Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday's regular-season opener against the Bengals and offers some of his third-quarter observations:
1. As had been the case in WR Brandon Tate’s 97-yard kickoff return against the Rams in the preseason, Tate benefited from a lack of Bengals coverage in the middle of the field on the opening kickoff of the second half. Once Bengals RB Cedric Peerman overpursued and was caught out of position, Tate had a large hole up the middle and only K Mike Nugent to beat, which he did. Most impressive was Tate’s speed as he broke away from Bengals WR Quan Cosby and CB Leon Hall at the end of the return.
2. As the Bengals steadily moved downfield on their opening series of the quarter, the drive was very nearly stopped on two solid plays by Patriots defensive backs. The first came on a second-and-11 play when CB Jonathan Wilhite broke up a pass intended for slot receiver Jordan Shipley. On the next play, the Bengals targeted Shipley again, despite Patriots safeties Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung in close coverage. Meriweather got his hands on the ball as he and Shipley came down with the pass. However, Shipley won the battle and secured a first down. Both plays were still examples of the tight coverage demonstrated by the Patriots in Sunday’s game; they did not make it easy for the Bengals receivers and generally limited any yards after catch throughout the game, as well as big plays.
3. After a missed tackle in the backfield on a Bengals run in the second quarter, Patriots safety James Sanders did not make up for it in a play early in the third quarter. On the play, OLB Tully Banta-Cain set a good edge and forced RB Cedric Benson up the field, in a hole Sanders was responsible for filling. Sanders misread Benson and overpursued outside, allowing Benson to gain the first down. It should be noted that DE Mike Wright went to the ground with his blocker on the play, giving Sanders a larger area to cover. Meanwhile, Chung came from the back edge of the line to make the stop from behind.
4. After a stellar first half, the Patriots' offensive line began to run into trouble on the team’s first full possession of the second half. It began with a screen pass to RB Fred Taylor which was stopped for a loss after center Dan Koppen and RG Stephen Neal both released DT Domato Peko to the backfield. The drive then stalled after a critical holding penalty on Koppen on a play where Neal and LG Dan Connolly were also handled by their rushers. It negated what would have been a catch for a first down by TE Alge Crumpler.
5. The 28-yard touchdown pass from Bengals QB Carson Palmer to WR Chad Ochocinco came out of press coverage from CB Darius Butler, who had generally been in a softer position throughout the game. Butler was unable to jam Ochocinco at the line and trailed on the route, but was still in a competitive position on the pass. Butler did not get any help from Sanders, who was the single high safety on the play – Meriweather had come up to the line to cover the tight end. This is a play where the Patriots could have benefited from having a safety with more range, such as Chung, on the field to come over the top and provide help.