By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff
Another week has come and gone, with another surprising trouncing of a dominant team. It’s like Patriots fans are stuck in an awesome twilight zone and hope to not wake up from it until after Super Bowl Sunday. This season, watching a fundamentally flawed team in the midst of a ‘bridge year’ dismantling NFL’s top dogs is just simply bizarre.
Nobody will deny that New England’s defense still needs some seasoning. They cannot stop anybody on 3rd down and lack a credible pass rush. The fact that Rob Ninkovich, Jarrad Page, Dane Fletcher, Kyle Arrington, Kyle Love, and Jermaine Cunningham get significant playing time on the league’s best team boggles the mind. This motley crew is not only winning football games, but making a mockery of statistics. On paper they are awful, both individually and as a unit. Seeing them on the pitch, doesn’t inspire much confidence either. They simply do not strike fear into any opponent. Yet they continue to win games, generate turnovers, and force field goals where touchdowns are sorely yearned by opponents.
Unlike the defense, the offense is an enigma of a different nature. They flawlessly execute their complex schemes, and march down the field with an effortless grace of a ballerina. However, they are staffed at the skills positions with an all-star cast from ‘the best that should have never been.’ They are the anti-Marcus Dupree and the fans have rightfully fallen in love with them.
So the question on people’s minds is how are they getting it done, and can anyone stop them? I am a strong believer in the cliché that football is a game of inches. Anyone doubting that, can just recall how close Lance Briggs came to intercepting Tom Brady and how fluky Devin McCourty’s strip was, which led to 14 first half points for the Patriots and sealed the game. In the last several weeks, Patriots’ formidable opponents have been shooting themselves in the foot with costly mistakes. The Jets punter kept shanking punts. The Chargers had some of the most bizarre turnovers in recent memory. Peyton Manning threw an ungodly number of interceptions. These issues were compounded when the Patriots executed their gameplan the way they wanted to. They have shown that they will not beat themselves and will capitalize on opposing mistakes.
In a game of inches where every little thing matters, costly mistakes can be all the rope that a well coached team needs to hang their opponents with. However, this dynamic can switch quickly with a Patriots fumble or a Brady interception. So, the Patriots can win it all as long as they prepare for their games with the gusto that will lead to flawless execution on game day. Hopefully they can continue their hot streak against the Packers, which they surely will if they get the upper hand in these matchups:
1) Packers Backups vs. Patriots Starters
Green Bay is missing their starting running back, Tight End and now possibly their Quarterback. So it will be interesting to see how they deal with all of these injuries in order to make the game competitive.
2) Clay Matthews vs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Clay Matthews is a beast and will surely be blitzing and it will be up to Benny to pick them up in order to give Tom Brady the time he needs to make all of his reads.
3) Gronkowski, Crumpler and Hernandez vs. Green Bay Linebackers
The versatility of these dynamic tight ends adds multiple complex wrinkles into the offensive schemes. This makes it easier for the Patriots to disguise running plays and amplify the amount of different passing plays with all the various check downs that they can run. This puts a lot of pressure on opposing teams, especially their linebackers. It will be interesting to see if Green Bay can handle this any better then the last few opponents.
4) Patriots Defensive Line vs. Packers O-line
Patriots D-Line is riddled with injuries. It looks like Mike Wright, Ron Brace, and Myron Pryor will be out of the game. This will force Love, Eric Moore and even possibly Louis Leonard, a recently 9-to-5 job-going-and-street-clothes wearing lineman who was signed this week. The way things are going, readers who shop at big and tall might consider keeping their phones close by as Bill Belichick might just give you a ring.
5) Patriots Secondary vs. Packers Wideouts
It doesn’t look like McCourty will be playing and now Jonathan Wilhite has been placed on the IR. This does not bode well for an already statistically abysmal team.