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Pressure Points: Which New England defenders have done the best job of getting to the quarterback through 11 games?

11.29.11 at 7:30 pm ET
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According to official NFL gamebooks, opposing quarterbacks have 449 dropbacks against the Patriots through 11 games this season, and have been hit by New England defenders a total of 60 times, to go along with 25 sacks (tied for 14th in the league). Here’€™s a breakdown of who has been getting to the quarterback for the Patriots through 11 games:

Quarterback hits:
Defensive end Andre Carter: 19
Defensive end/linebacker Mark Anderson: Nine
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich: Seven
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork: Six
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Four
Defensive lineman Myron Pryor: Three
Defensive lineman Kyle Love: Three
Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth: Two
Defensive lineman Gerard Warren: Two
Defensive lineman Shaun Ellis: One
Safety Pat Chung: One
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: One
Cornerback Phillip Adams: One
Linebacker Jerod Mayo: One

Sacks:
Carter: 9 (65 yards)
Anderson: 7 (49 yards)
Ninkovich: 3.5 (12 yards)
Love: Two (11 yards)
Wilfork: 1.5 (10.5 yards)
Chung: One (3 yards)
Pryor: 0.5 (4.5 yards)
Mike Wright: 0.5 (4 yards)

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher

Five takeaways from Tuesday’s conference calls with Bill Belichick, Bill O’Brien and Nick Caserio

11.29.11 at 4:50 pm ET
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Five takeaways from the Tuesday afternoon conference calls with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and director of player personnel Nick Caserio:

1. Belichick is understandably sympathetic to a Colts’ team that’s gone with quarterback Peyton Manning, but at the same time, don’t expect him to shed any tears over the fact that Manning won’t be playing on Sunday: “We see that every week. It changes. We have players that I wish were playing for us; other teams have players that I’€™m sure their teams wish were playing for them. That’€™s football; you play with what you’€™ve got. The games are scheduled; you show up and play them. We all take on that responsibility at the beginning of the season. You never know who is going to be there at what time on what week and all of us have to make adjustments throughout the course of the season. Every team in the league is going through that. There are plenty of guys that I wish we had out there on the field this Sunday that we won’€™t have. I’€™m sure the Colts feel the same way. I’€™m sure Philadelphia felt the same way. That’€™s the way it is every week.”

2. Belichick says that Colts’ defensive personnel is the same as it has been over the last few seasons. The biggest difference is that now, they’re playing from behind more often than not, and that’s been a lot to overcome: “Situationally, the third quarter, late in the third quarter, fourth quarter, there’€™s a huge difference between playing from ahead and playing from behind. They’€™ve won a lot of games when they’€™ve played from ahead. This year they haven’€™t won a lot of games because they’€™re playing from behind in the fourth quarter in a number of games. That certainly can affect statistics and the way that the game situationally gets played out in the last quarter. Some of their games, not all of them ‘€“ they’€™ve had a lot of competitive games, too, I’€™m not saying that, but there have been some games where the score overrides some of the schemes.”
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Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Chad Ochocinco

WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 13

11.29.11 at 9:58 am ET
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Which team do you think has the best shot to beat the top-ranked Packers? The Giants (14), Raiders (10), Chiefs (23), Bears (11), and Lions (9) are the five remaining teams standing in the way of the Packers‘ quest for an undefeated season. Green Bay’s cushion for the top spot in the NFC got a little bigger as the 49ers (4) lost for just the second time this season.

The Patriots (6) and Cowboys (8) continued to gradually inch their way up the chart as both teams are enjoying winning streaks. Meanwhile,  the Bears (11) slide out of the top 10 after a loss to the Raiders (10) and the Texans (12) stay put despite winning their fifth consecutive game.

The playoff picture is starting to unfold. Teams like the Bengals (15), Jets (13), Titans (16) and Broncos (18) are all fighting for the final wild card berth in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Giants (14), Falcons (7), Lions (9) and Bears (11) will battle for the two wild card spots in the NFC.

1. (1) Packers (11-0) ‘€” The Packers aren’t even giving teams a chance. The Vikings are the only opponent that hasn’t been beaten by a touchdown or more. They lost by six in Week 7. Aaron Rodgers and the defending champions look like an unstoppable train. Last year, they squeezed into the playoffs and won every playoff game on the road. Now, they’re just a few weeks away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home field throughout.

2. (3) Ravens (8-3) ‘€” The dominating defensive performance from the Ravens against the 49ers proved they are one of the elite teams in the league. Without defensive leader Ray Lewis, the Ravens D had nine sacks, held Frank Gore to just 39 yards, and went 10-for-12 on third-down stops. The Ravens are in an excellent position to lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs with four of their remaining five games coming against teams with a below .500 record.

3. (5) Saints (8-3) ‘€” Drew Brees and the Saints offense looked like a well-oiled machine during Monday Night Football. Brees has now thrown for 300-plus yards eight times this year. One of the biggest factors has been the production from the run game. Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram have provided a great balance to the offense.

4. (2) 49ers (9-2) ‘€” After being sacked nine times, Alex Smith shot up to No.3 on the quarterback sacks list. Nine sacks in one game is inexcusable; it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. The offensive line wasn’t the only one to blame. Smith held the ball too long at times and his receivers struggled to get open. Fortunately for the Niners, four of their remaining five games are against NFC West opponents.

5. (4) Steelers (8-3) ‘€” Injuries are starting to become a growing concern for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Maurkice Pouncey are all battling injuries. It’s extremely important Roethlisberger’s offensive line steps up the protection so he doesn’t suffer a setback to his injured thumb. The offensive line has been shaky all year and Big Ben has endured an endless amount of hits.

6. (7) Patriots (8-3) ‘€” The Pats defense needs to make stops on third down, cause turnovers and continue to stop the run in order to surmount the awful pass D. The Patriots have done that over the past three games and have shown signs of improvement. The only thing they can do now is continue to progress and get healthy as they play out their schedule against a group of inferior teams. There’s no reason why Tom Brady and the Pats shouldn’t be 13-3 when the season ends.

7. (6) Falcons (7-4) ‘€” The Falcons have won five of their last six games and are starting to get into a groove. Matt Ryan has played extremely well over the past few weeks. He’s protecting the football and has a high completion percentage. Ryan completed 79.4 percent of his passes and had a 128 QB rating in Sunday’s win over the Vikings.

8. (11) Cowboys (7-4) ‘€” The first-place Cowboys will face another below .500 opponent in Week 13 before their showdown in Dallas against the Giants. The G-Men, meanwhile, will face the undefeated Packers. The Cowboys could very possibly have a commanding two-game lead in the NFC East by the time Week 14 rolls around. The even-better news that came out of Dallas was that cornerback Mike Jenkins returned to practice and will likely play Sunday against the Cardinals after missing four straight games.

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Read More: Drew Brees, Ndamukong Suh, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow

Fantasy Football: Week 13 Waiver Wire

11.29.11 at 9:29 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 13 waiver wire. If you’€™re reading this, you are still alive, so let’€™s get right to it. We’€™ve got the top options for you, but if you play in a deep league, please feel free to join us at Rotobahn.com, where we’€™ll be adding players throughout the day.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals

He’€™s having a great rookie campaign and now that he has AJ Green back in the fold, we are back to recommending him for fantasy purposes. Dalton is a solid backup in any league and he can start for you if you need him.

Kyle Orton, QB, Chiefs

He could do what Carson Palmer has done or thereabouts. If they play Tyler Palko one more week, the coach needs to be fired. Their games are still relevant. If Orton gets settled in, he could post nice numbers with Bowe, Breaston and Baldwin as his receivers. We’€™d add him in medium to large leagues as a QB2 or QB3.

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins

Finally! Why it took the Shanahans twelve weeks to figure out that Helu was their best back, I’€™ll never know. Now, Helu has the look of a guy who can be a RB2 for you on most weeks going forward. The matchups are not easy, otherwise we’€™d rate him even higher. As we’€™ve been saying at Rotobahn all year, he’€™s a great guy to own in long term formats. He is still available in many leagues, so go get him. He should be owned in all formats.

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Target Practice: Who has been Tom Brady’s favorite receiver through 11 games?

11.28.11 at 7:06 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. After 11 games, here’€™s a look at the target breakdown in the New England passing game for the 2011 season:

Kevin Faulk: 5 catches on 5 targets (100 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 6 catches on 8 targets (75 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 3 catches on 4 targets (75 percent)
Wes Welker: 82 catches on 115 targets (71 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 60 catches on 84 targets (71 percent)
Aaron Hernandez: 47 catches on 69 targets (68 percent)
Deion Branch: 45 catches on 73 targets (61 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 14 catches on 24 targets (58 percent)
Chad Ochocinco: 11 catches on 23 targets (48 percent)
Julian Edelman: 3 catches on 7 targets (43 percent)
Matthew Slater: 1 catch on 3 targets (33 percent)
Taylor Price: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
Dane Fletcher: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
Tiquan Underwood: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

By position:
Tight end: 107 catches on 153 targets (70 percent)
Running back: 28 catches on 41 targets (68 percent)
Wide receiver: 142 catches on 224 targets (63 percent)
Other: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

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

Belichick: Together, Brady and Branch ‘almost always do what you would want them to do’

11.28.11 at 5:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — I wrote a little bit about the relationship between quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Deion Branch in this week’s edition of “Ten Things We Learned Sunday.” On Sunday against the Eagles, Branch finished with six catches for 125 yards, including a 63-yarder that demonstrated the eerie sense of unspoken communication between the two.

On Monday, I asked Patriots coach Bill Belichick about the depth of the bond between the two. Specifically, if the level of chemistry between Brady and Branch was just something that was naturally built over the years or something the two had to work at forging.

“It’€™s probably a combination of all of those,” Belichick said. “It starts with [the fact that] you have two smart guys, both very instinctive players that if something comes up that you haven’€™t done or talked about before, I’€™d say both of them probably would do the right thing — or what you would want them to do if you haven’€™t told them what to do; what they would do is most of the time what you would want them to do. That puts them pretty much on the same page to begin with.

“Certainly the experience and reps they’€™ve had together [in] practice, games and walkthroughs and talking about situations and talking about things that come up, I’€™m sure that’€™s all added to it. And of course, actually going out there and doing it on the field in live game situations, under pressure, adds to it as well.

“Deion is a very instinctive receiver. He has a great sense of timing, of when the quarterback is ready to throw the ball, when he needs to be open, how to get open. Tom, from his position, kind of has that same sense of what the receiver would expect him to do and what he should do in certain situations and that’€™s almost always what Deion would do. Again, we certainly have rules and kind of guidelines for all players and all situations, but inevitably things come up that either go against the grain or it’€™s not quite the way we’€™ve talked about it and the player has to make a decision. I would say those guys almost always do what — if you had gone over it — what you would have wanted them to do.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Deion Branch, Tom Brady,

Vince Wilfork on Big Show: ‘I hope [Ndamukong Suh] has someone in his corner’

11.28.11 at 3:45 pm ET
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Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork made his weekly appearance on The Big Show on Monday afternoon to discuss the Patriots’ defensive effort in Sunday’s 38-20 win over the Eagles. Philadelphia scored on its first two drives of the game, but the Patriot defense stepped up its game from that point on, holding the Eagles to just a field goal for the rest of the first half and the third quarter before giving up a touchdown in garbage time in the fourth quarter.

Wilfork said the defense was well prepared and never saw the Eagles do anything the Patriots had not prepared for in practice. He did mention, however, that the Eagles neglected to do something the Patriots expected out of them.

“One thing they didn’t show that we thought we were going to get a lot of was screens,” Wilfork said. “This team is a real good screen team, and we got one [screen play]. But we were on high alert. Every time we got down on second-and-long or third-and-long, everybody was alert for a screen play because [LeSean] McCoy is such a big part of that offense. The tight end, a big, big part of their passing game.

“But we only got one. So we made the adjustment in the second half. We were going to start rushing a little more. We didn’t too much worry about the screens at the end, and I think once we did that, we started getting a little bit of more pass rush to Vince Young and we started to make some things happen.”

Wilfork also spoke, albeit indirectly, about the controversial Ndamukong Suh play from Thanksgiving Day in which Suh was ejected from the Lions game against the Packers for stomping on Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith‘s arm.

Wilfork refused to comment specifically on the play. Instead, he shared his experience from an NFL hearing back in 2008 when Wilfork was nearly suspended for a late hit to then-Denver quarterback Jay Cutler‘s head. Wilfork avoided a suspension after his wife, Bianca went to New York and spoke with commissioner Roger Goodell, presenting him with a video that showed a less malicious angle of the play and explaining more about  Wilfork’s character to the commissioner.

Wilfork said he hopes Suh has that same kind of support from those closest to him.

“My way of going about it was, I had a bunch of support from my team, from the organization, from my players, teammates, coaches and my wife,” Wilfork said. “We had a support staff in place where when we went through it, we went through it. But at the same time, it was something that we got over. We moved on. I’ve been pretty clean ever since.

“It’s however they decide to do it. I don’t take anything away from that guy’s game. He’s a hell of a player, but I hope he has someone in his corner that can just guide him in the right direction, whatever that may be. If he listens, he listens. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. You definitely need a supporting cast. I can just only speak from what I had, from this organization down, from my coaches, from my teammates to my wife. I had the biggest supporting cast that someone can ask for when it came down to that, so I’m going to leave it at that.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the The Big Show audio on demand page. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Ndamukong Suh, Vince Wilfork,
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