Blakely: Deep bench should pay dividends for C's

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Blakely: Deep bench should pay dividends for C's

BOSTON There's no shortage of bodies for Doc Rivers to choose from when trying to figure out who to put on the floor this season.

But even with a roster that could legitimately go double-digits deep in players used almost every night, Rivers said his rotation strategy this season won't be altered that much from past seasons.

"We're not going to go that deep," Rivers said. "We'll go the same."

Rivers starts most seasons off by playing 10 or so players, depending on how they perform and whether the C's can maintain enough healthy bodies.

That means most games will feature a few players who won't see action that could conceivably contribute.

While the Celtics' goals of another deep playoff run will come down to the performance of their top eight or nine players, Rivers understands all too well the value of having depth during the season.

Because Boston has arguably the deepest bench in the league, that should pay huge dividends for the C's during the regular season when they can essentially wear down teams on a nightly basis.

Not only does that make it tougher for opponents to game-plan against Boston, but it also affords Rivers a greater opportunity to keep core guys such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett even fresher for the playoffs.

"Coming off the bench, our job is to make things easier for the starters," Celtics backup center Darko Milicic told CSNNE.com. "We do our job, we'll be OK."

Part of doing their job is developing continuity both among themselves as well as with the starters who at times they will be on the floor with as Rivers continues to mix up his lineups.

"The continuity is pretty good right now," said Boston's Courtney Lee. "But this team, we're not satisfied with anything we do. Even when we do something well, we know we can do it better. That's what this team is about, always trying to be better."

And that involves developing a rotation that players understand, will shrink in some fashion come playoff time.

"That's what's so great about this team," Lee said. "Doc has so many options to choose from, and the competition for minutes is there. That's only going to bring out the best in you as a player. And that's only going to help the team. So you can't look at that as anything but a positive."

Lee is expected to edge out Jason Terry for the starting job at shooting guard. Joining Lee in the starting unit will be Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The fifth starting spot - at least for the season opener against Miami on Tuesday - is expected to go to Brandon Bass.

That leaves the C's bench rotation to start the season consisting of Terry, Milicic, Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green. If Rivers plays 10 players, that 10th player will likely fluctuate between Leandro Barbosa, Jason Collins and Chris Wilcox.

Avery Bradley remains out until at least the middle of December while recovering from surgery to both of his shoulders. Rookies Kris Joseph and Fab Melo are unlikely to see much action early on this season.

Rivers is hesitant to heap too much praise on his second unit - especially with them having not played a single game yet together - but he acknowledges that this team does have the kind of depth that gives him more options than he has had in past years.

"I don't know after 10 (players), we'll see, or 11," Rivers said. "But I'm not worried about that, honestly. I'm more worried about that top-9 or 10. Because those are the guys that are gonna win."

Curran: Texans perfectly positioned to slow down Brady and the Patriots

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Curran: Texans perfectly positioned to slow down Brady and the Patriots

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes in 14 of the 273 games he started and finished. The Patriots are 6-8 in those games. Among the 14 are three games against Rex Ryan’s Jets, including two in 2013 and the second game of the season in 2009. There’s also the 2015 AFC Championship against Denver, the playoff win over the Texans last year, and the season-opening loss to the Chiefs this year.

The common denominator in those six games? Outstanding defenses with coordinators and personnel that new Brady well and -- in all but the win over the Texans last January -- a dearth of wide receivers.

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Every year there’s a search for the BLUEPRINT!!! for slowing down the Patriots offense and making Brady look mortal. Google “blueprint for beating the Patriots” and you get 370,000 results. Many of those say the 2007 Giants crafted it first. Few of those mention praying for dropped interceptions and helmet catches in the final two minutes.

The most sure way to slow down the Patriots offense is to have really good defensive players who can bring pressure and (this is the key) hoping the Patriots are banged up at wideout and can’t do their usual damage in the middle of the field.

That’s your blueprint. And it’s in place this week. This isn’t saying the Patriots will lose to Houston, who I’ll wager won’t produce more than 10 offensive points. But I’ll also bet you straight up that Brady completes fewer than half of his passes against Houston.

No Edelman, Gronk with a groin, Danny Amendola coming back from concussion and Brandin Cooks still getting adjusted will leave the Texans knowing their key to success is jamming the middle and making Brady work outside.  

The Texans were fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt last season (5.83), second in passing yards allowed per game (201), first in first downs allowed per game (17) and second in completion percentage against (58.68).

Brady knows what’s coming. He talked about it earlier this week on WEEI with Kirk and Callahan, saying, “They were the No. 1-ranked defense in the league last year. I don’t think I completed many passes in that game, either. I think I was below 50 percent. They just did a good job of putting pressure and when you put pressure, the ball has to come out quick and they had a lot of guys in coverage, too. It was just tough to get rid of it quick. The one positive we took out of that game was we made a lot of big plays. Some teams are going to decide to take away some shorter throws, and they give up longer plays. I think we had seven plays over 20 yards in that game. We moved the ball pretty well. It just didn’t look super rhythmic."

The Texans were able to get pressure and drop a lot of guys in coverage because they have exceptional talent up front.

Brady broke down the Texans’ front on Wednesday, starting with J.J. Watt, saying, “Earlier in his career you used to kind of get a bead on where he’d be, [which] could help you out a little bit. But now they move him so much he’s going to really face every guy that you have up front. [He’ll] be on both sides, be inside, be outside. They run a lot of games. They’ve got a lot of scheme stuff that they use to try to get their guys free in the front, but all of those guys are exceptional athletes. J.J. is an incredible player. He’s been Defensive Player of the Year (three times). He’s got speed, quickness, power, he’s got all the moves, got all the counters. He’s just a tough guy to block.

“Then you pair him with Whitney Mercilus, who’s one of the most underrated players, I think, in the league in terms of rushing the passer to everything that he does to help that team. I know practicing against that guy how good he is. And then with Jadeveon [Clowney], he’s one of the most athletic guys in the league. He does some things that other people can’t do. He’s just size, speed, explosiveness. So all those guys on the same field at one time is a big problem for any offense. You don’t want to be holding the ball too long because you know that they’re going to get home at some point and I think that means we’ve got to really stay on track. We can’t have many negative plays. We’ve just got to play a really consistent kind of football for the entire game.”

The Texans are in a little bit of trouble at corner this week. One starter, Kevin Johnson, is down with an MCL and Johnathan Joseph will be playing with a shoulder injury that forced him from last week’s game against the Bengals.  

The Patriots made it look easy last week against the Saints, which caused people who’d been pointing out Brady was BORN IN 1977!!!! stare at their shoelaces for a few days. But they’re just resting because they’ll be back Sunday evening and into Monday with the same “old” song, ignoring the facts of the case.

The facts are that Brady -- with a full complement in the playoffs last year and the Texans missing J.J. Watt -- had his hands full to the tune of a 47.37 completion percentage, the lowest completion percentage in 34 career playoff games. Without Edelman in this season's opener (and losing Amendola midway through), he completed 44.44 percent of his passes -- fourth-worst among games he started and finished.

The key in this one could be Cooks. As Brady pointed out, the Texans yielded some chunk plays. Cooks, who’s got speed to spare on the outside, will likely be looking at press coverage that -- if he can be beat it -- will give him a chance to run under some Brady duck-and-chucks. And there will be some of those.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien -- whose defense is run by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and former Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel -- isn’t looking at the KC game as a blueprint. He’s looking instead at the 27 points scored and the points left on the field by New England.

“When I look at their offense, obviously they didn’t win the game, but there were several things that they did in the game that were very good,” said O’Brien. “They’re a very dangerous team on offense. They play fast. They play with great efficiency. They have a different game plan every week, different personnel that they’re using and so, it’s difficult. You don’t really know what to expect. The combination of Tom and Josh [McDaniels], the brains behind that offense, it’s hard. It’s hard to deal with that and we’re just going to have to see what it is when the game starts and do the best we can to keep up with what they’re trying to do and go from there.”

The Patriots offense knows generally what’s coming from Houston and vice versa. The Patriots won’t be “rhythmic” and there will be balls skipping in the general vicinity of where Brady hoped a receiver would be when he let it go with Watt or Mercilus bearing down on him. Bet on it.

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