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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 9

11.01.11 at 1:39 am ET
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The top five saw a major shakeup in this week’s edition of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Both the Patriots (4) and Saints (8)  fell on Sunday and, as a result, drop in the rankings. Rising up are the Steelers (2) and 49ers (3).  Above all, of course, are the undefeated Packers (1). The defending champs enjoyed the week off while watching their biggest challengers for the crown lose.

We’re midway through the season but the top 22 teams in the rankings all have a shot at playoff berths. Some have better odds than others, but there is a slew of teams that are all in the race with two, three and even four losses. Six of the eight divisions in the league have three or more teams in the playoff hunt. The NFC East race is one of the more intriguing. The Redskins (22) are falling fast with a number of injuries but the Giants (10), Eagles (14), and Cowboys (21) all seem capable of taking the division.

The biggest surprise of the week was the upset win by the Rams (28) over the Saints. With the win, the Rams leave the Dolphins (30) and Colts (31) as the only winless teams in the league.

Key Week 9 games:

-Jets @ Bills, 1 pm

-Ravens @ Steelers on Sunday Night Football

-Bears @ Eagles on Monday Night Football

Byes: Panthers, Lions, Jaguars, Vikings

1. (1) Packers (7-0) ‘€” Even though the Packers were idle in Week 8, it’s clear Green Bay is a step above every other team in the NFL. The defending champs have rolled through the first half of the season and show no signs of slowing down.

2. (6) Steelers (6-2) ‘€” Many would call the Steelers’ win against the Patriots a “Statement game.” Ben Roethlisberger proved the Steelers’ vertical passing game can produce just as well as the other elite offenses in the league. “Big Ben” enjoyed good pass protection and helped show off the fast group of receivers he has in his arsenal. Defensively, the Steelers subdued the prolific Patriots offense and held them to their lowest point total all year.

3. (4) 49ers (6-1) ‘€” Who would’ve thought the Niners would have the second best record in the NFL eight weeks into the season? Alex Smith has taken a tremendous leap forward under new coach Jim Harbaugh. Last year through seven games, Smith had nine interceptions. This year he has just two. Protecting the football and getting Frank Gore the rock seem to be the keys on offense. On top of that, the run defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and the defense has forced 10 fumbles. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: aaron rodgers, Mark Sanchez, NFL Power Rankings, Philip Rivers

Following the flags: Breaking down the Patriots’ penalties through seven games

11.01.11 at 1:12 am ET
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In their first seven games of the season, the Patriots have been flagged for 45 penalties and 390 yards. Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that have gone against New England, not including penalties that were declined or offset:

Most penalized players, listed by total flags and with total yardage lost:
OL Nate Solder: four penalties (three holding and illegal use of hands), 40 yards
OL Logan Mankins: four penalties (offensive holding and three false starts), 25 yards
TE Rob Gronkowski: three penalties (holding, false start, facemask), 29 yards
Team: three penalties (12 men on the field, offensive holding, illegal substitution), 20 yards
OL Matt Light: three penalties (two holding and one false start), 20 yards
S Sergio Brown: two penalties (both defensive pass interference), 51 yards
LB Dane Fletcher: two penalties (offensive holding, illegal block above the waist), 17 yards
OL Brian Waters: two penalties (holding, offensive holding), 15 yards
TE Dan Gronkowski: two penalties (both false starts), 10 yards
CB Leigh Bodden: two penalties (both defensive holding), 10 yards
WR Wes Welker: two penalties (illegal motion, false start), 10 yards
S Pat Chung: two penalties (unncessary roughness and facemask), 15 yards
WR Deion Branch: two penalties (both false starts), 10 yards
WR Chad Ochocinco: two penalties (illegal formation, false start), 9 yards
DL Andre Carter: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
LB Rob Ninkovich: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
DL Kyle Love: one penalty (roughing the passer), 15 yards
OL Dan Connolly: one penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
S James Ihedigbo: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
CB Devin McCourty: one penalty (illegal block above the waist), 10 yards
TE Aaron Hernandez: one penalty (false start), 5 yards
DL Vince Wilfork: one penalty (unsportsmanlike conduct), 2 yards
OL Sebastian Vollmer: one penalty (false start), 5 yards
K Stephen Gostkowski: one penalty (illegal onsides kick), 5 yards

Most penalized by position:
Offensive line: 15 penalties for 120 yards
Safety: five penalties for 88 yards
Tight end: six penalties for 44 yards
Defensive line: three penalties for 32 yards
Linebacker: three penalties for 32 yards
Wide receiver: six penalties for 29 yards
Cornerback: three penalties for 20 yards
Team: three penalties for 20 yards
Kicker: one penalty for five yards

Most frequently called penalties on the Patriots:
False start: 13
Offensive holding: 12
Roughing the passer: three
Illegal block above the waist: three
Defensive holding: two
Defensive pass interference: two
Facemask: two
Illegal substitution: one
Illegal formation: one
Illegal use of hands: one
Unsportsmanlike conduct: one
Unecessary roughness: one
Illegal motion: one
Twelve men in the huddle: one
Illegal onside kick: one

Read More: Patriots, penalties,

Patriots have to man up to get their offense back in high gear

10.31.11 at 4:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was pretty clear – and mildly surprising – to see one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL adjust his philosophy to stop Tom Brady and the NFL’s top offense on Sunday.

Dick LeBeau‘s game plan was obviously clear to Bill Belichick, too. Abandon the zone and go with almost exclusively man-to-man coverage across the board on the Patriots.

“They played us in man coverage,” Belichick said on Monday afternoon after watching the film of Sunday’s 25-17 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. “It wasn’€™t anything that I would say we hadn’€™t really seen before, but probably a little higher percentage than what they’€™ve shown in other games. We worked on it. Again, we just have to do a better job in those situations ‘€“ protecting, getting open, having plays that maybe could make everything happen a little bit quicker, a little bit cleaner.”

But, Belichick wanted to make it clear that, publicly, he credits LeBeau and the Steelers for doing what it took to take the Patriots and hold them to their lowest point and yardage totals of the season.

“Again, I don’€™t want to get into that everything was a self-inflicted wound,” Belichick added. “I think they played well, I think they did a lot of things well. We had some plays, not as many as they did and that’€™s why the result was what it was. Obviously a competitive game that they outperformed us in.”

One game is not a trend but two games is the start of a habit the Patriots would like to avoid. The Patriots were fortunate to score 20 points in a 20-16 last-minute win over the Cowboys at Gillette, a Cowboys team that was smoked 34-7 Sunday night in Philly. Dallas held the Patriots in check for most of the game, using a lot of the same principles, man up on the receivers and allow the pass rushers to pressure Brady. DeMarcus Ware and company followed the game plan to a near upset.

Sunday, Brady was sacked three more times – understandable since the Patriots were forced to pass trailing by two scores in the second half. But when he’s had the time, Brady has appeared hesitant at times to throw deep.

There were just two deep balls even attempted, with both falling incomplete.

Brady under-threw Taylor Price on the first play of New England’s first offensive play of the fourth quarter. Then two plays later, Brady went deep over the middle, only to have Chad Ochocinco get tangled up by Keenan Lewis. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chad Ochocinco, Dick LeBeau, New England Patriots

Andre Carter on M&M: ‘It was a circus’ for Patriots defense

10.31.11 at 1:45 pm ET
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Patriots defensive end Andre Carter made his weekly Patriots Monday appearance on the Mut & Merloni show from Gillette Stadium and talked about the defense’s frustration in trying to the stop the Steelers Sunday. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The Steelers dominated time of possession, forcing the Patriots defense to stay on the field for long chunks at a time.

“It does wear and tear on you,” Carter acknowledged. “We’ve just got to go back from scratch and see what we did wrong.”

Added Carter: “It’s just unfortunate that we just pretty much got out-executed. We didn’t tackle well. I’m not sure as far as assignment-wise where we were on point, as far as communication. It was a circus.”

Carter said he expected the Steelers to run the ball more than they did, as Ben Roethlisberger controlled the game through the air instead.

“You have to expect the unexpected, don’t get me wrong, when you prepare for an opponent and you look at the game film week by week,” Carter said. “Of course, the mindset is, especially when it comes to the Steelers, OK, they’re going to pound the ball. They’re going to pound it, pound it, pound it. But that wasn’t the case. He threw the ball. And he was successful from it. He was pinpointing different offensive weapons. He spread the ball out well. He also made some great audible checks. He was dead-on.”

Read More: Andre Carter, Ben Roethlisberger,

Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: ‘You don’t question decisions’ by Bill Belichick

10.31.11 at 11:50 am ET
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The Patriots came off the bye week and put up a stinker in Pittsburgh, struggling on both sides of the ball and dropping a 25-17 decision to the Steelers. In his weekly Monday morning interview with Dennis & Callahan, Tom Brady dissected the loss.

“We never could really play from ahead,” Brady said. “We never played with the balance that we needed. When you play the Steelers, you’ve got to be somewhat balanced. You’ve got to be able to run the ball efficiently. And then when you throw it, you’ve got to throw it on your terms. We were throwing it on their terms all day.

“They’ve got a good defense,” Brady added. “They have a great scheme. They have one of the best defensive coordinators of all-time [Dick LeBeau] and some incredible players on defense. Like I said, we’ve got to try to learn from it and go out there and play better this week.”

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Should we assume that what the Steelers defense did yesterday was at least to some degree unexpected by you and the offense — that is man-to-man coverage, press at the line of scrimmage and follow your receivers everywhere they went?

They do that. That’s part of their scheme. They probably did it a little more yesterday than they’ve done in the past. But there weren’t many looks out there that we didn’t prepare for or that we didn’t think they could do. It just really came down to our execution. We didn’t do enough on third down to stay on the field. We squandered some opportunities there. And when you play on the road against good teams, you don’t have much margin for error. We certainly made too many errors that allowed them to really control the tempo of the game, to control exactly how they wanted to play us. We never could really play on our terms.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady

Boomer Esiason on D&C: Patriots are in trouble if they have to play on road in playoffs

10.31.11 at 9:33 am ET
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CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to pick apart the Patriots’ 25-17 loss to the Steelers.

The Patriots struggled all day Sunday to stop the Pittsburgh offense, leading to a heavily lopsided time of possession for the Steelers (39:22) over the Patriots (20:38). The Patriots gave up a total of 427 net yards, while the New England offense struggled to keep up, gaining just 213 net yards.

Esiason said New England’s defensive struggles Sunday were a bad sign for the team looking toward the playoffs.

“Yesterday, watching them play and giving up 40 minutes of possession time to the Pittsburgh Steeler offense, I think was tell-tale that this team is going to be in trouble if they have to go on the road for the playoffs,” Esiason said. “You cannot win if you cannot get the ball back, and yesterday was indicative of that.”

Esiason also weighed in on one of coach Bill Belichick‘s more controversial decisions of the game. On second-and-9 with 4:15 remaining in the game and the Patriots trailing 23-10, Tom Brady appeared to throw a touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was ruled to have been stopped at the 1-yard line. Belichick chose not to challenge the play, and it took the Patriots until 2:40 left to score the touchdown.

Esiason said he thought the Patriots should have challenged the call, and because of Brady’s actions after the play, he thought the Patriots were going to challenge the call.

“I saw Tom at the line of scrimmage,” Esiason said. “They were going into their no-huddle offense, and Tom to me was kind of taking his time. … I thought he was taking his time, because I’m wondering if someone is in his helmet telling him, ‘We’re looking at this, we’re looking at this, we’re looking at this, we’re looking at it, don’t snap the ball right away.’ Because that’s what it seemed like to me.

“Even though they were at the line of scrimmage quickly, I think the down clock went under 10 seconds before he snapped the ball. The bad thing is CBS didn’t show a replay so I don’t know if they were showing replay in the stadium or not. But without question, that red flag should have come out.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Eli Manning, Tom Brady

Key Moment: Steelers pick up a pair of big third-down conversions in the second half

10.30.11 at 7:55 pm ET
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Pittsburgh was able to convert most of their third-down opportunities on the afternoon against New England, picking up first downs on 10 of their 16 chances. However, the Steelers were able to convert a pair of third-and-long situations in the second half that turned out to be absolute killers and allowing Pittsburgh to keep a pair of drives alive.

The first came with Pittsburgh facing a 3rd and 15 situation with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Steelers were able to pick up the first when Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Emmanuel Sanders on a 17-yard pass play down the middle of the field. It allowed Pittsburgh to keep moving the chains on the sequence, a series that came to an end five plays later when Shaun Suisham connected on a 21-yard field goal to make it 20-10.

The second big conversion came with the Steelers in a 3rd and 12 with 1:32 left in the third quarter. On that one, Roethlisberger delivered a short pass over the middle to Antonio Brown for a 19-yard gain. The Steelers would cash in again later on the drive when Suisham again delivered, this time knocking home a 23-yarder early in the fourth to make it 23-10.

Read More: Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Emmanuel Sanders, Shaun Suisham
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