Hey everyone, sorry about the late post, but it's been a swamp for me at school. Here's a quick review of the Bills game.
1. Overcome Injuries - The Patriots struggled to overcome the sheer quantity of injuries on the roster. The offensive line seemed to take a step backwards in the run game and they seemed to struggle to establish a pocket for the passing game. The injury to Dan Koppen is hurting the team more than it expected and the loss of Sebastian Vollmer prevented the Patriots from utilizing some giant TE sets to create space. No one stepped up to replace Aaron Hernandez in the offense. The secondary played weak as they missed Ras-I Dowling and Pat Chung's physicality. Without any of their penetrating defensive tackles (Albert Haynesworth, Myron Pryor, Mike Wright), the Patriots were unable to generate any pressure up the middle. Overall, the injuries were just too much for the Patriots. Patriots lose this category.
2. Covering Loose Ends - The Patriots somehow found a way to have Rob Gronkowski involved in the offense and he came through with big numbers. That said, when Gronkowski was asked to block, the Patriots had no other receiver beyond Wes Welker and the offense would always stall. As a result, Gronkowski's effectiveness faded as the game drew on as Welker became the offensive focal point. This was a tale of two halves, in my opinion. Patriots win half a point.
3. Master the Spreads - With Hernandez out of the game, the hope was to have Chad Ochocinco assume a larger role on the offense. He was largely ineffective. The loss of Hernandez also diminished the value of Deion Branch as he could never get open. Beyond Welker and Gronkowski, no receiver had any real production and, as the game continued, Tom Brady was left to target only Welker as he was the only trustworthy receiver. The Patriots were unable to spread the ball, which hurt the team towards the end of the game. Patriots lose this category.
4. Human Flyswatters - No. Just...no. Beyond Kyle Arrington, no defensive back had a good game. Leigh Bodden gave up a key reception, Sergio Brown was largely ineffective in defense of Fred Jackson, and Josh Barrett did little to support the cornerbacks over the top. Devin McCourty had another difficult outing and, according to Pro Football Focus, allowed 9 receptions on 11 attempts. However, McCourty has managed to decrease the total yards he's given up every week, so maybe he'll be able to hold his opposing receiver to under 100 yards this week. That said, the secondary was extremely ineffective and allowed the Bills to make way too many plays. Patriots lose this category.
5. Stop the Second Jackson - You know the whole defensive concept of removing the opponents favorite weapon in order to stall their offense? I can not figure out which player the Patriots were trying to stop. RB Fred Jackson, WR Stevie Johnson, WR Donald Jones, and WR David Nelson all put up extremely quality games and, when the opposition's top four targets all have great days, it's extremely difficult to win. I thought the Patriots were going to try and stop Fred Jackson from being quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's safety blanket. Instead, the Patriots didn't stop anyone. Jackson averaged 6.2 yards/carry, and caught an additional 5 passes for 87 yards. Patriots lose this category.
Essentially, the Patriots only won half a category due to Rob Gronkowski's first half. Even then, the Patriots lost on a last second field goal. This is an extremely strong offensive unit, even without their top weapons. The defense has a lot of questions marks, though. Here's what I would like to see the defense do against the Raiders:
1. Devin McCourty plays middle distance. When McCourty plays tight coverage, receivers manage to blow by him and the quarterback lobs the ball deep for either a big reception or an incompletion. When McCourty plays deep off-coverage, the receiver always manages to run a hitch route and pick up a quick first down. Instead McCourty needs to sit around 7 yards off the receiver. He hasn't been able to jam his receivers effectively and that's been putting him out of position. By having him 7 yards deep, he's in prime real estate to determine what route the receiver will actually be running.
2. Gary Guyton sits all game. Guyton is a back-up quality player. When there are healthy linebackers ahead of him on the depth chart, he should not see too much time on the field. He's unable to shed blocks to defend the run. He takes poor angles when trying to get the outlet receiver. Yes, he took down C.J. Spiller. He also took a poor angle and slipped against Fred Jackson's dagger run to the end zone. The Patriots, if they operate out of the 4-3, need to have Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, and Jerod Mayo as the linebackers and, when Ninkovich moves up to DE in the sub packages, Dane Fletcher needs to step on the field. Guyton is a liability.
3. Kyle Arrington plays a couple snaps at safety. This idea has been kicking around for a while. Arrington has the ability to pick the ball out of the air. He's extremely physical against the run. He'd step in as the best cover safety on the team. This would be a project, but if Arrington saw a few snaps at safety, he could be the "jack-of-all-trades" safety type that Bill Belichick wants all of his safeties to be. This hinges on the health of Dowling, but Arrington could do well at safety.