Monday, October 12, 2015

Lewis, Edelman Juke Patriots Past Cowboys

Greg Hardy got his wish. Kinda.

The New England Patriots' "Scorched Earth" tour resumed on Sunday after a week off, a week that also saw Hardy return to practice following a four-game suspension and the Dallas Cowboys' defensive end wasted little time in adding his name to a long list of people who piss off quarterback Tom Brady...

Which is a bad thing, right?  Most football players when they become angry, their play suffers - especially for a quarterback: the adrenalin races through the body, movements become sudden and exaggerated, with a maddening proclivity for overthrowing the deep ball and putting the ball into the turf two yards in front of the safety valve, the resultant frustration trickling down the entire roster.

But not Tom Brady, and not these New England Patriots.
Brady scores on a one-yard keeper

Hardy talked some smack about Brady earlier in the week, saying he hoped to see him "on his back", which would have been taken as just your run-of-the-mill bulletin board clipping had Hardy not decided to expand his soliloquy to include some creepy comments about his squeeze and her sister...

...and then he and linebacker Rolando McClain, who was also returning from suspension, almost single-handedly blew up the first four Patriots drives, both seeing Brady on his back early and often.

But then Brady scored his first rushing touchdown in two seasons on a one yard sneak, got to his feet and clear of the swarm at the goal line and spiked the ball with much fervor and ill intent, bellowing to the capacity crowd at AT&T Stadium in a language that only fans of the death metal genre would be able to interpret.

It matters not what he was saying, because without hearing a word the crowd knew that Brady and the Patriots had officially survived the Cowboys' best shot, and that there would be precious little for them to cheer about from that point forward. Brady thrives in situations where other quarterbacks melt under the pressure, his movements deliberate and sound, his focus razor sharp, so to anger him is to do so at your own risk.

Brady's dive into the end zone made the score 10-3 with nearly the entire first half eclipsed, then kicker Stephen Gostkowski made the score 13-3 at the half - and by the time running back Dion Lewis made it 20-3 with a video game quality touchdown catch-and-run to start the second half there wasn't one football fan in the building - nor among the millions watching on television - that figured Dallas had any chance of winning this football game.

In all, the Cowboys battered Brady for five sacks and nailed him just about every other time he released the football throughout the first half - Hardy, McClain and two defensive tackles named Crawford (Tyrone and Jack, no relation) making the Patriots good-and-getting-better offensive line look overmatched for much of the first thirty minutes, but the Patriots adjusted at halftime and had their way with the Dallas defense for the rest of the afternoon.

The adjustment?  It was a simple as running the ball.

Fundamentally speaking, there is no better way to keep the opposing pass rush in check than running the ball, so it should come as no surprise that once the Patriots committed to the run to start the second half, a tactic that neutralized the Cowboys' speed advantage on the pass rush, Brady got to enjoy the rest of the game upright.

Taking advantage of the athleticism of left guard Shaq Mason, the Patriots pulled the rookie drive blocker to level the path in front of power back LeGarrette Blount for 62 of his 75 yards on the day while mixing in quick hitters by Lewis to force the Cowboys to play the run, taking pressure off of Brady and opening up the underneath zones...

......the result being Edelman and Gronkowski contributing 4 catches a piece for 120 and 67 yards respectively as part of the Patriots' 220 of their 356 total yards for the game.

Hardy, McClain and both Crawfords initially dominated the Patriots on the wings, resulting in all five sacks of Brady in the first half, forcing punter Ryan Allen into the mix for the first time in three weeks - but the second-year lefty showed no rust from the extended layoff as he pinned the Cowboys inside their own 20 on each of his four kicks.

The New England defense took over from there, forcing three-and-outs on six of the Cowboys' seven possessions, then causing two turnovers and making a goal line stand in the second half to hold Dallas without a touchdown for the only time this season, getting to quarterback Brandon Weeden three times - twice by defensive end Jabaal Sheard, giving him four sacks on the young season - and extending their streak of forcing at least one turnover in all four games.

Brady's touchdown notwithstanding, the first half was a series of horrible beatings, culminating in a 13-3 Patriots halftime lead that seemed more tenuous than it actually was, as the Patriots began working Gronkowski and Edelman into the game plan along with Blount, taking the opening kick of the second half and putting together a gorgeous nine-play, 80 yard drive to build a three score lead, Lewis capping the thing off with his 10 yard catch and run...

...gathering in a short swing pass that he had to reach back with one hand for, turning his shoulders upfield and waiting for safety Barry Church to commit to overrunning the play, cutting hard inside and leaving Church grasping at air then immediately getting small and stopping on a dime to avoid the high heat coming from Jack Crawford who flew right over Lewis. After that it was just a matter of stepping through the Corey White would-be tackle before finding paydirt...

...all set up by a patented Gronkowski rumble down the left sideline after taking in a short Brady offering, running through a hit by cornerback Byron Jones and slapping safety J.J. Wilcox to the turf before being brought down after a 33 yard gain - then Gronkowski abusing Jones again, this time on a crosser for another 23 yards before Lewis performed his magic trick.

Edelman and Brady hooked up on the next Patriots' possession to put the game out of reach, Edelman hauling in a 20 yard go on the left hash, cutting hard to turn around the edge defenders and angling down the seam, outrunning half a dozen Cowboys for a 59 yard touchdown that showcased the speed and elusiveness of the Patriots receiving leader.

Despite the first half difficulties, the 30-6 victory over the Cowboys was as complete a team win as the Patriots have enjoyed this season, courtesy of the Cowboys' game plan, which sought to limit Brady's first two reads on any given play while turning loose Hardy and the rest of the defensive line to menace the sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Granted, Dallas was able to achieve thier game plan for the better part of the first half, limiting Edelman and Gronkowski while beating Brady like he stole something, but coming out of the locker room it was evident that the Patriots were intent on working both into the offense as well as adjusting protection along the line.

Both Lewis and tight end Michael Williams took turns helping reserve left tackle Marcus Cannon - in for an injured and ineffective Nate Solder - double up on Hardy and that, along with a turn to the four minute offense and the accompanying power running game, turned the momentum of the game as Brady found his footing and started slicing up the Dallas zone.

Needless to say, the Cowboys' offense stagnated against the ferocity of the Patriots front seven, and it will take a similar defensive effort by the Patriots to remain undefeated next Sunday when New England travels to Indianapolis for a grudge match with the hated Colts.

No comments:

Post a Comment