Patriots

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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Brady off injury report, Van Noy out

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Brady off injury report, Van Noy out

Tom Brady and cornerback Malcolm Butler were taken off the Patriots final injury report of the week before their Monday night game in Miami.

Brady, bothered by an Achilles injury the past few weeks, missed back-to-back practices earlier in the week but practiced Friday and in the snow with the other healthy Patriots on Saturday in Foxboro.

Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon is again out, as is linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Wide receiver Chris Hogan is among the 11 Patriots listed as questionable but practiced all week and is expected to play.

The Patriots' Saturday injury report: 

OUT: OL Marcus Cannon (ankle), LB Kyle Van Noy (calf)

QUESTIONABLE: LB Marquis Flowers (knee), DL Trey Flowers (rib), CB Stephon Gilmore (ankle), RB Mike Gillislee (illness), WR Chris Hogan (shoulder), RB Dion Lewis (illness), DB Brandon King (hamstring), CB Eric Rowe (groin), WR Matthew Slater (hamstring), OT LaAdrian Waddle (ankle), DE Deatrich Wise (foot)

Something to get off his chest: Brady apologizes to McDaniels for outburst

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Something to get off his chest: Brady apologizes to McDaniels for outburst

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady deemed it was time for an apology. A public one. 

When he stepped to the podium on Saturday afternoon, following his team's final practice of the week before flying to South Florida for the Monday night game in Miami, Brady took the opportunity to make a brief statement. 

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"One thing I do want to say first is I want to apologize to Josh for last week in Buffalo," Brady said. "I know our coaches work really hard and they're responsible for putting us in a great position to succeed. So just want to get that off my chest."

Brady and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were involved in a fiery sideline exchange in the first quarter of their game last weekend against the Bills. Brady appeared to miss open receivers on both first and third-down plays in Buffalo territory, and McDaniels seemed to harp on that fact to Brady when the quarterback came to the sidelines. Something McDaniels said caused Brady to erupt, and the 40-year-old MVP candidate unleashed a series of expletives in McDaniels' direction. 

Perhaps it's all the discussion surrounding his outburst and comparing it to those of players like Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant. Perhaps it's that he has three children old enough to see their dad on television and wonder why he's acting the way he is. 

Whatever the reason, Brady felt bad and wanted to apologize. He did radio interviews on both WEEI and Westwood One during the week, but he waited until he was in front of cameras to get the mea culpa out there. 

"A lot of people see it," Brady said of his lashing out at McDaniels, "and they think the nature of our relationship would be something like that. But it's really the exact opposite of that. I just have been feeling bad all week and haven't had a chance to say it. He knows how much I love him."

Brady has long been open about how he believes in playing with emotion so long as it is channeled properly. He echoed those sentiments again Saturday, and he said his entire team will have to steer its emotions in the right way against the Dolphins on Monday night.

"I think you have to play the game with energy, emotion and enthusiasm," Brady said. "Absolutely. It's just directed in a positive way, toward winning and toward what we're trying to accomplish as a team. I have so much trust in the players and so much trust in our coaches and what we're all trying to accomplish. We all want the same thing.

"To go about that in the right way is what matters the most. We're gonna have to have a lot of enthusiasm, and we should because this is a great atmosphere. It means a lot. We're playing for a lot . . . Hopefully, all that energy is directed in the right way towards being the best team we can be, and me playing my best to help us win."

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