Sunday, October 12, 2014

Stork, Brady injuries shouldn't affect Patriots' game plan

Time was, Tom Brady being listed as questionable with a right shoulder malady on the New England Patriots' injury report was a long-running joke in NFL circles - as was head ball coach Bill Belichick's gamesmanship in relation to the list.

The league office would bitch and moan about Belichick supposedly omitting names from the injury reports, looking at it as if the Dark Master was trying to deceptively gain a competitive advantage - and Belichick's answer to those allegations?  Right.  He started listing every bump and bruise and scrape right down to the last hangnail.
Power back Stevan Ridley will be key to Patriots' offensive success

There is no grey area on this point with Belichick, and in typical American fashion he went from not reporting enough to reporting too much, thumbing his nose at the shield in both cases.

So no one really knows what to make of the news on Friday that Brady suffered an ankle injury in the Patriots' afternoon practice, and is officially listed as questionable.

Brady's name topped a list of hobbled Patriots that had far more defensive players listed than on offense, but if he and rookie center Bryan Stork were to miss this Sunday's contest against the Bills in Buffalo, the Patriots would be forced to face one of the top rated defenses in the NFL with a rookie quarterback and a big hole on the interior of the offensive line.

No need to fear for the quarterback position, however, as Brady is in Buffalo and not wearing any sort of conspicuous support element, but Stork's status has been downgraded to "out" as he wasn't able to clear the cobwebs from a reported concussion suffered in practice late this week - which is terrible news for the Patriots on a number of different levels...

...not the least of which is the notion that the Patriots seemed to have finally found the right combination with Stork at center to unlock the potential of the offensive line, something very important considering what they are protecting.

Granted, Stork is a rookie, and a rookie really shouldn't be expected to have such a dramatic impact as the reigning Rimington Trophy winner has had in his short tenure at the pivot, but for a team desperate for cohesion up front, Stork's small sample size is enough to at least raise a few eyebrows in muted excitement.

What the Patriots lose with Stork being out, besides the opportunity to start building that cohesion along the line, is the ability to take that next step in their growth and build upon the success they enjoyed last week against Cincinnati, and possibly even taking a step back in that progression - what with the fact that either left guard Ryan Wendell or Right guard Dan Connolly will have to slide into the center position.

Neither showed much at the pivot in previous attempts, nor did reserve linemen Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey filling in at the guard positions - so it makes sense that the one guy who really hasn't had an opportunity this season, Josh Kline, should get the call on the left, where he subbed in for Logan Mankins a few times last season to good success.

Devey and Cannon are tackles and were getting blown off the line by shorter, stockier defensive tackles that could get under their pads and drive them back into the pocket, so to avoid Albert Einsteins' theory of insanity at this juncture- wherein someone does the same thing over and over again the same way, but expects different results - playing Kline would be the prudent move... would staying with a drive blocking scheme, as the power running game will have to be featured early and often, regardless of level of success, because without at least the threat of a running game, that excellent Bills' pass rush will be able to overwhelm the Patriots offensive line, and put the already immobile Brady in harms' way.

And it's not as if that's singular to the Patriots, as any team that can't establish a running game against Buffalo will find themselves helping their quarterback to his feet a couple of dozen times, simply due to their strength in numbers - but having to keep a defined pocket to protect a hobbled Brady, who wasn't as graceful as a ballerina to begin with, becomes infinitely more difficult without the running game to base play action off of.

And that's the thing.  Many ills can be cured by running the football effectively, and many deficiencies masked, but when facing the Bills' front seven, taking the focus off of Brady and putting it on the Bills' linebackers and safeties is key.

The Bills have the second-ranked run defense in all of the land, but it's not as if teams haven't had some success against them, particularly running up the middle.  In Buffalo's first two games, the Bears and the Dolphins ran for 4.8 and 4.2 yards per carry, respectively, but couldn't maintain their running games after falling behind Buffalo - and those teams eventually lost those games...

But in week three and four losses, the San Diego Chargers and the Houston Texans both attacked the Bills' secondary by maintaining their running games despite a lack of early success - and while their yards per carry average didn't even measure up to the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust standard, both teams kept running right at the heart of the Bills' defense, which kept their play action rolling.

Same thing with the Lions last weekend, though Detroit was able to run the ball with former Patriot George Winn hauling the rock up the middle for a 4.3 yard per carry average.

The point is, the Bills can be run on, and the key is to just not give up on the run if it doesn't find initial success, and incorporating a tight end and running back-centric passing game to expose Buffalo's middle of the pack pass defense - which feeds directly into what the Patriots must do to be successful - should keep the Bills' speedy sack artists off of Brady.

The Patriots' passing game will feature a new wrinkle as well, as recently reinstated Brian Tyms will be active for Sunday's game, adding both size and speed to a pass catching corps that suddenly may well be the largest in the National Football League.

Tyms joins fellow 6' 3" receivers Aaron Dobson and Brandon Lafell, 6' 4" Tim Wright and 6' 6" Rob Gronkowski to form a unit that, in theory, should be able to cause rampant chaos in any teams' secondary - not to mention open up some room underneath for the backs to get loose and for Julian Edelman to gain some separation.

Balance will be the watchword, and the onus will be on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to generate and follow a game plan that masks the deficiencies along the offensive line, keeps Brady upright and moves the chains methodically to wear down the Bills' front seven.

No comments:

Post a Comment