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Live Blog: Patriots, Tom Brady head to South Florida to take on Dolphins

12.01.12 at 8:58 pm ET
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Patriots/Dolphins live bog

Why the 2012 Patriots offensive line is the best of Tom Brady’s career

12.01.12 at 2:45 pm ET
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At the start of the season, it certainly appeared the Patriots’€™ offensive line was going to be in for a tough year.

The group was coming off an offseason of change — veteran left tackle Matt Light retired, while both starting left guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer were coming off major injuries that limited their effectiveness in 2011. After a Pro Bowl season, right guard Brian Waters didn’€™t return, and center Dan Koppen was one of the final cuts before the start of the season. Those factors, combined with a preseason that saw them try multiple combinations on the line — some of which struggled badly — made many believe that this was going to be a rough year up front.

But despite the fact that the group has had little to no overall consistency this season, through 11 games, the group has not only survived, it has thrived. They will face a mighty challenge from San Francisco and Houston (two teams with terrific defensive fronts) at the end of the season, but to this point on the schedule, here are five reasons why the 2012 New England offense line is the best offensive line of Tom Brady‘€™s career.

1. Lack of sacks and other pressure: We tend to get caught up in sacks when it comes to measuring the worth of an offensive line, but it has to be mentioned that the New England offensive line has done a masterful job keeping Brady clean this year — over the first 11 games of the season. Brady has been sacked 15 times. The 15 sacks are tied for the third-fewest total in the league — the Patriots trail only the Giants (13 sacks allowed), Buccaneers (14) and Broncos (14), and are tied with the Texans. In addition, the 36 quarterback hits that have been allowed by the New England offensive line is fifth in the league, trailing only the Broncos (28), Buccaneers (30), Titans (31) and Giants (34).

It’€™s a pace that would see him finish the year with 21 sacks, his fewest since 2009 when he was sacked 16 times. (For what it’€™s worth, Brady was sacked 21 times in 2007.) With 36 quarterbacks hits through 11 games, that would add up to 52 over 16 games — the fewest since 2010, when the line gave up the same number. (For Brady’s complete career sack numbers, click HERE.) Currently, the New England offensive line is in the midst of an impressive streak when it comes to protection: it hasn’€™t allowed a sack since the third quarter of a Nov. 11 win over the Bills in Foxboro. That’€™s a stretch of nine-plus quarters, or 146:18 of game action.

(For what it’s worth, it’s hard to get much pressure on a team that runs as much hurry up as the Patriots do. Opposing defensive coordinators have a hard enough time keeping the right number of players on the field consistently, let alone knowing which plays to call. Regardless, lack of pressure is lack of pressure.)

2. Smarter football: The Patriots offensive line has cut way back on penalties over the last year. Through 11 games last season, the New England offensive line had been flagged for 20 penalties for 151 yards, the most of any positional group on the team. In that same stretch in 2012, the line has a total of eight penalties for 55 yards.

3. The running game: Some of the biggest fans of the fact that the Patriots now have a consistent running presence? The offensive line. Any offensive lineman will tell you that it’€™s easier — and frankly, a lot more fun — to run block instead of pass block. In run blocking, you’€™re going forward and getting a chance to hit someone instead of hanging back and protecting. To that point, through 11 games, the Patriots have run the ball 71 more times than they did through the same stretch of games in 2011.

But it goes deeper than that. The bigger numbers in the running game means pass protection numbers get better simply because of the fact that there are fewer dropbacks and fewer opportunities to rush the quarterback. And the increased presence of the running game means that teams have to respect the possibility of play-action, which means that opposing defensive lines are always kept on their collective toes.

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Read More: Dan Connolly, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, ryan wendell

Nuggetpalooza: Cool stats as Patriots FINALLY play Dolphins

12.01.12 at 10:24 am ET
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After their complete dismantling of the Jets on Thanksgiving night, the Patriots roll into Miami to face the Dolphins, who find themselves in the playoff hunt with five games to go. By kickoff Sunday, it will have been 344 days since the Pat and Fins have met, the second longest stretch since 1992. They had a 350-day stretch between their final meeting in 2008 and their first in 2009. Here are some other numbers that I found interesting and hope you will, too:

* – With their two defensive touchdowns last week against the Jets, the Patriots became just the fourth team since 1970 to score multiple defensive touchdowns in consecutive games. The others were the Steelers (1983, Weeks 6-7), Vikings (1992, Weeks 9-10), and the Bears (Weeks 4-5 this season).

* – Since the start of last season, the Dolphins have faced a team with a winning record (ABOVE .500, not including .500) at home four times and won all four. The only teams with longer streaks of such wins are the Packers (6-0 dating back to 2009), Colts (6-0 dating back to 2008), and the Patriots (5-0 dating back to 2008).

Note this: The Patriots have only faced one over-.500 opponent at home after week 10 over the past two seasons: The 6-3 Colts two weeks ago.

NFL Note: Since the start of the 2006 season, the Rams have played 11 over-.500 teams at home after week 10 … and lost all 11 times. This is worth noting as the Rams play the 49ers (8-2-1) in St. Louis this Sunday.

* – The Patriots have led at some point in their last 20 regular-season games, the longest active streak in the league. The Falcons have the second-longest streak at 16 games (including Thursday’s game). Four other teams have led in every game so far this season: The Ravens, Steelers, Colts, and Buccaneers.

Note this: The Bucs led at some point in just two of their last 10 games last season and now have led in all 11 this season.

* – The Patriots have outscored their last four opponents by a combined 109 points. That’s tied for the ninth-biggest four-game scoring margin since the merger in 1970. Here are the top three:

+128 – 49ers, 1987
+125 – Colts, 2004
+122 – Redskins, 1975

As a clip-and-save, here are the top scoring margins over a five game span since 1970:

+142 – 49ers, 1987
+141 – Vikings, 1988
+137 – Patriots, 2007
+137 – Patriots, 2010
+137 – Rams, 1999

* – New England has scored 14 or more points in 12 different quarters this season, easily the most in the league as no other team has more than eight such quarters (Buffalo, Denver, New Orleans). Since the start of last season, the Patriots have 29 such quarters, Since 1997, the record for most quarters scoring 14-plus points over two seasons is 34, set by the 1999-2000 Rams.

Note this: The Dolphins have had just four such quarters this season and also have 29 such quarters … over the last 6 2/3 years combined (since the start of the 2006 season).

NFL Note: The Eagles have yet to have a 14-point quarter this season. Since ’97, only two teams have gone a full season without one: the 2003 Cardinals and the 2010 Panthers.

One other thing: The Bears defense has yet to allow 14 or more points in a quarter this season. The 2007 Buccaneers are the only team since ’97 to go a full season without allowing such a quarter. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Dolphins

12.01.12 at 9:51 am ET
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The four matchups we’€™re looking forward to this week:

1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes against running back Reggie Bush: Spikes is easily the Patriots No. 1 run stopper, and Bush is the Dolphins best threat on the ground. But Bush presents a different set of challenges than other backs the Patriots have faced this season in that he likes to bounce outside and try and reach the edge. While Spikes has shown an ability to play horizontally — that is, do a good job penetrating gaps and getting into the backfield — he hasn’€™t really had to do all that much work when it comes to tracking running backs sideline-to-sideline.

2. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich against left tackle Jake Long: With Chandler Jones on the shelf for a second consecutive week because of an ankle injury he suffered early in the win over the Colts, Ninkovich — who has flipped from one side to another — will be the one on Ryan Tannehill‘€™s blind side. The job of going against Ninkovich will fall to Long, who has done a really good job this season working on the edge. According to Pro Football Focus, Long has only allowed four sacks in 734 total snaps this season.

3. Quarterback Tom Brady against the Dolphins secondary: After struggling on South Beach earlier in his career (including his 2001 performance in Miami, which was arguably his worst ever — 12-for-24 for 86 yards and four sacks), Brady had made it a habit of crushing the Dolphins in Miami. In his last two games against the Dolphins, he’€™s thrown for 821 yards and five touchdowns. Miami was signing street free agent defensive backs this week in hopes of adding depth to the secondary, and could go into the game with as many as ten active DBs.

4. Wide receiver Wes Welker against defensive back Jimmy Wilson: The Dolphins initially went after Richard Marshall to try and fill the role of nickel corner, but he’€™s on the shelf because of a back injury. In his place, Miami will turn to Wilson, who is regarded by PFF as Miami’€™s worst pass defender — in 359 defensive snaps this season, they have him rated at a -5.3. Meanwhile, in nine career games against his old team, Welker has 75 catches (on 100 targets) for 981 yards and four touchdowns. (His averages of 8.3 receptions and 109 yards are the best against any team that Welker has faced more than once in his career.) Even if Wilson gets help — and he should, on a fairly regular basis — this should be a winnable matchup for New England.

(One Welker stat that I can’€™t get enough of — through 11 games, Welker has exactly as many targets as he had last season, 115. So much for the idea of him being phased out of the offense.)

5. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: Not sure how under-the-radar this guy is, but wide receiver Davone Bess has always given New England a really hard time. In eight career games against the Patriots, he has 41 catches on 71 targets for 526 yards and four touchdowns. (Those numbers are the best against any opponent for the 5-foot-10, 193-pounder, who is in his fifth season out of Hawaii.) A tough cover for anyone, he’€™ll likely be one of the priorities for the New England pass defense this time around.

(As an aside, it wouldn’€™t be ridiculous to see the Patriots make a run at the 27-year-old Bess the next time he’€™s a free agent. He’€™s a versatile threat — he also works as a punt returner — who is signed through next year, but Belichick has taken note of Bess’€™ abilities on several previous occasions, and it wouldn’€™t be the first time he went after a guy who killed his club on a regular basis. Bottom line is that he’€™s an undrafted slot receiver who is smart, and has also shown an ability to gash opponents on special teams. Sound like anyone else you know?)

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Bill Belichick and the sweet science of the turnover

11.30.12 at 3:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots lead the NFL in turnover differential by a landslide. They have a +24, twice the number of the Ravens, the No. 2 team in the AFC in that category. The plus-24 is also 11 better than the next closest team in the NFL, the Bears.


Because the Patriots have perfected the art of stripping the ball from the carrier – rusher, receiver or quarterback – better than anyone. And like anything with Bill Belichick, there’s a science to it.

The Patriots have recovered 18 fumbles while committing just five of their own.

How often do they work on it?

“Every day,” Belichick said Friday. “We work on stripping the ball every day; recovering them every day. We talk about opportunities to get the ball out as we watch film. It’€™s no different than the way it’€™s been ‘€“ we’€™ve done that since I was with the Giants. It’€™s part of your defense.”

The Patriots are about to seal their 12th straight winning season under Belichick. Turnover differential is arguably the biggest reason why.

Only twice in Belichick’s 13 seasons have they had a negative number. In 2000, his first season, they were minus-2 and finished 5-11. In 2005, they were minus-6, the worst in his 13 seasons but still finished 10-6 and won the AFC East.

Since 2005, they have posted six straight seasons of plus turnover differential and are well on their way to making it seven.

Usually this is a team stat but there’s two stars on this team that have perfected it – Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich, each with five. Ninkovich has recorded all of his on strip sacks this season, matching Mike Vrabel in 2007 for the franchise record. Why is he so good at stripping it and recovering it as opposed to some other guys who look clumsy trying to pick up the ball?

“It’€™s just like everybody else, some guys are better at some things than others,” Belichick said “Other guys are better at some things than they are at other things. I don’€™t know. A big part of causing fumbles is awareness, timing speed can play into it, coming up from behind ‘€“ that’€™s usually a good opportunity to cause fumbles is by a defensive back or a linebacker, could be by a defensive linemen running down guys from behind, backs, receivers, quarterbacks, whoever it happens to be.

“Those are usually good strip opportunities. He’€™s had a number of those. Rob has good awareness, he’€™s a good athlete and he does a lot of things well. He runs well, has good quickness, catches the ball well ‘€“ he’€™s had a bunch of interceptions for us. I think guys that have those kind of skills have a little more propensity to find the ball, knock it out and come up with it cleanly.

Does Belichick watch how opponents’€™ ball handlers carry the ball?

“Carry it, throw it, yeah,” he said. “Again, whatever opportunities we have. When we see certain types of plays, certain techniques, we point those out to the players ‘€“ If we were in this situation, we would have an opportunity to be in the throwing lane or disrupt the ball or strip it out or if we read this, we would have a chance to undercut the route and intercept it or whatever it happens to be. As we’€™re watching plays we talk about those things, sure. Maybe it’€™s not on that particular play because of what the other team’€™s defense is in but we’€™d say, ‘€˜OK, if we were in this defense, if we were here or if you were in this position, then this is the play you would want to try to make.’€™ Then there would be a drill, maybe we wouldn’€™t be doing it that day, but a drill that we have done that we would talk about and say, ‘€˜OK, here’€™s an example of how we would use this drill or this technique.’€™ Yeah sure, we talk about it all the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Spikes, Miami Dolphins, Mike Vrabel

Poll: Who do you think is NFL MVP?

11.30.12 at 1:03 pm ET
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Is Tom Brady the most valuable player in the NFL right now? Will he win the award? Our DJ Bean takes an in-depth look here. But we want your vote.

Who is the NFL MVP?

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Read More: aaron rodgers, New England Patriots, nfl, NFL MVP

Fantasy Football: Week 13 starts, sits

11.30.12 at 12:06 pm ET
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Welcome to the Week 13 starts and sits. I know it’€™s a high-stakes weekend for a lot of you GMs. I’€™ve tried to look at the options that are not totally obvious as I usually do, but there’€™s no way I can get to every possible scenario. With that in mind, please feel free to join us for our Sunday morning chat, when I can address your specific lineup questions. There are full lineup rankings at, so that is another good resource and I’€™ll be updating the rankings this weekend. Best of luck to all you folks fighting for a playoff berth and props to those who are sitting pretty or playing for a first-round bye.



Colin Kaepernick, 49ers at Rams

He’€™s been very good so far and he gets you points with his feet, which raises his fantasy floor. If you need help at quarterback in Week 13, Kaepernick could be the answer in any league size. He’€™s actually available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues, which is a joke. This guy should be owned everywhere.

Tony Romo, Cowboys vs. Eagles

Not only is Romo a good play this week, but it would not shock me if he is the best play at the position in Week 13. The Cowboys have a chance to light up the Eagles. Romo is a great option in any league.

Chad Henne, Jaguars at Bills

Need help? Henne can be the answer to your QB problem and he is available in 88 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Start him in Week 13 if you are in need. He has QB1 potential. The one thing to check is the status of his starting receivers, but we expect Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon to play at this point.


Sam Bradford, Rams vs. 49ers

With injuries to his receivers and a rough matchup, Bradford should be avoided despite his modest success in recent weeks. Without a healthy Danny Amendola, Bradford might not have enough options in the middle of the field, and the 49ers will do a good job of taking away Chris Givens on the outside. Look elsewhere if possible.

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Read More: Chad Henne, Colin Kaepernick, Sam Bradford, Tony Romo
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