|10.16.13 at 5:24 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Few teams have seen more of a dramatic statistical turnaround from one season to the next than the Jets and their run defense.
In 2012, New York was one of the worst teams in the league when it came to stopping the run — the Jets yielded an average of 133.6 rushing yards per game, 26th in the league. This year, through six games, that number has dropped to 75.7 rushing yards per game, second in the NFL. That includes holding the Patriots to a season-low 54 yards in their September meeting — the one game New England won this season while running for less than 100 yards as a team.
Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (6-foot-4, 315 pounds), nose tackle Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison (6-foot-4, 350 pounds) and rookie Sheldon Richardson (6-foot-2, 294 pounds) have helped create one of the more underrated defensive fronts in the league, and create a sizable challenge for the New England running game this week.
‘I think we’ve got an outstanding group in the front seven,’ said Jets coach Rex Ryan. ‘They’re young, and they’re kind of maturing together. It starts with Muhammad Wilkerson and then the nose tackles, obviously ‘Snacks’ ‘ Damon Harrison ‘ and Kenrick Ellis have done a good job for us, and Sheldon Richardson, so all the big guys up front have done a decent job in the run, and then I think we’ve got as good a middle linebacker as there is in the league in David Harris. I think he’s done an outstanding job for us.’
‘They’re all pretty big, physical guys,’ said quarterback Tom Brady on New York, which allows a league-low three yards per carry. ‘They have some really good players over there, especially in the front. [They have] good run technique, and certainly a lot of their scheme is built to stop the run.’
One of the keys to the Jets success against the run is their good numbers on first down. Through the first six games, New York is best in the league when it comes to first-down defense, allowing an average of 3.41 yards per play on first down. They’ve faced 158 first downs, and allowed 538 yards. (By way of comparison, Cleveland is second at 3.74 yards per play on first down. The league average is 5.48, and the Patriots are 27th overall, yielding an average of 6.12 yards on first down.)
Their successes on first down create a domino effect for the rest of the defense. A run of three yards or less on first down creates second-and-long situations, and that certainly isn’t a running play. With the defense aware that they’ve likely made you a one-dimensional team, they’re free to unleash blitz packages — a Ryan favorite.
‘[That] leads to second-and-longs and third-and-longs, and then they get their blitz packages going,’ Brady said. ‘You can’t really fall asleep at any point against this defense because they have a lot of negative plays in the run game.’
Success in the running game for the Patriots will likely hinge on limiting those negative plays, particularly early on. New England has run 430 offensive plays this year in six games — not counting kneeldowns, 33 have been for negative yardage. (That’s up from 26 negative plays from scrimmage through the first six games of the 2012 season.) Of the 83 plays on Sunday against the Saints, a season-high 10 went for negative yardage ‘ five sacks of Brady as well as two negative runs by LeGarrette Blount, one negative run each from Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley, and a negative reception from Danny Amendola.
The Patriots could also use the aggressive nature of the Jets defensive front to their advantage by ratcheting up their play-action game. The quickest way to get a defense on its heels would be through multiple play fakes, something New England has used with success in the past. There’s also the possibility of utilizing screens, fakes and draw plays.
Ultimately, over the first six games of the year, while the numbers in the passing game have fluctuated wildly for New England, a fairly reliable barometer of their success can be seen in their ability to run the ball. Ridley, Blount, Bolden and Shane Vereen have all provided support over the course of the season as the Patriots have averaged 120.5 rushing yards per game, good for 11th in the league, and the Patriots are 4-0 when they top 100 yards on the ground. If they want to get to 6-1 on the season, chances are good they’ll have to get a steady and consistent performance out of their ground game on Sunday in New Jersey.
‘They’re a really good first-down defense. They usually put a lot of people in second-and-long yardage. It’s one of the things we have to prevent. It’s one of the things that we have to make sure that doesn’t happen to us too often,’ Blount said. ‘They’re doing something right — they’re ranked in the Top 5 in the league in rush defense. They’re dong something right. But we’re going to continue to look at film and hopefully find some things that they’re not doing as well and we can exploit them.’
|10.16.13 at 3:04 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Willie Colon doesn’t leave much doubt when it comes to his feelings for the Patriots.
“I just hate them,” he told the New York Daily News.
The Jets offensive guard, who was involved in an end-of-game skirmish with New England in the fourth quarter of the Jets-Patriots game in Foxboro in September, said his animosity for New England is unlike any other.
‘People respect the Steelers because they play you one way,’ said Colon, who played with Pittsburgh for the first six years of his career before joining the Jets this past offseason. ‘You never hear an excuse about why the Steelers lose. When we lost, we moved on. I think sometimes when the Patriots lose or things go wrong, it seems as if there’s excuses for why they didn’t have a good game. Sometimes that rubs people the wrong way. I feel that way. If you lose, you take it.’
Colon was fined $34,000 for his role in the September fight, which took place in the fourth quarter of the Sept. 12 win over the Jets at Gillette Stadium. A scrum erupted after Aqib Talib picked off a Geno Smith pass and was hit by New York offensive lineman Nick Mangold along the sidelines. Several New England players took exception to the shot, and a few punches were thrown between the two sides. Colon was docked $26,250 for making contact with an official and a $7,875 fine for punching an opponent.
Ultimately, Colon acknowledged New England’s run of success. But that doesn’t mean he’s exchanging Christmas cards with them.
‘I don’t like them,’ Colon said of the Patriots. ‘But at the same time you got to respect what they’ve done as an organization. Winning Super Bowls. They’ve built a tradition there where they get it done. No matter what you feel about them personally, you got to respect that they win.’
For their part, the Patriots weren’t interested in firing back at Colon on Wednesday.
“Not much phases me with Jets-Patriots at this point, or Yankees-Red Sox,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “I’ve been around to hear the banter that goes back and forth. It’s a healthy rivalry. It’s because both cities take a lot of pride in winning and we love our sports. It should be an exciting weekend.”
“I don’t know,” said offensive lineman Logan Mankins. “I’m not a big fan of anyone else either, so it doesn’t bother us.’’
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|10.16.13 at 2:30 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Despite the fact that they’ve now lost two of their most indispensable defensive leaders in Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo to season-ending injuries, the Patriots’ defense isn’t going to spend a lot of time sitting around feeling sorry for themselves.
“I think the good thing here is that we have guys who prepare hard and as if they were starting,” said defensive back Devin McCourty, who is now the senior member of the New England defense in terms of games played in a Patriots uniform. “Now, they get the opportunity. Everywhere outside this locker room, guys will be talking about our loss. I think we have some guys in here who are excited about their opportunity. It sucks, because you never want to lose a player, but there are some guys who are excited to get out there and play more.”
Mayo was the acknowledged leader of the linebackers, but with him on the shelf for the rest of the season, some of those leadership responsibilities will shift to second-year Dont’a Hightower. He will likely be the one with the green dot on the back of his helmet — the player with the responsibility of receiving the defensive plays calls from the sideline and relaying them to his teammates. It’s a sizable responsibility, one Hightower takes seriously.
“I look forward to it,” he said after practice on Wednesday. “I talked to [defensive coordinator Matt Patricia], I talked to [linebackers coach Pepper Johnson] about it, so it’s definitely something that I knew down the road that if something ever happened, I knew that I would have to step up and do it. I’m not nervous about it, it’s something that I’ve done before — maybe not in the NFL, but I’ve done it before, so everybody’s behind me and they support me, so it’s all I can ask for.”
One of the interesting things is that both Mayo and Wilfork are defensive captains, and have been powerful voices when it comes to providing leadership in the locker room. Now, it’ll be on a variety of players to step up and offer guidance.
“For me, I think of it as Mayo and Vince are still our captains, and just stepping in and filling a title or a role, but just to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Keep being a leader on the defense,’ McCourty said. “To me, those two will be the captains — they were voted captains earlier this season. My job now is when guys get hurt and they can’t be around, guys have to step up. I’ve been appointed one of those guys to step up, but it’s no different — guys on defense have to step up. Guys like Steve Gregory, who has played a lot of football here already. [Brandon] Spikes, a guy who is a fourth year player as well. We all have to step up and kind of be group captains now. You can’t replace two guys who have already been voted captains.”
“We [lost] a bunch of key guys, with Vince and Mayo and [Tommy Kelly] and all the other guys that are banged up,” Hightower said. “But it’s football. It’s all expected — one guy down, another guy comes up. I feel like everybody that’s here is going to help us win. As long as we communicate and execute the game plan, we’ll be fine.”
|10.16.13 at 11:02 am ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots returned to practice on Wednesday in sweats and shells and had a season-high five players absent.
Leading the group were cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Danny Amendola. Also not in attendance were offensive lineman Dan Connolly, running back Leon Washington and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly.
Washington and Kelly missed all of last week, including the game against the Saints, with ankle and knee injuries, respectively. As for the other three, Talib injured his hip in the second half, came back briefly before leaving for good. Amendola was hit in the head by Saints defensive back Rafael Bush in the second half and Connolly suffered a head injury and did not return. Connolly’s injury occurred in the first half.
The five absentees don’t include linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Mayo had surgery this week on the injury sustained in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Saints.
|10.16.13 at 9:52 am ET|
FOXBORO — Jerod Mayo has played his last snap of the season for the Patriots.
Bill Belichick addressed the injury on Wednesday.
“It’s a medical decision,” Belichick said. “He does a lot for us.”
The loss of Mayo as captain means the Patriots will be playing without their two captains on defense. Belichick was asked if there’s a chance he could be replaced.
“If we think that it’s the best thing to do, that’s what we’ll do,” Belichick said.
The Patriots placed the linebacker on injured reserve following surgery on his torn pectoral muscle this week.
Mayo injured the muscle on a tackle of Darren Sproles in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Saints. On the play before New Orleans’ go-ahead touchdown, Sproles came over the middle and was crushed by Mayo and teammate Steve Gregory. Both players laid on the ground for several minutes and Mayo immediately grabbed for his right shoulder and chest area before making his way off the field under his own power.
He did not return. Mayo had played in all but eight of New England’s 399 defensive snaps for the Patriots this season before missing the final seven of the game on Sunday. Mayo didn’t miss a snap against the Bills, Jets, Falcons and Bengals.
The news of Mayo’s surgery comes two weeks after Vince Wilfork had season-ending surgery on his torn right Achilles.
To replace Mayo’s spot on the roster, the team re-signed Andre Neblett and signed cornerback Travis Howard.
Neblett, 25, was signed by the Patriots last Wednesday and released three days later to make room for defensive lineman Marcus Forston. He is a veteran of three NFL seasons with the Panthers after joining Carolina as a rookie free agent out of Temple in in 2010. The 6-foot, 310-pounder signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent on May 6 but was released by the Buccaneers on Aug. 31. Neblett played in 30 games with seven starts during his three seasons with the Panthers and registered 28 total tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries. Last season, he played in 11 games with two starts and recorded 11 tackles and a half-sack.
Howard, 23, was originally signed by the Texans as a rookie free agent out of Ohio State on May 10. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder was released by Houston on Aug. 27. He started every game as a junior and senior at Ohio State and totaled 81 tackles, six interceptions and 11 passes defensed during that time.
|10.16.13 at 7:15 am ET|
Every week over the course of the regular season, we’ll present a list of 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. Six weeks into the regular season, here’s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2013:
RB Stevan Ridley: 71 (67 rushes, 4 catches), 8 negative plays, 1 fumble lost
RB LeGarrette Blount: 53 (53 rushes, 0 catches), 6 negative plays, 1 fumble lost
WR Julian Edelman: 43 (2 rushes, 41 catches)
RB Brandon Bolden: 33 (19 rushes, 14 catches), 2 negative runs, 1 negative reception
RB Shane Vereen: 21 (14 rushes, 7 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 21 (0 rushes, 21 catches)
QB Tom Brady: 19 (19 rushes, 0 catches), 15 sacks, 10 kneeldowns, 2 fumbles lost
WR Aaron Dobson: 19 (0 rushes, 19 catches), 1 negative reception
WR Danny Amendola: 17 (1 rush, 16 catches), 1 negative reception
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 8 (0 rushes, 8 catches)
WR Austin Collie: 2 (0 rushes, 2 catches)
FB James Develin: 2 (0 rushes, 2 catches)
RB Leon Washington: 1 (1 rush, 0 catches)
TE Matthew Mulligan: 1 (0 rushes, 1 catch)
WR Josh Boyce: 1 (0 rushes, 1 catch)
Some offensive notes: Overall, the Patriots were in the shotgun for 39 of their 83 snaps against the Saints, a rate of 47 percent. (That was coming off a season-high 55 percent rate the week before against the Bengals.) On the season, the Patriots have been in shotgun for 190 of their 430 offensive snaps, a rate of 44 percent. (Last year through the first six games, the Patriots were in shotgun for 236 of their 489 snaps — 48 percent.) ‘¦ The Patriots were in no-huddle for 44 of their 83 plays on the season (53 percent), far and away the highest percentage for a team that was running no-huddle on just five percent of their offensive snaps coming into Sunday’s game. (In contrast, they didn’t run any no-huddle the previous two games, marking the third time since the start of the 2012 season they didn’t use no-huddle in a game and the second consecutive contest.) ‘¦ On the year, the Patriots have operated out of a no-huddle on 61 of their 430 plays from scrimmage, a rate of 14 percent. By way of contrast, the last two seasons New England operated out of the no-huddle 25 percent of the time during the regular season. ‘¦ New England has run 430 offensive plays this year in four games. Not counting kneeldowns, 33 have been for negative yardage. Of the 83 plays on Sunday against the Saints, a season-high 10 went for negative yardage — five sacks of Brady as well as two negative runs by Blount, one negative run each from Bolden and Ridley, and a negative reception from Amendola. … With 19 carries and 14 catches, Bolden is still on pace to become the third Patriots’ player to reach the 40-carry/40-catch milestone: Kevin Faulk did it in 2008, and Danny Woodhead turned the trick last year. … Here’s a look at the offensive opportunities through six games in 2012.
|10.15.13 at 9:03 pm ET|
The loss of Jerod Mayo for any extended period of time would be a substantial blow to a New England defense that is already dealing with the loss of veteran defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, and would force Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia to get even more creative when it comes to designing a defense.
Mayo isn’t the sort of elite level defender who gets mentioned in the same breath as other middle/inside linebackers like Patrick Willis, but his durability, consistency and leadership have proven invaluable to the Patriots defense since he arrived as a first-round pick in 2008. The Tennessee product is a tackle machine — he’s been at or near the top of the league in tackles since he was a rookie — but every good middle linebacker will pick up a ton of tackles. His value to the defense is measured in his durability (he’s missed just four of a possible 86 games over the course of his first five-plus years in the league, and has played in 399 of New England’s 407 defensive snaps this year before being injured — 98 percent), as well as his overall ability to do many things, and do them at a consistently high level.
He’s not considered an elite run-stopper, but is still consistently better than 75 percent of the rest of the league when it comes to run defense. He’s not the first choice when it comes to working as a coverage linebacker, but a glimpse at the film of his work over the last few weeks will tell you all you need to know about his ability when he’s matched up against running backs and the occasional tight end out of the backfield. And while he’s not the senior member of the defense — that honor still falls to Wilfork — there’s a reason he was named a captain in his second season in the league. He was the natural choice to wear the green dot on the back of his helmet at an early age, and the 27-year-old is wise beyond his years. He has consistently worked as a mentor for younger linebackers like Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher.
(In the context of this discussion it’s also worth mentioning that Mayo has a legendarily high pain threshold. When he injured his right knee in the 2009 opener against the Bills, teammates marveled at the fact that he returned as fast as he did. Mayo ended up missing three games, and still returned in time to lead the team in tackles. If there’s anyone who might try to push through and come back sooner than expected, it’s Mayo.)
Going forward, as previously stated, this will force the Patriots to try to get creative with some of their defensive schemes. When it comes to the linebacking corps, the bulk of the leadership duties will likely fall to Hightower, who has also shown some positional versatility in that he’s played on the inside and outside — that ability to play both spots could paper over some personnel deficiencies.
This also opens the door for more playing time for a pair of intriguing possibilities in Spikes and Collins. With the Patriots favoring nickel as their base defense through much of the first six games of the season, Spikes has been the odd man out more often than not. But going forward, the Patriots could put together a scheme that has Spikes in the middle — even thought he’s not as good in coverage as Mayo — as well as Hightower and either Collins or Fletcher. Collins could also see more time as a possibility working in coverage on passing downs, trying to replicate Mayo’s work as a pass defender.
As WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia reports, a source indicates that Mayo is out at least eight weeks but could return depending on the severity. If the tear was severe, then the linebacker is likely done for the season. The Patriots have multiple options with Mayo at this point: they could simply wait, see how he responds to treatment and rehab, and remain open to the possibility he could be back later in the season. Or they could place him on injured reserve, which would end his season. One thing to remember is that they have already used their short-term IR designation on running back Shane Vereen, who is eligible to return from a Week 1 wrist injury in Week 11.
Regardless of what the team decides to do, it’s a serious blow to the hopes of a team that has opened the year 5-1. On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots had been playing very well to start the 2013 season, better than most anyone had envisioned when the season began. But overcoming the loss of Wilfork and possibly Mayo — as well as the uncertain future facing Aqib Talib and Tommy Kelly because of injuries they’ve suffered over the last two weeks — will serve as a colossal challenge to a unit that was just starting to come into its own.
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