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On football

For the most part, a job done right

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / November 16, 2011

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The Patriots walked out of MetLife Stadium Sunday night with their biggest victory of the season, a 37-16 decision over the Jets, and control of the AFC East.

The better news is that the Patriots didn’t play their best game of the season.

While they made strides defensively, they are still dealing with some inconsistency on offense - but the performance in the second half could be something to build on.

So there is much room to grow in the final seven games of the season.

Defensively, the Patriots executed better than they have in weeks.

The question to be answered the rest of the way - and perhaps not until the postseason - is can they do it against someone other than the Jets?

When you combine plays deemed to be not executed properly and missed tackles, the games against the Bills and Steelers led the way with 29 minus plays for the defense. Next up was the Giants with 24.

Not surprisingly, those are the three games the Patriots have lost.

Against the Jets, the Patriots had just 15 total errors, including a season-low three missed tackles.

The only other better-executed games were the season opener against the Dolphins (12 minus plays) and the first matchup with the Jets (10).

In their six victories, the Patriots averaged 16.6 minus plays on defense. Basically, the unit did enough to give the offense a chance to win.

With weaker competition coming up on the schedule, now is the time for the Patriots to continue building on their better execution and to get it honed for the postseason.

The offense also could use the work. Poor execution that has plagued it the past 2 1/2 games continued against the Jets.

Outside of the two-minute drive before halftime that produced a touchdown, the offense sputtered with three field goals, four punts, and a safety in the other eight drives until midway through the third quarter.

Run blocking continues to be a problem, and Tom Brady’s slump continued. Brady had 10 questionable throws, either in accuracy or decision, in the first six games of the season combined. He had six against the Steelers, then nearly matched his season total with 13 against the Giants.

That out-of-character play seemed to coincide with some apparent discomfort with his throwing elbow. He started icing it during the win over the Cowboys, and has worn a band below the elbow - usually associated with tennis elbow or tendinitis - since then.

On the first nine series against the Jets, Brady had five standout plays but nine questionable plays.

Then, suddenly, starting with the drive with 7:36 left in the third quarter, the old Brady was back. He had six standout plays and none of the negative variety as the Patriots mounted back-to-back scoring drives to seize control of the game.

If the defense continues to improve its execution, and Brady plays with precision, this team will be tough to beat, especially in the wide-open AFC.

Here are the positional ratings against the Jets:

Quarterback Rating: 3 out of 5

It looks like Jets coach Rex Ryan has run out of schemes to throw at Brady. Finally, for the first time since he became coach, the Patriots didn’t see anything that was a surprise. Ryan again used a lot of defensive backs, and he also revived the wrinkle he used in the first matchup this season with five zone blitzes (four-man rushes on which an expected rusher is replaced by an unexpected one) to go with seven conventional blitzes (more than four rushers) in 43 attempts (including penalties). Brady finally figured things out in the second half, and once the indecision leaves him, look out. Brady was at his best on a third-and-4 play at the Jets’ 18-yard line with 9:10 left in the fourth quarter. The Jets rushed six, and despite having linebacker Calvin Pace at his feet because Danny Woodhead didn’t make a clean block, Brady threw a laser from the opposite hash mark to Wes Welker for a 9-yard gain. The Patriots went ahead, 30-14, two plays later.

Running backs Rating: 2 out of 5

You need to room to run, and the backs didn’t get much help from the offensive line. Of the 26 runs by running backs, 12 went for 2 yards or less, and there was a questionable holding call against left guard Logan Mankins. Somebody screwed up on Stevan Ridley’s second run for no gain on the second possession. Everyone appeared to be blocking for a reverse to Aaron Hernandez but Ridley kept the ball. It looked like offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was trying to get his play-calling tendencies evened out. Every opponent has statistics on whether the Patriots are more likely to run or throw based on down and distance. After throwing on 21 of the final 31 first-down plays against the Giants (68 percent), the Patriots threw on just 13 of 30 first downs against the Jets (43 percent). Consider things evened out.

Receivers Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Brady has realized that even if Rob Gronkowski is covered, he’s really open, with his 6-foot-7-inch frame - especially against limited Jets safety Eric Smith. Five of Gronkowski’s eight receptions came against Smith and resulted in 73 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski’s only error was not seeing the blitz and breaking off his route early in the third quarter after the fumbled punt, which ticked Brady off. Deion Branch had one of this better games, and Chad Ochocinco continues to make incremental progress with two catches. Hernandez and third tight end Nate Solder combined to allow two stuffed runs (1 yard or less).

Offensive line Rating: 3 out of 5

The good news is the Patriots had their best pass-blocking game of the season against a scheme that has given them fits since Ryan arrived. The Patriots allowed just nine quarterback pressures: no sacks, seven hurries, and two knockdowns (though the safety on which Sebastian Vollmer and Woodhead failed to make the block on Jamaal Westerman should be ruled a sack). The bad news is the unit had by far its worst run-blocking performance with 12 stuffed runs allowed. The previous season high was seven, against the Jets and Bills. Mankins struggled again. He was a part of five stuffed runs, although three were shared. With 3.5 total stuffs, Mankins now leads the team in that category with 9.5 (Solder has nine). His struggles likely have something to do with Dan Koppen’s injury. After starting the season strong, center Dan Connolly has regressed the past two games. Ryan Wendell doesn’t appear to be answer. In his six plays replacing the injured Brian Waters, Wendell gave up a hurry and half a stuffed run.

Defensive line Rating: 4.5 out of 5

What else can you say about end Andre Carter? Our defensive MVP of the season’s first half started off the second half with a franchise-record 4.5 sacks and chipped in a hurry and three knockdowns for 8.5 quarterback pressures. That beats the team high of 7.5 that he set last week against the Giants. The Jets have a lot of confidence in left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson because they hardly ever double-teamed Carter and didn’t chip him with a running back or tight end (most teams do both, especially the latter). Normally Ferguson is very good, but he was terrible against Carter. It’s not like Carter overpowered Ferguson (three sacks, one hurry, three knockdowns allowed) or used an array of moves. Carter simply out-leveraged him because Ferguson’s technique was uncharacteristically poor. Mark Anderson had 10.5 pressures in the first eight games. He had 5.5 against the Jets (three hurries, two knockdowns, a half sack). Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love also played well. Shaun Ellis was invisible even against the team that didn’t want him. More Brandon Deaderick please. The Patriots generated six pressures (three sacks) on just three-man rushes.

Linebackers Rating: 4 out of 5

Outside of Rob Ninkovich’s two interceptions, there wasn’t a lot of standout play. But just as valuable was the consistency. You lose some athleticism when Brandon Spikes and Gary Guyton aren’t in the lineup, but you also lose their bad plays. It is no coincidence that Ninkovich has played his best ball of the season the past two games. He bottomed out against Pittsburgh and the coaches had to realize they were asking too much of the versatile backer to play in base and rush end in sub packages. Ninkovich played about 20 fewer snaps against the Giants and Jets each. He’s still in base, but now he’s in a rotation with Anderson and Deaderick as the sub rusher. The rest of the unit was average, including Jerod Mayo, who was back at middle linebacker. Jeff Tarpinian and Tracy White are just holding spots, but at least they’re sure of their assignments and can run. That’s an upgrade.

Secondary Rating: 3 out of 5

You have to feel for Devin McCourty. Aside from having his own difficulties, he had to deal with friendly fire. He was picked off by James Ihedigbo on the first drive, and then knocked out of the game by Sterling Moore, hurting his shoulder. There was some good play out of this unit - Kyle Arrington (pass breakup), Antwaun Molden, and Ihedigbo all defensed passes - but they weren’t tested a whole lot. Just one missed tackle tied the season low set in the first game against the Jets (sensing a pattern?). Molden was in a tough spot on the Plaxico Burress touchdown to start the fourth quarter. Defenders are taught to defend the slant first and respect the fade, but it would have helped if he got any type of a jam. There was good disguise on the Jets’ first possession on third and goal - a tone-setter in the game. Phillip Adams faked like he would double Santonio Holmes, but instead doubled Burress with McCourty. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez should have gone underneath to Holmes, who was one-on-one against Adams.

Special teams Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Jets special teams coach Mike Westoff is one of the best in the business, but he outsmarted himself by putting in Joe McKnight in hopes of McKnight making a play. After fielding eight punts in 17 previous games, McKnight fumbled. The Patriots were steady, outside of the 38-yard kickoff return by McKnight. Niko Koutouvides likely was supposed to cut off the boundary but the Jets smartly double-teamed him. Zoltan Mesko had another good game with averages of 46.8 yards and 4.3 seconds of hang time on his four punts. Mesko was bailed out by a Matthew Slater tackle on his one sub-4.0 second punt.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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