NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
With the toughest part of the schedule down, the Patriots have a funfetti flavored cakewalk left. The next team with a winning record that the Patriots face is week 17 against the Bills at home.
And even with that lone “tough” game, the Bills could have a losing record by that point, or the Patriots could have already clinched the division. I’m getting ahead of myself, but a victory like last night’s will do that to you.
Much has been made all season about the Patriots defensive troubles. By my count, the Patriots have thrown together four strong defensive performances in their last five games: The Jets twice, the Giants (other than the last drive) and the Cowboys. Last night’s was perhaps their best.
Here are my six keys to victory…
PRESSURING MARK SANCHEZ
Sure, Bill Belichick disappointed plenty of Patriots fans by not drafting a pass rush specialist; he cut last year’s fan favorite Eric Moore after a strong preseason and cut Tully Banta-Cain, the team’s only pass rush threat for most of last season before training camp even started. Instead, the Patriots signed an eleven year vet coming off his worst season and a one year wonder nickel rusher who few expected to make the team coming out of the preseason. Oh, they also signed some fat guy named Albert, but this isn’t about him.
Those signings are looking pretty good now, huh?
I’m really not sure enough can be said about Carter and Anderson’s performances last night. They looked like a Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis type combination out there. D’Brickashaw Ferguson couldn’t stop Andre Carter to save his (or Mark Sanchez’s) life.
Carter finished with a team and personal record 4.5 sacks and eight QB hits. Anderson finished with merely half a sack, but that has more to do with official scoring than his performance. He looked so fast rushing from the edge at LDE that RT Wayne Hunter couldn’t even turn before Anderson was running past him. Anderson finished with a team high four QB pressures.
I noticed some more decent pressure from Brandon Deaderick (seeing some snaps at DT) with one QB pressure, Kyle Love (two QB pressures) and Jerod Mayo (playing MLB for Brandon Spikes) with one QB pressure. Shaun Ellis’s production was non-existent for the 9th straight week. Vince Wilfork also got eliminated by Nick Mangold for much of the game.
The Patriots showed flashes of this in the preseason against Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, but seemed to disappear for stretches of the season. It was back against the Jets and hopefully it will be back for the rest of the season.
BRADY’S SECOND HALF
In the first half, Brady seemed to be rushing his throws a little bit and was definitely inaccurate at times. Three throws really showcased his troubles, a fake reverse swing pass to Wes Welker that was floated a little too much, a screen pass to Aaron Hernandez that was just underthrown and a deep pass to the left to Danny Woodhead. Brady’s two best throws of the half were shockingly to Chad Ochocinco. Luckily, Brady rebounded in a big way in the second half, ultimately turning in his third best performance of the year.
The no huddle offense the Patriots utilized in two drives in the second half was one of the key reasons Brady had such a better half. The drives made up two of the three Patriots touchdown drives, the other of which was a two-minute drill to end the first half.
Brady seems a lot more confident in that offense and a lot of it is due to the variety of looks the Patriots can throw at opposing teams using just two tight ends, two wide receivers and either Danny Woodhead or Kevin Faulk. I touched upon this earlier in the year, but every one of those players can line up at different positions depending on the defensive scheme thrown at them. The fact that defenses can’t change those schemes allows the Patriots and Brady to exploit them.
Okay, they weren’t perfect (nine QB pressures, one QB hit), and they weren’t going up against a very stout pass rush, but Light, Mankins and crew did a nice job of keeping Brady on two feet. The Patriots o-line’s job is made easier since they have a QB who can evade pass rush like few others. The 8.5 second play Brady made on the non-Gronkowski TD was pretty much magical.
Sebastian Vollmer let up the worst play of the day, allowing Jamaal Westerman free to force Brady into an intentional grounding penalty and safety. According to Pro Football Focus, Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly each let up two QB pressures a piece. This was Mankins’ second straight negatively rated performance according to PFF, and the fourth this season.
Once again, were they perfect? No. But the combination of Devin McCourty (two targets, two receptions, 27 yards), Kyle Arrington (0/3 and a great pass break up in the end zone), James Ihedigbo (3/6 41 yards), Sterling Moore (0 targets), Phillip Adams (2/4 42 yards), Antwaun Molden (5/7 73 yards, 1 TD), Ross Ventrone and (eventually) Julian Edelman did a fine job in holding back the Jets numerous targets. Moore made a boneheaded play lighting up McCourty, knocking him out of the game (and possibly the next few weeks) and drawing a penalty in the process. From what I’ve heard, it was the first time he’s ever played safety, so I guess it can be excused.
I’m still pretty wary on Antwaun Molden and Phillip Adams, they haven’t made any Darius Butler-esque mistakes, but it’s pretty clear that the Patriots could be struggling without McCourty for as long as he’s out. I’ve been nothing but impressed with James Ihedigbo since he’s been a starter. He’s probably playing over his head, but he’s been a nice addition to the secondary.
It’s telling how far Sergio Brown has fallen since both Moore and Ventrone played over him. At the end of the game, the Patriots even elected to use WR/PR Edelman over him, and you know what? He played pretty well! It would be pretty amazing for a player to go from QB in college, to slot receiver, to special teams player to CB, but we’ll see if Edelman can do it with any consistency. Like I said, he looked like a good physical CB.
Question: can anyone remember who the last white CB was? Was it Jason Sehorn?
SOLID LINEBACKER PLAY
I thought the linebackers looked great last night. Jerod Mayo looks to be shaping back into form and did a nice job for the first time all season in the MLB spot. Jeff Tarpinian and Tracy White brought some athleticism that the Patriots have sorely been missing and Rob Ninkovich was great in coverage.
Two things of note here: Gary Guyton was completely healthy and didn’t play a single snap. That’s progress Bill! Apparently Belichick was the last person on earth to realize how useless Guyton has been. Second, Mark Anderson’s increased snaps allowed Nink to go out in coverage more and it worked, gaining two interceptions. The first one was an Arrington-esque freak play, but the second pick for the touchdown was a great read and a great coverage play. Nink simply cut off the receiver and took it twelve yards to the house.