Panthers provide perfect opportunity for Patriots defense to get right


Panthers provide perfect opportunity for Patriots defense to get right

FOXBORO -- This should be a “get right” game for the Patriots defense Sunday against visiting Carolina. The Panthers have scored just 45 points through the first three weeks of the season, and everyone - from their head coach to their quarterback to the vendor in section 247 - knows it’s just doesn’t look right because it isn’t right. 

Just a couple seasons removed from being the NFL’s MVP, Cam Newton is hitting on 61.4% of his passes. That would come awfully close to matching his career best of 61.7 in 2013. However, the explosive plays are lacking, both through the air but just as notably, on the ground. Newton is living in what Ron Rivera called a “new reality." Surely, that’s best for the quarterback’s long-termm future, but in the present, it’s really sucking the life out of an offense that was all Cam, all the time.

Just look at what Deshaun Watson did to the Pats “D” several days ago. The rookie - who looked lost the week prior - was a handful, throwing for over 300 yards, rushing for 41 and keeping a bunch of plays alive with those scrambling skills. Newton is capable of the same - if not a hell of a lot more based on his size and strength. 


“That’s the tough part,” said cornerback Eric Rowe. “You’re covering and then you look back and you see Cam scrambling. We all know he is threat to run the ball.”

That puts the defender in space in a tough spot: attack the QB or stay patient and stay on your receiver or assignment.

“I could be instinctive like ‘he’s coming your way, I’ve got to stop him’ but not just yet because - especially in the field of play - even I forget where the line of scrimmage is,” said Rowe. “So you know what I do is I stay back long enough till i know for sure he’s past because if I drop my coverage and he throws it over me, that’s on me.”

That’s exactly what happened to Trey Flowers Sunday against Watson. He dropped back into coverage late in the 4th quarter, attempting to confuse the rookie with a different look. Watson somehow escaped the clutches of 4 defenders, remarkably emerging from the crowded pocket. He stayed flush with the line of scrimmage but Flowers got caught in no man’s land, eventually coming forward. It was then Watson flipped a ball over the defensive end’s head into that vacated zone. The result was a 31-yard catch and run by D’Onta Freeman.

“It was just about awareness, finishing and focusing on the task,” admitted Flowers today. “You have to understand that guys are going to break the pocket, and act accordingly. If you’re covering, you have to plaster the receivers and yeah, it’s a zone, but you gotta mess with receivers and challenge ‘em man to man.”

Flowers said the challenge this week is slightly different though because while Watson is a wiry 220 pounds or so, Newton is listed at 245 and has been known to weigh in the 260s.

“You just got to be physical with him, knowing that just because he’s big, he can also run fast and is very agile,” he said. “You gotta break down and get him down when you have the opportunity.”

Or else.

And there have been far too many “or else” moments for this Patriots defense. So while the belief is they’ll fix what ails them, or at least make it look a hell of a lot better than it has, there isn’t an overwhelming sense of confidence that’s coming from the players. And confidence is critical in Bill Belichick’s eyes.

“Things that we're confident in we do more aggressively, we do quicker, we do with probably better overall execution than things we're not confident in, that we maybe have to wait and have that little bit of hesitation to make sure that something’s right or make sure you’re doing the right things,” he said earlier this week. “It’s a fine line there between confidence and overconfidence and taking it for granted, as opposed to just being right in that sweet spot of having an edge, having confidence, being alert and aggressive, but not too far that way that if something happens a little bit differently that you're caught off-guard. We just try to find that sweet spot in there for it.

Players have been asked that this week, about finding the “sweet spot” or gelling. The answers hardly flow with passion and belief, although to be fair, sometimes - not always - that’s just the way the organization wants their players to speak

“We’re working to get better every day,” said Kyle Van Noy. 

“It’s a process each and every day,” added Elandon Roberts. 

“One of the things that you’re going through in September is a lot of guys finding their role, getting a fit in," said Flowers. “Keep getting better. That’s the goal.”

Maybe the Pats are just baiting us, baiting the Panthers. Or maybe those players that have been around long enough aren’t seeing the types of consistency in play and approach. But Sunday is a real opportunity to make it happen, and keep a struggling offense down. “Get right” or get ready for another week of questions wondering why.


Browns' GM John Dorsey says dumping Kenny Britt "was an easy decision"


Browns' GM John Dorsey says dumping Kenny Britt "was an easy decision"

After a nearly ineffective performance against the Miami Dolphins, it appeared that injuries were finally catching up to the Patriots.

A few days after their dreadful Monday Night Football performance, the team moved to sign wide receiver Kenny Britt. The receiver has not had the most productive 2017 but put up 1,000 yards receiving as recently as last year.

Britt is healthy, and Patriots fans will look for him to help out a struggling offense immediately. But can the wide receiver put his troubled past in Cleveland behind him?

John Dorsey, during his first full day as GM, made it a priority to immediately cut Britt. Today on WKNR 850 Cleveland, Dorsey ripped into the former Browns wide receiver.

"I have no problem making that decision,'' Dorsey said today on "The Really Big Show'' with Aaron Goldhammer on WKNR, a radio partner of the Browns. "From a cultural standpoint, I don't think he fits in the prototypical character point of what I'm looking for in terms of a leader. He did not live up to his expectations as a player.''

Dorsey went on to add that Britt "may have a higher opinion of himself than I have of him as a player, so I thought that was easy.''


No days off: Brady present at Patriots practices, says he's 'feeling better'


No days off: Brady present at Patriots practices, says he's 'feeling better'

FOXBORO -- Over the course of the last three weeks, Tom Brady has taken Wednesdays to receive some extra treatment. This week? No days off.

In a slight change from what has become the norm since he's been listed on the injury report with an Achilles issue, he has been out there for Patriots practice on both Wednesday and Thursday. He's been a full participant at both sessions. 

"Just feeling better," he said on Thursday. "Short week so try to get out there to practice. I try to take it week to week and I'm feeling really good this week so I'm happy about that."

Brady let go of a handful of throws on Monday night that looked . . . off . . . and he took a few shots from Miami's buzzing front-seven so it's hard to know exactly how well he's feeling. But if all's well, that's obviously a very good sign for a player who is about to face a team that he's historically carved up. 

Before the season, still stinging from Brady's performance against them in the AFC title game, the Steelers acknowledged that they would have to change things up defensively if they wanted a different result against him. 

Though Brady explained that Pittsburgh will mix up its coverages, they still look like the same defense he's come to know quite well over the years. 

"Within their zone there's always man elements," he said. "It looks like the Steelers to me. They've had the same defense for a long time. Whatever they decide to do, we'll be prepared for it. We prepare for everything. We'll go out there and cut it loose on Sunday."

And what of the off chance that the Steelers do shift gears drastically? What if jettison the zone pressure schemes they're known for and pull something else -- maybe some of the Cover-1 looks the Dolphins used on third down Monday night -- out of their hats? 

Brady wasn't all that concerned about being faced with the unexpected.

"I mean, I think at this point in the year, it’s not like you’re going to go reinvent your whole defense in Week 15," he said. "They’re ranked pretty high. They do a lot of things well. I’m sure they’re going to want to continue to do those things well. They rush good, they’re tight in coverage, they mix their schemes in – zone and man and blitzes – and they do it on all three downs. They don’t make it easy for you.

"Now, for us, it’s just being on alert. We’re going to try to go out and play the way we play, too, and that’s what makes for a good game. They’ve had a lot of good teams over the years. These are always pretty big matchups and this is a big one for both of us."