New England Patriots: Sudden impact

Patriots preview: Make-or-break stretch

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
Tom Brady recently said that a team truly doesn't know what it has until December, and it's almost as if he was looking at the schedule when he said that. A Nov. 2 home game against the Broncos, followed by the bye and then a Sunday night road game against the Colts looks like the iron of the schedule. After a home date with Detroit, then it's a challenging back-to-back road set against the Packers (Nov. 30) and Chargers (Dec. 7) in which Belichick is considering keeping the team out West for the week leading into the Sunday night game at San Diego. That stretch should tell us all we need to know about the Patriots.

Complete Patriots season preview.

Sudden impact: Sidney Rice

July, 8, 2011
(Identifying some free agents who could be a solid fit for the Patriots when the 2011 league year begins.)

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Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireSidney Rice would fit the bill as the big play receiver the Patriots have lacked since the trade of Randy Moss.
Player: Sidney Rice (receiver, Vikings)

Why sign him? There is no lack of depth in the Patriots’ receiving corps, especially when personnel at tight end are considered. However, with the trade of Randy Moss to the Vikings last October, the Patriots have lacked a taller, “big play” receiver to complement the more possession-oriented options in Wes Welker and Deion Branch. An up-and-coming young player, Rice hit his stride in 2009 with 83 receptions for over 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns before an injury-shortened season in 2010.

Is there anybody else? New York Jets’ top options Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are both on the free agent market, but each player comes with off-field questions. The Giants’ Steve Smith and the Redskins’ Santana Moss are also available but have redundant skill sets to the current personnel at receiver. Trade rumors have also swirled around Carolina’s Steve Smith and Cincinnati’s Chad Ochocinco.

Key stats:
• Third- and fourth-options Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman combined for 31 receptions last season.

• Tom Brady had 231 dropbacks with at least three WR in 2010 (fewest in NFL).

• Patriots receivers had 38 drops in 2010, second-most in the NFL (Lions, 38).

• Patriots wide receivers dropped 10 percent of their end-zone targets, sixth-highest percentage in the NFL.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

Sudden impact: David Baas

July, 7, 2011
(Identifying some free agents who could be a solid fit for the Patriots when the 2011 league year begins.)

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Icon SMIVersatile offensive lineman David Baas would add a veteran presence on the line for the Patriots.
Player: David Baas (guard/center, 49ers)

Why sign him? After sparring with Patriots management last summer, starting left guard Logan Mankins appears likely to return in 2011, playing under the franchise tag. However, his future in New England beyond this season remains in doubt. Starting right guard Stephen Neal retired in March, and veteran center Dan Koppen enters the final year of the contract, leaving the Patriots with little long-term stability for their interior offensive line. Dan Connolly looks primed to step into one starting role, but next-best options Ryan Wendell and Rich Ohrnberger are unproven, while rookie Marcus Cannon’s health situation remains a question mark. Baas, a six-year veteran, started every game the last two seasons and has versatility to play both guard and center.

Is there anybody else? The market at interior offensive line features of mix of younger talent – notably Tampa Bay’s Davin Joseph and Oakland’s Robert Gallery – as well as experienced veterans such as Chicago’s Olin Kreutz, Kansas City’s Casey Wiegmann, and Dallas’ Kyle Kosier. The Patriots are particular in keeping with their offensive lineman mold, and prefer to develop players from within their own system, making it unlikely they turn to the free agent market for anyone but a stop-gap solution.

Key stats:
• Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins missed the first seven games of last season during a contract dispute.

• In 2010, the Patriots were ranked 17th in the NFL rushing up the middle, averaging 3.9 yards per rush (4.3 yards per rush in 2009, ranked eighth in NFL).

• The Patriots had 119 first downs rushing up the middle last season, third-most in NFL (Jaguars-148 and Chiefs-129).

• In 185 first-down dropbacks, Tom Brady was sacked 11 times last year (sacked twice in 243 first-down dropbacks in 2009).

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

Sudden impact: Ray Edwards

July, 6, 2011
(Identifying some free agents who could be a solid fit for the Patriots when the 2011 league year begins.)

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Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireThere's little doubt Ray Edwards would provide the Patriots a big upgrade in the pass-rush department.
Player: Ray Edwards (defensive end/outside linebacker, Vikings)

Why sign him? The most talked-about deficiency of the Patriots’ defense in recent seasons has been the pass rush. Last season, a revolving door at outside linebacker that included veterans Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Shawn Crable, and Eric Moore, as well as rookie Jermaine Cunningham, failed to produce consistent pressure on the quarterback. Edwards, despite having spent his career to date as a 4-3 defensive end in Minnesota, has the size (6-foot-5, 268 pounds) to play outside linebacker in 3-4 defense. In 14 games last season, Edwards tallied eight sacks.

Is there anybody else? Top options on the market at the position, Kansas City’s Tamba Hali and Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley, have been franchise tagged. However, Carolina’s Charles Johnson and Tennessee’s Jason Babin recorded 11.5 and 12.5 sacks last season, respectively. The Giants’ Mathias Kiwanuka and Cleveland’s Matt Roth are other options with pass rushing potential.

Key stats:
• Defensive lineman Mike Wright’s 5.5 sacks last season led the Patriots’ defense.

• The Patriots defense registered sacks on only 3.7 percent of dropbacks with four or fewer pass rushers last season (tied for 27th in NFL).

• The Patriots rushed four or fewer pass rushers on 73.7 percent of dropbacks last season (fourth-highest percentage in NFL).

• New England’s front seven registered 32 tackles for loss last season (tied for 29th in NFL).

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

Sudden impact: Donte Whitner

July, 5, 2011
(Identifying some free agents who could be a solid fit for the Patriots when the 2011 league year begins.)

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Luc Leclerc/US PresswireDonte Whitner would be an upgrade in the Patriots' secondary and probably won't break the bank.
Player: Donte Whitner (safety, Bills)

Why sign him? A lack of consistency in the back end of the defense has hurt the Patriots in recent seasons. Despite being named to back-to-back Pro Bowls, fifth-year veteran Brandon Meriweather saw his playing time reduced in 2010, in part because of undisciplined play. Meriweather enters the final year of his contract, as does James Sanders, so Whitner would also provide a veteran presence both in the short- and long-term. A first-round pick in 2006, the 25-year-old Whitner doesn't figure to break the bank in free agency. He is coming off a season in which he recorded 140 tackles, seven passes defensed, and one interception.

Is there anybody else? The Patriots could re-sign veteran Jarrad Page, who played in 10 games last season as part of the safety rotation. Other options on the free agent market include Baltimore’s Dawan Landry, Oakland’s Michael Huff, and San Diego’s Eric Weddle.

Key stats:
• Four different safeties started at least one game for the Patriots in 2010 – Meriweather, Patrick Chung, Sanders, and Page.

• The Patriots defense allowed 12.7 yards per pass attempt on throws of 21+ yards in 2010 (ranked 24th in NFL).

• Opposing quarterbacks completed 68.5 percent of their pass attempts inside the numbers against the Patriots defense (ranked 29th in NFL).

• The Patriots defense allowed 7.8 yards per pass attempt on third down (ranked 30th in NFL).

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.