Tag Archives: Rob Gronkowski

Cardinals Entertain Brady-free Patriots in Season Opener

carson-palmer

Bud Light is the most popular beer in Arizona, and Cardinals fans reached for more than their share as they fidgeted their way through the first three games of a wobbly preseason. Arizona was outscored 83-37 by Oakland, San Diego and Houston.

The Cardinals’ 38-17 drubbing of Denver in game four came as a relief, even though both sides flung out players who were clinging to the bottom of the depth charts by their fingernails. Intellectually, fans know the preseason means almost nothing. But the Red Wave has grown accustomed to victory during Coach Bruce Arians’ tenure, no matter the date or circumstance.

And no wonder.

Arians came aboard in 2013 and coaxed 10 wins out of a Cardinals team that finished 5-11 the previous year. Arizona went on to win 11 games in 2014 and 13 games last year. The trajectory is not hard to plot. A franchise that for decades seemed devoted to mediocrity has experienced a tectonic shift in expectations and quality of play. The team is built to win, but can it get into and then roll through the playoffs?

Critical components from all over the field return, such as Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, and a healthier Tyrann Mathieu. This bodes well.

KEY ADDITIONS
Frustrated by the lack of pressure the defense put on Cam Newton in Carolina’s 49-15 beat down of the Cards in last season’s NFC Championship game, Arizona GM Steve Keim worked the phones and brought in outside linebacker Chandler Jones from the Patriots. The 2015 Pro Bowler’s 30 sacks the last three years ties him with Denver’s Von Miller, one of the game’s finest at his craft. Keim also imported Tyvon Branch from Kansas City, who was among the league’s top cover safeties in 2015.

FIRST UP: ARIZONA V. NEW ENGLAND
A grateful nation will tune into NBC’s Sunday Night Football as Arizona locks horns with the visiting Patriots, who are among Vegas’ preseason Super Bowl favorites. The Cardinals catch a break in this one—Tom Brady is in the penalty box for air pressure transgressions and All-Pro tight end and party beast Rob Gronkowski is expected to sit out with a balky hamstring. Arizona has been masterful at University of Phoenix Stadium the last few years, and is 20-4 in QB Carson Palmer’s last 24 starts, whether home or away.

PLAYER TO WATCH: DAVID JOHNSON
30-year-old running back Chris Johnson enjoyed a resurgence last season, stabilizing what had been a spotty Arizona running game. But when he fractured his tibia in game 11 he opened the door for young David Johnson. Johnson registers 6’1”, 224 lbs., and he’s proven to be the rare back with the ability to run over or around would-be tacklers. He has good hands out of the backfield and a nose for daylight and the big play. In short, he’s been a revelation and he’s earned the starting job.

FUN FACTS ABOUT DAVID JOHNSON
– Last season, Johnson forced 41% more missed tackles than any other RB in the NFL.
This really happened: Bobby Flay selected David Johnson first overall in ESPN’s celebrity NFL fantasy league draft. Of course Bobby Flay knows as much about football as David Johnson knows about pan-seared brook trout with Malabar pepper-infused aioli. So take it with a grain of sea salt.

If David ever falters, a healthier Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington have shown they are fully capable of making big contributions.

HUNTING POKÉMON
The following players will not play Sunday, and may be otherwise occupied:
Arizona: Kareem Martin, LB—knee.
New England: Tom Brady, QB—deflated. Rob Gronkowski, TE—hammy. Nate Solder, OT—hammy.

Arizona has won five of its last six openers. New England has won 11 of its last 12. Which team will take the first step toward the Super Bowl in Houston Feb. 5? Tune in at 5:30 PST.

– Eric Forgaard

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

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.

 

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 Colts Review

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The Patriots didn’t have their cleanest performance of the season, but they did enough to get a hard fought road win over the Colts.

The Pats deployed Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung in a hybrid corner look, as the team is thin at cornerback, that proved to be effective.

It was just another day at the office for Tom Brady and the offense, putting up 34 points (5 straight with 28+ to start the season), while racking up 417 yards of total offense.

Here are the highlights from the Patriots fifth win of the season:

Safety Play: The Patriots have something brewing in the secondary with McCourty, Harmon, Chung, and rookie Jordan Richards. McCourty is the Patriots best defensive back on the roster, and he was unleashed by Matt Patricia in a number of different roles vs Indy. Duron Harmon’s ability to play deep safety in Cover-1 (Patriots primary coverage) allows McCourty to move around the defense, and become a more matchup specific player. McCourty played a ton close to the line of scrimmage and even saw some snaps at a traditional corner position. Due to their depth at safety, the Patriots turned to a 3 safety, 2 cornerback look in the nickle. Chung also performed admirable shadowing top Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton for most of the second half.

Dominique Easley and Chandler Jones: This was by far Easley’s best game as a pro, granted with a small sample size. Easley tallied 8 quarterback pressures and his push up the middle made it easier for the rest of the Patriots rushers to get free. Chandler Jones had his best game of the season. Recording 2.5 sacks in a game where they needed Jones to step up. Easley made Colts center Khaled Holmes look silly on this play, as he and Jones met Luck in the backfield for a sack: 

Run Defense: In the previous four matchups against the Patriots (including playoffs) the Colts ran for just 72.5 rush yards per game. They ran for 120 in this one (most in 5 games vs Patriots since 2012). The Colts have improved at the wide receiver position with Andre Johnson and the emergence of Donte Moncrief, but the addition of Frank Gore makes this Colts offense much more well rounded. This was a rough game for the interior of the Patriots defense against the run. Sealver Siliga struggled stopping the run, and there was a clear drop off without Dont’a Hightower at linebacker with Jonathan Freeny and Jerod Mayo.

Brady’s Pocket Presence: You could tell that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t completely satisfied with the offense after the game. That might have something to do with the Patriots going punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt, downs, TD in the second half. It was another ho hum performance from Brady, but what really stood out was his movement in the pocket. Brady gets flack for his lack of foot speed, but it’s something that you can tell he has worked on in the offseason. His ability to climb the pocket and find little pockets of space to deliver passes is underrated. Brady scrambled on both his touchdown passes to Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount.

Gronk Creating Space: Over the last two weeks Gronk has been relatively quiet in the passing game despite catching a touchdown in this one. One thing that is apparent on film is that even when Gronk isn’t getting the ball his presence alone frees things up significantly for other Patriots receivers. The Colts were satisfied covering Gronk with one defender when he lined up in a traditional wide receiver position, but used bracket coverage when he was lined up in a more traditional tight end alignment. On both of Danny Amendola’s big gainers Gronk ran two defenders away from Amendola:

 

Offensive Line: You have to give a ton of credit to the players and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo for putting together a decent effort with a makeshift line and three rookies in the mix. Marcus Cannon exited the game early with a toe injury, forcing Sebastian Vollmer to move to LT and Cam Flemming to man the RT spot. Flemming did allow the most pressures of any Patriots lineman, but the offensive line as a whole held up enough to get the job done allowing just 8 pressures. The first sack of Brady the quarterback appeared to hang on to the ball a bit too long, and the second sack was good design by the Colts on a safety blitz that went unblocked. Injuries have added up for this group, especially at the tackle position.

 

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:

 

cowboyso copy

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

Follow me on Twitter: @ezlazar

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.

Takeaways From Pats Win Over Bills by Evan Lazar

For the eighth time in the Bill Belichick era the Patriots have started the season 2-0.

Their divisional tilt against the Bills was as emotional as expected. There was some chippy play from both sides, and a total of 25 penalties called.

Rex Ryan’s bunch was expectedly hyped to play the defending Super Bowl Champs at home.

Let’s take a look at some takeaways from the Patriots win after film review:

Patriots Use Multitude of Offensive Formations: It was hard to keep up with the Patriots formations and moving pieces on TV, so I can only imagine how difficult it is to diagnose as a defense. You wonder how and why on certain plays Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman find themselves so open? The answer, in part, is due to how many different looks the Patriots throw at the opposing defense. Gronk, Edelman, Amendola, Dobson, Chandler, and Lewis all saw the field a lot, and individually lined up in just about every spot possible. The Patriots expect a lot out of versatility out of their skilled position players, and they delivered this past week.

Offensive Line: The Bills played a lot of man coverage in the secondary, and mixed in 16 blitzes on 61 Brady drop-backs. Through the first two weeks of the season it is clear that the Patriots are emphasizing getting the ball out as quickly as possible, as Brady’s snap to throw numbers are off the charts. Having said that, this was another solid performance upfront as the Patriots threw 61 times and Brady was only pressured 12 times. The offensive line really held up well in pass protection, and on plays that needed that added second or two they stood tall. The unit is still short two starters yet they have delivered in back-to-back weeks.

Brady’s Big Day: It’s hard to ignore how good Tom Brady has been through the first two weeks of the season. It’s outrageous to talk about MVP candidates this early on, but the two-week MVP award would have to go to Brady, Rodgers, or Arizona QB Carson Palmer. Brady tore apart a defense that slowed down one of the best quarterbacks in 2014 last week, and his 466 passing yards were the 2nd-most in his historic career. Success comes from the top and trickles its way down. Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff set the tone, and then Brady leads the way. These first two weeks have illustrated just how great of an example Brady sets for his teammates. Minus a few misses on some deep balls, Brady has been perfect.

My favorite Brady throw of the day? The 22-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. Brady gets the entire BUF defense to bite on play action, and barely gets the ball out to a wide-open Edelman, also a great run after the catch by JE:

Pass Rush: Believe it or not the Patriots now lead the NFL in sacks with 11. The Patriots 8 sacks on Sunday were the most by the team since 2003, and the pressure up front had Taylor looking around for room instead of downfield. After film review, there were a number of instances where Taylor missed open receivers, and it was often because of pressure in his face. 8 sacks on 21 pressures is very good production.

4th Quarter Play Calling: There has been some discussion about how the Patriots handled playing with the lead in the 4th quarter. It was surprising to see them continue to throw despite a sizeable lead, and that might have cost them a bit in the Bills comeback attempt. On their first drive in the quarter, the Patriots passed on all eight plays before turning the ball over on downs. On the next drive they ran just two plays, both passes, before Brady was stripped sacked by Jerry Hughes. Between the two drives the Patriots only chewed up four minutes of clock, giving the Bills a decisive advantage in terms of plays ran in the 4th quarter. It’s entirely possible that the Patriots were just so confident in their short passing game that they figured a short completion was the same as a run play, but it’s also possible that they were trying to run up the score a bit on the Bills. The aggressive play calling that led to the turnover on downs and a fumble nearly cost them the game.

4th Quarter Defense: Along with some missteps in the secondary that are to be expected, there were some errors up front during the Bills comeback try. The biggest difference between the Patriots solid defense through the first 3 quarters, and the 4th quarter was how the front 7 handled quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is an exceptional athlete, and is going to find some running lanes from time to time, but on some key plays down the stretch he bought his receivers time with his legs. What makes mobile quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Taylor so difficult to defend isn’t when they take off running downfield, but when they move around to buy time for their receivers to shake the coverage. The Patriots did a decent job of keeping Taylor in the pocket for much of the game, but failed to do so on the three late touchdown drives by the Bills. On the touchdown pass to Robert Woods, Taylor avoided the rush nicely to his right buying time for Woods to find an opening in the zone, and on an even better play, found Percy Harvin for a big chunk after escaping to his left on the following series. Taylor started to find his groove as the game went on.

Missed Opportunities: Despite putting up 40 points and over 500 yards of total offense, the Patriots still left some points on the field. 40 is a lot, but they very easily could have been in the 50’s with a little bit better execution. One throw in particular that stood out was Brady overthrowing Edelman on 4th and short late in the game. Edelman clearly had a step and a good throw would have been 6, and would have sealed the victory. Against a great defense you will be more than happy with this offensive output, but it still wasn’t perfect.

 

Stock Up, Stock Down For Patriots vs Steelers

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A lot has happened since the Patriots and Steelers kicked off the NFL season, but let’s take one more look at the Patriots opening night win

For the 11th time in 12 years the Patriots have started off the season 1-0. In fact, the Patriots have now won eight straight openers at home.

Getting the season off on the right foot is not overrated. 0-1 is by no means a death sentence historically, but starting the season 0-2 could be considered one.

Since the NFL adopted its new 12-team playoff format in 1990, just over 13% of teams that start the season off 0-2 have made the playoffs.

Tom Brady has never started a season 0-2. He’s now 12-2 lifetime in season openers, and won both games following the loss.

Brady had another great performance to start the season last Thursday night. As his four touchdowns passes led the way to a 28-21 victory over the Steelers.

Let’s take a look at who’s stock is up and who’s stock is down after Week 1:

Stock Up:

Tom Brady: It doesn’t come as a surprise that regular season Tom Brady differed greatly from pre-season Tom Brady. Something has to be said about the awful play of the Steelers defense, but Brady was masterful. From the end of the first quarter to the start of the fourth, Brady went 19 straight passes without an incompletion. Brady was just three completions shy of breaking Joe Montana’s record for the most consecutive completions in a game. Brady also continued his dominance against Mike Tomlin and the Steelers. Since Tomlin took over as coach in 2007, Brady is 4-1 against Pittsburgh, with 17 touchdowns to zero interceptions. Finally, the Patriots quarterback threw for four touchdown passes yet again. Moving him into a tie for third all time with 23 career games with 4+ pass TDs.

Rob Gronkowski: The Steelers made headlines last week when they talked up a plan to stop #87, but didn’t even come close. At times, the Steelers coverage on the big guy was flat out embarrassing. Matching him up 1-on-1 with linebackers, and sometimes not covering him at all. Gronk now has seven straight games with a touchdown reception including playoffs, and passed Dez Bryant for the most TD grabs since 2010. Incredible when you factor in that Gronk has missed 15 games in just over 5 seasons. Gronkowski is also just one multi-TD game shy of Randy Moss’ all-time Patriots record. The Patriots set up Gronkowski’s third touchdown earlier in the game, when he ran a slant/pick play out of this formation to free up Scott Chandler for the TD. The second time around Brady threw the beautiful fade and Gronk did the rest:

Dion Lewis: Rex Ryan might not know who Dion Lewis is, but he should probably find out before Sunday. Sure, the Patriots third-down role has always yielded great production, but Lewis looked right at home. When you factor in that this was Lewis’ first career start, he hadn’t played in an NFL game since 2012, and that he had just 3 career receptions prior to Week 1; it’s no wonder why Ryan doesn’t know anything about him. Everything Lewis did last Thursday night was a career high. Lewis is reminiscent of a poor man’s Darren Sproles. With his great burst and footwork in small areas, and his fantastic ability to make defenders miss. Lewis forced five missed tackles against the Steelers, proving to be both sure-handed and difficult to bring down.

Jabaal Sheard: If Jabaal Sheard continues to play this well for the Patriots they are going to have to find him more snaps. Sheard was apart of a rotation that netted him 50 out of a possible 73 snaps in Week 1. In those 50 snaps he recorded a sack, four QB hurries, and was arguable the Patriots best run defender. Sheard is a force on the edge, and was one of the only Patriots defenders to have a positive impact in the run game. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have logged a lot of snaps over the last few years at the two defensive end positions, but Sheard piggybacked off of a great pre-season with another solid performance.

Offensive line: Minus two starters in Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell, this young offensive line put together a great performance. Tom Brady was pressured just 11 times, and with three rookies starting you couldn’t have expected much more. Nate Solder could go in the stock down category, as he was called for two penalties and struggled at times. More is needed out of this group in the run game, however.

Stock Down:

Malcolm Butler: It feels a bit cruel to rag on Butler for his performance in Week 1 due to the matchup, but nonetheless the talk of Butler being a shutdown corner was immediately put on hold. Antonio Brown might be the best receiver in football. He can lineup all over the field, has great speed and quickness, and fantastic catching ability. The Patriots tested Butler by having him follow the all-pro all around on Thursday night, and it cost them. Butler was beat ten times in 11 targets for 151 yards and a score. It wasn’t all bad, as many of those catches were highly contested balls where Brown just made great plays, but he was beat badly a number of times as well. Chalk it up as good learning experience for the Super Bowl hero.

Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich: Jones and Nink were two of the Patriots best defensive players in last years Super Bowl run, but both played poorly against Pittsburgh. Bill Belichick tends to stress setting the edge to his defensive ends more than anything else in the run game. Both Jones and Ninkovich got sucked in by the Steelers misdirection run plays, and lost the edge way too many times. DeAngelo Williams ran all over the Patriots defense in large part due to the Patriot losing containment on the outside. These two will have to be better in that area if they are going to control the likes of LeSean McCoy.

Run defense: The Patriots gameplan defensively was basically to ignore the Steelers run game. With Patrick Chung playing LB, the Patriots went small for most of the night. This proved to be costly, as the Steelers obviously out-muscled the Patriots up front. The Patriots three biggest run stuffers (Siliga, Brown, and Branch) played just 62 total snaps. Instead, the Pats went with a “NASCAR” formation, playing three defensive ends on the line. The move hung linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower out to dry for much of the game, as they had offensive lineman blocking them directly on a number of plays. The Patriots would be wise to focus more on stopping the run against Buffalo.

It was easy to give all the gold stars to the offense this week, and give bad grades to the defensive side of the ball.

You might not think of the Bills as an offensive juggernaut, or Tyrod Taylor as an elite quarterback, but they have enough weapons on offense to give the Patriots defense problems.

DeAngelo Williams was able to rack up 127 yards on the ground. If you give Shady McCoy those type of running lanes he might go for over 200.

Add the Buffalo defense into the equation, arguable one of the stingiest defensive in all of football. The Bills defense had three takeaways against the Colts on Sunday, and held one of the leagues top offenses to just 14 points (they averaged 28.6 in 2014).

The Colts weren’t able to keep pressure out of Andrew Luck’s face (pressured 17 times), and like most weeks that will be the key offensively for the Patriots. Protect Tom Brady and you often get good results.