New England Patriots: What You Need to Know Heading in to Week 10

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New England Patriots: What You Need to Know Heading in to Week 10
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Patriots fans, meet Aaron Dobson.

After their 55-31 victory over the Steelers, the New England Patriots (7-2) won't play football for 15 days. They will face off against the suddenly dangerous Carolina Panthers (5-3) on Monday Night Football of Week 11.

Here is what you need to know going into Week 10.

 

AFC East Results

AFC East Standings
Team Wins Losses Percentage Streak
Patriots 7 2 .778 W2
Jets 5 4 .556 W1
Dolphins 4 4 .500 W1
Bills 3 6 .333 L2

NFL.com

Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs Recap

The Bills offense outscored the Chiefs offense 13-9, but two defensive touchdowns were able to seal the victory for the undefeated Chiefs.

While the Bills faithful have suffered through the uneven play of Jeff Tuel and Thad Lewis the last few weeks, EJ Manuel should be able to play next week. Look for the Bills offense to kick it back into high gear.

The Bills face the Pittsburgh Steelers next week.

 

Miami Dolphins vs. Cincinnati Bengals Recap

The Dolphins had one of the more entertaining games of the year Thursday night, but it has been over-shadowed by the ongoing Jonathan Martin saga

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Winning 22-20 on an overtime safety from Cameron Wake, the Dolphins looked impressive in their victory over the AFC North-leading Bengals. If they can get the ball in Lamar Miller's hands more often, they will be a threat in the wide-open AFC wild-card race.

The Dolphins face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.

 

New York Jets vs. New Orleans Saints Recap

Behind a stout defensive line and a deluge of pressure, the Jets were able to thwart the Saints' attempt at a comeback, holding them off 26-20. 

Geno Smith wasn't sharp for 60 minutes, but he did enough to secure the victory and a 5-4 record. Chris Ivory was in top form against his former team, breaking off long runs on his way to 139 yards.

The Jets are on a bye next week.

 

Analysis

With a 19-16 record, the AFC East is keeping a hold as one of the top divisions in football. The Jets and Patriots currently hold playoff spots, with the Dolphins and Bills within striking distance.

The stretch run after the bye week will determine which teams in the AFC East are truly contenders and which are merely along for the ride. At this point, while I think the Dolphins will fade, I don't see the Jets going anywhere.

 

Injury Report

Patriots Injury Situation
Name Injury Timeline
Shave Vereen Hand Short-term Injured Reserve
Steve Gregory Hand Unknown
Aqib Talib Hip Unknown
Rob Ninkovich Ankle Unkown

ESPN.com

 

Analysis

The hits keep coming for the Patriots, losing Steve Gregory and Rob Ninkovich to in-game injuries. While Ninkovich was seen on the sideline during the second half, Gregory was not seen again.

If Gregory isn't able to play in Week 11, look for rookie Duron Harmon to see an enormous increase in his snap count.

 

Story To Watch

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Stevan Ridley has clearly been the best Patriots running back over the last three weeks, scoring four touchdowns and averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. However, after his fumble early in the third quarter, many Patriots had to be wondering whether he would be sent to the doghouse again.

Bill Belichick had this to say on the matter, per Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com:

I thought Stevan did a good job. It was really a tremendous play by Polamalu.

Stevan caught his ball with his back to the defender. As he turned, Troy came in there and instead of making a tackle he was able to dislodge the ball. He anticipated Ridley turning up and Troy made a good play on it. I don't think Stevan really had much of a chance to do anything but turn.

Sometimes turnovers are a result of real good defensive plays. Sometimes they’re a result of sloppy plays offensively. I would, unfortunately, have to credit that one to Polamalu. He made a great play and that’s one of those things you have to live with. 

Stevan ran hard, like he always does.

It is refreshing to see Belichick have a tempered response to one of his pet peeves (fumbling) in light of Ridley's excellent play and an incredible effort from Polamalu.

 

What Needs to Improve

1. Health

Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Steve Gregory, Aqib Talib and Rob Ninkovich—six opening-day starters—were all absent from the field during crunch time against the Steelers due to injury. Somehow, the Patriots are able to keep winning.

While Wilfork, Kelly and Mayo aren't walking through that door until training camp, a healthy Talib—along with Gregory and Ninkovich—would do a lot to alleviate some of the woes in the defensive backfield for New England.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Allowing Kyle Arrington to play his natural "star" position, as opposed to outside, is one of the biggest advantages of having Talib available.

 

2. Interior Pass Protection

Tom Brady was sacked three times against the Steelers. One play stood out in particular for me, watching Dan Connolly fail to mirror a defensive line stunt and give up a big hit on Brady.

If Brady isn't able to step into his throws, his accuracy goes down the drain. If he gets hit early and often, so does his vision. There are no reinforcements coming inside. Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Connolly just need to get on the same page.

 

3. Cornerback Depth

Aqib Talib has easily been the best cornerback in the AFC—when he is on the field. However, when he isn't healthy, the depth at cornerback is strained.

As I alluded to earlier, Kyle Arrington is best inside, while Alfonzo Dennard and Talib are best outside. Logan Ryan and Marquice Cole are both able to hide their deficiencies inside as well.

When Arrington is forced outside, he isn't nearly as effective. The Patriots also miss his production inside, as Ryan and Cole both have taken their lumps at time. Ryan is a rookie who has made some plays but still has a lot to learn about pattern recognition. Cole has had an impact, but I'm sure Belichick would rather see him on special teams only from here on out.

 

4. Kick Returns

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The kick return game couldn't be less exciting for the Patriots. New England returners have averaged 21.9 yards per return this year—23rd in the league—nearly 10 yards behind the top three teams.  Their long return of 30 yards ranks them 28th, tied with the Oakland Raiders

LeGarrette Blount isn't going to break one for a touchdown, but he is a reliable option. Until the Patriots invest in a return specialist that can stay healthy—looking at you Leon Washington—Tom Brady will have to be content starting inside his own 25-yard line.

All stats courtesy of NFL.com and the Patriots' official media site.

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