Archive for November, 2012

5 Observations: Patriots at Jets

In a game that was scoreless after the first quarter, the Patriots exploded for 35 second quarter points en route to a blowout 49-19 win over the Jets, who were utterly embarrassed on national TV Thanksgiving night. With Rob Gronkowski missing his first game due to a broken forearm many wondered where the offense would come from, but it turned out the Patriots didn’t need much of their offense as the defense and special teams scored 14 points on their own and forced five New York turnovers.

Here are five observations from the win:

Tom Brady had yet another terrific performance Thanksgiving against the Jets.(FILE:USPresswire)

Special teams/defense come up big

With no Gronkowski, and a very depleted offensive line scoring points was something some thought might be an issue. This wasn’t the case at all as the Patriots offense didn’t miss a beat as well as getting 14 points from special teams and defense, both coming in a nine second span in the second quarter, dramatically changing the game. Steve Gregory picked up a Mark Sanchez fumble and returned it for a touchdown. Then, on the ensuing kickoff Devin McCourty knocked the ball loose and Julian Edelman picked it up and ran it in for another touchdown. This is the second straight week where the Patriots have gotten scores from their defense and special teams. Although it was against the Colts and the Jets, special teams and defensive touchdowns are not everyday occurrences, and could be something the Patriots use to their advantage when they need to get an edge over some of the elite teams they face next month and into the playoffs.

Offensive line continues to impress

Once again the offensive line is a major talking point after playing well despite missing key parts. Guard Logan Mankins was ruled out Wednesday, then in a bit of a surprise Sebastian Vollmer was listed as inactive due to a back injury just 90 minutes before kickoff. As always the reserves stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. The loss of Vollmer was especially concerning as he has been the Patriots best lineman this season. Thursday it was Donald Thomas filling in for Mankins, and Marcus Cannon for Vollmer. A lot of the credit has to go to offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia as he always has his players prepared to play, no matter what their role. Something which he does not get as much credit as he should. Brady was not sacked at all, and the Jets recorded only one quarterback hit. The run blocking was also very good, going into hurry up mode at times. The Patriots ran for 152 yards on 39 carries, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. The depth on the offensive line will certainly help as the season winds down as they will try and get their starters back to full health before playoff time.

Jets are a joke

Could this game have been anymore embarrassing for the Jets? Not only did they lose 49-19, giving up 35 second quarter points, falling to 4-7 on the year, but it happened Thanksgiving night at home in front of a national audience. There is no excuse whatsoever for allowing three touchdowns in a 52 second span, including one where your quarterback ran into his right guard popping the ball loose. After a promising first quarter, the wheels completely fell apart and then the effort just didn’t seem to be there the rest of the night. Another issue with the Jets was backup quarterback Tim Tebow. He was the only player, for both teams, who dressed and did not play, reportedly because of two broken ribs. Third string quarterback Greg McElroy was not even active for the game. If Tebow was unavailable, why dress him, and keep McElroy out? What if Sanchez were to have gotten hurt? Following the anonymous player comments about Tebow a few weeks ago, this decision just goes along with what a joke of a team the Jets are right now.

Tough to grade defense

The biggest talking point with the Patriots of late has been their defense and how they have played. You really can’t look at this game and take much out of it. When you’re leading 35-3 at the half there isn’t much to look for in the second half. There weren’t many opportunities for the Patriots defense to show who they are and how/if they have improved. You can’t really judge their blitzing approach because when you’re leading by that much you’re not going to blitz. What can be said is Aqib Talib is definitely going to play a major role for the Patriots the rest of the season. He played every play except for one Thursday night. Although he is just an above average player, not a superstar, he will certainly help the Patriots secondary for the remainder of the season. His presence seems to allow the front seven to play more loose and take more chances in blitzing.

Patriots approach when up so much

A lot has been made this week with the Patriots’ approach when leading by so much and playing their starters following Gronkowski’s injury on the extra point which gave the Patriots their 59th point last week. Thursday night Brady played until late in the fourth quarter leading by 30+ points since midway thru the second quarter. The offense did not let up at all, running reverses and long passes well into the second half. On one of the reverses Edelman took a hard hit to the head and did not return with an apparent concussion. Some have said it was karma since the Patriots were running reverses when leading by so much. The rest of the league takes offense to Belichick and the Patriots’ approach always putting the petal to the metal regardless of the score. While sometimes I do wish they would sit back and play conservative leading by so much late in games, that just isn’t who Belichick and the Patriots are. As an avid follower of the Patriots I have learned to live with and accept it, which is what the rest of the league should. Players are paid to play the whole game regardless of what the score is.

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5 Observations: Colts at Patriots

In what turned out to be a statement game for the Patriots coming off of one of their worst games of the year, the team rolled to a 59-24 win over the Colts. The 59 points tied a franchise record for points in a game. All three units contributed as the offense, defense as well as special teams all scored touchdowns in the victory. This will be a short week for the Patriots as they will take on the Jets Thanksgiving night in the Meadowlands.

Here are five observations from Sunday’s win:

Julian Edelman had his best game as a professional in the win over the Colts.(FILE:USPresswire)

Defense finally dials up some pressure

This has been the game Patriots fans have been calling for all season. Finally Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia let the defense loose and dialed up the blitz putting pressure on rookie quarterback Andrew Luck all game long. The pressure game from everywhere as they mixed up their blitz calls. Some plays they brought corners, some safeties and others the linebackers. This didn’t happen just on running downs, but also on crucial third down plays. Although the defense only sacked Luck once and hit him six times, its pressure was certainly felt by Luck as he threw three interceptions and didn’t look comfortable in the pocket all game long. It will be interesting to see if this is something which will continue on a week to week basis. There were some glimpses of this against the Rams in London, but nothing at all last week against the Bills.

Letting the front seven play free and also the secondary puts the defense is the best position to be successful. As I’ve said before, the strength of the defense is the front seven. What good is it having linebacker Brandon Spikes in pass coverage? He is a run stopper, not a pass defender. Getting the most out of him is him blitzing trying to make plays with his ability to get through the line and after the quarterback. The Patriots used to have their corners and safeties blitz every once in awhile throwing a wrinkle at the opposing offense, but there hasn’t been any of that of late. Sunday that changed as on a few plays Kyle Arrington, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower and Steve Gregory blitzed. While when blitzing it leaves the secondary either playing man to man or having fewer players in zone coverage, it should force the opposing quarterback into getting rid of the ball much quicker and eliminates having the quarterback sit in the pocket and pick the defense apart. Any quarterback can complete passes when given the chance to feel comfortable in the pocket and not worry about getting hit/sacked. Hopefully this is a stepping stone for the defense to continue to create their own pressure by sending four+ players after the quarterback.

Talib makes his debut

Going into the game one of the many story lines was newly acquired corner back Aqib Talib and how he would impact the secondary. As many thought, he started with Kyle Arrington at cornerback, but did not play the whole game. It wasn’t expected he would as he has not seen any game action in five weeks. It was his first game back from his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. While Talib will be most remembered for his interception return for a touchdown, he did have some poor plays where he was beaten, including for a touchdown in the first quarter. Talib will certainly help the defense, but I don’t see him as much of a difference maker as many have made him out to be. Adding him certainly will not be the thing which takes the team over the top as the definitive favorites in the AFC. He along with the rest of the secondary will need to simply play better than they have so far this season, and as a play maker Talib will certainly help.

Overall the secondary played pretty well on Sunday highlighted by three interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns. Besides Talib, Alfonso Dennard had an 87-yard interception return for a touchdown, while rookie Tavon Wilson had an interception with less than three minutes remaining in the game, and the result all but in doubt. All three of the interceptions came of a result of poor throws made by Luck, primarily the result of pressure generated by the defense. For the most part, when the game was still a game, the Patriots did not give up very many big plays and kept everything in front of them. After a poor first few possessions, the Patriots defense made a few in game adjustments, led by Belichick, which seemed to work out. While the overall performance was promising, remember Luck is a rookie quarterback and he hasn’t played very well on the road this season. It is a game to build on leading into the Jets game Thursday night.

Offensive line shines

Once again the depth of the Patriots offensive line was tested as starters Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly were out. As they have for the majority of the season Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas stepped in and did a very good job in protecting Brady. He was not sacked once, and only hit twice. Belichick noted after the game receivers deserve credit for this too, for getting open quickly. He also noted the offensive line did a better job in pass blocking than run blocking which certainly appeared to be true. The Patriots rushed for 115 yards, but that is not a true indication of the running game as Julian Edelman had a 47 yard run, so the running backs only totaled 68 yards on 24 carries. One offensive lineman to point out is right tackle Sebastian Vollmer who has dramatically raised his game this season and is playing at a very high level in both the passing and running games and should deserve some consideration for the Pro-Bowl. I wouldn’t expect Mankins and Connolly to return Thursday for the Jets game. Mankins did not play in the Jets game earlier in the year and Connolly left the game after one series due to an illness. With the biggest games of the season not until mid December I wouldn’t expect players to return to action until they are as close to full health as possible.

McDaniels calls good game

McDaniels has received a great deal of criticism this season for being “too cute” instead of just allowing his play makers and big names to make plays. Sunday he put his players in positions to make plays, calling a solid, well-balanced game. He also knew when to go into the hurry up and when to sit back and grind out drives. Following Rob Ninkovich’s fumble recovery in the third quarter, McDaniels and the Patriots went right for the knockout punch on the first play following the turnover. It worked as it was Rob Gronkowksi’s second touchdown catch of the day blowing the game open. Although the team only ran the ball 25 times it was just enough to keep the Colts defense honest. Brady had a solid game going 24-35 for 331 yards and three touchdowns. He completed passes to six different receivers. One other observation was his ability to get the ball in Edelman’s hands in space. This is when he is at his best and McDaniels along with Brady put him in good positions. Edelman finished with five catches, for 58 yards and a touchdown, along with the 47 yard run.

Injuries becoming an issue

This has now become the big story from the game. According to numerous sources, first reported by Tom E. Curran, Gronkowski has broken his forearm and will be out 4-6 weeks. This creates a major problem for the Patriots offense as much of the offense went through him. Not only is he a major part of the passing game, he is one of the best run blockers on the team. One of the offenses favorite routes is the seam route Gronkowski runs so well. He is also Brady’s favorite target in the red zone. With Hernandez unable to get back on the field following his ankle injury, it will be interesting to see what the team does at tight end as virtually their entire offense was based off of Hernandez and Growkowski. The team does have three other tight ends on the roster in Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui and Visanthe Shiancoe, but neither of them can play at the same level as the other two. Shiancoe did have some good years in Minnesota, but he is far from the player he once was. I do not expect Hernandez to be back Thursday, as the team already rushed him back earlier in the year forcing him to miss the games he is now. The injury puts even more pressure on Brady and the rest of the offense. I would expect Edelman to see more action, getting him the ball in space, and also possibly more of an emphasis on the running game. Luckily, they should get Gronkowski back for the playoffs so things could be worse.

Also, Patrick Chung did not play again on Sunday and tweeted “Gotta love business,” but then removed it shortly thereafter. Interesting comment to make. Suddenly the Patriots are dealing with a number of injuries to key players, but luckily for them they have a relatively soft schedule until mid December when they host Houston and San Francisco.

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5 Observations: Bills at Patriots

The saying, “a win is a win” couldn’t have been more true for the Patriots in their 37-31 win over the Bills Sunday afternoon. Despite not playing close to their best football of the season, the Patriots made just enough plays, none bigger than a Devin McCourty interception in the end zone with less than a minute to play, to sneak past the Bills. The Patriots are now 6-3 having won three in a row with the 6-3 Colts coming to Foxboro next Sunday.

Here are five observations from the win:

Danny Woodhead scored a career high two touchdowns in the win over the Bills.(FILE:USPresswire)

One, maybe two steps back for the defense

After only allowing seven points and having their best game of  the season against the Rams in London two weeks ago, the unit definitely took a few steps back, playing arguably their worst game of the season in Sunday’s win over the Bills. Poor pass coverage, atrocious tackling and not being aggressive all went into the poor performance Sunday. The Patriots gave up a franchise-high 35 first downs and also a dismal 481 yards of total offense. The one silver lining for the group is they were able to force three turnovers, including McCourty’s interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick when the Bills were looking for the win on their last drive.

In the past it’s been the horrid pass coverage which has been the defenses biggest downfall. Sunday this was not the main story as the Patriots tackling was so bad it made Buffalo running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller look like All-Pro’s as they were able to weave in and out of Patriot defenders for big gains. The poor tackling had something to do with the Patriots allowing 162 yards rushing, something they have done well against this season. Also uncharacteristic of the Patriots were unnecessary penalties including two personal foul late hits against Alfonso Dennard and Jerod Mayo. The defense seemed to have taken strides in the past few weeks, but Sunday’s game erased all those thoughts and possibly added a few more concerns with the poor tackling and uncharacteristic penalties. With rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who is having an outstanding rookie season, coming to Gillette this Sunday the team will certainly need to get their mistakes fixed or else they could be in for a very difficult game next week.

Defense needs to generate pressure

Two weeks ago against the Rams the Patriots blitzed and generated more pressure than in any other game this season. Going into Sunday’s game it was thought the team would try and build on it and blitz more. This wasn’t the case as the Patriots went back to their old selves and played their usual “vanilla” defense, rushing three or four guys each play allowing Fitzpatrick to scan the defense and find an open receiver. The very few times where the Patriots did rush more than four players it was successful forcing Fitzpatrick into bad throws, and even a fumble in the first quarter forced by Vince Wilfork and Jermaine Cunningham in on the recovery.

The strength of the Patriots defense is their front-seven. Why not allow them to make plays? Putting things in the hands of the secondary is not the right way to be doing things. With players like Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham and even Justin Francis of late able to rush opposing quarterbacks, let these guys loose and give them the opportunity to make plays. They could even have their safeties come up to the line and blitz. Generating pressure seems to give the defense a better chance of having success rather than sitting back, dropping seven players into coverage and having the opposing quarterback have all day to throw. It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia approach the game next week since they have been known to sit back and drop players into coverage against rookie, and young quarterbacks forcing them into making mistakes, but Luck isn’t like a rookie the Patriots have faced in the past.

Offensive somewhat clutch

Much has been made of the offenses’ inability to be clutch in the fourth quarter and close out games. The Patriots had the chance to do just that Sunday and were successful…(kind of). Following a Donald Jones touchdown with 7:47 remaining, cutting the Patriots lead to 34-31 the Patriots got the ball back. In most cases this season the Patriots would have gone three-and-out, but this was not the case as they drove 59 yards in 14 plays resulting in a field goal while taking 5:41 off the clock. It wasn’t nearly as successful as it could have been, as the Patriots had 1st and goal from the 2-yard line. On that play the Patriots went with a hurry up quick count and Stevan Ridley was stopped for a loss, followed by a penalty sending the line of scrimmage back to the nine yard line and two plays later a field goal. Some had an issue with the hurry up, quick count, but to me there was nothing wrong with it, just maybe the play call itself. Time and time again we have seen the Patriots do this and have seen a Tom Brady quarterback sneak usually working to get at least two or three yards. While the drive didn’t result in a touchdown putting the game away, it did result in points and taking more than five minutes off the clock, something they failed to do in that situation this season. Coincidentally the drive was the only trip to the red zone which did not result in a touchdown. The Patriots scored touchdowns four out of the their five trips on the afternoon. New England did benefit from a ridiculous number of penalties by the Bills — 14 for 148 yards.

Offensive line steps up

This has been one of the positions on the team which has not gotten the attention and praise it has deserved this season. There have been a number of injuries keeping players out seemingly at least one per game. Once again Sunday the team saw starting right guard Dan Connolly and left guard Logan Mankins leave with injuries. Backups Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas filled in nicely, making it difficult even to notice two starters were missing. The group was able to protect Brady fairly well for the most part only allowing one sack, and four quarterback hits against a fierce Buffalo front-seven. With how well Brady has performed this season, some credit should go to the offensive line even with the injuries they have been forced to deal with. The group will need to continue to perform like they have, making Brady feel as comfortable in the pocket as possible. They will be tested coming up in December with games against the Texans and 49ers, teams with very good defenses.

Injuries adding up

Quietly injuries have become a cause of concern for the Patriots. Safety Patrick Chung has not played since Week 6 in Seattle, which has forced some shakeups in the secondary with McCourty moving to safety, which might even be a better position for him, but when Chung returns he will in all likelihood get his starting spot back and start alongside McCourty or Gregory (I’d suspect McCourty). The offensive features the greatest number of injuries starting with the previously mentioned Mankins, who missed two full games just a few weeks back. Mankins has not been 100 percent all season long, and most likely won’t be 100 percent the remainder of the year. It was reported by the Boston Herald he left Gillette with a walking boot. Aaron Hernandez missed his second consecutive game with an ankle injury, following missing three straight games after Week 2. It seems like the Patriots brought Hernandez back too soon and now are paying the consequences. Fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski appeared to be a little banged up prior to the bye week, but looked well-rested and ready for the second half on Sunday. Wes Welker who appeared to injure his ankle in London had it roll up on him again on Sunday. CSNNE reports the wide receiver had x-rays following the game. With two games in five days coming up with the Colts and then the Jets on Thanksgiving, it may be a difficult task asking Welker and some of the other injured players to play in both of those games. The silver lining for the team is following the Jets game they in a sense have a mini bye before playing the Dolphins in Miami on Dec. 2, which will give the players a few extra days to get their health restored.

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Patriots Midseason Awards

With the Patriots on their bye, sitting at 5-3, and at the midpoint of their season, what better time to look back at the first half and give out some midseason awards. The first half wasn’t what most people expected considering the team lost three games, and some didn’t have the team losing three games all season. The silver lining was the three losses were by a combined four points. Sitting at 5-3 the Patriots have their best football ahead of them. It should be an exciting second half of the season with games against some of the elite teams in the league in the Texans and 49ers as the team gears up for a playoff run.

Here are a few awards looking back at the first half of the year:

Offensive MVP: Tom Brady

There really isn’t any second guessing this as Brady had an outstanding first half of the season despite some criticism for his failing to perform well in the fourth quarter of close games and his ability to win close games. The 35-year old has thrown for 2,408 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He is on pace for his second-best season in terms of passing yards, as no single season will ever top 2007, and also for his second least total for interceptions. Despite the criticism Brady has performed quite well and at times put the offense on his back and led them to five wins.

Chandler Jones made much more of an impact than many expected in the first eight games of his professional career.(FILE:USPresswire)

Defensive MVP: Chandler Jones

The rookie out of Syracuse has made an impact right away on the defensive side of the ball. He has given the unit a consistent pass rush, which they have been without for quite some time. Jones has totaled 33 tackles and six sacks in the first half of the season. He also has forced three fumbles. While it was expected Jones would make some contributions in his first season, having such a major impact wasn’t.

Most underrated player: Rob Ninkovich

For a player who joined the team as a backup long snapper in 2009 has emerged into one of the most underrated pass rushers in all of the NFL. Ninkovich has recorded four sacks and 27 tackles thus far and also forced four fumbles, while recovering two. In this first half of the year he has had a knack for making big plays at critical times, including a sack of Mark Sanchez in overtime to clinch the win over the Jets. He is definitely a player to watch in the second half as the team will need him to make big plays when they need them most.

Best game: Patriots 45-7 win over St. Louis

Although it may not have been the most suspenseful or exciting game of the first half, it was the best overall game for the Patriots as it was the only complete, 60-minute game the team played the entire first half. Every grouping contributed to the win. Brady threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns. They also ran for 152 yards, including 127 from Stevan Ridley. Rob Gronkowski had his best game of the year hauling in eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, the Patriots didn’t allow any points after the first drive and was the first game all season where the Patriots played aggressive on defensive, blitzing on multiple occasions, which proved to be successful. This was a win the team will hopefully build on for the second half.

Best celebration: Rob Gronkowski’s first TD vs. Rams in London

Not much of a surprise for this one. Classic Gronk.

Click here to watch. (Had trouble embedding video, sorry!)


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