Talk about a major understatement. This came from my preview: “The one key difference between Miami and New England is the passing offense. New England has real weapons and can threaten the Rams defense. Miami could not.” While accurate, the comparison is ludicrous. Comparing the New England passing game to the Miami passing game is similar to comparing a spring shower to Hurricane Sandy.
My review of the preview is going to be very short because none of it mattered. The Rams were dominated in every way. I am going to spend more time on a review of the problems. My question after the game was “What did the Patriots see and attack?” I thought it had to be one person or one feature of our defense. After watching the game several times on tape, I regretfully report to you that the Patriots saw one thing, a lack of talent.
You cannot watch that game and say every drive was successful because of X. Yes, I know Rob Gronkowski killed us, but he wasn’t the overall reason for success. In the first drive, the Neanderthal was primarily a blocker and did not catch a single pass. Nevertheless, the Patriots moved down the field without much opposition and scored.
On the 2nd drive, he caught 2 passes, but they were big ones, 25 yards each. He was basically uncovered on each catch. On the 3rd drive, he was featured. He was targeted 5 times in 9 plays and caught 3 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown. At the same time, one of the passes was a short screen that led to 17 yards. On the second pass, he was covered but the pass was perfectly thrown. On the third pass, he was covered by a defensive linebacker. Clearly, the Rams adjusted to some extent and decided that they at least had to try to cover Gronkowsi.
On the 4th drive, Gronkowski did not catch a pass. On the 5th drive, he caught one pass for 10 yards, but it was essentially a two yard pass with 8 yards after the catch. Finnegan was covering Gronkowski on that pass and simply gave him too much room. The Rams have done that all year. On longer downs, they are willing to give up yards to ensure the other team does not get a first down. In this case, Gronk bulled his way forward because he had the room to gather steam.
In my opinion, the Rams could not stop the Patriots because we simply did not have sufficient overall talent to win one on one battles. Additionally, the Patriots have had years to learn perfection in execution. The Rams are trying to become perfect and it takes some. It was different people on the Rams that had a chance to stop the Patriots and that person failed consistently. For example, Brandon Lloyd did a great job of getting position on Jenkins on his second touchdown of the game. His move was so good that Jenkins lost his balance. Within .5 seconds, he was wide open. Once Jenkins lost his balance, the Rams were doomed with Brady throwing the pass. The Patriots had a plan, executed it perfectly, and the plan worked. On any play in the NFL, if you can’t stop the first option of a play, you have a gargantuan problem.
I will give two other examples to illustrate my point. On the first play of the first drive of the second half, the called play worked to perfection. The play looked like a run, so much so that there was only one option for a pass. That one option was Michael Hoomanawanui. Guess what? He was open. If he wasn’t open, the play was doomed to failure because New England already faked the run and there were no other passing options.
On the second play of the same drive, the Patriots blocked a planned run perfectly. The Patriots lined up with two tight ends on the right side of the line. Gronkowski was inside and Fells was outside. Gronkowski blocked Long and turned his shoulders to the inside. Daniel Fells blocked Mikell perfectly and turned his shoulders to the inside. The running back ran to the outside of Fells.
This left Finnegan, the cornerback who had no one to cover, as the last resort. Unfortunately, Hoomanawanui was the full back who was responsible for blocking anyone in the hole. Hoho simply fell on Finnegan who tried to take on the block low. Theoretically, the outside linebacker could have been an option for the tackle, but he already shot the gap between Fells and Gronkowski. Now, he was out of position. Literally, all Ridley had to do was run through the perfect lane, which is where the play was designed to go in the first place.
In theory, this game came down to one thing. The Patriots believed they could do whatever they wanted, and they did. If you watch each play, Brady rarely had to go to option 2 in his reads.
With that said, there are two areas of obvious weakness which the Patriots exploited. Our safeties are terrible. Mikell was exposed and Dahl was his usual awful self. If we had a playmaker at safety, many of these plays could have been stopped or at least minimized. No one in the NFL is perfect. Even the best players get blocked or miss tackles from time to time. Someone else has to step up with some help. In this case, that responsibility fell on our safeties quite often (by design) and they failed.
It hurts me to make the following statement, but the other area of weakness in our defense is the defensive tackle position. Unlike our safeties, they are not awful. In fact, it appears that Patriots planned their running game in a way to avoid our tackles. Thus, I am not suggesting they are useless. However, in passing situations there was no pressure up the middle, ever.
The Patriots appeared to know this and planned to block our ends with this in mind. They allowed Quinn and Long to run around the tackles who simply pushed them deep. Brady would step up and the end was then too deep to get a sack or even assert pressure. If you add the timing of the throws (usually in two seconds or less) the only way we could have pressured Brady was in the middle. We got none up the middle.
For those who care, here is a brief review of the preview
PREVIEW 1 - MORE RICHARDSON
(a bunch of mumbo jumbo about the importance of Richardson in the game)
REVIEW – Irrelevant. We were down by 28 after the first touchdown of the 2nd half.
PREVIEW 2 - PASS, PASS AND PASS SOME MORE?
I disagree with the proposition that Sam Bradford has to step up in this game to prove his value. In fact, I think that minimizes Belichick as a coach. Do we not think he sees what we all see? I expect Belichick to do things to ensure Bradford cannot pick apart the defense. With that said, I also expect Fisher to have prepared Sam for such actions. In the end, I see the Rams feeling out the New England defense in the first two quarters. I expect to see more short passes, with an occasional deep throw to get a read on what Belichick is doing. We will then see more aggression and strategy in the 2nd half in the passing game. Once again, if the Rams win this game, I think it will be won in the fourth quarter.
REVIEW – The game will be won in the fourth quarter? Um, the game was won after the 2nd Patriots drive.
PREVIEW 3 - I SEE NOTHING
I do not see a real running threat from New England. Therefore, I want the Rams to shut down the run with the front seven only. This will allow the defense to focus on the pass. I want to hold New England to 80 yards rushing or less.
REVIEW – Nice job Paul. The Patriots ripped us apart for 152 rushing yards and a 5.4 yard average. Ridley had over 90 yards in just the third quarter.
PREVIEW 4 - SPECIAL TEAMS AND TURNOVERS
As mentioned above, I do not see Bradford having 250 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half. Certainly, Brady is capable of such numbers. How do the Rams keep up? I think the Rams need something special from their special teams to win this game. I also think we need to a 2 to 1 advantage in turnovers.
REVIEW – We got no turnovers and were very very normal on special teams.
PREVIEW 5 - THE MIGHTY LONG
I love Robert Quinn. He has proven he is threat to pressure the quarterback on every play. He has also shown new skills in the run defense. He is cutting off the edge and maintaining his responsibilities while still getting pressure. He really is the Mighty Quinn. In this game, we need Long to also step up. The key to stopping Brady has always been pressure. More importantly, the pressure has to come from the front four. Blitzing Brady is suicide. To win this game, we need Quinn and Long getting pressure on Brady. I would not mind a little pressure up the middle also.
REVIEW – Yeah, a little pressure up the middle would have been nice.
The level to which the Patriots were able to exploit their initial reads on so many plays speaks to a (gulp) masterful gameplan by Josh McDaniels. He obviously has the advantage of having worked against much of this defensive unit before, but our new comers (Finnegan, Jenkins, Dunbar and both starting DTs) were rendered ineffective as well.