|Penalty phase: Patriots, Dolphins two of league’s least-flagged teams||12.11.13 at 2:51 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Don’t expect a lot of stoppages in play Sunday.
This weekend’s game between the Patriots and Dolphins in South Florida will feature two of the least-penalized teams in the league. Not including penalties that were declined or offset, New England comes into the contest with 57 penalties — second fewest in the NFL — while the Dolphins are the least-penalized team in the league with 55. In addition, the 534 penalty yards against the Patriots is 30th in the league. Only Miami (502) and Indy (499) have been hit with fewer penalty yards.
Both the Dolphins and Patriots have played two games this season where they didn’t get hit with a single penalty. New England wasn’t flagged once in an October loss to the Bengals, as well as a win over the Texans earlier this month. Meanwhile, Miami wasn’t hit with a single penalty in a September win over Indy, as well as last week against the Steelers.
To put that sort of smart, disciplined play into proper perspective, there are teams like the Buccaneers (106), Seahawks (104) and Rams (100) that already are into triple digits when it comes to total penalties. Tampa Bay leads the league with 1,000 penalty yards, while Seattle is close behind at 966.
In truth, through the first 13 games, it’s been a good season for New England when it comes to penalties. Through 13 games last season, the Patriots had been hit with 79 penalties for a total of 680 yards. In the same span in 2011 (the first 13 games of the year), the Patriots had 74 penalties and 658 yards. While they won’t set the regular-season mark under Bill Belichick for fewest penalties and least penalty yardage — that came in 2008 with 57 penalties and 501 yards — this year’s total represents nearly a 20 percent reduction in penalties and penalty yardage from the previous two seasons.
“It’s just about playing smart football,” said defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich, who has been flagged for just one penalty this year and two dating back to the start of the 2012 season. “You can’t win football games and expect to win games by having a lot of penalties. It just comes down to basic fundamentals. If you’re a defense, you’re trying to do your best to stay onsides and not jump off — that’s huge for the D-line. Giving up free five-yard plays every time, that hurts eventually.”
The only positional grouping for the Patriots that hasn’t been flagged over the course of the first 13 games of the season is the running backs. In fact, the last two seasons, the running backs consistently have been one of the lowest-penalized positional groupings on the team. In 2012, they were the least-penalized group with two penalties and five yards, and in 2011 they had one penalty for five yards.
At the other end of the spectrum, the cornerbacks have been hit with 128 yards worth of penalties, including a team-high six for Aqib Talib. That high yardage total is no surprise — with pass interference and defensive holding calls coming into play, cornerbacks are the most likely position to rack up higher penalty yardage. (To that point, this year the Patriots have been hit with six defensive holding penalties — four of them against Talib — and four pass interference calls.)
|Tom Brady, Chandler Jones capture AFC honors||11.27.13 at 10:11 am ET|
FOXBORO — Wednesday was a good day in the awards department for the Patriots: Tom Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week, while Chandler Jones was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month.
Brady completed 34-of-50 passes for 344 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 107.4 passer rating against Denver. The 344 yards are Brady’s second-highest total in 2013, trailing only his 432-yard performance against Pittsburgh on Nov. 3. Brady totaled 1,072 passing yards and eight touchdowns in his three November games, averaging 357 yards and 2.7 touchdowns per game.
Jones registered 16 total tackles and four sacks in the team’s three November games to push his season total to 10 ½ sacks. The Patriots have now had a player finish with 10 or more sacks in a season 15 times. Jones has 16 ½ sacks (6 in 2012 and 10 ½ in 2013) in his first two NFL seasons, which ranks third in team history for most sacks in a player’s first two seasons. Garin Veris had 21 and Chris Slade had 18 ½.
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|Chandler Jones loves the ‘guys that Bill Belichick has put on this team’||11.25.13 at 9:08 pm ET|
Sometimes it takes more than just pure toughness to get back into a game when all hope appears lost.
Chandler Jones reminded everyone of that Monday in the hours after he and the Patriots defense limited Peyton Manning to one second-half touchdown and held steady as Tom Brady got the team back in the game.
“I feel like it’s more than the mental toughness,” Jones told WEEI.com’s Chris Price. “It’s just the kind of guys that Bill Belichick has put on this team. I feel like we have guys that are willing to put 110 percent on every snap on every play. You can talk about Brandon Spikes. He had a great game. He went out there and he recovered a fumble. It’s certain things, just the camaraderie and the brotherhood and how we work so well together and that’s the progression you’re going to get.”
Jones was one of five defensive players to play all 90 snaps. Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Rob Ninkovich and Chris Jones) were the other four and are certainly among the “guys” to whom Jones was referring.
After playing 73 minutes of draining football, including a sack and six total tackles, what was the day after like?
“First thing I’ll say, I’m very sleepy, to be honest with you,” Jones said, after tweeting “goodnight!” at about 3 a.m. on Monday. “But I feel great to go out there and get a good win and to see our team battle like that for more than 60 minutes, actually. I looked at the snap count, we played 90 snaps defensively, so [inaudible] and have to keep moving forward.”
Does Jones feel good about where his team is right now with the post-Thanksgiving stretch looming?
“Personally, I feel like we have to take it one game at a time, one play at a time and try to execute and be perfect that one play or that one game – never look back, never look forward, just take it where you are now,” Jones said. “That’s my take on that.
“Just go – just keep going, don’t stop. No matter what the score is, just keep going. That should be the motto for everyone not just the rookies, but for any team and not just for our team. Any team that saw us play the other night, I’m pretty sure that there are other players that watched that game and it just goes to show don’t stop, just keep going.
“It was an emotional win but it’s over. I would say take some time off and celebrate but I celebrated it last night in my dreams when I was asleep. That’s about it and we’re moving on to Houston.”
|Chandler Jones on M&M: ‘I get a front-row seat to watch Tom Brady and this offense go to work’||11.04.13 at 1:09 pm ET|
Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Kyle Arrington joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about Sunday’s 55-31 win over the Steelers.
Jones, Arrington and the rest of the Pats defense did not need to be at their best as New England’s Tom Brady-led offense erupted for 55 points and 610 total yards on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
“I get a front row seat to watch Tom Brady and this offense go to work, and it’s fun,” Jones said.
Brady and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dueled as both threw for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns.
“[Roethlisberger is] tremendous, it’s almost like playing that backyard streetball,” Arrington said.
Although the defense did not have its best showing of the season, it stepped up when necessary. The Pats forced three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) and sacked Roethlisberger five times. Rookie defensive back Duron Harmon and safety Devin McCourty registered the interceptions, while defensive tackle Joe Vellano recovered the fumble.
“Fourth quarter, I think we did a great job of finishing the game. Offense did a tremendous job of helping us out,” Arrington said. “It was a great team effort yesterday.”
The defensive line once again performed admirably, as Jones led the way with two sacks. Jones continues to thrive in a versatile role that puts him as a traditional defensive end at times, and as an outside linebacker as well.
|Analysis: What does the trade for Isaac Sopoaga mean for Patriots?||10.29.13 at 4:24 pm ET|
The acquisition of defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga fills a glaring void in the middle of New England’s run defense that had been a problem since Vince Wilfork went down last month with an Achilles injury.
A 6-foot-2, 330-pound run stuffer in the Wilfork mold, the 32-year-old Sopoaga projects to be the man in the middle for the Patriots when it comes to stopping the run. The Hawaii product, who is in his 10th season in the league, is a big body whose speciality is clogging up the middle and occupying double teams. The 32-year-old, who has played with the 49ers (2004-2012) and Eagles (2013), has played some defensive tackle and nose tackle in his career. He has 226 career tackles and seven career sacks. (He’s also played a little fullback, lining up in the backfield for a couple of plays last year for the Niners.)
Considered a 3-4 nose tackle, Sopoaga figures to take some of the workload off youngsters Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, who had stepped up and played well in the wake of the injuries to Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, but now figure to work more in rotational situations (particularly Jones, who has shown a real nice ability to get after the passer). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England run more 3-4, at least until Kelly returns on a regular basis, with Sopoaga occupying the nose and Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at the defensive end spots.
The Patriots were extremely stout against the run over the first month-plus of the season — through the first four games, New England was 13th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, yielding an average of 105 yards per game on the ground. But over the last four weeks, they’ve given up 646 total rush yards to the Bengals, Saints, Jets and Dolphins — an average of 156.5 yards per game. Going into this weekend’s game against the Steelers, the Patriots are allowing 130.8 rushing yards per game, 31st in the league.
Financially, the Patriots aren’t taking a big hit, at least for 2013. Sopoaga signed 3-year deal with Eagles this year which called for him to make base salaries of $1 million in 2013, $3.75 million in 2014 and $3.5 million in 2015. (Those numbers could be adjusted down the road depending on how he takes to the New England system this year.) And the prospect of getting him for a draft pick smells of a relatively no-risk situation for the Patriots.
It marks the second consecutive year the Patriots pulled off a deadline deal — last year, New England acquired Aqib Talib at the deadline, and the cornerback has done a lot to transform the way the Patriots have played defense over the last year. If Sopoaga can come in and have even half the sort of impact defensively that Talib has shown over the last 12 months, New England will be very happy.
|Five thoughts on how Patriots might try to replace Vince Wilfork||09.30.13 at 7:14 am ET|
Five thoughts on what the Patriots might do after losing Vince Wilfork:
1. If Wilfork is indeed lost for a serious stretch, the Patriots could make the shift to a three-man defensive front, utilizing Tommy Kelly on the nose and Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as defensive ends. Kelly does have some positional versatility in that area, but in the past, he hasn’t sounded all that crazy about the idea of working as a nose tackle in the 3-4. It remains to be seen if he’d change his tune now that he’s here in New England, but it doesn’t seem like a realistic, long-term possibility. It would present the intriguing possibility of the Patriots — who have played a TON of nickel through the first four games — to go with some sort of 3-3-5 scheme as opposed to the 4-2-5 which they’ve favored to this point. That could make for some interesting personnel combinations, and also open the door for more playing time for linebacker Brandon Spikes.
One short-term possibility could be the increased use of Jones as a defensive tackle — the Patriots shifted the Syracuse product down from the defensive end spot on a number of occasions over the first four games in hopes of creating chaos on the interior for guards and centers, and the long and lean Jones has done well in that role. (Rookie Michael Buchanan filled Jones’ spot at defensive end.) However, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jones is lighter than your usual defensive tackle, and so it’s questionable how he’d be able to hold up against the run on a consistent basis. But for 10-15 snaps a game, it remains a distinct possibility.
2. The Patriots could go out and sign someone to serve as an extra defensive tackle. There are several veteran free agents who are still in the market — frankly, it’s just a matter of determining who still has some tread on their tires and who is done. Casey Hampton and Sione Po’uha are two guys who certainly fit the mold as space-eating defensive tackles who are still available, but you’d have to gauge their interest in a return to the NFL even before you discussed the possibility of a workout.
3. Interestingly, several of the guys who are out there have connections to New England. Richard Seymour, Ron Brace and Kyle Love are three free agent possibilities. (Given the history between the two sides, it might be a bit of a longshot to say Seymour would return to New England. But you never know.) A second-round pick out of Boston College in 2009, Brace was considered a bit of an underachiever in his stint with the Patriots, and was cut loose late last year. And Love was released this past May after it was revealed he had Type-2 diabetes. He was quickly claimed by the Jags, but was a victim of the final round of cuts before the start of the season. The 25-year-old has had workouts with the Niners and Seahawks since the season began, but hasn’t hooked on with any other team to this point. Nicknamed “Mini V” because of his playing style and his unabashed love for Wilfork, he’d be an intriguing possibility if everything was equal. There’s always the possibility of a trade, but that market is unclear, at least at this point in the season.
4. The Patriots do have some possibilities currently on the roster, including Chris Jones and Joe Vellano. The 6-foot-2, 306-pound Jones, a sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green who was picked up off waivers from the Texans earlier this month, was pressed into service Sunday night when Kelly was out for a spell. He teamed with Vellano, a 6-foot-2,
200- 300-pounder out of Maryland who played well in spot duty through the first four games of the season. (Vellano had his first sack of the year Sunday night when he busted through the line in the second half and took down Matt Ryan.) In addition, two practice squad possibilities are A.J. Francis, a former college teammate of Vellano who checks in at 6-foot-5 and 316 pounds who was added from the Dolphins earlier this month, as well as Marcus Forston, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive tackle who has spent a year in the system (most of the time working as a practice squad guy) learning at the foot of fellow Miami product Wilfork.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Patriots don’t need to do anything. In a series of Tweets early Monday morning, Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders made an interesting case for standing pat, saying that other teams have done as much in the past when they’ve lost a comparable defensive tackle, and the difference has been negligible.
5. The Patriots do have a couple of guys who might be able to fill the spot, but their hands are tied, at least for the next few weeks. At 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, Armond Armstead is a pass rushing lineman who is more of a defensive end than tackle, but does have some positional versatility and could kick inside. However, the former CFL sack king is currently on the reserve/NFI list because of a medical issue (surgery for an infection), and is eligible to return to action in a few weeks. In addition, Cory Grissom, a rookie defensive tackle out of South Florida who was placed on IR this summer and will be out for the entire 2013 season.
|Chandler Jones: ‘Hopefully we can just keep doing that every week’||09.22.13 at 10:09 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Sunday’s 23-3 win over the Buccaneers may have been the Patriots’ best performance yet as they didn’t allow a touchdown for the first time all season and kept the Bucs off the scoreboard for the final 46 minutes, 47 seconds of game action. The defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown since there were just over five minutes left in the third quarter against the Jets on Sept. 12.
“It felt good,” defensive end Chandler Jones said of keeping the Bucs out of the end zone. “It felt really good as a defense and hopefully we can just keep that going. You know, it felt good. We held their offense down to a few points today, and hopefully we can just keep doing that every week.”
Against the Jets it was the secondary leading the way as they forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, but Sunday it was the front-seven, as they combined to hold Buccaneers star running back Doug Martin to just 88 yards rushing, this after a 144-yard performance in Week 2 against the Saints. They also sacked Freeman three times and between the second and third quarters allowed the Bucs across midfield twice.
“We’re doing good as a defense overall, not just the [defensive] line,” said Jones, who had one of the three sacks. “Those sacks, a lot of the stuff you don’t see, a lot of those sacks are coverage sacks. Our secondary is doing an outstanding job of jamming receivers up or just covering guys up and the quarterback has no one to throw to.”
The game plan against the Bucs was much different from last week as the team stayed away from their newly unveiled 4-2-5 scheme, primarily because there was more of a focus on stopping the run. This allowed their line backing core to shine as Jerod Mayo led the way with nine tackles, followed by Brandon Spikes with seven. Second-year player Dont’a Hightower also had a strong game finishing with three tackles.
The defense also extended their streak of forcing a turnover in 30 straight games with Aqib Talib’s interception at the end of the second quarter, which set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal as time expired in the first half. It was Talib’s third interception of the season.
“We had a good idea of the concepts they like to run in the two-minute [drill] before the end of the half,” Talib said. “[Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia] called the perfect play for what they like to do and we made the play.”
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