Archive for November, 2012

History Favors The Patriots

December is the Patriots month. Not just because of the increased chance of snow and because they thrive in the cold, but because of their uncanny ability to win. Since 2001 they have a NFL best record of 41-5 in the month of December. Last year they went 4-0 with wins over Indianapolis, Washington, Denver and Miami en-route to their AFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance. Bill Belichick, while with the Pats, is top among all NFL coaches with one team, winning 43 of his 50 December games. This year the Patriots start the month off with an opponent that also has history on its side.

Bill Belichick is at his best in the month of December and this year should be no different. (FILE:USPresswire)

All time, the Miami Dolphins are 50-43 against the Patriots with the majority of their wins coming at home. But that may be where their momentum stops. Since Belichick became the coach, the Pats are 15-9 against the Dolphins and Tom Brady is 14-6 as a starter. While he owns a dominant record of 53-12 over AFC East opponents, he has given up the most wins to the Fins. It seems that these two teams always struggle against each other no matter how dominant the Patriots appear to be.

History also favors Wes Welker on Sunday. Welker is at his best when playing against his former team catching 75 passes for 981 yards and four touchdowns in nine career games. He averages 8.3 catches a game and 109 receiving yards which are his best against any opponent he has played more than once. He has made some big plays and had some big games against his former team. We can’t forget last season during the season-opener when he had a 99 yard touchdown run at Miami and there’s a strong chance this year he’ll burn the Dolphins for another 100-plus yard game.

It can be argued that Welker wouldn’t be the player he is without Brady. We saw what is was like earlier this season when Welker was discounted from the offense and how vital his presence is. The two are a duo watched closely by all teams in the NFL. With that said, Brady may be coming off one of the best stretches of games in his career. In the past five games he’s completed 64% of his passes with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His hot hand carries the team and if history can repeat itself, another big game should be in store on Sunday.

Miami has the seventh worst offense in the league averaging just over 19 points per game while the Patriots are sitting comfortable in the top spot with 37 points per game. This could be another game that is sealed with turnovers. Brady has thrown only three interception this season whereas rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, has thrown 12. Through 11 games the Dolphins have given the ball away 21 times and the Pats, well they’ve taken it away 32. It’s quite the mismatch and we could end up seeing another “butt fumble” or two on Sunday.

They say history repeats itself, and given the Patriots December dominance, their first matchup of this month could very well propel them to their eighth AFC East title in nine years.

Patriots Doing What They Should In Second Half

Since their bye week, the Patriots have been on the fast track offensively and are exactly where they should be given their opponents. And that is the key, the Patriots have not had a challenge in their past three games. Buffalo was tough but the Patriots got their focus back and have since beaten the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Jets handedly. But what exactly can we take away from this? How hard has it really been for the Patriots this second half and what will happen when tougher opponents take the field against them?

Bill Belichick still has work to do even though the Patriots have been unstoppable in back to back games. (FILE:USPresswire)

Offensively there are some big injuries plaguing the Patriots that could come back to haunt them. Logan Mankins has been battling a hip injury and Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer have also missed some time recently. Obviously the Rob Gronkowski injury was a big blow to the offense but the Patriots do have one element on their side, time. There was a quick turnaround from Sunday to Thursday this past week and Bill Belichick made some smart moves with personnel. Against Indianapolis Aaron Hernandez sat out and that gave his ankle more time to heal. After Gronk went down, that move by Belichick proved even more important. Hernandez didn’t rack up the receptions with only two grabs on three targets, but he was back in the game and that is an improvement. With Miami this week the Patriots should be able to afford another week of rest for players like Mankins with lingering injuries before they face the Texans and 49ers in back to back weeks.

Defensively the linebackers have been struggling. It started in the game against Buffalo when Brandon Spikes was too aggressive for his own good and now they’ve shown their inability to catch a running back on the move. The Patriots linebackers are big and when their timing is right, they can blitz an offense with great success, but when they need to make a tackle, a quick route on an angle has proven to be their demise.

Obviously there is a lot of positive to take out of these last three games. The Patriots have been doing exactly what was expected of them and have beaten lesser opponents by huge margins. They took advantage of every Jet mistake on Thanksgiving and made them look like a high school team going up against a bunch of pros. Andrew Luck was able to have a big passing day but ultimately the defense adjusted and picked him off three times. What’s important here is to keep perspective. The Patriots have done nothing they shouldn’t have done. Their real challenge is in two weeks when they face the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football. Their schedule has been favorable, and given their injury situation, the coaching has been spot on. In order to keep their success going they’ll have to take each win in name only and continue to correct mistakes that have hurt them all season long. With the playoffs inching closer this is just the time for the Patriots to come out and get some character building wins under their belts.

Patriots Handle Rookie Luck and Colts With Ease

On Sunday the Patriots handled the Indianapolis Colts exactly how they should have. Andrew Luck got a taste of the Patriots aggression on defense and saw how efficient Tom Brady can be. It was a nice change considering how the team has struggled against lesser opponents this season.

It was another big day for the linebackers with Jerod Mayo leading the way with 10 tackles as the defense got aggressive. (FILE:USPresswire)

The win was impressive with the Patriots tying their franchise record and putting up 59 points, and it should be noted that the Patriots finally played some cohesive football. Special teams came up huge with Julian Edelman returning a punt for a touchdown, in addition to his five carries for 58 yards. And the defense made adjustments after the first few series made it seem like this game was headed for a shootout. They got aggressive and collapsed the pocket on Luck. That is where they had their success. Vince Wilfork had two tipped passes and was in the face of Luck all game. When Chandler Jones left with an ankle injury, Jermaine Cunningham filled in flawlessly and worked with the linebackers to really turn up the heat. Brandon Spikes was quick off the line in the blitz and he was as aggressive as ever, without being reckless.

The secondary still struggled allowing Luck to pick up 334 passing yards but they did show improvement with only one pass interference penalty and it came in the first quarter. The rest of the game was clean and that was refreshing. There is nothing worse than watching a defense beat itself with penalties. The introduction of Aqib Talib went better than expected. He returned an interception 59 yards for a score and had seven tackles. It seems like he fits the system pretty well. Devin McCourty is solid at safety with Patrick Chung still dealing with a shoulder injury and it seems the addition of Talib can buy him some more time to recover.

The defense really excelled when it blitzed. That rattled Luck and when the pocked collapsed he had a tougher time putting the ball on target. But that is not to take anything away from the rookie. He showed his strength when Rob Ninkovich tried to pull him down by the collar and still managed to complete a pass downfield. He made some great passes and really took control of his team. Granted he threw three interceptions, two of which resulted in touchdowns, there’s no way he walked away from this game without gaining something. This was a great learning experience and it will make him a better quarterback moving forward this season.

Offensively the scheme worked well for the Patriots. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski each had seven receptions and Gronk had two touchdowns. It was a nice change to see him healthy enough to make the plays we grew so accustomed to last season. With the substitutions on the offensive line the run game took a bit of a hit but Brady did not and that is okay by me. Hopefully Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly were kept out of Sunday’s game to give them more rest for Thursday but only time will tell.

It’s a quick turn around for the Pats as they head to the Meadowlands to take on the Jets in primetime on Thursday. Hopefully they didn’t use up all their offense and can find their way back to the hurry up. If the defense is as aggressive with Mark Sanchez as it was with Luck, they should have another big three phase victory.

Colts vs. Patriots Gets A New Look

The time has come for the always anticipated Indianapolis Colts vs. New England Patriots game. Or wait, is it still anticipated? With Peyton Manning now playing for the Denver Broncos and rookie Andrew Luck at the helm, this game has completely changed. Its gone from a battle of future hall of famers to a battle of young versus old. Tom Brady is established while Luck is having a rookie season to remember. He has completely transformed a defeated Colts team that was 2-14 last season to a 6-3 team that we could see in the playoffs.

Tom Brady will take on Andrew Luck and hopefully his experience will win out in the battle of young versus old. (FILE:USPresswire)

On Sunday the Patriots will be up against yet another rookie with nothing to lose. Luck has already proven he is a legitimate player and can lead a team. It is the Patriots’ job to shut him down early and watch out for an always dangerous Reggie Wayne. He leads the team with 931 receiving yards, good enough for second in the league behind Calvin Johnson. The good news is that Luck is more of a traditional NFL quarterback. He isn’t a threat to run but he can work outside of the pocket. We know the Patriots needed a complete overhaul after their poor performance last week and here are three things they’ll need to do in order to succeed on Sunday.

1. Make Adjustments When Necessary What we haven’t seen from the Patriots so far this season is a lot of in game adjustments. Due to the versatility of Wayne, they’re going to need to actually do this on Sunday. They’ll use him for the shorter passes as well as the down the field shots. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots defense chooses to cover him. Indianapolis is no joke when it comes to offense. They are the sixth best in the league averaging just over 20 points per game. Their defense is matched with the Patriots when it comes to points allowed giving up 22 points per game, so this could turn into more of an offensive matchup than we bargained for.

2. Win the Special Teams Battle This team needs to step up on special teams. They about break even with the yards they allow on kickoff returns and the yards they pick up. We haven’t seen a solid special teams unit in years, we’ve only been given the glimmers of great runbacks that are not frequent enough. Should this game become more about the offense, special teams is going to play a big part. Bill Belichick talks every week about the three phases of the game and it’s about time the Patriots make some sort of move here.

3. Convert Third Down Opportunities The Patriots have allowed opponents to convert on just over 44% of their third down attempts this season. Meanwhile the Colts only let teams pick up the third down 37& of the time. Offensively these two teams are ranked first (Patriots) and third (Colts) when it comes to third down conversions. It’s a close matchup with the Colts defense statistically winning out. It will be important for Brady and this offense to convert on every opportunity. The run game needs a rebound and with Wes Welker missing some practice this week with an ankle injury, they have their work cutout for them.

So is this the start of a new era? Sunday is set to be a teacher versus student type of atmosphere and it has become more of a buildup than I think anyone could have anticipated in September. The Patriots still have a lot of improving to do and on Sunday let’s hope they give us a little bit more breathing room and control the game early.

Patriots Get Off to a Shaky Start As they Begin the Second Half of Their Season

The Patriots barely got passed the Buffalo Bills in an unimpressive first game off the bye week. Thanks to a near record day of penalties (14 for 148 yards), the Bills practically handed this game over. The way the Patriots played raises questions about what they did and what changed during their week off.

Devin McCourty saved the game with an end zone interception but the Patriots showed no improvement and barely got a win against the Bills. (FILE:USPresswire)

The only thing that seemed to change was the Patriots run defense. And in this case, change was not a good thing. Heading into Sunday’s game the Patriots were allowing opponents just around 88 rushing yards per game. Against the Bills, the once strong front seven allowed 162 yards. That far outpaced the Patriot’s 117 rushing yards. While there were glimpses of a pass rush and Ryan Fitzpatrick was taken down three times, it seemed like the defense was getting fooled. They were biting on delayed passes and the screen pass got the better of them. Not to mention the usual problem, there was still an open gap in the middle of the field that Scott Chandler got very comfortable with. He was the Bill’s answer to Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots got to see how difficult a guy of that size is to cover. And what seemed to be a distant problem, missed tackles, popped back up again on Sunday, a sign of a defense in reverse.

Offensively things didn’t get much better for the Patriots. Stevan Ridley struggled and finished with 22 carries for 98 yards. He did have a touchdown but his day against that Buffalo defensive line was not easy. The amount of times he tried to bounce the ball outside and was denied was uncharacteristic. So for a Patriots offense that is trying to find its stride and make a name for itself, today was not its day. Fitzpatrick walked away from this game having thrown 100 yards more than Tom Brady and completing a higher percentage of passes. Receivers dropping balls wasn’t any help but it takes eleven players to make an offense run smoothly.

It’s easy to say that the Patriots just needed to shake some rust off and this won’t happen again. But this was the perfect opportunity to get off to a strong start. What they should have done was force Buffalo to play at their level instead of lowering themselves down. The only change I saw was the incorporation of Deion Branch. After Wes Welker he was the most targeted with eight balls thrown his way but unfortunately he only came up with four receptions. The history between Brady and Branch is no secret and this could be signs of a wrinkle in which Branch will become more of a focus for this offense.

This game clearly was not the best way to start the second half of the season. The Patriots should have dominated just as they did in London. There were a lot of errors on both sides of the ball that overshadowed any positive improvements. Once again this team allowed a less than average quarterback to take control and make them sweat it out. Next week they will not be so lucky against Andrew Luck. They have to correct these mistakes and get serious about their schedule. The road from here on out isn’t easy and next week we’ll see what kind of team they’re truly going to be.

Back At It Against Buffalo

After a relaxing bye week, the Patriots are back at it on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. This is a nice transition from a week off into the final half of the season. With a win on Sunday, the Patriots will be 2-0 over a divisional opponent. That will come in handy when playoffs come around and teams are fighting for home field advantage. The last time these two teams met up the Patriots scored 31 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Bills 52-28. On Sunday, they’ll look to get off to a strong start early and keep the lead all game long.

The Patriots still rank top among all other NFL teams when it comes to offense. They had a lot of work to do over the bye and here is what I’ll be looking for from this team on Sunday.

What kind of offense are the Patriots going to run and how will Aaron Hernandez factor in? (FILE:USPresswire)

1. Identity of Offense Just because you’re the best, that doesn’t mean you have all of the answers. What I want to see on Sunday is what this team is going to be offensively down the stretch. Are they going to commit to Stevan Ridley and the run game or is Brandon Lloyd going to be a more important part? What effect will the tight ends have on the offense? Hopefully a week of rest did Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez some good and they are able to come back healthy and 100%. Tom Brady is the commander of this ship and it will be interesting to see how he and Josh McDaniels have come together to give some direction to this offense.

2. Tom Brady’s Command It seems to me that Tom Brady has been a little off so far this season. Whether it’s low thrown balls or off-target passes, he hasn’t quite gotten into a groove. On Sunday it will be great to see him run the offense like he used to. Quick and effective, driving the ball down the throat of an opposing defense. He is 35 years old and obviously not the same quarterback we used to know, but deep down he still has it in him. The Bills are the perfect opponent to make moves on and it will be a good opportunity for him to try out any new techniques that popped up during his bye week film studies.

3. Fourth Quarter Finish The Patriots need to start finishing games in the fourth quarter. I’d like to see them be the last ones with the ball in their hands on Sunday. In addition to the offensive work that was done of the past two weeks, you better believe twice as much work was done on defense. The Patriots made a splash signing Buccaneer’s CB Aqib Talib, but he won’t be a factor until after this week due to a suspension for violating league rules regarding performance-enhancing drugs. So for this week Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are going to have to shoulder the load and keep Buffalo at bay. Buffalo has one of the worst offenses in the league, ranking 25th out of 32, so hopefully that won’t be too much of a challenge.

It’s easy to look past Buffalo as a win but it’s never quite that way coming off a bye week. The Patriots will need to get back into the swing of things and get to playing their game. It’s a home crowd so hopefully that works to their advantage. These changes need to be come and they need to stick as all games are now must-win. Happy second half of the season, it’s time for us to see some true Patriots football.