|Bill Belichick on Jason Witten: ‘They use him really to do everything’||10.06.15 at 6:38 pm ET|
Before Rob Gronkowski came along in 2010, Jason Witten was considered by many the best all-around tight end in football.
Sure, Tony Gonzalez caught more balls for more yards but the Chiefs and Falcons tight end headed for Canton was more of a receiving tight end, playing the role of a pure pass-catcher than a blocking tight end.
What made Witten so remarkable, and continues to this day, is his unmatched durability. No one in the game has been asked to do more from the tight end position over a longer period of time than the Cowboys’ third round pick out of Tennessee in 2003.
Witten hasn’t missed a regular season game since his rookie season of 2003 and has started every game since 2006. Over that period, he has 59 touchdowns, the exact same number that Gronkowski has since 2010.
“The fact that he’s there every week and he plays good, whether it’s in the running game, the passing game, he’s a solid all-around player, one of the premier tight ends in the league,” Bill Belichick said in Tuesday’s conference call. “He comes up big in big situations, does a great job for them in the running game and makes big and clutch plays for them in the passing game. They obviously have a lot of confidence in him. Both quarterbacks look for him in critical situations, as they have for years. The fact that he’s there all the time, has been there throughout his career, his durability has been remarkable.
“He does it all. They use him really to do everything. I don’t think there are any limitations. I don’t think they’re sitting there saying, ‘Well, we don’t want to run this play with Jason in there.’ He run blocks, he catches the ball over the middle, he catches the ball in the red area, third down, inside, outside, seams, man coverage, zone coverage, pass protects. I mean, whatever they need him to do, he does it and does a good job of it.”
Belichick’s Patriots have done a good job of containing Witten in all three previous encounters, all Patriots’ wins. Witten has just eight catches on 11 targets in three games and just one touchdown. He’s had games of six, 47 and 48 yards receiving as the Patriots beat the Cowboys twice in Foxboro and once in Dallas.
“Witten, who’s just an unbelievable tight end for his longevity and what he can do in both the pass game and the run game, his blocking ability just seems to get better and better every year,” added Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on Tuesday. “Obviously he’s great in the passing game but mixing him in, and they’re going to rotate the tight ends in, they use quite a few of them, [James] Hanna or [Gavin] Escobar, you’ll see those guys in there also and they try to gain an advantage out on the edge with those guys.”
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|Quiet Storm: Jamie Collins letting his play speak volumes||09.24.15 at 1:31 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Jamie Collins has no interest in augmenting his own legend. The soft-spoken linebacker clearly is not interested in the art of self-promotion — he rarely speaks with the media, has no looming endorsement deals and only Tweets occasionally.
But if he continues to put together performances like he did Sunday against the Bills, he won’t be able to avoid the spotlight. The Southern Miss product had 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits in the 40-32 win over Buffalo. It’s the latest step in the evolution of one of the most versatile playmakers in the NFL: Only three defenders finished the 2014 season with at least four sacks and two interceptions: Collins, Green Bay’s Julius Peppers and Seattle’s Bruce Irvin.
The last year-plus, there’s been more responsibility on his plate, as veteran Jerod Mayo missed the second half of the 2014 season with an injury, As a result, in that time, he’s been the one with the communication system in his helmet, leading the defense while New England has played mostly nickel. It means he and Dont’a Hightower have been the only two pure linebackers.
“I’m pretty comfortable in the system. I just come in here and do what I have to do to get the job done,” he said before practice on Thursday. “It’s been very successful around here — I can’t complain.”
From getting after the passer to working in coverage, Collins has been asked to handle a variety of responsibilities. That included spending time over the nose last Sunday against the Bills, a rare sight for a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder like Collins.
“The thing about all of our guys is they will play multiple different positions in multiple different looks — those guys and their ability to go inside certainly helps us keep things moving from a defensive standpoint,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of the work of Collins and defensive end Chandler Jones, both of whom were lined up inside against Buffalo. “We try to put them in good positions where hopefully they can be disruptive in there.”
|Why Matt Patricia is really concerned with ‘double-threat’ Andrew Luck this time around||01.12.15 at 4:47 pm ET|
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Monday that he knows Andrew Luck could make it much harder on the Patriots he if gets out of the pocket and starts throwing.
There are many mobile quarterbacks now in the NFL. That’s nothing new. But what Luck presents is the ability to scramble, keep his eyes down field and throw long-range missiles at vertical targets. Patricia and Bill Belichick have no doubt seen the film of Luck’s third-quarter strike to Donte Moncrief of 36 yards against the Bengals in the wild card round.
Luck was flushed out of the pocket and was running forward to the line of scrimmage when he was caught from behind. As he was falling to the turf, he held himself up just long enough to find Moncrief breaking open in the end zone for a touchdown that all but put the game on ice.
Like Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers, the play is not over with Luck until the quarterback is on the ground.
“I mean that’s a huge challenge for us,” Patricia said. “This guy is not only mobile, has a very strong arm, but can move out of the pocket and keep his vision and concentration downfield and really see the entire field where he might not just be locked into one player as he’s trying to elude a rush or escape out of the pocket or even just move out of the pocket on their move out of the pocket plays.
“[He] does a good job of keeping the entire field open in his vision and finding pockets or seams or holes where his receivers are either uncovering or finding space to get open in their routes. Then obviously with the arm strength he can get the ball there. I think the other thing that’s extremely difficult about Andrew Luck is how strong he is. He’s a very big quarterback, he’s extremely strong. You’ll see a lot of guys that think they have him in the grass and think they can get him down and then he breaks free.”
|Matt Patricia raves about Steve Smith Sr.: ‘An extremely good player, a very smart, savvy vet’||01.05.15 at 2:21 pm ET|
Even though Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. is 35 years old and in his first season in Baltimore, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t stopped producing at a high level and playing his with usual tenacity causing fits for opposing defenses.
Smith finished the regular season with 79 catches for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns. The 79 catches were tied for the most he’s had in a season since 2007 when he caught 87.
The 5-foot-9 receiver signed with Baltimore this past offseason after he didn’t re-sign with Carolina — the team that drafted him in the third-round of the 2001 draft and the team he spent the next 13 seasons with.
He’s fit in nicely with the Ravens offense as a good complement to wide out Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta.
“Well I think obviously you are talking about an extremely good player, a very smart, savvy vet,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said on a conference call Monday. “[He’s] a guy that brings in a huge element of toughness out on to the field, a strong competitor. [He’s] a guy that really does a great job of finding the open zone, or seeing the man-to-man coverage. [He] really does a great job of getting open for the quarterback, whether it’s the intermediate routes, the tough catch-and-run plays, also the vertical plays downfield. The guy really has the ability to kind of hit all three levels.
“I think being as dependent as a receiver and a reliable target for the quarterback in the passing game, obviously then for Torrey Smith a lot of the vertical element is then really opened up for him when your attention really goes towards Steve Smith. I think the guy is just a tremendously tough competitor, very energetic, brings a lot of life to the offense — will go out and block. He’ll do the tough duty — blocking and the route running and coming through the middle and catch-and-run type plays. I think he’s just added a whole other element to their offense in the passing game and the run game.”
|Matt Patricia: Vince Wilfork’s 2014 return after Achilles’ injury ‘true testament to him as a professional’||12.29.14 at 12:38 pm ET|
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia praised Vince Wilfork on a Monday morning conference call with the media, saying the fact that the veteran defensive lineman managed to come back from a season-ending Achilles’ injury in 2013 and play all 16 games in 2014 at a high level is a “true testament to him as a professional and to him as a football player.”
“I think you obviously can’t say enough great things about Vince Wilfork,” Patricia said of Wilfork, who finished the 2014 regular season with 818 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. “The guy is a tremendous team player. He’s a tremendous football player. He’s an incredible athlete for a guy that size. [It’s] amazing what he’s done to be able to come back and play and play at a high level and get himself ready to go for a full NFL season.
“But that’s the mark of a true professional. We get a lot of guys that get injured; in the offseason guys that have whether it’s surgeries or rehab or whatever it is. It’s a part of the deal of being an NFL football player,” Patricia added. “I don’t think anybody comes back from injury trying to get ready for half the season or a couple games or one game. I think they’re trying to put themselves in a good position to play and they understand that it’s a long season and they have to take care of their body. He certainly does all of that.
“Vince is great from off the field, on the field, the leadership in the classroom, studying opponents, trying to get better every week,” he added. “It’s just a true testament to him as a professional and to him as a football player.”
|Bill Belichick isn’t giving Brandon Browner (or his team) an excuse for all the penalties||12.16.14 at 5:57 pm ET|
When the new emphasis on defensive holding and hands to the face was announced at the start of training camp, there was the understanding that certain players would struggle more than others adjusting.
It appears no one on the Patriots has had a harder time than Brandon Browner. As Chris Price points out, Browner has been flagged for 13 penalties (4 defensive holding, illegal contact, encroachment, 4 defensive pass interference, illegal use of hands, facemask, unnecessary roughness) 118 yards. Those 13 penalties are six more than the next closest perpetrator (Brandon LaFell, Logan Ryan six apiece).
On Tuesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked if he cuts Browner some slack for his team lead in the dubious category because of the physical style he brings to the secondary.
“Penalties have been an issue for us all year as a team,” Belichick said. “We’ve had a lot of penalties, more than we want, way more than we want. We’re trying to decrease that number and the frequency. [We’re] certainly not there yet, but we continue to make it a priority and address it and work to reduce them. I think there’s definitely been some progress, but we’re not there yet. That goes for everybody.”
By not singling out Browner publicly, Belichick made it clear that he’s expecting cleaner play across the board.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility to play penalty free in their area, whether it’s the coaches on play-calling and substitution and things like that, or whether it’s the individual players based on their techniques and whatever the situation is that they’re in: offense, defense, special teams. Whatever it happens to be, it’s to play penalty free,” Belichick said. “That always has been an emphasis point for us, and it will continue to be one for everybody.”
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|Third-down defense went a long way in leading the Patriots to a win over the Chargers||12.08.14 at 1:51 pm ET|
Things were not looking good for the Patriots early in the second quarter Sunday night, as following an 11-play, 89-yard touchdown drive taking up 4:46 of the clock, just over two minutes later the Chargers struck again when Darrell Stuckey returned a Brandon LaFell fumble 53 yards for a touchdown, giving San Diego a 14-3 lead.
Following the score things changed in a big way for the Patriots defense, as well as the rest of the team, outscoring the Chargers 20-0 the rest of the game, and it all started with third-down defense.
“It’s really important to get off the field on third down,” said Belichick on a conference call Monday. “That’s always a big point of emphasis for us. Third downs are, on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, third downs are really kind of like turnovers in terms of the possession of the ball changing if a team can’t convert, whether it’s us or them. Those are huge plays in the game. Red area plays are huge plays in the game because they involve points. When you talk about third down in the red area, that’s really as important as it gets because those are kind of four-point plays, if you will.”
San Diego entered the game third in the NFL on third-down — converting 47.5 percent of the time, including 81.8 percent against the Ravens in the game prior. The Chargers got off to a good start, converting on three of the first four third-downs in the game, but the Patriots defense buckled down, as San Diego went just 1-for-9 the rest of the game, finishing 4-for-13.
The defense as a whole changed following San Diego’s touchdown drive as after the touchdown, the Chargers went: blocked punt, punt, half, punt, punt, INT, punt, punt, punt, downs. The Patriots allowed 107 total yards in the first quarter, but just 109 the rest of the game. New England also allowed 13 total first downs, their lowest allowed in a game since Dec. 10, 2010 against the Bears when they allowed 12.
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