This weekend we were treated to another classic chapter of the Brady-Manning rivalry, and especially for the Patriots’ fans, it did not disappoint. In the 16th edition of this rivalry, Brady came out victorious for the 11th time. Everything seemed to be working for them, defensively they were untouchable, causing two Manning interceptions, while at the same time absolutely stifling Denver’s run game. On offense, it was the “Tom Terrific” that we all know and love, and have come accustomed to week-in and week-out. It is hard to find something to complain about when it comes to a 43-21 rout of many experts’ Super Bowl favorites. However, that is why I am here, to play devil’s advocate. Many people watched that game last night and made their mind up that if the Patriots play the way they did Sunday afternoon they will have no problem competing in the playoffs. I am not one of those people. The fact of the matter is, right now New England has no pass rush.
While I don’t want to take anything away from the secondary of the Patriots, those guys outplayed anybody else on that field. Revis was the same shutdown corner he has been all year. Browner is finally getting into the swing of things and is absolutely punishing any receiver who he covers with his brutal hits. Even the guys who don’t get a lot of attention were getting into the mix, for instance Kyle Arrington made a few key plays when covering ex-Patriot Wes Welker in the slot. For the first time in years that aspect of the defense is solid and we don’t need to worry. The problem is the pass rush. Usually, Chandler Jones is coming off the edge, but he is the only threat they have. Now New England’s sack leader has been out for the past two weeks with a hip injury and has forced New England to back off with the rush and keep more men in coverage. This strategy cannot stay for the remainder of the season if they want to be successful. Manning did not play well, but he had all day to throw. Manning is too good of a quarterback to not pressure, he has made a living out of making good pass coverage look like a high school team. If Denver and New England meet up in January, you better believe he will not make the mistakes he made Sunday if this pass rush stays the same.
What needs to happen is the patriots need to switch around the defensive sets and clog the box. Because they are missing players like Jones, and their best inside blitzing Linebacker Jerod Mayo, they need to send the cavalry at opposing quarterbacks. The secondary has proven that they can handle receivers one-on-one, so if they overload the offensive line it would force quarterbacks to rush and make poor decisions. Giving Quarterbacks like Manning all day is just asking for trouble. It does not matter who you have covering who, if you give good NFL Receivers and Quarterbacks time, they will make you look bad. It is simply too much to ask of the secondary to pick up the slack of the line. The Patriots need to utilize their new players, namely first-round draft pick Dominique Easley and newly acquired Outside Linebacker Akeem Ayers. They drafted Easley to play opposite Jones to come off the other edge to put pressure on Quarterbacks. While he has produced when being put in the game, he has not been utilized much. Ayers was brought in right after the injury to Jones presumably to fill in, but since New England got him he has been used more in coverage than rushing the Quarterback. He did have one sack against Denver, but that was a blown protection and wasn’t touched coming at Manning. If they run packages that have these guys coming off both edges it will be difficult for opposing offensive lineman to cover them, especially if they have the middle linebackers blitzing. While the pass rush did not show up as much as it could have, I think the problem is in the scheme rather than a lack of talent.
If New England can figure out this pass rush problem, I think they have a great shot at another title. Every other aspect of the team is solid and has been making the plays they need to. Having said that, you just can’t get a game out of your secondary like you got on Sunday, games like that happen a couple times a season at most. It is essential to put pressure on the other team to force them to make bad decisions. I guarantee if Denver and New England meet in January and you give Manning all the time that he had Sunday, he will pick apart the secondary.