Patriots vs. Eagles Instant Overreactions: New England's dominant defense is back?

Patriots vs. Eagles Instant Overreactions: New England's dominant defense is back?

Sunday's Week 11 game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles was nothing like their previous meeting in Super Bowl LII. 

The Eagles won that Super Bowl 41-33, but points were hard to come by this weekend at Lincoln Financial Field. The Patriots escaped with a 17-10 win in a game that, at one point in the fourth quarter, saw punts on 10 consecutive drives.

There was a lot to analyze despite the lack of scoring, so let's take a look at four instant overreactions and assess their merit.

1. Ben Watson will be a receiving threat at tight end
: Overreaction

Watson gave his best performance of the season with three receptions for 52 yards, including a 19-yard catch to set up 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line in the first quarter. But unless we see Watson put up these numbers on a consistent basis, it's too early to call him a legitimate receiving threat at tight end at 38 years old. He wasn't even targeted once in the Patriots' four trips to the red zone. That's the area of the field where Watson has to help replace the loss of Rob Gronkowski.

2. Patriots' red-zone offense is a huge concern
Verdict: Not an overreaction

The Patriots drove into the red zone three times in the first half and scored zero touchdowns. The second trip inside the 20-yard line was the most painful. New England had 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line and Brady threw three consecutive incompletions to force head coach Bill Belichick to bring on the field goal unit. Brady nearly threw an interception on that second red-zone drive, too. He has two red zone interceptions this season after throwing just two of them in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 campaigns combined.

The Patriots averaged just 2.1 yards per carry in the first half, and that might explain the hesitancy to run despite being inside the 5-yard line. Sony Michel and the offensive line as a whole have struggled in short yardage situations throughout the season.

New England finished with four red zone trips overall, and its only touchdown came on a 15-yard pass from Julian Edelman to Phillip Dorsett. 

Rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry could emerge as a valuable red-zone threat at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, but it would've been unfair to expect too much of him in this area during his pro debut.

Red zone offense has been a huge issue for the Patriots. They entered Week 11 with a league-high 40 trips into the red zone but had only scored touchdowns on half of them. This weakness must be resolved ASAP if the Pats are going to come out of this difficult stretch in their schedule sitting atop the AFC standings.

3. The Patriots defense is back!
: Not an overreaction

The Eagles scored 10 points in the first half. The first three came as a result of a suspect 49-yard pass interference penalty that put the Eagles in field goal range, and their lone touchdown originally was ruled an interception before replay overturned the call. The Patriots defense dominated for the rest of the game, allowing zero points and only 170 total yards in the second, third and fourth quarters combined.

New England's pass rush was a major factor, and the game shifted toward the Patriots' favor once the front seven consistently put pressure on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The Pats tallied five sacks and hit Wentz 11 times. The Patriots also held the Eagles to 3-for-11 on third down and forced the game's only turnover (a fumble).

New England's historically dominant defense was humbled with a 37-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9. Critics quickly said the unit was overrated and only had great stats because of a soft schedule. Sunday's performance against a quality quarterback and a good offensive line was a reminder the Patriots defense really is one of the league's best.

4. No-huddle should be an offensive staple moving forward
Verdict: Not an overreaction

The Patriots ran a no-huddle offense with tremendous success versus the Ravens in Week 9, and they found more to begin the second half Sunday. New England moved at a no-huddle tempo and gained eight yards, six yards and 10 yards on the first three plays of the third quarter. They ultimately scored a touchdown to cap a 10-play, 84-yard drive that lasted just 4:11. The Patriots hurried the line on six of the nine plays on the drive, and the Eagles had little answer for it. Don't be surprised if the Patriots go back to this no-huddle offense plenty more times in 2019.

WATCH: N'Keal Harry hauls in first reception from Tom Brady>>>

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NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps officially began Tuesday, but there were some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

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The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Six New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Arizona Cardinals

OT Marcus Gilbert (August 4)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)
S Jordan Lucas (August 3)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

DT Andrew Billings (August 4)
OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (Aug. 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (Aug. 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (Aug. 2)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Indianapolis Colts

DB Rolan Milligan (Aug. 5) 
LB Skai Moore (Aug. 4)
DB Marvell Tell (Aug. 5)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Las Vegas Raiders

LB Ukeme Eligwe (August 4)
CB D.J. Killings (August 3)
DE Jeremiah Valoaga (August 3)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Miami Dolphins

WR Allen Hurns (August 4)
WR Albert Wilson (August 5)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB CJ Mosley (August 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (August 3)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)

Can Cam Newton handle being called out by Bill Belichick? Ex-Patriots DT has doubts

Can Cam Newton handle being called out by Bill Belichick? Ex-Patriots DT has doubts

Will Cam Newton be able to take the same kind of verbal upbraiding that Bill Belichick directed at Tom Brady over the years?

Kyle Love, who started his career in New England before spending the past five seasons in Carolina, has his doubts.

Love spoke with Andrew Callahan of The Boston Herald about Newton’s prospects as a Patriot.

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And while Love was high on the potential for success, he mentioned a dynamic that we’ve spoken about on NBC Sports Boston recently. How well will Cam take the heat?

“This is just my opinion, but I don’t feel like Cam can take the pressure of coaches talking down about his play,” Love told Callahan. “If he had a bad game in Carolina, the coaching staff wouldn’t say much to him because they may have felt he could be a little frail about it or maybe pout. They never really corrected to the point Bill used to correct Tom.”

It’s a very intriguing point and it will be a dynamic that Newton’s new teammates will no doubt watch closely. Will Newton feel entitled to different treatment? Will Belichick be a kinder, gentler version of himself so as not to rankle Newton?

Belichick could easily write a best-seller on sports psychology and leadership. He’s got a feel for who needs what kind of coaching and when.

Newton is a 32-year-old former superstar on a prove-it contract who’s had his football life turned upside down. Regardless of the invulnerability his social media posts try to convey, there’s probably a guy in there who’s got a shadow of a doubt about how this is going to go. He’s walked across the bridge to Belichick. An arm around the shoulder might fit better than a boot in the ass as the two men get going.

With Brady, there was a method to the meanness. First, Brady didn’t come in as the No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner. So when Belichick railed at him during his first camp, “I can’t stand it. can’t stand it, run it again! Huddle up and run it again, Brady!” Brady did it with the knowledge his chubby self could be on its way back to San Mateo.

As Brady became more accomplished, Belichick tamped down celebrity quarterback tendencies as best he could and Brady — attuned to Belichick’s worries he would go Hollywood and get soft — responded.

Belichick — knowing he had a willing target who could take the heat — would turn it up on Brady knowing the impact it would have on everyone else.

First, nobody was above criticism. Second, Brady’s response was almost always to attack back with his performance.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Should Pats give Newton a raise with newfound cap space? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Martellus Bennett recounted last May how this all worked.

“One day we were at practice and the defense is crushing us," Bennett said. "We can’t complete any passes. Sometimes they do the install and it’s just the right install. So we come into the meeting and Bill (Belichick) always had bad plays of the day and he’s just calling out Tom, ‘We have quarterbacks that can’t make throws.’

“I’m like ‘This is Tom Brady. He can make all the throws.’

"I’ve never seen coaches really call out the quarterbacks in group meetings. I sit right behind Tom because I’m the quarterback whisperer. I like to whisper in their ear when I see things. So, after we break that meeting, I go to finish my workout or whatever and Tom is in there doing dropbacks. He’s just throwing dropbacks. He’s pissed off. The next day we go 33 for 33 or something like that at practice, and from then I was just like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna be great.’ I’ve never seen anyone that didn’t shut down. He was like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna show you tomorrow.’ He just picked them apart. Take this, take that.”

"He'll call out anybody," Bennett said of Belichick. "I try not to laugh sometimes because, like, the way he does it is funny to me. I find Bill to be hilarious. But he calls everybody out. That's the first team I've been on where I felt everyone was equal."

The stories are legion.

“Bill’s going to be Bill, and he’s going to let Cam know how he feels no matter what. Everybody is treated equal, and I actually love that about Bill because that let the whole team know you’re going to be held accountable,” Love told Callahan.

“Being a professional in New England is different from being a professional in Carolina. It’s a whole different ballgame,” Love said. “Bill wants things run a certain way, wants things practiced a certain way and said a certain way in the classroom and in the media. New England is not for everybody. Every player does not fit well there physically or mentally.”

Brady’s longstanding willingness to get aired out for the sake of getting aired out eventually waned. But before it did, it was frequently cited as a lesson in what it meant to play for the dynastic Patriots.

The interplay between Newton, Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and how quickly they get comfortable is a fascinating part of this preseason.

And there’s really no time for walking on eggshells.