Final Thoughts – Patriots Dolphins
As the Monday night matchup nears, here are some final thoughts on the game.
Since joining the New England Patriots in a trade from the Miami Dolphins, Wes Welker has had a field day against his former team. For the bargain price of a second and seventh round picks, Welker has turned into one of the most prolific pass catchers ever in a three year span in Patriots history. Aside from managing to gain over 1,000 yards in each season, Welker has caught over 100 passes each year. His 8 catch, 102 yard per game average against the Dolphins only solidifies the argument that New England got the best of their deal with Miami.
Yet Welker, who suffered a devastating knee injury in the season finale against the Texans, is slightly of his normal pace. Through three games, Welker has 18 receptions for 147 yards. That translates into a 6-catch, 49-yard per game avg. At this pace, he'll finish with 96 catches for 784 yards, respectable, but not really New England Welker-esque.
With one catch Monday night Welker can continue his streak of 66 straight games with at least one reception.
Heading into Week 4, New England has the best winning percentage in games against division opponents since 2001. The Patriots are 44-14 (.759), ahead of the Colts41-16 (.719), Steelers 41-17 (.707) and the Packers 38-19 (.667). Both the Colts and the Steelers lost to division rivals this week, dropping them slightly in the rankings. The closest AFC East opponent? The New York Jets at 29-29 (.500).
Monday Night Magic or Meltdown?
Don't count on the Patriots wilting on Monday night, despite their overall record of 17-22. Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have won twice as many times as they've lost (10-5) and have won 6 of their last 7, losing only to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints 38-17 on Nov. 30, 2009. Brady's 8-4 record on Monday Night Football speaks volumes of how important it is for him to get off to a fast start.
One more win by Brady would be his 100th career victory, the 11th player to do so. He will have done it in just 131 games, besting all QBs since the Super Bowl era including: Joe Montana 49ers (139); Terry Bradshaw, Steelers ( 147); Brett Favre, Packers (153) and Peyton Manning, Colts (154).
The Patriots special teams have been solid for a long time, but have improved this season. Second year WR Brandon Tate has been the catalyst for the resurgence. Tate joined the ranks of the players to return a kickoff for a touchdown through the first three weeks of the season, resulting in 6 returns for TDs league-wide. The scoring has matched an NFL record 6 returns for a TD set in 1970 and 2002. With one return this weekend the 2010 season will match the record of 7 through the first four weeks of the season (2007).
The Patriots have done well to contain opposing returners, while setting themselves up for good field position. Through three weeks, New England has 3 returns of 30 yards or more, including Tate's 97-yard TD return in Week 1. With the exception of CJ Spiller's TD last week, opponents have yet to return a kickoff more than 30 yards.
Red Zone Frustrations
All offseason, the Patriots have stressed the need to improve in the Red Zone, on both sides of the ball. In 11 drives inside opponents' 20 yard line, the Patriots offense has come away with 7 scores (63.6%). Of those 7 scores, all were for touchdowns for a 63.6 % TD percentage. Stopping opponents has been the problem.
On defense, the Patriots have allowed opponents to score 9 of 9 times (100%). But while they let opponents score, the Patriots only allowed 6 of those 9 scores to become TDs (66.7%).
The Red Zone statistics are representative of the team's overall scoring trend. New England is the highest scoring team on overage, amassing 90 points over their first three games (30 ppg avg.). On defense, they've allowed 27.3 points per game, 29th in the league.
TO or Moss?
The debate rages over who is the best WR in the NFL. Certainly players like Larry Fitgerald and Brandon Marshall are making their cases, but the real race is between a couple of older players; Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Owens just broke new records by becoming the 8th player in NFL History to have 3 games of 200 yards receiving or more. Owens' 15,325 career receiving yards put him ahead of Issac Bruce (15, 208) second only to the immortal Jerry Rice (22,895).
Moss isn't far behind Owens in yardage with 14,604 (5th overall), and could break the 15,000 yard mark with just 396 yards this season. Moss is 10th on the NFL's all time receptions list with 935 catches. 65 more would give him 1,000 career receptions putting him seventh on the list. Moss has surpassed 69 receptions in each of his three seasons in New England. He currently has 9 receptions through three games.
But when Moss has the ball, he scores, including a pair of TD receptions last week against the Bills. Those TDs put Moss in rare company, giving him his 151st and 152nd career TDs, behind only Jerry Rice's 197.
T.O. may make this year his best in a while, but Moss – three years Owens' junior seems to have more gas left in the tank.
Keys to The Game
The Patriots DBs need to find a way to get off the field on third down. The Patriots have allowed opponents a woeful 50% conversion rate on third down. If the team can't get off the field, the offense may not be able to score enough points to win the game. Opponents have made 47 first downs through the air compared ot 18 on the ground. That's an indicaiton that the Patriots defense has done enough to force teams to throw for it on third down, but not enough to stop them.
Stop The Wildcat
Over 400 yards of total offense, that's what the Dolphins had in September of 2008 when they unveiled the Wildcat offense in a 38-13 shellacking of the Patriots. New England has to find a way to contain the Wildcat while not giving into the temptation to crowd the line and get burned deep.
plenty of attention has been focused on the Patriots secondary, and there's no doubt that is an issue that the team needs to address, but part of the blame for the backfield's woes could be placed on the front seven. You know… the guys who are supposed to pressure opposing quarterbacks into hurrying their throws. The kind of pressure that results in poorly thrown balls, ones that can be defended, knocked down or dare we dream… intercepted? The team needs Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich get hits on Chad Henne. Banta-Cain has just 1.5 sacks on the season. He had 10 last year.
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