Dennis Allen and the 0-2 Raiders come to Foxboro on Sunday in need of a victory. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — The Raiders are well aware of what they are walking in to.
Oakland coach Dennis Allen ripped off a few of pertinent numbers on his conference call with the New England media Wednesday, painting a less-than-favorable scenario for his team heading into Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium.
“They’re 11-1 in openers at Gillette Stadium, and Tom Brady is 49-3 in his last 52 starts at Gillette Stadium,” said Allen of the Patriots, who will tote a 1-1 mark into their home opener.
“I understand that this is a good football team — they’re well coached, they’re good on offense, they’re good on defense, they’re very sound in what they do special teams-wise, and they’ve been that way for a long, long time,” he added. “So, we understand that it’s a great challenge going up there.”
Historically, it’s been tough for West Coast teams to play East Coast games at 1 o’clock, and the Raiders are no exception. Oakland is looking to end a 14-game East Coast losing streak this Sunday — the Raiders last win in the Eastern Time Zone was Dec. 6, 2009 in Pittsburgh. While most teams come to New England a day before kickoff, Oakland will touch down in New England on Friday in hopes of getting better acclimated to the time difference.
“The schedule is what the schedule is, and our job is to show up and try to win a football game, and that’s really what we’re focused on doing. We’re not really focused on the travel,” Allen said when asked about prepping for playing a game that is essentially at 10 a.m. their time. “We don’t change a whole lot as far as what we do. We start pretty early here anyways, so we kind of keep the schedule as normal as possible.”
In truth, even if this were a home game for the Raiders, they would still face a sizable challenge in the Patriots. Oakland has lost its first two games of the season, having been outscored by a combined 40-7 margin in the first three quarters of each game while yielding an average of 200 rushing yards per game, the worst total in the league. (Veteran Raiders safety Charles Woodson told reporters, “We suck” shortly after Oakland suffered a 30-14 loss to the Texans last weekend.)
Allen said Wednesday that the biggest sticking point for the Raiders to this point has been inconsistency.
“I’ve seen a team that at times can do some good things, but we’ve got to be more consistent in what we do,” he said. “We’ve been working real hard in practice, and it needs to transfer over on game day.”
One intriguing puzzle piece is rookie quarterback Derek Carr, a second round pick out of Fresno State. In his first two games this season, Carr has gone 47 for 74 passing for 414 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions while adding 55 rushing yards.
Like Allen, Carr is extremely aware of the challenges the Raiders will face on Sunday.
‘They’re very sound, they’re very well coached,” Carr said of the Patriots. “They’re very physical, they create a lot of takeaways; they do a great job of that. Again, like I said, they’re very well coached. You can tell that they believe in their coaching because they’re assignment driven, and it shows.”
If Carr is able to pull off the win, he would have accomplished something no other rookie visiting quarterback has ever done against the Patriots over the last decade — every one of the five rookie quarterbacks who have beaten New England over the last 10 seasons have done it on the road. No other first-year signal callers making their first or second career start against the Patriots in their initial year has won in Foxboro. (Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez and Ben Roethlisberger all beat the Patriots in their first year in the league, but all did it away from Gillette Stadium.)
“He’s very smart, he’s very mature for his age,” Allen said of Carr. “He sees the field really well as a quarterback and really can handle a lot of information and handle a lot of volume of things that we can ask him to do. He’s still a rookie — he’s still seeing a lot of things for the first time — but every day I continue to see improvement out of him.”
The Patriots announced Wednesday they’ve re-signed defensive back Daxton Swanson to the practice squad.
Swanson, 23, was signed to the Patriots practice squad on Sept 1 and then released on Sept. 3. He was originally signed by the Patriots as a free agent on May 22.
Swanson entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Indianapolis Colts on April 30, 2013, out of Sam Houston State. The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder was released by the Colts on Oct. 29, 2013 and was signed to the San Francisco 49ers practice squad on Nov. 18, 2013. He was released by San Francisco on May 12.
FOXBORO — The two buzzwords flying around Gillette Stadium this week are “balance” and “trust.” Balance in play-calling and distribution, according to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, will lead to a more efficient and productive offense.
Trust in the receiving corps will lead to Brady looking over all of his passing options and not zeroing in on just one or two targets.
Balance, as we saw on Sunday, can be found by tweaking play-calling from week to week. Earning Brady’s Trust, as Rob Gronkowski pointed out Wednesday can be something altogether different.
“It’s takes a long time,” Gronkowski said. “I’ve been here a few years now. You just have to go out there every practice, work hard, work overtime, stay after practice, get the same chemistry down. It’s just the chemistry with Tom, it’s the chemistry with the other wide receivers, with the timing. Chemistry with the offensive linemen. It’s just overall working together as a whole, as a unit.”
Gronkowski has earned Brady’s trust by becoming the most dependable red-zone target while also getting himself open many times in key third-down situations and holding onto the ball in traffic. But Gronkowski, who has caught eight passes on a season-high 17 targets over the first two games, knows he and Julian Edelman (15 targets) can’t do it all. Tom Brady acknowledged Wednesday that distribution starts with the quarterback and goes from there. If the Patriots are to be the offense everyone expects, then contributions need to come from receivers such as Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Tim Wright.
“Definitely,” Gronkowski said when asked if balance would make his life easier. “It will open up holes for everyone on the offense. That’s why you want to click as a whole on offense. You want everyone to be on the same tempo. You want everyone to be on the same page so everyone has equal opportunity when their number is called to make that play. If you’re working together, you know the sky’s the limit if everyone’s clicking. That all starts in practice. You have to keep working hard, keep doing reps in practice and we have to be all on the same page and go out there and be a unit.”
With names like Charles Woodson and Carlos Rogers in the Raiders secondary, Gronkowski knows this week will be a challenge for the Patriots as they look to give Brady more open targets in the passing game.
“They’re a very veteran team,” Gronkowski said. “They have many great players on their team, especially on defense. They have a lot of experience, and they’re fast and they’re big. We have to be ready and we have to be prepared to the best of our ability and have to go out there on point.”
Listening to Gronkowski Wednesday, one could sense the level of admiration for the 37-year-old Woodson.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gronkowski said. “He’s a great player, great, great player. It’s an honor to even play with him on the field out there. He’s been in the league for so long and has so much experience. He’s a great player and he’s been through every obstacle. You have to be aware of him, where he is and where he’s about at all times.”
Before his ACL injury last December, Gronkowski had a reputation as one of the best blocking tight ends in football. He was asked Wednesday if he’s feeling comfortable fitting back into the offense in that role.
“Pretty well. Everything’s going well,” he said. “The body is feeling good. Practice is going good and getting ready for the Oakland Raiders now. I’ve taken a few hits now, a few tackles, a few blocks. I’m over that stage now. I’m ready to play for football. Whatever contact comes, it comes and I’m ready for anything.”
One thing is for sure, Gronk is looking forward to playing on the Gillette Stadium turf for the first time since Cleveland’s T.J. Ward ended his season last December.
“Starting the first two games on the road, so it’s going to be a very exciting atmosphere,” Gronkowski said. “Always love coming home, having a grand opening this week in the home stadium so it’s going to be a blast playing in front of our home crowd. They’re going to be amped up and we are, too.”
FOXBORO — Jerod Mayo’s absence from Wednesday practice was not injury related, according to the team.
The veteran linebacker was not spotted during the media portion of practice on Wednesday, and was identified as missing the session — however, the team noted on the injury report that it was an injury issue. In addition to Mayo’s absence, the only other player who was noted as out from today’s practice was safety Don Jones, who reportedly has a hamstring issue.
The Patriots also listed nine players as limited, including tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee), linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh) and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell.
Here’s a look at the complete report:
Did Not Practice
LB Jerod Mayo (not injury related)
S Don Jones (hamstring)
DE Michael Buchanan (ankle)
LB Jamie Collins (thigh)
OL Dan Connolly (knee)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder)
WR Julian Edelman (back)
TE Rob Gronkowski (knee)
DT Sealver Siliga (hand)
RB Shane Vereen (shoulder)
OL Ryan Wendell (knee)
FOXBORO — Winning the turnover battle is one of the biggest keys to winning each week in the NFL, regardless of the opponent.
Since 2000, the Patriots are 116-12 when winning the turnover battle, compared to 27-37 when they don’t. Even further, New England is 97-5 since 2003 when having a plus turnover margin.
The Patriots have won the turnover battle in each of the first two games this season and are tied for the lead the AFC with a plus five turnover differential. They are also tied for second in the entire NFL, with only the Panthers having a better differential at plus six.
“We try and emphasize on just getting the ball,” defensive end Chandler Jones said. “Turnover differential, turnover margin, we just have to win always. We try and get the ball back into our offenses hands and whenever you can get the ball into Tom’s hands good things will happen.”
Although Jones didn’t have any of the four Patriots turnovers against the Vikings, he did have a monster game. Jones blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to give New England a 24-7 halftime lead. He also finished the game with eight total tackles and his fifth career two-sack game. For his performance he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
“Our defense played very well, but there is always room for improvement,” said Jones. “As far as the Player of the Week thing, that’s our defense. It’s a defensive effort, it’s all 11 men on the field. We play hard out there and the biggest thing is moving forward to Oakland.”
The defense enters Sunday’s home opener against the Raiders ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense. They will have a chance to build even more confidence as the Raiders come into the game with the second-worst ranked offense in the entire league.
After allowing 33 points in Week 1, the defense rebounded nicely only allowing seven last week against the Vikings, partly because of the team’s preparation leading up to the game – something they are already hard at work on getting ready for Week 3 and the Raiders.
“I feel like we went out there and we saw the results of buying into what the coaches said and doing our job — executing, paying attention to detail, the little things that coach said trying to dot the I’s and cross the T’s,” Jones said. “It definitely showed out there when we go out and execute.”
FOXBORO — Sometimes one week can make all the difference in the world.
In Week 1 against the Dolphins the Patriots ran for just 89 yards, only 28 of them coming in the second half as they ran just seven running plays the final 30 minutes of the game. Week 2 against the Vikings was a different story as the team ran for 150 total yards, 96 of them coming in the second half.
Stevan Ridley led the way, rushing for 101 yards on 21 carries.
“We’ve improved each week. I think Miami to Minnesota, I think [the offense and offensive line] made a drastic improvement,” Ridley said. “We all keep leaning on each other and relying on each other. I think we’re going to be OK towards the end of the year.”
On a personal level, the key for Ridley was staying patient as he only rushed for 29 yards in the first half, but was able to pick it up in the second half against a tired and demoralized Minnesota defense.
“Every back goes out there and wants to take it the distance, but there are going to be times that it’s going to be just two yards, three yards and you just have to keep plugging,” said Ridley. “You have stay disciplined as a runner and keep your legs moving and falling forward. That’s what you have to do to get the tough yardage, eventually they are going to break and you’ll get some big runs.”
Overall, the Patriots rank 16th in the NFL in rushing, this after being ranked 21st following Week 1. Like Ridley said, the Patriots are focused on getting better each week, wanting to reach its peak once December and the end of the season hits.
Ridley isn’t the only back who has seen time as Shane Vereen has been a force both in the running game and catching passes out of the backfield. Vereen has 76 yards on 13 carries and has caught six passes for 35 yards. Running the ball effectively and with consistency goes a long way in the Patriots offense as the team is 38-1 when a player runs for 100 yards or more under Bill Belichick.
“It’s only Week 3. The first week we struggled and the second week we got it going. There’s a lot of football left to be played, so I don’t want to jump in front of myself. From week-to-week I see improvement and that’s all we can ask for, especially with the group of guys that we have up there. There are some new faces – I think we all know that – but, like I said we’re just going in week in and week out showing what we can do,” Ridley said. “Eventually, these upcoming weeks, hopefully we will have a balanced attack going into every game and that’s what makes us hard [to stop]. The key word is hard work around here and that’s what we do.”
Christopher Price, WEEI.com spoke with the guys about the new NFL drug policy and what it means for certain players in the league. He also spoke about the importance of getting Danny Amendola involved in the offense. The Patriots are still trying to find the BEST way to utilize Chandler Jones. And rookie Raiders QB Derek Carr is a bit of a wild-card heading into Sunday's match up.
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FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price preview the Patriots’ home opener vs. the Oakland Raiders. The pair talk about how Bill Belichick has adjusted his offensive line to provide a spark to the running attack, Stevan Ridley’s resurgence and the need for Tom Brady to start distributing the ball in the offense.
FOXBORO — Continuing with a theme that the 0-2 Raiders pose a legitimate threat to the Patriots in New England’s home opener, Bill Belichick explained why he feels Oakland should be taken seriously, starting with their speed and size.
Belichick said Wednesday the Raiders present big and fast challenges on both sides of the ball, starting with their defense of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith.
“I think that this team looks like the big, fast team that the Raiders have historically been known for,” Belichick said. “They’re big at every position ‘ their line is big, their receivers are big, backs are big, defensive line is big, secondary is big, kicker is big. They’re fast. I don’t know how many guys they have run under I’d say 4.4, 4.5, but it has to be a dozen, maybe more than that. I don’t know. There’s a lot.
“They’re fast at linebacker, they’re fast ‘ DBs are all fast. Even the safeties are fast. [Usama] Young is fast, obviously Woodson is fast. Tyvon Branch is sub-4.4. These guys can all ‘ they have a big, fast team. You see it in the kicking game. You see it certainly defensively. Teams that try to run outside and bounce the ball out on them, it’s not one guy making the play. It’s like four guys that are out there before the back gets out there. They have very good team speed. Overall, they’re big. I don’t know what their offensive line, I don’t even know what they list them at, but just looking at them, they have to average 340 [pounds]. They’re huge. It looks like the Raiders. Maybe they look bigger in those black uniforms, I don’t know.”
With all the leadership on the Raiders, including Tuck and Charles Woodson, Belichick has warned his team to be aware of a desperate team looking for a win that could turn its season around before it’s too late.
“That’s the first thing I said. I think with the leadership out there, the veterans that they have on that team, guys that are used to winning, guys that they’ve brought in that have been in all those playoff games and Super Bowls and all that, I’m sure that they’re ‘ I mean look, this is where we were a week ago,” Belichick said. “This is the same thing we heard in here last Wednesday or whenever it was, after the Miami game. I’m sure they feel after the Houston game the way we felt after the Miami game. Last week doesn’t mean anything in the NFL. It’s what happens this week. That’s all we can focus on is what we can do to get ready for this game. We have a lot to get ready for. They have a lot of good players, good team, and they have a lot of pride; they have a lot of toughness. It’s going to be hard.”
BB: Rolling on these Raiders. It’s a lot of familiar faces, but guys who we’ve been used to seeing in different uniforms. I think the thing that jumps out about the Raiders is how experienced they are, how many veteran players they have. As usual, they’re a big, fast team. In the kicking game, they have a lot of guys who are big and can run. They’ve got two big kickers: [Sebastian] Janikowski and [Marquette] King. Those guys can kick it as far as anybody. We’re going to have to do a good job there with field position and ball handling and so forth. Offensively, [Derek] Carr is clearly taking control. He’s been impressive; gets the ball out quick, makes quick decisions, athletic. The run he had against Houston last week was impressive. [He] spreads the ball around ‘ receivers, backs, tight ends. Good running backs ‘ two different type of guys with [Maurice] Jones-Drew and [Darren] McFadden, but both good; different styles. [Marcel] Reece is obviously a matchup guy. Big offensive line, real big. Two rookies they have on offense there, [Gabe] Jackson and Carr, have done a good job for them.
Then the same thing with [Khalil] Mack on defense and the group that they’ve added in the secondary plus [Justin] Ellis. A lot of experience on defense; [they've] almost redone their whole defensive line with [Justin] Tuck, [LaMarr] Woodley, the kid from Green Bay [C.J. Wilson], Mack, obviously. They’ve added a lot there and same thing in the secondary with the two corners from San Francisco ‘ [Tarell] Brown and Carlos Rogers and of course [Charles] Woodson is extremely impressive. Woodson really doesn’t look like a 17-year veteran, I’ll tell you that. He makes plays all over the field ‘ very aggressive, fast, instinctive, strong tackler, tough. Just couldn’t say enough about how impressed I’ve been watching him on film. Raiders have real good team speed. They’re a big, physical team. We have a lot to get ready for in terms of their scheme and personnel. I think Coach [Dennis] Allen has done a good job there defensively with emphasizing the turnovers. They caused a lot of fumbles last year. I think it was the fourth-most in the league or something like that. They do a good job of turning the ball over. They’ve done a good job offensively of scoring in the red zone and really not turning the ball over much in two games. We’re going to have to play good, solid, physical 60 minutes of football on Sunday. That’s what we’re expecting, that’s what we’re looking for.
Q: After their game, Charles Woodson described how he felt about his team and how they played Sunday. Obviously they were negative words. From what you’ve seen on the tape, why would he be so down on their performance? What didn’t they do on Sunday?
BB: They fell behind early and then just were kind of never really that close’¦Houston was able to just stay far enough ahead, a couple touchdowns ahead. Look, we’ve all been there before. Last week is last week. It doesn’t really mean anything. I’m sure that based on the comments that I’ve seen out of there and the leadership that they have on that team, the veterans that they have on that team, I’m sure that we’ll come in here and we won’t see the team we saw against Houston last week. That’s what we’re getting ready for ‘ we’re getting ready for their best game and I don’t think Houston was probably it.
Q: How are you addressing the problem you’ve had with penalties?
BB: Yeah, we have to do a better job. We’ve talked about them, we’re practicing. We just have to do a better job.
Q: The Raiders pass defense is ranked second in the league, I think. They’re only giving up like 165 yards per game. Does it start with the defensive line? Obviously, the veteran experience in the secondary. What kind of challenges do they present?
BB: Yeah, all of it. They have a good pass rush, they’ve got several good rushers ‘ [Antonio] Smith is very disruptive up there, [Pat] Sims, Mack, Woodley, Tuck. They do a good job up there. They have good coverage players. They have a lot of, six, seven corners on the roster. I guess it’s six now because they IR’d one, but they’ve got good coverage players back there. [TJ] Carrie has done a good job for them, then they got [Chimdi] Chekwa back last week, of course to go with Brown and Rogers. Woodson really is a corner, even though he’s playing safety. Tyvon Branch [is] one of the fastest players in the league; Sio Moore. They have real good team speed, good man-to-man coverage team. They cover receivers, tight ends, [have] a good pass rush. That will be a big challenge. Getting away from those guys has been tough for teams that have played them. Even in preseason, people, the teams they played in the preseason ‘ Seattle, Minnesota ‘ they just get up on the receivers and there’s not a lot of space between the defender and the receiver. The quarterback has to make a tight throw, the receiver has to make a good catch. It’s hard. And they’ve got a good pass rush.
Q: Is Khalil Mack pretty much the player everyone thought he could be?
BB: He’s been disruptive. They play him at linebacker in their regular defense and then in sub ‘ it’s a little bit like [Minnesota linebacker Anthony] Barr. In sub, they played him more as a defensive end. Minnesota was playing Barr at linebacker and end. It looks like they’ve committed more to really end with Mack. But he’s fast, he’s explosive. He’s got a lot of talent and he’s certainly made some good plays. Like any rookie, he’s got a lot to learn, but he’s a force out there.
Q: Schematically, how would you describe what Jason Tarver is trying to do with their defense? How is it different from what you’ve seen Kevin Coyle and Mike Zimmer do the past two weeks?
BB: I’d say they play more man-to-man, more press coverage. They mix their mans and their zones. They mix some pressure in there, more man pressure probably than zone pressure. So, I’d say more man-to-man than we’ve seen the last couple weeks. Although, we’ve seen our share of man-to-man, too. Certainly Minnesota gave it to us. But, you know, they mix it up. Coach Allen has a bunch of different packages, pressure packages. But in the end, you have to block the guys up front. It starts there. That will be a big challenge for us. But they’ve got a good mix with I’d say a good amount of man-to-man.
Q: As it pertains to the possible drug policy, have you gotten any further guidance from the league and what that could mean for your players?
Q: So they don’t give you any guidance.
BB: I don’t know. I know nothing. Zero.
Q: So no indication whether you could have a player or two back this weekend?
BB: No idea. Nope. Until we get notified of anything, we get notified of anything.
Q: What do you see from their receiving corps? It seems like they have a couple of fast guys in Rod Streater and James Jones.
BB: Well, you know, Jones I’d say in particular, is very athletic. He has a lot of acrobatic type catches, too. He has great timing, leaping ability and big hands. He’s been very, I don’t want to say go-to guy, but they’ve gone to him. I mean, the catch against the Jets was a tremendous play to even make the catch, then to get his feet in bounds and all that. He’s a very good receiver, that’s a big target, that’s got a big catch radius, got great hands and great jumping ability.