Taking another look back at Sunday’s action …
BAKER BLOWS ‘EM UP: The tight ends got some attention for showing up on the stat sheet on Sunday. But I’d argue that Chris Baker’s devastating run-blocking was the best aspect of the performance of anyone at that position for the Patriots. Big run after big run was sprung by a big Baker block, all game long.
It started in the first quarter, on Laurence Maroney’s second run of the afternoon. Baker motioned inside on a “wham” play and blew up star middle linebacker Jon Beason up the gut to leak Maroney for 9 yards. Two plays later, he pulled from the back side and sealed off Julius Peppers, allowing Maroney to the outside for 17 yards. On the Patriots’ next drive, Baker made the key block, on Beason, as Sammy Morris went for 17 yards.
And it went on and on and on. He pancaked James Anderson on a 10-yards run by Morris in the third quarter (the one ending in a fumble), and did the same to Beason on a 9-yard Maroney run in the fourth quarter. In doing all of this, he’s proving he could be key to revitalizing the running game, a process that seems to be well underway.
DAN THE MAN: Dan Connolly, Stephen Neal’s temporary replacement at right guard, had hurt the Patriots over the last few weeks, but showed marked improvement on Sunday. He still missed a couple blocks, and got overpowered (fourth-and-1) a few times. But he was another key to the running game, particularly in the red zone, where the club needed it most.
Two Kevin Faulk runs got the Patriots in the end zone after they set up
with a first and 10 on the Panthers 11 late in the second quarter. On
the first play, Connolly flattened Panther defensive tackle Nick Hayden
to clear Faulk for 6 yards, and two plays later (after a penalty), he
took Hayden out of the play as Faulk ran behind him to paydirt.
Nothing groundbreaking here, but for a backup, improvement is
paramount. And that protects the team if something happens again with a
VINCE-ABLE?: If Vince Wilfork were to be out for any period of time, it
would horrific news for the Patriots. Maybe, season-ending news.
Seriously. If not for him, the Panthers would’ve had a field day
running the ball, with the way they were able to control the Patriots
inside linebackers on the second level.
Take the way Wilfork controlled the action on a 2-yard run by Jonathan
Stewart in the second quarter. Using his hands to keep both Ryan Kalil
and Keydrick Vincent at bay, he waited for Stewart to make his move,
then split the double team and blew Stewart up. There probably aren’t
10 defensive linemen in the league capable of doing that.
After he left the game with the foot injury, Titus Adams faced a tough
situation, replacing Wilfork just days after coming off the practice
squad. Predictably, Carolina exploited the change. Adams was controlled
by Vincent on the first play of his first full series, allowing the
guards to get to Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton quickly, and leaving
DeAngelo Williams free to pick up 22 yards, nearly untouched.
MALIGNED IN THE MIDDLE: Not Mayo and Guyton’s best effort, playing
against the Panthers’ vaunted running game. Both were consistently
blown off the ball and struggled getting off blocks. It’s OK to finish
with one assist as a defensive lineman. Not for someone playing
Guyton’s position. Mayo had seven tackles, but too many were downfield.
The play of Wilfork (before he got hurt) and a seemingly re-energized
Jarvis Green and Ty Warren seemed to make up for it. Green was
consistent in the run game, and has been a different player the last
two weeks. Warren made plays before going down himself. On both of D’Angelo Williams’s big runs, both inside linebackers were singled up and taken
out of the play, showing that when the Panthers got past the line of
scrimmage, there were additional yards to be had.
Mayo may have come back from his injury early. Guyton’s carrying a very
heavy load for the first time as a pro, and could be hitting a wall.
Either way, it’s worth examining both guys. Remember – Carolina ran for
126 yards and a 5.3-yard average, and that’s without much of a threat
of a passing game.
DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS: There was a little too much evidence of players
seeming to be caught out of position. Tully Banta-Cain has been
steady in this regard most of the year, but had problems on Sunday.
In the second quarter, an 11-yard run by Williams was there because
Banta-Cain pursued from the back side, and the tailback cut back. On
the next play, Banta-Cain came hard to the inside of a Brad Hoover
block on a Steve Smith end-around, and Smith beat him to corner,
leaving extra yards for the wideout to chew up. On the same drive,
Pierre Woods looked like he lost contain twice.
Now, they cleaned the problems up as the game went on. But add those,
to Brandon Meriweather biting up and hanging Shawn Springs out to dry
on Smith’s touchdown, and you see what could be a frustrated defense.
ON THE SAME PAGE: Maybe the problems above explain why the Patriots
were fairly conservative defensively. Yes, New England brought extra
pressure on 15 of Matt Moore’s 32 pass drops. But …
It seemed like the pattern was when the Patriots were in the 3-4, they
brought the five guys on the line (three down guys, plus the OLBs) of
scrimmage, and when they were in the nickel, they brought four. Not
exclusively. But most of the time.
Anyway, we mentioned here on Sunday that James Sanders’s presence in the
secondary might’ve been an effort to fix communication issues on
defense. This would be another element of simplifying, allowing younger
players to play faster, and also to eliminate costly breakdowns.
QUICK COUNTS: Another look showed the same thing – Wes Welker’s effort
was consistent, Randy Moss’ wasn’t. On some plays, Moss blocked well,
primarily on a flare screen that got Welker 9 yards. On others, he
walked lazily off the line. … Derrick Burgess actually brought heat,
and not just late. But most encouraging might have been his hustle on the
Panthers’ last offensive play, coming off his rush and chasing down
Williams from behind in the open field. … Where there were issues
tackling up front, the defensive backs seemed to do a nice job in that