Patriots

New faces or not, Patriots expect to see the same Peyton Manning

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New faces or not, Patriots expect to see the same Peyton Manning

By Danny Picard
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo admitted Thursday that he's played as Peyton Manning in Madden.

Sure, it's just a video game. But don't overreact to the news. It was something he enjoyed doing while at the University of Tennessee, not while a member of the New England Patriots.

And he wasn't the only one. Why wouldn't you want to play as the Colts, and their prolific offense while trying to dominate in the college dorms, especially if you have no affiliation with their biggest rival?

A lot has changed since the days that Mayo -- and most likely other young Patriots players -- used to re-create Manning's dominant offense on their video-game system of choice.

The Colts' offense looks much different these days. For starters, there's no more Marvin Harrison. It's Manning's second season without his favorite wide receiver.

Adding to the list of offensive Colts players who won't be on the field for Sunday's game against the Patriots is tight end Dallas Clark, who is out for the season after having wrist surgery. In his place has been third-year tight end Jacob Tamme, who has 24 receptions for 245 yards and two touchdowns in the three games since Clark went down.

"He definitely does have receiving capabilities, similar to Dallas," said Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. "Obviously, Dallas is a guy who's more proven, but Tamme is a guy who has been proving himself. And he's very capable of making plays down the field."

Also capable of making plays down the field is running back Joseph Addai, but his status is up in the air for Sunday. Addai has missed the last three games because of a shoulder injury, and if he misses another on Sunday, the Patriots will see a mix of Donald Brown and Javarris James in the backfield.

But as different as the Colts' offense will look on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the more it remains the same.

"They still get the ball around pretty well," said Banta-Cain. "He makes the best of the receivers he has. It's obviously different guys doing it, but it's the same stuff."

Mainly because, well, it's the same guy calling the shots. It's the same guy who's walking up to the line, then stepping back, changing the play, or at least, making it look like he's changing the play.

Manning is still the Colts' quarterback. And the Patriots know that regardless of the different faces in the offense, their defensive strategy will also remain the same in trying to mix and match their different looks in an attempt to confuse Manning.

"You're trying to trick him, basically," said Mayo. "He's a great quarterback. He has a great arm, and can make all the throws.

"It's very difficult," added Mayo. "He studies a lot of film. He's a great quarterback, like I said. We have to try, you know? We have to try."

Manning was only sacked 10 times last season, but nine games into this year, the Colts' quarterback has already been sacked 12 times. Still, he's only thrown four interceptions in those nine games, opposed to the 16 total picks he threw last season.

Bottom line: Manning's still got it. And while the Patriots will continue to try and fool him on the defensive end, Manning will certainly continue to bring trickery of his own, something that's made him a successful quarterback.

"His pre-snap reads are amazing," said Mayo. "He pretty much knows what's going on before he even snaps the ball."

"A lot of times, you don't really want to key on what he's doing, because you don't know if it's real or fake," said Banta-Cain. "It's not something you can fully rely on.

"He's a tough quarterback to try and confuse," he said. "He'll confuse you more than you confuse him. He's a guy that, yeah, you try to do your best to disguise stuff, and things like that. But he's really good at what he does, and picking out coverages."

Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comdannypicard

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.