Pats offense continues to roll but 'D' not quite there

Posted Sept. 19, 2011 @ 3:17 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

When the Chargers had the ball in Patriots territory with a little more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter trailing 20-14, did anyone really think San Diego would pull off the upset?

The way that Tom Brady picked apart a defense for the second week in a row, the fact that the Chargers had drawn within a touchdown didn't seem to sound any alarm bells in Foxborough.

Just to be safe, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, the team's top defensive players, made a big play that helped put the game away.

Wilfork, who was on the ground, used his legs to stop Chargers RB Mike Tolbert in his tracks. Mayo came in and poked the ball out. The Patriots recovered and four quick plays later, they were up 28-14.

In addition to the fumble, Mayo's fourth-down stop at the goal line and Sergio Brown's interception helped keep as many as 14 points off the board for San Diego. Like last season, the Patriots' offense was unstoppable and the bend-don't-break defense made plays when it needed to.

The PFW Spin

Through two weeks, it doesn't look like anyone can stop the Patriots — of course, they haven't played the Jets yet, who proved to be New England's kryptonite last season.

Brady threw for 423 yards against a Chargers defense that ranked first in the league in 2010, and four receivers had at least four catches. TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski have proved their rookie season was no fluke, and when the Pats needed it, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis ripped off some nice runs, including a 16-yard touchdown that put the game away. The O-line is giving Brady plenty of time and creating holes for the running game.

The question after two games, though, is if the defense truly is a vastly improved unit, which was the expectation considering a flurry of moves in the offseason. Last season, the Patriots' defense was their Achilles' heel in terms of giving up yards, but it also was their saving grace by creating a league-high 38 turnovers.

That was the modus operandi again on Sunday, with New England forcing four Chargers turnovers and turning them over on downs at the goal line. But how much longer can the Pats survive playing this way? For now, it doesn't seem to matter, as there is no stopping their offensive juggernaut.

There are two key things on defense to watch against the Bills in Week Three, aside from the secondary's play. With TE Antonio Gates unable to get open, Philip Rivers took full advantage of the wide-open flats. RBs Tolbert and Ryan Mathews combined for 15 catches for 135 yards. Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will have no problem getting the ball to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, two of the Bills' top playmakers, in space. Patriots LBs Jerod Mayo, Dane Fletcher and A.J. Edds will have to do a better job taking that option away.

Also, keep an eye on the defensive front. This is the unit that was supposed to be vastly improved with the additions of Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson. It's important for the D-linemen to win one-on-one battles and put pressure on the quarterback. Anderson had a strip-sack of Rivers in garbage time, but that was about it. The Chargers have a potent passing attack and a pretty good O-line, but those struggles should not continue against a Bills squad whose O-line is considered to be subpar at best.

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