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For Stanford double-major Cameron Fleming, learning Patriots playbook shouldn’t be difficult 06.13.14 at 11:10 am ET
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Despite being 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, Cameron Fleming is still very athletic and versatile. (AP)

Despite being 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, Cameron Fleming is very athletic and versatile. He’s also intelligent, as the Patriots’ fourth-round pick out of Stanford double-majored in aeronautics and astronautics. (AP)

For rookies — all new players, really — learning the Patriots playbook is a bit of a challenge with the numerous schemes and many new concepts. But for rookie right tackle Cameron Fleming, the X’€™s and O’€™s will be nothing compared to what he went through during his four years in the classroom at Stanford.

Fleming double-majored in aeronautics and astronautics, so he is no stranger to foreign concepts and challenging his brain.

“He’€™s designed planes in class and stuff like that,” Stanford offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren said in a phone interview. “He knows that is what he wants to do after football, and so not only is he your typical Stanford kid, but he’s one that majored in that. He’€™s absolutely brilliant.”

Last year as a senior Fleming needed to schedule special meetings with Bloomgren to go over game plans, as Fleming was in class when the rest of the team had meetings. Over lunch each day the pair would go over what Fleming missed, becoming very close to one another over the course of the season.

Bloomgren coached in the NFL, serving as an offensive assistant with the Jets for four seasons before joining Stanford in 2011. With that NFL experience, he knows what the playbooks look like and installed a similar philosophy at Stanford with multiple plays being called in the huddle, many audibles, etc. He said it will be a seamless transition for Fleming to the pro game.

“Absolutely, especially in a system like ours and one like the New England system,” Bloomgren said. “The little that I know about it, it certainly requires you to be a thinking man. A guy that can go to a second play and have the quarterback come to the line and audible, do whatever he tells you to do, and Cameron is that guy. He’€™s a guy that can certainly adjust on the run, and that is nothing new for him to go to the line of scrimmage with two or three plays called in the huddle and he’€™s told which one to run.”

On the field Fleming is a monster. He stands 6-foot-5, 323 pounds. As a sophomore he started 11 games and protected Andrew Luck while the quarterback threw a school-record 37 touchdown passes. As a junior Fleming started 14 games at right tackle and was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention. As a senior he started all 14 games and took home numerous awards, including All-Pac-12 second team, Sporting News All-Pac-12 and Athlon Sports All-Pac-12 second team.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Cameron Fleming, Mike Bloomgren, Patriots
Which QB does best job spreading ball around in passing game? 02.18.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Piggybacking on a column we did last year about Tom Brady‘€™s ability to work in new receivers and spread the ball around — and with another full season in the books — we figured we should take another look at some of the league wide numbers when it comes to ball distribution in the passing game.

Using the 250-catch barometer as the mark for involvement, three over-30 veterans continue to set the standard when it comes to getting everyone involved in the passing game, as Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have managed to make stars out a variety of pass catchers on the way to record-setting seasons.

Using numbers culled from Pro Football Reference — which utilizes stats dating back to 1999 — the three are head and shoulders above the rest of the quarterbacking field when it comes to finding equilibrium in the passing game:

- Since 2001, Brady has completed at least 250 passes in the regular season to four different pass catchers over the course of his 13-year career as a starter: Wes Welker (563), Deion Branch (328), Troy Brown (323) and Kevin Faulk (310). Providing they stay healthy — and, in the case of Julian Edelman, return for 2013 — two more receivers could be added to the mix: Rob Gronkowski had 39 catches in an injury-shortened 2013 season, bringing his total of receptions via Brady to 223. And his 105 catches in 2013 boosted Edelman to 166 career receptions from Brady.

For those of you asking about guys who just missed out on the 250-catch mark with Brady, two jump off the page: one, Randy Moss caught 192 passes from Brady while the two were together in New England, including 98 catches in 2007 and 83 in 2009. And two, Aaron Hernandez finished with 166.

- In that same span, Manning has completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Reggie Wayne (779), Marvin Harrison (677) and Dallas Clark (387). Depending on how long he plays, Denver’€™s Demaryius Thomas could also be part of that group as well — he has 185 catches from Manning over the last two seasons, and could reach 250 in 2014 if he and the quarterback can both stay healthy.

To be fair to Manning, that time frame of 2001-2013 does cut off the first three seasons — from 1998 through 2000 — of his career. As a result, some of his early numbers aren’€™t included, particularly the formative years with Harrison, who had 276 regular-season catches with the Colts in that span. Our cutoff also means the work of an excellent pass-catching back like Edgerrin James goes unrewarded. He caught 230 passes from Manning from 2001-2005 before he departed Indy for the Cardinals. In all, James ended up catching a total of 355 passes from Manning while the two were together from 1999-2005.

- While Brady and Manning have impressive totals, when it comes to finding a variety of targets, they’€™re nowhere near Brees. When you combine his work in San Diego and New Orleans, the 35-year-old has complied at least 250 passes to six different receivers: Marques Colston (605), Lance Moore (346), Jimmy Graham (298 over the last four seasons), Reggie Bush (294), Pierre Thomas (284) and LaDainian Tomlinson (254). And a seventh — Darren Sproles — can hit 250 receptions from Brees in 2014. He’€™s already at 235 catches and counting.

When it comes to the next generation, it appears unlikely that anyone will be able to connect with six different pass catchers for at least 250 receptions. Among the quarterbacks who have been in the league for 7-10 seasons, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has Greg Jennings (324) and Jordy Nelson (252), but just missed out when Donald Driver (241) called it a career. However, his two wild cards are free agents James Jones (216) and Jermichael Finley (214) — if they both return and are healthy, Rodgers is seemingly a lock to get four pass-catchers to 250-plus receptions.

Ben Roethlisberger also has a good chance of getting to four — he’€™s completed at least 250 passes to three different receivers: Hines Ward (513), Heath Miller (420) and Antonio Brown (250), and could make it four if free agent Emmanuel Sanders (146) ends up sticking around Pittsburgh. Meanwhile Atlanta’€™s Matt Ryan has three, having connected for 250-plus with Roddy White (520), Tony Gonzalez (383) and Harry Douglas (205). And New York‘€™s Eli Manning has Hakeem Nicks (306) and Victor Cruz (241) — he appears to have just missed with Plaxico Burress (244) and Steve Smith (213).

As for the quarterbacks who have between two and five full years in the league, Detroit’€™s Matthew Stafford has found tremendous success with Calvin Johnson (353 catches from Stafford), but Brandon Pettigrew (215) and Nate Burleson (154) are also within hailing distance of the 250-catch mark, providing Burleson somehow makes it back to Detroit. In addition, Indy’€™s Andrew Luck has Wayne (145), T.Y. Hilton (133) and Coby Fleener (78), while Cincinnati’€™s Andy Dalton has benefitted from working with AJ Green (256), Jermaine Gresham (165) and Andrew Hawkins (85).

Read More: aaron rodgers, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger
Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty on M&M: ‘You can’t fool Peyton Manning’ 01.13.14 at 12:48 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich and defensive back Devin McCourty checked in with Mut & Merloni on WEEI’s Patriots Monday to discuss Saturday’s win over the Colts and the upcoming AFC championship game against the Broncos. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots kept Andrew Luck in check for most of Saturday's win over the Colts. (AP)

Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich could give Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a hand after Saturday’s game was out of reach. (AP)

“This week is going to be huge, this being the third straight AFC championship game we’ve been in,” McCourty said. “Last year was the worst feeling, to lose that game. I think it’s going to be key for all of the guys just to make sure as a team we understand this is a very important game. I know everyone knows that it’s a chance to go to the Super Bowl and all that. But not everyone is going to understand being on the other side of that, that we had to sit on last year. So, we’re going to prepare hard this week and be ready to go. I think it all starts with practice this week, and making sure we’re prepared, especially going against their offense, the top offense in the league this year, broke many records for NFL history. So, we’re going to have to really be ready.”

In Saturday’s game, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 20-of-41 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns, but he had four interceptions. The Patriots also shut down his scrambling, limiting him to one carry for five yards, while sacking him twice.

“Going into the week that was one of our biggest areas of concern, was just him being able to extend a play with his legs — coverage does their job and then he pulls it down for a first down,” Ninkovich said. “When you go against a guy like that — any scrambling quarterback — you have to dial it down as far as your pressure and your rush.”

Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins had a stellar game, including a sack, an interception and solid coverage on Colts tight end Coby Fleener while playing every defensive down.

“Throughout the whole season you see glimpses of him with good athletic ability, coverage, stop the run,” Ninkovich said. “I’m happy that he was able to go out there and just make plays and help the team win. That’s what it’s all about.”

Added McCourty of Collins: “He’s a confident guy. I was so happy because we’ve been able to see that athleticism all year. Now we’re getting towards the end of the season and you get to see him put it all together and come out and have a game like he had Saturday night, I think it’s great. I think he’s going to continue to stay on that page because he’s working hard, he’s understanding the defense a lot more. He knows what he can do on that field, and he’s going out there and doing it.”

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Devin McCourty, Jamie Collins, Peyton Manning
T.Y. Hilton: Patriots’ game plan was to take me out of the game 01.12.14 at 6:35 am ET
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FOXBORO — One of Bill Belichick‘s strengths as a coach is that he rarely lets one opposing player beat his team, devising a game plan to take that particular player out of the game.

Despite over 100 yards receiving, the Patriots took T.Y. Hilton out of the game for the most part. (AP)

Despite allowing T.Y. Hilton over 100 yards receiving, the Patriots kept the Colts receiver from having a major impact on the game. (AP)

That is exactly what the Patriots did to Colts star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on Saturday night after he caught 82 passes for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season and then hauled in 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Chiefs on wild card weekend.

Although he caught four passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in the game, a large chunk came on a 46-yard completion. Overall the Patriots defense, particularly Aqib Talib, did an outstanding job of taking the star Colts receiver out of the game.

“[Aqib] gets paid, too. He made some plays and I made some plays,” Hilton said. “That was a better team today. I saw the whole book, I saw double, triple and no single and that was the game plan to take me out of the game. We have to step up and unfortunately we didn’€™t come up with a W. I knew coming in they were going to throw the book at me and I knew the coverage€™s they were going to throw at me.”

After Colts quarterback Andrew Luck torched the Chiefs last weekend for 443 yards and four touchdowns in the air (making up for three interceptions), the Patriots forced Luck into a career-high four interceptions, paving the way for New England to move on to its eighth AFC championship game in 13 years.

“They do a good job of disrupting your timing and rhythm and getting hands on guys,” Luck said. “[They] have a good relentless pass rush and I thought our offensive linemen did a great job this game giving time to get balls out. They do a good job of disrupting things if you could capsulate it in one sentence.”

Winning the turnover battle is important in every game, but it becomes even more important in the postseason, especially if you’€™re the Patriots.

Prior to Saturday, since 1970, in the postseason the Patriots were 16-1 in games with a positive turnover ratio. The streak continued Saturday night as the Patriots forced four Colts turnovers en route to their 43-22 win with key mistakes by the Colts offense being one of the biggest reasons why.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Aqib Talib, Chuck Pegano, Colts
Peter King on M&M: Colts QB Andrew Luck ‘not been averse to making some huge mistakes’ 01.10.14 at 1:31 pm ET
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Peter King

Peter King

Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports made his weekly appearance on Mut & Merloni on Friday to talk about the NFL playoffs and other league news. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Andrew Luck is drawing high praise as he leads the Colts into Foxboro for a divisional-round game Saturday night.

“I think most people look at him right now and think that he’s on his way to having a top-10, 20 quarterback career,” King said. “There’s a couple of reasons. He’s so precocious about the game, he knows so much about the game. His dad raised him in the game, because obviously his dad was a pro quarterback. I think he also learned the other side of the game also. He learned the team side, he learned you’re nothing without your teammates, and the media part of it doesn’t matter. ‘€¦ It’s just not in his pedigree right now to set himself apart from the crowd. So I think more than anything, Andrew Luck gets it.”

However, King said he isn’t convinced Luck will add to his growing legend Saturday.

“When you look back at his career, why I’m skeptical he’ll play one of his great games is, first of all, he’s gotten hit quite a bit this season, so I think the Patriots are probably going to be able to pressure him,” King said. “And secondly, I think if you take away T.Y. Hilton you’ll be able to do some good things against their passing game.

“He’s not been averse to making some huge mistakes. Look at the first half last week, where he was vastly outplayed by Alex Smith, then early in the third quarter. So, to me, I kind of look at him right now and just say I think he can be great any week. But I also think he’s going to still make mistakes ’cause he’s still learning the game.”

King said that this matchup could turn into a battle of the ground games.

“Everybody has sort of said, ‘If Andrew Luck can’t do it then they’re in huge trouble.’ But just look at Donald Brown — to me, anyway — in the last few weeks. He hasn’t run it a lot, but he’s run it very productively — high yards per rush; he’s averaged over five [5.3] for the year,” King said. “If I’m [offensive coordinator] Pep Hamilton and the Colts, I’m saying, look, I want Donald Brown and Trent Richardson to have very prominent roles in this game plan. In part because we’d like to keep it away from Tom Brady. And also in part because this team this year, the Patriots are vulnerable against the run. They’ve shown it week after week. They’re surrendering 4 1/2 a carry.

“And you understand because of the marquee value of quarterbacks, they’re making it out as an Andrew Luck-Tom Brady game. And it well could be. But I think it could also be a Donald Brown-Shane Vereen game as well. Or LaGarrette Blount.”

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Donald Brown, Drew Brees, Josh McDaniels
Devin McCourty on turnovers: ‘This game we have to try to force them’ 01.09.14 at 12:17 pm ET
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Devin McCourty (32) with an interception in the 2011 playoffs. (AP)

Devin McCourty (32) with an interception in the 2011 playoffs. (AP)

FOXBORO — Pat Riley was fond of saying, ‘no rebounds, no rings’ back in his heyday with the Lakers.

Well, there’s a corollary in Foxboro for the Patriots.

No turnovers, no rings.

In the last four postseason losses, the Patriots have lost the turnover battle. In last year’s AFC championship, the Patriots committed three and created none, only forcing one fumble that the Ravens recovered.

In Super Bowl XLVI, they didn’t create a turnover, forcing two fumbles that the Giants recovered. They lost the game and the turnover battle, 1-0.

In Jan. 2011, the Patriots didn’t intercept Mark Sanchez while Tom Brady was picked off once. The Patriots forced three fumbles but couldn’t recover a single one.

In Jan. 2010, Brady was picked off three times and lost a fumble in a 33-14 loss to the Ravens in the first round.

“Yeah, I think in all of our games, if you look at the games we’€™ve lost, we probably weren’€™t too effective in taking the ball away,” Devin McCourty said. “It’€™s a goal of ours. We talk about them from OTAs, minicamp and continuing throughout the season, it’€™s very important for us to get turnovers. Our offense prides themselves on not trying to turn the ball over and if we get them the ball back that’€™s how we win games, that’€™s how we score points, have big plays.

“It’€™s key for us to make sure we go out there and try to force some turnovers. I think when you look at them throughout the season, they’€™ve done a good job of taking care of the ball. This game we have to try to force them.”

McCourty and the defense know that the turnover mindset has to be there Saturday night.

“I think so. I think it changes everything,” he added. “It goes without saying, we’€™re putting everything we have into this game. We know it’€™s going to be a tough game. Sixty minutes; we’€™re going to have play good throughout this whole game to try to get a win. We feel like if we put everything into this and we come out with a win, there will be a next week and we’€™ll re-group and get ready to put everything into that week. But right now at this point in the season, there’€™s no reason to save anything. There’€™s no tomorrow for us, that’€™s how we’€™re going to go out there and play.”

Andrew Luck, whom the Patriots intercepted three times in the 59-28 win in Nov. 2012, has lowered his interceptions in his second season. What has McCourty seen?

“I think, like all players, once you play another year in the league you get a full year under your belt, you see things,” McCourty said. “Not everything is the first time you have to see it. I think that’€™s what happened for him. He’€™s a quarterback, I’€™m sure he studies a lot of film. I think now it’€™s just a progression. He gets to see more things and things aren’€™t fooling him. He understands what’€™s going on in the game. I think it’€™s harder as a rookie you have so much to worry about. Each week you’€™re playing a different team that might be doing something different.

“I think once you get a full year under your belt, you’€™ve seen more defenses, you understand more of what you want to do as an offense. I think same thing with guys on our team, some of the young rookies, you see them start playing better at the end of the season I think because they have more experience, they’€™ve seen things and now it’€™s just their natural abilities going out there playing.”

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Devin McCourty, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots
Steve Gregory might be a future coach, but right now he’s focused on Andrew Luck at 9:45 am ET
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FOXBORO — From the moment Steve Gregory joined the Patriots in March 2012, there was a sense among the Patriots that they had an extra coach in the secondary.

Now, with the playoffs on the horizon, the Patriots are leaning on Gregory, not just on the field but in the classroom as they look for ways to cover the explosive Colts passing game and hopefully confuse Andrew Luck.

“I think with Steve a lot of it is, even in the film room, when we’€™re in meetings we’€™ll have something in the defense and we’€™re watching and Steve will say, ‘€˜Why don’€™t we do this?’€™ We’€™ll all sit there and look at him and be like, ‘€˜You’€™re right, that probably would be better.’€™ I think that’€™s what makes him so good,” Devin McCourty said after practice on Wednesday.

“When we’€™re preparing for games, he’€™s not only able to watch film and see things coming but he’€™s able to go to the coaches and say, ‘€˜Why don’€™t we tweak this defense this way because it better fits what they do?’€™ I think it’€™s good, our coaches listen to everyone. Steve always has something each week we play that he sees and things we can do. That’€™s why we call him a future head coach.”

The 31-year-old Gregory, along with McCourty, are two of the key pieces in the secondary because – as safeties – they are the ones calling signals and lining up players in the right spot before the snap. And much of that preparation and recognition comes from studying film.

‘€œYeah, definitely. Just with anticipation and things like that, recognition of formations, where guys are, route combinations, things like that, understanding the schemes and stuff that we’€™re running, where help is, that all ties in to being able to play fast and play at a high level,” Gregory said.

‘€œI think it’€™s a little bit of everything. It’€™s a little bit of film work, it’€™s a little bit of studying, understanding really what the scheme is within your defense, what your job is, what other guys’€™ jobs are, and then kind of just having some instincts of football, just kind of understanding the game itself, and those things can go a long way.’€

As for his coaching career, Gregory is hoping that well off in the future and he hasn’t given any serious thought yet to what McCourty suggested.

‘€œNot really. I’€™m a player right now, so I’€™m hoping on playing for a little bit longer,” Gregory said.

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Read More: 2014 playoffs, Andrew Luck, Devin McCourty, Indianapolis Colts
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