Monday, November 16, 2009

Leftover lessons from Patriots-Colts

While the vultures circle around Bill Belichick this week -- even as evidence suggests he might have actually been playing the percentages after all -- it's easy to overlook some of the other lessons we learned during the Patriots' 35-34 loss in Indianapolis:

* The Colts can't defend Randy Moss. The Jets (with Darrelle Revis, the best cover corner in the NFL) remain a tough matchup for Moss. But the Colts' rookie corners had no chance to cover Moss deep -- as evidenced by his 63-yard touchdown reception -- and gave no indication they'd have any chance to do better if the two teams met again.

* The Patriots can defend Dallas Clark. Brandon McGowan did quite a bit of it. Darius Butler and Patrick Chung did their part, too. It was a total team effort, but the Patriots made the Colts' star tight end a virtual non-factor. Clark caught four passes for 65 yards, but he also was virtually invisible during the second and third quarters of the game.

* The Patriots can't necessarily defend Clark and Reggie Wayne at the same time. Credit has to go, of course, to Wayne and Peyton Manning. A couple of the passes Wayne caught were perfect throws from Manning, and there was nothing the Patriots' corners could have done. But the Patriots focused quite a bit on Clark, and that allowed Wayne to run free a little bit.

If they had a Revis-type cover corner, they could afford to do that, but they don't: Leigh Bodden ranked 23rd among cornerbacks entering play Sunday, according to, and while he's been a huge upgrade on Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal, he got beat clean by Pierre Garcon in the third quarter for a touchdown.

* The Patriots are getting dangerously thin along the line of scrimmage. Bill Belichick had no update Monday on the head injury suffered by Stephen Neal during Sunday's second half, but if Neal misses any length of time, the Patriots could be in trouble. Center Dan Koppen was a game-day decision on Sunday, and left tackle Matt Light now has missed a month with a knee injury. Neal might be the most difficult to replace, though: He entered the weekend as the best offensive guard in football.

On the other side, Jarvis Green and Ty Warren both were deactivated against the Colts, and pass-rushing linebacker Tully Banta-Cain left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. The emergence of Myron Pryor and the steadiness of Mike Wright mitigates the issue a little bit, but the Patriots are running out of bodies to play alongside star nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

(This has less to do with the line of scrimmage, but did anyone notice how little Adalius Thomas did in the game even after Banta-Cain and journeyman Rob Ninkovich -- the Patriots' first two options at outside linebacker, apparently -- were injured?)

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