Monday, October 29, 2012

Patriots Have a Jolly Good Time in London

by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com

A blow-out at last.  At Wembley Stadium in London, the New England Patriots trounced the St. Louis Rams 45-7 with the offense finally leaving their inconsistencies behind and mixing the run and pass like a perfect storm and finally looking like the best offense in the NFL. As they wait to fly home into the downpours of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy for a much needed and well-deserved bye week.  Although St. Louis doesn't boast an all-pro, world-beater quarterback like Mark Sanchez, Kevin Kolb, and Russell Wilson (yes, that was sarcasm), they do have former number one overall pick Sam Bradford who was likely drooling in anticipation of facing the Patriots porous (even before their numerous injuries) and now depleted secondary.

The game started with the usual agony on defense that Patriots fans have grown so used to without the Ty Law/Lawyer Milloy or Asante Samuel/Rodney Harrison secondaries which dominated the AFC back in the glory days of Patriot defenses which drove Kordell Stewart to tears and Donovan McNabb to pick up a Super Bowl barf-bag.  Taking a play from the Seattle Seahawk's playbook against the Patriots earlier this season, Bradford tossed a 50 yard bomb right down the middle of the field on a double-move by Chris Givens off play-action two and a half minutes into the game.  I guarantee, I was not the only couch-bound viewer who jumped up and shouted at the television in frustration, "Not #&@*%(*ing again?"

But then, something strange happened.  The offense decided that with tight end Aaron Hernandez sidelined, instead of putting a crappy back-up tight end out on the field, the Patriots put their best offensive play-makers on the field together, and moved down the field with precision scoring on the first six drives and touchdowns on the first five.  Meanwhile, the defense continued stopping the run (as they have all season) and the defense decided to finally blitz the linebackers and put pressure on the quarterback while playing tight man coverage.  Instead of playing weak, zone, no-pressure crap, the defense stepped up (literally and figuratively), jamming receivers off their routes, playing aggressive, "go get the ball" style defense.  Granted, Seattle is not an offensive power-house, but neither was Arizona, Baltimore,     Buffalo, nor the Jets, but they all moved the ball through the air far too easily.   Finally, the Patriots decided to make it difficult for an offense to pass the ball.  And, hold onto your hats, it actually worked (yup, more sarcasm).

To illustrate how the Patriots offense actually clicked on all cylinders, the Patriots got two touchdowns out of Brandon Lloyd-o-cinco. Tom Brady and the offense spread the field with three wide receivers and tight end Rob Gronkowski and then played the match-up exploiting whoever had the worst defender in coverage out of the strong, but overmatched, defense of the Rams.  When the Rams dropped back to flood the middle of the field, the Patriots ran the ball down their throats picking up big yardage against a defense on their heels.  Much attention should be focused on the two twin tower tackles, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, who not only kept two of the best young outside pass rushers away from Tom Brady (that would be rookie sensation Bruce Irvin and "son of Howie" Chris Long, who had spent the previous weeks terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.  When the Patriots ran, the big guys (along with Donald Thomas filling in for the injured All-Pro guard Logan Mankins) cleared some impressive lanes for the Patriots running backs.

The Patriots game had the feel of a pre-season game as the Patriots already depleted team kept having players leaving the field injured. Cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole left injured, and with Ras-I Dowling going out on injured reserve earlier in the week and both starting safeties Patrick Chung and Stephen Gregory out, the much maligned defensive backfield really stepped up, including Sterling Moore, who had been on the injury list the past few weeks.  Add in a linebacker corps hobbled with injured, but gutting it out, starters Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo (alongside Brandon Spikes), and a defensive line with an ill Vince Wilfork, injured Kyle Love, Trevor Scott, and Ron Brace leaving the game injured.

The offense had its share of injuries as well, as running back Brandon Bolden and tight end Aaron Hernandez stayed home, tight end Rob Gronkowski and receivers Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, and Wes Welker (who left the game injured in the fourth quarter) were all dinged up, and offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Nick McDonald injured as well. The Patriots put the ball in the hands of Tom Brady and let him do what he does best: exploit match-ups. Letting Brady dictate the offense is what this team does best.  

Despite injuries, past poor performances, and inconsistencies, the team showed-up big time in London and rolled to a 45 to 7 victory over the Rams.  With a bye week coming up as a chance to rest up and get healthy, the Patriots face six winnable games and two tough opponents (both at home, however) in the second half. The Patriots play the Bills, the Colts, the Jets, the Dolphins (twice) and Jacksonville.  Add in two tough home games versus the 49ers and Texans, and the Patriots may be in line for another post-season run with home field advantage. A lot of games to play, but the Patriots may have a formula (at last) to combine good defense with an electric offense and be ready to roll into January. 

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