Tag Archives: AFC East

‘Twas the Night Before Week 1

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No it’s not Christmas, it’s football season. Well if you switch egg nog, Christmas movies, and presents with Bud Light, NFL Redzone and your favorite team scoring touchdowns then it may as well be Christmas season. The night before week 1(yes I know, technically that was Wednesday night but Sunday is the one that matters ok) of the NFL football season is the closest we’ll get to the excitement that was Christmas Eve as a kid. The air is filled with so much excitement, curiosity, and happiness that it’s impossible to get any sleep. Well as a young adult that Christmas excitement is long gone. We lay awake at 3am for a different reason, yes because we just stumbled in from the bar and devoured 2 hot pockets and a plate of bagel bites, but also because 2016 football is upon us! Instead of running downstairs in my PJs to check the presents, I’ll be running downstairs in my NaVorro Bowman jersey to turn on Fox NFL Sunday and set my fantasy lineup. Now while this season doesn’t necessarily look too promising for my 49ers, there’s still a lot to look forward to with a new season. The NFL is so unpredictable that only a silly person would try and make predictions. With that being said, here are my predictions for the 2016-2017 NFL season.

AFC West

  1. Broncos
  2. Chiefs
  3. Raiders
  4. Chargers

One of the strongest divisions in the NFL, this was a tough one to pick. Lots of people are going away from Denver due to their quarterbacks. Well Peyton Manning was pretty awful last year and they won the Super Bowl. Defense wins games and Denver has the best defense in the league. However, I wouldn’t be surprised by any of the top three teams winning the division. The Raiders have a really strong young core on offense and defense and will be worth watching.

AFC EAST

  1. Patriots
  2. Jets
  3. Dolphins
  4. Bills

I think the Patriots can manage to go 2-2 without Tom Brady putting them in good position for the division. While the jets have built a much-improved roster, once Brady is back the Patriots will be the Patriots again.

AFC North

  1. Steelers
  2. Bengals
  3. Ravens
  4. Browns

The Steelers have the best running back and wide receiver in the NFL. Even without Bell for the first 3 games the Steelers will be in good hands with DeAngelo Williams who excelled in replace of Bell last year. And that Antonio Brown guy is pretty good too.

AFC South

  1. Jags
  2. Texans
  3. Colts
  4. Titans

I personally think the Jaguars have put together a really really nice young squad. A QB emerging into a stud, an elite receiver in Allen Robinson, a pair of high quality backs in Ivory and Yeldon and a young tenacious Defense, I think the Jags can win the division. They are probably 2 or 3 more years away from really competing for a Super Bowl but they are certainly on the right track. Keep an eye on the Texans this year too. They added a dynamic running back in Lamar Miller and a serviceable (anything is better than the guys they had last year) quarterback in Brock Osweiler. They also have a guy by the name of JJ Watt, you might’ve heard of him.

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card Round: Chiefs over Broncos; Bengals over Jags

Divisional Round: Steelers over Bengals; Patriots over Chiefs

AFC Championship: Steelers over Patriots

NFC West

  1. Cardinals
  2. Seahawks
  3. Rams
  4. 49ers:(

It pains me to pick my 49ers to finish last in the division but that’s how the times are. Anytime I get sad about the 49ers I just remember the Warriors signed Kevin Durant and that distracts me and makes me happy. But anyway, you could go either way with the Cardinals and Seahawks but I like the Cardinals offense a little more than the Seahawks.

NFC East

  1. Redskins
  2. Giants
  3. Cowboys
  4. Eagles

Cowboys would’ve ran away with this division if Romo hadn’t got hurt. But with the way things are, I like the Redskins and their offense to take the division. I’m expecting a huge season from Odell Beckham Jr (I have him on my fantasy team)

NFC North

  1. Packers
  2. Vikings
  3. Lions
  4. Bears

The Packers have the easiest strength of schedule in the NFL. The Vikings losing Teddy Bridgewater for the season made this choice an easy one.

NFC South

  1. Panthers
  2. Saints
  3. Falcons
  4. Bucs

Returning with pretty much the same roster that went 15-1, I see no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t win the division. The Saints should also be much better this year. Along with emerging star WR Brandin Cooks and RB Mark Ingram, the Saints drafted a big receiver in Michael Thomas in the 2nd round and added Coby Fleener to improve the tight end position. Expect that offense to carry them to 9 or 10 wins.

NFC Playoffs

Wild card round: Seahawks over Panthers, Redskins over Saints

Divisional round: Cards over Seahawks, Packers over Redskins

NFC Championship: Cards over Packers

Super Bowl: Cards over Steelers

Defense wins championships. While I love this Steelers team and their top-notch offensive talent, this Cardinals team is just too lethal. They have a young star running back in David Johnson, they have an elite WR group with Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown and they have an already elite defense that traded for proven pass rusher Chandler Jones in the off season. Cardinals are my pick to win Super Bowl 51.

Individual Awards

NFL MVP: Aaron Rodgers

Offensive player of the year: Antonio Brown (Almost picked him to be MVP)

Defensive player of the year: Khalil Mack

Coach of the year: Gus Bradley

Offensive rookie of the year: Ezekiel Elliot (duh)

Defensive rookie of the year: Jalen Ramsey

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NFL Week 14: The Storylines Drive The League

When you think about it, football teams play regular-season games 16 days out of 365 days in a year.  Sure, the games are important, but, admit it: the storylines drive the league.  The storylines behind the games bring the necessary drama to the field and enhance the overall enjoyment of the game.  So, with that being said, let’s look at the notable stats and storylines of week 14.

* The New England Patriots face the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football this week and will try to stop a three-game losing streak, a rare spot for the team to find themselves. The Patriots have gone 213 straight games without losing three consecutive games, and only the San Francisco 49ers, with 292 straight games between 1980-99 have more.

* The Kansas City Chiefs are riding strong on a miracle six-game winning streak after starting the season with a 1-5 record.  With their recent success, it is hard to remember how poor of a start they had at the beginning of the season.  However, they need the momentum to keep rolling against the San Diego Chargers if they want to be just the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after starting 1-5 through their first six games.  The only other team to do that was the 1970 Bengals, who went 1-6 before going on a seven-game winning streak.

* When the Cincinatti Bengals play the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, they will have the opportunity to clinch the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.  As a result, Andy Dalton could become just the second starting quarterback to make the playoffs in all of his first five seasons in the league.  The only other quarterback to do that is Joe Flacco. (Bengals fans, however, are hoping that this will be the year when they finally get past the wild-card round, though).

* The Giants (5-7) face off against the Dolphins (5-7) on Monday Night Football, and, even though the two teams have identical records going into the game, they have completely different divisional standings.  The Dolphins are buried in the bottom of the AFC East, while the Giants are tied for the lead atop the NFC East with the Eagles and Redskins.  Does this give the Giants an advantage?  Well, figure this into the equation: the Giants have the most losses (4) when leading after three quarters and the most losses when leading with five minutes left in the fourth quarter (5).

* The Seattle Seahawks have had great success over the past two seasons with two Super Bowl appearances, so, when they had a losing record (4-5) after their Week 10 loss to the Cardinals, questions about them even making the playoffs surrounded the team.  However, they have rebounded over the past three weeks with Russell Wilson throwing at least three touchdowns in three consecutive games, becoming the second player in franchise history to do that feat.  Will Wilson keep the fireworks shooting against the Ravens?

* So, who is going to be the league MVP this year: Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, or Adrian Peterson? Whether or not your answer is Newton, think about this: Newton has 30 games with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown.  If he does that again against the Atlanta Falcons, he will be tied with Steve Young for the most in NFL history.

* If you’re leaning towards Adrian Peterson as the MVP, consider this: when Mike Wallace scored the touchdown against the Cardinals that tied the game at 20-20 with five minutes left on the clock Thursday, he scored the Vikings’ first offensive touchdown not by Adrian Peterson in 15 quarters (almost four games)!  Peterson also scored his 100th touchdown Thursday.

* Speaking of the Arizona Cardinals, they are proving to be shining stars in the spotlight.  They are 4-0 in primetime games this season and have another primetime game – Sunday Night Football – against the Eagles next week.  Is that bad luck for Eagles fans, who were supposed to play the Patriots last week in primetime but got flexed out of the spot, yet, after beating the Patriots, the league moved them into the Sunday Night Football matchup against the Cardinals?

* With the Heisman trophy set to be awarded soon, five straight awards have gone to quarterbacks in the past five years, and, of them, only Robert Griffin III made the playoffs in his first season.  Jameis Winston still has an outside chance to make the playoffs in his first year.  The Buccaneers (6-6) are tied with the Falcons and one game behind the Seahawks for the sixth playoff spot and two games away from the Vikings for the fifth playoff spot.  Will Tampa Bay start a playoff-worthy stretch of wins against the Saints Sunday?  Winning is now crucial for the Buccaneers.

* Is the NFC East the most mediocre, disinteresting, or most interesting division to watch right now?  The NFC East is the only division in the league in which every team has a losing record, and an argument why any of the four teams can win the division can be made.  Eagles play the Bills; Cowboys play the Packers; Giants play the Dolphins; Redskins play the Bears.  Who will come out victorious on Sunday and in the divisional race as a whole?

Questions/Comments? @sean__cumming

Patriots vs Colts Review

Follow me on Twitter: @ezlazar

The Patriots didn’t have their cleanest performance of the season, but they did enough to get a hard fought road win over the Colts.

The Pats deployed Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung in a hybrid corner look, as the team is thin at cornerback, that proved to be effective.

It was just another day at the office for Tom Brady and the offense, putting up 34 points (5 straight with 28+ to start the season), while racking up 417 yards of total offense.

Here are the highlights from the Patriots fifth win of the season:

Safety Play: The Patriots have something brewing in the secondary with McCourty, Harmon, Chung, and rookie Jordan Richards. McCourty is the Patriots best defensive back on the roster, and he was unleashed by Matt Patricia in a number of different roles vs Indy. Duron Harmon’s ability to play deep safety in Cover-1 (Patriots primary coverage) allows McCourty to move around the defense, and become a more matchup specific player. McCourty played a ton close to the line of scrimmage and even saw some snaps at a traditional corner position. Due to their depth at safety, the Patriots turned to a 3 safety, 2 cornerback look in the nickle. Chung also performed admirable shadowing top Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton for most of the second half.

Dominique Easley and Chandler Jones: This was by far Easley’s best game as a pro, granted with a small sample size. Easley tallied 8 quarterback pressures and his push up the middle made it easier for the rest of the Patriots rushers to get free. Chandler Jones had his best game of the season. Recording 2.5 sacks in a game where they needed Jones to step up. Easley made Colts center Khaled Holmes look silly on this play, as he and Jones met Luck in the backfield for a sack: 

Run Defense: In the previous four matchups against the Patriots (including playoffs) the Colts ran for just 72.5 rush yards per game. They ran for 120 in this one (most in 5 games vs Patriots since 2012). The Colts have improved at the wide receiver position with Andre Johnson and the emergence of Donte Moncrief, but the addition of Frank Gore makes this Colts offense much more well rounded. This was a rough game for the interior of the Patriots defense against the run. Sealver Siliga struggled stopping the run, and there was a clear drop off without Dont’a Hightower at linebacker with Jonathan Freeny and Jerod Mayo.

Brady’s Pocket Presence: You could tell that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t completely satisfied with the offense after the game. That might have something to do with the Patriots going punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt, downs, TD in the second half. It was another ho hum performance from Brady, but what really stood out was his movement in the pocket. Brady gets flack for his lack of foot speed, but it’s something that you can tell he has worked on in the offseason. His ability to climb the pocket and find little pockets of space to deliver passes is underrated. Brady scrambled on both his touchdown passes to Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount.

Gronk Creating Space: Over the last two weeks Gronk has been relatively quiet in the passing game despite catching a touchdown in this one. One thing that is apparent on film is that even when Gronk isn’t getting the ball his presence alone frees things up significantly for other Patriots receivers. The Colts were satisfied covering Gronk with one defender when he lined up in a traditional wide receiver position, but used bracket coverage when he was lined up in a more traditional tight end alignment. On both of Danny Amendola’s big gainers Gronk ran two defenders away from Amendola:

 

Offensive Line: You have to give a ton of credit to the players and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo for putting together a decent effort with a makeshift line and three rookies in the mix. Marcus Cannon exited the game early with a toe injury, forcing Sebastian Vollmer to move to LT and Cam Flemming to man the RT spot. Flemming did allow the most pressures of any Patriots lineman, but the offensive line as a whole held up enough to get the job done allowing just 8 pressures. The first sack of Brady the quarterback appeared to hang on to the ball a bit too long, and the second sack was good design by the Colts on a safety blitz that went unblocked. Injuries have added up for this group, especially at the tackle position.

 

Getting To Know The Jags

It might be difficult for most Patriots fans to know much about the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags have had one primetime game a year over the last few seasons, and those have been some of the worst Thursday night matchups on the docket.

You might know their quarterback. Blake Bortles was the first QB taken in the 2014 draft; ahead of both Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.

Other than that, you might not know much about the guys down in Duval County, Florida.

So with that being the case, here’s a quick cheat sheet on some faces to keep in mind when watching this Sunday:

Head Coach: Gus Bradley was hired by the Jags in 2013 and hasn’t faired all that well. The Jags have a .235 win percentage in that span, tied for 2nd-worst in all of football behind the lowly Bucs. Bradley was hired due to his four year stint as the defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. In his final year as the ‘Hawks DC, Seattle gave up the fewest points in the league and the fourth fewest yards. It’s obviously not fair to put the Jaguars poor record all on Bradley, as he has worked with inferior talent for much of his head coaching career.

On Offense:

T.J. Yeldon: You might remember Yeldon from his days with Nick Saban at Alabama. Yeldon has been off to a slow start to his rookie campaign, racking up just 60.5 rush yards per game with no touchdowns. Having said that, Yeldon sees the ball a lot in this Jags offense, as he has touched the ball 43 times so far in 2015 (7th-most in NFL). Due to the Patriots leaky run defense, expect the Jags to try and pound the rock on Sunday. Running the ball effectively would be a huge win for Jacksonville. If they can control time of possession they keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands.

Allen Robinson: Robinson had a huge day last week against Miami despite drawing the Dolphins top CB Brent Grimes. The Patriots don’t have anyone on the roster that has as good of coverage skills as Grimes, so expect Robinson to be a key focus of the Patriots defense. Robinson’s 26.0 yards per reception ranks 2nd-best in the NFL, and the Jags have targeted him at least 10 times in two of his last three games.

Allen Hurns: Hurns has put together a nice start to his career despite being on one of the league’s worst offensive teams. His 64.0 yards per game and 9 receptions are second on the team only to Robinson.

On Defense:

Paul Posluszny: Posluszny spent his first four years in Buffalo, and when healthy, has been near the top of the league in tackles. He has had over 100 tackles in a season three times in his career, and has 15 already in 2015. In 2013, Posluszny tallied 162 tackles for the Jaguars, ranking him just behind Cincy’s Votaze Burfict for the league lead. The middle linebacker also intercepted a pass in the Jags Week 1 game vs Carolina, and has been on the field for every snap on defense this season.

Jared Odrick: Bill Belichick had high praise for Odrick when asked about him in his weekly press conference. The name might sound familiar, as he spent the last five seasons on the Dolphins. Odrick is a versatile player that can line up both at DE and DT on this Jaguars front, and as Belichick noted, is very difficult to move in the run game. Odrick has done a little bit of everything for the Jags through the first two games, registering 5 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.

Telvin Smith: The second year linebacker has had a great start to the 2015 season. He leads the team in tackles with 18, which also ranks him in the top ten in the entire NFL. You will see and hear Smith’s name a lot on Sunday. Just like his fellow LB Posluszny, he has been on the field for every defensive snap for the Jags through two games.

As expected, the Patriots will be heavily favored against the 1-1 Jaguars. However, it’s important not to overlook the Jags as they pulled out a win last week against a supposedly superior Dolphins team.

Also, despite having one of the leagues worst offensive teams over the last few years; the Jaguars have ranked middle of the road in most defensive categories. This is an up and coming defense led by a very bright defensive coach.

The Jags haven’t been a very lucky team over the last few years. That bad luck continued when the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 draft, Dante Fowler, tore his ACL in mini-camp. Fowler is a ferocious pass rusher, and will make this defense even better in 2016.

Luckily for the Patriots they won’t have to worry about Fowler on Sunday, but there is enough talent on the Jags roster to give them some problems.

Takeaways From Pats Win Over Bills by Evan Lazar

For the eighth time in the Bill Belichick era the Patriots have started the season 2-0.

Their divisional tilt against the Bills was as emotional as expected. There was some chippy play from both sides, and a total of 25 penalties called.

Rex Ryan’s bunch was expectedly hyped to play the defending Super Bowl Champs at home.

Let’s take a look at some takeaways from the Patriots win after film review:

Patriots Use Multitude of Offensive Formations: It was hard to keep up with the Patriots formations and moving pieces on TV, so I can only imagine how difficult it is to diagnose as a defense. You wonder how and why on certain plays Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman find themselves so open? The answer, in part, is due to how many different looks the Patriots throw at the opposing defense. Gronk, Edelman, Amendola, Dobson, Chandler, and Lewis all saw the field a lot, and individually lined up in just about every spot possible. The Patriots expect a lot out of versatility out of their skilled position players, and they delivered this past week.

Offensive Line: The Bills played a lot of man coverage in the secondary, and mixed in 16 blitzes on 61 Brady drop-backs. Through the first two weeks of the season it is clear that the Patriots are emphasizing getting the ball out as quickly as possible, as Brady’s snap to throw numbers are off the charts. Having said that, this was another solid performance upfront as the Patriots threw 61 times and Brady was only pressured 12 times. The offensive line really held up well in pass protection, and on plays that needed that added second or two they stood tall. The unit is still short two starters yet they have delivered in back-to-back weeks.

Brady’s Big Day: It’s hard to ignore how good Tom Brady has been through the first two weeks of the season. It’s outrageous to talk about MVP candidates this early on, but the two-week MVP award would have to go to Brady, Rodgers, or Arizona QB Carson Palmer. Brady tore apart a defense that slowed down one of the best quarterbacks in 2014 last week, and his 466 passing yards were the 2nd-most in his historic career. Success comes from the top and trickles its way down. Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff set the tone, and then Brady leads the way. These first two weeks have illustrated just how great of an example Brady sets for his teammates. Minus a few misses on some deep balls, Brady has been perfect.

My favorite Brady throw of the day? The 22-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. Brady gets the entire BUF defense to bite on play action, and barely gets the ball out to a wide-open Edelman, also a great run after the catch by JE:

Pass Rush: Believe it or not the Patriots now lead the NFL in sacks with 11. The Patriots 8 sacks on Sunday were the most by the team since 2003, and the pressure up front had Taylor looking around for room instead of downfield. After film review, there were a number of instances where Taylor missed open receivers, and it was often because of pressure in his face. 8 sacks on 21 pressures is very good production.

4th Quarter Play Calling: There has been some discussion about how the Patriots handled playing with the lead in the 4th quarter. It was surprising to see them continue to throw despite a sizeable lead, and that might have cost them a bit in the Bills comeback attempt. On their first drive in the quarter, the Patriots passed on all eight plays before turning the ball over on downs. On the next drive they ran just two plays, both passes, before Brady was stripped sacked by Jerry Hughes. Between the two drives the Patriots only chewed up four minutes of clock, giving the Bills a decisive advantage in terms of plays ran in the 4th quarter. It’s entirely possible that the Patriots were just so confident in their short passing game that they figured a short completion was the same as a run play, but it’s also possible that they were trying to run up the score a bit on the Bills. The aggressive play calling that led to the turnover on downs and a fumble nearly cost them the game.

4th Quarter Defense: Along with some missteps in the secondary that are to be expected, there were some errors up front during the Bills comeback try. The biggest difference between the Patriots solid defense through the first 3 quarters, and the 4th quarter was how the front 7 handled quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is an exceptional athlete, and is going to find some running lanes from time to time, but on some key plays down the stretch he bought his receivers time with his legs. What makes mobile quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Taylor so difficult to defend isn’t when they take off running downfield, but when they move around to buy time for their receivers to shake the coverage. The Patriots did a decent job of keeping Taylor in the pocket for much of the game, but failed to do so on the three late touchdown drives by the Bills. On the touchdown pass to Robert Woods, Taylor avoided the rush nicely to his right buying time for Woods to find an opening in the zone, and on an even better play, found Percy Harvin for a big chunk after escaping to his left on the following series. Taylor started to find his groove as the game went on.

Missed Opportunities: Despite putting up 40 points and over 500 yards of total offense, the Patriots still left some points on the field. 40 is a lot, but they very easily could have been in the 50’s with a little bit better execution. One throw in particular that stood out was Brady overthrowing Edelman on 4th and short late in the game. Edelman clearly had a step and a good throw would have been 6, and would have sealed the victory. Against a great defense you will be more than happy with this offensive output, but it still wasn’t perfect.

 

Stock Up, Stock Down For Patriots vs Steelers

Follow me on Twitter: @ezlazar

A lot has happened since the Patriots and Steelers kicked off the NFL season, but let’s take one more look at the Patriots opening night win

For the 11th time in 12 years the Patriots have started off the season 1-0. In fact, the Patriots have now won eight straight openers at home.

Getting the season off on the right foot is not overrated. 0-1 is by no means a death sentence historically, but starting the season 0-2 could be considered one.

Since the NFL adopted its new 12-team playoff format in 1990, just over 13% of teams that start the season off 0-2 have made the playoffs.

Tom Brady has never started a season 0-2. He’s now 12-2 lifetime in season openers, and won both games following the loss.

Brady had another great performance to start the season last Thursday night. As his four touchdowns passes led the way to a 28-21 victory over the Steelers.

Let’s take a look at who’s stock is up and who’s stock is down after Week 1:

Stock Up:

Tom Brady: It doesn’t come as a surprise that regular season Tom Brady differed greatly from pre-season Tom Brady. Something has to be said about the awful play of the Steelers defense, but Brady was masterful. From the end of the first quarter to the start of the fourth, Brady went 19 straight passes without an incompletion. Brady was just three completions shy of breaking Joe Montana’s record for the most consecutive completions in a game. Brady also continued his dominance against Mike Tomlin and the Steelers. Since Tomlin took over as coach in 2007, Brady is 4-1 against Pittsburgh, with 17 touchdowns to zero interceptions. Finally, the Patriots quarterback threw for four touchdown passes yet again. Moving him into a tie for third all time with 23 career games with 4+ pass TDs.

Rob Gronkowski: The Steelers made headlines last week when they talked up a plan to stop #87, but didn’t even come close. At times, the Steelers coverage on the big guy was flat out embarrassing. Matching him up 1-on-1 with linebackers, and sometimes not covering him at all. Gronk now has seven straight games with a touchdown reception including playoffs, and passed Dez Bryant for the most TD grabs since 2010. Incredible when you factor in that Gronk has missed 15 games in just over 5 seasons. Gronkowski is also just one multi-TD game shy of Randy Moss’ all-time Patriots record. The Patriots set up Gronkowski’s third touchdown earlier in the game, when he ran a slant/pick play out of this formation to free up Scott Chandler for the TD. The second time around Brady threw the beautiful fade and Gronk did the rest:

Dion Lewis: Rex Ryan might not know who Dion Lewis is, but he should probably find out before Sunday. Sure, the Patriots third-down role has always yielded great production, but Lewis looked right at home. When you factor in that this was Lewis’ first career start, he hadn’t played in an NFL game since 2012, and that he had just 3 career receptions prior to Week 1; it’s no wonder why Ryan doesn’t know anything about him. Everything Lewis did last Thursday night was a career high. Lewis is reminiscent of a poor man’s Darren Sproles. With his great burst and footwork in small areas, and his fantastic ability to make defenders miss. Lewis forced five missed tackles against the Steelers, proving to be both sure-handed and difficult to bring down.

Jabaal Sheard: If Jabaal Sheard continues to play this well for the Patriots they are going to have to find him more snaps. Sheard was apart of a rotation that netted him 50 out of a possible 73 snaps in Week 1. In those 50 snaps he recorded a sack, four QB hurries, and was arguable the Patriots best run defender. Sheard is a force on the edge, and was one of the only Patriots defenders to have a positive impact in the run game. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have logged a lot of snaps over the last few years at the two defensive end positions, but Sheard piggybacked off of a great pre-season with another solid performance.

Offensive line: Minus two starters in Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell, this young offensive line put together a great performance. Tom Brady was pressured just 11 times, and with three rookies starting you couldn’t have expected much more. Nate Solder could go in the stock down category, as he was called for two penalties and struggled at times. More is needed out of this group in the run game, however.

Stock Down:

Malcolm Butler: It feels a bit cruel to rag on Butler for his performance in Week 1 due to the matchup, but nonetheless the talk of Butler being a shutdown corner was immediately put on hold. Antonio Brown might be the best receiver in football. He can lineup all over the field, has great speed and quickness, and fantastic catching ability. The Patriots tested Butler by having him follow the all-pro all around on Thursday night, and it cost them. Butler was beat ten times in 11 targets for 151 yards and a score. It wasn’t all bad, as many of those catches were highly contested balls where Brown just made great plays, but he was beat badly a number of times as well. Chalk it up as good learning experience for the Super Bowl hero.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich: Jones and Nink were two of the Patriots best defensive players in last years Super Bowl run, but both played poorly against Pittsburgh. Bill Belichick tends to stress setting the edge to his defensive ends more than anything else in the run game. Both Jones and Ninkovich got sucked in by the Steelers misdirection run plays, and lost the edge way too many times. DeAngelo Williams ran all over the Patriots defense in large part due to the Patriot losing containment on the outside. These two will have to be better in that area if they are going to control the likes of LeSean McCoy.

Run defense: The Patriots gameplan defensively was basically to ignore the Steelers run game. With Patrick Chung playing LB, the Patriots went small for most of the night. This proved to be costly, as the Steelers obviously out-muscled the Patriots up front. The Patriots three biggest run stuffers (Siliga, Brown, and Branch) played just 62 total snaps. Instead, the Pats went with a “NASCAR” formation, playing three defensive ends on the line. The move hung linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower out to dry for much of the game, as they had offensive lineman blocking them directly on a number of plays. The Patriots would be wise to focus more on stopping the run against Buffalo.

It was easy to give all the gold stars to the offense this week, and give bad grades to the defensive side of the ball.

You might not think of the Bills as an offensive juggernaut, or Tyrod Taylor as an elite quarterback, but they have enough weapons on offense to give the Patriots defense problems.

DeAngelo Williams was able to rack up 127 yards on the ground. If you give Shady McCoy those type of running lanes he might go for over 200.

Add the Buffalo defense into the equation, arguable one of the stingiest defensive in all of football. The Bills defense had three takeaways against the Colts on Sunday, and held one of the leagues top offenses to just 14 points (they averaged 28.6 in 2014).

The Colts weren’t able to keep pressure out of Andrew Luck’s face (pressured 17 times), and like most weeks that will be the key offensively for the Patriots. Protect Tom Brady and you often get good results.