AFC East: Detroit Lions

Rapid Reaction: Lions 40, Patriots 9

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
11:02
PM ET

 
DETROIT -- Rapid reaction from the the New England Patriots' 40-9 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field:

Ugly offensive football. This was a step back for the Patriots’ offense. When the clock reads 11:38 remaining in the second quarter, and a team already has three lost fumbles and thrown an interception, that pretty much says it all. Rookie free-agent tight end Zach Sudfeld and running backs Brandon Bolden (second year) and Shane Vereen (third year) had the fumbles, while the interception came on a Tom Brady-to-Aaron Dobson slant in which Dobson got caught up before getting to the spot. This performance had similarities to the Patriots' 34-10 loss to the Lions in the third preseason game in 2011. The Patriots went on to win 13 games that season, which is a reminder to keep preseason results in context.

Encouraging defensive football. If there was one positive that trumped all for the Patriots, it was the team’s situational defense. The Lions were 2-of-9 on third down in the first half when the top defense was on the field, and three of the stops came at the Patriots’ 5-, 19- and 13-yard lines. It could have been much worse for New England if the defense didn’t stiffen like it did (it was 16-3 Lions at halftime). Yes, it helped that the Lions were without receiver Calvin Johnson, but it’s also notable that the Patriots didn’t have starting defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (he was seen getting stretched out by the team’s strength coach before the game) and linebacker Jerod Mayo played only in the dime defense.

Brady’s preseason workload. Brady played the entire first half, totaling 46 snaps (including penalties, but not a half-ending kneel-down). He was sacked twice and threw the one interception. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this is the last we see of the Patriots quarterback this preseason, as he’s played a total of 87 preseason snaps -- 16 against the Eagles, 25 versus the Buccaneers and the 46 against the Lions. Brady had been nearly flawless entering this game (18-of-20); this performance wasn’t as decisive as we saw the team's promising young pass-catchers all have their struggles at times.

Amendola doesn’t suit up; Edelman fills his role. Receiver Danny Amendola remained home in Foxborough, not making the trip to Detroit. Amendola has been hobbled, but it is not known if his injury is to his ankle or foot. A source previously said that the Patriots don’t have long-term concerns with Amendola and he is fully expected to be ready to go Sept. 8 when the Patriots visit the Bills in the regular-season opener. In Amendola’s place, fifth-year receiver Julian Edelman played every snap in the first half except for a fourth-down, short-yardage run. He had three catches for 18 yards.

No action for Tebow. No. 3 quarterback Tim Tebow did not play, with Brady going the entire first half and No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett staying on for the second half. The crowd at Ford Field was chanting "Tebow! Tebow! Tebow!" in hopes of seeing him in the fourth quarter. Before the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Bill Belichick said he had an idea of about 80 percent of the team's 53-man roster. Tebow would seemingly fall in the other 20 percent, and with him not playing, there was no action to analyze to potentially sway the decision at this point.

Injury report. The Patriots had one significant injury -- rookie free-agent defensive tackle Cory Grissom left the game early in the fourth quarter and was having trouble putting pressure on his left leg as he was helped to the locker room. That is a position where the Patriots are thin depth-wise. ... Lions running Montell Owens, the former Maine Black Bear, injured his knee and did not return. Starting safety Glover Quin left in the first half with a hip injury and did not return.

Quick hits. Starting right guard Dan Connolly, who suited up for the first time coming back from offseason shoulder injury, played the team’s second, third and fourth series (11 snaps total). ... Starting safety Devin McCourty, who also suited up for the first time since offseason shoulder surgery, started and played the entire first half (16 snaps). ... The following players didn't suit up for the game. ... The Patriots got a long look at rookie free-agent defensive tackle Joe Vellano (Maryland), who started in place of Wilfork. ... Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who entered 2-of-5 on field goals (with misses from 44, 50 and 53 yards), converted on his lone attempt, a 31-yarder. ... Lions tight end Joseph Fauria, the nephew of former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria, scored a touchdown in the third quarter and followed it with a patented Fauria spike through his legs. ... Summing this one up: One of the ugliest Patriots preseason games in recent memory.

W2W4: Five things we'll be focused on

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
9:18
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DETROIT -- The Patriots visit the Lions on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET) in the third preseason game for both teams, and the expectation is that most top players will be on the field into the third quarter.

Here are some of the main things we will be watching for:

PatriotsLions1. Protecting Tom Brady. Remember the 2011 preseason game in Detroit when Brady was ripped to the ground by defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh? Similar to this time around, it was also the third preseason game and the teams were getting after it. Patriots guard Logan Mankins called the Lions' defensive line the strength of the team so it's a good test for the top offensive line of Nate Solder (left tackle), Logan Mankins (left guard), Ryan Wendell (center), Will Svitek (right guard) and Sebastian Vollmer (right tackle). Svitek, the eight-year veteran who had never played guard in the NFL, has been pressed into action because of injuries to others.

2. Aqib Talib vs. Calvin Johnson and the big play. When it comes to top receivers in the NFL, Johnson might be No. 1 on the list. While this isn't a regular-season type situation in terms of game-planning -- where the Patriots might have Talib follow Johnson wherever he lines up -- there still figure to be plenty of times that the two are matched up (assuming Johnson follows through on his plan to play after missing last week's game with a bruised knee). In terms of getting a good feel for how Talib and the secondary are equipped to defend the big play, this is a good matchup. Let's also watch the safeties closely, with Devin McCourty possibly set to play his first preseason game after missing the first two as part of his management coming back from offseason shoulder surgery.

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesJulian Edelman could be in line for increased reps.
3. Potential opportunity for Julian Edelman. With Amendola not expected to play after being held out of practices this week, it opens the door for Edelman to step into the all-important role as the team's slot receiver. Edelman has played just four snaps with quarterback Tom Brady this preseason but this could be his chance to make a loud statement on his value to the team as a receiver. With all the attention placed on the newcomers in the receiving corps, Edelman has been somewhat of a forgotten target. Does that change Thursday night?

4. Can the pass rush duplicate its strong performance? Patriots coaches had to be encouraged with the pass rush in the team's preseason victory over the Buccaneers on Friday. Linebacker Brandon Spikes was a tone-setter and ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich brought heat off the edges to record sacks. The Lions have a strong vertical passing game and they are transitioning to a new left tackle in Riley Reiff, the 2012 first-round pick who takes over for longtime blindside protector Jeff Backus. There should be opportunities to rush the passer.

5. Still a competitive situation at punter. When asked if he has seen any separation in the battle at punter between incumbent Zoltan Mesko and rookie Ryan Allen, Bill Belichick said Tuesday that he still views it as a competitive situation. Allen looked like he had an off night last Friday against the Buccaneers. Ford Field is often a friendly venue for punters, so it is another chance to gather information on what has been a notable training camp storyline.
CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Observations from the press box after the New York Jets' 26-17 loss to the Detroit Lions in the preseason opener:

1. A Rex-storm: I think people are getting carried away with Rex Ryan's admission that he missed plays on offense -- including a lot of Geno Smith -- because he was too busy with the defense on the sideline. Granted, it was highly unusual for a head coach to admit such a thing; most coaches would've talked around it by saying, "I need to watch the tape." But let's remember one thing: It was a preseason game. If it had been the regular season, yes, he'd deserve criticism.

Presumably, Ryan is using the preseason to fix a defense that has seven new starters. When the real games start, he'll be in head-coach mode, managing the entire game -- at least he'd better be. He took a heavy-handed approach with the defense in 2009 and 2010, and that didn't stop the Jets from making the playoffs, did it?

2. MartyBall: It serves no purpose to question play calling in the preseason -- coaches are in an experimental mode -- but it's worth noting that the Jets called 42 pass plays and only 16 runs against the Lions. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is known as a pass-happy coach, a style that usually doesn't marry well with defensive-minded head coaches. Just saying.

[+] EnlargeJeff Cumberland
AP Photo/Scott BoehmJeff Cumberland scored in the first quarter. Last season, the Jets' offense didn't produce a TD until the fourth preseason game.
3. Off the Mark: I watched Mark Sanchez's pick-6 over and over, and I still can't believe he made that throw. Rookie fullback Tommy Bohanon has to do a better job of leaking out of the backfield, but he was on his knees -- knocked over by ex-Jet C.J. Mosley -- when Sanchez lobbed the pass. Sanchez, backpedaling in the face of pressure, panicked.

But let's give credit where it's due: On the 26-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland, Sanchez made a fantastic read. He recognized 3-by-2 coverage on the weak side, knowing the Lions had no deep help on the strong side, where Cumberland ran a seam route. Sanchez showed nice anticipation, releasing the ball a split-second before Cumberland broke away from the linebacker. As I noted Friday night, Sanchez has moved into the lead for the starting job.

4. The new Geno: Rookie QB Geno Smith played almost exclusively in the shotgun at West Virginia, so there was some question as to how he'd respond to playing under center in a traditional offense. There were no noticeable hiccups in the game. In fact, he was 3-for-3 for 27 yards under center and 3-for-4 for 20 yards from shotgun.

5. Rough debut: RG Willie Colon was a solid player for many years with the Steelers, but he got off to a shaky start in his Jets debut. He was called for two penalties, and that's noteworthy because he was the Steelers' most penalized offensive player last season -- 12 penalties. That's a crazy amount for an interior lineman. Colon also allowed the pressure that caused Smith to have a pass batted at the line.

6. Uh-oh, Oday: I think OT Oday Aboushi, a fifth-round pick from Virginia, is on the roster bubble. Aboushi got beat by rookie DE Devin Taylor on a strip sack of Greg McElroy, and he also was flagged for two penalties (one declined). The Jets are looking for a backup swing tackle. Aboushi is a candidate for the job, but so is J.B. Shugarts, a first-year player from Ohio State. Shugarts played 36 snaps in the game, more than any offensive lineman.

7. Big Mac under attack: You have to admire McElroy's moxie, but, man, he takes a lot of hits. He was sacked three times and absorbed what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet hit on one play -- it wasn't called. McElroy said he was fine after the game, but he also said he was fine after last December's beatdown inflicted by the Chargers, and that turned out to be a concusssion. Either way, it looks like he has locked up the No. 3 job. He made nice improv play on his 9-yard touchdown pass to Zach Rogers.

8. J.J. is dy-no-mite: The coaches went into the game buzzing about former Eagles S Jaiquawn Jarrett, eager to see him in a game setting after impressive work on the practice field and in the classroom. He responded nicely and has leap frogged Antonio Allen on the depth chart, according to Ryan. Jarrett was a second-round pick in 2011, so you know the physical talent is there.

9. Silver-lining playbook: Looking for a positive from the game? The Jets scored two offensive touchdowns. A year ago, they didn't score one until the fourth preseason game -- and that came from the third-team offense.

10. Calling all runners: The Jets lost RB John Griffin (broken leg) for the season, testing their backfield depth, but they expect Chris Ivory (hamstring) and Joe McKnight (head) to practice Sunday. For Ivory, it would his first full practice of camp.

Rex turns his back on offense

August, 10, 2013
8/10/13
3:28
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DETROIT -- Maybe this is no big deal, maybe it is. But it's definitely unusual.

After a 26-17 loss Friday night to the Detroit Lions, Rex Ryan admitted he wasn't watching at times when the New York Jets' offense was on the field.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Paul SancyaRex Ryan kept an eye on the defense. The offense? That's another story.
As you know, Ryan has decided to run the defense this season, as he did in 2009 and 2010. It's his bread and butter, and he wants to be heavily involved again. OK, fine, but he apparently had his back turned to the field while coaching up the defense between series.

Asked about Mark Sanchez's interception, Ryan said, "I never saw it. I caught the tail end of it." He saw DE Ziggy Ansah returning it 14 yards for a touchdown. Later in his postgame news conference, Ryan was asked to assess Geno Smith's performance. He didn't.

"I had my own issues on the other side, so I never really focused a whole lot while he was in there," Ryan said. "We'll see it on tape. You probably saw more plays than I did."

This was a stunning admission for a head coach. How could he not watch his rookie quarterback? How could he not have his eye on Sanchez? Maybe Ryan's approach will change in the regular season. Maybe he will spend less time with hands-on coaching and more time managing the entire game from the sideline. That's how it should be; that's his job. It's nice that he has that much faith in OC Marty Mornhinweg, but you can't have two head coaches -- one for defense, one for offense.

It was only one preseason game. But it bears watching.

Rapid Reaction: Lions 26, Jets 17

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
10:54
PM ET


DETROIT -- The New York Jets opened the preseason Friday night with a 26-17 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Despite a killer interception, Mark Sanchez won the night over Geno Smith in the ballyhooed quarterback competition. Smith left in the third quarter after rolling his ankle. It doesn't appear serious, but he can't afford to miss any practice time.

What it means: As it stands now, Sanchez will be the opening-day starter. He gave as many points to the Lions as he produced for the Jets -- seven -- but he showed greater command than Smith, who delivered a nondescript performance in his NFL debut. Smith is doomed if he misses any practice time; it's almost impossible for a rookie to play catch-up in training camp.

Sanchez's night: It was the worst possible start for Sanchez, who threw a pick-six on the Jets' first series. Under pressure on a screen pass, he didn't put enough air under the pass and it was intercepted by rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. Sanchez has a maddening tendency to turn a safe pass into a calamity. In fact, he almost had another screen intercepted.

To Sanchez's credit, he responded to the disastrous start to finish 10-for-13 for 125 yards with a 26-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jeff Cumberland. It culminated a seven-play, 80-yard drive, much of which came in the hurry-up offense. It was typical Sanchez -- some good, some ugly. Some things don't change.

Geno's night: Unlike Sanchez, Smith didn't make any horrible mistakes, but he also didn't bring any spark to the offense. The former West Virginia star, who got two series behind the starting offensive line, generated only one first down on his first three drives -- a 15-yard pass to Clyde Gates on his first play. Simply put, Smith didn't look ready to take over the team. He finished 6-for-7 for 47 yards. Smith came out on the first series of the third quarter, when he turned his right ankle on an open-field scramble.

Greg McElroy came in and did a nice job against the Lions' third-stringers, going 11-for-19 for 145 yards and an 11-yard TD pass to Zach Rogers.

Big-play tight ends: Dustin Keller is gone, but Cumberland and Kellen Winslow displayed playmaking ability. Winslow made a nice catch and run for 24 yards. Cumberland scored his touchdown on a deep seam, showing his ability to get vertical. It's too soon to say the Jets have two weapons at tight end, but it was a good start.

Another injured running back: John Griffin was carted off with a lower-leg injury. It didn't look good. Already down Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson and Joe McKnight, the Jets can't afford another injury in the backfield. Ivory (hamstring) is expected to return Sunday.

New-look defense: The Jets opened with seven new starters in the post-Darrelle Revis era. All things considered, the defense held up fairly well. Most of the starters played most of the first half, an unusually long stint for the first game, and allowed 10 points. Cornerback Darrin Walls, an early substitution for starter Antonio Cromartie, got beat on a 15-yard scoring pass. One player who jumped out was nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, who deflected a pass and held the point of attack. Safety Dawan Landry got beat once in coverage. Keep in mind that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played only two series.

The rookies: It was a so-so debut for top pick Dee Milliner, who started at corner in the base defense. He didn't have to cover all-world receiver Calvin Johnson -- Cromartie drew that assignment -- so that made life easier for Milliner. He had a nice pass breakup in the end zone, but he missed an open-field tackle and allowed a 27-yard reception. Milliner gets some slack, though, because he missed a lot of time and is rusty. It was a relatively quiet night for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

The Q report: Former first-round pick Quinton Coples, making the transition to outside linebacker, flashed good and bad on his first two plays. He deflected a pass on an outside rush, but he failed to set the edge on an outside run by Reggie Bush. Coples didn't move well in space. This will be an interesting position change.

What's ahead: The Jets return to Cortland, for four days of practice. They break camp Thursday and return to Florham Park, N.Y., where they will prepare for next Saturday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

W2W4: Jets at Lions

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
9:29
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The Jets open the preseason Friday at the Lions. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. Here is what to watch for:

1. Quarterback battle, Round 1: Mark Sanchez starts, Geno Smith relieves. Sanchez figures to play a series or two with the starters before yielding to the rookie, who might get a series with the first unit. Smith will stick around and play with the backups as he attempts to convince the powers-that-be that he's ready to take over the team. The focus is on Smith, but it'll be interesting to see Sanchez in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense. He loves the system. We'll see if it loves him back.

2. The rookies: The Jets could open with three in the starting lineup -- DT Sheldon Richardson, CB Dee Milliner and FB Tommy Bohanon, the only fullback on the traveling roster. Incumbent Lex Hilliard didn't make the trip with an undisclosed injury. Milliner is rusty, which is to be expected. He missed the offseason and the first few days of camp, so his conditioning and technique still need work. Just for kicks, Rex Ryan should let Milliner cover Calvin Johnson for a couple of plays. Now that would be a welcome-to-the-NFL moment. Rookie LG Brian Winters (ankle) didn't make the trip, hurting his chances of winning a starting job.

3. Empty stable: Chris Ivory (hamstring) and Joe McKnight (head) are out, so the workload will fall to Bilal Powell. There's some concern among the coaches that Powell is being overworked, so don't expect a super-heavy work day. John Griffin and Chad Spann will see some carries as well. Mornhinweg, known for his pass-happy philosophy, will have no problem throwing it all over Ford Field.

4. Mega Who? When the Jets drafted WR Stephen Hill last year in the second round, they made the mistake of comparing him, from a size-speed standpoint, to another Georgia Tech alum -- Johnson, aka MegaTron. Hill is nowhere close to Johnson, but he has made strides on the practice field, especially with his technique. Now he has to take it to the game. With Santonio Holmes in limbo, they could be relying on Hill to be their No. 1 receiver.

5. New-look defense: They have seven new starters, so there's bound to be growing pains. They could show up in the secondary, which was overhauled in the offseason. The only returning starter is CB Antonio Cromartie. The Lions like to spread the field, and they have a quarterback (Matthew Stafford) who can get the ball anywhere on the field. This should be a nice first test for the Jets' sub packages. Watch LB Demario Davis; he brings a pass-coverage dimension to the linebacking corps.

6. Q's debut: Former No. 1 pick Quinton Coples plays his first game at outside linebacker. It has been a quiet camp for the former lineman. Part of that could be attributed to the position switch. But the coaches also want him to play with a greater sense of urgency. The feeling around the team is that Coples is the key to the defense. If he thrives in his new role, the defense has a chance to be really good.

7. Safety in numbers: The most unsettled position is free safety. Antonio Allen has received most of the reps, but he's hardly a sure thing. Former Eagle Jaiquawn Jarrett has impressed the coaches with his approach and he could sneak in and grab the job.

Eight in the Box: Breakout player

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
12:00
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Who is one potential breakout player for each AFC East team in 2013?

Buffalo Bills: Last year Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller was one of the breakout players in the entire NFL. This season, Buffalo's breakout star most likely will be on the other side of the football. Bills starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore showed a lot of tools in his rookie season when he recorded 61 tackles, forced three fumbles and nabbed an interception. The Bills had the NFL's 10th-ranked pass defense and Gilmore took on the challenge as a rookie to guard the opponent’s best receiver each week. He is a fearless player who is already solid in a lot of areas. But Gilmore needs to work on making more big plays for the Bills this season and beyond in order to take the next step.

Miami Dolphins: The tailback who led the Dolphins in yards per carry last season was not Reggie Bush. It was actually second-year running back Lamar Miller, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2012. Miller shined in limited opportunities during his rookie season. He displayed good vision and explosiveness, and appears to be a natural fit for Miami's West Coast offense under head coach Joe Philbin. Miller is the reason Miami had no issues letting Bush walk in free agency. Bush signed with the Detroit Lions after getting little interest from the Dolphins. Miller will get a lot more carries this season and pair with backup Daniel Thomas in Miami's backfield. Miller's weakness is pass protection, but he looked great last year carrying the football.

New England Patriots: The Patriots didn't necessarily need to draft a linebacker last year, but Dont'a Hightower was too good to pass up at the end of the first round. Hightower was considered an NFL-ready prospect and made an immediate impact with the Patriots. He recorded 60 tackles and four sacks with New England. Another year of experience should make Hightower even better in Year 2. Health permitting, Hightower should be a physical force in New England for years to come.

New York Jets: The Jets made several low-cost signings this offseason due to a tight salary cap. However, the free-agent signing that stands out for the Jets is running back Mike Goodson. He spent his career backing up quality tailbacks such as DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Darren McFadden with the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders, respectively. Goodson averages 4.5 yards per carry in his career and is a projected starter for the first time in New York. Goodson has the quickness to fit in well with the Jets' change to a West Coast offense under Marty Mornhinweg. He'll need to keep up the same production with the increased workload.
As expected, tailback Reggie Bush is no longer a member of the Miami Dolphins. Bush officially signed a four-year contract with the Detroit Lions Wednesday on Day 2 of free agency.

Bush rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his two years with the Dolphins. But returning to Miami was never a realistic option.

The Dolphins were ready to move on with their two younger running backs: Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Miami had other needs to address in free agency and didn't feel obligated to sign a third running back to an already deep position.

This week we took a look at Miller replacing Bush in the lineup. The second-year tailback led the Dolphins with 4.9 yards per carry. Miller seems like a good fit in Miami’s quick-hitting, West Coast offense. The biggest area of concern is pass protection, and that’s something Miller needs to work on.

Detroit got a solid player in Bush. But I do not think Miami's front office is too worried Wednesday that Bush signed with another team.
I thought about not writing this blog because I didn't want to jinx it. But AFC East players have been on their best behavior this offseason.

In the past week or so we've seen two high-profile arrests involving Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Nick Fairley. There have also been various issues with teams like the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals.

Meanwhile, there's just one arrest among the four teams in the AFC East since the offseason began. Miami Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi was arrested in California for an alleged battery charge in March. The Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and New York Jets have not had a single player arrested this offseason.

Trust me. I’ve had some eventful offseasons covering off-the-field news in the AFC North. Remember Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? Remember the old Bengals? Sheesh!

But things have been quiet on the AFC East front. Knock on wood that it continues to be this way throughout the summer.
Remember 13 months ago when the Buffalo Bills had interest in former Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley? Buffalo, which owned the No. 3 overall pick, had a heavy presence at Fairley's pro day and brought him in for a personal visit weeks before the 2011 draft.

Buffalo wanted help on the defensive line, and Fairley and Marcell Dareus were the top two prospects. When both players were on the board, Buffalo wise took Dareus at No. 3 over Fairley.

Fast forward one year later. Dareus is an up-and-coming defensive tackle coming off a solid rookie season. He recorded 43 tackles, 5.5 sacks and played in all 16 games for the Bills in 2011. Dareus is a young player with Pro Bowl potential.

Meanwhile, Fairley, who was taken at No. 13 overall by the Detroit Lions, was arrested for the second time in two months this past weekend. He reportedly was charged with driving under the influence and attempting to evade police while driving 100 miles per hour. In addition, Fairley battled a foot injury as a rookie and recorded just 11 tackles and one sack.

It's clear Buffalo made the right choice. Not only is Dareus the more productive player on the field, but he is not the headache Fairley has become off the field. These are the kind of smart decisions you want to make in the first round.

What is Matt Flynn's price tag?

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
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Green Bay Packers backup quarterback and pending free agent Matt Flynn made himself a lot of money in the final week of the regular season. Flynn, starting in place in Aaron Rodgers, beat the Detroit Lions with 480 passing yards and six touchdowns. That caught the attention of a lot of quarterback-needy teams.

Will the Miami Dolphins throw their name in the Flynn sweepstakes?

The Dolphins are searching for a new coach and their long-term solution at quarterback. The coaching search is underway. Jeff Fisher, Dave Toub and interim coach Todd Bowles were already interviewed by Miami. The quarterback search won't be settled for months.

Miami picks No. 8 or No. 9, which is most likely too high to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck or Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Therefore, free agency is probably the easiest way to upgrade the quarterback position.

The biggest question is what is Flynn's price tag? Scouts really like him, but he's still somewhat of an unknown.

Flynn has just two career starts in four years in Green Bay. But he's thrown for 1,015 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions in mostly mop-up duty. His career passer rating is 92.8.

Matt Schaub was given a six-year, $48 million contract by the Houston Texans with very little playing experience in his previous stop with the Atlanta Falcons. That move panned out. The Arizona Cardinals gave Kevin Kolb a five-year, $63 million extension despite limited experience with the Philadelphia Eagles. That move looks like a bust.

Interested teams have to decide whether Flynn is more "Schaub" than "Kolb" before handing out the big money.

Someone will be willing to pay the unrestricted free agent. Will it be the Dolphins?

Scouts Inc. on Devin McCourty

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
2:30
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No player in the AFC East is suffering from a sophomore slump more than New England Patriots second-year cornerback Devin McCourty.

Last year, the 2010 first-round pick recorded seven interceptions and made his first Pro Bowl as a rookie. This year McCourty has zero interceptions and often gets beat in coverage, which includes last week's touchdown catch by Washington Redskins receiver Jabar Gaffney.

What's happened to McCourty this season? We check in with our resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- to get his take.
"I thought McCourty was great last year, and I don't know what his issue is this year. I thought he was going to be a star in this league when the season ended last year. If it wasn't for [Detroit Lions defensive tackle] Ndamukong Suh, McCourty was right in line for Defensive Rookie of the Year. But McCourty is just a step behind now. It's not like I can say 'He's doing this wrong or he's doing that wrong.' But he’s clearly not the same player he was a year ago, and the Patriots were counting on him. McCourty was going to be the foundation of their defense."

New England's defense is ranked last in the NFL, allowing 424.4 yards per game. The Patriots are also last against the pass, in large part because McCourty hasn't developed into the shutdown corner New England expected in his second season.

Morning take: Who's to blame in Miami?

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
7:00
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Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC East: Morning take: Owners, coaches and players contributed to Miami's awful start. But in the NFL, coaches are first on the chopping block. That is why Tony Sparano finds himself on the hot seat.
Morning take: The Jets are really good trash-talkers, but so is this week's opponent: the Baltimore Ravens. Will both sides stay quiet and just play football? Probably not.
  • Judy Battista of the New York Times takes a look at the undefeated Buffalo Bills (3-0) and Detroit Lions (3-0).
Morning take: Everyone knew Detroit had talent but needed to stay healthy. But few expected Buffalo's fast start with its cast of unknowns.
Morning take: This is a great point by Bruschi. The two games I watched the Patriots in person, they had trouble against the Bills and Dolphins when opponents fell behind and sped up the tempo.

Preaseason AFC East Stock Watch

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
3:00
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Let's see who is rising and falling in the AFC East.

Falling

1. Miami Dolphins' halftime celebrations: Last time I checked, the Miami Hurricanes play football at Sun Life Stadium. That is why it's baffling that the Dolphins will honor the rival Florida Gators' 2008 championship team during halftime of the Dolphins-Broncos game on Oct. 23. Most Dolphin fans are Hurricane fans. So expect Tim Tebow and even current Dolphins center Mike Pouncey to get booed profusely. This won't end well. Miami is not Gator country. So the Dolphins should leave the Gators halftime celebrations to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

2. New York Jets offense: The Jets' first-team offense scored seven points on seven possessions last week. Quarterback Mark Sanchez connected with receiver Santonio Holmes for a 17-yard touchdown before halftime in a 17-3 victory over the New York Giants. But the Jets' other six possessions from the starting offense netted just 56 yards. The offensive line struggled with run blocking and the timing was off in the passing game. The Jets have to be more crisp offensively before their Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

3. New England Patriots' pass defense: It's always risky to make too much of a preseason performance for a veteran team like New England. But it's hard to ignore the Patriots' shaky pass defense in a 34-10 loss to the Detroit Lions. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford carved up New England's secondary. He was 12-for-14 passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford was doing so well against New England that the Lions pulled him before halftime of the third preseason game.

Rising

1. Chad Henne, Dolphins quarterback: Is Henne turning the corner? Miami hopes last week's performance against Tampa Bay in the "dress rehearsal" game was a sign of things to come. Henne was 10-of-13 for 175 yards and a touchdown. He started hot right away with a pair of long connections to tight end Anthony Fasano and receiver Brandon Marshall. Henne capped the opening drive with a 60-yard touchdown to Marshall. This is a big season for Henne, who has to prove he's worthy of being Miami's starting quarterback.

2. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills quarterback: Fitzpatrick was nearly perfect in Buffalo's 35-32 win over Jacksonville. Fitzpatrick was 11-of-12 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 158.3 passer rating. Fitzpatrick was aggressive downfield. He connected with receiver Steve Johnson for several nice plays, including a 52-yard touchdown reception.

3. David Harris, Jets linebacker: Harris looks ready for the regular season. He had seven tackles, two pass defenses and an interception against the Giants. Harris' pick was a slick call by Jets coach Rex Ryan. The Jets sent a zone-blitz and dropped Harris into the flat. The blitz confused Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who threw the ball right into the zone Harris occupied. Harris returned the pick seven yards.

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 45, Lions 24

November, 25, 2010
11/25/10
4:02
PM ET
DETROIT -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 45-24 win over the Lions at Ford Field:

What it means: The Patriots improve to an NFL-best 9-2 by weathering an early storm from the Lions, who came out energized. New England’s toughness and superior talent prevailed in the end.

Patriots show their mental toughness: The Patriots did not open the game as quickly as they hoped, and found themselves down 14-3 midway through the second quarter. They responded with a clutch touchdown drive, and after going into the halftime break down 17-10, took control in the second half. The Patriots are young in certain areas on the roster and the defense struggles at times, but one thing they have going for them is mental toughness. They showed Thursday that they are a tough team to knock out.

Deion Branch and Wes Welker -- small receivers come up big: Receivers Branch and Welker were star performers, both with two touchdown catches. Branch finished with three catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns -- one of which was a career-long, 79-yard catch-and-run bomb. That touchdown was the Patriots’ longest of the season. Meanwhile, Welker totaled eight catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns. At different points of their careers, they were both Tom Brady's No. 1 receiver. Put them on the field together and they are now Brady's 1 and 1A.

Brady takes beating early, hangs in for remarkable day: Brady was pounded in the first quarter and a half, as the Lions’ defensive line controlled the game. But things settled down and Brady got better as the game progressed. He finished 21-of-27 for 341 yards and four touchdowns. Brady’s toughness was evident Thursday.

Devin McCourty and Ndamukong Suh -- impressive rookies: Both teams’ first-round draft picks came up with big plays in the game and proved why they are in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Patriots cornerback McCourty, who has played every snap but one this season, helped shift momentum with an interception early in the third quarter when the Patriots were on their heels. That set up a quick touchdown for the Patriots, tying the score at 17 and delivering the Patriots’ defense some confidence after it was carved up for much of the first half. McCourty later intercepted another pass, and added a 50-yard return, giving him five picks on the season. Meanwhile, Lions defensive lineman Suh sacked Brady in the first quarter. It was his eighth sack of the season, which is a Lions record since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

Patriots defense does enough: If there is an Achilles heel of this Patriots team, it is the defense and its ability to get off the field on third down. The Patriots entered this game ranked 32nd in the NFL in that category and the struggles showed up in the first half of the game. Turnovers have helped the defense overcome those struggles, and that was the case again Thursday.

What’s next: The Patriots host the 8-2 New York Jets, who are in action Thursday night against the Bengals, on Dec. 6 at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots-Jets game will be on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” and will be one of the most anticipated games in the rivalry between the teams in recent memory.

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