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Patriots Ninkovich A Steadfast Presence on Defense


Ninkovich is among the NFL’s leaders in consecutive games played. (USA TODAY Images)

Outside of New England, very few people have any idea who Rob Ninkovich is.

For the Patriots, they know just how valuable he is, having been one of their most consistent players on the defensive side of the football over the last six seasons. ¬†He’s missed just one game over that span, and you have to go all the way back to Week 11 of his first season in 2009 as the last time he wasn’t out there after sitting out¬†the team’s 31-14 home win over the Jets.

Since then he hasn’t missed a game and currently holds one of the longest active streaks, leading all NFL defensive ends in consecutive games played with 86. ¬†He also leads all players at his position for consecutive starts with 65.

Here’s an overall look at who joins him in that category:

CONSECUTIVE REGULAR SEASON GAMES PLAYED AMONG NFL DE’S:

Rob Ninkovich – NE – 86
Everson Griffen – MIN – 75
J.J. Watt – HST – 64
Cameron Jordan – NO – 64
Cameron Heyward – PIT – 64
Karl Klug – TEN – 64
Robert Quinn – SL – 63

CONSECUTIVE REGULAR SEASON GAMES STARTED AMONG NFL DE’S:

Rob Ninkovich – NE – 65
J.J. Watt – HST – 64
Cameron Jordan – NO – 49
Mario Williams – BUF – 48
Robert Quinn – SL – 34

He’s been a terrific addition since joining the team and has¬†finished the past three regular seasons with a career-high 8 sacks. ¬†His consistent presence has also been important over that span, especially considering all the injuries they’ve dealt with over the last few years having seen players like Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork go down with injuries.

Ninkovich was asked recently about a funny memory involving head coach Bill Belichick, and he told the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels,¬†“Well, he told me good job once. I was like, hey, it’s only been seven years.”

And fortunately for the Patriots, it’s been a pretty good run for the veteran linebacker so far.

Tom Brady’s Starting Streak In Jeopardy If Suspension Holds


2008 was definitely a long time ago.

The season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs was memorable for all the wrong reasons that year, with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suffering a season-ending knee injury mere moments into the game. ¬†It was hard to imagine coming off of an undefeated regular season, especially with all the pieces still in place to potentially run the table again, that Brady’s season would be cut short so soon. Yet after having not missed a game since taking over in 2001, it was a harsh reminder of how quickly things can change.


It’s been a long time since someone other than Tom Brady has been under center for New England. (USA TODAY Images)

Here we are years later and Brady is coming off of winning his fourth title, which had eluded this team for a decade. This should have been an enjoyable time for both he and the fans here in New England, especially given all the obstacles they overcame during the year to get there. ¬†However, instead of being able to enjoy the accolades that typically accompany a championship win, Brady’s offseason has been shrouded with accusations and an investigation (one in which Ted Wells admitted millions of dollars were spent…which is still mind-boggling) all over how 1 psi was missing from footballs.

As it stands right now Brady’s currently facing a four game suspension over that debacle, although that story still has a long way to play out before we know the outcome. ¬†Hopefully fans¬†will see¬†that number reduced, but if Brady does miss a game, it will end a pretty good streak he’s had going since coming back from his knee injury.

Up until that injury Brady hadn’t missed a game since taking over as the Patriots’ signal caller, and he’s been just as reliable since returning. ¬†Brady is currently ranked fourth in the NFL in consecutive¬†regular season games played among quarterbacks¬†with 96, trailing the Giants’ Eli Manning (167), San Diego’s¬†Philip Rivers (145) and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (112).

If he’s forced to sit out, that streak obviously comes to an end. ¬†Brady’s a guy who hates not being on the field, but if the NFLPA and his legal team can’t get this overturned, he may not have much of a choice.

Owner Robert Kraft put down his gloves last week against the league but the fight seems to be just getting started for the veteran quarterback. ¬†Brady has been quiet since the investigation and said a couple of weeks ago that he would be saying something “soon” about this mess, although to this point he hasn’t said a word since.

For now we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out, but the numbers are a reminder that it’s been a long time since someone other than Brady has taken a meaningful snap under center for New England. ¬†Whether or not he’ll be out there for sixteen games again in 2015 will likely remain the biggest question in the months ahead.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Spotlighting Tom Brady’s Interception Targets


Gronkowski may be the player who Brady has been picked off when targeting him in each of the team’s first two postseason contests, but he wasn’t the player with the highest total during the 2014 regular season. (USA TODAY Images)

After seeing Tom Brady throw an interception in each of New England’s postseason games, the fact that both came on targets to Rob Gronkowski prompted an internal discussion here that had us wondering how many times that’s happened during the regular season, and if it was, in fact, Gronkowski who was Tom Brady’s biggest vice in 2014.

As it turns out, Brandon LaFell edged him out during the regular season, with four of Brady’s nine interceptions coming when he targeted the veteran wide out. ¬†Gronkowski accounted for three of them, while Danny Amendola and Brian Tyms each were on the other other end of one throw each.

Here’s a look as well as what week each happened in:

9/29 at Kansas City Chiefs – Brandon LaFell (2)
11/2 vs Denver Broncos – Danny Amendola
11/16 – at Indianapolis Colts – Brian Tyms
11/16 – at Indianapolis Colts – Rob Gronkowski
11/23 – vs Detroit Lions – Rob Gronkowski
12/7 – at San Diego Chargers – Rob Gronkowski
12/14 – vs Miami Dolphins – Brandon LaFell
12/21 – at NY Jets – Brandon LaFell

Gronkowski so far has been the receiver targeted over New England’s first two postseason games when Brady’s been picked off. ¬†Interestingly enough, prior to the interception he threw to him just over a week ago against the Ravens, Brady hadn’t been picked off targeting Gronkowski since back on December 7th against the Chargers.

Notice one name that’s missing? ¬†That would be Julian Edelman, who has been the guy that Brady had the most success targeting during the regular season. Edelman had the highest completion percentage from Brady at 69% of the team’s’ five leading receivers, with Brady targeting him 134 times with 92 completions.

STAT CHECK: Brandon LaFell Exceeded Expectations in 2014


LaFell has had a terrific first year in New England. (USA TODAY Images)

People will forever spend a lot of time pining over bringing a player like Dez Bryant or a Calvin Johnson to team up with Tom Brady, especially after seeing how electric New England’s offense became after adding Randy Moss to the mix. ¬†However, while it wasn’t considered a big signing when it happened, it’s hard not to appreciate just how good Brandon LaFell has been¬†in his first season catching passes from Brady.

LaFell played in all 16 games for the Patriots in 2014, catching 74 passes for 953 yards along with seven touchdowns. ¬†Ironically, his 74 receptions were more than Johnson (71), and just one fewer touchdown than the eight Megatron finished with this season. ¬†Obviously there’s a stark difference between the two players, but it’s still hard not to appreciate what LaFell ultimately accomplished, especially given his previous performances in Carolina. ¬†His 74 catches were a career high, dramatically eclipsing his previous high of 49 from last season and were also more than some other notable names including Vincent Jackson (70), Antonio Gates (69), Michael Crabtree (68) and last offseason’s big name free agent, Mike Wallace (67).

Fans never like seeing the Patriots go for value, but that’s exactly what they got in LaFell, and more importantly they got a guy who has simply been a perfect fit in an offense that needed a big, reliable target. ¬†At 6’3″ he’s been a go-to guy for Brady throughout the season, and his 50 first downs trail only Rob Gronkowski (60) as a player who moved the chains the most for New England in 2014.

Here’s a breakdown of his stats from 2014:

LaFell’s 2014 Season Totals:
74 receptions/119 Targets (62% completion percentage), 953 yards, 50 first downs, 7 TD’s

LaFell’s Numbers By Down:
1st: 
39 receptions/54 targets (72% completion percentage), 473 yards, 25 first downs, 3 TD’s
2nd: 18 receptions/34 targets (53% completion percentage), 281 yards, 15 first downs, 2 TD’s
3rd: 16 receptions/29 targets (55% completion percentage), 183 yards, 9 first downs, 2 TD’s
4th: 1 reception, 2 targets (50% completion percentage), 16 yards, 1 first down


LaFell has played an important role in the Patriots success in 2014, and has an opportunity now to help them win their first championship since 2004.
(USA TODAY Images)

Looking closer relative to other Patriots receivers, LaFell is the¬†player the Patriots went to quite a bit on first down this season, leading all receivers with 39 receptions on first down, 25 of which went for a first down. ¬†That means 64.1% of those¬†catches moved the chains, which is even slightly ahead of Gronkowski (63.6%), who caught 33 passes on first down, 21 of which gave them a new set of downs. Garoppolo was 2-of-2 targeting him Sunday with two first downs, while Brady didn’t target him.

At second glance last season Brady finished with a completion percentage of 58% on first down, with Julian Edelman leading all receivers with 38 receptions and a team leading 17 first downs (45% conversion). Brady also finished with a 66% completion rate throwing the ball on first down, obviously far ahead of where he finished last season and LaFell played a big part in that.

It’s pretty impressive given where he was back in OTA’s where he admitted he was a little ‘shell-shocked’ and it’s no secret that this offense has been too much for other veterans to adapt to. ¬†Fortunately for LaFell, that hasn’t been the case.

‚ÄúOTAs I was shell-shocked, didn‚Äôt know what to expect,” LaFell told NESN back in August. “Everything was all new to me. I was in Carolina for the last four years, so I got used to that routine, got used to that playbook. Everything‚Äôs new here, and since the beginning of camp, I feel way more comfortable. Just being in the huddle with Brady, hearing him call the plays. I‚Äôm way more comfortable.‚ÄĚ

Fast forward four months and he doesn’t look like a guy who has only been here one season. ¬†Back then he seemed a long shot to earn a role behind second year incumbents Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, as well as veteran Danny Amendola. ¬†Instead he’s taken the reigns and he’s a player who already makes New England much tougher heading into the postseason than they were in 2013. ¬†He’s been banged up, knocked around and he’s a guy who has shown a lot of grit and determination this season. ¬†It’s hard not to root for this guy, and by now most Patriots fans really appreciate just how good he’s been.

With the regular season now in the rear view, this Patriots group of receivers looks far more formidable heading into the postseason compared to a year ago.  Granted having Gronkowski out there is going to be the biggest difference maker, but the combination of Gronk, Edelman, and LaFell is a pretty tough match-up for most defenses.

It’s amazing to think that in the beginning of the season he was just trying to carve out a role for himself. ¬†Now here the Patriots are, in control of their own destiny with their best shot at winning their fourth championship in recent memory. There’s still plenty of football left, but with LaFell now in the mix with Gronkowski and Edelman, there’s certainly enough of a reason to think they’ll have just as good of a shot as anyone to go far in the weeks to come.

STAT CHECK: Tom Brady Passes 4,000-Yard Mark


Brady went over the 4000yd mark for the 7th time in his career Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

Tom Brady has had quite an up-and-down season in 2014, but on Sunday against the Jets he reached a milestone that went unnoticed during their 17-16 win down at the Meadowlands.

Coming into Sunday’s contest Brady had 3,847 yards passing, and while¬†trailing 13-7 in the third quarter, Brady connected with Brandon LaFell on a 2nd-and-6 at the Jets 45-yard line for an 11-yard completion that put him over the 4,000 yards passing mark for the 7th time in his career, and for the 4th consecutive season. He did it in 2005 (4110), 2007 (4806), 2009 (4398), 2011 (5235), 2012 (4827) and 2013 (4343).

They finished the drive with a 24-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski, which at the time cut the Jets lead to 13-10.

Overall he finished Sunday’s game 23-of-35 for 182 yards against a tough Jets defense that sacked him four times in the first half and kept him under pressure all afternoon, including a staggering 11 quarterback hits as well as an interception.

Fortunately the Patriots survived and came away with the win, and after the game Brady credited the Jets for giving them another good battle, and now New England will spend the week preparing for the Bills, who will visit Gillette Stadium next weekend.

“I think this is a team that is, they do a lot of things well,” said Brady after the game. “They‚Äôve got a good scheme. They‚Äôve got good players. They‚Äôve got a good rush, good in the middle of the defense, good middle linebacker, good safeties. The corners played good today. So I just think we got their best and I think we kind of sputtered there, got out of rhythm, finally found a little rhythm there in the second half and scored enough points.‚ÄĚ

STAT CHECK: Brady’s Red Zone Numbers Have Dipped a Bit


Brady should be fired up for this rematch with the Jets on Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

After a midseason tear, things have cooled a bit down in scoring territory for the the Patriots passing game in recent weeks, which will be something to keep an eye on over these final two games.

Over the past four games quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t quite been himself down in the red zone compared to the previous four weeks, which has seen him throw about half the number of touchdowns and has also included a couple of interceptions.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

PREVIOUS 4 WEEKS: 16-of-23 (70%) 11¬†TD’s¬†and no INTs.
LAST 4 WEEKS:¬†10-of-23 (43%) 6 TD’S¬†and 2 INTs

Overall¬†Brady’s¬†41-of-69 (59%) with 24 touchdowns and 2 interceptions inside the opponents’ 20-yard line at this point in the season, and actually ahead of where he was at this point in the year in this category in 2013. ¬†Last season through 14 games he was 36-of-76 (50%) with 18 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

In their previous meeting earlier this season against the Jets at Gillette Stadium, Brady completed 3-of-6 passing with two touchdowns inside the 20 during their week seven 27-25 win.

The bigger concern is the fact the Patriots have obviously struggled down in New York, where Brady is 2-2 overall at MetLife Stadium and where New England lost 30-27 in overtime last season. ¬†Brady didn’t have a red zone attempt in that game,¬†which¬†was also Rob Gronkowski’s first game back after missing the first six weeks. ¬†The two were out of sync for most of the contest after Brady finished just 8-of-17 targeting him, including a miserable 3-of-7 looking his way in the fourth quarter. ¬†That contributed to the paltry¬†7-of-18 (39%) Brady finished with¬†in the final quarter of regulation, and the Patriots ended up with the loss.

The good news is that Brady’s recent red zone struggles haven’t necessarily kept them from scoring points. New England was 11-of-18 (61%) overall in red zone efficiency over the last four weeks and 3-of-5 in the Red Zone on Sunday, which included a 27-point second half against the Dolphins.

The one thing to consider is the fact that the Patriots have played some pretty strong teams over that span with some pretty good defenses, and even more important is obviously that they still managed to win three out of those four games. ¬†The hope now is that New England starts hitting their stride and that they start playing more consistent football, as both of these games should be tough and they’re still in a battle for the number one seed.

It won’t be long before the postseason arrives, and with two games left hopefully we’ll see this team iron out some of their remaining issues before they start facing teams that will require better efforts.

STAT CHECK: Rob Gronkowski Making Big Plays For Patriots


Gronkowski currently leads the Patriots in big plays for 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has certainly settled back into where he had been prior to the devastating knee injury he suffered in 2013, and as the Patriots head into the final two weeks of the season the veteran is starting to hit his stride just in time for the postseason.

Going back over the numbers following Sunday’s win over Miami, Gronkowski has been the guy who has made things happen in recent weeks, especially when it comes to making big plays in the passing game.

Gronkowski had three plays of 2o-yards or more on Sunday, bringing his overall total to a staggering 15 on the season. ¬†That’s nearly double from that of the next closest player, which is Brandon LaFell, who has seven.

Here’s a quick run down of players who have caught passes from that distance or beyond at this point in the season:

Rob Gronkowski: 15
Brandon LaFell: 7
Julian Edelman: 6
Shane Vereen: 4
Tim Wright: 2
Danny Amendola: 1
Michael Hoomanawanui: 1

Gronkowski also leads the team in passes of 30 yards or more with five on the season. ¬†From there it’s Edelman (4), LaFell (3), Vereen (2) and Tyms who round out that list. You can also see the full breakdown of Patriots receivers by distance and more in our Patriots Stats Database.

Needless to say while it would be nice to have a receiver who could stretch the field on the perimeter, at least they have a guy who is athletic enough to make them a threat down the field. ¬†Hopefully we’ll see him make some plays over these final weeks, as well as even more during the playoffs.

Stat Check: Darrelle Revis in a Class All His Own

It’s no secret that Darrelle Revis has been an important part of New England’s secondary this season, and looking at the numbers it’s hard not to be an awe of what he’s done¬†up to this point.

The most incredible number that stands out is the amount¬†of passes he’s prevented, racking up 14 passes defensed. ¬†That total is good for the sixth highest total in the league and is more than double of any of his teammates:


Revis has obviously been a difference maker in his first season in New England.
(USA TODAY Images)

Here are the top seven players for the Patriots in that category:

Darrelle Revis: 14
Logan Ryan: 6
Brandon Browner: 5
Devin McCourty: 5
Patrick Chung: 5
Kyle Arrington: 4
Malcolm Butler: 4

As far as how the numbers¬†look when you look at how he’s performed on each¬†down, here’s a quick look:

First Down: 2
Second Down: 7
Third Down: 4
Fourth Down: 1

His totals on all but first down as the highest on the team. ¬†On first down it’s Chung who currently has the edge with 3¬†compared to Revis’¬†2.

Revis is also 7th on the team in tackles with 41 including two tackles for a loss.  He also has two interceptions.

Back in week one the Patriots defense allowed 23 second half points en-route to a 33-20 loss to Miami. ¬†At that time Revis was just getting started and this secondary has obviously grown a lot since that football game. ¬†Revis told the Miami media in a conference call on Wednesday that he’s looking forward to getting a shot at redemption.

“You know what, that game was so long ago,” said Revis. “You’ve got to give them credit. Like I said it was the first game of the season, they came out fast and they had us on our heels. At that point we couldn’t stop the run and definitely we struggled in the passing game on defense. Now we get another stab at this ‚Äď a second opportunity ‚Äď and we can change that this week about preparing and being prepared for them this week.”

SPOTLIGHT: Goal Line – Brady and TE’s Shine, RB’s Struggle


Shane Vereen is among players shut out at the goal line in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

Taking a closer look at the Patriots numbers down on the goal line this season, it’s interesting to see that this appears to be an area where they’ve struggled through the first nine games.

Collectively ¬†they’ve run the ball seven times down on the opponents’ one yard line, while throwing the football three times over that span. ¬†Punching it in has been an issue and so far it’s been Brady’s arm that has carried them.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how it’s played out:

2014 AT THE ONE YARD LINE:

Tom Brady: 3-of-3 (100%) 3 TD’s

RECEIVING STATS:
Tim Wright: 2 targets, 2 touchdowns
Rob Gronkowski: 1 target, 1 touchdown

RUNNING BACKS:
Stevan Ridley: 3 carries, 2 touchdowns
Tom Brady: 2 carries, 0 touchdowns
Jonas Gray: 1 carry, 0 touchdowns
Shane Vereen: 1 carry, 0 touchdowns

RUNNING BACKS TOTAL:  7 carries, 2 touchdowns

Penalty: False Start, Bryan Stork – Week 8 vs Chicago

One quick note on these numbers, fans may talk about the loss of Logan Mankins, but it’s interesting to note that both of New England’s touchdowns this season have come over left guard. ¬†Overall they’ve run twice over left guard (two touchdowns), three times up the middle (0 touchdowns), once over right guard (0 touchdowns) and once around right end (0 touchdowns).

Going back to 2013 and where they were through nine games, here’s a quick look at how it played out. ¬†So far Brady’s been sharper down there than he was to this point last season having completed just 2-of-6 (33%) with just one touchdown.

2013 AT THE ONE YARD LINE THROUGH  NINE GAMES:

Tom Brady: 2-of-6 (33%) 1 touchdown

RECEIVING STATS:
Matthew Mulligan: 1 target, 1 touchdown
Aaron Dobson: 1 target, 1 reception – 0 touchdowns
Kenbrell Thompkins: 1 target, 0 receptions
Nate Solder:  1 target, 0 receptions
Julian Edelman:  1 target, 0 receptions
Rob Gronkowski:  1 target, 0 receptions

RUNNING BACKS:
Stevan Ridley: 4 carries, 2 touchdowns
Brandon Bolden: 2 carries, 1 touchdown
Shane Vereen: 1 carry, 0 yards
Tom Brady: 1 carry, 1 lost fumble
LeGarrette Blount: 2 carries, 0 touchdowns

RUNNING BACKS TOTAL: 10 carries, 3 touchdowns

Down the stretch in 2013 things improved dramatically.  Brady only had one pass attempt (a touchdown to Danny Amendola) but the running back production down there was a key factor over the final seven games.  On five carries the Patriots scored four times, each of which came from four different players.  Stevan Ridley (1 carry, 1 TD), Brandon Bolden (1 carry, 1 TD), James Develin (1 carry, 1 TD) and LeGarrette Blount (1 carry, 1 TD) were all among players who scored from the one-yard line.  The only player shut out was Shane Vereen (1 carry, 0 touchdowns).

Hopefully that same improvement happens this season.

Closer Look: Patriots Ground Game Struggling Compared to 2013


Jonas Gray and the Patriots ground game has a lot of work to do. (USA TODAY Images)

Taking a closer look at the running game for the Patriots through the first nine weeks of the season, it’s interesting to see where they are compared to 2013 at this point in the year.

Since the loss of Stevan Ridley in week six New England has been trying to get Jonas Gray more involved in the ground game along with Shane Vereen, and it’s been a slow transition as they continue trying to get things going. ¬†Considering the fact they had LeGarrette Blount behind Ridley last season, it’s been a little tougher of an adjustment¬†and you can clearly see the overall drop off in production.¬† Looking at the charts below you can see a direct comparison of how much more difficult things have been for them through nine weeks.

Here’s how things shape up:

2014 Week-by-Week Rushing Totals: – View Full Totals

Rushing-Weeks-1-thru-9-2014

2013 Week-by-Week Rushing Totals: – View Full Totals

Rushing-Weeks-1-thru-9-2013

ANALYSIS:¬†You can see last season that the team hasn’t had quite as much luck breaking off big runs this season, going for over 20-yards six times through nine weeks in 2013 compared to just once in 2014. ¬†Another¬†stat that sticks out¬†is the number of rushes for no gains or a loss (kneeldowns are excluded from this total) compared to last season, which totals 56 in 2014 compared to 48 at this point last season. ¬†Those numbers had improved against the Jets and Bears, but they had 10 Sunday against Denver, their highest total since their battle with the Bills back in week six.

The good news? ¬†After the drop off in terms of the commitment to the running game against the Jets the Patriots have still been making an effort to run the football, which has helped in the play-action portion of the passing game and remains a critical element in the offense. ¬†We’ve seen improvement on the offensive side of the football in many areas so far this season, so hopefully over the final seven games Gray will continue to grow along with Vereen and put this team in better position to be more competitive over the final month and a half of the regular season.