Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Sunday regular season opener against the Bengals and offers some of his first-quarter observations:
1. Patriots CB Devin McCourty’s pass breakup on the first play of the game was an impressive athletic effort by the rookie. He initially over-ran WR Terrell Owens’ route, which allowed Owens to jump and reach over McCourty’s back to begin to haul in the pass. However, McCourty read the pass well and reached backward with his right arm and knocked the ball loose before Owens could bring in the catch.
2. As was the case in the preseason, the Patriots defense continued to mix up its pressure, not relying on its outside linebackers to provide the pass rush. On one play early in the quarter, safety Patrick Chung and ILB Brandon Spikes were used as interior blitzers, while OLBs Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich dropped into pass coverage.
3. The Bengals' back-7 had a rough start to their afternoon, with a linebacker missing a tackle on a first-down run by RB Fred Taylor, and then failing to cover TE Aaron Hernandez on his 45-yard catch on the Patriots’ first drive. Their inability to effectively defend the Patriots' offense, combined with solid pass protection from the Patriots offensive line, allowed for an accelerated opening touchdown drive.
4. When the Bengals moved to an unbalanced line to begin their second possession, the Patriots defensive line made the proper adjustment, with NT Vince Wilfork moving head-on against the right guard, instead of his usual spot over the center, allowing the rest of the defense to line up accordingly. The Bengals ended up throwing to the weak side on the play, and with CB Darius Butler in a soft zone, there was room underneath for WR Chad Ochocino to run after his catch. Banta-Cain had a chance to make the tackle after coming off his man coverage on the tight end, but could not wrap-up Ochocinco in the open field.
5. The Patriots had early success using both the draw play and screen passes, including on the 9-yard touchdown pass to WR Wes Welker. They seemed to be taking advantage of the Bengals’ safeties, who rarely played close to the line and were not threatening to disrupt plays in the backfield or screen passes before blocks could develop. The safeties were more concerned with preventing passes over the top, which QB Tom Brady only attempted once in the quarter, an overthrow to WR Randy Moss.