A lot of attention (justifiably) went on the terrific play by Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and the defense. Why no love for Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer? They practically negated Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, with Suggs only accounting for half a sack and two tackles and Dumervil having no stats, and allowing Brady to throw quick passes without having to worry about outside pressure. This was even more impressive because of the disruption to the inside of the line following Bryan Stork's injury.**
It seems to me you answered your own question. Solder and Vollmer did a solid job of preventing the outside pass rush from dominating the game, but the overriding factor in their success was the game plan that called for Brady to get rid of the ball quickly. Suggs and Pernell McPhee, who was also rushing from the outside, had some occasional pressures during the game but Brady got rid of the ball so quickly that most of the time it didn't matter. Still, despite the quick releases, Brady was hit nine times during the game and unloaded the ball just before getting hit on a number of others. So, I give the offensive line credit for not collapsing but the bulk of my attention goes to Brady for standing in and delivering in the face of the pressure.
My question is concerning the ineligible receiver play. Aren't the Patriots taking a chance against a good pass rush to only have four linemen if you are going to use Michael Hoomanawanui as a receiver? And wasn't Shane Vereen in those plays a wasted player other than as a decoy? But I also assume that Brady knew where he was going with the ball and in a hurry! I guess it probably won't be used again. Or maybe it will.
Michael Jewis Iqaluit
There is definite risk involved with any trick plays, otherwise they would be used more often. The idea behind the ineligible receiver plays was to hope the Ravens failed to identify which offensive lineman was eligible – it was Hooman twice, Gronkowski once, and they went uncovered for easy gains of 16, 14 and 11 yards. The schemes worked to perfection as the Ravens were confused and failed to cover eligible receivers on all three plays. But obviously if you continue using plays like that eventually the defense will adjust and then you run the risk of exposing your quarterback to extra pressure. I wouldn't expect to see it again anytime soon.
The way Vince Wilfork, Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch got often blown of the ball by a not-so-stellar Ravens offensive line, could not contain the run, and could not even touch Joe Flacco, they may be a liability against mobile QBs like Andrew Luck. Would you agree that Pats need less beef and more speed upfront? And do you think that Dominique Easley might have given them some valuable reps now?**
I do not agree that the team is in need of less bulk and more speed up front because I actually agree with your first point that the Patriots at times got blown off the ball against the Ravens. Less bulk is not going to prevent that from happening in the future – particularly in the Super Bowl against Seattle should both teams be fortunate enough to get there. Smaller, speed-based defensive linemen are fine when you're looking to attack the quarterback in the passing game but playing the run, like the Patriots were trying to do against Baltimore, the size and strength is needed. Easley was really a non-factor all season long. Hopefully that was completely due to health and not because he doesn't have the ability to contribute. I don't think he'd be providing much at this stage based on what he did during the season, but I understand your point about Luck's mobility and perhaps having a more athletic option like Easley around to contain him. I'd expect to see more of Akeem Ayers in this game defensively than we've seen in the recent past.
Do you think that with Bryan Stork's absence and Colts having their lead DT back, we can still run on them plenty?
I assume you're referring to Arthur Jones, who didn't play against the Patriots earlier this year but was in the lineup for the Colts against Denver. He's a solid run-stopper but not necessarily a difference-making type of player. I don't expect the Patriots to run roughshod over the Colts the way they did in the regular season but I do expect them to have some success on the ground. The Broncos averaged about 4.5 yards per carry but fell behind and couldn't afford to run more than 20 times. The Patriots will likely have the luxury of sticking with it and if that's the case I could see upwards of 30 carries in this game. Again, if that's the case I expect LeGarrette Blount to turn in some big plays – with or without Jones in the lineup.
As impressive as Matt Patricia and the Pats defense has been in making second-half adjustments, why do you think it is that our defense tends to be so unprepared/inept to start the game (giving up two long TD drives to Baltimore to start the game and two long drives to the Bills to start the season finale)?**
First, I don't think the Patriots defense has been inept in the first half of games this season at all. Just because it's been better in the second half doesn't mean it's been terrible in the first. Against the Ravens the defense was not good in either half. Baltimore consistently mounted long drives in both halves and for whatever reason the Patriots didn't perform well. I do think the second-half success is a product of the quality coaching the Patriots have in terms of adjusting to what the opponents are doing and fixing whatever problems may exist. But overall I've been quite happy with the play on defense, especially considering how much improvement there has been from the recent past.
Please tell Bill Belichick to give up on the 3-4 defense. Every time we run 3-4 we can't get pressure and leave wide open running lanes. I feel like we defend the run better in our nickel defense. I feel like our defensive line just stands there.
This comes down to two separate things. First, the Patriots have been running variations of the 3-4 for most of the season. There have been times when I haven't agreed with the specific personnel use – such as when Chandler Jones was asked to play as a down 3-4 defensive end early on. But with Jones as a de facto outside linebacker with three true big bodies up front (Wilfork, Siliga, Branch) I have no problem with that scheme. The Patriots have absolutely used more sub fronts than base looks this season, and I think that's what your larger point is. They do seem to perform well against the run with fewer big bodies up front, but I feel that's a dangerous way to play. Against Indy that won't be a problem because the Colts have no running game and don't have the personnel to consistently push you around. But against Baltimore and perhaps Seattle things could be different. It's something that will need to improve to be sure.
Did Tim Wright play at all, or did he even suit up? I thought he might be a factor with so much emphasis on Rob Gronkowski. Has there ever been a Divisional Round victor with so few rushing yards as Pats had Saturday?
Wright did play but not much. The official stats listed him as having participated in three plays, and he did not have a ball thrown in his direction. The offense performed pretty well, scoring 35 points and rallying from a pair of 14-point deficits. So, adding Wright to the mix I don't think would have changed much. Wright remains a secondary option and could be featured in the future.
My question is why are these playoff games called "divisional" playoffs. I mean, the divisions have all been decided since the end of the regular season. Wouldn't these be more correctly called the conference semifinals and the conference finals?**
That's actually pretty funny. Taking it a step further the opening weekend is called wild card weekend, but half the teams playing are division winners. I think it stems from the past when there was actually a playoff game between wild card teams and the divisional round matched up actual division winners. Obviously that's not always the case nowadays as these games involve wild cards and division winners. I think it would make more sense to use your terms of conference semifinals and finals but I doubt that will change.
Cut Nate Solder after this season, matter of fact don't play him in the playoffs. The guy isn't worth a hill of beans to be polite about it.
I think this is a rather harsh statement. While I would agree that this hasn't been the best season for Solder, I do believe he's a starting caliber left tackle and things would get a lot worse for the Patriots without him this year. His footwork and timing have seemed to be off all season long and that has created some problems for him in pass protection. The San Diego game was really one when he seemed to struggle. But Solder has been a pretty solid player up front for most of his four seasons so I'm not going to overreact to one bad year. I still believe he has the potential and ability to return to form, and there's no way I want Marcus Cannon playing tackle over him in the playoffs.
I was watching the Packers/Cowboys game and feel the pass to Dez Bryant was clearly a catch. The ground did not aid in the catch, but rather caused the ball to come loose. Were this a running back reaching for the goal line the decision would have been that the ground could not cause a fumble. From my perspective, Bryant took a full three steps with the ball clearly in full control. Truly one of the greatest "non-catches" I have seen. Whether you are a Cowboys fan or a Packers fan, probably weighs heavily in the assessment of the play. What are your feelings on this?
My honest feeling is this is yet another area of the ever-complicated rulebook that I despise. Similar to the tuck rule, this is how the rule is written – a receiver needs to complete the act of the catch all the way to the ground. I'm with you – and I'm no Cowboys fan by the way – that should have been a catch. But based on the rules as they are written it was not. It's not the same as a runner reaching for the goal line. He'd just made a catch and needed to secure the ball all the way to the ground. Same thing as Calvin Johnson's touchdown that was overturned back in 2010. Both should have been catches but weren't. The rules really need to be simplified because right now there seems to be disagreement even among those officiating.
Last week, Terrell Suggs made incredible interception between legs. However he bobbled it on way to ground. Why was that ruled a valid interception while Dez Bryant's was not valid reception?
Because the ball Suggs caught never hit the ground and Bryant's did. The ground caused Bryant to bobble the ball and by rule that makes the pass incomplete. As I states above, I hate the rule and often have been annoyed when plays such as this, which was clearly a catch in my mind, are ruled incomplete based on a silly technicality. But there was really nothing similar about the Suggs pick, which didn't hit the ground at all, and this play.
We've seen calls for a new offensive coordinator recently, replacing Josh McDaniels. He certainly has other options, but shouldn't he have learned from the Denver experiment that he might be better off staying put, learning everything he can and eventually taking over for Bill Belichick? I have to imagine he'd be a natural choice if he'd stick it out for a couple more years.**
I completely disagree. McDaniels is worthy of a second chance at being a head coach and he should not have to wait much longer before he gets it. First, who says the Patriots would want to hire him to succeed Belichick, and I personally don't see any end in sight to Belichick's tenure so even if the Krafts wanted to hire him why should he wait? McDaniels didn't have an "experiment" in Denver. He was the head coach and it didn't go well. A lot of coaches don't do well in their first head coaching job – including Belichick. I don't think that means McDaniels won't succeed the next time around – perhaps in Atlanta.
I have said before and throughout the season that as long as the Patriots are healthy they can go all the way. With that said I am sure you would agree that a deep threat would make us almost impossible to beat. Any reason why Brian Tyms has not gotten more snaps? I mean I know he was suspended early on in the season but he can get behind the secondary. Can you please elaborate?
Tyms is in the same category as Tim Wright – both are possible secondary contributors in the offense. Tyms hasn't had as many opportunities as Wright, but at times he's been on the field. He also played three plays against the Ravens and wasn't targeted. Perhaps the Patriots will send him deep against the Colts, as they tried to do earlier in the season in Indy on a play where Brady was intercepted. But the Patriots success is not going to be affected much by Tyms.