Patriots

Giardi: Time for Gilmore to earn his keep . . . now

Giardi: Time for Gilmore to earn his keep . . . now

TAMPA, Fla. -- As we were kicking around the idea of the Patriots possibly running the table and finishing 19-0 this spring and summer, we pointed to a number of positions or groupings being the best in the league or at least in the conversation.

Quarterback? Check. Wide receiver? Check. Tight end? Check. Secondary? Check.

The quarterback, a fellow by the name of Tom Brady, has lived up to that expectation. He’s on pace for 5,700 yards, 40 touchdowns and no interceptions. That doesn’t suck. The wide receiver spot took a hit when Julian Edelman tore his ACL and Malcolm Mitchell re-injured his chronically bad knee and landed on IR (with the chance to return), but points and big plays haven’t been a problem from the position. Rob Gronkowski enters Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay dealing with a quad issue that may limit him, but in each of the last three weeks, he’s been a beast, looking very much like the player who’s dominated the league when he’s been healthy.

PATRIOTS VS. BUCS

That leaves the secondary . . . 

In no way, shape or form should the defensive backfield look as awful as it has. There’s loads of experience there, not just in this league, but in this system. They return nine defensive backs who played on last year's Super Bowl-winning team: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Pat Chung, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner and Brandon King. Yes, the latter duo is, and has been, special teams only, but they attend meetings, have to know coverages and checks just like the guys that get the lion share of the snaps.

That brings us the one newcomer in the room and on the field: Stephon Gilmore. His resume is impressive. He went to the Pro Bowl a season ago with the Bills, intercepting five passes, and he was durable enough to play in all but a dozen games over his first five years in the league.

Gilmore has a first-round pedigree, coming into the league back in 2012 as the 10th overall pick. His collegiate battles at South Carolina with another high pick, Alshon Jeffrey, are legendary. His old ball coach, Steve Spurrier, said it was Gilmore’s commitment to South Carolina as the state’s Mr. Football that let the program take off, later influencing fellow Mr. Footballs -- Jadeveon Clowney and Marcus Lattimore -- to stay in state. Gilmore started every game in college, even playing some quarterback in the “WildCock” offense. He left school with a 3.2 GPA. He’s not just some guy with fast feet. He has the brains to process all of it, on both sides of the ball.

Until his arrival in Foxboro, that is.

Through four games, Gilmore is the 71st-rated cornerback on the analytic website Pro Football Focus. That’s generous. The site doesn’t take into account the miscommunications that have plagued the Pats veteran secondary, and the fact that Gilmore has been in the middle of far too many of those mental errors. I’ve outlined those mistakes on Monday Night Patriots and on my Twitter timeline.

Oh sure, he’s not the only one. Chung has been guilty, and seen his playing time decrease because of it. McCourty hasn’t played to his level. Butler got his playing time reduced in Week 2 versus New Orleans. Rowe was completely lost Sunday before re-injuring his groin.

But Gilmore sticks out like a sore thumb that just got smashed by a hammer. He is the X factor, replacing the mentally sound Logan Ryan this season. Ryan’s a player that doesn’t have Gilmore’s physical gifts but was a terrific communicator and sound tackler. Gilmore is lacking in both areas so far.

That’s why you have to believe the constant harping on communication issues by the leaders of that secondary, McCourty and Harmon, are directed at Gilmore first and foremost. As if they’re telling us it’s him but just not saying his name. Why else would the coaching staff almost immediately strip down the coverages and checks after Week 1? Why else would Harmon say “it can’t get no simpler than it is” after Sunday’s failures versus Carolina? That McCourty --- always measured, regardless of the scenario -- was emotional after the loss, and called it embarrassing? McCourty didn’t just forget how to run the secondary, but appears distracted on the field at times, trying to get Gilmore in the right place or in the right call. Ditto for Harmon. Chung is one of the team’s smarter players. Suddenly he doesn’t know how to cover bunch formations?

No, the common denominator is Gilmore. Until he figures out that communication entails not only talking but listening, what should have been one of the best secondaries in football is going to continue to get gashed for big plays and the pressure, already building, will only get worse.

Ball’s in your court, No. 24, but it won’t stay there for long. Bill Belichick has never been afraid to make hard decisions -- he sat Gilmore down to begin the third quarter Sunday before Rowe’s injury forced him to go back to his free-agent prize -- and one can only imagine what lengths the coach will go to if the 27-year old Gilmore doesn’t figure it out and figure it out soon. 

Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

marsh_patriots_112117.jpg

Patriots cut ties with Cassius Marsh, sign Eric Lee to help front-seven

Cassius Marsh was brought to New England to help a depleted defensive end group and play in the kicking game. The Patriots wanted him badly enough that they parted with two draft picks -- a fifth and a seventh -- to acquire him in a trade with the Seahawks just before the start of the season. 

Less than three months later, they've decided to part ways with the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder. 

Marsh played in nine games for the Patriots this season, providing the team with an edge defender and someone with special-teams experience. He blocked a kick in Week 7 against the Falcons that earned him an enthusiastic attaboy from coach Bill Belichick. 

Coming off the edge, Marsh recorded one sack and 13 hurries. Against the run, he was used more sparingly, and he was one of the Patriots on the scene for Marshawn Lynch's 25-yard run in the second quarter on Sunday. He played in just two snaps in Mexico City after missing the previous week's game in Denver due to a shoulder injury. 

Without Marsh the Patriots remain thin at defensive end. In order to help bolster that spot, the corresponding move the Patriots made to fill the open spot on their 53-man roster was to sign defensive lineman Eric Lee off of the Bills practice squad. 

Lee entered the league with the Texans last season as an undrafted rookie out of South Florida. Listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, Lee has bounced on and off of the Bills practice squad this season since being released by the Texans before this season.

The Patriots got a good look at Lee during joint practices last summer with the Texans at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. In the preseason game with the Texans that week, Lee played 40 snaps and according to Pro Football Focus he had two quarterback hurries. The Patriots have a history of snagging players they've practiced against, and with Lee, that trend continues

Belichick takes some heat for 'earthquake' comment

patriots_bill_belichick_092417.jpg

Belichick takes some heat for 'earthquake' comment

Bill Belichick sounded less than enthused about traveling to Mexico to play a game. And his line about being "fortunate there was no volcano eruptions, earthquakes or anything else while we were down there," didn't exactly sit well with some folks south of the border.

MORE PATRIOTS:

“Personally, I wouldn’t be in any big rush to do it again,” Belichick said on his weekly appearance on WEEI's "Dale and Holley with Keefe" show Monday. “Players did a great job dealing with all the challenges that we had to deal with. I think we’re fortunate there was no volcano eruptions, earthquakes or anything else while we were down there. I mean you have two NFL franchises in an area that I don’t know how stable the geological plates that were below us [were], but nothing happened so that was good.”

Pancho Vera of ESPN Mexico took exception to Belichick's comment on Twitter, which, translated, called out the "ignorance of the genius of the NFL." More than 200 people were killed after a quake centered near Mexico City struck in September. 

Other Twitter users said, using Belichick's reasoning, they wondered if they'd be fortunate not to be killed or wounded in a mass shooting if they were to travel to the US:

Translated, the tweets read "I also have luck in Las Vegas I was not in a shooting" and "But you are right, I apply the same when I go to the U.S. and say I was fortunate I was not in some crazy shootout."