|Analysis: What does the trade for Isaac Sopoaga mean for Patriots?||10.29.13 at 4:24 pm ET|
The acquisition of defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga fills a glaring void in the middle of New England’s run defense that had been a problem since Vince Wilfork went down last month with an Achilles injury.
A 6-foot-2, 330-pound run stuffer in the Wilfork mold, the 32-year-old Sopoaga projects to be the man in the middle for the Patriots when it comes to stopping the run. The Hawaii product, who is in his 10th season in the league, is a big body whose speciality is clogging up the middle and occupying double teams. The 32-year-old, who has played with the 49ers (2004-2012) and Eagles (2013), has played some defensive tackle and nose tackle in his career. He has 226 career tackles and seven career sacks. (He’s also played a little fullback, lining up in the backfield for a couple of plays last year for the Niners.)
Considered a 3-4 nose tackle, Sopoaga figures to take some of the workload off youngsters Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, who had stepped up and played well in the wake of the injuries to Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, but now figure to work more in rotational situations (particularly Jones, who has shown a real nice ability to get after the passer). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England run more 3-4, at least until Kelly returns on a regular basis, with Sopoaga occupying the nose and Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at the defensive end spots.
The Patriots were extremely stout against the run over the first month-plus of the season — through the first four games, New England was 13th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, yielding an average of 105 yards per game on the ground. But over the last four weeks, they’ve given up 646 total rush yards to the Bengals, Saints, Jets and Dolphins — an average of 156.5 yards per game. Going into this weekend’s game against the Steelers, the Patriots are allowing 130.8 rushing yards per game, 31st in the league.
Financially, the Patriots aren’t taking a big hit, at least for 2013. Sopoaga signed 3-year deal with Eagles this year which called for him to make base salaries of $1 million in 2013, $3.75 million in 2014 and $3.5 million in 2015. (Those numbers could be adjusted down the road depending on how he takes to the New England system this year.) And the prospect of getting him for a draft pick smells of a relatively no-risk situation for the Patriots.
It marks the second consecutive year the Patriots pulled off a deadline deal — last year, New England acquired Aqib Talib at the deadline, and the cornerback has done a lot to transform the way the Patriots have played defense over the last year. If Sopoaga can come in and have even half the sort of impact defensively that Talib has shown over the last 12 months, New England will be very happy.
|Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Second-half turnaround ‘exactly what we wanted to do’||10.28.13 at 1:18 pm ET|
Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss New England’s 27-17 comeback win over the Dolphins on Sunday.
The Patriots overcame a 17-3 first-half deficit and outscored Miami 24-0 in the second half. New England’s defense perplexed the Ryan Tannehill-led Dolphins attack, as the Patriots recorded six sacks, two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal all in the second half.
“The first half was not the type of football we wanted to come out and play. We had a certain game plan that we wanted to go out there and execute, and we didn’t do it,” said Ninkovich, who had one of the sacks and the fumble recovery. “And the second half, it was a little different game, and I think we did a good job of doing exactly what we wanted to do.”
The youth portion of the defense excelled on Sunday. Second-year players Dont’a Hightower (10 tackles, one sack) and Alfonzo Dennard (nine tackles) were first and second on the team in tackles. Another second-year player, Logan Ryan, had a monster day, one week after recording a pick-six. Ryan made five tackles, sacked Tannehill twice and forced a fumble. Rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones made seven stops, with one sack, and a pair of tackles for loss.
Injuries to defensive mainstays Vince Wilfork, Aqib Talib and Jerod Mayo have necessitated elevated play from a number of inexperienced defenders.
“I think the young guys did a great job,” Ninkovich said. “Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, I think they both played very well. … I’m happy how we’re playing, given that there’s been some ups and downs, and guys thrown into some positions that five, six weeks ago they weren’t in.”
|Patriots defense not planning a pity party after losing Jerod Mayo||10.16.13 at 2:30 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Despite the fact that they’ve now lost two of their most indispensable defensive leaders in Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo to season-ending injuries, the Patriots’ defense isn’t going to spend a lot of time sitting around feeling sorry for themselves.
“I think the good thing here is that we have guys who prepare hard and as if they were starting,” said defensive back Devin McCourty, who is now the senior member of the New England defense in terms of games played in a Patriots uniform. “Now, they get the opportunity. Everywhere outside this locker room, guys will be talking about our loss. I think we have some guys in here who are excited about their opportunity. It sucks, because you never want to lose a player, but there are some guys who are excited to get out there and play more.”
Mayo was the acknowledged leader of the linebackers, but with him on the shelf for the rest of the season, some of those leadership responsibilities will shift to second-year Dont’a Hightower. He will likely be the one with the green dot on the back of his helmet — the player with the responsibility of receiving the defensive plays calls from the sideline and relaying them to his teammates. It’s a sizable responsibility, one Hightower takes seriously.
“I look forward to it,” he said after practice on Wednesday. “I talked to [defensive coordinator Matt Patricia], I talked to [linebackers coach Pepper Johnson] about it, so it’s definitely something that I knew down the road that if something ever happened, I knew that I would have to step up and do it. I’m not nervous about it, it’s something that I’ve done before — maybe not in the NFL, but I’ve done it before, so everybody’s behind me and they support me, so it’s all I can ask for.”
One of the interesting things is that both Mayo and Wilfork are defensive captains, and have been powerful voices when it comes to providing leadership in the locker room. Now, it’ll be on a variety of players to step up and offer guidance.
“For me, I think of it as Mayo and Vince are still our captains, and just stepping in and filling a title or a role, but just to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Keep being a leader on the defense,’ McCourty said. “To me, those two will be the captains — they were voted captains earlier this season. My job now is when guys get hurt and they can’t be around, guys have to step up. I’ve been appointed one of those guys to step up, but it’s no different — guys on defense have to step up. Guys like Steve Gregory, who has played a lot of football here already. [Brandon] Spikes, a guy who is a fourth year player as well. We all have to step up and kind of be group captains now. You can’t replace two guys who have already been voted captains.”
“We [lost] a bunch of key guys, with Vince and Mayo and [Tommy Kelly] and all the other guys that are banged up,” Hightower said. “But it’s football. It’s all expected — one guy down, another guy comes up. I feel like everybody that’s here is going to help us win. As long as we communicate and execute the game plan, we’ll be fine.”
|Patriots practice Wednesday: Tommy Kelly, Leon Washington, Michael Buchanan missing||10.09.13 at 10:39 am ET|
FOXBORO — Tommy Kelly, Leon Washington and Michael Buchanan were the three Patriots not present at the start of practice in sweats and shells Wednesday morning on the upper grass fields outside Gillette Stadium.
Kelly left Sunday’s game in the fourth quarter holding his right knee and limped off the field. Washington suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by Devin McCourty in the kick return game.
In a bit of encouraging news, running back Stevan Ridley returned to practice for the first time since injuring his knee in the win over the Falcons on Sept. 29. Also back on the field were Matthew Slater and corner Alfonzo Dennard. Slater returned to practice on Friday but missed his fourth straight game with a wrist injury while Dennard limped off the field in the fourth quarter Sunday.
The team is beginning on-field preparations for the Saints this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
In an effort to add depth along the defensive line, which is already without Vince Wilfork for the rest of the season, the team signed former Panthers defensive tackle Andre Neblett on Wednesday.
|Patriots sign Andre Neblett to help fill Vince Wilfork void||at 10:29 am ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots have added depth along the defensive line to help replace Vince Wilfork, signing former Panthers nose tackle Andre Neblett.
Neblett, 25, is a veteran of three NFL seasons with the Panthers after joining Carolina as a rookie free agent out of Temple in in 2010. The 6-foot, 310-pounder signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent on May 6 but was released by the Buccaneers on Aug. 31. Neblett has played in 30 NFL games with seven starts during his three seasons with the Panthers and has registered 28 total tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries. Last season, he played in 11 games with two starts and recorded 11 tackles and a half-sack.
Neblett could also be insurance should another veteran — Tommy Kelly — go down with injury. Kelly left Sunday’s game in Cincinnati holding his right knee and limped off the field. Kelly told reporters that the injury was very minor and he’ll be ready to play going forward.
In addition, the Patriots re-signed linebacker Ja’Gared Davis and safety Kanorris Davis to the practice squad. Both players were signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad on Saturday and played on special teams at Cincinnati before being released on Monday.
Davis, 22, was claimed off waivers by the Patriots on Aug. 28. The 6-foot, 238-pounder was originally signed by the Texans as a rookie free agent from Southern Methodist on May 10 and was released on Aug. 27. Davis was released by the Patriots on Aug. 31 and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1. He played in 53 college games and recorded 301 total tackles, 20 sacks, four interceptions, eight forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Davis played on special teams last Sunday at Cincinnati.
Davis, 23, originally joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Troy on May 3. The 5-foot-10, 207-pounder was released on Aug. 31 and was signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1. Davis was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster prior to the game at Atlanta and played against the Falcons on special teams. He was released by the Patriots on Sept. 30 and signed back to the practice squad on Oct. 2. Davis played as a linebacker in college, where he helped Troy win the Sun Belt Conference championship in 2011 and 2012.
WEEI.com’s Chris Price is joined by Dr. Laurie Katz of Newton-Wellesley Orthopedic Associates to talk about Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork‘s torn Achilles.
|Rob Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo on M&M: ‘Frustrating loss for us’||10.07.13 at 12:36 pm ET|
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich and linebacker Jerod Mayo appeared on Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ defensive performance in the team’s 13-6 loss to the Bengals.
New England lost its first game of the season on Sunday. Much of the consternation surrounded the offense, which failed to score a touchdown and accumulated just 248 yards, in addition to turning the ball over twice.
The Patriots defense allowed just one touchdown, but it came in the fourth quarter, and it proved to be the game-winning points.
“It’s a frustrating loss for us as a defense, because you play well early in the game, you have some big stops and turnovers, you keep them from scoring,” said Ninkovich, who recorded three tackles and half a sack in the game.
New England forced Cincinnati into a pair of turnovers, and the defense sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton four times.
But the defense faltered on the most important drive of the game. At the end of the third quarter, the Patriots trailed 6-3 and had Cincinnati stuck in a third-and-15 from its own 2-yard line. Dalton pulled off the improbable, as he connected with wide receiver Marvin Jones for a 28-yard gain to move the chains.
The Bengals marched the ball up the field, and former New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis punched a touchdown in from a yard out.
“Obviously we didn’t play well enough,” Mayo said. “Our job is to go out there and hold them from scoring any points at all. Unfortunately they scored more than us yesterday. We had some good plays, but we also had a lot of plays where we just weren’t ready to go. That’s my fault. I’ve got to get the guys ready.”
Said Ninkovich: “With us giving up 13 points, it was too much and we lost. I’m not one to make any excuses, so I think that we’re going to get better, we’re going to continue to progress as a defense the younger guys are going to continue to mature and get better.”
One of those younger guys to show up on Sunday was defensive tackle Chris Jones, who filled in admirably for the injured Vince Wilfork. The rookie recorded 1½ sacks. Jones must continue to step up with Wilfork out for the season, and the other defensive tackle, Tommy Kelly, possibly sidelined as well with a knee injury.
“You don’t really have to communicate as much with those older guys because they kind of know the situation and they know kind of what to expect,” Ninkovich said. “But the younger guys, you’ve just got to make sure that, ‘Hey, expect this, play it this way.’ So you just kind of have more communication.”
The Patriots play host to Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense next Sunday.
“I think Drew, his track record kind of speaks for himself as far as the things he’s done in his career,” Ninkovich said “It’s going to be a good challenge for us, and I’m happy we’re going to be playing at home and not the [Superdome], because that’s a hard place to play, kind of similar to Georgia when you’re down there playing the Falcons, similar atmosphere.”
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