Lawrence Guy

NFL Rumors: Patriots do James White, Lawrence Guy a "solid" with bonuses

NFL Rumors: Patriots do James White, Lawrence Guy a "solid" with bonuses

Sure, the New England Patriots can be frugal at times. But they also reward players who prove their worth.

Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and running back James White both fall into that category, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, who shared Wednesday morning that the Patriots gave both players raises for 2019 after they narrowly missed out on 2018 contract incentives.

As ESPN's Mike Reiss explains, Guy would have earned an extra $400,000 last season for playing in 50 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps but fell just short at 49.6 percent. So, New England gave him that incentive anyway by tacking it onto his 2019 earnings as a bonus, bumping Guy's cap hit up to $4.4 million.

White, meanwhile, had a $250,000 incentive for 2018 for playing in 60 percent of the Patriots' snaps and tallying 1,200 yards from scrimmage. After he just missed both targets, the Patriots gave him a "make-up" bonus, as well.

Guy's and White's bonuses are nice gestures for two of the Patriots' more reliable contributors. They also are a form of thanks: As NESN.com's Doug Kyed points out, Guy and White hitting their incentives last season would have added an extra $650,000 to the Patriots' 2018 salary cap number, which would have subtracted from the amount they could carry over into 2019.

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Patriots run defense struggling due to breakdowns across the board

Patriots run defense struggling due to breakdowns across the board

FOXBORO -- We've been over this. The Patriots run defense has been abysmal. Especially lately. 

But why? Is finding the answer as easy as going to the nearest 300-pound defensive lineman in the Patriots locker room to ask him what's going on?

"It starts up front," said former Patriots captain and linebacker Jerod Mayo on Quick Slants The Podcast. "It always starts up front. (Defensive tackle) Malcom (Brown) isn’t playing well. He was getting pushed out of there left and right. They have to fix it . . . 

"The D-Line is playing at an F-level. Whether your run defense is good or bad, it starts at the front."

The Patriots have allowed 625 yards on 110 carries in their last five games for an average of 5.7 yards per carry. In their last two? They've given up 284 yards on 34 carries for an average of 8.4 per carry.

Not what you're looking for, as Bill Belichick might say.

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And while the defensive line has been largely to blame at times, the team's recent struggles against the run have been exacerbated by explosive gains that have come a result of failures at all three levels of the Patriots defense. 

In games against the Dolphins and Vikings, the Patriots allowed six runs of 16 yards or more that have completely decimated their rush yards allowed per carry averages. 

Consider this: Outside of those six runs, the Patriots have allowed 110 yards on 28 carries over the last two games. That's an average of 3.9 yards per carry. They'd take that. 

If you wipe out just those six plays, their 5.7 yards allowed per carry over the last five games drops to 4.3. (The No. 12 run defense in the league, Tennessee, has allowed 4.4 yards per carry this season.)

The Patriots obviously can't wipe away those six long runs, but they can be useful for identifying what has ailed their run defense in spurts. 

FIRST QUARTER, FIRST AND 10, PATRIOTS 43-YARD LINE

On Frank Gore's 36-yard run Sunday, the Dolphins ran an interesting play where they pulled their right guard and right tackle with their tight end on the left side blocking up to the middle linebacker (Elandon Roberts) on the second level. Dont'a Hightower was kicked out by the pulling guard, and Devin McCourty was wiped out by the pulling tackle following behind. Things broke down here when Laremy Tunsil (No. 78) controlled Malcom Brown, driving him back and turning him toward the middle of the field. That opened a lane for the pullers to execute their blocks, and there was no one to stop Gore until he was steered out of bounds by Duron Harmon. Good scheme by the Dolphins, but stronger play at the point of attack by Brown could've stopped this one before it started.

SECOND QUARTER, FIRST AND 10, DOLPHINS 46-YARD LINE

The Dolphins had another interesting blocking scheme cooked up on Brandon Bolden's 54-yard touchdown. The Dolphins center left Brown alone and headed immediately to the second level to seal off Roberts, allowing the right guard to down block on Brown. (It functioned almost like a "trap" play, where a guard typically pulls to take out an unblocked defender.) When the right guard blocked down, that left Lawrence Guy unchecked at the line briefly, but the tight end to the play side ended up ear-holing Guy. That "wham" block, combined with the right tackle kicking out on Kyle Van Noy, gave Bolden the lane he needed to get started. The key to the play, though, was Kenny Stills' block on Patrick Chung. Stills worked across Chung's face before Chung could react, sealing off Chung's inside shoulder. With the center blocking Roberts, that alley turned Bolden's four or five-yard gain into something much bigger. From there, Bolden beat Duron Harmon's angle to the sideline and he went untouched into the end zone. Could the front have played this better? Sure. But the play from the secondary turned a good gain into a game-breaking one.

FIRST QUARTER, FIRST AND 10, VIKINGS 45-YARD LINE

Ever heard the NFL referred to as a "copy cat" league? This is why. This is where the Dolphins got the play that resulted in Bolden's long score. Stole it right from the Vikings game plan the week prior. The center got to the second level to block Roberts. The right guard blocked down on Brown. Guy was on the receiving end of a "wham" block from the play-side tight end. The right tackle kicked out on Van Noy. There was the running lane to get things started. One difference here? Chung is playing the deep half of the field. He's not walked up to the linebacker level as he was in Miami, and he's able to eventually steer Dalvin Cook out of bounds because of it. (Had Chung been at the second level and gotten blocked by receiver Laquon Treadwell, this might've been a 55-yard touchdown.) J.C. Jackson, in coverage on Treadwell, had a shot to make this play sooner because Treadwell helped the center on Roberts. Jackson, though, assumed his man was running a route. He was oblivious to Cook running with the football until it was too late.

THIRD QUARTER, SECOND AND 10, DOLPHINS 37-YARD LINE

Ramon Humber played just two defensive snaps against the Dolphins. This was one. Coming from the second level, he charges downhill to fill the "A" gap to the left of the center. When the right guard (No. 77) pushed Brown off the line, it allowed the center to easily dispose of Humber. There was no one there to cut down Gore until Devin McCourty met him 16 yards down the field. 

SECOND QUARTER, FIRST AND 10, VIKINGS 34-YARD LINE

Cook had two 18-yard runs against the Patriots in Week 14. The first came on a stretch run to the outside where tight end Kyle Rudolph single-handedly blew things up for the Patriots linebacker level. He turned Van Noy inside and then got Hightower to run into Van Noy's back. Two-for-one. Kirk Cousins faked a flare-out throw to Stefon Diggs on the back side that held Roberts and Chung for an extra beat, allowing Cook to easily follow his blocks well into the Patriots defensive backfield. Jason McCourty was handled by the right tackle and Devin McCourty made what might've been a touchdown-saving trip-up just before getting blocked by the center. 

THIRD QUARTER, FIRST AND 10, PATRIOTS 40-YARD LINE

Brown wanted an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty here, and it's hard to tell from this angle if there should've been a call made. Regardless, Cook cut back off of Brown's inside shoulder and across the grain, allowing the left tackle to wipe out Roberts (who fell when he tried to reverse course with Cook). Good individual play there by Cook to take advantage of a front and secondary that over-pursued. His vision allowed him to get all the way to the sideline untouched 18 yards down the field. 

To sum up, on the six runs that sent the Patriots run defense from mediocre to miserable -- according to the averages -- there was plenty of blame to go around. 

Miami's 36- and 16-yarders might've been snuffed out by better play up front. Minnesota's two 18-yarders were sprung when the Patriots linebacker level was blocked easily. On the two "wham" plays, the secondary could've limited those gains significantly.

On the bright side for the Patriots, if they eliminated those six runs, suddenly the run defense wouldn't look like such an issue. And the Steelers aren't exactly world-beaters when it comes to running the football (25th in yards per carry).

But there have been enough letdowns by the Patriots in enough areas on those explosive run plays allowed that it could take some time to fix the problems. It should come as no surprise then that those issues are at the top of the to-do list for defensive play-caller Brian Flores.

"The run game’s been something that we need to do a much better job of coaching, do a better job of playing," Flores said. "We’ve got to do a better job of getting off blocks, got to do a better job with our angles in the secondary. It’s something we’re going to spend a lot of time on. It’s something we have spent a lot of time on. Teams are going to keep running the ball or attempting to run the ball until we do something to stop it. Obviously, that’s at the top of my priority list and our priority list as a defensive staff."

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Patriots' poor run defense has become a massive liability

Patriots' poor run defense has become a massive liability

Over the course of an NFL season, problems crop up.

Teams get a read on what you’re doing. They get in the lab to see how they can counter it. 

They get on the field and attack it, next thing you know you’ve got a developing issue.

For good teams, the problems are usually temporary. The coaching staff is smart enough to figure it out, the players have the acumen to understand the tweaks that need to be made and the skill to carry them out.

For the Patriots defense, the most pressing problem facing them currently is knocking down ballcarriers after they are handed the football.

They haven’t been “good” all year at stopping opposing rushing attacks but they were serviceable until the past two weeks.

But it’s suddenly gone from a reality the team can live with to a bona fide concern.

In the first half against Miami, the Dolphins ran the ball 12 times for 142 yards. There was a run-stuff on first down (followed by a 6-yard run on second-down) and a loss of 2 on a second-and-21 play just before the half. Otherwise, every run gained at least 4 yards.

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Included in there were a first-and-10 run by Brandon Bolden for 54 yards and another first-and-10 run by Frank Gore that went for 36. There was also a 16-yard run on a second-and-10 by Gore.

A week earlier against the Vikings, carries of 32, 18 and 18 all came on first-and-10 plays.

The Patriots are allowing 4.8 yards per carry for the season. They’ve allowed 625 yards on 110 carries in their last five (5.68 yards per carry).

The last time they had a capable performance against the run was against the Bills and Derek Anderson (19 for 46). That was preceded by games against Kansas City and Chicago when those teams combined for 228 yards on 42 carries. Take out the Bills game because that was less than an NFL-ready offense that day and the Patriots have allowed 5.6 yards per carry in their past seven games.

On a Tuesday conference call, Bill Belichick was asked what he attributed the malaise to.  

He noted it was a problem rooted in “team defense.”

“It starts with coaching so we’ve got to do a better job of coaching all aspects of it and executing it,” he stated. “It’s not one play. It’s a combination of our overall execution and consistency. It starts with the coaching.”

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That’s not real illuminating.  

De facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores was a bit more direct.

“The run game’s been something that we need to do a much better job of coaching, do a better job of playing,” he began. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting off blocks, got to do a better job with our angles in the secondary. It’s something we’re going to spend a lot of time on. It’s something we have spent a lot of time on. Teams are going to keep running the ball or attempting to run the ball until we do something to stop it. Obviously, that’s at the top of my priority list and our priority list as a defensive staff.”

This week, the Patriots play the Steelers. Pittsburgh has run for 206 yards in its past four games combined. Those yards came on 63 carries (3.2 yards per carry). Le’Veon Bell isn’t there. James Conner is hurt. This shouldn’t be that hard.

“It starts up front,” said former Patriots captain and linebacker Jerod Mayo on Quick Slants The Podcast. “It always starts up front. (Defensive tackle) Malcom (Brown) isn’t playing well. He was getting pushed out of there left and right. They have to fix it. And the way you fix it in the short term, the way you put a Band-Aid on that, what do you do? 

You rock a safety down. You run pressures. And what happens after that? You’re leaving guys out on an island. So it’s like pick your poison.

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“The D-Line is playing at an F level,” Mayo added. “Whether your run defense is good or bad, it starts at the front.”

Lawrence Guy and Trey Flowers have been the Patriots' best defensive linemen this season. Adam Butler has played well. But the work of the 6-2, 320-pound Malcom Brown and 6-2, 345-pound Danny Shelton has been forgettable.

Shelton, a disappointment in Cleveland, was acquired to be a replacement for Alan Branch. The mercurial, 6-6, 350-pound Branch joined the Patriots in 2014 as Vince Wilfork’s Patriots career was winding down. He was a more than adequate replacement for Big Vince.

Shelton can’t even be mentioned in the same sentence as Branch, who was occasionally dominant.

“We’ll practice to get it better,” promised Flores. “We’re on the players to get it better and I think they’ve got the mindset that they know they’ve got to get it. We’ve got to get that part of our defense. It’s got to be much better than it’s been, and hopefully we do that.

“It will start (Wednesday) in practice … We’ve talked about it, we’ve corrected it and we’ve just got to go out there and produce and simply play better in the run game... It comes back to fundamentals, technique, communication, playing physical and really as a team, just playing better run defense and obviously putting that on ourselves. It starts with me and us as coaches, and we’ll do everything in our power to right those wrongs.”

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