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Nuggetpalooza’s Pats schedule preview: Chicago

08.30.10 at 10:39 am ET
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nuggetpalooza-small4The Patriots play the Bears on Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. in Chicago.


What The Bears Did Well Last Season:


* – Good Starting Field Position: Chicago’s average starting field position was the 32.4 yard line last season, tied for the 2nd best in the NFL:

32.5 – Minnesota Vikings
32.4 – Chicago Bears
32.4 – New York Jets


* – Receivers Made the Catches: Bears’ receivers dropped only 20 balls last season, tied for the fewest in the NFL.  That comes out to a drop percentage of 5.6% of catchable balls, the 4th best mark in the league:

4.8% – Houston Texans
5.3% – New Orleans Saints
5.5% – Arizona Cardinals
5.6% – Chicago Bears


* – Long Kickoff Returns: Chicago ripped off 9 different kickoff returns for 40+ yards, the most in the NFL:

9 – Chicago Bears
7 – Baltimore Ravens
6 – Cleveland Browns


* – Fell On Their Fumbles: The Bears fumbled 26 times last year (10th most in the league) but they lost only 7 of them (27%), the 2nd lowest fumble loss percentage in the NFL.


* – No Return TDs Allowed: Chicago was the only team in the NFL that did not allow any returns for touchdowns last season (kick, interception, fumble, or blocked kick).  Pittsburgh and St. Louis allowed 8 each.


* – Good Coffin Corner Punting: Bears’ punters put 26 punts inside the 20 yard line last year versus just 2 touchbacks.  That 93% ratio was 2nd best in the league.


* – Converted Red Zone 3rd Downs: Chicago ranked 4th in the league by going 19-40 (47.5%) on 3rd down plays in the red zone in 2009.

What The Bears Did Poorly Last Season:


* – Couldn’t Cash In On Long Drives: The Bears scored on just 12 of 21 drives of 10 or more plays last season (57%), third worst in the NFL.


* – Couldn’t Stop Third and Long: Chicago allowed an NFL-high 29.5% conversion rate on 3rd and 10 or more yards to go last season.


* – Struggled To Run For First Downs: The Bears had only 71 rushing first downs last year, the 2nd fewest in the league:

69 – Indianapolis Colts
71 – Chicago Bears
72 – Washington Redskins


* – Couldn’t Limit Points In Opponent Goal-To-Go Situations: Bears’ opponents had 27 “goal to go” situations last season and scored touchdowns on 23 of them.  The 6.3 average points per GTG drive was 2nd highest in the league:

6.5 – Dallas Cowboys
6.3 – Chicago Bears
6.2 – Tennessee Titans


* – Struggled Defending Third Down In Red Zone: Chicago allowed their opponents to convert 50.0% of their third downs inside the red zone last season (16-32), tied with Atlanta for the worst percentage in the NFL.


* – Too Many Offensive Miscues In The Red Zone: The Bears reached the red zone 51 times in 2009 but came away empty on 12 of those trips (24%), the 4th highest percentage in the league.  Their quarterbacks tossed a league high 6 red zone interceptions to go along with four turnovers on downs, a fumble lost, and one instance where time expired.


Tomorrow’s preview:  The Baltimore Ravens, who the Patriots face on October 17.

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This Ventrone getting into the flow of things

08.30.10 at 1:26 am ET
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FOXBORO — His brother is most famous for delivering one of the biggest hits in Super Bowl history while his teammate at Villanova might be one of the best college athletes in America.

But Ross Ventrone is out to make a name for himself as a rookie free agent defensive back/special teams player with the Patriots.

The first thing you notice about Ventrone is not that he’s even shorter than his 5-foot-10 brother Ray, who laid out Domenik Hixon of the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. It’s not his mild-mannered, overly pleasant personality. What is most noticeable about this native of Pittsburgh is … the free-flowing mane that trails behind him as he runs on the practice field.

New England is a team his brother, Ray, played on for parts of three seasons, including last year before moving onto the Browns.

Ross Ventrone was released earlier in camp before being brought back by the Patriots last week. Ventrone comes to New England after winning an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision championship last year with Villanova, the same alma mater of Ray. One of Ross’ teammates was star running back Matt Szczur, a fifth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the June MLB draft.

Ventrone was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent on April 29 after playing and starting three years for Villanova, following his transfer from Pittsburgh. Ventrone was the leader of a secondary that was one of the best in the FCS in 2009.

Ventrone was in on 73 tackles, including 53 solos. He had 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks and was in on 198 tackles in his three-year career with the Wildcats. Two years ago, Ventrone had a team-best four interceptions for the Wildcats.

Ventrone is someone who knows how to climb a hill. He began his college career as a walk-on at Pittsburgh. After being redshirted as a freshman in 2005, he worked on the scout team in 2006 before earning a scholarship to Villanova.

Now with the Patriots, Ventrone, like his brother, is making his mark on special teams. He played in the opener against the Saints before getting cut for Week 2. He was brought back last week and made a tackle on special teams against the Rams. Now, in the preseason finale against the Giants at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Thursday, he will try to leave his mark against the same team his brother did during Super Bowl XLII.

And, with a lot of luck, Ross, with long, flowing locks of hair, will make enough of a name for himself to make the team.

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Pats re-sign Johnson, release Simmons

08.29.10 at 5:50 pm ET
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Terrence Johnson

Terrence Johnson

The Patriots announced Sunday they have re-signed defensive back Terrence Johnson and released offensive lineman Brian Simmons. Here’s the announcement from the team on the move:

The New England Patriots re-signed DB Terrence Johnson and released OL Brian Simmons today.

Johnson, 5-9, 190 pounds, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of California University of Pennsylvania on April 20, 2010. He was released by the Patriots on August 23, 2010.

Simmons, 6-4, 318 pounds, is a rookie free agent out of Oklahoma who was signed by the Patriots on August 15, 2010. He first entered the starting lineup for Oklahoma at left guard as a senior in 2009.

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Pace injury could pave way for Thomas to sign with Jets

08.29.10 at 3:21 pm ET
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Patriots Upset Thomas Football

Adalius Thomas had 14.5 sacks in three seasons with the Patriots. (AP)

An injury to Jets linebacker Calvin Pace could clear the way for a reunion of Rex Ryan and Adalius Thomas and add even more spice to the Patriots-Jets rivalry.

Pace, who broke his foot in the third quarter of Friday’s game against the Redskins, will reportedly be out a few weeks with the injury. That could leave New York in the market for a free agent linebacker like Thomas, who played for Ryan in Baltimore when he was the defensive coordinator with the Ravens.

While Ryan indicated on Sunday that he had no immediate plans to bring him in for a physical or sign him, he certainly sounded open to the idea.

“I would say it would be a possibility,” Ryan told reporters on Sunday when he was asked about the Jets signing Thomas. “I’m not going to rule that out.”

“If we’re going to do it, we’d rather do it sooner than later,” Ryan added. “But there are still some other things involved, other factors involved, and things like that. Sometimes what really makes sense, might not make sense to the organization, so we’ll see.”

Thomas played for the Patriots the last three seasons, but his time in New England came to a bitter end in April when he was released by the team. It marked the end one of the most eventful three-year careers with the Patriots — Thomas went from moments of brilliance in 2007 where he was New England’s best defensive player over stretches throughout the year to being a healthy scratch last season.

Things reached a nadir between the two sides last December when Thomas was one of four players late for an 8 a.m. meeting. While other players involved expressed contrition, Thomas made light of the incident in a bizarre press conference, saying after he was sent home, he “put [his] toes up in the air” and relaxed.

He added: “That’s one thing about Mother Nature. You can’t control that. You can’t run people over getting to work. … I didn’t try to be late. That’s basically it. I don’t know anything else to say. Cars sitting in the road, you’re sitting there. What can you do? It’s not the Jetsons. I can’t jump up into the sky. What the hell am I supposed to do?”

Asked if the incident could serve as motivation, Thomas scoffed: “Motivation is for kindergarteners. I’m not a kindergartener. Sending somebody home, that’s like ‘Are you expelled? Come back and make good grades.’ Get that [expletive] out of here. That’s ridiculous.”

In all, the 33-year-old has played in 135 NFL games and has accumulated 584 tackles, seven interceptions, 17 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and 79 special teams tackles.

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No offense: AFC East powerhouses struggle in preseason play

08.28.10 at 12:46 pm ET
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For a division that’s billed as the most competitive in the NFL, it wasn’t the greatest 24 hours for the AFC East.

In the third week of the preseason — the week where the starters play the most and the intensity level most closely resembles the regular season — the Patriots, Dolphins and Jets all struggled while posting losses at home. One night after New England posted a 36-35 preseason loss to St. Louis on Thursday, Miami had issues of their own in a 16-6 defeat to Atlanta. Meanwhile, the New York Jets turned the ball over four times and suffered a 16-11 defeat to Washington on Friday.

In particular, in the final dress rehearsal for each starting offense, all three teams showed some vulnerabilities that must be addressed before the season opens in two weeks:
Read the rest of this entry »

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Belichick: Maroney can ‘absolutely’ help us

08.27.10 at 7:37 pm ET
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Jaguars Patriots Football

Laurence Maroney led the Patriots with 757 rushing yards last season, but hasn't seen much action this preseason. (AP)

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday he “absolutely” envisions running back Laurence Maroney helping the team this season.

Maroney’s role has been called into question because the running back — who led the team in rushing two of the last three years, including a team-high 757 rushing yards last season — has dressed but hasn’t played the last two preseason games.

On a conference call with reporters Friday afternoon, Belichick reiterated the point he made after Thursday’s preseason loss to the Rams — that the New England offense did not have the ball enough to get as many players into the game as he would have liked. (St. Louis held a staggering 44:16 edge in time of possession, and the Patriots had just 38 plays from scrimmage.)

“We anticipated playing all the players in the game, [but] we had so few plays on offense, we just weren’t able to do it,” Belichick said. “I think [Maroney] does need to play. I think all players need to play in the preseason. I think it’s beneficial to all of them.

“When you’re a one-back offense, you can only have one in there at a time. It’s like quarterbacks. We’d like to have played all three quarterbacks, too, but we never had the ball. There were no plays to run.”

While Maroney has played only 12 snaps over the first three preseason games (he ended up with eight carries in the preseason opener against the Saints), a series of backs have had ample opportunity to stretch their legs over the course of the preseason schedule, including Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

But even though Maroney (who has been healthy enough to take part in every training camp practice this summer) hasn’t seen the field much this preseason, Belichick said he envisions the former first-round pick helping the team when the season rolls around.

“Oh, absolutely. I sure do,” Belichick said.

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Morris, Taylor on D&H: Some positives in loss

08.27.10 at 1:30 pm ET
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Sammy Morris

Sammy Morris

Patriots running backs Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor joined the Dale & Holley show on Friday morning to recap the disappointing performance against the Rams on Thursday night.

“It’s kind of difficult,” Morris said of comparing the preseason to the regular season. “I hate ever trying to justify or downplay a loss, but at the same time it is preseason. There’s not as much game plan, there’s not as much starters playing, there’s a lot of things different from the regular season. So I guess for me personally, I just kind of sense how I played and I guess the coaches just imagine how everyone played and everything that needs to be improved upon.”

“Last night was just one of those things,” Taylor said. “You never want to lose. No matter who the opponent is, you never want to lose, number one. I think to go out there and seeing how our guys fought later in the second half, how they all fought back to try to win the game, it was good to see that. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the outcome that we all hoped for but there will be some positive things on the film as well as things that we have to correct. All in all, we still have tons and tons of football.”

Below are the highlights of the conversations. To hear the interviews, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Sammy Morris:

How do you compare a loss in the preseason to a loss in the regular season?

It’s kind of difficult. I hate ever trying to justify or downplay a loss but at the same time it is preseason. There’s not as much game plan, there’s not as much starters playing, there’s a lot of things different from the regular season. So I guess for me personally, I just kind of sense how I played and I guess the coaches just imagine how everyone played and everything that needs to be improved upon.

If I asked you to give me an assessment of the positives from last night, what would they be?

First off, our return team did a good job of giving the offense good field position. I think for the things that we did offensively, I’ll find out today exactly what those were. Read the rest of this entry »

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