Patriots Notes: Dillon, Light, Bruschi and more
By Site Staff
--In his final 10 starts of the regular season last year, RB Corey Dillon had seven 100-yard rushing efforts. The Patriots, who rank 27th in rushing this season, could use a similar stretch-run boost from their franchise back.
Although Dillon sat out New England's last game before the bye (a 28-20 loss in Denver on Oct. 16), he might be hitting his stride. In his last appearance - Oct. 9 in Atlanta - he posted his first 100-yard effort (106 yards on 23 carries). In that game he joined an exclusive club, becoming only the 18th player in NFL history to rush for 10,000 career yards.
"Anytime you have a player that has a lot of longevity and a lot of production, then you're looking at two factors," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "One is durability and the other is the skill to keep producing it. I think Corey definitely fits into both of those categories. He's been durable. He's carried the ball a lot and he's carried it very effectively. He has a running style that can work in a lot of different ways with his speed, his power, his quickness, and his run vision. It's a very significant individual accomplishment."
Dillon has 10,025 yards over nine seasons. With a decent second finish to the year, he could climb all the way up to No. 15 in the all-time rankings, surpassing Ottis Anderson (10,273), Eddie George (10,441) and Ricky Watters (10,643). Next up would be O.J. Simpson, who ranks 14th with 11,236 yards.
--Injured LT Matt Light, who broke a bone in his leg against Pittsburgh in Week 3, recently voiced support for his replacement, rookie Nick Kaczur. Light, who is hoping to return this season, said he has been impressed with the work of the Canadian-born Kaczur, a third-round pick from Toledo.
"I'll tell you, he's done a great job," Light said at Children's Hospital in Boston, where he made a $25,000 donation on behalf of his charitable foundation. "I watch him out there and you're talking about playing in some of the toughest conditions you could possibly imagine ... You haven't experienced a lot of what the league can throw at you. It's not an easy situation, and I think he's handled it really well."
--The Patriots have dominated the Bills lately, winning the last three matchups by an aggregate score of 91-23. Before that, Buffalo enjoyed a laugher, beating New England 31-0 at home in the 2003 season opener - a game in which safety Lawyer Milloy debuted for the Bills less than a week after being released by the Patriots. New England turned the tables, winning by an identical 31-0 score in the 2003 regular-season finale and then sweeping last year's series, 31-17 and 29-6.
With the exception of that Week 1 blowout win two years ago, the Bills' offense has had no luck against the Patriots. In each of the teams' other 11 meetings since Nov. 28, 1999, Buffalo has failed to score more than 17 points.
BY THE NUMBERS: 20-6 - The Patriots' record in divisional games since 2001. As you would expect from a team that has won three of the last four division crowns, that mark is much better than the ones posted by the other three AFC East clubs over the same span. The Jets are 14-14, the Dolphins are 12-16 and the Bills are 10-18.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You're basically starting all over again because you're not ahead of the game and you're not behind the game. If we were 4-2 it would be a little different. (At) 3-3 you're basically just tied ... with yourself. You're not ahead, you're not behind. It feels like you're just treading water a little bit." - TE Christian Fauria on the Patriots being .500 coming out of the bye week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
In his five seasons with the Patriots, Mike Vrabel has been a fixture at outside linebacker. But in the Patriots' last game before the bye, he lined up inside, and there is speculation that that was not a one-time event. In a new-look linebacking corps, Vrabel could be paired with returning ILB Tedy Bruschi.
Vrabel practiced at inside linebacker at the June minicamp and also saw time there in training camp. He seemed to adjust well to the switch as he had a career-high 13 tackles against the Broncos while rotating with regular inside starters Monty Beisel and Chad Brown.
"It was on the fly," Vrabel said of his new position. "It was a situation where we thought that would help us out at that point. (My role) may be there and it may be outside. I really don't know at this point."
Asked if he were as comfortable inside as outside, Vrabel said, "It's still football. You've got to get the guy with the ball. You've got to make tackles and make plays. I wouldn't make too much of it. It's different, obviously, but it's not something that's completely drastic."
--The Patriots also have to decide who starts at strong safety. Guss Scott stepped in when Rodney Harrison was lost for the season in Week 3, but Scott joined Harrison on injured reserve with a knee problem of his own on Oct. 12.
Rookie James Sanders got the start in the Patriots' last game before the bye, but he aggravated an ankle injury and couldn't finish. Veteran free agent Arturo Freeman, who had signed on the Wednesday before the game, finished up for him and may be in line for the gig if Sanders isn't healthy. Sanders was not at practice on Wednesday and was listed as questionable on the injury report.
--Coach Bill Belichick remained noncommittal about the team's plans for Bruschi, who can be activated for Sunday's game against the Bills. Asked for an update on Bruschi's progress, Belichick said, "No setbacks. We're moving along."
"That's my coaches' call," Bruschi said of his chances of suiting up against the Bills. "Right now I feel I'm being evaluated by Coach Belichick, by my defensive coaches. I know my job is to play linebacker the best I can. In practices I'm going to do that. I'm going to show them that I can play still and can grasp the defense and I still have a knowledge of the defense. What they see from me on film and in practices (will impact) the decision that they make in terms of how much playing time I get."
--RB Corey Dillon was not on the field Wednesday during the time the media was allowed to watch practice. Dillon dressed but did not play in the Patriots' last game before the bye week due to an ankle injury. He was listed as questionable on the injury report.
--CB Tyrone Poole, who hasn't played since suffering an ankle injury in Week 1, returned to practice Wednesday, although he was listed as doubtful. Poole was using crutches and appeared to have a cast on his right foot last week. In a surprise move by the team, Poole was placed on injured reserve Thursday, ending his season prematurely for the second year in a row.
--WR Troy Brown was not on the field Wednesday during the time the media was allowed to watch practice. Brown missed the Patriots' last game before the bye week with a foot injury. He was listed as questionable.
--CB Randall Gay was not on the field Wednesday during the time the media was allowed to watch practice. In the Patriots' last game before the bye week, Gay made his first appearance since Week 2. He has been battling an ankle injury and was listed as questionable.
--LBs Chad Brown and Willie McGinest rank first and second, respectively, among active NFL linebackers in career sacks. Brown has 78, McGinest 74.5.
GAME PLAN: Having regrouped during the bye week, the Patriots will attempt to get back to some of what they used to do so well - run the ball, force turnovers and play tough in the red zone. All of those strengths have been weaknesses so far this season. They also will have to be careful about protecting QB Tom Brady. Although Brady wasn't sacked in their last game before the bye, a 28-20 loss in Denver, he was hit a lot just as he threw and was under pressure for most of the first half. The Bills blitzed Brady constantly in the teams' first meeting last season. Buffalo ranks seventh in sacks per pass play this year.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Patriots' LBs Don Davis and Larry Izzo vs. Bills' KR Terrence McGee - Davis and Izzo, who rank 1-2, respectively, on the Patriots in special teams tackles, will be charged with slowing down the league's top kick returner, who averages an NFL-best 34.3 yards. None of the Patriots' last four opponents has averaged more than 20 yards per return.
Patriots' LB Tedy Bruschi vs. Bills' RB Willis McGahee - All eyes will be on Bruschi if, as expected, he makes his 2005 debut. His first job will be helping shore up the Patriots' sagging run defense, which has fallen to 24th in the league. McGahee, the NFL's fourth-leading rusher, will provide a stern test.
INJURY IMPACT: The Patriots appear to be healthier than they've been in a while. The team is being coy with the status of Bruschi, but he seems a safe bet to play against the Bills. Ditto for DE Richard Seymour. CB Tyrone Poole's return to the lineup would have relieved some of the pressure on veteran CB Duane Starks, who has become the target of media and fan abuse lately. Starks appears set to continue his struggles without veteran help as Poole's move to I/R spells the end of his season. Dillon's continued absence from practice is troubling, but he was in good spirits in joking with the media in the locker room on Wednesday. If he can't suit up again, FB Patrick Pass and third-string RB Amos Zereoue would get to attack the Bills' No. 31-ranked run defense. Newly re-signed WR Andre' Davis might replace Troy Brown (foot) as the No. 3 receiver.
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