Patriots-Giants: What to look for


Patriots-Giants: What to look for

By Tom E. Curran Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Last Saturday in Detroit, the Patriots put up an end-to-end stinker. Thursday night, they have a chance to get that taste of ineffectiveness out of their collective mouth in the team's final preseason game against the Giants. Some things to watch for as New England hosts a Giants team that played just three nights ago against the Jets. END ALL BE ALLThe Patriots have rotated their defensive ends and edge rushers to get a look at the personnel there. Andre Carter appears to have locked down a roster spot. That leaves Mark Anderson and Eric Moore trying to make a play for the other rush-end spot. Both may certainly make it, but Anderson wasn't too solid last week against Detroit. He may need a substantial night to make the team. Jermaine Cunningham, a second-round pick in 2010, is in this mix as well. He hasn't shown much in limited preseason action. SPIKES HIGHLinebacker Brandon Spikes missed the final four games of the 2010 regular season after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancer. He's missed the past two preseason games as well. Given he projects as a starter at one of the linebacker spots, it's vital for him to show he's on point and in shape in this game. RIGHT GUARD ISSUESDan Connolly has missed practice this week with a leg injury suffered against Detroit. After he went down, backup Rich Ohrnberger struggled to hold off Ndamukong Suh. If Connolly, who was limping badly as he left the locker room last Saturday, is going to be down for an extended period, Ohrnberger has to perform much better in front of Tom Brady. START 'EM UP?The Patriots starters played most of the first quarter in last year's preseason finale. With the opener against Miami 11 days away and last week's ineffectiveness still fresh, there's a very good chance Bill Belichick will wheel the starters out on both sides of the ball Thursday night against New York. GOING OUTSIDE?The Patriots' outside receivers - Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Taylor Price and Brandon Tate - have seen few balls this preseason. Branch, in fact, hasn't caught any. The Patriots intended to work the ball to the outside last week but the Lions pass rush ruined that plan. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots again try to go outside again this week. SAFETY CHANCEIt appears Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung will be your starting safeties. But what about the rest of the rotation now that James Sanders has been released. At first glance, James Ihedigbo playing back there made you realize how solid he must be as a special teamer. Josh Barrett is a player who hasn't really established his role. Sergio Brown has been solid enough to make the release of Sanders possible. We'll see if it's a three-man rotation back there with Chung, Meriweather and Brown or if the Patriots go a little deeper. LEARNING FROM WHO DOESN'T DRESSSometimes, the guys who don't play are the safest ones. The coaching staff doesn't need to see any more from them. That's why we'll be looking at the sidelines and substitutions to see who's on ice for the night. RETURN GAMESCan Julian Edelman supplant Brandon Tate as the top kickoff return guy? Edelman needs more touches. Tate hasn't done much with his chances. Being the primary kickoff and punt return guy - which Edelman may be headed toward - is a significant workload. We'll see what special teams coach Scott O'Brien does for indications of which way he might be leaning.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

Belichick on Long's sack: One of the best defensive plays of the year

It came against a rookie quarterback. It came against an offense that averages a league-worst 15.0 points per game. It came against an offense that has fewer yards than any other. 

Still there are signs that Bill Belichick is pretty pleased with where his defense is after beating the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. One came on Wednesday when published its "Belichick Breakdown" for a closer look at a handful of plays from the team's most recent win.

Belichick called his team's third-and-eight stop with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter "probably one of the best good, team defensive plays we've had all year."

The Patriots show a five-man front, but linebacker Kyle Van Noy feigns a rush only to drop into coverage.

"Van Noy in here does a good job on the rush," Belichick said, "and also on the coverage on the back. Just good team defense. Good pass coverage down the field. The quarterback really doesn't end up having a lot of time, but there's no one to throw it to right away."

Belichick noted that all four rushers -- Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich -- all are able to pressure Jared Goff on the play. Combined with strong coverage in the secondary, the Rams nver really had a chance.

Belichick said it looked like a "tidal wave" of defenders bearing down on the quarterback.

"Long wins here . . . on the inside spin," Belichick said, "and Trey Flowers and Hightower both win on the little twist game inside. Then that's Rob with good speed-to-power on [Rams tackle Rob] Havenstein on the outside. Four good rushers. Plus a fifth guy...Van Noy getting that two-for-one on the guard and the back.

"Good team defense. That's great to see. A lot of hard work an execution on the practice field to make that happen."

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

Harbaugh on Belichick: 'I feel like we have a good relationship'

FOXBORO -- They sounded like a couple of old pals. 

First it was Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who spoke of Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a conference call like one of his favorite fellow lacrosse dads.

"John and I saw a game a couple of years ago, a [Johns] Hopkins vs. Maryland game," Belichick said, adding that Harbaugh's love for the sport is just starting to blossom. "Yeah, I think John is seeing the light."

Belichick added that the two might be closer if they weren't competing so often, both in-season on the field and for free agents in the offseason. 

"As you know, we get into a situation like we’re in now where they have a good team, we have a good team, we’re playing a big game on Monday night," Belichick said. "Both teams are going to do everything they can to compete as hard as they can on Monday night. That’s what it is and that’s what we all signed up for. We all know that’s a part of it.

"When we’re not going head-to-head, which isn’t very often because we compete against each other in the offseason, we compete against each other to build our team and so forth, it just puts things in a little bit of a different situation."

During his press conference with reporters on Wednesday, Harbaugh echoed Belichick's sentiments. Belichick was famously one of Harbaugh's biggest supporters earlier in his career, calling the Ravens on Harbaugh's behalf when the franchise was looking for a new head coach. And if only they weren't so frequently competing against each other, they might be even closer, Harbaugh indicated. 

"I feel like we have a good relationship," Harbaugh said. "Like you said, we're probably not socializing that much, but I don't know how many coaches really do. We're all so busy. I'll see him or any coach at the Combine or at the owner's meetings, and we have a chance to talk. It's always good. I have a ton of respect for him. I really like him as a person. I think he's a great coach -- greatest coach of this generation. He's earned that title.

"And I study him. I've always studied him. I've always studied coach Belichick from when I first met him when I was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati, and he came in and just was great to be around.  [We have a] similar background with the special teams and that sort of thing. All of that kind of goes out the window when you compete against one another. It's like anything else, you want to win. I'm sure he feels the same way."

The recent history between their respective franchises is rife with emotion: There was Baltimore's irate reaction to Belichick's unusual formations in the AFC Divisional Round two seasons ago; there was the Ravens' supposed involvement in sparking Deflategate; and there was Harbaugh's subsequent denial. But Belichick and Harbaugh made it sound on Wednesday as if all's good between them.