It’s November 1st, and we’re already at the halfway point in the season with the Steelers set to come into Foxboro this weekend.  After Sunday’s game the Patriots will have a bye week, which appears to becoming at just the right time as most players appear to finally getting a little healthier each week.  Provided New England escapes Sunday’s game without any injuries, it should hopefully have them in good shape heading into the stretch run of the season.

With the weekend set to begin, here are some final thoughts on this Friday:


Stevan Ridley has seen some inconsistent playing time this season in the Patriots’ offense.
(USA TODAY Images)

1) Stevan Ridley’s situation is a little puzzling – It’s interesting that with the tremendous drop off in his carries this season we haven’t heard much regarding what’s going on with running back Stevan Ridley.  After missing the first quarter last Sunday, Ridley came in and had a terrific performance and was a big part of last week’s victory over the Dolphins.  There was no explanation given regarding his absence by head coach Bill Belichick following the contest, although some believe it may have been a disciplinary issue.  It’s all just speculation, and Mike Reiss actually offered up some thoughts as to why Ridley hasn’t been as active a participant this season during his chat on Thursday:

“The way I view the running backs is that they are split up in two categories,” wrote Reiss on Thursday.  “1) More traditional big back (Ridley/Blount); 2) Passing back (Vereen/Bolden/Washington). So it just depends on how they want to attack the opposition that week. I agree with the thought that he should play more, but I also know that I don’t have all the information coaches do.

“For example, he very well could be making the wrong read on 25 percent of the carries (just randomly picking a number), and they’re not going to tell us that. The thought comes to mind when thinking back to the third-and-1 run against the Jets in the third quarter that he bounced outside when the Patriots had an unbalanced line to the right side with Sebastian Vollmer/Nate Solder/Michael Hoomanawanui. It’s like a receiver running the wrong route. Do you keep putting him back out there? Or get someone in there to run the right route? Just spitballing here.”

After a 1200+ yard season last year and a full season in the offense, it seems hard to believe that would be the case.  But clearly something is up, and we’ll have to wait and see if Ridley finally becomes more involved in the weeks ahead.

2) Aaron Dobson seems to be settling in, while Kenbrell Thompkins has struggled the last two weeks – The last couple of weeks has seen Thompkins go from hero to a non-factor, while his teammate, Aaron Dobson, has been a pretty consistent player in New England’s offense.  At the halfway point the two are close in receptions with Dobson having hauled in 26 passes, while Thompkins has caught 23.  However, Thompkins suffered a bit with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola both back on the field together and last week’s game against Miami where Thompkins was targeted just one time.  Overall, if you follow him on Twitter, he’s remained relatively upbeat and it will be interesting to see how he bounces back this weekend.  As for Dobson, he’s become a favorite for Brady this season on third down, having been targeted 12 times this season with five receptions (all first downs) as well as a touchdown.  As pointed out by Jeff Howe this morning, he’s also among the leaders in offensive skill position players in terms of snaps the last three games, having participated in 171 of 227 snaps (75.3 percent).  The two continue to make progress, but it appears that Dobson has the edge at this point of the season.

3) The run defense will be in focus this weekend – Seeing head coach Bill Belichick make a move to bring in Eagles defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga seems like a great move with very little risk for a player who could end up paying big dividends for this defense.  Sopoaga is in a great situation where he doesn’t need to be a dominant force, he just needs to be a player who can tie up blockers and let the other guys around him make some plays.  Despite the numbers, New England’s run defense hasn’t been completely terrible.  It’s just that after Vince Wilfork and later Tommy Kelly went down they’ve simply been missing someone who can simply slow their opponents just enough to allow guys like Brandon Spikes and the other linebackers to be able to come up and make a play.  With Sopoaga now in the mix along with Kelly seemingly getting healthier, they should be able to start turning things around on Sunday against a Steelers team that is struggling to run the football this season.

NFL ANNOUNCES DATES FOR ITS WALK ON TRYOUTS:

The NFL is apparently taking a different approach in trying to find potential untapped talent, and they’ll be hosting a full slate of Regional Combines next year.  They’re doing it by invitation only – likely to prevent the people who think they can play but can’t from coming out, and it will cost $275.  Needless to say it will be interesting to see if anyone comes out of it who ends up making an impact in the years ahead.

FORMER PATRIOT ALBERT HAYNESWORTH CALLED “LAZY”

Despite the potential of having Vincent Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth playing side-by-side back in 2011, the work ethic of the latter player caused him to not last that long here in New England.  Bill Belichick didn’t have much to say after he parted ways with Haynesworth, but after the defensive lineman recently criticized his former Redskins coach, head coach Mike Shanahan, and as a result this week Shanahan insinuated that Haynesworth was a “lazy” player and that’s why things didn’t work out.

“The only people I haven’t gotten along with as a coach is someone who is lazy,” Shanahan said regarding Haynesworth.  Those are unusually harsh words from an NFL head coach and not something you generally hear considering most take the high road when things like this happen.  Some fans may remember that Haynesworth said all the right things when he first came to New England, but it didn’t last long before Belichick apparently saw the same thing that Shanahan did.  And that’s a guy that just didn’t want to work hard enough to take advantage of what could have been a great opportunity for him.  Unfortunately he missed out, because New England ended up playing in the Super Bowl that season.  He ultimately landed in Tampa Bay after Belichick released him and other than the warmer weather, there couldn’t have been much enjoyment as the Buccaneers finished 4-12 that year and he obviously wasn’t much help as the Buccaneers allowed the second most rushing first downs (135) that season.  They ended up releasing him after the season and Haynesworth hasn’t played football since.

GOSTKOWSKI NAMED AFC SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE MONTH:

There were a lot of people questioning kicker Stephen Gostkowski after some early hiccups during the preseason, but the veteran has settled in and had himself a terrific month, and he ended up receiving a little recognition for his efforts.

Gostkowski has earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for October for the second time in his career in a month where he hit a career-long 54-yard field goal against the New Orleans Saints, which ended up being a key play during the Patriots dramatic come-from-behind win.  Overall he made all nine of his field-goal attempts and has also converted a career-best 15 consecutive field goals this season.   So far he’s hit 20-of-21 (95.2%), which thus far is the highest percentage of his career.  Not bad for a guy who before the season began received criticism from many fans who were wondering if New England should explore other options.  Hopefully his success continues.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Patriots plagued by failures on 3rd down – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has an article this morning looking at New England’s issues on third down, and notes that they’re currently in the category of the Jacksonville Jaguars in that regard.

Slow start costly for Steelers – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young files her notebook this morning, which leads off with the fact that Pittsburgh’s 2-5 start finds them in the AFC North basement coming into Sunday’s game.

Thursday roll call: Perfect attendance again – Mike Whitmer – Whitmer looks at yesterday’s practice report, which once again had everyone present.

BOSTON HERALD:

Ninkovich knows Big Ben hard to cut down – Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook this morning and writes that taking down Ben Roethlisberger, “can be like trying to take down a Vaseline-soaked redwood.”

Rob Ninkovich knows ‘D’ inside out – Mark Daniels – Daniels has an article on Ninkovich, who he writes has the responsibility of helping keeping the defensive line in check before each snap.

Aaron Dobson’s catching on – Jeff Howe – Howe has an article on Dobson, who he writes that several of his teammates saw his potential early on.

ESPN BOSTON:

Highlighting Patriots-Steelers connections – Field Yates – Yates looks at the connections the two teams have, including how close Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders was to becoming a Patriot.

Isaac Sopoaga & base defense stats – Mike Reiss – Reiss looks at Sopoaga’s snaps this season and what defenses he was in for each of them, and it’s an interesting look at the Patriots’ newest defensive tackle.

Mike Reiss’ Chat Recap - Reiss chatted with fans yesterday, and as usual there’s always some interesting bits in this piece.

WEEI:

Jack of all trades: As injuries mount for Pats, Rob Ninkovich thrust into Expanded Role - Christopher Price – Price has a good read this morning on Ninkovich, who he writes  this season has been more important to the success than at any other point in his four-plus seasons with the Patriots.

NESN:

Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Patriots ‘Get Beard,’ Congratulate Red Sox (Video) – NESN  Staff - NESN has a video posted by the team where several Patriots congratulate the Red Sox by wearing a fake beard.

ATTLEBORO SUN CHRONICLE:

Ninkovich & Co. prepping for Steelers - Mark Farinella – Farinella looks at New England’s preparations for Pittsburgh, with Ninkovich noting how important this weekend’s contest is.

NOTEBOOK: Patriots’ kicker honored by NFL – Mark Farinella – Farinella files his notebook this morning which leads off with Gostkowski’s honor, along with some notes from yesterday’s practice session.

ENTERPRISE NEWS:

Struggling QBs to duel when Patriots host Steelers on Sunday – Glen Farley – Farley writes that Tom Brady’s experienced a host of career low totals so far this season, and Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has problems of his own.