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Bill Belichick ramping up for another pressure-packed attack from Mike Zimmer

09.09.14 at 6:48 pm ET
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Mike ZImmer (left) will again have his eyes on Tom Brady this weekend. (John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Mike ZImmer (left) will again have his eyes on Tom Brady this weekend. (John Grieshop/Getty Images)

If there’s one silver lining of Sunday’s blitzkrieg of the Patriots offensive line, especially in the second half, it’s that the Patriots will likely see more of the same this week in Minnesota and have another chance to prove that they can handle the pressure.

As Bill Belichick pointed out Tuesday, new Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer and Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle worked together for Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati for four seasons (2008-11) when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator and Coyle was the defensive backs coach.

There, Zimmer and Coyle came up with a defensive scheme that was considered one of the most aggressive in the NFL, using heavy pressure packages, including blitzes, along with building a bruising defensive front that could bring pressure on its own.

Move the quarterback off the spot in the pocket and make him uncomfortable. In 2009, it produced a division championship. In 2011, the Bengals with a new quarterback in Andy Dalton, but the Zimmer-Coyle defense still in place, went back to the playoffs as a wild card.

Now, Zimmer is in charge of the entire Vikings program and he brings with him another aggressive approach, and a defensive that generated an NFL-leading five sacks in Week 1, led by two from defensive end Everson Griffen.

“I’€™d say their defense looks quite a bit like the Cincinnati defense,” Belichick said. “I think there’€™s quite a bit of carryover from what they did in Cincinnati, especially when you get to their sub third-down packages. Yeah, I think there’€™s quite a bit of carryover.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Cincinnati Bengals, Josh McDaniels, Mike Zimmer

Josh McDaniels: Breakdowns up front can be traced to not being ‘technically sound’

09.09.14 at 6:45 pm ET
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Josh McDaniels understands why the Patriots’ offensive line has been under fire since the 33-20 loss to the Dolphins in Sunday’s season-opener.

New England’s offensive coordinator, who spoke with reporters on a conference call Tuesday, said the breakdowns in protection weren’t necessarily traceable to one thing. Instead, it was across the board — and a good performance by the Miami front — that led to four sacks and six quarterback hits by the Dolphins on Brady.

“I don’€™t think there was one thing in particular,” McDaniels said. “I think you have to do a good job of being technically sound in terms of your protection to avoid pressure on the passer, obviously. Give credit to Miami; they deserve it. They did a good job, not only with their personnel and what they did in their rush schemes, but just the effort they played with.”

You could argue that one of the reasons Brady and the Patriots were under pressure Sunday against the Dolphins was because of their play-calling. New England attempted 56 passes on the afternoon — the most pass attempts for the Patriots since Brady has 65 pass attempts in a Dec. 2012 loss to the Niners. That included just three designed runs over the course of the fourth quarter, even though it was a three-point game after three quarters.

You drop back more often, and you’re going to give the opponent more of a chance to get after the passer. That’s a recipe for trouble, regardless of how good the offensive line is.

“I thought we had definite stretches where we did a good job [avoiding pressure], and then there was certainly an element of the game in the second half that we’€™d love to stay away from, which is we’€™re not looking to go into any game and throw the ball 50-plus times,” acknowledged McDaniels. “We’€™ve got to do a better job in general, coaching, playing, managing the game and putting ourselves in better positions than what we did in the second half, because we didn’€™t do much of anything to help ourselves.”

McDaniels addressed the statements from Belichick saying that the plan throughout the game was to rotate at every position, and that included the offensive line. Understandably, McDaniels wouldn’t commit to a set game plan along those lines going forward, but it sure sounds like there could be more of that in the coming weeks.

“I think each week will be different,” McDaniels said of a possible rotation. “We’€™ll look at the personnel situation that we have and the health of our team obviously would affect that, and just what we feel like is the best thing for us going forward.

“Certainly on opening day down in Miami, it was hot. I believe every offensive player for us contributed offensively, and obviously a lot of those guys had to play in the kicking game, too. I think that will be a week-to-week thing and we’€™ll try to make the best decision that hopefully gives us a chance to play well on Sunday.”

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Patriots add DE Cameron Henderson to practice squad and release QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

09.09.14 at 5:20 pm ET
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The Patriots signed defensive Cameron Henderson to the practice squad and released quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson from the practice squad on Tuesday. Here’s a portion of the press release on the moves:

Henderson, 24, originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Atlanta Falcons on April 29, 2013, out of Central Florida. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, was released by the Falcons on Aug. 25, 2014, and was signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad on Dec. 4, 2013. He went to training camp this past summer with Cleveland but was released on Aug. 25, 2014. He played two seasons at Central Florida after beginning his college career at Navarro College.

Bethel-Thompson, 26, is a third-year player out of Sacramento State, who has been with Miami (2011), Minnesota (2012-2013) and San Francisco (2013). He was signed to the Patriots practice squad on Sept. 1, 2014, released on Sept. 3 and then re-signed on Sept. 4. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder, was originally signed by San Francisco on July 28, 2011, as a rookie free agent.

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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

09.09.14 at 4:16 pm ET
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Every week, we list the Patriots’€™ “offensive 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. Here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense after the 2014 opener:

RB Shane Vereen: 12 (7 carries, 5 catches)
RB Stevan Ridley: 10 (8 carries, 2 catches), 1 negative run
WR Julian Edelman: 8 (2 carries, 6 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 5 (5 catches)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 4 (4 catches)
RB Brandon Bolden: 3 (2 carries, 1 catch)
WR Danny Amendola: 3 (3 catches)
TE Tim Wright: 3 (3 catches)
QB Tom Brady: 1 (1 carry), 4 sacks

Notes: The Patriots had five negative plays from scrimmage on Sunday — four sacks of Brady, and one run of -2 yards from Ridley. … Overall, the Patriots ran 80 plays, nine of them in no-huddle (11.3 percent). In addition, 37 of their 80 snaps (46 percent) were in shotgun formation. By way of comparison, over the course of the 2013 regular season, the Patriots were in shotgun for 42 percent of their offensive snaps and they ran no-huddle on 11 percent of their snaps.

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Pressure points: Which Patriots defenders did best job getting after QB in season opener?

09.09.14 at 3:52 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the 2014 season, we’€™ll€™€ provide a look at the Patriots pass rush numbers. Like all stats, the numbers have to be placed on context of game-situations and personnel. And while sacks can be overrated, when evaluated as part of a bigger picture that includes quarterback hits and quarterback pressures (the latter courtesy of Pro Football Focus), it should provide a good picture as to which defenders are consistently able to get after the quarterback. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’€™€™€™s a look at the pass-rush numbers for the Patriots after one game for the 2014 regular season:

Sacks (via gamebooks)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1 (9 yards)

Quarterback Hits (via gamebooks)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1
LB Dont’a Hightower: 1

Quarterback Hurries (via PFF)
DL Joe Vellano: 2
LB/DE Rob Ninkovich: 2
DL Vince Wilfork: 1
LB Jerod Mayo: 1
LB Dont’a Hightower: 1

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Fantasy Football: Week 1 waiver wire

09.09.14 at 1:58 pm ET
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Welcome to the first waiver wire of 2014. It was a wild Week 1 and I’m here to help you sort out the best available free agent targets. The level of available talent identified here is geared for the more common 10-team leagues. I like all the players listed below in those types of formats, and obviously in larger ones if they happen to be available. I’ll be posting the Rotobahn waiver wire later Tuesday, and as always, I’ll be digging even deeper and adding more names as I continue to break down Week 1 game film.

I’ll be back later this week with another Starts and Sits column plus another podcast with Fantasy Football Hour co-host Jim Hackett. All the ownership rates listed below are based on Yahoo! leagues, which tend to be smaller and are most reflective of 10-team leagues. To keep pace with all WEEI and Rotobahn fantasy football content, follow me on Twitter.


Carson Palmer, Cardinals

Palmer is taken in just over half of all leagues, and his weapons make him dangerous in plus matchups. He gets the Giants next week and has some nice soft matchups on the horizon from Weeks 6-9.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

He looked very much in-control in Week 1 vs. a New England defense that we expected to hold him down. Tannehill certainly has some fantasy appeal as a matchup play when the opponent is right. You still can get him in more than half of Yahoo! leagues.

Jake Locker, Titans

Locker gets Dallas this week and that could be a reason to add him in and of itself. Locker also has a nice developing group of weapons, and he played well on the road last week against a tough Rams defense. He’s got some appeal in the short term for sure. Locker can be had in 88 percent of leagues.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Texans

Fitzpatrick is what he is — an uninspiring quarterback. Still, he has some very nice targets to throw to like Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. He also has a decent overall schedule and that includes visiting Oakland this week. He’s only taken in 9 percent of leagues.

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Read More: Carson Palmer, Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Tannehill

Rodney Harrison on MFB: NFL ‘trying to get it right’

09.09.14 at 12:39 pm ET
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NBC Sports analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to talk about the Ray Rice situation and the Patriots’ season-opening loss to the Dolphins. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

“I think everybody could be in agreement that the NFL got it wrong,” Harrison said. “When I saw the video … I was just mind-boggled by what Ray Rice did. And I think the biggest mistake he made was he didn’t admit to it, he didn’t come out and just flat-out say to the NFL and the commissioner, ‘Hey, I punched her.’ Now I don’t know if he said he pushed her or if he was defending himself. But in a situation like that zero tolerance is needed, and there’s no reason why you ever put your hands on a female, point-blank, period.

“I think the Ravens did the right thing. I think the National Football League did the right thing. It’s just one of those things where it makes me a little nervous, it makes me a little unhappy, just very, very disappointed even talking about it.”

Roger Goodell is facing heavy criticism for the league’s initial two-game suspension. Many have speculated his job in his jeopardy, especially if he had viewed the damning video that TMZ released Monday.

“I don’t know [how Goodell comes out of this]. I don’t know right now,” Harrison said. “I think he’s done some really good things with his term in office. I think just like anytime a new person comes in, he’s in charge of the National Football League or a business, there’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of expectation. And he hasn’t been the most popular among a lot of the players as well as the fans.

“I dealt with him one-on-one in a couple of situations, and I think he’s still the right man for the job. … It’s one of those situations where you’re not going to always be the most popular because you hold one of the toughest jobs in football, if not the toughest. But it’s one thing he’s learning, and I think he finally got it right. The indefinite suspension of Ray Rice, I think that was something that was needed. I think it sends a message across the league, just like the new domestic policy. And I think it’s one of those things where as a fan you have to look at the league and say at least they’re trying to get it right.”

As for the question of if Goodell or the NFL investigators viewed the video, Harrison said: “It’s just hard for anyone to tell me that the league couldn’t get access to that video. It’s just very hard. I don’t know if they just dropped the ball, didn’t think about it, if they just didn’t want the video. I don’t know what the situation was.

“It’s just one of those things where when you saw the video, it just made you sick.”

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Read More: Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, ray rice, Rodney Harrison
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