Pats coordinators give early look at Texans

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Pats coordinators give early look at Texans

Monday night is the game many have had highlighted on their schedule all season. So with the 11-1 Houston Texans coming to town next, it's time to look at what the Patriots' initial impressions are of the top seed in the AFC.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels knows it will be a challenge, and went out of his way to describe just how much of a threat defensive end J.J. Watt will be.

"This is an aggressive team that plays physical, tough defense," said McDaniels in a conference call on Monday. "I think they play fast. They play very hard up front, and do a lot of really good things with their front three or four . . . I don't think it's a stretch to say that this is going to be a big challenge for us. They have talented players at every level of their defense, and they're obviously very well coached. So we're going to have to do a great job of preparing for them this week.

"With J.J. Watt, obviously he's having a great year, and he's a great player no matter where they line him up. The fact that they move him a little bit inside and outside, we're going to have to have more than one guy ready to handle him and block him. It won't just fall to the guard or to the tackle. It could be anybody at times, based on the way they're playing. So we have to do a great job of trying to simulate his effort, his motor, some of the things he does to disrupt people in the running game, the passing game. And we have to make sure we're very mindful of taking care of the football, and not letting him get his hands on balls, because he's certainly creating a lot of disruptive opportunities for them defensively, by tipping the ball and batting the ball in the air. We've got a ton of respect for him."

On the other side of the football, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia expressed his concerns with Houston's "balanced" offensive attack.

"You're talking about a very balanced, very well-put-together offense," he said on Monday. "Between the run and the pass, and with a quarterback that is obviously a talented player that is really doing a phenomenal job running the system that they run.

"I think the biggest thing for us, obviously, is trying to figure out how to stop this running game, which is a critical part to what they do, along with passing abilities that they have. Their tight ends are extremely good, and they use all of them. There are very talented players there. Obviously, Andre Johnson is a phenomenal player for them outside . . . I think its a very balanced offense just from the standpoint that the quarterback will get the ball to the appropriate receiver based on coverage or based on read for that particular play so hes not always targeting one guy. Hes going to try to get the ball to the open receiver and thats really what makes it difficult in the passing game and then what we talked about with the running game with these two backs that have potential for big plays at any given time if they see any crack in the defense, they really have the ability to hurt you with that. The main point of emphasis is going to do a really good job with the fundamentals here and make sure that we play good, solid team defense and being able to stop the run and the passing game and hopefully handle the guys up front to the best of our ability and try to do a good job there."

Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

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Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

New York’s mistake helped the Red Sox, and they weren’t playing the Yankees.

The Red Sox struck out 20 in a game for the third time in franchise history on Thursday night, and they were able to do so only after MLB’s replay team — based in Manhattan — gave Craig Kimbrel an extra batter to strike out in the ninth inning.

A 6-2 win over the Rangers featured 16 strikeouts for Red Sox pitching heading into the top of the ninth at Fenway Park. Kimbrel came on for a non-save situation because he had five days off previously.

There’s always that outside chance for a four-strikeout inning, and it happened. Even for a four-strikeout inning, however, this was bizarre.

The first batter, lefthanded hitting Nomar Mazara, swung and missed at a back-foot breaking ball for strike 3 — a literal back-foot breaking ball, because it hit him in that foot after he whiffed on the pitch.

On a swing and a miss with a pitch that hits the batter, the ball should be dead. He should not have been able to reach first base. But the umpires didn’t catch the ball hitting Mazara, and instead saw it as a wild pitch. 

Sox manager John Farrell asked for a review and the umpires went for one, but came back empty-handed. The crew was told, erroneously, that the play could not be looked at and the batter was awarded first base.

“It was just a swinging strike three, ball that go away and he obviously reached first base,” crew chief Alfonso Marquez told pool reporter Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. “The only thing that I can tell you, and the only thing I will say is, this was a replay issue. New York will come out with a statement.”

You could say it worked out just fine. Kimbrel went on to strike out the next three, and got the Sox to 20 Ks.

Kimbrel and Tim Wakefield are the only Red Sox pitchers to fan four batters in a single inning. Wakefield did it in the ninth inning on Aug. 10, 1999. 

Kimbrel did it once before as well, when he was with the Braves on Sept. 26, 2012.

No one has struck out five in a major league inning, although Kimbrel has as good a chance as anyone.

“The guy strikes out the world,” Matt Barnes said. “It’s ridiculous. … His fastball is seemingly unhittable. Complement that with the breaking ball he’s got, which comes right off that same plane, when he’s commanding it like he is, the numbers kind of speak for themselves. It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s fun to watch.”

The Sox have struck out 20 in a nine-inning game three times since 1913. Roger Clemens' two 20-strikeout games are the other two.