|11.03.11 at 9:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork has been lots of things to the Patriots defense this season. He’s been their most dominant player on the defensive line. He’s been one of their best pass defenders, with two remarkable interceptions.
But on Thursday – as captain of the defense, and as a prideful man – Wilfork was something else: a true spokesman and leader. He stood by his locker and tried to tell it like it is.
But in admitting the Patriots defense has had trouble stopping the opposition in the first seven games of the 2011 season, he made a plea and a promise to fans – it will and is getting better.
“It hasn’t been perfect,” he said. “Nothing’s perfect. But it’s getting there. I think guys are starting to understand each other out there on the field. they’re starting to understand what we want to do, how we want to rush. When you have seven, eight guys in a rotation, sometimes you get to play with them a lot, sometimes you don’t. That’s the main issue, is basically getting out there, knowing what all of us are doing.”
Of course, the lightning rod of the porous D has been the secondary. Wilfork says that the defensive line has to shoulder some of the responsibility for not make life more difficult on opposing quarterbacks this season. In seven games this season, only Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has failed to reach the 300-yard passing plateau.
“Absolutely, we all take part of that,” Wilfork said. “We’re not going to sit back and say, ‘They’re catching balls because they’re not covering.’ It’s part of us up front, too, not being able to get to the quarterback quick enough. It works hand-in-hand. It’s not track where you can go out and throw the shotput or run the 100-yard dash and win the medal by yourself. You win together. The quicker we understand that, the better we’ll be. And I think we understand that.
“Trust me, I don’t want any of our DBs to think it’s their fault we’re not getting off the field on third down or they called an in-cut 20 yards down the field. Twenty yards down the field gives us up front a lot of time to get to the quarterback. We have to take some of the blame, too, and we are, we are. But one thing this team has been doing, and the defense, we just keep working. Bill [Bill Belichick] challenges us every week and we keep working. We work hard. We just have to work harder. But that’s what we’ll do.”
There is one concern, though, as it concerns Wilfork. As our own Chris Price pointed out, Wilfork’s workload is up – way up – this season. With Shaun Ellis banged up, Mike Wright out for the season with a concussion and Albert Haynesworth admitting Wednesday that he’s still “knocking off the rust” seven games into 2011, Wilfork is getting little time to rest on the sideline.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wilfork played 361 of a possible 413 defensive snaps through the first six games of the season, a rate of 87.4 percent and far and away the most of any defensive lineman on the New England roster. That represents a quantum leap from where he’s been the last few seasons. Through six games in 2010, he was at 65.9 percent (283 of 429 snaps). In the same stretch in 2009, he was at 61.2 percent (221 of 361) through the first six games. And in 2008, he played 72 percent (247 of 343) of the Patriots’ defensive snaps through the first six games.
Durability has never been an issue with the Miami product — at one of the most strenuous positions on the field, he’s played all 16 games in five of the previous seven seasons, and hasn’t missed a start since 2009. But the possibility of wear and tear exists, especially for a veteran big guy (6-foot-2, 325 pounds) like Wilfork.
|11.03.11 at 8:34 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Almost overnight, the 24-year-old Devin McCourty — with just 23 NFL starts under his belt — has become the senior cornerback in the Patriots’ system. No current member of the Patriots secondary has more starts under his belt in New England than the Rutgers product.
The Patriots have had several shifting parts at corner over the last year, with the departures of Leigh Bodden and Darius Butler and the additions of Antuwan Molden and Phillip Adams. And while Kyle Arrington and Pat Chung have played more games as a pro, it’s McCourty who has the most experience as a starter of any defensive back in the New England system.
But it’s not like McCourty sits around pining for the days when he was part of a group that included Bodden and Butler, as well as safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, both of whom were released before the start of the season.
“I mean, I still talk to those guys so I know where they are,” he said Thursday when asked about his former teammates. “I think our focus right now is just getting better and at times we’re making strides in that and at times we’re falling a little short. I think our goal is to keep getting better and be more consistent.”
After all the moves, McCourty said the defensive backs that remain have learned to manage all the change that’s taken place.
“You just keep playing,” he said. “You have to really value those reps when you’re out there on the practice field. When we’re in the meeting rooms, we’re communicating with guys and that’s where you build that trust and communication on the field — you build it in meeting rooms and walkthroughs. We really just emphasize communicating in the walkthroughs and meetings.”
The Patriots’ appeared to struggle in pass defense Sunday against the Steelers, yielding 365 yards to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. New England is last in the league against the pass, allowing an average of 323.1 yards per game. But for his part, McCourty remains optimistic about the rest of the season.
“I think our outlook is really that we’re going to get better,” he said. “We really don’t worry about what everybody else says. We’re just trying to get better and we’re trying to do it as soon as possible. When we go out there today we’re going to have that urgency at practice to get better. [We’re] trying to make sure it keeps coming over on Sundays, not just for a week, not for two weeks but that we can be consistent stringing each game together.”
|11.03.11 at 4:47 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Thursday that the team has released safety Ross Ventrone — the ninth transaction involving the defensive back out of Villanova since the start of the regular season. Ventrone, 25, has spent time on both the practice squad and 53-man roster this season, playing in four games. Ventrone, 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Villanova on April 29, 2010. He spent the majority of his rookie season on 2010 on the New England practice squad.
|11.03.11 at 3:24 pm ET|
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. After seven weeks, here’s a look at the target breakdown in the New England passing game for the 2011 season:
Kevin Faulk: 5 catches on 5 targets (100 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 4 catches on 5 targets (80 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 36 catches on 47 targets (77 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 8 catches on 11 targets (73 percent)
Wes Welker: 57 catches on 83 targets (69 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 2 catches on 3 targets (66 percent)
Deion Branch: 30 catches on 46 targets (65 percent)
Aaron Hernandez: 29 catches on 45 targets (64 percent)
Chad Ochocinco: 9 catches on 16 targets (56 percent)
Julian Edelman: 3 catches on 6 targets (50 percent)
Matthew Slater: 1 catch on 3 targets (33 percent)
Taylor Price: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
Dane Fletcher: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
TOTAL: 184 catches on 272 targets (68 percent)
Running back: 19 catches on 24 targets (79 percent)
Tight end: 65 catches on 92 targets (71 percent)
Wide receiver: 100 catches on 154 targets (65 percent)
Other: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
|11.03.11 at 12:46 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Wide receiver Taylor Price is ready.
Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien hinted that we could see more of the second-year receiver out of Ohio, who has played just 30 snaps since being taken 90th overall by the Patriots in the 2010 draft.
‘He’s practiced well. We need to get him in there more,’ O’Brien said of Price, who was on the field for six plays last Sunday against Pittsburgh. ‘He’s done a good job in practice. He’s a guy that we’ve got to give him more reps in the game.’
‘Obviously I’m excited to get on the field more,’ Price said before practice on Thursday. ‘It’s never a good situation to stay on the sidelines and watch your team play. You always want to be in the game and be in close games and go into battle and go into war with your teammates. Nothing has changed for me. I’m going to keep going to practice every day. Keep preparing every day. Keep working hard.’
The 24-year-old Price is a 6-foot, 212-pounder, who caught three passes for 41 yards in the 2010 regular-season finale against the Dolphins. He knows that if he wants to succeed in the New England offense, it starts with building trust with the quarterback.
‘That’s a big part of it, obviously. He runs the show,’ Price said of developing a rapport with Tom Brady. ‘Get on the same page with him and you’re good to go after that.
‘I’ve always had a confidence in myself. In my game. And it’s just a matter of getting comfortable with the offensive system and getting comfortable with the quarterback and get on the same page. Just being there and just being reliable for the quarterbacks to go to and just being reliable like that.’
However, when he was asked directly about Price and his development, Brady gave a lukewarm response, saying that the wide receiver is like anyone else on the roster.
‘We’re all trying to be consistent with what we’re doing and whatever role our coach gives us, we’re trying to do it the best you can,’ Brady said. ‘That goes for the receiver position, running back position — there are young guys at that position as well that could obviously help the team.
‘Any time you’re on the active roster, you have an opportunity to help the team. That’s what you’re trying to go out there and do every day at practice. It’s about gaining the trust of your teammates and coaches so that you’re able to go out there and do it with confidence in the game.’
For his part, Price said he’s over any of the injury problems that dogged him over the course of his relatively brief NFL career (including a hamstring issue earlier this season), and believes he’s ready to contribute on a consistent basis.
‘I’m healthy. I’m feeling good. My legs are feeling good,’ Price said. ‘That’s a big part of it. I can be out there for more consistent practices, back to back and games back-to-back, and just like I said, be more consistent. Be out there more so there’s not that inconsistency factor. If you see someone out there day to day and they’re improving every day, that’s a good sign.’
|11.02.11 at 10:18 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s completely understandable that the Patriots want no part of watching Super Bowl XLII.
After all, most Patriots fans can barely stand to watch the highlights.
“First and foremost, that is not going to have any [impact] on the game this weekend,” said Kevin Faulk with a lot of force on Wednesday. “They won that game. That’s the only thing you can say about it. They have a couple of guys on that team that was on that team at that time but, at the same time, it’s a different team, different and a different situation, really.
“I never watched the game after the game. I’ve never seen the game. So, let’s just talk about us playing them on Sunday and us trying to play better and trying to win a football game. That’s what we want to do.”
But the Giants? You would think they would be more than happy to pop the DVD into the player and sit back and take a trip down memory lane.
Not so fast.
“No, that’s not that case at all,” Giants then-and-now coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday in a conference call with the New England media. “We’re in the moment very much, just like anybody else that’s involved in this current 2011 season. We’re focused on our opponents week-in-and-week-out and that’s where all of our attention goes.
“I don’t think about it. I haven’t spent a whole lot of timing thinking about that. It seems like a long time ago. I certainly was very proud of our players and very happy for our team and our franchise and our ownership and I’ll always cherish those memories ‘ there isn’t any a question about that. The New England Patriots were a team that had gone through the regular season undefeated, which is a feat that is very, very, very rare indeed, and they deserve credit for that. That’s the extent of it for me ‘ I’m trying to live in the moment.”
His counterpart actually admitted to watching the game but purely as a professional tool. Read the rest of this entry »
|11.02.11 at 7:35 pm ET|
FOXBORO — When he was asked Wednesday afternoon what part of Eli Manning‘s game has improved the most over the years, Giants coach Tom Coughlin — who has coached Manning since he arrived in the NFL since 2004 — was quick to answer.
‘I think that he’s demonstrated over the course of this season — with the exception of the one game with the multiple turnovers — that he really has focused on taking care of the football and making good decisions. Good judgment. (He’s been) prepared to throw the ball away if necessary and not jeopardize our chances for success by having the ball,’ Coughlin said. ‘I think he’s really worked hard at this.’
The numbers certainly bear out Coughlin’s statement. The quarterback has 13 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season, with three of those picks coming in a stinker of a game out in Seattle (a 36-25 loss to the Seahawks). Contrasted with his numbers from previous years — where he had four seasons of at least 17 interceptions, including a career-high 25 in 2010 — it certainly appears that Manning has learned the benefits of ball security.
‘He’s accurate, he’s got a good arm, he makes good decisions,’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick of Manning. ‘He’s a productive passer. He’s led their team to a lot of successful offensive plays and wins, so that’s how you measure a quarterback.’
Manning’s career has been characterized a lot of ways, but it certainly hasn’t been boring. The Ole Miss product was selected by the Chargers on draft day in 2004, but was quickly dealt to the Giants. A rocky first few seasons at the center of an occasionally dysfunctional team gave way to an unlikely playoff run in 2007, where New York took off late in the year and ended up shocking the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
And while he’s rarely mentioned among the elite quarterbacks in the game, he’s certainly put together an impressive season this year ‘ he’s in the Top 10 in every major passing category, including second in yards per attempt (8.83), third in quarterback rating (102.1) and fourth in the league in passing yards per game (287.6).
But this year, he’s been at his best late. Four of the team’s five wins this season have come in the fourth quarter, and his fourth-quarter numbers are best in the league — he’s 49-for-70 passes for 710 yards and six touchdowns in the fourth, averaging 10.14 yards per attempt.
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