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: pittsburgh steelers

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.

Weekend Sports Recap: Pats, Bruins, UConn, and Revs

weekend-recap-10-24-16

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.

NFL

Final
New England Patriots 27
Pittsburgh Steelers 16

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.”

NHL

Final
Montreal Canadiens 4
Boston Bruins 2

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.

College Football

Final
UCF Knights 24
UConn Huskies 16

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.

MLS

Final
New England Revolution 3
Montreal Impact 0

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.”

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.

Don’t Poke The Bear (i.e. Patriots)

AP/Elise Amendola

AP/Elise Amendola

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?

Vontaze Burfict Will Never Learn

Getty Images

Getty Images

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.

Patriots with 3rd Quarter Magic Against Bengals

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

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.