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Five things you have to know about the Dolphins

12.10.13 at 3:43 pm ET
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The Patriots travel to South Florida Sunday for a date with the Dolphins. Here are five things you have to know about Miami, which is 7-6 and in the hunt for the last playoff spot in the AFC.

1. They have done well to ignore the noise over the last month.

There were several people — myself included — who believed the Dolphins wouldn’t be able to withstand the clamor that arose in the wake of the Jonathan MartinRichie Incoginto mess, but they’ve managed to keep their eyes on the prize and remain in the playoff chase. The Dolphins have won three of their last four, with the only loss in that period coming at home to the suddenly surging Panthers. What might even be more impressive that they’ve won games in different fashions — they won blowouts, shootouts, grinders. And they have some impressive victories on their resume to this point in the season, including a 22-20 win over the Bengals and a 24-20 victory against the Colts. Sure, there have been some ugly losses — including a 22-19 defeat to the Bucs that gave Tampa its first victory of the season — but all in all, they deserve to be commended for keeping a difficult situation together.

2. If form holds, both the Patriots and Dolphins offenses should struggle early, but New England should have some chances against Miami late.

The Patriots and Dolphins are two of the most punchless teams in the league when it comes to first-quarter scoring — New England has 51 first-quarter points on the season (including just two first-quarter touchdowns over the last six games), while Miami isn’t much better with 43 first-quarter points through the first 13 games. However, while the Dolphins have also struggled late (their 53 fourth-quarter points is fourth-lowest in the league), New England has managed to light it up over the course of the final quarter. The Patriots have 129 fourth-quarter points on the year, second only to Denver’s 149. (For New England, that includes 84 fourth-quarter points in the last six games.)

3. When it comes to close games, they have almost as much experience as the Patriots.

For New England, 10 of their 13 games have been decided by seven points or less. (The Patriots are 7-3 in those close games, which included Sunday’s comeback win over the Browns.) But the Dolphins also have to feel pretty good about things down the stretch — Miami has had nine of its 13 games decided by a touchdown or less, including Sunday’s 34-28 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. (Overall, the Dolphins are 5-4 in games decided by seven points or less.)

4. They have run the ball well as of late, but there are some question marks in the backfield because of injury.

Because of the snow — as well as the fact that they were taking advantage of a suspect Steelers’ run defense — the Dolphins were very impressive on the ground Sunday against Pittsburgh, rushing for 181 yards as a team. However, starting running back Lamar Miller suffered a concussion in the third quarter of that one, and as a result, his status for this week’s game against the Patriots is up in the air. Tailback Daniel Thomas (who has been dealing with an ankle injury as of late) ran well against Pittsburgh, finishing with a game-high 105 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. The Patriots were able to have some success slowing the Cleveland running game last Sunday, but regardless of who’s in the backfield for the Dolphins Sunday, it figures to be something of a sterner test for New England — Miami is averaging 95.8 yards per game. A little better than the Browns, but not much.

5. Charles Clay has become an absolutely integral part of their offense.

This past offseason, the Dolphins made some high profile pickups on offense with the acquisition of wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Dustin Keller, but it has been the relatively anonymous Clay who has proven to be one of the most important pieces of the Miami offense. Clay, who caught 34 passes in his first two seasons with the Dolphins, has really clicked with quarterback Ryan Tannehill this year, hauling in 60 passes for 678 yards and six touchdowns. The Patriots have struggled to contain tight ends over the course of the season — Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron had nine catches for 121 yards and one touchdown on Sunday — and so it would make sense for the Dolphins to feature Clay as a big part of their passing attack come Sunday.

Patriots-Ravens flexed out of prime-time spot

12.10.13 at 1:21 pm ET
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It was announced Tuesday afternoon that the Dec. 22 game between the Patriots and Ravens, which was originally scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. start, has been flexed out of its’ prime-time spot, and will instead kick off at 4:25 p.m. The Bears and Eagles will replace New England and Baltimore on the national stage.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Following the flags: Tracking Patriots penalties for 2013 season

12.10.13 at 12:39 pm ET
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Through 13 games, the Patriots have been flagged for 57 penalties (tied for 30th in the league) for a total of 534 yards (also 30th). Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that have gone against the Patriots, not including penalties that were declined or offset:
Read the rest of this entry »

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Pressure points: Which Patriots defenders have done best job getting after QB in 2013?

12.10.13 at 12:20 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the 2013 season, we’€™ll provide a look at the Patriots pass rush numbers. While sacks can be overrated, when evaluated as part of a bigger picture that includes quarterback hits and quarterback pressures (the latter courtesy of Pro Football Focus), it should provide a good picture as to which defenders are consistently able to get after the quarterback. Through 13 games, the Patriots have 36 sacks (tied for 11th in the league), 73 quarterback hits and 141 quarterback hurries. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’€™s a quick look at some pass-rush numbers for the Patriots to this point in the 2013 season:

Quarterback sacks
DL Chandler Jones: 10.5 (65.5 yards)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 6 (29 yards)
DL Chris Jones: 5 (32 yards)
DL Tommy Kelly: 2.5 (14.5 yards)
LB Dane Fletcher: 2 (19 yards)
CB Logan Ryan: 2 (18 yards)
DE Michael Buchanan: 2 (15 yards)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1.5 (5 yards)
DL Joe Vellano: 1 (13 yards)
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 1 (9 yards)
DL Isaac Sopoaga: 1 (8 yards)
DE Andre Carter: 1 (6 yards)
Team sacks: 1 (8 yards)

‘€¨’€¨Quarterback hits (per NFL game books)
DE Chandler Jones: 19
DE Rob Ninkovich: 15
DL Chris Jones: 7
DL Tommy Kelly: 6
DE Michael Buchanan: 5
DE Andre Carter: 5
DL Joe Vellano: 3
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 4
LB: Dane Fletcher: 3
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
DL Vince Wilfork: 1
DE Jake Bequette: 1
CB Logan Ryan: 1
S Steve Gregory: 1
DL Issac Sopoaga: 1
LB Jamie Collins: 1

Quarterback hurries (per PFF)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 36
DE Chandler Jones: 29
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 12
DL Joe Vellano: 11
DL Chris Jones: 10
DL Tommy Kelly: 6
LB Brandon Spikes: 6
DE Michael Buchanan: 5
LB Jamie Collins: 5
DE Andre Carter: 4
DL Vince Wilfork: 3
DL Isaac Sopoaga: 3
LB Dane Fletcher: 3
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
CB Devin McCourty: 2
DL Sealver Siliga: 1
CB Marquice Cole: 1
CB Kyle Arrington: 1
DE Jake Bequette: 1

By way of comparison, here’s how the pass rush numbers looked after 13 games last season.

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Bill Belichick on S&H: ‘Our team has shown consistently that they’ll keep fighting’

12.10.13 at 10:33 am ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick checked in with Salk & Holley on Monday afternoon to discuss New England’s thrilling 27-26 comeback victory over the Browns on Sunday, as well as Rob Gronkowski‘s season-ending injury.

The Patriots once again got off to a slow start  against Cleveland, as New England entered halftime trailing 6-0. New England’s offense could not get anything going over the first two quarters, as the Patriots only ran three plays within Cleveland territory in the first half. Over the last five games, the Patriots have been outscored by a 67-34 margin over the first two quarters.

‘€œI wish there was something magical that would take that away,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œWe certainly talked about it, but we’€™ve looked at some things, we did a couple of things, but obviously that wasn’€™t the answer, it was still an issue yesterday. We’€™ll keep looking at from the coaching end, and hopefully we can find something that will improve it.’€

While New England executed better in the second half, the Patriots still trailed the Browns by a score of 26-14 late in the fourth quarter. However, the Patriots would make it a 26-21 game with just over a minute remaining thanks to an 11-play, 82-yard drive.

After recovering an onside kick, the Patriots once again made it into the end zone, as Tom Brady found Danny Amendola for a 1-yard touchdown pass to give New England the lead.

‘€œOur team has shown consistently that they’€™ll keep fighting, no matter what the situation is, that they’€™ll just keep playing hard. Once we understand what it is that we need to do, whether that’€™s score, stop them, block a kick, make a kick, whatever that happens to be, we’€™ll try to do it. That’€™s all you can ask for.’€

Despite the incredible ending to Sunday’s game, it was a bittersweet day for New England, as Gronkowski tore both his ACL and MCL after taking a direct hit to his knee from Browns safety T.J. Ward in the third quarter and will miss the rest of the season. After missing the first six games of the year, Gronkowski returned for Week 7 and immediately made an impact on New England’s offense, catching 37 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns over the next six games.

Gronkowski’s upcoming surgery on his knee will be the sixth surgery that the Pro Bowl tight end has undergone since Nov. 19, 2012.

‘€œI think they’€™re still doing some more tests on it today,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œObviously it’€™s a concern. I don’€™t know if it looks real good, but we’€™ll wait until we have a little more definite information before we say anything. … Rob really wasn’€™t with us at training camp, either, so we had a lot of practice and some games unfortunately without his services in there, but it was great to have him back.

“He’€™s a good player, a guy that everyone wants to see out there on the team. When he’€™s not there, if he’€™s not there, whoever’€™s out there, we expect them to do the best they can — do a good job.’€

To listen to the interview, go to the Salk & Holley audio on demand page. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski

Fantasy Football: Week 15 waiver wire

12.10.13 at 10:28 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 15 waiver wire! If you are still reading, then you must have survived the snow last week — and all the injuries. In most leagues, you now are two wins away from glory, and we’€™re here to help if you have a few holes to fill or if you just want to keep your roster maximized. If you play in a really deep league, check out Rotobahn later today as I will be adding more talent as I continue to work through last week’€™s game film. I’€™ll be back later in the week with WEEI’€™s fantasy football podcast and the starts and sits.

If you need any last-minute lineup help, stop by our Sunday chat, which has been very lively lately. It’€™s nice to know that so many of our readers are doing well. For those of you in keeper leagues and dynasty formats, you’€™ll want to check in with us at Rotobahn throughout the offseason, as we will be increasing our offseason content again this year, with scouting reports for the 2014 rookie class and frequent dynasty updates for key veterans. Stop by and check it all out if you’€™re a fantasy football diehard.

QUARTERBACKS

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

Tannehill is rolling right now, and with Lamar Miller injured, you have to think he is going to throw the ball a whole lot next week against New England. The Dolphins starter is a good pickup right now in 12-team leagues, and he’€™s got a good remaining schedule.

  • Week 15 – Patriots
  • Week 16 – at Bills

Jay Cutler (or Josh McCown), Bears 

Cutler has been dropped in a lot of leagues, and he is a decent option if he starts in Week 15. If McCown ends up getting the start, then he is an equally solid play. Rostering both of them is a very sound move in deep leagues.

  • Week 15 – at Browns
  • Week 16 – at Eagles

Joe Flacco, Ravens

With Dennis Pitta back, the Ravens finally have their intended offensive paradigm in play. They have a diverse backfield and a dependable possession receiver at tight end plus a potent vertical attack. We saw how well that mix can work last year, and, as I said last week, the closing schedule is very playable.

  • Week 15 – at Lions
  • Week 16 – Patriots

Jason Campbell, Browns

I don’€™t think I need to explain how good Josh Gordon is to my friends in New England. Campbell throws to Gordon, and the matchups are solid the rest of the way. He can help you in 12-team leagues if you have a problem at quarterback.

  • Week 15 – Bears
  • Week 16 – at Jets

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: James Starks, Jason Campbell, Jay Cutler, joe flacco

Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

12.10.13 at 6:15 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 13 games of the 2013 season:

WR Julian Edelman: 76 catches on 110 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 41 catches on 63 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 40 catches on 55 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: 10 catches on 14 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: 10 catches on 11 targets
WR Josh Boyce: 5 catches on 12 targets
WR Austin Collie: 4 catches on 8 targets
FB James Develin: 4 catches on 4 targets
TE Matthew Mulligan: 2 catches on 3 targets
RB LeGarrette Blount: 1 catch on 4 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: 193 catches on 334 targets
Running back/fullback: 74 catches on 100 targets
Tight end: 51 catches on 86 targets
Other: 0 catches on 1 target

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the target breakdown through 13 games last season.

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