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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:
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Read More: dolphins, Jets, Patriots, training camp

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.

Read More: Laurence Maroney, Patriots, training camp,

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 »

Read More: Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, St. Louis Rams,

Nuggetpalooza’s Pats schedule preview: San Diego

08.27.10 at 1:24 pm ET
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nuggetpalooza-small2The Patriots take on San Diego on Oct. 24 at 4:15 p.m. in San Diego.

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What The Chargers Did Well Last Season:

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* – Avoided Three & Outs: Only 17% of the Chargers’ offensive possessions were “three and out” in 2009, the 2nd lowest percentage in the league (Dallas, 16%).  It was only 11% over the final four weeks of the season.

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* – Long Drives Paid Off: San Diego got points on 22 of their 24 drives of 10+ plays last season (92%), the 2nd highest percentage in the league (New Orleans, 94%).

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* – Lots of Big Pass Plays: The Chargers had 67 pass plays of 20+ yards last season, the most in the NFL:

67 – San Diego Chargers
65 – Philadelphia Eagles
64 – Pittsburgh Steelers

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* – Valued the Ball Inside FG Range: Once inside their opponents’ 30 yard line, the Chargers threw for 21 TD and had zero interceptions.  That was a major factor in their league best 119 passer rating in those situations.

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* – Scored Big In 1st Quarter: The Chargers scored 103 points in the first quarter in 2009, the 3rd most in the league:

122 – Philadelphia Eagles
115 – Green Bay Packers
103 – San Diego Chargers

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* – Avoided Having Passes Batted Down: San Diego had only 2 passed hit at the line of scrimmage last season, just 0.39% of their attempts, easily the lowest percentage in the NFL:

0.39% – San Diego Chargers
1.01% – New England Patriots
1.08% – Minnesota Vikings

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* – Stopped Allowing 1st Quarter Rushing TDs: After allowing a rushing score in their last 2 games in 2008 and in 3 of their first 4 in 2009, the Chargers didn’t allow one in the opening quarter over the last 12 games of the season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Patriots schedule preview,

Crash course in store for Pats

08.27.10 at 1:11 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Just be glad you don’t have to sit in front of a TV screen, high def or not, and watch a replay of Thursday night’s defensive meltdown at Gillette.

Those responsible are not so lucky as the Patriots players will have the words, discipline, responsibility, awareness, toughness and reaction drilled into their heads by every single member of the coaching staff.

One of the new leaders of the defense is Jerod Mayo. The third-year linebacker said it after the game and said it again to Dennis and Callahan on Friday morning. The Patriots played “dumb football” on defense. Bill Belichick will have no problem making Mayo look smart with that statement.

“Play smarter football,” Mayo said after the 36-35 loss in which the Patriots D couldn’t get off the field, allowing the Rams – the Rams – to convert 11-of-17 third-down chances. “Do business as business is being done, and go out there and try to make plays and try to get off the field.”

Three roughing-the-passer penalties and countless mental errors kept the defensive unit on the field way too long.

“We just couldn’t get off the field,” Mayo said “Penalties killed us. We have to fix it.”

Mayo said the defensive unit, though, is confident they can fix things in time for the opener in just over two weeks.

“It doesn’t shake us at all,” Mayo said. “We’ll watch the film and make the adjustments and things like that. First two games, we played pretty well as a first unit. We just have to get better.”

At least they’re aware of it. Now, with only the Giants in the preseason finale standing between them and the newfangled Bengals with Terrell Owens, Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley staring them in the face on opening day at Gillette on Sept. 12, the Patriots would be well-advised to start making big adjustments.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” added projected starting right corner Leigh Bodden. “Looking at the film, we thought we could do some good things on defense but unfortunately we didn’t do what we planned and we just have to look at the film, get better from it, and move on to next week.”

Yes, the positive is that Bill Belichick and company have plenty of teaching points. But there’s a fine line between providing a teaching point or two and coming up with an entirely new syllabus to help students in a crash course. The latter is what’s facing Belichick and his staff right now after watching the 2-14 Rams of 2009 hold the ball for over 46 minutes and 84 plays to New England’s 38 plays in 16 minutes of possession.

“It’s going to be rough,” safety James Sanders said. “But we need to go in there and keep an open mind and make the corrections that we need to make and go forward from there.”

“Very disappointing Anytime you have an offense that’s moving up the field at will, it’s demoralizing. It’s disappointing as a unit that takes pride in stopping teams the way we do out there. So we need to go back and figure out what the reason was for that and do better as a defensive unit.”

As Belichick acknowledged after the game to everyone panicking about the future of Laurence Maroney in New England, it’s hard to prove anything when “you don’t have the ball.”

“You get a real feel for your team but it’s just one game and we made some mistakes and we have to correct it,” Bodden said. “It’s just one game, like I said. This is a game that you do want to go out and show what you have but unfortunately we have to go back to the drawing board and work on it so we can get better for next week.”

Darius Butler is in a battle with Devin McCourty for the left cornerback position. Both second-year Butler and rookie McCourty were picked on by Sam Bradford on Thursday as the No. 1 over pick threw a paid of touchdown.

“I know we’ve got to get better,” Buter said. “I know I’ve got to get better personally. Got to make better plays out there. That’s what we’ve got to do.”

As for Bradford, Butler said fans and the Patriots themselves should not have been surprised.

“Not really,” Butler said in denying any sense of surprise at Bradford’s numbers. “I mean he’s the number one pick,” Butler said. “He’s a good quarterback.”

Another excuse that those looking for a silver lining on Thursday will point to is the time-honored NFL preseason theory that the defense Belichick threw at the Rams and Bradford was very basic or vanilla in football terms. Give Butler credit for this much, he wasn’t using that as an excuse.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Butler said. “They just came out and made plays and we didn’t in certain situations. I didn’t in certain situations, so I’ve got to get better on that.”

Read More: Darius Butler, Defense, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots

Agent: Brace has MRI on ankle

08.27.10 at 12:40 pm ET
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The agent for Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace indicated that the player was having an MRI on his ankle Friday, according to a Boston Herald report. Brace, a Bay State native and Boston College product in his second NFL season, had seven tackles (four solo) in Thursday night’s preseason loss to the Rams.

Read More: Ron Brace,

Neal on D&H: ‘Lot of work to do’

08.27.10 at 10:56 am ET
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Stephen Neal

Stephen Neal

Patriots offensive lineman Stephen Neal joined the Dale & Holley show Friday morning to talk about the Patriots’ disappointing performance in their 36-35 preseason loss to the Rams on Thursday night. To hear the interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Asked what the message was from the Patriots coaches following the game, Neal said: “Pretty much we’ve got a lot of work to do. And they’re right. We’ll look at film today and see how we can improve and just get back after it. Luckily, that was a preseason game. We were really trying to win that thing. We just couldn’t pull it out.”

Added Neal: “We have another week to work out the kinks. Hopefully, we can be a little more smooth in the next game and have a good feel going into the regular season.”

A former collegiate wrestling standout, Neal discussed mixed martial arts fighting, with the UFC making a stop in Boston this weekend. Neal said he knows a number of UFC competitors but isn’t likely to take up the activity after his NFL career is over. “My wife told me that I’m not alllowed to,” the 33-year-old said with a laugh. “No, I enjoy the gig I’m doing, and those guys are pretty tough out there. And I don’t know if my body could hang out there with the age I’m at and the trauma I’ve been through. Probably not.”

Read More: Patriots, Stephen Neal,
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