|01.30.14 at 12:43 pm ET|
This has to be a strange week for Josh McDaniels.
On Sunday, the Patriots offensive coordinator will sit and watch the Broncos face the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. And while he’s still remembered around the Rocky Mountains as the guy who drafted Tim Tebow — and inspired some of the strangest Photoshop jobs of all-time — he’s also responsible for putting many of the pieces together for the current AFC champs.
In 2009 and 2010 drafts, McDaniels and the Broncos front office were responsible for the drafting or signing of several key players who remain on the roster. Wide receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, running back Knowshon Moreno, defensive end Robert Ayers, offensive lineman Zane Beadles and punter Britton Colquitt were all brought in on McDaniels’ watch, and all have played a sizable role in helping Denver reach the Super Bowl.
In all, of the 53 players on Denver’s active roster, 10 of them were acquired while McDaniels was head coach. That includes a major part of the passing game — three of Peyton Manning‘s top 5 targets this season were acquired by Denver while McDaniels was head coach. In all, 239 of the 461 passes completed by Manning this year went to McDaniels’ draft picks in Thomas (92 catches), Decker (87 catches) and Moreno (60 catches).
“He did draft me, and I’m very thankful that he gave me the opportunity to be playing in the NFL, especially with such a great organization like Denver,” Decker said of McDaniels. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach. He’s a brilliant mind, offensively. I’m sure, like any coach, he’s excited and he’s happy for the guys that he drafted.”
Beadles has been a Pro Bowl offensive lineman, and played a major role in helping clear the way for Moreno, a back who has been a work-in-progress over much of his first five years in the league. The 12th overall selection in the 2009 draft, he struggled in 2011 and 2012 before enjoying a career renaissance this season, where he posted his first 1,000-yard season. He ended the year with 241 carries for 1,038 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
This week, he paid tribute to McDaniels for taking a chance on him when he recalled what things were like for him on draft day.
“That was a special moment, just to be able to celebrate that with my family and friends. We were all there hanging out watching it on TV, so just for them to experience that definitely meant a lot to me,” Moreno said. “Just for Coach McDaniels giving me the opportunity to play in the league and try to fight for a position. Even though you make it, even though you get drafted or whatever it is, maybe you’re not drafted, you’ve still got to compete. You’ve still got to get better each day just to have a spot on the team. I’m really thankful to (have gotten) the opportunity.”
McDaniels had more than his share of missteps while in Denver. He clashed with quarterback Jay Cutler, as well as wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and was the first champion of the Tim Tebow Experiment. But even in many of those instances, he was able to make something positive out of a bad situation: With one of the picks he acquired in the trade of Cutler to the Bears, he acquired Ayers, a defensive end who had 5.5 sacks this past season with the Broncos.
Ultimately, McDaniels tenure in Denver had more negative than positive, as he finished with an 11-17 mark and was fired midway through his second season as head coach. And the fact joshmcdanielssucks.com is still up and running, as well as a “Fire Josh McDaniels” Facebook page (with 323 likes) is still operational, speaks to the level of dislike there is out there in the Rockies for McDaniels and his time with the Broncos. But if Decker, Thomas and Moreno are among those celebrating amidst the confetti at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night, the man who made it possible for them to be with the Broncos in the first place needs to be acknowledged, at least with a new Photoshop.
|01.30.14 at 9:50 am ET|
Carter picked the Seahawks to come away with the win on Sunday, but said there are two things the team needs to do at the start of the game in order to find success.
“Number one, from a Seattle standpoint, I’ll look at are they pinning Denver back,” Carter said. “Are they utilizing their special teams? Which I believe is an advantage in making Denver go the distance.
“From Seattle’s standpoint, people aren’t talking about their offensive line. Pass protection hasn’t been great. … The reason why [Russell Wilson is] ad libbing is because the offensive line has not been that consistent.”
Carter said the Seahawks will need to utilize Percy Harvin, who has played in just one game this season because of hip surgery.
“Hand him the football because you don’t have to have a lot of continuity,” Carter said. “Percy Harvin is one of the great runners in the National Football League — open-field running ability. … You also throw in some swing passes, don’t let the ball travel far before it gets in his hand.
“Those are the easiest ways, and you don’t have to have a lot of practice or timing with the quarterback to do that.”
|01.29.14 at 6:56 pm ET|
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks – with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag – we’ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class – instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with looks at Anquan Boldin and Emmanuel Sanders. Today, it’s Dennis Pitta:
Position: Tight end
Age: 28 (will turn 29 on June 29)
Weight: 245 pounds
The skinny: Pitta is a big and bulky tight end more in the Rob Gronkowski mold — a good blocker who also has a dependable set of hands. A fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2010, he came along slowly when compared to the other high-level tight ends who were taken in that draft (Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham and Jermaine Gresham), as he played behind veteran Todd Heap and fellow rookie Ed Dickson — he had just one catch in his first year in the league. He ended up catching 40 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. He took it to a new level in 2012, as he finished the regular season with a career-best 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns (not to mention a terrific performance against the Patriots in the AFC title game, part of a late push that saw him finish with eight touchdowns in his final 12 games, including the playoffs.) At that point, it was clear he was establishing himself as Joe Flacco‘s security blanket, but a nasty hip injury in training camp landed him on IR for the first 12 games of the 2013 season. When he returned, he was able to contribute as much as possible, but it was tough to get up to speed so late in the year. He ended 2013 with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown in four games, and heads into the open market as an intriguing prospect.
By the numbers: Per Pro Football Focus, Pitta was in the slot for 79 percent of his snaps in 2013.
Why it would work: The Patriots have been patient when it comes to rehabbing tight ends in the past — witness the Great Gronkowski Watch of 2013, as well as the Jake Ballard Odyssey. So even if Pitta wasn’t quite back to 100 percent, if the Patriots believe in him and his ability to contribute in New England, they would certainly be willing to wait on him. If both are fully healthy, a Pitta-Gronk combo figures to be a tremendous duo.
Why it might not work: There’s the very real chance that the Ravens think so highly of him and his skill set that they hit him with the franchise tag between now and the start if free agency, which would render the whole thing moot.
Quote: “I think those other guys did a good job ‘ Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark ‘ they filled in and they did a really good job, but something you can’t take away is chemistry between a quarterback and a receiver. I think [Joe] Flacco and Pitta, they have that. When he is out there, I think he is targeted more, and I know Flacco probably thinks that if I throw this guy the ball, there’s a good chance he’s going to come down with it.” — Patriots safety Devin McCourty on Pitta last December.
Our take: Despite the yeoman’s work done by Michael Hoomanwanui and Matthew Mulligan when Gronkowski was on the shelf in 2013, it’s clear the Patriots need to add a little oomph to the tight end position. New England does have some options — in addition to Pitta, there are some other interesting names in free agency, including Jimmy Graham, Jermichael Finley and Scott Chandler. There are also a few high-level tight ends who could be around come draft weekend, including Jace Amaro, an elite pass catcher who apparently has speed to burn and great positional versatility. But if Pitta is available at a reasonable rate, the Patriots would be crazy to not at least kick the tires. The chance to add another 60-catch presence at tight end and weaken a conference rival might be too great a possibility for New England to pass up.
|01.29.14 at 2:08 pm ET|
Former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to talk about the Patriots offense moving forward, the NFL trying to make the game safer, and Super Bowl story lines. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Romanowski, a former Boston College star, believes the Patriots winning ways have led to a reputation that it’s Super Bowl or bust for the team, making Wes Welker‘s departure in free agency slightly perplexing.
“To let Wes Welker get away, mind-boggling to me,” Romanowski said. “That really is, that move. But you have to be able to make tough decisions as a head coach. … You may have an off [year], do you call the AFC championship an off year? On some level, when you’re the New England Patriots, you do. OK, not winning and getting to the Super Bowl is an off year. And it should be that way because you built a reputation of being one of the best organizations, you clearly have, still, one of the best quarterbacks.”
Despite the Patriots not making the Super Bowl, Romanowski was impressed with what they did with a shorthanded squad.
“They had a lot of injuries, and you take away those injuries, and even one of the big injuries in the game, we all know the matchup with Demaryius Thomas, and them losing [Aqib] Talib, that right there,” Romanowski said.
Looking at next season, Romanowski said New England needs to take a page out of what Denver did this year and load up at wide receiver.
“The game is about the horses,” Romanowski said. “You’ve got to have the talent, bring in the talent and make sure you have more talent around Tom Brady and to me, look at what the Denver Broncos did. They made sure they were deep at receiver and they win games by outscoring people. That’s usually what New England does. Hats off, though, to New England with what they were able to do, change things and turned themselves into more of a conventional offense, phenomenal coaching.”
|01.29.14 at 1:29 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Wednesday Brendan Daly has been hired as a defensive assistant coach.
The following is a portion of the release issued by the team on the move:
Daly is a 17-year coaching veteran, including eight seasons in the NFL as an assistant. Daly had two stints with the Minnesota Vikings (2006-08) as a defensive assistant/defensive line coach and (2012-13) as a defensive line coach, sandwiched between a three-year stint with the St. Louis Rams (2009-11) as a defensive line coach.
Daly worked in the college ranks as the defensive line coach at Villanova in 2005 and tight ends coach at Illinois State in 2004. From 2001-03, Daly was on the staff at Oklahoma State, where he worked on both sides of the ball and in strength and conditioning. Daly’s first exposure to major Division I football came as an offensive graduate assistant at Maryland in 2000, where he worked with the tight ends. He got his coaching start at Ridgewood High in New Port Richey, Fla., in 1997 before moving to his alma mater, Drake, in 1998 and Villanova in 1999.
Daly was a tight end during his college career at Drake.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|01.29.14 at 1:06 pm ET|
With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams and the wide receivers. Now, it’s the tight ends.
Depth chart: Rob Gronkowski (39 catches, 592 yards, 4 TDs), Matthew Mulligan (2 catches, 16 yards, 1 TD), Michael Hoomanawanui (12 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD), D.J. Williams.
Overview: For the Patriots, the tight end position went from one of strength to one of uncertainty over the last 12 months. Aaron Hernandez was removed from the picture, while Gronkowski’s health produced a roller-coaster effect that the team struggled to adjust to over the course of the year. As a result, a New England offense that had been constructed around one of the best young tight end combos in recent NFL history was forced to readjust.
The Gronk Watch consumed most of late summer and into early fall, but when he was truly healthy — pretty much the month of November — the big fella was his usual dominant self. In one four-game stretch (from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1), he had 27 catches for 419 yards and four touchdowns, and was a game-changing presence for the New England offense.
Of course, all of that changed when he went down early against the Browns — he was carted off the field, and in part because of his injury, the Patriots offense downshifted from a pass-first game to a run-heavy approach. The loss of Gronkowski was felt across the board, but never more than in the red zone, where the Patriots struggled for a few weeks trying to find the right formula to score from inside the 20. They were able to hit on it with a suddenly resurgent running game, but without Gronkowski, other targets needed to raise their game. Some did. Others did not.
As for the rest of the tight end grouping, the Hoomanawanui/Mulligan combo will never make people forget about Gronkowski, but they both developed a rep as solid and dependable blockers over the course of the season. Williams also does a nice job providing depth. But at the end of the day, it all comes back to Gronkowski — if they can get him back to something approximating 100 percent by the start of the season, he should have his usual transformative presence on the New England passing game. Long-term, the question is whether or not he’ll be able to consistently stay healthy. Only time will tell on that front.
Best moment: Three of them, all scoring plays: One, Gronkowski’s touchdown against the Broncos wasn’t necessarily an aesthetic thing of beauty, but the celebration between the tight end and quarterback Tom Brady transcended any Gronk spike of the last few seasons. Two, the big fella also added a fingertip grab inches off the ground in a win over the Texans in Houston. And three, Hooman’s absolutely ridiculous one-handed touchdown grab against the Dolphins in Miami, one of the prettiest plays of the year
Worst moment: The sight of Gronkowski being carted off after getting hurt against the Browns was far and away the most devastating sight for the New England offense this past season.
By the numbers: Gronkowski was targeted 17 times in his first game of the 2013 season, an Oct. 20 loss to the Jets (the seventh contest of the regular season). Through the first six games of the year, the entire group of New England tight ends had been targeted a total of 15 times.
Money quote: “It hurts to see any of those guys go down, certainly with Gronk. We’ve sustained some pretty big injuries this year with really important, critical players, so we’ve got to just keep bouncing back. … No one feels sorry for the Patriots. I think we all feel sorry for Rob, but I don’t think anyone feels sorry for the Patriots.” — Brady after Gronkowski suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Browns
|01.29.14 at 11:07 am ET|
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was voted the quarterback players would want in the last two minutes of a Super Bowl if the game was on the line. As part of ESPN’s NFL Nation Confidential anonymous player survey, the question was asked to 320 players around the league. Brady received 128 votes, 40 percent of the vote. Peyton Manning came in second, receiving 86 votes.
Brady, who has been to five Super Bowls and eight AFC championship games, has put together 30 comeback drives when trailing in the fourth quarter and 41 game-winning drives from a deficit or tie in the fourth quarter. All three of Brady’s Super Bowl wins were done by leading the team from a fourth-quarter deficit.
“He’s been there before and done it,” receiver Danny Amendola said. “You just kind of follow him as he takes the lead.”
For Brady’s teammates, they aren’t surprised by his calmness in leading comebacks, having been first-hand witnesses.
“He is a very calm guy when the game is on the line,” receiver Kenbrell Thompkins said. “He just says, ‘We live for these moments. Let’s do it.’ ”
Michael Hoomanawanui added that his experience in those situations make him trustworthy.
“It just comes from his experience, 14 years, that control he has over pretty much anyone in the huddle. He just takes over,” Hoomanawanui said. “Obviously, the fact he’s done it time and time before helps out a lot, too. That’s pretty much the way he goes out and plays each and every snap.”
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