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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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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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Patriots at Bills: 5 Observations

The Patriots offense erupted for 45 points in the second half to overtake the Bills 52-28 in Buffalo, snapping a two-game losing streak and improving to 2-2 on the year. It was a very balanced attack as every unit contributed to the win, in a game in which the Patriots trailed 14-7 at halftime. The team will return home next Sunday to take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

Here are five observations from Sunday’s win:

Brady takes charge

Things were looking great for Tom Brady and the offense following an opening drive which saw Brady go 5-5 and the team march 90 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead. Following the drive, Brady went 5-13 for 61 yards on his next 18 pass attempts. The team did not score for the remainder of the half, partly  because of two critical fumbles, one by Rob Gronkowski and the other by Wes Welker. Brady was clearly frustrated and not happy with the way things went in the first half, so he took matters into his own hands for the second half.

After punting on their first drive of the half, the Patriots scored on their final seven possessions of the game (6 touchdowns, 1 field goal) to run away with the win. Brady led the charge by finishing the day going 22 for 36, for 340 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. He was in one of his zones where seemingly no defense can stop him and he can make any throw possible. After a rough first half, Brady took the game over and that is what elite quarterbacks do when their teams need them most — put them on their shoulders and lead them to a win.

Offensive line shines

The Patriots’ offensive line had a great game without their leader, Logan Mankins.(FILE:USPresswire

Many were concerned with how the offensive line would play going into the game after guard Logan Mankins, their best linemen was declared out with a hip injury. The group responded by playing arguably their best game of the year, playing a crucial role in the victory. From left to right the starting line was Nate Solder, Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer. Some credit has to go to the tight ends as they were kept in on some plays to help out in the blocking, notably Rob Gronkowski.

The group did a great job in protecting Brady as he was sacked only once, and hit just three times, but more importantly the line led the way for the Patriots to rack up 247 yards on the ground and two 100-yard rushers for the first time since 1980. The group paved the way by opening up huge holes all game long for running backs Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden. Ridley rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries while Bolden ran for 137 yards on 16 carries, which equates to an impressive 8.6 yards per carry. Thomas struggled mightily in the Cardinals game and was essentially benched in the Ravens game, so it was a solid bounce back game for him. Although the backs are the one who do the running, the offensive line did a tremendous job in opening large holes in the defense for the backs to run through. With Mankins’ status up in the air it is clear the Patriots can survive, at least in the short-term without Mankins.

Defense generates pressure

After a game last week where the defensive line generated zero pass rush, the defensive front seven responded by having arguably their best game of the season in the win. The front seven had three sacks of Ryan Fitzpatrick and hit him four times, but there was a visible pass rush, which forced Fitzpatrick to force throws, including four interceptions. Rob Ninkovich had his best game of the year finishing with a team-high seven tackles and a sack. Defensive end Chandler Jones, who was contained by Michael Oher last week, got back on track totaling five tackles and a sack. Dont’a Hightower had the other sack, but he injured his hamstring in the first half and did not return. Word out of the locker room after the game was that the injury was not expected to be serious.

Vince Wilfork had an outstanding all-around game with three tackles, two pass deflections, one of which leading to an interception, a fumble recovery and a massive hit on Bills wide receiver Brad Smith. Brandon Spikes might have been the MVP of the defense as he was the one who forced the fumble at the goal line right before the half, where if the Bills were to have scored they would have led 21-7. Spikes’ hard-hitting also led to another fumble in the second half. There is no Patriots defender who is as intense as he is, but the issue with Spikes is he isn’t a three-down linebacker as he struggles in pass coverage. He needs to improve on that aspect in order to be a complete linebacker. The pressure the defensive line generated also helped the secondary by getting to Fitzpatrick and not allowing him to have all day to throw. In order to be at their best the Patriots defense needs to be able to get after the opposing quarterback week in and week out.

Lloyd/Branch limited

With Julien Edelman and Aaron Hernandez out with injuries one would have thought Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch would play more of a role in the offense, but both were very limited on Sunday. Lloyd was shutdown on the outside by the Bills secondary, but it seemed Branch was limited in terms of snap count, although a look at the official snap counts which usually are released Monday morning will say for sure. Lloyd was targeted seven times and finished with just three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown on his final catch of the game. The catch came late in the fourth quarter in garbage time. Lloyd and Brady’s go-to route has been a comeback route on the sidelines, but the Bills were ready for it and didn’t allow the Brady and Lloyd connection to get going. It still is interesting to see how the offensive is run without Hernandez and now Edelman. It seemed Sunday the run was used a lot more than usual to set up the pass. The Patriots ran the ball 40 times, compared to throwing it 36 times. Welker and Gronkowski were obviously the main targets, as they were targeted 11 times each. Welker finished with nine catches for 129 yards, while Gronkowski had five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, but did have a few unusual drops. Next week against the powerful front-seven of the Broncos, the team might have some difficulty establishing the run, so Josh McDaniels might need to get creative in getting the ball in the hands of the Patriots play makers.

Tough to figure out McCourty

Devin McCourty is one of the story lines that never seems to go away. After having a miserable week last week, he following it up with an impressive, two interception performance this week. Last year McCourty was so bad at cornerback he needed to be moved to safety, and this was after a rookie season where he was drawing comparisons to Darrelle Revis. Clearly, he is very inconsistent, but does have natural, raw talent. He isn’t big enough to jam some of the receivers at the line so he depends on getting in the proper position to defend the pass. When he gets out of position and uses the wrong technique is when he struggles. Personally, I think he can be a good corner in the league, he just needs to stay committed to the proper technique and playing smart. Obviously if the Patriots front-seven can generate a pass rush and force early, tough throws it makes McCourty and the other members of the secondary’s jobs even easier.

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Patriots at Ravens: 5 Observations

In one of the most exciting games of the season thus far the Patriots fell to the Ravens 31-30 on a last second Justin Tucker 27-yard field goal. The Patriots led 13-0 at the end of the first quarter and 30-21 midway through the fourth quarter, but could not hold on. It is the second straight week where the Patriots had an opportunity to win the game late, but couldn’t get the job done.

Here are five observations from the game:

Poor play calling from McDaniels

Once again the play calling from Josh McDaniels was suspect, which led to missed opportunities. A few moments that stand out were first, early in the fourth quarter with the Patriots leading 27-21 and the ball at the Baltimore four yard line. Here were the sequence of plays: Stevan Ridley run for a loss of four yards, Danny Woodhead run for no gain, Tom Brady to Wes Welker for six yards, Stephen Gostkowski field goal. After moving the ball down the field thru the air, why all of a sudden stall the drive by going to the run? Use your weapons in the air and find the end zone. In the end settling for three points ultimately cost the Patriots the game, as they needed a touchdown there and the poor playing calling played a major role in settling for the three points.

The next sequence of events was late in the fourth with the Patriots leading by two and the ball when following a Baltimore penalty it was now 1st and 10 on the Baltimore 44 with just over 2:20 to play. The Ravens had all of their timeouts left. Ridley ran for a yard forcing a Ravens timeout at 2:12, then on second down the Patriots for some reason threw the ball, which was resulted in Brady getting sacked for a loss of seven yards and another Ravens time out at 2:06. It was now 3rd and 16 and Brady threw an incompletion stopping the clock at 2:01 and the Patriots kicking the ball away  giving the ball back to the Ravens with 1:55 at their own 21. All the Patriots had to do on that set of downs was get a first down and they most likely win the game. Why throw the ball on second down? Run the ball on second down, make it third and manageable while forcing the Ravens into calling a time out. Then look to pick up the first down on third and short. Very poor play calling, as well as poor execution on these two sequences led to the Patriots not putting the Ravens away when they could have.

Defense not as good as Weeks 1 and 2

Vince Wilfork and the defense took a few steps back from Weeks 1 and 2. (FILE:USPressw

The defense didn’t live up to what it had shown in the first two weeks of the season. The unit allowed 503 total yards — 382 passing and 121 on the ground. The Ravens were also 4-for-8 on third down. One of the biggest issues for the Patriots was their lack of a pass rush, which was something that they had in the prior two games. The defense did not get to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco once as they recorded zero sacks and zero quarterback hits. This put even more pressure on the secondary. Chandler Jones was a non factor as he only recorded two tackles all night and seemed gassed the majority of the second half. Jerod Mayo led the defense with 11 tackles.

Another issue with the defense was the poor play from their cornerbacks especially Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty. McCourty picked up a huge pass interference penalty on the final drive which set up the game winning field goal. He was also picked on much of the night and dropped two interceptions. Arrington was just as bad as he was beaten on numerous plays and was targeted by Flacco on many occasions. There were also several instances of poor tackling which was a major issue in the past that seemed to be cleaned up this season. While the front-seven did not help the cause by not getting pressure, the secondary did not perform up to par and is a cause for concern.

Life without Hernandez

As was expected the offense was much different without Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots did not run nearly as many multiple tight end sets and clearly Rob Gronkowski was impacted. First of all, some plays he was forced to stay in and block and couldn’t even go out for passes. When he did run routes, the Ravens were able to key on him and make sure they took him away. If Hernandez was active the Ravens couldn’t devote all of their attention to one player and one of them mostly likely would have been able to have a big game. Gronkowski finished with just two catches for 21 yards on only three targets. Kellen Winslow and Deion Branch did not play much after being signed this week. Winslow caught one pass for 12 yards, while Branch caught two balls for 11 yards.

Early in the game the Patriots ran a good amount of 4 WR sets, which seemed to work, but then McDaniels went away from it late in the first half. Julien Edelman suffered a hand injury and did not return after the first series in the third quarter, which could have played a role in why the team didn’t go to it again in the second half. This could be something to look for in the coming weeks as if Edelman’s injury is not serious, having Brandon Lloyd, Welker, Edelman and Branch lining up it gives Brady the ability to pick defenses apart. Something to note was the connection Brady is developing with Lloyd, they are starting to click with Lloyd on the outside. Lloyd finished with nine catches for 108 yards. Welker also had a solid game, proving his value to the offense racking up eight catches for a team-high 142 yards. The Patriots offense will be able to survive without Hernandez, but in the end in order to be at their best they need Hernandez and his versatility.

Officials need to go

This is becoming more and more of a story and really starting to effect the product on the field. There were a combined 24 penalties for 218 yards in the game. Included in those were some very poor calls, which clearly went the wrong way. The officials are slowing down the overall flow of the game and the time it takes to get things right is dramatically increasing the length of time of the games. Two of the games kicking off at 4:25 EST were still going on just before 8:00 p.m. How often can you say that two games not going into overtime were still going on at that hour? As it stands right now the referees certainly have the leverage over the league with how poorly the referees have been It is the league who is going to have to give in for a deal to get done. It is really hard to imagine another week with these replacement officials because it is getting to the point where games are being effected and the product is taking a hit.

Don’t panic, way too early

For Patriots fans, many will be panicking this week as the Patriots have lost two in a row and fall below .500 for the first time in some time.  There is a little cause for concern as not only this season but in the past the Patriots have not been clutch in the fourth quarter and have struggled with putting teams away to close out games. But, relax, it’s early. The Ravens are a very good team and had one 19 of 20 and 11 in a row at home. The Patriots put up a tremendous fight and played with a lot of emotion, its just one game. The team now has a soft portion of their schedule until really mid December when they host the Texans and 49ers in back-to-back weeks. The Patriots are still a very good team, and should still be considered an elite team in the AFC. They will still most likely go either 13-3 or 12-4, win the AFC East and have a very good chance of representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.

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