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Patriots’ Potential Playoff Opponents: Chargers

01.01.14 at 8:30 am ET
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With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is the first in a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. Today, we open with a look at the Chargers:

The skinny: The Chargers won five of their last six to emerge from the morass to finish 9-7 and capture the sixth seed in the AFC. San Diego was up-and-down over the course of the regular season — it posted some really impressive wins, including road victories over the Broncos, Chiefs and Eagles, all playoff teams. Of course, the Chargers also lost to the Raiders, Jaguars and Redskins, three teams who saw their playoff chances evaporate somewhere around Halloween. You catch them on a good day, they can be dangerous. You get them on a bad day, and they can be beaten.

Offense: The Chargers will rise and fall on the arm of quarterback Philip Rivers, an occasionally erratic signal-caller who had one of the best seasons of his career. He finished in the top 5 in most major passing categories, including completion percentage (69.5, first in the NFL), touchdown passes (32, fourth), passer rating (105.5, fourth) and passing yards (4,478, fifth). The ground game is led by Ryan Mathews (285 carries, 1,255 yards, six touchdowns) and old pal Danny Woodhead (106 carries, 429 yards, two TDs). Woodhead is also part of a group of four pass catchers who have more than 600 receiving yards. Rookie Keenan Allen is the top target (71 catches, 1,046 yards, eight TDs), and he’€™s ably supported by ageless tight end Antonio Gates (77 catches, 872 yards, four TDs), Eddie Royal (47 catches, 631 yards, eight TDs) and Woodhead (76 catches, 605 yards, six TDs).

Defense: While it does have some impactful players — safety Eric Weddle, defensive end Corey Liuget — San Diego is essentially middle of the road defensively. The Chargers are middle of the pack when it comes to points allowed per game (21.8, 11th), total defense (366.5 yards allowed per game, 23rd) and run defense (107.8, 12th). If they do have anything resembling an Achilles’€™ heel, it’€™s probably their pass defense: the Chargers allow an average of 258.7 passing yards per game, 29th in the NFL. As a defense, San Diego isn’€™t great when it comes to forcing takeaways, as it had just 17 on the year, third-worst in the AFC. Weddle and Marcus Gilchrist lead the team with two picks each.
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Report: Bill O’Brien to become Houston Texans’ head coach

12.31.13 at 11:45 pm ET
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According to ESPN.com, Penn State‘s Bill O’Brien has agreed to become the new head coach of the Houston Texans.

O’Brien, who served as an assistant coach with the Patriots from 2007-12, is expected to officially hired by the Texans no later than Saturday.

The 44-year-old has compiled a 15-9 record in his two seasons with the Nittany Lions, going 10-6 in the Big Ten. O’Brien won conference coach of the year in 2012.

The report states that O’Brien met with the Texans at his Cape Cod home in the days immediately after Christmas. He had already amended his contract with Penn State, lowering the buyout to jump to an NFL team from $19.33 million to $6.48 million.

To read the entire report, click here.

If Josh McDaniels leaves for Cleveland, who could take over as Patriots offensive coordinator?

12.31.13 at 6:53 pm ET
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If offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels does ultimately decide to leave the Patriots for the head coaching job in Cleveland, here are four possible plans for New England going forward when it comes to the OC job.

Chad O’€™Shea: He was hired as New England’€™s receivers coach on Feb. 25, 2009, and while the franchise has struggled at times when it comes to drafting and developing at the position, he’€™s had a good run of success with the players under his tutelage as of late. This year, he was able to oversee the integration of newcomers like Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce into the passing game, while veterans like Julian Edelman and Wes Welker have both publicly expressed their support for O’€™Shea. The 41-year-old has also worked as an offensive assistant with the wide receivers for the Vikings (2006-08). He started his NFL coaching career with the Chiefs, where he served as a volunteer special teams assistant in 2003 and assisted with special teams and linebackers for two seasons from 2004-05.

Brian Daboll: Daboll made his bones with the Patriots from 2001-2006 as a wide receivers coach, helping youngsters like Deion Branch and David Givens become impactful pass catchers. He also spent time as a defensive assistant in New England before working with the Jets, Browns, Dolphins and Chiefs as either a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator. He returned to the franchise this year as a vaguely named ‘€œoffensive coaching assistant,’€ and has held a variety of responsibilities over the course of the 2013 season. (For what it’€™s worth, he appeared to spend a lot of time during training camp with the offensive line, as well as old pal Tim Tebow.) Based on his resume, his background in the New England system, and his working relationship with the rest of the coaching staff, the 38-year-old could likely make the most seamless transition into the OC job. In addition, it would allow other offensive assistants to stay in their current jobs, creating more continuity on the coaching staff going forward.

Bill Belichick: It’€™s always a very real possibility that the Patriots decide not to name a coordinator. They’€™ve done it before — including in 2011, when they decided not to name a defensive coordinator, even though Matt Patricia had essentially taken over as the DC in waiting. If the Patriots can’€™t find someone they feel good about, at least at this point, they could go without for a year or two, assign more overall responsibility to a younger assistant like O’€™Shea or Daboll, and if it looks like they have taken to the job, officially name them OC in a year or two.

Nick Caserio: No one has a more extensive background at just about every level of the organization that Caserio — the 38-year-old has worked as an assistant coach, scout, and is currently the director of player personnel. He joined the franchise in 2001 as a personnel assistant, and became an offensive coaching assistant in 2002 before moving on as a scout in 2003. He served as the team’€™s director of pro personnel from 2004 through 2006 before taking a year to return to the field, this time as the wide receivers coach. He returned to the front office in 2008, and has held his current position with the Patriots since then. (In terms of game-day logistics, he has called offensive plays in the past, and has sat upstairs in the booth on game days.) Caserio could be a temporary fix — if the Patriots wants to promote from within but they don’€™t believe someone like O’€™Shea is quite ready, Caserio could get the call.

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Bill Belichick: I can’t comment on Josh McDaniels interview report

12.31.13 at 5:29 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t comment Tuesday on a report that the Cleveland Browns had asked permission to speak with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels about their head coaching job.

“I’€™m not going to get into any of that,” Belichick said in an afternoon conference call with the media. “The procedures are in place with the league and so forth. Any comments on that I don’€™t think are appropriate to come from me so I won’€™t make any.”

The Browns fired Rob Chudzinski after they went 4-12 this season. McDaniels, who previously worked as head coach of the Broncos in 2009-10, has been a part of the Patriots’ coaching staff in various capacities for several years, including as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach since the start of the 2012 season.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Patriots add wide receiver Greg Orton to practice squad

12.31.13 at 4:45 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Tuesday they have signed wide receiver Greg Orton to the practice squad.

Orton, 27, spent part of 2011 and all of 2012 on the Broncos practice squad. The 6-foot-3, 199-pounder originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Bengals out of Purdue in 2009. He had stints with the Arena Football League’€™s Spokane Shock and the United Football League’€™s Omaha Knights before joining the Denver practice squad. Orton went to training camp with Denver this past summer.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Poll: Who do you want the Patriots to face in the divisional playoffs?

12.31.13 at 11:18 am ET
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Who do you want the Patriots to face in the divisional playoffs on Jan. 11?

View Results

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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

12.31.13 at 11:08 am ET
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Every week over the course of the 2013 regular season, we’€™€™ve had 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. Here’€™€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for the 2013 regular season:

RB Stevan Ridley: 188 (178 rushes, 10 catches), 15 negative rushes, 1 negative reception, 4 fumbles lost
RB LeGarrette Blount: 155 (153 rushes, 2 catches), 9 negative runs, 2 fumbles lost
WR Julian Edelman: 107 (2 rushes, 105 catches), 8 dropped passes
RB Shane Vereen: 91 (44 rushes, 47 catches), 3 negative runs, 7 dropped passes
RB Brandon Bolden: 76 (55 rushes, 21 catches), 4 negative runs, 1 negative reception
WR Danny Amendola: 55 (1 rush, 54 catches), 1 negative reception
TE Rob Gronkowski: 39 (0 rushes, 39 catches), 1 dropped pass
WR Aaron Dobson: 37 (0 rushes, 37 catches), 1 negative reception, 7 dropped passes
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 32 (0 rushes, 32 catches), 7 dropped passes
QB Tom Brady: 32 (32 rushes, 0 catches), 40 sacks, 19 kneeldowns, 3 fumbles lost
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 12 (0 rushes, 12 catches)
WR Josh Boyce: 9 (0 rushes, 9 catches), 2 dropped passes
FB James Develin: 7 (3 rushes, 4 catches)
WR Austin Collie: 6 (0 rushes, 6 catches)
TE Matthew Mulligan: 2 (0 rushes, 2 catches)
RB Leon Washington: 1 (1 rush, 0 catches)

Some offensive notes: The Patriots ran 68 plays on Sunday against the Bills and 16 of them were in the shotgun — 24 percent. Over the course of the season, the Patriots were in shotgun formation on 482 of their 1,138 offensive snaps, a rate of 42 percent. (Last year, the Patriots were in the shotgun for 585 of their 1,240 plays in the regular season, a rate of 47 percent.) ‘€¦ Against the Bills, the Patriots were in no-huddle for three of their 68 snaps. On the year, the Patriots have operated in a no-huddle on 120 of their 1,138 plays from scrimmage –€” 11 percent of the time. ‘€¦ New England ran 1,138 offensive plays this year. Not counting kneeldowns, 76 were for negative yardage. Of the 68 plays against the Bills, two went for negative yardage — one sack of Brady and a negative run from Vereen.

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the offensive opportunities for the 2012 regular season.

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