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Patriots-Colts Week 11: Notes and Observations

Aqib Talib (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

– The first thing that we all took away from this game is the injury to Rob Gronkowski. The injury definitely hurts as Gronk does a lot more for the offense than just catch passes and spike footballs. He is one of the more dominant blocking tight ends in the NFL today and his presence is surely going to be missed. I don’t blame Belichick for keeping him in the game on that final PAT, as he is on the PAT unit regularly. The injury is a freak occurrence that really could have happened any time. It hurts the offense but there is no rush to bring him back. Let him heal and get his rest. All indications are he will be ready for the playoffs, when the team needs him the most.

– The offensive line was a focal point throughout this week with both guards (Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly) missing the game due to injuries. Donald Thomas and Nick McDonald filled in perfectly in their absence. Brady was hardly pressured during the game, and wasn’t sacked once. A lot of fuss was made in the preseason about this offensive line, but through 10 games this season they have done more than enough to silence any critic.

– Aqib Talib made his impact known early on. The interception he returned for a touchdown was a result of Vince Wilfork pushing the offensive line back and forcing Andrew Luck to release the ball higher than he normally does. The result was a ball thrown way over Colts WR Reggie Wayne, and directly into the arms of Talib. He had a great run back allowing blocks to set up so he could march into the end zone.

– There were also two touchdowns thrown to receivers Talib was covering. The first occurred in the first quarter from Luck to T.Y. Hilton. The touchdown was not Talib’s fault as he was covering Hilton perfectly, and narrowly missed swatting the ball at the last second. It was simply a perfect pass from Luck. The second touchdown was completely Talib’s fault. Once again it was Luck to Hilton. Hilton clearly beat Talib over the top for the catch and score. Talib was called for a very questionable illegal contact penalty on the play, but the penalty was obviously declined.

– I know this may sound like a statement from a cynical Patriot fan, but is the Colts offensive line the best to ever play the game? They seem to get away with holding more often than not. There were more than one occasion when Ninkovich and Wilfork were held around the shoulder pads to slow down their rush, which gave Luck the time he needed to connect with his receivers.

– Speaking of rushing the quarterback, that was the most I’ve seen the Patriots blitz all season. And you know what? The blitz worked! Who knew that when you pressure the quarterback they make mistakes? The Patriots only sacked Luck once, but they were in his face all game. Luck was pushed back in the pocket, forced to make decisions and throw on the run, and the result was happy feet from Luck. The rookie quarterback was noticeably nervous in the second half of the game, and I have no doubt that attributed to the three interceptions he threw, as well as the fumble he lost.

– Just about everyone has criticized this secondary but watching this game provides the reason why they have been getting picked apart. Anytime the Patriots sent only three or four guys after the quarterback, Luck was able to sit back in the pocket and wait for his man to get open. However, whenever the Patriots sent more than four men after him, he lost his composure and threw into coverage. The secondary will benefit from an increased pass rush.

– I firmly believe that this front seven is the most talented the Patriots have had since the 2004-05 Super Bowl squad. Even without Chandler Jones in the lineup for most of the game, they were still able to generate a better than average pass rush, which caused turnovers. The linebacker corps has the ability to rush the passer but also drop back in coverage. On one play in particular Andrew Luck went to throw to fake to the flat in an attempt to draw Hightower off the coverage. Hightower read Luck perfectly and dropped back towards the middle of the field. He then swatted a ball right before it could reach an open Reggie Wayne. The play showed how smart and mature of a player the rookie Hightower really is.

– What is it going to take for Belichick to realize that Alfonzo Dennard is his #2 cornerback and not Kyle Arrington? Arrington has shown a knack for making mistakes, and yesterday was no different. He was flagged for the blatant pass interference on the first drive of the game, that set the Colts up inside the Patriots’ 5-yard line and led to the first score. He was then flagged for another holding penalty that kept a Colts drive alive. He’s shown an inability to keep up with most team’s #2 wide receiver, and I think it’s only a matter of time before he’s relegated to slot receiver duty.

– Watching Dennard yesterday he reminds me of a much more physical Asante Samuel. He plays slightly off his receivers but he is not out of position. When the receivers catch a short pass, Dennard is right on them and making the tackle. He reads quarterbacks well which led to him jumping a pass from Luck on the first play of the fourth quarter. The interception was returned 87 yards for a touchdown, and I couldn’t have been the only one in New England who said “he needs to start along side Talib.”

– The biggest defensive hero in this game was Vince Wilfork. He swatted multiple passes at the line of scrimmage. His rush up the middle of the line forced bad passes from a visibly shaken rookie quarterback. The defense appeared to be playing with a renewed intensity throughout the game and Wilfork is as big a reason for that as anyone. He anchors the defense and as he goes, so does the defense.

– Not much to say about the offense on this day. They looked as though they finally found their identity and were almost perfect all game. The injury to Gronk will definitely cause some hiccups in the coming games, especially with the short week and game on Thursday. However they have dealt with injuries before so they will game-plan for it. Brady looked in sync with all of his receivers as he threw for 3 touchdowns and over 300 yards.

– Jim Nantz mentioned that Lloyd hasn’t been the deep threat that we all thought he would be. I never saw Lloyd as a deep threat, I saw him as a #1 receiver that we desperately needed. It was evidenced yesterday that Lloyd can make all the catches. He caught a slant over the middle that moved the Patriots from their own 4 yard line up to the 20. He made catches on out patterns towards the sidelines. He didn’t record a touchdown, but he moved the chains well and had 4 catches for 45 yards. Other than the game against the Jets when he dropped three passes, Lloyd has not disappointed this season.

– Who else was devastated when Edelman was tackled at the 4-yard line on the end-around? I was really rooting for him to get the rushing touchdown to complete a little triple crown of his own. He became only the third player to record a punt return and a receiving touchdown in Patriots’ history. Ironically enough the other two instances occurred against the Colts, at home, in November.

– The rushing game wasn’t at its finest, but one thing to take away is the increased play of Shane Vereen. He is finally getting his number called on a more consistent basis and is playing well. Both he and Ridley have a “no nonsense” running style. They may make one cut but are always moving north and south. Very rarely do you see either moving east to west looking for a hole.

– The game this Thursday against the Jets is not going to be an easy one, especially with the short week and the loss of Gronk. This is one game their defense can dictate, though. If Sanchez is pressured like Luck was today you can expect similar results.

About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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