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Ben Volin | On Football

Ex-Patriots are struggling, and other observations around the NFL

Malcolm Butler (left) is burned for a touchdown by Baltimore’s Michael Crabtree. wade payne/AP

The Patriots’ offseason roster moves were put under a microscope during the first four weeks of the season, when the team’s offense looked undermanned and out of synch. Surely, the Patriots could have used at least one among Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, and Brandin Cooks, who all were jettisoned. Malcolm Butler was allowed to walk away, too, finding his riches in Tennessee.

But any second-guessing of Bill Belichick’s offseason moves should be quieted after Week 6. The Patriots are thriving at 4-2 following an enormous win over the Chiefs, and the ex-Patriots are struggling, or at least showing signs of slowing down.


This is where we begin our Week 6 review:

■ Butler is having a tough time playing up to his contract in Tennessee, which guarantees him $25 million over two years. He already has been burned for touchdowns of 39, 56, and 75 yards, and gave up his fourth touchdown in Sunday’s 21-0 loss to the Ravens, to Michael Crabtree.

Butler has been so inconsistent that he got demoted to the third cornerback spot against the Ravens, playing just 49 snaps compared with 74 for Adoree Jackson and 71 for Logan Ryan.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Butler needs to work on his eye placement.

“It’s not about effort, it’s about technique,” Vrabel told reporters. “It’s, ‘When am I supposed to be reading the quarterback and when am I supposed to be reading my man?’

“We have to make sure that everybody is on the same page, that when I’m supposed to be looking at my man, I have to be looking at the guy I’m covering and not at the quarterback.”

Butler’s teammate, Lewis, isn’t faring much better. Lewis played 32 of 44 snaps Sunday, but had just five rushes for 9 yards and two catches for 5 yards. He is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry and 5.9 yards per reception.


Amendola had the best week of any ex-Patriot, and that’s saying something. He had a team-high 11 targets and eight catches in the Dolphins’ 31-28 win over the Bears, but for just 59 yards. His most impressive stat may have been playing 75 of 78 snaps.

Amendola has been fine this year, with 24 catches for 210 yards, but he’s not making a big impact on the stat sheet, and isn’t playing like a $6 million receiver.

The Giants made Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL when they signed him in March, but Solder hasn’t fixed their issues. He has allowed three sacks — equaling his total from last year — and Eli Manning has been sacked 20 times through six games, tied for fifth-most in the NFL.

And even Cooks is showing the signs of inconsistency that he had last year with the Patriots. After a terrific four-game start to the season, Cooks caught just 2 of 6 targets for 53 yards in the Rams’ win over the Broncos. He caught a 44-yarder on the first drive and a 9-yarder late in the second quarter, and was shut out after halftime despite playing 68 of 74 snaps for the game. Jared Goff’s interception in the third quarter was also on a throw to Cooks.

It’s not totally fair to say the Patriots made the right decision on all five players, as we don’t know how they would have fared in a New England uniform this year. But there’s no question that the Patriots are building momentum without them, and their new teams aren’t getting the best returns on investment.


■   One noticeable aspect of Week 6: a lack of roughing-the-passer penalties. Only three were called in 15 games, and two came Thursday night in Giants-Eagles.

Was this a one-week anomaly? Are players learning the proper technique or did the NFL order its officials to dial it back? The week-by-week totals for this penalty: 15, 6, 12, 5, 10, 3. No real pattern there, but it will be interesting to monitor this.

■   My initial reaction to the Dolphins’ win over the Bears was that they are still frauds, especially after fumbling the ball on the goal line in overtime. There was a heat index of 100 in Miami, and the Dolphins should have won going away.

But upon further review, the Fish deserve credit for pulling out this win. They overcame a 21-10 deficit in the third quarter. They tied the score with just three minutes left. They didn’t collapse in overtime after the goal-line fumble.

And they did it with their backup quarterback, Brock Osweiler, throwing for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Osweiler is now 4-0 career in overtime, joining Jake Plummer and Drew Bledsoe as the only QBs since 1991 to be 4-0 or better.

The Dolphins undoubtedly are worse than their 4-2 record suggests, but Adam Gase and his players deserve credit for coming out on top.


■   Don’t look now, but here come the Steelers. They sit at 3-2-1 after wins over the Falcons and Bengals, and are just a half-game out of the division lead. James Conner has been a revelation, with 100-plus rushing yards and two touchdowns in three of the six games. And they have Le’Veon Bell coming back soon, potentially in Week 8, after their bye.

The Steelers may have a problem finding enough touches for Conner and Bell, but that’s a good problem to have. And Bell, who has been holding out all season and trying to limit his wear and tear before he hits free agency next spring, probably won’t mind letting Conner take some of his snaps.

■   The Broncos are a mess, John Elway is once again calling the defense “soft,” and coach Vance Joseph may not make it through the season.

The Broncos have allowed 593 rushing yards the past two weeks, and that’s not a typo. The Jets ran roughshod for 323 yards two weeks ago, and the Rams followed it up with 270. The Broncos became the first team in league history to allow a 200-yard individual rusher in consecutive weeks: Isaiah Crowell (219) and Todd Gurley (208).

It doesn’t get much easier, as they face Arizona’s David Johnson and Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt the next two weeks.

■   My tweet at 2:34 p.m. Sunday: “Josh Allen is a great athlete, but no way he lasts the whole season if he keeps running like this and taking big hits.”


Tweet from ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak at 2:59 p.m.: “Nathan Peterman warming up for the Bills with Josh Allen being checked by trainers on the field.”

Allen has an elbow injury, and is “week to week” according to coach Sean McDermott, but they’re not going to rush their prized young quarterback back to the field. Allen has run for 155 yards and three touchdowns this year, leaping over defenders and showing great athleticism.

But he takes a ton of big hits and is an injury waiting to happen. He also has a long way to go as a pocket passer, averaging just 6.0 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and five interceptions.

■   Those trash-talking Jaguars are a mess right now, losing two straight blowouts — 30-14 to the Chiefs and a 40-7 shellacking in Dallas. The latter was their largest margin of defeat since a 51-17 loss to the Patriots in 2015. They sit at 3-3, tied with Houston and Tennessee in the AFC South.

Blake Bortles has thrown five interceptions the last two weeks. Guard Andrew Norwell, their big free agent signing, allowed another sack and has been a bust so far.

And cornerback Jalen Ramsey acted like a punk in the postgame locker room, responding to every question with, “I don’t know.” If you’re going to talk smack about every player in the league, you have to take your medicine like a man when things don’t go right.

■   Offense is up in the NFL, but not in Arizona. Per the Arizona Republic, the Cardinals’ 1,323 total yards are the fewest in the league through Week 6 since 2009. Their 302 offensive plays are the fewest since 2005, and their 21.9 percent conversion rate on third down is the lowest since 2010. This is what happens when you start a rookie quarterback and don’t put many weapons around him.

■   Not to keep crushing Bill O’Brien every week, but the Texans may be the luckiest people on the planet right now, as they are 3-3 but could easily be 0-6 or 0-5-1. The Colts gifted them a win three weeks ago when Frank Reich foolishly went for it on fourth down in his own territory in overtime. The Cowboys gifted them a win two weeks ago when Jason Garrett cowardly punted the ball in overtime. And the Texans should have crushed the hapless Bills Sunday, but needed a late pick-6 to pull off the 20-13 victory.

Deshaun Watson is a mess this year coming off a torn ACL, showing little mobility and no pocket awareness (25 sacks, second-most in the NFL). Watson has thrown an interception in eight straight games dating to last year, the longest current streak in the NFL.

■   Russell Wilson has changed his game, perhaps for the better. Wilson has always been one of the best scrambling quarterbacks, averaging 96 rushing attempts per year in his first six seasons. In 2014, he rushed for 849 yards and six touchdowns. Last year, he had 586 rushing yards, more than twice the total of any of his running backs.

But this year is a different story. Wilson has rushed just 17 times for 62 yards all season, which ranks him tied for 17th among quarterbacks. He’s on pace for only 45 attempts this year, or about half his average.

The Seahawks, though, are still No. 2 in the NFL with 180 rush attempts, and No. 9 with 767 rushing yards. And Wilson is fourth on his team in rushing yards, behind Chris Carson, Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny. The Seahawks have won three of their last four games.

■   The Titans have lost two in a row to drop to 3-3, and have to be worried about quarterback Marcus Mariota. He took a whopping 11 sacks in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens, the most by any quarterback since the Jets’ Greg McElroy in 2012, and you can’t pin all of those on the offensive line.

Mariota is averaging just 158.6 passing yards per game, has only two touchdowns against four interceptions, and most alarmingly, is only 1-3 as a starter, while backup Blaine Gabbert is 2-0.

The Titans triggered Mariota’s fifth-year option for next year at $20.922 million, but it doesn’t become guaranteed until March, and he’s not under contract long-term. The Titans may have a big decision coming up this offseason.

If nothing else, they really miss tight end Delanie Walker, the centerpiece of their offense who was lost for the season with a broken ankle in Week 1.

Stats and nuggets

■   The Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs marked the third game this season in which both teams scored 40 points. From 2014-17, there were only two.

■   Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota became the first player since the Eagles’ Guido Merkens in 1987 to be sacked 10 times and have 10 or fewer completions. Merkens was a replacement player during the strike season.

■   Gurley had the Rams’ first 200-yard rushing game since Marshall Faulk in 2001. And Goff became only the third quarterback under 25 to start a season 6-0, joining Dan Marino and Daunte Culpepper.

■   Falcons receiver Julio Jones is on pace for 117 catches, 1,885 yards . . . and zero touchdowns.

■   Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has thrown nine touchdown passes in his last two games. He had nine touchdown passes in his entire career before that (15 games).

■   Drive of the Week: Chargers, 2 plays, 89 yards, touchdown. Tyrell Williams 44-yard catch, Tyrell Williams 45-yard catch (TD).

■   Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, only 25 years old and in just his fifth NFL season, became the team’s all-time leading receiver in yards (5,063), surpassing Mark Carrier. Not sure if that says more about Evans or the Bucs.

■   Jets kicker Jason Myers had 24 points Sunday (7 for 7 on field goals, three extra points), the second-most points in a game by a player without a touchdown. Former Titans kicker Rob Bironas has the record with 26 points after hitting eight field goals and two extra points in a 2007 game.

■   Galloping gazelle Tom Brady became the third player age 41 or older to have two rushing touchdowns in a season, joining Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde. Neither player reached three.

Ben Volin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.