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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Giants 11.14.15 at 11:30 am ET
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If he stays healthy, we'll take the over on 90 catches for Rob Gronkowski in 2015. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

With the Giants pass defense struggling, it could be a big day for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Here’s what you have to know when it comes to Sunday’s Giants-Patriots contest at MetLife Stadium.


When it comes to the Giants‘ defense, the numbers don’t add up. It’s near the bottom of the league in most major categories. New York is 22nd against the run (114.8 rushing yards per game allowed), 31st in pass defense (308 passing yards per game allowed) and 19th in scoring defense (having given up an average of 25.1 points per game). But at the same time, New York is the best teams in the league at forcing turnovers. Through nine games, the Giants are tied for the top spot in the league with 21 takeaways —  13 interceptions and eight fumbles. In addition, their plus-12 differential is the best spot in the league. The key for opposing offenses? Making smart decisions with the football. (In the words of Julian Edelman part of it is about knowing “when the journey is over.”) The Giants love to have one guy hold up the ballcarrier while another will come in and try and punch at the ball, trying to force the takeaway. When it comes to ball security, the teams that don’t let them get put in dicey situations are the ones that have success against New York, and that’s especially true on the ground. On Sunday, the Patriots will look to test a reeling run defense, one that will be without its primary run stuffer in defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a torn pectoral. Figure roughly 20 carries for LeGarrette Blount (98 carries, 447 yards, 5 TDs), who will likely see a slight spike in his workload following the season-ending injury to Dion Lewis. With Lewis on the shelf, expect the Patriots to lean on the likes of Brandon Bolden (7 carries, 14 yards) and James White (7 carries, 15 yards) when Blount needs a breather or New England is in third-down situations or running five wide. As long as the Patriots steer clear of turnovers, this is a winnable matchup for New England.


Even with questions about the state of New England’s perilously thin offensive line and the Giants‘ knack for takeaways, this remains a positive matchup for the Patriots. Drew Brees threw for 505 yards against the Giants earlier this month. 505 yards. Let that marinate for a while when you consider the state of the New York pass defense heading into Sunday’s game. The Giants will have Jason Pierre-Paul for the second straight contest after the pass rusher spent the bulk of the summer and early portion of the regular season working his way back from a fireworks accident, but it’s debatable what sort of impact he’s capable of having on one of the worst pass defenses in the league. (The Giants are last in the league with nine sacks.) While they’re good at forcing takeaways — as we previously noted — the Giants have also shown a propensity to be overwhelmed when facing an above average passing attack, and could be in over their head even more with the news Friday that cornerback Prince Amukamara was ruled out for the contest. Look for Tom Brady (69 percent completion rate, 2,709 passing yards, 22 TDs, 2 INTs) to utilize his core on Sunday: Rob Gronkowski (44 catches, 693 yards, 7 TDs), Julian Edelman (57 catches, 639 yards, 7 TDs), Danny Amendola (30 catches, 324 yards, 2 TDs) and Brandon LaFell (11 catches, 174 yards). As is the case when it comes to the ground game, Bolden (5 catches, 41 yards, 1 TD) and White (7 catches, 52 yards) will likely get the bulk of the work as the third down back with Lewis on the sideline. In the end, the strength and depth of the New England passing game should more than enough to make the difference in this contest.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul, Julian Edleman
5 things you have to know about Giants: New York air attack will test Patriots pass defense 11.09.15 at 1:32 pm ET
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Eli Manning and Tom Brady will meet again Sunday in North Jersey. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Eli Manning and Tom Brady will meet again Sunday in North Jersey. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Five things you have to know about the Giants, who will host the Patriots Sunday in North Jersey:

1. They have a good passing game.

The Giants should present a nice challenge to the New England pass defense. Arguably, Eli Manning is having the best season of any quarterback that will face the Patriots to this point in the season: he’s in the top 10 in several major categories, including touchdown passes (19), passing yards (2,339) and completion percentage (66 percent), and has the New York offense fifth in the league in scoring at 27.4 points per game. Old friend Shane Vereen is still one of the best pass-catching backs in the game — he has 34 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns — while the electric Odell Beckham, Jr. is still one of the best young receivers in the league with a team-high 59 catches for 759 yards and seven touchdowns this season. If that’s not enough, the Giants also boast a pretty good No. 2 receiver in Reuben Randle (36 catches, 424 yards, three touchdowns) and a workmanlike tight end in Larry Donnell (29 catches, 223 yards, two touchdowns) who augments the passing game nicely. It’s early in the week — and it certainly wouldn’t be man-to-man all afternoon — but a Beckham/Malcolm Butler showdown would certainly be compelling theater. (Ditto for a Beckham/Logan Ryan matchup that included Devin McCourty over the top, not unlike how New England approached Brandon Marshall.) Meanwhile, the Patriots could theoretically shadow Vereen with speedy linebacker Jamie Collins or Patrick Chung. It’ll also help out the back end of the defense if the front seven — namely a healthy Jabaal Sheard, mixed with a steady dose of Chandler Jones — is able to cut down on the cover time with a steady pass rush. New England has improved defensively in almost every category over the last month-plus, but will face a serious test Sunday against the Giants.

2. Rashad Jennings is the closest thing they have to a feature back.

As a team, the Giants haven’t been particularly effective when it comes to running the ball, but when they’ve succeeded, they’ve done it just enough to keep the other team honest. New York is 24th in the league on the ground, averaging 96.7 rushing yards per game, while its 3.8 yards per carry is 25th in the NFL. The 6-foot-1, 234-pound Jennings (94 carries, 364 rushing yards, one touchdown, 3.9 yards per carry) is tops on the roster, while BC product Andre Williams (61 carries, 177 rushing yards, one touchdown, 2.9 yards per carry) offers some support. Vereen (41 carries, 174 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per carry) also works as the third-down option. You can’t necessarily neglect the New York running game; it’s only to suggest that if you have to prioritize your defensive scheme, you focus on the passing game first.

3. They are having issues on defense.

The Giants have been up-and-down over the course of the first nine games of the season, and currently sit at 5-4 and in first place in the NFC East. But a closer look at the numbers reveals they have had issues on the defensive side of the ball. New York has yielded 308 passing yards per game, 31st in the NFL. The Giants have allowed 114.8 rushing yards per game, 22nd in the NFL. And they are 19th in the league when it comes to scoring defense, having given up an average of 25.1 points per game. (For comparisons sake, the Patriots are allowed 17.9 points per game, fifth in the NFL.) Now, some of those poor numbers are skewed because of the ridiculous shootout they got into against the Saints earlier this season, a game that New Orleans won in OT, 52-49. And they welcomed back pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul for the first time on Sunday in a win over the Bucs. (Pierre-Paul should provide a boost for a team that has struggled to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season.) But there are some clear vulnerabilities there, including on the ground, where the Giants run defense — one of the best in the league in the early going — has really struggled. New York got some more bad news on Monday, when it was revealed that defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins suffered a torn pectoral muscle. If he’s out for an extended stretch, it could deal a serious blow to an already reeling run defense, and could mean another big day for the New England ground game.

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Read More: Brad Wing, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul
In short span of time, Dion Lewis has made himself into integral part of Patriots offense 09.28.15 at 7:18 pm ET
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Dion Lewis has on;y been around New England for three games, but has already made his mark. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Dion Lewis has on;y been around New England for three games, but has already made his mark. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Ivan Fears knew the Patriots had something in Dion Lewis before most anyone else realized it.

The longtime Patriots running backs coach said Monday there were flashes of what Lewis was capable of over the course of the spring and summer workouts leading up to training camp.

“We knew there was something there — we had a feeling there was something there, and we let it play out,” Fears said. “He took advantage of preseason games and practice sessions and he’s done a good job. Like all the guys, he’s [carved] out a little role for himself.”

He added: “He’s got exceptional quickness and he’s got the vision to go with it. He’s got the Kevin Faulk-type of vision. He sees a lot, but he can make things happen because of his feet and his ability to change directions. So, we’ll see what happens. He was hurt when he first came into the league. He was not as productive. He had some injuries, and now he’s had a year since that injury, so he was ready. His body responded, and he’s ready to go.”

After being signed to a future contract by the Patriots late last season, Lewis has responded with an impressive start to the 2015 season. Through three games, he leads the Patriots in rushing (30 carries, 146 yards, two touchdowns), but has also become a vital part of the passing game (15 catches — good for third on the team — for 179 yards). While his two fumbles (one lost) have stood out, he managed to display some nice mental toughness when it comes to bouncing back after making errors.

One thing that’s really stood out for Lewis over the course of the first three games is not just his quickness and dependability as a pass catcher out of the backfield, but his willingness to get tough yards between the tackles. Despite the fact that’s not a usual part of the responsibilities for a third-down back, Fears isn’t surprised the 5-foot-8, 195-pounder managed to display some toughness while grinding out some of that tough yardage.

“That was his MO at Pitt when he was in college,” Fears said. “He was a very productive every-down back. He’s not unfamiliar with running in between the tackles, so we just let him do what he does. We try to feature the strong points of each one of those guys when they’re out there and Dion is an exceptional runner. That was his strong suit in college, and he’s kind of proven to us he can do more than that.”

Lewis joins an impressive lineage of offensive options who have lined up at third-down back for the Patriots over the last decade, a group that includes Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. According to Fears, Lewis has a lot of Faulk in his game.

“He’s very similar to Kevin — Kevin, of course. played at LSU, and was a hell of an every-down back,” he said. “The only limitation that these guys have had is the size factor. Everybody just knocked them because of it. But believe me, they’ve proven a lot of people wrong.

“Dion has still got a lot of work to do. We’re not giving him any crown right now. We’re just saying he’s been very good through three games and we look forward to see what he can do for us in the future.”

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Read More: Danny Woodhead, Dion Lewis, Ivan Fears, Kevin Faulk
Shane Vereen backing old teammate Tom Brady: ‘He’ll do well’ 09.04.15 at 12:13 am ET
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Shane Vereen is now with the Giants, but he still has a soft spot for Tom Brady. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Shane Vereen is now with the Giants, but he still has a soft spot for Tom Brady. (Elsa/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Count ex-teammate Shane Vereen as someone who is in Tom Brady‘s corner.

The former New England running back made his return to Gillette Stadium Thursday night for the first time since he signed a free-agent deal in the offseason with the Giants. And even thought he’s now a part of Big Blue, the 26-year-old still has a place in his heart for his old quarterback.

“He’s one of the few cats, (one of the) few guys in this league that will keep taking his backlashes but still get better and still work harder,” Vereen told WHDH-TV after the game, a 12-9 win for the Giants in the preseason finale for both teams. “(There are a) lot of guys in this league that would love to be like him as a competitor and as a great quarterback, I’m sure he’ll do well.”

Vereen, who ended up with just one carry on the night, said it was a “little surreal” to be back in Foxboro. The Cal product spent four seasons in New England before signing with the Giants a month after the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX.

“It was fun — a little surreal for a while,” he said of Thursday’s action. “I had to snap out of it. It was fun being back and seeing everybody and being welcomed back with open arms.”

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Read More: Shane Vereen, Tom Brady,
How Troy Brown gave Bill Belichick some valuable perspective on cutdown process 08.31.15 at 12:44 pm ET
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Troy Brown has always had the ear of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.   (Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Troy Brown has always had the ear of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. (Doug Benc/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Turns out, Bill Belichick does listen to the media, at least when one of those media members is a respected former player.

Troy Brown certainly fits in that category. On Monday, Belichick shared an experience he had recently when he heard Troy Brown speak about the NFL cutdown process from a player’s perspective.

“I think Troy Brown made a comment a couple of weeks ago when he said, ‘I knew that when I came into the league, I knew that it was a long shot for me to make a team. I was probably going to get cut and all that. I felt like my job every day was to make it as hard as possible for Coach Parcells to make that decision. I wanted to make his job tough for him to cut me,'” Belichick said.

Belichick said he and his staff are in a tough spot for a very good reason. Many of his players in different groups have battled hard to make the decision on whether to cut or keep a player very challenging. In two particular groups, wide receiver and running back, especially the third-down back spot, it’s going to be razor-thin.

“It’s definitely made it hard. We’ve have a lot of guys do that,” Belichick said.

“I’d say there have been a number of guys that have done that this year in preseason. They’ve kind of taken that phrase that Troy used and really have done that. They’ve forced us to make some hard decisions because of how competitively they’ve played and vice versa. Guys at a spot where there’s a lot of competition, instead of one or two guys rising and one or two guys fading out, in some cases several members of that group have all competitively risen the level of their game to make some very tough decisions.”

The wide receiver spot includes new names like Chris Harper and Jonathan Krause, both of whom have shown glimpses of being impact players to give depth behind the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Reggie Wayne and Brandon LaFell. As for the running back group, it’s very, very competitive, with players like James White, Dion Lewis, Travaris Cadet and Tony Creecy all vying for valuable game reps as a third-down back to replace Shane Vereen.

“I would put the running back position in that,” Belichick said. “We’ve pretty much had the same group. We added Tony [Creecy]. We’ve pretty much had that same group when we lost [Tyler] Gaffney but we pretty much have the same group of guys since the beginning of the spring, with no rookies in that group other than Tony coming in a couple of weeks ago. Those guys have all competed well. They’ve all improved. They’ve all pushed each other. They’ve all worked really and they’ve all been productive. It’s a good example of that. They’re making it hard on us.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Dion Lewis, James White
Checking in with some old Patriots at their new addresses 08.03.15 at 11:41 am ET
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Darrelle Revis left the Patriots for the Jets. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Darrelle Revis left the Patriots for the Jets. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

With the Patriots taking a day off from camp, that presents us with an opportunity to check in with eight of the players who were on the roster last year who have since moved on to new teams.

Cornerback Darrelle Revis: The Jets cornerback hasn’t taken any passive-aggressive shots at his old employer over the last few days. Instead, he’s been working with the rest of the rebuilt New York secondary over the course of the first few days of camp in Florham Park. The Jets’ Twitter feed provided some cool-looking Vines of some of the one-on-one drills between Revis and wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Cornerback Brandon Browner: Browner, who turned 31 on Sunday, left the Patriots on good terms as a free agent over the offseason (he posted his championship ring and the nice note from Robert Kraft on Instagram last month), but the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder did reveal an intriguing nugget over the weekend: He told reporters that when the Patriots “asked me to take a pay cut, you know, it was time to get up out of there.” He projects as one of the two lead corners in the New Orleans defense for 2015.

Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork: The longtime Patriot signed with the Texans in the offseason and figures to be one of the foundational elements of Houston’s defensive line. Wilfork revealed this week that his daughter Destiny agreed to allow her father to sign with the Texans was if she could meet J.J. Watt. Mission accomplished.

Running back Shane Vereen: While there was plenty of talk initially about potentially utilizing Vereen in more than just a third-down role, it appears now that he’s starting to settle in as the Giants‘ third-down option out of the backfield. Vereen said this week there are a number of similarities between the offense he was a part of in New England and what’s getting used to in New York.

Running back Stevan Ridley: The former Patriots back was placed on the physically unable to perform list at the start of Jets training camp. Ridley, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last October against the Bills, has expressed optimism that he can get back on the field sooner rather than later, but at the same time, he said in June he does not want to create “false hope” regarding his health. Ultimately, the goal is to be back on the field for Week 1 of the regular season.

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Read More: Akeem Ayers, Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis, Jonathan Casillas
Countdown to camp: Running backs 07.26.15 at 5:44 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount heads into 2015 as the Patriots lead back. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount heads into 2015 as the Patriots lead back. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends, offensive line and quarterback. Now it’s the running backs:

Depth chart (regular-season stats via Pro Football Reference): LeGarrette Blount (125 carries, 547 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 5 TDs with both Pittsburgh and New England), Brandon Bolden (28 carries, 89 yards, 3.2 yards per carry, 1 TD), Travaris Cadet (10 carries, 32 yards, 3.2 yards per carry; 38 catches, 296 yards, 1 TD with New Orleans), Tyler Gaffney (no stats in 2014), Jonas Gray (89 carries, 412 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 5 TDs), Dion Lewis (no stats in 2014), James White (9 carries, 38 yards, 4.2 yards per carry), James Develin (fullback — 3 carries, 5 yards, 1.7 yards per carry).


1. When it comes to the Patriots backfield, plug and play is still the rule. Despite the fact that they accounted for a sizable portion of the running game last year, New England let Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley walk in free agency. (The two combined for 42 percent of the rushing yards and 43 percent of the carries from 2014.) The idea of fungible running backs is nothing new around New England; over the last 10 seasons, six different backs (Gray, Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Corey Dillon) have led the Patriots in rushing yards — in that span, only the Cardinals, Browns and Saints have had more different backs lead their team in rushing than New England. The return of Blount (despite the fact that he’ll now miss the opener) would seem to guarantee that it will be seven in 11 seasons. However, if seniority in the system is any indication, it’s worth noting that after the departure of Vereen and Ridley, the senior member of the New England backfield — in terms of time in the system — is 25-year-old Brandon Bolden, who has played a grand total of 38 regular-season games with the Patriots. We’ve mentioned this before, but the only thing that’s constant about the state of the New England running game is change.

2. The Patriots will rotate their backs. In 2014, the Patriots became the first Super Bowl winner since the 1987 Redskins to have four different running backs finish with 40 carries or more in their championship season. (That was because of a combination of injury, scheme and personnel.) Things won’t be that dramatic in 2015, but history certainly suggests that New England will again go with what will best be described as a running back-by-committee. While Blount is going to be the closest thing the team has to a lead back, expect Jonas Gray to also get some reps when it comes to working between the tackles, in addition to special teams ace Brandon Bolden. Meanwhile, Cadet and White will get run as candidates to fill the third down job. Meanwhile, Gaffney and Lewis remain wild cards when it comes to predicting their potential production in 2015.

3. For a fullback, James Develin will get plenty of reps. While he will never pile up the gaudy numbers, the former Ivy Leaguer has carved out a nice niche for himself as a member of the New England offense, as the Patriots have become one of the few teams around the league that has relied on a fullback as a key piece of the puzzle. According to Pro Football Focus, Develin was fifth in the league among fullbacks in total snaps with 259, and he graded out as one of the best in the league when it came to both pass and run blocking.
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Read More: Brandon Bolden, Countdown to Camp, James White, Jonas Gray
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