Light shouldering the load
Sometimes things get taken for granted because they’re familiar.
You’re so used to them being there that there comes a time when it becomes mundane and something new and flashy looks enticing.
Same goes with people.
Like left tackles that have started for 11 seasons and are 33 years old.
When the Patriots drafted Nate Solder with the 17th pick in April, the writing was on the wall that the end was coming for veteran Matt Light. The only question was when.
After 2010, it appeared to be coming soon.
Light led the team the team in sacks allowed (7.5) and total quarterback pressures (sacks, hurries, and knockdowns) with 40.5. Both by a wide margin.
Some of that has to do with the fact that as a left tackle, Light goes up against the opponent’s best pass rusher every game. But some of it had to do with Light. He struggled at times.
So this season, when Solder showed some ability filling in for right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, some couldn’t wait to insert the rookie on the left side and start the new era on the offensive line.
But Light has had something to say about that, especially of late.
The old man isn’t going anywhere.
Light turned in perhaps his finest performance of the season against the Colts Sunday, pitching a statistical shutout of defensive end Dwight Freeney, who has gone to three straight Pro Bowls and has been first-team All-Pro three times.
Freeney wasn’t even on the stat sheet after the game. He had zero sacks and zero tackles of any kind.
“He’s the best player that I go against,’’ Freeney said after the Patriots’ 31-24 victory. “Still is.’’
Light and Freeney faced off 28 times in the game. Light handled him one-on-one on 20 snaps (71.4 percent). He received double-team help seven times, and a running back chipped Freeney once.
This continues an impressive stretch for Light.
After giving up four pressures to the Eagles, including three to Pro Bowl end Trent Cole, on the first 12 dropbacks, Light has gone the next 67 giving up just one pressure: a hold against Colts lineman Tyler Brayton with 5:28 remaining in the second quarter.
To do that against players the caliber of Cole and Freeney is saying something.
Now, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that the Patriots obviously came in with a game plan for Tom Brady to get rid of the ball fast against the Colts’ pass rush. And he carried it out.
His average time to get off a pass was 2.25 seconds, which is about a half-second faster than his season average. On 16 of his 42 dropbacks, Brady got rid of the ball in under two seconds. Just six took over three seconds.
But that didn’t stop Light’s heir apparent, Solder, from tying a season high with five total quarterback pressures - his most since the season opener - against end Robert Mathis.
And it’s not unusual for Freeney to be shut out. This is the fifth time it has happened this season, which makes you question how hard he’s playing during the Colts’ winless campaign.
But when looking at Light’s season, you have to give him much of the credit.
Through 12 games last season, Light had allowed 6.5 sacks, 22.5 hurries, and 31.5 total pressures.
So far this season, he has allowed 2 sacks, 14.5 hurries, and 22 total pressures. Hard to take that kind of production for granted.
Here are the positional ratings against the Colts:
Rating: 4 out of 5
If you ever wondered what it would be like if Brady went up against the Patriots defense, this game provided the answer. It was like a soft-coverage faceoff between the teams. Brady was able to get rid of the ball before the rush on nearly all of his throws because the Colts were playing off the receivers so much. Brady ran the no-huddle to perfection, but he wasn’t perfect. He threw into double coverage twice - something you almost never see Brady do. He opted not to throw to open receivers twice as well, but that came in the first 24 plays. He was excellent after that point, but let’s be honest: There was not a high degree of difficulty against the Colts. Even in the red zone, they poorly played all three of Rob Gronkowski’s touchdowns.
Running backs Rating: 2.5 out of 5
If there’s one thing the Patriots will work on in the final four games, it’s run blocking. It has been poor in three of the past four games (Jets, Eagles, Colts). There were just four stuffed runs (1 yard or less outside of goal line) but the backs had just 59 yards on 18 carries (3.2 average). Like the other games, this isn’t the fault of the backs for the most part. The Patriots aren’t opening holes and getting to the second level against the linebackers. And against the Colts, they looked like they were going to go through with running plays even if the Colts stacked the box, which they did. In other games, Brady would audible out of those and throw. But the Patriots need the work.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
When you’re going up against a lot of zone, there aren’t going to be many tough catches. We counted four, with two coming from Wes Welker, who caught all 11 passes thrown his way. Gronkowski had three touchdowns, and the lateral showed off his athletic ability. Not many players his size can beat linebackers and safeties to the goal line. This, however, wasn’t one of his finest run-blocking performances, and Welker missed a screen block to Aaron Hernandez. Chad Ochocinco continues to be a disappointment. He makes a nice sliding catch on third down, drops the next pass thrown to him, and then obviously had no clue what play to run with 1:11 left in the first half and was pulled from the game for Tiquan Underwood, who knows the playbook better in eight days than Ochocinco does in five months. If he wasn’t getting paid $6 million this season, there’s little doubt he’d be cut loose. It’s a joke at this point.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
If this were solely based on pass blocking, the rating would be higher. For the second straight week, the Patriots allowed eight quarterback pressures, the lowest marks of the season. But the run blocking is average. Nick McDonald, fresh off the practice squad as the fourth starting center of the season, did a nice job. He allowed two stuffed runs but he did a nice job with the shotgun snap - something that had to do with his release in Green Bay - and was very good pass blocking. McDonald plays very high with his pads, which is good for pass blocking but bad pushing against the run. He competed strongly and showed some toughness, which was questioned with the Packers. McDonald has always shown promise but he needs a lot of refinement. The Chiefs let Brian Waters go because they thought he faded at the end of the season. May need to keep an eye on that. Waters has allowed five stuffed runs the past two games. He allowed 3.5 in his previous six games.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Like the Eagles game, you worry about the lack of pressure. The six total pressures were the lowest since the Patriots had five in the Week 3 loss at Buffalo. This week, no one has the excuse of playing against a fast quarterback like Vince Young. Andre Carter was shut out after having one knockdown against the Eagles. He was blocked one-on-one on 46 percent of his 26 rushes. Carter was doubled seven times, chipped three times, and stunted an additional four. Lack of a pass rush outside of Carter will be a primary concern in the postseason. Don’t know if there’s a better tackle in the league than Vince Wilfork at making stops while still being blocked. The strength that takes is unreal, and he had four of those in this game, in which he was outstanding (sack, two run stuffs). Kyle Love also did a terrific job playing more nose tackle and was able to shed blocks at the point of attack. Brandon Deaderick (two run stuffs) also played well.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Surprise starter Niko Koutouvides (33 snaps) showed his effectiveness against the run with 7:03 left in the first quarter when he shed the blocks of right tackle Jeff Linkenbach and fullback Jerome Felton on just a 2-yard gain. That’s more blocks than Gary Guyton sheds in an entire game. But Koutouvides later showed his limitations in pass coverage when Jacob Tamme, who is average, ran away from him on third down. Guyton (23 snaps) and Tracy White (20) basically split the rest of the time and it was a mixed bag. Guyton plays the run well for a play, and then struggles for two. Jerod Mayo continues to improve as his health does. He was better against the Eagles, and he was close to his Pro Bowl self against the Colts with two knockdowns, a pass defensed, a plus run tackle, and a terrific interception when he read the eyes of quarterback Dan Orlovsky. Rob Ninkovich (sack, hurry, run stuff) continued his good play since the loss at Pittsburgh.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Most of the struggles of this group can be directly linked to the lack of quarterback pressure. Orlovsky had all day to throw and he did what Young couldn’t: He completed 81 percent of his passes. To say the Patriots went into a prevent defense leading, 31-3, would be wrong. The Patriots blitzed nine times, and seven came after they built that lead. The Patriots also didn’t alter their coverages. They are a Cover 3 (safety and two corners deep), quarters (two safeties and two corners split the field), and Tampa 2 (two deep safeties and deep dropping linebacker) team at this point. And that’s what they did throughout against the Colts. The Patriots simply can’t play man-to-man, and that is the chief concern in the playoffs. We could have put safety James Ihedigbo in the linebacker category because that’s what he played most in the modified 3-4 scheme. He’s at his best closer to the line of scrimmage because he gets exposed in too much space. The experiment of receiver Matthew Slater at safety for 71 snaps wasn’t terrible, but he’s extremely limited because he’s a bit stiff and his recognition was, understandably, slow. Newly signed cornerback Nate Jones did a nice job but that he showed up says more about the state of affairs in the secondary: He’s a fifth or sixth corner and a special teams player. Devin McCourty’s biggest issue wasn’t in coverage - he got beat by good throws - but his lack of contain on Donald Brown’s 5-yard run.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Punter Zoltan Mesko continued his strong campaign with a 46.8-yard average and 4.4 hang time on four punts. He did have one poor punt that had just 3.97 seconds of hangtime, which allowed a 21-yard return. That’s unusual for him. Four of Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs were touchbacks and the two returns averaged just 17 yards.