New England Patriots News 12-6 and Notes Around the AFC East

Steve Balestrieri
December 6, 2015 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division.

Patriots Running Game Stuck in Neutral: With the epidemic of injuries at the offensive line and wide receiver position, the Patriots offense has really slowed down in recent weeks. In fact the running game has largely been ineffective since Dion Lewis went down with his ACL injury.

Look no further than the Patriots third-down percentage the past two games to see that the running game is slowing down the offense. New England is 5 for 28 on third down percentage the last two weeks including just 2 of 13 against Denver.

LaGarrette Blount has had precious little room to run and James White along with Brandon Bolden don’t have the elusiveness of Lewis and been largely ineffective in the running game.

Today’s game against the Eagles presents an opportunity to get the running game untracked a bit against the 27th rush defense in the league. The past five games, Philadelphia’s run defense has allowed a whopping 165.6 yards per game.

Moving forward, the signing of diminutive running back Trey Williams will bear watching. Williams has a bit of that elusiveness that Lewis possesses. He’ll initially get some looks at kick returner and possibly in the passing game. Can the Pats catch lightning in a bottle twice in a year?  It will bear watching.

Is Gronkowski Being Targeted with OPI Penalties?: Much of the talk this week after the Denver game centered around the injury suffered by and two offensive pass interference penalties called on Pats TE Rob Gronkowski.

It reached the point where many in the NE area believe that league officials are targeting Gronkowski by unfairly watching him too closely while running his routes. Gronkowski stated this week and has previously that he won’t change the way he plays the game.

That is a good thing if you’re Gronk, because when you’re an athletic 6’6, 265 lb tight end, you have a tremendous height and weight advantage against much smaller safeties assigned to cover him.

Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston looked at the tape and did a study of his OPI calls and we looked at the coaches’ tape of them as well. While some are no-brainers and obviously penalties on Gronk, others seem less so, at times much less. The simple fact of the matter is that Gronkowski has more OPI fouls than 30 teams ….yes that is teams.

So if they’re watching Gronkowski this closely, then why aren’t officials keeping a closer eye on some of the other receivers in the league because there is plenty of pushing off on each play for them to witness.

One final thought, if the officials are watching Gronkowski so closely how can they possibly miss this sequence? This is courtesy of PatsPulpit

NFL’s Concussion Protocol Being Tested …and Failing Again: When the Rams QB Case Keenum had his head snapped to the turf against the Baltimore Ravens on November 22, he needed help from a teammate to even regain his feet. He was wobbly and was a clear candidate for the independent league official to call down, stop play and take him off the field to test for a concussion.

For reasons known only to the league they failed to do so. Rams coach Jeff Fisher claimed to have no view of Keenum teetering and called it “a combination of unusual events that took place.” It was a total breakdown of the NFL’s policy and rings hollow the constant proclamation of the league that it is dedicated to player safety.

The fact that no punishment faced the Rams after this incident was more probable than not that St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher is a member of the NFL’s Competition Committee. Keenum missed last week’s game due to a….concussion.

But the league acted (?) quickly. They scheduled a conference call with all 32 teams the following day to ensure that the league’s protocols be followed accordingly.

So what have we learned? That the NFL’s system continues to be broken. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was taking a beating in the Seahawks game last week. He too was slow to get up after taking a hard shot to the head from Michael Bennett while simultaneously being hit low by Bruce Irvin.

Once again the league’s independent spotter sat on his hands and did nothing. It was only after Roethlisberger took himself out of the game and complained of a lack of peripheral vision did Pittsburgh’s staff act.

“You can have, when you’re done playing, knee replacements and hip replacements and all kinds of surgeries,” Roethlisberger said after the game. “There’s no brain replacement surgery. That brain is too valuable to mess with. I’m proud of myself and I think more guys should do it and not try to be tough guys when it comes to the brain.”

Roethlisberger did the right thing but his team ultimately failed to follow the protocols. The Steelers’ team doctor reportedly came under fire last season for allowing both Roethlisberger and TE Heath Miller to re-enter a playoff game without being tested for concussions against league guidelines.

Roethlisberger expects to play this Sunday against the Colts and claimed to not have a concussion but an ocular migraine in response to his hit.

Flowers to IR, Pats Add Returners: Earlier above we mentioned new running back Trey Williams the FA from Texas A&M who played high school football under Danny Amendola’s dad. We profiled his potential impact earlier this week. The team also added WR/KR Demaris Johnson and re-signed WR Austin Hill to the practice squad.

But it came at the price of placing rookie DE Trey Flowers on IR. Flowers had been battling injuries all season and it ends a year that started very promising. He came out quickly in training camp and was a standout in the early going. He then had a great start in the Patriots first preseason game, getting a sack of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers before being hurt later in the first quarter.

Flowers is a very personable and soft-spoken individual who we had the chance to interview in the locker room earlier this season.  Hopefully he’ll have a speedy recovery and we look forward to his competing again in 2016.

East Bound and Down…Notes Around the AFC East:

Jets Enter Big Matchup Sans Revis But with an eye to the Future:The Jets face a home town dogfight with the Giants this week with big playoff implications for each team. But this week, they will again be without Darrelle Revis who will miss his second game in a row with a concussion. The Jets at 6-5 are very much alive in the AFC for a playoff berth and the Giants at 5-6 are tied for first place in the NFC East with the Redskins, who hold the tie-breaker with New York.

Filling in for Revis will be talented 2nd year corner Marcus Williams who has shined in 2015. Williams has five interceptions while playing in just 250 snaps this season. The Giants could be seeing the starting right corner for the Jets next season.

With his emergence Williams may force the Jets to keep him opposite Revis and cut ties with Antonio Cromartie who’s due $8 million next year. Cromartie’s play has dropped off this season and could find himself out of a job. With the current salary cap hits of Revis and Muhammad Wilkerson in 2016 and probably in the market again for a QB, the Jets will need to trim their cap and Cromartie is an easy target.

Bills Playoff Hopes Enter Crucial Stretch: The frustration of the Buffalo Bills players and fans in regards to their playoff drought is starting again in 2015. This was supposed to be the year that the Bills not only made the playoffs but pushed New England for divisional supremacy.

Things were trending upward; they finished 2014 with a winning record and had one of the best defenses in the league. They hired Rex Ryan who promised to build a bully in the AFC but it hasn’t happened. Now the clock is ticking on another year of frustration.

The Bills are 5-6 and currently in 10th place in the AFC playoff hunt. To have any shot of reaching the postseason they’ll have to win at least four of their remaining five games against Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and the Jets.

“Clearly right now in my opinion we can win the rest of them, but we are also a team that can lose them. We can win all these games or lose them,” Rex Ryan said this week. “We have not shown the consistency to play at a certain level yet. Now we got to find it, we got to find it in a hurry.”

Dolphins Playing Out the String Early: Another team with high playoff aspirations this season has fallen flat. The Miami Dolphins were, like Buffalo supposed to challenge New England for divisional supremacy and make the postseason. Unlike Buffalo, Miami’s chances to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 are done.

The Dolphins have only made the playoffs once since 2001 and were big spenders in free agency this season, bringing in Ndamukong Suh and rewarding QB Ryan Tannehill with huge contracts. Their defense was supposed to terrorize opponents and with a plethora of weapons at his disposal, Tannehill was set to tear up his nemesis from New England who were thought to be vulnerable without Revis, Browner and Arrington in 2015.

Miami’s defense is hurting, the rush defense is last in the NFL allowing a whopping 138.5 yards per game with only three teams allowing more points in the AFC with 287. And the offense under Tannehill has sputtered. At 4-7, their season is already over and players are looking to play for their jobs.

Now the question of long-term plan and viability are called into question. Miami can be expected to make a lot of changes again next season. Head Coach Dan Campbell is playing for his job right now and it continues with the Ravens today.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

 Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.



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