AFC East: Kyle Arrington

Defensive groupings: Arrington's value

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
10:00
AM ET
One of the areas that will be charted throughout the season is the New England Patriots' defensive breakdown between their sub and base packages. This can highlight player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of each game.

Arrington
Arrington
In Sunday's win against the Ravens, the Patriots were in their sub defense (5 or 6 defensive backs) on all but six snaps. It was similar the week before against the Dolphins, as the season total has risen to about 67 percent of the overall snaps in sub.

Cornerback Kyle Arrington is usually the Patriots' nickel back, and he played a strong game in the slot Sunday in Baltimore, both in coverage and run support. His value to the team is starter-like when considering the sub vs. base numbers and he is paid accordingly. When Arrington struggles, it is often when he is asked to play on the outside because of injuries to others.

Arrington's toughness also shouldn't be overlooked. He's been playing through a groin injury this season, and it wouldn't be surprising if it's an injury that requires offseason surgery.

Overall, here are the numbers for the season (small margin for error, includes penalties):

Sub defense: 730 of 1,086 snaps (67.2 percent)
Base defense: 334 of 1,086 snaps (30.7 percent)
Short-yardage: 22 of 1,086 snaps (2 percent)

Patriots' top CB trio questionable

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
5:04
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' top three cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib (hip), Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin) -- and safety Steve Gregory (thumb) are all listed as questionable to play Sunday night when the team hosts the Denver Broncos.

Talib, the team's top cornerback, left Monday night's game against Carolina after his hip tightened up, though he has practiced each day this week on a limited basis. Dennard, who sat out Monday night's game, and Arrington also practiced each day this week.

Gregory, the team's starter alongside Devin McCourty, sat out Monday's game after injuring his thumb in Week 9.

The status of these four will be an area to monitor as the Patriots face the Broncos' top-rated passing attack, which looks likely to have receiver Wes Welker on the field, as he is listed as probable to play after suffering a concussion last Sunday night.

The Patriots also listed running back Leon Washington, who has not played since suffering a Week 5 ankle injury, as questionable.

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who left Monday's game with a knee injury that cost him each day of practice this week, will not play on Sunday.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been bothered by a knee injury since Monday night, is listed as probable despite practicing on a limited basis each day this week.

Quarterback Tom Brady (shoulder), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back, forearm, hamstring), wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), and running back Shane Vereen (wrist) are also among those Patriots listed as probable for Sunday.

Patriots don't have time to lick wounds

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
9:30
PM ET


Call it a case of football déjà vu.

Four weeks ago, the New England Patriots found themselves with more questions than answers relating to a controversial penalty call in an overtime loss to the New York Jets, with a matchup against a divisional rival ahead of them.

Today, questions remain over a controversial non-call that proved costly for the Patriots in their 24-20 Monday night defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, and a high-powered passing attack now waits in the wings.

There’s nothing that can be done to atone for what looked like an obvious officiating error (the league stands by the call), and there’s no time for disappointment within the walls of Gillette Stadium.

That’s because the Patriots will welcome the Denver Broncos and their 39.8 points per game to Gillette this Sunday for one of the most highly anticipated games of the regular season.

As if the challenge of facing the Broncos on its own were not enough, the Patriots have a short week to do so, as they’re already a day behind after playing on Monday night. The players received their customary day off on Tuesday, meaning they’ll likely spend little -- if any -- time reviewing Monday night’s defeat, focusing instead on what lies ahead with Denver.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesDemaryius Thomas is one of three Broncos with at least nine touchdown receptions.
The Broncos, riding high at 9-1 and fresh off of a win over the Kansas City Chiefs, own the AFC’s best record (by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Chiefs) with an eye toward a top-two seed in the conference for a first-round playoff bye.

It won’t be hard for Bill Belichick and his staff to size up the challenge ahead, as the Broncos are on pace to score nearly 50 more points than the Patriots did during their record-setting 2007 regular season.

Peyton Manning is on pace to break Tom Brady’s record for touchdown passes in a season, and the Broncos have three players who already have at least nine touchdown receptions this season (there are just five such players in total).

Manning is the orchestrator of the offense that has endured the loss of its best lineman, left tackle Ryan Clady, and still has surpassed 40 points in five games this season. His cast of receivers is unrivaled, with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker dominating the perimeter, while old Patriot Wes Welker and upstart tight end Julius Thomas present a nightmarish duo in the middle of the field. Welker's status for Sunday's game is uncertain, however, as he suffered a concussion in the win over the Chiefs.

This offense would be a challenge for the Patriots to contain even if they were at full strength, but the defense is dealing with injuries to each of its top three cornerbacks. Aqib Talib (hip) was forced out late in Monday night’s game, Alfonzo Dennard (knee) sat it out entirely and Kyle Arrington (groin) had to leave the game temporarily for stretch and recuperation. Their status for Sunday is unknown, but it’s fair to assume the secondary won’t be at 100 percent. Add in the potential absence of starting safety Steve Gregory (thumb), and the Patriots will have their hands full while possibly leaning on reserve-level players.

It’s nothing new for the Patriots, as they’ve weathered a litany of injuries already in 2013, led by season-enders to nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo. Those have led to the ascension of little-known players such as Joe Vellano and Chris Jones in addition to the acquisition of veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga.

The Broncos aren’t an imbalanced foe, however. The defense doesn’t draw the same attention as the offense, but for the second consecutive week the Patriots will have their hands full with a pair of talented edge rushers, Von Miller and Shaun Phillips. And though the numbers are slightly skewed because they are so often playing with a sizable lead, the Broncos also boast one of the stingier run defenses, surrendering just 92.7 yards per contest.

Simply put, getting things going against this defense is no small feat.

Following their last controversial finish, the Patriots started slowly against the Miami Dolphins, falling behind 14-0 early. The Patriots flexed their resolve in scoring 27 of the game’s final 30 points, catapulting them past their AFC East rival and putting to bed any lingering disappointment from the Jets game.

Falling behind against the Broncos is a recipe for trouble, something the Patriots are well aware of.

So that’s why, as difficult as it may be given the circumstances surrounding Monday night’s defeat, the Patriots have no time to feel bad for themselves.

With Peyton & Co. coming, the Patriots know it’s time to go to work.

Injury report: Gregory the only absence

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
4:38
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots safety Steve Gregory was the only player not to practice Thursday as he continues to recover from a thumb injury sustained in Week 9. It is unclear whether Gregory will be able to play on Monday night when the team travels to Carolina.

Cornerback Aqib Talib led the list of six players who practiced on a limited basis, joined by fellow cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin) and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who continues to be limited by a hamstring injury to go with his recovery from offseason back and forearm surgeries.

Talib has not played since Week 6, though he sounded upbeat Thursday in talking to reporters for the first time since the injury, declaring himself "day-to-day."

Wide receiver Danny Amendola was a full participant in practice for the first time since suffering a groin injury in Week 1, as was quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder).

The Patriots will take the practice field on Friday for their third of four practices this week.

.
.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
2:25
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing a few thoughts at halftime, as the New England Patriots trail the Miami Dolphins, 17-3:

Ugly half of football. This has been one of the Patriots' worst halves of the season. The tone was set by Tom Brady's interception on the team's second offensive play -- an inaccurate delivery to tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was a bad throw by Brady, who might be dealing with discomfort with the middle and ring fingers on his throwing hand.

Where's Ridley? Running back Stevan Ridley, the team's leading rusher in 2012, was limited to six snaps in the first half (not including final kneel-down) as the Patriots went mostly with Brandon Bolden (15 snaps), while mixing in LeGarrette Blount (starter who totaled 5 snaps). A bit of a head-scratcher there.

Cole over Ryan at cornerback. Without top cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots started Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at the position, with Marquice Cole playing the nickelback role. It was Cole who overran receiver Brandon Gibson on the Dolphins' first touchdown. The Patriots used rookie cornerback Logan Ryan in that role last week, but he hasn't played a defensive snap today, with Cole getting the nod over him.

Dolphins sparked by run. Miami ran the ball 21 times in the first half, and you wonder if the same approach would be taken if the Patriots had Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly at defensive tackle, and Jerod Mayo at linebacker. The Patriots just aren't as sturdy in the front seven and the Dolphins are taking it to them. Credit goes to the Dolphins for executing and winning the critical situations.

Injury report. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer left with a right leg injury and has already been ruled out. Looked like the season-ending type, but that hasn't been confirmed. That thrusts third-year player Marcus Cannon into the statring mix at right tackle, with veteran Will Svitek now the top backup.

Patriots get the ball. The Patriots had won the opening toss and elected to defer, so they will receive the opening kickoff of the second half. The home crowd booed the Patriots as they kneeled on the ball at the end of the second quarter.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
5:00
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At an initial glance, a look at the New England Patriots players whose performance was "up" in Sunday's game against the New York Jets, and those at the opposite end of the spectrum:

Up
Stephen Gostkowski -- Kicker hits from 44 yards with 16 seconds remaining to tie the game at 27.

Chandler Jones -- Right defensive end creates pressure while working against D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

Devin McCourty -- Safety breaks up a pass in the end zone and draws an offensive pass interference penalty in the end zone.

Down
Kyle Arrington -- Cornerback struggles early against receiver Jeremy Kerley and is replaced by Marquice Cole.

Tom Brady -- Quarterback throws a pick-six early in the third quarter that helps the Jets, trailing 21-10 at the time, get back into the game.

Dont'a Hightower -- Linebacker appears to struggle in coverage.

Nate Solder/offensive line -- Breakdowns in protection, highlighted at left tackle, contribute to the Jets taking control of the game in the third quarter.

Fifth DB trumps third LB for Patriots

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
8:00
AM ET
One of the areas that will be charted throughout the season is the New England Patriots' defensive breakdown between their sub and base packages. This can highlight player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of each game.

One of the themes from the first quarter of the season is that the Patriots' fifth defensive back (Kyle Arrington or Alfonzo Dennard) has been more of a "starter" than a third linebacker (Brandon Spikes).

Spikes, who is viewed as more of a run-stuffing linebacker and a potential liability in coverage, has played just 90 of 285 snaps this season.

This particularly showed up last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons when the Patriots were in either a nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs) package for all but six of their snaps. Spikes played just six snaps in the game.

The reason the Patriots leaned toward the sub defense was because the Falcons most often had three receivers on the field, and the Patriots also viewed their tight ends more as receivers.

That has heavily skewed the numbers for the season:

Sub defense: 209 of 285 snaps
Base defense: 76 of 285 snaps

Spinning it forward, the Bengals mostly run a two-tight end offense with one running back and two receivers.

How the Patriots view tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert will determine whether they stay in a pure base defense, or if they lean toward a sub package. Losing top run-stuffing defensive tackle Vince Wilfork also will be a factor in the coaching staff's thinking.

Picked-up pieces around Patriots

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
10:00
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Picked-up pieces from around the New England Patriots on Monday:

Ridley not happy with his start. Running back Stevan Ridley didn’t sugarcoat his answer when asked if he was pleased with his work in the first two games of the season. “Absolutely not,” he responded. “I don’t think anybody on this team is happy with where they want to be, starting with myself. I definitely didn’t get off to the start I wanted. I’ll man up and say that.” When asked what he’d like to do better, Ridley shot it straight. “Holding the ball, man,” he said, stating the obvious.

Practice players of the week. As has been the norm in recent years, the Patriots named their first practice players of the week, an honor given to those deemed to have best helped the team in the days leading up to a victory. Those players wear black jerseys during practice, which makes them stand out, and the initial practice players of the week are quarterback Ryan Mallett, practice squad-safety Kannoris Davis and practice-squad cornerback Justin Green.

Kelly, Arrington draw big crowds. In addition to Ridley, defensive lineman Tommy Kelly and cornerback Kyle Arrington were swarmed by reporters as they entered the locker room after practice. It also looked like rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) and veteran offensive lineman Will Svitek (right knee) were making progress in their recoveries.

Third down, red zone and Buccaneers prep. A big part of practice was dedicated to third down and the red zone. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came up big defensively in the red zone in their loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints, with a solid goal-line stand at the end of the second half.

Mayo Bowl on the schedule. Linebacker Jerod Mayo (Instagram photo posted by Patriots) was hosting his fourth annual Mayo Bowl at Kings in nearby Dedham at 6 p.m. As usual, there was a red-carpet entrance, with many of Mayo’s teammates scheduled to attend, including Vince Wilfork (Vine video posted by Patriots).

W2W4: Five things we'll be focused on

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
10:26
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Call it the final countdown. The regular season has kicked off for two teams, with just two more days until the Patriots take the field against the Bills in Buffalo (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET on CBS).

After an unusual offseason that saw countless unforeseen twists and turns, the Patriots are likely as ready as ever to get back on the field and begin the process of achieving their ultimate goal.

There are new faces aplenty in the receiver corps, while the defense looks much like the group from last season. The coaching staff is virtually unchanged, with Bill Belichick welcoming another familiar face in Brian Daboll back into the mix.

On Sunday, the Patriots have a chance to begin their division title defense against an AFC East foe while also trying to continue their recent dominance of the Bills. In fact, quarterback Tom Brady is 20-2 against the Bills in his career, a mark he hopes to further improve upon this weekend.

With kickoff right around the corner, here are five things we’ll be watching for when the Patriots take on the Bills.

1. Does preseason success translate into the regular season for receiving corps? Indications from the preseason are that the Patriots pass-catchers will hold up just fine, as Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld and others have looked very much in sync with Brady. But the regular season is a new test and all eyes will be on this group -- particularly the rookies making their NFL debuts. If the Patriots hope to repeat their offensive success from last season, there can be no easing period for the new wideouts in New England.

SportsNation

What's your prediction for Patriots-Bills?

  •  
    62%
  •  
    31%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 22,937)

2. Can the secondary stay on the arc of progression? The Patriots secondary picked it up down the stretch in 2012, and with several pieces in place again this season, improvement is expected. It looks like the same starters from the end of 2012 will get the nod this season, with Kyle Arrington as the top reserve cornerback followed by Logan Ryan. It seems plausible that the third safety will be another third-rounder from Rutgers, as Duron Harmon may have leapfrogged Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner on the depth chart. This group needs to build off of its momentum from 2012.

3. Disrupting Manuel. In 17 games against rookie quarterbacks, the Patriots are 13-4 under Bill Belichick (all four losses, incidentally, have come on the road). They’ll have another first-year test in EJ Manuel, the top quarterback picked in this year’s draft and the hopeful franchise player in Buffalo for the future. While Manuel is considered a polished prospect, how much the Patriots will be able to disrupt and confuse him with multiple looks will, at least in part, dictate his NFL debut. Don’t be surprised to see the Patriots bring the heat with extra rushers.

4. Rotations at RB, TE, LB. From the more under-the-radar category, there’s some intrigue in how the team rotates its players at three positions: running back, tight end and linebacker. At tight end, supposing Rob Gronkowski is unable to play, how might the Patriots deploy their duo of healthy bodies? Will Sudfeld play the predominant number of snaps, or will it be a more balanced workload? At running back, it appears Shane Vereen will be cast in the role Danny Woodhead played last season, with LeGarrette Blount as a backup to workhorse Stevan Ridley. As it relates to the linebackers, who will align next to Jerod Mayo in sub defensive packages? Could top draft choice Jamie Collins get the nod, or might it be Brandon Spikes/Dont'a Hightower, as it was last season? Dane Fletcher could be in the mix, too.

5. Special-teams notes. The Patriots have a new punter for the first time since 2010, and it’s a test for rookie Ryan Allen to show he’s ready for NFL action. Beyond his punting responsibilities, Allen will be called upon to hold on the field goal team. That’s an underrated chore that he must show he’s capable to do consistently. On the kickoff return team, might we see Blount step up into the role that the team struggled with in 2012? If so, he’d qualify as one of the bigger return men in recent NFL action. Finally, the Patriots have no shortage of punt return options, including Amendola and Edelman, who is the only player to have a punt return for a score in each of the past three seasons.

Looking closer at cornerbacks

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
10:30
AM ET
The Patriots' release of Ras-I Dowling on Wednesday opens a spot on the cornerback depth chart. In previous projections, I had Dowling making the team, in part because the salary-cap charge to cut him was greater than the salary-cap charge to keep him.

Dowling projected as a No. 4 or 5 option at the position, with the chance to elevate up the depth chart if he could stay healthy.

Dowling
Dowling
If I had to make an educated guess on why the Patriots ultimately cut Dowling, who was one of the club's 10 offseason award winners, it's likely tied to health. Dowling hasn't played this preseason after coming up hobbled in an early training camp practice, and there sometimes comes a point when the team and player just can't get on the same page in terms of when the player is ready to return. Sort of like what we saw with cornerback Leigh Bodden a few years ago.

So now let's look at what's left at the position, with our projected depth chart and a quick-hit thought:

Aqib Talib (6-1, 205) -- Plays on the left side and can be used to sometimes shadow a top receiver as the club's top cover man.

Kyle Arrington (5-10, 190) -- Because of injuries and legal uncertainty surrounding Alfonzo Dennard, he is the clear-cut No. 2 right now; can move inside to the slot in nickel.

Logan Ryan (5-11, 195) -- Third-round draft choice from Rutgers draws some similarities to Arrington -- physical, hard-nosed, smart and plays inside and outside.

Dennard (5-10, 200) -- Played well as the No. 2 option last season, but hasn't been on the field much in training camp, and also has legal issues swirling.

Marquice Cole (5-10, 195) -- Five-year veteran is considered a top locker-room presence; on the field, he's primarily a slot option who can be a factor on special teams. Viewed by some as being on the bubble.

Justin Green (5-11, 195) -- Undrafted free agent from Illinois has practice-squad potential.

Stephon Morris (5-8, 190) -- Undrafted free agent from Penn State was re-signed last week after suffering an injury.

One other factor to consider is that Devin McCourty (5-10, 195) could sometimes factor into the cornerback mix. While he's spent the majority of his time at safety, he has position flexibility.

Defensive snaps: Gregory & McCourty

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
12:38
PM ET
DETROIT -- A look at the snaps played by Patriots defenders in the first half, when most of the top players were in the game, and analyzing what it might mean (includes penalties):

CB Kyle Arrington -- 36 of 36
S Steve Gregory -- 36 of 36
DE Chandler Jones -- 36 of 36
DE Rob Ninkovich -- 36 of 36
CB Aqib Talib -- 36 of 36
DT Tommy Kelly -- 26 of 36
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 23 of 36
LB Brandon Spikes -- 23 of 36
DT Joe Vellano -- 23 of 36
CB Logan Ryan -- 19 of 36
S Duron Harmon -- 18 of 36
S Devin McCourty -- 16 of 36
S Adrian Wilson -- 15 of 36
DE Marcus Benard -- 13 of 36
LB Jerod Mayo -- 13 of 36
LB Jamie Collins -- 11 of 36
DT Marcus Forston -- 10 of 36
LB Dane Fletcher -- 6 of 36

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: The biggest personnel notes on defense were with starting defensive tackle Vince Wilfork being held out of the game, which gave the coaching staff an extended look at rookie free-agent Joe Vellano. Also, starting linebacker Jerod Mayo only played in the dime package, so rookie Jamie Collins started alongside Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower and Dane Fletcher also came on for two series in the base defense. ... Against a strong vertical passing offense, it's probably not a coincidence that Steve Gregory got the start next to Devin McCourty at safety as they are considered the team's best cover safeties. It will be interesting to see if that changes against teams who aren't as threatening in that area of the game, which could open the door for a bigger safety (e.g. Adrian Wilson) to step in to that role. Wilson played solely in the dime package in the first half, in a linebacker-type role. That bumped Tavon Wilson out of that spot. ... Rookie Logan Ryan served as the fifth defensive back in the nickel. ... McCourty's playing time was limited as it was his first action this preseason as he's been managed closely after offseason shoulder surgery. ... Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, as expected, are the top ends and they won't come off the field often. ... Tommy Kelly looks like a difference-maker at defensive tackle and the type of player who would never leave the field, but the Patriots probably want to find some time to give him a breather at times, which is what we saw Thursday night. ... Marcus Benard came on in sub situations as an interior rusher, which was the niche that Jermaine Cunningham (currently injured) had carved out for himself early in 2012.

Halftime experience good for Patriots

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
4:17
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick answered questions from reporters before Tuesday’s practice, saying today would be a day to focus on situations as the team focuses on Thursday’s preseason game at Detroit.

One aspect that stood out was Belichick’s feelings on the third preseason game as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts.

One line of thinking is that with the Patriots having joint practices with the Eagles and Buccaneers, in addition to two preseason games, perhaps the team has received enough work that there is less importance for top players to stay on into the third quarter.

Belichick’s thoughts?

“I think there is still a lot to be said for playing a game prior to the start of the regular season where the players play, come in at halftime, and go back out and play again if that’s possible,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s an absolute must. But I think it’s a good experience if they can experience it. We’ll see how it goes.”

A few other soundbites from Belichick:

His thoughts on Leon Washington’s camp and preseason. “He hasn’t gotten a lot of opportunities. I think he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s been healthy. He’s been out there every day. He’s worked hard. He has a great attitude. He has great leadership for our team and for the running back group. I think he’s shown up positively in the return game, even though he really hasn’t had a lot of opportunity. But we still have two more games here and we’ll see how it goes.”

The punter competition between Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Allen and if he’s seen any separation at this point. “I still think it’s a very competitive situation.”

How much has cornerback Kyle Arrington developed since arriving in 2009. “A ton. Kyle is one of our hardest-working players and a very dependable and durable player. He’s been out there a lot. He’s taken a lot of snaps. He’s come a long way from the practice squad, to playing corner, to playing the inside nickel position. He’s always had a strong role in the kicking game. … His game has improved and his responsibilities have expanded. He’s a lot more valuable to us now than obviously when he came here, but progressively each year he continues to expand his value to the team.”

Versatility of cornerback group. “Probably more than what we’ve had in the past, more guys that have been able to play inside and outside at a higher level so far. A couple guys who have also worked at safeties. A couple of safeties who have also worked at corner. So depending on what type of scheme we’re running, or what type of team we’re facing -- what the challenges are, or what the situation is in the game -- I think that will give us some flexibility somewhere down the road; I’m not sure exactly where. In the past, we’ve always seemed to need those type of players. My guess is that we’ll need them again.”

Running back competition. “I think it’s been very competitive. It’s interesting when you look at the players at that position, including the guys at fullback, each guy is a little bit different. They have some individual, unique skills that are good, and so do the other players. So it’s hard to make a comparison, when we talk about it in our personnel meetings, to compare one player to another. They’re all different. ...Their role in the kicking game, their role on third down, their role in short-yardage and goal-line, all those situational things play into it as well. It’s interesting. I feel like it’s a talented group. They’ve all shown good ability to produce with the ball in their hands, however they get it -- catching or running with it, returning it. They all have a little bit of a different style and I think situationally they would fall into different categories. It’s an interesting position to try to analyze. It’s good because the diversity helps the overall depth and the different roles you have on the team. But when you compare one to another, it’s hard to really have a straight-up type of comparison."
Tom Brady, Danny AmendolaStew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady and Danny Amendola got some quality work done early against Tampa Bay.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots improved to 2-0 in the preseason with a 25-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night, their first exhibition game at Gillette Stadium of 2013.

The win wraps up a second straight week of joint practices, as the Buccaneers spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday working alongside the Patriots in advance of the game.

Below are 12 takeaways from Friday's action, including some underlying storylines that may have gone unnoticed upon first glance:

1. So much for the concerns about how a recent knee injury might impact Tom Brady's performance, as the quarterback was masterful two days after going down in a scary moment during Wednesday's practice. Brady had just one incompletion on the evening, carving the Buccaneers defense on an opening-drive score and looking precise on nearly every one of his throws. Brady had his usual command of the offense, and continues to be in sync with his new cast of receivers, led by Danny Amendola.

2. Amendola was the best receiver on the field Friday night, and he showed off what makes him unique as a player: his precise route running, stop-on-a-dime quickness with the ball in his hands, and the ability to stress a defense up the field as well. Amendola sneaked behind the defense on a post for a score, and the spacing on the route was an important takeaway. The 2013 version of the Patriots offense, at least in early viewings, has shown an ability to spread a defense thin both horizontally and vertically. They have some perimeter presence with Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, but also some slot stressers in Amendola and the tight ends. This isn't to say that this year's offense will be better than last year's, just different.

3. After the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained he that decided to receive after winning the coin toss in order to give his team a chance for a fast start. The move paid off with a touchdown for his offense, and the defense followed suit, forcing a stop on the Bucs' opening drive. The first defensive play from scrimmage was a blitz-up-the-middle sack from linebacker Brandon Spikes, one of three first-quarter sacks for the Patriots. That's a critical component to this defense's success, as they struggled to pressure the various Eagles quarterbacks last week. Each of the Patriots' starters at defensive end, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, recorded at least one sack as well.

[+] EnlargeZach Sudfeld
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsZach Sudfeld caught this two-point conversion from Tom Brady and later added a 22-yard TD from Ryan Mallett.
4. There were some ups and downs from Ryan Mallett during the second quarter, as he came in to relieve Brady, completing 12-of-20 passes, including a 22-yard score to tight end Zach Sudfeld. We've learned before that the evaluation process of a backup quarterback extends far beyond preseason game action, as many will recall an uneasy 2008 preseason for Matt Cassel that left many outside of the organization uncomfortable with the thought of him as a fill-in starter. Cassel went on to help the team to 11 wins that season, reinforcing that we have to look at preseason games as just a piece of the puzzle. Mallett flexed his effortless arm strength on some throws, while he had misses that you'd count on him to make if he were the starter. The most important takeaway from tonight is an evaluation of a player's traits. For Mallett, we still want to see more before making a hard-line evaluation one way or another.

5. There's been an abundance of talk about the Patriots' rookie receivers during training camp (and we'll include Sudfeld in that group), but it was the one who was drafted highest, Aaron Dobson, who appeared to have the smallest role in the early portion of the game. Dobson took just one snap during the opening drive, far fewer than Kenbrell Thompkins, and that could be a sign that Dobson is further down the depth chart at this time. The two are different types of perimeter receivers, with Thompkins a more refined route runner and with better quickness, but Dobson holds the edge in size and length, an important set of traits in the red zone and competitive catch situations.

6. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork didn't play a heavy dose of snaps tonight (neither did Jerod Mayo), which gave us a chance to check out the rotation of defensive tackles behind him. Veteran Tommy Kelly is effectively the second starter in our estimation, but the picture becomes much less clear after that. Marcus Forston flashed on a goal-line play that resulted in a tackle for loss, while undrafted rookies Cory Grissom and Joe Vellano also showed some ability to generate interior push. Forston was a surprise to make the 53-man roster last season as an undrafted free agent, and the door appears to be open for another undrafted free agent to land on the active roster this year, especially if Armond Armstead is unable to return before the start of the regular season.

7. A few special-teams thoughts: Kickoff coverage was an area of strength for the Patriots throughout the 2012 season, but tonight it fell short of expectations. The Bucs returned their first kickoff 63 yards, far too much to give up. On the positive side, ace special-teamer Matthew Slater had a textbook take-down in punt coverage from his gunner position, a role he drew praise from Bill Belichick for earlier this week. Finally, for the second straight game, we'll give the edge to punter Zoltan Mesko over Ryan Allen in the competition (this week was a clear victory for the incumbent starter). Allen was unable to pin a plus-50 punt deep in Tampa territory, and Mesko had a substantial edge in overall average (44.3 to 39).

8. While the Patriots feel good about their starting trio of cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington -- the depth at the position is an area to monitor. Rookie Logan Ryan had the defensive play of the night, hauling in an interception for a touchdown. That comes after last week's failed interception against the Eagles. Veteran Marquice Cole provides some slot presence and special-teams value, but Ryan duplicates much of what Cole is able to do. If Ras-I Dowling is unable to return soon from injury, Ryan could effectively work himself into the fourth cornerback job, which could turn into third cornerback duties if Alfonzo Dennard faces jail time stemming from his July arrest.

9. Preseason games aren't always predictive of what the regular season will hold, but we saw quite a few two-back sets from the Patriots early on in the game. That's not something we saw much of last season or even last week, but fullback James Develin was on the field to start the game and played a handful of snaps on the Patriots' 15-play opening drive. When Josh McDaniels returned to New England, there was a belief that he might bring more two-back sets with him. Although that wasn't the case in 2012, we saw a steady dose of it on Friday night. Develin could be in competition with Michael Hoomanawanui for a roster spot.

10. There may not even be a starting job for him to win, but second-round pick Jamie Collins had strong stretches on defense Friday night, the second time in as many preseason games that he's impressed. The rangy, long 23-year-old worked almost exclusively as a strong-side linebacker from a stand-up alignment, which appears to be the role he has settled into (and one that Dont'a Hightower handles among the starting group). What will be interesting is to see if his movement skills are enough to translate into a prominent coverage linebacker role in sub defensive packages. One area that stood out for Collins tonight: his ability to stack and shed in the running game, an area we though he could improve upon from his college tape.

11. Left tackle Nate Solder took some heat this week after allowing his defender to rush through him during practice, which led to Brady going down and dinging his knee. Truth be told, that's a part of playing left tackle in the NFL -- there are many talented rushers -- but it looked like Solder had a steady performance tonight. That's par for the course for the 25-year-old, viewed by many as a high-upside left tackle, but he deserves credit for bouncing back after what was likely a long Wednesday night for him.

12. For the second consecutive week, Jake Ballard was used as the blocking tight end with the starting offense. From our initial viewing, it looked like another strong effort from the burly tight end, as he helped to set the edge and kick-start the running game. He played 19 snaps tonight, seven more than his 12 against the Eagles.

The New England Patriots’ pass defense struggled mightily in 2012. The Patriots were 29th in passing yards allowed and gave up too many chunk plays. That eventually cost New England in the playoffs, where the team lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game.

New England cornerback Kyle Arrington discussed the future of the Patriots on ESPN's "First Take" Tuesday and looks ahead to the 2013 season. Is New England’s title window still open?
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each AFC East team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills have been losers in free agency mostly due to inactivity. Buffalo made just one signing: linebacker Manny Lawson. With a new head coach and new schemes on offense and defense, the Bills need a lot more than one linebacker to be competitive next season. Most important, they need to find a quarterback after cutting former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Buffalo also lost starting guard Andy Levitre, linebacker Nick Barnett, veteran safety George Wilson and receivers Donald Jones and David Nelson. The team has yet to fill those holes. Interestingly, the Bills were major players in free agency a year ago. They signed defensive end Mario Williams to a $100 million contract and made several other signings. However, Buffalo finished 6-10 in 2012 and decided to take a much quieter approach in 2013.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins are big winners in free agency. They landed the best wide receiver on the market (Mike Wallace) and the top linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe). Miami also signed a pass-catching tight end (Dustin Keller) and an additional, athletic linebacker (Philip Wheeler). Miami’s roster looks much stronger and more dynamic than it did heading into the 2012 season, when the team went 7-9. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said it was his goal to close the gap with the New England Patriots. Ireland deserves a lot of credit for a solid game plan and executing it well. The Dolphins still have holes to fill at cornerback, left tackle and at pass-rusher. But Miami still has cap room to spend and 11 total draft picks next month. The Dolphins are not finished adding talent.

New England Patriots: The Patriots have had mixed results in free agency. But overall I would just barely put them in the winners' category. I do not like what they've done on offense, where they lost two starting receivers: Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. The pair accounted for 192 receptions, 2,265 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. That's a lot of lost production that Danny Amendola and Donald Jones -- New England's two free-agent signings at receiver – will not be able to match. The Patriots also haven't re-signed starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who remains a free agent. New England must patch these two holes offensively. On the other hand, I like what New England has done defensively. The Patriots solidified their secondary by signing former Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson and re-signing No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib. They also re-signed backup corners Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole and added exciting kick returner Leon Washington on special teams.

New York Jets: The Jets are huge losers so far in free agency. They lost talented players much faster than they can replace them. Former New York starters Shonn Greene, Keller, LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell, Sione Pouha, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace were either recently released or signed with other teams. The Jets are hamstrung by a tight salary cap. Therefore, first-year Jets general manager John Idzik has been forced to bargain shop. New York made several low-cost signings, such as tailback Mike Goodson and guard Willie Colon. But overall, the Jets have more holes than they can fill in one offseason.

SPONSORED HEADLINES