State of the Game
I actually think a healthy Giants offense would have been a legitimate test for this defense. Daniel “Danny Dimes” Jones may not be good, but he is fearless. With better weapons that boldness may have been rewarded. Saquon Barkley is one of the best running backs in the NFL. Evan Engram, Sterling Sheperd and Golden Tate provide three quality receiving targets. Their offense line is not good but far from terrible.
Unfortunately, Tate was the only legitimate receiver the Giants had available on Thursday which meant that the matchup left much to be desired. The Patriots offense struggled more than I would have preferred against a defense lacking in talent, but it managed to get the job done. Overall, it was a good win for the team. Any week you create separation with your conference rivals is a good week.
State of the Schedule
I use a similar tactic to check my bias in politics that I do to check my bias in football. In politics I try ask myself how I would respond if someone I supported did the same thing that someone I did not support was being criticized for. In football I always ask myself how I would respond if a team I did not support did what my team did. It’s great that the defense clobbered the Giants, but how much credit would you give an opposing defense for beating the Patriots if they only had Julian Edelman and no other quality receivers or running backs?
I cannot in good faith denigrate the media for anointing the Dallas Cowboys after three weeks against a pancake schedule and not turn that same critique against the Patriots. Basically, I have Cowboy syndrome. I desperately want to believe in the team but I cannot crown them without seeing them perform against better competition. It seems obvious but who you play matters a ton. A team can look like a world-beater one week and get its doors blown off the next against better competition. Heck, it’s the NFL, sometimes it doesn’t even have to be better competition.
That analysis should not be interpreted as a lack of faith in the Patriots. I have serious concerns about the offense but I am confident that barring sustained injuries they can get the unit on track by the end of the season. In terms of the defense, I do think the Pittsburgh Steelers presented a quality opponent. The question is not whether the defense is good, the the question is how good. I may be couching my assessment of the team based on the quality of their opponents but I still believe they are the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
I just don’t believe the team in its current form is a world-beater. The distance between where it is and its nearest competitor in the AFC is not as large a gap as the current record indicates. It may be that large by the end of the season though. We will see.
State of the Offense
Nothing I saw this week fundamentally shifted my view of the offense. The blocking by the running backs and tight ends was unusually poor. Marshall Newhouse continues to be a liability but at least one of the sacks he gave up was also Ryan Izzo’s fault too. James White had his worst game in pass protection in three years. Only the return of Isaiah Wynn can stabilize the left tackle position, but I expect the blocking from the tight ends and running backs to be better next week.
Marcus Cannon gave up a single pressure which is a significant improvement over the previous week. The team is going to ride or die with Cannon at right tackle so that was a positive development. As a whole, the O-line was better in pass protection this week. This may change if the team plays better defenses but I would argue that the run blocking is a more significant issue than pass protection through six weeks. That’s actually encouraging because everyone on that offensive line has proven they can be good run blockers and Isiah Wynn was an excellent run blocker in college.
With that being said, here are some other notes on the offense:
- I’m not sure if Benjamin Watson and Eric Tomlinson will help a lot but with the blocking by the tight ends so inconsistent it’s hard to imagine how signing them could hurt.
- Julian Edelman had an excellent game but I’m pretty sure Tom Brady’s interception was partially due to a miscommunication with the quarterback.
- I think it’s obvious Edelman and Josh Gordon are playing hurt. Edelman’s toughness in playing through his rib injury is very impressive.
- I expected the Patriots to designate N’Keal Harry to return and I am glad they did. I wouldn’t say I am bullish on his prospects this season but with so many of New England’s receivers injured I think you have to give your first-round pick a chance to make an impact.
- I want the Patriots to make a trade for another offensive difference maker. I’m not too concerned about the cost. The AFC is weak, the defense is hot, don’t let this year be another 2006 where the lack of a quality target sinks the season. I know we keep saying it, and I know the Patriots keep winning, but the gravy train will end eventually. I want the team to capitalize on the greatest stretch of team sports in the history of the country.
- That being said the only offensive player available with enough juice to turn around the offense on his own was cut by this very team. Whoever it trades for — if it even trades for anyone — will not be enough to fix the issues with the offense on their own. This team simply has to scheme and execute better. There is no one I trust more in the NFL to make those adjustments than the Patriots.
- It was nice seeing Jakobi Meyers getting it done last week but Brady continues to sound so negative about his receivers that I question my own eyes when it comes to his impact. I thought he looked good but I suppose Brady is just like me in that he is less concerned with the Giants’ cornerbacks and more concerned with the corners Meyers will have to beat during a playoff push.
State of the Defense
Michael Bennett was suspended for an argument based around “philosophical differences” with his position coach. Bennett has always been an outspoken player and the dissatisfaction about his playing time has clearly been growing over the last few weeks. He also had two major issues with the Philadelphia Eagles that played a role in his trade: First, he wanted to be paid more. That’s not surprising as he was outplaying his contract. The Patriots swiftly gave him a raise upon his arrival. The second issue was playing time.
Bennett is a starter and he wasn’t playing starter snaps with the Eagles. I respect that decision by the Eagles. They had one of the best defensive lines in the NFL last year and I think the heavy rotation early on in the season could have helped keep Bennett fresh. When they upped his snap count for the final leg of the season he went on a tear and probably had his best consecutive stretch of games in years. That being said, I completely understand why a legitimate starter would want to play starter snaps.
With Trey Flowers leaving it seemed like Bennett would get no shortage of snaps in New England and his second problem would be fixed too. That has not been the case. The Patriots signed Jamie Collins, who has been a revelation in his return, and the Patriots switched to a 3-4 front. Bennett is best as a versatile line piece that can be kicked inside to rush in a 4-3 front and his position on the team did become a little awkward with the switch. Still, Bennett was the most talented pass rusher on the roster and I didn’t think it would be difficult for him to find his way unto the field. Unfortunately for him that has not been the case. His snap count has been comparatively minimal.
I still think that short of an impact player Bennett provides more value to the team in a reserve/rotational role than he would in a trade. But whatever argument caused his suspension might change that calculus. I’m not sold on the defensive line but the majority of the pressure the Patriots have created has come from their linebackers. If Bill Belichick is happy with that it might make Bennett expendable, even though the D-line isn’t exactly boasting with talented depth.
Adam Butler has been better this year but he’s not superior. Shilique Calhoun did flash before his ankle injury, but who knows what he will look like now. Chase Winovich has obviously been a success so far but he’s far from being a consistent playmaker. The Patriots have never been too stingy when it came to suspensions. Remember, they suspended franchise stalwart Wes Welker, albeit, for one drive not one entire game. The Patriots could have cut Bennett and they did not. That means they either still see a place for him on this team or they see him as a worthwhile bargaining chip in a trade.
I advocated trading for Bennett quite vigorously and felt vindicated when the Patriots did exactly that. I think even with his new contract he is a potential bargain for the team. I can’t speak to the cause of the argument but I hope whatever it is will not make the relationship unsalvageable. Bennett is still the best pass rusher on the D-line and I suspect New England will need that talent later in the season. If the relationship cannot be saved, however, I hope they are at least able to package him in a way that helps the team bring in an impact player this season. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though. If the Patriots want to move him they will even if the return isn’t good. Just like they did with Collins back in 2016.
I don’t have much else to say about the defense. They are good. It will be easier for me to buy into them being elite when they play better competition. Nothing I saw against the Giants meaningfully changed my mind or added to my analysis from last week.
State of Trades
Jeff Howe is a dependable journalist so it took me by surprise when he reported that there was genuine confidence in the Patriots front office that they could swing a trade for Stefon Diggs last week. It seemed to surprise Howe too because he quickly cast aspersions on the idea. After this weekend, however, I think it’s safe to say there is next to zero chance that the Minnesota Vikings trade Diggs. He was absolutely dominant last week and the Vikings remain very much in contention for the division.
I doubt A.J. Green will become available either because the Cincinnati Bengals are an incompetent organization. I do think Tyler Eifert could be had and likely at little to no cost. Eifert is made of glass and has barely managed to make it unto a football field, never mind contribute once he was there. Eifert was a monster in 2015, but Josh Gordon was a monster in 2013. Things change. As great as Eifert’s upside is he is not worth a gamble of anything more than a low draft pick. Green would be worth a more significant gamble, but it would still be a gamble. He hasn’t finished a season healthy in two years. But at least in his case you have more recent proof of talent and the injuries have not been as bad.
Emmanuel Sanders remains my favorite trade target in terms of impact and the probability of the trade happening. Unfortunately, back-to-back wins by the Denver Broncos have led many to report that the impending fire sale of the team’s assets has been suspended. It’s a shame because Sanders would be a great fit for the Patriots’ offense and could almost immediately step in as the first or second best receiver on the team.
O.J. Howard for a second sure would be nice...
Trading Bennett to the Bears would make a lot of sense for Chicago. They just lost Akiem Hicks and Bennett would be a plug-and-play option there. Bennett could provide the interior pass rush they lost with Hicks, but I’m not sure what player they have that would be beneficial to New England. I suppose the team could get draft capital but I’d rather get someone who could contribute now. Beggars cannot be choosers, though.
The Atlanta Falcons defense is a dumpster fire right now and could also benefit from Bennett. Dan Quinn was also his coach during the glory years of the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” defense. Someone mentioned Alex Mack in a trade but Atlanta has serious issues with its O-line so that seems very improbable. What about tight end Austin Hooper? Atlanta has several excellent pass catchers already, and Hooper would be a great addition to the offense. However, Quinn is playing for his job so I strongly doubt Hooper would be available. If he were? I’d snap him up in a second.
I’m not a big fan of targeting Mohamed Sanu, although I suppose anything could work for the right price. He would be a good fit but I am not sure how much he would really raise the overall talent level of the Patriots’ offense. It also cannot be ignored that Sanu benefits from playing with Julio Jones every week. I’m okay with anything that improves New England’s offense but I’m not gonna break the bank for him.
All of my trade targets have been on offense but where could the Patriots get defensive reinforcements? The only place that makes sense would be strong safety or along the defensive line. The Patriot have established starters and plenty of depth everywhere else on the roster. Who would those players be? I honestly don’t have a clue. Sound off in the comments if you want to brainstorm!
I am leaving the analysis below in place for accountability purposes. The night I submitted this column it was reported that the Los Angeles Rams had traded for Jalen Ramsey:
Smart trade by the Baltimore Ravens whose excellent defense from last year has struggled. I think they would prefer to sign someone like Michael Bennett, but Marcus Peters will strengthen an already strong secondary. The Ravens offense has performed very well so defensive help is key for them to make a playoff push. I respect the Rams for getting value from someone they know won’t be on the roster next year but they went from a Super Bowl appearance to being multiple games behind in their division. Aqib Talib was also recently injured, so moving on from Peters means that the Los Angeles Rams are down to one above-average slot corner and nobodies on the outside. I don’t follow the Rams closely enough to know this for sure but it appears suspiciously like a team waving the white flag.
Apparently the Eagles are aggressively seeking Jalen Ramsey. Great move by Eagles GM Howie Roseman depending on the cost. The Eagles have a good roster but their secondary is abysmal outside of Malcolm Jenkins. I think they can still win their division but they need reinforcements to get it done. It might be a blessing in disguise that the Kansas City Chiefs’ bid for Ramsey failed. That team may not have a great secondary but its the front seven that is sinking their championship aspirations. I’m not sure any team is going to get Ramsey though. Supposedly, the owner has put his foot down. Unless the owner changes his mind it’s just chasing fool’s gold.
L.A. trading for Ramsey is a gutsy move. The Rams have to pay Jared Goff huge sums of money starting next year and now they will have to add a record-breaking cornerback contract to that ledger. Oh, and sacrifice two first round picks to do it. A top-heavy team is about to get even more top-heavy. In the Rams’ defense, Ramsey is one of the best in the business, he’s only 24, and the Rams need serious help in their secondary. Not to mention the draft is a complete crap shoot. If the Rams make the playoffs for the next two years it may end up being worth it.
On the flip side, the Jacksonville Jaguars are banking on the fact that the a team third in its division will not make a playoff push. L.A. has serious issues with its offensive line and lacks depth across most of the roster. Is Ramsey going to be enough for the Rams to climb out of their hole? We will see. I am a big fan of Sean McVay and Wade Phillips, but they got their work cut out for them. This move might make it easier to climb but it also reduces the margin for error considerably.
If the Patriots had a chance for a 24-year-old All-Pro tackle for two first-round picks I would take it, but that’s largely because I know they will be picking no higher than 29th in the draft both years. Something tells me the Jaguars will get at least one pick higher than that.
The Cleveland Browns trading Austin Corbett has raised the specter of a Trent Williams trade between the Washington Redskins and the Browns. The trade would make a ton of sense for Cleveland but I’m not convinced moving past Corbett is proof of that happening. Corbett has been terrible and it is more likely that a Rams team desperate for any spark along its offensive line simply paired well with a Browns team looking to get any sort of value on their misfire. John Dorsey is a good talent scout and I strongly doubt Corbett will have his career resurrected in L.A.
This is a potentially a nice moment for the Giants, though. There was speculation they would have taken Corbett 34rd overall if the Browns did not snap him up. Will Hernandez has been a very solid pick for them so the Giants should be grateful that one got away.
Look, referees have a difficult job and generally bad calls even out over the course of the game. As a result I am generally pro referee when it comes to controversial calls. Monday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions was not one of those times. The same referee manufactured two phantom face mask calls against the same player. Neither replay gave even the slightest hint, whisper or semblance of a face mask. Both calls came on crucial third downs where Green Bay failed to convert. Without both of those penalties, the Packers almost assuredly lose.
I have a pretty simple rule. I can stand one egregious call per a team but two egregious calls in the fourth quarter that directly impact the outcome of the game? Get out with that. I turned my television off and went to bed. I don’t buy into conspiracy theories when it comes to referees fixing games. I do buy into gross incompetence. That was gross incompetence and I repeat my opinion that the league should penalize terrible referees in some fashion. All that being said, I cannot claim to be surprised. The Lions are just that type of franchise. As I said before the game even started: I hope the Lions win but I assume Green Bay will. The Lions are just not allowed to have nice things.
It’s gross watching men who defended the rights of American citizens to kneel during the anthem in the NFL turn right around and say that American citizens in the NBA cannot tweet in support of Hong Kong freedom. I wish there was an explanation for it other than tennis shoes sales, but there’s not: it’s about money. That being said, I confess that we are all guilty of this to an extent. I have held my tongue plenty of times when speaking with a professional superior. The benefit of voicing my opposition to their views did not outweigh the potential trouble it would cause me, although I would draw a clear distinction between hundred millionaires seeking to become billionaires and me keeping the lights in my apartment from going out. I would also draw a distinction between people with significant power and a 21-year-old talking to a 67-year-old attorney. So yeah, the stakes and the degrees are different. And that difference matters a lot. But we’re all hypocrites to an extent when it comes to our values. I’ll step off the soap box now.