NEPD Staff Writer: Brian D
After a long week of questions and second guesses, the Patriots will head out to Oakland on Sunday to try and remove the sour taste in their mouths from Buffalo.
After taking a commanding 21-0 lead in the very first quarter, New England’s offense continued to attack through the air, to turn over the ball 4 times, and give the Bills all of the motivation they needed to complete their comeback win and start the season at 3-0.
In Tom Brady’s defense, a couple of those interceptions may not have been exactly his fault as a few deflected balls ended up in Buffalo’s hands.
Wes Welker played like a champion catching 16 passes for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns-even rushing once for 19 yards. Wes looked like he couldn’t be stopped. However, the Bills were able to capitalize on their opportunities and the mental weakness of the young New England secondary to score 3 times in the fourth quarter.
Fans never like to see their team blow a 3-score lead, but we can take comfort in the fact that the defense can hopefully learn and improve as the season goes on. Early losses help prepare defenses for long games in the future and educate them on the importance of playing for a full 60 minutes. The winner is not decided at halftime.
The Oakland Raiders look very different than they did the last time New England visited-actually, so do the Patriots. The Raiders let go of all-star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and added QB Jason Campbell, LB Rolando McClain, and TE Kevin Boss.
Matt Cassel was also behind center for New England at that time due to Brady’s ACL injury. Jason Campbell has helped remove the stench of the JaMarcus Russel era, solidifying the offense attack and complementing super-back Darren McFadden’s power rushing game.
Nearly starting their season at 3-0 as well, Oakland is coming off a proven victory over a “tough” Jets defense where McFadden rushed for over 150 yards for the second time this season. They too, unfortunately, fell to Buffalo in a game where they were leading in the fourth quarter.
A loss this weekend could possibly put the Patriots at 3rd place in a competitive AFC East division. While it isn’t deemed a “must-win”, a win would give the Pats rights to at least 50% of 2nd.
Shake & Bake vs. The Rest of the Season - Confusing title? Shake & Bake refers to the tandem combination of RBs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. One, or the #1, will gash you anywhere on the field while the latter will pound it through the red area. The other refers to the talk that will ensue for the remainder of the season if the Pats can’t convincingly put these guys away.
McFadden and Bush combined for 193 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns against New York last week. Woah.
Something, if possible, must be done to quiet D-Mac down-he’s already rushed for 393 yards & 4TDs in three games.
Albert Haynesworth missed more practice with a back injury this week and would be an asset for New England against the run if he can suit up and help lead the charge against McFadden and Oakland’s O-Line.
Vince Wilfork will do the best he can in the middle creating disturbances, the men aside and behind him need to stick to their assignments and shoot to close the gaps after the snap. Even with McFadden being as difficult as he is to contain, the Patriots offense can try take him out of the game by scoring fast and often.
The Raiders are 13-for-34 on third down conversions in 2011, Jerod Mayo and the defense must force third downs and play them strong.
Those situations will put Brady in position to capitalize. Since D-Mac will beat you on the ground, New England should force the ball into Jason Campbell’s hands. In the only game so far where Campbell has had to throw for more yards than McFadden could rush, (Week 2: Buffalo) the Raiders lost. The Pats can’t simply bow down to McFadden and allow him to pick up momentum early. Big hits are going to need to be handed out and maybe D-Mac will cough up the pigskin again.
Jason Campbell vs. The Secondary that Couldn’t – In terms of opponents’ passing yardage allowed, the Patriots secondary is ranked dead last. What is it going to take to get these guys to establish the cohesiveness needed to take on adversity?
I think that the first step is confidence. If these young kids don’t believe that they can actually stop skilled quarterbacks from taking advantage of them, who else really will?
Hopefully, Pat Chung can get back on the field too after being limited at practice as of Thursday to harden the team against both the run and especially the pass. Injuries plagued the team last week, which may have contributed to the meltdown in Buffalo.
Campbell is a quarterback who can make the throws needed and connect with guys like WR Denarius Moore for 20+ yards. Even though he couldn’t stop the bleeding against the Buffalo Bills, he showed glimmers of leadership in his Oakland position and threw for over 300 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT. His offense is soaked with speedy receivers like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Chaz Schillens and sprinked with talent in TE Kevin Boss and McFadden catching passes underneath.
These guys can move the ball on New England if the defensive rush doesn’t make the flight to California. Patriots LB Brandon Spikes, D-Linemen Shaun Ellis and others need to get to Campbell in the pocket and get into his head. The line hasn’t been able to create much pressure so far and saw the re-addition of Gerrard Warren to the roster this week. Hopefully his presence can be the difference in the rush this Sunday.
Behind the Music: Patriots Running Game – There is no go-to back for New England so far in 2011, in each game Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Stevan Ridley have all been leading rushers. There needs to be more consistency in this area. The debacle in Buffalo could have been avoided had New England handed the ball off more and drained the clock that favored them.
Whatever the reasoning is, I hope it is being remedied. Nothing is more frustrating than watching your team pass three consecutive times with a 21-0 lead. The Pats should look to surprise Oakland and come hard in the running attack. Otherwise, the Raiders will be sitting back in coverage waiting for the wrong pass. Danny Woodhead is an elusive back with explosive speed with the ability to haunt defenses. Getting him into open space early will be key in getting the Oakland defense flustered; right where Brady wants it.
Tom Terrific vs. The Black Hole Defense - I’m just full of these today. Welcome to the Black Hole, a defense that has allowed over 800 passing yards and recently lost CB Chris Johnson (hamstring) and S Michael Huff (concussion), who stopped practicing this week.
Six other Raiders defensive players have been dealing with injuries including rushing DE Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder). Tom Brady is allegedly on pace to throw for something like 7,000 yards this season- that’s incredible. I don’t think he’ll hit those numbers as I’m hoping for the offense to balance out a little bit more as the season progresses. The thing is, the guy probably could.
Anyway, Tom Brady may be able to take advantage of rookie CB out of Ohio State, Chimdi Chekwa. Chekwa did alright last week against the Jets, but got burnt for a touchdown. I expect, without Aaron Hernandez in the arsenal, to aim more towards the rookie’s side of the field rather than throw toward the tall, 7-year veteran CB Stanford Routt who already secured an AFC East interception this season.
Chad OchoCinco may, in fact, have his first Patriot moment of glory against Chimdi Chekwa and former position coach Hue Jackson, now the head coach in Oakland. We saw Chad shed coverage last week only to juggle and drop an open Brady TD in the endzone. Surely he will be able to break past the rookie at least one time; Brady will be waiting for it. This time Chad doesn’t force fans back East to collectively sigh in regret once again and brings home his first game ball.
We all know very well what TE Rob Gronkowski brings to the table even without his partner TE – his ability to create mismatches and stun defenses is a given, week-in and week-out. I expect Oakland to create packages to get physical with Gronk and use LB Rolando McClain to cover him in the middle of the field.
McClain is a standout linebacker, with 23 tackles and a sack on the year. He was praised for his coverage ability while playing for Alabama and has 4 passes defended officially in 2011. I expect McClain to be highly involved with both the running and passing game. Hopefully the guys up front can block him when he comes in to blitz. Even better would be to hit the Raiders with a big pass play in those blitzing situations.
Oakland – DE Richard Seymour – Seymour was not unhappy about his trade to the left coast a couple of years ago and while I don’t believe he is vindictive enough to wait for revenge, I do think he’s excited for his chance to make New England to remember his name. If he gets going, it’s going to be a long night for Brady.
New England – DB Kyle Arrington – Arrington was able to pick off Ryan Fitzpatrick twice in what was looking like a win at the time and now has three on the year. Three interceptions may be an NFL high… yup it is. [Only two other players have 3 interceptions this year: Morgan Burnett from Green Bay and Tramaine Brock from San Fransisco.] With Ras-I Dowling still dealing with an injury, Arrington figures to see extended time at CB. We need him to play at a high level and help get off the field on third downs.
Patriots 28 Raiders 21 in a close one.