O-line continues to protect Tom Brady

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
8:35
PM ET
FOXBORUGH, Mass. -- Even against the league's top defense on Sunday, the New England Patriots' offense couldn't be stopped.

In putting together yet another blowout win with a 34-9 result over the Lions, Tom Brady seemingly led the charge once again. The quarterback led an aerial assault against Detroit's defense, totaling 349 passing yards and two touchdowns on 53 pass attempts (38 completions).

Sure, it was another strong game in what's become an MVP-caliber season for Brady. However, much of the credit should go to the Patriots' offensive line, which kept disruptive tackle Ndamukong Suh and the Lions' top-ranked pass rush from being able to register a single sack against their quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Steven SenneGiven time to operate by his offensive line, Tom Brady picked apart the Lions for 349 yards.
In fact, you have to go back three weeks to find the last time Brady was sacked, late in the first quarter by Demarcus Ware of the Denver Broncos on Nov. 2.

"You can't take [anything] away from them," Lions defensive end George Johnson said. "We couldn't get to the quarterback, so they did a real good job on us today."

It wasn't long ago that the offensive line was being pointed to as the team's biggest weakness. Through the first four games of the season, the unit allowed Brady to be sacked nine times, a fact often pointed to as the reason for his early struggles this season.

In the seven games following the Patriots' last loss, a 41-14 disaster against the Kansas City Chiefs that seems nothing more than a blip in the radar now, the offensive line has allowed only five sacks total.

ESPN Stats & Info took a further look at the matter. In the Patriots' first four games, Brady was sacked on 6.2 percent of his 146 dropbacks, tied for 23rd in the league. The last four games? Brady has been sacked only once in 172 dropbacks, good for 0.6 precent. That's the best rate in the league over that time.

On Sunday, Brady was pressured on just 9.4 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest percentage for any quarterback facing the Lions this season.

"[Getting to Brady] just didn't happen," Lions' defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said.

As a result, it isn't much of a surprise that 34 points were the most the Lions have allowed to any offense this season.

"They just up-tempo'd us," Lions safety James Ihedigbo said. "We were trying to get in the best call possible for each situation. We had a few communication breakdowns there."

A lot of credit for that goes to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for the drastic shift he provided from last week's game plan. After leaning heavily on the run against the Indianapolis Colts, racking up 246 yards on the ground, the Patriots were relentless through the air this time out. However, only two of Brady's 38 completed passes went for more than 20 yards.

"They knew that they wouldn't be able to run the ball as well because of our front up there," Ihedigbo said. "They prepared for us. It wasn't really downfield passing that they did, it was just nickel and dime us.

"We knew that was a part of their offense, but we thought they'd actually try to run the ball. You run for 200 yards, you think you'll kind of stick to it. But when you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, you can do whatever you want."

When Brady has the time to throw he did on Sunday, he truly can do whatever he wants. Although Detroit registered four hits on him, the quintet of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer pretty much shut down the Detroit pass rush. Even after Connolly left with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, Josh Kline came in and filled in admirably.

It's what they've done throughout the Patriots' seven-game winning streak. And while Brady continues to draw attention as top candidate for league MVP, it goes without saying that the offensive line has been the team's most valuable component in getting him to that point.

LeGarrette Blount makes immediate impact in return

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
6:50
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One week ago as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, running back LeGarrette Blount walked off the field early after receiving zero carries. Now back in a New England Patriots' jersey, Blount carried the football like he never left the Pats.

Blount was asked after the game if he was surprised he made this quick of a turnaround. He shrugged off the question with a confident “no.”

“It’s a blast,” Blount said of being back with the Patriots. “I missed it here.”

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesLeGarrette Blount celebrates the first of his two touchdowns in his return to the Patriots.
Blount finished with 12 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions.

On his first touchdown, Blount paid tribute to former teammate Antonio Brown by performing the Steelers receiver’s hip-twisting touchdown dance.

“That was to my homie, man,” Blount said. “He’s going to always be a lifelong friend of mine. That was a little tribute to him. And like I said, he’s always going to be a close friend of mine.”

Blount, who became the Patriots’ big-bodied, bruising running back down the stretch in 2013, doesn’t see any differences between last year’s and this year’s offense.

“No, it looked like they clicked on all cylinders to me,” Blount said. “The offensive line just went out there and did a really good job. They were opening up some nice pieces for me to run through. Just when you get to the second level and break a couple tackles, that’s what makes the long runs. For the most part [the Lions] played well, we just played better.”

After Jonas Gray rushed for 201 yards on 37 carries last week against the Colts, Blount didn’t know what to expect in terms of a workload.

“I was prepared for anything,” Blount said. “I came in and they told me just be prepared for whatever we use you for, so I made sure I was ready.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t assume anything. Like I said, they told me to come in here and just be ready for whatever role they put me in and I just came here prepared to do whatever they wanted me to do.”

Team captain and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is glad to have Blount back with the team.

“He knows how we do things around here,” Wilfork said. “He’s never been a problem for us and I don’t see him being a problem for us, but it’s going to be up to him to do what he knows he can do. He knows he’s got a full supporting cast of his teammates and his coaching staff behind [him] and we feel the same way toward him and he feels the same way toward us.

“I’m just happy to see him back and it was a good welcome back for him today against a team like Detroit.”

After Blount’s stint in Pittsburgh had an ugly ending, he was thankful for the Patriots giving him yet another chance.

“It felt good,” Blount said. “It’s refreshing.”

Jonas Gray: Moving on to Green Bay

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
6:47
PM ET
[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
AP Photo/Bill SikesA week after rushing for 201 yards against the Colts, Jonas Gray did not play a single snap versus the Lions.
New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray was contrite in the locker room following Sunday's game, a victory he sat out after not making it to the team's facility on time Friday.

He would not confirm whether his sitting out was a disciplinary decision but said he was "moving past" the issue.

"I'm glad we got the team win. I think it would have stung more if I didn't play and we would have lost the game," Gray said. "I'm happy for these guys and I just wish I was able to contribute to the win, but I was glad that we came away with the victory and these guys played great."

Bill Belichick was even more brief in his comments when asked why Gray did not play any snaps in the victory.

"We do what we think is best,” he answered. "That's what we did today."

Following the game, Gray tweeted that he was on to Green Bay ...

 

Patriots WR Brandon LaFell says he's OK

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
6:40
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 34-9 win over the Detroit Lions:

LaFell
LaFell says injury not serious. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell left the game in the fourth quarter after making a diving catch and did not return, with members of the athletic training staff looking at his left shoulder on the sideline. After the game, LaFell met with reporters and relayed that he won't be sidelined because of the ailment. "I'm good. If we had a game tonight, I'd be ready to play," he said. "I won't miss [any] time. My body is feeling great." Asked how good it feels to have worked himself into a top role, which makes his injury status is a top storyline, LaFell said, "It feels great to be where I'm at now compared to where I was at the beginning of the season. Going out there and putting together good games back-to-back and earning Tom [Brady]'s trust, and the coaching staff's trust, and the trust of my teammates to depend on me in big-time situations like it was today, it feels good. As a whole offense, as a whole team, we feel good to be in the position we are now."

Blount explains touchdown dance. After scoring his first touchdown, running back LeGarrette Blount unveiled a unique touchdown dance that looked similar to former Steelers teammate Antonio Brown's standard touchdown celebration. Blount confirmed he was thinking about Brown after the touchdown. "Yeah, that was to my homie, man," Blount said. "He’s going to always be a lifelong friend of mine. That was a little tribute to him."

Introducing the 'turnover bag.' Cornerback Darrelle Revis talked about how the defense has a "turnover bag" that signifies the pride the unit has in creating miscues by the offense. "When somebody gets a turnover on defense, we bring the ball to the sidelines and put it in the turnover bag," he said, adding that cornerback Logan Ryan -- who had an interception against the Lions -- delivered his football into the bag Sunday.

Raiola riles up Patriots. At least one coach wasn't happy about what happened at the end of the game, when Lions center Dominic Raiola fired out at defensive lineman Zach Moore's knees while Detroit was kneeling on the ball. Players were peeved, too. "That was stupid," defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. "They'd get mad if we were just to blow up one of their players, so I mean, it's uncalled for. ... A boneheaded play. Luckily no one got hurt."

Focus will shift to Green Bay quickly. Players were going to enjoy the victory Sunday night, but Revis knows what is ahead with the Green Bay Packers. "Aaron Rodgers. He's awesome," he said.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Lions were lined up in the kneel-down formation on the last play of Sunday's 34-9 loss to the Patriots when Detroit center Dominic Raiola snapped the ball and then dove right at the legs of New England defensive lineman Zach Moore.

After the game, at least one Patriots player took issue with Raiola's play.

"I didn't see anything. I just heard what happened, but that was stupid," Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "I didn't see it, but from what I heard ... you're taking a knee. They'd get mad if we were just to blow up one of their players, so I mean, it's just uncalled for.

"But at the same time, you always have to protect yourself, so you always have to play with your neck on a swivel and being alert for 60 minutes and it came down to it today on a boneheaded play like that. Luckily no one got hurt and we can move on."

Raiola offered no apologies after the game and said he was just continuing to play football -- much like New England was doing by scoring after the two-minute warning with the Patriots comfortably ahead 27-9.

New England had been given a first down at the 1-yard-line after a personal foul penalty on Detroit defensive lineman C.J. Mosley wiped away Stephen Gostkowski's field goal. So instead of kneeling, the Patriots continued running plays.


(Read full post)


Gray Held Out Of Pats' Win

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
6:11
PM ET


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ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss breaks down New England not using running back Jonas Gray in win over Lions.
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Jim Basquil and Ron Jaworski break down the Patriots' 34-9 win over the Lions.
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Patriots reporter Mike Reiss' game ball goes to Darrelle Revis, who blanketed Golden Tate with four pass breakups. Tate gets the game ball from Michael Rothstein after managing 97 yards receiving and 13 yards rushing.

Ups and downs for Patriots

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
4:45
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At an initial glance, and without the benefit of film review, a look at which New England Patriots players were "up" in Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions and which players were on the opposite end of the spectrum:

Up
Ryan Allen -- Punter delivered a 66-yard gem in the first quarter after scooping up a low-rolling snap. It was one of the underrated plays of the game because it shifted field position at a time in which the Patriots trailed.

Bush
Amendola
Danny Amendola -- An 81-yard kickoff return to set up a touchdown in the second quarter was another big special teams play in the game. He made his case to keep the job despite the acquisition of running back/kickoff returner LeGarrette Blount.

LeGarrette Blount -- In 17 snaps, he was productive with two rushing touchdowns as he was a hammer in the red zone. He finished with 12 carries for 78 yards.

Julian Edelman -- Receiver totals 11 catches for 89 yards as he continues to provide a spark, with the only blemish a dropped pass in the red zone.

Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell -- Interior offensive line seemed to hold up well against Ndamukong Suh and Co., on a day in which the Patriots trended toward the pass and got the ball out quickly.

Darrelle Revis -- Matched up mostly against Golden Tate, this was an impressive "Revis Island" type performance.

Tim Wright -- Playing a season-high 60 snaps, he smashed his previous high of 21 and had two touchdown receptions.

Down
Danny Aiken -- Snapper skipped one attempt to punter Ryan Allen in the first quarter.

Collins
Jamie Collins -- Linebacker picked up two penalties on the same drive in the first half.

Zach Moore -- Rookie played sparingly and had a chance to wrap up quarterback Matthew Stafford on one play but didn't finish the tackle.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
4:20
PM ET
video
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 34-9 victory over the Detroit Lions:

What it means: The Patriots showed they can continue to win in different ways -- they played suffocating pass defense and aired it out on offense -- in recording their seventh straight victory. They improve to 9-2, the best record in the AFC.

No snaps for Gray: One week after earning AFC Player of the Week honors when he totaled 201 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the Colts, running back Jonas Gray didn't have a single offensive snap. Part of that was likely due to his oversleeping on Friday and being sent home for being late, per Bill Belichick's long-standing team rule. But this was also a pass-first approach by the Patriots, and the projection all along was that "passing back" Shane Vereen would get the majority of snaps at running back against the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense. Our unofficial count of snaps, including penalties, looked like this: Vereen (62), LeGarrette Blount (17), Brandon Bolden (2) and Gray (0).

Game ball: Darrelle Revis. One of the questions leading up to the game was whether Revis would cover Calvin Johnson for the third time in his career or instead match up with Golden Tate, who entered the day leading the Lions with 68 catches. Revis mostly lined up across from Tate, and this was arguably his best game as a Patriot -- with four pass breakups and blanket coverage that served as a reminder that Revis Island is alive and well.

Wright steps up at tight end. Tight end Tim Wright's previous season high for snaps played was 21, which he hit twice (at Miami on Sept. 7 and vs. Chicago on Oct. 26). He shattered that total in this game with 60 (including penalties), as the Patriots favored a pass-first approach out of their two-receiver/two-tight end/one-running back package with Rob Gronkowski and Wright as the tight ends. With Wright known as more of a receiving tight end, it set him up for his most extended opportunities of the season. He delivered with two touchdown receptions, giving him six this season.

Special teams come up big: Ryan Allen's 66-yard punt in the first quarter was one of the most underrated plays of the game for the Patriots. First, Allen had to scoop up a low, rolling snap. Second, the Patriots trailed 3-0 at the time and were punting from their own 14, so the Lions were set up to have good field position. But the booming punt shifted field position, the Patriots' defense held, and after the offense scored on the next possession, the Patriots never trailed again. In the second quarter, Danny Amendola's 81-yard kickoff return set up a touchdown. Those were two big plays by special-teams units.

Injuries to monitor: Starting left guard Dan Connolly left the game in the fourth quarter and had his left foot/ankle looked at on the sideline by the athletic training staff. He headed to the locker room under his own power and did not return. Also, cornerback Kyle Arrington left the game in the third quarter with a head injury and returned to play on special teams but not on defense. The head injury was a result of a hit from teammate Duron Harmon. The game was also stopped late in the fourth quarter for receiver Brandon LaFell after he made a diving catch, but he walked off under his own power (and did not return). He had his left shoulder looked at on the sideline.

Stat of note: The Patriots have won 14 straight games against NFC North opponents, a streak extending back to 2002.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Packers next Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET) in a highly anticipated meeting between two teams viewed by some as the NFL's best.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
2:35
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing some New England Patriots halftime thoughts as they lead the Detroit Lions, 24-6:

Allen
Allen's work can't be overlooked. Ryan Allen's 66-yard punt in the first quarter, in which he scooped up a low-rolling snap before blasting a high-arching punt, can't be overlooked in any analysis. That was one of the plays of the first half, coming as the Lions led 3-0 and were set up to have good field position with New England punting from its own 14. Instead, the Lions took over at their own 21, the Patriots' defense delivered a three-and-out, and New England scored on its next drive and never looked back.

Revis making his presence felt. How good is cornerback Darrelle Revis? He's mostly matched up against receiver Golden Tate (this has left Brandon Browner on Calvin Johnson) and there have been times when he's run the route before Tate. He had one notable pass breakup on third down early and also played big on one pass attempt in the end zone when he was matched up on Johnson. That has been a big part of the Patriots' defensive success, but Revis is far from the only player excelling in coverage (safety Patrick Chung, for one, has stood out). Kyle Brasseur of ESPNNBoston.com charted Revis across from Tate on 34 of 41 snaps.

Amendola contributes with kickoff return. With the signing of running back LeGarrette Blount, and the possibility that Blount could take over kick returning duties, Danny Amendola stated his case to keep the job with an 81-yard return in the second quarter. Outside of his 19-yard touchdown catch in the clutch to help beat the Jets on Oct. 19, that was arguably the biggest play Amendola has made for the Patriots this season. It set up a touchdown.

Gray
No snaps for Gray. First-year running back Jonas Gray, who was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after his 201-yard, four-touchdown performance last Sunday, hasn't played in the first half. This hasn't been a big power running approach for the Patriots, so Gray wasn't expected to play a lot. But it's still notable when looking at the snap breakdown for running backs: 31 for Shane Vereen six for Blount and zero for Gray.

Wright ringing up touchdowns. With the Patriots favoring a pass-first approach out of their 2-WR, 2-TE, 1-RB grouping -- and using Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright as the tight ends for the most part -- it has led to Wright being on the field for a season-high 27 snaps. He has two touchdown catches, giving him six on the season. That stacks up well on the NFL tight-end touchdown leaderboard: Julius Thomas (12), Gronkowski (9), Antonio Gates (9), Jimmy Graham (7), Dwayne Allen (7), Larry Donnell (6) and Wright (6).

Stealing three points at end of half. The Patriots put on a clinic in situational football at the end of the half, driving for a 35-yard field goal after getting the ball back with 35 seconds left at their own 43-yard line.

Patriots get ball to start second half. The Patriots get the ball to open the second half after deferring the choice when winning the opening toss.

Offensive starters for Patriots

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
1:25
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Offensive starters for the New England Patriots in Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions:

LT: Nate Solder
LG: Dan Connolly
C: Bryan Stork
RG: Ryan Wendell
RT: Sebastian Vollmer
TE: Rob Gronkowski
TE: Tim Wright
QB: Tom Brady
RB: Shane Vereen
WR: Brandon LaFell
WR: Julian Edelman

The presence of Wright at tight end is notable as this projects as a passing game for the Patriots and Wright -- who is averaging around 15 offensive snaps per game -- could be in line for an expanded role Sunday.

Defensive starters for Patriots

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
1:20
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive starters for the New England Patriots against the Detroit Lions:

DE: Rob Ninkovich
DT: Vince Wilfork
DT: Chris Jones
DE: Akeem Ayers
LB: Dont'a Hightower
LB: Jamie Collins
CB: Darrelle Revis
CB: Brandon Browner
CB: Kyle Arrington
S: Patrick Chung
S: Devin McCourty

Revis matched up with Golden Tate, while the Patriots had Browner on Calvin Johnson.

Thoughts from Patriots' inactives

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
12:15
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts from the Patriots' inactive players today: CB Malcolm Butler, WR Aaron Dobson, OL Jordan Devey, DL Dominique Easley, RB James White, OL Cameron Fleming and DE Chandler Jones:

Accountability check. Five-for-seven on inactives predictions. One of two hunches paid off -- with cornerback Alfonzo Dennard getting the nod over Butler. But Dobson continues to be edged out by Brian Tyms as the fourth receiver. We also didn't project Easley (knee) as an inactive, instead tabbing backup Zach Moore.

Blount active in return. Some asked the question if running back LeGarrette Blount would be active after just having two practices with the team. He is indeed active and is expected to split time with Jonas Gray in the power back role. But this isn't expected to be a big power running game for the Patriots, with "passing back" Shane Vereen projected to see the most snaps at the position.

Following up on Easley. The Patriots' 2014 first-round draft pick missed practice on Thursday and Friday with a knee injury. It was unclear if it was a case of managing his existing injury, as was the case the week before when he missed two practices, or something that could threaten his availability for action. It turned out to be the latter. Without Easley, the Patriots lose their top right end in the base 4-3 defense, as well as an interior sub rusher. Akeem Ayers could be in line for more reps at end, while the interior sub rush could fall more to Chris Jones.

Welcome back, Dennard. Dressing for the first time since Oct. 16 against the Jets, Dennard takes the spot of Butler, who didn't hold a block against the gunner in last Sunday's win over the Colts. The Patriots have good depth at cornerback and special-teams contributions are often a key consideration when choosing which players dress on the 46-man game-day roster, and it looks as if Butler's performance last week has opened the door back up for Dennard.

What's up with Dobson? We had a hunch that maybe this was the week Dobson could re-emerge, as he's only played in three games this season. Tyms and quarterback Tom Brady haven't had a consistent connection the last two weeks, but he remains the No. 4 option over Dobson. This highlights how things are trending in the wrong direction for Dobson, who appeared to have an opening but couldn't seize it.

Bush won't dress for the Lions. On the Lions' side, running back Reggie Bush (ankle) is among the inactives. With the Lions playing on Thanksgiving, that could have been a big part of the consideration for giving him a little more time.

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