|‘Seasonable’ temps in store for Lions-Patriots||11.22.14 at 10:44 pm ET|
Our pal Sarah Wroblewski of Fox25 says that if you’re headed to Foxboro for Lions-Patriots, it’s going to be a nice fall afternoon.
— Sarah Wroblewski (@sarahwroblewski) November 23, 2014
|10 things you have to know about Lions-Patriots||11.22.14 at 2:02 am ET|
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s contest between the Patriots and Lions:
Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:
1. Ndamukong Suh against the interior of the Patriots offensive line: As our scout indicated earlier in the week, Suh is one of the toughest matchups in the league for an offensive line because he can be utilized in several spots up and down the defensive front, and is disruptive enough to work as a presence as a run stopper as well as getting after the passer. When he’s lined up as a defensive tackle, look for him to be a two-gap presence that guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell and center Bryan Stork have to deal with. The key when it comes to slowing Suh is to maintain proper technique and footwork, and also get some help in the form of a back who could do whatever he can in hopes of trying to slow him down. The Detroit defensive front is far from a one-trick pony, as Suh is joined by top-notch defenders like defensive end Ziggy Ansah and linebacker DeAndre Levy. (The Patriots will catch a small break, as defensive tackle Nick Fairley is out because of a knee issue.) But his high motor, aggressive approach and phenomenal skill set means Suh will be priority one for the New England offensive line on Sunday afternoon.
2. The Detroit pass defense against Shane Vereen: The Lions do an excellent job of getting after the quarterback and shutting down passing lanes, so look for New England to get the ball out as fast as possible (also expect some play action and reverses to try and counter the hyperaggressive Detroit defensive front). One player who could have good success either out of the backfield or split wide is Shane Vereen, who is just one of six running backs with at least 70 carries and 35 catches at this point in the season. Look for the Patriots to try and get the quick Vereen involved in the passing game against the Lions, a team that is ranked 20th in DVOA against running backs in the passing game this season per Football Outsiders, having yielded an average of 7.4 receptions and 54.6 receiving yards per game against opposing running backs. Looking back at some of the Detroit film, both Arizona and Miami had good success getting the ball to receivers as fast as possible, slowing the Lions pass rush and getting guys like Suh on their heels. Regardless of whether or not Vereen is used out of the backfield in one-back sets (and is asked to slow down one of the Detroit rushers before he goes into his route) or is part of four- and five-receiver sets the Patriots should lean on out of the gate, his presence in this one will be very big,
3. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate against Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis: There are a few different schools of thought as to how the Patriots are going to defend what has become a pretty impressive receiving duo, but when in doubt, we’ll fall back on our report from this NFC scout that said that while the Patriots will mix and match their coverage in hopes of confusing quarterback Matthew Stafford, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Revis on Tate and Browner on Johnson. Tate has emerged as Detroit’s No. 1 threat in the receiving game with a team-high 68 catches (on 95 targets) for 950 yards and three touchdowns, and with the understanding that Revis usually draws the tougher assignment, that would certainly seem to make sense. That’s no disrespect to Johnson, who has struggled with ankle and elbow injuries over the last month-plus, but still has 34 catches on 64 targets for 520 yards and three touchdowns. It’s just that right now, Tate is your No. 1 concern in the passing game. Then, there’s the idea that the bigger Johnson (6-foot-5, 236 pounds) is a better matchup for the equally sizable Browner (6-foot-4, 221 pounds), particularly when it comes to jump ball situations in the red zone. Browner doesn’t have the best wheels, but his physical nature and veteran savvy could be a good matchup against Johnson, who is no longer the burner he once was.
4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: Fauria is a well-known name around Foxboro, but former New England tight end (and ace midday WEEI guy) Christian is usually the one folks are talking about. This weekend, it’s going to be Joe Fauria, Christian’s nephew and the talented young tight end for the Lions. A 6-foot-7, 259-pounder out of UCLA, Fauria had seven touchdowns last season, and remains a sneaky red-zone threat for Stafford in the Detroit passing game. Fauria has struggled with injury this season (he hurt his ankle chasing after a puppy and sat out six games) but is expected to be in the lineup Sunday against the Patriots. In addition, you can’t sleep on rookie Eric Ebron — while he’s had his own injury issues (hamstring), when he’s been healthy, he’s been a nice addition to the Detroit offense with 10 catches for 103 yards and one touchdown in six games. Coming off back-to-back games against the likes of Julius Thomas and Coby Fleener, it’s not an elite-level matchup, but it’s a positional grouping that can burn you if neglected.
5. By the numbers (tie) — 3: Only three teams in the last 20 regular-season games have topped 100 rushing yards in a game against the Lions. Detroit has allowed one team to reach the 100-yard mark on the ground this season, as the Jets finished with 132 rushing yards in a 24-17 loss to Detroit on Sept. 28.
3: The Patriots have scored at least 40 points in three straight games — tied for the longest streak in franchise history. Just three teams in NFL history have scored 40-plus points in four consecutive contests: 1960 Chargers, 2000 Rams and 2004 Colts.
|Raiders help Patriots get increased separation in AFC playoff picture with shocking victory over Chiefs||11.21.14 at 6:45 am ET|
In the wake of Kansas City’s shocking loss to the Raiders on Thursday, the Broncos are perhaps the biggest winners, as Denver now has gotten some more separation from the second-place Chiefs in the chase for the AFC West crown. But at the same time, the Kansas City loss gives the Patriots a little more margin for error down the stretch.
Entering the evening, the Chiefs were the one team in the upper reaches of the AFC playoff picture that could boast of a head-to-head tiebreaker over New England, with that coming in a 41-14 blowout of the Patriots back in Week 4. But now, with Kansas City falling to 7-4 with the loss to Oakland, New England (8-2) holds a 1 1/2-game lead over the Chiefs, which could stretch to a two-game advantage if the Patriots beat the Lions this weekend.
Overall, here’s a look at the AFC playoff picture as it stands right now:
1. Patriots (8-2): New England leads the AFC East, and currently holds home-field advantage with the top seed, and would host a divisional playoff game. The Patriots have potential tiebreakers against Denver, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
2. Broncos (7-3): Denver leads the AFC West, and has a lock on the No. 2 position going into the weekend. They would also wait out wild-card weekend and host a divisional playoff contest.
3. Bengals (6-3-1): On top of the AFC North. If the playoffs opened today, Cincinnati would host Kansas City in a wild-card game.
4. Colts (6-4): Leaders of the AFC South. They would host No. 5 Pittsburgh in an AFC wild-card game if the postseason began today.
5. Steelers (7-4): Best of the teams that aren’t tops in their division, they’d travel to Lucas Oil on wild-card weekend for a date with Indy. They have the edge on the Chiefs here because of a better conference record.
6. Chiefs (7-4): Losers against the Raiders, the Chiefs have control of the second wild-card spot — barely ahead of four teams that sit 6-4. If the playoffs opened today, they’d be at Cincinnati.
REST OF THE PACK: 7. Dolphins (6-4); 8. Chargers (6-4); 9. Ravens (6-4); 10. Browns (6-4).
|Detroit will serve as host for Jets-Bills contest||11.21.14 at 12:38 am ET|
The NFL announced Thursday night that this weekend’s Jets-Bills game will be played in Detroit Monday night because of the massive storm that has paralyzed parts of upstate New York.
The storm has forced the Bills to cancel practices for the last two days. More than 5 feet of snow has fallen in the Buffalo area since Monday, and another 1 to 3 feet was projected to fall by Friday.
This is the second time in four years Ford Field has served as a host for a neutral site game. Following the collapse of the roof of Minnesota’s Metrodome in 2010, the Vikings and Giants played in Detroit.
|5 thoughts on return of LeGarrette Blount, state of Patriots running game||11.21.14 at 12:12 am ET|
1. In stark contrast to the nasty words that were coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room in the wake of what happened with LeGarrette Blount over the last week, on Thursday, the vibe around the Patriots was all good when it came to the newest Patriot. Special teams captain Matthew Slater called him a “great teammate,” while fullback James Develin said it was “good” to have him back. Meanwhile, Jonas Gray — who likely will see his role shrink some with the addition of Blount — said he had no problem with the move, adding that the veteran is is a “great guy to learn from.” As for what sort of role awaits him, it’s likely he’ll split duties with Gray as the primary between-the-tackles back, as well as serve as some sort of insurance policy if the stage gets too big for the youngster, or if he puts the ball on the ground at some point. It’s also possible he sees time as a part-time kick returner — with the occasional exception of Danny Amendola, no one has really done much to distinguish themselves in the position. With his background last year, it certainly makes sense for the Patriots to give him a shot back there.
2. Few teams have seen the type of turnover at the running back position as New England. With the injury to Ridley, if form holds, the Patriots will have their sixth different back lead the team in rushing in 2014 over the last decade — only four other teams (Saints, Browns, Broncos and Cardinals) have had more. Corey Dillon (2004-2006), Laurence Maroney (2007, 2009), Sammy Morris (2008), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011) and Stevan Ridley (2012-2013). And now, with Ridley on the shelf the rest of the year, this season it figures to be either Vereen, Gray or Blount. That could change again next year, as Brandon Bolden, Ridley and Shane Vereen are all in the final year of their contracts, while Blount, Gray and rookie James White are all under contract for 2015. (In addition, Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed by the Patriots this summer but is spending the year on injured reserve because of a knee issue, is still a possibility to be a part of the mix next season.) Regardless, even with all the changes, things could still change between now and the start of next season.
3. As forward thinking as the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — has been the last few years, there’s something impressively retro about what New England might be able to do this season. If we operate with the idea that a “running back by committee” includes a team with four backs with at least 40 carries, it appears that for the second straight season, the Patriots will attempt to be the first team to win a Super Bowl using the “running back by committee” approach since the 1987 Redskins, who won Super Bowl. Right now, the Patriots three different backs reach with at least 69 carries (Ridley with 94, Vereen with 70 and Gray with 69). While some of those numbers are borne out of necessarily since Ridley went down, if Blount is able to click down the stretch for New England — and it’s entirely possible he can hit the 40-carry mark, given his experience in the system — he would be a fourth. If the Patriots could take the title, it would represent the greatest cross-section of work for running backs for any Super Bowl champion since that Washington team emerged with a win in Super Bowl XXII. (Of course, that Redskins team could be discounted on a penalty, as that was a strike year and one of the backs was a scab who rushed 80 times in three strike games but never played another down. If you disqualify them on a technicality, them the last true RBBC team to win a Super Bowl in a non-strike year was the 1981 Niners, a team that had five different backs finish with 40 carries or more: Ricky Patton, Earl Cooper, Johnny Davis, Walt Easley and Paul Hofer.)
|Tom Brady gives a Facebook high-five to return of LeGarrette Blount||11.20.14 at 8:56 pm ET|
Tom Brady weighed in with his thoughts on the return of LeGarrette Blount to the Patriots Thursday with another tremendous Facebook post.
|LeGarrette Blount looks happy to be back with Patriots||11.20.14 at 6:02 pm ET|
Running back LeGarrette Blount took to Twitter Thursday afternoon to express his feelings about returning to the Patriots. (The veteran, who spent the 2013 season in New England, was released earlier in the week by the Steelers. He was signed by the Patriots on Thursday.)
— LeGarrette Blount (@LG_Blount) November 20, 2014