|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.)
|Patriots cornerbacks rise to occasion in win over Broncos||11.25.13 at 3:47 am ET|
FOXBORO – Going into Sunday night’s game against Peyton Manning and the explosive Denver offense, much of the talk was about if the Patriots would be able to stop the Broncos passing attack with a depleted defense, especially in the secondary.
The Patriots already were without four starters on defense, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonso Dennard were banged up. Talib returned last week against Carolina after missing a month with a hip injury but didn’t look the same as he did earlier in the year, and Dennard had minor surgery on his meniscus just over a week ago, forcing him to miss the Carolina game. Both players were listed as questionable and were game-time decisions, but they did play and were part of a secondary that played a major role in the Patriots’ 34-31 overtime win.
The Broncos entered Sunday averaging an NFL-best 350.4 passing yards per game, but that didn’t mean anything to the Patriots, as they limited Manning to 150 yards on 19-of-36 passing with two touchdown passes and forced a crucial interception in the second half. It was Manning’s fewest passing yards as a member of the Broncos.
“They’re a tough offense to play against. It’s hard to hold them down yardage wise, hold them down point-wise, but I thought we hung in there and battled,” coach Bill Belichick said. “I thought our corners, they deserve a ton of credit. Talib, [Kyle] Arrington, Alfonso, they’re all, nobody is 100 percent in that locker room, they’re all banged up, they fought through it, just wanted to go out there and complete. Devin [McCourty], Duron [Harmon], then we have Marquice [Cole] at the end, jumped in there, Logan Ryan. Those guys, they just went out there and competed against a great group of receivers.”
The corners had challenging matchups, as Arrington lined up across from Wes Welker in the slot and Talib shadowed Demaryius Thomas the entire night. Arrington held Welker to just four catches for 31 yards, while Thomas finished with four receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown but didn’t make his first catch until the fourth quarter.
“We just tried to go out and make plays,” Talib said. “We tried to take it one play at a time, man. We take it from practice to the game, just one play at a time. [If you] mess up, just forget about it, on to the next play. That’s just how we try to play.”
|Rob Ninkovich on M&M: ‘It’s a blatant foul’||11.19.13 at 12:29 pm ET|
Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday, following Monday night’s controversial loss to the Panthers, and voiced his opinion on the non-call that ended the game.
Rob Gronkowski was impeded by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly in the end zone and a flag was thrown, but the officials determined the ball was not catchable and called off the penalty, giving Carolina a 24-20 victory.
“When you see a play like that — on the previous drive when Devin [McCourty] is holding his arms in the air and the tight end is pulling his arms to him and they call you for holding, that’s frustrating,” Ninkovich said. “And then when they throw a flag at the end of the game, you think, OK, it’s a blatant foul, the foul’s made, there’s a guy being [fouled], both arms are being wrapped around the receiver as the ball’s in the air, a foul’s a foul. No matter what it is, the ball’s there. It’s not like the ball’s 20 feet over his head or it lands on the 5-yard line or something. The ball’s there. … Anything within three feet of Gronk is a catchable ball.”
Ninkovich said the lack of an explanation on the field left the Patriots upset.
“That’s the frustrating part. You’re wanting to hear an explanation for why the flag was picked up and to clarify it or justify the reasoning behind it. The guy that threw the flag was the one that was standing right behind the ball, right there. And the side ref came over and said it wasn’t catchable. Anyone knows if you’re 20 yards away from the action, the ball might have looked not catchable, but when you’re right there — if you look at the replay, the ref that was right behind Gronk threw the flag.
“I don’t know. It’s a tough way to lose a game, especially when your offense does so well to get down to that point, and it’s an obvious foul. It should have been at least a five-yard penalty. If it wasn’t pass interference, it was defensive holding.”
That said, Ninkovich acknowledged that the Patriots had chances to win the game had they played better prior to that last play.
“There’s a ton of plays we could have done better, should have played better,” he said. “There’s always a handful of plays that change the game. I can think of three, four plays myself that defensively I could have done better and I should have not let the quarterback step up in the pocket. You’re always thinking about a certain play here or a certain play there. There’s never a perfect game, but at the end of the game, you want to feel good about what you did. I feel like we just had a bad taste in our mouth after that game. We should have definitely capitalized on our opportunities better.”
The Patriots are back in action Sunday night with a game against the Broncos, who are tied for the best record in the AFC at 9-1.
“We’re playing a big game. You’ve just got to turn the page on this last game here and move on from it,” Ninkovich said. “You can’t dwell on it and think about it during the week of preparation for Denver. We’re going to move on from it and try to learn from the mistakes that we made. It’s still a long season. We’ve got a lot of games to play. We’re still in a good position. We just have to continue to press on and improve and keep winning football games.”
Sunday night’s game will mark the return to Foxboro for Wes Welker, assuming he is recovered from his concussion suffered in Denver’s last game.
“I don’t think it will be any different. We’re just going to go out and play hard,” Ninkovich said. “We’ve got to prepare hard for Wes, he’s a great football player, we all know that. Again, just go out there and play just like it’s any other game. Just go after it. I’m still going to hit Wes like I hit any receiver. It will definitely be a fun game, a lot of excitement for this game.”
|Bill Belichick: We’re getting solid, productive play out of all our safeties||11.13.13 at 9:07 pm ET|
While there’s been plenty of attention paid to the work of Devin McCourty — who is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season through the first nine games of 2013 — Bill Belichick wants to make sure that the rest of the safeties get their fair share of attention.
On a conference call with the media on Tuesday, Belichick noted that it hasn’t only been McCourty who has stepped his game up. According to the coach, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson have all been “productive” to this point in the season.
“I think overall that we’ve had pretty solid play out of the five guys,” Belichick said. “Tavon and Nate have both missed a little bit of time during the season, but they’ve been good contributors for us in the kicking game and they’ve played a solid role for us there, and continue to, I’d say, work and get reps for us defensively, even though they haven’t had a lot of opportunity there.
“I think they’ve all been productive,” Belichick added. “Harmon has made a few plays on the ball, Devin, I think is having a real good year, Steve has been productive for us. I think that those guys have all worked hard, when they’ve been on the field they’ve all been solid contributors, and we’ve certainly had a lot less problems this year than we had last year, even the last couple of years, with balls getting thrown over our head in the middle of the field and things like that.”
Gregory suffered a thumb injury in the recent win over the Steelers, and was replaced in the lineup by the rookie Harmon. The Rutgers product responded with his second pick of the season.
“It was fun. Just going into the game in that type of atmosphere with the win on the line — it was a very close game when I went in — it was a great feeling,” Harmon said of his first extended taste of NFL game action. “And then to go out there and be prepared to play those types of minutes made it even better. Not going out there scared or nervous because I didn’t prepare, but going out there with confidence because I prepared like I was the starter.”
With several reports indicating that Gregory could be on the shelf for a few weeks — he was the only player not present at the start of practice on Tuesday — it’s likely more responsibility will fall on Harmon’s shoulders at the strong safety position going forward. He said he’s not changing his approach.
“It stays the same, because over the last nine games I’ve been preparing like I was a starter,” he said. “That’s something our coaches do a good job in doing, making sure I know all the checks and all the tendencies — doing all those little things so I can have a fresh mind and a confident mind going out there if Steve were to go down and not nervous and scared.
“At the end of the day this organization, the coaching staff does a great job of preparing everybody like they’re the starter. Coach (Brian) Flores has done a great job with me, telling me, ‘You’re always one play away,’ quizzing me and asking me questions. I think it really paid off last week and I’m just going to continue to do what I’ve been doing and continue to get better and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
|Report: Steve Gregory suffers broken thumb||11.05.13 at 10:45 am ET|
FOXBORO — Steve Gregory suffered a broken thumb in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Steelers, according to multiple media reports.
The starting strong safety came off the field in the third quarter holding his hand and was escorted down the stairs where the initial exam was conducted. Tests on Monday morning confirmed the break.
Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports that the timing of this week’s bye could help Gregory avoid missing any playing time. Gregory is expected to be fitted with a cast and then a determination will be made as to whether he can play with the protection.
In Gregory’s absence, rookie Duron Harmon is expected to see more playing time while Devin McCourty is expected to take on more responsibility as he did on Sunday when he played safety and various hybrid “Money” safety/linebacker and “Star” defensive back roles.
Patriots S Steve Gregory has a broken thumb. He may not miss a game, b/c of the timing. That likely depends on whether he can play w/a cast.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 5, 2013
Patriots safety Steve Gregory broke his thumb and is expected to be sidelined a few weeks, per league sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 5, 2013
|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.
|Bill Belichick gives insight to how Patriots might replace Aqib Talib||10.19.13 at 11:06 am ET|
FOXBORO — While Aqub Talib returned to the practice field Friday morning, he was officially listed as doubtful on Friday’s injury report and is not expected to play Sunday when the Patriots play the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
How will the Patriots replace him if he indeed misses the game?
Last week, Devin McCourty moved over to corner on some nickel packages and helped “shield” Jimmy Graham in coverage, with rookie safety Duron Harmon filling in. On some other snaps, with the Patriots employing only four defensive backs, McCourty stayed at safety while rookie corner Logan Ryan was worked into coverage.
So, in a situation like last week, what goes into the decision to move McCourty down to cornerback and move someone into Devin’s spot at safety or moving someone else in at cornerback?
“Really, that’s something we handle during the week,” Belichick said Friday. “I don’t think you want to get into the game and start, ‘Well, what are we going to do now?’ You go through that during the week and you talk to each player about their responsibilities, what have for the game, who’s backing up who, who’s in what personnel grouping and so forth and you practice it that way. There are plays in practice, where the right corner is out, the left corner is out, the left safety is out, the right safety is out, the middle linebacker is out. We take those guys out and somebody else either moves or we substitute for them or whatever we do. The problem usually comes in on any team if you lose two people at one position then that’s where the wheel starts spinning pretty fast usually.
“So if you lose two of anything –two quarterbacks, two running backs, two tackles, two linebackers, two corners, two of anything – nobody really ahs much depth to be able to handle that or it would be rare. Maybe you could handle it in one or two positions but you wouldn’t be able to handle it across the board, you’d have to move quickly. So in practice the one position move is, that’s I won’t say it’s easy, but I think that’s something that you go through as normal procedure. It’s that second move that you have to be prepared for but it’s hard to have enough depth, like I said, at every position to back every position up with two people. I mean, you’ve got to be able to do it, but that’s a little more of a scramble.”