As injuries have mounted, the New England Patriots have seemingly moved into survive-and-advance mode, biding their time until the bye week.
With the Week 10 bye looming in the background—waiting to heal the likes of Aqib Talib, Tommy Kelly and Shane Vereen—the Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Week 9 matchup lacking a lot of the luster of previous years.
Here is what you need to know going in to Week 9.
AFC East Results
|New England Patriots||6-2||.714||Won 1|
|New York Jets||4-4||.500||Lost 1|
|Miami Dolphins||3-4||.428||Lost 4|
|Buffalo Bills||3-5||.375||Lost 1|
Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints Recap
The Bills fought valiantly against the Saints, but ultimately came up short, losing 35-17. Drew Brees racked up five touchdown passes on the day, and the Bills defense couldn't find an answer for rookie Kenny Stills or the injured Jimmy Graham.
The Bills face the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs next week.
New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals Recap
After a controversial win over the Patriots last week, the Jets needed to back it up with a win over the Bengals. Instead, they laid an egg, losing 49-9. Andy Dalton and Marvin Jones combined for four touchdowns—Dalton threw five total—while Geno Smith could only muster 159 yards and two interceptions.
The Jets face the New Orleans Saints next week.
With a 16-15 record, the AFC East is certainly not a pushover, but it's far from being a top division in football. That title would be reserved for the NFC West.
The Patriots currently hold a two-game lead over the Jets and currently hold tiebreakers over the rest of the division. While the rest of the Patriots' schedule certainly isn't easy, the road to the AFC East title appears to go through Foxborough.
|Vince Wilfork||Ankle||Injured Reserve|
|Jerod Mayo||Pectoral||Injured Reserve|
|Shane Vereen||Wrist||Short-Term IR|
|Sebastian Vollmer||Leg||6-8 Weeks|
After an injury-free week against the New York Jets, the Patriots lost another key piece of their team when Sebastian Vollmer went down with an injury. It was confirmed by Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald that Vollmer had surgery on his broken leg. While nothing official has been announced, playing again in 2013 seems unlikely.
Story To Watch
It was agonizing to hear Sebastian Vollmer's screams on the broadcast. The question now becomes how the Patriots will, ahem, tackle their offensive line situation.
Mike Reiss from ESPN.com expanded on those thoughts here.
The third-year player from Texas Christian [Marcus Cannon] has been the team's swing tackle this season and also has flexibility to play right guard. He replaced Vollmer in Sunday's game at right tackle and is now the projected starter going forward. Line coach Dante Scarnecchia was complimentary of Cannon in spring camps. "Love his physicality. Love his passion for the game," Scarnecchia said. "He’s a smart kid, a great kid to coach, he’s driven to be very good. I think he’s a really good tackle. ... He’s a special kid, a starting quality player. I love the kid."
Coming out of TCU, I always thought that Cannon was destined to play inside in the NFL. However, Cannon has looked more natural at the tackle position than he has at guard.
What Needs to Improve
1. Tom Brady's Accuracy
Tom Brady started the week off with a poor interception on the second play of the game, throwing two feet behind Rob Gronkowski. Brady also missed passes to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, throwing behind each of them as well.
Brady has been given a pass most of the year due to the sheer amount of turnover at the receiver position. However, Aaron Dobson and Co. are getting open and starting to catch the ball. It is time for Brady to catch up.
2. Interior Pass Protection
Tom Brady rarely looked comfortable in the pocket against Miami—especially in the first half—and was sacked three times. Logan Mankins gave up two of those sacks to Jared Odrick.
Brady has shown the ability to make slight adjustments in the pocket and use his quick delivery to avoid sacks from edge-rushers, but immediate pressure in his face is still his kryptonite.
There wasn't a huge change in philosophy between the first and second halves, but the execution was much better. I'll let Bill Belichick say it himself.
We've seen how they're attacking us. Then our players had a chance to recognize that, I don't want to say adjust to it, but just execute it better when those situations came back up later in the game which they eventually did. I think that's a credit to the players that we didn't really make a lot of new defenses and new plays and new runs and all that. We just did the ones that we did a little bit better and that's, again, a credit to the players to make those on the field, in-game type adjustments and corrections.
The Patriots are going to need 60 minutes of execution to compete with the top teams in the league.
4. Health Up The Middle
The Patriots gave up another 156 yards rushing and currently rank 31st overall in that category. It is tough not to pin some of that on the injury woes inside.
With Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork sidelined, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones have been asked to be run-stuffing tackles inside. Unfortunately, Vellano weights just 300 pounds and Jones is best suited as a pass-rush specialist.
If either Kelly or Armond Armstead—sidelined on the NFI list since the start of training camp—can get on the field, look for the run defense to cease being a problem.