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Stevan Ridley on the Ravens defense: ‘They know how to play the game’

09.19.12 at 2:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When Stevan Ridley looks across the line of scrimmage on Sunday night, he’€™ll see a familiar face looking back at him. The 23-year-old Patriots running back will see veteran Ravens’€™ linebacker Ray Lewis, someone who broke into the league in 1996 — when Ridley was seven years old.

‘€œYou have to know where he is every time he’€™s on the field,’€ Ridley said of the 37-year-old Lewis. ‘€œHe’€™s smart, man. He’€™s physical. He knows the game. He’€™s played that position as long as I’€™ve been watching football, so he’€™s someone I’€™ve been watching since I was a kid.’€

But that doesn’€™t mean Ridley can be in awe of Lewis, despite the fact that the linebacker is bound for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

‘€œI have to go out there and treat [him] just like another linebacker — he’€™s a player, he bleeds, sleeps, just like I do,’€ Ridley said before practice on Wednesday. ‘€œThis team is just going to go out there and play our game, We’€™re going to do what we want to do and we’€™re going to play ball, hardnosed, just like we’€™re supposed to.’€

Ridley and the rest of the Patriots’€™ offense are preparing for a typical matchup with Lewis, Ed Reed and the rest of the Ravens’€™ defense: a physical showdown against one of the smartest and most battle-tested units in the league.

‘€œThey have some strong players who have been there for a long time. They know how to play the game,’€ Ridley said. ‘€œIt’€™s going to be a hard-fought, physical game. For us, we’€™re just starting the day on Wednesday. It’€™s the first day we have to get on the practice field. We’€™re going to try to get our keys, make our reads, and do our assignments. We’€™re going to try and play Patriot football.’€

The Patriots are coming off a surprising 20-18 home loss to the Cardinals, a game where Ridley finished with 71 yards on 18 carries and the team as a whole ended up with 90 rushing yards. The LSU product, is looking to lead the running game back to the levels it enjoyed in Week One, where the Patriots rushed for 162 yards (125 of which came from Ridley) in a 34-13 win over the Titans.

‘€œWhen they call my number, I have to go out there and make a play,’€ said Ridley, who has 196 rushing yards through two games. ‘€œOur offense is going to get back on track. We had a tough loss last week, and we can’€™t sit on that. We’€™re going to prepare for the next game, and that’€™s what it is for us. It’€™s Week Three, early in the season. We can make any jump or get upset or anything like that. We have to play football. And we’€™re going to keep plugging away, just like we do every week.’€

In the wake of the defeat, several players indicated that one of the reasons for the loss was a bad week of practice.

‘€œThis week, I guess they’€™re putting a little bit more emphasis on [practice] because it’€™s the Ravens and that defense has a lot of tradition, a lot of playmakers on it,’€ Ridley said. ‘€œBut around here, it’€™s pretty much the same standard, in and out of each week: We’€™re coming out going to work and we have to work hard.

‘€œThat’€™s football. We do this for a living. For us, we have to come out every day and be prepared. Be alert. Be sound. And go out there and practice our assignments so we can go out there and make the right reads and the right plays for our team.’€

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What Tuesday’s personnel changes mean for Patriots offense

09.18.12 at 11:24 pm ET
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It’€™s not the seismic shift in offensive philosophy they underwent midway through the 2010 season, but the moves the Patriots made on Tuesday will bring some new wrinkles to their offense while tight end Aaron Hernandez is on the shelf, and could spark some more debate regarding playing time for New England’€™s wide receivers.

On Tuesday, the Patriots made several changes on the offensive side of the ball, releasing wide receiver Greg Salas and fullback Lex Hilliard and adding veteran tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Deion Branch. Salas and Hilliard went essentially nonfactors through the first two weeks of the season — Salas did not catch a pass in two games, while Hilliard was on the field working primarily as a fullback for a combined nine snaps in two contests.

In their place are Winslow and Branch. While Winslow doesn’€™t have anywhere near the same positional versatility that Hernandez has (Hernandez lined up in 10 different spots in the regular-season opener against the Titans), his game has some similarities with the Florida product. Provided that he’€™s healthy — remember, there are some questions about the health of his right knee — he is also a long, lean tight end who is more of a pass catcher than a blocker. In a perfect world for the Patriots, Winslow will work as the ‘€œjoker’€ tight end (a role that Hernandez has filled the last two-plus seasons) while Hernandez is on the shelf.

As for Branch, his return is one of the least surprising things we have seen in our time covering the team. Ever since he was released in late August, the team didn’€™t clear out his locker. He stayed in constant contact with teammates. And he stuck around the area, even making a very public appearance at Troy Brown‘€™s Hall of Fame induction last Sunday. In the end, it was not a matter of if, but when.
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Robert Kraft: Steve Sabol was ‘a true visionary’

09.18.12 at 9:20 pm ET
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Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement Tuesday night in the wake of the death of Steve Sabol of NFL Films.

‘€œToday, the entire National Football League mourns a great loss. It is impossible to measure, or truly comprehend, the impact that Steve Sabol and NFL Films have had in the growth and popularity of the NFL. He was a true visionary. It was Steve and his father, Ed, who first had the idea of recording professional football’€™s greatest moments and blending them with words of poetry and music. Steve was an artist who loved telling stories about the game of football. As a result, he brought generations of fans closer to the game by exposing them to the sights and sounds in a way that no one else ever has.

‘€œAs chairman of the broadcast committee, I had the opportunity to work closely with Steve over the years. I know a lot of passionate football fans, but I never met anyone who loved the game more purely, or was more passionate about preserving its history, than Steve was.

‘€œThe films he created and the highlights he captured were amazing. I still get goose bumps every time I watch one of the Patriots’€™ America’€™s Game series.

‘€œHe spent his life preserving the legacy of the National Football League and its many legends. In doing so, he became a legend in his own right and leaves a legacy that football fans will enjoy for generations to come.

‘€œOn behalf of my family and the New England Patriots, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Sabol family and all those who are mourning his loss.’€

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Josh McDaniels: Julian Edelman ‘has earned the right to get out there and play’

09.18.12 at 7:01 pm ET
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We wrote about the upturn in the amount of reps Julian Edelman has enjoyed this season here, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels weighed in on the topic on Tuesday, saying Edelman “has earned the right to get out there and play.”

“I think we have lot of guys that can do different things and help us make some plays and move the ball, and Julian is certainly one of those guys,” McDaniels said on a conference call with reporters. “He made quite a few plays the other day in the game and really helped us and came up big in a couple of those two-minute situations there.

“He’s a guy that gives you everything he’s got on every play. He’s got good speed and has caught the ball well for us so far this year. He certainly gives you an element — he’€™s a returner — so he certainly gives you an element of run after the catch. I would say that’€™s something he does fairly well, not to say we don’€™t have other players that do it very well too, but Jules has earned the right to get out there and play.”

To this point in the regular season, the fates of Edelman and Wes Welker remain inexorably linked. When it comes to Welker and the dip he’s seen in reps, McDaniels said it all boils down to the game plan for the week.

“Wes played a big role for us the other day,” McDaniels said. “I think it just goes back to the fact that we feel like we’€™ve got a number of different guys that can contribute and help our offense and have earned the opportunities that they’€™re getting. I think Wes — whatever it was, we threw the ball his way 12 or 13 times or somewhere in that neighborhood the other day and he made a number of big plays for us.

“Each game plan ends up different. Sometimes we play guys the majority of the game; other times we feel like using some different rotations may give us some advantages, whether that’€™s a matchup that we end up with in the front or a personnel grouping that we expect the defense to give us, or even formationally, ourselves in terms of what we try to do. I think there are a number of factors that go into our game plan every week, but certainly he is going to be a big part of our game plan each week that we go in and play.”

Here are some other highlights of McDaniels’ Q&A from Tuesday afternoon:
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Bill Belichick, Patriots anticipate more no-huddle from Ravens

09.18.12 at 6:45 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday there are some big changes between the Ravens team they beat in the AFC title game eight months ago and the one they’ll face this Sunday night in Baltimore.

“They run a lot more no-huddle offense. That looks like a big part of their package,” Belichick said on a Tuesday afternoon conference call with reporters. “There are some different players in there for one reason or another. Some of the matchups will be a little bit different; of course that’€™s true of us too.

“Some of their younger players have started to really mature and become very good players, guys that are really getting into the prime of their career, like [Dennis] Pitta or [Ed] Dickson, Lardarius Webb, guys like that, [Pernell] McPhee. They’€™ve added some young guys that have shown up in the kicking game, like [Corey] Graham, [Christian] Thompson, obviously [Courtney] Upshaw, who’€™s shown up on defense too. They’€™re the same but they’€™re different.

“Of course, Dean [Pees] is the coordinator. He has a couple different wrinkles from what we saw last year as well. I wouldn’€™t say they’€™re major but I would say they’€™re definitely significant; put a little different twist to it for us.”

Defensively, some of those wrinkles could be familiar, as  Pees held the same title with the Patriots from 2006 through 2009. (He was also New England’s linebackers coach in 2004 and 2005.)

“I don’€™t think we’€™re seeing anything revolutionary; things that are a little different from some of the things they did last year or things they’€™re doing more of this year — wrinkles in their dime package and things like that,’ Belichick said of the Baltimore defense.

“It’€™s not anything that we’€™ve never seen before, like I said, some of the percentages of it or the emphasis on it, those things change from year to year. Even if the coordinator didn’€™t change, some of those things would change anyway.”

Here are some other highlights from Belichick’s Q&A Tuesday afternoon:
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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

09.18.12 at 4:28 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the regular season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive 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. Two weeks into the regular season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2012:

Stevan Ridley: 44 (39 rushes, 5 catches). Seven negative plays.
Danny Woodhead: 15 (14 rushes, 1 catch). One negative play.
Brandon Lloyd: 13 (0 rushes, 13 catches).
Rob Gronkowski: 12 (0 rushes, 12 catches).
Wes Welker: 8 (0 rushes, 8 catches).
Aaron Hernandez: 7 (1 rush, 6 catches).
Julian Edelman: 6 (0 rushes, 6 catches).
Brandon Bolden: 5 (5 rushes, 0 catches). One negative play.
Tom Brady: 3 (3 rushes, 0 catches.) Five sacks and two kneel downs.

Other offensive notes: Of its 78 plays from scrimmage on Sunday, New England was in no-huddle for 19 of them — 24 percent, which is about the team’s average over the last year-plus. But eight times before the start of the fourth quarter, the Patriots ran no-huddle plays, and on six of those occasions, New England got one yard or less. You can’€™t sustain a hurryup with that lack of momentum, and it showed on the lack of flow on offense. … Through two weeks, the Patriots have been in no huddle for 24.8 percent of their total offensive snaps. … After two weeks, New England is in the Top 10 in every major offensive category, including total offense (sixth, 388.5 yards per game), rushing offense (ninth, 126 yards per game) and pass offense (eighth, 262.5 yards per game). … Ridley is fifth in the league with 196 yards. Meanwhile, Lloyd is tied for third in the AFC with 13 catches.

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Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

09.18.12 at 3:45 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 two weeks of the 2012 regular season:

WR Brandon Lloyd: 13 catches on 19 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 12 catches on 15 targets
WR Wes Welker: Eight catches on 16 targets
TE Aaron Hernandez: Six catches on eight targets
WR Julian Edelman: Six catches on eight targets
RB Stevan Ridley: Five catches on seven targets
RB Danny Woodhead: One catch on one target

By position
Wide receiver: 27 catches on 43 targets
Tight end: 18 catches on 23 targets
Running back: 6 catches on 8 targets

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