Patriots

Postcard from Camp: Saints make a visit

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Postcard from Camp: Saints make a visit

Day 14 at camp was something new and different. The Patriots finally had a chance to hit players that weren't their teammates as the Saints came to town for the first of two joint practices.

WEATHER
Another perfect day at Gillette. Temperatures in the 80s. Bright sun. Few clouds. Good opportunity to work on a farmer's tan.

WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads for everyone. The only red jerseys on the field were worn by the quarterbacks on both sides. Jon Bon Jovi, who was in attendance as a guest of Robert Kraft, wore Levis.

WHAT THEY DID
2:00-2:30 Teams warmed up and stretched.

2:30-2:45 Players broke off into positional groups and worked on drills.

2:45-3:00 This is when the Pats and Saints began the intermingling process. Both teams ran one-on-one drills with receivers and tight ends trying to beat safeties and corners. Linemen from both teams squared off in pass rush drills, while backs did their best to stuff linebackers in pass protection drills.

3:00-3:05 Patriots punted to the Saints here. Matthew Slater stood out as the best gunner on the field. Zoltan Mesko was hanging them high and long.

3:05-3:15 Both teams went through 7-on-7s at this point. Drew Brees showed off his pin-point accuracy, hitting tightly-covered receivers for diving grabs. Former Patriot David Thomas beat Bobby Carpenter for a nice laid-out grab in the end zone. Dont'a Hightower and Carpenter -- two of the new guys -- seemed to communicate well when the Saints went in motion. No blown coverages by the Pats.

3:15-3:20 Saints punted to the Pats here. Edelman had the highlight of this brief session with a few quick moves that would have sprung him for a huge gain, and maybe a touchdown, had it been a 100 percent live situation. Steven Ridley also got some time in the punt return game, but as a punt rusher.

3:20-4:15 Here's where we got to see both teams go at it in 11-on-11 work. Kyle Arrington started at the right corner spot in the Patriots' base package, not Ras-I Dowling. When the team brought in another defensive back, Arrington bumped down into the slot and Dowling went to the outside. Arrington didn't necessarily look uncomfortable on the outside, but he did get beat long by Joseph Morgan for the Saints' longest pass play of the day. Patrick Chung had a tough day trying to deal with Jimmy Graham. He got beat on a couple different occasions and also let an easy pick slip through his hands. Steve Gregory got a chance to show his stuff as a pass rusher, coming in off the edge on at least two occasions. Tom Brady was lucky that it wasn't a game situation because Saints players busted through the Patriots tattered offensive line more than once. Will Smith had his way with Nick McDonald, who was playing left tackle at one point. Though he didn't hit a ton of big plays, Brees appeared to be in mid-season form, moving through his progressions quickly and making accurate passes to several different receivers.

WHAT WE SAW
Dont'a Hightower (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) was able to stick with little Darren Sproles (5-6, 190) as Sproles ran a route out of the backfield. Sproles ended up dropping the pass from Drew Brees, but Hightower showed impressive quickness to not be thrown by Sproles' mid-route cuts.

Hernandez stretched out to make a fantastic one-handed catch downfield from Hoyer. The TE was less happy when he couldn't make another one-hander over Johnson in the corner of the end zone, but that might have been the catch of the camp had he made it.

Jon Bon Jovi, Robert Kraft and Saints owner Tom Benson held a powwow before the practice session.

Members of the military got a standing ovation from the 14,830 fans in attendance as they walked around the edge of the field near the end of practice.

WHO'S HOT
Easy to see why Matthew Slater was a Pro Bowler last year. He looked nearly unblockable during Patriots punts. He was consistently the first player down the field (with two Saints chasing behind him), and he did a good job of not over-running the returner.

Brees was accurate, and though he threw one pick to Gregory, didn't seem to try to force anything. His backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles got a lot of work.

Seemed to be another pretty good day for rookie defensive end from Rutgers Justin Francis. He looked strong in drills against the Saints offensive line and made a nice play to snuff out a shovel pass from Chase Daniel to Darren Sproles.

WHO'S NOT
No Brandon Spikes again today -- he missed Monday's session as well -- so Bobby Carpenter took snaps with the first team defense.

After a solid Monday, Tom Brady went back to looking sub-par. He started okay in 7-on-7, going 9 for 11. Rob Gronkowski was held on one ball, but the other miss was an interception -- Saints LB Curtis Lofton got his hands on the ball during red zone work. He also threw a pick during the 2-minute drill when Malcolm Jenkins made a diving grab over the middle. Several missed connections were scattered over the field today.
Deion Branch had limited participation today. He's been used sparingly of late. This is one to watch . . .

CB Will Allen looked lost during one-on-one drills against Saints receivers. He got beat easily for long touchdowns on consecutive chances. He has missed some practice time of late, and it looked like he wasn't really ready to be back.

WHAT THEY SAID
"It's good to see old friends." -- Donte' Stallworth, who was drafted by the Saints in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Phil Perry and Mary Paoletti contributed to this report.

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.

Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.

Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.

Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?