After yesterday’s woeful loss to the St. Louis Rams, it’s time to re-visit the “5 to Watch” that was posted before the game and see how each of the 5 items shook out in the game. If you can stomach watching the Ram touchdowns, you can check out video highlights of the game by clicking here.
1. Laurence Maroney. It was expected that Maroney would get the start but it was Sammy Morris who started the game. After the Pats employed a balanced offense against the Saints and the Falcons, it was a pass-heavy package utilized against the Rams. Whether that was by design or due to the Rams’ success on offense is unknown. According to Belichick, Maroney would have entered the game but the offense hardly had the ball. The time of possession for the Pats was 16:14, which equates to just over a quarter’s worth of football. Questions have, as one would expect, risen as to whether Maroney’s roster spot is in jeopardy, but when Bill Belichick was asked as to whether Maroney can help the team, he responded, “Absolutely.” It will be interesting to see if Maroney sees time during the final preseason game next week.
2. Performance of the defensive line. The defensive line did not play terrible, but they did not take control of a patch-work offensive line like they should have. I have said this before and I’ll say it again; Mike Wright is not a three-down player. He has a great motor and is a pretty good pass rusher, but he’s not a very good run stuffer and gets moved off the ball in the running game. I would like to think that the Pats have someone that could come in on rushing downs, like Damione Lewis, Ron Brace, or rookie Brandon Deaderick, that could better hold the point of attack. This could save Wright so that he can be fresh and speedy when rushing the passer. Speaking of Ron Brace, after having another solid night, is injured once again. He is having an MRI on his ankle to see the severity of an injury suffered during the game. Losing Brace for an extended period, coupled with the loss of Ty Warren, would be a big blow to the defense.
3. Performance of the OLBs. The outside linebackers did not play particularly well, which has been a common theme since last season. “Inconsistent” would be the best word to describe the play of the OLBs. At times, they would hurry Sam Bradford, forcing him to make a quick throw, while at other times they were completely blocked out of the play. Tully Banta-Cain, last year’s best OLB (and this years?), had a bad night, garnering an encroachment penalty and a roughing the passer penalty. Derrick Burgess was also unspectacular, getting blocked one-on-one several times and not doing a very good job setting the edge in the running game. The run defense overall was not terrible (allowed 3.3 YPC), but not very good either. What is troublesome to me is that the Pats, presumably, will be starting two pass-rushing OLBs (Banta-Cain and Burgess) and expect them to stop the run while remaining fresh to rush the passer effectively. Neither have shown that they can be effective playing 3 downs.
4. Offensive success after halftime. The offense had a lot of success coming out after the half, scoring touchdowns on 3/4 possessions. The detractor though is that they did not have much success in the first half versus the Rams’ starters. The Rams had most of their back-ups in after the half. Regardless, the Patriot offense had their way on offense, scoring 3 times in the 6:39 they had the ball in the second half. Brady finally hit Moss in stride for a deep pass on the first second-half drive and had laser precision in the second drive. At the end of the game, the offense displayed one of its biggest problems last season: not being able to put the game away. Up by 2 with 4:26 left in the game, the offense ran 6 plays before having to punt the ball back to St. Louis. They would have been three-and-out if not for a roughing the passer penalty called against the Rams’ Eugene Sims. The Patriots only took about 2 1/2 minutes off the clock, leaving plenty of time for the Rams to move down the field and get in position to kick the game-winning field goal.
5. Special teams. The kick-off return unit was spectacular, with Brandon Tate taking the opening kick-off 97 yards for a score. Tate was sprung by a great block by Alge Crumpler. When trying to figure out which bubble players are being considered for sticking with the team to play special teams, sometimes looking at who starts in each unit and who plays on the most units can help you come to some conclusions. WR Sam Aiken and S Sergio Brown look like they may be able to stick and carve out a niche on special teams. Aiken and Brown are considered on the bubble due to the depth at their respective positions, but it’s hard to cut good special teams players regardless of the position depth. After two strong preseason games, Zoltan Mesko had a bad night punting the football. He averaged 37.2 yards per punt with a net of 27.2, a long punt of 46 yards, and dropping one inside the 20. Giving the defense (especially the way the D played Thursday night) a short field is never a good thing.