Patriots pass-rush looking for more against Buffalo


Patriots pass-rush looking for more against Buffalo

FOXBORO -- They finally had gotten to Joe Flacco. With just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, the Patriots defense sacked the Ravens quarterback for the first time. Chandler Jones wrapped up Flacco's feet while Kyle Love finished him off, and the Ravens lost 12 yards on the play.

Then, in an instant, the play was erased, as if it never happened. A defensive holding penalty was whistled on Brandon Spikes and the Ravens advanced five yards to the Patriots five yard line. Flacco threw a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith on the next play, putting them within a field goal of a win.

It was fitting that the New England's lone sack from that game was wiped clean. The Patriots pass-rush generated very little pressure all game, and the zeros in the box score under the sack column served as proof.

Against the Bills, the Patriots defense hopes to make the opposing quarterback's life a little more difficult.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off of a down season for Buffalo in 2011, but he has looked solid so far this year -- especially in the last two weeks. After throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions in a season-opening 48-28 loss to the Jets, he's thrown five straight touchdown passes without a pick in wins over the Chiefs and Browns.

"The biggest thing is when he's playing really good, he's playing really good," said Patriots defensive end Trevor Scott. "We can't let him get confidence going early on in the game. We just gotta do our job to make sure he can't get going."

Easier said than done, it appears. In Buffalo's spread formations, it's difficult to determine whether the Bills will turn to the run or the pass. Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich noted that the Bills' "11 personnel" -- one running back, one tight end, three receivers -- allows them to do both. They like to use their varied offensive weapons in the passing game and then use change-of-pace run plays to keep defenses off-balance.

Through three weeks, it's worked. Fitzpatrick's eight passing touchdowns are tied for the league lead, and the Bills running game has the third most yards in the NFL (534).

Running backs Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller are both dynamic runners and capable receivers when healthy. (They have been dealing with injuries this week, but both practiced Thursday.) Receiver Steve Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler are also capable of taking quick-hitting passes and turning them into big gains.

Fitzpatrick spreads the ball around and is completing almost 60 percent of his throws this season. Plus, he's only been sacked once.

"He gets the ball out quick," Ninkovich said of Fitzpatrick. "I think they don't get sacked a lot because he's not holding the ball very long. We gotta do a good job of making sure their receivers run a little slant, don't catch it and take it 20 yards. We gotta make sure we have a an all-around good tackling game on Sunday."

A pass-rush would help, too. After two weeks of facing mediocre offenses in Arizona and Tennessee, the Patriots barely touched Flacco.

Ninkovich had trouble getting around Ravens tackle Kelechi Osemele, while Jones was handled by Ravens left tackle Michael Oher. Even Vince Wilfork had a rare down game as the Ravens interior line focused on stopping him.

The Patriots are hoping for something different this week. Even if they don't sack Fitzpatrick, they have to disrupt him more often than they did Flacco.

"Timing is a big deal with the receivers and the quarterbacks, especially with their style of offense," Ninkovich said of the Bills. "The best we can do to affect Fitzpatrick in the pocket, get our hands up in the throwing lanes, is really going to affect his game."

The biggest ally for the Patriots defense this week could be its offense. By getting out to a lead and making Buffalo more one-dimensional, it would allow Ninkovich, Jones, Love and Wilfork to read pass plays quickly and rush more aggressively.

The Patriots have bothered Fitzpatrick before. The Harvard-educated quarterback has thrown 12 picks in five career games against New England.

Though a 13-0 lead over the Ravens last Sunday wasn't enough, the Patriots defense is hoping an early lead will help jump-start the defense.

"I think the best thing we can do is get out there and start fast like we did last week," Ninkovich said. "Get 'em into a one-dimensional style of game. In the fourth quarter against the Ravens we were rushing a lot different than we were in the second and third quarters if you watch the tape. Once you get them into passing situations you can pin your ears back and just go."

The Patriots are hoping that the difference this week is when they go, they end up where they want to be.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

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Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up


Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up

FOXBORO -- Once the Patriots traded AJ Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick earlier this week, they were left with just two tight ends on their roster. While those two tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett -- have played as two of the best tight ends in football this season, it's a position group that has been considerably thinned. 

Until coach Bill Belichick adds another player at that spot, James Develin would be the logical "next man up." A position group unto himself as the team's lone active fullback -- the other fullback in the locker room is practice-squad player Glenn Gronkowski -- Develin meets with Patriots tight ends and coach Brian Daboll on a daily basis because the fullback and tight-end responsibilities in the Patriots offense are similar, particularly in the run game.

As much time as he spends with that group, Develin tries to absorb what he can when it comes to the nuances of the position. 

"I always kind of try to prepare, obviously, for my fullback role, but then in any other role that I might be called upon for," Develin said on Thursday. "A couple years ago, we had a bunch of injuries during the offseason program, during OTAs, and I filled in a little bit at tight end. I try to keep myself familiar with all those techniques and that tight end role so if the day were to come where I needed to go out there and do it, I'd be able to go out there and do it."

When the Patriots began the season relying more on the run, Develin was called upon to play a relatively significant role in the offense. He averaged 21.3 snaps per game through the first three games of the season, but that number has fallen to 13.6 since Tom Brady's return from a four-game suspension. Still, his role can be a critical one. 

The Patriots' running game faltered last season after both Blount and Dion Lewis went down with season-ending injuries. Having Develin in the mix as an extra blocker would not have guaranteed a more efficient attack, but it may have helped the team's running-game woes late in the year. 

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now has the luxury of bringing Develin onto the field when he wants some added muscle for his blocking schemes, and should the Patriots need a tight end in a pinch, Develin could do that too.

"A lot of times, especially in the blocking game, really the only difference [between fullback and tight end] is that I'm five yards off the ball in the backfield and they're up on the line," Develin said. "The angles are a little bit different. But a lot of times the assignment is typcially the same thing. It's just the technique of getting there and the angles that you take.

"Then in the passing game, as a tight end, there's just a lot more routes and stuff like that. I try to work on that to help me as a fullback to be a little bit better in space . . . It's a sybiotic relationship." 

As it is, Develin will line up occasionally outside. Though not a threat as a receiver in that spot in the same way that Gronkowski or Bennett would be, he understands some of the different looks tight ends have to be comfortable with.

If an emergency arose and he was asked to fill that role, he wouldn't hesitate.

"There's a little bit of carry-over depending on what we're doing or whatever play we have called where I'll line up on the line," he said. "But that's kind of what a fullback has to do. You kind of have to be able to be thrown into whatever position on the field that you gotta do and you gotta just do your job."