Throwback Thursday: Meet #LittleVince

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
4:12
PM ET
The New England Patriots on Thursday gave us a #TBT gem, posting what looks like a grade school photo of #LittleVince Wilfork (there’s no mistaking that ear-to-ear smile).



That grinning kid in the Miami Vice-meets-Magnum P.I. pastel shirt grew up to be an All-Pro force of a defensive lineman, and lover of ribs, apparently. #DancingVince

I can't deal with this dude today === @wilfork75 he thinks he's jammin

A video posted by Bianca Wilfork (@mrs75) on


Jonas Gray welcomes LeGarrette Blount

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
3:15
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Jonas Gray received widespread praise for his 201-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night.

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
Mike Reiss/ESPNBoston.comJonas Gray says he is excited to have fellow running back LeGarrette Blount as a teammate.
He also received something else a bit unexpected: A new teammate at running back in LeGarrette Blount.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised. In this business, not a whole lot surprises me, especially given where I’ve come from,” Gray said Thursday, the day the Patriots inked Blount to a two-year contract. “I just prepare the same way -- it doesn’t matter who we sign or who we bring here. I believe in Bill [Belichick] and whatever he’s doing.”

Gray explained his first practice with Blount as one in which an immediate connection was made.

“We kind of knew of each other beforehand, and the guys here have nothing but good things to say about him. It’s kind of funny, that running back position, they always talk about the camaraderie, so right away, even on the practice field, we acted like we’ve known each other for a long time,” he said.

“I’m excited, man. I think it’s going to be something good for us. For a team, what we want to do long-term, when these cold-weather games start coming up, I think it’s going to help. He’s a great guy to learn from, too, and I think we’re going to both motivate each other.”

Gray (230 pounds) and Blount (250 pounds) fall into the “big back” category in the Patriots’ backfield, while 205-pound Shane Vereen brings a contrasting style.

The Patriots are known to ride the hot hand, and Gray relayed that he’s on board for whatever the coaches have in store.

“I just pretty much go with whatever the game-plan is. I know even if he wasn’t here, you never know what your opportunity is going to look like,” he said. “I’m preparing the same way I always prepare, and when my number is called, I’m going to execute.

“I never get into questioning what the coaches do. I believe in the system. It’s worked for me. I believe in the Patriot Way. It’s worked for a long time.”
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- In an effort to limit mistakes during games and give his players a chance to see more details in certain formations during the week, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is going to limit his team's call sheet Sunday against the New England Patriots.

How much? Lombardi said the Lions would have 15 to 20 percent fewer calls on his sheet for New England than in prior weeks.

"I don't know if you would say the playbook, just the number of calls that we're going to put on the call sheet," Lombardi said. "You kind of overplan and have more offense than maybe what you need, being prepared for different situations. So it's just being a little bit more precise during the week. Maybe having a little less insecurity as a coach. Sometimes you'll go, 'Hey, I want all these plays in case,' and we don't need them.

"Listen, it's not this huge deal. It's just limiting a little bit somewhat around the perimeter, where we are practicing the things that we know we are going to do with a little more precision."

That precision has been lacking for Detroit over the past few weeks -- even in the Lions' three straight come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter. The Lions had three or more offensive penalties called, not necessarily accepted, the past three games.

Last week against Arizona, the Lions dipped under 5 yards per play for the first time since Week 6.

Typically, Lombardi said Detroit gets north of 200 offensive reps during a week of practice. While he wouldn't say how many plays are typically on the call sheet and how many times those plays get worked on, the plan is to lessen the number of plays during the week for more effectiveness on Sundays.


(Read full post)


Weekly Patriots chat recap

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
1:20
PM ET
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a New England Patriots chat. Today's chat kicked off at noon, can be recapped here and included some of the following topics:

1. The return of running back LeGarrette Blount and what it might mean for Jonas Gray.

2. Aaron Dobson vs. Brian Tyms for the No. 4 receiver spot. Is this the week Dobson re-emerges?

3. Receiver Julian Edelman and his workload.

4. Defensive end Chandler Jones and when he might be on the radar to return.

5. Most talented Patriots team since 2008?

6. Big test for the interior offensive line against Ndamukong Suh and the Lions.

Blount at Patriots practice; Siliga absent

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
12:28
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who was signed to a two-year deal on Thursday morning, was in attendance at Patriots’ practice.

 Blount was previously on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster until the team released him on Tuesday. Blount was wearing a No. 60 jersey at practice, which is a temporary situation. When Blount was with the team last season, he wore No. 29. But this season, No. 29 is currently worn by safety Don Jones.

Defensive lineman Sealver Siliga was not spotted at practice. Siliga remains on the team’s injured reserve with a designation to return despite participating in the Patriots’ walkthrough practice on Wednesday. Players on the injured reserve can be at walkthroughs, but until Siliga participates in a practice, the 21-day window to activate him on the 53-man roster does not start.

Rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming, rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley and defensive end Chandler Jones were not present at practice on Thursday.

The Patriots were wearing sweats and shells.

Tony Corrente to referee Patriots-Lions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
11:00
AM ET
(A weekly look at the New England Patriots' penalties, both from a player and infraction standpoint.)

Veteran referee Tony Corrente has been assigned to work Sunday's game between the Patriots and Lions at Gillette Stadium. Entering last week's game, Corrente's crew had averaged the sixth-highest penalty average per game among the 17 officiating crews.

Looking back, the Patriots had seven penalties in Sunday's win over the Colts, which was one of their better games in this department. That ups the season total to 98 penalties, 84 of which have been accepted. The Patriots remain on pace to easily surpass their highest accepted penalty total under Bill Belichick, 111 in the 2003 season.

Here is the weekly breakdown:

PENALTY LEADERBOARD
OT Nate Solder -- 8
CB Brandon Browner -- 7
CB Logan Ryan -- 7
WR Brandon LaFell -- 6
OL Jordan Devey -- 5
TE Rob Gronkowski -- 5
C Bryan Stork -- 5
CB Darrelle Revis -- 4
CB Malcolm Butler -- 3
OT Marcus Cannon -- 3
S Patrick Chung -- 3
LB Jamie Collins -- 3
CB Alfonzo Dennard -- 3
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 3

MOST FREQUENT PENALTIES
False start -- 15
Holding (offensive) -- 12
Holding (defensive) -- 10
Pass interference (defense) -- 8
Holding (special teams) -- 5
Illegal block above the waist (special teams) -- 5
Illegal use of hands -- 5
Pass interference (offensive) -- 5
Unnecessary roughness -- 5
Facemask -- 3
Offside (special teams) -- 3
Roughing the passer -- 3

Follow-up thoughts on LeGarrette Blount

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:55
AM ET
A few follow-up thoughts on the Patriots' two-year agreement with running back LeGarrette Blount:

1. When Blount was released by the Steelers on Tuesday, the "rapid reaction" was that it would be tough for the team to find a spot for him with a stocked running back corps.

2. But after giving it some more thought, and weighing the pros and cons of the move, it was a bit easier to see the possibility unfolding if Blount cleared waivers (which he did).

SportsNation

What's your take on the Patriots adding LeGarrette Blount?

  •  
    79%
  •  
    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 13,145)

3. The cost is cheap -- two years at minimum levels. This is buying a stock that paid dividends for you in the past at the lowest point possible.

4. The future element of this deal is something that shouldn't be overlooked. By signing Blount to a two-year deal, the Patriots layer their depth chart for 2015 as they have three running backs scheduled for free agency after this season in Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden. Right now, the team has Jonas Gray, Blount, Tyler Gaffney and James White under contract for 2015 at the position.

5. One of the factors the Patriots had to weigh was if a surplus at running back was worth the risk of potentially leaving themselves thinner at the line of scrimmage. With plans to release defensive tackle Casey Walker to make room for Blount, the Patriots must feel good about the combination of Vince Wilfork, Chris Jones, Alan Branch and Dominique Easley at defensive tackle, with Sealver Siliga also an option when he's activated off the injured reserve/designated to return list. So it's almost as if they traded a surplus for a surplus, and if they can get Walker back on the practice squad, it's a win-win for them.

6. It seems fair to say that Blount is the type of player who might fit best when he needs you more than you need him. His solid work for the Patriots in 2013 came when he was trying to revive his career. He's at a similar point now.

LeGarrette Blount returning to Pats

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:49
AM ET
video

Free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount, who was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday, signed with the New England Patriots on Thursday, the team announced.

The deal is for two years and is worth the veteran minimum plus incentives, according to a source.

The deal reunites Blount with the team for whom he rushed for nearly 800 yards in 2013 before signing a two-year, $3.85 million deal with the Steelers in March.

The 247-pound Blount joins a Patriots running back group that includes overnight sensation Jonas Gray (who rushed for 201 yards against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night), Brandon Bolden, pass-catching specialist Shane Vereen and rookie James White.

"I wasn't necessarily surprised," Gray said Thursday of the move to acquire Blount. "In this business, not a whole lot surprises me, especially given where I've come from.

"I just prepare the same way -- it doesn't matter who we sign or who we bring here. I believe in Bill [Belichick] and whatever he's doing."

While Blount could help the Patriots this year, there is also an aspect of looking to the future, as running backs Stevan Ridley (on injured reserve with a torn ACL), Vereen and Bolden are all scheduled for free agency after the season.

Blount practiced with the Patriots on Thursday, and Gray said he made an instant connection


(Read full post)


LeGarrette Blount meeting with Patriots

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
8:20
AM ET
Free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount, who was released by the Steelers on Tuesday, is meeting with the New England Patriots today, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson, and is expected to sign.


The "pros and cons" of re-signing Blount were examined on Tuesday, with a reader poll indicating that 68 percent were not in favor of the move as of Thursday morning.

SportsNation

Should the Patriots bring back RB LeGarrette Blount, who was released by the Steelers?

  •  
    41%
  •  
    59%

Discuss (Total votes: 20,045)

First-year running back Jonas Gray had a breakout game in Sunday's win over the Colts, rushing for 201 yards with four touchdowns to earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. At 230 pounds, Gray is the team's top big back, and he's backed up by Brandon Bolden in the role, with Bolden's contributions on special teams making him a valuable member of the roster.

The Patriots complement their big backs with smaller, shiftier personnel, as Shane Vereen (5-foot-10, 205) is the top running back in that role. He is backed up by rookie James White (5-10, 206), a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin.

Adding Blount would create a surplus at the position, but the Patriots might view it as worth it based on Blount's success with the team in 2013.

Last season with the Patriots, Blount rushed for 772 yards on 153 carries, an average of five yards per attempt, and scored seven touchdowns. He rushed for 189 yards against the Bills in the final week of the regular season and followed that up with 166 yards on the ground and four touchdowns against the Colts in the playoffs.

The Steelers waived Blount less than 24 hours after he left the field before the end of the 27-24 win over the Titans because the fifth-year veteran was upset he did not receive any carries in the game.

Blount went unclaimed on waivers, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and he is now free to sign anywhere.

He rushed for 266 yards and two touchdowns this season but carried the ball only five times in the Steelers' past two games and did not gain a yard.

To make room on the roster for Blount, the Patriots will cut defensive lineman Casey Walker, according to a source. When that transaction unfolds, assuming there are no unexpected twists, Walker would be eligible to return to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Information from ESPN.com's Scott Brown was used in this report.

Patriots vs. Lions preview

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
8:00
AM ET
video When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough TV: Fox

Who has it tougher than the Detroit Lions over Weeks 11 and 12 of the NFL season?

Back-to-back road games against the top teams in the NFC (Arizona) and AFC (New England Patriots) provide a nice measuring stick as to where the 7-3 Lions stand in the NFL’s ever-evolving landscape (the Lions lost, 14-6, to the Cardinals).

Meanwhile, the 8-2 Patriots have won six in a row after they bottomed out in a 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 29. Do they get caught looking ahead to next week’s highly anticipated game at the Green Bay Packers?

For more on the Lions-Patriots matchup, ESPN reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Mike Reiss (Patriots) break it down:

Reiss: Michael, the Lions are the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, allowing an average of just 15.6 points per game. What do they do well and who are the players Patriots fans should know about?

Rothstein: Everything starts with Detroit’s defensive line, which is anchored by Ndamukong Suh. While he may not always bring big stats, teams know they have to double-team him every play. This typically opens up rush lanes on the edge for Ezekiel Ansah and George Johnson. The line was even more powerful when Nick Fairley was healthy, but as the Lions have done with every defensive injury this season, they have been able to plug-and-play pretty well. The run defense should have taken a hit when Fairley went down, but C.J. Mosley and ends-playing-inside Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp have continued to keep the interior gaps sound. Much of this credit has to go to defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who has played to individuals’ strengths extremely well and constantly incorporates in-game feedback from players into his adjustments. That has helped with pressure up front and also with Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo helping mask coverages in the secondary. DeAndre Levy, who is the best linebacker in the league that no one knows, is stellar in coverage and has enough speed to cover most of the field if necessary.

People in Michigan have obviously known about Tom Brady for a long time. It seems even as he has aged, not much has changed. Are there subtle differences in his game or what he’s doing this season?

Reiss: One thing that has stood out is his willingness and ability to keep plays alive with his feet. Brady is known for a lot of things, but mobility isn’t one of them and he joked earlier this year that there isn’t one cell in his body that tells him to run. This has shown up numerous times over the team’s six-game winning streak, with a third-and-19 touchdown strike to Danny Amendola against the New York Jets on Oct. 16 -- in which Brady scrambled to his left out of the pocket to buy more time -- one of the most notable examples. He might need to call on that Sunday against that strong Lions’ defensive front.

Offensively for the Lions, how accurate would it be to say that Golden Tate has been the bigger threat than Calvin Johnson in 2014?

Rothstein: It’s accurate mostly because Johnson has been out or limited for most of the season (ankle). When Johnson is healthy, he is still Detroit’s No. 1 target and the best receiver in the game, but Tate has become an increasingly dangerous receiver as well. What makes Tate so difficult to deal with is what he does after the catch. He can take a short route and wiggle through small creases and out of tackles to gain extra yardage. It’s something he actually practices during the week, too, so it isn’t just all instinct there. Tate’s hands are also some of the best in the league and Matthew Stafford trusts him because of it. If both Johnson and Tate are playing well, that’s probably going to be a bad day for a defense.

The Lions are struggling on offense, but the New England defense, at least statistically, appears to be good but not great in a lot of areas. Where have teams with strong passing attacks been able to exploit the Patriots?

Reiss: The first thing to look at with the Patriots’ defense, as it relates to the overall success of the team, is turnover differential. At plus-11, they are tied for the second-best mark in the NFL with 19 takeaways and eight giveaways. So they take the ball away at a good clip on defense and protect it pretty well on offense. Teams that have had success against the Patriots don’t turn the ball over, first and foremost. Another area where the Patriots have been exploited at times is the running game. The Dolphins totaled 191 rushing yards in Week 1 with a steady diet of inside zone calls. The Chiefs totaled 207 rushing yards in a Week 4 beatdown, and the Jets had 218 in a close call in Week 7. The Patriots’ defense is obviously a different unit now than they were at those points in the season.

We love our local guys here in New England. What has former Patriot and University of Massachusetts alum Ihedigbo brought to the Lions this year?

Rothstein: He’s done a lot when he’s been healthy. He missed the first three games with a neck/shoulder injury, but he gives Detroit a strong run-stopper in the secondary and a hard hitter. While coverage was not a strength for him in the past, he’s made some big plays on passes this season, including an interception and a critical end zone pass breakup against Miami two weeks ago. He’s provided a strong complement to Quin and his run-stopping has allowed Quin to play free safety, where he is one of the better safeties at roaming against big plays in the league. Unlike Louis Delmas, who played safety for Detroit last season, Ihedigbo is a consistent player who rarely makes mistakes. He and Quin have been critical in Detroit’s ability to limit big plays.

Jonas Gray seemed to come out of nowhere last week. Does he have staying power in the New England offense or is he a guy that happened to just have one amazing night? Would facing his hometown team change that motivation at all?

Reiss: He’ll be here, Michael. The Patriots have been high on Gray since training camp and Bill Belichick acknowledged that it wasn’t an easy decision to release him at the final roster cut down to 53 players in hopes of putting him on the practice squad. This is somewhat similar to the 2008 season when the Patriots had BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the practice squad initially before grooming him for a bigger role. At 230 pounds, Gray is a downhill runner who looks for contact. The one thing I’d say this week is that the Patriots, who pride themselves on being a game-plan type offense that changes significantly on a week-to-week basis to exploit the perceived weaknesses of the opponent, might not run it much because the Lions have been so good in that area (No. 1 in the NFL, 68.8 yards average per game, 3.0 average per rush).

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Weekly Patriots chat at noon ET

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
7:55
AM ET
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat. Today's chat is scheduled to kick off at 12 p.m. ET, and questions can be asked in advance.

Catch up then.

Patriots-Lions through a stats-based lens

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
5:00
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Looking at Sunday's matchup between the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions through a stats-based lens (via ESPN's Stats & Information):

1. The game within the game: Lions' four-man rush vs. Brady. Teams that put Brady under pressure (sacked, under duress or hit while throwing) on more than one-quarter of his dropbacks when using a standard four-man pass rush are 2-2 this season. Teams that put Brady under pressure on one-quarter of his dropbacks or fewer using a standard rush are 0-6.

Lions' four-man pass rush
Opponents QBR: 39.2 (first in NFL)
TD-INT differential: minus-4 (second in NFL)
TD percentage: 2.3 (second in NFL)
Pressure percentage: 25.9 (fifth in NFL)

2. Gronkowski on cusp of Patriots' record for 10-TD seasons. Tight end Rob Gronkowski's next touchdown will give him his fourth 10-touchdown season of his career, the most in team history, passing Corey Dillon (3) and Randy Moss (3).

3. Holding ground at home. The Patriots have 14 straight regular-season home wins, the longest active streak in the NFL and tied for the third longest in the last 10 seasons. The Patriots had won 20 straight regular-season home games from 2008-2011, while the Ravens' 15-game home winning streak from 2010-2012 ranks second.

4. Brady's history with the Lions. On Sunday, it will mark 14 years ago to the day since Tom Brady made his NFL debut against the team he faces this week. On Nov. 23, 2000, Brady came in the game late in the fourth quarter in relief of Drew Bledsoe with the Patriots down 34-9 to the Lions. Brady was 1-for-3, completing a 6-yard pass to Rod Rutledge. After the game, Bill Belichick was asked if Brady's ties to Michigan had anything to do with the decision. "Nope," he responded.

5. Patriots running backs and 100 yards. Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards on 37 attempts Sunday and a franchise-record four rushing touchdowns. Gray is the 10th different Patriots running back in the last 10 years to rush for at least 100 yards in a game. Only the Broncos (12) have had more different backs rush for at least 100 yards in a game in that span.

6. Gray is moving the chains. Since Week 8, Jonas Gray has converted a first down on 31.8 percent of his rushing attempts, the third-highest rate by a running back in that span. Only Jamaal Charles (34.8) and Jonathan Stewart (33.3) have a higher success rate, with Marshawn Lynch in the No. 4 spot (31.3).

7. Megatron has faced Patriots once. Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has one career game against the Patriots, a 45-24 loss on Thanksgiving in Week 12 of the 2010 season with Shaun Hill at quarterback. Johnson finished that game with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, making the Patriots one of four teams (excluding Detroit) that Johnson hasn’t gained at least 85 receiving yards in a game against (Jets, Chiefs and Seahawks).

8. A 14th straight winning season on the line. With a victory, the Patriots will clinch their 14th consecutive winning season, which would tie for the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.

9. On a roll against the NFC North. The Patriots have won 13 consecutive games against the NFC North, the longest active streak by one team against a division. Since the NFL realigned to eight divisions in 2002, the only streak that was longer was 15 straight by the Colts against the AFC North between 2002 and 2010.

10. Stafford on the road against winning teams. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is 0-15 including the playoffs on the road when facing a team that ended that season with a winning record.

11. Sizzling in the second half of seasons. The Patriots are an NFL-best 31-3 since 2010 in the second half of their regular-season schedule (games 9-16) while the Lions are 11-23 (.324 winning percentage) in those games over the same span. The 49ers (23-10-1), Packers (23-10-1) and Saints (23-11) are next in line.

12. Long and short of it for Lions' top receivers. Stafford likes to go for the big play with Calvin Johnson and the safer play with Golden Tate. His average "air" yards per attempt to Johnson is 15.9, while it's 8.8 to Tate.

Dominique Easley's impact highlighted

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
9:40
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In his weekly breakdown following a victory on Patriots.com, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick highlighted one of the plays that came up in film review and it reflected rookie defensive tackle Dominique Easley's positive impact.

The play came in the second quarter, with running back Trent Richardson dropped for a loss of 3 yards (9:17). A crucial effort came from Easley, who pressed tight end Coby Fleener back and re-created the line of scrimmage. Belichick also noted the strong run force from cornerback Darrelle Revis on left tackle Anthony Castonzo.

"Easley does a nice job here, knocking it back," Belichick said.

Belichick also showed another play by the run defense, stopping Ahmad Bradshaw for no gain in the third quarter (3:04). Good edge-setting by end Rob Ninkovich, scraping by linebacker Jamie Collins, solid leverage by Vince Wilfork and good work to fight off a block by Alan Branch are highlighted.

A few more plays noted by Belichick:

Brady's run checks: On a Jonas Gray 14-yard run in the third quarter (13:35), Belichick pointed out the defensive alignment and how if the run comes to the left side, where there are two defensive backs on that side that couldn't be accounted for, it would be a bad play. So quarterback Tom Brady checked the run to the other side, and there is success. Belichick later showed a similar play -- a 14-yard run by Gray in which Brady once again checked the run away from the side where the numbers weren't favorable. Of rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, Belichick said: "He did a really good widening the holes or blocking down and creating good space in that off-tackle hole." Of running back Jonas Gray, Belichick said: "I thought he did a good job lowering his pads, dropping his weight and running through a couple tackles in the secondary."

Gronkowski's run blocking: On Julian Edelman's 25-yard end-around, Belichick highlighted tight end Rob Gronkowski's decision-making as he came in motion. Gronkowski was supposed to block end-the-line player Jonathan Newsome, but when Newsome crashed down into the line, Gronkowski passed him by and focused on safety Mike Adams down the field. "Rob makes a good decision. When Newsome comes this flat, he knows he can't make a play on the [runner] and lets him go," Belichick said, pointing out other strong blocks by left tackle Nate Solder and receiver Brandon LaFell.

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