Patriots

Doug Pederson has unique perspective on '19 Patriots D vs. '00 Ravens

Doug Pederson has unique perspective on '19 Patriots D vs. '00 Ravens

FOXBORO – We’ve noted several times the historic pace for stinginess the Patriots defense is on through nine games.

Even with the Ravens putting up 30 on them in their last game, the New England defense has still allowed just 70 points. The NFL record of 152 was set by the 2000 Ravens.

The “Who’s the Greatest Defense of All Time” conversation is a subjective one. Opponents, rules changes, the evolution of the game in terms of scheme and technology – not to mention the evolution of the athletes – makes it impossible to declare a “winner.”

About the only objective evidence that can be submitted is how many points a particular team’s defense allowed. And the Patriots are tracking history in that regard.

There is, however, one intimate eyewitness to the 2000 Ravens who can also speak with expertise about the 2019 Patriots. That’s Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

Back in 2000 when he was a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, Pederson got the start on November 26 against the Ravens.

The Browns lost, 44-7. Pederson went 8-for-16 for 108 yards with two sacks and an interception. And?

“I think I cracked my ribs in that game,” Pederson added Wednesday afternoon on a conference call ahead of Sunday’s matchup with New England.

I asked Pederson what else he remembers about that team and how it compares to this one.

“It’s an interesting conversation, and you can obviously draw some parallels with those two defenses,” he began. “I think the biggest thing that jumps out to you right now, the glaring thing, is the turnover ratio.

“I mean, the fact that they’ve got six defensive scores this season, the interceptions, the fumbles they’re causing – it’s a brand of defense where they just smother you. They just corral you,” said Pederson. “They’re OK with giving you two, three, four yards, but they’re right on top of you. Their secondary is that way aggressively and their front seven are that way.

“And that’s something I think when you look back, if I remember correctly with that Baltimore team, the same structure, the same style of defense,” he added. “It was a smothering style of defense, and they played fast and they played aggressively. They may not do a whole lot schematically, and I think that’s a positive because it does allow your guys to play free, and to play fast and to play smart. I think that’s a similarity that I see with this Patriots defense today.”

So far, the Patriots have recovered eight opponent fumbles and picked off 19 passes. They’ve also returned four turnovers for touchdowns (not to mention the two blocked punt touchdowns).

The Ravens recovered 26 opponent’s fumbles and picked off 23 passes (26 fumbles on 44 forced fumbles … insanity….).

Because of the bye week, the Patriots' loss to Baltimore has festered. Skepticism that the Patriots' gaudy numbers are more about their opponents' ineptitude than New England’s excellence has gained traction.

Did Pederson see anything from that Ravens game that he can sample?

“The Ravens offense is unique because of their quarterback,” Pederson pointed out. “I’ll just throw that out there – this kid [Lamar Jackson] is special and he’s hard to bring down. So, they can do some things that probably every other team in the league can’t. But, I think you can look at the structure of things, and what Baltimore did and the success that Baltimore had in that game. I think you can kind of match that to what we do, or what we try to do.

“But you’ve got to look at the entire body of work,” Pederson cautioned. “You can’t just focus on one game because there’s so many things. I mean, the Patriots defense changes from week-to-week based on who they play, so we would anticipate maybe a little different structure than what they played against Baltimore. So, we look at it. You’ve got to look at it with a wide lens, obviously, and try to pick a few things that might help you win.”

They go about it a whole lot differently than the Ravens, but the Eagles can run it. They’ve been over 4 yards per carry in every game but two this season and ran for 364 in their last two contests against pretty stout defenses – Chicago and Buffalo.

So this is a legitimate test for the Patriots who, at this point, are a helluva lot less concerned about history than they are the here and now.

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Report: With Folk back at kicker, Patriots release DT Huggins

Report: With Folk back at kicker, Patriots release DT Huggins

Albert Huggins' stay in New England, which he chronicled on Instagram earlier this week, will apparently be a short one.

Maybe.

To make room on the roster after the re-signing of kicker Nick Folk, Huggins, the defensive tackle claimed off waivers earlier this week from the Philadelphia Eagles was released, according to Field Yates of ESPN.

However, Mike Reiss of ESPN reports that there may be a practice-squad spot available for Huggins, so perhaps his Instagram video wasn't for naught. 

Folk is one of four kickers the Patriots have employed this season, three of them after the season-ending injury to Stephen Gostkowski. Folk was released after having an emergency appendectomy that kept him out of the game last week in Houston. Kai Forbath was signed, becoming kicker No. 4 in 2019, then released after that game.

Folk worked out Friday and was deemed healthy enough to return. He's 7-for-9 on field-goal attempts and 3-for-3 on extra points in three games for New England. 

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If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

If Patriots just did this, the offense would see a big improvement

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related topic. This week: Call me crazy, but if the Patriots would just do THIS offensively, they’d see a big improvement. 

Bang it to the tight ends. So far this season, the Patriots have 26 catches for 349 yards and a touchdown from Benjamin Watson, Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo and Eric Tomlinson. The 27 catches have come on 38 total targets. Tomlinson’s long gone and Izzo hasn’t played since Week 6 against the Giants. Lacosse, meanwhile, has missed five games. The 38-year-old Watson has been targeted twice in the past two games but has pulled in 12 of the 17 passes sent his way in the past six weeks. Last season, a dinged-up Rob Gronkowski caught 26 passes for 304 yards by himself and that came on 43 targets. It’s astounding that an offense that’s been as reliant on the tight end as the Patriots has only directed 38 passes to the position through 12 games. Even in 2016, when Gronk missed a big chunk of the year, the team was still able to get 55 catches and 701 yards from Martellus Bennett. I have a feeling the Josh McDaniels has noticed the absence of the tight end in their offense. I’m also sure that part of the reason it hasn’t been anything more than an afterthought is A) they’ve had a revolving door there with Lacosse injured and Watson suspended for the early part of the year; B) they’ve had woeful pass protection especially on the left while Isaiah Wynn was out and needed to keep a tight end in at times and C) they don’t have dynamic players at the spot. But last week, the Patriots got a much-missed seam pass to Lacosse for 23 yards and a 32-yard catch-and-run from Watson. Could that be a motivator to get the ball out there a little more often? Couldn’t hurt.

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I'm not sure there's anything they can do right now to see a BIG improvement. But there are improvements there to be made, no doubt. I'd focus on the red zone because that's the area of the field where there's the most obvious potential for growth for the Patriots. There really is no reason for the Patriots not to be at least a little more effective at scoring touchdowns when they get inside the 20. They're currently 24th in the NFL when it comes to red-zone efficiency at 48.89 percent. That's a tick below bad offensive football teams like the Giants (53.12 percent, 22nd), Bears (59.46 percent, 14th), Bills (63.64 percent, 9th) and Dolphins (67.74 percent, 4th). How do they improve? Go big. Go bigger in the passing game. Get those tight ends you mention, Tom, out there and allow them to use their bodies to post up on defenders in an area of the field where space is tight. Use N'Keal Harry, even if it's only as a specialty player in there, because he knows how to make a back-shoulder catch. Maybe give Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers a breather when you're in there. And go big in the running game deep in opponent territory. Multiple tight ends. Maybe an extra offensive lineman at times. Since Isaiah Wynn's return, and since LaCosse has been healthy enough to be a factor as a blocker, the run game has improved. Especially out of two-tight end sets. In the last two weeks, they've run for 4.2 yards per carry out of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). That number was 3.4 yards per carry in Weeks 2-11 without Wynn. They picked up 3.3 yards per carry in games without Wynn this year, whereas they've averaged 4.4 yards per carry the past two weeks -- regardless of personnel package. They should be able to run it closer to the goal line with the offensive line and tight end spots healthier. And if they prove they can do that, that'll open up the play-action passing game down there. Poof. Just like that, the red-zone offense will be better and the Patriots will see more points on the scoreboard as a result.

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