Patriots

Keeping Miller off Brady a challenge for improved OT Waddle

Keeping Miller off Brady a challenge for improved OT Waddle

FOXBORO - Von Miller has ruined many a football game for opposing offenses. The Patriots have first-hand experience with that. Just flashback to the AFC title game in the 2015-16 season. The All-Pro defensive end/linebacker tormented Tom Brady, sacking the quarterback 2 1/2 times while also recording a handful of hits on the beleaguered Brady in a 20-18 Denver victory. Miller did that going head-to-head with starting right tackle Marcus Cannon. 

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Fast forward to this weekend. Miller must be salivating at the thought of not only teeing off on Brady but at the very real possibility he’ll be squaring off with backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Yes, the same Waddle who played exactly one snap a year ago will be thrown into the lion’s den against the ferocious Miller.

“He’s a great player, a great rusher,” said Waddle. “He’s one of those guys...He’s gonna jump the count if he can. He’s fast off the ball, he can bend that edge, he can bring a little power too. He’s a good, complete rusher and he’s someone we’ll have to take care of to do the things we want to do on offense.”

Said Bill Belichick: “Miller can do it all; he can play the run, he’s a great edge-setter, and he’s a great speed-rusher - good counter move, good speed to power rush. He’s seen double teams and things like that. He knows how to deal with them. He has a good inside spin and has the power to get away from those types of techniques. He’s a good pass rusher and he’s as good a player as there is in the league.”

The idea that Waddle could even put up a fair fight against Miller was far-fetched as recently as this summer when the 26-year old appeared to be a prime candidate to get chopped off the roster. Instead, not only has Waddle survived but he has slipped past Cam Fleming to earn substantial snaps this year: 130 to date. Waddle filled in capably for Cannon when the latter went down in the victory over the L.A. Chargers, fending off the explosive Melvin Ingram, himself an elite pass rusher in the Miller mold.

“I think it’s just more getting that opportunity to get out there," said Waddle when asked of his overall improvement. “I didn’t really get that opportunity to last year - whatever reason that was - whatever, it’s in the past, it’s over with. Now that I’m getting my opportunity, I want to make the most of those, show them I can perform and get the trust of the rest of my teammates and the coaches.”

Belichick has been high on Waddle dating back to August. At the time it surprised those of us who watched the tackle struggle in both camp practices and joint sessions with Jackonsville and Houston. Shows you what we know. 

“Yeah, it started in the offseason,” said Belichick. “He had a really good offseason, good spring and I think he's improved his overall strength, his mobility. He's in good condition. You know, he kind of took a while – when we first got him, I think he was still dealing a little bit with the knee injury from Detroit. And, I don't want to say last year, but it's just over a period of time, between hard work, maybe it's some just physical improvement – I don't know, some combination of the two – but he looks and plays kind of like what we saw in Detroit before the injury.”

Waddle credited offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia for constantly pushing he and the rest of the hogs up front to get after it daily, be it in the meeting room, weight room or on the practice field. Scar stresses opening lanes for the run game and “keeping Tommy clean” said Waddle. That’s a good way to put yourself in the good graces of not just the coaches but the man himself - Brady.

“LA [Waddle] works hard. I’m very confident in him as I am with all our linemen,” said Brady earlier this week.

Miller will do his best to ruin that Sunday in the Mile High City. We’ll see how Brady feels about Waddle and that o-line once Week 10 is in the books. 


 

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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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

FOXBORO -- Stephen Gostkowski is almost 34 years old, but in Mexico City he provided a reminder that he's not slowing down in his 12th NFL season. 

After going four-for-four on field goals -- including a team-record 62-yarder, a 51-yarder and a 40-yarder -- and making all three of his extra points, Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the sixth time in his career. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, Bill Belichick explained that someone in Gostkowski's situation probably isn't improving at this point in his career. But if he's maintaining a strong level of play, that's OK. 

"I don’t know how much real improvement you’re going to see from a player that’s been in the league 12 or 20 years in a case like Adam [Vinatieri] or somebody like that," Belichick said. "But, if the level they’re performing at is pretty good, if they can maintain that, then that’s certainly enough to help the team.

"Are there things that a player can do better? Yeah, sure, there always are technique things. I think Steve has really improved in some of his alternative kicks on kickoffs, as an example, instead of just kicking every ball as far as he can. He’s done a great job of that. I’d say it’s maintaining the timing and the overall leg speed and technique that makes kickers good at their job."