Tag Archives: Devin McCourty

12 Reasons The Patriots Lost Super Bowl XLVI

The Patriots are just about set to take on the NFC Champion Seahawks in their sixth Super Bowl appearance in the last 13 years. In their two most recent trips in 2007 and 2011, however, the Pats have not been able to come away victorious. In their most recent Super Bowl loss to the Giants, there were some pretty clear reasons as to why they were unable to win the game. We all remember the last-minute, game-winning touchdown drive orchestrated by Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw’s accidental touchdown and the last-second Hail Mary attempt falling incomplete. Chances are, however, most people have forgotten about some of the other reasons the Pats came out on the wrong end of the score, but not to worry. Here are the top-12 reasons the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLVI.

Tom Brady walks off the field in Indianapolis following the Super Bowl XLVI defeat.

Tom Brady walks off the field in Indianapolis following the Super Bowl XLVI defeat.

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Preview: Ravens vs Patriots

The New England Patriots will host the Baltimore Ravens in another high stakes playoff game with the winner heading to the AFC Championship game in 8 days time. The Ravens are one of the only teams in recent memory to walk in to Foxborough and enjoy great success with two playoff victories over the Patriots in the 2012 season when they went on to win the Super Bowl and back on the 10th January 2010 when they dismantled New England 33-14. 5 years later and these two teams are going to lock horns once again with both hoping that today’s game will be the catalyst for a run to the Super Bowl.

Both Baltimore and New England have faced adversity this year and both have shut up their critics which is what makes this game so exciting as well as so tough to predict. The Ravens went in to Pittsburgh last week and knocked off their biggest rivals in the wild card round 30-17 when many predicted they would fail. In recent years we’ve seen how wild card teams get hot at the right time and go on a run whereas teams with a bye sometimes struggle to shake off the rust of not playing and pay the price with a sluggish performance. This was something that happened once or twice to the Indianapolis Colts in the Dungy-Manning era but for Belichick’s Patriots you can be assured that his team will be fired up and ready to go.

Tom Brady said the other day that this is the 2014 Patriots vs the 2014 Ravens each with their own unique identity and whilst I completely agree with that assessment let’s be honest Brady himself, Belichick and the whole of the Patriots locker room definitely won’t be short of motivation when it comes to facing Baltimore. The thought of defeating an old enemy one more time is something that Brady and Belichick will be eager to do but it won’t be easy and even ‘Terrific Tom’ himself hasn’t been particularly terrific in past meetings with the Ravens as he has thrown 3 touchdowns to 7 interceptions in the teams last 3 playoff meetings.

Flacco on the other hand has been a worthy adversary for Brady and co as you can see from the stats above so it is safe to assume that today’s game will be a close duel once again. The difference this time round for New England is that this is the best defense hands down since 2007/2008 and in my opinion this is the best overall roster since then as well which is what makes me believe that New England will find a way to get the job done tonight. Joe Flacco has been incredible in the post season and since he entered the league in 2008 he has proven himself to be a very good quarterback but the physicality and natural ability of this Patriots defense that possesses so many game changers will be something Flacco hasn’t faced before in Foxborough.

We’re talking about Flacco facing past defenses that have had Ras-I Dowling on the roster, Sterling Moore who basically made a once in a lifetime in the Patriots’ lone win against Flacco in the postseason and that year Julian Edelman even lined up as a corner in the Super Bowl which says it all about how the Pats were struggling on defense as they did rank 31st that year too. The defense now has Devin McCourty excelling after switching to safety and is one of the best in the league with Patrick Chung, Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan and the gem of the secondary Darrelle Revis who has proven himself to be the best corner in the league not named Richard Sherman. Up front you have Vince Wilfork who has bounced back from a season ending achilles injury last season with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich both capable of generating a pass rush as well as stopping the run and then at linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are phenomenal young players with so much potential who are already two of the main players and leaders of this New England defense.

Jamie Collins is one of the best young players I’ve seen in recent memory and number 91 can do practically anything from man coverage to zone, dropping back to cover the pass as well as stopping the run. He makes big plays, sniffs out the danger, forces turnovers and quite frankly he has the speed, talent and intelligence to be one of the best linebackers in football. With a physical secondary along with other players we’ve mentioned including the tandem of Collins and Hightower the Patriots can disrupt the Ravens offense just like their old defenses have done in the past to Tom Brady. Defense wins championships and although it is an old sporting cliche quite honestly more often than not it is proven to be true but when you have an offense led by Tom Brady and a healthy Rob Gronkowski well that does certainly help.

The Patriots will be raring to go and I stand by my bold statement that if Gronk is healthy the Pats will win the Super Bowl. He is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses and I’m sure coordinators lose sleep over thinking of ways to try and stop him or if it is even remotely possible. Gronk’s ability to make big plays, draw double coverage which makes Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell become so effective and his ability to block in the running game proves why he is the most valuable player to the Patriots. The running game will be key tonight as if the Patriots get it going it will make the passing game run more effectively which will give Tom Brady the opportunities to pick holes in a Ravens secondary that has obvious weaknesses. History may not bode very well for New England against Baltimore but the past is the past for a reason as the 2014 Patriots are equipped to go all the way this year and end a 10 year wait for a 4th Lombardi; if they do their jobs tonight they’ll be one game away from a 6th Super Bowl appearance in the Brady-Belichick era.

Prediction: Ravens 23-31 Patriots

Belichick could get his 20th win in the postseason tonight which would leave him tied for 1st all-time

Lucky number 6 or will Luck end the Patriots hot streak? New England Patriots vs Indianapolis Colts

Many people associate the “Lucky number” phrase with the number 7 or the movies Lucky Number Slevin and Ocean’s Seven but did you know that the number 6 is auspicious in matters with love and relationships in Chinese culture? There was also a fragrance for men made by fashion designer Liz Claiborne called Lucky Number Six and the Patriots will be hoping for their sixth consecutive victory when they face off against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts tonight.

patriots

Out with the old and in with the new is an expression that billions across the globe know very well but in the National Football League that saying doesn’t always ring true. Tom Brady has continued to defy the odds in his career and he has done that more than ever since the defeat to Kansas City back in week 4. He and the Patriots continued their fantastic streak last week when they blew out the Denver Broncos 43-21.

The Broncos are in the eyes of many the best team in the AFC if not in football but with the New England victory last week it caused many to rethink their opinions and once again the win gave Terrific Tom some more pulling power in the Brady-Manning debate as he extended his winning record over his long term record to 11-5. After trailing a close first quarter 7-3 the Patriots battled back to completely smash Denver in the second quarter scoring 24 consecutive points.

From then on out the Patriots were in cruise control with Brady, making his 200th career start with the win giving him his 155th win (the most of any QB ever), completing 33 of his 55 attempted passes with Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski hauling in 9 receptions each for a combined 194 yards. Those two were Brady’s main targets as the Patriots offense continues to up the gears week by week; Gronk was the standout player though as he decimated the Broncos defense and made one of the most spectacular catches of the season.

Now the Patriots walk in to Lucas Oil Stadium tonight to take on the epitome of “the new” type of NFL quarterback in the shape of Andrew Luck and his Indianapolis Colts with huge playoff implications. With seedings, home field advantage and a potential bye week at stake on the line it makes tonight’s game an intriguing contest as with New England at 7-2 and the Colts at 6-3 a win for either team would put them in prime position for one of the two byes on offer going in to the postseason.

With both teams coming off a bye week giving them an extra weeks preparation ahead of tonight’s crucial game you can expect it to be a fantastic affair. The Luck led Colts have been high flying this season. After starting the season 0-2 the Colts went on a five game winning streak of their own before losing a crazy game to Pittsburgh 51-34 on the road but bounced back at MetLife Stadium when they convincingly defeated the Giants 40-24.

Since Luck came in to the league the Colts are 17-4 at home including their amazing comeback against the Chiefs in the wildcard round of last seasons playoffs. Tom Brady and co are use to overcoming obstacles and Indianapolis are slight favourites ahead of tonight’s matchup in what many are anticipating to be a close one. In the two previous encounters between Brady and Luck the Patriots have blown out the Colts 43-22 in last years playoff game and 59-24 in Luck’s rookie season back in 2012.

Both of these teams have come a long way since last years playoff game and both are very improved in various departments which is what makes, in my opinion, tonight one of the games of the season especially with all that is at stake. If the Patriots get the victory tonight it’ll give them a huge boost in terms of going on to clinch the 1st seed as well as home field advantage for the postseason which is what they will want to keep away from Denver so that they can guarantee that the road to Super Bowl 49 goes through Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots and Broncos had an arms race this past offseason to improve their rosters in hope of ensuring a trip to Arizona next February but the Colts are the dark horses in the conference especially as Andrew Luck is the best young quarterback we have ever seen just because of the impact he has had on the NFL in his first 2 and a half years and the talent he has displayed. When the Colts last faced New England they had no running game with only Donald Brown, now a Charger, playing and lacked any offensive weapons due to injuries.

Since then Colts legend Reggie Wayne has returned to action, TY Hilton has broken out to improve his game and become an established wideout in the league who provides a down field threat along with tight end Dwayne Allen who provides a nice balance to Luck’s friend from Stanford Coby Fleener. Add that with Hakeem Nicks, who despite not having a good year so far is a good player, along with rookie receiver Donte Moncrief and a one to punch of Bradshaw and Richardson in the backfield and it is clear to see why this Colts offense is on pace to potentially break records in 2014.

With that being said they are facing a Patriots defense tonight which under the guidance of defensive mastermind Bill Belichick has the potential to stop any offense in the league and did stop what many feels to be the best last week when they made Peyton Manning’s Broncos look ordinary. Despite having Chandler Jones absent due to injury the brilliance of New England’s secondary has given the front seven opportunities to be creative in getting to the quarterback and stopping the run which has helped the likes of Jamie Collins, Hightower and Rob Ninkovich as we saw last week with the latter’s interception against Peyton.

With Revis and Browner playing man coverage on the outside they can stop near enough any receivers in the league. Revis’ skill set is amazing for a corner and with one of the best safeties in the league in the form of Devin McCourty just behind him it allows for not only Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia to be creative with defensive play-calling but it also benefits the strengths of the two corners as it allows them to be aggressive. This also allows Patrick Chung and, when he gets on the field, Kyle Arrington to be effective in the secondary and break up plays.

When I previewed the Patriots and Broncos game I said it would come down to who wins the battle between the Denver offense vs the Pats D. With the latter winning it ensured that New England held on to their healthy lead which gave their offense the opportunities they needed to score more points to finish their opponent off and I would say that the same applies tonight if not more with the Pats being on the road. The offense will have to deal with crowd noise etc and while we know Tom Brady is one of the best QB’s of all-time in road games you need your defense to come up big and make stops in order to take some of the pressure off of your offense as well as give it opportunities.

If this happens I expect the Patriots to have the tools to defeat the Colts. Indianapolis’ defense played lights out during their 5 game winning streak but were brought back down to earth against the Steelers after their star cornerback Vontae Davis was knocked out the game. Davis is one of the better players in the league at the corner position but depsite is talents this Colts defense usually struggles against tight ends and when you considering that the Patriots have the best tight end in the league in Rob Gronkowski, 8 touchdowns this season, you would say that the Patriots have a critical advantage which could make the difference needed in a game that is anticipated to be so close.

Offensively you can expect the Patriots to spread the ball round like they’ve done in the past 5 games to Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Julian Edeleman and even Tim Wright who I think will be used a lot more tonight considering the Colt’s vulnerability to tight ends. In the big moments though it will be Gronk who is thrown to and if the Colts don’t come up with a game plan to try and limit him especially in the red zone then I think the Patriots will pick off any weaknesses this Indie D has and will punish them.

One thing’s for sure and that is that tonight’s matchup is a mouthwatering encounter with both QB’s at the top of their respective games. Tom Brady has rediscovered his hall of fame form following a run of 5 games which has seen him throw 18 touchdowns to just one interception with a completion percentage of over 70% meaning he is now 5th with 22 touchdowns on the year to just 3 interceptions (tied with Aaaron Rodgers for the lowest among starters). The Patriots winning run also means that Brady now has a passer rating of 103.5 which also ranks 5th. His opposite number Luck ranks 2nd in touchdowns with 26 TD’s and leads in terms of passing yardage with 3,085 yards. Despite the fact that Luck thrown more passes than other QB in the league it is a testament to his abilities that he has managed to keep his completion percentage at 63.6%

So with everything being weighed up now we just have to wait a few hours to see who wins when the best of the old guard takes on the best of the new guard in the third dual between Tom Brady’s Patriots and Andrew Luck’s Colts. A Patriots win means they will take control of the AFC following Denver’s defeat to St. Louis earlier on today which is exactly what they need as they have two tough tests against the Lions and Packers coming up. New England would be a game ahead of the Broncos and two games ahead of the Colts with the head to head over both so tonight’s game is huge but will their Luck run out when they go in to the Dome tonight?

Historically the Patriots are 9-2 in their last eleven post-bye games. Bill Belichick with an extra week of preparation is a recipe for disaster for any opposing team as he will have planned everything to the exact final details along with the fact that quarterback Tom Brady’s record when playing inside a dome is 10-2 record, 26 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions I will go with a New England victory.

Prediction: Patriots 35-27 Colts

Bold Prediction: With the Colts down by a point 28-27 Andrew Luck looks to seal off a memorable 4th quarter comeback victory but a tipped play by Jamie Collins give Brandon Browner a ‘lucky’ pick 6 to gain some personal redemption after TY Hilton embarrassed him when the Colts faced the Seahawks. The return goes all the way in to the Colts end zone to put the Pats up by 8 and seal the game for New England as the Colts have just 10 seconds remaining and no timeouts!

NFL Week 16 Preview : Patriots @ Ravens

Playoff implications are on the line in Week 16 in Baltimore. Who will come to play?

After a 4-6 start, the Baltimore Ravens have won their last four – making a strong late season push to return to the playoffs for the sixth straight campaign. The rematch of last year’s AFC Championship was originally scheduled for Sunday Night Football, but got flexed to 4:25 in favor of the Bears vs. Eagles. Including the playoffs, the Ravens are 3-3 against the Patriots over the past six years. This non-division rivalry reached new heights when Baltimore denied New England a chance to play in the Super Bowl last year, embarrassing the Patriots in Gillette Stadium 28-13 and then hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Sitting a game behind the 9-5 Bengals, the Ravens have clawed their way back to wildcard legitimacy despite their worst rushing production in recent years of 82.9 YPG. Ray Rice is averaging a subpar (to say the least) 3.1 YPC, but has always found success against the Patriots. New England is coming off the wrong end of their fifth straight game decided by one score or less with a 24-20 last second loss in Miami. This is easily the most adversity a Patriots team has faced in the Belichick era, off-season departures and season-ending injuries are truly beginning to dictate just how much gas is left in the tank as we approach January football.

Brady couldn’t be more accurate with his statement after the Dolphins game, “There is a small margin of error”. The team is young and with inexperience comes mistakes. Without the security blanket of Gronk in the lineup, Tom has relied on Julian “Minitron” Edelman as his go-to. Jules has 89 receptions for 914 yards and 6 TD but the efficiency lost in the Red Zone seems irreplaceable. Outside of that consistent production, no one player has been a staple every given sunday. For the second straight week, the Pats have an opportunity to lock up their fifth straight AFC East title. Because the Steelers beat the Bengals last week, the Patriots are still in line to receive the 2 seed if they win out. What will give tomorrow afternoon? Can New England take the next step in restoring the faith or does Baltimore stay hot and give the Pats a reality check? Weather is calling for a 60 degree day with thunderstorm possibilities, here’s to hoping we don’t see a repeat of the brutal Cincinnati conditions. Check out these three keys to victory for an important late-season matchup for Belichick and company:

1) Contain Torrey Smith: Despite a modest total of 59 receptions and 4 TD, the UMaryland burner has 1,032 yards on the season. Smith has recorded a grab of 40+ yards in 8 games this year with a long of 74. Week after week, the Patriots have been burned over the top from the likes of Mike Wallace, Josh Gordon, Andre Johnson and more. These impact plays occur far too often, illustrating a glaring weakness aside from the depleted defensive line.

New England is allowing 132.5 rushing YPG, putting them at the bottom of the pack at 31st in the NFL. Assuming Ray Rice returns to normality with the porous front seven, limiting the Flacco to Torrey connection is imperative. Furthermore, TE Dennis Pitta made his 2013 debut two weeks ago – filling the void that the Boldin departure created. Flacco has 18 TD and 17 INT on the season. He is on pace to record the largest amount of passing attempts and turnovers in his career. If Chandler and Nink are able to win their respective matchups, it will be a long day for the Ravens offense. McCourty and Gregory also need to have solid performances over the top at safety if New England wants any chance to escape with a victory.

2) Special Teams: For as clutch and consistent as Gostkowski has been this year, he killed the Patriots last week with his third missed field goal of the season and an untimely kickoff out-of-bounds. This ultimately allowed Miami to score that go-ahead touchdown and forced New England to score a TD in the last seconds compared to a manageable chip shot. On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have one of the most dangerous returners in Jacoby Jones. He has one touchdown on the season but is always a threat to take it all the way. Baltimore placekicker Justin Tucker had a legendary performance last week with six field goals and a game winning 61 yarder. The third phase of the game will be an important factor in the outcome of tomorrow’s contest. Execution is key.

3) Linebacker Play: Dont’a Hightower and Dane Fletcher have been the recipients of additional playing time after Mayo’s season-ending pectoral injury. While Fletcher made some game-changing plays against Denver, Hightower struggled brutally in coverage against Miami last week. Yancy Thigpen caught a 14 yard TD pass with 1:15 left in which had Dont’a turned around and played the ball, he would have easily intercepted Tannehill’s game-winning pass. Hightower is solid in the run but has not been able to make enough plays when they matter. The Rice/Pierce backfield is an above average tandem and this game will be physical. The Ravens have weapons all over the field and the Patriots will need to cause a turnover if they want to get this done on the road.

These teams don’t like each other and playoff implications are on the line. What more could you ask for? I believe the Patriots can get it done with some timely luck that seems to alternate week in and week out. 21-18 New England.

NFL Week 15 Preview : Patriots @ Dolphins

Bill Belichick may have his toughest challenge to date after the loss of Gronkowski

It wasn’t pretty, in fact – it was a gruesome, improbable and miraculous 27-26 victory by Tom Brady and the Patriots last week against the Browns. Toss up, losing against Cleveland in Week 14 or losing Gronk for the postseason run? I think we all know the answer here. Just after New England escaped again in Houston, following a historic comeback versus Denver, the Pats absorbed their biggest blow of the season. It’s difficult to understand how New England is 10-3 after season-ending surgeries to two Pro Bowl defensive leaders in Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork. Losing the best TE in the game is just icing on the cake. If anything, 2013 has been an opportunity to reflect on how great of a mastermind Bill Belichick really is. He has been able to produce more with less for years and faces his steepest uphill climb to date. No one deserves the coach of the year more than BB.

While a death stare from the hooded menace may have taken the Browns safety’s soul, T.J. Ward took Gronk’s ACL/MCL in the 3rd quarter. Rewind to the first six weeks and the Patriots posted a scrappy 5-1 record without Rob, there’s hope.

New England controls their own #1 seed destiny after San Diego upset Peyton Manning and the Broncos last night 27-20. Furthermore, the Patriots have a chance to clinch their 11th AFC East title in 12 years by defeating the (7-6) playoff hungry Dolphins in Miami on Sunday. Incognito v Martin is still brewing but this mini-run is somewhat of a smoke-in-mirrors to their embarrassing MNF loss to a winless Tampa Bay squad at the height of the scandal. 2013 has been a roller-coaster ride full of luck, controversy and struggle for some but Belichick and Brady are exactly where every team in the NFL wants to be – a game away from clinching. The Patriots have the opportunity to make the Superbowl go through Gillette Stadium by winning out and it starts at Sun Life Stadium at 1:00 PM on CBS. Check out these three keys to victory for the New England:

1) Protect the ball: Over their last six games, the Patriots have had seven turnovers in the first half of these contests. That’s one easy way to fall behind early and often. This trend has been the achilles’ heal to an uncharacteristic season. Belichick is known for his second-half adjustments but these halftime deficits are scary and need to vanish, ASAP. Despite ranking 31st in the NFL by allowing opponents a healthy 135.8 rushing YPG, the young New England defensive unit has kept the Patriots in games by forcing 24 takeaways – good for 2nd in the AFC. When the Gronk returned in Week 7 and beyond, Brady smothered him with targets to a point where fans realized there was such a thing as forcing it too much to the beast. Tom was trigger happy and let more than a few get away from him in the first half of the season. Chemistry later developed and the offense was clicking on all cylinders, but now it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

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NFL 2013: BST&N’s Patriots Midseason Report Card

The Gronk could only be held out of the endzone for so long. TB12 is back on track.





It’s been one crazy roller-coaster ride for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in 2013. Entering the season with a key playmaker departure in Welker and Hernandez gate in full swing, the odds were not in favor of the 3-time Superbowl Champions. Furthermore, after season-ending injuries to defensive captains Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, the Red Sox playoff chase took a front-seat to what seemed like a rocky road ahead for New England. Sprinkle in Gronk’s lengthy return, Vereen’s IR stint and Amendola’s notoriously fragile nature, the Patriots seemed doomed after multiple sputtering offensive performances. Early season woes aside, Brady and company sit atop the AFC East at (7-2), while the Jets (5-4) and Dolphins (4-5) trail a few games back. There is a new powerhouse in the (9-0) Kansas City Chiefs, just one game ahead of Peyton Manning and the (8-1) Denver Broncos in the AFC West. Division leaders (6-3) Colts and (6-4) Bengals peaked early but looked subpar in Week 10 losses.

Belichick is a November and December mastermind which bodes well for the Patriots who are lucky to even be in this position in 2013. After resting up this week on the bye, New England travels into Carolina for a MNF matchup against a (6-3) Panther team that has won 5 straight – most recently San Francisco on the road. As we enter the second half of the 2013 season, check out this report card grading the Patriot’s performance thus far.

Passing Offense: C+ : Despite dropping 432 yards and 4 touchdowns on a Dick LeBeau Steeler’s defense in Week 9, Tom Brady is averaging exactly 200 yards less in 2013 (232 YPG). There is no doubt the aforementioned injuries above took a toll on TB12’s production in the first half of the year. Historically completing 63.4% of his passes, Brady sits at 57.1%, 13 TDs and 6 INT through 9 games. He passed for less than 250 yards in 5/9 games, something he only did 4 times last year. Tom had a rough October, throwing 2 TD and 4 INT but quickly dismissed skeptics with the dominating performance against Pittsburgh. On passes 11-20 yards through the air, Brady is only completing 45.7%; however he has logged 7 TD and 2 INT. His swollen hand is an afterthought and “the decline” of Brady does not seem imminent. With Gronkowski (19 rec, 284 yds, 1TD) came a renewed chemistry and a versatile offensive attack. TB12 is better than 13 TDs through 9 games, Peyton Manning has 33. The only reason they are not lower on this two weeks ago was a preview of the success that can still be attained.

Rushing Offense: B+ : What started as running back by committee has quickly become Stevan Ridley’s (118 car, 514 yds, 6 td) backfield to lose once again. The Patriots average 129.1 rushing YPG, good for 8th in the NFL. This provides an imperative balance Brady continues to lean upon during his supbar start to 2013. The Patriots came into the season with a healthy lot of 5 halfbacks, adding LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington to go alongside Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden. Blount is the only player to remain unscathed by the injury bug, logging carries and kick returns, yes kick returns, in every game (70 car, 312 yds, 2 td). Vereen looked sharp, gaining 159 total yards in Week 1 before it was discovered his wrist needed to be surgically repaired – forcing him to IR until Week 11. With Shane out, Bolden stepped up as the passing down back with 107 yards receiving and 205 yards rushing/2 touchdowns. Depth at RB is integral and New England only looks up as do-it-all Vereen is slated to make his much needed return on Monday Night Football.

Offensive Line: C+ : The Patriots allowed 27 sacks all of last year, care to guess how many they have surrendered just over the half way point in 2013? The answer is 26, yikes. Although the Pro Bowl caliber core hogs have not changed much since last year, RT Sebastian Vollmer broke his right leg in Week 8 against the Dolphins and has been spelled by Marcus Cannon. There are many variables that have caused a spike in the number of opponents getting to Brady. First and foremost, Tom is not as mobile and athletic as he used to be. There are countless times this season where TB opts for the “safe play” by taking the sack by being passive in the pocket. He was never nimble by any means but at times turns heads with a juke here or there. Without the Gronk security blanket, Brady does not have enough chemistry to trust his receivers with risky back-shoulder attempts. In turn, plays are taking longer to execute. Furthermore, the lack of experience from the receiving corps creates situations where hot-reads become ever important. So while some of the blame is shifted off the o-line due to the rushing success, they need to give Tom more time in the pocket.

Wide Receivers: B : Amendola is what we thought he was. A talented, young and feisty competitor with a nose for big plays. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to shake the injury woes trailing him from St. Louis and has missed 4/9 games to start the year. There will never be another Welker; however, Edelman has filled the slot nicely, hauling in 49 of 74 targets for 473 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jules started the year hot with 34 receptions in the first 4 games but just 15 in the next 5. He has cooled down recently in favor of rookie Aaron Dobson (31 rec, 454 yds, 4 TD), who mysteriously overtook fellow rookie Kenbrell Thompkin’s (23 rec, 334 yds, 2 TD). While Kenbrell never looked sure handed, he did make that game-winning catch against New Orleans. Gronk looks to be back at it and remains on another level. In 3 games he’s been targeted an aggressive 33 times, catching 19 of those passes at an average of 14.9 yards for 284 yards total. If he’s out there at full strength, the Patriots are dangerous contenders. “B” rating for putting up solid numbers despite a ton of drops and inexperience.

Defense Line: A- : Keeping up with the Jones’. Quickly becoming one of the most athletic and distinguished families in all of sports, Chandler Jones is making a strong case for a Honolulu dance. The DE leads the Pats with 8.5 sacks on the year, following the footsteps of Baltimore Ravens DT Art Jones and the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones Jones. He has displayed flashes of finesse and bull rushes of strength, attracting double teams as of late. Week in and week out, Chandler continues to disrupt the QB and has been the anchor on the defensive line with Wilfork out. Ninkovich remains solid with 3 sacks on the year. As a unit, New England has limited opponents to 232.8 passing YPG – good for 12th in the NFL. On the ground, teams are pounding the rock at an average of 128.2 YPG which is 30th in the NFL, that is where Wilfork is felt most. Now after losing Tommy Kelly, rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano had some serious pressure on them. How have they responded? Keep reading to find out.

Defensive Rookies: A- : The Patriots have a host of rookies receiving ample opportunity in 2013. The aforementioned DT Chris Jones has 5 sacks & 1 huge “penalty” against the Jets. Aside from that “mistake”, he has been brilliant in attempting to fill some pretty heavy shoes. Fellow DT Joe Vellano has also proven to be a solid run-stuffer half way through the year. Next up is LB Jamie Collins. Quiet to date, Collins and veteran Dane Fletcher have been splitting the reserve duties with Mayo out. It seems as though Jamie has a little ways to go in Belichick’s book. Notorious for his premature crotch grab pick six TD celebration against the Jets, CB Logan Ryan still has a lot to work on. Just last week a touchdown flew right by his head as he played the receiver, not the ball. We get it, who doesn’t love big plays? Logan has been successful rushing the QB off the edge with 1.5 sacks but will need to improve on his ball skills to become a well-rounded cornerback. S Duron Harmon only recorded 8 tackles but has a nack for the ball with 3 PD and 2 INT. These plays need to continue in the coming months. DT Michael Buchanan has not seen much time but when he has it’s been effective, getting the QB twice in 2013. That’s six rookies on defense, it’s been a while

Defensive Backs: B+ : You can’t start anywhere else except with the exceptional play from CB Aqib Talib. In the 6 games he’s started, Talib has 9 PD, 4 INT and 1 FF. He prevented the NFC’s Gronk (Jimmy Graham) from recording a single catch in Week 6 but has not seen the field since with that lingering hip injury. Spotted at practice the past couple weeks, Aqib is questionable but is expected to return against the Panthers. S Devin McCourty has carved out a nice space in the Patriots defense as a defensive captain and center fielder, making multiple TD saving deflections, breakups and 1 INT. His leadership play alongside veteran Steve Gregory makes for a solid and consistent group; quite the opposite from old friends Brandon Merriweather and Patrick Chung. Gregory was wearing the communication device in his helmet the past two games but just recently broke his thumb and is expected to miss at least a couple weeks. Kyle Arrington, Alfonso Dennard and Marquice Cole continue to be serviceable NFL cornerbacks, not making outstanding reads/jumps but not giving up homerun balls either. New England can improve on their man-to-man coverage but made enough impact plays to survive.

Special Teams: A- : Another rookie, P Ryan Allen beat out Zoltan Mesko in training camp for the gig. Mesko didn’t even make the trip to Foxboro in Week 9 – getting cut midweek. Allen is averaging 46.9 yards per boot with a 39.9 net. Although a long of 65 yards is impressive, it was a touchback and that area of his kicking needs to take a turn for the better. K Stephen Gostkowski has returned to his accurate ways, converting on 22/23 tries with a long of 54. Furthermore, he’s had his fare share of clutch kicks during a couple nail-biters. What pushes this rating into the “A” bracket is the effectiveness of PR Julian Edelman. He is average 11.5 yards per return and has made the field short for Tom Brady and company in key situations. Belichick preaches executing in “all three phases of the game” and the Patriots would not have a 7-2 record if they weren’t solid all around. If Talib can make a healthy run in November/December, watch out NFL.

Regular Season Prediction: 13-3, 2 seed behind Denver (13-3 with tiebreaker)

Playoff Prediction: Lose 34-31 in AFC Championship @ Denver

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