|11.17.12 at 10:58 am ET|
The Patriots, suddenly in control of the AFC East, face the drastically improved Colts and their prodigy quarterback, Andrew Luck on Sunday in Foxboro. Here are some numbers I found previewing this pre-holiday tussle:
* – As you probably should have expected, Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck is coming along nicely as a rookie. This is evidenced by his completion percentage and interception percentage by month this season:
September: 53.3% / 3.3%
October: 57.2% / 2.4%
November: 64.9% / 1.4%
* – Two weeks ago against the Dolphins, Luck converted FIVE times (all passes) on third down and 11 yards or more. That’s tied for the most such conversions in a single game since at least 2003, matching the Vikings (against the Jets) in 2010 and the Raiders (against the Cardinals) in 2006. Going into that game, the Colts had five such conversions over their last 16 games and Miami had allowed five in their last 20. Want some context? As bad as New England’s pass defense has been, even they’ve allowed only four such conversions over their last full season (16 games).
Actually, New England has been quite effective defending the passing game on third down and 11 or more, as their 4.72 net yards per pass play allowed (that includes sack yards lost) is fifth best in the league. They were in the top ten in this category last season as well.
* – The Patriots have scored in the 3rd quarter in each of their last 18 games, the longest streak in the NFL since at least 1997:
18 – Patriots (2011-12)
17 – Falcons (1997-98)
17 – Ravens (2008-09)
16 – Four different teams
Note this: New England has scored seven or more points in the 3rd quarter in all but two games this season. But in the 4th quarter, they’ve managed seven or more points just three times.
Note this too: The Patriots have been outscored in the 3rd quarter only once in their last 17 games.
* – On first downs this season, Tom Brady and the Patriots continue to do well, putting up a +1.65 rating (my rating) which ranks 7th thanks to 65% completions, 0.6% interceptions (the third lowest/best mark on first down passes in the league), and a league low 10 yards lost via sack. Andrew Luck and the Colts haven’t been nearly as efficient on first down, completing just 58% (27th) with a league high 3.4% interceptions leading to a rating of -0.50 (22nd).
Note this: New England’s defense has allowed 70% completions (fourth highest/worst) and nine touchdowns on first downs this season. Only the Buccaneers (10) have allowed more touchdown passes on first down than the Patriots.
* – So far in 2012, the Colts have blitzed on 45.3% of opponent passing plays, the highest percentage in the league:
45.3% – Colts
44.1% – Texans
43.9% – Cardinals
Their blitzes have proven effective as well, as their opponents have put up a passing rating of +1.57 when they don’t blitz (second highest/worst in the league) thanks to only -20 sack yards and one interception (both league lows) on 174 no-blitz pass plays. But when the Colts have sent extra rushers, the passing rating allowed drops to +0.13 (17th), with -101 sack yards (fourth) in 144 blitz pass plays. The rating difference when blitzing vs. not blitzing (-1.44) is the fifth largest in the league.
Note this: Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense aren’t particularly fazed by opponent blitzes, as evidenced by their higher passing rating against blitzes (+2.66, 8 touchdowns, 0 interceptions against 101 blitzes) than non-blitzes (+1.06 on 268 non-blitzes). Read the rest of this entry »
|11.16.12 at 6:44 pm ET|
FOXBORO — As important as it is for Aqib Talib to pick up the Patriots system quickly, his teammates are confident they can work with him and make the transition seamless.
“He has a few things you just can’t see,” Arrington said. “He’s 6-1, fluid, and he’s just a good player. [I] can’t speak highly enough about him.”
But as Talib himself pointed out Thursday, the work he’s putting in on and off the practice field seems to be paying dividends.
“It’s like he’s been here all year. Can’t talk highly enough about his work ethic, as well. He’s one of the first ones here and the last to leave,” Arrington added. “He’s definitely buying into the ‘Patriot Way.'”
Belichick hinted Friday that he likes the way the existing members of the secondary have reacted to Talib’s addition.
“Well, it’s all tied together,” Belichick said. “Everybody has to know what everybody is doing out there. We have to be able to make our adjustments. It’s all part of it.”
Arrington has a special appreciation for Talib, having played with him in 2008 with the Buccaneers, when Talib was a rookie.
“Funny how things work out,” Arrington said.
“Aqib’s a great player,” Gregory said. “He’s in the process of really trying to pick up the system, and get out there and get a feel for what we’re doing, and it’s fun to have him around. He’s a great athlete, he covers well, and it’s great to have him around. He’s doing a really great job so far. He’s a smart football player and he seems to be picking it up really fast, so that’s a good thing.
“He’s a veteran guy, too. He understands terminologies, schemes and things like that. He’s definitely ahead of the curve.”
“He has great ability and his size, he can do a lot,” McCourty added. “So, it’ll be key for us, when he gets out there, help him out a little bit. Keep repeating things to him so he can start hearing them over and over again and getting accustomed to the system. But a lot of it will be us helping him out so he can go out and play good football.”
McCourty could be spending a lot of time talking to Talib during games since he’s been playing the strong side (or defensive left side) where Talib figures to be lining up at cornerback. What’s impressed McCourty the most? His ability to pick up the Patriots communication signals on the fly after just a few practices.
“He’s a new guy, everything’s new for him,” McCourty said. “I think he’s done a good job of staying in here, talking to guys, staying and getting a little extra [coaching and teaching] to make sure he knows what’s going on. You can tell he’s very football savvy and he knows what’s going on out there. You tell him things once or twice on the field, he has it correct for the next day. You don’t have to say anything to him. So, I’m excited for us to get out there as a group and start to work. I think we’ve practiced hard this week so just go out and try to execute in the game.”
|11.16.12 at 6:13 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Defensive end Chandler Jones has seen a drop-off in his numbers over the last few weeks — after five sacks in his first six games, he’s had one in his last three. And while the rookie has certainly drawn the attention of opposing offensive coordinators, he said it’s not because of the rookie wall.
‘Personally, I feel like my pass rush could be better, as an individual,’ Jones said after practice on Friday. ‘That’s just something I have to work on, to get better at my pass rush.’
Asked if he’s seeing more double teams, Jones was noncommittal.
‘I just go out there and play football,’ he said. ‘If you’ve been a dominant pass rusher, or if you’ve been pretty successful, if I was an offensive coordinator, I would double-team someone who’s a good pass rusher. But yeah, I just go out there and play football.’
Jones faces a new challenge on Sunday as he goes up against the Colts offense and Indy left tackle Anthony Castonzo. The former Boston College offensive lineman is in charge of protecting the blind side of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, and Jones knows it’ll be a difficult test.
‘Anthony Castonzo is a good player. He’s tall, he’s athletic. He’s long. You just have to get to him. You can’t have Andrew Luck sitting back there and picking us apart. We have to pressure him,’ Jones said. ‘You can’t let [Luck] sit in the pocket being comfortable. I feel like he’s doing a phenomenal job over in Indy. It’s our job — me, as a defensive end — to make him uncomfortable back there.’
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week that Luck is more mobile and more athletic than people think, which presents a new challenge for Jones and the rest of the New England pass rush.
‘He’s a big body quarterback — I’ve seen him shed a few guys off,’ Jones said of Luck. ‘If you get him, you have to get him down and you can’t let him throw the ball.’
One teammate who should be able to offer some support is fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich. Jones is quick to praise Ninkovich — the two have combined to form the nucleus of New England pass rush, as they have combined for 17 of the teams’ 34 quarterback hits and 12 of the 20 sacks. Jones calls Ninkovich ‘a great leader and a great helper as well.’
‘I’ve learned a lot from Rob. Every single day, I’m learning something,’ said Jones, who has six sacks and nine quarterback hits over the first nine games. ‘If we’re watching film, if he sees me doing something wrong or taking the wrong step, he’s like, ‘Hey Chandler, try doing this with that.’ If you have someone like that in your room, it’s just a great aspect to have.’
|11.16.12 at 5:11 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots clearly are trying to preserve Wes Welker as much as possible.
He did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday but returned to Patriots practice on a limited basis on Friday as he continues to nurse a sore ankle, tweaked late in the win over the Rams in London, and again last Sunday against the Bills.
Last Sunday against the Bills, Welker had six catches on 11 targets for 74 yards, including a long of 23 yards. But he didn’t find the end zone and had two drops, including one in the first half that would’ve been a touchdown had he held on. His second drop, late in the fourth quarter, would’ve given the Patriots a game-clinching first down.
For Welker, being back on the practice field Friday was a very good thing.
“I feel good,” said Welker. “It’s nice to get out there and get some reps, and hopefully I’ll be ready for the game.”
The Patriots list him officially as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Colts and report he was limited during Friday’s practice.
“You just take it day by day,” Welker said. “You never know, so you just continue to try and get better and do what you can to help the team.”
Is he close to 100 percent?
“I don’t know, it’s just numbers,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody’s 100 percent at this point in the season. I don’t know where I’m at. But I’m just looking forward to getting better and trying to contribute on Sunday.”
|11.16.12 at 2:33 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Leave it to Bill Belichick to answer a highly-debated question with several of his own. Such was the case Friday when he was asked if Adam Vinatieri – and all of his huge kicks – deserves a bust in Canton when he finally hangs up the cleats.
“He’s certainly one of the greatest kickers I’ve ever seen since I’ve been in the league ‘ the longevity, the production, the performance in championships and big games,” Belichick said. “What more could he do? Go out there and play wide receiver and catch a bunch of passes? Is that what he needs to do? I don’t know. What more could he do? I don’t know what more Dave Jennings could have done at his position or Ray Guy or guys like that. What else would they have had to do? Get a bunch of interceptions? We don’t judge quarterbacks on their rushing yardage.
“We don’t judge them on how many tackles they made. I don’t know if we even judge them on how many games they win. We judge them on a lot of their quarterback rating and stats and running backs on rushing yardage. What does a guy have to do if he excels at his position? Is that good enough? I don’t know. Like I said, you’d have to ask somebody that knows a lot more about it than I do because I don’t understand what the criteria is.”
He left after the 2005 season and has been in Indianapolis ever since.
“I know it’s been a while,” Belichick said. “I’ve been fortunate to have two good kickers here, two real good kickers.”
Vinatieri is still making big kicks, including a game-winning 50-yarder with eight seconds left in regulation against Minnesota on Sept. 16 in a 23-20 Colts win.
“That was a big kick Adam made in overtime at the end of the [Minnesota] game, the 50-yarder,” Belichick said. “That was a big kick. I’ve seen him make a lot of those.”
At this point, only Jan Stenerud is the only “pure” placekicker in the Hall of Fame. George Blanda made it but he was a quarterback for the great Raiders teams of the 60s and early 70s. Lou Groza is in but he was also an offensive tackle. And perhaps most egregious, Ray Guy does not have a bust in Canton.
So, with what Vinatieri has accomplished, he’s a slam dunk to become the second place-kicker in the Hall, right?
“I think that’s a good question,” Belichick began. “I don’t know what Hall of Fame means. There are guys who have great, long careers. There are other guys with very short careers in the Hall of Fame; from championship teams, there are guys that never or hardly ever played on winning teams. There are guys with personal stats, there are guys with I’d say less personal stats but maybe more championships or more longevity. I don’t know what the criteria is for the Hall of Fame, I’m not in any position to be honest with you. That’s something you’d have to ask the Hall of Fame committee or voters or something like that, because I don’t really know what the criteria is. I don’t know if it’s ever been defined. I don’t know if it’s a popularity contest or if it’s a political thing. I don’t know what it is. It’s hard for me to believe that. as great as this game is, that there are no punters and one kicker in the Hall of Fame. Read the rest of this entry »
|11.16.12 at 2:33 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s Patriots-Colts game:
Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:
1. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd against cornerback Darius Butler: The Colts will be without starting corners Vontae Davis and Jerraud Powers on Sunday, so that means Butler — a former second-round pick of the Patriots — will get the start against his old team. Butler performed very well against the Jaguars last week, coming away with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Butler will work on the perimeter against Lloyd (42 catches, 75 targets, 480 yards, three TDs), who could have more opportunities in the passing game if Wes Welker and/or Aaron Hernandez aren’t able to go.
2. Left tackle Nate Solder against outside linebacker Dwight Freeney: For years, it was Matt Light who knocked heads with Freeney. (When he retired this past spring, Light called Freeney the toughest opponent he ever faced.) Now, it’ll be Solder going up against the Colts’ star pass rusher. Solder has performed about as well as could be expected as a left tackle this season — he hasn’t been elite, but he’s allowed just two sacks on Tom Brady‘s blind side, and has been flagged just once this season (a false start). He’ll face a real test in Freeney (even though he has struggled with an ankle injury all season).
3. Running back Stevan Ridley against the Colts run defense: Ridley is the guy who has done more to bring balance to the New England running game than just about anyone else — through nine games, the second-year back out of LSU is sixth in the NFL with 814 yards, and has a chance to be the first New England running back to crack the 1,300-yard mark since Corey Dillon racked up 1,635 yards in 2004. Meanwhile, Indy is middle of the pack when it comes to stopping the run — the Colts have yielded 1,083 rushing yards on the season (20th in the league) and 120.3 yards per game (22nd in the league). This is a winnable matchup for New England.
4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: Tom Zbikowski. At least scheme-wise, the Colts defense has a lot of similarities to what’s been done for many years in Baltimore (no surprise, considering that Chuck Pagano made his bones with the Ravens). And Zbikowski, a former Baltimore defensive back, has been able to do a good job helping implement those schemes with his new team. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety out of Notre Dame has 29 tackles (22 solo), a sack and four passes defensed, all while serving as a positive presence in pass coverage (Pro Football Focus has him at +2.7 in coverage this season, third-best on the team). Zbikowski does a good job protecting the back end of the Colts defense — a part-time boxer, the 27-year-old brings a physical presence to the secondary.
5. By the numbers: Brady has thrown 127 straight passes without an interception, and has not been intercepted in his last three home games, according to STATS, Inc.
Read the rest of this entry »
|11.16.12 at 10:48 am ET|
NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday morning to preview Sunday’s Patriots-Colts game and discuss news from around the league. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Cornerback Aqib Talib joins the Patriots this week and Lombardi said he can make an immediate impact on the struggling secondary.
‘I think he can make a significant impact on the outside,’ Lombardi said. ‘This week against the Colts, it’s a little different game because the Colts have a couple of those receivers who have quickness and vertical speed in [Donnie] Avery and T.Y. Hilton so they’re not really the matchup for Talib. But certainly I think he can help on outside. What it will allow the Patriots to do is, if you really break down Patriots tape, the middle of the defense — the ‘backers, the safeties — this is where they’re getting killed more than anything. ‘¦ Get more speed on the field at linebacker, try to create some more situations where there is more depth in the zone drops, something that didn’t happen last week.’
The Patriots play the Colts and Andrew Luck on Sunday. Lombardi said the Colts aren’t a playoff contender yet because their defense hasn’t played a full, four-quarter game.
‘[Luck] been able to control the ball, and I think [interim coach] Bruce Arians has done a wonderful job of implementing the Pittsburgh Steeler offense,’ Lombardi said. ‘I think the whole offense is tailored exactly after the Steelers when you watch them closely on tape. They’ve been able to play what I call ‘Little League games,’ their defense has only played seven innings, they only have to play like 26 minutes in a game. And so they’ve never played a full nine-inning Major League Baseball game defensively. This week, they’re going to have to play nine innings and then we’ll find out if they’re a playoff team. ‘¦ They’re a year away from me looking at them like a legitimate playoff team, but don’t underestimate Andrew Luck.’
Lombardi pointed out some of Luck’s abilities and cautioned that the Patriots need to stop him from moving in the pocket this Sunday.
‘He’s only completing slightly over 55 percent of his passes, he’s taken a pounding, but one thing about Luck, he gets back up,’ Lombardi said. ‘It doesn’t affect him whatsoever, he keeps looking down the field to take a shot down the field and that’s where he’s been so effective. ‘¦ I don’t know if he has [a weakness]. His mental ability and his mental toughness to me carries over for any slight deficiencies he might have in the game. ‘¦ His movement in the pocket is really what makes him so effective. The Patriots have to do a good job of controlling him in the pocket and not allowing him to move. Not because they’re afraid he’s going to run. ‘¦ What he typically likes to do, like Big Ben [Roethlisberger] is move in the pocket and then make plays up the field. I think Patriots have to do a really good job of protecting him, keeping him in the pocket, and forcing him to hold that ball.’