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.