When the 2012 NFL schedule was announced last spring this game appeared to be a cakewalk; a vacation trip to London and a ho-hum victory over an overmatched opponent, much like the Pats last trip to the UK when they breezed to an easy 35-7 win over the Buccaneers.
Fast forward to late October and the mood for Patriots Nation has dramatically changed. Even in victory the masses are up at arms over the Pats performance and now we have an ominous sense of déjà vu: the Patriots are scheduled to meet a team from the NFC West that has a suspect offense but very strong defense. Considering the outcome of the Pats games against Arizona and Seattle the concern is understandable; the fact that St. Louis defeated both of those teams that the Pats suffered losses to creating angst among Pats fans. Rams fans are ecstatic that their team is 3-4; Pats fans are despondent that their team is 4-3.
The achilles heel for the Patriots thus far has been their pass defense. In the past few years the Pats got grief about where this unit ranked defensively but I could more easily live with that then: this was a ‘bend don’t break‘ style that was predicated on not allowing the big play and forcing the opponent to produce long drives. Eventually that other team would make a mistake and the Pats would get the ball back without (usually) allowing a touchdown.
So far this year those concepts have not fallen in to place. The Patriots have given up a league-worst 38 pass plays of twenty or more yards. It’s bad enough that happens, but it would be more understandable if the Pats were employing a high-risk, high-reward scheme with five or six pass rushers, and an aggressive one-gap defense rather than the more conservative two-gap defense that the Pats operate under.
At first glance the Rams passing game looks like a welcome reprieve for the Pats pass defense, but that’s not really the case. Slot receiver Danny Amendola is practicing with the Rams and there is a possibility that he will play Sunday. Last year many in New England wanted the Patriots to try and sign Amendola as a future replacement for Wes Welker; he was a restricted free agent this past off season. This year Amendola was not only the Rams top receiver, he was 8th in the NFL in receiving yards before going down with a joint separation injury where the collarbone meets the sternum just three weeks ago on October 4; at the time of the injury it was expected that he would miss six weeks. If he is able to return that’s a huge boost to the Rams, both schematically and emotionally.
As far as the other Rams receivers go the guy to keep an eye on is Chris Givens. His strength is speed and being a deep vertical threat – exactly the type of receiver that the Pats secondary has had the most problems with. In each of the last four games he has at least one reception of 50 or more yards and as mentioned previously the Pats have had more trouble than any other team in defending against long pass plays. For the season thus far Givens has only ten receptions but he is averaging 27 yards per reception.
On the opposite side Brandon Gibson compliments Givens quite nicely; Gibson is a much better route runner but less of a deep threat; more of a move the chains type of possession receiver with good hands. In the last two weeks Gibson has been targeted 16 times, good for 12 receptions (75% completion rate) and 151 yards (12.6 yards per catch) during that time.
Sam Bradford has been okay but nothing special at quarterback. He has thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions this year; relative to other quarterbacks he is very good in the short and intermediate range but not that accurate with the deep ball. His biggest problem is that the Rams’ offensive line is a depleted mess. Rodger Safford and Scott Wells are their offensive line’s best players; both have been out with injuries since week one. Journeyman Quinn Ojinnaka, a guy who couldn’t stick in New England as a backup, had been starting in place of Chris Williams before being cut yesterday as the Rams re-signed Williams. At RT the Rams have turned to another player the Pats are very familiar with, Wayne Hunter, who was most well known for looking like a turnstile with the Jets last year. The Rams continue to look for help on the OL; LT Joe Barksdale and waiver-wire pickup LG Shelley Smith made their first regular-season NFL starts last week against Green Bay. This line has permitted Bradford to get beat up at an alarming rate; they have allowed 21 sacks, which is the third most in the NFL.
It is imperative that the Patriots take advantage of the lack of continuity and lack of talent on the St. Louis offensive line. The best way to eliminate the long pass plays is to get in Bradford’s face, eliminate his passing lanes, don’t let him get his feet set, knock him down and force him to throw too soon and off balance. The Pats are going to need to do that with the same scheme they have been employing and win more one-on-one matchups because as Greg Bedard points out, Bill Belichick prefers to wait for mediocre quarterbacks to self destruct rather than aggressively employ extra pass rushers against them.
At running back Stephen Jackson is still a beast that can move the pile, looking to hit someone as opposed to avoiding being hit, but it’s tough for a guy who is starting to wear down from so many carries and tackles throughout his career to be productive when his offensive line is so bad. The Patriots run defense has done a very good job with other big name running backs this year and should be able to control Jackson as well.
Daryl Richardson is the RB to keep an eye on. Richardson leap frogged past Isiah Pead as the top backup to in August and at this point is getting as many looks as Jackson on offense. Richardson is a fast, quick runner that is more likely to break it outside than to drive between the tackles; again going back to the Rams OL that makes him more of a threat than Jackson is right now. When he’s on the field the Pats need to be aware of his speed and seal the edge.
St. Louis Rams Offensive Stats
#20 with 315 Yards per Game
#26 with 18.6 Points per Game
#11 with 9 Turnovers (Giveaways)
#22 with 30 Converted Third Downs
#22 with 34.1 Third Down Percentage
#28 with 41.2 Red Zone TD Percentage
#21 with -5.3% Football Outsiders DVOA
#25 with 17.7 Yards per Point
#15 with 106 Rushing Yards per Game
#27 with 2 Rushing Touchdowns
#12 with 4.2 Yards per Carry
#24 with 209 Passing Yards per Game
#17 with 7.2 Yards per Pass Attempt
#19 with 60.0 Completion Percentage
#19 with 83.0 Passer Rating
#30 with 30 Sacks Allowed
#29 with 131 Yards Lost on Sacks
#21 with 8 Touchdown Passes
#11 with 6 Interceptions
I stumbled across this column today and suggest Pats fans take a few moments to give it a read. It is written by a young woman by the name of Chelsea Catlette who grew up in Florida but has been a lifelong fan of New England sports teams – which sounds exactly like the circumstances of my daughters. Perhaps when you live elsewhere and get to see for yourself first hand from those around you what it is like to be a fan of another team, you gain a bit more appreciation for our New England Patriots – even when they lose, or don’t dominate in a victory.
This Day In Patriots History
October 24, 1965:
Jim Whalen had 103 yards receiving but the Patriots rally for an upset over the Raiders fell short with Oakland winning 30-21 at Frank Youell Field. Ron Burton scored two 4th-quarter touchdowns to pull the Pats within two but Babe Parilli threw a pick six and the Patriots remained winless, dropping to 0-6-1. Gino Cappelletti had a 21-yard touchdown reception from Parilli but the Pats were done in by three turnovers, while their defense was not able to come up with any takeaways. Fred Bilentnikoff had 7 receptions for 128 yards and Art Powell caught two Dick Wood touchdown passes for the Silver and Black.
October 24, 1971:
The Patriots lost their first ever meeting with Dallas, 44-21 at Texas Stadium. The loss was the first of seven consecutive losses to the Cowboys; though the Pats have won four straight since then their current .364 all-time winning percentage against Dallas is the lowest of any NFL opponent of the Patriots. For the Pats Randy Vataha had 7 receptions for 107 yards and TE Tom Beer had the longest reception of his career, a 31-yard TD; Dallas put the game out of reach with a pair of long Roger Staubach to Bob Hayes touchdown passes. One sidenote to this game: surprisingly it was the first NFL game that two former Heisman Trophy Winning QB’s faced each other: Staubach and Jim Plunkett.
October 24, 1974:
Corey Dillon was born in Seattle. The running back joined the Patriots in 2004 and played a vital role in the 17-2 season that culminated with the Pats winning their third Super Bowl. Dillon ran for 1635 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and scored 13 touchdowns that year to earn his 4th Pro Bowl honor.
October 24, 1976:
The Patriots hold off a 4th quarter rally to beat the Bills 26-22 at Rich Stadium and improve to 5-2. Sam Cunningham scored a touchdown, ran for 118 yards and added 43 yards receiving to compliment a Pats defense that forced five turnovers. Steve Grogan scored on a 10-yard run and also threw a 9-yard TD pass to Russ Francis; O.J. Simpson led the Bills with 110 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
October 24, 1993:
Leonard Russell runs for 97 yards and adds another 28 receiving but the Pats offense is able to muster only three Scott Sisson field goals in a 10-9 loss to the Seahawks at the Kingdome. Seattle comes from behind for the win on a late one-yard touchdown pass from Rick Mirer to Brian Blades; this was the first game in a five-game stretch when the Patriots were held to a total of just two touchdowns.
October 24, 1999:
The Patriots hold off a late rally and edge the Broncos 24-23 at Foxboro Stadium. Terry Allen ran for 106 yards and two scores and Kevin Faulk had a 15-yard touchdown run for the Pats; Ed McCaffrey led Denver with five receptions for 111 yards.
October 24, 2004:
In a defensive battle of undefeated teams the Patriots beat the Jets 13-7 in front of a late afternoon national television audience and a packed house at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots extended their NFL victory streak to 21 games and also set the regular-season NFL mark of 18 straight wins, surpassing the 17 won by the 1933-34 Chicago Bears. The winning points were scored with five seconds remaining in the first half on a 7-yard pass from Tom Brady to David Patten. The play culminated a perfectly run two-minute offense by Brady as the Pats responded to a 1-yard Chad Pennington bootleg run for a score and got the ball back with just 1:55 to go in the half.
Late in the 4th quarter Herm Edwards had the Jets go for it on 4th and 1 from their own 23 and Pennington got the first down on a quarterback sneak. The Jets drove to the Pats 27 but on third down Richard Seymour and Willie McGinest stuffed Curtis Martin for a loss of three on 3rd and 5. On the next play Rodney Harrison broke up a Pennington pass intended for Wayne Chrebet and the Pats took over on downs with 2:14 remaining to seal the win.
Corey Dillon had 115 yards on 22 carries and became the first player to rush for over 100 yards on the Jets defense that year. David Givens had five catches for 107 yards, the second 100-yard game of his career. Ted Johnson also had a key play, forcing a fumble when the Jets had driven down to the Pats 15-yard line which was recovered for the Pats by Randall Gay.
October 24, 2010:
The Patriots forced four turnovers and defeat the Chargers 23-20 at Qualcomm Stadium. Rob Ninkovich had a 63-yard fumble recovery, Jerod Mayo and James Sanders both had fumble recoveries as well, and Devin McCourty added an interception.
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October 24, 1962:
James Brown recorded “Live At The Apollo”; Rolling Stone magazine listed it as the #24 greatest album of all time.
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