Belichick: Indianapolis makes you beat them

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Belichick: Indianapolis makes you beat them

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

The Patriots had better hope their Week 10 showing was no fluke. Bill Belichick said on Tuesday that his team will have zero margin for error against the Colts this weekend.

"They don't beat themselves,'' he said. "They force you to play a good football game against them. They're sound, they're tough. They have their own style of play and it's very effective. And we'll have to make adjustments to get in the mode and be able to handle that."

As for what that style is, Belichick credits the Colts' penchant for no-huddle offense, and their fleet-footed defense, as major strengths.

"They do a good job of checking and making changes," he said. "And defensively they're as fast as any team in the league, faster than most. They have a good mix of man and zone coverage with a real good pass rush. You've got to block speed and quickness compared to what we have to do a lot of other weeks."

New England ball carriers did just fine last Sunday. In Pittsburgh, the Patriots ran 24 times for over 100 yards against the Steeler's stifling rush 'D.' Indianapolis defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Jerry Hughes aren't putting up the kinds of numbers that some of the Steelers were. But Belichick is unnerved by the Colts in an interesting way.

"All their defensive lineman are pretty disruptive.'' the coach said. "It's kind of scary when you're watching film; their jerseys are on real tight, sometimes you can't get a good look at the numbers, and when you're my age your eyesight isn't so good. It's kind of scary when they're all that good and they all look the same.''

It wasn't a joke. Belichick knows exactly what he sees from the Colts and his Patriots have their work cut out for them.

"It's a real fast, athletic group. You certainly have to be aware of those guys. They can strip-sack you and ruin the game on one play if you aren't careful."

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, please step forward.

The Pats running back is far and away Tom Brady's go-to guy on the rush: 6 touchdowns and 112 carries for 472 yards. That's 64 more opportunities and almost twice the total gain as the next guy on the chart. But he's going to have a tough time racking up mileage against Indy.

BenJarvus should feel encouraged that he has his coach's confidence.

"He's been, three years, really consistent for us,'' Belichick said. "He's tough, makes positive running yards. I don't think it's been any one big thing or one day where the light came on, he's just been a consistent player who works really hard for us. He's got a great attitude and a great work ethic."

Too bad Peyton Manning's a pretty hard worker, too. There was no chance that Belichick could escape a conference call about the Colts without lauding the Super Bowl, Pro-Bowl, and MVP winning quarterback.

"It all starts with a great quarterback and Manning does an excellent job of getting them into good plays and keeping them out of bad plays. He doesn't turn the ball over,'' Belichick said.

He didn't care about Peyton's subpar performance (185-yards, 0 TD) on Sunday. Belichick's respect for the Colts QB couldn't even be swayed by stats. When asked about the fact that Manning has been sacked more times this year through Week 10 than the entire 2009 regular season, Belichick stood pat. You could imagine the coach shaking his head on his end of the phone call.

"Defenses don't get to him very often. sometimes plays happen where somebody comes free . . . but for the most part, when he has the chance, he doesn't take many bad plays," Belichick said. "I don't know about all those numbers but he's got to be one of those hardest quarterbacks to sack in football. Somebody might miss an assignment or something happens but I'm telling you, not very often.''

And look out if Peyton does get a pass off. Reggie Wayne, just one of Manning's targets, was tagged by Belichick as "one of the best wide receivers in football." The list didn't stop there.

"Tight end Jacob Tamme stepped in and has done a good job and they've gotten production from other receivers,'' Belichick continued. "Wideout Blair White has done a good job for them. They're definitely able to use their other tight ends. They're able to still continue to make the defense defend everything.''

It wasn't hard to figure out what's on Belichick's mind this week. It all came back to the phrase he kept repeating over and over: "They make you beat them."

Despite that big win over the Steelers on Sunday, practice might not be fun this week. There are dropped balls, missed coverage, and unnecessary penalties to go over. The Patriots won't be able to take their foot off the gas for a minute as they did in Pittsburgh.

"They don't make many mistakes,'' Belichick reiterated. "It doesn't take much of a slip up before they'll make you pay for it."

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

Foster playing catch-up, could help his cause vs. Panthers

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Foster playing catch-up, could help his cause vs. Panthers

FOXBORO -- When DJ Foster took the field for Patriots OTAs, he looked as advertised: quick, a crisp route-runner, and the owner of a pair of dependable hands. But that was back when players wore shorts to every practice. Since then, the undrafted rookie running back out of Arizona State hasn't had the opportunity to do much other than work on his conditioning while the majority of his teammates practiced. 

That could soon change. Though Foster has dealt with what he calls a "nagging" injury throughout much of training camp, he felt well enough this week to return to practice, and on Friday night he is likely to see preseason game action for the first time this summer.

The reason Foster's preseason debut could carry some importance is that he happens to play a position that may qualify as the thinnest on the Patriots roster right now. Because sub back extraordinaire Dion Lewis will not be healthy enough to start the season, and because coach Bill Belichick opted to part ways with veteran Donald Brown recently, the team is low on numbers in their running back room.

If Foster can capitalize on the opportunities he's given, he may make a case for a roster spot. James White, who is expected to be Lewis' primary replacement, is the other lone true sub back on the roster. Brandon Bolden can fill in at that role on an emergency basis, and Tyler Gaffney has shown he can catch the football when asked, but neither has the kind of pass-catching upside of Foster, who played receiver for the Sun Devils as a senior and racked up 222 receptions during his four-year college career. 

Foster has only so much time to prove he's worthy of a job. The Patriots have to reduce their numbers to 75 by Aug. 30. They need to be down to 53 by Sep. 3. Foster could be a tantalizing prospect to stash on the practice squad, but surely he'd like to make a push for a greater role. 

He explained this week that, despite his recent physical limitations, he won't be holding back whenever he does get a chance to prove himelf. 

"The coaches do a great job at just kind of making sure I'm OK and stuff," he said. "For me, when I'm in there, do what I can, give everything I got -- every rep, every chance I get with the reps. Stay in the playbook, stay involved in the meetings, and just try to learn as much as I can. Whenever I do get an opportunity, go out there and make the most of it."

Against the Panthers, the Patriots coaching staff will have to balance the need to evaluate players like Foster against good competition versus getting the entire team ready for Week 1. For example, they'd like to get a good look at Foster, whose practice reps were next to nil before this week. They'd also probably like to get White as many reps as possible so that he's prepared for the Cardinals. 

Who should play when? And how many snaps do they need? 

"You can’t see D.J. Foster play in this league. You have Arizona State film but that’s all you have, and some of the spring work that he did which is obviously encouraging," Belichick said earlier this week. "We still have him, but there’s just no body of work. Donald Brown, you can see Donald Brown . . . Players like D.J., it’s hard. You don’t have much to go on. But maybe he’ll be able to do more. We’ll get an evaluation of him soon, hopefully."

Friday night could be the night. 

Patriots vs. Panthers: Five things to watch

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Patriots vs. Panthers: Five things to watch

Click here for the gallery.

HOW LONG FOR TOM?

Somehow, Tom Brady’s stated desire to play this preseason devolved into discussion of whether he’s selfish, whiny and power-mad. Eh, it’s a living. How much will practice-game reps in August help him in October? I don’t know. You don’t know. But he apparently thinks they’ll help so let the guy prepare to do what you pay him a lot of money to do – play quarterback for a little while. “How little?” is the question. In my opinion, letting Jimmy Garoppolo take the first two drives then turning it over to Brady for 20 plays would give Garoppolo the chance to see the Panthers early, make adjustments after the first drive and then yield to Brady. My impression is that there’s nothing etched in stone as to who will play how long, rather, it’s something Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will let develop as they see fit.

CAN MINGO MAKE A GO

Will the Patriots unveil their brand-new Barkevious? Barkevious Mingo did reportedly make the trip to Charlotte so he’ll be on the sidelines at least soaking up some of what the Patriots do defensively. What will Mingo do defensively is a bigger question. He’s 6-4, 250 and built more like an NBA small forward than a standard edge defender. His strength lies in his burst and moving upfield, though, so giving Mingo some of Geneo Grissom’s late-game reps on the edge would give the team some early impressions on which to work.

WHICH SHIFTS DO KNIGHTON/BRANCH GET

Seeing Terrance Knighton on the field late in the fourth quarter last week against the Bears was a bit of an eye-opener. Did it signal that he is a down-the-roster player like most of the other players on the field at that juncture in the preseason? Or was he out there because the Patriots needed someone at DT and Knighton was the guy. Phil Perry contemplates Knighton’s role on the roster here. Meanwhile, Branch is just back from a week-long team suspension for undisclosed agitations. He may not be ready to go, having missed a few days of practice, but if he is I wouldn’t be stunned to see the Patriots playing him right up until the final gun as a test of his willingness to play in 2016.

SECONDARY CHALLENGES

Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn all bring something to the table which will test the Patriots secondary. Benjamin is a huge and athletic wideout that brings the size component into play; Olsen is one of the league’s faster, more surehanded tight ends and Ginn is a jet. The Patriots have let up some plays on the perimeter in each of the first two preseason games. The Bears’ first two drives last week were 10 plays and 11 plays long. Getting off the field on third down early against Carolina’s potent offense would be an encouraging sign. 

BETTER TEST FOR RUNING GAME

Last week, the Patriots ground attack showed some life against the Bears. It had been a long time coming. Tonight, the test will be much more stiff. The Panthers have the league’s best linebacker in Luke Kuechly, another outstanding one in Thomas Davis and a front that features Star Lotuleilei, Kawann Short, Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy. While the progress made against Chicago was nice, make some headway against this group and then you can really get optimistic.