New England, meet Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, a boat load of tea (pun intended), fish and chips, notoriously depressing weather, albeit similar to our weather, and the historic and new 90,000 seat Wembley Stadium.
The Patriots invade England this Sunday.
However, as we all know, these Patriots are much different than the Colonists they derive their name from. And no greater difference exists than how they are viewed by the current generation of Englishmen. In fact, the Patriots have acted like football ambassadors, helping march the National Football League back into Europe's somewhat open arms since NFL Europe (Europa) folded.
The NFL is persistent and constantly looking for ways to take advantage of its lucrative popularity in the states. After all, basketball and baseball have successfully crossed the pond, so why not America’s new, true pastime, football? After NFL Europe cost its parent league close to $30 million a season, the NFL finally closed its doors. Yet, in spite of its collapse, NFL Europe did serve one important purpose: It helped introduce American football to Europeans. Nothing more proves this point than only a few years ago when the NFL flew back across the Atlantic to showcase its homegrown teams in action. The league scheduled two games overseas next year.
England is rumored to love the (football) Patriots and although they are considered the “away” team this week, the Patriots should feel right at home.
Besides England’s time zone shift, the strange food, cheeky culture and other external distractions, the Rams also present a few problems. To start, they are part of a surprisingly resistant and tough NFC West—a division that currently holds a 2-0 advantage against the Patriots.
The Ram’s defensive line is studded with first round talent. Defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn have combined for 11 sacks this season and 2012 first-round pick Michael Brockers commands a demanding presence up front. Four-year linebacker out of Ohio State, James Laurinaitis leads the defense and has registered 57 solo tackles. Safety Quintin Mikell, cornerback Cortland Finnegan and controversial, but rising rookie Janoris Jenkins hold down the secondary.
The Rams are no longer the world class, “Greatest Show on Turf.” In fact, not only are they 12 years removed, but they are in danger Sunday of losing that once commended title—if the Patriot’s offense racks up 350 yards or more, they will have done so for 16 straight games, which will tie the Ram's total yards record held back in 1999-2000.
Although overall St.Louis is ranked middle of the pack, their defense has only surrendered 20 points, 225 passing yards and 98 rushing yards per game. Former Titan’s head coach Jeff Fisher took over the much maligned squad this year and his stout, commanding presence has been immense. In the past four games, Fisher’s defense has held opponents to an average of 15 points.
With Patriot’s versatile tight end Aaron Herandez out due to an ailing ankle, the Patriots may turn again to tight end Daniel Fells (17 total snaps last week vs. 40 the week before) so they can continue to attack with their two tight end formation. Doing so will allow them to take advantage of mismatched, smaller cornerbacks and better support Steven Ridley’s running game. If this approach fails, New England could try to use a combination of receivers like Julian Edlemen and Deion Branch.
The Patriot's offense adjusts on the fly. They look to take advantage of mismatches and are fearless in switching their offense. Recently, their problem has been consistency. It is acceptable to use a “game-plan offense”, but if the game plan is not working than you will not win many games (duh!).
On offense, St. Louis should not present a major issue. With a seemingly constant rotation of offensive coordinators, Ram’s quarterback Sam Bradford has played above average since his rookie season. Yet, in spite of this, he is (I think) more of a threat than Seattle’s quarterback Russell Wilson and Jet’s quarterback Mark Sanchez. (Don’t quote me on this.)
In recent weeks, quarterbacks have burned New England’s secondary. Some “experts” suggest the unit’s inexperience has been the driving reason for their poor play . And to some extent they might be right. So, to add a veteran presence in the backfield, New England moved starting cornerback Devin McCourty to safety last week. And it worked to some degree. In the long run, however, I still do not see this unit greatly improving, even when veteran safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory return.
New England’s front seven will look to hold down running back’s Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson. And they likely will. The Ram’s offensive line is instable. Teams have sacked Bradford 21 times and if the Patriots feel comfortable their secondary can hold their coverage, this would be a great game to change up and play an "amoeba defense" on third downs. Will the Patriot’s blitz a lot? Probably not, but the Ram's may give them a chance too play aggressive.
The worst thing New England should face this weekend is being offered food like Black Pudding, Bubble and Squeak, Laver Bread and a few other desert items whose names I would rather not mention.
In any case, as I might say if I were in England this weekend...I reckon this should be a bloody swell contest…or something like that.
Until then, cheerio lads and I will talk with you after the game.