Monday, December 17, 2007

Patriots 20, Jets 10 (12/16/2007)

An "old school" win if I ever saw one. The wind howled, it rained, sleeted, snowed, and fans tossed "snow fireworks" into the air. Oh, and the Patriots scored a touchdown after a blocked punt, ran an INT back for another touchdown, and rode a great defensive performance to a 20-10 victory over the Jets. The win secured home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and made them the second team in NFL history to win the first 14 games of a regular season. (BTW, a quick shout-out to my buddy, Mike, who went to the game with me and outlasted the elements like a hardened season-ticket holder. Nice job, Mike.)

The Jets posed some real matchup problems for the Patriots yesterday, and I shudder to think what would happen if they got a decent quarterback. Their coverages confused Tom Brady, who had his worst statistical game of the year and threw to closely covered receivers while missing wide open ones several times. With only 140 yards passing, there wasn't much to go around, but Randy Moss had 5 grabs for 79 yards (and one great catch to shift momentum late), and Wes Welker had a clutch catch to convert a third-down. Not the best day for the league's most prolific passing game, as the elements and the Jets defense played equal roles in frustrating Brady and company.

Luckily, the Patriots had a very good day running the ball. Laurence Maroney carried the load, with 26 rushes for 104 yards, and had the team's lone offensive touchdown. The ground game helped the Patriots control the clock (33:37 to 26:23 time of possession) and keep a run/pass percentage more appropriate for the conditions (55-to-45 as compared to the Jets 27-to-73). There were some big holes for Maroney, with the O-line blowing the Jets defense off the ball for much of the day. And between that and the Jets lack of pressure on Brady, I'd give the line high marks on the day. Well, except for the three false start penalties.... besides that, I'd give them high marks.

With the offense struggling to move the ball, the defense and special teams played like tandem wrestlers, each giving the other opportunities to help the team score. Willie Andrews made a spectacular play to help down a punt at the Jets three yard-line. And then Richard Seymour's pressure forced a bad throw from Kellen Clemens that was picked off by Eugene Wilson, who sauntered into the end zone for a touchdown. Later in the half, a Junior Seau sack backed the Jets up near their own end zone, and Kelley Washington broke through to block a punt and give the offense the ball at the Jets three yard-line. From there, it was two running plays and another touchdown. Those were the only two Patriots touchdowns of the game, and both came after crucial sequences by the defense and special teams. In a 10-point victory, it's tough to overstated how important those plays were.

As for the defense overall, they had a great day. Adalius Thomas was the monster-for-the-day, making tackles all over the field (9 total), notching 1.5 quarterback sacks and a quarterback hit, and forcing one of his two fumbles as the Jets were driving for a score early in the third quarter. Old friend Junior Seau is rounding into playoff form, with two sacks and two other hits on the quarterback, and Mike Vrabel got a QB-pressure to force and errant throw that basically sealed the game for the Patriots. However, the linebackers were out of position on several mis-direction running plays, and that won't fly as the team goes forward. They have to stay disciplined, because every other team will look at the tape from Sunday's game and will try those running plays, if only to slow down the pursuit from the Patriots linebackers.

Other than Eugene Wilson's big day (INT for a touchdown, fumble recovery), the secondary continues to get hurt in the short passing game. Randall Gay and Ellis Hobbs covered better yesterday, but they both missed chances to knock down passes or get interceptions (as did Rodney Harrison). And Asante Samuel missed several tackles by going for a "knockout hit" instead of wrapping up. He needs to play better, otherwise he'll be disappointed with the offers he gets in free agency next year. The secondary can get away with those types of plays versus the Jets, but teams with good receivers will make more third-downs than the Jets did (3-for-14) and those drives will continue down the field and become points. No need to panic, but they have to make the tackle after the catch and they need to make more plays while the ball is in the air. Also, in certain situations, they should risk tighter coverage to stop drives on third-and-short.

Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork continued their stellar play on the defensive line, stuffing the Jets run when it came their way and moving the quarterback out of the pocket. Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour combined for 1.5 sacks, but honestly I didn't see them do much at the point of attack. I appears that Seymour is missing something after the knee injury and Green is probably better as a spot-starter or in-game replacement. But even with those quibbles, the team still has plenty on the D-line, if the linebackers and secondary play more disciplined.

Special teams, special teams, special teams... what to say about the special teams. They were instrumental in the win, and had some great plays. But in tight games (you know, like playoff games), Stephen Gostkowski needs to hit 24- and 32-yard field goals. He just has to hit them, conditions notwithstanding. The kickoff coverage can't give up 50-yard kickoff returns and then add another 15 yards with a penalty when they have the other team on the ropes. And Chad Brown should practice special teams all week -- I believe he missed the guy who blocked a punt early in the game and he was also called for illegal motion on another punt. Oh, and when a guy breaks through the middle to block a punt, the kicker should notice that and either eat the ball, run it, or fake the punt and let the guy go past before actually kicking it. Some very good, some very bad... so probably some extra work on special teams this week.

So where does that leave us? Next week is the Miami Dolphins, and they don't present nearly the matchup problems the Jets did. They don't have the pass rush or pass coverage to give the Patriots trouble, and they don't have the running game to hurt the Patriots if the conditions are bad. So expect a win, even if members of the 1972 Dolphins are begging the current players to hurt Tom Brady so the Patriots won't win 'em all. Also, the Patriots ability to break several offensive records was put in jeopardy by the poor performance in the Jets game, so if they don't have a few passing touchdowns by the third quarter and the game is a blowout, look for Brady and some of the other players to get a little rest.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Here's how the Pittsburgh Steelers match up against the Cleveland Browns this year: Pittsburgh has a 5-0 record in the division (Cleveland is 3-2), they've outscored their opposition by 113 points this year (Cleveland has outscored their opposition by only 12 points), they boast the #1 socring defense in the NFL (Cleveland is 29th), and they beat the Browns twice this year. The oddity? The two teams are tied for the division lead in the AFC North. Go figure.

One Possible Serving of Humble Pie (please read in a deadpan monotone): "I think Tom might've missed a few open receivers, and we have to stay home for those mis-direction runs. The blocked punt... well, we can't have that, and there were a couple of passes we could have knocked down or intercepted -- we probably need to make a play on a few more of those. And we need to do a better job clearing snow out of the aisles so we don't have fans falling down, we have to do a better job on that, and it starts with the coaches on down..."

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The Jets defensive schemes and special teams always seem to give the Patriots trouble. I might actually start worrying if they could find a quarterback."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 14-0!

No comments:

Post a Comment