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Tracking opportunities in Patriots preseason passing game

08.25.13 at 2:58 pm 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 through the first three games of the 2013 preseason:

WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 13 catches on 21 targets
WR Aaron Dobson: 8 catches on 21 targets
WR Julian Edelman: 10 catches on 12 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 7 catches on 11 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 7 catches on 8 targets
TE Zach Sudfeld: 6 catches on 9 targets
WR Josh Boyce: 5 catches on 10 targets
TE Daniel Fells: 3 catches on 3 targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 2 catch on 5 targets
RB Brandon Bolden: 2 catch on 4 targets
WR Kamar Aiken: 2 catches on 3 targets
FB James Develin: 2 catches on 3 targets
RB Leon Washington: 2 catches on 2 targets
RB LeGarrette Blount: 1 catch on 3 targets
WR Quentin Sims: 1 catch on 2 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: 0 catches on 1 target
WR Johnathan Haggerty: 0 catches on 2 targets
TE Evan Landi: 0 catches on 1 target
TE Jake Ballard: 0 catches on 1 target

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Checking in on rest of quarterback play in AFC East after eventful weekend

08.25.13 at 9:45 am ET
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The Patriots’ three division opponents have had up-and-down performances when it comes to quarterback play over the course of the preseason, with Buffalo and New York struggling and Miami looking pretty good by comparison. We know how things have gone in New England, but after an eventful weekend where three AFC East quarterbacks were forced from the game by injuries, here’s where things stand when it comes to the rest of the division and its’ signal-callers.

Bills: Buffalo’s quarterback situation is one of the murkiest in the league, as starter Kevin Kolb left Saturday’s preseason game against the Redskins with a head injury in the first quarter and did not return. (That’s after missing the preseason opener because of a freak knee injury he suffered while slipping on a mat on the way out to practice.) That comes in the wake of what was described as a “minor procedure” for rookie E.J. Manuel for a knee problem that sidelined him for the duration of the preseason. Buffalo’s only remaining healthy quarterback is rookie Jeff Tuel — small wonder that Bills coach Doug Marrone hinted Buffalo could bring in another quarterback in the next few days. (Reports indicated the Bills were going to kick the tires on Matt Leinart and John Beck.) To his credit, Tuel is 31-for-43 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no picks to this point in the preseason.

Jets: On Saturday, the Jets quarterback situation was laid bare for the world to see. Rookie Geno Smith had the chance to win the starting job, but looked overwhelmed while locking on to receivers and stepping out of the back of the end zone to inadvertently take a safety while trying to avoid the Giants rush. (Smith finished the night 16-for-30 for 199 yards with a touchdown, three interceptions and the fourth-quarter safety.) Veteran Mark Sanchez was no better — he went 5-for-6 passes for 72 yards, but mishandled a snap that the Giants recovered. He left the game after suffering a shoulder injury on a sack while playing behind the second-string offensive line. (After he was injured, Sanchez was replaced by Matt Simms.) Right now, Sanchez has been the best QB of the preseason for the Jets, going 28-for-42 for 366 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Dolphins: Outside of the Patriots, the best quarterback play is in South Florida. In Miami’s third preseason game over the weekend, second-year starter Ryan Tannehill went 17-for-27 passes for 150 yards, a touchdown and no picks in the Dolphins’ 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay. (Tannehill’s numbers would have been even better if Miami’s Brandon Gibson hadn’t dropped at least two of his passes.) In three games this preseason, Tannehill is 34-for-56 for 377 yards, to go along with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Four-play: Breaking down Tom Brady’s performances in preseason finales over last 10 years

08.25.13 at 8:00 am ET
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In the wake of the sluggish performance from the Patriots’ offense in a 40-9 drubbing at the hands of the Lions — one where New England turned the ball over four times in the first half — it’s worth wondering if Tom Brady will be interested in heading into the regular season on an up note as opposed to what happened in Thursday’s Detroit breakdown.

When it comes to the fourth and final preseason game, he quarterback hasn’t really followed a traditional blueprint. Over the last 10 years, he’s played in three preseason finales — 2011, 2010 and 2003. In those three games, he’s played eight offensive series, or an average of almost three series a game, and has gone a combined 17-for-27 for 230 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Here’s a quick look at his work in the preseason finale over the last 10 years:

2012: DNP. Last year, Ryan Mallett got the start against the Giants and went 8-for-15 for 40 yards and was sacked twice in a 6-3 loss to New York. Brian Hoyer finished up for the Patriots — it was the last game Hoyer played in a New England uniform. (He went 9-for-15 for 96 yards and an interception.)

2011: Brady was 5-for-9 for 116 yards in an 18-17 loss to the Giants. Brady went for 16 snaps — officially, four series. (One series was one play, as the Giants fumbled the opening kickoff and the Patriots punched it in one play later for a quick 7-0 lead.) He gave way to Hoyer with 7:03 left in the second quarter.

2010: Brady was 4-for-8 for 51 yards with one touchdown pass and one pick in a 20-17 loss to the Giants. In that game, Brady played 13 snaps — two offensive series — and officially yielded to Hoyer with 12:01 left in the second quarter after throwing an interception to New York defensive back Antrel Rolle.

2009-2004: DNP

2003: We don’t have the snap information for that one (according to reports, he played two series), but we do know that Brady went 8-for-10 for 63 yards and one touchdown and left after tossing a touchdown pass to Troy Brown in a 38-23 win over the Bears. Rohan Davey finished up, going 13-for-24 for 201 yards and a touchdown.

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Bill Belichick delivers a classic football lesson

08.24.13 at 2:20 pm ET
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As the Patriots’ offense has evolved this summer with a brand new set of receivers for Tom Brady to work with, the coaching staff has done some experimenting.

They have alternated sets between two running backs and one tight end (21) and one back and two tight ends (12) – “12” versus “21” in football lingo – when there are two receivers on the field.

Of course, this was all prompted by the fact that their top two tight ends from 2012’s offensive juggernaut are gone, at least to start the season. They have loaded up on running backs, with LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington joining Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen.

With Rob Gronkowski likely out for the start for the season, Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Zach Sudfeld, Daniel Fells and Evan Landi are getting turns at tight end for the preseason.

So, at the end of his conference call on Friday, Bill Belichick went into great detail as to the difference between the “12” and “21” sets used by the Patriots this preseason.

“Just fundamentally, when you have one back in the backfield and you have four on-the-line receivers, that gives you an ability to get into the defense potentially with four people. Or even if it’€™s three of them, sometimes the defense isn’€™t sure which three of them it is. One tight end could be in it and the other guy could be in protection, that type of thing. I think you’€™re able to attack the defense from the line of scrimmage a little bit quicker and with a little less predictability, depending on who those players are, of course. That’s certainly a factor.

“But as far as your running gaps, I mean, you can put more width at the formation by having a guy on the line, whether it’€™s four on one side and two on the other side of the center or three and three. You just have a wider front, which there are some advantages to that. By having them in the backfield, you can create that same four-man surface or three-man surface after the snap so the defense doesn’€™t know where the four-man surface or three-man surface is. The fullback has to ‘€“ he can build that from the backfield. And then there are also, let’€™s say, a greater variety of blocking schemes with the fullback in the backfield because he can block different guys and come from different angles. He’s not always behind the quarterback. He could be offset one way or the other and create different blocking schemes and angles that it’€™s harder to get from the line of scrimmage.

“Also, depending on who your tight end is, it can be a little bit easier to pass protect seven men because two of them are in the backfield instead of us having one in the backfield. And then when you start running guys up the middle in the gaps and things like that. I think fundamentally it’€™s a little easier to pick them up when you a have a guy in the backfield that can step up and block him from the fullback position as opposed to a tight end in the line of scrimmage who probably isn’€™t going to be able to loop back in and get him, so the line is probably all going to have to gap down or not gap down if the guy drops out and all that. It just creates a different ‘€“ it creates some advantages, I think, and it also creates some things you have to deal with. You just have to decide how you want to deal with them. Obviously when you have a guy in the backfield, it’€™s harder to get those two receivers vertically into the defense in the passing game.

“They’€™re usually running shorter routes to the flat or checking over the ball or those kind of things, short crossing routes ‘€“ versus having that fourth receiver on the line of scrimmage who can run some downfield routes, again depending on who the individual person is. The skill definitely changes what you can do with that guy. So, I mean, I think those are the things that come into play. Some teams are very settled in one type of offense or another, so all of their plays and their rules or their adjustments come from that particular set. And other teams use multiple looks to, say, run the same plays or the same concepts to try to give the defense a different look. It’€™s harder for them to zero in on what they’€™re doing. But they’€™re able to do similar things from different personnel groups or different formations. That’s a long answer to a really short question, but I hopefully that helps a little bit.”

Class dismissed.

Read More: 2013 training camp, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, nfl

Bill Belichick on embarrassing loss: ‘We have to go out there and do something about it’

08.23.13 at 5:03 pm ET
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With his team back in Foxboro, the effort to put Thursday night’s embarrassing 40-9 loss to the Lions began the moment the Patriots landed early Friday morning.

During his weekly post-game conference call, Bill Belichick explained what he took from the film he watched after the game.

“Not really a whole lot new from what we saw last night,” Belichick said. “It just wasn’€™t a very good performance on the part of our entire football team. We just have to get back to work and do better than that in every area of the game. I don’€™t think there’€™s anything different than what the picture was last night. There were a few good individual plays here and there but overall just, we can’€™t play like that and expect to do well against a good team.

There were precious few bright spots but Belichick said on his conference call that a few players made a couple of individual plays that stood out, primarily referring to Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones on defense and Kenbrell Thompkins, despite a drop, running a few good routes in traffic.

Belichick said all the Patriots can do now is “go out and do something about it” The Patriots will need to cut their roster down to 75 players by Tuesday. The Patriots are off Saturday before returning to practice Sunday in preparation for the Giants next Thursday at Gillette. In a flashback to his “we played two quarterbacks” answer on not playing Tim Tebow Thursday, Belichick was asked why Vince Wilfork – who was suited up and ready to play – didn’t get into the game.

“We just didn’€™t put him in. That’s why,” Belichick said.

Asked to explain further, Belichick offered, “Because there were other players who played.”

Belichick was asked if he felt like the performance Thursday was a step back or just part of the natural progression leading up to the regular season.

“I don’€™t know. We’€™ll just go back to work and see if we can correct the mistakes and move forward and do a better job,” he said.

“We just need to go out and have a good week of practice and do things a lot better than we did them last night, that’€™s all. Nobody is going to do it for us; we’€™re going to have to go out there. Nobody but us can make things any better than what they were last night. We have to go out there and do something about it.”

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Bill Belichick: ‘That certainly wasn’t a very competitive performance’

08.22.13 at 11:49 pm ET
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After watching his team get demolished by the Lions, 40-9, Thursday night in the third preseason game, Bill Belichick said there was nothing positive he could take from the effort at Ford Field.

He pointed to the four first-half turnovers in the Patriots’ first five possessions that doomed any potential momentum from the first-team offense.

“They really handled us in every phase of the game,” Belichick said in his opening statement. “We really weren’€™t very competitive in anything. We got thoroughly outplayed and outcoached and they just did everything better than we did. Obviously when you turn the ball over four times in the first quarter, that will knock you out of most any game, and it practically knocked us out of this one.

“We couldn’€™t ever make a stop in the second half defensively to ever really make it competitive, even though we had a couple of decent drives offensively. But when you can’€™t stop them on defense, then we couldn’€™t get back in the game. Couldn’€™t score on offense, so it’€™s a bad combination. Too many negative plays. Just too many bad plays in all phases of the game. We’€™ve got a lot of work to do, and that certainly wasn’€™t a very competitive performance tonight.’€

Did Belichick think the four turnovers, three fumbles and a Tom Brady interception, were uncharacteristic?

‘€œLook, anytime you turn the ball over four times, your chances of winning in this league are not very good,” Belichick said. “And when you do it in the first quarter, on the road, I’€™m sure they’€™re even less. Doesn’€™t really make any difference what happened in any other game, or any other week. ‘€¦ I mean, it doesn’€™t matter. What happened tonight is what happened tonight. We turned it over, we put ourselves in a hole, and we got beat.’€

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Snap Judgments: Lions crush Tom Brady, Patriots in third preseason game

08.22.13 at 10:41 pm ET
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The Patriots suffered their first loss of the preseason Thursday night in Detroit, dropping a 40-9 decision to the Lions.

As is the case with the third preseason game, the starters went deep in this one. Quarterback Tom Brady — who finished 16-for-24 for 185 yards and one pick — played the first two quarters before giving way to backup Ryan Mallett (who ended up 11-for-22 for 96 yards and a touchdown). However, the New England offense struggled for much of the first two quarters, with the lone bright spot being rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who came away with eight catches for 116 yards on the evening.

But it was a forgettable outing for the offense, as four turnovers (and two more turnovers on downs) added up to a miserable night for New England.

The Patriots wrap up the preseason next Thursday at home against the Giants.

Here are a few quick notes:

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