Phil Perry

Too many men: Patriots very good at making other teams look bad

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Too many men: Patriots very good at making other teams look bad

The Patriots are the best team in the league this season when it comes to making opposing defenses look silly.

Blown coverages happen. Sure. And players find themselves on the wrong end of physical mismatches all the time. But, against the Patriots, teams are more likely to break one of the simplest rules in the game than they are against anyone else.

Bill Belichick's club leads the NFL with six 12-men-on-the-field penalties drawn this season. Second in that category? The Vikings and Packers, tied with two.

The Patriots picked up a too-many-men call against the Broncos on Sunday night in the fourth quarter when they were set to punt -- a first for them this season. Defensive lineman Shelby Harris couldn't get off the field in time on a fourth-and-five, and the penalty gave the Patriots a first down that sucked the thin air out of Mile High.

After being gifted an extended drive, Tom Brady found James White for a touchdown to make the score 41-16.

It looked like the Patriots could have picked up another too-many-men penalty late in the second quarter when Brady rushed to the line as two Broncos scampered off. They either got off just in time -- it's hard to tell on the NBC television replay -- or the officials missed it.

In their first three games of the season, and now in their last three games of the season, the Patriots have caught their opponents either loafing or just plain unaware. But it's not always Brady who has the knack for catching other teams meandering as they try to substitute.

Sometimes it's offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels telling Brady through his helmet that they have a chance to pick up five free yards.

Sometimes it's someone in the Patriots booth above the field -- perhaps director of player personnel Nick Caserio, who is in regular contact with McDaniels -- who sees an opening.

McDaniels explained the mechanics of what he called a "unique opportunity" during a conference call on Tuesday.

"It doesn't always present itself in each game," he said. "Where we're not trying to substitute and the other defense might be. But, you know, it could be something you see on the field as a player. Tom's certainly done a good job of that in his career. Or it could be something that somebody sees from the booth or the sideline. But, again, it's not something that we've done extensively.

"It just so happens it might've happened a couple of times in the last couple of weeks. But there's a lot of circumstances that go into that. If we're substituting, obviously, we really can't do that. If they're not substituting [then we can't]. There's a lot of different factors that go into it. The down and distance and what you're trying to get done, etc.

"If all the things line up, you end up with multiple groupings trying to sub in and out on the other side, eventually you may end up getting a situation like we've had in the last couple of weeks where the defense has a different personnel grouping on the field than they want to have."

The Patriots may be better built than most to draw those kinds of penalties since they can attack defenses with what looks like base personnel on one snap, not substitute, and then go five-wide on the next. Having versatile backs and tight ends as the Patriots do can cause a defensive coordinator's head to spin.

Though McDaniels noted the uniqueness of the situation, New England's personnel is its personnel. And it's happened often enough this season that you'd be brave to bet against it happening again.

#FridayBag: Bennett's back, and he brings a lot of questions with him

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#FridayBag: Bennett's back, and he brings a lot of questions with him

Every Friday, our Patriots guys answer your questions in a joint mailbag, or Friday Bag as they call it.You can it them up on husing the hashtag #FridayBag. Here’s this week’s installment . . . dominated, as you might expect, by Martellus Bennett:

That's the plan as of right now, Jay. The Patriots released Geneo Grissom on Thursday in order to make room for Bennett.

Can we start with catches, Doney? Or targets? He was targeted about four times per game last season. A lot of those came with Rob Gronkowski off the field. Between that, his shoulder, the fact that he's fitting in with some new pieces around him . . . I'd expect that number to drop from where it was in 2016.

Fun to watch? His game isn't really the kind of thing that will consistently rip people from their couches. If you like a good effective run block, or touchdown passes thrown to big targets in tight spaces . . . then yeah. Fun. Insofar as he should make the team better, that would make Bennett's addition fun for Patriots fans too. But I think what you're getting at is, will the team be more fun to follow now that he's here? The answer there is no doubt. The team lost a lot in the way of personality when Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Logan Ryan, Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich didn't return for 2017. With Bennett in Foxboro, some of that is back. Players were very open about what Bennett brought to the team off the field last season, and they're now expecting him to do the same this year

If Tom Brady's evaluation is going to be year-to-year in Bill Belichick's eyes, you can bet that Bennett's will be the same. Couple of key things to consider when thinking about Bennett's future. 1) He's already said he's pretty sure he'll retire after this season. He has the right to change his mind, but oftentimes when you start to talk about retirement, you're not all that far off. 2) The Patriots aren't contractually bound to Bennett. He has no guaranteed money coming to him for 2018 and 2019 so even if he wants to continue to play, if the Patriots want to move on after this season they can without taking any kind of financial hit. 

Nope. That would happen after the fact. Can't get a look at a waived player in person until he's on your team. 

Rich, I think he’s once again been one of their most valuable players. He’s been asked to play closer to the line of scrimmage this year and has been fearless when it comes to sticking his nose in there and making a contested play or a tackle. McCourty’s intelligence and communication skills are unparalleled and the respect he commands in the room is second to none. He’s gotten older but I think the safety has aged well. 

Dan, his name comes up frequently in my timeline. Landry’s a talented player and as tough as they come. Understandably, Miami coach Adam Gase is on record as saying he wants Landry to be in the team’s plans for a long time, but they did just cough up around 9 million per for Kenny Stills and selected Devante Parker in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Parker’s growth has been hurt by injury but you have to wonder if you can eventually pay all three. I doubt it, but this is why plenty of organizations are poorly run. Miami has been exactly that prior to Gase;s arrival. We’ll see how it develops going forward. I fully expect if Landry pops free, the Pats will make a call.

Ah, the fullback. Old school, Jacob. I like it. I can’t study every team and every game they play so I won’t make any declarations on whether or not Develin is the best. I will say that he’s been an important piece over the last couple of weeks and that his play has improved considerably since the beginning of the season. Develin is still good for a whiff or two but I don’t think there’s a 100% hit rate at that position. Bottom line, he’s a solid player, a contributor on special teams and well-liked and appreciated in that locker room. That’s worth a lot. 

Man oh man, Sharks, there isn’t much here from those two drafts. The Pats selected just four players in 2017 and only one, Deatrich Wise, is on the active roster. He’s been a nice piece for the them in a specialist role. Love his attitude and his energy, and the dude’s arms are freakishly long. Interesting player going forward. As for 2016. 6 of the 9 players drafted are still in New England. The top pick, 62nd overall, Cyrus Jones, is on IR after blowing out his knee in the preseason. Love Joe Thuney. He’s sound as a pound at guard. Athletic and smart, he will occasionally get overwhelmed by power but he’s a nice player. Belichick got linebacker Elandon Roberts in the 6th round so I’d call that a successful pick even though I think he’s incredibly inconsistent. Ted Karras remains a practice squad guy and a depth piece for the interior offensive line while two of the better players in that class, DT Vincent Valentine and WR Malcolm Mitchell are both on IR. Both have progressed to the point where they could eventually be brought back but with the Pats losing one of the two spots because of Shea McClellin’s status, the Pats will have to decide whether they want one more playmaker or some more beef on the DLine. As for the sports jacket, it’s 9 Tailors all day, every day.

Interested to see just how much support Jerry Jones has from other owners. Powerful as he is, feels like it'll be hard for him to get what he's looking for unless the support is there from a significant chunk of the other 31. 

Like this one. Inclined to go with Guerschon Yabusele as a tight end because of his size (6-foot-8, 260), but how can you not try to find a way for Kyrie Irving to contribute in some way shape or form. His size (6-3, 193) and quickness would make him a pretty ideal fit in the secondary. Could line him up on any receiver imaginable, and he has the speed to play safety. Think that's who I'd go with. Red Sox is a tough one. Let's put Jackie Bradley Jr. back there to field punts. May not give you much in terms of explosive returns, but at least you know he's catching everything. As for the Bruins, I'd make Brad Marchand a slot corner. Or stick Zdeno Chara out there as part of the field goal block unit. Can't teach 6-foot-9. Can't do it. 

Potentially, Chuck. The Pony set would give the Patriots some flexibility in that both Lewis and White can align in the backfield or out wide. If they're in the backfield, and you want to run it, and there are too many men in the box, all Brady would have to do would be to flex one out, make one of those defenders go with him, and open up some space. Don't forget about Phillip Dorsett. He should see an uptick in snaps if Chris Hogan can't go. The Patriots run too much 11-personnel (three-receiver sets) to abandon it altogether. 

In Foxboro, there are a few candidates. Rob Gronkowski is up there. Very football intelligent. I think Kyle Van Noy is probably deserving of a mention here. His teammates have praised his smarts since he joined the team last year. Danny Amendola is one of the smarter football players in that room, too. He plays in a multitude of situations, offensively and on special teams, and the mental mistakes are few and far between. 

Would be surprised to see Eric Rowe back this week since he only began practicing this week after missing about a month. Never say never, but I know he's been focused on just building back up to full speed. May be early for him.

By interacting so frequently with people like you on social media, Jensen. Also, I’m old. Happy Holidays!

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Pringles, bacon and Boston accents: Quotable Bennett back in New England

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Pringles, bacon and Boston accents: Quotable Bennett back in New England

FOXBORO -- By claiming Martellus Bennett on waivers Thursday, the Patriots have one of the more quotable players they've had in recent memory back in the fold. 

Whether it was questions about Tom Brady's suspension for Deflategate, politics, food or music . . . Bennett always came up with a colorful way of expressing his views in the 2016 season. 

MORE PATRIOTS:

Here are some of his greatest hit, with some help from our pal over at NBC Sports Boston Craig Kolodny. 

On whether the Patriots are playing with a chip on their shoulder because their quarterback was banned from all team activities for the first month of last season: "I think every guy's played with a chip on their shoulder this entire season . . . It's just who we are as human beings," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "You can't play this game without a chip on your shoulder. From all the players -- guys that got cut, guys that got traded, guys that feel like they got passed up by other teams -- when you play this game you gotta have a chip.

"Everybody's chip might be a little bit different. Like Lays. You might be a barbeque guy, you might be a sour cream and onion guy, but as long as you have your chip that's what gets you where you need."

But did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell provide the team with an extra chip with the way he and the league treated Brady?

"Nah," Bennett said. "Goodell looks like a Pringle guy. I don't consider those chips."

On politics

On his love of bacon

On how he feeds off of Patriots fans