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: julian edelman

RIP 2018 Patriots Season

Photo from Orlando Sentinel

It’s an unfamiliar word for football fans in New England: failure. After losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, an already mediocre season (by Patriots standards) got worse and the playoff picture became even more concerning. The yearly expectation of Super Bowl or bust puts the stakes at almost impossible heights in New England, but year in and year out the Patriots defy the odds and find a way to make a serious run at a title. We, the fans, are conditioned to expect miraculous comebacks and never count the team out regardless of scenario. I would be willing to bet most of Patriot nation was watching the final drive of the Steelers game on Sunday expecting Brady to take the team down the field in less than 3 mins and score a TD to tie the game. I know I was. Unfortunately, this year is different for the Pats, and we should adjust our expectations now to avoid (more) disappointment later.

There is a laundry list of things that separate this year’s team from previous incarnations of Belichick’s squad, but the underlying theme is the same in all of them: focus and discipline.

The one thing that has always separated Bill Belichick-run teams from everyone else in football has been fundamentally sound, error-free football. Belichick’s teams rarely shoot themselves in the foot and often avoid damaging penalties at inopportune times. Enter the 2018 Patriots who don’t follow any of the usual markers of the Belichick reign. Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh is the freshest and most glaring example of change in 2018. The officials were (admittedly) calling the game tighter than normal, leading to more penalties, yet the worst yellow flags for the Pats were self-inflicted and mostly pre-snap. The Pats had a total of 14 penalties costing them 106 yards, 5 were pre-snap (4 false starts and 1 delay of game). Give Pittsburgh fans credit, the stadium was rocking in the 4th quarter, but rarely do you see a Belichick coached team have 2 terrible false start penalties in a close game in the 4th quarter, even on the road. It’s all about mental focus.

One of the more telling stats about focus and discipline is the team’s 3-5 road record. Mentally fragile or weak teams let road environments get in their heads and force them off their game. Belichick prides himself in preparation, but this year the team seems wholly unprepared on the road (see false starts in yesterday’s 4th quarter and the Miami miracle – hell, the entire Miami game). When the going gets tough and the game gets tight on the road, the Pats seem to tighten-up and make the type of mistakes we expect to see from a Hue Jackson coached team.

On the offensive-side of the ball, the Pats have been wildly inconsistent. It comes down to the receivers. One of the most talked about stories this season has been the apparent rapid decline of Rob Gronkowski, whether because his body has been worn down over the years or because he is currently injured. He’s made a nice catch here and there, but mostly has been an invisible piece of the offense. Another piece for me appears to be effort from the other receivers. On paper, Edelman is having a normal season by his standards, but the last few weeks he’s failed the eye-test at times with some critical dropped passes that he would normally catch. Josh Gordon gets a lot of attention for a big, spectacular catch here and there, but overall he has a catch percentage of 58.8%, which is not what you want to see out of one of your top receivers who has Brady as his QB. I think all three receivers are suffering from a lack of focus at times during games.

When analyzing the team, the QB needs to get some attention. Brady overall is having an fairly normal year by his standards, but has been picked off 9 times already, tied for the most in a season for him since 2013 with 2 games remaining. One major piece to consider is that Brady is being put in a position to force more throws this year because the defense can’t keep the opponent off the scoreboard. It doesn’t excuse all the mistakes, like the awful INT in Sunday’s Pittsburgh game (100% on Brady), but does account for the uptick of risk in his game.

The defense has also been horribly inconsistent this year. Holding the high-powered Steeler offense to 17 points on Sunday was one of their better performances of the year. The weapons in the passing game for Pittsburgh are legit, so allowing more rushing yards to limit the passing game is a smart game plan. Previous games have resulted in an unusually high amount of blown coverages and missed tackles leading to massive days for their opponents. Stopping the run, a Belichick (Patricia) staple, has been beyond a struggle in 2018. In 8 of their 14 games this season the Pats have allowed 100+ rushing yards, including 5 games allowing 150+ yards on the ground. For perspective, the Pats allowed 3 games with 150+ rushing yards in 2017, 1 in 2016, and 2 in 2015 (regular season only). In fact, you have to go back to 2013 for the last time the Pats gave up 5 or more games of 150+ rushing yards and there are still 2 games remaining in 2018.


Historically, Belichick-coached teams turn it on in the 2nd half of the season, peaking in December leading into the playoffs. We have come to expect early season sloppiness trusting that things turn around later in the season. So far in December 2018 the Pats are 1-2, with two crucial, ugly losses. These two losses you might expect in September, not in the stretch run when the playoffs and a bye are at stake. They moved from fighting for the #1 seed to hanging on to the #3.

The struggles are clear, but why? Did the Patriots not bring in enough talent to compete? Are players not performing up to expectation? Is the loss of Matt Patricia more important than previously thought? I think the answer is yes to all, at least in part. The Pats have talent on both sides of the ball, but it isn’t enough. Their defense is easy to exploit by opposing offenses and their offense is forced to come-from-behind and play well outside their comfort zone most weeks.  Now slipping to the #3 playoff spot forces the Pats to play on Wild Card weekend and likely go on the road for the Divisional round if they are lucky enough to get a win at all. 

There’s always a chance for a strong run in the postseason with Brady and Belichick, we’re conditioned to always believe, but at this point, a deep run in 2018 would take a true miracle.

Where Has Julian Edelman Gone?

Getty Images

Getty Images

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)
2015 2016 Drop-off
Targets 75 54 21
Receptions 52 37 15
Yards 584 321 263
Yards/reception 11.23 8.68 2.55
TD 6 0 6
Catch % 69.3% 68.5% 0.8%

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.

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.

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!