Recap of the Patriots – Colts AFCCG

Could not be happier at the way the Patriots played last night!

Privately, I thought this could happen. I did not want to temp karma too much but only true Colts homers would’ve thought they had a realistic shot at winning last night. The Patriots are better everywhere. Better QB, RB’s, TE’s, OL, DL, CB’s, LBs, Kicker and Punter and they had an almost unfair coaching advantage. We are SO fortunate to have Bill Belichick as the coach of this team.

First Quarter: Getting off on the right foot!

When the Pats D gets a 3 and out to start it’s usually a very good sign they are on their game and tonight was no different. Of course, the Pats couldn’t immediately convert that into points but it was clear that they should have as Brady missed a wide-open Edelman on a deep crossing route that would’ve put the ball deep in Colts territory. No matter, the D continued to hold the fort and New England then was able to drive down and get 7, effectively ending the game. When they score first at home, they have a record that is hard to believe. I do not have the stats at this moment, but I can only think of a game or two in which they have lost at home when scoring first or leading at halftime.

Second Quarter:  Missed chance at an early TKO

While the D was still doing well, the offense had a good chance to put the team up 21 and effectively ending the game. However, Tom did what Tom sometimes does and that is forcing the ball to Gronk. The covering LB clearly did not bite on play-action (good by him as the run game was working) and stayed with Gronk who was clearly the larger threat. It’s an understating it to say that Brady is uber-prepared but sometimes I think that works against him as he’ll make a throw purely based on the look he gets and doesn’t adjust when the defense adjusts. Also, the Colts get credit (and that Pats coaching staff should get some of the credit too) for holding the Pats to 3 late in the half. 7 there would’ve also spelled their doom but it was as it turned out merely a weak attempt at holding off the inevitable.

Half-Time:

The Patriots were clearly worried, so they decided against making adjustments and went straight to the equipment managers area and as a team, started deflating balls.

Third Quarter: Nothing short of a tour DE force performance.

Total dominance. Offense, Defense, special teams.

Forth Quarter: Icing on the cake that almost turned out to be a crap pie in the face

As they continued to dominate, Josh and Billy got a little cute, and THE FRANCHISE was hit dangerously in the knees, THE FRANCHISE is fine, but THE FRANCHISE was put in that spot because sometimes Billy Boy and little Josh don’t know when to quit. It’s why we are good, and why Patriots and their fans are hated on. Good with the bad I suppose.

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Divisional Round: Baltimore Ravens @ the New England Patriots

 

First, I am sorry for the complete failure to post for the last 6 weeks or so. The holidays with an infant, as well as being an Athletic Trainer are exhausting and draining and something had to give and blogging was one of those things.

Secondly, FINALLY! We are on to the playoffs and this years divisional round will be no patsy like the previous 3: Tebow-led Denver, Sorry Matt Schaub led Texans and the well quarterbacked but ultimately lousy Colts.

This year brings in the big, bad Baltimore Ravens which is a team I hate, but they basically embody everything you need to win in the playoffs:

1) Battle tested QB who can make plays.

2) Good if not great OL and dangerous running game.

3) Physical, smashmouth defense

4) Confidence that they are indeed one tough team that will not be pushed around.

One of the best FA signings of last year was their signing of Steve Smith. He’s a perfect Raven: Tough, extremely physical, a playmaker and also a total asshole. I really wanted NE to get him but he’s where he belongs.

The Ravens do have a new offensive scheme thanks go Gary Kubiak, and it seems to have fit Justin Forsett to a tee. What that also means is that there will be a lot of cut blocking by the Ravens and Patriots’ defenders are going to have to have their heads on a swivel for some borderline cheap-shots in the run game.

As for the Patriots, they are FINALLY healthy and have almost all of their players for once in the playoffs. The only one their missing however is one that is tailor-made for this game and that is Jerod Mayo. He’s great in these trench-warfare type of games.

So, since they are healthy for the most part, and have home field advantage they should win this game right?

One would think so, but this game will come down to nothing but a willingness to jump into the pig pen with the pigs (Ravens) and love the dirt and mud more than they do. They want a steel cage match, fist-fight, what-have-you…the Pats have to prove they can because that’s what it takes to beat the Ravens this time of year.

Keys: Offense
1) Our O-Line/TE’s and RB’s be better than their front 7.
2) Tom Brady needs to be willing to take shot after shot and keep standing in their and firing bullets because I don’t think we’ll stick with the running game long enough to see it be effective.

Keys: Defense
1) This is the game we got Browner and Revis for. Flacco is going to take shot after shot downfield and it’s absolutely imperative that we do not allow them big plays.
2) Win in the trenches. I like our chances because we have 3 big NT’s in Wilfork, Branch and Sealger. If our end’s and OLB’s can set the edges…Collins and Hightower should be able to clean up the cutback lanes.
3) Pressure Joe Flacco. Last time we played, when we had Talib for the first half our D which was much less talented was able to slow them down to the point of holding them to 7 points at half and that was with no pass rush, whatsoever. This year I expect Flacco to be under much more duress than in any other time he’s faced NE in a playoff game.

Keys: Special Teams
1) Most crucial is not allowing Jacoby Jones to get started. He’s a massive weapon and while our guys are good, occasionally, they have lapses and that cannot happen today. He’s too good.
2) No turnovers on returns. Sometimes Edelman takes chances…and most of the time that’s a good thing but he and Amendola are not big, and prone to putting it on the deck. I think they are really going to try and wipe out Amdendola on KO’s so I am not sure I wouldn’t put Blount back there and let him pound away.

At the end of the day, this is all about which team is more physical over 60 minutes. If the Pats play to their ability, they will win this game and they might even blow them out. If they are reactive, and are forced into mistakes they will lose again like they have 2 of the last 3.

Patriots 27
Ravens 21

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Was the LeGarrett Blount acquisiton engineered?

I Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!

Since I had the time to do some reading this morning between playing with my son Sam, walking the dog and getting the privilege of deciding what cool pumpkin desserts my wife is going to make for the next 4 weeks, I came across the BS report by Bill Simmons and in his latest article on ESPN, there was a link to an article written by Pittsburgh Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette regarding the possibility that Blount and the Patriots possibly worked together to have Blount rejoin the Patriots.

I must admit that since I think Belichick’s mind is the equal of a Russian chess grandmaster it DID occur to me that this reunion almost seemed too good to be true. Blount knows the system, and brings things that Gray cannot in that he’s a HUGE, 250lb back with sneaky elusiveness and breakaway speed that can also return kickoffs.

Now in order for this to have happened, ALL 31 other teams, some of which are incredibly tailback needy, would have to pass on him when he was waived and then if they really did want him but didn’t want to assume his contract the were free to negotiate with him. The chances that the Patriots orchestrated this are infinitesimal. Right?

In the end, I see now way that Patriots manufactured this situation. Blount is not so good as to be the deciding factor down the stretch. He does bring good value for pennies but the juice certainly isn’t worth the squeeze right? To have planned this, Blount and the Patriots would have to risk everything. Blount his career and the Patriots would get the scarlet ‘C’ forever branded that not even the biggest of homers could ignore.

Somewhere in one of the caves Belicheck works out of in the bowels of Gillette Stadium, I can see owner Bob Kraft asking Bill the question: “Hey Bill, remember the last time we only gained maybe a 1% advantage? Tell me this is on the up and up.”

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Lions game review and looking forward to Patriots-Packers

 

Nice job Sunday by the Patriots, beating the Lions at home 34-9. It was a game billed as the best offense vs. the best defense and the Patriots in typical fashion found the soft spot and attacked all day. Rather than banging their head against one of the best defensive front 7’s in football they used a variety of looks and formations designed to get receivers open quickly. For the most part, Brady did a very good job of identifying the right match-ups and attacking and the receivers did a good job of gaining YAC. The offensive line allowed no sacks, but that was easily more the result of Brady getting the ball out on time. What was somewhat astounding is that the Lions defenders, as per the post game comments were actually concerned about the Patriots running attack and were geared up for that. I find that mind boggling but I give you Jim Caldwell, head coach of the Detroit Lions and then that plan makes more sense.

Defensively, the Pats did a nice job making the Lions one dimensional and had some nice holds in the red zone and on the plus side of the field. While the coverage was often good on some really good receivers the Lions did leave at 4 plays out there and had they caught some of those balls that should’ve been catches this game is a lot closer.

With regards to special teams, the Pats again enjoyed a clear advantage with Ryan Allen being an early star fielding a very poor snap in his end zone and booming a 65 yarder that completely flipped field position. Ghost made all his kicks and was solid on kick-offs and the return teams chipped in with a game changing kick return.

All however, was not roses for a team that only calls the season a success if it ends with a Super Bowl victory.

While Brady was decisive and pin point in the first half, he was fairly average in the second, throwing a bad red zone pick and generally being a little off target.

Penalties still continue to be the bug-a-boo of this team. It cost Edelman another punt return touchdown and cost at least two 3rd down stops.

Also, the pass defense was solid, but the Lions dropped at least 2 touch down passes and Matt Stafford inexplicably slid one yard short of a first down on 4th and 10 making the defense look statistically a little better than it should’ve been.

All in all, a very good win vs. yet another division leader.

So, the next ‘Game of the Century’ is here and for me, if they win this game it should lock up home field IF IF IF they key guys stay healthy. I can’t see them losing 2 out the last 4 if they beat Green Bay so a lot of course is at stake.

Some ‘what comes to mind quickly’ on Green Bay:

The Basics:

Green Bay on offense:

1) Rogers and the passing game will prove to be very challenging because he’s simply the best. He’s smart, tough, has maybe the best arm of his generation and is a winner who makes everyone around him better. Basically, Brady with more athletic ability and a better deep ball.

2) They can and will run the ball. Unlike Detroit or the Colts that couldn’t, or Denver that wouldn’t these cats can really run it. If Lacy gets it going, it could prove hard to stop them from putting up 40 or so.

3) Generally solid to dangerous on special teams. Crosby is a solid kicker and they have guys who can take it to the house in the return game.

Green Bay on defense:

1) The live on turnovers

2) Peppers is playing like it’s 2003 and they’ve moved Matthews to MLB which has changed things up and made them more unpredictable

3) They are not a ‘great’ defense per say and plays can be made on them running and passing.

Brady vs. Rogers

We all know they do not play against each other specifically but they do have an effect on how the other will play. If one is hot and racking up the points, the other will be judged by how he responds. Rogers in my opinion is the best quarterback playing right now. There is not one requisite quarterback skill he does not excel at: reading defenses, arm strength, toughness, durability, accuracy, leadership, quickness/agility in and out of the pocket, scrambling for long gains…he can do it all and do it well. Tom is a close second because he’s proving you can teach an old dog new tricks and his is the addition of the ability to extend plays. Tom has always been agile in the pocket, what he hasn’t been doing is actually running to space and making plays which he’s shown the ability to do multiple times over the course of the season.

As a Patriots fan, of course I want Brady to dominate but when this team is in ‘championship’ mode, it’s not about Tom, it’s about the team and it seems that Bill finally has the pieces on the board legitimately slow down, if not shut down any offense.

I will be breaking down this game in more detail on Friday. I’ll be looking at how the I believe the Patriots will match up against the bevy of weapons the Packers employ, how the Patriots will attack what I believe is a Green Bay defense that can be torched, Which team has the advantage on special teams, the Packers home field advantage, weather, injuries and many other topics as well!

A word about Jonas Gray and the LeGarrette Blount acquisition:

I do not think Gray is that good. However, he can move the pile, runs hard and runs the play exactly as it’s designed. No ad-libbing, no juking just brute force power. He lacks speed and unless he gets his pads under the defender is really not all that hard to tackle. Blount still has surprising speed and with his added ability to take kicks back he’s a welcome addition. I do worry about the kid’s future just because he worked so hard to get where he is, and then fell faster than Tiger Woods.

Everyone have a wonderful Thanksgiving and be safe!

 

 

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Final Preview and Prediction for Patriots @ Colts, 11/16/2014

The New England Patriots will be playing the Indianapolis Colts in prime-time Sunday night and this game will have a huge impact for each team regarding playoff positioning. Both teams have an excellent chance at winning their division but with the Denver Broncos already have played the tough part of their schedule, it’s difficult to envision them losing so if either the Patriots or Colts wish to play the Broncos in January on their turf, it’s critical to win this game. In many ways, it’s even MORE critical to the Patriots as a loss Sunday night would likely mean the Pats would have to travel to Indy AND Denver in the quest to win that elusive 4th Super-Bowl.

So, with the stage set here is what I think that Patriots need to accomplish and how to accomplish it and how I see it unfolding:

Keys for the Patriots defense

So far, the Colts are averaging just a shade over 32 points per game, which is number 1 overall in the NFL. They are dangerous across the board with playmakers everywhere. Luck, Hilton, Wayne, Allen, Fleener, Nicks, Bradshaw, Richardson make up a group that might not have the name recognition yet, but easily could be called the deepest pool of offensive skill talent in the NFL.

More than a few times over the course of history, Bill Belichick has shown he knows how to deal with this kind of offensive skill and the key is and always has been to be the more physical team and beat the living hell out of anyone wanting to run a pass pattern. What separates this offense from other great offenses he’s stopped or slowed down enough to win over the years is Luck. He’s part John Elway, part Peyton Manning and Part Kurt Warner and Part Jim Kelly. I use those because Bill’s signature wins have all come in big games vs. those QB’s who led offenses that were thought to be unstoppable and offer my take as to how Belicheck has been able to do it.

Manning is stopped through physicality or the threat of it. Take that pick by Ninkovich 2 weeks ago. Jamie Collins, the Pats new attempt at replacing WIllie McGinest, came crashing in from the outside causing Manning make a terrible throw for the easy pick. He says he was fooled, and maybe he was but I think he got the jitters and chucked it up. Go look that mechanics of the throw and it will show you he was seeing the rush on that play. He’s done this countless times in big games vs. strong D’s.  I bring this up because at this point in his career, Luck absolutely does not see the rush and stands in like no one I’ve ever seen, even Big Ben. It will take more than pressure to keep Luck from making plays.

Elway was stopped in part because at the time, he was not at all refined at playing QB and he had belief in his superior athleticism. He’d make 1 read, maybe 2 and scramble around and then chuck a bomb 50 yards downfield.  Bill had arguably the greatest line-backing corp in NFL history chasing him around. While Luck is not quite John Elway, he’s closer than many would admit and is a very effective running QB. This year, the Pats do have some pretty good athleticism and should they choose to spy him could have good success.

Warner and Kelly were stopped because they did not adjust until it was too late. Sure, those D’s played great, but had either QB changed things up and forced those D’s to adjust I think the outcome would be what everyone thought it would be. Luck gets smarter every game and has shown he can and will adjust.

So, I think to stop the Colts the Patriots will have to do the following:

1) Pressure Luck with great lane and edge discipline. Hit him but more importantly, don’t get so carried away with it that he can run free to make a long completion or a big run. They need to find that balance where the rush makes him question his throws and they make significant contact but not so much he can easily make a big play with his legs.

2) Tackle Bradshaw and Richardson extremely well. Bradshaw is the key. They MUST MUST MUST stop this guy from turning 2 yard runs into 6,8 or 10 yard runs. When he gets his shoulders north and south, he’s every bit as hard to tackle as Marshawn Lynch.

3) No Big plays from T.Y. Hilton. He’s one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league and can jump start their offense.

4) Never show the same thing and attempt to disguise.

Keys for the Patriots offense:

I see this as a HUGE mismatch for the Colts D. In fact, I believe if the Patriots come in and play a clean game and by that I mean very few penalties, no turnovers and execute well they could easily put up 45 or more points. The Colts D is simply not equipped or talented enough to deal with New England as long as the biggest mis-match in football stays healthy and we all know that is Rob Gronkowski. I think New England can block their front 7, and I don’t think their back 4 can cover anyone we have consistently.

1) Deal with the crowd noise. There is the possibility that Ryan Weddell, who is a very solid if not pro-bowl level RG may be out with a knee and if that is the case, then that could effect the level of execution enough to slow them down. I fully expect the Pats to make the adjustment, but it could take some time and if the Colts offense is hot, then that could be a difference maker.

2) Play CLEAN! #1, no turnovers. #2, no unforced penalties (false starts, delay of game, non essential holds)

3) Stay upright and healthy.

Special teams:

Both have excellent kicking games. Should it come down to a late FG, the team defending is likely going to lose. I think where the Pats had a huge advantage vs. the Broncos on special teams this game will be much more close. Both punters are also very solid and do not often put their coverage until in bad spots. Normally I give the edge to New England but no in this case. I’ll call this a draw.

With all that being said, I believe that this game will be close because neither team is dead until it’s been killed and then killed again and again. That’s a reflection of their coaches and quarterbacks who simply do not know how to lay down. I think the Pats more or less control this one and then Luck will get hot and it will get really dicey at the end with that new and improved Patriots secondary having to make a play late to hold on.

New England Patriots 37

Indianapolis Colts 31

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Injury update: Patriots @ Colts 11/16/2014

The latest injury report has a few key additions for the Patriots. Ryan Weddell, who’s been playing lights out at RG for New England has come up on the report with an unspecified (aren’t they all with the Patriots?) knee injury. That is significant because the renaissance of the Patriots offense is due to in large part to the coalescence of their offensive line. Now, in an environment that will be as loud and as proud as any fan-base in the country they may have to plug in someone who may not be in tune with Brady and the other 4 OL’s. Something to definitely pay attention to. Also, and it’s no major surprise to me Dominic Easley, he of the 2 re-constructed knee’s landed on the report and that would be yet another blow to a group that is not very deep to begin with.

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First thoughts: New England Patriots @ the Indianapolis Colts

1) If I couldn’t have Brady as my QB, I’d want Luck

2) I think the Patriots secondary is better equipped to deal with the Colts receivers than the Colts secondary is equipped to deal with the Patriots receivers

3) Slight special teams advantage to the Patriots

4) One solid advantage the Colts have over the Pats is at RB. Bradshaw is easily the best back on the field. He’s not great, mainly because he’s not that durable, but he has all the tools and if he had been able to stay healthy, he’s another beast-mode.

5) The Colts are not dead until they are killed and then killed again. If NE gets up, they must keep the pedal to the metal…they NEVER quit and that’s a reflection of Luck and their coach.

6) Besides, NE, the Colts are best equipped to deal with the Broncos.

7) Probably should’ve been first…but as always, the key to this offense remaining prolific is Gronkowski. He needs to be himself, but do whatever, if there is anything he can do, to stay healthy.

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