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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

12.09.14 at 5:04 pm ET
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Every week, we list the Patriots’ “offensive touches,” a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Here’s a breakdown of the 2014 New England offense after 13 games:

RB Shane Vereen: 129 (82 carries, 47 catches) 3 negative catch, 6 negative runs
RB Stevan Ridley: 98 (94 carries, 4 catches), 8 negative runs
WR Julian Edelman: 94 (9 carries, 85 catches)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 73 (73 catches), 1 negative catch
RB Jonas Gray: 73 (73 carries)
WR Brandon LaFell: 57 (57 catches)
RB LeGarrette Blount: 44 (42 carries, 2 catches), 6 negative runs
TE Tim Wright: 25 (1 carry, 24 catches), 6 negative rush
QB Tom Brady: 24 (24 carries), 16 sacks, 10 kneeldowns
RB Brandon Bolden: 20 (19 carries, 1 catch), 3 negative runs
WR Danny Amendola: 14 (14 catches), 1 negative pass
RB James White: 12 (9 carries, 3 catches)
FB James Develin: 7 (1 carry, 6 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 (6 catches)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: 6 (6 carries) 2 sacks, 6 kneeldowns
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 (3 catches)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 3 (3 catches)
WR Brian Tyms: 1 (1 catch)

Notes: Not including two kneeldowns at the end of the game, the Patriots had a season-high eight negative plays from scrimmage on Sunday against the Chargers — five negative runs from Blount, one sack of Brady, and passes to Gronkowski and Amendola that ended up going for negative yardage. … On the season, New England has run 885 plays from scrimmage, and 48 of them have gone for negative yardage (5 percent), not including kneeldowns. … Against the Chargers, the Patriots ran 73 plays, with 41 of them coming in shotgun (56 percent). In addition, the game-book lists them as having run zero no-huddle plays. (That ties a season-low.) … On the season, the Patriots have run 67 of their 885 plays out of no-huddle (8 percent) and 327 snaps in shotgun (37 percent). … By way of comparison, over the course of the 2013 regular season, the Patriots were in shotgun for 42 percent of their offensive snaps and they ran no-huddle on 11 percent of their snaps. … While it’s always tough to measure the success or failure of an offensive line in pass protection with sacks alone, it is interesting to see the dramatic dip in the number of sacks Brady has taken this season. Through 13 games last year, Brady had been sacked 36 times. This year, through 13 games, the quarterback has been sacked 16 times.

Read More: offensive opportunities,

A look inside Patriots’ goal-to-go situations this season

12.09.14 at 3:45 pm ET
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The Patriots had two goal-to-go situations in Sunday's game against the Chargers and failed to score touchdowns on both. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

The Patriots had two goal-to-go situations in Sunday’s game against the Chargers and failed to score touchdowns on both. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Over the last two games, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has received a fair share of criticism for his play calling, particularly for not running the ball in the red zone, especially in Sunday’s game when the Patriots had 1st-and-goal on two occasions and were forced to kick field goals both times, calling only one running play out of the six total plays.

Not scoring a touchdown in two goal-to-go situations is reason to be critiqued when New England has scored touchdowns on 63 percent of its red zone trips this season, seventh in the NFL, but obviously once you get inside the 10-yard line those percentages should increase. Sunday’s game was similar to Week 3 against the Raiders in goal-to-go situations when the Patriots also failed to score a touchdowns on two occasions with goal-to-go.

Contrary to what some may think, this has not been a season-long trend, as the Patriots have maintained balance in goal-to-go situations with success. For the season, the Patriots have had 34 goal-to-go situations and have scored touchdowns on 26 of them (76 percent), and scoring points on all but one (a Brady interception vs. Lions). Of the 26 touchdowns scored, 16 have been through the air and 10 on the ground. Of the 66 total plays ran in goal-to-go situations, McDaniels and the offense have ran 37 passing plays and 29 running plays — pretty balanced all things considered.

“We always go into the game with an idea of what we want to do on the goal line first — short-yardage first, our first third down call, third-and-two-to-five, third-and-whatever the distances are — and we had discussed that prior to the game,” McDaniels said on Tuesday’s conference call when asked about last Sunday’s sequence. “We made our call, and unfortunately it got tipped there at the line of scrimmage. In hindsight, you always do that as a play-caller.

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Read More: Josh McDaniels, LeGarrette Blount,

Vince Wilfork leads NFL ‘brothers’ sending out thoughts, prayers to Cam Newton following car crash

12.09.14 at 3:29 pm ET
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Cam Newton is treated after being pulled from his vehicle after an accident Tuesday. (Charlotte Observer via  Twitter)

Cam Newton is treated after being pulled from his vehicle after an accident Tuesday. (Charlotte Observer via Twitter)

Cam Newton suffered two transverse process fractures in his lower back and is in “fair condition” following a two-car accident on Tuesday, according to a statement released by the Carolina Panthers. The team said Newton suffered no further serious internal injuries.

According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, the accident took place around 12:30 p.m. ET just outside the team’s stadium. Both Newton and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The Panthers released a statement saying the 25-year-old Newton will be held overnight for observation but that the franchise quarterback “is in fair condition and undergoing tests at Carolinas Medical Center.”

Team owner Jerry Richardson told the Charlotte Observer that Newton is “in good shape,” after speaking with Carolinas Medical Center doctors.

“At this point, it looks like he’s just got scrapes and bruises, but he should be OK,” a source told ESPN’s Ed Werder. “He’s going to be sore and beat up, but he should be relatively OK.”

A witness told the Charlotte Observer that Newton was “alert” but “in pain” at the scene of the accident.

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork led the players around the NFL wishing Newton well.

Read More: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Vince Wilfork

Why Bill Belichick won’t ‘waste a lot of time’ firing up his team for another AFC East title

12.09.14 at 2:59 pm ET
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Bill Belichick. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick is focused on the Dolphins. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick won’t be spending much time before Sunday’s game getting his team fired up to clinch a sixth straight AFC East with a win. That’s because his focus is getting his team to simply do a better job of playing 60 minutes against an opponent that wore them down in the elements in South Florida in Week 1.

“We wouldn’t waste a lot of time on that,” Belichick said in his Tuesday conference call. “It is what it is. It’s what the standings are. So, we’ll probably cover that in about 15 seconds and move on to Miami. That’s what we need to talk about. We need to talk about how to play offense, defense and special teams against the Dolphins a lot better than we did the last time we played them, which wouldn’t take much.”

The Patriots raced out to leads of 17-7 and 20-10 but were outscored 23-0 in the final 30 minutes as the offense misfired and the defense wore down.

“We need to do a lot better job. We need to coach better, we need to play better in every phase of the game,” Belichick said. “We didn’t do anything down there well enough to deserve to win. Those are the results. If we don’t do a better job than we did the last time then I’m sure we’ll have the same results, maybe worse. We’re going to have to do things a lot better than we did in the opener. That’s what we’ll be talking about this week: what to do and how to do it. Hopefully we can have a better game plan, do a better job preparing the team and the team can do a better job performing and playing than all of us did the last time we played them.”

There was lots of talk about the lack of balance in the first game, as Brady completed just 29-of-56 passes while running the ball just 20 times. But Belichick downplayed that on Tuesday.

“Again, when you go into the game, you have a lot of different plays and you’re ready for a lot of different situations, but as the game unfolds sometimes there’s a balance and sometimes it tilts more one way than another based on any number of circumstances,” Belichick said. “We try to do what we think is best and that’s based on all the circumstances and the most important thing is to move the ball and score points offensively. If we’re doing that, regardless of how we’re doing it, we’re doing a good job. If we’re not, then we need to find a way to do it better. Balance isn’t nearly as much of a concern for me as moving the ball and scoring points. That’s really what we’re out there for.”

When 14 weeks have passed between playing the same team, what factors into deciding to change the game plan versus deciding to just execute the game plan better based on the opportunities he saw on film?

“I think it will be a combination of both. We’ve looked at the first game. I think some of the things we did, we had some success with or we kind of felt like it was the right idea. Maybe we needed to execute it better or coach it better, but we kind of had the right idea. There were some other things that I don’t think we really want to run this time around based on where we are and maybe based on watching them play 13 games and seeing how they’ve attacked or defended different things over that period of time. Some things they’ve continued to have trouble with. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: AFC East, Bill Belichick, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

Julian Edelman on MFB: Dolphins will be ‘confident’ entering Sunday’s game

12.09.14 at 2:04 pm ET
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Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to look back on last Sunday’s win over the Chargers and ahead to this Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Patriots can win their sixth straight AFC East title Sunday with a win over the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. New England will also be seeking revenge on the Dolphins, as they defeated them Week 1 in South Florida.

“They are coming off a loss. I can tell you right now [Brent] Grimes is playing real well,” said Edelman. “That guy has made some big plays in the last few weeks. Had that interception against Detroit, I believe. He’s playing real good. They are banged up I think with [Cortland] Finnegan. With the Miami Dolphins you know what you are going to get. You’re going to get a team that plays sound defense, has a lot of explosive players on offense and they have guys that can rush the passer. They beat us Week 1 so they are going to come in here confident. We’re going to have to have a good week of preparation and get ready for going out and executing.”

Edelman had a big 69-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s 23-14 win over the Chargers. The score put the Patriots ahead by nine points, as they were clinging to a two-point lead before the score.

“It was pretty much a play action [play] with [LeGarrette] Blount being Blount and our line selling a good play action fake — you know how the line is, they have to hit off the line — and Tom [Brady] putting the ball there making a read,” said Edelman of the play. “As a receiver you have to get open and catch the ball. We were all able to do that on that play and it turned into an explosive play. It was good. It came at a pretty good point in the game I guess to give us some breathing space.”

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Tom Brady,

Rodney Harrison on MFB: Brandon Browner’s personal foul penalty was a ‘good legitimate hit’

12.09.14 at 12:14 pm ET
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NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss the Patriots-Chargers game, specifically Brandon Browner’s hit on Ladarius Green. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Browner disagreed with his 15-yard personal foul penalty that he was given for the hit, which negated a Devin McCourty interception return for a touchdown. Harrison said Browner has a case, as in his mind the hit was clean, and added he would still encourage Browner’s physical play.

“Of course it’s a bad rule,” said Harrison. “I know what they are trying to do, they are trying to protect the players, but that was a clean hit. You could see Browner, he was clearly trying was trying to go for the shoulder. It wasn’t helmet-to-helmet. It was a good legitimate hit and if I am a coach, I am encouraging him to continue his physical play. He’s had some penalties and I think as he continues to look at film and realize that, ‘Hey if I make a dumb penalties I can hurt my team,’ but there is no way I am taking away his aggressive style. They need that moving forward.”

Harrison, a former safety, doesn’t like the way the game is now being called in terms of where defenders are allowed to hit opposing receivers. He said if he was still playing he would go for the players knees, despite the risk of possibly ending season’s or career’s.

“It’s very frustrating because when you know the rule and you are trying to obey the rules, you’re trying to do the right thing, but yet they are still calling penalties on it,” Harrison said. “The referees, if anything is close — it’s happening at 100 miles an hour — anything close they always are airing on the side of the offensive guy, which to me is always unfair. Things like that they should be able to go back and review and see if it is helmet-to-helmet and pick up the flag. That clearly wasn’t helmet-to-helmet. It’s frustrating as a player because you are trying your very best, but if I was playing right now, I would aim right at the knees. That is the bottom line. The NFL is saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want you giving out concussions, we’d rather for you to end guy’s careers and seasons,’ so I would have to go at the knees.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Read More: Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis, Rodney Harrison,

Fantasy Football: Week 15 waiver wire

12.09.14 at 9:44 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 15 waiver wire! As I said last week, if you are reading this then congratulations are in order. Almost all fantasy leagues are now in the playoff stage and most are having their semifinal round this week. With the stakes so high and with waiver wire competition reduced considerably, our focus has officially changed. Depth is no longer a high priority. It’s time to focus on players who can move the needle. This week is all about your starting lineup, and perhaps your competition’€™s lineup. What we want to do is to add the players we need and also clear out any options that could give our Week 15 opponents an advantage. So, if you have no need at running back and your opponent does, you might want to add a player like Jonathan Stewart anyway, just to keep him away from your competition. It’€™s time to get in that frame of mind. Every point counts!

I will be posting my usual expanded waiver wire over at Rotobahn this afternoon. It’€™s free, so head on over if you play in a deep format or are looking for some defensive teams to stream in Week 15.

As always, the ownership percentages are listed for each player. These rates of ownership are based on Yahoo! leagues, which tend to be smaller and more representative of the 10-team leagues most of us play in. Obviously, these numbers are mostly for perspective. What really matters is which players are available in your particular league, and you’€™ll need to do the legwork on that.

To keep pace with all WEEI and Rotobahn fantasy football content, including Sunday chats and The Fantasy Football Hour with my co-host Jim Hackett, follow me on Twitter.

QUARTERBACK

Eli Manning, Giants — 58 percent

Manning can’€™t take you all the way home, but he can help you this week with a home matchup against a Washington team in total disarray. Expect good overall results and a whole lot of Manning to Odell Beckham. Just be ready to start another option if you advance to Week 16 because I am not liking the Giants matchup at St. Louis next week.

Johnny Manziel, Browns — 22 percent

The timing for those streaming their quarterbacks could not be better. Manziel is a potential big game performer in Week 15, but he is also a wildcard with no track record. Personally, as a guy with a few “streaming”€ teams in the semifinals, I am looking at starting Manziel this week over the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sean Hill and Josh McCown. Obviously, this recommendation hinges upon Manziel officially being named the starter, and I expect that to happen later on today — well in advance of tonight’€™s waiver bidding.

Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles, Eagles — 53 and 28 percent respectively

If you are in need of a good Week 16 matchup, this could be a place to look and you can consider adding both players. Personally, I doubt that Philadelphia will push Foles back under center unless Sanchez implodes, but that is pure speculation. Just keep in mind that the Eagles quarterback will have value in Week 16 with a home game against Washington. You can add one or both preemptively, or just get ready to pounce next week depending on your roster limits and logistics.

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Read More: Eli Manning, Johnny Manziel, Mark Sanchez, Nick Foles
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