The Big Nickel: Bill Belichick plays it cool, Tom Brady isn’t at practice and defending Dustin Keller
|11.30.10 at 3:47 pm ET|
The five most important things to know about the Patriots today:
1. Bill Belichick is playing it cool. Not like there was much of a surprise, but the Patriots’ coach wasn’t going to respond to Rex Ryan’s “kick his ass” comments with anything more than a simple shrug.
“Sure, that’s understandable,” Belichick said Tuesday. “Hey, there’s no love lost out there between those two teams. We both want to win. That’s what we’re here for — the Jets and the Patriots, both teams are walking out on the field to come out victorious. Is that a big news story? Is that something we didn’t know? The Jets want to win the game, the Patriots want to win?
“I’m not really worried about anybody else. I’m just trying to get this team ready to play,” Belichick said. “I’m not surprised that they expect to win and they’re confident they’re going to win. So are we. It might be a headline story for you guys — both teams expect to win.”
2. Tom Brady not at practice. The quarterback was one of six players who were not present at the start of Patriots practice on Tuesday, a group that included cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, offensive lineman Stephen Neal, defensive lineman Myron Pryor, defensive lineman Ron Brace and defensive lineman Mike Wright.
At this stage — and given what has transpired over the last few weeks — it’s not a surprise to see Brady sit things out on Tuesday, especially given the fact that there’s an extra day of prep work looming for the Monday Night showdown with the Jets. Bottom line is there’s not much to see here when it comes to Brady’s absence, especially when you consider the level of football he’s displayed through the last month or so — despite missing time with a foot injury, in his last three games, Brady has completed 70-of-95 passes (74 percent) for 877 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
One of the things that is worth keeping an eye on is the fact that Brace, Wright and Pryor were all out. Wright and Pryor have been hobbled by injury over the last week or two — Wright with a neck/concussion and Pryor with a back — but if Brace is out for a lengthy stretch, it could leave the defensive line a little thin going forward.
3. Jets tight end Dustin Keller has made a good living against the Patriots — his 22 catches and 281 yards in five career games against New England are career highs for him. In September’s win over New England, he was targeted a team-high nine times and caught seven passes for a team-high 115 yards and a touchdown. So what makes him so hard to defend?
“They definitely move him around. They use a lot of different formations, even within the same personnel groups, and they use a lot of different personnel groups. But, they definitely move him around,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “Keller’s a good receiver. He’s quick. He’s got good speed down the field. He can definitely threaten the vertical element of the defense. [He’s] good after the catch, got good hands, good red-area receiver. He does a good job for them.”
The Patriots are without safety Brandon McGowan, who became their designated tight end stopper last season, taking on a variety of word class tight ends like Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark. On Monday, New England will likely use a variety of coverages against Keller, much of which will involve inside linebacker Gary Guyton. Linebackers coach Matt Patricia said the matchup of a tight end against a linebacker presents some unique challenges for a defense.
“The hard thing for an inside linebacker is that anytime you’re in a situation where the run game can be at you and be on you very fast and very quick, and where you have a situation with a very dangerous receiver who can get down the field and get open … I think that’s the hardest situation for an inside linebacker,” Patricia said. “You are in the direct line of the run game, but also critically and crucially involved in the passing game. So, I think that’s why those guys are really hard working players for us and they have to do a lot of work and study and improve every week because they’re in that situation where both the run and pass game can affect them very quickly.”
4. At the start of the season, if someone had told you that one of the focal points of this December game between the Patriots and Jets would be a 5-foot-9 running back out of Chadron State, you would have been considered crazy. But Danny Woodhead has been in the spotlight for much of the first couple of days of buildup for this game. We did our part with this feature on Monday, and Ryan chimed in with his two cents on Monday afternoon.
“I don’t know if he couldn’t do it here — they just run their offense a little different than we do,” Ryan said of Woodhead, who was cut loose by the Jets on Sept. 14 and picked up by the Patriots on Sept. 18.” He’s perfect for what they do. Kevin Faulk had that role for years and was so successful. Danny Woodhead is doing a great job doing that. Number one, he’s a heck of a football player, but the thing you’re most proud of is the type of kid he is. He is one heck of a person. He’s tougher than heck. I love the fact that he’s having success. I just wish him no success on Monday. He can have success this Monday, but not next Monday. I think he’s a great kid and a great talent and I’m happy for him.”
On Tuesday, Belichick talked about Woodhead, and hinted that the fact that Woodhead spent some quality time with the Jets over the last couple of years — and presumably knows some of their secrets — could play a part as the Patriots continue to prepare for Monday night.
“He’s practiced against those guys more than anybody on our team. Absolutely, of course it would [help],” Belichick said. “I’m sure there are some things that he knows about their team that we don’t know just because we’re not as familiar with them or the personnel or the schemes as Woody is. Yeah, absolutely.”
5. When you are talking about Mark Sanchez in Foxboro, the first memory that comes to mind is last year’s performance where he threw four picks in a 31-14 loss to the Patriots. Sanchez is a far different quarterback than the one that stepped on the field that Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, but history tells us that if the Patriots are going to win on Monday night, chances are good that it’ll involve them winning the turnover battle.
After 11 games, the Patriots are a perfect 8-0 when they are at least plus-one in the turnover department, and are plus-11 overall, good for second in the NFL behind Philadelphia, which is a remarkable plus-14. (According to Gary of Nuggetpalooza, Thursday marked the seventh turnover-free game for the Patriots this season — they never had more than six such games in any season since 1990.) Defensively, New England’s 15 interceptions are tied with Cleveland and Tennessee for the most in the AFC, while Brady remains one of the best in the league at avoiding picks — he hasn’t thrown an interception since a mid-October win over the Ravens, and has a streak of 199 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, a personal best.
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