Team Comes Up Short at Crunch Time Again
Before the season began, we wrote and reiterated in our post-game observations that we knew that this season was going to consist of a series of very close games. Unlike in years past, when we were guaranteed several games where they’d cruise to an easy win, the 2020 Patriots team isn’t going to give us many if any of those.
And…as we wrote the difference between winning and losing those games is the difference between being 2-5 which they are now and 5-2 which they could easily be if they finished off three late-game drives, Sunday’s game against the Bills included.
However, make no mistake, the difference between the 2-5 Patriots now and the possible 5-2 team had they finished those drives, other than the record is zero. They’d still be a deeply flawed team, just like the 6-2 team that they lost to yesterday. The Bills, however, will get to right the ship and go into the postseason. This Patriots team, sadly will no doubt not be there.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Bills game. While yes they played better and actually showed life on offense, the time for moral victories is long past.
Cam Newton is a lightning rod for criticism by the media and Patriots fans, and as the starting QB and a former MVP, that is expected, but he’s hardly the only problem that is facing the team. Since the team lost we’ll start with the negatives.
He’s still processing (overthinking?) things much too slowly most of the time. And it is easy to tell when he is. When he’s over-thinking things, his mechanics appear shot. His footwork is all over the place and his passing accuracy is poor.
While he does hold the ball too long at times, there are also times when it is necessary considering some of the weapons he does have at the present. Newton, like most of the mobile QBs in the game, carry the ball far too loosely when running… (see Zimmer, Justin).
But Newton ran the ball very effectively on Sunday and on the final drive he personally put the team in the position to win the game…again. When he does feel comfortable in the pocket, or with the play call, it is like watching a different QB. The two-point conversion to Jakobi Meyers is a prime example. He let a 95mph fastball go at exactly the right moment, right on the money, in a pretty tight window. He made a nice play, going through his progressions and then checking down to James White for a big gain.
He seems to have developed a little bit of chemistry with Meyers, and a little bit is all one can hope for now. He and Byrd are also hooking up frequently.
But the NFL is a bottom-line business and he has to start finishing these games. Regardless, Belichick is sticking with him and I believe this will be the case for the remainder of the season. At the end of the season, they’ll have a lot of decisions to make …and who their QB is or won’t be will no doubt be the #1 decision.
Running Backs: B+
The Patriots #1 running back is Damien Harris and that won’t change when Sony Michel comes off of IR. He got a red-shirt freshman season and many questioned the team drafting him. There shouldn’t have been. Harris is getting better and better and if there is one negative about his game on Sunday, it is that the staff only got him 16 carries. That number should be 20-25 next week against the Jets.
Harris ended up with 102 yards and averaging 6.4 yards per rushing attempt, including his first NFL touchdown, a 22-yard beauty where he broke tackles and cut back to pay dirt. He runs decisively, has tremendous vision, and always falls forward when being tackled getting that extra yard or two.
Both Rex Burkhead and James White were outstanding in pass protection, picking up the Bills’ blitzes. White had a really nice 28-yard catch while Burkhead had an outstanding play on a big 3rd-and-10 where he broke multiple tackles.
Wide Receivers: C+
This was a good day for Jakobi Meyers, he had six catches for 58 yards and had another two wiped out by penalties. For a guy who has barely played this year, stepping into the starting lineup as the go-to guy…those numbers are very good. He had a drop and doesn’t have enough speed to make a lot of YAC (yards after catch), but he sees things from a QB’s perspective (which he was in college), which is valuable.
He runs good, precise routes, gets open, and possesses good hands. I was asked on Monday’s “Locked On Patriots” show if he could become a more favored target than N’Keal Harry when he returns… I’d say yes. The team doesn’t utilize Harry much beyond about 5-yards from the line of scrimmage.
Damiere Byrd had three catches for 39 yards, Isaiah Zuber had one catch for 13 yards.
Tight Ends: D+
The tight end roster this week consisted of Ryan Izzo. Dalton Keane was scratched late with a knee injury and Devin Asiasi didn’t make the trip due to personal reasons. Izzo’s blocking wasn’t great, giving up a sack and missing on others.
His limited upside in the passing game is already well known. He caught a couple of passes but he’s a non-factor and offers little in attacking the seams or YAC. But to be fair, he should be a third tight end, and not the starter.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line had a very good day, the running game powered for 188 yards and averaged more than 5 yards per rush against a Bills team that knew they were going to run. The pass protection was good. While the Bills did get some pressure on Newton, the only two sacks allowed were on a coverage sack and a whiff (Izzo).
Michael Onwenu continues to be an absolute steal for a 6th rounder, playing right tackle. When the unit is intact, they are very solid. They did get flagged for two penalties that each wiped out big plays, but while the offense has struggled this season, the offensive line isn’t a worry…as long as they are all playing in their assigned positions.
Defensive Line: D
The defensive line (and the linebackers), were gashed by a team that was averaging only 97 yards per game and the Bills nearly doubled that on Sunday. They missed tackles, even the normally stellar Lawrence Guy, and were pushed around by the Bills OL. But it wasn’t all their fault and not all bad. They did register a few run stuffs. But the running game of the Bills shouldn’t run for nearly 200 yards. They were able to get a little bit of pressure on Josh Allen, but not enough and not nearly effective enough
The Patriots linebackers had another ugly day. One thing is for certain, Chase Winovich is really in the coaches’ dog house. He played in just two snaps in the first half. In the second half, he played in just three more. He’s fallen off from being arguably the Patriots’ best defender in the first few weeks of the season to being a total non-factor.
Ja-Whaun Bentley had another really rough day. He’s supposed to be at his best as a downhill run stuffer, but he filled the wrong holes, missed tackles and then vacated the middle of the field, leaving it wide open on Josh Allen’s touchdown run. Was it scheme related? We don’t know, but leaving the middle of the field open while in the goalline defense is inexcusable.
The linebackers continue to struggle mightily with setting the edge. Too many missed tackles and getting washed. We won’t fault Adrian Phillips in that. He sticks his nose right in there but he can’t take on 300-lb offensive linemen.
Rookie Anfernee Jennings had a mixed bag, but fellow rookie Josh Uche, albeit in a limited role, had a nice pro debut. With Bentley injured, we may see more of the two rookies in the near future. There will be a learning curve and mistakes made, but they both show promise.
The Patriots secondary at first glance had a good day holding Allen to just 154 yards with an interception (J.C. Jackson), but Allen, leaning on the running game threw only 18 times which means he averaged 8.6 yards per attempt. That isn’t good, they did give up a few big plays but were able to come up with a few big plays when they had to.
But part of the missed tackles in the running game falls on secondary members too. Jason and Devin McCourty had uneven days, while Jackson, other than the first Bills rushing touchdown, (ole wave), is having a very good year.
Special Teams: C
Nick Folk hit a pair of field goals and an extra point with no misses, Jake Bailey kicked his first touchback of the season, with no punts downed inside the 20. The onside kick? A head scratcher…more below. Gunner Olszewski is living dangerously with his punt and kick returns and one is constantly holding their breath when he’s out there…and not in a good way.
The Patriots coaching staff made some curious decisions, the onside kick was telling that Bill Belichick didn’t seem to trust his defense to stop the Bills at that point in the game. And they didn’t, driving right down the field and scoring.
Just before the half, the Patriots had a 3rd-and-1 at the Bills 15-yard line with 12 seconds left in the half. And they elected to kick the field goal when there was plenty of time to attempt to get into the end zone. That shows a lack of confidence in Newton. With all of the questions surrounding Newton and the turnovers he’s suffered lately, it was telling that they felt that going into halftime down by one was a better alternative than risking another turnover.
Josh McDaniels’ offense still has zero (0) points in the first quarter, that has to change. It has constantly put them in catch-up mode.
We’re on to the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets…about 6-7 weeks ago this seemed like an absolute layup… Now it promises to be another rock fight. This is how bad things have gotten this year.
Posted Under: Patriots Report Card
Tags: Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Cam Newton Devin Singletary James White Jerry Hughes Josh Allen New England Patriots NFL Patriots edge rushers Sony Michel Zach Moss