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Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

12.04.12 at 1:05 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. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game through the first 12 games of the 2012 regular season:

WR Wes Welker: 92 catches on 133 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 53 catches on 75 targets
WR Brandon Lloyd: 50 catches on 89 targets
TE Aaron Hernandez: 27 catches on 40 targets
RB Danny Woodhead: 26 catches on 32 targets
WR Julian Edelman: 21 catches on 32 targets
WR Deion Branch: Nine catches on 20 targets
RB Shane Vereen: Seven catches on 11 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: Six catches on 11 targets
TE Daniel Fells: Three catches on nine targets
RB Brandon Bolden: Two catches on two targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: Two catches on three targets
TE Kellen Winslow: One catch on two targets
TOTALS: 299 catches on 459 targets

By position
Wide receiver: 172 catches on 274 targets
Tight end: 86 catches on 129 targets
Running back: 41 catches on 56 targets

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the targets through 12 games last season.

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Pressure Points: Which Pats defenders have done best job getting after QB in 2012?

12.04.12 at 12:42 pm ET
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Through 12 games, the Patriots have 46 quarterback hits and 26 sacks as a team (19th in the league). Based on gamebooks, here’€™s a quick look at some pass-rush numbers for the Patriots to this point in the 2012 season:

Quarterback hits
DE Rob Ninkovich: 10
DE Chandler Jones: Nine
DE Jermaine Cunningham: Six
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: Five
LB Brandon Spikes: Four
LB Jerod Mayo: Three
DL Vince Wilfork: Two
DL Justin Francis: Two
DE Trevor Scott: Two
DL Brandon Deaderick: One
DL Kyle Love: One
CB Kyle Arrington: One

Ninkovich: 7 (36 yards)
Jones: 6 (33 yards)
Mayo: 3 (24 yards)
Hightower: 3 (16 yards)
Cunningham: 2.5 (21 yards)
Scott: 2 (2 yards)
Love: 1.5 (4 yards)
Wilfork: 1 (10 yards)

Through 12 games last year, the Patriots had 64 quarterback hits and 27 sacks (16th in the league).

WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 14: Patriots continue to climb

12.04.12 at 11:30 am ET
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Divisions are beginning to be won and playoff berths are beginning to be clinched as we approach Week 14 and the final stretch of the 2012 NFL regular season. The Texans (1), Falcons (2), Patriots (3) and Broncos (5) have guaranteed themselves a shot at the Vince Lombardi trophy, while others still have something to play for down the stretch.

Ten teams in last week’s top 15 played each other in Week 13, causing a shakeup in this week’s rankings. The Ravens were bounced out of the top five after losing to the Steelers, and the Saints drop to No. 16 after losing their second straight game. New Orleans most likely will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Many teams with high expectations before the season have sunk to the gutter of the Power Rankings. The Chargers (25), Panthers (28) and Eagles (29) haven’t lived up to the talent and potential they have on their rosters.

Click here to listen to Mut, Merloni, and Zarbano discuss this edition of the Power Rankings.

1. (1) Texans (11-1) ‘€” The balance on both sides of the ball is the main reason the Texans have been so successful. No defense is better on third down, while the offensive rushing attack is one of the most lethal in the game. That combination has put the Texans at the very top of league in average time of possession.

2. (2) Falcons (11-1) ‘€” The victory over the Saints not only gave the Falcons their 11th win, but it also gave Matt Ryan and company tremendous confidence going forward. The quarterback went into Thursday night’s game with a career 2-6 record against New Orleans. The victory all but knocked the Saints out of playoff contention while bolstering belief that this is Atlanta’s year.

3. (4) Patriots (9-3) ‘€” The next two weeks will tell us a lot about how good this Patriots team really is. The Pats have rattled off wins against inferior opponents, now Tom Brady and the high-octane offense will face two of the best teams in the NFL. The defense has shown improvement while continuing to force turnovers. That’s a great sign for New England fans.

4. (3) 49ers (8-3-1) ‘€” By relegating Alex Smith to holding a clipboard, Jim Harbaugh opened himself up to criticism. Much of the blame for Sunday’s loss to the Rams has to go to Harbaugh. Quarterback controversy of any kind is harmful to a team, and Harbaugh is solely responsible. Deciding to go with Colin Kaepernick is one thing, but failing to clearly name a starter is a whole different problem. Announcing that the team is going with the “hot hand” only creates instability and insecurity in the locker room. The coach needs to pick Kaepernick or Smith and stick with his decision the rest of the way. December is not the time to start messing around.

5. (6) Broncos (9-3) ‘€” The Broncos haven’t loss since October and mostly likely will extend their winning streak to eight games Thursday after playing the Raiders. Denver leads the league in second-half scoring with an average of 19.3 points per game.

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Read More: Drew Brees, Jovan Belcher, Mark Sanchez, NFL Power Rankings

Fantasy Football: Week 14 waiver wire

12.04.12 at 9:45 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 14 waiver wire. We’€™re definitely switching our priorities now. The wire will begin to shrink from here on out as I focus more on players with playable upside. The byes are long gone and most leagues have dwindled to six teams or less after the elimination of non-playoff teams. That means there is less competition on the waiver wire and less teams with needs, too. Congratulations to those who are still alive. Come on over to Rotobahn for more advice. I’€™ll be adding players throughout the day as I work through the Week 13 games. I’€™ll also be adding an article on running back handcuffs for those who are fine-tuning their rosters to survive the playoffs. For those who have some tough lineup choices, we will be holding another Sunday morning chat this weekend at 11 a.m.  Stop by if you need any help.


Colin Kaepernick, 49ers

He has a solid schedule and he’€™s a dual threat at the quarterback position. His ability to score with his feet was a big factor in Week 13, and it kept those who started him competitive despite his struggles throwing the ball. Coach Jim Harbaugh already has named Kaepernick as the starter for Week 14.

Russell Wilson, Seahawks

The rookie got it done again, and he did it on the road against a very tough defense. Wilson now is a player who should be owned in all leagues. He can help you down the stretch if quarterback is your weakness. Wilson is looking like the biggest steal of the 2012 draft right now.

Carson Palmer, Raiders

Palmer bounced back nicely in Week 13 and he has a few good matchups left on his schedule if you need some help at quarterback. Palmer has had a solid year in spite of all the chaos around him. There’€™s no reason to think he’€™ll collapse now. The only thing to keep an eye on is backup QB Terrelle Pryor. If Oakland decides to give Pryor significant playing time, it could have an effect on Palmer’€™s stats. My guess is that we don’€™t see that until Week 17, but it’€™s worth monitoring.

Jay Cutler, Bears

He’€™s healthy now, and with Alshon Jeffery returning as soon as this week, we like Cutler to have a few good games the rest of the way.  There are no scary matchups left on his schedule.  Cutler has some value in deeper leagues.

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Read More: Carson Palmer, Colin Kaepernick, Danario Alexander, Jay Cutler

Josh McDaniels preparing for J.J. Watt ‘no matter where they line him up’

12.03.12 at 10:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots offense will have their hands full next Monday night with one of the best defensive lines in football, led by one of the best defensive linemen in the game.

J.J. Watt is second in the NFL with 15.5 sacks, two behind San Francisco’s Aldon Smith. Watt also has 59 tackles in 12 games for the 11-1 Texans this season. He is not only in the NFL defensive player of the year conversation, there are those who think the most dominant player on one of the best teams in the league season is worthy of NFL MVP consideration.

How good is he? So good that the Texans didn’t think twice about letting Mario Williams shuffle off to Buffalo after last season as a free agent.

Watt last season made the single-biggest play in the team’s first-ever playoff game, a 31-10 win over the Bengals, when he intercepted Andy Dalton on a pass block at the line of scrimmage just before halftime and raced in for a touchdown.

How will offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots prepare for the most devastating defensive end they’ve seen this season?

“With J.J. Watt, obviously he’s having a great year and obviously he’s a great player no matter where they line him up,” McDaniels said Monday. “The fact that they move him a little bit inside and outside, we’€™re going to have to have more than one guy ready to handle him and block him. It won’€™t just fall to the guard or to the tackle. It could be anybody at times, based on the way they play him. We have to do a great job of trying to simulate his effort, his motor and some of the things he does to disrupt people in the running game and the passing game and have to make sure we’€™re very mindful of taking care of the football and not letting him get his hands on balls, because he’s certainly created a lot of disruptive opportunities for them defensively by tipping the ball and batting the ball up in the air. [I’€™ve] got a ton of respect for him, their entire defense, certainly Coach Phillips and their defensive staff. We’€™re really looking forward to the challenge this week.”

Bill Belichick is known for taking away one offensive weapon from the opposition and making them win with secondary options. That mission changes somewhat this week as McDaniels will have the sizable task this week of meeting that objective, with an extra day to help his cause.

“Coach [Wade] Phillips does a great job and any defense that he’s coached has always been a big challenge for us or any other team and this one certainly is no different,” McDaniels said. “This is an aggressive team that plays physical, tough defense. I think they play fast. They play very hard up front and do a lot of really good things with their front three or four depending on whether they’re in base or in a sub-mode. Obviously they do a great job in terms of trying to take care of the running game.

“I think they’€™re second in the NFL. They’re top five in fewest points allowed. They’re certainly a good situational football team. Third down, red zone defense is excellent. And they’€™ve created turnovers and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, so I don’€™t think it’€™s a stretch to say this is going to be a big challenge for us. They have talented players at every level of their defense and they’€™re obviously very well coached, so we’€™re going to have to do a great job in preparing for them this week.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals, houston texans, j.j. watt

Josh McDaniels: Brandon Lloyd ‘certainly played hard and has played hard all year’

12.03.12 at 5:47 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One catch on one target, totaling 10 yards.

A year after the unsuccessful Chad Ochocinco experiment in New England, Brandon Lloyd is trying to shake a troubling trend.

Through 12 games, Lloyd has 50 catches on 88 targets by Tom Brady for 561 yards and three touchdowns, and a long of 27 yards. Ocho finished with 15 catches for 276 yards and a touchdown.

Certainly, he’s been more involved that Ochocinco was in 2011 but still there are concerns. He has 13 catches in the last four games, none of them touchdowns.

What needs to happen with the offense to get Brandon Lloyd more involved?

“I think that’€™s really a function of a lot of things. Brandon certainly played hard and has played hard all year,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday. “There have been games where we’€™ve targeted him a lot. And there have been other games where based on the way somebody may play us, we target him less and the ball may go somewhere else. I think Brandon keeps doing his job and trying to execute his assignments well. We’€™ve never been a team that likes to force the ball to one person or another, although it may seem like that at times because certainly players get targeted more in certain games.”

Lloyd has reached double figures in targets on three occasions (Arizona 13, Baltimore 12 and Seattle 12). But since catching just one pass on eight targets against the Jets on Oct. 21, the targets have been diminishing.

“Really, the biggest emphasis point we try to make to our group is to try to find the guy who’€™s open or who the defense doesn’€™t take away and to get him the football. Tom usually does a good job of that. Yesterday, certainly, he didn’€™t have a lot of action in the passing game, but hopefully that will change, or could change, based on the way we get defended. He’s done a good job of running good routes and getting open and being available when his opportunities present themselves. He’€™ll continue to do that; I know him. And hopefully we call things that give him an opportunity to get the ball, and then when that’€™s really where we should go with it, hopefully Tom finds him and we connect.”

Read More: Brandon Lloyd, Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots, nfl

Bill Belichick: We didn’t score a lot, but offense executed with the game on the line

12.03.12 at 2:42 pm ET
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According to Bill Belichick, when it comes to offensive execution, timing can be everything.

The Patriots coach acknowledged that the New England offense didn’t put up the typical crazy numbers Sunday it had over the course of the first 11 games of the season. But when it came down to the most important drive of the afternoon — a fourth-quarter sequence where the Patriots had to keep the chains moving and put some points on the board — the New England offense was more than up to the task.

“Ultimately at the end, it comes down to being able to make the plays you need to make to win the game,” he said on a Monday afternoon conference call. “I thought offensively, that was really a big key for us in this game, was when the game got to a certain point there in the fourth quarter, that we played our best football and we controlled the ball, we drove it the length of the field, we were able to go up by two scores. That really changed the outcome of the game.

“We’€™ve been in those situations before where we’€™ve thrown up a lot of big numbers, as you put it, or scored some points and then get to that point in the game and go three-and-out. So, it’€™s really about being able to do the things that you need to do to win the game, and I thought that’€™s what we did offensively.”

Here are some more highlights from Belichick’s Monday afternoon conference call with the media:

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Read More: Bill Belichick,
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