NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
Now that we’ve all had a night to digest the Patriots second win of the season, I’ll break down my six keys to victory over San Diego:
1. HURRY UP OFFENSE
That’s right, it was no. 1 last week and it’s no. 1 this week too. This core Patriots offense will be so hard to stop if everyone stays healthy. Not only can they tire out the opposing defense, but it also causes mismatches no matter what defense is thrown out against it.
If the defense goes nickel, you bring the tight ends in and run the ball with Woodhead, if the defense goes heavy, you split out Gronk and Hernandez and force linebackers or safeties to have to cover them. At some point a team might figure out how to stop this, but Miami and San Diego have both failed. At this point I’d argue that Gronk and Hernandez are Brady’s most imposing targets, so even if you line up your best coverage guys on the TEs, that leaves Branch and Welker wide open split out wide.
Now, the key is to keep everyone healthy, especially Woodhead and the TEs. This offense simply wouldn’t be as effective without the fear that Gronk and Hernandez can either split out wide or come in to block and Green-Ellis simply doesn’t have the receiving skills that Woodhead does out of the backfield or split out wide.
If Branch or Welker were to go down, the offense wouldn’t be as effective, but I’m confident that Ochocinco or Edelman could take over. It’s being reported Hernandez has a sprained MCL that could keep him out 1-2 weeks. His injury should open the door for Ochocinco to get more snaps against Buffalo and Oakland. Hopefully Hernandez will be back for the Jets, I’m confident the Patriots can beat the Bills and Raiders without him.
2. KEEPING BRADY UPRIGHT
The offensive line has done a tremendous job this season giving Brady time to find his 2nd, 3rd and 4th options. The Chargers sacked Brady twice and hit him 5 times, but Woodhead and Gronkowski did account for a few of those. Bringing Solder in as a 3rd TE/T 18 snaps was something I predicted very early. When you’ve got three top tier tackles, you might as well use all of them.
I liked the split that Solder got 18 snaps and Dan Gronkowski got 19. Dan will almost exclusively be used as a blocker, but he does possess the threat of catching passes. With Solder in there, you know he’ll just be used as extra protection. There was a scary hit down low to Brady, and I’m sure we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when walked away from it.
3. ESTABLISHING A RUSHING ATTACK
Sure the Patriots only ran the ball three more times on Sunday than they did against the Dolphins, but using Green-Ellis in the “clock killin’” role shows that when the Patriots need to ram the ball down their opponents throat, they still can. With so many backfield options and such strong run blockers in Mankins, Light and Waters, the Patriots could probably run the ball all day if they wanted to or even needed to.
Stevan Ridley looked solid in his two carries, it was nice to see the process of easing him into the starting offense begin.
When you’ve got a +4 turnover ratio, it’ll be tough to lose. The Patriots have running backs that don’t fumble and a QB that doesn’t throw interceptions.
James Sanders used to have a knack for getting turnovers in key situations. Sanders might be gone, but the Patriots continue to make plays when it matters most. The Sergio Brown and Vince Wilfork interceptions potentially swung the score by 17 points alone.
5. GOAL LINE DEFENSE
For the second straight week, the Patriots delivered as perfect of a goal line stand as you could picture. Jerod found his way behind Mike Tolbert and made the TD saving tackle on the big powerful back. The previously mentioned Brown interception was another key red zone stop. Holding a stout offense like the Chargers to a 2/4 red zone success rate is huge.
The talent on defense is there for the Patriots, thankfully it’s shining through brightest when it matters most so far.
6. STOPPING ANTONIO GATES
The Patriots made it their mission to shut down the Chargers star tight end and they were incredibly successful. Gates was targeted only once and it resulted in an interception. By bringing Chung down to key in on Gates, it left the other Chargers big targets open in single coverage.
As I said before, McCourty struggled against Vincent Jackson, but Jackson is also a very difficult receiver to cover one on one. It’s a performance that will look worse on the stat sheet that it will in film. McCourty was in position, but was beat by better throws and a better receiver.
The Patriots rarely blitzed Rivers, likely because the Chargers are so dangerous in check downs to Tolbert and Mathews. I predicted before the game that Mathews might be the back to give the Patriots trouble. He had the more successful game, but I’m confident in the Patriots run defense early in the season.
I think once the Patriots can establish a consistent pass rush, it will take some pressure off the secondary and we’ll really see this defense come together. Having Ras-I Dowling and Chung miss significant time with injuries also hurt the Patriots. I didn’t see Dowling targeted once while he was in the game. If Dowling can stay healthy and keep playing like he has these first two weeks, the Patriots have a star CB on their hands.
One interesting note from taking a look at Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston’s defense snap counts is that Leigh Bodden only played in 35 of 72 snaps. It looks like early on he was sharing the 2nd CB role with Dowling and after Dowling went down Arrington was in sharing snaps.
The Patriots were using three safeties on half their defensive snaps, which certainly brings down the snap counts for the CBs and LBs. I doubt we’ll see that many safeties for the rest of the season, it was surely just to stop Antonio Gates from having any impact.