Kony Ealy

Patriots midseason awards: Part Three

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Patriots midseason awards: Part Three

The season is halfway over and the Patriots are on their bye week, so what better time for midseason superlatives? In the third of a three-part series, Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi tell you what's worked so far . . . and what hasn't.

PART ONE Best and worst on-field happenings | PART TWO: Midseason awards

REASON TO BELIEVE

PHIL PERRY: Rob Gronkowski's health. Yes, the workload has been hefty. But Gronkowski looks explosive, and he's made it through a half-season as Brady's best weapon in the passing game and one of the team's most impactful blockers. If he and Brady are healthy, they still have the ability to keep pace with most NFL offenses. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: An effective running game. Four backs of varying skills who can keep the heat off Brady’s arm, make play-action useful and pick up the hard yards? If they keep improving, they’ll be the key to this offense.

 

MIKE GIARDI: There’s a bunch, but I’ll just drop these two names: Brady and Belichick. As long as Brady is operating at this level, the Pats have a chance (boy, I bet you’ve never heard that before). I still think, even with a somewhat uneven performance in the first half, that the offense will score every time it has the ball. That’s all about Brady. I’ve seen it too often not to believe. As for Belichick, he routinely coaches circles around the rest of these clowns in the NFL. His teams are generally smarter and almost always better prepared. This run of success in the salary cap league is unprecedented. It starts with the coach and he’s closely followed by the quarterback.


REASON TO DESPAIR

PHIL PERRY:  Lack of pass-rush options. It won't matter all that much who is in the secondary or how well they're playing if the Patriots pass rush isn't a threat to speed up opposing passers. They're thin on the edge, and they'll need the likes of Deatrich Wise, Cassius Marsh, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy to provide them something in the way of disruption. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Scattershot Steve. My confidence in Stephen Gostkowski is diminishing and this Patriots team won’t be blowing people out. He needs to be a consistent asset rather than a dice roll.

 

MIKE GIARDI: The Pats have lost two of the most irreplaceable players on their roster, Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman. They are dangerously thin on the defensive line, at wide receiver, at tight end, at linebacker and now at quarterback. I realize that every team can’t have backups who are NFL-caliber starters at every position. That’s not how the league works. But it’s been a long time since you can run down a list of depth issues at so many spots. I don’t care how good the coaching is, if a Rob Gronkowski goes down, this team is in deep doodoo. Ditto for Trey Flowers. Did you ever think an injury to Kyle Van Noy could derail the season? Yeah, me neither. Wait, actually I still don’t, but you get the point. Health is critical down the stretch.


BEST PERSONNEL HIT

PHIL PERRY: Brandin Cooks The Patriots had to hit if they were willing to give up a first-rounder, and they have. He isn't a middle-of-the-field dynamo, but on the outside Cooks is electric. He's averaging 17.1 yards per catch, and he's on pace for over 1,200 yards receiving and six touchdowns. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Johnson Bademosi. The Patriots tracked the former Stanford corner since 2012 and spent a sixth-round pick in the offseason to get him away from the Lions. He’s filled in stunningly well for the injured Stephon Gilmore.

 

MIKE GIARDI: Johnson Bademosi. He’s been a saving grace for a secondary and a defense that had been struggling mightily during the first month or so . Normally a special-teams player and special-teamer alone, Bademosi has expanded his role to become the starting corner opposite Malcolm Butler, filling in ably for Stephon Gilmore. Okay, he’s actually been far more consistent than Gilmore was before his injury. No, Bademosi isn’t better than Gilmore but he’s performed better in this short sample and at the very least has given Matt Patricia another viable option at corner. All for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick. I’d say it’s already been worth it.


BIGGEST PERSONNEL BLUNDER

PHIL PERRY: Dwayne Allen. The Patriots swapped a fourth-round pick for a sixth-rounder in order to acquire Allen, so it's not as though they sold the farm to snag him from the Colts. But his role could have been a crucial one in the Patriots offense, and now it's the opposite. Allen hasn't seen a target since Week 4 and he doesn't have a catch on the season. Undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister was playing over Allen in the two-minute drill in the first half last Sunday. 

TOM E. CURRAN: Lack of left-tackle attention. The Patriots are foot-dragging on finding Nate Solder’s understudy in a way they didn’t with Matt Light. And they are nickel-and-diming the search in a way they didn’t with Light. Solder’s not playing great and the Patriots have poor tackle depth. It concerns.

 

MIKE GIARDI: The list is a hell of a lot longer than normal in the Belichick-era. Stephen Gilmore is an easy target. I’m not going there. The last game he played was a good one. Dwayne Allen? Yeah, he’s been average at best. But I wasn’t expecting him to be an impact player so I rule him out. Trading Jimmy Garoppolo? That wasn’t my favorite but with Brady playing the way he’s playing, fine. That takes me all the back to the trade for Kony Ealy. I hear all this talk about just moving down eight spots in the draft and it was a low-risk, high-reward move. Really? They made the trade expecting Ealy to play an important role along the defensive line. Their failure to see it wasn’t a good fit, or to motivate the player, led to Ealy getting chopped before cutdown day. That’s how bad it was. Do you think they could use a player of his talent level right now? That was a rhetorical question. The answer is yes. And as the Pats struggle to get to the QB, and have to play Cassius Marsh or use Kyle Van Noy on the edge or even turn to the Flowers not named Trey, you can’t help but think “man, it sure would be nice to have Kony Ealy on the field right about now" . . . 


ASSISTANT OF THE HALF-YEAR

PHIL PERRY: Joe Judge. The Patriots' kick-coverage units have been perhaps the most consistent of any unit on the team through eight weeks. And that's with Matthew Slater missing the first quarter of the year. Credit goes to Judge and his assistant Bubba Ventrone for getting these groups, comprised of many first-year Patriots, on the same page so quickly. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Ivan Fears. The Patriots’ running back coach has James White, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead under his supervision and the way those players have improved over time is due notice.

 

MIKE GIARDI: Ivan Fears. Aside from quarterback, what position on the team has performed to or above expected levels? To me, it’s one spot and one spot alone: running back. Of the quartet of Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, only the latter hasn’t quite taken off but it’s not like Gillislee has sucked. Fears has managed to -- generally -- keep everyone happy in that group. He wins the award and I’m sure he’s already carving out space on his mantel. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Josh McDaniels: Kony Ealy 'a big part of the challenge' for Patriots vs. Jets

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Josh McDaniels: Kony Ealy 'a big part of the challenge' for Patriots vs. Jets

The Jets have all kinds of new bodies for the Patriots to smash into on Sunday.

There's the quarterback Josh McCown, who's been in the league since 2002 but has only thrown a pass against the Patriots once in his career back in 2004. There's receiver Jermaine Kearse, who arrived to New Jersey in a trade with the Seahawks just before the season began. 

There are the two rookie safeties, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, who have quickly become every-down players. And there's a defensive end who has been arguably the Jets' best defender even after missing Week 5 with a shoulder injury. 

Patriots are pretty familiar with him, though.

Kony Ealy has recorded two quarterback hits, eight hurries, five pass breakups and an interception in four games for the Jets, and he told the New York Daily News recently that he "definitely" expected to be ready to face the Patriots at MetLife Stadium.

“It’s something that’s going to be ready to go next week,” Ealy said on Friday. “Just getting a little extra recovery and doing the things necessary.”

Ealy had a rocky camp with the Patriots after arriving to New England via trade with the Panthers. The Patriots sent a second-round pick to Carolina in exchange for the fourth-year defensive end and a third-rounder. He flashed during training camp practices with the Texans in West Virginia, and he recorded three hurries in that preseason game. 

Yet for every impactful play Ealy made as a pass-rusher, there seemed to be others that opened up holes for running backs (or scrambling quarterback DeShaun Watson). He was released during the last week of August. 

"I do think he was making progress and getting better and was really working hard," Belichick said following the move. "It's just one of those things that didn’t work out or wasn’t going to work out. It’s nobody’s fault. He worked hard. We worked hard. There was a lot of effort put in, but in the end we didn’t feel like this was going to work out.

"It gives him an opportunity about a week ahead of next week to hopefully create a better opportunity for himself. I think he deserved that. He did everything we asked him to do. It just didn’t work out for either one of us like we hoped it would."

Without Ealy, the Patriots have relied heavily on defensive end Trey Flowers as well as rookies Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise. Defensive end Cassius Marsh, who arrived to the Patriots in a trade with the Seahawks just before the start of the season, has played 153 snaps on the edge. Dont'a Hightower has also filled some edge responsibilities when he's been healthy enough to play. 

According to ESPN, the Patriots have been one of the least-efficient teams in the league when it comes to sacking the quarterback through five weeks. They have recorded 10 sacks (tied for 23rd in the NFL), and they have sacks on 5.3 percent of opponent pass attempts (28th).

The Jets seem to be a good fit for Ealy thus far, and if he's healthy enough to play, he'll be one of several players the Patriots have to handle -- along with Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson -- along the defensive line. 

"He’s certainly been a productive guy for them," Josh McDaniels said of Ealy. "He’s got his hands on some balls at the line of scrimmage. I know he had the one opportunistic interception. He’s created some pressure on the quarterback. He’s one of a lot of guys that they’ve got that can do that . . . 

"They’ve got a lot of length and they can be disruptive off the edge, also. They’ve got a deep group. Kony’s a part of it now, and we certainly are familiar with some of the things with him from being in camp with him, and [he will] be a big part of the challenge that we’ve got to deal with on Sunday afternoon."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Panthers trading Ealy, signing Peppers worked better for them than for Patriots

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Panthers trading Ealy, signing Peppers worked better for them than for Patriots

FOXBORO -- In hindsight, know who would have been a bomb-ass signing for the Patriots during the offseason? Julius Peppers. 

That’s not exactly an earth-shattering take, as the Patriots are no strangers to signing stars at the end of their careers and Peppers is still a damn good player. With the Patriots’ questions on defense, the failed Kony Ealy experiment -- which is directly tied to Peppers -- and Cassius Marsh still finding his way, the 37-year-old Peppers would look pretty good on the roster right about now. Oh well. 

After three years in Green, Peppers returned home to Carolina on a one-year, $3.5 million deal. It was a move that reunited the North Carolina native with the team that drafted him second overall in 2002, an organization with which the future Hall of Famer went to a Super Bowl and was a multiple-time All-Pro. 

Through three games back with the Panthers, Peppers has 2.5 sacks. He’s averaged 10 sacks a season since 2008 and hasn’t had fewer than seven in that span. The Pats will see him Sunday.

“He’s been very productive for Carolina, then up in the NFC North and then back in Carolina again,” Bill Belichick said Friday. “They’ve used him a little bit inside, but he’s not only good defensively, he’s very good at blocking kicks, he’s a great field goal rusher."

Added Belichick: “He’s long, he’s very athletic. In some schemes, I’m sure he could play linebacker, could play outside linebacker. You talk about that kind of athlete, for as big as he is, as athletic as he is.”

The Panthers had Ealy and chose to discard him in favor of signing the aging Peppers. Carolina traded the 25-year-old Ealy, whom they chose 60th overall in 2014, to the Pats in a trade that moved the Panthers up eight spots from the early third round to the late second. Ealy didn’t make it through training camp with the Pats, as he was released and picked up by the Jets. Safe to say the Panthers' decision to sign Peppers and deal Ealy has worked better for them than it has for the Pats.