Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pats Down Jags

Sorry football fans. I thought I had posted this Sunday morning:

I blogged Friday on the reasons it would be stupid to pick the Jaguars to win. And I was right, for precisely the right reasons.

[T]o really pick against the Patriots this year you have to explain why you're going to beat them in a close game. You have to explain why you're picking against Tom Brady in the 4th quarter.


[H]ow can you pick David Garrard, Jack Del Rio, and the Jags defense in a close spot over Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Pats defense.

David Garrard played great- the Jags defense didn't, but they did shut down the Patriots down field passing attack. But the Jaguar offense that seemed to have it's way with the Patriot defense managed only two second half field goals and Tom Brady completed 26 of his 28 passes for 3 TD's. In the end, the field goals rather than touchdowns had the Jaguars trailing on the road and Garrard threw a 4th quarter pick to seal the win for the Pats.

The Patriots pursuit of perfection has been a fertile source for material for the discussion of football, in part because so many people have followed the games, but also because the Patriots offensive prowess has challenged some traditionally held notions about both offense and defense. Last night's game was no different. I'll touch on just a few points worth talking about.

1- Just delve into the past of Bill Belichick and you'll see a formula for dealing with high power offenses- drop defenders into pass coverage, play bend but don't break, and control the clock on offense. It's a game plan that helped the Giants win Super Bowl XXV over the Bills and the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI over the Rams. It's the game plan the Jaguars tried last night and it was an absolute failure. The Jaguars did succeed in slowing the game down, but they never once stopped the Patriots. That 31 points would have been more if not for a missed field goal and a Wes Welker third down drop. It's not just that Brady was 26 of 28- it's that he made it look so easy. The Patriots put up 27 on the Ravens and 31 on the Eagles back in November, but anyone who's watched all of these games will tell you that the Patriots had to fight tooth and nail for those points back in November. If the Jaguars offense hadn't been so efficient, the Patriots would have put up something similar to the 52 they put up when the Redskins rolled over back in October. The Jaguars proved that you can't sit back and hope for the best against Tom Brady- you have to take chances, blitz, blitz, and blitz some more, and hope that you can create turnovers that will match the Patriots production throwing the ball down the field. Give credit to the teams that were willing to go all out in the regular season- the Eagles, the Ravens, and the Giants.

2- The Patriots defense looks incredibly vulnerable. For the second game in a row, an opponent marched down the field to score an opening touchdown. The Jaguars scored on two of their first three possessions, the only non-score being the David Garrard fumble. What's interesting is that the Jaguars actually only scored two touchdowns. Anyone who watched the game can recall, quite clearly, the site of the Jaguars marching up and down the field all over the Patriots. Yet they only scored two first half touchdowns and managed only 4 scoring drives. The Patriots, like the Jaguars last night, have been playing the bend but don't break all year. And, if you really think about it, it's the perfect defense to complement their offense. They don't allow big plays or easy scores. Pats fans can count on one hand the number of big plays they've allowed all year. As I've blogged before, the run defense has been solid, with the exception of two second half drives against the Ravens. The pass defense has been inconsistent, at times giving up a maddening number of short passes. Yet for all the flaws in the secondary- particularly in the coverage skills of some of the older veterans- they've done what they've needed to- kept the Patriots in the game. The several times they allowed the Patriots to fall behind by double digits- against the Colts and the Giants- they've made key plays at the end of the game to allow the Pats to come back.

3- Every close game the Patriots have played this year has been similar. As I was just saying above, the defense has come through with key plays in the 4th quarter of every close game. And then, of course, there's Tom Brady. You can point to flaws in this Patriots team, but if you look to the 4th quarter of the close games they've played this year and you'd be hard pressed to find any flaws. And now, to top it all off, Maroney is running like he has a firecracker up his butt. We're at 17-0 and I'm loving the Pats chances more and more.

4- The Jaguars didn't run the ball particularly well, but it just goes to show that numbers mean little in analyzing the effectiveness of a running game. The Jaguars stuck with their running game, even when trailing, effectively mixing the run and the pass. They finished with under 100 yards on the ground, but perhaps with memories of Baltimore in their minds, the Patriots did not alter their defensive approach, even as Jacksonville continued to shred them through the air. The Patriots, meanwhile, ran the ball very well, although most of their yardage was due to Jacksonville's focus on preventing the big play down the field.

Updated 1/15/2007 @ 10:05 AM : Now that we know the Pats will be playing San Diego next week, I'll just add a few more thoughts. The Pats should win this game, but I guess the Colts should have won too. I think the Charger defense is better than it was when the Pats played them in week two, but it still doesn't scare me very much. Now I suppose you can make the same points about Peyton Manning as I've been making about Tom Brady ... and seriously, who would have picked Phillip Rivers/Billy Volek over Manning ... but here's the thing. Brady's a better playoff quarterback, a better big game quarterback than Manning, period. Brady's playoff record is now 13-2, including 7-0 at home. Manning, on the other hand, is 7-7 in the playoffs, 4-3 at home, with all 3 losses coming when the Colts had the bye. Just try and conjure up the situation where Brady loses a playoff game at home. See you at 18-0.


Blogger McMc said...

I'm going to go into more detail on this if it happens but I think we might be heading into one of the greatest Super Bowls of all-time. I say if because it all depends on the Packers-Giants game. If the Giants win, I think the Pats smoke 'em. If the Packers win, I think we're going to have one of the all-time greatest showdowns...Brett Favre vs Tom Brady. Brady is in his prime and Favre is in his fifth prime and any way I look at it, this game would have to be great. The Packers have the talent and ability to exploit every mismatch with the Pats D. The Packers can run the ball, they live off of short passes with their stellar recievers and mobile TE Donald Lee and right when you're about to cut those off, Favre can hit Greg Jennings or James Jones on a deep ball. They're dangerous. Even if the Packers fall behind, Favre can still rally the Packers back. Packers-Patriots Super Bowl Round 2. We need this.

7:46 PM  

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