|01.09.12 at 10:19 am ET|
With the Patriots’ playoff opponent determined after the Broncos edged the Steelers on Sunday, Tom Brady spoke with Dennis & Callahan Monday morning about facing Tim Tebow for the second time in a month and if new offensive assistant Josh McDaniels will be able to offer any insight about the team he used to coach.
“He obviously has some inside information on that team and those players, as he coached them. I haven’t seen Josh yet, so I really don’t know,” Brady said. “I think coach [Bill] Belichick has a pretty good idea of what he’s going to want Josh to do. I talked to Josh briefly but I really haven’t had a chance to sit down with him. He’s a great coach and we’re lucky to have him. I’m excited to get back to work with him. How that plays into this week, we’ll see. We’ll try to figure that out here in the next five or six days.”
Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Are you on your way into the stadium?
Yeah, just kind of getting the day going. Once the outcome of the game was really settled for us, we moved on pretty quick. We’re excited to get ready to play Denver.
So, all of that film work you did on Pittsburgh last week has gone to waste, correct?
[Laughing] Well, we did a lot of work on everybody, all the potential opponents. Denver, we played them three weeks ago. A lot of the stuff that we’ve done and prepared for for that particular game — I’ve seen every game except the last two, so it’s not a ton of film study to get caught up on these guys.
Did you watch last night’s game live?
Yeah, I did. I saw parts of it. I don’t watch it as much as I used to because I just get too anxious. I’m checking the score every five minutes, but I’m not really going play by play. At the end of the game, I heard my friend screaming in the other room.
What do you make of the Tebow phenomenon?
He’s a good player, and I think it’s a lot for the defense to prepare for. I know in our preparations for him this last time, it’s a challenge. It’s a very different style. But they’re very effective. They have a very good team. It’s certainly not about one player on this team. I know a lot of people make it out to be one player on a lot of teams, but the reason why the Denver Broncos are in this position is because of their team as a whole. Certainly, the way that Tim played yesterday, it was just a great win all around by them.
We’ve got a big challenge. We realized going into Denver how challenging a game that would be. We were the beneficiaries of some turnovers. We’re going to hopefully get some turnovers this weekend.
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|01.08.12 at 8:24 pm ET|
Five very early thoughts on a Patriots-Broncos divisional playoff game, set for Saturday night at Gillette Stadium:
1. The first time these two teams met was back on Dec. 18, when Tim Tebow guided the Broncos to an early lead by running all over the Patriots. (Denver had 15 carries for 167 yards in the first quarter and a 16-7 lead.) But the Patriots were able to keep their heads about them, step back, make the adjustments and outscore the Broncos 34-7 down the stretch. (It was the second of four straight come-from-behind wins down the stretch for the Patriots, and the fourth-biggest comeback of the season for New England.) Tebow finished 11-for-22 for 194 yards. He had no passing touchdowns and no interceptions, but one rushing touchdown and 93 yards on the ground. In contrast, Tom Brady went 23-for-34 for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
2. The rehiring of Josh McDaniels has already started to pay dividends. There may not be anyone currently outside of the Broncos organization who has a better handle on the strengths and weaknesses of Tebow than New England’s new offensive assistant. McDaniels, who coached Denver for the 2009 season and most of the 2010 season, moved up in the 2009 draft to use a first-round pick on Tebow in his first year as a head coach. And while McDaniels was fired on Dec. 6, 2010, two weeks before Tebow made his first start with the Broncos, the two had already managed to forge a pretty close relationship, one borne out of the fact that just about no one in the Denver area wanted either one of them back in the spring of 2009. You can bet that before Demaryius Thomas crossed the goal line on Sunday evening, McDaniels had a full dossier on Tebow on Bill Belichick‘s desk.
3. Gap discipline. Gap discipline. Gap discipline. One of the things that the Patriots were able to do an excellent job with over the final three quarters of the last time these two teams met was maintain their gap discipline, something an opposing scout told us as being important when it came to holding Tebow in check. Look for New England to use that as a point of emphasis once again this week.
4. Looking back to that first contest between the two teams last month, the game between the Patriots and Broncos last month turned into the second quarter. Three plays in, the Broncos, who spent much of the first 15 minutes doing whatever they wanted to do to the New England defense, were facing a fourth-and-1 at the New England eight-yard line with a 13-7 lead. But faced with the prospect of delivering the killing blow to a weary Patriots’ defense, Denver coach John Fox instead opted for a field goal instead of going for it on fourth down, and Matt Prater connected n a 26-yarder, making it 16-7. The Patriots, who were staggered at that point, took advantage of the opening, quickly turning momentum in their direction. They used three Denver turnovers in the second quarter — and a successful fourth-down conversion of their own — to put up 20 points of their own in the second quarter on the way to a 41-23 win over the Broncos.
5. Another thing that stood out from that game was the fact that the Patriots’ offensive line was able to do an excellent job keeping the Denver pass rushers in check. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady was only pressured on six of his 36 dropbacks, and linebacker Von Miller was held without a sack, quarterback hit or pressure for the first time in his young career. There were some savage shots (Elvis Dumervil delivered one of the best hits all season on a sack of Brady, while the Broncos had two sacks as a team to go along with three quarterback hits), but for the most part, the New England offensive line did a very good job turning away the Denver pass rush. One of the reasons the Patriots were able to have success keeping Brady upright in that game was their use of tight end Rob Gronkowski as a blocker more than a pass catcher. Gronkowski, who had four catches for 53 yards that afternoon against the Broncos (statistically, it was one of the worst games of the season), was on the field for 76 snaps, and on 41 of those, he was a blocker (PFF has him listed as a blocker on 39 running plays and two pass plays). It marked the second time this season where he spent more than 40 snaps in a game as a blocker, with the other time coming in the game against the first game against the Jets where he had four catches for 31 yards and no touchdowns.
|01.08.12 at 1:32 pm ET|
With the Patriots off this weekend and the postseason ready to begin, we’ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a weeklong, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We’ve already looked at the offensive side of the ball. Now, we take a look at the defense, starting with the defensive line.
Overview: It’s been an eventful season for the New England defensive line, which has run several new bodies through the system. Some have worked (Carter), while some haven’t (Albert Haynesworth).
In the end, even though the numbers may not suggest it, the New England defensive line was able to have a relatively productive season in 2011, thanks in large part to the work of Wilfork. The 30-year-old had one of the finest seasons of his already impressive career, finishing with a career-high in total snaps played and doing his best to hold together an occasionally unsteady defensive line that spent most of the first half of the season learning how to play together. His Pro Bowl nod — the fourth of his career — was well deserved. (In addition to his traditional work in the trenches, he’s added a pair of interceptions this season.)
As for the rest of the defensive line, Ellis has struggled with age and injury, while Warren has been a relatively solid presence as a rotational player along the interior of the defensive line. When it comes to the young guys, Love has flashed some talent (he appears to be a very good complementary piece at defensive tackle next to Wilfork). It also appears that Deaderick (who has some good positional versatility) will bear watching over the course of the next year.
Carter suffered a quad injury in a win last month over the Broncos, and with him on injured reserve, the Patriots have struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Anderson (who finished tied with Carter in quarterback sacks with 10 and second to Carter in quarterback hits, 22 to 14) continues to get lots of reps as a situational pass rusher, but those pass-rushing numbers must improve if the New England defense wants to slow down opposing offenses in the postseason.
An opposing scout’s take on the New England defensive line heading into the postseason: ‘Big and hard to move inside, which may bode well in cold weather games against running teams. Don’t create a lot of pressure on the passer, but can push the pocket inside. Will miss the steady play of Andre Carter against the run and pass. Mark Anderson will flash some ability to create some pressure. They struggle to get pressure when rushing four, and will leave secondary on an island.’
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|01.07.12 at 10:16 am ET|
So the Patriots are off this weekend? There are four compelling wild card games that I know you’re going to watch. Why not get ready by checking out a few stat nuggets on each of this week’s games:
Bengals at Texans
* – The Texans averaged a league leading 6.57 yards on first down this season, busting for 30 or more 15 times (tied with Oakland for the league lead). It’s the fourth year in a row that Houston has averaged over six yards on first down. For some perspective, 10 different teams have NEVER averaged six yards on first down in any of the last 12 seasons.
* – Houston has not allowed more than one second half touchdown in any of their last 13 games, the longest current streak in the league.
* – Cincinnati’s defense led the league by forcing 61 three-and-out possessions this season. It’s their most since they began tracking the stat in 1995, it’s just the second time that they’ve finished in the top 10 in that span (8th in 2000 with a then-club-record 51).
* – Houston has allowed only three touchdowns in the first quarter over their last 18 games. In their previous 18 games, they allowed 13 first quarter TD’s.
* – The Bengals won five games this season after trailing at halftime, their most ever in a single season. Only one team had more such wins (Arizona, 7). However, in their history, they’ve only beaten three eventual playoff teams on the road after trailing at the half: Baltimore in 2009, the Jets in 1981, and the Rams in 1979.
* – Over the last four weeks (basically the TJ Yates era), only 33% of Houston’s pass attempts have come out of the shotgun. That’s no surprise when you consider the results in that span: From under center, the Texans completed 69% (3rd), with no interceptions and a rating of +0.86 (11th). Out of the gun, they’ve completed just 59% (16th), thrown 6.8% interceptions (31st), for a -3.99 rating (31st).
Lions at Saints
* – Not only did the Saints set a record (since ’91) for highest third down conversion percentage (56.7%), but their 7.9 percentage point advantage over the second place Chargers (48.8%) is also the largest since they began tracking the stat in 1991:
7.9% – 2011 – Saints (56.7%) over Chargers (48.8%)
7.3% – 2006 – Colts (56.1%) over Cowboys (48.8%)
7.0% – 2002 – 49ers (52.3%) over Raiders (45.3%)
* – Detroit was the league’s best defense coming out of the locker room for the second half this season. In 16 opponent opening drives in the second half, Detroit allowed just two scores and 14 points. The Saints offense scored on their first second half drive in nine of their 16 games this season (five touchdowns and four field goals).
* – The Saints led the league in drives of 10 plays or more with 38 and they averaged 4.10 points per long drive (ranked 10th). The Lions defense allowed just 2.05 average points on long drives by their opponents, third lowest/best in the league.
* – New Orleans has only “lost” the first quarter five times since the start of last season. If the games were only 15 minutes long, the Saints would have gone 21-5-6 in that span. They have a first quarter points differential of +108 in that span. This will be a key to the game because Detroit’s first quarter points differential this season is -2 and they found themselves ahead after the first quarter in only one of their eight road games, tied for the fewest in the league.
* – The Saints blitzed on an NFL-high 52% of opponent pass plays this season. With that in mind, here’s how Detroit and Matt Stafford, who faced blitzes on just 27% of pass attempts (3rd lowest rate) fared in different scenarios:
Against no blitz: +1.83 rating (6th), 66% completions (6th), 1.6% interceptions (4th); 7.2% touchdowns (3rd);
Against blitzes: -0.85 rating (20th), 57% completions (9th), 4.3% interceptions (9th), 2.1% touchdowns (27th);
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|01.06.12 at 7:52 pm ET|
With the Patriots off this weekend and the postseason ready to begin, we’ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a weeklong, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We’ve already broken down the running backs, quarterback, wide receivers and tight ends. Now, it’s the offensive line:
Depth chart: Left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Connolly, right guard Brian Waters and right tackle Nate Solder. Backups are center/guard Ryan Wendell, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, tackle Marcus Cannon, guard Donald Thomas, center/guard Nick McDonald.
Overview: The New England offensive line has been a sturdy bunch all season, but as the regular season came to a close, it’s been hit hard by injury. Light (who was having one of the best seasons of his career) went down in the next-to-last game of the year during warmups, but did make it back for the finale. Mankins suffered a knee injury in the same Christmas Eve game but has been MIA since. The Patriots have used four different centers over the course of the season, and Vollmer has been dogged by foot and back injuries all season.
Meanwhile, Waters was a rock throughout the season. The only offensive lineman who was able to play all 16 games at the same spot, Pro Football Focus had him graded out as the No. 1 offensive lineman on the team. PFF had him at an astounding +20.2, including +17.7 in pass blocking, and he was second only to Tom Brady in total snaps played in 2011. (Waters was at 1,139, while Brady was 1,149.)
An opposing scout’s take on the New England offensive line heading into the postseason: ‘A strong veteran group that has seen and is prepared for every look. They’re assisted by the quickness of Brady’s decision making and release. They do have some problems with athletic rushers on the edge if Brady doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly. Interior is solid, but they can have issues with bull rush and quickness off the snap. They communicate and work well together.’
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|01.06.12 at 5:14 pm ET|
The last time a Patriots’ offensive coordinator decided to take a college coaching job before the end of the season, the transition went about as well as could be expected.
Prior to New England’s appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX at the end of the 2004 season, former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis agreed to become the head coach at Notre Dame. Weis stayed on to finish out the season — as well as the playoffs — before officially departing for the Golden Dome.
‘It was a hectic period, but all things considered I thought it went as smoothly as could be expected,’ Weis said in a statement released on Friday regarding the transitional process he faced. ‘I had a plan of prioritizing everything that went into getting the new staff and program up and running, but I also made it clear that compromising the job at the Patriots was never going to be an option. In the end, the results turned out pretty well.’
According to reports, New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will follow the same path, sticking around Foxboro until the end of the Patriots’ postseason run before shipping out to Happy Valley to become the new head coach of the Nittany Lions.
Former New England tight end Christian Fauria, who was part of that 2004 team, said that O’Brien could take a cue from the way Weis handled his transition. Fauria said that throughout that process, there was ‘nothing changed at all’ when it came to Weis’ approach to preparation.
‘You didn’t even realize he had another job,’ Fauria recalled. ‘Things just went on, business as usual. That meant meeting times, film work, practice. Whatever. Every now and then, I would see him on the phone, but all in all, he did a really good job handling the situation. I didn’t even realize that he had another job.
‘I didn’t even realize how hard it was for him, because he never let on as to how stressed out he was,’ Fauria added. ‘Charlie handled the transition process really well.’
In some instances, NFL assistant coaches who have a team in the postseason have used that experience to find some leverage with recruits. When he left the New York Giants as an assistant coach to take over at Boston College, following the Giants’ Super Bowl win over the Bills, Tom Coughlin called recruits from the victorious locker room. In other cases, coaches have asked players to call and vouch for them to a possible recruit. But none of that went on with Weis.
‘He never asked us to call recruits, he never asked us to speak on his behalf, he never asked us to vouch for him with a possible player. It was all about the Super Bowl and the Philadelphia Eagles,’ Fauria said. ‘I know he talked about it at the Super Bowl with the media, but you never even heard him or saw him in a private moment talking on the phone before the Super Bowl.’
|01.06.12 at 2:38 pm ET|
Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo was on the Mut & Merloni show Friday to talk about the upcoming AFC playoffs. While the Patriots have a bye week, Mayo and the defense have been preparing for their second-round game.
Mayo talked about the Patriots’ biggest problem of late, their slow starts, saying it was a mental issue the team needed to solve.
‘I don’t really know the reason for the slow starts, but we have to figure it out,’ Mayo said. ‘If you dig yourself a big hole in the playoffs it might be a little difficult to come back. But we showed the mental toughness to get it done and we’re happy to be where we’re at.’
Added Mayo: ‘It’s probably more mental. Just not going out and executing the game plan or not knowing what the offense is going to throw at you. Most of the time when we watch a lot of film on an opponent they do stuff completely different in a game, so, not making any excuse, but we have to figure it out faster.’
Asked about Tom Brady having to carry an extra load with the defense struggling, Mayo said that overall he’s pleased with the results.
‘Tom’s a great player, and at the end of the day as long as we win that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s all about who has the most points, so our job is to go out there and try to stop the offense. If the score is 30-0 or 100-99, to us it doesn’t matter as long as we win.’
Mayo wouldn’t say much about what the Patriots were doing during the bye week, but he did say it was a week for improvement rather than scheming for a potential opponent.
‘We’ve been doing a lot of things to get the Patriots better,” he said. “That’s been the main focus of the week.”