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.