Patriots

Who's also responsible for building The Patriot Way?

cp-spark-friday-bag-020218.jpg
NBC Sports Boston illustration

Who's also responsible for building The Patriot Way?

Each week, Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi answer your Patriots questions in a joint mailbag, or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

MG: Tom, he will be selectively doubled because yes, he is capable of disrupting what the Patriots can do offensively on all fronts. However, the Pats can’t afford to consistently double him up because of the talent that surrounds Cox on the defensive line. Brandon Graham is a real nice player. Timmy Jernigan is a load and hard to move. Chris Long still has some giddy up coming off the edge. I love, love, love Derek Barnett. He made a big play in the NFC title game and has that potential to blow up Brady in a big way. Vinnie Curry’s very talented. See what I’m saying? A lot of guys. Can’t just eyeball one.

MG: Sarge . . . zero. His season is over in my book, though I do suspect he’ll be back next year when you consider the free agency status of both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead.

MG: In general, the Pats aren’t a blitz-happy team. I’d be surprised if they dial up more than 8 or 10 in the entire game Sunday, although I do reserve the right to change my mind depending on score, etc. What the Pats do so well is pick those moments when they need to bring extra pressure. In the AFC title game, they drew up a couple of corner blitzes from Malcolm Butler that just so happened to be timed up to fly in Blake Bortles’ face. In both instance, Bortles had to hurry and missed his throws. That’s where Matt Patricia’s feel for the game and deep knowledge of tendencies really shine through.

MG: Mikey! Most definitely, to quote Malcolm Butler (tat’s his go-to phrase). Obviously, the main goal is to pick up first downs and score points but if you can do that by controlling the clock, imposing your will on the Pats front 7 and keep Brady on the sideline, that’s the ideal way to go. Hey, the Steelers did a hell of a job with it…right up until the end.

TC: Those pundits – including the Senator Phil Perry – are dead on. The reason being Philly is so active with its substitutions and attempts to match personnel, especially in the front seven. One of the Patriots’ great roster advantages is that they have versatile players who can be power players on one down and then formation into perimeter players on the next down. For instance, Gronk and Dwayne Allen can be lined up as in-line tight ends in 12 personnel with Dion Lewis or James White in the backfield. Philly has to match that with size. The next snap, the Patriots can formation into an empty backfield and split everyone out without substituting. And Philly will get stuck with a bad matchup. I’m not sure why they haven’t used it a lot. Maybe they’ve been seeing a lot of “do what we do” defenses as opposed to ones that try to match. Listen closely to Cris Collinsworth on this because he’ll be all over it. The gold standard for finding a matchup and exploiting it was Gronk on KJ Wright in SB49 split out wide to the right. Touchdown.

TC:That’s an interesting question. I think Scott Pioli and Nick Caserio both have to be in there. They are or were the point of the spear in player acquisition, and their ability to scout, pinpoint and then acquire players who’ll “fit” is everything. And they did it in myriad ways -- draft, street free agents, undrafted free agents, trades, waiver claims, practice squads. Obviously there are swings and misses on fit, character, talent level, etc. And when the Patriots do swing and miss, those mistakes are chronicled endlessly. But look at this year’s defense, for instance. At the back end, there are two Rutgers safeties people thought were overdrafted. They are both captains and leaders. Patrick Chung was re-acquired after a stint in Philly. Malcolm Butler was undrafted and Stephon Gilmore’s a big-ticket free agent. Creative. As for a couple more -- Anthony Pleasant, Kevin Faulk, Mike Vrabel, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Julian Edelman, Tedy Bruschi and Troy Brown are the epitome of guys who lead by word and deed.

TC:We all feel the same. Maybe it’s because the cult of personality surrounding the Patriots with Brady, Belichick and Gronk -- their mystique and place in history -- is the storyline as opposed to the football. We are much deeper into the “what does it meeaaaannnnn…” then what will happen. Further, I think this event is covered with the interest being in highlighting stories a broader audience will find digestible.  Nuts and bolts, X's and O's stories aren’t as sexy and don’t yield the same traffic as a story parsing what Tom Brady means when he asks “Why does everyone want me to retire?”

PP: Bold prediction, Dones? Dion Lewis will catch a screen pass for a touchdown of 20 yards or longer. The Patriots offensive plan will try to use Philadelphia's aggressiveness against it, and the screen game should be a go-to option on Josh McDaniels' play sheet. Don't be surprised if one gets called in a crucial situation. The Patriots have been a much better screen team late in the season than they were early.

PP: Lot of interest in the big man this week. The Eagles are a run-first team. They want to control the clock. Having Alan Branch on the field could help the Patriots deter Philly from keeping it on the ground . . . but here's the thing: The Patriots have already faced two run-heavy offenses in the postseason and Branch has been a non-factor. Unless he had a dominant week of practice, I'm finding it hard to believe he'll have much of a role in this game. He could be inactive. 

PP: Special teams are always underplayed, but the Patriots seem to hold a clear advantage in the kicking game. Rick Gosselin's widely-respected special-teams rankings -- Bill Belichick has referenced them in the past as an indicator of special teams efficiency -- have the Patriots listed as the third-best unit in football. The Eagles are 13th. One other storyline that's been relatively underplayed? The effectiveness of Brandin Cooks and his ability to fight for the football will be critical. Eagles corners like to play off-coverage and drive hard on shorter routes because they know their pass-rush will force the football to come out quickly. Cooks will have to be ready to make catches with corners bearing down on him. And if Cooks can get one of Philly's defensive backs to bite hard on a double-move, he'll have the opportunity to make a game-changing play. 

PP: Double-dipping! When it comes to Nelson Agholor, I think it will depend where he aligns. If he's in the slot, I'd expect it to be Eric Rowe. If he's outside, I'd expect it to be Malcolm Butler. Agholor's skill set matches best with Butler, but the Patriots like Rowe in the slot. Interesting game-within-the-game situation there. On question No. 2: Doors to the stadium open at 1 p.m.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Report: Bortles receives 3 year, $54m contract extension

jaguars_seahawks_blake_bortles_121017.jpg
File Photo

Report: Bortles receives 3 year, $54m contract extension

The Jaguars had plenty of talent last season, especially on defense.

But question marks remained due to some of their offensive players.

Could Blake Bortles play well enough to support the strong play of the Jacksonville defense?

He delivered this past season and helped bring the team to the AFC Championship. 

Now he will be in Jacksonville for several years to come.

According to a report from NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, Bortles and the Jags have agreed to a new 3-year contract worth $54m. 

Adam Schefter of ESPN confirmed the extension, adding that Bortles can earn up to $66.5m with incentives. The contract includes $26.5m guaranteed. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Anyone care to interpret this Rob Gronkowski tweet?

Anyone care to interpret this Rob Gronkowski tweet?

As he contemplates retirement to either become a wrestler or an action movie hero, Rob Gronkowski appears to be contemplating more than that.

OK, that's great. So, are you coming back to catch to touchdown passes from Tom Brady or not? 

Not quite as easy to translate as Gronk's famous "pay cut" tweet from spring 2016, is it?

The tweet doesn't shed much light on it and whether the retirement talk is for real or a "contract ploy", the Gronk question looms over the Patriots' offseason as much as the Malcolm Butler mystery. It's actually more impactful since Butler's days in Foxboro are over. Are Gronk's?

As NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran put it this week: 

They can’t just sit with their hands folded in their laps and wait until Gronk gets around to deciding. They need to know is he in or is he out? Or if he’s completely ambivalent, at which point, would trading him be a horrific idea?

"...your destiny will be not just be reached, it will just be starting." Hmmm. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE