Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday regular season opener against the Bengals and offers some of his fourth -quarter observations:
1. After an exceptional first-half performance but a shaky third quarter, some problems persisted for the Patriots offensive line in the fourth quarter. On a second-and-2 play early in the quarter, LT Matt Light was beaten inside by RE Antwan Odom, who tried but failed to wrap-up RB Fred Taylor in the backfield. The blown block still doomed the play however, as Taylor was still tackled for a loss by free defenders.
2. The Patriots used LG Dan Connolly as a blocking fullback as they approached the end zone on their final touchdown drive of the game. Replacing Connolly at left guard was Ryan Wendell, who was shoved onto his back by DT Geno Atkins on a second-and-goal run. Additionally, Connolly appeared to miss his assignment on the play, LB Dhani Jones, who wrapped up RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis short of the end zone. The Patriots turned to the pass on their next attempt, with TE Rob Gronkowski hauling in a touchdown pass. Wendell was once again handled by Atkins on the play, but QB Tom Brady got rid of the ball early before feeling the pressure.
3. Patriots CB Darius Butler was frequently targeted on the Bengals’ touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. He could not stop third- fourth- and second-down receptions for first downs by WR Chad Ochocinco, but stayed close in coverage on each play and was in position to make a play on the ball. He also had an athletic play, nearly making a diving interception but nonetheless breaking up a pass intended for WR Terrell Owens. He may have been part of the reason the Bengals were able to score on the drive, but it is hard to find fault with the way Butler played each pass; he was simply outplayed by an excellent receiver.
4. Against the Rams in the preseason, the Patriots secondary had trouble communicating assignments against “bunch” receiver sets lined up closer to the offensive formation. On a third down late in the Bengals’ fourth-quarter touchdown drive, similar problems arose. Safety Patrick Chung hit traffic and was late to pick up an outside route out of the bunch, while a backside crossing pattern by WR Jordan Shipley was played by CB Jonathan Wilhite. As Shipley crossed the field, Wilhite momentarily backed off the pattern, as if he was in a zone, but without any defenders picking Shipley up, Wilhite re-engaged on the route. That left him out of position and allowed Shipley to record a first down.