Chess match with Aaron Rodgers gave Patriots defense a growth opportunity

Chess match with Aaron Rodgers gave Patriots defense a growth opportunity

The desired scenario for every team as a season progresses is … progress. Going against Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night provided another chance for growth, said Devin McCourty. And that growth often comes after plays that don’t go well.

On Monday night’s Quick Slants, Devin and his brother Jason McCourty discussed the 51-yard play early in the second half where Aaron Rodgers found Marquez Valdes-Scantling getting inside Jason McCourty on a deep post.

Jason said after the game that, realizing Rodgers was calling for enhanced protection against the blitz the Patriots were showing meant he should have backed off on the third-and-6 play. Jason initially thought the pressure would get there but when he brought players in closer to the formation, it was a sign he knew what was coming and that the blitz might not get there.

But after the play, Devin said he believed it was his mistake.

“I got mad because we’re up there moving around and I realize we should have checked out of that defense,” said Devin. “I was looking at (Rodgers) and he was talking and pointing and I’m realizing he’s figuring it out.

“Right after the play, I looked at (linebacker Kyle) Van Noy and said, ‘We should have got out of that.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ (Rodgers) knew what was coming.”

After nine games, McCourty said, he has a better feel for what everyone from front to back can deal with on the fly and how to make adjustments against a quarterback who’s figuring things out.

“We have key guys who understand what we want to do as a defense, they understand our concepts and what we’re in and can check to that’s easy for everybody and it’s been a good mesh,” he explained. “KV and (Donta Hightower) will always handle the front and I’ll only try to check into things that are easy for them to check the front and are easy for us on the back end to check into as well. That was a learning experience going against a guy like that in that situation.”

Earlier in the game, a similar “zero coverage blitz” (no safety in the middle of the field providing help) got home with Devin McCourty getting a pressure and forcing a Rodgers throwaway. But the cat-and-mouse game was on all game, said Jason McCourty.

“Early in the game, Dev and (Duron Harmon) were disguising something but they got out right before (Green Bay was) about to snap the ball. (Rodgers) saw it and he held the snap (as they backed off) and he laughed at them,” said Jason. “His poise and his knowledge of the game, he is under control and understands everything that’s going on.”

Even though Jason gave up the 51-yarder, he had a terrific game otherwise with two pass-breakups downfield and a sequence when he was covering Randall Cobb on consecutive plays that led to a Green Bay punt. 

“His play showed the character of our defense,” said Devin. “He gives up a 50-yard play, they come back at him, he takes care of the bubble screen for no gain. Third down, they come back at him he has Cobb covered, incomplete, we’re off the field. That to me was that type of game. We were gonna miss on some plays but we had to hang in there.”

Jason McCourty joked that he’s been able to make plays because he’s the corner getting help. Stephon Gilmore, he said, is out there 1-on-1 and shutting receivers like Green Bay’s Davante Adams down.

“He’s definitely the best corner in the league this year,” said Jason.

The Patriots relished the chance to face Rodgers, said Devin.

“Our D-line coach, Brendan Daly said it best on Saturday night. He said, ‘Enjoy this. There’s not many times you’ll get a chance to go against first-ballot Hall of Famers, elite of the elite among the quarterbacks to ever play. Enjoy it. You’ll tell your grandkids about it. But more important, be able to tell your grandkids you won rather than everyone else who has to tell their grandkids he dropped 400 yards and five TDs on you.”

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NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

NFL Rumors: Patriots, RB Lamar Miller agree to one-year contract

The New England Patriots added a veteran running back to their roster on Monday.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, ex-Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans RB Lamar Miller reached an agreement with the Patriots on a one-year contract.

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Miller, 29, missed the entire 2019 campaign after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason. In 2018 with Houston, he rushed for 973 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Miller's most productive NFL season came in 2014 with Miami when he tallied 1,099 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

With Miller now in the fold, he joins a Patriots running back depth chart that also consists of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris. Michel underwent foot surgery in May and was placed on the PUP list earlier this month.

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Fantasy football 2020: Projections for Tom Brady, other Bucs players

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski leaving the New England Patriots to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't just send a shockwave through the NFL. It also altered the fantasy football landscape.

The fantasy values of both the Patriots and Bucs' skill players will be much different in 2020 following Brady and Gronk's departure from Foxboro. We've gone over what to expect from the go-to guys in New England's offense, so now it's time to go over Tampa's weapons.

The obvious benefactors -- at least one would think -- of Brady becoming a Buc are his primary wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. But will their numbers, along with Brady's, see a significant increase as expected, or should we pump the brakes on the hype?

And then there are the running back and tight end positions. Can Tampa's intriguing rookie running back take over the starting job? What can we really expect out of Gronk after a year off from football?

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Here are our projections for the Bucs' key offensive players with Brady and Gronk in the fold:

Tom Brady, QB
Projected Stats
: 4,300 yards, 29 TD, 9 INT
Projected Draft Round: 5-7

Brady is set up to be a really solid starting quarterback in fantasy football this year. That being said, those who expect Brady to put up elite numbers and draft him any higher than Round 5 are just asking to be disappointed. There are going to be some growing pains in Bruce Arians' offense. Sure, having his old pal Gronk around as a security blanket will help, but it's going to take time for the six-time Super Bowl champ to get comfortable down in Florida. There's little doubt Brady's numbers will be better in nearly every category now that he has some real weapons at his disposal, just make sure you don't reach when plenty of other QBs will do just fine in the middle rounds.

Ronald Jones II, RB
Projected Stats
: 650 yards, 4 TD
Projected Draft Round: 7-9

Jones was an OK flex play at points last season, but overall he simply hasn't been the running back Tampa Bay has hoped for these last few seasons. That led to the Bucs selecting Vanderbilt product Ke'Shawn Vaughn on Day 2 of this year's NFL Draft. Jones is the No. 1 guy heading into camp, though it doesn't look like that will be the case throughout the 2020 campaign. Wait until the mid-to-late rounds to take Jones, and maybe even consider passing entirely to take Vaughn if you're so inclined to take a Bucs RB.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB
Projected Stats
: 550 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

Speaking of Vaughn, he could be a major difference-maker for the Bucs in Brady's offense this season. He rushed for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns for Vandy last season and was pretty effective through the air too, tallying 270 yards and a TD. It's always tough to count on a rookie, but it's worth the risk and the ceiling definitely seems to be higher with Vaughn than it is for Jones. The addition of McCoy, however, makes Vaughn's fantasy outlook a bit murky.

LeSean McCoy, RB
Projected Stats
: 400 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

It's impossible to now as of right now how the Bucs backfield is going to shape up in 2020. Although McCoy is a shell of what he once was, Bruce Arians definitely should find some sort of role for the 32-year-old veteran. The obvious question is whether that role will be more significant than Jones' or Vaughn's. If you're really that compelled to draft a Bucs running back, something I'd avoid entirely, it's a total toss-up and a matter of personal preference.

Mike Evans, WR
Projected Stats
: 75 receptions, 1,250 yards, 7 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

There's no question the Brady-to-Evans connection is going to excite people heading into the new season. However, I'm somewhat skeptical about how their playing styles will mesh. Brady isn't one to take many risks, and Evans made a living out of catching Jameis Winston's ridiculous jump-balls downfield. It really is impossible to know how that'll work itself out, but nonetheless we're believers in Evans' elite talent and project him as a solid WR1 again in 2020.

Chris Godwin, WR
Projected Stats
: 90 receptions, 1,350 yards, 10 TD
Projected Draft Round: 2-3

Godwin was the breakout star of the 2019 fantasy football season as he put up absolutely ridiculous numbers with Jameis Winston under center. Now, the question is whether he can do it again with Brady. That may seem like a silly question, but again we have no clue what to expect from Brady in Arians' offense and how it will differ from what Godwin thrived in a year ago. Regardless, he definitely should be one of the first WRs off the board.

Rob Gronkowski, TE
Projected Stats
: 50 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TD
Projected Draft Round: 6-8

How do you make stat projections for a guy who took a year off from football to party in Miami and join the WWE? With injury concerns to boot, that makes drafting Gronk in fantasy football an extremely risky move. Obviously, with that high risk could come high reward as Tampa's offense has the potential to be one of the best in the entire NFL and Brady is going to look to Gronk early and often as a security blanket. Draft the former Pats tight end in the middle rounds, long after guys like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz are off the board.

O.J. Howard, TE
Projected Stats: 25 receptions, 450 yards, 3 TD
Projected Draft Round: 8-10

The Bucs are going to run two-tight end sets in 2020, so don't think that Gronk's presence will limit Howard's production. In fact, it could even help it. Howard was a huge fantasy disappointment in 2019 and is out to prove he isn't a bust this year. There's also still a chance he gets traded to a TE-needy team and benefits from a change of scenery. Either way, you could do worse than Howard in the later rounds of your draft.