|01.30.14 at 5:40 pm ET|
With the Patriots done for the year, we’ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers and tight ends. Now, it’s the running backs.
Depth chart: Stevan Ridley (178 carries, 773 rushing yards, 4.3 YPC, 7 TDs), LeGarrette Blount (153 carries, 772 rushing yards, 5 YPC, 7 TDs), Shane Vereen (44 carries, 208 rushing yards, 4.7 YPC, 1 rushing TD; 47 catches, 427 receiving yards, 3 TDs), Brandon Bolden (55 carries, 271 rushing yards, 4.9 YPC, 3 TDs; 21 catches, 152 receiving yards), fullback James Develin (4 carries, 10 rushing yards, 2.5 YPC, 1 TD).
Overview: This was a fascinating group to watch over the course of the year. The season started with Ridley as the lead back, but that didn’t last a full half before he was benched in the opener against Buffalo in favor of Vereen because of a fumble. Vereen then assumed the lead role — until it was revealed at the end of the Bills game that he suffered a wrist injury and would go on IR-DFR. The Patriots turned back to Ridley, who continued to have ball security issues over the course of the season, so much so that he was benched for a game against the Texans.
But as the season went on, Blount began to emerge as a powerful force, while Vereen and Ridley became complementary parts of the running game. While the running game stalled out in the AFC title contest, the stretch drive effort of Blount — 431 yards in a three-game stretch (two at the end of the regular season and one playoff game) — provided a tremendous lift for the New England offense at a time when it needed it most.
(While the three lead backs got most of the ink, it’s important to note that Bolden and Develin also provided a boost, Bolden with some much needed depth protection — particularly in spot duty when Vereen was on the shelf — while Develin and his neck roll were able to do a tremendous job clearing the way for the rest of the backs. Prior to the 2013 season, the Patriots hadn’t employed a full-time fullback since Heath Evans in 2008, but Develin’s work and dependability likely mean he’ll be back again in 2014.)
It remains to be seen what this group will look like in 2014. Can Vereen emerge as a healthy and consistent offensive threat? Can Ridley get over whatever ball security issues dogged him over the course of the 2013 campaign and return to full-time, lead-back status? And how deep will the Patriots reach into their own pockets to bring back Blount, who will hit the free agent market as one of the most intriguing prospects on the radar screen? Regardless, figure on the running back position to be one of the strengths of the offense heading into the 2014 season.
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|01.30.14 at 1:51 pm ET|
What started out as a simple question Thursday about his relationship and rivalry with Darrelle Revis turned into an interesting window on the players Richard Sherman believes are the best at his position in the NFL.
Revis was one of the most outspoken about Sherman’s comments to FOX’s Erin Andrews about Michael Crabtree after the NFC championship on Jan. 19 in Seattle.
“I didn’t think that was good on his part,” Revis told the Tampa Bay Times. “If you listen to what the reporter asked him, it was nothing about him, it was about the team, and he put himself ahead of the team.
“Other than that, he’s an entertainer. He talks. He probably talks in his sleep. I thought he shouldn’t have said all that.”
On Thursday, Sherman responded.
“We’ve had a few conversations,” Sherman said. “He’s a great guy and we squashed all the nonsense. As a corner, at the cornerback position, I think every one of them out there is going to say that they’re the best, and that’s the way you’ve got to play the position.”
Sherman was referring to the fact that Revis this week said he still feels he’s the best corner in the business. Sherman definitely put Revis in that class along with several others, including New England’s Aqib Talib.
“I’m sure every corner out there that’s playing good football right now – the (Cleveland CB) Joe Haden’s, the (Arizona CB) Patrick Peterson‘s, the Darrelle Revis‘s, the (New England CB) Aqib Talib‘s, the (Tennessee CB) Alterraun Verner’s – feels like they’re the best corner in football. In order to play this game at the highest level, that’s how you’ve got to feel.
“That’s the confidence you feel. Now they may not go out and say it out loud and proclaim it like I do, but I’m 100 percent sure they feel that way. They play some great football and they deserve to feel that way as well. Like I said, I’m going to feel the way I am and they’re going to feel the way they are, and that’s just good corners playing football.”
As for any hard feelings Sherman has for Revis?
“No, not at all,” Sherman said. “I think one of those things, just like a lot of other things, is a lot of media fabrication more than anything. People make it more of a big deal than it really is. Guys have conversations off the field and are good friends. People would be surprised. They think they’re really mortal enemies, and it’s really not like that.”
|01.30.14 at 1:42 pm ET|
Former Colts and Rams running back Marshall Faulk checked in with Mut & Merloni from Super Bowl Radio Row on Thursday, and he made it clear he still holds a grudge for what he perceives to be cheating on the Patriots’ part before their Super Bowl win over Faulk’s Rams in 2002. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
“Here’s the thing: In the NFL, you don’t get fined for nothing. All right? Let’s understand that. OK? We’re smart, we’re businessmen, and it’s about protecting the brand, protecting the shield,” Faulk said. “Now, you tell me, at anything that you do, if you find out somebody cheats you in any little way, that you’re OK with it. I mean, you’re not a competitor. You’re not a competitor if you’re OK with it. I’m a competitor. That’s what I am.
“It’s not like I hadn’t played that team before. It’s not like I didn’t know what they were going to do to me. That’s fine. And up until that day that we found out that information, you had never heard me say anything about that team or about what they did. And I still consider [Bill] Belichick one of the greatest coaches. I still consider Tom Brady one of the greatest players. That team and what they did, and went on that run, it was great. The only thing that bothers me is there’s something that exists that gives us doubt on why the game went the way it did.”
Faulk would not come out and directly say the Patriots cheated — and a story implying a Patriots staffer taped a Rams walkthrough never was verified — but Faulk noted that the Patriots have not won a championship since the Spygate scandal broke.
Said Faulk: “The question is, how did they become a championship team? … Listen, I’m not going to be the only one to say this: Ever since they got fined and, ‘OK, we’re not doing that anymore,’ they’ve won how many Super Bowls?”
Asked directly if he feels the facts lead him to the opinion that the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl since being punished for videotaping opposing coaches, Faulk danced around the question.
“I’m just telling you how I feel about it. If that’s your perception of what I’m saying, then that’s your perception,” he said. “I’m not taking anything away from Bill Belichick and Tom Brady; they’re great. I’m going to continue to tell you that. They’re great. They’ve won, boy, I don’t know how many games, how many AFC championships, eight? … You don’t do that without getting some things accomplished.
“I’m just telling you it’s just ironic that that’s the case.”
|01.30.14 at 12:43 pm ET|
This has to be a strange week for Josh McDaniels.
On Sunday, the Patriots offensive coordinator will sit and watch the Broncos face the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. And while he’s still remembered around the Rocky Mountains as the guy who drafted Tim Tebow — and inspired some of the strangest Photoshop jobs of all-time — he’s also responsible for putting many of the pieces together for the current AFC champs.
In 2009 and 2010 drafts, McDaniels and the Broncos front office were responsible for the drafting or signing of several key players who remain on the roster. Wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, running back Knowshon Moreno, defensive end Robert Ayers, offensive lineman Zane Beadles and punter Britton Colquitt were all brought in on McDaniels’ watch, and all have played a sizable role in helping Denver reach the Super Bowl.
In all, of the 53 players on Denver’s active roster, 10 of them were acquired while McDaniels was head coach. That includes a major part of the passing game — three of Peyton Manning‘s top 5 targets this season were acquired by Denver while McDaniels was head coach. In all, 239 of the 461 passes completed by Manning this year went to McDaniels’ draft picks in Thomas (92 catches), Decker (87 catches) and Moreno (60 catches).
“He did draft me, and I’m very thankful that he gave me the opportunity to be playing in the NFL, especially with such a great organization like Denver,” Decker said of McDaniels. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach. He’s a brilliant mind, offensively. I’m sure, like any coach, he’s excited and he’s happy for the guys that he drafted.”
Beadles has been a Pro Bowl offensive lineman, and played a major role in helping clear the way for Moreno, a back who has been a work-in-progress over much of his first five years in the league. The 12th overall selection in the 2009 draft, he struggled in 2011 and 2012 before enjoying a career renaissance this season, where he posted his first 1,000-yard season. He ended the year with 241 carries for 1,038 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
This week, he paid tribute to McDaniels for taking a chance on him when he recalled what things were like for him on draft day.
“That was a special moment, just to be able to celebrate that with my family and friends. We were all there hanging out watching it on TV, so just for them to experience that definitely meant a lot to me,” Moreno said. “Just for Coach McDaniels giving me the opportunity to play in the league and try to fight for a position. Even though you make it, even though you get drafted or whatever it is, maybe you’re not drafted, you’ve still got to compete. You’ve still got to get better each day just to have a spot on the team. I’m really thankful to (have gotten) the opportunity.”
McDaniels had more than his share of missteps while in Denver. He clashed with quarterback Jay Cutler, as well as wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and was the first champion of the Tim Tebow Experiment. But even in many of those instances, he was able to make something positive out of a bad situation: With one of the picks he acquired in the trade of Cutler to the Bears, he acquired Ayers, a defensive end who had 5.5 sacks this past season with the Broncos.
Ultimately, McDaniels tenure in Denver had more negative than positive, as he finished with an 11-17 mark and was fired midway through his second season as head coach. And the fact joshmcdanielssucks.com is still up and running, as well as a “Fire Josh McDaniels” Facebook page (with 323 likes) is still operational, speaks to the level of dislike there is out there in the Rockies for McDaniels and his time with the Broncos. But if Decker, Thomas and Moreno are among those celebrating amidst the confetti at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night, the man who made it possible for them to be with the Broncos in the first place needs to be acknowledged, at least with a new Photoshop.
|01.30.14 at 9:50 am ET|
Carter picked the Seahawks to come away with the win on Sunday, but said there are two things the team needs to do at the start of the game in order to find success.
“Number one, from a Seattle standpoint, I’ll look at are they pinning Denver back,” Carter said. “Are they utilizing their special teams? Which I believe is an advantage in making Denver go the distance.
“From Seattle’s standpoint, people aren’t talking about their offensive line. Pass protection hasn’t been great. … The reason why [Russell Wilson is] ad libbing is because the offensive line has not been that consistent.”
Carter said the Seahawks will need to utilize Percy Harvin, who has played in just one game this season because of hip surgery.
“Hand him the football because you don’t have to have a lot of continuity,” Carter said. “Percy Harvin is one of the great runners in the National Football League — open-field running ability. … You also throw in some swing passes, don’t let the ball travel far before it gets in his hand.
“Those are the easiest ways, and you don’t have to have a lot of practice or timing with the quarterback to do that.”
|01.29.14 at 6:56 pm ET|
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks – with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag – we’ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class – instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with looks at Anquan Boldin and Emmanuel Sanders. Today, it’s Dennis Pitta:
Position: Tight end
Age: 28 (will turn 29 on June 29)
Weight: 245 pounds
The skinny: Pitta is a big and bulky tight end more in the Rob Gronkowski mold — a good blocker who also has a dependable set of hands. A fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2010, he came along slowly when compared to the other high-level tight ends who were taken in that draft (Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham and Jermaine Gresham), as he played behind veteran Todd Heap and fellow rookie Ed Dickson — he had just one catch in his first year in the league. He ended up catching 40 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. He took it to a new level in 2012, as he finished the regular season with a career-best 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns (not to mention a terrific performance against the Patriots in the AFC title game, part of a late push that saw him finish with eight touchdowns in his final 12 games, including the playoffs.) At that point, it was clear he was establishing himself as Joe Flacco‘s security blanket, but a nasty hip injury in training camp landed him on IR for the first 12 games of the 2013 season. When he returned, he was able to contribute as much as possible, but it was tough to get up to speed so late in the year. He ended 2013 with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown in four games, and heads into the open market as an intriguing prospect.
By the numbers: Per Pro Football Focus, Pitta was in the slot for 79 percent of his snaps in 2013.
Why it would work: The Patriots have been patient when it comes to rehabbing tight ends in the past — witness the Great Gronkowski Watch of 2013, as well as the Jake Ballard Odyssey. So even if Pitta wasn’t quite back to 100 percent, if the Patriots believe in him and his ability to contribute in New England, they would certainly be willing to wait on him. If both are fully healthy, a Pitta-Gronk combo figures to be a tremendous duo.
Why it might not work: There’s the very real chance that the Ravens think so highly of him and his skill set that they hit him with the franchise tag between now and the start if free agency, which would render the whole thing moot.
Quote: “I think those other guys did a good job ‘ Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark ‘ they filled in and they did a really good job, but something you can’t take away is chemistry between a quarterback and a receiver. I think [Joe] Flacco and Pitta, they have that. When he is out there, I think he is targeted more, and I know Flacco probably thinks that if I throw this guy the ball, there’s a good chance he’s going to come down with it.” — Patriots safety Devin McCourty on Pitta last December.
Our take: Despite the yeoman’s work done by Michael Hoomanwanui and Matthew Mulligan when Gronkowski was on the shelf in 2013, it’s clear the Patriots need to add a little oomph to the tight end position. New England does have some options — in addition to Pitta, there are some other interesting names in free agency, including Jimmy Graham, Jermichael Finley and Scott Chandler. There are also a few high-level tight ends who could be around come draft weekend, including Jace Amaro, an elite pass catcher who apparently has speed to burn and great positional versatility. But if Pitta is available at a reasonable rate, the Patriots would be crazy to not at least kick the tires. The chance to add another 60-catch presence at tight end and weaken a conference rival might be too great a possibility for New England to pass up.
|01.29.14 at 2:08 pm ET|
Former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to talk about the Patriots offense moving forward, the NFL trying to make the game safer, and Super Bowl story lines. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Romanowski, a former Boston College star, believes the Patriots winning ways have led to a reputation that it’s Super Bowl or bust for the team, making Wes Welker‘s departure in free agency slightly perplexing.
“To let Wes Welker get away, mind-boggling to me,” Romanowski said. “That really is, that move. But you have to be able to make tough decisions as a head coach. … You may have an off [year], do you call the AFC championship an off year? On some level, when you’re the New England Patriots, you do. OK, not winning and getting to the Super Bowl is an off year. And it should be that way because you built a reputation of being one of the best organizations, you clearly have, still, one of the best quarterbacks.”
Despite the Patriots not making the Super Bowl, Romanowski was impressed with what they did with a shorthanded squad.
“They had a lot of injuries, and you take away those injuries, and even one of the big injuries in the game, we all know the matchup with Demaryius Thomas, and them losing [Aqib] Talib, that right there,” Romanowski said.
Looking at next season, Romanowski said New England needs to take a page out of what Denver did this year and load up at wide receiver.
“The game is about the horses,” Romanowski said. “You’ve got to have the talent, bring in the talent and make sure you have more talent around Tom Brady and to me, look at what the Denver Broncos did. They made sure they were deep at receiver and they win games by outscoring people. That’s usually what New England does. Hats off, though, to New England with what they were able to do, change things and turned themselves into more of a conventional offense, phenomenal coaching.”
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