New England Patriots: Review of Regular Season vs. AFC 2011 NFL Playoff Teams
The New England Patriots' 2010 NFL season was marked by Tom Brady's MVP performances, Bill Belichick's genius coaching, a rookie of the year type season from Devin McCourty, and a big-time comeback for Deion Branch.
It was also noteworthy for the number of big-time opponents the Patriots faced. Of the five other AFC playoff teams, the Patriots faced four of them.
Needless to say, the Patriots will have to prove they learned something from each of those contests if they want to come out with another win over those teams when it really matters: the playoffs.
So without further ado, here's a look back at those meetings, some things each team did well, and what the Patriots have to do to come out with another win.
Week 2—At New York Jets
What the Patriots did well: With Randy Moss still a part of the team, the Patriots were able to small-ball their way up the field on the first drive, with mostly short to intermediate passes and select running plays. In their two-minute offense, the Patriots were able to move the ball 80 yards essentially in two plays, one a quick pattern to Aaron Hernandez that went for a big 46-yard gain and another that completed the drive, an unforgettable 34-yard deep pass to Moss for a touchdown.
Then, it all went south.
What the Jets did well: As usual, the Jets ran the ball and rushed the passer well. They may have only registered one sack, which came toward the end of the game, but Tom Brady forced a couple of throws to Randy Moss that he had no business throwing. Both were picked off.
The Patriots never looked that comfortable on defense. They were exposed as Braylon Edwards made Darius Butler look foolish time and time again. Dustin Keller was his usual security-blanket self, and finished with seven receptions for 115 yards and a score. Mark Sanchez finished with a career-high three touchdown passes as the Jets beat the Patriots for the second time in the Rex Ryan-Mark Sanchez era.
What the Patriots learned: If the next game is any indication, the Patriots learned how to beat man coverage and learned the many nuances of the Rex Ryan defense.
Week 6—Vs. Baltimore Ravens
What the Patriots did well: A 20-10 fourth quarter deficit loomed large over the Patriots' ability to win the game, but almost in unison, the Patriots' defense and offense both stepped up. The Patriots were able to drive a short field using mostly running plays to pick up key yards, and then a five-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch in the back of the end zone.
From this point out, the Patriots' defense forced five consecutive punts in the fourth quarter and overtime thanks to a few forced and a couple of unforced incompletions by Joe Flacco.
They were able to adjust, if only slightly, to the new style of offense without Randy Moss.
What the Ravens did well: The Ravens had their way with the Patriots for three quarters of football; the Patriots did as they've done so many times this season and finished strong. Aside from his shortcomings late in the game, Joe Flacco looked like an All-Pro passer, completing 71 percent of his passes and adding two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Ravens were able to force punts by New England, including a couple three-and-outs and some other very short drives.
What the Patriots can do to win again: Running the ball effectively was a big factor in the Patriots' ability to eke out the win, helping them score on their two touchdown drives. It was obviously Deion Branch's nine-reception, 98-yard performance with a touchdown that made the biggest impact. Spreading the defense and attacking weaknesses in the secondary were the name of the game, but both are much easier to do without Ed Reed on the field.
Week 10—At Pittsburgh Steelers
What the Patriots did well: The Patriots kept Tom Brady upright, as Tom Brady was hardly pressured at all let alone sacked or intercepted. His three touchdown passes all went to tight end Rob Gronkowski, exploiting a key weakness in their secondary of the inability to cover tight ends.
Defensively, the Patriots were able to exploit an injury-depleted offensive line and were able to not just get in Roethlisberger's face, but bring him down as well. His ability to escape the pocket and evade pressure are both well-known, but the Patriots were able to prevent him from doing either.
What the Steelers did well: After falling behind, the Steelers seemingly figured out how to beat the Patriots defense as Mike Wallace finished with eight receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in the fourth quarter.
What the Patriots can do to win again: Chris Collinsworth pointed out that the Steelers defense was frustrated by Brady's stretching them out. All the Steelers wanted to do was to attack north-south, but the Patriots made them play east-west all night long. Quite frankly, the Steelers don't have the talent in the secondary to play effectively when that approach is used against them.
Week 11—Vs. Indianapolis Colts
What the Patriots did well: The Patriots clearly knew they were up against one of the league's worst pass defenses in the Colts, riding their two feature backs 28 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Tom Brady was able to exploit the weaknesses of the Colts defense in the secondary, splitting them up the middle several times on big throws to Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Rob Gronkowski.
On defense, the Patriots masked their coverages well and may not necessarily have duped Peyton Manning into those bad throws, but were able to confuse his receivers into making poor adjustments on their routes. As we heard Belichick say in his SoundFX feature, it was all about the jams. An early overthrow was intercepted by Brandon Meriweather, and a late underthrow was picked off by James Sanders.
What the Colts did well: As usual, Peyton Manning was able to diagnose his problems and rallied the team late with a couple of big touchdown drives. The Colts were able to prevent the Patriots from running out the clock at the end of the game by forcing a three-and-out, as well as one drive of just four plays.
But it was too little, too late.
What the Patriots can do to win again: Keeping Peyton Manning on the sideline has still proven to be the best recipe for a win over Indianapolis. The Colts improved on run defense down the stretch, but they are only as good as the lead they play with on defense, and are much better against the run at home. With two great workhorse backs like Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Patriots still have plenty of firepower in the backfield to take advantage of those weaknesses in the running game.
Week 13—Vs. New York Jets
What the Patriots did well: Everything.
It began to look at times like the Patriots had all the answers to the Jets' defense, an enigma which they had previously struggled to dissect. Tom Brady went 21-for-29 for 326 yards and four touchdowns, as the Patriots offense barely broke a sweat. The main success of the Patriots' offense was their ability to beat man coverage time and time again, while also exploiting the absence of key safety Jim Leonhard.
What the Jets did well: Nothing.
Mark Sanchez, he who completed a career-high three touchdown passes in their Week 2 meeting, was barely able to complete 50 percent of his passes and added three interceptions to the Patriots' league-high mark.
The Jets were able to run the ball well against the Patriots, but that meant little when the deficit continued to grow. And grow. And grow.
What the Patriots can do to win again: Whatever they did in the days prior to this meeting should come in handy again in the playoffs, but it comes down to executing the game plan, too. The Patriots will need to continue to exploit the weaknesses they were able to discover in the Jets' secondary, mainly by throwing away from Darrelle Revis.