NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
Since 2003, the Patriots have lost consecutive games only twice, I think we’re all hoping that doesn’t become three on Sunday afternoon.
When we looked at the schedule while still entwined in the trials of the lockout, Week 3: @Bills, Week 4: @Raiders looked a lot better than it does today.
The suddenly hot Raiders aren’t quite the cakewalk we had planned as recently as early September. Here are my thoughts heading into Sunday’s match up.
STOP (OR AT LEAST LIMIT) MCFADDEN
If you haven’t been paying attention, Darren McFadden has become one of the best running backs in the league the past two years. A Chung-less Patriots let Fred Jackson account for 168 total yards last week and McFadden is essentially a more dangerous FJax.
Last week, the Patriots played in their sub packages (5 or more defensive backs) in 58 of 66 snaps (thanks Mike Reiss) to account for the Bills strong pass game and did their best to contain Fred Jackson with linebackers and safeties. This week with Chung back and a lesser Oakland passing game, the Patriots will be able to stay in their base defense far more. I’d expect a healthy dose of Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher to help contain McFadden.
I’ve seen stopping the run as a problem all year for the Patriots and it seems to really expose itself against backs who can cut outside while the Patriots are in their sub packages. Whereas I would normally predict Patrick Chung could come down and mirror McFadden, he might be needed in the passing game if the Pats are going base. A possibility would be to play three safeties with Chung as more of a rover, but with how bad Barrett and Brown have been playing it might not be best to have both on the field at the same time.
GET PHYSICAL WITH THE OAKLAND WIDE RECEIVERS
Oakland will have some burners out wide matching up against the Patriots CBs. If McCourty, Bodden and Dowling (if he plays) can’t press at the line of scrimmage, they might find themselves on the wrong side of a go route. Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey ran 4.28, 4.45 and 4.25 40 yard dashes at their respective combines and that speed shows on the field. Any one of them is a prospect to go long on any play and Jason Campbell can chuck it deep to them. I’d expect the Patriots CBs to have help over the top from Chung and either Barrett or Brown which puts added pressure on the Pats linebackers to contain McFadden.
That being said, Campbell is averaging less than 200 yards a game through the air, so if we see another 350-400 yard passing game against the New England defense, we know we’re in trouble. Ford, Moore and Heyward-Bey are young, raw and inconsistent, but that doesn’t mean they can be forgotten about. McFadden is also a receiving threat for Oakland as is speedy Oakland matchup nightmare FB Marcel Reese, who’s always a threat for a big play.
SHOW SOME SEMBLANCE OF A FOUR MAN PASS RUSH
The Pats haven’t blitzed much lately, and I wouldn’t expect that to change against Oakland since they’ll need all the help they’ve got against McFadden. The Patriots should be able to still establish a pass rush with their four man line though. If Haynesworth (back) can play, it would help, but I wouldn’t count on him. The key for the Patriots is to keep everyone fresh rotating Wilfork, Love, Warren, Ellis, Carter, Cunningham, Anderson and Ninkovich across the line.
I’m personally going to be watching a lot of Shaun Ellis against Oakland. Ellis hasn’t shown up big against the run or in the pass rush this season. If Ellis doesn’t start playing better, I’d like to see his playing time go down significantly to younger players like Cunningham.
BURN THE OAKLAND DBS EARLY
The Oakland secondary has been porous so far without Nnamdi Asomugha allowing an average of over 300 yards per game through the air. As long as the Vollmer-less offensive line gives Brady time, he should have no problem finding his wide array of targets. Without Aaron Hernandez, I wouldn’t expect to see a ton of the no-huddle offense for the 2nd week in a row. Is there a better time for Ochocinco or Taylor Price to have a breakout game though? Price hasn’t been active in the first three games of 2011, but he did fly with the team to Oakland. Price is still questionable with a hamstring injury.
I get the feeling that Patriots fans are ready to embrace Ochocinco if he can come up big for us. Obviously last week’s sure-thing TD would have been the perfect time, but lets hope an opportunity as great comes this week. I would love for the Patriots to get an early lead on Oakland.
GET UP EARLY, POUND THE ROCK
The Patriots now have two dependable clock killing backs in Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, if the Patriots can get up early, I’d love to see an increase in second half runs. The Patriots could really control the pace of the game by running no huddle in the first half and run heavy in the second half of games. If they can do both of those things efficiently, they could take a lot of pressure off the currently struggling defense.
Ridley has looked like a real weapon in both the preseason and his brief week 2 and 3 performances. Woodhead obviously isn’t the power back that Lawfirm and Ridley are, but he can be effective in his own right in killing the clock off short passes and handoffs from the spread. I’m still not totally sure why the Patriots drafted two running backs in the first three rounds if we were planning on being so pass heavy, but if Shane Vereen can come back and make an impact, I’ll take back all my doubts.
PLAY SMART, STAY HEALTHY
So basically, not what they did last week. I fully expect the Patriots to go back to no-turnover football this week. A 4 interception game from Tom Brady is a complete anomaly and our running backs are renown for not fumbling the ball.
The Patriots also can’t allow themselves to out-penalize the Raiders. New England had some DUMB penalties last week from otherwise smart players. I’ll probably never agree with the Kyle Love penalty, but at this point, players need to realize that any contact with the QB after he releases the ball will probably result in a penalty. You can’t hit up high, you can’t hit down low. That doesn’t leave much room for error.
Finally, the most important game of the first half of the season is next week. I understand holding out our injured players one more week if it means staying healthy for the Jets. The Patriots could have beat the Bills if they had played all four quarters and I believe the same holds true against the Raiders even if we’re a little depleted by injuries.
Hernandez, Wright, Vollmer, Haynesworth, Dowling, Mallett