Patriots

Where have Patriots LBs improved? Look at covering pass-catching backs

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Where have Patriots LBs improved? Look at covering pass-catching backs

Third quarter, Patriots versus the Raiders. Elandon Roberts lined up in the middle of the defense, the only off-the-ball linebacker on this second-down play from midfield. Roberts looked intently into the Oakland backfield, trying to decipher where quarterback Derek Carr would go on the play. 

At the snap of the ball, Carr released his running back, Jalen Richard, to the right of the formation. With the Pats playing man-to-man, Roberts had to hurry to cover the quicker, faster Richard. The second-year pro also had to skirt around a slight pick by wide receiver Amari Cooper. Successfully navigating that landmine, Roberts went stride for stride with Richard. 

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Carr still identified that as the matchup to exploit but the throw clanged off the back of Roberts’ helmet. Not the result Carr was looking for, and despite the ugliness at the tail end of the play, yet another sign of the Pats improving in an area that early in the season had been an issue.

“It's certainly a good observation,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “That's part of the process as you go through the year and understanding your opponents and what they like to do from the standpoint of plays. So certainly on that particular play where it might be a situation where they're trying to pick him or get him in a bad coverage matchup and he did a good job of getting through it.”

Covering running backs coming out of the backfield is not something that the Pats have been particularly adept at over the years. Roberts, especially, seemed lost in those spots in his rookie season. But with Dont’a Hightower lost for the season, the Pats have had to spread out some of those responsibilities and Roberts, 23, the University of Houston product, is growing in that department.

“[He's] someone that works really hard to know where his help is in both situations whether it's leveraging a run play or leveraging a pass play,” complimented Patricia. “He's really trying to learn and understand that at a much higher level which he's really trying to do a good job of.”

It wasn’t just that play and it wasn’t just Roberts. In the opening quarter, Kyle Van Noy swarmed Richard in the right flat, limiting the shifty back to just four yards. Later, Trevor Reilly quickly snuffed out a swing pass to Richard. Bill Belichick - like Patricia - has taken notice.

“I think that’s a very competitive group of players on our team,” Belichick said. “So again, just trying to work on our fundamentals, and individual techniques, and try to work each week on our opponent, and their tendencies, the way they do things to match it up against. Those guys work hard at both of those areas.”

That work will need to continue. The Pats will get two doses in three weeks of Miami running back Damien Williams, who in limited snaps has made an impact as a receiver. There’s also Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh, the skilled trio of Bilal Powell, Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire for the Jets and LeSean McCoy in Buffalo. In other words, no resting our recent success.

“We're obviously going to look at the other aspect of it too and say, 'Well this is where we think we need to improve and this is where we think we need to make sure that we have this tightened up because this showed up,'" Patricia said. "Whether or not – it could be a bad situation for us whether it's just a – maybe it's a particular look that offense gives us or a particular defensive call.

That no doubt earns a nod from the head coach, who never believes what’s good is good enough.

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New Jersey likes Patriots' chances to win Super Bowl LIII

New Jersey likes Patriots' chances to win Super Bowl LIII

New Jersey is officially open for sports betting, the third American state to do so, and if you're wondering how the oddsmakers are sizing up the New England Patriots, there's not much drama.

Taking in the scene at Monmouth Park on the first day of legalized sports betting in New Jersey, Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr relayed these odds for winning Super Bowl LIII next February in Atlanta.

Not surprisingly, the defending AFC champs lead the way at 6 to 1. But perhaps most surprisingly, the Browns don't have the worst odds in the NFL. Yes, despite an embarrassing 1-31 record over the last two seasons, the Browns currently have better odds than the Cardinals, Redskins, Dolphins and even the Bills, who are coming off their first postseason appearance in 18 years.

More Brady with Oprah: 'There's definitely an end coming...'

More Brady with Oprah: 'There's definitely an end coming...'

For those of you not spending your Father's Day watching Tom Brady's sit-down with Oprah Winfrey at 11 a.m. on Oprah's OWN channel, we have some more highlights that were released a day ahead of the show, including the Patriots quarterback seeing an end coming to his playing career "sooner, rather than later."

“I think about it more now than I used to,” Brady, who turns 41 Aug. 3, when asked about life after football.  “I think I’m seeing there’s definitely an end coming sooner, rather than later.”

"Is that end 43? 45?" Winfrey asks. 

As long as I’m still loving it,” he said. “As long as I’m loving the training and the preparation and willing to make the commitment. But it’s also, I think what I alluded to a lot in the docu-series [“Tom vs. Time” on Facebook], there’s other things happening in my life, too. I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games. My kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

Here's that clip:

In another excerpt, Brady bristles at being called the Greatest Of All Time - i.e. The GOAT.

"I don’t feel that way. I’m not attached to that feeling,” Brady said. “I don’t care whether people think that or not. I want to be the best that I can be. I know when I go out there, it’s not to compare myself to this guy or that guy. Everyone plays good.”

Brady, who skipped the voluntary portion of Patriots workouts in May, attended mini-camp June 5-7, then missed the abbreviated voluntary sessions last week, mentions that he was "practicing the last two days." 

“I still feel like I’m in it. I still feel like I’m doing it. There’s still more to be accomplished,” Brady said. “I was practicing the last two days, working on my technique, on my fundamentals, all the things with my training. I still feel like I can be better, be a percentage better. I’ve played a long time. It’s not like you go, ‘Hey man, I’m going to become something different.’ I am what I am. I know my strengths. I’ve improved on some of the weaknesses and I still think I want to go out there and compete and play with a bunch of 22-year-olds.”

For earlier highlights, where TB12 discusses the NFL players' protests during the national anthem, spirituality and his marriage to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, click here. 

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