The NFL’s 25th-ranked defense surrendered 104.5 rushing yards per game during the regular season and struggled against teams committed to playing power football. Granted, the league has fewer teams that lean on the run these days, but the Falcons’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10 might’ve exposed the unit’s fatal flaw. In a 24-15 win, the Eagles rushed for 208 yards with Ryan Mathews topping the century mark (109 yards) on 19 carries and Wendell Smallwood adding 70 yards on 13 attempts. Studying the All-22 Coaches Film, I was surprised at how effective the Eagles were running the ball — between the tackles, as well as on the edges — from run-heavy and spread sets. Mathews, in particularly, gashed the Falcons’ defense on an assortment of runs.
“We made it a point to grind it out a little bit,” an Eagles offensive coach told me. “We wanted to run the ball early and often to wear them down and to keep their offense on the sidelines. They are so explosive that you want to limit their opportunities on offense.”
The Patriots acquired five players since the end of last season via trade, more than any other NFL team. Guard Jonathan Cooper, part of the Chandler Jones trade with Arizona, was released in October, but three of those players — tight end Martellus Bennett, cornerback Eric Rowe and cheap jerseys and underrated linebacker Kyle Van Noy — played key roles in Belichick’s seventh AFC championship. This isn’t a new trend: He acquired four players via trade during the team’s 2014 title run, too.
Belichick’s unique role as coach and head personnel evaluator sets him apart as a team builder. Not every deal works out, but Belichick has the flexibility to take low-cost, high-reward chances because he’s confident he can coach up a player’s best attributes. Over the last year, Belichick addressed clear weaknesses on his roster without giving up much.
He was barred from this year’s NFL Scouting Combine under a conduct policy, but has made the rounds since then, meeting with the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers, among other clubs. Lions GM Bob Quinn said at the combine that Mixon was on Detroit’s draft board.
Per the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft declined to address Mixon specifically this week, but said his policy on domestic violence goes back to 1996, when he demanded a Patriots draft pick, Christian Peter, be released days after the draft when he learned of domestic-violence allegations against Peter.
In what would be considered his breakout year in 2016, Gillislee rushed for 577 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and eight total touchdowns. He was only targeted 11 times in the passing game but caught nine of those balls for 50 yards and another score. A former member of the Miami Dolphins, Gillislee was picked 164th overall by the Dolphins in 2013.
Gillislee, who is a strong north-and-south runner, defies some expectations. Though he is not on the heavier side for running backs, he packs a strong punch and is relentless in the red zone. He would not be a one-for-one replacement for someone like LeGarrette Blount if Blount’s contractual stalemate with the Patriots continues.
“I haven’t heard that from our clubs in any way that it’s an issue,” Goodell explained. “From my experience in 35 years, is that our clubs make independent evaluations of players. They work hard to try to recruit their teams and if they think a player can help them improve their team, they are going to do that.”
Goodell asked the NFL Competition Committee to table discussions on excessive celebration rules until he has the opportunity to speak with players. A vote is still possible at the next meeting in May, but Goodell wants to gain “clarity” and allow players “more ability to express themselves” before the issue is crystallized.
After convening with President Donald Trump, New England will have met with three Presidents (George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Trump) since 2002.
It remains to be seen how many members of the organization will visit the White House. At least six Patriots players from the 2016 season — Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower, Chris Long, Devin McCourty — have publicly stated they will not attend.