Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Patriots 16, Jets 3 (12/4/2005)

Not a whole lot to say about the game. When you play a terrible offensive team, you usually win if you avoid turnovers and big returns in the kicking game. The Patriots did give up a few big returns (one called back), but they coasted to an easy 16-3 win over the offensively challenged New York Jets. Their 7-5 record looks a lot better when you consider they've won three of their last four games, two within the division. They've got a chance to make it four out of five with a 4-0 division record when they travel to Buffalo next Sunday to battle the Bills.

Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk returned just in time to give Patrick Pass and Heath Evans a break (Pass and Evans were injured and inactive). They combined for 100 yards, and the running game provided 8 of the Patriots 24 first downs and helped the Pats control the clock for 38:10. They tried something new on offense, using a sixth lineman as a blocking halfback on certain plays (instead of a defensive lineman or tight end). Dillon ran well, hitting holes quickly and getting outside several times, and even though the line gave up two sacks, they kept Tom Brady clean for most of the game. A pretty good performance given that the Jets defensive front seven is considered their greatest strength.

Tom Brady fared better this week than last (he is now 4-0 the week after a four-interception game). he was sharp early, and would have had even better statistics without several dropped passes, and I'm still trying to figure out how he got one pass to Kevin Faulk through double-coverage for an important first down early on. The return of David Givens and the running backs were crucial to the team's improvement. No receiver had breakout numbers, but in an homage to their "everything is team" attitude, Givens, Deion Branch, and Troy Brown combined for 15 catches for 135 yards and the generic "running backs" contributed 8 catches for 65 yards. The passing game was smooth and efficient, and with the Jets obviously taking away the deep bomb, the Patriots still average twice as many yards per pass as the Jets did (6.4 vs. 3.2). And even though the Jets boast the sixth-best pass defense in the league, Tom Brady and company hit them for 100 yards more than they usually give up passing (271 total), and they never got a turnover even though they average 1.5 a game.

How thoroughly did the Patriots defense dominate? The Jets averaged only 18.2 yards per *drive*. Against many other teams, I would call the Patriots defensive performance dominant -- giving up three points in an entire game is nothing to scoff at. But the entire AFC East is quarterback-poor, and the Jets O-line is beat up and their receivers are sub-par; so I'd be worried if the Patriots gave up much more than they did. The middle of the D-line played better, with Vince Wilfork and Jarvis Green rotating at nose tackle. They really clogged things up and the linebackers stopped the running game cold (41 yards). Rosevelt Colvin and Tedy Bruschi continued their disruptive play, busting into the backfield to slow the run before it started or pressure the QB into a quick throw. Both Colvin and Mike Vrabel were unblocked on blitzes right up the middle, and they both blasted Brooks Bollinger. Add Jarvis Green's sack, and the Pats got Bollinger twice and knocked him to the turf at least a dozen other times.

And the secondary played much better. They are starting to gel a bit, with Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs, and Eugene Wilson starting three straight games and James Sanders and Hank Poteat mercifully returned to their roles as fifth and sixth defensive backs. Hobbs, a rookie, is tied for the team lead with two interceptions, and even though he's still learning, he might be playing better than two-year starter Samuel, who appears to be nursing a leg injury. Eugene Wilson was back to his old self, prowling the deep middle and letting the D-line and linebackers handle the run. Even though the Jets offense is bad, I was watching the Patriots secondary and they weren't letting guys run free in this game -- pretty tight coverage overall. So I guess I'll take the improvement and see how it works going forward against the Bills.

The special teams were great on field goal attempts, but not so great in kick coverage. Adam V. nailed three-out-of-four field goals (and in the process, became the Patriots all-time scoring leader), and the kick off and punt averages were good. But they gave up a 49-yard punt return, another long return was called back, and one of Josh Miller's 45-yard punts was a 20-yard shank that bounced 25 more. It's always difficult to kick in the wind, but it won't get easier; so the special teams still need some work.

I thought the coaching staff did a good job of preparing some special defensive packages, at least three times they had blitzers unblocked (Colvin, Vrabel, and McGinest), and the mixed maximum pressure with maximum coverage nicely. And they also called a good offensive game, not trying to win with one play but staying with the short gains that made up long drives. I will say I prefer to judge them when preparing for a real NFL team, so maybe more next week...

So where does that leave us. The win, coupled with Buffalo's loss, just about locks up the AFC East and the fourth seed in the AFC (just too many teams in front of them to get the third seed). To lose the division, the Pats would have to go 1-3 while Miami went 4-0 (including a victory in Foxboro on 1/1/06). So with their playoff future set, the Pats should get as healthy as they can for the post-season and perhaps experiment with some new offensive looks and defensive blitz packages. I'm personally hoping the Steelers rebound so we can host them in the first round. But failing that, let's hope for Jacksonville -- because Kansas City, Denver, and San Diego already beat us this year, and Cincinnati would do the same.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "You gotta give the Jets credit; they gave the fans what they wanted. The fans blamed the kicker and the offensive coordinator for last year's playoff problems and so the team fired them both. Now they're playing for the first pick in next year's college draft. Hope the fans are happy."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-5!

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