Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pats/Cowboys Review

"I'd like to fly
My wings have been so denied."

I'm just so upset by Game 3 I can't even stand myself right now. The called strike on Manny in the top of the sixth could have been one of the worst called strikes in baseball history...and honestly, you don't even have to be as biased as I am to know that. In any event, I'll be writing a baseball article pretty soon for Sports Central, and I'll have that up shortly. With all the chaos going on the past few days, I haven't even had time to check my e-mail, let alone put up a column. I did find time to do a recap of the Pats game for the Insider. Hope you enjoy:

Cowboy Down: Pats Move To 6-0 With A 48-27 Win At Dallas

“I'm only just beginning. From this night forward I'll use every means in my power to fight you!” ~The Adventures of Robin Hood

Through two and a half quarters, the game featuring two undefeateds, built up as the “Duel in Dallas,” was building up to its wild west mantra, but once again, the Patriots proved to be too much to handle, and when all was said and done, Dallas was left in the dust.

New England had yet another double-digit victory, their sixth consecutive to start the season. This marks just the second time in NFL history that a team has scored 30 or more points in their first six games, joining the 2000 St. Louis Rams. Their 48 points on Sunday was the sixth most points scored in franchise history, and the most they have scored since 1984.

In Tom Brady’s 100th NFL start, he had arguably his finest game ever, throwing for a career-high five touchdowns and 388 yards in the victory. Brady now stands alone in NFL history, throwing three or more touchdowns in six consecutive games. He sits atop the NFL with his 21 scoring strikes, a new NFL record for the first six games, six more than opposing quarterback Tony Romo. In addition, Brady now leads the NFL in yards (1,771), completion percentage (72.5%), and quarterback rating (128.9).

Once again, the Patriots were able to score on their opening drive, and have scored first in every game this year, and now nine games in a row dating back to last season. On the drive, New England converted on four third downs, with the fourth conversion being a six-yard touchdown from Brady to Randy Moss.

Moss has undergone a career renaissance after being traded from Oakland to New England, and once again leads the league in yards (610) and touchdowns (7). Moss has recorded a touchdown in five of his six games as a Patriot. While Moss definitely has benefitted from a change of scenery, Tom Brady now has the big, down-field target that he has been missing his entire career.

"I've always been a fan of Tom Brady.” Moss told reporters following the game. “I've always (wondered) if Peyton Manning has his receivers why can't Tom have his. Now that Tom has his, we'll see."

Moss does bring up a valid issue in terms of comparing the two quarterbacks, which has gone on since Brady’s emergence as an elite quarterback once he took over as New England’s starter. While Manning has had the benefit of throwing to countless first-round picks, as well as always having a solid running game and offensive line, Brady has had to use patch-work receiving corps, and has not always had a consistent running attack behind him. With the receivers the Patriot front office got for Brady, he is off to by far his best season to date, and has looked almost untouchable because of the outstanding help he continues to get from his offensive line and his running game.

Dallas’ offense looked abysmal in the first quarter, starting the game with three three-and-outs. Tony Romo, who had drawn comparisons to Brady going into the game, looked out of place, going 1-for-5 for 2 yards on those first three drives.

“It's a long game and you just have to keep playing.” Romo remarked about his first quarter struggles. “You try and do stuff that is not there; on the first couple of possessions they just covered things and if you try and fit it in somewhere that is not there then they have us beat already because you are throwing right into their hands.”

New England was able to capitalize on their strong defensive effort once again in the first, with Brady this time finding another Patriots off-season acquisition, Wes Welker, on a 35-yard score down the middle of the field. Welker was double-teamed on the play, but was able to use his speed and elusiveness to run right through both Dallas defenders, making himself open for the past.

“He's a threat anytime he's out there.” Brady said about Welker. “He's elusive, he's very quick, he's very smart and he makes a lot of guys miss."

Dallas was finally able to get on the scoreboard with a Nick Folk 38-yard field goal, capping off a drive that carried over from the first quarter and into the second, making it a 14-3 game. On the ensuing New England drive, the Patriots attempted some trickery to catch the Cowboys off guard, and tried to hit Randy Moss down the field for a big play by using a flea-flicker with Sammy Morris. This was the second time in the game that New England attempted a trick play to find Moss down the middle of the field and over the top of the Dallas secondary. On the first play of the game for New England, the Pats attempted a fake end-around with Welker, but like the flea flicker, their attempt came up short. It was clear from the onset that the Patriots were looking to establish their dominance early on, and were looking to silence the Cowboys and their fans before they knew what hit them.

After the failed flea-flicker attempt, the Patriots offense made their one glaring mistake of the day. With Brady stepping back for a pass Greg Ellis came from behind and not only sacked Brady, but forced him to fumble the ball. Jason Hatcher then picked the ball up and rumbled 29 yards the other way for the score, putting Dallas right back into the game at 14-10. For the first time all game, Dallas fans had something to cheer about, as their defense had been cut up on two of the first three Patriot drives, and the offense was struggling to get any movement at all.
Once the Patriots got the ball back, Brady was determined to make up for his turnover, and marched the offense down the field with a vengeance. The drive ended like so many did, with a Brady touchdown pass. This time, he once again found Welker over the middle, this time on a short crossing pattern, to put the Pats back on top by 11. The offense converted on another three third down plays, and were 11-for-17 on the day in converting on third downs.

Welker was another Patriot to have a career day. After collecting just one receiving touchdown for his career, Welker now has three touchdowns this year, and in addition to having his first two-touchdown game, recorded career-highs in receptions (11) and receiving yards (124). This was Welker’s first 100-yard receiving game of his career.

While he may not be the biggest target on the field, Welker is quickly becoming a favorite target of Brady. With Troy Brown having to start the year on the PUP list, Welker has filled in beautifully for him at the slot position.

Welker on his involvement in the offense: “There's some different things that we are able to do and there are some routes that get me open...We just have some underneath stuff and when we are able to stretch the play out, there's some room for me to move."

Dallas got the ball back with three and a half minutes to go in the half, and quickly went down the field on the right arm of Romo, as he completed 7-of-8 passes for 84 yards on the drive, which ended when Romo found Terrell Owens over the middle for a 12-yard touchdown with under a minute to go, again getting Dallas to within four points of the lead.

While Owens did not speak to reporters at any point during the week or before the game, the sign he left on his locker, referring to Moss as “the other #81,” and the words “getcha popcorn ready” left as some sort of indication of how he would play in the game, clearly fell short of anything Owens had in mind. While he did make a few nice catches, he was held mostly in check, catching six balls for 66 yards and the score. When asked afterwards about Moss’ performance, Owens answered “next question,” a response made famous by Owens’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, during a press conference last year.

The second half opened with the Patriots going three and out, including another sack of Brady. The Patriot offensive line was tested all game long, and did bend at times, allowing three sacks, which equaled the amount given up by the team in the first five games combined. Once the Cowboys got the ball back, they wasted little time going down the field. The Cowboys finally started to go to the running game, handing the ball off to Julius Jones on two straight plays, and Jones responded by picking up 25 and 18 yards respectfully. Romo hit Patrick Crayton in the back of the end zone to give Dallas their first lead of the game at 24-21. This was the first time all season that the Patriots fell behind in the second half.

Once again, the Patriots responded to the Dallas score with one of their own. On the first play of the drive, Sammy Morris left the game with a chest injury, and would not return for the rest of the game. This meant that the top two running backs for New England, Morris and Laurence Maroney, were both out of the game, leaving Kevin Faulk to handle the running responsibilities. Faulk responded by collecting 50 yards on 13 carries, and fared much better than Morris, who was only able to get 14 yards on 10 carries.

The key play of the series came when Pat Watkins was flagged for pass interference on Randy Moss, setting up a first and goal for the Pats at the 1 yard line. Probably the key statistic of the game, besides all of New England’s offensive numbers, was the penalties amassed by Dallas, which is something that has plagued them all year long. With 12 penalties, the Cowboys chalked up 98 penalty yards.

Once down at the one, New England brought in their “jumbo” set, which included Junior Seau at fullback, Heath Evans in the backfield, and Mike Vrabel lined up at the end of the line. Brady faked the handoff to Evans, and looked to hook up with Vrabel again like they had done so many times before in the past. Only this time, the Cowboys knew what was coming, and double covered Vrabel as he ran into the end zone. This, however, left Kyle Brady wide open in the back of the end zone, and for the first time all year, the Brady-to-Brady combo connected for a touchdown. One cannot begin to underscore how valuable Vrabel is not only catching the ball, but acting as a decoy, especially on this play, getting “actual” receivers open because of his past performances. Later on in the quarter, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 45-yard field goal to make it a seven point game heading into the fourth quarter.

Dallas’ last gasp came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, with the ball close to midfield. On a fourth and one play, it looked as though Marion Barber III, who at times looked totally overpowering and untacklable, had gotten Dallas a first down to continue the drive. However, once again, the Cowboys shot themselves in the foot, as Kyle Koiser was called for holding, and the drive was halted, forcing another Mat McBriar punt.

The Patriots’ had been searching for a knockout blow all throughout the second half, and the search finally concluded on the next drive. After converting on another third down attempt, the Pats had Donte’ Stallworth run a post pattern over the middle of the field, a place New England attacked all game long, and Brady connected with him in stride at around the Dallas 40. Then, Stallworth was able to break a Ken Hamlin tackle and take it to the house, completing a 69-yard pass play, putting the Patriots up by 14. Stallworth had been waiting for a game like this. After watching Randy Moss and Wes Welker each have huge starts, it seemed as though Stallworth was almost left out of the fun. Donte’ was targeted seven times for 136 yards and the touchdown. This was why the Patriots took a chance on Stallworth. After finishing second in the league last year with a 19.1 yards per catch average, and averaging at least 13 yards a catch his entire five-year career, Stallworth had become one of the best deep-ball targets in the entire league. This was his first 100-yard performance as a Patriot, and now, New England has had four different receivers in their first six games have 100-yard receiving games.

The final highlight of the game came with Dallas starting deep in their own territory down 41-27. Romo made his biggest mistake of the game by trying to force the issue, attempting to hit Terrell Owens on a crossing route over the middle. The ball was thrown well behind Owens, and into the waiting arms of Junior Seau. After Seau caught it, he proceeded to run with the ball clutched closely to his chest with two hands, which was a quite different approach than he used when intercepting a pass last week against Cleveland, as he held the ball in the air with one hand while still running. Seau’s third interception of the season marks a new career high for him, with all three coming in the last two games.

Now, let’s see how each team fared in the keys to the game:

New England:

1. Attack The Dallas Secondary: No doubt was this the biggest factor for the Patriots’ sixth win. Tom Brady picked apart the banged up defensive backfield, and was particularly successful going over the middle of the field, going after those safeties who were caught out of position so many times throughout the game.

2. Stop The Run Early: This was particularly puzzling to me, as Dallas, while being so effective running the ball, instead chose to go to the air to try and get themselves out of the deficit they faced early on in the game. Marion Barber looked unstoppable. At one point, he was nearly wrapped up for a safety, but broke five or six tackles to make his way out of the end zone and close to the original line of scrimmage, one of the best running plays not only of the game, but of the entire year. The Dallas running backs only had 14 carries between them, and chalked up 98 yards collectively, a 7.0 yard average.

3. An Effective Offensive Line: While their performance in this game wasn’t their best showing of the year, they did nevertheless help Brady out when he was in the pocket looking for receivers. Once Sammy Morris left the game, the offense became very pass-oriented, and despite their one-dimension game plan, the line still did a very nice job straying away any pressure that was attempted.


1. Not Asking Tony Romo To Do Too Much: Romo really didn’t put himself in a very vulnerable situation in terms of making a mistake until his fourth quarter interception to Seau. The Dallas passing game was fairly conservative, and Romo completed 62% of his passes and threw for two scores.

2. Establish The Run Early And Often: Again, I was shocked at how little Dallas ran the ball in this game. The few times they did, they were absolutely overpowering the Patriot defense. Anytime a defense gives up seven yards a carry, the thought process should be to continue to exploit that weakness. The Cowboys did not, and it hurt them in the end, as they lost the time of possession battle by almost 17 minutes.

3. Special Teams: While this game was close for a while, special teams did not factor in nearly as much as I thought they would. One thing to note is Wes Welker’s 12 yard average on punt returns, which gave New England some nice field position on a number of instances. The Cowboys are going to have to look into their coverage on punt and kick returns, as they clearly were weak in this area for the second week in a row.

Again, Game 4 is tonight. BC is #3, USC is #6, and South Florida has a tough one on Thursday at Rutgers, so you never know what's going to happen. Hope everyone is doing well. Stay strong Red Sox Nation! Peace.


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