Blount Sets Pats Record as the Defense Shuts Down Denver
The Patriots dominated the game after the first quarter yesterday and shut down the Denver Broncos using good, solid defense and an efficient, quick running winning 16-3. While it won’t win many style points, it was a satisfying, team win with very good performances in all three phases of the game.
With the victory, the Pats clinched the AFC East for a record 8th straight year and for the 14th time in the past 16 years. And what made the victory even sweeter was that it can against a heated rival and in a stadium where they’ve had trouble winning for 56 years. Coupled with the fact that they put a big dent in Denver’s playoff chances makes the win even more satisfying.
The Patriots are 7-0 on the road and 12-2 overall, they hold the top seed in the AFC and control their own destiny in terms of home-field advantage in the AFC.
So, although we had to take a couple of weeks off from our report cards, it is time to get back to it. Before hitting the All-22 coaches’ film, here are our grades for the week. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.
Tom Brady didn’t have his greatest game, and certainly didn’t light up the stat sheet going just 16-32 for 188 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He started the game 0-6, not completing a pass in the first quarter.
This was part of that was part of the game plan where the Patriots didn’t want to have to rely on the passing game to win today. Instead, the plan was on to control the clock and line of scrimmage with the running game.
Brady moved extremely well in the pocket, stepping up or sliding to avoid pressure. He made a couple of really, nice throws to Julian Edelman. The first when the Pats faced a 1st and 20, he dropped the ball deep down the sideline where #11 did a toe-tap before going out of bounds. Later he dropped another dime over the outstretched arms of the defender to Edelman for a big first down.
So, after a rough start, Brady did just what they set out to do. The offense was conservative by design and they never relinquished control once they got it.
Running Backs: B+
LeGarrette Blount wasn’t a big part of the game plan that everyone thought he’d be. The Broncos speed in the back seven negated the advantage of having the big man bulldoze his way thru the pile. He had meager stats on the day with just 31 yards but again, that was partially by design. The Patriots for this game opted to go with the quicker and shiftier Lewis. Blount, however, did get the only touchdown of the game and it set a new franchise record for rushing touchdowns (15) which he’ll probably add to in the next two weeks.
Dion Lewis had a career day getting 95 yards on 18 carries. He was the perfect answer for the Broncos dime package. They’d bring in six defensive backs to counter the pass and Brady would hand it off to Lewis. He had his heaviest workload of his Patriots career and looks like a perfect complement to Blount with the postseason approaching.
James White wasn’t anywhere nearly as effective as we envisioned in this game in our pregame matchups. Although the Patriots tried to get him heavily involved early, he was ineffective including a couple of big drops which short-circuited drives. But he nearly broke a long touchdown reception later in the game when a shoe-string tackle was all between him and the end zone.
What a difference it has been having James Develin back this season. He rarely shows up on the stat sheet, he did make a catch for 14 yards today, but the holes he opens in the running game are invaluable. Phil Simms on the telecast equated Develin to a tackle and showed him pancake Sylvester Williams the Denver nose-tackle.
Wide Receivers: C
The Patriots other than Julian Edelman didn’t target the wide receivers much. That is a testament to the respect they have for the Denver corners. The conservative approach cut out the possibility for a turnover and wasn’t pretty at times but it worked.
Julian Edelman isn’t the biggest WR, nor the fastest, but there aren’t many with more heart or tougher. Edelman is fully healthy now and has always made a living of going in dangerous places making the tough catches in traffic. He made six catches for 75 yards but that sideline catch between two defenders where he toe-tapped before going out of bounds was a beauty.
Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell each had only one catch and were targeted just three times combined. Hogan had a tough drop that killed a drive. We were expecting a bit more from those two in the game
Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett only had two catches for 35 yards but it was the big one for 34 yards that set the team up for a field goal in the fourth quarter that helped put the team away.
Bennett did a good job of run blocking today and with him starting to get healthy, he should become a bigger factor in the passing game.
Matt Lengel got just a few snaps in but got a tongue-lashing from Bennett on one play. Presumably for lining up in the wrong place.
Offensive Line: A+
What else can we add about the offensive line? Remember the AFCCG last January? Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware wreaked havoc on Brady as the OL was bullied, bashed and beaten on nearly every snap. Well today it was the Pats offensive line who did the pushing around. The Patriots ground out 139 tough yards in the running game to control the clock and the tempo.
Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder were flat out excellent. Miller and Ware had zero sacks, zero tackles for loss, and zero QB hits. Cannon has been going thru a rejuvenation this season with Dante Scarnecchia but even the most die-hard fans circled these last two games against Baltimore and Denver as the big tests. Well, he aced them both. Game ball to Cannon.
There were a couple of ticky-tack holding penalties on David Andrews and Joe Thuney, especially considering the mugging that Denver’s OL was getting away with early in the game. But overall this was a truly dominant effort. Redemption game for the OL.
Defensive Line: A
The Patriots defensive line dominated in the trenches again. Denver rushed for just 58 yards on the day and averaged 3.4 yards per attempt. Alan Branch who has been excellent all season and Malcom Brown were stout at the point of attack. Brown chipped in with a sack.
The edge rushers, Trey Flowers, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long had an outstanding day. Flowers chipped in with two sacks, his sixth and seventh of the year. He’s peaking at just the right time. And oh, by the way, remember the worry warts who were proclaiming the doom of the Pats defense without Chandler Jones? Jones is in the middle of another late-season swoon. In Jones’ last four games he’s gotten zero sacks.
Sheard had a fantastic game with a sack, two QB hits and was playing like a beast on the edge, consistently having his way with RT Donald Stephenson.
The Patriots’ other move this season that was lambasted was the trade of Jamie Collins to Cleveland. While the jury will be out on that one until the season is over, no one can argue with the production the team is getting out of Kyle Van Noy.
He’s neither the athletic freak nor a Pro-Bowler but what he is, is a damned-good addition to the Patriots defense. Van Noy can do a bunch of things, cover the running backs either in the flat or on wheel routes, rush the passer and help on the tight ends.
He covered an early wheel route in the end zone perfectly, which forced the Broncos into settling for a field goal. He also read a screen pass in the flat and flew up to nail the play in the backfield for a loss. He blitzed up the A-gap a few times as well.
Dont’a Hightower was his usual stout presence in the running game. He was questionable in this game due to a late addition to the injury report for a knee injury but was more than up for the task.
Shea McClellin even got into the act…on offense as a decoy. It was that kind of day.
The Patriots secondary had a very solid game and it begins with the play of Malcolm Butler. Butler was lined up with Emmanuel Sanders and with over the top help, he relegated him to the side of a milk carton until he caught a couple of passes in garbage time late in the 4th quarter.
Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan matched up with Demaryius Thomas and had very solid outings, for the most part taking away the deep ball and forcing Denver to take the underneath stuff. Trevor Siemian had a nice 1st quarter but after that, the defense, specifically the secondary adjusted and he and the Broncos passing game was held in check.
Ryan turned the game on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Facing a third and short, Siemian tried to hit Sanders on a quick out pattern at the Patriots 4-yard line. Ryan read it perfectly and jumped the route, easily intercepting the pass. He returned it 46 yards to the Denver 46. Brady then led a drive to put New England up for good. It was a 14-point turnaround.
Devin McCourty had another terrific game as the QB of the back seven. His thunderous hit on Thomas jarred the ball loose on a 4th down attempt late in the game.
Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski is no longer in a slump, he went back to the scene of his frustration like Cannon and helped erase some of the sting of his miss last year. He was 3-3 on field goals, right down the middle and good on his only extra point.
Ryan Allen once again did a terrific job of pinning the Broncos deep in their end. Allen’s only short punt was muffed by Jordan Norwood where Jonathan Jones was alert and recovered the ball leading to the Patriots first field goal.
The coverage units were solid although the return game was stuck in neutral. But they didn’t have any slipups this week. Edelman was back fielding punts as Cyrus Jones was a healthy scratch…not surprisingly.
Bill Belichick’s game plan to use the running game wasn’t a surprise. What was, at least a little bit was the use of Lewis’ quick running instead of battering the Broncos with Blount. It worked very well and the offense controlled the clock and the tempo. Denver’s defense couldn’t tee off on Brady at all.
Josh McDaniels called a very solid game for the offense with the exception of one drive with just eight minutes left. He eschewed the running game for three straight passes which was a head-scratcher considering the success they were having at running the ball. But overall, he did exactly what they set out to do.
Matt Patricia who was under fire just a few weeks ago, has got the defense playing super situational football. After Denver moved the ball well in the first quarter, Patricia adjusted the defense and they shut them down and out from that point onward. Patricia has found roles for all of his players and not only are they comfortable within the system, their level of play has increased as they play much faster and instinctive now.
We’re on to the Jets…