Tag Archives: Rob Ninkovich

Potential Replacements Following Hightower Injury

Just when the Patriots defense starts to take a step forward in their play, they just took two steps backwards with the news that linebacker Dont’a Hightower will miss the rest of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Hightower is not only the leader on defense, but also the team’s top player at their weakest position which is linebacker. The team will have some decisions to make on how they go about replacing their star linebacker, whether it be through inside the organization or outside of it through a trade or signing someone off the streets.

The productivity and level of play that Hightower gives, the Patriots likely won’t be able to replace with just one player and might have to make several roster moves going forward. One move that the team is almost certain to make is removing linebacker Shea McClellin off of the injured reserve list when he is eligible to be taken off. The first game McClellin would be eligible to play in is on November 12th against the Denver Broncos following the team’s bye week. McClellin’s presence should help the Patriots linebackers in coverage against backs and tight ends, an area where the team has struggled mightily this season. Given the lack of depth at the linebacker position McClellin should be able to step in and contribute right away.

One thing that might be overlooked with the Hightower injury is his pass rushing ability and how this affects the defensive line. The Patriots really only have two true defensive ends and pass rushers in Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr., as well as Cassius Marsh who has goes into the game in certain third down situations but is primarily a special team’s player. Kyle Van Noy has the ability to rush the passer but doesn’t quite have the consistency and skill of Hightower of getting after the quarterback. The Patriots could turn to a couple of familiar faces to help in this aspect of the defense including Rob Ninkovich, who announced his retirement this summer but didn’t 100 percent rule out a possible comeback, and free agent Akeem Ayers who was a member of the Patriots 2014 Super Bowl team and is someone the team worked out at the beginning of the season. It is unknown what either guy has left in the tank and what they would be able to contribute, but their knowledge of the defense would allow them to be able to step in and contribute right away.

While its unknown what players could be on the trade block, someone who the Patriots could be interested in is also another familiar face in Jonathan Casillas. Like Ayers, Casillas was acquired by the Patriots mid-season in 2014 and was part of the Super Bowl Champion team and has familiarity with the defense. Following the 2014 Casillas signed with the New York Giants, with whom he still plays for, but with their 1-6 record they could look to trade some players and rebuild in the offseason. If available Casillas is someone I would expect the Patriots to look into before the trade deadline October 31st.

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2017 Patriots Training Camp First Day Thoughts and Observations

The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots kicked off training camp today in front of a massive crowd of fans that showed up to welcome back their beloved team. Quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady was one of the first on the field for the Patriots and was welcomed by a loud uproar of screams and chants from the fans. Fans were also excited to see the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the second half of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing back surgery during the season.

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With the first few days of camp being non-contact the team went through a lot of individual position drills, as well as 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s and special teams drills. The team started off with kickoff and kickoff returns, where Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Cyrus Jones were fielding and receiving kicks. Cyrus Jones picked up the same spot he ended last season, dropping one of his first few attempts catching the kickoff and then fielded everyone cleanly after that. If Jones continues to have issues on special teams his job and roster spot could be in jeopardy.

 

All three quarterbacks participated in 7-on7 and 11-on-11 drills with Tom Brady primarily working with the first team offense, Jimmy Garoppolo working with all three units and Jacoby Brissett working with the third team offense and some snaps with the second team offense. Brady looked like his normal self; spreading the ball around to his many offensive weapons, connecting with offseason addition Brandin Cooks several times deep down the sideline. During these drills Rob Gronkowski looked like he was completely healthy and happy to be back on the field and was even trying to create contact with defenders and did his famous “Gronk Spike” after catching a pass in the end zone from Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo was inconsistent during these scrimmages, making some good passes including a deep ball to tight end Dwayne Allen. Garoppolo also made some bad passes and decisions, including back to back interceptions in the end zone by Eric Rowe and Jordan Richards. Jacoby Brissett looked good with the third team offense and had a good chemistry with second year receiver Devin Lucien, who made a great catch on a back shoulder fade in the back of the end zone, and undrafted rookie Austin Carr. Brissett showed improvement on the quickness of his decision making and getting rid of the ball, both of which were areas he struggled in last year.

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Austin Carr is someone who stood out to me and had a great practice working as a slot receiver with the third team offense and was constantly finding a way to get open. Carr was a Biletnikoff award finalist during his senior season in 2016 and led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns before going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the Patriots depth at receiver it will be tough for him to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster and would be a great addition to the teams practice squad and continue to learn from slot receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, if he is not signed by another team.

 

Defensively the cornerback duo of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore looked very sharp. Early on in the beginning of drills Butler had played great coverage on Brandin Cooks and had a pass breakup in the end zone on cooks. One area of question this offseason was who is going to be the Patriots slot and nickel corner, and on the first day of camp that went to Jonathan Jones. Jones was a primary special teams player last season who played some slot corner on defense and appears as of now to be the team’s starting slot corner, with Butler and Gilmore on the outside, as well as Eric Rowe who can line up on the outside or on the inside against some tight ends because of his size.

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There were several players who did not attend of participate in todays practice including; Dont’a Hightower and Alan Branch who were both placed on the PUP list earlier this week, as well as Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Joe Cardona. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston Cardona’s absence is due to a commitment that Cardona has with the Navy. The absences of Ealy and Ninkovich have yet to be given a reason for. Ninkovich has been a name that has been discussed this offseason as a potential surprise cut or someone who will not make the final 53-man roster and his absence could be related to possible thoughts of retirement as he is set to enter his 12th year in the league.

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The Patriots will continue to practice over the weekend with only partial contact before moving to full padded practices next week. Patriots football is back and ready to defend their title and be on the quest for their sixth Super Bowl championship.

New England Patriots: What Needs To Happen Before The Play-Offs

The focus on Julian Edelman’s return to the Patriots line-up has rightfully been the center of attention since the season ended with the New England offense looking more like the Cleveland Browns than the juggernaut that started the season. His week 10 broken foot against the Giants crippled not only the player, but the entire Patriots offense.

Why Edelman’s Return Is So Critical

There are many reasons why his return will help rejuvenate a stagnant Patriot offense.

Julian Edelman broke his foot in this game against the Giants (AP Photo/Gary Hershorn)
Julian Edelman broke his foot in this game against the Giants (AP Photo/Gary Hershorn)
  1. He is, by a wide margin, the man Tom Brady trusts most (my apologies to Rob Gronkowski) to be in the right spot at the right time
  2. He seldom drops a pass and often makes the hard catch look easy
  3. When Edelman is in, defenses have to adjust, giving others – like Gronkowski – more space to make the catch
  4. The weakest part of the New England offense, the offensive line, is exposed less with Edelman playing because Brady has that security blanket available for his quick release. No one else filled that role during his absence. Danny Amendola did his best, but it wasn’t quite good enough.

Don’t underestimate the importance of #4. The bye-week does give time for the big guys up front to rest. However, at it’s best, this season it was mediocre…even when rested.

The return of Sebastian Vollmer helps, but even when he was playing Brady was getting hit hard and often. The most consistent players have been perennial back-up Josh Kline (per Mike Reiss 77.4% of offensive snaps) and rookie David Andrews (68.5%), which shows just how bad things have been.

Other Critical Pieces Of The Puzzle

The return of Edelman alone is not a cure-all. Although it should make a huge difference on offense, the defense needs to get back to the dominant group that intimidated QBs throughout the league. The return to health of some key defensive players should take a lot of pressure off the offense, allowing wins while falling short of scoring 30+ points a game.

Dont'a Hightower sacks Cowboy's QB Weeden
Dont’a Hightower sacks Cowboy’s QB Weeden
  • Dont’a Hightower

Remember three years ago when we were all questioning Hightower’s ability to diagnose offenses and actually make the big play? As we’ve seen over the past two seasons, he has dispelled any doubt…he was a great 1st round draft pick (25th overall) in 2012!

Arguably the most valuable player on the defense, Hightower has played injured for a while now…and it has shown with his hesitancy on the field. Hopefully this bye-week gets him confident that he is OK and he’ll return the All-Pro that he was prior to getting banged up.

One of 12 1/2 sacks by Chandler Jones (photo: Keith Nordstrom NewEnglandPatriots.com)
One of 12 1/2 sacks by Chandler Jones (photo: Keith Nordstrom NewEnglandPatriots.com)
  • Chandler Jones

When Hightower got injured Jones production suffered, despite the help he got from Jamie Collins and Jaball Sheard. At one point it felt like Jones was going to smash all Patriot sack records, but by seasons end he had an injured toe and was struggling to get to the QB. The two weeks off (he sat the last game) should re-energize his motor and the combination of Jones, Hightower, Sheard, Collins, Akiem Hicks, Malcom Brown and, old faithful,  Rob Ninkovich will have opposing teams scratching their head when they have the ball.

…And Let’s Not Forget

  • Danny Amendola

If Edelman hadn’t been out Amendola wouldn’t have played (injury)  at the end. No one can ever question his toughness to me. Here’s hoping fans appreciate how much he has done this year, beside building a car port in an upper class area of Rhode Island. The trio of Gronkowski, Edelman, Amendola along with  James White, Brandon LaFell (yes, as 4th receiver), Steven Jackson and Keshawn Martin should keep defenses on their heels, cutting back on the pressure being put on Brady.

  • Tom Brady

    Down goes Brady and it hurts
    Down goes Brady and it hurts

No, he’s not an afterthought. When he limped off the field in Miami, Patriot’s Nation held their collective breath and looked to the sky. Why, oh why, was he even playing? Despite the (high?) ankle sprain sustained on a low hit (no penalty?) by arguably the dirtiest player in the NFL (Ndamukong Suh) you know #12 will be on the field doing anything it takes to win.

…And No More Injuries, Please!

It seems every day something new pops up on the injury front. Whether it was Chandler Jones last week or Nate Ebner Thursday, enough is enough.

In case you forgot, the non-playing Injured Reserve list for the Patriots includes these names we were counting on to help get to Super Bowl 50:

  • Nate Solder & Ryan Wendell from the OL
  • Running backs Dion Lewis (sigh) & LeGarrette Blount plus FB James Develin
  • Oft injured DL Dominique Easley

There are more, but those six were key players.

So, everyone else, please, stay healthy for the 1st real game of the season, January 16 at Foxborough…as the next step to ring #5 commences.

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

New England Patriots: Play The Subs…PLEASE!

Another goal was reached Sunday when the New England Patriots routed the terrible (3-11) Tennessee Titans 33-16 in their final regular season game at Gillette Stadium. The win brought the beat-up, battered bodies of the home team to 12-2, but, more importantly, Denver’s loss to Pittsburgh guaranteed them a first round bye. The Patriots have now earned that honor for an NFL-record six consecutive seasons.

Malcolm Butler had a big game, including this interception in the end zone in front of Harry Douglas (83) (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Malcolm Butler had a big game, including this interception in the end zone in front of Harry Douglas (83) (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

How’s This For The Most Dominant Team In This Decade

  • Second team to ever have at least 6 straight 12 win seasons
  • Most seasons earning a bye since 12 team playoff format since 1990
  • 5 sacks against Tennessee and at least one sack in every game in 2015
  • Bill Belichick is 55-11 (.833) in December with New England, the best record in December among head coaches with one team in NFL history (min. 25 games)
  • Tom Brady tied Peyton Manning for the NFL record with the most seasons with 35 TDs (4)

The Patriots wrap up the season with road games in NY against the Jets and Miami to take on the Dolphins. They need to win one of those two games to assure home field advantage up to the Super Bowl. How important is home field? Well, since 1996 the Patriots are 17-3 playing at home in the real games. ‘Nuf said?

So, Who Do You Rest & When?

With injuries piling up every week the question arises, at what point do you start resting some of the walking wounded? The answer seems simple, NOW.

We all know Tom Brady will grit it out until the end, but even with a rotation of healthy running backs (James White has really stepped up and who wasn’t impressed with Joey Iosefa, oh yeah, and now Steven Jackson), enough WRs to get by (Brandon LaFell, Keshawn Martin, Leonard Hankerson Chris Harper) and the World’s greatest tight end (no need to name him is there?) New England should be able to win one, if not both of their remaining games.

Let Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman get as healthy as possible. Keep them on the bench until the games really matter, 4 weeks from now.

The defense continues to shine, so sitting Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung shouldn’t matter. Yes, all 3 are critical players if the team is to play in Super Bowl 50, but right now they can be replaced in the short run.

Defense Shines Again

Akiem Hicks recovers the ball for a TD after it was stripped from Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Akiem Hicks recovers the ball for a TD after it was stripped from Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Despite an understandable let-up in the second half the defense once again dominated. The list of players impressing grows game-to-game. This week it was Akiem Hicks turn to step up with a strip-sack (Chandler Jones featured photo) fumble recovery for a TD, a sack of his own, 4 tackles and constant pressure up the middle.

  • Chandler Jones had a two-sack game, bringing his season total to 12 1/2
  • New England is tied for 1st with Denver in team sacks (47)
  • The Patriots are now in the Top 10 in all key defensive stats…Points (7th), Yards (6th), Passing (8th), Rushing (10th)

Next Game: 1PM Sunday vs the Jets

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

 

New England vs Buffalo: Tyrod Taylor could be a headache in the making

The Patriots will be facing off against the Buffalo Bills this week after both teams won in their week one matchups. A key factor in the Bills win against the Colts was due to the strong play of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

profootballtalk.nbcsports.com
profootballtalk.nbcsports.com

In the past the Patriots have tended to struggle defensively against mobile, speedy quarterbacks and Taylor is just that. Against the Colts Taylor was 14 of 19 passing with 195 yards and a touchdown, adding 41 yards on the ground. Taylor’s mobility helped him move around the pocket and extend plays. His speed and mobility also opened things up for the offense because of his ability to run the option and draw defenders off his offensive weapons.

New Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan knows from his tenure with the Jets that the Patriots have struggled against mobile quarterbacks and has had some success because of it. In the Patriots-Jets first meeting last season, Jets quarterback Geno Smith ran for 37 yards on seven carries and Smiths running ability almost lead to a New York Jets come from behind victory, before Chris Jones blocked a field goal to end the game. In 2013 against the Patriots Smith ran for a combined 50 yards on nine carries, and added a touchdown on the ground. The team also struggled in the Super Bowl with Russell Wilson rushing for 39 yards on three attempts. Rex Ryan has had some success against the Patriots’ defense in the past and knows the team’s weakness and where to attack, especially with the speed and skill set that Tyrod Taylor possesses.

bostonglobe.com
bostonglobe.com

Another reason why Taylor could give New England problems on Sunday is because of his lack of experience. Yes I know this sounds odd but with Taylor’s only career start coming last week against Indianapolis and with limited playing time during the Bills quarterback battle this preseason, there is not much film on Taylor which can make it hard to game plan against. With no film it can be hard to pinpoint weaknesses in Taylor’s game, especially coming off a strong performance last week. I expect the Patriots defense to be better prepared for Taylor than Indianapolis was and for Taylor to not have as good a performance this week that he did last. With that being said, Taylor’s skill set is something Patriots fans should still be worried about with all the different ways that he could beat a team.

I would expect the team to use a quarterback spy on Taylor such as Jamie Collins or Rob Ninkovich. Collins or Ninkovich do not possess the pure speed and quickness that Taylor does but they are both extremely smart, athletic players who could follow Taylor around the field and stop him from breaking off long runs. This would also allow defenders to stay on their man to eliminate potential targets. Ninkovich played a spy role in the Super Bowl against Russell Wilson at times and proved to stop him from scrambling as much and made one of the biggest plays in the game when he sacked Wilson late in the fourth quarter when spying Wilson.

via gazettenet.com
via gazettenet.com

This weekends game between the Patriots and the Bills could shape up to be one of the best games of the regular season. A huge key to victory for the Patriots is slowing down this Tyrod Taylor led Bills offense.