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Pepper Johnson does not want to get punched in the face by Bill Belichick

10.04.11 at 1:41 pm ET
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Pepper Johnson isn’t sitting around lamenting the fact that  Albert Haynesworth isn’t back in the lineup.

Well, he could, but he knows what would happen if he did.

Coach Belichick would punch me in the face if I got frustrated if I didn’€™t have a particular player,” the Patriots defensive line coach said on a Tuesday afternoon conference call with reporters. “My job is not to count on one player, it’s to coach whoever is out there on the field. Until Albert is out there, this is what I have to play with, and we have to try to win ball games without him.”

Whether they’ve had Haynesworth at defensive tackle or not, the Patriots — at least on paper — have struggled to mount a consistent pass rush against their opponents. According to official NFL gamebooks, opposing quarterbacks have 168 dropbacks against the Patriots through four games this season, and have been hit by New England defenders a total of 18 times, to go along with six sacks (23rd in the league).

But when he was asked about the play of the defensive line as it relates to the pass rush, Johnson said that those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“I’€™m a little more than satisfied [with the play of the defensive line],” Johnson said. “I’m sure the question is spawned from the stats, but I’€™m watching how guys are doing what we’re asking them to do. We’€™re actualy hitting the quarterback — a couple times we’€™re late — but we’re actually hitting the quarterback. It’€™s just not coming up with the sack.

“I’€™m not much of a stats person, I just know how we have been able to affect some throws. We’re getting as much pressure as we can from the situations we are in.”

Johnson did talk about how the current group of defensive linemen (like Shaun Ellis discussed late last month) remains a work in progress. As they continue to work together as a group, the product will continue to improve.

“I think the more they get acclimated, the more comfortable they play, the more confident they’ll be and we’ll start seeing them play a lot more aggressively,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of playmakers, guys that can make plays, and you would feel a little bit more of that when guys become more accustomed to what we’€™re asking them do. I’m not going to pile more on their plate, I just want them to do it more aggressively, more often, with more consistency.”

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Bill Belichick, Pepper Johnson, Shaun Ellis

Pressure Points: Which New England defenders have done the best job of getting after the quarterback through four games?

10.04.11 at 9:45 am ET
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According to official NFL gamebooks, opposing quarterbacks have 168 dropbacks against the Patriots through four games this season, and have been hit by New England defenders a total of 18 times, to go along with six sacks (23rd in the league). Here’€™s a breakdown of who has been getting to the quarterback for the Patriots through four games:

Quarterback hits:
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Four
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork: Three
Defensive lineman Myron Pryor: Three
Defensive end/linebacker Mark Anderson: Three
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich: Two
Defensive lineman Shaun Ellis: One
Defensive lineman Gerard Warren: One
Defensive end Andre Carter: One
Safety Pat Chung: One

Sacks:
Anderson: Two
Chung: One
Ninkovich: One
Carter: 0.5
Wilfork: 0.5
Pryor: 0.5
Mike Wright: 0.5

Read More: Andre Carter, Dane Fletcher, Gerard Warren, Mark Anderson

Target Practice: Who has been Tom Brady’s favorite receiver through four games?

10.04.11 at 9:28 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. After four weeks, here’€™s a look at the target breakdown in the New England passing game for the 2010 season.

Aaron Hernandez: 14 catches on 18 targets (78 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 6 catches on 8 targets (75 percent)
Wes Welker: 40 catches on 57 targets (70 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 18 catches on 27 targets (66 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 2 catches on 3 targets (66 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 2 catches on 3 targets (66 percent)
Chad Ochocinco: 7 catches on 11 targets (64 percent)
Deion Branch: 16 catches on 26 targets (62 percent)
Julian Edelman: 3 catches on 6 targets (50 percent)
Matthew Slater: 1 catch on 3 targets (33 percent)
Dane Fletcher: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
TOTAL: 109 catches on 163 targets (69 percent)

By position:
Running back: 10 catches on 14 targets (71 percent)
Tight end: 32 catches on 45 targets (71 percent)
Wide receiver: 67 catches on 103 targets (65 percent)
Other: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Dane Fletcher

Fantasy Football: Week 5 Waiver Wire

10.04.11 at 7:56 am ET
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With the byes hitting this weekend, we thought you might want some solid targets to go after. We’€™ve got some nice options here, but if you play in a big league and need more, please check us out at Rotobahn.com. We’€™ll be adding names to our wire throughout the day and you can even ask us questions in our forums.

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Titans

The loss of Britt did take away a bit of his fantasy ceiling, but his play has been more than just sound. He’€™s been very good.  He still has Nate Washington playing at a high level, and last week his young tight end Jared Cook really stepped up. Combine that with Chris Johnson finally showing his old form and you have a sustainable situation. He is a very solid QB2 right now in most any format.

Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots

You all saw it. He’€™s easily the most exciting player in the New England backfield.  Now, we also know that coach Belichick is far from an excitement addict. We also now know that Danny Woodhead was injured and missed the second half. So, we’€™re not looking to do Kool Aid funnels here. That said, if you rely on BJGE as one of your fantasy starters and you ignored our pleas to back him up with Ridley so far, we implore you to act now if you still can. It could save your bacon.

Ryan Torain, RB, Redskins

If you are a Rotobahn reader, you’€™ll know that we had Tim Hightower on our ‘€œtrade high’€ list. Now you know why.  Torain is a big bruising back as you probably recall from his nice run in the middle of 2010. He will produce nice numbers for as long as he lasts.  There’€™s the rub:  he never lasts. For this reason, our long term dough is still on rookie Roy Helu. That being said, we think Torain will be the back to own for the immediate future, and he may help you through the bye weeks. Of course, the Redskins hit the bye next week, so there is no week five help to be had here.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 5

10.04.11 at 7:32 am ET
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Just two undefeated teams remain as the first quarter of the season is in the books. Offense has defined the 2011 season so far. We’re seeing record numbers reached each week. Four of the top five teams (No. 1 Packers, No. 2 Saints, No. 4 Patriots, No. 5 Lions) have dynamic offenses that are ranked in the top of the league in almost every offensive category. One team that hasn’t forgotten defense is the Ravens. They retain their No. 3 spot as they come off an impressive defensive performance against the Jets.

Before the season started, backup quarterback Vince Young said the Eagles were a “dream team.” Four weeks into the season, Young hasn’t played a snap and the 1-3 Eagles are dangerously close to falling out of the top 20. In the AFC, the two teams that played for the right to represent the conference in the Super Bowl last year have fallen hard. After an embarrassing loss, the Jets drop to No. 9 and the struggling Steelers plummet to 14.

Week 5 is next and it has the potential to cause a major shakeup in the rankings. The Bears take on the Lions, the Jets and Patriots will square off, and the underachieving Eagles face the Bills.

Bye week teams: Browns, Ravens, Dolphins, Cowboys, Redskins, Rams

1. (1) Packers (4-0) ‘€” The MVP of the Super Bowl is making a strong case to be MVP of 2011. Aaron Rodgers has thrown 12 touchdowns and just two picks over the past four games. The Packers offense has looked unstoppable. Rodgers utilizes all of his weapons in the passing game, James Starks and the running game has added a great balance, and they protect the football. The defending champs are cruising.

2. (2) Saints (3-1) ‘€” The Saints finally have a running game. The three-headed monster of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas has been consistently solid. They’ll take on the Panthers in Week 5 before they play a key divisional game against the Bucs in Week 6.

3. (3) Ravens (3-1) ‘€” Unbelievable performance from the Ravens defense on Sunday night. Ray Lewis captains a defense that sent a message throughout the league. The relentless, intimidating D of the Ravens is made up of plenty of playmakers who cause turnovers and create havoc on the field. The defensive unit scored more points than the entire Jets offense on Sunday night.

4. (4) Patriots (3-1) ‘€” Tom Brady and the Patriots offense have to continue putting up 30-plus points per week in order to win. That shouldn’t be a problem. Wes Welker is having the best season of his career. He’s averaging 10 catches per game. On top of that, Brady is getting production from the running game. The pass rush is a lingering problem. Once again, the Patriots failed to effectively put pressure on the quarterback and once again allowed over 300 yards through the air.

5. (7) Lions (4-0) ‘€” What a fun team to watch. The Lions have overcome two 20-plus-point deficits over the past two weeks and remain undefeated. Even more impressive, this team has won eight straight games dating back to last season. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are turning into the Brady-Moss connection of 2007. In the first four games, “Megatron” has eight touchdown catches. Moss had seven at this point in ’07.

6. (11) Texans (3-1) ‘€” It could be worse — just ask the Chiefs. As soon as the Texans got Arian Foster back they lost Andre Johnson to a similar injury. It will be interesting to see who Matt Schaub leans on in the passing game with the All-Pro expected to miss some time. The good news is Foster looked healthy and Peyton Manning isn’t coming back any time soon. The Texans have taken a giant leap forward as far as their defense goes. Wade Phillips has done a great job improving one of the worst defenses in the league in 2010.

7. (9) Giants (3-1) ‘€” It’s amazing the Giants can boast a 3-1 record a quarter of the way into the season with the number of injuries they’ve endured. Eli Manning has played the best football of his career while many of his regular offensive tools are gone or nursing injuries. Osi Umenyiora looked like vintage Osi. It was hard to believe he hadn’t played a game all year.

8. (14) Chargers (3-1) ‘€” It was virtually impossible for the Chargers to get off to a slow start. The team’s three wins have come against opponents who have a combined record of 1-11. Philip Rivers and the Chargers will enjoy one more week of an easy schedule until the more challenging part begins.

9. (6) Jets (2-2) ‘€” The Jets are dangerously close to spiraling downhill. This team has endured back-to-back, double-digit losses for the first time under Rex Ryan. On top of that, the level of frustration is reaching all-time highs within the team. One of the team’s captain’s, Santonio Holmes, called out the poor play of Mark Sanchez and the offensive line. A loss to the Patriots this week could add fuel to the fire. Sanchez has had an awful start to the season. Week after week, he continues to make poor decisions with the football. It doesn’t help that the running game has been a non-factor and the offensive line has looked lost. Adding to all the negativity surrounding this team, veteran linebacker Bryan Thomas suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Michael Vick, NFL Power Rankings, Rex Ryan

Stevan Ridley: Nate Solder playing ‘well over his head’ in leading Patriots run to daylight

10.03.11 at 10:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — He may not have realized the irony of his comments but Stevan Ridley may have hit the nail right on the head Monday when he pointed to one of the big reasons for the Patriots break out ground game on Sunday in a 31-19 win over the Raiders in Oakland. And with all the talk about Darren McFadden coming into the game as the NFL’s leading rusher, it was Ridley who led all rushers with 97 yards, 22 more than “Run DMC.”

“It’s a great feeling,” said Ridley, who ran for 97 yards on 10 carries. “I can’t lie about that. The offensive line is doing some great things up front so it makes my job really easy, just go out there and run the football and pull my load like the coaches ask me to.”

Then Ridley was asked about the big holes opened up by the right side of the offensive line, led by rookie Nate Solder and veteran Brian Waters.

“They’re all on the same page,” Ridley said. “Nate’s a rookie and Nate’s playing well over his head right now. He’s playing great for us. We’re still learning. We’re only three games in. It seems like the offense line has been together for a good while with the green grass I’m seeing when I’m coming through the line. I really can’t complain or have anything bad to say them working up front as an offense.”

Ridley’s praise of the offensive line is genuine since they are the ones opening the big holes for him to run through, even if they are the most penalized position group on the team.

Ridley’s breakout threat, which he showed on a 33-yard TD run off the right side, was a big reason the Patriots ran as much as they threw on Sunday for the first time this season. If only by a small amount, Ridley and the backs were able to lighten the load on Tom Brady, who threw for a rather pedestrian 226 yards on 16-of-30 passing.

“Tom always does a great job in the passing game and our receivers are blocking downfield as well as making catches,” Ridley said. ‘Really, our offense is complimenting each other so we’re still just growing as a unit and trying to better each other.

“I really wouldn’t say I pick up the load for Tom because Tom has a big load on his shoulders so I’m just going out there and doing what the coaches ask me to do. I’m just going out there and trying not to play over my head, and when they call my number, make a play, a positive play. I’m just a rookie right now, and I’m still just learning every game, taking it one step at a time. They’re doing a great job of making my job easier so I just have to continue to do what I’m doing.”

What made Sunday all the more remarkable for the Patriots running backs was the fact they lost one of their best midway through when Danny Woodhead limped off with an ankle injury late in the second quarter. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Nate Solder, New England Patriots, nfl

Following the flags: Breaking down the Patriots penalties through four games

10.03.11 at 10:04 pm ET
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In their first four games of the season, the Patriots have been flagged for 28 penalties and 268 yards. Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that have gone against New England, not including penalties that were declined or offset:

Most penalized players, listed by total flags and with total yardage lost:
Sergio Brown: two penalties (both defensive pass interference), 51 yards
Matt Light: two penalties (both holding), 20 yards
Nate Solder: two penalties (holding and illegal use of hands), 20 yards
Logan Mankins: two penalties (offensive holding and false start), 15 yards
Rob Gronkowski: two penalties (holding and false start), 15 yards
Brian Waters: two penalties (holding, offensive holding), 15 yards
Dan Gronkowski: two penalties (both false starts), 10 yards
Leigh Bodden: two penalties (both defensive holding), 10 yards
Pat Chung: one penalty (unncessary roughness), 15 yards
Andre Carter: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
Rob Ninkovich: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
Kyle Love: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
Dan Connolly: one penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
James Ihedigbo: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
Devin McCourty: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
Chad Ochocinco: one penalty (illegal formation), five yards
Deion Branch: one penalty (false start), five yards
Vince Wilfork: one penalty (unsportsmanlike conduct), 2 yards
Team: one penalty (12 men on the field), 5 yards
Wes Welker: one penalty (illegal motion), 5 yards

Most penalized by position:
Offensive line: nine penalties for 80 yards
Safety: four penalties for 76 yards
Tight end: four penalties for 25 yards
Defensive line: three penalties for 32 yards
Cornerback: three penalties for 20 yards
Wide receiver: three penalties for 15 yards
Linebacker: one penalty for 15 yards
Team: one penalty for five yards

Most frequently called penalties on the Patriots:
Offensive holding: eight
False start: five
Roughing the passer: three
Defensive holding: two
Illegal block above the waist: two
Defensive pass interference: two
Illegal formation: one
Illegal use of hands: one
Unsportsmanlike conduct: one
Unecessary roughness: one
Illegal motion: one
Twelve men in the huddle: one

Read More: Patriots, penalties,
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