Likes/Dislikes of Pats/Bills

Here’s my likes and dislikes from the Patriots’ win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday:

What I Liked

  • Laurence Maroney’s hard running continues. Maroney is finally stringing together games that resemble that of a first-round draft pick. If he can parlay this into the postseason and into next season, the offense overall should improve. He ran around and over people.
  • The Pass Rush. The Patriots garnered 6 sacks against an injury-riddled Buffalo offensive line. Sure, part of that may have been Buffalo, but part of it also was good execution by the pass rushers and…
  • The “56″ Defense. The Patriots several times employed a 5-linebacker, 6-defensive back look that confused Buffalo and allowed the pass rush and coverage to have somewhat of an element of surprise. I would have liked to have seen this earlier (Colts game, Saints game) but better late than never I suppose. Part of that could be that this is a young defense and the team could have been working on this right along in practice. I certainly didn’t see this tried out in training camp, but that’s to be expected from Belichick. This defense has no formal name, and I just called it the “56″ for now, but if you have a more creative name, feel free to leave it in the comments section and over here where the Globe is running a poll on a name for this formation.
  • Tully Banta-Cain and Mike Wright. These two defensive players played their hearts out Sunday, and had the game to show for it. Banta-Cain, the Pats’ best pass rusher this year, totaled 3 of the team’s 6 sacks and Mike Wright also got a sack of his own to go with his 10 tackles. Wright’s motor never stops and epitomizes what we (at least used to) call “Patriots-type players.”
  • Defensive Adjustments. Besides the “56″ formation that we saw, the defensive linemen also made an adjustment after getting run over during Buffalo’s first drive. Tedy Bruschi in his weekly ESPNBoston column explained the adjustment he saw, and because he can say it better than I can, here’s what the Pats did to adjust:

The Patriots’ coaching staff countered by moving players and their alignments. Mike Wright, who was effective all day, saw some snaps at nose and they reduced the ends down to “3″ technique positions over the guards at times. This subtle adjustment allowed the defensive line to work on the edge of a blocker rather than down the middle of them. For younger players, this technique can counter their inexperience with a two-gapping style.”

What I Disliked

  • Offensive Play Calling. I don’t know if it’s a lack of experience from Bill O’Brien, lack of ability to adjust at halftime, or lack of imaginative play calling, but the Patriots’ offense has been downright pedestrian in the second half. Maroney was running effectively up the middle in the first half, but in the second half, ineffective stretch plays were the call more often than not. There are consistent deep throws forced into double coverage, but why call this type of play all the time, and in spots where you just need a first down? Forcing the deep ball could be partly Tom Brady’s fault in decision making, but only those on the team can know for sure. Where are the innovative screens? Why isn’t Kevin Faulk being used more out of the backfield? Why aren’t the tight ends being included more consistently to open up the middle? I actually miss the dink-and-dunk offense that used to be employed early this decade. There are just way too many deep balls being forced. The offense needs to step back and move to the possession-type offense where they slowly but surely move the ball down the field. That will naturally open up big plays, plays that will have a better chance at success. This offense cannot carry the young defense through the playoffs with its current output.
  • Sam Aiken. Aiken had a drop on a potential big play in the second half and fumbled the squib kick to Buffalo. Had there not been an offsides penalty on Buffalo, the Bills would have taken over after just scoring a touchdown with a little over 2 minutes left. They clearly had momentum, and if not for the penalty, who knows what we would be talking about this week.

Not too much to dislike after a win, but as I previously mentioned, this isn’t exactly a confidence-inducing win moving forward. Tomorrow we take a look at where the Pats stand stats-wise against their next opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Go Pats!

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