Bruschi's Breakdown: Patriots-Jets

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
12:27
PM ET
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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 40:54-19:06.


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Patriots-Jets: ESPN Boston's picks

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
11:35
AM ET
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
11:15
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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
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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 if Belichick would've won the same three rings with the Jets that he's won with the New England Patriots, or if 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
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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.

Run defense eyes second straight bounceback

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
5:00
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick's weekly plays of the week were split up into two parts this week, with special teams highlighted earlier and then offense and defense showcased in their own segment. Run defense, specifically linebacker Dont'a Hightower's strong downhill play, was singled out by Belichick from Sunday's New England Patriots win over the Miami Dolphins.

"I thought our run defense was certainly a lot better than it was down there in Miami [in Week 1] where they gained [191 yards] on us," Belichick said, calling up a tackle by Hightower on a second-quarter play for minus-5 yards. "Nice job here on the outside run, that's Hightower running through and shooting the gap to set up a third-and-long situation. Those negative plays in the running game are really kind of like sacks -- they waste a down, they lose yardage and create long-yardage situations. You see how explosive Dont'a is going through the gap there, making the tackle."

Hightower's downhill presence in the running game had been noted in film review as well, as it also showed up in the third quarter.

Belichick also showed linebacker Jamie Collins shooting the gap on an outside zone run to bring down Lamar Miller for a 4-yard loss with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

"Good run defense really helped us in this game and created some long-yardage situations," Belichick said on Patriots.com.

The focus on run D continues this week against the Jets, who totaled 218 rushing yards against the Patriots in Week 7.

A few other plays highlighted by Belichick in his plays of the week segment:

Play-action aids Gronkowski's 34-yard catch to open the second half. Belichick showed how play-action does enough to hold the linebackers and create the opening for Rob Gronkowski up the left seam.

Brady's eyes work the safety on Gronkowski touchdown. On the 27-yard touchdown connection from Tom Brady to Gronkowski up the left side at 4:35 of the third quarter, Belichick showed how Brady's eyes hold the safety to create the opening. "The key on this play is the quarterback coming back and looking over here to his right, holding the safety," Belichick explained. "This free safety really belongs to the quarterback. If Tom were to throw the ball right to Rob, the safety would come over and make the play. But Tom is able to freeze him long enough and make the throw for a big touchdown. ... Excellent job at controlling the free safety."

Strip sack by Jones.The Patriots rushed three with 11:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Chandler Jones showed his explosiveness with a strong rush on left tackle Ju'Wuan James. One key to the play was linebackers showing a pressure look inside, which held the interior offensive linemen, before they ultimately backed out. That set up Jones for his 1-on-1 rush, and he beat James despite the Patriots rushing just three and dropping eight into coverage.
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Matthew Berry discusses players at the flex position he loves and hates for Week 16.

Injury report: 12 limited at Pats practice

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
5:39
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are still dealing with 12 players who were limited participants at Thursday’s practice.

The lone change to the team’s injury report is that starting left guard Dan Connolly is no longer listed with an ankle injury. He is now listed with a knee injury.

Defensive ends Chandler Jones (hip) and Rob Ninkovich (heel), long snapper Danny Aiken (finger), cornerback Kyle Arrington (hamstring), running backs LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and Shane Vereen (ankle), wide receivers Julian Edelman (thigh, concussion) and Brandon LaFell (shoulder), rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), and linebackers Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) and Chris White (ankle) were all limited at Thursday’s practice.

A good sign for Edelman is that he is progressing despite suffering a concussion.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) remains a full participant.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- With the Rex Ryan chapter of the New York Jets-New England Patriots rivalry likely coming to an end, we're taking a look back at six years of memories. In keeping with the holiday spirit, it's a "Twelve Days of Christmas" theme:

Jets-Patriots, by the numbers:

Revis
12 -- Regular-season meetings between the teams; also the number of millions earned this season by former Jet-turned-Patriot Darrelle Revis.

11 -- Number of "feet" references by Wes Welker during a nine-minute Q&A with reporters during the run-up to the 2010 divisional playoff game -- an obvious shot at Ryan. Welker was benched by Bill Belichick at the start of the game.

10 -- Santonio Holmes' uniform number. He made one of the greatest touchdown catches in Jets history, a diving, toe-tapping grab in the playoff game.

9 -- Points scored by the Patriots in their first meeting against Ryan, on Sept. 20, 2009. It was one of the best defensive performances under Ryan.

8 -- New England victories.

7 -- The Jets' margin of victory in the divisional playoff game, 28-21 -- the franchise's biggest win since Super Bowl III.

6 -- Games decided by seven points or less, including the past three; also the uniform number of Mark Sanchez, one of the central figures in the rivalry.

5 -- Touchdowns scored by the Patriots in the second quarter of the game on Nov. 22, 2012. Two of the touchdowns came on fumble returns.

4 -- Touchdown passes by Tom Brady in the 45-3 blowout on Dec. 6, 2010, prompting this memorable quote from Ryan: "I came in here to kick (Belichick's) butt and he kicked mine."

3 -- Number of Belichick Super Bowl rings that Ryan has refused to kiss.

2 -- Questions by ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio during his unforgettable interview with Bart Scott after the Jets' playoff upset. It didn't take much prodding to spark Scott's epic "Can't Wait!" rant.

1 -- Butt Fumble.

Rob Gronkowski: 'I grew up a lot'

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
4:15
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski arrived at his locker Thursday, he playfully took a few items and put them behind where he’d be standing. He joked that it was for “product placement” as the cameras pointed in his direction.

It was a brief glimpse of “Gronk the Businessman.”

Soon enough, he was asked about “Gronk the Maturing Football Player.”

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
Gronkowski’s maturity has been noted by quarterback Tom Brady in recent weeks, as the 2010 second-round draft choice has a different perspective after almost five full seasons in the NFL.

“I grew up a lot [smiling],” Gronkowski said when asked about how different he is now compared to his rookie year.

“Just being in the league a few years, you see the ins and outs -- how older guys do everything, how they last; and how you see some guys come in and leave right away and see what they did. And see guys like Tom and Rob Ninkovich, Revis, older guys like that, and see what they do and how they practice. It leads [by] example.”

Injuries have also added to Gronkowski’s perspective.

“Oh yeah, no doubt. It can be taken away any time,” he said. “Don’t take anything for granted.”

Two other sound bites from Gronkowski:

On Darrelle Revis: “He’s a great player, with ball skills, and so relaxed out there that you don’t even think he’s trying. That’s how good he is, When you see a player like that, you say, ‘Is he trying?’ Because he’s right at the ball every time. That means he has a lot of skills, he’s quick on his feet, and the way he reacts to the ball is unbelievable.”

Preparing to face the Jets. “It doesn’t make a difference in records at all. The Jets are always a tough team, always physical, and always ready to play. It’s always a big game against them.”

A few leftovers from Darrelle Revis

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
3:35
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few leftovers from Thursday’s interview with New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis:

Revis
His growth in his eighth NFL season. “I think I’m a better player than I was a couple years ago, just by the growth as a player, growing in this league. Just continuing to stay consistent with my studies and what I do as a player.”

Returning to MetLife Stadium. "This will be my second trip. Last year, I was in Tampa and that was our first game of the year. It was pretty weird. I’m just going to approach it like I did that game, just to try to have no pressure and relax. ... I do know a lot of those guys in New York and still talk to a lot of those guys. Try to look at it not as practice [against the Jets]; look at it as really competition.”

What makes Rob Gronkowski an MVP candidate. “The same stuff you see in the game he’s doing in practice. He’s humble about it, the way he approaches the game. He goes out and works at it. Him and Tom [Brady], the chemistry they have, you see them working on that week in and week out at practice. You have to give him credit. The catches you see in games are the catches you see in practice, and you’re just in awe sometimes of how much chemistry they have between the two.”

Revis’ own candidacy in the MVP race. “I didn’t even know I was involved in that conversation, so it’s something totally new to me. I have no idea. I just look at the sky’s the limit and you never know what’s going to be ahead of you. Like I said, I’m humbled by it, to even be in that conversation with the other guys.”

Darrelle Revis reflects on Mike Haynes visit

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
3:05
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots spent a week training in San Diego leading up to their Dec. 7 victory over the Chargers, coach Bill Belichick invited Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes to visit the team. Haynes' visit was noted during last Sunday's Patriots-Dolphins broadcast on CBS.

Haynes, who played for the Patriots from 1976-82 before finishing his career with the Los Angeles Raiders (1983-89), drew immediate respect from current players. Cornerback Darrelle Revis said that he waited around with defensive backs Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty, among others, so they could spend time with him.

"It was great, just picking his brain and asking him how he covered wide receivers and his techniques. Some of them were similar [to what we do] and some were different," Revis said Thursday. "I definitely took some of his tips and hopefully will try to use them in my game."

Haynes was a nine-time Pro Bowler and earned induction into the Patriots' Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997. He currently lives in Southern California.

"I knew about him, just going down the history of cornerbacks," Revis said. "You go through all of them, the Darrell Greens, the Deion Sanderses, the Mel Blounts, all of them. It was good to actually see him around and for him to visit us in San Diego; Bill invited him and it was awesome for him to be there. When I saw him at first, I was kind of like, 'Who is that? I know that face.' Then Bill brought him around the team and introduced him and I was like, 'I knew it. I knew that was him.' I just waited around after, a bunch of guys did, and we got to talk to him."

Revis was asked about his appreciation for the history of the game, and players like Haynes.

"It's my position and being a fan of those guys," he said. "They're very successful at what they do, so why not ask questions and see what answers you get."

Dante Scarnecchia talks Patriots' O-line

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
2:00
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BOSTON -- Many observers were concerned with the composition of the New England Patriots offensive line earlier this season. But retired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was not one of them.

Asked his thoughts by the Boston Herald following the Patriots’ 16-9 win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 — a game in which quarterback Tom Brady was sacked twice, bringing his early-season total to seven — Scarnecchia preached that the team would need to be patient with the offensive line. And now, with the Patriots having won nine of 11 games since then and looking primed for a deep playoff run, Scarnecchia isn’t surprised to see the positive results of that patient approach.

“It’s paid off great for them,” Scarnecchia said Thursday during a team event at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The improvement of the offensive line has been one of the most important elements of the Patriots' recent success this season. After Brady was sacked 13 times through the team’s first seven games, the line shored up, and Brady has been sacked just three times in their past seven games. It’s no coincidence that Brady has looked much better over that time, surpassing 300 passing yards four times in that span compared to once in the first seven games.

The catalyst to that success came when the Patriots settled on their current line configuration — left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Dan Connolly, center Bryan Stork, right guard Ryan Wendell and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Since Stork and Connolly both returned from concussions in Week 8, those five have started each game, developing a valuable sense of cohesion that Scarnecchia believes is the key to their better play.

“It can’t be understated,” Scarnecchia said. “The more you can keep the same guys doing the same things over and over again, the more they understand playing with one another and what things were said up there and how important it is to be on the same page and see the screen through the same set of eyes. That’s no mystery recipe, that’s always the recipe for success.

“I’m happy for all those guys. I’m really happy for the way they have progressed and come along. I’m happy for [first-year offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo], he’s done a great job coaching those guys. I think that there has to be a certain amount of satisfaction, but I don’t think anyone can be overly satisfied at this point. They have a lot to play for going forward, and I wish them nothing but the best of success.”

Scarnecchia spent 30 years with the Patriots franchise, serving as offensive line coach for the past 15 seasons prior to this year. Since he’s retired, he’s enjoyed being able to join the Patriots in giving back to the community, including Thursday’s event where he spent time interacting with blood donors and the children of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He was joined by Patriots alumni, including team Hall of Famer Steve Nelson, Jim Murphy and Ed Toner.

“I’ve never had a chance to participate in anything like this because I’ve always been working,” Scarnecchia said. “I think this is a great thing, and I’m happy to be part of it.”

Weekly Patriots chat recap

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
12:25
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Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a New England Patriots chat in the late morning/early afternoon. Today's chat kicked off at 11 a.m. ET, can be recapped here, and included some of the following topics:

1. Rookie DL Dominique Easley landing on injured reserve and his future with the team.

2. The signing of TE Steve Maneri and one theory as to why he was deemed worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster.

3. Patriots' high penalty total, cornerback Brandon Browner, and how important that truly is.

4. Insight from Tom Brady on tipped passes at the line of scrimmage.

5. Chandler Jones was impressive in his return.

6. Marcus Cannon's contract extension as it relates to Nate Solder.

7. Safety Patrick Chung gets a vote as a most improved Patriot.

Pats make hay by exploiting weakness

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
11:21
AM ET
New England’s “game-plan offense” is well-outlined in a piece by Mike Reiss, who called it “an attack that morphs itself into something completely different each week.”

The principle is simple -- if your opponent struggles in a particular area, that’s probably the area you’re best served to attack. How heavily has New England’s play-calling reflected this strategy, one that requires such versatility in personnel?

Measuring that starts with defining the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Yards are a misleading measure -- for example, is a team that allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game (like the Cardinals) a bad pass defense?

Defensive efficiency, which measures the impact of each play on a team’s scoring margin, is a better measure of how effective a team’s defense is. Arizona’s pass defense has the fifth-best defensive efficiency rating in the league. Yards alone won’t account for the Cardinals’ 18 interceptions (fourth most) or the fact that they’ve allowed touchdowns on only 40.5 percent of red-zone possessions (second best in the league). Defensive efficiency accounts for both of those and more.

The efficiency ranks of each Patriots opponent are split out by rushing and passing in the chart to the right.

When the team has been successful, it hasn’t just reached season averages in play-calling. The Patriots called more than half of their plays to target the opponent’s defensive weakness in 9 of the team’s 11 wins.

Both of the wins in which New England didn’t were against divisional opponents, and might have had interesting game-specific reasons.

In Week 15, the Dolphins had just placed starting safety Louis Delmas on IR before the game, and New England still rushed on a higher percentage than their season average.

Entering Week 6, the Bills ranked fourth in defensive efficiency against the pass and fifth against the run. With no significant difference between the pass and rush defense, New England’s play calling (38 percent rush, 62 percent dropback) was almost exactly at its season average (39 percent rush, 61 percent pass).

Based on New England’s tendencies this season, what should be expected on Sunday against the Jets? As the first chart shows, New York ranks 12th against the run, no surprise given the quality of defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.

But the Jets pass defense ranks 28th in efficiency for a reason. Only the Redskins (31) and Bears (33) have given up more passing touchdowns than the Jets (29), while only the Chiefs (four) have intercepted fewer passes than New York (five).

The Patriots have already noticed this once. Tom Brady dropped back to pass on 72 percent of snaps in New England’s Week 7 win over New York, its second-highest percentage this season. Barring a game-specific occurrence (like Wilkerson missing a fourth straight game with a toe injury), recent history suggests Brady will be busy.

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