Some news and notes on this Tuesday:
Quite a Change Up Front Sunday
Coming off of Sunday’s win against the Bills, the number one takeaway from that game is the fact the New England Patriots appear to have finally found something that works up front, and this may be the game we look back on at the end of the year as the moment everything changed.
As we know, everything revolves around the offensive line. When things are clicking, the offense works. When they’re not, everything comes to a standstill.
The change to moving Mike Onwenu to right tackle and bringing rookie Sidy Sow to right guard finally solidified the right side of the line, with Cole Strange’s return after a three-week absence next to Trent Brown providing a push on the left.
The difference was obvious just based on the first series. The Patriots bowled over the Bills on the opening drive, with Rhamondre Stevenson picking up a total of 22 yards on his first four carries of the game, all of which came while running behind Sow and Onwenu.
One of those carries included a 14-yard run that set the tone as he blasted through Buffalo’s defense and helped the offense cross midfield into Bills territory. It also helped keep Buffalo’s defense off balance as the next play was the 25-yard completion to Pharoah Brown, who got them down to the Bills 20.
While the drive ultimately stalled, and they had to settle for a field goal, it didn’t matter. The entire tenor of the offense felt completely different, and the signs were there that Sunday was going to potentially see things finally change for the better after a frustrating start to the season.
Meanwhile, Strange provided his usual ferocity on the left. His return to the lineup saw them also have success again alongside David Andrews, who was an absolute beast on Sunday.
They were just as effective in the passing game. The Bills’ defense, which is second in the NFL in sacks, was kept at bay all afternoon as Mac Jones was sacked just once and hurried on only a handful of plays. The result saw the third-year quarterback miss just five passes for the entire game, including a second half where he completed 14-of-16 for 149 yards and two touchdowns, along with 6-of-7 on their game-winning drive.
Andrews said after Sunday’s game that this victory was satisfying, and it finally gave him a reason to look forward to going home and enjoying it.
“It feels good. It feels good,” said Andrews. “Going home, having a beer, and sitting outside is going to feel real good. You play to win the games, and we’ve had a lot of success in my career. I think you try not to take for granted winning football games in the NFL.”
“It’s a hard thing. I thought Mac did a great job today, making the right decisions all day, and then obviously a big drive at the end, playing his best football when it mattered. That’s what we need.”
Overall, thanks to that group, we saw an offense that was in sync and had one of its best performances of the season.
Maybe this is a turning point, and maybe things start to look different from here. But if the Patriots can remain at a point where they can finally run their offense consistently after a rough six weeks, it’s entirely possible that things could look quite different with this football team by the time we get to December.
Changes Coming at Receiver?
Looking at what happened on Sunday, it’s hard not to wonder if the Patriots are going to make some tough decisions as it pertains to both JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker.
Smith-Schuster was obviously inactive again on Sunday as he continues recovering from a concussion, while Parker played just 35 snaps and saw only one target. That came on the final drive, with Parker hauling in one ball for 8 yards, and his presence may only even have been due to Kendrick Bourne’s fumble on the previous series.
Aside from the turnover, Bourne had been coming on as of late. He and Jones are seemingly starting to get on the same page, and the numbers for the last two weeks certainly reflect that.
Through the first five games of the season, Jones completed 18-of-33 (54%) for 218 yards and two touchdowns when targeting Bourne. In the last two weeks, he’s completed 16-of-18 (89.9%) for 152 yards and a touchdown while looking in Bourne’s direction, including 6-of-7 (85.7%) for 63 yards and his touchdown against Buffalo.
But the most notable change has been the ascension of Demario Douglas, who continues to really be the club’s lone explosive playmaker on offense. He returned to the line-up Sunday after sitting out last week due to a concussion and finished with 4 catches for 54 yards.
Overall, he was just outstanding. The rookie had one catch on Sunday where he shifted gears and spun one defender around, and the diving 19-yard reception he made midway through the fourth quarter to set up Bourne’s touchdown was just an absolutely terrific play. Douglas caught that one fully extended, which put the ball at the Buffalo 4-yard line.
Two plays later, Bourne took it into the end zone and finished the drive, which kept the heat on the Bills by giving New England a 22-10 advantage.
Bill Belichick actually praised the rookie during his appearance on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show on Monday, noting that play, and he was clearly impressed.
“I thought the catch he made down at the goal line at the end of the game was a really good catch,” said Belichick. “That was a tough play to make. You know, he extended and made a good catch. Nice game for him.”
Douglas played in 37 snaps on Sunday, his highest total of the season and his highest total since he played 33 in Week 1. Prior to Sunday, his largest total since that Eagles game had been 18, which came in their loss to Dallas in Week 4.
Meanwhile, Kayshon Boutte was inactive for the sixth-straight game on Sunday, with Jaylen Reagor seeing an increase in playing time after being active for the second-straight week.
Reagor played in 14 snaps last weekend and saw that increase to 25 Sunday, with the receiver hauling in his first pass of the season, which was an 11-yard grab during their first drive of the third quarter on a 2nd-and-5 from their own 30. That one moved the chains and got them out just past the 40-yard line and helped play a role in the eventual 49 yard field goal by Chad Ryland.
But one interesting thing that stood out is the fact that Tyquan Thorton didn’t see the field much on Sunday. He saw just three offensive snaps against Buffalo, one week removed from seeing 25 snaps last week in Las Vegas. Thornton ended the day with one catch for 2 yards, which is another outing where he’s seemingly struggling to establish a role for himself.
Meanwhile, prior to his injury, Smith-Schuster had already seen a reduction in playing time. After playing in 43, 44, and 53 snaps in the first three weeks, his snap total dropped to 26 and 27 the next two weeks prior to the two games he’s been out since then.
Clearly, the Patriots are trying to find a combination of players who can help them move the chains and put up points, and it’s going to be interesting to see how this continues to affect both his and Parker’s playing time in the coming weeks.
Question the Talent, But Not the Coaching
Obviously, Sunday was a nice showing by the offense, and while it remains to be seen if they can squeeze enough out of this group to get back into the mix, it’s hard to question Belichick’s coaching ability or preparation after what we saw against Buffalo.
One moment that stood out was clearly the first snap from scrimmage by Buffalo, with the Bills running a play that Belichick explained on Monday caused them problems last year. That play was something he and the coaching staff emphasized, and the message certainly got through to Jabrill Peppers.
Peppers immediately recognized it and drifted back, leaping high into the air and coming down with the interception. They turned around and went 45 yards on 7 plays and finished it with a touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott, which allowed them to play with a significant lead at 10-0 for the first time all season.
Belichick praised the safety on Monday, outlining exactly how it all went down and what Peppers did that helped that turnover to happen.
“It was a good play by Pep. It was a three-level pattern that they had run on us before, with the first receiver quickly to the flat, the second receiver coming in behind him and the outside receiver clearing out,” explained Belichick. “Pep widened and then recognized the route going behind him and had good whip and was able to gain the depth that he needed to make the play.”
“It was a great job by Pep, and like I said, it was a play that they hurt us with last year, and he handled it well in practice and it carried over into the game.”
That moment was definitely a reminder that Belichick hasn’t lost his fastball when it comes to X’s and O’s. While the personnel decisions have yielded some serious questions over the last few weeks when it comes to Belichick’s decisions as general manager, it doesn’t change the fact that when it comes to breaking down film and conveying those messages to his players, he remains at the top of his game.
Brown Garners Praise
Belichick was also asked on Monday during his press conference with the media about Pharaoh Brown’s performance this season, with the tight end having made some big plays in each of his receptions.
Brown has been targeted five times and caught all of them for 137 yards, including a touchdown, while averaging a team-high 27.4 yards per reception. He caught two passes for 51 yards Sunday, which included passes of 25 and 26 yards against Buffalo, with the latter getting things started on the drive that led to Bourne’s touchdown.
Those two receptions round out a list of catches that have seen him haul in passes of 58 yards (Week 3 at Jets), 13 yards (Week 3 at Jets), and 15 yards (Week 6 at Raiders) in previous games.
Belichick noted that one of the most impressive parts of those catches is the fact that oftentimes, he’s getting hit when the ball arrives, yet he’s been tough enough to still make the grab.
“I think Pharaoh’s a big target. He’s got good hands. He’s done a really good job of running with the ball and securing the ball,” said Belichick. “A couple of those plays that you’re referring to, he got hit almost as soon as he caught the ball – not on the one against the Jets, but on some of these other plays – as soon as he caught the ball, somebody was right there trying to knock it away from him or knock it out of his hands.”
“He’s done a great job of securing the ball and picking up positive yardage after the catch. So, he’s been consistent doing that and it’s been a big help.”
The tight end has continued to see an uptick in playing time. Brown was in on 38% of the snaps on Sunday, his highest total since Week 4 in Dallas (40%). One area that has been talked about has been his blocking ability, which is where he’s gotten a fair amount of praise from teammates. That’s also been a skill that has allowed him to slip open because opponents don’t know if he’s potentially staying in or drifting into the secondary.
Clearly, when he’s gotten his chances, he’s made the most of them. Of New England’s top 10 longest pass plays of 2023 so far, Brown holds the top one thanks to his 58-yard touchdown grab in Week 3, along with grabbing the 8th and 9th spot on Sunday with his two receptions.
Posted Under: Patriots News