Archive for December, 2010

Belichick Takes Back And Reshapes His Defense

I think one of the factors of the Patriots success this season is being overlooked.  As we know, former defensive coordinator Dean Pees stepped down after the 2009 season. Following that move, head Coach Bill Belichick did not hire a new coordinator. Instead, even though it is not official, he is basically his own defensive coordinator. I feel there are several changes between the defense last season and the current 2010 version, and I believe Belichick is in the process of taking back and reshaping his defense.

Under Coach Pees, the Patriots strength on defense was completely the defensive line. Until Richard Seymour was traded before the 2009 season, the Patriots had one of the best defensive lines in the game. The combination of Seymour, Wilfork and Warren at times were unstoppable. Also, under Pees you had reliable players such as Mike Wright and Jarvis Green added to the mix.

Under Belichick I feel a changing of the guard is happening on defense. I believe now and in the future moving forward the linebackers will be the strength of this unit.  

Take a look at the history of Belichick’s success on defense, and the linebackers have always been emphasized. With the Giants you had players like Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, and Pepper Johnson. With the Super Bowl championship years of the Patriots, Belichick had Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Roman Pfifer, and Willie McGinest.

With both the Giants and the Patriots the defensive lines were good, but I don’t believe they were the overall strength. It was about the linebackers being in position to make plays.

Even linebacker Jermaine Cunningham has 34 tackles this season despite battling injuries early on this season. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)

The 2010 Patriots linebackers corp is not at that level, but I think they are being groomed in the same model as Belichick’s great defenses of the past.  Look at some of the totals in tackles for the Patriots linebackers this season going into the last game. Jerod Mayo has 169 tackles. Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes both have 61 tackles. Rob Ninkovich has 56 tackles.  Even Jermaine Cunningham has 34 tackles.  

Now, Wilfork is a very valuable member of this defense. But, prior to this season his main objective I believe in the 3-4 scheme is to hold up blockers to allow the linebackers to make the plays. This year we’ve seen Belichick move him around to different positions including occasionally working at the end, and as a result he’s had an excellent season. Aside from his performance, the defensive line is important for the Patriots defense, but I think under Belichick they are going back to being “space eaters”.  Do you remember Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant in the early part of the decade? It appears to be a similar scheme that is allowing the linebackers to make plays.

Another element to the 2010 Belichick defense is discipline. Each member on defense has a role and are told to do their job. The Patriots defense has given up a tremendous amount of yardage, but how many big plays have they given up?  If an offense wants to score on this defense they need to work their way down the field to score.

Another factor in the reshaping of the defense is the speed and closing ability of the defenders. You are seeing throughout the game defenders flying to the ball.  It seems whenever you see an offensive player with the ball, a Patriots defender is right there to make the tackle. As they’ve gotten younger we’ve seen a lot more speed at that position, which has certainly made them more effective.

Another difference this season I believe is the amount of players who are contributing and playing on defense. The defensive line before the injuries seemed to have a rotation that would be changing in different situations. At one point you might see Wilfork, Warren and Wright. The next play you could see Brace, Pryor, and Deaderick. At linebacker you might see your regular starters on one down, and then based on the situation you could see players like Gary Guyton, and Dane Fletcher in the game. It was a great move by Belichick, since I believe having more players involved in the overall defense keeps this unit fresh. They are getting contributions from many different players on all 3 levels of the defense.

A huge factor into the reshaping of the defense is the teaching that the young players are learning first hand right from Belichick. Instead of learning the defense passed down from Belichick to Pees last season, this year the players are hearing it directly from the source. 

So the next time you look at the defense, think about exactly what has transpired from 2009 to 2010. The defense is once again being molded by one of the best defensive minds ever to coach football, and thanks to Belichick they’re suddenly in position to potentially contend for a championship in the coming weeks.

What We Learned From The Patriots Victory Against The Bills

The Patriots had another commanding performance in defeating the Buffalo Bills 34-3. This victory was the 15th in a row against the Bills.

The Patriots did not start the game on a positive note on defense. However, as in many games this year, the Pats offense gave the defense a good lead to make their adjustments and improved as the game went along. By half-time the Patriots were up 24-3. As a result, the second half was more about the defense taking advantages of the Bills mistakes. Overall, this was a 60 minute dominating performance by the Patriots.    

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

The first thing we learned is the defense is continuing to make big plays when they need to. At times early on the defense looked vulnerable, especially against the run. However, when the Bills were deep into Patriots territory, it seemed the Pats defense would step up and make the play to stop the Bills drives.

The second thing we learned is how valuable the Patriots running game can be as it continues to improve. When you run for 217 yards a team can completely control the game. The Patriots took advantage of a very weak Bills defense against the run. 

The third thing we learned is that numbers can be very deceiving sometimes regarding Tom Brady. If you look at his statistics you might think Brady had a bad game. He was just 15-of-27 for 140 yards, but he threw 3 touchdowns.  When the opportunities came, Brady took advantage of Bills mistakes and made them pay. Yesterday’s performance was more about his leadership skills rather than his overall statistics. Yesterday showed me more of why he should be the MVP of the NFL this season.

The Bills going into the game had won 4 out of their last 6 games and had really improved over the course of the season. Instead the Patriots just showed the Bills how far they have come since their first match-up at Gillette Stadium earlier in the year and never gave them a shot at winning this one.

On offense, the Bills came out running the ball very effectively against the Patriots. Fred Jackson found huge holes to run through, and made the Patriots pay early on. He had 81 yards on 13 attempts. The shocking thing about the Bills offensively is after their first drive, they went away from the run and started throwing the ball. This was a huge mistake. As the game went on the Patriots did make adjustments and were able to control the Bills running game in the second half. I will never understand why the Bills did not run the ball more.

Ryan Fitzpatrick had a rough day in the passing game. He was 18-of-37 for 251 yards and 3 interceptions. His turnovers really changed the game as the Patriots took advantage of each of his mistakes. He has that gunslinger mentality that can be exciting but can lead to trouble.  

On defense, the Bills were horrible at stopping the run. This was the Achilles heel of this unit on Sunday. The Patriots had complete control of the game with their ability to run the ball. The Bills did a decent job in the passing game, but if you can’t stop the run you are going to have a hard time winning games.

For the Patriots, on offense it was about Brady being in command of his unit, and the Pats being able to run the ball at will.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 104 yards and Danny Woodhead ran for 93 yards.  This was a balanced performance from the offense.

On defense, the Pats did have a hard time stopping the run. Players being out of action for this game were likely the biggest factor in the run defense. However, they will need to do a better job against the run in the playoffs and I expect as they get healthy we’ll see an improvement there.

The defense was again making big plays with turnovers. The young defense is continuing to play fast and aggressively. This unit is continuing to show improvement.

The most important thing we learned on Sunday is that the Patriots can defeat a club they should beat on the road. Now, they are in the best possible position they can be with home-field throughout the playoffs with a first round bye, and a number one seed.   

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 Bills.”

1. Ryan Wendell or Quinn Ojinnaka need to protect Tom Brady in the place of Dan Connolly at guard.  Wendell  was given the assignment to replace Connolly at guard. He did his job on Sunday as Brady was only sacked once, and had plenty of time to throw the ball.

2. The Patriots need to run the ball and control the game.  Well, the Patriots certainly succeeded in this key. They ran for 217 yards and had no problem moving the ball on the ground. The running game was vital Sunday.

3. The Patriots need to contain Fred Jackson.  The Patriots did a poor job against Jackson in the opening drive. However, for some reason the Bills went away from him after that possession. Later in the game the Patriots did a much better job in containing him, and the Patriots are lucky he was not featured more earlier in the game.

4. The Patriots need to win the turnover battle. The Bills had a total of 7 turnovers. There is no question that this key was very important in this game as the Patriots capitalized on the Bills mistakes.

 5. Shayne Graham needs to be very solid in the kicking game. Graham did a decent job on Sunday with his kick-offs. The Bills a few times got beyond the 30 to start possessions, but it did not really hurt the Patriots. Also, he was 100% in extra points and 2-2 in field goals, and was solid on Sunday for the Patriots.

So what did we learn from this game? I think we saw a team maturing and taking care of business when it needed to. Their reward for this victory is home-field throughout the playoffs. For a young team their progress is quite amazing. They are now in position to possibly do something special. What more can you ask for as a fan of the New England Patriots?

What are your reactions to the game? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 34-3 victory against the Bills.

My Five Keys To Victory For The Patriots Against The Bills

After the Patriots beat the Packers at Gillette Stadium 31-27 last Sunday Night, they are back on the road to play the Buffalo Bills this Sunday. 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 Sunday on CBS at 1:00 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

GAME NOTES: The Bills come into this game with a record of 4-10, and in last place in the AFC East. However, they have won 4 out of their last 6 games, and in their last game beat the Dolphins 17-14.  The Patriots had a hard time beating the Bills at home earlier in the year, and Buffalo has only improved since their first meeting. Even though the Patriots have beaten the Bills 14 in a row I am expecting a close game. The Bills are definitely not a team to take lightly, and will give the Patriots everything they have.

On defense, the strength of this unit has to be their secondary. At the cornerbacks you have Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee who will challenge the Patriots receivers. Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd are accomplished safeties to round out a solid secondary which is currently ranked 7th in the NFL in defending the pass.

The weakness of the defense has to be stopping the run. The Bills are dead last in this category giving up 158 yards per game on the ground.

On offense, this unit has definitely improved over the course of the season.  They have a couple of dangerous running backs that the Patriots will need to account for. Fred Jackson is their main threat at the position, and he is having a solid year. He has ran for 811 yards with a 4.1 yards per carry average. He is also a threat in the passing game, and the Patriots will need to watch him carefully.

The big improvement of this unit has to be at the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick showed Patriots fans in the first match-up that he can play at a high level. He has only improved his game from the beginning of the season. Fitzpatrick has thrown 23 touchdown passes with only 12 interceptions. His main receiver now is Steve Johnson who has 72 receptions on the season.  Anyone that has watched the Bills this season knows that offensively they can move the ball and put up points.   

Overall, the Bills are a team on the rise, but the Patriots have certainly had their number this decade. I think the Pats have too much going for them right now to stumble in this trap game. I feel confident that the Patriots will clinch the division and home-field throughout the playoffs with a victory against the Bills.

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

1. Ryan Wendell or Quinn Ojinnaka need to protect Tom Brady in the place of Dan Connolly at guard. Connolly will not play against the Bills because of a concussion. Protecting Brady will be very important, and Wendell or Ojinnaka will probably have that role. For Sunday’s game this position is an area of concern.

2. The Patriots need to run the ball and control the game. This key is pretty obvious for a few reasons. First, the Bills are 32nd in the NFL against the run. Secondly, their pass defense is solid so a stong running game should open up the Bills secondary especially with play-action. Third, it is going to be a cold day, and a good running attack is always needed in these conditions. If they can run the ball on Sunday effectively they should have complete control of the game.

3. The Patriots need to contain Fred Jackson. This player has hurt the Patriots in past games. What makes this key even more important than in game’s past is that the Bills are utilizing him even more in their overall offensive game-plans. Do not be surprised to see him lined up in different positions on Sunday.  

4. The Patriots need to win the turnover battle. This is another obvious key, but one that cannot be taken lightly. The Bills turnover ratio is -5 and the Patriots is +20. If the Patriots can capitalize on turnovers against the Bills and limit their own I think they will be on their way to a division title.

5. Shayne Graham needs to be very solid in the kicking game.   Graham needs to do a better job than he has so far this season in kick-offs. The Patriots cannot afford to have the Bills starting drives at their 30 yard line or better. Graham will need some real strong kick-offs on Sunday to push the Bills back. He also cannot afford to miss any extra points. His job on Sunday could be vital to a Patriots victory.

This will not be an easy game for the Patriots. I think it will come down to the Patriots limiting their mistakes, and capitalizing on the Bills shortcomings. I see the Patriots pulling out a 21-17 victory against the Bills.       

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

What We Learned From The Patriots Victory Against The Bears

The Patriots again dominated an opponent by beating the Chicago Bears 36-7 at Soldier Field on Sunday.

The Patriots showed that they are a team that is continuing to rise to the top. This victory by the Patriots seemed to be at the same high level of play they showed just a week ago against the Jets.  

Similar to last Monday night’s game, the Patriots sprinted out of the gates, and by halftime they were up 33-0. The second half was more about finishing the game, and playing for 60 minutes which the Patriots accomplished. 

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

The first thing we learned is that bad weather doesn’t seem to affect the play of the Patriots. Going into the game I listened to the so called experts state that the weather would make it hard for the Patriots offense to move and score. The conditions were bad, but Tom Brady came out throwing, and I didn’t see many bad passes thrown by the Patriots quarterback.

The second thing we learned is that the Patriots offensive game plan really took advantage of the Bears weakness on defense which is the secondary. Coming out throwing in those conditions turned out to be a huge advantage for the Patriots receivers.

The third thing we learned is that Benjarvus Green-Ellis is shaping into a very good running back. He might not be flashy, but he certainly knows how to find the holes, and hit them fast. I think it is time to give Green-Ellis his due. He ran very well against a defense that was ranked 2nd in the league against the run.

The fourth thing we learned is that this Patriots defense is continuing to make plays, and flat out getting better. The Pats put some pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, along with intercepting him 2 times. The best part of this defense is the Pats players always seem to be around the ball. It is also time to give this unit some respect for the improvements they have made from the beginning of the season. I don’t care what the statistics say, because my eyes again see an improving unit.

The Bears are a talented team, and should not be taken lightly the rest of the season. Their defense is legitimate, and their offense has potential as long as the quarterback plays under control. I think this game just showed more about the level that the Patriots are playing on.

On offense, the Bears really need a strong running attack to be effective. Unfortunately, they got behind early, and were not able to run the ball that much. They ran for a total of 47 yards. The Bears were forced to put the ball in the hands of Cutler and throw the ball often. He did not have a very good day in the air. He was 12-26 for 152 yards, and 2 interceptions. In the future the Bears will need Cutler to become the complimentary piece to their running game with Matt Forte.

On defense, the Bears had a tough time stopping Brady. They came close several times to intercepting him, but just couldn’t create the turnovers they needed.

For the Patriots, on offense once again the play of this unit revolves around the quarterback, and he was tremendous. Brady was 27-40 for 369 yards and 2 touchdowns. This was one of his best performances of the season.

On defense, the unit caused turnovers, and did put some heat on the quarterback. They held the Bears to to a total of 185 net yards. Plus, they also caused 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions. This unit did a solid job.

The most important thing we learned is that the Patriots seemed to be getting better from week to week. I think they are looking like a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

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 Bears.”

1. The Patriots special teams unit needs to contain Devin Hester. The Patriots had a hard time keeping him under control on punts and kick-offs. One kick return went for 61 yards. They were fortunate he was not a larger factor in the game.

2. The Patriots offensive line has to do a great job in protecting Tom Brady. The Patriots offensive line I thought was tremendous on Sunday. Brady had plenty of time to throw the ball the majority of the game. The Bears did sack Brady 3 times, but for the most part this unit kept Brady well protected.

3. The Patriots running game has to be efficient on Sunday. The Pats running game was great on Sunday. They gained a total of 124 yards. Green-Ellis ran for 87 yards with a 4.1 yards per carry average. The Patriots certainly succeeded in this key.

4. The Patriots defense needs to shut down Matt Forte. The Pats defense limited Forte to 25 yards with a 2.9 yards per carry average. The defense certainly succeeded in stopping the Bears running back.

5. The Patriots need to put pressure on Jay Cutler. The Pats defense certainly put some heat on Cutler. They sacked him twice, but also got in his face which saw Cutler make some costly mistakes. 

So what did we learn from this game? I think we saw another step in the progression of a very good football team. The Patriots seem to be getting better as the games become more important. Hopefully, we will see this rise continue next Sunday Night against the Packers.

What are your reactions to the game? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 36-7 victory against the Bears.

Bears Inactives

The Bears incatives against the Patriots are as follows: Moore, Bell, Tinoisamoa, Johnson, Williams, Harrison and (Hanie 3rd QB).

Patriots vs. Bears: Five Questions With Sean Jensen Of The Chicago Sun Times

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 have Bears beat writer Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sean was nice enough to take some time to answer my questions, 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 Bears Game with Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times.”

1. The Bears were 7-9 last season. I had a feeling that Coach Lovie Smith could have been on the “hot seat” this season if the Bears did not turn it around, yet they’re currently 9-3. What are the major factors for the turnaround this season compared to last year’s Bears team?

The Bears weren’t a dreadful team last season, losing several by a close margin in the second half of the season. They had several key injuries that they had a hard time overcoming. Running back Matt Forte was playing through a couple of injuries, and he didn’t have a proven backup. And, more importantly, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher missed all but one game.

Those two are back, and they’re playing well. But the Bears also added Julius Peppers, who has made the sort of impact that they had hoped. Beyond that, they also bolstered their coaching staff, hiring two former head coaches in Mike Martz and Mike Tice, and also getting improved play from quarterback Jay Cutler.

One of the keys to success this season is the Bears’ remarkable fortune, in terms of injuries. They have lost only one contributor to the injured reserve; backup middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. Otherwise, they’ve missed a couple of starters, for a couple of games here an there, but they’ve been arguably the league’s healthiest team.

2. In the upcoming game it looks like weather could play a role in the game with high winds and very cold temperatures. Which team do you think has an advantage in these types of conditions?

I don’t think either team has a decisive advantage. But I would say the Bears have the edge, overall. With winds projected anywhere from 20 to 50 miles per hour, the Jay Cutler and Tom Brady will have a hard time controlling the passing game. But neither of these teams has a power running game.

They both rely on finesse and speed. That may be hard, with the winds, temperatures and even field conditions.

While the Pats do play in poor weather. I’m not sure they can relate to what may be in store at Soldier Field, on Lake Michigan. The weather may be more biting, and the winds are going to be intense.

3. On offense the wildcard for the Bears seems to be Jay Cutler, who has played well as of late. What do you think is the difference in his play and the offense as a whole?

Jay Cutler got off to a strong start this season, then he endured a lot of abuse because he was holding the ball too long and his offensive line couldn’t buy him any time. They’ve largely solved those issues since the bye, with Cutler getting rid of the ball faster and the team relying on more three- and five-step drops and fewer seven-step drops. They are also moving the pocket and empowering Cutler to roll out and make decisions.

But let’s not forget about the team’s increased emphasis to run the ball. The balance has been markedly better, with the team consistently attempting more than 50 percent runs. In addition, Cutler is locking in on Earl Bennett, his former teammate at Vandy. Bennett was unable to do much in the preseason, with a hamstring injury, but he got healthy at the start of the season then worked his way back into the lineup. Since the bye, Bennett’s scored three touchdowns, and he topped 100 yards against the Lions, coming up with several key third-down conversions.

4. On defense, the Bears are again one of the best in the league as they are currently ranked 3rd in the NFL. The front seven seem to be solid for the Bears with players like Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs. Is the weakness of this defense the secondary?

The weakness is clearly the secondary, more specifically the cornerbacks. Zack Bowman didn’t have the sort of season the Bears had hoped, and Charles Tillman has continued to force turnovers, but he’s been getting nickel and dimed quite a bit this season. The Bears corners may give a cushion, but they aren’t afraid to punch receivers in the mouth and try to jar the ball loose.

Receivers will feel the pain after playing against these corners. D.J. Moore is the nickel, and he’s one of the team’s best playmakers. He has a knack for coming up with timely plays, from sacks to interceptions, and they like him on the football field in key situations.

5. And finally what is your key matchup for the game?

I think the key match up will be Bears rookie RT J’Marcus Webb against whoever the Patriots throw at him. Webb was a seventh-round pick, and he has some athleticism. But, he’s admittedly struggled with things opposing offenses have thrown at him, since he played at West Texas A&M (a Division II school).

I believe Belichick will come up with ways to try and confuse Webb, like blitzing different players from his side. It’s worked quite a bit in the past. Then again, I’m sure Tice and Martz know that’s what Belichick will do.

That’s what I love about this game: the chess match. Two of the best minds going at it. Should be a fun game.

A special thanks to Sean for giving his time to give his thoughts on this weekend’s match-up. You can follow him on twitter at Skjensen .

Who Is Patriots Inside Linebacker Dane Fletcher?

Yesterday the Patriots lost starting inside linebacker Brandon Spikes to a four game suspension for using a banned substance. Gary Guyton will probably be playing his position, but there is another player to keep an eye on. Dane Fletcher is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Montana State. He could also see some time at Spike’s position while he is out.

So, I was curious to learn a little more about this player who has come out of nowhere to play for the Pats this season. Who is Patriots inside linebacker Dane Fletcher?

The 24 year old is 6ft. 2 inches tall and weighs 244 pounds. Originally from Bozeman Montana, he played football at Montana State.

He had a very accomplished career at Montana State. In 2008 he had 6.5 sacks. Last season as a defensive end he had 7 sacks, 67 total tackles, and 17.5 tackles were for a loss.

He was the Defensive Most Valuable Player in the Big Sky Conference in 2009. He also was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan award, an honor that goes to the Football Championship Subdivision’s top defensive player of the year.

So this takes us to his time with the Patriots. I noticed him late in the game against the Ravens. I looked at this linebacker with the number 52 and said to myself “who is that”?

The very next week he forced a fumble in the Chargers game and made 3 tackles. Against the Vikings he forced Brett Favre into an intentional grounding penalty. Overall he has 14 tackles for the Patriots. Not bad for a rookie free agent from Montana State.

What is interesting about Fletcher is that his senior season in college he played defensive end. With the Patriots he has made the transition to inside linebacker.

With Spikes out for the rest of the regular season there is a chance you will see Fletcher playing next to Jerrod Mayo in the middle of the Patriots defense. Gary Guyton played inside linebacker for all 16 games last season next to Mayo. He certainly will continue to play the position, but don’t be surprised to see Fletcher playing some at that position as well.

The Patriots have made a habit over the years of having many undrafted players playing significant roles on the team. Right now you have Danny Woodhead and Benjarvus Green-Ellis both undrafted as your main running backs.

Just because a player went undrafted does not mean he cannot play in the NFL. Fletcher should now get an opportunity to play more, and hopefully continue to make a positive impact.

Spikes has had a good season with the Patriots. He had 61 tackles with 1 interception. He was really good at stopping the run. The question for the rest of the year: can Guyton and a rookie free agent from Montana State named Fletcher stop the run? Only time will tell.

My Five Keys To Victory For The Patriots Against The Bears

After the Patriots beat the Jets 45-3 on Monday Night, they are on the road to play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday. 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 Sunday 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 Chicago Bears come into the game at 9-3, and in first place in the NFC North. They won their last game on the road at Detroit 24-20. This club is a legitimate contender to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl once we get to the playoffs. Their defense is one of the best in the league, and offensively they have been very efficient lately. This team will be very difficult to beat at home. 

On defense the Bears are very tough against the run, ranking 2nd in the NFL and they also get after the quarterback.  They only give up up 16 points per game. The strength of this defense is in their front seven. On the defensive line this group is led by Julius Peppers who already has 7 sacks. Brian Urlacher is still one of the best linebackers in the league, and he already has 94 tackles and 3 sacks. The weakness of the defense could be the defensive backs. 

On offense, the Bears have improved as the season has gone along. The running game is led by Matt Forte who has 748 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The passing game is led by quarterback Jay Cutler. He has been playing more under control lately, and his statistics back that up. He is completing 63% of his passes, and has thrown for 17 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Cutler has some weapons with wide receiver Johnny Knox, and tight end Greg Olsen.   

The Bears special teams group is very good. Their kicker, Robbie Gould, is one of the best in the NFL and their punter is solid in Brad Maynard.  Devin Hester is very dangerous in punt returns, and has already returned 2 for touchdowns.

The Bears are a very good team and deserve to be 9-3. They also are excellent at home. Weather could also be a factor as it is expected to be very cold and windy. However, if there is a team that can play in tough conditions, and also play well against great defenses, it is the Patriots. I still like their chances 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 special teams unit needs to contain Devin Hester. I have seen this player change a game with a punt return. He is so dangerous, and the Patriots special teams needs to keep him in check. I would obviously punt away from him and I expect we’ll see them try and keep it out of his hands whenever possible.  

2. The Patriots offensive line has to do a great job in protecting Tom Brady. The Bears love to get after the quarterback, and the offensive line needs to keep Peppers and Urlacher away from Brady. If they give him time to throw he should be able to take advantage of the Bears secondary.

3. The Patriots running game has to be efficient on Sunday. Since weather could play a factor on Sunday, it is imperative that the Pats running backs gets some decent yardage against a very tough defense. You might see a surprise at running back with Fred Taylor playing on Sunday. He did play in the last game very late and got a few carries. However, Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead will probably shoulder the load in the running game.

4. The Patriots defense needs to shut down Matt Forte. One of the main reasons the Bears offensive improvement is the play of Forte. If the Pats can contain him, they could force the ball in the hands of Cutler and make him beat you.

5. The Patriots need to put pressure on Jay Cutler.  The Bears offensive line this season has not been a strength of the team. The Pats need to take advantage of this unit like they did against Pittsburgh. In that game they blitzed often while keeping Roethlisberger in the pocket. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar game plan against Cutler.     

This will be a tough game on the road with potentially bad weather conditions. I think this game comes down to the play of Brady. He is playing right now at an MVP level, and has shown he can handle windy conditions.  I am predicting a 21-17 Patriots victory.

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

Reverse The Curse Of Deion Branch – Updated

On October 9th, I wrote a post called “Reverse The Curse Of Deion Branch”.  At the time the Patriots had just traded Randy Moss and speculation was that the Patriots were interested in bringing back Deion Branch. The post was basically about how I felt the Patriots needed to fix a mistake they made four years prior by trading Branch to Seattle. I really thought at the time this was an opportunity for the Patriots to transition back to the “ball control” offense that Branch really flourished in. 

I have been criticized for using the term “reverse the curse” in the title of my post. Some comments mentioned they were tired of this reference that was used so prevalent with the Red Sox. Looking back at it now I understand why fans would feel so strongly about my title. However, I felt the title was my way to express my point that the Patriots needed to “right the wrong”I felt they made with Branch. Since he left, the Patriots had a great deal of success, but had changed into a different type of offense and team.  I thought by bringing back Branch, it would help the team become the “old school” Patriots once again.       

So what has happened since my original post called “Reverse The Curse Of Deion Branch”?

Well, the Patriots did make the trade with Seattle for Branch giving up a fourth round draft pick for the wide receiver. Before the trade the Patriots record was 3-1. Since Branch became a Patriot, the team is 7-1 and an overall record of 10-2.  

Obviously the trade is not the overall reason for the Patriots being 10-2, but Branch has become a valuable piece to the offense.  He had an impact right away in his first game back with the club.

The Patriots played The Baltimore Ravens on October 17th. It took Branch some time to get involved in the offense, but he made several key catches to help the Patriots in a 23-20 overtime victory against the Ravens. He had 9 receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Not bad for being out of the system for 4 years.

Now, Branch’s overall numbers aren’t going to dazzle you. However, as we went deeper into the season when it has really counted, he has played a key role.  For example, against the Colts he had 7 receptions for 71 yards, but it was a block that helped spring Danny Woodhead to a touchdown run that stands out for me.

How about against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day? He only had 3 receptions, but 2 were for touchdowns in the second half to help propel the Patriots to a victory.

How about against the Jets on Monday Night Football? Again he only had 3 receptions, but one catch was for a pivotal touchdown to help give the Patriots a significant lead in the first half. That touchdown pass was also on fourth down.

The real contribution of Branch has been his ability to just be a piece of the puzzle that is the Patriots offense. The offense is no longer focused on two wide receivers. This unit run by Brady is now all about finding the open man. I really feel this offense is more difficult to stop with Branch now, because Brady has so many options at his fingertips. The “Old School” Patriots offense has returned and Branch is a key contributor.

Now as I mentioned earlier his statistics are decent this season. Overall, he has 49 receptions  for 609 yards and 5 touchdowns. With the Patriots in 8 games he has 36 receptions for 497 yards and 4 touchdowns.

If you are really concerned with stats I will give you two very important figures to look at. The New England Patriots are currently 1st in the NFL averaging 31.6 points per game. They also tie for the best record in football at 10-2.

So two months later after I first wrote my post about Branch much has happened, and their have been many positives with the New England Patriots. There was never a curse on the Patriots. There was only a major mistake I felt the club made four seasons ago.

Now with Branch back I see a team that reminds me of the Super Bowl Championship clubs he was a part of. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season I feel the Patriots are going in the right direction.  Branch for me is a piece of the puzzle to help restore the Patriots to their “Old School” roots. It is now officially back to being about the “team”.           

What We Learned From The Patriots Victory Against The Jets

The Patriots dominated the New York Jets in every phase of the game, and beat them 45-3 Monday Night at Gillette Stadium.

This turned out to be a statement game for New England. At halftime they were up 24-3, but it was the second half where they showed their true dominance and rolled to a victory.

So what did we learn from watching the game on Monday Night?

The first thing we learned is when Bill Belichick and his staff have 11 days to prepare for an opponent, the result more often than not will be positive for the Patriots. The team came out firing on all cylinders in all three phases of the game, and it was pretty obvious that the Pats were prepared for the Jets.

The second thing we learned is that this Patriots offense is so difficult to contain because Brady has so many options for him to go to. A defense can’t just key on one player, because Brady will surgically find the open man. This offense isn’t just about Welker and Moss anymore. It is now all about the best quarterback in football orchestrating his offensive unit like a conductor.

The third thing we learned is that you cannot just look at numbers when you are judging the Patriots defense. This unit is fast and continues to make plays in critical situations. I want to say it is not all about the turnovers that this unit is converting. It is also about doing their job and working together as a unit. How often do you see the defense get beat by a big play? They make you earn your points by driving, and maybe you will make a critical mistake like Monday night showed.

The Jets showed they still have a tremendous amount of talent. But, as we know in New England it isn’t just about acquiring talent. Unfortunately for the Jets they did not play well together as a team.

On offense, the Jets were able to run the ball against the Pats. Overall, the Jets ran for 152 yards with a 4.9 yards per carry average, which is excellent. The problem on offense was Mark Sanchez and the passing game. He did not look like a quarterback in command of his offense. He made many poor throws, and had a hard time reading the Patriots defense. Sanchez threw 3 interceptions. and that killed the Jets in this game. He was 17-33 for 164 yards. For the Jets to be a championship team, Sanchez needs to raise his game to an elite level. There is no question Monday night he did not play close to where the Jets need him to be.

For the Patriots, on offense it starts and ends with Brady – who played almost a flawless game. He was 21-of-29 for 326 yards and 4 touchdowns. This was an MVP performance.

On defense this unit did its job well. It caused three turnovers, and was very active the entire game. On third down conversions the Patriots held the Jets to 25%. That is a major improvement from where the defense ranks in the League. Overall, the defense continues to improve and do their job.

The most important thing we learned is that the Patriots are playing their best football of the year when it really matters. They are now a legitimate threat to go deep in the play-offs and possibly go to the Super Bowl.

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 Jets. “

1. The Patriots defense needs to stop the run. In this key the Patriots did not do a great job at stopping the Jets running game. Shonn Greene ran for 64 yards, and Ladainian Tomlinson ran for 47 yards. Obviously it didn’t cost them last night, but against better opponents the Patriots will need to do better at stopping the run if they plan on making a long run in the play-offs.

2. The Patriots need to keep Mark Sanchez in the pocket. I thought the Pats defense did a nice job of containing Sanchez in the pocket. By keeping him inside, it probably helped in Sanchez forcing the ball, and creating turnovers for the Patriots.

3. The Patriots defense cannot give up big plays. Overall, the Pats did not give up a huge play to the Jets. Santonio Holmes caught some passes, but he was not able to break one for a touchdown.

4. The Patriots tight ends need to make an impact in this match-up. I thought all three tight ends made a difference against the Jets. Rob Gronkowski only caught 1 pass but his catch gave the Patriots a key first down. Aaron Hernandez caught 3 passes and 1 for a touchdown. Also, Alge Crumpler was huge in the running game. These tight ends did their job Monday night.

5. The Patriots need to win the turnover battle. I thought the turnover battle would be a huge key in this game and I was right. The Jets had 3 turnovers and the Patriots had none.

So what did we learn from this game? I think we saw a team that is coming of age at the best possible time. You want your team to be playing their best ball after Thanksgiving. The Patriots are doing just that. Hopefully we’ll see it continue next Sunday in Chicago.

What are your reactions to the game? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 45-3 victory against the Jets.