Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork can’t play every down anymore. Nor do the Patriots want him playing all the time anymore.

After playing 64 of 69 snaps in Buffalo against the Bills, Wilfork’s snaps fell to 78 percent (68 of 87 snaps) against the Jets. Still, Wilfork is certainly on pace to earn his 70 percent participation clause that will kick in his $3 million guarantee. He has already played 78.9 percent of his snaps this season. His 377 snaps is 162 more than Chris Jones, the next closest on the line.

But with injuries to Sealver Siliga and Chandler Jones and the departure of Tommy Kelly, there’s a need to make sure there’s insurance behind Wilfork.

This is what the Patriots had in mind when they drafted Dominique Easley and Zach Moore and signed Casey Walker off the Carolina Panthers practice squad in late September. It’s why they have brought in Alan Branch to see if they can resurrect his career after some off-the-field transgressions.

But most of the focus now is on Easley, a player like Wilfork who could make the transition from inside to outside on the defensive line.

“Easley has really played all those spots across the board from college and even back from when we had him here in the spring and then when he was able to practice in training camp,” coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “He’€™s worked all the way from outside the tight end to on the center’€™s nose, so everywhere in between: zero to two-I, three, four, five, six, seven, nine. He’€™s been at every spot.

“That is unusual. He’€™s got a unique set of skills that allow him to do that. [He'€™s] quick enough to play outside, enough playing strength to play inside, to a degree. Good instinctiveness in terms of recognizing blocking schemes. There are a lot of different things that can happen when you’€™re in there between a guard and a center or a guard and tackle compared to when you’€™re outside of a tight end. You’€™re seeing the game kind of from the inside out as opposed from the outside in. it’€™s different. I’€™d say there aren’€™t a lot of guys that comes real easy to. There are a few, but not a lot.”

While Easley (295 pounds) is a good 40 pounds lighter than Wilfork, Belichick sees a lot of similarities.

“Vince is very instinctive, no matter where ‘€“ not that he’€™s going to go play probably in a nine-technique but I think center, guard, tackle and on the tight end. I think he instinctively does things well there. Same thing at the linebacker position, a guy like [Dont'€™a] Hightower can play at the end of the line, can play in the tackle bubble, guard bubble, could play as a middle linebacker over the center.

“It’€™s hard to find those guys that have those kind of instinctiveness that can see a game, I don’€™t want to say equally well, but pretty equally well at those different spots. It’€™s a lot different looking at the game outside in and opposed to looking at it from inside out and being able to flip back and forth and do that, not everybody can do it by a long stretch. It takes physical talent but it also takes a mental and an instinctive skill to be able to handle that transition too. I’€™d say that’€™s pretty unique having guys like that.”

Out of the University of Florida, the word used on Easley was disruptive. Has Belichick seen that quality in Easley’s rookie season to date?

“Yeah, sure, absolutely,” Belichick said. “I think the ability to be disruptive, to cause offenses to do something a little bit different, whether it’€™s eating up a second blocker, whether it’€™s creating pressure on a pass rush, whether it’€™s recognizing something and reacting into it so that it’€™s kind of in the middle of the play that fouls it up. It could be the anticipation: snap counts or draws, screens, plays like that; interceptions, tipped balls.

“There’€™s a whole element of that. It’€™s not one thing but when you combine it all together, like the play he had against Minnesota. I don’€™t know how many guys make that play. I’€™d say not everybody. There’€™s an element of that. Being aware of the ball and being able to get to it and being able to make that play, I think that’€™s an example of some guys can make those kind of plays and some guys have a harder time making them.”

Here are some other Belichick takeaways on potential contributors on the defensive line as the season goes on:

On Concordia University product Zach Moore: “Every day is a learning experience. Just the overall level of program from everything: training to preparation to film study to practice to the level of players that he’€™s competing against and the techniques that those players have all relative to what he’€™s seen is a big gap. The preparation every day in the classroom with Brendan, Coach Daly, with some of our other veteran players like Chandler [Jones], like Rob [Ninkovich], like Vince, guys like that, just working with him, working against guys like [Nate] Solder and [Sebastian] Vollmer and [Marcus] Cannon, plus the guys we play against on Sunday. That’€™s not the type of competition that he was seeing at Concordia. I think all those things: the kicking game, the length of the season, the grind of the week and the season and obviously training camp, even all the way back to the spring. But he’€™s a smart kid, he works hard. He’€™s the first guy in the meeting room every day. He’€™s there with his pencil sharp and his notebook open. He’€™s ready to learn. He absorbs information well. He has a lot of it to take in but he takes it in and processes it and moves along. I think he’€™s made a lot of progress this year. He’€™s got a long way to go, but considering where he came from in terms of his experience, he’€™s gained a ton of it and he gets better every day. I like his work ethic, I like his commitment, his diligence, his perseverance. It hasn’€™t seemed to have worn him down abnormally, any more than anybody else. He hangs with it and works hard at it.

On nose tackle Casey Walker and his development in the time that’€™s been here and how he’€™s helped stabilize the middle of that line?

BB: I think Casey has worked hard since he’€™s been here. He played in preseason at Carolina then was on the practice squad. Probably wasn’€™t getting as much work, but came in and worked hard on his conditioning, doing extra things after practice in terms of conditioning. Then he spent quite a bit of time with Coach [Brendan] Daly, just as far as our techniques and our communication and our calls. Vince [Wilfork], Chris [Jones] have done a good job with him too. I think it’€™s getting better. I think there’€™s still a ways to go. He’€™s got good playing strength. He’€™s got some quickness for a guy his size. Decent technique player, but still a lot of things he needs to work on. I think he’€™s making progress day by day. It’€™s been steady. It’€™s been consistent.

Q: Would you say the split is pretty even between conditioning and getting up to speed with the system and technique?

BB: No. I’€™d say that learning the system and learning the techniques and all that was the biggest thing for him. But I think there were other things too. It’€™s not, we’€™re not talking about a 12-year veteran here. His playing time in this league has been limited. But he was in the league last year. He played again in preseason this year. He’€™s definitely got some experience, some background. He’€™s not a pure rookie. But again, he hasn’€™t had a lot of game experience. So, I think a lot of the things that happen in the game, preparation for games, things like that have just been more than what he’€™s done in the past. It’€™s nobody’€™s fault or anything, it’€™s just the circumstances of his situation.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — The news is not getting better on Chandler Jones.

FOXBORO — The news is not getting better on Chandler Jones.

According to a report from Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, the Patriots’ leading edge pass rusher will be out for at least six weeks with a hip injury, and could be done for the season with a hip injury.

Jones injured the hip in the 27-25 win over the Jets on Oct. 16 at Gillette Stadium. Howe cites a source that indicates the Patriots are “not optimistic” that Jones could return sooner than later based on an initial diagnosis of the injury. That source indicates that those close to Jones are preparing for the reality that he might have played his last snap in the regular season.

The loss of Jones could be particularly devastating to the Patriots long term because of their perennial trouble of generating pressure on the quarterback. That trouble could be highlighted in the next six weeks as they face some of the best quarterbacks in football, including Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers.

Jones leads the Patriots with 4.5 sacks this season and has 22 sacks since being taking in the first round in the 2012 draft.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — It’s been a long road to readiness for Brandon Browner.

Between a four-game suspension that cost him valuable time on the practice field with his teammates and an ankle injury, Browner has had his hurdles to overcome. But after playing 41 of the 87 defensive snaps against the Jets in Week 7 in his Patriots debut, Browner feels like he’s ready to take that next step.

“I think so, I think so,” Browner said Friday. “Brady Like they say, with practice makes perfect so my conditioning is getting a little better as the days go on.”

It was the first time Browner has been on the field with Darrelle Revis and while there’s speculation that Revis may not start Sunday against the Bears because of discipline for oversleeping Tuesday, Browner is looking forward to working with Revis to contain the dynamic duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. To do that, Browner knows he and Revis will have to make sure Marshall (6-foot-4) and Jeffrey (6-foot-3) don’t use their leverage off their breaks at the line of scrimmage.

“It’ll help him get off the jam most definitely but these guys in Chicago, they’ve got size and strength,” Browner said. “They’re tall. They can use their long length to grab you and pull them by.
“Cutler and Marshall have such good timing. Sometimes, his routes aren’t crisp but he’ll throw his hands in there because he’s created a little space toward the sidelines and he’s like, ‘Hey throw the ball over here. I’ve got a little space over here.’”

When Browner was signed in the offseason by the Patriots, there was the thinking that the Patriots got Browner for games like this where he could matchup physically with bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage and not let them break free in their routes. But Browner said Friday that he doesn’t look at it that way.

“I wouldn’t say anything like that. I’m here because they wanted me here,” Browner said. “It’s a good matchup for me this week, me and [Revis].”

Before playing in Seattle, Browner played four seasons for the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL, where he was a three time all-star and won a Grey Cup championship. In the CFL, he had a different challenge to deal with, receivers getting a running start off the line of scrimmage. In the NFL, he sees bigger and stronger receivers at the line of scrimmage who can use Browner’s aggressiveness against him.

“I wouldn’t say I got better but it is tough to put hands on somebody when they have a 10-yard head start running at you,” Browner said. “It’s a bigger target because they’re bigger but guys like that, like Marshall, he likes for guys to put hands on him so he can use that against you. He’ll grab and do his tug at the line of scrimmage.

“They both pose a different challenge. Here in the league, these are the best guys in the world at the game of football. Everybody here [runs] is 4.4, 4.3. You run a 4.3 at the combine, you’re liable to get drafted.”

Browner admits smaller receivers, like a Santonio Holmes (5-foot-11) or even Josh Morgan (6-foot-1), can pose their own unique problems.

“The little guys, the little quicker guys, I tend to have a little problem with those guys because they can duck under my jam at times,” Browner said.

With the story of locker room dissension growing in Seattle, Browner was asked if he had any reaction to the criticism of Russell Wilson.

“I’m not there anymore so I don’t care what’s going on in Seattle,” Browner said.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
The last time they faced Jay Cutler in 2010, the Patriots got the better of him, with a 36-7 win. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The last time they faced Jay Cutler in 2010, the Patriots got the better of him, with a 36-7 win. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s contest between the Patriots and Bears:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon (other than the Darrelle Revis-Brandon Marshall showdown, which we detailed here):

1. Running back Matt Forte against the Patriots defense: Forte is the driving aspect to the Bears defense — no other back in the league presents himself as much of a dual threat than the 29-year-old, at least according to Vince Wilfork. Forte leads the league in receptions (52, to go along with 436 receiving yards), is second in the league in combined yards from scrimmage (884, trailing only Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, who has 1,072), and is tops on the team in rushing (111 carries, 448 yards, three touchdowns). Stopping (or at least minimizing) the impact of the 6-foot-1, 221-pound Forte figures to be the top priority for the New England defense. With their size and depth in the secondary — the deepest part of the defense after the injuries up front and at linebacker — the Patriots likely feel pretty good about their chances when it comes to slowing down the supersize tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. While tight end Martellus Bennett remains a different story (more on him in a second), their ability to slow down Forte will likely play sizable role on Sunday afternoon.

2. Tight end Rob Gronkowski against the Bears linebackers and safeties: The Bears have struggled to defend tight ends in the passing game all year long — according to Football Outsiders, they are 30th in the league against opposing tight ends at 29.7 percent, having yielded an average of 7.8 catches and 69.9 passing yards per game against tight ends. And with Gronk back to what appears to be full-on Gronk status (18 catches on 30 targets for 262 yards and a touchdown in his last three games), this sets up to be a winnable matchup for New England. Last week against the Dolphins, Chicago frequently gave free release to Charles Clay and Dion Sims, and then struggled to catch up — the Miami duo ended up with a combined six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. If the Bears show the same sort of issues this week against Gronkowski and Tim Wright, the Patriots should make them pay.

3. Quarterback Jay Cutler against his instincts: Cutler against himself is really going to be one of the more fascinating battles of the afternoon. The Vandy product has some of the best arm strength in the league. At the same time, on a weekly basis, he manages to make at least one questionable decision. The quarterback tossed two interceptions in each of the team’s three previous losses heading into Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, and last week, he committed two more turnovers (an interception and a fumble) against Miami. According to ESPN, in each of the team’s four losses this season, Cutler’s turnovers have led to a total of 37 points for the opponent. That doesn’t bode well for Chicago, which is facing a New England team that enters this week’s action best in the league at plus-9, a stat that includes 14 takeaways (seven fumbles, seven interceptions).

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: It’s easy to get lost in an offense with high-profile names like Marshall, Jeffery and Forte, but Martellus Bennett has really done a good job as a consistent pass-catching presence for the Bears. The occasionally quirky 6-foot-6, 265-pound Bennett — who answers to the nickname “Black Unicorn” — has 41 catches for 422 yards and four touchdowns over the first seven games of the season. He’€™s been limited by a hamstring issue as of late, but given the fact that the Patriots have had issues when it comes to defending even mediocre tight ends in the passing game, he’ll be one to watch come Sunday afternoon.

5. By the numbers: 1 – Only one running back has more than four catches in a game against the Patriots this season (Minnesota’s Matt Asiata, who finished with five), while only two backs have more than 20 receiving yards against New England’s defense this season (Asiata with 48 and Minnesota’s Rhett Ellison, who had one catch for 24 yards in the same game). On the other side of the equation, Forte, who leads the league leader in receptions with 52, has caught at least five passes in every game this season and gone over 60 yards receiving four times. As they say, something has got to give on Sunday. (One more: Tom Brady and the Patriots have a 12-game winning streak against the NFC North — the only game Brady lost to an NFC North team was when he and the Patriots lost to the Packers at Gillette on Oct. 13, 2002 by a 28-10 margin.)

6. Quote of note: “The Gronk? I watch him all the time. He’s like the Terminator of tight ends. I enjoy watching him play. He’s just…like I say, he’s like the Terminator. … You look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, the way he moved in Terminators [he's] similar to Gronk. He’s a hell of a player. He does a lot of great things. It’ll be fun to talk to him before the game. He’s a great guy.” — Bennett on whether or not he watches Gronkowski

7. Patriots fans should be worried about… a consistent Cutler. A quarterback with the unique ability to keep both teams in the game at the same time, there’s a question as to what Cutler the Patriots will see Sunday. Will it be the steady and consistent Cutler, the one who leans on a reliable option like Forte, doesn’t take too many chances and makes solid (if unspectacular) decisions at the line? That was the one who showed earlier this season against the Niners, and was rewarded with an upset win in San Francisco, a game where he tossed four touchdown passes and completed 68 percent of his passes in a 28-20 win over the defending NFC champs. That quarterback deserves to be mentioned among the best in the league. Or will be bad Cutler, the one who checks down out of runs and into deep passes, tries to fit throws into the tightest of windows and turns the ball over at a scary clip? That was the guy who showed up last week against the Dolphins. If it’s the former, it could be a long day for the Patriots. If it’s the latter, it’ll be bad news for the Bears.

8. Bears fans should be worried about… Brady getting enough time in the pocket when it comes to pass protection. Our own Ryan Hannable did an impressive breakdown of the time the quarterback had to throw the ball as of late, and the amount of time he had against the Jets opposed to what he had to work with earlier in the year is astounding. Not all of that is on the offensive line — there’s been a concerted effort to get the ball out quickly in an attempt to try and negate the opposing rush. But at the same time, the fact that Brady’s numbers have spiked dramatically over the last few weeks is at least due in some part to the work of the offensive line. If that grouping can continue to give Brady the time he needs — a good bet, since it appears that center Bryan Stork and guard Dan Connolly will be able to come back this week after missing time because of head injuries — it’ll go a long way toward determining whether to not the Patriots will win this game.

9. One more thing: When it comes to game-planning for Forte, there’s one other possibility: On more than a few occasions in the past, the Patriots have entered the game with the understanding that a exemplary back is going to get his yards on the ground, no matter what you do, and it’s simply more advantageous to yield those yards on the ground because it’s better than the alternative. In Super Bowl XXI, the Giants allowed Thurman Thomas to pile up the yardage because it kept Buffalo’s fast-break offense in a lower gear. The same was true for Super Bowl XXXVI when facing the likes of the Rams and Marshall Faulk. To an extent, it was the same philosophy the Patriots utilized against the Broncos in the regular-season matchup last year, a game where Denver had 48 carries for 280 yards. (In that same game, Denver’s Peyton Manning was 19-for-36 for 150 passing yards.) Just a thought, but maybe the Patriots believe that if Forte is running the ball, that’s another minute that Cutler isn’t throwing it to the likes of Marshall, Jeffery or Bennett. Ultimately, maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the names Marshall Faulk and Thurman Thomas came up when talking about Forte this week. The same sort of game plan could be in store for the Tulane product.

10. Prediction:

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Hall of Famer Michael Irvin checks in with the Dale and Holley show and offers up some perspective on the Seahawks locker room situation, and whether the supposed discord amongst other players and quarterback Russell Wilson is part of the reason why the Seahawks have struggled on the field of late.

The Patriots will officially be without Chandler Jones on Sunday when they take on the Bears, as he is listed as out on the injury report with a hip injury. The injury is reportedly going to keep him sidelined for about a month.

The Patriots will officially be without Chandler Jones on Sunday when they take on the Bears, as he is listed as out on the injury report with a hip injury. The injury is reportedly going to keep him sidelined for about a month.

Shane Vereen popped up on the injury report for the first time this week on Friday as he missed practice with an illness. He is officially listed as questionable. With Stevan Ridley going down for the year two weeks ago against Buffalo, Vereen has taken over the No. 1 running back role, so his status is worth monitoring.

After missing last weeks game against the Jets due to concussions, offensive linemen Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly are listed as questionable, but it is promising the two practiced everyday this week, although on a limited basis.

Here is the complete injury report:

DE Chandler Jones (hip, did not practice)

OL Dan Connolly (concussion, limited participation)
DL Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee, limited participation)
DB Nate Ebner (finger, limited participation)
OL Cameron Fleming (finger, limited participation)
WR Matthew Slater (shoulder, limited participation)
OL Bryan Stork (concussion, limited participation)
RB Shane Vereen (illness, did not practice)

QB Tom Brady (ankle, full participation)
DB Brandon Browner (ankle, full participation)
LB Jamie Collins (thigh, full participation)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee, full participation)
S Devin McCourty (rib, full participation)

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

The Patriots have announced two signings to the practice squad as they have re-signed linebacker Ja’Gared Davis and signed rookie wide receiver Jonathan Krause.

Here is a portion of the press release from the team:

Davis, 24, was signed to the 53-man roster form the practice on Oct. 4 and played in three games before being released on Oct. 22. He did not record any statistics. The 6-foot, 238-pounder began the regular season on the practice squad after being released at the end of training camp. Davis spent the majority of his rookie season in 2013 on the Patriots’€™ practice squad, but did see action in one regular-season game and both postseason games after joining the 53-man roster. He was originally signed by Houston as a rookie free agent out of Southern Methodist on May 10, 2013, released by Houston on Aug. 27, 2013, and claimed off waivers and awarded to the Patriots on Aug. 28, 2013.

Krause, 22, was originally signed by Cleveland as a rookie free agent out of Vanderbilt on May 12, 2014. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, was released by Cleveland on Aug. 25, 2014. Krause had a career-year in 2013 for Vanderbilt, starting in 11 of 13 games and setting career highs with 42 receptions for 714 yards and three touchdowns. He finished his college career with 98 receptions for 1,197 yards and five touchdowns. Krause was also used as a punt returner in college, returning two punts for touchdowns as a junior in 2012.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Devin McCourty discusses the dangerous Bears offense.