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Keeping Offensive Versatility Vital For Patriots in Super Bowl Against Seahawks


Tom Brady and the Patriots offense must keep their balance in the Super Bowl against Seattle. (USA TODAY Images)

The Patriots have arrived in Arizona and are preparing for Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots offense faces a tough test against the best defense in the NFL and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will have to come up with a stellar game plan for New England to be successful.

The key to this matchup is for the Patriots to use their versatility against Seattle and bring all of their weapons to bear against the Seahawks who bring a deep, fast, athletic unit.

No one changes their identity from week-to-week more than New England. They are the most game-plan specific team in the league. Facing Baltimore in the Divisional Round, the Ravens front seven was one of the tougher units in the league at defending the run. But their secondary was beset with injuries and as a result, the Patriots all but abandoned any pretext of running the ball relying on a short passing game that was a death by 1000 cuts. New England passed for 418 yards in a 35-31 win.

Flip the switch to a week later and the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had a good secondary but were light on the front seven. The Patriots went to a power running game with LaGarrette Blount and gashed Indy for 177 yards on the ground enroute to a 45-7 rout.

The Seahawks don’t have a glaring weakness on defense to attack, so the key this week is to mix up the play-calling and use both facets of the offense to keep the chains moving and scoring against a defense that hasn’t allowed a lot of points in the second half of the season.

Running Game Key to Open Up Offense:Seattle has been very good against the run in 2014, (3.4 ypc) but that doesn’t mean the Patriots can’t run the ball, in fact they must win the battle at the point of attack and attack the middle of the Seattle defense.

Teams that ran successfully against Seattle did so by running up the middle. Long developing stretch plays won’t work against this defense as they are too fast, too athletic and will swarm to the ball.

With LaGarrett Blount, the Patriots will have to attack the middle, specifically to the left side behind C Bryan Stork and LG Dan Connolly and try to keep that defense from just teeing off in the pass rush.

Carolina and Green Bay had some success running the football gaining 132 and 135 yards respectively in the two playoff games thus far. But the offensive line, which has been inconsistent at times this season, will have to win the battle upfront.

Spread ‘em Out: The Patriots bread-and-butter is the short, to intermediate passing game. Seattle has the personnel on the back end of the defense that can take that away. See the SB against Denver last season. The Broncos WRs couldn’t beat the jam at the line of scrimmage and the game quickly got out of hand. Seattle is adept at times, rushing only three and dropping a DL into coverage which takes away those short crossing routes.

Seattle is also excellent at limiting yards after catch (YAC), that is how the defense is constructed and they flow to the ball better than anyone.

Look for New England to spread out the Seattle defense which will allow Tom Brady to get the ball out quickly and try to slow down the Seattle pass rush. Brady has been getting the ball out in about 2 seconds which makes it very hard for opposing pass rushers to get to him.

The onus will be on receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski, to beat the jam at the line and win the one-on-one battles. LaFell could be a big target in this game; he has the size, physicality and ability to make the all-important yards after catch.

An interesting matchup will be who the Patriots line up opposite Richard Sherman. The Seahawks generally line Sherman up to one side and leave him there. Don’t be shocked if that turns out to be Gronkowski, split out wide. Much like opponents attack New England, look for the Patriots to utilize the 2nd, 3rd and 4th options in the passing game.

Brady has been better this season at throwing to his left, so Edelman and/or LaFell may be split wide left in this one. The Patriots don’t throw the ball deep down the field and Seattle is excellent at covering the deep pass, but the intermediate part of the field will have to be targeted.

Forget the screens and bubble screens this week, Seattle is rarely fooled by those and will flow to the ball and stuff them with ease.

Gronkowski Will Have Plenty of Attention: Pats TE Rob Gronkowski will have lots of company wherever he goes this week. Expect the Seahawks defense to contest every release and look for them to give him plenty of looks.

Seattle safety Kam Chancellor will probably draw primary responsibility of coverage of Gronk and the big, physical safety will be a fascinating matchup to watch. But don’t be surprised to see LB Bobby Wagner with help over the top from Earl Thomas try to take away the seam routes that Brady loves to attack with Gronk.

Expect to see Gronkowski split wide right, if Seattle leaves Sherman in one-on-one coverage, the big TE will test Sherman’s ability to tackle with the one arm.

Vereen the “X-Factor” This Week: Patriots running back Shane Vereen may be the guy who provides the matchup winner for the New England offense in the Super Bowl.

Vereen caught 52 passes out of the backfield this season and with the Seahawks looking to limit Gronkowski’s ability to stretch the seams, Vereen may be the guy who stretches the field for New England.

Vereen has been targeted only nine times this post-season but has seven catches for 80 yards. Look for McDaniels and Brady to try to isolate Vereen on LB Bruce Irvin and get a longer look down the field (wheel route), where he can win the battle.

Irvin has been good in coverage this season, but it’s a matchup that Vereen can win and it serves a double purpose, taking Irvin out of the pass rush scenario.

The Patriots have a tough task in attempting to take down the Seahawks who have the opportunity to be the first team since the 2003-2004 Patriots to win back-to-back Super Bowls. But if Josh McDaniels uses the entire playbook, the Patriots, who have scored 80 points in their first two playoff games, have a great chance of upsetting Seattle.

The game plan is one thing…then it will be up to the players on the field to produce.

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.

Stopping Lynch and Seattle Zone Blocking, Key for Patriots Defense


Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower will have to have big games for the Patriots defense on Sunday in trying to slow the running game of Seattle in the Super Bowl (USA TODAY Images)

The key matchup on Sunday when the Patriots take on the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona may come down to the Seattle running game against the New England defense.

Seattle’s offense was at its best when the running game was stretching the opposing defense horizontally. To counter this, the Patriots front seven especially linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins will have to be big factors in the game plan.

Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson combined for over 2100 yards rushing in 2014 and the Seahawks boasted the league’s #1 rushing offense. Seattle averaged 172.6 yards per game, 5.3 yards per rush and 20 rushing touchdowns.

Zone Blocking Tough Task: The Seahawks institute a zone-blocking scheme that operates best when moving the play horizontally and stretches the defense to its limits and allows cracks that Lynch can exploit. The Jets and Miami use a similar scheme, so it is something the Patriots have seen before. But Lynch is far more dangerous than any back New England has faced this season. The task will be a daunting one.

Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell expects Bill Belichick and Pats DC Matt Patricia to mix things up to disrupt the Seahawks offense.

“Fronts, coverages, all different kind of things and you have to be able to anticipate some of the things that they might do and you have to be able to adjust,” Bevell said Wednesday. “During the game, there’s definitely some un-scouted looks that are probably going to come up. So we just have to be ready to make those adjustments on the sideline as they come.

There’s all the D-linemen, all the linebackers, they use them really all over the place,” he added. “They can use them as down linemen, they can use them as linebackers, they use their safeties as corners, they’re all over the place.”

Discipline Key: The key will be from a New England standpoint is to maintain discipline and beware of the zone-read option because if they crash down inside too early, Wilson will pull the ball back and make them pay by keeping it and bouncing the ball outside. This is an offensive scheme that the Patriots have been inconsistent with on the defensive side of the ball.

It has been an indispensable part of the Seattle offense since Wilson took over and it is simple in its approach but difficult to stop. Wilson operates out of the shotgun and either hands the ball off to Lynch or pulls it down and breaks to the outside. They worked it to perfection in the closing moments of the NFC Championship against Green Bay.

Normally Seattle leaves the defensive end unblocked and Wilson reads the end’s movement, and makes his decision to keep the ball or hand it to Lynch. Crashing down too early…something Chandler Jones has been guilty of many times this season would result in a clear running lane for Wilson to exploit. If the defensive end plays back, they hand the ball to Lynch and there’s one less DL to try to stop him.

Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich knows the task at hand. “You’ve just got to know what your responsibility is,” he said. “If your responsibility is the quarterback, then that’s who you’ve got. If it’s the running back, then that’s who you’ve got. You have to understand what your job is and can’t get overaggressive and play the wrong person because that’s how it hurts you. Again, it’s just being smart and doing your job.”

How Linebackers Will Have to Dictate: Where the Patriots will look to counter is to slide up an extra defender in the box, probably Pat Chung and try to take away some of the running lanes. But it will be dependent on Hightower and Collins to be the difference makers on Sunday against both Lynch and Wilson.

Both Hightower and Collins have been outstanding of running from sideline-to-sideline this season and making plays. Look for the Patriots to try to dictate matters and have Collins crash into the line of scrimmage and try to force the play to one side, where Hightower, reading the play will react and attempt to seal the lane off.

The Patriots have done a lot of run blitzing this season, but must remain really cautious of that. Lynch has the ability to turn a broken tackle at the point of attack into a long touchdown run. Look for Hightower to be used as spy on Wilson in this one, trying to limit him from breaking big gains in the running game.

But they’ll need a big effort from the defensive line to do more than just set the table. If the Seattle offensive line starts to win the battle up front, the Patriots corners will begin to have to cheat in the running game in support. That will open up the play-action pass right over their head, something Wilson excels in.

If the Patriots can contain Lynch enough to force Seattle into obvious passing situations, then they have the secondary and coverage ability to stop Seattle’s offense.  Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington give the Patriots excellent man coverage at the corners. Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson (in nickle situations) will rotate coverages depending upon the situation.

The key is the running game, and whoever does a better job on Sunday will have a great chance of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the game.

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 Send-off Rally Set For Boston City Hall Plaza

patriots send off rally

The Patriots travel to Arizona on Monday afternoon for Super Bowl 49 and have a scheduled 12:30 p.m. flight out of Logan Airport in Boston.

But first, after an 11a.m. departure from Gillette Stadium, there will be a send-off rally at Boston City Hall Plaza with Mayor Marty Walsh. Scheduled to appear will be Pats owner Robert Kraft, team President Jonathan Kraft, Bill Belichick and the five team captains, Tom Brady, Matthew Slater, Vince Wilfork, Dan Connolly and Devin McCourty. All are expected to speak to the crowd before departing for Logan.

“I am thrilled to host our conference champion New England Patriots at City Hall to rally before we send them off to another Super Bowl,” said Mayor Walsh. “This is an exciting time for Boston and I remind all fans to celebrate responsibly and make our city proud.”

The team is scheduled to arrive in Arizona at 6 p.m. ET (4 p.m. MT) when Belichick will address the media. The team will then retire to the hotel until Media Day on Tuesday.

The rally will be hosted by John Rooke, the in-stadium voice of the Patriots. Also scheduled to appear are the New England Patriots cheerleaders, the Patriots Drum Line, Patriots mascot Pat the Patriot and the Patriots End Zone Militia.

With the impending winter storm approaching the festivities may be abbreviated at City Hall Plaza as Boston and the surrounding area braces for as much as three feet of snow in some places. The storm is scheduled to hit the New England area on Monday afternoon.

The Super Bowl will take place on Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. and will be televised on NBC.

5 First Impressions of the Seahawks, Patriots Super Bowl Edition

Pete carrol SB

And then there were two… Finally the talk gets back to football this week and why not? It is only the biggest game of the season with the Super Bowl on the line in Glendale, Arizona between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots.

The game will be televised by NBC with their top announcing crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the play-by-play. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. The Super Bowl is always one of the most watched events in television. Last year’s broadcast between Seattle and Denver brought in over 111 million viewers.

How They Got Here: Seattle and New England had identical 12-4 records and each had a 7-1 home record as well as a 5-3 road record. Both teams are a resilient, mentally and physically tough bunch who shook off early season struggles to get to the pinnacle of the NFL with a Super Bowl berth.

New England and Seattle were #1-2 in point differential in the NFL (NE +9.4, Seattle +8.9) There is no doubt that the right two teams are here in February.

The Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game in dramatic fashion coming back from two scores down late in the game and won it overtime 28-22. Marshawn Lynch gained 157 yards on the ground and the Seattle defense limited Aaron Rodgers to just 178 yards passing.

New England blasted the Colts 45-7 as LaGarrette Blount once again proved the Indy defense was not ready for prime time, rushing for 148 yards. The New England defense shut down Andrew Luck, holding him to his lowest QB rating in his career (23.0) and only 126 yards passing.

We’ll also have later in the week, our keys to the game and matchups to watch for. Here are our final 2014 PatsFans.com weekly 5 First Impressions of the Seahawks:

Seahawks Getting Healthy: Seattle couldn’t have gotten the extra prep week for the Super Bowl at a better time. The NFC Championship Game came with its share of injuries and those players who were hurt should be ready to go on Sunday.

Richard Sherman, hyper-extended his elbow against the Packers but was able to play thru it to finish the game. According to Pete Carroll, Sherman didn’t miss a snap during last week’s practice and is listed as probable.

Safety Earl Thomas is dealing with a separated shoulder and while he missed both the Wednesday and Thursday practices, he returned to the field for Friday’s session. While listed as questionable, it is a safe assumption to believe he’ll be on the field.

Right guard J.R. Sweezy sprained an ankle in the NFC Championship Game and missed all of practice this week but also is expected to play. Right tackle Justin Britt missed the Packers game with a knee injury but is expected back this week as well.

Seattle Legacy Vs Patriots History: The Seahawks are in position to be the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. And they’re going against the team that last accomplished it.

New England was the most dominant team in the first decade of the 2000’s going to four Super Bowls and winning three. With back-to-back Super Bowl victories in 2013-14, the Seahawks will lay claim as the best team in the next decade and rightfully so.

This also pits two of the best coaches in the league in Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll. Carroll was Belichick’s predecessor as the coach of the Patriots before winning multiple titles at USC before becoming the Seahawks coach. With a win on Sunday, Carroll will be the first coach to win multiple titles at both the college and NFL levels.

All Eyes (Naturally) on Lynch: Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch has been in the news as much for his fines lately as for his running. Lynch 28, was a former first round pick of the Bills (think they regret that trade?) who has thrived in Seattle.

Lynch loves to tweak the NFL and has been fined (twice), totalling 100K for refusing to speak with the press. He’s also been fined for a crotch grabbing motion when entering the end zone and for wearing the wrong shoes. Much of the attention on Tuesday once the Seahawks start their part of Media Day will be focused on Lynch and what he’ll be up to.

Of course none of this would matter if Lynch was just a run-of-the-mill running back. But he is not. Vince Wilfork called Lynch this week, the best running back in the NFL. And if your team is facing a third and one or a third and two in a key part of the game, who else would you want running the football?

While QB Russell Wilson does and deserves a large share of the credit for making the Seattle offense go (more to that below), the main reason the Seahawks are the #1 rushing team in the NFL is because of Marshawn Lynch. New England’s defense will have to bring their big-boy pants to the game on Sunday.

Russell Wilson No Stage Too Large: Seattle’s QB is as resilient as his team. He was in the midst of one of his worst games as a pro in the NFC championship throwing four interceptions, with his fourth pick coming with just five minutes to go.

But Wilson didn’t crack, quite the opposite. Displaying a cool demeanor, Wilson rallied his team to two late scores and in the overtime, threw a perfect deep pass to Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown and one of the more improbable comebacks in NFL history.

But one shouldn’t be surprised, Wilson has been an even-keeled mentally tough player from the time he stepped on the field as the Seattle quarterback. “That’s the thing, what’s great about Russ, is good play, bad play, it’s the next play that matters,” tight end Luke Willson said. “Again, just what you see with Russell, you get. His demeanor – he wasn’t frustrated, he wasn’t pressing, he was just being himself and when we needed him the most, he performed unbelievably. It was pretty spectacular to watch.”

Wilson is also 10-0 against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks: 3-0 against Aaron Rodgers; 2-0 against Drew Brees and both Eli and Peyton Manning; and 1-0 against Tom Brady.

While Wilson doesn’t put up the eye-catching numbers of Andrew Luck from the QB Class of 2012, it is simply because he doesn’t have to, relying on the outstanding ground game with Lynch as well as himself and mixing it up with a balanced attack. He also doesn’t play on the media heavy East Coast side of the league. But make no mistake, when the game is on the line, he can sling it with the best of them….just ask the Packers.

Seattle’s Defense a Tough Nut for New England Offense: The Patriots offense, one of the most diverse from week-to-week in the NFL thrives in the short passing game. Guess who is the #4 defense is in defending the short-medium pass in the league is?

Yep…you guessed it, Seattle’s defense is a tough, physical bunch that can get after the quarterback and is very fast so they can jam receivers at the line and take away that short passing game that Tom Brady thrives upon.

Linebackers Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner are both outstanding and they’ll be tasked with slowing down Rob Gronkowski off the line. With either one of them passing Gronk off to safety Kam Chancellor, it will be an interesting, tough battle to watch.

Seattle’s secondary, the “Legion of Boom” is an apt name; no one can provide the coverage and physicality in the back end as well as Seattle did. Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Chancellor and Thomas are the gold standard in the league. They will undoubtedly line up with single coverage on the Patriots WRs Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola in an attempt to double up and take away Gronkowski.

Seattle’s defense allowed 254 points, (15.9 per game), tops in the NFL this season. They don’t do anything exotic; they just line up and force you to beat them. One-on-one battles are going to decide this matchup. Last season, Denver’s offense failed miserably, will the Patriots fare any better? Is it Feb. 1st yet?

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.

Belichick “Shocked”, Claims No Knowledge of Football Tampering

BB presser

Bill Belichick spoke with the assembled media on Thursday morning at Gillette Stadium and spoke at length about the media flap over the air pressure of the team’s footballs during the AFC Championship Game Sunday.

Belichick spoke quickly about the issue surrounding “Deflate-gate”, saying he had no knowledge about anything to do with the game balls being deflated.

Belichick said, “I was shocked to learn about news reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge until Monday morning.”

Stating further, Belichick stated, “Let me just say, my personal philosophy has always been to make things as difficult for players…the balls we practice with are as bad as they can be…wet, cold, slippery.” He went on to say that he hears players talk all the time about the condition of footballs and he has zero sympathy with players or coaches when they complain about it.

Taking a veiled shot at the Colts and Ravens, Belichick said he told his players don’t use the excuse of the condition of the footballs as a reason for performance on the field.

Finally when getting around to the footballs themselves, Belichick said, “In my entire coaching career, never talked to any player or staff member about football air pressure.”

Once the question and answer session started, Belichick as expected, deflected all questions as to the current investigation to the league. It is known that the league is still investigating the incident and plans to question players and staff today in Foxboro.

Stay tuned to the latest on this and maybe soon enough, we’ll get to starting talking about the actual game next Sunday between New England and Seattle

Not Luck’s Time Yet – Instead, Patriots Are the Ones Headed to Arizona


LaGarrette Blount torched the Colts in the playoffs again, logging 30 carries for 149 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots romp over Indy. (USA TODAY Images)

In the end, all the hype about the Indianapolis Colts being a different team than in November was just that …hype. The Patriots once again used a punishing ground attack led by LaGarrette Blount and steamrolled the Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game and advance to the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.

Blount ran over the Colts for 164 yards and four touchdowns in the Divisional Playoffs last season and on Sunday night ran for 149 more on 30 carries with three more touchdowns. Indianapolis had slowed down other teams in the playoffs but both Cincinnati and Denver were beat-up teams and facing a fairly healthy Patriots squad it was no contest. Blount rode roughshod over the over-matched Indy defense.

Here are some other observations from Sunday’s championship game:

Not Luck’s Time ….Yet: Much was also made that this week, Luck would surpass both Manning and Brady and take his place at the head of the table as the top dog in the AFC. And like Manning before him, it is not going to be easy for him against the Patriots. For the fourth time in four tries, Bill Belichick’s defense mixed their coverages, blanketed his favorite receivers and confused the heck out of him.

Luck’s numbers were the worst yet in his four meetings connecting on only 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards no touchdowns and two interceptions for a QB rating of just 23.0. The Patriots pass rush, so maligned at times this season was tremendous all night and at the same time not logging a single sack. Which is why sacks can be so overrated at times. The A-gap pressure by Jamie Collins and Donta Hightower was strong and they forced Luck to move and hurry his throws consistently all evening.

Much like Manning’s 49 touchdown season where he came into Foxboro on fire and only put up 3 points, Luck’s 40 touchdown season was much discussed but he and the Indy offense was only able to score seven. He’ll get his time in the spotlight, but not this year…not just yet.

Arrington/Ninkovich Come up Large: Kyle Arrington had another fantastic game against Colts WR T.Y. Hilton holding him to a single catch. In November, he held Hilton to just three catches for 24 yards, both his lowest totals of the season.

Arrington is somehow still thought of as a weak-link in the Patriots secondary in some circles but his performance was no fluke. He provided tight coverage all game long and shut down the Colts and Luck’s go-to guy.

Also on the defensive side of the ball was a fantastic effort by Rob Ninkovich. Ninkovich has a knack for coming up big in big games and this one was no different. He set the edge in the running game, consistently pressured Luck and knocked down a couple of passes at the line of scrimmage.

Ninkovich didn’t show up very much in the stat sheet but his night was key in the success the Patriots had in shutting down the Colts passing game.

Patriots Offensive Line Passes Test: Much of the talk leading up to this one was the fact that Indy hadn’t allowed a 100 yard rusher since the November game. And with the healthy return of Arthur Jones coupled with the loss of center Bryan Stork, the Colts were confident that they could slow New England’s rushing game.

But the Patriots offensive line once again teed off on the smaller front seven of the Colts. And they still added an extra OL (Cameron Fleming) for about 30 snaps and the Colts had no answer for it.

Blount had big holes that kept getting bigger as the night wore on. And once Blount can get thru the point of attack with a head of steam, he’s tough to bring down. The pass protection was also very good, as Tom Brady for the majority of the game had a good amount of time to look downfield.

A Week Later…the Deception Continues: The Patriots dusted off the same play that drew the ire of the Ravens this week, but on the WR screen pass, Brandon LaFell dropped the pass.

However, on a tackle eligible play, Brady was able to hit LT Nate Solder for a touchdown that fooled everyone. Solder didn’t even draw a soul in coverage and was able to rumble into the end zone.

Brady completed 23 of 35 for 226 yards with three touchdowns to three different receivers (Solder, FB James Develin and Rob Gronkowski), and they kept Indy off-balance evening. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels showed many different looks and the Colts were unable to matchup.

Milestone Game: Of course this was a hat and t-shirt night with the Patriots getting their new swag for being AFC Champions. But Brady became the NFL’s #1 passing yardage leader in the post-season early in the first quarter.

His three touchdown passes take him to 49 in the post-season which he already owns. And with his start in Glendale, Arizona, Brady will be appearing in his sixth Super Bowl.

Bill Belichick passed Tom Landry with his 30th post-season win on Sunday night, which is tops in NFL history as well.

The Patriots will be playing in their eighth Super Bowl which ties them with Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most in NFL history.

Injury Update: Julian Edelman was dinged up as was Darrelle Revis but both were able to return to the game. Edelman, in retrospect looked really dinged up at the end of the game. Sealver Siliga suffered a foot injury and didn’t return. All three will need monitoring as the count-down for the Super Bowl continues.

Bill Belichick said it best when taking the Lamar Hunt Trophy for being the AFC Champs from Jim Nantz, he said, “All I have to say is….we’re on to Seattle”.

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 “X-Factor” in the Offense on Sunday, Brandon LaFell

LaFell

One of the more underrated signings this past spring by Bill Belichick was when the Patriots signed wide receiver Brandon LaFell from the Carolina Panthers. The Pats signed the big wideout from LSU to a three-year, $9 million dollar deal and the deal barely registered a blip on the radar screen.

While many weren’t sure where LaFell would fit in the Patriots system, he’d played a lot out of the slot, there were some that predicted he might not make the team at all coming out of training camp. They were wrong and now facing a Colts defense that will seem intent on taking away top targets Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, LaFell may be Tom Brady’s “X-Factor” in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night in Foxboro.

Big, Physical and Welcome: LaFell gives the Patriots a dimension that they haven’t had around Gillette in recent years, a big, physical wide receiver that can go up and make plays in contested areas and make important yards after the catch.

LaFell put up very good numbers in the passing game this season, after being blanked in the first two games; he’s averaged 5.4 receptions, 69.2 yards per game with eight touchdowns since. His numbers thru the first game of the playoffs read, 79 receptions, 1015 yards and eight TDs.

In the waning moments of the Ravens game it was LaFell who was targeted by Tom Brady and the receiver, (fighting off an armbar) was able to haul in a Brady pinpoint throw one-handed for a 23 yard game winning touchdown. This spoke of the trust that has been building between LaFell and Brady during the season.

“We haven’t always had the biggest guys at receiver here,” Brady said. “But having someone like that who can really bring a little more of that physical presence at that position brings an edge to it, I think he’s had that since he got here. He has fought through some injuries this year, been mentally tough, never complains, always does what you ask him to do … He just wants to do it to help the team win. It’s a great trait.”

Rare Praise From BB: Belichick who spoke in glowing terms not normally heard around these parts about a player. Belichick in his normal television breakdown of key plays with Scott Zolak for the Patriots Today show spoke about LaFells smarts and toughness, blocking for Danny Amendola on a touchdown play.


LaFell brings a big dimension of size and toughness to the Patriots receivers.
(USA TODAY Images)

“One of the things you really love about LaFell… I love coaching him…, is this type of play right here,” Belichick said. “A heads-up play, a smart play, a play that, honestly, most receivers aren’t looking to make. He’s not only blocking his guy, but now he sees a more dangerous guy coming and he takes care of him so Danny can get in the end zone.”

Slow Start: But things didn’t start swimmingly for LaFell, who struggled with the Patriots play book and the intricate route trees that are required for the receivers to learn. LaFell admitted that the spring and summer were a grind for him as he was very slow in picking up the Patriots offense.

“I’m used to running a number system, and now I’m back to code words, so it’s a lot,” LaFell said. “The quicker I can learn this offense the quicker I can go out there and be reliable, to play fast and know what I’m doing — instead of now, I’m kind of playing at half-speed because I’m thinking so much.”

With Lafell going from a numbers-based system to code word system, the learning curve is tough and not every wide receiver that has come here has been able to master it. Many established veterans have struggled here among them Joey Galloway, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Chad Ocho Cinco.

But he did master it, putting in long hours in the film room, working with Brady one-on-one on the side during practice and gradually earning that all important trust factor with #12. And part of that equation is not only knowing your role in each play but the overall big picture of what everyone else is doing. That is what makes the Patriots offense tick. And make no mistake, if Brady doesn’t trust you, you will not see the football coming in your direction.

Target Vs the Colts: So…you ask how does this point to LaFell being a big target this week against the upstart Colts? Indy is coming together and fresh off of a big victory over Peyton Manning and the Bronco is Denver.

Well first you have to look at how the Colts beat Denver to get that answer. Indy was physical with the Broncos wide receivers and disrupted their routes at the point of attack. They contested the short passing game and took away Manning’s timing with the deep passes that ended up resulting in Manning completing only two passes beyond five yards at the line of scrimmage.

That has been a key against Denver and one knock against their talented group of wideouts. They struggle against tight physical coverage and if contested at the line, can be taken away.

That’s why this current group of Patriots receivers is much better suited for the rigors of a deep playoff run than in previous years. Having a healthy Rob Gronkowski in the playoffs for the first time in three years and LaFell gives Brady the weapons that can contest the short, contested throws at the line of scrimmage but break tackles and make yards after the catch.

LaFell’s numbers are remarkably similar to what Brandon Lloyd put up in 2012 but Lloyd had nowhere near the physical make-up of LaFell and he was most often left his feet for a catch and went down before contact. LaFell is big enough to beat the press and to keep going. He’s frequently the guy Brady goes to on early downs to jump start this Patriots offense.

The Colts may indeed attempt to double Gronkowski who remains the Patriots most dangerous weapon in the passing game. But with Julian Edelman, Tim Wright and LaFell also in the mix, the Patriots are well stocked to counter that and make them pay.

Is it Sunday evening yet?

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 – Colts AFC Championship Game, Who Has the Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups

Brady Patriots-Ravens5

The AFC is down to two, and familiar foes face off again as the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts will meet in Foxboro to determine who moves on to the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona in February. The Patriots as the #1 seed will remain home in Foxboro on Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium.

The game will be broadcast nationally on CBS with Jim Nance and Phil Simms on the call. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. The NFC game between Seattle and Green Bay will be carried by FOX Sports.

The Patriots (13-4) defeated the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round 35-31 on Saturday as Tom Brady hit Brandon LaFell for a 23 yard touchdown for the Patriots first lead of the game after rallying the team from a pair of 14 point deficits. Duron Harmon intercepted Joe Flacco with a minute and a half left to seal the victory.

The Colts (13-5) defeated the Denver Broncos 24-13 in Denver. Andrew Luck out-dueled his predecessor, Peyton Manning while passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns. The Colts defense stymied Manning and the Broncos, holding C.J. Anderson to 80 yards and taking away the Broncos deep passing attack.

Series History:
The Patriots and Colts have met four times in the playoffs with the Patriots holding a 3-1 advantage. The Patriots won the last meeting a 43-22 divisional playoff game last January in Foxboro. The two teams met in Indianapolis in November during the regular season with the Patriots beating the Colts 42-20.

Here is a look at the PatsFans.com key matchups and who holds the “Razor’s Edge”:

The Hilton at Revis Island is Closed…Luck Must Look Elsewhere This Week

Dwayne Allen Div playoffs

When the Patriots face off against the Colts on Sunday night in the AFC Championship Game, they’ll be facing a familiar nemesis with Indianapolis and a recent one as well. The Patriots and Colts will be meeting for the third time since January of last year.

But the familiarity will be tinged with a bit of the unknown this time around. The Colts offense still goes thru Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton but down the stretch, Luck has been increasingly going to his secondary receivers, a very important factor in this game.

Conventional wisdom suggests that to beat New England, one must get away from Darrelle Revis and win with beating the others in the Patriots secondary by using their secondary receivers. Aaron Rodgers during the game in Lambeau provided that bit of intelligence for opposing game planners and it may be true again.

Different Matchup This Time: In the first matchup in November, the Patriots put Revis on Reggie Wayne and the speedy Kyle Arrington on Hilton. I would expect that to change on Sunday. Revis will probably draw Hilton and history shows, Luck likes to move the ball downfield to Hilton, sometimes even force it to him. If that is the case, Revis, who is the Pats best coverage player, could be in a position to make a pick or two.

Quarterbacks throwing at Revis haven’t had much success, completing only 44.3 percent of their passes (35-79), for 545 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Revis has the ability to slow down Hilton and force the issue.

Wayne has been hobbled by a knee injury and is nowhere near 100 percent. Arrington would then draw either him or Donte Moncrief, who has come on recently. Brandon Browner would cover Hakeem Nicks. The Colts tight ends will undoubtedly see a lot of action this time. Coby Fleener had a big game in November with seven catches for 144 yards against mainly Brandon Browner but Dwayne Allen, who was hurt early in that game will be available.

Allen is an interesting player to keep an eye on this time around. Much less heralded than Fleener who was Luck’s college teammate, he’s an excellent red-zone target and scored on a 3-yard touchdown pass against Denver on Sunday. Luck also used Dan Herron out of the backfield more and he caught eight passes for 32 yards at Mile High.

Running Game Could Be a Factor: Again, the Colts are a different team this time as running back Ahmad Bradshaw is now on IR and Trent Richardson was a healthy inactive scratch last week. Instead the Colts relied on Boom Herron and Zurlon Tipton to get the job done.

Herron carried 21 times for 63 yards which aren’t eye-popping numbers but the Colts final scoring drive where they held the ball for over minutes was a testament that Herron and Tipton are very trusted in the offense.

Herron and Tipton touched the ball on nine of the Colts 12 plays on the scoring drive that put the game away when they kicked an Adam Vinatieri field goal to go up 24-13. While the Colts numbers this season aren’t big, (no 100 yard rushers), they are getting better balance out of the running game and can be looked to on Sunday to try to keep the Patriots defense off-balance by continuing to run the ball.

Pass Protection/Pash Rush Key: A big key for this week’s game and imperative for Luck in finding his secondary receivers is getting the time in the pocket. He’ll either have to get very good protection as he did in Denver last week or create time by moving around and making plays with his feet.

Aaron Rodgers did both in the Green Bay game, Luck’s offensive line which has been patched together has been very good the past few weeks and may be starting to gel which is good news for Coach Chuck Pagano. The Colts neutralized the potent pass rush of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware of Denver’s and that should give New England pause.

We talked about, from a Patriots perspective the lack of pass rush last week and the need to improve there here: New England will have to pressure Luck and just as importantly, contain him in the pocket. He throws on the run extremely well and that is the last thing Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick want to see.

This promises to be a great football game, while the Patriots have had their way with Andrew Luck and the Colts in the last three matchups (20+ point wins), this one should be much closer. But Luck will have to find his other receivers other than Hilton to win this time around.

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 Offensive Versatility Makes Them Difficult Matchup For Indy, All-22 Look

Brady Patriots-Ravens5

With the Patriots facing the Colts in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, it rekindles a rivalry that reached its peak in the mid-2000s. It was supposed to be the Patriots and Broncos with Tom Brady facing Peyton Manning, adversaries since those halcyon Colts – Pats days but it didn’t come to that.

Andrew Luck, the replacement for Manning in Indy bested his predecessor in Denver. While the Patriots squeaked by against a tough Ravens teams facing Joe Flacco, who is the very antithesis of Manning. So-so regular season performer and stellar playoff quarterback.

Now the focus is beating a team much different than the team you faced the week before. But, whereas the Ravens exceled in areas that the Patriots struggle in, this week’s matchup doesn’t have that degree of difficulty for New England as they are able to take advantage of some of the weaknesses of the Indy defense. The Patriots offense has the versatility to attack in a number of different ways which will be a tough matchup for the Indy defense.

Recent Success Running: The Patriots have met the Colts twice in the last 12 months and beat them easily each time (20+points), and did it by pounding the ball right at the Colts defensive front seven. In the divisional round last January the Patriots rushed for 234 yards. In November in Indy, the Patriots rushed for 246 more, a whopping 480 yards combined. In those two games, the leading rushers for New England, LaGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray accounted for 367 yards and eight touchdowns.

The running game opened up play-action passing for Tom Brady, opening up wide passing lanes. While not putting up eye popping numbers, the efficiency for the passing game was high as Brady averaged 8.27 yards per attempt in those two games.

Does this mean the Patriots are in for a cake walk? No, this one promises to be much closer. The Colts since the November beat-down haven’t allowed a 100 yard rusher and have gotten better overall defensively, bolstered by the return of Arthur Jones in the middle. They limited the Denver running game to just 88 yards on Sunday, which was a big win for them overall.

Versatility, Thy Name is Belichick: Where the Patriots have the advantage again, is that they can beat you in a variety of ways. Last week facing a Ravens front seven stout against the run, they passed, passed and passed some more. The only second half run was a sneak by Brady…discounting a few kneel-downs at the end of the game. By running only 14 times last week, to ground and pound? This time the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

We’ll look at some of the ways this offense can line up and beat the Colts using the All-22 film supplied by the NFL Game Rewind and show how difficult a matchup it will be for Indianapolis this week.

Extra OL Frees Gray: In this first look from the game in November, the Patriots line up with Brady under center. Jonas Gray is the deep back and the offense goes Jumbo with Rob Gronkowski lined up on the line to the left. Cameron Fleming is in as the extra OL on the right side.

Gray 1

At the snap, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer and Fleming crash down to the left. Gray makes a step left and counters to the right. Guard Dan Connolly pulls and seals the linebacker and Gray has a big opening to run thru.

Gray 4, 14 yd

The result: Gray gains 14 yards and had the opportunity for even more.

Jumbo Package Touchdown Pass: On a Red Zone opportunity from the Colts 2 yard line, the Patriots line up with a heavy 3-TE package, Gronkowski on the left, Michael Hoomanawanui on the right and Tim Wright in the slot to the left off of Gronkowski. FB James Develin was the lead back for Jonas Gray with Brady under center.

Wright 2 yd TD

Prior to the snap, Wright comes in motion to the right and Develin fires off at the snap as if to block for Gray. Brady fakes to Gray and Wright, who slipped into the corner of the end zone is open.

Wright 2 yd TD2

The result is an easy touchdown pass for Brady who fooled the defense into thinking run because of the success they’ve had running as well as the package on the field.

Wright 2 yd TD3

Gronk 26 Yard TD: On a fourth quarter play, a prime example of how difficult a Gronkowski matchup is for the defense is highlighted here. The Patriots are aligned in a passing formation with Shane Vereen as the running back, Brady in the shotgun. Gronkowski is in-line on the right side with Tim Wright in the slot left.

Gronk 26 yard TD

Prior to the snap Gronkowski comes in motion to the left, just inside of Wright. At the snap, the Colts rush five in an attempt to get after Brady. Gronkowski crosses Wright and goes into the flat for a six yard reception.

Gronk 26 yard TD2

The result here: With Gronk hauling in the pass, he’s able to shake off the initial tackler at the 20-yard line and begins shedding Colts as he cuts back inside and rumbles into the end zone for a 26 yard score.

Gronk TD gif

Gronkowski is very difficult to cover with a linebacker and defensive backs have issues bringing him to the ground. The Colts don’t have a proper matchup for Gronkowski and the mismatches he produces; open up other avenues for the offense if they choose to double him up.

The Colts defense faces a difficult challenge on Sunday against the Patriots, they’ve been run over for the past two meetings, but the versatile capability of the offense means they can’t just stack the box and dare Brady to throw. Using the heavy package with two TEs can still be dangerous with Gronkowski and Wright in the passing game.

An extra weapon at Brady’s disposal is Shane Vereen, Josh McDaniels has been good at splitting Vereen out wide as an extra wide receiver and forcing a linebacker to slide out and cover him which opens up extra room for Gronkowski and Julian Edelman to operate in.

Is this to suggest that the Colts have no chance? No, if you look at the job they did in Denver, there has to be hope that they can duplicate that effort again in Foxboro. But Brady is able to hit his receivers all over the field right now and the Patriots should have the advantage. However, if the Colts do win on Sunday, they will have earned their ticket to the Super Bowl, having beaten the top 2 seeds, not to mention Manning and Brady on the road. It should be a great game….Is it Sunday yet?

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.


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