1. Rookie DL Dominique Easley landing on injured reserve and his future with the team.
2. The signing of TE Steve Maneri and one theory as to why he was deemed worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster.
3. Patriots' high penalty total, cornerback Brandon Browner, and how important that truly is.
4. Insight from Tom Brady on tipped passes at the line of scrimmage.
5. Chandler Jones was impressive in his return.
6. Marcus Cannon's contract extension as it relates to Nate Solder.
7. Safety Patrick Chung gets a vote as a most improved Patriot.
The principle is simple -- if your opponent struggles in a particular area, that’s probably the area you’re best served to attack. How heavily has New England’s play-calling reflected this strategy, one that requires such versatility in personnel?
Measuring that starts with defining the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Yards are a misleading measure -- for example, is a team that allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game (like the Cardinals) a bad pass defense?
Defensive efficiency, which measures the impact of each play on a team’s scoring margin, is a better measure of how effective a team’s defense is. Arizona’s pass defense has the fifth-best defensive efficiency rating in the league. Yards alone won’t account for the Cardinals’ 18 interceptions (fourth most) or the fact that they’ve allowed touchdowns on only 40.5 percent of red-zone possessions (second best in the league). Defensive efficiency accounts for both of those and more.
The efficiency ranks of each Patriots opponent are split out by rushing and passing in the chart to the right.
When the team has been successful, it hasn’t just reached season averages in play-calling. The Patriots called more than half of their plays to target the opponent’s defensive weakness in 9 of the team’s 11 wins.
Both of the wins in which New England didn’t were against divisional opponents, and might have had interesting game-specific reasons.
In Week 15, the Dolphins had just placed starting safety Louis Delmas on IR before the game, and New England still rushed on a higher percentage than their season average.
Entering Week 6, the Bills ranked fourth in defensive efficiency against the pass and fifth against the run. With no significant difference between the pass and rush defense, New England’s play calling (38 percent rush, 62 percent dropback) was almost exactly at its season average (39 percent rush, 61 percent pass).
Based on New England’s tendencies this season, what should be expected on Sunday against the Jets? As the first chart shows, New York ranks 12th against the run, no surprise given the quality of defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.
But the Jets pass defense ranks 28th in efficiency for a reason. Only the Redskins (31) and Bears (33) have given up more passing touchdowns than the Jets (29), while only the Chiefs (four) have intercepted fewer passes than New York (five).
The Patriots have already noticed this once. Tom Brady dropped back to pass on 72 percent of snaps in New England’s Week 7 win over New York, its second-highest percentage this season. Barring a game-specific occurrence (like Wilkerson missing a fourth straight game with a toe injury), recent history suggests Brady will be busy.
1. Shining in the second half: Since their bye in Week 10, the Patriots have played five games and allowed 16 second-half points (six in the past four games). That is the best mark in the NFL over that span, with the Seahawks (20), Lions (20) and Cardinals (22) next in line.
2. Need a first down against New England? A penalty could help: The Patriots have had 110 penalties enforced against them this season, the fourth-most in the NFL. Opponents have gained a first down via a Patriots penalty 43 times, the most in the NFL, with the Bills (39), Chargers (37) and Lions (36) behind them.
3. Keeping turnovers down: The Patriots have committed 12 turnovers this season, tied for the second-fewest in the NFL. For context, the Jets have totaled just 11 takeaways on the season, tied for a league low.
5. No one tops Gronkowski after contact: Gronkowski has 248 receiving yards after contact this season, the most in the NFL.
6. Brady's multiple-TD game streak at stake: Tom Brady has thrown multiple touchdown passes in 10 straight games, which is easily the longest active streak in the league. Atlanta's Matt Ryan, with four, is next in line.
7. Patriots domination in division: Since the NFL went to an eight-division format in 2002, the Patriots have had the best winning percentage in divisional play in the following categories:
- Overall: .789
- Road: .711
- December/January: .786
9. Jets' future in focus: The Jets are guaranteed a top-6 pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
10. Rex took his best shot: During the Rex Ryan era (since 2009), the Jets have three wins against the Patriots, tied with the Dolphins for most wins against the Patriots by any team.
11. Close games: Since 2012, four of the five games between the Jets and Patriots have been decided by three or fewer points.
12. Smith's struggles: Quarterback Geno Smith has been intercepted on 4.4 percent of his pass attempts, the highest rate in the NFL since he joined the league. Eli Manning (3.7), Jay Cutler (3.4), and Andy Dalton (3.4) round out the top of the list in terms of worst interception percentage since 2013.
13. Still seeking a division win: The Jets are 0-4 against AFC East opponents this season. Their last winless season against the AFC East was 1996.
"There was hidden yardage there on the play that ends up being a big factor in the game," Belichick explained.
The Patriots led 31-13 at the time, and Miami was punting at its 26-yard line.
"Amendola is up at the line of scrimmage, backs out of there, and it's kind of a tough catch for him where he turns and takes the ball on the run ... he finds space, split it and gets back up field, giving the offense good field position," Belichick said, highlighting two key blocks on the play by cornerback Malcolm Butler and special teams captain Matthew Slater.
The punt itself was only 35 yards, and with Amendola's 13-yard return, it made it a 22-yard net.
Had Amendola not backed out and caught the punt, Belichick felt it would have been tough for returner Julian Edelman to field the punt, which likely would have bounced, negating the chance for a return.
Two other special teams plays were highlighted by Belichick in his plays of the week segment:
Jamie Collins blocked field goal. Belichick highlighted strong work by defensive tackles Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga for creating the opening for linebacker Jamie Collins to rush through, as he flattened out to block he kick. Also, it was notable how Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty held up on the outside, putting themselves in position to potentially scoop up any block. "Really a well-designed play by our special teams coaches, Scott O'Brien and Joe Judge," Belichick said, adding that the play was about everyone being alert, specifically Arrington and McCourty.
Another near block. Belichick then showed the Dolphins' next field-goal attempt and how the Patriots almost got a second block, by linebacker Jonathan Casillas.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In a week in which New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick tied Curly Lambeau for fourth place in career victories (229, including playoffs), it's timely to shine the spotlight on the unique parts of his coaching philosophy.
One of them is the "game-plan offense" -- an attack that morphs itself into something completely different each week.
Perhaps the best example of the effectiveness of the game-plan offense was seen during a key point in the Patriots' season, a mid-November stretch that included back-to-back convincing victories over the Indianapolis Colts (42-20) and Detroit Lions (34-9).
Against the Colts, the Patriots used a sixth offensive lineman as a power-based run-blocker on 37 snaps and bulldozed their way to a dominating 246-yard rushing performance.
While the emergence of out-of-nowhere running back Jonas Gray was a sizzling storyline in the aftermath, when coaches returned to work the next day and began plotting out the game plan for the Lions, they knew they would be shifting gears extensively.
The Lions had the No. 1-ranked run defense in the NFL, and Patriots coaches decided the best way to beat it was to push the tempo, throw the ball often, and try to keep Detroit's defense on the field for about 15-20 more plays than it was accustomed to in an attempt to tire the players out.
The plan worked to perfection. The Patriots ran the ball only 20 times while throwing it 53 times. The Lions had averaged 64 defensive snaps per game entering that day but were forced to defend against the Patriots for 81 (including penalties).
This is the essence of the game-plan offense, but to share more insight on the approach we've gathered three people who have an extensive background in what it's all about: ESPN NFL analysts Tedy Bruschi and Damien Woody, both former Patriots, and ESPN.com NFL Insider Field Yates, a former scouting assistant with the club.
Based on your leaguewide study, how unique is what the Patriots do offensively with a game-plan type of attack?
Damien Woody: It's very unique. They're the only team that's really game-plan specific, the only team that week-to-week can morph into something totally different. As an opponent, it is so hard to play against a team like that. With a coaching staff, you draw upon tendencies -- what a team does on this down-and-distance and so forth -- and tend to build a game plan from there. Everyone has them, but the Patriots do a very good job masking tendencies. Most teams have a system with a head coach and a front office that fits players in that system. They're going to run what they're going to run, but they might just window-dress it differently, dial up some different formations. With the Patriots, it's just completely different from one week to the next. When you're an opponent against that, it's almost like going in blind. They find your weakness and attack it.
Tedy Bruschi: This is the opposite of what I call a "do-what-you-do" team -- offenses that do one thing really well and perfect it as part of their system. A team like the old Pittsburgh Steelers
Back in the day, it was called the Border War. This time it will be more like the Border Snore -- at least in terms of the overall stakes.
It means something to the New England Patriots (11-3), who can clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it's strictly a pride game for the New York Jets (3-11). That said, it's Patriots-Jets, which means there's always intriguing subtext. The main storylines are Rex Ryan's final home game, presumably, and Darrelle Revis' return.
NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss, who covers the Patriots, and Rich Cimini, who covers the Jets, discuss the matchup.
Cimini: Bill Belichick has faced Ryan more often than any AFC East coach. They’re polar opposites in terms of personality and coaching style, so I’m wondering: If you could inject Belichick with truth serum, what do you think he’d say about Ryan?
Reiss: Reading Belichick’s mind is sometimes as difficult as a quarterback trying to get a read on Ryan’s spin-the-dial defensive schemes when Rex is at his best (e.g., the 28-21 road playoff victory over the Patriots in the 2010 season). But I’ll take a shot at it. I think Belichick has a pretty good feel for him personally after having his brother, Rob, on his staff in the early 2000s and I think he respects him as a defensive coach and a competitor. This hasn’t been the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals over the past six years; Ryan has given the Patriots quite a bit to handle. Now, if that truth serum were a really strong dose, I might envision a scenario in which Belichick rolls his eyes at some of the bravado and says something like: This has been very similar, both on and off the field, to coaching against his father Buddy back in the day. Like father, like son.
Ryan talked about not coming into the AFC East to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings. How would you sum up what he has accomplished in the past six seasons?
Cimini: You're right. Ryan was full of bravado when he arrived in 2009, vowing to tilt the balance of power in the division. It hasn't worked out the way he planned, as the Jets have finished as also-rans every year. I really thought they had a chance to close the gap on the Patriots after beating them in the 2010 divisional playoffs, the Jets' biggest victory since Super Bowl III, but Ryan & Co. slid back down the mountain. Ryan is 4-8 against the Patriots, plus that memorable postseason win -- not a very good showing. But Ryan has fared better than his predecessors, and I think that should count for something. He gave it his "best shot," as he likes to say, but he's had the misfortune of being in a division with arguably the greatest coach-quarterback tandem in history.
The site of Revis in a Patriots uniform probably will nauseate many Jets fans. So what do you think: Will Revis stick around beyond this year, or will he chase the money elsewhere?
Reiss: The Patriots are going to take their best shot to re-sign him, and my viewpoint has been that if New England is competitive with the best offers from a total dollars, structure and guaranteed-money standpoint, they will have the tiebreaker edge based on the positive experience that Revis has had in 2014. But they have a team philosophy as it relates to the salary cap that is extremely disciplined, and it’s hard for me to see them blowing that up for one player if the bidding gets to extremely high levels. As for Revis, I would expect him to attempt to maximize his financial opportunity, but I don’t sense that he would “chase the money” if it meant landing in a place that he viewed as being similar to a 2014-Oakland-Raiders-type sitaution. So there’s a balance there. In the end, it’s impossible to answer this question without knowing what the market will dictate. One interesting aspect to it would be if Ryan is let go by the Jets, lands with a new team as head coach, and that team makes a big run at Revis. That would certainly affect the market for Revis and potentially make it tougher for the Patriots to re-sign him.
Few saw 3-11 as where the Jets would be. How would you sum up what has led to this?
Cimini: It's pretty simple, and I'm going to break out another Ryan quote to illustrate my point. He always says the two positions that can win (or lose) games faster than any others are quarterback and cornerback -- and the Jets lost a bunch of games because of poor play at those spots. General manager John Idzik mismanaged the cornerback position in the offseason, leaving his head coach with a thin and talent-deprived unit. To play his scheme, Ryan needs man-to-man corners the way humans need water and oxygen. At quarterback, Geno Smith hasn't developed as well as they had hoped, throwing the offense out of whack. They've been operating with a small margin for error, hurting them in close games. They're 3-6 in games decided by eight points or fewer.
For the Jets to pull off the upset, they have to play their best game of the year and “hope something is missing” from the Patriots, according to Ryan. What could possibly be missing for them?
Reiss: We saw it Oct. 16, when the Jets came into the Patriots’ home stadium and nearly pulled off the upset -- shoddy tackling on defense, and a time-of-possession edge for the Jets of 40:54 to 19:06. If the Patriots can’t stop the running game, that would be one ingredient that could produce a carbon copy of what we saw in mid-October, and maybe this time the Jets could pull off the victory. The other thing that comes to mind is shaky play by the offensive line, which has had some ups and downs in recent weeks. If the Jets can get to quarterback Tom Brady early and capitalize on some of the O-line miscues we’ve seen, that would be another area they could have an edge.
A win over the Patriots would mean a lot to Rex Ryan and this team. What are the key areas you see that could help the Jets spring the upset?
Cimini: Basically, this is the Jets' playoff game -- and, yes, I do think they have a chance to win. It would take a ball-control offense and a plus number in the turnover margin. As the Jets proved in the previous meeting, it takes more 200 rushing yards and a 40-minute possession time to knock off the Patriots. They need a couple of field position-changing plays, either on offense or defense or special teams -- or all of the above. The X factor could be Percy Harvin, who didn't play in the first game. That could depend on the condition of his sprained ankle. He didn't do much last week. If they can get a big play or two out of him, the Jets might have a chance.
Allen worked the Patriots-Bears game Oct. 26, so this marks his second New England game of the season. The Patriots were called for seven accepted penalties in that contest.
As for the Patriots, penalties have been a hot topic of discussion among the team. They have been called for 110 accepted penalties this season. The Patriots will almost certainly surpass the high accepted-penalty total under Bill Belichick (111 in 2003) over the next two games.
"It's got to stop. I think at some point that's going to come back to bite us if we don't start playing with a little bit more discipline," special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "It comes down to just attention to detail and doing the little things a little bit better. A lot of those penalties that we've had over the course of the season were avoidable. It was just mental lapses out there. We can't afford it moving forward. We've gotten away with it thus far but we're not going to continue to get away with it."
Here is the weekly Patriots breakdown (includes declined and offsetting penalties):
CB Brandon Browner -– 15
LT Nate Solder -– 9
WR Brandon LaFell -– 7
CB Logan Ryan -– 7
TE Rob Gronkowski -– 6
S Patrick Chung -– 5
LB Jamie Collins -- 5
OL Jordan Devey -– 5
C Bryan Stork -– 5
CB Malcolm Butler -– 4
OL Marcus Cannon -– 4
CB Darrelle Revis -– 4
Seven tied with 3 apiece
MOST FREQUENT PENALTIES
False start -– 19
Holding (offensive) -– 16
Holding (defensive) -– 14
Pass interference (defense) -– 11
Holding (special teams) -– 7
Illegal block above the waist (special teams) -– 7
Illegal use of hands -– 7
Unnecessary roughness -– 7
Pass interference (offensive) -– 6
Facemask -– 4
Illegal contact -– 3
Offside (special teams) -– 3
Roughing the passer -– 3
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It has been two years since he last played for the New York Jets, but Darrelle Revis still has an affinity for coach Rex Ryan, whose defensive scheme allowed the star cornerback to create "Revis Island."
Revis, currently in his first season with the New England Patriots, is upset at the widespread speculation that Ryan will be fired after the season.
"It's kind of sad for the position that Rex is in right now, but at the same time [the record is] something that they've got to change," Revis said Wednesday on a conference call with the New York media.
Revis returns to MetLife Stadium on Sunday for the second time since his controversial 2013 trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs opened the 2013 season at MetLife.
This time, it'll spark more emotion for all parties because he's playing for the Jets' No. 1 rival.
"I'm really not trying to pay attention to [the Jets' struggles], I'm really not," Revis said. "Me and Rex have a lot of history and we all know that. Some of those guys are dear to my heart and everything, but like I said, I've got to focus on the things that I am doing here, and I wish Rex the best."
Sources said Ryan was interested in reuniting with Revis last offseason -- and vice versa -- but Jets' management and ownership decided not to pursue him when he was released by the Bucs.
Asked how much he misses Revis, Ryan smiled.
"Revis? Ah ... you know," said Ryan, who went on to say he's proud of the players he has.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was previously listed with a thigh injury, is now also listed with a concussion. He was a limited participant at Wednesday’s practice.
Another new addition to the injury report is cornerback Kyle Arrington (hamstring). He injured his hamstring against the Dolphins and did not play the rest of the game.
Starting left guard Dan Connolly (neck/ankle) also missed the remainder of the game against the Dolphins after injuring his neck. He was previously dealing with the ankle injury.
Running back LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and long snapper Danny Aiken (finger) are also new additions to the injury report.
Arrington, Connolly, Blount and Aiken were all limited at Wednesday’s practice.
Defensive end Chandler Jones (hip), rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (shoulder), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (heel), running back Shane Vereen (ankle) and linebacker Chris White (ankle) all continued to be limited participants, too.
Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) remains a full participant at practice.
Injuries remain concern: When the Patriots made Easley their first-round pick (29th overall), the initial reaction was "surprised" because of his injury history. Easley tore both ACLs while at the University of Florida, and one of the main concerns that scouts expressed was that Easley was an undersized pass-rusher (6-foot-2, 288 pounds) coming off injuries who would now have bigger-bodied offensive linemen leaning on him -- not a great combination. Eight months later, the injuries remain a concern. Easley hurt his shoulder Oct. 5, and the official reason for his placement on IR is his knee.
Full offseason could help: By making the decision now, it gives Easley a chance to be ready to go for the start of the 2015 offseason program, as he could benefit greatly from a full offseason with the team. It was clear watching him in his nine snaps against the Chargers on Dec. 7 that he lacked the explosion and get-off in the pass rush that had scouts calling him a first-round talent athletically. That was the tip-off that Easley's knee wasn't right.
Who fills void? Easley's loss should have minimal impact on the team. His interior sub-rushing role was handled by Chandler Jones (returning after missing six games) in obvious passing situations in Sunday's win over the Dolphins, with Akeem Ayers coming on to rush off the edge. The Patriots have a lot of options along the line.
All comes back to health: Easley's talent was never in question entering the NFL, but his ability to stay healthy was. Because of that, he was a risky first-round pick by the Patriots and right now the risk hasn't paid off. It's too early to say it ultimately won't, but this wasn't the outcome that either side was hoping for at this point.
"He's very fast, explosive," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "He's done a lot of good things in this league. He's a good football player."
"He poses so many problems," added Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater. "He runs so hard, he runs like he's 240 pounds as far as breaking tackles, but he's got the speed of some of the elite guys in the league. He really poses a lot of problems with his skill set. It's not going to be a one-man effort, it's going to take all 11."
Between his time with the Seahawks and Jets this season, Harvin ranks seventh among returners in the league with 759 return yards, 476 of which have come on 19 attempts with the Jets. While he hasn't converted any kickoffs into a touchdown this season, Harvin has shown an ability to do so in the past, with five return scores on his career resume.
As a receiver, Harvin has hauled in 25 catches for 306 yards in his time with the Jets.
"You can do as best you can to simulate it all week but you won't really have a good feel for it until that first kickoff he brings out of the end zone," Slater said. "I think, with that being said, no one can try to give a Herculean effort. It's got to be everybody doing their job to the man and that's what it's going to take to stop him. It's not going to be one guy."
So far this season, the Patriots are among the league leaders in terms of lowest average kickoff return yardage per attempt (20.9). Given that four of the team's last five games against the Jets have come down to the last possession, special teams will play a critical role Sunday, just as they did in Week 7 with Chris Jones blocking a Jets field-goal attempt in the final seconds to seal with win.
"It'll be huge, especially with Percy there," Slater said. "I think he changes the whole dynamic so we definitely have to be on our P's and Q's and do the best we can to contain him."
Easley, the Patriots’ first-round selection from the 2014 draft, has been battling a knee injury. He tore the ACLs in both of his knees during his time at Florida.
Easley played in 11 games this season, with two starts, and was credited with nine tackles, one sack and one interception. His primary role came as an interior sub rusher, but he also gave the team some valuable snaps at defensive end in the base defense.
Meanwhile, the Patriots formally announced the signing of tight end Steve Maneri to the 53-man roster, filling Easley's spot. Also, rookie quarterback Garrett Gilbert was signed to the practice squad.