Student assistant Mike Rodak took a look at the television copy of Sunday's regular-season opener against the Bengals and offers some of his second-quarter observations:
1. Patriots DE Mike Wright was often disruptive in run defense, breaking into the backfield on multiple occasions, forcing many runs to the outside. He played a key role in the fumble by Bengals RB Cedric Benson late in the second quarter. On the play, Wright was unblocked and started to spin Benson down before OLB Rob Ninkovich and safety James Sanders combined from the back side to force the fumble. It was just one example of a strong run-stopping effort by the Patriots defense on the day.
2. One important aspect of the release of OLB Derrick Burgess during final cuts is the role in run defense a player at the position must take on. In the preseason, Burgess had a number of lapses that allowed teams to gain considerable yardage on the ground. In contrast, OLB Tully Banta-Cain displayed textbook run defense technique for a player in the scheme, setting the edge to contain most Bengals runs and shedding his blocker to close the hole and make the stop. With the team shifting more of its pass rush to other positions, run defense at the outside linebacker position is moved into the spotlight.
3. One added benefit of the Patriots assembling their current group of tight ends is the possibilities it opens up for the other receivers on the team. On a third-and-6 situation, the Patriots lined up TE Aaron Hernandez in the backfield in a shotgun set. Hernandez, with his speed, was able to stretch the field and attract the attention of a defensive back, allowing WR Brandon Tate to find a large opening underneath and get the first down.
4. Despite having a quality game, QB Tom Brady’s most questionable decision of the day came on a deep seam pass intended for WR Wes Welker. If Welker had gotten separation from CB Leon Hall and found open space, it would have been a well-intentioned throw, but Hall was in close coverage on the comparatively-sized Welker. Brady tried to loft the pass into the end zone, but it was a dangerous decision, as Welker did not have the height to make the play, and Hall very nearly came up with what would have been a momentum-killing interception.
5. Patriots safety Patrick Chung showed aggressiveness throughout the first half, especially in run support. His range and athleticism were evident, playing a deep safety position for much of the half but still getting to both sidelines to cover runs and short passes. He also demonstrated proper tackling technique, wrapping up his defenders and not always going for the helmet-rattling hits.