Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Patriots looking at custom-made training opportunity against Bills on Sunday

Brady has had to get the ball out quickly, as lack of a running game and the injury to Dan Connolly has taken their toll

Though the NFL season is entering its final weekend, the atmosphere around Foxborough, Massachusetts most definitely has an almost preseason feel to it, for which you just blame the New England Patriots for being so darned good.

The Patriots secured the top seed in the American Football Conference by virtue of their 17-16 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday coupled with the Denver Broncos loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, seemingly rendering this coming Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills meaningless - when in actuality, it is a rare and priceless gift horse that head ball coach Bill Belichick is going to look right in the mouth, and shove a bridle into it.
The Patriots' defense has had plenty to celebrate this season

This coming Sunday, the ultimate leverage junkie Belichick will be living the dream, turning what would have been a fight to the finish with the dangerous Bills (had Denver not lost on Monday night) into a full-blown controlled scrimmage in which he will be able to put his team in the best position to try and work out the few bugs in their execution with the advantageous outlook that his football team to have nothing to lose by losing. 

It's preseason all the way, except the rookies are no longer rookies and the blended family that is an NFL roster has had time to acclimate and play off of each other, that wobbly-legged, headlight-in-the-eyes look that the team had in their eyes during August now a sharp, intense glare at the ultimate prize...

...which, of course, head ball coach Bill Belichick will tell you is nothing more than a victory over the Buffalo Bills in this Sunday's season finale at Gillette Stadium.

"I don't think it really has a big effect on what we've been doing" Belichick said in response to the notion that the AFC regular season champions might rest it's starters against the Bills. "Just keep getting ready for Buffalo.  That's what our challenge is."

Of course, all that was is Belichick giving the finger to the media for again daring to ask a question that they know they'll never get a straight answer to - but you'd have to be crazy on acid to think that the Dark Master is devising a game plan based on a win-at-all-costs scenario when he has the perfect opportunity to run a full objective-specific, task-oriented three hour seminar on fundamental football at game speed to prepare his charges for a playoff run.

This doesn't mean that the Patriots are not going to try to win the game, or that they don't care, rather, it means that they care very much about winning - but winning the way they are supposed to be winning, with a balanced offense and a stout defense that can dictate the pace of a game and crush the will of their opponent.

Keeping all of that in perspective, Sunday afternoon's contest will have much the same feel as a third preseason game, traditionally considered a "Dress Rehearsal" for the regular season, only this one will be a dress rehearsal for a Super Bowl run - and if quarterback Tom Brady has his way about it, it will be a full game for the starters.

"After the last few weeks of football, I'd love to go out there and see if our offense can put together the best 60 minutes of football that we've put together in a long time." Brady said, alluding to the fact that the offense has been less than stellar in the past month, then, "I don't care about resting.  I want to go out there and try to kick some butt. That's what I want to do."

It's a tough sell to the average fan and the other 31 teams in the National Football League that the Patriots are having issues on offense, given their record and the fact that they are top scoring team in the league, but the fact remains that New England hasn't exactly exploded out of the gates in their last four games, scoring just 10 points in the first quarters combined, but rolling for 38 in the second frames...

...while the third quarters have been just as dismal as the first (the 24 point anomaly at San Diego aside), while the fourth quarter has seen some scoring, but mostly the Patriots have been reliant on their four-minute offense to kill the clock and a shut-down defense.

And the latter is important to remember, because it's been over a decade since the Patriots have had a defense that can take over a game the way this defense does in the second half of games, and considering that since the team struggled to a 2-2 start - a time frame in which they gave up 33 and 41 points respectively in losses to the Dolphins and Chiefs - this New England defense has held every other opponent since to 26 points or less, and five of the last six have failed to make it out of the teens.

Even so, the defense does have some issues to attend to, primarily getting to the opposing passer with the rush and covering tight ends down the field, while the offense needs to incorporate the power running game into it's arsenal earlier in the game to take some of the burden off the offensive line and to keep Brady upright.

But these are superficial issues that have a way of working themselves out once players have time to get their bodies right with some proper rest, which they will get plenty of since clinching the top seed in the conference means two weeks off until the Patriots take the field again in the Divisional Playoff round...

...a long enough layoff as it is without feeding into it by resting starters against Buffalo.

No, the Patriots won't rest players, but will instead work on the fundamentals of football - blocking, tackling and running - while playing within a choreographed game plan designed to maximize opportunity to work on problem areas, and all with the devil-may-care attitude that comes from knowing that they don't lose anything by losing this game.

This is part one of a three part series, with part two covering what the offense should be looking to improve upon while part three will ruminate of the defense...

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