FOXBORO — When he met the media on Wednesday morning, quarterback Tom Brady noted several times the importance of getting off to a quick start against the Broncos on Sunday and playing with a lead against a Denver team that hasn’t had to deal with deficits for much of the season.

Certainly, one of the reasons Denver has been successful has been its ability to get out to some quick starts and play with a lead. The Broncos have outscored teams 121-71 in the first half, including a 37-19 edge after one quarter. When it comes to the Patriots, they’ve occasionally struggled out of the gate, but have scored on their first drive of the game in three of their last four contests, and have outscored opponents by a 48-30 margin in the first quarter on the year. For what it’s worth, New England’s most productive quarter of the season has been the second, as it has outscored the opposition by a 94-36 margin in that frame. That adds up to a 142-66 margin in the first half over the course of the first eight games of the season.

So if the Patriots win the toss on Sunday, would they take the ball? It would certainly run counter to their approach to this point in the season, and give them an opportunity to put the Broncos back on their heels. Here’s a look at how the coin toss has broken down, and what New England has decided to do when it wins.

vs. Chicago: Patriots win the toss, defer.
vs. New York Jets: Jets win the toss, defer.
vs. Buffalo: Patriots win the toss, defer.
vs. Cincinnati: Bengals win the toss, defer.
vs. Kansas City: Patriots win the toss, defer.
vs. Oakland: Patriots win the toss, defer.
vs. Minnesota: Patriots win the toss, defer.
vs. Miami: Dolphins win the toss, defer.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Sirius XM radio host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo joined Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday to discuss a variety of topics, including the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning debate and the situation with the Jets. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.


FOXBORO — Bill Belichick is repeating his admiration of Peyton Manning.

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick is repeating his admiration of Peyton Manning.

As he did during a conference call on Tuesday, the Patriots coach said the Broncos quarterback presents multiple challenges.

“He’s great. He’s obviously a great quarterback, the best quarterback I’ve coached against. He does a tremendous job,” Belichick said.

Belichick was asked if he gets more fired up to come up with a game plan to deal with Manning.

“Everybody is tough. I’m just saying relative to the Montanas or the Marinos or the Elways – and I’m not taking anything away from those guys – but this guy is tough.

“He’s good at everything. He’s good at everything. I see no weaknesses in his game.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Chris Russo

Chris Russo

Sirius XM radio host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo joined Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday to discuss a variety of topics, including the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning debate and the situation with the Jets. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Over the last decade, most of the conversation about the best quarterback in the NFL has surrounded Brady and Manning. While there still is doubt as to which one will leave the better legacy, Russo emphatically selected his go-to quarterback.

Said Russo: “No question about it, it’€™s Brady. He’€™s been in five Super Bowls, he’€™s won three. Manning is 11-13 in the postseason and Super Bowls. He’€™s a tremendous regular-season quarterback, but he’€™s not as good in the postseason. You have to give him a pass in the Seattle game last year. Seattle, they were beating anybody that day, so I don’€™t think Peyton gets any grief there. But again, you’ve got one guy who’€™s been in five Super Bowls, has won three of them. You’ve got another guy who’€™s been to three Super Bowls and has lost two of them. That’€™s how you get graded, that’€™s all there is to it.

“I put Brady right up there at four, five [in the top quarterbacks of all time]. And I put, myself, and a lot of people think I’€™m nuts, but I put Manning down there at eight, nine. They’€™re both great, but look who Manning’€™s had to work with, with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and good linemen and good conditions indoors. And Brady, name me a hall of fame receiver — Moss the one year. … Even in one of the losses in the Super Bowl, he was super. Manning, I can’€™t say that.”

Down in New York, the Jets have more than struggled this season and sit in last place in the AFC East. Most of the blame has been placed on coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik. Russo said Idzik’€™s ineptitude has caused much of the problems.

“Idzik is overmatched in New York City,” Russo said. “He doesn’t know how to handle the media, his drafts have been terrible, they don’€™t have a quarterback. … Woody Johnson, nobody has a lot of confidence in him. I wouldn’t consider him a big-time owner. He kind of hides behind philanthropy. I think they’€™re definitely afraid of firing Rex Ryan because all of us know that if Rex gets another job, he’€™s going to do good. He’€™s a good coach. I know he’€™s had a terrible year, but he doesn’t have a quarterback — Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Michael Vick. Even [Bill] Belichick‘€™s not winning with that consistently.”

Continued Russo: “They’€™re probably going to fire Rex. And it’€™s hard to survive 3-13. The media, I don’€™t think like Rex, is going to basically attack, attack, attack until somebody goes. I don’€™t think [Johnson] is going to fire Idzik. He did fire [Mike] Tannenbaum, which surprised me. He did fire [Eric] Mangini a long time ago, which surprised me. I think Idzik stays, they probably try to draft a QB and I think Rex departs. I think the Jets are a complete bottom-out mess. I didn’t like drafting Smith to begin with, I didn’t like him at West Virginia. … And it’€™s been a complete mess and a disaster. Plus they don’€™t have a secondary, that’€™s bad. The Jets right now are New York’€™s laughingstock and it’€™s a major, major problem.”

Switching sports, World Series Game 7 is set for Wednesday night, as Jeremy Guthrie will pitch against Tim Hudson. Though it’€™s the biggest baseball game of the year, ratings have been down, and Russo said he expects those numbers to remain low.

“I know Fox is very worried about the ratings,” Russo said. “They’ve had bad ratings this World Series. They’ve been basically back at 12 million. Here’€™s a stat for you: In 1980 Game 6, Phillies and the Royals, 54 million watched it. In 1982, the average rating in the seventh game between Milwaukee and St. Louis — 48 million. In 2001, the Yankees and Diamondbacks had 25 million for Game 7. If you get 15 million tonight, that is fortunate. So, yes, it’€™s a major, major issue.”

Blog Author: 
Andrew Battifarano Patriots writer Chris Price previews the Week 9 matchup between the Patriots and Broncos. Find out the keys to the game as well as Chris’ prediction:

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Peyton Manning will lead the Broncos into Foxboro this weekend. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Peyton Manning will lead the Broncos into Foxboro this weekend. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Here are five things you have to know about the Broncos, who will travel to Foxboro this weekend for a game against the Patriots.

1. Their receiving depth will present the greatest challenge of the season for the Patriots.

No team New England will face all season will feature the sort of depth in the passing game that the Broncos do. Denver has three legitimate threats in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (47 catches, 767 yards, six TDs) and Emmanuel Sanders (47 catches, 634 yards and four TDs), as well as tight end Julius Thomas (30 catches, 327 yards and nine TDs). If you’€™re doling out defensive assignments for the Patriots — with the understanding that it won’€™t be purely man coverage all afternoon — it might come down to Demaryius Thomas-Darrelle Revis and Sanders-Alfonzo Dennard (if healthy), while the bigger Brandon Browner could be assigned to try and slow down the sizable tight end Julius Thomas. (Linebacker Jamie Collins has struggled in coverage for much of the year, and had plenty of issues trying to slow down Thomas in last year’€™s AFC title game.) Everyone knows Peyton Manning’€™s greatness (2,134 passing yards, 69 percent completion rate, 22 TDs and only 3 picks through seven games), but on the flip side, if there’€™s a pass defense in the AFC that can slow down the Broncos, it just might be this one. This year, through eight games, the Patriots remain the only team that has yet to allow a pass play of 40-plus yards. They’€™ve allowed 210.9 yards per game passing this year (second-fewest in the NFL) compared to 239.0 (18th in the NFL) last year. Also, passes of 20-plus yards are down significantly — 74 in 2012 (worst in NFL), 55 last year (tied for 20th), 23 this year (tied for 15th). Simply put, the Patriots went out and got Revis and Browner for games like this. They are difference makers, and need to play as much on Sunday. (One more idle thought: Will we see the Patriots try and imitate Seattle’€™s Cover 3 approach on Sunday, going with press coverage off the line and a single safety deep? Food for thought.)

2. They are really good against the run.

The best way to beat Manning is to keep him off the field, and New England can accomplish that with some extended drives. At the same time, don’€™t expect anything like the 15-play scoring sequence it had last week against the Bears, the longest scoring drive of the season, because when you’€™re talking about the Patriots trying to control the tempo against the Broncos, it’€™s easier said than done. New England has lead back Stevan Ridley sidelined for the season, while the Broncos are the No. 1 run defense in the league, having yielded an average of 72.4 rushing yards per game. (Over the last four games, Denver has allowed 191 yards on 67 carries in that stretch — 2.9 yards per attempt.) It’€™s understandable that the Patriots probably don’€™t want to go toe to toe with the likes of Terrence “Pit Roast” Knighton, so there could be some misdirection when they try and run the ball with a cast that will include Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden. There’€™s also the possibility the possibility of utilizing the short passing game, trying screens and quick outs with short and intermediate routes. It would help Brady get the ball out as fast as possible, keep the tone and tempo in the hands of the Patriots and keep Manning and the Denver offense on the sidelines as long as possible.

3. They do a terrific job getting after the quarterback.

As is the case with the Patriots’€™ secondary and Denver’€™s offensive options in the passing game, this contest will present the biggest challenge of the year to New England’€™s offensive line. With center Bryan Stork back, as well as Dan Connolly returning to one of the guard positions (both spent time on the shelf because of concussion issues), the Patriots likely feel a little better about the state of the offensive line. But at the same time, the Broncos front seven is as tough a group as the Patriots are likely to see this year. DeMarcus Ware (6-foot-4, 258 pounds) and Von Miller (6-foot-3, 250 pounds) have a combined 16 sacks through seven games, the most for any NFL duo. They will present a stern test to not only the fortified interior, but also for tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. Both have played better as of late, but have yet to face the sort of combined pressure that Denver is capable of delivering. As a counter, expect New England to try and run some counters and misdirections in an attempt to slow down the pass rush.

4. If there’€™s an area of offensive uncertainty — not weakness, but uncertainty — it’€™s the running game.

The Broncos lost Knowshon Moreno in the offseason, but in typical Denver fashion, it simply plugged in another running back. Ronnie Hillman is a 23-year-old in his third year in the league out of San Diego State. The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder is in his first full year as a starter, and has 75 carries for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns through seven games. That includes at least 100 yards on the ground in two of Denver’€™s last three contests. Hillman took over for Montee Ball, who went down with a groin injury earlier this year. (Ball is not expected to play Sunday against the Patriots.) As a team, the Broncos’€™ running game is relatively pedestrian — Denver is 21st in the league, averaging 101.4 rushing yards per game. This sounds strange when you’€™re talking about a team that has struggled to stop the run most of the season (the Patriots are 25th in the league, having yielded an average of 129.6 rushing yards per game), but the idea of the Broncos running the ball is far more palatable than Peyton Manning slinging it all over the lot.

5. They have done relatively well when it comes to minimizing damage done by elite-level tight ends.

Rob Gronkowski figures to be the center of the New England passing game on Sunday, as the big tight end is on a hot streak the likes of which we haven’€™t seen in a few years. In his last four games, Gronkowski 27 catches for 411 yards and four touchdowns. However, the Broncos have some experience this year when it comes to high-flying tight ends. San Diego’€™s Antonio Gates (five catches, 54 yards, two touchdowns), San Francisco’€™s Vernon Davis (two catches, 21 yards) and Kansas City’€™s Travis Kelce (four catches, 81 yards) weren’€™t exactly silenced when they faced the Broncos, but all three ended up with stat lines well below their season average. If their work earlier in the year is any indication, Denver will likely use a combination of defenders in trying to slow down Gronkowski, a group that includes safeties T.J. Ward and Rahim Moore and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. (Patriots fans will remember Ward as the guy who put the season-ending hit on Gronkowski last year, which likely provoked this stare from Patriots coach Bill Belichick.) One stat to throw into the mix when you’€™re talking about the Broncos and Gronkowski: in three career games against Denver, Gronkowski has 15 catches for 178 yards and one touchdown.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
We check in with Peter King of SI and the MMQB and get his breakdown of Brady-Manning 16.
Jonas Gray

Jonas Gray

Every week, we list the Patriots’€™€™ “offensive touches,”€€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Here’€™€™s a breakdown of the 2014 New England offense after eight games:

RB Stevan Ridley: 98 (94 carries, 4 catches), 8 negative runs
RB Shane Vereen: 85 (58 carries, 27 catches) 1 negative catch, 2 negative runs
WR Julian Edelman: 51 (6 carries, 45 catches)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 40 (40 catches)
WR Brandon LaFell: 30 (30 catches)
RB Jonas Gray: 20 (20 carries)
TE Tim Wright: 18 (1 carry, 17 catches), 1 negative rush
RB Brandon Bolden: 17 (16 carries, 1 catch), 2 negative runs
QB Tom Brady: 15 (15 carries), 13 sacks, 5 kneeldowns
RB James White: 12 (9 carries, 3 catches)
WR Danny Amendola: 7 (7 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 (6 catches)
FB James Develin: 5 (1 carry, 4 catches)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: 4 (4 carries) 2 sack, 4 kneeldowns
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 (3 catches)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 2 (2 catches)
WR Brian Tyms: 1 (1 catch)

Notes: Not including kneeldowns, the Patriots had two negative plays from scrimmage on Sunday –” one sack of Garoppolo and one negative run by Wright. That ties a season-low — they had two in the September win over the Vikings. … On the season, New England has run 531 plays from scrimmage, and 30 of them have gone for negative yardage, not including kneeldowns. …  Against the Bears, the Patriots ran 71 plays, with 21 of them in shotgun (30 percent). … In addition, 6 of their 71 snaps (8 percent) were no-huddle. … On the season, the Patriots have run 39 of their 531 plays out of no-huddle (7 percent) and 151 snaps in shotgun (32 percent). By way of comparison, over the course of the 2013 regular season, the Patriots were in shotgun for 42 percent of their offensive snaps and they ran no-huddle on 11 percent of their snaps.

By way of comparison, here’s a breakdown of the Patriots’ touches through eight games in 2013.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

The Patriots have officially announced the trade for linebacker Jonathan Casillas. To make room for him on the roster, they have released offensive lineman Chris Barker.

Here’s a portion of the statement from the team on the moves:

Casillas, 27, is in his sixth NFL season with Tampa Bay (2013-14) and New Orleans (2009-12). The 6-foot-1, 227-pounder, originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent out of Wisconsin with the New Orleans Saints in 2009. He has played in 55 games with 15 starts and has registered 138 total tackles, three sacks, five passes defensed, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 26 special teams tackles. Casillas has also played in four postseason games with the Saints, including Super Bowl XLIV. After four seasons with the saints, Casillas signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent on March 14, 2013. He played in five games with three starts for the Buccaneers in 2014 and accumulated nine total tackles.

Barker, 24, was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster prior to the Jets game on Oct. 16 and played in the game on special teams. He was inactive for the Bears game. Barker was released by the Patriots on Sept. 1, 2014, and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 3. The 6-foot-2, 310-pounder is in his second NFL season after spending the entire 2013 season on the New England roster. Barker was claimed off waivers and awarded to the Patriots from Miami on Sept. 1, 2013. Barker was originally signed by Miami as a rookie free agent out of Nevada on May 3, 2013, but was released on Aug. 31, 2013.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price