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Bill Belichick isn’t giving Brandon Browner (or his team) an excuse for all the penalties 12.16.14 at 5:57 pm ET
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Brandon Browner has helped spark the Patriots secondary to new heights with a physical style of play. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Brandon Browner has helped spark the Patriots secondary to new heights with a physical style of play. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty, matt patricia
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
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The Patriots held the Chargers to 4-for-13 on third-downs Sunday night. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

The Patriots held the Chargers to 4-for-13 on third-downs Sunday night. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

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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Read More: Bill Belichick, matt patricia, Patriots defense, Philip Rivers
New Patriots defenders contributing right away because of ‘their study and their work ethic’ 11.25.14 at 8:55 pm ET
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Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

Akeem Ayers has already made his presence felt in New England. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images).

With long-term injuries to important players on the Patriots defense so far this season — Chandler Jones (out since Week 7), Jerod Mayo (season-ending injured reserve) and Sealver Siliga (short-term injured reserve designated for return) — the Patriots have had a number of players step up to fill the voids.

A few of those players weren’t even with the team at the start of the regular season.

On Oct. 21, linebacker Akeem Ayers and a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft were traded to the Patriots for a sixth-round pick, also in next year’s draft. Ayers played in that Sunday’s game against the Bears and recorded a sack and five tackles. In his four games with the Patriots, Ayers has recorded a sack in three of the four games.

On Oct. 28, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, along with a 2015 sixth-round pick was traded to the Patriots from Tampa Bay for a 2015 fifth-round pick. Casillas played in the Nov. 2 game against the Broncos and recorded three tackles, but has been most known for his contributions on special teams.

A day later, Oct. 29, the Patriots announced they had signed veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch. Branch also played in the Denver game that Sunday, and has been a major contributor in stopping the run.

With all these new players joining the team and learning a new system, it wouldn’t be a surprise for each player to take a few weeks to settle in, but that hasn’t happened — the players have fit in right away. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says a lot of that has to do with the leaders the Patriots have on defense, and to go along with the work ethics of all three new players.

“Specifically talking about [Casillas and Ayers] I will say those guys work extremely hard,” Patricia said on Tuesday’s conference call. “They are true professionals as far as their ability to study, learn the game, understand what we are doing from the systems standpoint and have matriculated into what we are trying to do defensively fairly quickly from their study and their work ethic. They have really fallen right in line. We have great guys on defense.

“I say this all the time, but I can’€™t stress to you the importance of the leaders that we have on defense — Vince Wilfork and Dont’€™a Hightower and Devin McCourty and [Darrelle] Revis and [Brandon] Browner, the list goes on. The way that these guys approach and attack each week to try to learn the opponent, study their film and prepare themselves to play every week is really a tribute to their professionalism. I think that’€™s something that can’€™t be understated. As a group, these guys work extremely hard to get ready to compete every week. We have a difficult task every week and this week is no different than the next. It’€™s a very huge challenge for us to get ready to handle.”

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Alan Branch, Jonathan Casillas, matt patricia
Patrick Chung making most of second chance with Patriots 11.04.14 at 10:15 pm ET
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When Patrick Chung signed with the Patriots in early April there weren’€™t very high expectations based on the way his first tenure with New England went from 2009-12.

However, Chung has made the most of his second opportunity with the Patriots — starting all nine games at safety and playing a major role in the Patriots’€™ defense, which currently is allowing 22 points a game, good for 12th in the NFL.

The 2009 second-round pick by the Patriots was not re-signed after his rookie contract in 2012 and instead signed with the Eagles. Things didn’€™t work out the way he would have wanted there — playing in 12 games, finishing with 43 tackles in 2013 before being released after just one season.

The Patriots wasted no time giving Chung another chance — re-signing him just a month after he was released by the Eagles.

“I thought he played pretty well for us in the time that he was here,”€ coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call. “I think kind of the circumstances of the 2012 season just didn’€™t work out as well as probably we all hoped they would for a combination of reasons.

“Pat and I talked about that last year after he was released from Philadelphia. Pat and I talked about that. We had a long conversation about a lot of things. Not saying it was anybody’€™s fault, it was just one of those things that didn’€™t work out. But we both felt that we’€™d want to try to give it another shot. We were able to come to an agreement on that, contractually.”

Chung had an outstanding spring and training camp — looking better each day –€“ and won the starting safety job next to Devin McCourty. He’€™s continued to make the most of his second opportunity, as per Pro Football Focus he has played 486 of a possible 636 snaps (76 percent) through nine games.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, matt patricia, Patrick Chung,
Bill Belichick says learning D isn’t ‘any issue at all’ for Brandon Browner 10.10.14 at 9:57 am ET
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Bill Belichick is always teaching and planning. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick is always teaching and planning. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick insisted Friday morning that Brandon Browner is not having any issues picking up the Patriots’ defensive system.

On Thursday the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported that the defensive back signed to a three-year, $16.8 million deal in March was held out of Sunday’s game against Cincinnati not because of physical issues but because Browner was having difficulties picking up the schemes of Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

But on Friday morning, asked how Browner was coming along and progressing, Belichick said, “good.”

Pressed as to whether Browner was held out of Sunday night’s game because of difficulties in learning the system, Belichick said that’s not a problem and hasn’t been since Browner arrived in New England.

“I don’t think the learning part of it is any issue at all… hasn’t been since he’s been here,” Belichick said.

Browner missed practice Thursday due to what the team is calling an ankle injury. Browner and Brian Tyms were eligible to return against the Bengals after each served four-game suspensions. With Tyms, it appeared to be matter of numbers in the receiving corps. With Browner, the Herald said it was a matter of readiness.

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Browner’s former teammate, told the Herald in June that the Seahawks gave their corners just one responsibility. Sherman hinted that adding more responsibilities could make him less effective.

Browner may be in the same boat as Darrelle Revis – playing best when he is allowed to play his own game, as WEEI.com’s Chris Price wrote last week. Revis played primarily man coverage against Bengals superstar receiver A.J. Green and posting his best game in a Patriots uniform.

The other factor that figured in slowing Browner’s return to action is the healthy return of Alfonzo Dennard Sunday night after missing the previous three games with a shoulder injury.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Browner, matt patricia, New England Patriots
Dont’a Hightower on his third NFL season: ‘I have more on my plate and that’s how I want it’ 09.24.14 at 4:52 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower

FOXBORO — Third-year linebacker Dont’€™a Hightower is off to a tremendous start this season.

After three games Hightower is tied for the team-lead in sacks with two and is third on the team with 10 tackles. He isn’€™t a traditional inside linebacker — as he has shifted to outside linebacker in passing downs — both dropping back into coverage as well as rushing the passer.

“If me rushing is going to help us win, that’€™s what it is,” Hightower said. “€œI feel like me rushing on either side with [Rob] Ninkovich and Chandler [Jones] that opens up the opposite side — them sliding to one side gives the one-on-one matchup that we want for those two guys to go to work.”

As a rookie he started in 13 games finishing with four sacks. Last year when Jerod Mayo went on injured reserve Hightower became the defense’€™s signal caller from the inside linebacker position, starting in 14 of the 16 regular season games. With Mayo back this year, this has freed him up to do a number of different things.

“I have more on my plate and that’€™s how I want it,” said Hightower. “€œI am able to rush, to drop, to cover –€“ zone, man –€“ I am doing a lot. When I am doing that the offense doesn’€™t know if I am dropping into coverage or rushing so that opens up space for everyone else.”

Hightower has been a main reason why the Patriots defense is ranked third in the entire NFL in total defense and the best against the run. They are allowing 16.3 points per game, tied for fourth in the league.

The 2012 first-round pick acknowledges he grew a lot last season as a player when Mayo went out for the year.

“It forced me to step up a lot,” he said. “Not having those two big anchors that have been there for a long time. It all helped me in the situation that we were in –“ it’€™s not usually like that. I mean sometimes we get those reps at practice where you pull a couple of starters. It made me grow up a lot faster and more into a leader.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dont'a Hightower, matt patricia, Patriots defense
Why you should expect to see more and more of Nate Ebner in Patriots’ secondary 09.16.14 at 4:29 pm ET
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Nate Ebner

Nate Ebner

From the moment he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft, Nate Ebner has always been looked at as a special teams player who could play safety in a pinch.

That approach may be changing in the minds of Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. In addition to playing 20 of 28 special teams snaps, Ebner – the former MVP of the US junior rugby squad – saw action in 14 of 66 defensive snaps playing free safety.

Is that a sign of growing confidence and growth in the 25-year-old Ebner?

“I’€™d say it’€™s yes on both accounts,” Belichick said Tuesday, before beaming about Ebner’s development. “We certainly have a lot of confidence in Nate. We’€™ve seen Nate grow and improve. I would probably put him in the, not the all-time top, but maybe in the top five percent all-time of players that I’€™ve coached from where they were in college to how they grew in the NFL.

“Nate had almost no defensive experience at Ohio State. He’€™s adapted in a relatively short amount of time€“ going into his third year so it’€™s really two-plus years ‘€“ adapted very well to the knowledge of our defense, to the understanding of opponents’€™ offenses, to instinctiveness and reading and recognition at a position that he plays right in the middle of the field, which is among the most difficult, inside linebacker and safety where the volume and the number of things that can happen are the greatest, where you have to really see everybody on the field, all 11 guys. His development has really been outstanding.”

Ebner was a “preferred walk-on player” for Ohio State and did not start playing football until 2009, but quickly became their most valuable on special teams. Even though he played only a handful of plays from scrimmage at nickel back as a back up, Ebner was a special teams standout.

In 2011 he was voted the team’€™s most inspirational player, receiving the Bo Rein Award, and the team’s best special teams player, earning the Ike Kelley Award. He was a three-time Big Ten Conference All-Academic honoree. In his 36 career games he had 30 tackles from 2009’€“11.

On Ohio State’s Pro Day, he had an unofficial 4.47 40-yard dash time, and 39-inch vertical jump. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, ran the 60-yard shuttle in 10.99 seconds, recorded a broad jump of 10 feet 8 inches, and had a short-shuttle time of 4.04 seconds and a 3-cone drill time of 6.59 seconds.

The raw talent was there. It was the football technique that needed work and Belichick was confident that with the right training and teaching, Ebner had the brains and desire to pick up his defensive system.

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Read More: Brian Flores, matt patricia, Nate Ebner, New England Patriots
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