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NFL Weekend Notes: Why have Patriots put brakes on no-huddle offense last few years?

12.09.16 at 1:25 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels haven't pushed the pace the last year-plus like the Patriots used to back in 2011 and 2012. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels haven’t pushed the pace the last year-plus like the Patriots used to back in 2011 and 2012. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

1. The next time you hear someone talk about the Patriots and a “system offense,” remind them that few teams change up their offensive approach like New England. A few seasons ago, the obsession around here was with no-huddle, uptempo football. In 2011 and 2012, the Patriots set the standard when it comes to no-huddle football, as they ran 25 percent of their plays in the no-huddle each year. Now, in 2016, New England has hit the brakes. Through 12 games this year, the Patriots have run 31 plays out of a no-huddle set out of 785 total offensive snaps, a rate of 4 percent. That’s a sizable dip from last year, when it was 133 no huddle plays on 1,183 plays from scrimmage, a rate of 11 percent. In 2014, they were in no-huddle on 7 percent of their plays from scrimmage and 11 percent in 2013. Why has New England’s offensive philosophy shifted so dramatically? Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels touched on that a little bit in a recent conference call. “It’s like many things that we choose to do. There’s some things that we do that we haven’t done in a while, and there some things that we do on a little more of a consistent basis,” he said of the no-huddle, uptempo approach. “We seem to have a lot of guys right now that have roles in the game and that are performing those roles well so that’s another factor in there. When you’re playing no-huddle you don’t sub a lot. Again, it’s something that we have and based on the week and the opponent and our personnel and the situation heading into the game each week we’ll try to determine if that’s a bigger part of what we do. It’s certainly part of our offense, and hopefully, we’ll use it at the right time.”

2. LeGarrette Blount is one touchdown from tying the Patriots’ single-season record for most rushing touchdowns in a season. (Curtis Martin had 14 rushing touchdowns in 1995 and 1996.) But with 13 touchdowns in 12 games, if he keeps up the touchdown-a-game pace, he could find his way into the upper reaches of the NFL record book. Sixteen rushing touchdowns would tie him with a bunch of different backs for the 30th-most in NFL history. If he can find a way to get to 20, he’d tie for 11th all-time. Regardless of where he finishes, it’s been a nice career year for the big back, who turned 30 this week. In addition to the touchdown mark (he’s already set a personal high), he also already set his career-high for carries in a season with 230, and is 20th all-time on the franchise list for most carries in a single season. If he can get 70 carries in the last four games — an eminently reachable goal, given the fact that the Patriots face two of the worst run defenses in the league over the last four games in Miami and Denver — it will mark only the fifth time in franchise history New England has had a back rush 300 times in a season. (Martin topped 300 in 1995 and 1996, while Corey Dillion did it in 2004 and Leonard Russell did it in 1993.)

3. There are a lot of similarities between the Patriots and Ravens, a point illustrated by Bill Belichick’s seminar on toughness during Wednesday’s press conference. It also seems that New England and Baltimore are frequently in on the same types of players. Perhaps that’s because Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome learned his trade from Belichick while the two were together in Cleveland, but it’s an ethos that includes going after individuals like Steve Smith Sr. and Eric Weddle. Smith wasn’t too keen on talking about the Patriots’ courtship a few years ago, but Weddle opened up a bit this week, saying “obviously” he was interested when the Patriots came calling this past offseason. “I have nothing but high regard, respect and admiration – and envy, quite honestly – of the success of the New England Patriots over the years,” Weddle said. “Obviously, battling them in my career, it’s always been a great game. I love the way they play, love the foundation, love everything about it. It was definitely on my radar. There were talks both ways, it just didn’t end up [working out].” Weddle also lamented why New England didn’t draft him in 2007. “I’m still wondering why they just didn’t draft me in ’07. I could have been still playing there now,” he added with a laugh. For the record, Weddle was taken 37th by the Chargers that year. The Patriots went with Brandon Meriweather at No. 24.

4. For his sake, we were happy to hear that Griff Whalen, who was signed this week by the Patriots, will not be wearing No. 17, as he did when he was in Indianapolis. We’ve written about this in the past, but it bears repeating that when it comes to the No. 17, it’s a bad jersey to get for a receiver in New England. Chad Jackson, Taylor Price and Aaron Dobson are just three of the underperforming pass catchers who have worn the number over the last few years. At first glance, the Whalen signing bears some similarities to the addition of Austin Collie, another former Colt who was added in October 2013. For his part, the Patriots would love to see Whalen assimilate himself as well as Collie did: The BYU product quickly gained a level of offensive trust with Brady and McDaniels, and was on the field for a number of big moments that season, including late in a game-winning drive against the Saints and the AFC title game.

5. With the final quarter of the regular season looming — and keeping in mind Belichick’s appreciation that durability can sometimes be more important than ability — it’s worth looking at the top 10 on both sides of the ball when it comes to overall playtime percentage. (Snap totals are via official NFL boxscores and cross-checked with Pro Football Reference.)

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Malcolm Mitchell not worried about fantasy football: ‘Don’t think about anything more than they tell me to do’

12.09.16 at 1:18 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The rookie wide receiver of the Patriots out of the University of Georgia really sounds like he gets it.

Malcolm Mitchell refuses to be distracted by anything, not injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola that affect his role in the passing game. Not his first Monday night football appearance. And certainly not his new celebrity as the most-added receiver in fantasy football leagues over the last several weeks.

Mitchell in the last three games has 17 catches, 222 yards and three touchdowns in wins over the 49ers, Jets and Rams.

“I’ve said from the day I entered [Patriots], I feel blessed to even have the opportunity to be a part of this organization,” Mitchell said. “From the time they drafted me to now, I still feel the same way. The philosophy around here is pretty simple, and it’s said all the time: Just do your job. I just do what they tell me. And that’s how I like to keep it. I just keep it that simple, honestly. I don’t think about anything more than they tell me to do.”

Mitchell said there’s no added pressure with the likes of Gronk and Amendola out of commission.

“If they tell me to go in, I go in,” Mitchell said.

As for fantasy implications, Mitchell is not the guy to ask.

“Not really at all. I don’t know much about it,” Mitchell said Friday. “I have family members mention it but I never know what they’re talking about. I’m not sure how that works. I don’t know. I need to look back through my phone. If someone said that, I probably have no idea what they’re talking about.”

As for his status as most-added receiver in many leagues?

“That’s cool,” Mitchell said, adding, “I really have no idea about fantasy football.”

Jacoby Brissett, who is two lockers down from Mitchell, yelled, “I got you on my team.”

Mitchell’s real team will have its hands full with the 7-5 Ravens Monday night.
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Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, New England Patriots

Danny Amendola only player missing at Patriots practice

12.09.16 at 1:11 pm ET
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Danny Amendola

Danny Amendola

FOXBORO — There was good news coming out of the media portion of Patriots practice on Friday — only one player was missing.

The lone player absent was wide receiver Danny Amendola, who reportedly is out for the remainder of the regular season after sustaining an ankle injury against the Rams.

New wide out Griff Whalen, who was signed on Thursday, was present. Also present was Jordan Richards, who looks to be practicing for the first time since suffering a knee injury against the Jets two weeks ago.

Matthew Slater and Martellus Bennett were once again present after missing practice on Wednesday.

The Patriots will practice one more time on Saturday before hosting the Ravens on Monday Night Football.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Fantasy Football: Week 14 starts, sits

12.09.16 at 11:22 am ET
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rotobahn-logoWelcome to the Week 14 starts and sits. I have some recommendations for both seasonal leagues and for DraftKings. As always, if you are looking for recommendations on players not listed in this space, consult my free lineup rankings over at Rotobahn. They will be fully updated by Saturday night, after final injury reports come out, and they are comprehensive.

I hope you all join Jim Hackett and me for this week’s edition of the Fantasy Football Hour. We’ll be live at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, and you can listen on WEEI.com if you are a late riser. It’s usually posted on the home page by mid-morning. I’ll also tweet a link to the show once it is up.

Follow @rotobahn on Twitter if you want to keep up with all of our fantasy stuff.

QUARTERBACKS

Start

Jameis Winston, Buccaneers vs. Saints, $6,700

I like Winston as a starter in just about any situation this week. He’s a nice value on DraftKings and gives you a potent 1-2 punch if you stack him with Mike Evans. To have a big game, Winston will have to use his tight end and running backs, and I think he will. Three hundred passing yards and multiple scores is very doable in this matchup — one of the best Winston has had in 2016. It’s also worth noting that the Saints typically play uptempo and generally have good game scripts for fantasy purposes. They defend the run better than they defend the pass.

Kirk Cousins, Washington at Eagles, $6,300

There’s always the risk of an ugly game when divisional rivals meet, but I like Cousins in this spot. He held his own against a tougher opponent last week and I think he can excel against this more familiar opponent. He’s clicking with a lot of his receivers right now, so the big plays can come from a lot of different places, and we may even see the return of Jordan Reed. The Eagles corners have been struggling in recent weeks, giving up 300-yard performances to Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton. In Week 11 they gave up plenty of production to Russell Wilson and also a touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin. They are more vulnerable than the season stats indicate.

Andy Dalton, Bengals at Browns, $6,100

I’m starting him this week in a big playoff tilt, so if I am wrong, you can take some comfort that I suffered for my blunder. Really, though, Dalton is in a good spot here. Cleveland obviously is a good matchup and Dalton is playing rather well right now. I don’t think he has enough upside to have big exposure in my DraftKings lineups this week, but I like his floor enough to use him in seasonal leagues if I don’t have a better option. I’m using him on a team where he’s my No. 2 guy behind Marcus Mariota. With the Titans playing Denver, I am hesitant to use Mariota.

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Remember Dean Pees? He’s still calling defenses and running secondaries: ‘He’s going to change things up’

12.09.16 at 11:18 am ET
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September 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees before the game against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Ravens 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Dean Pees has been calling the Ravens defense since 2012. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — How will the Patriots attack the Ravens Monday night?

Whether it’s Tom Brady firing passes all over the field against their secondary or mixing in Dion Lewis and James White, one thing is for certain, the Patriots’ offense will be taking on a very familiar foe.

Dean Pees is in his fifth year as Ravens defensive coordinator. As Chris Price notes, Pees is no stranger to Brady and the Patriots, beating Brady twice in four meetings over that period, including the 2012 AFC championship at Gillette Stadium.

The last time the Patriots faced Pees, Rob Gronkowski had seven catches on 13 targets for 108 yards and a touchdown. Danny Amendola had five catches on six targets for 81 yards and two touchdowns, including the trick play from Julian Edelman. That’s 12 catches, 189 yards and three touchdowns worth of production from the top two receivers from the 2014 AFC divisional game that will be missing Monday night.

Pees, of course, is no stranger to Patriots fans either, having run the Patriots’ defense from 2006 through 2009, taking over for Eric Mangini when Mangini left to become the Jets head coach in ’06.

Pees was at the helm in 2007 when the Patriots went 18-0 before falling 17-14 to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. It was in that game that Pees and the defense came under scrutiny at the end for allowing Giants receiver Plaxico Burress to be in single coverage with 5-foot-9 Ellis Hobbs on the outside.

But that’s water under the bridge and now it’s up to Josh McDaniels and the Patriots to come up with some type of game plan to attack a Ravens defense that is leading the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed at 73.8. The next closest team is Dallas at 82.3.

How might knowing Pees and his tendencies factor into game planning?

“I don’t try to guess, that’s for sure,” McDaniels said. “Dean is going to change things up. Dean is going to do the things that have made him successful as a coach and Baltimore successful as a team. I think my concern is not going to be trying to over-analyze how Dean may or may not think about this week, but to try to prepare the best we can with our staff and our players to get ready to play one of the best defenses in the league without question.
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Bill Belichick short and sweet on Griff Whalen and his potential: ‘We’ll see’

12.09.16 at 10:28 am ET
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FOXBORO — The man most noted for his participation in an epic fake punt fail against the Patriots in 2015 is now providing some insurance in the Patriots’ wide receiver corps.

Griff Whalen, a 26-year-old receiver who was an undrafted rookie in 2012 out of Stanford, has been signed to the Patriots active roster to provide some insurance after the ankle injury suffered by Danny Amendola against the Rams. Defensive tackle Darius Kilgo was released Thursday to make room on the roster.

Friday morning, Bill Belichick confirmed the move. Belichick noted how the Patriots have been down this road before, signing a veteran receiver in the middle of the season when a player on their roster was injured.

“Haven’t seen much of anything from him,” Belichick said of Whalen, who played in eight games this season with the Chargers, catching two passes for 22 yards. “We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see how that works into our receiver situation. I don’t know. We’ll see. He’s been more of an inside receiver. He’s done some returning. We’ll see.”

Whalen, who was released by the Chargers on Nov. 22, had his best season in 2013, when he caught 24 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns for the Colts in Andrew Luck’s second year. With Amendola providing punt return insurance behind the struggling Cyrus Jones, Belichick was asked if Whalen, with four kickoff returns for 56 yards this season.

“No. I’d say there are some returners out there,” Belichick said. “He hasn’t had a ton of production as a returner but he’s returned [kicks]. Again, we’ll see.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Griff Whalen, New England Patriots,

Report: Pats sign free agent WR Griff Whalen

12.08.16 at 5:55 pm ET
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Griff Whalen has joined the Patriots. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Griff Whalen has joined the Patriots. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Patriots have reportedly signed wide receiver Griff Whalen.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder out of Stanford — who was the snapper on one of the funniest attempted fakes in recent league history — has been in the league since 2012, and has spent time with Indy and San Diego. He has 47 catches for 509 yards and three touchdowns in his career, with his finest season coming in 2013 when he had 24 receptions for 259 yards and two touchdowns with the Colts.

Whalen also has experience as a punt and kick returner, and averaged 7.2 yards per punt return and 25.3 yards per kick return in 2014.

Whalen will likely take up some of the slack caused after the recent injury to Danny Amendola. Amendola suffered an injury in last week’s win over Los Angeles, but will reportedly be on the shelf for the rest of the regular season.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media was first to report the news.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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