Week 14 – The Mattyoshow Review

In this segment I will provide a weekly review for the previous weekend’s Patriots game, as well as my prediction for next weekend’s game.

-Not to boast, but for the majority of the season my “What to Look For…” segment has provided some pretty good insight into the Patriots games, and the issues touched upon are usually very relevant to what actually occurs.  This past week, I was not even close.  With the predicted weather conditions, I though that this game would turn into an uglier version of a Ravens-Steelers game.  Run after run, relentless defense, turnovers happening all over the place…but no.  The Patriots came out and in nine degree weather, snow falling, and wind gusts up to 40 mph, they lined up in their five-wide formation on the first play of the game and threw a pass.  Brady accumulated 369 yards on 27-40 passing for two touchdowns.  Both Deion Branch and Wes Welker went over 100 yards receiving.  I feel like I have never been more wrong in my entire life…and yet don’t really mind because they pulled out a win.

-I thought that the loss of Brandon Spikes would be more evident than it was on Sunday.  Gary Guyton and Dane Fletcher filled in at inside linebacker, and did a great job throughout the whole game.  Their statistics may not reflect how well that they played (Guyton 2 tackles, one assist – Fletcher 0 tackles), but when your leading tackler only has four stops, stats may not be the best measure of performance.  The Patriots allowed only 46 total yards on the ground, and never really let the Bears run game get into sync.  Granted, being down 21 points in the middle of the second quarter doesn’t really help your run production, but the job that Guyton and Fletcher did in the middle still needs to be recognized.

-Devin McCourty strikes again.  This kid is truly amazing.  He leads the team with six interceptions and, as a rookie in one of the league’s most complex schemes (although I think that coach Belichick has “dumbed it down” a bit to accommodate all of the young guys), that is an impressive feat.  Even when McCourty isn’t picking off passes he’s making plays that have huge impacts on the game.  The fumble that McCourty forced in the second quarter yesterday that was subsequently returned for a touchdown by the aforementioned Gary Guyton, was essentially the nail in the Bears’ coffin.  I know, proclaiming that a game is over in the second quarter may be a bit unrealistic, but the anemia that was infused in Chicago’s offense yesterday left little doubt in my mind that 21 points would win the game.  McCourty did leave the game in the second quarter with a rib injury, but told reporters while leaving the locker room yesterday that he was “Ok.”

-I’m not big on worrying about who the best team in the NFL is on a week to week basis, simply because it doesn’t really matter and it actually changes from week to week.  Whether Trent Dilfer thinks that the Patriots, Falcons, Eagles, Ravens, Steelers or whoever is the best team does not matter to me, or should it to you, in the least bit.  What does matter is how this team is playing football.  I was not as high on the Bears as other people may have been, but you can’t really scoff at a 9-4 record.  I was actually very high on the Jets, even considering them to be better than the Pats until last week, and at 9-4 they seem to be a formidable team too.  The same story goes for the Steelers and the Ravens.  My point here is that the Patriots are currently playing some of the best football that I have seen this year, and maybe over the past few years.  This offense, even without the big name guys (specifically Mr. Moss), is performing at an equal efficiency to the 2007 version that set all kinds of offensive records.  The run game is finally a continued factor, and the defense becomes more impressive on a weekly basis.  It is time to realize that the New England Patriots are currently a group of 61 players (53 active, 8 practice squad) that have completely bought in to the “Belichickian” way.  If their play continues at this level, there is no limit to the amount of success that can be experienced.  It is important for us all to realize how lucky we are to see such a great product on a weekly basis.  It is important for us to realize how truly amazing of a player Tom Brady is (like top 5 quarterbacks of all-time amazing).  It is important for us realize that we have the greatest coach in NFL history patrolling the sidelines for our favorite team.  You may think I’m being dramatic and over-reactant, but I’m simply expressing to you all what will be realized in twenty years when Belichick and Brady are old, grayer, and reflection of their greatness finally is underway.  Appreciate what is brought to you every Sunday, or the occasional Monday, and understand how great the New England Patriots truly are.

-NEXT WEEK’S PREDICTION (assuming Aaron Rodgers is out) – Patriots 31 – Packers 10

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Week 12 – The Mattyoshow Review

In this segment I will provide a weekly review for the previous weekend’s Patriots game, as well as my prediction for next weekend’s game.

-The New England Patriots got off to a slow start in Thursday Thanksgiving Day battle in Detroit, finding themselves in a 17-10 hole going into halftime.  But, a reestablished focus combined with a fiery halftime speech from Tom Brady amounted to a 35 point second half and a blowout of the Detroit Lions.  Much has been made this season of the Patriots young defense not being able to stop the bleeding when teams began piling on points.  Well, on Thursday their defense did just that.  After allowing 17 first half points, the defense tightened up, essentially shutting down Calvin Johnson, and subsequently allowing only 7 Detroit points in the second half.

-It seems that in every edition of the Mattyoshow Review, I can not mention the defense without bringing up two names, Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty.  Jerod Mayo had yet another game where his effectiveness can not be measured in terms of stats.  Although he posted a good stat line (8 tackles, 4 assists), Mayo was seemingly in on nearly every play.  Detroit’s run game was surprisingly effective early in the game, but once the defensive line settled down and started plugging holes, Mayo began to shine.  He stuffed a few runs at the line of scrimmage, and then when the Lions began to abandon the run game, Mayo made nearly every play on the underneath passing routes that the Lions ran.  Countless times Mayo and teammates would crush Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew on catches that they made over the middle.  That’s what is needed and expected from a middle linebacker, and Jerod Mayo continues to deliver.  This guy deserves serious consideration for defensive MVP.  As far as I know, Devin McCourty has missed only one defensive snap the entire season.  It is for a good reason because McCourty is one heck of a football player.  As the season progresses and McCourty becomes more comfortable in the Patriots’ defensive scheme, his personal statistics are beginning to pile up.  McCourty recorded two interceptions against the Lions, which gives him 5 interceptions in his last six games.  The more I am afforded the opportunity to watch McCourty play, the more I see a shutdown corner in the making.  This kid is a special football player, and defensive rookie of the year might be one of many awards McCourty will win in his career.

-Prior to Thursday’s game, Tom Brady had thrown for over 300 yards only one time this season (week 10 @ Pittsburgh).  But, on Thursday Brady looked like the 2007 version of himself as he surgically picked apart the Lions defense en route to a 21 of 27 effort for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns, not to mention compiling a perfect passer rating.  Brady did a great job spreading the ball around, completing passes to seven different receivers.  What may have been more impressive than that was his reliance on his two top receivers, Deion Branch (3 catches, 113 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Wes Welker (8 catches, 90 yards, 2 touchdowns).  There has yet to be a game that both Branch and Welker had very good numbers, but Thursday proved to be the day.  Brandon Tate dropped a couple of key passes, which hurt the success of some drives, but Branch and Welker stepped up to pick up the slack.  Hopefully, their joint production will continue throughout the remainder of the season.

-Fred Taylor was active for Thursday’s game, but didn’t see any time on the field.  Thankfully, the Patriots didn’t need him.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis capitalized on the few carries that he got (12 carries, 59 yards, two touchdowns), finding his way into the end-zone twice.  I was wary of how much work BJGE would get with Taylor returning, and in the first half he very rarely saw the football (mainly because the Pats were forced to pass as they were down), but in the second half when he was called upon to ice the game and punch the ball into the end-zone, Green-Ellis delivered.  Looking ahead, a backfield consisting of BJGE, Danny Woodhead, Fred Taylor, and the occasional Sammy Morris sighting could be very effective complimenting Tom Brady and the passing attack.

NEXT WEEK’S PREDICTION: Patriots 20 – Jets 10

What to Look for…

Rebounding after a huge win or a big loss one of the biggest challenges for young teams to conquer.  Coach Belichick is notorious for keeping his team focused on the task ahead, but you can only control the players for so many hours in the day.  The San Diego Chargers are bruised and battered, but they have the best passing attack and passing defense in the NFL (statistically).  I think that Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers is going to be a better game than most expect.  Here are some things to look for while watching the game:

-Antonio Gates is questionable with a toe injury.  Malcolm Floyd isn’t expected to play with a hamstring injury.  Legedu Naanee is experiencing hamstring troubles as well and it listed as doubtful.  That leaves Buster Davis and Patrick Crayton as the Chargers’ two leading wideouts.  This game should be a layup, right?  The problem with a young team is that they can be influenced by things that are outside of their control.  Whether it is fan/media pressure, emotional highs and lows, or injuries to other teams’ players, young teams let these issues mess with their heads.  What to look for: If the Pats’ young defense plays down to the subpar receiving corps of the Chargers.

-As I mentioned in my review of last week’s game, the Patriots young defense seemed to mature in front of our eyes against the Ravens.  They finally showed the ability to step up when necessary and make plays to help win the game.  Here is the real challenge, seeing how the defense comes back and plays this week against one of the best offenses in the league.  Building on successful performances is what makes teams championship contenders.  If the Pats’ defense can build on what they did against the Ravens last week, this is not a team that I want to play in week 16, 17 and the playoffs.  What to look for: If the Patriots’ defense can build on their success from last week.

-Deion Branch and the Patriots passing offense, in my opinion, over performed last week against one of the NFL’s best defenses.  So it’s settled, the Patriots are a better offense without Randy Moss…not so fast.  I agree, they played very well last week.  Brady led two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, leading to ten points and forcing the game into overtime.  Then, key plays in the passing game got them into a position for Gostkowski to kick the game winning field goal (so he still leads game winning drives Scottie).  But, the Patriots do not lose after bye weeks.  Coach Belichick and staff had two weeks to game plan ways to get the receivers open.  The real test will come within the next few weeks.  Teams will get tape on this offense without Moss and switch their game plan to adjust to the Pats’ new personnel.  What to look for: How the Pats’ passing attack continues to perform without the presence of Randy Moss.

-So much has been made of how much of a piece of garbage Brandon Meriweather is.  He was out to kill Todd Heap, clearly looking not to play football but just to injure players.  Read my post on “the vilification of Brandon Meriweather” and then relax a bit.  Anyways, Meriweather was subject to more media scrutiny this past week than he has been in his entire career.  He was forced into apologizing for playing the way he has been taught to play for his entire life.  He is being guilted into transforming his game, tackling players in a different way.  “I’m going to be aggressive…I’m not going to change my game.”  That’s what Meriweather says, and I’m interested to see how it translates onto the field.  What to look for: How Brandon Meriweather responds to the criticism of his play, and its translation onto the playing field.

I’ve changed my prediction since last week’s review, so here’s the updated prediction…

THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION: Chargers 35 – Patriots 31

Who’s the Answer?

By now, almost all sadness and anger surrounding the Randy Moss deal has vanished.  The focus of Patriot fans not lies squarely on who will fill the void that opened when Randy Moss departed to Minnesota.  Rumors have been swirling about Vincent Jackson, Deion Branch, and even Larry Fitzgerald.  All of these crazy scenarios being thrown around got me thinking about who, realistically, will be filling the Moss void.

Vincent Jackson

I said it last Wednesday and I’ll say it again, there is no shot that Vincent Jackson winds up in New England.  The trade just doesn’t make sense for either side.  Tom Curran was throwing it out there that the Pats and Chargers were exploring a Vincent Jackson for Logan Mankins deal.  In what world do we live in where a Pro Bowl guard is a suitable trading asset in return for a Pro Bowl wide receiver?  Then there were rumors that Belichick was stockpiling picks so he could deal them away for a guy like Jackson.  I think that we have learned over the years (especially on ever-frustrating draft day) that the Patriots love draft picks.  They may value draft picks more than any other team in the NFL.  Coach Belichick becomes giddy like a school girl when the opportunity presents itself for him to trade down in the draft and grab an extra pick.  So would it make much sense for Belichick to give up a second and third rounder (if not more) for Jackson?  I don’t think so.

Aside from those ridiculous rumors, Vincent Jackson is in the middle of a contract holdout.  The 27 year old, sixth year receiver reportedly wants to make around $9-$10 million a year.  Over his six year career, Jackson has amasses 3,400 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.  Over Randy Moss’ 13 year career, he has amassed 14,604 yards and 151 touchdowns.  Let us consider what these players, on average, have produced per season.  Over six years, Jackson has averaged 567 yards and 4 touchdowns per season.  Over 13 years, Moss has averaged 1123 yards and 12 touchdowns per season.  So, if you wouldn’t pay Randy Moss $10 million a year, why again are you willing to give it to Vincent Jackson?

Oh, you want to pay Vincent Jackson because he isn’t a “problem player” like Moss?  If Vincent Jackson became a member of the New England Patriots today, he would be facing a 6-game suspension because of violations of the league’s substance abuse policy (3 games) and because the Chargers placed him on the roster-exempt list because of his holdout (3 more games if he plays for another team).

Then you want Vincent Jackson because he is younger, and projects to be more productive at 28 and 29 than Randy Moss and 34 and 35?  First off all, Randy Moss’ 2008 and 2009 were both more productive than Jackson’s 2008 and 2009 seasons.  Secondly, Chargers’ current number one wideout Malcom Floyd is on pace to have about 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns; a season very similar to Jackson’s 2009 campaign.  Is Malcom Floyd not worthy of a $10 million a year contract?  Or maybe is the Chargers number one wideout (regardless of the name) a beneficiary of San Diego’s wide open, gin-slinger type offense?

Chance of Vincent Jackson winding up in New England – 0%

Deion Branch

The possibility of Deion Branch winding up in New England is certainly greater than the Jackson deal happening, but I wouldn’t say that it is a sure bet either.  Ever since Branch left New England after the 2005-2006 season, he has not lived up to the label as a number one wideout.  People tend to forget that in Branch’s best season with the Pats (2005-2006) he racked up only 998 yards and five scores.  That certainly isn’t a season to be scoffed at, but a wideout worthy of a first round pick in a trade?  I’m not buying it.  But, the Pats have been thanking the Seahawks for that deal ever since they drafted Brandon Meriweather with that pick in 2007.  Anyways, Branch has some familiarity with the system, but it has changed dramatically since 2006.  But, you can’t overlook the chemistry that he and Brady had.  Chemistry that lead to Branch being the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX (an epic 11 catches for 133 yards).

Branch would be a good fit to come in and help the Pats.  No one is going to replace Randy Moss, but Branch could provide some speed on the outside to try and help keep some of the coverage off of Wes Welker underneath.  And, at a price tag of a 5th or 6th round pick, Branch might be somewhat of a steal.

Chance of Deion Branch winding up in New England – 30%

Larry Fitzgerald

You are coach Ken Whisenhunt, and you know that your team isn’t doing much this season (even at 3-2 currently).  Your starting quarterback is an undrafted rookie.  What other reason do your fans have for coming to the game other than to watch Larry Fitzgerald play?  It took a first, third, and sixth round pick from the Cowboys to get Roy Williams away from Detroit.  I can’t even imagine what you would have to give Arizona for Fitzgerald, probably something like a 1, 2, and 4…if not more.  The Pats have the picks to do it, and I would love to see Fitzgerald in a Patriot uniform, but I can’t see Belichick making a deal even remotely close to that.

Chance of Larry Fitzgerald winding up in New England – 1%

Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Tate, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, etc.

The most plausible way to fill the void left by Randy Moss is by using the talent that the Patriots have amassed at the offensive skill positions.  Much has been made of Aaron Hernandez’s and Rob Gronkowski’s success as rookies so far in New England.  With Moss now gone, I can easily see each’s respective role growing.  Hernandez is a bigger version of Wes Welker.  He isn’t really fast, but he has exceptional quickness for a guy that is 6’1” 245lbs.  Hernandez can run through the middle and up the seam to try and keep the linebackers and safeties of opposing teams honest, and away from Welker.  Gronkowski is more of a mauler than Hernandez, but he has great hands for a big guy.  Look for Gronkowski’s size to be taken advantage of in both the run and pass game.  More two and three tight end sets will be seen to pound the ball with BJGE, as well as deploying Gronkowski into the end zone as a red zone target.  Brandon Tate has shown glimpses of electricity so far this season, and his role will look to expand with Moss’ departure.  Tate is not one of the few, if not the lone deep threat for the Pats (depending on Taylor Price’s contributions as the season progresses), and will be used as just that.  The deep ball will not be thrown as often in this new-look offense, but when it is thrown Tate is the most likely recipient.  Julian Edelman hasn’t played much so far this season, but we saw some of his ability last season when filling in for the then injured Wes Welker.  Edelman and Welker’s skill set are comparable, so similarly to Hernandez, look for Edelman to run a lot of those underneath routes to take some coverage away from Welker.

Chance of the aforementioned players being the main replacement for Randy Moss – 69%

Trading a sure-fire Hall of Fame player like Randy Moss is never an easy thing to over come.  But, it is important to realize that for Belichick to make this move he has to have a lot of confidence in the young offensive weapons that are currently on the roster.  Look for more emphasis on the run and play action passing, but to be completely honest, I don’t foresee much of a dip in the offensive production out of New England, even without Randy Moss.