Weekly Patriots chat recap

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a New England Patriots chat. Today's chat kicked off at 11 a.m. ET, can be recapped here, and included some of the following topics:

1. Answering to what might be viewed as an over-reaction to the Patriots' loss.

2. Receiver Aaron Dobson and his lack of playing time.

3. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels under some fire.

4. Assessing how the Patriots might respond Sunday night against the Bengals.

5. Bill Belichick's Wednesday news conference as he deflected questions.

6. Cornerback Darrelle Revis -- still elite.

7. Revisiting the Logan Mankins trade.

8. Offensive line struggles and transitioning from retired coach Dante Scarnecchia.

Ebner, Fleming not at practice

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots core special-teamer Nate Ebner and rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming were not spotted at Thursday’s practice.

Ebner and Fleming both did not participate in Wednesday’s practice and were listed with finger injuries on the team’s report.

 Fleming, a rookie out of Stanford, started his first career NFL game in the Patriots' loss to the Chiefs on Monday night. He played at right guard, a position that he is less familiar with after playing his college career as an offensive tackle. Fleming has also seen action as an extra offensive lineman in a blocking tight end role.

Ebner’s main contributions come on special teams, but he has seen some action as an extra defensive back at times throughout the season.

Quarterback Tom Brady was down near his offensive linemen and wide receiver Julian Edelman for the stretching portion of practice. Brady used to spend his time during stretching with rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but has since moved toward his offensive linemen during this segment of practice.

The Patriots will release Thursday’s injury report after 6 p.m. because the Cincinnati Bengals are practicing from 4 to 6 p.m. for the second straight day.

Patriots' defense groupings: Easily blocked

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
Throughout the season, the New England Patriots' defensive groupings will be tracked. This provides a guide to better understand player value, as well as how the coaching staff might view the opposition’s personnel.

This is how things broke down for the Patriots against the Chiefs (including penalties):

Base: 40 of 65
Sub: 24 of 65 (all nickel)
Heavy: 1 of 65

Nothing really worked for the Patriots from a defensive perspective, and a big part of that was the inability to shed blocks and make fundamental tackles. The Patriots' front seven in the base, and front six in the sub, was easily manipulated out of their assigned gaps often, as the Chiefs also did a nice job with misdirection plays and play-action.

From a matchup perspective, the Patriots mostly played nickel whenever the Chiefs had three receivers on the field and stayed in base otherwise. That reflects how they viewed the Chiefs' tight ends as pure players at the position (as opposed to receiver-like personnel listed as tight ends), hence the greater numbers in the base.

The way Chiefs coach Andy Reid used three tight ends effectively to dictate favorable matchups was Patriots-like, circa 2011. Very impressive.

TV: Michaels & Collinsworth on the call

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
The New England Patriots host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night, with the game broadcast on NBC. Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analysis) and Michele Tafoya (sideline) are on the call.

Patriots broadcast pairings
at Dolphins: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn
at Vikings: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Jenny Dell
vs. Raiders: Gumbel, Green, Washburn
at Chiefs: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
vs. Bengals: Michaels, Collinsworth, Tafoya

Two leftovers from last week's ESPN broadcast, via Gruden:

On if he was surprised that Bill Belichick started Bryan Stork (center) and Cameron Fleming (right guard): “I'm not surprised at all. Last year, Bill Belichick had 58 starts from rookies -- on a team that won 12 games. He did that in 2010. He's going to play the players that he feels can win this game, and he's not worried about hurting anybody's feelings."

On rotating offensive linemen into the game: "Bill Belichick told us last night, 'It's almost like we're still in training camp. We don't practice nearly as much as we used to practice and it's almost like our final preseason game in terms of reps. And that reps really affect the linemen.'"

Patriots-Bengals through stats-based lens

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Previewing Sunday night's New England Patriots-Cincinnati Bengals matchup through a stats-based lens (via ESPN's Stats & Information):

31-game regular-season home streak on the line. The Patriots have won 31 consecutive regular-season home games against AFC opponents since losing to the Steelers in Week 13 of the 2008 season. That’s the longest home win streak in conference games since the 1970 merger. Tom Brady has won 39 straight regular-season home starts vs. AFC teams since a loss to the Jets in Week 10 of the 2006 season.

Unfamiliar territory, Part I -- falling below .500. The Patriots are looking to avoid falling under .500 after the first five games of season for the third time under Bill Belichick. The last time it happened was in 2001 when they were 2-3, but rallied to go 11-5 and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Unfamiliar territory, Part II -- home underdog. As of now, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has Cincinnati listed as a 1-point favorite in New England. If Cincinnati remains the favorite, it would mark just the third time since 2003 that New England is an underdog at home. The other games New England was a home 'dog came against Peyton Manning. New England was a 4.5-point underdog to Indianapolis in 2005 (lost 40-21) and a 1-point underdog to Denver in 2013 (won 34-31).

Brady should hit 50,000 passing yards. Tom Brady needs 60 passing yards for 50,000 in his career, which would make him the sixth QB to reach the mark in NFL history. Chicago's Jay Cutler and Atlanta's Matt Ryan can each reach 25,000 yards for their careers with 57 and 265 yards each respectively.

Brady's sinking completion percentage. Brady’s 59.1 completion percentage ranks 29th among 36 qualified quarterbacks. Brady is missing targets (over or underthrown passes) at a much higher rate than in previous seasons (26 percent this year, the third-highest percentage in the league). Brady's missed target percentage (from 2010-present): 13, 21, 20, 21, 26.

Bengals among the unbeaten teams. The Bengals and the Cardinals are the remaining unbeaten teams at 3-0. Since the NFL went to four divisions in 2002, this is fourth time there’s been two or fewer unbeaten teams after four weeks. If the Bengals and Cardinals (at Denver) both lose, this would be the third time in the Super Bowl era where the last unbeaten team was 3-0 at best (2010, 1970 were other).

Ball comes out quick with Dalton. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has the shortest average time before pass rate this season at 2.06 seconds and is second to Peyton Manning in average time in the pocket at 2.01 seconds (Manning is at 1.99).

Bengals have led the pack. The Bengals have only played two snaps this season when trailing in a game. That is easily the lowest total in the NFL, behind Seattle (39), San Diego (45) and Detroit (50).

Bengals had stopped Brady's TD streak. The last time these teams faced off in Week 5 last season, the Bengals won 13-6 as they snapped Brady's streak of 52 straight regular-season games with a Pass TD.

Weekly Patriots chat at 11 a.m.

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat. Today's chat is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, and questions can be asked in advance.

Catch up then.

Ebner and Slater lead Pats' special teams

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On a short week, following up on the New England Patriots' 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs with a look at players appearing on multiple units within the "Big Four" -- kickoff return, punt return, kickoff coverage and punt coverage -- as it helps highlight player value on the 46-man game-day roster:

Four units
RB Brandon Bolden
S Nate Ebner
S Don Jones
WR Matthew Slater
LB Chris White
S Tavon Wilson

Three units
DE Michael Buchanan
LB Deontae Skinner

Two units
S Patrick Chung

Ebner and Slater lead the team with six special teams tackles apiece.

ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss takes a look back at New England's 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, previews Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals and sits down with Devin McCourty.

Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon of "PTI" debate whether it is time for Bill Belichick to give up his GM duties and stick to coaching the Patriots.

Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower limited

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting right defensive end Chandler Jones injured his right shoulder in Monday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and was limited in Wednesday's practice.

Jones sustained the injury in the second quarter and missed four plays before returning to the game and being replaced for the final three series.

The shoulder could have been a factor that contributed to some of Jones' struggles setting the edge in the running game, as the Chiefs ran to his side with success.

Jones' injury isn't the only one to a key player in the Patriots' front-seven, as linebacker Dont'a Hightower's left injury limited him in practice. Hightower injured the knee on Knile Davis' 16-yard run in the third quarter.

Elsewhere, rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming, who made his first career NFL start at right guard Monday, has a finger injury that knocked him out of practice. The injury is not expected to keep Fleming out of action.

Also, core special teamer Nate Ebner missed practice with a finger injury, while linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh) and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder) remained limited. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was a full participant at practice for the first time this year.


John Clayton joins Keith Olbermann to discuss the demise of Tom Brady, the rise of Andrew Luck, and why the Ravens should be thanking the Panthers for letting Steve Smith go.

Christopher Harris takes a look at the film to see if it's time to move on from Tom Brady.

Patriots' groupings: Three WR package

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Catching up on some postgame staples on a short week, the following were the positional groupings utilized by the New England Patriots in their 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday:

3 WR/1 TE/1 RB --22 of 50
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB -- 14 of 50
2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 7 of 50
3 WR/2 RB -- 5 of 50
1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 2 of 50

It's hard to imagine the Patriots expected to be in three-wides as often as they were, in part because they only dressed three pure receivers. Score considerations in the second half skewed the overall numbers (14 snaps in 3-WRs over the final four drives).

The general feeling about the Patriots' intentions is that they hoped to use running backs more in the passing game, with an abundance of screens, shovel passes and draw plays to use the Chiefs' aggressiveness against them (quarterback Tom Brady was in the shotgun 17 of 23 times in the first half). But the plan, which included five snaps in which running backs Shane Vereen and James White were on the field together, never came to life for a variety of reasons.

Overall, this was supposed to be a Vereen-type game, but it didn't happen for Vereen.

ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discusses the need for the Patriots' defense to regain its intensity against the Bengals on Sunday night.

Hernandez judge withholds ruling

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1

FALL RIVER, Mass. -- A judge has finished hearing testimony in a bid by former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez's lawyers to have evidence from his cellphone tossed, but she issued no immediate ruling.

Prosecutors say Hernandez's legal team turned the phone over without objection after a warrant was issued. An assistant district attorney said Wednesday afternoon in Fall River Superior Court that the defense is having a "classic case of buyer's remorse."

The defense claims consent doesn't matter because the warrant didn't authorize the phone's seizure the way it took place.

One of Hernandez's lawyers testified that a colleague who reviewed the warrant didn't have extensive experience in criminal matters and that he himself didn't review the document until later.

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd of Boston.

(Read full post)