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5 things to know about 49ers: Patriots will travel cross-country to meet struggling San Francisco 11.15.16 at 6:27 pm ET
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Colin Kaepernick runs for a first down last week against Arizona. (Matt Kartozian/USA Today Sports)

Colin Kaepernick runs for a first down last week against Arizona. (Matt Kartozian/USA Today Sports)

Five things you have to know about the 49ers, who will host the Patriots Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

1. They do a good job running the ball.

When it comes to the Niners, the one positive you can say for sure is that they run the ball better than a lot of teams. Carlos Hyde (122 carries, 443 yards, six touchdowns) doesn’t have an ideal yards per carry total (3.6), but he’s gotten the bulk of the chances in the running game to this point in the season for the Niners. He just returned from a shoulder injury, which likely explains his production level (13 carries, 14 yards) last week against the Cards. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (32 carries, 228 yards, one touchdown) is also pretty good when it comes to picking up yards on the ground; he had 10 carries for 55 yards in the loss to Arizona. Overall, San Francisco is seventh in the league when it comes to running the ball, averaging 116.9 rushing yards per game; the Niners have gone over 100 yards rushing in six of their nine contests this year, with a season-high 160 yards on the ground in a home loss to the Bucs last month.

2. Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert have struggled with consistency in the passing game.

Regardless of who is under center, the Niners have had major issues when it comes to moving the ball through the air. Kaepernick has started the last four games, and is 70-for-132 (53 percent) for 938 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 82.2 while losing all four starts. His finest game came earlier this month against the Saints, where he finished 24-for-39 for 398 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Given the way things have shaken out for San Francisco this season, we’re going to presume that he’ll be the starter on Sunday. Jeremy Kerley (40 catches, 71 targets, 424 yards, 3 TDs) has distinguished himself as the lead option in the passing game, while Quinton Patton (29 catches, 49 targets, 345 yards) and Torrey Smith (17 catches, 39 targets, 243 yards, 2 TDs) have also flashed at times in the passing game.

3. They don’t do a good job defending the run.

This is the worst run defense the Patriots will face all year: The Niners have allowed an average of 180.4 rushing yards per game through nine games. (For some perspective, the last time New England allowed at least 180 rushing yards in one game came on Oct. 16, 2014 against the Jets, who finished that night with 218 yards on the ground.) In four of their nine games, San Francisco has allowed 190 yards or more on the ground. In an Oct. 16 loss to the Bills, the Niners allowed 313 rushing yards. The numbers were pretty good last week against Arizona, as the Cards could only muster 80 yards on the ground in a narrow win. (It was a small victory for the San Francisco run defense, as it narrowly avoided the honor of being the first team in NFL history to avoid yielding 100 rushing yards or more in seven straight games.) Bottom line? If LeGarrette Blount doesn’t get the ball at least 25 times on Sunday, something is up.

4. The Niners have a capable special teams unit: not great, not bad.

The ageless Phil Dawson (at 41, he’s one of the oldest guys in the league) is still getting it done as a kicker, going 13-for-14 from the field and 20-for-20 on extra points. Punter Bradley Pinion is pretty good, with a 45.3 average (21st) and a 40.1 net (17th). They have not had a punt blocked this season. Kerley is the primary punt returner (9.2 yards per chance on 13 returns), while they’ve had a handful of players work as kick returners, led by Chris Davis (21.5 average on six returns). Overall, they averaged 20.5 yards per kick return (tied for 24th) and 8.6 yards per punt return (20th). They do not have a return for touchdown this season.

5. They’re a cautionary tale as to how quickly things can change in the NFL.

The Niners were on top of the world a few years back. They took the Ravens down to the last minute in Super Bowl XLVII, and just missed out on a trip to Super Bowl the following year when Richard Sherman knocked away a late pass from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree in the final minute of the NFC title game. Kaepernick was regarded as the next great young quarterback, and Jim Harbaugh was going to be the guy to usher in a new dynasty in San Francisco. Now, it’s just two-plus years later, and because of a variety of issues, the Niners are a mess of a team that will be lucky to win three games this year. The simple truth is that it’s hard to find the right formula to stay on top for an extended period of time. In some cases, the end comes fast. Enjoy it while you can.

Read More: Blaine Gabbert, Bradley Pinion, Carlos Hyde, Chip Kelly
Dolphins sign David Garrard after missing out on Peyton Manning 03.20.12 at 9:16 am ET
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After missing out on signing Peyton Manning, the Dolphins inked former Jaguars quarterback David Garrard to a one-year deal on Monday. Miami is trying to rebuild at the quarterback position after moving on from former starter Chad Henne, who became a free agent after missing the final 12 games of the 2011 season due to a shoulder injury.

Garrard seems to be Plan C for the Dolphins, who attempted to lure Manning and former Green Bay backup Matt Flynn to Miami before signing Garrard Monday. The 34-year-old, however, is expected to have some competition for the starting role. In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Garrard said the Dolphins still plan to look into signing other quarterbacks.

“They didn’t say for sure they were bringing another guy in, but they said it’s a possibility, whether in the draft or whatever,” Garrard told the AP. “It’s going to be a great competition, and I’m all about that. I’m going to do my best to make sure it’s me on opening day.”

Garrard played his entire nine-year career with the Jaguars and started in Jacksonville from 2005-10, running an overall record of 39-37. In 86 career games, Garrard earned a 90.8 quarterback rating and has thrown for 16,003 yards and 89 touchdowns with 54 interceptions.

Jacksonville released Garrard five days before the season opener last year and replaced him with Blaine Gabbert, who was drafted 10th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Gabbert threw for 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in his rookie season and totaled a 50.8 completion percentage. Garrard’s signing completes a quasi-quarterback swap between the Dolphins and Jaguars, as the Jaguars signed former Dolphin Henne to a two-year, nearly $6.75 million deal on March 14, giving Gabbert some competition for the starting job.

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency, Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, David Garrard
Ryan Mallett vs. the first-round quarterbacks… Round 1 08.12.11 at 12:57 am ET
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FOXBORO — When Ryan Mallett handed the ball off to Stevan Ridley in the third quarter of the Patriots’ 47-12 win over the Jaguars and watched the former LSU running back scamper into the end zone for his second touchdown of the night, the Arkansas product likely knew he wasn’t going to be the rookie who stole the show on Thursday. When Ridley scored his third touchdown, a 16-yard reception from Mallett, that likelihood became a certainty.

Yet despite the fact that Mallett was outshone by another first-year player Thursday night, the third-round pick turned in a solid outing for his first taste of NFL action. After Brian Hoyer played the entire first half (Tom Brady did not play), Mallett came in against Jacksonville reserves and completed 12 of 19 passes for 164 yards and the aforementioned touchdown to Ridley.

“It felt good just to get out there and play football with the guys,” Mallett said. “We’ve been working hard in camp, and to get out there and actually see a product that’s not just practice and see a different color was a lot of fun.”

Stock quotes aside, Mallett’s debut, even if it’s only the preseason and came against such players as Kevin Rutland and William Middleton, was something football fans everywhere may have been inclined to turn an eye to. He’s got a cannon of an arm — perhaps the strongest in a draft class that featured four first-round signal-callers — and only off-field issues led to his stock’s plummet.

As a result, it was interesting that his first preseason game would come against the Jaguars and Blaine Gabbert. Think back to the scouting combine in February. Gabbert, a projected first-round pick out of Missouri, did not participate in passing drills, as is the case with many QBs with first-round grades (and especially those represented by agent Tom Condon). Mallett, who had at points carried a late first-round grade, had to throw. He did, and was far and away the most impressive quarterback at the combine.

Fast-forwarding six months, it was Gabbert who was taking the field as the 10th overall pick, leading the Jaguars’ offense with David Garrard out with a back injury. And it was Mallett who came in after halftime as the 10th pick of the third round.

Mallett unquestionably bombed his combine meeting with reporters. (This was at the height of rumors that the quarterback had used drugs, and he displayed the exact opposite of the engaging attitude players use when meeting the media. Asked how he responded to the questions about his decision-making on the field, he cracked, ‘€œSeven thousand-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons. That’€™s how I respond to that.’€) Even so, talent alone could not suggest the 64-pick gap between the two players. The Patriots took the talented player who had fallen due to non-football issues with the hope that it could pay off.

Nineteen preseason passes into Mallett’s career, draftniks can note that Mallett outperformed Gabbert (9-16, 85 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT) in their first meeting. Sure, Mallett was facing reserves, but so, too, was Gabbert, despite the fact that he played the first half (the Patriots sat most of their starters).

Regardless of who Mallett faced or how he compared to others, he received high praise after the Pats‘ win from the man who figures to sit above him on the Pats’ depth chart.

“He played great,” Hoyer said of Mallett’s performance. “It’s obvious that he’s got a great arm, and he had good poise out there and led those guys. I thought he did a good job.”

Mallett is unlikely to see regular season game situations in his rookie year. Even so, it seems likely that Thursday will not be the last time that his performance will be measured against those quarterbacks taken ahead of him.

Read More: 2011 training camp, Blaine Gabbert, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
Patriots lead Jaguars after first quarter 08.11.11 at 8:22 pm ET
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The first quarter of the Patriots’ preseason is in the books, with the Patriots leading, 7-6, on a touchdown from rookie Stevan Ridley. The rookie ran it in from the 1-yard-line late in the quarter to give the team the lead after the Jaguars’ first two drives yielded field goals.

Tenth overall pick Blaine Gabbert‘s first professional series featured a four-man front from the Patriots in all 11 snaps. After an Aaron Hernandez fumble doomed the Patriots’ first drive on its opening play, the Pats used Jermaine Cunningham standing up on the second defensive series. As a result, the Pats featured a three-man front for each of the three plays. They then used a four-man front on the first two snaps of Jacksonville’s third drive, and forced them to punt when Mark Anderson created good pressure to lead to a nine-yard Landon Cohen sack.

Thus far, Hernandez has fumbled twice, and he received an earful on the sidelines from Bill Belichick after the second one.

Read More: 2011 training camp, Blaine Gabbert,
From Foxboro: Patriots-Jaguars set to battle in preseason opener at 6:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — And so it has finally arrived. No labor talk. No CBA posturing. No contract talk. Just football. Sure it doesn’t count for real and the stars of this game will likely be second and third-stringers. But football and the Patriots have returned to Gillette Stadium.

Some perspective here. The team just began practicing with their regulars – and not even all of them – one week ago.

While the play might not be perfect, the weather sure is. Game time conditions are expected to consist of clear skies, 72 degrees and a pleasant breeze in from the north.

Quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett came out on the field just before 6 p.m. ET, about 90 minutes before kickoff with the Jaguars and started throwing the ball around, just to warm up.

Tom Brady was not spotted and it wouldn’t come as a shocker if Brady didn’t play a single snap.

This is just the second time the Patriots have faced the Jaguars in the preseason, both at Gillette. Back in 2004, the Patriots were skunked 31-0 in the preseason finale but somehow recovered from that emotional blow to post their second straight 14-2 season, en route to their second straight Super Bowl title and third in four years.

As colleague DJ Bean points out, this is the second straight year the Patriots will be opening their preseason against a first-round rookie quarterback as Blaine Gabbert gets the call for the injured David Garrard (back). Last year, the Patriots opened against Sam Bradford and the Rams, who made it to the last week of the season before being eliminated by the Seahawks.

Read More: 2011 training camp, Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots
New Patriots running back Shane Vereen says he’s moved back home with his parents to save during the lockout 05.24.11 at 3:44 pm ET
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The new reality of the NFL lockout? Rookies living at home with Mom and Dad while they wait for a conclusion to the labor battle.

According to this interview with The Big Lead, Patriots second-round draft pick Shane Vereen ‘€” who was taken 56th overall in the draft last month by New England ‘€” has moved back in with his parents, and added he’s “not trying to spend any money until I get it.”

‘€œThere’€™s one way I’€™m staying afloat right now, and that’€™s living at home,’€ Vereen said at the NFL Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles Friday. ‘€œYes I am living at home, with moms and dad. It’€™s kind of weird coming back home from college. I really don’€™t like it that much. If we last any longer, I’€™m going to have to do something about it. I try to stay out of the house as much as possible, but I’€™m not trying to spend any money until I get it.’€

The same story also says quarterback Blaine Gabbert (the 10th overall pick of the Jaguars) has moved back home as well, while Ravens rookie receiver Torrey Smith, the 58th pick, is living at his girlfriend’€™s place near the University of Maryland, where he played college football.

If Vereen is waiting for his rookie contract to kick in, he may be living at home longer than he anticipated ‘€” even if there was no lockout, history tells us that most rookie deals in New England aren’t consummated for another month or so. (He should be in for a nice payday once things get hammered out. Last year, the Patriots took linebacker Jermaine Cunningham 53rd overall, and he received a four-year, $3.11 million deal with a $1.32 million signing bonus.)

Read More: Blaine Gabbert, Jermaine Cunningham, lockout, Shane Vereen
Updates on the Patriots and their work with prospects Kenrick Ellis, Ricky Stanzi and Tim Barnes 03.26.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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A few quick notes on private workouts and the Patriots:

‘€¢The Patriots worked out Hampton defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis on Friday, according to his agent. A massive prospect at 6-foot-5 and 346 pounds, many have him pegged as a second- or third-round prospect who could play on the nose and at five-technique in the NFL. Ellis was dismissed from South Carolina early in his collegiate career (reportedly for a failed drug test), something he addressed at the combine last month.

‘€œI had character issues,’€ he said at the combine, where he ran a 5.16 40 and hit 26 reps of 225 pounds. ‘€œI had disciplinary problems. They did everything they could. It just didn’€™t work out for me. I had to get out of there. I had to look within myself and change a lot of things within myself and around me. And after I changed those things, it was pretty much easy after that. I had to realize that I had a problem, and I confronted it and overcame it.’€

As a senior, Ellis was first Team All-MEAC. He finished second on the team in tackles with 94 total tackles (34 solo, 60 assisted), and was also second on the team with 15.0 tackles for loss, totaling 37 yards.

‘€¢In addition, it was confirmed that Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi was worked out by the Patriots on the Iowa campus on Thursday. (The news was first reported by ESPNBoston.com.) Stanzi, a 6-foot-4, 223-pounder, is projected by most as a mid-round selection, but has an ace in the hole when it comes to the Patriots ‘€” he’€™s spent the pre-draft process working with Bay Area quarterbacking guru Tom Martinez, who has served as Tom Brady‘€™s advisor for almost 20 years.

‘€œWe’€™ve been working on a lot of mechanical stuff, talking about the throwing motion, the science of it,’€ Stanzi said of Martinez, who has tutored Brady since the Patriots quarterback was a teenager. ‘€œThe same with the footwork and getting down to the nitty gritty details, finding little tweaks or different moves that might be able to help you get a little more speed on the ball, get the ball a little bit deeper. At the same time, keeping what you do and fine-tuning it, finding some things you hadn’€™t known about, and now you can throw the ball with a little more power or deeper.’€
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Read More: 2011 NFL Draft, Blaine Gabbert, Kenrick Ellis, Ricky Stanzi
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