Patriots Defense/Special Teams Key Big Win
The Patriots got back in the win column with a 34-13 win over the lowly and struggling Bengals, The win couldn’t have come at a better time, after dropping two in a row and three of their last five, the team needed this one to begin to try to build some momentum in the final few weeks of the season.
The offense continues to struggle but this week, the defense helped them out by getting four interceptions of Andy Dalton and giving the offense the benefits of short fields as well as a score on a pick-six.
The win, the 11th of the season marks the 10th year in a row that the team has won 11 or more games. It also punched their ticket to the postseason. This sets up a huge game against the Buffalo Bills next week in Gillette for the division title.
And with the all-important bye week that comes with the #2 seed still very much in doubt, the Patriots will need to win both of those games against Buffalo and Miami to end the regular season and let some players heal up a bit.
So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before putting a bow on this week.
Tom Brady was facing one of the worst defenses in the NFL on Sunday, and he and the passing offense could muster just 15-29 for 128 yards with 2 TDs and 0 INTs. His elbow, which has been hurting for a while, was clearly bothering him. He sailed more than one pass well over his intended target. And he short-armed another to Sony Michel that was well behind him which cost the team a touchdown.
The Patriots passing offense averaged just 4.4 yards per pass play. That is less than Sony Michel averaged on his 19 carries. Let that one sink in for a second. His pass protection was not good, getting pressured on about half of his dropbacks in the first half. And there are the drops, which usually come at the worst possible time.
Brady really needs some rest which is why the bye week is so important, but there’ll be no rest this week with the Bills and their defense coming to town.
Running Backs: B
The Patriots running game had their best game of the season, rushing for 177 yards on 30 carries before Brady had a couple of kneel-downs in victory formation. Granted the Bengals rush defense is awful, dead last in the league, but at least they made they look that way. Facing some other poor run defenses they haven’t been able to muster much.
Sony Michel looked good, gaining 87 yards on 19 carries and showed good vision following his blocks and was able to drive through tackles and gain yards after contact. Rex Burkhead, right on time at the end of the season, chipped in 53 yards on 6 carries including a really nice 33-yard touchdown run. Burkhead ran straight ahead and burst through the line, dipped his shoulder and faked out the safety and had clear sailing into the end zone.
James White had 13 yards on 3 carries. The team got N’Keal Harry involved on a couple of jet sweeps and the big rookie got 22 yards on two carries and two first downs. A much better day for the backs both in the running game and in the passing game.
Wide Receivers: C-
The Patriots wide receivers almost rated an incomplete grade here. Julian Edelman tried to play through a myriad of issues and didn’t look anything like his normal self. He was laboring walking, never mind running but tried to gut through it like the professional and tough dude that he is. So it is of little surprise that he caught just two passes for nine yards on Sunday.
Mohamad Sanu is also playing through an injury and he too isn’t moving anywhere near 100 percent. However, the 4th down drop was not injury-related and that is becoming a troubling trend for the Pats WR. He was targeted eight times and had just 2 catches for 13 yards.
N’Keal Harry had a pair of catches for 15 yards including a really nice 8-yard touchdown pass along the back of the end zone. His best play was wiped out due to a false start by Edelman. Harry beat the coverage down the right sideline and made a beautiful leaping catch that would have gone for 36 yards.
James White was the big recipient on Sunday, getting 3 catches for 49 yards including a nice 23-yard touchdown pass on a screen from Brady. Michel and Burkhead also chipped in as the backs combined for 6 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Tight Ends: C-
Matt LaCosse was targeted 3 times and had 3 catches for 22 yards, that’s it for the group… Yuck. He played about 50 snaps compared to just 34 for Ben Watson who wasn’t targeted and pretty invisible all day. The run blocking overall was better this week. LaCosse had a really nice block on Burkhead’s touchdown run. However, in pass protection LaCosse was victimized several times and gave up several QB hits
Offensive Line: B-
The offensive line play was a mixed bag on Sunday. While the team had a season-high number of yards rushing, the pass protection was not great as Tom Brady was pressured on about half of his pass plays in the first half. However, Isaiah Wynn looked much better this week. Joe Thuney was also very good and had an outstanding block that sprung White for his touchdown reception. Thuney got out in front of White and pancaked the in-the-box safety.
Ted Karras returned to action and played in all 65 offensive snaps at center. Shaq Mason was looking more like himself, especially in the running game, albeit against the Bengals. Marcus Cannon both had a rough day. Mason injured an ankle which will require a close watch this week with the Bills coming into town.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line had a rough day trying to contain Joe Mixon who rushed for 136 yards 25 carries. On the Bengals’ first few drives, they made it their intent to run the football and they just lined up and smashed it in there. The defensive line was getting pushed back a lot in the early going.
Although they had issues with Mixon all game long, the defensive line keyed the big turning point in the game. On a 4th and 1 from the Patriots 30-yard line, they stuffed the run of Mixon getting him for about a half-yard loss. Danny Shelton had six tackles on the day With the only QB hit coming from Deatrich Wise, who made seven tackles and was very active.
However, the pass rush? It seemed a half-step late, which is something we’re seeing more of in the second half of the season.
The linebackers had some issues (among others on defense) with tackling in this game. Joe Mixon’s 29-yard run should have been a two-yard loss but Jamie Collins couldn’t wrap him up and he broke free. Collins was also so-so in coverage, although he did make a nice play and tipped a pass that appeared wide open. Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower had just five tackles between them, a quiet game for two who are normally near the top of the list. Most of the missed tackles were from the linebackers, which is a bit of an unpleasant surprise.
Ja’Whaun Bentley, however, had a big game using his size and downhill style as a run-thumper to perfection He led the team with eight tackles including 0.5 for a loss. Elandon Roberts gets high marks for playing 24 snaps on defense and 10 for being the fullback on offense.
The Patriots secondary had a tremendous afternoon, allowing one touchdown an 8-yard pass play where Jonathan Jones fell down but scoring one on a 64-yard Stephon Gilmore pick-six. Gilmore and J.C. Jackson each had two interceptions and are #1 and #2 respectively in opposing QB rating when targeted. Opponents targeting Jackson have a 28.6 QBR while those targeting Gilmore have a QBR of 32.8.
The Bengals had 6 receptions for 51 yards on 15 targets when targeting either Gilmore or Jackson on Sunday. They had four interceptions including a pick-six and two pass breakups in those plays. That is domination. Gilmore is just in a league of his own. And to think he got outvoted to the Pro Bowl by Marcus Peters? Child, please…
Overall, Andy Dalton was 17-31 for 151 yards with 1 TD and 4 INTs for a QB rating of 39.2 which is great defense, regardless of the opponent. Jonathan Jones was injured on Sunday and his injury is a big one to monitor this week.
Special Teams: A-
The Special Teams came up with yet another big play made by the outstanding tandem of Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel. Slater as a gunner, flew down the field and jarred the ball loose on Alex Ericson when he tried to field a punt with perhaps far too little room. Bethel recovered and the Patriots took the lead right before the half.
Nick Folk made all four extra points and two field goals in two attempts. He’s solidified the position. He doesn’t have the range to go for much over 50 yards but he’s playing well and with confidence, something we haven’t had this year.
The Patriots coaching staff, especially Josh McDaniels is working overtime, trying to breathe some life into the offense. And for the 2nd week in a row, he put together a drive that went 75 yards for a touchdown. Then the offense struggled to move the ball.
The defense was getting gashed early (a troubling trend) but then shut down the Bengals holding them to just three points after allowing them to score 10 points in the first quarter.
Bill Belichick and the staff always seem to make good adjustments to whatever the opponent is doing well and countering it.
So the Patriots last two regular-season games will be at Gillette Stadium. Starting with the Buffalo Bills. A win gets the Patriots the division-clinching win. But unlike other years with a late-season game against the Bills, this one won’t be easy.