Pats 'D' has much to prepare for in Eagles


Pats 'D' has much to prepare for in Eagles

FOXBORO -- New England has a short week before meeting the Eagles Sunday. Limited preparation is a headache for any team, but for the Patriots, it compounds a unique problem facing the defense.

Who the hell are they playing against?

"We've got to prepare for two different guys."

Exactly right, James Ihedigbo: The Eagles have a quarterback toss-up.

Philly's 100-million dollar man, Michael Vick, missed the last game with a pair of broken ribs. Head coach Andy Reid said Vick has been throwing but wouldn't practice Wednesday, relinquishing all reps to back-up Vince Young. Does that mean Young will be the game-day starter again?

Maybe. Probably.

The uncertainty and doubled workload are too obvious a challenge for Ihedigbo to shrug off. Not only do the two QB's have very different styles, but Young was a decent stand in for Vick last weekend. Though he didn't wow on the stat sheet (23-for-36 passing, 258 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions), he pulled off a fourth quarter 80-yard scoring drive in 18 plays to secure a 17-10 Eagles win. After back-to-back losses, that's all the team needed.

The Patriots secondary is focused on breaking down how it happened. Young hasn't played in a calendar year, so that final drive is also a testament to the weapons he's working with.

Philadelphia's ground game is an well-known danger. LeSean McCoy, one of the league's most explosive backs, leads all rushers with 188 for 1,019 yards. Vick alone has 21 rushes of 10 or more yards.

But these birds also fight in the air.

"You're facing threats all across the board," the safety said. "DeSean Jackson-- just everyone across the board that they have. We still have to prepare and that goes into the extra studying each week."

Jackson is averaging 16.9 yards per catch. Tight end Brent Celek, who has 28 catches for 309 yards and two touchdowns in the team's last five games, could give the Patriots trouble a la Pittsburgh's Heath Miller. And these are the guys behind Jeremy Maclin. Shoulder and hamstring issues held Philly's most potent receiver (642 yards on 461 receptions; 14 touchdowns) out of the game last week, but that's just the trouble for the Patriots -- Vince Young won without him.

"It's just as big as the rush -- their top two receivers are fast, they're dangerous with the ball in their hands, they can get downfield, they know how to get open and they're targets for whoever's at quarterback. It's definitely something we have to study. We have to study the routes they run, the concepts, things they like to do good, things they don't do well -- all of that. Really have to put in extra time and dig down for this big game."

Maclin practiced Wednesday. If he returns, New England's patchwork secondary will have more than enough to worry about. Ihedigbo says his crew understands the task at hand is complicated. They can only make the most of what they've got.

"We're a day behind in preparation so we have to catch up," said Ihedigbo. "We have to spend extra time as a defense, extra time as a secondary, piecing together what we have to do this week.

"We're excited about the game plan; we have a lot of good stuff ahead. It's going to be an exciting game, definitely."

With these variables in play? Yeah, you could say that.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”