Monday, October 15, 2007

Patriots 38, Cowboys 27 (10/14/2007)

Maybe "Big D" stands for "Dominated." The Patriots rolled to a 48-27 win over the best the NFC has to offer, the (formerly undefeated) Cowboys in Dallas. It was New England's first victory in Dallas, and the win vaulted the Pats to an obscene 4.5 game lead in the AFC East (after only 6 games). It also kept them at the front of the group seeking a first-round playoff bye, though that is a long way away.

The way they won was a simple as tic-tac-toe:
(tic) Patriots offense converted 68% on third- and fourth-down, while the Patriots defense held the Cowboys to 36%.
(tac) With the ability to hold the ball, the Pats ran 75 plays to the 'Boys 44 (and held the time-of-possession advantage 38:15 to 21:45).
(toe) With all that in place, the Pats only needed to take care of the ball and play smart, and they did (1 turnover and only 5 penalties to the Cowboys 12).

For the second straight week, Tom Brady wasn't at the top of his game early, missing several long throws to open receivers. But as the game wore on, he used short passes and great play-action fakes to sustain drives. The offense had 49 pass plays and 29 running plays, and it worked just like the imbalance in last year's 31-7 rout of Minnesota (46 passes to 14 rushes). Brady torched the Cowboys with a career-high 5 touchdowns and no interceptions (for a total of 21 TDs and 2 INTs on the year). With Randy Moss double-covered most of the day, the receiving stars were Wes Welker (11 catches for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns, and about 1,000 other great plays) and Donte Stallworth (7 for 136 and 1 spectacular 69-yard touchdown catch-and-run). And Kevin Faulk pitched in with a critical 18-yard catch to convert a 3rd-and-10.

The Pats didn't have much of a running game on Sunday, settling for "just enough to keep the Cowboys defense honest" -- i.e. 2.6 yards a carry. That was largely due to injuries, with Laurence Maroney out for the third week in a row and Sammy Morris missing almost the entire second half with a chest injury. But the running backs did what they had to do; converting several third-downs, and helping in pass protection for a team built to attack through the air. The O-line did an admirable job, with a few mistakes early (and, as always, good adjustments) but good enough protection for most of the game. The Dallas defensive front is much better than most of what they've faced so far this season, and Brady was sacked as many times in the game as he'd been sacked all year (three). And there have been several injuries along the front line, which showed up as some confusion and penalties (2 for 15 yards).

The defense played really well at the beginning and end of the game, but gave up three long scoring drives to end the second quarter and begin the third. Without those drives, the Cowboys offense looked like this for the day: 6 drives, 18 plays, 24 yards, and 3 points. (BTW, that won't get it done when your opponent closes with 5 drives, 37 plays, 254 yards, and 27 points.)

The stars of the day were Ty Warren, Tedy Bruschi, and the combination of Adalius Thomas, Rodney Harrison, and James Sanders. Warren continues to draw double-teams and still make plays, and most teams run away from him. Tedy Bruschi did an effective job clogging the middle, and on a critical Dallas 4th-and-1 attempt, he beat his man at the snap, forcing him to commit a hold that pushed Dallas back to 4th-and-11. Dallas punted, and it was pretty much "game over" for them. And Thomas/Harrison/Sanders pushed tight end Jason Witten around all day, holding (Cowboys QB) Tony Romo's favorite target to three catches. Overall, a good defensive plan to have two strong safeties in the game, and these guys played it to perfection.

On the bad side, both Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel had a tough time setting the edge against the run, though Colvin did get some pressure on the quarterback. Also, Vrabel blew it on Terrell Owens's touchdown; he looked like he wasn't sure if he should blitz or drop into coverage, and Owens ran right past him. Between them, the duo ended the day with 1 tackle between them, and that tackle was Vrabel's. Additionally, there were a lot of missed tackles. On one Marion Barber run, the Pats defense had five or six chances to tackle him (including three clean shots -- two of which were in his own end zone) and they missed every one of them. There were also a few too many yards after catch, so I'd call the tackling mediocre.

The kick return game worked well, with solid contributions from Welker on punt (and one kickoff) returns and some nifty runs by Ellis Hobbs on kickoff returns. Chris Hanson had only 2 punts, and his 41.5 yard net average was a vast improvement over his 30.7 last week. The kickoff coverage team did give up one 72-yard return; but it was late in the game and resulted in only a field goal. But for the most part, Stephen Gostkowski's kicks were high and deep, and he did make his longest field goal of the year (45 yards). So some things to work on for next week, but overall, a good performance.

Coaching, you ask? Well, I thought the defensive game plan worked well, and with some surer tackling, they would have held the Cowboys below 20 points (even with the fumble return for a touchdown). Also, the offensive line was rattled early on, but they made great in-game adjustments and gave Brady the time to just kill the Cowboys all day long. I'd say it was solid A- work, especially on the road against a very talented Dallas team.

So where does that leave us. How about 6-0 with a 4.5 game lead in the AFC East. Sounds so good, I'll say it again. How about 6-0 with a 4.5 game lead in the AFC East. They will not overlook this Sunday's game in Miami, because the Dolphins might be 0-6, but they always, always give the Patriots trouble. Need proof? Okay, how about the 2004 Patriots (who finished the year 14-2 and won the Super Bowl) losing to the Dolphins (who finished the year at 4-12). That proof enough for you? The Dolphins are a desperate team, but if the Patriots prepare well, they should win this one going away.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: For the first time in recent memory, a Patriots defensive starter did not show up in the official game statistics. Rosevelt Colvin had no tackles, sacks, QB hits, INTs, passes defensed, forced fumbles, or fumble recoveries -- on defense or special teams. Congratulations Rosie!

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "I wouldn't get too cocky about going undefeated until the Indy game. Belichick is only 2-5 in Miami since he got here, and one of those wins was in overtime."

- Scott

PS. For those who have been wondering, I did the math and the Patriots can't possibly clinch the division until their tenth game of the season (11/18). Not that I expect it to happen; just that some of you have been asking.

PPS. 6-0!

No comments:

Post a Comment