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NFL Wembley preview

The NFL comes to London as the International Series rolls on at Wembley and of course next year we will have two games on the hallowed turf. Andy Richmond, @bickley14 and one of the brains behind the NFL-Insight website previews the match....

Looking at this game when it first popped onto the schedules you almost thought that this could be a an easy away day for the Patriots but recent event suggest that it could well be a bit closer and how about this fact – 12 of the 14 games that the Patriots and Rams have played this season have been within seven points in the fourth quarter, this Sunday could give the London crowd its best game yet and that’s before we mention the Patriots fourth quarter woes.

There are also some other fascinating aspects of this game you can crib the Patriots offence, they lead the NFL with 436.1 yards and 31 points per game and have racked up 16 consecutive games with 350 yards offensively, but they have struggled against sides with tough defences, like the Jets, Cardinals and Seahawks. The Rams look to be heading in the right direction under the tutelage of Jeff Fisher, and he’s certainly turned them into a feisty bunch, they have already surpassed their win total from last year but they do need to keep pace in the NFC West which has been transformed in recent years from poor to tough as a division.

I’ve written and spoken plenty about the game this week and for me it boils down to these five tactical points which were featured on The Guardian website this week in their sports section. There is plenty about the game on that site including an excellent profile of Brady and Belichick by Sean Ingle which I can thoroughly recommend as background reading.

My article about the tactical battles is below and I’ll leave you with a final thought the game based around the 4th quarter travails of the Patriots that I touched on in my Ten Spot column this week.

5. PATRIOT GAMES – what is about the Patriots, can they not close out a game? Sunday was again another example of this phenomenon, when they let the Jets back in and were forced to comeback, level the game and then win it in OT. Part of the problem is their inability to score points in the 4th quarter, so far this year; they have “lost” the last quarter on four occasions but more worryingly overall they have been outscored 55-61 and 31 of those 55 points came against the Bills (see next point) in their last three games they have been outscored 6-34 in the final quarter.

Anyone for a Rams comeback at Wembley on Sunday and that inability in the 4th quarter should also be a warning to both short-priced in-running backers of the Patriots and those who support them on big handicaps.

St Louis Rams v New England Patriots: five tactical points to look for

NFL expert Andy Richmond of www.nflinsight.com breaks down the key battles in Sunday’s NFL match at Wembley

1) The Rams must establish the running game

With the multi-faceted Patriots offence capable of lighting up the scoreboard quickly, the Rams must control the clock and keep them off the field by establishing their running game. With two very capable backs – Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson, who average 3.8 and 5.1 yards per carry respectively – they have a duo who complement one another and they should be given every opportunity to run the ball. That doesn’t always happen: they ran only 22 times against the Packers last weekend yet averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Establishing the ground game will allow the Rams greater flexibility to attack the Patriots’ porous secondary which has hampered them all year. Although the Patriots have intercepted a league-best five passes on throws more than 20 yards downfield, they’ve also allowed the most completions (18) and conceded five touchdowns off such passes.

2) Brady must be harried

Give the Patriots quarterback Tom Brady time and he will pick you apart. The Patriots have posted at least 350 total net yards in 16 consecutive games, equalling an NFL record, and in the 52-28 demolition of the Bills in week four, Brady threw for 333 yards as the Bills failed to get any pressure on him, only recording one sack. Yet Brady is not as mobile as other elite quarterbacks, so if the Rams defence are aggressive and show some hustle – especially defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, who have combined for 11 sacks this year – they could do some damage. It’s noticeable that Brady’s completion rate drops to 45.8% when he’s pressured and his NFL quarterback rating becomes 74.1, a far cry from his overall rating this season of 96.9.

3) The Patriots will target Jenkins

Brady is one of the elite signal-callers in the NFL but his ability to find the right receiver against the wrong coverage is second to none. True, he has a wealth of offensive weapons but the Patriots’ success is founded on him using them effectively and finding defensive weaknesses. And the obvious one to target on Sunday is Rams’ rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who has had a rough time versus the Packers and Dolphins recently. In those two games Jenkins was targeted on 19 occasions and the receivers caught the ball on 17 attempts, a conversion rate of 89%. Those sort of numbers will not have gone unnoticed by Patriots’ offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. Watch out for either Brandon Lloyd or Wes Welker lining up against Jenkins to give him a torrid evening.

4) Watch out for Welker

While Welker may have had his problems with the Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, the cause of that frustration stemmed from earlier in the season when the wide receiver appeared to be getting fewer balls thrown his way. Welker had only eight receptions in the first two weeks of the season and in the second of those games he was demoted from the starting line-up but he is still one of the most productive and consistent receivers in the NFL. His qualities include courage, concentration (especially in traffic) and the ability to separate from coverage – he already has 54 catches this year and he is the man Brady looks for in crucial situations, especially on third downs.

5) Don’t stop watching even if the Patriots are dominating going into the fourth

The Patriots have had problems closing out games all season, even when they have been dominating field position, possession and on the scoreboard. Last Sunday they allowed the Jets to rally and needed a comeback to win the game in overtime to move to 4-3. Part of the Patriots’ problem is their inability to score points in the fourth quarter. So far this year they have “lost” the last quarter on four occasions but, more worryingly, they have been outscored 55-61 – and 31 of their 55 points came against the Bills. In their last three games they have been outscored 6-34 in the final quarter. Different theories have been suggested – the Patriots have talked about losing concentration, while their inability to establish the run in the fourth quarter is another issue – but it’s something they clearly need to sort out. The Patriots used to be considered great closers of matches. Not anymore.

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