September 26, 2010
Great Offense Makes Up For Bad Defense
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Mind you, this was the worst offense in the NFL coming into the game that scored 30 points on the road against your Patriots.
Harvard produces great lawyers and CEOs, but not great quarterbacks. Yet Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to move the ball rather easily through the porous New England secondary. Fortunately for the Patriots, he is who he is and the Bills are who they are, and two late interceptions thrown by Fitzpatrick were able to help the Patriots hold off the Buffaloers, 38-30 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots have now won 13 in a row against the Bills, who have never won at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady and the Patriot running game were doing to Buffalo what they should be doing, but the Bills never went away and the game was not locked up until the two-minute warning. Making up for the season-ending injury to Kevin Faulk last week against the Jets, the Patriot offense barely skipped a beat. But again, this is Buffalo.
The 30 points surrendered are a concern, especially with Miami on deck next week and the offense doubtful to score north of 30. The Patriots were far too generous to the Bills in terms of yards and points allowed.
The numbers help explain. Take away the two interceptions, and Fitzpatrick's numbers are nearly identical to those of Tom Brady. The Patriot running backs averaged a robust 5.3 yards per carry as a group, but Buffalo's team rushing average was slightly higher (5.6 yards per carry). This is good enough to beat Buffalo, but it won't be good enough to overcome teams down the road with far better defenses than Buffalo.
For starters, Kyle Arrington started at cornerback opposite Devin McCourty because of the bad game Darius Butler had last week at the Jets. Jermaine Cunningham got the start at outside linebacker in place of Gary Guyton. Neither substitution really helped much as neither player was a factor in the game. Fitzpatrick was sacked only once, and that was by Jerod Mayo. Fitzpatrick generally had plenty of time to throw, and receivers were able to find openings in the soft zone defense the Patriots employed for most of the game.
One play in the first quarter encapsulated the entire day for the Patriot defense, though in the grand scheme of things it was inconsequential. Facing third down and 18 at the Buffalo 19, Fitzpatrick was able to find Roscoe Parrish in the left flat, and managed to sidestep a Jonathan Willhite tackle and get the first down at the 39. It was the first time in 40 tries that Buffalo was able to convert a third down of 10 yards or greater. In the old days the Patriots would have either dialed up a blitz or Parrish would never have been allowed to get behind anyone from that distance.
If one thing can be said about the Patriot defense, it is that despite surrendering 374 total net yards, the Bills were held to only two touchdowns. Fitzpatrick was able to connect with rookie running back C.J. Spiller on a five-yard scoring toss in the second quarter to give the Bills a 13-7 lead at the time. Then in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick found Steve Johnson for a 37-yard touchdown pass as the entire Patriot defense bit on a play fake and both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung arrived too late to defend Johnson. Otherwise, the Patriots managed hold the Bills to three field goals and the two picks (Brian Moorman had only one punt all afternoon for the Bills).
Buffalo did get a special teams touchdown, as Spiller was able to rip off a 95-yard touchdown kickoff return early in the third quarter. The special teams unit really cannot be blamed for this as a block in the back was not called on Corey McIntyre, shoving Jarrad Page in the back right at the point of Spiller breaking into the clear. It did make the score 24-23 Patriots at the time, and it was further proof of the Patriots' inability to get separation from the Bills.
But in the end, the Patriots found a way to hang on and win the game. Brady was near flawless, hitting on 21 of 27 passing for 252 yards, three touchdowns and a 142.6 passer rating. Aaron Hernandez could be the early leader for AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year with six more catches for 65 yards. Randy Moss hauled in an incredible 35-yard touchdown pass amidst a gaggle of Buffalo defenders in the end zone. Five Patriot receivers averaged over ten yards per catch.
Also helping the Patriot cause was the running attack, made exponentially more significant given the loss of Faulk. The unit combined for 200 total yards, just under half of it coming from BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Then there was Danny Woodhead, the Jet refugee who rushed for 42 yards on three carries, most of them coming on a 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Hernandez also chipped in here with a 13-yard end around in the first quarter.
But Marshawn Lynch, Lee Evans and Parrish made way too much hay against the Patriot defense. While none of these guys are clunkers, they are players the Patriots have to be able to contain if they are to seriously contend for playing late into January. Lynch had 79 yards on 13 carries and a 6.1 average. Evans and Parrish each had five catches and collected 137 yards total between them. Spiller chipped in with four carries for 29 yards, averaging over seven yards per carry.
The Patriots will be facing defenses in the future which will not allow them to merely outscore their own defense. Miami comes up next week on the road, and humid weather could come into play which usually spells trouble for the Patriots. Youth is one thing, but experience and talent are a bit more important. The Patriots have already lost their first road division game, and in that loss the defense broke down in the end, especially in the second half.
It will be imperative for the Patriots to get more pressure on the quarterback as the secondary continues to develop. The Patriots still don't bring a fearsome pass rush, and offenses know this well. They can tell their quarterback to sit tight in the pocket and don't rush any throws. Until McCourty and whoever plays opposite him learn the shutdown game better, it is incumbent upon the front seven to make sure the quarterback is as uncomfortable as possible.
But again, for the last time, these were the Bills. The Patriots still haven't lost to them since the Lawyer Milloy game in 2003. They played well and still found a way to lose. The Patriots played less than their best and somehow found a way to win. For now, all is well on the home front.
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