Bill Belichick says Jay Cutler does a number of things well as the Patriots prepare for next Sunday's game against the Bears. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick says Jay Cutler does a number of things well as the Patriots prepare for next Sunday’s game against the Bears. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Through the first seven games of the season the Patriots have gone up against some of the more weaker quarterbacks in the NFL.

This will change this coming week when the Patriots host Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium. Belichick had nothing but high praise for the nine-year veteran on Sunday’€™s conference call.

“He’€™s got an excellent arm. He really can make any throw that you want him to make,” Belichick said. “He’€™s accurate on long throws, intermediate routes, comeback routes, inside cuts — on the catch and run plays, underneath the defense. Smart guy. Reads coverage’€™s well. Recognizes blitzes.

“He has a lot of weapons. He knows how to use them. There are different skill levels there and certainly he knows to use the size of receivers and tight ends and puts the ball where only they can get it — they can box out the defender. Gives their receivers a chance to make a play on the ball and a lot of the times they can just go up, box the defender out and rebound it, make a catch even though they are actually technically covered, but not well enough from keeping them from catching the ball. Cutler does all those things pretty well. He’€™s mobile. He’€™s a hard guy to get in the pocket, he has quickness and the ability to keep plays alive.”

Cutler enters play Sunday fifth in the league in passing yards with 1,628, as well as having the fifth-best completion percentage at 68.1. His 13 touchdown passes are also fifth in the league, tied with Tom Brady.

The Patriots passing defense will be put to the test as it entered Thursday’€™s contest with the Jets third in the NFL in passing defense and allowed 226 passing yards to Geno Smith. In four of the seven games, the defense has allowed 205 passing yards or fewer, while Cutler has thrown for 225 yards or more in five of his six games entering Sunday, including two, 300+ yard games.

The Bears will face the Dolphins Sunday and with the Dolphins being a member of the AFC East, Belichick said it will be helpful seeing Chicago face a team the Patriots are familiar with, having not played the Bears in four years and them having a completely different coaching staff.

“It’€™s somewhat helpful that we see them against a team we know well in Miami,” he said. “We’ll see how they matchup against players that we are very familiar with. Not saying we wouldn’€™t gain anything watching any of their other games. It’€™s always good to see them play a team — Jets, Miami — teams that we know well and know the personnel of our division teams and look at it relative to what they are doing against the Chicago guys and individual matchups. It gives you a better feel for it, but it’€™s not like we don’€™t get anything from watching other games. I do think you get a little bit more from watching a team you know well.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Let Pete Davidson of and help guide you in setting your Week 7 fantasy football lineups. Davidson will be answering all your questions, while advancing the fantasy football conversation, starting at 11 a.m. (For this week’s starts and sits, click here.) Get your questions in now:

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Tom Brady's stats through seven games this year are better than they were at the same point in 2013. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady‘s stats through seven games this year are better than they were at the same point in 2013. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With seven games in the books for the 2014 Patriots, the strengths and weaknesses of the team are starting to come into sharper focus. You can use stats to make any argument you want, but from this viewpoint, when given some context and deconstructed with the help of some film breakdown, they can be very illustrative, and help give a clearer picture of where a team succeeds or fails. With that in mind, here are 10 numbers that help shed some light on the state of the team after seven games, and where they could be headed the rest of the way.

1) 21.1 – The difference in passer rating for Tom Brady between the first seven games of the 2014 season when stacked against the first seven games of the 2014 season. (Brady’€™s rating for the first seven games of this season is 96.4, while he was at 75.3 over the first seven games of 2013.) Much of that is likely attributable to the presence of Rob Gronkowski — he missed the first six games of the 2013 season, and it took him a few games after that to get up to speed in the offense. This year, even though the big tight end only recently returned to 100 percent, he has a clear impact on several aspects of the offense, and the passing game in particular. Even when he’€™s a decoy, he opens things up underneath for other pass catchers like Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen.

Here’€™s a complete look at Brady’€™s numbers from the first seven games in 2013 measured against the first seven games of 2014:

2013: 158-for-285, 1,708 yards, 55 percent. 8 TDs, 5 INTs, 20 sacks
2014: 151-for-246, 1,775 yards, 62.1 percent, 13 TDs, 2 INTs, 13 sacks

2) 7 – The difference in sack totals for Brady from the first seven games of the 2013 season (20) to the first seven contests of the 2014 campaign (13). There are multiple reasons for the change — when you put a stopwatch on him, it’€™s clear that quicker release times have been the focus. But while there have been major issues with pass protection through the earlier part of the season — and pressures still remain an issue — things have started to even out slightly over the course of the last month. If the Patriots get center Bryan Stork and guard Dan Connolly back for next Sunday’€™s game against the Bears, those numbers should get better.

3) 0 – The number of pass plays of 40 yards or more the Patriots have allowed over the course of the first seven games of the season. The Patriots are the only team in the league to not yield a pass play of 40-plus yards to this point in the season. The old-school ‘€œGet The [Bleep] Back’€ directive has been employed to great effect this year, as the New England secondary hasn’€™t been beaten deep. At the same time, the priority or now allowing deep balls can occasionally be a double-edged sword, as it leaves a pass defense more vulnerable to shorter and intermediate pass plays. We’€™ve seen that on occasion, as teams have taken advantage of some softer spots in the Patriots secondary to occasionally pick up chunk yards in the passing game. But for a defense that was routinely torched by the long ball over the last four years, it’€™s a tradeoff they appear to be safe making.

4) 190 – The number of different offensive lineups used by the Patriots over the course of the first seven games, which includes seven different starting lineups. It’€™s not completely fair to judge New England against the rest of the league — the fact that the Patriots and Jets played on Thursday night throws the numbers slightly out of whack — but it’€™s unlikely any team will be able to surpass New England by the end of the week, as the Patriots are miles ahead of the rest of the league. The Jets are No. 2 at 156, and the Lions are next at 154 different lineup combinations on offense. (On the other end of the spectrum, the Broncos have utilized just 43 different lineup combinations.) Much of it has to do with the constant shuffling along the offensive line, but there has also been a lot of different combinations in the backfield as well.

5) 3 – The number of times the Patriots have allowed 190 or more rushing yards this season, which was first brought to our attention by colleague Kevin Duffy. In the opener, the Dolphins rushed for 191 yards, while the Chiefs hit for 207 in the Monday Night massacre last month. And on Thursday, the Jets rushed for 218 yards.  (To put this number in perspective, from 2005 through 2013, New England allowed 190-plus rushing yards five times.) The statistical damage has been minimized slightly because the Patriots have held their four other opponents (Minnesota, Oakland, Cincinnati and Buffalo) to less than 80 yards on the ground.

6) 144, 1,348 – The number of penalties and penalty yards the 2014 Patriots are on pace to finish with. They have 63 through seven games (not counting calls that were declined or offset) for 590 penalty yards. Both are tops in the league, but it’€™s important to remember that because of Thursday’€™s game, New England and the Jets have played seven games, while most of the rest of the league is still on six games. Not that it matters — the Patriots are 100 penalty yards ahead of their nearest competitor, the Redskins (480). Two important things to remember: one, the franchise record for penalties in a season is 114, set by the 1985 team, while the franchise record for most penalty yards in a season is 1,051, set by the 1992 team. And two, the league record for penalties in a season is 163, set by the 2012 Raiders, who also set the NFL mark for penalty yards in a season (1,358).

7) 0.5 – While there have been statistical gains when it comes to fewer sacks, when you stack the start of the 2013 season against the start of the 2014 season, the Patriots have seen a drop-off in yards per carry. Through seven games last year, the Patriots were averaging 4.2 yards per carry, one of the best averages in the league through that span (195 carries, 813 rushing yards). Through seven games in 2014, the Patriots are averaging 3.7 yards per carry (193 carries, 723 rushing yards). It doesn’€™t seem like a colossal difference, but over the course of a 16-game season, it starts to add up.

8) 6.6 – The difference, percentage-wise, in New England’€™s third-down defense over the first seven games. Last season through seven games, the Patriots defense held teams to a 39.4 conversion rate (43-for-109) on third down. This year, that number has ballooned to 46 percent rate (40-for-87), including strong third-down efforts by the Jets (56 percent) and Chiefs (58 percent).

9) .686 – Heading into Sunday’€™s slate of games, the combined winning percentage of the next six opponents on the Patriots schedule: Chicago (3-3) Denver (4-1), Colts (4-2), Lions (4-2), Packers (4-2), Chargers (5-1).

10) 5 – In truth, most of these numbers are just window dressing. Bill Belichick has said on several occasions that in the end, it comes down to an ability to score points and stop the opponents from scoring. And it it’€™s important to note that the Patriots have averaged five more points per game through the first seven games of the 2014 season (26.7 points per game) than they did through the first seven games of the 2013 season (21.7). The numbers on defense aren’€™t as positive, as those have gone from 18.1 points allowed in 2013 to 22 points per game in 2014. But the fact that the average point differential has gone from 3.6 points per game last year to 4.7 this season is a positive for this franchise.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely imperfect stat — a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback — it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown after seven regular-season games this year.

WR Julian Edelman: 44 catches on 65 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 31 catches on 56 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 24 catches on 35 targets
WR Brandon LaFell: 19 catches on 39 targets
TE Tim Wright: 10 catches on 11 targets
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 catches on 11 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 5 catches on 11 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: 4 catches on 5 targets
FB James Develin: 4 catches on 4 targets
RB James White: 3 catches on 3 targets
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 catches on 4 targets
RB Brandon Bolden: 2 catches on 4 targets
TE Michael Hoomananwanui: 2 catches on 2 targets
WR Brian Tyms: 1 catch on 2 targets

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
We check in with the playmaker, Hall of Famer Michael Irvin of the NFL Network joined Dale and Michael to break down and analyze Pats-Jets.

[0:00:06] ... him every Friday on the dale and -- program today's conversation with Michael Irvin. Is brought to you by town fair tire and the VA New England health care system hello Michael how are yeah. -- ...
[0:02:59] ... out. Say Michael I I believe I once heard you say that bill Belichick's name should be on the Lombardi trophy did -- members of. -- all here I was -- mode rather remote printer there ...
[0:06:57] ... remind me. Yeah and I got a lot up a -- from Troy Aikman but there was one around you said it was -- money route in -- knew that he called that. -- that was ...
[0:14:04] ... -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Eric Robert called a huge future because these guys trying to bomb. Basically -- -- so so the scripting that major all right now for our fortunate that important to shut anybody. Follow him on Twitter like we do at Michael -- 88 we talked him every Friday on the program Michael we always appreciate it we'll talk to next week. All right -- thanks -- Michael -- today's conversation with Michael Irvin has brought you by town fair tire and the VA New England health care system. Taking a yeah a very quick break ...

We check in with Tom E for a full breakdown of the Patriots close win over the Jets.

[0:00:25] ... been approved the computer I love that. -- -- -- -- -- Tom Brady last night on the NFL network post game after the patriots held up the New York Jets. Let's talk to Tom. SN any dot com Thomas brought to you by his hair doctor doctor Robert Leonard call 1800 get -- good afternoon Tom. What are -- how -- I'm had a pretty good. And fine thank -- pretty good day -- we -- -- we -- just having the that Tom Brady discussion. Over the last three games he's thrown for over nine -- He's thrown for double digit total in touchdowns no interceptions is Tom Brady back. 780109. Dale. 780109. And -- dating back to last year over the last sixteen games. Or not 30008. Pixel up over ...
[0:02:42] ... Tuesday shoot me shoot from the lip. -- -- -- -- Great entertainment value. But not a lot of work slot and they -- on his personality and not sustainable food at all Matt well I ...
[0:08:15] ... having made -- means you get caught ago. I think having Howard Jimmy Carter are -- call -- up or in the middle. Luckily mortuary you know pointing out he seemed to be available -- -- ...

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Jets head coach Rex Ryan, in a conference call on Friday, said that he took no issue with umpire Carl Paganelli repositioning Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower on the game’s final play — a blocked 58-yard fi

Jets coach Rex Ryan said that he took no issue with umpire Carl Paganelli's relocation of Dont'a Hightower on a game-ending blocked field goal. (Getty Images)

Jets coach Rex Ryan said that he took no issue with umpire Carl Paganelli’s relocation of Dont’a Hightower on a game-ending blocked field goal. (Getty Images)

Jets head coach Rex Ryan, in a conference call on Friday, said that he took no issue with umpire Carl Paganelli repositioning Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower on the game’s final play — a blocked 58-yard field goal attempt by Nick Folk — to avoid a penalty.

‘€œI think that’€™s the best officiating crew in the league, in my opinion,’€ Ryan told reporters in a conference call. ‘€œI think [referee Bill] Leavy and his crew do as good a job as anybody in the league. This league’€™s about protecting the players, and that’€™s the way it should be. If something like that happens, you’€™re trying to protect the player before something has a chance to happen. Obviously, that’€™s a good thing for the league.

‘€œNow, would I like to see it snapped there and [long-snapper Tanner Purdum] take one for the team and us to have another chance at it? Of course. It’€™s to protect the players. The official’€™s not wrong doing what he did.’€

Blog Author: 
Alex Speier