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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Rams-Patriots 12.03.16 at 12:07 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett have the Patriots holding firm at the No. 2 spot. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

With no Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett will be working closely together down the stretch. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Here’s everything you have to know about Sunday’s game between the Patriots (9-2) and the Rams (4-7) at Gillette Stadium.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

New England now features three primary backs, not counting “Brandon” and “Danny,” as part of its ground game. The between-the-tackles work will continue to be done by LeGarrette Blount (212 carries, 869 yards, 12 TDs), while Dion Lewis (11 carries, 47 yards) and James White (28 carries, 112 yards) will offer support, as well as a third-down option for Tom Brady. Blount still figures to be the man, especially if the game gets out of hand early. He’s 138 yards from tying his career-high for yards in a season, and while he probably won’t reach the milestone Sunday against Los Angeles, he’s got a good chance of at least nearing the mark. Look for the occasional two-back set of White and Lewis. We saw it occasionally last week against the Jets, and could be an intriguing combo going forward. Overall, Los Angeles is 20th against the run (112.3 rushing yards allowed per game), and has struggled as of late, allowing an average of 149 rushing yards per contest in the last three games. That includes yielding a season-high 209 rushing yards last week in a loss to the Saints.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

With no Rob Gronkowski in the lineup anymore, Brady (68 percent completion rate, 2,201 yards, 18 TDs, 1 INT, 116.7 passer rating) and the Patriots passing game will change its focus to more of a spread look with an emphasis on multiple (three and four) receiver sets. That’s not to say we won’t see plenty of work for Martellus Bennett (42 catches, 54 targets, 540 yards, 4 TDs), who will be asked to continue to produce at a high level in the wake of the loss of Gronkowski. It’s only to suggest that it’ll be the likes of Julian Edelman (64 catches, 100 targets, 617 yards, 2 TDs), Danny Amendola (20 catches, 25 targets, 213 yards, 4 TDs), Chris Hogan (23 catches, 35 targets, 461 yards, 2 TDs) and Malcolm Mitchell (16 catches, 27 targets, 235 yards, 3 TDs) will get more targets going forward. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the White/Lewis combo, which caught eight passes last week out of the backfield and will continue to account for a sizable portion of the passing game the rest of the way.

Los Angeles is actually pretty good when it comes to pass defense (seventh in the league at 227.5 yards per game). Aaron Donald is a terrifying presence along the interior, and one of the best young linemen in the league. The 6-foot-1, 285-pounder will present a sizable challenge for New England’s offensive line — he has 35 tackles (28 solo) this year, to go along with a team-high six sacks. Defensive end Robert Quinn has four sacks on the year, while ex-Patriot Dominique Easley has 2.5 sacks of his own. Los Angeles is middle of the pack when it comes to forcing turnovers (13 takeaways are tied for 19th in the league). Linebacker Mark Barron leads the team with two picks.

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5 things to know about Rams: Aaron Donald is really good and Jeff Fisher isn’t 11.29.16 at 10:03 pm ET
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Aaron Donald can mess up your day. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Aaron Donald can mess up your day. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Five things you have to know about the Los Angeles Rams, who will come to Foxboro to meet the Patriots Sunday at 1.

Aaron Donald is a bad man. And we mean bad in the sense that he can ruin the afternoon for an opposing offense. The 25-year-old defensive tackle has quickly become one of the best in the game at what he does. Working along the interior, the 6-foot-1, 285-pounder out of Pitt demands extra attention on every snap, and will present a sizable challenge for New England’s offense. He had 35 tackles (28 solo) this year, to go along with a team-high six sacks. Part of an impressive defensive front, the whole Los Angeles defense revolves around Donald. If you find a way to slow him down, you can go a long way towards limiting the Rams.

They are one of the better young defenses in the league. Truth be told, it’s not just Donald. The guys next to him — particularly Robert Quinn — do a good job feeding off him. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end manages to pick up some of the slack when Donald is double-teamed, and has managed to come away with four sacks on the year. Old pal Dominique Easley is also part of the rotation along the defensive line, and has chipped in with 2.5 sacks of his own. As a group, Los Angeles has allowed an average of 21.5 points per game, tied for 12th in the league. The Rams are seventh against the pass (227.5 passing yards allowed per game) and 20th against the run (112.3 rushing yards allowed per game). Los Angeles is middle of the pack when it comes to forcing turnovers (13 takeaways are tied for 19th in the league). Linebacker Mark Barron leads the team with two picks.

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Read More: Aaron Donald, Benny Cunningham, Dominique Easley, Greg “Legatron” Zuerlein
How the beast Aaron Donald has helped Dominique Easley find new life in L.A. at 9:25 pm ET
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Oct 2, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) fumbles the ball as Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Dominique Easley (91) defends during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Easley forces a fumble earlier this season on Arizona running back David Johnson. (Matt Kartozian/USA Today Sports)

The Los Angeles Rams were the perfect fit for Dominique Easley.

When the Patriots surprised some and released the 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive lineman on April 13, it didn’t take too long for New England’s 29th overall pick from the 2014 draft to land on his feet. On May 17, Easley signed a one-year, $600,000 contract with the Los Angeles Rams after working out for Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Easley showed signs of being a dominant force along the defensive front. Just not enough. And the biggest issue was staying on the field.

On Dec. 17, 2014, the Patriots placed Easley on injured reserve with a knee injury. In 11 games of his rookie season, Easley finished with nine tackles, a sack, one pass defended, and one interception. Easley would earn a Super Bowl ring when the Patriots beat the Seahawks.

When Vince Wilfork left for Houston, Easley began the 2015 season as one of the Patriots’ starting defensive tackles. It was the perfect opportunity for Easley to show his skills. But nearly a year to the day of his initial season-ending injured reserve designation, the Patriots placed Easley on injured reserve once again with a thigh injury. He ended the season with 15 tackles and two sacks.

Now, after being able to stay on the field for all 11 games, he’s become a big piece of the Rams’ defensive front. He’s had six games of at least 30 snaps. He has 2.5 sacks and 24 tackles.

“I think pretty much the player that we saw when he was here,” Bill Belichick said Tuesday during a conference call. “He’s got an explosive first step. When he gains an advantage on that, whether it be power rush or getting to the edge, he can be a disruptive player. He’s very quick off the ball, he’s got an explosive first step, and like I said, when he gains the advantage, it’s hard to get it back.”

But the biggest benefit for Easley is getting the chance to play alongside one of the most dominant defensive linemen in football in Aaron Donald, the 6-foot-1, 284-pound behemoth that anchors the Rams front. Donald has six sacks, 35 tackles and two forced fumbles.

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Ex-Patriots DL Dominique Easley dismisses ‘rumors’ that dogged him in New England 06.27.16 at 1:18 pm ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley continues to try and put his Patriots’ experience behind him.

The former New England defensive lineman, who spent two relatively brief seasons with the Patriots before he was released earlier this offseason, joined the Rams as a free agent. He told Sirius XM this past weekend that he took issue with the report that he was called a locker room “cancer” when he was with New England.

“There’s been, obviously, stuff said about me,” said the 25-year-old. “We don’t know where it came from — obviously, the person doesn’t want to come out and say it, either. As far as I know, it’s all rumors until that person comes out and says that was from them and they can prove that they actually know who I am or have been around me long enough to know who I am and how I am as a person.”

He added: “It’s really just, hopefully, that the Rams get to see what a great person and a great, hard worker I am and, really, just a great person.”

Easley, who was a first-round pick of New England in 2014, struggled to consistently stay the field in his two seasons with the Patriots, as both seasons ended with him on injured reserve. The 6-foot-2, 288-pounder out of Florida played 22 career games in New England.

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Dominique Easley: My critics ‘don’t know who I am’ 06.08.16 at 8:45 am ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

After Dominique Easley was cut by the Patriots earlier this spring, some anonymous teammates ripped the defensive lineman on his way out the door, with one telling The Boston Globe that Easley was a “locker room cancer.”

Easley, who was signed by the Rams after being dumped by New England, answered some of his critics Tuesday, telling the Los Angeles Daily News that those ex-teammates “don’t know who I am.”

Said Easley: “People are people. I can’t be mad at who they are. If they feel like that, they feel like that. They don’t know who I am. They didn’t grow up with me. They didn’t live with me. They didn’t live through things that I’ve been through. So how are you going to tell me who I am?”

Easley reportedly was not surprised he was released by the Patriots, but he said it was more about his medical history than anything else, including two torn ACLs while in college and an inability to stay on the field for extended stretches in his two seasons with New England.

He does seem to be aware of how he’s perceived, and he understands that Los Angeles represents a fresh start for him.

“That’s what life is now,” he said. “Media, social media. What the fans read, they kind of believe until you show them otherwise. That’s the only thing I can do, is just show them otherwise.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Report: Former Patriots DL Dominique Easley signs 1-year deal with Rams 05.17.16 at 8:47 pm ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley has found a home.

About a month after being released by the Patriots, the defensive lineman reportedly signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

He was selected in the first round by the Patriots in the 2014 draft, but finished on injured reserve each of the last two seasons.

Easley now gives the Rams five former first-round picks on the defensive line as he joins Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn and Quinton Coples.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Report: Dominique Easley will work out for Bengals 05.09.16 at 12:33 pm ET
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The Bengals will work out former Patriots first-round pick Dominique Easley on Monday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

Easley, who was cut last month by the Patriots, was a first round pick of New England in 2014. However, he had struggled to see the field in two seasons in the NFL, with both years ending on injured reserve. The 6-foot-2, 288-pounder out of Florida played 22 games in two combined seasons with the Patriots.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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