Around the AFC East

With the Dolphins getting ready for the second of their three consecutive games against AFC East opponents, we take a quick look around the division.

BUFFALO BILLS

The Bills say they aren't worried about the Dolphins' practice of studying audio of opposing quarterback's cadence and signal calls, something that caused a mini-stir following Miami's 21-0 victory over New England last Sunday.

Miami sacked Tom Brady four times and held him to 74 yards passing, and several players said after the game they had a very good read on what he was trying to do when barking out signals at the line of scrimmage.

Coach Nick Saban said he regularly provides audio clips, gleaned from a TV copy of NFL games, to his players to they can study and pick up the nuances of a quarterback's cadence. Saban said he's been doing that dating to his days as Cleveland's defensive coordinator "100 years ago. All teams do it."

Coach Dick Jauron said he prefers to have his coaches study an opponent's protection schemes and what clues they can find in how they line up, that sort of thing. Studying audio may help in preparing for quarterbacks like Peyton Manning or Brady who do a ton of changing plays at the line.

But Losman doesn't operate that way, and Bills center Melvin Fowler is also responsible for making protection calls.

"I think it's impossible (to figure us out)," Losman said. "I do different things, and the necessary checks come from Melvin and myself. They don't really know which one is right. Melvin might say something and I'll say something different. We'll see what happens."

Said Jauron: "We, like every other team, spend a great deal of time on protections and on pressures so we don't spend a whole lot of time at the line. If you felt like they had some insight into what you we're doing, you can easily cross that up. So we won't spend any more time on it than we normally do, but we normally spend a great deal of time on protection and pressures."

-- Owner Ralph Wilson released the following statement on the death of Chiefs owner and fellow AFL pioneer Lamar Hunt: "Everyone who follows professional football has lost a great friend in the passing of Lamar Hunt. He was an unparalleled fighter battling a serious disease for 8 1/2 years. He was responsible for bringing the game to all parts of the United States. He was respectful and generous to everybody. I have tears in my eyes in expressing my condolences to Norma and his family."

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Josh Miller had a 45.1-yard average and netted 38.3 yards per punt in 2005. Both of those numbers ranked him near the top of the NFL standings and made Miller a Pro Bowl candidate. He was on his way to having another good year before a shoulder injury forced the Patriots to put Miller on injured reserve. It was obvious something wasn't right with Miller because he only averaged 37 yards per punt in his last two games before being put on the shelf for the rest of the season.

After Miller went down, the team brought in Ken Walter to handle the punting duties. Walter played for the Patriots from 2001-2003, winning two Super Bowl rings with New England. Despite the fact that Walter was out of football in 2005, coach Bill Belichick felt comfortable signing him because of his familiarity with the punter.

"I think a big part of the decision with Kenny is as much about the holding as it is the punting," Belichick said shortly after Walter was signed. "He's done both for us in the past."

Walter has done a fine job as a holder on field-goal attempts, but his punting has been sporadic. After three games, Walter was averaging just 35.9 yards per punt while netting a dismal 32.9. In his first two outings against the Bears and Lions, Walter's punts may have been short, but they were also high enough to not allow a return in either game.

Walter, however, struggled in New England's loss at Miami. He had a miserable performance, netting just 29.0 yards on seven punts. Three of his punts were short line drives that Wes Welker caught on the run to set up Miami's offense on the Patriots side of the field.

To make matters worse, Dolphins punter Donnie Jones pinned the Patriots inside the 5-yard line three times. In a defensive battle where field position was important, punting certainly weighed heavily in the outcome.

"We didn't have the ball outside our 30-yard line to start until the middle of the fourth quarter," Belichick said. "We were playing on a long field, and we didn't do anything to really significantly change that field position. They did a good job of that, and we didn't do a good enough job of it. I'm not saying it's anybody's fault, but that's the way it was. That's not a good situation to be in."

If Walter's struggles continue, the team may have to look at other options as the postseason nears. Right now, that would involve either bringing in another punter or signing Danny Baugher off the practice squad. Baugher is in his first season out of the University of Arizona. As a senior, he was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award that recognizes the nation's top punter. Baugher was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 10 and has never attempted a punt in the NFL.

The Patriots had the luxury of being stable at punter in recent years thanks to the play of Miller. However, even though the team now has a new punter with a different style, it doesn't affect the coverage unit. According to special teams captain Larry Izzo, every member of the coverage team still has the same job to do whether it's Miller, Walter, Baugher or anyone else punting the football.

"I think there's a difference in Josh and Kenny in the way they kick, but it doesn't affect us much," Izzo said. "It still comes down to us doing our job. We have the same responsibilities no matter who's back there. Kenny is a big hang-time punter, while Josh gets more distance on his kicks, but our responsibilities are still the same in coverage. The only difference is the guy back there punting the ball."

The Patriots' 21-0 loss to Miami showed how good and bad punting can help decide the outcome of a football game. Walter better improve on that bleak performance and do so quickly.

PLAYER NOTES

-- NT Vince Wilfork, TE Benjamin Watson and S Rodney Harrison weren't present for the media-access portion of Thursday's practice. Wilfork and Watson both left Sunday's loss to the Miami in the third quarter with leg injuries and didn't return. They are both listed as questionable for this week, Wilfork with an ankle injury and Watson a knee ailment. Harrison has been out the past month with a broken shoulder, but he's been upgraded to doubtful for Sunday's game.

-- The Patriots have more ailing tight ends. Despite playing last week, Daniel Graham (ankle) is questionable for Sunday's game with the Texans. Meanwhile, O.J. Santiago, who was signed Wednesday, has already found his way onto the injury report. Santiago is listed as questionable for Sunday with a foot ailment.

-- RB Laurence Maroney missed last week's game with a bad back. He remains listed on the Patriots' injury report as questionable for this week.

-- WR Chad Jackson (groin) has missed the past two games. He's questionable for this week's contest with the Texans.

-- DL Mike Wright (shoulder) has been added to the injury report. He's questionable for Sunday's game.

-- LB Tedy Bruschi wasn't in a good mood Thursday. He snapped at a reporter for asking a question he just answered regarding Tom Brady's comments that the team needs to listen to its coaches more. The exchange went on for about a minute, with Bruschi later apologizing to the reporter for losing his temper.

NEW YORK JETS

It's become quite apparent in 2006 that Chad Pennington drives the Jets.

"As the quarterback goes, so does the team usually," Pennington said. "If a quarterback in this league can manage a game appropriately, even if he doesn't have huge numbers, your team will have a chance to win in the end."

Pennington had 14 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions on the season, but he has 10 TDs and four picks in the Jets' seven victories. In their six losses, he has four touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, including one returned for a 58-yard touchdown by Buffalo's Nate Clements last week.

"That really shows you how important it is to protect the football," Pennington said this week of the disparity in his statistics as the Jets prepare to visit Minnesota. "That's something that I need to improve on, something that in the past that I've been relatively good at, and this year I haven't done a good job of that. I definitely need to protect the football at all costs. Even when our offense isn't being as productive as we would like for it to be, you still have to take care of the football and make sure at the end of the game you have a chance to win. That's all you ask for."

Although the Minnesota defense is 27th in the NFL in passing yards per game, allowing 228.8, the Vikings have picked off 18 passes and permitted only 13 touchdown throws.

As for his own inconsistency, Pennington said, "I think there are multiple reasons. One could be getting used to the new system. Another could be forcing some throws. Another could be just mere circumstance of a tipped ball or something like that, a high throw here or there. With all that said, I have to concentrate on what I can control, and that is decision-making, being more consistent in decision-making, making sure that if I don't make the perfect decision, let's not make the worst decision to put my team in a bad spot."

Part of Pennington's problem is the fact that opponents have been taking away Laveranues Coles. The veteran wideout had no catches in the second half of the loss to the Bills, and he didn't even have a pass thrown his way.

"A lot of people are just starting to take notice," Coles said, "or I guess the writers are starting to take notice, but it's been the same for me for most of my career. Even last year when people thought we weren't doing so well and things weren't going so well for the team, people always had their top corner match me and follow me around, and they put a safety on the hash to try and keep me in check.

"Either someone else makes plays, like Jerricho Cotchery and other guys, or they find a way to get the ball in my hands."

Coles defended Pennington, saying, "I don't always think that the quarterback should take as much heat as he does. It's good that he gets a lot of credit when we win, but it's not as good when we lose and everybody points the finger at him. ... Chad alone can't win it by himself, but then again Chad alone can't lose it by himself."

PLAYER NOTES

-- DE/OLB Bryan Thomas (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis Thursday and is listed as questionable, although he figures to play. Thomas has had 4.5 sacks in the past three games.

-- S Eric Smith (foot) was limited in practice Thursday and is questionable.

-- RB Derrick Blaylock has been inactive for the past seven games and hasn't had a touch since the game against New England on Sept. 17. He obviously won't figure in the Jets' plans for next season.

-- FB B.J. Askew (foot) is listed as questionable, and he didn't practice full Thursday.

-- LB Matt Chatham (foot), an important special teams performer, didn't practice Thursday and is listed as questionable. However, he has been playing through the injury, although perhaps that's why he wasn't able to plug the hole on Willis McGahee's 57-yard touchdown run.


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