Patriots

Eagles' Asomugha adapting to new duties

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Eagles' Asomugha adapting to new duties

FOXBORO When it comes to playing in the NFL, there's a certain amount of thought that has to go into being great.

But too much thinking is not a good thing, something Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha knows all too well.

The Pro Bowl cornerback, in his first season with the Eagles, has not had nearly as big an impact as many expected. It has little to do with talent and everything to do with you got it, thinking too much.

A lot of that has to do with the Eagles, who signed him to a five-year, 60 million contract in the offseason, heaping a hefty load of responsibilities on his shoulders - far more responsibilities than he had in Oakland.

"We've asked him to do a ton," said Eagles head coach Andy Reid.

And the added weight of those responsibilities, has played a role in him not being the immediate difference-maker they were banking on this season.

"In Oakland, it was just, you line up on that guy and you take him out of the game," Asomugha said. "So that's where your study was; that's where all your focus was.

In Philadelphia, their defensive schemes are much more involved.

"Now, there are different matchup issues all over the field," Asomugha said.

It didn't help matters that the NFL lockout wiped out most of the usual preseason training sessions, which put Asomugha even further behind the learning curve. While his primary position is cornerback, Asomugha said it's not unusual for certain schemes to have him lineup at nickel-back, dime, free safety, strong safety and even linebacker.

"That's been the biggest challenge," he said. "Just figuring out what my responsibility is based off the position that I'm playing. But I've gotten better as the season has gone."

For the season, he has 24 tackles and three interceptions.

Asomugha added, "being a football player, you got instincts that you can just go off of, regardless of what position you're in based off the coverages and the different things that we're doing. That was the early challenge, being able to understand how you fit based off that particular scheme or that particular coverage."

Even though the Eagles and Asomugha know he's at his best when he's in straight man-to-man coverage, it might have made more sense for the Eagles to tweak what they do defensively in order for Asomugha to be in position to do what he does best.

"You have to see how the rest of the defense works," Asomugha said. 'I could easily do that. I could easily just be told, 'take this guy.' But then everybody else has to fit in to that as well. So it won't necessarily happen that way. It's kind of like, you can't just do it for one guy. You have to make sure the whole defense can adapt if that's your plan. It's not something we've gone to. There are guys that are used to doing what they've done for years. So you're not necessarily going to get into that kind of moving around, type of thing."

While Asomugha's play hasn't been terrible, the fact that the Eagles (4-6) have struggled and he was one of their biggest offseason pick-ups, has cast a much brighter spotlight on him not being as dominant a player as he was with the Raiders.

"He's done some good things," said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. "We've asked him to do a ton. He's a guy that loves to play the game. He wants to be the best; and again, we're asking him to do more than he's done in the past. I think he's handled it well."

But he'll be the first to tell you that he can get better.

The same goes for the Eagles, who have lost five of their six games this season by a touchdown or less. Experiencing that good, but not-good-enough-to-win feeling is equally frustrating and disappointing for Asomugha.

"It just depends, disappointment might come first; frustration might come first," he said. "It depends on how the game went that particular day. But frustration and disappointment are exactly how you would view it.

He added, "It's also encouraging, besides the frustration and disappointment. We know we're a good team that needs to finish out what we start. That's what makes teams great, being able to finish what they start."

A strong finish to the regular season and a good showing in the playoffs are about the only ways this season can end as a successful one for an Eagles team that has lots of talent on its roster - even if the record might suggest otherwise.

"When you bring a team together, you have to build them up, the chemistry and they have to jell before things start to happen," Asomugha said. "You think you can play with what people would call an all-star team or something like that and you're supposed to win every game. But everybody has to be on the same page. You see teams over the years win many games and Super Bowls without the most talented players."

But that won't happen with this Eagles team. For them to win, they'll do it the way most teams do - because of their talent.

Asomugha has seen that talent in bits and bursts all season.

"It's happened in several games this year, but just hasn't happened for the entire game," he said. "We have to make it happen every game."

Bill Belichick: 'Incomprehensible' to think Patriots would pick up from where they left off last season

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Bill Belichick: 'Incomprehensible' to think Patriots would pick up from where they left off last season

Bill Belichick knows that people outside his organization expected big things from his team this season, but he gave a long explanation for how those expectations should have been tempered headed into 2017. 

Belichick was asked during a conference call on Monday how he balances week-to-week adjustments with the foundation of the system his team installed before the season began. What resulted was a 789-word response on how teams have to come together early in the year -- and why it's difficult for things to look like they're running smoothly through the few weeks of the regular season. 

It felt like Belichick had something he was itching to share on the topic, so here is Belichick's response in full . . . 

"Well, I’ll just say that when you start the season, you have, let’s call it 20 practices, not including the spring. So let’s call it 20 practices and some preseason games, and during that time you’re trying to evaluate your team, work on a lot of basic and fundamental things and I’ll say basically get your team ready to play not only on the opening day, but for getting conditioned and build your fundamentals and all that so that you can compete in the 16-game regular season.

"In those 20 practices and however many preseason games certain players play in – two, three, four, whatever it is – against other teams that are doing the same thing, so you’re not getting schemed, you’re not getting game planned, you’re not getting some of the more sophisticated and the higher degree of difficulty things in any phase of the game. You’re in more of an evaluation mode and a fundamental mode. That’s where you’re at, and then as you get into the season, you build on that and you have things that attack certain schemes or you have to use to address certain issues that your opponent is trying to pressure you with.

"Maybe you just sit in your base, whatever it is, to handle it. Maybe your basics handle it, but maybe you need to go a little bit beyond that or maybe you see opportunities to create a play that you might install on a weekly game plan basis, and then all that accumulates. So, when you go from 20 practices to, let’s call it 60 practices over halfway through the season, maybe 80 practices at the end of the season, you’re going to have a lot more in with 80 practices and you could probably triple the number of meetings on that and everything else then where you’re going to have after a relatively short period in training camp. So, along those same lines, I mean, if we keep running the same play all year, the same ones that you put in in training camp and keep running those same plays all year, it’s not that difficult in this league to figure out what those few things are and game plan accordingly.

"So, if you don’t increase the volume of your scheme on offense, defense and special teams, then every week, your opponent’s just looking at a handful of things and probably most of them they’ve seen before. So, I don’t know how much problem, how much stress you’re really putting on your opponent if that’s the way that you do it. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because you can play your basic stuff, and if it’s working well and if you’re doing well with it and people can’t handle it, then there’s no reason to change it. But I don’t know how many teams in the league fall into that category. I wouldn’t say it’s an exceedingly high number and it never really has been, based on my experience in the league. Although, I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I would certainly say that’s not the most common way that teams evolve throughout the course of the year. 

"So, you do what you need to do each week to try to win. You put in the plays, make the adjustments, you don’t want to overload things – I mean, nobody’s talking about putting in a new offense every week. That’s not it at all, but are there some modifications you can make? Sure, and as you rep those and you use them and if those situations come up again, then maybe you can fall back to that same type of scheme. But to think realistically, which it’s incomprehensible to me, but, I mean, I don’t know. 

"Maybe I just can’t figure it out, but it’s incomprehensible to me how anybody could think that a team that’s practiced for six months and played 19 regular-season and postseason games and had triple-digit practices, five months later, after not playing a game, after having a fraction of that type of experience, could be anywhere close to the level of execution that they were five months before that after all of the things that I just listed. I mean, it’s impossible in my view. So, each year, you start all over again. You start that process all over again. You build your team over the course of the year though practice repetitions, through preseason to regular season games, through the evolving of your scheme, and that’s why each year is different and unique. But, I understand I’m in the minority and most other people don’t see it that way, which is OK, but that’s the way I see it."

Malcom Brown helps spark Patriots run defense vs. Jets

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Malcom Brown helps spark Patriots run defense vs. Jets

The Patriots use a defensive scheme that often asks its defensive tackles to do the dirty work. Two-gap. Take on multiple blockers. Free up linebackers to crash down and make tackles in one-on-one situations with opposing running backs. 

It's not the most glamorous job. Sometimes it's difficult to see in real time when one of the big bodies up front is executing his duties effectively or not. But it's a critical role all the same.

On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Patriots got some solid work from their tackles to help limit the Jets to 3.1 yards per carry and just 74 rush yards total. Malcom Brown stood out as the team's top tackle on the day, and one of his team's best defensive players overall. 

The third-year 320-pounder had four tackles that limited to the Jets to gains of two yards or less. He also picked up a sack when he chased Josh McCown across the field and touched him down behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter.

Brown was flagged for a defensive holding call just before Austin Seferian-Jenkins' fumble -- he locked onto the first blocker that engaged him and then didn't release quickly enough when that blocker tried to move on to another Patriots defender -- but overall it was a strong day, according to his head coach.

"I think Malcom’s improved pretty much every week," Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday. "I know he’s definitely helping us making some significant plays for us out there and, again, eating up a lot of plays in front of him so that other guys, like Elandon [Roberts], Kyle [Van Noy], Dont’a [Hightower] and those guys, can fit in and make the tackles."

Brown wasn't alone. Lawrence Guy was in on a pair of run stuffs that went for two yards or less, and he was credited with three total tackles. Alan Branch played in 22 snaps after being made a healthy scratch in Week 5, and Adam Butler saw 17 snaps on the line.

"I thought we got contributions from all those players . . . They all have a little bit different playing style, but they were all productive," Belichick said. "It certainly helps our linebacker play when the defensive line plays consistent and they can do a good job in front and then the linebackers can do a good job and then the secondary can fit off them, so it works in front of that. 

"But, I thought our defensive line did a lot of good things yesterday. There’s still a lot of things we need to work on, obviously. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but we did a lot of good things up front."

Coming into the game allowing 5.0 yards per rushing attempt, what the Patriots were able to accomplish against the Jets in the run game -- behind a stout performance by Brown and his teammates in the trenches -- can certainly qualify as a step in the right direction.