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Sunday, 21 December 2014

New England Barely Survives In New York : 3 Things We Learned

On the one hand, you have a team that has a hard time winning at all. On the other, a team that is used to winning. Wins are never easy in the NFL, and when it comes down to division rivals with as long history, those wins become that much more precious.

The New York Jets came into this Sunday with nothing to gain, and nothing to lose. It is a close race for the top pick in the upcoming draft, but the Jets insist they are not playing for the top pick.

The New England Patriots only have home field advantage in the playoffs to lose, and as I have said before, they have a huge reason to win for that. It was just a year ago they fell short of the Super Bowl... in Denver.

The Patriots pulled-out a slim victory today, but some big issues came up as a result.

1. New England still has front line issues.

Tom Brady was under pressure... heavy pressure... all day long. The Jet defense got to him four times, but hit him a lot more than that. He looked like he had no confidence in the pocket and rushed many of his throws.

Even when he had time, his throws tended to be relatively short; his longest completion was a mere 14 yards. The running game was rather quiet, as well, with just enough presence to keep the defense thinking.

2. The defense needs to get more consistent pressure up front.

Despite two sacks of Geno Smith, the front seven did little to knock the young QB off his spot. If it hadn't been for several errant passes, this game might have turned-out quite differently. But New York's inconsistency led to a 38% third efficiency.

It may have been their red-zone stands that swung the score in the favor of the Patriots. The other main factor was...

3. Special Teams.

The big play of this game, and biggest difference-maker on the scoreboard, was a blocked field-goal in the fourth quarter. If New York makes that kick, the Patriots have a long field to again come from behind to win this game.

And while Danny Amendola had a good game, particularly in the run back department, except for one great run that was called back for holding, the field position game was fairly even. Danny did help to flip it on a couple of nice run-backs.

If I had to point to a trend for the Patriots in the past few weeks, it is the contrast between special team play and this defense. Special teamers are shining (2 blocked kicks in 2 weeks), while the defense has been inconsistent, playing well one week and looking lost the next.

But the one most disturbing observation is the protection for Brady. Despite not allowing a sack against Miami, Brady still looks unsure throwing the long ball. In the win against San Diego, It was Julian Edelman turning a 15 yard pass into a 69 yard TD. Brady is not comfortable standing in the pocket and delivering long balls.

This is Patriots' football in the twilight years of Brady's career. But he is taking a beating in the process. It resulted in a loss to Green Bay and almost cost them home field in a close win this week.

Josh McDaniels and Dave DeGuglielmo need to rally this group to open holes for the runners and to protect the franchise. Heading into the playoffs, this becomes the most important point of emphasis for the team. 17 points won't cut it against the best opponents.

This was a sloppy effort against a lower-rung opponent. The Patriots will have to clean it up to hang throughout the playoffs, even at home. That includes Mr Brady's jersey.


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