Soft Pats 'D' can't follow Mayo's lead

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Soft Pats 'D' can't follow Mayo's lead

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

CLEVELAND -- Jerod Mayo was not happy Sunday night.

He sat in front of the locker the Browns had given him, neither changing nor packing, after New England's 34-14 loss to Cleveland. The captain seemed unready to move on.

Maybe he was trying to get his bearings.

"It was very disappointing,'' Mayo said of the loss. "We were coming in feeling pretty good about our run defense and Hillis just came out -- the offensive line came out -- and did a great job."

Mayo was talking about Peyton Hillis. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound running back had the game of his career, and it was all Cleveland needed. He dodged, hurdled and shrugged off tackles on his way to 184 yards. Hillis had as many carries (29) as the rest of the Browns rush and receiver corp had touches combined.

That's one player doing the work of 12. One guy the Patriots couldn't contain.

"He ran the ball hard today,'' Mayo said. "You really can't simulate the skill that of a bigger guy back there. But he did a great job today. Their offensive line did a good job, as well."

So you can understand Jerod Mayo's confusion. It has taken weeks -- that stretch back to 2009 -- for the Patriots to feel "pretty good" about their defense. But the strides have been made.

Third-down defense was a major concern entering Week 6's match up with Baltimore. The Patriots were holding down the NFL's cellar spot for efficiency, allowing opponents to convert 54.7 percent of the time. But the 'D' stood strong and gave the Patriots an opportunity to win by forcing the Ravens to punt on their final five possessions, three straight coming in overtime.

The next week saw another step forward. The Patriots forced four turnovers on San Diego's league-leading offense and stonewalled the run (38 yards).

And last weekend? Minnesota's 410 total yards of offense are deceptive. That three-headed monster of Brett Favre, Randy Moss, and Adrian Peterson only put 18 points on the board. Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Brandon Meriweather held Moss to just one catch.

So what happened on Sunday? Why will rookie quarterback Colt McCoy be able to tell his grandkids that his breakout game (14-for-19, 174 yards) came against the Patriots? How could Hillis set a career-high for rush yards and score two touchdowns? Was it about those trick plays that Cleveland is so notorious for?

It's a start.

One bit of sneakiness came late in the second quarter when the Browns had a 10-7 lead. Cleveland lined up in its Wildcat formation with Josh Cribbs at quarterback. But Cribbs didn't run the ball. Instead, the Browns remixed the"fumblerooski" play. It confounded New England's defense, and resulted in an 11-yard touchdown from wideout Chansi Stuckey.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had a basic answer in the postgame.

"It was a new play, they hadn't run it this year. We had prepared for plays like that, but we obviously didn't prepare very well,'' he said. "It was a good play by them, not a good play by us, that's all it is."

Belichick's cut-and-dry analysis was similar to Mayo's. Those two, as did Arrington, all pointed to a lot of preparation that proved fruitless. It seemed that no matter how much mix-and-match the Pats did, no matter how much shuffling of defensive schemes they did, they just couldn't find an answer.

"We knew they were coming up with some stuff we hadn't seen. We haven't watched the film yet,'' Mayo laughed ruefully, "but hopefully when we watch the film we'll learn where the breakdowns were and we'll have to get better at it.''

Improvement shouldn't weigh heavy on the captain's shoulders, though. Mayo led all players with seven tackles and three assists. Belichick says Mayo's impressive tally has everything to do with the linebacker taking the opportunities given to him. Mayo is doing that: He has 17 more than the league's No. 2 tackler, Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch. So it's up to the other guys to get better.

The secondary in particular will have film study to do.

Setting the edge has been an issue that keeps cropping up for the Pats. It's what
Arrington called a "lack of awareness." It bit the Patriots again on one fourth-quarter drive when Hillis got the ball six straight times. Cleveland's O-line was suffocating on the final carry. Fullback Lawrence Vickers blocked Patriots' safety James Sanders brilliantly -- as he had all day -- and gave Hillis an open sideline. Thirty-five yards. Touchdown.

To see Mayo, the only guy able to break free, chasing Hillis in futility was a pathetic capsule of the day's defensive struggle. It is why he sat before his locker on Sunday night, unable to or unsure of where to file the effort away.

Eventually, he got up and got ready to go home.

"It's disappointing but if we can learn something from this, it was worth it,'' Mayo said.

Learning is what the Patriots defense has been doing all season and overall, they've taken more steps forward than back. With just one week until a trip to take on a tough Steelers team, they'd better hope that rebound rate stays high.

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

Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015

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Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015

Roger Goodell's salary has reportedly fallen in recent years, but he's still paid handsomely for his work as NFL commissioner.

According to the Associated Press, Goodell earned just over $31 million for 2015. That's a seven percent decrease from the $34 million he received for 2014. 

The NFL's last tax return served as an indicator of Goodell's 2015 salary. The league's tax returns no longer have to be made public since it has changed its status from exempt to taxable, per the AP.

The next-highest paid executive at the NFL offices on Park Avenue? General counsel Jeff Pash, one of the most prominent players in the Deflategate sage, who earned $6.5 million in 2015, down from $7.5 million in 2014. 

Richardson suspended one game for violating personal conduct policy

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Richardson suspended one game for violating personal conduct policy

The NFL announced this week that Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson has been suspended without pay for Week 1 of the 2016 regular season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. 

Richardson will miss his team's season-opener against the Bengals and will be eligible to return to the Jets active roster on Sep. 12. The Jets and the Patriots meet for the first of their two division games on Nov. 27. 

Richardson responded to the news of suspension on Thursday. 

In July of 2015, Richardson led police on a high-speed chase -- hitting speeds as high as 143 miles per hour -- in suburban St. Louis. Police reported a strong odor of marijuana in the car and inside found a loaded, semiautomatic handgun that was possessed legally. Richardson had a 12-year-old relative riding with him in his Bentley at the time of the incident.

In January, Richardson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest. Though he avoided jail time, he was sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. 

Richardson has been one of the league's best defensive linemen since entering the league as a first-rounder in 2013. He served a four-game suspension to start last season after violating the league's substance abuse policy.

PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

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PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

He may have been left off of the NFL Network's Top 100 list, but Jamie Collins isn't flying under the radar at Pro Football Focus.

On PFF's list of the top 10 defensive players in the AFC, the Patriots linebacker came in at No. 8 and was given the description as the top linebacker in the conference.

Collins' versatility within the confines of the Patriots defense is what makes him so valuable, PFF's John Kosko explains: 

"He doesn’t dominate in any one role like Luke Kuechly does in pass coverage and run defense, but he is very good at all facets of the game. Collins has the athleticism to cover TEs and HBs effectively, the explosiveness to rush the passer, and the size and strength to defend the run. 

"The former Southern Mississippi linebacker is arguably the most versatile player in the NFL, and allows Bill Belichick to employ a defense that confuses opposing quarterbacks. With the only knock against Collins being his 34 missed tackles the past two seasons, the Patriot is the best linebacker in the AFC."

Collins graded out as the No. 5 linebacker in football last year, per PFF's numbers. He ranked behind only Carolina's Luke Kuechly, Minnesota's Anthony Barr, Indianapolis' Jerrell Freeman and Seattle's KJ Wright. 

Fellow Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower earned the 10th-highest grade for linebackers last season, according to PFF -- a grade that likely would have been higher had his snap-count (602 in 2015) approached that of Collins (792).

While Collins is a rare physical talent, the argument could be made that it's Hightower who is the more important player to the Patriots defense given his prowess as a pass-rusher and run-defender. He also has myriad responsibilities as the extension of the team's coaching staff in the defensive huddle. 

In order to slow down opposing passing games, many Patriots defensive packages employ either five or six defensive backs and just two linebackers. Lucky for them, they have two of the best in the conference.

Both Collins and Hightower are entering contract years this year, and finding a way to keep them in-house figures to be near the top of the list of priorities for the Patriots front office.