Curran: Patriots defense takes baby steps

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Curran: Patriots defense takes baby steps

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots InsiderFollow @tomecurran
OAKLAND - Better. Still not good. But better. The New England Patriots are a quarter of the way through the 2011 regular season. Defensively, the numbers are ugly. A total of 1,910 yards allowed (478 per game), allowing conversions on third down 48 percent of the time, six sacks (four in the first game of the year) . . . you've seen it, I've seen it. They are not that good on defense. But they were better on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders and - at this point of the season - getting better is what teams hope for. The loss of Jerod Mayo is going to hurt. He and Vince Wilfork are the two best front-seven players the Patriots have. And with the secondary struggling and banged up, his absence as the leader of the back part of the defense is a blow to their trying to make improvements. But the Patriots' early season problems have been as much about scheme as they've been about personnel. And on Sunday, the Patriots got back to playing a style that best fits their guys. For three weeks, the Patriots asked theircorners to play a ton of man-to-man. They asked them to get up on receivers, jam them and allow the pass rush to force the ball out quickly. Trouble was, too often the corners weren't rerouting receivers and the pass rush never got there. And the results were staggering. On Sunday, New England played a little softer. And while Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell still rolled up some yards, the avalanche of deep passes to outside receivers who'd beaten either Leigh Bodden or Devin McCourty ended. And the Patriots tackled on Sunday. There were still some misses - Shaun Ellis' Dawn of the Dead lumber after Jacoby Ford applies here - but ususally the grabbing and calf-roping we'd seen in the first three weeks was replaced by wrap-em-up, bring-em-down sticks. "We got better this week," said McCourty. "The goal is to win and we did that but throughout the week in practice we got better."The Raiders brought a very clear-cut challenge to this game. The NFL's leading rusher coming in was Darren McFadden. Throughout his coaching career, Bill Belichick has been someone that stresses taking away the one thing an opposing offense really, really likes to do. On Sunday, the Patriots held McFadden to 75 yards on 14 carries. And 41 of them came on one play. The Patriots otherwise held McFadden to fewer than 3 yards per carry. Sure tackling was a big part of that. "We took that as a challenge to come out here and help those guys up front," said McCourty who, along with Kyle Arrington (starting in place of Bodden) led the Patriots with eight tackles. "Our front seven does a great job against the run but if a guy comes outside or gets in the open field we got to do a good job coming up and making tackles."The Patriots were disgraceful in that department the past few weeks, especially in the linebacker and secondary group. There are still some alarming trends - how did Gary Guyton get so slow so fast? - but at least their seems to be a settling in process underway. And while Belichick mayregard points allowed as the end-all, be-all, yardsallowed is an indicator of something.If you're 32nd in the league in yards allowed, it's impossible to hide from the fact you can't stop a nosebleed (to borrow a phrase). Thefact Oakland gained 504 net yards is still alarming. And the fact that one of their drives ended in anunforced end-zone interception thrown by Jason Campbell from the Patriots' 6 isn't evidence that the Patriots bent but didn't break. It's just evidence that Campbell is a mid to low-tier NFL quarterback. But after allowing 268 first-half yards, the Patriots allowed just 133 total yards in the second half before the Raiders had a 99-yard jaunt in garbage time. Again, improvement. "As a player you want to get that down," said McCourty. "We come out and work hard every day to come out and play well and that's one way of seeing how well we play. We always want to get the yards down."McCourty's been under siege a bit. I asked him if it was getting tiresome answering questions about what went wrong every week. "I've explained and talked about it," he said. "When we watch those plays, we want to correct them. We want to get those yards down, we want to get those numbers down. We feel like we're a good defense and when we come out there and let things happen, like Mayo said, 'That's what we are,' that's what the stats shows. We want to get that down and keep playing well."The Patriots have personnel issues stacking up silently against them. They've lost two of their best young interior pass rushers, Myron Pryor (IR) and Mike Wright (concussion). Albert Haynesworth has missed two games with back problems. Now Mayo is hurt and the secondary still has two starting safeties - Josh Barrett and Patrick Chung - running around with casts on their hands. They face the Jets and Cowboys over the next two weeks and both of them have better offensive personnel than Oakland. The challenge is very clear. Whether they're going to be able to meet it is up in the air. But the indications are better on this Monday than they were last Monday. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015

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Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015

Roger Goodell's salary has reportedly fallen in recent years, but he's still paid handsomely for his work as NFL commissioner.

According to the Associated Press, Goodell earned just over $31 million for 2015. That's a seven percent decrease from the $34 million he received for 2014. 

The NFL's last tax return served as an indicator of Goodell's 2015 salary. The league's tax returns no longer have to be made public since it has changed its status from exempt to taxable, per the AP.

The next-highest paid executive at the NFL offices on Park Avenue? General counsel Jeff Pash, one of the most prominent players in the Deflategate sage, who earned $6.5 million in 2015, down from $7.5 million in 2014. 

Richardson suspended one game for violating personal conduct policy

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Richardson suspended one game for violating personal conduct policy

The NFL announced this week that Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson has been suspended without pay for Week 1 of the 2016 regular season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. 

Richardson will miss his team's season-opener against the Bengals and will be eligible to return to the Jets active roster on Sep. 12. The Jets and the Patriots meet for the first of their two division games on Nov. 27. 

Richardson responded to the news of suspension on Thursday. 

In July of 2015, Richardson led police on a high-speed chase -- hitting speeds as high as 143 miles per hour -- in suburban St. Louis. Police reported a strong odor of marijuana in the car and inside found a loaded, semiautomatic handgun that was possessed legally. Richardson had a 12-year-old relative riding with him in his Bentley at the time of the incident.

In January, Richardson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest. Though he avoided jail time, he was sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. 

Richardson has been one of the league's best defensive linemen since entering the league as a first-rounder in 2013. He served a four-game suspension to start last season after violating the league's substance abuse policy.

PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

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PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

He may have been left off of the NFL Network's Top 100 list, but Jamie Collins isn't flying under the radar at Pro Football Focus.

On PFF's list of the top 10 defensive players in the AFC, the Patriots linebacker came in at No. 8 and was given the description as the top linebacker in the conference.

Collins' versatility within the confines of the Patriots defense is what makes him so valuable, PFF's John Kosko explains: 

"He doesn’t dominate in any one role like Luke Kuechly does in pass coverage and run defense, but he is very good at all facets of the game. Collins has the athleticism to cover TEs and HBs effectively, the explosiveness to rush the passer, and the size and strength to defend the run. 

"The former Southern Mississippi linebacker is arguably the most versatile player in the NFL, and allows Bill Belichick to employ a defense that confuses opposing quarterbacks. With the only knock against Collins being his 34 missed tackles the past two seasons, the Patriot is the best linebacker in the AFC."

Collins graded out as the No. 5 linebacker in football last year, per PFF's numbers. He ranked behind only Carolina's Luke Kuechly, Minnesota's Anthony Barr, Indianapolis' Jerrell Freeman and Seattle's KJ Wright. 

Fellow Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower earned the 10th-highest grade for linebackers last season, according to PFF -- a grade that likely would have been higher had his snap-count (602 in 2015) approached that of Collins (792).

While Collins is a rare physical talent, the argument could be made that it's Hightower who is the more important player to the Patriots defense given his prowess as a pass-rusher and run-defender. He also has myriad responsibilities as the extension of the team's coaching staff in the defensive huddle. 

In order to slow down opposing passing games, many Patriots defensive packages employ either five or six defensive backs and just two linebackers. Lucky for them, they have two of the best in the conference.

Both Collins and Hightower are entering contract years this year, and finding a way to keep them in-house figures to be near the top of the list of priorities for the Patriots front office.