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Halftime analysis from Patriots-Rams

08.26.10 at 9:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s halftime here at Gillette Stadium, and the Rams lead the Patriots 20-14 after two quarters of play. Here are a few quick notes:

•As good as the New England offense looked through the first two preseason games, it struggled for most of the first half of this evening’s game against the Rams. The Patriots were unable to get anything going on the offensive end, and had just one first down after the first quarter-plus of action.

•New England got its offense on track with their final possession of the first half when a Tom Brady-to-Wes Welker connection with 3:26 left in the second quarter went for 39 yards and just the second first down of the evening for the Patriots. That was followed by a memorable play where Brady tripped and fell, but managed to get back up and find tight end Alge Crumpler, who caught the ball and he was falling down. It was initially ruled that Crumpler was out of bounds, but the Patriots challenged and the ruling was overturned, eventually going for 24 yards and another first down. The series ended a few plays later when Rob Gronkowski made a nice catch at the Rams’ seven, and proceeded to drag St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis the final five yards into the end zone to finish off the 14-yard touchdown pass and give New England it’s first offensive touchdown of the night with 1:55 remaining in the second quarter to make it 17-14.

•In all, Brady finished the first half 8-for-10 for 103 yards and a touchdown. Running back Sammy Morris had five rushes for 12 yards to lead the ground game. Meanwhile, Welker built on last week’s preseason debut (six snaps, two catches) with a solid first half. By our count, he was out there for 15 snaps and had two catches for 41 yards on 15 total snaps. Missing was Laurence Maroney, who did not play a single snap in the first half.

•The Patriots also had defensive issues throughout the first two quarters, as the Rams went on a 17-0 run midway through the half thanks in large part to the exceptional calm displayed by rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and first-year tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. Bradford went 15-for-21 for 189 yards and two touchdown passes in his first half in his first preseason start, while Hoomanawanui had four catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Ron Brace had a sack for New England, but it was a mostly forgettable first half for the Patriots’ defense.

•The best moment for the Patriots’ came on the opening kickoff when Brandon Tate took a 97-yarder all the way back for a touchdown an impressive play that was blocked almost flawlessly by the New England return unit. Tate was able to follow that up with a 43-yarder on the next return.

Read More: Patriots, Rams, training camp,

Patriots starting offense

08.26.10 at 7:53 pm ET
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The Patriots’ offense opened with the following lineup:

OL: Matt Light, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Sebastian Vollmer
TE: Alge Crumpler
WR: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Brandon Tate
RB: Sammy Morris
QB: Tom Brady

Read More: Patriots, training camp,

Patriots opening defense

08.26.10 at 7:43 pm ET
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The Patriots opened in a 3-4 defense with the following lineup:

DL: Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright
LB: Derrick Burgess, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, Tully Banta-Cain
DB: Devin McCourty, Brandon Meriweather, Pat Chung, Darius Butler

Read More: Patriots, training camp,

Following Patriots not spotted in uniform

08.26.10 at 7:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The following Patriots were not spotted in uniform during tonight’s pregame warmups: wide receiver Darnell Jenkins, wide receiver Julian Edelman, wide receiver Matthew Slater, safety Bret Lockett, cornerback Kyle Arrington, linebacker Eric Alexander, offensive lineman George Bussey, offensive lineman Logan Mankins, offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, tight end Aaron Hernandez and outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham.

Read More: Patriots, training camp,

We are at Gillette

08.26.10 at 6:03 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Just rolled into the Gillette Stadium press box for tonight’s preseason game between the Patriots and Rams. A nice night here at the stadium — supposed to be clear and cool, with lows dropping into the low 60s, according to weather.com. Here are a couple of quick notes from seat No. 207 in the press box:

•As is usually the case for the third preseason game, the starters are expected to go deeper into the game than at any point during the preseason. That means a higher intensity than the first two preseason games. Here’s a list of what we think you should be looking for tonight.

•Good crowd here in the press box tonight, with not a lot of national media but a good representation of scouts from across the league. Representatives from Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Miami, New Orleans, the New York Jets, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Washington, as well as a scout from the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

•The cover of tonight’s game program features the 2010 offseason award winners: Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer, Matthew Slater, James Sanders, Jonathan Wilhite, Mike Wright, Kevin Faulk, Dan Connolly, Julian Edelman and George Bussey. And before the game, the Patriots will honor the Tufts University lacrosse team, the NCAA Division III national champions.

•On the other side of the ball, it’ll mark the first preseason start for quarterback Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick in the draft. In addition, it’s something of a homecoming for St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo, a native of Whitinsville who graduated from Springfield and received his Master’s from UMass.

•Keep it here throughout the evening, as we’ll have updates, notes and analysis throughout the evening. After the game, we’ll also have the latest updates from the locker room.

Read More: Patriots, Rams, training camp,

Nuggetpalooza’s Pats schedule preview: Cleveland

08.26.10 at 10:15 am ET
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nuggetpalooza-small3The Patriots meet the Browns on Nov. 7 at 1 p.m. in Cleveland.

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What The Browns Did Well Last Season:

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* – Played Tough Early Defense: The Browns allowed just 16 points on the game’s opening possession last season (1 touchdown and 3 field goals). That was the 3rd fewest such points allowed in the league.

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* – Limited Damage on Long Drives: While Cleveland’s defense had trouble getting off the field (allowed 35 drives of 10+ plays; 2nd most in the league), opponents averaged just 2.8 points on those possessions, the 4th best mark in the league.

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* – Strong Third Down Defense In Red Zone: Here’s a big reason why the Browns were able to avoid major damage on opponents’ long drives: They allowed just 10 of 36 third down conversions in the red zone (27.8%), the 2nd lowest percentage in the NFL:

17.9% – Arizona Cardinals (5-28)
27.8% – Cleveland Browns (10-36)
28.6% – Baltimore Ravens (8-28)

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* – Net Field Position: Thanks mainly to the return skills of Josh Cribbs, the Browns ranked 8th in net starting field position as their average start (the 30.5) was 1.9 yards better than their opponents’ average start (the 28.6).

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* – Knocked Around Opposing Passers: Cleveland’s pass rushers knocked down the passer on 16.8% of opponents’ pass plays, the 2nd highest percentage in the NFL last season:

18.9% – Minnesota Vikings
16.8% – Cleveland Browns
16.7% – Washington Redskins

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* – Good Pass Defense Inside Their 30: Once opposing offenses drove inside the Cleveland 30 yard line, the Browns pass defense stiffened, allowing just 3.28 yards per pass attempt, the best in the NFL:

3.28 – Cleveland Browns
3.80 – San Francisco 49ers
3.95 – New York Jets

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* – No Early Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: The Browns enter 2010 having not allowed a rushing touchdown in the first quarter in their last 13 games, the 3rd longest active streak in the league:

29 – New England Patriots
17- Minnesota Vikings
13 – Cleveland Browns

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* – Outstanding Kickoff Return Defense: Cleveland allowed just an 18.9 yard average on kickoff returns last season, the best mark in the league:

18.9 – Cleveland Browns
19.1 – Tampa Bay Bucs
19.7 – Washington Redskins

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* – Avoided Penalties: The Browns were penalized only 678 yards last season, 3rd fewest in the league (Jacksonville, 542).

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* – Punt Returns: Cleveland averaged 11.7 yards per punt return last season, 3rd highest in the NFL. What’s more, they only called for fair catches on 7% of punts, the lowest percentage in the league.

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What The Browns Did Poorly Last Season:

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* – Unproductive 1st Down Plays: The Browns gained 4 or more yards on just 42% of their first down plays last season, 2nd worst in the league (SF, 41%).

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* – Poor Passing Accuracy: 41.8% of passes thrown by Browns’ quarterbacks last season were scored as uncatchable, the highest percentage in the NFL:

41.8% – Cleveland Browns
41.5% – New York Jets
41.1% – Tampa Bay Bucs

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* – Awful Passing Versus Blitzes: Cleveland’s 47 passer rating versus blitzes was the worst in the NFL, as was their 45% completions in those situations. Their 4.1 net yards per pass play against them was 2nd worst (St. Louis, 3.9). That would explain why an NFL-high 47% of the Browns’ pass plays came versus extra rushers.

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* – Couldn’t Recover From Poor Offensive Starting Field Position: Cleveland started 45 drives inside their own 20 yard line last season and managed points on just 2 of them (4.4%), the lowest percentage in the NFL:

4.4% – Cleveland Browns
9.1% – Carolina Panthers
10.9% – Buffalo Bills

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* – Couldn’t Stop Opponents Even With Field Position Advantage: Cleveland’s opponents started an NFL-high 60 drives inside their own 20 yard line, but the Browns still allowed an average of 1.72 points on those drives, the 2nd highest average in the league:

2.18 – St. Louis Rams
1.72 – Cleveland Browns
1.58 – Miami Dolphins

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* – Allowed Long Gains On Backfield Passes: The Browns allowed gains of 25 or more yards 3 times last season on passes completed behind the line of scrimmage. From 2004-2008, they allowed a total of just 2 such gains.

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Check back tomorrow for a preview of New England’s October 24 opponent, the San Diego Chargers!

Read More: Patriots schedule preview, training camp,

ESPN’s Wiley on D&C: Pats not on short list

08.26.10 at 8:56 am ET
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Marcellus Wiley

Marcellus Wiley

ESPN NFL analyst Marcellus Wiley joined the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday morning. To hear the interview, visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Wiley weighed in on the top teams in the league this season. Wiley, wo spent 10 years in the NFL as a defensive end, likes the Jets, but not as much as some others in the media.

“I think that they have a great chance. It’s going to be interesting to see,” he said, noting that there still are question marks, especially regarding chemistry issues. “When you have a good team and you add some great players, human nature makes you think you’re going to be great automatically. It’s not automatic. So, they have to go out there and work for it.”

Wiley said he doesn’t think the Jets’ appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” will be a problem, even though they are providing opposing teams with ammunition. “I think it’s a great thing for them,” Wiley said. “I’m always a fan of anybody that can show personality and back it up.”

Wiley has the Cowboys as his top pick to win the Super Bowl. “I’m just thinking the Dallas Cowboys are loaded,” he said. “I just can’t see how they can mess up this team. The defense is so good. … They’re  loaded on offense. I think [Tony] Romo is maturing and taking his game to the next, elite level. There’s too many weapons.”

Wiley did not have much confidence in the Patriots. “I just don’t see it this year. The defense has a lot of issues,” he said, adding, “I would keep [the Patriots] out of the short conversation.”

Wiley was asked about a recent story indicating that a number of former NFL players are dealing with symptoms of ALS due to the pounding they take during their playing days. Wiley said he recalls two major concussions “where I blacked out and didn’t know where I was,” along with “dozens” of less visible head-rattling moments as well as body-numbing “stingers,” and he still has regular pain from a career that included four major surgeries. “There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about what did football do to me in the long haul,” Wiley said. However, he added: “Would I do it all again if could do it all again? Most definitely. … There’s a give and take with everything in this world.”

Added Wiley: “You think about all those things, but then you also think about what the game gave back to me. Where else would I have spent my 20s and early 30s and had such a wonderful experience, when you’re talking outside the pain.”

Read More: Marcellus Wiley, training camp,
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