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.

NFL Player Profile: Chad Ochocinco (New England Patriots)

Chad Ochocinco is excited to be a member of the New England Patriots!

By Matt Noonan 

Chad Ochocinco (New England Patriots/Wide Receiver):  One of the most colorful, animated, as well as talented players in the NFL joined Bill Belichick’s roster on Thursday and nope, it wasn’t an early “April Fools” joke.

Chad Ochocinco, who spent the past 10-seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, was excited to join forces with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Wes Welker. He’ll certainly provide depth on the offense, as well as be the perfect slot-man for Brady, but also, help with the running game by opening lanes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris.

Yet, besides participating in the “Patriot Ways,” he’ll definitely become one of Brady’s go-to-guys and could certainly help improve Brandon Tate and Taylor Price’s performance on the field. In fact, maybe he’ll convince Julian Edelman to cut his hair, but that’s not totally necessary.

Although, besides all the positives and leadership qualities Ochocinco brings to the table, it’s certainly important to note that he’s a top-notch receiver who’s a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro. In ’05, he led the Bengals in receiving yards, [1,432] and touchdowns, [9], but overall, his numbers in various categories have gone up and down over the years, yet have indeed remained consistent.

All in all, despite being 33-years-old, Ochocinco is focused and prepared to have a great season, especially since he’s wearing his two favorite numbers…thanks, Aaron Hernandez.

Career Numbers: 151 games/751 receptions/10,783 reception yards/66 touchdowns

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!

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.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

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.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

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.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

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.

Breaking Down the Patriots QB, RB and WR Positions

By Dan Rubin

With the NFL Draft beginning Thursday, let’s put the labor situation on the shelf and get back to actual football talk.  Let’s take a look at some positions as our beloved New England Patriots get set to stock their roster and try to make a run at league supremacy.  For our rankings of best available, we’re using the rankings by Rivals.com.  We start today with Quarterbacks, Running Backs, and Wide Receivers:

 Quarterbacks

Depth Chart: Tom Brady (starter), Brian Hoyer

Best Available: Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Cam Newton (Auburn), Jake Locker (Washington), Ricky Stanzi (Iowa), Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), Andy Dalton (TCU), Christian Ponder (Florida State), Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), TJ Yates (North Carolina).

Who’s On the Radar: The Patriots have six picks in the first three rounds.  Odds are they’ll move at least two of them for future picks or current players.  But they have to remember that Brady is 33 years old.  If there’s no football this year and with his birthday in August, he wouldn’t play again until he’s 35.  Now is the time to start planning for the unthinkable of life after Brady.  Gabbert, Newton, and Locker will be off the board by the time New England can even think about a draft pick.  Having seen Ponder over the past few seasons, he’s the prospect most like Brady.  Ponder never really had a full grasp on the starting job at FSU, and even when he did, a lot of people doubted him.  He’s also similar in body type to Brady, and the knocks on him are very similar.  He’s a dink-and-dunk passer who can’t go deep, and but he’s tough, intelligent, and competitive.  He’d look great taking over in the offense after learning it for three or four seasons.  He would just have to be okay with being drafted under the understanding that he’s not playing for three years until Brady retires.

I don’t really like Kaepernick because he played in Nevada’s Pistol offense, and Dalton only really had the one season as a starter.  Mallett and Yates are works in progress, and I wouldn’t take either of them, especially Yates, who threw more dying quails than a shooting range.  If the Patriots don’t take a QB in the first four rounds, they’re probably not going to get one, unless they decide to sign Greg McElroy (Alabama) as an undrafted free agent.   Honestly, they still have a couple of years, so I’m not giving the position too much thought.  Whoever plays isn’t going to be a starter until Brady retires, and 99% of the Patriots’ fan base doesn’t want to see that day.  The other 1% wants Brady to leave before he pierces his ears, starts calling himself “Tomas,” and becomes an acclaimed mariachi musician in Brazil.

Woodhead provided a much needed spark for the Patriots offense, but is his job with the organization safe?

 Running Backs

Depth Chart: BenJarvis Green-Ellis (starter), Danny Woodhead, Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk

Best Available: Mark Ingram (Alabama), Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech), Dion Lewis (Pittsburgh), Daniel Thomas (Kansas State), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), Mikel Leshoure (Illinois), Shane Vereen (California), Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State), Delone Carter (Syracuse), Jordan Todman (Connecticut)

Who’s On the Radar: Patriots fans love their running backs.  The Law Firm gave them their first 1,000 yard rusher since Corey Dillon, and Woodhead became the most beloved member of the backfield since Moses Tatupu.  We still love Faulk, even though the Patriots proved they could live without him, and they extricated themselves from the steaming pile of running back dung known as Lawrence Maroney.  Taylor’s just kind of there, and I’m not sure, but Sammy Morris might still be kicking around somewhere.

But we’re also not stupid.  We love Green-Ellis as the starter, but there are doubts he can replicate his season from a year ago.  He’s a savage runner, loves to hit and be hit, and he’s probably the toughest guy on the field.  He’s not afraid of taking a linebacker on if it means getting that one extra yard, which was Maroney’s biggest issue and why he played himself right out of Foxboro.  We just don’t know if he’s got the talent to do what he did a year ago, since defenses figured out how to stop him (see also: Ryan, Rob and Ryan, Rex).  Likewise, Woodhead’s a great story, and we love him to pieces.  But he’s a Honda Accord compared to the NASCAR engines around him.  He did great on third downs to be the next Faulk, but they’re an injury to Green-Ellis away from having him in on every down.  And yes, Woodhead’s good, but he’s not that good.

So that makes the running game one of the bigger focal points for fans going into the draft.  There’s a very good chance that Ingram is on the board when the Patriots pick at both #17 and #28.  Ingram is the man we want because he has the body and pedigree to play for the Pats.  His father, Mark Ingram, Sr. played for the Giants during their Super Bowl heyday.  That means the family knows Belichick.  He’s a Nick Saban guy, who is a Belichick guy.  That counts for something.

Body-wise, Ingram makes his best move at the line.  He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he has an initial burst that can crush through opposing defensive lines.  Think about what The Law Firm does, then dial it up a notch.  He rarely fumbled in college, and he’s small enough at 5-10 to be shifty at the line.  This is a guy that would fit perfectly in the Patriots system.  Then again, we said the same thing about Maroney.

I don’t think the Patriots pick him with their first pick because I think Anthony Costanzo will be there as a tackle, and New England desperately needs to repair their offensive line with the departures of Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur.  But I think if Ingram is around at pick #28, he will be wearing blue and silver as a rookie.  That’s not to say it’s a guarantee because Belichick is more likely to trade the pick than actually draft in it, but what this guy brings to the table makes him suited for this team.

After Ingram, there’s a major drop-off in talent, too.  Williams, the next best running back, is most likely a third round pick.  Maybe the Pats take Todman late, since he’s a local product who was dominant at UConn, but he’s 5-9, 190, and one midget on the roster is enough.

 Wide Receivers

Depth Chart: Deion Branch (starter), Wes Welker (starter), Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Taylor Price, Rob Gronkowski (tight end), Aaron Hernandez (tight end)

Best Available: A.J. Green (Georgia), Julio Jones (Alabama), Randall Cobb (Kentucky), Greg Little (North Carolina), Titus Young (Boise State), Torrey Smith (Maryland), Jerrel Jernigan (Troy), Kyle Rudolph (tight end – Notre Dame), Lance Kendricks (tight end – Wisconsin), Virgil Green (tight end – Nevada).

Who’s On the Radar: The Patriots’ receiving corps is one of the most underrated enigmas of the offseason.  They pretty much rebuilt it on the fly last year, dealing Randy Moss for a bag of kicking tees to Minnesota, then orchestrating a trade to bring back Branch.  Welker is a mutant, coming back from tearing everything in his knee after tearing it at the end of the 2009 season.  Even though his brain will resemble split-pea soup by the time he’s 45, he’s the toughest and most consistent wide out in the NFL.  Gronkowski and Hernandez were revelations are rookies, even though they’re tight ends.  They’re phenomenal in open space.

Why didn't Chad Jackson pan out with the Patriots?

That leaves us to look at Tate, Edelman, and Price. Edelman took three massive steps back this year as a receiver, even though he’s going to stay on the roster because he’s a great return specialist.  Tate and Price, meanwhile, are incompletes.  Tate has breakaway speed, maybe better than Moss in his prime, but he doesn’t know how to run a pass pattern.  And Price was inactive or hurt for most of the season, so he’s starting to resemble Chad Jackson.

The Patriots historically don’t take receivers in the first round.  Then again, nobody other than Al Davis usually does.  They’re a dime a dozen, and with the exception of Green and Jones, the rest all fall into the same group.  When you start getting back into the third, fourth, and fifth rounds, maybe then you start grabbing a wide receiver along the lines of Cobb or Little.  Maybe they take Rudolph, who is in the same mold as Gronkowski and Hernandez.  But really, how many pass-catching tight ends does one team need?

Instead, I’m going to throw this one out there as a crazy but maybe solution.  I don’t think the Patriots take a wide receiver at all this draft to give Tate and Price one last chance to showcase themselves.  If they do anything, it’ll be to orchestrate the Randy Moss Trade, Part 2.  The Patriots have been very open about the fact that they have a number of picks in the first rounds, and therefore, they’d be willing to deal them.  Chad Ochocinco has pretty much been lobbying to be traded to New England.  He’s very open to coming here, and maybe, just maybe, the Patriots decide to trade for him, much like they did for Moss.

Stay tuned to Noontime Sports for your full draft coverage as we get set for all the action from Radio City Music Hall.