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How well do the Patriots fare in games following a loss?

The Patriots’ loss to the Cardinals last Sunday was unexpected and not the way the team wanted to go into Ravens game this coming Sunday. The good news for the Patriots is they have performed quite well following losses of late. Here is a complete list of how the Patriots have done in games following a loss in the past six years:

Patriots record following regular season losses in the past six years

2011 (2-1)

Oct. 2 @ Oakland- W 31-19

Nov. 6 vs. NY Giants- L 34-30

Nov. 13 vs. NY Jets- W 37-16


How will Tom Brady and the Patriots respond following their Week 2 loss? (FILE:USPresswi

2010 (2-0)

Sept. 26 vs. Buffalo- W 38-30

Nov. 14 @ Pittsburgh- W 39-26

2009 (4-1)

Sept. 27 vs. Atlanta- W 26-10

Oct. 18 vs. Tennessee- W 59-0

Nov. 22 vs. NY Jets- W 31-14

Dec. 6 @ Miami- L 22-21

Dec. 13 vs. Carolina- W 20-10

2008 (5-0)

Oct. 5 @ San Francisco- W 30-21

Oct. 20 vs. Denver- W 41-7

Nov. 9 vs. Buffalo- W- 20-10

Nov. 23 @ Miami- W 48-28

Dec. 7 @ Seattle- W 24-21

2007

No regular season losses

2006 (3-1)

Oct. 1 @ Cincinnati- W 38-13

Nov. 12 vs. NY Jets- L 17-14

Nov. 19- @ Green Bay- W 35-0

Dec. 17 vs. Houston- W 40-7

Record following a loss past six years: 16-3

Record following a loss past six years in road games: 7-1

*Ravens 21-15 following a loss in the past six years

ANALYSIS: Obviously the Patriots perform quite well following losses. Much of this has to do with the competitiveness of both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as they pick things up a notch following losses. The Patriots have had some blow outs in the week following a loss including the 59-0 rout of the Titans back in 2009 and also 41-7 over the Broncos in 2008 and 35-0 over the Packers in 2006. I wouldn’t expect anything close to that this week against the Ravens, especially with the Ravens coming off a loss as well. Adding to the challenge is the game will be played in Baltimore where the Ravens have won 11 straight and 19 of 20.

With that being said, this game does have a striking resemblance to the Nov. 14, 2010 game at Pittsburgh, also on Sunday Night Football. The Patriots were coming off of a bad loss to Cleveland, and no one really expected them to go into Heinz Field and beat the Steelers. The Patriots didn’t just beat the Steelers, they dominated them by a score of 39-26 where the final score wasn’t indicative of how much the Patriots dominated the game. So with so many people doubting the Patriots this week, just think back to that game in 2010, it really wouldn’t surprise me if the Patriots came out of Baltimore with a win.

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A few thoughts on the Patriots offense

It has been an eventful couple of days with the Patriots offense. First, tight end Aaron Hernandez was injured early in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, and it appears he will miss at least a month with an ankle injury. Then there has been the topic that refuses to go away in the playing time between Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, with many conspiracy theories being thrown around left and right on why Welker’s playing time has decreased. Finally on Tuesday some roster moves were made with the team reportedly releasing wide receiver Greg Salas, fullback Lex Hilliard and linebacker Ron Rivera. In corresponding moves, the team has reportedly signed tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and brought back wide receiver Deion Branch. There are now many questions surrounding the Patriots offense and how it will look without Hernandez, and now with the additions of Winslow and Branch.

Here are a few thoughts on the new-look Patriots offense:

What role will Branch and Winslow play in the offense?


What will Deion Branch’s role be? (FILE:USPresswire)

Unfortunately, most people will be disappointed when they see just how little these two will end up by playing. The Patriots do need to try and make up for Hernandez not being in the lineup, and with the versatility Hernandez has showcased it takes two players to do so. Branch doesn’t have much left in the tank, which was why he was released in the first place. But, he has a connection with Tom Brady and a familiarity with the Patriots playbook, which is ultimately the reason for bringing him back. With Brandon Lloyd, Edelman and Welker ahead of him on the depth chart, Branch is the No. 4 receiver. With the Patriots primarily running plays from a 2 TE/2 WR/1 RB set this year, it remains to be seen just how much playtime Branch will get.  With that being said, without Hernandez do the Patriots continue to run two tight end sets?

Without Hernandez Sunday, the Patriots did not use the two tight end set much, as they ran 60 of their 82 offensive plays with 3 WR/1 TE/1 RB. This could be the reason for signing Winslow. Winslow hasn’t been the player he was expected to be coming out of Miami seven years ago. He will just be joining the team this week, giving him very little time to get acclimated with the Patriots system. He is also not the same player as Hernandez — he doesn’t have the versatility. Winslow is more a natural tight end, while Hernandez plays more like a receiver. Given only a few days to prepare, don’t expect to see Winslow play a major role Sunday night against the Ravens. Expect the same as last week with the primary set featuring 3 WR/1 TE/1 RB. The “wild card” is the offensive line and how poorly they played last week. The offense could be forced to keep a tight end in to block especially against the powerful and feared Ravens defense, so Winslow could see the majority of his playing time as a blocking tight end in order to allow Rob Gronkowski to be a target in the passing game. As the weeks go on Winslow could play more of a role, but for now expect a very limited one.

Fans shouldn’t go in expecting these two players to make huge impacts. Like was said before, Winslow will likely not play a big role this coming week, probably serving as more of a blocking tight end. Branch is the No. 4 receiver, so he should see very limited playing time, although without Hernandez the offense could showcase a four wide receiver set and let Brady pick the Ravens defense apart. Adding Winslow and Branch gives the Patriots offense some flexibility back, but adding two players to replace one shows just how valuable Hernandez is and how hard he will be to replace.

Should fans be concerned with Wes Welker’s playing time?

By now everyone has heard and has their own opinion on the Welker playing time situation. Welker played in 43 of 67 snaps in Week 1 and 63 of 82 this past week, while Edelman played in 23 of 67 in Week 1 and 75 of 82 in Week 2. In total Welker has played 106 snaps, and Edelman 102 — a four snap difference. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but with how much playing time Welker has received in the past, it is. Some people have their own conspiracy theories including, Bill Belichick and the Patriots sticking it to Welker for not agreeing to a contract and forcing them to franchise him. If they were really that upset, then why spend the $9 million to franchise him? If it were true it makes zero business sense, and is not the way any organization operates. Cross that off the list.

Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston looked back at the 18 snaps where the Patriots had two wide receivers on the field Sunday. Edelman was on the field for 15 of those plays, while Welker just three. Three of the 18 can be thrown out because they were the Brady sneaks/kneel downs before the attempted game-winning field goal. Of the 12 plays Edelman played over Welker the Patriots ran the ball seven times for 47 yards and then were three of four passing for just 19 yards. Edelman was a key blocker on three of the running plays that went for 10 or more yards. While it is a pretty small sample size to go on, Edelman could be a better run blocker than Welker, and with the Patriots focused on running the ball it could be an explanation as to why Welker has not played as much.

In the passing game Welker still remains Brady’s favorite target. In Sunday’s loss Welker was targeted 11 times and caught five passes for a team-high 96 yards. Edelman on the other hand was targted just six times and of those six caught five of them totaling 50 yards. It is pretty baffling for so much to be made about Welker’s lesser role when he was targeted 11 times and led the team in receiving yards.

Appearing on WEEI Monday morning Brady commented on the situation by saying, “There’s a lot of guys on the roster, and we’re trying to utilize every player so that at the end of the year one guys doesn’t have 700 plays and another guy has 50 plays. Hopefully everyone can contribute and have opportunity and be fresh and stay healthy. Because we need everybody. It’s a long year.”

Later Monday, in typical Belichick fashion he didn’t really answer directly why Welker hasn’t played as much as in the past but did offer some insight. ”I’m sure you’ve seen us play before,” he said.  ”We have different combinations of personnel groups in every game all the time pretty much every week. That’s pretty much the way we run our offense, and we have for quite a while. The players we have out there are the ones we feel are best for that particular play, situation, however you want to look at it. That’s the way we set up the plays, the offense. When they’re called, we put that group out there. So, whatever is out there is what we feel is best for our team, that time, that situation.”

A possible explanation is the Patriots could be limiting Welker’s reps early in the season to keep him fresh for late in the season and the playoffs, as he is a player who takes a beating each and every game. Also, with the new emphasis in the running game and having a player in Edelman who could be a better blocker he might be better for those particular plays. There isn’t a feud between Welker and Belichick, there is no animosity. Welker is 31-years-old, he isn’t just beginning a career. He is at the point where his body needs to be monitored, which would be the perfect explanation for his playing time this year. Unfortunately, the way the Patriots run their organization there will be no straight answer regarding the situation, so like it or not, this debate and people’s theories will be a continuous topic throughout the season.

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Cardinals at Patriots: 5 Observations

In a shocker the Arizona Cardinals came into Gillette Stadium and walked away with a 20-18 win over the New England Patriots. It was the first home opening loss in Gillette Stadium history, but as a silver lining the last time the Patriots lost a home opener was 2001, a year they won the Super Bowl. Despite looking out of sync on offense all game long, Stephen Gostkowski had a 42-yard field goal with one second remaining to give the Patriots the win, but he missed it wide left.

Here are five observations from the game:

Poor play calling

After what was an outstanding Week 1 for Josh McDaniels, he was not very good in Week 2. There were plenty of puzzling calls including runs on third and short in the fourth quarter even when the Patriots were trailing by double digits. The run-pass wasn’t as balanced as last week against Tennessee, but a lot of that can be attributed to the Patriots trailing the majority of the game. In 74 total plays there were 46 passes and 28 runs. The offense was clearly out of sync for most of the first three quarters. When the unit started going to more of a hurry up, fast paced tempo things seemed to be pick up, but then a draw play would be mixed in slowing everything down. It was very confusing seeing numerous running plays considering they were having trouble running the ball and have such weapons as Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker in the passing game. A more passing focused attack, might have given the Patriots a better chance of winning the game.


The Patriots now have to adjust to life without Aaron Hernandez. (FILE:USPresswire)

How valuable is Aaron Hernandez?

The Patriots offense looked outstanding last week, but then once Aaron Hernandez went down with an apparent ankle injury early in the first quarter things took a turn for the worse as the offense looked completely out of sync until late in the fourth quarter. Obviously Hernandez was a major part of the game plan and the Patriots needed to adjust on the fly, but it took almost three and a half quarters for them to fully adjust. On third and short plays that normally would be targeted towards Hernandez, were runs and were not very successful. Overall on third down the Patriots were 5-for-15, which does not meet Patriots standards. Another player who may have been affected was tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski only had one catch for two yards until the fourth quarter. Having Hernandez on the field at the same time could certainly help free up Gronkowski, but does Hernandez really make that much of a difference that he only had one catch in the first three quarters before finishing with six for 75 yards and a touchdown? Early reports are indicating Hernandez will miss about six weeks with a severely sprained ankle, so the Patriots will need to find a way to win without him for sometime.

Don’t blame the defense

For those looking to blame the defense for the Patriots’ 20-18 loss to the Cardinals, don’t even think about it. While the group wasn’t as dominant as last week against the Titans they certainly played well enough to win and kept the Patriots in the game. Look at starting field possession for the Cardinals on their scoring drives. Two of the four scoring drives covered ten yards or less following the Tom Brady interception in the first quarter and then the blocked punt in the third quarter. The defense only gave up 245 yards of total offense, 140 passing and 105 rushing. Jerod Mayo once again led the defense with nine tackles followed by Brandon Spikes who had a very good all around game with seven tackles. He also forced the fumble under a minute to go, which gave Gostkowski the chance at the game-winner. Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower both delivered solid performances in their second career NFL games finishing with five tackles apiece.

Offensive line not as impressive as Week 1

After having a very good opening week to the season the offensive line may have taken a step back in Week 2. The Patriots ran for 90 yards on the ground, but what hurt them most was the failure to convert on running plays from third and short. Some of the blame on those plays has to go to the offensive line. The right side of the line struggled especially, which was Donald Thomas at guard and Donald Thomas/Sebastian Vollmer rotating at tackle. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui can also be added to the list as he struggled blocking as well. Brady was under pressure most of the game with most of the rush coming thru the right side of the offensive line. Brady was sacked four times and was hit six. The constant pressure got into Brady’s head as he did not look very comfortable in the pocket all game long, sometimes ducking in the pocket when he didn’t need to and had very happy feet while searching for open receivers. Brady finished the day going 28-of-46 for 316 yards while throwing one touchdown and one interception. It was Brady’s first ever loss in a home opener and is now 35-2 all-time as a starter at Gillette Stadium. The poor offensive line play had a lot to do with Brady and the Patriots’ off day.

The Patriots deserved to lose

Following the game many people were quick to blame Gostkowski for the loss as he missed the game-winning field goal, but what people are forgetting is he made four of five field goals including ones from 51 and 53 yards and also the Patriots really should never have gotten the ball back in field goal range. Ryan Williams’ fumble with less then a minute remaining was a miracle for the Patriots as all the Cardinals needed to do was run the clock down which would have meant punting and giving the ball back to the Patriots with about 20 seconds remaining in their own end. The same people have expressed their displeasure for the officials after a Danny Woodhead touchdown was called back for a holding penalty on Gronkowski with less than a minute remaining. After seeing the replay it definitely could have been called holding. While worse things have gone uncalled, it was a holding penalty nonetheless. For how badly the Patriots played for the first three quarters, they had no business winning the game. They have had games like this in each of the previous seasons including the 34-31 loss to the Bills last year and the 34-14 loss to the Browns the year before. The Patriots will bounce back and will use this game as motivation for the rest of the year.

 

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Why was Wes Welker’s playing time limited Sunday?

Why was Wes Welker’s play limited Sunday?

This has been the number one question for most Patriots fans following Sunday’s 34-13 win over the Tennessee Titans. Welker caught only three passes for 14 yards and was targeted just five times. The other weapons in the passing game had much bigger games as off-season acquisition Brandon Lloyd caught five passes for 59 yards and was targeted eight times. Aaron Hernandez totaled 59 yards on six catches and a touchdown, while being targeted seven times. Rob Gronkowski caught six balls for 60 yards and one touchdown. He was targeted six times.


Welker saw a reduction in offensive snaps in the Patriots opener. (FILE:USPresswire)

When looking at snap counts courtesy of ESPN Boston it shows Welker played only 64 percent of the snaps (43-of-67), compared to last year playing just under 90 percent of the snaps. Lloyd played 57-of-67 snaps, and third wide receiver Julian Edelman played 23-of-67 snaps, taking some reps from Welker, despite only having one catch on the day. Welker didn’t seem to mind the limited role.

“Not really, because at the end of the day it’s about winning ballgames,” he told reporters Monday after the team returned home. “However we need to do that or whatever we need to do, that’s what we’re going to do. That’s the ultimate goal every time we go out there on Sunday, and however I can contribute, whether it’s a big day in stats or not, or blocking, or however I need to do it, that’s what it’s going to be, and I’m just trying to do my part as far as that goes.”

There have been a number of theories being thrown around regarding Welker’s playing time situation. Is Bill Belichick and the Patriots punishing Welker for his part in the negotiations for a new contract? Are the Patriots looking ahead to what life will be like without Welker if he does not return next season? These are both very unlikely, rather it is most likely something else.

The Patriots have altered their approach on offense, which in turn limits Welker’s productivity. Gronkowski and Hernandez are the best tight end tandem in the league and were both on the field for nearly every offensive play on Sunday. 46 of the 67 plays saw a 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB set. While Lloyd and Welker were two receivers usually in this set, Edelman was mixed in here and there.

With the focus of the Patriots offense being around the two tight ends, and not Welker, it should not be a surprise to see his playing time take a hit. The past few seasons, especially before Hernandez and Gronkowski became what they are today, the offense was focused on Welker and that is the reason he played so much. Slot receivers rarely see as much playing time as Welker did, and now with two tight ends occupying the middle of the field, there isn’t as big of a need for a slot receiver. An outside the numbers receiver is more of an asset with having two explosive tight ends as it can open up the middle of the field, which is why Lloyd saw the number of plays that he did.

With that being said, new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels showed his creativity in his play calling and was able to spread the wealth as best as he could. This will be a trend that continues all season. Keep in mind the Patriots alter their game plan on a week to week basis depending on their opponent. So, a player that sees a lot of reps one week might not see the same amount the next week.

Welker’s situation isn’t really a big deal — it’s just one game. It isn’t like he was completely taken out of the offense either. One game is a very small sample size. This will be a situation to revisit after about four games and knowing how committed the Patriots are to balance this year, Welker’s numbers will change, so don’t panic after just the first game.

 

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Patriots at Titans: 5 Observations

In the highly anticipated first game of the 2012 season the Patriots defeated the Titans 34-13 in Tennessee. After trailing 3-0, the Patriots scored 21 unanswered points and never looked back. The team got contributions from virtually the entire roster on both sides of the ball. Next week will be the home opener as the Arizona Cardinals will travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots with kickoff set for 1 p.m.

Here are five observations from Sunday’s win:

Big day for the rookies

The 2012 draft class certainly made their presence felt as Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson all had big games to lead the Patriots defense. Jones and Hightower combined to score the second Patriots touchdown as Jones stripped Titans quarterback Jake Locker of the ball inside the 10-yard line and Hightower scooped up the loose ball and ran it into the end zone giving the Patriots a 14-3 lead at the time. Both players finished with five tackles, while Jones added a sack. Wilson made a nice interception while falling into the end zone at the end of the first quarter, while adding four tackles. These three players will certainly provide a lift to the Patriots defense which was ranked second to last in total defense last year, and give fans some much needed excitement on the defensive side of the ball.

Balanced offensive attack

The Patriots’ offensive totaled 390 yards on Sunday, which was the result of a very balanced attack. In total the team ran 66 plays — 35 rushes, and 31 passes, with the extra rushes coming at the end of the game when they were running out the clock. Tom Brady threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-31 passing. Making his first NFL start, running back Stevan Ridley ran for 125 yards on 21 carries. Brady also distributed the ball very nicely to all of his weapons at his disposal. Brandon Lloyd caught five passes for 69 yards, Rob Gronkowski caught six for 60 yards and a touchdown and Aaron Hernandez caught five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Having a balanced offensive attack is definitely one of the major keys to the Patriots’ success this year.

It should be noted that Wes Welker only had three receptions for 14 yards and was only targeted five times. It seemed Julien Edelman took some of the snaps that normally Welker would have been in on. We will have to wait until early tomorrow when the number of snaps for each player come out to know the exact details, but this could be a situation to monitor. Welker is the teams’ franchise player this season and it seems the Patriots don’t want to give Welker the money he thinks he should get (and deserves). Welker did not play much in the preseason at all due to a “personal issue”, which was later determined by the Boston Globe to be a death in the family. Stay tuned.

Front seven stands tall

One of the biggest questions coming into the season was how the front seven would play. With a few new additions, and being the youngest defense in Belichick’s tenure in New England, it was a bit of a concern going into the season. The group certainly rose to the occasion and played better than anyone could have imagined. They held Titans star running back Chris Johnson to only four rushing yards on 11 carries. It was a career-low for Johnson. Although Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love only finished with a combined three tackles they were all over the field Sunday afternoon, taking on double-teams which freed up space for the linebackers and defensive ends to make tackles. In addition to the rookies, Jermaine Cunningham had three tackles, and Jerod Mayo was a beast totaling a team-high 13 tackles, while  playing a very sound all around game. If this group can continue to play like this and get better each week, it will certainly be a fun, energetic group to watch this year.

Offensive line plays well

For a group that was criticized more than any other on the team going into the game, they certainly rose to the occasion and delivered a solid performance. Ryan Wendell started at center, with Logan Mankins at left guard and Nate Solder at left tackle. Dan Connolly was the right guard with Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. Marcus Cannon rotated with Vollmer for most of the game until Connolly suffered a head injury and Cannon slid into right guard. For a unit with as many questions as they had coming in, they answered all of them by leading the way for Ridley’s 125 yards. Brady also got the time that he needed and was only sacked once, being hit four times. Brady did suffer a cut on his nose in the first quarter, and had a bandage on it for the rest of the game and his post game press conference, but reports were that it was not broken and was just a cut. While Brady and Ridley did some things to make them look good, the line still went out and did their job while not holding the offense back at any point. The group will still be a topic of discussion going into Week 2 as Connolly who has a history of concussions will be a situation to keep an eye on as if he is unable to play Cannon will move into the starting right guard spot and cuts into the already slim depth at the position. And no Brian Waters is probably not coming back, but if the line plays the way they did today they might not need him.

McDaniels more creative than O’Brien

After just one regular season game it is evident that Josh McDaniels is a little more creative than Bill O’Brien was in terms of play calling. While this isn’t a knock on O’Brien, McDaniels called a very good game with good balance and was creative with a number of different plays and looks. O’Brien’s plays were pretty simple, very rarely throwing a wrinkle at the opponent and not taking many shots down the field. McDaniels was very creative with the way he got Hernandez the ball, lining him up in a number of different positions. There were also a lot more misdirection and play action calls than in the past, which seemed to benefit Brady and his receivers. McDaniels has plenty of options on offense so it will be interesting to see how he gets them all involved and the creativity which comes with that. Next week it will be particularly interesting to see what is done with Welker, after a limited role this week.

Follow me on Twitter @hannable84 and feel free to drop me a line at ryanhannable@gmail.com. Comments are welcomed and appreciated. 

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How has Tom Brady performed in season openers?

Tom Brady is entering his 13th season in the NFL and will be making his 11th opening day start when the Patriots battle the Titans Sunday afternoon in Tennessee. Here is a look at how Brady has performed in season openers, which should give a good indication of what to expect on Sunday.

2011 @ Miami- W 38-24. 32-48, 517 yards, 4 TD’s, 1 INT

2010 vs. Cincinatti- W 38-24. 25-35, 258 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT

2009 vs. Buffalo- W 25-24. 39-53, 378 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT

2008 vs. Kansas City- W 17-10. 7-11, 76  yards. ***Suffered torn ACL in first quarter, missed entire season***

2007 @ NY Jets- W 38-24. 22-28, 297 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT

2006 vs. Buffalo- W 19-17. 11-23, 163 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT

2005 vs. Oakland- W 30-20. 24-38, 306 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT

2004 vs. Indianapolis- W 27-24. 26-38, 335 yards, 3 TD’s, 1 INT

2003 @ Buffalo- L 31-0. 14-28, 123 yards, 0 TD’s, 4 INT’s

2002 vs. Pittsburgh- W 30-14. 29-43, 294 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT

Career record: 9-1

Averages (not including 2008 for obvious reasons): 25-37, 297 yards, 2.4 TD’s, .8 INT’s

ANALYSIS: Going off of his past games it should be expected that Brady well play well and put up good numbers. He has thrown multiple touchdowns in every game except 2003 and 2008. (31-0 loss and injury). Brady has only played three openers on the road, 2003, 2007 and 2011. He is 2-1 in those games. What also should be noted is the number of times Brady has thrown the ball. Six times has he thrown 30+ passes including an astonishing 48 last season, although much of that had to do with the success he was having. This is something to look for this week — how many times will he throw the ball? It seems like the team is trying to make a conscious effort in running the ball more and this will be the first opportunity to see if that will actually happen. The Patriots as a team have not lost a season opener since 2003 in Buffalo, which if you remember was a very emotional game as Lawyer Milloy, who was cut by the Patriots just a few weeks prior started at safety for the Bills. But, the Patriots did finish the season as Super Bowl Champs. It is clear how much coach Bill Belichick emphasizes the importance of the first game and making sure his players are as prepared for it as they can be. With all the uncertainties entering the game, one thing that is pretty close to certain is that Brady will be ready and have the statistics to back it up.

 

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Should Patriots fans be nervous going into Week 1 of the regular season?

Going into training camp this summer there were plenty of people throwing around the idea the Patriots could go 16-0. After all, the team that went to the Super Bowl last year added players like Anthony Gonzalez, Robert Gallery, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch (re-signed), Bobby Carpenter, Joseph Addai, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jeff Demps and Jonathan Fanene. While none of these players are super stars, they certainly added depth to some key positions and were thought as players who could definitely help the team.

So, what do all these players have in common (besides Lloyd) now?

They are no longer on the active 53-man roster. They were all released, retired, or placed on season ending IR, with the exception of Shiancoe who is on the teams’ short-term injured reserve and is eligible to return during Week 10. The depth the Patriots had going into the season at key positions is now gone, and add in a few other issues the Patriots have had this preseason, has the perception of this team changed?

The Patriots have gotten a lot younger by parting ways with all of those veterans. In fact, as pointed out by Greg A. Bedard of the Globe earlier this week, this year’s Patriots team is the youngest team in coach Bill Belichick‘s time in New England. The oldest player on defense is Vince Wilfork, who is 30-years-old. With rookies Donta Hightower and Chandler Jones set to play significant roles it is clear Belichick might be changing his defensive philosophy and going with younger players, instead of players who are on the back nine of their careers and who Belichick is hoping to get another year or two out of. To be honest, there is nothing wrong with this approach at all and although the defense is inexperienced as a whole, I think it is a group that will surprise people.

One of the issues which has developed over the course of the preseason is depth at wide receiver. Going into camp people were discussing how the team had way too many receivers, now after all the cuts people are saying they don’t have enough depth. As it stands now the wide receiver depth chart is Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julien Edelman, Matthew Slater and Greg Salas (who the Rams traded to the Patriots for a future draft pick). Not exactly what you would label a group that opposing defenses fear.

On the contrary, the current group is not much different than what the team had last year. Just switch Branch with Lloyd and Chad Johnson with Salas. There is actually an upgrade in Lloyd, and everyone remembers what an event each pass thrown Johnson’s way was. Also, the Patriots have arguably the best tight end combination in the league in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski and did I mention the quarterback throwing to these receivers is Tom Brady? I don’t think there is any need to worry about the receiving corps.

One of the other concerns coming out of training camp is the offensive line. Center Dan Koppen, who played nine season with the team was released last week coming off of an injury last season. Guard Brian Waters who excelled last season never did make it to training camp like everyone expected him to. Young tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder did not have very good preseasons as Solder struggled and Vollmer didn’t play due to injury until the fourth preseason game. Brady took an unprecedented number of hits this preseason as well.

As it stands today the starting line from left to right is Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Donald Thomas and Vollmer. In order for the Patriots offense to be at their best, Brady needs to be able to feel comfortable in the pocket, so it is critical the offensive line performs well.

Although there have been some questions with Solder and Vollmer, both will be fine. They have both proven they have the talent to be good tackles in the league, and are both very young. With some experience they will get better each passing week. The Patriots also have the benefit of having two tight ends, so they can bring an extra one in to block on a given play if they feel it is necessary. Also, the Patriots have brought back offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels loves calling screen plays, which are perfect to keep defenses off balance and will only help keep Brady on his feet. Also, with a 11-year veteran in Brady he certainly knows how to protect himself in the pocket and free himself to make good throws. Brady himself may be his best protection at least early in the season.

While the 16-0 predictions are few and far between, the Patriots will still be at the very least a 12-win team this season. To all the people worried about what took place during the preseason, just remember it is called the preseason — the real season begins Sunday.

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Patriots at Giants: 5 Observations

The Patriots wrapped up their preseason with a 6-3 loss to the Giants Wednesday night. In a game which featured virtually no Patriot starters and only a few series’ played for the Giants starters, adding in the replacement referees, the game seemingly could not end fast enough.

Here are five observations from the game leading into the regular season opener Sept. 9 at Tennessee:


Jermaine Cunningham had a solid night on Thursday. (FILE:USPresswire)

Cunningham makes case to earn roster spot

Going into the game defense end Jermaine Cunningham was a player looked at being on the bubble of making the final 53-man roster, which needs to be finalized by Friday night. The 2010 second round pick certainly gave coach Bill Belichick plenty to think about as he was arguably the most impressive defensive player on the field playing the entire game. Cunningham finished with three tackles, two first half sacks and was in the backfield on many occasions. Cunningham has shown signs of being a factor this preseason as he had three quarterback hits against the Eagles, including the one that knocked Michael Vick out of the game. Cunningham is competing with Trevor Scott and Jake Bequette for the final spot at defensive end. It will be difficult to cut a 2012 third-round pick in Bequette, while Scott is a four-year NFL veteran who the team signed this past March. This will be Cunningham’s third year with the team, and if he does not make an impact this year it’s hard to imagine he ever will. This will certainly be a position to keep an eye on when the cuts are announced Friday night.

Bolden and Demps carry the load at running back

The running back position has been the focus of many debates over the past few days as to how many players will be on the roster and who will they be? As it stands now Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Danny Woodhead are locks to make the team. Putting fullback Eric Kettani with the running backs, since the team hasn’t had a true fullback in years, the team has six players at the position. Brandon Bolden and Jeff Demps are the other two. It should come down to Kettani, Bolden and Demps for the final cut at the position.

The three players were the only three to receive carries Wednesday night. Bolden led the way with 15 carries for 59 yards, followed by Demps with six carries for 15 yards, while Kettani rushed for 12 yards on four carries. All three players also caught three passes out of the backfield. Demps and Bolden also shared the punt/kick return duties with Demps getting the majority of them with neither breaking any loose. Demps was banged up late in the fourth quarter appearing to injure his right ankle, but reports following the game indicated he will be fine after a precautionary MRI.

It will certainly be a difficult choice for Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff. To me, they will cut either Bolden or Kettani with the hope they will clear waivers and be able to be added to the teams practice squad. As it stands now it looks to be Kettani, but it would be expected he’d clear waivers and be able to be added to the practice squad. Bolden was very impressive Wednesday night,  making it difficult to cut the undrafted free agent. Demps, an Olympic silver-medalist who played football at Florida last year, has a tremendous upside and upon looking further into the situation, the team would not have signed him if they did not have plans for him on the 53-man roster. He is sure to boost the kick return game, a unit that has not performed up to par the last few years, but has had Tom Brady bail them out with long drives and not having the attention focused on poor field position. Keeping Kettani on the practice squad will be beneficial if one of the backs were to be injured at some point during the season.

Quarterback controversy

With Tom Brady sitting out, second-year quarterback Ryan Mallett got the start and played the entire first half. Mallett wasn’t very impressive, but to his defense he was the victim of several drops from his receivers. Mallett finished 8-15 for 40 yards, but also had several miscommunications with his running backs and receivers. Brian Hoyer played the second half and faired a little better than Mallett, aside from his interception on his last throw of the game, which looked to be a wrong route ran by receiver Jesse Holley. Hoyer finished 9-15 for 96 yards. Following the game Belichick would not comment on which player would be the teams’ backup this season.

This is turning into a very interesting decision for Belichick and his staff. Do they see any of the two as Brady’s replacement? Looking at teams’ in similar situations when franchise quarterbacks retire, very rarely does the new quarterback step right in and not miss a beat. A recent example of a good transition is the Packers with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was with the team for three seasons before he started — this will be Hoyer’s fourth. It would be very hard to ask Hoyer to wait around three-to-five more seasons before even getting the chance to start since he has the talent to be a starter with another club. Could the Patriots possibly trade Hoyer away? If they were to trade him, are they comfortable with Mallett as Brady’s backup and possible replacement? The Patriots would most likely listen to trade offers involving Hoyer. If nothing were to happen, expect Hoyer to remain Brady’s backup and then things would get interesting following the season with him becoming a free agent.

Patriots ready for regular season

Many thought the starters would see at least some action Wednesday night, especially on offense considering their struggles in the first three preseason games. That was not the case as Sebastian Vollmer was the only projected starter on offense or defense to play. Vollmer only played the first two offense series’ and came out midway through the third. It was Vollmer’s first action this preseason, which was most likely just to get him acclimated to game action and ready to start the season. Vollmer did look pretty solid in the limited action he saw. Bill Belichick not playing his starters shows he is looking ahead to the regular season and is content with where each unit is.

Should the 1-3 preseason concern fans?

The Patriots finished the preseason with a 1-3 record and certainly didn’t blow their opponents away at any point. In fact, the offense struggled much of the preseason. There hasn’t been a preseason in recent memory where Tom Brady took as many hits as he has. This preseason was also much different from any one in the past. The team played three games in a ten-day span with a joint practice with the Buccaneers mixed in between, which certainly made things difficult on the players and the coaching staff although they won’t admit it. The offensive line has not been great, but they haven’t played a game with the entire projected starting line together. Brian Waters isn’t with the team yet, and to me there is no question he will be with the team next week in Tennessee. He came in last season the week before the Miami game and played the entire game. He will do the same this year. If Belichick and Co. did not believe Waters would be coming back they would have certainly gone out and brought in another linemen by now. It should be noted he still has a locker in the Patriots locker room. Wes Welker hasn’t played a down this preseason and should be ready to go opening weekend. Although the Patriots have been below average by their standards this preseason keep in mind they haven’t been playing with their entire roster that will be showcasing during the regular season. Don’t panic, this team will be fine.

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A look at the Patriots running back situation

As it stands going into Friday’s deadline for finalizing the teams’ 53-man roster the Patriots currently have five running backs. Stevan Ridley has virtually assumed the No. 1 role, while Shane Vereen is also a lock to make the roster. Then there’s Danny Woodhead, undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden and Olympic silver-medalist track star Jeff Demps. This position battle is one of the most interesting on the team.

Last season the Patriots went with four running backs for their initial 53-man roster, but Kevin Faulk was on the PUP list, so essentially they had five. Will they go with five again this season? Could the Patriots have an undrafted rookie free agent make their roster? Could they have a player make the team who joined only two and a half weeks before the first regular season game and also did not take part in football activities since last January to focus on the Olympics?

A major issue from a running backs standpoint this preseason has been their inability to pick up the blitz. All of the backs who have seen time have been less than average in this department, and with the struggles of the offensive line it makes it even more important for the running backs to be able to protect Tom Brady.

Some have thrown around the idea of Woodhead being cut, which seems a bit out of left field considering he has been a major contributor since joining the team two years ago. It has also been said that Bolden has been very impressive in his short time with the team. Demps has gathered the attention of many since he joined the team last week and played sparingly in the second half of last Friday’s game against Tampa Bay.

I think the idea of cutting Woodhead should be thrown out the window. He has proven he can work well with Brady and the offense. He has contributed in his time in New England and maybe most importantly he has played a valuable role with the special teams units. Bill Belichick values players who can also play special teams and Woodhead is one of these guys. I see him as a lock to make the final 53.

Now there are a few questions when deciding between Bolden and Demps. Could the team keep them both? If they were to cut one of them, who it be?

To me if I were the Patriots I would go with four running backs and cut Demps. I don’t see the value in keeping a player who just joined the squad two weeks prior to the regular season. There are no guarantees with Demps being in football shape, and being able to grasp the demanding Patriots playbook. His main role with the team would be a kick returner. There isn’t much value in one player taking up a roster spot just to be a kick returner. There are plenty of other players capable of doing the job.

But, that is my personal opinion. I think the Patriots will keep all five running backs. I believe they are very high on Demps and think he can make an impact catching passes out of the backfield when getting the ball in open space. There is no denying his ability to race pass defenders and make them miss in open space, but there are other things to consider like previously mentioned. The one drawback is if they keep five running backs what other position will they be forced to cut from?

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Quick reaction to Patriots cutting roster down to 75 players

The Patriots announced a number of roster moves this afternoon to get down to the NFL league limit of 75 players. Here is the official release from the Patriots:

The team released veterans, DL Tim Bulman, WR Jabar Gaffney, WR Donte’ Stallworth, DB Ross Ventrone and DL Gerard Warren.

Defensive back Will Allen, S Josh Barrett and FB Spencer Larsen were placed on injured reserve.

Tight end Jake Ballard and DL Myron Pryor were placed on the Reserve/Physical Unable to Perform list. Rookie free agent OL Markus Zusevics was placed on the Reserve/Non Football Injury List.

Obviously what stands out is the team cutting Gaffney and Stallworth at wide receiver. Taking a closer look at last week’s game against the Buccaneers showed an indication this might be coming. Gaffney did not play at all, while Stallworth played 22 of the 72 offensive plays. Receivers Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman and Jesse Holley all played more snaps than Stallworth. Wes Welker sat out with a “personal issue”, which he revealed on Monday, while Gaffney sat out with a thigh injury — maybe the injury is worse than it appears.

The team now has seven players at wide receiver. In addition to Welker, Lloyd, Edelman and Holley there is Matthew Slater, Jeremy Ebert and Deion Branch. Seven wide receivers is a lot to carry. Five, potentially six is more realistic and it would appear the final cuts at the receiver position will come down to Holley and Ebert.

Aside from Gaffney and Stallworth, the cuts announced Monday were not very surprising. Allen and Barrett were both long shots to make the team coming into camp and everyone knows Ventrone’s story of being released and then brought back seemingly every week last season, so who knows, he could come back at some point. Ballard’s move to the PUP list keeps hope alive that he could miraculously return this season from his ACL injury suffered last year.

The big cuts will come on Friday when the roster will be shrunk once again, this time from 75 to the regular season limit of 53.

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