Patriots

Versatility and can-do attitude make Chung valuable to Patriots

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Versatility and can-do attitude make Chung valuable to Patriots

Sunday night’s game in Denver allowed us to see all the faces of Pat Chung, football-wise. On one snap, he lined up as the nickel cornerback opposite the Broncos’ third wide receiver, Cody Latimer. On the very next play, Chung found himself lined up in the box, essentially playing the role of outside linebacker. Then later on the same drive, the versatile safety was head-up on the tight end, Jeff Heuerman. Welcome to Pat’s world, where life is rarely the same from one play to the next.

“Things just change depending on gameplan or the call,” Chung told me after Wednesday’s practice at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. “I practice that throughout the week so it’s not as big a surprise when it happens in the game. That’s just the normal defense since I’ve been here. I have a good grasp on it. Yes, we still have to learn things if they install something new, but I just absorb it and go from there.”

Chung does it so well though that the coaching staff keeps asking him to do this, that and the other thing week in and week out. When I asked Bill Belichick if anyone on that defense has more responsibilities, the head coach practically gushed about the 30-year old Chung. 

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“More than anybody on defense,” said Belichick. “He does a great job for us. Pat has done that for us the last three years. He plays anywhere from linebacker to safety to corner to safety on the line to safety off the line, as well as in the kicking game. He gives us plays on special teams too.”

What allows Chung, now in his second stint with the Patriots, to wear all these hats and still play at a high level?

“He plays lot of positions. He’s tough. He can cover.,” said Stephon Gilmore. “Anything the coaches ask him to do, he does it well. He’s very scrappy and very tough. You have to respect his game.”

“There’s not too many people that can play strong safety, corner, star, kick return, punt returner, linebacker,” marveled Duron Harmon. “This guy is literally everywhere. It just shows the type of work he puts in during the week to be able to hold that type of accountability for coach to put him all those types of positions.”

“Pat’s in very good condition,” noted Belichick. “He’s an excellent athlete. Good football player, good tackler, plays well in space, he has a good set of skills that translate and transfer to coverage positions, to run-fits in tackling, to space playing in the kicking game. He’s very competitive in all those spots…and he’s smart. He handles a lot of responsibilities for us. We’re very fortunate to have him.”

When apprised of Belichick’s comments, Chung smiled, be it ever so briefly. There’s a bigger picture here, and the safety/linebacker/special teams ace seems to have a good handle on it.

“You just gotta take it a compliment,” Chung said. “If you’re able to do a lot of things and coach has confidence in you that’s something you have to do for yourself so that he keeps his confidence in you, keeps asking you to do it,’ adding “and just trying to keep the job - honestly - to make sure I stay on the team and feed my family.”

The Pats rewarded Chung’s good play with a contract extension last year and then added more financial incentive to that deal this summer, giving the former Oregon star a chance to earn $1.7 million in playing time bonuses, up from $900K when he first signed the deal. Chung has played 83% of the snaps this season, which is reportedly the top tier on that contract. If he keeps playing this way, that’s more money in the bank. Of course, as with any football player, there’s an element of risk, but for Chung - at 215 pounds on a good day - there’s even more with all that he gets asked to do closer to the line of scrimmage. It’s not uncommon to see him have to take on a pulling guard or get put some close to the interior line that he ends up going toe-to-toe with a tackle. That’s a lot of weight and strength to give up. Is there any way to train/prepare for that part of the game?

“You can’t really prepare your body for that,” he chuckled. “It’s just a mental thing. You gotta be tough. Sometimes you gotta hit little guys. Sometimes you gotta hit bigger guys. You put that on film that you’ll hit anyone and I don’t know, I guess it shows you’re tough. Whoever’s there, you have to deal with them on that play. If I can make a play, I do it. If my teammates can make a play, it’s just something I’ve gotta do. You can’t really think about it. If he hits you in the mouth and knocks you down…if he hits you in the mouth and you stand…if you hit them…you see? It’s what it is.”

It’s precisely that kind of can-do attitude and play that has ingratiated Chung to the coaching staff and teammates as well. 

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Patriots suffer defensive wounds against Dolphins

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Patriots suffer defensive wounds against Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The number of points the Patriots allowed in their 27-20 loss to the Dolphins on Monday night was the most they'd given up in more than two months. And they were lucky it wasn't more.

New England's defense had breakdowns across the board against Adam Gase's offense, allowing Jay Cutler to complete 25 of 38 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Had it not been for four Dolphins drops -- including one that nearly went for a long touchdown to Jakeem Grant -- Cutler's numbers would've been even better.

Here's a look at some of the issues the Patriots exhibited at Hard Rock Stadium. If they're going to get them cleaned up before next weekend's game in Pittsburgh against one of the NFL's best offenses, Matt Patricia is going to have a busy week on his hands.

CUTLER GOES LONG
The once-retired veteran has been a mostly dink-and-dunk style quarterback this season, but he aired it out with some success on Monday. Credit Gase and his staff for drawing up a plan that forced the Patriots to cover "every blade of grass." Without much pressure from the Patriots defense (more on that later), they stretched Bill Belichick's defense both horizontally and vertically. They found open crossers for much of the evening, utilizing Cutler's mobility to roll out and find receivers running across formations. They also caught the Patriots on some deep attempts. The first that had a shot came early in the second half when Julius Thomas let a big-gainer slip through his hands. Three plays later, Cutler found Grant for a 25-yard touchdown when Grant out-jumped Malcolm Butler for the 50-50 ball.

"Should've been more aggressive," Butler said after the game. "Should've went up, played the ball a little better. Think I competed well, but I think in that case competing wasn't good enough."

Butler gave a step to Grant again in the fourth quarter, but Cutler's pass bounced off of Grant's fingers and fell the would-be touchdown pass fell incomplete.

PASS RUSH LEAVES ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The entire front seven for the Patriots had their issues on Monday night, which made sense given the personnel. Without Kyle Van Noy, Trey Flowers and Alan Branch (ruled out with a knee injury during the game), the Dolphins hovered around 4.8 yards per carry until late in the contest. In coverage, Patriots linebackers -- in particular Elandon Roberts, who allowed 77 yards on three catches -- had their issues. But the team's pass rush has to be a concern as well. The Patriots managed just three hits on Cutler in the game. Two were sacks. Both Devin McCourty and Adam Butler came up with one. The other hit came in the first quarter when Eric Lee put a lick on Cutler as Cutler let an incompletion fly. Lee was the team's most productive rusher with three additional hurries. Eric Rowe also had a hurry on a corner blitz in the fourth quarter. Jordan Richards came up with a pressure of his own that should've resulted in more. Which leads us to . . . 

MISSED TACKLES AN ISSUE
On Miami's final drive of the first half, the Patriots seemed to have their opponents stuffed in the red zone yet again. Richards shot a gap on the interior and had a clean hit lined up on Cutler, but he missed the takedown, and Cutler found Kenyan Drake for eight yards and a first down. Brutal. One play later, Cutler found Jarvis Landry to make the score 13-7. Richards' miss was, in essence, a four-point play. Roberts missed a first-quarter tackle that led to a Drake 26-yard run, and Landry stiff-armed Jones to the ground soon thereafter to give the Patriots another miss. In the third quarter, Drake spun out of a potential Patrick Chung tackle and scooted for 31 yards to set up Landry's second touchdown of the game.

BUNCH FORMATIONS ARE BACK
The Patriots were expected to see bunch formation after bunch formation when they struggled to defend them against the Panthers in Week 4. Instead, they weren't inundated with bunch looks. They saw them only periodically and handled them well. But the Dolphins were relentless with their bunch sets. The Patriots seemed to have them figured out for the most part, but Landry got loose out of a bunch formation near the goal line, leading to his second score of the game. And in the third quarter, on a third-and-four play, the Patriots appeared to be almost too ready for a pick out of a tight two-man set. Jonathan Jones, seemingly anticipating contact, lost Kenny Stills off the line of scrimmage and gave up an 11-yard completion for a crucial first down. Two plays later, the Dolphins were in the end zone.

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NFL Network suspends analysts over sexual misconduct suit

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NFL Network suspends analysts over sexual misconduct suit

NEW YORK -- Hall of Fame player Marshall Faulk and two other NFL Network analysts have been suspended after a former employee alleged sexual misconduct in a lawsuit.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy on Tuesday identified the three as Faulk, Ike Taylor and Heath Evans. He says they have been "suspended from their duties at NFL Network pending an investigation into these allegations."

According to court documents first reported by Bloomberg, former wardrobe stylist Jami Cantor described several sexually inappropriate encounters with the three retired NFL players and others who have worked for the NFL Network.

Former NFL Network executive Eric Weinberger and former NFL Network analyst Donovan McNabb are among those named in the suit. McNabb now works for ESPN.

Cantor worked at the NFL Network for a decade. She filed an amended complaint originally filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in October.