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Sunday Football Notes

Patriots could be active as trade deadline approaches

The Giants’ Hakeem Nicks may be a good catch for a team needing a receiver.

BILL KOSTROUN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Giants’ Hakeem Nicks may be a good catch for a team needing a receiver.

The NFL trade deadline is fast approaching, with teams having until Oct. 29 to replace injured players via trade or ship out a player for a draft pick.

A few notable trades have happened near the deadline over the years — Carson Palmer to Oakland in 2011, Braylon Edwards to the Jets in 2009, and the big Herschel Walker trade of 1989 among them — but the action hardly matches that of the Major League Baseball trade deadline. Last year, the Patriots salvaged a dull trading day by dealing for Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib, a trade that certainly has worked out well for New England.

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But the NFL pushed back the trade deadline last year — from the Tuesday after Week 6 to the Tuesday after Week 8 — with the hopes of spurring a little more action. With the deadline now more or less coming at the midpoint of the season, teams have a better idea if they will be contenders or if they should start thinking about next year.

The Patriots are certainly one team that could be active next week. They badly need help at receiver, and could look to replace holes at defensive tackle and linebacker created by season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Teams such as the Falcons, Jaguars, and Giants, who are struggling badly, could be looking to trade off several of their veterans, as well.

One AFC front office executive told us he doesn’t expect a ton of action this year, “but reading the tea leaves, it looks like there are some wide receivers teams could consider moving. And Jacksonville will probably also listen for their running back [Maurice Jones-Drew].”

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Here is a look at a dozen players who could be on the move:

Quarterback — Josh Freeman has already been cut by the Buccaneers and signed by the Vikings, taking one big name out of the equation. But Freeman’s arrival in Minnesota could displace one of the two other quarterbacks on the roster — more likely Matt Cassel, who is signed through next year and could be a decent plug-in for a playoff contender that suffers an injury in the next two weeks. Christian Ponder likely wants out of Minnesota after falling out of favor, but inconsistent play and an onerous contract would make him tough to deal.

The other team that could be dealing a quarterback is the Redskins, who have Kirk Cousins and Rex Grossman backing up Robert Griffin III. Cousins would fetch a lot more in return than Grossman — perhaps as much as a first-round pick — but the Redskins may need to keep Cousins as a safety net for RG3 and his injured knee.

Running back — The market likely won’t be too hot — why trade a draft pick or pay a lot of money for a running back when they can be found relatively easily, and are such a high injury risk?

Jones-Drew isn’t nearly as attractive as he was a few years ago — he’s 28 and in his eighth NFL season, which is a lot of pounding for a running back — but he’s in the final year of his contract and could be a good rental for a team needing a powerful combo-back. The 0-6 Jaguars certainly wouldn’t mind getting something in return for MJD instead of potentially letting him walk away for nothing after the season.

The other running back who makes some sense is Steven Jackson of the 1-4 Falcons, but he still has $3.5 million of dead money on a contract that runs through 2015, and it’s doubtful teams will want to take on that cap charge for a 30-year-old running back.

Wide receiver/tight end — If the Patriots want to bolster their receiving corps, a few intriguing options should be available. One is Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks, who has 27 touchdowns and two 1,000-yard seasons in his five-year career. Nicks is still only 25 and in the final year of his contract, and the 0-6 Giants could fetch a high draft pick for him instead of re-signing him to a long-term deal. Nicks’s hometown Carolina Panthers could be a good fit, or the Patriots.

Another intriguing name is Titans receiver Kenny Britt, who like Nicks is only 25 and in the final year of his contract. Britt has just seven catches for 59 yards this year, but he has had inconsistent quarterback play throughout his five-year career, and perhaps a departure from Tennessee would reinvigorate him. He also played at Rutgers, which is a good way to endear yourself to Bill Belichick.

Don’t be surprised if the 1-4 Steelers look to move receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who is playing on a one-year deal and almost signed with the Patriots last offseason, anyway. Tight end Tony Gonzalez says he wants to finish the season — and his career — with the Falcons, but don’t be shocked if he OK’s a trade if a contender wants him (we would love to see him go back to the Chiefs). And with Zach Ertz ready to take over at tight end in Philadelphia, the Eagles could try to move seven-year veteran Brent Celek, who has the team’s seventh-highest cap number but just 11 catches this year.

Defensive line — Jason Babin of the Jaguars is 33 and has just two sacks, but he could be a good rental for a team looking to make a playoff run. He had 18 sacks as recently as 2011 with the Eagles, and has a favorable contract with no dead money in 2014 and beyond. And Osi Umenyiora just landed in Atlanta this year after 10 years with the Giants, but the Falcons are a mess and clearly have a large rebuilding job this offseason. Umenyiora, 31, has four sacks, an interception, and a touchdown this year, and a favorable contract that runs through next season with a reasonable $4.75 million cap number ($1.25 million in dead money).

Defensive back — If the Redskins keep struggling, don’t be shocked if they look to move cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who is 29, in the final year of his contract, and has 14 interceptions since the start of 2010. The Falcons also may look to move 32-year-old Asante Samuel, who is signed through next year, has a favorable contract, and could be a good veteran addition for a playoff contender. And the Bills and safety Jairus Byrd have been headed toward a divorce since he held out in training camp as a protest for being given the franchise tag.

BRINGING THE HEAT

Blitzes can produce wide variety of results

Bill Belichick made a name for himself in the 1980s as a mad-blitzing defensive coordinator who developed Lawrence Taylor into the most fearsome pass rusher in NFL history. But watching the game film each week, it’s hard not to notice that the Patriots are hardly blitzing their opponents this year. Last week, the Patriots sent more than four pass rushers at Drew Brees on just five of 38 dropbacks.

So, we got curious, how much are the Patriots blitzing compared with the rest of the league? We went through each game and tallied up the blitz totals — with a huge assist from ProFootballFocus.com — and found that yes, indeed, the Patriots aren’t blitzing a whole lot this year.

They are blitzing on 22.2 percent of passing plays, ranked 26th in the NFL. The league average is 31.3 percent. But the Patriots are 13th in pass defense and third in points allowed, so the tactic is working well.

The top five blitzing teams (before Thursday’s games): Arizona (54.7 percent), Houston (50.3), Oakland (48.3), Washington (41.4), and Green Bay (40.6).

The bottom five: Detroit (13.1 percent), Jacksonville (15.6), Dallas (17.0), San Francisco (19.5), and Carolina (21.6).

What does it mean? Well, the teams that are blitzing seem to be doing a lot worse than the ones that aren’t. Among the top-10 blitzing teams, only two rank in the top 10 in fewest points allowed (Tennessee and Indianapolis), while four rank in the bottom 10 (Houston, Washington, Philadelphia, and Buffalo).

Among the 10 teams that blitz the least are two of the worst defenses in Minnesota and Jacksonville (30th and 31st in average points allowed), but also three of the top five stingiest defenses, and five of the top 10 (Carolina, Seattle, New England, Cincinnati, and San Francisco). And the 6-0 Chiefs, No. 1 in fewest points allowed and No. 3 in pass defense, are ranked 16th in blitzes called at 30.9 percent, slightly under league average.

Some teams, such as Carolina and the Jets, choose their spots wisely. They rank in the bottom 10 in blitzes called, but in the top 10 in “sack percentage” — the number of sacks per pass plays. And some teams aren’t getting much bang for the buck. The Giants are 11th in blitzes called, but last in sack percentage and points allowed. The Eagles and Dolphins are also top 10 in blitzes called but bottom 10 in sack percentage. And for all the blitzes Arizona calls, it is just 18th in sack percentage and 19th in pass defense.

What about going the other way? Which quarterbacks are blitzed the most and least? We looked at the 35 quarterbacks who have played significant snaps this year.

The five most-blitzed: Cam Newton (44.6 percent of dropbacks), Mike Glennon (41.3), Colin Kaepernick (40.3 percent), Robert Griffin III (38.4), and Philip Rivers (37.0 percent).

The five least-blitzed: Peyton Manning (20.8 percent), Carson Palmer (22.1 percent), Ryan Fitzpatrick (22.3 percent), Aaron Rodgers (22.7 percent), and E.J. Manuel (23.4 percent). Tom Brady is 14th at 33.5 percent.

Notice a trend with the most-blitzed quarterbacks? They tend to be young and/or mobile. Also in the top 10 are Russell Wilson, Jake Locker, Josh Freeman, and Andrew Luck (plus Joe Flacco). Defenses obviously feel they can confuse and frustrate the young QBs with their blitz schemes. And they also believe that blitzing is the best way to neutralize the running aspect of the mobile quarterbacks (although Michael Vick is surprisingly 18th, and Terrelle Pryor 23d).

And the least-blitzed quarterbacks? They tend to be the classic pocket passers (Drew Brees, Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler, and Matt Ryan are also in the bottom 10). Teams are obviously deathly afraid to blitz Manning (although the tactic of not blitzing isn’t working well, either). And they clearly believe that the best way to neutralize the pocket passers is to play seven or eight defenders in coverage and wait for the quarterback to make a mistake.

ETC.

Dierdorf: Jets havc reason to be confident

The Patriots have won five straight against the Jets, and have been especially dominant in the second matchup of the season, winning by 30, 21, and 42 points the last three years.

But the Patriots are limping badly into Sunday’s game — without Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Shane Vereen, and likely Aqib Talib and Danny Amendola — and Dan Dierdorf, who is calling the game for CBS, sure sounds like he thinks the Jets, 3½-point underdogs, can pull off the upset.

“The Jets realize how close they came to beating the Patriots playing with a rookie quarterback, so I would think the confidence level among the Jets players is very high,” Dierdorf said last week before it was known that Rob Gronkowski is expected to return for the Patriots. “This is a Patriots offense that at times really struggles . . . For every spectacular play that one of these kids makes, there are a couple of drops along the way that go with it. We’re not used to seeing the Patriots struggle like this on offense.

“But the biggest concern for them is that they’ve lost their best defensive player in Jerod Mayo. He was out there on every play coordinating their defensive packages. A defense has three levels. They lost their best player on level one in Vince Wilfork. Now they’ve lost their best guy in the second level in Mayo, and the best guy they have in the third level, Aqib Talib, is hurt. This is a Patriots team that is kind of limping into MetLife Stadium. I’m sure the Jets’ confidence is very high.”

Percentages are disappointing

The NFL’s commitment throughout October to spreading breast cancer awareness and generating donations for research is impressive. But the amount of dollars actually being donated for cancer research from sales of the NFL’s pink gear is more than a little disappointing.

According to figures obtained by ESPN’s Darren Rovell, only 11.25 percent of revenue generated by the pink merchandise goes to the American Cancer Society. Approximately 50 percent goes to the company that sells the merchandise (often the NFL and its teams), 37.5 percent goes to the manufacturer, and the other 1.25 percent goes to the NFL.

The publication Business Insider also points out that since the ACS uses almost 30 percent of donations for administrative fees, only 8.01 percent of money spent on pink merchandise is actually going toward cancer research. The NFL also told Business Insider that it donated approximately $3 million to the ACS over the first three years of the pink merchandise program, and that any money that is not donated to the ACS is used to cover costs of “A Crucial Catch,” the league’s breast cancer awareness program.

We applaud the league’s determination to spread breast cancer awareness, but it’s certainly disappointing that more money isn’t being used for research (although the manufacturer is equally responsible). And perhaps it is time to turn October into an Awareness Month of the diseases and afflictions of the players’ choosing, such as how Bears receiver Brandon Marshall wore green cleats last week in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week (and drew a $10,500 fine from the league for improper equipment).

His heart is in the right place

Nice job by Patriots owner Robert Kraft in helping out Sam Berns, a 17-year-old Foxborough resident afflicted with progeria, a disease that causes aging at eight times the normal rate. Kraft invited Berns to Patriots practice the Saturday before the Week 4 game at Atlanta, where he got to break down the huddle and meet his favorite players.

And after viewing the documentary “Life According to Sam,” which airs Monday on HBO, Kraft decided he would match every donation dollar-for-dollar, up to $500,000, to the Progeria Research Foundation. Donations can be made online at ProgeriaResearch.org.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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