Friday Bag: Anybody seen the Patriots pass rush?

Friday Bag: Anybody seen the Patriots pass rush?

Every Friday we take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as we call it. After Phil Perry flew solo last week, CSN Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi are back, along with Perry, for this week’s edition.

Got a Patriots question? Tweet the trio using the hashtag #FridayBag. They’ll get to as many as they can.

On to the Bag: 

TC: Only if Gordie gets a sideline pass and wanders between the white lines. I would be shocked if Glenn Gronkowski gets elevated from the practice squad.

TC: Have heard nothing and seen nothing on the big German. I’m sure he’s around and working on rehab and conditioning but he hasn’t yet been on the practice field.

TC: I don’t think they’ve really sold out and been in many positions where they send five. They play coverage and try to keep the quarterbacks contained while guarding against big plays by dropping more guys. The stray A-gap blitzes offered by Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins are the extent of the extra pressure that gets sent for the most part and those seem to be conditional blitzes – if a back stays in, then they go. I don’t think there are many occasions where the four they rush – or three – are defeating blocks and applying pressure though. Chris Long has had the most impactful rushes, then Jabaal Sheard, then Malcom Brown.

TC: Good question. Because they look like lakes since they’re so damn big but they’re really ponds because they’re not that deep. 

TC: I’m going to say they can do both because one would be an offensive effort and the other would be a defensive priority. But the No. 1 defensive priority is going to be tackling. Tackling, tackling, tackling, tackling. And then tackling. It was horrific in the first meeting with Buffalo.

TC: Good question. Let’s stick with Massachusetts for this week but hit me back with the other five states in coming weeks. My list of the top 13 (in knee-jerk order): Howie Long, Nick Buoniconti, Fred Smerlas, Tom Nalen, Matt Hasselbeck, Pete Kendall, Mark Chmura, Bruce Laird, Billy Brooks, Mark van Eeghen, Steve DeOssie, Lofa Tatupu, Zak DeOssie. A few other names of note: Mark Hartsell, Chris Sullivan, Eric Johnson, Marc Colombo, Peter Cronan, Greg Comella, Joe Dudek, Rob Konrad. Todd Collins, Lake Dawson, James Ihedigbo, Greg McMurtry, Omar Easy, Jordan Todman, Sean Morey, Brian St. Pierre, Jim Pyne, Steve Strachan, Steve Trapilo, Paul Zukauskus, Joe Nash and Tim Hasselbeck.

TC: That’s a shade normally seen when changing a diaper. I down vote. And unfriend you.

TC: I remember in 2005 David Givens intimating that to me and – after I wrote about it – he got absolutely eviscerated by the front office and coaching staff. There have been occasions where they’ve tried to get guys to performance escalators (Deion Branch being one). But I think you’re asking if they’d hide a guy to keep him off other team’s radars? I don’t think so, Q. Not a player of impact as you seem to be indicating by framing the question around a sought-after free agent.

TC: Good question. Brandon Bolden, who I had confidence in, is regressing rapidly as a back since last year. Tyler Gaffney doesn’t inspire. You can’t go with itty-bitty sub backs between the tackles. So, yeah. Hope Blount stays upright.

TC: Because in some instances – Pittsburgh being a prime one – dropping eight so that Antonio Brown or LeVeon Bell have plenty of company when they inevitably get in space is more important than dogging Landry Jones around the offensive backfield and running the risk of Brown or Bell going the distance on you because you didn’t keep enough guys back. I understand people want to see some defensive chaos – it’s maddening to watch a guy stand back there and knock down uncontested jumpers as Jones did last week – but the 16 points and 1-for-6 scoring touchdowns on trips inside the 40 is proof it worked.

PP: It's not that the pass-rush has taken a step back, Stephen. It's that it's been downright non-existent at times that has raised some eyebrows. They're without two talented pass-rushers who were on the roster last season, but they set a franchise record for sacks in 2015, and they currently rank in the bottom-third of the league in sacks. Is that solely due to the loss of Jones and Easley? I think part of what we're seeing is game-plan related. But part of it is players a) not finishing plays or b) not winning one-on-one matchups and having a chance to finish. One player who I think will finish more frequently as the season goes on? Jabaal Sheard. He is their most talented pass-rusher, and he's seventh among NFL 4-3 defensive ends with 25 total pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), per Pro Football Focus. Eventually, some of those hits and hurries will turn into sacks.

PP: Jesus Christ?

PP: My answer to this will be Denver until another team steps up and shows that it has a defense capable of slowing down Tom Brady and his friends. When Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are right, combined with Chris Harris and Aqib Talib in the secondary, they can do just that. What will be key for the New England offense, if it does have to go through the Broncos in the postseason, will be for its running backs and offensive linemen to stay healthy. They'll need to be able to turn to a legitimate running game. When Denver pass-rushers were allowed to tee off on Brady in the AFC title game, it was as good as over. I don't care that the Broncos have an unproven quarterback. He seems good enough given what's around him. Until the Raiders prove they can defend more consistently they don't belong in this conversation. 

PP: Welcome to the Bag, Tom. It's an honor, really, to have you check in. What's interesting is that the Patriots have an open roster spot (as of Friday morning). I don't expect that to hold for long, though, so in all likelihood someone will have to be released whenever the Patriots do decide to activate Lewis -- if they decide to activate him -- in the next three weeks. There's a good chance, just based on the fact that football is a physical game that hurts people, an injury will make this decision an easier one. But if the entire 53-man roster remained healthy between now and the time of Lewis' activation, I'd say DJ Foster would be a potential candidate to go. Three sub backs (Lewis, White and Foster) at one time seems like one to many, in my opinion. Anthony Johnson is the early favorite to win the 2016 Ross Ventrone Award for most mentions on the transaction wire, so he would be a decent guess as well. 

PP: When it comes to the Derby deal, the return was too enticing for the Patriots to pass up. That they felt comfortable dealing Derby to an AFC rival in desperate need of an athletic tight end is an indication that they felt very good about sending away a former sixth-rounder to get a fifth-rounder back. How this impacts Bennett is an angle of the Derby trade I hadn't thought about, in all honesty. The argument could have been made that since the Patriots had a promising developmental tight end in their system, they had a little insurance in case Bennett could not be retained. Now that that parachute is gone, are they more likely to sell out to keep the 6-foot-7, 275-pound Harry Potter fan who has been everything they could have imagined on the field? I don't necessarily think so. If they have to, I think they'd be OK going into the 2017 season with Rob Gronkowski and figuring out the rest of the depth chart in free agency and the draft. He's not a bad guy to build around. Because of where the Patriots are contractually with several of their young studs -- particularly on defense -- the Bennett decision could be a tricky one. The 29-year-old been a revelation, but how much will he command as a free agent, and how far will the Patriots be willing to go? I think those questions would have been in play whether Derby was in town or not. 

MG: Pete. My man. Hope that Florida weather is treating you well. The answer to your question is no, at least in my opinion. And I’ll start with what LGB has earned, and that’s carries. He’s in shape, he’s running well and he’s rarely dancing before he hits the hole. If he continues to run this way, he will remain a part of the mix. The second part of this equation is what Lewis has in those wheels. Two knee surgeries in less than a year is concerning. Screws in the patella is also a worry. To expect him to come back and be the same shooting star we saw last year might be a little greedy on our part. Of course, I’ve been wrong before…

MG: Chronic, you are officially old. And the proud papa of a 14-year old girl too. My advice to you is get a bigger dog and barb wire for the fence outside the house. The boys will be knocking soon. Meanwhile, I got you that terrific Titans/Jaguars game on Thursday night football and a Bruins defense/goaltender(s) that seems to not know that the idea of the game - in part - is to keep the puck out of your own net. You’re welcome??

MG: Q, I’m sure there are a couple things up Patricia’s baggy sleeves, but for the most part, this is what the plan has called for to this point, love it or hate it.

MG: Simon, if you saw the questions from last week, you’d understand why I was agitated. Ideally, the pass rush needs to come from the edge guys who are getting all the damn snaps - Nink, Sheard, Long - but I think the Pats concerns about that issue prompted them to swing the deal for Kyle Van Noy. They thought he had a chance to be a solid edge rusher coming out of college. Detroit thought otherwise. He was miscast. Not sure how good he is, but Van Noy might get an opportunity when he picks up the scheme.

MG: Kevin, Belichick thought Rowe handled himself pretty well out there for a second straight week. I was a little harder on him, but in his defense, no one gets from point A to point B as quickly as Hayward-Bey. His hands suck, but the dude can motor. As for Ryan, his playing time has taken a hit, but don’t shovel dirt on him just yet. He’ll get another chance.

MG: Dan, Vollmer would be a great late season add, but my understanding is that it would essentially take a miracle for him to return to the field this season. 

MG: Rex does what???? He’ll never live that down, will he? Oh well. To each his own. Pats played a lot of zone that day because they were concerned about Taylor’s feet and running ability. Also, because the plan on both sides of the ball sucked that afternoon. I expect a little more aggression, and life certainly could be a lot easier if McCoy is a no go (he didn’t practice Thursday)

MG: Jimmy wants to play. If Brady keeps slinging it like this, it would take am incredible amount of balls for Belichick to move Tom out and Garoppolo in. So no, I think Jimmy will be shopped, although me personally, I wouldn’t move him this offseason unless I got a 1st and another pick/player. Too many teams with QB needs to just give him away.

MG: My man, Phil Perry, talked to the emergency tight end, a fella by the name of James Develin. If I knew how to link to the story, I’d put it RIGHT HERE.  I’d also say there’s a chance the other Gronkowski might find himself activated for Sunday’s game. Won’t that blow Rex’s mind??


Brady at bottom of ESPN's 'Dominant 20' list

Brady at bottom of ESPN's 'Dominant 20' list

Yet another ESPN list is out and Tom Brady - despite his five Super Bowl titles and his place as arguably the greatest player in America's most popular sport - again can't seem to break into the upper echelon.

Brady, who was deemed the 21st most popular athlete by the network last year in the "Fame 100", comes in at the bottom of its "Dominant 20, a list of the most dominant athletes of the past 20 years put together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ESPN The Magazine.

So, Brady checks in at the final spot, with a "Dominance Ranking" of 6.3, just behind boxer Manny Pacquiao (6.5). 

Here's part of their mathematical formula for the rankings, which must've hurt their heads to come up with as much as it will hurt yours to read.

"...Then we rated those sports' athletes in each of the past 20 regular seasons by the best single performance metric available, adjusted these ratings to normalize athletes' scores in each sport across time, narrowed our focus to the top four athletes each year in every sport, then adjusted the data again to put these players, across sports, on a common baseline..."

Oh, and Peyton Manning is No. 3 (Dominance Ranking of 12.7) on the list.

Here's the full 20:
1. Tiger Woods, golf (17.0)
2. LeBron James, NBA (15.6)
3. Peyton Manning, NFL (12.7)
4. Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR (12.0)
5. Roger Federer, tennis (10.6)
6. Annika Sorenstam, golf (10.3)
7. Michael Schumacher, Formula 1 (10.2)
8. Floyd Mayweather, boxing (10.1)
9. Marta, soccer (9.8)
10. Usain Bolt, track (9.5)
11. Lionel Messi, soccer (8.9)
12. Serena Williams, tennis (8.9)
13. Lauren Jackson, WNBA (8.3)
14. Cristiano Rinaldo, soccer (8.2)
15. Novak Djokovic, tennis (8.0)
16. Alyson Felix, track (7.3)
17. Barry Bonds, MLB (7.1)
18. Mike Trout, MLB (7.1)
19. Manny Pacquiao, boxing (6.5)
20. Tom Brady, NFL (6.3)

ESPN also ranked the most dominant teams of the past 20 years, based on their single-season dominance figured into another mind-numbing formula. Last season's Golden State Warriors take the title, just ahead of the legendary 2003-02 Australian men's national cricket team (really) and the 1998 New York Yankees.   

First from New England on the list are UConn's undefeated 2014 women's basketball national champs at No. 6. Geno Auriemma's 2000 champs, who went 36-1, are 20th. Brady's 2004 Pats, who beat the Eagles in Super Bowl 39, take the 15th spot, just ahead of the 2007 Red Sox, who swept the Colorado Rockies for their second World Series title of that decade. 


Curran: Ranking the Patriots imports so far

Curran: Ranking the Patriots imports so far

Did you know today (Tuesday) is the International Day of Happiness?

Cheese, willow trees, pool basketball in the pool, a newly-mowed-lawn and briefly turning off my headlights while driving down a dark, narrow street to scare my passengers. Those are things that make me happy.

It’s good timing.

The first few days of NFL free agency (and the legalized flirting that preceded it) created a level of unhappiness in New England because of all the exports.

All made stupid money that the Patriots really couldn’t ante up, but the contributions of Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Butler were such that a shrug and “What are ya gonna do...?” would have been an insufficient response.

So there was flipping out.

But in honor of IDOH, let’s look at imports and rank them in order of projected usefulness. It’s a happy exercise because there’s upside to each of the six signings.


A league source told me this is a Patriots 1.0 type of signing – one of those high-character players who has a well-defined strength as an edge-setter/pass-rusher. When the Patriots brought in James Harrison at the end of the 2017 season, that was their acknowledgment they didn’t have a complementary edge player opposite Trey Flowers. Clayborn’s a decade younger than Harrison, has been durable and – at 6-3, 280 – has plenty of size to bow up when attacked on the ground. The team never sufficiently replaced Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long last year (their planned move of Dont'a Hightower to the edge went kaput when he had to move back to linebacker and then got hurt). Clayborn should help do that.


McCourty was having one of the best seasons of a good career in Cleveland before an ankle injury in practice knocked him out of action last October. So, it stands to reason that there’s plenty left in the tank for Devin McCourty’s twin brother as he joins the Patriots on a very manageable deal ($3 million). He’s a free agent at the end of the year. The Super Bowl was an embarrassment for the Patriots defense. For reasons still unexplained, the team couldn’t risk putting a former Pro Bowl corner who’d played 98 percent of his team’s snaps all year on the field. And the resulting Malcolm Butler Shuffle which put Patrick Chung out of position and Jordan Richards and Jonathan Bademosi on the field cost the team a title. It boils down to Bill Belichick not believing he could count on Butler. Whatever. Jason McCourty’s an Eagle Scout, he’s never played in a playoff game and he’s happy to be in New England. He could be equal to or better than Eric Rowe and his presence – along with Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones – gives the team nice corner depth.  


This is like the McCourty deal in a way. Just as the Patriots' patience ran out with Butler, so too did it run out with Alan Branch. And vice versa, it seemed to me. The offbeat Branch was an incredibly impactful and valuable defensive tackle for the Patriots. Belichick gushed about how Branch was far-and-away their most impactful defensive lineman in 2016. And by 2017 he was a healthy scratch several times and was in street clothes for the Super Bowl while LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi ran wild. Shelton is a decade younger and while he’s smaller than the 6-6, 350-pound Branch (Shelton’s “just” 6-2, 335), he also isn’t world/NFL-weary in the same way Branch seemed to be. As the 12th overall pick in 2015, Shelton didn’t make the impact expected there. We’ve heard scheme and the Browns’ general suckitude as being the reason, but some of it has to come back to Shelton too who – Cleveland writers told me – has a tendency to lose technique in games and wear down. Huge upside potential at a position of need.


Kick returners have diminishing importance in the NFL thanks to the rule changes of the past few years but they aren’t extinct yet. And Patterson is among the most explosive in the league. Dion Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return last year. He averaged 21.1 on his other 22 returns. Patterson averaged 26.3. He can also cover punts which the Patriots will need if they intend to let Matt Slater go. His presence on offense will command attention as a gadget guy (jet sweeps, jailbreak screens) and downfield decoy. He also has had some ballhandling issues so that’s worth watching as well. Here's Phil Perry on what the Patriots are getting in Patterson. 


Tobin was a walk-on at the University of Iowa. He was an undrafted free agent that made the Eagles in 2013. I mention this as proof the guy – who has now spent five seasons in the NFL – has a penchant for doing more than anticipated. The 6-foot-6 Tobin isn’t going to replace Nate Solder. I don’t think the Patriots are pretending that he can. But with Solder gone and Cam Fleming/La’Adrian Waddle both still free agents, the Patriots need reinforcements not just at starter but as depth. Tobin will serve as that. Greg Bedard at the Boston Sports Journal (subscription required) went deep on Tobin. In short, Matt Tobin draws a shrug from me.


Poor Jeremy Hill. The fumble Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier forced Hill to commit in the 2016 AFC Divisional Playoffs led to impossibly anguished wailing from Hill and a satisfyingly painful loss for Hill’s detestable Bengals. It also allowed the Patriots to defeat the just-as-loathsome Steelers in the AFC Championship a week later. None of that has anything to do with what Hill may bring to the Patriots. But the fumble perhaps led to the drafting of Joe Mixon last April which led to Hill realizing his Cincy days were numbered and may have led to his deciding to have ankle surgery which Marvin Lewis strongly disagreed with Hill having. Hill, 25, comes to the Patriots as a goal-line, short-yardage threat who scored 29 touchdowns in 46 games for Cincy before last year’s abbreviated, low-impact season. He’ll either be better than Mike Gillislee or worse and the guy who loses that showdown probably gets released.