First of all, how amazing is it that I can write this type of can column? Being able to compare your team’s 7 Super Bowl teams within the past 16 seasons is mind-blowing. Savor these moments.
Anyway, the 2016 Patriots were an interesting team. During the middle of the season, it looked like the defense just wouldn’t be able to hold up, and you’re lying if you pretend that you weren’t terrified of a playoff upset by Oakland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, or Denver when Gronk went down. Nonetheless, the Pats won their two playoff games by a combined 37 points, even though we all agree that they kind of sucked in the first one.
Compared to the 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, and 2014 teams, the 2016 Patriots are far different from so many of them. There is one of those AFC Champion teams, however, that is a cousin of this year’s Pats team.
The 2001 Pats is clearly not the one. Tom Brady has an absurd 99.5 rating on ProFootballFocus this season. (The ratings are done out of 100, and 90 is considered “elite.”) He definitely was not elite during first season taking over for Drew Bledsoe. He wasn’t bad by any means, but that team’s defense and special teams were much better than anything about its offense. Very different from 2016.
The 2003 and 2004 teams achieved what may be the best two year period of a defense of all time, especially when you factor in the team achievements of a Super Bowl win in both years. I love Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, and Malcolm Butler. But they’re not Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, and Ty Law.
The 2007 Patriots are not the 2016 Patriots. They may both have awesome offenses led by incredible seasons from Tom Brady and better than average defenses, but these Pats just aren’t the 2007 ones. This year’s team didn’t stomp on the rest of the league during the regular season the same way the record setting Patriots did.
Next, we’re going to skip to the 2014 Patriots, which should tell you who my final answer is. It’s easy to say that the 2014 Pats were similar to this year’s team, and in many ways, they were. But that offense also relied much more on Gronk than this year’s team has (obviously due to Gronk’s injuries this season). We all lived in fear of a Gronk injury during the 2014 season that would have dismantled the year’s campaign. In the first four games when the Pats gave Gronk a reduced snapcount, Brady and the rest of the offense was lackluster. When they let him loose in Week 5, the offense was incredible.
This year, we all feared that Gronk injury as well, but with Chris Hogan, Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell, Dion Lewis, and James White replacing Brandon LaFell, Shane Vereen, and Tim Wright, the offense could survive that Gronk injury a lot better. And it did. There’s no way that the Patriots win the 2014 Divisional game vs. Baltimore without Gronk’s 7 receptions for 108 yards and 1 TD.
Also, the 2014 defense was better. New England’s best part of the defense in both years was/is its secondary, but the 2016 team doesn’t have the same firepower. Malcolm Butler is a beast, but he’s not 2014 Darrellle Revis, and Patrick Chung has taken a step back this year. The Pats defense has improved massively over the course of the season, but consider this: The 2014 Pats secondary didn’t allow a pass completion to the Seahawks for the first 1.5 quarters in Super Bowl 49, but Russell Wilson lit them up in their matchup this year.
The answer, of course, is the 2011 Patriots that lost to the Giants in Super Bowl 46. Both the 2011 and 2016 Patriots teams featured a version of Tom Brady that was incredible that season, and the 2011 team was 3rd in league offense that season on Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, while this 2016 team was 2nd. While the 2011 Super Bowl did have Gronk the whole season, they were relying on a crippled version of Gronk in the Super Bowl, which mirrors the 2016 team not having Gronk at all more than it is to the 2014 team using him at full throttle.
The weakest part of the comparison lies with the defenses, as the 2016 defense is much better. The 2016 team is ranked at 16th on Football Outsiders, and I’d put them higher because of their performance ever since the Seattle game in early November. The 2011 Pats, meanwhile, look to be nothing similar, as they were ranked 30th. But I’ve never bought that ranking. As much as I love Football Outsiders, I’ve always felt that their ranking of the 2011 Pats defense was off. They gave up more than 27 points only once, and held the Ravens and Giants to 20 and 21 points in the AFCCG and Super Bowl, respectively. Those weren’t great offenses, and I’m in no means saying that the Pats defense that year was great, but they also weren’t the 3rd worst in the league. They were at least mediocre and at best decent, which isn’t too far off pace from this year’s team. Finally, the Pats’ special teams this year was 7th in the league, while in 2011 it was 5th. Pretty similar.
The biggest similarities may lie in the intangibles. In both 2011 and 2016, the Pats faced a ton of criticism (some of it legitimate) about getting easy schedules. Also, the NFL was searching for a truly great team all year, and there was none to be found. The NFC was better in 2011, especially when Matt Schaub went out for the year. The NFC was also better in 2016, if you haven’t been reminded enough by 500,000 Patriots haters that you know. Finally, the Pats got to beat up on horrendous quarterbacks in the Divisional Round of both years.
The biggest difference between the 2011 and 2016 teams will come down to their Super Bowl opponents. The Falcons are much better on offense and much worse on defense than the 2011 Giants. Luckily for us, the recipe for beating the Pats every postseason has been applying pressure to Brady, and the Falcons are nowhere near the 2007 Giants, 2011 Giants, or 2015 Broncos in that department. For that reason, let’s hope tha t2016 turns out differently than 2011.
We won’t know for sure whether or not the Patriots are resting their starters in Week 17 until the final whistle Sunday against the Dolphins. That’s the nature of rooting for a team coached by Bill Belichick. As of right now though, the internet/sports radio guessing machines seem to suggest that the Pats won’t rest their starters in the season’s final week. That’s the right call.
It’s logical to think, “The Pats lost out on homefield advantage last year, and they probably would’ve beaten the Broncos if the AFC Championship had been in Foxboro and not Denver, so they shouldn’t let history repeat itself.” That’s fair, but that’s actually not the reason that the Pats need to lock up the 1 seed. Let’s be real, the Pats should beat the Raiders by a touchdown or two even if the game is in Oakland. Derek Carr is a damn good quarterback, and Matt McGloin is definitely not a damn good quarterback. Oakland is currently ranked 8th in total DVOA according to Football Outsiders, but that’s only because their 7th ranked defense buoys their 22nd ranked defense (and 13th ranked special teams.) That #7 ranking is gonna drop juuuuust a little bit, and we shouldn’t be concerned about New England traveling to Oakland.
There is another opponent lurking, however, that should worry you. If the Pats fall to the 2 seed on Sunday, then they’ll most likely have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round. While that game promises to be an incredible one, and while the NFL would be thrilled for the ratings it would bring, it’s a very scary game for the Patriots.
Remember, even when the Pats beat the Steel Curtain in October, the game was in doubt for a large portion of the contest. The Steelers had the ball down 14-10 in the 3rd quarter, and luckily they only got a field goal on that drive. The Pats then faced a 3rd and 7 from the outskirts of Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal range, and Brady connected with Gronk for a 36 yard TD pass. From that point on, New England was in control, and the Steelers were done.
Here’s the thing: Big Ben wasn’t playing in that game, and Rob Gronkowski was. Even though the Pats would be facing the Steelers in the playoffs in Foxborough, the Ben/Gronk swap makes a bigger difference than homefield advantage, as important as that is.
The Steelers can drop 40 points on any defense in the league, and their porous defense (which surprisingly ranks 9th on Football Outsiders) will look much less susceptible when they don’t have to prepare for Gronk. The Steelers are clearly the toughest matchup for the Patriots among the AFC teams in the postseason, and Pats fans should root hard for the Pats to not have to face them in the playoffs. That 2-3 game scares me, and it should scare you too. Root for the Pats to win on Sunday so that they don’t have to face the Steelers in the Divisional Round.
2016 IS HERE! LET’S GO!!!!!
Ever since that damn 2 point conversion, we’ve been waiting for this day. The Pats are back, and that void in our lives has been filled.
Let’s be honest, though. We’re a little nervous about the 2016 season, at least compared to previous years. With the team that New England has this year, the Pats should have an automatic top 2 seed before the season even starts. They started out 10-0 last year, earned the #2 seed, and would have had homefield advantage throughout had it not been for injuries and a dumb decision to lay down in Week 17. Their only real loss from the team was Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, and co. should be able to serve as decent enough replacements for the synthetic pothead.
But this year doesn’t look too good out of the gate. Brady is out for 4 games, and Gronk is out at least tonight. My gut tells me that Gronk will miss at least 2 more games, because it wasn’t like it was a gametime decision for him not to play today, as we heard the news yesterday. That makes a Week 2 comeback unlikely, and week 3 is on a Thursday night after a short week.
As far as Brady’s B.S. suspension goes, I think there’s a higher potential for disaster in Garoppolo’s first 4 starts than most Pats fans do, especially without Gronk. Pats fans point to the fact that the team’s next 3 games after tonight’s are all at home, but they conveniently overlook the fact that the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans, and Bills collectively make up a fearsome foursome of defensive lines. Both before and after the severity of Gronk’s hamstring injury came to light, I thought that a 2-2 record through the first 4 was most likely. Before Gronk’s injury, I thought that 3-1 was more probable than 1-3. Now, though, 1-3 feels more likely than 3-1.
A 1-3 start would be rough for the Patriots, but not because it would put their playoff chances in doubt. After all, I’m the guy who just wrote that it’s insane that the Pats are only -350 to make the postseason.
What should worry you, though, is the Pats’ seed in the playoffs. They’ve never made a Super Bowl without having a 1st round bye. They could easily make the Big Game from a 3 or 4 seed, but Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and especially Denver, as I wrote last year, represent very difficult places to play in January.
Still though, New England is the most likely AFC team to earn the top seed and make the Super Bowl. Denver’s defense simply can’t repeat itself from last year, as elite defense is more volative year to year. They also lost Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan.
Kansas City is going to be a tough, ballsy team this year, and I’m glad that the Pats don’t face them in the regular season. But I just can’t bet on an Alex Smith team to beat a Tom Brady team to the top seed. And let’s stop the “If Pittsburgh can get healthy” talk. Ben Roethlisberger is always prone to missing a few games, Maurkice Pouncey is always prone to missing the whole season, and Le’Veon Bell is out for at least 3 games and maybe more if the injury big hits him again.
The Pats may stumble out of the gate thanks to Roger Goodell’s sliminess and the NFLPA allowing the NFL to run their lives during the last CBA, but this season might wind up being the opposite of 2015: Start out slow, go on a run when Brady and Gronk are both back, and be healthy late in the year rather than early in the year. If the Pats can earn the top seed or even the 2 seed after missing Brady for 4 games and Gronk for a few to start the season, everyone will be talking about how they’re the best team heading into the playoffs.
What else is new?
Garoppolo goes 2-2, but the Pats have a point differential of -15 in those 4 games, leading everyone to worry if something is truly wrong with the Pats. Brady and Gronk come back and right the ship, and the Pats have decent injury luck throughout the rest of the year. They finish 12-4 and earn the top seed because the AFC doesn’t have many elite teams. They’ll make the Super Bowl and face the Packers in a Brady-Rodgers showdown, and ultimately Brady will come out on top.
It’s not biased if they truly are the best team. Can you honestly tell me anyone else is better? God, it’s good to live in New England.
First, let me say that the reason that this recap has taken til Monday afternoon is only because I was at the game and couldn’t get adequate internet on the flight back. But I hope that I can provide some great analysis from the perspective of someone who was there.
And second, let me say that Seattle Seahawks fans really do deserve the credit they get as great fans. They made a neutral stadium in the 4th quarter louder than Gillette Stadium often is. And hell of a season for the Seahawks, even though I’m about to laugh at a few of them for having their trash talking get blown up in their face.
I’m going to start by talking about the two pillars of the past 15 years, because where else would we start? There are not many QBs who could do what Tom Brady did last night, throwing 2 horrible picks and then leading his team on 2 perfect, beautiful, backbreaking drives with under 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter against one of the best defenses ever. That’s incredibly difficult even when your team has a legitimate running game, but the Pats had no such thing in the 2nd half last night, making Brady’s accomplishment nearly impossible.
What I’m struggling with is how much to factor those 2 interceptions into the overall evaluation of Brady’s performance last night. The 1st one was down right horrendous, and the 2nd one was merely bad. Those 2 picks more than anything else are the best example possible of why this is not the Tom Brady of old anymore. Remember his game ending pick in the 2006 AFC Championship Game? Remember how much of a shock that was, because Tom Brady wasn’t supposed to throw picks in big games at big times? And that was with a receiving corp of Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, old Troy Brown, and rookie Chad Jackson. Nowadays, Brady throws 4 picks in 3 playoff games, all of which are 100% his fault. When you think of it like that, I don’t think there’s any way we can’t hold it against him.
The 2007 vs. Jacksonville or 2011 vs. Denver Tom Brady are both gone, but 2014 Tom Brady vs. the best defense in the league is pretty damn good. Think about the 5 drives that went the length of the field, including the 4 TDs and the early one with the 1st quarter pick. As much of a cliche as it sounds like, I’m a believer in the feeling/atmosphere that a player can give the people in the stadium, and it was evident in University of Phoenix Stadium that we were watching a craftsman at work. The Seattle Seahawks usually play the same zone and just dare an offense to beat them, and the only way to beat it is to find the holes with a precise quarterback and a bunch of shifty receivers. The shifty receivers with the underneath routes are also the only way to open up passing plays down the field against the Hawks, a la the Rob Gronkowski touchdown. Brady is one of the few quarterbacks in the league who could do that, albeit with the 2 INTs.
And Belichick is the best coach of all time, but last night was an off night, at least by his relative terms. He made the right move by benching Kyle Arrington for Malcolm Butler (!!!!!!), but the fact that Chris “Hardball” Matthews got the better of the Pats defense up until Brandon Browner asked to be put on him doesn’t speak well for Belichick. With 2 weeks to prepare, you’d expect The Hooded One to be ready for that, but Pete Carroll is a damn good coach, too, and Carroll seemed to beat BB there.
The famous final minute of the Super Bowl saw both coaches make horrible mistakes, but Belichick got bailed out by his 5th string cornerback, while Carroll got let down by his 3rd string receiver (Locklear letting Butler beat him to the ball). The fact that Belichick didn’t call a time out is indefensible in my opinion, because there is no reason to hold the 2 timeouts until after 2nd and 3rd down, as BB suggested he was doing. I’d rather have a minute and 1 TO than 20 seconds and 2. Even if the Seahawks purposefully wasted a play to keep the clock running, burning another timeout there would be worth it. Forty second were worth way more than each timeout in that case, and it’s too bad that the best coach ever turned into Andy Reid during the final minute of the Super Bowl. Thank God that Belichick the GM bailed out Belichick the coach, as the former saved the latter by signing an undrafted rookie free agent named…
MALCOLM MOTHER@#$%^&* BUTLER
What a story. I know that we always talk too much about he heartwarming stories, which are a little overrated considering that NFL teams readily employ convicted wifebeaters and other kinds of scum left and right, but this one is legit. The dude was a Popeyes manager because he couldn’t make the grades to be a college athlete, and then decided that he wanted to do something better with his life, so he went to community college, transferred to Western Alabama, which I didn’t know existed until last night, and then wowed everyone in training camp when he got a shot. Butler told Sal Pal after the game that he felt that a loss would have been his fault, which shows you exactly how an undrafted rookie in the NFL thinks. He was only thrown into the game because another guy sucked even worse, and the biggest play of the game up until that point was one of the luckiest catches ever. It wouldn’t have been his fault, but I’m glad he thought that way. He said that he saw Wilson look his way right before the snap, so he knew what was coming, and he jumped the route for the biggest play of his career.
That right there is one of the biggest differences between the Patriots and everyone else for the past 14 years. When the Patriots target and pick on an overmatched guy like Tharold Simon, they succeed. Brady picked Simon apart, never throwing at Richard Sherman except for an opening 2 yard pass on the first play of the game. But when the Seahawks target the lowest CB on the depth chart, he reads Wilson’s eyes before the play and jumps the route. It’s good to be a Patriots fan.
I hope the O line gets the credit it deserves. By no means was it a brick wall, but the line held its own against the awesome combo of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. While they also couldn’t block well for Blount in the final half, Brady had more time than many of us feared that he would have on Super Sunday. The O Line didn’t have a great game, but I hope they get at least some of the credit they deserve.
The secondary also didn’t have a great game, but they also won’t get the credit they deserve. Just like the Super Bowl in 2001, the Patriots didn’t blitz much, instead choosing to rely on their great secondary to handle the job. Darrelle Revis was Darrelle Revis, holding Dough Baldwin to just a 3 yard TD catch on a play where he was picked by the ref, and, frankly, the Seahawks were gonna score anyway. Devin McCourty and Pat Chung didn’t have any huge impact plays, but also didn’t have any gaffs, which is good enough for any DB. The only soft spot in the secondary was the Arringon/Butler spot, but I’m not gonna complain about that after the final interception.
Belichick didn’t have his guys blitz a ton, but they didn’t allow Russell Wilson to get too many rushing yards, which was a fear going into the game. Marshawn Lynch certainly had a day, but he also didn’t break the game wide open. I think that if you had told us beforehand that Lynch and Wilson would combine for 141 yards, we wouldn’t be happy with it, but we all knew that the Pats could still win the game with that total.
The front seven, and the secondary for that matter, get a TON of credit for holding the Seahawks on 2 drives when the Pats were down in the 2nd half. That was a key to the game that everyone will miss because it’s sexier to talk about Tom Brady. But the defense kept the team in the game, and the offense brought them back. And then the defense made the crucial final stop.
Vereen, LaFell, Gronkowski, Amendola
I’m putting these 4 together because that’s how the Patriots think of their receiving options: as a unit. This was vintage Brady and Patriots passing offense, when Brady ignored the name on the back of the jersey and just threw to whoever way open — or, more accurately, whoever Tharold Simon was covering. If it wasn’t for Demaryius Thomas’ unforgettable 13 catch performance last year, Vereen would have tied Deion Branch for the most reception in a Super Bowl with 11. Gronkowski was there exactly when and exactly however the Pats needed him whether it was a long play for a touchdown of a few important 3rd down conversions. LaFell stepped up when needed, especially on his touchdown catch, and Amendola came through in key moments as well. The Patriots receiving core was a unit, and that’s when it’s been at it’s best during the Brady-Belichick reign.
He gets his own section. Edelman was an absolute warrior last night, and he is the kind of guy that the Patriots would have during those 2001-2004 years that we remember fondly. It’s only appropriate that he would play such a key role and get the winning touchdown. He got absolutely rocked by Kam Chancellor on a play that absolutely should have been 15 yards for helmet to helmet, and I hope that people remember that play as a necessary one for Super Bowl number 4. On the play where Edelman got down to the 4 yard line, 2 plays before he connected with Brady for the go ahead score, you could see how hard it was for him to get to his feet. Didn’t matter — he came up when needed, and he will be remembered as the best receiver on the field in Super Bowl 49.
I’ll be writing more posts on Tom Brady, Malcolm Butler, Bill Belichick, Julian Edelman, Super Bowl 49 itself, and the Patriots Dynasty this week. After all, this one deserves multiple posts. But for now, that’s all, and it’s good to finally have the one we needed. So glad I was there.
It’s almost here, and I’m having a hard time breathing when talking about the game, no exaggeration. This game will either go down as the game that got the Patriots over the hump of the 4th Super Bowl that has alluded the team for so long, or the game that was the ultimate let down in what may, but hopefully not, end the Patriots reign as serious contenders every year in the playoffs. The stakes could not be higher for this game, and I think that this one may even be more important than the 2001 Super Bowl, even though that was the first. This could be the perfect culmination to maybe the greatest run in sports, when you consider factors like the salary cap era, the parity of the NFL, the number of times the Pats earned a 1st round bye, the number of division championships… and the list goes on. Like I said, I’m having trouble breathing normally when thinking about this game, and, since the game is popping into my head every meal I eat, it’s considerably decreasing my appetite.
On to the X’s and O’s. Of course, this is going to be a legendary quarterback going against a legendary defensive unit. That we know, and that’s where most of the analysis has been for the past 2 weeks, other than the BS that was the deflated footballs controversy. (I’m officially refusing to use the term “DeflateGate,” and I look down on anyone who thinks that’s a cool term.)
Specifically, the Pats are probably going to rely on their short, shifty passing game, which is the biggest weakness of Richard Sherman, Seattle’s best corner. Sherman, at 6’3” 195 pounds, is a big, physical CB who shuts down receivers on both intermediate and deep passing routes, but the Julian Edelman – Wes Welker type game could give Sherm some issues. In their Week 2 game vs. the Chargers, the Seahawks struggled against a short passing game with the likes of Eddie Royal and our boy Danny Woodhead, as well as with the play of Antonio Gates, especially in the red zone, as he scored 3 TDs.
The Patriots do have those kinds of weapons. Gronk is the most important player on the field aside from Brady, but it’s no secret that the Seahawks will put special attention on him, especially with 2 weeks to prepare. That being said, Gronk’s presence opens up so much of the Pats offense, as evidenced by how well the offense has done from week 5 when his percentage of plays on the field rose from just a little over 50% to over 80%. All those times I got scared whenever Gronkowski got tackled during the regular season for fear of injury feel totally reasonable right now. Gronk is huge, even if he doesn’t get 100 yards, just because of what he does for the entire offense. The other factor here is that Richard Sherman rarely moves from the outside left part of the field, and the Pats’ 2 best receiving weapons, Edelman and Gronk, don’t need to play out there to be successful. Either Sherman completely shuts down Lafell, which is a trade the Pats would take ever day, or he plays out of his element and maybe struggles.
Kam Chancellor scares me as the guy who would be covering Gronk, but I’ll take my chances with Gronk vs. anyone 1 on 1, especially giving Belichick 2 weeks to move around the chess pieces as he sees fit. And if Chancellor needs help to cover Gronk, good. All the more room for the rest of the offense.
Since Brandon Mebane’s season ending injury in November, which is HUGE for the Pats, their run stopping game hasn’t been good. In fact, the Pats and Seahawks’ run defenses are trending in opposite directions, with the Pats looking a lot better against the run since Week 9 The unit seems to have stabilized since Jerod Mayo’s injury, which will be huge going against Marshawn Lynch. Lynch will probably get his own, but probably not as much as most people (understandably) think.
Now for when the Seahawks have the ball. The game that really scares me is the Packers game from just after Thanksgiving because of how much Aaron Rodgers scrambled. The Pats haven’t faced a QB who leaves the pocket even close to as much as Russell Wilson, so I think I have every right to be incredibly nervous. But it’s important to note that that was without Chandler Jones, and Rodgers had a much better receiving corp to target when he was scrambling all over the field. Realistically, the Pats are probably going to have one of their linebackers or nicklebacks in QB spy all the time to prevent Wilson from scrambling or dumping off to Lynch.
Luke Willson may have a great day, because the Pats are also a little weak against tight ends, just like their counterparts in Seattle. Jamie Collins is a beast, but do you really want to just put him on Willson and have that be all that he does on Super Bowl Sunday? Collins is becoming one of the best linebackers in the league because he is so versatile and smart, so maybe it’s best to give up a few more Willson catches in order to let Collins do other things to slow down the Seattle offense. But the Pats focus has to be on Wilson, Lynch, and Willson, because I’m more than ok with taking my chances with a secondary of Revis, Browner, McCourty, Chung, Arrington, Ryan, and Harmon covering guys like Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse 1 on 1.
The game will swing a little more on when the Pats have the ball than when the Seahawks have the ball, but you already knew that. I don’t see the Pats defense getting absolutely torched, but I could see the Hawks shutting downt the Pats offense. If Brady has one of those playoff games that we’ve unfortunately come to know over the years when he looks confused (2nd half vs. Ravens 2012, all game vs. Ravens 2011, Jets 2010, Ravens 2009, Super Bowl 42), then it could be a long night in the desert.
The 3 ways that the Pats could most likely lose are if Brady has one of those games, if Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril go off (which the Pats will probably try to counter by having blocking tight ends at the end of the line), or if Wilson scrambles around the field a ton and makes lots of plays with his feet. But — and call me a homer if you want — I think that Belichick can handle those matchups. He has the best defense to play with since 2004, and the offense has enough different options of how to attack the Seattle defense that I feel more confident than you’d expect with the Pats playing what may be the best defense ever. An early injury on offense to Gronk, an offensive lineman, or obviously Brady would probably be a deathblow, because the offense seems to crumble when even one thing isn’t in place, like when the offensive line was horrible vs. the Ravens when Brian Stork went down. But barring that, the Pats should be able to do enough against the Seattle defense. My prediction is that whoever loses the turnover battle will also lose the game, which usually happens anyway, but it’ll be especially important this game. Brady can’t throw one of those weak interceptions to a linebacker like he did in both of the first 2 playoff games, and let’s hope that the Pats secondary reads Russell Wilson as well as they did when they picked off Flacco and Luck.
With offense and defense, the Pats and Seahawks are probably equal teams, or maybe the Seahawks get a slight nod. But the Pats are far superior in both special teams and coaching, because of In Bill We Trust. Patriots 27 Seahawks 20.
Some takeaways from watching the Pats-Dolphins All-22, complete with photos, as well as a look ahead to the Vikings:
-The defense should be fine, even if Peterson didn’t abuse his kid. The heat mattered. Roosevelt Colvin and Tedy Bruschi both said this week that you can’t downplay how tough it is to play in Miami early in the year, and the second-half tape drove that home. Jamie Collins played every snap but one and looked like he could pass out at any second in the fourth quarter.
-The front seven looked bad, but a lot of that was that it wasn’t a front “seven” very often, and even when it was, it was the wrong one. Two things here: Lazor clearly brought over Chip Kelly’s scheme, and it’s legit. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo looked like they never saw an inside zone at times for some reason, but it seemed like the players and coaches were too far into their own heads about the Oregon-style offense. Belichick had Jones at 5-tech at the same time as WIlfork, and those two should never be in the same position. Jamie Collins is not a classic 3-4 ILB as much as Jones isn’t a Richard Seymour type, too, and then Hightower was lined up at almost a 90 degree angle to the line of scrimmage at times. There’s a method to the madness, but only God, Belichick and Patricia know why Easley was asked to two-gap as much as he did.
-The scheme was in the Pats’ head because it’s a really good scheme, though. Film guru Greg Cosell said on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast that because of the tempo and the way the offense spreads out a defense, the Chip Kelly rushing offense is akin to the Bill Walsh passing offense. As in, it just works. Hightower or Mayo would be in the slot often, covering a receiver or tight end and couldn’t do anything when the Dolphins ran inside zone against a six-man box, because in that offense, the QB can just as quickly throw a bubble screen as hand the ball off. This will explain the quality of that scheme better than I could.
-Belichick likely knows Norv Turner’s offense like his own at this point, and that’s why I’m not worried about the defense Sunday, Peterson or not. The Pats won’t be searching for answers because Bill already knows them.
-The pass defense and secondary was alright, and hopefully with more man-press concepts they can shine even more as Belichick and Patricia go to more of that stuff. Everyone from Butler to Ryan to Revis was competitive when in one-on-one, even if they were asked to play outside leverage with an eight yard cushion like they were Antawn Molden in 2011 way too much.
-The pass D will also get better when Ninkovich gets more snaps. Hightower had some good moments in his spot, but Ninkovich should be rushing the passer in nickel sets whenever possible.
-Offense: More worrisome than the defense. Hopefully it was a heat thing for them too, but everyone on the line sucked. Devey didn’t look like an NFL player, Solder and Vollmer got killed, Connolly was his mediocre self, and Cannon looked predictably suspect in his new position. Devey will be a problem if he keeps getting snaps, but Cannon and the tackles will be better, and Connolly is what he is. Stork could be an underrated key to the season if he can render Devey and Wendell irrelevant.
-Also worrisome: Brady locked on to receivers like Mark Sanchez a lot and threw like him too. His receivers weren’t spectacular, and barring a Dobson breakout (still hopeful), they won’t be. Brady has to elevate that group, and hopefully the line gives him the chance to do it like he has so many times before.
-The Vikings’ coach, Mike Zimmer, was the D-Coordinator when Kevin Coyle, Miami’s D-coordinator, was Cincy’s DBs coach. Coyle fooled Brady and the o-line multiple times last week with some zone drops and “sugaring” — showing blitz then pulling back at least one defender – and Zimmer will do the same stuff this week. McDaniels and Brady know it, and they have to figure it out. Hopefully they hit up Scarnecchia this week, too.
-Brady and Belichick have to bounce back. They always do. Pats 30 Vikings 14
Enlightening screenshots of the week (all images via NFL Game Rewind, insert joke here about the expressed written consent of NFL).
This was the first play after Collins’ forced fumble and McDaniels took a shot at the endzone. Cannon whiffed on the block of the free rusher, and the Pats eventually settled for a field goal on the drive. Edelman was open, but also pulling the safety for Thompkins’ post route.
Belichick breaks down similar play against Texans in 2012 ago that went for TD here.
The big difference between those two plays is Cannon is the left guard making this peel-back block, not Wendell, a center. The left guard is closer, of course, but Cannon still doesn’t get his head around, and Brady forces a throw in Bolden’s direction as he is dragged down. Bolden was open here, too, with room to spare. This picture is obvious ammo for anyone who didn’t like the Mankins trade.
Brady stares down Gronk, again. Vereen is definitely not doubled, Gronk is. Also, the Dolphins “sugared” the A-gaps here and then dropped back, which is why Connolly and Cannon aren’t blocking anyone. More of that coming Sunday.
More sugaring. Wendell (62) is going to take the guy to his left, and everyone else will too.
Except that guy doesn’t come, and Wake comes free, which is terrifying. Brady throws it away before he dies.
The Xs show Wilfork and Chandler Jones both lined up on the outside shade of each tackle. WIlfork is “325” pounds, and Jones is 260-265. They shouldn’t play the same position.
Later in that play, Jones gets washed out, and we have a ALLLAAAYYY (Merril Hoge voice).
Brady stares down Gronk here as the safety is clearly bearing down on 87, with three guys open underneath. I miss the Tom of “my favorite receiver is the open one.”
This was a play-action play, and Odrick, 98, was lined up to Devey’s right, and has already crossed his face before Brady even turns around!!!!!! Also, Solder whiffs at getting a hand on his guy, Vernon, and there’s a party at the quarterback.
Evidence of how the Chip Kelly system can spread you out and then run on you. Not counting Revis, who is likely responsible for covering Clay, there are only 5 true run stoppers in the box on this play. What’s more likely to score in hockey, a 4-3 power play or a 5-4 one? A 4-3 one, because there’s more space to defend. Same concept here in the running game.
Collins still got through and had a chance for a TFL, but he whiffed. The heat mattered.