Time to remove the 'yeah, buts...': Patriots defense is really this good

Time to remove the 'yeah, buts...': Patriots defense is really this good

FOXBORO – Ode to the Greatness of the Patriots defense, Volume VI.

Thursday night, they broke “The Curve.”

For a month-and-a-half, everyone’s been all “But who have they playyyyeedddddd….” And everybody else was agreeing, like, “I knooooowwwwww…”

Doesn’t matter anymore.

You may still want to chip, chip, chip away at the brilliance of the defense, pick every nit and wonder what they’d look like if they’d seen a REAL offense, but the overwhelming evidence they’ve piled up through six games has rendered the qualifiers moot.

They really are this good and their omnipotence isn’t just thanks to the poop emojis in shoulder pads that they’ve dispatched.

Opposing offenses have embarked on 74 drives against them.

Five of those drives ended with points. Three of them ended with touchdowns. The Patriots have ended five of those drives with touchdowns – two punt block TDs (including one Thursday night), two pick-sixes, one scoop and score fumble return (Kyle Van Noy on Thursday night; thanks to Disco Mike Hurley for the legwork on that.

They’ve forced 44 punts through six games. They have 14 picks and 25 sacks. Here are the pick and sack totals from the past few seasons.

2018: 18 and 30

2017: 12 and 41

2016: 13 and 34

2015: 12 and 49

2014: 16 and 40

2013: 17 and 47

2012: 20 and 37

2011: 23 and 40.

So they already have more picks in six games than they had in three of their past four seasons.

They allowed their 10th third-down conversion of the season last night (10 for 73, 13.7 percent conversion rate).

They’ve allowed four trips to get to their 20 four times in six games.

“They’re a stellar defense,” said Giants left tackle and former Patriot Nate Solder.” They got a great system and if you plug in a couple of guys that are willing to work hard and do what they’re told and are physical, they make it work. I think they have a couple special guys. (Dont’a) Hightower’s a special guy. (Jamie) Collins is a special guy and they are the versatile guys that have really made it a versatile defense. … (Kyle)Van Noy is very smart, very capable and he does a great job within the system.”

That the Patriots defense is very, very good isn’t a surprise. They were excellent at the close of last season. They lost a great player in Trey Flowers but the additions (Collins, Chase Winovich, Michael Bennett), improvements (Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Jonathan Jones) and returns (Ja’Whaun Bentley) have made this go from a very, very good defense to – I’ll say it again – a historic one.

Prior to the snap, they are extremely hard to figure out. Post-snap, their execution is so good at all three levels that it’s hard to string together enough plays to even generate first downs.

“They have players who’ve been together a really long time and understand the defense,” said Giants receiver Golden Tate.

Tate scored the first receiving touchdown of the season against the Patriots, a 64-yarder that he pulled in despite tight coverage from Jones. “What makes them tough is they can be in dime (six defensive backs) package, quarter package (four players deep, three playing zone at the linebacker level), nickel package (five DBs) against our three-receiver set, they can be in base (3-4 with four DBs). It makes it tough to identify who’s who.”

Tough for everyone. For the line to sort out who’s going to rush and who’s going to drop from the front-seven. For the quarterback to determine man or zone defense and sense whether there will be pressure (five rushers) or a blitz (six rushers). For the receivers to determine what kind of route to run since there’s so much presnap uncertainty.

And after the ball is snapped, there’s the physical element that – honestly – was lacking in past years. The health of Hightower, the growth of Collins, the athleticism of Van Noy, the presence of Gilmore, the development of Lawrence Guy, Shelton and Butler … all of it combined is having a trickle-down effect. It’s like compound interest.

“For years now – decades – they’ve been a sound team,” said Tate. “Fundamentally. All the time. That’s what makes them tough. And at the same time, they bank on the other team screwing up. You look at …. How many turnovers have they earned over the last five weeks (16 plus two blocked punts). Those guys find a way to get to the ball. Their defensive line puts pressure on the quarterback week in and week out. They’re playing very well.”

Tate played with one of the best defenses of this century in Seattle. He saw the 2014 Patriots which was a very good crew. He’s got an appreciation for football history. Could these Patriots – who’ve allowed 27 defensive points so far – be regarded as a team making history? “I suppose they could and I suppose they should. They’re playing very well together. I don’t know how to consider them but they’re playing very well and they definitely did a good job against us.”

There is and will continue to be great resistance to the notion that what the Patriots are doing this season is historic. The collection of quarterbacks, offenses and teams they've faced is just too sorry.

That's perception.

Reality is that they haven't just handled these teams, they've humiliated them. Like pros vs. college kids type domination. Attention should be paid.

To every opposing quarterback that's been bundled or is about to be, the Patriots should apologize and say, "It's not you. It's me."

Every week, there's a qualifier that downgrades what the Patriots are doing. Ben Roethlisberger was hurt. The Dolphins are trying to lose. Luke Falk is Luke Falk. Josh Allen stinks. Washington laid down. Now, it's Daniel Jones is a rookie and the Giants left their stars at home. There's a measure of truth to all of it. But even so, it shouldn't be this lopsided.

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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.