A closer look at Gronkowski and Hernandez


A closer look at Gronkowski and Hernandez

By TomE. Curran

If you like football and you aren't following Greg Cosell on Twitter, you ought to. He's been at NFL Films for 32 years. He's currently a senior producer there and way back in 1984, he and Steve Sabol created NFL Matchup, the first nuts-and-bolts, Xs-and-Os show that demonstrated the technical and strategic artistry of the NFL game. In addition to continuing with that show and co-authoring The Games That Changed The Game with Ron Jaworski and David Plaut, Cosell breaks down hours of game film. He uses the "all-22" coach's film so he gets a better look at what's going on than the rest of us. He's been tweeting his position-by-position findings during this long, dry offseason. Over the next few days, I'll pick Cosell's brain about the Patriots' personnel and schemes. First up, tight ends.
On Rob Gronkowski
GC: "I think he has a chance to be a very complete tight end. My initial comparison is with Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys), but he's a bit more fluid and smoother. Therefore, I believe he has a chance to become a better intermediate receiver. He can certainly run the vertical seam. He can block, he can run routes from the line of scrimmage, he can be flexed out."On Aaron Hernandez
GC: "I really liked him coming out of Florida. I believe he is a 'new age' tight end that is continuing the evolution of the position. He's what I like to call a 'Joker',like a movable chess piece. You can use him all over, which is what Don Coryell did with Kellen Winslow (back in with the Chargers in the 1980s - a development which is highlighted in the GamesThat ChangedThe Game book). He's very fluid, a much better pure athlete than Gronkowski, really a different player than Gronkowski. He's very good after the catch and I watched him beat corners off the line (in 2010)."On Scheme ImpactGC: "When they put Gronkowski and Hernandez on the field at the same time, they are asking defenses, 'How do you want to treat these players?' Hernandez really has to be treated as a wide receiver. He beats cornerbacks (Cosell cited a "stick-nod-go" route on which Hernandez blew past Chargers' corner Quentin Jammer as evidence). So the Patriots are making defenses declare. Do they want to play base personnel? If so, Hernandez is matched up with a safety or a linebacker. If the defense wantsto put a corner on him, the Patriots may have a mismatch elsewhere with Wes Welker against a safety. That's what happened against the Colts when Gronkowski and Hernandez were on the field. The Colts ended up with linebacker Pat Angerer on Welker and Welker scored a 22-yard touchdown."On Presnap Reads of Tom BradyGC: "Reading the defense before the snap is critical for all quarterbacks. Tom Brady, (Peyton) Manning, (Drew) Brees and (Aaron) Rodgers are the best in football at deciphering the personnel packages and the favorable matchupsthat are there to take advantage of. The magic with Brady happens before theball is snapped. With all the Patriots' personnel packages and multi-dimensional tight ends, it makes it difficult for a defense. It makes them declare their personnel and their coverages and when they declare, that's when quarterbacks like Brady have the advantage."SummaryIn terms of skill set, Cosell really isn't telling those of us who watch the Patriots regularly anything we didn't learn in 2010. But he really amplifies the point that the goal of the Patriots offense is creating mismatches. Some teams are just "we'll run our stuff" type offenses, but the Patriots' constant effort to get multi-dimensional players at the same position is what makes them a "game plan" offense that's so hard to match up with. For example, when the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as running backs, there was some wonderment about whether BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 2010 work wasn't valued or whether Danny Woodhead was going to be replaced. In reality, Vereen and Ridley aren't replacements for those two but complements and depth. Vereen can't be expected to be as potent a receiver, scatback as Woodhead, but he can affordsome of that while also being abackupto Green-Ellis' role. And Ridley brings short yardage thump that Green-Ellis may not have and replaces Sammy Morris, an outgoing free agent.Opposing defenses will have to figure out how the Patriots plan to deploy them, same as they had to - and still have to - with the Gronknandez Combo at tight end.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut


Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - There will be a moment in the days between September 3 and October 3 when Tom Brady stops what he’s doing, sets his jaw and mutters, “*$%^## Derby…”

During his first – and perhaps only action of the 2016 preseason – Brady had some very good plays, was let down by a few drops (like Derby’s on a third-down toss) and had a near pick on a downfield throw to Martellus Bennett.

Brady was in for four possessions, entering the game after Jimmy Garoppolo ran the team on the Patriots first three series.

Brady missed the first preseason game then plunged trainer’s scissors into his thumb just prior to the second preseason game and missed that one as well.

With a fair amount of buildup to this game, Brady’s first pass was a deep in-cut to Aaron Dobson that went for 37 yards after Dobson stepped out of a tackle.

That was followed by a crossing pattern drop by Julian Edelman and a high throw to the end zone on third-and-5 that doinked off the left hand of tight end Bennett under the goalpost. Seemed like a mistimed jump on the high throw over the hands of a couple defenders.

On Brady’s next series, a pair of Tyler Gaffney runs gained 20 before Brady dropped a fade in to the hands of Chris Hogan for a 32-yard touchdown. It couldn’t have been placed any better if Brady had been allowed to walk to Hogan and hand it to him.

Brady’s conversion pass to Dobson was incomplete.

The Patriots got another chunk play from LeGarrette Blount to start their next drive and Brady then hit Edelman for 6. But his throw to the left sideline on third-and-4 was bungled by Derby, ending the drive.

Brady’s final series was bleak. His first throw was batted down by Kawann Short. His second one, a deep throw across the field to Bennett after Brady stepped up in the pocket, should have been picked by Kurt Coleman. Brady was sacked on third down.

Garoppolo came in for the final two series of the first half and started the third quarter.

Brady spent much of the first quarter apart from the offense when it was on the sidelines, standing with arms folded. When the offense was on the field, Brady mostly sat by himself on the bench. There wasn’t any significant interaction between he and Garoppolo, who huddled with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after his series’ ended. Brady did the same after he came off the field with Garoppolo hovering nearby.

Brady finished 3-for-9 for 76 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Patriots were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half. 

First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down


First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

The Patriots had their share of good and bad in the first half of their preseason game with the Panthers on Friday. Here's who we saw as some of the team's top performers, as well as some of the players who may have to make some corrections in the second half. 

* Tom Brady was only 3-for-9 in his four series, but he completed his passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass to Chris Hogan might have been the best throw of the preseason for any Patriots quarterback as he hit Hogan in stride, over the shoulder, for a 33-yard gain. Brady was close to having a second touchdown pass, but it glanced off the out-stretched hands tight end Martellus Bennett in the back of the end zone. Brady was nearly picked on his final drive, again trying to hit Bennett. He was sacked on his final play of the half.

* Jimmy Garoppolo had a difficult time early in this one. He was 5-for-9 for 37 yards, and he picked up an intentional grounding penalty. Garoppolo also was strip-sacked by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, but James White recovered. Garoppolo was nearly picked by Luke Kuechly early in the first quarter when there was an apparent miscommunication between Garoppolo and Julian Edelman. 

* Chris Long had a standout half with two pressures, a pass-breakup that led to a Devin McCourty pick, and he drew a hold. The veteran defensive end has shown a good motor and a knack for getting to the quarterback in each of New England's first three preseason games. 

* Logan Ryan also had a strong first half in his preseason debut. His first five targets in coverage resulted in no completions, an offensive pass interference penalty and an interception. His former college teammate Duron Harmon also had a pick of Panthers backup Derek Anderson.

* Nate Solder allowed the pressure that eventually led to the sack of Brady by Kony Ealy. He also was flagged for a false start. Being that it's the third preseason game -- when starters typically go deep into the game -- he'll likely have a chance to redeem himself in the second half.