Behind Enemy Lines

I thought I’d take a break from the Colts/Pats nonsense to review one of the great movies of all time starring Owen Wilson.

Meh, who am I kidding?  There are no breaks from the War of 1812 this week, people.  It’s wall to wall mayhem.  Here’s the first of two collaborative efforts with Patriots Blogs.  I traded questions with Bruce at Patriots Daily.  You can read my responses to his questions here.  Here are my questions to him, with a recent revelation that occurred to me about the 2009 Pats tagged on at the end.

18to88:  1. The Pats rank just 20th in the league in Adjusted Sack rate.  I know they got a haul for Richard Seymour, but would they be better right now if he was still on the team?

PD:  Nope. Seymour was a tremendous player, but defensive line (and offensive line) seems to be a position that the Patriots are good at developing. Mike Wright has stepped in and played well, Jarvis Green is solid, and rookie Myron Pryor has been pretty good as well. I don’t see that Seymour would’ve made a substantial difference in the results thus far. The Patriots pass rush has been slow to develop, but they’re been bring more safety blitzes the last few weeks, with pretty good effectiveness.

18to88:  2.  We hear a lot of good things about the Pats rebuilt secondary.  What can you tell us about the back four?

PD:  It’s more than four, really. Veterans Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden were brought in to bring experience and stability to the position, and while Bodden has been pretty solid, Springs has seen his playing time diminish in recent weeks. Rookie Darius Butler has impressed with his speed and ball skills, while second year corner Jonathan Wilhite has started in place of Springs. We’re very glad overall that the days of Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O’Neal are over.

The real revelation has been at safety where the two Brandons have made a huge impact. Third-year safety Brandon Meriweather has emerged as the top playmaker/ballhawk in the secondary, and even though a Boston writer said earlier this season that he is still closer to Donna Reed than Ed Reed, Meriweather has gotten better and better, and become a leader on defense. The other Brandon, McGowan, has become the Rodney Harrison-type hard hitting, close to the line safety that the Patriots really needed. He’s been perhaps the biggest surprise of the season for the Patriots, and has put former starter James Sanders, who just signed a three-year extension in the offseason, on the bench. Rookie Pat Chung has had a sack from the safety position in each of the last two weeks, and has seen his playing time increase as well.

18to88: 3.  There are currently four teams with two losses in the AFC.  What does this game mean to the Pats?  How important is playoff positioning?
PD:  This game is huge to the Patriots. They really, really need it. Their two losses were both to AFC opponents, including Denver, so they can ill-afford another conference loss at this stage, especially with Pittsburgh getting their act together. The Patriots aren’t the dominant road team that they were in the past, and really need to get as high a seeding as possible. They also need this game just to show that they are indeed once again a contender and to make a statement. It will be a tough assignment however.

18to88:  4.  NE is now #1 in offensive sack percentage after being 26th last year.  Has the line improved that much or did Cassel really just hold the ball forever?
PD:  Like most things, it’s a bit of both. Like Manning, Brady has the ability to avoid the sack, either by throwing the ball away or shuffling around just enough in the pocket. Cassel was a young and inexperienced quarterback, who improved greatly as the season went on. Most of those sacks last year were at the beginning of the season when Cassel was still finding his way as a QB. On the line, they’ve back to the QB they’ve grown used to, and have protected him pretty well. Rookie Sabastian Vollmer has played for the injured Matt Light the last few weeks, and has done well, but faces a huge test this week against Freeney and Mathis.

18to88:  5.  How much does Randy Moss have left in his tank?  He’s on pace for 98/1400/10 which is another great season, and similar to 2007 in all respects but TDs.  Why the scoring drop?
PD:  I think the TD’s are bit low due to Brady’s struggles in the first few weeks. Brady’s accuracy was off in the early going, and he just flat-out missed Moss on a few plays that would’ve been TD’s in the past. I think you’ll see his TD numbers go beyond 10 by the time the season is over. He’s got plenty in the tank, and while much of his game depends on his freakish physical abilities, Belichick and Brady have both called him the most intelligent receiver they’ve been around, which means he can out-think the defender as well.

18to88:  6.  Is it embarrassing having a “Brady Rule”?  Do you think it’s a good change and will it actually help QBs or just punish defenders who are falling down and can’t control where they land?
PD:  No more embarrassing than the “Chuck Rule” point-of-emphasis that Bill Polian had his all-powerful NFL competition committee push through following a Colts playoff loss to the Patriots.Seriously, if that had been Peyton Manning on the end of the Bernard Pollard lunge that wrecked Brady’s knee, I think you’d have Colts fans in full support of the “Manning rule.” I can tell you that the Patriots certainly haven’t gained any benefit from this rule, though the publicity of the media and Ray Lewis’ crying about Brady “asking” for calls would tell you otherwise. The Patriots have a lot more of these penalties called on them (not undeservedly, either) rather than for them.

18to88:  7.  Your prediction for Sunday?
PD:  I’m not quite sure the Patriots are ready to play at this level just yet. There are very few remaining Super Bowl veterans, and this is one of the first “big” games many of these guys have played. I’m going to go Colts 24, Patriots 16
My special thanks to Bruce at Patriots Daily. He’s obviously a civil and level headed guy, which sucks because that means I can’t say anything snarky to him. 

As I was pondering the Patriots secondary, it occured to me to list the QBs they’ve faced this year:
Trent Edwards, Mark Sanchez, Kyle Orton, Joe Flacco, Kerry Collins/Vince Young, Chad Henne, Matt Ryan, Josh Johnson.  The highest rated guy on the list is Flacco at 90.2.  Interesting.
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