NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
If I see another clip of that helmet catch… I’ll probably do nothing, except be really mad.
The Patriots will try to bounce back after a tough loss against the Steelers when the Giants come into town on Sunday. Consecutive games against the Steelers, Giants and Jets pointed out to me just how many teams I consider the Patriots rivals.
If I were to rank the current Patriots rivalries it would probably go: 1. Jets 2. Steelers 3. Colts 4. Dolphins 5. Ravens 6. Chargers 7. Giants 8. Bills.
Regardless of how you rank those teams, after Super Bowl 42, this game/rivalry definitely means something to Patriots fans.
Here’s what I’ll be looking for late Sunday afternoon:
THE FULL TIME RETURN ON JEROD MAYO?
It’s interesting, the loss of Mayo didn’t fully rear its ugly head until Mayo came back in part time duty last week. The Patriots linebackers have been tremendously bad in coverage this season. Brandon Spikes has been the best Patriots linebacker in coverage. Read that again.
This team will immediately become exponentially better when Mayo returns to a full time role (hopefully this week). It’s addition by addition, and also addition by subtraction in getting Gary Guyton off the field. According to Pro Football Focus’ ratings, Guyton has been the 6th worst 4-3 OLB this season (he’s also been poor in the 3-4), and the 5th worst 4-3 OLB this season in coverage. It’s not a case of what he does best, but what he does least badly and so far that’s his run defense and pass rush. Mayo is a major upgrade in every facet of the game.
MORE SNAPS FOR MARK ANDERSON
After Guyton, the 2nd and 3rd worst rated players on the Patriots defense on Pro Football Focus have been Rob Ninkovich and Shaun Ellis. Each have been productive against the run, but have been abysmal against the pass. Ninkovich’s pass rush stats are slightly skewed because he’s usually late to the rush after bumping the opposing tight end at the line, but Ellis doesn’t have much of an excuse while only having eight QB pressures, zero sacks and one QB hit.
With Ellis and Ninkovich struggling, I think it’s time to see more of Mark Anderson. It’s a bit of a running joke that you know the game is nearing an end when Anderson starts upping his sack totals. You may call that garbage time, but the opposing lines aren’t exactly letting Anderson slip through to hit their QB. Anderson has five sacks, three QB hits and eight pressures in about 1/3 the snaps as Ellis and almost half the snaps as Ellis. Anderson can line up at LE and as a 3rd down sub rusher, he also hasn’t been terrible against the run this year. It seems the Patriots would only be gaining by playing Anderson more and not losing too much in the run defense department.
The Patriots have been so good against running backs like Brandon Jacobs that Anderson getting a few more snaps shouldn’t be a problem. If Ellis is out of this game due to his rib injury, I’d expect to see a heavy dose of Brandon Deaderick as well. Safety Ross Ventrone was cut yesterday, which could mean that Ron Brace could be activated before Sunday as well.
Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw was diagnosed with a crack in his foot yesterday. Bradshaw played through a similar injury two seasons ago but wasn’t nearly as effective. As I said above, the Patriots can stop bruiser RBs like Jacobs, they have a more difficult time with RBs like Bradshaw, so Bradshaw’s injury should be a major benefit for the Pats.
MISTAKES OUT OF ELI
Eli Manning has been playing downright Peyton-esque this season. He’s completed 64.7% of his passes and only thrown for five picks so far this year. The Patriots secondary will have trouble against all the Giants targets (especially if Hakeem Nicks plays), so they’ll need to pressure Eli, throw some different coverage schemes at him and force some turnovers out of him.
A key player to watch for the Patriots will be Phillip Adams. He came in against the Steelers after Antwaun Molden struggled and looked pretty decent as a sub DB. Either Adams or Molden is going to need to step up.
The Patriots should be able to get some interior pass rush against the Giants. David Diehl has played very poorly this season and it’s looking more and more like David Baas will be out at center. If Albert Haynesworth is going to have a breakout game this season, this might be a good bet for it.
New England’s offensive line had their worst game of the season against the Steelers and this will have to be a nice bounce back game if the Patriots expect to win. Osi Unenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph, Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck have all been elite pass rushers this season. Sebastian Vollmer was pretty bad against the Steelers, so hopefully he’s another week closer to being in full health. I’d expect to see a lot of Nate Solder this week as a 6th OL and I’d expect to see a lot of the Gronkowski brothers staying in to block at TE. This could be a big game for Aaron Hernandez and the Patriots WRs.
A lot has been made of Bill O’Brien saying he wants to get Taylor Price more heavily involved in the offense this week. I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m just not sure who’s snaps he’s going to be taking. The Patriots are best when they’re in two TE sets, so I wouldn’t expect to see Hernandez or Gronkowski to lose any snaps. Brady loves Deion Branch and obviously Wes Welker isn’t going to be coming off the field. I guess Price could break into some of Ochocinco’s snaps, but even he’s getting so few these days that will that really be enough to make an impact for Price?
RUN THE BALL
The Patriots were playing from behind against the Steelers and effectively abandoned the run game. The Patriots’ offense could be unstoppable if they combine their no huddle offense with a balanced rushing attack. Last week Kevin Faulk was the bell cow, that can’t happen again. Faulk is a great story, but Danny Woodhead is the better third down back, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley are too talented to be kept off the field. I understand Faulk’s value as a pass blocker, but it’s a catch 22, because when Faulk in back there, opposing teams don’t have to respect the run.
Overall, the Giants are a very balanced team. They’re great at rushing the quarterback, but other than that they don’t do anything excessively well or poorly. When forced into nickel situations, the Giants typically play safety Deon Grant in the slot. If that’s the plan against the Patriots, Wes Welker could have a field day.