5 Points of Emphasis for Patriots vs. Bills

The Patriots get started on their second half of the season this weekend, and it comes against the Bills, a divisional opponent who almost always give them a tough time.

In Week Four the Patriots nailed all of our five keys, especially with the dominance of the ground game. What could be different this time? Let’s break it down…

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5 Points of Emphasis for Patriots vs. the Bye Week

Yes, it’s the bye week, that one dreaded week that happens once per football season without a Patriots game. Once Monday hits the push for a fourth Super Bowl begins so here are some things the Patriots should be regrouping on with the extra time.

1. Find the best secondary combination: There are a lot of questions about the secondary right now, and that’s compounded injuries. With the cutting of Sterling Moore the Pats are even down another defensive back. So from what we’ve seen so far what is the best combination? And how does Aqib Talib fit into the equation?

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5 Points of Emphasis for Patriots vs. Rams

This week on Mike D’s 5 Keys we’re going the super obvious route. Sometimes these are abstract things, random points of emphasis we think the Pats need to focus on to win the game, but this week we’re just going to make it all about the Patriots doing the things they’ve been bad at doing all season long.

Unlike the Patriots, the Rams have been able to beat both the Seahawks and the Cardinals, so a victory over them would be a nice way to end the first half of the season.

This is a big game for the Patriots in an exhibition-type atmosphere, which could be good experience if they are lucky enough to make it to the biggest exhibition game of them all, aka the Super Bowl.

Any time the team can play on a big stage it’s good. Especially for the youngest team in Bill Belichick’s tenure.

The Pats need the bye week to regroup and get healthy, and if they’re able to end it on a positive note it could be even more of a catalyst for the second half of the season.

My 5 Super Obvious Points of Emphasis…

1. Only give up THREE 20+ passing plays - I wouldn’t be so bold as to ask for zero, but when you’re averaging six per game you gotta take what you can get. There’s little doubt the Rams are going to toss some bombs up, and with Brian Schottenheimer running the offense we know what kind of game to expect.

The Rams have a great one-two punch in Jackson and Richardson at running back, so we’ll see a lot of them, and then a lot of play action bombs away.

Our safeties cannot bite on play action!!!!!

And I never thought I’d be begging it for it but we must BEND, NOT BREAK!!!

Well, only break three times. I can live with that.

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5 Keys for Patriots vs. Jets

The Patriots are coming off one their most embarrassing losses in two-plus seasons, and who better than to help them refocus their efforts than the good old Jets? A solid win over a divisional rival could be just what New England needs to get on track. And once they do get on track they’re going to reel off a lot of wins and be very tough to beat. Just the kind of game the Hoodie ordered!

Our Five Keys to taking down Rexy’s crew after the jump…

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5 Keys for Patriots vs. Seahawks

It’s been hard this week not to develop quite the little crush on Seattle’s defense, and I’m excited to see how the Patriots offense responds to the challenge. The Seahawks do all the things that have given our offense fits over the last few years, and in a difficult environment it should be very interesting to see how our offense responds.

Here are our five keys for the Pats to get a win in Seattle.

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5 Keys for Patriots vs. Broncos

It’s time to begin a new chapter in the Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning annals, and personally I’m glad that the scheduling gods lined things up just so it would happen. There are only so many times these two legendary quarterbacks will face each other again so we should take a moment to enjoy what we’re seeing.

Of course having Peyton on the Broncos certainly gives it a new flavor and the fact that the Patriots torched Denver in the playoffs has to give New England an underlying confidence.

Still, the Pats have not seen many quarterbacks with the skill of Manning in recent seasons so he should provide an excellent test for a secondary that remains the only major question mark for this 2012 edition of the Pats.

Even if a lot of Manning’s balls wobble, they still get to where they need to be.

Here are my Five Keys for the Pats to heehaw the Donkeys.

1. Secondary in Sync: The defensive line and linebackers are really starting to come into their own but Peyton knows how to get rid of the ball so you can’t count on the pass rush to be what slows him down. So it comes down to is Pats secondary all being on the same page, disguising their coverages, and most of all not making mental errors. The pass defense is giving up more deep passes per game than they have in a decade plus, so it’s hard not to look at the safety play first and foremost. Devin McCourty, despite a few bad plays, has really bounced back. Now the rest of them need to pick it up. Kyle Arrington finally has been able to move inside to star in nickel packages, a spot he seemingly is perfect for. He’s been in the system for a while now, yet his inconsistent play is continues. Sterling Moore surpassed Ras-I Dowling as the outside corner in nickel and dime. Ras-I remains an enigma more baffling (due to his 32nd overall draft slot) than Shawn “Crazy Legs” Crable. The Patriots pass defense could prove a lot this week, or they could show they’re the same old squad that gives up passing yards by the bushel.

2. Take our “Ridlen” (h/t @DanteSterling): Last week’s emergence of the run game was extremely positive, though I wouldn’t call the Pats a ground and pound team just yet. They won’t be afraid to run when opponents play them with DB-laden defenses, but whether or not they can exert their will, like they did against the Bills, against a top notch front like Houston or Baltimore remains to be seen. With Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil they’d love nothing more than to be able to pin back their ears and get after Tom Brady in the pocket, so you’ve got to get them on their heels a bit. The Pats had 280 yards rushing in their two games against the Broncos last year, so “Ridlen” and Woodhead could really do some damage this year, and if they do look out.

3. Brady goes deep to Lloyd: While the run game should be effective the Broncos can be susceptible to the pass as well, and the deep ball especially. As Greg Bedard has been saying all week, the shots down the field should be there, just like they were there for the Texans, now it’s just a matter of Brady and Lloyd finally connecting. This is the last missing ingredient on offense, a couple caught long balls would add another dynamic for opposing defenses to worry about. We haven’t seen a 50+ yard touchdown this year. It’s time for that to change. And you can’t tell me Lloyd and McDaniels would enjoy anything more.

4. Finish him!: As we’ve seen in the last five Pats games against him you have to finish Peyton Manning, and finishing is something the Pats have struggled with in recent years. So regardless of a lead or deficit, it’s going to take four quarters, and ultimately pounding the final nail in the coffin when the opportunity is there. Whether that’s picking up a gotta-have-it first down, or getting a critical third down stop, players will have to step up and end the game on the Patriots terms. If they do not they could face yet another horrible last minute defeat that we’re all too familiar with, especially against the Manning brothers.

5. Win: As always this is all that matters, especially in a conference game against an opponent you could see again down the road. There is little doubt the Patriots should be able to move the ball, the question is whether their defense can make enough stops to put some distance in between them and Manning. Personally I relish the chance to have one of our greatest weaknesses tested by an excellent quarterback. He might still not be full capacity, but he’s a lot better than most of the schmoes we’ve seen around here lately.

If the Pats want to get back to the Super Bowl they’re going to have to knock off some combination of Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, or even Peyton again, and getting lucky again with a sub-par pass defense is unlikely to happen for a second year in a row. The time for the secondary to start improving is now, and getting a win against an elite passer would be a big first step and a confidence-boosting sticker on the helmet.

5 Keys for Patriots vs. Bills

It would be hard deny I’m a little worried about this game in Buffalo. Yes, the stats look nice for the Pats vs. the Bills over the past decade, Tom Brady has only ever lost twice to them. But those who have watched the games know how close most of those have been, and it’s a pretty sure bet we’re in for another close one this weekend.

Now the Pats come into Buffalo at 1-2, with the closest thing resembling an early season “must win” in the last decade. And make no mistake the Bills are a team that have been constructed in recent years with taking down the Patriots in mind, and they’ve done it in a way that a Patriots uber blogger like myself can appreciate. If I was building a team to take down my beloved team, I’d do it the way the Bills are, though I’d surely still wish I had a couple more weapons on offense and maybe a slightly more consistent quarterback.

They can rush the passer with four, are not afraid to play press man coverage and they have a quick passing game that can eat the soft zone “bend don’t break” defense up. All of these things have given the Patriots fits over recent years.

So this should be an excellent game, and one that requires the Patriots turn in their most complete team effort of the 2012 season. Here are my weekly five keys as to what they’ll need to do to pull out the win and get back to .500.

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5 Keys for Patriots vs. Ravens

We all had this game circled when the schedule first came out and now here it is, the AFC Championship rematch. Amazingly one of these teams will be sitting at 1-2 come Monday and facing a lot of questions. Here are my keys as I see it to what the Pats need to do to avoid that being them.

1. Make Haloti Ngata Problem (see what I did there?) - The Patriots offensive line generated little push against the Cardinals and the Ravens have a similarly stout front led by Haloti Ngata. What the Patriots cannot afford to do is become one dimensional and that starts with the offensive line opening up holes for Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead. Woodhead actually had an impressive day against the Ravens in 2010, putting up 63 yards on 11 carries. He could be a sleeper this weekend. But that’s dependent on the guys up front generating some push that they didn’t generate last weekend. Dan Connolly played well against Ngata as a center last year, the Pats will need him back and healthy at right guard to hopefully do the same thing this year. If the Pats can make him Ngata  factor they should be able to control the ball.

2. Unleash the Gronk - Gronk was underutilized against the Cardinals, while  Brent Celek was tearing up the Ravens for 157 yards. The Ravens still just don’t have an answer for tight ends, especially when it’s Dannell Ellerbe. Of course this would be far more exploitable with Hernandez playing, but Gronk is enough of a weapon in his own right. He should be the main focus of the Patriots attack, whether it’s Ellerbe, Ray Lewis, or the dreaded Bernard Pollard covering him.

3. Defending “Bombs Away” - There’s no secret about the Ravens style of offense.  They’re going to line up in 21 personnel and throw/hand the ball to Ray Rice a bunch, and take at least a few shots down the field. Stopping Rice is of course the primary key, but that’s obvious and I expect the Patriots should be adept at doing so with Wilfork and Spikes leading the way. What is concerning to me is not getting shredded through the air. Yes Devin McCourty seems back on track this season, but this is the first legitimate test he’s faced. The key guy that could make a real impact is Steve Gregory. Patrick Chung was awful in coverage in the AFCCG, but now it should be Gregory who’s on the back end providing over the top help. An explosive play for the Ravens could really break this thing open for them. The Pats must prevent that and force Joe Flacco to take his check downs.

4. Patience - If there’s one negative defining characteristic that has carried over from the Billick regime to the Harbaugh regime it’s that the Ravens can and will implode if things don’t go their way. 2007’s game was a prime example when you had Bart Scott firing a ref’s flag into the stands. We even saw evidence of it last week with all the complaining the Ravens did about the refs. The lesson is to be patient and stick to the plan. The Ravens are good and will make their share of plays, but as soon as the Patriots start to gain momentum it’s time to put the peddle to the floor and not look back. The more things snowball on the Ravens the worse they’ll react to it.

5. Win - As always it’s the only thing that matters, and it seems like just about every pundit out there (except Mike Ditka) is picking against the Patriots. One thing about the BB reign is that whenever the tide seems to turn against the Pats, and everyone is picking against them they always seem to put together their best football. The 2010 Steelers game is a prime example. That’s no guarantee, and the Ravens have as much motivation and fire power as anyone to take us down, but it’s in games like these, against tough, physical opponents on the road that you find your true mettle. A first round bye could possibly hang in the balance Sunday night, and if the Pats want one of those for the third year in a row they’re going to have to go into Baltimore and take it.

One final key: Avoid Bernard Pollard at all costs…

5 keys for Patriots vs. Cardinals

As required by the NFL blogger code of content here are our five key areas to watch this weekend when the New England Patriots take on the Arizona Cardinals.

1. Challenge the edges of the Cardinals defense - There’s no question the strength of the Cardinals defense is along their defensive line, but their outside linebackers struggled in week one. Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield are inexperienced and haven’t seen a precision offensive attack like the Pats’ blitzkreig. The Patriots were extremely successful against the Titans running Stevan Ridley at the edges and I’d expect that to continue this week. So whether it’s on the ground or through the air, challenging the outside linebackers looks like the way to go, especially if we can get them matched up on Gronk or Hernando. What they’ll want to avoid is trying to run right into the teeth of Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, and Darnell Dockett.

2. Jam Larry - I’m most looking forward to seeing how the Pats take away the Cardinals top weapon, Larry Fitzgerald. Regardless if they have one cornerback on him regardless of where he lines up or just roll coverage to him it will be important to be physical with him at the line of scrimmage. A common strategy against the Pats defense is to attack them with short passes and with Kevin Kolb’s experience in the west coast offense in Philly I’d expect we’ll see a good deal of this from the Cardinals. The Patriots defense cannot allow Fitz to make quick catches and then make plays with his feet. Force Kolb to hold the ball, and allow some time for the pass rush to get there. If Larry is given a cushion he’s going to eat us alive.

3. Spread and Dead - The Cardinals defense cannot be allowed dictate what they want to do. Going to the no-huddle will allow the Pats to counter the defense’s aggressiveness, while also testing the conditioning of the Cardinals d-line and the communication amongst some of the more inexperienced players.  I’d expect this means a little more of Woodhead than we saw last week, but Ridley should still get his fair share of touches. This could also be where we truly see how close Brady and Brandon Lloyd are to being on the same page. Don’t be surprised to see Wes Welker with 8+ catches either.

4. Protect our Tommy - Yes, this is somewhat of a generic key but it’s really true for this weekend. Campbell and Dockett combined for 10 QB pressures and 4 sacks against the Seahawks. Using the no-huddle can help keep them at bay, but the Patriots offensive line must play up to the task. There’s no secret that when teams get to Brady the Pats offense becomes very ordinary. The Cardinals will throw a fair share of blitzes as well so the communication must be airtight. The entire key to the Cardinals game plan should be to get to Brady by any means necessary, and it’s up to the o-line to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a new group, and Dan Connolly may or may not be out there. This will be an excellent test for them, against an experienced and physical three-man front.

5. Win - As always, this is all that matters. The Pats have always been tough to beat in Foxboro and the last thing they want to do is allow an NFC West team to come in and push them around on their turf. We know they’re probably due for a dud sometime in September but with a challenging three weeks ahead the Pats can’t afford to slip up against a team they should really beat.