Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. folks. Flawless.
Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. folks. Flawless.
As most people were getting through their Monday work day in anticipation of an evening filled with scary masks and candy, Bill Belichick was hard at work scaring Pats fans by trading away an All-Pro linebacker. Bill sent Jamie Collins packing in exchange for a conditional 3rd round pick from the Cleveland Browns. The move sent shock waves throughout the NFL and sent the Patriots fan base into a tizzy. A Patriots team without Collins is not surprising given he will be a free agent at the end of the season and is reportedly asking for Von Miller money (6 yrs, $114.5 million), but the timing of the trade is very curious.
Going into their bye week, the Pats are 7-1 after having avenged their only loss of the season to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The defense has been under-performing as a group leading to Belichick calling them out to the media saying he was “disappointed” (full quote below). Clearly he felt like a message needed to be sent to the defense that if you don’t work as hard as you can at every practice and during every game, you may be shown the door, regardless of your talent, contract, etc. Collins has had a roller coaster year, looking elite in a few games and disappearing for long periods of time in others.
“I think overall, we had our ups and downs. At times we played well defensively and at other times, not so well. It was good enough to win. It was good at times and then at other times I think we really – I think we’re all disappointed, so we really just need to do a better job. That’s pretty much across the board – the running game, the passing game, everything. I mean there were some things that just, we need to do better.”
In order for Bill to make the move now, there has to be another reason. The more I think about this trade the more I believe there were other factors involved in sending Collins away so early in the season. There had to be. My guess is that Collins was not working as hard as he should and has not given 100% effort in every practice and game. Belichick is not about to tolerate a player half-assing it on the field and I could easily see that scenario resulting in this type of trade. Seeing the emergence of Elandon Roberts as a solid linebacker may also have helped Bill decide that Collins was an expendable piece. Roberts is no Collins, but I, for one, am excited to see him get even more playing time now.
Where I struggle with this trade the most is in the return, not the player. I know Collins is a “rental” player because his contract is up at the end of the season, but there are enough teams in football with enough cap money to sign a player of his caliber longer term. There really wasn’t a sign and trade deal out there that would have given the Pats more than a 3rd round conditional pick? Was Collins that toxic to the team environment that he had to go to any bidder just halfway through the season? Is there another move brewing for Belichick?
In Bill We Trust. In Bill We Trust. In Bill We Trust.
Just keep saying it over and over again, because that’s the only redeeming piece of this deal.
This was a busy weekend for New England sports teams, especially those I am particularly interested in following. Let’s take a look at each game from this weekend.
|New England Patriots||27|
The New England Patriots overcame some early mistakes to beat Pittsburgh on the road. The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger, so resorted to starting Landry Jones. Jones wasn’t terrible for the Steelers and took another step in his development, but didn’t have enough in the 4th quarter to hang with New England and even make an attempt at a comeback. The Steelers defense looked good at times, but Brady found ways to use his plethora of weapons throughout the evening. LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and 2 TDs (74 yards after halftime) against his former team and Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for Gronk’s 68th TD. It was all smiles after the game for Gronk who pointed out to those assembled that his next TD will be his 69th. “One more and I got 69 touchdowns. You know what I mean.”
After a 3-1 start for the Bruins and a 3-0-1 start for the Canadiens, the two bitter rivals matched up for the first time this season. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Canadiens looked like the better team throughout. The Bruins again allowed the first goal and found themselves playing from behind the entire night, down 2-0 and 3-1 in the 2nd and 3rd periods. The Bruins made a lot of mistakes and had some sloppy play throughout the game, which tends to happen when teams have younger talent developing under the bright lights. It’s early, but the Canadiens look strong after a blockbuster off-season trade sending PK Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. The Canadiens have now won 9 straight in Boston against the Bruins.
It was homecoming for UConn on Saturday as they hosted the UCF Knights. The Huskies came into the game at 3-4 and needed a W against the Knights, but looked flat and couldn’t muster anything in the 2nd half leading to their 5th loss of the season. UCF moves above .500 to 4-3 with the win, rebounding from a 1-pt loss to Temple a week prior. UConn travels to Greenville, NC for a matchup with East Carolina next week desperately needing a W to keep bowl hopes alive. The 2-5 East Carolina Pirates are coming off a 12-pt loss to Cincinnati on the road this past weekend.
|New England Revolution||3|
Despite a disappointing season overall (11-14-9), the New England Revolution finished it off with a strong 3-0 win over the Impact at Gillette Stadium. The Revs made a late push for the playoffs, but knew prior to Sunday’s match that their season would be over finishing in 7th place, 1 spot out of the playoffs. With nothing to lose, the Revs played a strong match and got goals from Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, and Kei Kamara. Coach Jay Heaps summed up the season after the game. “It’s disappointing that we waited too long to really find ourselves and express ourselves throughout the last part of the season. Five (wins) out of seven is really good, but we just didn’t do enough.”
The Patriots picked up their 6th win of the season on Sunday in Pittsburgh and with a Buffalo Bills loss, are in complete control of the AFC East. Despite tremendous success in 2016, one piece of the Pats offense, arguably one of the most important pieces of the last several years, has seen a sharp decline in production. Julian Edelman was previously the #1 target in the passing game, but has been almost invisible during large swaths of games this year and has made only minor contributions. The drop-off in his numbers are significant.
Through 7 games last season, Edelman was the #1 option for Tom Brady and was lighting up defenses across the league. This year, he is a complementary player. Why the drop-off? I have a few thoughts.
|Julian Edelman (through 7 games)|
1. Missing his best friend
For the first 4 games of 2016, Edelman was without his best friend, big brother, and idol under center. Edelman is completely and utterly head-over-heals obsessed with Tom Brady, so without him, he is lost. Although it’s somewhat of a joke, there is some serious truth to it as well. In the first 4 games of the season, Edelman was targeted 27 times and in the 3 games since Brady’s return he has been targeted 27 times, a nice increase for JE11. What this doesn’t explain is Edelman’s drop in catch percentage with Brady under center (70.4% with Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the passes and 66.7% with Brady).
2. Added firepower
The addition of offensive weapons this year has taken opportunities away from Edelman. Any other year, the loss of Rob Gronkowski to injury for any period of time would afford Edelman even more touches, but not in 2016. Martellus Bennett stepped in this year and had 2 100-yard receiving games in the first 4 weeks of the year. Bennett has a 77.1% catch percentage this year and 367 yards and 4 TDs through 7 games. Add the production of James White in the red zone the last few weeks (3 TDs) and that spells trouble for JE11’s stats.
3. Foot injury
Edelman’s foot injury may be hampering his quickness and ability to separate from defenders. Even when he completes the catch, he’s not getting the same type of separation from defenders. Sunday’s game against the Steelers was a great example. Edelman caught 9 of 10 passes, but averaged just 6.67 yards per reception. He would make the catch and then couldn’t create any space to pick up chunks of yards after the catch. He would catch, turn, and go down, rather than make a move and gain at least a few extra yards like he has in the past. If his foot is 100% healthy, then I worry about a loss of quickness, his greatest asset, at age 30.
4. Opposing defenses keying on him
Given how important the quick slant is to the Patriots, many defenses are treating Edelman like a #1 WR hoping to stunt the offense by slowing him down. They are playing more physical with him at the line knowing that the quick patterns are all about timing. Brady loves to get the ball out fast (under 2 seconds as we hear about on every game broadcast) so defenders are keying in on Edelman. That tends to open up opportunities for others, but certainly doesn’t help Edelman break out.
There is a long way to go in the 2016 season and I predict Edelman’s numbers will begin to tick upward after the bye week (week 9). He’ll have a chance for some extra rest and can come into the Pats week 10 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks refreshed. The best news of all for Pats fans: Even with a less-than-ideal Edelman, the team is 6-1 and not showing signs of struggling on offense.
Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler spoke to the media in advance of their matchup with the Patriots this Sunday. These press conferences happen every week and not much is usually said and not many headlines are made, but this week was a little different. Butler said the Pats do things “on the edge of being legal” and the offense doesn’t “do anything special”. That’s bulletin board material for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Either the comments were a mistake and taken out of context or Butler is an idiot. If you are an opponent of the Patriots, why the hell would you poke the bear?
If there is one thing we know about the Patriots, it is that Belichick and Brady are supremely motivated and passionate people (inwardly in Bill’s case). They are driven each week in the impossible pursuit of perfection and are tough to beat, even with major pieces not on their field. The last thing an opponent of the Patriots can afford is a mad and motivated Belichick and Brady. By making stupid comments about the Pats offense and the way the team plays the game not only won’t unnerve the Pats, it will give them extra motivation to beat the living crap out of the Steelers. Why hand the Pats an extra layer of motivation? It just makes no sense at all.
I don’t know anything about Butler except what I have read this week, so can’t speak to the man’s character, but his tactics are idiotic. If we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his comments were strategic, I imagine he was trying to call the refs attention to the Pats play with the first comment and their play being on the edge, maybe trying to grab an extra call or two Sunday. The second comment, I assume he thinks it will force Belichick and Josh McDaniels to react by changing up their offensive plan and getting them to play outside their comfort zone. If that’s the strategy, then he is completely oblivious to how the Patriots organization works. All the comments did were encourage the Pats to run up the score and show no mercy if the situation arises.
Despite having a great roster of very talented players, the Steelers are in trouble without QB Ben Roethlisberger. They have enough weapons to keep the game close, but a W would likely mean the Pats made some critical mistakes and gave the Steelers some key opportunities. With these comments Butler made the likelihood of a Steelers upset even more difficult and unlikely. When will people learn not to poke the bear?
At age 26, the reputation of Cincinnati Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict precedes him. By every definition of the word, he is a dirty player and has been his entire career. Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots is just another example of why Burfict should not be allowed to play in the NFL, especially if player safety is actually a concern for the NFL front office. On two occasions Sunday, Burfict took a shot at a Patriots player that had no impact on the play and with clear intent to harm.
Burfict’s list of on-field NFL transgressions is growing by the day. In 2015, he was fined 4 separate times for violating safety-related rules and began 2016 with a 3 game suspension thanks to a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers WR Antonio Brown in last year’s wild card game. Brown was knocked out and didn’t return. That hit and a previous history of ugly hits led to his suspension. Since 2012, Burfict has been fined $204,329 total for issues connected to player safety. His issues run much deeper than just in the NFL. In college at Arizona State Burfict had a rough junior season thanks to countless personal foul penalties and several rumors that he attacked a teammate. There was a good reason his draft stock fell from top 10 to undrafted. He is a talented player, but doesn’t understand the words control or restraint.
On Sunday, Burfict went low and took the legs out from Martellus Bennett away from the play. The pass was downfield to Danny Amendola, not near Bennett, yet he felt compelled to lunge at Bennett’s lower body. Regardless of whether he intended to harm or not, these are the hits the NFL is trying to remove from the game. After review of the tape however, that wasn’t even the worst transgression of the afternoon. During the 4th quarter, LeGarrette Blount plowed through the pile for a 1-yard TD. In the pile up, you can clearly see Burfict intentionally stomp on his legs. There is no question in my mind it was an intentional act.
Every year the NFL changes rules of the game to “protect player safety”. They have continued to increase penalties and restrictions around hits on QBs, limited contact with receivers downfield, and made attempts to limit kickoff returns all in an effort (supposedly) to protect the players. If the intention of the league is to focus on player safety, then something needs to be done about players who repeatedly disregard these rules like Vontaze Burfict. Clearly a 3-game suspension did not change the behavior of Burfict, so stricter penalties need to be enforced before someone gets seriously hurt.
The Patriots rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts played in place of injured Jamie Collins on Sunday against the Bengals. He looked very good early on in the game, making tackles all over the field and had a few really nice hard hits. For those who are unfamiliar with Roberts, which I imagine is most of you, here is some background on the young linebacker.
Age: 22 years old (Rookie)
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 235 lbs
Hometown: Port Arthur, TX
College: University of Houston
Drafted in the 6th round (214th) in 2016
Roberts began his college career at Morgan State, where he had 107 tackles his freshman year (2nd best in school history). He transferred to the University of Houston where he played in 8 games during his sophomore season, playing mostly on special teams. In his junior year, Roberts got significant playing time at linebacker and recorded his first sack and 3.5 tackles for a loss in 12 games. He recorded 9 tackles in the Armed Forces Bowl victory that season. He blossomed in his senior year leading the team with 88 solo tackles (best in FBS) and 142 total tackles in 14 games played (50 more than the 2nd highest tackle total on the team). He helped lead Houston to a 13-1 record (only loss was against UConn) and an 8th ranked finish in the final AP Poll.
One of the main reasons Roberts dropped so far in the draft was his size. He is an undersized linebacker, which scared teams away. The Patriots liked him for his leadership skills and his extensive special teams experience (Bill loves special teams guys). It didn’t hurt that Roberts showed some serious speed at the NFL Combine (4.62 40-yard dash).
The NFL graded him a 5 out of 10 (“50/50 chance of making the roster”) for the draft. Although it’s very early in his career, his potential definitely looks greater than a 5.0 at this point. Under Bill Belichick, he will have a chance to learn and grow behind one of the best line-backing cores in football.
Roberts has appeared in 3 games (1 start) for the Patriots in 2016 and has recorded 7 solo tackles and 8 assisted tackles (the majority in the last game vs the Bengals). With the revolving door of linebacker injuries this season for the Pats, Roberts should get a decent chance to showcase his skills and continue to earn playing time. Any time he gets on the field this season is bonus learning experience for the future. If he keeps performing well and earning time, he could be a consistent rotational player as early as next season.
The first half of Sunday’s Patriots vs Bengals game was dominated by the Bengals in almost every aspect of the game except the scoreboard. The Patriots were up 10-7 going into the break thanks to some timely defense (4th and 1 stop on the goal line) and a late 9 play, 50 yard drive that ended with a 1-yard TD run by LeGarrette Blount with just 57 seconds left on the clock. It was a slow start in Tom Brady‘s return to Foxboro, but they more than made up for it in the 2nd half.
The turning point of the game was a 4 min stretch in the 3rd quarter that saw the Patriots put up 15 unanswered points. After the Bengals took the lead 14-10, the Patriots were forced to punt the ball to back to Cincy. It all got started for the Pats with a Dont’a Hightower sack on Andy Dalton in the end zone for a safety, bringing the score to 14-12. The ensuing drive was 5 plays, 68 yards in just 2 minutes and ended with the first Gronk spike of the season (19-14 Pats). The defense then stepped up, forcing a 3 and out for the Bengals in just 27 seconds of game clock. In typical Brady fashion, he then shut the door with a 4 play, 53 yard TD drive to give the Pats a two-possession lead (25-14).
Overall, Brady was as impressive as ever. He went 29 for 36 (83%) with 376 yards and 3 TDs, despite his offensive line struggling to protect him, especially in the first half. Rob Gronkowski finally looked fully healthy and had a monster day hauling in 7 passes for 162 yards and a TD. Defensively, the Pats were without Jamie Collins, but in his place, rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts was all over the field early. Frankly, he was one of the only bright spots in the first half on defense. He came up big in the run game and made some great plays over the middle. Roberts spent a little time on the sideline with an injury, but recorded 7 tackles (6 solo) and looked like the spotlight was not too bright, even at the young age of 22.
A good 35-17 W for the Pats who head to Pittsburgh next weekend for a showdown with the Steelers. Luckily for New England, Ben Roethlisberger tore his meniscus yesterday against the Dolphins and needs surgery. He’ll miss next weeks game, so the Pats will be facing off against Landry Jones and not Big Ben as they look to move to 6-1. Not to look too far ahead, but two weeks from now Sexy Rexy and the suddenly-playing-well Buffalo Bills come to town for a rematch of the 16-0 Pats loss in week 4.
For New England sports fans, all attention is focused on Cleveland sports teams this weekend. The Red Sox open postseason play in Cleveland tonight, then play again tomorrow and Sunday, while the New England Patriots are preparing to play the Cleveland Browns on the road on Sunday afternoon. This odd overlap of Cleveland and Massachusetts teams has me digging up some history on previous Cleveland/New England sports matchups.
Going back to 1901, the Red Sox have played the Indians 2,021 times in their history and have a 977-1,036 record against the franchise. However, since 1990, the numbers favor the Red Sox slightly (251 games, 133-118 record, including a winning record in Cleveland – 64-59). Since I love numbers, I looked at the past 10 years as well and it shows similar success to the past 26 years, the Red Sox with a solid 47-34 record against the Indians. Overall, these two teams have played each other well but a slight recent historic advantage swings to the Sox.
On the football side, the Patriots have played the Browns 23 times (first matchup in 1971) and have a 10-13 record against Cleveland. In the same vein as the Red Sox/Indians history, more recent matchups have looked different. The Patriots have a 7-2 record against the Browns since 1995, with their 2 losses coming in 2010 and 2001. The Patriots will likely move to 8-2 over their past 10 meetings on Sunday when the 0-4 Browns host the Pats. This week’s match-up gives the Patriots a significant advantage even on the road (spread is around 10/10.5 points).
Even though the Boston Celtics are not playing the Cleveland Cavaliers this weekend, I figured it’s worth bringing them into this look at Cleveland/Boston “rivalry”. The Celtics and Cavaliers have matched-up 232 times since 1970 and the Celtics hold a commanding 141-91 record against the Cavs. Like the Patriots and Red Sox, recent history is also kind to the Celtics. Since 2000 (78 games), the Cs are 42-34 against the Cavs. Now I know, like the Browns, there were come lean years in that stretch for the Cavs, so looking at just the last 10 years, not surprisingly the record shifts slightly in the Cavs favor (Cavs 28-27).
Overall, New England professional teams have had some decent success against Cleveland teams over the last 15-20 years (as have most franchises in most sports). Thankfully for Cleveland sports fans, the streak of no professional championships for the city ended this year with the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA title and the Indians are back in the playoffs, so life is better now. What does that mean for tonight and into this weekend? Nothing, but it was a fun ride, wasn’t it?
Some of you may have heard, the New England Patriots have been without their starting QB Thomas Brady for the first 4 weeks of the season due to a suspension. It’s arguably the most under-talked about news story of all time because Thomas “Tom” Brady is just not that popular, especially in New England. I’m not going to go into the entire story, but in summary, the wicked-witch of the east, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, decided to lay his wrath on Brady and the Patriots because there was slightly less air in some footballs during a Patriots game. I know, I know, not enough hot air? Shocking.
The story is now over and completely behind us never to be mentioned again. After reports and counter-reports and counter-counter reports and counter-counter-counter reports followed by lawsuits and court hearings and more ink spilled than the Merriam Webster Dictionary, it’s over. The words deflate, deflated, and deflategate will not be spoken on Sunday during the Patriots vs. Browns game, nor will it come up in any game broadcast from now until February. Plainly said, it’s behind us and we are on to Cleveland.
Or not. This is just the next chapter in the nauseating talk about a dictator and his all powerful role in the NFL. If Brady goes out on Sunday and lights up the Cleveland Browns, which would not be a surprising outcome, the talk will get louder and more annoying with each passing day. Look, I can just see the headlines now: Tom Brady is Sticking His Shrunken Balls in the NFL’s Face, Brady’s Revenge Tour to Deflate Roger Goodell in Full Force, Brady Sucking the Air Out of Goodell’s Lungs, Roger Goodell is a Dick. Ok, ok, the last one is just my commentary on the unstable psychopath running the league, but I think you get the point.
I, for one, believe that Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. will be on a revenge tour to screw the league and win the Super Bowl. I believe that he will look like a younger version of himself and guide this Patriots team deep into the postseason with a sole mission of ripping that Super Bowl trophy out of the cold, dead hands of Goodell on the stage in February. If this suspension motivates him, that’s fantastic and I’m all for extra motivation, but for everyone’s sake, can we just let Brady play some freaking football. It’s the thing he was born to do and the thing he will do until he’s dead and buried. Game on.