Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Tag: jimmy garoppolo

Catching Up with the Busy New England Patriots

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

In the past week, by my count, the Patriots have signed, re-signed, or traded for 8 different players. This has been an unusually active period for the Pats who historically let the first few days of the free agent signing period settle before jumping in looking for deals. This year, Bill Belichick jumped into the trade market on March 8th and when free agency began at 4pm on March 9th, he made a big splash signing a #1 CB to bolster the defense. For those who haven’t been following the Pats moves as closely as I have, here is a recap of the new additions to the roster (in order of acquisition).

TE Dwayne Allen, Traded from the Colts 

Allen was the first domino to fall for the Pats and fills the #2 TE void that was left behind with the departure of Martellus Bennett (signed with the Packers). Allen is an excellent blocker, which is exactly what Bill Belichick looks for in a #2 TE, so he should fit in nicely. Allen has a history of catching passes in the red zone and will likely have a chance to tally some TDs this season opposite Rob Gronkowski.

CB Stephon Gilmore, Signed in Free Agency

The biggest early splash was the 5 year, $65 million deal Gilmore got in free agency from the Pats. The big payday was warranted given that he was one of the top ranking free agents this off-season, it’s just surprising the Pats were the one paying. After 5 years with the Bills and 5 defensive coordinators, Gilmore is ready for some stability. If he works hard and buys into the system (some question there), Gilmore has the size and athleticism to be an excellent #1 CB, especially since he is just 26 years old. The signing did create some issues with CB Malcolm Butler, who will likely be playing somewhere else next season. If not, a Butler/Gilmore secondary could be dominant against the pass next season.

S Duron Harmon, Re-signed

Harmon is a perfect Belichick player. He’s the 3rd safety on the depth chart and plays mostly in nickel and dime packages, but is also an important special teams player. Bill loves guys who get dirty on special teams and can contribute in multiple aspects of the game. Harmon has only missed 1 regular season game in 4 seasons, making him a nice, stable rotational piece.

TE Michael Williams, Re-signed

Many Pats fans won’t even know the name Michael Williams because he didn’t see the field in 2016. Williams is the definition of a depth piece who can be valuable in case of several injuries. In 2015 he appeared in 15 games of the Pats (started 9) and caught 3 passes for 26 yards over that span – he was primarily a blocker. At 26 years old, the Pats like him enough to keep him around, but don’t expect to see his name called unless something catastrophic happens.

WR Brandin Cooks, Traded from the Saints

One could argue this trade was even bigger than the Gilmore signing and may be the best move of the off-season, period. Cooks has been coveted by Belichick and the Pats for years and now he is a Patriot. The 23-year old WR is one of the best receivers in football and the sky is the limit on his potential. The Pats gave up their 1st and 3rd round picks for Cooks, but he has an expiring rookie contract after this season. My guess is that Belichick and Co. hope he signs a longer term deal and stays in New England for the foreseeable future, although he will not come cheap and likely demand top dollar. Cooks had 75+ receptions and 1,000+ yards in his last 2 seasons with New Orleans, which is up there with only Antonio Brown of the Steelers and Odell Beckham Jr. for the Giants in terms of production. Cook adds speed to the Pats receiving options, making them even more potent this upcoming season.

DE Kony Ealy, Traded from the Carolina Panthers

The Pats looked to bolster their defensive line depth by trading for Kony Ealy from the Panthers. Ealy has played in all 32 regular season games the past 2 seasons for the Panthers, but only started 15 of them total. He can get to the QB and is just 25, so could develop into regular starter over time. Ealy is best known for his dominant performance in Super Bowl 50, when he became the only play to force a fumble, get an interception, and record 3 sacks in a game. The potential is there and the risk is pretty low.

DT Lawrence Guy, Signed in Free Agency

Another guy in his mid-20s with potential. Guy is a journeyman defensive lineman who will add depth to the Pats line. He is 6-5, 300lbs and has 67 games under his belt (20 starts). During the past 2 seasons Guy played for the Ravens and started 17 of their 32 games while racking up 5.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. He’s a big body inside who stays at home and won’t light-up a stat sheet. A Belichick special: depth.

RB Rex Burkhead, Signed in Free Agency

Fitting the same mold, Burkhead is a 26-year old with potential, but little to show for it in his career. He will have to compete with James White and Dion Lewis for a spot in the backfield, but given past injury history at the RB position, it’s a low-risk signing. Burkhead is looking for a chance to play and will likely be motivated to work hard in practice to prove his value. I doubt he will see the field much this year, but could be a safety valve is White and/or Lewis go down for an extended period of time.

***

LB Dont’a Hightower, TBD

As of writing this, Hightower had yet to make a decision on where he was signing, but a return to the Pats seemed likely and a decision was expected Wed. The Jets and Steelers were also reportedly interested in his services, but the needle seemed to be pointing to Foxboro.

CB Malcolm Butler, On roster

One of the bigger stories recently had been the discontent of Butler, the Pats #1 CB and Super Bowl hero. Butler is set to make under $4 million this year if he signs the transitional tag, which is a big raise, but still makes him vastly underpaid (see Gilmore’s deal). The Saints may be interested in his services leading to a potential trade in the near future. Stay tuned.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, On roster

Will they or won’t they trade Garoppolo? No one really knows, but the Browns remain the most likely landing spot for the Pats back-up. The Pats don’t have a 1st or 2nd round pick this year, so a trade with the Browns could solve the pick deficit for Belichick. My opinion swings daily on if this will actually happen.

Who Deserves the Most Credit for the 3-0 Patriots?

AP Photo

AP Photo

After what can only be described as an ass-kicking on Thursday night against the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots are 3-0 on the young season. They were without their QB1 and franchise guy Tom Brady and their QB2 and heir-apparent (maybe) Jimmy Garoppolo, so they relied on QB3 and rookie Jacoby Brissett. Even obsessive Pats fans would give the team some leeway if things didn’t go perfectly on a short week, but instead, the Patriots showed the NFL who’s really boss with a 27-0 victory. After 3 weeks, who deserves the most credit for this team’s success? Let’s explore.

First things first, let’s put aside the F U Roger Goodell revenge element of this 3-0 run. It’s absolutely a factor and if you think it’s not, you’re an idiot. Nothing drives Bill Belichick more than being slighted or insulted, so that certainly plays a role, but this argument is about performance, regardless of motivation. Let’s look at and grade the performance of key people on the Patriots roster/coaching staff and perhaps come to a conclusion around who is most responsible for the 3-0 start.

Bill Belichick – A

The buck begins and ends with Bill. He is responsible for all aspects of the play on the field and personnel decisions, so he’s the easiest person to give credit. He has obviously worked hard to build a winning culture in Foxboro and created the “Patriot Way” and “next man up” which is clearly a factor this season. I’m sure he has had a role in both the offensive and defensive gameplans, which is where it gets hard to distinguish how much of the credit is this versus Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia. I have a feeling he gave some direction on an overall feel/approach, but some of the creativity around specific plays and reads is a credit to McDaniels and Patricia.

Josh McDaniels – A

Gameplanning, gameplanning, gameplanning. Adjust to the players on the field and play to their strengths. In that regard, Josh McDaniels has been outstanding in 2016. With Jimmy Garoppolo he adjusted the playbook down a bit from Tom Brady and simplified some of the reads, making it easier for Jimmy G to make the right throws and get the ball out quickly. With Jacoby Brissett, McDaniels cut the playbook back even further, but didn’t get dull and predictable. He was still able to add in some new twists (wildcat, Julian Edelman lining up in the backfield) to keep the defense honest and protect his young QB. He put his offense in a position to succeed, which is the key element of a good gameplan.

Matt Patricia – B

The Patriots defense was good in weeks 1 and 2, but stellar in week 3, bringing Matt Patricia up to a B. The Texans game was a perfect example of adjusting to what the other team is doing. Early on the Patriots secondary was strong and Brock Osweiler kept opting to throw to his check-down options and not deep, so the defense adjusted covering the short throws knowing Osweiler was keen to check down to the short route. Now to be honest, I think it’s as much of a terrible offensive gameplan for the Texans as a good plan for the Patriots (which is why he’s only a B), but give Patricia credit for understanding the situation and putting his guys in the right places to make big plays.

Jimmy Garoppolo/Jacoby Brissett – A-

If you had told me before the season that the combination of Jimmy G and Jacoby B would be 59 for 87 for 691 yards with 4 TDs and 0 interceptions through 3 weeks I would have been more than happy. Well guess what…I’m more than happy. The 2-headed QB monster for the Pats has performed better than even expected. Not because their stats are off the charts, but rather because their stats aren’t off the charts. They have both been great game managers, making smart decisions (for the most part) and not taking too many unnecessary risks. For young QBs, that’s usually the hardest thing to learn. Jimmy G put up better numbers and is clearly closer to being ready to start in the NFL, but the combination of both of them has been excellent.

LeGarrette Blount – A

Who expected LeGarrette Blount to be on this list in the pre-season? Not me. Blount has been more than just a stable force, he has been a strong contributor to the Pats success. By having a balanced offense that is a bit more run-heavy than in the past, it has opened up the passing game and taken significant pressure off the young QBs. For that reason, he belongs on this list and in the conversation for most impactful person. He has carried the ball 75 times for a 298 yards (league leader in both categories) so far in 2016, averaging 4 yards per carry. Those numbers surely won’t continue all season, but for now, he’s an incredibly powerful offensive weapon.

Jamie Collins/Rest of the Defense – B

I think Jamie Collins is actually the best of the defensive group so far. He has 2 interceptions already this year and has been a force all over the field. Collins has just 1 sack, which I was hoping would be a touch higher by this point (nit-picky, I know), but has collected 23 tackles (17 solo) to lead the team. As a team, the defensive line hasn’t gotten a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing QBs, just 5 sacks, but have been good enough to hold opponents down. They have been very good, but could be better, especially with their pass-rush.

Conclusion

It’s a cop-out, but I think it’s a three-way tie. The obvious answers are Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels and their masterful gameplans, emphasis on their gameplans. The reason I can’t separate them on this list is that I have no idea how much say Bill has in the gameplan details on a weekly basis. If he is mostly hands off, then McDaniels has had the biggest impact and is alone atop this analysis, but if Bill is involved more heavily as I suspect he is, than it’s a shared accomplishment.

The third person in this mix is the under-appreciated LeGarrette Blount. He has been the best running back in football through 3 weeks. Let me repeat that: LeGarrette Blount has been statistically the best running back in the NFL through 3 weeks. That statement may be the most shocking of all and one of the best storylines to this point. McDaniels and Belichick can create the most amazing gameplan, but ultimately the players need to execute. If it weren’t for Blount and a strong running game (with some offensive line help as well), the passing game would significantly suffer and we likely would be talking about more mistakes at the QB position and less offensive productivity overall. For that, Blount deserves more credit than he has been given.

Ultimately, I think the duo of Bill and Josh is a special match that doesn’t come around often in football. McDaniels is expected to take another stab at head coaching next year, but I suspect will struggle once again. He thrives in Belichick’s system and calling offensive plays, but when it comes to managing the entire team, I’m not sure the 2nd time around will go any better than his first in Denver (3-9 before being fired in 2010). My wish would be to have McDaniels stick around under Belichick under Brady retires to try and capture the remaining magic of the Belichick/Brady tenure. That would certainly give the Pats a great chance at another super bowl title or two.

A shout-out to my father-in-law Michael for prompting me to think about this. I gave him a gut reaction of Belichick, but then thought a lot more about it and changed my thinking a little.

Somewhere Goodell is Crying in a Corner

roger-goodell

No Brady, No Garoppolo, No problem. Despite every effort from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to screw the Patriots in 2016, they sit at 3-0 on the season after an absolute shellacking of the Houston Texans last night 27-0. With his QB1 (Tom Brady) suspended and QB2 (Jimmy Garoppolo) out with an AC sprain,  Bill Belichick handed the ball to his QB3 on a short week, rookie Jacoby Brissett for his first career start. It’s only logical to think that with Brissett as your starter and a short week to prepare against the likes of Vince Wilfork and J.J. Watt, it could be a rough game, but the F.U. Roger Goodell tour continued.

The Patriots defense was phenomenal on Thursday night and absolutely shut down the 2-headed receiving monster of the Texans in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. They stuffed the run and finally looked like the shutdown defense we had been hearing all about during training camp. Not to take away from the defensive performance, but Andover, MA native and Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien‘s gameplan was bad. His play-calling was conservative (running on 3rd and long) and his game management was odd at times (taking timeouts before the half when the Patriots had the ball), almost as if the spot-light was too bright for him.

Now there is just 1 more game before Brady gets his chance to wave 2 giant middle-fingers at Goodell from the field and not his couch. You know he’s at home hoping for a 4-0 start so he can come back week 5 in search of a perfect season and a chance to take the handoff of the Lombardi Trophy from Goodell. Now that would be the ultimate nightmare for the commissioner and the greatest F.U. the NFL has ever seen.

Huge Patriots W in Jimmy Garoppolo’s Debut

David Kadlubowski/AZ Central Sports

David Kadlubowski/AZ Central Sports

Going into Sunday night’s season opener for the New England Patriots my mind was racing with excitement and preparing for disappointment. Football season is here, but the Cards (get it?) were certainly stacked against the Pats in week 1. We all know the situation: the Pats are without Tom Brady until week 5, so this is Jimmy Garoppolo‘s team. Frankly though, that was the least of my concerns entering Sunday. The inactive status of offensive lineman Nate Soldier and TE Rob Gronkowski finally pushed me to expect a sizable loss to the Arizona Cardinals. You can’t expect a young QB making his first start to be successful without a very important veteran offensive lineman and arguably the best pass catching target in the league (forget all the other suspensions and injuries), right?

Overall, this was a massive W for the New England Patriots. This has the potential to be a very special team when everyone is healthy/no longer suspended. To win on the road against one of the best teams in football week 1 without countless important players is a testament to Bill Belichick and the heart of this team. I was excited for football before Sunday night, but after that performance (and a little help from the football gods) I’m pumped for the remaining 15+ games.

Performance Rating 

Every week I’ll pull out a few individuals and rate their performance.

Jimmy Garoppolo – A

In his first NFL start he went 24-33 with 264 yards and 1 TD. It wasn’t perfect and there were moments that scared me a little, but how can you fault Jimmy G for that performance overall. He set the bar high, now can he continue to shine?

LeGarrette Blount – B+

It wasn’t an amazing performance from Blount, but just what the Patriots needed. He carried the ball 22 times and racked up 70 yards and a TD. It was just enough to keep the defense honest and opened up the passing game a little for Jimmy G. Solid performance from the big man.

Julian Edelman – B

After being involved in almost every play in the first half, Edelman disappeared a bit for stretches of the game. Overall, 3 rushes for 16 yards and 7 catches for 66 yards clearly showed his chemistry with Jimmy G early, which allowed the offense to settle in and just play football.

Devin McCourty – A-

Leading the team with 8 solo tackles and 1 assisted, McCourty made is presence felt on defense. All of last season he had just 1 game with 9 tackles, making his opening night performance even more impressive. He looked like the stable veteran in the secondary and is continuing to develop into a great safety.

Chris Jones – B+

In his Patriots debut, Jones got his first sack and 3 tackles. He frequently got pressure on QB Carson Palmer and looked like a force on the defensive line. The new #95 fit in nicely week 1.

Next up

Home Opener

Patriots vs. Dolphins – 1:00pm, Sunday, Sept. 18th at Gillette Stadium

Here Come the New England Patriots

patriots logo

To this point on Life of a Sportsaholic, I have written very little about the New England Patriots. It has been a conscious choice to avoid all deflategate and Tom Brady suspension news seeing as how every person in the sports world (and well beyond) has written ad nausea about the situation and their opinion on the 18-month process. I have plenty of opinions and as much as I try, many of them will probably emerge on this blog during this football season, but for now, I am putting aside all of that noise and focusing the the task at hand: the 2016 NFL season. Here is my very high-level initial look at this Patriots team.

The Patriots seem poised to have a strong season as they are basically every single year during the Bob Kraft/Bill Belichick regime. The offense looks solid to start the year despite the Tom Brady suspension (see, I couldn’t go 1 paragraph without mentioning it). Second year QB Jimmy Garoppolo is getting all the headlines, but many of the offensive skill players are returning this season. The offense is headlined by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the wide-receiving core, Rob Gronkowski at tight end, and LeGarrette Blount and James White in the backfield. The addition of WR Chris Hogan could be critical for the Patriots, because he adds another dimension to the passing game and makes it more difficult for opposing defenses to key-in only on Edelman and Gronk. In the same vein, tight end Martellus Bennett could play a big role in the red zone for the Patriots, potentially balancing the coverage on Gronk in those situations and also providing some injury protection for the oft hurt Gronk. I will be looking out for rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell who despite being slowed by an elbow injury, has looked very good for a young kid this training camp/preseason. He could have a big impact by mid-late season.

The Patriots defense is positioned to shine in 2016. They have playmakers at all levels of the defense, highlighted by their linebacker core (Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Jonathan Freeny) who are incredible athletic and not afraid to give someone a big pop.  Up front they added former St Louis Rams DE Chris Long to replace Chandler Jones and have the impressive DE Jabaal Sheard opposite Long. In the middle Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown have the potential to be solid, but I need to see more to be convinced that Branch is committed after an undisclosed suspension this preseason. The secondary is solid with veterans Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty at safety and Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and rookie Cyrus Jones at CB. Jones is another guy to watch, because the rookie out of Alabama has looked good this preseason both in coverage and in the return game. With a potentially less powerful offense the first month of the season, the Patriots need their defense to step up and hold opponents down.

I’ll break down some of the positional strengths going forward and look at other story lines surrounding the team, but overall the Pats are set-up to be a strong postseason contender if they stay healthy and perform up to expectations (big ifs!). The opener is just 11 days away!