Pats prep for sack at­tack

Boston Herald - - NHL / NBA SCOREBOARD / RACING - By JEFF HOWE Twit­ter: @jeff­phowe

PA­TRI­OTS NOTEBOOK

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.”

Springs for­ward

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.”

AP PHOTO

IN A RUSH: Raiders line­backer Khalil Mack goes up against Pats left tackle Nate Sol­der dur­ing the teams’ last meet­ing in Septem­ber 2014.

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