New England Patriots: St. Louis Rams

Quick-hit thoughts after third quarter

October, 28, 2012
The Patriots enter the final quarter of their Week 8 game against the Rams with a massive 38-7 lead. Passing along notes and observations from the third quarter.

1. Deja vu to start second half.
As they say, if some is good, more is better, as quarterback Tom Brady found receiver Brandon Lloyd for an opening-drive touchdown to start the second half, just as he did in the first half. Strong response from Lloyd after really struggling in Week 7 against the Jets. His two touchdowns mark his first multi-score effort since Nov. 28, 2010, when he was a member of the Broncos. The opponent that day? The St. Louis Rams.

2. Big crowd at Wembley. The attendance count for today's game was announced, and an amazing 84,004 fans are on hand to see these two teams play. Whether an NFL team ever is placed in London remains to be seen, but the NFL certainly has had its share of success in hosting these annual games "across the pond." With two more games scheduled in London next season, the NFL has lined up additional opportunities for exposure going forward. The popularity of football is bound to grow internationally.

3. Ridley the man in the third. Running back Stevan Ridley was in the business of setting and re-setting a career-high longest rush in the third quarter, as he followed a 30-yard scamper with a 41-yarder later in the quarter. He has surpassed the 100-yard rushing barrier for the fourth time this season, and now has 119 yards on the ground through three quarters. The Patriots were balanced at running back during the first half, with Ridley splitting snaps with both Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. In the third quarter, however, Ridley became the go-to guy.

4. High marks for offensive tackles.
We highlighted the pass-rushing abilities of the Rams leading up to the game, led by defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Through three quarters, the two have combined for two tackles and no sacks. Credit is due to the entire Patriots' offensive line, in particular tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. The duo has been outstanding today, and solid throughout the season, standing toe-to-toe against a number of feared pass-rushing pairs.

5. Penalty box.
The following Patriots were called for penalties during the third quarter: cornerback Sterling Moore (holding), offensive tackle Nate Solder (holding; penalty was declined), and defensive end Chandler Jones (offsides).

Quick-hit thoughts after second quarter

October, 28, 2012
At halftime of their Week 8 matchup in London, the Patriots lead the Rams 28-7. Passing along notes and observations from the second quarter.

1. Vereen plunges in for a score. For the second consecutive week, running back Shane Vereen has made an offensive impact, plunging in for his second touchdown of the season on a fourth-and-goal run to put the Patriots up 14-7. The fact that it was Vereen who was called upon for a "gotta-have-it" situation is a suggestion that the coaching staff is confident in the second-year player, who has been plagued by injuries to start his career.

2. Huge half for Gronk. It was about this time last season that Rob Gronkowski hit his unbelievable stride of production, and a week after scoring two touchdowns against the Jets, the burly tight end is off to a red-hot start against the Rams. He already has five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown, and the Rams' defense appears to have no answer for the third-year player. Gronkowski celebrated his touchdown in appropriate style, appearing to pay homage to the British Royal Guard with a quick march before his traditional "Gronk spike."

3. Rams QB Bradford knocked down, but fine. Patriots linebacker Dont'a Higthower slammed Rams quarterback Sam Bradford to the ground on a clean hit, and it shook up Bradford temporarily. Bradford appeared to be experiencing pain in his left shoulder, and received medical attention from the team's staff. But the third-year quarterback showed a chunk of grit, not missing a play, as the team called a timeout to allow him to stay on the field. The Rams' backup quarterback is former Jet Kellen Clemens.

4. Offense in a groove. Four drives, four scores for the Patriots, who capped off the first half with a one-yard touchdown by running back Stevan Ridley. The final drive was aided by a pair of defensive pass interference calls on Rams cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who is having fits trying to keep up with Patriots receiver Deion Branch. The offensive rhythm the Patriots are in right now is reminiscent of what we saw in the second half of a Week 4 rout against the Bills.

5. Penalty box. No Patriots were called for a penalty in the second quarter.

Quick-hit thoughts from 1st quarter

October, 28, 2012
After one quarter of play, the Patriots are tied with the Rams 7-7. Passing along some notes and observations from the opening frame.

1. Rams strike first. In a fashion that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick likely least-preferred to see, the Rams struck first on a 50-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Chris Givens. Givens navigated behind safety Tavon Wilson, earning his fifth straight game with a reception over 40 yards. The Patriots' secondary has endured obvious struggles in recent weeks, and that is not at all the start the group hoped for. Of note, Givens left the game and went to the Rams' locker room with roughly four minutes to play in the quarter. He is questionable to return with a toe injury.

2. Patriots return the favor. It didn't take long for the Patriots to even the tilt, as quarterback Tom Brady hooked up with former Ram Brandon Lloyd for a 19-yard score on the Patriots' opening offensive drive. It was Lloyd's second touchdown reception of the season, and a welcomed start after a Week 7 performance during which he hauled in just one pass on eight targets.

3. Arrington leaves game. On the Patriots' second defensive series, starting cornerback Kyle Arrington was replaced by reserve Sterling Moore. The Patriots announced that Arrington left the game with a head injury, and is now questionable to return. With Ras-I Dowling being placed on injured reserve on Friday, the Patriots are growing thin in the secondary. Practice squad defensive back Malcolm Williams was promoted to the active roster on Saturday afternoon.

4. Slick conditions. It's hard to gauge this precisely, but it sure looks like the playing surface is slick at Wembley Stadium. Receiver Julian Edelman took a screen pass and looked like he had a fairly direct path for a first down, but slipped without being contacted yards shy of the first-down marker. The stadium is predominantly the site of soccer matches, which typically are played on a shorter pitch.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were called for penalties in the first quarter: nose tackle Vince Wilfork (encroachment).

Amendola, Hunter out for Rams

October, 28, 2012
As ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen previously reported, Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola is among the team's inactive players against the Patriots today.

Also of note, with left tackle Wayne Hunter out again due to a back issue, the Rams are down to their third-stringer at the position. Look for second-year player Joe Barksdale to make his second consecutive start protecting quarterback Sam Bradford's blind side.


WR Danny Amendola
DL Matthew Conrath
QB Austin Davis
LB Mario Haggan
OT Wayne Hunter
OT Rodger Saffold
DE Eugene Sims

Source: Amendola won't play

October, 28, 2012
Despite a surprisingly quick return to practice this week from a clavicle injury, St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola will not play today against the Patriots, a source told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.

Amendola suffered the injury on Oct. 4. He had been listed as questionable by the team after practicing on a limited basis this week.

Like the Patriots, the Rams have their bye week next week, which affords Amendola additional recovery time.

The official inactive listings for both teams are expected shortly after 11:30 a.m. EST.

Legatron is X-factor for Rams

October, 27, 2012
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's not often that NFL kickers receive much in the way of fanfare. It's even less common for a rookie kicker to earn a national spotlight, but that's precisely what has happened in St. Louis, where sixth-round draft choice Greg Zuerlein has turned heads for mostly the right reasons.

Taken 171st overall out of Missouri Western State, Zuerlein quickly made a name for himself by hitting a 56-yard field goal in Week 3 at Soldier Field in Chicago, the longest in stadium history.

The following week, he twice set a Rams franchise record for the longest successful field goal, drilling a 58-yard field goal and later a 60-yarder. That performance made him the first kicker in NFL history to hit a 50-plus and 60-plus yard field goal in the same game, and earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

The strong performance has led to the cultivation of a number of nicknames for Zuerlein as well, which have included "Greg the Leg" and "Legatron."

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick discussed both Zuerlein and fellow rookie John Hekker, the Rams punter.

"Oh absolutely," he said of Zuerlein being an X factor. "Big leg. [John] Hekker too, both of them. They have two big legs, both the punter and kicker. They can change field positions. Zuerlein has had a lot of touchbacks and obviously has great range on field goals. He’s been impressive. They have good, strong legs in their specialists."

Zuerlein has made 17 of his 20 field goal attempts this year, with the only hiccups coming in a 2-for-5 performance against the Miami Dolphins in Week 6.

Last week, the Patriots made their biggest special teams play of the season on a 104-yard kickoff return by Devin McCourty for a touchdown. With Zuerlein, Hekker and solid coverage teams in St. Louis, special teams will once again be an area of focus in Week 8.

Big Decision: Play Edelman at DB?

October, 27, 2012
The day before each game this season, this space will feature one big decision facing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his staff, in terms of the game plan.

This week's decision: Bangers and mash, or fish and chips for the pregame meal?

RamsPatriotsOK, maybe that's not the most important decision for Belichick.

Let's try that again: Who are the sub package defensive backs?

The Patriots enter Sunday's game with a critical health situation in their secondary. Starting safeties Steve Gregory (hip) and Patrick Chung (shoulder) are out for a second straight game. Reserve cornerback Ras-I Dowling landed on injured reserve on Friday.

The starters are expected to be the same from last week: Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson at safety, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at cornerback.

But last week, Dowling served mostly as the nickel back, and also moved to "money" (a linebacker-type role) in the dime package. Wilson started at the season in that role, but is now required to patrol the deep part of the field with Gregory out.


Who should be the Patriots' sixth DB vs. the Rams?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,906)

If Sterling Moore steps in at nickel back -- possibly moving Arrington to the slot -- who plays the "money" position? Rookie Nate Ebner saw late-game action in the preseason in that spot, but the feeling is that the Patriots likely want to avoid using him in the defense right now.

The under-the-radar option here is wide receiver Julian Edelman. He played in sub packages on defense later last season when injuries squeezed the secondary as they are doing now.

Edelman will likely have a role in the offense with tight end Aaron Hernandez out for the game, but even if his hand injury isn't fully healed, Edelman could still be valuable on defense, where he wouldn't need to catch a pass (aside from a possible interception).

Veteran Marquice Cole could factor into the mix, but his playing time has mostly come on special teams in recent games. For the sixth defensive back spot, Edelman would seem to be the favorite over Ebner or Cole, from this perspective.

What do you think? Could Julian Edelman return to the Patriots secondary on Sunday? Join the discussion in the comments section below.

W2W4: Six things we'll be focused on

October, 26, 2012
Wembley StadiumKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PRESSWIRELondon's Wembley Stadium is ready for the Patriots and Rams on Sunday.
Despite talk of the Patriots being unable to close out games, or lacking an identity on offense, or not having enough within the pass rush and secondary, just one thing stands between entering the team’s bye week with a division lead and four wins in its past five games.

PatriotsJetsThat, of course, is a matchup with the St. Louis Rams in a unique setting: Wembley Stadium, the most prestigious sporting venue in London. It plays hosts to other teams, such as the English national soccer (or, as it’s referred to locally, football) squad, and was the site of a 35-7 Patriots victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009.

If the Patriots can replicate their London success on Sunday, they will stand at 5-3 and ready for a schedule that involves just three road games down the stretch, and none that requires changing time zones. That stands in stark contrast to the roughly 16,000 miles they have already traveled since the third week of preseason play.

But it won’t be easy, as the Patriots have a hungry and improving Rams team to get past, and one that has a pension for causing havoc for opposing quarterbacks. To make matters worse, the Patriots find themselves in a tough spot in terms of injuries. Seven players have already been ruled out of Sunday’s game. That’s where we’ll start with our six things to keep an eye on Sunday afternoon:

1. Injury impact. The Patriots are beaten up entering Week 8. Prior to placing cornerback Ras-I Dowling on injured reserve, he was one of seven Patriots already ruled out for Week 8, including tight end Aaron Hernandez. Beyond that group, 12 others are questionable for Sunday. The mounting injury woes could be a product of the team’s grueling travel schedule so far this season, as well as the fact that the bye week has not yet arrived. So as important as a win is on Sunday, the Patriots are also hoping to leave without any additional injuries. As for the impact their current injuries will have on Sunday, keep an eye on linebacker Jerod Mayo, among those listed as questionable. An elbow issue limited him in practice this week, and the Patriots need the heart and soul of their defense to be close to his usual self to contain Rams running back Steven Jackson. The Patriots will also be without both of their starting safeties -- Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung -- for a second straight week.

2. Handling the circumstances. The rules won’t be any different when these two teams play on Sunday, but this week has been anything but normal for the Patriots and Rams. New England opted to travel through the night on Thursday and use Friday as a transition day in London. That leaves the team with 48-plus hours to ready itself for kickoff, which includes acclimating to the time change and resting up after an unusual work week. The Patriots have downplayed the impact of travel this week, but will nonetheless need to be sharp by the time kickoff rolls around.

3. Flavor of the week on offense. Do the Patriots lack an identity on offense? In the eyes of this scribe, they don’t. What are they? They’re a chameleon that is capable of attacking a defense in a number of ways. The Patriots have adopted a number of different strategies through seven games this season, and stand atop both the yards per game and points scored column. That’s versatility and efficiency. So, what will the Patriots do this week? Given the Rams’ impressive pass rush and group of cornerbacks, it could be a weekend where the running game is used to set up the passing attack.

[+] EnlargeChris Givens
Scott Kane/US PRESSWIRERams rookie Chris Givens has a catch of more than 40 yards in each of the past four games.
4. Containing Givens. For the second consecutive week, the Patriots face a team with passing game woes. Last week, the Patriots allowed Mark Sanchez to go over 300 yards through the air. Ouch. The Rams aren’t loaded up with weapons in the passing game, but it bears mentioning that rookie receiver Chris Givens has a catch of more than 40 yards in each of the past four games. Bill Belichick was asked about Givens on Friday: “Givens has really made some big plays for them,” he said. “He hasn’t had that many opportunities but the ones he’s had, he’s hit big on. ... He’s definitely given them an element of big plays.” Stopping the Rams’ passing game may come down to limiting Givens on Sunday.

5. Protecting Brady. It might sound like a broken record, but protecting quarterback Tom Brady is of critical importance this weekend. That means the Patriots’ offensive tackles doing a tremendous job against a dynamic duo of edge rushers in Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Quinn has seven sacks already this season, and Long has developed into a top-flight player. St. Louis is a fast, aggressive defense, and one that feeds off of pressure. Keeping Brady upright is imperative.

6. Consistency for 60 minutes. What the Patriots have shown through seven weeks is that for stretches of a game, they can be among the most dominant teams in football. The talent is largely in place, the system is largely in place. What it comes down to is piecing together that dominance for 60 minutes. The Patriots need to show that they can push the pedal to the metal from the first quarter to the fourth, and begin to truly separate themselves from the rest of the division. There’s no better time to do so than entering their Week 9 bye.

Simms shares Pats-Rams insight

October, 26, 2012
LONDON -- Sunday's game between the Patriots and Rams at Wembley Stadium (1 p.m. ET) will be broadcast on CBS, with Jim Nantz (play-by-play) and Phil Simms (analysis).

Some of Simms' thoughts leading into the game:

Banged up Patriots: "The Patriots are fighting through a lot of injuries with their football team. They have been a little inconsistent. People expect them to go out there and dominate in all these games, which is hard to do in this league. The biggest concern is giving up big pass plays. Last year they prided themselves in not giving them up. This year they’re one of the worst in the NFL giving up big pass plays."

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford: "Sam Bradford is one of the purest throwers in the NFL. If you give him time and he gets somebody even remotely open down the field he will hit them. Very seldom does he miss an open receiver when the conditions are good. I have only seen him in person once, so I am looking forward to meeting him, watching him throw and practice, and seeing what he looks like for real. I believe in his talent. I believe he deserved to be the first pick of the draft the first year he came out. If the Patriots don’t get a pass rush on him he’s going to be dangerous out there."

Jeff Fisher and the Rams: "Jeff Fisher has come in and got the program in order pretty quick. There are a lot of young players on both sides of the ball. They are fundamentally sound and not trying to do too much. In other words, just line it up and play good, solid football. That’s the way to start a program off and get it moving forward."

Guess the game plan: Patriots-Rams

October, 26, 2012
PatriotsJetsThese Patriots are not an easy bunch to figure out. One week they’ll try to ram the ball down an opponent’s throat with the run, the next they’ll spread it out and attack through the air, and they’ll follow that with an ultra hurry-up approach to rattle a defense and open up holes. What’ll it be this Sunday against the Rams? Our three Patriots reporters try to get into the mind of Bill Belichick and guess the game plan for Sunday.

Share your thoughts on how the Pats should attack the Rams in the comments section.

Mike Reiss: Good time to get creative with pressure packages

This could be the week the blitz returns more prominently to the Patriots’ defensive plan.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
AP PhotoWill cornerback Cortland Finnegan force Tom Brady to target Wes Welker less often?
With some confidence gained that Devin McCourty has settled things down on the back end with his move to safety -- helping to limit some big plays -- one could envision a scenario in which the Patriots roll the dice a few more times than the norm and bring some heat on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams' offensive line is not a top unit, so a blitz-laden plan, or at least a third-down wrinkle such as an “amoeba” type approach with players standing up at the line to make it hard to identify who is rushing and who isn’t -- would be creative and potentially effective.

Offensively, it starts with being able to handle the Rams’ front four. Tight end and running back chips on end Chris Long would be a nice inclusion into the plan, helping to slow down his high motor.

Then it comes down to matchups and how the Rams counter tight end Rob Gronkowski. If the Rams move cornerback Cortland Finnegan into the slot against Wes Welker, that could lead Tom Brady to look elsewhere more often than the norm, and someone like Gronkowski could benefit with a big day. One thing on Finnegan -- he has a way of testing an opponent’s patience because he’s so feisty, so keeping cool has to be part of the plan.

Meanwhile, this looks like a Stevan Ridley type of running game. Get him going early with play-calls that use the Rams’ aggressiveness against them.

Mike Rodak: Pats will re-establish offensive dominance

The Patriots have arrived in London, Halloween is right around the corner, and the bye week looms. It's about time that the NFL's top offense begins looking like it on a more consistent basis.

This is less about the Rams defense, which has some talented players but is middle of the pack. This is about being dominant and fulfilling the potential of the offense, even though it will be without Aaron Hernandez.

The game plan, then, is to not hold anything back. Let the play-calling be creative. Make use of the no-huddle. Take some shots. It's a neutral site. The last time the Patriots were there, they scored 35 points. With the weapons on offense, there's no reason that can't happen again.

With a bye week and then two home games against relatively weaker opponents (the Bills and the Colts), this game is crucial for the Patriots to begin to established more rhythm in their passing offense.

Field Yates: Patriots will emphasize ground attack

The Rams do a lot well defensively, but two noteworthy areas of strength are their pass rush and cornerback play. That doesn't preclude the Patriots from attacking St. Louis through the air this Sunday, but it’s a suggestion that the team might be able to run the football effectively, something they’ve done less of in the past two weeks.

Even though it seems likely that Brandon Bolden could sit again this week, look for the Patriots to stick with a heavy load on the ground, riding the trio of Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. Vereen saw additional work last week, and could further integrate himself as a factor in this offense.

It appears that the Rams are at their best when defensive ends Long and Robert Quinn are able to turn the corner as pass rushers. If the Patriots can establish the run early and neutralize the rush -- much like they did versus Buffalo earlier this season -- they should set themselves up to have a successful outing.

Hernandez doesn't make trip with team

October, 26, 2012
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had a setback with his ankle injury in practice this week and didn’t make the trip to London for Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams, ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton reports.

Hernandez missed Thursday’s practice, which led to the team deciding to keep him at home. The Patriots have a bye week after Sunday’s game, which gives the injury extra time to heal.

Hernandez injured his right ankle early in Sept. 16 loss against the Cardinals and missed the next three games. He returned Oct. 14 for the Patriots’ game against the Seattle Seahawks, making six catches for 30 yards and a touchdown and had five catches for 54 yards against the Jets last week.

Rams WR Amendola listed as questionable

October, 26, 2012
St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola, who made a surprise return to the practice field this week after a recent collarbone injury, has been officially listed as questionable for Week 8 against the Patriots, according to the team's injury report.

That designation puts Amendola's chances of playing at 50-50, and if he were to take the field, it would be well in advance of when initial reports expected him to be back.

The Rams also could be without their top two left tackles, as Rodger Saffold (knee) remains out, and his replacement, Wayne Hunter (back) is questionable. Hunter took over for Saffold after a Week 2 knee injury, but was inactive last week against the Green Bay Packers as he deal with the back issue.

Joe Barksdale, claimed off of waivers by St. Louis in September, made his inaugural start with the team at left tackle last week, and could be in line for another start this weekend. The team also signed former first-round pick Chris Williams this week, after he was recently waived by the Chicago Bears. Williams has experience as both a tackle and a guard.

Defensive end Eugene Sims (knee) has also been ruled out for the game, while linebacker Mario Haggan (thigh), defensive tackle Matt Conrath (knee), and tight end Mike McNeill (knee) are questionable. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who has been dealing with an illness this week, is probable.

The Patriots will release their injury report later today.

Patriots hold walkthrough in public park

October, 26, 2012
LONDON -- The Patriots held a Friday walkthrough in a most unusual place -- a public park.

Bill Belichick led the way, as players walked out of their London hotel, across the street, and into Hyde Park. The session, with most players dressed in gray sweatsuits and some wearing winter caps, lasted for about an hour and those passing by stopped to watch.

Hyde Park, as explained here, is one of London's finest landscapes covering 350 acres.

“I’m walking through and see a lot of guys in gray suits and I kind of think it has something to do with American football. So I have a look and it’s quite clear," said be Mike Simpson-Jones, 40, from Buckinghamshire. "It was just interesting to see some of the moves and how it’s almost like being on stage and they’re walking through their moves."

Simpson-Jones was one of about 25-50 people who stopped to watch the walkthrough. One reason Belichick might have felt comfortable with holding the session in the public park is that most of those who watched had little knowledge of what they were seeing.

"I didn't have a clue who any of the people were,” Simpson-Jones said.

ESPN Boston's picks: Patriots-Rams

October, 26, 2012

Here's how's experts see Sunday’s Patriots-Rams game (1 p.m. ET, on CBS) playing out. What's your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section.

Video: AccuScore report for Patriots-Rams

October, 26, 2012

In the video above, Prim Siripipat goes inside the numbers to see how Sunday's Patriots-Jets game (1 p.m., CBS) plays out in AccuScore game simulations.

Among the findings:

* The Patriots won 76 percent of more than 10,000 AccuScore simulations by an average score of 29-19.

* The Rams won 51 percent of simulations in which their defense intercepts two Tom Brady passes and quarterback Sam Bradford has at least one touchdown pass.

* The Rams won 61 percent of simulations in which the Rams have 120 or more rushing yards and sack Brady at least four times.