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Patriots’ running game should get plenty of chances this week against Indy

12.02.11 at 1:01 am ET
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FOXBORO — It would appear to be a good week to be a Patriots’€™ running back.

When it comes to stopping the run, Indianapolis has struggled all year — the Colts are worst in the AFC in total rushing yards allowed (1,657) and rushing yards allowed per game (150.6). In addition, the Colts have yielded a league-high 102 carries for a first down, and have had four opposing running backs rush for 100-plus yards against them, with LeGarrette Blount topping out at 127 in an October win for Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, the New England running game is starting to emerge again. BenJarvus Green-Ellis appears to be over whatever toe injury has bothered him, as he’€™s put together two games with a combined 125 yards on the ground, and now has 150 carries for 585 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. It’€™s off of last seasons’€™ pace (when he became the 11th player in team history to reach 1,000 rushing yards), but he’€™s still the closest thing the Patriots have to a lead back.

And while the Patriots remain predominantly a pass-first offense, when the Patriots run the ball consistently, they usually have a good afternoon. In the last three games — all wins — the Patriots have averaged 33 carries and 107 yards rushing. In losses to the Steelers and the Giants the previous two weeks, the team averaged 18 carries for 75 yards. And when Green-Ellis is the one carrying the ball, more often than not, good things happen for the Patriots. As Kevin Fishbain of Pro Football Weekly notes, in New England’€™s three losses, Green-Ellis averaged 26.3 yards rushing. In the Patriots’€™ eight wins, he’€™s averaging 63.3 yards.

But it’€™s not just Green-Ellis that’€™s helping move the chains. The Patriots have gotten plenty of contributions from the rest of their backfield. Danny Woodhead isn’€™t having the out-of-nowhere season he had in his first year with New England, but has shaken off injury to post 233 rushing yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Woodhead has also done the best at making something out of nothing, as he has just two negative plays on his 53 rushing attempts.
Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill O'Brien, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk

Wilfork: Colts and Patriots remains a rivalry game, regardless of the records and who is playing

12.01.11 at 6:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — According to Vince Wilfork, it doesn’t matter that Peyton Manning isn’t under center for Indianapolis and the Colts are 0-11 coming into the game. He says the rivalry between the Patriots and Colts is always there — just like it was in 2008 when it was Matt Cassel at quarterback for New England.

“Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely,” he said. “You can go back and just see the games we played. Even though, like I said, there’€™s an injury factor, but we’€™ve had that too with Cassel. That’€™s something you have to deal with. I’€™m pretty sure it’€™s tough but hey, it won’€™t stop us. We won’€™t allow that to be an excuse for us.

“It’€™s a rivalry game,” he added. “We’€™re not looking at the record; we’€™re looking at a Colts team that, over the years, always played us tough. Guys get injured all the time, you play with injuries all the time, you play with key players sometimes that aren’€™t out [there], so we’€™re not looking at that as an issue for us. We’€™re looking at how well we can play as a football team, the New England Patriots, how well we can play on Sunday. That’€™s what it’€™s going to be all about: who can play the best football on Sunday.”

Defensively, the Patriots have shown improvement over the last four weeks, but Wilfork says that as a group, they are not content with where they are.

“I think you can ask any football team or any professional team, ‘€˜Are you satisfied with where you are?’€™ and you’€™re never satisfied, but you have to keep striving. You definitely have to, to be the best you can be ‘€“ individually and as a team,” Wilfork said. “If you just look at film on yourself and critique yourself, it makes the team better. The last thing you want to do is go out there and put the team in a situation where they can’€™t trust you. That’€™s one thing we preach around here is, ‘€˜Make sure you’€™re doing your job because the guy next to you is depending on you.’€™ When we do that, things work out great, but when we don’€™t, we have problems; it’€™s a breakdown.

“Each day, find something you can get better at and it starts with yourself. Don’€™t look at the big picture; take care of the little things, the little technique stuff, the little conditioning, whatever it may be. That’€™s small because the small stuff always takes care of the big things and that’€™s one thing we’€™ve been doing.”

Read More: Matt Cassel, Peyton Manning, Vince Wilfork,

Missing out on the Gronk Browl

12.01.11 at 1:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Last week, Baltimore and San Francisco gave us the Harbowl. This week, we were one pectoral injury from the Gronk Bowl.

If Colts’€™ fullback Chris Gronkowski hadn’€™t suffered a pectoral injury earlier this season — which landed him on injured reserve in October — it would have been brother against brother this weekend when the Patriots meet Indy at Gillette Stadium.

‘€œI was definitely looking forward to that,’€ said his brother Rob. ‘€œBut he’€™s on the IR now with surgery. He’€™s doing well — maybe next year I’€™ll get him.’€

Even with Chris on injured reserve (and brother Dan as an occasional member of the Patriots this season), Rob has done more than enough to carry the family name this season. Through 11 games, he has 60 catches for 864 yards and 11 touchdowns, and will have a chance to add to those numbers this weekend against Indianapolis. Like coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday, Gronkowski said that no matter the 0-11 record, when you turn on the Colts’€™ film, you see a quality team.

‘€œWe see a lot of good players,’€ Gronkowski said. ‘€œThey have good D-ends. They’€™re a really fast team. They have fast linebackers, fast defensive line, fast corners. Fast everything. We just have to go out there and execute. We have to play hard. It doesn’€™t matter what the records are. This is the NFL. Every team has good players.’€

While Gronkowski has made a name as a pass catcher since he arrived prior to the start of last season (earlier this season, he reached 20 touchdowns faster than any tight end in NFL history, breaking the mark set by Mike Ditka), he will also likely be called upon to try and help out as a blocker against Indy’€™s defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, two of the fastest ends in the league.

‘€œYou have to be aware of when they’€™re going to make a move at all times,’€ Gronkowski said of the duo, which have a combined 11 sacks on the season. ‘€œIf they’€™ll go inside, if they’€™ll go outside. If they’€™ll put the spin move on you. You just have to be aware of where those D-ends are going to go because they have so much speed.’€

The Patriots put up 24 points in the first half last week against the Eagles, but for much of the season, they’€™ve struggled with slow starts. (In the previous six-game stretch before last week against Philadelphia, they averaged nine points in the first half.) Gronkowski said a large part of getting off to a fast start involves getting the running game in gear.

‘€œ(Just) making plays. Getting the ball down the field and getting the run game going,’€ he said. ‘€œOnce we get the run game going, we can do some play action and stuff. Get the ball downfield and get some guys open. Basically going out right from the start and executing well.

‘€œThat’€™s what you want to do,’€ he added. ‘€œYou want to find their weaknesses. You want to find the areas where you can get the ball down the field. You want to find the areas where you can get the ball down the field where there are gaps and everything.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chris Gronkowski, Dan Gronkowski, dwight freeney

In Focus: Charting the offensive opportunities for the Patriots’ skill position players through 11 games

12.01.11 at 9:17 am ET
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Every week over the course of the 2011 NFL 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. Eleven games into the season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2011:

BenJarvus Green Ellis: 156 (150 carries, six receptions) seven touchdowns ‘€” 10 negative plays
Wes Welker: 85 (3 carries, 82 receptions) eight touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Danny Woodhead: 67 (53 carries, 14 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Rob Gronkowski: 60 (0 carries, 60 receptions), 11 touchdowns
Aaron Hernandez: 48 (1 carry, 47 receptions), five touchdowns ‘€” one negative play
Deion Branch: 45 (0 carries, 45 receptions), four touchdowns
Stevan Ridley: 43 (40 carries, 3 reception), one touchdown ‘€” five negative plays
Tom Brady: 21 (21 carries, 0 receptions) 28 passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns ‘€” 20 negative plays (all sacks)
Kevin Faulk: 16 (11 carries, 5 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Shane Vereen: 15 (15 carries, 0 receptions) ‘€” two negative plays
Chad Ochocinco: 11 (0 carries, 11 receptions), zero touchdowns
Julian Edelman: 6 (3 carries, 3 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays, both runs
Matthew Slater: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception) zero touchdowns
TOTAL: 574 touches (297 carries, 277 receptions) ‘€” 46 negative plays (excluding kneeldowns).

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

Bill Belichick hints at full-time work for Julian Edelman on defense

11.30.11 at 9:56 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Julian Edelman has made quite the impression on many in the Patriots organization with his newfound career on defense.

Included in that group is head coach Bill Belichick.

Edelman has earned the trust of the coaching staff so much that he’s earned a spot on nickel and dime packages in the Patriots secondary.

He made an impressive open-field tackle on Vince Young in the third quarter, keeping the Eagles quarterback out of the end zone. He nearly sacked Young before delivering a well-executed – and legal – hit to his mid-section.

Belichick has seen enough in three games of Edelman on defense that he didn’t scoff at the following question: Is there a chance that when you switch a player like that, is there a chance that his aptitude for the new position suggests that his potential is greater at his new position than returning to his old position? In other words, could Edelman wind up on defense for good?

“It’€™s possible. It’€™s possible, yeah. Not to dig too deep, but that’€™s kind of where it was with Steve Neal,” Belichick said of the former college wrestler, turning defensive lineman turned offensive lineman. “We started with Steve Neal and we put him on defense ‘€“ that was a brilliant coaching move. We had him there in training camp for a couple of weeks and he kind of got worse instead of better. Finally, when we moved him to offense, he was so far behind from never playing football, from now shifting over to offense in the middle of training camp that it was again, impossible and he was put in a really tough position there. I think we saw enough that when we resigned him at the end of the ‘€™01 season and brought him back, we felt like he would be able to develop more on the offensive side of the ball than on the defensive side of the ball. Sometimes it could work out that way.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Julian Edelman, New England Patriots, nfl

Jeff Saturday: Man-hugs with Robert Kraft are done, just handshakes and respect now

11.30.11 at 8:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was one of the most indelible moments of the NFL lockout.

Colts veteran center Jeff Saturday, one of the most vocal leaders of the NFL Players Association, giving a bear hug to Patriots owner Robert Kraft on July 25, the day owners and players finally agreed to a new 10-year bargaining agreement.

But there is one thing Saturday made clear in a conference call with New England reporters on Wednesday.

The hug was sympathy for Kraft’s very ill wife – Myra Kraft, who passed away from cancer just five days earlier. She had given her blessings to the Patriots owner to help bridge the gap between the owners and the players in her final days.

“The hug… that was more just for his wife and that issue,” Saturday said. “We knew as we got close to getting the thing done and as it began to close, we knew how important this was. I think from Jerry Richardson, who was the leader of the ownership group to Jerry Jones and Mr. Kraft and all the guys, the Clark Hunts and John Maras who were there, all those men knew how significant that this deal was.

“A 10-year deal of labor peace, knowing that we both had to compromise but both felt like we could work with this deal and be beneficial for all of our players and most importantly, we’€™re going to keep our players healthier for longer so that your stars can play longer. I felt really good about it; I know they did as well. As we left, I think we all realized that we had worked very hard to get something accomplished and we were proud of what we put forth. DeMaurice [DeMaurice Smith] and Roger [Roger Goodell], they summed it up at the end, we had a meeting before we all went down to address the press and both of those guys, just seeing how hard they worked and how diligent they both were in getting this deal done ‘€“ it was a lot of work but something you can be very proud of today.”

Casual fans and those who followed the bitter four-month lockout closely wondered alike if this moment was sincere. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Clark Hunt, DeMaurice Smith, Indianpolis Colts, Jeff Saturday

Following the flags: Breaking down the Patriots penalties through 11 games

11.30.11 at 3:52 pm ET
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Through 11 games this season, the Patriots have been flagged for 67 penalties (20th in the league) and 591 yards (14th). 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 Logan Mankins: seven penalties (two offensive holding and five false starts), 41 yards
Team: seven penalties (12 men on the field, offensive holding, illegal block above the waist, two illegal substitutions, illegal shift), 39 yards
TE Rob Gronkowski: five penalties (holding, false start, facemask, unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal touch pass), 49 yards
OL Nate Solder: four penalties (three holding and illegal use of hands), 40 yards
S Sergio Brown: four penalties (three defensive pass interference and one unnecessary roughness), 86 yards
OL Matt Light: three penalties (two holding and one false start), 20 yards
OL Brian Waters: three penalties (one holding, two offensive holding), 25 yards
LB Dane Fletcher: two penalties (offensive holding, illegal block above the waist), 17 yards
LB Brandon Spikes: two penalties (holding, encroachment), 11 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 (unnecessary 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
QB Tom Brady: three penalties (one delay of game and two intentional grounding), 20 yards
DL Vince Wilfork: two penalties (unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness), 17 yards
CB Kyle Arrington: one penalty (defensive pass interference), 35 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
OL Sebastian Vollmer: one penalty (false start), 5 yards
K Stephen Gostkowski: one penalty (illegal onsides kick), 5 yards
DE Mark Anderson: one penalty (defensive offsides), 5 yards
RB BenJarvus Green Ellis: one penalty (illegal substitution), 5 yards
OL Donald Thomas (one false start) 5 yards
CB Phillip Adams (one illegal contact), 5 yards

Most penalized by position:
Offensive line: 20 penalties for 151 yards
Tight end: eight penalties for 64 yards
Safety: seven penalties for 123 yards
Team: seven penalties for 39 yards
Wide receiver: six penalties for 29 yards
Cornerback: five penalties for 60 yards
Defensive line: five penalties for 52 yards
Linebacker: four penalties for 43 yards
Quarterback: three penalties for 20 yards
Running back: one penalty for five yards
Kicker: one penalty for five yards

Most frequently called penalties on the Patriots:
False start: 16
Offensive holding: 15
Defensive pass interference: four
Illegal block above the waist: four
Unnecessary roughness: three
Roughing the passer: three
Illegal substitution: three
Intentional grounding: two
Unsportsmanlike conduct: two
Defensive holding: two
Facemask: two
Illegal formation: one
Illegal use of hands: one
Illegal motion: one
Twelve men in the huddle: one
Illegal onside kick: one
Encroachment: one
Delay of game: one
Defensive offsides: one
Illegal touch pass: one
Illegal shift: one
Illegal contact: one

Read More: Patriots, penalties,

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