New England Patriots: Alfonzo Dennard

Ups & downs for the Patriots

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
6:10
PM ET
DENVER -- A look at who's "up" and who's "down" for the New England Patriots in their 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game:

Up
Ryan Allen -- Rookie punter played through a shoulder injury and delivered a couple of booming punts in the first half.

Austin Collie -- Veteran receiver turned out to be one of quarterback Tom Brady's most reliable options.

Chandler Jones -- Defensive end caught the eye with strong play against the run and a good rush that contributed to a red zone stop.

Down
Danny Amendola -- Receiver was hardly a factor and had a drop in the third quarter.

Tom Brady -- The missed deep pass to receiver Julian Edelman in the first quarter will probably stick with the quarterback for a while. He also missed one to Collie late in the second quarter.

Alfonzo Dennard/Logan Ryan -- Young cornerbacks struggle in coverage and tackling.

Double Coverage: Patriots at Broncos

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
10:00
AM ET

And then there were two -- two teams that know most of what there is to know about each other, two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who add to their legacies with every pass, all with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, who have faced each other in each of the past three seasons and in the divisional round of the 2011 season, took it to overtime Nov. 24. The Broncos let a 24-0 halftime lead get away, and the Patriots won 34-31 after a punt bounced off Broncos cornerback Tony Carter's leg in overtime on a frigid night in Foxborough, Mass.

ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Legwold: Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick yet again. Do you think, in all your time around Belichick, that he tries to bring something new to the table every time he faces Manning? Or does he assume Manning has done the homework and put his efforts into getting people in the right position?

Reiss: I'd say there's always a new wrinkle or two, Jeff. Belichick has said in the past that Manning is too smart to just do the same thing over and over again -- both within a game and from matchup to matchup. Part of that discussion is also the state of the Patriots' personnel entering the matchup. A player like rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, for example, might give Belichick the flexibility to introduce something unique based on his breakthrough since the Nov. 24 meeting between the teams.

The weather forecast looks promising for Manning. No icy cold forecast. How do you think he approaches this game compared to the Nov. 24 contest? Do you think he will be less reluctant to hand the ball off?

Legwold: It will be a postcard day Sunday with the temperature expected to be 58 degrees with 0 percent chance of rain and light winds. So any decisions the two teams make on offense will have to do with what's in front of them on defense only. Manning will be inclined to hand the ball off if he sees the Patriots in some of those lighter personnel groupings deployed to handle Denver's three-wide-receiver look. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has a run option built into most things Manning can change into at the line of scrimmage. The Broncos certainly like how Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are trending in the run game. They have split carries down the stretch, and both run with tackle-shedding power.

Gase, with coaching DNA that includes his time with Mike Martz, is an aggressive sort. With the next-generation numbers the Broncos' offense has put up this season, it's easy to forget they still averaged 28.8 carries per game and topped 30 carries per matchup nine times this season. If they get a look from the New England defense that calls for a run, the Broncos will be inclined to pound away.

Where is Tom Brady's game and the offense right now after some rough moments early in the season? Has Brady benefited from a run-heavy approach down the stretch and into the postseason?

Reiss: The biggest benefit for Brady with the run-heavy approach has been how it opens play-action opportunities. Danny Amendola's 53-yard catch in the divisional round is one of the best examples. Also, part of the reason the Patriots have gone so run-heavy is that it's the area where they have their most assets. They are limited when it comes to pass-catchers who create consistent separation at tight end and receiver. As for Brady's game, there have been no signs of decline in arm strength, accuracy or decision-making. The main reasons for the struggles early in the year, from my view, were more about the changes around him. That's not to say Brady didn't make his mistakes, but it's sort of interesting to look back on some of the media-based discussion around Weeks 6 to 8 about how maybe Father Time had caught up to him.

Now that we're a full season in, how would you sum up the Wes Welker signing? Just as the Broncos hoped for? Better? Worse?

Legwold: Welker finished the regular season with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. His presence in the slot, along with Julius Thomas at tight end, is part of the reason the offense had a historic season. With the Broncos lining up in a three-wide-receiver set the majority of the season -- and every snap of the divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers -- they force defenses into some difficult choices. Thomas is often in the slot on one side of the formation, and Welker is in the slot on the other side. When Thomas missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury, both the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 1) elected to double-team Welker. He missed three games after suffering his second concussion in a four-week span Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans but played last week against the Chargers without issue.

Welker did have some spells this season when he had a cluster of dropped passes -- three against the Patriots on a frigid night to go with drops against Washington and San Diego in the regular season. Overall, though, he was exactly what the Broncos hoped he would be in their offense. He meshed with Manning quickly and was a big part of the plan right from his nine-catch performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

The Patriots did not face Thomas in the Nov. 24 meeting. Do you think they will try to match up Collins on Thomas this time around?

Reiss: That seems like the natural matchup, especially after seeing Collins splitting out wide on Colts tight end Coby Fleener on Saturday night and playing very well. Collins is unique in that, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he is fast enough to be competitive down the field in coverage (e.g., fourth-quarter interception versus the Colts) but powerful enough to play in the box and deliver a blow in the running game and as a pass-rusher. The Patriots' top draft pick in 2013, selected 52nd overall out of Southern Mississippi, he is an intriguing player whom Patriots fans really got their first extended look at Saturday as he played every snap against the Colts. He had been groomed behind the scenes up to that point, playing just 25 percent of the defensive snaps on the season in more of a reserve role.

Thomas may not have played in the first game between the teams, but Von Miller did. How does Miller's season-ending knee injury affect the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Of all the players who were signed in the weeks after the initial leaguewide binge in free agency, the Broncos' signing of Shaun Phillips was easily one of the best. Denver signed Phillips to a one-year, $1 million deal during the draft weekend in April, well over a month after free agency had opened, a deal that didn't have a signing bonus but did have some incentives based on sack totals.

Phillips was initially how the Broncos planned to deal with the loss of Elvis Dumervil in free agency. When Miller was suspended for the first six games of the season, Phillips had 5.5 sacks in those games to lead the way. He finished the regular season with 10 sacks to lead the team. In Sunday's win, with Miller on injured reserve, Phillips had two sacks against the Chargers. He is the single-most important player in the Broncos' pass rush in Miller's absence. Denver may have to take more risks without Miller on the field, and that's always a tough choice against someone like Brady, who can easily find the holes in coverage. But if Phillips can consistently create pressure -- with both sacks on three-man rushes against San Diego -- it allows the Broncos to move things around a little more and cover more of the bases.

Did Belichick make a conscious effort to get big backs like LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley in the lineup when he knew he would get smaller defensive personnel against the team's passing attack?

Reiss: That's fair to say, as the Patriots pride themselves on creating those matchups during the game, with coordinator Josh McDaniels finding his groove in recent weeks. They refer to themselves as a "game plan" offense because they tailor their plan weekly based on what they perceive to be the weakness of the opposition. They'll shuttle in different personnel groupings early -- multiple receivers, two backs, two tight ends, etc. -- to get information on how the opponent is matching up and then focus on the one they like best. This week, what's fascinating to me is that I think they probably see vulnerability in the Broncos' secondary, but I wonder how they feel about their own personnel in being able to exploit it. So that could keep them grounded.

The Patriots have been running the ball very well. How is the Broncos' run defense?

Legwold: In a year when the Broncos have been forced, by injuries and Miller's suspension, to mix and match on defense, their run defense has likely been more consistent in comparison to some of the other issues they've had. When defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson went to injured reserve Nov. 27 with a hip injury, they did wobble a bit, surrendering 159 yards rushing to the Chiefs and 177 yards rushing to the Chargers in two of the three games that immediately followed.

They have regained their balance a bit since, moving Paris Lenon into the middle linebacker spot in the base defense, and rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has played better each week. Overall, the biggest issue for the Broncos will be how they defend the run if the Patriots get them in nickel or dime personnel on defense and then run the ball at the smaller looks. The Broncos' safeties will have to tackle and tackle well to make it work.

Belichick has always tried to make "other" people beat him and take away an offense's front-line players. How do you think he would rank the Broncos' threats in the passing game, and where do you think the one-on-one matchups will be?

Reiss: One insightful point that ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi made in his weekly chat was the idea of defending the Broncos from the inside-out. Manning is still an accurate marksman, one of the greatest of all time, but I'm guessing that even he would agree that some of the downfield and outside-the-numbers throws he used to make don't come as easily to him. So it makes sense that the Patriots would focus more resources on the inside part of the field, where it would seem we would most likely see Welker and Thomas. With this in mind, I could envision the Patriots matching up cornerback Aqib Talib with Demaryius Thomas on the outside and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with Eric Decker and taking their chances that those one-on-one matchups will be competitive. Trusting those cornerbacks in those one-on-one matchups would allow the defense to focus extra attention/personnel to the inside part of the field.

Any X factors or special-teams contributors we should keep on the radar?

Legwold: The Broncos have usually been lockdown tight on special teams -- opening the season with two touchdown returns and two blocked punts, one of those returned for a score, in the first four weeks of the season. Those normally reliable units, however, have wobbled plenty down the stretch. The Chiefs' Knile Davis had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the Titans' Leon Washington had a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Texans' Keshawn Martin had a 51-yard punt return. Toss in the first blocked punt of Britton Colquitt's career in Oakland to go with Trindon Holliday's occasional adventures catching the ball, and it's been an unpredictable stretch. But Holliday is always a threat to uncork a return because of his breathtaking speed. The Broncos used wide receiver Decker as the primary punt returner against the Chargers last week, and he had a 47-yarder. So the Broncos have the potential to pop one at any time, especially in Denver, where Holliday returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in last January's playoff loss to the Ravens.

 

Quick hit thoughts from first quarter

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
8:59
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots lead the Colts 14-7. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Dennard picks off Luck early, Blount cashes in. From the idyllic start playbook: Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on Indianapolis' first third down of the game, returning it to the Colts' 2 yard line. The Patriots needed just one offensive play to make Luck pay, as LeGarrette Blount dove in for a score, giving the team a 7-0 lead.

2. Blount dashes into end zone, again. On the Patriots' second offensive drive, Blount once again found the end zone. Following a methodical, 10-play, 74-yard drive down the field, which including a key 25-yard completion to Julian Edelman, Blount sprinted in from two yards away, his second two-yard score of the game.

3. Colts respond. As the Colts showed last week, there is no such thing as knocking them out early. Luck hooked up with wide receiver LaVon Brazill on a 38-yard touchdown to cut the Patriots' lead in half. Brazill beat Dennard in man coverage down the sideline.

4. Talib shadowing Hilton. We talked this week about how the Patriots would plan to cover Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. As it turns out, it's been a steady dose of cornerback Aqib Talib, who has shadowed Hilton as he has bounced around the formation. It's a sign of the Patriots' continued confidence in Talib as a lockdown cornerback.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: linebacker Ja'Gared Davis (illegal block in the back) and wide receiver Matthew Slater (illegal block in the back).

Welcome to Gillette Stadium

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
4:00
PM ET
Gillete StadiumCourtesy of Mike ReissThe wind and rain in Foxborough are expected to continue through the afternoon and evening.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Welcome to Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs (8:15 p.m. ET):

[+] EnlargeGame Day Program
Coutesy of Mike ReissTom Brady and Bill Belichick are on the cover of tonight's GameDay magazine.
Weather conditions: Temperatures are mild for this time of year, currently in the low 50s and high humidity, but it is raining and windy. The gusts coming into the stadium were powerful to the point that the two goalposts on the team’s lower practice field were blown sideways. It seems fair to say this will be an "elements" game (weather.com forecast).

Six more inactives for Patriots: With rookie receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) already having been ruled out, the Patriots have six more players to declare inactive. Those decisions are finalized and announced about 90 minutes before kickoff. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) and receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) were the two players listed as questionable on the team’s final injury report.

Morelli gets the call: Pete Morelli has been assigned to referee tonight’s game. The NFL uses all-star crews in the playoffs, and two of the other six officials tonight had worked with Morelli during the regular season. Morelli’s crew was known for throwing among the fewest penalties in the NFL, but the all-star crew aspect alters any type of referee "scouting."

Belichick and Brady on GameDay cover: Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are pictured on the cover of tonight's GameDay magazine.

Final game for CBS analyst Dierdorf: Tonight’s game will be broadcast on CBS, with Greg Gumbel (play-by-play) and Dan Dierdorf (analysis) on the call. This is Dierdorf’s final game as he previously announced he was retiring after the season.

National Anthem: Performed by Michelle Brooks-Thompson, a TMG Gospel recording artist from Springfield, Mass.

Color Guard: MBTA Transit Police Honor Guard.

Mankins, Dennard back at practice

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
12:10
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting left guard Logan Mankins and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard both returned to practice on Tuesday morning, the first on-field work for the team this week after their bye weekend.

Dennard
Mankins
Mankins, who suffered an ankle injury in Week 17, did not practice at all last week, while Dennard has been dealing with a shoulder and knee issue of late that kept him out of Week 17 entirely.

Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), who also missed practice all of last week after suffering another foot injury in the regular season finale, was the lone player not spotted at the start of practice.

The Patriots had an open roster spot after placing linebacker Brandon Spikes on injured reserve yesterday, and it has apparently been filled. A wide receiver wearing number 84 was on the practice field today, though it's unclear if he has been signed to the active roster or if he was signed to the practice squad and the Patriots promoted a separate player.

Due to extreme cold in the area, the Patriots practiced inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse outside of Gillette Stadium. They practiced in shells and helmets.

Four absent from practice

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:50
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the second consecutive day, guard Logan Mankins, wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard were not spotted at the start of New England Patriots practice.

Mankins left Sunday's game briefly with an ankle injury and had a walking boot next to his locker on Monday afternoon. Given that the Patriots do not play until next Saturday night, it's possible they are looking to build in extra rest for their top offensive lineman.

Dobson, remains out after injuring his foot in Week 17, the same area that caused him to miss time late in the season. It's unclear if Dobson suffered the same injury to his foot or if a separate issue is now bothering him. Boyce has been hampered by an ankle injury since Week 16, and has not practiced since.

Veteran wide receiver Austin Collie was re-signed Thursday, according to a league source, and was spotted wearing number 10.

Dennard did not play in Week 17, and has dealt with injuries throughout much of the second half of the regular season. Beyond a knee injury, Dennard is also playing through a shoulder problem.

Today is the Patriots' second of three practice days this week before a break over the weekend. The team practiced on the game field at Gillette Stadium in the snow, where nearly a foot is expected to come down between Thursday and Friday.

The Patriots practiced in full pads.

Solder misses practice with concussion

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
6:12
PM ET
Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder missed Wednesday's practice due to a concussion, according to the team's practice report.

Solder did not miss any snaps during the Patriots' Week 14 win over the Browns, and it is unclear when the injury took place.

He was one of two Patriots to miss practice on Wednesday, as rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson missed his seventh consecutive practice after suffering a foot injury during a Week 12 win over the Broncos.

Solder will need to pass NFL concussion protocols to return to practice. His status for this Sunday's game in Miami is not known at this time.

Tackle Marcus Cannon was limited in his return to practice, as he's sat out two weeks due to an ankle injury that has thrust Will Svitek into a starting role.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has been previously limited by a knee injury, was also limited by a shoulder injury, which he suffered on Sunday against the Browns.

Cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin) and Marquice Cole (shin) were also limited, as was quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder). Brady has been limited in practice during previous parts of the season, though the issue has not seemed to limit him at all during games.

Dennard suffers shoulder injury

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
1:40
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard left Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns in the first quarter with a shoulder injury and is questionable to return.

Dennard appeared to be rolled up on at the conclusion of a running play. After receiving attention from the medical staff on the field, Dennard was able to get up on his own power before heading to the locker room for further evaluation.

He was listed as questionable to play in this game due to a knee injury that had cost him two of the previous three games.

UPDATE: Dennard was back on the field midway through the second quarter.

Stevan Ridley, Alfonzo Dennard active

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
11:46
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As expected, running back Stevan Ridley is active for the Patriots and will dress for today's game against the Cleveland Browns. What remains to be seen is just how much he will play after being deactivated last week following three straight games with a fumble.

The team announced its final five inactives -- wide receiver Aaron Dobson and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon had previously been ruled out -- which includes running back Brandon Bolden, who was listed with a non-injury issue but probable to play, and rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), who was limited this week in practice.

Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has missed two of three games with a knee injury and was listed as questionable, will play. Veteran wide receiver Austin Collie, re-signed this week, is active and will play. With Dobson and Thompkins sitting, Collie could be in line for reps as the team's third or fourth receiver.

Below is a full list of Patriots inactives:

LB Steve Beauharnais
DE Jake Bequette
RB Brandon Bolden
OT Marcus Cannon
WR Aaron Dobson
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
WR Kenbrell Thompkins

Below is a list of Browns inactives:

WR Josh Cooper
OL Reid Fragel
OL Garrett Gilkey
TE Keavon Milton
QB Alex Tanney
OL Martin Wallace
QB Brandon Weeden

Will Bolden's absence open door for Ridley?

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
11:05
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Brandon Bolden was not spotted at the start of Friday morning's rainy New England Patriots practice, which sparked the following question: Could this open the door for Stevan Ridley to return to the 46-man game-day roster?

Ridley
Ridley
Bolden hasn't been listed on the team's injury report this week and the absence could be non-injury related. More details regarding Bolden's absence should be learned around 4 p.m. ET when the official participation report is released.

The Patriots dressed three running backs for last Sunday's win against the Texans -- Shane Vereen (41 of 70 snaps), LeGarrette Blount (20 snaps) and Bolden (9) -- which left Ridley on the sidelines. Since that decision, one of the top storylines surrounding the team is if Ridley will continue to be a healthy scratch, or if he might re-emerge in some form. Bolden's status could have a direct impact on the answer.

The other area of note that caught the eye at practice was seeing fill-in starting right tackle Will Svitek's right ankle heavily taped. Svitek landed on the injury report Wednesday, leaving the Patriots vulnerable at tackle because starter Sebastian Vollmer (leg) is on season-ending injured reserve and top backup Marcus Cannon (ankle) remains out of practice.

Also with receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) not practicing, it essentially rules him out Sunday for the second straight game.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard wasn't present for the second day in a row as he is due in court for a second day in Nebraska.

Report: Dennard requests sentencing delay

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
4:00
PM ET
Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is scheduled to be in court in Lincoln, Neb., on Thursday, but the Lincoln Journal Star reports that he's requesting a delay until after the football season. The judge is expected to take up the motion Thursday, according to reporter Lori Pilger.

From Pilger's report:

Last week, his attorney, Alan Stoler, filed a motion for continuance, saying that before he's sentenced Dennard would like to show the court he could complete his community service, had complied with all the terms of probation and had favorable results from recommendations of a psychologist.

Stoler said Dennard has completed about 65 hours of community service, but could finish 35 more hours in next two months.

Dennard has been meeting regularly with his probation officer in Massachusetts, has participated in weekly counseling sessions and has been subject to random tests at work at least weekly since August, he said. The tests all have come back free of controlled substances, steroids and alcohol.

Last month, Dennard received a second continuance on the hearing that was originally scheduled for Oct. 8, in relation to an arrest in July for suspicion of drunk driving, according to an administrator with the Lancaster County Court in Nebraska.

Dennard admitted he violated terms of his probation with the arrest. In April, a Nebraska judge ruled that Dennard must serve 30 days in jail and probation for charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer in 2012.

Alfonzo Dennard back at practice

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
11:59
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) returned to practice for the Patriots on Friday after missing Thursday's workout.

Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle), wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) were not spotted, however, and none of them has practiced at all this week, making them unlikely to suit up on Sunday.

Should Cannon sit, veteran Will Svitek is likely to take over his role, making him the third player to start a game at right tackle this season. The Patriots signed tight end D.J. Williams this week, perhaps as insurance for the possibility of Hoomanawanui sitting. Fellow rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins stepped up in the second half of Week 12 once Dobson's availability was limited.

Dennard also practiced on Wednesday, but if he is unable to play this Sunday, rookie cornerback Logan Ryan will likely join Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington -- who are also playing through injuries right now -- among the top three cornerback trio.

The Patriots practiced in shells and helmets.

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
5:30
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from the first quarter of the New England Patriots' 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos:

1. Some of the Patriots’ struggles defending the run were evident from the first play -- a 12-yard Knowshon Moreno run up the middle. Rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano was double teamed by right tackle Orlando Franklin and right guard Louis Vasquez, while fellow rookie Chris Jones was handled by center Manny Ramirez, with a little help from left guard Zane Beadles. It didn’t help that linebacker Dont'a Hightower didn’t seem to fill his gap decisively. The Broncos won these battles consistently. Vellano and Jones play with great effort and are giving the Patriots everything they have. They were just outplayed at times, which created big running lanes for Moreno.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesPatriots head coach Bill Belichick says there are different types of fumbles, citing some are just football plays that happen and others are a result of poor technique or skills.
2. Strong work by top Patriots draft pick Jamie Collins, who opened the game with three tackles on the game’s first five plays. Collins was part of one version of the 4-2-5 nickel, playing 22 snaps replacing Brandon Spikes at linebacker in some sub situations. In a spread passing game, it seemed the coaching staff liked Collins’ athleticism in the matchup. “I thought he was active,” Bill Belichick said of Collins. “He was in on a number of plays. It looked like the last third-down play, he was in on breaking up passes, jamming receivers, had a couple big tackles for us there.”

3. One of the topics that has come up in weekly mailbags and chats is if left guard Logan Mankins might be slipping. The Patriots’ first running play (Stevan Ridley for 7 yards) is a good example of why the answer is no. While Mankins leads the Patriots with seven penalties and has had some protection breakdowns, he still showcases the athleticism to pull, combined with impressive power that was evidenced as he drove linebacker Danny Trevathan on to his back.

4. Bill Belichick talked about the difference between fumbles that are good football plays and those that could be avoided with better discipline. We'd put Ridley's in the latter category. As he attempts to spin, he is upright and opens himself up while exposing the football to contact. Some credit obviously goes to Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard for creating the fumble, and it appeared right guard Dan Connolly might have been late coming off his initial block in a failed attempt to deter Woodyard, but with better fundamentals Ridley should be able to hold on to that ball.

5. On LeGarrette Blount's fumble, we'd put it closer to the "football plays" category as Blount seemed initially dazed by safety Duke Ihenacho’s helmet making contact with his helmet (not a penalty because he isn't a defenseless player). Blount was also attempting to protect the ball as Ihenacho arrived, which from our view, showed more awareness than Ridley's miscue.

6. Explosive rush by Broncos defensive end Von Miller to get around left tackle Nate Solder to the outside to create the Tom Brady strip sack with 9:30 remaining in the first quarter. Miller does that to a lot of left tackles. We'd imagine offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia would also point to Solder’s technique breakdown on the play, as the third-year pro didn’t get his hands on Miller early enough in the rush, which allowed Miller to dictate as Solder found himself in a compromising position.

7. Right defensive end Chandler Jones, who now has 10.5 sacks, was one of the Patriots' top defenders. He continues to evolve, mostly playing forward but also showing athleticism to drop into coverage at times. He plays out of both a 3- and 2-point stance and his sack on second-and-goal was a big play that ultimately contributed to a red-zone hold. We don’t want to undersell the strong 1-on-1 rush against left tackle Chris Clark, but there was also an important coverage element to the play as Kyle Arrington played outside leverage and took away Wes Welker, who appeared to be Peyton Manning's first read as the middle receiver in a three-wide alignment to the left. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard also had solid man coverage on that side. Specific to Arrington, his work in the slot against Welker warrants mention as similar to Mankins, he’s been subject to criticism in some mailbags and chats this year. The feeling here is that Arrington is a solid slot corner. When asked to do more, that's when some struggles arise.

8. On the second sack of Brady, the Broncos came with a six-man blitz and it looked like a case of the Broncos having the perfect call for the play. Connolly was pulling on the play as part of creating some play-action, but the issue was that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson was too quick to shoot the gap vacated by Connolly before center Ryan Wendell could get over to him. Easy sack. NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth quickly pointed out that it was a similar protection that resulted in a sack in last Monday's game against the Panthers and wondered the Patriots might remove the protection from the playbook. That could be the case. At the same time, we wondered if it was just a result of the Broncos matching a perfect call against it.

Dennard, Talib active for Patriots

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
7:20
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib are active for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, which was the most notable news from the team's list of inactive players.

Multiple media reports early in the week had indicated that Dennard (knee) would be out tonight.

PATRIOTS INACTIVES
G Chris Barker
DE Jake Bequette
LB Steve Beauharnais
WR Josh Boyce
DL Marcus Forston
S Steve Gregory
TE Michael Hoomanawanui

ANALYSIS: Steve Gregory, the team's starting safety and primary communicator, will miss his second straight game. He had returned to practice this week but it wasn't enough for him to clear the hurdle of being active. ... Josh Boyce was the primary kickoff returner last week, so his inclusion on the inactive list is a bit of a surprise. LeGarrette Blount will likely handle those duties. ... Otherwise, no major surprises as linebacker Brandon Spikes -- who was downgraded to questionable earlier today (knee) -- is active.

BRONCOS INACTIVES
QB Zac Dysert
RB Ronnie Hillman
CB Champ Bailey
S Michael Huff
C J.D. Walton
G Chris Kuper
TE Julius Thomas

ANALYSIS: The big news is with Julius Thomas (right knee), as he made the trip but just couldn't get over the hump. Joel Dreessen likely will take the majority of his reps. ... Champ Bailey said he would test his left foot on the FieldTurf, but it didn't seem like a reasonable chance that he would play, and that's the way it turned out.

Patriots' top CB trio questionable

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
5:04
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' top three cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib (hip), Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin) -- and safety Steve Gregory (thumb) are all listed as questionable to play Sunday night when the team hosts the Denver Broncos.

Talib, the team's top cornerback, left Monday night's game against Carolina after his hip tightened up, though he has practiced each day this week on a limited basis. Dennard, who sat out Monday night's game, and Arrington also practiced each day this week.

Gregory, the team's starter alongside Devin McCourty, sat out Monday's game after injuring his thumb in Week 9.

The status of these four will be an area to monitor as the Patriots face the Broncos' top-rated passing attack, which looks likely to have receiver Wes Welker on the field, as he is listed as probable to play after suffering a concussion last Sunday night.

The Patriots also listed running back Leon Washington, who has not played since suffering a Week 5 ankle injury, as questionable.

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who left Monday's game with a knee injury that cost him each day of practice this week, will not play on Sunday.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been bothered by a knee injury since Monday night, is listed as probable despite practicing on a limited basis each day this week.

Quarterback Tom Brady (shoulder), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back, forearm, hamstring), wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), and running back Shane Vereen (wrist) are also among those Patriots listed as probable for Sunday.

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