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Christopher Harris analyzes the Patriots' backfield for Week 8.

Patriots' D groupings: Sub packages rise

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
4:00
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the New England Patriots playing on Thursday this past week, it opened up the weekend and gave us a chance to take a bigger-picture look at some of the team's personnel usage and groupings through seven games. This can help identify trends and also highlight player value.

With this in mind, here is an update on the Patriots' defensive groupings this season (including penalties):

Sub: 284 of 478 (59.4 percent)
Base: 189 of 478 (39.5 percent)
Heavy: 5 of 478 (1.0 percent)

Through one quarter of the season, the numbers were a bit closer (53 percent sub, 47 percent base), but things have shifted in the last three games.

This is something we wanted to watch a bit closer, given that the Patriots were in sub packages 67 percent of the time last season. As it turns out, things appear to be headed in that direction again this season; sub should be the prevalent packages against the next two opponents, Chicago and Denver, based on their offensive style of play.

The Patriots are mostly a nickel team (five defensive backs) in sub, but have also played some dime (43 snaps) this season.

This highlights the value of fifth and sixth defensive backs on game day such as Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner on the 46-man game-day roster.

McDaniels says Gray will get more chances

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
2:53
PM ET
When New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray was promoted from the practice squad prior to Thursday night's 27-25 win against the Jets, it was a move to find answers after Stevan Ridley's season-ending knee injury. Gray earned the opportunity with his hard work and consistent presence on the scout teams during practice.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels attested to Gray's work ethic and desire to be a team contributor.

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsPatriots rookie Jonas Gray (No. 35) saw his first NFL action of the season in Week 7 against the Jets, rushing for 12 yards on three attempts.
"Jonas works really hard," McDaniels said. "He's been well prepared and done a great job for us on the scout teams here. And certainly made the most of his opportunities in the preseason and just continues to prepare like he is playing each week."

Gray said earlier in the week, when asked about the potential of being called up from the practice squad, that he prepares every week like he is playing and that the Patriots' coaching staff doesn't treat practice squad players any differently from roster players.

In his first career NFL game, Gray had three carries for 12 yards -- a modest performance. But, he made his impact in blitz pickups and proved he could be a consistent back within the limited work he had.

"He had an opportunity to come up last week and help and I thought he did a good job in his role," McDaniels said. "Didn't play -- I think he played a total of 11 plays, if I am correct on it -- but, again, did a great job of running hard, runs behind his pads, stays low, not the easiest guy in the world to bring down because he's a thick guy with the ball."

At 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, Gray packs a lot of power into his running and has the confidence to land blocks on safeties, linebackers and defensive linemen because he has the size to do so.

Based on Gray receiving the second-most snaps among Patriots running backs on Thursday night with 12 of 60 -- behind Shane Vereen's 48 snaps and trumping Brandon Bolden's one offensive snap -- Gray could see more action and become the secondary back in the Patriots' offense.

McDaniels liked Gray's performance throughout the offseason and in his first NFL game and is looking forward to working with his hard-working running back.

"He stepped in there and picked up the blitz a couple of times the other night," McDaniels said. "So just a young guy that is eager to do whatever is asked of him and we will continue to work with him and see if we can't continue to build on what we did the other night with him."

Pats-Packers Week 13 game can't be flexed

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
2:20
PM ET
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted out some schedule-based news that included a New England Patriots-based twist.

As part of deciding which games are eligible to be flexed to prime time, broadcast networks have the option to block or protect a select few games from being taken from them by NBC. According to Schefter, CBS has blocked/protected its Week 13 Patriots at Packers game.


So that game will remain at 4:25 p.m. ET Nov. 30, to be aired on CBS.

The Patriots currently have five prime-time games on their schedule.

Bill Belichick on Bears, Peyton Manning

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
1:51
PM ET
Quick hits from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's conference call on Monday:

The Bears' receivers are big. With Brandon Marshall standing at 6-foot-4, Alshon Jeffery at 6-3 and Martellus Bennett at 6-6, the Patriots will have their hands full matching up with Chicago's giant receiving targets. Cornerback Brandon Browner could play a key role as the Patriots may need his size. However, Belichick said no matter how big your defenders are or how good the coverage is, these receivers can make plays.

"Between Jeffery, Marshall, [Josh] Morgan and you have to put Bennett in there too, he's really a big receiver at the tight end position and very athletic," Belichick said. "No matter where you are on those guys, they are open because they have such range. A good quarterback could put the ball where the defender is. The quarterback could put the ball somewhere where they could get it and the defender could be just a little too far away from it. We are going to have to do a good job of matching up to the size of the receivers and the size of the tight end and the skill of the quarterback to get them the ball. It's going to be very challenging."

On Manning's TD record. Belichick called Peyton Manning breaking the all-time record for career passing touchdowns a "phenomenal accomplishment."

"For a career it's an unbelievable amount of consistent production," Belichick said. "He'd probably be waiting longer to pass that record if he hadn't gone against me so many times. He certainly threw a lot of them against defenses that I had. His durability, his longevity, his production and that's why it is what it is, why that record is what it is. [Brett] Favre did it for a long time and on a very consistent level and Peyton has done the same thing even a little more. It's a phenomenal accomplishment."

Marc Trestman and the West Coast offense. Belichick is familiar with Bears head coach Marc Trestman, who spent time with the Cleveland Browns just prior to Belichick's years there. Trestman runs the West Coast offense and Belichick said that Trestman's experience with so many teams and even in the CFL have helped him to become a successful offensive mind.

"The players that he has have some similarities, but yards after catch, West Coast-type offensive plays, moving routes, plays that the ball comes out fairly quick on but gets the ball to those big targets," Belichick said. "Marc has a lot of experience in the passing game. He has had great production throughout his career with many different teams and quarterbacks and receivers and so forth. So it kind of speaks for itself, too."

Tedy Bruschi Patriots chat recap

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
12:45
PM ET
Tedy Bruschi's weekly New England Patriots chat kicked off at 11 a.m. ET, can be recapped here and included some of the following topics:

1. Some initial thoughts on the team's next opponent, the Bears, and how their surprising loss Sunday could be a wake-up call.

2. Bill Belichick, always unpredictable, and thoughts on what he might be thinking at the trade deadline.

3. Struggles on defense against the run and if there is any hope of improvement in the weeks to come.

4. Some Broncos-related thoughts as they relate to the Patriots.

5. Preparing for a bit of a roller-coaster ride as the schedule toughens.

Run defense a top concern

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
11:54
AM ET
[+] EnlargeChris Ivory
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaThe Jets exposed the Patriots' defensive weaknesses, which are unlikely to improve much with Jerod Mayo out.

Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.

Q. Tedy, the Patriots' run defense looked terrible Thursday. I want to chalk this up to the short week and no time to prepare for life without Jerod Mayo, but I can't ignore the fact that the Dolphins ran like this against us in week one, and so did the Chiefs. Is this going to be a season-long problem for our beloved Patriots? --  Brendan (Kingston, Massachusetts)

A. I just think this is the way it's going to be. They aren't going to be the strongest team against the run based on who they have on the roster and some of the injuries they've experienced. Also, the release of DT Tommy Kelly. But two things this defense does well is play well against the pass and take the ball away. If those are your strengths and you continue to play that way, that's what it's going to be.

Q. Tedy, how do we correct the awful run defense? Note that the problems began before Jerod Mayo's injury.  -- Glen (via mobile)


(Read full post)


How tight ends are reshaping Pats' attack

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
11:00
AM ET
Each week during the season, the positional groupings the New England Patriots utilize on offense are charted. Sometimes these groupings can take us deeper inside the game to get a feel for how coaches view personnel and favorable matchups -- both with their own team and the opposition.

With the Patriots not playing this weekend, it provides a chance to step back and look at the seven-game snapshot (split in two categories between three-receiver groupings or fewer):

THREE-RECEIVER GROUPINGS
3-WR/1-TE/1-RB -- 188 of 494 (38.0 percent)
3-WR/2-RB -- 12 of 494 (2.4 percent)
3-WR/1-FB/1-RB -- 12 of 494 (2.4 percent)
Total: 212 of 494 (42.9 percent)

FEWER THAN THREE-RECEIVER GROUPINGS
2-WR/2-TE/1-RB -- 171 of 494 (34.6 percent)
2-WR/1-TE/1-FB/1-RB -- 62 of 494 (12.5 percent)
1-WR/2-TE/1-FB/1-RB -- 30 of 494 (6.1 percent)
1-WR/3-TE/1-RB -- 9 of 494 (1.8 percent)
3-TE/1-FB/1-RB -- 6 of 494 (1.2 percent)
2-WR/1-TE/2-RB -- 4 of 494 (0.8 percent)
Total: 282 of 494 (57.0 percent)

Some thoughts on these groupings that stand out when looking at how they've evolved over the course of the season:

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
1. As Rob Gronkowski's playing time has increased upon his return from a torn right ACL, the Patriots have trended more toward multiple-tight-end groupings, which makes sense. Specifically, the Patriots seem to have found something that works for them -- going empty with the 2-WR/2-TE/1-RB grouping with Gronkowski and Tim Wright at tight end, which in a lot of ways could be viewed as a 3-WR package of sorts because of Wright's presence as more of a pass-catching tight end.

2. The 1-WR/3-TE/1-RB run-based package was introduced for the first time against the Bengals (three snaps) Oct. 5 and then used again against the Bills the following week (six snaps), with the Patriots having nice success throwing out of it despite being a run-based look. Again, another example of how the usage of tight ends has changed a bit in recent weeks, which is probably tied to Gronkowski's graduation to nearly full-time action and the acclimation process of Wright (acquired from Tampa Bay Aug. 26) gaining momentum with more time.

3. With a lower percentage of three-receiver packages, it has reduced the playing-time totals for pure slot receiver Danny Amendola. But as we saw Thursday, he's still contributing in that niche role (as well as a kickoff returner).

4. One could also draw the conclusion that inconsistent play along the offensive line has contributed to fewer three-receiver packages. By playing with a second or third tight end instead of a second or third receiver, the Patriots are devoting more resources to the line of scrimmage. Everything starts up front.

5. Tom Brady said a big part of early-season action is finding out what an offense can hang its hat on, and after the Sept. 29 game against the Chiefs, the idea of an offensive "identity crisis" was detailed at this address. What has stood out since that time is that the Patriots are using their tight ends more, but at the same time opening things up a bit and giving Brady a chance to attack down the field. It has been an interesting contrast, aided by some improvement in pass protection and, of course, Gronkowski's return to close to top form.

Tom Brady: Peyton Manning's record 'pretty incredible'

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
9:30
AM ET
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are forever connected. And as Manning set the record for NFL career touchdown passes, Brady offered up his thoughts on Manning and the record during this weekly interview with Boston sports radio station WEEI on Monday morning.

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“It’s pretty incredible,” Brady said. “It’s hard to throw touchdown passes and he -- even in the last two years -- I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s pretty incredible. It’s a great record. It’s incredible to do. He’s been very durable. He’s been very consistent. He’s just a spectacular player.”

Manning threw four touchdown passes in front of a national audience and now sits atop the all-time list with 510 passing touchdowns. Brady has 372 career passing touchdowns.

Brady said he watched the 49ers-Broncos game and a few other games on his day off Sunday. When Manning set the record, Brady sent him a congratulatory text message.

“He has great recognition, great instincts,” Brady said. “Everything that you think you would see, that’s what he is. I’ve never been in a meeting room with him, I’m sure a lot of receivers have been, but he’s certainly got great command. He’s really a field general. I think that’s the best description. I think that’s kind of the thing that comes to mind when you think about him. He has great command out there.

“He’s been a great player for a long time. He was great at the Colts and obviously come to Denver and he’s had an incredible run there. It’s been incredible to watch. He makes throwing four touchdown passes look incredibly easy, which of course as we know is not.”

Because Brady and Manning have careers that are intertwined, the debate of who has had the better career came back to the forefront during the interview.

“Peyton has an incredible career,” Brady said. “I’ve been very fortunate. To think that I would have had the opportunity to do that when I was starting out is crazy to think. And I am still part of a great team that has a great opportunity to achieve even more.

“And certainly the winning, that’s what separates our team apart from the other teams -- has been our ability to win on a consistent basis, year in, year out no matter what the circumstances or situations. To be a part of an organization where that’s been what we have been able to accomplish, that’s just been unbelievable. I’m a lucky guy that it’s still going.”

Brady was asked if Manning has had it easier than him in his career since Manning was a four-year college starter and the first overall pick in 1998.

“I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve ever done,” Brady said. “I certainly wouldn’t change my career with anybody. To have the opportunity to play in five Super Bowls, to play for one organization is -- you can’t envision those things. And like I said, it’s still going. I think hopefully the best is yet to come.”

Tedy Bruschi's Patriots chat at 11 a.m. ET

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
9:28
AM ET
Every Monday after the New England Patriots play, Tedy Bruschi hosts a Patriots chat. Monday's chat is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, and questions can be asked in advance.

Catch up with Tedy then.

Pats' defensive snaps: Vince Wilfork's time

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:00
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the New England Patriots having played on Thursday, we will kick off the week with a seven-game snapshot of playing time for defenders, which helps identify emerging trends and player value:

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Wilfork
Vince Wilfork -- 377 of 478 (78.9 percent)
Chris Jones -- 215 of 478 (45.0 percent)
Dominique Easley -- 143 of 478 (29.9 percent)
Casey Walker -- 96 of 478 (20.1 percent)
Sealver Siliga* -- 92 of 478 (19.2 percent)
Joe Vellano -- 75 of 478 (15.7 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: If Wilfork keeps up this pace, he very well could cash in on the maximum incentives in his contract ($3 million). The marker is 70-percent playing time and Wilfork has recovered well from a ruptured Achilles in 2013 and has absorbed a heavy workload like he said he was capable of back in training camp. Wilfork bet on himself and it's paying off. In his last fully healthy season, 2012, Wilfork played 81.3 percent of the defensive snaps, and one line of thinking is that it might be smart to limit his workload in the future. Some might look at this season's snapshot and wonder if the Patriots are flirting with trouble. Either way, it's a credit to Wilfork.

DEFENSIVE END
Rob Ninkovich -- 437 of 478 (91.4 percent)
Chandler Jones -- 414 of 478 (86.6 percent)
Zach Moore -- 27 of 478 (5.6 percent)
Michael Buchanan** -- 23 of 478 (4.8 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: Ninkovich opened the season in a part-time role before quickly returning to full-time status in Week 2. Jones missed some time with a right shoulder injury, which brought his numbers down a bit. But this is a similar snapshot as 2013 -- Ninkovich and Jones as the ironmen, with a notable dropoff after them.

LINEBACKER
Jamie Collins -- 355 of 478 (74.3 percent)
Dont'a Hightower -- 347 of 478 (72.6 percent)
Jerod Mayo** -- 340 of 478 (71.1 percent)
Deontae Skinner -- 79 of 278 (16.5 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: Injuries to the top three players on the depth chart has limited their time, while Skinner -- an undrafted free-agent out of Mississippi State -- has emerged as a two-down downhill run-thumper with potential. Ninkovich and Jones, who play outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment, could also be slotted into this position group.

CORNERBACK
Darrelle Revis -- 452 of 478 (94.6 percent)
Logan Ryan -- 235 of 478 (49.2 percent)
Alfonzo Dennard -- 221 of 478 (46.2 percent)
Kyle Arrington -- 212 of 478 (44.4 percent)
Malcolm Butler -- 63 of 478 (13.2 percent)
Brandon Browner -- 41 of 478 (8.6 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: The numbers reflect how Revis is obviously the No. 1 and seldom comes off the field (except for the goal-line and in blowouts), while the coaching staff has mixed and matched at the other cornerback while Browner served his four-game suspension before making his debut Oct. 16. It seems the plans are to have a Revis-Browner starting combination, and then seeing who looks best in the slot between Arrington, Dennard and Ryan. Arrington has been a pure nickel option this season, not playing outside cornerback in base.

SAFETY
Devin McCourty -- 434 of 478 (90.8 percent)
Patrick Chung -- 358 of 478 (74.9 percent)
Duron Harmon -- 110 of 478 (23.0 percent)
Tavon Wilson -- 82 of 478 (17.2 percent)
Nate Ebner -- 25 of 278 (5.2 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: Chung seizing the top role next to McCourty is arguably the most surprising personnel-related development on defense after he re-signed with the club following one season in Philadelphia. Harmon seemed like the front-runner for that role after serving as the top backup last season. With the player in that spot aligning more in the box with McCourty as a single-high safety, Chung's skill set has fit well and he's having a nice season. The coaching staff has taken him off the field in some obvious passing situations to mask some of his deficiencies in that area.

* Short-term IR
** Season-ending IR

Pats' offensive snaps: Brandon LaFell's rise

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
5:00
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the New England Patriots having played on Thursday, we'll kick off the week with a seven-game snapshot of playing time for offensive skill-position players, which helps identify emerging trends and player value:

WIDE RECEIVER
Julian Edelman -- 444 of 494 (89.9 percent)
Brandon LaFell -- 355 of 494 (71.9 percent)
Danny Amendola -- 203 of 494 (41.1 percent)
Kenbrell Thompkins* -- 85 of 494 (17.2 percent)
Aaron Dobson -- 53 of 494 (10.7 percent)
Brian Tyms -- 9 of 494 (1.8 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: Dobson hasn't made the desired second-year jump, as LaFell has seized the top role opposite Edelman. Meanwhile, Amendola mostly has been used a pure slot option in three-plus receiver sets and with the Patriots running more groupings with multiple tight ends and two backs, his playing time has dipped a bit.

TIGHT END
Rob Gronkowski -- 318 of 494 (64.4 percent)
Michael Hoomanawanui -- 230 of 494 (46.6 percent)
Tim Wright -- 105 of 494 (21.3 percent)
Cameron Fleming -- 43 of 494 (8.7 percent)
Jordan Devey -- 4 of 494 (0.8 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: Gronkowski has slowly seen his playing time rise as he was eased back into the mix. The following is his seven-game snap progression: 38, 28, 42, 31, 66, 58, 55. As for Wright, he has seen an increase in recent weeks as the Patriots are spreading things out in their two-TE package with him. Wright's seven-game progression: 21, 8, 5, 16, 19, 16, 20. Fleming and Devey are offensive linemen who have been tapped as an eligible receiver to add more of a blocking presence.

RUNNING BACK
Shane Vereen -- 258 of 494 (52.2 percent)
Stevan Ridley** -- 183 of 494 (37.0 percent)
Brandon Bolden -- 43 of 494 (8.7 percent)
James White -- 14 of 494 (2.8 percent)
Jonas Gray -- 12 of 494 (2.4 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: This is a good example of how Vereen, while often referred to as a change-of-pace type of back, is more than that. He played a season-high 61 snaps in the season-opener and the Patriots will be relying on him even more after losing Ridley to a season-ending knee injury Oct. 12 against the Bills. Gray was used as the top "big back" in his absence Oct. 16, while Bolden could still compete for time in the role.

FULLBACK
James Develin -- 111 of 494 (22.5 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: His snaps have fluctuated from a high of 27 against the Bengals to a low of eight against the Raiders. Develin has brought a hard-nosed edge to the offense.

QUARTERBACK
Tom Brady -- 482 of 494 (97.6 percent)
Jimmy Garoppolo -- 12 of 494 (2.4 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: The lone game in which Garoppolo saw time was Sept. 29 in Kansas City, entering when the game was decided in the fourth quarter as the Chiefs had taken control.

* No longer on team
** Season-ending IR

A few extra points from Bill Belichick

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
4:00
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick held a conference call with reporters on Sunday (noon ET), and here were a few of the notable topics following the Patriots' 27-25 win:

Following up on unnecessary roughness penalty. When offensive lineman Jordan Devey was penalized for unnecessary roughness late in the second quarter Thursday, some viewed it as a penalty worth taking because he was sticking up for quarterback Tom Brady, who took a hit from Jets linebacker Antwan Barnes that was borderline late. But how does Belichick and his staff view the penalty? Asked if he was more tolerant to those types of infractions because it came while defending a teammate, or if it was more of a non-negotiable situation, Belichick said, "I would say more the latter. We have to find a way to do things without getting 15-yard penalties. That’s the bottom line. We’re not OK with it. We can’t get a 15-yard penalty."

Recapping final offensive drive vs. Jets. In our fourth-quarter review, the balance of being aggressive versus conservative was highlighted on the Patriots' final drive against the Jets. Belichick was asked, in retrospect, if he might have approached things differently. "Well, obviously we didn’t want the game to end the way it ended on the last possession. We wanted to do better and do more than we did," he said, before detailing what unfolded from there. "On the first-down play, we forced them to use their final timeout [with a run]. Then on the second-down play we ran it down to the two-minute warning. We lost yardage on that; that was just obviously a bad play. Had a play gone differently, we might have considered our play calls differently. On the third-down play, third-and-13, the chances of getting a first down aren't great there. They were out of timeouts so at that point on third down, we felt like the best thing to do was to run the ball and try to make them drive it with no timeouts. But first and second down, neither one of those plays turned out the way that we had thought or hoped they would turn out, so that led to a bad third-down situation. We have to do a better job with that, no excuses. We just have to do a better job with it. We're fortunate that we came out OK but it wasn't great."

Early scouting report on Bears. Belichick shared a few early thoughts on the team's next opponent, the Bears, and the things that stood out were his viewpoint of them as a heavy zone-coverage team on defense; Jay Cutler, a quarterback who can make all the throws; and a varied offense that has pass-catchers who often box out defenders and go up to make the catch. "We’re not familiar with the coaches and the schemes. We’re not familiar with the players. We haven’t played the Bears in four years and that was a whole different staff," Belichick said. "We have a lot of preparation work to do, so that will be challenging."

Quick-hit thoughts around NFL, Patriots

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
5:00
AM ET
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells, Bill Belichick
USA TODAY SportsNew England's Bill Parcells and Cleveland's Bill Belichick, prior to the Patriots-Browns wild-card playoff game on Jan. 1, 1995.
1. Bill Parcells’ candidacy to the Patriots Hall of Fame gets great support from this address because of the role he played in reviving the dormant franchise in 1993 and laying a significant part of the foundation personnel-wise for the Super Bowl championship years under Bill Belichick. But I’m sure I wasn’t the only one chuckling at the excerpt from his new book about how he held Belichick accountable for trying to break his contract as Jets head coach in 2000. If there’s one main reason Parcells isn’t in the Patriots Hall, it’s because he basically did the same thing in 1996 -- angling for his next job while still under contract in New England and his team in the Super Bowl.

2a. Patriots defensive lineman Chris Jones should expect a fine from the NFL for his low hit on Jets quarterback Geno Smith in the fourth quarter Thursday night. The play should have been penalized as it was essentially the same hit that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady absorbed in 2008 when he tore his ACL. You can’t go low on the quarterback. I was surprised there wasn’t more of an uproar from the Jets’ side on that play instead of the absolute non-story that surfaced Friday about how an official moved linebacker Dont'a Hightower away from the snapper on the final play, which is standard operating procedure.

2b. From watching Jones over the last year and a half, I’d say he is anything but a dirty player. He explained after the game that he was trying to dip and left guard Oday Aboushi was on his back as he surged toward Smith. Jones and Smith had trained together at IMG before the 2013 draft, so they have a background together. “He’s a good dude,” Jones said after the game. “It was a football play, it was unfortunate, and I was trying my hardest to get to him. I was happy to see him get up.”

3. When a team includes playing time incentives in players' contracts, it can create a conflict between individual and team goals. The thought came to mind after watching the Patriots’ offensive tackle usage/rotation the last four weeks -- with Marcus Cannon subbing in for left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer at times -- while remembering that Vollmer has significant money in playing-time incentives this year ($1 million for 80 percent of the snaps and $2 million for 90 percent of the snaps). I don’t think the Patriots are doing it to save money, but if you’re Vollmer, how does that thought not at least cross your mind, especially when seeing Cannon struggle a bit?

[+] EnlargeSebastian Vollmer
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesSebastian Vollmer has 2 million reasons to desire full-time playing time.
Vollmer’s playing time this season
at Dolphins: 85 of 86
at Vikings: 65 of 65
vs. Raiders: 75 of 75
at Chiefs: 39 of 50
vs. Bengals: 76 of 86
at Bills: 60 of 71
vs. Jets: 54 of 57
Total: 454 of 490 (92.6 percent)

4. My biggest takeaway from the Seahawks' trading receiver Percy Harvin to the Jets for a mid-to-late-round conditional draft pick -- which is an admission that they made a mistake in acquiring him last year for first-, third- and seventh-round picks -- is that it highlights how trading for a player goes well beyond his on-field talents. The Seahawks knew what they were getting in Harvin football-wise when they had acquired him from the Vikings in 2013, but what was harder to project was how he’d fit into the locker room culture. It obviously didn’t go well, which is why some teams shy away from investing big in players until they’ve spent time with them through the draft-and-develop process. Bill Belichick sometimes says that when you bring a player onto a team, you get everything that comes with him. This is a shining example of it.

5. The Patriots have given up 190 or more yards rushing in three of their seven games this season -- 191 to the Dolphins, 207 to the Chiefs and 218 to the Jets on Thursday night. For those who have questioned Belichick for his decision in the preseason to release veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who felt he was being phased out and was hoping to be let go, this is the strongest evidence to support your viewpoint. Hard to think Kelly, who is playing well for the Cardinals (251 of 358 snaps played; 70.1 percent), couldn’t have helped the Patriots this season.

6. One of many differences between the Patriots and Jets was highlighted with this contrast: The Jets’ game captains at midfield for the opening coin toss included former Patriots tight end Zach Sudfeld and former Patriots linebackerA.J. Edds, as well as Malden, Mass., native Breno Giacomini. Meanwhile, the Patriots didn’t do anything out of the ordinary until players gathered in the post-game locker room behind closed doors and former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was given the honor of breaking the team down (as shown on Patriots.com), which he did by saying “On 3! 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... Pats!”

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsAlshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall will provide a tough litmus test for the Patriots' secondary.
7. Looking ahead to next Sunday’s Patriots-Bears game at Gillette Stadium, one thing that stands out is how Chicago has been a very good road team this year (3-1). The Bears' win at San Francisco on Sept. 14 was one of the best road victories in the NFL this season, as the 49ers were playing the first-ever regular-season home game at their new stadium. As for the Patriots, it’s probably not a stretch to say they’ve managed cornerback Brandon Browner’s return from suspension with having him at his best with this game in mind. With the Bears having bigger top-end receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, this is the type of game the Patriots probably had in mind when putting together a Browner/Revis cornerback tandem in the offseason.

8. Did You Know, Part I: Since Jay Cutler joined the Bears, the team is 21-5 in games that he starts and does not throw an interception. When he throws multiple interceptions (as he has done three times this season), the Bears are 4-18.

9a. Did You Know, Part II: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Andrew Luck’s 17 touchdown passes is tied for the most in Colts history through the team’s first six games of a season. Peyton Manning had 17 in the team’s first six games in 2004 and Johnny Unitas had 17 in the team’s first six games in 1959.

9b. Unitas. Manning. Luck. How lucky are the Colts? The Patriots visit Indianapolis on Nov. 16 with Luck looking for his first career win over New England.

10. Here’s a fun one to watch for when the Texans visit the Steelers on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” tomorrow: Safety Ross Ventrone, who appeared in eight games for the Patriots in 2011 but hadn’t played again until suiting up for Pittsburgh last week, will probably be active and participating on special teams. We remember Ventrone because he was waived by the Patriots 11 times between 2010 and 2012; that’s why when a player shuffles back and forth between the practice squad and roster, we often refer to it as the “Ventrone.”

Patriots football journey: James White

October, 18, 2014
Oct 18
9:00
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots rookie running back James White has had to be patient over parts of his football career, so the 2014 season isn’t anything new for him.

White wasn’t a full-time starter at Wisconsin until his senior year. At St. Thomas Aquina High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, White was teammates with several highly touted players who would later go on to the NFL, such as Bengals running back Giovani Bernard.

"It was great, playing the same position, competing with each other and making each other better. We’d hang out off the field, too," White said, adding that one game against Byrnes (S.C.) High School drew as many as 15,000 fans.

[+] EnlargeJames White
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesRunning back James White saw his most extensive action of the season in Week 4 at Kansas City.
As a Patriots rookie, White has mostly been learning behind the scenes this season. He has played in one of the team’s first seven games -- Sept. 29 at Kansas City, in a limited role.

The 22-year-old White shares his "football journey" as part of our weekly feature:

When he first started playing football: "When I was 7 or 8 years old. My dad and my brother played football. Pretty much all the men in my family played football, and I looked up to them. We’d play football in the yard and I was always running routes and active."

Favorite teams and players growing up: "I was always an Eagles fan. Brian Westbrook was my favorite running back. He could do it all out there -- a receiving back, a guy who could run inside, who could run outside, he’d block."

Role models in his life: "My dad [Tyrone White] and my grandfather [James Willis]. My dad is a hard-working guy who helps others, and at the same time he puts his family first. My grandfather is the same way; he’s a guy that is heavily involved in the church and that definitely helped me. He’s like a second father."

More about his parents, Tyrone and Lisa: "My dad is in law enforcement and my mom is a probation specialist, too. You heard plenty of stories and things of that nature, and I think that definitely helped me stay out of trouble."

Favorite memories at St. Thomas Aquina High School: "We won two state championships. I think that definitely got me prepared for college, which got me prepared for the NFL. It’s a great atmosphere, when two good teams face off, especially two teams that have a history. It attracts a big crowd, people from everywhere. It’s kind of like a small-college atmosphere."

Well-known teammates in high school: "Giovani Bernard [Bengals]. Brandon Linder [Jaguars]. LaMarcus Joyner [Rams]. Marcus Roberson [Rams]. Major Wright [Buccaneers]."

Why he chose to attend Wisconsin: "I wanted to branch off, see new things. They have a great history running the football, and I wanted to run in the I-formation more than the spread stuff."

Favorite memories at Wisconsin: "My freshman year, beating Ohio State. It was a great opportunity for me, with the chance to score a touchdown to help us seal the deal. Just being with my teammates -- Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon -- we were together all the time off the field. That was a great time in college."

Memories of being drafted by the Patriots (fourth round, 130th overall): "It was definitely exciting, a dream come true. I don’t take it for granted. I’m blessed. It’s hard work. To be the best, and compete with the best players, you have to work hard and put the time in."

What he loves about football: "The team aspect. It takes everybody on the field to win the game. You can’t win a game with one person -- everyone has to do their job in order for the team to be successful. Bonding with these guys, being with them every day, hanging out, having fun, sharing stories. Everybody comes from a different place and there are different stories for everyone in terms of how they got here, and I think that’s great."

What he’s most proud of with his own story: "Just sticking with it. I was never really the guy that got the most attention or the most carries, but always staying motivated no matter what the situation was."

Summing up his football journey: "In Little League football, you always say, 'I want to make it to the NFL.' Just to be here is a dream come true."

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