Who to watch in Patriots’ preseason finale

The last preseason game is upon us and once again another training camp is behind us. The most important pieces of the Patriots roster should see limited, if any, time in this one, softening our injury concerns.

But there will still be plenty to watch on Thursday night, with Jimmy Garoppolo getting the start for the first time in his young career. Garoppolo is a lock to make the team, but there are plenty others still on the bubble who will want to pop against the Giants.

Here’s our list of who needs the biggest games to avoid the next cut when 22 players currently on the roster must go.

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Patriots Annual Shocker: Logan Mankins sent to Tampa Bay for TE Tim Wright

If you’ve been following the Patriots for long, you might be familiar with their penchant for stunning trades during the last week of preseason, usually over Labor Day weekend. The most famous example came in 2009 when they sent Richard Seymour to Oakland.

The trend continued today with the Pats sending starting guard and captain Logan Mankins to the Tamp Bay Buccaneers for move tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round draft pick.

The move also opens up a bunch of cap space for the Pats.

As that tweet speculates, this could very well be a precursor to an extension for Revis, but the Pats were going to have to deal with Mankins’ contract at some point and they tend to cut ties a year too early rather than a year too late.

The Pats were razor-thin at tight end and really had no move “F” tight end on their roster. Wright should provide another weapon for Tom Brady after picking up 54 catches and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2013.

There is definitely a role for Wright on the Pats.

As for the offensive line, my bet would be that they stick with Connolly at right guard and Ryan Wendell at center as they have the last two seasons, while Josh Kline slips into Makins’ left guard spot. Kline did well there in 2013 against the Ravens and the Pats have never been shy about getting their young offensive linemen in the lineup.

Bryan Stork, Jon Halapio and Jordan Devey should continue to develop and could challenge for starting spots not too far down the line.

Shocking trades and personnel moves are nothing new to Bill Belichick. The first was the famous release of Lawyer Milloy in 2003 and this move with Mankins fits the mold of those that came before — high-priced veterans whose play and value don’t quite match what they’re making.

All eyes should be on Wright this Thursday against the Giants, as well as what the offensive line looks like.

New post is up at SportsBlog, taking a closer look at why Mallett is expendable even if he had a slight edge over Garoppolo, which I’m not sure he does. Preseason experience doesn’t count for much.

Pats Posits: Notes on the rewatch of a Patriots team that looks primed

Had a chance to go back and look at last nights game on an actual TV instead of a jumpy internet feed and I liked what saw even more. 

Here’s some random reflection on what I liked and what’s concerning heading into the season. It’s hard to be too critical, this team is stacked.

Offense

Brady is still Brady. Yay.

Brandon Bolden missed this one, I’m so back and forth on him. One day you’re reading how he’s a core special teams guy, the next he might be injured again. I think the Pats will be fine with Ridley/White/Vereen and it seems like Bolden is what he is.

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I feel obligated to post any defensive scheme article even if it’s kind of missing the forest for the trees. When I started writing about football it was the defensive schematics that really interested me. Watching how Bill Belichick would rebuild his defense post-2007 was a huge impetus for me to follow and study the team.

Now, seven years later, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what Belichick does on defense. Around 2011 I realized that 3-4 or 4-3 is not really that big of a deal.

Here’s the simple facts…

1. From 2000 to 2009 the Patriots spent a good chunk of their defensive snaps in the Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 defense. This 3-4 is a “read-and-react” defense, where the front three “build a wall” by two-gapping and allow the linebackers to make plays. (There are 3-4s like Wade Phillips’ and Dick LeBeau’s that are more “attacking”.)

2. As the game evolved, and passing offenses became more prevalent, the amount of time the Patriots spent in the 3-4 decreased. The pure Fairbanks-Bullough version of it slowly became a specialty package to stop the run. Since 2010 the Patriots are in “sub” defense, with five or more DBs, around 60-65% of the time.

In 2011, due to the lockout, there was limited time to teach the 3-4 defense, so Belichick just used the nickel front (which of course looks like a 4-3) as his teaching defense since that is what they would be in a majority of the snaps anyway.

3. However, the 3-4 remains Belichick’s teaching defense. So it’s what the Pats run in the preseason and training camp to help teach communication and responsibilities. The preseason defensive game plan is as vanilla as it can get, so seeing them in a 3-4 in the summer means little as to what we’re going to get in the fall.

4. The Pats will still run a 3-4 defense but it bears little resemblance to the Fairbanks-Bullough version. Instead of the three down linemen two-gapping, we now have a combination of guys playing single and double gaps. Read this article for more on this.

5. This current “base” defense (which really makes no sense now that we’re really talking only 30-40% of the snaps) is more of a 2-5. This is an effort to get more athletes on the field to stop the pass, instead of big bodies to build a wall and stop the run.

What matters most is gap responsibility, so whether you want to call Ninkovich and Chandler outside linebackers or defensive ends, it doesn’t really make a difference. They are end of the line players and their job remains basically the same whether they’re rushing the passer or dropping into coverage.

The ability to morph between fronts is where the Pats give themselves and advantage.

The game has evolved and so has Bill Belichick’s defense. What has been missing in my estimation is explosive one-gapping defensive tackles like Easley and Jerel Worthy. They had DT’s one-gapping, but often times they were more nose tackle-ish like Wilfork and Kyle Love or defensive end-ish like Tommy Kelly, Brandon Deaderick and Gerard Warren.

Now the Patriots defense has the personnel to literally play any front, or combination of fronts. Believe me when I say this is the first time they’ve EVER had this kind of flexibility. So there’s some truth to the linked Herald to the article.

But still wondering about the 3-4/4-3 debate is an extreme simplification about a minority of the defensive snaps.

Pats Posits: Thoughts on a solid preseason showing vs. Eagles

The New England Patriots had a solid showing in their second preseason game of the 2014 summer as the roster battles continue to take shape. Here are some quick-hit thoughts on what stuck out to me.

- Brady is still Brady.

- Hard for a rookie quarterback to be much more impressive than Garoppolo has been in his first two starts. Yes, there’s still a ways for him to go, but his quick release and good decision making continue to shine. He’s an excellent fit for the Patriots’ offensive philosophy.

- All of the Pats’ running backs had their moments, and while I could see them using primarily a three-man rotation of Ridley-Vereen-White, Bolden, Finch and even Jonas Grey made cases for a roster spot with their skillsets.

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Iron Sharpens Iron: Will Revis’ biggest impact for Pats be on Brady?

There’s no secret that the New England Patriots defense hasn’t been stellar in recent years.

They’ve certainly had their moments - 2011’s squad with a healthy Andre Carter and Mark Anderson generating the kind of pass rush the Pats have lacked since the late-2000’s. And in 2012/2013, Aqib Talib gave them their first shutdown man-to-man corner since Ty Law.

But the sum of those parts never quite added up to a top-10 defensive unit, usually due in part to injuries. They flash at times, but most often the Patriots won in spite of their defense, not because of them.

I’ve often joked that Tom Brady and the offense must just march up and down the field on the Patriots defense in practice. Especially when you consider the things the Pats defense wasn’t good at - defending the middle of the field, stopping tight ends and running backs - are very much the strengths of the Pats offense in recent years.

But this year the reports out of camp are that the defense is challenging Brady in a way not seen in a long time in Foxboro.

There’s been plenty of speculation of what the acquisitions of Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis, along with the maturation of various other young pieces like Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower, will mean for the Pats’ competition. But their biggest impact might be for the Patriots offense.

We wrote about it earlier this week and there’s little debate that Brady hasn’t quite had his best outings against the better defenses in the playoffs the last few years.

Could it be that the Patriots defense just hasn’t been able to provide enough of a challenge lately to force Brady to the absolute top of his game?

He certainly was pushed by the veteran dynasty defense in the early-2000’s, so perhaps this could result in more performances like we saw out of Brady in 2004’s AFC Championship, when he cut through a very tough Steelers defense in Pittsburgh like warm butter.

It might be a stretch, but early in camp it’s apparent that Brady hasn’t seen this kind of consistent challenge in practice day after day in a long time. 

Perhaps this is just what Brady and the Pats need to get over the hump against the best defenses.

Regrouping after one week of Patriots training camp

We’re one week into training camp for the New England Patriots, and just one week away from their first preseason game, so it’s time to take a look at what we’ve learned so far about this edition of the Pats.

It’s hard not to be excited, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where the Pats are as healthy as we could’ve hoped headed into camp. Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Will Smith, all coming off major injuries, appear to be on track for the start of the season.

On the back end, the secondary has been as expected with Revis and Browner leading the way. Browner’s attitude and Revis’ high level of play have already seemed to bring a new swagger to the Pats defense that has been missing for a long time.

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Patriots Training Camp Preview: Safety

The New England Patriots finally found an answer at safety in 2013 in Devin McCourty, after years of instability and inconsistency at the position. McCourty became just the third player to be named an All Pro at two different positions.

But with the release of Steve Gregory, McCourty will have a new starter next to him in 2014, with second-year player Duron Harmon the favorite to land the role.

But how do the rest of the safeties match up should injuries strike? Here’s our final training camp positional preview with the safeties.

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