Jan 162013
 

Patriots - RavensYes, the Baltimore Ravens beat the New England Patriots 31-30 in a Week Three Sunday night contest. Yes, the Patriots lost tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season this past weekend when he broke his forearm for the second time this season. Yes, the Ravens are playing with a lot of emotional energy and momentum as they try to extend the career of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.

None of that will determine the outcome on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.

The Ravens come into the contest fresh off a stunning and thrilling double overtime win over the Denver Broncos. While the Ravens escaped with a win, the Broncos were as guilty of handing the Ravens the game as the Ravens were responsible for making it happen. The heralded Broncos’ defense, which was the second best defense in the NFL this season (3rd against both the pass and the run) was shredded by Joe Flacco and Ray Rice to the tune of 486 combined rushing and passing yards. Pro-Bowler Champ Bailey got burned badly twice for touchdowns, while Rahim Moore was responsible for allowing an inexcusable game-tying touchdown in the final minute. On offense, Peyton Manning made key mistakes and the play-calling was overly conservative, all of which contributed to allowing Baltimore a chance to win the game.

While such mistakes are possible on any given Sunday, they are not crimes the New England Patriots are likely to commit.

For their part, the Patriots handily dismissed of the Houston Texans 41-28 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score suggests. While the Texans didn’t fold early this time around, the Patriots dominated the third quarter and early fourth to build a 38-13 lead and coasted from there, despite not being overly sharp on offense, and while losing Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead, and Chandler Jones to injuries. The Patriots simply took care of business, pretty or not, and they are highly motivated to take on the Ravens and earn their sixth Super Bowl bid in twelve seasons.

That’s not to say that this is going to be an easy victory for the Patriots to earn. But the Patriots got the better of the possible AFC championship game match-ups with the Ravens, and they have the added benefit of playing the game in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium in what is currently forecast to be typical cold, windy January weather in Foxboro.

Here’s how the contest breaks down:

Ridley - RavensWhen the Patriots run
Stevan Ridley’s production has tailed off a bit in terms of yards gained, but he is still running for a solid average per carry and is more than enough to keep the Ravens’ defense honest. Denver ran for 125 yards against the Ravens, with their running game suffering the loss of Knowshon Moreno, but Ronnie Hillman was productive in gaining 83 yards. The Colts were similarly effective in rushing the ball against the Ravens in the wildcard game two weeks ago, gaining 152 yards on the ground.

The Patriots’ rushing attack was seventh in the league this season, averaging 136.5 yards per game. The Ravens still maintain a tough run defense, but slipped to 20th in the league this season, yielding over 122 yards per game on the ground. The versatile backfield group of Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen, running behind a stout offensive line, is likely to match the Patriots’ season average for yards. Ridley will grind yards between the tackles while Vereen has good speed to the edge and is always capable of breaking a big play. I expect that the Patriots will look to serve up a heavy dose of hurry-up offense, seeking to tire out a Ravens’ defense that looked heavily winded against the Broncos last Saturday. If the Patriots can secure a second half lead, look for the Patriots to pound Ridley and Vereen against a tired defense, killing valuable time off the clock.

Terrell Suggs had ten tackles and two sacks in the divisional round win over the Broncos. Ray Lewis is still fierce against the run, and assists Haloti Ngata, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Pernell McPhee, Terrence Cody and Arthur Jones in trying to limit the Patriots’ rushing attack.

Prediction: 130 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns

Brady - Ravens

When the Patriots pass
Tom Brady was not overly sharp on Sunday and was hampered by dropped passes, yet still piled up 344 yards and three scores. Just as importantly, Brady protected the ball and did not throw any interceptions. The Patriots’ passing attack will be without Rob Gronkowski, but the Patriots are used to life without Gronk, and have plenty of players ready to step up. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez are likely to once again be the keys to the Patriots’ short passing attack, while Brandon Lloyd has made his presence felt at key points in the season. Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead are reliable receivers coming out of the backfield who will likely get their opportunity to match up against the Ravens’ linebackers. Part of what will dictate the action is the defense that the Ravens line up with. If the Ravens line up in a base defense, it means mismatches with Vereen and Hernandez on linebackers, while if the Ravens move to a nickle defense, the Patriots will seek to exploit it with the run.

Corey Graham and Carey Williams are capable cornerbacks who will have their hands full on Sunday. Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are fearless and experienced safeties who can play coverage or go for the big hit, though Reed is known as a gambler. However, the linebacking corps is where the Ravens are going to experience problems. While Paul Kruger has emerged as as the Ravens’ best defensive player and is a pass rush threat who is also more than capable in coverage, both Lewis and Suggs will be liabilities in defending the pass. Similarly, the Patriots may be able to exploit match-ups against Dannell Ellerbe, and I would expect Vereen and Woodhead to be running short routes in Ellerbe’s assignment area. This mismatch between receivers and linebackers is complicated by the fact that the Ravens have struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback from their defensive line, and have had to bring linebackers to aid the pass rush. Brady excels at identifying the blitzing linebacker and exploiting the open area.

Prediction: 270 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns

Rice - PatriotsWhen the Ravens run

Although Ray Rice’s production tailed off, the return of right guard Marshal Yanda has bolstered the Ravens’ offensive line and Rice was able to run for 131 yards against the Broncos after rushing for 68 yards against the Bengals (Bernard Pierce ran for 103 yards in that game). Pierce is emerging as an offensive threat, but is struggling with an injury suffered against the Broncos. Vonta Leach is a versatile fullback who excels at creating room for Rice to run in. The Patriots’ defensive front is among the best in the game, anchored by Vince Wilfork. Brandon Deaderick, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes excel in run defense, while Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are effective in setting the edge. Justin Francis is an adequate replacement if Jones is unable to go due to injury. While Arian Foster was able to gain 90 yards last week against the Patriots, much of that came in a short succession of runs. Otherwise, Foster constantly found his running lanes clogged as he averaged 4.1 yards per carry (22 carries) which included a 21 yard run and a 19 yard run in the second quarter. Factoring those two runs out, Foster struggled for 50 yards on 20 carries.

Although Ray Rice is the only running back to have rushed for over 100 yards against the Patriots this season, he did so with 101 yards in Week Three. Rice is likely to average four yards per carry this week, and will likely hit at least one run of over twenty yards, but he is going to have a hard time finding room to run against a disciplined defensive front. Rice is one of two keys that the Patriots are looking to take away from the Ravens this Sunday.

Prediction: 110 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown


FlaccoWhen the Ravens pass

The other key that the Patriots will be looking to take away is the deep ball, particularly from Torrey Smith. While Smith does not make a ton of catches, he simply makes big plays, as Denver found out last week and as the Patriots know all too well from Week Three. Enter Aqib Talib, who plays with a level of swagger and confidence that is rare in Patriots’ cornerbacks. Talib’s skills make this a much tougher match-up for the Ravens than in the first meeting, but I still expect safety help whenever Smith is on the field. One of the keys to Baltimore winning this game is to hit big plays downfield, and that is something the Patriots must take away.

Joe Flacco excels in throwing the deep ball, and has emerged as the top of the “near elite” quarterbacks after Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers. And we might be talking about Flacco very differently had it not been for an outstanding play by Sterling Moore (on Lee Evans) in last year’s AFC Championship. Having said that, Flacco is better at throwing the deep ball than he is in the short and intermediate passing games; his post-season passing percentage in two playoff games this season is a mere 52.6. Talib and rookie Alfonzo Dennard (if healthy) are good bets to limit the production of Smith and Anquan Boldin, though both receivers will get their share of catches. Jacoby Jones is also a threat, and Kyle Arrington may have his hands full with the speedy receiver. Devin McCourty excels at safety and will take advantage of any mistakes made by Flacco, though his 22 TD, 10 INT season makes it unlikely that he will commit too many mistakes. Steve Gregory is playing extremely well and also limits yards after the catch.

The Patriots’ linebackers are generally solid in coverage, but they will be challenged by Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Ray Rice has not factored as a huge receiving threat out of the backfield this season, but this is one area that the Ravens could seek to take advantage of, particularly since the Patriots seemed content to allow Arian Foster to go uncovered out of the backfield on numerous occasions last Sunday. Foster caught seven balls for 63 yards and a touchdown, and this has to be an area of concern for the Patriots.

The New England pass rush has not been consistent throughout the season, and the reshuffled Raven’s offense has performed admirably in pass protection, surrendering only two sacks so far in the post-season. The Patriots may need to get creative in blitzes to give Flacco less time to look down the field.

One very interesting development in the Patriots’ defensive evolution took place last Sunday when Rob Ninkovich picked off a Matt Schaub pass to end a Texans’ drive. On the play, the Patriots put only one man on the defensive line in a three point stance, and moved Mayo up to the right side of the defensive front to give the appearance of an all-out blitz. Schaub read this and saw that the middle of the field was wide open, but the Patriots had baited him. When Schaub stepped back to pass, Ninkovich dropped into coverage, exactly where Schaub thought he had a free pass. The result was an acrobatic play by Ninkovich to pick the ball off and steal any momentum the Texans might have. This is significant because we have not seen this type of scheming in the New England defense since the days of Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, and speaks as to how far the defensive unit has come since a miserable early part of the season. Flacco will get his yards, but the Patriots know his tendencies and are likely to create some confusion for him as the game goes on.

Prediction: 280 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1 interception

Special Teams

Justin Tucker is an excellent rookie kicker who has missed only three field goals this season and looks to be at the beginning of a spectacular career. Sam Koch is a steady punter who is capable of giving the Patriots poor starting field position. Jacoby Jones is one of the game’s best returners; the Patriots will need to fix the coverage issues that they experienced last week against the Texans.

For the Patriots, Stephen Goskowski has overcome his early season struggles to have another successful campaign. Zoltan Mesko had an inconsistent season as the punter, but had a huge game last week against the Texans. I expect averages for both punters to come down in the colder weather this week, but Mesko is also capable of pinning the Ravens deep. McCourty is an inconsistent kickoff returner, while Welker always represents the potential of a big play in the punt return game.

Intangibles

Unlike the Texans, the Ravens won’t play scared and have a chip on their shoulder. Similarly, New England is playing with a strong sense of purpose after falling just short in last year’s Super Bowl.

One highly important piece is turnovers. The Patriots are the best in the league at +25 (41 takeaways versus 16 giveaways), while the Ravens come in at +9 (25 takeaways versus 16 giveaways). The lesson in these numbers is that both teams are proficient at protecting the ball, but the Patriots excel in forcing mistakes and turnovers. The Patriots were +1 in this department last week against Matt Schaub and the Texans, while Baltimore came out two Peyton Manning interceptions ahead last week. In the previous week however, Ray Rice loss two fumbles against the Colts. Fumbles are a rarity for Rice, but he will have to secure the ball this week against ballhawks like Mayo, Spikes, and Ninkovich. Just as special teams have the potential to shape this game, so too do turnovers.

One extra concern to note for the Patriots is their uncharacteristic trend of giving up points to end the first half, and giving up easy points once a lead has been established. If the Patriots can get in front of the Ravens on Sunday, they need to go for the kill and never let up.

Brady - VereenPrediction

If you simply compare the rosters between the two teams, the Ravens fare well, as their roster is loaded with talented players, even if they lack some of the depth of the Patriots, particularly on defense. Add the factor of the Ravens seeking revenge for last season’s loss in the AFC Championship, and Ravens’ fans have plenty of room to be hopeful. But revenge is only so much of a motivator, and it doesn’t replace execution. This game will come down to match-ups and execution, and that’s what gives Patriots’ fans confidence for a win.

The Ravens came into the playoffs as losers of four of their final five games. While their defense performed admirably on the road in the second half in Denver, shutting down Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense, the team will find it harder to execute to the same level in Foxboro this Sunday. The Patriots’ offense enjoys mismatches against the Ravens’ defenders that make it unlikely that the Ravens will hold the Patriots under 30 points. If Baltimore is to win this game, they will have to do so by winning a slugfest, and the Patriots’ defense is far better than it was when the two teams squared off early in the season. While the Ravens were able to win in Week Three, it was only after the Patriots squandered a two score lead late in the game in Baltimore.

Torrey Smith is right when he says the Ravens are a different team than they were a year ago; the trouble for the Ravens is that they are not necessarily a better team than they were a year ago. The offense has made strides in the passing game and has better playmakers than it did a year ago, although it is generally on par with where it was in 2011 statistically. But the Ravens’ defense has taken a significant step backward, in part due to health and in part to age. The Patriots are likely to draw the Ravens into a shootout, and the Ravens don’t currently seem equipped to win such a shootout with a team that won’t self-destruct the way Denver did in their divisional game, particularly on the road in New England. This game will see some early jitters for both sides as it will take time for the Patriots’ offense to find their rhythm, and an early Ravens lead is possible. But the Patriots will pull even or better by halftime, and the Patriots’ offense will physically pound the Ravens’ defense in the second half of the game. Both teams suffered from special teams lapses in the divisional round, so big plays are possible there. In the end, the Patriots’ offense will wear the Ravens down, and move on to the team’s eighth Super Bowl appearance.

New England Patriots 34 Baltimore Ravens 27

Jan 072013
 

Patriots - Texans 1In 2010, the New England Patriots routed the New York Jets 45-3 in their Week 13 match-up. Just six weeks later the Jets walked out of Foxboro as 28-21 winners in the divisional round of the 2010 season in the infamous “Wes Welker foot in the mouth” game. Such a cautionary tale is served up for anyone who thinks that a repeat of the Patriots’ 42-14 blowout win over the Texans in Week 14 is a sure thing.

For the Texans’ part, this Sunday’s match-up in New England offers Houston an opportunity for redemption. The team was outplayed in every aspect of the game in Week 14, as Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes and the Patriots had a 21-0 lead before the Texans knew what hit them. The Texans had already been struggling, needing overtime to beat both Jacksonville and Detroit, but the loss to the Patriots sent them team into a full blown tailspin. The Texans dropped two of their last three games after the rout, falling from the first to the third overall playoff seed, and forcing them to beat the Bengals on Saturday in order to earn their chance at redemption.

The Texans’ performance against the Bengals was less than convincing, and Matt Schaub’s expression was one of relief rather than confidence as the Texans left the field with a 19-13 win over Cincinnati. While Schaub had a pedestrian day, going 29/38 for 262 yards and one interception (pick six), it was Arian Foster’s 140 yards and a stifling Texan’s defense that got the team to move forward in the playoffs. Moreover, it was poor play on the part of the Bengals’ offense that failed to adequately test a suspect Texans’ secondary that aided the Houston defense. That won’t be a problem this coming Sunday.

The Patriots are a team on a mission. They are 9-1 in their last ten games, the sole blemish coming when the Patriots’ barnstorming comeback fell just short against the San Francisco 49ers. Their offense is just as capable as ever, but it is the improving defense that has Patriots’ fans dreaming of a fourth Lombardi trophy. The Texans saw the newly improved secondary five weeks ago in the form of Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard starting at the corners with Devin McCourty moving to safety, as the Patriots limited Schaub to a 19/32/232/1 interception performance, and limited Andre Johnson to eight catches for 95 yards. The Patriots’ run defense held Arian Foster to 46 yards on 15 carries, so both Foster and Schaub have plenty of motivation to play better this time around.

The Patriots will be on guard for a potential letdown as the coaches break out the racquetball rackets again in anticipation of JJ Watt. And the sound bytes to the media already tell you what the Patriots are going to be inundated with all week. “I think there’s certainly a lesson there about how the game that we play now doesn’t have much to do with the game we played before,” Head Coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s another example of that. … That is and always will be the case, there is little relevance to the previous game.” Tom Brady offered the same assessment. “I don’t think that game is going to have any bearing on what happens next week,” Brady said. “That was a big win for our season, it was a big win at that time, but this game is going to be entirely different and I think we need to put just as much preparation into the game as we did before … We know these guys. I think that’s the part that I enjoy, that I’ve already spent a lot of time preparing for them, so to have another week to do it, you feel like you’re going to know them that much better, so we still have to go out and execute against it. I know they felt like they didn’t play their best game against us, which they didn’t, and in a lot of ways, I think we can play better too and we need to play better, it needs to be our best week.”

Here’s how the contest breaks down:

When the Patriots run
In their first meeting the Patriots ran for 130 yards, with Stevan Ridley gaining 72 on 18 carries. The Patriots bring their full complement of running backs into this contest, with Ridley the main back and Danny Woodhead playing the role of scatback. Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden offer a change of pace, with Vereen’s speed serving as a threat particularly in the screen game. The Patriots found their success running behind the guards in the first meeting, particularly pounding the ball behind Logan Mankins in the second half. The Texans boast the second best run defense in the league, yielding only 80 yards per game, but the Patriots’ short passing game opened up the Texans defense, particularly after the Patriots had established the lead. Bradie James and Barrett Ruud must limit Patriots’ runners to under four yards per carry, as the Patriots ripped off thirteen runs of four or more yards between the tackles in December. Look for the Patriots to offer a balanced dose of Ridley, Vereen, and Woodhead to rush for around 120 yards as the run game serves to keep the Texans honest.

Patriots - Texans 2When the Patriots pass
In the first meeting between the two clubs Tom Brady went 19/32 for 232 yards and four touchdowns, and that was without Rob Gronkowski on the field for the Pats. Brandon Lloyd had an outstanding night, catching seven passes for 89 yards and a score, while Aaron Hernandez caught eight balls for 58 yards and two scores. Deion Branch replaces Donte Stallworth from the first meeting, while Wes Welker drew lots of attention from the Texans’ secondary and had a quiet night with only three catches. The Texans struggled in coverage all night long, and penalties aided three Patriots’ drives. This has to be a huge area of concern for the Texans, as the combination of Lloyd, Welker, Gronk, and Hernandez means that every play will carry some form of mismatch; it is simply up to the Patriots’ offensive line to give Brady the time to exploit it. The Patriots’ line did a fantastic job in the first game, holding the Texans to one sack, limiting pressure by the Texans’ pass rushers, and Ryan Wendell essentially removed JJ Watt as a factor from the game. Expect the Texans to make some adjustments to try and free up Watt, but the quick strike passing offense of the Patriots is not likely to be derailed this weekend. Expect Brady to throw for more than 250 yards as he takes advantage of a very suspect Texan’s secondary. Danieal Manning in particular had a rough outing against the Patriots last month and I expect the Patriots to go after Manning early and often on Sunday.

When the Texans run
The Texans bring in the fourth best rushing offense and one of the game’s most prolific running backs in Arian Foster. In the first meeting, Foster was held to 46 yards on 15 carries with one touchdown, and 15 of those yards came on one play. The Texans as a team were limited to 100 yards rushing, as Ben Tate also carried for 46 yards against the Patriots. The Texans’ performance was right on par for the ninth rated rushing defense, which yields only 101.9 yards per game, but it was also with the Patriots staked out to a huge early lead, essentially factoring out the Texans’ running game. The Texans will get their yards on the ground this week, but the Patriots’ solid run stuffers (Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes) should be able to keep big gains relatively in check. Foster was able to run for 140 yards against the Bengals by the Texan’s front line controlling the interior and staying away from Geno Atkins, but the Patriots have a better interior defense than the Bengals do. On the outside, the Patriots are effective at setting and holding the edge, courtesy of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Foster and Tate will find their running lanes far more crowded than in their win over Cincinnati.

Patriots - Texans 3When the Texans pass
Matt Schaub has good numbers this season (4,008 yards, 22 TD, 12 INT) but seems to wilt under the spotlight in big games. Will this game serve as the moment where Matt Schaub stepped up, or will he begin to be labeled as a choke artist? Schaub is obviously most comfortable throwing to Andre Johnson, who had an outstanding season in 2012, and the Patriots will once again need to limit his production. Assuming everyone is healthy, look for the Patriots to leave Talib in single coverage on Johnson, occasionally offering safety protection over the top. More often than not however, the Patriots will need to bring a safety up for run defense, putting the pressure on Talib. Tight End Owen Daniels had 62 catches this season and is Schaub’s next favorite target, and the combination of Daniels and Garrett Graham (who missed the first meeting) could give the Patriots’ linebackers fits, as they occasionally struggled in coverage in the first contest without Graham playing. Kevin Walter is a dependable target, and Foster is a receiving threat coming out of the backfield. There is no doubt that the Texans have the tools to have a big game in the air, but they need Schaub to be a good decision-maker and to execute his throws. His interception by McCourty in the first game is demonstrative of the type of lapses that seem to hold Schaub from rising to an elite level of quarterback play. The Texans did a good job of protecting Schaub in the first game, despite the Patriots’ pouring on the blitzes. Schaub is likely to throw for over 250 yards in this game, but the key statistic is going to be his touchdown to interception ratio. Further, if the Patriots successfully limit the Texans’ rushing game, that will take away the play action pass as a significant threat. Without the play action, Schaub is simply not a great quarterback. The Patriots know this and took away Daniels in their first meeting, something the Texans need to correct.

Special Teams
Keshawn Martin is a dangerous return man for the Texans. Shayne Graham is a good, but not spectacular kicker, while Donnie Jones is one of the best punters in the league. On the Patriots’ side, Stephen Gostkowski is generally a reliable kicker, while Zoltan Mesko has had an inconsistent season. McCourty has been up and down as a kick returner, while Welker is always capable of breaking a big return in the punting game.

Intangibles
The Texans keep talking about contests as being the “biggest in franchise history.” My unsolicited advice to the Texans is to talk about any biggest games after they have won a Super Bowl, and not before. Such talk merely reiterates what the Texans have yet to accomplish, and serves as a reminder that in the “big game” department the Patriots have been there and done that. Mental edge to the Patriots.

Both teams are healthier this time around, and the Patriots have had an extra week of rest to get everyone prepared. Jermaine Cunningham is back and will aid in applying pressure to Schaub as well as stopping the running game.

In the turnover game, the Patriots and Texans were the best in the AFC, but the Patriots were the best in the league, coming in with 41 takeaways and only 16 giveaways (+25) while the Texans forced 29 turnovers while giving up 17 of their own (+12). This favors the Patriots, but both teams are good at protecting the ball.

Another intangible to keep in mind is that everything went right for the Patriots the first time around. Even when JJ Watt stripped the ball from Danny Woodhead, it was recovered for a touchdown by Brandon Lloyd. When the Patriots fumbled the ball early, Aaron Hernandez was able to rescue it and then score on the next play. Every break went the Patriots’ way, and the result was a blowout win. The Texans did not play with intensity in the first meeting, and know they must play a much better game to compete with the Patriots. Expect the Texans to show up on Sunday.

The Texans win if… Matt Schaub doesn’t make key mistakes, Arian Foster and Ben Tate are able to run for over 150 yards, Andre Johnson is able to exploit single coverage, JJ Watt is able to be a factor in the game, and the Texans’ secondary limits the Patriots’ passing attack.

The Patriots win if… The offensive line protects Tom Brady and keeps Watt from disrupting the passing lanes, the secondary is able to limit the production of Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels, the Patriots protect the ball, and the Patriots show up with the intensity to play four good quarters.

Prediction
This game is not likely to be a blowout, but rather a hard fought affair that won’t be decided until the fourth quarter. While the Texans have seventh best defense in the NFL, it is not a defense that matches up well against the Patriots massive amount of weaponry. As long as Tom Brady has time to make reads, he will complete passes; the Texans’ secondary is simply not as talented as the Patriots’ receiving corps and the Patriots’ top ranked offense. On the other side, the Texans have an explosive offense as well (7th in the NFL) but will be hard pressed to win a shoot-out in New England. The Texans will stick with the Patriots well into the second half before the Pats are able to create a big play and provide some separation. The Patriots ability to pound the ball late in games is a huge asset that will serve them well in this game. Schaub played scared against the Patriots in Week 14, and I don’t expect him to improve this quickly. The Texans, unlike the Patriots, use a similar offensive game plan for every opponent, and this is something that can aid the Patriots in forcing Schaub to make mistakes.

Patriots 34 Texans 24

Oct 292012
 

The UK Patriots signs were in abundance at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday, despite the designation of the St. Louis Rams as the home team. At the end of the game, 80,004 fans saw the short-handed New England Patriots thrash the Rams 45-7 to go into their bye week on a positive note, and with a 5-3 record.

The highlight of the game for the Rams (3-5) came early. On the very first drive Sam Bradford connected with Chris Givens on a 50 yard touchdown pass to put the Rams up 7-0. Safety Tavon Wilson bit on a double move from Givens and the pass was an easy one for Bradford. After that the Rams would only connect for two passing plays of more than 20 yards as the Patriots’s defense shut down the vaunted St. Louis running attack and forced Rams’ mistakes for the rest of the afternoon.

On the Patriots’ first offensive drive, they tied the game at 7 after Tom Brady connected on a 19 yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd, capping an 8-play, 78 yard drive. After the Rams punted, the Patriots then drove 83 yards on 9 plays, with Shane Vereen taking the ball the final yard for his second touchdown of the season. The Rams then gave the ball back on another punt, and the Patriots drove another 78 yards on 9 plays, resulting in a 7 yard Brady pass to Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown and one of the better touchdown celebrations in recent memory. After the game, Gronk described the dance and spike as both a “palace guard” and as “the little Nutcracker dude, guarding the house.” In any event, the salute delighted the London fans, especially after spiking the mike in a pre-game rally.

The Rams then went on a 9 play drive that only resulted in 27 yards before a 54 yard field goal attempt was muffed and the Patriots started at their own 44 yard line. The Pats needed 9 plays to cover the remaining 56 yards, ending with a one yard by Stevan Ridley to close the half at 28-7 and effectively end the game by halftime.

The Patriots came out in the second hald determined to close the game, and exhibited some of the offensive swagger of previous seasons, going for the kill rather than playing conservatively on a big lead. The Patriots needed only six plays to drive 80 yards to open the second half, with Ridley gaining 30 yards on a long run before Brandon Lloyd caught his second touchdown pass of the day, upping the lead to 35-7. Chandler Jones ended the next Rams’ drive with a huge 17 yard sack of Bradford, and the Patriots drove 58 yards again before the Rams finally forced New England to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to end the third quarter with a 38-7 lead.

Brady played the first series of the fourth quarter, driving 55 yards on 6 plays and ending with a 14 yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski to close the scoring before Ryan Mallett came in for the final two drives. The Rams twice drove deep into Patriots’ territory in the game’s final minutes, and both drives ended with Patriots’ interceptions by Alfonzo Dennard and Tavon Wilson.

How the game broke down:

When the Patriots ran
The Patriots had no problem exploiting the Ram’s defensive line to spring outside runs. The Patriots hit their season average with 152 yards on the ground, and they were able to run for chunks almost at will. Stevan Ridley led the way with 127 yards and a touchdown while Shane Vereen added 22 yards and a touchdown. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed
The Patriot’ offensive line (even without Logan Mankins) was masterful against the Rams’ outstanding pass rushers, stopping the Rams from getting to Brady. There were no official quarterback hits and no sacks as Brady was able to patiently and consistently take advantage of mismatches, often involving Rob Gronkowski, who caught eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Brady routinely picked on cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who racked up three legitimate defensive pass interference calls, all on third downs. Wes Welker caught six passes and Danny Woodhead added five receptions as Brady used eight different receivers to rack up 304 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Rams’ defense had no answers for the Patriots’ spread attack, and Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer both did terrific jobs of negating the pass rush of Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Advantage: Patriots

When the Rams ran
As noted in the preview of this contest, the Patriots set out to shut down the Rams’ running game and did so convincingly. Daryl Richardson led the way for the Rams with 53 yards, but much of that was in “garbage time” in the fourth quarter. Steven Jackson was held to a paltry 23 yards while Isaiah Pead added 32 yards on three late carries. The Rams managed to squeeze out 107 yards on the ground, but they were meaningless stats in a blowout loss. Advantage: Patriots

When the Rams passed
For the first time since Week One, the Patriots actually notch a victory in this category. Sam Bradford was held to 205 yards, with 69 of those yards coming on the first drive of the game. After that, it was all Patriots. Lance Kendrick had four catches, and Chris Givens, Brandon Gibson, and Austin Pettis each had three for the Rams. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones each had keys sacks for the Patriots, who were able to deliver some timely pressure on Bradford. Sterling Moore had six tackles and one pass defensed, while Marquise Cole and Brandon Spikes each broke up two passes. Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams
Make it a clean sweep, though special teams did not factor significantly into the outcome. The Patriots’ Zoltan Mesko was effective in his limited opportunities and Ghost added two field goals on two tries while the Patriots’ limited the Rams’ return game and kept field position in favor of the Patriots throughout the game. Advantage: Patriots

Key Moment: Pass interference call on Bradley Fletcher when the Patriots were already up 21-7. The Rams had botched a field goal attempt that would have made the score 21-10 and the Patriots’ drive appeared to come up short on a third down pass to Brandon Lloyd, but officials caught an obvious grab that put the ball on the Rams’ 20 yard line, setting up a one yard Stevan Ridley touchdown and effectively ending the game by the half.

Game Ball: Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, who negated the Rams’ pass rush and gave Brady enough time to shred the Rams’ pass defense. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels deserves an honorable mention for an exceptional game plan on offense that built an early lead and helped take the pressure off of a secondary that has been under siege.

Note: The Patriots set an NFL record on Sunday for offensive productivity, recording their 17th consecutive game with at least 350 yards of offense, totaling 473 yards against the Rams. This surpasses the record set by the 1999-2000 St. Louis Rams, then dubbed the “greatest show on turf.” The streak dates back to November 6, 2011 and includes the following totals:

11/6/2011 vs. Giants – 438 yards (332 passing, 106 rushing)
11/13/2011 at Jets – 389 yards (329 passing, 60 rushing)
11/21/2011 vs. Kansas City – 380 yards (223 passing, 157 rushing)
11/27/2011 at Philadelphia – 457 yards (353 passing, 104 rushing)
12/4/2011 vs. Indianapolis – 362 yards (289 passing, 73 rushing)
12/11/2011 at Washington – 431 yards (352 passing, 79 rushing)
12/18/2011 at Denver – 451 yards (310 passing, 141 rushing)
12/24/2011 vs. Miami – 400 yards (281 passing, 119 rushing)
1/1/2012 vs. Buffalo – 480 yards (360 passing, 120 rushing)
9/9/2012 at Tennessee – 390 yards (228 passing, 162 rushing)
9/16/2012 vs. Arizona – 387 yards (297 passing, 90 rushing)
9/23/2012 at Baltimore – 396 yards (319 passing, 77 rushing)
9/30/2012 at Buffalo – 580 yards (333 passing, 247 rushing)
10/7/2012 vs. Denver – 444 yards (193 passing, 251 rushing)
10/14/2012 at Seattle – 475 yards (388 passing, 87 rushing)
10/21/2012 vs. Jets – 381 yards (250 passing, 131 rushing)
10/28/2012 at St. Louis – 473 yards (321 passing, 152 rushing)

Both teams now go into their bye week. The Rams will visit the 49ers on November 11th while the Patriots will be at home against the Buffalo Bills.

Oct 222012
 

Let’s start with the positives for the New England Patriots: they won the game, beat a division foe, and took sole possession of first place in the AFC East. And for a few key moments at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime, Tom Brady was clutch again. After that, it gets pretty hard to find positives from Sunday’s performance against the New York Jets.

It’s no secret that the Patriots have had a dreadful time closing out games on both offense and defense this season. In the three games won prior to today, the Patriots outscored their opponents by a total of 55 points. In the three games they had lost, they were outscored by only four points, lost late leads, and squandered opportunities to close out games, either through not converting first downs on offense, or giving up huge chunks of yardage on defense. And Week Seven against the Jets was shaping up a lot like the three losses.

And then Rob Ninkovich came to the rescue.

The converted long snapper to linebacker to defensive end had several big plays on Sunday, but none bigger than the sack and forced fumble that ended the game as the Patriots survived a sub-par effort and squeezed out a narrow 29-26 victory over the new York Jets.

The game started out as expected. The Jets drove 75 yards to open the scoring with a one yard touchdown run by Shonn Greene to put the Jets in front 7-0. From there the Patriots took control of much of the first half, with Devin McCourty returning the ensuing touchdown 104 yards to tie the game. After a Jets’ three and out, the Patriots then marched 58 yards, culminating in a Brady to Gronkowski touchdown and a 14-7 Patriots lead.

Early in the second quarter things went from bad to worse for the Jets. Starting on their oen 12 yard line, Mark Sanchez muffed a hand off to Greene and the ball rolled into the end zone, where Sanchez made a heady play and kicked the ball out of the end zone, resulting in a safety and a 16-7 Patriots lead. After a Patriots’ punt, the Jets once again started deep in their own end but had moved the ball to near midfield before Sanchez was late on a throw, allowing Alfonzo Dennard the opportunity to pick off the pass and thwart the Jets’ drive. The Patriots started the next drive at their own 2 and were able to punch the ball into Jets’ territory, aided by a facemask call against the Jets which otherwise would have had the Patriots punting from their own 32. The Pats pinned the Jets at their own 5 and looked ready to get the ball back and post another score before the break. But Sanchez and the Jets wouldn’t cooperate. Aided by Greene’s running, a 15 yard pass play to Dustin Keller, and a defensive holding call the Jets were able to drain the rest of the first half clock, ending the drive with a 54 yard field goal by Nick Folk to cut the Patriots lead to 16-10.

The Jets opened the second half by driving deep into Patriots territory with the aid of another Sanchez to Keller connection, and then surprisingly did not go for it on a fourth and one, opting for a 21 yard Folk field goal and closing the gap to 3. The Patriots’ offense then seemed to click into gear, at least momentarily, as Brady drove the Patriots 83 yards, primarily on the back of Stevan Ridley, before connecting on another touchdown pass to Gronkowski and extend the advantage to 23-13.

The Jets then went three and out on the next drive and the Patriots looked like they were on the verge of finally putting a close game away. Shane Vereen ripped off 24 yards on the next two plays to close the quarter, but then Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ play calling to open the fourth quarter seemed to tajke the wind out of the Patriots’ sails. After Vereen ran for another two and a Patriots first down, the next Vereen run also only netted two. Instead of looking downfield to the tight ends or Wes Welker on 2nd and 8, McDaniels tried a short screen to Welker, which the Jets blew up for a two yard loss. Then on third and ten McDaniels went back to the same well, trying another short pass to Woodhead which also got blown up for a two yard loss and forced a Patriots’ punt. The series was a bizarre set of downs and seemed to reinforce the notion that McDaniels can get too cute for his (and the Patriots) own good.

The Jets started the next drive again deep in their own territory, thanks to a poor decision by Jeremy Kerley to field the ball at his own 8. But Sanchez, looking like a far better quarterback on Sunday than the Patriots had seen in a long time, engineered a 14 play drive that featured a 17 yard pass to Stephen Hill, a 19 yard pass to Kerley, and another 15 yard pass to Hill before Sanchez connected with Keller for a 7 yard touchdown, cutting the Patriots lead to 23-20. the next Patriots’ drive opened with a push-off by Brandon Lloyd that was flagged for offensive pass interference, immediately putting the Patriots in a hole. Three plays later the Patriots punted again, and most Patriots’ fans around the country were undoubtedly having flashbacks to the Seahawks’ game (I know I was) as the Jets started at their own 35 and began moving in for the kill. Sanchez hit Keller for a 20 yard game before Joe McKnight reeled off a 12 yard run, and the Jets were off and running. Three plays later though Hill dropped a pass that would gave given the Jets a first down deep in Patriots’ territory, and the Jets had to settle for a Folk field goal and a 23-23 tie.

On the kick off, McCourty coughed up the ball, and the Jets recovered the ball at the Patriots’ 18 yard line. But the Jets stalled, picking up three yards on two plays before Sanchez was sacked by Dont’a Hightower. Folk then kicked his fourth field goal of the game to put the Jets up 26-23 with only 1:42 remaining. But that’s plenty of time for Tom Brady, and he smoothly connected with Gronkowski for 15 and then for 12 more, and then with Danny Woodhead for a 20 yard gain that got the Patriots to the jets’ 32 yard line. Two plays later Gostkowski exercised some demons by connecting on a 43 yard field goal that tied the game at 26 and sent it into overtime.

The Patriots won the toss and methodically drove the ball 54 yards on 12 plays before Gostkowski kicked a 48 yard field goal to put the Patriots up 29-26. The Jets then began at their own 15, and netted only five yards on their first two plays, them failed to convert on a long pass. But Dennard was flagged for defensive holding and the Jets got a fresh set of downs at their own 15. McKnight then got blown up by Ninkovich for a two yard loss, but Sanchez responded with a beautifully thrown 17 yard connection to Kerley to keep the drive moving. McKnight was then stuffed again by Vince Wilfork for no gain, before Sanchez dropped back to pass on the next play. Jermaine Cunningham got to Sanchez’ legs and held onto him while Ninkovich hit Sanchez in the chest and arm, forcing the ball out of his hands. Ninkovich then promptly pounced on the ball to end the game and snuff out the jets’ chances of an upset.

This game will do little to relieve Patriots fans who think that this team, which is capable of utterly dominating its opponents, has something wrong with it. Between the Patriots’ tendency to give up big plays on defense, and the offense’s ability to inexplicably fail to execute at key moments, and the recipe for disaster never seems far away. Add in Josh McDaniels own lackluster coaching performance, and I expect the Boston faithful to be up in arms this week despite the Patriots pulling out a narrow win in a game that they could have won handily.

This is to take nothing away from the Jets’ performance. Sanchez executed well all game and looked like a far more patient quarterback than normal, though he still missed connecting on a couple of key plays in addition to having his receivers drop a couple of important passes. The Jets’ defense was hardly spectacular, but it made key plays at key times to keep the Jets in contention. If nothing else, the jets proved that rumors of their demise are still premature, and that this team still has a lot of fight left in them despite the rash of injuries that has taken away some of their best players. It may not last long, but the reinvigorated Jets were tough to put away for this one Sunday in October.

When the Patriots ran:
For the most part, the Patriots were able to run the ball effectively on Sunday. They simply didn’t call running plays at the right times. Stevan Ridley gained 65 yards on 7 carries, well below his usual productive level. But Shane Vereen added 49 yards on just 8 carries and Danny Woodhead added 17 yards. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:
Once again, when the Patriots called the right plays they were highly effective. Although Brady only threw for 259 yards, he had two touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski and did not throw an interception, although Antonio Cromartie managed to drop an easy one. Gronk and Welker both had six receptions and Aaron Hernandez added five as Brady connected with eight different targets on the day. Advantage: Patriots

When the Jets ran:
Although Shonn Greene was able to carry the ball effectively on a few occasions, he had an unspectacular game, rushing for only 54 yards on 16 carries before leaving due to a head injury. He did return for one play but was then taken out again. McKnight provided a spark off the bench, with 23 yards on 7 carries, and five other rushers combined for 29 yards as the Jets tallied a total of 116 yards. It was more the timing of the Jets’ running game than the 3.5 average per carry that made the Jets’ ground game effective. Brandon Spikes was a beast against the run on Sunday, recording ten tackles and routinely stuffing the Jets’ rushers. Advantage: Jets

When the Jets passed:
Mark Sanchez threw for 328 yards with one touchdown and one interception. And while Sanchez’ own blunders and the mistakes of his receivers likely cost the Jets the game, it was the ability of the Jets to gain major chunks of yards through the air all day that kept the jets in the game at all. The Patriots gave up six passing plays of more than twenty yards and committed a slew of defensive penalties in the secondary that only served to underscore the current state of the Patriots’ secondary. Advantage: Jets

Special Teams:
Devin McCourty sparked the Patriots early with his 104 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, then nearly cost them the game with his kickoff return fumble late in the fourth quarter. Ghost connected on both of his field goal attempts and Folk on all 4 of his, but the real difference was in the punt game, where Zoltan Mesko routinely pinned the Jets deep and was aided by Jeremy Kerley’s questionable decisions to field at least two punts deep in his own end that might have resulted in touchbacks. In the game of field position, the Patriots won the day and were aided by uncharacteristic Jets’ errors. Advantage: Patriots

Key moment: Twenty yard connection from Tom Brady to Danny Woodhead to help move the Patriots into field goal range to tie the game before the end of regulation.

Game ball: Rob Ninkovich with four tackles, 1.5 sacks, another tackle for loss, a quarterback pressure, and the strip that ended the game.

Oct 072012
 

In the end this game turned out almost exactly as I expected it to. The teams exchanged early touchdowns before the Patriots asserted control over the game for two quarters, and then the Broncos played a frenzied fourth quarter to close the gap to ten points and make the score respectable. And while the Broncos left some opportunities on the field Sunday, including two blunders by Willis McGahee, the game really wasn’t as close as it seemed at the end.

While Peyton Manning outdueled Tom Brady on the stat sheet, it was the Patriots’ dominance in the run game that once again stole the show for the Patriots. Stevan Ridley led the way with 151 yards on 20 carries, while the Patriots amassed 251 total rushing yards on the day and a team record 35 first downs. Brandon Bolden ran for 54 yards and Danny Woodhead added 47, including a huge 19 yard run on a 3rd and 17 play that was instrumental in an early third quarter score as the Patriots opened up a 24-7 lead and turned the Broncos into a one dimensional team for the rest of the contest. On the other side, the Patriots’ defense limited McGahee to just 51 yards on the day. Turnovers were again a problem for the Broncos, as they turned the ball over three times compared to the Patriots’ one.

The Broncos looked like they were going to get off to a fast start when Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for a 43 yard pass play, but the ball was jarred loose by Sterling Moore, who recovered the ball and got the Patriots out of early trouble. After the teams traded punts, the Patriots then drove 84 yards on 12 plays, with Brady eventually connecting with Wes Welker for the first points of the day. The Broncos struck back on the next possession, scoring early in the second quarter when Manning found Joel Dressen for a one yard touchdown pass. The Patriots then began to force their will on the Broncos, taking 14 plays and 6:08 off the clock before Shane Vereen scampered in the last yard for a 14-7 Patriots lead. It was a lead that the Pats would not relinquish.

After the Broncos downed a punt on the Patriots’ two yard line, Brady engineered a 16 play drive to close out the scoring in the first half. Branden Bolden broke off a big 24 yard run and Ridley added a 14 yard run, and the Pats appeared primed to end the half with another touchdown. But a brilliant tackle by Von Miller stopped Bolden for a four yard loss and the Pats were forced to settle for a field goal, going into the half up 17-7.

The defenses asserted themselves at the outset of the second half, forcing each team to punt. But then the Patriots seized control of the game with yet another long, 16 play drive that took over six minutes, and ended with Brady taking the ball the final yard for a 24-7 lead. On the very next offensive play, Rob Ninkovich sacked Manning and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Vince Wilfork. Three plays later Ridley ran for an 8 yard touchdown and a 31-7 lead, and it looked like the rout was on.

Of course playing against Peyton Manning means the rout is rarely if ever on, and Manning began leading the Broncos with some urgency, putting together a 10 yard drive in three and a half minutes that resulted in a beautiful two yard touchdown reception by Eric Decker, and the lead was cut to 31-14. After the Patriots were forced to punt, the Broncos moved the ball to the Patriots’ 47, where they faced a critical fourth and one. Manning hit McGahee for an easy first down play, but McGahee lost concentration and dropped the ball, giving in back to the Patriots with 10:54 remaining. The Patriots then drove to the Broncos’ 37 and faced a 4th and 5. Rather than punting for a short net gain, the Patriots decided to seal the win. Instead, Brady was sacked by Elvis Dumervil and Wesley Woodyard that resulted in a Patriots fumble and a 20 yard loss in the resulting scramble. The Patriots recovered, but it was Denver’s ball on downs. Manning then needed just 6 plays to connect to Brandon Stokely and cut the lead to 31-21.

The Broncos then decided on an ill-advised squib kick instead of kicking away, giving the Patriots great field position at their own 39 yard line. The Patriots then drove to the Broncos 37 after a big 20 yard run by Ridley, who then fumbled on the next play after Mike Adams jarred the ball loose and recovered it for the Broncos. The Broncos needed two scores and Manning completed three of his next six passes to get the Broncos to the Patriots’ 14 yard line, but then Rob Ninkovich came up with his second big impact play of the game, knocking the ball out of McGahee’s hands on the next play, which Jermaine Cunningham pounced on to seal the Patriots’ win.

The victory was Brady’s ninth in 13 games against Manning, but it was the running game and timely defense that propelled the Patriots to victory. Wes Welker caught 13 passes on the day for 104 yards and one touchdown, showing that the rumors of his demise were definitely premature. Rob Gronkowski caught four passes and Brandon Lloyd three as the Patriots’ balanced attack kept the Broncos guessing throughout the game.

Here’s how the game broke down –

When the Patriots ran:

The Patriots rushing attack dominated the Broncos all afternoon,  with Ridley averaging 5.4 yards per carry on his way to 151 yards, and Bolden and Woodhead combining for another 101 yards. Patriots’ blockers were able to seal the edge all day to get outside, and inside runs routinely turned up positive yardage. The Broncos had no answers for the Patriots’ ground game today. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:

While it was not a performance for the ages, Brady was generally sharp, connecting on 23 of 31 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown pass. Brady was sacked four times on the day, as the Pats had difficulty with the Broncos’ edge rushers. But time and again when Brady needed a play, he found Wes Welker, who seemed to torch the Broncos at will. Advantage: Patriots

When the Broncos ran:

Willis McGahee was held to 51 yards, and the Broncos overall only managed to rush for 70 yards, and only 3.0 yards per carry. McGahee had one run of 11 yards and Manning scrambled for another 10, but otherwise the Patriots’ snuffed the Broncos rushing attack.. Once the Patriots secured the lead, the Broncos abandoned the run for the remainder of the game, until a key fumble by McGahee sealed the Broncos’ fate. The Patriots knew that shutting down McGahee early would be a key to victory, and they got the job done. Advantage: Patriots

When the Broncos passed:

What I said in my preview turned out to be true. Manning started out sluggishly, figured things out as the game progressed, put up huge stats and still lost the game comfortably. Manning threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns, and was sacked only twice but one of those was a turnover that led to Patriots’ points. Demaryius Thomas had a solid day, catching 9 passes for 188 yards. Jacob Tamme added six catches and McGahee five, but it was Eric Decker’s pretty grab of a two yard Manning touchdown pass despite excellent coverage from Devin McCourty that should see time on the highlight reels. Advantage: Broncos

Special Teams:

Both kicking units had good days, as both Britton Colquitt and Zoltan Mesko were able to turn advantages on field position for their respective teams. Neither return unit made any major errors. Advantage: Tie

Key Moment: Danny Woodhead’s 19 yard run on a 3rd and 17 that helped the Patriots open the game up to a 17 point lead in the third quarter

Game Ball: Stevan Ridley’s 151 yard performance has established him as a bona fide lead back in the Patriots offense and one of the top ten backs in the NFL in this early part of the season

Game Note: Rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was active for the first time this season, and was involved in breaking up a few passes, including a key third down play to Brandon Stokely that forced a Broncos punt. The highly talented player dropped to the seventh round based on character issues, and the Patriots may have found themselves a diamond in the rough.

Sep 302012
 

The New England Patriots clearly saw something in the Buffalo Bills’ defensive front seven of which they thought they could take advantage. And after struggling through an awful first half the Patriots got back to their game plan and asserted their will over the Buffalo Bills, crushing them 52-28 in Orchard Park, New York. The Patriots dominated the Bills on the ground, rushing for 247 yards. Undrafted rookie free agent Brandon Bolden carried the ball 16 times for 137 yards and one touchdown, while Stevan Ridley rushed for 106 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. But it wasn’t just the ground attack that shredded the Bills. Both Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski surpassed 100 yards receiving with Gronkowski catching one touchdown after both players lost fumbles in the first half.

The Patriots went into the half down 14-7 after missing two field goals and turning the ball over twice in the first half. Only a defensive blast by Brandon Spikes stopped the Bills from taking a 14 point lead into the half after his devastating hit knocked the ball out of CJ Spiller’s hands before Vince Wilfork came away with it. The Patriots went into the half looking vulnerable, after dropping the last two contests against the Cardinals and Ravens by a total of three points.

The second half started out the same way. After a Patriots’ punt to open the half, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones for a 68 yard touchdown pass and the Bills went up 21-7. It looked like the rout might be on. But eight plays later scrambled out of the pocket to find Danny Woodhead on his way to the end zone and the Patriots closed the gap to 7. After a Bills’ three and out, the Patriots started deep in their own territory, but again used an eight play drive to find the end zone, this time with Brady scrambling it in for a four yard touchdown. After a four play Bills possession, the Patriots were again on the march, this time resulting in an easy Brady to Gronkowski touchdown pass that pushed the Patriots ahead 28-21.

The Bills were reeling at this point, and three plays later Fred Jackson fumbled and the Patriots recovered at the Bills 42. Stevan Ridley scored six plays later for a 35-21 Patriots’ advantage. Three more plays later Devin McCourty picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick and returned the ball to the Bills’ 12, and Bolden scored to make it a 21 point lead. The Bills struck back on the next drive with a terrific play from Fitzpatrick to Brad Smith, cutting the lead to 42-28. But the Patriots struck back with a touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to seal the 52-28 win.

The win had many blemishes. Besides sloppy play, the Bills’ offense shredded the Patriots’ secondary for 350 passing yards and 4 touchdowns, though Fitzpatrick also threw four interceptions as Patriots’ pressure resulted in underthrown balls and poor decisions on the part of the Bills’ quarterback. Stephen Gostkowski had a forgettable game. After missing the game-winning kick against the Cardinals two weeks ago, the Ghost missed his first two attempts this week, pushing one kick to the right and pulling another to the left, before finally connecting on a 30-yarder in the games closing minutes.

How the game broke down

When the Patriots ran:

The Patriots had a monster game on the ground, rushing for 247 yards and having two backs rush for over 100 yards, the first time the franchise has done that since 1980. Brandon Bolden blasted through the line at will, seemingly picking up big chunks on every play while Stevan Ridley rotated between sizable chunks and churning out tough yards for first down conversion. The front seven of the Bills, highly touted all week leading up to the game, had no answers for the Patriots’ devastating ground attack. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:

Tom Brady was 22 of 36 for 340 yards, with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Brady connected with seven different receivers, with Welker catching nine passes, Gronk six, and Brandon Lloyd snagging three. Good secondary play by Stephon Gilmore being the only thing that prevented a complete Bills’ meltdown as he defended well against Brandon Lloyd on the outside. Still, Brady shredded the middle of the field and the Bills had no answers thanks to the effective Patriots’ rushing attack that let Brady strike at will in the second half. Advantage: Patriots

When the Bills ran:

The Bills netted only 98 yards on the ground despite having both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller in the line-up. Worse for the Bills, both players lost fumbles for Buffalo. New England’s front seven routinely blew up runners and Brandon Spikes had a big day, as did Vince Wilfork. Advantage: Patriots

When the Bills passed:

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, and seemed to hit big plays all day long against the Patriots’ secondary. Only Ryan Fitzpatrick’s lack of arm strength stopped the Bills from being even more effective, and his underthrowing contributed to four Patriots’ interceptions on the day. One could look at Devin McCourty and feel good about his two interceptions today, but on one of those he was clearly beat and Fitzpatrick threw the ball right to him. The Patriots were able to apply decent pressure on Fitzpatrick, but the Patriots coverage group broke down on numerous occasions. Advantage: Bills

Special Teams:

Close call here. The Ghost missed two field goal attempts but hammered kickoffs through the end zone. Zoltan Mesko was effective in giving the Bills difficult starting position. The shanked punt by Shawn Powell gives the Patriots the edge. Advantage: Patriots

Key Play: Brady’s four yard touchdown run to tie the game, which was upheld after review. As the play was upheld, Brady could be seen saying “F%#k you, B($#hes to no one in particular, which amused Wes Wlker to no end. Clearly, Tom was pumped and angry, and he fought to lead the Patriots comeback.

Game Ball: Brandon Bolden, who ripped through the Buffalo defense on his way to 137 yards and 8.6 yards per carry.

Game Log

Pre-game Notes: Gronk in. Hernandez, Edelman. Mankins out. These absences making the game a bigger challenge than it would already be. Expect heavy doses of Gronk and Welker today from the Patriots. Wearing the new official #12 game day jersey; let’s see how it fares!

FIRST QUARTER

Patriots defer on coin toss.

Bills’ possession

Jackson for a first down on the first play. Misdirection pass for another first – expect to see that a lot today. Jackson stuffed on the next play. Fitzpatrick scrambles for 7. First down to Chandler. Jackson for 5. Jackson for 3 more. Jackson stuffed for loss. Great play by Chandler Jones. Bills punt to New England 10.

Patriots’ possession

Fells across the 25 on first down. Vereen short catch for 6. Big play downfield to Gronk to the Bills’ 26. Gronk inside the 20. Ridley for a first down in the red zone. Walker to the 6 off play action. Ridley touchdown. Patriots take an early 7-0 lead. 90 yard drive in 7 plays.

Bills’ possession

Quick pass for 8. Spiller chased out of bounds for a loss by Hightower. Johnson for first down to the Bills’ 40. Short pass to Spiller for 3. Hightower takes down Fitzpatrick for one yard sack. Pick by Mao on a deflection by Wilfork.

Patriots’ possession

Incomplete pass batted down by Darius. Ridley for 8. Incomplete to Brandon Lloyd. Patriots punt to the Bills, 5, fielded by Matthew Slater.

Bills’ possession

Screen pass to Dickerson out to the 30. Jackson for 4. Jackson for another yard. Sack by Chandler Jones. Bills punt and Patriots start at own 29.

Patriots possession

Incomplete pass to Lloyd. Bolden runs for a first down. End of first quarter.

SECOND QUARTER

Patriots possession

Brady misses Welker for an incompletion. Bolden for 2. Woodhead reception short of the first down. Patriots punt to the Bills’ one yard line.

Bills’ possession

Spiller to the 3. Patriots call time out #1. McCourty picks off deep pass, who was beaten and came back for the under thrown ball.

Patriots’ possession

Bolden for 12. Gilmore hurt on play. Incomplete pass on first down under late pressure. Bolden for short loss. Deep pass to Lloyd is incomplete. Ghost is wide right by 49 yard field goal try.

Bills’ possession

Chandler crosses midfield on first down pass. Short loss for Jackson; holding against Bills declined. Fitzpatrick overthrows deep pass. Third down pass to Chandler incomplete. Bills punt fair caught by Welker at the 9.

Patriots’ possession

Short pass to Gronkntomthe 24; Gronk drops the ball and the Bills recover.

Bills’ possession

Fitzpatrick to Chandler for 24 yard touchdown completion. Patriots 7 Bills 7.

Patriots’ possession

Welker pass for 9. Ridley for another 8. Ridley for 7, and then another 6. Vereen for no gain. Intentional incompletion follows on broken screen play. First down pass to Lloyd. Incomplete pass on next play. Ridley pounds out 8 yards. Ridley runs to the 29, bringing up forth down. Patriots call time out #2. Gostkowski 42 yard field goal is wide left; three straight misses now for Ghost. Points being left on the field again today.

Bills’ possession

TJ Graham for 7 on quick pass. Jackson stuffed on screen. Great pass from Fitzpatrick to Fred Jackson to the Patriots’ 27. Spiller to the 20. Another Fitzpatrick touchdown pass to Chandler for 14-7 Bills’ lead.

Patriots’ possession

Ridley for no gain. Brady sacked for 7 yard loss, bringing up long third down. Welder take a pass to the 27, then fumbles it. Bills recover. It’s like the Pats are trying to implode before halftime.

Bills’ possession

Bills start at Patriots’ 21. Incomplete pass defended by Chung. Errant pass by Fitzpatrick on second down. First down pass to Brad Smith at the 8. Two minute warning. Spiller to the 4. Spiller fumble recovered by Vince Wilfork after huge hit by Brandon Spikes.

Patriots possession

Ridley to the 14. Ridley four more for first down. Patriots run out the clock, trailing at halftime 14-7.

THIRD QUARTER

Patriots’ possession

Patriots open the half lucky to not be down two scores. Pats start at their own 20. Welker big catch and run to the 46. Bolden for 2. Gronk drops a Sure touchdown after a hit by Glimore. Third down pass batted down. Patriots punt to the Bills’ 17.

Bills’ possession

Jackson taken down for no gain. False start sets Bills back five yards. Fitzpatrick pass to Chandler tipped away by Spikes. Screen to Jackson nets a first down. Jackson for 4. Fatzpatrick quick pass to Donald Jones goes for a long 68 yard touchdown. Bills 21 Patriots 7.

Patriots’ possession

Pass to Bolden for first down. Bolden big gain for 27 yards. Bolden for another first down run. Ridley for 7. Ridley for a first down. Gronk drops a pass at the 3 yard line. Ridley for 2 to the 17. Brady scrambles out of trouble to complete touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead. Bills 21 Patriots 14. Brady: 36 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.

Bills’ possession

Long pass incomplete with good coverage by McCourty. Spiller stopped by Wilfork for one yard. Pass to Chandler incomplete. Bills punt all the way to the Patriots 25, but penalty against the Patriots adds 10 more.

Patriots’ possession

Welker first down pass to the 28. Ridley for 1. Welker to the 45 yard line. Bolden rips off a 20 yard run. Bolden for 4 more. Brady to Welker to the 13; roughing gets the ball to the 7. Bolden to the 4. Brady runs it in for the score. Patriots 21 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

22 yard pass to Jones to stat the drive. Jackson stuffed by Ninkovich for two yard loss. Ninkovich sacks Fitzpatrick and forces fumble, which Bills’ recover. Left tackle Cordy Glenn hurt on play. Fitzpatrick pass incomplete on third down. Bills punt is a shank to the Patriots’ 37.

Patriots’ possession

7 yard out to Welker. Ridley pushes for the first down. Gronk for 14. Ridley for 11. End of third quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER

Patriots’ possession

Brady splits the secondary for touchdown pass to Gronk. Patriots 28 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

Spiller to the 36, but hurts shoulder on play. Jackson for a short gain. Jackson fumbles after hit from Spikes. Patriots recover at the Bills’ 42.

Patriots’ possession

Incomplete pass to Lloyd. Ridley runs it to the 29 for a first down. Bolden for another first down run. Bolden to the 2. Incomplete pass in end zone. Ridley for the touchdown. Patriots 35 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

Wilfork blows up Donald Jones to blow up a first down screen. False start on Bills. Dropped pass on second down. Interception by McCourty, who returns it to the 12.

Patriots’ possession

Bolden to the 7. Bolden in for the touchdown. Patriots 42 Bills 21. Blowout now official after a rough start.

Bills’ possession

Graham for 9 yard completion. Johnson for a first down catch. Spiller catches pass for short gain. Fitzpatrick throws wide incomplete. Bills call a time out. Completion to Dickerson for first down at midfield. Pass play broken up Arrington. Quarterback draw to the 45. Spiller goes 8 yards for the first down. Pass to Johnson incomplete on missed opportunity. Fitzpatrick scrambles for three. Fitzpatrick to Smith for the touchdown. Patriots 42 Bills 28.

Patriots’ possession

Gronk recovers onside kick. Brady to Fells incomplete. Ridley for 1 yard gain. Brady complete to Welker at he 30 for a first down. Bolden for 7, then a one yard loss. Bills use last time out. Brady long pass to Lloyd for the touchdown. Patriots 49 Bills 28. The rout is back on, and the stadium is starting to look empty.

Bills’ possession

Tavon Wilson picks off Faitzpatrick on the first play of the ensuing series.

Patriots’ possession

Ridley for two yard loss. Ridley gets the two back on the next play. Lloyd to the 11. Two minute warning. Ghost puts it through the uprights for a 52-28 Patriots’ advantage.

Bills’ possession

Choice for a short gain. Choice runs for a first down. Screen to Choice for short gain. White runs for about 6. End of fourth quarter.

FINAL SCORE: Patriots 52 Bills 28

 

Aug 312012
 

Pre-Season Game #4: Giants 6, Patriots 3

One could look at the Patriots’ pre-season and see causes for concern. The Patriots were a meager 1-3 this pre-season and their offense often looked like it was bogged down in a swamp. But the final pre-season game against the Giants, just like the rest of the pre-season, also served to help create high expectations for the 2012 season.

Summary

The Giants beat the Patriots 6-3 on a late field goal by Lawrence Tynes. The game featured 18 punts, so neither offense was exactly on fire. Eli Manning and the Giants starters made a brief appearance in the game, while most of the Patriots’ starters had the night off. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick seems to have harder roster decisions to make this year than in recent years, as the depth of the roster has bred tough competition this year. Ryan Mallett started the game and had an up and down night, finishing 8 of 15 for 40 yards. Running back Brandon Bolden led the Patriots with 15 carries for 59 yards while rookie running back Jeff Demps had six carries for 15 yards and three catches for 31 yards.The Patriots only earned 12 first downs. On defense, Mike Rivera had a strong night with 12 tackles. Linebacker Jermaine Cunningham accounted for two of the Patriots’ four sacks on the night. Rookie free agent Justin Francis had one and Trevor Scott had the other.

The Good

Mike Rivera looked solid in his bid to earn a roster spot. Jermaine Cunningham is finally starting to look like the player that the Patriots thought they drafted. Punter Zoltan Mesko was the best Patriot on the field, punting nine times and pinning the Giants inside their own 20 yard line on six occasions. Sebastian Vollmer was back and looked good in limited snaps.

The Bad

Nothing horrible really stood out. Mallett was inconsistent, but that’s about it.

Next Up

The Patriots will be back in action for the first game of the season on September 9 when they travel to Nashville to play the Tennessee Titans.

May 222012
 

The New England Patriots finished 2011 one incomplete pass away from winning their fourth Super Bowl in eleven years and, judging by their aggressive off-season movements, seem intent to make sure that the next Super Bowl result isn’t nearly as close. Learning from the mistakes of 2011, Head Coach Bill Belichick is fulfilling fan wishes everywhere of improving a defense that simply could not get off the field in too many key situations last season. By getting off the field earlier and more often, the Patriots can provide more opportunities for Tom Brady and the offense to roll through opposing defenses, and build leads that an aggressive defense can then help turn into a rout.

This is not to say that the Patriots are going to roll through the 2012 season like they did in 2007, blasting through a 16-0 season before falling in the final minute of the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. But it is to say that conditions are favorable for a highly successful 2012 campaign. The offense brings back its major parts and has improved its receiving corps. The defense has improved at all three levels, and the special teams will to continue to excel, while the Patriots will benefit from a softer schedule this season, facing off against the AFC East, NFC West and AFC South in addition to their first place opponents Baltimore and Denver. Throw in the fact that this team is well aware that they were one play away from winning it all last year, and I expect a team bent on attending to unfinished business from last year.

Trying to predict anything that Bill Belichick will do is at best a shot in the dark. But when it comes to things like who Belichick will select in the draft, or who will make the Patriots’ roster, well that’s nearly impossible. Even the best Boston beat reporter gets things right only half the time, so this article is less about predicting who will make the final roster and more to give a semi-educated guess about who I think is the most likely to survive to the regular season.

Unlike the Jets, who look no better on paper than they did at the end of last season, the Patriots have made significant strides to improve the roster. Let’s take a look at the most likely prospects to make the opening day 53-man roster. I am in no way trying to keep up with all signed players, now that rosters have been expanded to ninety players. Almost all of that is roster fodder, though one or two unlikely candidate may emerge as we get towards the regular season. I will keep modifying this article until the first week of the season. Each update will be labeled so that it can be contrasted with my original projections.

Players in bold are projected as starters.

Quarterback (Grade: A)

Tom Brady is the incumbent and remains one of the top two quarterbacks in the NFL. Brian Hoyer is a capable backup who will likely be a future NFL starter for another team, as he is in the last year of his contract. Mallett appears to be the heir apparent in Foxboro.

Tom Brady

Brian Hoyer

Ryan Mallett

Running Back (Grade: B-)

The loss of BenJarvus Green-Ellis meant that the Patriots would add a veteran back, and thus entered Joseph Addai. I have never been an Addai fan and didn’t think much of the signing, but accepted that it was a very practical and low-risk move. None the less, I don’t think Addai has much left in the tank, and will likely be beat out by younger players. Ridley is more explosive than Green-Ellis, but struggled to hold on to the ball last season. The Patriots seem very high on Shane Vereen, who was not able to get on the field much last season.

Danny Woodhead is a great change of back a la Kevin Faulk, and much younger than Faulk. While Faulk is a fan favorite in New England, his declining abilities make it unlikely that he will get signed and/or win a roster spot. Brandon Bolden is a candidate for the practice squad.

The Patriots have also signed several fullbacks coming into the 2012 campaign, including fan favorite Eric Kettani, who was able to get clearance from the U.S. Navy to re-join the Patriots. Still, Spencer Larsen and Tony Flammetta might have inside tracks to make the cut. Larsen’s versatility gives him the edge in this battle.

Stevan Ridley

Danny Woodhead

Shane Vereen

Spencer Larsen

Out: Joseph Addai, Eric Kettani, Tony Flammetta

Practice Squad: Brandon Bolden

UPDATE: Joseph Addai was released, as predicted.

Wide Receiver (Grade: A-)

Remember when Reche Caldwell was considered the #1 receiver? Me neither. The 2012 Patriots suffer from no such lack of depth at receiver. If anything, the camp battle is going to be fierce this summer.

Wes Welker returns as the best slot receiver in the NFL and is playing under a franchise tender. Personally, I think he has handled his contract negotiations all wrong. He was offered a two year, $16 million deal and turned it down last year, and is now surprised that the Patriots are offering him less this season. Yet he is a year older, and the play of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez has taken away some of his leverage. Playing out his contract dispute in the media and through Twitter is also not his best move, and in truth I would not be surprised to see the Patriots take a trade offer for him before the 2012 season commences, perhaps nabbing a high round pick in the 2013 draft. Barring a trade however, the Patriots could once again slap Welker with a franchise tag next offseason if they are in the mood to add a few million to his current salary, and they just might.

Brandon Lloyd adds explosiveness to this group and is very comfortable working with Josh McDaniels. Deion Branch is a Brady-favorite, but the return of Jabar Gaffney could bring Branch’s tenure to an end. For the moment, I am projecting that they will both make the roster. Julian Edelman is not a sure bet to make the roster, despite his versatility. While I expect him to make it, Matthew Slater is a solid special teamer that will make the cut, and Jeremy Ebert may have a high upside.

Donte Stallworth seemed to have a chance to make it until the Pats signed Gaffney; I am convinced Gaffney will edge him out. Chad Ochocinco is unlikely to make it through camp. Despite his good work ethic and his ability to keep his mouth closed for the most part, he simply lacks production, and the Pats have brought back players who are proven producers. Gaffney’s signing convinced me that the Ocho experiment will be coming to an end.

Wes Welker

Brandon Lloyd

Jabar Gaffney

Deion Branch

Julian Edelman

Matthew Slater

Out: Chad Ochocinco, Donte Stallworth, Britt Davis, Anthony Gonzalez

Practice Squad: Jeremy Ebert

UPDATE: Anthony Gonzalez was released on 5/29.

UPDATE: The Pats finally cut Ocho on 6/7.

Tight End (Grade: A+)

Providing they stay healthy, this is the best tight end group in the NFL, bar none. No training camp battles anticipated here.

Rob Gronkowski

Aaron Hernandez

Visanthe Shiancoe

Practice Squad: Brad Herman

Out: Nick Melilli, Bo Scaife, Daniel Fells

UPDATE: The Patriots signed Bo Scaife on 6/7. Not sure if he is insurance for Gronkowski, but unless there is an injury to the top three I doubt he makes the roster. Scaife had a solid 2008 campaign with Tennessee but declined after that before spending last season on injured reserve.

UPDATE: The Patriots released Scaife on 6/18. That was a short stay.

Tackle (Grade: B)

Solder and Vollmer look poised to anchor the ends of the offensive line for years to come as long as both stay healthy. The Patriots have yet to decide if Canon’s future will be as a tackle or as a guard. But we know the team values versatility, so he may well do both in the year ahead.

Nate Solder

Sebastian Vollmer

Marcus Canon

Practice Squad: Markus Zusevics

Center/Guard (Grade: A-)

The key here is Brian Waters, whose return means the Patriots have great depth at the interior line positions. Waters had a fantastic 2011 season, and will start at right guard with the report that he plans to play again in 2012. Dan Connolly, projected to start at center prior to Koppen’s re-signing, now works into a rotation. Another major factor is the health of Logan Mankins, who is not expected to be ready for the start of the season and may start out on the PUP list. This necessitated the signing of Robert Gallery to fill in through Mankins’ absence.

Dan Koppen

Logan Mankins

Brian Waters

Dan Connolly

Robert Gallery

Ryan Wendell

Out: Donald Thomas

Defensive Line (Grade: B)

Chandler Jones was a great draft pick by the Patriots, and he will likely be given every opportunity to work his way into starting at the “elephant” position made famous by Willie McGinest. Wilfork is a beast in the middle who eats up blockers, and Deaderick is quickly coming along as a solid interior player. Fanene, Baquette, and Scott, provide a quality of depth that the Patriots have lacked in recent years. Andre Carter may still be signed if he is healthy enough, but my money is on his not returning to Foxboro in 2012.

Vince Wilfork

Brandon Deaderick

Kyle Love

Myron Pryor

Jonathan Fanene

Jake Bequette

Trevor Scott      

Chandler Jones

Out: Alex Silvestro, Marcus Forston, Aaron Lavarias, Marcus Harrison, Gerard Warren, Ron Brace, Justin Francis

Linebacker (Grade: B-)

Much is still to be decided about who will play inside and outside, but Dont’a Hightower should see significant action as the year progresses, and offers the Pats a great deal of flexibility in the linebacking corps. However the positional battles shake out, look for a steady rotation to include Mayo, Spikes, Hightower, Ninkovich, and Carpenter. Jermaine Cunningham may wash out as a failed second round pick.

Dont’a Hightower

Rob Ninkovich

Bobby Carpenter

Jerod Mayo

Dane Fletcher (injured)

Brandon Spikes

Tracy White

Mike Rivera

Out: Jermaine Cunningham, Jeff Tarpinian, Niko Koutouvides

Practice Squad: Markell Carter

UPDATE: Markell Carter cut on 6/7. As much as the Patriots liked him in 2011, the offseason personnel improvements seem to have made Carter expendable.

UPDATE: Fletcher tore ACL is first pre-season game; out for season

Cornerback (Grade: B-)

Arrington and Moore both proved to be good corners in a much maligned secondary, and McCourty’s improvement over last year’s performance would do a great deal to bolster this unit. Will Allen offers great depth, and Alfonso Dennard will prove to be a steal if he can stay out of legal trouble.

Kyle Arrington

Devin McCourty

Ras-I Dowling

Sterling Moore

Will Allen

Alfonso Dennard

Safety (Grade: C+)

Well, at least the unit can’t get any worse after a nearly abysmal performance in 2011. Steve Gregory has been brought in to start, but he may only be keeping a seat warm for Tavon Wilson, who Bill Belichick seems very excited about. Chung is solid, and Ebner to looks have a good upside and will offer better depth than the Pats had last season. It’s still a possibility that the Pats could add veteran depth, such as former Jet Jim Leonhard.

Patrick Chung

Steve Gregory

Tavon Wilson

Nate Ebner

Out: Ross Ventrone, Sergio Brown, Josh Barrett, Malcolm Williams

Special Teams (Grade: A-)

Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game and Mesko is not far behind as a punter. Finding return men for kicks and punts seems to be the only question as the Patriots look to 2012.

Stephen Gostkowski (K)

Zoltan Mesko (P)

Danny Aiken (LS)

Out: Chris Koepplin

Overall Offensive Grade: A

Overall defensive Grade: B-

Ultimately, the Patriots only need a “middle of the pack” defense to increase opportunities for a potent offense. If the 31st ranked defense from 2011 can even improve into the high twenties or low teens, the Patriots will rack up plenty of one-sided victories in 2012.

UPDATE: Just for giggles, let’s check back prior to the opening game against Tennessee to see how I did in projecting the roster versus Imala Weligamage over at the Bleacher Report. We have just a few differences, but it should be interesting to see how it all plays out.