|Vince Wilfork on Patriots run D: ‘It’s a work in progress’||09.13.12 at 3:02 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Last Sunday, Vince Wilfork was the anchor of a defensive that shutdown one of the most explosive running backs in the game. Chris Johnson had just four yards on 11 carries.
This week, it’s Beanie Wells who will be in the sights of Wilfork and the Patriots defensive line. Wells, who is nursing a sore hamstring, only gained 14 yards on seven carries. Is Wilfork encouraged after Week 1?
“That’s a work in progress,” Wilfork said Thursday. “That’s something that we put a lot of time and effort in and it showed up well for us last week. Hopefully we can continue to do it. The main thing is consistent. We definitely have to come in and play the run well again, and that’s always a goal of ours. This week it’s going to be again – they have three good backs that can run the ball and they have a fullback [Anthony Sherman] they like to put in some certain situations. Its going to be a challenge for us again and we’ve just got to keep putting it together.
“We’ve got a bunch of great guys on this defense and a lot of guys have the love for the game and the passion for the game. Every year that’s a goal, but when you have a bunch of guys fighting for one goal, and the passion and the love for it and the understanding of the game – what needs to be done – you can do mainly anything you want to do, if you put your mind to it. That’s what we have. But that’s easy. The tough part is when you’re struggling in a game or a game’s close or when you don’t have a team that’s one dimensional, they’re doing everything still, how mentally tough are you? That’s one thing you always have to work toward to, the mental game. Because everything is not always going to be perfect out there.”
Of course, the number one weapon the Cardinals bring to the table is wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Will Wilfork and the Patriots defense be able to get enough pressure on Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals offensive line?
“They do a lot of things well,” Wilfork said. “They’re coached very well, they play hard. that’s one thing you can see on film that they put 60 minutes and sometimes overtime. They play very, very hard. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
To Wilfork’s point, the Cardinals are 8-2 in their last 10 games, with four of those coming in overtime. Kolb figures to start for the Cardinals after John Skelton injured his right ankle in the season-opening win over the Seahawks. Kolb was the QB who led the Cards down the field on a fourth-quarter go-ahead TD drive.
“He’s a good quarterback, let’s get that understood right now. But that whole offense, they have weapons, from the backs to the tight ends to the receivers, up front they know what they’re doing. He has a good supporting cast around him, too. Not taking anything away from him, because he is a good quarterback. We just have to do a good job of our game [plan], how we want to attack it. He made a lot of plays. Last week is came in the game and brought these guys back, so they have a lot of faith in him, and it’s for a reason. We see a lot of things on film that he poses a threat to, so we’re going to have to do a real good job defensively trying to slow him down.
“Our hands are full, definitely,” Wilfork said. “At the beginning of the year to play a team like this, it poses a lot of challenges and threats for us.”
When Wilfork watches the Cardinals on tape this week he sees a lot of familiar schemes in the Arizona offense, not surprising since Ken Whisenhunt ran the Steelers offense when he was in Pittsburgh with Bill Cowher. And Russ Grimm, a hall of famer with the Redskins, is their offensive line coach.
“They have a good coaching staff, great,” Wilfork said. “You can see the way they play the game, the kids that they have now, they play it the same way, hard-nose football. Every down counts, every second counts. Definitely the background … it’s tough. it’s a tough football team. Don’t get me wrong, They’re very, very tough because they do so many things well.”
|Larry Fitzgerald returns the favor to Bill Belichick||09.12.12 at 7:48 pm ET|
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald received some high praise from Bill Belichick this week when the Patriots coach said that the former third overall pick may go down as the greatest receiver of all time. On Wednesday, Fitzgerald returned the favor.
“He’s a great receiver,” Belichick said on Tuesday’s conference call. He’ll go down as one of the all-time greats. He might end up as the best one ever.”
After hearing of Belichick’s comment, Fitzgerald responded by saying, “It’s an honor that he even knows my name.”
“He’s arguably the best coach to ever do it,” Fitzgerald continued. “You look at his record and what he’s been able to accomplish over his career. He’s an unbelievable football coach. I have a long way to go. I have a lot to improve on and a lot to work on. Obviously I’m envious of him with all his hardware he has and his team has. We have a lot to improve on.”
There’s no doubt that Sunday’s game will match up one of the game’s better receivers with one of its better coaches. In his career, Fitzgerald has 697 receptions for 9,678 yards and 73 touchdowns. He is tied for 30th in career touchdown catches, and is tied for fourth among active players. Fitzgerald certainly has time to climb higher on that list, as he is still 29 years old. If he can repeat his eight touchdowns of a season ago, he’ll move into the top 20.
However, much like Bill Belichick isn’t ready to get excited over his rookies’ success, Fitzgerald isn’t going to spend the week thinking about his accolades.
“I have a long way to go,” he said. “We’ve only played one game this year and we were in the same position last year and we dropped the next six. That’s something that we talked about all this week, and attention to detail is something that we’ve really been stressing. The New England Patriots are a team that if you make a mistake against them, they will make you pay for it.”
|Patriots defensive backs face tall task this week in trying to contain Larry Fitzgerald||at 1:50 pm ET|
FOXBORO — For the Patriots’ defensive backs this week, it’s all Larry Fitzgerald, all the time.
The Cardinals wide receiver is one of the best pass catchers in the league — the 29-year-old has caught at least 80 passes a season the last five years, including five seasons of 90-plus catches. The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder brings an array of skills to the field, which will be a handful for the New England secondary.
“It’ll be tough,” said safety Steve Gregory. “He’s just a great all-around receiver. He’s been doing it at a high level for years now and you definitely have to know where that guy is on the field, because he can hurt you at any moment.
“He’s made his name off of being covered but going up and catching the ball over other guys. He’s that type of receiver, regardless of whether a guy is in position or not, he has a way to change and move his body in the air to go get the ball. So we have to be ready for that.”
“He really has it all. He runs good routes. He’s a good blocker. Incredible hands downfield. Speed,” said cornerback Marquice Cole. “He’s pretty much the total package when you look at a receiver.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday that Fitzgerald “might end up being the best [receivers] ever,” a point cornerback Devin McCourty didn’t dispute on Wednesday.
“He’s one of the top receivers if not the top receiver in the NFL,” said McCourty. “For us in the secondary, it’ll be an incredible challenge this week to go out there and compete against him. For us, the biggest word for us is compete. Without a doubt, he’s going to make some plays, but we have to try to go out there and challenge him.
“We know what he’s capable of, but it’s just going out there and trying to contain and being able to compete with him.”
|Santonio Holmes deal could provide framework for new Wes Welker contract||10.28.11 at 1:18 am ET|
So how much is Wes Welker worth?
The Patriots wide receiver, in the final season of a five-year, $18.5 million deal he signed in 2007, is having a salary run like few others the league has ever seen. Through six games, Welker leads the league in receptions (51), targets (74) and yards per game (130.8), and is second in the league in receiving yards (785). He’s just off the pace to shatter the league records for most catches, but can still break the record for most receiving yards in a season — at this rate, Welker will have 136 catches and 2,093 receiving yards.
Asked about his contract situation earlier in the season, he said it’s not his focus right now, clearly indicating that he wants to leave that up to his agent, David Dunn.
“Well, of course I want to stay here,” Welker said. “But as of right now, I don’t really think about it. I just try to focus on this year and everything I can do to help the team this year.”
So what kind of offer should he expect? Andrew Brandt has a unique perspective on situations like this one. He’s been on both sides of the table — he’s worked as a representative for ProServ and Woolf Associates, was GM of the Barcelona Dragons in the NFL’s World League and served as a team vice president of the Packers from 1999 to 2008, negotiating contracts and managing the team’s salary cap.
Brandt acknowledged the gold standard for wide receivers is the deal that was signed by Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald in August, who inked an eight-year, $128.5 million contract with the Cards shortly before the start of the regular season.
“Of the recent top-of-market wide receiver contracts, I think it is understood leaguewide that the Larry Fitzgerald contract is an outlier, an eye-popping deal that took advantage of the player’s great leverage in eliminating a franchise tag equation in the previous negotiation and coming off of the top wide receiver contract prior to this one,” said Brandt, who writes for the National Football Post and also serves as ESPN’s NFL Business Analyst.
While that’s out of the realm of possibility, Brandt believes there is a comparable deal people might be able to point toward as a possible framework. If Welker does reach the open market, Brandt believes the five-year, $45.25 million deal (with $24 million guaranteed) Santonio Holmes signed with the Jets in July is a good model.
|Leigh Bodden: ‘Thankful’ to be back on the field||09.14.11 at 11:25 pm ET|
FOXBORO — While it was a memorable season opener for the Patriots for several reasons, the Monday night win over the Dolphins held some extra significance for veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden.
Bodden, who was on the shelf for the entire 2010 season with a shoulder injury, was seeing his first regular-season action in 21 months. He ended the game with three tackles and one pass defensed, and while it was a fairly routine game for him statistically, just the opportunity to be back out on the field again was a blessing for the Duquesne product.
“It was just good to be out there — I’m just thankful,” Bodden said. “I thank God that He helped me get back through this injury and the hard work that I put in to get back, that’s all you really can do and hope for.”
Bodden played 66 of the 77 defensive snaps on Monday, despite the fact that he has been hobbled throughout camp and the preseason, fighting through thumb and back injuries, the latter of which left him out of Wednesday’s practice.
“I’m doing pretty good,” added the 29-year-old. “Not as good as I want to be, but that’s Week One for everybody, I feel like you’re going to need improvement. I’m just working week to week.”
Bodden’s role has changed since he was last on the field on a regular basis. First and foremost, there were plenty of personnel moves for New England at the corner position: As a rookie, fellow Devin McCourty stepped forward to become a star, while Kyle Arrington became a regular part of the rotation and Darius Butler was released before the start of the 2011 season. And in this year’s draft, they added Ras-I Dowling, as well as Antuwan Molden shortly before the start of the season.
The moves also meant changes for Bodden. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, he spent more time on the outside, but on Monday night against the Dolphins, he was in the slot for much of the evening covering Miami’s Davone Bess. When it comes to Bodden (and the rest of the Patriots’) defense of Bess on Monday, the numbers are a bit deceiving — he had five catches for 92 yards, but most of that came in garbage time (he had two catches for 37 yards through the first three quarters).
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|Randy Moss has a ‘chip on shoulder’ and is ready to show he ain’t done yet||07.14.11 at 1:24 pm ET|
There were those on the inside and outside wondering openly last January if Randy Moss had caught his last pass in an NFL game. The loss of a full free agency period – many thought – would mean Moss would get lost in the process.
But according to his agent Joel Segal, who – in an interview with the NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora – said Moss is ready to return to “the old Randy Moss” and is in “freakish shape,” working hard every day to be ready to contribute once the work stoppage is officially over.
Segal said Moss – now 34 – is looking forward to entering the NFL free-agent market whenever it opens, according to Segal, who said Wednesday the wide receiver is primed to return to “the old Randy Moss.”
“Randy has been working out, two-a-days, all spring and summer in West Virginia,” Segal told the NFL Network. “He is determined, motivated and quite frankly has a huge chip on his shoulder. Whatever team ends up getting Randy, they’re going to know they’re getting the old Randy Moss. He’s not just coming in to be on the team, he’s going to be Randy Moss — a difference maker.”
In the worst statistical season of his 13-year career, Moss caught 28 passes for 393 yards and just five touchdowns in 2010. Still, he leads the NFL in TD receptions from 2007 to 2010, with 52. (Larry Fitzgerald is second with 41), and just six players have more receptions of 25 yards-plus during that span. Moss, of course, was on the receiving end of an NFL-record 22 TD catches in the record-breaking 2007 season, when he helped Tom Brady set a new NFL standard with 50 TD passes in a season.
Brady spoke glowingly of Moss last Oct. 27, four days before the Patriots welcomed Moss back to Gillette with the Vikings, just three weeks after the deal that sent Moss out of Foxboro. Moss was traded by the Patriots last October to the Minnesota Vikings, who later released him, only to have the Tennessee Titans pick him up for a playoff run that fell just short.
Moss had just one catch for eight yards as the Vikings jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 10-7, only to lose, 28-18 on Halloween night at Gillette.
Moss has been down this road before. He fell quickly out of favor with the Oakland Raiders for two disappointing seasons, but he rebounded after being dealt to New England in 2007. Moss is a four-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl selection.
|Larry Fitzgerald ‘a fan’ of Bill Belichick, Patriots||02.02.11 at 3:06 pm ET|
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald spoke glowingly of the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick in an interview with ESPN.com, describing himself as “a fan” of Belichick and suggesting that, thanks to their wealth of draft picks, New England should remain a force to come for years. Fitzgerald told the website that he met Belichick prior to the 2004 draft (in which the receiver was taken by Arizona with the No. 3 overall pick), and that the Pats’ emphasis on “a cerebral kind of football player” has paid remarkable dividends over the long haul.
“I think it all starts with the head coach [Bill Belichick]. He does a fantastic job, week in and week out, keeping his guys mentally prepared to go out there and play,” Fitzgerald told ESPN.com. “He’s the only coach in history to have four seasons with 14 wins, and that alone, speaks volumes of what he’s able to accomplish, especially in that [AFC East] division. I think you’re looking at the NFL’s strongest division, from top to bottom. If Buffalo played in the NFC West, they’d probably win the NFC West. That’s a strong, strong division and he’s found a way to win it [eight] times. It’s astonishing.”
Fitzgerald has one year left on a four-year, $40 million deal signed after the 2007 season. The deal prohibits Arizona from using its franchise or transition tag on him, and so Fitzgerald, 27, could become an unrestricted free agent after the 2011 football season. He and the Cardinals have reportedly opened talks on a new deal, but Fitzgerald told ESPN.com that his decisions about his future will be guided by a straightforward motive.
“I’m under contract with Arizona for another season, and I would love to be there winning a championship,” he said. “That’s where I started and I love it out there. But my goal, of course, is to win. I want to win at all costs.”
Fitzgerald had 90 catches for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns in 2010. In his seven NFL seasons, he has averaged 88 catches, 1,172 yards and nine TDs per season.
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