Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Patriots Handle Manning, Broncos 31-21

(Sorry for the delay; I was out of town and offline for the entire day after the game, so no way to get the update in.  This update will be brief; though I hope informative.)

The Patriots rode three Denver turnovers and several other miscues to a 31-21 victory.  The win puts them at 3-2, once again placing them atop the AFC East all by themselves, a game ahead of all the other teams (who are bunched at 2-3).  The schedule has them flying west to play in Seattle, a difficult venue and a better team than most predicted.

Quick Points: Offense

1.  Enough already about Wes Welker being on the outs with the Patriots.  He made more catches every week so far this season: 3, 5, 8, 9, and 13 (and note, he's already second in the NFL in receptions.)

2.  The running game is for real -- 247 yards last week, 251 this week.  The last time the Patriots ran for 200+ years two weeks in a row was a long time ago (trivia question: name the year -- answer below).

3.  But Stevan Ridley needs to get serious about not fumbling.  In his last 6 games, he has 3 fumbles and he lost 2 of them (and he was centimeters away from another fumble at the goal line against Denver).  If he keeps it up, Brandon Boldin will take his job.

4.  The Patriots lead the NFL in scoring, and the offensive line is a work-in-progress (at best), they have been missing two of the key receivers (Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman), and the play-calling has been experimental at times as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels finds the plays that work best.

5.  Even with a 3-2 team, Tom Brady is probably in the running for league MVP again.  His numbers so far: 124 of 185 (67%), 1,450 yards, 8 TDs, 1 INT, and 102.8 QB rating.  And the offense should get better as the O-line gels and players return from injury.

6.  Danny Woodhead should never run the ball on first or second down.  He is much more effective when he runs against pass defenses on third-and-long.  And even though he's a liability in pass protection, he's good enough to make defenses pay if they don't know he's going to run.  (Note: point made by my friend Allan before the game.)

Quick Points: Defense

1.  The Patriots linebackers are subpar in pass coverage.  And it really shows with Dont'a Hightower out and safety Steve Gregory (out with injury) unable to help in short coverage.  This might be their achilles heel, but of course they have 11 more games to get it straightened out.

2.  As mentioned in previous updates, teams simply can't run consistently against the Patriots.  The team ranks 5th in yards-per-carry allowed (3.4) and haven't given up a single run of over 20 yards all season.

3.  The new safety rotation should be Patrick Chung, Gregory, and Devin McCourty.  Not that I'm down on McCourty, who is better than most people think.  But with rookie Tayvon Wilson in for the injured Gregory, the play-action fakes opened up too many intermediate passing plays.  And the Broncos hit several long pass plays (and just missed several other open receivers deep).

When McCourty played safety last year, at least he didn't get beaten deep.  The Patriots have more options at corner: Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard (who made some nice plays on Sunday), and even Nate Ebner.  But once you get past Chung and Gregory, their best option at safety is McCourty.

4.  Linebackers Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham have improved immensely this year.  The 4-3 seems to suit Cunningham, who came off the milk carton to make several key plays already this year.  And Ninkovich was mostly just decent last year, but he's had two excellent games in a row and three overall this year.

5.  The Patriots lead the AFC in turnover ratio at +17 for the season -- an average of +3.4 per game.  The second-place team is only +8 (trivia question #2: name that team, answer below).

Quick Points: General

1.  The game was closer than you think -- without Broncos drops, it could have been a one-possession game.

2.  Patriots crowd did their best, but the stadium simply can't get that loud.  And before you blame the fans, remember that 99.5% of season tickets were renewed when they moved from Foxboro Stadium to Gillette -- and the lack of crowd noise was noted immediately at the new venue.  Same people, different stadium... you do the math.

3.  Al the Foxboro Weather God struck again.  The forecast called for rain all game long, but it only sprinkled in the first five minutes and was dry the rest of the day.  He's attended about 15 games, only one with bad weather.  For a price, he is available for weddings and bar mitzvahs -- if weather is important on your special day.  Please email for further details :)

So where does that leave us?  3-2 and leading the AFC East... has a familiar ring, doesn't it.  No chance the Patriots take the Seahawks lightly next week.  The last time they did that, the Arizona Cardinals surprised them and set them up to fall below .500 for the first time in almost a decade.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Shane Vereen's line in the game: 1 carry, 1 yard, 1 yard-per-carry, 1 touchdown, longest run 1.0 yards. Other than that run, you'd never know he even dressed for the game (no tackles, no pass receptions, and no targets in the passing game).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The Cardinals held the Pats to 18 points, but they still lead the league in scoring."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  3-2!

PPS.  Trivia answer #1:
The Patriots ran for 200+ yards 10 times in 1978, and that was the last time they ran for over 200 yards two weeks in a row.  Interestingly, the yards were spread out -- they did not have a 1,000-yard rusher that season.

PPPS.  Trivia answer #2: The Houston Texans are at +8 turnover ratio for the year, including the Monday night win over the Jets.

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