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Blount Rejoins Patriots, With An Eye To the Future?

LaGarrette Blount rejoins the Patriots where he had a big finish to the 2013 season. (USA TODAY Images)

LaGarrette Blount wasted little time. Just two days after being released by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he signed with the New England Patriots and shortly thereafter was seen at the Pats practice wearing #60 on Thursday.

Blount left the field early on Monday night during Pittsburgh’s win over the Tennessee Titans, reportedly upset at the lack of carries and playing time while backing up LaVeon Bell for the Steelers. He was cut loose less than 24 hours later in a move that was applauded by Pittsburgh’s players.

But the Patriots, who signed Blount to a 2-year deal for the veteran minimum with a lot of performance incentives, were more than willing to take another chance on the big, 6’0, 247 lb. running back who performed quite well down the stretch for the Patriots in 2013. Blount had 153 carries for 772 yards last season, which averaged 5.0 ypc, and scored seven touchdowns.

In the season finale against the Bills, Blount rushed for 189 yards and then against the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs, rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns more. He signed with the Steelers as a free agent this spring and had only 266 yards rushing with 2 touchdowns this season in spot duty.

This move by the Patriots could be seen as a move for the post-season push and a look to the future. By signing Blount the Patriots now have depth at the running back position with Jonas Gray and have two big backs who can carry the ball and get the tough physical yards inside, especially now that the weather in the Northeast is getting more wintry. It will take the onus off of Shane Vereen, and allow him to be used more on passing downs, which is his forte.

The other factor is now with Blount, Jonas Gray and James White in the stable for 2015, it gives the team some stability and insurance at the running back position as Stevan Ridley, Vereen and Brandon Bolden are all free agents next year.

Blount may actually see a few snaps on Sunday against Detroit as he’s already familiar with the Patriots offense and could help in the return game where he had a 29.1 yard average in 2013.

Patriots – Lions, Who Has the Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups

This week's matchup of the #1 defense of Detroit and the Patriots offense with Tom Brady will be an interesting one to watch. (USA Today photo)

This week’s matchup of the #1 defense of Detroit and the Patriots offense with Tom Brady will be an interesting one to watch. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots return to the friendly confines of Foxboro to take on the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be televised on Fox with their top announcing crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the call.

The game is important to both teams in terms of playoff seeding although there are still six weeks to play. New England currently holds the #1 seed in the AFC and Detroit finds itself as the #2 seed in the NFC.

The Patriots (8-2) have won six in a row and last week went on the road and soundly defeated a very good Indianapolis Colts team 42-20 in Lucas Oil Stadium. 1st year running back Jonas Gray ran for 200 yards and 4 touchdowns and the Patriots offense converted 9 of 12 first downs against a Colts defense at home that had allowed only 8 of 45 third downs all season.

The defense stymied Andrew Luck by taking away his best receiver, T.Y. Hilton and holding him to just 3 catches for 24 yards. The Colts running game was also non-existent, rushing for only 19 yards on the day. Luck passed for over 300 yards but couldn’t put more than 20 points on the board, far below their norm at home this season.

The Lions (7-3) lost a tough game to the Arizona Cardinals 14-6 on the road on Sunday. In a game that saw at least two horrible calls go against them, the Lions gave up two first quarter touchdown passes to Drew Stanton before shutting down the ‘Zona offense the rest of the way.

The offense which has had its share of fourth quarter comebacks couldn’t generate one this time in the desert as the 9-1 Cardinals was able to hold them to only two field goals.

We here at 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 Lions have only met 10 times in their history; the two teams rarely meet so there hasn’t been much of a rivalry between the two. The Patriots hold an overall 6-4 lead in games including the past three meetings and hold a 3-2 lead in games at Foxboro. The two teams last met in 2010 with New England winning a 45-24 game in Detroit. Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

Patriots RBs vs Lions Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Lions
Detroit’s strength on defense is having a deep and very talented defense line. It starts with DT Ndamukong Suh in the middle next to Nick Fairley. Those two along with DE Ziggy Ansah are disruptive and can penetrate into the backfield to blow up plays. Detroit’s opponents are averaging nearly 38 percent less yardage on the ground in games against the Lions defense. SS James Ihedigbo is a strong presence in the box in run support as well.

The Patriots got a tremendous effort from Jonas Gray last week (200 yds, 4 TDs) in Indianapolis but against a team that allows only 68 yards per game and only 3.0 per rush is a pretty daunting task. This week look for Shane Vereen to get more of the work.

New England will find the pickings slim against this defense and will have to be creative in finding room to run. Look for some traps and draws and a gameplan that will have to mix things up a bit. But the Lions hold the definite edge here.

Patriots WRs vs Lions Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Lions are the #3 team against the pass this season, again it is a dominant DL that can get after the QB and disrupt plays before they get off the ground. Detroit has been excellent in getting opponents in third and long and get after the QB.

The Lions disguise their intent well by showing Double A gap pressure and sometimes coming on a blitz but at others dropping into coverage and flooding the underneath zones. The Lions third down defense is currently #2 in the NFL.

The Patriots’ passing game hinges, as always on their ability on protecting QB Tom Brady. When the team can give him time to throw, the passing game will thrive. During the current six-game winning streak, Brady has been on fire. This will be the big matchup this week with the Pats OL against a very good Lions front seven.

Look for Brady to work the short area of the field this week, the Patriots will attempt to throw short, quick timing passes to Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell as well as Rob Gronkowski underneath to try to neutralize the Lions pass rush. Shane Vereen will have a much bigger role in the passing game this week as well.

Lions RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Detroit’s running game has been stuck in neutral for much of this season, and a lot of it has to do with the injury suffered by Reggie Bush that has hampered him all year. Bush is due to return this week but it isn’t known at this time how close to 100 percent he’ll be. Joique Bell had 85 yards on 14 carries last week in Arizona but the Cards defense played the majority of the game in dime defense in an attempt to slow the Lions’ passing game.

The Patriots have tightened up their rush defense the past two games allowing only 62 yards combined against Denver and Indianapolis. Vince Wilfork and Dominique Easley have been able to disrupt plays at the point of attack inside and newcomer Alan Branch has been solid in spot play.

Look for the Patriots to play a lot of nickel in this game, so the onus will be on Bush and Bell to generate the yardage to make them pay. Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower will again play a big role in the defense for the Pats. Both linebackers have been very solid the past few games.

Lions WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Lions have a very talented and deep group of receivers for Matthew Stafford to throw the football to. Calvin Johnson (Megatron) is the gold standard in terms of size and athleticism and he and Golden Tate are a superb 1-2 punch outside.

Detroit has three talented tightends in Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and rookie Eric Ebron. Reggie Bush out of the backfield adds to their plethora of riches. The problem has been injuries, Bush, all three TEs and now Johnson have been hobbled with differing injuries. That and some questionable play-calling have left the Lions operating at far below their potential

The question this week of who will cover who for the Patriots. Johnson is an amazing WR can go up and catch a jump ball with perfect coverage. See his TD against Miami a few weeks ago. I look for Darrelle Revis to cover him with over the top safety help. Kyle Arrington, the speediest of NE’s corners will draw Tate and Brandon Browner will take on Ebron.

The Lions OL has had issues with protection so look for more of the Double A gap pressure from Hightower and Collins. Bush’s health is a big thing to monitor this week. When operating a 100 percent, he’s a dangerous weapon rushing or receiving.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Lions have missed 11 field goals this season and are on their third kicker, former Bronco Matt Prater. Sam Martin is having an excellent season with a 41.7 yard net in the punting game. Jeremy Ross is a very good returner in both the punt and kickoff return game.

But Stephen Gostowski gives New England the edge in the kicking game. He’s been lights out, the only miss coming on a bad snap in Buffalo. Ryan Allen has been solid and Julian Edelman has been heating up in the punt return game. Both teams have had solid coverage units.

This should be a good football game, the Patriots have been playing great football in all three phases for the past six games and at home have been tough to beat. Detroit’s defense will give New England some trouble but look for Tom Brady to find the open man enough to get some points, especially in the second half as they find a way to adjust to the Lions’ pass rush. New England holds serve at home 31-20

Patriots Player to Watch-  Darrelle Revis
No one has transformed the Patriots defense more than Revis in 2014. He’s given Bill Belichick the ability to mix and match and now have the deepest secondary that the team has had in Belichick’s tenure in New England.

After heating up with some impressive performances against Chicago, Denver and Indianapolis, Revis will probably draw the tough matchup against Calvin Johnson, who is the most trusted receiver for Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense.

If Revis can slow down the production of Johnson, the battle is already half-won against Detroit. But Johnson is no ordinary WR, even with blanket coverage, he’s able to go up and bring down a pass for a big gain or touchdown. This should be a great matchup to watch this week.


Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at

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

Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Lions

Ndamukong Suh anchors a deep and talented defensive line for the Lions that has been dominant in 2014. (USA Today photo)

Ndamukong Suh anchors a deep and talented defensive line for the Lions that has been dominant in 2014. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots return home to Foxboro for another big NFC matchup with the Detroit Lions. The game will be carried on Fox Sports and the kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will be on the call for play by play and in-game analysis.

The game has far reaching playoff seeding implications for both teams. With six games left in the season, it may be still early to dwell too much on that, but this is the time of year when teams begin to make moves to solidify their standing.

New England currently owns the #1 seed in the AFC but is only a game ahead of Denver and Kansas City for the top spot in the conference. Detroit is currently the #2 seed in the NFC but are one of four teams with the same record (7-3) which is also what their divisional rivals the Green Bay Packers are. They can ill-afford a loss now if they want to hold onto the division lead as well as the conference spot and earn a bye in the first week of the playoffs.

The Patriots (8-2) have won six in a row, and are fresh off big wins against divisional leaders Denver (43-21) and Indianapolis (42-20) which have them in the enviable position of being the top team chased in the conference.

The Patriots offense continues to roll up points, averaging more than 40 points per game during the current six game winning streak. Last week running back Jonas Gray rushed 38 times for 199 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Indy.

The defense for the second week in a row was able to limit a high-powered, high scoring offense by limiting them in the red zone, holding the Colts and Andrew Luck to just 20 points. The secondary led by Darrelle Revis and Kyle Arrington was outstanding, holding T.Y. Hilton to just 3 catches for 24 yards.

The Lions (7-3) lost a tough game to Arizona 14-6 in the desert as the tough defense of the Cardinals limited the Lions to just a pair of first half field goals. The offense just couldn’t get untracked and although the Lions suffered a couple of terrible calls by the officials in this one, will be the first to admit, their offense production must improve.

The Lions defense gave up a pair of 1st quarter touchdown passes to Drew Stanton but from there clamped down and played their normal stout game. Although they didn’t get to Stanton as much as they’ve been accustomed to in the pass rush department, they were able to shut the Cardinals offense out the rest of the way.

All-time History: The Patriots and Lions have only met 10 times in their history; the two teams rarely meet so there hasn’t been much of a rivalry between the two. The Patriots hold an overall 6-4 lead in games including the past three meetings and hold a 3-2 lead in games at Foxboro. The two last met in 2010 with New England winning a 45-24 game in Detroit.

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

Suh, Defense Carrying the Team: Unlike in past seasons when the Lions had an explosive offense and a weak defense, this 2014 version of Detroit has the Lions defense carrying the team and may find themselves in prime position for a deep playoff run. That’s something that has been unheard of in the Motor City with only one playoff win in the past fifty years.

Detroit boasts the #1 defense in the NFL in terms of both points (15.6 ppg) and yards (290.3) and is led by arguably the best defensive line in the league headed by Ndamukong Suh. Suh spearheads a deep unit, including Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah that has allowed a league low 68.8 yards per game rushing including only 3.0 yards per carry.

The Lions defense is very physical and fast and they stop the run and get after the opponent’s QB extremely well with their front seven. They’ll be a tough opponent for an offense that has been rolling the past six weeks.

Bush Injury Has Offense Stuck: With so many weapons on offense, the big question this season has been why has the Lions’ offense been stuck in neutral? Coming into Sunday’s game, the Lions are averaging only 18.8 points per game, 26th in the league and a surprising 332.2 yards per game. Those numbers are down over sixty yards and six points per game from 2013…so what gives?

Reggie Bush’s injury this season has really limited the Detroit attack from being balanced. Bush had an outstanding 2013 and his ankle which has really bothered him since the beginning of the year has left the team almost one-dimensional.  His absence has trickled down to the OL play as opponents have teed off on rushing the QB causing the protection to break down.

Part of being one-dimensional has really hurt them early in games is that they are constantly playing from behind. The Lions have only scored one first half touchdown in the past four games.

Joique Bell had a good game in Arizona (14 carries, 85yds) last week, but the Cardinals played mainly with a big dime look with rookie safety Deone Buchanon playing a hybrid safety/linebacker role similar to the Pats “Money” position as they loaded the secondary to slow down Detroit’s passing game. It worked; QB Matthew Stafford was only 18-30 for 183 yards on Sunday.

Bush was a game time to decision to play but was held out to give him a better chance to play at New England this week. His presence should give the Lions offense a big boost this week as he is expected to play.

Tight Ends, Options, Options, Options: The Lions already have an outstanding 1-2 punch at the WR position with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate but with a trio of tight ends that can catch the ball, it provides Detroit all kinds of matchup problems to work against opponents.

Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and rookie Eric Ebron gives the Lions an embarrassment of riches at TE that Stafford can use in the passing game. But all three have had injury issues this season. Fauria hurt an ankle in mid-September and is just now beginning to round back into shape. Ebron has been slowed by a balky hamstring and Pettigrew has had a foot injury.

All three should play this week and will present a tough matchup regardless of who is on the field at any time. New England like many other teams in the league has struggled at times in covering tight ends.

Rush Defense Incredible: As we mentioned above the Lions are the #1 rush defense in the league allowing an average of a paltry 68.8 yards per game. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story of how dominant they’ve been.

Only one team (Jets) has rushed for more than 100 yards on the season against Detroit, and the Lions have allowed only four rushing touchdowns all season, and only one in the past six games. Contrast that with New England running for four just last week in Indianapolis.

Every team they’ve faced has rushed for less than their season average and the Lions are holding opponents to nearly 38 percent below what they normally rush for. This is especially important to recognize as the Patriots rely on being balanced in the run/pass game to open up play action passing.

Special Teams Focus Again: In what could be a very tight defensive game, there could be an increased focus on Special Teams play again this week. Bill Belichick always talks about “total team wins” which means offense, defense and special teams.

The Lions were very poor in their field goal kicking earlier in the season; they’ve missed 11 field goals on the year. But they’ve solidified the position by signing former Broncos kicker Matt Prater. Detroit also has one of the better returners in the league with Jeremy Ross who handles both kicks and punts.

Facing a Patriots unit with the ever dangerous Julian Edelman, both units will be hard pressed to contain the other. Sam Martin has been outstanding for the Lions in the punt game with a 46.7 average and a 41.1 yard net.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at

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

Patriots, Gray Run Over Colts 42-20

Jonas Gray had a fantastic night for the New England Patriots rushing for 199 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Patriots win over the Colts. (USA TODAY Images)

On a night where the New England Patriots passing offense sputtered in the first half, they put their offensive game plan behind their offensive line and 1st year player Jonas Gray who had a fantastic evening running the ball. Gray ran 38 times for 199 yards for four huge touchdowns as they routed the Indianapolis Colts 42-20.

As we pointed out in our pre-game matchups, the opportunities were there for the Patriots to run up the middle on this Colts defense as their #9 ranking against the run was more of an issue of how potent their offense is and teams having to play from behind, than it was how stout they are up front.

Establishing the run early the Patriots behind two Gray touchdown runs had a comfortable 14-3 before an errant Brady interception gave the Colts life just before the half which led to a Andrew Luck touchdown pass to narrow the lead to 14-10.

But the New England offense took control right from the outset of the second half, pounding the ball between the tackles and with Brady much sharper they kept scoring and kept the Colts in catch up mode for the rest of the night.

With this win the Patriots improve to 8-2 and have put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC for the #1 seed. Against the top three divisional leaders (Indy, Denver, Cinn) in head-to-head play, they’ve dominated all of them by a combined score of 128-58.

Interesting Stat of the Day: Patriots’ running backs got 248 yards rushing, while Indy’s? They could only manage 4 yards rushing. That is a perfect road winning football formula. In Sunday’s game the Patriots rushed for 244 yards on 45 carries with 4 TDs. In the playoff game in January, they rushed for 234 yards on 46 carries with six TDs.

And Bill Belichick finally won a game in Lucas Oil Stadium, which has been the site of numerous awful performances by the Patriots both against the Colts and the Giants in the Super Bowl.

Here are some other observations from the game:

4 Shades of Gray: In just his fourth NFL game, Gray was immense for the Patriots. One of the only knocks the past five weeks during their recent winning streak, has been the inability to run the ball consistently, especially in short yardage as well as the goal line. For this night at least, those issues were put to rest.

The Patriots entered the game with three rushing touchdowns on the season. Gray accounted for four alone on Sunday night as well as punishing the Colts defenders again and again. They frequently hit him short of the first down markers only to find themselves tossed aside as he kept his legs churning.

With the team missing  the big, physical Stevan Ridley in the running game, Gray at 5’10, 230 more than fits the bill as a powerful, physical presence in the interior. He won’t make anyone miss, but he can run over defenders and his play tonight easily gives him the Player of the Game nod.

Jonas Gray, promoted from the practice squad has the size and physicality the team needs between the tackles moving forward. (SBalestrieri photo) Jonas Gray, here doing an interview after practice is a big physical back that can really boost the effectiveness of the offense. (SBalestrieri photo)

Offensive Line Huge: With a five game winning streak averaging 40+ points, it was mainly thru the pass as the OL hadn’t got a big, consistent push upfront for the running game. The offensive line had a fantastic night as well especially in the running game as time after time, they pushed the Colts defense back at the point of attack.

Since they settled on a starting five of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer, the offense has really taken off. Another 40+ point effort and this time by grinding the ball down the throats of a defense that knew it was coming until Tom Brady and the passing game got untracked.

On Sunday, they frequently used an extra offensive lineman, rookie T Cameron Fleming as an extra blocker and the running game was unstoppable all game long.

Brady Rebounds After Bad 1st Half: Tom Brady during the current winning streak has been on fire. But in the first half, he was tentative, didn’t step into his throws and made two bad decisions that resulted in interceptions. Brady was only 10-19 for 84 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs at half time.

His second pick was a particularly bad decision, he audibled at the line of scrimmage on a 3rd and 1 and called a deep pass play to Gronkowski. But the Colts blitzed up the middle and Brady, falling away should have taken the sack. Instead he floated an awful pass down the sideline that was easily picked off by Mike Adams and set up the Colts for an easy touchdown with less than a minute to go in the first half.

But Brady salvaged his night and the game with touchdown drives on the first four drives of the second half. He was much sharper as well, completing 9-11 for 173 yards and 2 TDs as well as 0 INTs.

Brady’s final numbers for the night were 19-30 for 257 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs for a QB rating of only 85.0. Hardly the type of night he’s been putting up during the winning streak but good enough with the way the running game was going.

Any Doubts About Defense Now?: The Patriots defense once again faced one of the top QBs in the game and frustrated him when it mattered most. Andrew Luck, again as we mentioned in our pregame was going to get his yards, but the key to the game was stopping him in the red-zone and keeping the Colts out of the end zone.

Darrelle Revis and Kyle Arrington get very high marks in the secondary taking T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne out of the game. Wayne had a 46 yard catch early but that was more of breakdown in coverage where Revis passed him off to a safety who didn’t read the play correctly. Hilton had only 3 catches for 24 yards which was a huge win for New England. The one interception they got from Luck was more a case of Revis making a great play on the ball and tipping it, which Devin McCourty intercepted.

Overall Luck was solid but far from the fantastic QB who has been tearing it up all season. Luck completed 23-39 for 303 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT for a QB rating of 90.

They didn’t force Luck into any real bad decisions, but the coverages were solid all night long and holding the Colts offense, which had been averaging over 30 points per game to only 20 on the road has to be a satisfying performance.

Also the much maligned Patriots run defense held the Colts to only 19 yards on 17 carries. Luck was the leading ground gainer with 15 yards and wasn’t a factor in scrambling and making plays with his feet. The Patriots made Indy one-dimensional and that was a huge boost in quieting the crowd.

Coby Fleener had a fantastic day for the Colts hauling in seven passes for 144 yards, consistently getting separation and making big plays down the field. No doubt his area of the film study this week will be dissected by the coaching staff as they will attempt to remedy this going forward.

The past two games the Patriots have held Denver and Indy to a combine 62 yards rushing…..Much better since the struggles earlier in the year. Vince Wilfork and Dominique Easley were big in stuffing the run at the point of attack as were linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

Gronk Huge Game Receiving/Blocking: Rob Gronkowski was dominant all game long in the Patriots running game helping spring Gray on his runs. There was a lot of jawing going on between Gronkowski and Sergio Brown, the former Patriots safety who was given the task of slowing him down in the passing game.

On a touchdown run by Gray in the second half, Gronkowski put a stamp on the night when he drove Brown off the ball and five yards out of bounds and then rag-dolled him to the ground like a sack of mail, much like Brandon Browner did to Kenbrell Thompkins in training camp.

Although Gronkowski was flagged on the play 15 yards for a personal foul, it put forth the point that he’s all the way back and if teams want to get physical with him, it might not be a good idea to poke the bear.

Gronk also added 4 catches for 71 yards including a 26 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter where he dragged several Colts defenders down the field and into the end zone.

Third down Efficiency: The Patriots came into Indy with the knowledge that the Colts were the #1 defense in the NFL on third down (30.2%), and more impressively at home, the Colts had only allowed 8 of 45 attempts (16 %) on third down.

Thanks in part to the outstanding running game, the Patriots converted on 9 of 12 third down attempts and held Indy to just 5 of 13 third downs. The Colts were only 1 of 3 on fourth down.

Looking Ahead: The Patriots return home to Foxboro next week to take on the Detroit Lions (6-4) in another big matchup. They will then go back out on the road to take on the Green Bay Packers and then the San Diego Chargers.

In what was circled as a critical six game schedule of the season the Patriots are halfway thru it and they are 3-0. The next three are going to be tough but as of right now, this team and Bill Belichick have to be very confident to win against anyone.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at

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

Patriots – Colts, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?, Key Matchups

Jamie Collins will be looked to play a big game, much like the Divisional Playoff game from last January. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots travel to Indianapolis to renew their rivalry with the Colts on Sunday Night Football. This rivalry peaked during the Peyton Manning years but now with the addition of Andrew Luck to the Indy offense, the rivalry has been rekindled and will take place on the national stage. Both teams are coming off their bye weeks and are rested and prepared for a big game with large playoff implications.

The game will be broadcast nationally on NBC with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the call. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

The Patriots (7-2) have won five in a row, mostly recently beating the Denver Broncos 43-21 two weeks ago. Tom Brady continued his recent hot streak where he’s thrown 18 touchdowns and just one interception.

The defense intercepted Manning twice and threw many different looks at the Denver offense which kept them off balance all game. Denver’s running game which netted 280 yards in New England last year, flopped and gained only 43 this time around.

The Colts (6-3) are also coming off of a bye week and have won six of their last seven. Two weeks ago they blew out the NY Giants 40-24 with QB Andrew Luck throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Luck has pass for more than 3000 yards in the team’s first nine games. He and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton have become a potent combo while leading the league’s most potent offense, averaging 32.1 points per game..

The Colts’ defense has the best third down percentage in the NFL (30.1 percent), and they’ve stiffened their run defense, coming in at 9th best in the NFL. They’re aggressive in the blitzing department with 2nd year LB Bjoern Werner rushing off the edge in the absence of Robert Matthis.

We here at 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 Colts have met a total of 78 times dating back to the 1970 season. New England holds a commanding 48-29 edge overall including the playoffs. The Patriots have won the last four meetings including a 43-22 divisional playoff game last January in Foxboro.

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

Patriots RBs vs Colts Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Colts
The Colts have the 9th best rush defense in the NFL allowing only 98.1 yards per game. Cory Redding, and Arthur Jones surrounding NT Josh Chapman have done a good job of limiting opponents running games.

But it is a tad misleading, since most of the Colts opponents are trailing most of the time and are forced to play catch-up. Opposing running backs are averaging 4.4 yards per carry which is exactly what the Patriots have allowed this season.

The Patriots have been struggling to run consistently this season, missing the big workhorse Stevan Ridley between the tackles. Shane Vereen is best suited to a third down back type role. Jonas Gray was activated off the practice squad and has played well albeit in a smaller role thus far.

The Pats can run on this defense, but they have to do so between the tackles, those long developing stretch plays will go nowhere on this defense. The Colts are good at stringing those out and holding the opponent to little yardage.

Patriots WRs vs Colts Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
Tom Brady has been on fire the past five weeks since the KC game. The issues along the offensive line have been remedied, Brandon LaFell is now more comfortable in the offense and most importantly, Rob Gronkowski has returned to full health.

In the past five games Brady has thrown 18 touchdowns against one interception. The Patriots during that stretch are averaging over 40 points per game and Gronkowski’s production has been off the charts. In the past two games, 19 targets, 18 receptions, 254 yards and 4 touchdowns.

As we said in our All-22 piece, Indy’s biggest weakness is the middle of the field in their pass defense. They’re solid outside with corners Vontae Davis and Greg Toler, but the Patriots should target down the middle and find plenty of room to make plays. And that includes both Gronkowski and fellow tight end, Tim Wright.

Colts RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Colts
The Colts offense has had good production from the running game utilizing a two-tiered running attack featuring Ahmad Bradshaw who is averaging over five yards per carry this season and Trent Richardson.

Bradshaw is the must-stop guy here, just a year removed from neck surgery he’s been outstanding both running and catching the ball out of the backfield. On a star-studded Colts offense, he’s one of the unsung players but is capable of making plays all over the field.

The Patriots run defense has been good in wins and woefully bad in losses. However in the past two games they held Matt Forte in check while the game was still in doubt and then Denver to a paltry 43 yards on the ground.

Expect a lot of nickel looks on defense again by the team in trying to slow down Luck and the passing game. Which means the Colts should be able to run.

Colts WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Wait….What you say???? New England has the advantage here? Yes they do, whether or not they can keep the advantage is a big question on how this game will ultimately turn out.

In the two previous meetings with Andrew Luck, (both in NE) the Patriots were good at forcing the ball out of Luck’s hands early and forcing turnovers. They registered four picks in the playoff game last January.

Luck has been outstanding thus far in 2014, passing for over 3000 yards and 26 touchdowns. T.Y. Hilton has been explosive, catching 56 passes for 937 yards, (16.7 ypc) and three touchdowns. But the big production guys have been TE Dwayne Allen (7 TDs) Bradshaw (6 TDs rec) and Coby Fleener (4 TDs).

Look for NE to mix up their coverages, and pass rush, they have to contain Luck in the pocket, if he can get to the outside and make plays with his feet, it will be a long evening. Jamie Collins will play a key role this week as he did in January’s playoff game. The key is limiting the Colts in the red zone, Luck is going to get his yardage, but a few FGs and a turnover or two will go a long way to winning this matchup.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push
This will be a key area to watch as the Patriots STs units have really picked up their play.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been superb, his only FG this season occurring on a bad snap. Ryan Allen is turning in a solid season with a 46.0 yard average. Danny Amendola has given a boost to the Pats moribund kick return unit and Julian Edelman has been getting hot in the punt return unit with big returns against Chicago and Denver (84 yd TD).

The Colts are outstanding in both phases of the kicking game, Adam Vinatieri keeps plugging away into his 40’s and has been perfect on his kicks this season. Pat McAfee has been outstanding averaging over 46 yards per punt with a superb 43.3 yard net. The coverage units have been solid and it will be interesting to watch who gets the advantage here. In a closely matched game, STs may indeed decide the difference.

This one promises to be another Pats – Colts classic as both teams are playing well and are jockeying for a prime playoff position.

New England hasn’t been a good road team the past few years and this one could exorcise some demons for them. Indy has been very solid at home and the place will be loud on Sunday night.

With both offenses operating at a very high level, this one will come down to which defense is able to slow down the opponent enough. This Patriots secondary can be a difference maker if they put in the effort they played Denver with two weeks ago.

In a close game, Brady and Co. led by a big game by Gronkowski win a big one on the road over a good Indianapolis team, Patriots 34-26.

Patriots Player to Watch-  Rob Gronkowski
This is a tailor-made game for Gronkowski, it is on the national stage, going in with a hot QB that is on fire lately and facing a team that has struggled all season to cover tight ends.

The Colts safeties don’t match up well at all with him, he has big size advantages over both starters, Sergio Brown and Mike Adams. The Colts linebackers struggle in coverage and if they choose to double-team him, it opens up other avenues elsewhere.

Look for Gronkowski to have a big game on Sunday night with at least one Gronk spike as Brady will take advantage of the Colts dependence on having to blitz to get pressure.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at

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

Beating The Colts, An All-22 Look At How The Patriots Can Defeat Indy

Tight Ends Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright may be big parts of the New England game plan against Indy this week. (USA TODAY Images)

War is 90 percent information”
Napoleon Bonaparte

Looking at the Sunday Night Football matchup between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts is an intriguing exercise this week. Both teams have explosive offenses that average over 30 points per game. And it pits the newest young gun of top QBs Andrew Luck against the wily veteran Tom Brady.

The rivalry between the Colts and Patriots reached a pinnacle with the battles between Peyton Manning and Brady, but with Luck in the fold, those days have returned and now Luck is leading the league in yardage as well as points per game.

Lucas Oil Stadium should be a loud place on Sunday night as the two teams do battle. At stake are not only divisional implications but conference ones as well. The Patriots (7-2) currently own the #1 seed, but haven’t been a good road team going back to last season. The Colts (6-3) want to climb into the role as one of the teams to beat and lost a chance to defeat Denver early this season. Now they’ll have the chance to beat the Patriots at home.

From a New England perspective, how do they beat Indianapolis? They’ll need a total team effort and the offense, defense and special teams will be tested in this one. Since Luck and the Indy offense have been setting the world on fire all season, we’ll start with Indy’s offense.

We’ll have a detailed breakdown of all the key matchups later this week but here are a couple of the most important ones looking at the NFL’s All-22 film.

Quicker the Better: Most casual fans look at the similarities between Manning and Luck being such prolific passers and think the Patriots will just utilize the same game plan this Sunday. But where the Patriots tried to get physical with Broncos WRs to disrupt their timing, the Colts have no such issue with that. The longer the play develops the better, Luck and his WRs love when the play takes on that aspect.

Luck is most dangerous when making plays with his feet, he can move around the pocket and either scramble for good yardage or find a receiver deep down the field. The Colts are always looking to push the ball deep. The best bet is to force Luck to get rid of the ball quicker, the quicker the better. Although he has thrown for over 3000 yards in just nine games, he has thrown nine interceptions and still at times suffers from making mental mistakes.

The Steelers looked to contain Luck from the edge and push the pocket from inside. On one play early in the second quarter, they showed pressure from the Double-A gap, one linebacker came straight up the middle, the other looped to the outside, crossing DE Brett Keisel who stunted inside.

Steeler A-gap pressure

The result was Luck having to get rid of the ball quickly and the pass was incomplete. Another quick pass in the first half was an ill-advised one and CB William Gay read the play perfectly and picked it off, returning it for a pick-six.

The Patriots utilized this same technique against Denver showing pressure and then mixing up their blitzes and coverages. In this aspect, they’ll look to continue with the same type of play. See the image below with Jamie Collins and Donta’ Hightower showing the same type pressure scheme. Collins was very disruptive in the playoff game against the Colts in January and could play another big role this week.

Double A-Gap look

Hilton/Wayne Aren’t the “Must Stops”: While much of the focus that you’ve been reading this week concerns WRs T.Y Hilton and Reggie Wayne, those aren’t the guys that you need to stop on Sunday. Regardless of whatever schemes the Patriots use, they won’t shut those two down completely. They are going to get their yards, but like our friend Kerry Byrne likes to say, they are “Shiny Hood Ornaments.”

Combined, Hilton and Wayne have just five touchdowns, once the Colts get to the red-zone, the guys who are the most productive are RB Ahmad Bradshaw as well as TEs Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.  Bradshaw with 8 TDs, (2 rush, 6 receiving), Allen, 7 TDs and Fleener 4 TDs should be the focus. Bradshaw will be a tough matchup for the NE Defense.

Just a year removed from major neck surgery, Bradshaw the former Giants standout has had a quietly superb season. Averaging 5.1 yards per carry in the running game, he’s Luck’s most trusted receiver when things go awry. He’s caught 34 passes for 6 touchdowns on the season, all of them in the red zone. New England will have to account for him on every down.

Allen is their most productive receiver in the red zone and a very tough matchup because of his prowess at both blocking and receiving. Looking back at the Pittsburgh game, on a play in the second quarter, the Steelers showed max blitz with ten players in the box close to the line of scrimmage.

Allen 21 yard TD

Luck recognized that Allen was one-on-one with a linebacker with no help, and obvious mismatch. Allen ran a route straight down the seam and Luck hit him for an easy touchdown. One option that the Patriots may consider with either Allen or Fleener is move Brandon Browner over to cover them. Belichick said earlier this week, they consider Fleener a big wide receiver anyway and with Browner’s size and physicality, he could help in that regard.

Allen 21 yard TD2

Attack the Middle: This isn’t new, especially with Rob Gronkowski’s resurgence in recent weeks, but the Colts have really struggled to cover the tight ends with both their safeties and linebackers. A look at who they’ve faced and the production that has been given up includes:
Julius Thomas 7 catches, 104 yards, 3 TDs
Zach Ertz 4 catches, 86 yards
Delanie Walker 5 catches, 84 yards, 1 TD
Owen Daniels 5 catches, 70 yards
Heath Miller 7 catches, 112 yards, 1 TD

The Colts are one of the worst (29th) teams at defending the tight end position and Gronkowski is arguably a better target than any of the tight ends listed above. Colts coach Chuck Pagano called him a “Matchup nightmare” and he can stretch the seams of the defense and make athletic plays in bringing down the ball like this one against Denver.

Gronk grab

In an earlier game against the Colts, Gronkowski had 7 catches for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns. They are sure to remember that and will be trying to slow him down. Another thing Gronkowski does is to draw a lot of attention away from others. In the Denver game, he drew three defenders in the red zone towards himself, leaving Julian Edelman with single coverage for an easy touchdown pitch and catch from Brady.

Edelman TD, gronk clearout, pass protection

TE Tim Wright could also play a bigger role this week, the Patriots could opt to show more of a 2WR, 2TE look (12 Personnel) and he and Gronkowski in the middle of the field could be a dangerous combination.

Vereen “X”-Factor: One other player to watch in the Patriots passing game this week is running back Shane Vereen. The wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman will be matched up with the Colts good corners in Vontae Davis and Greg Toler and will have their hands full. With Gronkowski in the middle, Vereen could further provide some matchup help in isolating him on a linebacker in the passing game.

Look for Brady to try to work that into the game plan, split Vereen out wide and take a shot with him down the field.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at

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

Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Colts

Andrew Luck and the Colts have the #1 offense in the NFL in 2014 and will be a huge test for the Patriots defense. (USA Today photo)

Andrew Luck and the Colts have the #1 offense in the NFL in 2014 and will be a huge test for the Patriots defense. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots come off their bye week and travel to Indianapolis to renew their rivalry with the Colts on Sunday Night Football. This rivalry peaked during the Peyton Manning years but now with the addition of Andrew Luck to the Indy offense, the rivalry has been rekindled and will take place on the national stage.

The Patriots (7-2) have won five in a row, mostly recently dismantling the Denver Broncos 43-21 two weeks ago. Tom Brady continued his five game hot streak where he’s thrown 18 touchdowns and just one interception.

The defense intercepted Manning twice and threw many different looks at the Denver offense and kept them off balance all game. They held the Broncos to just 43 yards rushing and forced them into being a one-dimensional attack.

The Colts (6-3) are also coming off of a bye week and have won six of their last seven. Last week they blew out the NY Giants 40-24 with QB Andrew Luck throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns. Luck has already thrown for more than 3000 yards in the team’s first nine games. He and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton have become a potent combo.

The Colts’ defense has excelled at getting opponents off the field on third down and has stiffened their run defense, coming in at 9th best in the NFL. They’ve found their pass rush with 2nd year LB Bjoern Werner rushing off the edge in the absence of Robert Matthis.

All-time History: This will be the 78th meeting between the two rivals dating back to 1970. The Patriots own the all-time edge 48-29 and have won the last four meetings including a 43-22 win in the divisional playoffs last season in Foxboro.

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

Luck An MVP Candidate: Much of the talk at the half-way point of the season centered around who was the first half MVP. As usual, much of the discussion had to do with Manning, Brady and DeMarco Murray who has gotten off to a blistering start for the Dallas Cowboys. But Luck’s numbers jump off the page as equally worthy.

Luck has completed 250 of 393 passes for 3085 yards, good for 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions. This is only the fifth time in NFL history that a QB has thrown for 3000 yards or more in just his ninth game.

The Colts are the #1 scoring offense in the league, averaging 32.1 points per game as well as the leading offense in terms of yardage overall (452) and in passing (337). Luck has spread the wealth, tossing touchdowns to eight different receivers.

Hilton/Wayne Another Dynamic Duo: The New England defense faces another stiff test this week as Luck will have the speedy T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne to deal with in the Colts dynamic passing offense.

Hilton has been on fire lately with three 100 yard receiving games in the last four outings and has 56 catches for 937 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. Wayne doesn’t quite have the same breakaway speed he possessed a few years ago but is still quite effective and has had a productive first half with 42 catches for 504 yards and two touchdowns.

The matchup between Hilton will probably fall to Darrelle Revis and this one should be a great one to watch on national television. Hilton has 15 catches of 20 yards or more and will be a tough matchup for the Patriots corner.

Colts Defense Aggressive Using The Blitz: One of the reasons the Colts defense has been so successful on third down this season (30.2 percent) is they’ve been very aggressive at using the blitz to disrupt opponents passing schemes.

It is something Chuck Pagano brought with him from Baltimore, an up-tempo, aggressive scheme that tries to overload the opponents blocking schemes. It can’t be successful without relying on solid play from the corners and Vontae Davis and Greg Toler have been very good. Davis in particular has been outstanding limiting opposing WRs to a 45.5 completion percentage.

Defensive end Cory Redding, and LBs Werner and D’Qwell Jackson have been very effective at providing QB pressure. It will be an interesting chess match on Sunday to see how much Pagano will send extra bodies at Brady, who always seems to find a way in defeating the blitz.

Colts Defense Struggling Against TEs: One interesting sub-plot this week will center around Indy’s struggles covering tight ends. Thus far they’ve had their struggles covering the likes of Julius Thomas, Heath Miller, Zach Ertz and Larry Donnell. But Rob Gronkowski brings an extra dynamic into the mix bringing the element of size and physicality with the ability to stretch the seams of the defense.

Opposing tight ends according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) have been targeted 67 times and have caught 49 passes for 577 yards (11.8 ypc) and seven touchdowns. That places Indy 29th in the league at covering tight ends. Gronkowski now fully healthy has been on fire lately and has 49 catches, for 663 yards and eight TDs on the season.

Gronk has a huge size advantage on safeties Sergio Brown and Mike Adams and the recently activated LaRon Landry is physical enough but struggles in coverage. Colts LBs have struggled in coverage as well so how they look to slow down Gronkowski and force Brady to test their corners will be a key to watch.

Special Teams Key For Both Teams: Another area to watch closely is the special teams battle on Sunday. Indy has an outstanding kicking tandem in the ageless Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee.

Vinatieri is a perfect 20 for 20 on field goal tries this season and at 42, remains one of the best of all time. He has ice water running thru his veins and never seems to miss a big kick at crunch time as Patriots fans can attest to. McAfee has an outstanding 46.6 punting average with a ridiculous 43.6 net.

The Colts coverage units on both punts and kickoffs have been outstanding in 2014 and facing the Pats Julian Edelman on punt returns will be a key to watch. In a match of two good football teams, special teams can easily turn the tide for one or the other. Look no farther than the Patriots – Broncos game of two weeks ago where STs play made a difference of 13 points in the early going.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at

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

Patriots Running Game A Key For Late Season Success

Shane Vereen has been the workhorse for the Patriots since Stevan Ridley was lost for the season. (USA TODAY Images)

With the bye week now in the books, the New England Patriots get back to work this week as they prepare to face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football on the road. The Patriots under Bill Belichick always take the time during the bye to do a little self-scouting as well as prep for their upcoming opponent.

The Patriots have been averaging 40 points per game the past five games as Tom Brady and the passing game has flourished. While it is hard to point a finger at the offense during the current five-game winning streak, one area that the team can definitely improve upon is the running game.

With the slate of opponents getting much tougher down the stretch, the Patriots will need the running game to get more productive. Currently the Patriots have rushed the ball 250 times for 911 yards but for only three touchdowns on the season. Their rushing yardage is good for only 19th in the league, while their TDs have them at 28th in the NFL.

Last year the 19 rushing touchdowns were the second most in the league, this is an area where the team really misses Stevan Ridley. Ridley was lost for the season in the win over the Bills and was the team’s major workhorse carrying the ball, providing a tough, physical, down-hill style of running.

The key to running effectively is to do when the opponent knows you’re going to run, finishing out games as well as in and around the goal line. This was an area where Ridley was most effective.

The running game is also vital to the play action passing that Brady excels at. The team has to at least attempt to remain balanced with the run/pass ratio for the passing game to freeze the safeties and linebackers long enough for Brady to find some separation for the New England receivers to get open. Last week against Denver, the Patriots could only muster 63 yards on the ground, but the 25 attempts were enough to still make play action work, where Brady was very effective at neutralizing the pass rush of the Broncos.

Offensive Line Play Key: Part of the struggle of the running game can be directly tied to the struggles of the Patriots offensive line. Thru the first four games the team mixed and matched with a myriad of different combinations. And they struggled… Brady was sacked 10 times in the first four games and was under siege countless times.

But now the team has settled on a starting unit of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer, things have solidified, especially in the pass protection. The team has only allowed 5 sacks during the current five game winning streak and has allowed Brady to stand in the pocket and find his 2nd and 3rd receivers.

Now they need to take the next step and develop some more push in the running game. The communication along the line has improved and with three centers in the interior (Connolly, Stork and Wendell), the blocking assignments in the running game should improve as well.


Jonas Gray, promoted from the practice squad has the size and physicality the team needs between the tackles moving forward. (SBalestrieri photo)
Jonas Gray, promoted from the practice squad has the size and physicality the team needs between the tackles moving forward. (SBalestrieri photo)

Vereen/Gray Key Cogs: The team promoted RB Jonas Gray from the practice squad and he has had some success in the three games thus far rushing for 131 yards on 32 attempts, good for a 4.1 yard average. Gray is a proto-typical power runner in the Ridley mold, at 5’10, 230 and while he won’t make people miss, has the ability to break tackles and get the tough yards between the tackles.But the onus thus far has been thrust on Shane Vereen, the Patriots Swiss Army knife of the offense. Vereen is best served as a third down back, he can run effectively as well as pass block, but is most productive out of the backfield as a receiver. Many times the team will split him out wide trying for mismatches on linebackers, but as a between the tackles runner or in short-yardage? Vereen isn’t the best solution.

Brandon Bolden has been relegated to strictly special team duties at this point and rookie James White is more out of the Vereen mold, being built similarly (5’10, 205) and best suited to the 3rd down mold as a receiver. White has been active for only two games and has just nine carries on the season, as this is kind of a red-shirt type rookie season for him.

The best solution for the team in the final seven games is to get Gray more and more work in the running game, and trust him enough to get him some touches in the red-zone especially in goal line situations. With James Develin as the fullback lead blocker, it will allow them to punch thru opponents in short yardage and give the team that boost they’ll need in the upcoming games.

With a dearth of experience behind Vereen, the Patriots need to keep him healthy and fresh for a playoff run. The best way to do that is to get Gray more involved in the power running game. Giving the Patriots an ability to pound the ball between the tackles, will not only give them a much better short-yardage option, but will really help when they get down close to the goal line in the red zone.

With the weather rapidly becoming an issue at this time of year in the Northeast and the level of competition for their opponents rising, a good running game is a must for the team to have success once January rolls around.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.comListen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

A Mixture of Old and New, Patriots Defense Coming Together

Brandon Browner brings a tough, physical edge to New England’s defense. (USA TODAY Images)

In the warm afterglow of the New England Patriots big win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night in Foxboro one thing has begun to emerge. The New England defense is starting to assert itself and will prove to be a tough matchup moving forward.

The Patriots defense really stepped up in a big way against Denver, unleashing a number of new, different looks from the defense that confused Broncos QB Peyton Manning. They disrupted his timing, were physical with his receivers and contested everything thrown their way. The result? Denver had their second lowest output of the season (21 points), only the sixth time in Manning’s 3rd year, they’ve been held that low. Which, coincidentally is the second time, (both times at Foxboro) the Patriots have done this.

One item that hasn’t been mentioned much this week was a much improved run defense. Last year in Foxboro, Denver ran for 280 yards. This time they ran for 43 as Vince Wilfork and company stuffed Ronnie Hillman and made the Broncos one-dimensional.

It was a combination of old and new, and an aggressive approach that bolstered the team to big win and with the players that Belichick the much-maligned GM brought in paying dividends.

Bill Belichick made a couple of moves early in the spring to bolster the Pats secondary bringing in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and that duo is beginning to provide the team with arguably the best cornerback tandem in the conference if not the entire league.

Just prior to the trade deadline, the team made what was considered a minor depth move bringing in OLB/DE Akeem Ayers  in a trade with the Tennessee Titans but he’s already played more in two games than he did all season with the Titans. Ayers has been productive as well, with a sack in each of his first two games as he’s quickly assimilating himself in the defense.

Another under the radar move was bringing in LB Jonathan Casillas from the Tampa Bay Bucs to add depth to the linebacking core, especially in sub-packages and on special teams. After just two practices, Casillas made three STs tackles in the win over Denver and should see an uptick in defensive snaps as he becomes more versed in the team’s defense.

Setting the tone early:  On Sunday the Patriots immediately set the tone when on the first defensive series and with the Patriots in nickel, the Broncos attempted to establish the run. They ran Hillman right up the middle and Wilfork rag-dolled LG Orlando Franklin, tossing him back in the backfield on his rear end.

Hillman was stuffed for a short gain, and soon the Broncos would be abandoning the run as they wouldn’t have the huge gaps to run into this time around. It was a big win for the Pats defense, as they played in subs all game long.

Different Looks, Same Result: This time around against the Broncos, the Patriots matched up in the secondary utilizing a number of different looks but in the end, the results were the same, they sent Manning home with a loss, something they’ve been able to do 11 times in 16 games.

More impressively were the Patriots third down numbers, holding Denver to just 3 of 11 on third down and 0-4 on fourth down. Belichick went against the grain and didn’t just use the matchups that were expected.

Moving both Revis and Browner around, the matchups confused Manning and frequently threw off his timing. Browner was initially lined up on TE Julius Thomas, the big (6’4, 220) CB loves to play physical and made Denver’s big TE invisible in the first half. But he also switched gears and covered WR Demaryius Thomas at times and even lined up inside as the “money” LB/S hybrid for a few snaps.

Revis and Browner’s play allowed the Patriots to contest everything down low, jamming the receivers at the line of scrimmage, disrupting their timing and daring Manning to throw deep. But it wasn’t all just man coverage as the Patriots mixed in some zone as well as man coverage and in the endless chess match, had Manning reacting to them, setting the tone.

The play of safeties Devin McCourty and Pat Chung can’t be overlooked. Chung is playing his best football this season. Utilizing his strengths, Belichick has him playing a more in-the-box role and Chung has excelled in run support. But his coverage on TEs Jacob Tamme and Thomas was very good, an encouraging sign moving forward.

McCourty continues to play at a very high level as the center fielder for the defense. His bone jarring hit on Wes Welker knocked him out of the game, which resulted in Browner’s interception and return to the Broncos 10 yard line where, one play later Brady hit Brandon LaFell for a touchdown to put New England up 37-14.

Creative Pressure Scheme Works: Perhaps the biggest development though and something we’re bound to see more of as the season moves forward was the movement along the defensive line. Countless times, the Patriots showed pressure as LBs Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower lined up as if to blitz up the middle in the Double-A gap.

This is something that has been a staple of Rex Ryan’s defenses in New York and was something that the Bengals did to the Patriots very effectively in 2013. The offensive line has to account for the threat of the blitz and can force the QB to audible.

Sometimes either Collins or Hightower would come with a rush, most others they dropped back into coverage. When one or the other did come on pressure, Belichick would alternate dropping either Rob Ninkovich or Ayers into coverage.

Manning never knew which was coming and it led directly to the Patriots first turnover. On the Broncos first scoring drive, Manning adjusted to the Patriots pressing the receivers at the line by running a drag route with Emmanuel Sanders that jump started the offense. Sanders crossed the defense with Revis in chase mode which resulted in a 17 yard gain. Only on this instance, the defense had a counter for this.

Rob Ninkovich continues to play his best in big games.
(USA TODAY Images)

With Hightower showing blitz, Ninkovich dropped into coverage and slid toward the middle where Manning didn’t see him. The crossing route and subsequent pass to Thomas was easily picked off by Ninkovich and returned to the Denver 34. That set up the Patriots first touchdown, a Brady pass to Julian Edelman that gave New England a 13-7 lead.

Ninkovich and Ayers both played big parts in the victory, the communication was outstanding, especially considering how short a time, Ayers has had to learn the defense. Both did a decent job of providing just enough pressure to force Manning to throw the ball when he wasn’t ready to.

Ayers had the team’s only sack, on a second quarter fourth down play as Denver went for a 4th and 6 after Brandon McManus doinked an earlier field goal attempt off the upright. The Patriots rushed only three, dropping eight into coverage and Ayers looped to the inside on a stunt where unblocked was able to drop Manning for the sack.

Once Chandler Jones returns, the team will have the option of playing Ayers as more of a linebacker role or keeping fresh legs by substituting him back and forth with Jones and Ninkovich.

Moving Forward: The Patriots defense is just now starting to round into form, Belichick likes to say that you don’t really know what kind of team you have until around Thanksgiving. Adjusting to the loss of Jerod Mayo and Jones has been difficult but it is an inevitable truth that injuries do and will occur during a season.

Browner missed the first month of the season and was slow in getting back into game shape. Now, fresh and feisty along with Revis, he is a wild-card that Belichick can move all over the field in matchups that favor the defense. With such good depth at corner, the team still has Kyle Arrington, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard who can mix and match with anyone along with Revis.

During the bye week, the team will self-scout as they always do and then prepare for the Indianapolis Colts. With Andrew Luck and the #1 scoring offense of Indy, the team will have another big test, this time on the road. Expect a similar game plan as Belichick looks to slow down another high-flying offense. But things are trending upward for the Patriots defense.

Contrast this with what is going on Denver, they spent $109 million dollars on their defense to put them over the top and put New England firmly in the rear mirror. Well the Broncos are a disconcerting 1-2 on the road, the only win a victory over the Jets where the game was still in doubt with a minute to go.

They were treating Sunday as a playoff game and wanted to take the Patriots out of the equation for the #1 in the AFC. But New England put a 43 spot on the defense in essentially only three quarters of play.

The second half of the season is shaping up to be a very interesting one as nothing has been settled yet, but is at least for now going thru New England in the AFC.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at

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

Sweet 16, Brady and the Patriots Steamroll Denver, Manning 43-21

Julian Edelman celebrates with Tom Brady in the endzone after he returned a 84 yard punt return for a TD. (USA Today photo)

“We saw a weak team. The New England Patriots, let’s face it…they’re NOT good anymore. They’re weak.” – Trent Dilfer

In the end, the much ballyhooed weather script was much ado about nothing as Quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady threw for more than 750 yards as the New England Patriots manhandled and rode roughshod over the Denver Broncos. And the Patriots came out with a big 43-21 win over their AFC rivals.

With the win, the Patriots head into the bye week at 7-2 and the top seed in the AFC.

What a difference a month makes, just a few short weeks ago, the team was thought soft, dead-in-the-water and an after-thought in the AFC. But on Sunday night, Bill Belichick dusted off a game plan from the 2001 Super Bowl.

With those SB players in attendance, the Patriots defense contested every pass; every route ran by the talented Broncos receivers. And when they did catch the ball, they played physical, pounding the Denver offense and stopping them time and again.

Defense Impressive: The Patriots defense played a fantastic game, and while Peyton Manning threw for over 400 yards, much of those were just empty numbers. The bottom line as Belichick says is points and holding the Broncos to 21 was outstanding.

Look no farther than the third down numbers, Denver was 3 for 11 on third down, and 0-4 on fourth downs. They showed a lot of nickel coverage and just like last year, the Broncos tried to make them pay with the running game.

But not this time, this time the Patriots defensive line set the tone and stuffed the run early and forced Manning and the Broncos into becoming one-dimensional. Although they only got one sack, the Patriots picked off Manning twice. Outstanding game plan and execution by Belichick’s defense.

Sweet 16…Brady Outduels Manning…Again: in the 16th installment of the endless Brady – Manning debates, Brady came out on top for the 11th time against five defeats. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense was going against the much improved Denver defense.

The one constant in the recent rivalry is Jack Del Rio, and Brady continues his torturing of Del Rio’s defenses. The Broncos defensive coordinator got the better of Brady in January, but Brady wasn’t throwing to Matthew Mulligan, Austin Collie and Matthew Slater on Sunday. Brady’s final numbers were 33-53 for 333 yards for 4 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Brady won for the 155th time in 200 starts and in doing so stopped Manning from going over 100 wins more than losses. Brady remains the only QB to have done so. Manning will do so eventually but on this day it was Brady.

To add insult to injury, Brady passed John Elway for career yardage in the game and continues a hot streak since KC. Both QBs had an interception that bounced off their receivers hands. But since that bad outing on Monday night football, Brady has thrown 18 TDs against 1 interception and most importantly, the Patriots are 5-0.

Remember the hue and cry that Brady wasn’t spreading the ball around? He threw four touchdowns to four different receivers on Sunday.

Gronkowski Immense: The Patriots with a healthy Rob Gronkowski are a very, very difficult team to stop. The much improved Denver defense was gashed for 43 points and this is with the Patriots basically in keep-away mode for the entire fourth quarter. And that has a lot to do with Gronkowski. He’s basically un-coverable when he’s on his game and he was instrumental in getting and keeping the Patriots offense going.

Gronk caught nine passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, none bigger than his one-handed 20-yard grab that put the Patriots on the one. On the next snap, Brady had him split wide in single coverage on Von Miller and Gronkowski easily beat him to the inside for the touchdown.

Gronkowski tied Randy Moss for grabbing his 50th touchdown pass in just his 59th career game, good for second all-time in the NFL, behind only Lance Alworth.

Edelman Gives a Boost Again: Julian Edelman, also had a big night in the passing game catching nine passes for 89 yards and a touchdown but his punt return in the second quarter broke the game wide open.

Edelman hauled in a Denver punt on the Patriots 16 yard line and breaking to the right sideline blew right by the Broncos coverage and then cut back into the middle of the field before heading into the left corner of the end zone for an 84 yard punt return for a touchdown.

That set a new team record as this was Edelman’s 4th punt return for a touchdown in his career.

Ninkovich Plays Big In Big Games: It seems every time the Patriots have a big game, especially against Manning and the Broncos, Rob Ninkovich steps up in a big way.  And on Sunday he did so again.

Dropping into coverage, Ninkovich fooled Manning by sliding inside after getting caught shading on outside coverage on an earlier play and was in perfect position to pick off a Manning pass and set the Patriots up in great field position.

Ninkovich also had good QB pressure all game as he was a factor coming off the edge, throwing off Manning’s timing countless times.

Revis/ Browner Pay Dividends: As we stated earlier, throw out the yardage Manning threw for on Sunday, at crunch time the Patriots defense really stepped up and the secondary, led by Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner put their physical stamp on things leading to Denver being a 3-15 on third and fourth downs.

Browner got a ticky-tack pass interference call after he made a great play on the ball, which led to Denver’s first touchdown. But his interception on the tipped ball off the hands of Wes Welker he returned to the 10 and Brady hit LaFell for a touchdown on the next play.

Revis provided tough man coverage all game long, and when you challenge talented receivers, they will make some plays. But that is the way you have to play to beat a talented team like Denver, and they did. Manning and the Broncos were held to 21 points for just the fourth time since he came to Denver. The second time, New England has done so. This is the reason the Patriots brought these guys on-board in 2014….And they’re paying off.

The Patriots go to the bye week at 7-2 and winners of five in a row. It wasn’t perfect, but it will do. And it definitely wasn’t weak.

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