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Pressure Points: Which Pats defenders have done best job getting after QB in 2012?

10.23.12 at 1:25 pm ET
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Through seven weeks, the Patriots have 27 quarterback hits and 15 sacks (16th in the league) as a team. Based on gamebooks, here’€™s a quick look at some pass-rush numbers for the Patriots to this point in the 2012 season:

Quarterback hits
DE Chandler Jones: Eight
DE Rob Ninkovich: Five
DE Jermaine Cunningham: Three
LB Brandon Spikes: Three
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: Two
DL Vince Wilfork: Two
DE Trevor Scott: One
LB Jerod Mayo: One
DL Brandon Deaderick: One
DL Kyle Love: One

Jones: 5 (16 yards)
Ninkovich: 4 (21 yards)
Hightower: 2 (10 yards)
Cunningham: 1.5 (15 yards)
Love: 1.5 (4 yards)
Mayo: 1 (7 yards)

By way of comparison, through seven games last year, the Patriots had 32 quarterback hits, to go along with 15 sacks.

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Stephen Gostkowski back on track

10.23.12 at 1:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Before Sunday, Stephen Gostkowski had failed in his biggest clutch moment of the season, missing what would have been a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation in a two-point loss to the Cardinals.

Gostkowski corrected his reputation Sunday, hitting a 43-yard game-tying field goal late in regulation against the Jets before drilling a 48-yarder in overtime to give the Pats the lead for good in overtime.

“I mean, it was positive for everyone,” Gostkowski said Tuesday. “We won and I got a chance to help the team and I came through. It was fun and it was a good feeling to come out with a win, a division win against a team that we like to beat.”

Because of the new overtime rules, Gostkowski’s kick didn’t end the game, allowing the Jets to potentially tie the game with a field goal of their own or win the game with a touchdown. Neither of those happened, as a Mark Sanchez fumble that was recovered by Rob Ninkovich sealed the win for New England. As such, Gostkowski’s field goal wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it got the job done.

“No, I knew the rules,” he said with a laugh. “It kind of stunk because there would have been a lot more reacting and fun if we could have celebrated a little differently, but a win’s a win. It’s not about me or being able to celebrate. It was fun to win.”

Gostkowski is now 6-for-6 on field goal attempts over the last three weeks. As for the missed field goals, the veteran kicker said they’re all painful, regardless of circumstance.

“I try to keep the same focus whether it’s the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter kick because there have been games where I’ve made or missed kicks that we’ve ended up winning by three, or that three points could have really helped,” he said. “The dramatics of it might change when you look back at it, but during games I want to make every kick. If I were to miss a kick in the first quarter, I’d be just as upset as if I missed one at the end of the game.”

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How good will the Patriots make Sam Bradford look?

10.23.12 at 1:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — So far this season, Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Peyton Manning and Mark Sanchez have all thrown for over 300 yards against the Patriots, while Russell Wilson came seven yards away from the feat. Will Sam Bradford be the next signal-caller to go to town on New England’s secondary?

Since taking the Rams from being a one-win team to a 7-9 record in his season rookie season, Bradford hasn’t seen his numbers or the Rams progress much. Now in his third season, the 2010 first overall pick has just 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions over his last two campaigns (a 17-game span since he missed six games last season), while the Rams finished with the second-worst record in the league last season, earning them the pick that they flipped to Washington for a boatload of draft currency.

Yet while the numbers might not be pretty for Bradford, one shouldn’t underestimate the highly talented 24-year old.

“Very good passer,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Bradford on Tuesday. “We played against him here [in the preseason] a couple years ago. Of course, talking to Josh [McDaniels] about him, who had him last year, I think this guy’s a very, very good quarterback. I think he’s smart, sees coverages well, reads things well, has a good understanding of the passing game, accurate throwing the ball, good mechanics, a tough kid. I think he’s got a lot going for him. He’s a good quarterback.”

The last time the Pats saw Bradford in that 2010 preseason game, he stole the show with the help of a current Patriot. Bradford hit tight end Michael Hoomanawanui on four connections for 53 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Rams beat the Pats, 36-35.

While Bradford went to Hoomanawanui often in his half of work in that preseason meeting, his targets have obviously changed over the years. His favorite target these days, slot receiver Danny Amendola, suffered a rare injury involving the dislocation of his clavicle in what could have been a life-threatening injury in Week 4 against the Cardinals and has been out since then. Even having missed the last two games, Amendola still leads the Cardinals in receptions (32) and receiving yards (395), while his 49 targets on the season is 10 more than the next guy in line, receiver Brandon Gibson.

With Amendola out, Bradford has focused more on the likes of Gibson (seven targets last week against Green Bay), Steve Smith (6) and Chris Givens (4). Austin Pettis has played in Amendola’s slot role.

Bradford has thrown for 300 yards just twice through the first seven weeks of the season, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he becomes the latest to accomplish the feat against the Pats. One advantage the Patriots hope to have with Bradford is his former offensive coordinator in McDaniels.

“I hope so,” safety Steve Gregory said Tuesday when asked if McDaniels can help them prepare for Bradford. “We’ll find out. I haven’t talked with him yet, but we hope. We’ll watch that guy on film. He’s a good quarterback, he spreads the ball around, so we’ll have to be ready for him and try to pick up on some of his tendencies and things that he’s doing on the field.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Sam Bradford,

Fantasy Football: Week 8 waiver wire

10.23.12 at 11:49 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 8 waiver wire. We have significant bye losses with the Ravens, Bills, Bengals and Texans all taking the week off. We’€™ll do our level best to help you cope with the bye week blues. I’€™ll be adding more players throughout the day at Rotobahn, so feel free to check us out, especially if you play in deeper leagues.


Carson Palmer, Raiders

He’€™s available in way too many leagues when you consider how well he has played. I’€™ve been a critic of Palmer in the past, but he’€™s been dealt a mediocre hand in Oakland and he’€™s handling it pretty well. Palmer is just one example of why paying big booty for a fantasy quarterback is a fool’€™s act. Palmer can start for you in any league and he won’€™t hurt you.

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers

The talent around him has been upgraded, to put it mildly. Newly acquired skill players Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin did a lot of the heavy lifting for Freeman in Week 7, and that’€™s the key. Freeman doesn’€™t need to be superhuman to be a fantasy asset … that has not always been the case. Freeman is a nice QB2 in all leagues.

Brandon Weeden, Browns

He played another solid game under tough circumstances. As his teammates have gone down all around him, Weeden has stood tall and used his young receivers. Now, with both Josh Gordon and Greg Little making big plays, Weeden has the look of a winner and he can be a QB2 for you in most formats.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills

Fitzpatrick clearly is a matchup play in fantasy football. He can post very nice numbers against soft opponents, but he can be shut down with extreme prejudice by strong defenses.  Just look at what he’€™s done over his last four games. The pattern could not be more obvious. Fitzpatrick does have some solid matchups down the stretch. I like him a lot from Week 10 and beyond.

Russell Wilson, Seahawks

He’€™s a backup for fantasy, but he is worth owning in larger formats. We’€™d be more bullish on Wilson for 2012, but his receiving talent is average and his schedule is tough. Leave him for 12-team leagues and larger.

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Read More: Brandon Weeden, Carson Palmer, Josh Freeman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 8: Falcons stay on top, Ravens tumble

10.23.12 at 9:22 am ET
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Matt Ryan and the Falcons survive another week at the top of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The undefeated Falcons had the week off and will try to improve to 7-0 when they take on the Eagles. The Texans jump the Giants (3) and reclaim the No. 2 position. The only team to drop out of the top five was the depleted Ravens. A blowout loss and an endless amount of injuries was enough to drop Baltimore to No. 8.

The NFC is dominating the top five with four teams occupying spots. At the other end of the spectrum, the AFC is in full control taking up four of the bottom five positions.

Could the top ten teams be safe for another week? None of them will play a fellow top-ranked team. Week 8’s most intriguing games include the Falcons at Eagles, the Giants at Cowboys and the Saints at Broncos.

1. (1) Falcons (6-0) ‘€” The undefeated Falcons saw defensive tackle Corey Peters return to practice Monday for the first time this year. The 6 foot 3, 300-pound defensive lineman should help improve the run defense which is currently ranked 28th in the league.

2. (3) Texans (6-1) ‘€” The Texans got their first win against an opponent over .500 on Sunday. It was against an injury-plagued Ravens team but it still was a very impressive victory. Houston ranks in the top of the league in many different offensive and defensive statistical categories.

3. (2) Giants (5-2) ‘€” If your team is trailing or tied in the fourth quarter, Eli Manning is the quarterback you want behind center.  For the 27th time in his career, the Giants QB led his team on a game-winning drive when he hit Victor Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown pass Sunday against the Redskins. 

4. (5) 49ers (5-2) ‘€” They don’t have an elite offense and a top three quarterback but the Niners are still an extremely entertaining team to watch. They play a different brand of football than what we’ve grown accustomed to watching in the NFL. This team plays tough, is extremely physical, and loves running the ball down the opponents throat.

5. (6) Packers (4-3) ‘€” Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense has come alive over the past two weeks. They’ve scored 72 points in two games and that’s without Greg Jennings. They did suffer a crushing blow with the injury to Charles Woodson. The Packers defensive captain is expected to miss six weeks.

6. (7) Bears (5-1) ‘€” The Bears defense can carry the team into the playoffs if Jay Cutler continues to protect the football. The Bears have outscored their opponents by a total of 84 points this season and are allowing an average of just 13 points per game on defense.

7. (8) Patriots (4-3) ‘€” The Patriots pass defense is horrendous and the team’s inability to close games is certainly alarming, however if the past has taught us anything, Bill Belichick‘s team will improve. The Pats are 16-2 the last two years once November hits and are undefeated in December. This team has to get better in a lot of different areas but they have plenty of time to do so in a mediocre division.

8. (4) Ravens (5-2) ‘€” The Ravens have been decimated by injuries and that caught up with them against the Texans. However, a lack of Ray Rice has also contributed to the loss and that is usually the case when Rice’s carries are limited. Rice had just four carries in four drives in the first quarter and two carries in the second quarter. John Harbaugh has to utilize his best offensive weapon more.

9. (10) Broncos (3-3) ‘€” Peyton Manning has thrown for over 300 yards in each of his last four games and has 11 touchdown passes with just one interception in that span as well. John Elway‘s gamble on Manning has paid off so far. The Broncos are easily the most well-rounded team in their division.

10. (11) Steelers (3-3) ‘€” Not even injuries could prevent the Steelers from evening up their record at 3-3. They had standout performances from a third-string running back, Jonathan Dwyer, and a heavily criticized cornerback, Ike Taylor. Dwyer rushed for over 100 yards and Taylor held AJ Green to just one catch.

11. (9) Seahawks (4-3) ‘€” The Seahawks are in a division filled with some of the best defensive teams in the league. The passing offense must improve. Seahawks receivers dropped five passes against the Niners on Thursday night. Having a strong defense is important but you have to be able to put points on the board as well and Seattle ranks 31st in the league in average points scored.

12. (13) Eagles (3-3) ‘€” Coming off their bye week, it’s obvious where the Eagles need to improve most — turnovers. The team is on pace to turn the ball over 45 times this season.

13. (14) Cowboys (3-3) ‘€” Jason Garrett‘s squad stymied a two-game losing streak but lost offensive lineman Phil Costa in the process. That’s a tough loss to an already shaky line. The Cowboys have a key divisional game against the Giants Sunday and they’ll attempt to take the season series.

14. (16) Vikings (5-2) ‘€” It’s always important to put a W in the column but Christian Ponder‘s play of late has been alarming. He’s been making some real questionable decisions with the ball and has thrown two interceptions in each of his last three games.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, NFL Power Rankings

Why rest of league still is afraid of Patriots

10.23.12 at 12:46 am ET
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At 4-3, the Patriots have issues, but you won’€™t catch any of the other 31 teams in the league thinking New England isn’€™t still among the league’€™s elite.

To the contrary — one high-level NFL personnel man who has broken down extensive amounts of film on New England said the Patriots are just as dangerous as ever for two reasons: given some extra time (with the bye week) history tells us that they have shown an uncanny ability to self-correct and/or camouflage their weaknesses. They also have a healthy Tom Brady under center.

Sleep on the Patriots at your own peril, he warns New England’s critics, and adds that it’s likely the rest of the league feels the same way.

‘€œThe problems they face are legitimate, but they’€™ve shown an ability in the past to fix any issues they’€™ve faced,’€ he said. ‘€œAnd they still have Brady.’€

Through the first seven games, the Patriots have struggled in several areas, particularly when it comes to pass defense. While he’€™s not sure what’€™s happened with the New England defensive backs, he believes one of the reasons the pass defense is struggling is that the Patriots — who preach team defense more than anyone — are failing when it comes to playing as a group.

‘€œIn the fourth quarter against the Jets, some of their defensive deficiencies were exposed,’€ he said. ‘€œYou get a pass rush, that can mask a lot of those defensive weaknesses they’€™ve had. I saw [Bill] Belichick talk about it after the game, and some players said the same thing — we have to get better pressure on the quarterback.

‘€œYou have to be able to push the pocket and get after the quarterback, and right now, that’€™s one of the weaknesses of this team.’€

As for their inability to take advantage of some opportunities and close teams out down the stretch, there’€™s a belief that the passing game isn’€™t quite where it needs to be with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski fighting injuries.

‘€œAt this time, the tight end group is not fully healthy — those two guys are playing through injury, and are not at optimum levels at this point,’€ he said of the Hernandez/Gronkowski combo. ‘€œI think it’€™s affecting their passing game. They are working their way through some nagging injuries at this point, but they’€™re playing. But the passing game is still working through some things.’€
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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Logan Mankins, Rob Gronkowski

Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

10.22.12 at 8:02 pm 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. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game through the first seven weeks of the 2012 regular season:

WR Wes Welker: 54 catches on 74 targets
WR Brandon Lloyd: 35 catches on 65 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 35 catches on 51 targets
TE Aaron Hernandez: 17 catches on 24 targets
RB Danny Woodhead: 14 catches on 15 targets
WR Julian Edelman: 12 catches on 17 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: Six catches on 10 targets
WR Deion Branch: Five catches on 11 targets
RB Brandon Bolden: Two catches on two targets
RB Shane Vereen: Two catches on three targets
TE Daniel Fells: Two catches on six targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: One catch on one target
TE Kellen Winslow: One catch on two targets
TOTALS: 186 catches on 281 targets

By position
Wide receiver: 106 catches on 167 targets
Tight end: 56 catches on 84 targets
Running back: 24 catches on 30 targets

Here’€™s a look at how targets looked through seven games last year.

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