Tag Archives: New England Patriots

Patriots Week 14 Report Card, A Very Mixed Bag in the Loss to Miami

Steve Balestrieri
December 11, 2018 at 7:20 am ET


The Patriots went down to Miami and played just well enough to keep a very inferior team in the game long enough for them to steal away a victory on a fluke play on the last snap of the game. Like John Houseman used to say in those old Smith Barney commercials, “They earn it.” And the Pats earned that loss in a game that they should have won.

Some parts of the Pats game was outstanding, others were absolutely terrible. On both sides of the ball. That’s what a wacky game this was. They will get over this one…or perhaps they won’t. They don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. A trip to Pittsburgh looms next week and don’t expect to see the same Steeler team that lost to the woeful Raiders next Sunday.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady, save for one colossal mistake at the end of the first half was outstanding. Brady completed 27-43 passes for 358 yards (8.3 yards per pass) with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. His accuracy was very good throughout the game and those bogus hot take artists who regularly spew insipid bile about his arm strength need to watch back-to-back plays in the first half.

Facing a 3rd and 10, Brady lasered a rocket to Julian Edelman for 16 yards and a first down. On the next snap, Brady rocketed a 37-yard fastball down the field on a line where Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice grab for a 37-yard touchdown.  

Brady’s one gaffe was a very costly one. With time running down in the first half, Brady held on to the ball too long with no one open and took a sack. At that point, the clock ran out and the Patriots lost a golden opportunity to add points on the board. It was a rookie mistake, he lost track of how many timeouts they had used and it is something, he’s never done. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. That’s what knocks his grade down somewhat.

Running Backs: D

The Patriots running backs were rendered a total non-factor in this game. Despite the Dolphins having a sieve for a run defense for all of this season, they were a stone wall on Sunday and held the Patriots running backs to an awful 2.6 yards per rush average.

Sony Michel had 20 carries for just 57 yards. He had one nice run at the end of the game that looked like the Patriots were finally going to take over but it was wiped out by a holding penalty. It has been a familiar refrain for him all season. He could probably have close to 50 percent of his yardage added to his total that has been lost on flags.

James White whether by the Dolphins defense or the Patriots game plan was invisible on Sunday. Granted Brady was shredding the Dolphin secondary but when the team goes just 3-6 in the red zone, perhaps, White could have been used a bit more. Rex Burkhead also was invisible, carrying four times for two yards with just a single catch for three yards.

James Develin was solid in his blocking and added another short touchdown run. But his penalty hurt at the end of the game.

Wide Receivers: B

Both Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon had outstanding games on Sunday. Edelman had 9 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown and as always he goes into those dangerous spots over the middle. His score was reminiscent of his TD catch in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. He had a costly drop however where he began to run before securing the ball, a very uncommon mistake for him.

Gordon was outstanding and is looking every week like he’s getting better and better. He’s a monster on those quick, short slants where he uses his size and speed to get position and then is tough to bring down. He had five catches for 96 yards and added a pass interference call as well as a holding call.

Cordarrell Patterson had two catches for 51 yards including a beauty of a 37-yard touchdown. It was a perfect throw and a very nice catch as he stretched out and snagged the ball for the score.

Chris Hogan had only one target and Brady, under pressure overthrew it badly. It was a play we wrote about this weekend, the back of the end zone pass used to be a staple in the Patriots offense and that was one of the first times we’ve seen it in a long time. And it was open too.

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski had a very good game, arguably his best of the year on Sunday. He was targeted eight times and made eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was taking some big hit and gave the Dolphins a lot of trouble in the passing game. They were convinced that they could cover him with single coverage. They were wrong.

Gronk deserves no criticism for the ridiculousness at the end of the game. He should have never been out there in the first place.

Offensive Line: D+

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the passing game, Brady was sacked just twice and they did a very good job of keeping the interior of the pocket clean where he could step up and throw the ball.

But in the running game? They were singularly awful. Remember this is a Dolphins team that has been gashed all year long but this was their third lowest total allowed. Only two games against the anemic Jets offense did they allow less. The running backs had nowhere to run on Sunday. This was a matchup the offensive line was supposed to win and should have. They did not.

Defensive Line: D

The defensive line like the offensive line and much of the team was really good in one aspect and absolutely terrible in the other. Trey Flowers was once again terrific, he led the way with two sacks, two tackles for loss and four QB hits. And in the pass rush department, the defensive line had another strong game with 3 sacks and six QB hits.

But the Mr. Hyde part of the game was the run defense which was gashed. While that isn’t on just the DL (read below), they share in the grade as they were consistently pushed around in the running game.

Linebackers: D

The Patriots linebackers after their best game of the season against Minnesota had arguably their worst. They did do a good job of getting after Tannehill in blitzes with 1.5 sacks and a pair of QB hits.  Dont’a Hightower had his first sack of the season and John Simon was particularly effective in his best game in a Patriots uniform.

But in run support they were absolutely terrible, Miami rushed for 189 yards on just 21 carries which averages out to 9.0 yards per rush attempt. Brandon Bolden looked like Barry Sanders in his prime flying through open space for a 54-yard touchdown. No one could get off of their blocks. Elandon Roberts had a rough game, getting bulldozed on the Bolden first TD and then whiffing (how many times do we see this?) on an open field tackle attempt on Frank Gore. Hightower was fooled by Tannehill on the first series with a play fake where he ran for 13 yards.

Secondary: C

The secondary took a step back from their stellar game of a week ago. Kenny Stills was giving Jason McCourty fits all game long until he was eventually replaced by J.C. Jackson. Gilmore was beaten by Brice Butler for a touchdown on a post route that was an excellently thrown ball by Tannehill. But the rest of Miami’s receivers had no more than one catch apiece.

But on the topic of the elephant in the room or in this case a Mastodon, there were breakdowns all over the field which all help create a play which will forever be a New England Butt Fumble moment. Another look at the play, (and it is like watching a car wreck) shows some horrible situational football.

Jonathan Jones is in perfect position to make the tackle and end the game since Miami has no timeouts remaining. But instead, he foolishly tries to make a play on the ball and is then, way out of position.  Jackson and Gilmore appear to be more worried about defending another lateral and run like their feet are underwater. Devin McCourty wasn’t on the field (the only snap he missed all game) and Gronk, who isn’t a defender (more to this below) stumbled trying to get the angle on Drake. Epic fail.

Special Teams: C+

The Special Teams blocked two punts, Albert McClellan blocked both by rushing right up the middle. Ryan Allen’s punting was fantastic and the coverage units easily had their best game of the year. But Stephen Gostkowski’s two misses on easy kicks (an extra point and a chip shot 42-yard field goal) cost the team four points, which would have rendered the fiasco at the end moot. Nuff said.

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff which prides itself on not beating itself and good situational football failed on multiple accounts here. Why was Gronk in the game at all on that last play. With Miami back on its own 31, Tannehill isn’t throwing the ball 75+ yards in the air and even if he does, the team just signed 6’4 Obi Melifonwu who has a 40-inch vertical leap and can run like a scalded dog. It was unfathomable.

While the decision to go for the field goal was considered the “safe, smart” move, I’d have opted for another shot at a touchdown to put the game away and even if you don’t your forcing the Dolphins to start from inside their 5-yard line. Three points there doesn’t ice the game and you’re just giving them better field position to work from.

Just goes to show, Bill isn’t infallible, he can make mistakes. There were plenty of them to go around. We’re on to Pittsburgh…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Miracle Finish Is Fitting End to Dolphins 34-33 Win, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2018 at 6:30 am ET

The Patriots got another loss in South Florida the old fashioned way…they earned it. Very uncharacteristic mental mistakes abounded and cost the team just about any slim chance they had at securing the #1 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Lost in the wild, wacky, horribly-played lateral play was a plethora of unforced errors and bad situational football which placed them in the position in the first place.

From Stephen Gostkowski doinking an extra point off the goal post and then shanking a gimme 42-yard field goal, to Bill Belichick showing an almost Andy Reid-like clock management skills at the end of the first half, to Tom Brady inexplicably forgetting how many timeouts they had. It only gets better.

Julian Edelman running before he secures the ball on a screen, Stephon Gilmore dropping a gift pick-six by Ryan Tannehill, false starts, an offense that looked unstoppable in the first half, and then scores just six points in the fourth quarter, they set themselves up for just a finish.

The decision not to go for a touchdown on 4th down at the Miami one-yard line can be debated, but a field goal didn’t put the game away and even if a touchdown attempt failed, it would have left Miami with under 30 seconds and 99 yards to go. But the pièce de résistance was the decision to put Rob Gronkowski back as the deep safety with Miami on their 31-yard line with 0:07 seconds to go.

Did the coaching staff really think that Ryan Tannehill was going to (could) throw the ball 75 yards down the field on a final Hail Mary? And even if they did, the team just signed 6’4 safety Obi Melifonwu who had a 40” vertical leap and runs like a deer. Inexplicable…but it is over and you have to own it.

Other observations include:

With the loss, the Patriots have about zero chance of now getting the top seed in the AFC. Baltimore took Kansas City to overtime but ultimately lost. They are now two games back in the standings with just three games to play.

The #2 seed and a bye still remain a very doable proposition, however. The Texans lost to the Colts and the Steelers, like the Patriots, played down to the level of their competition and lost to the 2-10 Raiders.

On a day when the defense sacks the QB five times and you block two punts…you have to get pretty creative to lose but that’s exactly what they did.

The running game was non-existent today as the Patriots managed just 77 yards on 30 carries, a paltry 2.6-yard average. Facing a Miami defense that was being gouged for 144.7 yards a game and nearly double the average yards per carrying, that was a huge win for the Fins defense.

In contrast, the Miami running game, nearly an afterthought for much of the year absolutely gashed the Patriots defense to the tune of 189 yards on 21 carries for a whopping 9.0 yards per play. Old friend Brandon Bolden looked like he was shot out of a cannon and galloped 54-yards untouched for the first of two touchdowns in the first half and Frank Gore was outstanding, rushing 12 times for 92 yards.

Tom Brady was outstanding in the first half, he was virtually unstoppable until the final two minutes, but was held to just a pair of field goals down the stretch and it would come back to haunt them. Brady finished with 27 completions in 43 attempts for 358 yards with 3 TDs and 0 Interceptions.

Both offenses were scoring at will in the first half, up and down the field each team was moving the ball and scoring with ease.

The silly questions about Brady’s arm strength were put to rest (for now) on Sunday. On back-to-back plays, he lasered a 3rd and 10 pass to Edelman for 16 yards and then to Cordarrelle Patterson for a 37-yard touchdown.

Rob Gronkowski had arguably his best game of the season and caught 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. He also took some hard shots to his knees and lower body.

Kenny Stills was nearly uncoverable for Miami, turning in a great game catching 8 passes for 135 yards and a score on nine targets. He was consistently getting the better of Jason McCourty and easily won that matchup today.

Josh Gordon turned in another solid game catching 5 passes for 96 yards, several of the difficult variety. Gordon and Patterson give the Patriots the size and speed that they’ve lacked in the passing game. Julian Edelman, doing the dirty work underneath, caught 9 passes for 86 yards, but his drop of a screen pass where it appeared he had some room to run was a drive killer. We’ll have to rewatch the tape of that one.

Albert McClellan was signed to give the Special Teams a boost and today, he did exactly that. Blowing straight up the middle he not only blocked one but two punts. The second one with just under a minute to go in the half gave the Patriots the ball at the 15. Normally this is when the Patriots and Brady put a dagger into the hearts of opponents…however>>>

Clock Management Andy Reid Style 1.0: The Dolphins had the ball at their own 25-yard line with 3:49 left in the half. The Patriots forced a three-and-out but didn’t use their timeouts as the clock ticked down to the two-minute warning. But after taking over at their own 20, they did nothing punted back to Miami with one minute left.

Clock Management Andy Reid Style 2.0: After the Patriots sack Tannehill and have the Dolphins facing a 2nd-and-21, then they finally stop the clock with just 46 seconds left. They then sacked Brock Osweiler, then block the punt and take over at the Dolphins 15-yard line with 30 seconds left. Brady zipped another laser to Gronk put them at the Miami 2 with 21 seconds left. Brady then overthrew an open Chris Hogan along the back of the end zone, (a play we’ve been clamoring for)  and then inexplicably took a sack on third down with no timeouts left and come away with nothing.

Weird play in the third quarter when Trey Flowers punched the ball away from Gore causing a fumble. The officials signaled that Miami had recovered yet when the scrum had cleared the Patriots flipped the ball back to the official. Another one where maybe the tape will clear it up.

The final play will mask what was a pretty good day by the Patriots secondary. Other than Stills, the rest of Miami’s passing game was pretty much held in tow. But that isn’t how the game unfolded.

Then with 0:07 seconds to go, the Dolphins had the ball on their 31-yard line. The Patriots defenders said after the game, that they knew it was too far for a Hail Mary and it would be a lateral situation. Then why place Gronk back there for McCourty? Or Melifonwu for that matter. Tannehill hit Stills with about a 20-yard pass where Jonathan Jones took an angle that we haven’t seen since Jordan Richards whiffed on JuJu Smith Schuster in Pittsburgh a year ago.

Stills lateraled to DeVante Parker who then lateralled to Kenyan Drake and the play unfolded and it looked like Moses parting the Red Sea as Patriots defenders were lost in the wake. Gronkowski stumbled and missed a chance to knock him out at the two-yard line and Miami had the finish that kept alive their playoff hopes for another week.

Now the Pats are on to Pittsburgh, who have dropped three in a row. And lost again in stunning fashion to the lowly Raiders. But don’t expect that kind of performance from them next week. The Patriots coaches will have to work hard with the team after that meltdown.That is the kind of loss that can stick with a team.

New England Patriots News 12-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 9, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-09, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
And our players to watch from a Patriots perspective by clicking on the links:

Stephon Gilmore missed practice on Friday due to an ankle injury which just popped up on the injury report and is questionable. Obviously, if he can’t go it will be a big loss for the Patriots defense today.

Did you Know? With four receptions today, James White will set a new Patriots team record for catches by a running back in a season. Tony Collins caught 77 passes in the 1986 season. White currently has 74 catches on the season.

Did you Know Pt.2? With a win today, The Patriots will improve to 108-29 (.788) since 2001 on or after Thanksgiving (regular and postseason). That is the best record in the NFL during that time by more than 20 wins.

Did you Know Pt. 3: With a win today, the Patriots would clinch the AFC East for the 10th year in a row, breaking a tie with the Cowboys and Colts for the most consecutive years making the playoffs. It will also be the 16th divisional title since 2001.

Running the Ball? Since 2000, New England is 50-1 in the regular season when a Patriot produces 100 or more yards rushing. The only loss during the Bill Belichick
era came at Miami, coincidentally happened on Dec. 20, 2004, when Corey Dillon rushed for 121 yards on 26 carries and the Patriots fell 29-28 to the Dolphins in a MNF meltdown. Since then, New England is 37-0 with a 100-yard rusher. In 2018, RB
Sony Michel has three 100-yard games, including Week 4 against Miami.

Feed JE11 the Ball? Since 2014 (including the playoffs), the Patriots are 18-0 when Julian Edelman scores at least one touchdown.

National Media Are Turning Rodgers into Manning:

Every year, the national media all take turns proclaiming that “this is the year” the Patriots fall, Tom Brady falls off a cliff statistically, etc. The old rule about no cheering from the press box obviously doesn’t apply to journalists rooting against someone. And that someone is TB12. Never has a player that has accomplished so much for the league been the target of some much jealousy off the field. Everyone can’t wait to be the first to mark the demise of the greatest QB to ever lace them up in the NFL. Every pass is dissected looking for flaws, a diminishing arm strength, anything to point toward the door.

While he was still playing, Peyton Manning was the poster boy for the NFL and made out of absolute Teflon. Nothing stuck to Manning, even when he threw three picks to Ty Law in the playoffs, the excuse machine was working in full-blown overtime. The league’s competition committee changed the rules to benefit his wide receivers. But eventually, Brady’s accomplishments left Manning in the dust and even the most jaded Brady haters couldn’t use that argument anymore.

Step to the podium Aaron Rodgers. He’s the next “Chosen One”, the darling of the media and a guy who can never ever do no wrong. Every pass he throws is oohed and aahed over during the highlight shows. And how many times ad nauseam have we heard the past few years, “nobody but Aaron Rodgers can make that throw.” And every week we are subjected to the same Brady-Rodgers drivel that we were during Manning’s career. Except that Rodgers has accomplished even less.

His team has missed the playoffs for the past two years, already eliminated in 2018. Can you imagine the hue and cry against Brady if the Patriots were eliminated just once under his watch the past few years?

So much was made of the Brady-Belichick “feud” with the Alex Guerrero issue and impending divorce the past year or so and the Pats went 13-3 and came to within a strip sack of winning their sixth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era. This year, the Patriots are 9-3 and are still in play for the top seed in the conference.  

But the real divorce was going on in the Frozen Tundra where the play of Rodgers, in part because of his feuding with Mike McCarthy has really dropped off. But not a word of that has been spoken. It has all been “McCarthy must go” and now he’s been fired. Rodgers has been remarkably immune to all of this. One can’t help but think that if that happened in Foxboro, and Brady’s record the past two years was 7-9 and 4-7-1, the headlines would be much different. Just like Manning.

Brady: “None of the Past Matters” About Playing in Miami:

The Patriots are 1-4 in their last four trips to Miami and Tom Brady hit the nail right on the head when he said at his Friday press conference, “The reality is that none of that stuff matters — it’s really this team against that team,” he said.

“We have a big challenge.”

Miami is 5-1 at home and 1-5 on the road, so they are a very different team when playing in the confines of their own stadium as opposed to traveling on the road. The Patriots played very poorly there last season, when Jay Cutler, in the midst of a nightmarish season, looked like an All-Pro…for one night.

“The opponent is the Dolphins, not the climate. Playing a good football game is definitely what this week is about for us,” Brady added. “We can’t expect to go out there and play less than our best and win. We should be playing our best — it’s that time of year.”

This season, unlike others, like 2013, and 2015, it is the Dolphins who are beat up and have a lot of players injured or on IR.  There is no mystique, no parquet floor magic about playing in South Florida. The Patriots just need to show up and be ready to play.

Brady at the end of the 2016 season lit up Miami with the following stat line:
Attempts – 33, Completions – 25, Yards – 276, Completion Pct. 75.8, TDs – 3, INT – 0 Passer Rating – 130.4, the result was a Patriots 35-14 blowout victory.  Expect Bill Belichick to have the players ready to go today.

No More ‘Read and React’? Pats Defense Dictating More in 2018:

The Patriots back in training camp hinted that new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores would be more aggressive, ditching the old “read and react” defense of Matt Patricia that most fans hated, although it is hard to argue with the success that they’ve had with it. However, early in the year, much of what we saw looked similar to the past. But as players have been getting more comfortable in their roles and inside the system, we’re seeing more and more of what was perceived to be a more aggressive unit in 2018.

They showed brief glimpses of it during games against Kansas City and Green Bay but two weeks ago against the Jets and then last week against the Vikings, Flores ‘let slip the dogs of war’ and the defense was dictating how things were going to be. That was the most aggressive that the Patriots have been in a very long time.

With a veteran and very solid secondary, Flores can afford to be more aggressive but the confidence the coaches have shown, especially with rookie corner J.C. Jackson is very telling. They aren’t afraid to put their corners out there against some of the more explosive offenses in the league.

However, being aggressive can result in getting burned and giving up long plays and/or touchdowns. But against Cousins and the Vikings, especially on 3rd down, the Patriots were dictating and they were extremely impressive.

Will they do the same this week against Tannehill or was that to give the Steelers something else to consider for next week?

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 14 Predictions:

Last week: 11-5 Season 125-65-2

Thursday night’s picks Titans over the Jaguars 1-0

NY Jets at Buffalo: Bills
NY Giants at Washington: Redskins
New Orleans at Tampa Bay: Saints
New England at Miami: Patriots
Baltimore at Kansas City: Chiefs
Indianapolis at Houston: Texans
Atlanta at Green Bay: Packers
Carolina at Cleveland: Panthers
Denver at SF: Broncos
Cincinnati at LA Chargers: Chargers
Detroit at Arizona: Lions
Pittsburgh at Oakland: Steelers
Philadelphia at Dallas: Cowboys
LA Rams at Chicago SNF: Rams
Minnesota at Seattle MNF: Vikings

Thursday Early Pick: Chargers over Chiefs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Cut Benjamin After Just 18 Games:

The Buffalo Bills cut their ties to WRs Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes on Tuesday. Buffalo acquired Benjamin, 27, in a trade from the Carolina Panthers in October 2017 for 3rd and 7th round picks in the 2018 draft. In 18 regular-season games for Buffalo, Benjamin caught 39 passes for 571 yards and two touchdowns. In his career, Benjamin has played in 58 games with 52 starts, amassing 207 catches for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.

He ran afoul of the coaches and QBs in both Carolina and Buffalo but perhaps someone like Andy Reid can reach him where others have failed. He has stated he wasn’t a fit for Cam Newton in Carolina and reportedly told Bills quarterback Josh Allen he wouldn’t work on routes with him before a game earlier this season.

“Sometimes change of scenery can be good for a guy and he’s got an opportunity to come in here,” Reid said.

Struggling this season, Benjamin admitted he’d hit “rock bottom” and was disappointed. “It’s just a bad season,” Benjamin said. “It is what it is. Just football, man. You have good seasons, you have bad seasons. I’ve had successful seasons in this league. I’ll have plenty more. For some reason, it’s just not the year.”

Maybe the Chiefs hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle and he can repeat the performance he had against the Patriots in Week 4 of the 2017 season where he caught four passes for 104 yards, in case the two teams meet in the postseason.

Tannehill Key For Dolphins Postseason Hopes:

The Miami Dolphins are still in the mix in the playoff race but if they’re going to get there, they are going to need production from QB Ryan Tannehill. A lot of production. He’s been with the team for seven years and he has yet to show the consistency that is needed to be the type of QB that the Dolphins envisioned when they drafted him.

Despite the over-the-top headline this week that loudly proclaimed “Tannehill Owns the Patriots At Home”, he has a lot of work to do the next month. But it all starts today. And if Tannehill wants to be a Dolphin in 2019, he better turn some heads in the next few games…in a good way.   

“If you’re on the field, you’re getting evaluated,” Tannehill said. “That is what it is. Whatever you put on tape, that’s what this team and every other team has to go on.”

With a career 40-43 record, and middle of the road stats across the board, he may have his coach’s confidence, but eventually, even Adam Gase will be forced to make a decision. Tannehill isn’t just playing for a playoff spot but a roster spot in 2019.

Darron Lee Suspended for the Remainder of the Jets Season:

The New York Jets continuing dysfunction once again raised its ugly head when the league announced linebacker Darron Lee has been suspended four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The suspension is effective immediately, meaning his season is over unless he decides to appeal it. The suspension will cost him $325,000 in game checks. Lee is eligible to return to the roster on Dec. 31, the day after their final game.


Lee, leads the team with three interceptions, including one for a touchdown. But he’s had maturity issues. He was benched for a game in 2017 for showing up late to practice. He had a dustup with his girlfriend at a music festival that was caught on cellphone video. His teammate Leonard Williams perhaps saved him from further league issues, by pulling him away.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Players To Watch Patriots-Dolphins Week 14

Steve Balestrieri
December 8, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Playoff Atmosphere in South Beach This Weekend

The New England Patriots head to Miami to take on the Dolphins on Sunday and would love to exorcize some South Florida demons that have plagued them down there. Like a week ago, this game is important for both teams. The Patriots want to at least keep the #2 seed for the time being with the Houston Texans having the same record where the Patriots own the tiebreaker having won head-to-head. And they’re just a game behind the Chiefs for the #1 seed, also with a tiebreaker in hand.

Miami at 6-6 is still very much in the Wild Card hunt but has a rough road if they want to make up any ground. Following the Patriots, they have to go to the Minnesota Vikings, the Jacksonville Jaguars before finishing up on the road in Buffalo.

Yesterday we posted our keys to the game and key matchups where we broke down the game positionally.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:

Sony Michel:

The Patriots rookie running back is a key part of the New England attack and the go-to guy in the running game. On the season Michel has carried the ball 144 times for 649 yards (4.5-yard average) with five touchdowns.

He’s facing a Miami defense that is allowing 144.7 yards per game and 5.0-yards per carry this season. Michel had his coming out party against Miami in Foxboro Week 4 when he carried 25 times for 125 yards and a 10-yard touchdown.

While the Patriots will probably use all three running backs heavily in this one, with Rex Burkhead and James White in the passing game, Michel should be a key component in the offensive game plan this week against a team that is struggling to stop the run.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots best defensive lineman has been outstanding this season. And this week they’ll probably be moving him to the left side to attack what has been the Dolphins weak spot, the right side of their offensive line.

Setting the edge will be important this week with both Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore in the backfield for Miami and Flowers has been the best at doing that for the Pats all season.

Miami has given up 31 sacks on the season and they’ll have to bring pressure on Ryan Tannehill to get him to get rid of the ball quickly and hopefully force him into making some mistakes. Flowers has notched sacks in three of the past four games and could be in line for another big game this week. Last week, Miami RG Jesse Davis gave up a pair of sacks, was flagged for holding as well as a false start.

Josh Gordon:

The Patriots big wide receiver is someone opponents have to account for him on every play, given his size and speed. With Xavien Howard out this week with a knee injury, Gordon’s role may become much larger this week as the Dolphins will have to shuffle personnel around to cover for their ball-hawking corner.

Gordon will draw either Minkah Fitzpatrick or second-year UDFA Torry McTyer and they are matchups that Tom Brady will be testing out early in this one. Gordon has been solid for the Patriots since arriving in mid-stream this season but has only had two 100-yard games, Chicago (4-100) and Green Bay (5-130-1TD). Could this be #3 for him?

Gordon wasn’t part of the game plan until late in the third quarter last week against Minnesota before ending up with 3 catches for 58 yards, and a score as well as drawing a big pass interference penalty. We expect that will change this week.

Kyle Van Noy:

The Patriots under the radar linebacker doesn’t have that concern when it comes to the Miami Dolphins. Dolphins coach Adam Gase called Van Noy a “nightmare for us” the past two seasons. And indeed Van Noy, when he’s been in the lineup has been exactly that when facing the Dolphins.

In the win in Foxboro in 2017, Van Noy had six tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, two QB pressures and a QB hit. This year in the 38-7 win in Week 4, four tackles, two pressures, a QB hit, and a fumble recovery. It is interesting to note, that Van Noy was injured and missed the late season game in Miami last year. Doug Kyed from NESN reported that Gase said that Van Noy on their radar.

“He does a great job. He disrupts. He does a great job setting the edge,” Gase said. “He always does a great job any time we — if we ever try to run the ball to the edge, it’s getting to the point where it’s kind of pointless. He shuts down the run to his side. That whole defensive line does a great job as far as when they’re working their stunts and you got the TEs and the ETs, they set each other up so well. There’s a lot of unselfish football going on along the defensive front. He plays a big part in it. He causes all kinds of problems.”

Chris Hogan:

The Patriots wide receiver has kind of been the forgotten man in the Patriots offense in the second half of the season. He went thru two straight games without being targeted at all. In the last two games, Hogan’s been targeted twice with two catches in each. And although it seems like his production is way off his previous seasons, it isn’t really. If Hogan can average two catches or more for the final four games of the season, he’d be right about the same production he’s been in the past.

We wrote that he may be an “X-Factor” in the offense this week. With Miami banged up across their roster and missing Howard in their secondary, it puts more pressure on the backup players. The trickle-down effect means that Hogan could be facing lesser competition with the Dolphins top defenders worrying about Gordon, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski.

He could be in line for a game like he had against either Kansas City or Chicago in back-to-back weeks where he had four catches for 78 yards or six for 63 respectively. One area where they’ve not targeted Hogan or Edelman as much this season is in the red zone. Especially that play along the back of the end zone. This may be a perfect time to dust that one off.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots-Dolphins Week 14, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots head out for the first of their final two road games of the 2018 regular season. They play in Miami this week and Pittsburgh next week in games that will go a long way in determining where they stand in terms of AFC Playoff seeding.

The Patriots can clinch their 10th straight AFC East title with a win or a tie and would set a record for making the playoffs in10 straight years. They are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and the Indianapolis Colts (2002- 10) as the only teams to play in the postseason for nine straight seasons.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (9-3) beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 in Foxboro as the defense was outstanding limiting the Vikings offense to just 278 yards while rolling up 471 of their own.

The Dolphins (6-6) beat the Buffalo Bills 21-17 as Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter come-from-behind win.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Dolphins are meeting for the 107th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-52 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Miami, the Patriots are 4-15 in the month of December.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game is nearly back to full strength with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead as the three main backs in the backfield. But Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson both will see some carries on Jet Sweeps. James Develin, their big blocking fullback is now a short-yardage option. He scored a pair of touchdowns last week against Minnesota.

The Dolphins run defense was first gashed by the Patriots to the tune of 175 yards this season after Miami began 3-0. Since then they allowed 164 to the Bears, 248 vs the Lions, 188 to Houston, 195 to Green Bay, and 198 to the Bills. Miami is allowing an average of 144.7 yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush, which is 30th in the league.

Look for the Patriots to try to pound the rock all day between the tackles. Miami’s defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence have not played well against the run and neither have linebackers, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso. If DC Matt Burke tries to bring the safeties up into the box in run support or blitz the linebackers, it will open up play-action passing.

Patriots WRs vs Dolphins Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game has been playing their cards close to their vest lately as their being fairly conservative in the passing game. But in Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan at wide receiver, Rob Gronkowski at tight end and James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel out of the backfield, Tom Brady has a plethora of weapons. Add it Patterson and Phillip Dorsett and the depth is there for them to mix it up.

Miami may be without their best defensive player in Xavien Howard who has a knee injury. He’s an All-Pro talent who leads the team with seven interceptions this year. With him injured they’ve been forced to play Minkah Fitzpatrick at the other corner with Bobby McCain in the slot. If Howard can’t go, 2nd-year corner Torry McTyer will get the start. Miami has two very talented edge rushers in Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake but they’ll need to get pressure up the middle if they want to be successful there.

Look for Brady to utilize the “Pony” backfield with White and Burkhead on third down a lot in this one, they’ll try to isolate the linebackers in coverage and keep the sticks moving. If Howard is indeed out, look for Brady and Gordon to test McTyer. Chris Hogan could be an “X-Factor” this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

Miami RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Dolphins running game is averaging 102.7 yards per game (24th) this season with a 4.3 average yards per carry. They have two very good backs in the ageless Frank Gore who leads the team with 616 yards and the dangerous Kenyan Drake. Their problem has been the offensive line hasn’t been on the field enough because of injuries.

The Patriots rush defense is currently 13th allowing 106.7 yards per game. They’ve been trending up in that regard and this week, they’ll have their hands full as the Dolphins will try to mix things up by using both Gore and Drake. They’ll have to get a big game out of their linebackers, especially Kyle Van Noy who Adam Gase was talking about this week.

Look for the Patriots to go to a bigger front this week with Gore in the lineup and try to get Miami into the 3rd and long passing situations. They’ll have to set the edge this week as the Dolphins should be much more patient with their running game than the Vikings were.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Miami passing game is 28th in the league averaging just 199.4 yards per game. But getting Ryan Tannehill back from injury has helped and in the last two games, he’s had a passer rating of over 100 against the Colts and Bills defenses. He has DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Danny Amendola as wide receivers with Nick O’Leary and Mike Gesicki at tight end with Drake out of the backfield. The team was much more explosive before Jakim Grant and Albert Wilson went on IR.

The Patriots defense had their best game of the year last week against the Vikings. The secondary stuck like glue to the receivers and they had constant pressure on QB Kirk Cousins. Can they do that again in South Florida?

I would expect they will try to match Stephon Gilmore on Stills which should be a great matchup to watch. And I’d expect either Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson on Parker with either McCourty or Jonathan Jones on Amendola in the slot. The key is getting pressure on Tannehill and look for the Patriots to attack the middle/right side where the Dolphins OL is banged up and RG Jesse Davis has not played well.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Miami

Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England. But Sanders gives the Dolphins the edge in the kicking game, especially at home. While Patterson in the return game is always a threat to return a big one. But although Miami misses Grant in the return game, the Pats coverage units have been uncharacteristically very inconsistent.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a playoff game for both teams. Unlike 2013 and 2015 when the Patriots came limping into Miami beat up, this year it is the Dolphins who are all banged up with injuries while the Patriots are as healthy as one can expect at this time of year.

Last year the Pats got caught looking ahead to Pittsburgh and got their butts handed to them. But last year they afford that loss and keep the #1 seed as long as they beat Pittsburgh the next week. This year they don’t have that luxury and they know Miami still has a shot for a playoff berth.

Three keys from a Pats perspective:

Run the Ball Between the Tackles:
Miami isn’t good against the run and they’re ranked 30th for a reason. Spread the wealth between the three RBs and keep their defense on their heels. Plus it will open up play action and slow down their edge rushers.

Win the Turnover Battle:
Miami isn’t an offense that scores a lot of points, they can’t afford to get into a shootout situation. Their 29th in offense and 29th in defense. They are still in the hunt because they force a lot of turnovers. Make them go the length of the field with no easy scoring drives is a win-win situation.

Get After Tannehill:
Dolphins QBs have been sacked 31 times this year, the offensive line is suspect. Especially in the center and on the right. The Patriots don’t have a lot of sacks this year but they are among the top teams at creating pressure. They need to do that and force Tannehill into making mistakes. When they’ve lost to Miami down there, he was standing flat-footed in the pocket for much of those games.

Look for the Pats to play much better this time around. Belichick will harp on the way they looked past them last December and they should be ready to play. Look for Michel, Burkhead, and White to all have big games for the Patriots as the defense clamps down this time in South Beach. The East goes thru New England again.   Patriots 27-13

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: Patriots vs. Dolphins Preview

Russ Goldman
December 6, 2018 at 4:20 pm ET

In this episode of Patriots Fourth And Two, we started the show by discussing if we believe in the Patriots defense now. Later on, we previewed the upcoming game for the Patriots against the Dolphins.

You can now get the show on the YouTube Channel for Patsfans.com!

Miami’s Defense May Be Without Howard But the Focus Should Be on the Ground

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:56 am ET

With the news that Xavien Howard will be a game-time decision to play this week, the Miami Dolphins are possibly going to be missing their best defender on the defensive side of the ball.

Howard, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week has seven interceptions and is Miami’s lock-down corner. If he is able to play (and we feel he will), he’ll probably be locked up with Josh Gordon on the perimeter.

Adam Gase didn’t sound confident that he’ll be able to go this week for the Dolphins who at 6-6 are still very much in the Wildcard hunt.

“If you throw the ball at him and you’re inaccurate he’s not just going to knock it down,” Gase said. “He’s going to pick it off. And it’s an extreme value. He’s one of our best players, if not our best player on that side of the ball. It’s hard to say. But that’s what this game is. And that’s what the league is. We have to make some adjustments on defense. Be smart with that. And you know our guys have to step up. If he can’t go, you’re not going to replace him. But we’ve got to shuffle some things around.”

Torry McTyer would likely get the start if indeed Howard can’t go. McTyer, 6’0, 187 a 2nd-year UDFA from UNLV has started in two games this season (Chicago, Cincinnati) and has a confidence level matching Howard’s. However, the rest of Miami’s secondary has struggled in 2018.

When opposing quarterbacks have targeted any Dolphins defender not named Howard this year, they have completed 68.5 percent of their passes, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt, throwing 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 96.9. Miami has given up the 3rd most explosive plays this year (that is considered to be a 15-yard run or more and a 20-yard pass play or more). The Dolphins have allowed 12 touchdown passes of 20 yards or more thus far in 2018.

But the issues with Miami’s defense rests within their run defense. Remember the Dolphins started the season 3-0 and came into New England riding high. They were blown out in that game 38-7 and have gone 3-6 since because of issues stopping the run.

Miami is currently 30th in the league in run defense, allowing 5.0 yards per carry and a whopping 144.7 yards per game on the ground. The New England game where they allowed the Patriots to run for 175 yards started a bad trend where they gave up 164 on the ground to the Bears, 248 against the Lions, 188 against the Houston Texans, 195 against the Packers and 198 last week against the Bills, although most of those were Josh Allen scrambles, which gashed them badly.

Miami’s 4-3 defense hasn’t gotten great tackle play inside, their consistency has been poor and their linebackers notably MLB Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso haven’t been good against the run either.

The Miami run defense was leaky in 2017 as well and they had hoped to fix it going into the 2018 season. But their first couple of preseason games showed that perhaps that wasn’t the case as they were gashed but then things solidified somewhat. That 3-0 start masked what was still an issue and they’ve been battling this since then.

Unlike in other years when traveling to Miami (2013, 2015 come to mind) when the Patriots went into the games with a walking MASH unit, the Patriots are about as healthy as they’ve been all season.

They attacked a Minnesota defense that was a Top 5 unit against the run and garnered 160 yards on the ground. With Sony Michel back to full health and Rex Burkhead back from IR, look for New England to line up this week and try to pound the ball between the tackles. That should open up play-action passing for Tom Brady and the wide receivers.

This is essentially a playoff game for the Dolphins who have to finish strong for any chance to make the postseason. They face the Patriots this week, travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings, return home against Jacksonville and close out the regular season on the road in Buffalo.

Last season, the Patriots were caught looking ahead to the Pittsburgh game and were thrashed in every phase of the game losing 27-20 to Miami in a game that wasn’t even close to what the score indicated. That will be a big, big teaching point by Bill Belichick this week.

Lo and behold, the Steelers are again on the slate next week. Don’t expect the Patriots to make that same blunder twice. Last year, the Pats could afford to lose the game and still secure home-field advantage for the playoffs with a win over Pittsburgh. The 2018 version of the Pats does not have that luxury. Miami is on the cusp of a playoff berth themselves.

There won’t be no overlooking them this time. Expect a much better game this week. And look for the Patriots to pound the ball in the running game. We’ll have much more in our keys to the game tomorrow.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

No “Yeah Buts” Patriots Defense Is Coming Together Right On Time

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2018 at 8:40 am ET

With the Patriots win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots are 9-3 and are currently the #2 seed of the AFC. They can clinch their division with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday, the first “hat and T-shirt” game of the season.

Nothing is guaranteed yet, there are still four games left to play and they could finish anywhere from the #1 seed to out of the playoffs if they drop all four. But is there anyone really out there that can see that scenario?

Things you can set your watch/calendar by:

  • The Pats laying a stinker or two in Sept.
  • National media rushing to be “first” to predict the end of NE’s run
  • Patriots fans screaming on social media every time an opponent completes a pass of more than 10 yards, “They’re trash!”
  • The team slogging thru the midway point of the season stringing together wins
  • Post-Thanksgiving, the team is suddenly among the AFC’s top seeds…again
  • After every win, especially against big opponents, the “yeah buts” come out
  • That “trash” defense begins to come together

Did we miss any? One fan who follows us on social media proclaimed during the Lions game that the team was “going 5-11 as Bill has gutted this team with terrible drafting”, and yet here we are again.

The best thing to watch on Sunday was the work of the Patriots defense. The one constant about the Patriots defense is that it is always changing. They don’t have the one signature aspect that everyone can point to and say, “Team “A” is going to have to deal with this” or that “Team “B” can’t match up with that”. It is, under Bill Belichick a unit that changes from week to week depending on the team and can morph into totally different entities.

Against the Jets, they went to a heavier package trying to stop the running game that was base-heavy. Against Minnesota, they went to nearly all sub-packages, at times having Trey Flowers as the only down lineman, daring them to run, while trying to stop the pass. They did a masterful job of disguising their blitzes and the safety group was moving all around which confused Kirk Cousins to where he was forced to check down time and again to outlet receivers where the defense cleaned them up.

This requires a massive amount of work and study and having players that are smart and versatile, especially the secondary which gets far too little credit. The Patriots have quietly amassed a very talented group in the secondary and they are getting better each week.

Last week, facing the Vikings talented duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Pats defense, didn’t do their normal M.O. which is to try to take away their top threat and make you beat them elsewhere, they DID take away both.

Thielen, who had amassed nine 100-yard games was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a 5-yard TD. Diggs had five catches for 49 yards. And right smack in the middle of it all was Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore is a corner who doesn’t get nearly the credit that he deserves for being the player that he is. Other than the Titans game where he and everyone else played terribly, he’s been lights out since the earliest days of OTAs. Joining him is Jason McCourty, who not only is playing meaningful games for the first time in his career, is also playing some of the best football of his career. Jonathan Jones and the surprising rookie emergence of J.C. Jackson has to be a source of confidence moving forward.

The safety group now has four players that the team can use in just about any situation. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty are both ramping their games up to an extremely high level with Duron (The Closer) Harmon and newcomer Obi Melifonwu providing depth and versatility for the coaches to throw different looks at the opposition.

While everyone south of the North Pole laments the amount of yardage that they allow. But yards passing doesn’t win football games…points do. Otherwise, the Pats would have cruised in the SB against the Eagles. And don’t look now, but that “trash” defense of the Patriots? They’re currently tied with Seattle for 9th best in points allowed with 21.6. Right on time. And the opposing passer rating, they’re currently 6th, with opponents QBs having a passer rating of just 85.9.

They aren’t the most talented group in the front seven, with the exception of Trey Flowers on the defensive line, there are a bunch of workmen who bring their lunch pails to the stadium every day. Lawrence Guy, in particular, has been a great pickup for them.

The Linebacker group is the same. Are Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy All-Pros? Nope but in this defense, they are as valuable as them. Elandon Roberts is someone we frequently criticize but he has the confidence of his coaches and on Sunday was flying around the field which is a good thing. They miss their rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley but who should be even better next season.

Are they now a Top-10 defense? Nope. But they’re competitive and with a confidence level that they feel they can match up and slow down anyone they meet. We all heard the noise (all year) but especially before last week’s game. “They can’t stop Thielen”, or “Diggs will eat them up”, “Who is going to cover Cook underneath.” It was the same when they faced Aaron Rodgers but of course, after that game, there were the endless…yeah buts.

One of the things that Bill Belichick talks about, and one of the hardest thing to do as a coach, is getting a team to “buy-in” to what they’re trying to get across with a team philosophy. We saw that fail in 2009 when he lamented on the sideline in New Orleans that the team wouldn’t do so. Judging from what we saw on Sunday, this team is all-in. What happens from here? Nobody knows, they could run the table or get booted in the first round. “Yeah but what about the Steelers’ offense?” But just this time, for once, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: The Patriots Defense Steps Up Against The Vikings

Russ Goldman
December 4, 2018 at 9:10 am ET

In this episode of Patriots Fourth And Two, the guys look back at the Patriots victory against the Vikings.

Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Defense Dominates Vikes in 24-10 Win

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots returned home to face the Minnesota Vikings in a game that was very important to both teams. And this one was dominated by the Pats defense, they held Minnesota to just 10 points and just three in the second half. The Vikings duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs was held in check extremely effectively by the NE secondary.

The Patriots offense rolled up 471 yards to just 278 for Minnesota. The win puts the Patriots at 9-3 for their 18th straight winning season which is second in NFL history to the Cowboys who had 21 straight winning seasons.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady, mostly threw underneath to the backs and WRs on screen passes and quick throws which really gouged the Minnesota defense. When the Vikings began to adapt their looks and adjust, Brady then moved the ball down the field. He finished 24-32 for 311 yards (9.7-yard average which is great) with 1 TD and 1 INT for a 102.5 passer rating.

Brady’s movement in the pocket was superb, he felt the pressure and would slide or step up in the pocket. On his one pick, he was hit by Harrison Smith as he was letting go of the ball. Against one of the better defenses in the league, this was a very good performance.

Brady didn’t make any what we’d characterize as “great” throws, but he got everyone involved and kept the chains moving. But he was very good and kept the Vikings off balance.

Running Backs: B-

The Patriots running backs played a huge role in this game, they combined for 40 carries and catches on the day. James White had a big day with 6 carries for 26 yards and 7 catches for 92 more. Sony Michel didn’t have the biggest day with only a 3.7-yard average but he ran hard and was going against one of the better run defenses (3rd)  in the league. Rex Burkhead returned from IR and had a good solid complementary effort.

Overall, the Patriots ran for 160 yards on 39 carries which is a 4.1-yard average. While good anytime, against the Vikings defense, that is a very big game. It shows the coaches have faith in the running game and the players. Contrast that to what Minnesota did with just 13 rushes on the day.

James Develin had a pair of touchdowns from the one and the two-yard lines. The team may have found what ails them in the red zone and short-yardage.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers, for the most part, had a pretty quiet game. Josh Gordon wasn’t even targeted until the closing moments of the 3rd Quarter. And then in the blink of an eye, Gordon has three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown as well as drawing a pass interference penalty.

Julian Edelman was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 25 yards) but added 35 more in the running game. Chris Hogan had a pair of catches on two targets and Patterson had a big day, rushing, receiving and returning kickoffs for 114 yards total.  Phillip Dorsett wasn’t targeted.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 26 yards) but was his usual beast-like self in the running game opening holes for the running backs. He also got flagged for a couple of penalties for a false start and holding.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line did a tremendous job considering the defense they were going up against. Minnesota entered the game with the third overall defense, 4th against the run, 5th against the pass and the Pats rolled up 471 yards.

The offensive line opened enough holes in the running game for the Pats to run for 160 yards. The pass protection, while solid wasn’t really tested much as Brady was throwing quick passes and the misdirection plays and screens kept the Vikings on their heels.

But when they did throw downfield later in the game, they did a tremendous job against one of the better defensive units in the league.

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had a very solid night. They were mixing and matching and shifting players around to bring pressure on Kirk Cousins and they sacrificed their run defense in order to take away what the Vikings do best.

Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy both turned in excellent games. Adam Butler and Adrian Clayborn both contributed and the front seven were a constant disruption of the Vikings offense all night long. The Patriots dusted off their muddled front with at times only Flowers as the only down lineman, and with others Flowers and Butler.

And BTW, Guy stopped Murray short on that 4th and 1, I still don’t think Murray has made the sticks yet. Awful call.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers easily had their best game of the season. With the coverage downfield solid, Cousins was forced to check down to his running backs which is a weakness of the LB unit right? Well on Sunday night. Dalvin Cook had eight catches, for just 22 yards. Latavius Murray had two catches for three yards.

All three of the linebackers (Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts) were all over the field. They were tackling receivers with no yards after the catch and rushing up in the rush against the QB.

Roberts set the tone early with a thunderous hit on Cook on the first snap. But he was victimized twice on runs over running the hole and those two plays went for 50 yards on the ground. While that knocks down the grade a bit, Roberts was all over the field and was hitting everything in sight.

Secondary: A-

The secondary was terrific. Adam Thielen came in with nine 100-yard games and the Patriots held him to just five catches for 28 yards and a score. The Patriots doubled him most of the game which took him effectively out of the game plan.

Stephon Gilmore was very effective on Stefon Diggs and the team felt confident enough in rookie J.C. Jackson that they slid him over on Diggs as well. That allowed them to get creative on third downs. Jason McCourty largely covered Thielen in the slot which then allowed the Pats to move the bigger Jackson outside.

The safeties,   Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Obi Melifonwu were very active and they confused Cousins with their crowding things up with their looks down low in the box. It all played a hand in how they limited the Vikings to just 201 yards thru the air. Jonathan Jones and Duron Harmon had interceptions.

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams was lauded by Belichick after the game for their results in the kicking game. Ryan Allen had another strong game pinning the Vikings inside the 10 and angling his punts along the sideline. Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman both had nice returns of 34 and 23 respectively. Jonathan Jones may have influenced a missed FG with his breaking thru the line. But they also gave up big returns in the kicking game and Brandon King got whistled for a hold that wiped out a nice punt return.

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff came up with a terrific game plan to take on the Vikings and the players executed it extremely well. There was no doubt that the Patriots were ready for this one, right from the opening snap. Brian Flores had a very aggressive game plan on tap right from the start and they didn’t deviate from it, even when the Vikings made them pay for it on their only touchdown drive of the game just before halftime.

Josh McDaniels was trying to take away the Vikings pass rush early in this one with screens, quick passes, and misdirection, and the defense was never able to assert itself in this game. They had their moments when they sputtered but going 7-14 on third down and 2-3 in the red zone against the Vikings defense, numbers which would have been even better if the referees called an interference on Edelman on third and goal (but we digress).

Bill Belichick had a firm hold on this one throughout. The team was prepared and they all executed the game plan in fine fashion.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.