|5 thoughts on return of LeGarrette Blount, state of Patriots running game||11.21.14 at 12:12 am ET|
1. In stark contrast to the nasty words that were coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room in the wake of what happened with LeGarrette Blount over the last week, on Thursday, the vibe around the Patriots was all good when it came to the newest Patriot. Special teams captain Matthew Slater called him a “great teammate,” while fullback James Develin said it was “good” to have him back. Meanwhile, Jonas Gray — who likely will see his role shrink some with the addition of Blount — said he had no problem with the move, adding that the veteran is is a “great guy to learn from.” As for what sort of role awaits him, it’s likely he’ll split duties with Gray as the primary between-the-tackles back, as well as serve as some sort of insurance policy if the stage gets too big for the youngster, or if he puts the ball on the ground at some point. It’s also possible he sees time as a part-time kick returner — with the occasional exception of Danny Amendola, no one has really done much to distinguish themselves in the position. With his background last year, it certainly makes sense for the Patriots to give him a shot back there.
2. Few teams have seen the type of turnover at the running back position as New England. With the injury to Ridley, if form holds, the Patriots will have their sixth different back lead the team in rushing in 2014 over the last decade — only four other teams (Saints, Browns, Broncos and Cardinals) have had more. Corey Dillon (2004-2006), Laurence Maroney (2007, 2009), Sammy Morris (2008), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011) and Stevan Ridley (2012-2013). And now, with Ridley on the shelf the rest of the year, this season it figures to be either Vereen, Gray or Blount. That could change again next year, as Brandon Bolden, Ridley and Shane Vereen are all in the final year of their contracts, while Blount, Gray and rookie James White are all under contract for 2015. (In addition, Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed by the Patriots this summer but is spending the year on injured reserve because of a knee issue, is still a possibility to be a part of the mix next season.) Regardless, even with all the changes, things could still change between now and the start of next season.
3. As forward thinking as the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — has been the last few years, there’s something impressively retro about what New England might be able to do this season. If we operate with the idea that a “running back by committee” includes a team with four backs with at least 40 carries, it appears that for the second straight season, the Patriots will attempt to be the first team to win a Super Bowl using the “running back by committee” approach since the 1987 Redskins, who won Super Bowl. Right now, the Patriots three different backs reach with at least 69 carries (Ridley with 94, Vereen with 70 and Gray with 69). While some of those numbers are borne out of necessarily since Ridley went down, if Blount is able to click down the stretch for New England — and it’s entirely possible he can hit the 40-carry mark, given his experience in the system — he would be a fourth. If the Patriots could take the title, it would represent the greatest cross-section of work for running backs for any Super Bowl champion since that Washington team emerged with a win in Super Bowl XXII. (Of course, that Redskins team could be discounted on a penalty, as that was a strike year and one of the backs was a scab who rushed 80 times in three strike games but never played another down. If you disqualify them on a technicality, them the last true RBBC team to win a Super Bowl in a non-strike year was the 1981 Niners, a team that had five different backs finish with 40 carries or more: Ricky Patton, Earl Cooper, Johnny Davis, Walt Easley and Paul Hofer.)
|Patriots foursome on remarkable flag-free streak this season||11.06.14 at 12:14 pm ET|
We have taken lots of time this season to talk about the Patriots penalty woes over the first nine games of the season — as well as the new points of emphasis that have created an occasionally flag-happy environment. But on the flip side, there’s also something to be said about showing an ability to avoid penalties to this point in the year. The following players have played at least 350 snaps this season (per Pro Football Focus) and have yet to be flagged:
Defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich — 584 defensive snaps — This is nothing new for Ninkovich, as he played 1,256 snaps last season (per PFF) and was only penalized once. In all, he has two penalties since the start of the 2012 season. PFF has him as one of two 3-4 outside linebackers in the league with at least 500 snaps and no penalties — Oakland rookie Khalil Mack is the other.
Safety Devin McCourty — 581 defensive snaps — Like Ninkovich, this is hardly a shocker, as he’s almost always at or near the top of the list in most snaps and fewest penalties. McCourty has taken just one penalty since the start of the 2013 season. (Per PFF, McCourty is one of nine safeties with at least 580 snaps who has yet to draw a penalty this season.)
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork — 485 defensive snaps — The veteran defensive lineman had an abbreviated 2013 season because of an Achilles’ injury, but he’s on an impressive streak of 13 straight regular-season games (dating back to last season) without a penalty. That represents a seismic turnaround for the big man, who led the team with six penalties in 2012.
Running back Shane Vereen — 357 offensive snaps — The only Patriots offensive player who has at least 350 snaps who has yet to be hit with a penalty, Vereen leads a group of running backs who have yet to be flagged for a penalty this season. Remarkably, Vereen has not been flagged for a single penalty in his NFL career.
|Julian Edelman on MFB: ‘Guys were dialed in’ leading up to Patriots-Broncos showdown||11.03.14 at 12:48 pm ET|
Patriots receiver Julian Edelman and running back Shane Vereen checked in with Middays with MFB on Monday to dissect Sunday’s 43-21 rout of the Broncos. To hear the interviews, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
The Patriots, who started the season slowly, surprisingly coasted to a big win in the day’s marquee matchup. Edelman said the seeds were planted earlier in the week.
“It started with a great week of practice,” Edelman said. “We had a really good week of practice. Guys were, they were tuned in, they were focused. We had great meetings, great walk-throughs. You could just see guys were dialed in. It showed on Sunday. That’s what it all starts with. It starts with practice. We emphasize fundamentals — blocking, tackling, catching, all those sorts of things — throughout the week. It translated into executing in the game.”
Edelman had nine receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown, along with an 84-yard punt return for a TD within a four-minute span in the second quarter to turn the game in the Patriots’ favor. However, even with the Patriots taking a 20-point lead at halftime, Edelman said the team did not get too comfortable.
“Not necessarily. They had the lead on us the year before, so it was just reversed,” Edelman said. “They have an explosive offense. They’ve got good players everywhere on that team. We went in and we kind of forgot about the score and just tried to put the helmets on and go out and do work. That’s how we did it.”
Vereen, who rushed 11 times for 29 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 38 yards and another score, compared Denver’s struggles to what happened to New England in Week 4.
“I think it was a little bit of a snowball effect in Denver’s case. Something that happened to us in Kansas City,” he said. “When you’re playing tough teams on the road, that can happen sometimes. But you’ve still got to take your hat off to Denver. They’re still a very good team. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw them again down the road.”
“The guy is a stud,” Edelman said. “When he made that catch I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ He doesn’t have hands, he has like oven mitts. The ball is like a beer can in his hand, that’s how big his hands are. You see him make those plays in practice and you see him do it in a game, it’s like he’s ‘Real Deal’ [Evander] Holyfield over there.”
The game was played in very cold, windy conditions on a day when it snowed in the morning.
“We knew that the weather was going to play a factor into the game at some point, in certain situations,” Vereen said. “Coach had talked to us about that prior to the game. So we knew that that could have been a factor, we knew that certain things, going into the wind there’d be a chance for some fourth-down situations because of the kicking as far as the distances which Steve [Gostkowski] could kick it from. We knew that factor going into the game, but I don’t think it was ever too big of a problem to where we had to completely change our whole game plan or change our approach. I still think we were able to complete some passes and move the ball successfully.”
For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.
|Fantasy Football: Week 9 starts, sits||10.31.14 at 10:56 am ET|
Welcome to the Week 9 starts and sits. The bye weeks are here with a vengeance and I’m ready to help. I’ve got a bunch of recommendations for you, and I’ve also posted my full lineup rankings at Rotobahn, just in case you are looking for information on players not listed in this space.
Don’t forget to tune in Sunday morning for another episode of the Fantasy Football Hour with my buddy Jim Hackett. If you have last-minute lineup concerns, you should check out my Sunday chat. It takes place right here at WEEI.com and it runs from 11 a.m. to noon every Sunday.
If you want to keep track of all my fantasy football content, both here and at Rotobahn, follow me on Twitter. I send out links to all fresh content.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals at Cowboys
He’s locked in now. The nerve in his shoulder is working and so is the Arizona offense. While the Cardinals receivers are a bit frustrating because the ball is to be spread around to the open man, Palmer is the guy doing the spreading, and it’s working just fine for his fantasy owners. He’s a solid play this week in Dallas.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Ravens
He’s going to slow down off of last week’s pace by a significant percentage. Of course, even a 50 percent reduction leaves you with tasty fantasy production. That’s how hot Big Ben is. His home matchup with the Ravens is nothing to fear. In fact, they are a better matchup than normal because they will be without their top corner, Jimmy Smith.
Is he a lock? No. The Giants offensive line has been hard to figure — at times looking good and at times looking collectively lost. This week — with New York coming off its bye, I expect solid play from that group. I also expect the offense to be forced into an aggressive mindset. That’s because I expect Andrew Luck to put a lot of points on the board. Manning can help you in any league this week if you need an option and you can accept a little volatility. I think he’s worth the risk.
|Shane Vereen, Chandler Jones not spotted at Friday Patriots practice||10.24.14 at 12:02 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Shane Vereen joined Chandler Jones Friday as missing at Patriots practice in sweats and shells on the upper grass fields.
Jones has missed all week with a hip injury suffered against the Jets, and will reportedly be out of action for the next 4-6 weeks as he heals. Vereen, meanwhile, has not been on the injury report at all this week. The team will disclose its final injury report later Friday afternoon. The Boston Herald reported via a source that Vereen was given the day off due to an illness.
Newcomer Akeem Ayers was on the practice field again as the team tries to determine if the linebacker – acquired this week in a trade with the Titans – is ready to play in a game. Free agent defensive lineman Alan Branch was not on the field. Branch was in this week to meet with the players and was spotted in the team’s locker room on Thursday.
“I don’t know. We work out a lot of players around here over the course of the season,” coach Bill Belichick said Friday morning. “So, the ones that we bring on the roster and sign we work with and the ones that we don’t are there if we decide to do it.”
Vereen’s brother Brock is a safety for the Bears and Vereen’s parents are expected in town this weekend to spend time with their NFL sons.
|Mike Petraglia, Chris Price look ahead to how Patriots will deal with Matt Forte, Bears||10.22.14 at 5:03 pm ET|
FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price detail how the New England Patriots will overcome injuries to Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones to come up with a defensive game plan for Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
|Family Feud: Shane Vereen ready to mix it up with brother Brock as Patriots meet Bears||10.21.14 at 9:33 pm ET|
FOXBORO — When it comes to providing a scouting report on the Bears, Shane Vereen is better prepared than most of the Patriots.
When he lines up Sunday against Chicago, the New England running back will get his first crack at his brother — Bears rookie safety Brock Vereen — for the first time as professionals.
“I’m looking forward to it — it’s exciting,” Shane said after practice Tuesday. “It’s definitely going to be a good time for me and my family. But at the same time, you have to get down to the basics. It would mean more if we just came out on top and won the game as a team.
“Growing up, we talked about it a lot. But we were never on the field together at the same time because of our age difference. Now, we finally get that chance, and we’re both really excited about it.”
While he was interviewed by the Patriots prior to the draft, Brock ended up going in the fourth round to the Bears, and has 12 tackles in seven games in his first year with Chicago. The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder, who said he was looking to put a big hit on his brother when he reached the NFL, said in February that Shane was a big help to him throughout the pre-draft process.
“I’ve been very fortunate as to always to have an older brother at the level I was trying to get to,” said Brock in February. “When I was in high school, he was already in college, and now, the situation here. Just to have that insight, and to understand the ins and outs of certain things that some people might not find out until they’re actually in the NFL, it’s definitely a blessing.”
Of course, there’s also the chance to put a hit on your brother.
“I have not been hit by my brother. Not in pads,” said Shane with a smile on Tuesday. “I definitely think he is looking forward to it. So am I.”
Shane said there will plenty of family in attendance, but he said Tuesday that their mother, Venita, isn’t going to tip her hands as to who she’ll be rooting for.
“Last time I talked to my mother, she said she was going neutral — no colors,” Shane said. “We’ll see. I think that’s going to change.”