NFL notes: Winning turnover battle will be critical for Pats
Cause for alarm? Not at this stage, but it throws a caution flag out on the field heading into the regular season. It also gives us reason to examine some of the variables involved in the equation.
One of the long-standing trademarks of the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era has been winning the turnover battle. In each of the last three seasons, in fact, the team has been among NFLs best for having the best turnover differential.
A large factor for that success is that the Pats were so good at holding onto the football, Beyond Belichicks constant preaching on the subject, much of it has had to do with the players typically handling the ball.
Whether it was Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski or Danny Woodhead, they were pretty sure-handed.
While Welker did fumble twice last season, between receiving, rushing and return duties, it can be argued that two fumbles in 128 touches isnt bad. In six seasons with the Pats, totaling nearly 900 touches, Welker put the ball on the ground six times.
Gronkowski and Woodhead each recorded one fumble last season, while Hernandez had none. Woodhead was also given the ball in many situations, including kick returns because of his record of ball security. He registered three fumbles in three seasons, with close to 500 total touches.
With at least four rookies expected to be added into the mix this year, including Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Zach Sudfeld the latter one of the fumblers Thursday theyre going to have to show they can be depended upon to protect the football.
Ditto Shane Vereen. He figures to get more action as the third-down back, but will he be as reliable as Woodhead, or as Kevin Faulk learned to be before him?
Heres the point. If Pats arent as good at protecting the football as they have been in the past, it could put undue pressure on the defense.
The offense has been very good in not putting the defense in too many bad spots with turnovers. Its been the great equalizer, helping some less-than-stellar defenses stay afloat.
If those numbers turn drastically different, it will add stress on the other side of the ball. While the defense held up pretty well Thursday night in the first half, holding Detroit to just 16 points despite four turnovers, that cant be the norm.
No matter what, you have to (cover) their back, and they have to have your back, Faulk said when reached Friday.
Faulk, who is teaching and coaching at his alma mater, Carencro (La.) High, was coaching a football game Thursday night, so he missed seeing the Lions fiasco live.
I didnt watch, but I heard, Faulk with a laugh. Four turnovers coming out of the gate? We barely would have four turnovers in a season. Thats not a recipe for a successful season, Ill tell you that. Ball security; thats your job.
Faulk had a fumbling problem early in his career, but he cured it through hard work. He believes that fumble-prone Stevan Ridley and two of Thursday nights fumblers Vereen and Brandon Bolden can solve the problem, and that the Pats will be as dedicated as ever to protecting the football when the real games start.
This is what training camp and the preseason is for, to get all this out, he said. Theyll be OK. Theyll get an earful (this week from Belichick). That comes with the territory.
To wit, Belichick on Friday provided the ultimate answer when asked if he was sending a message to his players by sitting Sudfeld, Vereen and Bolden for a stretch after their fumbles.
Was it sending them a message? Our message has been the same here from Day One that ball security is of the highest priority for anybody that handles the ball; thats a message from Day One. I think that message has been delivered on a daily basis since we started practicing back in May, Belichick said. I dont think there are any new revelations about that message. Ball security is very important to anybody who handles the ball in any situation. There can be no mistake about the importance of it. There can be no mistake about that message. That message has been delivered ad nauseum.
Belichick influence felt
Belichick makes an impression not only on the players he coaches, but league-wide. How else do you explain Robert Griffin III, bringing up the name of the Patriots coach?
He used Belichick as a reference, just as one might use the term going postal. Only RG3, who has suffered some criticism due to a willingness to speak his mind, wasnt about to go all Belichick on the media. That isnt his style.
I sat down and talked to a few people to make a decision: Do I stop being who I am, stop being honest with you guys and give you guys ammunition to turn against this team, or do I just go into a shell and Bill Belichick it all week? Griffin said last week. Im just going to continue to be who I am. And if something like that does happen, you make the statement to make sure everybody gets its clear. But I dont think I can change who I am just because people are going to take my words and put them against me.
So no Belichicking it for him.
Anything but Sanchez?
Think the Jets are privately hoping praying that Geno Smith will do something rather obvious to beat out Mark Sanchez? The players sure sound as though theyre on board with Smith.
Said Jets guard Willie Colon of the rookie: Im most impressed with his composure. His ability to come out of the huddle and get the plays going and get guys lined up. It seems like he has a good grasp on the offense and hes a competitor so I have a lot of faith in him.
Jolly Roger lauds on Dez
Cowboys legend Roger Staubach tossed out some heavy praise for Dez Bryant after playing catch with the receiver during Thursdays Silver and Blue practice.
The Hall of Fame quarterback asserted Bryant was as good as any receiver in the National Football League.
Well if he stays healthy, there wont be a better receiver in the league than Dez Bryant, Staubach told the Dallas Morning News. I dont think theres anybody better at what he can do in the league and there are some great receivers in the league, but what he did in the second half of the year last year is as good as it gets.
He makes great plays, hes got speed, hes strong, he has great hands. (Ex-Dallas star) Drew Pearson was like a basketball player, and I wasnt afraid to throw it into a tight situation because I think he could figure out how to catch it. Some guys cant do that. I think Dez has the hands. He can do it. You can throw the ball in there and hes going to figure out how to get it, out of the hands of a linebacker or a defensive back.
When you have that kind of confidence in a receiver, and hes got the ability to do that. The way he played last year was fantastic and he seems like hes a good kid. Hes getting his life together. I dont know him. I just go on what I read. I was throwing to him tonight, though, so I tested him out. Hes a great receiver.
For the record, Bryant had an eight-game stretch last year in which he had 879 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Throwing it out there
Even though its hard imagining Tim Tebow coming in to a game to replace Tom Brady in order to run the option, its possible they might be on the field at the same time with Tebow lined up in the backfield.
With that in mind, Patriots historian Bob Hyldburg researched touchdown passes made by any other Patriots player in the Brady era. As it turns out, only six other players have thrown a touchdown pass for the Pats.
They are QBs Drew Bledsoe, Matt Cassel, Vinny Testaverde and Brian Hoyer, wide receiver David Patten and kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Meanwhile, the last time the Patriots had a running back throw a touchdown pass was on Nov. 23, 1997, when Dave Meggett did it. Dick Christy, Tom Yewcic, Andy Johnson, Craig James, Mosi Tatupu and Jon Vaughn have also thrown a halfback option pass for a touchdown in a regular-season game for the Patriots.
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