Patriots

Five quick thoughts: Patriots make quick work of Titans

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Five quick thoughts: Patriots make quick work of Titans

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick thoughts from the Patriots' 35-14 romp over the Titans during their Saturday night Divisional Round boogie down at Gillette Stadium . . .  

PATRIOTS 35, TITANS 14

1) The Patriots took advantage of the Titans by turning to "space plays" time and time again. Because Tennessee's second-level defenders aren't all that quick, and because the Titans in general aren't great tacklers, the Patriots seemed to be intent on stretching their opponents horizontally to give them some one-on-one matchups in space. If they could force a missed tackle or two, they'd end up with chunk gains? The results of that approach paid dividends in the first half. On the first play of the game, Brady hit Danny Amendola on a quick-hitter for six yards. Dion Lewis caught a 31-yard screen, putting his skills to use in the open field. James White's touchdown catch -- a little flip from Brady -- was an end-around play that stressed the edges of the Titans defense. Brady hit Cooks short on the sideline for a long gainer after he ran by Adoree Jackson's horrendous tackle attempt. 

2) The Patriots had breakdowns on multiple levels during Tennessee's first touchdown drive of the game. The Patriots came into the game knowing they'd have to stop the run. They also knew that they'd have to contain Marcus Mariota and keep him in the pocket. What happened on the second Titans drive of the game was that Mariota broke free for two key first-down runs and 22 yards combined. Then, when the Patriots were able to keep Mariota in the pocket and dare him to throw, they lost their matchups in coverage too often. Delanie Walker broke free for a 36-yard gain on a coverage bust. Rishard Matthews picked up a key third down. And Corey Davis hauled in a nifty one-handed touchdown off a stop-and-go move with Malcolm Butler on him in coverage. If they Patriots were going to let Mariota try to beat them from the pocket, they had to be better on the back end. 

3) Chris Hogan made his presence felt in the first half. He caught just one pass for four yards on three targets, but his catch was a four-yard touchdown and it served as an example of how he and Tom Brady see things through the same set of eyes. Running his route across the field, he saw an opening to the back left corner of the end zone and made a beeline. With Rob Gronkowski smothered despite a pick-play combination with James White, and with White doubled at the goal line, Hogan was wide open. On the previous play, Brandin Cooks read his defender's leverage incorrectly on the back end line. Brady threw to where Cooks should've been, and the pass fell incomplete. To have Hogan -- who also threw a vicious block on Wesley Woodyard during a Dion Lewis catch-and-run -- back in the fold clearly gives Brady an option he trusts. 

4) Why would the Patriots receive after winning the coin toss before the opening kick? Don't they always defer for the double-score opportunity at the end of the first half and the start of the second? Look no further than the flags atop the goal posts. With the wind playing a very real factor on Saturday night, Bill Belichick wanted to be able to decide which way his team would be headed when they had the football in the fourth quarter. By taking the football in the first quarter, they would be able to choose their direction at the start of the third. Predictably, when the start of the second half came around, the Patriots chose to defend the closed end of the stadium. That meant that in the fourth quarter, their offensive drives were moving away from the lighthouse end of the stadium. Kicking (and throwing) is typically a little bit easier when headed away from the lighthouse. 

5) The Patriots defense grabbed this game by the throat about midway through the third quarter. First Ricky Jean Francois (who got the nod to play in this one over Alan Branch) beat guard Quinton Spain clean for a first-down sack. After the play, Spain complained to left tackle Taylor Lewan that he should've had help. On the next snap, Lewan quickly looked to his left and saw Marquis Flowers hanging out. Flowers had been a Mariota spy for much of the game to that point, and so Lewan likely didn't see a rush threat. As a result, Lewan turned to his right and helped Spain -- the guy who had just been whining. As soon as Lewan took his eyes off of Flowers, the Patriots linebacker rushed and hit Mariota unimpeded for a second straight sack. Lewan never had a shot. That's what he gets for trying to be a good teammate.

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Prototypical Patriots: Daniels, Wynn would build on interior strength

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Prototypical Patriots: Daniels, Wynn would build on interior strength

The outlook for the Patriots on the interior of their offensive line is good. They have three young players who have played a lot of football together all set to return in 2018: guard Joe Thuney, guard Shaq Mason and center David Andrews. Their depth looks solid as well. Ted Karras has two years in the system under his belt, and Cole Croston -- who has some versatility to play tackle or guard -- enters his second year in the program after spending all of his rookie season protected on the active roster.

So why even look at the incoming class of centers and guards?

ESPN's Mike Reiss reported that the Patriots were interested in drafting an interior offensive lineman -- almost a Logan Mankins clone from a size and athleticism perspective -- at pick No. 72 in last year's draft: Dan Feeney of Indiana. Instead, he was drafted at No. 71 by the Chargers. The Patriots ended up trading out of the pick when Feeney was gone.

Even with three young starters set to return last spring, Bill Belichick and his staff weren't afraid to add depth on the inside. The same has to be assumed once again this year, especially with Mason scheduled to hit free agency after the season.

PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS - Previously in the series:


For this exercise, we'll assume Quenton Nelson is out of New England's reach. He'd be a clear fit at guard, and he's one of the cleanest prospects in the class regardless of position. He should be gone inside the top 10 picks. We also won't include Oregon's Tyrell Crosby, Texas' Connor Williams or Auburn's Braden Smith, who some have projected to make the move inside. We included that trio in our tackles edition, but the Patriots could take any of them with the idea in mind that they should shift to guard. 

PROTOTYPES IN RANGE

JAMES DANIELS, IOWA, 6-3, 306 POUNDS
There may not be a better offensive line fit for New England in this draft. He's big enough, and his athleticism is eye-opening (30.5-inch vertical, 108-inch broad jump). He also happened to play under Kirk Ferentz in college so Daniels' transition to New England's scheme and style of play should be a relatively smooth one. Factor in the play Daniels showed on tape, and the Patriots will be interested. Unfortunately for them, there's a good chance another club is just as interested and willing to spend an early pick on the player widely considered the top center in the draft. Daniels' college teammate Sean Welsh could be a late-round (or undrafted) choice if he's deemed athletic enough. 

ISAIAH WYNN, GEORGIA, 6-3, 313 POUNDS

Wynn's hand size might be an issue since it's a full inch smaller (8 1/2 inches) than what the Patriots have typically sought in their interior line draft picks. But his arm length is 33 1/2 inches, which is more than good enough. And most importantly, his tape his tremendous. To do what he did in the SEC, small hands or not, should get him drafted in the first round. Some even believe he could stick at his last college position (he played guard and, most recently, tackle for the Bulldogs) and stick on the outside at his size. He was that good. 

FRANK RAGNOW, ARKANSAS, 6-5, 312 POUNDS

Former Arkansas coach Brett Bielema has been spotted wearing Patriots gear during the pre-draft process as he's been helping Belichick's staff with their scouting. One player he already knows very well would be Ragnow, who is considered by some to be one of the most underrated players in the draft. He's in the conversation with Daniels and Price as the best center in the class, and Pro Football Focus would argue that he is the best. His three-cone was oddly slow, but otherwise he's a good athlete who's had a lot of experience against top-notch competition in the SEC.

BILLY PRICE, OHIO STATE, 6-4, 305 POUNDS
Another very good center here. Another coaching connection for the Patriots. Price might've had a shot at being the first pivot off the board in this draft, but he injured his pec doing the bench press at this year's combine. If that injury forces him to slide to the Patriots in the second round, he could be deemed a value pick there.



AUSTIN CORBETT, NEVADA, 6-4, 306 POUNDS
Good length, big mitts, very solid athlete. Corbett is one of the best fits for the Patriots on the interior if they want to go in that direction. His 5.15-second 40 and 28-inch vertical will more than meet the mark for the Patriots, as will his 106-inch broad jump. His three-cone time (7.87 seconds) won't blow Belichick away, but it won't be enough to take him off of the board, either. 

WILL HERNANDEZ, UTEP, 6-2, 327 POUNDS
Hernandez is a little undersized, but he's a mauler in an age where linemen are generally more experienced in the pass game than the run game. When it comes to the measurables, his height (an inch shorter than what the Patriots usually like) and his vertical (24 inches) are less than ideal, but he's considered by many experts to be a first-round talent.

WYATT TELLER, VIRGINIA TECH, 6-4, 314 POUNDS

Teller is another fit from an athletic standpoint since his 40 time (5.24 seconds), vertical (29 inches), broad (114 inches) and three-cone (7.45 seconds) were all good. His play dipped in 2017, according to some experts, but if the Patriots believe he's a good option late on Day 2 or early on Day 3, he could be available. 

SCOTT QUESSENBERRY, UCLA, 6-4, 310 POUNDS

Everyone is talking about UCLA tackle Kolton Miller as the draft approaches, but Quessenberry deserves a little pub himself. He checks all the athletic markers the Patriots look for, and he started for almost four full years in a Power 5 conference. His experience, his versatility to play guard or center, and his movement skills could have the Patriots interested on Day 3. 

MASON COLE, MICHIGAN, 6-4, 305 POUNDS

Cole may not be as explosive as some others in this draft class (23.5-inch vertical), but he's coming from a pro style offense where he was a starter for four years at both left tackle and center. He's not the kind of specimen that will be drafted in the top-100, in all likelihood, but he's an interesting Day 3 option. 

ROD TAYLOR, OLE MISS, 6-3, 320 POUNDS

Taylor is on the heavy side compared to interior linemen the Patriots have drafted in the past, but he's an explosive athlete for his size (30.5-inch vertical, 99-inch broad), and he has experience at tackle. If the Patriots feel like Taylor can play multiple spots, or if they feel like he'd be an even better athlete if he loses some weight, they may be intrigued enough to spend a pick on the SEC product late.  

KJ MALONE, LSU, 6-4, 303 POUNDS

No surprise that NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone's son would meet the athletic testing numbers to compete at the next level. He was by no means a dominant tackle for the Tigers, but he could be a late-round interior option for the Patriots if they like his potential. Malone's teammate at LSU, Will Clapp, might be an even better fit given his size (6-5, 314), his position flexibility, and his reputation as a player with very strong intangibles.  Q1

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Gronkowski says 'no' to optional workouts in strange press conference

Gronkowski says 'no' to optional workouts in strange press conference

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski held a strange press conference on Saturday, which he attended in full Supercross gear. Even for the goofy Patriots tight end, that's a little odd.

But what made it even more head-scratching is that the presser occurred inside Gillette Stadium, about a 15-second walk away from the Patriots weight room, which Gronkowski steered clear of last week during the team's first few voluntary workouts of the offseason. 

Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran described Tom Brady and Gronkowski's absence from the workouts as part of an "open revolt" earlier this week. Gronkowski's presence in the building Saturday didn't have the feel of a peace offering. 

Told that fans would wonder why Gronkowski was able to make it to One Patriot Place for a Supercross event and not for workouts -- workouts which are traditionally extremely well-attended in Foxboro -- he cracked, "Training for this dirt-biking."

Asked if he planned on attending optional workouts that are upcoming, he answered, "No." He then added, "I've got dirt-biking skills to work on."

After avoiding a few questions on the topic of whether or not he would return to the Patriots in 2018, Gronkowski did seem to hint that he planned to play football next season, drawing laughter from a crowd that included Gronkowski's father, one of his brothers and multiple friends, including former Patriots Stevan Ridley and Rob Ninkovich.

How much weight should be put into comments made by Gronkowski during a press conference that was, essentially, one long promotional joke? Debatable. But the fact that he was willing to show up to the place he avoided during the week, then have a good laugh about his future with the team that he's captained the last two seasons? That might not sit very well with those who are looking ahead to the upcoming season and wondering about the All-Pro tight end's plans.

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