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Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Bengals

The Bengals rained on the Patriots during a dominant win in 2013, the teams meet again on Sunday in Foxboro. (USA Today photo)

The Bengals rained on the Patriots during a dominant win in 2013, the teams meet again on Sunday in Foxboro. (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots return home for the second time in 2014 to take on the Cincinnati Bengals for a primetime Sunday Night Football matchup on NBC. The game will kick-off at 8:30 p.m. and as always Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will be on the call for play-by-play and color analyst duties.

The Patriots (2-2) were taken to the woodshed by the Kansas City Chiefs 41-14 on Monday Night Football and now must regroup in a short week. Amazingly enough, with the loss the Pats still reside in a tie atop the AFC East.

The Bengals (3-0) have had extra time to prepare for this one having an early bye week and should get some injured players (Vontaze Burfict, Marvin Jones, Rex Burkhead) back for this one. The Bengals are 3-0 for the first time since 2006 and are have been playing as well as any team in the NFL to start the season.

The two teams have met only 23 times in their history with the Patriots holding a 14-9 edge including an 8-2 record at home. The last meeting was in 2013 in Cincinnati as the Bengals defense was the story of the day as they dominated the Pats enroute to a 13-6, also during Week 5 of the season.

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 Bengals:

Bengals Solid Play on Offense/Defense Sparks Good Start:  Despite losing both their offensive and defensive coordinators this season to new gigs as head coaches, the Bengals haven’t missed a beat getting outstanding play on both sides of the ball to vault themselves as one of the top two teams in the AFC.

Much maligned QB Andy Dalton has been sharp in the early going completing 65 percent of his passes for 722 yards two TDs and only 1 interception despite having his best WR, A.J. Green hampered by injury. Second year RB Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill have sparked the running game giving the team a very well balanced attack.

On defense, no one in the NFL has given up fewer points than Cincinnati. The Bengals defense, always tough has allowed only 11 points per game. While their unit has given up some garbage time yards at the end of games, the most telling statistic (Bill Belichick quote) is points and they’re right on top of their game.

Geno Atkins Is Getting Healthy: Still recovering from last season’s ACL surgery, Atkins, like the Pats Rob Gronkowski is not quite 100 percent physically back to where he normally is. But he’s getting better every week and given the issues the Patriots are having with their offensive line, this is a game where Atkins will be looking to get on track.

Tom Brady‘s protection has been shoddy all season and this week’s matchup with Atkins and the struggling unit in New England will be one to watch. While the entire front seven of Cincy is very solid, it is Atkins who is arguably their best player and he’ll be looking to set the tone early on Sunday night.

Offensive Game Plan Similar This Week: On Monday night the Chiefs attacked the weak side of the Patriots defense using multiple formations, misdirection and using a two back set. KC ran for over 200 yards thus freezing the linebackers in run support freeing TE Travis Kelcy to get wide open. Cincinnati runs a similar West Coast offense and Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson will probably run a similar attack.

With Bernard and Hill getting a lot of looks it may free up TE Jermaine Gresham to have a bigger piece of the passes from Dalton this week. The Bengals have been looking to get Gresham more involved in the passing game and this may prove to be the perfect time to get it done.

Something else to monitor on Sunday night will be the protection afforded Dalton. Thru the first three games it has been outstanding with the Bengals having not allowing a sack thus far. The Patriots have been struggling to get consistent pressure on opposing QBs and if Dalton has time, they’ll be looking to take some shots down the field.

Second Half Scoring Key: Cincinnati has been playing outstanding second half football thus far this season as their coaches have been making some superb half time adjustments. The Bengals are outscoring their opponents 44-3 in the second halves of games thus far and have trailed in a game for only 48 seconds.

Contrast that to the struggles the Patriots are having in the second half this season being outscored 53-26 with their only two touchdowns coming in Monday night’s game when the result was already not in doubt. This will be something to monitor on Sunday evening if the score is close after halftime.

Struggles on Sunday Night: For some reason, the Bengals have struggled on Sunday night games going only 3-12. In road games during these prime time contests Cincy is only 1-8. With Andy Dalton at the helm they’ve only played twice, losing both games against the Steelers. Obviously they are in good position to change their fortunes 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.

Chiefs Embarrass, Roll Over Lifeless Patriots 41-14 On National Stage


Tom Brady had an ugly performance on Monday Night Football during the Chiefs 41-14 blowout of the Patriots. (USA TODAY Images)

The Kansas City Chiefs demolished the New England Patriots 41-14 on Monday Night Football that was every bit as ugly as the score indicates.

The Chiefs beat the Patriots in every facet of the game, offense, defense, special teams and coaching. Gashed by the run for 207 yards with Knile Davis and Jamaal Charles nearly both going over the century mark, they were also completely picked apart by Alex Smith who went 20-26 for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns.

With Sealver Siliga on short term IR, the Patriots used Joe Vellano early on running downs and he was overwhelmed time and again. The Patriots just had no answer for the Chiefs who brilliantly  changed formations and ran countless misdirection plays getting the defense to be moving the wrong way.

Smith who had been sacked 11 times this season operated with impunity for far too long on Monday night and he made the hapless Pats defense pay time and again. The KC wide receivers were thought to be pedestrian but they were anything but as they came up play after play. Travis Kelce and Dwayne Bowe both were outstanding with nine and eight catches respectively.

The ugly affair begins once again with the coaching staff. Kansas City, like Oakland last week came in allowing over five yards per rush. So why did New England come out in a spread formation attempting to throw the ball? The results were another three and out to start the game. By the time the Patriots rushed the ball for the first time, 2 minutes were left in the 1st quarter and the momentum and crowd noise were firmly on the side of the Chiefs.

Defensively, again questions will continue to be asked. After bringing in Darrelle Revis  and Brandon Browner, physical players who excel in man coverage, many thought the Patriots would be much more aggressive this season. But tonight facing a third and long in their first series, New England flinched, going to a soft zone. The Chiefs converted that third down and others before pinning the Patriots deep in their own zone.

The coaches decision to spread the field against KC but then place their two best outside the numbers WRs (Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins) on the inactive list as healthy scratches is puzzling. Dobson their 2nd round draft pick from 2013 has been a healthy scratch for three of four games thus far…. Strange decision there.

This is a Patriots team with no offensive identity right now. They can’t run the ball to set up the pass and actually seem reluctant to do so. They can’t pass protect to take shots down the field and Tom Brady is reluctant to take the time for his second and third reads.  Josh McDaniels seems intent on trying to outsmart his opponents rather than forcing the issue.

This is a timid Patriots football team on both sides of the ball. They are reactive rather than proactive and can’t assert their will on anyone. The team has little time to right the ship as they return home to play the undefeated Bengals on Sunday Night Football. With the loss they fall to 2-2 and amazingly enough are still tied for first in the AFC East.

Three Up and Three Down For the Patriots:

Three Up:
Brandon LaFell- LaFell had a nice game and finally got untracked, which is something the team can at least look towards as a positive moving forward. LaFell had six catches for 119 yards and 1 touchdown. He nearly had another late in the game but got pushed out of bounds.

Jimmy Garappolo- Came in during mop up duty for Brady and performed well, completing 7-10 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Bryan Stork – One of the few bright spots on a dismal performance again by the OL, Stork in his first NFL start acquitted himself well, especially in a loud, raucous Arrowhead Stadium.

Three Down:
Could be easy to find many more than three here but we’ll settle for these.
Chandler Jones
– Jones was supposed to dominate the Chiefs’ Eric Fisher who has struggled this season protecting Alex Smith. Instead Jones was frequently out of position or rolled over in the run game before being benched in the second half.

Coaching Staff – Terrible game plan, terrible execution and zero adjustments made in-game or at halftime. Completely outclassed by the Chiefs staff who had the Pats looking completely discombobulated.

Tom Brady – The Pats QB looks 37 for the first time. He’s getting no protection and now stares down his first read because he doesn’t trust his offensive line to protect him now long enough to make a second or third read. His two picks were particularly awful.

Patriots – Chiefs, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?


The Patriots will need to protect Tom Brady in their MNF matchup in KC much better than they have thus far in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden will have the call on ESPN in the nationally televised contest.

The Patriots (2-1) toughed out a 16-9 win at home over the Oakland Raiders with Rob Gronkowski scoring the game’s only touchdown on the afternoon. New England’s offensive line again had issues with protecting Tom Brady and the running game sputtered against a team that had been gashed by the run.

The defense held the Raiders to only 241 yards of offense and limited them to only three field goals. The Pats made the big stop at the end of the game when Vince Wilfork picked off a Derek Carr pass at the end of the game to seal the win.

The Chiefs (1-2) blew out the Miami Dolphins 34-15 on the road as Knile Davis filling in for an injured Jamaal Charles ran for 134 yards. Running back Joe McKnight chipped in with two touchdown receptions from QB Alex Smith.

The Chiefs defense sacked Ryan Tannehill four times and shutout the Dolphins in the pivotal fourth quarter although Lamar Miller gained 108 yards on the ground.

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 Chiefs have met a total of 33 times with Kansas City holding a 17-13-3 edge overall. The Chiefs have a commanding10-3-1 edge over the Pats at home. The Patriots however have won the last two meetings including a 34-3 in 2011.

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

Patriots RBs vs Chiefs Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Patriots should have a slight edge here, and “should” hinges on the offensive line. The unit was not playing well until the coaches brought in rookie Bryan Stork at center and moved Dan Connolly over to right guard sitting Jordan Devey. The results then were a tad better.

The Chiefs have struggled to stop the run since losing DT Mike Devito as well as LBs Derrick Johnson and Joe Mays to injured reserve. KC is allowing 125 yards per game and 5.1 yards per rush.  They’ll need NT Dontari Poe to get penetration to slow down and disrupt the running game as New England likes to run between the tackles.

The Patriots have had mixed results running the ball this season but with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen (average 119 yards per game) going against a depleted Chiefs defense, the runners should reach the second level.

The Patriots however are languishing near the bottom of the league (28th) in runs of 10 yards and over with only six thus far, a testament that the offensive line has struggled.

Patriots WRs vs Chiefs Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Patriots passing game is scuffling along now due to issues with protecting Tom Brady. It has made Brady cut to three-step drops and look for only the receiver running the short route. Keeping the running backs in to chip outside pass rushers and swing tackle Cameron Fleming as an extra blocker at tight has helped somewhat.

The Chiefs can get after the quarterback with bookend excellent pass rushers in the form of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. They can disrupt the passing game and against a QB as immobile as Brady, that means trouble. But the Chiefs are thin in the secondary and with their best member, S Eric Berry hurting; they’ll have some holes in the coverage.

It will be up to the offensive line of the Patriots to hold the fort for Brady and allow Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and others time to get open. There will be opportunities for them to make plays but the protection which has been shaky will be the key here.

Chiefs RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Chiefs
The Chiefs running game is the strength of their offense with Charles, Davis and even QB Smith who can scramble out of the backfield as threats every time they touch the ball. Davis filled in ably for Charles in Miami running for a career high 134 yards to spark the offense. Kansas City is averaging 124.6 yards per game and a good 4.2 yards per rush on the ground.

The Patriots rush defense has rebounded nicely after a horrible Week 1 showing and allowed only 54 and 67 yards the past two games and it starts with big Vince Wilfork up front. DL Sealver Siliga was hurt in the Oakland game and will probably miss this one. Setting the edge will be a big test for the Patriots defense regardless of whether Charles is able to go or not.

Chiefs WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Chiefs like New England has struggled to protect QB Alex Smith, and have given up 11 sacks already in 2014. As a result, Smith like Brady has had to check down in the short passing game. The Chiefs have WRs Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery outside the numbers but in this one, the Chiefs will probably look to the tight ends and RBs.

TE Travis Kelce has been a frequent target of Smith’s and has 10 catches for a nice 16.6 yards per reception. RB Joe McKnight had a big game last week with six catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns out of the backfield. Charles if he can go is a big threat out of the backfield.

The Patriots pass defense has been solid thus far allowing only 166 yards per game and in this one, the edge rushers Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will be key to pressuring Smith, something they were inconsistent on last week. Jamie Collins has been less than 100 percent and he’ll be needed in covering Kelce and fellow TE Anthony Fasano. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower will have his hands full with the RBs out of the backfield this week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push
The Patriots get the edge in the kicking game with the steady, solid Stephen Gostkowski having an advantage over rookie Cairo Santos. The Chiefs have the very solid punter Dustin Colquitt who has a good 45.7 average with six of his 12 punts inside the 20 yard line. The Pats Ryan Allen counters with a 46.1 yard average and six of his 15 punts inside the 20.

The return game favors Kansas City as McKnight, Davis and Frankie Hammond give the Chiefs solid returns in both the kick and punt units. The Pats have the always dangerous Julian Edelman in the punt return game but the kickoff return unit is still an area that needs an upgrade.

Prediction:
Playing at Arrowhead can be difficult for opponents as it is one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. In fact the Chiefs’ front office is on-record as saying that they’re hoping to break the record for the loudest stadium in NFL history on Monday night.

The easiest way to do that is to consistently move the chains and put up points. The Chiefs run defense lends itself to that scenario but the question is, can the Patriots offensive line rise to the challenge?

The Patriots have had a dearth of explosive plays this season and this would be a prime time (no pun intended) to start. This one will be close and probably low-scoring as both defenses to look to disrupt the other’s offense with pressure on the QB.

Turnovers may ultimately decide this one, something the Patriots have been good at this season at plus-six. The Chiefs are still looking for their first turnover of the 2014 season. This one won’t get style points by either team, but the experience of Brady and Belichick in close games gets the nod. Patriots eke out a close 17-16 win on the road.

Patriots Player to Watch- Tom Brady
While there can be little debate that the offensive line of New England has not played well enough for the first three weeks, Brady’s play has also left something to be desired as well. His accuracy has been off and he’s been very reliant, perhaps overly so on Julian Edelman to make plays.

Whether it is a combination of trust, or the other players’ not making enough plays or Brady not looking in other’s direction enough is open for debate. What isn’t however is the fact that the team needs #12 to perform better as the 2014 season enters the end of the first quarter.

One area that has been mentioned often is that teams are beginning to focus their attention on stopping Edelman. Brady can make teams pay for that by using a simple pump fake, something he’s done well in the past.

A look at last week’s All-22 shows how on a second and five with 6:31 left in the fourth quarter, Brady had Edelman just beyond the sticks on the right side of the formation. Brady stared him down and the Raiders defense to a man raced to that point.

The Raiders key on Edelman leaving the middle wide open. (NFL All-22 film)

The Raiders key on Edelman leaving the middle wide open. (NFL All-22 film)

A look at the film shows both Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell both running free down the seam for big gains, perhaps touchdowns. A simple pump fake by Brady is all it would take to pop a big gain.

In a game the Patriots should run effectively in, will bring the safeties inching closer to the line. That would lend itself even more to those big play opportunities. But it is up to Brady to make them work.

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 Chiefs

Tamba Hali leads an impressive pass rush of the KC Chiefs. USA Today photo

Tamba Hali leads an impressive pass rush of the KC Chiefs. USA Today photo

The New England Patriots go back out on the road in Week 4 to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football in Arrowhead Stadium. It has always been a tough place to play and the place should be very loud with a national television audience tuning in.

The Patriots (2-1) held on to beat the Oakland Raiders 16-9 on Sunday, holding the Raiders to just 241 yards of offense and three field goals. Vince Wilfork put the game away with an interception in the waning moments on a tipped ball.

The offense sputtered, especially in the red-zone going 1-4 and the protection woes for Tom Brady again raised questions about the Patriots offensive line. New England was only able to gain 2.4 yards per rush against a Raiders defense that was allowing an average of 5.0 yards per rush and 200 yards per game.

The Chiefs have been decimated by injuries already but went into Miami on Sunday and put a licking on the Dolphins 34-15. With a running game missing Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs still managed to run for 174 yards led by Knile Davis.

Kansas City also sacked QB Ryan Tannehill four times, held him to only 4.1 yards per attempt and allowed only 4 of 15 third down conversions.

Here Are 5 First Impressions of the Chiefs:

Hali, Houston a Formidable Pass Rushing Duo: Kansas City can get after the opposing team’s quarterbacks with a pair of bookend threats in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The two have combined for five sacks already thus far in 2014. They can be extremely disruptive off the edge and are the cornerstones along with Dontari Poe of their front seven.

One player to watch this week may also be OLB Dee Ford. Ford was the 23rd player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft and is known for his speed off the edge and ability to get to the QB. He’s played only sparingly thus far but against a team struggling to protect its QB, this may be a great time to unleash the rookie.

The Chiefs secondary isn’t a particularly stout group, even more so with S Eric Berry hurting and having an effective pass rush is imperative for them to have success going forward this season.

The Patriots will have their hands full with this group on Monday night as they’re still searching for answers in protecting Tom Brady. This will be one of the key matchups to watch this week.

Run Game Is Still Key For KC, Regardless If Charles Is In: The Chiefs are dependent upon their running game to get everything going for their offense. They’ve been pretty well balanced so far with 89 rushing attempts to go along with 102 passes thus far. Even with Charles out with an injury, Davis has led a rushing attack that has been good in 2014 averaging 125 yards per game and 4.2 yards per rush.

Charles is reportedly returning to practice this week (high ankle sprain) but the Patriots should still expect to see a lot of Davis this week as well. The key for the New England defense will be stopping the run and forcing the Chiefs to win via the passing game regardless of who starts for KC.

Alex Smith Having Protection Issues of His Own: With the departure of LT Branden Albert to the Dolphins this off-season, the Chiefs moved 2013 top draft pick Eric Fisher over to handle blind side duties, however right tackle Jeff Allen has gone onto IR and their protection of QB Alex Smith has suffered.

Smith has been sacked 11 times already in 2014 and will be an area to watch if New England can slow down the Chiefs’ running game. Smith is a mobile quarterback who can make plays with his feet as well as his arm so containment will be a key here.

Smith was sacked five times in the win over Miami however he also threw three touchdown passes. Against the Dolphins’ stout pass rush, Smith didn’t attempt a pass over 10 yards last week.

Passing Game Keys On TE/RB: While the Chiefs have Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery outside the numbers, Smith’s targets this weekend in the passing game may tend to be more underneath, looking to beat New England with his tight ends and running backs.

Last week in Miami, running back Joe McKnight was a major contributor with six catches for 64 yards and two big touchdowns. Tight ends Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano have combined for 18 catches, 257 yards and two touchdowns.

McKnight, Charles and Davis have also added 18 receptions between them and will be a handful for the linebackers to handle out of the backfield. Bowe and Avery were only targeted five and three times respectively last week.

Rush Defense a Big Issue: The Chiefs have struggled to stop the run thus far in 2014 allowing over 130 yards per game and 5.1 yards per attempt. This is an area where the injuries have been felt with DL Mike Devito and LB Derrick Johnson both lost for the season.

Going back to the season opener against Tennessee, the Titans rushed 10 times for 26 yards before Johnson went down. After he was out, Tennessee rushed 26 more times for 136 yards for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. Losing both of these players is a tough blow for the Chiefs.

Last week even without Knowshon Moreno in the lineup, Lamar Miller ran for 108 yards for the Dolphins. Overall Miami ran the ball 20 times for 141 yards.

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 Hold On For Ugly 16-9 Win Over Oakland, Observations


Julian Edelman was the difference on Sunday against Oakland hauling in 10 catches for 84 yards. (USA TODAY Images)

The good news is the Patriots won on Sunday and are 2-1 and winners of two in a row after dropping their opener in Miami after holding on in the final minute to defeat the woeful Oakland Raiders 16-9.

The “other” news is they won’t beat many good teams playing offense like that, going 1-4 in the red zone and with the offensive line generally doing a poor job of protecting Tom Brady in the pocket.

The team now has eight days until they play next, in Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football.

Here are some of the other observations from Sunday’s victory:

Bad Start, Worse Play-Calling To Start The Game: Coming into today’s game the Raiders were allowing 200 yards and 5.0 yards per rush. So why does OC Josh McDaniels call three straight pass plays? It was another example of McDaniels trying to be too cute with the opponent.

By the time the Patriots ran the ball for the first time, there was only six minutes left in the first quarter. It was not a good decision and it was executed even worse in that first sequence.

Coupled with some time management at the end of the half that rivals that of Andy Reid, this was hardly the best moment for Brady, McDaniels or Bill Belichick. That sequence was unacceptable at the end of the second quarter. Especially for a team that prides itself on practicing situational football.

Will Brady Last With This O-Line: At one time this question would be sarcastic. Now it is a legitimate one considering the beating Brady took again on Sunday. The offensive line, as it now stands are a bottom tier unit. The Raiders defense was gashed by two mediocre teams in the Jets and Texans.

For the Patriots to average 2.4 yards per rush and generate only 76 yards on the ground against Oakland is not a testament to the blocking prowess for the offensive line. Their protection of Brady was far from clean and Brady took too many big shots.

With games upcoming against teams that get after the QB in KC and Cincinnati, the team needs to do some serious work.

Julian Edelman Is a Bargain: The one bright spot on the Patriots offense has been Julian Edelman. And on Sunday, he was once again the go-to guy that did the dirty work underneath and took some big shots while doing so.

Edelman signed a free-agent contract this off-season and thus far he’s been a bargain. He was the Raiders main focus on Sunday but still managed 10 catches for 84 tough yards….. give that man a game ball.

Wide Receiver Carousel Has To Stop: One of the more perplexing questions that has to be answered now is why one of the Patriots top draft choices from 2013, Aaron Dobson, has been a healthy scratch in Weeks 1 and 3. Dobson has only one catch thru three games and although he remains the team’s best deep ball option, but has been relegated to spot duty with Kenbrell Thompkins. Thompkins btw had one catch for 16 yards while being targeted once.

This rotation thru three games seems to be benefitting no one; Not the receivers, certainly not Brady or the offense. The team needs to make a decision on who are their guys and go with them.

Defense Steps Up: Granted, the Raiders are hardly an offensive juggernaut but any day when your defense holds the opponent to nine points and 241 total yards, they have done their job.

Vince Wilfork won a lot of his one-on-one battles and really limited the Raiders running game, especially between the tackles. After Sealver Siliga, who started and went down with a foot or ankle injury, Wilfork and the Pats defense never missed a beat, holding the Raiders to 3.0 yards per carry.

Wilfork came up with the big stop with under a minute to go when Derek Carr’s pass went off his receiver’s then Logan Ryan’s hands and into Wilfork’s waiting arms to put the game away.

Chandler Jones had another productive day with a couple of deflected passes at the line as well. On a day when the defense was mainly looking to contain Carr in the pocket for the most part, he did well. Dont’a Hightower had another solid game as did Pat Chung at strong safety.

Penalties Down: After getting flagged for 163 yards last week in Minnesota, the team was penalized only 6 times for 59 yards this week. While this number still needs to come down, especially with the big one on Logan Ryan at the end of 4th quarter, this was a big improvement.

The Patriots have been one of the least penalized teams under Bill Belichick and seeing them last in the league thru the first two weeks is definitely unfamiliar territory.

Patriots – Raiders, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?


Julian Edelman will look to continue a strong start to in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots take on the Oakland Raiders in their 2014 home opener on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS locally with Greg Gumble and Trent Green on the play-by-play.

The Patriots beat the Minnesota Vikings handily 30-7 last week in Minneapolis as Stevan Ridley rushed for 101 yards and the defense registered 4 interceptions and six sacks. Chandler Jones blocked a field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown.

The Raiders looked poor in their home opener and were beat by Houston 30-14 allowing nearly 200 yards on the ground and turning the ball over. The game prompted the “we suck” comment from Charles Woodson.

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 Raiders have met a total of 33 times with the Patriots holding a 17-15-1 edge overall. The Patriots have a 10-5-1 edge over Oakland at home. The Patriots have won the last three meetings including a 31-19 win on the road in 2011.

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

Patriots RBs vs Raiders Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Patriots showed a renewed emphasis to the run last week against Minnesota as Stevan Ridley carried the ball 25 times for 101 yards. The offensive line played much better and the team stayed patient with the running game and it paid dividends as they closed out the Vikings game by running, mainly with Ridley.

The Raiders are having a very rough time stopping the run right now, the Jets gashed them for 212 yards and Houston ran for 188 more as Arian Foster ran for 134 yards on Sunday. Opposing running backs are averaging 5.0 yards per carry against Oakland.

Look for the Patriots to commit to remaining balanced this week and running the ball well especially between the tackles. Ridley should remain the main go-to guy this week but Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden will each get some looks.

Patriots WRs vs Raiders Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Patriots passing game always hinges on how well the offensive line can protect Tom Brady and Oakland has some good names in the front four with LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith and Justin Tuck. They like to send outside linebackers Sio Moore and Khalil Mack as well so once again Brady’s protection will be of the Patriots primary concerns.

Brady and Julian Edelman have had good production the first two weeks and he’ll be the guy that gives New England the tough yards underneath to keep the chains moving. With the Raiders linebackers being aggressive in the pass rush, look for Shane Vereen to possibly get more touches this week out of the backfield and on screens.

The Raiders are giving up only 164.5 yards per game through the air, but opposing QBs are completing 78.7 percent of their passes and have a cumulative QB rating of 110.9 against them.

If the Patriots can protect Brady as well as they did last week, there is no reason that they can’t find plenty of targets open this week. They provide lots of options for Brady to utilize and a good running game can open up play action.

Raiders RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Raiders running game has been stuck in neutral so far this season, they signed Maurice Jones-Drew from the Jaguars but he missed the game against Houston last week with a hand injury. Darren McFadden has found the going tough as well. As a result their leading rusher is rookie QB Derek Carr who has scrambled for 58 yards thru the first two games.

The Patriots run defense looked much better against the Vikings last week, closing those cut-back lanes and forced the game into the hands of Matt Cassel. A big matchup this week to watch will be Raiders C Stefen Wisniewski and NT Vince Wilfork. If the big man can disrupt things at the point of attack it will go a long way in determining this one.

Look for a similar game plan this week by New England, try to stop the run and force the game into Carr’s hands. With a dinged up Jones-Drew, there is no reason they can’t do just that.

Raiders WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
There are plenty of reasons the Raiders are 0-2 but the play of the rookie QB Carr isn’t a big one. To be sure Carr has made his share of rookie mistakes but his play overall has to have the Raiders’ brass happy thus far in his development.

James Jones has had good initial chemistry with Carr catching 12 passes but look for the Patriots to give him plenty of attention. Rod Streater and TE Mychal Rivera will be the guys to watch in this one as they’ll have to step up. Rivera has caught 8 passes so far and New England’s penchant for having trouble stopping tight ends will be a matchup to watch.

The Patriots pass rush was on the mark last week, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich will look to continue that trend, but with Carr’s scrambling ability, they’ll also have to contain him inside the pocket and look to force him into making mistakes. With Revis and Company providing coverage, Bill Belichick should be able to come up with a game plan to effectively disguise coverages and confuse the rookie signal caller in just his third game.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Both teams are very solid in the kicking game having good kickers and punters. Oakland has Sebastian Janikowski who possesses a very strong leg although at times last year was inaccurate. Marquette King handles punting duties and is averaging 43.4 yards per punt. King led the league in 2013 with a gaudy 48.9 yard average.

The Pats counter with Gostkowski who has always been very solid as well as Ryan Allen which leaves the kicking games nearly even. However Julian Edelman in the punt return game gives the Patriots the slight edge here as he is a big threat to flip field position every time he touches the ball. Edelman had a good game in Minnesota last week, returning 4 punts for 66 yards including a 34 yard return.

Prediction:
Despite signing some nice named free-agents this spring the Raiders remain stuck in the doldrums. Head Coach Dennis Allen is already on the hot seat and he’ll need to get much better results this week and next when the team leaves for London upon leaving Foxboro if he wants to remain at the helm.

The Patriots have the edge in every category and there is no reason why they shouldn’t easily handle the Raiders on Sunday. The Raiders have a dearth of team speed and with the Patriots playing at home for the first time since Aug. 22, should spell a long afternoon for the silver and black. Oakland hasn’t fared well in East Coast games at 1 p.m. to boot.

The Patriots should be able to fluster Carr enough in the passing game to force a couple of mistakes, the key will be pouncing on them and turning them into points. New England should be able to run the ball effectively and open up play action passes for Brady to take advantage of. Look for him to target Gronkowski in the red zone. Gronk is still getting back up to speed in his rehab and getting a “Gronk spike” is a great way to get the crowd in the game.

New England should win this one comfortably on Sunday. Patriots 31-14

Patriots Player to Watch- Aaron Dobson
Dobson is still finding his way after off-season foot surgery that forced him to miss all of the spring workouts as well as most of training camp. He was inactive (and missed) in the Week 1 loss at Miami. He played last week in Minnesota but caught only a single pass for 13 yards and was only targeted twice.

The Patriots need Dobson to be much more involved in the passing offense going forward. His big 6’3 frame is a nice target for Brady to hit in the vertical passing game, something that is lacking badly right now for the offense.

With the Patriots being able to run the ball effectively, Brady should be able to take a few shots down the field with Dobson in play action. And his matchup with Tarell Brown will be one to watch.

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All -22 Look Says Brady Not Using All His Weapons


Tom Brady needs to start utilizing all of his weapons on offense for the Patriots to thrive. (USA TODAY Images)

After the first two weeks of the season the Patriots offense is far from a well-oiled machine and the passing game is languishing among the bottom in certain statistical areas. While the fans demand more from receivers not named Edelman and Gronkowski, the real question should be, why isn’t Tom Brady utilizing the others more?

Granted it is very early in the season, but after two weeks the Patriots rank last in the NFL (tied with Jacksonville) with only 6 offensive plays of over 15 yards of which only four are passes. Tom Brady ranks last in starting NFL QBs averaging only 5.1 yards per pass attempt.

So where are Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell you ask? They are getting open; they’re just being shut out of the equation by the dreaded “Brady Trust Factor”.

Taking a look at the Minnesota game, there are a handful of plays that were left on the field for other players to be more productive and we’ll take a look at them here.

Play #1 takes place in the second quarter, Brady and the Pats have a 3rd and 4 from the Vikings 15 yard line. Julian Edelman runs a dig route just past the sticks. Brandon LaFell runs a fade into the left corner of the endzone.

Edelman cross LaFell fade

Brady opts for the short pass that nets a first down, but LaFell has body position and single coverage. Had Brady opted to look at him, he was in good position for a big play and a touchdown.

Play#2 is on the next snap, this time Edelman lines up inside and runs a fade route and has position on the defender. LaFell lines up wide and runs a post. Brady lobs a perfectly thrown ball and Edelman scores a touchdown. While it’s hard to argue with the results here, looking at the film, both Vikings inside linebackers come on an inside pressure move.

Edelman TD LaFell post2

LaFell has body position and nothing but green real estate in front of him. Brady has a much easier throw with no one near, all he has to do is lead LaFell just a tad and it’s an easy touchdown as he can block out the defender.

Edelman TD LaFell post

Play #3 has the Patriots facing a 2nd and 16 at their own 39 yard line, Edelman lines up wide left and runs a medium (7 yard) comeback. The Vikings deep safety on the right is already cheating to the left at the snap. Danny Amendola lined up on the right runs a route straight down the numbers.

Edleman pass

Brady again looks down Edelman and takes the safe, short option for a short gain with little opportunity for yards after catch. Amendola has position inside and plenty of room to run. Brady doesn’t even look in his direction and misses an opportunity to gain a lot more yardage on a throw that is easily makeable.

Edleman pass DA open deep slant no one behind

Play #4 has the Patriots on Minnesota’s 45 yard line, Gronkowski lined up inside on the left side of the line runs a short out pattern toward the sideline. Stevan Ridley goes in motion to the outside on the left, drawing a linebacker with him.  Once again, the deep safety Harrison begins to shade left. Aaron Dobson lines up wide right and runs a deep (10 yard) slant.

Gronk 11 yd gain, AD deep slant

Brady stares down Gronk and tosses him a short pass that he grabs and makes a 5 yard gain….once again with little chance for any substantial yards after catch. A look to the top of the screen has Dobson, with body position and a throw to him has the chance for a lot of yardage as he’s in excellent position with only one man to beat.

Gronk 11 yd gain, AD deep slant2

Play #5 finds Brady and the Pats at Minnesota’s 45 yard line, Edelman lines up wide left and runs deep fly route straight down the field, outside the numbers. Dobson lines up wide right and runs a similar route.

Deep pass to Edelman INC Dobson2

Both receivers beat their coverage and are open; Brady’s pass is just over the outstretched finger tips of Edelman for an incomplete pass. One has to wonder if the pass is thrown in the exact same place would the 6’3 Dobson be able to haul it in where the 5’10 Edelman cannot?

Deep pass to Edelman INC Dobson

That is what Dobson is supposed to be the outside the numbers vertical threat. He was certainly open as much as Edelman and his physical makeup make him a better choice to bring down a pass like that.

None of these issues thus far with the New England passing game are unfixable. If Dobson, Amendola, LaFell and Wright were running bad routes and in the wrong place at the wrong time, it would be easy to point the finger and say, they need to step up.

The old adage used to be, “Who is Tom Brady’s favorite receiver? Answer: The open one.” But since 2007 when he had Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Brady has grown increasingly dependent on his favorites to the detriment of the others. The Patriots have a lot of offensive weapons for Brady to utilize. They’re doing their job; it is time for #12 to do his.

Oakland has had a rough time stopping the run as well as the pass so far in 2014. This is a prime opportunity for Brady to spread the wealth offensively and get everyone involved and get this offense back on track.

Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions Of the Oakland Raiders

Derek Carr has been a bright spot in the otherwise dim start for the Oakland Raiders. (USAToday photo)

Derek Carr has been a bright spot in the otherwise dim start for the Oakland Raiders. (USAToday photo)

The New England Patriots return to Foxboro for the first time since August 22 and take on the Oakland Raiders in their 2014 home opener. After laying a stinker in Miami, the Patriots played much better overall in Minnesota on Sunday, dominating the Vikings and winning 30-7.

The defense registered four turnovers and sacked Matt Cassel six times while Chandler Jones blocked a field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown. Stevan Ridley ran for 101 yards and Julian Edelman shined in both the passing and return games.

Oakland lost their home opener 30-14 to the Houston Texans in an ugly game for both the offense and defense. The Raiders have a lot of veteran players and are the oldest team (27.02 average age)  in the league. The 0-2 start is not the way the coaches, players and front office envisioned. They travel to New England then to London in a “home” game against the Miami Dolphins. Needless to say, if things don’t improve changes may be upcoming.

I spoke at length with good buddy Brian Mejia who covers the Raiders for the National Gridiron Network so Here are Five First Impressions of the Oakland Raiders:

This Team Is Fragile And Could Come Apart: After hanging with the Jets and losing a close game 19-14 in their opener, a home opener against Houston was looked upon as a chance to take a step forward against a mediocre opponent.

Everything went wrong; the Texans dominated the line of scrimmage and ran the ball very well controlling the game where QB Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t have to throw the ball in the second half. Veteran Charles Woodson spared few words in describing the woes of the Raiders on defense. “We’re not very good,” Woodson said. “We’re not very good and they executed. It’s as simple as you can be.”

“We suck. Today that’s as blunt as I could put it. For whatever reason, defensively we just won’t stop people, especially early in games. Every first drive a team is able to go and get points.” If these things continue to spiral there could be changes coming quickly for the Raiders.

One thing to monitor this week is if the Patriots get off to a quick start and jump out to a big lead, will the Raiders get rattled and fold?

Dennis Allen On In Thin Ice?: Having gone 4-12 for his first two seasons at the helm doesn’t put one in good stead with the ownership anywhere, but then getting off to a bad 0-2 start and being booed loudly at home can’t be a good sign for Head Coach Dennis Allen.

The team he’s been saddled with isn’t a good one; no one is stating the Raiders should be counted against the better teams in the NFL but still, given the veteran leadership out there, they should be playing better.

Owner Mark Davis is said to be very frustrated at the team’s years of ineptitude and is ready to clean house. Allen’s domino would undoubtedly be the first to fall and former Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano would probably get the call to take over. Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver could be another casualty in the near future.

The Defense is Being Gashed: Despite having some very good players on the defense, it has been gashed for two weeks in a row. After giving up 212 yards on the ground to the Jets in Week 1, the Raiders gave up 188 more to the Texans, led by Arian Foster’s 134 to lead the way. That’s an average of 200 yards per game.

The pass defense has fared little better, opposing QBs are completing 78.7 percent of their passes against the Raiders secondary and have a combined QB rating of 110.9 thru the first two games going 37-47 for 360 yards with three TDs and only 1 INT.

The defense was on the field for over 38 and a half minutes on Sunday and allowed 9-15 third downs. Something will have to change and soon if they are to salvage anything for this season. The team seems to lack speed overall and it has been apparent.

On a team with LaMarr Woodley, Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and Woodson, having only 2 sacks (none by the above) and only one interception is a tough way to start the season.

One bright spot has been rookie LB Khalil Mack who made a strong showing against the Texans, batting down a pass at the line and laying a big hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick on a blitz forcing an incomplete pass.

Derek Carr is the Future: While much of the Raiders need fixing, Carr is playing well, especially for a rookie QB saddled with a poor running game and a porous defense but Carr has been a bright spot, albeit still prone to rookie mistakes.

Carr finished the Texans game 27-42 for 263 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for 58 yards including a 41 yard scramble which leaves him the Raiders leading rusher after two games.

Right after his scamper he stared down a receiver and got picked off which is a familiar rookie miscue. His other pick came late in the game when he was crunched by J.J. Watt as he was releasing the ball. But Carr took the blame for all of the offensive miscues and then some, showing some solid leadership on a team sorely in need of a boost.

He also mixed some nice throws on Sunday, including a nice back shoulder throw to James Jones for 26 yards down the sideline that should have set up Oakland deep inside Houston territory, but Jones fumbled it away…twice. Jones fumbled got it back and fumbled it again.

He does have the confidence of the offensive line, “I love his attitude,” center Stefen Wisniewski told the Fresno Bee. “He’s positive, he’s in command and you never see any doubt in his face. He’s going to be a good one someday. Hopefully that day starts next week.”

Running Game Absent: The Raiders offense could really use a shot-in-the-arm from the running game which has been largely MIA for the first two weeks of the season. As mentioned above, Carr with 57 yards scrambling out of the pocket is their leading rusher. Carr’s gaudy 11.4 yard average buoys the team average up to a respectable 4.1 yards per carry but what of the rest?

Darren McFadden has carried 16 times for 52 yards for a 3.3 yard per carry average. Maurice Jones-Drew who has been hampered with a bad hand has carried the ball only nine times for 11 yards thus far. Taking Carr out of the equation, Oakland RBs are averaging 2.5 yards per carry. That isn’t going to get it done.

Lativus Murray could see a boost in carries this week as Allen tries to shake things up. Murray ran well this summer and is averaging a nice 24.3 yards per attempt in the kick return game.

They’ll need a better job from the running game on Sunday if they want to keep the game competitive against the Patriots. Having a rookie QB at the helm on the road and being one-dimensional is not a recipe for success.

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Patriots Bounce Back, Beat Minnesota 30-7, Quick Observations


Chandler Jones had a huge day for the Patriots on Sunday with 2 sacks, 3 QB hits and a blocked FG attempt which he recovered and returned for a touchdown. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots bounced back in a big way, blowing out the Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota Vikings 30-7 on Sunday in Minneapolis. With the win, Head Coach Bill Belichick won his 200th career game in the regular season for his career.

While Peterson’s absence will be talked about all week, the Patriots defensive front seven responded after a poor showing in Miami, allowing only 54 yards rushing for Minnesota. But the running lanes, so prevalent a week ago weren’t there for Matt Asiata.

One interesting stat that CBS posted during the game is that Minnesota averages 142 yards per game rushing with Peterson, and 141 per game without him. Still there will be questions about this one but the line responded.

Here are some quick observations from the game:

Jones Moves Back and Produces: Pats DE Chandler Jones, played out of position as a 3-4 Defensive End, this week the team moved him back to a more natural position on the end of the line and Jones produced in a big way with 2 sacks, 3 QB hits and a blocked field goal that he recovered and returned for a touchdown that totally changed the outlook of this one.

We spoke about Jones needing to step up this week in our Razor’s Edge column stating Jones was the Patriots player to watch. Indeed he was on Sunday.

Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich had the advantage of playing from ahead this week and their performance is worthy of note. They pressured Vikes QB Matt Cassel time and again and sacked him six times while forcing four interceptions.

Cassel Has Rough Day: While getting shellacked at home after a big Week 1 performance is always tough, Cassel had an exceptionally rough outing with fans chanting for Teddy Bridgewater in the second half.

As we mentioned above, Cassel was under duress consistently and was sacked six times along with 8 QB hits. A couple of his interceptions were his fault as he misread the defense but he was also victimized by far too many drops and a total lack of a running game.

Edelman Has Big Day: Once again, Julian Edelman was a huge part of the Patriots success. He snagged 6 passes for 81 but even more importantly, he was huge in the punt return game returning 4 for 65 yards, averaging 16.5 yards per return.

Edelman has really continued his success from 2013 and has easily been the Patriots best player on offense in 2014 thru the first two games. While Brady didn’t have a big day statistically, he definitely targeted CB Xavier Rhodes who was less than 100 percent physically. But the team got a lot of flags while targeting the young corner

Ridley Gives the Patriots Exactly What Was Needed: Remember at the end of training camp when Ridley was rumored to be in danger of being cut? We said at the time that Ridley remains the team’s best big back option.

Ridley came thru in spades today, grinding out the tough yards between the tackles all day, carrying 25 times for 101 yards to spearhead a Patriots running game that gained 150 yards on Sunday. It wasn’t flashy and there weren’t a ton of highlight reel runs, but it was just what the doctor ordered.

Most importantly, Ridley secured the ball very well all day with no issues.

The game plan was to neutralize Mike Zimmer’s exotic looks and overloaded blitzes by controlling the tempo and making life a bit easier for the Patriots offensive line. And in that they succeeded. Speaking of the OL….

Offensive Line Finds 5 And Sticks With It: The Patriots OL was much maligned and deservedly so after the debacle in Miami. The starting unit consisted of Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Jordan Devey and Sebastian Vollmer. They were augmented quite a bit with Cameron Fleming checking in as an eligible tight end.

Rushing for 150 yards speaks for itself but more importantly their protection of Tom Brady was vastly improved over last week in Miami. While Brady only threw for 149 yards for the game, it was mainly by design as the team looked to target running the ball.

Penalties a Killer: During the game, I thought I couldn’t remember a Bill Belichick team penalized as much as what transpired today. It turns out that the 15 penalties were the most ever by the Pats under Belichick. 15 penalties for 163 yards is completely unacceptable in any conditions and this one will be talked about in meetings all week.

The Patriots were victimized by penalties all game and they killed important drives for the offense. These are the types of things that have to be cleaned up and quickly.

After an awful first defensive sequence, the Patriots defense this week adjusted and held Minnesota scoreless the remainder of the game. Most importantly, all of the talk about stopping Cordarrelle Patterson came thru as the big playmaker for the Vikings was a complete non-factor. Patterson did have 4 catches for 56 yards but was never the factor the Vikings needed him to be.

Overall it was a big bounce back win for the Patriots who responded to playing poorly in Week 1 to play much better for the second road game to open the season. The team will have its home opener next Sunday at 1 p.m. against the Oakland Raiders.

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Patriots – Vikings, Who Has The Razor’s Edge?


Jerod Mayo and the Patriots defense face another tough test in trying to limit the Vikings Adrian Peterson this week. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots (0-1) travel for the second week in a row to take on the Minnesota Vikings (1-0) in Minneapolis. Game time is slated for 1 p.m. and will be televised locally on CBS.

The Patriots had a 20-10 halftime lead last week but wilted in the heat during a second half that saw Miami score 23 unanswered points while dropping the 33-20 season opener. Miami controlled both sides of the lines of scrimmage in that pivotal second half.

The Vikings opened the season winning a blowout 34-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on the road giving new coach Mike Zimmer an excellent start in his tenure. Zimmer brought his trademark tough defense to the Vikes as they forced five sacks while shutting down the Rams allowing only two field goals.

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 Vikings have met 11 times in their history with the Patriots holding a 7-4 all-time edge. The Patriots have won the last three meetings although the last time was back in 2010 in Foxboro with the Pats winning 28-18. All time in Minnesota the series is tied 2-2 with the last meeting on the road occurring in 2006.

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

Patriots RBs vs Vikings Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Vikings
Minnesota wasn’t a great team against the run in 2013 allowing an average of just under 125 yards per game which was 24th in the league. However, things are changing with the bringing in of Zimmer and his defense.

Bringing in Linval Joseph to complement Sharrif Floyd has solidified the Minnesota line. Stalwart Chad Greenway and rookie Anthony Barr at linebacker gives the Vikes a much better group in their rushing defense.

The Patriots offensive line had its troubles last week with a stout Miami defensive line and couldn’t take advantage of the Dolphins having all three starting linebackers out. They’ll be looking to right the ship and get more than 89 yards this week, but will have their work cut out for them.

Patriots WRs vs Vikings Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
Like last week this matchup all comes down to protection as Tom Brady can’t be under as much pressure and as fast as he was last week. On three different sacks by Miami, Brady was hit in under 3 seconds which is unacceptable.

Minnesota’s pass rush consists of edge rushers Everson Griffen (2 sacks last week) and Brian Robison but in watching the Rams game last week as well as the Cincy game from 2013 much more.  Zimmer loves to bring his defense up to the line and then mix up his pass rush by bringing five or more and overloading the offensive line. His defense held Brady and the Pats to just six points last year.

If (and a big if) the OL can hold up the Patriots have more than enough offensive weapons to make life tough for the Vikes secondary. Rob Gronkowski shook off some of the rust last week and is a matchup nightmare. Aaron Dobson should play this week bringing some pressure to the outside which should free up Brandon LaFell to work the intermediate area of the field. As always Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will do the dirty work underneath along with running back Shane Vereen.

Watch for Brady to get TE Tim Wright a little more involved this week working on the middle of the field. Wright is a big target (6’4, 220) who can also provide some matchup problems for the linebackers.

Minnesota has two significant injuries to monitor this week as both Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes are banged up. If they do play, their effectiveness may be less than 100 percent. One player to watch is SS Harrison Smith who is much more active in Zimmer’s defense and will be sent on some blitzes

Vikings RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Vikings
The Vikings have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson and any time he touches the ball is a threat to take it to the house. Last week against a very tough Rams front four, Peterson did the yeoman work grinding out 75 yards on 21 carries. WR Cordarrelle Patterson provided the fireworks carrying just three times but for 102 yards including a 67 yard touchdown.

The Patriots defense was gashed last week by the Dolphins zone blocking scheme as they got the DL moving laterally and RB Knowshon Moreno cut back with some huge gaps as Miami ran for 191 yards. While the debate rages over whether to ditch the 3-4 defense for the 4-3, one thing that must improve regardless is the tackling which was atrocious. The yards after contact garnered by Miami in the game was the difference and a repeat performance would spell disaster against someone like Peterson.

This is a tough matchup for anyone to slow down the Vikings but look for them to be a tad more aggressive in their approach in disrupting the running game, they’ll need a big performance in the middle by Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo but this one is a decided advantage for Minnesota.

Vikings WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots

Former Pats QB Matt Cassel has survived the competition from Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater for the time being and gives the Vikings the best chance at winning now. Eventually the team wants Bridgewater to assume control but for now, he’s watching and learning. Cassel did a good but unspectacular job in the opener and has former Packer Greg Jennings, Patterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph to go along with Peterson out of the backfield.

The Patriots will probably put Darrelle Revis on Patterson and Alfonzo Dennard on Jennings who is mainly their possession receiver now. The Patriots pass defense is much stouter than in 2013 with the addition of Revis and the key here will be stopping the tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, something they continue to struggle with.

The pass rush with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich off the edge was largely negated last week in Miami which is something the Patriots will be looking to rectify. Rookie Dominique Easley will also be looking to disrupt the flow with an inside pass rush to bring some pressure on Cassel and force some mistakes.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Vikings
The Vikings have a very solid kicker in Blair Walsh along with punter Jeff Locke give them an excellent tandem in the kicking game. The Patriots counter with Stephen Gostowski and Ryan Allen so the kicking games are about even.

But with Patterson returning kicks Minnesota has the decided advantage. He’s exciting, and dangerous and the Patriots will be looking for Gostowski to be limiting his returns by kicking out of the endzone as Patterson has returned kickoffs from as far as nine yards deep. The Patriots kick return game remains unsettled as Matthew Slater and Pat Chung handle duties for New England.

The team would love to get the dangerous Edelman loose on a few punt returns. Edelman remains one of the best punt returners in the business but the blocking hasn’t been there yet this season for him to showcase his open field talents.

Prediction:
This is going to be another tough road game for the Patriots, their struggles along both the offensive and defensive lines from last week will bear watching as they will either be a one week anomaly or a dangerous trend.

Minnesota’s ground game has the ability to dictate the game and open up play action passing which would make Cassel’s job much easier. The game plan from a Patriots perspective would be to get up early and force the game into Cassel’s hands thus negating Peterson. But last week they could only generate 10 points off of three turnovers which could have turned a 20-10 lead into much more at the half.

Zimmer’s defense really flummoxed Brady last year in Cincinnati and they’ll be looking to do the same this year by bringing pressure and getting in his face. But having Gronkowski and Vereen healthy for this one should really help get the offense moving.

This one should go down to the wire as Minnesota is far from the 5-10-1 team that they were a year ago. Peterson and Patterson will be matching the Pats offense tit-for-tat but in the end, the experience and advantage at QB for Brady should give New England the edge to eke out a tough road win. Patriots 27-24

Patriots Player to Watch-  Chandler Jones
Much was expected from Jones this season as with the additions in the secondary it was thought that Jones would be the beneficiary of opposing quarterbacks having to hold the ball longer and he’d be the disruptor off the edge.

But in Miami last week, Jones was held in check and this week his matchup with Vikings LT Matt Kalil will be one to watch. Jones does look ill-equipped to be a 3-4 DE and it would benefit him for the team to go to a four-man front on passing downs.

Regardless, the Patriots will need much more from Jones this week and if they want to come out with a victory on the road, he will have to step up his game this week.

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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.