Patriots

Tom E. Curran's takeaways: Patriots defense will send shudders through NFL

Tom E. Curran's takeaways: Patriots defense will send shudders through NFL

MIAMI GARDENS – The fixation with the Patriots offense all week and into Sunday was understandable but the performance of the New England defense over the first two weeks is what’s going to send shudders through the NFL.

That’s my No. 1 takeaway from a game that – despite the score – had plenty.

Last week, the Steelers managed just a face-saving field goal in the 33-3 drubbing administered by the Patriots. Pittsburgh punted five times, turned it over on downs twice and was picked off once while managing 175 yards of offense in the first three quarters (the yards gained in the fourth were moot).

This week, the Patriots forced Dolphins punts, had four picks (two returned for touchdowns) and – by the end of the third – Miami had 38 yards of offense. Thirty. Eight.

Going back to last year’s Super Bowl, the Patriots have allowed a total of six points in 12 quarters. The Rams were 3 for 13 on third down in the Super Bowl. The Steelers were 3 for 12. Miami was (2 for 15).

Jared Goff was 19 for 38. Ben Roethlisberger was 27 for 47. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 11 for 21 for 89 yards.

Finally, get this. There have been three drives that went inside the Patriots 30-yard line in the past three games. In the Super Bowl, the Rams got to the New England 27 in the fourth quarter and Jared Goff threw a pick. Last week, the Steelers got to the Patriots 1 and settled for a field goal. Pittsburgh also got inside the 30 on the final drive of the game when they were down 30.

Miami crossed midfield twice. The first time, they got thrown back by a sack. The second time, elated with their penetration, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a pick-6.

We expected the Patriots to be tough on defense, but this tough? Yeah. Kinda. Even with the departure of so many defensive coaches – Brian Flores, Josh Boyer, Brendan Daly and - what the hell – Greg Schiano – the Patriots were stacked defensively before they started adding in the offseason.

Bringing back Jamie Collins, adding Michael Bennett, getting a slimmed-down Danny Shelton and a healthy Ja’Whaun Bentley while drafting Chase Winovich was a matter of piling on. And the aggressiveness they’re bringing routinely dating back to the tail end of the 2018 season has changed things drastically from the team that was a white-knuckle ride for years.

On Sunday, Jamie Collins had his second straight game shooting through junk to drop a ball-carrier for a 4-yard loss. He also had a salt-in-the-wound pick-6 that followed on the heels of Stephon Gilmore’s pick-6. Shelton had a sack of Fitzpatrick when the Miami defensive line saw Dont'a Hightower coming on a blitz and went for a double of Hightower cutting Shelton loose. Patrick Chung had another tackle for loss. Devin McCourty had his second pick of the year. Adam Butler had two sacks.

With the Jets up next, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

ANTONIO BROWN'S TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT ON RECEIVING CORPS

Phillip Dorsett had three catches on three targets for 39 yards and each one had a high degree of difficulty. Meanwhile, tight end Matt LaCosse had two catches for 33 yards. There’s a lot of focus on how much Antonio Brown can do for the Patriots offense individually but the trickle-down effect of his presence makes a huge difference on the wideouts.

Dorsett is a precise route-runner with bear-trap hands but he’s not a great deep threat (unless a team decides not to cover him like the Steelers) and doesn’t give you much after the catch. So he’s not great as a primary wideout option which he was last week along with Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon and for much of 2018. Having Brown in the offense allows Dorsett to move down the chart a little bit to become more of a fourth option for Tom Brady. The same role as Danny Amendola.

As for LaCosse, he made a terrific catch on third down early in the game on a pass thrown behind him and low and later sold a blocking assignment then leaked out for a seam pass where he was left unattended. He’s definitely not yet at 100 percent on his sore ankle either.

If the Patriots can find a viable pass-catching option at tight end in LaCosse, that will add another layer to their attack.

WHY BILL BELICHICK DIDN'T TAKE HIS FOOT OFF THE GAS

Third-and-goal at the 10 with 2:15 left, the Patriots went empty and dumped a screen pass to James White for a touchdown that made it 43-0. They got down there with a deep throw to Rex Burkhead and a 17-yard dart to Julian Edelman.

Given this is the second game as head coach for Brian Flores and the rest of the former Patriots coaches on that staff and given the fact they are tethered to a shit situation down here, I figured Belichick might at least pull some punches once the matter was decided. He did not.  

My best explanation for why? Miami kept throwing. I know. Of course they would. But until the other team puts up its white flag and says it’s had enough by running the ball, the Patriots are going to play through the echo of their whistle. Not every time. But that’s my best guess. And the final play of the game, with Miami fighting to score at the buzzer, the Patriots sent Duron Harmon on a blitz to force a final pick.

GOSTOWSKI'S POOR OUTING

Stephen Gostkowski had a disastrous game missing a 48-yard field goal, and two extra points. Is it the new holder, Jake Bailey? Is it just a cold snap? Is it time to get some new legs in town? Everything is on the table, one supposes, until he gets straightened out.

O-LINE IS BANGED UP

The Patriots are now down three-fifths of their projected offensive line without David Andrews, Marcus Cannon going down last week and Isaiah Wynn leaving Sunday with a lower leg injury. That's the kind of thing that - while nobody will focus on it today - is a big deal to the coaching staff and the team going forward the next few weeks.

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Dante Scarnecchia hints at new Patriots offensive line coaching structure

Dante Scarnecchia hints at new Patriots offensive line coaching structure

Dante Scarnecchia reportedly helped the New England Patriots at this year's NFL Scouting Combine, but he's not coming out of retirement a second time.

How do we know this? Because the former Patriots offensive line coach has already named his successors.

In a recent interview with ESPN's Mike Reiss, Scarnecchia all but confirmed that Patriots assistants Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo will coach the offensive line in tandem this season.

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"They're both really good coaches and both really good people. Very, very smart guys," Scarnecchia told Reiss. "I know no one has been named, and there are reasons for that, but clearly those are the two guys that are going to do it, and I think they'll do an outstanding job.

"The other thing is they know the players. It's not like they're new, coming in from the outside. They've both been around there -- especially Cole, who has been in the system for five years. Carm for one."

The Patriots' official website (which has never been heavy on details) still lists Scarnecchia as the team's offense line coach. Popovich is listed as New England's assistant running backs coach, while Bricillo is labeled a "coaching assistant."

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Both assistant coaches have experience on the offensive line, though: Popovich was the offensive line coach at Minot State for two seasons until joining the Patriots in 2015, while Bricillo spent nine years as Youngstown State's offensive line coach before coming to New England in 2019.

The Patriots went outside the organization to replace Scarnecchia the first time he retired, naming Dave DeGuglielmo their offensive line coach in 2014. DeGuglielmo lasted just two seasons in New England, though, and it appears the Patriots are promoting from within this time to replace the legendary Scarnecchia -- who, to be clear, is not coming back in 2020.

"I've done it for 48 years. I think that's plenty," Scarnecchia told Reiss, "and I'm really, really grateful for every day, every year of those 48, and all the things it's provided us."

This NFL analyst's 2020 Patriots prediction might be boldest one yet

This NFL analyst's 2020 Patriots prediction might be boldest one yet

Finding a consensus opinion on the 2020 New England Patriots has proven to be difficult over the last few months.

One reason for that is, for the first time in two decades, we will soon see the Patriots without legendary quarterback Tom Brady, who left the franchise as a free agent in March.

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Brady was the team's starting quarterback since 2001, and he won six Super Bowl titles in his 20 years with the franchise. Brady didn't miss many games in his career. Although, when he missed almost all of the 2008 season with a knee injury, New England went 11-5 and nearly made the playoffs. In 2016, when Brady served a four-game suspension stemming from Deflategate, the Patriots went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett leading the offense at quarterback.

Even though the Patriots have enjoyed some success without Brady in a small sample size, most experts aren't expecting another great season from New England in 2020. 

NFL.com columnist Adam Schein is included in that. He recently broke down his nine bold predictions for the upcoming season, and the first one was titled, "Patriots will collapse to a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft." Here's a portion of his explanation:

The problems that ultimately led to New England's undoing down the stretch last season still exist -- in fact, they're probably even more problematic. And the Patriots no longer have the G.O.A.T. to serve as the ultimate deodorant for what stinks. The receiving corps remains underwhelming. I like the long-term upside of the two tight ends New England drafted in the third round -- Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene -- but the roster lacks a proven NFL commodity at the position. The offensive line is average at best. Same with the backfield. Defensively, the Pats went from historic during the team's 8-0 start last season to leaky in the second half of the year. And the unit lost a number of key players, including Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

What record does Schein see the Patriots earning in 2020?

This season in Foxborough has 5-11 written all over it. If everything breaks right. I think the Jaguars, Patriots and Giants are the three worst teams in the NFL right now.

Even for a bold predictions piece, this is quite bold.

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The Patriots simply have too much talent to finish 5-11.

The defense did struggle at times against better competition last season, but this unit is still loaded with talented veteran players, including the league's best secondary and the reigning AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award winner in cornerback Stephon Gilmore. 

The offensive line was among the league's best in 2018, and it took a step back last season mostly because of injuries. Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn missed a good chunk of the year with a foot injury, and starting center David Andrews missed the entire campaign due to blood clots. If healthy, this o-line should be among the 10 best in the league, especially if right guard Shaq Mason returns to his elite form after a down 2019 season.

The offense as a whole lacks a dominant playmaker, but few teams have more depth at running back than the Patriots. The receiving corps is a bit underrated, too, and this group should be plenty productive if Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu and N'Keal Harry are healthy in 2020.

Quarterback is the biggest question mark. Jarrett Stidham impressed as a rookie last year during training camp, the preseason and regular season practices. His teammates and former coaches have been singing his praises throughout the offseason, too. That said, he's only thrown four career regular season passes, so the 2019 fourth-round draft pick very much is still an unknown. Stidham has never started an NFL game, and the pressure that comes with being the guy to replace a legend like Brady is going to be challenging.

Will the Patriots extend their streak of winning 10-plus games in 2020? You could make a strong case for why that run will end. You also could argue New England's 11-year postseason appearance streak will end. But to predict the Patriots will finish 5-11 and/or be one of the league's worst teams is just a little too bold (even for bold predictions) when you look at the talent on the roster and the quality of the coaching staff.