It’s the first time since 2003 that Patriots’ nation has panicked in week one. Most remember that as the game former team members Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy went Hulkamania on their former team, helping their Bills dominate 31-0. That year, New England’s record stood at 2-2 before they won 15 straight and the Super Bowl.
Should we believe they’ll own a similar fate this time around? The Super Bowl is anyone’s game, but a similar record is not out of the question. It’s only the first week of the season. New England is still adjusting, growing and figuring out who they are. As further proof of their ability to mature and improve exponentially, the Patriots’ record stood at 3-3 on October 20, 2013 and they still made it to the AFC Championship game.
So, the lesson here is this: Let’s take it game-by-game. This week, they’ll face a tough test against the Vikings, spearheaded by new head coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings demolished the depleted Rams in week one, showing an aggressive defense and offense. The Patriots must stop Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson’s running attack and force Cassel to throw. On the flip side, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels must establish a more consistent ground and screen game to keep Brady upright.
Let’s look at how the Patriots stack up against the Vikings’ offense and defense in more detail.
Vs. The Vikings’ Offense
The Vikings went from an easy, chalk-it up win to a suddenly scary matchup. If the Patriots fail to get back-to-basics, they could be in for another long afternoon against Norv Turner’s offense, which actually torched them last season when he was the Browns’ offensive coordinator. Don’t remember? Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
In week 14, the Browns were a mere 31 seconds away from upsetting the Patriots. By the middle of the third quarter, Cleveland was leading 19-3 after Jason Campbell tossed an 80-yard strike to receiver Josh Gordon. New England stormed back, but Cleveland still managed to put themselves in a position to win after Campbell led his offense 80 yards for a touchdown with 2:30 left in regulation. Turner’s mediocre quarterback finished 29 of 44 for 391 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
So, yes, Turner can do much with little. Now, let’s replace Campbell with a more respectable Matt Cassel and add in Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Paterson, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Ruldolph, and you see why the Vikings’ offense is more daunting.
So, after an extremely gloomy, but realistic portrayal of the Patriots’ opponent, how does Bill Belichick and company adjust?
- While Cordarrelle Patterson and Adrian Peterson will be focal points, I’d closely watch tight end Kyle Ruldolph. While the Vikings hardly used him in their passing attack last week, that had more to do with the Rams’ capacity to shut down tights ends than Ruldolph’s ability to make plays. The Patriots have also been known to struggle against top-tier tight ends.
- Don’t underestimate Norv Turner and head coach Mike Zimmer. Both coaches are extremely disciplined. Turner made tight ends Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron household names. Both coaches have also built a well-suited offense for Matt Cassel.
- Get back to basics. The Patriots must stop using a 3-4 front with 4-3 personnel. I understand they are searching for mismatches, but Rob Ninkvoich is one of the Patriots most disciplined defensive ends/linebackers at the point of attack, and he played in only 35 of 74 total snaps last week.
Vs. The Vikings’ Defense
Once again, the key note of interest is head coach Mike Zimmer, the former defensive coordinator for the Bengals. During his stay in Cincinnati (2008-2013), his defenses consistently improved and regularly finished as a top-10 unit.
So, it’s not surprising that Zimmer’s defense dominated the Rams in week one, and while St. Louis is nothing more than a triple A team, it was still a positive first step for his club. Unlike past Vikings’ defenses, which relied more on a Tampa 2 style playbook –a bend, but don’t break mentality–Zimmer’s defenses are as aggressive as he is on the microphone. They sacked the Rams’ quarterbacks five times, pressured them 20 times, forced two interceptions, six punts, and scored a touchdown.
More explicitly, the Patriots will be tested by another aggressive defensive line. While New England averaged 4.5 yards per carry against the Dolphins, it was not a consistent attack. No running back had double digit carries; Ridley totaled eight and only rushed for 21 yards. The Rams running backs actually fared much worse against the Vikings, averaging 3.3 yards per carry.