Patriots

Who's the most overrated Patriot?

Who's the most overrated Patriot?

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.

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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.

Today's topic: Who's the most overrated Patriot?

Scout 1: It’s Malcolm Butler. If you’re an elite corner in this league, you have to be able to cover all kinds of receivers. He can’t. You don’t put him on Julio Jones in the Super Bowl. He doesn’t draw AJ Green. Sure, he has the quicks to step inside and deal with Antonio Brown, but there’s no size disadvantage. To me, that’s why you don’t pay him the money [Stephon] Gilmore got. To me, that’s why Gilmore is here. Listen, it’ll work this year because now you have the big guy and an excellent number two. But if Butler thinks he’s going to make the same time of cash Gilmore did, he’s either a) getting bad advice or b) about to prey on some sucker in free agency. Would you want $7 million a year to win? Or $10-plus to be on a shitty team?

Scout 2: Mike Gilislee. What they ponied up for him doesn’t amount to a whole lot, but if you think he’s going to be an upgrade from what you had (LeGarrette Blount) or what you have (Dion Lewis and James White), then I think someone is fooling themselves. How important is durability? It may not mean everything, but it means a hell of a lot more than Gilislee can provide. He’s always dealing with something. He may be able to go laterally in a way Blount couldn’t or can’t, but will that matter when he’s inactive for six to eight weeks?

Scout 3: David Harris used to be that player you put in the lineup and never had to worry, but his ability has waned some and at this point, I think he’s a two-down linebacker and even that I’m not totally sold on. I don’t think he runs well. I know he doesn’t cover well. If I saw him out there and trusted my quarterback, I’d have him spread it out and isolate Harris. Guaranteed to scheme him right off the field. We’ve been able to do that in previous meetings. I can’t imagine it will get any better. I would have just stuck with [Shea] McClellin and [Kyle] Van Noy. Not as stout but more versatile, and isn’t that what a coach wants?

Ex-Patriot/Current Player: I’m always amused when I hear how much the game planning or scheme or coaching adjustments is always a “thing” week after week with you guys (read: media). How about the players? We’re the ones who have to process the info, then do it on the field. Sometimes we get asked to do something in a game that we never practice. Or haven’t in years. That speaks  to the intelligence of the guys I played with and the talent too.

Exec: It’s all about what you value. I may look at a player who two gaps and say, ‘I have no use for that.’ But they may look at that same player and say ‘we have to have him.’ Part of my job, part of our scouts job, is to identify who works for what we do, who else values that and who won’t get anywhere near the player. Truly, I don’t even like that word, overrated. (Okay then, what player on that roster wouldn’t you have any interest in?) Kony Ealy, but not because of a scheme fit.. He didn’t get it coming out of Missouri. Then Carolina gives up on him. Why would I trust him now?

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Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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