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Mike Lombardi on D&C: Patriots DBs ‘have to get better’

10.19.12 at 10:35 am ET
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NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday morning to review the Patriots’ loss to the Seahawks, preview Sunday’s Pats-Jets game, and discuss news from around the league. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The finger has been pointed at the Patriots secondary as the key reason for the team’s struggles. Lombardi discussed how it can be improved.

‘€œIt’€™s certainly a concern and obviously it has to rely on some of the players. I think what you saw, let’€™s be real honest here, Patrick Chung‘€™s ball skills down the field have got to get better,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œI don’€™t know how you make them better, how you make his instincts better on the ball down the field. I think not having Steve Gregory back there is certainly a concern. ‘€¦ They have to get better at making plays down the field. [Devin] McCourty, everyone. And I think ultimately its something that will be worked on. It’€™s a skill. ‘€¦ Instincts for DBs are something we don’€™t talk enough about, we always talk about size and speed. But I think instincts really play an important part, and ultimately, that’€™s a hard thing to coach.’€

Following the matchup with the Seahawks, Lombardi considered what teams should do against the Patriots in coming weeks.

‘€œYou should throw it up five times a quarter. Let’€™s be real honest, you’€™ve got to throw it up,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œPeople are going to throw it to McCourty and see if he can make a play. He hasn’€™t been able to make a play with the ball in the air down the field all season. So I think that’€™s where teams see it on tape, and why not take a shot?’€

Lombardi identified a weak pass rush as a contributing factor to the struggles vs. Seattle.

‘€œMore importantly than the lack of play in the secondary, I thought their pass rush last week in terms of controlling [Russell] Wilson in the pocket and, typically, that’€™s what the Bill Belichick defense usually does, is control him in the pocket with their pass rush,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œWhen you have Russell Wilson, you have to rush him like he’€™s actually attempting a field goal. You have to force him to stay in front of you. You got to force him to see over the big guys. You got to force him to have to stand behind the center and throw the ball. And then there’€™s no chance he’€™s going to beat you doing that.’€

Looking at the Patriots’ fourth-quarter struggles, Lombardi was asked whether the drive this team has showed in past years still exists.

‘€œNo, it doesn’€™t. There’€™s that fine line about where do we go, do we be aggressive offensively or do we play it and try to just let the clock run out,’€ Lombardi said. ‘€œI think they’€™ve lost a little bit of that edge, the confidence within the edge. They’€™ve got to find it and they’€™ve got to get that back. They have to make the throws they have to make. ‘€¦ Going 1-for-6 in the red zone is not going to win many games. ‘€¦ Mistakes that the Patriots typically don’€™t make and they’€™re making them and they’€™ve made them all season long and I think that’€™s where they have to eliminate that.’€

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Mark Sanchez, Mike Lombardi, Patrick Chung

Why Danny Woodhead has become one of the most important parts of the Patriots offense

10.18.12 at 10:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — In an offense full of big names and larger than life personalities, it’€™s easy to underestimate the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Danny Woodhead. But in his third season with the Patriots, the running back has become one of the most important parts of the New England offense.

Last season, he was the only skill position player to finish with at least 15 catches and 15 rushing attempts. (He ended the year with 77 carries for 351 yards and 18 receptions for 157 yards.) And this season, through six games, he’€™s the only one on the team who has reached double digits in receptions (10 for 115 yards and a touchdown) and carries (40 for 144 yards and a touchdown).

When everything was melting down for the Patriots Sunday against the Seahawks, Woodhead was one of the only elements to the New England offense that continued to do well. The undersized running back was the only player on offense to register a first down for the Patriots for the last 10 minutes of the game (he had two of them over the last 10:30 of regulation), and he finished with five catches for 46 yards and four rushes for 25 yards.

His versatility and dependability — with 10 catches on 11 targets this season, his 91 percent reception rate is the highest on the team of anyone with at least 10 targets — have sparked comparisons to veteran Kevin Faulk, who filled the role of third-down/changeup back for several seasons in New England before retiring. It’€™s a comparison offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked about this week.

‘€œDanny is obviously a very important player for us,’€ McDaniels said. ‘€œHe’€™s made a lot of critical [plays], whether it’€™s catches or runs, third-down protections or blocking blitzers. Danny has filled that role and done a really nice job with it.

‘€œKevin was certainly one of the best Patriots ever and had a great career and did a lot of similar things, [but] I think they’€™re different players. Danny did definitely show up and make some important plays for us [against Seattle] like he has all year.’€

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Read More: Danny Woodhead, Josh McDaniels, Kevin Faulk,

Antonio Cromartie is not Darrelle Revis but he’s still ‘got a lot of talent’

10.18.12 at 5:24 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Most observers assumed when Darrelle Revis went down on Sept. 23 in Miami with a torn ACL that the Jets defense – and specifically their secondary – was cooked.

After all, Antonio Cromartie – the man immediately pegged as Revis’ replacement – had been good but he didn’t figure to have leadership qualities that Revis commands when he enters a defensive backs meeting.

But Cromartie has stepped up to become the defensive back the Jets thought they were getting in 2010 when he joined the team after four seasons with the Chargers. He leads the Jets with three interceptions, including one each in New York’s last two games without Revis. The Jets are allowing just 209 passing yards per game. Only four defenses in the NFL are better this year against the pass.

“He’s talented,” said Brandon Lloyd, who faced Cromartie across the line of scrimmage in 2010, when Lloyd was with the Broncos. “He’s got a lot of talent, a lot of speed and plays really well.”

Lloyd had four catches for 74 yards, including one grab for 29 yards, in that Oct. 2010 meeting.

Then there’s Tom Brady, who was called a not-so nice name by Cromartie before their playoff game in Jan. 2011.

Now? Well, it’s all about mutual respect.

“I’€™ve always said I think he’s a great player,” Brady said this week. “I mean, he’s one of the best corners in the league and has been for a while. I usually don’€™t get into it much. Wish I could help you more.”

Brady did admit it will be strange to look out to his right and not see No. 24 in “Gang Green.”

“He’€™s a great player ‘€“ one of the best I’€™ve ever gone against. At the same time, I think they’€™ve moved on from that situation and played really well last week against Indianapolis without him. They still have a very good defense. It’€™s built around their team and their scheme and they have very good players: big, powerful guys that run well, very instinctive.

“They have a lot of veteran players at safety and linebacker. Cromartie is a heck of a player in his own right and he’s had a great season, so he’s really assumed the role of matching to the opponent’€™s No. 1 receiver ‘€“ or perceived No. 1 receiver. They seem like they’re still doing what they’€™ve always done and playing very well.”

Read More: antonio cromartie, Brandon Lloyd, Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots

Vince Wilfork calls Nick Mangold ‘probably best center’ in NFL

10.18.12 at 4:39 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The newfound trend of throwing rose petals in feel-good Patriots-Jets rivalry continued Thursday as Patriots All-Pro nose tackle Vince Wilfork called perennial Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold the best in the game.

“He’s probably the best, probably the best center, I believe,” Wilfork said of Mangold, a three-time All-Pro. “I’ve been saying this ever since the guy’s been a rookie. He’s been pretty steady for them. And it hasn’t changed.”

Not only is the 28-year-old Mangold a force as part of the protection scheme for Jets, Wilfork reminded everyone Thursday of just how much of New York’s offense goes through the center, who is in his seventh season out of Ohio State.

“Everything it seems like goes through him: the run game, he calls the plays on the line slides, he’s the guy in charge,” Wilfork said. “That’s how it should be, because that’s their bread and butter. When they need a play, if they’re running the ball, it always seems to end up behind 74 [Mangold’s number]. He’s a big-time player for them, I give him all the respect in the world facing him numerous times.”

Mangold did not practice again on Thursday as he is nursing an ankle injury. Wilfork wouldn’t mind if he didn’t play Sunday but he fully expects Mangold to be snapping the ball to Mark Sanchez.

“That’s one of the guys, I’m sure he’ll be ready to go, no matter what is being said or what his injury may be,” Wilfork said. “Trust me, I’m pretty sure he’ll be there.”

To Wilfork’s point, Mangold missed two games last year with an ankle injury but returned just in time for Wilfork and the Patriots on Oct. 9, a game won by New England, 30-21.

“Trust me, I don’t mind,” Wilfork said. “I think everybody will be pretty healthy for this game. You don’t want to miss these types of games. If I was on the same side or on the opposite side of this man, I would want to play. Division game, for the lead in the division, there’s a lot riding on this game on both sides. If you’re healthy enough to play, you have to expect everyone.

“He’s one the players that you wish you could have a guy like that, 11 guys like that on the field with you at all times because he just means so much to that team.”

Read More: New England Patriots, New York Jets, nfl, Nick Mangold

Marquice Cole looking forward to catching up with old friend Mark Sanchez

10.18.12 at 1:56 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When it comes to diagnosing Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, one guy in the New England locker room who would know him better than any Patriots defensive back is Marquice Cole.

Cole, who played the last three seasons with the Jets before signing with New England in the offseason, developed a great friendship with the quarterback when the two were teammates in New York.

‘€œMark, [we were] more than just teammates, we’€™re friends,’€ Cole said before practice on Thursday. ‘€œI still keep in touch with him. I try not to bother him during the season because you know how the season goes and everything, but yeah, we’€™re still great friends.

‘€œThe way he is is how you see him. He’€™s a fun-loving guy. There are no secrets about him. He’€™s just a regular person.’€

‘€œ’€˜Quice is the man. He’€™s just an energetic guy,’€ Sanchez said. ‘€œReally played great for us on special teams, on defense, but he’€™s one of the best teammates you could ever ask for, so I know they’€™ve got a great player and a guy that can fit in anywhere.

‘€œ[He’€™s] one of those guys you never want to see leave your building, but sometimes that stuff happens. It’€™s too bad, but I love him as a player and even more as a person. It will be cool to see him, but we’€™ve got to try to win and put the friendship aside for a little bit.’€

Sanchez has faced his share of pressure in New York, particularly as he has stumbled over the last year-plus. But Cole is confident his friend will find his footing sooner rather than later.

‘€œHe’€™s a professional, so he knows what he’€™s doing,’€ Cole said. ‘€œHe knows how to handle what he needs to handle. Everybody in the NFL has pressure on them every day. He knows what he’€™s doing.

‘€œHe goes out there and competes — that’€™s all you can ask of anybody.’€

As for Cole — who has become one of New England’€™s core special teamers — he relishes the chance to be able to catch up with some of his old friends in green and white before and after the game on Sunday.

‘€œIt’€™ll be fun, going against the guys I played with for years in practice and stuff. It’€™ll be fun. It’€™ll be a competitive game,’€ he said.

However, as the latest player to cross over in the Patriots-Jets rivalry, Cole said that as far as he’€™s concerned, this week is just another game.

‘€œI know it’€™s a rivalry and everything, but you want to go out and win every game. It’€™s not like this game will be different than any other game. It’€™s a game where you want to go out and compete,’€ he said. ‘€œBoth sides want to win. It’€™s not any different than any other game.’€

Read More: Mark Sanchez, Marquice Cole,

Aaron Hernandez feared the worst but is ‘healed and better now’

10.18.12 at 1:47 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Aaron Hernandez was in a light-hearted mood on Thursday. Maybe it was because he knew he wouldn’t have to go through a strenuous practice, as the tight end was among five Patriots not spotted at the beginning of practice in shells.

He was smiling and joking with reporters, as he spoke in front of his locker for the final four minutes of player media availability in the Patriots locker room.

That’s news since it marked his first public comments since injuring his right ankle on Sept. 16 against the Cardinals.

When he wasn’t kidding around about the next time he’ll speak, he was admitting he initially feared the ankle was broken when Julian Edelman and a Cardinals defender fell on him while he was engaged in a block. As he was lying on the ground, he was hoping that he didn’t break the ankle, an injury that would’ve knocked him out for the season.

“Broke,” Hernandez said Thursday when asked what was going through his mind at first. “But it healed and I’m better now.”

Hernadez returned on Sunday in Seattle, catching six passes on nine targets by Tom Brady. He gained 30 yards, including a 1-yard TD in the second quarter.

“It’s all about confidence and I got more practice time in and gained some more confidence in cutting off the ankle, because I cut a lot,” Hernandez said. “It made me [feel] ready and feel comfortable to go out and play a game. When you’re out there on the field, you kind of forget about everything and just hope for the best. Once I caught that first pass, I got back in the game and wanted to catch the ball some more.

“I felt pretty good. It felt good to be out there and help the team. I came out healthy and hopefully I’ll come out healthy this week.”

Hernandez said he’s not worried about a recurrence of the same injury later in the season.

“You get nervous at times but it’s feeling great so there’s nothing to worry about [anymore],” he said. “If it gets hurt, it’s the man above. So, I guess I’ll be all right.”

Hernandez said the hardest part was watching the games while Bill Belichick and the staff sent him home to heal.

“I wasn’t really on the sidelines, I was at home,” he said. “But obviously, it was tough, especially when you live to play football, been doing it your whole life. You want to play, help the team. That’s why I came back.

“Maybe I was a step slower but I felt pretty good and look forward to getting better. I know we have a great training staff and I know they’re going to work hard to get us back, especially under Bill’s supervision.”

After chatting with reporters, Hernandez said thanks and quipped, “Have a nice day guys. See you guys in five weeks.”

That last bit may or may not have been a joke.

Read More: Aaron Hernadez, Arizona Cardinals, Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

10.17.12 at 10:59 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the regular season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Six weeks into the regular season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2012:

RB Stevan Ridley:
124 (118 rushes, 6 catches). 13 negative runs.
RB Danny Woodhead: 50 (40 rushes, 10 catches). 2 negative runs.
WR Wes Welker: 48 (0 rushes, 48 catches). 1 negative reception.
RB Brandon Bolden: 45 (43 rushes, 2 catches). 7 negative runs.
WR Brandon Lloyd: 34 (0 rushes, 34 catches).
TE Rob Gronkowski: 29 (0 rushes, 29 catches).
TE Aaron Hernandez: 13 (1 rush, 12 catches). 1 negative reception
WR Julian Edelman: 12 (2 rushes, 10 catches). 1 negative reception, 1 negative run.
QB Tom Brady: 10 (10 rushes, 0 catches.) 13 sacks and 5 kneel downs.
WR Deion Branch: 4 (0 rushes, 4 catches)
RB Shane Vereen: 3 (2 rush, 1 catch)
TE Daniel Fells: 2 (0 rushes, 2 catches)
TE Kellen Winslow: 1 (0 rushes, 1 catch)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 1 (0 rushes, 1 catch)
TOTAL: 376 touches (216 rushes, 160 catches): 26 negative plays, plus 13 sacks.

By position
Running back: 222 touches (203 rushes, 19 catches). 22 negative runs.
Tight end: 46 touches (1 rush, 45 catches). 1 negative reception.
Wide receiver: 98 touches (2 rushes, 96 catches). 2 negative receptions, 1 negative run.
Quarterback: 10 touches (10 rushes, 0 catches)

By way of comparison, here’s a breakdown of how things look for the Patriots through six games last season.

Read More: offensive opportunities,
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