Patriots Put the NFL on Notice in Week 1

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To quote the late, great, Christopher (Notorious B.I.G.) Wallace, "if you don't know, now you know".  The New England Patriots made a statement to the rest of the NFL this past Sunday night, with a thorough dismantling of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This isn't your standard, Week 1 overreaction.  This isn't a "Baltimore obliterated Miami so watch out for them" type deal.  No, the Patriots were viewed as a Super Bowl contender entering the season, and on Sunday night they stomped a mudhole in a Steelers team that is viewed as playoff-caliber.

So long as the Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, they'll always be seen as a Super Bowl contender, but Sunday night proved that it's not just your standard pre-season hype.

One of the more impressive things to me was the defense.  We heard about their potential all offseason, and on Sunday night, they looked every bit as good as preseason reports indicated.  They'll face better offenses later in the year (Philadelphia, Kansas City, Houston), but Pittsburgh is no slouch.  They have some highly skilled players on that offense, and they were held in check all night long.

What stood out the most was how non-flashy the performance was.  They didn't force a bunch of turnovers; just one interception, when the game was already in hand.  They got some pressure on Ben Roethlisberger over the course of the night, but it never felt like he was bothered or under duress.  They only logged one sack.

Shop for official New England Patriots fan gear and authentic collectibles at NFLShop.comNo, this was just straight up, good defense.  Great coverage by the secondary.  Great tackling by everybody.  Everybody stayed within their responsibilities, and "did their job".  Roethlisberger, who last year averaged over 7.5 yards per completion, averaged less than six yards per completion on Sunday.  The Steelers also ran for just 32 yards as a team.

On the other side of the ball, by no means was that Brady's sharpest performance, but he still carved up the Steelers to the tune of 341 yards and three touchdowns. The offensive line held up for the most part, and Brady completed passes underneath, across the middle and down the field.  He spread the ball around effectively, completing a pass to seven different receivers.

The one area where you could nitpick is the run game.  What is expected to be a strength for the Patriots this year struggled to get going at times.  Both James White and Rex Burkhead had a couple of solid runs, but as a team, the Pats averaged just over three yards per carry.  Sony Michel couldn't get any traction, mustering just 14 yards on 15 carries.

However, that felt more like an offensive line issue than a running back issue.  It didn't feel like Michel was hesitating or not hitting the holes.  There just were no running lanes for him to get into.  He did have a couple of solid runs called back due to penalties, though.  The offensive line, though a little thin, is never an area I worry about too much early on.  With Dante Scarnecchia, I always have confidence they'll figure it out.

That is what should send chills down the spines of future opponents.  The Patriots offense was by no means at its best on Sunday night, but still piled up 33 points.  Imagine what this team will look like when the run game is rolling too.

Now this week, the Patriots head to a place that has been a house of horrors to them over the years.  Team records haven't mattered, the talent discrepancy hasn't mattered; the Miami Dolphins have had the Patriots number in their home stadium.  Everybody and their mother remembers how last year's game ended.  It's a game that at the beginning of each season, as fans pore over the schedule, they jokingly point to as a loss; and they're typically right.

Compounding on that fact this year is Belichick's track record against his former staff.  Overall, he has a good record, but it's those first meetings where he has struggled.  Both Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia got the best of Belichick and the Patriots in their first meeting as opposing coaches.  Eric Mangini was able to split in his first two faceoffs with Belichick.  So, combine the team's historic struggles in Miami, and the fact that former defensive coordinator Brian Flores stands across the field, and you would think it's a recipe for disaster.

Not this time. The Dolphins have very little, individual talent.  They may get hyped up for this one, and want to atone for that embarrassing Week 1 defeat.  That will only get them so far.  I expect the Patriots to come in with a laser focus and workman's like attitude.  These are usually the types of weeks - when there are off-field distractions/stories - where the team compartmentalizes everything and dominates.

I know Belichick doesn't like to focus on past seasons, but that's only with positive things.  I'm sure he's more than happy to bring up mistakes from previous seasons.  I'm sure the team has watched that clip of Kenyan Drake racing through the entire defense last year a few times this week.  There's no chance this team has a let down.  The only question to me is whether or not Belichick calls off the dogs on Flores as the game starts to get out of hand.


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Boston Sports Syndicate: Patriots Put the NFL on Notice in Week 1
Patriots Put the NFL on Notice in Week 1
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