Archive for October, 2010

Pre-Game Thoughts for Vikings @ Patriots

There are plenty of story lines in this week’s match-up, which should contribute to an exciting game day in Foxboro.  And with Sundays Halloween match-up between the Vikings & Patriots approaching quickly, I thought I would share some quick points to keep think about for the game.

  • All indications are that Favre will play this Sunday even with two fractures in this left foot/ankle. There were some rumblings that Brad Childress was leaning toward Tarvaris Jackson but I am not sure he has the power to tell Favre what to do.
  • There are some great match-ups to watch for this week. Adrian Peterson vs the Patriots front 7. Randy Moss vs NE’s secondary. Matt Light vs All-Pro Jared Allen (the entire offensive line will have their hands full).
  • With both Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty starting just their fifth games as pros, they are more than likely to have their hands full with Randy Moss coming back to town. Bill Belichick has called Randy Moss one of the smartest players he has ever coached, with what Moss knows – Do you see him exploiting the young defensive backs?
  • Brett Favre is widely known as a gunslinger. His playing style can be a defenses best friend or nightmare. I find that once Brett throws one interception, he often throws another. Luckily this Patriots defense has been great at forcing turnovers this season with the margin at +6, among the top teams in the NFL
  • If there was ever a game for the Patriots to get out to an early lead, it would be this one. An early lead means less snaps for Adrian Peterson and more for Favre under center. Just like many other teams the Patriots have played this season, the Vikings are desperate. If the Patriots take the wind out of them early, the Vikings might close up shop mentally.

With all of these thoughts taken into consideration. I believe the Patriots could continue their winning streak this week. I see the Patriots pulling it out at by a close margin, similar to the last few weeks: Patriots – 27, Vikings – 20.

Don’t Apologize For a Win

Seven weeks into the NFL season and the New England Patriots are 5-1.  Even though the team has one of the league’s best records and are in contention atop the AFC, people still seem skeptical of this Patriots squad.

Oddly enough, some people continue to focus only on the negatives of each game. Fact is that 29 other teams would like to be where the Patriots stand at this point season.

The Patriots traveled over 3,000 miles to play the Chargers in a true west-coast game. Not only is that impressive, but they beat a team that needed to win. I don’t know about you, but a talent stacked roster that is number one in top offensive and defensive categories playing at home should be considered tough to beat.

The Chargers showed another way to give a game away to an opponent Sunday. Whether they were mental errors, great plays, or luck, the Patriots capitalized and were more prepared. That is a testament to Bill Belichick and the coaching staff.

Bill said to the team after the game, “Don’t apologize for a win”. I could not agree more. While some players apologized for making some errors, there is time for corrections. A win on the road and in conference should not be overlooked and Bill understands that.

This tells me Belichick knows his young players expect excellence not only from themselves, but also from him and his staff. A team with that kind of dedication, drive, and commitment to excellence should be feared throughout the NFL.

This young team has been maturing and improving right before our eyes. With youth however, often comes inconsistency, which is why I am hesitant placing the Patriots in the upper echelon of teams.  After all, this team still has room for improvement in almost every facet of the game.

Week by week though, doubters are proved wrong. The team has continued to make improvements and learn from mistakes after each game. Obviously, that is great to see but sustained success will only solidify those thoughts. The good news is the Pats continue to make improvements and seem to learn from mistakes after each game. We knew there would be growing pains with a young team, so the optimal word here is patience.

This next week against the Minnesota Vikings should be an intriguing game packed with excitement – and I’m looking forward to seeing how this team continues to grow in the coming weeks.

Patriots at Chargers: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

First and foremost the most important aspect of Sundays game is that the Patriots have a winning record on the road. This young team has now won two games out of the last three away from Gillette Stadium. Do not underestimate how much confidence this team can gain after a west coast victory against a talented San Diego Chargers team. The Patriots are now 5-1 and are in the mix of elite teams.

The turnover margin was a thing of beauty yesterday. The Chargers turned the ball over 4 times while the Patriots did not. Even though these turnovers were earlier in the game, they lead to an insurmountable lead for the Chargers. Whether they were mental errors, great plays, or luck – The Patriots capitalized and were more prepared. That is a testament to Bill Belichick and the coaching staff.

Even though the Patriots seemed to struggle a little in the second half, they came out of the tunnel fired up and were determined to execute their game plan. It would be easy for a roster compiled of young players to be rattled on the road but that simply was not the case this past weekend. The team showed mental and physical toughness, which is great to see from such an inexperienced squad.

The Bad

I know I mention Matt Light specifically in the “Ugly” category but the offensive line was so bad in this game that the entire unit deserves to be scrutinized further. Dan Connelly was benched for Ryan Wendell, Matt Light was man handled, and the unit let up 4 sacks – terrible overall performance. I would not want to be in the film room with Dante Scarnecchia later this week.

The Patriots had a terrible day rushing the ball, with a combined 51 total yards between all rushers.  They will need to find some consistency from the ground game in order to make their passing game more potent. Granted the Chargers defense is good, but 2.3 yards per carry is not going to cut it.

Long snapper Jake Ingram had another bad game this year, and this one probably tops his other performances. After being a very solid pick up last year, he has struggled mightily recently. He had two out of three snaps to punter Zoltan Mesko bounce off the turf and was also called for a holding penalty.

The Ugly

The Patriots offense was inept on Sunday. The unit totaled only 179 yards, which was fewest in a win since January of 2000. The offense looked out of sync throughout the game, which is frustrating because they are supposed to be the foundation of this team. I also expected more from my hall of Fame quarterback, who did not play as well as I would have liked him to.

The play calling on both sides of the ball was extremely questionable. More so on defense as they went to prevent in the third quarter that started a near comeback by the Chargers. The defense should have stayed aggressive but they took their foot of the gas and almost let the game go. Fortunately, they made enough plays to win.

Veteran left tackle Matt Light was absolutely man handled through the duration of the game. He constantly let up pressure from Tom Brady’s blind side, which is concerning on a number of levels. None of which are more concerning than All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen coming to town next week.

Overall, a great team win. The offense put up enough points to win, the special teams were solid, and the defense once again showed vast improvements. Before this game, I still questioned this ball club solely because of the youth factor, but each week they have continued to prove the doubters wrong.

Make no mistake, this Patriots team is for real, and  through six games they’re also one of the best teams in the NFL.

Pre-Game Thoughts on the San Diego Chargers

With Sunday’s match-up between the Chargers & Patriots rapidly approaching, I thought I would share some quick points to think about for the upcoming game.

  • This will be a tough task for this young Patriots squad. Traveling from coast-to-coast is not the easiest task in the NFL and for many of these rookies this is their first true west coast game.
  • While the Chargers are going into week 7 with a 2-4 record on the year, they have been exceptional at home. Blowing out both the Jaguars and Cardinals with a combined score of 79-23. While these may not be the strongest teams in the league, the Chargers are coming off an embarrassing loss to the St. Louis Rams last week – and are likely looking for a little revenge.
  • I think this could be an important win for the Patriots. In the last year and a half the only real road victory was a few weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. Another win on the road could start to establish confidence in these young players as they continue to make strides.
  • The Patriots could not catch the Chargers at a better point in the season. The Chargers have a several key injuries. Nate Kaeding (K) is out, Legadu Naanee and Malcom Floyd (WRs) are both doubtful, and Antonio Gates (TE) is a game-time decision with a toe injury. In the Norv Turner era in San Diego, 0 out of 24 players have suited up when listed as doubtful.
  • One aspect of this Chargers team that worries me is their passing game. Through six games, Phillip Rivers has already thrown for over 2,000 yards. Combine that with New England’s 29th ranked pass defense in the league and that is an area San Diego will likely try and exploit.
  • This could be Jermaine Cunningham’s break out game. The Chargers have had protection problems all year and he could be looking at a big day along with the rest of the defense. The Rams sacked Rivers seven times alone last week. After missing the pre-season with a lower leg injury, Cunningham has slowly progressed through the season. Look for him to make an impact.

With all of these thoughts taken into consideration. I believe the Patriots can win this game. While I don’t believe it will be a blow out on either side, I see the Patriots pulling it out by a close margin on the road: Patriots – 31, Chargers – 27.

REPORT CARD: Patriots Measure Up Against Baltimore

The 23 – 20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens proved to be special in many ways. I thought this game would be a measuring stick type of game for the Patriots and they measured up to one of the better teams in the NFL on Sunday.

Even though the team started slow in the beginning, they were resilient and refused to go away. Finally, when they needed too, they made the crucial plays to win in all three phases of the game. Here is the team’s report card from the match-up.

Offense: B

While this was not the offense’s most stellar performance, the team adapted to adversity. The offense was forced to evolve quickly in two weeks after Randy Moss was traded to the Minnesota Vikings.

For the 30th time in his career, Tom Brady led the Patriots to victory from a fourth-quarter deficit. Brady was clutch down the stretch, finishing 16-of-24 for 156 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Deion Branch proved he could still be productive in this offensive system, linking up with Brady 9 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. Also, Danny Woodhead was a huge factor again with 11 carries for 63 yards and five catches for 52 yards.

Overall, even though the offense put up enough points to win, I felt through the entire game they left plays and points on the field. Their clock management is one aspect I was interested to hear Belichick talk about Monday; I have not seen a game in recent memory that the coaching staff did such a poor job in that category.

They might have won the game in regulation if they had punched it into the end zone instead of tying with a field goal late in the fourth quarter.

Defense: A-

Defensively, the Patriots played excellent down the stretch. The Patriot’s defense shut down the Ravens on their final 5 possessions of the game. Earlier in the off-season, I had said that this defense would not be able to get stops when they need too, that argument was thrown out, as the defense became a dominant force at the end of the game.

Now, lets not forget about the first 3 quarters. This defense was once again frustrating fans and forcing me to replace my carpet after I paced in front of the TV for an hour.  Some how, almost every time I looked up at the score, the patriots were in striking distance. The game always-felt much more out of hand than the score dictated, yet the team stayed competitive.

The defense held the Baltimore offense to only 20 points after they had been allowing over 26 in the previous three games. Also, going to back to those five stops late in the game, they had to keep the Ravens from scoring or they would have lost.

Defensive captain Vince Wilfork certainly had a lot to say about the game after, here is one of the many statements he made post-game. “That was awesome. Big win. Probably one of the biggest wins around here in a long time. It was the most physical game I’ve ever played in and my hat goes off to my teammates, coaching staff [and their] preparation.”

I agree with Vince whole-heartedly and while the rollercoaster of emotions will continue with this defense moving forward, the facts are the defense made the plays when the game was on the line. That is an encouraging sign moving forward.

Special Teams: B+

The Patriots strong special teams unit showed up again against the Ravens and the team needed them to. Zoltan Mesko’s 65 yard punt in overtime to change the field position when the team needed him most, Gostkowski’s three FGs including the game winner, and the multiple punt returns by Wes Welker improving the teams field position.

Brandon Tate was unable to impact the game because of Billy Cundiff and his ability to kick the ball deep into the end zone.

Barring a touchdown, this was a solid performance by the special teams unit and has proved to consistent and reliable part of the game. Having a great special teams unit showed not be overlooked (i.e. San Diego Chargers). Hopefully they can keep this up moving forward.

Overall game grade: A

Overall a solid win coming off the bye for the Patriots. They beat one of the best teams in the NFL with contributions from all three phases of the game. But most of all, they measured up and are now in the mix of AFC elite teams.

While not each of these phases received an “A” grade, this win should not be taken for granted. Emotionally and physically the Patriots put a lot into this game. The Ravens embarrassed them when they met in the play-offs last year. That is why a victory for these players could build some confidence and momentum moving forward.

Pre-game Thoughts on the Ravens at Patriots

With Sundays match-up between the Ravens & Patriots rapidly approaching, I thought I would share some quick points to keep think about for the upcoming game.

  • While the Ravens are a very good football team, one aspect they do struggle in is turnovers. They are tied for 30th in the league in turnover differential at -6.
  • The Ravens are playing their 4th road game in 6 weeks. They have had some nagging injuries and are naturally a bit tired from the traveling.  With the Patriots rested and coming off a bye week, they certainly have an advantage playing this Raven while they are vulnerable.
  • In the Belichick era, the Patriots have done very well coming off a bye. Since the 2000 season, the Patriots are 8 – 2. With the last loss coming in the 2002 season against the Denver Broncos.
  • Motivation has been the word flying around in the press this week. The Ravens embarrassed the Patriots last time they met. Look for the Patriots to come out fired up for this game. Although, if the Ravens come out and grab momentum early. Does the team have the mental toughness to respond?
  • A lot has been made of this Randy Moss trade, as well it should, I believe we all are curious to see how this offense responds in his absence.  I would be surprised if this team does not put out a solid effort in this new post-Moss era.
  • The Patriots have the best 3rd down success percentage in the entire league at around 55. 3. On the other hand the Ravens are the best 3rd down defense in the league at 5.2 percent.
  • The Patriots have highest scoring offense in the NFL this season, averaging 32.75 points per game. Keep in mind however, the Baltimore Ravens have only allowed an average of 12.3 points per game on the road this season.

With all of these thoughts taken into consideration. I believe the Patriots can win this game. While I don’t believe it will be a blow out on either side, I see the Patriots pulling it out at home. The Pats have a lot invested into this game emotionally and they are physically rested to come out looking to get even. With an extra week to prepare for the Ravens and playing at home, my prediction is Patriots – 24, Ravens- 20.

Young Players Continue to Make an Impact

As the 2010 season plays out, the youth injected roster of the New England Patriots is forced to grow on the fly. First and second year players have had an impact on this team more than ever in the last few years in various roles. Whether these players are starters or contributing in on sub packages, they are making their mark on this franchise.

While not all of these players have been consistent, many of these players have shown both flashes of brilliance and made bone-headed decisions.  That is the harsh reality of this team and while it may not always be pretty; this comes with the strategy of reloading with out rebuilding.

Many may question what the term “reloading” might be compared to the dreaded “rebuilding” phase sports franchises will go through from time-to-time. To me, the difference goes down to the foundation of the roster and team as a whole. If a team is truly rebuilding, the franchise is looking at a new coaching staff, front office personnel, young or new QB, and even new ownership at times.

While the Patriots are not rebuilding by any stretch, do not fool yourself, this team has been undergoing serious roster turnover throughout the past few seasons. A move that inevitably came with the veteran laden team the Patriots represented during the early part of the millennium.

This current rookie class has already seen playing time that far exceeds rookie players in the past. This of course, has a strong correlation to both the talent on the roster and retooling strategy the coaching staff has chosen to deploy.

Teams continue to go after rookie CB Devin McCourty (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)

Devin McCourty is the only player to participate in every defensive snap this season. While he has struggled in all four games, he is being targeted, and 31 other NFL teams will continue to go after him until he proves he can make stops consistently. However, he is already one of the teams best tacklers, contributing well in both pass and run situations. Lets not forget, he was supposed to have a veteran corner in Leigh Bodden on the opposite side of him to help the transition into the pro level.

Aaron Hernandez, is the youngest player in the NFL today, and already has been placed with high expectations. And why would he not be?  He’s been targeted 20 times in the first 4 games, making 18 receptions, and maximizing the play with yards-after-catch.

I will not go through the entire roster that holds over two dozen rookies and sophomores in that much detail but, there are many players contributing in all three phases of the game. Gronkowski has been solid, Tate has been explosive, Patrick Chung is emerging as a playmaking safety that can deliver in both defense and special teams.

While Darius Butler has had hit a sophomore slump of sorts, he had a strong rookie campaign and I still feel confident he can bounce back. Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham have shown some signs they can contribute but they still have a lot of work to do; in fact, all of these guys do.

The reality of that statement is, it’s ok. We are four games in to this season and off to a 3 -1 start. These rookies have played four games, and second year players continue to develop. There is no need to make knee jerk reactions based on a game performance.

These young players are under the microscope on a daily basis because this team lacks the veteran leadership and elite talent of the past few years. Most fans and analysts hold this organization to a high standard because of their success this past decade, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick.

This team will improve overall in the long run, whether or not they make the playoffs and become a contender this season will be determined by how the team responds to this tough schedule upcoming (Ravens, Pittsburgh Chargers, Vikings). There will be both good and bad days for these young players ahead. However, I think we all have a lot to look forward too judging on what we have seen so far.

For Patriots Moss Trade Is A Step Backward

On October 6th, 2010 Randy Moss was traded to the Minnesota Vikings along with a 2012 7th round draft pick for a 2011 3rd round selection.

To me, this trade makes you a lesser team by far.

This is the Richard Seymour trade all over again. The Patriots have no one to replace Moss right now or in the future, and this is just another huge hole to fill next April in the draft. An All-pro, perennial pro-bowl wide receiver who is the best deep ball receiver in the history of the NFL for a 3rd rounder? That is a steal for Minnesota in my mind.

However, you have to account for the multiple reports of locker-room “fallouts” and “outbursts” with the coaching staff throughout this last weeks game. Then there’s the contract speech he gave after a critical week one win against a playoff caliber team in Cincinnati. Not to mention, there are reports out there that unnamed players have said he was starting to become a distraction. If all those are true, it was probably a good move to cut ties –  but once again management has put themselves in a tough position.

The next question in my mind becomes what happens to an offense when you have 4 slot receivers, no deep threat, and a mediocre running game?  Not to mention a defense that allows an average of 25 points a game – it’s not good. You are going to see a different Patriots offense on the field in week 6.

To get a win like we did in Miami and then have this happen immediately after really cuts the team down. From the players and coaches to the fans of the Patriots, everyone needed that win against the Dolphins. The bye week could not have come at a better time in that regard, since the team has two weeks to get focused and work on becoming a better football team.

Only time will tell what this team can accomplish, but they are a worse football team than they were two days ago. Moving forward they have even more questions than answers. I expect the team to make some serious moves after the season concludes, but I don’t expect another trade before the deadline.

 There is still a lot of talent on offense with a Hall-of-Fame quarterback at the helm, but only time will tell what the 2010 Patriots can be.