These posts generally begin with references to the previous week’s game, but I’m so thoroughly sickened by that game that I’d like to gloss over it. The New England Patriots are moving on to take on the St. Louis Rams in the annual United Kingdom game, and while the Pats are favored, it’s important to look at all of the factors of each game. To the match-up machine!
1. The New England receivers vs the St. Louis defensive backs
This is a physical secondary that isn’t afraid to jam you at the line of scrimmage and completely throw you off your route. Cortland Finnegan is the most physical of all, and he’s continuing last season’s excellent campaign with a solid season so far this year. He also plays a lot of coverage on the slot man, so watch out for that. Finnegan has also grabbed three interceptions already and should really be avoided unless Wes Welker can beat him on a crossing route. Quintin Mikell, the strong safety, is better known as a run defender, but watch out for him blitzing off the edge, as that can be a huge factor. Craig Dahl, the free safety, is a bit of the opposite – unreliable in run support but dropping into coverage often. Bradley Fletcher, the nickel corner, has also been very adept this year; you may see him on Rob Gronkowski or Deion Branch. The weak point of the defensive backfield is a rookie I was high on – Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins seemed like he might have been the best corner in the draft, but he’s already surrendered 453 yards and three touchdowns. Whoever’s matched up on him should be targeted frequently.
I think the Patriots should hope Jenkins covers Brandon Lloyd, because that’s a match-up that makes me salivate. Lloyd did have some tough drops these past two weeks, but he’s an excellent route runner who possesses the speed to burn Jenkins. Brady clearly wants to feed Lloyd, and Jenkins is just the man to beat. Welker’s one of the best slot receivers in the game, but he could be shut out by Finnegan. Fletcher is the right size to cover Branch, so expect Gronkowski to play inside – that’s exactly where the Patriots want him anyway. I don’t trust any of the Rams linebackers in coverage, least of all James Laurinaitis – especially when it’s against Gronkowski. Aaron Hernandez won’t be playing today, so the Patriots will need to depend on Gronkowski and Lloyd to get the job done.
Edge: New England
2. The New England offensive line vs the St. Louis defensive line
The Rams have one of the better young defensive lines in football. Robert Quinn is one of the many players I hoped the Patriots would draft in 2011, and he’s been on fire this season. Chris Long is looking almost as good as his father, and is the king of quarterback hurries. Kendall Langford hasn’t put up big numbers, but he often takes two men to block. Michael Brockers is a rookie who’s getting more and more playing time and developing nicely. William Hayes does not get much playing time, but he does come in at defensive end as a solid run stuffer, and he should be accounted for at all times. The problem with Long is that he’s been a bit sloppy, picking up six penalties on the season. Additionally, he and Quinn have faced extremely poor competition this year. Yeah, Long’s put up numbers, but he’s gone against Gosder Cherilus, Tyler Polumbus, Gabe Carimi, Breno Giacomini, Bobbie Massie and Jonathan Martin – all of whom are bad right tackles. The first time he faced a decent right tackle (Bryan Bulaga) he was blanked – no sacks, no hits, no hurries. Quinn isn’t immune from this either. He’s faced J’Marcus Webb, Russell Okung, D’Anthony Batiste and Marshall Newhouse. The only time he beat a quality left tackle was one sack against Trent Williams – his only pressure of the game.
Nate Solder has held up surprisingly well this year, but he’ll certainly have his hands full with Quinn. I actually think Sebastian Vollmer will do well against Long; Vollmer’s been making a case for himself as one of the better right tackles in the league. There’s still a question as to whether Logan Mankins will play – his injury has been bothering him – and it’s yet to be confirmed how much Dan Connolly would play coming off his injury. To be perfectly honest I’d prefer Donald Thomas starting over Connolly anyway. The offensive line is aided by Brady’s quick release – they just need to account for Quintin Mikell blitzing.
Edge: New England
3. The New England runningbacks vs the St. Louis linebackers
I never thought I’d be saying this, but Jo-Lonn Dunbar is looking like a good linebacker. This could be attributed to the system he plays in, but it’s still a little surprising. James Laurinaitis is decent; a little inconsistent at times, but it seems like he really thrives on his defensive line to take up blockers for him. Both seem to be more adept at pass rushing; this overloads the offensive line and is extremely effective. Rocky McIntosh comes in occasionally, but not enough to be gameplanned around.
Stevan Ridley has slowed down a bit in the last two weeks; it’s becoming more and more apparent that he’s not the team’s Corey Dillon. Danny Woodhead is still showing his agility, and Shane Vereen looks like a capable – albeit wildly different – replacement for the injured Brandon Bolden. The key in this game is breaking tackles or making the first guy miss. That defensive line is a handful, and those linebackers and defensive backs will be open to make tackles.
Edge: New England
4. The St. Louis receivers vs the New England defensive backs
There is no team in the National Football League that cannot throw on these defensive backs.
Edge: St. Louis
5. The St. Louis offensive line vs the New England defensive line
This is a matchup New Englanders should relish. The St. Louis offensive line is one of the worst in football, whereas the Patriots have a wealth of talent that takes advantage of matchups. Harvey Dahl and Robert Turner are two of the better offensive linemen, but that leaves Quinn Ojinnaka, Barry Richardson and Wayne Hunter.
Chandler Jones got blanked by D’Brickashaw Ferguson, so he needs to have a great game today. I can’t emphasize this enough – Jones absolutely must take advantage of the Hunter match-up, because he wasn’t dominant enough against Batiste, and look what happened there. Rob Ninkovich ought to take care of Richardson, while Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love clean up the interior.
Edge: New England
6. The St. Louis runningbacks vs the New England linebackers
This is going to be a match-up that’s fun to watch. Steven Jackson is still very talented; more of a power back than anything else, but he’s good for those close yardage situations, which is exactly when he’ll be utilized. If he has any success today, it will be on 3rd-and-1 conversions.
The Patriots have one of the best young linebacking squads in the game today, particularly when it comes to stopping the run. Dont’a Hightower has been great when he’s healthy, Jerod Mayo is a tackling machine, and Brandon Spikes is a fearsome hitter in particular.
Edge: New England
Absolutely any team has the ability to beat the Patriots this year. No team can be considered an easy win from here on out. Even with the match-ups favoring the Patriots, I can totally see the Rams winning this game by as many as four points. It’s extremely difficult to have confidence when Kyle Arrington is going to get gashed by whoever lines up in the slot. Matthew Mulligan could line up in the slot and he’d probably burn Arrington. Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory and Ras-I Dowling are all out, so this isn’t going to be the best game defensively for the Patriots. Expect this game to be won in the trenches. If it is won in the trenches, the Patriots should pull away with a much-needed victory. The Rams are a very underrated team that plays hard; do not underestimate them.
Final Score: New England 24, St. Louis 23
You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.