|Fantasy Football: Week 14 starts, sits||12.07.12 at 9:24 am ET|
Welcome to the Week 14 starts and sits. It’s a high-stakes week and I have found some matchups worth highlighting, but a lot can change between now and Sunday, so stop by our Sunday morning chat if you need any last-minute help or a second opinion on a lineup decision. We’ll kick off the chat at 11 a.m. I hope to see you there. We also have full lineup rankings at Rotobahn.com and I will update them over the weekend, so check that out, too.
Josh Freeman, Buccaneers vs. Eagles
Freeman will get back on track after a few rough weeks of tough matchups. The Eagles at home looks like a get-well game to me. Start the Bucs QB if you normally would.
Matthew Stafford, Lions at Packers
Don’t overthink. Stafford has a few red flags, like injuries to his receivers and a road matchup against Green Bay, but he also has a piping-hot Calvin Johnson to work with, and Stafford himself has played a bit better recently. The Lions also have solid depth players like Tony Scheffler, who can replace guys like Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in the slot. Unless you have a really strong second option, just roll with Stafford in Week 14.
Eli Manning, Giants vs. Saints
He was OK last week despite the medium statistical output. Look for Manning and the Giants to post better numbers at home against a weak Saints defense. I have him ranked 12th overall this week in our preliminary rankings.
Chad Henne, Jaguars vs. Jets
Henne is likely to be playing without Cecil Shorts and already has lost Laurent Robinson for the year. The Jets play solid defense, so this is a situation to avoid for Week 14.
Philip Rivers, Chargers at Steelers
He’s going bad and his team is in turmoil. Throw in a bad road matchup against a very motivated team and you have a reason to look elsewhere. Rivers is viable but very risky and he lacks the upside he’s had in recent years. Avoid him if you can.
|Patriots’ running backs find new role early on in preseason||08.21.12 at 4:05 am ET|
FOXBORO – The most dynamic offense in the NFL is adding more options.
For years, it’s become expected that the Patriots offense is revolved around the air attack, with quarterback Tom Brady at the helm of some of the most potent offenses in team history. And for better or worse, the rushing attack has got a bit of a shaft because of that.
In two preseason games, however, it’s starting to become apparent that the running game is getting a makeover, with a little help from the passing game.
In an offense that, last year, was so centered around its depth at wide receiver and even more notably, tight end — where Rob Gronkowski had the most prolific season by someone at the position — it appears that the Patriots are trying even harder to make that offense more potent. In the first preseason game, running backs were actually used more in the passing game than tight ends. Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden combined for seven catches on nine targets, bettering their tight end counterparts, who had just four catches on seven targets.
On Monday night against the Eagles, it was more of the same. While the backfield couldn’t quite get it going on the ground, mustering just 71 yards on 28 carries as a unit, it was the way it seemed to be more comfortable catching balls out of the backfield that comes off as the most encouraging sign. And with the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to free agency in the offseason, it’s an important sign, considering the experience and production left behind.
|Stevan Ridley taking lead in battle for starting running back role||08.03.12 at 8:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO — With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to Cincinnati via free agency, the Patriots entered training camp with a group of young, largely unproven backs each looking to take the helm as the new feature back for the offense. But in the early showings of camp, it appears that second-year back Stevan Ridley is outpacing fellow sophomore Shane Vereen and presumptive third down back Danny Woodhead for the starting job.
The 23-year-old Ridley enters camp as the team’s top returning rusher after finishing his 2011 regular season with 87 carries for 441 yards and one score. However, the focal points of Ridley’s rookie season heading into camp remain his two fumbles he recorded late last year: one in the season finale against Buffalo and another in the Patriots playoff victory against Denver. It was the second fumble that effectively ended Ridley’s season, as he remained inactive for the rest of the Patriots’ post season run, apparently losing the coaching staff’s confidence to hold onto the ball
“I’m not a coach. I’m just a player and I went out there and played the best I could,” Ridley said of his ball-handling after practice Friday. “Unfortunately, as a running back, you can never have the ball on the ground and that’s something that I know and that’s been since Pee Wee football.
“I have to put that behind me and focus on what’s ahead of me. That’s the future and that’s me holding onto the football. So I’m just going to go out there every day and run hard, tuck the ball and keep it high and tight and be the best that I can so I don’t repeat any mistakes.”
With his size, the 5-foot-11, 225 pound Ridley is the obvious candidate to handle the bulk of the running between the tackles, particularly as a short-yardage back, a role he’s ready to take up, but not as his sole identity in the offense. Read the rest of this entry »
|A closer look at the Patriots’ decision to release Joseph Addai||07.25.12 at 5:46 pm ET|
If nothing else, this offseason will be remembered as a stretch where the Patriots picked over the remnants of a once great array of Colts’ skill position players like a shopper at a table full of day-old bargains and found nothing more than spare parts.
New England kicked the tires on wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (who was on the roster for all of a couple of months) and tight end Dallas Clark (who they took a look at this spring in a workout). Reggie Wayne was also a possibility that never came to fruition. And Joseph Addai was cut Wednesday as training camp began.
(To be fair, the Patriots did add one former Colt this offseason who has managed to stick around to this point: offensive lineman Jamey Richard, who played the last four seasons in Indy.)
The decision to release Addai comes as a bit of a surprise, especially after a series of spring workouts where coaches and teammates all praised him as a committed veteran who was fitting into the Patriots’ system very nicely. (One opposing scout I spoke with praised him as a great pickup for New England.) Combine that with the fact that he signed a one-year deal with a base salary of $725,000, to go along with a $75,000 signing bonus and $50,000 workout bonus. However, it’s reasonable to think that injuries may have played a role in his situation. The LSU product missed some of the spring camps, and has struggled with the injury bug since 2010.
The Patriots now have 89 players on the roster, and four running backs: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden. It would appear that Ridley is the biggest beneficiary of the move: the certainly flashed well throughout the spring, and even before Addai signed as a free agent, he figured to get the bulk of the carries in 2012 with the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. However, New England could add another free agent running back, possibly Ryan Grant or veteran Kevin Faulk, who has played the last 13 seasons with the Patriots but remains unsigned at this point.
|Countdown to Patriots Camp: Running back/fullback||07.23.12 at 4:04 pm ET|
In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We started our previews at quarterback. Now, we take a look at the running back position:
Roster (2011 stats): Stevan Ridley (87 carries, 441 yards, one touchdown), Shane Vereen (15 carries, 57 yards, one touchdown), Danny Woodhead (77 carries, 351 yards, one touchdown, 18 receptions, 157 receiving yards), Joseph Addai (118 carries, 433 rushing yards, one touchdown, 15 receptions, 93 receiving yards with Indy), Brandon Bolden, Eric Kettani, Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
There will be no bell cow in 2012. With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (a team-high 667 rushing yards in 2011), the Patriots’ running game will be a collective this season, utilizing the entire group in an attempt to be more of a game-plan attack. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots lean on Ridley one week, and then Addai or Vereen (if he can bounce back from a rookie season that was spent mostly on the sidelines) the next depending on the type of defense New England is facing. But don’t look for one back to top 800 yards.
If he’s got anything left, Joseph Addai could be the next great veteran Patriots’ pickup. It’s been easy to see why the Patriots jumped on the former Colts’ running back when he hit free agency. His new teammates and coaches have been impressed by his veteran presence, hard work and overall commitment. One opposing scout says that Addai still “has something still left in the tank, and can benefit from being in the offense that has so many things for defense to be concerned about.” Addai has worked as a running back, receiver and in blitz pickup over the course of his career, and if the 29-year-old can stay away from the injury bug, he could be the next veteran who receives a career jolt by relocating to Foxboro.
Danny Woodhead will continue to be one of the most important parts of the New England offense. He was the only guy on the roster last season who was in the Top 5 on the team in rushing attempts and receptions, finishing the season with 77 carries for 351 yards and a touchdown and 18 catches for 157 yards.
1. Will the Patriots use a fullback in 2012? The Patriots picked up Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta in the offseason, and welcomed Eric Kettani back into the fold. It’s unlikely they’ll keep more than one fullback, which means there will likely be a nice positional battle this summer at the spot. Right now, odds favor Larsen for a few reasons, not the least of which he has some impressive positional versatility — he’s played both fullback and linebacker at the NFL level.
2. Is Stevan Ridley past his rough finish to the 2011 season? The LSU product had a pair of ill-timed fumbles (are there any other kind?) at the end of his rookie year, fumbling once in the regular-season finale against the Bills and again in the divisional playoffs against the Broncos. He was scratched from the AFC title game, and while he was active for the Super Bowl, didn’t touch the ball. It’ll be interesting to see if Ridley, who showed real flashes throughout the season, can bounce back from a rough stretch.
3. Does Kevin Faulk return? With training camp a few days away, the veteran is unsigned. He’s made it clear that he’s going to come back for the Patriots, and if New England doesn’t call, he’ll call it a career. If that’s the case, he’ll be remembered as one of the toughest, most dependable players to ever wear a New England uniform.
By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: The Patriots’ longest rushing play last season was 33 yards. In the last 18 seasons, only in 2005 did the Pats fail to bust a longer rushing play (31 yards). In 2001, only one team, the Jets (31 yards), had a long rush that was shorter than New England’s 33 yards.
The skinny: While the possibility exists that someone seizes the job and (no pun intended) runs with it, it’s looking like the Patriots are going to go with running back-by-committee, at least at the start of the season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. While New England does need a steady running game, it’s not like the Patriots are going to start running the option. Because of the strength of the passing game, what you’re looking for from this group of backs are three things: One, an ability to average four yards a carry and keep the chains moving. Two, the need to at least keep defenses on their toes when it comes to the possibility of running play action. And three, ball control — with no fumbles. While they got that the last two seasons with Green-Ellis, they’d love to get that this season from the current group.
|Running back Brandon Bolden ready to try and make his mark in New England||05.11.12 at 7:31 pm ET|
FOXBORO — You can’t fault the Patriots for sticking to the template. After all, the last time they plucked an undrafted free agent running back out of Ole Miss, it worked out pretty well for them in BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
So when Green-Ellis departed as a free agent this offseason, they went back to the well for another Ole Miss running back in Brandon Bolden. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Bolden finished his collegiate career ranked second in school history in both total touchdowns scored (33) and rushing touchdowns (27), third in all-purpose yards (3,681) and fourth in rushing yards (2,604).
And while Bolden was deferential to Green-Ellis’ legacy at Ole Miss and with the Patriots, he’s clearly interested in making his own name in New England.
“Ben was at Ole Miss the [two] years before I was there; he was walking out the door as I was coming in. He’s a great guy, a great running back. I watched a lot of film on him,” Bolden said of Green Ellis, who had 2.064 rushing yards (including 1,008 in 2010) in 53 career games with the Patriots.
“[But] honestly, I haven’t paid much attention to it. Ben did what he did because that’s what Ben does. And I’m coming in trying to make it as he did.”
A 2011 captain at Ole Miss, Bolden, originally thought to be a mid- to late-round selection, dropped out of the draft altogether. One reason could be his injury history — Bolden finished with 976 rushing yard and 14 rushing touchdowns as a junior, but suffered a fractured ankle in his first game as a senior. The injury limited him to 462 yards last year.
“Just trying to get in the training room and get better every day. Every since the injury, just trying to get better each and every day. Still doing it,” he said. “I’m a guy that looks forward. The injury happened… everything happens for a reason. I’m just looking forward.”
However, some believe that it was character concerns, which stemmed from a suspension for a one-game suspension which sidelined him for a game against Alabama. He has a straightforward answer for those who might question his character.
Read the rest of this entry »
|Five players who are on the hot seat this offseason||04.21.12 at 12:51 pm ET|
On the heels of our post last week that detailed six players who are still in limbo as we near the midway point of the offseason — and keeping in mind that the offseason workout programs started this past week at Gillette Stadium — here are five Patriots who need a good offseason to help solidify their status before training camp rolls around in July.
Defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham – Bill Belichick fell in love with Cunningham as a collegian, but the Florida product has been underwhelming in his first two seasons in the NFL. There were occasional flashes as a rookie — he had 35 tackles and a sack in 15 games in 2010. But 2011 was forgettable for the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder, as he had just one tackle and spent most of the year on special teams. By the time he was placed on injured reserve in December with a hamstring problem, it marked the end of a disappointing year. He’s just 23, but he’ll likely find himself in a fight for a job come July. The former second-round pick is entering the third year of a four-year deal he signed with the Patriots as a rookie.
Defensive lineman Ron Brace – The 25-year-old has been plagued by injury and inconsistency in his relatively short career in the NFL. Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up several veteran defensive linemen before the start of the 2011 season, he showed some flashes last season, but never really managed to break through, playing just 62 snaps all year, according to Pro Football Focus. The 6-foot-3, 330-pounder is entering the final year of a four-year deal he signed as a rookie.
Safety Sergio Brown – The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Brown had issues, mostly in coverage, for a bulk of the 2011 season. (He had three crippling pass interference calls last year, and as a result, was assessed more penalty yardage — 86 — than anyone on the team.) After starting the year as a regular part of the rotation, he slipped down the depth chart, and didn’t play a single snap after Week 16 of the regular-season. Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up safety Steve Gregory, he could be helped by the fact that the safety market (in free agency and the draft) is pretty bad. A former undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, the 23-year-old is entering the third year of a four-year contract he signed as a rookie.
Running back Shane Vereen – The 23-year-old Cal product was slowed by a hamstring early on, and by the time he got fully healthy, the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder was buried so deep on the depth chart it was essentially a lost year when it came to playing time. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis departing as a free agent, he should get some opportunities to prove himself over the summer. (His opportunities in 2012 could be tied to whether or not the Patriots pick up a veteran free-agent running back: New England reportedly kicked the tires on Tim Hightower, Ryan Grant and Joseph Addai this past week.)
Safety Josh Barrett – The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Barrett is a relatively young safety who had four starts last season and was starting to play better, but fell out of favor as the year went on last season. (He went on injured reserve with a calf injury in November, and was dogged with a thumb injury along the way as well.) With some moving parts in the secondary — including the arrival of Gregory and the appearance of Devin McCourty as a part-time safety — Barrett needs a good offseason and to prove that he’s healthy in order to reclaim his spot in the defensive back rotation. This year marks the last season of a two-year contract the 27-year-old signed last February.
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