Patriots

Brady looks at why his interceptions are on rise

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Brady looks at why his interceptions are on rise

FOXBORO -- Forget the passing yards and touchdown passes, the most amazing statistic Tom Brady's rolled up as a quarterback is his TD pass-to-interception rate.

Coming into this season, he'd thrown 261 touchdowns and 103 interceptions in 153 games. In 2007 and 2010 combined, he threw 86 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

He's never thrown more than 14 interceptions in a season. Last year, he set the record for consecutive attempts without throwing it to the wrong team.

Compare and contrast:

Drew Brees was 235-131 coming into this year. He threw 22 picks last year.

Eli(te) Manning? 156 and 113. He threw 25 picks last year.

Peyton Manning? 399 and 198. He threw 17 picks last year.

Ben Roethlisberger? 144 and 86.

Aaron Rodgers? He's one that actually compares with Brady. 97 and 32 entering this year; 24 and 3 so far this season.

But this year, Brady's been on an interception binge. And Sunday's two-pick game against the Giants was actually worse than Brady's four-pick game against the Bills earlier this year. Against New York, Brady hesitated on a Deion Branch slant and threw into converging coverage. On the other pick, Brady looked right then, without checking the area came back and fired in the direction of Rob Gronkowski. Deon Grant intercepted. Against the Bills, tipped passes and undercut routes were the problem and an element of bad luck is in play there.

Brady's got 20 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. His personal high of 14 seems in danger.

"Just decision-making," Brady said when asked about the interceptions. "Just gotta make better decisions."

Sunday night, the Patriots play a critical game against the Jets. The teams are tied at 5-3 atop the AFC East along with the 5-3 Bills.

"We need to go out there and execute well this week," Brady explained. "Last time we played them we were a bit inconsistent as well even though we scored more than 30 points. I think we can be more consistent."

Over the season's first three weeks, New England's passing offense was mult-pronged. Now it's been trimmed to Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Deion Branch (all with 50-plus targets). The next highest target is Chad Ochocinco (21).

Asked whether balance between targets is a goal, Brady said, "If they're open, they get it. If they're covered, you throw to someone else. If you put other guys in position and they're open first, they get the ball. Really the guys who are gonna get the ball are the guys who are open. We're not trying to just force the ball. I don't think I ever -- well not ever but -- pick a guy before the play. But usually that doesn't go very well.

"A lot of times you just try to read it out," he added. "You know the route, you know the coverages, you know the matchup, you read it and make your throw using good technique and try to throw the ball with accuracy. We could bring one of you guys out there and throw if we told you where to throw it before the snap."

Don't know how many we'd complete, but sure we could. Actually, if you told us to throw to Ocho, we'd complete about as many as Brady has over the past three weeks. Zero.

The diligent defense of Ochocinco continued Wednesday. And while Senor Nueve receptions has been an unmitigated disappointment in terms of production at least he's trying.

"He is and he's continued to do a great job in practice in the role that he's carved out for himself and he's gonna continue to be out there and hopefully make a few plays for us," said Brady. "One of these days it is really gonna all click for us and the offense is gonna (kick it in)."

Patriots missing Brady, Gronkowski from start of Wednesday's practice

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Patriots missing Brady, Gronkowski from start of Wednesday's practice

FOXBORO -- Tough day in terms attendance at Patriots practice. 

Several starters were missing from the start of the session, including two of the team's most important players, that took place in the rain on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. 

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Marcus Cannon, David Andrews and Patrick Chung were all absent from the start of the practice. 

Hogan (shoulder), Cannon (ankle) and Andrews (illness) were all unable to play against the Raiders last weekend. Chung left the Raiders game briefly with an undiclosed injury but returned later in the game and met with media afterward. The reasons for Brady and Gronkowski's absences are unknown. 

Matthew Slater (hamstring) did not play last weekend in Mexico City, but he was back on the practice field. Newly-acquired defensive lineman Eric Lee -- who took Cassius Marsh's spot on the 53-man roster -- was also present. 

It appeared as though new practice squad return man Bernard Reedy was on the field as well. P-squad defensive lineman Mike Purcell was missing from the session so it looks like he was released in order to make room. 

Finally, Malcolm Mitchell was not on the field for Wednesday's workout. He's eligible to come off of injured reserve and begin practicing, as is defensive lineman Vincent Valentine, but both remain out. 

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Where have Patriots LBs improved? Look at covering pass-catching backs

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Where have Patriots LBs improved? Look at covering pass-catching backs

Third quarter, Patriots versus the Raiders. Elandon Roberts lined up in the middle of the defense, the only off-the-ball linebacker on this second-down play from midfield. Roberts looked intently into the Oakland backfield, trying to decipher where quarterback Derek Carr would go on the play. 

At the snap of the ball, Carr released his running back, Jalen Richard, to the right of the formation. With the Pats playing man-to-man, Roberts had to hurry to cover the quicker, faster Richard. The second-year pro also had to skirt around a slight pick by wide receiver Amari Cooper. Successfully navigating that landmine, Roberts went stride for stride with Richard. 

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Carr still identified that as the matchup to exploit but the throw clanged off the back of Roberts’ helmet. Not the result Carr was looking for, and despite the ugliness at the tail end of the play, yet another sign of the Pats improving in an area that early in the season had been an issue.

“It's certainly a good observation,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “That's part of the process as you go through the year and understanding your opponents and what they like to do from the standpoint of plays. So certainly on that particular play where it might be a situation where they're trying to pick him or get him in a bad coverage matchup and he did a good job of getting through it.”

Covering running backs coming out of the backfield is not something that the Pats have been particularly adept at over the years. Roberts, especially, seemed lost in those spots in his rookie season. But with Dont’a Hightower lost for the season, the Pats have had to spread out some of those responsibilities and Roberts, 23, the University of Houston product, is growing in that department.

“[He's] someone that works really hard to know where his help is in both situations whether it's leveraging a run play or leveraging a pass play,” complimented Patricia. “He's really trying to learn and understand that at a much higher level which he's really trying to do a good job of.”

It wasn’t just that play and it wasn’t just Roberts. In the opening quarter, Kyle Van Noy swarmed Richard in the right flat, limiting the shifty back to just four yards. Later, Trevor Reilly quickly snuffed out a swing pass to Richard. Bill Belichick - like Patricia - has taken notice.

“I think that’s a very competitive group of players on our team,” Belichick said. “So again, just trying to work on our fundamentals, and individual techniques, and try to work each week on our opponent, and their tendencies, the way they do things to match it up against. Those guys work hard at both of those areas.”

That work will need to continue. The Pats will get two doses in three weeks of Miami running back Damien Williams, who in limited snaps has made an impact as a receiver. There’s also Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh, the skilled trio of Bilal Powell, Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire for the Jets and LeSean McCoy in Buffalo. In other words, no resting our recent success.

“We're obviously going to look at the other aspect of it too and say, 'Well this is where we think we need to improve and this is where we think we need to make sure that we have this tightened up because this showed up,'" Patricia said. "Whether or not – it could be a bad situation for us whether it's just a – maybe it's a particular look that offense gives us or a particular defensive call.

That no doubt earns a nod from the head coach, who never believes what’s good is good enough.

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