by the Patriots Daily Staff
We’ve got a game day Roundtable for you this morning, but first, let’s see what happened in the NFL yesterday:
* The Colts outlasted the Jaguars in Indy, and now they have full command of the AFC South with just four to play. Peyton Manning and the Colts offense had a hair too much for the Jags defense, who got pushed up and down the field all day (save for one boneheaded Manning red zone interception). The Jacksonville offense impressed though, with its punishing running game and the capable game management of David Garrard, who had a strong performance despite throwing his first interception of the season. The Colts just made a few more plays. The Jags will be a factor in the wild card round, but will their defense hold out if they have to face the Patriots and/or Colts later on?
*Pittsburgh regained footing on its sloppy field and in the AFC North by handling the Bengals easily last night. Their 24-10 win over Cincinnati gives the Steelers a commanding two game lead in their division as December begins.
* Tennessee beat Houston to break a three-game losing streak and run their record back to 7-5. Cleveland, who surged ahead of the Titans last week, lost in Arizona to drop to an identical 7-5. But the Browns still hold the sixth and final playoff seed by virtue of a better conference record.
*The San Francisco Forty-Niners were so bad yesterday they actually lost in Carolina, where the Panthers never win. The Niners are now 3-9, and even better, wins by the St. Louis Rams (over the Falcons) and the New York Jets (in Miami) mean that the Patriots would have the number two pick if the 2008 Draft was held today.
Now, just the Patriots and Ravens are left to close out week thirteen. Earlier, the Chairs were lined neatly in their Row for a quick chat about all things Pats.
There was a lot of talk after the narrow win over the Eagles that Philadelphia had provided the rest of the league with a ‘blueprint’ on how to take down the undefeated Pats. Though that screams of ‘media storyline’, did the game actually reveal vulnerabilities for New England?
Scott Benson: I don’t think it necessarily revealed weaknesses, but perhaps highlighted them. The Pats seem to have ongoing issues with their linebackers in terms of pass coverage. If the corners are going to play to the sideline to ward off the big play, that puts extra pressure on the guys on the inside, and as Ron Jaworski said this week, when teams quickly identify when they have the Pats LB’s caught in one-on-one coverage, they can make big plays down the middle of the field. Especially if they’re not getting any pass rush. To be fair, the other 31 teams likely have the same problem, but we saw last Sunday how it can really hurt the Patriots.
Greg Doyle: Yes, it did. They can be thrown on if a team plays well and they don’t figure out a way to get to the QB. Guess what? If they don’t play well, they can be run on too. On offense, I’m sure they can have an off day and turn it over a bunch as well. It happens. But its not a “blueprint”. That is media nonsense. It’s just the way the league is. A lot of teams, even the best teams, lose when they have an off day. Last year Indy got stomped by Jacksonville 44-17 in December and it wasn’t a “blueprint” to beat them every week, obviously. The Pats actually won and the media is claiming its a blueprint. Just silliness. If they play well, the Patriots will win the vast majority of the time. The thing is, they won’t play well every week. And yet, they are good enough they’ll still win the vast majority of the time.
Dan Snapp: An addendum to any blueprint talk should be “if you have the personnel to do that.” The Eagles are getting short shrift here; they had a good game plan, and the players executed it well. Defensively, that’s Lito Sheppard and company taking Moss out of the mix, and their front seven applying some decent pressure. Offensively, it’s their line controlling the LOS long enough for Feeley to take advantage of the vulnerabilities in the Pats’secondary. The question is whether other teams have the personnel to exploit the same vulnerabilities.
Scott: I have to believe, though, when they get to the playoffs they’ll be facing teams that have at least as good personnel as the Eagles do. So we shouldn’t be too comforted by the fact that Miami or the Jets won’t have a Lito Sheppard.
Dan: To me, it was more about what the Eagles did in concert (“One of These Nights” seems fitting here). The Pats were still pretty efficient and productive on offense, so it wasn’t just about Sheppard. It was more about the combination of denying what they do best coupled with trying to keep them off the field. The teams they meet in the playoffs will certainly have better personnel than the Eagles. But I doubt we’ll see an opponent the rest of the year who so successfully enacts plan and execution. They really played a hell of a game.
Kevin Thomas: I think one key to the game was that Philly kept the Pats out of the end zone on two trips to the red zone, resulting in only 3 points total. If you look at the red zone stats going into last week, the Patriots had more red zone opportunities than anyone with 49 (only the Colts at 45 were close, everyone else was under 40), and they turned those opportunities into TD’s at an amazing clip (74%, better than anyone except for the Cardinals, who had less than 1/2 the red zone opportunities). The Pats scored at least a field goal in 94% of their red zone trips. When you factor in that Gostkowski has been perfect on PATs, the Patriots had scored on average 5.75 points every time they entered the red zone. By holding the Pats offense to 24 points on 5 red zone trips on Sunday, Philly held them off their expected point total by a little less than 5 points. Had the Pats converted at their usual rate, they would have won by more than a TD. I’m not sure Philly did anything special to thwart the Patriots as they got close to the goalline (in fact, I think you could argue the Pats did it to themselves, with the Moss PI penalty and a chip-shot FG miss), though Philly’s defense did seem to stiffen up a bit with the short field. I guess its something that bears watching. It’s also worth noting that Philly did a good job taking away the big scoring plays, as going into the game the Pats had 12 offensive TDs scored from outside of the red zone, but none on Sunday night.
Last week, the Patriots announced that linebacker Rosevelt Colvin would miss the rest of the season with a foot injury he suffered in the Eagles game. How will the team deal with the loss of a starting linebacker?
Dan: In the past when they’ve lost linebackers, somebody invariably would say, “They should go to the 4-3,” but the Pats would never change up. Given the recent transactions (releasing and losing DL Kareem Brown and the signing of LB Chad Brown), I think we can assume changing to the 4-3 won’t be the plan.
Greg: They will move Adalius Thomas outside, which should be a good move for him. It’ll be interesting to see him make some plays out there and I think he will. I think he’ll still play inside a bit too and we’ll see a bit more of Pierre Woods, a young linebacker in his second year who has some potential.
Travis Graham: I wouldn’t mind seeing what Woods can do. I first really noticed him when I saw him at training camp this summer and his size was incredible, 6’5″ 250lbs. I kept thinking that he was a TE because of his size and speed (and no name on his jersey). So far, this year he has 27 tackles (2nd year as a pro) to Alexander’s 12 (3rd year). Baltimore is the perfect opponent to ease him in the position due to their crappy OL.
Is the return of 15 year veteran Troy Brown simply an emotional lift for the team, or do you see him making a tangible on-field contribution down the stretch?
Kevin: With Faulk dinged up, and the significance of Welker to the passing game, I could see Troy have an immediate impact as the primary punt returner. And depending on the health status of Randall Gay, Troy Brown could be fourth or even third cornerback out there right now in this town. He may have already passed Merriweather and Jackson on the depth chart.
Dan: I’m wondering if he gets called in for the multiple receiver sets. Jabar Gaffney’s spot would be the likely one, but Gaffney’s really come on the last few weeks. I think it would come down to which player is better at recognition and react, and knows better how to find the spaces in zones. Brown could get the nod there.
The Ravens have lost five straight games after starting the season 4-2. Their offense is ranked in the bottom third of the league in nearly every category. Their defense, long considered the team’s strength, is ranked 17th in scoring and 15th against the pass. What kind of test will Baltimore be for the Patriots?
Travis: I can’t see the Ravens offense putting up much of a fight against the Pats defense. Boller has been sacked 10 times in the last two weeks and Heap and McGahee are both nicked up, so this game should be a nice warm-up for the Pats’ LBs for life without Colvin. Defensively, the Ravens would get a nice boost if McAlister and Rolle can both go. They’ve both been out a considerable amount of time this season and I think that’s why opposing offenses have been able to shred them. Also, I wouldn’t take Ray Lewis lightly either. It’s been well documented that Lewis and the Ravens “get up” for these primetime games and that should be even more of a factor this week with Lewis playing with a heavy heart.
Scott: Travis knows how much I admire Lewis, the quiet man at the heart of this rise-to-the-occasion Baltimore defense. In all seriousness, though, would it be that surprising if the Patriots had to work at moving the ball on Baltimore? I think we all expect a get well game for the Patriots defense, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Chris Hanson a couple of times on offense.