NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
With a day to digest the Patriots latest triumph, I’ve grown to be far more optimistic than I was immediately following it. Of course, watching the Jets last night might have helped up that optimism leading into next week but still, what we saw yesterday was a classic, almost vintage, Brady-Belichick Patriots victory.
The Patriots stopped what they needed to, did a decent job of clock control, and played a bend but don’t break defense.
Leading into the game I thought it was important to: stop (or at least limit) McFadden, get physical with the Oakland receivers, show some semblance of a four man rush, burn the Oakland DBs early, get up early and pound the rock and play smart and stay healthy. The Patriots did well on about 4.5 of those things.
Now here are my six keys to victory:
Following last week’s mistake-a-rama, the Patriots took a huge step forward this week in playing smart football. They won the turnover battle 2-0 and allowed the Raiders to out-penalize them. The Raiders committed nine penalties for 85 yards to the Patriots five penalties for 45 yards.
The Patriots had three offensive penalties and two defensive penalties. Both drives that the Patriots committed defensive penalties resulted in interceptions and two of the three drives that the Patriots committed offensive penalties resulted in touchdowns.
McFadden totaled 123 yards, but with his skill set, it could have been a lot worse. More than half of those yards came off two big plays for McFadden: one run early in the second quarter and one pass early in the 4th quarter. The lack of a pass rush the Patriots attempted allowed their linebackers to key in on McFadden and not allow many big yards. The Patriots still have trouble allowing backs to run wild along the edges, and that seems to be a combination of linebackers not filling holes and the Patriots defensive ends not having the athleticism to compensate.
Unfortunately the Patriots still aren’t getting much of a rush from their four man line. Shaun Ellis, Mark Anderson and Gerard Warren all recorded QB hits, but the Patriots registered zero sacks. I’d like to see Mark Anderson’s role increase as he seems like the only Patriots player with any ability to get after the QB. After seeing a couple of blown plays by Shaun Ellis, it was nice to see Jermaine Cunningham get a shot, even though I didn’t see much from him either.
I guess now is as good of a time as any to talk about Jerod Mayo’s injury. It’s going to further hurt the team, obviously. That’s not to say that it’s going to lead the Patriots on an 0-3 or 0-4 stretch. Brandon Spikes can take over as more of a full time player and hopefully Dane Fletcher can emerge rather than Gary Guyton. It’s safe to say that Guyton struggles in all aspects of the game and his only advantage might be his knowledge of the defense.
Sure, on paper it looks bad, another 300 yard performance against the Patriots secondary. Now let’s dissect that and see that 99 of Jason Campbell’s 344 yards came on the Raiders final drive and another 55 came off swing passes or dump offs to running backs covered by linebackers. According to my brief (and inexperienced) charting, Devin McCourty was thrown at seven times for four completions and 20 yards, Molden 4/7 for 64 yards, Arrington 1/3 for 58 yards and Brown 2/2 for 86 yards.
The zone pass defense the Patriots employed was a major improvement over the man we had seen thus far. McCourty had struggled in one on one coverage, but did a great job limiting the Raiders speedy receivers. McCourty wasn’t thrown to a single time in the first half. Having two safeties over the top also helped keep the Raiders WRs in check. Darrius Heyward-Bey accounted for the only big plays to an Oakland WR for 28 yards at the end of the 2nd quarter and 58 yards on the final drive. Sergio Brown was in to help on both plays and didn’t do Antwaun Molden and Kyle Arrington any favors.
It’s obvious keying in on Kevin Boss wasn’t a priority for the Patriots. He had a few big plays on Ninkovich, Fletcher, Chung and Guyton.
STRONG OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
Despite a strong defensive line for Oakland (even with Matt Shaughnessy out), the Patriots did another nice job of keeping Brady upright. Oakland registered four QB hits and one sack from safety Mike Mitchell on a failed Brady scramble. The slightly fluky sack was the first the Pats offensive line allowed since the second quarter of the Chargers game. The Patriots have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL right now and will only get stronger once Sebastian Vollmer returns.
Watch a Jets or Steelers game for about five minutes and you’ll see why it’s so important to keep Brady protected and therefore error free. If the Pats can’t get sacks, it’ll certainly help to not allow them either.
The Pats are also doing a nice job run blocking. The team is 5th in the NFL with 4.8 yards per carry. Obviously the Patriots have some talented running backs, but the o-line is doing a great job opening holes and getting a push at the line.
RUNNING THE BALL, KILLING CLOCK
Let’s give credit to the running backs and play calling as well. During the second half the Pats had a four minute drive and five minute drive and two two minute drives. Those probably would have been shorter if the running game wasn’t so effective. Most of us questioned taking two running backs in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft and let’s not pretend that Stevan Ridley wasn’t the back that concerned us. That’s looking to be a great pick for the Patriots and Vereen might be as well if Danny Woodhead is out for a considerable time frame.
Green-Ellis and Vereen are both pretty powerful backs, but Ridley has shown more of a burst and some better moves behind the line of scrimmage. This will rarely be an offense where we’ll see 30 carries from our running backs, but it’s nice to see that when we need them, they’ll come through.
WELKER, WELKER AND MORE WELKER!!
Thank god Aaron Hernandez is coming back soon, because this has been the Wes Welker Show the last two weeks. Oakland did a great job keying in on Rob Gronkowski and effectively shutting him down only allowing 1 reception for 15 yards. Deion Branch has had trouble getting open recently only catching one pass for four yards in the past two games.
Wes Welker had no trouble getting open. His speed and quickness is back and it’s a chore for any CB to cover him at this point. A combination of game plan and losing Hernandez and Woodhead to injuries meant only five no huddle snaps for the Patriots. Hopefully the Woodhead injury isn’t serious, because I was really looking forward to seeing that aspect of the offense come back with Hernandez. I suspect that if Hernandez is back next week and Woodhead is not, Edelman might be used as the 5th target in the no huddle.
The offensive snap count was very interesting this week (thanks Mike Reiss!) tackle Thomas Welch was used in 24 of 66 snaps as a 3rd TE/T. Matthew Slater lead all 3rd WRs with 21 snaps over Ochocinco (18) and Julian Edelman (17).
Dane Fletcher continues to be used as a FB with 4 snaps. I think we all wanted to see Taylor Price in his first active game of the season, but obviously Belichick doesn’t think he’s ready either from a health, skills or familiarity stand point.