NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
I get it, the fourth quarter was bad… But let’s consider who was playing on defense and all take a collective deep breath.
Are Nate Jones and Matthew Slater going to be in the starting secondary come playoff time? Hopefully not. Are Tracy White, Niko Koutouvides and Gary Guyton going to be getting starter’s shares of snaps? No.
There’s a reason these guys played against the Colts. Bill Belichick can claim up and down all he wants that he had the best players in the best situation to win, but he didn’t. He wanted to see what he had in a few guys and we as fans also got to see.
Before I post my six keys to victory, here are some things that were slightly concerning:
-Devin McCourty continues to struggle. Pro Football Focus gave him the lowest grade for the Patriots defense and for good reason. He allowed five receptions on six targets, all to Pierre Garcon, for 82 yards and a touchdown. His QB rating against was a perfect 158.3.
-Nate Solder really struggled as a RT/TE. He allowed six QB pressures and one QB hit. The Pats only allowed 7 QB pressures total.
-The Patriots pass rush really struggled. They only pressures Orlovsky five times with two sacks and three QB pressures. If Andre Carter and Mark Anderson can’t get pressure around the edges, the Pats pass rush continues to be lost.
-Sterling Moore is very bad as a corner. He was fine at safety, not sure why he was moved for Slater other than just to see what the team had in Slater as a defender.
Enough with the bad, here’s some good:
PATRIOTS RUN DEFENSE
Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich lead the charge against the Colts running backs and each had great games. Wilfork had 10 tackles and the Colts only averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Granted, it’s not the best example of a great running offense or anything, but the Pats have been pretty good at defending the run all year. They’re 11th in total rushing defense and 17th in yards per carry.
I continue to enjoy Shaun Ellis’s limited snaps. It was probably not the wisest move signing him for $5 million over the offseason. The Patriots would have actually been better off letting him go to the Jets for cheap since he’s been so bad this year.
NO HUDDLE OFFENSE
Every time the Patriots heavily utilized the no huddle offense, they scored. It’s pretty much been this way every game this year too. At least we know that if New England is down, even in the playoffs, they can always turn to the no huddle and dominate opposing defenses.
Aaron Hernandez tends to really shine in the no huddle. The tight ends in general do since they can create so many mismatches if defenses don’t have time to change up their alignments.
WON THE TURNOVER/PENALTY BATTLES
Patriots turnovers: 0, Colts: 2. Patriots penalties 3 for 20 yards, Colts: 5 for 29. It sounds simple, but when you don’t make dumb mistakes (I’m looking at you Logan Mankins), you win football games.
Another obvious one, but Brady is having yet another historic season for the Pats. Through 12 games he’s got 3,916 yards and 30 touchdowns while completing 66.7% of his passes. That’s more yards than six of his entire seasons and more touchdowns than seven of his entire seasons. He’s still on pace to break Marino’s record and he’s third in completion percentage, 2nd in yards, 2nd in passer rating and second in yards per attempt.
If that pesky guy named Rodgers wasn’t playing, this would be another shoo in MVP season for TB12. Another great thing to see from Brady is that he’s not afraid to tuck the ball away and run with it this year when the opportunity forces itself. Brady’s averaging 3.4 yards per carry, the most of his career.
GRONK AND WELKER
Of course, having two players who are the absolute elite at their positions certainly helps (Welker as a slot receiver, Gronk as a tight end). It’s hard to quietly get 110 yards on 11 catches, but Welker managed it.
Gronkowski is just an insanely dominant tight end, especially in the red zone. Pro Football Focus gave him a negative grade in run blocking, but that’s just a blip on his dominant season.
Everyone not named Nate Solder had great games, especially Matt Light, who had a nice bounce back game after last week’s weak performance against the Eagles. I suspect that might have been due to still being injured from the KC game.
No one other than Nate Solder allowed a single QB pressure or QB hit. Of course, Solder had the unfortunate designation of going against Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney all day.
Nick McDonald was especially impressive in his first career start. A lot of credit needs to be given to Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia for not only grooming Connolly, Wendell and McDonald at center, but also for reinvigorating right guard Brian Waters.
Some other notes:
-Slater played pretty well at safety, it will be nice to have Chung plus Ihedigbo, Moore and Slater come playoff time. All three of those guys are better than Josh Barrett or Sergio Brown.
-Jerod Mayo was the best pass defender by far on the Patriots. It’s really nice to have him back. It will be even nicer to have Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher back (whenever that might be).
-Nathan Jones got thrown at a ton, but wasn’t terrible.
-Arrington allowed 8 receptions on 10 targets for 62 yards. Not his best performance, but he was going up against the Colts best receiver, Reggie Wayne.