|Patriots practice Friday: Brandon Bolden joins Aaron Dobson, Alfonzo Dennard on list of absentees||12.06.13 at 11:06 am ET|
FOXBORO — Running back Brandon Bolden was not on hand as the Patriots began their sweats and shells practice Friday in the light rain on the lower practice fields outside Gillette Stadium.
Bolden was not on this week’s injury report and has been a full participant on Wednesday and Thursday after nursing a knee injury earlier in the season.
Three other players were absent Friday, including Alfonzo Dennard, who left the team to deal with a court appearance in Nebraska. Dennard is having another court appearance Friday afternoon in Nebraska to answer to a charge of DUI in July. On Thursday, Dennard was given an additional 30 days in jail, 100 hours of community service and another year of probation for violating terms of his initial probation.
Two other Patriots were absent Friday due to injury as rookie receiver Aaron Dobson continues to nurse a foot injury that forced him to miss Sunday’s game in Houston. Dobson played just 36 of 87 snaps against the Broncos on Nov. 24 before showing up on the injury report last week. The team re-signed Austin Collie Thursday morning for wide receiver depth.
Marcus Cannon injured his ankle against the Broncos in the first half against the Broncos and was replaced by Will Svitek for the remainder of the game. Cannon was not active last Sunday against Houston, marking the first game he has missed this season.
Both Cannon and Dobson have missed practice all week and are expected to be ruled out for Sunday’s game against Cleveland. For the third straight day, the team worked out in sweats and shells on the lower practice fields in preparation for the Browns this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
|Patriots practice Tuesday: Steve Gregory, Brandon Bolden miss||11.05.13 at 1:16 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots held their final practice before the bye on Tuesday in full pads on the upper grass fields outside Gillette.
Steve Gregory, Brandon Bolden and Austin Collie were the only players on the current roster not spotted. Gregory and Bolden were reportedly nursing injuries while Collie was reportedly released after injuring his knee during the win over the Steelers on Sunday.
Gregory suffered a hand injury that reportedly resulted in a broken thumb while Bolden has been nursing a knee injury all season.
|Patriots practice Wednesday: Danny Amendola (concussion), Aqib Talib (hip) in attendance||10.23.13 at 11:13 am ET|
FOXBORO — Danny Amendola returned to practice Wednesday on the grass fields outside Gillette Stadium for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Oct. 13 against the Saints.
He suffered a viscous hit to the helmet from New Orleans safety Rafael Bush in the second half and missed all of last week, including the game against the Jets.
Asked specifically about whether Amendola has passed all concussion protocols as mandated by the NFL, Bill Belichick said, “every player has to go through medical clearance. Every player has to go through whatever the medical procedures are. We’ll give our practice report after practice like we always do.”
Also in attendance for the full pads practice was Aqib Talib, as he tries to make his way back from a hip injury against the Saints. However, Talib was not wearing pads under his game pants and appeared very limited in stretching exercises for the second straight practice. After missing last Wednesday and Thursday, Talib was at practice on Friday but was listed as doubtful and ruled out Saturday night by the team.
The only two players not spotted Wednesday were running back Leon Washington (ankle) and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly (knee). Washington and Kelly were both injured on Oct. 6 in Cincinnati and have missed the last two games.
Brandon Spikes and Brandon Bolden both spent time on exercise bikes during positional drills at the start of practice.
|Patriots ground game won’t run from challenge presented by Jets’ front seven||10.16.13 at 5:24 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Few teams have seen more of a dramatic statistical turnaround from one season to the next than the Jets and their run defense.
In 2012, New York was one of the worst teams in the league when it came to stopping the run — the Jets yielded an average of 133.6 rushing yards per game, 26th in the league. This year, through six games, that number has dropped to 75.7 rushing yards per game, second in the NFL. That includes holding the Patriots to a season-low 54 yards in their September meeting — the one game New England won this season while running for less than 100 yards as a team.
Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (6-foot-4, 315 pounds), nose tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison (6-foot-4, 350 pounds) and rookie Sheldon Richardson (6-foot-2, 294 pounds) have helped create one of the more underrated defensive fronts in the league, and create a sizable challenge for the New England running game this week.
“I think we’ve got an outstanding group in the front seven,” said Jets coach Rex Ryan. “They’re young, and they’re kind of maturing together. It starts with Muhammad Wilkerson and then the nose tackles, obviously ‘Snacks’ – Damon Harrison – and Kenrick Ellis have done a good job for us, and Sheldon Richardson, so all the big guys up front have done a decent job in the run, and then I think we’ve got as good a middle linebacker as there is in the league in David Harris. I think he’s done an outstanding job for us.”
“They’re all pretty big, physical guys,” said quarterback Tom Brady on New York, which allows a league-low three yards per carry. “They have some really good players over there, especially in the front. [They have] good run technique, and certainly a lot of their scheme is built to stop the run.”
One of the keys to the Jets success against the run is their good numbers on first down. Through the first six games, New York is best in the league when it comes to first-down defense, allowing an average of 3.41 yards per play on first down. They’ve faced 158 first downs, and allowed 538 yards. (By way of comparison, Cleveland is second at 3.74 yards per play on first down. The league average is 5.48, and the Patriots are 27th overall, yielding an average of 6.12 yards on first down.)
Their successes on first down create a domino effect for the rest of the defense. A run of three yards or less on first down creates second-and-long situations, and that certainly isn’t a running play. With the defense aware that they’ve likely made you a one-dimensional team, they’re free to unleash blitz packages — a Ryan favorite.
“[That] leads to second-and-longs and third-and-longs, and then they get their blitz packages going,” Brady said. “You can’t really fall asleep at any point against this defense because they have a lot of negative plays in the run game.”
Success in the running game for the Patriots will likely hinge on limiting those negative plays, particularly early on. New England has run 430 offensive plays this year in six games — not counting kneeldowns, 33 have been for negative yardage. (That’s up from 26 negative plays from scrimmage through the first six games of the 2012 season.) Of the 83 plays on Sunday against the Saints, a season-high 10 went for negative yardage — five sacks of Brady as well as two negative runs by LeGarrette Blount, one negative run each from Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley, and a negative reception from Danny Amendola.
The Patriots could also use the aggressive nature of the Jets defensive front to their advantage by ratcheting up their play-action game. The quickest way to get a defense on its heels would be through multiple play fakes, something New England has used with success in the past. There’s also the possibility of utilizing screens, fakes and draw plays.
Ultimately, over the first six games of the year, while the numbers in the passing game have fluctuated wildly for New England, a fairly reliable barometer of their success can be seen in their ability to run the ball. Ridley, Blount, Bolden and Shane Vereen have all provided support over the course of the season as the Patriots have averaged 120.5 rushing yards per game, good for 11th in the league, and the Patriots are 4-0 when they top 100 yards on the ground. If they want to get to 6-1 on the season, chances are good they’ll have to get a steady and consistent performance out of their ground game on Sunday in New Jersey.
“They’re a really good first-down defense. They usually put a lot of people in second-and-long yardage. It’s one of the things we have to prevent. It’s one of the things that we have to make sure that doesn’t happen to us too often,” Blount said. “They’re doing something right — they’re ranked in the Top 5 in the league in rush defense. They’re dong something right. But we’re going to continue to look at film and hopefully find some things that they’re not doing as well and we can exploit them.”
|Did Patriots run away from what was working Sunday?||10.08.13 at 7:52 pm ET|
So much has been made of the transition game in the Patriots passing game this season. The Patriots have run 347 plays this season, with 140 runs and 207 passes, a ratio that is almost exactly 60-40 in favor of the passing game. And it’s been a productive rushing attack. Through five games, the Patriots have been averaging 135.8 yards per game on the ground and 4.2 yards every time they run the ball.
But a closer look indicates a fundamental change in the team’s approach. It’s not how much you pass or run, but when.
On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Patriots had the ball 12 times. They ran on first down six times, including their opening three drives, four of their first five and six of 10 before being forced to pass on their final two possessions when they were trailing. Even without Stevan Ridley (knee) and Shane Vereen (wrist) at their disposal, the Patriots showed a remarkable commitment to the run game. LeGarrette Blount had his number called to open each of New England’s first three series.
In those runs, Blount had carries of four, two and 10 yards. After the game, Logan Mankins indicated that the Bengals did a great job sniffing out the play-action pass the Patriots were trying to set up with the run. But should the Patriots have been looking to more than just setting up the pass with Blount and Brandon Bolden?
On Tuesday, during his conference call with reporters, Bill Belichick was asked to explain why the Patriots seemed to drift away from the run game in the second half when they were reasonably successful in the first half.
“Overall, there might have been some opportunities for us to call a few more runs,” Belichick said. “Some of those plays, at times, some of them are checked and [we] took what we felt was the best look or the best play. Of course at the end of the game, situationally we wound up throwing the ball quite a bit there the last couple series. We’re just trying to find the best matchups and trying to do what we thought was best to be able to move the ball efficiently.”
The Patriots ran the ball 14 times as opposed to 20 passes in the first half.
Even on their final drive, one of their most successful plays was a run — a 12-yard burst through the showers — by Bolden to the Cincinnati 42.
“We did have some plays in the running game,” Belichick added. “I thought we had some opportunities in the passing game too. Could we have gone in a different ratio or percentage? We probably could have but we didn’t really feel that bad about what we were doing, we just didn’t do it well enough.”
The Patriots even tried to punch it in on the ground in their ill-fated goal line chance in the fourth quarter that resulted in only a 19-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
The Patriots finished with 82 yards rushing on just 18 carries for a 4.6 yards per carry average. What will happen Sunday vs. the Saints? Stay tuned.
|Sebastian Vollmer on M&M: Patriots have ‘got to keep going’ after Vince Wilfork injury||09.30.13 at 12:53 pm ET|
Patriots offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer joined Mut & Merloni to discuss the team’s 30-23 win over the Falcons on Sunday and the reported season-ending injury to defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.
Wilfork reportedly tore his Achilles tendon in the first quarter at the Georgia Dome.
“I truly don’t know what the injury is,” Vollmer said. “You don’t want to see anybody get hurt, and obviously he ended up hurting himself. It was tough, but you’ve got to keep going.”
An Achilles tear generally takes 6-9 months for recovery, meaning Wilfork would miss the remainder of the season.
“He’s been here for quite a while, playing at a high level every year,” Vollmer said. “Absolutely he’s a phenomenal player but also just a great teammate and a great leader.”
Vollmer and the Patriots offensive line protected Tom Brady well, as New England’s quarterback was not sacked and Atlanta recorded just two quarterback hits.
In addition, the line led way for a potent running game. The Patriots rushed for 132 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries. LeGarrette Blount led the team with 64 yards on nine carries, including a 47-yard touchdown scamper at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Stevan Ridley chipped in with 53 yards on 11 carries, and Brandon Bolden accumulated 17 yards on six rushes.
New England ran the ball 10 straight times on its first touchdown drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matthew Mulligan.
“I’m not a play-caller, but I guess we tried to go with whatever works,” said Vollmer. “You don’t want to be one-dimensional and get stuffed every time, but if you can do the same thing and end up with a touchdown, I’ll take that any day.”
|Brandon Bolden returns in second half after injuring right knee||09.29.13 at 9:56 pm ET|
One quarter after losing starting nose tackle Vince Wilfork to a right foot injury, Brandon Bolden injured his right knee late in the second quarter.
Bolden went to the ground trying to pick up a blitz with four minutes left in the second quarter. Trainers came out to look at his right knee. He came off the field and did not return.
Bolden had four carries for 17 yards in the first half before leaving with the injury.
Bolden did return on the first possession of the second half and caught a screen pass for negative five yards.
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