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Some thoughts on Wes Welker, Stevan Ridley and the specialists

09.11.12 at 12:46 am ET
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Four final things to wrap up your Monday:

1. If you toss out the 2009 regular-season finale against the Texans — a game where he left in the first quarter after shredding his knee — Wes Welker has never had a game like he had last Sunday against the Titans. Welker finished with three catches on five targets for a total of 14 yards in the 34-13 win over Tennessee. Other than the Houston game, it was his lowest output, yardage-wise, in a New England uniform. (Before that, you have to go all the way back to the 2006 season when he had one catch for 11 yards in a Dolphins loss to the Jets — his next-to-last game in a Miami uniform — to find such an inauspicious day.) While it’€™s easy to speculate that Welker’€™s diminished output had something to do with his tumultuous offseason and his contract situation, I wouldn’€™t read too much into a one-game dip. (Welker certainly isn’€™t too riled up.) The Patriots’€™ offense game is an egalitarian effort, one with the flexibility to operate based on week-to-week game plans. In that context, I wouldn’€™t get too worked up about Welker’€™s situation in the same way I wouldn’€™t get too worked up about what Stevan Ridley did. Both are interesting, but it’€™s entirely likely that they are not typical performances in this offense, as they’€™ll be utilized differently from week to week. If Welker finishes September with 20 or fewer catches, then it’€™s something that bears watching. But until then, you can chalk it up to a one-game spike. Nothing more, nothing less.

2. Watching Ridley run on Sunday against the Titans, I was struck by the fact that the Patriots have rarely had such a dynamic back. There have been the physical rumblers like Corey Dillon and (to a lesser extent) Antowain Smith. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was more of a workmanlike runner who was consistent in his ability to maintain control of the football and hit the magic four yards a carry mark. Ridley has something that Laurence Maroney had when the ex-Minnesota back wasn’t dancing two yards behind the line of scrimmage — an ability to shake off would-be tacklers with his speed and wiggle. Two other things that stuck out about Ridley’€™s performance: One, he had four carries that went for negative yards. These aren’€™t necessarily his fault — on further review, at least two of them were caused by breakdowns in blocking — but if you figure the negative carries into the mix, he came away with 17 carries for 125 yards, an even more impressive figure. And two, he clearly has an ability to break big runs. His 5.1 yards per carry average last year was a hint of that, and the fact that he accounted for five of the Patriots top 10 longest plays from scrimmage on Sunday serves as further confirmation.

3. We really should have had something in ‘€œ10 Things….’€ about this, but Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko had a good afternoon against the Titans. Tennessee’€™s average start was its own 18-yard line, with their best coming at the 21-yard line. Gostkowski put six of his seven kickoffs into the end zone, with three going as touchbacks. (He was also 4-for-4 on PATs and 2-for-2 on field goals, with successful conversions coming from 25 and 31 yards.) And while Mesko had what looked like a semi-pedestrian 38.5 average on the day, he dropped three of his four punts inside the 20 with only one touchback. When it comes to New England’€™s return game, the Titans, always one of the better teams when it comes to punt and kick coverage, did a good job of containing the New England returners. And while Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater each handled one kick return attempt for New England, it certainly doesn’€™t appear the Patriots are any closer to finding a full-time kick returner than they were at the start of the summer.

4. Interesting information here about the Cardinals ability to defend outside the numbers. According to Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information, Arizona has made great gains when it comes to defending the perimeter over their last 10 games, dating back to last season. The completion percentage for opposing quarterbacks outside the numbers have dropped from 66 percent to 49 percent, while yards per attempt has already decreased from 9.5 to 5.6. Meanwhile, quarterback Tom Brady attempted 20 of his 31 passes outside the numbers during a victory at Tennessee in Week 1. He completed 16 of those 20 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. Patrick Peterson will be patrolling a large chunk of the area outside the hash marks for Arizona, and it’€™s clear that Brandon Lloyd has all the respect in the world for him, calling him ‘€œone of the best players we’€™ve faced all season.’€ Should be an excellent matchup on the perimeter.

Read More: Stephen Gostkowski, Stevan Ridley, Wes Welker, Zoltan Mesko

Report: Former Patriots center Dan Koppen signs with Broncos

09.10.12 at 10:57 pm ET
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Former Patriots center Dan Koppen signed a one-year deal with the Broncos on Monday, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.  The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Koppen was selected in the fifth round of of the 2003 draft by the Patriots, and he appeared in 121 regular-season games for New England from 2003-2011. The 32-year-old was released at the final roster cutdown before the start of the regular season.

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Snap Counts: Tracking Patriots participation in all three phases of the game

09.10.12 at 9:51 pm ET
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Per the NFL gamebooks, here’s a look at snap counts for the Patriots through Week One:

Ryan Wendell: 67 of 67 (100 percent)
Nate Solder: 67 of 67 (100 percent)
Tom Brady: 67 of 67 (100 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 66 of 67 (99 percent)
Aaron Hernandez: 66 of 67 (99 percent)
Logan Mankins: 62 of 67 (93 percent)
Brandon Lloyd: 57 of 67 (85 percent)
Dan Connolly: 51 of 67 (76 percent)
Wes Welker: 42 of 67 (63 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 40 of 67 (60 percent)
Marcus Cannon: 38 of 67 (57 percent)
Sebastian Vollmer: 34 of 67 (51 percent)
Julian Edelman: 23 of 67 (34 percent)
Donald Thomas: 18 of 67 (27 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 14 of 67 (21 percent)
Michael Hoomanawanui: 12 of 67 (18 percent)
Brandon Bolden: 6 of 67 (9 percent)
Lex Hilliard: 5 of 67 (7 percent)
Matt Slater: 2 of 67 (3 percent)
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Big start for Chandler Jones and the rest of the Patriots’ rookies

09.10.12 at 6:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For rookie Chandler Jones, you couldn’t draw it up much better.

The Patriots defensive end, who played 58 of a possible 65 defensive snaps in his professional debut Sunday against the Titans, finished with five tackles (three solo) and a strip sack of Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker.

On the sack, Jones beat Titans’ tackle Michael Roos off the edge and easily brought down Locker. He ended up knocking the ball away, where it was gathered up by fellow first-round pick Dont’a Hightower. Hightower then broke one tackle on the way to the end zone for the touchdown.

“I didn’t even know it was a strip sack, to be honest with you, I thought it was just a normal sack,” Jones said on Monday afternoon. “And I got up and Dont’a was in the end zone jumping up and down, so that was good.

“Me being a pass rusher, you basically just take what they give you. When you’re rushing the passer, you look at the offensive linemen and his stature and what he’s doing, [and you base that] on what move you’re going to do. That’s what he gave me, so I took it.”

It was a great start for the rookie out of Syracuse, but only a small part of his personal expectations when it comes to measuring success in the NFL.

“My expectations were to get respect from these vets. You have Vince Wilfork over here to my right, just earning his respect,” said Jones, motioning to the veteran defensive lineman who was dressing two stalls down. “For him to be out there and to trust in me that I’m going to do my job, that’s my goal. For me to go out there and say, ‘I don’t want Vince to worry about what I’m doing. I want him to have trust in me that I’m doing my job.'”

Jones and Hightower weren’t the only rookies to provide highlights. Defensive back Tavon Wilson also came away with a pick of Locker, his first as a pro. All in all, it was a good day for New England’s draft class.

“That was great. That was really great, actually,” he said of the Wilson interception. “It was funny that it happened, actually. Every time someone mentions me on Twitter, I read it. I read it all the time. One of the fans mentioned, ‘I was playing Madden and you got a strip-sack fumble and Hightower picked it up for a touchdown.’ That was right before the game. I was reading that. For me, for it to happen in real life, it was great. It was like a dream come true. That guy predicted it.”

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Brandon Lloyd can help new Patriots’ teammates get acquainted with the Cardinals

09.10.12 at 6:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When it comes to getting up to speed on the Cardinals, Brandon Lloyd could be a valuable resource.

The former Rams and Broncos receiver is pretty familiar with New England’s next opponent. He faced them twice last season when he was with St. Louis, and when he was with Denver, the Cards were a common opponent, both in the preseason and regular season.

“I haven’t watched film on them [yet], but I’ve played them the last couple of years and in the preseason,” said Lloyd, who had five catches for 69 yards in the regular-season opener on Sunday. “They’re a young football team and they have some of the most explosive football players in the NFL. And the matchups with [defensive back Patrick] Peterson … it’s a good team, competitive. We’ll have to do well in man coverage to beat them.

“They have a terrific pass rush and that pass rush puts a lot of pressure on your ability to protect the quarterback and insure the throws. Tight coverage, big time pass rush, some of the best ball skills from their cornerbacks that I’ve seen in the NFL. You look forward to these kinds of games because they really challenge you.”

Lloyd should expect a heavy dose of Peterson, Arizona’s finest cornerback. The 6-foot-1, 219-pounder out of LSU had 13 passes defensed and two picks last season as a rookie, and has become one of the best young defensive backs in the league.

“He has all the intangibles — the size, the speed, the short-area quickness. He has all that,” Lloyd said of Peterson. “On top of that, he has just incredible ball skills. That’s what separates him from a lot of the guys you face. And in the special teams area, he’s an incredible threat when it comes to returning the ball. he’s definitely a really talented player. One of the best players we’ve faced all season.”

In terms of his performance in the opener, Lloyd was targeted a team-high eight times, with the only real misstep of the day coming on a missed connection with quarterback Tom Brady in the first half. (Lloyd wasn’t in the mood to talk about the incomplete, saying only, “We’re going to talk about Arizona today.”) The receiver said the Patriots played well “in all phases” against Tennessee.

“Our offense and our defense complimented each other, and each one of them complimented our special teams,” Lloyd said. “It felt like we did well. We still have another opportunity this week to improve against Arizona, and that’s how we’re looking at it.”

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Bill Belichick on Stevan Ridley: ‘I thought he ran hard’

09.10.12 at 6:11 pm ET
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FOXBORO — On Sunday, Bill Belichick watched Stevan Ridley run the ball 21 times for 125 yards and get rewarded with a one-yard TD run. On Monday, Belichick watched the film and it confirmed what he saw from the sidelines.

“I thought he ran hard, he had some good runs,” Belichick said of Ridley, who had a 17-yard run for his longest of the day. “He had some other runs that we’€™ve talked about that could have been better. I thought he finished runs, he ran hard, broke a couple tackles in the secondary. Overall, we just need to be more consistent with the running game.

“I think we still left some yards out on the field, plenty of them, for one reason or another, combination of everything. Just keep trying to improve that, but there were some good plays to the outside, we were able to get outside, get to the off-tackle, outside areas. Stevan made some yards after contact and in a couple cases, he made secondary players miss around the line of scrimmage and got some extra yardage.”

Tom Brady emphasized after the win how important a strong running game was to a tough, physical team and thought Ridley established that. Belichick agreed, adding there are still some areas where Ridley can improve even more. In 2006, Laurence Maroney had a breakout game against the Bengals on Monday night football in Cincinnati when he ran for 125 yards on 15 carries. It was his only 100-yard game of the season and he reached the century mark just six more times in his career, which ended in 2010.

So, what’s the key to consistency and not leaving “yards on the field”?

“A combination of things,” Belichick said. “Running game involves a lot in terms of footwork, technique, setting up blocks, reading the hole properly ‘€“ any of those things can put the linemen at a disadvantage or not take advantage of an opportunity that’€™s there.”

Of course, at the end of last season, Ridley was benched in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl after fumbling in the Denver playoff game.
Belichick was asked Monday if he has stressed that this year to Ridley.

“We stress it every week,” Belichick said. “I’€™ve never not stressed it since I’€™ve coached. It’€™ll always be stressed; that will never be not stressed.

“With everybody specifically, doesn’€™t matter ‘€“ anybody that touches the ball. Anybody that touches the ball, there’€™s nothing more important than possession of the ball. Anybody that handles it, that’€™s their number one job ‘€“ take care of it.”

The rest of Belichick presser from Monday touched on a number of things – Tom Brady’s nose, Dan Connolly, who appeared to get injured blocking for Ridley’s TD run in the third quarter, and Marcus Cannon debuting at right guard midway through the game.

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Tom Brady on Stevan Ridley: ‘We’ve made a commitment to running the football’

09.09.12 at 6:53 pm ET
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On a day when Tom Brady became just the 14th NFL quarterback in history to pass for more than 40,000 yards, it’s ironic that it was the job his running game did in securing a 34-13 win over the Titans in Tennessee on Sunday.

“I think it’s something we’ve been doing all [along],” Brady said after watching Steven Ridley run for 125 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. “All through minicamp, training camp, regular-season games, we’ve made a commitment to running the football, and you saw it today. A lot of carries by the back and they have a lot of opportunity. When you can control the tempo of the game with running the ball, it really helps out the rest of the team. It helps special teams, helps defense and [time of possession], obviously helps that as well. You just can’t drop back and throw it 50 times a game. If we’re around 30 passes a game, that’s right where you want to be.”

Indeed, Brady was 23-of-31 on the day for 236 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. The breakdown Sunday was 31 passes and 35 runs.

“The toughness of your team is built around running the ball and stopping the run,” Brady said. “In the critical games and the critical situations, that’s the foundation of your team and that’s what your built on. That’s what you have to be able to do. You have to run it when they know you’re going to run it, and I say that all the time. I think with what we do in the run game and play-action game, and you spread them out, run screens, run draws, run traps, spread the ball to all the different receivers, it’s really hard for the defense to just key in on something, and say, ‘This is what we have to do.’ You really have to defend everything.”

Toughness certainly is something Brady showed himself in the second quarter. Brady was whacked in the facemask by the left leg of Tennessee defensive lineman Kamerion Wimbley in the second quarter when Wimbley chased him down from behind and landed on Brady for a sack.

“I never mind a little blood,” said Brady, who appeared at his postgame press conference at LP Field in Nashville with a large white bandage on his nose. “[It’s] not my usual look. That was the only good [hit] I took. It’s always fun winning. That was a good feeling.”

Brady was asked if the nose was broken.

“I don’t know,” Brady answered, adding he’s never had a broken nose. “I don’t know what a broken nose feels like. It’ll be fine. I need some of that anyway.”

Brady came out after the third down sack and was given a little extra time to rest as Chandler Jones strip-sacked Jake Locker and Dont’a Hightower returned the fumble for a touchdown. Brady came back in after the Titans punted the ball away and didn’t miss a snap in the game.

Read More: Kamerion Wimbley, New England Patriots, nfl, Stevan Ridley
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