Patriots-Saints Q2: Patriots secondary steps up


Patriots-Saints Q2: Patriots secondary steps up

FOXBORO -- The Patriots first team defense continued to work up a good lather in the second quarter, putting forth a good effort against Saints quarterbacks not named Drew Brees. The highlight was an interception by Steve Gregory, but before we get into that, here are our observations from the quarter in chronological order:

Jermaine Cunningham subbed in for Rob Ninkovich at left end on the first-team defense to start the quarter. Later in the quarter he got a few reps on the defensive line next to Chandler Jones, Marcus Harrison and Trevor Scott.

Brandon Deaderick also got significant work in the second quarter. He played on the nose in between Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork with Jones and Cunningham on the ends.

Chase Daniel completed long pass plays to Courtney Roby and Michael Higgins for 12 and 15 yards, respectively, driving the Saints deep into Patriots territory. Then it fell apart for Daniel. His pass was tipped into the air by Jerod Mayo and then juggled by Steve Gregory five times before he secured it for the interception. Daniel came off the field, holding his helmet, knowing he'd blown an opportunity to give his team some points. Nice athletic play by both Mayo and Gregory.

Brian Hoyer completed three of his four passes on the following drive, but he didn't exactly look comfortable. He threw one bad ball to Alex Silvestro that fell incomplete. None of the completions went for more than five yards, and he had a chance to get the ball to Julian Edelman in space in the flat, but floated a pass instead of getting it there with zip, which allowed a defender to close in and make a quick tackle.

Zoltan Mesko got absolutely run over by Martez Wilson on a punt attempt. Bad job by Wilson there, who showed very little body control after plowing through blocker Shane Vereen. Mesko shook off the hit like a champ. He later coffin-cornered a punt that went out of bounds around the eight yard line.

Tough start to the night for Ryan Mallett, but he picked things up by the end of the quarter. His first pass was intended for Jabar Gaffney, who hadn't seen a target to that point in the night, but was late and off target high. His second pass was batted down by Akiem Hicks. He hit his third pass to Donte' Stallworth for one yard.

Mallett's arm got hit twice as he threw passes on the Patriots' next drive. One fell to the turf, the other floated in the air long enough for Marquis Johnson to pick it off. Like we said, tough start. After the pick, he was 3-8 for 30 yards and an interception. In Mallett's defense, Dan Connolly got dominated at the line by Hicks, who got to Mallett to upset the throw.

Chung made an interception off Sean Canfield, but he didn't have to do much for it. With Devin McCourty playing underneath Roby, Chung sat back and waited for Canfield to throw it between the "2" and the "5" on his jersey.

Mallett looked his best in the Patriots hurry-up offense. With 45 seconds he drove the Patriots from their 11 yard line and put them in position to kick a 53-yard field goal (which Stephen Gostkowski missed wide left). Mallett completed passes to Woodhead (3 yards), Gaffney (9 yards), Edelman (23 yards) and Woodhead again (20 yards). Seemed like for Mallett, the more he was allowed to react and play fast, the better off he was.

Patriots list nine as questionable, including Bennett, Edelman and Collins


Patriots list nine as questionable, including Bennett, Edelman and Collins

FOXBORO -- The Patriots listed nine players on their injury report after Friday's practice, deeming them all "questionable" for Sunday's game against the Steelers. 

The most notable names on the list are those of tight end Martellus Bennett, linebacker Jamie Collins and receiver Julian Edelman.

Bennett and Collins have been listed on the injury report since before last weekend's win over the Bengals. Bennett was able to play through his ankle issue, whereas Collins dealt with a hip injury that kept him out. Edelman, meanwhile, has been on the injury report since prior to New England's Week 5 win over Cleveland, but he has played in 81 percent of his team's offensive snaps over the last two weeks.

Patriots rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts, who has opened some eyes with his play over the course of the last two weeks, is also listed as questionable due to an ankle issue. Bill Belichick's club could be left thin at the linebacker level should both Roberts and Collins be at all limited, potentially leaving Barkevious Mingo, Rob Ninkovich and Shea McClellin to see more time next to Dont'a Hightower as off-the-line 'backers. 


TE Martellus Bennett (ankle)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Jamie Collins (hip)
WR Julian Edelman (foot)
DL Woodrow Hamilton (shoulder)
LB Shea McClellin (concussion)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
DL Vincent Valentine (back)


T Marcus Gilbert (ankle)
DE Cameron Heyward (hamstring)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (left knee)
S Shamarko Thomas (groin)
C Cody Wallace (knee)
WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder)
RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)

Friday Bag: What might the Patriots get for Garoppolo in a trade?


Friday Bag: What might the Patriots get for Garoppolo in a trade?

FOXBORO -- Every Friday we take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as we call it. Typically Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi join me in this endeavor, but I'm flying solo as those two get ready to head down to Pittsburgh. 

If you ever have any questions for us, feel free to tweet at us using the hashtag #FridayBag, and we'll get to as many as we can. 

On to the Bag...

PP: Roberts has been kind of a revelation. It began with his performance against the Browns, when led the team in tackles, and it continued against the Bengals as he was a crucial piece in the Patriots' second-quarter goal-line stand. Not bad for a sixth-round pick who Bill Belichick hadn't even heard of until he popped in the tape of last year's Houston-Navy game and noticed the undersized linebacker making impact plays. I think his future usage will be based on 1) the health of Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, and 2) the types of offenses the Patriots face moving forward. On Thursday, I wrote about just how infrequently the pair has been on the field. If that trend continues, the No. 3 linebacker in New England will essentially see starter snaps even though the team has moved to what is primarily a two-linebacker defense. Against run-heavy teams (like Cleveland, or probably Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger), Roberts could see more time, whereas pass-happy clubs may get a heavier does of Barkevious Mingo. Roberts has been on the Patriots injury report this week with an ankle issue.

PP: It's an interesting question, John. For a couple of reasons, actually. The first -- and maybe you had this in mind -- is the fact that Stephen Gostkowski has become less-than-automatic this year. If the extra point isn't a given, why not go for two? At least I could see that being your logic. The second is that the Steelers are known to be a team that is as willing to run two-point plays as often as any other team. Bill Belichick said this week, that his team will prepare more for that play than they would normally, which in and of itself, other than the obvious scoring advantage, is an argument to run more two-point plays. If it makes your opponent's work week a little more difficult, go for it. The reason I think the Patriots have not tried more two-point plays under Belichick is twofold: They trust their kicker, and I don't think they'll shy away from using Gostkowski moving forward, despite his recent struggled; I also think they might like to hold onto the two-point plays they do have drawn up to save them for critical situations. 

PP: I do think there will be some kind of trade made, Miguel. The Patriots have obviously been willing to wheel and deal during what is otherwise a pretty monotonous trading deadline when compared to the other three major sports in this country. The position? That's tough. It will depend on the team's overall depth at that point in time, which will be based in large part on whatever injuries they incur between now and then. If I had to guess right now? I'd say tight end. Specifically a blocking tight end. They obviously love to stock up on that position, and it's one that isn't all that deep on the current roster. After Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, there's AJ Derby and...that's it. The team recently placed tight end Greg Scruggs on injured reserve -- after choosing to keep him on the active roster over guard Jonathan Cooper, mind you -- and haven't filled his roster spot with another player at that position. 

PP: Thanks for the question, Paul. If you listen to what Devin McCourty has said on Quick Slants over the course of the last few weeks, he'll tell you that third down comes down to matchups. The Patriots are primarily a man-to-man team, and I think their defensive backs could do a better job of plastering to their receivers in those situations. But coverage and pass-rush are always linked, and the Patriots pass-rush has to come into focus when discussing third down because -- particularly in third-and-long situations -- that's when they should be creating havoc in opposing backfields. The Patriots have pressured less of late as they've gone up against athletic quarterbacks who are dangerous outside the pocket, but sooner or later they're going to need more from their front. Jabaal Sheard (24 total quarterback pressures this season) and Chris Long (20) have been consistent, but as a team the Patriots are tied for 19th in the league with 11.0 sacks.

PP: When considering a Patriots trade involving Jimmy Garoppolo, I think a good place to start might be the Sam Bradford deal executed between the Eagles and Vikings. Minnesota sent a 2017 first-rounder and a 2018 conditional fourth-rounder in order to pick up the former No. 1 overall pick. Garoppolo doesn't have near the game experience Bradford had at the time he was traded -- he had thrown for 14,790 yards, 78 touchdowns and 52 interceptions in 63 career starts -- but even in just six quarters of play, it was relatively apparent that Garoppolo could successfully run a complicated scheme. I would not be surprised if another team was willing to cough up a first and a third or better in order to acquire Garoppolo as their next franchise guy. Teams are that hungry. If it works out, and if a team finds someone it can trust for the next 10 years, that's a small price to pay. If the Patriots decide to deal Garoppolo, when they do so -- will it be with a year left on his deal, will it be with Garoppolo on the franchise tag, will it be mid-season? -- will impact the price. As far as Belichick's eventual retirement impacting the quarterback decision . . . I don't think it will. I think even after Belichick is gone, he'll want the franchise to be in good shape because he knows that will be a reflection on his work and therefore a part, however small, of his legacy. I don't see him selling out -- ie trading Garoppolo to get value now -- if he doesn't think that's the best decision for the team. 

PP: Given the offensive output the Patriots have posted over the course of the last two weeks, and given the players around him, I'd say James White has been more than enough. If the Patriots needed more from that position, having a healthy Lewis would be their best option. He can simply do things that neither White nor most other backs in the league can when he's at his best. But right now? With Gronkowski, Bennett, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan around to see the bulk of the targets, Lewis would be more of a luxury than a necessity. For that reason, not only is White enough, but I'd imagine that the Patriots would be incredibly cautious about bringing Lewis back. He's been in and around the locker room of late, but the six-week window for Lewis to begin practicing only just opened, and I would not be surprised if the team wanted to use most of it to buy Lewis as much time as possible. Once he begins practicing, the Patriots will have three weeks to decide if they want to activate him, meaning it could be as late as Week 15 when he makes his return. If healthy, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better end-of-season addition. 

PP: I had a chance to speak with Jones at length earlier this week and he's a player who clearly understands that he needs to show the coaching staff more in order to re-gain a role. He said he didn't know if his ejection in Cleveland had anything to do with the decision to make him a healthy scratch, and so I don't know if it did, either. It couldn't have helped his chances at more playing time, though. Jones admitted he needed to be the bigger person in that scenario, even though Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins lunged at his legs. For Jones to come from Alabama, get to this level, and not contribute off the bat has been a bit of a surprise for Jones, I think. While he's frustrated he hasn't been able to do more, he understands he's not where he needs to be. From a locker-room standpoint, his teammates like him, and he's saying all the right things. I'm not sure that's enough to make him active for this week -- Eric Rowe played well in his debut, and Edelman and DJ Foster showed up as returners -- but it's a sign he's approaching his situation with a positive attitude and trying to do the right things. 

PP: Hey, David. Just based on recent history, and based on which team I think has the better defense right now, I'd have to say Denver. Mile High has been this team's own personal house of horrors for a long time. Players will tell you Buffalo is a little underrated in terms of how difficult it can be to play there, but I don't see the Patriots getting swept in the regular season by Rex Ryan's club.

PP: I think what we're seeing from Edelman is simply what should be expected from a player coming back off of multiple foot surgeries. He may not be quite as sharp getting in and out of breaks, but keep in mind he was doing that at an elite level before he went down last season. Even if he's negatively impacted by the procedures he's undergone, he's still been able to get open and make plays with the ball in his hands. He was highly-effective as a punt returner against the Bengals, returning a free kick 16 yards, and taking back three punts for an average of 16.3 yards. His receiving statistics over the last couple of weeks have looked a off (nine catches on 16 targets for 65 yards), but Brady has misfired to Edelman on a couple of notable occasions -- once over the middle last week, and once deep down the middle of the field in Cleveland -- when he was open. Connections on either of those plays could've made for bigger numbers and resulted in fewer concerned Patriots fans. Edelman's not exactly himself -- he was added to the injury report on Oct. 6 and has been limited in practices ever since -- but he's still a viable option in the passing game and an effective blocker. He's played in 117 of 144 snaps (81 percent) since landing on the injury report.