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Catching up with … the Ravens

11.03.12 at 2:51 pm ET
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This is the latest edition of a semi-regular feature in which we check in with some of the other elite teams in the AFC. In this post, it’s the Ravens.

The 2012 Ravens season is less of a transition year to a more offensive-minded team than it is a social experiment to see what happens when a team’€™s identity for nearly its entire existence is swept out from under them over the course of a week in a cacophony of ligament and muscle tears.

The offense has improved, and, through the first seven games, has become the unit that the team is now relying on. However, the injuries have had as big an impact on this development as any breakthroughs from receiver Torrey Smith, feature back Ray Rice or quarterback Joe Flacco, who is still working to become a top-tier quarterback in the NFL.

Here’€™s the damage report right now for the Ravens: Inside linebacker Ray Lewis, the defense’€™s emotional leader, is out for the season with a torn triceps; top cornerback Lardarius Webb is out for the year with a torn ACL; defensive end Haloti Ngata, one of the league’€™s top defensive linemen, is hobbled with an MCL injur; outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, missed the first seven games of the season with an off season Achilles injury and is working his way back.

Other teams may have more injuries than the Ravens, but not with such vital players on one side of the ball. However, there’€™s been more going on in Baltimore than additions and subtractions of the injury report. Here’€™s what we know about the Ravens.

1. They do, in fact, have other players

A first glance, the Ravens defense appears to be held together by Ed Reed, duct tape and well-timed Bernard Pollard shots at the opposition’€™s knees. At second glance, Baltimore’s defense down the stretch will consist of a group of decent defenders and role players that lack much of the foundation they were built around.

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Fantasy Football: Week 9 starts, sits

11.03.12 at 12:11 pm ET
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Welcome to the Week 9 starts and sits. It’€™s been a rough week for yours truly and all New Yorkers, but I’€™m now up in Boston with friends — fully loaded with bandwidth and a large coffee. Let’€™s get into Week 9, shall we? For those of you looking for full rankings, we will be adding them at throughout the day as we play catchup in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We also will be hosting our weekly Sunday chat right here, so check back Sunday at 11 a.m. if you have any pressing lineup questions.



Cam Newton, Panthers at Redskins

Yes, Newton was a lock starter going into the season, but we’€™ve received enough e-mails about him to put him here. Newton should step up in this game against Robert Griffin III. The bigger issue is the Washington defense, which is prone to lapses in coverage. Newton is a good play here and he has some upside, too. He’€™s a good play in any league.

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers at Raiders

Stick with Freeman this week in a plus matchup at Oakland. His receivers are making plays and now he has ground support with a surging Doug Martin.

Joe Flacco, Ravens at Browns

There’€™s some risk due to how poorly he’€™s played lately, but we wouldn’€™t be afraid of using him here. The Ravens have had two weeks to prepare for this game and they are well coached. They should be ready. Flacco is a viable start in 12-team leagues.


Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills at Texans

Fitz is a very risky play on the road against a quality opponent. Just look at what he did in Weeks 5 and 6 if you require proof. The Bills most likely will be chasing in the game, so there’€™s some hope, but we’€™d strongly consider other options in all leagues.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins at Colts

Two big things here: Tannehill is not a lock to play, so even if you are going to roll with him, you need a Plan B. The more important thing is the in-game risk. There’€™s a solid chance that he could start but not finish, and that’€™s what worries us most. He’€™s got an easily aggravated injury. The matchup is a very good one, but we’€™d look for more secure options in Week 9.

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Read More: Cam Newton, Chris Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, joe flacco

Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Defensive line

11.03.12 at 12:51 am ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We’€™ve looked at the offense. Now, we flip things around to the defensive side of the ball, and start with the defensive line.

Overview: With the defensive line, it’€™s complicated. Led by old warrior Vince Wilfork, the group deserves all the credit in the world for helping making New England one of the toughest teams in the league to run against, particularly along the interior. Only one back has broke 100 yards against them this year, and the group continues to do its part to make opposing offenses one-dimensional. But for a unit that preaches ‘€œteam defense’€ more than anyone else, the group must bear at least some responsibility for the fact that the Patriots continue to struggle against the pass. (However minimal, their culpability lies in the fact that the group as a whole isn’€™t doing enough to get to the quarterback, so as to cut down on coverage times for the secondary. And while it’€™s improved — particularly among Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich — it’€™s something that bears watching going forward.) In the end, it’€™s been a mixed bag for the defensive line, but with more good than bad through the first eight games.

Depth chart:
Kyle Love (22 tackles, 1.5 sacks), Wilfork (26 tackles), Jake Bequette, Justin Francis, Jones (37 tackles, 6 sacks), Jermaine Cunningham (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks), Ron Brace, Trevor Scott, Ninkovich (32 tackles, 5 sacks).

(We’€™ll include Ninkovich here as a defensive lineman — specifically, a defensive end — because even though he’€™s also played outside linebacker, he’€™s been on the line more often than not.)

Best moment:
A handful to choose from: Wilfork surprisingly dropping into coverage against the Rams, Jones’€™ terrifically athletic, sweeping 17-yard sack (also against St. Louis), Ninkovich’€™s strip sack at the end of the overtime against the Jets or Wilfork’€™s rag-dolling of Matt Slauson to force a safety against the Jets. But for pure out-of-your-seat awesome, we’€™re going to go with Wilfork’€™s blast of Donald Jones late in the win over Buffalo. How a man that size got the acceleration he did in such a quick fashion — and managed to lay such a terrific hit on an opponent — needs to be dissected in the next episode of ‘€œMythbusters.’€

Worst moment:
It wasn’€™t so much the defensive line, but the defense as a whole stumbled down the stretch in the road loss to the Ravens. Despite the fact that New England held a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Patriots’€™ defense couldn’€™t do much of anything right down the stretch against Baltimore. It was the only game of the year where a running back topped 60 yards (Ray Rice ran for 101 yards), and the 382 yards from Joe Flacco was the most an opposing quarterback threw for against New England over the course of the first half of the season.

By the numbers:
Through eight games in 2012, the Patriots are allowing an average of 46.5 total yards per game fewer than they did over the first half of the 2011 season. Through eight games this year, they’€™ve also allowed 14 fewer points than they did through the first eight games of 2011.

Money quote:
‘€œI think I’€™ve been blessed with a good group of guys, starting with our leader, Vince [Wilfork]. Great football player. I think I’€™m learning a lot from him [laughs], just like I try to [teach] being a coach. But with his experience, him and Kyle Love, all those guys have done a good job ‘€“ Rob Ninkovich, all hard workers, diligent workers. And that’€™s the biggest blessing for me in terms of that they’€™re professionals, they work hard and that’€™s all you can ask for, really.’€ — defensive line coach Patrick Graham

Read More: bye week breakdown,

Report: Sterling Moore signs with Patriots practice squad

11.02.12 at 7:54 pm ET
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A couple of days after being waived by the Patriots, cornerback Sterling Moore has returned as a member of the practice squad, according to ESPN Boston. The 22-year-old Moore has 13 tackles and one forced fumble over the first eight games of the 2012 for New England.

Moore was originally signed by the Patriots off the Raiders’€™ practice squad on Oct. 5, 2011, and spent the majority of the rest of the regular season between the practice squad and the 53-man roster before ultimately being signed to the 53-man roster on Dec. 23. Moore appeared in six regular season games with three starts in 2011 and played in all three playoff games.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder has played in 14 regular season games with three starts in his two-year career and appeared in all three playoff contests last year. He has registered 25 total tackles, 2 interceptions, nine passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He earned NFL Rookie of the Week Honors following his Week 17 performance vs. Buffalo last season, in which he made his first two career interceptions, returning the initial pick 21 yards for his first NFL touchdown.

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Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Offensive line

11.02.12 at 7:43 pm ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We’€™ve looked at the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks. Now, it’€™s the offensive line.

Overview: After what appeared to be a shaky preseason where everyone was waiting for Brian Waters to come walking back through the door, the New England offensive line has come together very nicely over the first half of the regular season. It hasn’€™t been without a few issues — they’€™d probably like the Seattle game back, like most of the offense — but overall, the group has done very well against some of the league’€™s elite pass rushers. In addition, they’€™ve been a big reason why the New England running game has had a resurgence this season. (Go back and watch Stevan Ridley‘€™s 41-yard run in the second half against the Rams — one of the most sharply executed plays of the year, right down to the picture perfect work on the blocking assignments up front.) Even without All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins for three games — Donald Thomas has filled in admirably — it’€™s been a very good start to the year for the New England offensive line.

(In retrospect, it was foolish to make broad-bush judgments on the play of the New England offensive line based on the preseason, particularly when you’€™re dealing with a line that had as many moving parts as the Patriots did over the spring and summer months. The coaching staff was in the process of making judgments on veterans like Robert Gallery and Dan Koppen, as well as trying to assess the rehab process for injured returnees like right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and Mankins. Bottom line? They were using their time trying to get a look at as many different groups in as many different stressful environments as possible, and they found out which combinations worked and which ones didn’€™t.)

Depth chart: Left tackle Nate Solder, Mankins, Thomas, guard/center/ tackle Nick McDonald, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, tackle Marcus Cannon.

Best moment: So much good stuff came out of last Sunday’€™s game against the Rams, and that includes the performance of New England’€™s offensive line. Facing one of the better pass rushing duos in the league in Chris Long and Robert Quinn, the Patriots’€™ tackles were more than equal to the task. The win over the Rams marked the first game all year the New England offensive line did not yield a sack or a quarterback hit.

Worst moment:
Brady was sacked four times against the Cardinals and four times against the Broncos, but the low point was likely the loss to the Seahawks, where the quarterback was under fire all day thanks to pressure from the Seattle pass rush. Per Pro Football Focus, Tom Brady was hurried 10 times in that game, was hit four times and sacked once. While the numbers may not look it, Brady never appeared comfortable that game, and the offense line was a big reason why.

By the numbers:
According to Pro Football Focus, Wendell has played all 645 offensive snaps for the Patriots this season. He’€™s the only member of the New England offense not to miss a single play this season. (Solder is second overall with 644 snaps and Brady is third with 635.)

Money quote: ‘€œWe’€™re a 5-3 football team. As has been stated around here many times, you are what your record is. A lot of people wouldn’€™t want to be 5-3, we would like to be better than 5-3 but that’€™s what we are. What we need to do is have a great week this week and next week hopefully get to 6-3 and see where it goes. We have a tough opponent next week to do that though, so I don’€™t know how much it’€™s improved. That’€™s up to others to say, we just feel like we have to improve every day, or we’€™ll never get to where we want to be.’€ — Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia on how much the team has improved since Week 1.

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Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Quarterbacks

11.02.12 at 9:07 am ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We’€™ve looked at the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. Now, it’€™s quarterbacks.

Overview: Tom Brady remains the centerpiece of the franchise, and while the Patriots added several key components on both sides of the ball over the last six months, it’€™s clear this team will go as far as the 35-year-old signal-caller can take it. Over the first eight games, there’€™s been a couple of bumps in the road for the two-time NFL MVP. First, there’€™s the offense’s occasional inability to take advantage of scoring opportunities, something that’€™s burned the Pats in their three losses. Second, there was the ugly loss to the Seahawks in which the quarterback was hooted off the field by Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman. However, he was New England’€™s unquestioned offensive MVP for the first half of the season and remains among the league’€™s elite quarterbacks, even in his 13th season. Between the health of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, the up-and-down year for Wes Welker and the continued acclimation of Brandon Lloyd, the New England offense continues to try to find an identity. But with help with a revived running game and a steady offensive line, it appears Brady and the Patriots offense are well-positioned for a productive second half of the season.

Depth chart: Brady (209-for-320, 65 percent, 2,408 yards, 16 touchdowns, three interceptions), Ryan Mallett (1-for-3, 17 yards)

Best moment: This is a tough one — we’€™ve gone back and watched film from the first eight games. And while we’€™re already on record as saying Brady’s work against the Broncos was the best of the season (and his late performance against the Jets was vintage Brady), a closer look reveals that it’€™s actually last Sunday against the Rams. In that one, he only missed on a handful of throws, and was able to adroitly capitalize on a series of mismatches, particularly ones involving Gronkowski. He finished 23-for-35 for 304 yards with a season-high four touchdowns along with zero picks, zero sacks and a season-high 131.1 passer rating.

Worst moment: While Brady set a season-high for passing yards against the Seahawks, it was the one game he would like to have back. He was 36-for-58 for 395 yards with two touchdowns but also two really ugly picks. In addition, he was flagged for intentional grounding twice, including once in the Seahawks’€™ red zone. And he underthrew at least six balls on the afternoon. All in all, a forgettable afternoon for the QB.

By the numbers: Brady had 209 completions through the first eight games of the season. He’€™s on pace for 418 completions, which would be a career high. In addition, he has thrown for 295 fewer yards through the first eight games this year than he did last season (2,703 yards to 2,408 yards). And while he has four fewer touchdowns in that same stretch (20, as opposed to 16 this year), he also seven fewer interceptions (10 to 3). One more for you: according to Pro Football Focus, Brady has lost 280 yards on dropped passes this season, second most in the league.

Money quote: ‘€œThe big picture in my mind? As long as they have Brady under center, they have a chance to win every Sunday, and that’€™s the bottom line.’€ — A high-level NFL personnel man on Brady and his influence on the Patriots.

Read More: bye week breakdown, Tom Brady,

Former Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi set to host gala at Gillette in December

11.02.12 at 12:42 am ET
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The Joe Andruzzi Foundation will celebrate five years of successful fundraising for cancer patients and their families with the New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer Gala, set for December 3 at Gillette Stadium.

Andruzzi, a former Patriots guard who has waged his own battle against cancer, will bring together supporters, celebrities and athletes, including current and former Patriots players, for what is anticipated to be a record-breaking fundraiser. All proceeds raised through the event will go toward helping the Joe Andruzzi Foundation provide more cancer patients with financial assistance, as well as supporting pediatric brain cancer research.

‘€œThis has been a monumental year for the Foundation; we’€™re blessed to help more cancer patients and provide more support for research at Boston Children’€™s Hospital than ever before,’€ Andruzzi said. ‘€œBut helping more people requires additional support from our community, and we plan to make this year’€™s gala our best yet.  We’€™re honored to once again invite our friends and supporters to join us for this fun and heart-warming benefit in hopes of raising significant funds to help families with their bills during treatment. Jen and I know the cancer battle all too well, and every little bit truly helps.’€

Individual tickets to the fifth annual gala are available exclusively at Information regarding a limited number of remaining sponsorship packages is available online, or by contacting the Foundation directly at 774-284-4694 or emailing

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