Game one of the regular season in the books for the Patriots, and the performance matched expectations for the New England Patriots as they shook off a slow start to trounce the Tennessee Titans 34-13. A balanced offense (First time anyone has seen that in New England since...well, 2004?) and a fast, strong defense (also last seen in 2004-ish) combined for a balanced victory. A strong running game, stout run defense, precision passing, and timely pass defense against an over-matched Tennessee squad was more than enough to take home a road win to start the 2012 season.
Three Keys to Victory:
- Tom Brady: Remember that, it's always about the quarterback in the offense, #12 Tom Brady. Brady had some early rust to work off (bouncing a screen pass, missing some throws low) early in the game. Once he found his rhythm, Brady looked like good old reliable Tom, simply the best quarterback in the game. Once the game got going, Brady starting throwing his usual strikes, moving away from pressure, making connections to the receivers and tight ends. Add in a running game again, and Brady's impressive play-action becomes twice as effective.
- Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez continue to amaze. My game notes had "Gronk unstoppable" or "Unable to cover Gronk" multiple times. Both were excellent blocking in the running game and both found the end zone. They were on the field for every offensive snap, showing that this offense is built around #81 and #87. One great play that got overlooked was late in the second quarter when the Patriots drove down the field to pick up a touchdown pass to Gronkowksi: on third down and four and up 14-3, the offense picked up the first down on a direct snap to Hernandez who was able to pick-up five yards and a first down. It was an athletic play by Hernandez to grab the off-center snap with one hand (the ball was snapped to his right as he was moving left on the snap) and then to get the yards on the ground. There are few tight ends capable of making that play, let alone wide receivers. It extended the drive and led to a big score before the half.
- Team Defensive: The defense had a good first game of the season. If this is a building block, then things look good. The speed on defense was evident, as the linebackers were all over the field making plays. Some great work by the defensive line to generate pressure with four rushers. Chandler Jones looked explosive, Vince Wilfork was strong up the middle, and Jermaine Cunningham looked fast and powerful rushing inside in the sub package generating pressure up the middle and collapsing the pocket. Some hiccups by the defensive backfield early, but they picked up the step in the middle of the game. The defense did a great job taking Titans running back Chris Johnson out of the game, and for the most part kept the big plays at a minimum. The team defense did a good job of putting the Titans in third and long, and--unlike last year--took away the deep pass and was able to shut down the short, underneath passes and force a punt.
Plan for Improvement:
- The defensive backfield was improved on in game one, but still gave up some chunks of yards, especially early in the game. Throw in the pass interference penalties, and after the Titan's first drive the defense looked like it was going to be i for a long day. Titans receiver Kendall Wright ran right across the field and broke a weak tackle attempt by Ras-I Dowling for a first down on the first drive of the game. Add in his pass interference penalty, and the season was five minutes old and I was cursing Ras-I something fierce.
- As great as the running game was when Steven Ridley was blasting through arm tackles and picking up yards, there were too many rushes where he went absolutely no where. A few times in the first half, rushes up the middle were just being stuffed back. The running game seemed to thrive with the athletic big guys (tight end Rob Gronkowski, guard Logan Mankins and tackle Nate Solder) out in space to open holes for Ridley. The best part of a running game is the play action that quarterback Tom Brady uses when the running game is effective. As great as Brady has been, with a running game that actually produces yards consistently, he can be more efficient and make the offense more productive converting more first downs and controlling the clock.
Huh? What was That?:
- Wide Receiver Wes Welkter spent 1/3 of the offensive plays on the sidelines. Believe me, Julian Edelman is not good enough to take snaps away from Welker. So what was going on? There was no sign of any injury, and other than taking a pass off the face-mask, there were no huge mistakes made by him out on the field. Was this a message from the team not to make waves in the off-season? A subtle "we can win without you, so take the contract we offer this coming off-season?" Either way, Welker was not lighting up the stat sheet on Sunday. Definitely something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
- The 1st quarter drop by wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was hard to figure out where it went wrong on television. It looked initially like Lloyd stopped running and then couldn't recover and catch up to the pass. As he was five yards behind the safety, it was a touchdown if the connection was made. On second view, it looked as if Lloyd was running to the middle of the field and Brady's pass led him out towards the sidelines. Lloyd had to turn all the way around and was unable to adjust with the pass just beyond his stretch. Not sure where it went wrong, but it needs to tighten up.
Odds and Ends:
- The addition of a healthy Shane Vereen at running back (presumably some time soon) should be interesting to watch as to how it affects the carries by Steven Ridley.
- Second round pick safety Tavon Wilson with an interception and first round picks Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower comine for a sack/fumble/recovery for touchdown. Not a bad start for the kids.
- Only one sack to talk about all week after all the fretting about the offensive line. There was some pressure, but overall a good job up front.
- Hope Dan Connolly is back soon and not injured too bad. Not much news about the injury (head) or if a concussion. Depth is a problem right now on the offensive line and losing a starter is not how to start the season.
- Jerod Mayo looks faster and more athletic with Hightower and Brandon Spikes beside him. His pass defense has improved and hopefully he will be able to make more plays. Has some great pressure on run blitzes as well blowing up the play in the backfield.