September 30, 2016

Bizzaro Colts

Imagine you’re Peyton Manning.

I realize this is ridiculous but just try.
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Now here’s where it gets interesting. Forget about going undefeated…you’re about to enter the dark world of Bizzaro Peyton…who despite his imaginary hardship is having a remarkable season…

Four years ago Tony Dungy left Tampa Bay for the head coaching job in Indianapolis. He liked your poise, accuracy, toughness and unparalleled ability to survey the field. He decided he might do great things with you if he could improve your defense. He didn’t wait around to make those improvements and you immediately won 3 Super Bowls in those 4 years — this was despite having guys like Cato June on your roster.

Although June was a former creampuff, under Bizzaro Dungy he mysteriously became a perennial pro bowler…a terrorizing force who struck fear in the hearts of those who crossed over the middle. Bizzaro Dungy also spotlighted June’s versatility as a long snapper and assistant to the team chef.

In winning your Super Bowls you consistently enjoyed beating the crap out of a heavily favored Patriots team with a mysteriously prolific QB named Bizzaro Brady who was a former first overall selection and who now had 2 League MVPs.

Bizzaro Brady continually confirmed his reputation for choking in the postseason by scoring less points than opposing QBs despite having far superior offenses. Many defensive coordinators point to his superior ability on first reads but average ability on progression reads. Despite his manic idiosyncrasies, and his teammates’ general indifference toward him, he’s kept his job because of a propensity for breaking passing records like he did in college when Michiganians were naming babies after him.

While Bizzaro Brady is the highest paid player in the league, you instead went for a 40% market discount to help preserve the competitive balance on your team.

Other great players and malcontents have lined up to take discounts just to play with you and train under your famous master…hoping to unlock their own hidden potential.

Although you don’t own any neat passing records, pundits are quietly beginning to consider you the all time greatest QB. Before the season began Joe Montana said he felt lucky to be compared to you.

Skeptics have begun to speculate about a negative karma surplus.

Tom Moore finally retired last season — he secretly grew tired of the humiliation attached with being your coordinator. In a controversial move they promoted a college intern to fill Moore’s shoes. Nobody panics because you call your own plays anyway. The intern doesn’t officially have the title of OC and has never even been heard speaking. But it’s assumed that instead of 3 options at the line you now can chose from 100 in any order you wish.

Nobody saw this coming, but Edgerrin James — who is now 32 — was given a big extension in the offseason — privately he’s not sure if he’ll ever make the HoF but he’s had his fill of success and people are starting to question his motivation. Suddenly he begins complaining of a nagging ankle injury and you’re suddenly without “the Edge.”

Immediately, both Dominic Rhodes and James Mungro have also developed mysterious ailments and conspiracy theories abound. Bill Pollian desperately scours the bargain wire and finds Moran Norris, a fullback who was cut from the Houston Texans’ practice squad. Norris immediately has success in a game against his former team in Houston and everyone in Indy gets excited — the Lafayette Tribune even likens Norris to John Riggins.

I forgot to mention, Tarik Glenn and Ryan Diem are still inactive. Two weeks ago, Jeff Saturday was added to IR but you have a journeyman backup tackle on the practice squad who is itching to “step up.” He has never played Center in his life but nobody is too concerned because he will “step up” and the Center position is overrated anyway.

As your protection tries to gel you’re in a bind…you can’t run the ball or even mount the threat of a run. Pass protection probably would’ve been an issue anyway, but without the running game it becomes magnified…play action disappears…single and zero deep coverages also disappear…and everyone else who isn’t deep is sprinting into the backfield after you.

TV experts are starting to question your poise.

Your normally stable receiving corps has also been scrambled up…some weeks you have Harrison, Wayne, Stokley or Walters, but never all of them together and sometimes only one or two of them. Harrison is constantly double teamed as a result. Dallas Clark also misses time, but you still have rookie Bryan Fletcher who is no longer a surprise feature of your offense. You don’t yet have the timing down with some of these guys and it’s hard to judge their body language and anticipate how they’re adjusting in their routes.

And oh yeah, the Colts’ defense is ranked 31st in the league and the genius of Bizzaro Dungy is now being called into question. Your defense is so bad that you average less than 2 opportunities per quarter to mount a drive, and each successive drive is accompanied by a diminishing chance to make up ground…this further compromises your chance to develop any consistency in the ground game.

Some “experts” are finally beginning to realize how valuable your possession style offense was in past years in helping to mask the deficiencies in the defense.

Fortunately the normally dominant AFC South is very weak this season, but instead of facing the AFC North and NFC West, the NFL has nailed you with road games in the AFC West and NFC South.

Now imagine the results in the preceding scenario when you are less than superhuman in a given week.

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Looking for sympathy?, sorry, nobody cares. You are Peyton Manning — you can get any chick you want (this could be a stretch)…but people are sick of your golden image and have been desperately waiting for any sign that you may be a fraud. But you can take comfort in the fact that your fans and local media still believe you have an “S” on your chest and still hold you to a standard of perfection.

A humiliating loss in the RCA Dome snaps your 21 game home winning streak. Afterwards resident NFL authority Marty Schottenheimer publicly questions the chances of your team to be successful. You issue a calculated defense of your team — including a direct shot at Schottenheimer’s cynicism. The national pundits, led by Peter King, shockingly chastise you for overreacting — Marty’s a nice guy who meant well but they’re willing to “give you a pass” because you’re Bizzaro Peyton.

Then comes a knife in the heart…on Monday night, the Bizzaro Patriots humiliate you at home in front of 50 million people and remain undefeated. During the game cameras catch you tossing a bottle of Evian in the general direction of line coach Howard Mudd and the local media writes scathing pieces questioning your maturity — one veteran beat writer even questions how you were raised and suggests you better start preparing for the cold harsh reality of the downhill part of your career.

Every week you’re spotting great teams 20 points on the road and asked to dig out.

Last week, Bizzaro Dungy’s dad died and he was absent going into a game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead who were playing a kitchen sink game. It was yet another team with a QB who doesn’t know the meaning of carrying a team on his back…all it took for Trent Green to fall off the planet was an injury to his left left tackle, that is until Willie Roaf returned Sunday. Sadly, that incident failed to provide the media with any perspective on your phenomenal season.

As for you, it finally hit the fan with 4-picks. Cocky Chief’s DB’s told the media they “predicted” they’d intercept you as much and cited teammate Tony Gonzalez as an unbiased witness…this was then broadcast across all outlets. Sean Salisbury called your performance “inexcusable” — while on the exact same telecast Salisbury made amazing excuses for Brett Favre for leading his team to a 2-9 record in the NFC North.

Far from giving you a pass, the local media calls your performance “horrible” — Indianapolis Star reporter Mike Felger is nice enough to give you a grade of “D-“…while the running backs receive a lighter grade of “D” (despite the fact that you led your team in rushing by the time the game was out of hand).

The Star added that the Bizzaro Colts were able to overcome 40 injuries each of the last two seasons so the coaching and front office obviously deserve blame. They’re apparently unable to comprehend the CUMULATIVE effect of another record breaking injury year ON TOP OF all the others in seasons past.

Teams are no longer afraid of the Bizzaro Colts and in fact look forward to destroying you to enhance their own confidence. Meanwhile experts continue to expect no-names to be “plugged in” without any drop-off while veterans are asked to “step up” as though they weren’t already giving 100%.

Some media members frustratingly insist that players in your defensive secondary should perform at a consistently high level while six other DB’s are placed on IR…they defend this ignorant argument by comparing the situation to last season (when the team constantly won time of possession and the defense was on the field for half as long…and when a HoF safety roamed the backfield).

Other media members go straight to the playcalling while ignoring the fact that you’re being pounded or that you’re constantly fighting out of huge deficits…they of course they have a better recipe than Bizzaro Dungy (still the best X’s and O’s coach in the business).

The dizzy revolving personnel door and overall success of the team has caused another serious problem: you’re finally tapped out against the cap and have zero ability to add significant talent.

Yet the only acceptable result is continued perfection and domination in the parity era…you’re finally feeling the effects…and the blame lies at your feet. Pundits ignore that your career winning percentage in 3-point games is still at a ridiculous .913 (21-2) — and that Montana, Marino and Elway were all around .500 in close games…you are merely expected to win them all.

And yet somehow you’re leading the NFL in passing and almost on pace for a career year in terms of efficiency. In four of your team’s six wins you engineered 4th quarter comebacks — 3 of them on the road — with a combined comeback passer rating of 152.0 — and you’re on pace for 9, 10 or 11 wins which will be enough for a playoff berth in your division.

But that’s again not “valuable” enough for the MVP voters this season (Peter King cites your performance in KC as having sealed your fate). Your rival — the anointed one, Bizzaro Brady (who’s yet to be sacked all year) — is still the odds on favorite to win his 3rd MVP for carrying a healthy team through a cupcake schedule where they’ve been widely favored in every game. The Bizzaro Pats have drawn comparisons to the 92 Cowboys, 91 Redskins, 89 49ers, 51 Rams, 40 Bears and 26 Bears as one of the most unstoppable forces in the history of professional football…it also happens to be the same calendar year that your team held the exact same unstoppable offense to 3 points in the playoffs.

Having fun yet?

Given any thought to politics?

go pats,
The Taildragger
boston mass

Patriots at Chiefs Game Day Rear View

November 27, 2005
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

The New England Patriots took a giant step away from playoff significance today with a thoroughly disheartening 26-16 loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City.

AFC East championship be damned (even with the loss, they retained a two-game lead over 2nd place Buffalo); the Patriots cannot beat even a halfway decent opponent. They haven

Patriots at Kansas City Preview

November 24, 2005
By Scott A. Benson
[email protected]

The Patriots will try to extend their new winning streak to three games Sunday when they travel to Kansas City for a match up of two 6-4 AFC playoff contenders.

Though the Chiefs have the same record as the up and down Pats, they don’t enjoy the advantage of posting that mark in the sub .500 AFC East, where the Patriots are likely to win the division. Kansas City goes into the season’s 12th week in 3rd place in the much tougher West, behind Denver and San Diego, and if the season ended today, the Chiefs would trail Cincinnati, Jacksonville and the Chargers in the race for the two AFC wild card spots.

On paper, this looks generally like an even match up, before you make the requisite allowance for the boisterous bastards in the Arrowhead stands. Both teams have well-regarded offenses and bottom-dwelling defenses, though the Chiefs rank a little higher than the Pats on both sides of the ball.

Kansas City once again has one of the league’s most productive offenses, which won’t be welcome news for New England’s 31st ranked defense. At the same time, you have to figure the Patriots offense to ring up some points on the Chiefs #25 D, keeping them in a competitive shoot out, but here’s a couple of things that bother me: Kansas City has one of the tougher 3rd down defenses in the league (7th) and they’re one of the better teams in limiting their opponent’s time of possession (3rd). Ouch – those just happen to be a couple of weak points for a Patriots unit that at times has been woefully inconsistent. This, along with one of the best home-field advantages anywhere, might be enough to tip the balance towards the Chiefs on Sunday.

Think about this, though. The folks at Cold Hard Football Facts tell us that the Chiefs have a 0-2 record against quality opponents in 2005. In CHFF’s ‘Quality Wins Quotient’, a quality opponent is any team that currently holds a winning record. So far, the Chiefs have played just two – the Chargers and Broncos, both on the road – and lost them both. The Patriots – with a 2-4 QWQ record of their own, thanks to road wins in Pittsburgh and Atlanta – will be just the third in eleven games for Kansas City.

The Patriots on Offense

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New Orleans at Patriots Game Review: An Uneven Performance

The Patriots pulled out yet another needed, yet imperfect win Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in Foxboro. It was imperfect due to the uneven nature of it. At times, the offense was excellent, particularly in the first half. The defense also was very good for most of the first half. But, unfortunately, some breakdowns on both sides of the ball left the Patriots barely hanging on at the end. But, that being said, a win is a win as they say and anytime you can get one of those in the NFL, it outweighs all else considering the alternative.

On offense, the Patriots featured a balanced attack most of the day. The running game featured the dual tandem of Patrick Pass and Heath Evans and clicked early on. The passing game was also on fire in the first half with quarterback Tom Brady hitting tight end Ben Watson repeatedly and finding some nice rhythm with Pass and receiver Deion Branch as well. A number of drops by tight end Christian Fauria were disappointing and slowed down the Patriots attack some.

However, as the game wore on, the offense became less effective. The pass blocking had some problems, particularly at right tackle where Brandon Gorin was filling in for the injured Tom Ashworth. Brady had some trouble as well, missing on some long passes in which the receivers appeared open. They did hit on one long one, a 60-yarder to Andre Davis, but the timing seemed off on most of the others. This may be in part attributable to the fact the Patriots were missing three of the six receivers on their roster.

On defense, the Patriots played a very solid game most of the first half. Willie McGinest had easily his best game of the year, forcing Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks to rush his throws, defending the run well and getting out in coverage and causing havoc there as well. Others who looked good early on were defensive lineman Richard Seymour, lineman Vince Wilfork and safety Michael Stone.

But as the game progressed, the Patriots did have some breakdowns on defense. The running game for the Saints never really got moving, but they did get their passing game moving and the pressure from the front of the Patriots defense wore down late in the game. Brooks with time made some good throws and hit Dontae Stallworth twice for TDs and nearly brought the Saints back for the tie until throwing an interception to Eugene Wilson in the end zone on the last play of the game.

The special teams were good today for the Patriots and featured nice kicks and coverage as well as a few decent returns. This was a positive factor in the game.

Overall, it was a decent performance for the Patriots but still one that left you unconvinced of their long term prospects. GDRV did not see the progress over the whole game hoped for from the previous week. It started out good, but went downhill as it moved along. That was disappointing and, at best, they merely maintained their level of play from the previous week rather than increased it.

Still, its a win, their first two game win streak of the season. They are now firmly in first place without any of the other teams in the division appearing to have much of a chance to challenge. They’ll continue to get players back from injury (and they were missing an alarming number of significant ones against the Saints). So, in that respect, they are still on target for the playoffs. It also isn’t terribly significant what their level of play is this week, it will be significant what it is in December and January. Consistent improvement towards that is a must, however, and they’ll need to increase that level significantly if they are to pull out a win this coming week in Kansas City.

New Orleans at Patriots Preview

The 2-7 New Orleans Saints come to Foxboro Sunday with the Patriots looking for their first 2 game winning streak of the year. It will be important to the Patriots to build on the progress made last week on defense. A good performance there, better than against Miami, will lead to this game not being close and it will tilt quickly in the Patriots favor.

THE PATRIOTS ON OFFENSE
New Orleans is 30th in the league in rushing yards allowed. They are also 29th in points allowed. They give up over 130 yards rushing per game and 4.4 yards per carry. So, look for the Patriots to try to establish the run. Corey Dillon will likely be out for the Patriots, but a triumverate attack of Patrick Pass, Heath Evans and Mike Cloud is the option with the hot hand probably getting an extended workout in the second half.

The Saints pass defense does rank 5th in the NFL in yardage allowed, but that is mostly attributable to the fact opponents have tried the 2nd fewest number of pass attempts against them. When they do pass, opponents have completed 59% of their passes with 11 TDs and only 7 INTs. So the Patriots have the opportunity here to throw the ball as well.

The Saints do have some capable guys on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive ends Charles Grant and Darren Howard were both high draft picks and are excellent players. That is one of the better end tandems in the NFL. The Saints are stocked at this position as they have Will Smith and Tony Bryant at backups and both of those guys could start for most NFL teams as well. Between the four of them, they have 12.5 of the Saints 17 sacks this year. All will play and the tight ends and backs will have to make sure to watch the rush from the end when passing.

The Saints linebackers are a below average group that lacks speed. This probably accounts for the poor job they have done against the run as backs can cut back or outside on them and they don’t have the ability to catch up. #57 Colby Buckholdt is a second year player who has some potential for them in the long run. The lack of speed is a particularly bad match for Saints coach Jim Haslett who runs a zone-blitz scheme similar to Pittsburgh. The Patriots have traditionally tried to attack this type of scheme by throwing downfield in the middle and on screens. The shorter receiver routes probably won’t be as prevalent. The Saints defensive backs feature two excellent players the Patriots will have to be careful not to allow to make big plays in Mike McKenzie and Dwight Smith. The rest of the crew is below average.

THE PATRIOTS ON DEFENSE
The Saints will want to throw the ball on the Patriots. However, an issue for them is the status of receiver Donte Stallworth who is banged up. Receiver Joe Horn, normally a Pro Bowl level player, is having a very poor year and may be showing signs of age. Third receiver Devery Henderson is a very talented guy who can get deep and has size and burned the Patriots in the exhibition season.

Quarterback Aaron Brooks is an inconsistent performer for the Saints who the Patriots should be able to pressure into mistakes as the Saints have given up 28 sacks this year, among the worst in the league. Running the ball, the Patriots will want to stop former teammate Antwouin Smith who has done a good job for New Orleans this season and always runs hard. The other back, Aaron Stecker, isn’t much of a threat.

Look for the Patriots to try to play base defense most of the time, perhaps throwing an occasional linebacker blitzer at the inexperienced and underperforming Saints offensive line. They should be able to get pressure with four guys, maybe an occasional (but not overdone) fifth guy. The defensive backs for the Pats need to be physical with the Saints receivers on the short routes and hope the Patriots can contain the edge and not allow Brooks to scramble on them. If they can do this, Brooks won’t have time to hit the longer downfield routes to the speedy, talented receivers that could burn the Patriots and has been a problem this year. They can’t allow Brooks to buy time or it will be a problem yet again.

THE PATRIOTS SPECIAL TEAMS VS. THE NEW ORLEANS SPECIAL TEAMS
Saints kicker John Carney has had a solid, long NFL career but is now 41 years old and doesn’t have the leg he used to. He is only 4-8 in field goals over 40 yards this season. The weather forecast calls for 10 to 15 MPH winds in Foxboro tomorrow and that could affect Carney even further. If Haslett decides to risk some over 40 yard field goals, it may set the Patriots up in some good field position after misses. The Saints have done a good job covering kicks and punts this year, so that doesn’t present any obvious opportunities for the Patriots.

Even with the injuries, the Patriots should have more than enough to beat this team. The Patriots offense should be able to throw and run the ball, even without Corey Dillon. The Saints offense will likely move the ball at times, particularly throwing, but will stall, make mistakes and settle for field goals at time, some of which they very well may miss. In the end, it’ll amount to a 30-13 Patriots victory.

Patriots at Miami: Signs of Life

The Patriots came through down in Miami this week with an excellent win that had some solid signs for the future after the blowout loss to the Colts earlier in the week. No, yesterday’s win was not against a great team. But it was against a team the Patriots have struggled to beat in a stadium that Miami is very tough in. And Miami is a solid team that has beaten Carolina and Denver on that very same field this year. No game down there is going to be a walkover and the Patriots had a week that was more good than bad and resulted in a W. That is all that matters.

On offense, it was a decent effort. They did get off to a slow start, but that has happened occasionally even in past championship years as the Patriots sort of felt an opponent out and tried to play field position. Other than the first drive, the Patriots couldn’t really gain a hold in that regard of that battle early on. GDRV thought it may have been a decent decision to go for it in Miami territory on 4th and 1 on the first possession, but they elected to punt. Given how they seemed to be moving the ball on that first drive, it may be a decision they want to rethink for next time.

A special hand needs to go out for fill-in running back Heath Evans. His bruising style and hard running kept the offense with a running game after Corey Dillon went out. That good play didn’t lead to many points while he was doing most of his running, but it made the Dolphins have to respect the run which perhaps opened up the passing game later on. With only two weeks of practice with the Patriots under his belt and outside of his normal role, that was a big boost for the Patriots.

Once the Patriots passing game started rolling, the Patriots did start punching in some points. The offensive line deserves praise for their excellent play. Rookie Nick Kaczur continues to improve weekly and had an outstanding game yesterday. Brandon Gorin is a better run blocker than Tom Ashworth, but not as strong a pass blocker. Yesterday Gorin held up well in both areas in his first start of the season filling in for the injured Ashworth. And Russ Hochstein came in at center in tough conditions when Dan Koppen went out injured and he too filled in without missing a beat. By the end of the day, the Patriots had three starters out and another rookie, Logan Mankins, at a fourth spot on the line and were still holding up okay and moving the ball.

Quarterback Tom Brady had an uneven day, but made some big throws when it mattered. Tim Dwight in the receiver spot made one of the better plays of the year in ripping the ball away from a defender for a 59 yard advance that led to the winning score. Tight end Ben Watson flashed his great downfield potential and scored two TDs.

All in all, a decent showing from the offense. They put up 23 points with many injuries. They scored when it mattered. They helped win the game. You’d like to see a quicker start, but other than that not much to complain about.

On the other side of the ball, the embattled defense showed some signs they could be on the verge of turning it around. Up front, there was more pressure, better discipline and good play from some long missing players, practically, such as Jarvis Green and Vince Wilfork. The return of All-Pro Richard Seymour helped a lot as well up front and he should improve as he gets back into playing condition.

The linebackers were active and helped win the game. Tedy Bruschi looked like the old Tedy Bruschi, playing with passion, knocking down passes, jumping over linemen to get in the quarterbacks face and just generally playing with reckless abandon. That kind of thing can be contagious and early on it was obvious the Patriots defense was flocking to the ball and gang tackling. They shut down the running game and dared Miami quarterback Gus Frerotte to make plays. He made his share, but in the end neither he nor the Dolphins made enough.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect for the Patriots of this win was the play of the defensive backs. Rookie Ellsi Hobbs starting his first game showed he was a high energy player not afraid to be physical and get in receiver’s faces. He generally blanketed his man and came up with his first pick. All in all, an excellent starting debut and it looks like there is something to work with there. Asante Samuel at the other corner also had a good day. He did get beat for one touchdown, but showed again he is a willing hitter and good in coverage most of the day. New safety starter Michael Stone was easily the best fill in the Patriots have had at that spot since Rodney Harrison went down. He seemed less hesitant and more confident than any of his predecessors and was generally in the rights spots willing to deliver a hit.

Yes, its true, Miami did throw for 360 yards. But it just felt different. Maybe its that it took Frerotte 47 attempts to ring up those yards. Or that he only completed 53.2% of his passes. It just seemed better and more competitive. Now sure, there were a couple plays where the tackling was bad you’d like to see a better job. And 360 yards is still unacceptable even if it “felt” better or not.

But GDRV liked the hitting and the competitive coverage. The energy level was high. GDRV liked the fact the Patriots got off the field a few times on critical 3rd downs (and 4th down at the end of the game). It was all very encouraging, given what has gone on with the pass defense to date.

It sounds like a broken record, but Josh Miller continued his outstanding season. If he continues this way, he should get some consideration for the Pro Bowl. Adam Vinatierri outkicked his Miami counterpart, kicker Olindo Mare. The Patriots returns and coverage were not good and in fact they started the game with a penalty on their first return. Both units remain somewhat underachieving.

GDRV was encouraged by this win. At 5-4, the Patriots have the division under their own control. But a word of caution. It has been such an up and down season, every time the Patriots seem to be getting it together, they take a step back. But again, there were more positive signs than we have seen in awhile. They do have a lot of injuries to overcome, but some of those guys will come back soon. If they can continue to improve and can beat New Orleans Sunday to put together their first two game winning streak of the year, we may just see them get rolling yet.

PATRIOTS AT MIAMI PREVIEW

The Patriots travel down to Miami this weekend looking to rebound from the thrashing they took at the hands of Indianapolis last week, as well as to avenge last year’s shocking upset by the Dolphins in Miami. But far more important than that, this represents yet another opportunity for the Patriots to take a firm grasp of the division and put themselves into solid position to make the playoffs. For Miami, despite their 3-5 record, it offers the opportunity to be tied for first place halfway thru the first year of a new coach and program.

THE PATRIOTS ON OFFENSE
The Patriots should be able to move the ball on Miami. Although some of the players are the same, this is not the same dominant defense Miami has had in recent years. They can still be tough, however, particularly at home.

Miami gives up about 115 yards rushing, but only 3.7 yards per carry. Opponents are controlling the ball for an average of about 33 and a half minutes per game, about six and half minutes more than the Miami offense. So you can pound it on them if a team is determined enough. The Patriots may be able to run a bit on Miami, at least more so than they have had luck doing in the past. The Miami defensive line is small in spots and, while quick, not quite as strong against a power running game. Once again, the ability of the Patriots to run will likely be dictated by the health of running back Corey Dillon. Dillon looked nowhere close to his old self vs. Indianapolis and it remains to be seen if six days in the interim will change that equation any. If he is healthy enough to put in a good effort, look for the Patriots physical linemen to control the middle of the line of scrimmage and create some creases for Dillon. For the Dolphins, the key man is Zach Thomas, their middle linebacker, who seems tailor made for the new defensive scheme and is having his best season in years.

Throwing the ball, opponents have had success vs. Miami. Having moved cornerback Patrick Surtain in the offseason, they are not as strong at one spot as they had been though rookie Travis Daniels has played well and looks like he’ll be a good NFL player. The other corner, Sam Madison, is a former All-Pro who isn’t quite up to that level anymore but still quite good. The Dolphins have lost one of their starting safeties, former Patriot Tebucky Jones, for the year to injury and are vulnerable to tight ends down the seam. Teams need to be careful throwing on Miami as they have active defensive linemen and have piled up 24 sacks so far this year. Guys like Jason Taylor, David Bowen and Kevin Carter will eat up the Patriots tackles if the backs and tight ends don’t do a good job helping them out. Dolphins coach Nick Saban, though a Bill Belichick student, is more apt to blitz than his mentor and routinely sent blitz after blitz in college as a coach at LSU that opponents had hard times picking up. It may be a good idea for the Patriots to do a lot of their passing on first down and avoid false starts and holding penalties that get them into must throw situations. This can be easier said than done with a very loud crowd Miami will surely have.

THE PATRIOTS ON DEFENSE
Luckily for the Patriots with their defensive backfield injured and struggling like no other time in the Belichick era, Miami is a run first team. Their quarterback, Gus Frerotte, is towards the bottom echelon of starting QBs in the NFL and they prefer to run with their two headed backfield of Ricky Williams and powerful and fast rookie Ronnie Brown. So, in some ways this tendancy plays into the Patriots hands.

But look for Miami to be able to run the ball as they have done a good job at it all year and are averaging 4.5 yards per carry. If the Patriots are not going to get worn down in the eighty degree Miami heat in the fourth quarter, they’re going to have to find a way to slow the running attack down early before it gets rolling. Getting a two score lead in the second half would help immensely.

Miami has good weapons throwing the ball when they choose to in tight end Randy McMichael and receivers Chris Chambers and Marty Booker. McMichael and Chambers could be especially dangerous down the field as both are fast at their respective positions and the Patriots have struggled downfield all year. There is absolutely no doubt Miami will try to hit some passes way downfield on the Patriots, probably a few times early, having seen every other team they’ve played do it effectively. The Patriots absolutely have to find a way to stop these downfield shots, but it won’t be easy through use of an effective pass rush as the Patriots have only 12 sacks all year, the same number the Dolphins have given up offensively. Hardly inspiring numbers. The possible return of defensive lineman Richard Seymour could add extra potential to this area for the Patriots, however.

THE PATRIOTS SPECIAL TEAMS VS. THE MIAIM SPECIAL TEAMS
The Patriots need to be careful with punt returner Wes Welker who is averaging over 11 yards per return and burned the Patriots on a long return down in Miami last season. However, in the positive, there may be some opportunities for long returns on kickoffs against Miami as they are giving up nearly 25 yards per return there. Both Miami kicker Olindo Mare and Patriots kicker Adam Vinatierri are clutch, experienced kickers the teams can count on if the game comes down to the last couple minutes. Both teams punters are having good seasons.

The Patriots have generally not played well in Miami. Miami will come into this game fired up and knowing the Patriots are vulnerable on defense. Their offense will be able to move the ball enough and hit a few big plays to put some points on the board. The Patriots offense also should be able to move the ball up and down the field. As said above, this is not the Miami defense of old. But Miami should be able to cause a couple turnovers which may save a few drives and get some sacks as well to put the Patriots in a hole and kill a few others. In the end, the field position battle may tilt to Miami’s side. That’ll be enough for Miami to pull out a 24-20 victory over the foundering Patriots.

Indianapolis at Patriots Review: Too Many Flaws

In thinking back over the incredible run the Patriots put together between September of 2001 thru February of 2005, the details can sometimes run together. But the overall image remains fresh. And what the football watching public will remember about that incredible team that won three of four championships, set an NFL record for consecutive wins, dominated at home and did it as a team is that they were tough, smart, physical, and a clutch team that almost always played together as a complete unit. This season, none of that has come together for the Patriots. Individual units may have played well at times, individual players have had good games, but rarely has there been complete performances. Rarely has the whole team been functioning well together for an entire game.

The thing that sticks out about those four years were the occasional challenges they’d face from opponents in one facet of the game, but opponents who couldn’t quite get every unit working well enough all at once so that they could truly challenge the Patriots. One remembers the 2001 game versus Indianapolis, the second matchup in Indianapolis. The Colts rang up 484 yards in offense that day. But they lost 38-17 because their defense was shredded by the Patriots for long scoring strike after long scoring strike. One remembers the game performance by the Miami defense in 2003 on a wintry, snow filled day at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, bravely keeping the game a 3-0 match into the 4th quarter. Miami’s defense held their own that day, only to watch the offense blow the excellent performance by throwing an interception for a touchdown to Tedy Bruschi late and surrendering a safety shortly after that in a 12-0 loss. One remembers the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh at the end of the 2001 season in which the Patriots special teams scored two touchdowns to help them advance to the Super Bowl over the Steelers in an otherwise fairly even matchup.

The Patriots could beat you many different ways. If any one unit of the opponent let down, the Patriots could exploit it, no matter how up to the task the foe otherwise was. Any team who didn’t match up in any one phase of the game was at risk of being exploited. And the Patriots did it to other teams over and over. Time and time again.

The problem with the 2005 Patriots team is they have become one of those other teams. At times the offense is effective. At times they disappear for quarters or halves at a time. At times the special teams have made some good plays and ripped off some good returns. And other games they have done nothing worthy of mention at all. And most disturbing of all, the defense has had virtually no entire games where they functioned well the entire time. The best one can really say about this unit is individual players have played well in spurts at times, though some haven’t had any spurts. At no time has this unit really played well for an extended period of time all at once this year.

And when any team functioning this way gets in games against good opponents clicking at a high level, like the Chargers, or the Panthers, or the Broncos, or the Colts those opponents are going to find those inconsistencies and exploit them. It doesn’t matter if one unit plays acceptably. It doesn’t matter if some players do their job and others don’t. Those good teams will find the jugular and they’ll end any life that opponent has most of the time. Just like the Patriots used to do. And just like happened to them last night and has happened to them repeatedly against good competition this year.

It wasn’t all negative. The offense played well at times. The first scoring drive was certainly impressive. Quarterback Tom Brady was his usual effective self. One wonders just how bad this team could be, in fact, if Brady hadn’t been around this year as he appears to single-handedly carry them at times.

The receivers played decently and had some good catches and runs. The tight ends had some moments, good and bad. The touchdown run down the south sideline by Daniel Graham was electrifying and yet another reminder of the great speed/size combination he has. It truly must be shiver inducing to defenders to see that sized a guy running with that determination and at that speed in open space once Graham gets up a head of steam. Once he did, there was no defensive back that was going to bring him down prior to the end zone.

The offensive line, for the most part, held up well for the Patriots. The main complaint about the offense has been one of consistency. But overall, they are far less of a problem than the defense. They did put 21 points on the board. They did it with limited opportunities. They threw the ball pretty well, Brady was 10 for 10 in the first half. But they struggled running. Banged up running back Corey Dillon did not appear to be his old self or even the reasonable facsimile that had played well the week before against Buffalo. The problem is, while they went on long scoring strikes relatively quickly three times, they didn’t sustain any drives which really worked the clock much. One wonders if they HAD had the lead, could have this offense put away the game grinding the clock as they used to do? Doubts remain.

The Patriots do move the ball when they wing it all around, but they haven’t had to kill a game with a lead for a long time. The old Patriots ALWAYS seemed to have the lead. Always, with only rare exceptions. Most of the time, they were killing clock in the fourth quarter and had no trouble doing it. This year, you’d have to go back to opening night for a time they were on any semblance of cruise control. Their other three wins were last minute scramble jobs. If the schedule truly does get any easier for New England, if they are going to win the division and play with leads, the offense is going to have to prove they can move down the field some other way than spreading it out and firing the ball all around the lot. They have yet to really do that this year.

On defense, things get really ugly for the Patriots. The Colts just dominated the Patriots defense. GDRV would call them a shell of their former selves, but we fear that would be unfair to shells. They are barely an NFL defense right now.

A few guys here and there have held up their end of the bargain. Linebacker Mike Vrabel has mostly been good this year. Roosevelt Colvin has played well, particularly of late. Other guys have been spotty, good at times, bad other times, Willie McGinest, Vince Wilfork, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson. Some guys have just been invisible. Its hard to remember them doing anything this year at all, good or bad, Ty Warren for example. Has he made a tackle this year? Obviously he has, but none seemed significant. Jarvis Green? Mostly invisible. Marquise Hill? When is he going to show his second round promise? Then the third category is guys who have mostly been horrible this year. At the top of the list is cornerback Duane Starks. Linebacker Chad Brown isn’t far behind. Virtually everyone they have plugged in at safety for Rodney Harrison since he was injured is in that category.

And when you take all that and match it up with the Colts, probably the premier offense in football, you get the disasterous results you had last night. You have a team in the Patriots that didn’t force a punt until there were 77 seconds left. You get a team that allows the opponent to convert third down after third down. You get a team that lets its opponents hit pass after pass well downfield.

So who to blame for the absolute atrocious display of defense we have seen? Its probably a combination of things. Injuries have hurt, no doubt. Instability of the lineup has hurt. Offseason losses hurt. Strong opponents have been an issue. And coaching losses have hurt.

That last issue needs to be examined more thoroughly. Indianapolis was held to thirteen points by the Cleveland Browns in Indianapolis forty-three days before yesterday’s game. Six weeks ago. In Indianapolis. They held the Colts to 228 yards passing. They held them to 3.4 yards per rush. They only allowed one touchdown. Cleveland is coached by former Patriots Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennell who three games before he left the Patriots helped coach the Patriots defense to a brilliant performance against almost the exact same Colts offensive unit in which the Colts were held to three points in the playoffs.

Taking over for Crennell is new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini. GDRV’s main issue yesterday with Mangini was a lack of changes in the defensive plan as the game wore on when it was clear the initial plan was not working. Yes, its true, the Patriots plan of a zone based defense with a four man rush had worked in the past against the Colts (though GDRV seems to remember more bumping off the line of receivers within that scheme in the past). Yes, its true it is difficult to blitz Peyton Manning and he’s only been sacked five times all year. But at some point yesterday, whether it was when the Patriots were down 28-7 or 31-14 or 34-21 or whatever, they had to take some chances on defense because what they were doing just wasn’t working.

Yet no changes were apparent. If the Patriots blitzed at all, it was under five times. If they bumped off the line, it wasn’t often. If they played any man to man at all, it was a handful of times at most. If they tried anything at all to create some pressure other than just strictly rushing 3 or 4 guys, it was a significant exception. Its true GDRV has felt prior to this game Mangini sent too many blitzes. He left his defensive backs too alone in coverage. And the blitzes he called didn’t seem to catch any opponent off guard. Rarely has a Patriot defender broke in free on the opposing offense this year.

This game, Mangini went in the complete opposite direction. He was too passive. He tried nothing. He changed nothing up when they were behind. He left his corners too far off the line. It was like taking candy from a baby for the Colts all night long. It was death by a thousand paper cuts. The Colts looked like they toyed with the Patriots defense all night, literally. It was appalling. Any cliche along these lines seems to fit.

Mangini simply has to find a better mix. He has to mix the conservative, zone based defenses (which incidentally fits with GDRV’s general philosophy on defensive football) with occasional aggressiveness. He has to give opponents more looks. He has to pick and choose his timing better. He has to find a way to keep opponents off balance more often. He must make his lineup decisions on who is going to play better. Its been like a revolving door out there.

One game Chad Brown is starting at linebacker in the middle, next thing you know he’s benched for nine quarters in a row before finally reappearing at outside linebacker late yesterday. One day Monty Beisel is a regular in the defensive rotation, next thing you know he’s benched. One minute Duane Starks is your starting corner, next thing you know he’s benched at halftime and on the verge of being cut. One minute Randall Gay is a safety, they go in the locker room, he comes out playing corner. One minute Anturo Freeman is your starting safety playing a full game in a win (weeks after being signed off the street), a few days later he is out the door back on the street. One minute Dan Klecko is playing a lot of downs, the next game he’s a healthy scratch. One minute Mike Vrabel is practicing inside linebacker in camp. Then he’s back outside when the season starts. Later you come out of halftime one game and he’s back inside again six weeks after camp ends when he last worked there. GDRV realizes Mangini has faced injuries and bad play and is trying to find a combo that works. But at some point you just got to settle on your guys and give them the chance to improve rather than being bounced around like rag dolls every 2 quarters.

Head Coach Bill Belichick, GDRV is crying out for, needs to get more involved in the defense. Obviously, the inner workings of how things are handled specifically with the defense the public doesn’t know. But the impression one gets is Belichick has left the actual game calling and freedom with the defense to Mangini. GDRV recalls Belichcik being asked about his relationship with Dallas coach Bill Parcells when the two teams met up in 2003. As everyone recalls, Belichick made his bones in the NFL as a defensive coordinator under Parcells with the New York Giants in the 1980’s. When asked what he took away from his time with Parcells, Belichick commented that the best thing Parcells did was give him the freedom to run the defense the way he wanted to. He gave Belichick a lot of discretion and authority. Belichick appreciates that to this day.

Perhaps he is trying to do the same for Mangini. By having freedom delegated from Belichick, Mangini is free to learn and exert his authority to the guys he is coaching more. They’ll trust him more, in theory, and the ability to coach them will grow. But the one major difference GDRV sees between the two situations is that Parcells himself was a young coach like Belichick, relatively, in the early years with the Giants. That isn’t the case here. Belichick is a defensive mastermind with over thirty years of coaching in the NFL at this point. He is one of the sharpest defensive minds in the NFL. He simply has to start putting that expertise on defense to better use.

Of course, GDRV assumes and knows Belichick is involved now. He is working on and approving the game plans. He is helping and suggesting calls and lineup changes. Everything of course goes through him. But whatever his exact role, it needs to be more. It just does. He doesn’t need to strip Mangini of the job or anything drastic like that. But he needs to help him more. He needs to be more personally involved in the down to down defensive calls and less discretion, if necessary, should be going to Mangini. In the end, it will help Mangini and allow him to better get through this difficult first year as a coordinator. GDRV has to think Belichick will eventually give in to this conclusion as well as it is unlikely he’ll continue to suffer these kind of defensive performances on his record kindly.

The special teams were a disappointment last night as well. Particularly since the Patriots appeared to have an advantage there going in. The coverage teams were inconsistent. The return teams had a bad night both from the returners and the blockers. Kicker Adam Vinatierri’s kickoffs were shorter than normal.

All in all an alarming night. Things will get slightly easier heading to Miami next week, but not much. GDRV will be back to preview that game later in the week.

INDIANAPOLIS AT PATRIOTS PREVIEW

This week’s game on Monday Night Football against the Indianapolis Colts will be an important bench mark for the Patriots. If they can not raise their level of play as the season moves into November against arguably the toughest opponent in the NFL they could face, that would indicate the strong possibility this just won’t be the Patriots year this year. But its too early to say that just yet. Not until this game is played. This is a big game. Its been an up and down year for the Patriots, inconsistent in every way. There can be no disputing that. But its time to play. They’ll need to stop with the inconsistencies, start to gell as a team and perform at a higher level than they have so far. It has to start this week.

THE INDIANAPOLIS OFFENSE VERSUS THE PATRIOTS DEFENSE
Everyone knows the challenge it is to face the Indianapolis offense. They are efficient, they can run and pass, they are generally careful with the ball and they can beat you over the top if you aren’t careful. The Colts have been less explosive, albeit still dangerous, on offense this year. This is, to some degree, by design. Having learned from watching and losing to the Patriots for a few years now, they are attempting to incorporate the lessons into a game more suited to the playoffs and late season games. They are running more. They aren’t taking as many shots downfield. They are working the clock. They are cautious at times. And they are willing to take what the defense gives them.

In the past, what the Patriots defense has given them is the short dump off stuff and, at times, the run. Then you wait for a mistake to be made, or a forced throw, or a fumble or a great play by someone on the Patriots defense. Indianapolis has at times tried to adapt to this philosophy by running more against the Patriots and taking the short stuff in the flats to tight ends and backs. The difference is, this year, that is what the Colts WANT to do. They’ve changed their game.

So, if as often is said to be the case, Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s strength and philosophy as a defensive strategist is to take away what the opposing offense does best, then that may translate into a slightly altered defensive game plan than the plan the Patriots have used against the Colts in the past. Belichick, ever conscious of staying one step ahead of what the opposing coach expects, may elect to play run-based defenses a bit more against the Colts this year. He may use less defensive backs than in years past and get linebackers out in the flats looking for Colts back Edgerrin James, Dominic Rhodes and tight end Dallas Clark. He may look to blitz occasionally and more than he has in the past. Take away the run and the dump off routes. Flood the flats and you may be able to sneak a blitzer or two in on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning as he switches off the short routes he expects to be open and tries to find guys downfield more. But on occasion, he may run out of time and suffer a sack or hurry a throw and have it go off target.

Then late in the game, if the Patriots have a lead, they can switch back to the more traditional eight in coverage, multi-corner cover two defense the Colts are expecting and the Patriots have used in the past. Except playing from behind, perhaps you get some forces as you have in the past. Perhaps you get some errant throws. The Colts will rush. They’ll get frustrated again. And the hammer will come down on them.

The Colts receivers all have very low averages per catch this year as they run shorter more conservative routes. Their yards after catch averages are abysmal. Take away the conservative, shorter routes the Colts have turned to by choice this year, then adjust for the more downfield looks they’re not as accustomed to running this year and the Patriots may have done it once again. The Colts will have fallen back into the trap. And the Patriots will once again have the advantage. They’ll have outsmarted, out prepared and out played the Colts one more time. And it will be ballgame.

Some specific areas the Patriots can look to take advantage on are found in the middle of the Colts offensive line. The Colts lost both their starting guards in the offseason. The two new guys are not as good as the departed guys. In the past, Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green has had a field day against the Colts as an inside rusher. Against the weaker Indianapolis guards, this may be an area the Patriots can exploit once again on passing downs. Inside rushing in particular will be important for the Patriots as Manning isn’t nearly as effective when you get him rolling, to either side. Pressure up the middle needs to be a focus from the Patriots on passing downs.

THE PATRIOTS OFFENSE VERSUS THE COLTS DEFENSE
The Colts defense remains a smaller, quicker unit that doesn’t stack up as well against physical, power running teams. They give up 4.5 yards per run. Patriots running back Corey Dillon ran wild against the Colts in the playoffs last year and, if he is healthy, there is no doubt he could do it again. The Patriots simply have a stronger, more physical team that should be able to overpower the Colts defense once again. Again, the hitch being Dillon’s health which is somewhat of a question mark. But given the way Dillon ran last week, it should be expected Dillon will have a productive night once again and the run should be a major focus for the Patriots after they establish a lead in the second half.

And to get the lead, the Patriots should be able to throw the ball. The Patriots have never had a problem doing that against the Colts, with one word of caution. The Colts do have effective pass rushers and use of backs and tight ends to help with them will be a neccessity. That being said, the Patriots should be able to make plays on the Colts corners. Patriots speed guys at receiver Andre Davis, Deion Branch and Bethel Johnson could have an opportunities to make plays well downfield. Some of the younger Colts defensive backs, such as Marlin Jackson, while talented, do try to jump routes a little too often which leads them exposed to hitch and go routes further down the field. Look for the Patriots to try and exploit that and they should complete some so long as they can hold off the Colts dangerous pass rush.

Expect the Patriots to throw a lot early, try to get a lead, then run it as they try to bait the Colts into the trap the defense is setting described above. They’ll do it and they’ll get that lead, because when all is said and done, they have a more balanced, efficient and effective outdoor offense than the Colts have.

THE PATRIOTS SPECIAL TEAMS VERSUS THE COLTS SPECIAL TEAMS
A fairly even matchup here, but a bit of an advantage to the Patriots. Both teams have good kickers and punters, though Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt isn’t nearly as effective outdoors as he is when Indianapolis is home in a dome. Indianapolis did give up a kick return for a TD in their last game and the Patriots have had some success against them in the past in this area. They should have some shots at long returns again this week. The Colts return game has not proven very dangerous so far this year with poor averages for both their punt and kick return teams.

At the end of the day, the Patriots are at home. They have no excuses against a top notch opponent who they know are gunning for them and have been for years not to play a good game. They’ve done it before, they will again. The Patriots once again send a message to the NFL and a nationwide audience they are not done yet and the champ won’t be rolling over this year. The Patriots beat the Colts Monday night, 34-17.