by Britt Schramm
Said we gettin’ up,
Said we gettin’ up,
Tonight is right,
C’mon we gettin’ up
– Q-Tip, “Getting Up”, The Renaissance (2008)
Like Chris and Scott have said this week, last week’s game against the Colts was a very winnable game; especially since the Pats followed the patented Line ‘Em Up recipe for success. But mental errors on the field (players) and off the field (HC of NEP) cost them the victory.
And yet, I am coming away from the Saturday night battle of now mediocre squads with more positives from the Foxboro team than most. Now, I’m not normally one of those half-full kind of guys – after all, I’m also a 30+ year fan of the Red Sox. But if you take a look at the box score, you should notice some real positives, lined up in almost a domino fashion.
The first thing that stands out that the Pats ran the ball very well, which was good since the Colts were basically daring New England to run by playing their safeties in a very deep Cover-2. By proving that they could run well against Indy’s smaller front seven, the Pats were able to limit the time that MasterCard Manning had to work the Colts Kia-powered offense.
With that effective running, the Patriots were able to hold on to the ball for nine minutes more than the Colts. The old cliché (prior to opening up of the passing game with new pass interference rules) told a tale that if you won the TOP battle, you would be in the position to win the game.
And by controlling the ball, the Pats only had to punt once. Read that again. The last time the Patriots could say that they used their punter so infrequently was back in the RunningItUpGate overhyped drama from last year. By contrast, the Colts had to punt three times.
But it wasn’t all wine and roses statistically for New England. They were virtually ineffective stopping Peyton “Will Open Your New Mall” Manning proving that his lack of production may be due to rust. Although I would like to think the lack of pocket pressure from the front four and lack of experience in the Pats’ defensive backfield had more to do with Manning finding the fountain of 2006 than anything he did.
Another troubling situation was the lack of red zone effectiveness. Getting one TD out of four trips inside the 20 is very poor. Imagine if one of those FGs was instead a TD (I don’t say when Gaffney was imitating Dwight Stone the WR or the Olympic high jumper), I would be talking about winning by one. Victory was that close, my friend.
Lastly, the thing that really killed the Pats was the inability to stop the Colts on third down. Indy went 6 for 10 in that category which doesn’t help get your D some rest and doesn’t allow your offense from controlling the ball. Again, if the defense got one more stop, winning the game would’ve been that much easier.
That’s why I cited the new song by Q-Tip at the beginning (other than recognizing his return to the spotlight for the first time since ‘99). We, as a fanbase, have to keep getting up. Being tied with eight games left to go (half at home), it is entirely possible to hit 10+ wins this season which is very acceptable when all things are considered.
But the first step in the rest of the season is…
Buffalo is swooning after going 4-0 to start the season as they have won just once in the last four games. The offense is averaging less than 19 points a game. Trent Edwards has been banged up. Marshawn Lynch still seems affected by his involvement with a hit-and-run in July and his play has suffered because of it. He’s only gained 466 yards this year including a 16 yd performance last week. The only person who seems to be consistent is Lee Evans, who already has 678 yards on only 35 catches for a 19.4 average.
With the recent struggles on offense, it is the defense that is keeps them in most of these games (outside of the Cardinals blowout). The average margin of victory for the Bills’ opponents in the last two games is nine points, which isn’t too bad (although is it a smidge less than half of what Buffalo is scoring right now). All of their game averages are hovering right around the top third of the league. So, it is not a fluke that the Bills are tied with the Pats, but they are meeting at a time when the Pats are going up while they are headed down.
Well, what do the Pats have to do to get the much needed win? On defense, I would like to take a page out of the Colts defensive gameplan from last week while on offense, I would like to offer a broken record.
To beat the team, I would like to see the Patriots take out their best player right away – Lee Evans – by having safety James Sanders shadow Evans in double coverage on the majority of the snaps. None of the other WRs or TEs has true breakaway speed strong enough to have Gonzalez-kind of game as long as the other DBs can keep everyone out in front of them.
Another plan on defense is to keep Lynch inside the tackles. He’s not hitting the holes with the same authority as he has in the past and by keeping him cooped up, his long runs will be significantly fewer.
Lastly, the defense needs to change up their defensive looks. Edwards is a very capable QB and is checking down on most of his reads. If the Pats can goad him into making a bad decision, they have the players to make him pay.
On offense, the Pats still have to do what is making them successful – running the ball, controlling the time of possession and throwing hot read, three-step passes early in the game. Running will not be as easy as it was against the smaller Colts but the Bills are giving up almost 99 yards on the ground per game which dovetails nicely with the Pats’ style of attack. If they can get to or past that magic 100 yard milestone, they will be in control of the game.
The quick three-step drop pass from the QB will not only help Cassel get into the game flow early but might help the WRs put some distance between them and the Bills’ DBs if some double moves are utilized. The Pats also should stay away from the tricker-ation that got them into trouble last week. New England does not have the luxury of teams keying on the QB as the singular focus of the offense and need to be as straight ahead as possible. If they can establish those points, the Bills will have problems staying in the game.
Next week is a Thursday night clash with the New York Bretts. Will they still be tied for the AFC East lead? And what will Pats do in order to sweep the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets? Come back on a special time, Thursday morning, to find all that you need to know.