Patriots

Can the Patriots again have the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense?

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Can the Patriots again have the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense?

Covering the NFL for almost 20 years allows you to make relationships with a bunch of people. So I thought I'd tap into some of those people as we gear up for New England Patriots training camp for a series of pieces about topics we've been kicking around.

The panel consists of one former Pats player still in the game, two scouts of AFC teams, one front-office member in the AFC, and one NFC scout. They all requested anonymity for obvious reasons (as the player said, "Hey, I might want to end up back there!") I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had talking to these guys.

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Today's topic: Was that No. 1 scoring defense a year ago repeatable?
 
Scout 1: Why the hell wouldn’t it be? From a talent perspective, they’re better. {Stephon] Gilmore is an upgrade over Logan Ryan. [Trey] Flowers this year, with another year of experience, is better than Flowers from last year. I’m a big believer in their three safeties [Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon]. With a secondary like that, even if it takes them time to find a consistent pass rusher, they’ll still be effective. I like the addition of David Harris too. He’s not the player he once was but to me, that’s a major league upgrade over the mismatch of bodies they used alongside [Dont'a] Hightower once Jamie Collins got sent away.
 
Scout 2:
Look, you can’t dismiss the numbers from last year. You just can’t. But I never thought they were ALL that. You have the best offense in the league. You have teams consistently chasing points. And you have an intelligent coaching staff that says, "Okay, take all the underneath stuff you want. Eventually, you’ll have to try and make a scoring play and that’s where our playmakers take over." The fact that group showed discipline is a feather in their cap, but I think they’ll miss Logan Ryan more than most do, and I think wear and tear are showing on Chung and a couple of other guys that will test their depth. They’ll be Top 10, maybe even Top 5 -- and that’ll be more than good enough -- but I don’t see a repeat. 
 
Scout 3: I’m not a fan of the Gilmore signing. I think his effort was inconsistent in Buffalo and his performance was too. Do you think [Bill] Belichick and [Matt] Patricia will tolerate that? Maybe they have no choice because of the contract and the need to make it look right, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t some hiccups there. Then you wonder how that plays with the guy across from him [Malcolm Butler]. He deserves to get paid. It didn’t impact Logan Ryan. He kept showing up, no matter how he was deployed. They aren’t a great pass rushing team to begin with and that was with [Rob] Ninkovich. I think to expect some of those journeyman types - [Kyle] Van Noy, [Shea] McClellin - to aid the rush is probably wishful thinking. Oh sure, they’ll scheme up some pressures and whatnot, and that defense will still be in the upper half of the league but I don’t see similar numbers. I just don’t.
 
Front office executive: I just looked at their schedule. This isn’t last year just based on that and that alone. [Drew] Brees. [Cam] Newton. [Jameis] Winston. [Matt] Ryan. [Philip] Rivers. [David] Carr. Some of the best receivers in football: Michael Thomas, [DeAndre] Hopkins, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, Julio Jones, [Demaryius] Thomas and [Emmanuel] Sanders in Denver, [Amari] Cooper in Oakland. That’s a pretty good reason to go out and make the Gilmore signing. I know they pride themselves on not allowing the big plays but with that group, eliminating them entirely will be difficult. And if you make that your mission, then there are catch and run plays to be had underneath. That will put pressure on what I would consider an underwhelming group at DE/OLB. Never mind if something happens to Hightower. I trust Bill and the defensive coaches to make the necessary adjustments and even go out and do something before the trade deadline to address a shortcoming.
 

Injury report: Branch out, 10 Patriots questionable

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Injury report: Branch out, 10 Patriots questionable

The Patriots final injury report before their showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday includes 10 players listed as questionable and defensive lineman Alan Branch ruled out.

Branch, who hurt his knee in the Monday night loss to the Dolphins, missed three days of practice this week. Among the questionable are linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive lineman Trey Flowers, who didn't play against Miami. Tom Brady (Achilles), Brandon Cooks (hand) and Malcolm Butler (ankle) have been removed from the injury report. 

Cornerback Joe Haden (fibula) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring) among the Steelers listed as questionable. The full injury report:

Gronkowski putting suspension behind him

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Gronkowski putting suspension behind him

FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski was not focused on the past or a lengthy press conference Friday. 

Speaking with the media for the first time since being handed a one-game suspension for his hit on Tre’Davious White two weeks ago, Gronkowski spoke for less than two and a half minutes before declaring, “I’m out” and leaving the podium. 

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“I definitely learned about it, but I’m not really here right now [to talk about that],” Gronkowski said. “With the game Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m just putting my focus on them right now. Definitely learned from the mistake that I made, for sure a couple weeks ago, the last game I played in, but we’ve got a huge game this Sunday. We’ve got a huge game as a team this Sunday, so I’m just putting all my focus into the Steelers this week.” 

The veteran tight end said that he was glad to be back practicing and playing, but tried to shift the conversation back to the Steelers when asked about the suspension. He declined to share whether he reached out to White after the late hit. 

Gronkowski’s return will be a welcomed sight for a Patriots offense that struggled last week without him. Tom Brady played his worst game of the season, completing 24 of 43 passes for 233 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in New England’s loss to the Dolphins.