|Veteran Indy defenders Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis familiar with challenges of Patriots offense||11.15.12 at 4:29 pm ET|
While a lot has changed about the Colts over the last two years, two defensive constants remain — outside linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The 32-year-old Freeney has been part of the rivalry since he arrived in Indy as a rookie in 2002, while the 31-year-old Mathis joined the Colts in 2003 and has been banging heads with a variety of New England tackles on a regular basis since then.
While he won’t be going against Matt Light this time around (at his retirement, Light said Freeney was the toughest opponent he ever faced), Freeney is looking forward to starting a new chapter in one of the best rivalries of the last 20 years.
“A lot of history between us and it never gets dull,” said Freeney. “For a few years there, it was like they were a division opponent. We would see them twice a year. It’s always been a battle. I’m sure it will be another one.”
“[There’s a mutual respect, because both teams have that history,” said Mathis. “Neither team takes each other for granted and it’s not an automatic win. You have to come out and play the game.”
Freeney said he isn’t concerned by the fact that this will be the first taste of the rivalry for many of his younger teammates -- he’s been working with them to try and get them ready for Gillette Stadium.
“You just have to prep them on the history, and I’m sure there are some guys that will be throwing the bird up on the way to the stadium,” Freeney said. “You’ll see a little bit of that. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to definitely be a football atmosphere and I can’t wait to be a part of it again.”
Even though there are new faces on both sides of the ball, the priority for Freeney and Mathis is the same as it ever was: get after the quarterback.
“Tom’s an amazing player,” Freeney said of Brady. “To be able to get to him, he’s not the fastest guy and all that, but he throws that ball quick and he understands the timing of certain pass plays and how to get rid of the ball and how not to get hit. I guess that’s the formula of him playing for so long is to have that. So yeah, it’ll be a little bit special. I always like to get Tom.”
“It’s very hard because he’s a smart quarterback,” Mathis said of the New England quarterback. “You tip your hand and he’ll make you pay. We just have to eliminate that and just try to stay on top of things.”
At the same time, the Patriots have gotten more production from their running game than they have in the past.
“Yeah, this year they’ve kind of got back to that ground game. That makes them that much more dangerous because you have two facets of their offense that you have to get ready for. You just can’t rely on (Brady) throwing the ball,” Mathis said. “[Stevan Ridley is] going to hit it. You just have to get on him and stop him from getting up on our (defensive backs) that quick. Our front seven, we have to be on our jobs this week.
“[It’s] classic New England,” he added. “They are going to come out and do what they do better than anybody else does. You just can’t let that happen.”
|How Andrew Luck sees leadership of his Colts||at 11:16 am ET|
FOXBORO — With great talent comes even higher expectation.
And when you’re a 23-year-old quarterback gifted with a golden arm and tremendous athletic ability, the pressure of leading a team from the cellar to a playoff contender can be overwhelming.
But not for Andrew Luck.
Luck knew exactly what he was getting into when he left Stanford for the NFL and was drafted first overall by the Colts last April. Nine games into his rookie season, his stats (2,600 yards passing, 10 TDs, 9 INTs) are good – not great – but those numbers are not how his success story is being told. He has led his team to a 6-3 record, just two games behind the AFC leading Texans in the AFC South. With leading being the operative word.
Several coaches and players in Indianapolis were mildly amazed in mini-camp and training camp that a rookie who missed rookie OTAs to finish his degree at Stanford would be able to come in and call check-downs at the line of scrimmage. It earned him immediate credibility and respect in the offices and most importantly in the locker room, a locker room that still has names like Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
How does Luck see himself as a leader?
“That’s a good question,” Luck said. “I try and do the right thing, try and work hard, try and learn from other guys. If I have something to add or feel my opinion is pertinent, then make it known.
“It hasn’t been too bad because for one, our locker room’s great with a lot of veteran leadership and it’s a very comfortable locker room. I do try to defer them on things that I realize that I know nothing about and they do. I also realize as a quarterback you do assume some of the responsibilities by virtue of talking in the huddle and having the plays sort of run through you. I’m lucky to be part of a good locker room.”
Luck said his NFL learning curve has gone about as smoothly as he could’ve hoped.
“I knew that every day was going to be a new learning experience – every game, every trip, every practice – was going to be a new learning experience,” Luck said. “Some has gone well. Some has been sort of bumpy, if you will. But, I’m try to go get better every day and I think I’m continuing to improve and the team’s continuing to improve which is good.”
Here is the rest of this week’s Q and A with the Colts rookie quarterback, along with RGIII, a leader in the NFL offensive rookie of the year race.
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|Five takeaways from the Tuesday afternoon conference calls with Bill Belichick, Bill O’Brien and Nick Caserio||12.06.11 at 4:15 pm ET|
Five takeaways from the Tuesday conference calls with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and director of player personnel Nick Caserio:
1. Belichick spoke at length about his longtime relationship with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. The two go back a long ways as assistants, and have faced each other eight times as head coaches, with Shanahan holding a 5-3 edge on Belichick (when Shanahan was in Denver) in their head-to-head matches.
“I think Mike liked me because he used to like to beat up on us all the time,” Belichick said. “Mike was out in San Francisco when I was with the Giants, so we’ve always competed against each other; we’ve never been on the same staff. I’ve gotten to know Mike a little bit off the field, league meetings and stuff like that. He’s a great competitor, I have great respect for what he’s done, all the championships and all the outstanding teams he has had and coached. I’d say most of our stuff has been off the field.”
Belichick hosted Shanahan at training camp a couple of years ago, and clearly has a deep and abiding respect for the former Broncos coach.
“It’s great to be able to talk to somebody that has that perspective,” Belichick said. “The Jimmy Johnsons or the Mike Shanahans or people like that that have been through NFL seasons and have a lot of experiences and can relate to all the different points in time, whether it be the draft, training camp, regular season, Xs and Os, personnel and so forth. It’s great to be able to exchange ideas with somebody like that. Mike is a really smart guy and he’s had a tremendous career. I think he has a lot to offer in a conversation.”
2. We touched on this in our story today on the Redskins’ defense, but the strength of the Washington defense appears to be in their two young pass rushers, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
“They don’t move them around a whole lot. They have a couple looks, but for the most part, it’s not hard to find them. The problem is blocking them,” Belichick said. “It’s kind of like [Robert] Mathis and [Dwight] Freeney. They move those two guys around a little bit, a couple of snaps here and there, but the problem isn’t finding them; the problem is blocking them. They’re very good. They each other well. They’re both strong guys, really powerful and can collapse the pocket and also are fast enough to run around, work the edges.
“They both do a pretty good job in coverage, better than a lot of linebackers that I’ve seen that are outstanding pass rushers. They use them in some coverage responsibilities and they’re pretty competitive there. They do a good job in the running game. They’re both strong tacklers – they wrap up well, they finish well. It will be a big challenge for us. These guys are two good bookends.”
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|Missing out on the Gronk Browl||12.01.11 at 1:37 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Last week, Baltimore and San Francisco gave us the Harbowl. This week, we were one pectoral injury from the Gronk Bowl.
If Colts’ fullback Chris Gronkowski hadn’t suffered a pectoral injury earlier this season — which landed him on injured reserve in October — it would have been brother against brother this weekend when the Patriots meet Indy at Gillette Stadium.
“I was definitely looking forward to that,” said his brother Rob. “But he’s on the IR now with surgery. He’s doing well — maybe next year I’ll get him.”
Even with Chris on injured reserve (and brother Dan as an occasional member of the Patriots this season), Rob has done more than enough to carry the family name this season. Through 11 games, he has 60 catches for 864 yards and 11 touchdowns, and will have a chance to add to those numbers this weekend against Indianapolis. Like coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday, Gronkowski said that no matter the 0-11 record, when you turn on the Colts’ film, you see a quality team.
“We see a lot of good players,” Gronkowski said. “They have good D-ends. They’re a really fast team. They have fast linebackers, fast defensive line, fast corners. Fast everything. We just have to go out there and execute. We have to play hard. It doesn’t matter what the records are. This is the NFL. Every team has good players.”
While Gronkowski has made a name as a pass catcher since he arrived prior to the start of last season (earlier this season, he reached 20 touchdowns faster than any tight end in NFL history, breaking the mark set by Mike Ditka), he will also likely be called upon to try and help out as a blocker against Indy’s defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, two of the fastest ends in the league.
“You have to be aware of when they’re going to make a move at all times,” Gronkowski said of the duo, which have a combined 11 sacks on the season. “If they’ll go inside, if they’ll go outside. If they’ll put the spin move on you. You just have to be aware of where those D-ends are going to go because they have so much speed.”
The Patriots put up 24 points in the first half last week against the Eagles, but for much of the season, they’ve struggled with slow starts. (In the previous six-game stretch before last week against Philadelphia, they averaged nine points in the first half.) Gronkowski said a large part of getting off to a fast start involves getting the running game in gear.
“(Just) making plays. Getting the ball down the field and getting the run game going,” he said. “Once we get the run game going, we can do some play action and stuff. Get the ball downfield and get some guys open. Basically going out right from the start and executing well.
“That’s what you want to do,” he added. “You want to find their weaknesses. You want to find the areas where you can get the ball down the field. You want to find the areas where you can get the ball down the field where there are gaps and everything.”
|Tom Brady idolizes Dwight Freeney, sort of||11.30.11 at 3:12 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Tom Brady won’t be facing his old friend Peyton Manning this week, as Manning is getting his neck X-rayed to determine if he will play again, either this year or in 2012.
But he will be facing another old nemesis in a Colts uniform – perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney.
“I’ve played Dwight Freeney a bunch,” Brady said Wednesday. “I wish he was out this week. He’s in there again. He’s a phenomenal player. If I could be a defensive end, I’d be like him.”
As a matter of Brady has faced Freeney seven times and the results indicate that Brady’s offensive line has done a pretty fair job of protecting him. In those seven games, Freeney recorded just three sacks, two solo tackles and two assisted tackles.
“Robert Mathis on the other side, both those guys can really wreak havoc,” Brady continued. “They strip sack. Coach said Freeney has 99 career sacks and 43 forced fumbles. So, almost half the time he sacks you, he strips the ball from you. He’s a great player. They’ve got [defensive back] Jerraud Powers, I really like the way he plays. I think they have some very good defensive players.”
All of this, Brady realizes, comes with one huge caveat – zero wins in 11 games.
“When you’re having a season like they’re having, no one wants to be in that situation but I’ll tell you this, they play hard,” Brady added. “They have a lot of pride. They’ve been in a lot of close games. They haven’t won them but they’re in them.
“We have to go out there and try to play really well, play more consistent, kind of like we did last week. We played more consistent than we had the previous week and we’ve got to go out and try to play very consistent this week, too.”
|Bill Belichick on The Big Show: Lions game ‘about as tough as it gets’||11.22.10 at 4:14 pm ET|
Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined The Big Show to discuss his team’s 31-28 victory over the Colts on Sunday as well as the upcoming challenge his team faces in traveling to Detroit for a Thursday game against the Lions. The reduced preparation time that the Pats will face by virtue of the Thanksgiving game creates a host of challenges.
“About as tough as it gets. This is about as tough a week of preparation as it gets,” Belichick said of the Lions game. “We don’t know the team. We don’t know the players. [Since] last time we played them, it’s a new staff. They’ve had a lot of turnover, a lot of young players, a lot of very good players. But we just don’t have great background on them. We did some work on them in the offseason. But 10 games have passed. … Some of the players there now weren’t there last year, like [Ndamukong] Suh and [Jahvid] Best, guys like that. They’ve added and changed the dimension of their team a little bit. So it’s hard.
“When you play out of conference on a short week like that, it’s tough. It’s the same challenge they face, though. But it’s definitely hard on our players and coaches to get the compact and precise and definitive information that we feel like we normally get on a team in such a short amount of time on a team that’s played 10 games, and try to consolidate it for the players, what they’re going to do in certain situations. Sometimes we struggle to put it all together on all the situations: third-down, goal-line, short-yardage, two-minute and so forth.”
Belichick also broke down the victory over the Colts, the impact of offensive lineman Logan Mankins, the inconsistency of the defensive unit, the diminutive stature of the Patriots receiving corps as well as his homage to former coaching great and football innovator Paul Brown.
To listen to the interview, visit the audio on demand page of The Big Show. Here is a transcript of the conversation:
On Sunday’s win over the Colts:
It seems like it’s always like that with the Colts. It’s a dogfight, comes down to the last possession or play. You can never count them out. They’re a good football team.
Did you have to remind guys at halftime to be prepared for second-half push, or do they know that?
I’m sure they do, but we still talk about it and reinforce it. You know it’s going to be 60 minutes against the Colts. They can score in a hurry. Their defense, they get strip stacks, tipped balls. Their ability to get turnovers is as good as anybody in the league. They’re really dangerous, no matter how much time is left on the clock. Read the rest of this entry »
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