|Jim Caldwell on Rob Gronkowski: ‘Very, very unusual gifts that he has’||11.19.14 at 5:31 pm ET|
Christmas is more than a month away, but Lions head coach Jim Caldwell is already talking about gifts.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been on a tear the past six games with 40 catches for 587 yards and six touchdowns. Over that span Gronkowski has been able to showcase his pass catching abilities, as well being able to run after the catch — no bigger example than his 26-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the Colts.
“He’s obviously a great talent, just an incredible run, particularly when you look at the one he had against Indianapolis,” Caldwell said on a conference call Wednesday. “He can catch the ball, and not only is he a fine pass catcher, but he can also run with it after he gets it. Very, very unusual gifts that he has.”
Gronkowski isn’t the only player Caldwell and the Lions are worried about, as he also spoke on quarterback Tom Brady.
“Obviously, he’s been doing some great things like he always does,” he said. “They are a very surgical sort of a procedure, where he’s throwing the ball accurately, getting it to all of his playmakers and putting points on the board.”
Sunday’s game will feature the Patriots offense, which is averaging 45.3 points in its last three games, against a Lions defense who comes in allowing an NFL-low 15.6 points per game. Caldwell, in his first season with Detroit, knows it will be a challenge.
One of Brady’s most productive throws during his six-game winning streak is the back shoulder pass to wide receiver Brandon LaFell. He completed two of them on Sunday night alone, part of LaFell’s three catches on four targets for 62 yards. One of them came on a key third-down conversion to keep a touchdown drive alive.
Brady was asked about the level of trust it takes to let go of the ball before a receiver is turned around on back-shoulder throws.
“We’ve been working pretty hard at it for a while, Brandon and I,” Brady said. “I think it’s a big trust thing. You’ve got to trust that when the ball is in the air that they’re not going to make the play on it. And when you’re in those one-on-one situations, as a quarterback, you can only really control it until it leaves your hand. Even though the outcome may not be good, sometimes you may make the right decision. But as a quarterback, when you’re decisive and you trust that someone is going to make a positive play, it’s much easier to just let it rip. He’s really allowed me to do that. He’s been such a fun player and a fun teammate to have. He’s my locker mate, so we’ve got a great relationship. It’s been a lot of fun.”
It’s the kind of relationship Brady will see up close and personal next week when the Patriots travel to Green Bay.
“It’s all those things that amount to a good passing game. When you see certain quarterbacks play with certain receivers, like I see Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson ‘ they are probably the best at it,” Brady said. “It’s the timing of when to throw, how hard to throw. It’s when to look. If you look too early, if you slow down as a receiver, it’s a low percentage play. If you throw it too hard or too high, it’s a low percentage throw.
“It’s just a big trust throw, and both people really have to be on the same page. We’ll just keep working at it. Those are big plays. You have to throw to the perimeter of the field. And it’s 25 yards down the field and [when] you make plays like that where you can gain a quarter of the field in one throw, it’s a big momentum play. That probably got me most excited. But we need more of those. Hopefully we can make a few of those this week.”
When the Patriots signed the 6-foot-3 LaFell in March as a free agent, Brady was pumped up because he was getting a big receiver that could go up and fight for the ball on that play.
“That’s the advantage of having a big player like that, too, where you’re physically bigger than the opposing player that you’re going against, and you can use your body and your size to protect the ball,” Brady said. “I think that’s one of Brandon’s great strengths. For those to come up, it’s not a big surprise. He’s a big guy. When guys get tangled up with Brandon, they usually get the brunt of it.
“The closer you are to him, sometimes I don’t think that’s the best thing because he’s such a big presence, and he’s got really long arms and he’s got big hands to be able to make those types of plays. Those are good plays for us to make. Like I said, we’re going to need to keep making them, and as the season keeps going on and the games get bigger, we need to have those plays in our back pocket and know that we have confidence that we can go out there and hit them.”
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In the first half, Brady went a pedestrian 10-for-19 passing for 84 yards with two interceptions, including one with less than two minutes remaining — arguably one of the worst throws he’s made in his 15 seasons, as the throw hung in the air for a lifetime before Colts safety Mike Adams picked it off.
The Colts scored a touchdown a few plays later and the Patriots got the ball back with 55 seconds remaining, but Bill Belichick didn’t mess around and kneeled out the clock sending the Patriots to the locker room with just a 14-10 lead — perhaps sending a message to Brady and the offense.
“I always need to do a better job,” said Brady. “Obviously we were there at halftime, I didn’t play as well as I am capable of. I have to do a lot better job. It always starts with me and that is where my focus is. Hopefully I can put together four quarters of good stuff this week.”
The second half was a completely different story as the offense scored touchdowns on four of its five possessions and the only one they didn’t score was the last possession of the game when they were running out the clock late in the fourth quarter. While the ground game was exceptional (Jonas Gray’s 201 yards rushing, four touchdowns), but Brady was a major reason as well. He was 9-for-11 passing for 173 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. (One of the incompletions was a Julian Edelman drop over the middle.)
So, what changed in the second half? Brady had more time to throw.
The quarterback looked much more comfortable in the pocket in the second half, as he was given more time to throw. By our calculations, in the second half Brady averaged 2.61 seconds from snap to release, compared to 2.20 second in the first half — almost half a second difference.
|Josh McDaniels says Patriots’ ‘two-dimensional’ approach makes Tom Brady ‘excellent’ on 3rd down, red zone||11.18.14 at 4:17 pm ET|
The Patriots may have found the true key to maintaining success down the stretch, at least offensively.
The Patriots scored touchdowns in all five chances Sunday night in the red zone. The key, according to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, was the genuine threat of either a pass or run.
As a matter of fact, the first five touchdowns the Patriots scored were the result of red zone execution. Instead of settling for field goals, which Tom Brady had mentioned in previous weeks as a problem, the Patriots were able to run it into the end zone four times behind the power attack of Jonas Gray.
Brady also converted a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tim Wright to cap an 80-yard drive that opened the second half scoring.
“In order to be good in the red zone, I think you have to maintain the ability to be balanced, two-dimensional down there,” McDaniels said in a conference call Tuesday. “If you ever get into the red zone and become all pass or all run, then generally a defense kind of either packs it in in the running game or tries to double cover certain people in the passing game, and there is obviously less space to throw it in, and there are usually more people near the line of scrimmage the lower you get in the red zone [and] the closer you get to the goal line.
“I thought that we were effective running the ball in the red zone the other night. A lot of people did a lot of good things. It’s tough when you get down there because there is not a lot of space, like I said, and you’ve got to get either receivers in there blocking tight, or your backs are going to have to break a tackle or run through an extra defender some times, and I thought that Jonas did a good job of doing that. We were fortunate to be able to run the ball in I believe four times the other night. Running the ball is not an easy thing, but I think the guys did a good job of trying to get a hat on those guys, and like I said, Jonas ran well.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning and talked about Rob Gronkowski, last Sunday’s win over the Colts and looked ahead to this week’s game against the Lions. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Gronkowski has showed no signs of being slowed down after tearing his ACL last December. After getting back to 100 percent, the tight end has been on a tear of late — over his last six games he has caught 40 passes for 587 yards and six touchdowns.
“He surprises me all the time, just what his ability is,” Brady said. “He’s just got incredible ability to make catches, runs, the way he blocks, just as a teammate — there’s nothing he can’t do. It’s so fun to play with people like that. Gronk has been a guy I’ve loved playing with since I’ve been here, he’s just a phenomenal player, phenomenal athlete. He’s a tough matchup for everybody because he’s big, fast, athletic and he has a great attitude. It’s the whole package with him and the biggest issue that he’s had is staying on the field and that is hard for a lot of people, and I think he’s really worked hard to put himself in a position where he can be on the field, so it’s been great to see.”
Gronkowski hasn’t played a full season each of his last two seasons because of injury, so some have suggested the tight end be more cautious on the field when it comes to avoiding some hits. When asked about Gronkowski’s 26-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter where he dodged seemingly the entire Colts secondary, Brady said that wasn’t a play to avoid such hits, but did add there is a time when it is beneficial to avoid such hits.
“I think there is definitely times to play it safe and there is other times not to, and I don’t think that was one of those times,” Brady said. “The game was still a two-score game and we were trying to really put the nail in the coffin. You don’t want to go — and I’ve talked with other players over the years about — it’s great to try and gain extra yards and all those things, but it’s also to put yourself at the risk — like cutting back into seven guys on defense and taking a big hit to gain an extra yard and get knocked out of the game and knocked out of next weeks game, and maybe knocked out of the week after that. Those things don’t make sense to me.
“Part of being a smart football player is making smart decisions and you have to evaluate the situation and you have to try and make a smart one. We all try and do that on our particular plays, with our particular job and what we’re asked to do, but at the same time doing things that are in your … you can’t help the team if you’re not out there playing. In that particular situation Gronk made a great stiff-arm and cut back, really ran through the secondary, which was awesome. That is what he thought he needed to do and that is what he did. That was a great play and a great way to really end the game in a way.”
|Tim Hasselbeck on D&C: ‘I certainly would favor New England’ for home-field advantage||11.17.14 at 11:41 am ET|
ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ win over the Colts and other news from around the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
The victory over Indianapolis gives the Patriots six consecutive wins after a slow start to the season. Now that they are in command of first place in the AFC East, there is talk of them securing home-field advantage in the postseason.
“They’re playing very good football, and you trust the head coach, you trust the quarterback, you look at the different ways they’ve won,” said Hasselbeck. “Defensively, they’ve been impressive. And they have a history of having success this time of year and going forward. I look at their schedule, and still think they have a difficult schedule. They’re going to play good teams, teams that I think most people would think New England is better than, but that doesn’t mean you always win the game. Look, if I have to pick who’s going have home-field advantage throughout based on how teams are playing right now, I certainly would favor New England.”
Before Sunday night’s game, running back Jonas Gray was not a well-known commodity. But that was not the case after the game when he finished with 199 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Even Hasselbeck admitted he was not all that familiar with Gray.
Said Hasselbeck: “I’ve heard of him probably mostly because I do a decent amount of fantasy football stuff. You’re forced to learn the guys that get four touches a game prior to being thrust into that role. I knew his name, but certainly didn’t think he was going to rush for about two bills against the Colts.”
The hosts were surprised that Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano did not make many in-game adjustments to stop Gray.
Said Hasselbeck: “You look at the game last year and how [the Patriots] jammed it down [the Colts’] throat. It could be a thing where it was a little bit of as you get ready during the week and you try to identify who the Patriots are this year versus who they were last year with the backs that they had healthy at that time. They probably weren’t anticipating it. They were probably weren’t anticipating that was going to be the group that were going to be facing for a majority of the game. And I think the offensive staff did a nice job in terms of the runs that they had dialed up, with the angles that it put them in to get into position to make blocks. And then you have to give Gray credit for how hard he ran.”
It was a tale of two halves for quarterback Tom Brady.
The first half didn’t end well for Brady and the Patriots, as Brady threw an interception with less than two minutes to play (his second of the half), leading to an Indianapolis touchdown, cutting the Patriots lead to 14-10 at the break.
Fortunately for the Patriots, the second half was a completely different story as the team was able to overcome the poor first half and roll to a 42-20 win on the road over the Colts.
“It was a great win. It was a real complementary win,” Brady told reporters following the game. “The defense played great, they kept us in it all night. We got ahead — let them back in there at the [end of the first half] with a dumb interception, but we came out and played a lot better in the second half. I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage, which was huge and Jonas [Gray] ran great. But, it all starts with the big guys up front and they played a great game.”
The first half was not a good one for the quarterback, as he was just 10-for-19 passing for 84 yards with two interceptions. He turned it around in a big way in the second half, going 9-for-11 for 173 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The 37-year-old finished 19-for-30 for 257 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The offense scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the second half. They didn’t score on its last one, but it came late in the fourth quarter when the unit was just running out the clock.