The Patriots managed to escape with a 30-27 win over the Saints on Sunday, and they came away with a 5-1 overall record, and a little breathing room atop the AFC East. There were a lot of good things to take away from this game, as well as a decent amount of things that I am sure the Patriots coaching staff will bring up this week when they are watching the tape.
Secondary Stands Strong
Drew Brees’ passing offense came into this game ranked second in the league at 327.2 yards per game. This Patriots defense held them to 230 yards through the air, and they did it without their top man Aqib Talib for a good portion of the second half. Alfonzo Dennard continued his stellar 2013 campaign, as he held Marques Colston to one reception for 11 yards. Before Talib went down with a hip injury, he shadowed Jimmy Graham wherever he went, and the result was zero receptions for the Saints big man. Graham came into the game leading the league in receiving, but Bill Belichick shut him down and thus, bogged down the Saints offense. One other defensive back that I want to give some credit to, is Kyle Arrington. Playing the slot corner is one of the toughest positions to play in the game of football, but week in and week out, he does it phenomenally. When Talib exited today’s game, Arrington was called upon to cover Jimmy Graham a few times, and he did so perfectly, even coming up with a huge interception early in the fourth quarter.
Brady And Receivers Come Through When Needed Most
There has been a lot of criticism directed towards Tom Brady, and his connection with his new receivers. The offense has been wildly inconsistent, and at times it looks like a unit that belongs in the NCAA. During the first half of last night’s game, it finally appeared like they had worked out all the kinks, and were ready to kick it into high gear. They amassed over 200 total yards of offense, while putting up 17 points on the scoreboard. However it was a completely different story in the second half. The rookies reverted back to their old habits of dropping the ball, and being incapable of gaining separation from their defenders. It was obvious that Brady was frustrated, and it looked like the Pats were headed towards another demoralizing loss (the offensive line didn’t show up either). But when the Pats needed them to come together and play well most, they did and the results were pretty awesome. Brady only went to Dobson once on that last drive, but it was a nice little sight adjustment route in which they both had to be on the same page, and it resulted in a quick six yard gain in Saints territory. Dobson also had the presence of mind to get out of bounds, which saved some much needed time for New England. As for Thompkins, he beat his defender to the back of the end zone, where Brady laid out a perfect throw and KT came down with it for the winning touchdown.
This game showed us that while this group still has many problems, when it is needed, they have the capability to become an effective offensive group.
Offensive Line Is Really Struggling
The Patriots offensive line gave up four sacks last week in Cincinnati, and they followed up that brilliant performance with a five sack outing yesterday. By my count, only three of them were technically their fault as one was a definite coverage sack, and the other was a missed adjustment by Brady, but the bottom line is, the big guys up front let their quarterback down. I think we can point a large part of the offenses struggles in the second half to the failures of the offensive line. Brady’s timing with his receivers was thrown out of whack due to the pressure that he was constantly facing, and getting hit over and over again will even affect the great Tom Brady. The line did lose right guard Dan Connolly early in the contest, but their problems didn’t stem from his absence, as every single one of them struggled throughout the game.
Middle Of Defense Missing Wilfork
We all knew that when Vince Wilfork went down a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta, the Patriots run defense would suffer. There is nobody that can eat up space and blockers like Wilfork can, and we are beginning to see the after-effects of his absence (Tommy Kelly being out with a knee injury certainly does them no favors). Their replacements, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, are both undrafted free agents who are lucky to be on this football team. They are solid defensive lineman, but they have no business playing as the starters on a defense like New England’s. But injuries have forced them into action, and the Saints reaped in the rewards on Sunday. New Orleans ran the ball 26 times for 131 yards, which turns into a 5.0 average. That is not acceptable, and later in the year, it will really come back to bite the Patriots in the butt. Jones and Vellano were consistently pushed back off of the line of scrimmage, which opened up huge holes for the Saints backs to scamper through. Tommy Kelly’s return will help with their weakness in the middle, as well as Armond Armstead (if he ever does return), but as of right now, stuffing the middle run game is definitely the defenses biggest weakness, and a big change may have to be made.