Patriots Win Unsatisfying, But Show Steps in Improvement
The Patriots beat the San Francisco 49ers 30-17 on Sunday in Santa Clara, California and moved to 8-2 on the season. That’s the most important thing to take away from beating the 1-9 struggling Niners and moving on to the Jets. While it wasn’t always pretty, there were some steps in the right direction and positives to build upon for the team.
There will be plenty of film both good and bad for Bill Belichick to use as a teaching tool this week. There were positives and negatives for each unit of the team and while one should assess the quality of the opponent, the bottom line is they did what they needed to do and move on with home field advantage of the AFC intact.
A second look at the game in our film review is upcoming on Monday, but here are some notes and observations from the game.
Brady Puts Up Big Numbers: Tom Brady put the team on his back [again], and finished 24 of 40 for 280 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions for a passer rating of 114.6, which points to a particularly terrific day. And there were some great plays by #12, his ability to slide in the pocket is better than ever and his move to slide and deliver the ball to Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone for an early fourth quarter score was among the best of the day. He also made fantastic deliveries to Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell for touchdown throws in his homecoming to the SF Bay area.
But his overreliance on Edelman was at times troubling. Edelman, also making his return to the Bay area was targeted 17 times on Sunday, many of the deep ball variety. He did haul in 8 passes for 77 yards and the first score of the game. But it was clear that he missed Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan on those deep routes.
49ers Tried Taking Bennett Away: Without the benefit of the All-22 film, at first glance, it looked like Chip Kelly’s game plan for the Pats sans Gronk was to take away the middle of the field and take away Martellus Bennett. It will be worth a second look tomorrow but SF’s linebackers were seemingly dropping into those areas where the Patriots like to target the tight ends and forcing them to beat them elsewhere.
Bennett was targeted only twice and had just one catch for 14 yards. But the Patriots offense still has plenty of weapons even missing Gronkowski and Hogan and they had more than enough weapons to beat the struggling Niners.
With Bennett not getting a ton of looks, rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell had his best day as a pro today. He had four catches for 98 yards including a nice 56-yard catch and run for a touchdown. He’s had modest numbers on the season, but with a roster deep with targets, it is good to see that he’s picking up the offense very well and seems to have integrated himself in it with the trust of Brady.
The defense has Both Good and Bad Moments: Overall, the defense gets passing grades on Sunday. They held the 49ers to just 10 points until a garbage time touchdown drive in the final few minutes when the Patriots were playing a lot of backups. That’s ultimately what they’re judged on and there, they did their job.
There was plenty of shuffling of players as they tried to find combinations that work. One area that improved on Sunday, the pass rush. Matt Patricia got a little creative this week and he got things off to a good start. Pat Chung was playing an in-the-box Big Nickel LB role and blitzed on consecutive plays, the second where he sacked Colin Kaepernick. Overall the Patriots got five first-half sacks which is a very encouraging sign. They narrowly missed on a few others and the creativity definitely helped. Five different players had sacks including Kyle Van Noy who appeared in his first game.
They also gave up two long drives totaling ten points prior to the garbage time drive. And simply put, the Patriots can’t afford to lose Dont’a Hightower. He was rested for a spell and the defense was gashed. Watching Kaepernick and a below average offense move down the field at ease on those two drives was troubling as well.
Covering running backs out of the backfield is going to be a big area of concern moving forward. The Niners completed big passes to their backs, granted the first against Hightower was the result of a bunch formation and the big LB got caught in the wash. But Elandon Roberts is a detriment in coverage right now. He was targeted both against running backs and tight ends and opponents will continue to test him when he’s on the field. Against the Jets next week and Matt Forte, it is something to keep in mind.
The defense also had their moments in the second half, basically limiting the Niners to just about 70 yards of offense until that final drive. At one point Kaepernick was 0-10 passing in the second half.
Logan Ryan Bounces Back: Ryan, who is a lightning rod for criticism had a really solid day. The Patriots had Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe outside at corner and played Ryan mainly in the slot against the Niners’ Jeremy Kerley.
While no one is going to compare Kerley with Antonio Brown, he is the 49ers leading receiver and had 40 catches entering the game. He still has 40, as Ryan held him to zero catches on just two targets for the afternoon.
Ryan did a good job of sticking with Kerley all day long and took away Kaepernick’s biggest target. Those are the things that they can build off in the upcoming weeks.
LaGarrette Blount’s Big Day: The Niners made a concerted effort to stop the Patriots running game today and at times were able to hold them to minimal gains, but the running game got untracked and Blount put up big numbers.
Blount carried 19 times for 124 yards and a stellar 6.5-yard average on the day. He also had a nice 35-yard touchdown run get wiped off the books due to a penalty. While he didn’t make it into the end zone this week, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The Patriots killed off the clock with a good, physical final drive where Blount carried them down inside the five-yard line. He got two cracks at the end zone before Belichick had Brady take a knee at the end of the game. It was a nice day for the Patriots big man as not only he but the team as well, they ran for 177 yards as a team today.
Dion Lewis Returns: There was some optimism with the news that the Patriots running back would make his 2016 debut after tearing his ACL a year ago. And Lewis was put right into the mix with Brady throwing him the ball on his first snap.
Lewis seems to have his trademark elusiveness intact and while obviously a bit rusty, looked good in his first game action in a year. He carried five times for 23 yards and added three catches for 26 more.
The Patriots experimented with a backfield of both he and James White on some passing downs and it will be interesting to see more of it. The two backs combined for nine catches for 89 yards.
Slater Injury Compounds Bad Day for STs: The Patriots reported that Matthew Slater was injured during Sunday’s game and was in a walking boot and on crutches after the game. Losing arguably the best STs player in the league is a big blow to the unit and will bear watching as the schedule unfolds.
Sunday’s rainy, sloppy weather was a perfect metaphor for the Pats plays on Special Teams in Santa Clara. Stephen Gostkowski pushed his first extra point to the right. Ryan Allen had a couple bad punts early in the game. Danny Amendola had a stellar 30-yard return on a punt return so there was some good to go with it. The coverage units looked solid as well.
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Chip Kelly Chris Hogan Colin Kaepernick Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich San Francisco 49ers Tom Brady