Precision of Welker, Branch is where Patriots are unique


Precision of Welker, Branch is where Patriots are unique

By Tom E. Curran

If you like football and you aren't following Greg Cosell on Twitter, you ought to. He's been at NFL Films for 32 years. He's currently a senior producer there and way back in 1984, he and Steve Sabol created NFL Matchup, the first nuts-and-bolts, Xs-and-Os show that demonstrated the technical and strategic artistry of the NFL game. In addition to continuing with that show and co-authoring The Games That Changed The Game with Ron Jaworski and David Plaut, Cosell breaks down hours of game film. He uses the "all-22" coach's film so he gets a better look at what's going on than the rest of us. He's been tweeting his position-by-position findings during this long, dry offseason. Over the next few days, I'll pick Cosell's brain about the Patriots' personnel and schemes. Second in this little string: wide receivers. Cosell makes the salient point that the Patriots' system and quarterback are what makes their receivers potent. That and the receivers' willingness to buy into the system's precision and be deferential to the quarterback's decisions are what make the Patriots offense unique. More skilled wideouts than Wes Welker and Deion Branch exist. But there aren't any who fit more seamlessly with the Patriots than they do. On Wes WelkerGC: I've had this debate with Peter King (of Sports Illustrated) for years about the top players. He would always have Wes Welker. Now I love Wes Welker. It's hard not to love him. But he's a very specific kind of player and -- as remarkable as he is -- he is a function of the entire offense and what's around him. He's got a tremendous understanding on how to run routes against zone and what made Welker too good with Randy Moss is that Moss demanded Cover-2. Against that kind of coverage, the phenomenal short area quickness, the fact that he's in and out of breaks so quickly and never has to throttle down makes him as good as anyone in football between the numbers. But he is a function of an entire offense. He doesn't define an offense. Moss, Brady's ability before the snap and the versatility of the offense means he's in a perfect, perfect situation.On Deion BranchGC: I think Deion Branch is a nice, short-to-intermediate receiver. He's a good route runner. He can win against man coverage but if you give him a steady does all the time he will struggle to separate. He is deadly against zone. Skill-set wise, he is replaceable, but because of the nature of the Patriots passing game which is so much based on pre-snap reads, his intelligence is not. That's where he does excel. And that's why he can go somewhere else and he becomes just another guy then comes back to New England and flourishes. He's got a great understanding of all that's involved. On Brandon TateGC: Very often, the way players are used tells you how a coaching staff feels about them. The way the Patriots use Brandon Tate tells that they don't think much of him at this point. He runs about three routes and the only time the ball comes to him is when a play is specifically called for him. In terms of physical ability, he's very good. If you look at the skill set of a wideout, he has it. He's big, he runs well, he's got good lateral quickness. But in taking the spot of Randy Moss,hewas stepping in for someone who wasas good a vertical receiver as we've ever seen. Tate has vertical skills but not Randy Moss vertical skills and that's why coverage was different for Tate after Moss left. I also think Tate's hands can be erratic That can't happen with the few plays they run for him. They just don't feel he was ready last year. And he's the kind of guy getting killed by the work stoppage. He really needed this offseason. On Julian EdelmanGC: I'm not saying anything that people haven't already realized in that he's very similar to Welker. (Asked if he believed Edelman will ultimately be capable of replacing Welker, Cosell answered that he could.) SummaryCosell cuts to the Catch-22 of the Patriots' wideout situation. There's a high level ofinstitutional knowledge necessary to play well at wide receiver for the Patriots. So while Welker and Branch may be a lot closer to the end of their physical usefulness than the beginning, it's hard to push away from them. Once the season starts, it comes down to winning games. So the emphasis on developing guys like Edelman, Tate and Taylor Price goes out the window as the Patriots prepare for every Sunday's matchup. Meanwhile, because Tate is lacking as a vertical threat to be taken seriously on every play, the Patriots are a more horizontal passing offense since neither Branch nor Welker is going to burn past corners with regularity. The Patriots sacrifice explosiveness for precision and -- as the numbers show -- it works. But getting the successors to Branch and Welker well-versed in the nuances of the Patriots attack gets harder all the time -- especially with the lockout ongoing.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Raiders score on final play for 31-30 win over Chiefs


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Raiders score on final play for 31-30 win over Chiefs

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Wins have been so hard to come by for the Oakland Raiders that it took three tries at the final play for them finally to pull this one out and possibly save their season.

Derek Carr threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree on the final play after the game was extended by two straight defensive holding calls and the Raiders snapped a four-game losing streak with a 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.

"We didn't give up," Crabtree said. "We got a team full of fighters. We believe. ... No matter how hard the game was, we believed. We came out with the W and I'm excited. It's a good way to win, a great way to win."

With their season on the line following the recent slump, Carr led an 85-yard touchdown drive in the final 2:25 to give the Raiders (3-4) the thrilling comeback in a game they trailed by nine points heading into the fourth quarter.

Carr finished 29 for 52 for 417 yards and three touchdowns, with Amari Cooper catching 11 passes for 210 yards and two of the scores. The Raiders had struggled to get the ball downfield while being held to 17 or fewer points in four straight games but Carr repeatedly beat the Chiefs with deep passes.

"No. 4 kept making plays," coach Jack Del Rio said. "This is a special, special win."

Alex Smith threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns but it wasn't enough for the Chiefs (5-2). They lost consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 11-18, 2015, and had their 12-game winning streak in the AFC West snapped in a thrilling finish.

"I've never been part of a game that came down so dramatic," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "But, still had a chance to win. Period. Just have to make a play. One play. One play."

The Raiders had an apparent go-ahead touchdown pass to Jared Cook with 18 seconds left overturned when replay ruled he was down at the 1. An offensive pass interference on Crabtree wiped out another touchdown on the next play.

But holding calls on Ron Parker and Eric Murray set the stage for the final play. Carr hit Crabtree in the front corner of the end zone to tie it at 30. Giorgio Tavecchio won it with the extra point , setting off a celebration on a wild night that included Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch getting ejected in the second quarter for shoving an official.

HOT TEMPERS: The game took an odd turn midway through the second quarter after Kansas City's Marcus Peters hit Carr late, angering the Raiders. Offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn confronted Peters and Lynch sprinted off the Oakland sideline to join the fray. Lynch, a close friend of Peters, ended up shoving line judge Julian Mapp and getting ejected . Peters also was called for a personal foul on the play. Lynch congratulated his teammates in the locker room after the game but didn't speak to reporters.

"I was disappointed he ran out because I knew we had a 15-yard penalty and we'd be in good shape," Del Rio said.

LONG DRIVE: After Marquette King pinned the Chiefs at their own 1 with a perfect punt early in the second quarter, Kansas City needed little time to turn the momentum. Smith hit Demarcus Robinson on a 33-yard pass on the first play of the drive. After a short run, Tyreek Hill beat David Amerson for a 64-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chiefs their first 99-yard drive since doing it Dec. 3, 2006, against Cleveland.

DEEP CONNECTION: Carr had not connected on a single deep ball to Amari Cooper all season before the two teamed twice for long TDs in the opening quarter. On the first, Cooper appeared to push Terrance Mitchell but the officials picked up the flag and gave Cooper the 38-yard TD . Later in the quarter Carr and Cooper connected on a 45-yard score, making Cooper the first Raiders receiver with two TD catches in the first quarter since Mervyn Fernandez in 1989.

KICKING WOES: The Raiders were hurt last week when a bad snap by Jon Condo led to a missed extra point by Giorgio Tavecchio in a 17-16 loss to the Chargers. That was Tavecchio's first missed kick of any kind this season but he then had a 53-yarder blocked and missed a 45-yarder wide left in the second quarter. Tavecchio also had a false start on an extra point in the third quarter.


Chiefs: Host Denver on Oct. 30.

Raiders: Visit Buffalo on Oct. 29.