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'Words With Frenz' Patriots mailbag: draft needs, wide receivers and cap space

Posted by Erik Frenz March 29, 2013 07:00 AM

The NFL draft is less than a month away, and you know what that means: time to get caught up on your draft research so it can all be futile when Bill Belichick picks a player you've never heard of.

Thus, we welcome you to the first Boston.com edition of the Words With Frenz mailbag, where the majority of queries related to the draft as it pertains to the Patriots.

Let's get right to the questions!

Let's start by bracing Patriots fans for the bad news that is likely to come. It's not what most Patriots fans will want to hear, but this could be a perfect year to trade down. What this draft lacks in talent, it makes up for in depth — at almost every position. The Patriots have just five picks this year, the fewest since Belichick took over as head coach.

The new draft-slotting wage scale makes it easier to gauge value based on moving around the board, and in the first year of that new system, the Patriots took a different approach by trading up, and took a wildly out-of-character approach by doing so twice.

No one can pretend to have any idea of what the Patriots are going to do in the draft, but given the Patriots' dearth of picks and the overall lack of a dropoff in that late-first-round to mid-second-round range, the Patriots should get back to moving down the board as they have in year's past.

Jonathan, a look at their post-free-agency needs reveals the need for an X-receiver, situational defensive end, backup defensive tackle, backup Y-receiver and cover linebacker. We can safely add cornerback to that list, as well, with depth concerns as well as questions about the availability of Alfonzo Dennard (more on that later).

Signing Michael Jenkins didn't provide any real answers at wide receiver, so with the team in need of two players to fill those spots, that remains their biggest need from this perspective. That doesn't mean, however, that it should necessarily be the position they target with the top pick.

The dropoff after the top prospects, Cordarrelle Patterson and Tavon Austin, is not considered that steep. There will be talent available at wide recever in the second round of the draft.

In terms of the X-receivers, three names to watch are Terrance Williams (Baylor), DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson), and Justin Hunter (Tennessee).

Check out colleague Zuri Berry's scouting report on Williams, but if there's one thing to take away from it, Williams is a bigger, slightly less fast version of Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace. He will provide a dynamic outside-the-numbers presence, but needs work on the finer points of being a wide receiver — running routes, catching with his hands and not his body, etc.

DeAndre Hopkins has been the featured receiver in Clemson's offense over the past few seasons, but he's not your typical college receiver.

He doesn't possess the long speed that Williams has, but he can make contested catches in traffic and he has great quickness in and out of his breaks to create separation on routes. His versatility at the different receiver spots and his ability to operate in all levels of a defense make him an intriguing player for the Patriots offense.

He has drawn comparisons to the likes of Greg Jennings, Roddy White and Sidney Rice. None of them are the fastest receivers, but all of them are big, sure-handed targets who run good routes and know how to get open.

Justin Hunter was overshadowed a bit playing opposite Cordarrelle Patterson, but he has loads of talent.

He entered the combine as a second- or third-round prospect, and a 4.44 40-yard dash probably helped him out a bit, as did his 39.5-inch vertical and 136-inch broad jump — both among the top five wide receivers at the combine.

He is 6'4" and possesses 33.25" long arms, making him an incredible red zone target. He is a polished route-runner, and can create big plays with the ball in his hands. He has great quickness and was considered one of the most explosive wide receivers in the nation in 2011 before a knee injury ended his season short.

The concerns with Hunter are the knee surgery, and that he had just one productive year at Tennessee. With those concerns in mind, his monster year of 73 catches, 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns came after his knee surgery.

All three of those receivers could be available in the second round, and would present good value even if the Patriots wanted to trade back to the beginning of the second round.

Matt, we can only expect contributions from Ballard relative to his opportunities. The Patriots have put a lot of value in having solid backup tight ends now that offense has been focused around tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Ballard's microfracture surgery and ACL surgery — which were the reasons he was waived by the Giants and ended up being available to the Patriots — kept him off the field in 2012. They got enough out of Daniel Fells when he was called upon, but the Visanthe Shiancoe signing can only be described as a failure.

Ballard has proven he can play. He was on the field for 795 offensive snaps (72 percent) in the 2011 regular season. He ranked fourth on the team in targets behind Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham. Ballard was used more as a blocker (340 run block, 116 pass block) than as a pass-catcher (ran 339 routes) in 2011, as well.

Clearly, Ballard could contribute both as a pass-catcher and as a blocking tight end. He may not get many opportunities unless Hernandez or Gronkowski are injured, but the Patriots have been without Hernandez for 10 games over the past three seasons, and were without Gronkowski for five regular season games and the AFC Championship Game.

Having Ballard on the roster lends confidence in New England's ability to overcome injuries to either of its top tight ends.

Kevin, there's little question about Dennard's talent. He was considered a second- or third-round prospect before assault on a police officer led him to fall to the seventh round. He played very well when called upon in 2012, allowing completions on only 50.8 percent of throws into his coverage and yielding a passer rating of 75.6. Both those marks led all rookie cornerbacks in 2012.

Dennard is at his best in press coverage, which is good because he and the secondary as a whole grew together when the Patriots began running more man coverage. He has the strength to re-route receivers and the speed to keep up with them if and when they get off the jam.

The big question, though, is his availability for 2013. As a result of that assault charge, he faces a sentencing hearing on April 11, and no one really knows what to expect. While he could avoid jail time completely, the maximum sentencing is five years in prison and and a $10,00 fine.

If he's on the field in 2013, you can expect big things from Dennard.

Got room for one more.

There are several websites which have information on the salary cap, so here's a roundup of a few trusted favorites:

OverTheCap.com: $12,278,800
PatsCap.com: $12,344,775
Spotrac.com: $10,882,362

That leaves us with a pretty good idea of how much cap space the Patriots have to work with. Looks like you lowballed 'em, Murph!

Keep in mind, though, that the Patriots need to set aside $6 million with which to sign their draft picks.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions. Any further questions can be directed to me on Twitter. I'll try to do one of these a week leading up to the draft as questions continue to pour in.

One under-the-radar free-agent signing to fill each of the Patriots remaining holes

Posted by Erik Frenz March 25, 2013 07:30 AM

134042999_crop_exact.jpgThe free agency melee has slowed down sufficiently, but there remain some talented names out there on the open market.

The New England Patriots could wait until the NFL draft to address their remaining needs, or they could dip into the free-agent pool one last time to give themselves as much room to draft for value as possible.

If they want to pick up some under-the-radar players to fill their remaining needs, here are some names they could look at.

CB Nate Clements

The Patriots are plenty familiar with Clements, the former first-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills who has four career interceptions against New England and this very jarring hit on Tom Brady.

The 13-year NFL veteran doesn't have all the speed he once had, but last year, he was used all over the defense at outside cornerback, slot cornerback and both safety spots.

Speaking of traits head coach Bill Belichick loves in his defensive backs, Clements is also stout against the run.

He did not play as much in 2012 as he has in previous years, but he didn't give up a single touchdown throw into his coverage, and notched an interception and six pass breakups in the process.

Even at 33 years old, it's clear Clements still has something left in the tank. If nothing else, he can provide some veteran leadership for the secondary to balance out some of the "pied-piper" element which Aqib Talib might bring to the table.

DE Israel Idonije

The names everyone has on the tip of their tongue are John Abraham and Dwight Freeney, but in the spirit of under-the-radar guys, Idonije would be a good fit.

jones nink.pngIdonije is a more effective edge rusher than interior, but could provide a push at either spot in a pinch. He logged 10 total pressures (2 sacks, 2 hits, 6 hurries) in 125 pass-rushes at defensive tackle, and 41 pressures (7 sacks, 3 hits, 31 hurries) in 328 rushes as a defensive end. He ranked ninth in pass-rushing productivity among 4-3 defensive ends.

The most recent report from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com indicates the Bears are in competition with the 49ers for his services. Belichick loves versatile defensive linemen, and although Idonije is seen strictly as a 4-3 linemen, his versatility within that front could be enough for the Patriots to get in on the stakes.

DT Sedrick Ellis

Ellis has yet to live up to his potential, but the athletic talent is there in the former top-10 draft choice. If used correctly, he may still help a team as an interior pass-rusher.

ellis' pass rushing productivity.pngEllis got off to a hot start to his career, putting pressure on the quarterback 37 times (28 pressures, 5 hits, 4 sacks) and was the seventh-most productive pass-rushing defensive tackle that year. His production took a nosedive at that point, and he hasn't been the same player since.

The Patriots could be content with giving Armond Armstead a run at the job as the pass-rushing defensive tackle. If they want to spice up the competition a little, they could add Ellis, who is drawing minimal interest from other teams.

WR Brandon Lloyd

The Patriots just released Lloyd last week after failing to come to terms on a restructured contract prior to him being owed a roster bonus. There were reports from colleague Greg Bedard that he wasn't always a star student in team meetings and on the practice field.

Lloyd's agent, Tom Condon, has not been in good standing with the Patriots for awhile, and once famously proclaimed, "We pretend there are 31 franchises in the NFL now" in reference to his disdain for the Patriots. That being said, the market is not expected to be very strong for Lloyd. If he is unable to land with another team, he could be back with the Patriots at a discounted price.

G Brandon Moore

BrandonMoore_original_display_image.jpgBelichick always keeps an eye on free-agents from within his division. Moore is drawing interest from three teams — the Lions, Cowboys and Dolphins — all of whom might be looking at him as a starter. Adding Moore would mean one of two things:

  1. moving right guard Dan Connolly to center to take over for Ryan Wendell
  2. a competition at right guard between Moore and Connolly

Connolly has experience playing center, and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said at Super Bowl XLVI that he thought Connolly could be a "very, very good center" in the NFL.

Moore has been durable throughout his career, and has not missed a start since 2004. He is well-rounded in pass-protection and as a run-blocker, but his lateral agility isn't on par with what the Patriots typically look for in their guards. Adding a free-agent guard at this point would be a luxury move more than a necessary one.

New England Patriots 5-point plan to move on from Wes Welker

Posted by Erik Frenz March 22, 2013 07:30 AM

hi-res-159797908_crop_exact.jpgThe Wes Welker era in New England is officially over.

With the signing that sent shockwaves through the AFC now over a week in the rearview mirror, it's time to start looking ahead.

What do the Patriots have to do to successfully bring closure to the whole situation?

Here's my five-point plan.

1. Find an X-receiver

Rated No. 1 on my list of post-free-agency needs, a tall, speedy perimeter threat would go a long way to making people forget about the short, quick slot receiver.

patriots biggest wrs.pngThe Patriots haven't had a physically imposing receiver outside the numbers since Randy Moss ran a fly route directly out of Foxborough.

Former Bills wide receiver Donald Jones isn't a size threat, either, at 6'0" and 214 pounds. Is he more physical and of a bigger build than what the Patriots have on the roster? Yes. Does he answer their need for an X-receiver? Not if he's the same player he was in Buffalo.

The free agent well is drying up, but there are plenty of players the Patriots could target in the draft to fill this need. Terrance Williams (Baylor), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech), DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson) and Mark Harrison (Rutgers) all come to mind as possible solutions from a size and skill set standpoint.

One of the reasons moving on from Welker makes sense is because of the two tight ends, who both do a majority of their work over the middle. The Patriots need to get better on the perimeter of the field.

2. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski must stay healthy

Much of the attention regarding injury-proneness has been centered around newly added receiver Danny Amendola. Truth be told, the Patriots will probably be just fine if Amendola gets injured and misses time.

They can't, however, afford more absences from their two tight ends.

The two missed a combined 11 regular season games in 2012, and Hernandez has missed at least two games in each of his three seasons in the league.

These are the projected stat lines for each, if they would have been healthy for a full 16 games:

  • Gronkowski: 80 receptions, 1149 yards, 16 touchdowns
  • Hernandez: 82 receptions, 773 yards, 8 touchdowns

Gronkowski's numbers would have been 10 receptions, 178 yards and one touchdown short of his numbers from his record-setting 2011 season. Hernandez would have fallen short of his 2011 yardage total, but oddly enough, would have had two more receptions and one more touchdown than in the 2011 season.

3. Tom Brady must spread the ball around more

Welker was Brady's favorite target every season the two played together. Welker was targeted 926 times in six years with the Patriots, and over 100 times each season.

welker and team targts.pngThose targets are most likely not going to fall on one person. Instead, look for Brady to spread the ball around a bit more to a wide range of targets.

That should be totally acceptable, assuming a healthy core of skill position players.

Brady missed open targets in the passing game, but not in the way you think.

The players were open. He just didn't see them. Was he too busy staring down Wes Welker? We'll never really know unless we're to do a film review of his eyes in every game over the past six years.

pats 1.png

Against the Jaguars, though, one play in particular stood out. The Patriots were ahead, 16-13. They faced 3rd-and-10 from the Jaguars' 49-yard line.

Welker ran a route that would have gotten him past the first-down marker. The Jaguars sent a four-man rush out of Cover 1, with Daryl Smith the blitzing linebacker.

pats 2.png

Brady stood in the pocket for a few moments, and tried to look the linebacker out of his spot slightly, but Brady seemingly never took his eye off the same spot in the defense.

pats 4.png

He waited for Welker to get to that spot, and threw the ball into double-coverage with Smith bringing the pressure.

pats 3.png

The pressure was coming, but if Brady had looked to his right a split second later instead of staring in the same spot, he would have seen Branch come open on a curl route past the first-down marker.

Plays like the one above are an anomaly. Brady shouldn't feel it necessary to get the ball out in less than two seconds every time he drops back. He faced pressure on just 25 percent of his drop-backs in 2012, the second-lowest average in the league. The Patriots field one of the best offensive lines in the league, a comfort which should allow Brady to hang in the pocket and wait for receivers to come open.

4. Rework the chemistry in the no-huddle offense


According to Christopher Price of WEEI.com, the Patriots came out of a no-huddle set for 294 of their 1,191 total plays in 2012 regular season (24.7 percent).

Considering Welker was on the field for 1,089 offensive snaps in 2012, it's fair to say he was a major part of the no-huddle offense.

Brady had a great deal of experience with Welker and Deion Branch when they were running the no-huddle at a rate of 25.1 percent in 2011. Branch played a much smaller role in 2012, and in 2013, Brady will have to get on the same page with a new set of wide receivers in 2013.

Make no mistake; it will help to have familiar targets in Hernandez and Gronkowski. Part of the beauty of the no-huddle was how quickly it moved and how easily it was communicated (in case you've been living under a rock, go check out colleague Greg Bedard's award-winning column on the subject).

If the one-word play calls are simple, direct and easy to understand, perhaps a new receiver can get up to speed more quickly than they could in the past. That being said, it will be important for the receivers in this offense to quickly process information, know the route, the play and everything in between.

5. Fix the defense

A person close to Brady said to Yahoo's Mike Silver after the Welker fiasco, "If the offense doesn't perform at a high level, they're screwed." Whoever this person is, that's the general feeling around the Patriots.

The Patriots have already taken a couple of measures in this regard.

Bringing back cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington should help the continued improvement of the secondary by allowing the unit to grow together. The Patriots have been remarkably inconsistent with their personnel in the secondary, but that could change this year. Fellow Bleacher Report Patriots writer Mike Dussault points out they have the potential to start the same secondary in Week 1 which started Week 17 of the previous season for the first time since 2007.

The defense allowed quarterbacks to collect a 97.3 passer rating in the first nine games of the season, but once the players had settled into their spots, they held passers to a 73.8 rating.

A few more improvements are needed.

The team could benefit from a backup defensive tackle with the ability to contribute as a pass-rusher. CFL defensive linemen Armond Armstead gives the Patriots one possible answer, but another move would help create a competition for the spot in training camp.

A situational defensive end who can get after the quarterback would also be of help. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich ranked 25th and 31st respectively in pass-rushing productivity, according to Pro Football Focus (measures pressure created on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks).

They could also use a linebacker who can cover tight ends over the middle of the field. They've struggled in that area for years and ranked 29th against tight ends in 2012 according to Football Outsiders.

Much like Christopher Walken's fever, the only prescription for Welker fever is more Lombardi Trophy.

The Patriots teams that won Super Bowls in the early part of the decade could hang their hat on an elite defense. The sooner the Patriots improve on that side of the ball, the sooner they'll regain some of that glory.

On a positive note, as of right now, the Patriots have won as many Super Bowls in the post-Welker era as they did in the Welker era.

Screen shots courtesy NFL Game Rewind.

What are the Patriots biggest remaining needs?

Posted by Erik Frenz March 19, 2013 07:00 AM

The offseason is far from over. There are still plenty of free agents on the market, and there's still a draft just over a month away.

It's a good thing, too, because there's still work to be done in improving the Patriots roster. Colleague Greg Bedard delivered his thoughts on the 15 positions on the roster the Patriots needed to fill. Here's the chart from his post:

bedard chart.png

Thus far, they have filled eight of the spots — swing tackle Will Svitek was added on Sunday and is not listed in the chart. That leaves seven holes on the roster.

Which ones are the biggest?

I asked fans to give their take on Twitter, and from the responses, it looks like we agree on several counts. Fitting, then, that this was one of the first responses I received.

1. X-Receiver

The Patriots offense has been one of the best in the league for years, despite lacking an elite boundary receiver. They've been missing a player like Randy Moss since they traded him to the Vikings in 2010.

lloyd's receptions by direction.pngThey thought they'd found an answer in Brandon Lloyd, but the Patriots opened up a hole at this spot by releasing Lloyd this weekend. Although they could still bring him back, they could also use an upgrade at the position regardless.

Lloyd was categorically not the same player in 2012 that he was in 2010 and 2011, when he broke out under Josh McDaniels, and there were some notable holes in his game including a lack of physicality and difficulty staying on his feet. He made some very difficult catches, though, and could very well find a groove in Year 2 with the Patriots if given another opportunity.

There are also plenty of options in the draft, with names like Terrance Williams (Baylor), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech) and DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson) providing the best solutions from a size and skill set standpoint.

Tom Brady had the eighth-highest frequency of deep pass attempts in 2012, with 13.2 percent of his pass attempts traveling 20 yards or more through the air according to Pro Football Focus. His accuracy on such throws was only average, though, with catches and drops accounting for 40.5 percent of his deep attempts. Perhaps that number goes up with a better boundary threat to stretch the field.

2. Backup defensive tackle

The backup defensive tackle spot has been deteriorating for years.

  • In 2010 (Mike Wright's last year, with just 320 defensive snaps), the Patriots leaned on 543 snaps from defensive tackle Gerard Warren, along with a rotation of Ron Brace (285 snaps), Brandon Deaderick (258) and Myron Pryor (242).
  • In 2011, Vince Wilfork played 1,173 snaps and Kyle Love played 696 snaps. Shaun Ellis was largely ineffective in 421 snaps, and Deaderick saw his snap total rise to 383. Gerard Warren (371) continued to contribute, as well. Albert Haynesworth (134) was released after eight games.
  • In 2012, Wilfork (1,041) and Love (591) once again carried a significant load. The Patriots utilized defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (487) as an interior pass-rusher in some nickel packages. Deaderick (467) once again saw his snap total increase. Defensive ends Justin Francis (301) and Trevor Scott (289) were the only other defensive linemen to carry a significant workload in 2012.

Signing CFL defensive linemen Armond Armstead gives the Patriots one possible answer. He's a project, but Armstead is versatile enough to not only play in both 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, but to play multiple positions within those schemes.

Another move would help create a competition for the spot in training camp. Bears defensive linemen Israel Idonije is a name that comes to mind as a potential Patriots fit. He has played all over the line, having lined up at tackle and end spots in the 4-3 front over the years. He was the league's ninth-most productive pass-rushing defensive end in 2012, but at 6'7" and 290 pounds, he could play inside for the Patriots. His 20.5 sacks over the past three years are more than any Patriots defender in that span.

3. Situational defensive end

We don't agree on the order, but we do agree that all three of those are needs.

jonesbeforeandafterinjury_original_original.pngDefensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich ranked 25th and 31st respectively in pass-rushing productivity. An injection to the pass rush would be welcome, and the improved health of Jones (who was slowed down by an ankle injury) should also help.

The Patriots have been reportedly interested in free agent defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney, who have both visited Foxborough over the past week. New England has taken the veteran approach before, adding defensive ends Mark Anderson and Andre Carter prior to the 2011 season.

Abraham ranked sixth in pass-rushing productivity out of 43 defensive ends in 2012, and has been in the top six every year they've been keeping track of it back to 2008.

4. Right tackle

The Patriots have yet to re-sign free-agent right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and though bringing in Svitek helped address a need for a versatile backup tackle, they still lack a starter. Vollmer has been one of the best right tackles in the game, and ranked 22nd (out of 52) in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking efficiency (pressure allowed on a per-snap basis).

Why, then, isn't this need higher on the list? Quite simply, because of Dante Scarnecchia. So often, we've seen him work with a rough prospect and turn them into a serviceable starter. This has happened several times over the years at right tackle. In fact, the Patriots fielded four different starting right tackles from 2001-2004.

Vollmer figures to be their top in-house priority remaining on the market, but they could have competition now that Miami lost the services of Jake Long to the St. Louis Rams. They haven't been afraid to spend this offseason, but part of why they didn't re-sign Long was because of declining play and increasing injuries. It would be redundant to move on from one offensive tackle with an injury history to another offensive tackle with a different but similarly grim injury history.

5. Backup Z Receiver

The shakeups at wide receiver have been tremendous already for the Patriots, and more may be coming as they look for a backup to Danny Amendola.

They could go the flashy route with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Patriots would need to forfeit a third-round pick for him, but it could be justified. The Z receiver is supposed to be versatile enough to stretch the field and pick up yards after the catch. Sanders' average of 5.1 yards after catch per reception was right in line with notable YAC receivers like Welker (5.7) and Ravens receiver Torrey Smith (4.9).

This spot is as easy to fill as re-signing Edelman. There have been no reported visits, interest or anything else that would indicate he's on his way out. He was in line for an increased workload at the start of the 2012 season, and his value might increase a bit now that Wes Welker is gone. WIthout Edelman, the Patriots would turn over their receiving corps completely from 2012 to 2013.

Bedard expects the Patriots to re-sign Edelman to be Amendola's backup. The Patriots sorely need depth here and could fill the spot with a player already familiar with the system.

If not, Stedman Bailey (West Virginia) could be a good choice in the second round of the draft. He's a little small at 5'10" but he had great production, leading the nation with 25 receiving touchdowns in 2012 and ranking third in receiving yards with 1,622. He is a versatile threat, lining up outside or in the slot, and makes hay after the catch. He is comparable in skill set, playing style and toughness to Panthers receiver Steve Smith.

Honorable mention: Cover linebacker

Well, Bill, that would imply the Patriots didn't get killed over the middle in their other games, when the truth is they ranked 29th against tight ends in coverage according to Football Outsiders.

This spot has been a revolving door for a couple of years now. It was Gary Guyton for a few years. Last year, it was Bobby Carpenter in training camp, and again for a few weeks during the 2012 season.

Khaseem Greene (Rutgers), Zac Brown (UNC) and Alec Ogletree (Georgia) all fit the profile of a versatile linebacker/safety type player who can line up in coverage on tight ends and still have the size to contribute against the run.

There's one hole, however, the Patriots can't fill.

AFC East winners and losers in free agency

Posted by Erik Frenz March 18, 2013 07:00 AM

Did you blink?

If so, you probably missed something in what's been a crazy week of free agency moves in the AFC East.

Every team's moves have a different flavor.

The Dolphins have taken a page out of the New York Yankees' offseason playbook of throwing money at their problems.

The Patriots made waves for obvious reasons with the move from Wes Welker to Danny Amendola, moving on from Brandon Lloyd and myriad other moves.

The Jets have been pillaged of many of their starters, and their salary cap constraints have left them without many options to fill the holes.

The Bills have been nearly silent throughout free agency, as was expected after a big-time spending spree last year.

Who were the biggest winners and losers of the first week of free agency?


Are Patriots division rivals celebrating the departure of Wes Welker?

Posted by Erik Frenz March 15, 2013 08:00 AM

Wes Welker has done some serious damage to the Patriots division rivals since joining the team in 2007.

So it's easy to understand why some fans of opposing teams might be relieved.

welker v afc east.pngStats don't tell the whole story, but they almost always tell part of the story. Welker's story was a Stephen King nightmare for the rest of the AFC East. He was a good player against any opponent, but he always did his best work in the six games a year that mattered most.

He had some of his best individual games against those teams, too:

  • He had the best game of his career (at the point) in a 31-14 win over the Jets in 2009, in which he had 15 catches for 192 yards.
  • He then surpassed those totals with the best game of his career to date in a 34-31 loss to the Bills in 2011, in which he had 16 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
  • He had 24.8 yards per reception in a 30-21 win over the Jets in 2011, marking the highest single-game average of his Patriots career.
  • Welker has had 28 career games with over 100 receiving yards, and had 11 of those games against AFC East opponents.

Welker knew how to stick it in the face of the AFC East, and now, the rest of the AFC East has a chance to stick it in the face of the Patriots.

But they mostly know better, at this point, because the Patriots still have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.


Should the New England Patriots be afraid of new Dolphins WR Mike Wallace?

Posted by Erik Frenz March 13, 2013 08:00 AM

The Miami Dolphins were swimming in money to start free agency and wasted no time made one big splash after another. One signing in particular, though, could be troubling for the Patriots: wide receiver Mike Wallace.

The signing was reported by multiple outlets all day Tuesday, and the details were first reported by NFL Network.

You can debate whether his contract was worth the money or not, but he will have an indesputible impact on the Dolphins offense — and likewise, opposing defenses.

with and without you.pngRemember that problem the Patriots had with defending the long ball? Early in the season, they were burned badly by opponents who were able to attack them deep.

Those problems were mostly cured — or at the least, the symptoms were alleviated — when cornerback Devin McCourty moved to safety. Adding cornerback Aqib Talib via trade shortly thereafter was another step on the road to recovery.

That long-ball defense will be tested greatly by Wallace.

steelers WR mike wallace.pngDespite not recording the game-breaking stats he had earlier in his career, he remains one of the game's best deep threats. He will have an impact on the game with his very presence on the field; if defenses respect his speed — as they should — it will open things up for Brian Hartline and Davone Bess to do their work underneath.

That being said, the Patriots would rather force the Dolphins to execute a long drive than allow Wallace to reel in a long bomb for a touchdown.

Who will be the man in charge of covering Wallace? It could be Talib if the Patriots retain him, or it could be cornerback Alfonzo Dennard if he's not in jail for his 2012 assault charge. Both would provide a tough physical matchup for Wallace, who isn't that big at 6'0 and 180 pounds.

There are also alternatives available in free agency if Talib finds a new home, but none would be as up to the task of covering Wallace as Talib.

Regardless of who's playing cornerback for the Patriots, Wallace can run deep routes all day long, but he still needs a quarterback who can deliver the ball accurately. Ryan Tannehill in 2012 showed flashes flashes of Ben Roethlisberger at times, extending plays with his legs and getting away from pressure to allow his receivers to get open.

Roethlisberger has a heck of an arm, but so does Tannehill. He didn't throw the ball down the field all that often in 2012 (only 10.5 percent of his attempts traveled 20 yards or more through the air, according to ProFootballFocus.com), but he had a high accuracy rate on such throws (ranked ninth in the NFL with 43.1 percent accuracy, with drops counting as completions).

None of this is to imply that Tannehill is the next Roethlisberger, but only to indicate that Wallace can and will be effective in Miami's offense and with Tannehill at quarterback. If New England doesn't get their murky situation in the secondary figured out before they suit up against Miami, the Patriots could be in for an unpleasant introduction.

How does signing David Garrard affect Jets quarterback controversy?

Posted by Erik Frenz March 12, 2013 07:30 AM

Just when you thought the Jets quarterback situation couldn't get much shakier...

The former Jaguars quarterback spent the 2011 season recovering from surgery on a herniated disk, and spent the 2012 season on the shelf with a knee injury. His return to form is dependent on shaking off a lot of rust while getting acquainted with his third new team in as many years.

Will he be ready to take over the starting job immediately? That's unclear.

Here's the depth chart as it stands today.

  1. Mark Sanchez
  2. David Garrard
  3. Greg McElroy
  4. Tim Tebow
  5. Matt Simms

Most of the names are all easily recognizable, even to casual fans. No matter who the Jets starting quarterback is, they won't have a great track record against the Patriots.

jets qb options vs patriots.pngMark Sanchez, David Garrard and Tim Tebow are the only quarterbacks on the Jets roster to have started a game against the Patriots, and are each 0-2 in their last two starts vs. New England. In fact, the three are a combined 3-11 against New England, with all three wins coming from Sanchez.

Of course, those wins and losses shouldn't be solely attributed to the quarterbacks. Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said in a press conference on Monday that Sanchez "will probably have just a little bit of a leg up" in the quarterback competition. That was just hours before the Garrard signing, so does that make Sanchez a leg down? Does Garrard's injury history make him a knee sideways?

There are a lot of questions for the Jets at quarterback, and we haven't even gotten to Tebow yet. ESPN reported recently that the Jets are still shopping Tebow around for a trade in hopes to get some compensation in return. They gave up a fourth and a seventh round pick to land him.

Regardless of his future, he's not the best bet for the Jets at quarterback. Mornhinweg will implement a West Coast offense, and the Jets need a quarterback who fits the bill to run it. The skill set requires:

  • Quick decision-making
  • Quick release
  • Top-end accuracy on short and intermediate throws
  • Ability to extend plays with legs is a plus

That could actually play to the strengths of Garrard and Sanchez, who both have experience running the West Coast offense.

Make no mistake; either of them doing so successfully and consistently at this stage, and with the current surroundings in New York, would be a big surprise.

New England Patriots free agency wish list

Posted by Erik Frenz March 11, 2013 07:55 AM

The Patriots are rarely ever big spenders in free agency — signing Adalius Thomas in 2007 marked the last time they really went all-out for a signing outside the organization — but they always seem to find cost-effective answers at positions of need.

With nearly $27 million in cap space entering the 2013 free agency period, though, the Patriots could possibly afford to be a bit more liberal with their spending.

We know Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer are the Patriots key free agents, but who are some players on the market that could serve the Patriots well in 2013?

Precluding any re-signings, here's my free agent wish list, in no particular order.


Welcome to the Going Deep Blog

Posted by Erik Frenz March 11, 2013 07:30 AM

Hello, Boston.com readers. Welcome to the Going Deep football blog.

You already come to Boston.com for all your Patriots news, but here, I plan to bring new life to the discussion with a view behind enemy lines with the Patriots' AFC East rivals while also giving voice to the fans. The goals are as follows:

  • What does it mean? — You'll see that phrase around here a lot. You probably already know what happened before you got here, but chances are you'll still want to know what the impact and the fallout will be for the Patriots and any other teams involved. That's what you'll get in this spot.
  • Wide-ranging analysis. — From film review to statistical findings to strong opinion and far beyond, expect to see a broad range of material covering a broad range of topics.
  • Know your opponents. — The Patriots suit up against the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins twice each per year. As long as a division title earns you a trip to the playoffs, those games will remain among the most important on the schedule. This will be your one-stop shop for all the biggest news around the AFC East, and how it affects the Patriots.
  • Share your thoughts. — Engage in the comments section and via Twitter (@ErikFrenz), as I'll frequently be dipping into those resources for new material. I also hope to get a mailbag going at some point soon.

Check out the blog roll on the right for other entertaining Patriots blogs as well as other blogs covering the AFC East and the other three teams.

Beyond that, be sure to check back here frequently for updates. Thanks for stopping by!

About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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