AFC East: New England Patriots

Raiders vs. Patriots preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There is a stunning contrast between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders in the past 15 seasons.

Consider this statistic, brought to the fore this week by ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates: Since head coach Bill Belichick was hired by New England in 2000, the Raiders have had eight head coaches and 18 starting quarterbacks.

The Patriots, with one head coach and three starting quarterbacks (Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, Matt Cassel) in that span, represent stability, while the Raiders are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The story takes on a different twist when considering that the Raiders had interviewed Belichick to be their head coach in 1998, an experience Belichick reflected fondly upon in later years.

The teams square off Sunday in New England’s home opener, and ESPN NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Bill Williamson (Raiders) discuss the matchup:

Reiss: Bill, those were strong comments from Charles Woodson after the Raiders’ loss to the Texans last Sunday. I think everyone knows where things stand with the 0-2 Raiders right now, and how this could be a make-or-break time for head coach Dennis Allen. So let’s get a bit deeper into the personnel. When Woodson was a free agent in 2013, some folks in this area were hoping the Patriots would consider signing him. How has he looked with the Raiders?

Williamson: He’s been one of the Raiders’ best defensive players at the age of 37. He had 100-plus tackles last season and has been a playmaker this season. He made a leaping interception in Week 1 against the Jets and he came back and had eight tackles in Week 2 against the Texans. Woodson will have to be accounted for by the Patriots. Also, he is a terrific leader. As you said, he was very blunt in his assessment of his team after the Raiders fell to 0-2 on Sunday. He doesn’t pull punches. Woodson is a true leader.

Mike, is there someone like this on the Patriots’ defense?

Reiss: They have a lot of them, Bill, and that was a topic of conversation after the team’s 30-7 victory over the Vikings on Sunday. It was a tough week in New England after a season-opening loss at Miami, and Bill Belichick and other players noted the role that some of the team’s leaders played in keeping the team on course. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo and safety Devin McCourty are the three defensive captains, but they have quite a few others who could be as well -- Rob Ninkovich and Darrelle Revis among them.

On paper, the Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden combination at running back looks solid. How is that coming to life on the field?

Williamson: The running game was supposed to be a strength for the Raiders, but we haven’t seen it. A big reason why is the Raiders have been playing from behind and can’t establish the ground game. Coach Dennis Allen and players have noted the importance of that changing this week. Jones-Drew has a hand issue and didn’t play against Houston. McFadden didn’t have much of an impact with 37 yards on 12 carries.

Mike, do you think the Patriots’ run defense will control Oakland?

Reiss: It depends which run defense shows up --– the unit that gave up 191 rushing yards to the Dolphins in the season opener or the unit that effectively limited the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings in Week 2. I thought they got back to playing fundamentally sound football last week, making the correct decision to return Chandler Jones to an end-of-the-line role, and I would expect that to continue this week. They’ve been hurt in the past by the Wildcat, so the Raiders might try to get that going.

Bill, there are some players with New England ties on the team: UConn’s Sio Moore and Tyvon Branch. How do they fit into what the Raiders are doing?

Williamson: They are a big part of the defense. Moore is a starting linebacker and Branch starts at safety. Neither player is perfect, but they are both very active players. In his second season, Moore has a chance of being an upper-level player. Moore sat out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury.

Both of these players, however, are also part of the Raiders’ biggest problem: The defense has allowed a total of 400 yards on the ground in two games. That is the beginning of Oakland’s woes.

Mike, do you think the Patriots can take advantage of Oakland’s run defense woes?

Reiss: Yes, especially after seeing the commitment they made to the run against the Vikings, playing 28 snaps with 320-pound rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as an eligible receiver at tight end. They obviously didn’t have Fleming in the game to catch passes. He was there to block and they restored order at the line of scrimmage after struggling in that area in the opener. It wouldn’t be surprising if there is a similar approach this week.

Belichick touches on Raiders ... and T-Birds

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick covered everything from the Oakland Raiders to the T-Birds, his middle school football team, during his Wednesday press conference.

Experienced Raiders team: Belichick knows the Raiders, who are the NFL’s second-oldest team as it relates to opening-day rosters, have a valuable asset: experience. “A lot of familiar faces, but guys we are used to seeing in different uniforms,” Belichick said. “The thing that jumps out about the Raiders is how experienced they are -- how many veteran players they have.”

Raiders are "where we were a week ago:" The Raiders are 0-2 after a rough 30-14 loss at home to the Houston Texans, but Belichick is not looking past them. “With the leadership they have out there with the veterans on this team, guys that are used to winning, guys that they brought in that have been in all those playoff games, Super Bowls, I mean, look, this is where we were a week ago,” Belichick said. “This is the same thing we heard in here last Wednesday after the Miami game. I’m sure the way they feel after the Houston game is the same way we felt after the Miami game. Last week doesn’t mean anything in the NFL, it’s what happens this week. That’s all we can focus on is what we need to do to get ready for this game.”

A different coverage look: Unlike the Patriots' previous two opponents, the Raiders like to play close to the line of scrimmage, especially against wide receivers. “Play more man-to-man, more press coverage,” Belichick said when asked about how the Raiders’ defense is different from others. “They mix their mans and their zones and they make some pressure in there. ... I’d say more man-to-man than we have seen in the last couple weeks.”

Like the Raiders of many years ago: The dominant Raiders teams that played in the 1970s and 1980s were known for size and speed. Belichick said the 2014 Raiders return to the historical look of the franchise. “I think that this team looks like the big, fast team that the Raiders have been known for,” Belichick said. “They are big at every position -- their line is big, the receivers are big, the backs are big, defensive line is big, secondary is big, kicker is big. I don’t how many guys they have under 4.45, but it has to be a dozen, maybe more than that. They are fast at linebacker. DBs are all fast, even the safeties are fast.”

Reece, the matchup dilemma: It’s rare that fullbacks receive a lot of attention, but in the case of Raiders fullback Marcel Reece, his versatility has caught Belichick’s eye. Belichick called Reece, who is a former wide receiver turned fullback, a “matchup player,” meaning it’s difficult to find the right way to contain a player with his skills. “You put a big guy on him, he’s probably going to have a hard time matching up with Reece’s speed and quickness,” Belichick said. “Put a smaller guy on him, he might match up with his speed and quickness, but it would be hard to match up with his size. I’d say that’s a dilemma. Who do you have that has the same skill set as Reece?“

Professor Belichick: The press conference ended with Belichick giving a 10-minute crash course on unbalanced lines, the single-wing formation and his eighth-grade football days for the T-Birds in Annapolis. It was as though Belichick was reciting chapters from a book like his dad, Steve Belichick’s “Football Scouting Methods.”

Stat check: Raiders at Patriots

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
A look at the 1-1 New England Patriots in our weekly "stat check," while also bringing the team's next opponent -- the 0-2 Oakland Raiders -- into the discussion:

Points per game
This week: 8th (25.0)
Last week: Tied-16th (20.0)
Last season: 3rd (27.75)
Raiders in 2014: T-28th (14.0)

Points allowed per game
This week: 14th (20.0)
Last week: 26th (33.0)
Last season: 10th (21.12)
Raiders in 2014: T-21st (24.5)

Third-down offense
This week:
28th (10 of 31, 32.3 percent)
Last week: 23rd (5 of 17, 29.4 percent)
Last season: 16th (83 of 221, 37.6 percent)
Raiders in 2014: 31st (5 of 21, 23.8 percent)

Third-down defense
This week:
25th (opponents 11 of 24, 45.8 percent)
Last week: 27th (7 of 13, 53.8 percent)
Last season: 26th (98 of 232, 42.2 percent)
Raiders in 2014: 29th (14 of 27, 51.9 percent)

Turnover differential
This week: T-2nd (plus-5, 7 takeaways, 2 giveaways)
Last week: T-11th (plus-1, 3 takeaways, 2 giveaways)
Last season: 8th (plus-9, 29 takeaways, 20 giveaways)
Raiders in 2014: T-20th (minus-2, 2 takeaways, 4 giveaways)

Red-zone offense (based on TD percentage)
This week: T-8th (4 of 6)
Last week: T-1st (2 of 2)
Last season: 15th (36 of 65)
Raiders in 2014: T-1st (3 of 3)

Red-zone defense (based on TD percentage)
This week: 6th (opponents 3 of 7)
Last week: T-10th (3 of 6)
Last season: 16th (28 of 50)
Raiders in 2014: T-7th (4 of 9)

EXTRA POINT: In a stat right in Bill Belichick's wheelhouse this week, the Patriots lead the NFL with 263 penalty yards assessed against them. The Raiders have the fewest penalty yards assessed against them, 44.

The Film Don't Lie: Patriots

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Patriots must fix.

Sometimes it's obvious. Other times, it's a bit more challenging to isolate one thing that stands above the rest when it comes to what the Patriots must address.

It's obvious this week, as the Patriots lead the NFL with 28 total penalties after picking up 15 against the Vikings. Of those 28, four have been declined.

What in the name of Ed Hochuli is going on here?

The Patriots are usually one of the NFL's least-penalized teams.

Last year, they had 82 penalties all season (69 accepted), the second-lowest total in the league. They had 98 accepted penalties in 2012 (ninth fewest) and 80 in 2011 (fifth fewest).

This year, they're on pace for 224 total penalties (192 accepted), and host the Raiders on Sunday.

Tedy Bruschi has told the story in the past about how when the Patriots struggle with fundamental plays, like the quarterback-center exchange, coach Bill Belichick will sometimes make reference to the local high school team: "If we can't execute that, we can't win football games, whether it's against Foxborough High School or the Minnesota Vikings."

That's what I thought about Sunday when the Patriots were penalized for being offsides on a kickoff for the second week in a row. That's just bad football, as is jumping offsides or being in the neutral zone.

While the Patriots' overall numbers are a bit skewed because of a few late penalties Sunday when the game was already decided, the Patriots have had too many of those "bad football" penalties in the first two games.

The way to fix it is simple. Play smarter football.

Penalties, missed chances irk Brady

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady was less than thrilled in his post-game press conference after a 30-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday. He was proud of the run game and his offensive line but expressed disappointment in his offense’s ability to take advantage of good situations created by the defense.

On Monday morning, in his weekly appearance on WEEI's "Dennis and Callahan" show, Brady explained some of the issues he saw with the offense. And it all starts with penalties -- as the Patriots had 15 total penalties for 163 yards, including left tackle Nate Solder getting called for three penalties in two plays.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesBrady says he needs to find ways to spread the ball around. "That's what makes an offense tough to defend," he said.
“The penalties, they just kill drives,” Brady said. “We don’t want to be one of the most penalized teams in the league. That would be a real great recipe for how to lose a game.

“Turnovers, penalties, missed opportunities, and we have to do a better job with the penalties," he said. "Obviously not turning the ball over on the road was good. The defense made all those big plays, which allows us a lot of short fields and more opportunities than we really took advantage of. We just need to score more points, and when we have opportunities to get the ball in the end zone, we have to do it. When we have to convert short yardage, we have to do it.”

One of the ways Brady thinks the offense can put up points is by spreading the ball around to create unpredictability with the offense. Brady said the best offenses are ones that keep opposing defenses guessing.

“We just have to find ways to get everybody the ball and spread it around to different guys,” Brady said when asked about not getting the ball to wide receiver Danny Amendola. “We spread it around a bit yesterday, but [Amendola] did not get the ball as much as I would like to get it to him.

Brandon LaFell -- the same thing. Aaron Dobson had one catch to start the game and didn’t get a lot of other looks after that. We have to get the ball to everybody and spread it around to everybody. Those guys are all good with the ball in their hands, so we have to find ways to do a better job of finding everybody, and that’s what makes an offense tough to defend is when you spread it around to everybody.”

Brady puts a lot of the offense’s problems on himself because he feels he needs to be the player to get guys like tight end Tim Wright and LaFell involved.

“I hope so,” Brady said about getting Wright and LaFell involved more. “They are here to help us win, and they are really good players that have done everything that we have asked them to do. They have had some opportunities and the ball just hasn’t gone their way the last few weeks. But hopefully it starts going their way and they can really start making the plays that they can make and that they are capable of making.

“But that is my job to find those guys and find ways to get those guys the ball. They are good in space, they have good quickness, good hands. And if we just keep working hard in practice, then eventually it shows up in the game, and in the games we have to do a better job executing.”

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 30-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium:

What it means: Quarterback Tom Brady had talked last week about how it's a "quality of life" issue when the Patriots lose. After a disappointing season opener in which they couldn't control the line of scrimmage in the second half, the Patriots responded in Week 2 with a strong game plan aimed at managing the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. This was a strong bounce-back performance -- both by the coaching staff and the players.

Stock Watch: Stevan Ridley -- up. The Patriots running back hit the 100-yard mark in a hard-charging performance. Ridley played only 22 snaps in the season opener, but the Patriots had him on the field for 37 snaps in this game. He brought a physical presence.

Defensive wrinkles: The Patriots got off to a slow start defensively, with the Vikings marching down the field for a touchdown on their first drive. But the defense ultimately settled down. A few things that caught the eye were cornerback Darrelle Revis matching up against receiver Greg Jennings throughout, the return of Chandler Jones to more of an end-of-the-line role and defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich going back to full-time status. Surely there was more to digest upon film review, but overall, the run defense that sprung so many leaks last week was cleaned up in a big way.

Keeping track of Gronkowski: Tight end Rob Gronkowski is still working his way back to being a full-time contributor. He played only 28 of 67 snaps in the game (including penalties). Part of that was tied to the game plan, as the Patriots used rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as more of a blocking-type option at the position, with establishing the run game a primary focus. Normally that would be Gronkowski, but he's still knocking off some rust.

Game ball: Devin McCourty. Until the safety showed great range to intercept an underthrown Matt Cassel long bomb down the middle, the Patriots were on the ropes. That play changed the complexion of the game.

Stat of note: The Patriots have won 12 straight games against NFC North opponents going back to the 2002 season.

What's next: The Patriots (1-1) host the Raiders on Sunday, Sept. 21, in their home opener. This marks the first time the Patriots have had their first two games on the road since 2003. The Raiders host the Texans today.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- At an initial glance, and without the benefit of film review, a look at which New England Patriots players are "up" and which are "down" in the team's game against the Minnesota Vikings:

Julian Edelman -- Receiver and punt returner continues to impress as Tom Brady's go-to target and also a dynamic field-position-changer.

Chandler Jones -- A blocked punt returned 58 yards for a touchdown at the end of the second quarter puts the third-year defensive end in this category.

Devin McCourty -- Interception by fifth-year safety in the first quarter changed the complexion of the game after the Patriots got off to a tough start.

Stevan Ridley -- The Patriots were determined to get the running game going and Ridley rewarded them with a hard-charging style and good ball security.

Bill Belichick & coaching staff -- A bounce-back for the staff, which adjusted well defensively after a slow start, matched up cornerback Darrelle Revis on Greg Jennings, returned Chandler Jones mostly to an end-of-the-line role, and was committed to the running game on offense.

Danny Aiken -- Snapper was a bit erratic with his deliveries to punter Ryan Allen, sometimes firing it back high.

Jerod Mayo/Deontae Skinner -- Off-the-line linebackers looked like they had some trouble against tight ends in the passing game, but that's more of a nitpick based on there being few choices for this category.

Receivers not named Edelman -- Quiet days for Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell.

Chandler Jones addresses roughing calls

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots were penalized three times for roughing the passer in the season opener. It was an out-of-character performance from a team that had just one such penalty all of last season.

Chandler Jones had two of them (he was fined $16,537) and he vowed to do better this week.

“When I get a shot at the quarterback, I just have to lower my pad level,” he said Friday.

Jones’ first penalty in the opener came when his right forearm made contact with the neck area of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill as he surged toward him in the third quarter. That’s a clear penalty because the hit didn’t come in the “strike zone” allowed. That strike zone, as described by Bill Belichick, is “below the shoulders, above the knees, and you can’t lead with your head.”

The last part, leading with the head, is the main thing Jones did wrong on his second penalty, which came in the fourth quarter.

Because Jones leaped toward Tannehill, he put himself in a position where his helmet made contact with Tannehill’s helmet. It was a late flag thrown by referee Walt Anderson.

For Jones, the plan is to try to slow himself down when he’s in that situation again.

“Being a defensive player, when you get a shot at the quarterback, that’s a dream. When you see the quarterback there, your eyes get kind of get big and it’s an opportunity for you to make a big play for your team,” he said.

“I feel like that’s when you have to tone it down a little bit and lower your pad level, so you can get a clean and legal hit on the quarterback.”

Gronk eager for more TD spikes

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- “Just a little warmup, that’s all.”

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was talking about his signature spike after scoring his first touchdown of the season on a 6-yard pass from quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday. Gronkowski, who has caught 43 touchdown passes -- which equals 43 spikes -- in 51 career games, is looking to keep the celebrations going.

“But, just focusing on the Minnesota Vikings right now," Gronkowski added. "That one was in the past. So hopefully some [spikes] come verses the Minnesota Vikings.”

Gronkowski played a limited number of snaps in the opener against Miami but says the game got his motor running for the season.

“I thought it was a perfect amount,” Gronkowski said. “Just coming back, getting my toes wet. So whatever the coaches plan for me -- keep on improving, keep on getting better -- I will be doing.”

Gronkowski says he is putting in the work and is ready to play more, if called upon.

“Yes, definitely," he said. "Whatever the coaches have for me out there -- whatever the game plan is -- when I get my number called, I have to go out there and I have to do my job and perform to the best of my ability.”

But Gronkowski isn’t settling for just being on the field. After being targeted 11 times and only hauling in four receptions against Miami -- the second-lowest completion percentage for Brady when targeting Gronkowski -- Gronkowski wants to maximize his effectiveness with Brady.

“Just have to keep on working,” Gronkowski said. “Obviously it shows there is much room for improvement to only be catching four balls when you have 11 thrown your way. It starts on the practice field, so we’ve just been working on getting chemistry down.”

Gronkowski also said the coaching staff’s emphasis on conditioning is key in bringing him back up to speed.

“Coaches did a great job running us, getting us conditioned,” Gronkowski said about how he feels physically. “For myself, where I couldn’t be out there the whole time, working with the training staff I felt I was pretty good out there.

“You always have areas for improvement. You never can be too well-conditioned. So, working on that every single week, including in the games you are working on conditioning. You can never get enough of that, and you always want to be the most well-conditioned you can be so you can play to the max of your ability out there.”

Gronkowski knows that the Patriots’ offense has yet another difficult challenge as it takes on the Vikings’ defense.

“They are fast and they are big,” Gronkowski said. “We just have to execute as a team together because they have a pretty good defense, for sure. They know how to play defense -- the guys are always in the right spot at the right time. They read the quarterback well. So we have to be prepared to the best of our ability and work together as a team to get some yards."

Full house at Patriots practice

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' 53-man roster had perfect attendance once again at Thursday’s practice.

The lone player not spotted at practice was defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles, who is a member of the Patriots’ practice squad.

Quarles, who is 6-foot-4 and 294 pounds, was originally claimed off waivers from the New York Giants Aug. 31 before being released Sept. 3. The Patriots signed him to the practice squad Sept. 6. Quarles played at the University of South Carolina, where he registered 13 sacks and 105 total tackles in three years with the Gamecocks.

On the injury front, center Ryan Wendell, who was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury, was at Thursday's practice and appeared to be moving well during the stretching portion of practice.

The Patriots were in shells and shorts.

Patriots' O-line looks the same at practice

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had perfect attendance at practice Wednesday for both the 53-man active roster and the 10-man practice squad.

Center Ryan Wendell, who appeared to be dinged up in Sunday’s 33-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins, was out with the team taking second-team reps in walk-throughs.

At the start of practice, the offensive line still consisted of left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Marcus Cannon, center Dan Connolly, right guard Jordan Devey and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. They all took walk-through repetitions with quarterback Tom Brady.

Defensive lineman Michael Buchanan, who was inactive in Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, had his right ankle taped but appeared to be moving well.

For those keeping track of jersey numbers: New practice squad member Cameron Henderson (DE) was wearing No. 93.

The Patriots were in full pads except for Brady, who wore sweats.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- While New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is expected to play in Sunday's season opener, Bill Belichick has listed him as questionable on the club's final injury report of the week.

Brady was limited in Friday's practice. In the past, Brady has been listed as probable, so the questionable designation sheds light that the calf injury he suffered in Wednesday's practice is more than just a passing ailment.

Elsewhere, tight end Rob Gronkowski is officially questionable. He said Friday in the locker room that he had nothing to add to his remarks Monday, when he said he was ready for action.

Finally, the absences of defensive end Michael Buchanan (Aug. 28, sprained ankle) and defensive tackle Chris Jones (Aug. 7, sprained ankle) were expected.

Revis prepares for a speedy Wallace

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Last year, wide receiver Mike Wallace was the big free-agent signing for the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East. This year, it was cornerback Darrelle Revis for the New England Patriots. On Sunday, they collide.

 And Revis is more than aware of the challenges that Wallace poses for a defense.

“He’s very fast, and he’s very explosive, too,” Revis said in the locker room on Thursday. “He’s probably the fastest receiver in the league.”

Wallace, who ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2009, still possesses high-end speed, despite not always looking exceptionally fast on film.

“Film can play tricks on your eyes when you watch it,” Revis said. “Until you get out there, field speed and game speed are two totally different things from the film. I’ve played against him in the past and a lot of guys on this team have, and they know how fast he is.”

Miami will be unveiling a quick offense with new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who was the Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach for Chip Kelly’s offense last season. Wallace’s speed could be highlighted in the new offense, but Miami’s up-tempo play is nothing new in Revis’ eyes.

“Miami always played fast,” Revis said. “They played fast in the past. The weather plays a part as well -- playing down there in that hot weather.

“We are aware of all the situations. I think that’s why we have a week to prepare -- to go through every scenario we can player and coach-wise, and just game plan in the best way we can.”

Revis is ready for the challenges that Miami’s offense poses but is also looking forward to finally getting the season started.

“I’m very excited, it’s the first week,” Revis said. “It’s good to get things going now. I think we are all excited. We have been waiting for this for a while, and now it’s here.”

When asked if this game is more special to him because it is his first regular-season game in a Patriots uniform, Revis was all business.

“I’m just taking it one game at a time,” Revis said. “We have 16 games and a bye [week], so I’m just taking it one week at a time and focus on that week.”

Weather won't be Pats' only challenge

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
When the New England Patriots open their season Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, they know it’s going to be a hot day. But offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels reminds his players that both teams will have to deal with the heat.

“Well, we’ll all be sweating like that, I’m sure,” McDaniels said on a conference call Tuesday. “I know this: It’s probably not going to affect [us] once we get in the game and we begin to play the game.

“Ultimately we have to play the Dolphins and beat the Dolphins, and they’re going to be doing the same thing. We’re all going to be hot. We’re all going to play the guys that are active -- maybe different numbers of plays per person depending on who may or may not need it the most.”

Aside from the weather, McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are preparing for the challenge of facing a tough divisional opponent.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a good defense, and I think their front definitely gives you a lot of cause for concern,” McDaniels said. “They definitely created some negative situations for us last season. It’s a very active front.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Brian Blanco/AP ImagesThe Patriots' defense will try to slow down Miami's new quick attack on offense, led by third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“They do a good job of getting in gaps and creating penetration in the running game on early downs. They stunt and use their packages aggressively when they pressure. And those guys move, and it’s hard to get a beat on them when they do that, too. And then you get into some of those longer-yardage situations, whichever four of them are in there rushing the passer at the same time, everyone has got a difficult matchup because they can all be productive as pass rushers.

“We’re definitely going to have to do a good job of taking care of the line of scrimmage and eliminate those opportunities for them, but we know it’s going to be a great challenge for us on Sunday.”

While McDaniels' challenge is dealing with Miami’s defensive front, Patricia sees the Dolphins’ improvement at skill positions as his defense’s biggest challenge.

“Certainly, obviously what I think they’ve done a great job of this year through the preseason is the quarterback position,” Patricia said. “With Ryan Tannehill being able to control and run the offense and do a good job with the different looks and the different problems that they set up with this type of offense and really trying to do a great job of being good decision-makers as a quarterback and get the ball distributed to a lot of their skill players, obviously with [Mike] Wallace and [Brian] Hartline and [Brandon] Gibson, [Jarvis] Landry and [Rishard] Matthews at the receiver position.

“They have excellent talent out there along with [Charles] Clay at the tight end position, who is a very good skill player for them, a very multiple type player. And then through the preseason you get to see their other tight end, [Dion] Sims, and the different positions he’s kind of been in and moved around at. I think they’ve done a good job to implement the system that Coach [Bill] Lazor has brought with him and done a good job through the preseason of efficiently running that offense.”

Patricia and the Patriots' defense will try to slow down Miami’s new quick, Chip Kelly-style of attack on offense, led by third-year quarterback Tannehill.

“I think they’re trying to do a great job and they’ve done a great job of making quick decisions, getting the ball distributed, getting it out, the accuracy increase as far as the passing game is concerned,” Patricia said. “So they’re definitely spreading the ball around with good, smart, accurate passing games and concepts, and it has definitely benefited the quarterbacks in a positive way.”

Brady leftovers: On Gronkowski, Wright

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
A few leftovers from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's talk on WEEI's Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning:

On Gronkowski saying he will play. At first, Brady did not know that tight end Rob Gronkowski told reporters on Monday that he is good to go and will be playing in Sunday's regular-season opener against Miami. Once Brady heard Gronkowski's comments, he expressed he is looking forward to having a healthy teammate.

"Well, I hope so. The more guys we get out there the better," Brady said. "We just started the week of practice, so I think everyone is trying to get out there, learn each other and the final roster has finally been picked. Whoever is on the active roster has to be ready to go. We are going to need contributions from everybody.

"If Gronk can be one of those guys then I think that makes our team better. But, we have a lot of playing and contingency plans for everybody being out. That's just what we have to do. ...

"Being [Gronkowski's] teammate for the last four years we know what he can bring to the team -- what his ability is out there, what he is capable of by not only his own ability but how it helps the other guys out there too. We have a good group of guys, so that if they are going to cover Gronk then we have to throw to the other guys and when he is out there he is obviously a great target."

Ready to get the season started. With the preseason in the books, Brady is fired up for the regular season to start.

"Absolutely. These count. This goes in the final standings," Brady said. "This is when you are expected to be at your very best and every bit of preparation that we have done for the last six months -- the end of last season -- comes down to this particular day. Yeah, there is a lot of urgency to this week. You can't afford any mistakes. The guys that are out there, those guys have done the best job over the course of the offseason to put themselves in the best position to help our team. I'm excited. I think it's a different feeling yesterday than all year because we have been off for so long and finally we get an opportunity to go out there and do something that really counts."

Impressed by No. 81. Brady likes new tight end Tim Wright's ability to absorb a lot of information in a short period of time.

"I watched him a lot last year because we had a lot of games where we saw Tampa play in and said who is this young No. 81 who looks like a good player?" Brady said. "So, I am excited to have him on our team. He's a good player. ... Hopefully he can go out there and keep making [plays] because we are going to that position to be a big contributor on the team this year."

Let the defense prove itself. The Patriots' potential for improvement on defense has people abuzz. But, Brady adds perspective that every team feels excited heading into the season:

"Everyone thinks this time of year the whole team is improved -- we have made all these changes and this player is gone, thankfully, and now we have this guy coming to save the day. Everyone thinks every year their team is better. There's 32 teams that are very hopeful when in reality that's probably not the case -- just hope and opinion. That's why we go out there and play and put everything out there on field. You go out there and give everything you have got every single week to see where you are at. My opinion doesn't matter because [the defense] is going to get a chance to go out there and prove it anyway."




Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22