NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
I came away from Sunday’s victory with one very important lesson: stop worrying about the Patriots run defense! All season I’ve worried about when the Patriots are going to have to face a scrambling QB, or when they’ll have to face a competent speedy RB. After seeing the Patriots shut down Lesean McCoy and Vince Young in the running game like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, I’m not afraid anymore.
I’m not trying to be too big of a homer after this game, but I’m feeling pretty confident in this team right now. Brady’s looking good, he’s spreading the ball around and they’ve got a multi-headed running attack. The defense is coming around, they can stop the run, they can limit the pass, they’ve been great against third downs and most importantly, they force turnovers and the offense doesn’t turn the ball over.
Here are my six keys to victory this week over the Eagles:
At this point, it’s almost boring to write about Brady. When all of his receivers are healthy and when his arm is fully healthy (which it looked like in this game) he’s nearly unstoppable. While Rob Gronkowski was getting a lot of love lately and Welker was nearly ignored last week, the opposite was the case this week. The fact is, you can’t cover everyone in this Patriots offense and either Gronk, Welker, Branch or Hernandez is going to have a nice game. With Brandon Hughes on Deion Branch and Joselio Hanson on Welker, it made sense to look their way.
I can’t explain why Tiquan Underwood and Julian Edelman were playing on offense over Taylor Price. I wish I could, but I can’t. I’ll say one thing about it though, Underwood is terrible as a WR. He was terrible last year with Jacksonville and he’ll probably be terrible in New England. I’ll give Brady and Underwood equal blame for the dropped pass against Philly, but I’d rather see Matt Slater in at WR over Underwood.
I feel like a lot of credit has to be given to the Patriots O-line as well. Sebastian Vollmer, Matt Light and Nate Solder did a great job in limiting Jason Babin and Trent Cole to zero sacks. The Patriots o-line allowed one sack inside to Mike Patterson and just two QB hits inside.
Granted, the Eagles got away from the run because the Patriots got so hot on offense, but at the same time, the Eagles did have a 10-0 lead at one point! Still, the Patriots did a fantastic job limiting the league’s rushing leader and one of the best running QBs in the league.
A lot of credit needs to be handed to the Patriots linebackers. I actually liked Belichick’s scheme of having Rob Ninkovich playing a lot of LDE. It was a bit of a hybrid 3-4/4-3 that allowed the Patriots have more athletic run stoppers on the field to limit the edges for McCoy and Young.
Trust me, I’d always like to see Mark Anderson playing over Tracy White or Gary Guyton, but you don’t need to pressure Vince Young to force him to throw inaccurate passes, it’s far more worth it to limit his athleticism.
3RD DOWN DEFENSE
The Patriots didn’t a allow a third down conversion until the end of the 3rd quarter. That’s pretty amazing. They only allowed four total, and three of those came on the last Eagles drive in garbage time. For a team that was playing Julian Edelman at CB on third down, that’s pretty good!
This no-name defense continues to click, and you’d think it will get even better when Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher come back. Not only will that bump Antwaun Molden, Sterling Moore and Tracy White out of starting roles, it will also move Sergio Brown and Gary Guyton further down the depth chart. I would include a CB in there, but Phillip Adams and Julian Edelman haven’t really struggled too badly.
CONTROLLING THE CLOCK
I won’t try to say the Patriots running game was good per se, but they did win the time of possession battle 32:43 to 27:17. With such a high powered passing game, it’s very important to slow down the game down at times with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and crew.
The other key to controlling the clock was forcing the Eagles to pass as well. Everyone will look at the 400 yards that Vince Young put up, and sure, no teams should probably allow Vince Young to put 400 yards up on them, but when you’re leading 38-13, the opposition is going to have to throw the ball. I’m fine with the national media continuing to ignore the Patriots scoring defense and continue to only key in on the amount of yards they’re allowing. I hope teams continue to think the Patriots defense is a pushover.
WINNING THE TURNOVER BATTLE AND PENALTY BATTLE
The Patriots only forced one turnover, but that looks pretty good when they don’t allow any giveaways either. The Patriots were also only charged with three penalies to Philly’s 10 and the Patriots won pretty much every other meaningful battle as well: 3rd down efficiency, red zone scoring, but not total yards.
Call it a bend, but don’t break defense, call it a defense that only allows big yards when the game’s out of hand or call it a defense that only plays well against crappy teams, but the Pats defense has now had a good performance in seven of their last eight games.
I’ve been down on Deion Branch lately, and I’ve seen some people down on Aaron Hernandez lately as well, but on Sunday, all four of Brady’s main targets had great games. In fact, they’re the only four players that actually caught passes for New England.
Trust is a word that gets thrown around a lot with the Patriots and it’s pretty obvious that these are four of the most trusted targets Brady has ever had. When Ochocinco and Taylor Price won’t step up, at least Branch, Welker, Hernandez and Gronkowski are still around to take the load off. This was obviously done with an unhealthy Nnamdi Asomugha, no Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a weak safety and linebacker group, but it was still a solid effort. Asante Samuel and Joselio Hanson are no slouches.
Hernandez might not have gained 100 yards or caught a touchdown, but he had a nice quiet game with a one handed catch and 62 yards on six catches and seven targets. No fumbles, no drops, mistake free football which is very nice to see for the 22 year old.