Belichick on short-yardage woes: 'That's going to eventually catch up to you'


Belichick on short-yardage woes: 'That's going to eventually catch up to you'

FOXBORO -- The Patriots made a statement late in the fourth quarter facing a critical third down.

It wasn't that Tom Brady is still at the height of his powers despite being 40 years old. It wasn't that Brandin Cooks has quickly become a trusted target in critical make-or-break situations. Those came later.

The statement that the Patriots made during a third-and-one play with about six minutes remaining in the game was that -- in that moment, at least -- they didn't trust their running game to pick up three feet.

At their own 16-yard line, down 30-28, the Patriots needed one yard to move the chains and breathe life into a potential go-ahead drive. Instead of plowing forward with running back Mike Gillislee, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialed up a pass play that went incomplete to Rob Gronkowski.

The decision spoke volumes.


Through three games this season, the Patriots have converted once when facing third-and-one (1-for-4) or fourth-and-one (0-for-2).

"We’ve got to obviously do a better job of coaching it and a better job of executing it and be better in that situation," Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "I mean, that’s a key situation. If you can’t get a yard in this league, then that’s going to eventually catch up to you. It already has, but it will continue to be a problem if we’re not able to get that yard offensively.

"Defensively, percentages are with the offense in that situation, so a stop there is a big stop. But, realistically, you’re not going to be 80 percent on defense in that situation. Offensively, that’s where you’d like to be."

The Patriots aren't close to where they'd like to be. They failed on two third-and-one opportunities in their win over the Texans, both coming in the fourth quarter. Before the late-game third-down attempt to Gronkowski, on the previous drive, the Patriots handed to Gillislee on the Patriots 34-yard line to pick up a yard. Left tackle Nate Solder gave ground to Texans defensive lineman Christian Covington, and Gillislee was stopped for no gain. 

Against the Chiefs in Week 1, Gillislee was stopped twice on fourth-and-one runs in Kansas City territory. 

In his first season with the Patriots, Gillislee's ability to run through contact (1.8 yards after contact per carry) hasn't been what it was in 2016 (3.3). He's made four tacklers miss on 45 attempts this season, a rate that's down from last year when he made 16 tacklers miss on 101 attempts with the Bills, per Pro Football Focus.

But having limited space near the line of scrimmage seems to have inhibited Gillislee's ability to create yards on his own.

"I mean, in the end, it usually comes down to fundamentals," Belichick said. "You’ve got to block them, or you’ve got to defeat a block and make the play. The numbers are the numbers. I mean, nobody’s going to run a play and cut a guy loose in the hole, so the guy that you let go is usually the guy furthest away from the play. It doesn’t mean he’s out of the play, but it’s usually the guy furthest away who has the point of attack. Whoever knocks the line of scrimmage back is probably going to have an edge on the play.

"The passing game can factor in there, too. Sometimes if you don’t need a lot of yardage, you’re kind of reluctant to go through putting the ball in the air, protecting, running routes and all that when he can just hand it off for a yard, but you’ve got to be able to make that yard."

The Patriots must have felt like they couldn't make a yard late in the fourth quarter by running against the Texans. Playing against a front with less talent than Houston's may give them more confidence going forward. So should the return of Marcus Cannon (dealing with a concussion and ankle injury), whenever that happens. 

But until Patriots backs and linemen prove they can execute in short-yardage situations, McDaniels may continue to lean on Brady's arm in those spots. To this point, his running game hasn't left him much choice.


Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

File photo

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."