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Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Closing the book on Patriots-Colts

By Mike Reiss

Closing the book on the Patriots’ 59-24 victory over the Colts with some final thoughts after re-watching the game:

1. McCourty makes his mark at safety. Up to this point, one might have said that Devin McCourty was a cornerback playing safety. But in this game, he looked like a safety playing safety. His second-quarter pass breakup on a throw down the right sideline to LaVon Brazill (who had beaten Aqib Talib) was a big-time safety play not recently seen in these parts, and he also had a few solid hits (e.g. second play of the game). I asked Steve Gregory, who made a cornerback-to-safety transition in the early years of his NFL career, his opinion on McCourty: “He has good speed, good range. The more plays he plays back there, the more comfortable he gets. That was one of those plays where you say ‘Hey, this guy has a knack for it back there.’”

2. Ball was out four times including bobble. When your long snapper is dislodging the ball from the opposition, as Danny Aiken did on the third-quarter punt when he raced downfield in coverage, that’s when you know your team has a knack for creating ball disruption. The Patriots had four different times in which they ripped the ball out of the Colts’ grasp (recovering 1). Add those to the three interceptions, and it could have been a seven-turnover day. That's seven real chances for a turnover, which is remarkable. This is part of their identity -- they are really good at it.

3. Two straight downers for run defense. What has happened to the once-stellar Patriots run defense? Especially early on, the Colts had their way on the ground as the Patriots looked too easily displaced when it came to run fits with their front 6 or 7. Furthermore, tackling was just OK (e.g. Chandler Jones on the goal-line) for the second week in a row. It’s hard to make teams one-dimensional when you can’t consistently stop the run. At times, it looked like the linemen were selling out against the pass and it cost them.

4. Improvement from Hightower in coverage. Rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower seemed to take a step forward when it comes to pass coverage. His batted-down pass in the second quarter looked like an instinctive play and Aqib Talib credited him and linebacker Jerod Mayo with dropping to the right depth on Talib’s  59-yard interception return for a touchdown, forcing quarterback Andrew Luck to get the ball over him. Hightower often comes off the field in the nickel, but if the coaches deemed Sunday as an improvement, perhaps he gets more chances to be part of the nickel.

5. Clock management in question at end of first half. It’s hard to argue with the No. 1 scoring team in the NFL, but I do wonder how Bill Belichick and Tom Brady truly view their handling of the clock at the end of the second quarter. Seems like they could have played it smarter, taken their shots, and done so in a way that used the two-minute warning to their advantage instead of leaving as much time (1:47) for a Colts final drive.

6. Snapshot of Vollmer’s dominance. Those looking for a quick snapshot of the high level in which right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is playing, cue up the tape to back-to-back plays (14:13 and 13:30 left) at the start of the third quarter. Vollmer’s athleticism stands out as he gets in front of a receiver screen to clear a path (yes, that was an offensive tackle squaring up a defensive back) for Julian Edelman, and then on the next snap, he absolutely stonewalled Jerry Hughes when Hughes attempted a spin move in the pass rush. Doesn’t get much better than that. Vollmer, who is in the final year of his contract, is putting himself in position to cash in.