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First Take: Patriots Host Colts in AFC Championship Game

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted January 12, 2015 at 8:00 am

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski might have a little extra motivation this week as the team hosts the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots will host the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium this Sunday.

The Colts traveled to Denver, pulling off the upset to defeat the Broncos 24-13. The Patriots took care of business Saturday, in a 35-31 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, setting up the second meeting between the teams this season.

These two teams last met Nov. 16, with the Patriots winning 42-20 behind a 201-yard rushing performance by Jonas Gray.

Here’s a few early thoughts on the contest. —

– The Patriots have handled the Colts with relative ease in their last three meetings, averaging 26 points-per-victory and outscoring Indianapolis 144-66.

– Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has struggled against New England: 70-for-130, 968 yards, 6 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and a 67.7 QB rating in his career.

– The running game for both teams is an obvious focus for this contest. New England has shredded Indy with the run over the past two meetings. Last year, the Pats and LeGarrette Blount ran the Colts into the ground, same story two months ago with Gray in the backfield.

The Patriots did not have LeGarrette Blount for November’s contest, as he was still a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Colts on the other hand totaled four yards on 13 attempts with Ahmad Bradshaw, now on injured-reserve, and Trent Richardson, whose been an afterthought after a disappointing season. Dan Herron is now the starter, carrying the ball 23 times Sunday evening for 63 yards and a touchdown.

– The Jones brothers will be an easy storyline this week, as the Colts’ Arthur and Pats’ Chandler, were both unavailable for the last meeting.

– Remember when Colts defensive back, Sergio Brown, tweeted post-game that he “put straps” on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski? Well he does, too. Needless to say, Gronk will be ready for this week’s contest as he, and the rest of Patriots Nation, remembers it a little differently. When the All-Pro tight end “threw (Brown) out of the club”, it cost him $8,268 in league fines.

Overall, it’s a given the majority of Pats fans will be highly optimistic this week. Based on the last few meetings, it’s justified. With that being said, Bill Belichick will focus on getting the team locked in. It’s a one week season, and before you plan your trip to Glendale, AZ,  we’ll see if New England can get the job done this Sunday.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Pregame Thoughts and Analysis: Patriots Host Ravens in Divisional Round Showdown

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted January 9, 2015 at 9:00 am

Rob Gronkowski is healthy and ready to take the playoffs by storm as the Patriots begin their playoff journey Saturday evening. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium Saturday as 4:35 EST.

The Patriots begin their playoff journey, after a strong 2014 campaign and locking up the top seed in the AFC along the way. This is the first meeting between these two teams this season.

After defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers last Saturday night, Baltimore will travel with a ton of confidence and a been-there-done-that attitude. On the flip side, New England has prepared and rested over the past two weeks, gearing up for this contest. 

Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming game.

Pregame Thoughts — 

First Impressions: The Ravens have a top ten offense and defense. With a strong front seven, the Ravens defense can be formidable. That being said, their secondary has been banged up and they lost two of their top three cornerbacks (Aaron Ross and Jimmy Smith) during the year. The team’s pass rushing ability — racking up 49 sacks throughout the year — helped cover up a 23rd ranked pass defense.

Joe Flacco has been terrific in the playoffs. In his last five post-season games, Flacco has put up 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. With Flacco as the signal-caller, he loves to push the ball downfield and throws one of the best deep balls in the league. Playmaking wide receivers, Torrey Smith and Steve Smith, will be a tough match-up for the Pats secondary.

Protecting Brady is Biggest Key to Victory: The Ravens have an attacking front seven on defense, making it hard for opposing quarterbacks. Baltimore’s front seven is dangerous with players like Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith. There’s no question will give New England’s shaky offensive line all they can handle. 

This is the key match-up for the contest. A big benefit for New England is the starting offensive line had the opportunity to get healthy the past few weeks. If the offensive line can give Tom Brady time in the pocket, Baltimore’s suspect secondary will likely be picked apart. If not, there’s a good chance this will be a dogfight that puts the game in jeopardy.

Pats May Shy Away from Balance, Pass to Win: Even though Baltimore’s pass rush and interior pressure is the biggest concern for the Patriots Sunday, New England should pass to win this week. In part because the Ravens have allowed 88.3 rushing yards-per-game to opposing offenses, fourth-best in the NFL.

With pressure from the Ravens defense inevitable, expect Brady and the offense to do a lot of quick passes, screen plays and up-tempo play calling to slow down the pass rush.

In that same vein, New England may use a spread offensive in this contest. Brady in shotgun, Shane Vereen in the backfield, with the passing options away from the pocket. With the Ravens secondary already depleted by injury, this could put the pressure on Baltimore on the backend of their defense.

Ravens Deep Passing Threats: As aforementioned, Flacco is one of the better downfield passers in the league. Torrey Smith is their biggest threat down the field. Even if he isn’t catching passes, he had more defensive pass interference calls against him than any other player in the NFL.

New England has to eliminate big plays and make the Ravens offense work for everything in Saturday’s contest. So how do the Patriots corner backs align against Baltimore’s receivers? This will be one of the most intriguing and important elements of the game.

At first glance, Darrelle Revis might be the better option for Steve Smith, because he could play on the outside or inside and led his team in receptions throughout the season. Although that would put Brandon Browner on Torrey Smith, which could put some penalties against the Pats and give the Ravens cheap yardage.

Revis should shadow Torrey Smith, who’s the more dangerous weapon at this stage of he (and Steve Smith’s) careers at this juncture. When Steve Smith goes inside, put Kyle Arrington on him in the slot and let Browner stick to the sidelines when he can put his hands on his opponent more effectively.

You can make arguments for both sides, but however Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia decide to defend these receivers Saturday will be a big discussion point next week.

Final Thoughts: This will be an exciting game. These two teams have a history and there’s some bad blood between a few of the players…cough…Suggs and Brady… cough. While some New England fans fear Baltimore, which is understandable, the Patriots have no excuses and seem ready for post-season play.

The Pats are the better overall team, are playing at home and had time off to get healthy. While Baltimore won’t go easy, expect the Patriots to hold off the Ravens front seven long enough for Brady to march down the field and put pressure on the Ravens early. New England’s defense took a step forward this season and this could be the week they make a statement to the rest of the league.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Ravens 20

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

First Take: Opening Thoughts on Ravens at Patriots Showdown

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted January 4, 2015 at 9:00 am

Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday at Gillette Stadium. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium, Saturday Jan. 10 at 4:35 EST.

After defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night, the Ravens are once again headed to face the Patriots in the playoffs. New England and Baltimore did not play each other in the 2014 regular season.

Here’s a few opening thoughts on Saturday’s contest. —

The Ravens won’t go easy, but the Patriots should win this match-up. New England is the better team and have been more consistent throughout the season. Baltimore, however, has played good football at times and looked like a strong opponent in the Wildcard Round.

In his last five post-season games, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. While Flacco isn’t an elite QB, he plays well in the playoffs.

Many Pats fans have flashbacks to tough playoff contents over the last few years. These two teams are significantly different than in 2012, though, when the Ravens came away with a 28-13 victory over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game before going on to win the Super Bowl.

With the Ravens overhauling their defense, moving on from Hall of Fame talents like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, they’re defense isn’t quite the powerhouse it use to be, but the front seven still has a lot of talent. Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith will give New England’s shaky offensive line all they can handle.

At first glance, this could be where the game is won or lost: Baltimore’s defensive front vs New England’s offensive line.

On the flip side, the Patriots are much improved and will be going into this contest as healthy as any NFL team can wish for at this juncture of the season.

New England was without All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski in the 2012 playoff match-up and defensive end Chandler Jones played only two snaps due to injury.

Darrelle Revis and the Patriots eighth-ranked defense has changed the way this team wins games. While many will look back at this 2012 playoff contest to try and draw comparisons, both franchises are very different and New England is a more well-rounded group.

Baltimore’s vertical passing attack will be a big talking point heading into the game. How will the Patriots defend Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr. and Jacoby Jones? All three proving to be home-run hitters and have the ability to make plays down the field. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will have to be cautious of the Ravens deep passing attack and eliminate big plays.

More on this game throughout the week, stay tuned.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Postseason Preview: Thoughts on Possible Patriots Playoff Opponents

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted December 30, 2014 at 9:00 am

The New England Patriots finished the 2014 season with a 12-4 record, earning the top seed in the AFC and a first-round bye.

With the Pats holding the top spot in the conference, they can only play three teams in the Divisional Round. Their possible opponents are the Indianapolis Colts (fourth seed), Cincinnati Bengals (fifth seed) or Baltimore Ravens (sixth seed).

Obviously, there are pros and cons playing any of these teams. New England’s next game is scheduled for Jan. 10 at 4:35 EST at Gillette Stadium. Here’s a few thoughts on each team the Patriots could face in the first round. —

Colts — The Patriots traveled to Indianapolis on Nov. 16, defeating them 42-20 behind a 201-yard rushing performance by Jonas Gray. New England forced the Colts to pass and dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

If the Pats were to see the Colts again, they could use a similar game plan. Despite a talented signal-caller for Indy, they’re still a much weaker team than some of the others in the AFC playoff hunt.

Bengals — After an embarrassing Monday Night Football loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in week four, the Patriots returned home in week five to defeat the Bengals 43-17.

While Cincinnati can challenge an opponent on both sides of the ball, the defense is stout in the front seven. New England’s ability to protect Tom Brady would be key, but all eyes would be on Andy Dalton to see if he could finally perform in the postseason.

Ravens — Unlike the Colts and Bengals, the Ravens have not faced the Patriots in 2014. While Baltimore is a much different team than in year’s past, they still present fears from tough games a few seasons ago.

With a transformed defense and a balanced offense, the Ravens would be no easy out. Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh have led the team to success in recent years. While the other two team’s New England could play might be better overall teams, the Ravens have more experience at this point in the season.

Overall — No matter who the Patriots play, there’s no excuse for this team. New England is in good shape health wise, are playing at home and have been one of the best team’s in the NFL for the majority of the year.

The Colts might be the team with the most favorable match-up. Yes, Andrew Luck is a talented young QB for Indy, but the offense is one-sided and the Patriots defense had success against them earlier this season.

Either way, New England has about two weeks to rest up and prepare for the most critical juncture of the season. Brady and Bill Belichick have their eye on a fourth Lombardi Trophy, we’ll see if the team can finish strong down the stretch.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

 

Patriots Clinch Top Seed in AFC, Will Have Home-Field Advantage in Playoffs

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted December 23, 2014 at 12:11 am

The Patriots have locked up the top seed in the AFC, giving them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. (USA TODAY Images)

The road to the Super Bowl comes through New England.

After the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Denver Broncos 37-28 on Monday Night Football, the New England Patriots officially locked up the No.1 seed in the AFC. They had already won the division and secured a first-round bye, but now the Pats have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Broncos must win next week against the Oakland Raiders in order to clinch a first-round bye. If the Broncos lose and the Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, then Cincinnati will sneak into the No. 2 seed.

Locking up the top seed in the AFC doesn’t guarantee the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl, but it does give them a significant edge in the playoffs. The Patriots are 15-0 at home over the past two seasons. It’s officially Super Bowl or bust.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Game Rewind: The Patriots Clinch the AFC East, Dominating the Third Quarter

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted December 16, 2014 at 9:00 am

Tom Brady and the Patriots clinched the AFC East for the 12th time since 2000, blowing out the Miami Dolphins 41-13 Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins 41-13 on Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots returned home after a two-week road trip, clinching the AFC East for the sixth-straight season thanks to a dominant effort in the second half. After getting embarrassed in some phases week one, New England was able to get revenge on their division foes.

After reviewing the game, here are a few thoughts on Sunday’s victory. —

Defense Keeps Team in Game Again, While Offense Struggles: The defense continues to play well, putting the team in good position to win games. On Sunday the unit held Miami’s offense to 3-of-16 on third down, had two interceptions and compiled four sacks.

There were some rough moments, as Mike Wallace torched Malcolm Butler on the first drive and scored a touchdown as the second half came to a close. It’s a tough matchup for the undrafted rookie cornerback, and it’s fair to question why Darrelle Revis or a more qualified defensive back wasn’t put on Wallace.

The defense clamped down in the second half. While the Dolphins had 271 yards and 13 points in the first two quarters, they were held to only 90 points and shut out in the final two quarters.

New England has outscored their last four opponents (Detroit, Green Bay, San Diego and Miami) 54-6 in the second half. The defense has allowed only one second half touchdown since the bye week (six games) coming against the Colts in Indianapolis.

The Return of Chandler Jones: After missing six games and being sidelined for about two months with a hip injury, Chandler Jones returned to the field for the Patriots.

Jones recorded seven total tackles, 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble in his first game action. Jones lined up in multiple spots, playing defensive end with his hand in the dirt and standing, also kicking inside to rush in certain situations.

He was on the field for 55-of-74 defensive plays, working his way back from the injury. While he wasn’t a full-go, Jones didn’t miss a beat. He looked explosive, moved well and his fresh legs could give a much-needed boost to the pass rush. Great sign moving forward.

Patriots End Troubling Trend, Dominate in Third: New England struggled in the third quarter heading into the contest. In the three games previous, the team scored just three total points in those games and had four-straight possessions to start the third quarter in San Diego, all resulting in three-and-outs for the offense.

On Sunday, Tom Brady and the offense flipped a switch. The Patriots scored 24 points, dominating Miami and crushing any hopes of another upset. In their four possessions this week, the team scored on every drive. Hopefully this continues after some shaky play coming out of the break in weeks past.

Brady’s Scramble Boosts Team: On the first drive on the second half, New England was driving down the field. New England was on Miami’s 20, facing a third and 11. After the snap, Brady ran off right-tackle after the play broke down, picking up 17 yards and lowered his shoulder to the Dolphins defender.

The crowd went crazy, Brady was fired up and instead of settling for a field goal, the Patriots picked up the first down to score a touchdown on the following play. Any time Brady decides to run instead of throw, it’s usually a win for the defense, but his competitive spirit and toughness sparked the team’s dominant third quarter play.

Belichick Climbing All-Time Ranks: With yesterday’s win, Bill Belichick tied Curly Lambeau for fourth all-time, 229 wins, and passing Don Shula for most division titles as a head coach since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Patriots have now won 12 division titles since 2000, all with Brady as the starting quarterback.

New England’s dominance has been remarkable. Whether you’re a fan of the team or not, it’s incredible to see this team win year-in-and-year-out. The consistency and strong foundation inside the franchise is what every NFL team strives to achieve.

What’s Next: The Patriots travel to face the Jets in New York, wrapping up their road games for the 2014 regular season. New England has a 4-3 record on the road this season and defeated the Jets 27-25 Oct. 16 at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots could clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with a victory Sunday.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

What the Patriots Must Do Differently in Week 15 to Defeat the Miami Dolphins

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted December 12, 2014 at 9:00 am

The Patriots could lean on LeGarrette Blount and the ground game to win on Sunday against the Dolphins. (USA TODAY Images)

When the New England Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins in week one, they found themselves in an unfamiliar position. Last place in the AFC East, with the other three division teams all winning.

Now it’s week 15, the Patriots lead the AFC East with a conference leading 10-3 record. New England has an opportunity Sunday to clinch the division and secure at least one home playoff game. Needless to say, there’s a lot on the line.

But week one was an ugly performance by the Pats. Despite a 10-point lead at halftime, they were unable to finish the job and left the team searching for answers early on.

After taking a look back at the last matchup, here’s what the Patriots must do different this week in order to win. —

Win in the Trenches: The Dolphins dominated at the point of attack on both fronts in week one. Miami’s rebuilt offensive line helped tailback Knowshon Moreno gashed the Patriots defense for 134 yards.

It will be different this time around, though. Moreno is on Injured-Reserve and left tackle Brandon Albert, who many praised for securing their offensive line, was also lost for the year with a knee injury.

New England’s front seven, playing primarily in a 3-4 alignment week one, was pushed around all game. It’s safe to assume Bill Belichick will be making some adjustments going into this contest. Not only will the team focus on the running game featuring Lamar Miller, but also pressuring quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

On the flip side, the Patriots offensive line has a tall order in front of them. Miami has two strong defensive ends, Cameron Wake and Oliver Vernon, who could give New England a tough time. With left tackle Nate Solder struggling in week 14, he’ll need to rebound for the Patriots to change the outcome. Tom Brady was sacked four times in week one.

Run it Down Their Throat: The Patriots rushed 20 times for 89 yards in week one. With Miami’s defensive line knocking back the Pats offensive line, it was tough for New England to gain any traction on the ground.

Miami’s struggled to defend the run as of late, allowing 661 yards in the last three weeks alone. Josh McDaniels might look to exploit that weakness, with a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray grinding it out. Given Miami’s strong pass rush weapons, this would also keep them away from Brady and put New England’s offensive line in better position to succeed.

Third Downs in Focus: The Patriots went 5-for-17 on third down week one. The Dolphins on the other hand went 7-for-13. With Brady under duress and the running game stuck in the mud, New England’s offense couldn’t stay on the field.

This time around New England may look to the aforementioned ground attack with Miami’s weakened run defense. High percentage throws and better execution will be key.

The Pats defense is coming off a stellar performance in week 14, holding the Chargers to seven offensive points and just 4-of-13 on third down. They will look to suffocate the Dolphins rushing attack, making them one-sided and forcing Tannehill to make tough decisions. Defensive end Chandler Jones potential return would be a big boost to their pass rush.

Finish Strong: In week one, the Patriots had a hot-and-cold performance. Even after bumpy start, the team had a 20-10 lead going into halftime. The Dolphins scored 23 unanswered points in the second half, ultimately winning 33-20.

The Patriots have struggled in the third quarter over the past three weeks. In fact, the team has only scored three points combined in the last three contests, with their lone field goal coming against the Detroit Lions at home in week 12.

The Patriots have to find a way to get into a rhythm and get back on track in the second half. Perhaps the run game could help get the offense on track. The last thing this team wants to do is what they did last week at San Diego, opening the third quarter with four-straight three-and-outs.

Game Analysis: The Dolphins had an opportunity last week to make this game for the division. Despite a first quarter lead at home against the Baltimore Ravens, the team fell apart and lost 28-13. With Miami head coach Joe Philbin on the hot seat, the pressure will be on he and the team to perform at Gillette Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots know what’s at stake, however, and have won eight of their last nine games this season. While I believe this had the potential to be a dogfight a few weeks ago, Miami seems to be pointing fingers at each other and not ready for a New England opponent that’s averaging 35.6 points-per-game at home this season.

The Pats could lean on the run game, opening up play action later in the contest. If the Patriots grab an early lead, this contest could get ugly quickly.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 20

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Game Rewind: The Patriots Defense Continues to Prove it’s Championship Caliber

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted December 9, 2014 at 9:00 am

Patriots cornerback, Darrelle Revis, dominated on Sunday night, limiting the Chargers leading receiver, Keenan Allen, to three yards on two catches. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots defeated the Chargers 23-14 in San Diego Sunday night.

The Patriots have now won eight of their last nine games, coming home successful after a week long stay in San Diego. It wasn’t pretty, but the Patriots made enough plays to win against a tough Chargers team.

After reviewing the game, here are a few thoughts on Sunday’s victory. —

Defense Reigns: The biggest takeaway from this game, New England’s defense is championship caliber. The Chargers have a solid offense, but the Patriots defense made them look bad on Sunday night. With San Diego averaging over 23 points-per-game prior to this contest, New England’s defense held the unit to only seven points.

After so many years of the Patriots fielding a powerhouse offense with a leaky defense, it seems they now have a defense that can win them games when the offense struggles. The Patriots offense couldn’t get into a rhythm for much of the evening, but the defense was able to make plays and secure the team’s 10th victory of the year.

Revis and Collins Shine in Defensive Performance: The Patriots defense won this game for the team Sunday and two players stood out in their effort. Darrelle Revis shutdown Chargers top wide out Keenan Allen, who led the team with 72 catches going into the contest. Revis blanketed Allen throughout the game, holding him to just two receptions for three yards.

Second-year linebacker Jamie Collins also played an outstanding game. Collins had to step up Sunday. With Dont’a Hightower sidelined (shoulder), Collins took over as the defensive play caller and was utilized in several different ways. He filled the stat sheet tallying eight solo tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss. Collins has flashed during the season, but his ceiling as a player seems very high.

Bill Belichick praised Collins post game:

“Jamie has had some really outstanding moments throughout the course of the year. His consistency has gotten better every week. This was a big game for him San Diego with [Hightower] out – taking over the communication and working with Johnathan [Casillas], who has had the least amount of time playing in there. I thought Jamie did a great job of controlling the defense, recognizing a couple of checks and adjustments we needed to make… He did a really good job for us.”

Offensive Line Issues Left Pats Offense Sputtering: The Patriots have averaged over 30 points-per-game this season, but there have been some hiccups along the way. New England couldn’t get rolling Sunday night and the third quarter was specifically bad for the unit.

The biggest issues for Tom Brady and the offense started up front, with the offensive line struggling impose their will. The line failed to open up many holes in the run game after the opening drive and the line looked overwhelmed in pass protection. Left tackle Nate Solder continues to struggle, he was pushed back by Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram consistently in the game.

After fixing many of their line woes midway through the season, the offensive line has not been good the past two weeks. Even though it hasn’t always led to sacks, Brady has been pressured more than usual and forced to shuffle inside the pocket. He looked uncomfortable Sunday night.

Slow Starts in First and Third Quarters Troubling: The Patriots offense struggled at times Sunday, specifically to start the game and coming out after halftime. New England had only one possession in the first quarter, the unit drove 89 yards down the field on 17 plays, but failed to punch it in for a touchdown and settled for a field goal.

The third quarter was a much bigger concern, starting with four straight punts and settling for a field goal on the fifth possession. New England had favorable field position for a large majority of third quarter, but couldn’t move the ball. Here’s how it breaks down:

– Drive begins on New England’s 19; 3 plays, 8 yards, punt.

– Drive begins on New England’s 48; 3 plays, 4 yards, punt.

– Drive begins on New England’s 44; 3 plays, – 4 yards, punt.

– Drive begins on New England’s 30; 3 plays, 4 yards, punt.

– Drive begins on New England’s 25; 10 plays, 55 yards, field goal.

The first four drives of the second half resulted in 12 offensive plays for 12 yards, four three-and-outs for the Patriots. Not what you would expect from a Tom Brady led offense and one of the league leaders in scoring.

Credit the Patriots defense for keeping the team in position to win this contest, as well as San Diego’s defense for their play, but New England’s offense has to adjust and figure out how to get out of slumps. The unit looked like it was stuck in the mud and could not get rolling. With field position so much in their favor, this game should not have been as close as it was down the stretch.

Mid-Season Additions Make an Impact: Over the course of a season, an NFL team will make a countless number of roster transactions. This season, the Patriots acquired two players in late October who have given a boost to the defense and stood out on Sunday.

Akeem Ayers has stepped in for the injured Chandler Jones and done a remarkable job. He pressured Phillip Rivers several times during the game and came up with a big interception. He’s surpassed many expectations and worked his way into a strong role moving forward, showing a willingness to set the edge and providing a pass rush.

Jonathan Casillas stepped into the starting lineup Sunday and did a solid job overall. He had four solo tackles and forced a fumble. While it’s not ideal if he’s a weekly starter, the 27-year-old linebacker has been a special teams contributor and shown that he can contribute on defense when called upon.

What’s Next: The Patriots return home for a Division Game against the Miami Dolphins in week 15. New England has an opportunity to clinch the division on Sunday, but the Dolphins will look for a similar result to week one when they defeated the Patriots 33-20 in Miami.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Game Rewind: Offense and Defense Fall Short of Expectations as Patriots Stumble in Lambeau

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted December 2, 2014 at 9:00 am

Bill Belichick’s passive game plan allowed Aaron Rodgers to pick apart the Patriots defense. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots lost to the Green Bay Packers 26-21 at Lambeau Field Sunday evening.

The Patriots had won seven in a row, looking to sweep the NFC North this season. The Packers had other plans, having success on both sides of the ball to extend their win streak to four.

Sunday’s contest felt like a playoff game. Two great teams, slugging it out and one made a few more plays than the other. After reviewing the game, here are a few thoughts on Sunday’s loss. —

Pats Outplayed in Trenches: Brady and the offense were held to only 21 points Sunday, their least amount of points scored since the team’s last loss in week four at Kansas City. This may have something to do with the fact New England had the ball for only 23:25 in the game.

Brady was pressured consistently during the game — to his credit, he did a good job maneuvering in the pocket at times — which threw off his timing and derailed the passing game. The Packers secondary did not have to cover for very long.

On the flip side, Aaron Rodgers had all the time he wanted in the pocket, putting a lot of pressure on New England’s defensive backs to cover for extended periods of time. Whether it was the team’s game plan or not, the Packers offensive line kept Rodgers upright and Green Bay was able to sustain drives.

Too Conservative Against Rodgers: The aforementioned time in the pocket for Rodgers could have cost the Patriots this game. New England’s game plan was pretty clear, keep Rodgers in the pocket and don’t let his mobility extend drives. Well, the defensive plan backfired as the team failed to pressure and left their cornerbacks out to dry.

Were the Patriots too conservative? It seemed that way. Going into the contest, a game plan similar to the one used against Andrew Luck would have made sense. Pressure without losing containment, blitz up the middle and force the QB into waiting arms of the defensive end.

The few times New England brought pressure, it seemed to have positive effects. Obviously there’s a risk when blitzing an elite quarterback like Rodgers, but letting him sit in the pocket for as long as he had wasn’t working. The Pats did not have to send five or more players to attack, but there were times it seemed no player on the defense had the responsibility of pressuring, just keeping Rodgers in the pocket.

Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins could have been used more aggressively, but we’ve seen this Patriots coaching staff play too conservative against upper-echelon quarterbacks before.

Third Down Struggles: The Packers went 10-of-17 on third down Sunday, consistently moving the chains and sustaining drives. Whether it was gap containment, quarterback pressure, tackling or coverage, the Pats could not get off the field throughout the day.

While the Patriots should be applauded for their red zone defense, more stops have to be made without allowing opponents to control the clock and putting points on the board.

Two of the biggest plays in the game occurred in third down situations. With only :23 seconds remaining in the first half, Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for a 45-yard touchdown pass to give the Packers a 9-point lead (23-14) going into the break. At that point in the game, an absolutely deflating play in a critical spot.

Later in the contest, the Patriots were threatening on Green Bay’s 20 facing a third-and-nine. With new England down by five points, a touchdown would have given them the go-ahead score. Instead, Mike Daniels and Mike Neal for the Packers sacked Brady, putting the Patriots in a fourth-and-18 situation.

In this game, third downs told the story. The Packers had more success and the Patriots failed to execute in key moments.

No Answer for Adams: Going into the game, there was a lot of talk about Packers receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Green Bay needed a third option to step up offensively in order to have success.

Rookie wide out Davante Adams had six catches for 121 yards, beating whoever New England lined up against him. With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner tied up with Cobb and Nelson, Adams was able to exploit his matchup for his best game of the year.

Second-year cornerback Logan Ryan was paired with Adams for most of the evening, but was fairly uncompetitive with the rookie and gave Rodgers another option despite his two primary receivers locked up in tight coverage. Alfonzo Dennard also tried to defend Adams, but was unsuccessful as well.

While the cornerback position is considered a strength for New England, mostly because of Revis and Browner, this is an area of concern moving forward. Belichick seemed unwilling to put Kyle Arrington on Adams, given Arrington’s past struggles on the outside, so other opponents may look to target them in a similar fashion.

All is Not Lost: While you can look at this game from a doom and gloom perspective, all is not lost. The Patriots still sit atop the AFC conference and are one of the best team’s in the NFL. New England has beaten each of the other division leaders (Broncos, Colts, Bengals) and hold tie breakers that will come into play for playoff seeding.

At the end of the day, it was a disappointing loss, but not a season ending defeat by any means. Losing to a quality opponent, on the road, by one score does not make the Patriots a bad team. Keep it in perspective, make adjustments and finish the season strong.

What’s Next: The Patriots now travel to San Diego, facing the Chargers next Sunday night. New England will stay on the west coast all week, preparing for a 7-5 Chargers team fighting for a spot in the playoffs.

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Pregame Thoughts and Analysis: Patriots Travel to Lambeau for Showdown Against Packers

Written by: Derek Havens
Posted November 29, 2014 at 9:00 am

The Patriots could rely on the ground attack Sunday, keeping Aaron Rodgers sidelined and taking advantage of Green Bay’s 29th ranked rush defense. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots will travel to Lambeau field to face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots, now 9-2 on the season, are coming off a 34-9 victory over the Detroit Lions. The Packers, 8-3 this year, defeated the Minnesota Vikings 24-21 last week.

The Patriots have won seven-straight games, averaging 39.6 points-per-game over that streak. New England has also won 14 straight games against NFC North opponents, including a 3-0 record this season. Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming game.

Pregame Thoughts — 

First Impressions: This is one of the biggest games of the year. The Packers have been hot lately, dominating opponents at home. The Patriots have been battle-tested over the past few weeks, facing several AFC contending teams like the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts. The Packers on the other hand, are looking to strongly assert themselves into the Super Bowl conversation. With the top two scoring offenses in the NFL meeting, along with two of the best quarterbacks, it will be an exciting game Sunday.

Pressure Without Losing Containment: Aaron Rodgers has great mobility. And even though he doesn’t run every down, his ability to pick up a first down with his legs is a threat to Bill Belichick and the Pats. That’s why I could see New England using a similar game plan as they did against the Colts.

Using the outside linebackers and defensive ends to contain Rodgers, blitzing Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower up the A gap (on either side of the center) periodically throughout the contest. Also expect the Patriots to use a mix of man and zone, trying to keep the plays in front of them, minimizing big plays Green Bay thrives off.

Don’t Let Eddie Lacy Get Rolling: Packers tailback Eddie Lacy is a tank. At 5’11, 230 he can get moving in a hurry. One thing that pops out when watching film, he takes a few yards to get moving, but once he hits a full stride, it takes several defenders to bring him down.

Tackling Lacy within the first five yards will be key. The Patriots edge players and defensive backs will need to stop him early before he’s able to pick up chunk yardage on the ground. While the Patriots have had success this season against great offenses such as the Colts and Broncos, neither have a running back like Lacy. This will be a true test for New England’s defense.

Getting Off to a Fast Start: The Patriots offense has been a well-oiled machine the past two months. That being said, scoring early Sunday could be huge for New England. The Packers have played exceptional at home and smother their competition early in the game. In fact, Green Bay has outscored opponents 66-0 in the first quarter through five games this year.

Run Right at Them: The Patriots have shown the ability to take advantage of their opponents biggest weaknesses. The Packers are ranked 29th in the NFL, giving up 136.7 yards-per-game on the ground this year. Expect LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray to get plenty of work, keeping Rodgers sidelined and the clock moving.

Final Thoughts: This matchup will showcase two high-powered offenses, but the defensive play by both teams should determine the outcome. New England’s defense is much stronger than Green Bay’s, but that won’t make it a cakewalk. If the Patriots can hold the Packers to field goals, it’s a reasonable exception New England will win comfortably. Although if the Packers defense can elevate their play, this game will get much tighter.

The Packers need to win in order to hold first place in the NFC North with the Lions winning on Thanksgiving Day. The Patriots are focusing on closing out the AFC East and locking up the top seed in the AFC, securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Patriots and Packers should trade scores, but New England’s defense has been much improved this year. Expect the Pats to make a few more stops, squeaking out a tough win on the road this Sunday.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Packers 23

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