Despite all the complaints and misgivings with backup QB Matt Cassel, you gotta take a step back and appreciate that he’s got the team to 5-2 and now in a virtual tie atop the AFC East. On Sunday, the strength of the offense – the wide receiver corps – let Cassel down on several occasions yet the young quarterback still engineered a game winning drive in the fourth quarter. Despite the final scoreline not indicating a dominating victory, it was a big step for No. 16. Here’s a look at the answers to my pregame questions:
- Will the Patriots beat an inferior team without trouble? Without trouble? Not so much. The Rams played pretty well considering their best all-around player Steven Jackson did not suit up. Marc Bulger had one big play in the game, a 69 yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery which put the Rams ahead in the second quarter. Three Stephen Gostkowski field goals later the Pats and Rams were tied before Cassel engineered the game winning drive. Having attended the game it never really seemed like the Rams were in control of the game, it was more of, will Cassel make the big mistake to put the game out of reach. Despite two second half interceptions, both of which were because of the wide receivers, Cassel found Kevin Faulk in the end zone with just more than three minutes left to seal the victory. Cassel finished 21-33, 267 yards, 1 TD and two picks. A good win against an improving team.
- Who will run the ball for the Patriots and how will they stop Steven Jackson? Kevin Faulk was the main runner for the Pats but he only carried the ball 13 times, gaining 60 yards. Cassel ran seven times and BenJarvis Green-Ellis carried nine times for just 16 yards. The running game wasn’t a major factor like I had predicted but Faulk did make the best of his runs, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots didn’t have to stop Jackson because he did not suit up. Antonio Pittman stepped in and ran the ball 19 times for 89 yards, not bad for a backup, but it makes you wonder what Jackson would have done if he had played.
- Who will step up in Rodney Harrison’s place? The secondary again had problems as we say on the Avery long pass play. Brandon Meriweather had three tackles in Harrison’s place but the pressure for the most part was taken off thanks to the front seven. Richard Seymour (seven tackles, 1.0 sacks) and Adalius Thomas (four tackles, 2.0 sacks) were absolute monsters all game and forced Bulger to hurry his throws. We all know Ellis Hobbs isn’t a number one corner and the safeties are going to get beat, but if the front seven can keep up the pressure the secondary does have the ability to make some plays.
I do believe that if Steven Jackson played the Patriots probably would have lost. When you look at the stats they are remarkably similar:
Total yards: St. Louis 358, New England 348
Rushing yards: St. Louis 90, New England 98
Time of Possession: St. Louis 29:25, New England 30:35
The big difference? Penalties and third down conversions. The Rams were flagged for nine penalties, good for 63 yards. The Patriots – for the first time in franchise history – were not flagged the entire game (one flag was thrown for holding but declined by the Rams). On third downs the Rams were just 5-16 while the Pats were 6-12. Big differences that can keep drives alive which end up in points.
This won’t go down as the signature victory for the 2008 Patriots, but the fourth quarter drive may just prove to be a jumping off point to another step in Matt Cassel’s progression. He’ll get another huge test this Sunday night as the Patriots travel to Indy to take on the desperate 3-4 Colts.
Tags: Adalius Thomas, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon Meriweather, Ellis Hobbs, Kevin Faulk, Marc Bulger, Matt Cassel, Patriots, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Stephen Gostkowski, Steven Jackson