Monday, September 13, 2004

Patriots 27, Colts 24 (9/9/2004)

Well, well, well... another week another close victory. The Pats played exceptionally well on offense and poorly on defense and special teams -- yet they came away with a 27-24 victory over the Colts. It was a festive atmosphere, with the crowd cheering every pre-game field goal by Adam and the Super Bowl banner being unveiled. I'm guessing the concerts looked better at home than in the stadium, but it was fun to watch these guys perform in the rain. With losses by Miami and Buffalo and a win by the Jets, the Pats are tied for first place in their division, and had ten days before playing a mediocre-to-bad Arizona team. They appear poised to make it 2-0 to start the season.


Tom Brady is clearly better than he was last year. He made no mistakes reading the defense and completed passes to receivers who weren't even really open. Brady threw for 80 more yards than supposedly-best-QB Peyton Manning, was sacked only once, and his only interception resulted from a missed route by Daniel Graham. He was outstanding, squeezing the ball in to receivers who were barely open (or in some cases, not open at all). And speaking receivers, kudos to this group (especially David Patten, Daniel Graham, and David Givens) for making the catch when they were about to get hit hard. Corey Dillon ran well (5.7 yards a carry) and made quick cuts and moves that I haven't seen from the Patriots in a long time. The O-line did a good job protecting Brady (although he was sacked once and pressured a few other times) and run blocking (almost 5 yards a carry). This was particularly important because the Patriots rotated their offensive lineman for the entire game to keep them fresh, and that can often lead to confusion; but these guys handled it well.


What to say, what to say. The Colts ran at will, pointing to the absense of Ted Washington and the underperformance of Keith Traylor. In fact, rookie Vince Wilfork significantly out-played Traylor, a 13-year veteran. The only time the Pats really stopped the run was with both men in the game at the same time, in a modified 4-3 defense. But Traylor was plain and simply neutralized by one man on most every play, whereas Wilfork at least took two men or forced the running back to change directions when he was one-on-one. The plus is that Wilfork will only get better, so the run defense should improve as the season progresses.

There were also too many missed assignments in the defensive backfield and linebacker corp, with Edgerrin James and the Colt receivers running free all game long. Both Ty Law and Rodney Harrison had some hamstring tightness and left the game for significant periods of time. And I give Asante Samuel a lot of credit for stepping up and playing well; but the Colts have too many weapons in the passing game to play them at less than 100% for too long. However, the defense made the plays they had to make in crunch time. They forced two James fumbles at critical times, intercepted a Manning pass near their own goalline, and sacked him with 40 seconds left to force a long Colt field goal attempt (which they missed). Willie McGinest made that sack, and Colt fans must see him in their nightmares after last year's goalline tackle to win the game in Indy.

Special Teams

The Patriots special teams were 'specially bad. Patrick Pass and Bethel Johnson botched a kickoff, Deion Branch turned the ball over attempting a fair catch on a late punt, Josh Miller outkicked his coverage at least twice (although his 47-yard average was nice), and too many return men tried the old "I'll go backwards to get around this corner" trick and ended up losing yardage. It wasn't all bad; Adam's kickoffs were deeper than last year and the coverage was passable. But there's a lot to work on here: who returns punts when Troy Brown is out (as was the case Thursday); when will Troy return; who is the backfield captain on kickoff returns; why can't these guys just catch the ball (a concern I had in the pre-season); why don't they just run straight ahead and take the yardarge they can; if Miller outkicks his coverage now, what happens when other teams jam our outside "gunners" at the line. I think they'll get these worked out over the next few games -- perhaps with more starters playing on special teams, perhaps with a new punt returner. But in any case, expect a busy week for special teams coach Brad Seeley and his players.


I'm very satisfied with the way the game went. The Patriots have improvements to make on the defensive line and in the secondary, they need to play a lot better on special teams, and the offense was great. And I have no doubt that the defensive and special teams improvements will happen; this coaching staff is just too good not to fix what's broken. And with all that, they still won, and they had 10 days to prepare for Arizona (a 17-10 loser yesterday). I'm sure they will perform a lot better on defense and special teams, and if the offense can just play 90% as well as they did last Thursday, it should be another win.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. Sorry this was late, but I was exhausted on Friday morning and once that deadline passed, I thought it would be best to wait until Monday so I could comment on this past weekend's games.

PPS. 1-0!

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