Patriots

Bowen pans Patrick Chung's safety play

Bowen pans Patrick Chung's safety play

By Tom E. Curran

In a seven-year NFL career, Matt Bowen played strong safety for four teams - the Rams, Packers, Redskins and Bills. In his post-football NFL life, the 35-year-old works as an Xs and Os expert for the National Football Post and a number of other outlets.

His specialty is, not surprisingly, secondary play. So who better to explain what in Sam Hill is going on with the back end of the Patriots defense.

I asked Bowen to look at two games - the win over the Bills and Sunday's loss to the Seahawks - and give me his impressions of what's going on out there.

Here's a collection of his observations when we went over his breakdown.

"I wasnt that imp with Patrick Chung," said Bowen, referring to his play in both games. "I'm not trying to come down on the guybut it seems like he's guessing a lot, his eyes are in the wrong place. A couple of times he leftthe deep middle of the field in the Seattlegame. Anytime a safety leaves the middle of the field on a trick play or a deep pass, thatsdiscipline. Thats looking in the wrong place and not looking in the rightplace with his eyes."

Bowen says that Chung's aggressiveness is a liability. Or was in each of the games he watched. Bowen said that, while Kyle Arrington's overall play got him benched, the touchdown Arrington gave up to Doug Baldwin was a shared one.

"On the touchdown pass down the seam, Chung left the middle of the field, lefthis buddy out to dry," Bowen explained. "Arrington was playing outside leverage on Cover-1 (he was shaded to the outside shoulder of Baldwin, sending him to the middle of the field) wheres the safety?He's too overaggressive as a safety. Russell Wilson (Seattle's quarterback) did an extremely good job of looking offthe safety, then Wilson would pull the ball down and Chung said 'Im going,' and that's how he beat him."

Chung also picked up a pass interference when he got out of position on a reverse pass, said Bowen.
"It's cover 2, youre not gonna make the play on the reverse," Bowen insisted."But (Chung) takes OFF. He sees something and he believes it, hes gonna get it. Now some safeties can do that. Nobody gambles more than Troy Polamalu (in Pittsburgh) but he has Ryan Clark next to him and Ryan Clark never makes mistakes. Ever."
Aside from the deep beat Tavon Wilson took for the game-winner, Bowen really liked the way the rookie safety played the position against Seattle.

"Wilson's got more range, he lankier, but he does not want to get his nosedirty in the run game. He will make the reluctant tackle, or be the JOP (jump on the pile) guy. It's understandable somewhat because he's a rookie and might be hesitant to trust what he sees."

Bowen said Wilson's breakdown on the late touchdown pass to Sidney Rice was attributable to "poor eyes."

Bowen said that, as a safety, there are hard simple rules to follow.

"In Cover-2 (two deep safeties, each covering half the field), the first thing you look at is the No. 1 receiver,the outside receiver (meaning the receiver closest to the sideline). If he releases outside (toward the sideline) he can only run two routes, the fade orthe comeback. If he blocks the guy in front of him its a run. If he releases inside (it will likely be a throw heading to the middle of the field. "The problem on that play was, at the snap (Wilson was) looking inthe backfield, thinks run, stops his feet and then realizes, 'Oh (shoot)!' and has to play the pass. If he didn't read run and dropped where he was supposed to, Rice would have run right to him. It was only a two-man route, Wilson would have probably had to throw the ball away. The thing is, a Cover-2 safety does not have to make a play near the line of scrimmage in the running game. He doesn't need to be up there.

Bowen did like the third quarter pass breakup by Wilson but he added, "Go make that pick. He did a great job in breaking up the pass, hell get a plus on that in the film room, but he should feel that ball is his. It's gonna be a tough forthat kid this week. He let up a play to lose the game but he has the skills. Compared to Chung, I would want Wilson in middle and Chung in the box."

Bowen had fewer issues with the corner play. He noted that when Alfonzo Dennard came in, Seattle "threw the ball at him every time" but added that Dennard "did OK."

As for Devin McCourty, Bowen agreed when I said I thought he should be better than he is.

"He should make more plays. I agree 100 percent," said Bowen. "If peopletarget him he should make more plays. But in the two games I watched, he was their bestcorner. Maybe he's not as fluid in the hips. He is long and not as quick to recover, but he's their best corner."

Bowen expressed surprise with the Patriots personnel at the back of the defense.

"They have a lotof issues in the secondary - so many young guys and not having a real leader andveteran out there hurts," he said. "It's going to get to a situation where Bill (Belichick) has to blitz alot and you dont want to get into that. They did show zone pressure, Cover 1, Cover 3 and Cover 2. But mostly it was base football. The way I looked at (the Seattle game), they said, 'Weregonna make (Russell Wilson) beat us. The problem was, their technique was terrible the entire game."

Bowen did leave a glimmer of hope for any Patriots supporters who may be downtrodden by his assessment.

"It mighta been just a bad day," he said. "I've been on defenses when they hadbad days with really good players. It happens."

Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

patriots_brandin_cooks_stephon_gilmore_072517.jpg

Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are looking thin in the secondary as they head into their third and final day of practice before Sunday's matchup with the Falcons. 

Both Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin) sat out the session, as did linebacker Elandon Roberts (ankle). Undrafted rookie defensive end Harvey Langi was also a non-participant as he recovers from injuries sustained in a car crash last week. 

Asked if Friday's practice was a possibility, Gilmore said, "We'll see." He did not give any indications that his symptoms had improved or that he had been cleared for practice as he works through the league's concussion protocol. 

Rowe was spotted in the locker room on Thursday, but he has not practiced since aggravating his groin injury in Week 4. He was injured initially during a Week 2 win over the Saints. 

Roberts suffered an ankle injury when teammate Alan Branch landed on his lower leg during a loss to the Panthers in Week 4. However, he was healthy enough to play in Weeks 5 and 6. It's unclear as to whether or not his current ailment is related to what knocked him from that Week 4 loss to Carolina. 

Here is Thursday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's game between the Patriots and Falcons:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle)
LB Harvey Langi (back)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
WR Chris Hogan (ribs)
G Shaq Mason (shoulder)

ATLANTA FALCONS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
LB Jordan Tripp

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
OLB Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring)
K Matt Bryant (back)
LB Jermaine Grace (hamstring)
LB Deion Jones (quadricep)
DE Takk McKinley (shoulder)
LB Duke Riley (knee)
WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring)
DL Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee)

Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

cp-spark-belichick-101917.jpg

Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

Bill Belichick has long been a proponent of altering his team's DNA from season to season. It cuts down on complacency, and also allows the head coach to be correct when he says last year doesn't matter to this year's Patriots. It can't, after all. What can players like Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks or Lawrence Guy, who were on other rosters in other cities and -- in some cases -- other divisions or other conferences, know about last year's Pats? The answer is nothing, or next to nothing. Just the way Belichick prefers.

But last offseason's turnover may have done more harm than good, at least to this point in the year. Yes, the Pats have shown a toughness and an ability to overcome adversity -- see the start versus the Jets and the comeback against the Texans -- but there are clear indicators this group isn't gelling like Belichick believed it would. 

MORE PATRIOTS

Much of that points to the unusual approach taken by the coach and the front office in free agency. Whether it was the quick-strike signing of Gilmore to an expensive contract, to the surrendering of another first-rounder -- this time by choice -- in the trade for Cooks, or even the decision to walk away from fan favorite LeGarrette Blount in favor of younger, less proven backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, much of what Belichick was trying to do has yet to bear the necesssary fruit. And it's not just on the field where the Pats have shown deficiencies; it's in the locker room and meeting rooms as well.

Start with the bold move to get an in-his-prime Gilmore. Signing a player considered in some circles to be a No. 1 corner makes all the sense in the world. But what perplexed many was the decision to pay an outsider over Malcolm Butler, a proven player not only in this system, but in the biggest of games. Gilmore doesn't have that pedigree because his former team, the Bills, never made the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl. 

Butler's anger at the decision and the way the rest of his offseason played out has been well-documented in this space. But what hasn't in many other spaces is the acknowledgement that it still wears on Butler to this day. 

His play is back on the uptick after a reduction of snaps in Week 2, but Butler has always been a player to whom the team has devoted extra attention to get ready week to week. That may have factored in the Pats' decision to only go so far in contract talks. Why then would Belichick assume Butler would be the perfect professional when Gilmore gets what Butler believes is his money? The thought seems to run counter with the argument against keeping Butler longterm in the first place. 

Butler says his relationship with Gilmore is good, that he's glad to have him as a teammate. Perhaps the 28-year-old has come to that now. Perhaps. 

As for Gilmore, he's soft-spoken. That has occasionally come off as though he's a player lacking confidence. His performance against Tampa Bay was a step in the right direction, but it was immediately followed by a day-before-the-game scratch against the Jets because of a concussion that was either suffered late in the week or was unreported until Saturday. His sudden absence put the Patriots in a bind. The fact that Gilmore spoke up was the right thing to do, but if it could have been communicated earlier it should have been, for the good of both player and team. Now he must reassert himself, whenever that opportunity comes.

"[You] grow together as team based on those experiences; some good, some bad, but learning from all of them," Belichick said when I asked him about a team's personality evolving over the course of the year. "I mean, we've only had one roster change since the start of the season but that's certainly on the low side. I would anticipate that there would be roster changes during the course of the year like there always are for every team and so that affects the makeup of the team, the interactions of the team. Maybe that's the personality you're talking about."

Belichick has a tendency to not only remember your last game, but -- if warranted -- hold it against you. Blount would be a prime example. He rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns last year but his play in the Super Bowl was poor. So despite his production on the field and his popularity off, the Pats had no inclination to offer LGB a raise. In fact, they were fine with him walking away, and that's exactly what he did. Gillislee and Burkhead were tabbed as replacement parts, and on paper it looked great. It still may end that way. But neither player has provided a) a level of play equivalent to Blount's and b) the energy that Blount brought. And that latter part of the equation is incredibly important. Just ask the Eagles, who get a jolt from Blount every time he lowers his shoulder and runs over a defender. 

The same could hold true for others who fled, were allowed to leave, or never got the chance to come back: 

-- Martellus Bennett could be a pain in the ass but there was never a dull moment around him, and no one can deny the loquacious tight end was an energy player both on and off the field. 

-- Logan Ryan had been through so much with the Pats, both good and bad. He had no problem talking, not just to his teammates but to the other side as well. He had earned his teammates' trust. 

-- Chris Long had an excellent relationship with so many guys on the team, and while he wouldn't be considered a "personality" in the same mold as Blount, he was incredibly well-respected for his professionalism and for his sacrifice, many times playing out of position. 

Then throw in the retirement of old standby Rob Ninkovich and, of course, the season-ending injury to Julian Edelman. If you didn't understand before, you should know now just how much each player is missed.

It's now up to the newcomers, and some of the holdovers, to elevate their level and find their voice, both on the field and in that room. And that may also be a part of the early issue. These "new" players -- Cooks, Gilmore, Gillislee, Burkhead, Guy -- are, for the moment, quiet. Perhaps they're concerned about stepping on toes, but at some point that may be needed.

"Look, everybody's a shareholder on the team," Belichick said. "It's not one person's team. It belongs to all of us and we try to make it as functional, as effective and as competitive as we possibly can. So, that's what the goal is, to win every game that we play and to have a good season and to make the most out of every day and every opportunity that we have. 

"I don't know if that answers the question or not, but I'm trying."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE