Archive for November, 2010

Report Card: Patriots Tame Lions

The Patriots got their ninth win of the season on Thursday against the Detroit Lions. Even though the whole game was not spectacular from a Patriots perspective, it certainly ended in the Pats favor. Second half struggles have haunted the Patriots this season; that did not prove to be the case on this Thanksgiving holiday. The Pats seemed to come out a bit flat at the start of the game but slowly got into gear. The slow start in the first half left many fans questioning the team’s energy levels and preparation in result from the quick turn around. The Pats came out firing on all cylinders in the second half and the interception by rookie cornerback Devin McCourty swung the game in a new direction. In 16:58 of time the Pats scored 4 touchdowns in the second half and put the game away while doing so.

Like nearly all the games the Patriots have played this season, there were many positives and negatives to take out of Thursdays match-up. Certainly, this was not the best effort the Patriots had put forth this season but, it could most certainly be classified as a team win. The Lions showed how they have been competitive this year but also illustrated their greatest flaw, not playing a 60-minute ball game. However, the Patriots players showed great mental toughness by shaking off a rocky start and finishing strong. Here are my grades for the Patriots this week:

Offense: A

Another week of Patriots football, and another week of Tom Brady excellence. Number 12 has been on fire the past few weeks and seems to be carving up defenses with ease. The offensive line struggled against a stout Lions defensive line and Brady took some monster hits in result. Even after getting knocked down continually early, he rose to the occasion and delivered another MVP performance. He went 21 for 27, passing for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns. His perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 is astonishing. To put this remarkable feat in perspective, this is only the second time the hall-of-famer has achieved a perfect rating and he is the first QB for any team to do so this season.  He has the offense in sync and in result the unit is the highest scoring the NFL.

Deion Branch and Wes Welker had huge games for the Pats on Thursday and the team certainly needed their contributions. With two touchdowns apiece, it seemed every positive play on offense was their doing.

Good teams in this league do not turn the ball over and the Patriots have been doing an excellent job to this point in the season. Through 11 games, the Pats have turned the ball only 9 times and continue to make other teams pay for their costly mistakes.

Defense: C

Another deceptive win for the defense this year as turnovers masked the many flaws this group continues to struggle with. The defense allowed 24 points, 406 total yards, and was on the field for over 31 minutes with a 50% success rate on third down. Breakout rookie Devin McCourty has two interceptions that helped cover up a questionable effort from the squad.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe the defense played well enough to win the game. Although, if this team wants to go far into the post-season, there are some serious flaws that need to be addressed. This team has proved to me through 12 weeks of football that they can force turnovers and take advantage of opponents mistakes; a big difference from last season. Never the less, I continue to see grow every week from this unit, a positive side moving into the final part of this season.

Special Teams: C-

The Special Teams unit for this team has been tremendous this year. Unfortunately, the unit struggled on Thursday in Detroit. The Lions are the best team in the league in terms of starting field position. Stefan Logan showed why multiple times by burning the kickoff coverage during the game.

Besides Julien Edelman’s early game return, the Patriots could not get any substantial yardage on punts. Brandon Tate was held in check by the Lions special teams unit all day and teams seem to be avoiding him at all costs.

Game Grade: B –

Overall, the patriots got another solid road win. After all, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and the Pats Thanksgiving day performance was a clear example of just that. The team played well as a whole, but did struggle in every facet of the game. As the game came to a close the Patriots made enough plays to win and their strong play in the second half was unmatched.

The Patriots and Jets are now tied for the best records in the NFL at 9 – 2. Next weeks Monday Night Football showdown could end up being the game of the season and there is certainly plenty at stake. After playing 3 games in 12 days, the Patriots now get 11 days off to prepare for their division rivals. For now, the Patriots can enjoy this win and return home for a few days of well deserved rest. Next weeks challenge should prove to be much more challenging.

Patriots Set For Quick Turn Around

First of all, Brady and Manning, do I really need to say anymore? I am beginning to be at a loss of words for these match-ups. Another absolutely incredible finish in the NFL’s best new-age rivalry. Although I picked the Patriots to win, I did feel they would pull away by a ten-point margin in the end. New England got the win, but not without the Colts making a late game push.

Statistically, you could say the Patriots lost the game. For instance, the Colts had a 78% success rate on third down. However, the Patriots had the two most important stats on their side, they were plus three in the turnover margin and they finished with a W in the win column.

The Pats had success throughout the game in every phase. Special Teams was not the factor it has been in week’s prior, but the offense was on fire. It seems since the beginning of the Pittsburgh game, the offense has clicked. New England scored a touchdown in all three first half possessions on Sunday.

The biggest difference from this season to the previous is the defense making the plays needed to win games.  They certainly illustrated that several times on Sunday afternoon, with the biggest highlight being James Sanders game clinching interception. Defensive playmaking can be contagious for teams, you can just look at the New Orleans Saints of last season to see the latest example. With the Patriots fourth in the NFL at +9 in the turnover margin, they are certainly illustrating that point.

Not only is the Patriots defensive unit making plays, the offense is regaining early season form.  The Pats offense is leading the NFL in points per game at 29.4. After starting hot early in the season, the unit went through a transition period after trading Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings. While doing so however, the team maintained a 5 – 1 record and is highly regarded as one of the best teams in the league. For the last two weeks, Tom Brady has put the offense back in the drivers seat and everyone seems to be on the same page. This team will be very tough to beat if this production can continue at a consistent rate.

Through 11 weeks in this NFL season, this Patriots team is gaining momentum. However, the NFL season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and the Pats will need to stay on pace through the next few weeks to stay relevant.  With the division rival Jets around the corner, it is hard not to think about the biggest game of the Patriots season. New England cannot make that mistake again though. After the game in Cleveland a few weeks ago however, I doubt Bill Belichick would let them fall in that same trap.

With the Pats playing the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving just four days after playing the Colts, this week’s preparation is unique to say the least.  On Tuesday afternoon, Bill Belichick mentioned this weeks situation, “It’s unlike any other game you’ll play for a number of years, Just the short preparation, how quick the turnaround is, basically no practice. We’re just out there walking through some stuff today, jogging through it at a low tempo. (Then we’ll) just tee up and be ready to go on Thursday. “

The Lions have not had much success the past few years to say the least. In the last 42 games they have played, they have won just 4. That number seems to be a little misleading, however if you watch their games, they are a very competitive team and can give teams a lot of trouble. Here are a few things to keep in mind for this special holiday match-up:

  • Contain Calvin Johnson – If there is one weapon the Patriots need to contain during Sundays game in Detroit, it would be Calvin Johnson. He is an explosive force that is a big play waiting to happen. He is big, strong, physicial, and very fast; essentially everything a young defensive backs crew would not want to deal with. When he has the ball in his hands, be ready for anything. The Patriots defensive backs should have their hands full for all 60 minutes of game time.
  • Be ready for anything and everything – Since the Lions have little talent on their roster, they have been known for opening up the playbook offensively. Between unique offensive packages and aggressive play calling, the defense could have their hands full. If the Patriots let their guard down they could get burned. After all, what does this Lions team have to lose?
  • Unfamiliar foe could bring unique challenge – The Patriots and Lions do not play each other to often. With the lack of preparation and film study the team has been able to conduct through this quick turnaround, this could become a problem during the game. Another reason to shy away from penciling this as an automatic win.
  • Protect Tom Brady – This game could easily be won or lost in the trenches. Whoever wins the offensive and defensive line battle should ultimately have the upper hand. This should be no easy task as the Lions have already tallied 28 team sacks through ten games this year. They have a strong defensive line led by rookie standout Ndamukong Suh who has 6.5 sacks himself. Needless to say, the offensive line should have their hands full during the game. With the Lions so weak in the defensive backfield, look for them to bring pressure early and often.

With those thoughts taken into consideration, there seem to be a lot of favorable match-ups for the Pats this Thursday. I believe the Patriots can and will win this game by a wide margin. I’ll be looking for the Patriots to come out firing on all cylinders and should continue to roll. That being said, my prediction for the game Patriots – 31, Lions – 16.

Pre-Game Thoughts: Colts at Patriots

As the decade’s biggest rivalry is renewed this Sunday, the Colts and Patriots match-up is the headliner around the NFL this weekend.  This will be the last time these teams play each other in this decade as the 2010-year is rapidly coming to a close. The Colts are figuratively and metaphorically limping into Foxboro this weekend because of their injury riddled roster.  Since the Colts are missing some key contributors and the Patriots are dealing with roster turnover, this game already seems to be different than in years past. Never the less, I would like to share some quick points to keep in mind for the upcoming game.

  • Take away Reggie Wayne– With all the injuries the Colts are dealing with on their current roster, their offense has taken a few steps back. Wayne has been the one consistent target for Manning all year and has already caught 63 balls for over 750 yards. The Patriots defense needs to double cover Wayne and attempt to take him away from Manning. Taking away Manning’s one reliable target could throw their offense out of sync early and lead to frustration on the Colts sideline.
  • Run the ball- The Patriots are not a great rushing team and they haven’t seen a tremendous amount of success since the Corey Dillon era. However, the Patriots seem to run the ball just enough to open up their style of offense. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has emerged as the Patriots lead rusher in 2010. With Danny Woodhead’s progression and Fred Taylor’s potential return from injury, the Pats may have a chance to take advantage of one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Colts are 29th against the run this year, averaging 133.2 yards per game allowed. If the Patriots want to establish long and stable drives, the running game should help that develop.
  • Get in Peyton Manning’s face – Peyton Manning has experienced tremendous success throughout football career. Obvious statements aside, a large reason for that is knowing when to get rid of the football.  Peyton is one of the best in the NFL at knowing when to get rid of the ball and having a great awareness in the pocket. It will be hard to sack him, as he is annually one of the least sacked in the league, but with the added pressure schemes and blitzes the defense showed last week, the team could have success.
  • Prepare for Mathis and Freeney – Maybe the ultimate factor of the entire game. Or should I say two factors? Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have been forcing havoc on opposing quarterbacks for years now. Containing these two elite edge rushers will be critical if the Patriots want to have success on Sunday. Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer will have their hands full and if they cannot get the job done, Tom Brady’s jersey may not be as clean as it was last Sunday.
  • Don’t take your foot off the gas – If the Patriots get off to an early lead, I hope they keep their foot on the gas – meaning I do not want them to relax by playing prevent defense and conservative offense. We saw what can happen if they do just that last week in the forth quarter against the Steelers. The Patriots need to continue to play smart and disciplined football. Time of possession will be key in keeping Manning on the sideline and delivering solid offensive drives down the Colts throat.

With all of these thoughts taken into consideration, I believe the Patriots can and will win this game on Sunday afternoon. There seem to be a lot of favorable match-ups for the Pats and they are playing at home. Even though 4 out of the last 5 games played by these two teams have been decided by a touchdown or less, my prediction is Patriots – 27 Colts – 17.

Analysis: Patriots Rebound Convincingly in Pittsburgh

The 39-26 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers proved to be special in many ways. The Patriots played very well and came away with their biggest victory of the season. Many 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 night.

After a crushing defeat in Cleveland a week ago, the Patriots rebounded against a formidable opponent on the road. This game proved to be a deceiving battle. Even though the Patriots seemed to have control over the game, the Steelers kept it close. Fortunately, the Patriots made more plays than the Steelers, and that was the ultimate factor in the game.

Not too many negatives during the game’s entirety, but there were a few mistakes made. A few penalties by the Pats haunted them throughout the game. There was a chop block by BenJarvus Green-Ellis that turned a first and goal into a Shayne Graham field goal.  Then Rob Gronkowski’s fourth down catch in Steeler territory was wiped out for offensive pass interference, which forced the Patriots to punt. Usually this team is one of the more disciplined teams in the league, and I expect them to clean this up in the coming week of practice.

In all three phases of the game, the Patriots had success. They hit the Steelers in the mouth and were relentless, here were a few of my notes from the game:

Brady’s intensity helped fire up his teammates during Sunday night’s win. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)

The Offense:

Tom Brady was spectacular on Sunday night. After a week of scrutiny for his lackluster performance against the Browns, he responded in MVP fashion – finishing 30-of-43 for 350 yards, and 3 TDs with no interceptions. He seemed to be fired up during the game and his decision-making was remarkable. I felt this was one of his best games since he has returned from injury two seasons ago.

The offense put up 33 points against a very good Steelers defense. The Steelers allowed only 15.4 points per game before Sunday night. After this unit had continued to struggle in the post Moss era, it was nice to see they could move the chains while spreading the ball around. Surprisingly, Aaron Hernandez was held without a catch but Brady still found eight other targets that hauled in receptions.

The Patriots rushed for over 100 yards in the match-up. This is significant because prior to the game, the Steelers were the first team in NFL history to not allow an opponent to rush for more than 75 yards in a game through eight weeks. The Pittsburgh defense had been allowing only 2.6 yard per carry average prior to the game, yet Green-Ellis pounded away for 87 yards. The team threw the ball a large majority if the time but when they did run, they did have some success.

The Defense:

Who would have thought that the Patriots could outplay the Steelers on defense? The Patriots defense returned to its ‘bend but don’t break’ form. They also tallied a season high 5 sacks by rejuvenating their pass-rush and returned an interception for a touchdown. Although their performance in the fourth quarter was ugly, that did not take away from their strong performance in the first three.

I loved the defensive play calling throughout the game. The Steelers offensive line has been depleted with injuries and the Patriots took advantage. The sub-packages and different blitzing schemes were very effective. The whole defensive unit was shifting around: using stunts, twists, and disguising the play call. I would love to see this aggressiveness moving forward.

After being inactive for two straight weeks with a knee injury, Patrick Chung took the field Sunday night. His presence was felt within the unit and he was flying all over the field. Even though this is only his second year, he has become a key cog in this Patriot defense. When he is playing, the squad seems to play at a much higher level. His health could be crucial to this team moving forward.

I was disappointed to see second year player Darius Butler be one of the eight inactives for the game. After a strong rookie campaign, he has fallen off the radar and is obviously not showing the coaching staff enough in practice. I am not ready to write him off as a pro but at this stage in the season, he is simply not getting the job done.

Special Teams:

After losing Stephen Gostkowski for the season earlier in the week, Shayne Graham stepped up and played well. He did miss an extra point, but there was a bad snap which Zoltan Mesko had to corral that may have contributed to the missed try. Graham was also 2 for 2 in field goals on the night.

Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko had a fantastic night with 3 out of his 5 total punts downed inside the Steelers 20 yard line. His consistency was tremendous and he contributed to Pittsburgh’s poor field position.

Overall, what impressed me the most about Sunday’s victory was how the team carried themselves. High energy, focused, and executed in every facet of the game. After the Browns debacle the week before, I was worried about this team’s confidence level moving forward. I was glad to be one of the prognosticators proved wrong as the entire team played exceptional.

This game was the biggest for either franchise so far this season, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the Pats show up the way they did. This type of emotional road victory can sometimes propel the club to a new level. I believe this team can build on this win and return home for another tough challenge against Indianapolis next week. This victory could very well help the club gain momentum moving forward into the latter part of the season.

After a week of searching for answers, the Patriots proved once again they belong as an elite team in this league.

Patriots Now Need to Prove They Belong

Sundays 34 – 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns was just plain ugly. No other way to really describe the game. Patriots were brutally beat in every facet of the game, and the loss has left coaches, players, fans, and media members alike scrambling for answers.

After a week of praise for this Patriots squad being such a strong unit, the tide has quickly turned. The beat down handed to them by the Browns sent the Patriots spiraling down to earth. The team was outcoached, outplayed, and essentially out willed throughout the game. Sunday’s loss certainly leaves everyone with more questions than answers.

There are not many positives that can be taken out of this game. However, these are the types of games that can happen with a young team. As fans we have seen this team grow and learn on the fly, today was one of the days they seemed to regress.  I have said in the past that there will be days like this; I just figured they would come to a more formidable opponent.

One number people need to keep in mind is eight. That is the number of games left in a very long NFL season. In the next two months, the fate of this team will be decided. Many make the argument that this was the type of gut-check this team needed to stay level headed. I disagree with that line of thinking.

Confidence is such an important attribute for players and teams to have in the National Football League. A loss to a subpar team like the Cleveland Browns can frustrate a contender such as the Patriots. Not only that, the Patriots now travel to see the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road next week in primetime. If the Patriots lose, which many speculate is a good possibility, what happens to the team’s confidence then?  Of all the negatives that come from this loss, this is the aspect that worries me most.

The Patriots have faced a very tough schedule so far in this 2010 season and unfortunately it does not get any easier. In the next few weeks they face the Steelers, Colts, Lions, and Jets. Coming out of that stretch at .500 or better should be able to help them along in their playoff aspirations.  This next gauntlet in the Patriots schedule should tell us what we need to know about this roster.

Now is not the time to lose hope in this team. They are 6 – 2 at the half way mark and still considered an upper echelon team. A club with what many would describe as an abundance of youth and in a reloading year, has shown they can compete with anyone. Yes, they have had their struggles, but one loss does not ruin a season, especially in a year like this in the NFL.

Even though this loss is concerning, there is still time to make corrections. That window however, is closing in the coming weeks. The Patriots need to make improvements in all three phases of the game including coaching. I expect a much better effort from the team next week in Pittsburgh. That will be a tough game to win, but it is certainly not out of the question. As spectators we have to sit back, relax, and see what this team is made of.

This team has shown resiliency during the first 8 weeks of the season. They proved they could be a serious contender. Winning in just about every way imaginable: at home, on the road, blowouts, overtime, come from behind, rally stopping defensive stands, special teams outbursts, and everything in between.

The Patriots face another tough test next week and now have everything to prove once again. With the tough stretch coming up, we’ll see if the Patriots can once again prove they belong.

Pre-Game Thoughts: Don’t Sleep on the Browns

Sundays match-up between the Patriots & the Browns may not be a headliner around the NFL during the weekend but, don’t sleep on the Browns. You can ask Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints if you do not believe me. Although they might be the most talented roster in the league, they compete with every team giving a strong effort in the process. I thought I would share some quick points to keep think about for the upcoming game.

  • Take away what they do best – In Cleveland’s last seven wins, they threw for an average of just 91.4 yards. So how do they win? By forcing turnovers, playing good defense, and running the ball. Peyton Hillis has played exceptional this year, and with Mike Bell as well as James Davis in the mix, they have the talent to pound the rock. Taking away the running game and forcing the Browns to throw, would be a big advantage for the Patriots.
  • Contain Josh Cribbs – If there is one weapon the Patriots need to contain during Sundays game in Cleveland, it would be Josh Cribbs. He is an explosive force that is a big play waiting to happen. He is electric on special teams, he can catch the ball, run the ball, and play wildcat QB at times. The Browns run an offensive package called “flash” led by Josh Cribbs himself. Essentially flash is a knock-off of the Dolphins “Wildcat” package. When he has the ball in his hands, be ready for anything.
  • Get in Colt McCoy’s face – Colt McCoy may have experienced tremendous success throughout his college football career, but in the NFL, he has little experience. Even though the Browns offensive line is one of their strong points, they have a young center and rookie QB. By forcing more pressure in the center of the pocket the Patriots could have success.
  • Be ready for anything and everything – Since the Browns have little talent on their roster, they have been known for opening up the playbook offensively. Whether its using the “Flash” package or fakes on special teams, the Patriots need to be ready for everything. If the Patriots let their guard down, they could get burned.
  • Don’t take your foot off the gas – If the Patriots get off to an early lead, which I expect them too, I hope they keep the foot on the gas. Meaning I do not want them to relax and play prevent defense and conservative offense. They could get caught off guard easily with one of the Browns trick plays and the game could be much closer than anticipated. Beisdes, the Browns have had an extra week to prepare for the Patriots and are healthy coming off a bye week. The Patriots need to continue to play smart and disciplined football.

With all of these thoughts taken into consideration. I believe the Patriots can win this game on the road with ease. While I don’t believe it will be a blow out for the Patriots, they should have no problem winning by 14-point margin. My prediction is Patriots – 34,  Browns – 20.