Tag Archives: Bill Belichick

Arizona Cardinals, Week Two: Back on Track or Panic Time?

fitzgerald-ponders

Arizona’s last-second game-winning 46 yard field goal attempt in Sunday night’s opener was a four-step process: Low snap, late hold, wide left, heads hung.

Kicker Chandler Catanzaro had converted 100% of his kicks from that distance and closer last season. Not this time, and the Cardinals sputtered out of the 2016 gate with a 23-21 loss to the visiting Patriots. Without offensive stalwarts Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Coach Bill Belichick had tricks up his sleeve—he’s Houdini in a hoodie—and too often he left the Cardinals mystified. Damage had been done well before that kick.

After the disappointing result, many Arizona fans fashioned a two-step process of their own:

Step one: Locate panic button.
Step two: Press it, with vigor.

Catanzaro’s wide-swinger was the final act of a special teams unit that was sub-par all day. The return game offered little. Punts were short. Coach Bruce Arians will tell you that, and he’ll regale you with tales of poor tackling, missed assignments, third down defensive laxness, vanishing receivers, lack of sustained offensive flow, and much more. Monday morning, GM Steve Keim used words like “disappointed” and “embarrassed” when he assessed the effort.

Still, Arizona came within a whisker of beating the vaunted Patriots and helping to wipe away the foul memory of last year’s NFC Championship smack down at the hands of the Carolina Panthers.

Don’t press that button just yet, folks.

Keep it handy though, just in case. Tampa Bay’s wunderkind QB Jameis Winston rolls into town today with his aerial circus in tow. Winston is fresh off Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 23 of 32 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns in a Buccaneers win over the Falcons last week. Arizona’s cornerbacks will have their hands full as Winston slings it to talented Buc receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, who are both tall and can stretch the field.

The Cardinals’ mood is more anger than panic. They aim to prove they still belong in conversations about the NFL elite.

KEYS TO THE GAME

  1. More touches for running back David Johnson. Johnson gained 89 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for a 10.8 yard average last week. Johnson may be the most elusive 225 pounder on the planet and he can plow over you if needed. He has a flair for first downs and touchdowns. Get him the ball.
  2. Help Larry. Larry Fitzgerald hauled in eight catches last week and scored twice. He has sticky hands and he’ll be in Canton someday. But he needs some help right now. Michael Floyd caught three passes last week. No other Cardinal wide receiver caught more than one.
  3. Boost Brandon Williams’ confidence. The rookie cornerback won the job in the preseason, though it would likely be Justin Bethel’s if he wasn’t playing with pain in his surgically-repaired foot. Williams blew a coverage and misplayed a pass last week, both leading to Patriots scores. Tampa Bay will want to throw his way, and the Cards will have to play more zone to help Williams.

KNITTING DOG SWEATERS
The following players will be unavailable Sunday and may be otherwise occupied:

Frostee Rucker, DT (knee).
Kareem Martin, LB (knee).

The season is young, but this feels like a pivotal game for Arizona. A win over Tampa Bay makes the Patriots game a blip. A loss makes it a trend.

Fans: If you need to push that panic button, please wipe the BBQ sauce off your fingers first. It’s mannerly, and simply good hygiene.

– Eric Forgaard

This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Bills at Patriots Review – Week 11

Rex Ryan and the Bills approached playing the Patriots the second time around much differently than they did in Week 2.

Buffalo and their outspoken coach were relatively silent over the course of the week, and the focus on the game showed on the field on Monday.

The Pats were held to just 20 points on Monday Night. Their lowest output of the season offensively.

Luckily, the defense stepped up and delivered another solid performance. Coupled with a few big misses by Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Let’s take a look at what went wrong offensively, and how the defense got the Pats to 10-0:

On Offense

Offensive Line: By now you have heard many a times how awful the Patriots offensive line was on Monday night. What’s worrisome about Monday night’s performance was the amount of pressures the O-Line gave up just by getting beat in one-on-one situations. The Bills deserve a lot of credit for disguising the rush and dialing up some different blitzes that had Tom Brady guessing on protections. It isn’t the offensive lines responsibility to read the defense and change the protection based on what they see, that’s on the quarterback. If the Patriots want to continue to be the high-powered offense that they have been thus far this season, they need a better effort from the group upfront. Marcus Cannon, in particular, had a rough performance in this one. In all, Brady was hit 13 times, just an unacceptable number for any quarterback.

Wide Receivers: When both Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola went down in Monday’s game, the broadcast quickly became about the lack of weapons around Tom Brady, especially at the wide receiver position. The O-Line was woeful, but it was also clear that the Patriots receivers weren’t getting any separation from the Bills defensive backs. Brady had to get rid of the ball quickly, and there just weren’t enough opportunities being made by his receivers down field. Having said that, with the news that Danny Amendola’s knee injury is minor, I still think they have enough pass catchers to get by. Gronk, Amendola, and LaFell should be enough for Tom Brady to move the offense.

Credit to Buffalo: The Patriots had their worst offensive performance of the season on Monday, and the biggest reason for that (yes, even bigger than injuries) was the gameplan and execution by the Bills defense. You have to tip your cap to Rex Ryan. He had about as good of a gameplan against this Patriots offense as you can draw up. It was obvious that the Bills liked their chances with their outside corners vs the Patriots WRs, and for good reason. The Bills devoted multiple defenders to Gronkowski when he lined up as an in-line tight end. When Gronk went outside, he mostly drew the Bills best CB Ronald Darby. The Bills also did a great job of disguising who was rushing the passer and who was dropping into coverage. It forced Brady and the O-Line to react to the Bills defense instead of diagnosing the play call pre-snap. If it wasn’t for a few busted coverages and Tom Brady’s efficiency against the blitz (7-10 for 128 yards, TD) the Patriots never would have put up 20 points. That’s about as good as you can play this Patriots offense.

On Defense

Run Defense: One of the keys to this game was if the Patriots defense could slow down the Bills rushing attack (ranked 2nd entering Week 11). The Pats held LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, and mobile QB Tyrod Taylor to just 94 yards on the ground. How did they do it? By two-gapping in the 3-4, setting the edge, and limiting the cutback lanes for Shady McCoy. McCoy is a tremendous running back, who likes to set up the defense for bigger runs by cutting back just when you think you have him stopped. The Pats defensive line deserves a lot of credit for holding up the Bills O-Line and playing discipline run defense.

Tyrod Taylor: In reality, the Bills lost this game because Tyrod Taylor couldn’t make the necessary throws to beat a team as good as the Pats. Taylor had good success throwing the deep ball in the first few games of the season, but has really regressed in that area as of late. Taylor was 4-9 for 107 yards on deep passes. The stats aren’t awful, but he under threw a number of open receivers, which cost the Bills at least a touchdown. He did connect on a few nice deep balls to WR Chris Hogan, and threw a nice pass to Shady McCoy that was broken up by Devin McCourty on a great play. Where this really hurts the Bills offense is its effect on second year receiver Sammy Watkins. Over the last two weeks, Watkins has been open deep a number of times and Taylor has flat out just missed the throw.

Jerod Mayo: There have been a lot of questions about Mayo’s role in this defense and his lack of playing time. This was one of Mayo’s best performances this season. Mayo played in just 16 defensive snaps, but recorded five tackles and one run stuff. The Pats have opted to play Jonathan Freeny over Mayo in Jamie Collins’ absence. The lack of snaps for Mayo has a lot to do with the team easing him back into games after suffering two significant injuries in the last two seasons. In an ideal world, Mayo would be the third linebacker on the depth chart behind Hightower and Collins.

Bills at Patriots – Week 11 Preview

Rex Ryan has made it very clear this week that he doesn’t like the Patriots, Patriots media, or Patriots fans.

Rex might be a little salty because he has dropped eight of the last nine contests against Bill Belichick, and has already conceded the 2015 division crown to the Pats.

The Bills, however, do have the right formula theoretically to take down the Patriots.

They have a solid defenses that hasn’t performed up to expectations based on the numbers, but is very talented on paper, and they lean heavily on a good running game offensively.

Let’s take a look at the keys to a Patriots victory Monday night:

On Offense

Get Receivers Open: This doesn’t sound like much of a problem typically for the Pats, but with Julian Edelman sidelined with a foot injury, and a very good Bills secondary, it could be. The Bills starting cornerback tandem of Stephone Gillmore and rookie sensation Ronald Darby has quickly become one of the best duos in the NFL. Darby is in serious consideration for the rookie defensive player of the year award, and a case can be made for him for overall DPOY. He has been that good in his first year with the Bills. The Bills will throw multiple defenders at Gronk on every play, and it will be up to Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, and Aaron Dobson to create separation from these talented Bills corners.

Protect Brady: Like always, this is a key to a Patriots victory every single week. Having said that, the Bills have a formidable front four that can get after the passer. The Patriots negated the Bills pass rush in Week 2 with the quick passing game, and one would expect them to use a similar formula this time around. The Bills D-Line hasn’t been as good as advertised this season. They have tallied just 14 sacks as a team, good for 29th in the NFL. However, they do have the hogs up front to get to Brady and blocking Hughes, Williams, and Dareus will be a tall task.

On Defense

Stop The Run: The Bills are one of the best teams in the NFL in terms of running the football. They rank second in yards per game (142.3), fourth in yards per rush (4.76), and run the ball on 48.3% of their offensive snaps (3rd-most). Last week against the Jets, they ran for 148 yards on 33 carries against the best run defense in the NFL. The Patriots will also be playing without linebacker Jamie Collins yet again this week (illness), which is a big blow to their run defense. Shady McCoy, when healthy, has played up to expectations for the Bills this season, and he looked like vintage Shady last Thursday night in the Meadowlands. McCoy is the best pure running back in the division, and his vision, quickness, and cut back ability make him extremely dangerous in the open field. Combine McCoy with rookie standout Karlos Williams, and you have as good of a duo as you will find in the NFL this season.

Keep Tyrod In The Pocket: When the Bills got themselves back into the game in Week 2, offensively a lot of it had to do with Tyrod Taylor using his legs to extend plays. It’s not necessarily the scrambles that killed the Pats, but just Tyrod’s movement in the pocket to give receivers down field some extra time to create separation. Taylor is an exceptional athlete and his running ability needs to be accounted for. Expect the Patriots to deploy a mush rush gameplan against the Bills QB, much like they used against Russell Wilson in the Super Bowl. The mush rush allows the Patriots defensive line to get after the passer, but is more about containing the QB inside the pocket instead of rushing up field for the sack.

Key On Watkins: It didn’t translate in the stat sheet due to a few drops and some missed throws by Tyrod, but Sammy Watkins gave Darrelle Revis a tough time last Thursday night. Revis is still one of the league’s top cover corners, but it was apparent that the young Watkins had a major advantage in terms of speed and quickness. Watkins was a big part of the Bills comeback in Week 2, and is now healthy after dealing with some injuries throughout the season. Malcolm Butler did a nice job on OBJ last week, and has another tough assignment in Watkins on Monday.

 

Patriots vs Giants Review

No matter the circumstances when the Patriots and Giants get together it always seems to be a competitive game.

Sunday was no different, as the Giants gave the Patriots their biggest scare of the season.

The Pats deserve credit for taking advantage, but for all intents and purposes the Giants handed the Patriots the win.

The G Men had the ball first and goal to go from the Patriots 5-yard line with 2:06 remaining. In the ensuing three plays, the Giants went: incomplete pass (OBJ drop), incomplete pass, sack.

More importantly, they shaved just 16 seconds off the clock due to the two minute warning and the Patriots calling their final timeout with 1:50 remaining.

Poor clock management coupled with Landon Collins’ near interception gave Tom Brady and the Pats too many chances to overcome a 2-point deficit.

After the benefit of film review, let’s take a look some of the highs and lows from Week 10:

On Offense

Julian Edelman Injury: As Tom Brady said Monday morning on his weekly radio hit, you can’t just replace Julian Edelman. Edelman, especially this season, has developed into one of the best receivers in football. In theory, the Patriots have a viable Edelman replacement in Danny Amendola. Amendola can run similar routes to Edelman, and serves as a sure handed target for Brady, but is not close to Edelman in terms of running after the catch. Edelman is one of the league’s best playmakers with the ball in his hands. Edelman has game breaking ability, and that will be sorely missed in the Pats O for the next 6-8 weeks.

Tom Brady Going Deep: Over the last few years as Tom Brady has aged we have seen him struggle with accuracy throwing the deep ball. Brady has been much better in that regarded this season, ranking 5th in the NFL in completion percentage of 21+ air yards (min. 8 att). Brady has a 43.3 comp percentage on passes of 21+ air yards this season, compared to just 24.5 in 2014. If it wasn’t for some breakdowns on the offensive line, Brady could have had a few touchdowns of 50+ yards in this one. In particular, over the last two weeks Brady has gotten on the same page with WR Brandon LaFell. His 54-yard completion to LaFell was a little bit behind the receiver, but a great throw nonetheless considering it went over 50 yards in the air:http://www.patriots.com/video/2015/11/15/highlight-tom-brady-54-yard-pass-brandon-lafell.

Final Drive: Let’s face it, the Giants handed the Patriots a second chance when rookie safety Landon Collins dropped an easy interception. Having said that, Brady and the Pats recovered nicely from the near turnover to get into field goal range. Brady didn’t force the issue after the almost pick, and relied on Danny Amendola over the middle to get them down the field. It wasn’t the cleanest of two minute drills, but it obviously got the job done. The Patriots went 44 yards on the final drive to set up Stephen Gostkowski, and 32 of those yards were on completions to Amendola. The play of the drive was a 4th and 10 completion to DA to keep the game alive. Brady waited until the last possible second to hit Amendola for 12 yards over the middle. Here is the final drive: http://www.patriots.com/video/2015/11/15/patriots-game-winning-drive-vs-giants.

On Defense

Giants Pick On Pats Backups: One part of the Giants game plan that was very obvious was that they liked their chances against Patriots backup linebacker Jonathan Freeny and corner Rashaan Melvin. Both Freeny and Melvin were in the game due to injuries (Jamie Collins, Justin Coleman), and the Giants did a good job of taking advantage. There’s such a big drop off from Collins to Freeny. Freeny filled in admirable, but was beat badly in coverage multiple times and whiffed on a few tackles. Melvin also got beat a few times by Giants WR Dwayne Harris, including a big 30-yard play to set the Giants up in field goal range on their final drive.

Malcolm Butler: The stats weren’t particularly friendly to Butler in this one, but it was mostly because of the 87-yard bomb he surrendered to Odell Beckham Jr. in the first quarter. Devin McCourty overran the play, and took a bad angle to the ball causing the major breakdown. Typically, McCourty makes that tackle preventing all the yards after catch. For the rest of the contest, Eli Manning was just 2-9 for five yards with three pass breakups when targeting Butler in coverage. Butler spent the majority of the day playing press-man on OBJ, so giving up just 5 yards after the big catch to Beckham is a heck of an accomplishment. Butler also made a game saving pass breakup in the end zone on the Giants final drive. It might sound a bit homerish to say, but Butler is turning into a very capable #1 CB.

Pats Ditch Big Dime Defense: Through the first 8 games of the season, the Patriots have relied on their four safeties on passing downs forming a big dime package. On Sunday, they opted to go with a more traditional look. The Pats decided to play Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman over rookie safety Jordan Richards (1 defensive snap). Richards was typically a part of the big dime look with McCourty, Chung, Harmon, Butler, and Logan Ryan. The decision didn’t exactly pan out for the Pats, as Eli Manning took advantage of the Patriots lack of depth at CB.

Special Teams

Amendola Punt Return: One of the biggest plays of the game was Danny Amendola’s 82-yard punt return that should have been a touchdown. The return provided a much needed spark for the Pats, and set up a LeGarrette Blount touchdown that got them back in the game.

Stephen Gostkowski: The Patriots have themselves an absolute weapon in kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Having a kicker that is deadly accurate from 55 yards and in is such a great thing to have for any football team. The Patriots started the final drive of the game with 1:47 remaining and no timeouts. Having Gostkowski meant they only needed 40-45 yards to attempt the FG. A 54-yarder is no chip shot, but Gostkowski made it look easy.

 

Previewing Pats at Giants – Week 10

We all know the well documented history between the Patriots and Giants.

The Giants have beaten the Pats 3 straight times. Twice in the Super Bowl, and once in a regular season matchup in Week 9 of 2011. No team in the Belichick era has beaten the Pats in four straight games.

Also, Giants coach Tom Coughlin is 5-1 in his coaching career against Bill Belichick, with the best win percentage of any head coach going head-to-head with BB.

Having said that, the Patriots enter the Week 10 showdown as one of two teams in the NFL to rank in the top 10 in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense, and total defense (Arizona Cardinals) to go with their 8-0 record.

Let’s take a look at some of the keys to victory for the Patriots:

On Offense

Get Gronk and Edelman Involved: Obviously Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski are always a huge part of the Patriots offense, but last week the Redskins were able to hold the lethal combinations to a respectable 102 receiving yards combined. The Giants give up all sorts of yards through the air (ranked 31st), and just gave up 7 touchdown passes to Drew Brees two weeks ago. The Giants struggle against tight ends and shifty receivers like Edelman. In fact, the Giants have given up the most receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns to slot receivers this season. The middle of the field should be open for Gronk, Edelman, and the Pats.

Who’s Replacing Dion Lewis?: The Giants defense has struggled so far this season, so this is a good place to start life without Dion Lewis. Dion Lewis was such a huge part of what the Pats were doing offensively as I illustrated in my review of the Redskins game. Everyone will be looking to see who gets Lewis’ snaps as the receiving back. Will it be Brandon Bolden or James White? Either guy needs to be able to win matchups against linebackers in coverage.

Protect Brady: This is a key each and every week, but it’s even more so this week with the matchup against the Giants. We all know how the Giants have slowed down the Pats offense in the past, and that is by getting to Brady. Most would tell you that the Giants do it by rushing just four and dropping seven in coverage, and that their talent on the defensive line allows them to get to Brady anyways. The Giants have had very talented defensive lineman, but have also blitzed Brady 13 times a game in their last four matchups. That’s a decent amount. If the Patriots want to avoid losing four in a row to the G Men they will have to keep Brady upright with this banged up offensive line.

On Defense

How Do You Stop OBJ?: The Patriots will face arguably the league’s best receiver on Sunday in Giants standout Odell Beckham Jr. OBJ is on a historic pace in just his second year in the league. He is both the fastest receiver to 150 career receptions and to 2,000 receiving yards. His 19 receiving touchdowns is the fourth most in a player’s first 21 games. So how will the Patriots slow down Beckham? Well, they can go one of two directions illustrated by matchups against elite receivers earlier in the season. In Week 1, the Patriots opted to let top corner Malcolm Butler shadow Antonio Brown, and lived with the consequences (9 rec, 133 yds, TD). This allowed the Patriots to limit the Steelers other receiving options. In Week 7 against the Jets, the Patriots took a different approach. They doubled Jets top wideout Brandon Marshall with Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty over the top, and held Marshall down to one of his lowest outputs of the season. How the Patriots approach slowing down OBJ is the biggest key to this game defensively.

Get To Eli: Since Eli Manning entered the league in 2004, no quarterback in the NFL has thrown more interceptions. Having said that, he has also thrown the fourth most touchdowns in that span, and has the fifth most wins as a starter. Manning has a passer rating of 96.7 his four matchups with Tom Brady and the Pats. His numbers aren’t stellar against the Pats, but he obviously has done enough to win. The Giants offensive line has improved over the past two seasons, but the key to slowing down any elite quarterback is applying pressure. Based on what I’ve seen of this Giants offensive line, the Patriots front can have their way on Sunday.

“Stop The Run, Then Have Some Fun”: Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones was quoted saying the phrase earlier in the week. It’s a great quote, but it’s also a great way to approach each game. The Giants don’t run the ball well (ranked 24th), so making the Giants one dimensional should be a focus on Sunday.

Jets vs Patriots Review

Although the Patriots remained perfect on Sunday the New York Jets came to play in Foxboro.

The Jets deployed a blitz heavy defense that forced the Patriots offense to speed things up, and settle for small gains instead of holding out for longer plays downfield.

The Patriots defensive game plan focused primarily on stopping the run and Jets top receiver Brandon Marshall.

At the end of the day, the Jets gave the Patriots a physical challenge, but didn’t have enough defensively to slow down Tom Brady and company.

On Offense:

Jets Blitz Brady: The Jets have the unique advantage of having the horses in the secondary to matchup against the Patriots skilled position players. Due to this, they blitzed Brady 26 times on 60 drop-backs. For comparison, on average, the Patriots opponents this season have blitzed Brady just over 9 times per game. The result of the blitz heavy approach was that Brady had to settle for short completions, his 6.57 yds per attempt was the lowest this season. Per usual, Brady handled the blitz well completing 16-24 passes for 158 yards, and a TD when blitzed. The Patriots had one-on-one coverage on the outside for the majority of the game, but couldn’t take full advantage because of the incoming rush.

3rd Down and Red Zone: Coming into the game I outlined how this was a strength vs strength matchup on paper. The #1 rated offense vs the #1 rated defense. A main reason why the Jets and Patriots are so successful on those sides of the ball is because of their performance on 3rd down and in the red zone. The Jets weren’t able to slow the Patriots much in those areas. As they maintained their normal league leading pace on 3rd down (8-16, 50%) and in the red zone (3-5, 60%). The Jets should be credited for outstanding coverage in the red zone, they made the Pats work for the 3 TD’s. The Patriots also converted on a 3rd and 17 with a 27-yard strike from Brady to Edelman. It was a great route by Edelman to beat the linebacker and juke the safety in bracket coverage.

Danny Amendola: Opposing teams have obviously keyed in on Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski this season, which has left opening for other Patriots receivers. Amendola has been the beneficiary of those favorable matchups, and has taken full advantage. On his go-ahead TD grab, the Patriots ran a double-slants with Edelman going slightly deeper than Amendola. Jets safety Dion Bailey was so worried about Edelman, that he doubled him in the end zone, leaving Amendola in single coverage:

Wide Receiver Drops: One of the main takeaways from this one was the insane amount of drops that the Patriots receivers had on Sunday. The official tally was 7, with Brandon LaFell dropping 5 balls on his own. Some of the blame must be given to Brady, as he threw low on a number of the drops. I chalk this up to Brady and LaFell still getting on the same page, as the timing seemed to be a bit off on many of the drops.

Brady in the 4th Quarter: Tom Brady saving his best for last is something Patriots fans have gron accustom to. Sunday was more of the same from the future Hall of Famer. Brady was 14-17 for 150 yards, 2 TD, and a passer rating of 142.6(!) to lead the Patriots on yet another come from behind win in the 4th quarter.

Dion Lewis’ Impact: Quicky, I thought it was obvious that the Patriots missed Dion Lewis on Sunday. The Jets have a fantastic front 7, loaded with physical players. Having said that, they lack speed and coverage ability in their linebackers. Lewis would have feasted in the passing game.

On Defense

Dont’a Hightower: The best player on Sunday for either team was Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. It was obvious that the Pats missed their best defensive players against the Colts, and he was back on a mission on Sunday. Hightower tallied 10 tackles, 8 quarterback pressures, 2 quarterback hits, and was a dominant force. Watch Hightower clog the hole on Jets running back Chris Ivory and throw the 220 pound running back to the ground.

Then, watch Hightower pancake one of the best centers in the NFL in Nick Mangold on a blitz to free Jamie Collins up for the sack:

Run Defense: Piggybacking off of Hightower’s dominant performance, the Patriots clearly made it an emphasis to slow down the leagues leading rush in Ivory, and were very successful. Hightower led the way along with Jamie Collins, but credit Akiem Hicks, Malcolm Brown, and Sealver Siliga for standing their ground against a good Jets offensive line. The big DT’s ability to anchor at the line of scrimmage freed Hightower and Collins up to go get the ball carrier.

Secondary Matchups: The Patriots were predominantly in cover-1 (single high safety)  for most of the game. The gameplan was clearly focused around slowing down Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, who came into the game with 4 straight 100-yard receiving games. Logan Ryan drew Marshall in coverage with Devin McCourty providing support over the top. The Patriots basically doubled Marshall with Ryan and McCourty, leaving Malcolm Butler on an island with Eric Decker and Justin Coleman in the slot with Kerley, Chris Owusu, and Devin Smith. Credit Ryan and McCourty for holding down Marshall. Also, it looked like an ugly game for Malcolm Butler, but he was trusted with covering Eric Decker by himself for much of the first half. Butler rebounded nicely in the 2nd half, as Decker was held to just 2 receptions on 5 targets for 35 yards (4-7, 59 yards in 1st half).

Patriots vs Cowboys Review

When the schedule was released back in April, it revealed that the Patriots had back-to-back road games vs the Cowboys and Colts.

Heading into the season, that looked to be a tough stretch, and the first real challenge of the season for the Pats (factoring in no Le’Veon Bell for Pittsburgh).

We didn’t quite get the matchup we were hoping for this past Sunday due to key injuries to Dallas’s Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Injuries that have sputtered the Cowboys passing game, and have led to three straight losses.

Although the score was eventually lopsided, the Cowboys did do a number of things well defensively against the Patriots. Including sacking Tom Brady five times, slowing Rob Gronkowski, and forcing four first half punts.

Let’s take a look at some of the main storylines from Week 5:

Offensive Line: The Patriots offensive line has been a surprising success in the early going, with three solid performances heading into the bye week. The Cowboys were able to get to Brady, especially in the first half, a lot more than other opponents in the previous three games. The Cowboys 3-2 front led to some confusion with blocking assignments, but the five sacks of Brady in the first half were really due to offensive lineman getting beat one-on-one. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer had been rock solid in the previous three games, but struggled in the first half against Dallas. Greg Hardy was also a force out there, and proved to be very difficult to block.

Nate Solder Injury: The first injury blow of the season for the Patriots as they lose their starting left tackle for the season. Solder has logged an obscene amount of snaps since his rookie season, and has done a nice job so far in 2015. Anytime a team loses their starting left tackle it is going to be tough to overcome. Marcus Cannon replaced Solder in Sunday’s game, so expect him to step in. Moving right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to the left side is also a possibility if Cannon struggles.

Cowboys Dime Defense: One of the main reasons that the Patriots struggled offensively in the first half was due to a wrinkle thrown at them by Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Marinelli typically plays a 4-3 front with Tampa-2 coverage in the secondary, but played predominantly in the dime on Sunday. The five defensive back look allowed the Cowboys to match-up with the Patriots weapons on the outside, and Dallas also rushed the passer effectively with just three down lineman. The formation took the Patriots by surprise as they had to scrap the game plan and attack Dallas differently. Credit to Dallas for throwing a curveball, and credit to the Patriots for adjusting on the fly.

Byron Jones: Jones was someone that I thought the Patriots might target in last years draft. His measurables were off the charts, and he’s an extremely versatile player. We saw Jones deliver a tremendous performance on Sunday going toe-to-toe with Rob Gronkowski. Gronk was held to just 67 yards on 4 receptions, his lowest yardage output of the season. Jones protected against the deep ball down the seam, and forced Gronk to beat him underneath and on back shoulder throws. Dallas has found themselves a good one in Jones.

Edelman/Dion Lewis: Kill two birds with one stone here by discussing each touchdown reception for Edelman and Lewis. On both plays, Edelman and Lewis demonstrated tremendous after the catch ability. Lewis elluded four Dallas tacklers on one play to get into the end zone on one of the better touchdown catch and runs of the season, and Edelman might have topped him with his fantastic cutback in the open field to split multiple Dallas defenders. Both Edelman and Lewis have played better than anyone could have expected through the first four games.

Secondary: Now I know what you’re thinking, it was Brandon Weeden and a receiving core led by Terrance Williams. Having said that, this was the secondaries best performance of the young season. The Patriots played mostly cover-1 man, with Malcolm Butler on the right side of the formation and Logan Ryan/Terrell Brown on the left. Without any real receiving threats for the Cowboys, the Patriots didn’t match-up specifically other than on tight end Jason Witten. Witten mostly drew Devin McCourty in coverage who completely shut down the future hall of famer. Dallas was averaging 239.0 pass YPG in Weeden’s first two starts (I know, not good), and the Patriots held the ‘Boys to just 188 yards through the air (still not good). The secondary gets high marks across the board, completely shutting down the Dallas passing attack.   

Front 7: This was an up and down performance for me from the front 7. On one hand, they did get to Brandon Weeden three times, and are tied for 4th in the NFL in sacks (16). They also were very solid against the Cowboys running game, which has been a weak point defensively this season. On the other hand, they only pressured Weeden 13 times in the game, and didn’t get much pressure unless they were blitzing either Jamie Collins or Dont’a Hightower threw the A Gap. The lack of pressure while just rushing three or four has been worrisome this season. In future matchups, the Patriots won’t be able to blitz Hightower and Collins so freely. They are going to need more pressure from Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, and Ninkovich.

Patriots at Cowboys Preview

Heading into the bye week at 3-0 wasn’t much of a surprise for the Patriots. It’s also not much of a surprise that they are 8.5-point favorites heading into Sunday’s game against the Cowboys.

The Cowboys have been decimated with injuries. They came into the season with high expectations, but losing Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Orlando Scandrick (lost for season) for an extended period of time is going to hurt any team.

They’ve also lost their receiving back Lance Dunbar, and second round pick Randy Gregory.

Losing Romo and Bryant forced the Cowboys to start leaning on their vaunted offensive line and running game to score points.

It has proved to be just as effective in terms of points per game in Romo and Dez’s absence:

 

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Having said that, without Romo, the Cowboys are 0-2 in the all important win column.

They have been beaten late in games by better quarterbacks (Matt Ryan and Drew Brees) and better playmakers (Julio, Freeman, Spiller).

The Falcons ran away with the game in Week 3 in the second half. Erasing an 11-point Dallas lead on the road.

Against the Saints, Drew Brees got the better of the Cowboys in the fourth quarter and overtime. Ending OT with an 80-yard TD pass to Spiller in just 13 seconds.

 

On Offense:

Offensive line: The Cowboys offense is led by one of the best offensive lines in all of football. The Cowboys start 3 first round picks in Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, and the best of them all left tackle Tyron Smith. They also signed rookie La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent who should have also been a first rounder. The Cowboys have scored 5 touchdowns on the ground in the last two games to go along with 121.0 rush yards per game. Joseph Randle has stepped up his game as well, but much of the success on the ground is a result of these guys up front. From a Patriots prospective, it will be interesting to see how the front seven holds up against an o-line that can truly control games.

Joseph Randle: Randle has turned things around after a rocky start. He has found the end zone four times these last two games. Randle ranks near the top of the league in terms of yards after contact logging 184 yards after initial contact with a defender. That ranks him second in the league behind Chicago’s Matt Forte. It may take multiple tacklers to bring Randle down.

Jason Witten: Witten doesn’t put up the same numbers as he used to, but he has to be accounted for and is a great blocker. Witten has had four 1,000 yard seasons in his very good career, but isn’t the same player in the passing game. He is still a reliable veteran and a weapon in the run game.

 

On Defense: Defensively the Cowboys play in a base 4-3 while playing a lot of Tampa-2 coverage (two deep safeties). Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was the assistant and defensive line coach of the 2002 Bucs. They have three players on their defense that attempt to mimic Buccaneer greats DT Warren Sapp, WLB Derrick Brooks, and SS John Lynch.

Tyrone Crawford: Crawford does his best to play hall of famer Warren Sapps role. Obviously he doesn’t do it as well as Sapp, but he’s definitely somebody that needs to be identified up front. Crawford tallied 14 QB hits in 2014, which is tied for most on the team. Crawford has played the second most snaps of any Cowboys defensive lineman behind only defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.

Sean Lee: Injury concerns always come with Lee, but he’s probable for Sunday. Lee suffered a mild concussion last week, but expects to play. He leads the team in tackles, and is their signal caller on defense. Lee man’s the weak side linebacker position, giving his best Derrick Brooks impression.

Barry Church: Church provides a physical presence in the Cowboys secondary, as he ranks third on the team in tackles from his strong safety position. Church was near the top of the leaderboard last year among safeties in terms of run stops, and has played at a similar level through the first four games this season.

 

Patriots Rout Jags Ahead Of Bye Week

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The New England Patriots are 3-0. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to people given the three opponents that they started the season with.

The latest foe to run into the Patriots buzz saw was the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite the Jaguars known struggles, they actually came into this game after a big win against the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots start the season at 3-0 for the 5th time since 2001. They have now outscored the Jags 86-24 in their last two games in Foxboro, and scored points on all nine drives last Sunday.

In a blowout win like this there is not all that much to talk about. The two teams on the field were just on entirely different levels.

Having said that, let’s take a look at some of the keys to the Patriots third win:

Red Zone and 3rd Down: The Patriots had sizeable advantages all over the place, but maybe the biggest discrepancy was on 3rd down and inside the 20. The Pats converted on 11-14 (78.6%) of their 3rd down opportunities, and were 6-8 in the red zone (4 rush, 2 pass). The Patriots have a plethora of weapons in the red zone, but as the team demonstrated on Sunday sometimes the best approach is just to run the ball. At times, the Patriots appear to be getting too cute down near the goal line. Opting for low-percentage fade routes and other passing plays instead just running it in like they did against Jacksonville. The Jags were just 6-12 (50%) on third down and 1-2 in the red zone. That’s a staggering different.

Secondary On Allen Robinson: One of the strong points of this game from a defensive prospective was the group effort on Jacksonville’s talented young receiver Allen Robinson. Robinson went for 6 receptions, 155 yards, and 2 touchdowns against the Dolphins in Week 2. He had just 4 receptions for 68 yards against the Patriots. Furthermore, 57 of those receiving yards came on the Jaguars final drive of the game. It was a welcomed site for Patriots fans as Malcolm Butler stepped up a number of times in coverage on Robinson. He didn’t cover Robinson all the time, but when he did he was very effective against the Jags #1 wideout. Don’t chalk this up to it just being the Jags. Robinson is the real deal. Robinson picked on the entire Dolphins secondary in that matchup, including Pro Bowler Brent Grimes.

Devin McCourty: Following up on the praise for Butler, this was also the best game of the season for the Patriots best secondary player Devin McCourty. Obviously, D-Mac had a huge INT late in the 2nd quarter, but also played tremendously throughout the game. The Patriots ran a lot of cover 1 with McCourty as the lone safety up top. McCourty covers a lot of ground in the Patriots secondary, and prevented a number of big plays.

Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount: You will be hard-pressed to find a better backfield combination than Blount and Lewis. The Patriots have themselves a thunder and lightning duo with these two. Lewis has created 20 missed tackles as both a runner and a receiver, and Blount is one of the better running backs in terms of yards after contact. This makes the Patriots backfield really tough to stop and scheme for. They have one of the best bulldozers in Blount, and a rising scat back star in Dion Lewis. Lewis’ 8-yard TD scamper was the best of the four: http://tinyurl.com/pv3eh69

Bortles INT: The interception thrown by Blake Bortles at the end of the second quarter was the turning point in this game. The Jaguars had a 1st and 10 at the Patriots 45 yard line, and were driving down just 10. Bortles’ throw was into triple coverage and was well read by Devin McCourty (http://tinyurl.com/nf6uec5). The Jags had just one receiver in the area, and three Patriots really could have had a chance to pick it off. The INT really turned out to be a 10-point swing in the Patriots favor. Tom Brady threw his 400th career TD pass on the following offensive possession, and the Patriots received the second half kickoff eventually netting a field goal. Just like that the score went from 13-3 to 23-3, that’s game over. If Bortles doesn’t throw that interception it could have been a much different game.

Revenge Tour 2015: The Patriots will play down this narrative for the entire season, but putting up 51 points on the Jags was the latest stop on the “deflategate” revenge tour. The Pats opted to leave the starters in the game and pour it on the Jags in the second half. Up 44-10 in the 4th quarter not only was Brady in the game, but also he was still dropping back to pass. On the final drive of the game (excluding kneel downs) the Patriots went on a 17 play, nearly 10 minute drive that saw Brady throw the ball seven times. This game was decided with 9 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter when the Pats made the score 30-3, yet they went out there and scored 21 more points. If this trend continues, I think it’s safe to say that the Patriots are out for blood.

The Patriots now head into the early bye week after trouncing the Jags. Teams use the bye week for rest, and also for self-scouting.

Not having to prepare for an opponent, Patriots coaches and players can take the next few days to find areas they can improve. Then, it’s on to Dallas.

 

 

*Unfortunately NFL.com will no longer let embedded videos be played directly from the post, so the links will have to do.

Getting To Know The Jags

It might be difficult for most Patriots fans to know much about the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags have had one primetime game a year over the last few seasons, and those have been some of the worst Thursday night matchups on the docket.

You might know their quarterback. Blake Bortles was the first QB taken in the 2014 draft; ahead of both Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.

Other than that, you might not know much about the guys down in Duval County, Florida.

So with that being the case, here’s a quick cheat sheet on some faces to keep in mind when watching this Sunday:

Head Coach: Gus Bradley was hired by the Jags in 2013 and hasn’t faired all that well. The Jags have a .235 win percentage in that span, tied for 2nd-worst in all of football behind the lowly Bucs. Bradley was hired due to his four year stint as the defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. In his final year as the ‘Hawks DC, Seattle gave up the fewest points in the league and the fourth fewest yards. It’s obviously not fair to put the Jaguars poor record all on Bradley, as he has worked with inferior talent for much of his head coaching career.

On Offense:

T.J. Yeldon: You might remember Yeldon from his days with Nick Saban at Alabama. Yeldon has been off to a slow start to his rookie campaign, racking up just 60.5 rush yards per game with no touchdowns. Having said that, Yeldon sees the ball a lot in this Jags offense, as he has touched the ball 43 times so far in 2015 (7th-most in NFL). Due to the Patriots leaky run defense, expect the Jags to try and pound the rock on Sunday. Running the ball effectively would be a huge win for Jacksonville. If they can control time of possession they keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands.

Allen Robinson: Robinson had a huge day last week against Miami despite drawing the Dolphins top CB Brent Grimes. The Patriots don’t have anyone on the roster that has as good of coverage skills as Grimes, so expect Robinson to be a key focus of the Patriots defense. Robinson’s 26.0 yards per reception ranks 2nd-best in the NFL, and the Jags have targeted him at least 10 times in two of his last three games.

Allen Hurns: Hurns has put together a nice start to his career despite being on one of the league’s worst offensive teams. His 64.0 yards per game and 9 receptions are second on the team only to Robinson.

On Defense:

Paul Posluszny: Posluszny spent his first four years in Buffalo, and when healthy, has been near the top of the league in tackles. He has had over 100 tackles in a season three times in his career, and has 15 already in 2015. In 2013, Posluszny tallied 162 tackles for the Jaguars, ranking him just behind Cincy’s Votaze Burfict for the league lead. The middle linebacker also intercepted a pass in the Jags Week 1 game vs Carolina, and has been on the field for every snap on defense this season.

Jared Odrick: Bill Belichick had high praise for Odrick when asked about him in his weekly press conference. The name might sound familiar, as he spent the last five seasons on the Dolphins. Odrick is a versatile player that can line up both at DE and DT on this Jaguars front, and as Belichick noted, is very difficult to move in the run game. Odrick has done a little bit of everything for the Jags through the first two games, registering 5 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.

Telvin Smith: The second year linebacker has had a great start to the 2015 season. He leads the team in tackles with 18, which also ranks him in the top ten in the entire NFL. You will see and hear Smith’s name a lot on Sunday. Just like his fellow LB Posluszny, he has been on the field for every defensive snap for the Jags through two games.

As expected, the Patriots will be heavily favored against the 1-1 Jaguars. However, it’s important not to overlook the Jags as they pulled out a win last week against a supposedly superior Dolphins team.

Also, despite having one of the leagues worst offensive teams over the last few years; the Jaguars have ranked middle of the road in most defensive categories. This is an up and coming defense led by a very bright defensive coach.

The Jags haven’t been a very lucky team over the last few years. That bad luck continued when the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 draft, Dante Fowler, tore his ACL in mini-camp. Fowler is a ferocious pass rusher, and will make this defense even better in 2016.

Luckily for the Patriots they won’t have to worry about Fowler on Sunday, but there is enough talent on the Jags roster to give them some problems.