During the Bye Week, I had a chance to do a Q&A session with the Boston Herald's Ian Rapoport. We touched base on some pressing Patriots topics, such as the progression of the defense, Ochocinco's role in the offense, and more. Here is Ian's take on the Patriots after their extended two weeks off.
1. On Sunday, the Patriots' defense kept the team in the game. It reminded me a lot of the Ravens game from last year where the defense kept Baltimore off the board in the 4th quarter and OT. Do you see the same parallels and is Sunday the kind of game that begins the progression of this defense?
Interesting thought. I think the main attribute the Patriots defense showed against the Cowboys was toughness. Stopping teams down by the goal-line and stuffing late-game runs doesn’t have much to do with scheme. It has to do with will. For the first few games, it seemed the Patriots defense had no choice but to be pushed around. They couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t defend against the big-play pass. Now, thanks to the ‘D’ playing more zone and the front seven hitting, the unit is starting to come together. They’ll need all of this against the Steelers, but they’ve already made strides.
n I think Brace and Deaderick will both provide depth whenever they are activated. The D-Line was supposed to be a deep group, one that could rotate frequently. Yet injuries to Myron Pryor and Mike Wright made that tough. Vince Wilfork had had to play too many snaps. If Brace can come in and be a key cog, that will allow Wilfork to get off the field and rest. As for Deaderick, he could take snaps from under-performing Shaun Ellis, who hasn’t quite looked like the player they thought he was.
My guess for Sunday’s game against the Steelers is that Price sees more snaps than Ochocinco. Price is a hidden gem, a talented, big, fast receiver who has hardly been used. Perhaps the challenge is building a rapport with quarterback Tom Brady, as Price didn’t have the chance to do that as a rookie or yet this season. Now, he’s healthy and he could find holes in this Steelers zone. But if both players are going to be used extensively, it’ll be against man-to-man coverage.
Easily, the Patriots best acquisition has been defensive end Andre Carter. The former Redskins star is tough and experienced, fast and savvy. His sacks are nice, and those have helped. But even more important is his ability to set the edge in the run game. At times, he’s even draw double teams. Carter was a relative unknown given his experience level and the fact that he’s a former first-rounder. But this year has been a breakout performance, of sorts.
There are some issues of concern regarding McCourty. He still has talent, that’s obvious. He’s still the same fast, smart, well-schooled cornerback who made the Pro Bowl last year. But he was really bad against press-man coverage early, struggling to jam receivers. He’s played off a little more the past few games, and that’s helped. He needs to get his confidence back, and making one big play may help with that. In the end, McCourty has too much talent to play like this.
6. The offensive line has given up plenty of sacks the last two games. What has been the problem with the offensive line compared to the first three games?
The offensive line has certainly had problems recently, and facing either of the Ryan brothers can spell trouble for any offensive line. While rookie Nate Solder has impressed, maybe teams are figuring out how to attack him. Don’t be surprised if Sebastian Vollmer steps in for him tomorrow. Running back Kevin Faulk’s return should help long-term, as he’s their best pass-protector. But mostly, Brady will know where the Steelers are coming from, whereas diagnosing pressure was tough against the Jets and Cowboys.
I think the Patriots are the best team in the AFC, though the Steelers will take that unofficial title if they win at Heinz Field. And that is certainly more than possible. They are the two most complete teams. Pittsburgh gives up too many big plays, and the Pats defense is a work-in-progress. But the Ravens have questions at receivers and quarterback, whereas the Chargers are their usual mistake-prone selves. I’d say the winner tomorrow is the best team.