Ryan still vocal, set on beating Pats again

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Ryan still vocal, set on beating Pats again

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn

FOXBORO As a rookie last year, it didn't take New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty long to realize he was with a team that was built on being steady in its play, its demeanor and its approach to every opponent.

Then came Jets week.

"You could tell it's a rivalry game," said McCourty, the AFC's Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. "It's a little different energy, just because it's a division game. It's Patriots versus Jets."

And no one individual embodies the rivalry between these two teams more than Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who set his sights on dethroning the Patriots from the moment he took over as the New York Jets coach in 2009.

While the Jets have certainly more than held their own with the Pats since his arrival - the Jets have split the regular season series each of the last two seasons - Ryan wants more.

"We have to beat New England," Ryan said. "That's the team we have to beat, to win the division."

The Patriots have been atop the AFC East seven of the last eight seasons, one of the many Patriots-related facts Ryan can recite verbatim.

"If you want to get a home playoff game or whatever, you have to beat them," Ryan said. "We know what's in front of us."

While Ryan is quick to praise the Patriots (3-1) for their past and present success, he remains confident that his team can knock the Patriots from atop the AFC East and have the Jets finish atop the standings for the first time since 2002.

"It's a huge challenge, but to think that we're just going to accept that we can't beat those guys . . . no way in heck!" Ryan said. "We're here to beat everybody. New England is the best team in the league. But again, we want to be the best team in the league. That hasn't changed a bit. We're not backing down to anybody."

Ryan, as you might expect, had plenty more to say heading into Sunday's game against the New England Patriots.

Here's what he had to say . . .

On whether his team is still defined by its defense:

RR: "We've been inconsistent defensively. We played horribly vs. Oakland. We had a couple breakdowns that were just . . . we gave up a 70-yard run, which is absolutely ridiculous. One thing we know how to do, we know how to stop the run, play defense. This is a team that will be . . . our defense by the time it's all said and done, will be right there where we always are, right around the top in this league."

On whether quarterback Mark Sanchez has improved in this, his third NFL season:

RR: "I think he has. I see it everyday here. I definitely think he has. That last game (a turnover-laden rout at the hands of the Ravens) was . . . it was a rough one, to say the least. You put Tom Brady back there, he was going to struggle that day. The pressure, the consistent pressure that Baltimore was able to put on us, really disrupted what we were trying to get accomplished. I think Mark has improved. I think he's better now than he's ever been."

On the Patriots defense, which hasn't racked up many sacks and doesn't seem to put a lot of pressure on teams:

RR: "The Haynesworth kid only played the one game, but he was a dominant player. And obviously, Vince Wilfork . . . I think Vince should probably move to safety (because of his two interceptions this year). That might be the next move for Vince. They're doing a great job. They do what they do. They force takeaways. They're playing better in the red zone. They never ranked way up there defensively, it's not like they're one or two in the league in defense. They're effective. They make you make mistakes. They do a great job playing the run, and they don't have the ball shot over their heads."

On whether they need to add another player:

RR: "I'd just like to add one player. I'd like to get Nick Mangold back. That would be a big help for us. I'm definitely hopeful that Nick will play (on Sunday vs. New England). You take out the best center in football, no offense to Colin Baxter, but there's only one Nick Mangold in this league. When he went out (with an ankle injury), that was a big loss to us. Hopefully he'll be back and ready to play this week. With Vince and all those guys, we need Nick."

On New England's offensive attack this season:

RR: "The thing that surprises me truthfully about New England's offense, is they're running the ball much more effectively. I think they're eighth in the league in rushing, and with the number one passing attack in football that makes for a tough combination."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

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.

With just four true receivers on the active roster, the team has been adding and subtracting wieoutes 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, giving them a relatively unusual amount of practice-squad depth at one spot. 

After Street was signed away by the Colts, the Patriots gave practice-squad shots to Da'Ron Brown and Shaquelle Evans. Neither of those players stuck, but Lucien and White have.

"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 an indicator that he's the favorite as a call-up to the 53-man roster.

White, who has been named one of New England's practice players of the week three times this season, is in his second year out of Alabama. He was signed by San Francisco in May of 2015 as an undrafted free agent, and 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.

There are free-agent options available to the Patriots should they choose to go that route.

Keshawn Martin, who was released by the Niners on Nov. 8 and is a free agent, could be an attractive option given his punt-return experience and his understanding of the Patriots system. Others who are out there and have spent time with the Patriots include Aaron Dobson, Nate Washington and Kenbrell Thompkins.

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.