NEPD Staff Writer: Ken Vetrano
Tom Brady: I could sit here and write out the stats, but you already know them by heart after all the Brady-Manning week hoopla. I could even break down his throwing mechanics and how he still has pin point accuracy at age 37. I could also detail how he’s getting this done with less than others… but I’m not going to do that. All I really need to say is, mobility. Tom Brady hasn’t become Randall Cunningham, but he’s utilized his legs more than ever this season. Early offensive line struggles this year may have actually benefited him because he looks more aggressive after the snap with his movement. Being forced to create space and time due to poor line play has compelled Brady to step out of his comfort zone, literally. In some ways his recent play has reminded me of Ben Roethlisberger. Who in the past, has had to compensate for a poor line by stepping out of the pocket to give receivers a chance to get open down field. Fortunately, Brady’s line has come together and we don’t have to worry about him taking unnecessary punishment like Big Ben has in recent seasons. But this added element to his game should only bode well for the Patriots’ offense come January.
Darrelle Revis: Some may argue that Revis hasn’t played up to his price tag, and to a certain extent that’s debatable. Very few players can live up to being paid that amount of money, but Revis has been everything and more that Aqib Talib was for New England. Revis has shut down number one receivers for the most part whenever matched up against them in man coverage, but what he brings to the sidelines can’t be understated. There’s a reason why players like Patrick Chung’s game have been elevated this season, and it can be contributed to coach Revis. The cerebral approach he takes to the game is unlike a lot of players. He’s been able to prepare the Patriots’ young defensive backs, not only during the offseason, but in between defensive series on Sundays. Much like how Talib’s play became infectious for New England’s roster, Revis’s preparation and demeanor around Gillette has caught on with their young secondary.
Patrick Chung: I’m not sure this is the same Chung Patriots fans remember. Don’t get me wrong, he still comes with his deficiencies in coverage at times, but a lot of the consistency issues that plagued him previously haven’t been as prevalent this season. He’s been utilized in different roles to alleviate the depth issues at LB, and has served admirably when playing opposite Devin McCouty . Chung is playing with confidence and rebounding faster from bad plays than he did during his first stint with New England. A lot of that can be contributed to playing with guys like McCourty and Revis, but Chung has improved overall as a player and is making the most of his second chance in Foxboro.
Bryan Stork: Stork has been one of the main catalysts for New England’s offensive line turnaround. He bullies defenders and gets up field quickly on blocking assignments. The exuberant manner in which he breaks the huddle might be my favorite aspect of Stork’s game – the guy just loves being in the trenches. That type of attitude is what the Pats missed most when former pro bowl guard Logan Mankins was traded to Tampa Bay. It looks like Belichick may have found another stalwart guard that will call New England home for years to come.
Breakout Player(s) (Second Half Predictions)
Shane Vereen: As the schedule gets more difficult, teams will play New England tougher. Come January, they will need to run the ball, and Vereen’s versatility out of the back field will become a great asset. I’ve lobbied for a long time that Vereen needs more carries, but to date, he has yet to show any of the explosiveness he ran with at Cal. If he decides to accelerate more off his initial cut, and turn North rather than over utilizing lateral movement – which causes him to think too much – than Vereen will evolve into a complete running back. His carries may be affected by Jonas Gray, but the more runs Vereen gets; the more opportunity there will be to establish rhythm on the ground.
Malcolm Butler: Butler forgets things fast, and that’s impressive for a rookie corner back. Last Sunday night he was beaten early on when Peyton Manning targeted him. But as the game progressed so didn’t Butler’s play. If he can become more consistent, then Butler will be a huge factor in taking away teams’ 3rd and 4th options at WR, which should only frustrate opposing offenses more.
Akeem Ayers: The Patriots desperately needed a pass rush before Chandler Jones went down, the fact he’s out for the foreseeable future only makes things worse. Ayers has displayed more athleticism than I thought was possible after his past injuries, and looked like a heat seeking missile locked in on Manning against the Broncos. The twist he implemented to get pressure on Peyton was beautiful to see, and illustrated how Belichick can still orchestrate a rush when his defense needs it the most. With Philip Rivers, Mathew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers still on the schedule, the Patriots will need Ayers even more so down the line.