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No matter the challenge, Patriots have experience, resilience on their side

Posted by Erik Frenz December 30, 2013 07:00 AM

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When Bill Belichick spoke after the New England Patriots won their 12th game of the season on Sunday, it sounded like any other game.

"Fortunately we were just able to make a few more plays and make a few at the right time," he said.

The end result has been the same, but the means to the end have been different. Now that the full 16-game regular season slate is in the books, one big-picture takeaway stands out: the sheer volume of ways the Patriots have won games this season should give the team as much confidence headed into its 11th trip to the postseason in the past 13 years as it had in its first playoff berth in that stretch.

Do they need to throw the ball to put points on the board? The Patriots faced that challenge against the New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns, when Tom Brady unleashed pass after pass with the game on the line to deliver the Patriots to victory.

Need to ground-and-pound their way to a win? With a first-round bye hanging in the balance, Brady's aerial assault accumulated just 294 yards in the past two games combined, while the running game bludgeoned its opponents for 409 yards.

That's the balance the Patriots have found. You name the challenge, the Patriots have faced it.

"When you’re a receiver, you like that because that just sets up other things," said wide receiver Julian Edelman of the Patriots resurgent running game. "With how everything was going out there with the rain and stuff, we didn't need to [pass the ball] as much, and I think we were pretty efficient in the pass game when we had to."

The running game is poised for the postseason, and the Patriots will need it, with weather that will more closely resemble Sunday's 40-degree, rain-soaked conditions than anything else the Patriots have seen this year.

The rain, itself, was seemingly a metaphor for the season.

Faced with adverse conditions, the Patriots adjusted their game plan to meet the situation. Whether it's been an injury to Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer or Rob Gronkowski, a 14-point halftime deficit to the Miami Dolphins, a defensive slugfest, an offensive fireworks show, a 24-point deficit to the Broncos, or any number of other late-game scenarios, the Patriots seem to always have an answer.

On Sunday, that answer was running back LeGarrette Blount, bulldozing through the Buffalo Bills defense and through a 51-year-old Patriots record for all-purpose yards set by Mr. Patriot himself, Gino Cappelletti, by netting 334 total yards (189 rushing yards and 145 return yards).

The Patriots may not roll over their playoff opponents with the ease with which Blount rolled through the Bills on Sunday, but that's a challenge they've already faced so many times this year.

"I think this is one of the most mentally tough teams I've been on, through the close games that we've played," said defensive end Rob Ninkovich. "Because the games that you win by three, one, those are games that take a lot out of you and we just keep coming back every week. I think as far as toughness goes, this team is one of the best I've ever been on."

This may also be the toughest team in recent Patriots history. The Patriots mounted a comeback from a fourth-quarter deficit in five games this year, the most times that's happened in Brady's career.

There have been some struggles along the way, and the Patriots have had their share of good fortune -- as is the case any time a team is trailing and needs a late surge to get the win.

It hasn't been easy, and it's been far from perfect, but that's football.

"We've got to go out there and play great football. No matter what the conditions are and no matter what team we play, we're going to have to play a 60-minute game, play good in all three phases," Brady said. "I think we've worked hard to put ourselves in this position, we've earned it; 12-4 is a good record. We'll really see what we're made of here in a few weeks."

That's when the mental toughness matters the most.




Patriots stock report: LeGarrette Blount has a milestone day

Posted by Erik Frenz December 29, 2013 07:28 PM

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots picked up a 34-20 win over the Buffalo Bills in rain-soaked conditions at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, earning a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs for their troubles.

The 14-point win is the third-largest margin of victory on the season. With any such performance, there are bound to be more ups than downs, but here's a look at some players on each end of the spectrum.


Stock up:

Stephen Gostkowski: franchise record of 36 set in 2008, broken with 37th before halftime, 157 points this season is a new franchise record

LeGarrette Blount: Made Bill Belichick look like a genius with two big kick returns, of 83 and 62 yards, totaling 145 return yards on the day. Also had 24 carries for 189 yards (7.9 YPA) and two touchdowns. His 189 yards are a career-high. Blount has been the lead back for the Patriots over the past few weeks, and has been strong in that role. The Patriots should continue to have faith in Blount as they head into the postseason.

Julian Edelman: Went over 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards with his performance on Sunday, finishing with nine receptions for 65 yards. This is also his first season in which he's stayed healthy for the entire 16 games.


Stock down:

Kanorris Davis: Had an opportunity to down a punt at the one-yard line but was unable to control the ball as it bounced off him and into the end zone. The Bills were then able to drive down the field for a touchdown to score their first touchdown of the game.

Logan Ryan: It's been a strong season for the rookie cornerback out of Rutgers, but he was on the wrong end of a few plays. He had a shot at an interception that was dropped, though it's hard to fault him too much, given the constant rain that fell on Sunday. He was also burned by Bills receiver T.J. Graham on a big completion and was out of position on Graham's touchdown catch.

Defensive line: Yielded 169 yards on 35 carries (4.8 YPA), marking the 10th time this year they've allowed over 120 rushing yards to an opponent.




Patriots should feed Stevan Ridley vs. Bills

Posted by Erik Frenz December 27, 2013 04:48 PM

After fumbling in three consecutive games, Patriots running back Stevan Ridley has slowly earned back the confidence of Bill Belichick.

It started with a benching against the Houston Texans; during that game, Ridley was spotted on the sideline, holding a football as he watched his team win without him. It continued with piecemeal performances against the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.

Belichick showed the utmost confidence in the 2012 feature back, though, when he gave Ridley an opportunity to carry the ball in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' resounding win over the Baltimore Ravens as New England tried to ice the win by killing the clock.

It's been a nice story, but the next chapter is do or die for both Ridley and the Patriots -- the playoffs.

There can be no middle-ground when it comes to confidence in the playoffs. Either the Patriots believe Ridley can hang onto the ball when it matters most, or they don't. The best way to find out is to feed Ridley against the Buffalo Bills.

Doing so would also feed into Belichick's primary objective -- an objective which he says drives the team's preference for a running-back-by-committee philosophy in the first place.

"I prefer scoring and winning. That’s my preference," the coach said.

Scoring and winning against the Bills defense starts with slowing down their fierce pass-rush. Running the ball would force the defensive line to stay in their rush lanes, instead of charging hard upfield with reckless abandon.

The Bills defensive line has been stellar when it comes to bringing down quarterbacks this season. Defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams and defensive tackle Kyle Williams all have over 10 sacks, and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has 7.5 sacks this season. As a team, the Bills have logged 56 sacks, which leads the league and is also the most in team history. Three of their four defensive linemen have logged 10 sacks or more this season.

On the season, the Bills have allowed 4.2 yards per rush attempt, which ranks 20th in the NFL; in contrast, their pass defense allows just 5.3 yards per pass attempt, which is the third-best average in the league. That pass defense has stiffened over the past five weeks, during which time they've allowed just 4.1 YPA through the air and 49.6 percent completions, both of which lead the NFL.

Running the ball against the Bills may be the best option in Belichick's never-ending quest to capitalize on matchups. The Bills' most frequently used defensive personnel grouping is the dime package, which they use on 8.8 percent of defensive snaps. With four linemen, a linebacker and six defensive backs on the field, the numbers are in favor of the running game.

Six of the Bills' 10 most frequently used lineup combinations on defense are either nickel or dime packages. Some of that may be based on matching up with the opponent's personnel, but that's where the Patriots feast.

"I think they were really challenging us to run the ball," said Tom Brady after the Patriots ran the ball down the Bills' collective throats for 247 yards in a 52-28 victory. "They had some little guys on the field with our big personnel groupings, so at that point you have to try to take advantage of it. You can't just keep throwing into a heavy pass defense, so we ran it."

If the Bills load up to stop the pass, the Patriots will have an opportunity to get things going on the ground.

What's more, the weather forecast calls for rain, so Ridley's ball security will be tested.

Regardless, this is the Patriots last chance to gauge their own confidence in Ridley before the postseason, at which point, they'll want to know they can count on him to avoid another costly mistake.




Scouting the Buffalo Bills

Posted by Erik Frenz December 24, 2013 10:26 AM

The NFL season has gone by so quick, and yet, it seems like an eternity ago that the New England Patriots came back from down four points in the fourth quarter to beat the Buffalo Bills, 23-21, in Week 1.

There's not much on the line for the Bills, who will finish with the worst record in the AFC East regardless of what happens in the last week of the season. For the Patriots, on the other hand, there's a lot at stake -- the outcome of this game, and a few others, could have the Patriots finish anywhere from the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye to the No. 3 seed and playing a Wild Card playoff game.

For a closer look at what lies ahead for the Patriots, here's a scouting report on the Bills.

Record: 6-9

How they got here: It's been a turbulent season for the Bills, to say the least. They were up-and-down to start the season, before quarterback EJ Manuel injured his knee against the Cleveland Browns and missed four games, which sent the Bills on a 1-3 tailspin. Several of those were close games (two of the three losses were by 10 points or less, and the win came by a two-point margin). Since Manuel's return, the Bills have gone 3-3 and are currently on a two-game winning streak after victories over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.

Key cog, offense -- Fred Jackson, RB: It seemed like C.J. Spiller was poised to step into a bigger role as the Bills' lead back. Jackson, however, has remained a steady presence in the backfield and leads the team in yards from scrimmage (1,170) and total touchdowns (nine). He ranks third on the Bills with 44 receptions, indicative of his dual-threat nature. He's not known for elite breakaway speed or quickness, but he consistently hits holes with conviction and he is tough to bring down, averaging 2.59 yards after contact according to Pro Football Focus. He is also one of the best pass-blocking backs in the league.

Key cog, defense -- Kiko Alonso, LB: At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, Alonso is far from a thumping linebacker, but he makes plays all over the field with his speed and instincts. The rookie linebacker out of Oregon is a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and leads the Bills with 145 total tackles (81 tackles, 64 assists). He is also a standout in pass coverage, with four interceptions and five pass-defenses on the season. His dependability is unparalleled; he has played every single snap for the Bills this season.

X factor -- the quarterbacks: Just like the first meeting between these two teams, we are unsure of who will be the starting quarterback. Manuel missed Buffalo's Week 16 win over the Dolphins with a knee injury, and while head coach Doug Marrone was once "110 percent" sure that Manuel would play the season finale, there's now some doubt around who will be the starter. If Manuel is unable to play, backup Thaddeus Lewis would likely get the start.

Stats and notes:

  • Notable injuries: As mentioned above, Manuel (knee) is the primary injury to monitor. Wide receiver and return specialist Marquise Goodwin (knee) left last week's game and did not return. Jackson (ribs) was listed as probable headed into last week's game, but he played 42 of the team's 80 snaps.
  • On the non-injury front, wide receiver Stevie Johnson missed last week's game following the death of his mother. Rookie receiver Robert Woods threw a punch at Dolphins safety Reshad Jones and was ejected; it remains to be seen whether he will be suspended.
  • The Bills have more rush attempts than any team in the NFL, and they are one of four teams that has more rush attempts (511) than pass attempts (493).
  • Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is known for his aggressive scheme, adopted over the years under the tutelage of Jets head coach Rex Ryan. Pettine has already put his stamp on the team. The Bills logged 36 sacks as a team in 2012, and that number is up to 56 this year, which is a franchise record and the most in the NFL this year.
  • The Bills have fielded 329 different defensive personnel combinations this year, the fourth-most in the league. That being said, they've used their most common personnel package on 8.8 percent of their defensive snaps, the fifth-highest percentage in the league. That package is a dime defense featuring four defensive linemen, one linebacker and six defensive backs.
  • Their extensive use of the dime package might help explain the team's struggles stopping the run; they have allowed the 10th-most rushing yards against them (1,796; 119.7 yards per game).




Patriots stock report: Stevan Ridley back in the mix in Patriots backfield

Posted by Erik Frenz December 22, 2013 08:20 PM

The New England Patriots have struggled in recent weeks, eking out wins by the skin of their teeth. That was not the case on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, as the team rolled to a 41-7 victory.

The day got off to a good start when the Miami Dolphins lost to the Buffalo Bills, 19-0, which clinched the AFC East for the Patriots by default. They weren't content with backing into the playoffs, though, and took the positive energy onto the football field for the resounding win.

Hard to find much wrong with what happened today, but here's a look at some players who did well and some areas that need cleaning up.



Stock up:

Dont'a Hightower: Made a rare play in coverage when he reached up over his head and nearly intercepted an errant pass. His effort was enough, as it allowed cornerback Logan Ryan to make the play. Hightower made plays all over the field, finishing with four tackles and two assists. He also had a key pressure on fourth down in the fourth quarter, hitting to force an incomplete pass.

Stevan Ridley: Ridley had his most extensive work since his fumble against the Broncos, and finished with 15 carries for 54 yards. That's more carries he's had since he had 26 against the Steelers in Week 9. The Patriots showed a lot of confidence in Ridley when they gave him the ball in the fourth quarter to milk the clock. That's a far cry from him being inactive against the Texans just a few weeks ago.

Logan Ryan: Got the start opposite Aqib Talib at cornerback and made the most of it, logging two interceptions -- one in each half. As the Patriots hope to get its secondary back to full health in time for the playoffs, having quality depth like Ryan will give the team some confidence if it needs to go to its reserves.



Stock down:

Devin McCourty: Dropped two would-be interceptions in the first half, both on poorly thrown deep balls by Flacco. It wasn't a particularly bad game for McCourty, and those missed opportunities were lost in the rout, but those were two I bet McCourty would like to have back. He suffered a head injury during the third quarter that kept him out of the game from that point on, and the Patriots would really miss his steady presence on the back end if he's out for any extended period of time.

Replacement referees: Because really, that's the only feasible explanation for what we witnessed from referee Ron Winter and his crew. The Patriots were flagged seven times on the day, five of those coming in the first half, so the league's least-penalized team did not have a good day in that respect. Still, with 16 penalties and several calls overturned for one reason or another, the refs spent far too much time on the television screen and the length of the game could be directly attributed to their involvement in the game.




Logan Mankins getting back to his roots as a left tackle

Posted by Erik Frenz December 18, 2013 03:05 PM

Learning on the fly is a skill a lot of Patriots players have put to use this season, given the litany of injuries the team has suffered.

With left tackle Nate Solder suffering a concussion against the Miami Dolphins, guard Logan Mankins was the latest to put that skill to use. He swung out to the left tackle spot when Solder went down, and although this isn't his first rodeo protecting the quarterback's blind side -- that was his job description at Fresno State -- he acknowledged that there's some adjustments to make when playing on the outside.

"A lot of different angles, you're going against faster guys," Mankins said of playing left tackle. "I'm used to the big powerful guys, and now I've got speed guys on the edge, and it's just something I had to get used to and learn on the fly there on Sunday."

Mankins says it's not a question of knowing his responsibility, but simply a matter of the fundamentals.

"From a scheme-wise [perspective], it's not that hard. I know the plays at every position, so that's not too tough, but just the overall different angles, different footwork, that kind of thing, I have to process that pretty fast."

Mankins played well, allowing Tom Brady to be pressured just once on the day, but this Sunday will be different. The Baltimore Ravens are a game-plan defense that will change things up from week to week depending on their opponent.

Now that there's more tape on Mankins, he expects the game-planning will include showing him some new looks, but Mankins will look to channel one of his former teammates at left tackle.

"There was no tape before -- well, there was, what, 10 plays from a couple years ago -- so, there wasn't much," he said. "I just try to get out there. I always watched Matt Light for all those years. We're kind of the same size, so I figure when I'm out there, I should try to do what he did."

Mankins primarily faced defensive end Olivier Vernon against the Dolphins. Vernon is up-and-coming as a defensive end, but a guy like Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is long past the up-and-coming stage.

Suggs had a down year last year as he battled through an Achilles' injury, but he's right back in form this year with nine sacks through 14 games.

"He presents a lot of problems for an offensive line, for an offense," Brady said of Suggs. "He's big, he's rangy, he's powerful. He plays the run and the pass. For a guy that’s that size and how athletic he is, to play the way he does is amazing. He's done it for a long time."

Suggs has done it for a long time; Mankins, however, has not. Solder's status remains unknown for Sunday, but if Mankins is forced back to left tackle, he'll have to get right back to his roots as a left tackle if he wants to keep Brady clean.




Patriots Take 2: Dolphins defense made life tough for Patriots

Posted by Erik Frenz December 18, 2013 07:00 AM

Some observations on some hot topics from the New England Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.



Shane Vereen's Limited Action

A week after setting a Patriots running back record with 12 receptions and 153 receiving yards against the Cleveland Browns, Shane Vereen hardly made a dent in the box score and on the football field on Sunday.

There were several reasons for his drop-off. The Dolphins committed extra resources to making sure he was taken out of the play. They also sniffed out his route on a few plays, allowing them to be in position to make the play.

There were some opportunities, however, that got left on the field.

vereen flare 1.png

This was on the first drive of the game, with the Patriots facing 1st-and-10. Julian Edelman (circled in black) ran a dig route on the outside, and Vereen (circled in yellow) ran a flare route straight toward the sideline. The post route by tight end Michael Hoomanawanui in the slot was supposed to free up the area between the numbers and the hash marks at the 40-yard line, where Edelman would come out of his break.

vereen 7.png

No one accounted for Vereen out of the backfield, the safety didn't take the bait on Hooman's post route, and Brady elected to go to a double-covered Edelman instead of the wide open Vereen. Without knowing what was going through Brady's head, it's easy to second-guess why he wouldn't at least check down to Vereen, especially with the pressure closing in.

It's not as though Vereen was wide open every time he went out into a pattern -- quite the contrary.

doubled 1.png

There were times, also, where Vereen would be doubled when he ran a pattern. On this play, Vereen ran a pivot route from the slot in a spread set. With Edelman running a 10-yard dig route on the outside, that area of the field was supposed to be free for Vereen.

doubled_2.png

Instead, Vereen found himself covered both inside and outside, and linebacker Philip Wheeler was right in position to defend the pass when Brady went that direction.

This was a common theme of the day -- the Dolphins would double Vereen any time he would run a route at the second level. That wasn't the only common theme, though.

vereen out of flat 1.png

Vereen ran some flare routes out of the backfield, intended to get him sprinting into the open field, where he could eventually use his skills as a running back to elude defenders in the open field. The Dolphins were ready for this, though, and almost always had someone accounting for him when he would run this type of route.

Sometimes, the ball would fall incomplete...

...other times, Vereen would be tackled shortly after catching the pass.

It wasn't always additional resources. Sometimes, the Dolphins simply had the right call to defend what the Patriots wanted to do. That might have come from film study.

And if that's the case, the Patriots have some work to do.

There has to be a collective effort -- from Tom Brady and the Patriots coaching staff -- to mix things up more for Vereen. The flares and out-routes out of the backfield were great when Rob Gronkowski was soaking up two or more defenders over the middle every snap, but that's not happening anymore. The Patriots have to find a way to get things done despite the new circumstances.



Red Zone-Out

A lot has been made of the red zone playcalling over the past few days. Before I get too far into my thoughts on what happened in the red zone in this game, it has to be said: the play you see is not always the play that is called. Sometimes, Brady adjusts at the line of scrimmage. I only saw one play where it looked like the Patriots had called a run and they checked to a pass.

brady audibles.png

On this particular play, the Patriots came out in a one-back set with Brady lined up under center. Brady saw something in the defense he didn't like -- perhaps the defenders crowding the line of scrimmage -- so he called an audible. From there, he moved back to the shotgun.

The Dolphins sent five defenders, and it looked like they adjusted their defensive call when Brady made his adjustment.

There were other plays where Brady made such adjustments, though, and it's not out of the question that he was checking out of a shotgun handoff -- one time, Vereen motioned from Brady's side in the shotgun out wide of the formation.

The Patriots ran the ball just four times inside the 20-yard line, against 11 pass plays (two completions). Running back LeGarrette Blount had an eight-yard run in the red zone, but other than that, the Patriots' three runs netted five yards.

If the Patriots had failed to punch it with a run-focused approach, though, the second-guessing would have been why the ball wasn't in Brady's hands in the most crucial gotta-have-it situations.

People will always second-guess play calls -- but of course, when it works, it's brilliant. Take, for instance, Hooman's one-handed touchdown grab in the second quarter.

brady steps up.png

It wasn't the prettiest play overall -- the pocket collapsed around Brady from the blind side and up the middle, forcing him to step up; then, of course, the catch was about as gritty as they come, with Wheeler draped on him in coverage -- but just for a minute, it looked like the Patriots hadn't lost a step in the red zone.

"Those are the kind of plays that we need, because we're not going to be open by five yards every play," Brady said Monday on WEEI. "Especially down in the red area, we've got to make tough plays in tight windows and come up with tough catches, take some hits -- like Julian did last week against Cleveland where he took that big hit in the back of the end zone. That's football in the red area. We've got to be better in the red area."

Perhaps Brady was alluding to what took place later when he discussed the tighter windows.

hooman dorp.png

This is a similarly tight window to the one Hooman had to fight through to make his first touchdown grab, but look at where the ball is thrown. It zips right between his hands. You can argue whether there should have been a flag thrown on this play or not (to quote CBS analyst Phil Simms, "That was very close to being pass interference. ...There's the hit before the football gets there, but at the end of games, if the call is close, you let it go. ...That right there, yes, it was probably pass interference, but not in a situation like this." Thanks for the clarity, Phil.), but you can't argue that Hooman could have still made this catch.



Aqib Talib in the Middle

The Patriots moved Aqib Talib around the field a bit on Sunday. At times, he would line up in his customary spot on the outside, but more frequently, he would line up in the slot or in coverage over the middle.

There have been varying reasons given to why this was the case.

Could it be that the Patriots wanted him over the middle to take away those throws from Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill? Probably not; Tannehill has been incredibly effective throwing outside the numbers (61.9 completion percentage this season), so if anything, it would have been to the Patriots benefit to put him outside. If that was truly their plan, though, it failed miserably; Tannehill was 15-of-17 on throws between the numbers against the Patriots.

That's not on Talib, necessarily. In fact, it was not a bad day for Talib individually; he gave up just two receptions on four targets.

It's entirely possible that the Patriots didn't want Talib out there covering speedsters like Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline after what happened to him last week against Browns receiver Josh Gordon, especially since Talib is not 100 percent healthy (was listed as limited on last Wednesday and Thursday's injury report with a hip).

It's fair to wonder whether the Patriots were trying to prevent exposing Talib too frequently, and what -- if anything -- that might mean from here on out.




Scouting the Baltimore Ravens

Posted by Erik Frenz December 17, 2013 07:00 AM

Suddenly, the pressure is all on the New England Patriots. They need to win at least one of their final two games, or need at least one loss from either the Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens to ensure a playoff spot.

They can kill two (proverbial) birds with one stone on Sunday.

Here's an early look at the Baltimore Ravens.

Record: 8-6

How they got here: The Ravens started a modest 3-2 before dropping three games in a row, but they are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now and are riding a four-game winning streak. As a result, the Ravens are still in the hunt for the AFC North division title despite suffering some symptoms of a Super Bowl hangover earlier this year. Two of the Ravens' eight wins have come against teams that currently have a winning record, but those wins (over the Dolphins and Bengals) are rife with playoff implications.

Key cog, offense -- Torrey Smith, WR: Smith is known far less for his nondescript 6-foot-1, 204-pound frame than he is for his blazing speed. He ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the 2011 scouting combine, and has run straight through the heart of the defense since joining the NFL. He's been less of a true vertical threat this year, but the Ravens have found ways to get him involved on short throws. He has set career-highs in both receptions (59) and yards (1,032) this year, and had six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots in the regular season meeting last year.

Key cog, defense -- Terrell Suggs, OLB: You could argue for Elvis Dumervil in this spot, but Suggs is the more well-rounded player for his ability to both rush the passer and set the edge in run defense. His explosive first-step quickness was what made him such a threat early in his career, and although there's still some burst left in those legs. Suggs can still be washed out against the run on occasion, but he has greatly improved in that area and has 11 tackles for loss this season. Suggs has been fairly quiet in his past two games against the Patriots (both AFC Championship Games), and has not logged a sack in either one. Ordinarily, left tackle Nate Solder would draw that assignment, but Solder suffered a possible concussion against the Dolphins, so we'll have to see how this affects his availability for practices as we head into this game.

X factor -- Dennis Pitta, TE: The Patriots were not the only team that was without its top tight end for much of the beginning of the season. Pitta has only just returned to the Ravens lineup over the past two weeks, but is already making an impact, with six receptions for 48 yards and a touchdown in his first game back against the Vikings, and added two receptions and 24 yards against the Lions. Pitta hasn't dramatically improved the Ravens offense, but he has helped open things up over the middle. He's not particularly fast or physical, but his quickness helps him get open out of his breaks. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, he's a better red zone threat than nearly anyone else available to the Ravens. Here's a pretty awesome in-depth look at Pitta's impact on the Ravens offense, as explained by Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe TheMMQB.com.

Stats and notes:

  • Notable injuries: Wide receiver Brandon Stokley (concussion) went on injured reserve last week. Dumervil (ankle) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (abdomen) have both been limited in practices lately; Dumervil was listed as questionable, and Webb listed as probable, but both were active on Monday night.
  • If the Patriots are hoping to fix their struggling red zone offense, the Ravens will be a tough team to do it against. Headed into Monday night, they ranked second in the NFL in defensive red zone percentage, allowing opponents to convert on 39.39 percent of opportunities. They allowed the Lions to score a touchdown on both of their red zone trips Monday night.
  • The Ravens offensive line was the most improved unit in the postseason, but has been exposed this year. Two midseason trades sent tackle Bryant McKinnie to Miami, and brought in Jaguars tackle Eugene Monroe. Add those to a season-ending injury to guard Kelechi Osemeli and poor play from tackle Michael Oher, and there have not been many bright spots for the offensive line. Headed into Monday night, the Ravens were averaging just 2.97 YPA rushing (the league's lowest average) and Flacco had been pressured on 35.2 percent of his dropbacks.
  • Running back Ray Rice has long been one of the most well-rounded backs in the NFL, but he's taken a big step back this season. He's had over 1,600 yards from scrimmage in each of the past four seasons, but has just 868 yards this year so far. In six career games against the Patriots, Rice has 121 carries for 566 yards (4.7 YPA) and four touchdowns.




Ryan Tannehill's two-minute dominance the difference vs. Patriots

Posted by Erik Frenz December 15, 2013 11:41 PM
(AP Photo/John Raoux)
In a way, the words of Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline were prophetic.

"I think he is doing a great job in two minute situations," said Hartline of quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Wednesday. "He is doing a great job at commanding the offense which we kind of see on the inside."

We've seen it plenty of times from Tannehill already this season, and the Patriots got a first-hand look at Tannehill's two-minute mastery on Sunday.

He led the Dolphins to a touchdown in the final two minutes of each half, and capped both off with a touchdown pass. The first was a 39-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Mike Wallace to cap off an 82-yard touchdown drive. The second was a 14-yard reception by running back Marcus Thigpen that ended the Dolphins' 60-yard game-winning touchdown drive.

The Patriots have made a living out of gutting out wins in the fourth quarter this season, but on Sunday, it was Tannehill coming through in the clutch.

We expect veteran moxie like that from Tom Brady, but the second-year quarterback Tannehill has led his team to a league-leading 17 scoring drives that started in the final five minutes of a half this season (41 percent of all such possessions), and eight scoring drives that started in the final two minutes of a half (36 percent).

Being in that situation so many times this year has helped the Dolphins be ready when it comes up.

"I feel great in two-minute [offense]," Tannehill said after the game. "We've had a lot of practice at it, going back to OTAs, throughout camp, and throughout this season. I think we've scored a lot of points in two-minute situations. We expect to score, to some extent -- either a field goal or a touchdown -- every time we get in a two-minute situation."

Tannehill shined in those two-minute situations on Sunday, but he shined in the other 56 minutes of action, as well. He finished 25-of-37 (67.6 percent) for 312 yards (8.4 YPA) and three touchdowns. His 120.6 passer rating was the second-highest of his career.

But the stats only tell part of the story. The plays Tannehill made on the field tell the rest of the story. In that sense, the back-shoulder throw to wide receiver Rishard Matthews down the sideline told the story of a quarterback who has grown up faster than at least a couple of his rookie quarterback classmates of 2012.

Tannehill's performance stands on its own, but it gave the Dolphins a taste of some things they haven't experienced in years. Not only did the Dolphins earn their first win over the Patriots since 2009 (seven games), but they also earned their first season of eight-plus wins since 2008.

The Dolphins are finally making progress, and it's thanks in large part to their quarterback, who continually answers the bell when it's all on the line.




Patriots stock report: Stephen Gostkowski commits two costly errors in narrow loss

Posted by Erik Frenz December 15, 2013 04:25 PM

Tom Brady once again had a chance to lead his team to a win on a last-minute drive, but the Patriots offense was thwarted at the goal line by the Miami Dolphins defense.

Now, with the 24-20 loss on Sunday, the Patriots are no longer in control of their own destiny on the way to the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Before we get too wrapped up in the major ramifications of the loss, let's take a look at some players who stood out, for better or worse, on Sunday.



Stock up:

Julian Edelman: Edelman has settled right back into his role as the team's go-to target, as he once again led the team in both targets (19) and receptions (13). He also gave the team the lead in the fourth quarter with his 24-yard catch-and-run touchdown reception.

Danny Amendola: Tied his season-high in receptions with 10, and had his second-highest output in yards with 139. Brady seemed truly in rhythm with Amendola for the first time since Week 1 against the Bills.

Chandler Jones: Logged a sack of Ryan Tannehill, had a nice three-yard tackle-for-loss in the running game and had a key pressure in the fourth quarter to force an underthrown deep pass for receiver Mike Wallace. Jones has really made strides in his second year, and now has 11.5 sacks on the season.


Stock down:

Marquice Cole: Cornerback was in coverage on the 39-yard touchdown reception by Wallace, although he wouldn't have been there without an injury to cornerback Kyle Arrington.

Stephen Gostkowski: Missed a field goal from 48 yards out, and had a kickoff go out of bounds in the fourth quarter that gave the Dolphins great field position, which they then capitalized on with a 60-yard touchdown drive. He was having one of the best seasons of his career up to this point, but two costly plays directly gave the Dolphins a better chance to win.

Shane Vereen: Was not nearly as much a part of the game plan this week as weeks past, and finished with just two carries, and three catches on seven targets, totaling 21 yards on the five touches. Edelman and Amendola are a great start, but the Patriots need more from their matchup weapon if their offense is going to continue to succeed.




Ryan Tannehill emerging from 2012 rookie pack

Posted by Erik Frenz December 13, 2013 07:00 AM

Up against the vaunted Seahawks defense with 1:32 on the clock and two time-outs remaining in a tie game, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill took the ball with his back to his own end zone at the 10-yard line. The 65-yard field goal drive that followed was hardly the stuff of legend, but it was the first defining moment of Tannehill's career.

The ball came out quickly. The sense of urgency was apparent. The Seahawks were hapless and helpless to stop Tannehill and the Dolphins, and it only took three completed passes, a scramble and a short handoff to get the Dolphins in scoring position.

That Week 11 win in 2012 faded into the obscurity of a third consecutive losing season for the Dolphins, but much of what Tannehill showed in that moment has served as a launching point for his improvements this season.

"I think he's playing a little bit faster, his play speed is better, I think his decision making has improved," said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. "He's probably really made -- and we haven't gone back and necessarily studied -- but I think he's made maybe a few more plays with his feet, be it scrambling or other ways. He's done probably a better job of throwing the ball on the move this year as well."

Numbers obtained from Pro Football Focus back Philbin's claim. In 2012, Tannehill was spending an average of 2.74 seconds in the pocket every time he dropped back; that number has dipped to 2.58 seconds in 2013. It's only fractions of a second, but those are often the difference between a good play and a bad play.

When he attempts a pass, the ball is out in an average of 2.39 seconds, which is down from 2.63 last year. The quick decision-making has been apparent on the field, as well.

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He threw a slant to wide receiver Mike Wallace (circled in yellow) on the outside, and started the throwing motion the moment he hit his back foot on a three-step drop, which was also the moment Wallace hits the third step in his route.

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The break and the throw come almost at the exact same time. With the linebacker cheating inside, there was a sizable window for Tannehill to throw the bullet pass.

The decision to make this throw is a little easier based on Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie giving Wallace a decent cushion off the line of scrimmage, but last year, Tannehill might have hesitated a moment; this year, that ball was out the moment it needed to be.

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How about this play against the Cincinnati Bengals? This was downright Tom Brady-like, with Tannehill hurrying to the line after a third-down conversion, snapping the ball before the defense was set, and throwing the ball quickly to Wallace at the sideline.

They were able to pick up an easy six yards against an unprepared Bengals defense.

The speed of the game is often talked about as one of the most difficult changes from college to the NFL. From the look of it, Tannehill has taken that fast-paced bull by the horns and ridden it to dramatic improvement. It's particularly impressive, considering he's been knocked around more often than if he were riding an actual bull -- through Week 4, Tannehill was on pace to be sacked a league-record 77 times, and he kept up a torrid sack pace until recently.

One way to prevent Tannehill being sacked is for him to scramble when the pressure starts closing in, but he is so effective with his legs, the Dolphins should even be looking to use him in that role more often.

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Against the Steelers this past week, the Dolphins ran the ball on the read-option. Linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) is the read on the play, meaning that whichever way he runs, the play will go the opposite way. So, if he tried to defend the handoff to running back Daniel Thomas, Tannehill would take the ball on his own.

That's exactly what happened, as Tannehill kept the ball and ran through a big gap in the defense. Safety Will Allen (20) overpursued on the run, leaving a big space on the offenses' left for Tannehill to run through. Forty-eight yards later, the defense finally caught Tannehill from behind.

The Dolphins should probably try to get the ball in his hands even more on the run. With an average of 6.1 yards per rush attempt, Tannehill currently ranks fourth of any quarterback to start at least half his team's games.

It's not like the Dolphins need him to run the ball 100-150 times a season; give him a couple or three designed runs in a game, let him scramble once or twice and the Dolphins will get more than they need out of Tannehill's running ability.

Quicker decision-making and better use of his legs aren't the only areas of improvement.

"I think he is doing a great job in two minute situations," said receiver Brian Hartline. "He is doing a great job at commanding the offense which we kind of see on the inside."

We can see it on the outside, too, and Hartline knows first-hand what Tannehill has been able to do in two-minute situations. Against the Atlanta Falcons, Tannehill threw a touchdown pass in the final two minutes of both the first and second half, with one of those touchdowns going to Hartline.

Tannehill also helped the Dolphins to a touchdown drive at the end of the first half against the Baltimore Ravens, field goals at the end of the first half against the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets, and a field goal at the end of the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There are seven such examples of Tannehill leading his team to a score within the final two minutes of either the first or second half; that is the most from both a volume and percentage standpoint -- 50 percent of the Dolphins' possessions inside two minutes remaining have resulted in a score.

With Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson all tearing it up in 2012, there wasn't enough room in the headlines for Tannehill. So, he threw himself into the discussion, both figuratively and literally.

Wilson is in a class of his own, but RGIII has taken a step back and Tannehill has played at a level comparable to Luck this season -- which would have seemed unthinkable during the offseason.

The Dolphins searched for 12 years and went through 17 different starting quarterbacks looking for their franchise signal-caller, and while there is room for improvement, his trajectory is clearly pointing upward.

Last year's afterthought is this year's rising star.




Patriots Take 2: The post-Gronkowski game plan

Posted by Erik Frenz December 11, 2013 07:00 AM

Some thoughts on what jumped out looking back at the film of the Patriots' 27-26 win over the Browns this past Sunday.


Looking ahead to the Patriots offense without Rob Gronkowski

There will be a wide range of opinions on what the Patriots should do without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, but we might be able to get a better idea just by taking a look at what they did when he went down.

Here is the snap summary for the skill position offensive players in the 36 plays after Gronkowski's departure (not including a spike).

offense.pngJulian Edelman: 36 of 36
Danny Amendola: 34 of 36
Josh Boyce: 31 of 36
Shane Vereen: 24 of 36
Matthew Mulligan: 23 of 36
Austin Collie: 13 of 36
LeGarrette Blount: 7 of 36
James Develin: 7 of 36
Stevan Ridley: 5 of 36

Some of the numbers may be skewed a little because of the score -- the Patriots were playing from behind the entire time. A majority of the Patriots' snaps in 10 personnel were on the second-to-last drive, with the Patriots adding extra speed to their offense to help them move the ball quickly downfield.

Mulligan should continue to get extra reps, especially since top backup Michael Hoomanawanui is still on the mend.

Most likely, the offense will dink and dunk its way to touchdowns now that Gronkowski is out -- only five of Brady's 52 pass attempts traveled 20 yards or more down the field. That has always been the strength of the Patriots offense, but it's also been part of the reason why good defenses have been able to limit them in the playoffs.

That quick-hitting pass attack will most likely feature a heavy dose of Shane Vereen, who set a team record for running backs, with 12 receptions for 153 yards.

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Vereen (34) started off lined up in the backfield on this play, but split out wide, as he did several times on the day. He ran a modified curl route on the perimeter, but look at the other routes -- a seven-yard out by Amendola, a five-yard out by Collie. The majority of the routes here are short and on the outside.

It will be interesting to see how the Patriots manufacture production over the middle of the field, where Gronkowski has dominated for so long.

Vereen could also help contribute to the explosive passing game, as seen on his 50-yard reception in the third quarter.

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With Vereen matched up on a linebacker, Brady knew where he was going with the ball the moment the Patriots broke the huddle. Vereen motioned out of the backfield, splitting out wide and running a go-route straight down the field.

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Whether the linebacker thought Vereen was going to stem his route short or he was just a victim of a lack of speed, the only thing he could do was watch as Vereen burned past him and tracked the ball in flight, before reeling it in over his shoulder like a true wide receiver.

The return of Aaron Dobson (14.1 YPR) and Kenbrell Thompkins (14.6 YPR) could bode well for the vertical passing game, but the Patriots had a hard time hitting those big plays on the outside earlier in the season, and without Gronkowski, the Patriots lack the explosive threat over the middle.


Jamie Collins earning bigger role, flexing versatility muscles

Nothing was handed to Jamie Collins this year; despite being the team's top draft choice, he's had to earn it all. Against the Browns, he earned 55 snaps, his highest of the season by far and more snaps than the past four games combined.

He's earned that playing time by playing well against both the run and pass, but his best tape against the Browns came in run defense.

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One thing that jumped out at me was his patience in run defense. It doesn't seem too long ago that Collins (91) looked like a dog chasing cars; now, he's staying in his lane and waiting for the play to come to him.

On this run with 8:08 left in the third quarter, the Browns wanted to run straight at Collins.

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Some credit goes to the defensive line for soaking up the blockers, but Collins was able to read the running back and made his break outside the tackle right when the back did.

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Collins also made a nice play in pass coverage, when he batted a pass that was intended for wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) on a slant route.

It was the culmination of his improved discipline and his freakish athleticism -- he set a record at the 2013 NFL combine with a 41.5-inch vertical. Some of those ups were on display here.

It wasn't all positive for Collins, however.

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He was caught out of position on the Browns' final touchdown, when he was peeking into the backfield on the play-action fake. In his effort to find the running back, he lost his man.

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Tight end Jordan Cameron (84) ran right past him and completely unaccounted for in the end zone.

This could happen to anyone, but is just another lesson for Collins as he builds on a strong start to his career.


Patriots find success and stick to the script

Pointed out in last week's film review that the Patriots had used the exact same play against the Texans two years in a row down near the end zone, and we saw the Patriots stick to the script against the Browns, as well.

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Above is a picture of Edelman's reception on the two-point conversion in the third quarter.

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Above is a picture of Edelman's touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. Notice anything? Edelman and Amendola run the same route combination on both plays; Amendola comes in motion to a "bunch" formation before the snap, putting the cornerbacks in a bind as to who they'll cover.

The first time, they tried to switch spots during the play to stick with their assignment; the second time, they stuck with their man. Both times, they gave up the reception to Edelman on the slant in the middle of the end zone.

On the first play, they came to the line in the formation; on the second play, they came out with everyone split out wide and Brady under center before the veteran backed up into the shotgun and motioned first Vereen into the backfield, then Amendola to the slot.

Once the Patriots have found something that works, they're not afraid to go back to it until their opponent finds a way to stop it.




Scouting the Miami Dolphins

Posted by Erik Frenz December 10, 2013 07:00 AM

Let the Gronkowski-less era begin -- or, in this case, re-begin.

The New England Patriots season isn't over, but the deck just got stacked against them, and their journey begins in earnest on Sunday.

With a win, the Patriots could lock up their fifth straight AFC East title and 10th in the past 11 years. The Miami Dolphins aren't to be counted out, though; they always give the Patriots a tough game, and even tougher at home.

The Dolphins were the third victim of Tom Brady's late-game magic, but that has nothing to do with this game -- they'll watch the tape and search for tendencies, but this game is being played in completely different circumstances, not the least of which being the Patriots' lack of tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Here's a closer look at what lies ahead in the Dolphins.

Record: 7-6

How they got here: When we last saw the Dolphins, they were on the tail end of a four-game losing skid. Since then, they've gone 4-2 with big wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. Much like the Patriots, the Dolphins are proving they can win close ones; five of the team's seven wins came by six or fewer points. The Dolphins finally picked up their first division win of the season in a 23-3 thrashing of the Jets, during which Rex Ryan benched quarterback Geno Smith in favor of backup Matt Simms.

Key cog, offense -- Charles Clay, TE: Talked about wide receiver Brian Hartline in the previous scouting report, and he remains an important player on the offense (five straight games with five receptions or more is tied for the third-longest streak in Dolphins history), but Charles Clay has made his case as a key player in the offense, as well. He has 60 receptions for 678 yards and six touchdowns -- his career-highs before this year were 18 receptions, 233 yards and three touchdowns. He is a player that the Dolphins like to move around, lining him up at fullback, tight end and slot receiver. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he can be hard to match up with physically. The Patriots have had some problems covering tight ends this season, with linebacker Jamie Collins being caught out of position on a couple occasions, including a late touchdown by Browns tight end Jordan Cameron this past week.

Key cog, defense -- Olivier Vernon, DE: Among the group of defensive ends, Olivier Vernon shouldn't be the one that stands out; Cameron Wake is the star, Dion Jordan is the high draft pick, but Vernon is enjoying a breakout season and has more sacks than both of them combined. His 11.5 sacks lead the team. His explosive burst off the line has given him a strong foundation as a pass-rusher, but he has a diverse game with some nifty moves, incredibly active hands and a motor that just doesn't quit. His weakness is against the run; although he's improved at setting the edge, he can be moved off the ball at times.

X factor -- Daniel Thomas, RB: Thomas stepped in for the concussed Lamar Miller and battled through an ankle injury to rush for 104 yards on 16 carries. His season and career to this point have been underwhelming, but he could be the feature back against the Patriots. At 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, Thomas doesn't have great burst, but he is primarily a short-yardage back doing the bulk of his damage between the tackles. He averages 3.7 YPA over the first three years of his career; that's the fourth-lowest of any back since 2011 with over 250 carries. He had nine carries for 47 yards in the Week 7 game against the Patriots.

Stats and notes:

  • Notable injuries: After leaving the Steelers game with a concussion, Miller will have to pass the NFL's concussion protocol if he is to play against New England. Tackle Jonathan Martin was still with the team in the last meeting between the Patriots and Dolphins, but has since been placed on the non-football illness list. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson injured his knee in that game, and is done for the season.
  • Prior to Week 14, the Dolphins were the only NFL team that hadn't scored more than 27 points in a game; they finally broke that drought in a 34-28 win over the Steelers. The 34 points were the second-most for the Dolphins under Tannehill (35 vs. the Oakland Raiders in Week 2 of the 2012 season).
  • One more player to watch is kicker Caleb Sturgis. The rookie made the first 10 field goal tries of his career, but has missed at least one field goal in each of the past three games and seven of the past nine games. He missed two field goals the last time the Patriots faced the Dolphins. Four of his eight misses have come from 50-plus yards. Either the Patriots, Dolphins or both have been involved in a one-possession game in each of the past six weeks; a missed field goal could have a big impact on the outcome.
  • The Dolphins have used 153 different offensive personnel combinations -- that sounds like a lot, but it's the seventh-fewest in the league. Defensively, they're up to 206 different combinations, which ranks 13th in the league. That's a result not only of the Dolphins' relative health on both sides of the ball, but also their desire to play their 11 best players all the time, rather than try to create confusion and win matchups through scheme.

Local voice:

  • Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald reports that owner Stephen Ross has given general manager Jeff Ireland assurances that he is safe in his job for the time being.
  • According to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post, the Dolphins don't want Tannehill to be a running quarterback.
  • Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel says that the most important thing for the Dolphins right now is to finish strong and make the playoffs.




Tom Brady's late-game brilliance shining brighter than ever

Posted by Erik Frenz December 9, 2013 07:00 AM

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(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Fall behind early, and rally late. That's been the story in three straight wins for the New England Patriots, and it seems like that'll be the story for the rest of the season.

If that's the case, quarterback Tom Brady will be in rare air.

Sunday's comeback win over the Cleveland Browns was the fifth time this season that Brady has put together a drive in the fourth quarter to win the game. His mark of five such fourth-quarter comebacks is the most in the league this year, and is already the most in a single season of his career. He is two fourth-quarter comebacks behind the single-season record set by Peyton Manning in 2009 with the Colts.

Brady has been working late-game magic throughout his career; according to the researcher responsible for fourth-quarter comebacks, Scott Kacsmar, Brady has the fewest career losses of the eight quarterbacks with 30 or more career fourth-quarter comebacks.

Patriots fans are rarely ever surprised by Brady these days, but is Brady ever surprised with himself?

"Sure. ...But we're just going to keep fighting. Sometimes you may come up short, but it's not going to be for lack of effort or toughness. We showed that we have some of that."

The Patriots haven't gotten those wins without some good luck. On average, a possession lasts 2:11 in the fourth quarter. The Patriots have had five possessions in the final (combined) 6:04 in two of their comeback wins: three in the final 3:29 against the Saints; two possessions in 2:35 against the Browns.

According to Patriots historian Bob Hyldburg, the Patriots' onside kick recovery against the Browns was the first time they recovered an onside kick in a victory since 1964. Yes, it took something that hasn't happened in over 49 years for the Patriots to beat the odds on Sunday.

Take nothing away from the impressive achievements Brady have already accomplished this year, but it's fair to wonder if that kind of success can be sustained through the final three games of the season and through the playoffs.

The Patriots would be better off making sure Brady gets no closer to that record of seven comeback wins in a season.




Patriots stock report: Shane Vereen becoming new go-to target for Tom Brady

Posted by Erik Frenz December 8, 2013 04:47 PM

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots game plan for the postseason is pretty simple: fall behind in the first half, and figure it all out in the final 30 minutes. It's worked remarkably well over the past three games, so why not try it from here on out?

We've seen a lot of unlikely comebacks this season already, but this was right up there with the most unlikely, given the Patriots' performance throughout the first three quarters. As such, it's just about right that it took two touchdowns in the final 1:04 to give the Patriots a one-point win, when Browns kicker Billy Cundiff's last-second field goal try fell short.

The win wasn't the biggest news of the day, however; the Patriots watched star tight end Rob Gronkowski get carted off the field with a knee injury, putting a damper on the elation of the victory.

Here is a look at the players whose stock went up and others who have some work to do this week.


Stock up:

Stevan Ridley: The Patriots bell cow running back was back in the lineup today after being inactive against the Houston Texans. He took his eight carries for 35 yards (4.4 YPA) and ran hard in a rotational role.

Josh Boyce: Had three catches for 49 yards, including a long of 22 yards when he eluded several defenders on a short pass. With rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins on the mend, Boyce could get a longer look as the season hits the home stretch.

Shane Vereen: The running back led all Patriots receivers with 12 receptions for 153 yards, including a long of 50 yards -- the Patriots biggest play from scrimmage of the day. Vereen continues to develop into a nice dual-threat, a matchup weapon that can be used all over the field.


Stock down:

Tom Brady: Came through when it mattered most -- Sunday marked Brady's fifth fourth-quarter comeback of the season, a career-high for him. He wasn't given the best protection, but Brady's early interception set the tone for the day, as the offense struggled to get anything going through the air in the first half -- Brady was 16-of-32 for 276 yards and a pick through three quarters.

Aqib Talib: Was victimized on an 80-yard touchdown catch by Browns receiver Josh Gordon, and was called for a pair of defensive holding penalties -- one of which was accepted.

Offensive line: Yielded four sacks of Brady on the day, as pass protection continues to be a struggle spot for the Patriots. Center Ryan Wendell was called for a hold in the first half.

Injuries: Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo and now Gronkowski. The hits just keep coming, and now, the Patriots offense is back to where it was in the first six weeks of the season -- although sans Dobson and Thompkins, and plus Vereen.




Jets owner Woody Johnson waiting until after season to make big decisions

Posted by Erik Frenz December 8, 2013 12:57 PM

If there are any big changes coming to the New York Jets, they're not coming until the end of the season.

In an interview on the Jets' pregame radio show on ESPN, owner Woody Johnson discussed the state of the franchise, and didn't seem too eager to hit the reset button on head coach Rex Ryan or quarterback Geno Smith.

"I'm pretty happy with the way things are going," Johnson said, via the New York Daily News.

Ryan is signed as the head coach through the 2014 season, but the Jets have missed the playoffs for two -- going on three -- straight seasons; that's typically enough to spell the end for a head coach. So would two straight losing seasons, but Johnson says it's about more than just the record.

"We make those decisions after the season," Johnson said, via the News. "It's really the direction of the team and how the young players are going… It's a complicated thing. At the end of the day, you want to give players the opportunity to win, which is what I think we're doing."

The Jets have a strong foundation on defense, with a young defensive line that includes three former first-round picks in Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson, but there are significant question marks at other spots on the team. The defense, which has been a strength for the Jets under Ryan, has taken a step back and ranks 25th in scoring and 12th in yards. It would be their first time finishing outside of the top 10 in yards in the Ryan era.

Yet, Johnson still views the defense as a strength, saying "I think our defense is amazing."

Of course, the struggles of the defense are secondary to those of the quarterback. Smith has thrown one touchdown against 11 interceptions in the past seven games, during which time the Jets are 2-5. He was benched in the second half of the Jets' 23-3 loss to the Dolphins last Sunday, Dec. 1.

That hasn't been enough to deter Johnson from his view of Smith as the future of the franchise.

"We've got a young quarterback, who is very, very talented," Johnson said. "He's learning so much… I think you'll see him get better and better and better. I have a lot of confidence in Geno. When he gets better, I think you'll see others get better."




Aqib Talib vs. Josh Gordon the key matchup in Patriots vs. Browns

Posted by Erik Frenz December 6, 2013 07:00 AM

If the New England Patriots are going to beat the Cleveland Browns, the game plan on defense starts with doing what no team has done in over a month: contain wide receiver Josh Gordon.

Their best bet is to put cornerback Aqib Talib on him in coverage, and double him over the top with a safety.

At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Gordon has both the size and speed that often draws comparison to other high-profile receivers around the NFL.

"He reminds you of those names, the Calvin Johnsons, the Andre Johnsons, a bigger guy with little-guy speed and quickness," said Talib. "He can turn the eight-yard curl into a touchdown in a heartbeat, so definitely a challenge."

In the past, the Patriots have been very good at taking away an opponent's best weapon. That has held especially true this year of receivers facing Talib, but Gordon feels he is up to the challenge.

"I’m pretty sure he’ll make some plays, but I’m definitely going to make more plays,'' said Gordon, according to The Plain Dealer.

And why shouldn't he be confident? He's been making plays for weeks, and last week became the first receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard games. There hasn't been a lot that's changed for Gordon to bring about his sudden string of strong performances.

"You see the same things all year," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "The plays he's made the last couple weeks are the same plays he's made all year. He's a great player. He can attack all three levels of the defense. He can run through them, he can take the short plays, catch-and-run plays, crossing patterns, look patterns, plays like that, quick three-step drops and break tackles. He's very good on the intermediate routes, the in-cuts, the crossing routes, comebacks, stop-routes, things like that that attack the middle levels of the defense."

He has a selection of routes he runs well, and for the most part, you know what to expect from Gordon. Defensive backs have to stay honest to Gordon's speed, and he has the quickness to take advantage of extra space when he is given a cushion.

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One of Gordon's better routes is the intermediate curl. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor gave Gordon (circled in yellow) a 10-yard cushion off the line of scrimmage. This is the situation defensive backs have been forced into because of all the big plays Gordon has made already in his young career.

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Gordon quickly ate up the cushion, and turned to look for the ball as soon as his quarterback had begun his throwing motion. Taylor is attacking the receiver by the time the ball gets there, but Gordon quickly turns the corner and scoots around Taylor, then toward the sideline where he's finally met by safety Troy Polamalu, but not before gaining 42 yards on the play.

The quickness to make a defender miss in the open field, and then the speed to make him pay once you get past him? That's gotta be difficult for a defensive back.

"Yeah, I mean, [when] you get a guy [that's] 235 pounds running like he's 35 pounds, I mean, that's a definite challenge, man," said Talib.

It's a challenge that shouldn't be given to just one man. The Patriots would be wise to put a lid on the top of whatever coverage they have on his side of the field, to ensure that there's nothing going over their head. That's where safety Devin McCourty comes into play. It will take a disciplined game from McCourty to make sure that Gordon is accounted for when he hits the second level of the defense.

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Gordon ran a slick double-move against the Minnesota Vikings in his first game back from a two-game suspension. The defense showed a two-deep look, but they only had one safety covering deep. Appropriately, it was the safety shaded to Gordon's side of the field.

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However, this play might not have gone for a touchdown if that safety had stayed disciplined. He stopped reading the quarterback, instead reading the routes on the left side of the field. If he had kept his eyes on the passer, as is the duty of a deep safety, he would have seen Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer staring down Gordon on the left side.

Unfortunately, he didn't realize until it was too late.

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Give Gordon a lot of credit for setting up this route so beautifully. He looked as if he was going to stop and turn toward the quarterback, but just as soon as he had taken his foot off the gas, he put the pedal to the metal and raced right behind the cornerback unhindered for the score.

Gordon is just one of the Browns' playmakers on offense -- although they only have a couple others in tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receiver Greg Little. Their biggest question mark, however, remains the lack of a playmaker at the most important position on the roster. Heck, forget about a playmaking quarterback, the Browns probably just wish they had more than one healthy quarterback.

Belichick says it won't affect the Browns gameplan -- "Their offense is their offense," he said on Wednesday -- and if this season is any indication, it won't affect "Flash" Gordon, either.




Patriots Take 2: Tom Brady shredded Wade Phillips blitz in shootout

Posted by Erik Frenz December 4, 2013 07:00 AM

A few tidbits that jumped out from the Patriots 34-31 victory over the Texans on Sunday:



Tom Brady continues dominant streak vs. Texans blitz

Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is probably sick of seeing Brady under center for the Patriots. Brady has owned the showdown over the past two years, but some of his best work has been against the blitz.

brady vs texans blitz.pngHis rate of completions is over 2.5 percentage points higher, and his 7-0 TD-INT ratio is superlative. He averages a full two yards per pass attempt more when the Texans blitz than when they send four or fewer defenders on the rush.

Those extra yards don't come from attacking the defense deep -- with a heavy rush, there isn't much time to wait for routes to develop downfield. Instead, Brady earns his keep by getting the ball out quickly, finding the gaps left in the defense by the blitz.

edelman screen.png

The Patriots had 2nd-and-10 from the Texans' 19-yard line, looking to complete their comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit. Wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) was given a solid seven yards of cushion by the cornerback, and with five defenders at the line of scrimmage, Brady recognized the blitz prior to the snap.

No sooner was the ball in his hands than his throwing motion had begun, and the ball was out before the rush had a chance to even sniff Brady.

Edelman was able to put his open-field running skills on display by getting around the cornerback, scooting to the edge and running upfield. He went down, but not after a timely lunge toward the first-down marker to move the chains.

Short passes can be just as effective against a blitz, sometimes even more so. With fewer defenders available to tackle, the possibility is greater for a catch-and-run.

That was part of the reason running back Brandon Bolden (38) was able to scoot untouched for an 18-yard gain on a dumpoff, as was some nifty pre-snap orchestration by the maestro.

With the defense showing a blitz, Brady shifted both Bolden and wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) in motion at separate times, getting the players in perfect position to maximize the play. With Bolden hitting the flat quickly, and a blitz coming from that side, this was a prime opportunity to take advantage of some extra space at the second level.

bolden for 17.png

There were defensive backs accounting for both Edelman and Amendola, but no one was accounting for Bolden in the flat. Eighteen yards later, he had finally been stopped -- and it could have been more if the receivers knew he had caught the pass and were blocking downfield.

These are just a couple of examples, but on the day, Brady went 10-of-15 for 171 yards and a touchdown when being rushed by five defenders or more.



Expansion of the 3-4 defense

The Patriots entered the season with the 4-3 as their base, but critical injuries have forced a step in another direction. The 3-4 was the base defense of choice for nearly a decade under Bill Belichick, and it has made a return in recent weeks.

3-4 d.png

One of the favorite groupings has featured Rob Ninkovich (50) and Chandler Jones (95) at outside linebacker, with Joe Vellano (72) and Chris Jones (94) at the ends and Isaac Sopoaga (90) at nose tackle. Dont'a Hightower (54) and Brandon Spikes (55) are the two inside linebackers -- Hightower on the weak side, and Spikes on the strong side.

Chris Jones and Vellano earned the majority of the snaps, with Sopoaga and newcomer Sealver Siliga (71) rotating on the line. No one spent the whole day at the same spot.

It's hard to be too critical of them, simply because of the situation they've been thrust into. The defensive line was considered paper thin before the season began, and it's the group that's had its depth tested the most this season so far.

The Patriots went back to a four-man line at times, and on Texans quarterback Case Keenum's lone interception, it was a group of Chris and Chandler Jones, Ninkovich, and veteran Andre Carter (96) that lined up in the trenches.

4-man line.png

Despite all their changes and injuries on defense, the Patriots have used 186 unique lineup combinations on defense, which is actually the 11th-fewest in the NFL. However, they've fielded 11 different starting units on defense, tied with the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers for the second-most different combinations.

On Sunday against the Texans, 19 different defenders earned playing time on defense -- that's tied for their highest total in a game this season.

Just for kicks, here's another interesting look from them on a fourth-quarter incompletion by Keenum. Chandler Jones and Ninkovich lined up in a two-point stance and shot the A-gaps at the snap. Jones was able to get in the backfield to force some pressure and an off-balance throw by Keenum.

exotic look.png

Belichick really is pulling out all the stops to get some stops on defense.



Different players, same plays

Thought it was interesting that running back Shane Vereen (34) caught a touchdown pass and a near-touchdown pass on exactly the same route as tight end Aaron Hernandez caught a touchdown against the Texans on Monday Night Football in 2012.

Then I went back and noticed it was the exact same play.

From 2012:

hernandez 1.png

From 2013:

vereen 1.png

The Texans might want to put that one on film the next time they're preparing to face the Patriots, just in case they decide to run it...again.

vereen 2.png

Unlike Hernandez's catch last year, which was delivered right in his chest, Vereen had to adjust to the ball in order to make the catch. He did a little pirouette in midair, coming down with the ball and breaking toward the end zone.

vereen 3.png

It looked like Vereen made it over the goal line, but had he been awarded the touchdown, fullback James Develin would have never had an opportunity to break seven tackles on a one-yard touchdown run on the very next play.




Scouting the Cleveland Browns

Posted by Erik Frenz December 3, 2013 06:00 AM

The most difficult part of the New England Patriots schedule is out of the way, and now, they prepare to take on their second straight opponent with a losing record -- the Cleveland Browns.

The quarterback search has been going on for a decade and a half, spawning one of the most infamous custom jerseys in all of sports. Three different quarterbacks have started for the Browns this year as a result of injuries to Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell. The carousel has spun, figuratively and literally, with Weeden and Campbell trading places over the past few weeks.

As a result of the shaky quarterback situation -- and a few other factors, to boot -- the Browns field one of the league's worst offenses.

Don't be surprised, though, if Patriots coach Bill Belichick is prepared at his Wednesday press conference with more than one stat that will indicate just how well the Browns are capable of playing.

Here's an early look at the Browns.

Record: 4-8

How they got here: What started off as an up-and-down season for the Browns has devolved to mostly down. After leading the team to an 0-2 start, Weeden injured his thumb, ushering in the shortly-lived Hoyer era. The Browns won their next three games under the former Patriots backup, but their season has spun out of control since Hoyer was injured in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills. Now, the Browns have one win in the past seven games, sandwiched between two three-game losing streaks. In this most recent three-game skid, they've turned the ball over 11 times. They held a 28-25 lead over the Jaguars, but Browns cornerback Joe Haden gave up the game-winning touchdown catch to Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts with 45 seconds remaining. The Browns are once again playing the role of a postseason spoiler.

Key cog, offense -- Josh Gordon, WR: Offensively, Gordon is one of a few building blocks for the Browns. For a 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, you'd think he would be a focal point in the red zone, but he hasn't been much of a red zone threat to this point, with just four catches on 11 targets and one touchdown inside the opponent's 20-yard line. He's not yet polished as a route-runner, but his long speed has helped him take the top off plenty of defenses this season; he leads the league with 19.5 yards per reception and 22 receptions of 20 yards or more. In registering 237 receiving yards against the Steelers and 261 against the Jaguars, Gordon has set the Browns record for receiving yards in a game in back-to-back weeks.

Key cog, defense -- T.J. Ward, SS: Drafted in the second round in 2010, Ward has developed into one of the better young safeties in the league. At 5-foot-10 and 211 pounds, Ward isn't the biggest safety around, but he is a heavy hitter and is around the football a lot, with a team-leading 62 solo tackles. He's played well in both man and zone coverage, and he allows a passer rating of just 56.8 into his coverage (one touchdown, two interceptions). He has also been effective when called on to blitz the quarterback, and has 1.5 sacks this season to show for it. He is one of the most versatile safeties in the NFL, and Tom Brady will have to make sure he knows where Ward is on every snap.

X factor -- Jordan Cameron, TE: Cameron is the big-bodied, athletic tight end that has given the Patriots problems in the past; he has rare athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end. He started the season strong and logged 45 catches for 515 yards and six touchdowns in the first seven games, but he has just 18 catches for 189 yards in the past five games. He knows how to use his frame to win jump balls, and recorded all six of his touchdown catches in the red zone. Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins could see some time in coverage on him, but while starters Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes are not considered great coverage linebackers, but their size and strength could help them match up with Cameron, who is not unbearably quick.

Stats and notes:

  • Notable injuries: As mentioned above, the Browns have been the walking wounded at quarterback. They already lost Hoyer for the season, but Weeden left Sunday's game against the Jaguars with a concussion, and Campbell missed the game with a concussion of his own. Aside from those three, the Browns have been relatively healthy, but they have already lost wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Armanti Edwards, linebacker Quentin Groves and running back Dion Lewis for the season.
  • The Browns defense has been better than advertised this year; they currently rank third in both passing yards per attempt and rushing yards per attempt. They have also allowed just 28 pass plays of 20 yards or more, the fourth-fewest in the NFL. That's another tribute to Ward's impact at safety.
  • Despite not allowing many big plays, the Browns have struggled in clutch situations. They rank 28th in defensive third down percentage, yielding conversions on 41.6 percent of third down tries; they are also the league's third-worst red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 64.7 percent of opponent's possessions inside the 20-yard line.
  • The Browns have struggled to put points on the board on a weekly basis, but their biggest struggles come in the second half of games; they're averaging 11.3 points per game in the first half, but just eight points per game in the second half.
  • With a minus-nine ratio, the Browns rank 27th in the NFL in turnover margin; they are minus-6 over the past three games, all losses. They have lost the turnover battle in four of their five road games, and are 1-3 in those contests.

Local voice:




Jets QB Geno Smith to start vs. Raiders after being benched in loss to Dolphins

Posted by Erik Frenz December 2, 2013 03:39 PM

A slap of the wrist, a wag of the finger and it's back to the starting lineup for Jets quarterback Geno Smith.

After being benched in the Jets' 23-3 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, Geno on Monday announced he'd been told by the Jets coaching staff that he will once again be the starter in Week 13 vs. the Oakland Raiders.

"If it was a tactic to wake me up or get me going, it definitely worked," Smith said.

If that's the case, head coach Rex Ryan felt two quarters was a strong enough message for the 21 quarters since the last time Smith threw a touchdown pass.

It's more likely that Ryan simply feels Smith still gives his team the best chance to win. Why he feels that way is anyone's guess. Smith has thrown one touchdown and 12 interceptions in the past seven games, and the Jets have gone 2-5 in that span while scoring a league-low 91 points (13 points per game).

"Now granted his mistakes are pretty glaring," Ryan said after a loss to the Bills, "but there was equally as glaring mistakes, guys losing one-on-one battles up front that we’re really not accustomed to seeing. So, I think that contributed a lot to it. I think Geno has a chance to be a good quarterback, but again, everything starts with protection, first with any quarterback. And then, there’s times where quite honestly, we have to get open. We weren't getting separation. A lot of things contribute to a poor performance like that."

Smith isn't getting much help, but the last time he actually helped his team's chance to win -- instead of simply not squandering it -- was a Week 5 win over the Atlanta Falcons, whose defense gives up the highest passer rating in the league to opposing quarterbacks at a staggering 105.1.

If Smith's going to have a bounceback game, this should be it; the Raiders are fifth from the bottom on that very same list, yielding a passer rating of 99.4.

That being said, he'll still be throwing to the same group of receivers that can't get open, and he'll still be protected by the same porous offensive line. It's hard to imagine any quarterback thriving in the conditions presented to Smith this season.

As such, it's unfair to assess Smith off his performance in 2013. He should certainly get another chance, but it's impossible to expect his performance to get better without significant improvement from Smith's teammates.




Jets playoff swan dive could be Rex Ryan's head coaching swan song

Posted by Erik Frenz December 2, 2013 07:00 AM

ap photo bill kostroun.jpg

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The New York Jets were never expected to make any kind of noise in the hunt for the 2013 playoffs -- their strongest supporters won't let you forget that fact, no matter how low their season sinks.

But their fall out of the playoffs -- a graceless thud after lifting the hopes of so many -- may be a harder fall than the one they would have taken by simply struggling throughout the year.

For the third straight season, the Jets have suffered a three-game losing streak in the final eight games. Now, our last remaining memories of the Jets are at their lowest point of the season. Quarterback Geno Smith has lost his job -- at least for now, if not for the foreseeable future -- and head coach Rex Ryan might be coaching for his.

It's clear he's in desperation mode. There were some reasonable decisions made amid a 23-3 stinker against the Dolphins, the Jets' seventh loss of the year and the proverbial dagger in their faintly-beating playoff hearts.

The problems run deeper than their rookie quarterback, and Smith was not the only player benched by Ryan on Sunday, and was joined on the sideline in the third quarter by rookie cornerback Dee Milliner, who missed a tackle on a 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Rex stopped there, or else he might have benched the entire starting lineup.

"We've been so inconsistent, and a lot of it [is] in all [three] phases," Ryan said after the game.

That's been the case throughout the downward spiral for both Smith, who has thrown one touchdown and 12 interceptions in the past seven games, and the Jets, who are 2-5 in that same span. Not many other quarterbacks would do better with a wide receiver corps that features veteran wide receiver David Nelson, cut twice in the past 10 months.

That's a reflection on the receiving corps, constructed primarily by the previous general manager Mike Tannenbaum and inherited by new front man John Idzik. The Jets have the second-fewest receptions at wide receiver of any team in the NFL, ahead of only the 49ers' 75 receptions from their wide-outs.

Just like Idzik inherited the receiving corps, he also inherited Ryan.

Not even Rex's hallmark, the defense, could avoid embarrassment on Sunday.

A sack-starved defensive line was hoping to feast on the Dolphins, emitting blood in the water like they'd been bitten by Jaws. Instead, they only brought quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the ground once all day.

In the meantime, the Dolphins scored their most points since Week 5, and their most points in a win since Week 3.

The Jets defense can't hang its hat on the strong performances against Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan this season when it has to look back on awful showings against Tannehill, EJ Manuel and Andy Dalton. The phrase "consistently inconsistent" is mind-numbingly tedious, but goes a long way to describe what the Jets have been through this year.

One thing that's been consistent is Ryan's inability to develop a quarterback.

One could argue that Ryan was doomed by being saddled with bad quarterbacks, but Smith is the second quarterback that has not only failed to develop, but has tangibly regressed under Ryan's tutelage. Mark Sanchez went from serviceable to service light in a span of four years, and was the league's second-worst quarterback from 2011 to 2012.

In a quarterback-driven league, that has been unquestionably the Jets' worst position on the roster for the past three years -- and it's been worse than nearly every other team in the NFL, as Smith is currently the lowest-rated passer in the league.

We don't know whether Smith is beyond repair, but we do know that Rex most likely does not have the tool kit for the job -- which might also require a wrecking ball, if not for a face-saving win or two in the final four games of the season.




Patriots stock report: Julian Edelman remains a security blanket for Tom Brady

Posted by Erik Frenz December 1, 2013 03:32 PM

Well, that was a close one. The Patriots weren't expected to be in a dogfight with the Texans, who rode a nine-game losing streak into their Week 13 contest, but a 17-7 halftime deficit was met with yet another resurgent second-half effort in a 34-31 victory for the Patriots.

The march to the postseason continues, as the Patriots draw ever nearer to the AFC East crown.

Here's a look at some players who shone in the face of adversity, and others whose stock took a hit on Sunday.


Stock up:

Logan Ryan: Second straight week with an interception for the rookie cornerback. With an injury keeping starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard out of action against the Texans, the Patriots called on Ryan to play a bit more than usual.

James Develin: Took his first career carry for his first career touchdown from the one-yard line, with a third and fourth effort to bowl over a couple of Texans defenders to get to the end zone. Develin has taken a roundabout path to becoming a starter, but his determination paid off on Sunday, as it has throughout his time with the Patriots.

Julian Edelman: Injuries have sidelined the Patriots two rookie receivers, Aaron Dobson (out today with a foot injury) and Kenbrell Thompkins (left early with a hip injury), but Edelman continues to be a reliable target for Tom Brady. He hauled in nine of the 12 passes thrown his direction, and accumulated 101 yards. It could have been more had he caught a well-thrown deep pass that was lost in flight.


Stock down:

Joe Vellano/Chris Jones: The two rookie defensive tackles were responsible for losing a gap on two separate touchdown runs by Texans running back Ben Tate in the first half. Otherwise were blown out of their gaps yet again on a consistent basis, as the Patriots yielded 121 rushing yards on 28 carries to the Texans.

Stevan Ridley: If there was a "stock way down" section, Ridley would be in it. He was inactive for Sunday's game as a result of his continued fumble issues. He's been mentored by former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, who had fumble problems of his own early in his career.

Kyle Arrington: Gave up a 66-yard bomb to DeAndre Hopkins, completely losing the ball in flight as well as the receiver. As a result of the injuries in the secondary, Arrington was thrust into a role covering on the outside, where he has struggled.




About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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