Patriots calm before the playoff storm

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Patriots calm before the playoff storm

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Don't show up late to Gillette on this Tuesday. This Tuesday is different.

It's Jets week -- again -- for the Patriots, so the amount of reporters in the locker room is increased by default. But this one, the rubber match, is also a divisional playoff game. So the media mob, as you might expect, has grown exponentially. Latecomers are stuck in SRO (standing room only), peppered in along the wall of videographers and photographers recording and clicking away.

NFL road warriors like Rachel Nichols arrive early to grab a front-row seat. There's a lot going on today. The dry-erase board in the workroom that outlines the week's schedule is crammed with names, dates, times and locations.

Up first to the podium is Jerod Mayo.

This is something special.

See, there's a certain routine that happens at Gillette during the work room, certain things that can be expected.

1) Tom Brady will meet the media. Always. The location of the scrum can change -- podium (rare), Bret Lockett's locker (pre-Moss) or his own locker (post-Moss) -- but you can depend on it happening.

2) Bill Belichick will speak at the podium. Whether in grunts, cryptic riddles, or half-sentences.

But the NFL's leading tackler and Patriots defensive captain standing in front of a room full of reporters? No; this is different.

Mayo discusses the surprising strength of the 'D' cautiously: "That Cleveland game is still in my head." He laughs off engaging in Jets mind games: "Im hoping no one asks me those types of questions." And he describes the tone: "This feels like the playoffs." Mayo's answers are like his hits: quick, efficient.

Two other teammates will take the stage: Deion Branch, then Alge Crumpler. Their styles are night and day. Branch, the undersized wideout, grins a wide smile and puts reporters in stitches with his velvety voice. Few other Patriots could so smoothly call MVP-caliber quarterback Tom Brady a "dork."

Crumpler exudes calm.

He's not interested in the peripheral drama of Rex Ryan calling out Brady for not being a studious dork, the psychology of Brady and Branch's on-field chemistry, or any opportunities to pat himself on the back. For Crumpler, it's about focus, preparation and accountability. The rest? "I don't care."

Now enter the locker room.

If it's playoff buzz you want, you're in the wrong place. The only change this week is the steady din emanating from the media milling around the room. But Patriots players are scarce, per usual.

Practice squaders Ross Ventrone and Carson Butler, and the little-used Tony Carter, catch some 'Z''s by their lockers. The three lay on their backs, feet propped up on folding chairs, earbuds in, hats or hoods pulled down over their eyes.

The few others who dare the area littered by reporters try to get ready for practice as discretely as possible. They tote red (Jarrad Page) or blue (Danny Woodhead) binders as they flit from locker to weight room and back to their lockers again. Don't even try the rookies because they're on lock-down. "Not talking today," Aaron Hernandez shrugs.

The guys who take too long to get dressed get pounced on by the press. Today, Page turns to find himself surrounded by a half-circle of cameras, bright lights, and microphones. He insists that preparation for the playoffs is business as usual. A sympathetic Kevin Faulk walks by the trapped Page, but keeps moving.

"You guys don't want to hear this," Faulk quips to the herd over his shoulder, "but it's just another game. If you treat it like anything else, that's when things get out of hand."

It appears Faulk is right. If the energy of this team is amped up this week -- and it is -- the Patriots are saving the show for themselves. For Sunday. For the Jets.

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

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

FOXBORO – Here’s a leftover from last week I’m dredging up because it’s really instructive in giving insight to something we all flap our arms about: how the Pats decide whether to play zone, man-to-man or match receivers with their secondary.

The jumping off-point was asking about Trumaine Johnson -- a long-tall corner for the Rams. As Belichick about Johnson and the difficulties he poses, at 6-foot-2, it brought to mind the team’s acquisition earlier this season of Eric Rowe. The 6-2 corner they got from the Eagles filled a need in that the Patriots other corners are not very tall, headlined by 5-9 Malcolm Butler.

So I asked Belichick if the team strives to have different sized players in the secondary.

“That’s if you move them around,” he explained, meaning size only matters if you intend to put size-on-size. “If you don’t move them around, if you play a guy at one positon and he plays on the right side or the left side, you cover the guy that’s over there, which I’d say is more the situation than not. There are some teams or some situations where you’ve got him, he’s got the next guy, you’ve got somebody else, but I’d say that’s by far the lower percentage of the plays, by far. Generally, you see a corner play – some games are different. We’ll match to this guy and somebody else matches to that guy. Teams will do that. There’s some of that, but by and large, most teams play at one position and whoever is in that spot, that’s who they cover.”

With matching receivers being the exception rather than the rule, the next logical question is why? Why would you let a little guy cover a big guy if you also have a big guy who could cover?

Because offenses make it complicated, Belichick answered.

“The easiest thing in the world is for one player to match another,” he explained. “‘OK, you go cover this guy.’ Alright, great. But what do the other 10 guys do? That’s the problem. It’s easy to matchup one guy. That’s simple. What do the other 10 guys do? What if he’s here? What if he’s there? What if he goes in motion? What if he’s in the backfield? What if it’s this personnel? What if it’s that personnel in the game? Then how does all the rest of it matchup? That’s where it gets tricky.  You can be spending all day, literally, on that. OK yeah, you take this guy but what are you going to do with the other 10?”

Belichick also delved into other options including a coverage concept the Pats used when Darrelle Revis was here. Giving Revis the opponent’s so-called No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1.

“You can matchup and put your best guy on their best guy, or you can matchup and put your best guy on let’s call it their second best guy and put your second best guy on their best guy and double him,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to put your best guy on their best guy and double him anyway then you kind of lessen the matchups down the line. It’s like setting a tennis ladder, or whatever. If you put your bad guy at one and you win two through seven, great. If you put your best guy at one and he gets beat by their one and then your two versus their two, you know. That’s what you’re doing. You have a three to four-man ladder there with the receivers and your DB’s [defensive backs], except we don’t have to match them that way. You can match them however you want.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and it comes into play the next two weeks as the Patriots will see a true test with receivers like the Ravens Steve Smith and Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Patriots will have decisions to make. Chances are they’ll use a little bit of everything. But these are some of the the things they weight when doing so.

Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

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Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

The Patriots find themselves in a difficult spot following Sunday's win over the Rams: They are a team that likes to lean on three-receiver sets, yet they have only three healthy receivers.

Danny Amendola suffered an ankle injury during a punt return over the weekend that further thinned an already thin position group. The healthy receivers left on the depth chart are Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell.

The Patriots will in all likelihood make an addition to their 53-man roster at some point in order to bolster their depleted receiving group, and in a way, they've been preparing for this.

The team has been adding and subtracting receivers on their practice squad for much of the year. They began the season with rookie seventh-round pick Devin Lucien and fourth-year wideout Devin Street on the p-squad. On Sept. 14, they added DeAndrew White as a third receiver on the 10-man unit, a relatively unusual amount of practice-squad depth at one spot. 

After Street was signed away by the Colts, the Patriots have also given practice-squad shots to Da'Ron Brown and Shaquelle Evans. Neither of those players stuck, but Lucien and White have, showing that the Patriots have been encouraged by their contributions.

"I think they’ve made good progress . . . They both have been consistent," Bill Belichick said during a conference call on Tuesday. "They’ve been out there every day. They work hard. They’ve made plays for us in practice on the scout team against our defense, so overall our guys on the practice squad do a good job.

"They certainly help us get ready for the games by simulating our opponent’s schemes and playing styles and at the same time they’ve improved with their individual skills and techniques. Both of those guys – they’ve done a good job for us."

ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss reported on Sunday that the Patriots voluntarily increased the salary of White (from the minimum of $6,900 per week to $10,000 per week), perhaps making him the favorite as a potential call-up to the 53-man roster.

White is in his second pro season out of Alabama, and he was signed by San Francisco last year as an undrafted free agent. He played in four games as a rookie, catching two passes for 18 yards. He also returned six kicks and returned one punt for the 49ers. During his collegiate career, he returned five kicks and two punts.

Should the Patriots feel as though they would be straining to add a receiver to the 53-man roster, they could find some help with the depth they have at running back. Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster are all capable pass-catchers who have the ability to line up wide or in the slot. Foster, who was a college teammate of Lucien's for one season, played receiver as a senior at Arizona State.