Archive for October, 2012

5 Obervations: Patriots at Rams

Playing in London for the second time in four years, the Patriots played their first complete game of the season in their 45-7 win over the Rams. Both units played their best games of the season, and now will go into their bye week feeling good. Here are five observations from Sunday’s win:

Tom Brady had his best game of the season in Sunday’s convincing victory over the Rams.(FILE:USPresswire)

Brady on his game

Tom Brady played undoubtedly his best game of the season, including a near perfect first half. Brady finished the game 23-35 for 304 yards and four touchdowns. He was not sacked and had a rating of 131.1. Brady and the offense could not have been more perfect in the first half. The unit had four possessions, each ending with touchdowns capping very impressive drives. Their touchdown drives in the first half covered 78,83,78, and 56 yards. Brady finished the first half 14-22 for 205 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots entered the locker room with a 28-7 lead and then scored on their first possession of the second half to take a commanding lead and Brady was replaced in the fourth quarter by backup Ryan Mallett.

Any questions surrounding Brady’s play of late were put to rest Sunday as he clearly put the offense on his back and led them to a convincing win. He was sharp and completed passes to six different players. This was one of Brady’s best games not only of this season, but the past few years as well. The one question surrounding Brady not answered Sunday was his ability to perform in close games, which has been questioned this season, but you cannot prove yourself in the clutch when the game is virtually over at halftime. The point has been valid so far this season, so it will be something to watch in the second half of the season and especially the playoffs.

Defense dials up pressure

For the first time this season the Patriots actually were aggressive and tried to make plays on their own by blitzing and rushing more than just four guys. It actually worked as it forced Rams quarterback Sam Bradford into forcing throws and feeling uncomfortable in the pocket. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, who have had very good first halves to the season, were once again dominant on Sunday each finishing with a sack and a QB hit. Ninkovich has really evolved into one of the most underrated defensive ends/outside linebackers in the league. Rookie Tavon Wilson showed some promise in blitzing and getting through the offensive line from his safety position.

This has been something Patriots fans have wanted for the majority of the season as until now the defense has sat back, only rushing four guys every play — a very vanilla defense. With a secondary as bad as the Patriots has been, why not try something different? Although it puts them in one-on-one coverage, it also should decrease the amount of time the quarterback has in finding an open receiver. The Patriots have more play makers in their front-seven, and not as many in the secondary, so why not give those players a chance to make plays, rather than struggle in pass coverage? It will be interesting to see how the Patriots play defense in the coming weeks after having some success in blitzing this past week, especially once they face top teams like the Texans and 49ers in December.

Running game excels

Once again the Patriots had a great deal of success running the ball in their win over the Rams. Stevan Ridley rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, which averaged out to 8.5 yards per carry. He did have two runs of over 30 yards. Shane Vereen also excelled filling in for the injured Brandon Bolden. Vereen has seemed to have gotten the majority of the short yardage carries. He finished with 22 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Once again credit needs to be given to the offensive line who has performed very well this season, despite never really being at full strength. Sunday’s line consisted of: left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Donald Thomas, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. All-Pro guard Logan Mankins sat out with a hip injury that seems to have been an issue the past few weeks. The bye will certainly help get Mankins back to playing full-time. If the Patriots can continue to run the ball with success, that is when their offense is at its best because defenses will not be able to focus on just stopping the pass. The one issue the Patriots have had in running the ball this season, is when the defense knows they are running the ball (ie. 3rd and short) the Patriots have failed to covert with consistency.

Secondary injury concerns

On top of the very poor play from the secondary this season, the group has also dealt with a number of injuries. Kyle Arrington was added to the list Sunday after he left the game with a head injury on the first defensive series. Safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory did not make the trip to London due to injuries, and neither did Ras-I Dowling who was put on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. The injuries to Chung and Gregory, the starting safeties, forced Belichick to move Devin McCourty to safety to play along side Wilson for the second week in a row. Aside from allowing the big play on the first drive of the game, the two performed quite well. Rookie Alfonso Dennard started at corner, and once Arrington went down Sterling Moore took his spot. Marquise Cole assumed the role as the extra defensive back in sub-packages along with rookie Nate Edner. Cole was injured in the fourth quarter and did not return.

With as many injuries, number of rookies playing significant time and shifting of positions the Patriots have had, it really shouldn’t be a surprise of how bad the Patriots secondary has been. The bye week comes at a good time as hopefully they can get Chung and Gregory back. It will be interesting to see what they will do with McCourty when the two return as he has played quite well in his two games at safety and seems to play much better when the play is in front of him as he is an above average tackler. To me the starting secondary when fully healthy should be: Dennard and Moore at corner, McCourty and Chung at safety, with Wilson, Gregory and Arrington coming in during sub-packages. It would not be a surprise to see the team bring in some players for workouts during the bye week due to the number of injuries the Patriots are dealing with.

Bye week comes at good time

The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Patriots. First off, it comes in the very middle of the season and allows the team plenty of time to recover from their trip to London. It also allows for the injured/banged up players to get healthy. On top of the secondary and offensive line, there are a few other players nursing injuries. Aaron Hernandez seemingly came back from his ankle injury too soon and did not make the trip this week. Fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, although hasn’t missed any time this season, is battling a bad back. Wes Welker seemingly takes a huge hit every catch he makes, could always use a week off. Belichick always stresses the season does not really start until after Thanksgiving. If the Patriots can use this bye week to get fully healthy and come back working up to play their best football towards the season at the end, they will be ready to take on anyone in December and the postseason.

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5 Observations: Jets at Patriots

In a game which was more closer than expected and should have been, the Patriots outlasted the Jets for a 29-26 overtime win. The Patriots now lead the AFC East at 4-3. It was another game where the Patriots failed to put their opponent away in the second half. This time the Patriots were able to overcome it off the foot of Stephen Gostkowski, who kicked the game-tying 43-yard field goal as time expired in regulation and the go-ahead 48-yarder in overtime.

Here are five observations from the game:

Bill Belichick celebrates Sunday’s win, but there is still plenty to work on. (FILE:USPresswire)

Defense not generating enough pressure

Clearly the Patriots have issues on defense in defending the pass. A lot of the blame has been directed towards the secondary, but some of that stems from the lack of a pass rush and generating pressure on the opposing quarterback. When rushing only four guys and not being able to get to the quarterback, it makes it even more difficult for the already poor secondary as the quarterback has plenty of time to scan the field and find an open receiver. Having to stay glued to their receivers even longer than they should certainly doesn’t help a weak secondary. It’s been a bit surprising Bill Belichick and defense coordinator Matt Patricia haven’t blitzed much this year to try and offset their weak secondary. To me the major reason for this is they are not confident in one-on-one coverage if they were to send extra players after the quarterback. Belichick stresses not giving up the big play and having one-on-coverage increases those odds.

To me, the Patriots need to start blitzing more and taking chances in order to make it uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks. Right now they are too vanilla on defense. The group has some play makers with the ability to make plays on the quarterback and potentially force turnovers. Linebacker Rob Ninkovich has shown that ability by forcing four fumbles already this season, including the one Sunday clinching the win on the last play of the game. Rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower has shown he can get after the quarterback as he finished with a sack and a QB hit against the Jets. Clearly, Brandon Spikes isn’t very effective in pass coverage. Why not have him blitz and try and make a play? He is essentially useless in pass coverage against tight ends, give him a chance to make a play. I’d really like to see the Patriots start being more aggressive on defense and put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it may even help the secondary.

Offense still struggling to close out games

This is becoming a very alarming trend for the Patriots. Once again the Patriots blew a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter for the third time this year, but luckily they were able to overcome this one and win in overtime. It wasn’t just the fourth quarter, it was virtually the entire game. The Patriots offense had numerous chances to increase their lead to three possessions, but they could never do so. They scored only one touchdown in their final eight possessions. The Patriots have failed to deliver the knockout punch early on in games, seeming to always allow their opponent to hang around. What is also becoming a trend is their trouble with their five-minute offense. Once again the Patriots led 23-20 with just over five minutes remaining in the game. A drive producing a few first downs, taking time off the clock would most likely put the game away, but once again the Patriots struggled in this situation and went three and out, only taking 1:25 off the clock. The big blow on this drive came on the first play when receiver Brandon Lloyd was flagged for offensive pass interference making it 1st and 20. You really cannot do much with 1st and 20 so they were given a set back from the start. An incompletion and a run set up third and long and yet another incompletion was followed by a punt, giving the ball right back to the Jets. The pass interference penalty really set the Patriots back on that possession, making it difficult to put the game away. The play call was good, it was just neglected by a penalty. The Patriots did have numerous opportunities to extend their lead to three possessions in the second and third quarters, but couldn’t do so. Luckily for the Patriots they were able to overcome their inability to close out the game, but this is surely something the Patriots will need to turnaround as the season goes on.

Play calling questionable

Once again Josh McDaniels’ play calling is being brought into question. The Patriots are lacking an identity on offense and this is something Tom Brady admitted following the game. This is something which should have been learned by Week 3 or 4. This could be part of the reason for the offense’s poor five-minute offense. They don’t know what to call, a run or a pass because they still don’t know their identity. There is no question they are a pass first team, but yet McDaniels and the offense still insist on running the ball in key situations. The Patriots ran the ball 31 times, and thew it 42 times on Sunday, with the majority of the throws coming on the two final possessions, which proved to be their best of the day. With all the weapons the Patriots have in the passing game it makes no sense why the Patriots still insist on trying to be a running offense. It worked a few weeks back against Denver and against Tennessee, but even that wasn’t a straight running attack, it was the quick, run to the line snap the ball quick. What the Patriots can’t do, and haven’t been able to do in a number of years is run the ball successfully when the defense knows they are running the ball. On 3rd and 2, they can’t line up in a jumbo set and run the ball to pick up the first down, they aren’t built like that. They are a pass first team, and I don’t understand what is taking them so long to realize this.

Another thing which is frustrating is McDaniels seems to be getting “too cute” with his play calls. There is no need to call some of the “trick” and “gimmick” plays that he has, which seem to never even work. This is fine when you have an offense which needs to call those plays to beat teams, which is what McDaniels had in Denver and St. Louis because those teams were not as good. New England has the talent to just line up four and five wide with Brady in shotgun and let him scan the field to allow one of his playmakers to make a play. Hopefully, the Patriots offense will realize their identity is a passing offense, and stop messing around with the run, besides every once in awhile to keep defenses honest.

Gostkowski clutch

After a poor start to the season, including missing the game-winning field goal in Week 2 against the Cardinals, Stephen Gostkowski bounced back very nicely making two clutch field goals leading the Patriots to the win. His 43-yard field goal at the very end of regulation was at the same end of the field as the one he missed in Week 2, but he calmly drilled the ball thru the uprights forcing overtime. Then in the overtime session when the Patriots drive stalled around the Jets 30, Gostkowski bailed them out by making another clutch kick, this time from 48-yards. Following the Week 2 game some were saying Gostkowski was not clutch, etc., but he sure proved his critics wrong with arguably two of his most clutch kicks as a Patriot on Sunday, saving Patriot Nation from officially going into panic mode if they were to lose and fall to 3-4. His two kicks did not get the credit they deserved with people focusing on how Brady and the offense moved the ball so well after struggling in the third and early fourth quarters.

Mess in the secondary

As it has been the case nearly every week this season, the secondary was a major cause of concern. They allowed Mark Sanchez to throw for 328 yards and a touchdown. This is especially concerning with as bad as Sanchez has played all season and the fact the top two receivers on the Jets roster are Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. With the injuries at the safety spot, Devin McCourty moved back there, and started with rookie Tavon Wilson. The pair played the whole game together. Alfonso Dennard and Kyle Arrington started at corner, and it stayed that way the entire game as well. On passing situations the Patriots brought in Ras-I Dowling and Sterling Moore as extra defensive backs. It was Dowling’s first real playing time of the season and he did not have a very good showing as he allowed a few big plays and committed two penalties. He was injured in the second half and did not return with Nate Ebner taking his place. Dennard got beat a few times as well, same goes for Arrington.

It is tough to predict what will happen with this unit especially when they are not 100 percent healthy. When everyone does come back, I would expect Patrick Chung and Stephen Gregory to start at safety, with McCourty and Dennard at corner. Then, rotate Wilson, Moore and Arrington in on passing downs. Dennard had outplayed Arrington and earned his spot. There is nothing to say this unit will be able to turn things completely around, but all they need to do is get stops in key situations, and not allow as many big plays as they are good enough to win because of the superiority of the Patriots offense.

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Revisiting the Patriots Offensive Playcalling in Loss to Seahawks

Much of the blame for the Patriots 24-23 loss to the Seahawks is being pointed to the horrid secondary, but should they be the ones getting all the blame? No. In fact the bulk of the blame should be on Tom Brady and the offense. Going into the season there was no question the offense is much superior to the defense. You know what you have on defense is not very great, particularly in the secondary. On the other hand, on offense you know you have one of the best and most explosive groups in the league.

Leading 17-10 at the half and scoring only six points in the second half is unacceptable. When your defense forces three punts on three possessions from Seattle in the third quarter and you see the lead go from 17-10 to just 20-10, is again unacceptable. Only getting one first down on their final three possessions is once again unacceptable. The offense had plenty of opportunities to deliver the knockout punch, but failed to deliver, which should be where the bulk of the criticism should be.

Going along with the offenses poor play in the second half is the questionable play calling. When a team throws the ball 58 times there really shouldn’t be any second guessing when they do run the ball, but this is not the case with what took place on Sunday. Clearly the Patriots couldn’t get anything going on the ground as they totaled only 87 yards the entire game. Adding insult to injury Brandon Bolden was out for the entire second half with a shoulder injury. When the game was on the line offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went away from the passing game and went with a running attack which was non-existent and thus could not put away the game when given numerous opportunities to do so.

Here is a look at a few of the questionable possessions and play calls during the second half:

Fourth quarter, Patriots leading 20-10, 12:31 remaining with the ball on NE 30.

  • 1st and 10, NE 30: Brady pass incomplete to Lloyd
  • 2nd and 10, NE 30: Brady completed pass to Lloyd for 23 yards.
  • 1st and 10, SEA 47: Ridley run for no gain
  • 2nd and 10, SEA 47: Brady completed pass to Woodhead for 22 yards.
  • 1st and 10, SEA 25: Ridley run for four yards.
  • 2nd and 6, SEA 21: Ridley run for four yards.
  • 3rd and 2, SEA 17: Ridley run for no gain.
  • 4th and 2, SEA 17: Field goal. 9:25 remaining

Looking back this drive which stalled was a killer. The Patriots could have scored a touchdown and gone up three possessions, leading 27-10 with just over nine minutes to go, but instead they settled for a field goal, keeping it a two possession game, which was just what the Seahawks needed. It didn’t make much sense to run the ball with Ridley three straight times inside the 25-yard line when they gained the prior 55 yards on the drive through the air and Ridley only ran for a total of 34 yards in the entire game. Why didn’t McDaniels keep the momentum going and the ball in Brady’s hands?

Fourth quarter, Patriots leading 23-17, 3:02 remaining with the ball on NE 41.

  • 1st and 10, NE 41: Ridley run for 1 yard.
  • 2nd and 9, NE 42: Ridley run for 1 yard.
  • 3rd and 8: NE 43: Brady incomplete pass.
  • 4th and 8: NE 43: Punt. 2:48 remaining.

All the Patriots needed on this possession, was one, maybe two first downs and the game would be over. Instead, the Patriots went three and out, only taking 14 seconds off the clock and giving the ball right back to the Seahawks. This possession followed the Patriots defense getting a three and out from Seattle’s offense. They did their part, the offense needed just one first down, and the No. 1 rated offense in the league couldn’t do it. Once again it comes down to play calling and why did McDaniels go to the run? While yes, the goal was to take time off the clock and force Seattle to use timeouts, but on the other hand getting a first down would do the same thing. With as poorly as they ran the ball in the game, why run the ball on first and second down? Run a conservative pass play such as a screen to either a wide receiver or running back. Run a short pass to Welker or Gronkowski. Keep the ball in the hands of the players who made plays in the game, not someone who averaged just 2.1 yards per carry in Ridley. Again, it comes back to the questionable play calling by McDaniels.

There is no denying the secondary played very poorly and deserves some of the blame, but the far superior unit had numerous chances to put the game away and failed, thus putting in the depleted defense in a position to fail, which they did. The bulk of the blame on this one should be on McDaniels and the offense, not the secondary.

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5 Observations: Patriots at Seahawks

Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks was one of the worst losses in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. Going against a sub-par Seattle offense with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson leading the charge, the Patriots blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead and fell to the Seahawks on the road. It was a case of both the offense and defense failing to make a big play when it counted, with a few mental mistakes mixed in.

Here are five observations from the loss:

Tom Brady and the Patriots offense once again struggled to close out their opponent and win a close game.(FILE:USPresswire)

Closing out games becoming an issue

The Patriots failing to close out games is something which is becoming an alarming trend over the past few seasons, and continuing this season. Leading by 13 points with 9:21 remaining, the Patriots gave up two touchdowns, including the game-winning 46-yard bomb to Sidney Rice with 1:18 left to play in which Rice got behind safety Tavon Wilson for an easy score. The blame isn’t all on the secondary as the Patriots had plenty of chances to close out the game. The Patriots last six possessions were: interception, interception, field goal, punt, punt, turnover on downs. Of the last three, the offense picked up just one first down. Quite simply this is a trend becoming apparent with the Patriots of late. They cannot put together a solid, long sustained drive when they need to, or even score the touchdown they need to put their opponent away in the third and early fourth quarters. This occurred last week against Denver, but key Broncos turnovers bailed the Patriots out. This week the Seahawks made them pay.

Another trend for the Patriots is their inability to win close games. In their last seven regular season games decided by five points or less the Patriots are 2-5. What does this mean for Brady and Belichick? Are they losing their greatness? No, I don’t think this is the case, but it is something to be aware of. There is no denying Brady hasn’t been as clutch as he once was, and Belichick’s defenses haven’t been able to make a play when they need to for some time now. There is nothing both Belichick or Brady can say, the bottom line is they need to start turning this trend around and get back to their old habits of winning the close games. The window for them to win another Super Bowl is getting smaller and smaller.

Re-visiting end of the first half decision

Much has been made of the Patriots decision to run a play with six seconds left in the first half with the ball inside Seattle’s five yard line. Brady was under pressure and threw the ball out of the end zone resulting in an intention grounding penalty and a 10 second runoff ending the first half resulting in zero points. This was a major point in the game as instead of going into the half leading by 10 or 14, they only led by seven. Something happened prior to the that play which should also be noted as very poor clock management by the Patriots. They ran their first play following the botched punt with 40 seconds left as a pass to Wes Welker to the nine yard line. Brady and the Patriots wasted about 16 seconds before calling a time out with 19 seconds left. If they used their timeout right when Welker was down it would have been 1st and goal at the 9 with 35 seconds, instead it was 1st and goal at the 9 with 19 seconds left. Very poor clock management from the Patriots, something you very rarely see.

Back to the intentional grounding play. There was nothing wrong with the call as if Brady threw it away properly there was still time to kick a field goal. It was simply poor execution. If the Patriots were to have scored on the play people would have been praising the decision by the team, but now people are looking back and saying this was a sequence which ultimately was the reason why the Patriots lost the game. This was not the sole reason why the Patriots lost the game. Sure, looking back kicking the field goal was the right move, but at the time trying to get a touchdown was the right decision, it was just a poorly executed play.

Secondary struggles again

This story refuses to go away as once again members of the secondary were beaten badly on a number of plays. This week Kyle Arrington was the worst of the bunch as he was beaten several times in the first half, which led to him being benched and from my accounts not playing at all in the second half in favor of Alfonso Dennard. On Rice’s game-winning touchdown Devin McCourty missed on the jam and then Wilson allowed Rice to get free over the top for the touchdown. Due to an injury to Patrick Chung the safeties on the last series were Wilson and fellow rookie Nate Ebner. It would appear the depth chart at corner back finished the game as: McCourty, Dennard, Marquise Cole, Arrington, Sterling Moore, and Ras-I Dowling. Clearly, this is an area which needs to be addressed and it would be expected a few corner backs will be brought in to Foxboro this week for workouts.

In my opinion McCourty needs to be moved to safety. He played some there towards the end of last year and it seemed to work out. McCourty is much better with things happening in front of him. When healthy Chung is a starting safety, with Wilson as a form able backup. Once Steve Gregory is able to return from his injury he is another backup safety and could even be given a shot at corner. Dennard has really made the most of his playing time the last few weeks and has deserved the chance to start at corner. To me, he and Moore have the best ball skills of the group and as things stand now would make the best starting corners. Another route the Patriots could go is a number of different sub-packages working in players like Arrington, Gregory and Cole into spots they feel make sense.

Something else I feel needs to be addressed is Belichick and corner backs coach Josh Boyer need to be getting much more criticism when it comes to the secondary’s poor play. A huge issue is the Patriots defenders failure to play the ball in coverage. Almost all the big plays the Patriots have given up come as a result of the defender not turning their head and finding the ball. This is undoubtedly a teaching technique, which clearly isn’t working and needs to be corrected. Boyer, while in his first year with the corners was the safeties coach for the three seasons prior to this, so he does have experience in the system. Boyer and Belichick deserve much more blame for the horrid play from the Patriot corners.

An average Brady performance

While Brady’s stat line read: 36-58 for 395 with two touchdowns and two interceptions, you wouldn’t think he played that bad, but in fact he did. Brady struggled the majority of the game and was average at best. As the game wore on he become more and more uncomfortable in the pocket and made some very poor throws. Something which should also be noted is the number of mental mistakes Brady made. He had two intentional grounding penalties, which is something you almost never see from him. The Patriots did not score a touchdown after their third possession of the game, and went 3-for-11 on third down in the second half. In the third quarter the Seahawks had three possessions and punted all three times, but the Patriots only increased their lead from 17-10 to 20-10. This comes back to the Patriots’ failure to put teams away and in a way comes back to Brady and his sub-par performances when it matters of late.

Injuries starting to add up

Injuries, especially with offensive skill players are starting to add up. Running back Brandon Bolden was suffered an shoulder injury in the first half and did not return. This affected the running game, especially in short yardage situations. The Patriots rushed for only 87 total yards. Special teams captain Matthew Slater was injured on the first punt of the fourth quarter and did not return for the second punt, which Leon Washington returned back to midfield, setting Seattle up for the winning score. Not having Slater in coverage certainly went in Seattle’s favor. If Slater were to miss time it would be a very key injury as Slater plays an integral role in the teams’ special teams. Brandon Lloyd was shaken up after diving for a pass on the last possession, but did return for the final two plays. Welker took a number of vicious hits once again Sunday and is very rarely 100 percent. Rob Gronkowski has been battling a back injury for a few weeks now and Aaron Hernandez just returned from his ankle injury Sunday. While every player in the league gets banged up throughout the year, the Patriots skill players are a little more than banged up. They desperately need the bye week, which isn’t for two weeks — the week after the Rams game in London. With as skilled as the offense is they need all of their weapons to be on the field at once, and with the team sitting at 3-3 they can’t afford any of their skill players to miss significant time.

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5 Observations: Broncos at Patriots

For a game that was hyped to be all about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the Patriots running game stole the show as the they rushed for 251 yards on 54 attempts in their 31-21 win over the Broncos. It was the first time since 1978 where the Patriots rushed for 200+ yards in consecutive weeks. They will look to continue their winning ways when they travel to Seattle next week.

Here are five observations from the game:

Tom Brady and the Patriots offense has taken on a new look of late. (FILE:USPresswire

A new-look offense

Over the past few weeks the Patriots offense has evolved into something which New England fans haven’t seen in the Belichick-Brady era — a run-based offense. The Patriots ran the ball 54 times against the Broncos, to just 31 pass attempts. Never has Brady thrown the ball more than 20 times less than the number of Patriot rushing attempts. Stevan Ridley led the charge with 28 carries for 151 yards and a touchdown, followed by Brandon Bolden who had 14 rushes for 54 yards. Danny Woodhead and even Shane Vereen (one carry, one touchdown) were in the mix. Ridley and Bolden are a great combination, and you need to have more than one running back in the NFL these days. Also, there has been a game plan to commit to the running game, but unlike in the past the team has stuck to the plan even when teams go to sub-defenses like the nickel as the Broncos and Bills have the past two weeks. The running game has set up the passing game, something Brady hasn’t had since the Corey Dillon days. While it is something Patriots fans are not used to seeing, there is no complaining as it’s put up 83 points the past two weeks.

A question which has arose from the new-look offense is, did the offense change because of the injury to Aaron Hernandez? The Patriots rushed the ball over 30 times Week 1, but a lot of that came at the end when the Patriots were running out the clock. There was more of a commitment to the running game, but nothing like what’s been shown the past two weeks. It’s very hard to imagine this offense and Hernandez running the ball 54 times. Hernandez is the most valuable player on the offense as he can lineup in almost spot on the field. So with Hernandez being out of the lineup the last few weeks, has he been the reason for the Patriots to switch to a run-based offense? It will be interesting to see what takes place when he returns. No matter what the case may be, the Patriots offense is no doubt one of the best in the entire league.

Generating pressure key for defense

This will be the storyline with the defense the entire season. The unit is at their best when the front-seven can get pressure on the opposing quarterback. Against Manning the Patriots sacked him twice and hit him five times. Manning had his best moments when he had a lot of time to throw and was able to scan the defense, allowing his receivers to get open. This has been the case with every quarterback the Patriots has faced all year long. The Patriots secondary isn’t good enough to stay with their guys for very long, so they need the more skilled front-seven to help them out as much as they can.

Jerod Mayo led the defense with 13 tackles and a sack. Rookie safety Tavon Wilson, starting for the injured Steve Gregory had a great game totaling 10 tackles. In terms of a pass rush, Chandler Jones led the charge with quarterback hits. Rob Ninkovich has stepped up his play of late and it continued on Sunday as he forced a fumble of Manning and he and Jermaine Cunningham have been players who have gone under the radar by stepping their game up the past few weeks. It was especially important due to the absence of rookie Dont’a Hightower who missed the game, and most of last week with a hamstring injury. The front-seven getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks will ultimately be what makes or breaks them this year.

Secondary struggles

The secondary is still continuing to have issues as they allowed 345 yards through the air, including a few big plays. Devin McCourty continued his up and down season as he got beat a few times in critical spots on Sunday. It’s hard to tell exactly how well or poorly he plays from just watching the game and noticing mostly just the negatives, but from the first-take it looked like he struggled. More to come in the coming days upon review of the game. There were a few bright spots in the secondary with Wilson doing an excellent job filling in for Gregory. Also, rookie Alfonso Dennard saw his first action of the year and performed quite well, breaking up a few passes. He could be a player to watch in the coming weeks as he could take some playing time away from Sterling Moore and maybe even McCourty or Kyle Arrington. Moore had a tough go Sunday and was pulled in favor of Dennard. One player who is not in a good position is Ras-I Dowling who saw very little action Sunday, even in sub-packages. Clearly, he has done something where Belichick and Co. don’t feel comfortable with him on the field.

Inability to close out games

Once again the Patriots had trouble closing out their opponent, this time due to not taking care of the ball and also a poor coaching decision. The Patriots led 31-7 with less than four minutes in the third quarter. There is no excuse to allow a team to get back into the game when you’re leading by 24 points at that point in the game. This happened obviously because of Ridley’s fumble with five minutes to go, and the Patriots leading by 10, but luckily the Broncos fumbled a few players later. Another play which stood out was with just over eight minutes to go and the Patriots leading by 17 with the ball just into Denver territory. It was 4th and 5 and Belichick decided to go for it. Brady fumbled, Denver recovered and scored quickly on their next possession as they only needed to go 40 yards. Why didn’t Belichick punt and force Denver to go 80 or 90 yards and take it even more time on the clock? Luckily for the Patriots this did not come back to hurt, but in the future playoff teams could make them pay. Belichick has a history of going for plays like that, does it mean he doesn’t trust his defense? The bigger point is the Patriots struggle at putting away opponents. Their four-minute offense has been very poor of late by failing to pick up key first downs and generating long, sustained drives, as well as fumbling like today. For a high powered offense this is something the Patriots really need to work on in the coming weeks.

Future play calling

With the Patriots committing to the running game the past few weeks it will be interesting to see how the Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels handle things in the coming weeks with Hernandez and Edelman returning, as well as facing top teams like the Texans and 49ers. McDaniels has a tendency to panic in games against superior opponents and strictly throw the ball upwards of 45 times. The Patriots offense the past two weeks is matching the same intensity as in 2007. The running game is setting up the passing game, which allows Brady to have more time in the pocket and find his weapons. Adding Hernandez and Edelman to the mix makes it virtually impossible for defenses to match up against the Patriots. This offense is one of the fastest in any level of play and makes it extremely hard to play against as the tempo wears defenses out very quickly. McDaniels needs to stick with what has worked the past few weeks and not be tempted to go away from it — Hernandez and Edelman will only make it better.

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Charting the Patriots’ struggles against opposing tight ends

One major concern for the Patriots defense this year, and really for some time now, has been their inability to cover opposing tight ends.

While Brandon Spikes shines against the run, he struggles in defending the pass.(FILE:USPresswire

Here is a look of how tight ends have faired when facing the Patriots this season:

@ Buffalo: Scott Chandler 4 catches, 63 yards, 2 touchdowns

@ Baltimore: Dennis Pitta 5 catches, 50 yards, 1 touchdown

vs. Arizona: Todd Heap 5 catches, 62 yards*

@ Tennessee: Jared Cook 4 catches, 64 yards*

Total: 18 catches, 239 yards, 3 touchdowns

* led team in receiving

ANALYSIS: It isn’t a secret the Patriots have a hard time covering tight ends, especially over the middle of the field. A lot of this has to do with Patriots linebackers struggling in pass coverage. A perfect example is Brandon Spikes as he has been tabbed as one of the best run stopping linebackers in the league, but when it comes to depending the pass it certainly isn’t his strong suit and the reason why he isn’t a three-down player yet. Jerod Mayo is one of the best tacklers in the game, but is average at best in terms of defending the pass. Dont’a Hightower is very inexperienced when it comes to this and Tracy White hasn’t been able to get the job done in the times he’s been put in a situation to cover a tight end over the years. This could also play into why the Patriots brought back Bobby Carpenter this week. It also speaks to the safeties not getting the job done when asked to cover a tight end. Patrick Chung, who just a few years ago could cover tight ends with the best of them, has certainly seen his play fall off, while Steve Gregory hasn’t showed much in his short time in New England. This situation is something to monitor as the season goes on, especially if opposing teams exploit it more than they already have.

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