Belichick commends Crumpler, Branch

191543.jpg

Belichick commends Crumpler, Branch

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick met the media on Wednesday to discuss the bye week.

Well, not the week's plan itself, because there aren't many specifics to delve into. New England will play at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 16. Who against? It's yet to be determined. So in the meantime, all the Patriots can do is get the reps in that will make them better.

"Were just trying to work on some things that we feel like we need to improve on,'' Belichick said. "Weve got a good list of those. It doesnt matter who we play, just things that we feel we need to do better. I think theres definitely some carryover in the three potential opponents" -- the Jets, Ravens or Chiefs -- "that we could face, but more important than that, right now, its trying to work on things that we feel like need to get worked on. Then well deal with whoever we have to play after this weekend.

As this will be the ninth Patriots playoff berth in the Hoodie Era, there was an air of 'business as usual' hanging around Gillette. And this despite the fact that 25 players from New England's last playoff team, just last season, aren't involved in 2010's Super Bowl run.

Deion Branch is one guy who's been there, done that. Branch was on Tom Brady's receiving end when the Patriots brought home Lombardi trophies in 2003 and 2004. He earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXIX for his record-tying 11 receptions.

Belichick says that not much has changed about the player -- even after five seasons with the Seahawks -- and that's a good thing.

"The similarities far outweigh the differences. Hes a very intelligent player, really smart, really instinctive guy. No matter what the route, no matter what the coverage is, he always seems to do the right thing, make the right adjustment, make the right decision, make the right adjustment and I think that gives the quarterbacks a lot of confidence in him.

"Deion prepares well," Belichick continued. "Hes got good experience, but hes also got a good skill set. He can get open and catch the ball. He can run with it after the catch. Hes returned kicks in the past. Hes got some running skills and certainly has got a lot of experience. As a pure receiver, he knows how to get open and he has the skills to get open."

Branch has returned to his natural role on this roster without much stress. But there have been some more difficult transitions for this team in light of how much turnover there's been.

Tight end Alge Crumpler has had to make adjustments. A four time Pro Bowler with the Atlanta Falcons, Crumpler has a mere six receptions for 52 yards for the Patriots this season. New England has been featuring two-tight end sets frequently this year -- those sets have just favored rookies Aaron Hernandez (6 TD receptions) and Rob Gronkowski (10)

Does decreased catches bother him though? Belichick says no.

"You see a lot of players roles change and its not a problem and then you see other guys have a harder time making that adjustment. Without having worked with Alge before, I didnt really know exactly how it would go with him, but really, since day one, whatever weve asked him to do, hes not only tried to do them but hes very receptive to everything, a whatever you need type attitude, asking, Do you need me to do this? Do you need me to do that? Or how do you want me to do something else? and then hell try to do it that way. So he's been great.

"Alges been a big contribution to this football team in a lot of ways, probably too many to mention."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Bennett not practicing, Foster spends some time with receivers

patriots_dj_foster_082516.jpg

Bennett not practicing, Foster spends some time with receivers

FOXBORO -- Martellus Bennett could use a rest, and the Patriots had him sit out for the start of Wednesday's practice.

The 6-foot-7 tight end is dealing with ankle and shoulder issues that have limited him in practice in recent weeks, and he missed an appearance at a preschool on Tuesday with what a representative called an illness. During Sunday's game against the Rams, Bennett's physical ailments clearly limited him as he had difficulty both as a blocker and as a receiver. 

The Patriots also went without safety Jordan Richards, receiver Danny Amendola and special teams captain Matthew Slater at the start of practice. Richards suffered a knee injury against the Jets in Week 12 and missed practice time last week. Amendola endured an ankle injury against the Rams and left the game iin the third quarter. Slater is dealing with a foot injury that has kept him out of the last two games. 

Patriots corner Eric Rowe was present for the start of Wednesday's practice, but he was not spotted with other corners after a couple of drills. Rowe injured his hamstring late in the third quarter against the Rams and did not return. 

Patriots running back DJ Foster was spotted with receivers near the end of the team's media-availability period Wednesday after working out with running backs to start the session. Foster played receiver for a year in college after beginning his collegiate career as a running back. If the Patriots want depth at wideout with Amendola injured, Foster could be an option.

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

After a 3-0 start, the Ravens dropped a 28-27 decision to the Raiders in Baltimore. That started a four-game skid for Baltimore which included back-to-back losses at the Jets and Giants. But they got back on track against the Steelers and have won four out of five with their only being to the Cowboys. It’s hard to get a clean read on who they really are. 

They had narrow, early-season wins over crap teams like Cleveland and Jacksonville. They had a narrow loss to an outstanding Raiders team and were close with the Cowboys but got run over late with Dallas scoring on its last five possessions. They are coming off their most impressive team win, a 38-6 triumph over the Dolphins. 

This game is a big one in the AFC race not just because it’s a divisional leader but also because it will be a common game between the Patriots and Raiders. The Raiders already beat Baltimore. 

The Pats need to keep pace in a tiebreaker they currently trail. Weird schedule quirk? The Ravens have had only one road game that required a long commute since September. That was the game at Dallas. They just played six of their last nine and four of their last five at home.

LAST 5

Ravens 21, Steelers 14
Ravens 28, Browns 7
At Cowboys 27, Ravens 17
Ravens 19, Bengals 14
Ravens 38, Dolphins 6

OFFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

More than half of Joe Flacco’s 323 completions have gone to three players: tight end Dennis Pitta (61 catches), wide receiver Mike Wallace (57) and wide receiver Steve Smith (54). Those players are 31, 30 and 37 respectively so it’s a veteran group.
Flacco is 114 of 159 (72 percent) with nine touchdowns and three picks in Baltimore’s last four games. He has 15 TDs and 11 picks this season.

The Ravens don’t run it much: 502 pass attempts, 287 rushing attempts. Terrence West and Kenneth Dixon are the lead backs. West has carried more than 15 times in a game on three occasions this season.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been playing very well as has the rest of the Ravens offensive line in recent weeks. Still, Baltimore is just at 34.1 on third down conversions.

DEFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

The Ravens have allowed 207 points this season, tied with the Patriots for lowest in the AFC and just behind Seattle (194) overall.
Baltimore’s allowing just 33.3 percent conversions on third down and only 3.4 yards per carry.

Opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.1 percent of their passes and have 21 touchdown passes and 14 picks against the Ravens defense. Ten of the Ravens 14 picks came against the Browns, Jaguars and in last week’s rout of Miami.
 
WHERE ARE THEIR HEADS AT

"I just think they've got a great team. They've got Tom Brady. They've been the best team in the conference, and it's going to be our toughest challenge of the year." – John Harbaugh, Ravens coach, on Monday night’s matchup