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Should the Patriots take a run at Mario Williams or any top free agents?

02.09.12 at 3:18 pm ET
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Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline has released the list of his top NFL free agents heading into the offseason, with Houston defensive lineman Mario Williams topping the bunch. Prisco points out that the 27-year-old Williams — who has totaled 53 sacks in 5 1/2 seasons with the Texans — will most likely not be franchised by Houston due to the $22 million hit Houston would have to deal with.

So, with if Williams does hit the market — undoubtedly primed to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL — would the Patriots be wise to bank of the Brinks truck to find their elusive outside-edge pass rusher?

Williams has played both outside linebacker in a 3-4 system, and defensive end in a 4-3 (which Prisco surmises might fit him better). And it’s not as if the Patriots haven’t gone down a similar road before, having inked free agent outside linebacker Adalius Thomas to five-year, $35 million ($20 million guaranteed) deal prior to the 2007 season. Williams will surely cost more than Thomas did, but he is also hitting the free agent market three years younger. And, as was the case heading into that offseason prior to ’07, the Patriots are currently in solid shape salary cap-wise.

There are some other players in Prisco’s top 10 who should also pique the interest of the Patriots, such as 25-year-old cornerback Brandon Carr of the Chiefs, 25-year-old defensive end Cliff Avril of the Lions (19 1/2 sacks past two seasons), or even 27-year-old Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

Oh, and by the way, Wes Welker is the only Patriot on Prisco’s list, coming at No. 18.

But it is Williams who will raise the most eyebrows when names start flying around this offseason. Let the conversation begin …

(To read Prisco’s entire list, click here.)

Do you think the Patriots will pursue Mario Williams?

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Pressure Points: Which New England defenders did the best job of getting after the quarterback in the postseason?

02.09.12 at 2:23 pm ET
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This postseason, according to official NFL gamebooks, the Patriots had 21 hits and 11 sacks during the 2011 playoffs. When it came to who did the best job getting after the quarterback, we already gave you the regular-season breakdown. Now, here’€™s a look of who did the best job during the 2011 postseason:

Quarterback hits
Defensive end Mark Anderson: 4
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich: 4
Defenisve lineman Vince Wilfork: 3
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: 2
Cornerback Kyle Arrington: 1
Defensive end Brandon Deaderick: 1
Safety James Ihedigbo: 1
Linebacker Jerod Mayo: 1
Defensive tackle Kyle Love: 1
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: 1
Defensive lineman Shaun Ellis: 1
Linebacker Niko Koutouvides: 1

Sacks:
Anderson: 2.5 (16 yards)
Wilfork 2.5 (14.5 yards)
Ninkovich: 2 (12.5 yards)
Deaderick: 1 (2 yards)
Ihedigbo: 1 (12 yards)
Spikes: 1 (4 yards)
Ellis: 1 (5 yards)

Read More: Brandon Deaderick, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, James Ihedigbo

Following the flags: Breaking down the Patriots penalties for the 2011 postseason

02.09.12 at 10:03 am ET
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The Patriots were flagged for eight penalties and 53 yards this past postseason. Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that went against the Patriots in the three playoff games, not including penalties that were declined or offset. (By way of comparison, here’s a look at the penalty breakdown for the regular season.):

Most penalized players, listed by total flags and with total yardage lost:
S Patrick Chung: one penalty (unnecessary roughness), 15 yards
Team: two penalties (both 12 men on the field), 10 yards
OL Brian Waters: one penalty (offensive holding), 10 yards
QB Ton Brady: one penalty (intentional grounding), 6 yards
DL Vince Wifork: one penalty (encroachment), 5 yards
LB Rob Ninkovich: one penalty (offsides), 5 yards
OL Logan Mankins, one penalty (false start), 2 yards

Most penalized by position:
Offensive line: two penalties for 12 yards
Team: two penalties for 10 yards
Safety: one penalty for 15 yards
Quarterback: one penalty for 6 yards
Linebacker: one penalty for 5 yards
Defensive line: one penalty for 5 yards

Most frequently called penalties:
12 men on the field: 2
Unnecessary roughness: 1
Offensive holding: 1
Intentional Grounding: 1
Encroachment: 1
Offsides: 1
False start: 1

Read More: Patriots, penalties,

Target Practice: Who was Tom Brady’s favorite (and most dependable) target this past postseason?

02.09.12 at 9:08 am 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. We had the target breakdown for the New England passing game for the 2011 regular season — here’€™s what the postseason breakdown looks like:

Chad Ochocinco: 1 catch on 1 target (100 percent)
Wes Welker: 19 catches on 23 targets (83 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 5 catches on 6 targets (83 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 17 catches on 23 targets (74 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
Deion Branch: 8 catches on 13 targets (62 percent)
Aaron Hernandez: 19 catches on 31 targets (61 percent)
Julian Edelman: 2 catches on 5 targets (40 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
Matthew Slater: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

By position
Wide receiver: 30 catches on 43 targets (70 percent)
Tight end: 36 catches on 54 targets (67 percent)
Running back: 8 catches on 12 targets (67 percent)

The sample size for the postseason is smaller, but it’€™s interesting to note that when you compare the regular-season percentages against the postseason number that Gronkowski’€™s percentage was almost the same (74 percent in the playoffs, 73 percent in the regular season). And among the receivers who see the most passes, Welker’€™s numbers increased dramatically between the regular season (71 percent) and postseason (83 percent), while Hernandez saw a sharp drop in his percentage from the regular season to the postseason (70 to 61 percent).

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Danny Woodhead

Re-setting the Patriots 2012 draft board

02.08.12 at 12:48 pm ET
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With the Super Bowl done, the 2012 draft order has been set. The Patriots have two picks in the first round, with one at No. 27 (the result of a trade last year with the Saints) and their own pick at No. 31. The Patriots also have two second-round picks, with No. 48 overall courtesy of a deal with the Raiders, and their own selection at No. 63.

‘€œI’€™m actually very excited about the core group of players we have on this team, about the young players that have come in,’€ Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a press conference on Monday. ‘€œI’€™m also excited that we have two (first-round draft picks) and two (second-round draft picks) in this upcoming draft.’€

In addition, the Patriots also have a third-round pick at No. 94, as well as a fourth-round pick that’s TBD.

New England has dealt away its fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round selections in various deals the last few seasons, with the fifth-rounder going to Cincinnati in exchange for Chad Ochocinco, the sixth-round pick to Philadelphia in a deal that landed the Patriots linebacker Tracy White, and the seventh rounders to Kansas City (for Jarrad Page) and Minnesota (via Philadelphia) as part of the 2010 trade of Randy Moss.

Read More: Chad Ochocinco, Jarrad Page, Randy Moss, Robert Kraft

CEO of company that took a shot at Wes Welker issues half-hearted apology

02.08.12 at 12:36 pm ET
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The company that dumped 900 pounds of Butterfingers in Copley Square as a shot at Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has issued an apology. In an open letter on the Pawngo website from CEO and Founder Todd Hills writes: “In delivering a pile of Butterfinger bars to Copley Square in Boston, and a sign referencing Wes Welker, we were making a lighthearted gesture following Sunday’€™s hard fought game. We thought that Boston fans would get a laugh out of it.  But,  for many great Boston sports fans, it was taken offensively.  Please accept my most sincere apologies.”

Read More: Todd Hills, Wes Welker,

Could the Patriots lose tight ends coach Brian Ferentz to Iowa?

02.08.12 at 12:28 am ET
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Bill O’€™Brien might not be the only coach the Patriots lose this offseason. New England tight ends coach Brian Ferentz — the son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz — could be joining his father’€™s staff as an assistant.

There’€™s been a lot of movement lately on the Hawkeyes coaching staff, where Reese Morgan, Iowa’€™s offensive line coach for the past nine seasons, is moving to defensive line, and according to this ESPN blog post, that would open up a spot on the coaching staff for Brian Ferentz.

The son of Kirk (who worked with Bill Belichick in Cleveland), Brian started with the Patriots as a coaching assistant in 2008, moved to offensive coaching assistant the following year and became an offensive assistant in 2010. He was officially promoted to tight ends coach at the start of this season, and has helped youngsters Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez become two of the best young tight ends in the game.

Ferentz spoke with the TheGazette.com shortly after the Patriots’€™ Super Bowl loss to the Giants, and discussed a handful of topics, including the new openings on the Iowa coaching staff, whether he would be a candidate, as well as Gronkowski’€™s performance in the Super Bowl.

‘€œMy job is the coach of the New England Patriots‘€™ tight ends. I’€™m trying to do that to the best of my ability today,’€ he said. ‘€œWhat happens in the future, whether a year, two years, 10 years from now, I’€™m focused on doing my job.’€

When it came to Gronkowski’€™s performance against the Giants, Ferentz was impressed with what the big tight end could do with a high ankle sprain.

‘€œI’€™m certainly not a doctor, but it was something comparable to what Ricky Stanzi had two years ago,’€ he said.

‘€œI was impressed coaching him in how he showed a lot of mental toughness, a lot of physical toughness. Most importantly, he had the commitment to his teammates to get out on the field and give us whatever he had. I still think he brought a lot to the game with blocking protection in the run game, and he actually performed pretty well. He gave us some spirit, some juice.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Brian Ferentz
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