December 5, 2016

Second Look: Chicago at Patriots

by Greg Doyle
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Yes, there were turnovers. Five of them. That’s not good. But does it correlate into otherwise bad play? No, not necessarily. Because the Patriots did play a good game Sunday and beat another good team. It was a tough, physical game and players did cough the ball up on both sides. But the Patriots did enough positive things to escape and that they played a pretty good game overall, other than coughing it up, is pretty encouraging going forward.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady played a terrific game, his second in a row. This is perhaps the best two game stretch he has had this season and that is reason for optimism in and of itself given the up and down nature of his year so far. But he was once again extremely accurate. And his legendary leadership was on display late in the game when it was in the balance. From the long, improvised pass to Ben Watson on the go-ahead touchdown drive, to his scrambling juke of Bears linebacker Brian Uhrlacher, Brady led the Patriots in every way he could and was the major reason the Patriots were able to pull the game out.

RUNNING BACK: Not a great day running the ball. Both Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon dropped fumbles. Maroney did a nice job in the passing game, as did Kevin Faulk. But the running game has been somewhat sporadic lately and at least some of the blame has to go to the running backs. They need to turn up their level of play here late in the season and play more as they did earlier in the year.

WIDE RECEIVER: A quiet night here. Chad Jackson could have had a big night. But just barely missed a long bomb in which he got himself wide open. Perhaps a dive there would have been called for, though Jackson appeared to gamble a bit and try to catch it in stride so he’d have the touchdown. Rookie mistake. Make sure of the catch first. Later, he seemed to draw a pass inteference call that inexplicably wasn’t called (especially puzzling given the lesser ones thrown against the Patriots a short time later). Reche Caldwell made a few catches, but made a bad decision stepping out of bounds on one late in the game as the Patriots tried to kill the clock. I’m sure he’ll get an earful about that in films this week. Still, I like the way he has worked himself into the offense and is getting downfield more. Troy Brown had one big catch, but beyond that the receivers were quiet.

TIGHT ENDS: Good night from both Daniel Graham and Ben Watson. Graham made one outstanding catch early in the game, as good as you will see. And Watson had some good catches as well. Though the caveat to that is he dropped a couple and fumbled once. His first drop popped high in the air after a ferocious hit and allowed Chicago to intercept. Its hard to blame him too badly for that one, the hit was just perfect. But he let a few others drop as well. I don’t think this is really a major problem, but an occasional one for Watson. He’s had a very good year and is a tremendous weapon at tight end. He’s made big catches all year. If he could just become slighly more sure handed, he could become among the top 3 tight ends in football. He could be that good.

OFFENSIVE LINE: An outstanding day pass blocking. Stephen Neal was one of the few who did a nice job in the run game as well. Chicago has a tough front seven. The line didn’t do much in the run game, but credit Chicago for that. They’re tough. It wasn’t for a lack of trying and they did such a good job pass blocking, overall it was a good effort for the line.

DEFENSIVE LINE: A very good day. Ty Warren was again a force, particuarly early. Vince Wilfork had perhaps his best game, going against a Pro Bowl level center in Olin Kreutz. Richard Seymour had a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal on special teams. The backups were fairly quiet. Jarvis Green hasn’t done much for a few games, it would be nice to see him step up and he was very quiet Sunday.

LINEBACKER: The backers were playing very well until Junior Seau went down with injury. After that, you saw Chicago run the ball a bit more effectively. That is somewhat worrisome as the Patriots depth will be exceedingly thin now that Seau is lost for the year. Roosevelt Colvin has been better lately, though I disagree with assesments he’s had a great year. He’s was bad early in the season, good lately, but still not at the level he played at last year, in my opinion. He’s simply had too many missed tackles, quiet days rushing and dumb plays to call it a great year. Even Sunday, his offsides penalty in the second half was costly, stupid and helped the Bears continue a drive. He needs to play more focused and has been better lately, but pretty good isn’t good enough. They need him to step up his game down the stretch here and eliminate the missed tackles, over pursuit and dumb penalties.

SECONDARY: Great day here. What else can be said about Asante Samuel, other than he had a shut down day that included three interceptions and sound run defense? Samuel has been good all year, but Sunday was the highlight. Ellis Hobbs was solid on the other side though he drew a pass interference penalty and possibly could have had another. Artrell Hawkins was good again and the penalty thrown against him was completely bogus. You simply can’t play a receiver better than he did and I’m sure the coaches are confused what they could tell him to do better on that play. James Sanders appears to be getting more comfortable as well and had a very good day. Several times he came up in run support and made nice plays and he was good in coverage as well. He actually reminded me of Rodney Harrison in his style of play a couple times and that is as high a compliment as you can get for a Patriots safety. I like the direction his game is headed in. Troy Brown played well also and and its amazing to see how he’s taken to the defensive back role.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Ken Walter returned to the Patriots after being away for several years and his first punt was a thing of beauty. High and unreturnable and about 45 yards. But after that, his next two were a bit shaky, though unreturnable. Stephen Gostkowski booted a nice 52 yard field goal to end the first half and his kickoffs were good. Coverage was good all night as well on special teams. A good day. They’ve picked up their play.

The Patriots have what should be an easy win in Detroit next. It would be surprising if they didn’t handle them easily, but I suppose stranger things have happened. We shall see. Until then.

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