|01.22.13 at 9:43 pm ET|
The Patriots finished the 2012 postseason with 8 quarterback hits and 3 sacks as a team. Based on gamebooks, here’s a quick look at some pass-rush numbers for the Patriots in their two playoff games:
Ninkovich: Two (five yards)
Team: One (nine yards)
|01.22.13 at 9:04 pm ET|
This year’s group of Patriots’ rookies collectively made more of an impact in their first season than any other group of first-year players since the 2003 class. (While the 2010 draft class will likely have a greater long-term impact, the 2012 and 2003 groups were asked to do more in their first full season in the NFL — for more on that breakdown, check out the comparison I did on each draft class here.) With their first season now done, let’s take a player-by-player look at how each one of them did.
Chandler Jones: The 6-foot-5, 220-pound defensive end — the first of two first-round picks made by the Patriots last spring — started out on a great note. With eight games in the books, the Syracuse product was leading the team with six sacks (including two in a loss to the Seahawks) and 11 quarterback hits. He also had three forced fumbles (including one in the first quarter of his first game as a professional), and was named AFC Rookie of the Month and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. (We wrote about him as a possible candidate for the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award because of his fast start.) But over the last eight regular-season games, Jones had no sacks, no forced fumbles and one quarterback hit. A sizable portion of that was likely due to an ankle injury he suffered in November that left him on the shelf for a stretch, and probably caused a dip in his play when he did return. (While he wasn’t overwhelming statistically in the regular-season finale against Miami, he did play very well against the Dolphins, looking aggressive while doing a good job setting the edge.) He indicated Monday that he could be facing offseason surgery for his ankle issues.
Dont’a Hightower: After being slowed by a hamstring problem in September and October, the Alabama product became a steady and dependable member of New England defense, and ended his rookie season with 75 tackles (51 solo), four sacks, nine quarterback hits and three passes defensed. He managed to grow into a complimentary piece at linebacker, alongside veterans Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. No reason to think that the 6-foot-2, 270-pound defender won’t be a consistent presence at linebacker for the Patriots for years to come.
Tavon Wilson: The 6-foot, 210-pounder out of Illinois started strong, with four interceptions in his first 10 games, as well as a 10-tackle performance in an October win over Denver that likely marked the high-water mark of the season for the defensive back, who certainly surpassed the expectations of many who initially called him a second-round reach. However, the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. (Wilson was still part of an occasional rotation in sub packages, but his overall snap count drastically decreased.) Overall, he finished the regular-season with 48 tackles (32 solo), but one of the most impressive things you can say about Wilson and what he brought to the field was a nose for the ball: in addition to his four picks, he had six passes defensed and a pair of fumble recoveries.
|01.22.13 at 5:45 pm ET|
Ravens safety Ed Reed told a Baltimore radio station Tuesday that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has reached out to him to apologize for his slide late in the first half of Sunday’s AFC championship. Reed was spotted limping immediately after the play but walked it off and did not miss a snap. The NFL confirmed on Tuesday that the play was under ‘routine review’ for possible disciplinary action.
“We talked,” Reed told WJZ-FM. “We talked actually not too long ago, we talked on the phone. He actually reached out to me, texted me. I tried to text him back, but the message exploded after 12 seconds, so I had to call him … and he’s just apologized and what not. But I told him, ‘You know, it’s good, man.'”
Brady scrambled inside the Ravens 10 and had his right leg raised off the ground and kicked Reed on the inside of his upper right leg.
“For the most part, I didn’t say anything to him when he said something to me at the game,” Reed said. “… He was going, ‘You want to play like that, let’s go.’ But no, Brady’s a great competitor and I love going against him and I know where his heart is at for this game. It was all good.”
The incident sent Bernard Pollard into a rage heading into the locker room, where he reportedly used the moment to fire up his teammates and inspire them to a hard-hitting second half. Pollard delivered huge blows to Wes Welker and Stevan Ridley.
The hit to Welker was followed three plays later by Welker’s key drop on third down. In the fourth quarter, Pollard drilled Ridley, causing a fumble that set up Baltimore fourth and clinching touchdown. Ridley did not return after the hit and left with a head injury.
As for Reed, the perennial Pro Bowl safety said he still has total respect for Brady.
“I know he’s a great player,” said Reed. “I respect Brady and his game for all it stands for, and I know he’s not a dirty player. And emotions get going in the game.”
The irony to the story is that Reed is a free agent after the Super Bowl appearance with the Ravens and could wind up in New England next season if the Ravens don’t sign him. Brady and Bill Belichick have long raved about the veteran safety’s leadership and ball-hawking skills.
|01.22.13 at 5:13 pm ET|
The Patriots have several decisions facing them. What to do with Aqib Talib? Should they franchise Wes Welker again for $11 million? What should they do with Kyle Arrington, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead and Sebastian Vollmer?
The Patriots must decide how to go about getting more pressure on the quarterback. They must decide how they will upgrade a secondary that was mediocre without Talib. They must decide if less is more in the running game as they split carries between Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden.
They must decide how to upgrade a return game that was again in the bottom third of the NFL and inconsistent at best, even though Welker and Devin McCourty showed occasional flashes this season.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of Belichick and top personnel executive Nick Caserio. What would you do to improve upon a team that was just 30 minutes from its sixth Super Bowl in 12 seasons. We want your opinion.
|01.22.13 at 5:04 pm ET|
Former USC defensive Armond Armstead has signed a futures contract with the Patriots, according to multiple reports.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder, a USC product, was a three-year star for the Trojans in college. After a junior year spent at defensive end — where he had 43 tackles, six of which were for a loss (three sacks) — he was set to open his senior year at defensive tackle, but suffered a heart attack before his senior season and was never cleared to practice. As a result, he went undrafted last spring, and ended up with Toronto of the Canadian Football League, where he led the 44 tackles and six sacks to help the Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship. (Armstead was recently released by the Argonauts after informing them of his desire to play in the NFL.)
Armstead, who visited with the Patriots, Eagles and Colts (according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter), likely projects as a defensive end in a 3-4 alignment in the NFL.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|01.22.13 at 1:43 pm ET|
FOXBORO — To Bill Belichick, Monday was a day to reflect not only on the AFC championship loss but another winning season for the Patriots. It was not the time to make personnel decisions on key players like Wes Welker, Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington, Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman and Sebastian Vollmer.
All of those players are among those are not signed for next season. Some can become free agents (like Talib) and some can be franchised (like Welker).
Whether he has a good feeling about a player or not, he and the franchise will not be making knee jerk reactions, considering there’s college scouting at the Senior Bowl this week and a market of free agents to consider in the next six weeks. Belichick was asked specifically about Talib but used it as an opportunity to paint with a broader brush.
“We will not make any decisions on any players into the future now,” Belichick explained. “You just can’t do it. There are too many factors, too many unknown things. All the things I said about Aqib, I meant and I still feel that way. Nothing has changed, but I can’t put into place an entire plan for the team at this point in time. There’s just not enough information; it’s too early.
“And again as I said, I don’t think you can, as much as you want to just go case by case and list each guy and what his deal is, I think that there is some of that, no question ‘ but at the same time, when you’re trying to put together a team, you’ve got to look at the entire team before you just say, ‘OK well, we want to try to keep this guy. Well, we don’t want to keep this guy’ or ‘We want to try to get somebody else,’ or whatever. You’ve got to look at the entire context of the team and not just take it one guy, piece by piece. I don’t think that’s the way you put together an entire football team. You’ve got to see the big picture and how it all fits together and there are a lot of factors that go into that. That’s why it takes some time.”
Welker, who signed his $9 million franchise tag last April, went out and had another Pro Bowl season. What about his future? Will he be franchised again at just over $11 million or will he be allowed to play the field? Will he want to come back or will he want to test the market.
“It’s the same answer [as Talib],” Belichick said before the question could even be finished on Monday.
Some of the key dates to consider coming up:
“On balance I still thought that certainly there were a lot of positives from this football team,” Belichick said. “It’s a team that I enjoyed coaching. I thought that the players worked hard behind the scenes; everybody doesn’t see that, but on a day-to-day basis they worked hard, they competed well, they didn’t make excuses. They got better over the course of the season, both individually and collectively. We wouldn’t have gotten to where we were without a lot of good, consistent performances from a lot of people in a number of games and countless practices and meetings and all the things that lead up to that. That part of it, I thought there were, again, a lot of positives that we accomplished. Certainly, the outcome [Sunday] is not where we wanted to end up. I give these guys a lot of credit for what they did do and the number of times they did it and the number of times they did it in tough situations. Hopefully we can continue to build on that. I don’t think anything this year really means too much for next year. Each year is a new year and we start all over again just like everyone else does. Some of our younger players will have a little bit more experience. Hopefully that will be a good thing, but that doesn’t really count for anything until we go out there and start doing it again.” Read the rest of this entry »
|01.22.13 at 1:05 pm ET|
Like every team, the Patriots suffered their share of injuries over the course of the 2012 season. Here’s a look at four guys who went down relatively early, and who could play a sizable role in the fortunes of the 2013 team:
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: The 26-year-old inside linebacker was an undrafted free agent who made the 53-man roster out of Montana State in 2010. The 6-foot-2, 244-pounder, who was a defensive end in college was able to carve out on impressive career for himself in his first two seasons in the league, moving from core special teamer to backup linebacker in relatively short order. But a thumb injury slowed him in 2011, and he tore the ACL in his left knee in an August preseason game against the Saints. The knee injury left him on injured reserve for the season, but as long as he recovers, he should be expected to be in the mix as an inside linebacker and special teamer in 2013.
Kick returner/running back Jeff Demps: The former Olympic sprinter showed up relatively late this summer, and left the Patriots with an interesting personnel decision — place him on IR (with the possibility he could return, thanks to the new DFR roster loophole) or have him occupy a roster spot until he was ready to go. The Patriots chose the former, and ended up putting tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on IR (designated for return) while leaving the 23-year-old Demps on the sidelines for the year. That’s a decision the Patriots would probably like to have back, as the team used the DFR-IR designation on Shiancoe before cutting him loose late in the season. (In that same stretch, the Patriots continued to struggle to find consistency in the return game.) Meanwhile, the 5-foot-7. 175-pound Demps got time to get up to speed in the New England system, essentially taking a redshirt season while learning about life in the NFL. Look for him to play a major role on special teams next season, as well as a possible dynamic new wrinkle at running back.
Tight end Jake Ballard: Hey, another tight end. Why not? The 25-year-old Ballard, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots while playing for New York, was acquired this past summer by the Patriots (he was signed off waivers from the Giants, much to the consternation of New York coach Tom Coughlin). Undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010, he turned himself into a effective downfield threat in 2011 with the Giants (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns), and could provide the same sort of presence in 2013 with the Patriots. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ballard compares with Rob Gronkowski in his bulk and his overall playing style, and the idea of deploying a three-tight end set with Ballard, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez would be an intriguing matchup problem for opposing defensive coordinators. Figures to weigh heavily in the Patriots’ plans for 2013.
Cornerback Ras-I Dowling: Dowling, who was the 33rd overall pick of the 2011 daft, has seen his two-year career with the Patriots has been marked by injury. After a strong opening to his rookie year in 2011 where he started his first two games as a professional, he landed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 29 because he needed hip surgery. And 2012 started poorly when he suffered a hamstring injury early in camp and missed nearly three weeks. As a result, he slipped down the depth chart, and began the season as a nickel back. This past season, he made it all the way to late October before suffering a thigh injury in an overtime win over the Jets, which sent him to IR again. When he’s been healthy, the 24-year-old has been an intriguing physical presence in the secondary — at 6-foot-1 and 210-pounds, he brings a size that New England had been lacking in the defensive backfield for several years, at least until Aqib Talib came along. But Dowling, who had struggled with injury in college, has to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season before the Patriots start to lean on him seriously. This will be a key offseason for the youngster out of Virginia.