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Patriots – Bears, Who Has The Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups


Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright will be looking to continue a recent streak of success for the Patriots offense against Chicago on Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots return to action after a 10 day “mini-bye” and take on the Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The game will be televised on Fox Sports with Sam Rosen and John Lynch on the call. Kickoff is slated for 1:05 p.m.

The Patriots (5-2) have won three in a row and defeated the New York Jets 27-25 last Thursday night as Chris Jones blocked a last second 58 yard field goal attempt to preserve the victory.

The run defense was gashed for over 200 yards and the Jets controlled the time of possession for over 40 minutes. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense had the ball for only 19 minutes but were able to score 27 points. Brady continued his recent sharp play passing for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns including two to RB Shane Vereen.

The Bears (3-4) lost to the Miami Dolphins 27-14 dropping their home record to 0-3 on the season. The Bears have dropped three of their past four games and there were reports of players having to be separated in the locker room after the game.

The offense which has been inconsistent this season, has also turned the ball over too much in 2014. They will be looking to get RB Matt Forte involved in a big way, Forte leads the NFL in pass receptions and has rushed for 448 yards on the season.

The Chicago defense which has been banged up at the linebacker position was victimized by Ryan Tannehill last week. Tannehill completed 25 of 32 for over 270 yards. However as much as Chicago has struggled at home, they’ve been a very good 3-1 road team thus far in 2014.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2014 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Bears have only met 12 times in their history with the biggest matchup being the Bears 46-10 rout in Super Bowl XX. Overall the Patriots hold an 8-4 edge over Chicago with the last meeting being a 36-7 win in a snowy Chicago in 2010. Sunday will mark the Bears only fourth trip to Foxboro with the Patriots winning the first three.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

Patriots RBs vs Bears Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Bears
The Patriots running game took a big hit with the season-ending loss of Stevan Ridley during the Pats win in Buffalo two weeks ago. They are still trying to figure out how to share the carries with Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray who was recently promoted from the practice squad.

The Bears defense, normally stout against the run has been banged up especially with LBs Lance Briggs and Jonathan Bostic missing the past two games. Both returned to practice this week, albeit in a limited role.

This matchup should favor the Bears defense although it is imperative that the NE offense continue to stick with the run as the balance is important in keeping the play action passing a threat.

Patriots WRs vs Bears Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
Tom Brady and the Patriots passing game has been catching fire lately, Brady has passed for over 900 yards and 9 TDs with 0 INTs in the past three games, a far cry from the first month of the season when the passing game was scuffling along.

The recent success has been buoyed by the return to health of TE Rob Gronkowski who is rounding into form after his ACL surgery from last year. Gronk, Julian Edelman and Brady have had good chemistry and as WR Brandon LaFell and TE Tim Wright become more comfortable with the Patriots offense, they’re becoming bigger parts of the passing game.

The Bears can bring a lot of pressure on opposing QBs, DEs Willie Young and Jared Allen provide good edge pressure and the interior pressure by Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea will be key against a NE OL that has struggled to protect Brady at times in 2014.

As always that protection is key with the good news that OL Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have returned to practice this week. Brady will attempt to target the middle of the field against the banged up LBs and safeties with Gronkowski and Edelman. Look for Tim Wright to have a bigger role this week as the offense may go with more 2-TE sets.

Bears RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Bears
The Bears running game features the multi-dimensional Forte who has rushed for 448 yards this season. Forte is fifth in the league in rushing and provides a tough matchup for a banged up Patriots defense that has been gashed at times this season. It is interesting that the Bears only average 94.5 yards per game running the ball, as they should seem to doing it much more effectively.

The Patriots run defense took two big hits in the past two weeks as LB Jerod Mayo was lost for the season in the win over Buffalo and then early this week, it was reported that DE Chandler Jones injured his hip in the win over the Jets and will miss the next month.

With the changing faces along the defensive line and linebacker positions this week, look for the Bears to give the running game a renewed emphasis this week. They should be able to run and how effectively will go a long way in determining this one.

Bears WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Jay Cutler has some outstanding weapons in WRs Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and TE Martellus Bennett along with Forte who has been very effective at catching the ball out of the backfield. They are all big and provide some matchup mismatches especially in the TE department as NE has seemed to continually struggle coverage there.

However, Cutler remains inconsistent in his second season with Trestman at the helm, at times like the Atlanta game he’s nearly unstoppable and then at others he makes awful decisions with the football and turns the ball over. His play will ultimately decide whether the offense takes off on Sunday or scuffles along. After the debacle on Sunday at home, maybe the road trip is a welcome relief.

The Patriots have been very good against the pass allowing only 208 yards per game, and this is a game that seems to fit exactly why they brought in CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to face the bigger WRs in Chicago. While the Jones absence takes away their best pass rusher, the other players on the defense will have to step up and the coaches more creative in getting some pressure.

The Pats get the slightest of edges here because of the turnover potential. This is a good ball-hawking defense that is currently listed at #2 in the NFL with a +9 differential. They always seem to find a way to create a key turnover or two. The Bears offense has had issues there, giving up 13 turnovers (7 INTs, 6 fumbles) so far in 2014. This is the week for Revis and Browner to step up.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push
Both teams are solid in the kicking game and have reliable kickers. Stephen Gostkowski for NE and Robbie Gould for the Bears are both reliable and have very good range. Gostkwoski’s only miss came on a bad snap in Buffalo.

Both punters are likewise having solid seasons with Ryan Allen for the Pats averaging 46.2 per punt while the Bears Pat O’Donnell is averaging a solid 45.2 per punt as well. Both teams are looking to getting the return games untracked, so this will be a matchup to watch in a close game.

Prediction:
This should be another good, hard-hitting close game. Expect the offenses to score more this week as each team should have some success in moving the ball. The key from a Patriots perspective on defense is to slow down Forte. The all-purpose threat can influence a game either running or receiving and has gained over 150 all-purpose yards in four of the Bears seven games.

For the Patriots offense to go, Brady will have to get Gronkowski going in the middle of the field to target the Bears safeties and LBs, an area where they are vulnerable. I look for the Patriots to play more 2-TE this week as their game plan specific offense changes from week to week.

The biggest tipping point may be in the turnover department, something the NE defense has been very good at. If they can force a turnover or two that should be enough to win the day and the Patriots are always good at home. Brady should have another good day throwing the ball as the Pats hold serve with a close 31-27 win.

Patriots Player to Watch- Rob Gronkowski
The big tight end is beginning to round into form as his recovery from ACL surgery continues to progress. The past three weeks has seen his playing time increase as he not only is involved in the passing game but as a run blocker as well.

Gronk’s production in the past three games, 18 catches, 264 yards and 1 TD resemble pre-injury Gronkowski like numbers. He also opens up a lot of room for the other receivers as he tends to generate a lot of attention from opposing defenses.

This is a game tailor made for him to have a big influence in. He along with Brady are the two most important members of the Patriots offense. Look for him to have a big game on Sunday.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Bears

The Bears Brandon Marshall will be one of the key players to watch in Sunday's game in New England. (USA Today photo)

The Bears Brandon Marshall will be one of the key players to watch in Sunday’s game in New England. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots return to action after a much needed 10 day mini-bye to take on the Chicago Bears in Foxboro on Sunday. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox with Sam Rosen and John Lynch on the call.

The Patriots (5-2) defeated the New York Jets 27-25 last Thursday night as Chris Jones blocked a last second 58 yard field goal to preserve the victory. The game marked a tough stretch of four games in 18 days as the team needed a break both physically and mentally.

The offense scored 27 points while only possessing the ball for 19 minutes and Tom Brady continued on his recent hot streak, tossing three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The running game struggled with the absence of Stevan Ridley gaining on 63 yards on the ground.

The defense struggled against the run, getting gashed to the tune of 218 yards as the Jets held the ball for more than 40 minutes, totally owning the important time of possession subplot. Now with a breather, the defense will look to rebound.

The Bears (3-4) lost to the Miami Dolphins 27-14 on Sunday dropping them to a very improbable 0-3 at home in 2014. The Bears, who have missed the playoffs in six of the past seven years need to get going and soon if they wish to reverse that trend this season. However, the Bears are 3-1 on the road, so they’ll have that in their favor.

As part of the lead-up to the game on Sunday night, we’ll have a detailed breakdown of the matchups later in the week, but here are Five First Impressions of the Bears:

Meltdown Sunday Shows Frustration: After their third loss at home on Sunday there were reports of players pointing fingers and having to be physically separated. While those things can’t be allowed to happen, it shows the frustration level that exists as this is a team that should be (on paper) much better.

The very talented but mercurial WR Brandon Marshall was particularly bothered to not be getting the ball enough. The last thing the Bears need is for Marshall to revert to the player who worked himself out of Denver and Miami.

Patriots fans have seen some of that same frustration on Brady, however nothing to the level we’re allegedly hearing from Chicago. It will be interesting to see how much they Bears try to get Marshall involved quickly on Sunday.

Bears Receivers Offer Biggest Challenge Yet: While the Patriots pass defense has been at the top of the NFL thru the first seven weeks, four of the top ten passing teams will face them in the next six games. So we’ll have a much better appreciation as to where this pass defense is.

Chicago easily has one of the biggest receiver cores in the NFL, Marshall 6’4, Alshon Jeffrey 6’3 and TE Martellus Bennett 6’6 all give QB Jay Cutler tremendous size to box defenders out and be able to get jump balls in the red zone.

But it is the 6’2 RB Matt Forte who is the biggest target in the passing game. Forte has already caught 52 passes out of the backfield and adding in his 448 yards on 111 carries in the running game, the Bears have some very talented offensive weapons.

Pressure Key For Bears’ Defense: While Miami QB Ryan Tannehill torched the Bears for 277 yards and 123.6 QB rating, it was ability to scramble that was a key component in that game. Tannehill ran for 48 yards in the contest including a huge 30 yard scramble that set the tone.

The Bears’ DT Jeremiah Ratliff led the way for the pass rush logging in 3.5 sacks of the Bears four sack effort on the day. With the interior push, that will be key to playing the Patriots this week. DE Jared Allen can still bring some pressure from the edge and Willie Young who has seven sacks will push from the outside, but nothing makes the immobile Brady more ordinary than pressure up the middle.

This will be a big matchup this week for both units, with CB Kyle Fuller hurting and questionable to play this week with hand and hip injuries, the Bears will need pressure to slow down the Patriots passing game. Tannehill completed 25 of 32 passes, if Brady has similar numbers, it won’t bear well for the Bears defense.

Look For Run-Heavy Look This Week: New England has struggled to stop the run this season, in losses to the Dolphins and Chiefs and the near loss to the Jets they were gashed badly. The Bears offense has been somewhat Jekyll/Hyde this season as they’ve been extremely inconsistent.

One of the biggest reasons has been turnovers; QB Jay Cutler has turned the ball over 10 times this season. A big way to remedy that situation is to turn to the running game with Forte. Forte has the skills to take a game over and set the tone.

Facing a New England defense struggling to stop the run, the running game will keep the Patriots offense off the field and set up play-action to the big receivers that Cutler has to work with. Last week Chicago could only muster 63 yards on the ground, putting a lot of pressure on Cutler who lost an INT and also three fumbles with one lost.

Hot Cutler This Week?: With the Bears’ offense (read Cutler) being hot one week and cold the next, could this be the week for a hot Jay Cutler to light it up? The pressure will be on the 31 year old QB this week. After allegedly being loudly called out by WR Brandon Marshall at the end of last week’s game against Miami, Cutler will be on the hot seat somewhat to right the ship and stop the Bears from becoming a dysfunctional unit.

For the record, Bears coach Marc Trestman has denied a rift between their star QB and WR but after Marshall said the Bears’ offense and effort was unacceptable 17 times in the post-game press conference, the time is now for the team if they are to seriously contend for a playoff berth in the NFC North.

And it begins with Cutler, in the Bears four losses, they’ve turned the ball over nine times. That won’t cut it against anyone let alone Brady and the Patriots. So expect a much better effort this week.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.


Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are starting to round into form in 2014 as the Patriots offense begins to click. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots have won their last three games in a row and will have had 10 days to prepare for the Chicago Bears who visit Foxboro on Sunday.

After playing 4 games in 18 days, the Patriots needed this “mini-bye” week, the injuries have been piling up, and the players were mentally and physically in need of a break.

After struggling thru the first four games of the season and scoring only 80 points, we wrote here after the debacle in Kansas City that the offense lacked an identity and was struggling to even figure out who belonged on the field.

A lot has changed in the last three weeks, facing three pretty stout defenses, the Patriots offense has scored 107 points and now seems to be firing much closer to its optimum output. But has the offense found its identity?

The answer is kind of wishy-washy but true….not yet but they are getting much closer. Better offensive line protection has ignited Tom Brady and besides Julian Edelman, the team has gotten much better production out of a re-energized Rob Gronkowski, a more comfortable Brandon LaFell and RB Shane Vereen. They are the big four now for Brady to lean on with this offense.

The running game is still a work in progress with the loss of Stevan Ridley, but Vereen, Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden will continue to search for a happy medium as they sort out who will get the carries from week to week.

It is important for the offense to get things sorted out because the next six games over seven weeks (bye week included) will ultimately decide where this team is at the end of the season. The Patriots next six opponents are Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego whose combined record is as of today 28-13.

Everything Starts With Brady: Veteran QB Tom Brady, who was the subject of benching and trading rumors just three weeks ago, has put together three outstanding games in a row.

Brady the past three weeks has completed 70 of 109 passes, (64.2 %) for 914 yards (8.38 YPA) and nine touchdowns and most importantly zero interceptions for a QB rating of 118.0. Brady looks much more comfortable in the pocket and the play of the offensive line has much to do with it.

The OL was missing two starters (Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly) against the Jets due to injuries and with their return, the play of the front five which was miserable the first month of the season, should continue to gel. But there are other factors combining for Brady’s recent “fountain of youth”.

Gronkowski Rounding Into Form: There is no doubt about it, this offense isn’t close to the same without Rob Gronkowski, the marked difference in 2013 between when he was and wasn’t in the lineup was vast. And once he went down for good against Cleveland last year, the offense scuffled along.

Well the big man is nearly back to 100 percent, the Patriots were patient with him all spring and summer, working him slowly back from last December’s ACL surgery. Gronk struggled out of the gate and wasn’t close to who he can be during that first month of the season.

Now he’s back to being nearly all the way back to being arguably  the most complete tight end in the game. Gronkowski’s snap counts have continuously gotten higher, as he played over 90 percent of the offensive snaps in the Jets game. A tremendous blocker in the running game, having Gronkowski lined up tight gives Brady and the offense tremendous flexibility as he can help spring a running play or break off into a passing route.

With the gradual addition of Tim Wright in the passing game, the Patriots can go with a 2-TE look that is extremely tough to defend. Wright is more of a big WR than TE and fits the role of the “Move-TE” that Aaron Hernandez filled so well here. Not coincidentally during this three game winning streak, Gronkowski’s production has been good, 18 catches, 262 yards and a touchdown.

But his worth goes far beyond simple numbers; Gronkowski is what we used to refer to Special Forces as a “force multiplier”. He makes everyone around him better and gets so much attention in the passing game; he can clear out huge amounts of room for the wide receivers to operate in. That was very apparent in Buffalo when he ran a corner route and dragged three defenders with him leaving Brandon LaFell all alone across the middle for an easy touchdown.

LaFell/Edelman Rounding Out As Top Two WRs: Julian Edelman has followed up a stellar 2013 season with a solid 2014. He remains Tom Brady’s go-to guy and is always ready to do the dirty work underneath and across the middle.

Edelman has caught 44 passes thus far in 2014 which would project out to another 100 catch campaign for the 28 year old WR. He’s been reliable, tough and feisty out on the field. But now the team has a second reliable option for Brady to target.

Brandon LaFell’s season started very slowly with the Patriots logging zero catches the first two games and this was after he admitted that he struggled with the playbook and offense. But the big, target has kept working hard at it and has gradually increased both his workload and his production as he and Brady have worked on their timing and chemistry.

LaFell joins Gronkowski and Wright as the bigger targets for Brady to utilize which is more important as the Patriots get into the red zone, something that was lacking for the team down the stretch last season.

Danny Amendola is getting the lion’s share of the snaps when the Patriots go three-wide and moves into the slot with Edelman being bumped outside. He too got off to an extremely slow start to 2014 but his leaping touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Jets was the difference in the Patriots 27-25 win. It will be interesting to see if that increases the looks he gets going forward.  Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson have gotten little playing time, disappointing in the fact that most were convinced that Dobson was ready to make a big second year jump.

Running Game In Flux Without Ridley: With the loss of Stevan Ridley to a season-ending injury during the Patriots win in Buffalo, the team lost its big, physical back who is able to power thru the short yardage situations with burst and power. It is a significant loss for the team as it tries to remain balanced in both rushing and passing.

Ridley has been replaced, at least during the game against the Jets by Shane Vereen who had over 100 yards combined rushing and receiving including two touchdowns. But Vereen is best suited to be the third down back and is most effective as a receiver out of the backfield.

Running back Jonas Gray was promoted from the Patriots practice squad prior to the Jets game and was eased into the lineup logging in just 12 snaps. Gray had a light workload getting only three carries for 12 yards but should see more of a workload moving forward.

Gray is built along the same lines as Ridley at 5’11, 230 lbs, he can run with a lot of power but one of the more impressive things about Thursday was his ability to block in the passing game. Patriots running backs must be able to pick up blitzing linebackers and safeties and Gray handled that well. Look for him to gradually increase his carries and snaps as he gets more comfortable in the offense.

Brandon Bolden is a core special teams player getting work in all four of the STs units. That won’t change and he’ll get the occasional snap to give Vereen and Gray a rest. That was apparent against the Jets as he logged only a single snap on offense. James White is basically getting a red-shirt type year as he’s been inactive for most of the season.

So while the Patriots offense is still evolving as we near the half-way point of the season, things are beginning to round into form. The main trio, Brady, Gronkowski and Edelman are the three players the team must have on the field to remain successful. Gronkowski in particular after Brady is the guy who makes this offense go.

But with the increased workloads of LaFell, Wright and Vereen it gives Brady and OC Josh McDaniels options to attack opposing defenses. The Patriots are a game-plan specific team and each could see games where they’re targeted more frequently depending upon matchups. The Patriots offensive identity in 2014 is slowly emerging and we’ll know much more after the next six games.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Poor Run Defense Against Jets Fixable, All-22 Film Study

The Patriots run defense was gashed by the Jets on Thursday, now can it be fixed? (USA Today photo)

The Patriots run defense was gashed by the Jets on Thursday, now can it be fixed? (USA Today photo)

The Patriots survived a scary finish against the Jets to win 27-25 on Thursday night to improve to 5-2 on the season. Although this game won’t go down as one of the team’s best efforts.

Looking at the All-22 game film on NFL Game Rewind, some things stood out. We’ll look at a few of the key plays of the game and take a closer look.

Offensively,the Patriots much maligned offensive line did a pretty decent job of protecting Tom Brady. Considering that both Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly were out. The Jets did get pressure on Brady but he was still able to look to his second and third receivers. The worst games were reserved for Jordan Devey and Marcus Cannon who were beaten fairly regularly.

The run defense, which was gashed for 218 yards was certainly bad, but is eminently fixable. While the Jets offensive line was winning the battle upfront, one of the main issues seemed to be that the Patriots defensive ends were crashing down too soon, especially Rob Ninkovich and were then swallowed up, allowing Jets running backs to bounce outside for big gains.

Much of the problem areas were blamed on communication issues with the defensive linemen. Given that the team had lost Jerod Mayo only three days before the game, it is understandable that they’d struggle with that. So there is no reason to panic over this performance just yet. The team does need help in the middle however, Jamie Collins is best suited for playing on the outside, and he seems to be uncomfortable and a tad slower inside.

Dont’a Hightower continues to have nice year, he’s a thumper in the running game and is a relentless blitzer. His play in the first half coming on a blitz of Geno Smith, drew a flag, saved a touchdown and forced the Jets to go for three.

A couple of the key plays include:

First TD A Flashback To 2013: Much like the start of the 2013 Week 2 game against the Jets, the Patriots took advantage of a Jets defensive breakdown to take an early lead on their first possession. On just the Patriots fourth play from scrimmage (compared to 7th last year) the Jets totally blew a coverage allowing Shane Vereen to score an easy 49 yard touchdown.

Vereen was split wide right and was supposed to be a decoy to clear out room for Tim Wright running a short pattern along the sideline. CB Phillip Adams passed off Vereen to safety Antonio Allen but Allen, misread the play and ran hard towards Wright leaving Vereen all alone down the sideline.

Vereen TD 1

Brady had all the time needed to throw but nearly overthrew Vereen who made a great leaping catch for the touchdown.

Ivory Big 13 Yard Run: On the Jets first possession of the second half, Chris Ivory took a Smith hand-off up the middle and finding it blocked, did a nice bit of running and bounced it outside for a nice run. At the snap, Ivory takes the ball from Smith and finds nowhere to run. The Jets get a decent push at the point of attack but the linebackers Hightower and Collins are in good position to support the run.

CIvory 13 yard run

Vince Wilfork is fighting off his block to the inside, but DE Rob Ninkovich crashes down hard inside and is easily sealed off, allowing Ivory to easily bounce to the edge and turn a 2 – 3 yard gain into a 13 yard big gain. Chandler Jones and Pat Chung are coming hard from the backside and if Ninkovich sets the edge, they’ll be there to support it from the backside.

CIvory 13 yard run2

Ivory 16 Yard Run: Once again, Ivory takes a Smith hand-off and finds the middle blocked. Wilfork has stood up and blocked the point of attack. On the outside WR Eric Decker has taken CB Brandon Browner deep down the sideline clearing out help on the perimeter.

civory 16 yd run

Wilfork is in good position to support Ninkovich but he again crashes down and is rolled up. Collins on both plays is in good position but is a tad too slow to react. Once Ninkovich is sealed the Jets are in great position to break to the outside and McCourty as the deep safety is the only player in position to stop him.

civory 16 yd run2

Smith 7 Yard Scramble: Facing a third and five in the second quarter at the New England 39, Geno Smith is able to scramble for a big third down conversion. The run kept a Jets drive alive that eventually ended up with a field goal to give them a 9-7 lead. The Patriots are in good position in the secondary and Smith is flushed from the pocket.

GSmith 7 yd scramble

But Chandler Jones who was disruptive and active all game, loses containment and then his balance inside. Smith is able to easily gain the edge and runs 7 yards for the first down on the right sideline before Tavon Wilson can get there.

GSmith 7 yd scramble2

Chris Johnson Stuff: In the second half, the Patriots did a little bit better job of adjustments and setting the edge. On this particular play, again the Jets offensive line does a nice job of getting a push at the point of attack.

Ivory stuff

But Wilfork fights off a double-team and stands them up, Hightower on the strong side is in perfect position to support either hole. This time Ninkovich defeats Cumberland’s block and sets the edge giving Johnson nowhere to run. Wilfork strings the play along and hits Johnson and brings him down after a gain of two.

Ivory stuff2

Gronkowski 16 Yard Conversion: Facing a third and seven from the NE 34 in the second quarter Brady and Gronkowski are able to convert on the way to the Pats second touchdown. The Jets dropped seven into coverage and had four defenders right across the sticks at the first down marker.

Gronk 3rd7 16 yd

Gronkowski runs a dig about 10 yards downfield, Calvin Pryor had coverage with an inside shade, but Gronkowski beat him to the middle and separated as he was coming across the middle. This made Brady’s job much easier for a big third down conversion.

Gronk 3rd7 16 yd2

Amendola’s TD Catch: After re-watching the play numerous times, it is no wonder Rex Ryan was so furious after the play. The Patriots were facing third and goal from the 19 yard line, the Jets dropped eight into coverage and had a wall of players lined up at the five yard line.

DAmendola TD

Brady was flushed out of the pocket and drifted to his left, Amendola  adjusted his route and came back towards Brady. The throw was across Brady’s body and wasn’t perfect, Amendola had to go up and twist back to snag the ball and somehow came down with it and was able to roll into the end zone.

DAmendola TD2

DAmendola TD3

There were plenty of other plays that stood out in the game, and while the Patriots defensive deficiencies seem daunting, they can be fixed. The defensive line should and must play much better. The Jets offensive line pushed them around at the point of attack. With the trade deadline approaching, the team could use some help at either the DL or especially at linebacker. But on a short week with their captain  going down with an injury, they’ll get the benefit of doubt here, but not much.

The Bears will present a difficult opponent to match up with and with 10 days to prepare, there will be no excuses for not playing better. The offense however was pretty much a bright spot putting up 27 points with only 19 minutes of possession. That too will have to improve not only against the Bears but down the stretch as well.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Survive Scare Against Jets, Escape With A 27-25 Win


Shane Vereen celebrates one of his two TDs in the Patriots win over the Jets. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots escaped with a last second 27-25 win over the New York Jets as Chris Jones blocked a 58 yard Nick Folk field goal as time expired. The Jets had scored a touchdown but missed a tying 2-point conversion with two and half minutes to go. After forcing a three and out by New England, they got a final chance to win with 1:06 to move from their 14 yard line.

The win leaves New England (5-2) in good position inside the division as they are a game and a half ahead of the Buffalo Bills who play on Sunday against Minnesota. But this one wasn’t pretty as the Jets running game pounded New England from the outset. The Jets dominated the front seven of the Pats running for over 200 yards and completely owned the time of possession with nearly 41 minutes compared to just over 19:06 for the Patriots.

Tom Brady continued an already hot October by completing 20-37 for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns. In the first four games of the season, Brady threw for 804 yards with 4 TDs and 2 INTs. In the three games since, he’s thrown for 914 yards, nine TDs and 0 INTs.

For the Jets (1-6) it seems that they’re a team that can’t catch a break. Rex Ryan had a fantastic game plan coming in and limiting Brady and company to only 19 minutes of possession is exactly what the doctor ordered.

But the Jets stalled on their first four drives, with penalties really hurting their scoring chances on two of them. Settling for four field goals ultimately cost them the football game. While they could have been more aggressive in the red zone, no blame should be attached to Geno Smith, who played outstanding. Smith moved around in the pocket and bought himself some time and put his team in a position to win in the end with an outstanding drive.

Here are some other quick observations from Thursday:

Sweet Redemption for Jones: For Patriots defensive lineman Chris Jones, it has to be a very satisfying end to the game. The last time the Patriots met the Jets, Jones was the player who was flagged for the push on a field goal attempt that ultimately lost the game for New England. Bill Belichick was particularly livid on that one, which to my knowledge hasn’t been called since.

But this time with the game on the line and Folk attempting a 58 yard game winning attempt, it was Jones who got his hand up to block the attempt and save a game that his team looked like was letting slip away. Speaking of redemption….

Amendola Shines At Crunch Time: Danny Amendola has been the shunned one this season, gathering in only three receptions entering Thursday’s game. But on a pivotal play of the game, Amendola caught the game winning touchdown.

With the Patriots backed up and facing a third-and-goal from the 19 yard line, it looked like the team was going to be looking for a field goal attempt after having a first down at the three.  Brady rolled to his left to escape pressure and delivered the ball to Amendola who made a fantastic play on the back shoulder throw to haul it in and get down in the end zone for the touchdown.

That was a back-breaker for the Jets as they pushed NE back but couldn’t stop them at crunch time. Ryan was livid at the time as the Jets missed a big opportunity to hold the Pats to three points. Amendola also had some decent success in the kickoff return game displaying some nice shiftiness returning four kicks for 105 yards.

Defense, Particularly Run Defense Gashed: The biggest reason the Jets owned the football for 40:54 was that their running game was fantastic all evening.  Chris Ivory gave the Patriots fits with a 21 carry, 107 yard performance.

But the interior line was manhandled by the Jets OL, most notably Nick Mangold who continually won his one-on-one matchups with Vince Wilfork. The Patriots couldn’t get off the field on third down and giving up 218 yard on 43 attempts is unacceptable.

The team played a lot of 5-2 for most of the game and just couldn’t execute. Whether it was the scheme or just the players not doing their job is debatable, but lots of work needs to be done before the team plays Chicago in ten days.

Vereen Steps up Huge in Ridley’s Absence: With Stevan Ridley out for the season, the onus was placed on Shane Vereen to take up the slack and he really passed his first test. Vereen had 11 carries for 43 yards in the running game but led all receivers with 71 yards on five receptions in the passing game.

Vereen had the first score of the game early in the first quarter as he raced down the right sideline all alone for a 49 yard touchdown reception from Brady as the Jets blew the coverage on the play. He also scored on another Brady touchdown pass in the second quarter as he hauled in a three yard pass to end an 80 yard drive.

Play of the Day: Jones’ block of the field goal saved the game, but the touchdown reception by Amendola has to be the highlight. It was Amendola’s only catch on the night but it was huge and gave the Patriots a 27-19 lead that eventually won the game.

And the other good news….the team suffered no significant injuries on Thursday night.

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Patriots – Jets, Who Has The Razor’s Edge, Key Matchups

The Patriots and Jets rivalry has always one that has been marked by physical, tough play. (USA Today photo)

The Patriots and Jets rivalry has always one that has been marked by physical, tough play. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots return home to play their heated divisional rival New York Jets in another nationally televised game on Thursday Night Football. The game will be televised by CBS and will have their top announcing crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call. Kickoff is slated for 8:25 p.m. Forecasts call for heavy rain and thunderstorms throughout the evening. Former Patriot Ty Law will be honored at halftime, Law was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame on August 1.

The Patriots (4-2) took care of business in Buffalo by defeating the Bills 37 – 22. Tom Brady was razor sharp in the second half enroute to a day with 362 yards passing to go along with 4 touchdown passes. The defense forced three turnovers and bottled up the Bills running game.

The only down point was on the injury front, the team lost LB Jerod Mayo and RB Stevan Ridley to season ending knee injuries. Dan Connolly was also forced to leave the game with a concussion.

The Jets (1-5) lost their fifth game in a row 31 – 17 to the Denver Broncos. The plan to limit Peyton Manning’s throwing lanes by dropping eight men into coverage and mixing up their looks was solid, but the defense eventually wore down as Manning tossed three touchdowns. The offense struggled to run and struggling QB Geno Smith tossed to pick-six to put the game away in the final moments.

The Jets also lost two players to season ending injuries on Sunday as CB Dee Milliner and G Brian Winters were placed on IR this week.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2014 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:The two teams renew the Boston – New York rivalry for 111th time on Thursday night and the first of two meetings between the teams in 2014. They will meet in the Meadowlands in December. The teams split their meetings in 2013 with each holding serve at home.

The series has been remarkably close all-time since 1960 with the Patriots holding a slim 56-53-1 advantage. The Patriots hold a 30-25-1 edge at home over the Jets and since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots hold a 20-10 edge overall.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

Patriots RBs vs Jets Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Jets
The Patriots had issues running the ball against the stout front of the Bills on Sunday, gaining only 50 yards on 27 attempts, good for only a 1.9 average. Now Ridley is lost for the season, and the Patriots will miss his physicality and toughness hitting the holes at the point of attack.

The onus will be on Shane Vereen, James White and Brandon Bolden to pick up the slack. Although they struggled, the team elected to remain committed to the run, something that will be important moving forward.

The Jets are always tough to run against and it always starts with a very good front seven. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson are outstanding at stuffing the run and an active group of linebackers filling the holes will make the sledding tough.

The Jets however have allowed 162 and 138 yards rushing the past two games. With the weather slated to be what it is, we may see an increased reliance on the running game so this will be an interesting matchup to watch.

Patriots WRs vs Jets Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
For the first month of the season, the Patriots passing game was struggling badly. The pass protection was shoddy, Tom Brady’s accuracy was off and the receivers weren’t doing a great job of getting open. The past two weeks, we’ve seen nearly a polar opposite. Brady’s numbers the past two weeks against Cincinnati and Buffalo include 604 yards passing, 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.

Two big reasons for that include better protection by the offensive line and the health of TE Rob Gronkowski who is rounding into form as he continues his recovery from ACL surgery. Gronkowski was giving the Bills fits in the middle of the field, opening up other avenues for Brady to throw. Brady hit 10 different receivers on Sunday as he was finding a way to get everyone involved in the passing game.

Protection will be key here, as the Jets are always one of the best teams in getting after the QB. Calvin Pace, Wilkerson and Richardson all do a great job of getting after the QB. Rex Ryan is famous for his overloaded blitz schemes or showing that and then dropping seven or eight back into coverage.

The Jets secondary has been decimated by injuries this season and now the loss of Milliner looms large. The pass rush/protection matchup will decide who wins this one.

Jets RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Jets
The Jets have a very good 1-2 punch in the running game with Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson and have the sixth best running game in the NFL averaging over 121 yards per game. The Jets will want to get ahead or keep the game close as they’ll want to slow down the game and keep New England’s offense off the field.

Nick Mangold will be going against a revitalized Vince Wilfork once again as these two have done battle so many times in the past. It will be on Wilfork and Casey Walker to help slow down the Jets running game. With the loss of Jerod Mayo for the season and Dont’a Hightower still nursing a knee injury, the Jets will look to run the ball right at the middle of the defense.

Jets WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Geno Smith has been having a rough time of it in 2014, throwing only six touchdowns against seven interceptions. Having new WR Eric Decker miss time due to a balky hamstring hasn’t helped matters. Decker is finding the going tougher as well, he was essentially the third option in Denver and now he’s facing opponents top CBs. This week he’ll probably draw former Jet Darrelle Revis.

Smith will be looking a lot at rookie TE Jace Amaro this week, Amaro had 10 catches for 68 yards and a touchdown against Denver last week. After seeing Scott Chandler last week have a huge game against the Pats secondary, Smith will be looking to get Amaro involved early.  A nice tidbit from Pats Pulpit’s Rich Hill, Jeremy Kerley has had four of his seven best games against New England.

The Patriots have been solid against the pass this season, the pass rush has been inconsistent but lodged five sacks against Kyle Orton last week. Revis is being utilized more to his strengths now and Brandon Browner should see his first action of 2014 this week. It will be interesting to see if the team matches him up with Amaro.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Neither team is getting much running room in the return game but in the punt return game, Julian Edelman is due for a breakout game this season. The ever dangerous Edelman has come close a few times and this week may be the time to do so.

Both teams have solid kicking games; Nick Folk has made nine field goal attempts in a row and is always money. He’s yet to miss in 2014. Punter Ryan Quigley has an outstanding 48.1 average with a 44.6 net and has only three touchbacks.

New England counters with Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen in the kicking game. Gostkowski missed a field goal last week due to a bad snap but is always outstanding in field goals and pinning teams back with kickoffs. Allen is having a solid season averaging 46.1 yards per punt.

Prediction:
Like all of the games in the rivalry for the past 54 years, this one will be a physical, hard-hitting contest. These games are never for the faint of heart and this one will be no different.

The Jets always give the Patriots a tough time as Rex Ryan comes up with some good game plans to slow down the New England offense. But these are teams moving in opposite directions as the Jets are losing of five in a row while New England has won its last two games, scoring 80 points in doing so.

The Jets will have to get to Tom Brady in order to win this one; their secondary is too banged up especially on the perimeter to hold up for long. Look for the Patriots to try to work Gronkowski and Tim Wright inside to give more room for Edelman and Brandon LaFell to work outside.

The Jets will look to pound the ball inside and it will be an interesting matchup to watch. They’ll also look for Amaro to loosen things up for their other options in the passing game.

From a Patriots perspective a quick start is essential. There is a lot of frustration on the other side of the field. Getting out to an early lead will force the ball into Smith’s hands which is a win for New England.

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers….on what is guaranteed to be a wet, sloppy night, turnovers could turn this game. New England is a +9 on the season tied with Green Bay for the league lead. The Jets are -7 which is 29th. This one will be close for three quarters but the Patriots will hold serve at home, as Brady will be able to make enough plays to take it. Patriots 27-16

Patriots Player to Watch-  Julian Edelman
With a resurgent Rob Gronkowski hauling in 13 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown the past two weeks, he’ll be getting a lot of attention (and rightfully so) by the Jets defense. But with the injuries to the secondary, the Jets corners will have to deal with Julian Edelman.

The weak point of their defense has been the depth at the CB position and Edelman will probably be Tom Brady’s favorite target on Thursday night. Look for Edelman to be the guy running the short, hot routes, especially early in this one as the OL will try to stem the pass rush of New York. With a healthier Gronkowski clearing out some room for Edelman, he should be the guy who should have the big game on Thursday night.

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Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Jets

The Patriots and Jets meet for the 111th time on Thursday Night Football. (USA Today photo)

The Patriots and Jets meet for the 111th time on Thursday Night Football. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots return home for another primetime matchup against their heated rivals, the New York Jets on Thursday night. Kickoff is slated for 8:25 p.m. The game will be broadcast by CBS with their top announcing crew of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call. The Patriots will honor former CB Ty Law at half-time, Law was inducted in the Patriots team Hall of Fame on August 1.

The Patriots (4-2) won for the second time in a row with a satisfying but costly victory on the road against the Buffalo Bills 37-22 on Sunday. Tom Brady had a nearly flawless second half completing 15-17 for 274 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with 362 yards and four TDs on the day. The defense forced three turnovers and sacked QB Kyle Orton five times.

But the team lost MLB Jerod Mayo and RB Stevan Ridley to season ending injuries, each going down with serious knee injuries. Mayo especially is a tough loss as he’s a defensive leader that called the signals and was among an already thin group of linebackers.

The Jets (1-5) lost for the fifth game in a row at home against the Denver Broncos 31-17 on Sunday and now most of the New York tabloids are calling for coach Rex Ryan’s head. The Jets offense was stagnant as they could only must 31 yards rushing against the Denver defense and put the onus on struggling QB Geno Smith.

An aggressive defensive game plan held Denver to 24 points, giving the Jets one final opportunity to tie the game in the waning moments. But Smith was picked off by Aqib Talib who returned the pick for a touchdown to seal the game.

The Jets also lost two players to IR on Sunday, as CB Dee Milliner and G Brian Winters were both lost for the season. Milliner like Mayo is a particularly tough loss as the Jets were already thin at the cornerback position.

Series History: The two teams renew unpleasantries for 111th time on Thursday night and the first of two meetings between the teams in 2014. They will meet in the Meadowlands in December. The teams split their meetings in 2013 with each holding serve at home.

The series has been remarkably close since 1960 with the Patriots holding a slim 56-53-1 advantage all time. The Patriots hold a 30-25-1 edge at home over the Jets and since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots hold a 20-10 edge overall.

As part of the lead-up to the game on Sunday night, we’ll have a detailed breakdown of the matchups later in the week, but here are Five First Impressions of the Jets:

Ryan Under The Gun: After arriving with much fanfare and bluster in 2009, coach Rex Ryan is now in danger of losing his job. Ryan got the Jets to the AFC title game in his first two seasons but after missing the playoffs for three years straight and now starting off 1-5, many in the New York media are calling for his head.

The sad fact of the matter is, Ryan has been undermined by GM John Idzik with a flawed team that is short on cornerbacks and especially at quarterback. And while sitting on over $21 million in salary cap space, it has to be particularly galling to Ryan.

Ryan did on Sunday what he always has done; he pulled out all the stops to slow down Peyton Manning and the high-powered Broncos offense. Dropping eight into coverage, rotating linebackers to the outside, all the while daring Denver to run and keep the ball out of Manning’s hands. But it wasn’t enough and now on a short week, he has to take his team on the road in a desperate game for him.

Jace Amaro Emerging As A Big Target: Lost in the flotsam of the Jets loss on Sunday was the performance of TE Jace Amaro. Amaro, taken in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft gives the Jets a viable TE threat that can be moved all over the field.

Amaro caught 10 passes on 12 targets Sunday, for 68 yards and a touchdown. The Jets moved him all over the formations against the Broncos searching for mismatches. And the 6’5 Amaro easily out-jumped the 5’10 T.J. Ward for his first NFL touchdown.

After watching Scott Chandler have a big game against New England on Sunday, look for the Jets to try to get Amaro involved early against the Patriots.

Geno Smith Struggling/Calling Out Media: On a conference call with Boston beat writers on Monday, QB Geno Smith called out the media for making things out to be worse than the situation appears in New York. Smith said, “obviously we haven’t executed as well as we’d like. Those things are tougher than I guess what can be said and what is portrayed out there in the media.”

With the offense struggling and Smith being under fire, the pressure is beginning to mount on the young QB as the 1-5 Jets are searching for answers. Smith cursed a fan a few weeks ago after a Jets loss and was fined $12,000 by the league. He then missed a team meeting in San Diego before a bad 31-0 loss, that was chalked up to just losing track of time due to the time change between East and West Coasts.

Like his coach, Smith is under the gun entering this week’s contest with the Patriots. He was replaced at half-time by Michael Vick recently due to the Jets offense being stagnant. Unlike Ryan however, he may not get another shot if he’s let go by the Jets. This will be a big week for him as well to turn the season around.

Jets Quickly Fill Holes on Roster, Sign G/Corner: With the injuries to Dee Milliner and Brian Winters forcing them to IR, it left the Jets with two big holes in their roster. But the team moved quickly and signed G Wesley Johnson off of waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers and CB Josh Thomas.

Johnson, a 5th round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, can play anywhere along the offensive line, was released to make room for Ross Ventrone. Ventrone was signed to fill in for injured STs player Shamarko Thomas. The thought was the Steelers would try to bring back Johnson but the Jets plucked him off the waiver wire.

Thomas was originally drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. He played for 10 games over two seasons for the Carolina Panthers before being released by them and the Seahawks this summer. He’s expected to play and back up CBs Darrin Walls and Philip Adams on Thursday.

Run Defense Looking To Rebound: The Jets have traditionally under Ryan been a tough defense to run upon. Last season the Jets finished third in the NFL in rushing yardage and were the top unit in terms of yards per attempt.

This season started off similarly, with the Jets only allowing an average of 63.25 yards per game thru the first four games. No opponent rushed for more than 88 yards in the first month of the season.

But the past two games, the Jets have allowed an alarming 162 and 138 yards on the ground against San Diego and Denver respectively. With a depleted secondary, allowing the running game to get untracked makes the play action pass game much more effective, something the Patriots have excelled in the past two games.

The Jets are looking for linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis to do a better job at filling the gaps this week facing a New England team that just lost its big, most physical back in Stevan Ridley.

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Patriots, Brady Beat Bills 37-22, A Pyrrhic victory?


Brandon LaFell vaults in the end zone for a Patriots TD. LaFell scored twice in the Patriots win. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots had a huge, satisfying but very costly victory on the road in Buffalo. At the end of the day, the Patriots did what they’ve consistently did with the Bills in the Bill Belichick era, they found a way to win in a tough environment. But after the laurels of the 37 – 22 win are done today, the team can’t afford many more of these victories as they lost Stevan Ridley and Jerod Mayo to probable season ending injuries.

The Patriots couldn’t run the ball today and with center Brian Stork not making the trip, the team lost Dan Connolly to a concussion early on Sunday. So the mixing and matching once again happened along the offensive line. But instead of collapsing in the face of a very good Buffalo pass rush, they did a great job of protection for Tom Brady and the result was a day where Brady passed for over 350 yards.

The defense held tough on their end and forced some turnovers at key points in the game. Darrelle Revis was assigned to outstanding rookie Sammie Watkins and shadowed him all game long. The result was Watkins, so key last week in the big win in Detroit was virtually invisible catching only 2 passes for 27 yards. Another case of Belichick taking away the opponents best weapon….we’ll get to Scott Chandler later. Rob Ninkovich had a big game garnering three sacks of Orton for the defense.

The Bills were essentially playing for their Super Bowl on Sunday, they made this game a bigger one than just a Week 6 matchup between Divisional Rivals. They were looking for a crack in New England’s armor and a chance to take over the division and be the front-runner.  While the margin between the team’s has narrowed, Brady continued his domination over the Bills, improving to 23-2 lifetime against Buffalo….. back to square one in Orchard Park.

Here are some other observations from today:

Huge, and Costly Losses: The Patriots have been woefully thin at linebacker all season and now with the loss of Mayo probably for the season, it leaves the Patriots with a huge hole at MLB. Dont’a Hightower missed today’s game with an injury and he’ll probably be pressed into MLB duties. That leaves the team with just Jamie Collins and Dontae Skinner. Look for the team to bring in a veteran soon.

The loss of Stevan Ridley thought to be season-ending as well is a huge blow for the Patriots running game. Ridley gives the Pats a big, physical back who can get the tough yardage inside. Shane Vereen and James White offer more of the same kind of potential as a third down type back. Brandon Bolden may see more snaps or perhaps Jonas Gray will get activated off of the practice squad.

Vintage Brady performance:  Entering today, all the talk was about Brady facing the fearsome pass rush of Buffalo. In our pregame, we called for the Patriots to attack the middle of the Buffalo defense using their linebackers.

Brady did that and more, slicing and dicing the Bills secondary all game long. Brady completed 27 of 37 for 361 yards and four touchdown passes. More importantly, Brady spread the wealth, completing passes to 10 different receivers. On a day when the Patriots could only manage 50 yards on 27 carries on the ground, Brady and the air attack more than carried their share.

Brady got pressure on him but was able to step up and into his throws for most of the game. Brady’s much maligned deep ball was on target on Sunday, delivering a strike for a 43 yard touchdown to Brian Tyms, on a 56 yard touchdown to Brandon LaFell and also on a deep sideline pass to Rob Gronkowski. He was also right on a deep ball to Julian Edelman that got flagged for a flagrant pass interference that set up his first TD pass to TE Tim Wright.

Big Three Targets Come Thru For Offense: Brady’s favorite three targets on Sunday consisted of Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell, and all three had huge games.

Edelman had nine catches for 91 yards, once again doing the dirty work all over the field. Edelman goes in dangerous places and often puts his body on the line to move the sticks and on Sunday he once again came thru for Brady and the offense.

LaFell followed up his big night in KC with last week where he wasn’t a big part of the offensive game plan. Rumblings were heard that he didn’t have Brady’s confidence but those turned out to be bunk. LaFell caught four passes for a team high 97 yards and two big touchdowns.

On the first, Gronkowski cleaned out the entire middle of the field and took three secondary men to Brady’s left. LaFell ran a slant and was wide open and scored easily from 18 yards out to make the score 30 – 14. On his last, with the Bills within only eight points, the Patriots went on a 93 yard drive and it ended with Brady hitting LaFell down the right sideline on a 2nd and 12 at the Patriots 44. LaFell got open and Brady hit him perfectly around the Buffalo 30 yard line for a 56 yard touchdown that iced the win away.

Gronkowski is looking more and more like the vintage Gronk. He was immense on Sunday in front of his hometown crowd catching seven passes for 94 yards. Gronkowski took a ton of big hits by the Buffalo defense but was able to convert time and again for Brady and the Patriots offense. The Bills just didn’t have an answer for him.

Chandler Huge For the Bills: Scott Chandler much like Fred Jackson saves his best games for those against New England. On a day where Jackson wasn’t a big factor (10 carries 26 yds, 4 catches 17 yds), Chandler was like Gronk uncoverable.

No matter who the Patriots put on Chandler, he got open and became Kyle Orton’s go-to guy hauling in 6 catches for 105 yards. He was seemed to be wide open until the fourth quarter when the Patriots looked like they doubled him up.

“Revis Island” In Full Effect: These past two games are what we expected to see from Darrelle Revis when the Patriots signed him this spring. Last week he was tasked with shadowing A.J. Green, this week the talented rookie Sammy Watkins.

Watkins was invisible for most of the game with Orton not even looking in his direction, forcing him away from his best weapon on offense. Revis is starting to round into form and with the Patriots losing their defensive captain in Mayo, Revis and Vince Wilfork stepped up their games to lead the defense.

The Patriots return to action on a very short week for a Thursday night game at home against the New York Jets. The Jets lost to Denver 31 – 17 on Sunday.

Patriots – Bills, Who Has The Razor’s Edge?, Key Matchups


The Patriots will be looking for Rob Gronkowski to provide big things in their matchup with the Bills on Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots travel to Orchard Park, NY to take on the Buffalo Bills in a very important divisional game in the AFC East. The game is slated to kick off at 1 p.m. on Sunday and has been cross-flexed to Fox Sports. The announcing crew of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa will be on the call.

The Patriots (3-2) rebounded nicely from the debacle in KC to blow out a good Cincinnati Bengals team 43-17 on Sunday night in a short week of preparation. The ground game chewed up 220 yards of real estate with Stevan Ridley, 113 yards on 27 carries and Shane Vereen, 90 yards on 9 carries doing the most work.

Tom Brady got much better protection in the pocket and the passing game looked better than it has all season as the Pats rolled up over 500 yards of offense. Using a 2-TE set, Brady found plenty of room to throw the ball in the middle of the field using Rob Gronkowski, 6 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown and Tim Wright, 5 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Darrelle Revis shadowed A.J. Green and played like the Revis we expected to see when he was signed.

The Bills (3-2) had a huge come-from-behind win on the road in Detroit, winning on a 58 yard field goal from Dan Carpenter in the closing seconds 17-14. The Bills sacked Matthew Stafford six times and didn’t allow an offensive touchdown after the first quarter.

Kyle Orton taking over for E.J. Manuel at QB last week had a big game completing 30 of 43 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown. He’s already developing a nice chemistry with rookie WR Sammy Watkins who made a big 20 yard catch to set the Bills up for the winning kick at the end of the game.

The sale of the Bills was finalized this week to the Pegula family who also owns the Buffalo Sabers and is great news for the fans in Buffalo as the team will now be locked into staying in Buffalo as rumors had the team possibly on the move.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2014 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Bills will play for the 112th time in their long history on Sunday. The Patriots hold the overall edge 66-44-1 since play began in 1960 between the teams.

The Pats hold the edge in games played in Buffalo as well hold a 31-22-1 advantage. Since the Bill Belichick era began in 2000, the Patriots have dominated the series 25-3 and have won the last five meetings including a close 23-21 win last season in Buffalo.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

Patriots RBs vs Bills Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Bills
The Patriots running game got a tremendous boost from Ridley and Vereen last week, giving NE the balance that opens up the field for play action passing. Big props go to the offensive line who played much better and to FB James Develin who did a great job of opening things up and getting the runners to the second level.

The Bills have transformed themselves from the 28th rush defense unit in 2013 to #2 thus far this season allowing only 71 yards per game. No team has rushed for more than 86 yards on the Buffalo defense. It begins in the middle of the front four with Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams who have played excellently. The addition this season of former Patriot Brandon Spikes at linebacker as well as rookie Preston Brown have given them a sorely needed down-hill run thumping tandem at the second level.

Patriots WRs vs Bills Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
The key for the Patriots here is, as always the protection afforded to Tom Brady. And the Bills can get after the QB, leading the league with 17 sacks thus far. The front four, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Dareus and Jerry Hughes do an excellent job of rushing the passer without having to resort to the blitz.

The Patriots will attempt to throw in the middle of the field using Gronkowski and Wright taking advantage of Buffalo’s linebackers on early downs when the Bills are in their base 4-3 look. Spikes and Brown while great run-stuffers are liabilities in coverage.

Bills RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Bills
Buffalo has a great tandem in the ageless Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller who give them a potent 1-2 punch who can be equally effective in both the running and passing games. Jackson still effective at age 33 had over 100 yards combined running and receiving last week and loves to play against New England, putting in some great performances thru the years.

The Patriots have been inconsistent against the run this season, being stout in their three wins and a sieve in their two losses (see a trend here?) where their tackling and schemes were gashed. Slowing down Jackson, limiting the big plays and sure tackling are the big keys this week.

Bills WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
This will be a great matchup to watch as Buffalo has some very good weapons in the passing game. Rookie Sammy Watkins is already turning heads and may be matched up with Darrelle Revis throughout Sunday afternoon. But the Bills also have Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin at wide receiver. Scott Chandler is a productive tight end and Spiller and Jackson out of the backfield give them a plethora of weapons to use.

The one potential weak spot will be QB Kyle Orton who only has played the one game this season and still isn’t completely on-board with the offense yet. The Bills have also had issues with QB pressure this season and it will be interesting to see if the Patriots can mount any on Orton to force him into mistakes.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push
Both teams are outstanding in the kicking game, Dan Carpenter hit a game winning 58 yard field goal at crunch time last week and punter Colton Schmidt has had only 2 of his 31 punts hit the end zone for a touchback.

The Patriots counter with the steady, reliable Stephen Gostkowski who kicked five field goals last week and punter Ryan Allen who is averaging over 46 yards per punt and only has one touchback. The Bills have the edge in returns with Spiller and McKelvin but the Patriots have the edge in coverage with Pro-Bowler Matthew Slater having a fantastic season again.

Prediction:
This should be a fantastic game to watch as it could be a close one that should go right down to the wire. This one will be won or lost in the trenches as the offensive and defensive lines will dictate the pace as well as the momentum.

The key from a Patriots perspective is to slow down the run and force the game into Orton’s hands and try to force a mistake from the veteran QB who is still easing into the offense.

The Patriots may again use a 2-TE, 2-RB approach similar to what was successful against Cincinnati. When the Bills remain in base 4-3 personnel, Brady will attempt to pass to tight ends Gronkowski and Wright. If the Bills choose to go into nickel, the Patriots may use the FB Develin to try to push the running game to the second level and run the ball.

Both teams are excellent in the turnover game (+6 tied for the league lead) and winning the turnover battle will be key here. The Bills are putting together a good team and the home crowd will be raucous, in a playoff type atmosphere. But the Patriots with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been in these games many times and know how to win this type of game. In the end experience wins out and on the road,New England escapes with a 24-20 victory.

Patriots Player to Watch- Rob Gronkowski
Gronkowski is beginning to look like the Gronk of old and put in a huge game against the Bengals on Sunday night with over 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. He’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, nearly impossible to cover with a linebacker and too big and physical for a safety when he is on top of his game.

Gronkowski always looks forward to playing in Buffalo as it is his hometown and his numbers play that out, with Gronk logging in nine touchdowns in six games against the Bills. Gronkowski averages 5 receptions for just under 75 yards and 1.5 TDs (according to Pro Football Reference) in his games against Buffalo.

If Brady gets Gronkowski involved early in this one, it will go a long way towards building a foundation for the Patriots to win on the road.

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Attacking The Bills Defense, Patriots Best Chance Is 2-TEs Attacking LBs

The New England Patriots face a stiff defense in Buffalo this week as 1st place for the AFC East is up for grabs. The Bills have solidified their run defense and average allowing only 71 yards per game on the ground. They’ve allowed a maximum of only 86 yards in their first five games.

Linebackers Brandon Spikes and rookie Preston Brown are big reasons why they’ve excelled in rush defense. Big, physical, down-hill style players, they fill holes quickly and can punish running backs. Spikes is well known to the Patriots having been their MLB for the past four years.

And Spikes and Brown will specifically be the targets of the Patriots offensive game plan this week….in the passing game. If Buffalo has a weakness on defense, it is in the middle of their defense, specifically the targeting of their linebackers in coverage. It is an area where they’ve been targeted in the past and one where the Patriots must target this week.

Houston targeted the middle of the field 17 times in their game against Buffalo, completing 14 passes for 121 yards. Martellus Bennett of the Bears was targeted 10 times in the opener and had 8 receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown.  Charles Clay caught 7 passes on 8 targets for Miami. The Patriots must again utilize the 2TE approach using both their “12” and “22” personnel groupings on Sunday.

Both Wright and Gronkowski present matchup problems for any defense. Gronk is starting to regain his health and explosiveness and (when 100%) is near impossible to cover with a linebacker and is a tough matchup physically with a safety.

Wright is a big, move tight end who is more WR than tight end, much like the man that shall remain nameless. He’s a very good receiver, as fans saw on Sunday night who also caught 54 passes last season.

We’ve spent the past few days looking at Buffalo tape this season and have picked out some plays that we feel best illustrate this. First the San Diego game:

The Chargers come out in an unbalanced line with two TEs to the left side showing run against the Bills base defense.

SD 2TE left 1

At the snap, the outside tight end, David Johnson stays in to block, Ladarius Green on the inside runs a slant to the right in front of Spikes. Spikes is slow to react and is caught flat-footed (some NE fans recall all-too-well) and Green catches an easy pass from Philip Rivers for a big gain.

SD 2TE left 2

San Diego also had a play where they put Malcolm Floyd in motion very similar to how the Patriots use Julian Edelman.

SD - Buffalo Royal 22 yd 1

Floyd goes from left to right and crosses back to the right under the tight end (Gates) and gets isolated on a linebacker in an obvious mismatch. The other receivers are clear out the inside by running routes to the perimeter. Floyd has another big gain for the Bolts.

SD - Buffalo Royal 22 yd 2

In the Patriots win over Cincinnati, Tom Brady isolates Rob Gronkowski on a linebacker that is initially showing blitz.

Gronk 50k reception

At the snap, Gronkowski runs out into the flat and the linebacker is already in chase mode. Gronkowski has a big gain that coincidentally was Brady’s completion that pushed him over 50, 000 career yards.

Gronk 50k reception 2

On the Patriots first drive, both Gronkowski and Tim Wright line up in a two-tight end set. Gronkowski and Amendola run a cross to the right side, LaFell runs straight down the left side at the numbers. The Bengals have a one-deep safety look on the play.

Wright 30 yd 1

Wright is wide open running straight down the seam on the left side and makes an easy 30 yard reception where if he doesn’t fall, has a chance to score.

Wright 30 yd 2

On Wright’s touchdown, he runs down the left side, Brady’s play-action pass freezes the linebacker at the line of scrimmage. Hooman comes in motion to the left and runs straight down the numbers.

Wright 17 yd TD

The corner is now locked in no man’s land between Wright and Hooman with nowhere to go. Brady has an easy pitch and catch to Wright for the touchdown.

Wright 17 yd TD2

These opportunities will be there for the Patriots is they play in either their “12” or “22” personnel packages. If the Bills show nickel in the “22”, then with lead blocker James Develin, the opportunity to run will avail itself. If the Bills stay in base with the big linebackers Spikes and Brown, the play-action pass will be there to toss right over the LBs all game long.

It doesn’t guarantee that the Patriots will win on Sunday, but if they target these plays in the middle, it could keep the offense rolling for the second week in a row. And be all alone in 1st place in the division.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens