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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Cassius Marsh another in list of disappointing Patriots offseason acquisitions

Not every move works out for New England.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

1. The New England Patriots released edge defender Cassius Marsh, yet another misstep in the team’s attempt to replace the 2016 starting rotation of Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long. The Patriots sent a fifth round and seventh round pick to the Seattle Seahawks to acquire Marsh, who ended up playing 40% of the Patriots defensive snaps and 53% of the special teams snaps through 10 games.

Marsh saw his special teams role reduce from 82% in week one to just 25% over the past three games, and he only played 2 defensive snaps against the Oakland Raiders after missing the game against the Denver Broncos. Marsh’s role had been shrinking because he continued to make mental errors when asked to contain on the edge.

Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler have seen their roles increase with Marsh out of the equation and should continue to play more down the stretch as they join Trey Flowers and the newly signed Eric Lee to form the edge defenders; Kyle Van Noy and Trevor Reilly should be factored into the equation, too.

Marsh simply wasn’t playing well enough to keep his job on defense and he wasn’t helping out on special teams anymore and that is the heart of the decision to move on from him. He’s also the inspiration for this week’s Sunday NFL Thoughts where I’m going to look at the Patriots other offseason acquisitions that haven’t panned out as expected.

2. Kony Ealy was also added to help replace the Patriots pass rush and he didn’t even make the initial roster. Ealy is currently the best pass rusher on the New York Jets and he’s averaged one pass defense per week, which is pretty incredible for a pass rusher. He absolutely could be helping the Patriots defense right now, but the New England coaching staff decided to go in a different direction.

Ealy wouldn’t be the top pass rusher for the Patriots, but he could certainly be on the same level as, if not higher than, Wise and Butler, and- more importantly- would be able to give Flowers some extra rest.

What went wrong here?

“There was a lot of effort put in, but in the end we didn’t feel like this was going to work out,” Bill Belichick explained after Ealy’s release.

Ealy just wasn’t a fit for what the Patriots had in mind for their defensive front- or this was simply a misstep by Belichick and company.

3. Running back Mike Gillislee has been a healthy scratch the past couple of weeks and saw his role reduced from playing roughly a third of the offensive snaps over the first five games, to just 13 snaps in the next three weeks, and then not playing at all after the bye week. This isn’t what the Patriots had in mind when they signed Gillislee away from the Buffalo Bills as a restricted free agent.

And there’s a lot of reasons to go around for why Gillislee hasn’t been able to contribute. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead have been playing well enough as runners between the tackle and on special teams to make Gillislee expendable. And then Gillislee was not targeted as a receiver at all and that limitation really hindered his production.

That fault lies with the coaching staff. Gillislee is one of three running backs in the NFL to see eight or more defenders in the box on over 50% of his snaps (51%); the other two are Jaguars running backs because no one is afraid of Blake Bortles throwing the ball. That’s unacceptable and it’s the result of the coaching staff telegraphing a run play every time Gillislee was on the field.

If the coaches drew up a pass to Gillislee every now and again, then defenses wouldn’t be able to stuff the run with such ease. That’s not Gillislee’s fault.

Of course the Patriots give opportunities to those that earn them, so if Burkhead and Lewis are better receivers and also just as good of runners, then it makes sense for them to get the majority of the snaps. But it just seems like the Patriots coaches never gave Gillislee a fair chance.

4. Dwayne Allen is another player that didn’t get a great chance to start the year, but is reinventing himself after the bye week. Allen dropped one pass early on, but Tom Brady was generally inaccurate when throwing to the tight end, even when Allen was wide open.

Still, Allen stuck with it as a blocker and didn’t let the acquisition of Martellus Bennett stop him from recording his first three catches of the year over the past two weeks. And with Brady chewing out Jacob Hollister for not lining up correctly and Bennett still dealing with an injury, Allen should still have a direct path to the field for the rest of the season.

Maybe Allen won’t be a top 10 tight end- but he’s proving himself useful and he’s making teams have to cover him now. He’s also under contract for a few more years and he’s earning himself a longer leash.

5. The Patriots acquired Phillip Dorsett for third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, in a move that made a lot of sense before the subsequent trade of Jimmy Garoppolo. Brissett’s been the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts where he leads the NFL in sacks (35), but has played pretty well all things considered with the atrocious state of the Colts roster.

Dorsett has seen his role increase with Chris Hogan sidelined with a shoulder injury, but he’s been unable to be an active contributor with so many other targets in the offense. He has 6 catches for 101 yards and is still looking for his first touchdown. He’s gained just 33 yards since week 2.

Dorsett is behind Hogan, Brandin Cooks, and Danny Amendola at receiver, but is also competing with Rob Gronkowski, Allen, Bennett, Lewis, Burkhead, and James White for targets. He was also thrown into the Patriots offense without a full offseason to learn the program and should have another couple years on his contract to be more integrated with the playbook.

It’s way too early to put a ruling out on Dorsett- but it’s clear that he’s not yet been able to prove his worth.

6. David Harris has seen his role increase over the past four games since Dont’a Hightower suffered a shoulder injury and was placed on the injured reserve, but he played just 7 snaps over the first six games. He’s played 98 snaps over the past four weeks and racked up 10 tackles.

Harris is playing behind Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, while Marquis Flowers has seen his role increase over the past three weeks. Flowers appears to be eating into Roberts’ time on the field as opposed to Harris, but that just adds to the point that Harris is the third linebacker on the field and nothing more, while Roberts and Flowers combine to pair with Van Noy in the Patriots’ base 4-2-5 defense.

And that’s okay. While it would’ve been great for Harris to be an every-down type of player, at least he has a defined role and he’s playing it well. It just took half the season and a serious injury for Harris to have an opening.

7. Stephon Gilmore, like Harris and (fingers crossed) Allen, is playing his way off this list, but he has to be included because of his enormous contract value. Gilmore’s missed three games with an injury and he was at the heart of all the Patriots defensive struggles over the first four weeks of the season.

Over the past three weeks, though, Gilmore’s been an ace shadowing the top receiver on the other roster. When in coverage, he held the likes of Buccaneers WR Mike Evans, Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas, and Raiders WR Michael Crabtree to 12 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown on 23 targets, which is pretty outstanding (the receivers put up greater numbers, but were in coverage by other players at the time).

So Gilmore will no longer be on the list if he can keep playing at this level for the rest of the season- and I’m pretty confident that he will.