Catching up with former Patriots, Week 7

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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Every Wednesday, we'll lead off the day with a look at some notable former Patriots and their production:

WR Kenbrell Thompkins (Raiders) -- Started and played 31 of 51 snaps in a home loss to the Cardinals, but didn't register on the stat sheet.

WR Brandon Lloyd (49ers) -- Had three catches for 63 yards in a road loss to the Broncos. He now has 10 catches for 252 yards and the one touchdown this season.

LB Brandon Spikes (Bills) -- Played 39 of 64 snaps in a home win over the Vikings, totaling three tackles and one pass defended. Has now played 261 of 484 defensive snaps on the season.

RB LeGarrette Blount (Steelers) -- Carried seven times for nine yards and added one catch for eight yards in a home win over the Texans, playing 15 of 65 offensive snaps. He now has 44 carries for 223 yards this season.

QB Ryan Mallett (Texans) -- He served as the No. 2 quarterback behind Ryan Fitzpatrick in a road loss to the Steelers and did not play.

LB Jeff Tarpinian (Texans) -- Played solely on special teams in a road loss to the Steelers and recorded one tackle.

CB Sterling Moore (Cowboys) -- Started and played 51 of 63 defensive snaps in a home win over the Giants, as he's emerged as a key defensive contributor for one of the NFL's more surprising teams.

WR Greg Salas (Jets) -- Inactive due to injury in a road loss to the Patriots. He has played in 193 of 485 snaps this season and has eight catches for 167 yards.

TE Zach Sudfeld (Jets) -- Played 10 of 87 offensive snaps in a road loss to the Patriots. He didn't register on the stat sheet and now played in 39 of 485 offensive snaps this season.

TE Daniel Fells (Giants) -- Played 15 of 63 offensive snaps in a road loss to the Cowboys, finishing with one catch for 27 yards, which went for a touchdown. He has played 151 of 479 offensive snaps this season.

G Logan Mankins (Buccaneers) -- Team was on a bye.

LB Dane Fletcher (Buccaneers) -- Team was on a bye.

TE Benjamin Watson (Saints) -- He played 29 of 74 offensive snaps in a road loss to the Lions, catching one pass for three yards. Watson has now played 197 of 442 offensive snaps and has 10 catches for 67 yards this season.

CB Darius Butler (Colts) -- Nickel cornerback was inactive due to injury for the second week in a row. He has played 196 of 421 defensive snaps and has 16 tackles and three passes defended this season.

C Rich Ohrnberger (Chargers) -- The 2009 Patriots fourth-round pick started at center in a home loss to the Chiefs and played all 52 offensive snaps.

G Ted Larsen (Cardinals) -- The 2010 sixth-round draft pick started at left guard for the sixth straight game and played every snap in a road win over the Raiders.

DL Tommy Kelly (Cardinals) -- He played 40 of 51 defensive snaps in a road win over the Cardinals, registering one tackle. Kelly has now played 291 of 390 defensive snaps over six games.

CB Aqib Talib (Broncos) -- He played 62 of 74 defensive snaps in a home win over the 49ers, finishing with two tackles and one interception. Talib has played 402 of 433 defensive snaps in six games this season, with eight passes defended and 21 tackles.

WR Wes Welker (Broncos) -- Played 48 of 60 offensive snaps in a home win over the 49ers, finishing with three catches for 50 yards and one touchdown. He has played 196 of 283 offensive snaps in his three games this season, and has 17 catches for 176 yards.

QB Brian Hoyer (Browns) -- Struggled the most he has since winning the starting job, finishing 16 of 41 for 215 yards and an interception in a road loss to the Jaguars.

(Anyone else you'd like to add to the list? Send a suggestion via Twitter to @MikeReiss).

Key points with Chandler Jones void

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones has a hip injury that will sideline him for "about a month," according to a Boston Globe report. This cuts deep for the Patriots, as Jones is a three-down defender who seldom comes off the field.

Some key points with this situation:

Injury appeared to come in second quarter versus Jets: Jones played all but three snaps in Thursday's win over the Jets, but appeared to injure the hip with 10:02 remaining in the second quarter when he chased quarterback Geno Smith, who scrambled around right end for a 7-yard gain on third-and-5. Jones came out of the game for two plays after that, and he was seen stretching out his hip at times on the sideline for the remainder of the game.

Team previously showed replacement plan: Jones is the team's best pass-rusher, most often lining up at right defensive end and rushing against the opponent's left tackle. When the Patriots played Jones in a limited role Oct. 5 against the Bengals, using him only in sub situations after he had injured his right shoulder the week before, rookie Dominique Easley started in his place. Easley ended up hurting his shoulder in that game, but he's healthy again and is viewed as one of the top candidates to fill in at that spot. At 6-foot-2 and 288 pounds, Easley doesn't have the same length as the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jones, as his ideal role is more as an interior penetrator. But Easley, in limited work on the edge this year, has set a hard edge in the running game at times.

Depth was already taxed: Second-year player Michael Buchanan would have been another candidate to help step in, but he was placed on season-ending injured reserve Oct. 6. The 2013 seventh-round draft choice had filled in for Easley in the Bengals game when Easley left with the shoulder injury. This has bumped rookie Zach Moore (sixth round, Concordia) into Buchanan's spot, with the defensive end depth chart looking like this: Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Easley and Moore.

Ayers acquisition timely: In acquiring Tennessee Titans linebacker Akeem Ayers (pending a physical), the fourth-year veteran also projects to Jones' spot as an end-of-the-line player.

Practice squad considerations: The Patriots also have Darius Fleming (6-2, 255) and Jake Bequette (6-5, 265) on the practice squad as possibilities.

Pats DE Chandler Jones out 1 month

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones will be out for one month after suffering a hip injury, according to a report by The Boston Globe.

Jones, the Patriots' top pass rusher who was absent from practice on Tuesday, played 84 of 87 defensive snaps in Thursday night's 27-25 win over the New York Jets.

Throughout the season, Jones has dealt with a shoulder injury that has kept him on the team's injury report.

Patriots won't have an easy task in replacing Jones, who has made numerous key plays including a blocked field goal that he returned for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings.

On the season, Jones has 4.5 sacks and 21 total tackles as well as a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Jones also has been the main defensive end opposite Rob Ninkovich as Jones has played 414 of 478 defensive snaps this season (86.6 percent).

Rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley, the Patriots' top pick from the 2014 draft who has battled shoulder and knee injuries this season, projects as a potential fill-in for Jones.

Another player on the roster who could see increased time in Jones' absence is rookie defensive end Zach Moore, a sixth-round pick out of Concordia- St. Paul. Moore is considered a long-term project player with high upside. 


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Patriots-based thoughts on Akeem Ayers deal

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots agreeing to a trade with the Tennessee Titans for linebacker Akeem Ayers, pending a physical (you can find the Titans' perspective here):

Ayers
Low-risk, depth-based move. Last year, when the Patriots acquired defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga at the trade deadline, we probably went a bit too strong in the impact the move could have on the team. We'll be a bit more cautious this time with Ayers and sum it up this way: If he passes his physical, it's worth a flier as a low-cost, depth-based move with some potential upside for more. The cost is cheap -- a sixth-round draft choice in exchange for Ayers and a seventh-rounder, per ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky.

Ayers' knee injuries. Ayers underwent surgery on both knees this offseason to repair his patellar tendons. John Glennon of the Tennessean had detailed those surgeries in a June article, and that is important background when considering the deal is pending a physical.

Where Ayers possibly fits. One NFL executive projected Ayers to a strong-side linebacker role in New England. If Ayers emerges in a front-line role, which isn't a given, it could provide more flexibility to move Dont'a Hightower to the middle to help fill the void created by Jerod Mayo's season-ending right knee injury. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Ayers has experience playing both on and off the line of scrimmage and had been used as a designated pass-rusher at times in the NFL and at UCLA. Such athleticism and versatility is often appealing to Bill Belichick. As for why the Titans are moving on, Ayers was buried on the depth chart and might have gotten caught up in a scheme change with a new coaching staff.

Addresses area of limited depth. The Patriots were thin at linebacker before Mayo was lost for the season, and this move adds a more experienced option to the mix as he appeared in all 16 regular-season games in each of his first three seasons in the NFL (43 starts). After top on-the-line players Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich and off-the-line players Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, the Patriots had very little experience. Ayers changes that, with the Patriots hoping a change of scenery brings out the best in the 2011 second-round pick who had fallen out of favor in Tennessee and is in the last year of his contract.

Tedy Bruschi's defensive index is back

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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When judging total defense in the NFL, many often point to yards allowed as the primary measure for a unit's effectiveness. ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi sees that as a flawed analysis.

Bruschi has put together his own formula on how best to measure defense, and it goes back to five core principles he was taught as a player:
  1. Don't let them score (points per game; only on offensive plays from scrimmage)
  2. Take the ball away (the importance of turnovers)
  3. Get off the field (third-down conversion rate)
  4. Situational defense (red-area efficiency)
  5. Disrupting the franchise QB (sacks)

By rating each NFL team in these categories, it produces a league-wide defensive index that purposely overlooks yards allowed as a measure to gauge the effectiveness of a defense. Why no yards? With more spread offenses and prolific passing attacks in today's NFL, Bruschi views yardage rankings as overrated because many teams have the ability to go from 20-yard line to 20-yard line on a regular basis.

Thus, Bruschi's "defensive index" places a heavier emphasis on the growing importance of "situational" football.

Through seven weeks it's notable to see the Detroit Lions at No. 1 and the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks at No. 32.

Akeem Ayers headed to Patriots

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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The Tennessee Titans have agreed to trade linebacker Akeem Ayers and a seventh-round draft pick to the New England Patriots for a sixth-round pick, according to a team source.

The deal is pending a physical, the source said.

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Ayers has been inactive for five of the Titans' seven games this season.

The Titans liked the idea of getting bigger when they drafted him in the second round out of UCLA in 2011. In the 4-3 defense run by the previous coaching staff, he was an outside linebacker the team constantly talked of using as a pass-rushing end.

He seemed likely to be a better fit for the 3-4 defense installed by Ray Horton, who changed the defensive front after he was hired by Ken Whisenhunt. But Ayers ranked behind Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley and Shaun Phillips coming out of camp. The team added Quentin Groves on Sept. 1, and he also got work ahead of Ayers.

The Patriots lost linebacker Jerod Mayo to a season-ending knee injury in Week 6.


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Vereen brothers are ready for battle

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It will be a family affair for Patriots running back Shane Vereen when his team hosts the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Vereen's younger brother Brock is a safety on the Bears, and Sunday marks their first time playing against each other.

A reporter asked Vereen if Brock had ever landed any football hits on him.

“I have not been hit by my brother,” Vereen said. “Not in pads.

“I definitely think he is looking forward to [hitting me]," he said. "So am I.”

S. Vereen
B. Vereen
While Shane Vereen attended the University of California, Brock Vereen played his college ball at Minnesota, where he was a versatile defensive back who was named first team all-Big Ten in his senior season. Brock was drafted by the Bears late in the fourth round of the 2014 draft and has settled in as a consistent contributor on the defense.

The Vereens' family and friends will be piling in to Gillette Stadium on Sunday to watch the brothers play.

“Yeah [my parents] are coming,” Vereen said. “There is going to be a lot of family here.”

When asked about whether his family would be wearing Patriots or Bears’ colors, Vereen laughed.

“Yeah, last time I spoke to my mother she said she was wearing neutral,” Vereen said. “She would be wearing no colors. But we will see, I think that’s going to change.”

One reporter joked that Vereen wouldn’t let his mother receive the ticket if she was wearing the Bears’ colors. Vereen said “we will see, she might switch it up on me.”

As the Patriots' lead running back after the season-ending injury to Stevan Ridley, Vereen is likely to receive a large sum of carries and offensive snaps Sunday, as he played 48 of 60 snaps in Thursday night’s win over the Jets. With Shane’s increased workload, Brock will have more than enough opportunities to get his first hit and then some on big brother Shane.

While Shane is looking forward his first game against his brother, he is focused on the offense improving, especially on the ground, after the team struggled against the Jets. The Patriots were beat out in time of possession as the Jets controlled the football for 40:54 -- with the Pats at just 19:06.

“I think that as an offense we would like to have more control of the football,” Vereen said. “A lot of that comes into the run game, which we are going to have to do a very good job with this week.

“The Bears have a good defense and we are going to have to hold onto the ball offensively and give our defense more of a spell.”

Aaron Hernandez pre-trial on Nov. 25

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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BOSTON -- Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez remains on track for a May trial on two murder charges.

His lawyers and prosecutors agreed Tuesday to another pre-trial hearing on Nov. 25 during a brief court appearance in Suffolk Superior Court.

The lawyers largely talked privately with Judge Jeffrey Locke at the bench, out of hearing range from the courtroom audience.

Hernandez, who did not attend the hearing, is charged in the 2012 killings of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado.

Prosecutors say Hernandez shot the two men after one of them accidentally spilled a drink on him in a Boston nightclub.

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty in those killings and in the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player whose body was found in an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez's North Attleborough home.

Lloyd had been dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee. That trial is scheduled for January in Fall River.

In the Boston case, prosecutors say Hernandez and a friend followed the two men in their car after the chance encounter at the nightclub. They said Hernandez fired at least five shots into the car while it was stopped at a red light, killing the two men and injuring a third.

The men were killed about six weeks before Hernandez signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Patriots. He was not indicted until May 2014.

Prosecutors said that in the months leading up to the shooting, Hernandez had become increasingly convinced that people had been disrespecting him when he went to nightclubs.

Hernandez was released by the Patriots after he was charged in Lloyd's June 2013 killing.


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NFL Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
3:00
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Mike and Mike weigh in on week 8 of the ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings.

Darrelle Revis, Chandler Jones not at Patriots practice

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. –- New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis and defensive end Chandler Jones were not spotted at the start of practice on Tuesday.

 Jones, who has been dealing with a right shoulder injury, played in 84 of 87 defensive snaps for the Patriots in their win over the Jets on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Revis showed no signs of an injury during the win against his former team and talked with media after the game.

With an extra practice this week, it's possible the Patriots are giving Jones and Revis an additional day of rest.

Meanwhile, the club received a boost on the health front with the return of three players on the offensive line. Starting left guard Dan Connolly (concussion), rookie center Bryan Stork (concussion) and rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (finger) were participating in practice.

Fleming has missed the past three games, Stork the past two, and Connolly the win over the Jets.

Fleming seemed to have a larger black brace/cast on his right hand.

Also, core special-teamer and safety Nate Ebner (finger) returned to practice after missing the past three games. Ebner was wearing a black cast on his right hand that covered his thumb.

Practice squad wide receiver Josh Boyce was wearing a black practice jersey, signifying that he was a practice player of the week in the preparations for the win over the Jets.

Players were wearing sweats and shells.

Weekly Patriots mail is delivered

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:40
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Every Tuesday on ESPNBoston.com, questions from readers are answered as part of a New England Patriots mailbag. This week's mailbag has been posted and includes some of the following topics:

1. The Patriots preparing for the toughest part of their schedule.

2. Concerns with the defense and its ability to shut down top teams, including tight ends.

3. Formulating a defensive plan with Matt Forte and the Bears in mind.

4. First-year running back Jonas Gray and shades of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, circa 2008.

5. Thoughts on Ryan Wendell, Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington, among others.

6. Will lack of depth at linebacker hurt the Patriots?

The Film Don't Lie: Patriots

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
11:00
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A weekly look at what the New England Patriots must fix:

With the Chicago Bears coming to town, it's a good week to highlight the importance of turnovers because the Bears give the ball up almost as much as any team in the NFL. Only the Jaguars (15), Redskins (15) and Eagles (14) have more giveaways than the Bears' 13.

Meanwhile, the Patriots' 14 takeaways are tied for most in the NFL.

So given the Patriots' success in this area, why is this falling into the "must fix" category this week?

Because New England is coming off its second game of the season without producing a turnover, and we saw what a struggle it was against the New York Jets, with the Pats fortunate to escape with a 27-25 victory. The other game in which the Patriots didn't have a takeaway was their Sept. 29 blowout loss in Kansas City.

Also consider this Bears stat: Since quarterback Jay Cutler joined Chicago, the team is 21-5 in games in which he starts and does not throw an interception. When he throws multiple interceptions (as he has done three times this season), the Bears are 4-18.

Worst 5-2 team in the league?

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
10:51
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[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaSeven games is too early to write the end story with first-round pick Dominique Easley.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are 5-2, have a 2-1 record in division play and are right there with the leaders in the AFC. Yet it doesn't necessarily feel that way when reading many of the questions submitted to the weekly mailbag. Concerns are aplenty after the team's fortunate escape Thursday against the Jets. Let's dive right into it:

Q. Mike, Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers. These are the quarterbacks the Patriots defense has to face over their next six games. Given how the season has unfolded so far, can you think of a much tougher seven-week grind (thank goodness for the bye!)? If the Patriots go 3-3 in these games, will that be considered lucky? Thanks! -- Tim (Chicago)


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Rosen, Lynch, Oliver on Pats-Bears call

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
8:30
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The New England Patriots host the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and Sam Rosen (play-by-play), John Lynch (analysis) and Pam Oliver (sideline) will call the game on Fox (1 p.m. ET).

Patriots broadcast pairings
at Dolphins: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn (CBS)
at Vikings: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Jenny Dell (CBS)
vs. Raiders: Gumbel, Green, Washburn (CBS)
at Chiefs: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters (ESPN)
vs. Bengals: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (NBC)
at Bills: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa (Fox)
vs. Jets: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson (CBS)
vs. Bears: Rosen, Lynch, Oliver (Fox)

Leftover, Part I, from the Patriots-Jets broadcast, via Simms (on Jonas Gray and the running backs): "I saw exactly what I thought I might see -- a guy that is powerfully built and runs hard and is looking for contact. They believe in that committee [at running back] -- have a role, fit into it, and do it well."

Leftover, Part II, from the Patriots-Jets broadcast, via Nantz (on receiver Brandon LaFell): "Brady had a lot of praise for Brandon LaFell. He told us he's been quite a find, like a freight train. 'We have to get him the ball more often.'"

 

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