Archive for October, 2012

Patriots Find Rhythm in London Against Rams

Just as Hurricane Sandy threatens to shake New England, the Patriots found a way to settle down in London. Zoltan Mesko punted only twice and Stephen Gostkowski had only one field goal attempt as the offense took the red zone by storm. Tom Brady threw for 304 yards and four touchdown passes. The Brandon Lloyd situation was resolved and he had his first multi-touchdown game of the season. Rob Gronkowski led all receivers with a season high eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Not to mention he was able to showcase a few new additions to his touchdown dance.

Tom Brady and the offense got it together in London, now in the bye week they’ll have to determine what kind of team they’re going to be. (FILE:USPresswire)

But just because the Patriots sailed past the Rams without a second glance, that doesn’t mean they have completely turned the corner. Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive coordinator for the Rams, called a conservative game. The Rams’ first drive of the game looked promising after they took just over two and a half minutes to go 80 yards for a touchdown. But after that, their offense went numb and failed to put any more points on the board. By the time they found the red zone, there was less than two minutes left in the game. The Rams were unable to take advantage of this Patriots secondary like every other team has done this season. Sam Bradford by the numbers did not have that bad of a day. He was 23 of 31, threw for 205 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He showed early he has the arm, but due to play calling, he wasn’t able to showcase it often.

What really hurt the Rams was penalties. Specifically, Bradley Fletcher. It must be something about the number 32 because he was called for pass interference three times on Sunday. In total the Rams gave up 102 yards to the Patriots. There were several opportunities for the Rams to force the Patriots to fourth and long but they were negated by penalties. This defense got tired and their sloppiness only hurt them further keeping them on the field longer than they should have been.

By the end of this game it looked more like a preseason matchup than a regular season game as Ryan Mallett and Rams’ backup QB Kellen Clemens both saw action. From a health standpoint, this was the right call for both teams. Bradford took some brutal hits and there was a scary moment after he was drilled into the ground by Dont’a Hightower in the second quarter. Wes Welker got his toe caught in the grass and limped off the field but he appears to be fine and it shouldn’t be cause for worry, especially with an extra week to rest.

Walking away from London the Patriots picked up a vital win and walk away almost as healthy as when they arrived. Ron Brace is a valuable backup and his injury is something to monitor, as well as Welker’s and as always, the health of Gronkowski. He still doesn’t look like the player from last year, his running seems laborious but the good news is his spirit seems untouched.

On defense there is still more work to be done. The Patriots got lucky with the Rams play calling and were not tested as often as they should have been. The front seven were strong and this linebacking core is really developing together. Defensively, the Patriots did not receive one pass interference call. A small improvement given the level of competition. Keeping this game in perspective, it is a good stepping stone into the bye week. The offense was able to find consistency and the defense worked as a unit to limit penalties and not beat themselves. Now it’s time for the Patriots to get back to the east coast and work to find out what kind of team they’re going to be in the second half.

Patriots vs Rams: Three Things The Patriots Need To Get Done In London

It’s that time of year again, when the National Football League imparts itself on the people of London. Rumors are circling about expanding the game overseas and this Sunday the Patriots and the St. Louis Rams are the NFL’s current ambassadors.

On paper this may seem like an easy win for the Pats but fourth quarter letdowns have become all too familiar. The Rams have the 21st ranked total offense in the league and are 26th in points per game. The Patriots, meanwhile, are at the top in both of those categories. So far this season we’ve seen New England’s defense give up big yardage to lesser quarterbacks than Sam Bradford such as Russell Wilson, Mark Sanchez and Ryan Fitzpatrick. But Bradford has been consistent the last two weeks completing over 60% of his passes in both games. With Patrick Chung out, the secondary is going to have to fill in and make the adjustments to stop a potentially dangerous situation. The Patriots defense needs to hold this offense to its current numbers.

With the bye week in sight, here are three things the Patriots need to get done in London before heading home for a much needed break.

The Patriots are dealing with some big injuries including Aaron Hernandez. They’ll have to adjust and try to get into the bye week without any major setbacks. (FILE:USPresswire)

1. Plain and simple, Get a Win: No matter how ugly it has to been, the Patriots need to get a win on Sunday. The Rams are averaging just over 18 points per game and are clearly struggling offensively. The Patriots need to hype themselves up to play at a level much greater than that of the Rams and avoid a letdown. The defense needs to continue to develop and make Bradford work for each and every completion. Ball security is essential and the Pats need to stay in complete control throughout the entire game. They need to play well enough to win so they can…

2. Work on finding an Identity: Even Tom Brady said this team needs an identity. We’ve watched them struggle offensively this season trying to figure out what kind of team they want to be. Do they have enough to be a dominating run team? Are the tight ends healthy enough to make them the focal point? And what is the deal with Brandon Lloyd? There are a lot of questions that still need answers. The Patriots can take this game on Sunday to carefully work through their identity crisis. The Rams defense is tough with good defensive ends and corners so this could be a great opportunity to test out potential options. The main focus should be on being as effective as possible but if the Patriots can get up by a few scores and the defense seems in control, it might be worth it to do some experimenting.

3. Stay Healthy: Injuries are a part of the game but this season the Patriots have dealt with some big ones already. Aaron Hernandez is out this week after suffering a setback with his ankle and stayed behind along with Brandon Bolden and five other players. Rob Gronkowski has been dealing with a hip injury and last week we saw Jerod Mayo suffer an elbow injury and he missed some practice this week. Big pieces of the Patriots puzzle are hurt and the key in London is to bring back as many healthy players as possible. They will definitely benefit from some rest, but hopefully it doesn’t get worse before it gets better.

It’s exciting to play in London but we know the Patriots will have no trouble getting focused on the task at hand. It’s easy to look past this game but there’s no such thing as “getting comfortable”. The Patriots have a glaring weakness that has burned them before. A win is a necessity and this game could be the push the Patriots need to help them re-adjust during their bye week.

Patriots Still Evolving in Overtime Win

The Patriots we are witnessing are an evolving team. They are still trying to determine what type of offense they are and still working on being better in the secondary and on special teams. There have been some noticeable holes and scary moments this season and Sunday’s game against the Jets was no different. The absence of Logan Mankins and the loss of Dan Connolly during the game were felt both in quarterback protection and in the run game. The secondary upgraded from pass interference calls to holding penalties but they still allowed Mark Sanchez to complete over 50% of his passes which he has only been able to do twice this season. There was a rare kickoff return on special teams but overall they have been ineffective for a long time.

Bill Belichick has a lot of work to do with this team. They’ve fallen into some bad habits but managed an overtime win against the Jets. (FILE:USPresswire)

The Patriots did not deserve to win this game. Tom Brady had to throw away too many balls and the connection with Brandon Lloyd was off to say the least. He was targeted eight times but could only come up with one reception for six yards. With the deep threat out, the tight ends were the stars, but they didn’t have an easy time of it. Rob Gronkowski dropped a couple passes and had some balls thrown to him that he couldn’t catch. His mobility seems to be limited by a hip injury and he isn’t the same player we grew accustomed to last season. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be with time and a bye week to heal.

There’s no doubt the offense performs better when Wes Welker is involved. He can move the chains and take some seriously brutal hits. It has clearly become part of the process to try to find other ways to move on offense outside of him. It takes a while for him to actually get involved in a game and that could easily be due to opposing defenses covering him. But suspicion will always lurk considering the Patriots have found ways to work around that before.

Defensively the line had a difficult time with the Jet’s offensive line. Sanchez was sacked four times but there didn’t seem to be much penetration. When they blitzed it created more pressure and as a team they need to incorporate that more. The linebacking core definitely limited the Jet’s run game with Jerod Mayo at the forefront. He had 10 solo tackles and it was good to see him back in the game after what appeared to be a shoulder/arm injury. This group always steps up and it was Rob Ninkovich who ended up being the Patriots savior with the forced fumble in overtime.

They say patience is a virtue and that is what Patriots fans will need to have for at least one more week. Next week in London the Pats need to find a way to win and get into their bye week with a 5-3 record. They are working through a lot of changes both on the coaching and personnel sides of the ball. This was an ugly win and they can’t back themselves into this type of situation again. The Patriots need to break the habit of a fourth quarter letdown and hopefully a trip across the pond can right this ship and set up a strong second half of the season.

Emotions in Patriots Favor Against the Jets On Sunday

As if watching Russell Wilson torch the Patriots last Sunday wasn’t bad enough, in his performance Thursday night, he had a quarterback rating of 0.00 in the second half. Talk about a smack in the face. The Patriots secondary got blown wide open by a guy who couldn’t put together a drive of over 10 yards in the fourth quarter. The Patriots have been dealing with that loss all week and combine that with a game against the AFC East rival Jets, and there should be more than enough fuel to push them to a dominating victory. Here are three things the Patriots have that the Jets don’t and what will put them in the driver’s seat on Sunday.

Last week’s loss will fuel Tom Brady to have a much needed turnaround game on Sunday. (FILE:USPresswire)

Emotional Baggage I mean this in the best way possible. Last week the Patriots got exposed and embarassed. Richard Sherman showed a complete lack of respect for the future hall of famer that is Tom Brady. It’s bad enough to lose to a team that is below your talent level, but to lose to a team that is incapable of acting like they’ve been there before, that’s worse. Brady was asked in his press conference this week about going up against the Jets after coming off a loss like the one in Seattle. The Jets are a very familiar opponent and it takes a lot of work and creativity to come up with something they haven’t seen you do before. He said he has a lot of respect and familiarity with this team and he touched on how they’ve adjusted to losing Darrelle Revis. Now just because there will be no “Revis Island”, that doesn’t mean the Patriots will get away scot-free. They will have to take advantage of their ability to run a high paced offense and make the Jets their outlet for enacting revenge. They have a lot to prove this week and should be running on their emotions from last week.

Front Seven If ever the Patriots front seven had an opportunity to disrupt a quarterback, this week is it. Mark Sanchez is pocket comfortable and can be forced into making bad passes. If Chandler Jones can keep playing at the level he has been, he should be successful in knocking Sanchez around. The Patriots have proven they can stop the run game when put to the test. Granted that shouldn’t be too difficult this week. Shonn Greene is the only active Jet running back with a carry that is expected to play on Sunday. That means we could see Tim Tebow get some carries. Knowing Rex Ryan, I wouldn’t put it past him. He likes to mix things up and keep the Patriots on their toes. As long as the front seven stay strong and are prepared for any and all possibilities, the Jets will not be able to break the wall.

Versatility With the Jets run game problems, the Patriots have the obvious advantage when it comes to versatility. They are more than capable of running the ball and Stevan Ridley is definitely looking to rebound from a poor performance. Wes Welker gives the Pats the shorter, slot pass option and he will probably be the defense’s top target. So even if he gets the double coverage they can turn to the tight end game with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez or they can go deep with Brandon Lloyd. The Jets have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to this Patriots offense. They’ll be calling plays out at a rapid rate and keeping the defense on their heels. That is how they will find success and burn the Jets early and often.

It is week 7 and now is when losses can really start to hurt a team. The Patriots will rise to the occasion on Sunday and show they are not the defeated type. They will use all 60 minutes to close out the game and not give the Jets a second to breathe on defense. Last week was tough but this week we will see just what this team has and how much of a turnaround they can make.

An Afternoon Full of Missed Opportunities For the Patriots

The Patriots’ game on Sunday was a story of missed opportunities and an unexpected performance by a rookie quarterback. There are two halves to every game and unfortunately for the Patriots, that didn’t work out in their favor this week. After scoring 17 points in the first half, the tough Seattle defense held them to just six points in the second. The Patriots struggled in the red zone while Russell Wilson showed he has the arm strength and the poise to lead his team to a comeback victory.

Tom Brady on the other hand had a difficult time. He threw two interceptions and got called for intentional grounding twice. Those penalties, in addition to four more, cost the Patriots 80 yards and the calls on Brady happened at crucial points in the game. The first one came as they were driving for a score to end the first half. Had the offense been more effective this would have locked in a 14 point lead heading into halftime. Instead the offense was stalled with two incomplete passes and a 10 second runoff due to the intentional grounding penalty. The second penalty came in the fourth quarter with the Patriots holding a six point lead. The offense was once again finding it difficult to get to the first down marker. On second down and 10 Brady got the penalty which forced a third down and 20, which they would not make. Luckily the defense came on the field and forced the Seahawks to punt and gave the offense just over three minutes to close out the game. All they needed to do was get a few first downs and run out the clock.

Another big day for Wes Welker but the offense stalled in Seattle. (FILE:USPresswire) 

Unfortunately the offense wasn’t able to execute when it counted. Brady seemed to struggle with the wet conditions and was throwing a lot of low passes. But that doesn’t mean the effort wasn’t there. Wes Welker did his part and took some serious hits in the process. He ended the day with 10 receptions for 138 yards and one touchdown. Brandon Lloyd worked the sidelines again with six receptions for 80 yards while Danny Woodhead proved to be Mr. Third Down and was one of the more relied upon running backs after Brandon Bolden left the game. Stevan Ridley got a taste of reality in Seattle as he was held to 16 carries for 34 yards. This week the balance we’ve become accustomed to went by the wayside. Brady threw 58 passes and the team’s 388 passing yards far outpaced their 87 rushing yards. When the clock mattered and the offense entered the red zone, they couldn’t turn opportunities into points. They froze in the red zone with just one touchdown and were unable to capitalize on a Seattle turnover to get seven points. At the end of the game, even just grabbing one more first down could have been the difference maker.

When it came to the defense, tackling was a big issue. They seemed to revert back a little bit this week as Wilson slipped out of the grasps of linebackers one too many times. When he got outside of the pocket he was dangerous both with his arm and his speed. He commanded his offense and had all the confidence with successful long ball shots to Golden Tate and Sidney Rice. The Patriots secondary let the receivers get behind them and that should never happen. Once again pass interference was a big problem and gave the Seahawks every chance to succeed. Something needs to be done with this secondary because every week it is the same thing, either the scheme needs to change or the coaching needs to change because it’s becoming a habit and other teams in the league are definitely taking notice.

Overall this was not the Patriots best showing. As Bill Belichick would say, they were outcoached, outplayed and outdone. The Seahawks were not going to sit by idly while the Patriots played. They took advantage of every opportunity and ended up on top. The lesson learned is make the most of each set of downs and play smarter football.

Offense Faces a Tough Crowd Out West On Sunday

Last week we saw the Patriots offense run at full speed, executing 89 plays in a 31-21 victory over the Denver Broncos. This week, don’t expect to see more of the same. They’re headed to CenturyLink Field in Seattle, notoriously one of the loudest places to play. The key to winning this week will be for the offense to stay focused and get the crowd out of this game early. Here are my offensive keys to the game.

1. Keep the Balance on Offense The Patriots have the top ranked offense in the National Football League. The key to their success has been combining Tom Brady’s arm with a run game we haven’t seen since the days of Corey Dillon. Stevan Ridley has been outstanding and is ranked in the top five among running backs in the league. He’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry and in addition to him, the Patriots have also seen promising things from Brandon Bolden. This week my fellow blogger Steve Balestrieri wrote a piece about this offensive balance and how important it is to continued success. Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker need to keep doing their job to make sure the offense keeps running in top form.

Tom Brady can’t let the crowd in Seattle affect his play.(FILE:USPresswire)

2. Tom Brady Needs to Get Loud When Brady enters the Seahawks’ house it will be crucial for him to get loud so his offensive unit can hear him. We learned this week the Patriots offense has simplified things by using one word play calls. We know Brady is capable and often changes the play at the line and he’ll have to be extra aware of his volume this Sunday. In the same regard the offensive line will have to adjust and keep their ears focused on the sound of their quarterback’s voice. Hopefully they can handle the increased background noise and all stay on the same page. Seattle is one of three cities Brady has never played in so hopefully he sat down with Deion Branch this week to learn the ins and outs of the stadium.

Offensive Line Needs to Protect While they were better last week, the offensive line still has work to do when it comes to protecting Brady. In the past two weeks they’ve allowed him to be sacked five times for a combined loss of 23 yards. Seattle has the third ranked defense and is fifth in the league with 16 sacks so far this season. With a loud crowd it will be important for the line to protect Brady. Nate Solder and Ryan Wendell will need to hold strong and give Brady ample time to find his receivers. We can’t afford to have him ducking and dodging phantom Seahawks as we’ve seen him do in other games this season.

An interesting stat to note is both the Patriots and the Seahawks have forced nine fumbles this season, leading the league. However, the Patriots have recovered eight of those fumbles whereas the Seahawks have only recovered four. With these offensive keys the Patriots defense will need to keep playing their way to compete with a strong and physical Seattle team. Staying focused and not letting the crowd control the game will be the way the Patriots win on Sunday.

Patriots Ended Up in A Defensive Shootout Against the Broncos

If you had told me at the start of the day that Peyton Manning would throw for 345 yards and three touchdowns but would lose the game by two scores, I would have had a hard time believing you.

On Sunday it was the offensive matchup we expected and the defensive shootout we may not have. In my preview post for this game I said it would be up to the defense to determine a winner. Well in the fourth quarter that proved true. After what could have been a costly fumble by Stevan Ridley, Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots’ defense one upped the Broncos’ D and forced Willis McGahee to fumble. That in turn sealed the deal for the Pats to walk away victorious.

Tom Brady led the offense at the speed of light in the first half. They took the no huddle to a new level and the Broncos’ defense couldn’t keep up. They limited the amount of substitutions Denver was able to make and wore down the line with an impressive run game. The Patriots rushed for 251 yards compared to the Broncos 70. Ridley had another solid game with 28 carries for 151 yards.

Stevan Ridley had another impressive performance with 151 yards and a touchdown. (FILE:USPresswire)

They were almost unstoppable on third down conversions going 11 for 17 including a big 17 yard pickup in the third quarter by Danny Woodhead that would eventually lead to the Patriots taking a 24-7 lead. It was a very impressive performance and the offensive line was able to execute very well on these plays. Unfortunately they slipped up one too many times while trying to protect Brady. In the second half, more than once he did a phantom duck for fear that a defender was right behind him. Ryan Wendell had a very difficult time and was not able to secure the center and eliminate a Denver pass rush right up the middle.

On the defensive side of the ball the Patriots were able to hold McGahee to 51 yards. Once again they proved they could take away a team’s weapon and force them to go elsewhere. Unfortunately they were dealing with Manning and he can put the ball wherever he wishes. Luckily he wasn’t able to execute too many long balls to burn the Patriots. Demaryius Thomas had nine receptions for 188 yards, far ahead of the next closest receiver McGahee with 51 yards.

Devin McCourty clearly still has work to do as those pass interference penalties are adding up. The Patriots had six penalties for 59 yards so there is room for improvement. McCourty needs to work with his coach on turning around to see the ball. If he at least starts to look at the ball I’ll forgive him if he gets called for interference. Overall the secondary did their job. They were able to cover the receivers enough to enable Jerod Mayo and Ninkovich to each get a sack on Manning. They also covered the middle well and kept the Broncos passing game to the sidelines.

At the end of the game it came down to which defense made the last play. The Patriots were able to hold Manning to only three touchdowns and kept him on the field for almost 10 minutes less than Brady. We knew what we were getting on offense but the key to victory was the defense continuing to play the way it has all season long.

Defense over Offense on Sunday

We’ve seen it before, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, two future hall of famers duking it out to see who comes out on top. On Sunday when the Denver Broncos visit Gillette Stadium all eyes will certainly be on the offense. But don’t forget about the other side of the ball as that is likely where this game will be won. Here are three things the Patriots defense needs to do in order to give them the best chance.

1. Front Seven Needs to Stay Hot So far this season the Patriots front seven has been outstanding. Last week the defense did their job and forced six Buffalo turnovers and sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick three times. This week the front line will have to put pressure on Manning. Clearly Manning and Fitzpatrick are two very different quarterbacks and rattling Manning will be tough but they’ve got to turn up the heat. It is critical to collapse the pocket and make Manning work to find his targets. If they can do that mistakes are more likely to be made and the defense can get Brady back to work.

Devin McCourty needs to have another performance like last week to keep Peyton Manning off the field. (FILE:USPresswire)

2. Secondary Steps Up Last week Devin McCourty made a turn around and was playing like his rookie year again. He had two interceptions and there’s hope he actually isn’t as weak as we may have thought. Overall the Patriots secondary isn’t the fastest or the most physical, but when they work together, they are successful. What they need to do is continue to find a style that works for them and execute it flawlessly. Manning will take advantage of any weak link all night if given the chance. McCourty, Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington need to play well and keep wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in check. They lead the team in receiving yards and we know Manning is more than capable of marching his team downfield quickly if need be.

3. Vince Wilfork stops Willis McGahee We’ve seen it before and I expect we will see it again on Sunday. Along with Kyle Love, Vince Wilfork will put a damper on the Bronco’s run game. McGahee is their leading rusher and rushed for 112 yards last week. There is no doubt that the Patriots can stop him just as they did with Chris Johnson. Wilfork needs to close up any holes that open up and stop the run game early. The defense needs to disrupt the Bronco’s plan and they can do so by taking away key parts of their offense.

With two elite quarterbacks at the helm, both of these offenses should be powerful enough to win. But just as Brady said in his press conference this week, it will take excellent play on both sides of the ball to be victorious. This game will not be won on offense alone and that is why the defense will be the key to the Patriots coming out on top.