Gerard Warren pressures Ryan Fitzpatrick (AP)
The Patriots may have won another game, but New England's defense is showing some troubling signs. Kisha Tapangan has her take on the game in this week's Kisha's Korner.
The New England Patriots were two different teams between the their first regular season games.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Patriots defense looked energized and locked in a win for the season opener. The following week when the team faced the New York Jets, the offense failed to establish a running game and the team recorded their first loss against a divisional rival.
When week three and the Buffalo Bills came around, it seemed to be a fitting question to ask which Patriots team will show up: the young team with something to prove, or the team with too many weaknesses to outweigh their strengths?
The Patriots barely managed to secure a win against the Bills on Sunday with a final score of 38-30. Head coach Bill Belichick, as always, was ready to point out the team’s imperfections,
“[It's] a good win - a good division win,” The coach stated. “I thought we did some good things out there. [It was] far from perfect. We've still got a lot of work to do.”
The Patriots defense was absent for the first half of the game, or so it seemed. With the Bills controlling to the first half time of possession, the Patriots offense were only on the field for a combined time of 11:11 in the first and second quarter.
The defense lacked a pass rush and allowed for Bills newly named starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to hit his stride. The Harvard alum had a pulled the Buffalo offense out of its two-game slump by completing 20 of 28 passes for 247 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Fitzpatrick had plenty of targets to choose from with wide receivers Steven Johnson, Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish all getting a considerable amount of the passes.
Bills rookie running back C.J. Spiller posed an immense challenge for the Patriots run defense. The Clemson standout was impressive with four carries for 29 yards, three receptions and two touchdowns. Spiller ripped through the Patriots special teams coverage with five kickoff returns for 189 yards averaging 37.8 yards on each return. Early in the third quarter, Spiller ran back a kickoff return for 95 yards which accounted for his second touchdown for the night.
There were bright spots in the Patriots defense, with linebacker Jerod Mayo recording his first solo sack of the season. Safeties Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather both intercepted Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter.
Meriweather discussed the importance of the interceptions affected the game. “...They were huge. They ended drives,” he said. “They took [Bills] points off the board. They were huge."
Looking at the final score, it’s tough to describe the win as a success for the Patriots defense. Opponents have scored 68 points within the last three games. Linebacker Jerod Mayo knows the defense has to improve. Mayo confessed as much afterwards.
“Giving up points like that against any team is very alarming,” Mayo told Providence Journal,
“So we have a lot of work to do.”
Bills wide receiver Lee Evans spotted some positives on Patriots defense,
"They play with a lot of energy. High energy,” Evans said. “They are aggressive against the run....They did a couple things; playing over the top a lot, trying to run guys underneath, there was a couple times they showed their depth.”
Showing depth just “a couple of times” will not be enough against a wildcat offense like the one they’ll have to face next Monday in Miami.
The Re-emergence of the Ground Attack
Offensively, the Patriots had a more productive showing. Quarterback Tom Brady was effective by completing 21 of 27 passes for 252 yards, three touchdown passes and was sacked just once. Brady passed to seven different receivers and handed off to seven different players to add some much needed variety to the running game.
Bills linebacker Reggie Torbor was surprised by the amount of times that the Patriots utilized their ground attack.
“It's not like we didn't work on it,” Torbor stated. “The Patriots are known to throw the ball. It was nothing unexpected that they did, they just executed better than we did.”
Unexpected is an understatement for the Patriots rushing game on Sunday. Overall they totaled 200 yards rushing along with two touchdowns. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and newly signed running back Danny Woodhead were responsible for the team’s two rushing touchdowns.
The productive rushing game gave the Patriots offense a much needed boost.
Danny Woodhead is sometimes listed as wide receiver but for his debut as a New England Patriot, he played the role of running back. It was at that position that Woodhead played his most productive game.
Standing at just shy of 5-foot-9 and weighing in at 200 pounds, the undrafted wide receiver/running back from Chadron State College spent the first two years of his career with the New York Jets. Upon being released, the Patriots signed him, interestingly enough, the same week they were set to play the Jets.
Woodhead made his official debut in a Patriots uniform on Sunday. It was one heck of a first impression. With just three carries, Woodhead amassed 42 yards, averaging 16 yards per carry, and scored his first career touchdown.
When asked about his first NFL touchdown, the Nebraska native didn’t hesitate to give credit where it was due.
"The linemen made great blocks. I did the easy part, which is just run it,” Woodhead said, “The linemen did great and the receivers and tight ends - I mean, you can't ask for better blocking as a running back.”
Woodhead was signed to add depth and has also been considered a replacement for struggling running back Laurence Maroney who was traded to the Denver Broncos for a 2011 fourth round pick. With running back Kevin Faulk out for the season with a torn ACL, the Patriots could likely add Woodhead to the list of offensive weapons to be used to make up for Faulk’s absence.
The defense has proven to be the greatest weakness for the 2010 Patriots. Although the rushing game has improved, heavy dependence on Tom Brady’s right arm likely to be an unsuccessful game plan.
This week’s opponent, the Miami Dolphins, run a complex offensive front which will be an imperative test for the young New England defense. Tight midfield coverage is one of the top priorities for the Patriots as explosive Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall has already shown dominance against the highly ranked Jets defense.
The Patriots face the Miami Dolphins on Monday night, October 4 in the Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida.
Kickoff is set for 8:30 PM.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check back for regular updates by Kisha