New England Patriots: Shane Vereen

Vereen deems OTA sessions a success

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
Fourth-year New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen feels progress has been made through the team’s 10 organized team activities leading into this week’s mandatory minicamp Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s been successful. Everybody’s kind of getting the feel back for football and just gearing things up for July [and training camp],” Vereen said Saturday afternoon during an appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio with hosts Zig Fracassi and Alex Marvez.

For Vereen himself, one part that has made this year's OTAs different for him is familiarity. After entering the NFL during the 2011 lockout and not having OTAs, this is the third straight year in which he's been part of them.

“I feel like I’ve experienced quite a bit now and I’ve been through this before, so it’s a little more comfortable on my end,” he said. “Other than that, it all seems the same. We always have the same goal coming in to each OTA, and each season, and that’s to be the best football team we can be.”

Vereen’s appearance on the program was tied to promoting his first-ever football camp, to be held Saturday in California.

“It’s always good to give back, especially to the city that basically raised you, and a place you will always call home. That’s Valencia to me, and having it at my old high school, that’s also pretty cool. I’m happy to be in the position where I can do these type of things,” he said.

Some more soundbites from Vereen:

On quarterback Tom Brady. “I don’t think motivation ever decreases in his mind. I think each year he comes back more and more hungry -- always wanting to compete. I’ve said it time and time again, he is easily the most competitive teammate I’ve ever had.”

On rookie running back James White. “James is a good player. He’s coming along very quickly, learning the offense one day at a time. Very talented, nice guy, works hard. He’s a good addition to the team.”

On a possible different dynamic from the team’s offense. “One of the trickiest things about playing in the NFL is who can play all 16 games, staying healthy is a huge part of that. I think our identity, as [it’s been in] past years, will grow as the season progresses, as we see what things work and what things we’re struggling with. Depending on our opponent, our game-plan always changes each week.”

Patriots from a fantasy perspective

May, 20, 2014
May 20
PM ET's fantasy football staff has unveiled its top 200 player rankings and here is a look at where the top Patriots fall in the list:

35. TE Rob Gronkowski (third at position)
58. RB Shane Vereen (26th at position)
61. WR Julian Edelman (24th at position)
66. RB Stevan Ridley (28th at position)
97. WR Danny Amendola (42nd at position)
111. QB Tom Brady (12th at position)
136. WR Aaron Dobson (51st at position)
148. Patriots defense/special teams (ninth as a unit)
152. K Stephen Gostkowski (second at position)
170. WR Brandon LaFell (57th at position)

As the piece notes, these rankings are based on a 10-team ESPN standard league with 16-player rosters, starting one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex (RB/WR/TE), a team defense and a kicker.

Any objections?

Some leftovers from Patriots chat

May, 17, 2014
May 17
Some leftovers from our weekly New England Patriots chat:

Tim (Wichita, Kansas): I don't understand why they haven't signed Dustin Keller yet. There's an obvious need, I bet we can get him at a reasonable price, and BB loves to steal productive players for his own division. So what's the hold up?

Tim, I'm keeping this on the radar as well. After not drafting a tight end, Keller makes a lot of sense if the health checks out and a contract agreement can be reached. Perhaps with the Patriots set to enter a new phase of their offseason progression this upcoming week, with veterans joining rookies, it sparks some movement.

BamaPat (Mobile, Alabama): Mike, my issue with draft/free agency is our WRs. You and others have argued to let the youngsters develop before bringing in veterans. So here's the scenario: The rookie WRs from last year don't take the big step this year. Pats move on and draft rookies in 2015 draft. You and other media members give them two years to develop and they don't. Now you have a nearly 40-year-old QB wiith a rebuilding WR corps again. Your strategy is a good one with a QB in his prime; not with a QB turning 37 this year. That's a bad gamble. At some point you need to pull the trigger and bolster our WRs.

Fair enough, BamaPat. I just didn't see any sure-fire, easy-to-grab answers on the free-agent market and it's not like they haven't tried in that area. Emmanuel Sanders, signed to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent last year, could have helped. They tried with Reggie Wayne in the past and got rebuffed. So I don't think it's necessarily a lack of effort. In the end, this is the way it's unfolded, and I think at some point you have to invest in the development of these youngsters while layering the position with some experience (e.g. Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell). In the end, this is what it comes down to for me: If Aaron Dobson doesn't become a top guy, it will be a big disappointment.

Jack (Portland, Maine): Mike, what is your take on Josh Boyce? Why was there so little playing time last year? Any known issues besides injuries? What potential role do you see for him in this offense, and do you sense a trust or chemistry with Brady?

Jack, Boyce is a smart player but he said a couple of times last year that the mental aspect of football was a big jump from Texas Christian. He also came out after his junior season and that often requires an extra year of development at the position. I'd expect Boyce to compete for the kickoff return job while also vying for a role as a No. 3-5 option on the depth chart.

Hector (Providence, Rhode Island): Hey Mike, who would you see as early candidates for a new contract amongst the RB corps? We've got Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, and Shane Vereen going into their final years. With Stephen Houston and James White coming in to provide competition (and potentially a roster spot), who do you see the Pats keeping after this season?

Hector, I'd lean toward Vereen at this point, but the key for him is similar to Edelman at this time last year. It's about staying healthy for a full season. If he does that, I'd think the Patriots would put him at the top of the list.

Marko (Back Bay): Are we all writing off Ryan Mallett too soon? Is it possible the team carries 3 QB's -- including Mallett next season?

Marko, I think they'll carry three this year, just as they did in 2011 with Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer and Mallett. But next year, when Mallett is an unrestricted free agent, it seems safe to assume he will want to pursue a starting job elsewhere.

Patriots pick James White in 4th

May, 10, 2014
May 10
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: James White, RB, Wisconsin (130th)

My take: The Patriots lost LeGarrette Blount in free agency and figured to come out of this draft with at least one running back. A key consideration is that the top three running backs on the depth chart -- Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden -- all enter the final year of their contracts. White is 5-foot-9 1/8 and 204 pounds and was one of the most sure-handed prospects at the position. He is short for the position, but as we've seen with Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and others in New England, that's not always a bad thing. His running style ("violent cuts") looks like a nice fit for the Patriots' zone-blocking scheme.

Added value on special teams: White has 39 career kickoff returns on his resume and could be a consideration in the role in New England.

Running back depth chart: Vereen, Ridley, Bolden, White, Jonas Gray.

What's next: The Patriots have the final pick of the fourth round, 140th overall. It's a compensatory pick that can't be traded.
New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen, one of the team’s key offensive players, said this week that his previously broken left wrist still isn’t back to the point where it was before the injury last September.

S. Vereen
“It’s not going to feel great tomorrow, it’s not going to feel awful. It won’t be 100 percent probably for a while, but it’s good enough and I’m working on strengthening it and getting it back,” Vereen said on the team’s website as part of the PFW in Progress program with Fred Kirsch, Paul Perillo, Andy Hart and Erik Scalavino.

Vereen suffered a broken bone in the wrist in a season-opening victory against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 8, and had surgery that sidelined him until a Nov. 18 game against the Carolina Panthers.

Vereen added in the PFW in Progress interview that his wrist feels good and “through most of the end of the season, I was fine with it.” He wouldn’t use it as an excuse for a few dropped passes last season.

“Not as much as you would think,” he said on the program when asked how much the cast he played with affected him. “I was still able to get pretty good traction on the ball, catching it. It forced me to concentrate a lot more. Personally I think I might have even caught the ball a little bit better with it because I knew I had to concentrate on the ball more with the cast being on the hand.

“It has nothing to do with the cast. I would never blame it on that. ... There’s no excuse. I should have caught them.”

As for what’s ahead for the Patriots, Vereen sees potential for the offense.

“I’m excited for it,” he said. “I think we had a lot of young guys last year, myself included, I throw myself in that category as well as far as experience is concerned. Now we can take that next step and see what a year with a lot of young guys around a very good veteran quarterback, a year later we’ll see what the product is this year.”

Draft & free agency: Running back

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
With free agency to begin March 11, and the draft from May 8-10, one thing NFL teams generally do at this time is marry the two to better assess the best approach to filling potential needs. For example, if a team knows it’s a deep draft for top-quality offensive tackles (2014 is such), it might be less inclined to be as aggressive at that position in free agency.

This was a general point made by several coaches and executives at the NFL combine, such as Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

With this in mind, our plan is to continue to look at each position in the coming days through a similar lens.

Today's position: Running back

Draft: The class is deep but not top-heavy, as it's possible there isn't a running back selected in the first round. Part of that is tied to a general de-valuing of the position by teams. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said, "The good news in this draft and in the last few is that if you can get in the second, third, fourth round, and find different flavors of running backs; you'll see some teams that will draft two or three running backs in one or two drafts, just so you can have a big back and a third down change of pace guy and I think that's where the league has gone and I think that's where it's going to continue to go." Boston College's Andre Williams is Mayock's fourth-rated rusher.

Free agency: Five-year veteran LeGarrette Blount is part of a deep group that includes Knowshon Moreno (Broncos), Donald Brown (Colts), Darren McFadden (Raiders), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), Dexter McCluster (Chiefs), Rashard Mendenhall (Cardinals), Willis McGahee (Browns), James Starks (Packers) and Ben Tate (Texans), among others. This has been more of a buyer's market in recent years and 2014 is likely to be the same.

Patriots perspective: Blount came on strong at the end of the 2013 season and bringing back him would seemingly be a priority; a two-year deal in the $3-4 million range is one projection of the market to do so. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen entering the final years of their contracts, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Patriots draft a running back to build depth and with 2015 in mind.

Patriots positional review: RB

January, 24, 2014
Jan 24
Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots running backs:

Stevan Ridley
Age: 24
2013 status: Led backs in snaps (28 percent), started 6 games.
2013 highlights: Ran for 773 yards and scored seven touchdowns, though his season will be in many ways remembered for a string of three straight games with a fumble that led to being inactive for a game. Ridley has the most pure running talent on the team, but he must overcome ball-security issues.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Shane Vereen
Age: 24
2013 status: Second among backs in snaps (24.3 percent), started 1 of 8 games active
2013 highlights: Missed 8 games because of a Week 1 wrist injury, but became a pass-catching force in his return. Had 47 catches during the regular season, establishing himself as a top pass-catching back in the role previously held by Danny Woodhead. Had some critical drops, but realized potential in third pro season.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

LeGarrette Blount
Age: 27
2013 status: Third among backs in snaps (23.3 percent), started 7 games
2013 highlights: Came on like a freight train late in the season, surpassing 300 total yards during the regular-season finale. A bruiser who bounced back after a disappointing 2012 season in Tampa Bay. Not always electric, but flashed big play explosiveness down the stretch. Had 8 rushing scores in last four games (playoffs included).
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Brandon Bolden
Age: 23
2013 status: Fourth among backs in snaps (23.2 percent), started 2 of 12 games played
2013 highlights: Was a part of the running back rotation during the middle of the season, playing a critical role in the Week 12 win against Denver. Made more pronounced impact on special teams as a core coverage player.
Current contract runs through: 2014

James Develin
Age: 25
2013 status: Played 25.8 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 16 games at fullback
2013 highlights: A hammerhead who brought unique toughness to the offense this season and was roundly respected by his teammates. Made his contributions primarily as a lead blocker in two-back sets, though he also chipped in with a rushing touchdown against Houston.
Current contract runs through: 2014

Others on the roster: Jonas Gray, Sam McGuffie (RB/WR)

Positional need: New England’s approach at running back has often been by committee, and 2013 was no different. Vereen cemented himself as the go-to option when the team pressed the up-tempo button, while Ridley and Blount were more of the bellcow types. While Blount’s performance late in the season makes him a player of interest to bring back, NFL teams are becoming judicious in paying big bucks to backs because of their "replace-ability." That being said, bringing Blount back would solidify the depth at the position, with three quality starter types and Bolden as insurance.

Snaps: Edelman with ironman finish

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
DENVER -- A look at the snaps played by skill-position players in the New England Patriots' 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game:

QB Tom Brady -- 59 of 59
WR Julian Edelman -- 59 of 59
TE Michael Hoomanawanui -- 49 of 59
WR Danny Amendola -- 41 of 59
RB Shane Vereen -- 41 of 59
WR Austin Collie -- 37 of 59
WR Aaron Dobson -- 22 of 59
TE Matthew Mulligan -- 13 of 59
FB James Develin -- 12 of 59
RB Stevan Ridley -- 10 of 59
RB LeGarrette Blount -- 8 of 59
WR Matthew Slater -- 3 of 59

(Penalties included. Two-point conversion included.)

ANALYSIS: Edelman's importance to the offense is reflected in the fact he never left the field in the most important game of the season. He gave the team everything he had. ... Dobson, a rookie receiver, was obviously limited with a foot injury and was managed carefully. The beneficiary of his absence was Collie, who rose up to the challenge with a strong performance. ... Amendola played too many snaps to go without a catch. He had the one drop. ... At running back, it was a rotation with the big backs Blount and Ridley, but they hardly played because of the way the game unfolded and the Patriots were forced into more of a passing game. With that, Vereen took the majority of snaps at the position. ... The 59 snaps were a season-low. The previous low was 63, against the Bengals on Oct. 6.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts at halftime of the New England Patriots' regular-season finale against the Bills (New England leads 16-3):

Mankins' toughness is evident: When starting left guard Logan Mankins was helped off the field in the second quarter, it was natural to assume it was serious. Mankins is one of the toughest Patriots players, once playing on a torn ACL. But after going to the locker room, Mankins soon returned to action. It very well might be serious, but they don't come much tougher than Mankins.

Dobson foot injury could lead to Collie call: With rookie receiver Aaron Dobson limping off the field in the first quarter (and not returning), it moved Kenbrell Thompkins up the depth chart into some two-receiver packages. Also, Danny Amendola played in some two-receiver packages along with Julian Edelman after opening the game exclusively as the No. 3. One thought: If Dobson's injury is serious enough to keep him out, it could lead to a quick call back for Austin Collie.

Edelman's milestone: Edelman has arguably been the Patriots' most consistent offensive player this season, and he hit both the 100-catch and 1,000-yard receiving marks today. The spark he is providing the offense is Wes Welker-like.

Wet ball a factor: With the game being played under heavy rain, ballhandling has been shaky on both sides. New England's Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount had fumbles, both of which were recovered by the Patriots. Amendola dropped a pass. It looked like one long throw might have slipped out of Tom Brady's hand.

Style of play reminds of 2004 season: When the Patriots run the ball like they have today, and also last Sunday against Baltimore, it brings back memories of the 2004 season when Corey Dillon was rumbling through opposing defenses. Dillon was a big back, and while Blount is not in that class, his size stands out.

Credit to the defense: The Patriots are piecing things together on defense, but credit to the unit for coming up with the stops in the critical situations (e.g. fourth-and-1). It doesn't always look pretty, and the Bills have helped in some areas with sloppy play, but the New England defense has done its part so far today.

Bills get the ball: The Bills won the opening toss and elected to defer, so they will get the ball at the start of the second half.

Solder, Vereen, Thompkins active

December, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and running back Shane Vereen are both active for today's game against the Buffalo Bills, which is the most notable takeaway from the team's list of inactive players.

Solder missed last Sunday's win against the Ravens with a concussion, and Vereen was limited to seven snaps with a groin injury in the game.

Also, receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) is active after missing the past three games.

The full list of inactives:

DE Jake Bequette
OL Chris Barker
DT Isaac Sopoaga
CB Alfonzo Dennard
S Devin McCourty
LB Steve Beauharnais
WR Josh Boyce

ANALYSIS: Sopoaga is a healthy scratch for the second straight week. He has slipped to fourth on the defensive tackle depth chart behind Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano, and the Patriots need the depth in other areas ... Dennard was a game-time decision last week (shoulder/knee) and he gets the rest today; hence the promotion of practice squad cornerback Justin Green on Saturday.

Bills inactives:

QB EJ Manuel (knee)
WR Stevie Johnson (personal)
WR Cordell Roberson
RB Ronnie Wingo
DB Brandon Smith
G Mark Asper
G Antoine McClain

Projecting the Patriots' inactives

December, 28, 2013
Before the New England Patriots play a game, we'll attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

Our best guess on the list for Sunday's game against the Bills:

Devin McCourty: Starting safety has missed all week of practice with a concussion. Rookie Duron Harmon is the top candidate to take his place.

Nate Solder: Starting left tackle has been on the injury report the past three weeks with a concussion. He's been limited in practice this week and more visible in the locker room, but we'll play a hunch that the team sits him out for a second straight week.

Dane Fletcher: Linebacker was a game-time decision last Sunday because of a groin injury, and didn't pass the pre-game test. If he is inactive again, it could potentially give him another two weeks to heal if the Patriots earn a first-round bye.

Shane Vereen: Running back was held out of last Sunday's win after leaving with a groin injury, and if this was the playoffs, he'd be ready to go. But the possibility of the team holding him back as a precaution makes some sense from this viewpoint.

D.J. Williams: Tight end adds a third layer of depth, and while it would be helpful to have it on the 46-man game-day roster, needs at other positions trump the luxury of a No. 3 tight end.

Jake Bequette: Second-year defensive end is fifth on the depth chart and has been inactive the past eight games.

Josh Boyce: Rookie receiver and primary kickoff returner has already been ruled for the second straight week with an ankle injury.

(Last week: 4 of 7 projections correct.)

EXTRA POINT: The Patriots have two open spots on their 53-man roster and those will likely be filled today with promotions from the practice squad (our best guesses are safety Kanorris Davis and offensive tackle Jordan Devey). Thus, a full complement of seven inactives is projected.

W2W4: Five things for Patriots-Bills

December, 27, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Just as the regular season started, it will end with the Patriots taking on the Buffalo Bills, their division foes who are aiming to conclude 2013 on a high note.

The first time these two met, the Patriots eked out a 23-21 win on a last-second field goal from kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

Running back Shane Vereen and wide receiver Julian Edelman were stars that day. Vereen surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground and added seven catches, while Edelman scored both of the team's touchdowns.

As it would turn out, a theme of the Patriots' 2013 season has been close victories and offensive performances catalyzed by Vereen and Edelman.

This time around, the postseason stakes are clear for the Patriots, who can clinch at least a top-two seed in the AFC with a win. In fact, by the time kickoff rolls around, the Patriots could have a top-two seed wrapped up (if both Indianapolis and Cincinnati lose in the 1 p.m. EST time slot), but they aren't going to leave anything to chance and also can earn the top AFC seed if they win and the Broncos lose.

Here's what we'll be watching for in Sunday's significant finale.

1. Protecting Brady. No hyperbole here: the Bills have been as good as any team in the NFL at generating pressure this season. They lead the league with 56 sacks, but that's not the only evidence of their pass-rushing prowess. Schematically, the Bills are a pressure-oriented group led by coordinator Mike Pettine and have impressive personnel among their edge rushers (Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes) and interior penetrators (Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus). Beyond that, they generate pressure from all three levels, as rookie cornerback Nickell Robey has three sacks over his past two games. If the Patriots are again without left tackle Nate Solder (concussion), it'll be a tall order to slow down this group.

[+] EnlargeHarmon
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyWith Devin McCourty doubtful for Sunday, the pressure's on rookie Duron Harmon to fill his shoes.
2. Safety net? With Devin McCourty (concussion) doubtful for Sunday, it'll likely be rookie Duron Harmon starting alongside Steve Gregory. In speaking with Harmon and head coach Bill Belichick this week, they echoed that within the Patriots' defense, the two safety positions -- free and strong -- are in many ways interchangeable. The strong safety has to be able to handle free safety responsibilities (deep-field coverage) on some plays, and vice versa. Harmon has played both free and strong safety at points this season, as he did during his college career at Rutgers.

3. Running with purpose. The Patriots set the tempo against the Ravens with their commitment to the ground game early and often last week. The Bills have a disruptive front seven that can be difficult to move around, but will the Patriots try to spin the offensive wheels early by attacking that front seven on the ground? If so, LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley would be the pair responsible for carrying the heavy ground load once again.


What's your prediction for Patriots-Bills?


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4. Red zone success? The red zone struggles of the Patriots' offense without Rob Gronkowski were well chronicled leading up to Week 16, but they may have climbed over the hump; they finished a perfect 3-for-3 in the red zone on the strength of two Blount touchdown runs and a Brady pass to Shane Vereen for a 4-yard score. The test will be to sustain such success, as touchdowns rather than field goals can dictate the difference in close games, as the Patriots have seen throughout the season.

5. Limit explosive plays from Spiller. Bill Belichick talked openly about his defense's improvement in the vertical passing game this season compared to last, stressing the importance of limiting plays that can change the course of a game immediately. While the Bills' passing attack has had to endure through various personnel considerations this year, notably the injuries to EJ Manuel, the running game poses one of the most explosive threats in the NFL. C.J. Spiller has had a quieter year than most forecasted for him, but a Week 13 game against Atlanta that was played in Toronto served as a reminder of just how potent he can be. He ripped off a 77-yard rush and had an 80-yard reception called back because of a holding penalty that was away from the direct action of the play. The Patriots will aim to contain Spiller and the more rugged, powerful Fred Jackson this Sunday.

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

December, 23, 2013
Picked-up pieces from reviewing the first quarter of the New England Patriots’ 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

1. Offensive lineman Logan Mankins talked after the game about the Patriots having success with zone runs, which displaced the Ravens' sturdy defensive front, as defenders were often over-pursuing. This was evident on LeGarrette Blount’s 11-yard run (1:50 remaining) as the Patriots created a strong side to the left with tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and ran in that direction, with Blount hitting the cut perfectly as the left side sealed things off and right guard Dan Connolly got enough of nose tackle Terrence Cody to create enough of a crease. That was the type of run play in which the Patriots had great success throughout the day, and the key seemed to be getting the big Ravens defenders moving east-west at the snap.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesLeGarrette Blount's runs in the first quarter, including one for a TD, owed much to the Patriots' offensive line.
2. The overall offensive line play was solid, although right tackle Marcus Cannon seemed to be the primary breakdown with two negative runs – defensive tackle Arthur Jones crossed his face to bring down Stevan Ridley for a loss of 2 yards (7:03 remaining) while Cannon missed a block on Terrell Suggs when Blount was brought down for a loss of 3 yards (1:18 remaining).

3. The first offensive play foreshadowed what was to come the rest of the day in terms of the Patriots’ approach. Out of their 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB package, the Patriots aligned tight ends to both sides (in more of a pass set) and brought receivers Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman in tight to the formation to constrict the defense. The Ravens countered with an eight-man box and Connolly pulled to deliver one of several solid blocks on Blount’s 5-yard run over the left side. An opening play can sometimes be described as an “attitude” play, and that’s how we’d view this one.

4. Marquice Cole, playing the role of gunner on the punt team, drew the penalty on Jimmy Smith that led to the Ravens starting their initial drive at their own 7.

5. When the Patriots’ running game is discussed, much credit goes to the offensive line, tight ends and backs. But receivers shouldn’t be overlooked. Patriots receivers are willing blockers, and they were involved in run-blocking Sunday, as evidenced on Blount’s 14-yard run (12:18 remaining). Dobson half-motioned into the line of scrimmage and blocked down on Suggs before getting up on linebacker Jameel McClain. Good effort, and you also see Edelman doing his part, knocking safety Matt Elam on his backside in front of the play.

6. More physical play – fullback James Develin plowing through the hole and pancaking linebacker Josh Bynes on Blount’s 1-yard touchdown run.

7. Develin was also a factor on the Patriots’ second red-zone touchdown, his vertical route helping create traffic so McClain had to go around him to cover running back Shane Vereen. Great design and execution, which came after CBS analyst Phil Simms said, “Of course they didn’t give us any details last night, but I think the Patriots have a lot of stuff up their sleeve [in the red zone], ways to get guys singled up so they can make plays a little easier. No Gronkowski for the jump ball. No big, tall receiver on the outside to throw the fade to in the corners. Gotta find a different way.” Simms’ timing, like the Patriots’ execution, was perfect.

8. For such a flag-happy game, one detail stood out on the play in which Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan intercepted Joe Flacco: Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe isn’t on the line of scrimmage, as it’s noticeable that the left side of the Ravens’ line is fanned out in a way that gives them an unfair advantage in pass protection. That should have been an illegal-formation penalty from our view.

9. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork once again accompanied the team on the trip and was seen jotting down notes after Ryan’s interception. Looks like the Patriots have an addition to their staff: Coach Wilfork.

10. Cornerback Kyle Arrington can be a lightning rod of sorts among Patriots followers because of his occasional struggles on the outside, but one aspect that coaches have to appreciate about him is his toughness when playing in the slot. On Bernard Pierce’s 5-yard run (3:41 remaining), Arrington set the edge against tight tackle Michael Oher, forcing Pierce to cut the run back. Tale of the tape – Arrington (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) vs. Oher (6-4, 315). Those are little effort things that showed up throughout review of the game -- the Patriots getting more of those type of plays. The run wasn’t defended particularly well on the backside, but Arrington more than did his part.

11. One change for the Patriots in their rush front was keeping Chandler Jones outside, with Andre Carter instead rushing from an interior position. Probably just a case of the Patriots attempting to dictate specific blocking matchups, but it was a switch from the norm.

12. Edelman’s first quarter: 34-yard pass-interference penalty drawn, 5-yard illegal-contact penalty drawn, one incomplete pass, a 17-yard reception and an 11-yard punt return. It’s the type of production we regularly saw from Wes Welker in 2007-2012. No doubt, this is as well as Edelman has played in the NFL. He's their go-to guy right now in the passing game.

13. Vereen came out of the game after pulling up on a second-and-13 incomplete pass in his direction (44 seconds remaining) as he was running down the left sideline with McClain in coverage. Vereen left for the locker room but later came back to the sideline (although he never re-entered the game). As of late Sunday night, it wasn’t considered anything serious with Vereen; it was more of a precaution. There was a penalty on the play for an illegal shift on receiver Danny Amendola.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Sharing some halftime thoughts of the New England Patriots' game against the Ravens (New England leads 17-0):

One of Patriots' best halves of the season: This has been, across the board, some of the best football the Patriots have played this season. All three phases are getting it done. On offense, a commitment to the ground game has stood out. On defense, the turnovers are back. And the special teams coverage has been outstanding, sparked by captain Matthew Slater. For the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't look completely comfortable.

Replay review critical for Patriots: Danny Amendola's late second-quarter fumble was overturned on replay, which was crucial for the Patriots because it could have been a momentum-swinging turn of events -- the Ravens getting the ball on a short field and then at the start of the third quarter. Turnovers are such a big part of the action, as we saw in the first quarter for the Patriots (Logan Ryan interception sets up the second touchdown).

Red-zone struggles corrected: One of the big storylines entering the game was the Patriots' red-zone performance (1 of 4 vs. Miami). They are 2 of 2 today, with a power running game (LeGarrette Blount) and then a well-designed pass play (Shane Vereen) the successful formula.

A lot of penalties: Ron Winter's crew has been busy tonight. It's always difficult to tell while watching live if all the calls are warranted, but our general preference are games with fewer flags. It seemed like a long half because of it, with little flow. This reminds us of the 2009 Patriots-Ravens regular-season game, in Foxborough, in which Winter was also the referee.

Injuries to monitor: Vereen left in the second quarter with a groin injury and has not returned. Brandon Bolden has assumed his role as the top "passing back." ... Safety Steve Gregory left in the second quarter with what looked like a right knee/leg injury. It looked signficant, and rookie Duron Harmon took his place. ... Linebacker Dont'a Hightower left the game briefly in the second quarter, but returned.

Ravens get the ball: The Patriots had called heads at the opening toss and it came up tails, with the Ravens deferring the choice to the second half. So the Ravens get the ball to open the second half.

Vereen (groin) questionable to return

December, 22, 2013
Patriots running back Shane Vereen left the team's Week 16 game against the Ravens and is questionable to return with a groin injury, the team announced.

Vereen pulled up following a pass route down the left sideline, leaving the game and being taken to the locker room shortly thereafter.

The third-year pro was replaced by Brandon Bolden in the team's up-tempo offensive sets.

Vereen missed eight games earlier this season after suffering a wrist injury in Week 1 against the Bills. Upon his return, he has made a significant impact, with 36 catches in five games.