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Patriots Preview – Avoiding the London Fog

Friday, October 26, 2012

 

As the NFL regular season approaches the halfway point, the New England Patriots figure to know who they are, and what they can be by the end of the season.

Could one of you guys tell the rest of us?

For a team that had high expectations for championship contention as the season began, a 4-3 record just before the bye-week may not sit well with the team – and it certainly doesn’t placate many fans. However, what we’ve learned in these first weeks are a few valuable lessons…one, the league is more balanced than ever. Two, injuries are always a factor…and three; the Pats can move the ball on anyone.

But can they stop anyone? It’s a problem that plagued the Patriots right through the Super Bowl a season ago, and it’s a problem that seems to have manifested itself in the form of a porous secondary this year…just in time to face a team this Sunday formerly known as the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Fortunately for the Pats, the St. Louis Rams’ “show” hasn’t exactly been a Broadway hit…or a recent success in St. Louis either, for that matter.

But personnel problems, injuries, offensive schemes and defensive shortcomings take a back seat to everything else for New England and St. Louis in this one, because it’s also the NFL’s annual European showcase. For a sixth straight year, London’s venerable Wembley Stadium hosts the American version of pro football…and by all accounts English fans will not only pack Wembley, but they’ll turn out by the tens of thousands for the pre-game festivities this weekend. The Rams may have the tougher road here, even though they’re the designated home team…as they will include ambassador duties throughout the week to entertain the Brits.

The Patriots will fly over for the game, take part in a few pre-game interviews for the London tabloids and TV, and that’s about it. Better to stay out of the fog, and focus on the task at hand.

The task will be to build some momentum into the scheduled off week next week, and take the time to rest the wounded – including some bruised egos. Physically, the Patriots secondary has been battered and even when healthy, a sketchy-at-best unit has had trouble defending opposing receivers. The last four quarterbacks to face the NE secondary have each thrown for a personal season high in yardage against them. Rams’ QB Sam Bradford is young, but he could be licking his chops leading up to the kickoff Sunday.

While the New England defense has been suspect, the offense has also sputtered in spots and failed to put teams away late – as they have been outscored 34-6 in the 4th quarter over the past three games. If you’re pointing fingers, make sure you save one for the offense as you spread the blame.

That’s not to say the Patriots aren’t any good. They are. But with their defensive holes and offensive woes, no one seems to know just how good they can be.

Be all you can be

It’s not just a motto for the military; it’s a recommendation for the Patriots to find success. For some reason, the offense has turned swagger into stagger. St. Louis has a strong defensive front (Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn) and one of the toughest cornerbacks in the game in Cortland Finnegan. He should see time against Wes Welker, along with talented rookie Janoris Jenkins, so expect the Patriots to dial up Gronk, Hernandez and possibly Visanthe Shiancoe at the tight end spot. And pound away on the ground, too…without letting up off of the accelerator in the fourth quarter.

Put the squeeze on the QB

You always want to pressure the opposing quarterback. The Pats’ defense didn’t get after the Jets’ Mark Sanchez last week, and he almost delivered a win in Foxboro. The Rams’ offensive line has been shuffled like a deck of cards recently, so keep their big guys’ heads on a swivel. The better the pass rush, in theory, the longer the secondary can hang with the receivers. And St. Louis may be without its’ top receiver, Danny Amendola, again this week.

Get the breakaway dunk

Sure, it’s a basketball term, but it’s appropriate here. Instead of going in for the easy layup, send a message. Jam the ball down someone’s throat. Play with emotion and energy throughout the game, and should the Pats be in a position to win it in the end (and they should), show no mercy. Jeff Fisher has brought respect, if not much else, back to the Rams in his first season as head coach. At 3-4, however, they’re not yet a contender. Don’t turn them into one.

Projection: Patriots 26, Rams 23 

 

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