New England Patriots – Preseason Game Two Observations/Thoughts

Tom Brady, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker took care of business on Thursday, as the Patriots defeated the Buccaneers, 31-14.

By Matt Noonan 

It’s only the second game of the preseason, but still, there are plenty of things to take away from this particular game, despite the Patriots second victory.

Here are a few overall thoughts on the game, as well as things that will need to be addressed or corrected going forward.

*The first offensive statistic that sticks out right away was New England’s opening drive, which was a total of five plays for 64 yards. Tom Brady connected with tight end Aaron Hernandez to give the Patriots momentum, as well as the lead. The offense continued their success on their second and third drives of the game, as well as watched BenJarvus Green-Ellis convert six points on a one-yard run and Chad Ochocinco record his first touchdown reception in a New England uniform. Although, despite their first quarter success, the offense struggled during the second, third and fourth quarter, but did managed to display positive signs, especially when Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet were under center. Although, I’m sure Mr. Brady wasn’t exactly the happiest person, as he watched both back up quarterbacks struggle to maintain momentum, which he had established. Both Mallet and Hoyer didn’t appear as productive in this game, as they were against the Jacksonville Jaguars, as the quarterbacks combined for 10 completions and one interception.

*As usual, head coach Bill Belichick mentioned during his postgame press conference that there are always things to improve upon, yet, after observing his first string offense, especially in the first quarter, it almost felt as if we were watching highlights of the ’07 squad. Although, don’t ask the head coach about that squad, especially since they didn’t finish the season undefeated.

Once again, Patriots fans watched rookie running back Stevan Ridley take over the ground game.

*Running back Stevan Ridley proved that once again, he deserves a spot on this particular roster. The halfback finished the game with 84 yards on 14 carries, but didn’t manage to record his fourth touchdown of the preseason. However, Ridley has also proven that he’s reliable, gritty and tough football player, especially since he was sidelined earlier this past week with an injury. Yet, it’s likely we’ll be seeing number twenty-two on the sidelines this year.

*The Patriots defense smothered the Buccaneers starting quarterback, Josh Freeman, who finished the game with five completions for 33 yards. Yet, despite keeping Freeman on his toes, the defense also recorded three sacks and one interception. Linebacker Tracy White led New England with five tackles, while Jerod Mayo finished the game with two sacks, three tackles and two assists.

*The Patriots defense constantly provided pressure from all different angles, as well as allowed their front seven to force their way through the Buccaneers offensive line. Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter appeared incredibly uncomfortable in and outside the pocket, as well as out of sync with their second and third string offense, which had to make Belichick somewhat happy, right? Expect this trend to continue the next two weeks, as well as into the regular season too. Belichick indeed has retooled his defensive unit, although, one has to wonder, will they use more blitz packages this season or resort to playing a variety of zone coverage’s? Who knows, but after two completely different exhibition games, it’s quite easy to think that the Patriots will be an aggressive defense this season.

All in all, it was yet again another successful team effort by the Patriots offense, defense and special teams. Of course, fans should expect some changes to occur, but in the meantime, it was yet another solid outing, as well as a positive sign of things to come.

Noonan: NFL Preseason Reactions

New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was rather impressive on Thursday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

By Matt Noonan 

Quick hits – from around the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett admitted that “it was nice to win” on Thursday, as his team rallied to defeat the Denver Broncos, 24-23. However, despite the limited performance of starting quarterback Tony Romo, back up Stephen McGee left fans wondering, if he’s someone the squad can rely on down the road? It’s way too early to answer that particular question, yet, it’s quite possible that one day, McGee could be the starter, but he needs to do more than convert on two-point conversion plays. McGee finished the game with 208 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Broncos head coach John Fox was pleased with quarterback Tim Tebow’s on-field presence, however, I think it’s an obvious that Kyle Orton will retain his starting job. Orton completed two-of-six passes for 37-yards, while Tebow finished the game with 91 yards, but no touchdown. In fact, former Notre Dame star, Brady Quinn ended his evening with one touchdown pass to Eron Riley, but who knows if either player will make the final cut.

The New England Patriots were rather hot on Thursday, as they beat up the Jacksonville Jaguars, 47-12. Tom Brady, Chad Ochocinco and Wes Welker suited up, but instead, watched backup quarterbacks, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet combine for 335 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Yet, despite the successful play of both quarterbacks, running backsStevan Ridley and Richard Medlin combined for four rushing touchdowns.

However, the Patriots did encountered some negative issues, which included fumbling the ball twice, as well as special teams struggles, such as kicking the ball out of bounds and mishandling snaps. Although, I am sure head coach Bill Belichick has told his team that’s unacceptable.

Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert struggled in his NFL debut, as he finished the game with nine completions. Gabbert didn’t register a single touchdown or interception too.

OTHER NOTES –

*Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb ended his evening with four completions for 68 yards. However, despite just seven pass attempts, Kolb’s Cardinals did defeat the Oakland Raiders, 24-18

*Philadelphia Eagles running back Ronnie Brown rushed for 22 yards on nine carries, as well as recorded one catch for seven yards. Michael Vick and Vince Young combined for 119 yards and one touchdown strike to tight end Brent Celek.

Daily Noontime – August 12, 2011

Mr. Chris Johnson is expected a MAJOR pay raise!

Happy Friday and welcome to yet another awesome version of the Daily Noontime! Here’s the headlines and news, so enjoy, friends! 

Headlines: 

* According to reports, University of Southern California could apparently block any NFL moves to have a team play at the Coliseum while a new stadium is being built in Los Angles.

* Well, apparently the Tennessee Titans are interested in making Chris Johnson the highest paid NFL running back, as long as he shows up to camp.

* The New York Yankees got some help from Robinson Cano on Thursday against the Los Angles of Anaheim Angels, as his home run put his team one game behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East standings.

* Steve Stricker fired a 63 at the PGA Tournament on Thursday, which apparently tied a tournament record.

* Justin Verlander led the Detroit Tigers past the Cleveland Indians on Thursday, as well as earned his 17th win of the season too.

* Denver Broncos head coach John Fox was quite pleased with quarterback Tim Tebow‘s performance on Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys.

Games to Watch: 

* Tampa Bay at New York Yankees (MLB) – 7:05pm eastern 

* Chicago Cubs at Atlanta (MLB) – 7:35pm eastern 

* Tampa Bay at Kansas City (NFL Preseason) – 8:00pm eastern 

* San Francisco at New Orleans (NFL Preseason) – 8:00pm eastern 

* Boston at Seattle (MLB) – 10:10pm eastern 

Video of the Day: 

New England Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallet is a name you’ll want to remember! 

Lindberg: New England Patriots Draft Grade

How much will Nate Solder impact the New England Patriots in the future?

By Andy Lindberg 

I feel like I should be yet another tool to give out a draft grade.  Therefore I will grade the Patriots. I have been watching the Patriots since I moved to Connecticut from Alabama in 1992. (Side note, I HATE how the New York Jets drafted Alabama’s former quarterback, Greg McElroy. That made me sad).

I love football, but what the NFL draft has become, a spectacle after the meat-market that is the televised NFL scouting combine, is a flash and flare party which sees men who have never taken a snap in the National Football League take their first steps toward garnering $40 million signing bonus’ who later turn out to be the next Ryan Leaf.

In short, it upsets me. It is unnecessarily exhibited and covered by men who can’t seem to do anything but yell at me over the television screen. I understand the player has great “football smarts,” but you’ve yelled it at me for the past eight picks.  It’s a wonder any of these players ever fails. So “tool upon tool” is screaming letter grades at me like these teams just took an exam. I will be joining the ranks of them, providing you a letter grade at the end of this and oh, by the way, I’m sorry in advance for my weakness.

That said the draft is a necessity for the business of building a football team.  There are a lot of teams who drafted well because they drafted needs. The Patriots last year had an exceptional draft, fixing gaping holes at the tight end and defensive back positions. This past season, both improved exponentially (especially at tight end) and the only glaring hole was the need for a pass rusher and offensive line help.  Before I begin let it be known that even though I may like some of the players New England drafted (as made obvious with my pick by pick coverage) that does not mean I feel they were smart picks in some cases.

The Patriots’ first pick was offensive tackle Nate Solder from Colorado. Given the futures of Matt Light and Logan Mankins with the team, this was a very good pick.  However after that, New England’s draft went downhill. They did nothing at all to address the pass rush, even with several on the board.

With the first overall pick of the second round, they drafted Ras-I Dowling, a cornerback from Virginia. I liked this pick because I thought New England could still add good pass rush depth later in the second round, given the talent still out there.  Even with Leigh Bodden coming back, Dowling could provide very capable help at the lower end of the depth chart in his first year, and could prove to be a very valuable special-teamer immediately.

Will the former Patriots running back core be effected by the 2011 NFL Draft?

After that it got bad. The Patriots drafted two running backs in a row even though BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a fantastic year and Danny Woodhead took over the Kevin Faulk role. Yes, New England needed a little more depth at that position, but one of those picks (preferably the earlier, Shane Vereen pick) should have been a pass-rusher.

Picking Ryan Mallett was a great selection, as I believe New England got a steal.  Mallett could also prove to be great trade bait in a few years if Tom Brady is still racking up great numbers. A guy like Mallett won’t sit as a backup for long, not with his potential.

In the fifth round New England drafted TCU’s Marcus Cannon, an offensive lineman who dropped to round five because of a very recent cancer diagnosis. His prognosis is excellent, and doctors anticipate a recovery very soon. If he can play up to his potential in a year or two, he will have been a good steal.

The Patriots finished the draft with Markell Carter, an outside linebacker from Central Arkansas and Malcolm Williams, a defensive back from TCU. Size-wise, Carter fits the profile of the type of linebacker New England loves. I hope he proves to be a fantastic player down the road, but for now, he’s simply a sixth round pick.

The Patriots had a need, and did not address it, even with all the available needs.  They added more picks for next year via trades, but the time for stockpiling picks is over. This year it was time to cash in and the Patriots didn’t do it. More than likely one of those running back picks is going to turn out to be a wasted pick. There’s only so much playing time for a running back with Ellis and Woodhead playing. There was no reason not to pick a pass rusher in that situation.

I used to give the Pats the benefit of the doubt, but for the past few years, one of the needs has been the same and New England has done little to address it. New York’s Mark Sanchez kept his jersey very clean during the playoff matchup with New England and that’s ultimately what ended up costing Tom Brady and Co. another shot at a title. If the Patriots cannot get to the quarterback, no regular season record is going to change the fact that in the playoffs, they’re going to get burned.

Patriots draft grade (according to me, who’s opinion really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but here at Noontime Sports it does): C

An average grade for an average draft.

I still love them, though. Go Pats!

Jeff Howe (NESN) on Noontime Sports the Podcast (4/30/11)

Jeff Howe from NESN.com joined Noontime Sports the Podcast on Saturday morning to discuss the NFL Draft, as well as talk about the picks made by the New England Patriots. 

Make sure to follow Jeff on Twitter (@JeffPHowe).


 

NFL Draft 2011: Day Two Winners and Losers

By Dan Rubin 

Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about the draft’s 2nd and 3rd round selections, goings-on, and overall tomfoolery:

Winners:

The mad genius did it again. Maybe I’m just a wicked homer, but Bill Belichick never disappoints during the NFL Draft. He orchestrated the Patriots to the tune of three second round selections and two third round selections, which he traded into picks and future considerations. When the dust settled, they selected a cornerback, two running backs, and the heir apparent to Tom Brady.

I love the selection of Ryan Mallett. Actually, let me take that back; I really love that pick. I said in my draft preview that the Pats needed a quarterback. Mallett’s the answer. The Patriots are preparing for life after Brady because he won’t play forever. Mallett brings all the coachable tools for the NFL with none of the immediate pressure. He’s going to sit for four years (maybe), learn the system and mature under the tutelage of one of the game’s all time greats. Then, when it’s his time, he’ll be able to step in and seamlessly fill the role. Bill did it again.

I also really liked Cincinnati’s patience with waiting for Andy Dalton. It would’ve been easy to react in the first round and trade up to get Dalton, especially after Minnesota grabbed Christian Ponder. But they waited as long as they could and gambled that Dalton would last through the first two selections of the second round. It doesn’t sound like much, but Buffalo desperately needs a new quarterback (among other things). They passed on Dalton for Aaron Williams, and the rumor of the Bungles trading up to get in front of the Bills to ensure a shot at Dalton was left at just that. With the rumors still swirling regarding the fate and future of Carson Palmer, the Bengals at least made sure they have a contingency plan one way or the other.

Division I-FCS came out on top on Day 2, as well. Usually, the former I-AA doesn’t produce players until the late rounds, when guys from Coppin State start making their appearances. But 2011 is another year where I-AA players went in the first few rounds.  Both players were offensive linemen, but Benjamin Ijalana (Villanova) joined the Colts, and William Rackley (Lehigh) and Kenrick Ellis (Hampton) joined the Jaguars and Jets, respectively, in the second and third rounds, respectively.  It also marks another year where the J-E-T-S dipped into the FCS division, where they took Vlad Ducasse from UMass last year.

ESPN gets a “big thumbs up” for its coverage of the second and third rounds. They trotted out everybody under the sun for the first round, and it seemed like it was too much talking and not enough of the players. Maybe it’s because the later rounds don’t have as much of an opinion, but they had packages for just about everyone on the second round. I saw more blocking package highlight reels for those big daddies getting picked than I’d seen with some players in the first round. And Jon Gruden continued some of the best analysis I’ve heard when it comes to the NFL.  That’s saying something because Gruden is so awesomely bad on Monday Night Football. I’m actually looking forward to hearing what he has to say on the final day of the draft.

Gruden also gets a huge pat on the back for the way he handled the lockout situation. Ok, the lockout is back, thanks to a judge in the middle of the NFL Draft. At least that’s not awful timing or anything, given the events of yesterday’s pre-draft debacle booing at Roger Goodell (more on this later). But Gruden said what we all are thinking – “Look, I have no idea what these four and five-syllable words even mean.  Let’s just get back to the game.”  Thank you, Coach.  Thank you very much.

Kudos to the league for trotting out every dusty alumnus they could find. Seeing Joe Morris the day after I heard about Mark Ingram, Sr. brought me back to memories of Tecmo Bowl on the old Nintendo Entertainment System. I can still envision Mark Bavaro running that outlet pattern to the bottom of my screen, then hitting him for a first down as Phil Simms trotted the Giants up the field. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve lit up the Los Angles Raiders in that game; every time they trotted out somebody, it gave my dad and I something to talk about, usually around him having seen the guys and me asking about them.

Franco Harris’s Beard gets a class by itself. Looks so natural, no one can tell (Just for Men gel!).

The guy who introduced the Lions second round pick is probably the only person willing to be identified as a Lions fan (for now).  They couldn’t even find a decent alumnus. Apparently Scott Mitchell couldn’t be found.  Maybe they could’ve trotted out Wayne Fontes.

Losers: 

The NFL gets a massive black eye with its labor situation. Rich Eisen said before the first round that it would be great to finally get back to football, even if it was influenced by an uneasy labor situation. And now the league is right back in the headlines for the wrong reasons. As name after name was rattled off, it became quickly overshadowed with the reinstitution of a lockout we, as fans, really don’t want. These billion dollar owners and million dollar players are on the verge of ruining something we all desperately are begging them not to.  And yet nobody seems to care.  Did you not hear the fans?  We’re mad as hell, and they’re going to demonize the one thing we all need as an outlet.

I mean, maybe they haven’t figured it out yet.  Football saved New Orleans after Katrina. A team named the Patriots won the Super Bowl the year of 9/11, armed with a guard who had brothers who ran into the Twin Towers (oh by the way, they were underdogs that everyone loved). This game has a way of touching millions of people, and they’re going to destroy it. I hope you can sense the emotion in those last two paragraphs.  I desperately want my NFL, and even if they do figure it out, there’s a sense that this game and league that I love has been irreparably torn in some capacity. The 2011-2012 season will always be marred by the labor situation because the offseason is so affected by it. Thanks a lot guys.

In terms of rosters, I don’t really get what New England was doing with drafting two running backs. Ok, I get that BenJarvis Green-Ellis probably isn’t a long-term solution. But the guy just ran for 1,000 yards in a year where he wasn’t even the feature back during the first third of the season. So they went out and drafted two running backs out of the four picks on Friday. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. I can understand taking one, but now the backfield is going to be stocked with a ton of guys. Only one can carry the ball at a time, and with Tom Brady under center, you’re not running it every play.

I also don’t get why the Patriots didn’t go after a wide receiver or, more importantly, a defensive lineman. Pass rushing is an issue for this team, and they haven’t yet addressed it. Maybe they have confidence in the returning Value Menu of Ron Brace, Myron Pryor, that guy Love, and Vince Wilfork.  Maybe they’re banking on the return of Ty Warren and a steady improvement of the linebacker corps.  But something felt wrong about taking another rookie cornerback that nobody in New England has probably heard of and not even touching that horrendous pass rush.

Offensive position players were big losers on Day 2. 15 out of 32 and 20 out of 33 picks in the second and third rounds, respectively, were for defense. And now take into account that two of the first four picks in the second round were for Dalton and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. The offenses around the league are clicking at a pace never before seen, and the game is starting to shift its focus to how to stop these high-powered attacks.

Speaking of Kaepernick, congratulations to the San Francisco 49ers for making the “Holy Crap We Need to Press A Panic Button” draft pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. As soon as Dalton went to the Bengals, the Niners immediately traded up from 7th in the second round to 4th to ensure they got Kaepernick. They left Mallett on the board and took a guy who ran a weirdo offense in the WAC last year. He also doesn’t throw the ball like a prototypical NFL-style QB. What does that add up to? A poor man’s Vince Young.  They also made the biggest reactionary move of the draft so far when they did that. They needed a QB since Alex Smith (Welcome to Bustville.  Population – you) is not under contract, and right now their only returning signal caller is David Carr.  But they could’ve waited and had the choice of Mallett in that slot. Or they could’ve traded back and amassed some other picks to get Mallett there. Instead, they traded up to take a guy who I don’t think is a very good quarterback.

One last stat on Kaepernick, who is a guy who threw and ran for thousands of yards, Nevada nearly lost to a weak Boston College team in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl this year. Yes they finished the year ranked #11, and they beat Boise State, and Kaepernick put up ungodly numbers. But take away a punt return for a touchdown on special teams, and Nevada loses that game. That’s right, they lose to a BC team that had an offense ranked something like second from the bottom in passing. A good defense shuts him down. What do you think will happen in the NFL, where defenses are awesome?

I’m personally looking forward to Day 3, when teams start to fill out their rosters with some names you probably haven’t heard of.  But Day 3, and the later rounds for that matter, usually fills out a good chunk of star players over time (like that guy with the sweet looking hair who plays for New England.  Brady, I think his name is?).  And for me personally, I’m hoping Mark Herzlich gets selected somewhere.  The 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year deserves a shot at the pros after all he’s been through coming back from cancer, and it would be one of the final stamps on a comeback that I have taken a true personal interest in.  It would make a lot of us who support the fight against cancer very happy and very hopeful for those who suffer from this horrible disease.

See you tomorrow as we wrap up one of the best weekends in the NFL.

NFL Draft 2011: New England Patriots – Rounds 2 & 3

By Andy Lindberg 

The New England Patriots selected four new players to join their successful franchise and here is some more information about each player. 

Round 2: Pick 33

Name: Ras-I Dowling

Position: Cornerback

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 198lbs

Overview: This isn’t a bad pick for the Patriots. Clearly New England did not think great pass rush value was available in the second round and figured if they were not going to put a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, shoring up the secondary would help.  Dowling had a tough time his senior year with injuries, but the Patriots have never shown hesitation to draft a banged up player to let him recover.  Dowling had 8 career picks for the University of Virginia and it is possible he can make an immediate impact as a number 3 or 4 corner behind Leigh Bodden and Devin McCourty.  Players like Dowling usually have to prove themselves on special teams, but Bill Belichick must think highly of Dowling to select him 33rd overall in the draft.

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Round 2: Pick 56

Name: Shane Vereen

Position: Running Back

Height: 5’8”

Weight: 204lbs

Overview: I like the selection of Vereen. Even though BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a fantastic year for New England, the Patriots need some depth at the running back position. Much like last year’s draft when New England selected two tight ends in the second round, this year the Patriots took two running backs. Vereen was the first and had a very good year for Cal as a junior rushing for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 22 passes for 209 yards and three scores.  He’s got a low center of gravity and should be able to help New England when needed.  I don’t anticipate a ton of playing time unless the Patriots decide upon platooning their running backs, but Vereen will be a very capable option behind the “Law Firm” and Danny Woodhead.

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Round 3: Pick 73

Name: Steven Ridley

Position: Running Back

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 225lbs

Overview: I watch a ton of SEC football being an Alabama Crimson Tide fan and Ridley is a bruiser. He looks for contact and can wear out a defense. In the toughest conference in college football Ridley ran for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns, including a 159-yard game at Vanderbilt and 123 yards against Tennessee. In the Cotton Bowl against Texan A&M he torched the Aggies for 105 yards on the ground and a score. I believe (partially biased) that Ridley is a better runner than Vereen, but it will be an interesting battle between the two in the pre-season (if there is one) for who comes out higher on the depth chart.

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Round 3: Pick 74

Name: Ryan Mallett

Position: Quarterback

Height: 6’6”

Weight: 253lbs

Overview: I will fully admit (again, I’m an SEC fan) I was completely stoked when New England selected Mallett. Not only do I believe Mallett is a steal, but also a first round, NFL ready talent.

Who better to put behind Tom Brady to learn?  No offense to those who wanted Jake Locker or possibly Blaine Gabbert, but Locker and Gabbert couldn’t hold Mallett’s jock strap in college. Again, Mallett played in (and torched) the toughest defensive conference in college football.  In 2010 he threw for 3,869 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 picks.

Mallett ended his career with 69 touchdown passes and threw for 30+ touchdowns two years in a row in the SEC. However, what stands out the most (aside from his laser, rocket arm) is his size. Ben Roethlisberger is 6’5” and 241 pounds, making Mallett one inch taller and 12 pounds heavier. He has good awareness and with a lockout possible, the Patriots are preparing for the future of their offense without Tom Brady about a year sooner than anticipated.

Mallett was drafted to eventually take over as the starter after Brady leaves. Mallett will be under phenomenal tutelage and this pick for New England may prove to be one of the bigger steals of the draft in a few years. To editorialize some more, I believe this to be a great pick, if that wasn’t already very obvious.