Patriots

Tom E. Curran's Takeaways: Uneven offensive performance a sign of the times for Patriots

Tom E. Curran's Takeaways: Uneven offensive performance a sign of the times for Patriots

FOXBORO – When the Patriots started the final drive of the first half on Thursday night, their offense consisted of wide receivers Gunner Olszewski, Jakobi Meyers and Julian Edelman. Their tight end was Ryan Izzo. Their left tackle was Marshall Newhouse. Their center was Ted Karras.

Injuries pushed several of those players into the spots they were in. Phillip Dorsett’s hamstring went last week and Josh Gordon’s ankle went while he was trying to make a tackle after Brady was strip-sacked. Newhouse is in because of Isaiah Wynn’s turf toe and Karras is in because David Andrews is lost for the year with blood clots. Tight end Matt Lacosse left with a knee injury in the first half and N’Keal Harry hasn’t played since the first preseason game because of a lower leg injury.  

But the why of it is somewhat moot. The Patriots offense hasn’t been charging up and down the field since the first quarter of the third game against the Jets.

On their first drive of the night, their drive stalled after they got stacked up on second, third and fourth down.

Later, after a Duron Harmon pick put them in business at the Giants 20, Brady found Meyers (who had an encouraging game) with a back-shoulder throw down to the Giants 2. It took three tries before Brandon Bolden crammed it in from the 1.

That Bolden was taking those short-yardage carries instead of Michel indicates that the more urgent and aggressive running style of Bolden is worth a shot since the more patient Michel isn’t a pile-moving back when there’s no room to operate.

And Bolden was getting offensive snaps, in part, because Rex Burkhead was out.

Brady wasn’t great. On the strip-sack, Izzo’s man made the play but he did the right thing running his man upfield and Brady probably could have stepped up a bit to avoid it. He also threw a pick on a pass intended to Edelman down the seam when he threw on the opposite side of the wide receiver.

The 2018 Patriots were – on both sides of the ball – incredibly healthy. That was one of the underappreciated reasons behind their run to the Super Bowl. Right now, they aren’t. The injuries are impacting the offensive performance and the offensive performance wasn’t so hot before that.

The Patriots are 6-0 but the offensive travails don’t have a chance to get better until some of their players get better. And even then, it may be a labor.

***

The numbers for Brady – 31-for-41 for 334 with two rushing touchdowns (and five carries for six yards) wound up being decent but the way they were arrived at is not what the Patriots are looking for. They clearly came out hoping to show the same kind of effectiveness on the ground they showed last week in the second half against Washington but they just couldn’t clear room for Michel who – while despite all my protests that he’s not the issue – seems to be getting more and more tentative. Hence the reps for Bolden. But the ineffectiveness of the running game (17-for 53 in the first half) meant the Patriots had to use the short passing game to augment the ground attack. And that meant a ton of throws for Brady who was 25-for-34 by the end of the first half. 

In addition to the pick and the strip-sack, there were a number of misfires. One to Meyers on a screen that Meyers came up with. Another to Izzo on a little throw out to the flat. A low throw to Edelman. Wide throws to Edelman and Izzo on the first drive of the second half. Protection and separation. Without them, a quarterback looks kind of normal. That’s what the now-deposed coach of the Redskins, Jay Gruden, said in the days before they played New England. And that’s what Brady is experiencing as well which is causing him to be less decisive.

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Bill Belichick declared there was no room at the inn when the Patriots released Benjamin Watson. But watching Ryan Izzo get walked through with great frequency was alarming. The second-year tight end is barely a speed bump on some plays. The Patriots' third-down run early in the fourth when they tried a toss to James White around the left end was a perfect example. Safety Jabril Peppers discarded Izzo and dropped White for a 2-yard loss.

***

Between the wind and the fact they had a new kicker, the Patriots decided to roll the dice on fourth down a couple of times. They got stuffed on their first attempt at the end of their first drive. On their first possession of the second half, an incompletion by Brady on fourth-and-7 from the Giants 29 was wiped out by a defensive holding penalty. When they moved five yards closer, they let Mike Nugent give it a go. His attempt from 40 hit the left upright. The laces were facing Nugent thanks to the hold from rookie punter Jake Bailey.

***

A slew of injuries hit the team Thursday night. In addition to the ones mentioned – Lacosse and Gordon – Donta Hightower left with a shoulder injury, Patrick Chung hurt his chest, Jakob Johnson hurt his shoulder. All were down for the rest of the game. J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty both missed some time but returned.  

***

In his maiden voyage as a FOX analyst, Rob Gronkowski said he’d “leave the door open” on a return. That statement followed a comment by Patriots owner Robert Kraft who noted Gronk hadn’t filed his retirement papers and that “We can always pray and hope. There is hope for us still with Gronk.” 

The filing of retirement papers is a formality. It just starts the process of players getting their post-career benefits. On one hand, you hear Kraft stirring the pot about a Gronk return when the player was clearly at wit’s end by the time he called it quits seems tone-deaf. Leave the guy alone. But if Gronk’s going to keep pushing the notion he might come back – whether he’s serious about it or just doing it to keep people showing up when he holds a press conference – then all bets are off. For what it’s worth, sources have told me several times that Gronk is not coming back.

***

Meyers and Gunner Olszewski combined to catch six of the seven balls they were targeted with for 88 yards. For Meyers, in particular, it was an encouraging performance. He may not have the offense down pat but the hands he showed in camp when everything near him he pulled in was very much in evidence Thursday night.

***
After Julian Edelman’s highlight reel diving catch that set up the Patriots final score, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur ended up on the field for some reason. Edelman, seeing Shurmur well out near the numbers, pointed at the coach and gestured at him as if to say, “What are you doing out here?” Shurmur chirped back. Edelman returned fire. Shurmur chirped back … and then they wandered away from each other glancing over their shoulders at each other.

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

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Patriots Talk Podcast: Youth - that means draft success - will have to fuel Pats' reboot

It's simple, really. If the Patriots are going to avoid staying home again after the Wild Card Round of the playoffs next season and seasons to come, they've got to get younger.

And to get younger, they've got to be more successful in the draft.

In the latest edition of Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast, Curran and Phil Perry focus on the last time New England was sent home this early in the playoffs a decade ago and if there can be lessons learned from that roster reboot in 2010. 

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The biggest issue confronting the Pats this time around is their age, which averages 31.6 years old (a 42-year-old quarterback skews that a little, of course). By comparison, the Super Bowl 54 opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs (26.8) and the San Francisco 49ers (26.6) are considerably younger.

Click here to listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: 

The age factor is why, as Perry pointed out, "the pressure is on for them to hit not only in this 2020 draft, where they do have 12 picks, they have no second-round pick, but 12 shots at the dartboard. Last year, they had 10 [picks] and nine guys are still with the team.

"It's clear they have told themselves, 'We need to get younger. We need to start hitting here if we want to sustain this success.' The draft is the lifeblood of any team."

The 2018 team and its victory in the Super Bowl over the Rams last February worked to hide some of those flaws from recent low-yield draft classes.

"They had a great quarterback when they needed him. They had a Hall of Fame quarterback when they needed him. The defense looked tremendous we know how that story played out," Perry said. 

What kind of draft yield are we talking about to fuel the next generation of Patriots' success?

Curran goes on to rattle off the names from 2008-2012 drafts (Mayo, Slater, Edelman, Vollmer, Butler, Chung, Gronkowski, McCourty) that fueled the second half of the Pats dynasty.

"I have upwards of 30 names from 2008 to 2012 who were contributing players to the Patriots. I'm not even talking a little contributing, but massive contributing...," Curran said.  

There's also a discussion of how the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady will impact the 2020 draft strategy. Listen and subscribe to Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

 

That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

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That 617 Life Podcast: Patriots' ties to a Pats-less Super Bowl

The Patriots may have been missing from the NFL's Championship Sunday, but that didn't stop them from being mentioned and having their former personnel play prominent roles in the AFC and NFC Championship Games.

Whether it was former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel coaching the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs or former New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo helping the San Francisco 49ers beat the Green Bay Packers to reach Super Bowl 54, the Patriots continue to be a talked-about team. 

On the latest edition of the "That 617 Life" podcast, Leroy Irvin, Shanda Foster and Cerrone Battle discussed how the Pats still loomed over the games on Sunday.

"You can not say anything bad about the Patriots because we are always constantly producing talent," Foster said. "I think this is the perfect testament to Bill Belichick."

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Battle said it speaks to the dominance of the Patriots the past two decades that connections to their former players and staff are now all over the league.

"That's what happens when you win," Battle said. "When you win, everybody wants a piece. They want your waterboy. Look at the new head coach of the Giants [Joe Judge, the former Patriots special teams and receivers coach]?... When you're good for 20 years eventually you're going to have your roots all over the league. After years and years of success, I'm not shocked by it."

Irvin and Foster said instead of lamenting a rare NFL Final Four without New England, Pats fans should be grateful.

"I wish Patriot Nation would grow up," Irvin said. "By that I mean I'm tired of seeing on social media people just crying and complaining, 'Oh it's boring without the Patriots.' We've had almost two decades of excellence. We're not there. Get over it."

Said Foster, "I was grateful more than anything. Filled with gratitude. We may never see a run like this again."

In his "Hot Takes and Cold Cuts" segment, Battle says those crowning the Super Bowl 54 opponents as the next dynasties might want to pump the brakes a little. 

"First thing I heard [after the games] is, 'Kansas City they're gonna be around for years and San Francisco they're gonna be around for a long time. They're gonna be contenders forever,' " Battle said. "That was the story all day. 'What is anybody gonna do about these teams next year?' What are they gonna do next year? Not even worry about them. Why? Because this is the Not For Long League. The NFL. Every year, the teams that were hot the year before are never guaranteed to be hot the year after that. Unless you're the Patriots."

The crew also gives their reactions to the new Aaron Hernandez Netflix documentary. It's all in this week's "That 617 Life" podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast network. Click here to listen and subscribe.