|What we learned Sunday: J.J. Watt is a beast, Steve Smith is awesome and Adam Vinatieri is ageless||09.28.14 at 8:55 pm ET|
With the Patriots set to play Monday night, here’s a quick look at what we learned around the league Sunday, mostly from a New England perspective.
1. J.J. Watt could be an MVP.
Remarkably, the last defensive player to win MVP was Lawrence Taylor in 1986, but if he continues on his current path, Houston’s J.J. Watt could certainly make a case to be the next defensive player to take home the honor. The defensive lineman had six quarterback hurries and a pass defense before picking off an EJ Manuel pass and rumbling 80 yards for the pick-six to help lift the Texans past the Bills.
Through the first three games, the Patriots offense has five touchdowns. Watt has two of his own this year, and is just the second player since the merger with a receive touchdown and interception in the same season. (Ex-Pats linebacker and current Houston assistant Mike Vrabel was the first to turn the trick back in 2005.)
2. EJ Manuel is apparently suffering from a crisis of confidence. The second-year Buffalo quarterback was apparently pretty shaken in the wake of Sunday’s loss to the Texans. Manuel ended the day 21-for-44 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Texans as the Bills lost their second straight to fall to 2-2 on the young season. To be fair, things were a little shaky around Manuel, given the fact that his offensive line was struggling, there were a couple of key drops and the fire-breathing monster known as Watt was on the other side of the ball. Coach Doug Marrone said after the game there were no plans to hand the reins to backup Kyle Orton, but the idea of jumpstarting the offense with a switch at quarterback has to be entering the minds of the Buffalo coaching staff.
3. Maybe the Dolphins weren’t as dysfunctional as we thought. The week of back-and-forth between Miami coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill ended Sunday in London, where the Dolphins absolutely crushed the Raiders, 38-14, at Wembley Stadium. Tannehill, who engaged in a weird public exchange with his coach after Philbin refused to name him the starter in the media, was an impressive 23-for-31 for 278 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Meanwhile, the Raiders, who looked good last week when they came to Foxboro and put a scare in the Patriots, were a mess. Their issues were compounded by the fact that rookie quarterback Derek Carr left the game in the third quarter, and told the media after the game that he has a high ankle sprain and sprained MCL. Yikes.
4. The Jets are in trouble. New York struggled at home against the Lions, and it was another bad outing for quarterback Geno Smith, who was 17-for-33 for 209 yards, one touchdown and one pick in a 24-17 loss to Detroit. After the game, Rex Ryan said he was standing by Smith. “I’m confident in Geno. If Geno’s healthy, then Geno Smith will start,” Ryan told reporters after the game. “I’m not gonna replace him. I feel good about Geno, and again, I think he’s gonna get it turned. He’s a tough, resilient young man, and I think we’re gonna win.” Meanwhile, it doesn’t sound like Jets fans are going to stand by Geno.
Geno Smith yelled “F— You” to a fan who was taunting him as he walked off the field. ‘ Steve Overmyer (@OvermyerTV) September 28, 2014
Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson told reporters after the game that fans who were booing Smith should “shut up.” Yikes.
5. Not everyone needs a punter.
Sunday’s game between the Packers and Bears was either the second or third game in NFL history without a punt. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns in the 38-17 win over Chicago. The Packers, who had been suffering from offensive inconsistency over the course of the first three games of the year, scored on their first six possessions and finished with 358 total yards on the way to their fifth consecutive victory at Soldier Field. It was a bit of a redemption for Rodgers, who told Green Bay fans to “R-E-L-A-X” this week when they started worrying about the Packers‘ 1-2 start.
6. No one knows what to make of the Steelers.
There are weeks where the Steelers look ready to crush all those who come before them. Then, there are occasions like Sunday, where they melt down in the fourth quarter and end up losing a game to a Tampa Bay team ‘¦ that lost to the Falcons by six touchdowns a week ago. Mike Glennon hit Vincent Jackson with the game-winner with six seconds left on the way to a shocking 27-24 win over host Pittsburgh. The Steelers, who were poised to move to 3-1 with the win, fell back to .500 with the surprising last-second loss. (Pittsburgh committed a whopping 13 penalties for 125 yards.)
7. Steve Smith is never not awesome.
As promised, the gritty receiver one-upped his old team. The former Panther lit up Carolina for seven catches — including an awesome reception on a tipped ball he ended up taking for a touchdown — for 139 yards and a pair of scores on the way to a 38-10 win over the Panthers. There wasn’t “blood and guts” like he promised, but Smith, who played 13 seasons in Carolina before he was cut in the offseason, clearly enjoyed making his old team eat a little crow after the contest. “I’m 35 years old and I ran by those guys like they were schoolyard kids,” the veteran said after the game. Meanwhile, while we were all upset about the state of the Panthers’ offense, it’s worth noting that Carolina has yielded 75 points in two games.
I want to know what this kid is thinking.
8. Adam Vinatieri is some sort of superhuman.
It’s remarkable to think that the former Patriots kicker is now in his ninth season in Indy, and while the 41-year-old isn’t the kicker he once was, he’s still money when it comes to working extra points and field goals. Through four games, he’s 8-for-8 on field goal attempts and 16-for-16 on extra-point attempts, including a pair of field goals and five extra points Sunday in the 41-17 win over the Titans.
Oh, and this happened 18 years ago.
9. Chip Kelly can feel Bill Belichick‘s pain.
Philly went West on Sunday and nearly knocked off the Niners, despite the fact that the Eagles continue to have serious offensive line issues. Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis went down in Week 1, and with starting right tackle Lane Johnson already serving a four-game suspension, things got even worse when starting center Jason Kelce went down last week with a sports hernia. Despite those woes, Philly nearly pulled off the upset, despite the fact that the Eagles’ offense didn’t pass midfield until the fourth quarter and it had just two more first downs (five) than turnovers (three) late in the third quarter. Things should get better next week when Johnson is eligible to return from his ban, but the fact that Kelce and Mathis won’t be back until the second half of the season should provide some interesting phone conversation between BFF’s Kelly and Belichick when it comes to commiserating about their woes.
10. The Patriots are in first place.
The Bills’ loss to the Texans in Houston allowed the 2-1 Patriots to sneak into first place in the AFC East.
|Option play: Bill Belichick, Patriots ready for Miami’s new-look offense||09.02.14 at 2:40 pm ET|
The Patriots will be facing a new offensive coordinator on Sunday, as Bill Lazor is in his first season as OC with the Dolphins. Lazor, who served as the quarterbacks coach in Philly last season, figures to bring a slice of the uptempo style that Chip Kelly and the Eagles delivered last season.
So how do you prepare for a new OC when there’s little meaningful film of his schemes as a coordinator at the NFL level? Bill Belichick said Tuesday that the Patriots have already tried to get a sense of the new-look Miami offense by taking a look back at the uptempo Philly offense last year.
“I would say that they look very similar to the way the Eagles look offensively; different than what Miami looked like last year,” Belichick said of the Dolphins. “I’d say it’s quite substantial.”
Substantial might be an understatement. Measured situation-neutral offensive pace – a formula from the site Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’s intentions when it comes to offensive pace – the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL.
That contrasts with the speed of Philly’s offense: under Kelly last year, the Eagles were the fastest team in the league, getting off a play once every 23.88 seconds.
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|Bill Belichick: Eagles joint practices ‘as productive as any’||08.17.14 at 12:00 pm ET|
By all accounts it was a good week of joint practices and second preseason game for the Patriots and Eagles.
You know it really was a good week when Bill Belichick is calling it the best week of joint practices he’s ever had in four years of holding them.
“The practices and the game combined, I would say probably were as productive as any week we’ve had with any team in training camp since we’ve been doing this,” Belichick said during Saturday’s conference call.
It was the second year of joint practices between the Patriots and Eagles. Belichick and Eagles coach Chip Kelly have known eachother since Kelly was a coach at the University of New Hampshire. The two didn’t change much from last year’s week in Philadelphia practice plan wise.
“Coach Kelly and his staff and the Eagles and their players — it was a real good working environment that was productive and competitive, but not over the top where anybody was really put in any unnecessary risk or any type of after the whistle or cheap shots or anything like that. It was really good,” said Belichick.
The Patriots started the somewhat new phase of joint practices in the league in 2010 when they had them with the Saints and Falcons. In 2012 they did them again with the Saints and added the Buccaneers. Last year the Buccaneers came to Foxboro and the Patriots went to Philadelphia. Finally this year, the Patriots were in Washington last week before welcoming the Eagles. Belichick usually holds them with other coaches in the league he is familiar with and respects, including Greg Schiano, Mike Smith, Sean Payton and last week Jay Gruden.
Many players and coaches speak to the value of the sessions as often times teams get tired of going up against the same players on their own team day-after-day. It also gives teams a chance to go against different schemes that their own team may not use on a consistent basis.
Kelly agreed with Belichick that it was a beneficial week — even with the Eagles losing 42-35 on Friday night.
|Darrelle Revis says despite not being tested in debut, he was ‘ready at all times’||08.16.14 at 12:52 am ET|
FOXBORO — It wasn’t much of a test for a preseason debut.
Darrelle Revis suited up like he did against the Redskins the week before but this time he actually stepped on the field for game action. He might as well not have.
Whether it was his reputation as the game’s best shut-down corner or wanting simply to test other parts of their offense, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles didn’t challenge Revis all night long in a 42-35 Patriots’ win that evened New England’s preseason record at 1-1.
With Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper out, Revis was matched up against Arrelious Benn. Revis played on Philadelphia’s first three series (the first series was one play and a turnover) and not a single pass was thrown to Benn.
“I don’t know what their game plan is,” Revis said. “My thing is just to go out there and do my job. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. But you always have to be ready at all times.”
Perhaps just as impressive is that for all the penalties that were called against both secondaries, not a single yellow cloth landed on Revis Island.
“It’s a new rule in 2014 that they’re emphasizing about illegal contact down the field on plays with the wide receiver and the defensive backs,” Revis said. “Like I said before, we have to do the best that we can by being comfortable with the new rules and trying to do the right things out there on the field. I don’t know how many penalties it was. It was a lot, just watching the game and going through it, but I don’t know. It was a lot, but at the same time, the refs are going to call what they see.”
Of course to Revis, it’s all about the secondary getting better as a unit, with he and Devin McCourty leading the charge. Malcolm Butler started opposite Revis and continued to show progress, stripping a receiver in the second half and recovering the ball. Kyle Arrington even got the starting nod at safety with McCourty.
“We’re getting better every week,” Revis said. “We’re trying to reach our peak by the time Week 1 comes around. We’ve been working hard and we’ve made a lot of great plays out there today on defense so those are the types of things we are looking for. The coaches always stress turnovers to us so we’re just trying to do a good job of that and tonight we did.”
|Chip Kelly reflects on meeting Bill Belichick for the first time, returning home to New England||08.14.14 at 6:00 am ET|
FOXBORO — It’s been a homecoming week for Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
The former Oregon and University of New Hampshire coach and a New Hampshire native to this day — returned back to New England this week for the Eagles’ joint practices and Friday’s preseason game with the Patriots. Kelly coached at New Hampshire from 1994-2006 with roles varying from running backs coach, offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. Even though he’s returning home, the 50-year-old isn’t thinking of his return to New England as anything less than a business trip.
“We’re here to go to work and it’s a little bit of a ways away, but a couple people — a couple former players of mine at New Hampshire I saw yesterday after practice,” Kelly said. “That part was good, but it’s really a business trip for us getting ready to prepare against a really good team — giving ourselves an opportunity to test ourselves against an outstanding opponent. We’re kind of looking at it from that stand point.”
Kelly’s relationship with Bill Belichick goes back to his time with the Wildcats when the UNH staff would come down to check out Patriots practices. He’s always valued his time spent with Belichick.
“When he was coaching here and I was the coach at New Hampshire I used to come down and visit practice,” Kelly said of the first time he met Belichick. “He was very gracious — he’s always been really gracious to the local college coaches — they were always open for us to come in and watch and visit. In the NFL they start camp a little bit earlier than colleges so you get a chance to come down for that last week of July and first couple days of camp. At that time I think they were down at Bryant [University], but he’s been always been very gracious and always great at this time being able to share football knowledge.”
Even though he’s all business this week, Kelly has a soft spot for the place he calls home and where he grew up — Dover, New Hampshire.
‘That’s where you grow up, it’s your family,” Kelly said. “I think everyone does that — I don’t know many people that move away or something like that — there is always a place in your heart where you grew up and that you’re a part of. I’m fortunate that I get a chance to go home — my family still lives up there and I have a lot of really, really good friends there that I grew up with and I think that’s foundations we all built upon.”
|Patriots prepared for joint practices with Eagles||08.12.14 at 11:19 am ET|
The Patriots and the Eagles will come together for a series of joint practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the two teams will clash in Friday’s preseason contest at Gillette Stadium.
Joint practices have become the norm for Bill Belichick and the Patriots — they spent last week with the Redskins prior to their game in D.C. on Thursday night, and New England and Philadelphia met before their preseason contest last year. Based on their experiences with the joint practices in 2013, both Belichick and Eagles coach Chip Kelly expect the week together to be a productive one.
“I thought it was great,” Belichick said of last year’s sessions with Philly. “Chip and I talked about [how] we did a lot of situation work, and Chip and I talked about the things we felt like our teams needed, and I think we were able to accomplish those in the practice sessions. A lot of young guys played in the game. I’m sure it’ll be that way again this week. But practice sessions, we’ve got a lot of experienced players playing against each other in situational play, and I think that will serve us well and did serve us well last year.”
“We’ll go Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday with the Patriots,” Kelly said earlier this week. “Usually, we’re on our own on the day before the game, but we did it last year and did a lot of situational work with them. There will be a lot of physical play on Tuesday and Wednesday. There are a lot of corrections that can be made from [our first] game against the Bears. That’s what we’re trying to get accomplished in the next few days.”
Two important things to keep an eye on: one, the two teams certainly aren’t afraid to square off with each other — in last year’s joint practices, cornerback Cary Williams was tossed from practice following a fight, and some Eagles have said they don’t plan on being as accommodating this year as they were last year. And against the backdrop of Williams’ recent comments about the Patriots, there could certainly be some extracurricular activities involving the two teams. And two, the referees will be present for the sessions — and encouraged to throw flags — as both teams continue to get up to speed on the new points of emphasis when it comes to defensive holding and illegal contact.
|AFC East becoming fast, furious offensive division||06.13.14 at 12:07 am ET|
Looking for fast football? Then the AFC East may be your cup of tea in 2014.
The Dolphins are making a lot of noise this season about pushing the pace for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they have imported Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor as their new offensive coordinator. And given the fact that Lazor was with Chip Kelly and the record-setting Philadelphia offense in 2013, there are bound to be comparisons to what Kelly and Philly did.
“It’s reminiscent of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, with the tempo and style,” said one Dolphins player who asked not to be named when he was quizzed about the look of Miami’s offense this spring. “There are some West Coast offense concepts. … Some shotgun, some under center. They’ve discussed having both no-huddle and huddle. It’s fast tempo.”
For what it’s worth, Miami has been a little quicker than the average NFL team over the last two years under Joe Philbin. Measured using situation-neutral offensive pace — a formula from the site Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’s intentions when it comes to offensive pace — the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL.
But a Kelly-style overhaul would certainly take things to the next level, and could jump start a Miami offense that had been bogged down at times the last few seasons under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
“Bill has done an excellent job,” Philbin said of Lazor’s work in a radio interview in April. “We’re going to be stressing the tempo of our offense, the play speed.”
Of course, when it comes to the AFC East, fast football is certainly nothing new, and more often than not the uptempo approach starts with New England. While last year’s Patriots eased off the uptempo style that helped to define them offensively over the previous two seasons, New England still was faster than most of the rest of the league in 2013. Using situation-neutral offensive pace, the Patriots ran one play every 26.59 seconds last season, the third-highest rate in the NFL. Only Philadelphia (23.88) and Buffalo (24.92) were faster.
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