Five takeaways from Patriots' 23-22 win over Bears


Five takeaways from Patriots' 23-22 win over Bears

FOXBORO -- Jimmy Garoppolo's two-minute drill at the end of the first half was sharp and might have been considered a pretty good way to end the night, but the Patriots brought him back out for the second half so he could simulate the feeling of going into the locker room, making adjustments, and coming back onto the field to lead the offense once again. 

In his first and only drive of the third quarter, Garoppolo went 3-for-4, including a 25-yard completion to receiver Chris Hogan. His final pass of the night should have been picked by Bears linebacker John Timu -- Garoppolo seemed to never see him -- but all in all it was a solid night for Tom Brady's replacement. He finished 16-for-21 for 181 yards and one touchdown. 

Here are four more takeaways from the Patriots matchup with the Bears, a 23-22 win for the hosts...

* Running back LeGarrette Blount seemed to put a stranglehold on the primary "big back" role for the Patriots with his performance Thursday. He ran for 69 yards on 11 carries, and more importantly he looked light on his feet. His jukes allowed him to pick up yards when there were not obvious holes to run through, and he used his 250-pound frame to finish his carries -- particularly his goal-line touchdown run -- with power. Tyler Gaffney ran hard and showed up in the passing game, but Blount was the more efficient back in terms of creating yards on his own.

* Tight end AJ Derby put together his best performance in a Patriots uniform against Chicago. His touchdown catch capped a clean two-minute drill, and it highlighted Derby's ability to make contested catches -- something he's shown throughout camp. He also reeled in the catch of the night when Jacoby Brissett hit him along the sideline for a 26-yard gain despite the fact that Derby took a massive hit as soon as he came down with the reception. Derby, a former college quarterback in his second year with the Patriots, finished with six grabs for 71 yards. He's vying for a reserve tight end role with the Patriots, and could be in competition with veteran Clay Harbor for one roster spot. 

* If you've never heard of Anthony Johnson before, don't feel bad. Somewhat of a journeyman defensive lineman over the last two seasons -- he was with the Dolphins and Redskins in 2014 and 2015 -- he signed with the Patriots in May. Thursday was a coming out party of sorts for the LSU product. He had a pass breakup, a tackle for a loss of three yards and a pressure on third down that led to an incompletion. He had practiced with the first-team defensive line at points earlier this week, and he made the most of his opportunities under the lights. 

* It wasn't all positive for the Patriots, which coach Bill Belichick will probably highlight in his postgame press conference: Justin Coleman had a difficult first quarter, which included a holding penalty; Cameron Fleming was used frequently as a tight end in heavy packages but had some issues in pass protection; Hogan and Jon Halapio were called for holding penalties; Jordan Richards missed a tackle in coverage on tight end Rob Housler that led to a long gain. 

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.