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Shane Vereen expecting the best from ‘very aggressive’ Raiders

09.21.14 at 10:11 am ET
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FOXBORO — Shane Vereen knows all the stats. He knows the Raiders enter the game dead last in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up exactly 200 yards per game on the ground. Last week, Houston’s Arian Foster had 138 yards on 28 carries.

So this figures to be a day when the Patriots turn to he and Stevan Ridley to gash the Raiders defense left, right and up the middle.

But Vereen still thinks the Oakland front seven can be a formidable opponent, populated with lots of veterans like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Pat Sims and young talent like strong side linebacker Khalil Mack.

“Absolutely, every Sunday we expect our opponents’ best and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Oakland,” Vereen said. “I’ve seen a lot of the same. They’re very aggressive. They’re a very veteran group. They’ve played a lot of football. They know what they’re doing. It’s not like a young team so we’re going have to really play well and execute.

“Each D-line is different and each game plan is different. I would say with any aggressive D-line, patience is key. They’re going to make plays on their side of the ball so you just have to take the positives with the negatives, take what they give you.”

It may not be what the Raiders give Vereen on Sunday that matters. It may be getting the Patriots to give him the ball more. But Vereen maintains sharing running responsibilities with Stevan Ridley comes with the job. Last week, Vereen had 11 of the team’s 16 rushes in the first half before Ridley exploded in the second half for 23 carries and 87 of his 101 yards on the day.

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Setting the scene: Storms possible as Patriots open home schedule against Raiders

09.21.14 at 9:23 am ET
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Cloudy skies are expected, with thunderstorms possible, for the Patriots' home opener. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Cloudy skies are expected, with thunderstorms possible, for the Patriots’ home opener. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — The 2014 home schedule is finally here for the Patriots.

After splitting their first two games on the road, the Patriots will get their chance to open the home schedule Sunday against the Oakland Raiders here at Gillette Stadium. And it could be a stormy day.

Forecasters are calling for temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s with a chance of thunderstorms around 3 p.m., in the second half of the game. Humidity, like Week 1 in Miami, could be a factor, with a relative humidity around 75 percent predicted. But the heat index won’t be nearly as high and a breeze of 10 MPH out of the south should help as well.

The Patriots are looking for their 12th win in 13 lifetime home openers at Gillette Stadium, with their only loss coming in 2012 when the Cardinals stunned them, 20-18, on a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal at the end.

The Patriots are opening their home schedule against the Raiders for the first time since welcoming Randy Moss and company on Sept. 8, 2005. That night, the Patriots raised their third Super Bowl banner in four seasons, having won the Super Bowl the previous season.

The Patriots are 15-14-1 lifetime against the Raiders in the regular season, having won the last three meetings since Oakland’s 27-20 triumph on Nov. 17, 2002. The Patriots also hold a 2-1 advantage in the postseason.

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Unlucky Seven: Who will end up sitting Sunday against Raiders?

09.21.14 at 7:00 am ET
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James White

James White

The Patriots will announce their inactives 90 minutes before kickoff on Sunday, but based on what we’ve seen this week and the matchup on Sunday, here’s our guess as to which seven players might be inactive:

RB James White: The rookie has been the odd man out over the first two weeks of the season. Unless there’s an unforeseen injury, he could be headed for a redshirt year.

DE Zach Moore: The defensive end was sidelined last week, and given some of the personnel decisions, we think he’s going to end up sitting again this week.

DE Michael Buchanan: The second-year lineman has been out the first two games because of an ankle issue, and the feeling here is that he gets another week on the sidelines to get right before the Patriots open a tougher stretch.

WR Aaron Dobson: The Patriots appear to be carrying an extra wide receiver, and so there might be a healthy scratch each week — last week it was Kenbrell Thompkins. If it isn’t Dobson this week, it could be Brandon LaFell.

C Ryan Wendell: The veteran lineman has struggled with knee issues over the last week., and so Wendell could spend another week on the shelf. (Dan Connolly popped up on the injury report with a knee problem — he’s probable for Sunday — and so he could land on the inactive list instead.)

S Don Jones: The former Dolphins has carved out a nice spot as a special teamer, but popped up on the injury report this week with a hamstring issue and missed Wednesday practice.

LB Jamie Collins: The second-year linebacker missed last week’s game in Minnesota against the Vikings, and his thigh injury left him limited over the course of the week.

For the record, here are the Patriots inactives for the first two weeks of the regular season:

Week 1
DE Michael Buchanan
WR Aaron Dobson
LB Darius Fleming
DT Chris Jones
G Josh Kline
C Bryan Stork
RB James White

Week 2
DE Michael Buchanan
LB Jamie Collins
CB Alfonzo Dennard
DE Zach Moore
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
C Ryan Wendell
RB James White

Week 3 Fantasy Football live chat, 11 a.m.

09.20.14 at 11:13 pm ET
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Join Pete Davidson of WEEI.com and Rotobahn.com for his weekly fantasy football chat. Let Pete help set your lineup as you storm on into Week 3. It all starts at 11 a.m. Get your questions in now …

Live Blog Fantasy Football Week 3 Chat
 

Sunday NFL Notes: Matthew Slater boosts rep as advocate for rest of Patriots roster

09.20.14 at 11:00 pm ET
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Matthew Slater says he would welcome another year as the Patriots' player rep. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Matthew Slater says he would welcome another year as the Patriots’ player rep. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

1. Few guys in the Patriots locker room were as busy this week as special teams captain and players rep Matthew Slater. The UCLA product, who has served as the team’€™s player rep the last two seasons, has been keeping his teammates informed about the progress regarding a new drug policy. With the constant changes, it was a challenge to keep up with the latest information.

“€œIt’€™s a responsibility that I take very seriously, because there’€™s a lot to keep our guys informed on,”€ said Slater, who was nominated for the job a few years back by quarterback Tom Brady. “€œThere’€™s a lot of changes, a lot of things our players can take advantage of, but they have to have the knowledge and information. I think it’€™s very important to keep guys informed, to address questions. We have a great league and a great union that does lot to help our players. It’€™s about the reps helping the other players take full advantage of that. I take a lot of pride in that.”

Slater, who is the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, said the elections for player rep for the coming season will be held within the next month, but he’€™d welcome the chance to serve another term.

“€œIt’€™s definitely an honor, because I feel like your teammates have to have a lot of trust and faith in you to uphold the duties and responsibilities of that position,”€ Slater added. “I have a passion for the union — I think because of my father’€™s experience in the league — and I have a passion for taking care of our retired players and making them feel like they’€™re still a part of this. I have a lot of things I’€™d like to see done, and hopefully, we can get them done.”

Slater believes that the new drug plan is a good one for both sides.

“As players, we’€™re getting a fair deal,”€ Slater said. “€œI really believe that. And I feel as though the league is getting us to be transparent and to be players of integrity. We’€™re going to be accountable for what we put in our bodies — as we should. I think it’€™s fair for all parties. I think it’€™s best for the shield. And at the end of the day, nobody’€™s bigger than the league, and nobody’€™s bigger than the integrity of the league.”

2. Through the first two games of the regular season, Brady has done well to steer clear of turnovers. Including the end of the 2013 season and into the playoffs, (as well as the first two games of the 2014 regular season) Brady has assembled a streak of 80 straight completed passes without an interception. It’€™s not anywhere near his record (his regular-season streak of 358 consecutive pass attempts without an interception between the 2010 and 2011 season is still the gold standard), but it’€™s a good start to the season for a quarterback and his relatively young receiving corps. Of the quarterbacks who have started at least two games in 2014, Brady is part of a group that includes Cleveland’€™s Brian Hoyer, Denver’€™s Peyton Manning, Cincinnati’€™s Andy Dalton, Seattle’€™s Russell Wilson, Houston’€™s Ryan Fitzpatrick and Washington’€™s Robert Griffin III as QBs who have yet to throw an interception this season. (For what it’€™s worth, Brady and Hoyer are the only quarterback with at least 70 pass attempts who have yet to throw a pick this year.)

3. We touched on this a few times over the course of the week, but it bears repeating that when it comes to West Coast teams coming to the East Coast and playing one o’€™clock games, it rarely ends well for the road team. The four West Coast teams are a combined 43-83 in the Eastern Time zone over the last decade, according to STATS. (That includes a 14-game losing skid for the Raiders — their last win on the East Coast was Dec. 6, 2009 in Pittsburgh.) At 17-18 in East Coast games, the Chargers are the only team close to .500. Meanwhile, the Raiders (5-28) and Niners (10-18) have struggled — even Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champs are just 11-19 in one o’€™clock starts on the East Coast over the last 10 years. The road has been particularly unkind for the Raiders this year — Sunday marks their second trip to the East Coast in three games. Oakland will follow up this weekend’€™s stop in New England with a trip to London for a game with the Dolphins. (Ultimately, the Raiders will travel a league-high 36,078 miles this season.) Oakland coach Dennis Allen is philosophical about his team playing another game that starts at 10 a.m. West Coast time. “Listen, the schedule is what the schedule is, and our job is to show up and try to win a football game, and that’€™s really what we’€™re focused on doing,” he said. “We’€™re not really focused on the travel.”

4. Vince Wilfork isn’€™t given over to empty platitudes, so it was interesting to hear him talk this week about the progression over the last year-plus of linebacker Dont’€™a Hightower. By Hightower’€™s own admission, he struggled last season (he was benched late in the regular-season win over the Broncos) but down the stretch, everything seemed to click for the Alabama product, and he played well into the playoffs. That’€™s carried over into the first two games of 2014, where he’€™s had nine tackles and two sacks. Wilfork said he wasn’€™t impressed by Hightower’€™s performance over the first two games, because he believes it’€™s been something that’€™s been in him all along. “€œI’€™m happy we have him and I’€™m glad he’€™s doing things the way he’€™s capable of doing them,”€ Wilfork said of Hightower. “We knew all along what he had, and he knew. Sometimes you have to put him in a situation for that to come out.”

5. September 21st marks the latest date on the calendar the Patriots have had a home opener since 2001. That year, they had their home opener at Foxboro Stadium against the Jets on Sept. 23. That fall, in the wake of Sept. 11, the NFL schedule was reconfigured slightly, as the Week 2 games were rescheduled for the weekend of Jan. 6, 2002. For New England, that meant moving its contest against the Panthers in Carolina from Sept. 16 to Jan. 6, 2002. (In 2003, New England’€™s home opener as also on Sept. 21, and also against the Jets.) Going into this weekend, the Patriots were one of three teams that had yet to play a home game — the Jaguars and Saints were also on the road for their first two games. However, like New England, will both be home Sunday for the first time all year.

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Aaron Dobson, Rob Gronkowski and different takes on the art of the one-handed grab

09.20.14 at 3:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was a highlight grab that showed NFL scouts everywhere what kind of freakish skills Aaron Dobson had entering the NFL.

With Marshall trailing East Carolina 17-10 late in the first half of their game on Nov 26, 2011, Dobson ran his route into in the end zone. The defender grabbed his left arm. Not to worry. The 6-foot-3 receiver went airborne, cupped his right hand and grabbed the ball and clutched it to his hip.

“I made a one-handed backhanded catch back in college. It was crazy,” Dobson told WEEI.com on Friday. “It freaked me out that I did it. I was trying to catch it with two hands and the defender actually grabbed my arm and spun me and I just caught it backhanded.”

Dobson would eventually get selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft by the Patriots. Dobson has shown more than just one-handed skills in his time in New England. That was then and this is now. The one-arm catch has become all the rage early on in this NFL season.

Antonio Gates made a sensational diving grab with his left hand for a touchdown against the Seahawks in San Diego’s win in Week 2. Hours later up the coast, Brandon Marshall led the Bears back from the dead with a pair of one-handed grabs in the end zone as the Bears spoiled the opener of Levi’s Stadium, 28-20.

Those are just two examples, and in each case, the touchdowns don’t get made without the receiver going all out. The one-handed catch is the last resort for receivers when you can’t get both hands on the ball but the pass is still salvageable.

“I definitely feel like you can put yourself in a position by bodying a defender, holding him off maybe with one arm and catching it with the other arm,” Dobson said. “Most of the time, it’s just instincts. It just happens like that. So, I feel like you can do little things that will help you like that.

“Maybe not so much in practice but as far as after practice, if you’re on a JUGS machine just ‘boom’ catching one-handed or throwing back-and-forth [with coaches], doing little drills like that. It can help your hand-eye coordination so if you can’t get two hands on it, you can get one and bring it in. I think you can do little drills like that that will help.”

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10 Things You Have To Know About Raiders-Patriots

09.20.14 at 10:47 am ET
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Michigan men Charles Woodson and Tom Brady will meet again on Sunday. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Michigan men Charles Woodson and Tom Brady will meet again on Sunday. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s season opener between the Patriots and Raiders:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Quarterback Tom Brady against free safety Charles Woodson: At 37, Woodson is no longer the elite-level defensive back he once was, but to paraphrase Darrelle Revis, he’s still able to make plays. (The level of respect for Woodson is so great that Bill Belichick apparently put on film of Woodson’€™s work in team meetings this week, a reminder that the surefire Hall of Famer is still capable of pulling off some impressive plays.) Brady talked fondly about him on Wednesday, and Revis added to the praise on Thursday. The byplay between Brady and Woodson should be engaging on Sunday; maybe one of the most compelling matchups on what might otherwise be a relatively uneventful afternoon. Woodson has had 57 picks over the course of his 17-year career (he’s had at least one a year dating back to 1998), but has never been able to get one against Brady. While nothing is set in stone, this might be Woodson’s final chance to get one off his old college pal. At the very least, Woodson would love to gain a small level of revenge for the Snow Bowl/Tuck Rule contest.

2. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork against running back Darren McFadden: In his seventh season, McFadden is no longer the elite multidimensional threat he once was, but he’s still able to do plenty of damage offensively. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder had a good week last week against the Texans, running well between the tackles. While the numbers weren’t overwhelming — 12 carries, 27 yards and a touchdown — with Maurice Jones-Drew a question mark because of a hand issue, he could be the Raiders best shot on the ground against the Patriots. Wilfork and the rest of the New England defense has been excellent against the pass, but struggled against the run, yielding 122.5 rushing yards per game (tied for 21st in the league). Oakland loves running between the tackles, which means it’ll be Wilfork who will likely handle the bulk of the duties. From this viewpoint, if Derek Carr is going to have a chance, he’s going to need plenty of good complementary football from the rest of the Raiders, and on offense, that starts with a big contribution from McFadden and the rest of the running game.

3. Left tackle Nate Solder against outside linebacker Khalil Mack: Mack is probably the best young defensive prospect the Raiders have had in some time, and over the course of his first two games, has appeared to line up mostly opposite the left tackle. Used both as a linebacker in their regular defense and a defensive end in Oakland’s sub packages, the rookie out of Buffalo has flashed very positively on occasion, working as a disruptive force off the edge. (Though two games, he has 12 tackles, two of them for a loss, as well as one pass defensed.) He’ll likely get a healthy dose of Solder, who has held up relatively well over the course of the first two games of the season. If the Patriots follow the same course of action they did last week against the Vikings (and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them do this, given the fact that the Raiders are the worst run defenses in the league), expect an extra tackle to work as a tight end to provide help in the running game. (Last week, it was rookie Cameron Fleming.) Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Mack this week, calling him “disruptive,” as well as “fast” and “explosive.” It’ll be interesting to see how he matches up with Solder.

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: There are a handful of offensive skill position players who are relatively anonymous faces, but one relatively intriguing prospect who might get a chance against the Patriots is Latavius Murray, a second-year player out of Central Florida. He didn’t play last season (a foot injury landed him on injured reserve) but had 23 carries for 94 yards in the preseason for the Raiders. Murray has flashed positively as a kick returner this season, averaging 24.3 yards per return in seven chances — and if Jones-Drew continues to have issues with his hand, Murray could get an opportunity against the Patriots.

5. By the numbers (tie): 4 — Per NFL gamebooks, the number of Patriots who have played every single offensive or defensive snap to this point in the season. On the offensive side of the ball, it’s Brady and Solder. On defense, it’s been linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower. (Last year after eight games, the Patriots had eight players who hadn’t taken a single snap off: Brady, Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer and Logan Mankins.)

6. Quote of note: No single phrase stood out for us this week more than the word “savvy.” On four different occasions, this reporter heard Patriots players use it to describe Oakland, usually in conjunction when asked about the collective age of the Raiders. (They are, on average, the oldest team in the league.)

7. Patriots fans should be worried about… the fear of the unknown, particularly when it comes to Carr. Sunday will mark his first ever start against New England and only his third career start at the NFL level. The Fresno State product has distinguished himself with two decent performances to this point — the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder has gone 47-for-74 passes for 414 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions while adding 55 rushing yards in two games, both losses for the Raiders. The simple fact that they haven’t faced him is enough in itself to insure that Belichick has been able to keep his defense a little wary about the prospect of facing a rookie signal-caller. If Carr has the ability to surprise, it could come with his ability to keep plays alive with his feet and maneuver out of the pocket once things break down. (To that point, several defensive players we spoke with this week talked about the importance of gap discipline when facing a potentially shifty quarterback like Carr.) As we wrote here, it’s worth mentioning that Carr has the opportunity to make history against the Patriots: Since 2001, no rookie QB in his first or second start against the Patriots in his first year in the league has beaten Belichick in New England. (In that span, Belichick has faced rookie quarterbacks on 19 occasions, and New England is 14-5 against them. However, none of those losses have come at home.)

8. Raiders fans should be worried about… the Patriots executing their offensive game plan, which involves jumping to an easily lead and sitting on the ball over the course of the second half with a bunch of grind-it-out drives. The Raiders enter the contest as the worst team in the league against the run, having yielded an average of 200 yards per game in their first two contests. Expect a heavy dose of Stevan Ridley throughout the contest — dating back to last November, the LSU product has put together a regular-season and playoff streak of 98 consecutive touches without a fumble. If he can build on his 101-yard performance last week against the Vikings and reach the century mark again, chances are good New England will win — since 2001, the Patriots are 38-1 when they have a running back hit the century mark. Given Ridley’s recent run and the Raiders woes against the run, it seems like a safe bet for Sunday.

9. One more thing: It’€™s interesting to watch the continued attempts to try and get tight end Rob Gronkowski up to speed. The big fella has played less than half the snaps to this point in the season — 38 of 86 in the opener against Miami, and 28 of 67 last week against the Vikings — and is still clearly working his way back to 100 percent. From this viewpoint, the Patriots appear to be gradually increasing his workload over the start of the regular season, with an eye toward having him as something close to a full-go next week when they head to Kansas City for a date with the Chiefs. They would then be able to build on that the following week against the Bengals, and have him at full strength for a five-game stretch from early November to early December that includes tough road games against the Colts, Packers and Chargers. Ultimately, as it relates to this week, it appears he’€™d be in the 50-75 percent range when it came to total snaps.

10. Prediction:

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