|Patriots won’t answer Anquan Boldin’s guarantee of a victory||01.16.13 at 9:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin said Wednesday that the difference between last year’s AFC title game and this year’s contest was that the Ravens were going to win. When he was informed of Boldin’s boast later Wednesday afternoon, Patriots center Ryan Wendell simply shrugged.
“The difference between this year’s AFC championship and last year’s AFC championship is that they’re different teams,” he said. “We’ve got new players and some of the same players that were in that game; they’ve got new players and some of the same players as well.
“Nothing matters that happened in the regular season. Nothing matters that happened last week. We’re two good teams that are going to squaring off in this game. All that really matters is who goes out and performs.”
That was the tone that Wendell’s teammates took when informed of Boldin’s statements. The Patriots were able to stay on message and not rise to the bait, which is pretty much business as usual around Gillette Stadium.
“I guess it is just the way we do things — we’ll see on Sunday what happens,” said right tackle Sebastian Vollmer said. “I don’t think we take too much into consideration from what happened last year. It was a different team for both of us. I think both teams deserve to be in that game on Sunday and we will see what happens.
“We think it is going to be a tough game and we respect Baltimore, so we know how tough it is going to be. We still have to bring our best and just go from there, I guess.”
Earlier in the week, Baltimore linebacker Brendon Ayanbedejo took a shot at the Patriots on Twitter, ripping the Patriots’ no-huddle offense and lobbing insults referring to “Spygate” and the 18-1 season of 2007. He later apologized.
|Fab Five: The most underrated Patriots||12.04.12 at 5:51 pm ET|
While the Patriots have their share of high-profile superstars, each man in the locker room will tell you that it takes 53 players — and sometimes more, when you add in the practice squadders — to make a team. To that end, here’s our pick for the five most underrated Patriots — the unheralded guys who don’t get the headlines like some of their counterparts, but who are just as integral to the success of the franchise on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.
Tight end Daniel Fells: The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder has assumed the same role that Alge Crumpler had in 2010 — an older tight end who has served as something of a steadying, veteran presence for younger Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And while he hasn’t had much of a statistical impact (he has three catches on nine targets for 77 yards this season), with the recent injury to Gronkowski, he has seen a sizable uptick in his playing time. He was on the field for 103 of a possible 151 snaps over the last two weeks, and while he didn’t have the same impact that Gronkowski has, he was essentially doing his job as an end of the line blocker. Most importantly, he was a consistent presence on the field during New England’s 16-play series in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, the best offensive sequence of the season for the Patriots.
Running back Danny Woodhead: Woodhead appears so often on these types of underrated lists, he might actually be perfectly rated, but there are few more versatile options in the New England offense. He’s the only guy on the team with at least 25 carries and 25 receptions — he has 58 rushes and 26 catches through 12 games. (The last Patriots player to go over 25/25 in the same year was Kevin Faulk in 2009 — he finished that year with 62 carries and 37 receptions.) He’s also the most dependable receiver on the team — he has 26 catches on 32 targets, and his 81 percent reception rate is the best on the team among pass catchers with at least 10 receptions. He’s seen a recent downturn in snaps (particularly with the recent emergence of Shane Vereen as an option in the passing game), but he remains a steady third-down option. In the wake of the injury to Julian Edelman, the 5-foot-8, 200-pounder could see more action as the regular-season comes to a close.
Center Ryan Wendell: A part-time interior offensive lineman over the course of his first three seasons with the Patriots, the undrafted free agent out of Fresno State stepped into a starting role for the first time this year and has become one of New England’s most dependable offensive linemen. Taking over for veteran Dan Koppen (who was released shortly before the start of the regular season), Wendell has been the centerpiece of one of the best offensive lines in football. Pro Football Focus says the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder is one of the best centers in the league — his grade of +16.2 when it comes to run blocking is best in the league, and his overall grade of +14.4 through the first 12 games of the season is third on the New England offense (he trails only Tom Brady and Gronkowski). In addition, on an offensive line that’s seen it’s share of injury, Wendell has held up very nicely. His 924 offensive snaps this season is second on the offense to left tackle Nate Solder (927).
|Why the 2012 Patriots offensive line is the best of Tom Brady’s career||12.01.12 at 2:45 pm ET|
At the start of the season, it certainly appeared the Patriots’ offensive line was going to be in for a tough year.
The group was coming off an offseason of change — veteran left tackle Matt Light retired, while both starting left guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer were coming off major injuries that limited their effectiveness in 2011. After a Pro Bowl season, right guard Brian Waters didn’t return, and center Dan Koppen was one of the final cuts before the start of the season. Those factors, combined with a preseason that saw them try multiple combinations on the line — some of which struggled badly — made many believe that this was going to be a rough year up front.
But despite the fact that the group has had little to no overall consistency this season, through 11 games, the group has not only survived, it has thrived. They will face a mighty challenge from San Francisco and Houston (two teams with terrific defensive fronts) at the end of the season, but to this point on the schedule, here are five reasons why the 2012 New England offense line is the best offensive line of Tom Brady’s career.
1. Lack of sacks and other pressure: We tend to get caught up in sacks when it comes to measuring the worth of an offensive line, but it has to be mentioned that the New England offensive line has done a masterful job keeping Brady clean this year — over the first 11 games of the season. Brady has been sacked 15 times. The 15 sacks are tied for the third-fewest total in the league — the Patriots trail only the Giants (13 sacks allowed), Buccaneers (14) and Broncos (14), and are tied with the Texans. In addition, the 36 quarterback hits that have been allowed by the New England offensive line is fifth in the league, trailing only the Broncos (28), Buccaneers (30), Titans (31) and Giants (34).
It’s a pace that would see him finish the year with 21 sacks, his fewest since 2009 when he was sacked 16 times. (For what it’s worth, Brady was sacked 21 times in 2007.) With 36 quarterbacks hits through 11 games, that would add up to 52 over 16 games — the fewest since 2010, when the line gave up the same number. (For Brady’s complete career sack numbers, click HERE.) Currently, the New England offensive line is in the midst of an impressive streak when it comes to protection: it hasn’t allowed a sack since the third quarter of a Nov. 11 win over the Bills in Foxboro. That’s a stretch of nine-plus quarters, or 146:18 of game action.
(For what it’s worth, it’s hard to get much pressure on a team that runs as much hurry up as the Patriots do. Opposing defensive coordinators have a hard enough time keeping the right number of players on the field consistently, let alone knowing which plays to call. Regardless, lack of pressure is lack of pressure.)
2. Smarter football: The Patriots offensive line has cut way back on penalties over the last year. Through 11 games last season, the New England offensive line had been flagged for 20 penalties for 151 yards, the most of any positional group on the team. In that same stretch in 2012, the line has a total of eight penalties for 55 yards.
3. The running game: Some of the biggest fans of the fact that the Patriots now have a consistent running presence? The offensive line. Any offensive lineman will tell you that it’s easier — and frankly, a lot more fun — to run block instead of pass block. In run blocking, you’re going forward and getting a chance to hit someone instead of hanging back and protecting. To that point, through 11 games, the Patriots have run the ball 71 more times than they did through the same stretch of games in 2011.
But it goes deeper than that. The bigger numbers in the running game means pass protection numbers get better simply because of the fact that there are fewer dropbacks and fewer opportunities to rush the quarterback. And the increased presence of the running game means that teams have to respect the possibility of play-action, which means that opposing defensive lines are always kept on their collective toes.
|Is Ryan Wendell ready to replace Dan Koppen at center?||09.03.12 at 2:35 pm ET|
FOXBORO — There will be a new full-time center snapping the ball to Tom Brady in 2012.
In the preseason that featured more moving parts along the Patriots offensive line than a well-oiled machine, Ryan Wendell appears to be that guy.
The reason? With center Dan Connolly likely moving over to take Brian Waters‘ spot at right guard and with guard/center Matt Tennant still learning the Patriots blocking schemes, Wendell is most-suited to the center job.
Wendell (3 starts) and Connolly (11 starts) shared those duties in 2011 when Dan Koppen went out with an ankle injury in the season opener in Miami. But this season, with the release of Koppen, Wendell appears to be the man who will get the call to handle signal-calling along the line and stabilize interior protection. Wendell has the experience advantage over Donald Thomas, who is certainly also in the mix as the Patriots consider interior depth along the offensive line.
Still, Wendell, who has played and practiced with Koppen since joining the Patriots in 2008 as an undrafted rookie out of Fresno State, the same school that produced Patriots Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins under coach Pat Hill.
“Koppen’s a great guy, great player and a great friend of mine and I’m happy to be his friend in the future,” Wendell said on Monday. “Being behind Koppen and watching him play for the last several years has been a great learning experience on how to be a pro.
“Specific examples, just work ethic, study habits, how to practice, being a pro is lot more than about what you do on Sundays.”
Wendell played in all four preseason games, starting the games against the Eagles and Giants. Last year, he started three games at center. He has started five games in his three seasons in the NFL.
“I think every year is different,” Wendell said. “The only similarity is that you always are trying to do the best you can in your role. You go out and try to work every day and you just try to get better at whatever that role is.
“You’re just happy to be out there and work hard each day and try to get better at your job. I’m most comfortable every day going out and trying to play football, do my best.”
There has been plenty of speculation that no one has seen the “real” Patriots offensive line yet since they did not employ the “no-huddle” or “hurry-up” in preseason games. Could the tempo change drastically this Sunday?
“We’ll have to see on Sunday when that comes up,” Wendell said. “I’m really excited. I think everybody is to get the season started in earnest, to fight for wins that count toward our record. I think we’re all excited for that, I am. I’m just really excited to go out there and just try to do the best I can in my role.
“Like I said, we’ll find out on Sunday.”
|Tom Brady delivers a birthday message with some punch||08.03.12 at 7:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — This wasn’t the birthday message Tom Brady wanted to deliver.
But after watching his teammates endanger themselves with two dog piles in the period of five snaps in training camp practice Friday, and being forced to run three laps on his 35th birthday, the quarterback had enough.
After Bill Belichick yelled at the team and had them run three laps the length of the field, Brady had his chance to get his unique message across.
“We need everybody here, everybody that’s on the field, we need them,” Jabar Gaffney said of Brady’s central message. “We can’t have foolishness out there like fighting and somebody get hurt.”
Why was Brady the right man to deliver the message?
“Brady’s our leader,” said running back Stevan Ridley, who had a great view up close of both the fights and Brady’s speech. “It’s Brady’s show out here so for him to say something, to voice his opinion, that’s nothing we haven’t heard before. He’s only going to tell us what’s best for this team and for us to get better. So, we all listen, we all key in when he talks because we all know that at the end of the day he’s just trying to get to another championship. And that’s what we want to do. We all buy into what he has to say.”
Added Gaffney, “He’s still the leader of this team and he goes out there and shows that and proves it every day.”
Friday’s foolishness was a scrum started when linebacker Bobby Carpenter charged in on center Ryan Wendell during a running play. Carpenter lost his balance and was dragged to the ground by Wendell, who then pinned him on the ground. Rob Ninkovich and Patrick Chung jumped on the pile and a dog pile ensued.
Belichick spoke to the team after the laps and quarterback Brady called for a players-only huddle.
“It’s the same stuff it always is,” Carpenter said after Friday’s practice. “It’s guys trying to go all the way through the whistle and things get a little heated and one thing leads to another and before you know it, there’s 60 guys out there. But Coach Belichick talked to us. Hopefully, that won’t happen again. We can’t be fighting ourselves. We have to be working to improve.”
This came two days after Nate Solder and Brandon Spikes fought before 22,000 fans inside Gillette Stadium.
Moments after the Carpenter-Wendell scrap, Dane Fletcher and Donald Thomas threw their arms and elbows at each other after getting entangled during a running play. The final fight involved backups, as defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick got into it with offensive lineman Darrion Weems. Belichick then interceded and told the players he had seen enough and sent them off to laps.
“There were a few choice words in there,” Carpenter said of Belichick’s disciplinary message at the end of the penalty laps. “But that was the general message… Competition is good, fighting is not. There’s a fine line between taking it to the whistle and taking it a little bit beyond. As it goes every year, as it gets hotter and camp gets longer, we’re in about nine, 10 days now, guys start getting a little irritated, agitated and things get a little hot sometimes but fortunately, that’s what those laps are for, to cool us off.
“That’s the first time I’ve done three laps probably since high school so that definitely was a surprise for me.”
After practice, Brady made his way off the field and accepted many birthday well wishes with a smile. It was as if he was relieved he could finally enjoy the rest of his special day.
|What the return of Dan Koppen means for the Patriots offensive line||04.13.12 at 12:33 pm ET|
With the news that veteran Dan Koppen has agreed to a two-year contract to return to the Patriots, it creates an interesting dynamic along New England’s veteran offensive line.
The 32-year-old Koppen, who was out for the bulk of the 2011 season with a fractured ankle, now faces a strong positional battle from Dan Connolly, who started in his place last year and has moved from versatile backup to important cog in New England’s offensive line. Earlier this offseason, Connolly signed a three-year deal worth more than $9 million, suggesting that he would now assume the role of primary starter and Koppen would be free to look elsewhere for work. (Koppen did reportedly have one free-agent visit with Tennessee.)
However, Koppen has been a steady and dependable presence up from since he was a rookie — a 2003 fifth-round pick out of Boston College, has started 120 of 121 games over nine seasons with the Patriots, and went to the Pro Bowl in 2007. When it comes to winning his spot back on a permanent basis, Koppen can lean on a lot of things in his favor, most notably the fact that he is close friends with quarterback Tom Brady.
If Koppen is at 100 percent — as many believe he is — that would free up Connolly to serve as either a stopgap for left guard Logan Mankins if Mankins is forced to sit for a stretch because of ACL surgery the Fresno State product underwent following an injury in the Super Bowl. Connolly could also provide support at the other guard position, as it remains unclear as to whether or not starting veteran Brian Waters will be back for a second season with the Patriots.
This move also means that Ryan Wendell returns to his role as a primary backup among the interior offensive linemen, leading a group that includes Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas.
|Greg Cosell: Ben Jones could be the answer for the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line||02.27.12 at 12:19 pm ET|
With Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly apparently poised to enter free agency and Brian Waters still reportedly contemplating retirement, it should come as no surprise if the Patriots try and shore up the interior of their offensive line. Greg Cosell, a senior producer for NFL Films for the last 33 years, watches more game film than just about anyone, and believes that the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line could be in a state of flux.
“I think they feel that they’re set at tackle, and they are,” said Cosell, who also serves as the producer of ESPN’s NFL Matchup. “Because I think Nate Solder was drafted to play left tackle because of his athleticism. And obviously, with a year under his belt where he played both left and right, and was used in a variety of ways as well, as a sixth offensive lineman in tight end-type of situations — they’ll expect him to play left tackle next year. [Sebastian] Vollmer, when healthy, is a very solid right tackle. So you can argue that they are set at the tackle positions.
“Logan Mankins isn’t going anywhere. Now … I think Mankins hasn’t been as consistent a player. He wasn’t as consistent at times this year as he has been in the past. He’s not done. He’s not a stiff. You don’t need to replace him. But I don’t think he was quite the same player.”
Cosell buys into the theory that the slippage in Mankins’ play last season was due in part to having had to work with four different centers over the course of the season. Koppen and Connolly were injured for some or part of the year, causing the Patriots to rotate Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald at times through the 2011 season.
“I talked to someone well connected in the league who said that the Patriots o-line is the most cohesive and best-coached unit in the NFL. And now that you just said that, it would make perfect sense, in that Mankins is playing with a different guy on his right throughout the season, that will have a meaningful impact on both his play and the lines play.
“I don’t think Mankins makes a lot of mental mistakes. But if you pair him with a center, and there’s no unit on the field that has to work together more than the o-line, and particularly when a quarterback sets the protection and there’s 15 seconds left on the play clock … I think that’s a very fair statement.”
As for the other guard spot, Cosell said that Brian Waters had a great season, but it might be too much to expect another similar season from the veteran.
“He had a really good year,” Cosell said. “But I think you have to look … I’m not saying he’s not coming to camp and starts as the starter and all that, but at some point, there will be a dropoff. It’s natural. It’s not a knock on Brian Waters. Its just age.”
As for the man in the middle, Cosell loves what Koppen brings to the field, but refuses to make any predictions about his future because of Bill Belichick’s track record.
“I don’t think they’re going to give him a big, big contract,” Cosell said of Koppen, who has been New England’s regular center since his 2003. “I don’t know … Bill’s the toughest guy in the league for me to figure out. Because it just seems like there’s no rhyme or reason to what he does. Bill’s the kind of guy, he could put you at safety next year if he thought it would work. That’s just the way he is.
“He could think, ‘You know what? I could draft this center out of Georgia named Ben Jones.’ I’ve ended up watching three Georgia games because of the teams they’ve played, and Georgia is the team I’ve watched the most on tape leading up to this. I love that kid. I think Belichick would love him. I think Dante Scarnecchia would love the kid. Maybe he thinks, ‘We could draft that kid and he’ll play center.’ I don’t know how Bill thinks.
“But my point is that the position is important the way they play because a lot of stuff is done at the line of scrimmage. So it’s not just taking a good athlete and putting him in. It’s an important position mentally.”
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