AFC East: Sam Aiken

Sights from Rams-Patriots observatory

August, 27, 2010
8/27/10
2:08
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Rob GronkowskiStew Milne/US PresswireRookie tight end Rob Gronkowski caught three passes for 66 yards and two scores Thursday night.
Some random thoughts from Thursday night, when the St. Louis Rams beat the New England Patriots 36-35 in Gillette Stadium ...

  • You can say Sam Bradford had a sensational night in his first NFL start, or you can be worried the rookie quarterback of a team that went 1-15 last year had his way against Bill Belichick's defense. The Patriots were undisciplined and seemed a little lost.
  • The Rams allowed 44 sacks last year, tied for seventh-most in the NFL. With four-fifths of the same offensive line and a rookie left tackle in front of Bradford, the Patriots' defense sacked him once and generally failed to create pressure.
  • New England was credited with three passes defensed. One of them belonged to nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
  • St. Louis' second-team offense, led by undrafted rookie quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, did this to New England's first-team defense to open the second half: 76 yards on 15 plays in 9:19. Lewis and Brandon Gibson connected for a 20-yard touchdown.
  • First-round draft pick Devin McCourty started at left cornerback and had a rough night. He struggled on run support and was beaten deep by Donnie Avery for 32 yards on the Rams' first drive. McCourty got scorched on what should have been a 27-yard Laurent Robinson touchdown at the end of the second quarter, but Bradford's throw carried Robinson out of bounds.
  • A bright spot for the defense was defensive lineman Ron Brace with seven tackles and a sack. He left the field with an undisclosed leg injury in the second half.
  • Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski is going to be a fan favorite if he can A) stay healthy, and B) keep making the kinds of plays he made against the Rams. He caught three passes for 66 yards and two scores. On his 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he dragged James Laurinaitis the final 5 yards and lunged at the goal line. Gronkowski capped a long drive at the start of the fourth quarter by leaping to snare a Tom Brady dart from 20 yards away.
  • Wes Welker's return from reconstructive knee surgery took another positive step. He had two catches, one going for 39 yards to seemingly wake up the sleepwalking offense. But the psychological part of his recovery shouldn't be overlooked. Welker showed concern when Avery suffered a serious knee injury in the second quarter. Reminders are everywhere.
  • Flat is one thing, undisciplined is another. The Patriots committed nine penalties (two were declined) for 72 yards. The defense was culpable for most. Three Patriots were flagged for roughing the passer: Tully Banta-Cain, Brandon Spikes and Marques Murrell.
  • How did the Patriots score 35 points while maintaining possession for only 16:14? Brandon Tate returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown followed by four straight possessions with a combined one first-down conversion. Then they scored touchdowns on each of their next three series, totaling 20 plays.
  • That's why Brady and the first-teamers played into the fourth quarter. He finished 18 of 22 for 273 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
  • Brady's 65-yard bomb to Randy Moss sure looked pretty and got the Gillette Stadium crowd into the game, but you have to wonder if the Patriots' offense would have been better served with a drive. I don't think Belichick went into Thursday night with "Get Moss behind second-string safety Kevin Payne" on the Patriots' to-do list.
  • So here's what happened on the next series: At the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, New England went no huddle and traveled 98 yards on 10 plays, gaining five first downs before Brady found Gronkowski for a 20-yard touchdown. And it took them just 2:45.
  • Not sure what to make of running back Laurence Maroney not playing a down for the second straight game. Hard to say for sure, but looks like Belichick has booked him at Chateau Bow Wow. Belichick said it was related to time of possession. Regardless of the reason, no action two straight games is a bad sign for the fifth-year pro.
  • Sam Aiken is one of the most underappreciated players in the division. He's an adequate receiver who can help out the offense in a pinch, but he's a consistently solid special-teams performer, the kind of player every good team needs. He eliminated a Rams player on Tate's touchdown return and went across the middle for a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer in the fourth quarter.
  • The Patriots' offense probably would've had the ball longer if Belichick opted to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the 50-yard line midway through the first quarter. The TV showed Brady playfully mocking Belichick for punting. Against the Indianapolis Colts on "Sunday Night Football" is one thing. I guess Thursday night wasn't the right moment to be a renegade.
  • Forbes estimates the Patriots are worth $1.367 billion. Time to give the Gillette Stadium field some new paint. An on-the-spot official thought Rams tight end Fendi Onobun stepped out of bounds on what should have been a touchdown because the faded white sideline was undefined.

Will Torry Holt make Patriots roster?

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In sweatpants and a winter skullcap, New England Patriots receiver Torry Holt watched Tuesday morning's practice against the New Orleans Saints.

He missed Monday's practice, too, for undisclosed reasons.

Holt also might be looking in from afar when it comes to New England's final roster.

Holt
On the all-time leaderboard, Holt's 920 receptions rank 11th, and his 13,382 yards rank 10th. But the most significant number to him over the next month will be how many receivers the Patriots choose to keep.

Holt seems to rank sixth -- at best.

"However many we feel is best for the club," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio replied when I asked how many receiver slots were available. "We've kept five. We've kept seven. It all depends."

Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are back. Brandon Tate was a third-round draft choice last year. Injuries wiped out most of Tate's rookie season, but he has elicited praise from Tom Brady over the offseason. Taylor Price was a third-round pick in April.

Those are five receivers right there. When you consider keeping a sixth or seventh, he better add something beyond his listed position. Sam Aiken, for example, made 11 tackles and forced a fumble on special teams last year.

"You look at your club and you figure out the offensive or defensive component and then a special teams component," Caserio said. "The receivers are competing with the secondary players or the linebackers for a particular spot. We talk about 'the more you can do,' and that's important."

Holt doesn't play special teams, but the seven-time Pro Bowler can add leadership and be a mentor for the young receivers. Whether that's enough to make the cut is the issue.

The Patriots tried to make it work with faded veteran Joey Galloway last year, but cut him a few weeks into the season because it was a disaster. Holt's coming off career-lows with 51 receptions and 722 yards for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"He's got a lot of experience," said Caserio, a former receivers coach for the Patriots. "He hasn't been out there for a few days, but he's smart. He's a very instinctive receiver. He has good hands. He's a good route runner. When he's been out there, when he's had his opportunities, he's made some plays.

"I think his value comes into play off the field as well. He does a nice job working with our younger receivers. Torry's been a really productive player in this league. He's done things on the field that are good and behind the scenes, some of the things that you don't see, I think he's been invaluable from that perspective."

Where's AFC East in Pro Bowl balloting?

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
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The NFL on Tuesday released the leading Pro Bowl candidates by position in each conference, but where do various AFC East players rank?

With a week of fan voting left, let's take a look at where AFC East players rank within the conference. The fan vote comprises one-third of the selection process. The coaches and players submit their choices next week. Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Dec. 29.

Quarterback

2. Tom Brady, Patriots (622,916)

Comment: He's the only AFC East player in the top 10 of overall voting. Brady has the fourth-most votes of any quarterback behind Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

Running back

None.

Comment: Ronnie Brown generated some votes early in the process, but now that he's done for the year, he has fallen out of the top five. I'm surprised Ricky Williams or Thomas Jones isn't on the list. Williams is 25 yards from another 1,000-yard season, and Jones is carrying the Jets' offense.

Fullback

3. Sammy Morris, Patriots (77,663)

5. Tony Richardson, Jets (70,183)

Comment: Ravens back Le'Ron McClain is way ahead with 160,915 votes.

Wide receiver

3. Randy Moss, Patriots (522,035)

5. Wes Welker, Patriots (313,641)

Comment: How in the world Welker isn't higher, I have no clue. The guy only leads the NFL in receptions, is second in yards and is incredibly fun to watch. Other than that, he offers nothing.

Tight end


None.

Comment: No AFC East tight end deserves to be in the top five.

Center

5. Dan Koppen (124,727)

Comment: Jets center Nick Mangold is elite, but he somehow doesn't rate among the fans. Colts center Jeff Saturday is winning a landslide with 448,406 votes.

Guard

1. Alan Faneca, Jets (232,097)

5. Logan Mankins, Patriots (104,836)

Comment: Faneca has gone to eight straight Pro Bowls and appears to be headed to another.

Tackle

1. Jake Long, Dolphins (214,924)

2. Matt Light, Patriots (152,749)

Comment: Long is comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. No sign of D'Brickashaw Ferguson despite Rex Ryan's declarations he and Long are the best in the NFL.

Defensive end

None.

Comment: Ex-Patriots star Richard Seymour is fourth with 127,258 votes, but Colts sackmaster Dwight Freeney won't be caught. Freeney has 416,693 votes so far.

Defensive tackle

1. Vince Wilfork, Patriots (221,195)

Comment: Wilfork is leading a tight race over Casey Hampton of the Steelers (about 5,500 votes separating).

Outside linebacker

5. Joey Porter, Dolphins (136,022)

Comment: James Harrison of the Steelers is in first place, well ahead of Broncos star Elvis Dumervil.

Inside linebacker

3. Jerod Mayo, Patriots (98,601)

Comment: Jets linebacker Bart Scott was in the top five but dropped out. Strange that only one member of the NFL's top-rated defense is in the top five at any position.

Cornerback

3. Darrelle Revis, Jets (188,824)

Comment: Revis might be having the best season of any cornerback, but Broncos veteran Champ Bailey is the people's choice with an insurmountable 344,646 votes. Former Patriot Asante Samuel leads the NFC with 258,751.

Strong safety

3. Brandon Meriweather, Patriots (71,986)

Comment: Steelers icon Troy Polamalu, what with all that hair and the Head & Shoulders commercials, is winning the popularity contest by a heavy-duty margin.

Free safety

None.

Comment: Bills rookie Jairus Byrd, with eight interceptions, isn't on the ballot because he wasn't a starter when it was compiled. Bills fans need to submit more write-in votes.

Kicker

2. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots (90,087)

Comment: Gostkowski is too far behind former Patriot Adam Vinatieri. The injured Colts kicker is leading the way with 143,299 votes.

Punter

5. Chris Hanson, Patriots (50,839)

Comment: Raiders punter Shane Lechler has twice as many votes as Hanson. The Bills' Brian Moorman, one of the NFL's top three or four punters, isn't in the AFC's top five.

Kick returner

4. Wes Welker, Patriots (76,324)

Comment: Darren Sproles has separated from Joshua Cribbs and Eddie Royal and has twice as many votes as Welker.

Special teamer

None.

Comment: Patriots receiver Sam Aiken was in the top five for a second or two, but has dropped out.

Video: AFC East Huddle

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
1:54
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ESPN's John Clayton takes his weekly spin around the AFC East and touches on a variety of subjects, from the New England Patriots second-half woes to what the New York Jets will do at running back in 2010. Check the myriad tags below for an idea of the ground Clayton covers.

Former Bills coach does number on Pats

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
9:18
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NEW ORLEANS -- Buffalo Bills fans had to watch Monday night's game in the Superdome and wonder how in the world Gregg Williams was such a catastrophe as their head coach.

Williams, the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator, drew up a masterful game plan with a ramshackle secondary to make the New England Patriots cry uncle.

Williams went 17-31 in three seasons with the Bills, but his head-coaching stock continued to soar after the Saints held the Patriots to 17 points and snapped Tom Brady's streak of 300-yard games at five.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick pulled Brady after he threw his second interception with 7:23 left in the game. The Saints failed to convert the turnover into points, but undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer went in with 5:26 remaining and the Patriots down by 21 points.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees pulverized the Patriots' secondary, which also played a role in Belichick throwing in the towel. Sending Hoyer onto the field was a request for Saints coach Sean Payton to please, please call off the dogs.

"You always like to be out there," Brady said. "You'd rather be on the other side of it. But it's nice for the other guys to get a chance to play. They work hard. [It's good] to get some experience when the game is out of control for the other team."

The Saints' reinforcements -- they didn't have starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer or Tracy Porter and lost replacement Randall Gay for the second half -- limited Moss to three receptions for 67 yards and Welker to six catches for 32 yards to short-circuit Brady's night. The Saints were happy to let Sam Aiken have a career day with seven catches for 90 yards.

Brady finished with a 55.0 passer rating, not his worst of the year, believe it or not. He finished with a 53.1 against the New York Jets in Week 2.

ESPN Stats & Information broke down Brady's day by distance. When he tried to go more than 10 yards downfield, he completed 4 of 12 passes for 102 yards and two interceptions (both intended for Moss) for a 25.7 passer rating.

When Brady threw 10 yards or shorter, he was 17 of 24 for 135 yards for an 84.5 passer rating.

Patriots show they're not among elite

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
2:22
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Tom BradyJohn David Mercer/US PresswireTom Brady and the Patriots needed a win over New Orleans to be considered an elite team.

NEW ORLEANS -- The New England Patriots confirmed what few had been thinking before Monday night.

They are not an elite NFL team. Not at this time. Maybe they can be again, but based on the way the New Orleans Saints pillaged them in the Superdome, the Patriots aren't in the conversation anymore about the best clubs in the game.

New Orleans thoroughly outclassed New England in a 38-17 laugher.

"There's obviously a big gap between us," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said.

Drew Brees made the Patriots' defensive backs, who had been thriving lately, look like a bunch of XFLers. He bombed them for five touchdowns, something that has never been done to a Bill Belichick-coached team.

"They were better than we were in every phase of the game," Belichick said in the postgame news conference. "I don't know any other way to put it. They were better coached. They played better on offense, defense, in the kicking game, they covered better than we did."

Belichick punctuated his response with incredulity at the questions about how his team failed to compete.

"They were obviously the better team," he said. "You guys had to see that. You were at the game."

It was a massacre. The 11-0 Saints made a deafening statement they're the NFL's best team. The Patriots merely whimpered in their final opportunity to record a signature victory before the postseason.

"They put it to us," Patriots receiver Randy Moss said. "We got our butts beat by 21."

New England (7-4), a team that likely will have to venture away from Gillette Stadium in the playoffs, is 0-4 in true road games and has come up short against two measuring sticks in the past three weeks.

They literally failed to measure up two weeks ago in Indianapolis. That heinous loss to the Colts resonates even more now.

"When we have expectations set high like we do, we take one game at a time," Moss said. "But we really see each week what teams are made of. I think we've shown we're up for a second, we're down for a second, we're up, we're down. It's kind of wavy right now."

At least now we know why Belichick went for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line in the waning minutes at Indianapolis. His beloved former linebacker, Tedy Bruschi, criticized Belichick afterward for not showing enough faith in his defense to punt and force Peyton Manning to go 70 yards or so for the winning touchdown.

Belichick appears justified in the light of the bonfire Brees ignited here.

The game spiraled out of control so badly in the second half that Belichick raised the white flag, almost begging Saints coach Sean Payton to stop scorching his defensive backs. Belichick removed Brady from the game and inserted undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer, a signal to the Saints he'd seen enough carnage for one evening.

Nevada doesn't have as much open real estate as what Brees saw laid out before him.

To Devery Henderson for a 75-yard touchdown. To Marques Colston for 68 yards. To Robert Meachem for a 38-yard touchdown. To Henderson again for 33 yards.

"A lot of it had to do with us beating ourselves. A lot," Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "Don't get me wrong. They came out and made plays and capitalized on [mistakes]. But it seemed like at times we couldn't stop them. That's a frustrating feeling.

"A lot of the plays we gave up out there, I could've completed the ball, or I could have ran the ball. Make an offense earn it, and we didn't do that at time. It cost us."

New England's defensive backs still had their eyebrows after the game, but you half expected to see them singed off. They looked like a quintet of Deltha O'Neal impersonators.

"We had several blown coverages defensively," Belichick said. "They took advantage of enormous mistakes on our part that they turned into huge plays. You can't make those kinds of mistakes against a good football team. We made too many of them."

Brees completed touchdown passes to five teammates. He finished with a 158.3 passer rating, nearly triple Brady's paltry 55.0 rating. Brady didn't have a touchdown. He threw two interceptions. A lot of his passes sailed.

More mystifying is that the Saints fielded a slapdash defensive backfield and Brady came into the game having thrown for 300 yards in five straight games, one shy of the NFL record.

His streak was snapped by a secondary that included Patriots castoff Randall Gay and rookie Malcolm Jenkins at cornerback, and Mike McKenzie, a street free agent two weeks ago, at nickel. Gay didn't play in the second half because of a leg injury.

The Patriots' chances to knock off the Saints seemed to get stronger when the inactive list was announced. On it were usual starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, and dangerous running back Reggie Bush. Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light and running back Sammy Morris returned from injuries for the Patriots.

"It wasn't nearly as competitive as we all were expecting," Brady said.

Where was Wes Welker? One week after Welker had the best game of his life, he had his worst of the season.

What about Moss? One reception for 9 yards in the first half, three catches for 67 yards all told.

New England's top target was Sam Aiken, mainly a special-teamer. He had seven catches for 90 yards, the best numbers of his career. But when Aiken is making your best plays and has two fewer receptions than Welker and Moss combined, chances are the Patriots will break your heart.

Belichick coached with conviction throughout the game. He kept his offense on the field for two fourth downs on their opening drive. They converted both, including Laurence Maroney's 4-yard touchdown run to put them up 7-3.

Yet, a fourth-down play doomed them. Belichick opted to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Saints' 10-yard line with 4:12 left in the third quarter. A field goal would have put the Patriots a touchdown and a field goal behind. But Belichick knew his team needed a touchdown to keep pace with Brees.

Brady tried to force a pass to Moss in the left flat. McKenzie, out of football for 11 months before the Saints signed him, broke it up.

"That changed the momentum of the game," Saints safety Darren Sharper said.

The Patriots have a favorable schedule ahead. Just one of their final five opponents owns a winning record, the 6-5 Jacksonville Jaguars.

Next up are the Miami Dolphins in Land Shark Stadium on a short week. If the Dolphins can pull out a victory, they would be one game behind the Patriots in the AFC East standings.

"We'll rally around each other," Wilfork said. "If not, it's going to be over real soon if we don't get it going. But I have faith in these guys that we're going to get it together."

Greetings from Gillette Stadium

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
3:24
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- What a dreary Sunday afternoon in Gillette Stadium. Skies are gray. It's about 47 degrees. A few New York Jets and New England Patriots are walking around the turf with their hands stuffed into their mufflers.

Action should be plenty heated when the rivals kick off at 4:15 p.m. The Patriots want to avenge that Week 2 loss at the Meadowlands and are coming off a foul-tasting defeat to the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets need a victory to salvage their drain-circling season.

The Patriots have some interesting inactives. Left tackle Matt Light remains out, but right guard Stephen Neal will join him because of the head injury he suffered in Indy. Running back Sammy Morris will be held out again after speculation he would play.

Most notably scratched for the Jets is outside linebacker Vernon Gholston, the sixth overall pick in last year's draft. Gholston has been benched for two straight games.

All of Sunday's inactives are below:

New York Jets

New England Patriots

A look at AFC East in Pro Bowl balloting

November, 18, 2009
11/18/09
8:00
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The NFL on Tuesday released the leading candidates for each position in each conference, but where do various AFC East players rank?

When it comes to how they rank among the top five at a given position within the conference, the New England Patriots lead the way with 13 players. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have four each. No Buffalo Bills rank in the top five.

Here are the position-by-position results and how AFC East players rank within the conference:

Quarterback

2. Tom Brady, Patriots (295,477)

Comment: He has the fourth-most votes of any quarterback behind Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

Running back

4. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins (129,271)

Comment: Comeback Player of the Year candidate Cedric Benson leads everyone in the AFC with 321,552 votes.

Fullback

4. Sammy Morris, Patriots (40,118)

5. Tony Richardson, Jets (36,481)

Comment: Ravens back Le'Ron McClain is way ahead with 78,194 votes.

Wide receiver

3. Randy Moss, Patriots (232,652)

Comment: Andre Johnson leads the AFC with 279,395 votes.

Tight end

None.

Comment: No AFC East tight end deserves to be in the top five.

Center

5. Nick Mangold, Jets (55,949)

Comment: Mangold is the NFL's best center, but fan voting is a popularity contest. Colts center Jeff Saturday leads the league with 215,658 votes. I would tell Jets fans to get on the stick, but I predict Mangold will be the starter after the players and coaches weigh in.

Guard

1. Alan Faneca, Jets (122,029)

5. Logan Mankins, Patriots(51,316)

Comment: Also proving it's a popularity contest, Faneca isn't what he used to be but appears on his way to running away with it again. He has gone to eight straight Pro Bowls.

Tackle

1. Jake Long, Dolphins (107,299)

2. Matt Light, Patriots (76,977)

Comment: They're comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. Steelers tackle Max Starks is third with 69,749 votes.

Defensive end

None.

Comment: Ex-Patriots star Richard Seymour is fourth with 71,199 votes, but Colts sackmaster Dwight Freeney has over 200,000.

Defensive tackle

2. Vince Wilfork, Patriots (104,038)

Comment: In what could turn into a close race, Casey Hampton of the Steelers is about 17,000 votes ahead, and Haloti Ngata of the Ravens is 3,001 votes behind in third place.

Outside linebacker

5. Joey Porter, Dolphins (70,132)

Comment: Given his season so far, Porter might not remain in the top five for long. James Harrison of the Steelers and Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos are running away with it.

Inside linebacker

3. Bart Scott, Jets (45,200)

4. Jerod Mayo, Patriots (44,876)

Comment: Scott's old Ravens teammate, Ray Lewis, leads the pack with 148,480 votes. Scott's current teammate, David Harris, probably deserves to be on this list, too.

Cornerback

3. Darrelle Revis, Jets (86,143)

Comment: Revis will go to his second Pro Bowl, but he won't catch Broncos star Champ Bailey, the NFL's leader with 185,103 votes.

Strong safety

4. Brandon Meriweather, Patriots (34,584)

Comment: Meriweather is having the best season, but it will be tough to compete with Steelers star Troy Polamalu, who has 192,289 votes.

Free safety

5. Brandon McGowan, Patriots (14,132)

Comment: Not many people gave much thought when the Patriots signed McGowan as a free agent, but he's having a fine season. Bills rookie Jairus Byrd, with eight interceptions, isn't on the ballot because he wasn't a starter when it was compiled. Bills fans need to get cracking with the write-in votes.

Kicker

2. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots (45,831)

Comment: The folks who stuffed the box for Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter last year better wake up.

Punter

5. Chris Hanson, Patriots (24,663)

Comment: The least-voted-upon position always seems up for grabs. Hanson is only 24,000 votes out of first place.

Kick returner

4. Wes Welker, Patriots (31,788)

Comment: There's a big dropoff from a close race among Darren Sproles, Joshua Cribbs and Eddie Royal.

Special teamer

5. Sam Aiken, Patriots (25,495)

Comment: No Larry Izzo on the list. Doesn't look right, but it probably is.

Brady, Manning are NFL's top double agents

November, 12, 2009
11/12/09
4:03
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Nobody relies on the double formation more than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

ESPN Stats & Information tracks every snap and notes the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts favor the formation -- single back, two receivers to each side -- more than any other NFL team.
[+] EnlargeTom Brady
t: Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireTom Brady and the Patriots operate out of the double formation 49 percent of the time.


A standard look from the double formation would be a wideout and slot receiver to one side and the tight end and a wideout to the other side.

The Patriots have operated out of the double formation 268 times, or 49 percent of their 552 plays from scrimmage. They're averaging 6.4 yards a play.

The Colts have gone double an NFL-high 354 times on 47 fewer snaps, or 70 percent of the time. They have amassed 2,323 yards out of double, an average of 6.6 yards per play.

But Indy's average doesn't lead the league. The Dallas Cowboys have averaged 9.1 yards on their 144 plays in the double formation. The San Diego Chargers have averaged 7.5 yards on their 104 plays.

The Arizona Cardinals are a distant third with 189 plays out of the double formation.

I was in the Buffalo Bills' locker room on Wednesday, so I stopped by backup quarterback Gibran Hamdan's stall to get his take on why the double formation suits Brady and Manning.

The Patriots visit the Colts on Sunday night in Lucas Oil Stadium.

"It's about being blessed enough to keep a system in place for a long period of time," Hamdan said. "They've built a whole package around the formation."

Hamdan, who took part in the NFL's Broadcast Boot Camp over the summer, has a bright future as an analyst. He's one of those guys who makes you feel smarter for speaking with him.

"You can ask a lot of quarterbacks, and they feel good about certain formations," Hamdan said. "The key to it is those two guys like it. They know the intricacies of that formation, and they've seen pretty much everything a defense can do to them.

"Once you've seen all the looks, now you're just letting the players' ability to take over. Then you get into a feel and a rapport between the quarterback and receiver that happens when you play for a long period of time and run a formation like double over and over and over."

Hamdan noted the Bills' double formation often has Lee Evans split out and slot receiver Josh Reed to the left, with tight end Derek Fine and receiver Terrell Owens on the right.

New England's version might have Randy Moss and Wes Welker on the weak side, Chris Baker and Sam Aiken on the strong side.

"There's versatility," Hamdan said. "You can create things on both sides of the field, so symmetry definitely creates a versatility that maybe a three-by-one formation would lack."

It also comes down to precision. Hamdan pointed out neither team offers much variety out of the double formation.

"Turn on their film," Hamdan said. "They're not running that many plays out of that formation. They just know what they're doing and execute it."

In case you were curious what formations are popular with the other AFC East teams, the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets rank third and fifth in most plays out of a backfield set (two running backs). The Dolphins have used two backs on 48 percent of their snaps. The Jets have done so on 47 percent.

The Dolphins, of course, lead the league in Wildcat (any player other than a quarterback takes the snap). They've made 76 Wildcat attempts, more than three times as often as the next team on the list, the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Bills most frequently operate out of a trips formation (single back with three receivers to one side). They've run it 191 times, third-most in the NFL. They also rank 11th in the double formation with 160 plays.

The Patriots have run an empty set (only a quarterback in the backfield) 45 times, three fewer than the league-leading Houston Texans.

Report: Edelman has broken arm

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
9:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Ian R. Rapoport of the Boston Herald reports New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman has a broken arm.

The report doesn't provide details on how Edelman broke it, where the fracture is located or what the timetable will be for Edelman's return. But a broken arm is tough to play through.

ESPN.com recently selected Edelman as its surprise rookie for 2009. Edelman, a quarterback at Kent State the Patriots drafted in seventh-round and converted into a receiver, has 21 catches for 188 yards. Both figures rank third on the team.

The Herald report underscores how fed up the Patriots were with Joey Galloway, who was unable to pick up the offense or develop any discernible chemistry with Tom Brady. They released Galloway on Wednesday. He had seven catches through the first three games, but was a healthy scratch the past two games.

Sam Aiken, considered more of a special-teamer, was involved in the offense Sunday. He has four receptions for 30 yards in the blowout victory over the Tennessee Titans.

A look at AFC East captains

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
6:44
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


The Buffalo Bills named their captains Friday, rounding out selections for the three AFC East clubs that will have permanent designees.

New York Jets coach Rex Ryan will change his captains throughout the season.

"I don’t believe in having the same captains for every game," Ryan said. "I like to rotate guys.

"We'll choose four captains. We'll take their picture. If they win, they get to keep the picture. If they lose, they don’t get the picture. ... That’s a pride thing. We’ll pass those things out on Fridays of the next week along with game balls. It’s a good thing, and it’s quite an honor to be selected as a captain.

"You’ll choose guys for different reasons. It doesn't have to be your best player each week, but we’ll see. I’ve been thinking about it. It’s something that I spend quite a lot of time thinking about."

Here's a snapshot of captains for the other three AFC East teams as selected by their teammates:

Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots

Patriots misfire on Lewis, Smith trades

September, 7, 2009
9/07/09
7:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Not every trade the New England Patriots make works out.

Twice over the holiday weekend, the Patriots conceded failure on deals that cost them draft choices. They released tight end Alex Smith on Saturday and parted ways with receiver Greg Lewis on Monday.

Lewis might interest the New York Jets, who would like to bolster their receiver corps and could glean a thing or two about the Patriots for their game in Week 2.

The Patriots acquired Lewis and a seventh-round draft choice from the Philadelphia Eagles for a fifth-round pick. He started the last three preseason games, catching one pass in each for a total of 58 yards.

Lewis, entering his seventh NFL season, has 127 career catches for 1,699 yards and seven touchdowns.

New England is loaded at receiver and didn't have much room beyond Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Joey Galloway, Julian Edelman and special-teamer Sam Aiken.

The Patriots must think Galloway will mesh better with the offense eventually because, if a veteran receiver had to be dropped, then his inability to get on the same page as Brady could have sent the Turk his way.

The Patriots sent a 2010 fifth-round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Smith.

Also on Monday, the Patriots picked up safety Bret Lockett off waivers from the Cleveland Browns.

Your AFC East mailbag delivered

March, 29, 2009
3/29/09
8:45
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Mark in Champaign, Ill., writes: Tim -- With the compensatory picks now allotted, the Pats have 12 picks. In my view, there is no way BB exercises all of those picks. To do so would be tantamount to throwing assets to the wind, simply because there are not 12 openings on this, still a very deep and talented roster. My prediction: The Pats will trade some picks to move up in one or more rounds to acquire a player or players of interest, and will also trade a pick or two for (higher value) choices in future drafts. Bottom Line: Don't be surprised if the Pats acquire only 7 or 8 new players on draft day. Your thoughts?

Tim Graham: The Patriots actually own 11 draft picks at the moment. Some rundowns floating around in cyberspace haven't deducted the fifth-round selection they sent to the Eagles for Greg Lewis.

Eleven draft picks still are a lot, and the Patriots simply won't have enough room on their roster to add that many players. To use them all would be wasting assets. That's why I do agree the Patriots likely will package multiple picks to acquire a player or make trades to push some of those picks into 2010.


Tim in Goodlettsville, Tenn., writes: Tim, As a Vandy follower during the Cutler years I never saw evidence of the player criticisms being leveled. I'd be the one of the first to say to JC, "Shut up and play the game," if it were merited. I also believe that due to his college experience, Jay was better suited to early NFL success than either Young or Leinart. The Hunchback of ND could have won under center at TX and SC. Are you hearing any any positive words floating around about the issue? Thanks, Tim

Tim Graham: You probably won't like my answer, but while I was at the NFL owners' meeting last week in Dana Point, Calif., Jay Cutler might have been the most popular topic of discussion. I spoke with several owners, general managers and coaches. Nobody I talked to came to Cutler's defense. They raved about Cutler's physical ability, but the general perception was that he needed to man up and get over his wounded feelings.


Eric in New York writes: what are the odds of jay cutler reaching the jets? What would be better, to draft a qb or go after cutler?

Tim Graham: If the Jets can go into the draft certain they can land one of the top three quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman -- then they should jump on one of them. The more we learn about Cutler, the more toxic he seems. Jets safety Kerry Rhodes this week spoke out against Cutler. Rhodes doesn't respect Cutler and insisted he's not alone in his feelings.


Leroy in Atlanta writes: Do you think that Ted Ginn Jr. can ever live up to the expectations of the Miami fans and Media? I think that because of where he was drafted and because of us passing up Brady Quinn,nothing he ever does, short of being a perinial Pro bowler, will ever validate him.

Tim Graham: Any criticism of the Dolphins' decision to draft Ted Ginn ninth overall is warranted. He doesn't need to be a perennial Pro Bowler. Not even close. Lee Evans hasn't been to one Pro Bowl, yet he's a bona fide No. 1 receiver for the Bills. But Ginn does need to be significantly more productive. He had one more reception than Greg Camarillo, who played only 11 games, and two more than Davone Bess. Neither Camarillo nor Bess was drafted.


Steve in York, Pa., writes: LT Peters - I don't see how giving him more money will help with his production. He gave up 11 sacks last year in only 13 starts. His best year was in 2006, so please, as a Bills fan move on.

Tim Graham: You're not alone, Steve. A lot of Bills fans are fed up with Peters. But he still is a valuable player despite his disappointing season. If the Bills were to move on, replacing a player at such a critical position would be difficult. If I were a Bills fan, I wouldn't be so eager to see Peters split.

(Read full post)

Dolphins injury report completely blank

September, 3, 2008
9/03/08
4:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DAVIE, Fla. -- How's this for refreshing?

The Miami Dolphins just passed out their first injury report of 2008, and there's not a single name on it. Nary a player, even though we know some are battling various bumps and bruises.

For instance, OLB Joey Porter has a sore lower back. RB Ronnie Brown has a right thumb injury.

So perhaps it's an act of defiance, a way of telling the New York Jets, "Buckle up, boys, because we're lining up."

The Jets, meanwhile, list WR David Clowney (shoulder) as out. Limited in practice Wednesday were DB David Barrett (shoulder), WR Laveranues Coles (thigh), DE Shaun Ellis (hand), WR Marcus Henry (calf), DB Justin Miller (foot) and RT Damien Woody (shoulder).

The Patriots, infamous for their injury report Tom Brady foolery, had four players who didn't practice: WR Sam Aiken (knee), OL Dan Connolly (knee), DL Le Kevin Smith (knee), TE Ben Watson (knee). OL Russ Hochstein (groin) was limited. Brady was listed as participating fully, but he was labeled as having right shoulder and foot injuries.

Around the AFC East: Bruschi says Favre should stop

July, 30, 2008
7/30/08
9:21
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New York Jets

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