Patriots

Patriots CB Cyrus Jones on last season's struggles: 'That's done, in the past'

Patriots CB Cyrus Jones on last season's struggles: 'That's done, in the past'

FOXBORO - Cyrus Jones wasn’t good last year. No way to sugarcoat it. He didn’t get many opportunities as a slot corner and when he did, the results weren’t what you’re looking for from a second-round draft pick.

In fact, having Andrew Hawkins on the Patriots roster this spring may be an unfriendly reminder of Week 5 in Cleveland, when the then slot receiver for the Browns scorched Jones for a touchdown, creating some six or seven yards of separation.

But it went beyond that. One of the main reasons Jones was drafted was because of his acumen as a punt returner. He took four to the house in his final year at Alabama. But Jones scuffled in training camp and those scuffles carried over into the regular season. Jones fumbled an NFL-leading five times in the return game and got the rookie a seat on the pine. There he remained, not just as a returner, but on defense, passed by an undrafted player in Jonathan Jones. 

Naturally, those struggles were going to create a lot of attention on Cyrus Jones to start Year 2. After a spotty beginning of OTAs, the 5-10 speedster had two clean days of minicamp. Until today. The first punt he attempted to field clanged off his hands. His head dropped. Flashback to last season?

“I’m just focused on this year,” said Jones. “I ain’t really interested in talking about last year.”

Jones is an interesting kid. At times last year, he was open and honest about his struggles, owning them. Then there were times when he showed his immaturity, retweeting his critics and skipping out after the Ravens game, long before the media reached the Pats locker room. Self-inflicted wounds. 

“I mean you can pinpoint a lot of reasons for you know my struggles,” said Jones was asked if he put too much pressure on himself. “Like I said before, that’s done, in the past. I’m focused on this upcoming season.”

Pressed more about his performance and what needed to be improved this year, Jones appeared to get defensive, firmly saying “nothing” before catching himself ever so slightly.

“It’s a no-brainer. You watched last year,”  said Jones. “As far as proving something, I just want to come out and be a productive player for the team. I’m not going into every day saying I need to prove this, prove that. I’m just trying to come, work hard every day and get better.”
 

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.