Thursday Morning 3rd and Long: A Satisfying Week

I know that Greg Knopping gave the game ball this week to Andre Carter, but I have to respectfully disagree. In my opinion, I think that Rob Ninkovich at least gets a 50 percent share in that ball as he made 3 crucial plays against the Jets that all changed the complexion of the game.

Up only 13-9 and coming from a 3 and out early in the third quarter, Joe McKnight fumbled a punt return. Ninkovich made a crucial hit to dislodge the ball from Eric Strickland before the Jets player could gain control. Although the Patriots could only manage a field goal from the ensuing possession, it increased their lead to 16-9 and definitely helped keep the momentum on the Patriots side. Ninkovich then went on to intercept the ball twice in the second half, returning the latter for a pick-six and effectively sealing the game at 37-16. Although Rob had easily his best game on defense, it was a result of a reduced role. He was not called upon to be a downed rusher in sub packages, and it definitely impacted the rest of his performance.

Ninkovich was a turnover machine and Carter was an unstoppable force on Sunday, but the unheralded best supporting actor of the classic victory was the offseason acquisition Mark Anderson. Last week I called for Anderson to get more of a role in the defense, and Bill Belichick responded with Mark's highest snap count of the season. Anderson in turn responded with two sacks, even though only one is credited to him. Carter and Anderson are the Patriots premier duo for pass rushing in sub packages, and they dominated New York on Sunday. A breakdown of a few of the key sacks of the game:

- 6:00 1st, 3&8 on Jets 40 yrd
o With Anderson as LDE and Carter as RDE: Anderson spins to the inside, forcing Sanchez to roll right. Carter pursues and sacks from behind.
- 0:10 1st, 2&6 on Jet 34 yrd
o With Anderson as LDE and Carter as RDE: Breakdown in blocking as RT (Ferguson) picks up a blitzing Jerod Mayo. Carter gets free rush on Sanchez, Anderson closes in from the left and seals Sanchez from escaping.
- 6:18 2nd, 2&7 on Patriot 47 yrd
o With Anderson as LDE and Carter as RDE: Anderson great spin move inside, Carter speed rushs from the outside and two coverage simultaneously. This was given to Anderson.
- 7:00 4th, 2&9 on Patriot 42 yrd
o 3 man front with Wilfork as NT, Anderson as LDE and Carter as RDE: Carter uses great move, hooking Ferguson's arm and getting around the single blocker. Wilfork and Anderson were both double-teamed on the play
- 6:36 4th, 3&15 from Patriot 48
o 3 man front with Wilfork as NT, Anderson as LDE and Carter as RDE: For some reason Carter and Anderson both gain 1-on-1 matchups, Carter is briefly doubled but explodes down the center on Sanchez. He wraps and Anderson finishes.

These are just five sacks from the game, but you can see how productive the pass-rushing combo of Anderson and Carter was against New York. Let's hope that trend continues, and wasn't just a breakdown by the New York offensive line.

 

 

 

Reviewing a few of the things I said to watch for last week:

1. How does Tom Brady respond after a few weeks of mediocrity? The Patriots' offense has been held to 20 points or less in the last three weeks, after a ridiculous 13 game regular season streak of 30 points or more. Brady doesn't need to be perfect, but he has to make more of a point to distribute the football. If Chad Ochocinco is going to get involved, Brady needs to get him the ball, and not just in crisis throws. Chad has to gain a tempo.


a. Brady was in form on Sunday, throwing for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. His first half performance could have produced 3 interceptions, but luck was on New England's side in the game. His no huddle line adjustments made the difference, and he used accuracy and a lot of Rob Gronkowski to lead the offense to 30 points. Chad Ochocinco may have only caught two balls, but he had his season high in yards and his presence alone will force defenses to respect his abilities. Ocho's routes looked very crisp, but he still made a boneheaded error, stepping out of bounds after his first reception with at least 10 open yards in front of him.


2. Rob Ninkovich has to have his best game, especially in coverage. Gary Guyton needs to make an impact, and step up especially if Brandon Spikes can't play (with a strained MCL, Spikes is most likely out). Jerod Mayo, who is obviously struggling in his return from an MCL sprain, hopefully sees more progression towards his elite, 2010 form.


a. As I said before, Rob really stepped up to the plate this week, as did undrafted free agent Jeff Tarpinian and career special teamer Tracy White. Richard Hill did a great job detailing their play earlier this week. Even with two potential starters in Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes out, and Gary Guyton seeing 0 snaps this week, the linebacker corps did a great job in coverage, while sacrificing the Patriots run defense. I'm really intrigued for the future of the defense with all of the hybrid players that are on New England. If Belichick decides to return to a 3-4 base, who would be the four linebackers at this point? If Fletcher were healthy, would he or Brandon Spikes take the outside role, or would Bill decide to use Mark Anderson as an elepant linebacker? With Shaun Ellis' poor play, would the starting 3 man line be Wilfork, Deaderick, and Love?


3. Dan Connolly needs to play better. Logan Mankins, who is also struggling this season, needs to emerge and stop drawing so many penalties.


a. Connolly played terribly and I think a lot of the problem with the Patriots rushing attack recently lies with him. He had an inexcusable botched snap that Brady miraculously recovered from the bottom of a scrum. Mankins has played far below his 2009 and 2010 levels. With Marcus Cannon being activated this week I wonder if the complexion of the line will be altered at all. Light and Vollmer will remain the starting tackles if healthy, with Solder rotating in if necessary. Since Connolly is the weakness, I wonder if Brian Waters can revent to his natural position at left guard and Mankins can kick inside to center. I know it's far-fetched, and relies entirely on Mankins' ability to shotgun snap. That being said, Logan is almost exactly the same size as Nick Mangold, who is considered an elite center, at 6'4" and around 310 lbs. He has all of the same strengths as well- good intelligence, intense competitor, a fierce attitude.


4. The Patriots absolutely have to run on the Jets, if they have any hope of their passing offense clicking. New York was able to completely stifle an above-average Bills offense last week, and the Patriots need to have some explosive plays in both the running and passing game to keep the Jets honest.


a. The running game has been poor the last two games, and in no small part to run blocking. However, the running game was actually more effective late in the game when the Patriots were running no huddle, so that is certainly a plus. Danny Woodhead was the most effective option, and I think it is because of his strength in cutting back against zone blocking. I'm not a line blocking genius, but it seemed to me that because of how rapid the Patriots would get set, they would forgo standard blocking assignments and zone block to one side (meaning everyone just blocks anyone around in one direction). Woodhead would follow the blocks, then cut back when he saw a lane, and this would yield 4 or 5 yards per carry. Though Kevin Faulk had an impact in the Steelers game, I think Woodhead is the more explosive back for the two minute offense and 3rd downs.


5. Tiquan Underwood hopefully has some sort of impact as a returner, because the Patriots' return game has been brutally bad recently. Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman are quick, but don't have the breakaway speed to ever run back a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown. Wes Welker needs to be utilized as a punt returner as little as possible, because he can't be taking any extra hits if he's to be fresh throughout the season.


a. Underwood was cut prior to the game, so unfortunately he had no impact in the game. The Patriots had a little more success with returning the ball, but unfortunately still had terrible field position to start drives most of the day. However, Edelman showed off his versatility on the field late in the fourth quarter in another way. I know that most people in the Boston media market are prone to over-reactions, and I'm no different. That being said, if I had any say in terms of personnel for the Patriots, I would absolutely have Julian Edelman on the defensive practice field this entire week. Though I'm certain that we won't see another Troy Brown situation, I think in some ways Julian would even be better suited to play defensive back than Troy was. Some reasons why:

i. Julian played quarterback in college, and was a terrific rushing quarterback. He was then asked to transition to a wide receiver role upon joining the Patriots. A lot of people will define "athleticism" purely statistically- vertical leap, 40 yard times, bench press repetitions at the combine- but the ability to learn technique is also a huge indicator of applied athleticism, which we could definitely ascribe to Edelman. He's been almost a chameleon for the Patriots, utilized in so many roles in his time with New England that we'd be doing a disservice to his effort to say that Edelman could not help out in a jam at the position. He's certainly got the size, at 5'10" and 195 lbs. He has proven toughness, shown through his willingness to receive contact on returns and also on special teams coverage. Edelman completely obliterated LaDainian Tomlinson on the final drive in the game, causing an injury to LT's MCL. He obviously has the tackling chops.

ii. Edelman doesn't have blinding speed, running his 40 yard dash at an okay time of 4.52. This is not an elite speed, but it's also not the true benchmark or barometer for a successful cornerback- especially one that primarily operates in the slot. Instead, I look at two other measurements to measure Edelman's athleticism to a NFL cornerback- and am presently surprised when I compare him to, of all people, Darrelle Revis.

1. Julian had a 20-yard shuttle time of 3.92, besting Revis' time of 4.08 by over a tenth of a second. Julian's time (at his Pro day) was the best time of any tested player at any position for that year's combine. This particular test is done to evaluate quickness and the ability to change direction, which I feel is one of the main characteristics of a good defensive back.

2. Edelman had a 3-cone drill time of 6.62 seconds, with is a mere .08 seconds slower than Revis's time. This drill is very similar to the short shuttle, but incorporates more directional changes. The time of 6.62 is still a fantastic time- so obviously Julian has an exceptional level of lateral quickness and agility, and also good acceleration when changing directions.

 

A Few things to look for on Monday night:

1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis to finally get back on track in the rushing game. I don't believe that Bill Belichick will allow Green-Ellis to continue with these poor performances (under 10 rushing yards in 2 of the last 3 games), especially against a defense as porous against the run as the Chiefs- and also because the strength of the Chiefs defense is their passing defense. The Patriots are going to have to give it to BenJarvus early and often, because he is the feature back for New England and needs to establish a rhythm going into the cold weather period of the year. If Green-Ellis is hurt, Vereen needs to see some game action along with Stevan Ridley. Kevin Faulk will be a weapon towards the end of the year, but the team knows what they're getting from Faulk. The rookies need to be incorporated.


2. Who will the starting safety duo be? I'm guessing that James Ihedigbo is going to continue starting alongside Pat Chung, but Sterling Moore played very well and played every snap on Sunday. I think that Moore's role more closely resembled Chung's, but all three of these safeties play well against the run. Since Kansas City is going to be playing with a first time starter at quarterback, I'm assuming the Patriots are going to see a lot of Jackie Battle, Thomas Jones, and Dexter McCluster at running back.


3. What is going to be Romeo Crennel's method of containing the Patriots' passing attack? Although most people would say that Romeo has a leg-up because of his familiarity with New England, I think that the two tight end-based passing offense of the last two years is much different than in Crennel's tenure. With Rob Gronkowski playing as the best tight end in football. I'm sure that he's going to be an area of emphasis. However, Rob was getting the kitchen sink thrown at him by the Jets, who had already played him 4 times prior to last Sunday, and he still wound up having a ridiculous day. I'm not sure if the Chiefs are going to be ready to get spiked on by the Gronk.


4. Wes Welker passed the 1,000 yard passing plateau for the fourth time in five seasons with New England, and it's only going to be game 10 of the season. He had six receptions for 46 yards being shaded by Darrelle Revis all day, so how will Kansas City be able to contain him? I'm looking for Wes to have a dynamic day- close to 150 yards receiving and a touchdown or two. Brandon Flowers is good, but he's never matched up against Wes.


5. Will the team be able to keep the pass-rushing trend going? As I've already detailed, the key rushing group included Mark Anderson on the opposite side of Andre Carter, so I hope we see more of that. However, don't be surprised to see some sort of letdown. Some of the premier pass-rushers in the game rack up sacks in multiples, only to have a few quiet games after. It's certainly possible that Carter's attack is fruitless this game- so then it's a question of if the Patriots can have success with blitz packages.


6. The hangover effect of the big game- As we've seen especially with the Ravens this season, emotional interdivisional games can definitely take a toll on a team physically, and there is quite often a dropoff the next week. Let's hope that the Patriots can instead keep their momentum going, and use Monday Night Football as a grand stage to reestablish their dominance. With the Chiefs' offense reeling, and held to 3 points against the Dolphins two weeks ago WITH Matt Cassel, let's hope that all of the positives with the Patriots' defense shine through for a second week in a row. This team has been playing especially hard these last few weeks, to only a 2-2 record. I think that we definitely have the caliber of team to make a postseason run- but championship teams make statements and blow out the wounded animals in their path.

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