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.