Friday Bag: Is Patricia starting to feel pressure as head of Patriots 'D'?

Friday Bag: Is Patricia starting to feel pressure as head of Patriots 'D'?

Every Friday we take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as we call it. Typically Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi join me in this endeavor, but I'm flying solo as those two get ready to head down to Pittsburgh. 
If you ever have any questions for us, feel free to tweet at us using the hashtag #FridayBag, and we'll get to as many as we can. 

On to the Bag . . .

TC: It’s not so much that he doesn’t value them, it’s more that guys who have that in their repertoire are asked to apply pressure in a very specific way. For instance, edge rushers in other schemes are afforded the chance to speed rush on the outside shoulder and turn the corner. That’s where strip sacks live. But it’s also where a rusher can be redirected past a quarterback who can then step up and into the area vacated and have a day. The Patriots are very disciplined in their pass rush lanes. Meanwhile, quarterbacks throwing against zone coverage will often have easier pitch-and-catch throws available to them so the ball can come out before rush arrives.

TC: You’ve had enough as well, I see, Matt. This won’t likely be the week they start sending more rushers because – again – it’s the same style quarterback that they are leery of using his feet to buy time to either hit downfield or pick up easy yards on his own.

TC: I think defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is feeling heat and hearing the criticism. This isn’t a coaching staff that responds to outside critiques on a routine basis, though, so I’m sure the pressure is more significant inside the building where the team’s inability to create turnovers and communication lapses among veteran players must be galling. The question then becomes whether it’s the players’ doing or the framework in which they’re working. And more focus is being put on the latter, it seems.  

TC: You sound frustrated, Brian. I understand. But the notion of a roster “just good enough” – like the Patriots build their team to be solid to win one playoff game then lose by two on the road? I dunno. Boil it down and consider that a healthy Rob Gronkowski in 2011 and 2012 easily could have altered the outcomes of those seasons. It’s health more than anything. HOWEVER!! What rainy day are the Patriots saving up for if they are going to ship out Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones and slice the playing time of Jabaal Sheard? The Patriots are ninth in available cap space currently ($11M) and fourth in projected available cap space in 2017.

TC: I would much rather see Barkevious Mingo running around out there than Shea McClellin. Aside from the blocked PAT last week, I just don’t know if there’s been a single play he’s made that wasn’t capable of being made by any linebacker in the league. And he looked like a donkey on roller skates in coverage last week. Sprinkle in Mingo. What’s the great harm?


TC: Sure. I think Bill Belichick is aware of them as well and has made a big deal out of it this week in talking about the problems the Patriots had with the Eagles in all three phases last year after the team’s loss to Denver on the road. This is a very important game for the Patriots coming off the loss and with next week at New York during a holiday week against a division opponent.

TC: We’ve been pounding this to a pulp all week, Nick. Let Jerod Mayo explain in this video from Monday’s Quick Slants.

MG: This is the Mr. Q mailbag because the rest of your brethren are slackers. Belichick absolutely knows LGB’s struggles in short yardage, which is why he only got one touch on the 4-play sequence at the goalline on the Pats final drive. In fact, can we discuss that one more time? Ok…thanks. I had no problem with first down and not scoring. The Seahawks scored on 7 of 9 drives. I’d have been petrified of giving Russell Wilson the ball back with any time left on the clock. 2nd down went to LGB and he mistimed his leap. If you watch the play over, James Develin threw a hell of a block that had Blount followed, he would have scored. That said, I do understand making the commitment in that split second to go up and over the top. 3rd down, again, ok with Brady sneaking but Mr. Hall of Famer needs to make sure the ball comes with him. As for 4th down, hideous play call. First guess it. Second guess it. Guess it all day. Develin was a donkey. LGB was a donkey. Bennett had a size mismatch with Earl Thomas but that would have been a longer throw. That left Gronk 1-on-1 with Chancellor, and Chancellor only had to play the fade because Coyle was undercutting the slant. Go small. Go spread. Go shotgun. That’s where Brady is best.

MG: Absolutely, Q. Those defenses were legit and Brady would have elevated those offensive weapons. The fact that Rex and the Jets got to the AFC title game two years running with Mark “Flippin’” Sanchez is pretty amazing. Think of how different we’d view Rex. Think of how insufferable he’d be with a ring or two? 

MG: No. I don’t think they do, Q. In fact, i’d say they haven’t been overly complicated thus far. It was just crappy play and crappy execution versus Seattle and at various other points over the course of the first half of the season. This defense isn’t what we thought it was. Throw the top-5 defense projections out the window, and don’t give me points against. Belichick can hang his hat on that when defending his defense, but they don’t pass the eye test and perhaps the talent test when you consider the drain in the last 10 months (Easley, Jones, Collins).

MG: Settle on your second and third corners, bring Devin McCourty a little closer to the line of scrimmage so he can be allowed to make plays and don’t be afraid to dial up some “A” gap blitzes. You remember those, right? They were highly effective in each of the last two seasons with Hightower and the departed Mr. Collins. Plug in Mingo or Elandon Roberts and let it happen. 

MG: Has any quarterback fallen harder or faster than Kaepernick? Man, he was a hell of a lot of fun to watch for a couple of years and I remember thinking that Seattle/San Fran matchup was going to be the best the NFL had to offer for years to come. Then Harbaugh left and Kaepernick’s arm went to south and now he is a shell of his former self. The only concern with him are those legs. Which means another muddled pass rush. Woohoo!

MG: It was the great Kevin Garnett who screwed up his line and yelled “Anything is possible!!!!!!!!!!!!” after the Celtics won the title in 2008. With that in mind, surely they could suck more, especially if (knock on wood immediately) something were to happen to Butler or McCourty. I’m putting this on the coaches first. Logan Ryan shouldn’t have been screwed with this year. He should have been the guy at the second corner spot and been given months to remain that guy instead of being jerked with on what seems to be a weekly basis. Has he been good? No. But I think the lack of confidence shown in Ryan has impacted the corner in the final year of his contract. I also think Pat Chung needs to be on tight ends and stay there. He did it so well for nearly two seasons. Putting him into more of a linebacker role and then pushing him back further away from the ball is messing with his head too. Settle on roles and let the players sink or swim there.

Patriots release Shea McClellin

File Photo

Patriots release Shea McClellin

Shea McClellin will be blocking kicks for somebody else next season. 

The Patriots announced Monday they've released the veteran linebacker, ending his tenure with the team after two seasons.  ESPN's Field Yates broke the news.

The Pats signed McClellin to a three-year deal prior to the 2016 season, but that was the only season in which he played for the team. McClellin missed all of last season due to injury. Prior to coming to New England, McClellin played four seasons with the Bears, who chose him 19th overall in 2012. 

McClellin's biggest contribution with the Pats came when he blocked a Justin Tucker kick in Week 14 of the 2016 season against the Ravens.

Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

AP Photo

Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

When the Patriots traded for Danny Shelton earlier this offseason, sending a 2019 third-rounder to Cleveland in exchange for the defensive tackle, they traded for a player who was already being mentored by one of their own. 

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Shelton explained that one of his agents put him in touch with former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork so that Shelton could pick up some tips from one of the best defensive tackles in football of the past 15 years. 

"For me, he’s someone that I still look up to even when he was with the Texans," Shelton said. "I got the opportunity to reach out to him and kind of pick his brain and just learn a couple of tips from him. He’s been really responsive. He’s been a guy that has been really helpful this offseason and I’m looking forward to reaching out more and learning some more from him."

When Shelton was coming out of the University of Washington in 2015,'s Lance Zierlein's "NFL comparison" was Wilfork. Both carried similar builds -- Shelton is now listed at 335 pounds -- and both were viewed as surprisingly good athletes for their body types. Shelton was also viewed as the top two-gapping tackle in the draft that year, which is exactly what the Patriots ask their interior linemen to do. 

Shelton has made good on those projections over the last couple of years. Last season, he was a key part of a Browns defense that ranked fourth against the run by Football Outsiders in terms of DVOA. In 2016, Shelton was ranked by Pro Football Focus as its eighth-best interior lineman against the run. Per PFF, he was second that year -- behind only Damon Harrison -- in terms of the number of run stops he recorded from the interior.

It's clear that Shelton, the No. 12 overall pick three years ago, understands what his strengths are. 

"Honestly, I’m just going to go with whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] wants me to do," Shelton said. "My best feature is stopping the run, so if he wants me to play at a specific position I’ll do it, and I’ll make sure I do my job for the team’s success."

So how can Wilfork help? If he has any tips on how to be a consistent player from the inside in Belichick's system, that could go a long way. Over the course of Wilfork's 13-year career, few defensive tackles were as effective from week to week and year to year. Wilfork played at least 830 snaps in four of his last five seasons with the Patriots (he was injured in 2013), and even during his two seasons with the Texans, he averaged about 600 snaps per year. He made five Pro Bowls with the Patriots and was named a First or Second-Team All-Pro four times.

In what form might Wilfork's advice on consistency be delivered? Would it be nutritional, which was an aspect of his preparation he embraced later in his career? Would it be technique-based? Would it be simply how to take the coaching dispensed inside the walls of Gillette Stadium? 

Shelton, who missed two games last season and played in 469 snaps, doesn't have a long-term contract with the Patriots to be able to prove his worth over multiple years the way Wilfork did. And he may not be asked to take on the myriad roles Wilfork was during his time under Belichick. But if Shelton can pick up some advice from Wilfork on how to stay on the field and how to help the Patriots win on first and second downs, that might make him the team's most valuable offseason addition. 

New England finished the season 20th in rush yards allowed per game, and they were 31st in yards per attempt allowed. In the Super Bowl, with run-stuffing defensive tackle Alan Branch a healthy scratch, the Patriots allowed 6.1 yards per carry to the Eagles on their way to 164 yards rushing. 

Shelton is in the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $2.03 million this season. The Patriots may not be willing to pick up his hefty $11.7 million fifth-year option for 2019, but if he can continue his upward trajectory then maybe the Patriots will work to extend him before the end of the year. 

How Wilfork impacts that trajectory, if at all, remains to be seen. But he's certainly not a bad guy for Shelton to have in his corner as the 24-year-old embarks on life with the Patriots.