Patriots

Why Scarnecchia believes his O-line is trending positively

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Why Scarnecchia believes his O-line is trending positively

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have done something that very few teams in the modern NFL have been able to do. They've built an offensive line, one that was good enough to win a Super Bowl, and then kept it together.

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To have a starting five make it through almost the entirety of the year, as New England's did in 2016, is rare. But then to have the same five back to make another run? That's a rare luxury.

When the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2014, they had an entirely new interior of their offensive line starting in Week 1 of the following season. When the Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2015, center Matt Paradis was the only Super Bowl starting lineman on the field for Week 1 of 2016.

The current Patriots line not only has an uncommon level of experience together, but they've avoided many of the pitfalls that have hampered protection schemes across the NFL.

They're not dealing with young players still adjusting to three-point stances. And the lack of practice time that lines have together in the preseason shouldn't bother them as much as other units because they've seen well over 1,000 game-day snaps together.

They speak the same language. They know each other's strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.

Yet the product on the field hasn't translated through the first half of this season. Tom Brady is on pace to absorb more sacks (42) than he's ever taken in his 17 years as a starter.

Dante Scarnecchia met with reporters on Wednesday for the annual bye-week media availability period for Patriots assistants, and he was asked for his assessment of his starting five -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon.

“We should protect our quarterback better than what we have been doing,” Scarnecchia said. “We’re trending in that direction over the last two weeks. We’ve seen some good rushers out there. Guys have done a much better job. Tommy seems to be a little bit more upright than he was in the first six games. Hopefully, we are trending in that direction to where we can really throw up a wall in front of this guy and help him."

But why, Scarnecchia was asked, has there been issues when consistent availability and experience together are two of the defining characteristics of his year's group? 

"For having the same five guys . . . maybe we're not pass-blocking as well as we did last year when you think we should be," Scarnecchia said. "And I think I have to do a better job of coaching them and getting more out of them."

Scarnecchia was brought back into coaching last season for the express purpose of getting his group in order and he did. He's widely renowned as one of the best in the game at his job. So to hear him put the onus on himself was eye-opening. 

"I just think it's usually a result of techniques," he said. "We have to do better at what we're doing and understand what certain things mean as far as -- if a guy's going to blitz on the outside, well that means the guy you're going to block is going to go inside. We can't let those things happen where we're not responding the way we should. 

"It's not for a lack of effort. We're trying to do it right. They're trying to do it right. We've just gotta it done a better than what we're doing. 

Look, we’re eight games into this deal, and no one is satisfied. They’re not. I’m not. Certainly, the head coach isn’t. We're gonna continue to work at it.”

One area where Scarnecchia has been satisfied with his unit's improvement? Short-yardage running situations. 

The Patriots were three-for-four on third and fourth-and-1 conversion opportunities against the Chargers last weekend -- a far cry from their conversion rate in Week 1 against the Chiefs when they failed to convert in two fourth-and-one situations.

"It wasn't very good. It has gotten better," Scarnecchia said. "It needs to continue to be better. We were terrible the first two games. Got better since then. That's an area, situational football, where you have to be really good at." 

The Patriots offensive line has dealt with a handful of injuries -- the latest being an ankle issue that knocked Marcus Cannon from the Chargers game and held him out of Wednesday's practice -- but when healthy, they've proven they can be a championship-caliber unit. So even despite a rocky start, when Scarnecchia says he feels as though they're moving in the right direction both in terms of pass-protection and run-blocking, you're inclined to believe him. 

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Patriots-Dolphins injury report: Tom Brady sits out with Achilles injury

Patriots-Dolphins injury report: Tom Brady sits out with Achilles injury

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski both sat out of the entirety of Wednesday's practice at Gillette Stadium. 

Brady is dealing with an Achilles injury, per the injury report released by the Patriots. The Boston Herald has reported that Brady will play despite the issue. It's unclear when exactly Brady suffered the injury, but Brady was hit low by Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack in the fourth quarter on Sunday, and Mack was called for a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Gronkowski, like teammate David Andrews, is dealing with an illness. Patrick Chung, who left Sunday's game briefly, has an ankle issue. 

Here's the full injury report for both the Patriots and Dolphins . . . 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
C David Andrews (illness)
QB Tom Brady (Achilles)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
S Patrick Chung (ankle)
TE Rob Gronkowski (illness)
WR Chris Hogan (shoulder)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (knee)
TE Marellus Bennett (shoulder/hamstring)
DT Malcom Brown (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)

MIAMI DOLPHINS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
LB Stephone Anthony (quadriceps)
G Jermon Bushrod (foot)
QB Jay Cutler (concussion)
DE William Hayes (back)
T Laremy Tunsill (illness)

FULL PARTICIPATION
RB Senorise Perry (knee)
S Michael Thomas (knee)

 

Curran: Randy Moss better not have to wait for Hall call

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Curran: Randy Moss better not have to wait for Hall call

If you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer. The notion that a great player’s candidacy has to have some kind of gestation period before it can be deemed induction-worthy is just plain cruel.

And if you think “cruel” is an overstatement, consider Ken Stabler. Three times a Hall of Fame finalist, Snake had to croak before Pro Football Hall of Fame voters decided it was time to put him in Canton.

There are borderline guys whose candidacies need to marinate. There are players whose contributions to an era take on greater meaning as time passes. You could make the case Stabler was one of those.

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You could also make the case that too many HOF voters in each of the major sports get caught up in a “guardian at the gate” mentality, puffing out birdlike chests until they align with swollen stomachs and declaring an athlete’s not getting inducted on HIS watch.

Or until said athlete’s served time in purgatory and either begs for induction or says, “F--- it, I don’t care if I get in at this point anyway.

Which brings me to Terrell Owens and how his HOF candidacy will impact Randy Moss.

Moss was a better player than T.O. Historic. The second he entered the league in 1998, he was probably one of the five best players in the league at any position. Owens took a while. He didn’t make a Pro Bowl until his fifth NFL season.

Moss was a technician and a savant. Owens just wrestled the game to the ground with brute force.

When measuring what a player “means” to the NFL and its fans, a reasonable Moss comp is Allen Iverson. They were iconic. Owens? Dwight Howard. Where T.O. felt needy, desperate and narcissistic. Moss just didn’t GAF.

And that’s where some voters start to rub their hands together and scheme.

How can we exact revenge for perceived crimes against football and propriety? Make 'em sweat. Use incidents, moments and comments as cudgels and pound penance out of them.

Even though Moss was better than T.O., that doesn’t mean Owens is borderline. Owens is second in all-time yards (Moss is third), eighth in receptions (Moss is 15th), third in touchdowns (Moss is second) and was a five-time All-Pro (Moss was a four-time All-Pro).

The only justification for voters keeping T.O. out the past two years was that he was a prick.

Few – if any - of his ex-teammates say that he should be kept out of the HOF for that. But scores of people in the media, ex-players and league lobbyists do think he should be kept out. At least until he learns his lesson, or whatever.

Owens’ narcissism chewed at the fabric of franchises he was a part of, is the contention. That’s why he played for five teams. That’s why he only played in one Super Bowl. That’s why tears weren’t shed when he signed someplace else.

Moss also played for five teams. He also played in just one Super Bowl (like Owens, Moss’ ’07 Patriots lost though Moss – like Owens – did his part to win). And tears weren’t shed too often when Moss left either.

Check this Tom Brady quote from September 2010. It came just days before Moss began shooting his way out of New England because he was unhappy the team wouldn’t extend his deal.

"There's only one Randy Moss that will ever play this game," Brady said. "He's the greatest, probably, downfield receiver in the history of the NFL. Those catches that he makes, where you guys see he runs 65 yards down the field, you throw it and he just runs and catches it. That's impossible to do.And I ask him, 'How did you do that?' And he says, 'I don't know, man. I've been doing it for a long time.' He has some special skills that nobody's really gifted with." 

That weekend, Moss gave his “This probably will be my last year here as a Patriot…” press conference after a season-opening win over the Bengals. The next week, he caught two of 10 passes that Brady threw his way in a loss to the Jets. One of the passes was a touchdown pass where he blew past Darrelle Revis and made a one-handed pull. Two of the other passes were picked off and Moss was non-competitive. After that, he was effectively frozen out of the offense and was traded after Week 4, less than a month after Brady accurately described him as the greatest downfield receiver in the history of the NFL.

Stuff like that, nudging a traffic cop for a half-block with his car stating “I’ll play when I want to play…,” fake-mooning the Lambeau Stadium crowd, saying he still smoked weed “once in a blue moon” – all those occasions will be aggregated and used as cudgels used to beat down Moss’ candidacy just as the driveway situps are used to beat down T.O.’s.

Whole bunch of voters will hand-wring about what it all meeeaaaannnnnsssss if they sweep Moss in on the first ballot after keeping T.O. out. And then wonder if T.O. should go in before Moss, after Moss or with him. Meanwhile, they’ll rush to get Ray Lewis in line for his gold jacket with nary a word about disappearing white suits 

The whole “between the lines is all that matters” defense.

Randy Moss belongs in the Hall of Fame. ASAP.