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Analysis: Impact of Pryor’s move to IR, and a look at the newest Patriot, Phillip Adams

09.21.11 at 12:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots’ decision to move defensive lineman Myron Pryor to injured reserve with a groin injury robs them of some flexibility up front, and places more on the shoulders of the returning Landon Cohen.

The 25-year-old Pryor, a 6-foot-1, 310-pounder who was taken in the sixth round of the 2009 draft out of Kentucky, has proven himself to be more of a penetrating defensive lineman with an ability to get after the quarterback. In two games this season, he has three tackles, 0.5 sacks (for 4.5 yards) and three quarterback hits. The Patriots are betting that the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Cohen, who had a cup of coffee with the Patriots last season (he played in two games with one start for the 2010 Patriots, finishing with three tackles) can replicate some of that ability.

It also appears that New England is set to add cornerback Phillip Adams to the roster — the former 49ers defensive back was in the locker room during media availability on Wednesday morning. He politely declined interview requests. The 23-year-old out of South Carolina State played in 15 games with San Francisco last season, finishing with 13 tackles and one pass defensed. Checking in at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, he was selected in the seventh round with the 224th overall pick by the 49ers in the 2010 draft. According to reports out of the Bay Area, Adams played with an injured ankle last season, which limited his performance but was not seriously enough to place him on the PUP list.

While Cohen and Pryor will essentially trade roster spots, the Patriots have not announced a corresponding roster move to free up space for Adams. (UPDATE, 1:03 p.m.: The Patriots have announced they will move center Dan Koppen to injured reserve to make room for Adams.)

Read More: Dan Koppen, Landon Cohen, Myron Pryor, Phillip Adams

Target Practice: Tom Brady and Deion Branch remain a sure thing together

09.20.11 at 8:03 pm ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an 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. Two weeks into the season, here’s a look at the target breakdown in the New England passing game for 2011:

Deion Branch: 15 catches on 19 targets (79 percent)
Aaron Hernandez: 14 catches on 18 targets (78 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 10 catches on 13 targets (77 percent)
Wes Welker: 15 catches on 23 targets (65 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 3 catches on 3 targets (100 percent)
Chad Ochocinco: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
Matthew Slater: 1 catch on 2 target (50 percent)
Julian Edelman: 1 catch on 2 targets (50 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 1 catch on 2 targets (50 percent)
Dane Fletcher: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
TOTAL: 63 catches on 88 targets (72 percent)

By position:
Running back: 4 catches on 5 targets (80 percent)
Tight end: 24 catches on 31 targets (77 percent)
Wide receiver: 35 catches on 51 targets (69 percent)
Other: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Dane Fletcher

Sources: Aaron Hernandez out two to four weeks … and what it means going forward

09.20.11 at 6:51 pm ET
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League sources now indicate that the Patriots will lose tight end Aaron Hernandez for two to four weeks because of a left knee injury he suffered in Sunday’€™s win over the Chargers. (The news that Hernandez would miss time was first reported by Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.)

Hernandez, who is third on the team with 14 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns on two games, has combined with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski to form a dynamic portion of the New England passing game. If he’€™s unable to go over the next two weeks, that will rob the Patriots of perhaps their most versatile offensive option — while the Florida product is listed as a tight end, he really plays more like a wide receiver, often lined up on the outside and using his speed to create advantageous matchups for New England.

At the same time, it will provide opportunities in the passing game for some pass catchers who might have struggled over the first two weeks of the season.

‘€œWe have a lot of different skill players in our offense,’€ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked if they have anyone who can replicate Hernandez’€™s versatile role in the offense. ‘€œWe have a lot of different formations and things. As you’€™ve seen, we use multiple personnel groups, multiple formations, so whatever we have to do, we’€™ll use some combination of those.’€

‘€œWe have a lot different guys that play,’€ said Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien. ‘€œWe’€™re in the process of game-planning right now. We’€™re going to head out to practice (Wednesday) and we’€™re going to start putting that first and second half game plan in and go from there.’€

The Patriots could do one of two things: First, an increase role in the passing game could be in the cards for one or both of the Gronkowski brothers, the two healthy tight ends on the roster. Two, other pass catchers could see more chances as a result. That includes wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who was targeted five times over the first two games (the lowest total of targets among the starting pass catchers).

The newcomer, who caught a pair of passes in Sunday’€™s win over San Diego, is part of a rapidly improving group of wide receivers, according to O’€™Brien.

‘€œI think that whole position is moving forward,’€ O’€™Brien said. ‘€œEach guy — Chad, Deion [Branch], Wes [Welker] — especially those three guys that have played the most for us, those guys really improved from the Miami game to the San Diego game. I think they are doing little things better.

‘€œWe’€™re a game plan offense, and depending on how teams are playing us, those are the personnel groups we go with and each and every week will be different. That’€™s kind of what’€™s always made us tick around here. As long as we can keep people off-balance, that’€™s part of what we try to do, use different personnel groups. Some game, one guy might play more than another guy. Those guys understand that. That’€™s why they’€™re here and they buy into that role. So I think all those guys are getting better.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Chad Ochocinco

What happens if the Patriots have to go without Zoltan Mesko for an indefinite period of time?

09.20.11 at 3:52 pm ET
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In the second half of Sunday’s game against the Chargers, Patriots’ punter Zoltan Mesko went down with what appeared to be some sort of left knee injury after a San Diego player blocked New England’s James Ihedigbo into Mesko. Mesko did not punt for the rest of the game, but limped on and off the field while working as a holder on an extra point for kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the state of New England’s punting game, specifically the possibility of bringing someone in to replace Mesko, presumably for the short term.

“We’€™re still working our way through those questions today, it may take longer than that,” Belichick said Tuesday. “I don’€™t know. It’€™s possible.”

Prior to drafting Mesko prior to the start of the 2010 season, the Patriots ran through a steady series of punters, a group that included Chris Hanson, Ken Walter, Todd Sauerbrun and Josh Miller. However, Mesko, who has averaged 39.5 yards per punt over the first two games of the season, has clearly distinguished himself in his year-plus that he’s been around — he finished his rookie year with a 38.4 net average to set an NFL rookie record for net punting average.

In short, replacing him would be a challenge.

“There are plenty of things that go into the punting position — it’€™s not like standing out on the driving range, teeing it up and hitting it as far as you can,” Belichick said. “Situation punting is probably over half the game in punting, whether it’€™s directional punting, rushes, plus fifty, end of the game or end of half-type situations. One deep, two deep, overload rushes, I mean you can just keep going.

“There are a million things that the punter has to deal with — the punter, then whole punt team, personal protector, snapper, [things] that everyone has to deal with. There’€™s certainly a lot more to it than just catching the ball and kicking it as far as you can, so that’€™s something we work on every week and it changes every week. Every team we play is different and then you always have to deal with the conditions and the situation within the game so there’€™s plenty of stuff going on there.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, chris hanson, James Ihedigbo, Josh Miller

Bill Belichick is asked about faking injuries to slow down the game

09.20.11 at 1:05 pm ET
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The Patriots have been big proponents of the hurry-up offense this season, using the no-huddle an extraordinary 42 of the 138 plays from scrimmage this season over the first two games. (For more on that, check out my story here.)

But the Chargers found a way to slow down New England on Sunday — albeit very briefly — when San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips went down early in the game. Phillip returned to the contest shortly afterward, but his actions (as well as the actions of some of the players in the Giants-Rams game Monday night) have sparked a discussion across the league about defensive players possibly faking injuries in hopes of taking an offense out of a rhythm.

“I think we all see, the way the game is now,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, speaking on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “There are different breaks in the game at all points in time. You can have the momentum, and positive things going in your favor, and we stop and review a play, review a score, or a play gets challenged, or a player gets injured, a beach ball rolls on to the field. It could be a dog runs out there. It could be anything. Streakers, you could have that.

“Things happen,” Belichick added. “That’s part of being focused and playing through the situation, whatever it is that comes up, you have to be able to deal with it, both sides of the ball, for and against it, on the road and home. It’s just part of the game. I think if you want to address that whole issue, that’s something that needs to go to the people who make the rules.”

Of course, the Patriots have been accused of similar stalling tactics in the past. In a 2003 game against the Colts, Indianapolis was in the midst of a second-half comeback before New England linebacker Willie McGinest went down with what appeared to be a knee problem — a strange sight for one of the Patriots most durable players of that era. (He returned to the game soon after, and later, was a little coy about the nature of the injury.) Of course, McGinest made the big play at the end of the game, stopping Edgerrin James on the goal line, but the memory of McGinest’s action is still fresh for many Indianapolis fans.

Of course, this give us an excuse to post our favorite fake sports injury of all time:

Read More: Bill Belichick, Edgerrin James, Rodney Dangerfield, Shaun Phillips

WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 3

09.20.11 at 10:25 am ET
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A thrilling Week 2 provided much insight on which teams will be pretenders and which will be contenders. The week also left us scratching our heads in some cases. The Bills and Redskins are both 2-0 while the Ravens were upset by the Titans.

The Packers and Patriots retain their spots as the top two teams in the NFL. Entering the top five for the first time this season are Rex Ryan‘s Jets (4).  In a rapid decline are three playoff teams from 2010. The Chiefs (30), Colts (31) and Seahawks (32) have dropped to the bottom of the league.

Looking ahead, there are a few key games in Week 3 that could have a great impact on the rankings: Packers at Bears, Giants at Eagles, Texans at Saints, and Redskins at Cowboys. We should be in for another exciting week in the NFL.

1. (1) Packers (2-0) ‘€” Aaron Rodgers and the Packers maintained their composure after falling behind to an inferior Panthers team and came back with a win. Rodgers has to love the production he got from James Starks. Starks averaged over nine yards per carry. Add a strong run game to an explosive pass game and the Packers will have their way with opposing defenses all season. On a down note, Packers Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins is out for the year. This is a team certainly capable of overcoming injuries but definitely a cause for concern as the pass defense has allowed back to back 400-plus-yard games.

2. (2) Patriots (2-0) ‘€” Tony Dungy said Sunday night that Tom Brady and the Patriots look like the 2007 team that went 18-1. It’s tough to disagree. The Patriots offense has been unstoppable over the first two games while the “bend but don’t break defense” has forced key turnovers.

3. (5) Saints (1-1) ‘€” The Saints defense responded well in Week 2 after getting torched by the Packers on opening night. It’s important to note that they were facing the Bears offensive line, but the Saints attacked the quarterback and sacked Jay Cutler six times while also forcing a fumble. In just two weeks, Darren Sproles has made Saints fans ask, “Reggie who?” Sproles has quickly become one of Drew Brees‘ favorite weapons. He was targeted 10 times in Sunday’s win.

4. (6) Jets (2-0) ‘€” The Jets came out ready to play on Sunday after a shaky Week 1 performance. Luke McCown and the Jaguars offense proved to be no match for the Jets dominant D. Rex Ryan‘s defensive unit had four interceptions and held the Jaguars to under 100 yards passing. Mark Sanchez, on the other hand, was inconsistent once again. He threw two interceptions, upping his turnover total to four this season. Furthermore, Nick Mangold will miss some time and that could also hinder Sanchez’ play. Mangold has started in every game since entering the league in 2006.

5. (4) Ravens (1-1) ‘€” If the Ravens want to reach the Super Bowl, they can’t afford to have many more games like they did last Sunday. The defense was totally unprepared for the Titans passing game as they looked helpless against Matt Hasselbeck. The pass rush was nonexistent and the thin secondary had no answer for Kenny Britt. With all that being said, I’d be shocked if we saw a similar type of performance from the Ravens in Week 3.

6. (7) Steelers (1-1) ‘€” The Steelers did exactly what many expected after suffering an embarrassing Week 1 loss. They routed an awful Seahawks team. Looking ahead, they’ll face another second-rate team next week when they travel to Indy.

7. (10) Falcons (1-1) ‘€” The Falcons played to their strengths Sunday night and they came away with a huge win. This team is at its best when it has a strong balance in the run and pass game. Matt Ryan performed great in the no-huddle offense while Michael Turner and the Falcons running game also excelled.

8. (3) Eagles (1-1) ‘€” The so-called “Dream Team” of the NFL has a lot of challenges ahead. It took just seven quarters of football for Michael Vick to suffer a serious enough injury that he had to leave the game. The Eagles have some major problems. Vick continues to be on the ugly side of some vicious hits, he’s been careless with the football, and the defense has struggled mightily, especially against the run.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Jets, NFL Power Rankings, Packers

Fantasy Football: Week 3 Waiver Wire

09.20.11 at 8:00 am ET
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Here is our Week 3 waiver wire. Obviously, if any of our guys from last week are available, we still encourage you to add players like Cam Newton, Ben Tate, James Starks or Mike Tolbert. Here, we present you with ten new options. If you are looking for more, please check out our full waiver wire at Rotobahn.com.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals

For those who have been reading Rotobahn, you know we like Dalton, but even we did not expect him to be this cool and calm this soon. He looks good out there and he has a GREAT array of weapons with Green, Gresham, Simpson and crew. He’s worth an add in most medium-to-large leagues right now as a backup or matchup option.

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins

We told you to add him last week. If you did, you beat the rush and saved some cash. If you are leveraged on Tim Hightower, you MUST add Helu. Sell out for him. Now, if you don’t have Hightower, we’d still go hard after this guy. He was the preferred player in the 2nd half for Washington and he should be the man there before the year is over. He could have predictable flex value in the near future. He should be owned in all formats.

Dexter McCluster, RB, Chiefs

Here’s what we said last week… “We called him out as a week-one sleeper and we were right. This is probably the guy to use as a handcuff to Jamaal Charles, even though he is listed as a WR on most sites. He is the guy who will explode in value if Charles goes down. And, certain sites, like Yahoo for example, give him multi-positional status, which is a rarity and could give him extra value depending on your league’€™s format.” Obviously, the dynamic has changed. He’s probably going to play as a tailback now, but he could have great value in leagues that give him multi-positionality. He won’t get all of JC’s touches and he is not Jamaal Charles, but he should be a viable flex play in most formats now that his touches are going to double. At least we think they will double.

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