coach Bill Belichick decided to mothball quarterback Tom Brady, inserting rookie back up Jarrett Stidam who promptly targeted Jets' safety Jamal Adams in coverage and suddenly New York was within two scores of the defending champions.

But things returned to normal as Belichick reinserted Brady into the lineup and forbade Olszewski to handle any more kicks, and New England coasted to their third straight victory to start the season.

The Patriots' offense came out of the gates like they were collectively fired out of a canon, scoring on their first three possessions to build a twenty point lead, with running back Sony Michel finding paydirt from six yards out and Brady tossing scoring strikes to Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman...

...but then sputtered when Edelman was forced to the training room with a rib injury midway through the second quarter and multiple maladies sidelined Josh Gordon for a spell - but an interception of Falk by safety Devin McCourty set up a Gostkowski field goal and Runner Rex Burkhead punched through the crust for a two yard touchdown on their next possession midway through the third period to build the Patriots' lead to thirty points.

Without Edelman on the field and Gordon missing several snaps, the offense stagnated and stalled against the young-but-talented Jets' defense, who took advantage of their absence and went to primarily a zone coverage scheme that locked down Brady's other options in the pattern - and that, combined with the Patriots' inexplicable failure to produce a consistant running game, forced New England to punt the ball away seven times after the first quarter onslaught.

While concerning, the Patriots were missing a primary weapon in running back James White, who was granted the day off by Belichick to witness the birth of his second child. White, arguably the best receiving back in the league, would have spread the Jets' defense thin to account for his prolific production in the passing game, though Burkhead continues to exert his will on defenses as both a runner and pass catcher.

On defense, once again linebacker Jamie Collins led the stoppers in both intensity and production, logging two sacks of New England's five sacks on the day, two quarterback hits, multiple tackles for loss and a pass defensed in his early bid for consideration for Defensive Player of the Year, while McCourty picked off a pass for the third consecutive game.

With Falk at quarterback, the Patriots' defense concentrated on stopping the Jets' running game, holding star multi-tool runner Le'Veon Bell to an abysmal 35 rushing yards on 18 carries and just four receptions for 28 yards. Despite being targeted by New England's game plan, Bell still accounted for sixty percent of New York's offense, though his 63 total yards landed well short of his normal output.

There has been no other team in modern NFL history whose offense and special teams have surrendered more points than their defense, which leads the league in scoring defense with an oppressive one-point per game average and an almost comical 0.08 points per possession by their opponents. Conversely, both the Patriots' offense and special teams are allowing 2.3 points per game.

Regardless of those numbers, the team's stat sheet will show that the Patriots are scoring at a clip of 35 points per game and surrendering just five, leading the league in both scoring and total defense, while the offense ranks second in scoring and fifth in total offense as they head into a showdown in Buffalo with the undefeated Bills next Sunday, a contest that should prove more of a challenge on both sides of the ball.

Good Stuff
1. Jamie Collins playing like a mad man: There is no more dominating force for the Patriots' defense than Collins, who leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback hits, and is second on the unit in passes defended. Collins credits his teammates for opening lanes for him to make plays, which is true, but his intensity and skill produce the desired results when given those opportunities. Though the sample size is small after only three games, Collins is a front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year consideration.

2. Jake Bailey's rocket launcher for a leg: Punters can be true weapons in the field position battle, and Bailey sets up the defense by consistently pinning the opposition's offense deep in their own territory. His booming punts force infinitely more fair catches than returns, his length and accuracy and hang time forcing the Jets to start their offensive drive from an average starting point of their own 12 yard line.

3. Josh Gordon's toughness: The mercurial Gordon was forced from the game twice with injuries to his back and left hand, but he returned both times to make spectacular, leaping receptions in traffic. Playing through pain - and playing well - has endured the skillful Gordon to his teammates, and gives Brady the increasing confidence to toss 50/50 balls in his direction.

1. Stidham's appearance: Brady looked pissed on the sideline when removed from the game so that his understudy could get some real-time snaps, but Stidham's poor throw that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown ended his day after one failed series. It seemed anomylous and random that Belichick would pull Brady early in the fourth quarter after leaving him in for the full contest in the previous two games.

Bad Juju
1. Sony Michel's inability to get started: Michel's one-dimensional tool set left him an afterthought as the game moved forward. Initially there was hope that Michel would break out of his three-game slump as he scored the Patriots' first touchdown on an off-tackle play early in the first quarter, but he was held to five yards in eight carries the rest of the way. Once again, the struggling Michel was replaced by the far more effective Burkhead.

2. Edelman's injury: The Squirrel appeared to be bent awkwardly as he was sandwiched between a couple of Jets' defenders. He played on the next snap though in obvious discomfort, then headed straight to the locker room. Reports indicate that xrays were negative and that Edelman shouldn't miss any time going forward, but the stagnation of New England's offense in his absence is concerning.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Opinion: To Belichick, Simply Winning Is Not As Important As How His Patriots Win

It has been said that at the start of a National Football League season, most defenses are "further along" than most offenses. If this is actually true, the teams that are on the New England Patriots' schedule are in serious trouble.

Even more daunting for their opposition, Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick is known to use the first month of the season as an extention of training camp, focusing on fundamentals and for getting his pass catchers in sync with quarterback Tom Brady - and scarrier still, it has been well documented that Belichick doesn't expect his charges to be playing their best ball until around Thanksgiving.
Does this all mean that Belichick's Patriots are still in preseason mode? Does this mean that they will actually improve as the weeks go on?

Well, New England has just entered the third week of the regular season and have scored seventy-six points in two contests, or an average of 38 points per game. The defense has allowed one lone field goal during the first two weeks, or an average of 1.5 points per game. Are you telling me that, if they stick to Belichick's time table, they will be even better when the meat of their schedule comes due in mid-November?
Belichick tutors linebacker's coach Jerod Mayo

Belichick's ways and means are hardly a secret, and his formula for getting his team to play at their best at turkey time is tried and true. So it goes to figure that if his Patriots are playing this well right now, they will be an absolute juggernaut by the time we're all wolfing down game birds, and will have clinched everything there is to clinch sometime between then and Christmas...

...and then after the new year is upon us, the road to the Super Bowl will go straight through Foxborough, where the Patriots are nearly unbeatable to begin with.

Dandy thoughts for the Patriots and their fans after only two games, months away from what friend and foe alike figure will be a ninth consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance and, more than likely, their fifth trip to the Super Bowl in the last six years.

The defense is already playing at the highest level that even the most tenured of Patriots' fans have ever witnessed, and appear to be a legitimate shut-down unit - and the offense, which should be riding the coattails of that defense at this point of the season, is thriving on it's own merit. So the question begs: Are we to be witness to the greatest team that football has ever known?

To be honest, the New England offense has it's issues, particularly with injuries along the offensive line, but have managed to score on twelve of their twenty possessions, or a clip of a full sixty percent. They have punted six times to end drives, with the other two failed drives ending with a missed field goal and a fumble.

Conversely, the Patriots' defense have allowed their opponents thus far to score just once in twenty-four tries. They have forced thirteen punts, including nine three-and-outs, and have ended the other nine drives with five interceptions, and by forcing opposing offenses to turn the ball over on downs four times.

The offense takes the opposing defense on long rides, keeping them on the field and on their heels for nearly four minutes per possession and are averaging well over six plays per drive. On scoring drives, that number increases to nearly nine plays per drive. The Patriots' offense is not a quick-strike entity. They prefer to move the sticks in a methodical fashion, wearing down the defense with sheer repetition.

The defense makes short work of the opposing offenses, limiting them to a measly two minutes per possession and an average of just over four plays per drive. They have allowed just three drives of over ten plays each, one ending in a field goal for the Pittsburgh Steelers and two ending in disaster for the Miami Dolphins.

Should the Patriots continue with this level of domination, they would be able to claim the moniker of the best team of all time. But it would be foolish to think that one team could hold other professional teams to the level of mediocrity that New England has over Pittsburgh and Miami for an entire season.

Besides, the true mark of the best team ever would be to hold a record of 19-0. The Patriots came oh-so-close in 2007, and did so without a defense as dominating as the one we've seen thus far in 2019 - and also did so playing what was essentially the same schedule as New England faces this season against the NFC East and the AFC North in addition to their AFC East rivals.

Attrition happens, and the Patriots are not that quick-strike entity that saw quarterback Tom Brady regurgitating bomb after bomb to the likes of Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth. That kind of playing style may have won them eighteen consecutive games throughout that season and into the playoffs, but ended up killing them in the Super Bowl because of their reliance to it.

The New York Giants exposed that reliance by taking away Moss and leaving Belichick with a sub-par running game which limited the effect that the play action usually has in opening up receivers in the passing game - and Brady took an epic beating and New England lost it's perfect season.

But Belichick is not an error repeater, and has spent his cap dollars on building an offense so diverse, so eclectic, that a foe can't just shut down what the Patriots do best, because they do everything well. They can run the ball with power. They can throw the ball to all three levels of the defensive formation with equal success - and they still have Brady.

They still have Belichick as well, and for the first time in his tenure as head coach, he is the true defensive coordinator, and has built a unit of stoppers that appear to be the proverbial immovable object, not the bend-but-don't-break defense that causes folks to reach for the Xanax.

No, this defense is special. So deep and so savvy to the nuances of the game that Belichick can rotate players in and out of the game to keep them fresh for winning time without any loss of quality. The offense is special because of it's redundancy, shredding the game clock with protracted drives that keeps the defense off the field.

That doesn't necessarily mean that a perfect season is in the bag, and certainly not after just two games. What it does mean is that this incarnation of the New England Patriots are the deepest, most talented team that Belichick has ever put together, and that the possibility exists that perfection is within it's grasp...

...and not for any other reason than because Belichick will never again paint himself into a corner by being reliant on one phase of the game over another. The team that he has built has very few super stars, but is a compilation of excellent players that have been collected over a purposeful decade who buy into their roles, with a mercenary or two mixed in to add another dimension that makes it impossible for their opposition to fully game plan for.

Take Antonio Brown, for example. The Patriots don't need him, but he does give them yet another player that forces their foes to account for.

Football is nothing but a non-lethal version of Sun Tsu's Art of War, wherein a commander knows his team's strengths and weaknesses - and the best of the best employs strategies to not only attack where his enemy is weakest, but also uses their strengths against them.

Belichick, a subscriber to the ancient philosophy, gains the high ground and forces his foes into the valley and wears them down by relentless pursuit. He reserves his defender's collective energy by this sustained offensive, ensuring that that are at their physical peak each time they enter the fray. He lives off the land and treats his potential conquests with respect and acknowledges their talent.

But most of all, he knows when and where to attack. He sometimes zigs when the opposition zags. He sometimes engages in hand-to-hand combat and forces them into retreat. It all depends on matchup advantages and placing his charges in position to overwhelm their enemies.

All the players have to do is to execute when called upon, and his Patriots do that at a higher percentage than any other team in the league, reliant only to the fundamentals and faithful only to the cause.

And that cause is, as always, a big shiny trophy. He has earned six of those trophies over the years, with less talent than he currently employs. That doesn't ensure a perfect season, but it does give him a better opportunity to earn that trophy than he has ever had. To do that, he has to stick with what earned him the first six, winning each war by winning the little battles - game after game, series after series, play after play.

Thus far in 2019, the Patriots have done just that.

Going 19-0 is not the goal, but winning every play, every series, every game is. Those things may seem the same, but they are not - not in Belichick's world, where simply winning the war is not as important as how he wins it.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Collins, Patriots' Defense Blanks Tanking Dolphins

Antonio Brown and James White caught touchdown passes from Tom Brady, who joined Sony Michel in finding paydirt on short scoring runs, as the New England Patriots offense had it's way with an overmatched Miami Dolphins defense - but they needn't have bothered.

The Patriots' defense scored all the points New England would need on Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Jamie Collins returning interceptions for scores in a dominating performance that saw the stoppers notch seven sacks and force four turnovers in a 43-0 pasting of the tanking Dolphins on Sunday afternoon.
Collins congratulated by Chase Winovich after pick-six

Gilmore stepped in front of a short throw by Miami's Ryan Fitzpatrick and sprinted 54 yards for the defense's first score, and then Collins took advantage of a juggled pass attempt just moments later and jogged in for their second tally from 69 yards out. Collins' less-than-full-speed return will probably draw head ball coach Bill Belichick's ire in team meetings on Tuesday, but it will be tough for Belichick to find fault with much else, no matter how much he bitches and bristles.

Collins ruined the Dolphins. Absolutely ruined them. The former top draft choice of the Patriots who was dealt to the Cleveland Browns two years ago then re-acquired this past offseason was seemingly in on every play. In addition to the pick-six, Collins logged one more interception late in the game, defended two other passes, recorded one quarterback hit and notched a half of a sack...

...had five tackles, including one for a four-yard loss on the second play of the game and dominated the weak side edge, forcing nearly every Dolphin running play back to the inside where bigger bodies awaited - forcing their opponent to abandon their ground game for the second week in a row.

Just like they did last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Patriots' defense held the Dolphins' offense to less than a hundred yards total offense in the first half - but unlike the Steelers, it took the Dolphins well into the final quarter to punch through that crust to record a pedestrian 184 yards for the game - 146 of those in the fourth quarter with the New England defense laying back in full preservation mode.

Do the math. The Patriots' defense held an admittedly mediocre Dolphins' offense to thirty-eight total yards through three quarters, a time frame in which they forced seven punts in eight drives - six of those drives ending in three-and-outs - with the lone exception being an exquisite tip drill initiated by Gilmore, who tipped a pass right into the waiting arms of safety Devin McCourty for the team's first of four interceptions on the day.

To no one's surprise, the Patriots lead the league in total defense by a wide margin through two games, and are only surrendering a ridiculous 1.5 points per game.

The caveat to this dominating start to the season is that the sample size, while impressive, is very small and against teams dealing with substantial losses from their offensive units and are part of a cupcake first half schedule that includes no playoff teams from last season.

Brown's debut as a Patriot, not to mention the off field baggage he brought with him, actually became a side show to the defense's domination. Targeted a team-high eight times, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection caught four balls, three of them on the first drive of the game, the last one late in the second quarter, a back shoulder beauty that resulted in the Patriots' second score of the game.

With the team being able to lean on their stingy defense, the Patriots' offense has been able to concentrate on ball control - short, stick moving patterns in the passing game, complimented by tough, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of dust running game that kept the clock running and the Dolphins' offense off the field...

...honoring the old mantra that the best offense is a great defense. Unfortunately for the rest of the teams on New England's schedule, the Patriots also possess a great offense that can play it any way they want, with as many go-to options as we've ever seen in Foxborough.

Through the air, New England poses a threat on every level with the likes of Julian Edelman and James White handling the short, stick-moving patterns, Josh Gordon ruling the intermediate stuff and Brown and Phillip Dorsett pressing the issue down the field, while White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel keeps opposing defenses honest with tough running out of the backfield.

The Patriots are a bonafide juggernaut on both sides of the ball, but as we've seen the first two weeks of the season, it is their defense that is dictating results.

Good Stuff:
1. Rex Burkhead displaying lead back qualities: Most impressive with Burkhead was his vision in the scrum while running between the tackles, almost like he was negotiating a human maze. His change of direction abilities were also at the forefront, as was his power at the point of contact and his grace in wheeling into the pattern as a receiver. He may have surpassed Sony Michel as the first option on early downs as a result.

2. Antonio Brown hinting at the number one receiver role: The Dolphins appeared to not take Brown's debut seriously at first, but clamped down on him in the second half of the game which, to the chagrin of Miami fans, opened up the field for the likes of Edelman, Dorsett, Matt LaCosse, White and Burkhead. A strong debut for a guy who had only a handful practices leading up to the game.

3. Chase Winovich bending the edge on the pass rush: Winovich lined up on the weak side when Collins wasn't, taking advantage of the void left when now former left tackle Laramy Tunsil was traded away two weeks ago. Winovich recorded 1.5 sacks and was a constant pressure from the edge.

1. Sony Michel still looking disinterested: Perhaps Michel is just a calm guy which can be taken as disinterest, but he is not displaying the burst we saw in the preseason, and losing the football at the end of his best run of the day was more a matter of technique than anything the Dolphins did. He's carrying the ball loosly and not wrapping up with both hands to protect it. A story worth monitoring going forward.

No so great:
1. Injuries piling up along the offensive line: The depth along the line was already being stressed with right tackle Marcus Cannon being inactive with a shoulder injury and center David Andrews placed on IR with blood clots - and now with left tackle Isaiah Wynn leaving this contest with a foot injury. The first thing that comes to mind is whether or not the foot injury is related to his repaired achilles tendon that he ripped up last season. By the time the game ended, the Patriots had only two regulars, guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason, on the field. It is reported that Wynn may have a ligament issue in one of his toes, which could keep him out several weeks, but Cannon should be able to return against the New York Jets this Sunday.

We're back!

I have had a change of heart about retiring this blog, and am about to rev up on posting articles once again. Starting this afternoon, Foxborough Free Press will be active once more.

Thank you for your understanding, and hope to read your comments soon.