November 18, 2012
Defense Finally Flexes Patriotic Muscles
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- The Rams in London, now the Colts in Foxborough. Rush the quarterback, win going away. Okay, now we get it.
Just in the nick of time, the Patriots have re-learned the secret to good defense in the NFL. You don't have to be a football Einstein to know that the Patriots need to take the pressure off its lousy secondary with a better pass rush. The Patriots brought the blitz three weeks ago at Wembley Stadium and beat the Rams 45-7. On Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots brought the blitz hard to the Indianapolis Colts after spotting them two early soft touchdowns. The result was two pic-sixes, the emergence of a new guy in the back four, and a record tied for most points scored in a game in Patriot history. The Patriots walloped the Colts, 59-24 in the first Patriot-Colt game since 1997 which did not see Peyton Manning on the Colt roster.
The 59 points matches the all-time franchise most for points in a game, as the Patriots dropped 59 on the Tennessee Titans in 2009 in a freak October snowstorm at Gillette. Andrew Luck made his Foxborough debut as Colt quarterback and did manage to put up 24 points on a Patriot defense which is still suspect against the pass and got gouged on occasion on some runs by Vick Ballard. But Luck was rushed and flustered after the Colts' second offensive possession, and 21 of the Patriots' 59 were not scored by the offense.
Newcomer Aqib Talib, acquired two weeks ago from Tampa Bay for a fourth round draft pick, struck in the second quarter with an easy pick at the Patriot 41 after Luck overthrew Reggie Wayne deep. Talib ran to the right, then cut back left and managed to take it to the house. Talib was burned twice on Luck touchdown passes, but overall played a steady game and instantly endeared himself to his new fans with the pick-six.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Luck again tried to hit Wayne on a deep route and overthrew the ball. Alfonzo Dennard picked off the pass at the 13 and brought it back 87 yards for the score. Dennard ran it back down the right sideline and needed only to outrun Luck to the end zone.
The other score which did not involve the offense came one drive before the Talib pick-six. After scoring touchdowns on their first two drives, the Patriots held the Colts to a standstill on their own 26, bringing up fourth and ten. Punter Pat McAfee boomed one over Julian Edelman's head, but old friend Sergio Brown was called for a false start. McAfee's second punt was a line drive, and Edelman took it at the 32 and burst up the right sideline for 68 yards and a touchdown. Edelman would also score a receiving touchdown and came within three yards of scoring a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, thus barely missing the chance to be the first Patriot to score three touchdowns in three different ways since Troy Brown in 2001, who pulled off his hat trick against the Colts as well.
All of this brutalization the Patriots laid on the Colts was thanks to the pass rush and the blitz packages used by Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia. One has to wonder where this has been all season long, as both times the Patriots have used it, both times have resulted in prohibitive wins. What was even more amazing about the pass rush was that Chandler Jones was injured in the first quarter and did not return. Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, and even Arrington provided a lot of the key rushes and hits on Luck.
The offensive numbers put up by Indianapolis don't suggest a suffocating blowout. Luck did throw for 334 yards passing, and the rushers averaged 5 yards per carry. The Colts did at times move the ball easily against the Patriot defense, and Luck did indeed show off all the great promise he carries with him as the top draft pick with some beautiful pinpoint throws. His best throw was perhaps in the second quarter, where T.Y. Hilton barely beat Talib on a quick slant in terrific coverage and Luck zipped it right in there in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown to make it 14-7 Colts at the time. Ballard had 72 yards rushing and at times was able to run inside against Wilfork and Spikes for big gains.
But Tom Brady showed Luck that it isn't about luck, but rather Hall of Fame quality skill. Brady completed 24 of 35 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns, posting a 127.2 rating, more than twice that of Luck. The usual gang, Rob Gronkowski (seven catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns) and Wes Welker (seven catches, 80 yards) did their thing. But Edelman had perhaps his finest game as a pro, catching five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, then the punt return for a touchdown (along with another return that went for 49 yards) and a 47-yard run on an end around in the fourth quarter which nearly gave him that touchdown hat trick. That one single run made him the leading rusher for the Patriots as Shane Vereen had only 40 yards rushing and Stevan Ridley 28 yards.
Wayne, Manning's old reliable, did manage seven catches to lead the Colts for 72 yards. Hilton had six catches for 100 yards and both of Luck's touchdowns, both scoring catches coming at the expense of Talib. Tight end Dwayne Allen also had six catches for 69 yards.
But the Patriots were simply too much for the Colts. As great as the offense looked, it was the defense which made the game what it was and what drove the final point total up to the record-tying 59. This can serve notice to the NFL that, if the Patriots can dial up the pass rush, they will be tough to beat come January assuming they don't trip up on their way there. While Talib is not the be-all, end-all, fix-all for the defense, and while Ty Law and Asante Samuel are not walking through the Gillette Stadium doors, the secondary does have potential to keep the team in the game if the front seven do their job and pressure the quarterback.
The Patriots have only three days rest, then head for the Jersey Meadowlands to play the Jets on Thanksgiving night. The Patriots hope to make Mark Sanchez and/or Tim Tebow look like a turkey, then settle in for a week and a half of rest and more turkey.
Don't expect another 59 points. But expect another flurry of pass rushing, and hopefully a pilgrim-like feeling at game's end.
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