|10.25.12 at 10:50 am ET|
FOXBORO — While much has been made of the struggles of the Patriots’ pass defense, New England has actually been very stout against the run over the first seven games of the season, allowing 86 yards per game — eighth in the league.
In that time, the Patriots have faced some of the league’s elite backs and held all of them under their season average, including Chris Johnson (11 carries, 4 yards), C.J. Spiller (8 carries, 33 yards), Willis McGahee (14 carries, 51 yards) and Marshawn Lynch (15 carries, 41 yards). Only one back — Ray Rice — has topped 100 yards on the ground against New England, and Sunday’s win over the Jets marked the fourth straight game in which New England has held an opponent under four yards per carry.
The Patriots’ run defense will face its next real test Sunday in the Rams’ Steven Jackson. The 29-year-old Jackson, in his ninth season out of Oregon State, has run for 380 yards on 101 carries this season for St. Louis, including 76 yards (on 18 carries) in a 17-3 win over the Cardinals. A multipurpose threat out of the backfield, he also has 19 catches on the season for 189 yards, and has 379 receptions for 3,079 yards over the course of his career.
Jackson, who was a first-round pick of the Rams in 2004, was initially on New England’s radar that year. With the draft looming, it was widely believed the Patriots were in the market for a running back — to that end, New England coach Bill Belichick went out to meet with Jackson in his hometown of Las Vegas to check him out.
‘I went out there and met with him and spent the whole day, pretty much the whole day with him out there — he was a very impressive individual,’ recalled Belichick of Jackson. ‘Obviously a big, strong kid that runs well, that catches the ball very well. That’s very good in the passing game — he’s a little underrated in that area. Good in blitz pickup. A smart guy. Has really had an outstanding career. He was definitely a guy we were very much interested in. Like I said, I personally spent quite a bit of time with him.’
While the Patriots decided to go in another direction — they acquired Corey Dillon shortly before the draft and selected defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and tight end Ben Watson with their two first-round picks — that certainly hasn’t diminished Belichick’s opinion of Jackson and what he’s accomplished over the course of his career, particularly his durability.
‘It’s impressive. It’s real impressive,’ said Belichick when asked about Jackson’s durability. ‘He’s had a 1,000 yards it seems like every year, or close to it, whatever it is. But he dishes it out. I think he probably gives out about as much as he takes. It’s not like that with all backs, but he’s got the quickness to be elusive on the second level and avoid guys and he’s also got the power to put his shoulder down and run through guys. He’s a hard guy to tackle.
‘His production in the passing game is very good too. Not just screens, but route running, going out there and getting open and beating linebackers. And he’s a great target for the quarterback to throw to. Not a 5-foot-8 guy you’re trying to find out there. He’s a big tall strong guy who has a lot of range. A big catch radius with good hands.’
|10.24.12 at 9:10 pm ET|
The NFL began introducing American football to Europe and England with the American Bowl in 1986 with exhibition games. Then came NFL Europe.
In 2007, the Dolphins beat the Giants at Wembley Stadium starting a series that will continue on Sunday with the Patriots and Rams doing battle.
But, even with all that exposure, the NFL still has a lot of work to do to reach the next generation of fans in England.
“Yeah, it’s definitely different,” Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said Wednesday from London. “We went to that “Play 60″ event [Tuesday] and it was very apparent that we were in a foreign country. Just the youth here compared to the youth in America, I mean, they had very little awareness to what American football was. I think it surprised me a little bit just how little they knew about our game, which I think is one of the reasons it’s such a great opportunity for the NFL to come over here. These kids aren’t exposed to American football and if we want to expand our game, we’re going to have to do things like this to get them active and get them interested in learning more about the game.”
Bradford was then asked to compare the football skills of the American and European kids he’s interacted with at the “Play 60″ events.
“You really can’t even compare them because I mean, I have a feeling that yesterday some of the kids we were dealing with, it was probably the first time they’d ever seen an American football,” Bradford said honestly. “Obviously they play a lot of soccer over here. I asked a couple of them what they played and the predominant answers were soccer and cricket. I think, obviously, they’re just brought up a little differently in terms of the sports they’re exposed to. It really is kind of hard to compare them talking about football.”
|10.24.12 at 5:43 pm ET|
In 2009, in the week leading up to the Patriots-Buccaneers contest at Wembley, there was plenty of talk about whether the Patriots were doing the right thing by traveling to London so late in the week. Tampa Bay, owned by the same Glazer family that owns Manchester United, went out early and practiced at the world-class soccer facility.
The result? The Patriots, behind three touchdown passes from Tom Brady, went out and throttled the Bucs, 35-7.
This time, it’s the Rams who are the early arrivals in the U.K. and the Patriots are hoping history repeats itself. They are having two practices in New England before hopping a plane for a red-eye after Thursday’s practice at Gillette.
“We talked to other clubs,” Fisher said in a conference call from London on Wednesday. “I’ve been over here several times in the preseason in the American Bowls and we just felt that the fact that Mr. Kroenke has a facility here, we felt that it would probably be best to come over early to put the travel behind us and the time difference behind us and get settled. That’s what we’ve done thus far. I just moments ago got off the practice field and I’m very pleased and proud with the way the guys have responded to the time change. They brought a lot of energy to the field; we had a great practice.”
But that’s not to say Fisher doesn’t think the world of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Quite the opposite.
“[Tom Brady] does such a great job,” Fisher said. “It’s so quick and obviously their terminology allows them to get up there and go. He sees things and he puts himself in the best possible position and then there’s so much that’s done after the snap too with the guys outside.
“He makes great decisions. He’s usually always right with the decision he makes. He has tremendous arm strength, vision, he’s accurate. He can extend the play with his legs. I don’t know what else you can say about him. He’s just very, very difficult to defend. Over the years, they’ve done a great job of surrounding him with great people.”
Fisher was asked, – in historical terms – if Brady were right there near the top with all the great quarterbacks, considering Fisher and his Titans would face Peyton Manning twice a year.
“Oh yeah, there’s not a doubt,” he said. “We faced Peyton twice a year for a long time. Hey, Aaron Rodgers isn’t bad either. I’d say there’s no doubt that Tom is probably one of the top that I’ve faced over the years.” Read the rest of this entry »
|10.24.12 at 4:23 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Tom Brady is looking forward to the trip to London. Just not all the other stuff that goes along with it.
For that reason, he says he won’t be taking part in the NFL FanFest in London, despite being included on a list of celebrities who are listed by the NFL as being involved in the Saturday promotion.
“I’m not doing that,” Brady chuckled. “Don’t believe everything you read. Not me, but have fun though.”
Brady is hoping to have his fun during the game, like last time at Wembley, when he threw for 308 yards and three touchdown passes in a 35-7 win over the Buccaneers in 2009.
“Yeah, I am [looking forward to the game],” Brady did say. “It will be fun. It will be a great game. It will be a tough game, but it will be memorable for a lot of reasons. I certainly remember our last trip, so it will be a nice experience for all the players kind of coming together. We’re leaving after practice [Thursday], so hopefully we can go out there and play well. That’s the most important thing.
“Coach [Bill Belichick] does a good job preparing us for stuff like this. But it’s really a road game. We’re leaving a few days early and it’s going the opposite direction, so I think it’s going to be important to get there and kind of get used to the environment a little bit, but we had a good day yesterday at practice. We’ve got to have two more good days and at that point all the physical stuff will be done and just go over there, rest up and try to go out and play well.”
Can chemistry be built on a trip like this where the players are going to be together so long and spending so much time together that you can maybe hash out what’s gone wrong?
“I think there’s definitely an element of that,” Brady said. “Yeah, I think you’re together for extended periods of time, which is always fun. People are away from all their other commitments, certainly. At a home game, there are a lot of commitments that different players have, so when you go away, sometimes it’s really nice for the players to get some rest, to get some extra preparation, that extra time with your coaches. On this particular trip, we have more time than that.”
The Patriots won the game before and after their bye in 2009, which like this year comes after their trip to London.
“Well, the bye week is something that everyone looks forward to just because you get a chance to kind of take a deep [breath],” Brady said. “It’s like the second half of the game. You go in at halftime and you have a chance to reevaluate some things. But that will come and it would feel really good for that two week stretch to feel good about what we’ve done four of the last five weeks. But they’re going to make us earn it. This is a good team that provides a lot of tough challenges and we’ve already lost to two of these NFC teams, which they’ve actually beaten. We know it’s a good football team and we have to go out there and play well.”
|10.24.12 at 12:45 pm ET|
Maybe it speaks to the urgency of the season. Perhaps it has something to do with his toughness. It’s possible it has something to do with the potential gains to be made against the Patriots secondary or maybe he’s just feeling a lot better.
Amendola, who has 32 catches, 395 yards and two TDs, missed the last two games – both losses – and the Rams have gone from 3-2 to 3-4. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was pretty pumped up to see his top target return after suffering a nasty collarbone injury in a 17-3 win over the Cardinals on Oct. 4.
“It would mean a lot,” Bradford said in a conference call from London Wednesday. “Obviously I’ve said it before: a lot of our offense runs through Danny when he’s healthy. You look at the Washington game when he caught 15 balls and everything really started with him. There’s no doubt that we miss him, but I think in the past couple weeks, the guys that have had to step up and make plays because he’s not there, I think they’ve done a great job and I look for them to do the same this week. Everyone has really elevated their game since he went down.”
While attempting a diving catch against Arizona, Amendola dislocated his clavicle, but in a very unusual way. Instead of popping out, the clavicle popped in and came millimeters from puncturing his trachea and aorta, which would have probably killed him. Considering this injury was life-threatening, it’s almost shocking to think he’s back on the practice field just under three weeks later.
“It was really good to see him, obviously,” Bradford added. “Me and him are pretty close; we talked about it last week. He told me that he was going to be out there with us today doing some stuff. I was a little surprised ‘ just from the initial reports, I thought it was going to be quite a bit longer for him to get back on the field. But anytime you get him back out there, I think it just brought a whole spark to the whole group today and just lifted everyone’s spirits a little bit seeing him back out there. Even though he didn’t do a whole lot, just having him on the field really energized our group.”
|10.24.12 at 12:16 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s a big week for Visanthe Shiancoe. The tight end returned to the practice field on Tuesday for the first time this season. And this weekend, the 32-year-old will be heading to England. The only player on the Patriots’ roster born in Great Britain — Birmingham, to be precise — he’s excited for both.
“I’m excited, man. I’m excited to get out there,” Shiancoe said before practice on Wednesday. “I’ll be even more excited to play. I can’t wait for that.”
Shiancoe, who was placed on injured reserve with designation to return on Sept. 5, returned to practice Tuesday. Per the CBA, under the newly created designation Shiancoe was eligible to return to the practice field following Week 6 action, and is eligible to starting playing in games after Week 8. The team has 21 days to add him to the active roster, or he must be placed on IR for the remainder of the season.
The Patriots signed Shiancoe to a one-year deal in July worth $1.2 million, with $400,000 in guaranteed money and $800,000 in incentives. Shiancoe has been in the league for nine seasons, including the last five with the Vikings. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder has 243 catches for 2,677 yards and 27 touchdowns in his NFL career, including 56 catches for 566 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009, his best year as a pro.
|10.23.12 at 10:38 pm ET|
The Patriots technically will be the road team when they face the Rams on Sunday, but they’ve got more than a trip to Missouri on the itinerary.
Sunday’s game, to be played at Wembley Stadium, will mark the second time the Pats have played in London. Their first go at it was a success, as they trounced the Buccaneers, 35-7, in a game in which then-Bucs quarterback Josh Johnson threw three picks.
Stephen Gostkowski didn’t have to kick any field goals in that game, but the Patriots’ five touchdowns kept him busy with extra points. Gostkowski recalls the trip fondly, mainly for the win.
“Well we won, and we beat Tampa pretty good,” he said. “If we go out and beat the Rams pretty good, then we’ll have a really good time.
“I doubt we’ll have too much fun to really enjoy and go sightseeing,” he added. “Maybe take a tour bus, I don’t know. They haven’t told us the schedule yet, so it will be fun if we win and we’ll have a good time.”
Pats safety Steve Gregory doesn’t know whether his hip will allow him to make the trip to London this time around, but if he does it would be his second trip to Wembley. Gregory played against the Saints in London as a member of the Chargers in 2008.
“It was great,” Gregory said of the experience. “We went out there for a full week. We played in Buffalo first and then flew straight out there, but it was great. It was a great experience. I had never been there before, so to see London, the overall experience was amazing.”
Gregory recalls some tell-tale signs that American football wasn’t the main reason for the stadium’s existence.
“Some of the people had all different jerseys on and stuff. I think they were cheering more when guys kicked a field goal than when a regular play went on, but it was fun,” he said. “It was a good time.”
Latest from Bleacher Report
- Pros, Cons of Patriots' Offensive Line Shuffling
- What's the Secret to Lewis' Sudden Stardom?
- Blount and Lewis Are Perfect 1-2 Punch in Pats Backfield
- Adjustments Patriots Must Make After Bye Week
- Where Does Brady's Hot Start Rank?
- Report: Bears Trade LB Bostic to Pats
- Taking Stock of Pats Ahead of Week 4 Bye