Patriots

Patriots vs. Bills: What to watch for tonight

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Patriots vs. Bills: What to watch for tonight

What to watch for tonight in the Monday night showdown between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium:

1) Without Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis, what does this Pats offense look like? Heard a lot of chatter about taking more deep shots, or leaning on the run game a little more. The latter makes some sense because the Bills are average at best at the linebacker level and Mario Williams has a suspect motor. But pushing the ball downfield makes limited sense to me. It exposes Tom Brady to a pretty good pass rush, especially from Jerry Hughes on the edge and Marcell Dareus up the gut. Yes, the Pats should have all their offensive linemen in place tonight but these guys have struggled with the Bills rush before. Why risk Brady to that? I still think the Pats can operate their short, controlled passing attack with precision, using Rob Gronkowski -- Gronk, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell in that 0-to-10 yard range. Force the Bills to creep forward, then maybe take that shot. Ronald Darby has been excellent as a rookie, but the Bills like him to play off man coverage. Stephon Gilmore has been more of their in-your-face corner. Not remotely impressed by the Bills safeties, and Leodis McKelvin has been getting run there of late. A former first-round pick at corner, McKelvin wasn't great as an outside cover guy. Can he transition to dealing with the third wideout or someone like Gronk? If I'm the Pats, I'd take that matchup 100 times out of 100.

2) Is Tyrod Taylor any good? Watching him on the All-22s all week, and I can't answer the question. Maybe he is. Maybe he's not. Taylor has nice, easy mechanics and there are times he looks so calm in the pocket. But that's usually on the short stuff, where it looks at times as if it's predetermined as to where the ball's going to go. It's the moment he senses pressure -- or that clock in his head hits around two seconds -- that everything changes. That's when you see the flight instinct take over. And look, when you have the wheels that Taylor does, it's easy to see why he would want to go, however that puts the Bills signal caller in harm's way (he's already missed a couple of games because of his desire to run). It also tells me his eyes aren't remaining downfield, which has to be frustrating for what is a pretty solid receiving crew. Taylor can make all the throws, but there's a fair amount of times when he just won't let himself be in position to make those throws. We saw that way back in Week 2 and I don't think all that much has changed in that regard for Taylor.

3) The right side of the Bills offensive line hasn't been good pass protecting this year. At all. Tackle Seantrel Henderson and rookie RG John Miller have allowed a ton of pressures, hits and sacks. They're better at the run game, but some of that is because LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams are just so damn good.

4) That leads me to McCoy. He looked like his old self in that Thursday nighter versus the Jets. Quicks and cuts for days. He and Taylor pose quite a threat when the Bills go with the read option, although McCoy doesn't like blocking. Not one bit. Either guy can crease the defense. Williams provides more of that nastiness between the tackles, but I won't sell him short in the open field. He's fast and powerful. Think the Bills need to run effectively tonight to have a chance.

5) The Pats miss Jamie Collins when he's not playing because, well, the dude is a freak, capable of being a game-changer defensively. But they got by versus the Redskins and Giants because neither one of those teams had what the Bills do, in Taylor, McCoy and Williams. I think the Bills can take advantage of his absence, as Collins is probably the only guy at the linebacker level with the speed to stay in the ballpark with the aforementioned trio. Jon Freeny is not the answer. Not sure Jerod Mayo is in this kind of game, either. Wonder if we'll see more of those three-safety alignments the Pats have employed this year, with Pat Chung down in the box essentially acting as a linebacker. It's the route I would go.

6) X Factor. Rex Ryan has had and extra four days to cook up something special for Brady. His players have been talking about how they can fool Brady, that they're in a much better place than they were in week 2. Watching them, I'd agree. So what will Rex do? He knows he can't use the same plan as last time, even without Edelman and Lewis. But he trusts his corners, and usually that allows him to fool around with the other nine players on defense. Can't. Wait.

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today. we're looking at a position where the Patriots have arguably the best player that’s ever manned it in his presumed prime. But tight end is suddenly a tenuous spot for New England.

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


This became – contrary to the Patriots hopes – a one-man position. Rob Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. The rest of the tight ends – Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister and Martellus Bennett – combined for 20 catches and six of those came from Bennett who played just two games before heading to injured reserve. Gronk was – and is – the best tight end in the game and one of its most dominating offensive weapons. After losing Julian Edelman in the preseason, the Patriots offense became tremendously Gronk-reliant. They got away with it. But they clearly wanted more from Dwayne Allen than what they got or they wouldn’t have gone after Bennett when he became available.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Martellus Bennett, Will Tye, Jacob Hollister

WHO IS NOT?
All tight ends on the roster are under contract.

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Publicity grab or legitimate consideration? What exactly to make of Gronk’s reported dalliance with the WWE and his idle desire to be an action movie star (also reported)? Both have the earmarks of brand-building genius. It’s a page torn from the business plans of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard or Conor McGregor – ruminating on retirement and expressing interest in other public pursuits exponentially ratchets up public interest in both the main gig and the potential side gig. Gronk himself might not be that savvy and calculating to mildly hold the Patriots fortunes hostage but Gronk Inc. certainly is. Then again, maybe he legitimately is weighing it. The “will he or won’t he” conversation will sustain buzz and has to in some way impact the Patriots’ offseason plans. The presumption has to be that Gronk returns but this is anything but a layup. Which means the need is a Level-8

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There is a nice crop of tight ends hitting the market. Virtually all of them come with the same nagging health issues that Gronk has (had). Jimmy Graham is the biggest name in the group. His tepid blocking skills may make him unattractive to the Patriots, but never let it be said the Pats don’t like to take a flier on a once-electric player who’s on the backside. At 31, Graham’s coming off a 10-touchdown season, though his yards per catch went down to 9.1. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see New England pursue. The Eagles' second tight end, Trey Burton, is 26 and stuck behind Zach Ertz. An undrafted rookie, the kid who threw the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl is targeted sparingly in Philly but is a smooth player. He also plays special teams (boing!). Austin Sefarian-Jenkins finally got his stuff together with the Jets in 2017 and he’s only 25. He’s no dummy, he’s only acted like one in the past and it seems like he’s got a handle on it now. He’d need face-to-face vetting but he’s got upside. Then there’s Tyler Eifert. Still just 27, Eifert’s played in 10 games the past two seasons and had season-ending back surgery in the fall (it was performed by the same doctor who treated Gronk). He’s played 39 games in five seasons. Terrific talent. Always broken.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


I like this Dallas Goedert kid from South Dakota State. Also, Dalton Schultz from Stanford gets checkmarks as a blocker and competent receiver. Neither of them are first-round prospects at this point. Hayden Hurst from South Carolina and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are regarded as the top prospects. Hurst is a very good pass-catcher with a huge catch radius. He’s a 24-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirates draftee. Andrews is smooth as a receiver but not seen as a potent blocker. Same with Mike Gesicki from Penn State who’s the best athlete along with Hurst but doesn’t impress with his blocking.

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


Assuming Gronk is returning, the Patriots can go at it a number of ways. There’s not a “can’t miss” prospect out there, so drafting Hurst or Gesicki in the first couple of rounds means they’ll have to live with the shortcomings or hope they can improve them. Given other needs, they may not want to spend on “maybes” near the top of the draft. Too many drafts have been like that, especially with second-rounders. It seems unlikely they’ll be really interested in counting on either Allen or Bennett to provide anything in 2018. If they take a run at the Eagles’ Burton and pay him a crapload, Gronk will lose his mind. Screw it. They should take Hurst. We will change our minds several times between now and April but that’s where we are now.

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

Julian Edelman is grinding.

The New England Patriots receiver, who is recovering from an ACL repair surgery that ended his 2017 season, shared a quick video from his workout on Tuesday. Edelman is shown running with a resistance band and a trainer in-tow.

Edelman has posted a few tidbits on social media to show encouraging signs during his recovery since he got surgery in October after suffering an ACL tear in a preseason game. He was spotted around the locker room a few times during the final weeks of the 2017 season.

"Rehab is a [expletive]. It sucks," Edelman said in November on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take podcast." "You go in and you’re feeling decent and then you warm up, you beat it up and then you get stiff again. I mean it’s just a process and you go in six days a week and you’re going into work it, work on everything — your flexion, your extension."