November 11, 2010
Are the Patriots Pretenders?
BY: Mike Saver
The Patriots don't lose many back to back games. However, this next one on Sunday night is likely the toughest one they'll play all season.
The Steelers have been one of the most impressive teams this year. They managed to ride their defense to a 3-1 record without their star quarterback. With him back behind center they've become even more of a force to reckon with.
Without Big Ben, the Steelers' offense was mostly stagnant and one dimensional. With Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at quarterback the Steelers put up more than 20 points only once - in a blowout of Tampa Bay. Yet they were still able to beat top-tier teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans. With Ben back in the line-up the Steelers have also gone 3-1, but the offensive production has notably gone up - scoring more than 20 points in each of those three wins.
Roethlisberger is tough to handle for defenses. He can scramble out of the pocket and make plays when there isn't one and at 6-5 and 241 lbs, he's is hard to bring down.
To keep up the tradition of putting some distance between their losses, the Patriots will have to play their best game of the year. So far, the Pats have yet to play great for a full 60 minutes. Now would be as good a time as any.
While the devastating loss to the Browns is sure to sharpen their focus going forward, the Patriots have quickly lost some supporters. They've gone from having the best record in the league to having some experts question whether they'll even make the playoffs.
In a recent article for NFL.com, Steve Wyche writes, "...if a playoff berth comes down to a game or two, what just happened could determine whether they lose home-field advantage or a postseason spot outright".
The loss to Cleveland was bad, but does it mean that the Patriots were merely pretenders? This team just held the NFL's best record a week ago and now some, like Wyche, are bringing up the possiblity of losing a playoff berth. It seems a bit drastic.
"The Patriots have beaten one team, the 6-2 Ravens, that has a winning record", points out Greg A. Bedard of boston.com. "The other five victories have come against teams that are a combined 19-30. That all changes in the second half, when the schedule features opponents that are a combined 34-31. That includes the 0-8 Bills."
Bedard's point does happen to be a valid one. Though one could argue that the Dolphins, Vikings and Chargers are all very talented and dangerous teams despite their records - the Patriots have yet to face a team as complete as the Pittsburgh Steelers this year.
In his weekly press-conference, Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, acknowledged how few the Steelers' weaknesses are:
"All those things you need to be a good football team, the Steelers are and they have been. We've got to recognize their strengths and try to play to our strengths, and understand what they don't do as well - which there are very few of those things - and maybe try to capitalize on those."
This game is the perfect chance for a statement game for the Pats. An upset over Pittsburgh would certainly silence all the doubters. For now the Patriots can once again play the "nobody believes in us card", something that worked for them back in Week 4 when they trounced Miami, 41-14, after every writer for "Patriots Football Weekly" picked the Pats to lose.
Hopefully, they get some similar results this week.
Brady's Road Studies:
One small thing the Patriots have going for them is that Brady tends to perform well following a road game. After beating the Chargers two weeks ago, the quarterback talked in depth about the added preparation time he gets after an away game in his weekly appearance on WEEI:
"It's very valuable when you're on the plane, no one can get to you. [It's]quiet [which allows] me to reflect on what I need to do better and also kind of get a jump start on the following week, which you don't always get to do when you play at home because typically you have some friends and family in town and a few hours after the game maybe you're getting something to eat but it's nice on the airplane you're able to watch some film and get ahead"
Brady said the same thing this Monday following the road loss at Cleveland, "There's quite a bit of opportunity to get ready on the flight home so. I'm already watching a lot of Pittsburgh stuff and trying to figure those guys out".
The added preparation and film study Brady puts in has reared its head - statistically at least. In games following a road game since last year (not including bye weeks or playoffs) Brady has thrown for 23.5% more yards and 45.83% more touchdowns than he has following a home game - averaging 283.88 yards, 2.4 TDs and o.38 interceptions.
After one of the quarterback's most dismal performances against Cleveland, expect Brady to bounce back - especially with a little extra time on the plane to prepare.
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