Patriots Provide Another Challenge for Rams Defense

Posted Oct 25, 2012

LONDON – For the better part of the past decade, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and whichever flavor of the year weapons he’s had at his disposal have consistently put forth one of the most dominant offenses in the league.

Year in, year out, Brady and Co. have lit up scoreboards all over the league. The results have been unyielding, as the Patriots have piled up victory after victory.

Even now, more than 10 years after taking over as the starting quarterback as a sixth-round rookie, Brady is still at the top of his game. What’s scary for opposing defenses is that in some ways, he has the best supporting cast he’s ever had.

At least that’s how Rams coach Jeff Fisher sees it as his team braces for its second consecutive week facing a top-notch offense, this time at Wembley Stadium in London.

“They’re playing as a group probably as good as they’ve ever played and that’s over the years, that’s going back a few years,” Fisher said. “With the weapons that he has now, the healthy tight ends, the versatile backs that he has out of the backfield and of course the receiving corps and he’s playing at a much faster pace than they have. It creates problems; it puts lots of pressure on the defense. So we are going to have to obviously try to slow that pace down a little bit.”

That, of course, is one of those tasks that is much easier said than done. While New England has had its moments where its sputtered this season, the offense has seemed to be rounding into shape in the past few weeks, much like Green Bay had before it visited St. Louis last week.

Through seven games, the Patriots rank first in the league in total offense (436.1 yards per game) with a strong balance of the league’s fifth-ranked pass attack (286.2 yards per game) and fifth-ranked run game (149.3 yards per contest).

That production from an offense that favors plenty of no huddle and muddle huddle tactics has led to the top scoring offense in the league, averaging 31 points per game.

Brady, of course, is leading the charge with another of his typically outstanding seasons. While he’s not posting the video game numbers of a year ago, he’s perhaps in more control of the offense than he’s ever been with dynamic skill position players at his disposal at nearly every position.

“He’s a great player,” end Robert Quinn said. “He’s been to five Super Bowls, won three. I don’t know how many MVPs, future Hall of Famer. To play him is definitely a great honor. I respect him but on Sunday, that adds a little chippiness on my shoulder but it’s all part of the game. I am just trying to help our team win.”

Indeed, if the Rams want to have a chance to slow the potent Patriots machine, it will start up front as it always does.

Last week against Green Bay and its star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Rams had success early by getting after Rodgers but they couldn’t sustain it as the Packers came up with adjustments to keep Rodgers upright.

Still, the Rams will again have to find ways to get after Brady, who though savvy enough to evade pressure, doesn’t have the athleticism of Rodgers.

“It’s got to be the mindset regardless,” Quinn said. “If you don’t think you can get back there, it will slow you down. Just play fast. You are not going to get back there every play but you have got to keep chipping away and once you do, maybe you’ll get the ball rolling for everybody else and instead of having one on the game, the whole team can have 10, 11, 12 or whatever it may be. That’s how our whole defense wants to be; it might take just one play to get us sparked up.”

Brady’s ability to read defenses and get the ball out quick make him the type of quarterback that is difficult to blitz as well, meaning the Rams can’t exactly just generate pass rush by using linebackers, corners or safeties to try to take him by surprise.

“Getting pressure on good quarterbacks is essential if you can get it but you can’t manufacture it because Tom is too smart,” Fisher said. “He’ll see it and get rid of the football. You have to do it with a consistent four-man rush.”

It’s also easier for a four-man rush to get home if the secondary can hold up in coverage on a consistent basis. New England is blessed with talent at receiver on the outside such as Brandon Lloyd but the Patriots do much of their damage between the hashes.

Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and slot receiver Wes Welker work the seams effortlessly and open things up on the outside for Lloyd as Brady spreads the ball all over the field.

That means this week could provide a major test for Rams safeties Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell.  

“No. 12 makes the whole thing go,” Mikell said. “He’s going to find the guys that are open. You’ve got Wes Welker inside and Brandon Lloyd was here and he’s very good, I think one of the more underrated receivers in the league. He’s tremendous. They’ve got some weapons. As safeties we have to make sure our corners are ready to play and have their back and be on top and be where we’ve got to be. “

This year, New England’s offense has the added dimension of a consistent, diverse running game led by emerging back Stevan Ridley. Often running out of no huddle and spread out sets has allowed the Patriots to speed teams up and leave open holes to run through.

“To give you an example, they’ve got over 75 more rush attempts than the league average right now,” Fisher said. “That shows you how many plays they are getting off so there’s obvious reasons that they’re first in the National Football League in offense.”

In addition to generating a pass rush via a strong front four, limiting possessions can also be a key to slowing down New England’s offense.  

One way to do that is to get turnovers, something the Rams got in bunches at the beginning of the season but has been missing the past two weeks in game that not coincidentally became losses for them.

Brady has tossed three interceptions and coughed up one fumble this season so far, which are both solid numbers. The Rams will need to increase those to put themselves in position to win Sunday.

“You can’t really stop him,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “You can try to slow him down. He’s one of the best in the game and it’s hard to stop those guys, even slow them down. You can say ‘Hey, I hope we make the Patriots one-dimensional because they run the football really well but even doing that you are putting the ball in one of the best in the game’s history to ever do it. You have to try to force turnovers, steal possessions away from them, give your offense more possessions. It sounds cliché but the game of football is pretty simple when you do it. You have got to force turnovers and do things that benefit your team so we’ll see how it works.”

One other solution is to not use the defense at all to try to slow down Brady and Co. Instead, quarterback Sam Bradford and the Rams offense could be the defense’s best friend by putting together a number of long, sustained drives that keeps the Patriots offense on the sidelines.

And, perhaps most important, when those drives do come, they end with seven points on the board instead of three.

“We have got to score touchdowns when we have the opportunity to,” Bradford said. “I think the offense is going to be a big part of winning this game. We are going to have to play extremely well, we are going to have to control the football and score every time we have the opportunity.”