My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families and friends who have lost loved ones in Newtown. I am sure that I am not the only one that is finding it difficult to focus on trivial things like the game of football right now.

 

Happy Birthday to Rodney Harrison! I find it difficult to think of him as being forty years old.

 

Here are a few links that may be of interest heading into the big game on Sunday night.

Every week I enjoy reading the “Scout’s Take” series on weei.com. This week Christopher Price interviews an NFC scout who has seen the 49ers as well as the Pats, and gets his take on One scout’s breakdown of Patriots-Niners: Look for San Francisco to slow it down.

“The best way to beat a young quarterback like Colin Kaepernick is to force him into mistakes by getting ahead by a couple of scores then confuse with front looks and disguising coverages. You have to play with discipline on defense — make sure he stays contained and don’t overrun him if/when he gets to the outside.”

… “San Francisco has a strong front seven, but they’re slightly above average in secondary. Aldon Smith is a difficult assignment for anyone in an individual blocking scheme, so what the Patriots need to do is get whoever is lined up on him some help! Change snap counts, draw offsides with cadence, and run at him. Put a lot of beef on him and make him work.”

 

Wes Welker enters Sunday’s game against the 49ers 5 catches away from history by Nick Underhill of the Springfield Republican and masslive.com. Welker is five receptions away from becoming the first player in the history of the National Football League to have five seasons with 100 or more catches.

“That’s a lot of catches for a lot of years,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “To be able to go out there and do it week after week against all the different coverages, all the different matchups that we see and all that, it’s a real credit to, like you said, to Wes’ ability, but also his toughness and his durability because he’s taken a lot of hits out there.”

 

Contrary to popular opinion, the head coach of the Pats can be very engaging at the podium. Check out the Bill Belichick Press Conference Transcript from Friday on the team’s website, where he touches on Jim Harbaugh, Bill Walsh, Jerod Mayo and a several other topics, (including the hurry up offense and Rick Gosselin‘s special teams ratings) with plenty of anecdotes I have never seen previously.

“Jerod is very good and has been very good at those, but I think certainly you get better at them through time and understanding the different matchups: which guys really try to knock you off the ball, which guys really try to come and fit up with you and use their athleticism to mirror you, which guys are holders, which guys are cut blockers in addition to the actual ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ of the scheme, but how the individual guys play. Same thing with tackling backs. We see a lot of different types of backs: which guys you can really load up on, which guys have a lot of wiggle, which guys are faster than you, not faster than you. So, I think all those things play into it. It’s kind of a like a quarterback; the linebacker has to make multiple, multiple decisions on every play. Not only what his assignment is and what the play is, but all the way along the line, different angles, how to take on blocks, how to tackle, the leverage to play with, the angle to run to and so forth, the technique. So many different things happen in a split second during the course of the play, just like it is for a quarterback. The more of those things that you can do right, slow down, get the most important things, not get distracted by all the stuff that’s happening, but just really zero in on a target. I think a good quarterback or a good linebacker, a good safety, even though you have a lot of bodies moving out there, it slows down for them and they can really see it. Then there are other guys that it’s a lot of guys moving and they don’t see anything. It’s like being at a busy intersection, just cars going everywhere. The guys that can really sort it out, they see the game at a slower pace and can really sort out and decipher all that movement, which is hard. But experience certainly helps that, yes.”

 

Apparently at least one Bay area writer was quite impressed, and surprised that Belichick did not conform to the media-driven stereotype of being surly and bland.

I spoke to former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison on the phone Thursday and the current NBC studio analyst had a great story about Bill Belichick’s astounding attention to detail (read all about it Sunday).

I was reminded of that character trait when reading through Belichick’s transcript from his meeting with the New England media this morning.

It’s one thing to remember an onside kick from David Akers, but the year (2007)? And it’s one thing to highlight Andy Lee, David Akers and Ted Ginn when discussing the 49ers’ special teams, but to also single out more obscure names such as Larry Grant and Tramaine Brock?

Belichick has a reputation for being intensely dull with the media — well-deserved, I’m guessing — but I found his Q&A today to be quite readable. It begins with a cool story about a phone conversation he had with Jim Harbaugh years ago that included Bill Walsh.

 

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com expands on this with an interview with the 49ers head coach, Harbaugh recalls sitting in Walsh’s office, talking with Belichick.

“Actually, we were in Bill Walsh’s office and Coach Belichick had called Bill Walsh and they were talking for about 10 or 15 minutes and I was sitting there like I used to do,” Harbaugh said. “I’d just sit in Coach Walsh’s office and try to pick things up. And then he handed the phone to me to talk to Coach Belichick.

“And I remember it very well, distinctly, he wishing us luck at Stanford. And talked about how important it was . . . how much he wanted to see Stanford get back on top in football, how important he thought that was for college football, institutions like Stanford and the Naval Academy and academies to be competitive in football. We talked a little bit about his family and my family. It was a very good conversation.”

 

Back to the recent playmaking ability of Jerod Mayo: Kyle Arrington noted that “He’s ‘one of the first to come in and last to leave’ type of guy. He’s a guy you want to play hard for… He’s the ultimate leader. You never want to let any of your teammates down — that’s why we’re here — but if there is one guy you don’t want to let down, it’s him.” Vince Wilfork spoke about his play in this Mike Reiss column, Jerod Mayo spicing up Patriots D’.

“To play that linebacker spot, it’s like Tom on the other side of the ball. They’re the captain and they run the ship. They’re the engine. They make sure everything is on point… You have to respect that because he’s getting everything in order for us. He calls the shots on the field.”

“His game has always been at a high level. This year, I think he really came out and his game just sky-rocketed to a whole another level… There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s one of the best linebackers in the game.”

 

Chad Finn of the Boston Globe notes that the Potential successors to Damon Amendolara are narrowing. Amendolara has left 98.5 for a gig where he will reach a national audience as the overnight host on CBS Sports Radio. Apparently Marc Bertrand is out of the running, which is disappointing. Of the other potential candidates listed in the column it’s an absolute slam dunk no-brainer for me: I would much prefer Adam Jones rather than Jon Meterparel.

 

Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch knocks it out of the park with his Patriots Peak Too Soon, Blow Chance At Super Bowl Title. As long as people like Dan Shaughnessy are going to comment on the Pats then they very much need to be called out for it. As for Michael Felger and his loyal followers, he’s not a ‘realist’, he’s a contrarian; there is major difference between those two types.

 

Matt Chatham of the Boston Herald has more insightful analysis, Going off script: Patriots foes deviate from the norm.

San Francisco is rolling now with Colin Kaepernick, a track-fast quarterback brandishing a throwing motion somewhere between Byron Leftwich and crafty hurler Eddie Harris from the movie “Major League.” The Niners’ “pistol” offense looks undoubtedly bizarre from a professional football point of view, making you often do a double-take in film review just to remember which team is on offense— but it’s worked for them so far.

It will take a great week of preparation for the Patriots, because this is something you rarely see in the NFL. That said, the net effect is a grindingly modest offensive output based largely on move-the-pocket boot passing, and effective use of play-action crossers and checkdowns.

There are the occasional explosive elements, but most seem predicated off a mental or physical mistake on the edge of the defense, either in rush lane integrity or run force. With the similar Seattle game lessons of not falling prey to those kinds of plays presumably learned, and the near-miss lessons from the Houston game of not putting the ball on the ground themselves, shuttering those two small windows by the Patriots would seem to close off any reasonable paths for a ‘keep pace’ kind of game.

 

For stats, trivia and number geeks like me, Gary Marbry of weei.com provides his well researched Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs. 49ers statistical preview!

San Francisco has taken over both sides of the ground game right away in games this season as they have rushed for 551 yards and a 5.92-yard average in the first quarter, both league highs. On defense, opponents have managed just 255 first quarter rushing yards and a 3.23-yard average, both the lowest/best mark in the league.

Note this: That’s kinda what the Patriots have done, except they’ve dominated both sides of the rushing game in the THIRD quarter instead of the first. In the third period, the Pats have rushed for 604 yards (only Washington, with 676, has more) and averaged 5.1 yards-per-carry (7th). On defense in the third quarter, opponents have just 167 rushing yards and a 2.74-yard average, both are the lowest/best marks in the league.

 

Jim Donaldson of the Providence Journal counteracts the Shanks and Mazzes of the local scene and appears to be extremely confident that the Pats will win; he believes that the 49ers are overrated. While his enthusiasm is refreshing, I’m not going to go that far; you could come to the opposite conclusion based on the two team’s results versus Arizona.

They’ve played two games against the Rams and both went into overtime.

The first, in S.F., ended in a 24-24 tie. The Rams won the rematch in St. Louis, two weeks ago, 16-13.

The Patriots also played the Rams, in London, in October.

The result?

New England 45, St. Louis 7.

So are Patriots fans supposed to be worried about the 49ers?

Really?

Especially since the Pats haven’t lost a home game in December since 2002, against the Jets.

 

Mike Petraglia of WEEI notes that Tom Brady Perfects The Art Of Advanced Scouting. With a short week to prepare against an outstanding opponent, Brady looked at the full season schedule and found extra time to study.

“After our Thursday night game against the Jets, I tried to do a bunch of work on the Niners,” Brady said Wednesday. “So I put a couple of days in there and actually after the game on Monday night, I felt like I just had to watch their most recent game and I was caught up. So, you try to take advantage of a little extra time, a little planning. [I] probably wouldn’t have done that 10 years ago.

“It’s probably most important for the quarterback position. I don’t think the receivers are necessarily doing that. They study what they need to study. I kind of have my own routine and preparation. A lot of guys prepare differently. I know Matt Light, who we honored at halftime last week, didn’t watch much film at all. He said it screwed him up. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with, so there’s something to be said about that too.”

 

For all the fans of other teams that incessantly whine that the Patriots are gifted with an easy schedule, Christopher Price of WEEI provides Deconstructing the myth of the Patriots and their easy schedule. Regardless of whether you look at a team’s strength of schedule based on their record for the entire season or their record at the time a game was played, the Pats have a more difficult schedule than any other AFC playoff contender.

But compared to the other playoff frontrunners, New England has encountered a relatively more challenging regular season — through 13 games, the Patriots have the strongest schedule of any of the top six playoff contenders. Their opponents can boast a .521 winning percentage.

If the playoffs started today, the following 12 teams would make the postseason: Houston, New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, Indy and Baltimore from the AFC; Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, Green Bay, Seattle and the New York Giants from the NFC.

The Patriots and Texans would be the only two AFC teams whose schedules include six teams currently positioned for the playoffs. New England has faced Indy, Houston, Denver, Seattle and Baltimore over the course of the 2012 season with San Francisco still on the docket. The Texans squared off against Denver, Green Bay, Baltimore, Chicago, New England and Indy.

 

Lastly, a couple of fine comments from a pair of forum members on the PatsFans.com message board that are well worth a read: PatFanKen lists off ten great points in Idle Thoughts – Pre-SF Edition, and MayoClinic provides some insightful analysis focusing on the defense with his Pats vs. Niners – Initial Thoughts.

 

 

The college bowl season kicks off today with 7-5 Nevada playing 7-5 Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl. Nevada runs the pistol offense, which may help to make this game worth watching, though the fact that the Wolf Pack has lost four of their last five games makes me think they don’t have much of a shot. Both teams have quality running backs: Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson has rushed for 1,701 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 5.0 yards per carry; Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey has run for 1,757 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 6.4 yards per carry. The Wildcats have lost three one-possession games (3 points to Oregon State, 6 points to Stanford in OT, and 7 points to Arizona State – but on the other hand they blew second half double-digit leads in two of those games. I’ll go one unit on Arizona -7½ and one unit over 74½ points in this one.

- final score: Arizona 49, Nevada 48
Straight Up: Arizona …
Arizona -7½ (one unit) … X
Over 74½ (one unit) …

 

The late afternoon game is 9-3 Toledo vs 10-2 Utah State in the famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise. Utah State is led by sophomore QB Chuckie Keeton, who has a 38/11 TD-INT ratio in his college career and passed for 3,142 yards this year. Toledo has Terrance Owens at QB, who has a 45/16 career TD-INT ratio and threw for 2,681 yards this year. I’ll go one unit each on Toledo to cover +10½, and over 58½ in this game.

- final score: Utah State 41, Toledo 15
Straight Up: Utah State …
Toledo +10½ (one unit) … X
Over 58½ (one unit) … X

 

 

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