Patriots

It's been an up-and-down ride for the Bills

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It's been an up-and-down ride for the Bills

THE BUFFALO BILLS
Record: 6-5
Last week: 16-10 win over Chiefs
Previous three: 0-3 (Saints, Chargers, Chiefs by a combined 136-55)
2016 record: 7-9
Coach: Sean McDermott
Offensive coordinator: Rick Dennison
Defensive coordinator: Leslie Frazier
 


THE BASICS
The Bills are on a bizarre ride. They were 5-2 at one point then – after consecutive losses – they yanked starter Tyrod Taylor and replaced him with rookie Nathan Peterman. Peterman threw five picks in the first half of a loss against the Chargers and the season appeared to have gone belly-up. But behind Taylor last week, the Bills won 16-10 at Kansas City (another team on a bizarre ride). The Bills are tied with the Ravens and Chiefs at 6-5 in the race for the sixth AFC playoff spot.


 


WHAT'S GOOD
First off, Buffalo is always a tough place to play. They are 4-1 this season and the atmosphere there is one of the first things Devin McCourty mentioned on Quick Slants Tuesday night. It’s a big factor. Additionally, they are pretty well-balanced. “There's not a lot of opportunities there when you look on the film like 'Oh, this looks good. That looks good,' “ Bill Belichick explained on Wednesday. “You're going to have to earn everything you get from this team. They play very competitively. They have a lot of tough football players, guys that play hard, that work hard, that are physical, that do a good job of controlling their area, if you will, and then some great athletic space players, obviously, like [LeSean] McCoy, like [Brandon] Tate, like [Tyrod] Taylor, guys like that, [Jerry] Hughes, in their respective areas that are really hard to deal with, hard to handle.” The Patriots haven’t seen a quarterback with Taylor’s mobility and downfield accuracy since their back-to-back games with Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson in Weeks 3 and 4. Defensively, the Bills are giving up 240 yards per game in the air and are 31st in the NFL in sack percentage. Six of their 17 sacks this season came in one game. The three-game stretch of losses messed up all their stats on defense but – aside from those where they allowed 638 yards rushing (!!!!), they allowed just 616 in their other six games.
 


 
WHAT'S NOT
They just haven’t been a terribly consistent team. The Bills have yet to top 300 yards passing. The closest they came was 285 and they let up seven sacks in that one against the Jets. Offensively, they are averaging 20.4 points per game. That’s not near enough to get it done against New England on a regular basis and that’s probably part of the reason Buffalo tried to make a switch at quarterback – to get more explosive scoring. They did – 54 for the Chargers – but that was not what they were looking for. LeSean McCoy looks like he’s beginning the slow fade from game-changer to ordinary back. He carried 22 times for 49 yards against KC last week. They can’t throw the ball outside on a regular basis. McCoy is the leading receiver with 46 catches for 295 yards and tight end Charles Clay is second with just 29 catches. Jordan Matthews has been a non-factor in the passing game for them and Kelvin Benjamin’s been hurt.

HISTORY
The Bills’ futility against the Patriots since Bill Belichick arrived has been staggering. They’ve played 34 times. Buffalo has won four (November 2000, September 2003, September 2011 and December 2014). Think about that...Belichick’s coached more than two full regular seasons worth of games against this team while he’s been the Patriots coach.

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."