For Pats, road to Dallas now paved Black and Gold

For Pats, road to Dallas now paved Black and Gold

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com
Start ordering those party platters for February 6. The Patriots chances of playing in the Super Bowl increased exponentially Saturday night. Ableak week of Ray Rice, revenge, reviling Ray Lewis and the revolting mug of Terrell Suggs we won't have to deal with. Instead, weget Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, Polamalu's salad and the blitz schemes of Dick LeBeau.
Once the Patriots take care of business against the New York Jets as they ought to on Sunday, the Steelers come next. And the Steelers can't beat the Patriots in a conference championship game. Just doesn't work. Had it been the Ravens, the swagger would have been de-swagged. The Patriots needed OT to beat Baltimore in Week 5, got crushed by them in last season's playoffs, barely hung on during the 2009 regular season and barely hung on during the 2007 regular season. The Ravens defense is nasty. And Suggs was playing like a force of nature. But the fact Baltimore has a better-than-average-but-not-by-much quarterback like Joe Flacco playing for them means they are going home. Once they stop bitching about the officials. Pittsburgh? In Roethlisberger, they have a legitimate "elite" quarterback, a guy who's got twice as many Super Bowl rings as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. You wouldn't want to see him show up in your driveway to pick up your daughter, but you would love to have Big Ben playing quarterback for you. Against most teams. But not New England. In Week 9, the Patriots beat Pittsburgh 39-26 and the stats Roethlisberger compiled (30 for 49 for 387 yards, 3 TDs and an INT)were a shining example of why QB passing stats are bogus. Roethlisberger took five sacks for 38 yards and the pick he threw was returned for a touchdown. He started 7 for 20 for 90 yards and took three sacks. After the score got to 29-10 early in the fourth (after the pick-6 by James Sanders), Big Ben went 14 for 16 (one was a spike) for 203 yards in chasing down a lost cause. When the game was a contest, he was 16 for 33 for 184 yards. Roethlisberger is 2-4 against the Patriots. He's 0-1 in the playoffs (the 2004 41-27 beatdown at Pittsburgh. He won his first start against the Pats in 2004 (the day Ty Law and Matt Light went down) and beat the Cassel-led Pats in 2008. Generally, the Patriots take care of business against Roethlisberger by lying back and making him process coverages. Eventually, he makes a wild throw because he's not terribly accurate. As for the Steelers defense, they can be a beast but not to Tom Brady. He's 6-1 against the Steelers lifetime. He toys with them. We've got plenty more to plow through on this matchup once it becomes a reality. Until then, treat yourself to some of this.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Garoppolo: Panthers offer ‘closest thing we’ll get to Week 1’

Garoppolo: Panthers offer ‘closest thing we’ll get to Week 1’

One throw could have very well changed the overall assessment of Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance last Thursday against Chicago. 

Garoppolo had looked completely poised, on rhythm and decisive, carving up the Bears on four straight drives, including an impressive march to open the third quarter. And then, on third down in the red zone, the Pats quarterback correctly read man-under coverage, with a single high safety floating. But with his first two reads covered, Garoppolo pivoted back to his right and threw almost sight unseen to James White. One problem: Bears linebacker John Timu was sitting in the passing lane and dropped what should have an interception.

“Yeah, the linebacker made a nice jump on it,” said Garoppolo. “It’s unfortunate what happened.”

What happened was the Pats escaped with three points and Garoppolo exiting to excellent reviews. But that was a gift from the football gods, though the third-year pro shrugged it off.

“It was just one of those bang-bang plays,” said Garoppolo. “In the red zone, there are tight windows down there, so sometimes you’re going to make throws that get tipped or whatever it may be. You don’t try to make those happen, but sometimes it happens down there.”

A deeper review of the Pats approach versus the Bears showed a greater emphasis on Garoppolo getting rid of the ball the moment those feet settled on repeated three- and five-step drops. That resulted in the best performance by the Pats signal caller since before that full practice scrimmage in which the QB on the other side - a fella by the name of Tom Brady - went 25-for-25. That day, Garoppolo waded into choppy waters and took nearly two weeks to find solid footing. 

“I think part of that comes with just learning the offense overall,” said Garoppolo when asked about his decision making. “Year after year, you’re going to be more comfortable in the system, whatever it may be. I think I’m progressing the right way. There’s obviously a long way to go, you always want to be as precise and decisive as you can be, but I think I’m working in the right direction.”

No denying that, although now comes another test, the preseason tilt Friday night in Carolina against the defending NFC champion Panthers. There may be a greater strain put on Garoppolo and the starters, but as for the idea this is the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for the regular season, Bill Belichick reminds you not to get it twisted.

“I think this is a good opportunity for us to compete against arguably as good as any team in the league. [With] all that being said, we’re not talking about a regular-season game here, “ he said. “We’re not talking about game planning and all of those kind of things, which I can’t imagine would happen in this game, but they’re going to happen in a couple of weeks so it’s a whole different ballgame. I don’t think you can compare this game to a regular-season game even though I’ve heard people try to do that. I’m not sure what game they’re looking at. “

Maybe the same thing as Garoppolo is…

“It’s pretty much the closest thing we’ll get to Week 1, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Patriots trading for Browns OLB Barkevious Mingo

Patriots trading for Browns OLB Barkevious Mingo

The Patriots are in the final stages of trading for Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. 

Mingo, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, is in the fourth and final year of his rookie deal as his fifth-year rookie option was not picked up by the Browns. The Patriots reportedly will send a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft to Cleveland for Mingo.

The LSU product was selected by the Browns when Michael Lombardi was the team's general manager in 2013. Lombardi was let go after one season in Cleveland and was an assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Patriots in 2014 and 2015. The Patriots have shown an affinity for other former Browns who overlapped with Lombardi, making moves to acquire Jabaal Sheard and Dion Lewis.

Mingo, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, has played in all but two regular-season games over the course of his three years and has recorded seven sacks.

With the trade for Mingo, the Patriots have added some depth to what was already a deep position on their roster. Between Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom, it seemed as though the Patriots had a wealth of options to choose from. However, injuries have plagued the group of late: Ninkovich is dealing with a torn triceps muscle that has kept him out of practice in recent weeks; Sheard has what's been reported by the Boston Herald as a sprained MCL; and McClellin has also missed practice time lately as he has rehabbed an injury. 

At the moment, the Patriots still don't have much in the way of long-term depth at the position given that Sheard, Ninkovich, Long and Mingo are all in the final years of their contracts. McClellin, Flowers and Grissom's deals takes them through the 2018 season.

Before playing the Browns in a regular-season game in 2013, Patriots coach Bill Belichick commented briefly on the Browns defense and perhaps foreshadowed his eventual interest in a pair of their players. 

"Overall, I think they’ve been a pretty impressive team to watch on film," Belichick said at the time. "Defensively they’ve got a lot of good players. They’re very good up front. They’ve got good depth and a good quality of players there . . . Sheard and [Paul] Kruger and Mingo are very athletic. They make a lot of plays."

He added: "Kruger and Sheard have done a good job as edge rushers . . . They’re good in the running game, they definitely generate pressure on the quarterback. Mingo, the rookie, is mixed in there and creates some negative plays in the pass rush and [has] done a good job for them being disruptive."

According to Pro Football Focus, Mingo generated eight quarterback hurries, no sacks and no quarterback hits last season. In 2014, he had two sacks, five hits, 20 hurries, and he was graded by PFF as the 17th-best edge defender against the run.

The 2013 NFL draft class -- particularly at the top -- has been noted for its lack of impact players, but the Patriots have now traded for two of the top-10 players in that draft in the span of several months. Guard Jonathan Cooper, who was acquired by the Patriots in a trade with the Cardinals, was the No. 7 overall pick that year. 

Phil Perry contributed to this report.