|Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Niners||11.19.16 at 12:35 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know for this Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Niners at Levi’s Stadium.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
The numbers are really super simple: the Niners run defense is apocalyptically bad, and a sizable reason why San Francisco is allowing a league-worse 31.4 points per game. The Niners allow an average of 180.4 rushing yards per game. In four of their nine contests this year, San Francisco’s opponents have run for 190 yards or more on the ground, with the high-water mark (or low-water mark, depending on your perspective) coming when the Bills had 313 rushing yards in one game earlier this season. The numbers were better last week against Arizona, as the Cards could only muster 80 yards on the ground in a narrow win. (The San Francisco run defense narrowly avoided the honor of being the first team in NFL history to avoid yielding 100 rushing yards or more in seven straight games.) Bill Belichick said earlier this week that the biggest difference between that game and the previous eight was the fact that the Niners did a better job tackling. On the other side, LeGarrette Blount (182 carries, 678 yards, a league-leading 12 TDs) is going to get the bulk of the carries for New England, and given the breakdown, if he doesn’t get the ball 20-plus times, something is either wrong with Blount or the New England coaching staff has gotten too cute and tried to overthink things. The wild card here is Dion Lewis, who made the trip and could see his first action of the year. If he does see playing time, it might be wise to temper expectations (at least initially) for a few reasons, including the fact the Patriots still have a placeholder in James White. Regardless, this matchup is a big edge for New England.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
The Patriots’ passing game is one of the best in the league; even with Tom Brady missing the first four games of the season, New England is at or near the top of NFL in most major passing categories. Brady (121-for-166, 73 percent, 1,635 yards, 12 TDs, 1 INT, 125.5 passer rating) won’t have Rob Gronkowski in the lineup Sunday, so expect Martellus Bennett (38 catches, 47 targets, 504 yards, 4 TDs) to go wire-to-wire in this one. In addition, Julian Edelman (48 catches, 71 targets, 451 yards, 1 TD) will see an uptick in work for a few reasons, not the least of which is that the Niners are bad at stopping No. 1 receivers. (More on that shortly.) And no Chris Hogan will mean more work for either Danny Amendola (17 catches, 21 targets, 203 yards, 3 TDs) or Malcolm Mitchell (7 catches, 15 targets, 95 yards) as the best deep threat.
On the other side of the ball, the Niners are better against the pass than they are against the run, allowing an average of 249 passing yards per contest (14th in the league). Using some Football Outsiders’ numbers, they have some very specific strengths and weakness: San Francisco is one of the best teams in the league in defending tight ends (eighth-best, per FO), but one of the worst at slowing No. 1 wide receivers (31st, per FO), and they’re not great at defending No. 2 receivers (23rd). We know the Patriots are going to tweak their offense because Gronkowski won’t be on the field, but this could mean a bigger game than usual for the likes of Edelman and Amendola.
|Bill Belichick sounds ominous warning about Chip Kelly’s 49ers: Remember last year vs. Eagles||11.16.16 at 11:03 am ET|
FOXBORO — The master motivator is at it again.
Bill Belichick takes his Patriots team across the country this week to battle a woeful 49ers team that has lost eight straight after winning its season opener against the Rams.
The Patriots were in almost the same position last year. They were coming off their first loss of the season in Denver. They were prohibitive two touchdown favorites against the Eagles and even jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Then they got cute. They tried a Nate Ebner onside kick that they failed to recover. The Patriots gave up 35 unanswered points to an Eagles team that had been blown out in its previous two games, 90-31.
The coach: Chip Kelly, the same guy that will be calling the plays for the 49ers this Sunday.
“I know a lot of people were talking about the same thing last year when the Eagles had lost a couple games by four touchdowns and coming in here with a poor record,” Belichick recalled Wednesday. “And they come in here and hammered us. Don’t put too much credence in any of what’s happened [in 8-game skid]. I think the way they played last week against Arizona is very indicative of their talent level and their ability to do things right against a good team.”
As for San Francisco’s 8-game losing streak?
“I think they’re getting better. You can see them getting better every week,” Belichick said. “The last two weeks, they’ve created a lot of explosive plays on offense, more than they’ve had.”
Indeed, the 49ers battled back from a 20-10 hole to tie the game on a Colin Kaepernick run around the left side to tie the game late in the fourth. The Cardinals won the game on a field goal at the final gun.
|5 things to know about 49ers: Patriots will travel cross-country to meet struggling San Francisco||11.15.16 at 6:27 pm ET|
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.
|Bill Belichick calls firing of Chip Kelly ‘really disappointing’||12.31.15 at 11:06 am ET|
FOXBORO — When it comes to other coaches in the NFL, Bill Belichick is a company guy.
He made that clear Thursday when he was asked if he pays attention to the coaching changes around the NFL at this time of year.
“I would say it’s really disappointing,” Belichick began. “Chip Kelly, to me, is a really good football coach and he does a great job. I think he’s done a good job with that team. It’s disappointing to see. [Like] Josh [McDaniels] in Denver, there’s a lot of examples. But pretty much everybody’s on a one-year contract in this league.”
On Tuesday evening, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, a Brookline native, “released” Kelly as the head coach, despite consecutive 10-win seasons to start his era in South Philly.
But a disastrous six-win season this year, capped off by a 38-24 home loss to the Redskins last Saturday that eliminated Philadelphia, was the final straw for the Eagles owner.
There was drama in Philadelphia that began with three straight losses to Miami (at home), Tampa Bay (home) and at Detroit on Thanksgiving day. The Eagles blew a 16-3 lead at home to the Dolphins before allowing 45 points apiece in losses to the Bucs and Lions.
They followed that up with a shocking 35-28 win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium But even that win came with high drama. On the plane back from Providence, reports leaked that DeMarco Murray had a discussion with Lurie. Those reports led to speculation that Murray and other players were going over Kelly’s head and complaining about the way they were being used. A win over LeSean McCoy in Philly rekindled playoff hopes. But after Saturday’s loss against Washington, a game in which Jason Peters reportedly asked out, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (who returned a pick-6 against Tom Brady) said there has to be a change in the way players are being coached.
Belichick had a significantly different perspective.
|Scouting Report: What you have to know about Eagles-Patriots||12.05.15 at 1:20 pm ET|
Here’s what you have to know when it comes to Sunday’s game between the Eagles (4-7) and Patriots (10-1) at Gillette Stadium:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
As we stated here and here, if there’s a week for the occasionally inconsistent New England running game to get back on track, it’s Sunday against the Eagles. After an OK start, Philly has really struggled to hold back opposing ballcarriers over the last five games. In that stretch, the Eagles have allowed an average of 165.6 rushing yards per contest. That includes two games where opponents ran for more than 200 yards on Philly (Tampa Bay had 283 yards on the ground, while Carolina had 204 rushing yards). On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have failed to hit 100 yards on the ground as a team in any of their 11 games, and have averaged 78.9 rushing yards per game in the last six weeks. As a team, the Patriots are 29th in the league for the season, averaging 87.2 rushing yards per game. LeGarrette Blount (142 carries, 596 rushing yards, 6 TDs), Brandon Bolden (16 carries, 37 yards) and James White (13 carries, 35 yards) will likely see the bulk of the work, with Trey Williams working his way into the mix if he gets up to speed fast enough. Through 11 games, the Patriots are on pace to have their least-productive season when it comes to running the ball since 2000. A strong game against a woeful Philly run defense from the likes of Blount and Bolden will get things pointed in the right direction.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
There’s still some uncertainty about just who is going to be available to Tom Brady (65 percent completion rate, 3,600 yards, 28 TDs, 4 INTs, 106.7 passer rating) and the Patriots passing game on Sunday. We know Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman remain sidelined, but it sounds like Danny Amendola (49 catches, 60 targets, 520 yards, 2 TDs) is at least going to try and give it a go. That would mean a combination of Amendola, Brandon LaFell (21 catches, 47 targets, 342 yards) and Scott Chandler (19 catches, 34 targets, 198 yards, 3 TDs) would comprise the primary targets for Brady in the passing game, with the likes of Bolden (9 catches, 13 targets, 125 yards, 2 TDs), White (12 catches, 19 targets, 195 yards) and Keshawn Martin (7 catches, 8 targets, 103 yards, 1 TD) all mixed in offering support. The Eagles have been average at best when it comes to slowing the pass, having allowed an average of 253 passing yards per game (20th in the league). According to Football Outsiders, Philly has been poor at slowing No. 1 receivers (the Eagles are 31st in the league), while its defense against running backs in the passing game is one of the best around (fourth-best in the NFL). If the Patriots can lean on Amendola avoid any more injuries to their skill position players, he might be in line for a healthy amount of work Sunday against Philly. (One more thing: expect Brady to look for Eagles rookie cornerback Eric Rowe, who will get the start with Nolan Carroll out with an ankle injury. Rowe was flambeed on Thanksgiving against Calvin Johnson, who had a pair of touchdowns in Detroit’s win.)
|Bill Belichick respects Chip Kelly’s offense: ‘It’s a really explosive group’||12.02.15 at 7:57 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Despite what they’ve shown in two consecutive embarrassing blowing losses, the Philadelphia Eagles are a team to be taken seriously.
Bill Belichick is particularly respectful of an offense that, thanks to Chip Kelly’s influence, has plenty of offensive options spread throughout the roster.
The Eagles have Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford as quarterback options. They have Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Miles Austin. Bradford is coming off a shoulder injury and could start this week at Gillette Stadium. They have one of the most reliable tight ends in the game in Brent Celek. They have Zach Ertz behind Celek. And they have last year’s leading rusher in Demarco Murray.
“It’s a really explosive group,” Belichick said. “They’ve got great backs, tight ends are really productive, receivers are productive and they’ve got two good quarterbacks. We played against [Sam] Bradford and we played against [Mark] Sanchez and practiced against Sanchez last year. They really have two starting quarterbacks, they have really three starting running backs, a couple starting tight ends and multiple skill players at receiver, so they can really put two offensive skill groups out there on two different fields and be pretty good. That’s a big challenge for us and they’re very talented offensively. They can score from anywhere on the field in one or two plays, so it’s just hard to keep them contained.”
The problem for Philly in the last two weeks, a 45-17 home loss to Tampa Bay and a 45-14 embarrassment to the Lions on Thanksgiving, has been their defense, which hasn’t given the offense a chance to get started. But if it does, Belichick thinks Bradford or Sanchez is fully capable of taking advantage of numerous weapons. The Eagles are averaging 247 yards passing per game, ranking them sixth in the NFC and in the middle of the pack of the NFL.
“They run their offense. Sanchez has kept the ball a couple times, which I don’t think that’s really Bradford’s thing. A couple of those zone read keep plays but not a lot. I wouldn’t say that Mark is back there to lead the team in rushing or anything like that,” Belichick said Wednesday. “There are other quarterbacks that run more. He’s done it a couple times. I don’t think it’s something you see a lot of from Bradford. They both can run the offense.
“Really they have two starting quarterbacks. Both those payers have a lot of production in this league. They’ve won a lot of big games, they’ve played in a lot of games, they have a lot of experience. They’re fortunate they have great depth at that positon. There are a lot of teams that might not have one guy as good as the two they have.”
|5 things you have to know about Eagles: Chip Kelly on the hot seat as Philly comes to town||12.01.15 at 3:58 pm ET|
Five things you have to know about the Eagles, who visit Foxboro Sunday for a date with the Patriots.
1. Head coach Chip Kelly is feeling the heat.
It’s been tough sledding the last month-plus for Kelly, who has seen his team lose four of their last five, with the last three defeats by a combined score of 110-50 against three teams that won’t come anywhere near the playoffs. (If it weren’t for the free-falling Cowboys, the 4-7 Eagles would be basement-dwellers in the pathetic NFC East.) As a result, it’s easy to see why the coach is under fire. Even after buying himself some goodwill with back-to-back 10-6 seasons in his first two years at the helm in Philly, the mess that the 2015 season has become for him and his team have people calling for his removal. Part of that is that after winning control of personnel decisions in the offseason and adding the likes of Sam Bradford, Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell and Miles Austin, the majority of his additions have had bad years. As a result, it’s not premature to say that, starting with this weekend against the Patriots, Kelly begins a five-game stretch where he could very well be coaching for his job.
2. No one is sure what the Eagles are going to do at quarterback right now.
The Philadelphia quarterback situation is up in the air: there’s a school of thought that after suffering a concussion and a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder earlier in the year against the Dolphins, Sam Bradford (64 percent completion rate, 2,297 passing yards, 11 TDs, 10 INTs, passer rating of 82.4) has rehabbed enough to a point where he would return to the starting lineup against the Patriots. (Early reports out of Philly seem to indicate that Bradford will be a go against New England.) Bradford hasn’t been a Pro Bowler, but there was some improvement shown over the course of the season until the injury against Miami. With Bradford on the sidelines, backup Mark Sanchez (65 percent completion rate, 616 passing yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs, passer rating of 80.7) has struggled mightily, turning the ball over five times and throwing only four touchdowns. Whoever has been the quarterback hasn’t gotten much help from the ground game: DeMarco Murray (155 carries, 545 rushing yards, 4 TDs, 3.5 yards per carry) has been underwhelming at best for the Eagles in his first season in Philly. Meanwhile, Ryan Matthews (75 carries, 427 rushing yards, 5 TDs, 5.7 YPC) and third-down back Darren Sproles (47 carries, 168 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3.6 YPC) offer some support out of the backfield.
3. On paper, they appear to have a deep passing game.
It’s debatable who has the capability to get the ball to them, but the fact that the Eagles have six guys with 20 or more catches is worth noting. It’s a group led by wide receiver Jordan Matthews (58 catches, 89 targets, 625 yards, 3 TDs), but it’s a collection that also gets a ton of help from backs and tight ends. Murray (39 catches, 295 receiving yards, 1 TD) and Sproles (36 catches, 58 targets, 258 receiving yards, 1 TD) have proven to be effective at times out of the backfield, while tight ends Zach Ertz (38 catches, 62 targets, 394 receiving yards) and Brent Celek (20 catches, 27 targets, 294 receiving yards, 3 TDs) are also part of a nice package of pass catchers.
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