Archive for December, 2010

Patriots Win, Lock up the AFC’s Top Seed

A Sunday afternoon victory over the Buffalo Bills officially award the Patriots AFC East champions. The team is now 13 – 2, and has won its eighth division title since 2001. This win ensures the Patriots will have the top seed in the AFC throughout the playoffs.

This win gives Bill Belichick a chance to manage his banged-up roster throughout the playoffs over the next two weeks. Here is what I picked up during Sunday’s match-up:

The Offense – The offense started slow for the Patriots, but quickly got into rhythm. Tom Brady once again had the offense in sync through the games entirety and continued his impressive streak. Sunday’s 27 pass attempts put the streak at 319 straight without an interception. His play continues an impressive campaign for MVP.

The running game came up big against Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills, which the 32nd ranked rush defense, were taken over by the likes of Ben Jarvis Green- Ellis and Danny Woodhead. The Patriots, who had excellent blocks throughout the day, had 220 rushing yards during the game. The balance on offense has been great for this unit throughout the season.

One concern I had with the offense was the protection. I felt Tom Brady was faced with pressure throughout the game. The middle of the offensive line seemed spot in Dan Connolly’s absence. A few of Brady’s passes were off target due to a patch-work offensive line.

The Defense – The Patriots defense continued its unbelievable turnover margin on Sunday. The unit was +7 by the end of regulation. With 36 turnovers through 16 weeks, the squad is capitalizing on any opportunities given to them. The Pats ability to turn the ball over is one reason why they are number one in NFL’s power rankings.

The first series, Buffalo controlled the Pats defense with the ground game. After the first series, the patriots had the Bills in a chokehold. Even with the injuries the Pats had sustained throughout the week, they were able to corral the Bills runningbacks.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has played well when given the opportunity. The Patriots secondary did a great job keeping the Bills passing offense in check throughout the game.  Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler both played well. I continued to be impressed with “one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL statistically.”

Special Teams – At the beginning of the season, the special teams unit played a large role in the teams success. I thought the coverage on special teams was the best it has been in weeks on Sunday, and a very good Bills special teams unit was held in check.

Shayne Graham has done a remarkable job filling in for Stephen Gostkowski this year. Gostkowski is widely considered one of the NFL’s best kickers and Graham has really stepped up for this team. Even though this aspect of football is largely overlooked, it should not be undervalued. This continues to be one of the NFL’s best special teams units.

Overall a great win for the Patriots. This victory locks up the AFC’s top seed and the East division. The Patriots host the Dolphins in the season finale next Sunday. The team cannot improve its position but one story line to follow is how Bill Belichick approaches things next week. Wes Welker’s knee injury in the season-finale last year, should affect how he manages the roster. In order to make a serious run in the playoffs, the team will need to be healthy. In the end, the Pats have proved throughout the 2010 season to be one of the leagues best and will surely make a serious contender come playoff time.

GameDay Inactives

The Patriots announced Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, Dan Connolly, Brandon Deaderick, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Taylor Price, & Thomas Clayton will all be inactive for Sunday’s game in Buffalo.

The team downgraded Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, Dan Connolly, Brandon Deaderick, Mike Wright, and Myron Pryor to OUT late on Saturday night.

Also, the Bills inactives: Jehuu Caulcrick, Geoff Hangartner, Ed Wang, Kellen Heard, Colin Brown, Mike Caussin and John McCargo

Patriots Win: Turn Page to Buffalo

After a tough victory at home against the Packers in week 15, the Patriots have turned the page to the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have been known to play teams very tough this year, although they have only won four games this season. Typically this could be labeled as a “trap game” for the Patriots but I feel the Patriots will stay focused with the number one seed up for grabs. With so much at stake for the Patriots on Sunday, I expect them to be firing on all cylinders. Although, no one should anticipate a blow out, the Bills always seem to put up a fight when the Pats come to town. Here are a few thoughts about the upcoming game:

Priority one: The most important outcome of Sunday’s game is a win; Plain and simple. That will ensure the Patriots have the AFC’s top seed, an AFC – East division title, and home field advantage for the playoffs.

Staying focused for Buffalo – With the holiday season upon us, fans are not the only ones struggling to stay focused amongst the chaos. Patriots players and coaches have recognized the difficulties of staying focused with this time of year being so family oriented. Belichick said in his Monday morning press conference , “Obviously, it’s Christmas week and all that. It’s an important time of year for all of us and our families and so forth, but with that being said, we’ve got an important job to do and we’ll try to balance those things out this week”.

Teams health down the stretch- At the beginning of the season, the Pats had some unfortunate injuries to key veterans. Throughout the season, however, the Pats have stayed relatively healthy. With two weeks to go in the regular season and on win away from wrapping up the AFC’s top seed, health down the stretch is key. The flu has a few players feeling under the weather, along with some other bump-and-bruises. Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, Dan Connolly, Brandon Deaderick, Mike Wright and Myron Pryor have already been downgraded to out. Getting the top seed will ensure the players get a full week of rest for any and all injuries.

Run the Ball- The Patriots have found some success in the run game this year, but they are not a run oriented team. Facing the 32nd ranked run defense in the NFL, they may want to adjust their game plan. Especially with Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis having success when given the opportunity. With the Bills allowing 158.6 yards per game on defense, he might have another opportunity. Green-Ellis has 824 yards on the year, and he is only 176 yards away from the 1,000-yard milestone. He is also two touchdowns away from tying a franchise record 14 TDs in a season.

Hope “the streak” continues- For coaches and players, personal stats may not be as important as they are to fans. Tom Brady’s current streak of most consecutive pass attempts without an interception is one that many can appreciate. Brady’s play has been at another level for the great part of the 2010 season, which is why he has been atop the list for MVP considerations. His 292 consecutive ass attempts have him ranked third in NFL history and he only needs 17 to become the all time leader.

Overall, the Pats are considered heavy favorites. I expect the Bills to stay competitive through the games entirety but I would not be surprised if the Patriots cover the eight point spread. The Pats injuries are starting to pile up but there is simply too much at stake for the team to stay complacent. Two weeks of potential rest could do these players a lot of good. I think the Pats will do their job and get the much needed win on the road. Patriots – 34, Bills – 19.

Six Patriots Downgraded to Out

The Patriots have downgraded TE Aaron Hernandez, OLB Jermaine Cunningham, OL Dan Connolly, DE Brandon Deaderick, DL Mike Wright and DL Myron Pryor to OUT for Sunday’s game in Buffalo. These players will not suit up.

With Hernandez out, the Pats could be using more 3 WR sets. Look for Edelman and Tate to see more action.

Second-year offensive lineman Ryan Wendall and five-year vet Quinn Ojinnaka the candidates to start at right guard.

And with Jermaine Cunningham out, Pats lose starting OLB in 3-4 alignment. Tully Banta-Cain, if healthy, probably steps in. Along with Banta-Cain, Eric Moore will probably see his playing time as well. Setting the edge against shifty runners Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller will be key.

Bringing the AFC Playoff Picture In Focus

As the 2010 regular season comes to a close, the playoff picture comes into focus. With two weeks to go, only two teams from the AFC have clinched a playoff spot, New England and Pittsburgh. Buffalo, Cincinnati, Denver, Cleveland, Houston, and Miami have been mathematically eliminated. Here is a look from a week 16 perspective.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – The Pats clinch the AFC East division and homefield advantage with either a NE win / tie
 or a NYJ loss / tie.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS – The Steelers clinch the AFC North division and a first-round bye with a Baltimore loss after beating the Panthers on Thursday night.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – The Chiefs clinch the AFC West division with a KC win + SD loss / tie
or a KC tie + SD loss.

NEW YORK JETS – The Jets clinch a playoff spot by either a win / tie
or JAC loss / tie 
3) or Indy loss or tie.

BALTIMORE RAVENS – The Ravens clinch a playoff spot in a number of ways. The easiest of course, is winning their match-up against Cleveland. The other possibilities: 1) BAL win or tie
2) KC loss + JAC loss or tie
3) KC loss + IND loss or tie
4) SD loss or tie + JAC loss or tie
5) SD loss or tie + IND loss or tie.

Patriots ProBowl Rank

As the fan voting period for the ProBowl came to a close on December 20th, over 98 million votes were cast. Fan voting accounts for one-third of the probowl process, NFL players and coaches casted their votes on Dec. 22-23. Brady topped all NFL players in fan voting with almost 2 million votes. 13 Patriots players were ranked in the top-5 of their respective positions.

QB Tom Brady — 1st (1,877,079)
S Patrick Chung — 2nd (116,291)
S Brandon Meriweather — 2nd (129,899)
KR Brandon Tate — 2nd (128,554)
DL Vince Wilfork — 2nd (304,139)
G Dan Connolly — 3rd (145,646)
ILB Jerod Mayo — 3rd (179,416)
P Zoltan Mesko — 3rd (99,634)
WR Wes Welker — 3rd (415,609)
C Dan Koppen — 4th (173,819)
ST Matthew Slater — 4th (103,124)
TE Rob Gronkowski — 5th (205,948)
OT Matt Light — 5th (220,477)

Devin McCourty: Developing into a Star

New England Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty has made an incredible impact on this 2010 Patriot team. The 2010 first round draft pick has begun to establish himself as one of the NFL’s young rising stars and is on the short list of players receiving consideration for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Rookie Devin McCourty is quickly becoming a star in the Patriots secondary (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)

McCourty’s spectacular play often goes unnoticed, and some may say rightfully so. After all, the Patriots are ranked 31st in the NFL in pass-defense. Others may say that this young defense is among the best when it comes to making big plays and producing turnovers to limit scoring chances for opposing teams. Their +20 turnover margin, leads the NFL and they have become on of the most opportunistic defenses in the league. With the average age of a Pats defender being only 25.6, the squad is the youngest in the NFL and maturing each week.

McCourty is a big reason for this defense making strides and forcing turnovers. His daily progression and development is evident by his play on the field. The Pats rank second in the NFL in interceptions with 20. It’s no coincidence McCourty also ranks second in the NFL in interceptions with six (tied with three other players). He also ranks fifth in the NFL with 20 passes defended. Therefore, by either intercepting a pass or knocking it down, McCourty has disrupted 26 pass attempts that would have otherwise been complete.  Only two players in the NFL have disrupted more this season.

Among rookies, McCourty’s six interceptions lead this year’s rookie class. This ties him in a tie with Hall of Famer Mike Haynes for the Patriots franchise rookie record.  His 20 passes defended trail only Joe Haden, the rookie cornerback standout in Cleveland.

Above and beyond Devin McCourty’s coverage skills, his open-field tackling ability is nearly unmatched for defensive backs.  Most cornerbacks are unaggressive tacklers who struggle in run support, not so in McCourty’s case.  He reacts to receivers like a heat-seeking missile and always makes solid contributions.  He has 67 tackles to show for it, 58 of which are solo. Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung are the only Patriots ranked ahead of McCourty in tackles. His style of play is a huge boost for any defensive system.

McCourty has made enormous strides each week this season. His high football IQ, something Belichick praised him for on draft day, has aided his execution. He has stepped in as a rookie and taken on the team’s No. 1 cornerback spot without missing a beat. Almost unprecedented in Belichick’s defense, is the number of repetitions he receives on a weekly basis.

From day one of this NFL season, McCourty has been asked to do both. Not only has Devin answered the call, he has succeeded at a high level for a Super Bowl caliber team.

Given the exceptional play of Lions DT Ndamokung Suh, it’s going to be a tight race for Defensive Rookie Of the Year.  Fortunately for McCourty and Patriots fans, the team will be headed deep into January if their level of play continues.

Never the less, Devin McCourty has shown enough throughout his 2010 rookie campaign, that he can be a great player for many years. The NFL draft can be a tedious process for any head coach, including Bill Belichick. In any case, it seems McCourty will be excelling in the Patriots defensive backfield for years to come.

Pats Roster Move: Leonard Released

According to a league source, the Patriots have waived DL Louis Leonard today. Leonard was signed last week to add depth on defensive line. This leads me to believe the Pats current defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion), Myron Pryor (back) and/or Ron Brace (concussion) are close to returning team would have kept Leonard.

As for Leonards roster spot, the Patriots had a few free agents in for workouts, including WR Sam Aiken. Aiken played for Patriots from 2008-2009 and was with team in ’10 training camp before signing with the Cleveland Browns. If the team signs him, he would be to address special teams concerns the team has had of late. After all, he was a captain and widely considered one of the best Patriots special teamers during his tenure.

The Patriots have signed defensive lineman Landon Cohen in place of Louis Leonard.

Pats Roster Moves: Tony Carter Promoted

On Saturday, the Patriots announced cornerback Tony Carter has been promoted from the practice squad to the active roster. To make room for Carter on the 53-man roster, the Patriots waived cornerback Chevis Jackson. The newly acquired Jackson, signed a two-year contract with the Patriots eight days ago.

If Jackson clears waivers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return at some point to the practice squad. The Pats secondary is banged up at the moment with Devin McCourty (rib), Kyle Arrington (elbow) and Darius Butler (thigh) battling injuries.

With Matt Flynn starting in place of Aaron Rodgers for Sunday nights game, Carter could see some immediate action. Since he has been on the practice squad this season, his familiarity with the Pats system could help him make more of an impact than Jackson who was just signed.

Packers QB Rodgers Downgraded to Out

On Saturday afternoon, the Packers downgraded their QuarterBack, Aaron Rodgers to Out. This comes just 24 hours after the team released its first report which had Rodgers listed as Doubtful.

It was doubtful Rodgers would play in the first place after he sustained a second concussion last Sunday in Detroit. The Packers officially ruling him out Saturday, obviously heavily favors the Patriots.

Despite the fact that he will not play Sunday night, the Packers QB is still making the trip to New England.