Monday, November 26, 2007

Patriots 31, Eagles 28 (11/25/2007)

In the "Any Given Sunday" world of the NFL, the Eagles served the Patriots some "humble pie" last night, reminding them that they are human. But Philly failed to close the deal as the Patriots squeaked out a 31-28 win. The Buffalo Bills lost earlier in the day, and that gave the Patriots the AFC East Championship (tied for the earliest clinching of a division title since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978), and kept them three games ahead of Pittsburgh (who plays tonight) and Indianapolis (won last Thursday) in the race for playoff positioning.

The O-line didn't have their best game; but there was a lot of pressure on them. The Pats went with an empty backfield a lot of the time, and the Eagles love to blitz guys from everywhere. The result was 2.9 yards per rush, 3 sacks, and a lot more pressure than Tom Brady usually faces. The Patriots barely ran the ball at all, but when they did, it was effective. Their 16 attempts netted them 5 first downs and 2 touchdowns. Heath Evans got one TD, and Laurence Maroney got the other. There isn't much else to say about the running game, except that Tom Brady had two nice scrambles for first downs.

As for Brady's passing, it wasn't quite his best, but he ended up completing 63% of his passes for 380 yards and a touchdown (and most important, no interceptions). He was sometimes not pressured at all and sometimes under a lot of pressure -- nothing in-between. When he had time, he made some throws that could have been game-changers, but his hand was hit on the release on one (and Donte Stallworth knocked it away from a defender), and Randy Moss dropped another. In fact, the receivers had more drops in this game than they've had all season (maybe a slight exaggeration, but it felt that way). Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth (twice), Laurence Maroney, and Kevin Faulk all had drops that I remember. The one name you don't see on that list is Wes Welker, who had a terrific game. Career highs with 13 receptions and 149 yards, and a 42-yard catch-and-run -- on a drive where the Pats (unfortunately) failed to score with a first-and-goal at the five-yard line. And Jabar Gaffney made another Plasticman reception for a touchdown to end the second quarter -- a huge play in a three-point win.

The defensive stars of the game were Asante Samuel and James Sanders. Between them, they had five passes defensed (out a team total of six) and three interceptions -- with Samuel taking one back for a touchdown and Sanders icing the game with his. The rest of the secondary is due some serious reprimands this week. The Eagles had four touchdown drives that looked much too easy, with wide open receivers on the sideline and guys open for medium gains in the middle. The team didn't get much pressure on the QB, so I expected them to stop blitzing and dropping more guys into the passing zones. But that rarely happened, and with a lack of pressure, Ellis Hobbs, Randall Gay, and Eddie Jackson were either out of position or late on too many throws.

For a while, it looked like the Mike Vrabel show early on. In the first 16 minutes he'd stopped Eagles running back Brian Westbrook for short- or negative-yardage plays four times, made two tackles on passing plays, and pressured the QB on two others. But he tailed off after that, getting called for an encroachment penalty and being beaten for several runs around end. Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas had good games, but this wasn't the linebackers shining moment for this season. There wasn't enough pressure on the QB, and there were too many tackles *after* the catch.

The D-line didn't do anything extra special, nor did they screw up a lot. The controlled the line of scrimmage on running plays (19 rushes for 53 yards), but could not get consistent pressure on the pocket. I heard some commentators talk about how the Eagles "exposed" the line and the secondary, but I disagree. Philly's O-line has to get a lot of credit, and the Patriots coaches should have switched to more soft-zone and fewer blitzes when it became clear they couldn't get any pressure on the QB. The Pats D-line played the Eagles O-line to a standstill, which is better than most lines do. The secondary was always the weakest link in this defense -- but few teams have had time to exploit them. BTW, I've seen enough of the 2-5-4 with Jarvis Green and Mike Wright on the line... the team got smoked on that defense way too often.

Special teams didn't do much that was great, and had some real gaffes. Kelley Washington had an unnecessary hold that brought a kickoff return back from the 46 to the 21, and Stephen Gostkowski missed a simple 32-yard field goal, and they let the Eagles recover an onside kick, which should have their coach (Brad Seeley) force-feeding them humble pie all week. However, they kept all of the kickoff and punt returns short, and Gostkowski converted on a 23-yard field goal -- so it wasn't *all* bad.

As for the coaches, on offense it was pretty good, just too many dropped passes. But special teams didn't play that well, and on defense, they should have mixed in more eight-man drops with their five- and six-man blitzes, just to keep the Eagles off-balance. Once the Eagles QB knew that four, five, or six men would rush every play, he just hit quick passes and kept the chains moving. Not that it was all bad -- the Eagles scored on four drives, but they had two three-and-outs, a four-and-out, and three interceptions on their other six. But I think the coaches should have adjusted quicker to the game situation.

So where does that leave us? 11-0 sounds pretty good, and division champs sounds even better. That guarantees a home playoff game, although the team would obviously like to secure a first-round bye and/or the #1 AFC playoff seed. By my calculations, if they win the next two games, a first-round bye would be assured. The reason is because it would put Pittsburgh too far behind the Patriots (since one of those two wins would be over Pittsburgh), and the only other contenders would be Jacksonville and Indianapolis -- and they play each other next week, so the loser of that game would not be able to catch the Patriots, either. But of course, given the one-game-at-a-time mantra, it's the Baltimore Ravens next Monday night. The Pats should be able to win if they don't turn the ball over; because the Ravens have no offense at all. But note: it isn't easy to keep from turning the ball over against the Ravens.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The halftime score of this game was the same as the score at the end of the Patriots Super Bowl win over the Eagles (24-21). Also, the teams both scored seven points each in the first half of the Super Bowl and did the exact same thing in the second half of Sunday's game. Lastly, in both those games, the Eagles QB threw three interceptions and a safety picked the third one to seal the game for the Patriots.

One Possible Serving of Humble Pie (please read in a deadpan monotone): "Well, we gave up too many easy passes, not enough pressure on the quarterback, we had some drops and stuff, and we gave up some sacks. We kinda missed the boat on that onside kick, and you'd think we could hit a 32-yard field goal... we gotta do a better job coaching that stuff. Other than that, I think the fans need to work a little harder -- don't sell you tickets to fans of the opponent and cheer louder when we come out of the tunnel. And the wind needs to be stronger when they have the ball, and maybe it could rain on their sideline. Just some stuff to get fixed before the next game."

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Look, we all love blowout wins, but you don't want to go into the playoffs without struggling in any games. You gotta be battle-tested, otherwise you might fold the first time things get tough. Just ask Randy Moss -- his Vikings team blew through the league at 15-1 -- then lost in the NFC Championship game."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 11-0!

No comments:

Post a Comment