Archive for November, 2010

What We Learned From The Patriots Victory Against The Lions

The Patriots had a very strong second half to beat the Lions 45-24 in Detroit Thursday. This match-up was certainly a game of two completely different halves. In the first half the Detroit played very well and led 17-10 at the break. However, in the second half, the Patriots took over the game in the fourth quarter and rolled to take the victory from the Lions.

So what did we learn from watching the game on Thursday?

The first thing we learned is the Patriots offense is starting to resemble the 2003 Super Bowl team, in which Brady spreads the ball and finds the open man. Brady was at his best against the Lions, and what is scary is that I think this offensive unit could get even better. They showed Thursday that the offense can make big plays along with having sustained drives.

The second thing we learned is that the defense can continue to make plays and cause turnovers. The defense continues to give up a good amount yardage through the air, but they made the big plays to change the momentum of the game. I would argue that Devin McCourty’s first interception in the second half was the play that helped get things started, and it definitely changed the game. The Lions were still moving the ball against the Pats defense, but all it took was one key defensive play to push the Pats in the right direction.

The Lions showed that they are a team with talent, but still has not figured out to win just yet. As a result, unfortunately, the Lions deserve to be 2-9.

On offense, quarterback Shaun Hill showed why he is better off being a capable back-up. He was 27-46 for 285 yards and one touchdown. Unfortunately for the Lions he threw 2 key interceptions to Devin McCourty which led to 14 points for the Patriots. Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew were impressive for the Detroit, and showed why the future could be bright for Detroit.

On defense, the Lions came out real strong, putting some serious pressure on Brady early during this one. Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch got after the Patriots quarterback consistently at the beginning, but unfortunately for the Lions Alphonso Smith and the rest of the Lions secondary let their unit down. In the second half, the Lions defense faded and the Patriots were able to score 35 points.

For the Patriots, on offense Brady showed why he should be considered an MVP candidate. He was 21-of-27 for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns, finishing with a perfect quarterback rating. Both Deion Branch and Wes Welker scored 2 touchdowns each. The Patriots offense continues to improve, and also got help on the ground with Benjarvis Green-Ellis contributing with 59 yards and 2 touchdowns. This unit was dominating in the second half for the Patriots.

The most important thing we learned from Sunday is that the Patriots can be resilient and improve as the game goes on. The Patriots did not come out strong to start the game. However, as the game went along New England continued to play better, and took advantage of Detroit’s mistakes. To me that is an indication of a quality football team.

As I always do, I like to look back at my keys to victory to see what kind of role they played in the game. Below is my analysis of ” My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Lions. “

1. The Patriots offense needs to score early and get up against the Lions. The Patriots did score first with a field goal, but they didn’t build on the lead. In fact, the Pats got behind 14-3 in the first half. They are fortunate that their slow start did not do more damage in this game.

2.The Patriots offensive line needs to contain Suh and Vanden Bosch. The first half the Patriots offensive line had a hard time containing Suh and Vanden Bosch. They were hitting and sacking Brady. Thankfully the second half was a completely different story, as the Lions pass rushers never got near Brady. The offensive line redeemed themselves after halftime.

3. The running game needs to be complimentary to the passing game for the Patriots offense. This key was a success for the Patriots. The Pats ran for a total of 109 yards, and was a compliment to the passing game. Green-Ellis had some important runs, and also scored 2 touchdowns.

4. The Patriots defense need to contain Johnson. This wide receiver is on his way to being one of the best in the game, and I thought the Pats did a nice job on him. He did score a touchdownsm, but he only had 4 receptions for 81 yards. McCourty also intercepted a pass while covering him.

5. The Patriots need to be more efficient on third down defense. The Patriots continue to be horrible on third down defense. The Lions were 50% on third down conversions. If the Patriots want to go far in the playoffs they are going to have to improve in this part of the game.

So what did we learn in this game? I think we learned ultimately that unlike last year, the Patriots can rebound in the middle of the game and also play well and put up points in the second half. It was not perfect against the Lions, but they did not beat themselves, and they let the Lions make their own mistakes. To capitalize on an opponents errors I believe is an indication of an elite team. The Patriots showed why they belong to be near the top of many experts power rankings.

What are your reactions to the game? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 45-24 victory against the Lions.

My Five Keys To Victory For The Patriots Against The Lions

After the Patriots beat the Colts 31-28 at Gillette Stadium, they are on the road  to face the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Thanksgiving. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory. 

WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on CBS at 12:30 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

GAME NOTES: The Lions are 2-8 and coming off a 35-19 loss against Dallas at Cowboy Stadium. This is a team that is better than their record, and is potentially your classic trap game. The Lions have played many teams tough this season. The Patriots cannot take this team lightly. 

On offense, their regular starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, is out for this game. In his place will be Sean Hill, who is a capable backup quarterback and can be effective as a starter.  The real threat for this team on offense has to be wide receiver  Calvin Johnson. He has some impressive numbers so far this season. He has 55 receptions for 725 yards and 10 touchdowns. He will be someone that the Patriots will need to watch. They also have a very good tight end in Brandon Pettigrew who has 50 receptions this season.  Lastly, rookie running back Javhid Best has done a nice job running the ball for the Lions running for 382 yards and 3 touchdowns.

On defense, this unit can actually get after the quarterback. They are led by rookie defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh who already has 7 sacks. They also have Kyle Vanden Bosch at defensive end who has 4 sacks. The Patriots offensive line will have to be at their best to contain the Lions defensive line. The Lions also have a talented cornerback in Alphonso Smith who has 5 interceptions this season. This unit overall is very competitive.   

It is easy to go into this game against the Lions and think the Patriots will have an easy time on Thursday based on Detroit’s past history. However, I really think this will be a tougher game than most believe. This Lions team will be a challenge to beat, and I would not expect this to be an easy game for the Patriots. There is talent on this Lions team that is still figuring out how to win.

Here are my “five keys” which  I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.

1. The Patriots offense needs to score early and get up against the Lions. The Lions have played most teams close this season. However, they have had a hard time figuring out ways to win. If you can get up against them early, you might bury them for the majority of the game. I think it is important to put them away early and not give them hope.  

2.The Patriots offensive line needs to contain Suh and Vanden Bosch. These two players will make a stong effort to put pressure on Tom Brady. If the line cannot contain these players, we could see a similar situation we saw in Cleveland with the offense not clicking on all cylinders.

3. The running game needs to be complimentary to the passing game for the Patriots offense.  Ultimately the Patriots will move the ball through the air, but a complimentary running game against the Lions will open up the play action pass game for the Pats. The Lions are 26th in the league against the run.  Benjarvus Green-Ellis could be a key tomorrow for the entire offense, and he should be able to run the ball against the Lions.

4. The Patriots defense need to contain Johnson. This wide receiver is already establishing himself as an elite player. The Patriots will probably need to double team him the majority of the game.  I don’t think you can stop Johnson, but maybe you can limit the amount of his catches.

5. The Patriots need to be more efficient on third down defense. The Patriots continue to be the worst in the league on third down defensively. I feel it is very important to make third down stops against a young team like the Lions. You don’t want the Lions’ confidence to build during the game on offense. The Patriots have to get off the field at a better clip on Thursday.

I am nervous about this game. I see a Lions team that does have talent on both offense and defense. The Pats should win this game, but in no way do I feel it will be easy. I am predicting a 28-24 victory for the Patriots.  

What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.

What We Learned From The Patriots Victory Against The Colts.

The Patriots held on to defeat the Colts 31-28 at Gillette Stadium Sunday, in a game that fits in well with this close rivalry. This game turned into a nail biter and probably had scary comparisons to last year’s match up. Regardless of how the game ended, the Patriots came away with a key victory against an opponent that had beaten them the last two seasons.

So what did we learn from watching the game on Sunday?

The first thing we learned is that Tom Brady has this offense going in the right direction. For three quarters the Patriots offense could score at will. Unfortunately, in the fourth quarter this unit could not convert some key third downs. I think closing out games is something the Pats offense needs to work on, but if you judge the game as a whole I see many more positives than negatives. The offense is on its way to being a top unit once again.

I think we also saw a young defense that competed Sunday, but got taken advantage of by Peyton Manning late in the game. Manning is going to do this to most defenses. On the positive they made some key plays that cannot be overlooked. The defense is a work in progress, and regardless of what the statistics say they made the plays they needed to get the win. They got it done and closed out the victory.

The Colts are a team that is hampered by injuries, and I have to give them a lot of credit for how they played. They fought to the end, and almost came away with a victory. This team is still a club to be concerned about when the playoffs roll around.

On defense for the Colts, the Patriots really had their way with this unit. The Patriots ran for 168 yards and Brady threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Brady really carved them up at times, however in the fourth quarter they made the key third down stops to keep them in the game.

On offense, Manning just showed me once again why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. He threw for 396 yards, and 4 touchdowns.  It doesn’t matter who he has for receivers, he will find them and eventually score. He made Blair White look like Jerry Rice on Sunday, with White catching two touchdown passes. However, he did make three interceptions that ultimately made the difference in the game. Regardless, as long as Manning is the quarterback for the Colts they are a constant threat.

For the Patriots, the offense looked like it is almost ready for the playoffs, and the defense is still improving. You can criticize the defense all you want, but my eyes tell me they are getting better. Having a wonderful 50 yard line seat for this game I could really concentrate on this unit. The defenders were in the right position to make the tackle. I think this game was more to do with the pinpoint passing of Manning rather than the Patriots defense.

The second touchdown for Manning was an incredible pass to Reggie Wayne with two defenders right there. Many of the receptions for the Colts yesterday saw a Pats defender right on top of them to make the tackle. At some point you just have to tip your cap to Manning ,and say he won that battle on Sunday.

The most important thing we learned on Sunday is no matter how you win a game, all that really matters is the victory. Style points make no difference in wins and losses. The Pats needed to get over the hurdle of beating the Colts. To me that is all that really matters in the end.

As I always do, I like to look back at my keys to victory to see what kind of role they played in the game.  Below is my analysis of ” My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Colts. “

1. The Patriots need to play from ahead early in this game.  I think this key was very pivotal Sunday. The Pats jumped out early to a 14 point lead, and forced Manning to play from behind the entire game. Being one step ahead of the Colts quarterback turned out to be a big difference in the game. 

 2. Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer need to have exceptional games of protecting the quarterback.  Overall the tackles gave Brady very good protection the entire game. Freeney only had 1 sack in the game. In this key the Pats definitely succeeded.

3. The Patriots tight ends need to take advantage of the middle of the Colts defense.  Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez only had 1 catch each, but those two catches were important. Gronkowski caught a pass to keep a drive going, and Hernandez caught a touchdown pass. I wish they caught more passes but the tight ends were effective on Sunday.

 4. The Patriots need to contain Jacob Tamme.  The Colts tight end did catch 7 passes for 60 yards, so I don’t think you can say the Pats contained him. They will need to do a better job on covering the tight end in the future.

 5. The Patriots need to play the “bend don’t break defense” to perfection against Manning.  The Pats actually failed in this key. The idea of the “bend don’t break defense” is to limit touchdowns when the offense enters the redzone. The Pats were not able to do that against the Colts. Every time the Colts entered the 20 they scored a touchdown.

So what did we learn from this game? I think we saw a young team learning how to win in big games. I don’t care how the Patriots won, the bottom line is they got the victory. They figured out a way to beat a team that has owned them over the past five years. With all the young players on both sides of the ball, this experience they received yesterday could pay huge dividends in January.

What are your reactions to the game?  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 31-28 victory against the Colts.

My Five Keys To Victory For The Patriots Against The Colts

After the Patriots beat the Steelers 39-26 in Pittsburgh, they are home to face the Indianapolis Colts. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory. 

WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on CBS at 4:15 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

GAME NOTES: The Colts are 6-3 and coming off a 23-17 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.  The Colts have many injuries on both sides of the ball coming into this match-up, and as usual their offense centers around how far Peyton Manning will be able to take them. As we know, as long as Manning has the ball in his hand, the Colts are dangerous to win the game no matter who he has at the receiver position. 

On defense, the Colts are pretty strong against the pass, ranking 10th in the NFL. Their weakness is stopping the run where they are ranked 29th in the league. The players to watch on defense have to be their two defensive ends. Robert Mathis has 7.5 sacks and Dwight Freeney has 6 sacks this season. They will be key players for the Colts on Sunday to get after Tom Brady.

On offense, the key to this unit begins and ends with Manning. He has already thrown for 2663 yards, along with 16 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He still has Reggie Wayne to count on at wide receiver. Dallas Clark is out for the season, but Jacob Tamme has done a tremendous job in his place at tight end. The big question for the Colts will be at running back. They have several backs that are banged up. Their biggest threat has to be Joseph Addai. He has already ran for 406 yards this season. He is questionable to play in this game.       

Regardless of the injuries for the Colts going into the game, they are always a dangerous team as long as #18 is under center. However, I do like the Patriots chances in this game – which fortunately will be played at home at Gillette Stadium.

Here are my “five keys” which  I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.

1. The Patriots need to play from ahead early in this game.  Many experts are saying that the Patriots should run the ball against the Colts. I feel they need to come out throwing, and get up early on the Colts which will allow them to dictate the pace of the game. The running game could then be used to close the game out in the second half.  In the end it would be a balanced attack, but either way – you don’t want to play from behind against Manning.

2. Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer need to have exceptional games of protecting the quarterback. These two tackles have the responsibility of stopping Mathis and Freeney. If they do their job well, Brady should be able to carve up the Colts secondary.

3. The Patriots tight ends need to take advantage of the middle of the Colts defense. Linebackers Gary Brackett and Clint Session are both listed as questionable for this game. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski could find space in the middle of this defense, and that could make their role in the passing game extremely important on Sunday. 

4. The Patriots need to contain Jacob Tamme. Now, it might be strange to list this player as a key, but he is a very capable tight end. Manning will still depend on his tight end to make important receptions, and if history is any indication I still believe he will be targeted by Manning to make first down catches and extend drives. I would think either Patrick Chung or Gary Guyton will have the assignment of shutting down the tight end.

5. The Patriots need to play the “bend don’t break defense” to perfection against Manning.  Manning should be able to move his offense down the field against the Patriots defense between the 20 yard lines. The Patriots defense needs to tighten in the redzone and force Adam Vinatieri on the field. If the defense can accomplish this goal, the Patriots could be on their way to a victory.

 I have to say I feel confident about this game on Sunday. I think it will be a shootout. I feel Brady will have an easy time carving up this banged up defense, and I also think the Patriots defense can do enough against Manning to force a few field goals. In the end I am predicting a 31-20 Patriots victory.

What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.

Talking Football With Damon Amendolara Of 98.5 The Sports Hub

I had the pleasure of asking Damon Amendolara several questions regarding his history of covering the NFL. He is the host of “The D.A. Show” on 98.5 The Sports Hub from 6-11 PM EST weeknights in Boston.

What I found interesting about Damon is that he has had past sports radio shows in Kansas City and Miami. So along with the Patriots, he has covered the Chiefs and the Dolphins.  I asked him questions that involved his career of covering  these three NFL teams, and as you can imagine the majority of the questions centered around the New England Patriots.

If you have not listened to his show I would highly recommend it. For fans of Boston sports, I think he brings something a little different to the table and his show is quite unique in the Boston sports radio market.

Below is my conversation of “Talking football With Damon Amendolara Of 98.5 The Sporst Hub.”       

Before we talk about the present I was curious about asking you questions about your experiences in two other football markets. You spent almost 5 years in Kansas City at 610 Sports between ’03-’07. When you first arrived the Chiefs had a tremendous year. What was your first year like covering/discussing the Chiefs?

It was amazing. I started at 610 when the ’03 Chiefs were 4-0 and off to one of their best starts in recent memory. The first home game at Arrowhead I experienced was against the Broncos when Dante Hall returned a punt from his own 5-yd-line (with the help of a questionable block from Gary Stills) for a GW-TD in the 4th QTR. That’s when the city really exploded. That first season was magical. Ended up going 13-3 and a first-round BYE. I hosted a weekly show with Dante Hall – and NFL sensation. Got to know him very well. It’s hard to describe just how special KC is as a football experience when the Chiefs are really good.  
Did you feel after that season that the Chiefs would begin a gradual decline over your time in KC?

Didn’t know what to think. It was a bit of smoke and mirrors that year because the offense was so good, but the defense was putrid (Greg Robinson coached, not surprisingly). But Dante bailed them out so many times and they had some really close calls. But you kinda knew (even if no one wanted to admit it) that was a bit of a lightning in the bottle season. 
What was the fan base like in Kansas City during your time there, and how does it differ from the fan base here?

It’s absurdly loyal and even more locked in than here. Why? Because there’s no other team to distract you. The Royals are terrible. The Chiefs are truly a 365-day talk topic. We used to cover April mini camps and off-season OTAs like games. Here, if the Pats are bad – there’s three other teams to worry about.  KC is one of the great football towns in this country.
You them moved on to Miami at WQAM where you worked weeknights. You also hosted “Phins Final” which was a postgame on the Dolphins Radio Network.  What was the environment like there with Dolphins fans compared to what you experienced in in KC?

There are a pocket of loyal, passionate Dolphins fans. They are the flagship franchise in Miami. But it’s just nothing like KC or Boston. They have had playoff games blacked out and even during the 11-5 season in ’08 after the 1-15 in ’07, they had trouble selling out. That tells you everything. Miami – and I still have some good friends there who would have to agree – is the single worst sports city in America. 
You came to work weeknights at 98.5 The Sports Hub in August of 2009. I am curious what was the initial difference between working in Miami and coming to Boston?
The passion, the intensity and the attention on all four teams. In Miami, you talk 80% of the time Dolphins, 15% of the time Heat and 5% Marlins. A block of all of those topics has to do with why no one is going to the games. As a comparison, combined ratings for two sports stations per daypart was about 20% of what it is here. There is no regional sports cable outlets with a full docket of local shows. Here there are two. There, most sports media was totally invisible in the public eye. Here, I got recognized around town almost as soon as we launched. It’s just a different beast. It’s terrific. I love it.
What I find interesting about your show is I feel you combine local and national elements in your programs. How would you describe your show for those who haven’t had a chance to hear yet?
It’s a knowledgeable, discussion-based look at sports with a healthy dose of humor (I hope). Or maybe it’s just 5-hour gasbagging. I don’t know – hard to grade yourself. I do a show I would like to hear. I’d like to tune into a show where the callers have a true voice, where the host has done his/her homework and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I hope we do that.

“Good, spirited, hearty bunch that loves their football” – DA on his opinions of Patriots fans who call in to his show.

What were your preconceived thoughts of Patriots fans before starting at 98.5 The Sports Hub?

Thought they were a good, spirited, hearty bunch (there was a lot of losing before Parcells and BB in sub-zero temps). For the most part that’s true. What I didn’t expect was how over protective and sensitive some are to any criticisms of the team. I always loved Boston sports fans because there were no sacred cows. Heck, Teddy Ballgame got booed. But there are a few (not many), that are like secret service protection of BB and Brady. Kinda wild. All in all though, I love Pats fans. I’m a football junkie and people love the Pats. Can’t ask for any more. 
Now that you have been here for a year, how would you characterize them now after talking to so many of them on the air?
Good, spirited, hearty bunch that loves their football – with a small pocket of them who treat BB like their 6-year-old kid with his science project. “Awww, that’s SOOOO good Billy!”
You have several Pats beat writers and National writers on your show that cover the Patriots. They all bring something different to the table.  What types of things do you try and do to give different perspectives on the Patriots?
Try to look for someone who is objective. I have little use for the beat writers (and this goes for any town, not just Boston) who just act as team PR because they’re scared to be critical. You’ll notice our guests have the spine to look at it objectively – or we probably won’t have them on again. “Everything is great, everyone played well, every draft was solid” makes for boring radio.
What was your experience of covering the Patriots last year?
Loved it. I go down to Foxboro every WED for locker room access and the BB and Brady pressers. Fascinated by BB on a weekly basis. He’s the smartest, most calculating coach I’ve ever been around (although I’ve covered Vermiel and Herm, so that’s not saying much). The entire locker room parrots his tenants. It’s like solving a puzzle every week. What you see is NOT what you get. I also love NFL history and BB is an enormous monument in that history, so it’s kinda like going to a museum every week. 
On the current team are you surprised by how well they have played halfway into the season?
No question. Thought we would see far more growing pains to this point.
What has been the biggest surprise this season so far for the Patriots?
How consistent the defense is and how the secondary hasn’t been carved up every week. They’re starting a rookie and Kyle Arrington at CB every week. That should be an “all you can eat” sign for opposing QBs.
What has been the biggest disappointment this season so far for the Patriots?
Running the football. Just can’t do it consistently enough. Need better backs.  
What are your predictions for the rest of the season for the Patriots?

11 or 12 wins and a playoff berth. Can’t predict a division yet because the Jets may be at the same win mark. Would be crazy to win 12 games and go on the road for the first round, but happened to the Colts two years ago. 
What NFL team were you a fan of growing up, and have you become a fan of the Patriots after spending some time here in New England?
Grew up with a dad who was/is an enormous Giants fan who once saw them at Yankee Stadium. So watched a lot of Parcells and BB’s Giants growing up. God, I loved Tuna and BB. Lawrence Taylor was one of my favorite players. But there’s no question, when you spend time around these guys and cover a team you start rooting for them. Plus, from a selfish standpoint, talking about a winning team is way better than a losing one. So I hope the Pats win every game. I also hate the Jets – so I would love to see the Pats crush the Jets in the playoffs… like 51-3. That would be fun.
And finally, what are your thoughts about this week’s game against Indy?
I like the Pats. Think they get the Colts at the perfect time. Indy is coming off a win, lead the division, not desperate of urgent part of their season. Totally banged up. Peyton is just not running the same offense without all those pieces. I like the Pats by a TD.

I would like to thank Damon Amendolara for taking the time to answer my questions about his experience of covering football. Along with his radio show you can follow him on twitter at the DAshow.

Patriots vs. Colts: Five Questions With Bob Kravitz Of The Indianapolis Star

Each week I am hoping to bring a view of the upcoming game from a writer who covers the Patriots opposition, and this week I think I have one of the best sports writers in the entire country to answer some questions for us. Bob Kravitz is a columnist who covers the Colts for the Indianapolis Star, and we’re very fortunate to have his insight this week on the upcoming game.    

Bob was also on The Dennis and Callahan Morning Show”  Thursday Morning discussing this match-up. If you get a chance check out this interview, which I think you’ll also find very interesting.

Here are my “Five Questions About The Upcoming Colts Game with Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.”

“Obviously, the quarterbacks are the focus of everything. But once the Colts started figuring out how to win games after the rivalry was so one sided all those years, it became something special.” – Bob Kravitz

You have watched the rivalry between the Patriots and the Colts for the past decade. Besides the quarterbacks, why do you think this is such a special game every year?

Obviously, the quarterbacks are the focus of everything. But once the Colts started figuring out how to win games after the rivalry was so one sided all those years, it became something special. I think Belichick versus Manning makes it intriguing. I think the styles of the two teams make it compelling. They say styles make fights; you’ve got a pretty well-rounded, old school type of team in New England and a pass-happy team in Indy. The polarizing personalities on both sides, specifically Belichick and Polian. Reminds me of the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry I covered years ago in Denver. 
There has been this theory that the team that loses the Superbowl will have a tough year the next season. Do you think losing the Super Bowl has had any adverse effect on this year’s Colts team?
I don’t think the Super Bowl hangover has hit them. I think injuries have hit them. I really never thought they would fall prey to some of the things that hurt Pittsburgh and others after their SB-losing seasons. They’re just too professional to let the personal stuff overwhelm the team issues. A lot of Super Bowl losers are one-hit wonders who had a magical season and then faded. That’s not the colts, not like it isn’t the Patriots. What’s killed them is injuries. 
 On offense, injuries have hit the Colts with Joseph Addai missing some time and Dallas Clark being out for the season. However, the Colts are still scoring at a very good clip. Is this offense still on the same level as the one that went to last year’s Super Bowl?  

Right now, this offense is a shell of its former self. It was able to lose one guy, maybe two, but not all of these guys all at the same time. The offense has been struggling for a game and a half now — nothing against Cincy and struggled the second half in Philly. Without Addai, you don’t have the great pass protection guy. Without Clark, you don’t have the security blanket, even though Jacob Tamme has played well. Without Gonzalez and Collie, you’re using Brandon James, a practice squad guy, as you’re third receiver. And the offensive line has been in flux all season. 

On defense the major strength of this unit still has to be Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis up front. Would you consider the secondary the weak link of this unit or has this group become a strength?

 The Colts’ defensive weaknesses seem to change week to week, usually depending on injuries. In Philly, the secondary struggled without Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey. Other games, the D-line has gotten pushed around. Right now, I’d worry about the linebacking, especially if Gary Brackett and Clint Session can’t go. They would be replaced by rookies. The bottom line on Indy is, if you can run on them, you can win. It’s worked for Houston, Jacksonville and Philly and almost worked for Washington. Same old, same old. 
What is your key match-up for this game?

Manning v. Belichick. By the way, will Bill go for it on fourth and two again?
Mr. Kravitz is predicting a Patriots victory by 10 to 13 points. Here are his comments on his prediction.

” They’ve won 24 straight at home (or something like that), they’re healthy, they’re playing well. Conversely, the Colts are beat up and have lost three road games already, which is usually two seasons’ worth for them.”

I want to thank Bob Kravitz again for his time in answering my questions and lending his insight to this game. Please do check him out in the Indianapolis Star.

What We Learned From The Patriots Victory Against The Steelers

The Patriots came away with a huge victory on the road in Pittsburgh 39-26 Sunday night, but the score does not indicate how dominant the Patriots were against the Steelers. They held Pittsburgh to just 12 first half yards while the Patriots offense and defense stepped up against a team that many experts thought were the best team in the league.

So what did we learn from watching the game on Sunday?

I think the first thing we learned is that Tom Brady really does “own” the Steelers.  Brady and the offense had their way with a defense that was arguably the best in the NFL. One concern going into the game was that they could potentially pressure Brady and make his life difficult, but instead Brady had all the time in the world to throw. He was able to stand back and pick the Steelers secondary apart, and that allowed New England’s offense to score at will later in the game.  They scored 29 points in the second half and Dick Lebeau, the Steelers Defensive coordinator, had no answers on how to stop Brady.  

Mike Wright had a solid night, finishing with 1.5 sacks on Roethlisberger (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)

I think we also saw a defense that really got after Ben Roethlisberger and contained the Steelers offense when it was needed. Don’t let the statistics fool you in this game. The Patriots defense played very well and we also learned that Patrick Chung is an impact player for this young Patriots defense. Chung had 10 tackles, but was also vital in both stopping the run and in passing situations. He actually helped in the interception for James Sanders by making the deflection. Chung could eventually be as valuable as Bob Sanders used to be for the Colts.

I said this a couple of weeks ago, but I think overall we learned that the Patriots are for real. The Pats deserved to be thought of as one of the best teams in the league, and the best thing about this club is that I feel they are only going to get better as many young players are still developing. 

The Steelers are still an elite team in the NFL. They just had a bad game against the Patriots. On offense, the Steelers were only able to run for 76 yards. Roethlisberger had huge statistics with 387 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Unfortunately, many of his best moments of this game came when the Patriots were up by multiple touchdowns.

On defense, this unit really failed against the Pats. Brady had all day to throw the ball, and he really had no problem finding his receivers. The Steelers, who are known for their run defense, gave up 103 yards on the ground to New England. This unit was shockingly bad for the Steelers.      

For the Patriots, the offense and the defense were both able to control the Steelers units. On offense, Brady threw for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 87 yards with a 4.8 yards per carry average, and this unit had their way for most of the evening.

The Patriots defense pressured Roethlisberger in the passing game, sacking him five times and limited the Steelers running backs from having a big day.  This unit was flying around, and making plays the maority of the game. Did they give up yardage? The defense gave up their share of yards, but when the game was on the line they played well and were able to close it out.  

This Patriots victory really showed the development of a team that is continuing to improve. They are also an elite team in the NFL, and are certainly for real. Sunday’s test against the Colts should let us get a look at how this young group can fare against the likes of Peyton Manning, who will definitely be looking to exploit any opening they give him.

As I always do, I like to look back at my keys to victory to see what kind of role they played in the game.  Below is my analysis of ” My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Steelers “.

1. The Patriots need to win the turnover battle. The Pats did succeed in this key. It was only one interception of Roethlisberger, but Sanders took the pick to the house and scored a touchdown. The bigger news is the Patriots did not turnover the ball.

 2. Patrick Chung needs to make an impact in stopping the  run. Chung was very active against the Steelers. You often saw him come up, and help stop the run. He was good in coverage and made a couple of big hits, and his presence was certainly felt.

 3. The Patriots need to keep Roethlisberger in the pocket. I thought the Pats did a decent job in containing him. Late in the game he was able to get out of the pocket, and make several big plays. However, again when it counted the Pats defense really kept him in check. You could tell that the defense was making a special effort to not let him get outside. He is an elite quarterback, and he was able to have his moments. However, all he had were moments, and overall the defense did their job against the Steelers quarterback.

4. The Patriots need to go to a spread formation on offense along with a no huddle. The  Patriots offense really clicked against the Steelers. They dictated the game, and Brady did work a good amount from the spread formation. Rob Gronkowski had a huge game with 3 touchdown receptions. Most important was the fact that Brady was really able to spread the ball to all of his recievers. Everyone was involved, and it was a dominant performance.

5.  Shayne Graham needs to have strong kick-offs . Graham in my opinion was not great on Sunday. His kick-offs were short of the goal-line, and helped set up great field position for the Steelers. He also missed an extra point. They’re used to the production that Stephen Gostkowksi gave them, and he’ll need better kick-offs and will definitely need to be able to kick an extra point if he plans on being the kicker long term over the rest of the season.

So what did we learn from this game?  Ultimately we saw a team that is a legitimate contender in the playoffs. This is the time of the year when you need to be getting ready to play your best football, and the Patriots are continuing to improve at the time when they really need to. The most important thing we learned is that this is a quarterback driven league, and the Pats I think have best in the NFL in Brady. You always have a chance to do something special when you have #12 calling the signals.   

What are your reactions to the game?  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 39-26 victory against the Steelers.

My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Steelers

After losing to the Browns 34-14 in Cleveland, the Patriots are on the road again to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory. 

WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on NBC Sunday Night at 8:20 PM PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

GAME NOTES: The Steelers are coming off a 27-21 victory against the Bengals. They’re currently 6-2, and possibly one of the best teams in the league. With the Steelers you know what to expect. They are very tough on defense, and offense they will run the ball and also have a potent passing game led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

On defense, the Steelers are ranked #1 in the NFL, giving up only 15.4 points per game. They have playmakers on all three levels of this unit. On the defensive line they have nose tackle Casey Hampton, who happens to be one of the best at his position in the NFL.  All four linebackers are impact players . Outside Linebacker James Harrison already has 7 sacks, and on the other side LaMarr Woodley has 5.5 sacks this season. The secondary is led by safety Troy Polamalu who is a heavy hitter, and a difference maker for this secondary. This defense knows how to get after the quarterback, and also create turnovers.  Tom Brady should have his hands full with this unit.

On offense, the Steelers running game is led by Rashard Mendenhall. He has already ran for 702 yards with a 4.2 yards per carry average. In the passing game this unit starts with Roethlisberger. They’ve got some good wide receivers in Mike Wallace and Hines Ward.  They also have a tremendous tight end in Heath Miller.

The Steelers are a very good team. However, I actually believe the Patriots have an excellent chance at a victory on Sunday. I think the Steelers are a predictable team, and I feel New England can take advantage of their style of play in this match-up.

Here are my “five keys” which  I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.

1. The Patriots need to win the turnover battle.  The Steelers are fantastic at creating turnovers and have a +9 turnover ratio.  New England is close with a +5 turnover ratio, but for the Pats to win they cannot afford to give the ball back to the Steelers.  The Patriots had two crucial turnovers in the Browns game which obviously had a huge effect on the end result – and that can’t happen this week.

Patrick Chung’s return Sunday night should give New England’s defense quite a boost. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)

2. Patrick Chung needs to make an impact in stopping the run.  Chung has been out the last 2 games, and I feel the Patriots suffered defensively without his presence. His ability to come up, and stop the run I think could make a huge difference against the Steelers.  He is listed as questionable, but I would be shocked to see him not play.  The Patriots need him against the Steelers, and I think his return will be a key factor in improving some of the problems we saw defensively last week.

3. The Patriots need to keep Roethlisberger in the pocket. I feel this is a major key to this game. Roethlisberger is very dangerous when he gets outside of the pocket, and he’s someone who does a good job of  making plays when he is on the run. If the Pats can keep him in the pocket, it could hopefully lead to a turnover. I say make Roethlisberger slowly work down the field, and I will take my chances with the ‘bend don’t break defense” of the Patriots.

4. The Patriots need to go to a spread formation on offense along with a no huddle.  The Patriots in past seasons have been very successful with these offensive philosophies against the Steelers. If Brady can control the tempo, and take advantage of an aggressive defense, the Pats could have a very good day offensively. I feel a spread formation with Brady in the shotgun gives them the best chance to win. I wouldn’t bother in trying to run unless they have some success early on.

5.  Shayne Graham needs to have strong kick-offs .   I am not concerned with field goals. Graham actually has a better field goal percentage for his career than Stephen Gostkowski. The issue will be in kick-offs. Graham in general has never been a kicker that has had a tremendous amount of touch-backs. His kick-offs could be huge in helping or hurting the Patriots defense with starting field position.   

I actually feel pretty confident about this game for the Patriots. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Brady go up top a few times against the Steelers secondary.  I also think the Patriots can contain Roethlisberger, and the Steelers offense.  In the end, I see the the Patriots bouncing back with a 31-21 victory against the Steelers. 

What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.

Patriots vs. Steelers: Five Questions With Gerry Dulac Of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Each week I am hoping to bring a view of the upcoming game from a writer who covers the Patriots opposition, and this week we have Gerry Dulac , who is a Steelers beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 

Gerry was nice enough to take some time to answer my questions about Sunday’s game, and it’s always interesting to get some insight from someone who covers the opposing team on a daily basis.

Here are my “Five Questions About The Upcoming Steelers Game with Gerry Dulac Of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.”

Do you think the Steelers see the Patriots as part of a rivalry or just another game?
I think most of the players, who weren’t around for the disappointing AFC title game losses in 2001 and 2004, view it as just another game against a quality team. I don’t think many of the current players have much knowledge, let alone feelings, for a team I think has presented an emotional hurdle for the franchise.
Since his return Ben Roethlisberger seems to be settling back into the offense.  Do you think the Steelers are still a run first unit, or would you say that they still rely on his arm to win football games?

For now, I think they have continued to play like they did when he was on suspension, for the most part. But I don’t think there is any question that in some key circumstances they have relied on him to make a play, rather than trying to create a play with another player. That being said, I think they went for the kill against Cincy when it was 27-7 because of Roethlisberger. They wouldn’t have done that if he wasn’t the quarterback. They would have played more conservative and protected the lead.

 For the Patriots defending Roethlisberger, would you say keeping him in the pocket is the key?

To some extent, yes, because there probably isn’t a QB in the league who can make plays out of pocket as well as him. The Pats would be better pressuring him from the outside than up the middle. That being said, Roethlisberger is very comfortable in the pocket. If you let him stand there, forget it.

Defensively the Steelers are still one of the best in the league. However, would you consider the secondary a weakness in this unit?

It’s a weakness relative to the strength of the rest of the unit. Dick LeBeau prefers a softer coverage in the secondary because his No. 1 mantra is, don’t let the ball get behind you. His second credo is, tackle the ball and make them snap it again — i.e., if the receiver catches the ball, get him on the ground. That approach prevents a lot of big plays. The problem, though, a patient QB will keep taking what the Steelers give you, and that’s plenty of 12 to 15 yard receptions.
What is your key match-up for this game?
Brady vs S Troy Polamalu.

There’s no question the Steelers No. 1 concern will be stopping or containing Brady. Without Randy Moss and the threat of the deep ball, I expect the Steelers to drop their linebackers, not rush them, and have lots of bodies in the middle of the field to take away a lot of underneath passing lanes.

Gerry Dulac’s Prediction: Steelers 30, Patriots 24

 A special thanks to Gerry for giving his time to give his thoughts on this weekend’s match-up.

What We Learned From The Patriots Loss Against The Browns

The Patriots suffered a tough loss to the Browns in Cleveland 34-14 on Sunday. New England was beaten in every phase of the game, and I don’t think there are many positives to take away from this game if you are a Patriots fan.

So what did we learn from watching the game Sunday?

I think the first thing we learned is that the Browns are an up and coming team. I watched a team that is taking their first steps back to being a respected franchise.

I think we also saw what two weeks of preparation can do against an opponent that the coaches know very well.  The Browns were ready to play and you have to give credit to Eric Mangini and his coaching staff. When you’re a head coach and all three coordinators have coached under Belichick, I feel you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Patriots.

I also think we learned that emotion is still a major part of the game. The Browns and their fans were fired up in this game and it showed from the opening kickoff. Unfortunately for Patriots fans, New England came out flat and got behind quickly. By not matching the intensity of their opponent, the Patriots put themselves in a disadvantage the entire game and fell into a hole they couldn’t dig their way out of.

The Browns offense really surprised me. The unit that deserves the most credit on offense for the Browns has to be the offensive line. They opened up holes in for Peyton Hillis to run, and they did a great job protecting Colt McCoy who was very efficient. He was 14-of-19 for 174 yards, but Hillis was the biggest story – running for 184 yards on 29 carries. This unit was dominating yesterday.

The Browns defense also did a nice job against the Patriots offense and they certainly made plays when they needed to. They forced a Rob Gronkowski fumble near the endzone at the very end of the first half, and that play completely changed the momentum. But, the real story was the play of this unit in passing situations. Tom Brady had a very hard time finding open receivers.   One thing Mangini mentioned after the game is that defensively they did their best to show Brady as little as possible before the snap, making it tough for him to make his pre-snap reads.  It worked out well, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan deserves a lot of credit in making Brady’s day rough by his standards.

For the Patriots I have a hard time mentioning anything positive. On defense, Hillis was able to run in between the tackles at will. It looked like the defenders were there to make the tackle, but Hillis seemed to always find a way to get more yardage. In the passing game, The Patriots made McCoy look like Brady. McCoy seemed to always be able to find the open receiver, and when they did catch it, the Browns receivers actually held on to the ball.

This loss was as bad of a defeat that I have seen since last year against the Saints. The Patriots were hardly competitive in the second half.

As I always do, I like to look back at my keys to victory to see what kind of role they played in the game.  Below is my analysis of ” My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Browns “.

1. The Patriots need to contain Peyton Hillis. Well, since Hillis ran for a career high 184 yards it is pretty obvious the Pats did not do a very good job in containing him, and he was very impressive. He runs hard, and New England had a very hard time getting him down. With his running, the Browns were really able to control the game.    

2. The Patriots need to confuse Colt McCoy on defense. The Patriots defense definitely failed in this key. McCoy was having a pretty easy time finding open receivers against the Pats defense.

3. Tom Brady needs to victimize the secondary of the Browns. Brady had a rough outing, and a very hard time finding open receivers. What made matters worse is there were several drops in this game. Brady was 19-36 for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns, but the statistics don’t tell you how poorly Brady actually played.

4.  The Patriots Special teams need to contain Joshua Cribbs. Cribbs actually got the ball rolling with a nice return to start the game. He wasn’t a huge factor beyond that return. This key had a minimal impact on the game.

5. The Patriots need to limit their own turnovers. This is the key that really hurt the Patriots on Sunday. The Pats fumbled on a kick-off early in the game which led to a Browns touchdown. Then Patriots Ron Gronkowski also fumbled close to the goal line at the end of the first half. If the Patriots scored at that point, we could be talking about a different result. Turnovers destroyed the Patriots on Sunday.

So what did we learn from this game? I think we learned that the Patriots are still a young team, and it shouldn’t be a shock to see a bad performance this season. I have maintained not to get too high or low after a game. This is one game and is not a trend yet. Before any long term judgements are made, just remember what their record is now. The Patriots are still 6-2 and have had two bad losses, but they’ve shown plenty of upside in several of their wins. Needless to say this is still a team that is a work in progress.

Instead of thinking the sky is falling, I am feeling that the credit for this game has to go to the Browns. Maybe they are much better than most think.   

What are your reactions to the game?  Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 34-14 loss to the Browns.