Monday, October 12, 2009

Patriots 17, Broncos 20 (10/11/2009)

How I convinced myself that the Patriots would beat the Broncos escapes me. The team *never* seems to escape Denver with a W. The Patriots missed too many opportunities and were shut out in the second half as they fell to Denver 20-17 in overtime. The loss puts them at 3-2, a half-game behind the 3-1 Jets (who play tonight) in the AFC East.

The offense was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Pats had 12 first downs, converted 63% of their third downs, went 2-2 in the red zone, and completed over 73% of their passes. In the second half, they had 6 first downs (2 by penalty), did not convert a third down, didn't get to the red zone, and completed 36% of their passes. That is a really bad second half, folks.

The Patriots continue to have some trouble running the ball out of running formations, but they are getting better, with a few successful off-guard plays out of the I-formation yesterday. However, their best runs still come out of the spread formation, when teams are expecting the pass. With Fred Taylor out, Sammy Morris lead the team (17 carries for 68 yards), with Laurence Maroney looking decent in limited action (5 for 21). Those two averaged four yards a carry, which is acceptable.

I thought the offensive line did a terrific job. Aside from opening up some holes in the running game, they gave up only one sack and for the most part the Broncos had to blitz to get any pressure on Brady. I also thought their performance on screen passes was excellent, a good job "selling" the screen and then blocking it. And Matt Light deserves specific praise for his superb technique in dominating the NFL's leading sacker, Elvis Dumerville. Light hooked his arms under the shorter Dumerville's shoulder pads and pushed up, and that neutralized the Elvis' speed rush. On the minus side, Logan Mankins committed a late hit penalty that pushed the Patriots out of field goal range -- and in a game that went to overtime, you can't have mistakes like that.

Speaking of mistakes, Mr. Brady, will you please step forward... Tom Usually-Terrific did not have a great day. His throws were off a bit, and on this day they were mostly his mistakes. He overthrew a wide open Randy Moss (would have been a touchdown), and heaved one to Moss when his tight end was open for a touchdown opposite Moss. He also made Wes Welker dive to catch a short pass that could have been much longer if he'd hit him in stride, and of course, he had Welker open for a long touchdown and hit Wes in the foot instead of the hands. The end result was an okay passer rating but 115 fewer yards and a lower completion percentage (73% to 57.5%) than his counterpart. Not a great day, but I think we need to hope this is part of the adjustment period with his receivers. (BTW, don't blame him for the fumble, it came on a quick strip-sack from his blind side. Though the timing was unfortunate.)

Wes Welker was his usual self, leading the team with 8 catches and stretching for the Pats first touchdown. However, Denver started double-teaming and jamming him, making it less and less certain that he'd be open if Brady got in trouble. And trust me, the rest of the NFL will see what happened and do the same thing, so other receivers will have to step up their games and be ready for outlet passes. Speaking of other receivers, no one else had more than three catches, though I'd put most of the onus on Brady. By the way, seventh–round pick Julian Edelman has more catches (15) in his first 5 games than former second-round pick Chad Jackson had in two years with the Patriots (12). And he got rid of that unfortunate haircut :)

The defense was a tale of two formations. When the Patriots played press coverage on the wideouts and pressured the quarterback they were fine. But when they gave a big cushion, free releases to the tight ends, and rushed fewer than five, Kyle Orton picked them apart. Perhaps they thought they had enough of a lead to play it safe; but the defense gave up play after play in soft coverage, and it's beyond me how the coaching staff couldn't figure it out if me and Phil Simms (commentator for the game) could.

The man of the day was Vince Wilfork, who dominated the line, blowing up lots of running plays and getting after the quarterback like nose tackles almost never do. With Seymour gone, teams are more likely to double Vince, but he continues to make plays, which is why he's been to the Pro Bowl. I barely noticed the rest of the line, which is usually a bad sign. Denver had some decent rushing gains, but mostly they beat the Pats through the air, so the lack of pressure from the front four hurt.

The linebackers were very much up-and–down. Jerod Mayo returned to action, and even in a part time role he led the 'backers in tackles. He was obviously not his regular self, getting pushed around by linemen and making most of his tackles down the field. Though he did force a fumble on Denver's second possession. Still not getting enough from Adalius Thomas, at least for the paycheck he's getting. Tully Banta-Cain made two tackles for a loss and had a key sack, but he gets fooled on screens and is a non-factor when the play isn't to his side, even though he's fast enough to run those plays down. Gary Guyton had a clean day, but I don't remember anything special from him.

The secondary was the same as the rest of the defense. When they played press coverage they were very good; when they backed off, it was one five- to ten-yard completion after another. They continue to tip passes and come oh-so-close to interceptions. Happened twice yesterday, and on one play the ball was batted up by Brandon McGowan and then three Patriots ran into each other trying to get it before it was caught by *former* Patriots player Jabar Gaffney. Oh, and note that no team wants their secondary players to lead the team in tackles -- but the Pats top *four* tacklers were all in the secondary. Not a good sign.

As for specific secondary play, Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs mostly impressed, with 2 knock-downs each and 11 and 8 tackles, respectively. Brandon McGowan continues to be a very pleasant surprise, contributing 9 tackles, 2 passes knocked down, and yet another fumble recovery. Brandon Meriweather had his worst game of the year, whiffing on two open-field tackles and drawing a questionable (but ill-timed) penalty for taunting.

I think the Patriots won the special teams battle. Gostkowski's kickoffs were of two varieties: deep, deeper, out-of-the-endzone. But he missed a 40 yard field goal, a critical mistake in a close game. The punter pinned the Broncos deep in their own end, but ironically that just lead to touchdown drives of 90 and 98 yards. And Kevin Faulk did a great job making sure one Denver punt wasn't downed inside the 5. But the reason they won is that the Broncos had the Pats backed up and *twice* in the same drive committed penalties with the Patriots punting that gave the New England the ball back. Not that the Patriots scored on that drive, but it helped them change field position.

There were a few problems with the coaching. First, once they saw the Broncos couldn't handle press coverage they should have stayed with it. And second, no offensive djustments and some questionable play–calling in the second half. Other than that, it was pretty good; the game plan worked well until the half, and the defense held Denver to 17 points in regulation, so it's hard to complain about that.

So where does that leave us? At 3-2, the Pats schedule looks like it's easing up a bit. Their next three opponents are a combined 1-13, and they have a bye week thrown in. So they should be able to get to 6-2 if they play they pay attention and take care of business.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: When something happens for the first time in 9 years, it's an oddity -- Tom Brady lost his first overtime game yesterday.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "First half Patriots, second half Broncos, coin flip goes their way and that's the ballgame."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 3-2!

No comments:

Post a Comment