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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

12.17.13 at 9:00 am ET
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Every week over the course of the regular season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive 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. Fourteen games into the regular season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2013:

RB Stevan Ridley: 161 (151 rushes, 10 catches), 14 negative rushes, 1 negative reception, 4 fumbles lost
RB LeGarrette Blount: 115 (113 rushes, 2 catches), 8 negative runs, 2 fumbles lost
WR Julian Edelman: 91 (2 rushes, 89 catches), 6 dropped passes
RB Shane Vereen: 83 (40 rushes, 43 catches), 2 negative runs, 6 dropped passes
RB Brandon Bolden: 73 (54 rushes, 19 catches), 4 negative runs, 1 negative reception
WR Danny Amendola: 52 (1 rush, 51 catches), 1 negative reception
TE Rob Gronkowski: 39 (0 rushes, 39 catches)
WR Aaron Dobson: 35 (0 rushes, 35 catches), 1 negative reception, 7 dropped passes
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 32 (0 rushes, 32 catches), 7 dropped passes
QB Tom Brady: 27 (27 rushes, 0 catches), 36 sacks, 16 kneeldowns, 3 fumbles lost
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 11 (0 rushes, 11 catches)
WR Josh Boyce: 9 (0 rushes, 9 catches), 2 dropped passes
FB James Develin: 6 (2 rushes, 4 catches)
WR Austin Collie: 6 (0 rushes, 6 catches)
TE Matthew Mulligan: 2 (0 rushes, 2 catches)
RB Leon Washington: 1 (1 rush, 0 catches)

Some offensive notes: The Patriots ran 78 plays on Sunday against the Dolphins and 48 of them were in the shotgun, a season high of 61 percent. To this point in the season, the Patriots have been in shotgun formation on 443 of their 1,008 offensive snaps, a rate of 44 percent. (Last year through 14 games, the Patriots were in the shotgun for 518 of their 1,091 plays, a rate of 47 percent.) ‘€¦ Against the Dolphins, the Patriots did not use any no-huddle in any of their 78 snaps. On the year, the Patriots have operated in a no-huddle on 115 of their 1,008 plays from scrimmage ‘€” 11 percent of the time. ‘€¦ New England has run 1,008 offensive plays this year in 13 games. Not counting kneeldowns, 70 have been for negative yardage. Of the 78 plays against the Dolphins, a season-low two went for negative yardage — a sack of Brady and a negative run from Ridley. ‘€¦ The Patriots crossed the 1,000-play mark on the season against the Dolphins, and as far as we can gather from the gamebooks, it came late in the fourth quarter when Brady hit Amendola on a 12-yard pass play over the middle.

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the offensive breakdown through 14 games last year.

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Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

12.17.13 at 6:00 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely 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 after the first 14 games of the 2013 season:

WR Julian Edelman: 89 catches on 129 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 51 catches on 77 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 43 catches on 62 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 39 catches on 66 targets
WR Aaron Dobson: 35 catches on 72 targets
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 32 catches on 69 targets
RB Brandon Bolden: 19 catches on 25 targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 11 catches on 17 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: 10 catches on 11 targets
WR Josh Boyce: 9 catches on 19 targets
WR Austin Collie: 6 catches on 11 targets
FB James Develin: 4 catches on 4 targets
TE Matthew Mulligan: 2 catches on 3 targets
RB LeGarrette Blount: 2 catches on 5 targets
TE Zach Sudfeld: 0 catches on 3 targets
RB Leon Washington: 0 catches on 1 target
TE/OL Nate Solder: 0 catches on 1 target

By position
Wide receiver: 222 catches on 377 targets
Running back/fullback: 78 catches on 108 targets
Tight end: 52 catches on 89 targets
Other: 0 catches on 1 target

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the target breakdown through 14 games last year.

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Bill Belichick breaks down the breakdowns in Miami: ‘We just have to play it a little bit better’

12.16.13 at 6:05 pm ET
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After watching film of Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Dolphins, Bill Belichick had a chance to more closely review what went wrong and the key areas that need improvement, namely red area execution on offense and defending third and fourth downs.

The Patriots were just 1-for-4 inside the 20 Sunday, including a pair of 15-play drives that ended in Stephen Gostkowski field goals. The final failure, of course, ended with a Michael Thomas interception of a Tom Brady pass intended for Austin Collie.

During his conference call with reporters Monday, Belichick was reminded that on the first drive in the red zone, the Patriots threw three times.

Then on the final drive in the final 30 seconds from the Miami 19 and then the Miami 14, Tom Brady threw to the end zone.

“I’€™d say generally speaking, you’€™re better off throwing closer to the goal line than farther away from it, to a point,” Belichick explained. “Once you get inside the five yard line, then I’€™m not sure that that’€™s true. But I’€™d rather throw from the 10 than the 15, just keep going on like that. I thought we had a mixture of plays in the red area. The first drive, we hit the quick out to Julian [Edelman] down there on their sideline and we were second-and-four, which isn’€™t a bad place to be and ended up not being able to finish it.

“Then I think on the other series, we ran the ball on second down ‘€“ first down threw it, second down we ran it, got it to third-and-two and they pressured us and we weren’€™t able to get a good execution on the passing game. They were trying to disguise their coverages. They pressured us some down there, they showed some pressure and pulled out of it, which are things they’€™ve done in the past. It’€™s kind of what they do, it wasn’€™t anything we hadn’€™t seen before but they did a good job of it. We probably need to collectively, from our plays to our execution, just obviously need to be a little bit sharper down there.

Another key moment was an incompletion on a Miami blitz when – on third-and-two – Brady had to throw it quick to Shane Vereen. Instead of punching it in for the tying touchdown, the Patriots had to settle for a field goal that cut Miami’s lead to 17-13. Should that have been a hot read and should someone have turned around or did they just call the right rush at the time?

“I wouldn’€™t say it was going to happen regardless but when they have everybody up there, you can’€™t block them all,” Belichick said. “You can only block ‘€“ we’€™ve got one guy at quarterback ‘€“ so we can only account for 10 of the 11 guys. They put them all up there a lot ‘€“ that was basically their game plan in the red area, was to put everybody up pretty close to the line of scrimmage. Sometimes they came, sometimes they didn’€™t come; sometimes a couple guys came, so they had a couple different combinations there.

“On that particular play, we were kind of one short on the protection based on the blitz that they ran. The pressure came from the right side there and we weren’€™t really able to get, obviously, get into the whole pattern. That was the one where [Derrick] Shelby came free. But that’€™s part of the chess match down there in the red area. When they show pressure, to be able to block it but then they don’€™t always come so you don’€™t want to be keeping everybody in and have two of your three guys get doubled out there, so it’€™s a little bit of a back-and-forth game.”

Defensively, Belichick addressed the 4th-and-5 conversion by Miami that kept their drive alive and allowed the Dolphins to score the eventual game-winning touchdown.

“Well, it’€™s close. It’€™s close,” Belichick said. “Obviously we just have to play it a little bit better. They didn’€™t get the first down by much, but they got it. We just need to do a little better job on that play.

“I think it definitely could have been played better. Like I said, we were there. We had two guys there making the tackle right there at the sticks and he was able to fall forward for the yard. I mean, had we gotten there a step quicker, it was obviously a close play ‘€“ that they made ‘€“ but we were pretty close. We just need to play a little bit better. There were several things on the play that we could have just been a tiny bit better, might have made a difference. It just wasn’€™t quite enough.”

As for the play before that set up Miami’s fourth down conversion, Belichick said quarterback Ryan Tannehill simply did a good job managing third-and-16.

“Good throw,” Belichick said of the 11-yard connection with Brian Hartline. “We tackled him as soon as he caught the ball. I don’€™t think that’€™s the kind of situation where you really want to get pass interference or be too overly aggressive playing the ball and miss it and have the guy turn up and run for a first down or whatever. Fourth-and-[five], defensively that’€™s a situation that you don’€™t mind being in. I don’€™t really second guess too much of what happened on that play. It was a good throw and a good catch. It wasn’€™t like we weren’€™t on the receiver but he made a good throw.”

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Michael Hoomanawanui on M&M: ‘It’s crunch time now’

12.16.13 at 12:18 pm ET
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Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who made an impressive one-handed touchdown catch in Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Dolphins, joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about the game.

“It was definitely nice to get in the end zone; it’s been a while. To do it in that fashion was kind of cool,” Hoomanawanui said. “But I told everyone last night I’d trade it in for a win in a heartbeat. Start getting better today, and move on to the Ravens.”

With Rob Gronkowski injured, Hoomanawanui expected to see the ball more.

“Definitely with Gronk out, and with what Shane Vereen has been doing, definitely knew the possibility of doubling him was definitely a possibility for them,” he said. “As for as adjustments, it wasn’t too many. We still have the same game plan and things we do down there. We’ve just got to get better and execute when the time comes.”

On the Patriots’ final drive, Hoomanawanui was targeted by Brady near the end zone but appeared to be held by a Dolphins defender.

“I’m definitely not going to make any excuses,” Hoomanawanui said. “It’s over, can’t do anything about it now. We’ve just got to move on to the Ravens and get better. I’m not going to make any excuses. ‘€¦ It is what it is.”

The Patriots were able to stop their trend of bad first halves Sunday, but it didn’t make enough of a difference.

“It seems like at the beginning of the season we were slow coming out at halftime, so that was an emphasis. And then later in the season it kind of flipped on us — we were good coming out at halftime and slow at the beginning. So, it’s definitely an emphasis coaches had put on us,” Hoomanawanui said. “Just got to be more focused. There’s no real game plan changes. We’ve got to do everything better. That’s what we’ve kind of been focusing on.”

Seeing numerous teammates go down with injuries has left its mark on Hoomanawanui and his teammates, but he said he can’t waste time feeling sorry for the team’s predicament.

“It’s frustrating, no doubt about it. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. But it’s the NFL. Guys are going to get hurt. Every team has its problems,” Hoomanawanui said. “It stinks, but what are we going to do, sit around and cry about it? That’s not going to fix anything. I keep going back to just getting better each and every day. It’s crunch time now. Pretty much every game, you’ve got to treat it like a playoff game, or else you’ll be sitting at home very soon. So, we’ll do that starting today.”

Read More: Michael Hoomanawanui, Rob Gronkowski,

Rob Ninkovich on M&M: ‘We’ve got to come up with a big play’

12.16.13 at 11:53 am ET
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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich made his weekly appearance with Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss Sunday’s disappointing 24-20 loss to the Dolphins in Miami.

The defense played well overall but could not stop the Dolphins on key drives toward the end of both halves. Miami scored on a field goal on its final possession of the first half to close within a touchdown, then scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter for the winning points.

“You can’t have a minute left before the half and let a team drive the length of the field and score,” Ninkovich said. “It comes down to doing little things better, and fundamentally stopping certain things that they were repeating throughout the game. You’ve got to give credit to [Ryan] Tannehill, because if you see some of those passes — I rewatched the game, and those were some tight windows he was throwing into. Just quick stuff that was slants and back shoulders, which are good throws, they’re tight throws.

“With those two drives, that’s the game right there. At the end there, with that fourth-and-5, that one was a tough one. A tear screen, that’s a bold call to run that play, because you’re throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage, or at the line of scrimmage, to try and get five yards.”

On the fourth-down completion to Charles Clay that kept Miami’s winning drive alive, Ninkovich was close to batting down the pass.

“I was unblocked there and I was trying to mirror the hand,” Ninkovich said. “He pumped once and then threw again, so he kind of gave a little sidearm there, and my hands were straight up. I wish I would have just stopped. But again, an empty [backfield] in a fourth-down situation. If I just would have stopped and retraced, I might have been able to get there. That’s one of those plays, at the end of the game you pin your ears back and you’re just trying to get to the quarterback and disrupt him. That’s another play where you wish you had that one, get your hands on it and knock it down and the game’s over.”

Added Ninkovich: “You’d like to stop it right there, and game over. ‘€¦ One of these drives the defense has to make a play; we’ve got to come up with a big play. At the end of the game we can’t leave it up to the offense with a minute [left] to expect them to go down and score every time.”

Since their dramatic comeback victory over the Broncos last month, the Patriots have not looked impressive in wins over the Texans and Browns and the loss to Miami.

“Execution, that’s the name of the game. Who can execute better, who can run better routes, who can defend the routes better. That’s Football 101,” Ninkovich said. “Who’s going to go out there and have a better three-phase — offense, defense, special teams. When one of those is off, when a couple aren’t working the way they need to work, then you lose football games.

“I always like to say you’ve got to continue to kind of progress. I feel like the last three weeks we really haven’t had much progression. We need to get it going.”

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at

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Tom Brady on D&C: ‘We don’t do enough to make plays when we really need to make them’

12.16.13 at 7:55 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was uncharacteristically brief in his postgame press conference following Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Dolphins, joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to expound on his frustration about the disappointing loss.

The Patriots had the ball deep in Miami territory in the final seconds but could not get the go-ahead touchdown in the loss that prevented the Patriots from clinching the AFC East title and cost them the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

“That was really one that we let kind of get away,” Brady said. “We had a lot of great opportunities to win the game and win a division title and just came up short. It’s just frustrating all the way around. We got off to a better start than we got off to the previous, whatever, three or four weeks, and went in at halftime with the lead. It felt like we moved the ball pretty good all day, we just couldn’t get enough points on the board. We’ve got to try to figure out a way to get the ball in the end zone.”

The Patriots are playing without a number of key offensive weapons — Rob Gronkowski being the latest to go down with his season-ending knee injury last Sunday — but Brady isn’t interested in using that as an excuse for the team’s offensive struggles.

“The truth is we had plenty of chances anyway, so I don’t think any of things really matter yesterday,” Brady said. “Is it great to have everyone healthy? Yeah, of course it is. But that didn’t matter yesterday. We had plenty of chances without those guys on the field. We just have to come up with ways to score more points, because it’s not going to cut it, 20 points.

“Like I said, we do things well enough at times to move the ball down the field, get ourselves in good position. But then we don’t do enough to make plays when we really need to make them.”

As frustrated as he is with his team’s inability to score on the final possession, Brady said it’s just as important that the Patriots find a way to finish drives earlier in the game.

“If we can score more points and make it tougher on the other team, it won’t always have to come down to a last-second play,” Brady said. “We’ve made plenty of them this year, which has been great. Yesterday we were right on the cusp there of doing it again. We just didn’t quite do enough.”

Added Brady: “We just all have to do a better job, because our margin of error is very slim. We can’t make any mistakes or give them any opportunities. If we have plays that are there to be made, then I’ve got to throw it and hit it. We’ve got to come up with them.

“We’re not winning by 30 points. Every game comes down to the end. We’ve just got to do a better job when we have opportunities as a team in all three phases to make plays to help us secure wins.”

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Read More: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Michael Hoomanawanui, Terrell Suggs

Snapshot of AFC playoff picture: Patriots, Bengals fail to take advantage of Broncos’ misstep, but still stay locked into position

12.16.13 at 6:00 am ET
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The week isn’t quite over — the Ravens play an important game Monday night against the Lions that has far-reaching implications for almost everyone in the AFC playoff picture — but after a crazy Sunday, here’s the latest postseason update.

1. Broncos (11-3). Clinched playoff spot. Remaining opponents: at Texans (2-12), at Raiders (4-10)’€¨

The Broncos did their best to hand the top spot to the Patriots last Thursday, but New England couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity Sunday afternoon, failing to come through against the Dolphins. Stranger things have happened, but it would be a stretch to think that Denver would lose one of their final two games. Despite their loss last Thursday, unless something truly unbelievable happens, it appears the Broncos have secured the AFC West title, the No. 1 seed, and home field throughout the postseason.

2. Patriots (10-4). Remaining opponents: at Ravens (7-6), vs. Bills (5-9)’€¨

It was bad news/good news for the Patriots on Sunday: the bad news was they couldn’t take advantage of the Broncos misstep and close out the Dolphins, so they stayed a step behind Denver. The good news? The Bengals, who were a game behind New England but owned the tiebreaker, couldn’t take advantage — they turned in a stinker of their own on the road against the Steelers. That allowed the Patriots to stay in control of the second seed. New England doesn’t have any margin for error over the final two weeks — if they do slip and Cincy does take advantage to force a tie for the No. 2 seed, the Bengals do own the tiebreaker. If you’re a Patriots fan, on Monday night you’ll be rooting for the Lions, as a loss or a tie for the Ravens clinches a playoff spot for New England.

3. Bengals (9-5). Remaining opponents: vs. Vikings (4-9-1), vs. Ravens (7-6)

Who knows? The Bengals not only failed to take advantage of the Patriots loss, with their ugly loss to the Steelers Sunday night, they left open the possibility — however remote — that the Ravens could still win the AFC North title. It will be interesting to see if this is just a one-game pothole for a talented young Cincy team, or the start of some greater calamity that’s waiting over the course of the final two games. Regardless, if Baltimore wins Monday and beats New England next week, that regular-season finale against the Bengals in Baltimore could be really interesting.

4. Colts (9-5). Clinched AFC South. Remaining opponents: at Chiefs (11-3), vs. Jaguars (4-10)’€¨

Unless something really nutty happens, these guys appeared to be pretty much locked in to the No. 4 playoff spot. They absolutely undressed the Texans on Sunday, taking home a 25-3 win.

5. Chiefs (11-3). Clinched playoff spot. Remaining opponents: vs. Colts (9-5), at Chargers (7-7)’€¨

Kansas City was able to clinch a playoff spot by crushing the Raiders, and will have a chance to win their first playoff game since 1993 now that its officially in the postseason. There’s still an outside shot at winning the AFC West, but it’s remote, and would involve the Broncos losing at least one of their last two and the Chiefs winning their final two games.

6. Dolphins (8-6). Remaining opponents: at Bills (5-9), vs. Jets (6-8)

Part of a great morass of teams sitting within two games of each other with two to play. Miami kept its playoff hopes alive with its third straight win, a 24-20 victory over over the Patriots on Sunday, but if the Ravens (7-6) find a way on the road Monday night in Detroit, they can reclaim the No. 6 seed by way of the tiebreaker. (According to strength of schedule, the Ravens have the roughest road over the final three games, with three games against teams that are all above .500 — the Lions, Patriots and Bengals.) The Chargers (7-7), Steelers (6-8) and Jets (6-8) all sit right behind them, waiting for a screwup and/or a miracle.

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