In The Red Zone

Defense Stands Tall

In 2011 the New England Patriots defense was 15th in points allowed and 31st in total yards.  Going into the offseason with free agent signings and the draft it was evident to Patriots media and fans that Bill Belichick’s offseason goal was to remake the defense.

Well if the Week 1 win in Tennessee is any indication of how the defense will play in 2012 pat Belichick on the back for a job well done.

On Sunday against the Titans several key contributions came from new guys, products of the draft.  We saw relentless pass pressure from first rounder Chandler Jones, speed, toughness and tackling ability from first rounder Dont’a Hightower and very good safety play from second rounder Tavon Wilson.

All three had impacts in their first NFL game as Wilson had an interception in the end zone in the first quarter that killed a Tennessee drive.  Jones and Hightower combined on a strip sack that resulted in a New England touchdown, the first defensive points of the season.

But I’d be remiss if I’m giving you the indication that it was just the three rookies who made the impact.  It was the defense as a whole that stood up and played extremely well.

In the last two seasons this club has had a difficulty in tackling.  There have been more shoulder tackles than I care to remember.  While at times this technique is fine it leads to missed tackles and additional yards and points.  On Sunday the entire unit was wrapping up guys, there was very little shoulder tackling and even on plays when defenders got beat the Tennessee player got very few additional yards because they got wrapped up and taken down.

Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love were huge up front in stuffing the run and with help containing on the outside by Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham and Jones and backed up by Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Hightower the front seven was very formidable against Tennessee.

They held Tennessee RB Chris Johnson to a total of 4 yards rushing on 11 carries and the team as whole only had 20 rushing yards and 1 first down on the ground.  Read that again and think about last year.

The 20 rushing yards allowed was 5th lowest total in franchise history.

And I can’t forget the play of the secondary while Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck made plays to their receivers there were very few big plays.  Tennessee was limited to three plays of 20 yards or more and they were all pass plays by Locker two to Nate Washington (29 yards –TD; 24 yards) and the longest went to Jared Cook (35 yards).  In fact of the Titans 10 longest plays in the game, all 10 were passes, 9 by Locker and 1 by Hasselbeck.

I think it’s safe to say that after Week 1 it’s okay to be excited about the Patriots defense.

Ridley Runs Wild

Second year RB Stevan Ridley had his coming out party on Sunday he had 21 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD and gave the Patriots a dimension they have been lacking, a game changing back.  He also appears to be over his rookie nerves and putting the ball on the ground.

Of the Patriots ten longest plays from scrimmage Ridley had six (five rushing, 1 receiving) of them.  His longest gain came on a 1st and 10 in the 4th quarter Tom Brady hit him with a screen pass and Ridley went 20 yards to the Patriots 37-yardline.

But it his was running ability that was really special.  Like a high school senior on prom night he found the hole and hit it.   He had two carries for 15 yards, one for 16 yards and two more for 17 yards for 80 of his 125 rushing yards on five plays.  He also had a one-yard touchdown run.

I for one would like to see more of Ridley who, with his ability to catch, approaches being an old school every down running back.

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News and Notes

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick conducted his day after media briefing.

QB Tom Brady had his weekly call in to Patriots Monday with Dennis & Callahan. (WEEI)

Brady got his nose cleated when he got sacked in the first quarter and needed some patching up on the sideline and was wearing a bandage still during his post game interview.  The nose was not broken though.  WR Wes Welker said, “he’s probably the toughest metrosexual I’ve ever come across”.

Ridley spoke on Patriots Monday with Mut and Merloni. (WEEI)

Want to re-watch the Patriots Week 1 win?  Watch the full version or a 30-minute condensed version.  (NFL Game Rewind)

Former Patriots WR Troy Brown enters the Hall at Patriots Place as the lone member of the 2012 Patriots Hall of Fame class.  The ceremony is Saturday night at 5 p.m. outside the Hall and it is free and open to the public but you can buy VIP tickets.

Brown in the 19th inductee (18th player) to the Hall, he spent his entire 15-year career as a Patriot after being drafted in the 8th round of the 1993 NFL Draft.  He currently shares the franchise record for most receptions with Wes Welker both have 557.

The toughest man on Earth, Logan Mankins spoke on Patriots Monday. (WEEI)

Patriots C/G Dan Connolly suffered a mild concussion and it’s hoped his absence is a short one. (Comcast Sports New England)

Offensive groupings vs. Titans (ESPN Boston)

Offensive snaps by skill players vs. Titans (ESPN Boston)

Defensive snaps played vs. Titans (ESPN Boston)

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the offensive line were dialed in. (Boston Globe)

Five takeaways from Patriots vs. Titans. (Boston Globe)

Is Welker’s role being reduced? (ESPN AFC East Blog)

Linebacker Jerod Mayo led the team in tackles on Sunday he had 13 in all (9 solo).  Devin McCourty had 7 tackles (5 solo); while Hightower and Jones each had 5 tackles apiece.

New England’s interception leader after Week 1 is the rookie safety Wilson with one.

The team leaders in sacks with one each are Cunningham and Jones.

The Patriots had 5 tackles for loss in Sunday’s game, one each by Hightower, Jones, Ras-I Dowling, Cunningham and Wilfork.

Wilson and McCourty lead the team in passes defensed with 2 each while 3 players registered a quarterback hit; they were Cunningham, Wilfork and Trevor Scott.

The Patriots had 4 special teams tackles and S Nate Ebner had 2 of them.

New England was 6 of 12 (50%) on 3rd down conversions while Tennessee was 5 of 14 (36%).

New England didn’t have any 4th down chances while Tennessee was 1 for 2 (50%) on 4th down.

In the red zone the Patriots had 2 TD’s on 4 chances.  The other two opportunities ended up in Stephen Gostkowski field goals.  Tennessee had no TD’s in two red zone chances they ended up with a pair of Rod Bironas field goals.

In goal to go situations New England was 2 for 3 (67%) and Tennessee was 0 for 1 (0%).

The Patriots recovered 1 fumble and had 1 INT while they gave up no turnovers and have a PLUS 2 differential on the season.

Starting on Sunday the Patriots will offer fans at Gillette Stadium free wifi service. (Patriots)

Next Game

On Sunday the Patriots host the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. in their 2012 home opener at Gillette Stadium.  You can find your “Patriots Game Preview” on a computer near you on Friday morning.

Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMichaelsII