Pats prep for sack attack
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — So far this season, the Patriots have encountered seven players who are ranked in the top 11 in sacks in the NFL.
Somehow, Oakland Raiders punisher Khalil Mack isn’t included in those rankings, but the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year might be the most talented pass rusher the Pats will meet all season.
It’s just another week for the offensive line.
“Look, it’s the National Football League, so every team has good players,” coach Bill Belichick said. “That’s a huge challenge every week, certainly this week, and each week our players have to meet that challenge. And when it’s over, turn the page and go to the next team and meet it again. They’re all good in this league. They’re all good.”
Mack only has 4.5 sacks this year, which ranks tied for 32nd, but the defensive end had 26 sacks in the previous two season. He’ll get plenty of opportunities against left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who is expected to start again while Marcus Cannon (ankle) remains on the mend.
Solder hasn’t allowed a sack in six consecutive games, and didn’t give up a pressure or quarterback hit Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Waddle has improved by leaps and bounds this season, as he overtook Cameron Fleming as the Patriots’ top backup tackle and has only allowed three quarterback hits in three games of extended action.
Waddle started against the Houston Texans, who boasted pass rushers like J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, and against the Broncos handled Von Miller among his various assignments. After Cannon aggravated the ankle against the Los Angeles Chargers, Waddle played the majority of the game and held Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram in check.
“(Waddle) has done a good job of staying patient, working hard, waiting his turn and now he is trying to make the most of his opportunities,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He has done well so far.”
Now, Waddle will have to keep it going against Mack, fellow end Mario Edwards (3.5 sacks) and linebacker Bruce Irvin (2.5 sacks) in Mexico City.
“Coach (Dante Scarnecchia) does a great job with all of those guys (on the offensive line),” McDaniels said. “(Waddle) has always been a very unselfish guy, works really hard, takes his preparation seriously, a really good teammate, and he is focused on improving a lot of things with his craft. He is going to have a huge challenge ahead of him this week as we are offensively with this (Raiders) group. The pass rushers they put out there are as good as any we play.”
The Patriots have already made good use of their time away.
The team spent Monday together at the hotel, attending meetings as they re-examined their victory against Denver before spinning the dial forward to the Raiders. And yesterday, Belichick orchestrated a team-bonding trip to the United States Olympic Training Center. They’ll all travel a few miles north today for their first of three consecutive practices at the Air Force Academy.
It’s a similar trip to their week out west in 2014 when they played the Packers in Green Bay before heading to San Diego to prepare for a meeting with the Chargers.
“This is a great opportunity to be around each other a little more than we would normally be around one another,” McDaniels said. “These have always been great experiences for us. You remember them kind of fondly. It’s a change of your routine, and we’re so routine-oriented in what we do and where we do it. This is kind of a different feel when you’re not in your home base, not in your office, not in your normal squad room. You have an opportunity to be around one another, enjoy each other’s company. Maybe you’ll learn something about somebody that you didn’t already know.”
There’s a benefit to doing everything together, including getting an extra few days to practice in the altitude, which is even higher in Mexico City than in Denver.
And for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, a certified rocket scientist, he’ll get to geek out at Air Force.
“I might have an eye to the sky if I see a jet flying by that might be pretty cool for me right there,” Patricia said. “I love planes. It’s one of my passions, obviously with my degree and my background. Anytime I can see a military plane flying around, I tend to enjoy that. Hopefully we’ll get to see that. It’s obviously a great place. We’re very lucky to be here and appreciative of the Air Force Academy to have us and allow us to use their facility.”
Admiring Raider Al
With the Raiders on tap, Belichick reflected upon the contributions to the game by former coach, general manager and owner Al Davis, who died in 2011.
“Al Davis is in the Hall of Fame, as he should be,” Belichick said. “His contributions and his success in professional football, both in the AFL and NFL, are very highly regarded, the great Super Bowl teams that they had, his development of players and uncovering of players, especially in the ’70s and early ’80s with some of the smaller schools. They became great players, Hall of Fame players, a lot of people had never heard of until they started playing for the Raiders. They have a great tradition, a great fan base and intensity. Those guys play hard. They play with a lot of passion. They’re always a tough, physical team, which they are again this year.
“Al Davis, I’ve always had a ton of respect for him. I had an opportunity to talk with him on many occasions. He was always very insightful, and (it was) a pleasure to be around the guy with his passion and love for football, the coaching part of it, the scouting part of it.
“He was very special.”
IN A RUSH: Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack goes up against Pats left tackle Nate Solder during the teams’ last meeting in September 2014.