NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday morning to preview Sunday's Patriots-49ers game and discuss news from around the league.
Although the Patriots blew out the Texans on Monday, Lombardi said the 49ers game will be much more difficult.
“I think San Francisco is really good,” Lombardi said. “I think this will be the toughest challenge the Patriots face all season. This is a championship-level defense. There are not a lot of easy plays. … This is one of the best teams in the National Football League keeping you off the field. They have great speed, they can run, so there are not a lot of easy plays and there are not a lot of easy yards. You are going to have to make some chunk yards up the field on them, you’re going to have to make explosive plays on them, which is hard to do against them. … You’re going to have to put your foot in the ground and get the ball moving north and south and maximize your drives. Really make sure that your focus and concentration is at the highest level because this will be a challenge for 60 minutes.”
Although the 49ers defense is good, Lombardi said that San Francisco has to be careful about covering the middle of the field.
“The concern if you’re a 49ers fan is how they’re going to handle the slot, how they’re going to handle the middle of the defense in terms of [Wes] Welker, in terms of trying to handle [Aaron] Hernandez, what’s the matchup there,” Lombardi said. “Now, people say they have Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, they could probably do it. Well, those guys can cover, but this is a unique situation in terms of covering the middle of the field. If they try to blitz Tom [Brady], it does the Patriots more good than harm. … I think they’re going to play their game. One thing about the 49ers is there’s really no secret to what they do; you’ve just got to beat them.”
Jim Harbaugh made a quarterback change earlier in the season after starter Alex Smith was out with a concussion. Colin Kaepernick has been starting even though Smith has been medically cleared to play, and Lombardi agrees with the decision.
“It makes all the sense in the world to me because I think it’s an illusion offense,” Lombardi said. “Here’s why: When you watch them closely, they’ve thrown for more than 2,500 yards, they’ve run for 2,100 yards. They really want to run the football, and part of the reason they want to run the football is much like the Houston Texans but in a different way. Their offensive line struggles. They're 28th in the league in holding calls. They're 28th in the league in sacks allowed. So, they can’t really pass protect. … When they have to drop back and pass, it becomes a problem. What I think Harbaugh has done is he’s made it look like we’re putting Kaepernick in to pretend he’s Randall Cunningham to let him run around here. The reality of it is we want to be able to run the football and make explosive plays running. … I think it’s an illusion-type thing. He’s made everybody become distracted on one thing while they’re doing something else.”
Lombardi agreed that the Patriots secondary has improved since Aqib Talib began playing at the corner, leaving Devin McCourty to concentrate at safety.
“Certainly better safety play,” Lombardi said. “Look at the last few games where they’ve gotten turnovers. They’ve made plays from the safety position, whether it was [Steve] Gregory’s interception on the Jets … to McCourty’s interception on [Matt] Schaub. … When you get range plays from your safety, it really helps you. You’re not giving up big plays, you’re not giving up chunk yards. … They’re moving more on defense and when you have big physical defenders like they do in New England and you move them, they become a real problem to block.”
Rob Gronkowski has not practiced this week, but Lombardi says it is important that the Patriots get him back on the field before the playoffs so that he can be ready.
“I think Gronk has got to play,” Lombardi said. “You’ve got to play football if you’re cleared to play. … I think once he’s cleared to play, you’ve got to get him some reps and depending on where they are in the playoffs and especially if you have to play in Round 1. You want to make sure he’s not going into Round 1 without getting any reps.”
Following are more highlights from the interview.
On the Patriots' win over the Texans on Monday night: "We said it last week. We said whoever won the first quarter was going to win the game. I think the Texans proved to me that they have to play a style that they have to play from in front. When they got behind 14-0 and the Patriots said, OK, where’s your drop-back passing game?, and the answer was, We don’t have one, you know we can’t play catchup. You cannot play Tom Brady in that kind of coverage and think you’re going to be able to be successful. … There were a couple throws that probably Tom would like to have back. I don’t even think the Patriots played their ‘A’ game in terms of their offense, but they were good enough.
On reports linking Lombardi to a job with the Browns: “The reality is I don’t know, I really don’t know what’s going to happen or transpire. … As for Cleveland, I don’t know what they’re going to do; they’re on a three-game winning streak. I was there once in Cleveland and we left. So I don’t know what’s going to transpire at the end of the season, what they do in Cleveland, or what’s going to happen in the NFL as it relates to me going back in.”
On the report that Lombardi and Bill Belichick chat during the week: “One thing about Bill and myself and our relationship … we like football together. I don’t think I help Bill in any way, at all. But we talk about football. … I ask more questions of him than he would probably ask of me. It’s a situation where you have a thirst for knowledge and you want to try to understand this. I think you go to the people that you trust and respect and you ask them questions as I do with Bill sometimes on teams.”
On the league MVP race: "I think it’s really hard. … Is it Tom Brady? Is it Peyton Manning? I think it’s going to be between those two guys. … Tom’s doing it at a level where it is very quiet how he is doing it. … And then of course Peyton Manning’s comeback. I think he’s certainly the Comeback Player of the Year, if not for Adrian Peterson, they should share it."
On former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruling in favor of the Saints players in the bounty scandal: “I think what Tagliabue did was right. I never thought you could blame the players for following out orders. That’s what they get paid to do. They’re coached and lectured each day from peewee football to do what your coach tells you to do, and they were doing it. To suspend players and to fine players who were carrying out orders, to me, never seemed right.”
Dr. Tony Schena joined the show to give insight into what lies ahead for Rob Gronkowski. He said a tough road is in front of the Patriots tight end.
We discuss the improbable win over the Browns and the loss of Rob Gronkowski with Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick on Patriots Monday.
Ninkovich sits in with Mut and Merloni to look back at yesterday’s comeback win against the Browns. Rob also explains the range of emotions the team experienced after Rob Gronkowski suffered a potentially season ending injury.
Eagle checks in to give Grande and Max a perspective on the Brooklyn Nets after they acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett via trade earlier this summer. He breaks down what he thinks the future holds for the Nets after completing this blockbuster deal.
Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell take some time and look back at the history between the Celtics and the Lakers, specifically the legendary rivalry between Magic and Bird. Legendary broadcaster, Ian Eagle, checks in to give the Brooklyn perspective as KG and Paul Pierce settle into their new home. Sean and Max also reveal the behind the scenes details surrounding Max’s famous “I got the ball” moment.
In the first hour of this edition of the Celtics Summer Cooler, Grande and Max analyze the trade that sent Fab Melo out of Boston. Also in this hour, Max sets the story straight about his history with Larry Bird.
Buster joins Mut and Merloni live at the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Buster explains that the market for Stephen Drew has cooled off considerably and executives around the league believe he will return to Boston.
Hazen talks with Mut and Merloni about the on-going offseason process. Mike explains how the Red Sox dove in to free agency immediately after the team’s World Series win. He also explains how the team creates opportunities for young players that are ready to make the jump to the Major League level.
Cherington sits in with Mut and Lou to talk about the Red Sox heading into 2014. Ben breaks down the signing of Edward Mujica and what’s on the table at this year’s meetings.
Shawn Thornton joined the show and discussed the teams long layoff leading into their game tomorrow night in Montreal. He told the guys that he anticipates fighting being a part of hockey for years to come.
Lucic joins Danny Picard to talk some hockey after the team’s overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes. Danny asks Lucic about David Krejci’s game winner yesterday and hockey outsiders that are trying to change the game.
Shawn Thornton joined the show fresh off his big night at MSG and talked about his recent goal scoring prowess. Shawn said that no matter who his line mates are he is always going to be a fourth liner.
The top stories of the day as recounted by Kirk Minihane. Today the guys went over a list of the most annoying people to see on your flight.
The guys opened the show discussing the great reception Doc Rivers got last night at The Garden. They said it was not surprising and well deserved.
Boston College running back Andre Williams joined the show and discussed his record setting season. He said that he will work on his acceptance speech on the flight down to New York.
Jackie MacMullan joins the show to discuss the return of Doc Rivers to Boston and what really happened during the offseason that led to Doc's departure.
Brick joins Mut and Merloni to discuss Shawn Thornton's on ice actions last week against the Penguins and what type of suspension he may be facing.
Mut and Merloni react to Doc Rivers' emotional return to Boston and they discuss the way he left the Celtics.
We debate the hit, and what Shawn Thornton deserves to get and will get for a suspension from the NHL when he faces his discipline hearing on Friday for his K/O hit of the Penguins Brooks Orpik.
We check in with Jack Edwards of NESN and focus on the Bruins, and more specifically Sean Thornton's upcoming discipline hearing for his cheap-shot hit on Brooks Orpik of the Penguins.
We focus on multi-sport athletes in today's four topics at 4PM.
Ryder talks with WEEI.com's Chris Price about the Patriots upcoming game with the Cleveland Browns, and Stevan Ridley's status on the team.
Alex joins the show and gives his thoughts on the Jacoby Ellsbury deal, and what prospects the Red Sox have to fill the hole left in the lineup, or trade pieces to get a player who can fill the void.
John talks to Rob and gets his thoughts on the Yankees signing Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox signing AJ Pierzynski, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia signing with Miami.
No Jenny Dell today, but Mikey's back and we're answering questions bitches!
We answer what you ask... and by we mean Salk, Holley and special guest Jenny Dell of NESN!
Answering questions, its what we do.
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