|Penalty phase: Patriots, Dolphins two of league’s least-flagged teams||12.11.13 at 2:51 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Don’t expect a lot of stoppages in play Sunday.
This weekend’s game between the Patriots and Dolphins in South Florida will feature two of the least-penalized teams in the league. Not including penalties that were declined or offset, New England comes into the contest with 57 penalties — second fewest in the NFL — while the Dolphins are the least-penalized team in the league with 55. In addition, the 534 penalty yards against the Patriots is 30th in the league. Only Miami (502) and Indy (499) have been hit with fewer penalty yards.
Both the Dolphins and Patriots have played two games this season where they didn’t get hit with a single penalty. New England wasn’t flagged once in an October loss to the Bengals, as well as a win over the Texans earlier this month. Meanwhile, Miami wasn’t hit with a single penalty in a September win over Indy, as well as last week against the Steelers.
To put that sort of smart, disciplined play into proper perspective, there are teams like the Buccaneers (106), Seahawks (104) and Rams (100) that already are into triple digits when it comes to total penalties. Tampa Bay leads the league with 1,000 penalty yards, while Seattle is close behind at 966.
In truth, through the first 13 games, it’s been a good season for New England when it comes to penalties. Through 13 games last season, the Patriots had been hit with 79 penalties for a total of 680 yards. In the same span in 2011 (the first 13 games of the year), the Patriots had 74 penalties and 658 yards. While they won’t set the regular-season mark under Bill Belichick for fewest penalties and least penalty yardage — that came in 2008 with 57 penalties and 501 yards — this year’s total represents nearly a 20 percent reduction in penalties and penalty yardage from the previous two seasons.
“It’s just about playing smart football,” said defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich, who has been flagged for just one penalty this year and two dating back to the start of the 2012 season. “You can’t win football games and expect to win games by having a lot of penalties. It just comes down to basic fundamentals. If you’re a defense, you’re trying to do your best to stay onsides and not jump off — that’s huge for the D-line. Giving up free five-yard plays every time, that hurts eventually.”
The only positional grouping for the Patriots that hasn’t been flagged over the course of the first 13 games of the season is the running backs. In fact, the last two seasons, the running backs consistently have been one of the lowest-penalized positional groupings on the team. In 2012, they were the least-penalized group with two penalties and five yards, and in 2011 they had one penalty for five yards.
At the other end of the spectrum, the cornerbacks have been hit with 128 yards worth of penalties, including a team-high six for Aqib Talib. That high yardage total is no surprise — with pass interference and defensive holding calls coming into play, cornerbacks are the most likely position to rack up higher penalty yardage. (To that point, this year the Patriots have been hit with six defensive holding penalties — four of them against Talib — and four pass interference calls.)
|In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players||12.10.13 at 4:31 pm ET|
Every week over the course of the regular season, we’ll present a list of the Patriots’ “offensive touches,” a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Thirteen games into the regular season, here’s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2013:
RB Stevan Ridley: 153 (143 rushes, 10 catches), 13 negative rushes, 1 negative reception, 4 fumbles lost
RB LeGarrette Blount: 103 (102 rushes, 1 catches), 8 negative runs, 2 fumbles lost
WR Julian Edelman: 78 (2 rushes, 76 catches), 6 dropped passes
RB Shane Vereen: 78 (38 rushes, 40 catches), 2 negative runs, 6 dropped passes
RB Brandon Bolden: 73 (54 rushes, 19 catches), 4 negative runs, 1 negative reception
WR Danny Amendola: 42 (1 rush, 41 catches), 1 negative reception
TE Rob Gronkowski: 39 (0 rushes, 39 catches)
WR Aaron Dobson: 35 (0 rushes, 35 catches), 1 negative reception, 7 dropped passes
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 32 (0 rushes, 32 catches), 7 dropped passes
QB Tom Brady: 27 (27 rushes, 0 catches), 35 sacks, 16 kneeldowns, 3 fumbles lost
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 10 (0 rushes, 10 catches)
FB James Develin: 6 (2 rushes, 4 catches)
WR Josh Boyce: 5 (0 rushes, 5 catches)
WR Austin Collie: 4 (0 rushes, 4 catches)
TE Matthew Mulligan: 2 (0 rushes, 2 catches)
RB Leon Washington: 1 (1 rush, 0 catches)
Some offensive notes: The Patriots ran 77 plays on Sunday against the Browns and 37 of them were in shotgun, a rate of 48 percent. To this point in the season, the Patriots have been in shotgun formation on 395 of their 930 offensive snaps, a rate of 42 percent. (Last year through 13 games, the Patriots were in the shotgun for 459 for 995 of their plays, a rate of 46 percent.) … Against the Browns, the Patriots were in no-huddle for 4 of their 77 snaps, a rate of 5 percent. On the year, the Patriots have operated in a no-huddle on 115 of their 930 plays from scrimmage — 12 percent of the time. … New England has run 930 offensive plays this year in 13 games. Not counting kneeldowns, 68 have been for negative yardage. Of the 77 plays against the Browns, five went for negative yardage — four sacks of Brady and one negative run from Ridley.
|Josh McDaniels: With or without Rob Gronkowski, our approach remains same||12.10.13 at 4:05 pm ET|
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels acknowledged Tuesday the New England offense has some experience when it comes to playing without Rob Gronkowski — the big tight end has missed most of 13 games over the last year-plus — and the group will have to rely on that background going forward.
“Any time you lose a player like that — or you can’t use a player like that — you need to put your time into a few different things, and other people have to play different roles,” McDaniels said of Gronkowski, who will now be out for the rest of the 2013 season because of a knee injury. “You play offense a little differently, and we do have experience doing that.
“We did it at the beginning of this year for a significant number of weeks, we did it in the offseason, we did it last year during the course of the season as well, so we’ve experienced this before. I think for that reason, we kind of have an idea of exactly what we need to use and how to kind of formulate our game plan to max out our strengths and try to make up for the loss of a very unique player.”
As was the case when the Patriots lost Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo on the defensive side of the ball, McDaniels said that the job of trying to replace Gronkowski won’t fall solely to one individual.
“I think the thing that we rely on the most from one week to the next has always been trying to figure out what part of our offensive system to use to maximize the strengths of the players that we have available for us that week against the strengths of the opponent that we’re playing that week as well,” McDaniels said. “For us, the formula’s not going to change.”
At various points of the 2013 season, the New England offense has had to make do without Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon, and in each case, the group has had to adjust accordingly. While making a point to say that Gronkowski is an undeniable talent, McDaniels said Tuesday the overriding philosophy will be the same.
“We have the players that we have, we love the guys that we have to play offense with — we’re just missing one of them that’s certainly a very good player,” McDaniels said. “So we go to work, and we figure out exactly what the right formula for us is this week to try to win the game against the Dolphins, and then we’ll worry about next week next week.”
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|Five things you have to know about the Dolphins||12.10.13 at 3:43 pm ET|
The Patriots travel to South Florida Sunday for a date with the Dolphins. Here are five things you have to know about Miami, which is 7-6 and in the hunt for the last playoff spot in the AFC.
1. They have done well to ignore the noise over the last month.
There were several people — myself included — who believed the Dolphins wouldn’t be able to withstand the clamor that arose in the wake of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incoginto mess, but they’ve managed to keep their eyes on the prize and remain in the playoff chase. The Dolphins have won three of their last four, with the only loss in that period coming at home to the suddenly surging Panthers. What might even be more impressive that they’ve won games in different fashions — they won blowouts, shootouts, grinders. And they have some impressive victories on their resume to this point in the season, including a 22-20 win over the Bengals and a 24-20 victory against the Colts. Sure, there have been some ugly losses — including a 22-19 defeat to the Bucs that gave Tampa its first victory of the season — but all in all, they deserve to be commended for keeping a difficult situation together.
2. If form holds, both the Patriots and Dolphins offenses should struggle early, but New England should have some chances against Miami late.
The Patriots and Dolphins are two of the most punchless teams in the league when it comes to first-quarter scoring — New England has 51 first-quarter points on the season (including just two first-quarter touchdowns over the last six games), while Miami isn’t much better with 43 first-quarter points through the first 13 games. However, while the Dolphins have also struggled late (their 53 fourth-quarter points is fourth-lowest in the league), New England has managed to light it up over the course of the final quarter. The Patriots have 129 fourth-quarter points on the year, second only to Denver’s 149. (For New England, that includes 84 fourth-quarter points in the last six games.)
3. When it comes to close games, they have almost as much experience as the Patriots.
For New England, 10 of their 13 games have been decided by seven points or less. (The Patriots are 7-3 in those close games, which included Sunday’s comeback win over the Browns.) But the Dolphins also have to feel pretty good about things down the stretch — Miami has had nine of its 13 games decided by a touchdown or less, including Sunday’s 34-28 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. (Overall, the Dolphins are 5-4 in games decided by seven points or less.)
4. They have run the ball well as of late, but there are some question marks in the backfield because of injury.
Because of the snow — as well as the fact that they were taking advantage of a suspect Steelers’ run defense — the Dolphins were very impressive on the ground Sunday against Pittsburgh, rushing for 181 yards as a team. However, starting running back Lamar Miller suffered a concussion in the third quarter of that one, and as a result, his status for this week’s game against the Patriots is up in the air. Tailback Daniel Thomas (who has been dealing with an ankle injury as of late) ran well against Pittsburgh, finishing with a game-high 105 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. The Patriots were able to have some success slowing the Cleveland running game last Sunday, but regardless of who’s in the backfield for the Dolphins Sunday, it figures to be something of a sterner test for New England — Miami is averaging 95.8 yards per game. A little better than the Browns, but not much.
5. Charles Clay has become an absolutely integral part of their offense.
This past offseason, the Dolphins made some high profile pickups on offense with the acquisition of wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Dustin Keller, but it has been the relatively anonymous Clay who has proven to be one of the most important pieces of the Miami offense. Clay, who caught 34 passes in his first two seasons with the Dolphins, has really clicked with quarterback Ryan Tannehill this year, hauling in 60 passes for 678 yards and six touchdowns. The Patriots have struggled to contain tight ends over the course of the season — Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron had nine catches for 121 yards and one touchdown on Sunday — and so it would make sense for the Dolphins to feature Clay as a big part of their passing attack come Sunday.
|Patriots-Ravens flexed out of prime-time spot||12.10.13 at 1:21 pm ET|
It was announced Tuesday afternoon that the Dec. 22 game between the Patriots and Ravens, which was originally scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. start, has been flexed out of its’ prime-time spot, and will instead kick off at 4:25 p.m. The Bears and Eagles will replace New England and Baltimore on the national stage.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Following the flags: Tracking Patriots penalties for 2013 season||12.10.13 at 12:39 pm ET|
Through 13 games, the Patriots have been flagged for 57 penalties (tied for 30th in the league) for a total of 534 yards (also 30th). Here’s a breakdown of the calls that have gone against the Patriots, not including penalties that were declined or offset:
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|Pressure points: Which Patriots defenders have done best job getting after QB in 2013?||12.10.13 at 12:20 pm ET|
Every week over the course of the 2013 season, we’ll provide a look at the Patriots pass rush numbers. While sacks can be overrated, when evaluated as part of a bigger picture that includes quarterback hits and quarterback pressures (the latter courtesy of Pro Football Focus), it should provide a good picture as to which defenders are consistently able to get after the quarterback. Through 13 games, the Patriots have 36 sacks (tied for 11th in the league), 73 quarterback hits and 141 quarterback hurries. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’s a quick look at some pass-rush numbers for the Patriots to this point in the 2013 season:
DL Chandler Jones: 10.5 (65.5 yards)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 6 (29 yards)
DL Chris Jones: 5 (32 yards)
DL Tommy Kelly: 2.5 (14.5 yards)
LB Dane Fletcher: 2 (19 yards)
CB Logan Ryan: 2 (18 yards)
DE Michael Buchanan: 2 (15 yards)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1.5 (5 yards)
DL Joe Vellano: 1 (13 yards)
LB Dont’a Hightower: 1 (9 yards)
DL Isaac Sopoaga: 1 (8 yards)
DE Andre Carter: 1 (6 yards)
Team sacks: 1 (8 yards)
Quarterback hits (per NFL game books)
DE Chandler Jones: 19
DE Rob Ninkovich: 15
DL Chris Jones: 7
DL Tommy Kelly: 6
DE Michael Buchanan: 5
DE Andre Carter: 5
DL Joe Vellano: 3
LB Dont’a Hightower: 4
LB: Dane Fletcher: 3
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
DL Vince Wilfork: 1
DE Jake Bequette: 1
CB Logan Ryan: 1
S Steve Gregory: 1
DL Issac Sopoaga: 1
LB Jamie Collins: 1
Quarterback hurries (per PFF)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 36
DE Chandler Jones: 29
LB Dont’a Hightower: 12
DL Joe Vellano: 11
DL Chris Jones: 10
DL Tommy Kelly: 6
LB Brandon Spikes: 6
DE Michael Buchanan: 5
LB Jamie Collins: 5
DE Andre Carter: 4
DL Vince Wilfork: 3
DL Isaac Sopoaga: 3
LB Dane Fletcher: 3
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
CB Devin McCourty: 2
DL Sealver Siliga: 1
CB Marquice Cole: 1
CB Kyle Arrington: 1
DE Jake Bequette: 1
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