Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

So the Pats are 13-0 and as I suspected, the Steelers did not give the Patriots the same kind of game the Ravens did. A few observations from the NFL weekend.

1- The Steelers had some success early on pressuring Brady and pressing the wide receivers. The Patriots did catch them off guard with the deep play action touchdown to Moss and the double lateral to Gafney, but even after the second long touchdown, the game was not out of hand at 24-13. After the Steelers went three and out, they seemed to panic and abandon their game plan, opting instead to play off the Patriots receivers. The Patriots responded by scoring 10 points on their next two drives, eating up the clock with short passes to Wes Welker and Jabar Gafney and locking up the game.

2- Speaking of abandoning game plans, facing a 3rd and goal at the 1, down 31-13, the Steelers decided against two straight power runs, opting to go with a ill-advised fade pass to Santonio Holmes and an end around to Hines Ward. For the Patriots, their trickery was designed to take advantage of the sometimes overly aggressive Pittsburgh secondary. That's called being smart. For the Steelers, trying to get cute on a defense that's strength is it's discipline is just stupid.

3- You probably won't hear it much from the media, but the Patriots defense played one hell of a game. This is an offense that's currently eighth in the league in scoring, despite playing several games in monsoon conditions (3-0 over the Dolphins ring any bells?), yet the Patriots maligned defense held them to 13 points and only one touchdown, shutting them out in the second half.

4- The Patriots rush defense gets a horrible rap. It's nowhere near dominating, but it's also nowhere near bad. The Steelers did gain 181 yards on the ground, but 53 of those yards came on the Steelers final two drives, when the score was already 34-13 and the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt. To see what the Patriots rush defense really looks like, just examine it drive-by-drive, as opposed to looking at raw numbers.

The Steelers scored a field goal on their first drive, but Ben Roethlisberger was the difference maker- Willie Parker managed 5 carries for 10 yards. On the Steelers next drive, Parker carried once for 3 yards. The Steelers scored on their third drive of the day on Roethlisberger's pass to Najeh Davenport. Parker did bust a 30 yard run on that drive, but it was his longest of the day. The Steelers fourth drive resulted in a field goal, and Parker carried 3 times for 9 yards. Parker busted out with a 19 yard run on the Steelers first drive of the second half, but the Steelers had to punt. After the Pats scored to make it 24-13, Parker carried twice for 5 yards and the Steelers went three and out.

As the old story goes, sometimes the numbers don't match reality. Other than the Ravens, when they rushed the ball down the Patriots throats for two touchdowns in the third quarter of last week's Monday night game, no team this year has been able to rush the ball in a way that would be effective to beat the Patriots. Period. If you recall back to the Colts game, Joseph Addai tore up the Pats on the games first few drives, gaining 67 yards on his first 10 carries. Problem is, all those yards only led to 3 points. The Colts ended up putting 17 more points on the board, but Addai only gained 45 more yards on his final 16 carries. And just to return to that Ravens game- 13 carries for 95 yards on the two touchdown drives, 23 carries for 71 yards the rest of the game and only 10 points.

Generally, running the ball well is an effective game plan when controlling the clock is important and you can hold your opponent to 10-15 points. But points are scored through the passing game and to beat the Patriots you need to score enough points. Putting up 100+ rushing yards is a meaningless statistic is you don't score any point off it and generally, the Pats have not been given up points to their opponents rushing games. As a Pats fan, I'm far more concerned about an Eagles type game plan, which picked up the Patriots blitzes and scored points with drives sustained by quick passes to the middle of the field.

5- This all gets to my next point that the Patriots offense is unstoppable. Two games this year under 30 points? Only 4 games in which their offense has been "held" to only 3 touchdowns? I think the Eagles, Ravens, and Steelers (until they abandoned it) all had the right idea about how to stop the Patriots offense. If you sit back and react, you'll end up like the Bills or Redskins. The problem with playing a defense that requires constant pressure on both the QB and receivers is that it's physically demanding and that mental errors- like those made by the Pittsburgh safeties yesterday- can be amplified to the extreme. I think the Patriots are going 19-0 because I don't see anyone that can stop them - I'm sure the Colts, Cowboys, and Packers can keep up with the Pats in the playoffs, but then you're still left with playing Tom Brady and all those weapons in a close game.

6- By the way, the Colts won in Baltimore last night, 44-20, after jumping out to a 37-7 halftime lead. It just goes to show how much difference a week really makes in football. No one would doubt 1- Patriots, 2- Colts, 3- Steelers, 4- Ravens, but the Ravens certainly didn't play like the number four team on the list last week. My point, as always, is not to look too deep into what a single week's performance means - and the same holds true for the Steelers, who are the kind of team that still has the potential to give both the Pats and the Colts trouble in the playoffs. If the Patriots play them again I won't expect it to be as easy.


Blogger Chris Cowan said...

It just goes to show how much difference a week really makes in football.

I follow this blog because I'm a Libertarian, also. But I noticed the Football post, so I had to comment.

I think there's a little more to this than just a week's time. The Colts faced a different defense, than the Pats. Both of the Raven's starting corners McAlister and Rolle were out.

The results of the Colt's game, were predictable.
It was clear that Corey Ivy (a nickle back) and David Pittman ( special teamer) were not up to the task of covering the Colts receivers.

It could have been worse, Harrison could have been healthy.

12:07 PM  

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