Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

[+] EnlargeDanny Amendola
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaDanny Amendola is in line for a bigger role Sunday with Julian Edelman ruled out.
1. With the Patriots moving away from the three-receiver offense in recent weeks, No. 3 receiver Danny Amendola has logged his four lowest playing-time totals over the last four games -- 15 snaps versus the Lions, 12 against the Packers, 18 against the Chargers and 12 versus the Dolphins. But Amendola’s playing time figures to spike a bit today against the Jets with No. 1 receiver Julian Edelman not making the trip because of a concussion. Amendola is averaging 26 snaps per game this year, while Edelman is averaging just shy of 59. When the Patriots signed Amendola in 2013, they thought he’d be the primary replacement for Wes Welker. That turned out to be Edelman. Now the Patriots, for one game at least, are back to where they started.

2. In 2013, the Patriots ran about 55 percent of their offensive snaps with three or more receivers on the field. By our count, that number is down in the 30s this year, which relates, in part, to Amendola’s lower playing-time totals. The feeling here is that part of it is the club's desire to limit Amendola's exposure to injury. The other part of it is that the offense has mostly found its groove when there are multiple tight ends on the field. In that sense, it’s been a little like 2011 when the Patriots stayed in multiple-tight end packages most of the time with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

3. There is quite a bit that goes into managing a team’s 53-man roster, especially at this time of year when some clubs are already planning for 2015 while others have a potential deep playoff run in mind. The Patriots’ signing of fourth-year tight end Steve Maneri to a one-year contract through 2014 on Wednesday sparked this thought, because I don’t think the Patriots necessarily have a short-term need at the position. But tight end is a critical position in their offense, the Patriots don’t have a tight end on the practice squad, and Maneri could have been signed by another club for a 2015 futures contract and taken him out of play for the Patriots in the postseason if the need arose. So, in essence, my take on the Maneri signing is that they were protecting their top emergency option at a key position from being signed elsewhere, knowing that there wasn’t a viable option behind him after another possibility with ties to the team, Matthew Mulligan, signed with Tennessee last week.

4. NFL rules are so complex that teams are often seeking clarifications on them. One such example was the Dolphins from last Sunday, as they requested a rules explanation of Jamie Collins’ blocked field goal, as Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported. Teams can have just six players on the line of scrimmage to each side of the snapper, and the Dolphins apparently felt Collins, who stood in a two-point stance behind six others in a three-point stance, was a seventh player because his feet were close to the line of scrimmage. In reviewing the play, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino explained, “This would be very technical if we called this. We’re not going to be overly technical in saying ‘He was an inch within.’ He has to be in there within the feet [of the other down linemen and gain an advantage because of it].” While teams can have just six players on the line of scrimmage to each side of the snapper, they can rush more than six to one side provided the additional rushers are initially off the ball, as Collins was.

[+] EnlargeKyle Arrington
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesKyle Arrington's scoop and score on Jamie Collins' blocked field goal was the Patriots' fourth special teams TD of the season.
5. One thing that several players have said over the years is that Bill Belichick doesn’t just say special teams are important to his team; he backs his words by spending considerable practice time on them. Along those lines, it’s topical to note that Collins’ blocked field goal last Sunday against Miami was the Patriots’ fourth of the season (3 field goals, 1 punt). Two of the blocked field goals were returned for touchdowns, and the Patriots have two other special-teams touchdowns (Julian Edelman punt return, Kyle Arrington fumble return). Entering Week 16, the Patriots’ four special teams touchdowns were second-most in the NFL behind the Eagles (6).

6. Can the Patriots coax another year or two out of special teams coach Scott O’Brien? That’s a thought that came to mind when reviewing some of the Patriots’ special teams excellence this year. The 57-year-old O’Brien is obviously closer to the end of his coaching career than the start, and the hiring of Joe Judge as a special teams assistant three seasons ago sets up a possible succession plan for whenever O’Brien decides to retire. While we often look at how potential defections of offensive and defensive coordinators could affect a staff, special teams shouldn’t be overlooked. O'Brien has done solid work for the Patriots and this year might be his best.

7. I thought it might be a step back for the Bills’ defense this year, in part because the development of players can be affected by such a dramatic scheme change from Mike Pettine’s 3-4 defense to Jim Schwartz’s 4-3. So much for that, as the Bills entered this week ranked tied for fourth for fewest points allowed (18.1), second in third-down defense (opponents convert 33.3 percent of the time), first in sacks (49), tied for second in interceptions (19) and third in fewest average passing yards allowed per game (210.1). Holding Denver (24) and Green Bay (13) well below their season scoring averages reflects the strength of the unit and makes the Patriots’ 37 points scored against the Bills on Oct. 12 -- a season-high -- look even better. I’m looking forward to seeing that defense again next Sunday in Foxborough.

8. Similar to what’s unfolded in Buffalo, it’s been hard to miss the impact that offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has had in Baltimore, installing a completely different system that has ignited an attack that became stagnant in 2013. Quarterback Joe Flacco is having one of the best seasons, if not the best, of his career. So between Buffalo and Baltimore, I might have to rethink the theory that a completely new system can negatively impact the growth of players. To the contrary, it might actually revive them in a sense.

9a. Did you Know, Part I: Entering Week 16, the Ravens and Patriots are the only teams in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring offense and scoring defense.

9b. Did you Know, Part II: The Browns have lost their last 10 regular-season games in December and January, the longest active streak in the NFL.

9c. Did you Know, Part III: The Lions will capture the NFC North if they win their final two games, at Chicago and Green Bay, but since division realignment in 2002, they are 0-9 in road divisional games in December and January.

10. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri continues to impress. He has made all 28 field-goal attempts this season while converting 34 straight field goals since his last miss Dec. 22, 2013. As Bill Belichick said in mid-November, there is no end in sight right when it comes to the soon-to-be 42-year-old Vinatieri, who is signed through the 2015 season. Closer to home, let us not forget that Vinatieri’s replacement, Stephen Gostkowski, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2014 season. Top kickers like Gostkowski command an average of just shy of $4 million per year, and like Vinatieri, the Patriots’ nine-year veteran shows no signs of slowing down. He’s a critical re-signing for the Patriots, who figure to focus more on retention in the offseason given some of the bigger-ticket items on their agenda, starting with Darrelle Revis, safety Devin McCourty and Gostkowski.

Patriots minus Edelman, Blount

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New England Patriots will be without leading receiver Julian Edelman and running back LeGarrette Blount for Sunday's road game against the New York Jets, the team announced Saturday.

Edelman, who has been playing through a thigh injury, also sustained a concussion within the last week. Edelman's concussion was first listed on the team's injury report Wednesday and he was limited in practice all week. In last Sunday's win over the Dolphins, Edelman caught a team-high seven passes for 88 yards and converted a first down on a 6-yard run, playing through the fourth quarter.

Blount was limited in practice all week with a shoulder injury he presumably suffered against Miami. Jonas Gray, who fell out of favor with coach Bill Belichick after showing up late to practice last month, likely will step into the primary back role he had been sharing with Blount.

New England also will be without top slot cornerback Kyle Arrington, who did not make the trip due to a hamstring injury.

The Patriots did not make any roster moves by Saturday's 4 p.m. ET deadline to account for the voids.

Edelman has appeared in all 14 games this season, with 13 starts, and has totaled 92 catches for 972 yards and four touchdowns. He also has 10 rushes for 94 yards and is the team's top punt returner, with a 12.3 average and one touchdown.


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W2W4: Patriots' key areas vs. Jets

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.. -- The New England Patriots visit the New York Jets on Sunday (CBS, 1 p.m. ET), and here are some key areas of note:

Branch
Load up the box and stop the run: Led by the hard-charging Chris Ivory, the Jets ran for 218 yards against the Patriots on Oct. 16, with New England defenders struggling to get off blocks consistently and tackle. Part of that was a result of the Patriots playing their fourth game in 18 days, a span which included three prime-time games, and also having a quick turnaround to adjust without injured defensive signal-caller Jerod Mayo. It will have to be better this time around, as the Patriots were fortunate to win despite a lopsided time-of-possession in favor of the Jets, 40:54-19:06. Look for more base defense than the norm as big-bodied 6-foot-6, 325-pound Alan Branch said this week, "This is my type of game."

Exploiting Jets' secondary: The Jets' struggles at cornerback have been a significant factor in their disappointing season, and their league-low 11 turnovers reflect this. There are matchup advantages to be exploited by the Patriots, but one concern is if receiver Julian Edelman (concussion) is not available. The team's other starting receiver, Brandon LaFell (shoulder), is also playing through injury. So the Patriots might need to call on more than they have lately from the likes of receivers Danny Amendola and Brian Tyms, and also tight end Tim Wright, who brings a receiver-type element to the attack.

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Does Harvin land on Revis Island? One of the main changes for the Jets since the last meeting is the presence of receiver Percy Harvin. He's the Jets' most explosive offensive weapon, which could mean cornerback Darrelle Revis draws that matchup; if that's the way it unfolds, it would have Brandon Browner across from Eric Decker. Of Revis' 14 games this season, perhaps the one at the bottom of the list was the Oct. 16 meeting against the Jets. He said this week that he would make an effort to relax while facing his former team, which made us wonder if that was an issue for him in the first meeting.

Winning up front when numbers favor offense: Though the perception of Rex Ryan is as a blitzing coach, he still spins the dial and often rushes just three to drop eight into coverage, as Tedy Bruschi pointed out in this week's "Bruschi's Breakdown." When that happens, the Patriots -- who might be playing without starting left guard Dan Connolly (knee) -- have to keep the pocket clean. The offense has sputtered at times this season, and struggling to protect against the three-man rush (e.g. vs. Raiders on Sept. 21) has contributed to it. The offensive line has been up-and-down in recent weeks, and against a defense that mixes up its rush calls liberally, this is as much of a mental test as it is physical.

Being on guard for the element of surprise: The Jets are 3-11, have nothing to lose, and a win against the Patriots would make their season at this point. Given that dynamic, no one should be surprised if we see fake punts, onside kicks and other unconventional plays. This is an "expect the unexpected" type of game.

Projecting Patriots inactives vs. Jets

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Before the New England Patriots play a game, we will attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

Our best guess for Sunday's game against the New York Jets:

CB Kyle Arrington: If this was a playoff game, the feeling is that Arrington could be called upon to fulfill his role as the team's top option in the slot. But the chance to rest him and get him closer to 100 percent, especially since the Jets aren't a big spread-it-out-and-throw-it team, has merit.

LG Dan Connolly: He didn't seem like his usual solid self during last Sunday's game before leaving because of an announced neck injury, and then it was revealed later in the week that he is also battling a knee injury. Similar to Arrington, it could make the most sense to rest him with the idea of having him at his best come playoff time.

WR Julian Edelman: Players who sustain concussions, as Edelman has, are always a tough call because their availability is strictly subject to the NFL's protocol. So this is as much of a guessing game as anything.

OT Cameron Fleming: The rookie mauler has missed the last four games with an ankle injury. While it seems like he could be closer to returning, we'll play it safe for now.

LB Darius Fleming: This spot would come down to whether injured linebacker Chris White (ankle) is ready to return after missing the last three games. If White is ready, it could affect Fleming's status.

TE Steve Maneri: With Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui and Tim Wright ready to go at tight end, Maneri strikes us as being more of a longer-range insurance option.

RB James White: The fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin has only been active for two games this season. One possibility for him to sneak on to the game-day roster is if LeGarrette Blount (questionable with a shoulder injury) isn't ready to go.

Accountability check: A 6-of-7 effort last week against the Dolphins, with the lone miss being Dont'a Hightower, who returned from a shoulder injury to play over Zach Moore.

Patriots football journey: Bryan Stork

December, 20, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass -- New England Patriots rookie center Bryan Stork adopts an all-business, all-football approach. With his burly red beard and stoic facial expressions, he also has an intimidating look that makes him a nice fit on the team's offensive line.

But behind it all is a 24-year-old who has been through a lot in his life. Stork’s father, who was also his best friend, passed away in 2008 after battling cancer.

“I always wanted to hang out with my dad,” Stork said. “He was always working a lot. I knew he worked hard and I wanted to do the same.”

[+] EnlargeBryan Stork
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBryan Stork grew up as a big fan of Brett Favre and the Packers.
Stork took his father’s lessons of hard work and poured his passion into the game of football. And it has paid off so far.

Stork shares his “football journey” as part of our weekly feature:

When he first started playing football: “Organized [football] in fifth grade. But I had a pair of pads when I was 5 years old. So I was running around in them all the time. I slept in them. I'm not kidding [about that].”

First position he played: “Fullback for a day and then quarterback. And linebacker, defensive line and kicker.”

Role models: “I definitely looked up to Brett Favre. I grew up a Packers fan. I would say my dad, too.”

Favorite players other than Brett Favre: “I liked pretty much everyone on the Packers -- Robert Brooks, Reggie White.”

His dad’s pizza parlor: “We had a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant. I was working from the time I was 4 or 5. I could make a pizza by the time I was probably 5 years old. I could still make a pizza if I had to. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t forget it. They were always good.”

What he wanted to be when he grew up: “I either wanted to be a pilot or a football player when I was a kid because [my dad] was a pilot as well.”

Plans to be a pilot still? “I tried getting my license a couple of years ago back in Tallahassee, but I was too big to fit in the plane. The guy said it wasn’t safe for me to learn how to fly. Bummer.”

When he became hooked on football: “I think it was my brother that played high school and he brought home his helmet and there’s also a picture of him holding me watching the Dallas Cowboys win a Super Bowl. I vaguely remember Deion Sanders standing up with the Lombardi above his head. That’s probably the earliest memory of football that I have.”

Story behind his NFL tattoo: “I was 15 years old and my dad wanted to get a tattoo as well. Me and my dad were like buddies because we lived together, just me and him down in Florida. He had cancer and so I don’t know why, but he got a tattoo with a crab on it -- that stands for cancer, the zodiac sign. That’s the first time he beat [cancer]. And he was like, 'Well, you can get a tattoo as well,' so he signed off on that. I didn't know what to get and said, 'I guess I will get an NFL tattoo and if I don’t make it, I’m going to look really stupid. So I better make it.'"

Making it in the NFL: “You never make it. I’m [still] just trying to make it.”

Favorite football memory at Vero Beach High School: “We were always 9-3, second round of playoffs. I really enjoyed my junior year of playing. It was fun. I played tight end, caught some passes. I dated a cheerleader. It was kind of like the perfect high school [year] ... but it really was not. It was football. It was fun. I enjoyed the guys. And I played a lot of defense that year, which I really enjoyed.”

Moving around to various positions: “I was a strong-side tackle -- whatever way we ran the ball, I went to that side and then sophomore year I got thrown into the fire and had to play left tackle on varsity. During that following spring Coach [Gary] Coggin threw a football at me and said, 'Hey Stork, catch it.' And I caught it. And he said I was going to try tight end. I played mostly tight end my junior year and then senior year I had to go to tackle. I think I played right tackle.”

Why he chose Florida State: “In Vero Beach, everybody is a Florida fan and I couldn’t stand those kids that went to Florida. A couple of my buddies were Florida State fans and I thought it would be so cool to go play there because we were always playing [NCAA Football video game]. And they came knocking. I always liked Coach [Bobby] Bowden.”

Sporting a beard: “I never knew I had a red beard until I was a junior in high school. I grew out a goatee and it was red and people thought I dyed it. I think it was 2012 and I just quit shaving after camp and just let it go and go and it just kept getting longer and then it just became a thing. It’s easy not to shave [laughs]. The red beard ... It’s the Irish.”

On playing with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston: “It was a good time. Believe it or not, he’s more grown-up than you think. As far as football, he knows his stuff pretty well. He’s a very intelligent kid. Definitely had some good memories with him playing football.”

On winning the Rimington Award for the nation’s top center: “It wasn’t an individual award. They say they are individual awards, but I had good guys playing next to me that helped me out and I helped them out. That was just a whole team effort. Everybody got awards that year and it’s just because we all played for each other and everybody got what they wanted.”

On winning a national championship in his final year: “I can always lay my head down at night knowing I gave it my all in college. I never have to look back or think back on something like that knowing that I went out the best the way I could possibly go. I’ve moved on now and trying to make the best of where I’m at now.”

His nickname of 'Papa' or 'Grandpa' at FSU: “It’s because I was there forever. I did the whole five-year plan, so they called me 'Pops'. Yeah, I definitely [embraced it].”

Pre-draft workout with Bill Belichick: “I was so excited. I was up -- I don’t think we had to be there until 8 in the morning -- but I was up at 5, getting my mind ready to go because I know how Coach Belichick is and I wanted to be a part of his team. And lo and behold, here I am.”

His label as a Belichick type of guy: “You can never be his guy. You have to keep working at it, and working at it, and working at it. I’ll never be there, but I have to keep working at it. You know what I mean?”

Going from national championship team to the Patriots: “Now it’s the NFL, anybody can win on any day. It wasn’t like we could just walk out there and steamroll. It doesn’t work like that. This is the National Football League and you have to be ready for anything.”

If he ever thought he would be a starter with Tom Brady: “I just took it day by day and I’m still taking it day by day. I could be the backup tomorrow. There’s no telling."

On what it’s like to play with Brady: “It’s definitely cool. It’s just like any other quarterback -- you need a good snap to get it to the quarterback so the quarterback can make the play or throw or hand it off. So you just have to make sure you get it right. I’m a fiery guy, too. So [Brady’s passion] works.”

On Brady’s comments about his sweatiness: “I guess we are practicing for a rainy day [laughs].”

Relationship with the offensive line: “We’re good. It’s kind of weird because they are all older than I am, they all have families and kids and I’m single and young. I go home to nothing and they go home to wives and kids. But we will hear a song from the '90s and I will be like, 'Dan [Connolly] were you in high school when this song came out? He’s like, 'I was in third grade.'”

Summing up his football journey: “It’s been fun. It’s been the longest, hardest, but most fun thing I’ve ever done and it’s not over yet. So hopefully I still have a long way to go.”

Patriots have three defenders in for tryouts

December, 19, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had defensive end Cam Henderson (South Florida), defensive tackle Antonio Johnson (Mississippi State) and defensive end/outside linebacker Rufus Johnson (Tarleton State) in for free-agent tryouts Friday.

The Patriots are most familiar with Henderson, as he was a member of their practice squad for a week in September.

The tryouts could be with 2015 in mind, as this is the time of year when clubs start planning for when rosters expand to 90 players, with teams soon allowed to sign players to "future contracts."

Of the three players in Friday, Antonio Johnson is the most experienced, having played for the Colts (2008-12) and Titans (2013). He had entered the league as a fifth-round draft choice of the Titans in 2007, but spent his rookie year on injured reserve before the Colts signed him off Tennessee's practice squad in 2008.

This year, Antonio Johnson reportedly had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, which forced him to miss the preseason before he reached an injury settlement with Tennessee.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, who has been limited in practice all week with a concussion and thigh injury, is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s road game against the New York Jets.

In addition, starting left guard Dan Connolly (knee) and No. 3 cornerback Kyle Arrington (hamstring) are questionable, giving them a 50-50 chance to play.

In all, the Patriots list 12 players as questionable, while the Jets' key injury to monitor is with defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who is also questionable with a toe injury.

Patriots' locker room hopping on typically quiet Friday

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With an upcoming rivalry matchup with the Jets on tap, the Patriots' locker room was full of energy Friday.

Fridays are typically quiet in the Patriots’ locker room. The defensive backs changed that on this day. Safety Devin McCourty and Co. had a heated, but friendly, debate about the best position groups from a skills standpoint.

“Just a little debate between position groups and speed,” McCourty said. “The defensive backs are obviously the fastest guys.”

Wide receivers, running backs and special teams gunner Matthew Slater -- one of the team’s fastest players -- entered into the discussion to stake their claim as the premier positional group.

“Some receivers have better hands,” McCourty said. “I wouldn’t say all. But we have some pretty good hands out here, too.”

The Patriots’ defensive backs are a tight-knit group that carries a lot of energy into the locker room, but Friday’s room was unlike anything seen before.

The energy was flowing and there were quite a few players involved in the debate. When 15-plus players start talking and shouting over each other, the locker room gets really loud.

When asked to expand on the debate a little more, McCourty shifted gears back to the rivalry. He quickly utilized a line from coach Bill Belichick’s playbook.

“We’re on to the Jets,” McCourty said.

Brandon Browner fined for roughness

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner was fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness for throwing Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Gibson to the ground in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's 41-13 victory. Browner was penalized on the play.

In turn, Gibson was fined $11,025 for unsportsmanlike conduct (taunting) against Browner on the same play.

Rex Ryan has held his own against Patriots' offense

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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On Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, the Jets and New England Patriots face off for their 12th --and quite likely final -- regular-season meeting of the Rex Ryan era. Gang Green is 3-11 and hasn't enjoyed a winning record since going 11-5 in 2010, but no matter how his team has fared against the rest of the league, throughout his Big Apple tenure, Ryan has earned a reputation as the man who knows how to contain Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the explosive Patriots offense.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesRex Ryan is 4-8 against the Patriots during his tenure as coach of the Jets.
We decided to explore if that reputation was built merely on perception or on hard results. Here is what we found:

Although head-to-head Ryan is a mere 3-8 against The Hoodie (4-8 if you count New York's 28-21 divisional playoff victory at Foxborough following the 2010 season), no other head coach over the past six seasons has defeated Belichick as often (though no one has lost more often, either).

In the 94 regular-season games the Patriots have played since the start of 2009, Brady & Co. failed to score at least 14 points just three times. Two of those -- Week 2 of 2009 in East Rutherford and Week 2 last season at Gillette Stadium -- came against Ryan's Jets.

Ryan's defense has consistently limited, if not altogether frustrated, New England's offense. The Patriots have averaged 28.3 points per game against Ryan's Jets, 24.3 of which were supplied by the offense. Against the 30 teams not coached by Ryan over the same time frame, the average balloons to 31.2 total points per game, with 29.0 of those coming from the offense. The difference of 5.7 offensive points produced per contest would be enough points to drop the top-ranked scoring team this season all the way to 10th.

New England's troubles against Ryan's defense aren't just confined to the scoreboard.

Brady's QBR against Ryan’s Jets is 61.8. Against the rest of the league it's 73.4. Just one of Brady's top 20 QBR games over the past six seasons has come against New York, yet three of his worst nine QBR games came when facing New York. Brady’s completion percentage is a not-so-terrific 59.4 percent when facing the likes of Kendrick Ellis, Muhammad Wilkerson and even back to the days of Darrelle Revis, compared to a much more robust 64.7 percent against all other teams. No. 12 particularly struggles against Ryan's blitz packages, posting a QBR of nearly 20 points lower against Gang Green’s pass pressure (58.1) than when the rest of the league comes at him full bore (77.4).

The limitations placed on the Patriots are crystal clear in terms of yardage. New England has averaged 358.7 yards per game against Ryan’s defense. Against all others they gain an NFL-best 402.8 yards per game. Much of that discrepancy is in rushing the football, an area in which the Pats average nearly 30 fewer yards (95.4) versus the Jets than against all others (125.1). The drop in passing yards (277.7 to 263.4) is not insignificant, either.

Perhaps the most telling difference of all is in "offensive win probability added," an advanced metric that uses score, time, down, distance, and field position to estimate how likely each team will go on to win the game. On average, New England's offense has been nearly twice as likely to contribute to a win (0.27) against teams other than the Jets as it has been against Ryan's squad (0.14).

So no matter which team you're pulling for in a game of interest mainly for seeding (playoffs for the Pats, draft for the Jets) and fantasy football playoffs, you can appreciate the job Ryan has consistently done against one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. Even if his days are numbered in New York, don’t be surprised to see him orchestrating a game plan to stop Belichick and Brady again down the road.

Bruschi's Breakdown: Patriots-Jets

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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Every week leading into the Patriots' next game, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss preview the matchup. This week, it's Sunday's road game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium (CBS, 1 p.m. ET):

Mike: From a Patriots perspective, this is one of those games where you figure the Jets have nothing to lose and will try to pull out all the stops -- fake punts, onside kicks and more. In that sense, these types of games can be dangerous.

Tedy: The Jets are 3-11 and it's been a tough season for them. There's a lot of talk about potential changes next year with coach Rex Ryan. But in a situation like this, it's simple: A win over the rival Patriots would make their season and would be something for Ryan to hang his hat on, if this is indeed the end. The idea that they could hurt the Patriots' playoff seeding is something that figures to motivate them.

Mike: Some have wondered whether the Patriots might be looking at a trap game, but I don't see it. Not when the Jets controlled most of the action Oct. 16, holding a time of possession edge of 40:54 to 19:06.


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Patriots-Jets: ESPN Boston's picks

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
11:35
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videoHere's how ESPNBoston.com's experts see Sunday's game between the Patriots and Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS) playing out. What is your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section.

Quick hits from Bill Belichick

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick hits from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s news conference on Friday:

Decision to bring back Maneri. With the open roster spot from moving Dominique Easley to season-ending injured reserve, the Patriots signed tight end Steve Maneri to a one-year deal (through 2014) on Wednesday. Belichick was asked what he thought Maneri could bring the team. “I thought he did a good job at the end of training camp,” he said. “Just wanted to bring him in; maybe he can help us here as we go forward.”

Easley
Reflecting on Easley’s rookie season. The Patriots placed 2014 first-round pick Easley on injured reserve on Wednesday, and this was the first time to ask Belichick about the decision. Easley played both defensive tackle and end, and finished with nine tackles, one sack and one interception in 11 games (261 snaps played). “I think he made a lot of progress, but the chapter is closed for this year,” Belichick said. “He has a lot of opportunity to make gains in the offseason like all first-year players.”

Jets’ success on third down in first matchup. In the first meeting between these teams, the Jets went 9-for-16 on third down. “Yeah, it killed us,” Belichick said. “Third down was a big problem for us on third down on both sides of the ball (Patriots were 6-of-13 on offense). It’s been a problem for us with them. We didn’t have the ball very long on offense and we are out there on the field too long on defense.”

Branch and Siliga’s addition to the run game. Last time the Jets and Patriots played, the Patriots didn’t have run-stopping defensive linemen Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga playing for them. Both of these players have helped the Patriots shore up the run defense since then. “The combination of getting Alan and [Sealver] Siliga and even Chandler [Jones] last week have definitely given our line more depth and more versatility really,” Belichick said. “And Branch is a big guy, Siliga is a big guy, Chandler is more of an edge, but you put them all together and it looks a little different than it did a few weeks ago. They’ve improved too.”

On Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich. Recently, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has a demeanor similar to Belichick’s, praised how Belichick coaches his team. Belichick was asked about Popovich on Friday morning. “Tremendous respect for Gregg,” Belichick responded. “I think that the consistency that they’ve had there, the level that they’ve played at, and the level at the way he coaches that team – I love to watch that team. … I admire him, I really do. It’s flattering that he would say that. It means a lot coming from somebody of his stature.”

Belichick's exit? Jets' worst day, ever

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
11:07
AM ET
video

Imagine if Bill Belichick trotted out of the MetLife Stadium tunnel Sunday dressed in a green hoodie as he led the best team in the AFC -- the home team, in this case -- in pursuit of his fourth Super Bowl ring.

Imagine the reception awaiting the head coach of the New York Jets, a three-time champ for a franchise that, until he took over, hadn't won it all since Richard Nixon became the 37th president. Imagine how Belichick would be celebrated in the big city after serving as an invaluable defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells' two title teams with the Giants and then taking the Jets places Parcells could not take them.

Imagine if Belichick stood before the microphone on that early January day in 2000 and told reporters that he was grateful for a second chance as an NFL head coach after failing in Cleveland, and that he planned to finish the job Parcells started by taking the Jets to the AFC Championship Game a year earlier.

Imagine if Belichick hadn't shown up 24 hours after agreeing to succeed Parcells looking and sounding more nervous than a teenager on his first date when saying, "Due to various uncertainties surrounding my position as it relates to the team's new ownership, I've decided to resign as head coach of the New York Jets."

Of course, nobody knows for sure whether Belichick would've won the same three rings with the Jets that he's won with the New England Patriots, or whether he would've run away from the job like Al Groh did after one season. Remember, Belichick had four losing seasons in five tries in Cleveland and had lost 13 of his first 18 games in New England before the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Tom Brady, made his first start and ultimately allowed his coach to grow into one of the all-time greats.


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Is it too early for a Patriots mock draft?

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
9:30
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For teams not in the playoff hunt, the focus of fans who follow those clubs has in many ways shifted to the NFL draft. That obviously isn't the case for New England Patriots followers.

So we're passing along the first of what figure to be many first-round mock drafts from ESPN's Todd McShay while understanding that a false-start penalty may very well be in order.

As McShay notes, much will change between now and the draft but "this mock draft can serve as an early primer on where the draft board stands right now, and the prospects teams could be considering with their picks in 2015."

Such framework helps narrow down the field of sorts and McShay has the Patriots going with South Carolina interior offensive lineman AJ Cann.

The first thing that stands out about Cann is that he's a team captain and a three-time member of the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll who is set to graduate this month. He has been durable and productive and, at initial glance, appears to be a "clean" prospect from an injury standpoint, on-field performance and off-field intangibles.

That sounds like a good match for New England.

As for the Patriots' interior offensive line snapshot, they are set at the center spot with rookie Bryan Stork (fourth round, Florida State) for the foreseeable future, while starting left guard Dan Connolly is scheduled for free agency and starting right guard Ryan Wendell (flexibility to also play center) enters the final year of his contract in 2015.

The Patriots' current interior depth comes in the form of second-year player Josh Kline, first-year player Jordan Devey and practice squad blockers Chris Barker and Caylin Hauptmann. While Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming also have lined up at guard, the feeling here is that they are better fits at tackle.

All told, we wouldn't be surprised if an interior offensive lineman was on the team's radar in the 2015 draft.

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