by Greg Doyle
Now that is more like it. It would be tempting, even valid, to somewhat dismiss the Patriots dominating 35-0 win over Green Bay this past Sunday. Afterall, Green Bay played a dreadful game and barely mustered any opposition at all. But that wouldn’t be fair to the Patriots. A close look at the tape of the game reveals excellent play all around. Very few poor individual efforts, let alone plays, could be found at all in taking a second look at this game. So lets take a look at each individual unit.
QUARTERBACK: This was Tom Brady’s best game of the year. Better than even the Minnesota game. In Minnesota, he made at least a few bad throws, including a poor interception. This Sunday, you would be hard pressed to find even one poor throw. Oh, maybe the slightly too high pass to Mike Vrabel in the endzone (maybe it was just a Michigan-Ohio State thing?). But besides that, Brady was in a zone. Accurate, good decisions, calm, in control. The touchdown throw to Ben Watson in the corner of the end zone was as good a throw as an NFL quarterback can make. All day long, he simply sliced and diced Green Bay so badly, they never really had a chance. He was just on. And for once, there wasn’t even small displays of being erratic. If he can stay focused like he was Sunday, we may just yet see a return of the old Tom Brady week in and week out. The key is to start stringing these performances together in a row, rather than being up one week, down the next. If he can regain consistency, it’ll make the Patriots very tough to beat.
RUNNING BACK: An okay performance. Laurence Maroney had his moments. His touchdown on a flats swing pass late in the game featured a memorable move that left Packers linebacker Nick Barnett falling helplessly to the ground. Heath Evans proved a good short yardage choice again, converting a big fourth down run. Kevin Faulk had a big early catch to help get the Patriots offense untracked. Only Corey Dillon had a bit of an off game. He fumbled once (although it wasn’t entirely his fault) and didn’t find much running room. He did have a touchdown, however.
WIDE RECEIVER: A pretty good day. Reche Caldwell again showed toughness and that he is getting more and more comfortable in this offense. He is also starting to get downfield more often. You’d have to say, much to probably everyone’s surprise, he has been one of the more consistent and solid players on offense this season. Chad Jackson, although he only had one catch, seemed to do a nice job and looks to be getting more comfortable. Look for his playing time and production to start increasing down the stretch here assuming he stays healthy. Jabar Gaffney took a step back, dropping a ball early and only contributing one catch. He also needs to find consistency. Troy Brown was his usual self, catching some good move-the-chains type passes in the slot once again.
TIGHT END: A very good day. Ben Watson had some big catches and also his blocking is noticeably improved this year. Although he only caught one pass (a touchdown), Daniel Graham looked more himself this week and did a better job blocking. He also drew a big penalty in one on one coverage to set up the Patriots second touchdown.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A very good day overall. The right side was much improved with Stephen Neal back in there. Neal is one of the Patriots more underrated players and his solid blocking created some good holes for the Patriots in the second half. Nick Kaczur start at right tackle and was good. Ryan O’Callaghan was back filling in there as well and did a good job, though he did have a couple penalties. Dan Koppen partially contributed to the Corey Dillon fumble that almost cost the Patriots points by getting unacceptably blown backwards into the play. He was solid otherwise though, as was the rest of the line.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Ty Warren was back and noticeably improved this unit. He is having a superb year and continued his fine play on Sunday, dominating the man on him. All along the line, there was no room to run for Green Bay and the defense as a whole held the Packers to 5 first downs. A lot of that started up front with the dominance of the line.
LINEBACKER: A good day here too. Mike Vrabel was active. Roosevelt Colvin was much improved in coverage and Tully Banta-Cain was disruptive in reserve. In the middle, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau were good filling the holes all day long and giving Green Bay zero room to run.
SECONDARY: Nice job here for this shorthanded unit. The strategy was to take away Donald Driver and make the Packers throw to Greg Jennings. It worked to perfection. Driver was quiet and Ellis Hobbs and Chad Scott were able to shut down Jennings one on one. At safety Artrell Hawkins had a good day. James Sanders had one of his better days as a pro, though I did spot him out of position on one play that ended up being an incompletion. Still, a nice job filling in from him.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Poor job punting again from Josh Miller. The coverage was much better this week. Kevin Faulk ripped off one long punt return, but also dropped one just prior to the half which could have hurt, though Faulk managed to jump on the loose ball himself.
Now a bigger test comes Sunday versus the 9-1 Chicago Bears. It’ll also be the debut of the Patriots new field turf surface at home. Should be a very entertaining game. Until then.