Belichick: Ravens loaded with explosive players

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Belichick: Ravens loaded with explosive players

FOXBORO -- In Baltimore's attempt to make big plays offensively, sometimes its quarterback Joe Flacco will just throw it up and see if someone can come down with it. Sometimes the throw is right on the money.

Either way, the Ravens aren't afraid to throw the ball. And they won't be afraid to throw the ball against New England's secondary in Sunday's AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium.

And why would they be? Their receivers have been pulling in everything that comes their way during the playoffs.

But as Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out on Wednesday, the Ravens' receivers and running backs are dangerous in more ways than just the deep ball.

"Torrey Smith's good," said Belichick. "They're all good. It's Torrey Smith, but that's all of them. It's Jacoby Jones, it's obviously Anquan Boldin. It's Dennis Pitta. It could be Ed Dickson, Tandon Doss, I mean, you could go right down the line. They throw it to all of them. And then they also have explosive players like Ray Rice, like Bernard Pierce, like Pitta, like Boldin, even Smith on some catch-and-run plays, where they take the ball on a five, six, 10-yard pass, and end up getting 40 or 50 with it because they're fast and they're tough to tackle.

"Some of them, they just launch it down there and throw it up, and the receivers go up and get it. Or they make great plays like they did last week against Denver. But sometimes it could be a screen pass or an under route or something like that, and they could turn it into a 50-yard gain too, because of their ability to run with the ball."

Either way, the Patriots are ready to face an explosive offense.

"All these guys can run," said Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo on Wednesday. "They can do multiple things. And then you have Anquan Boldin who's lining up at different spots. He always seems to come down with the ball no matter if he's in the slot, at the one spot, he's always making plays and doing a good job for them. So it's a good test for us. But it's not only for our secondary. I think it's for everyone across the board. It comes down to the pass rush. It comes down to us checking the tight ends and backs and the secondary holding up in the back end.

"So, it's a very explosive team, with a lot of big plays," Belichick added. "It's a lot of long balls, but it's not all long balls. It's a lot of catch-and-run plays too. So they get you both ways. If you play off them and give them a lot of space, then they'll kill you on the catch-and-run plays. If you get up there and try to take those away, they can kill you on the deep balls. They're very well-balanced. They execute well, and they can get a lot of yards in a hurry. They do a real good job on the deep balls. Real good."

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.