1. Rookie center Bryan Stork entered the game with 9:24 remaining and played 12 snaps (including penalties). Of the 12 he was run-blocking on every play but one. On his first two plays, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Stork showed good strength against rookie defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (6-5, 310). On Stevan Ridley's 16-yard run (5:57 remaining), Stork fired off the ball and created some push in the middle as the defender he was blocking winds up on the ground. His two shotgun snaps were solid. Those were valuable reps for Stork, who looks like he’s ready to compete for more playing time.
2. First-round draft pick Dominique Easley flashed some of his athleticism on his interception (6:37 remaining), leaping high into the air at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to bat a pass before having the awareness to locate the deflected football off the shoulder/helmet of running back Matt Asiata and the hand-eye coordination to catch it while diving. After the game, Easley wanted to make sure that football made it home with him. It was a memorable first interception.
3. On the one play in which Brady was sacked, it was left guard Marcus Cannon who couldn’t hold his block as backup defensive tackle Tom Johnson powered through to bring Brady down. It looked like Cannon got too high in his stance after getting pushed back by Johnson’s initial contact.
4. On the final offensive drive, Josh Kline replaced Cannon at left guard for his first action of the season.
2. Leading 24-7, it was almost as if the Patriots used the third quarter to get tight end Rob Gronkowski going. After playing just eight snaps in the first two quarters, Gronkowski was on for 17 of 25 snaps in the quarter. Two of the first three plays of the quarter went to Gronkowski on quick-hit passes.
3. When the Patriots’ inability to capitalize on offense is noted by Brady, one factor within that is Brady’s own decision-making. For example, on third-and-2 on the first drive, his throw Julian Edelman down the left sideline seemed low-percentage in that situation. While Edelman had a 1-on-1 matchup and did create slight separation against the cornerback, it appeared that Brady locked in to it from the get-go and never truly considered other higher-percentage options.
4. Dont'a Hightower is off to a strong start this season and seems to be thriving with the opportunity to rush the passer. His bend around the edge was impressive on third-and-7 with 7:39 remaining, and he used his power and hand technique well to beat highly touted left tackle Matt Kalil and sack Matt Cassel. Hightower is a tweener at 275 pounds -- part defensive end/part linebacker -- and that was a good example of how he can be effective as an end-of-the-line player rushing the passer.
5. I wonder if defensive end Chandler Jones might hear from the league office for his hit on right guard Brandon Fusco on Logan Ryan's interception return that wasn’t (Ryan was ultimately ruled down at the spot of the interception). Looked borderline from this viewpoint.
6. Speaking of Jones, while his blocked field goal and scoop-and-score was the top highlight, his nitty-gritty work defending the run was also impressive. He had his way with tight end Rhett Ellison once again, shedding his block and limiting running back Matt Asiata to a 2-yard gain (8:28). Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots like their end-of-the-line players to set a strong edge and be willing run defenders. Jones shined in that area, which probably fires up the coaching staff as much, if not more, than what he does from a pass-rush perspective.
“We just have to find ways to get everybody the ball and spread it around to different guys,” Brady said on Monday morning in an interview with WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan.
Through two games, Edelman has 12 receptions for 176 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Brady is 44-of-78 for 398 yards and two touchdown passes. That means about 27 percent of Brady’s completed passes and more than 44 percent of all of Brady’s passing yards are to Edelman.
“I’m going to go out there and do my job and that’s to get open and catch the ball,” Edelman said in the locker room on Monday when asked about sharing the football in the passing game.
“I’m not the quarterback, so I’m sure -- it’s only two games, there’s a lot of season left -- there’s going to be games where other guys are going to get more rocks than me. But, I’m just going to continue to try to get better and do my job.”
Only tight end Rob Gronkowski has more targets (17) than Edelman (15). But from an efficiency standpoint, Edelman is the most productive of the receivers with 10-plus targets as he has caught 80 percent of passes thrown his way.
Edelman says the lack of distribution in the passing game is no cause for concern.
“It’s two games. We are just trying to go out there and we are trying to get better.”
Brady acknowledged that he needs to get wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell and tight end Tim Wright more involved in the offense, but put the blame on himself for not distributing the ball to them.
Wright said whether he is targeted is not his call to make, but rather a product of Brady’s decision-making and the game plan. In the case of Sunday’s game and so far this season, Edelman’s No. 11 jersey is the one Brady keeps seeing open.
“When your number is called to make the play, that’s how things went yesterday,” Wright said. “[Brady] was delivering to a receiver that came up with some great plays. [Edelman] got it done for us.”
Wright thinks the offense has a lot of room for improvement.
“At the end of the day, we are just trying to go back into the game plan and try to focus on areas we can clean up things,” Wright said. “Just the little things -- the small details that we can count on toward the end of games with those conversions and coming out with those touchdowns. It’s going to get us over the edge.”
Sometimes it's obvious. Other times, it's a bit more challenging to isolate one thing that stands above the rest when it comes to what the Patriots must address.
It's obvious this week, as the Patriots lead the NFL with 28 total penalties after picking up 15 against the Vikings. Of those 28, four have been declined.
What in the name of Ed Hochuli is going on here?
The Patriots are usually one of the NFL's least-penalized teams.
Last year, they had 82 penalties all season (69 accepted), the second-lowest total in the league. They had 98 accepted penalties in 2012 (ninth fewest) and 80 in 2011 (fifth fewest).
This year, they're on pace for 224 total penalties (192 accepted), and host the Raiders on Sunday.
Tedy Bruschi has told the story in the past about how when the Patriots struggle with fundamental plays, like the quarterback-center exchange, coach Bill Belichick will sometimes make reference to the local high school team: "If we can't execute that, we can't win football games, whether it's against Foxborough High School or the Minnesota Vikings."
That's what I thought about Sunday when the Patriots were penalized for being offsides on a kickoff for the second week in a row. That's just bad football, as is jumping offsides or being in the neutral zone.
While the Patriots' overall numbers are a bit skewed because of a few late penalties Sunday when the game was already decided, the Patriots have had too many of those "bad football" penalties in the first two games.
The way to fix it is simple. Play smarter football.
2. The “IBM” was at its best on Julian Edelman's 9-yard touchdown catch. CBS’ on-field microphones clearly picked up quarterback Tom Brady’s audible, as he told center Dan Connolly “I’m back!” to go from under center to the shotgun. So at the last possible second, with the play clock winding down, Brady audibled out of the play based on a pre-snap look (the Vikings showing double-A gap blitz) and got the Patriots into a play where they scored a touchdown. Textbook. That’s one part of Brady’s game that probably doesn’t get enough attention. Sometimes it’s not just about making the play; it’s about putting the offense in the right position to make a play.
4. Revis also showed up in run support, bringing down running back Matt Asiata on a direct snap (0:49) and 4-yard run. Revis showed nice anticipation again to quickly identify the play and race past the player who was supposed to block him, receiver Greg Jennings.
5. This might be a game where fullback James Develin sees a few more missed blocking opportunities than the norm when he reviews the tape. Brandon Bolden's run for no gain (13:30 remaining) came as he ran into the back of Develin, who couldn’t break through to the second level based on the push the Vikings had generated. In the first quarter, on Stevan Ridley's second run (2 yards, 10:20), it looked like Develin missed a linebacker on the second level.
7. Just as was noted in the first quarter, if referees are going to consistently enforce a new point of emphasis, one would think Cassel could have been flagged for his cadence once again (14:18). This might be the type of situation where one referee calls it one way and another is more lenient.
8. One play that highlighted the general improvement from the offensive line was Edelman’s 44-yard catch-and-run. Against a four-man rush, each lineman either won his assignment or fought to a stalemate. Of particular note was the teamwork between right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, right guard Jordan Devey and Connolly as they worked together to effectively combat a stunt.
9. Devey had some tough moments in the season opener, but he appeared much steadier in this game. On Ridley’s 7-yard run (5:51), Devey was effective on the second level, showing athleticism to get there and square up his block on a linebacker. Coach Dave DeGuglielmo had his blockers ready to go in this one.
10. Cornerback Logan Ryan's solid series midway through the second quarter highlighted both the team’s quality depth at the position and also why Ryan is a strong prospect in his second season. Ryan showed the speed and instincts to mirror Patterson on a slant, is competitive in 50-50 situations from a ball disruption standpoint and helped produce a third-down stop with a strong tackle of Asiata. Ryan is technically third on the Patriots’ depth chart behind Brandon Browner and Alfonzo Dennard, but he’s proven to be a starting-caliber player. One play he’d like to have back: Patterson’s 26-yard catch-and-run (2:00) when it appeared he should have been playing outside leverage and got caught inside.
Here is what it looked like in the 30-7 win over the Vikings (including penalties):
Sub: 45 of 68 (32 nickel, 13 dime)
Base: 22 of 68
Heavy/short-yadrage: 1 of 68
ANALYSIS: The numbers were more closely aligned at halftime, with the Patriots having been in base personnel 19 times, their heavy/short-yardage package one time, and sub packages 20 times. With the Vikings forced to pass based on the score in the second half, it made it a sub-package game from that point on. The usage of the dime package, with safety Nate Ebner coming on as the sixth defensive back, gives us a chance to highlight how Ebner is seeing more time this year. Ebner played five defensive snaps all of last season (three vs. Carolina, two vs. Houston). So his 13 snaps Sunday more than doubled his output from 2013 and highlight how the core special teamer is expanding his role a bit in his third season.
Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.
Q. Good to get a win but I'm finding it hard not to worry about the offense. Tom Brady hasn't looked sharp and I'm not convinced they will be able to move the ball once defenses key in on Julian Edelman and take him out of the passing game. Fair concern? -- Marty (Boston)
A. Marty, this is absolutely a fair concern. But based on what you saw Sunday, if you were to make a conclusion on this team, it would be one based on the defense and trying to establish a physical ground game, with a passing game off play-action. That sounds very familiar to me as it relates to past successful Patriots teams. There is one guarantee: This team has always shown improvement from month to month, and I think that will be the case with this offense.
Q. Hi Tedy, always a pleasure to read your comments. Can you clarify to us a little bit more on the situation with Danny Amendola, slot receiver, and, beside Edelman, some overall sloppiness of the passing attack? What can we expect in the next weeks? Thanks for your insights, regards from Serbia! -- Nemanja (Serbia)
A. Clearly right now Edelman is your No. 1 receiver. In the Minnesota game, your No. 2 weapon was the running game. Combine that with the idea of trying to get Rob Gronkowski going, then Amendola is going to get lost. That's the way it's gone recently. I don't know what else Edelman can do at this point. Amendola is a guy who has been hurt in the past, so maybe the reduced work ultimately helps him stay healthy for the entire season.
1. At this time of year, teams like the Patriots are still trying to figure out their identity.
2. Why the Patriots look better in a 4-3 defense.
3. Looking ahead to the home opener ... and top memories of past home openers.
4. Tom Brady and the deep ball.
5. Highlighting some of the struggles in the play-action game on defense.
6. Kudos for running back Stevan Ridley.
7. Baby steps for rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley.
8. Improvement along the offensive line.
On Monday morning, in his weekly appearance on WEEI's "Dennis and Callahan" show, Brady explained some of the issues he saw with the offense. And it all starts with penalties -- as the Patriots had 15 total penalties for 163 yards, including left tackle Nate Solder getting called for three penalties in two plays.
“Turnovers, penalties, missed opportunities, and we have to do a better job with the penalties," he said. "Obviously not turning the ball over on the road was good. The defense made all those big plays, which allows us a lot of short fields and more opportunities than we really took advantage of. We just need to score more points, and when we have opportunities to get the ball in the end zone, we have to do it. When we have to convert short yardage, we have to do it.”
One of the ways Brady thinks the offense can put up points is by spreading the ball around to create unpredictability with the offense. Brady said the best offenses are ones that keep opposing defenses guessing.
“We just have to find ways to get everybody the ball and spread it around to different guys,” Brady said when asked about not getting the ball to wide receiver Danny Amendola. “We spread it around a bit yesterday, but [Amendola] did not get the ball as much as I would like to get it to him.
“Brandon LaFell -- the same thing. Aaron Dobson had one catch to start the game and didn’t get a lot of other looks after that. We have to get the ball to everybody and spread it around to everybody. Those guys are all good with the ball in their hands, so we have to find ways to do a better job of finding everybody, and that’s what makes an offense tough to defend is when you spread it around to everybody.”
Brady puts a lot of the offense’s problems on himself because he feels he needs to be the player to get guys like tight end Tim Wright and LaFell involved.
“I hope so,” Brady said about getting Wright and LaFell involved more. “They are here to help us win, and they are really good players that have done everything that we have asked them to do. They have had some opportunities and the ball just hasn’t gone their way the last few weeks. But hopefully it starts going their way and they can really start making the plays that they can make and that they are capable of making.
“But that is my job to find those guys and find ways to get those guys the ball. They are good in space, they have good quickness, good hands. And if we just keep working hard in practice, then eventually it shows up in the game, and in the games we have to do a better job executing.”
1. Chandler Jones was mostly returned to an end-of-the-line role (4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker) and it didn’t take long before there were immediate results. On the Vikings’ second offensive play, Jones expertly played his technique by pressing tight end Rhett Ellison and extending his long arms to drive him backward while blowing up the edge, before disengaging and tackling receiver Jarius Wright for a 5-yard loss on a jet sweep. Jones was a one-man wrecking ball on that play, which foreshadowed his big day ahead. Compare how Jones defended that play to Vikings defensive end Brian Robison on Julian Edelman’s 9-yard jet sweep (2:59) and it’s a noticeable difference.
2. After the game, coach Bill Belichick talked about how the Vikings hurt the Patriots on some misdirection plays and crossing routes back to the tight end. This first showed up at 13:11 on Kyle Rudolph’s 9-yard catch. The Patriots rushed four, with linebacker Jerod Mayo coming on an inside pressure, and played man coverage behind it. Rudolph was initially jammed by Dont’a Hightower at the line of scrimmage, and perhaps Hightower could have delivered a more forceful punch before focusing his attention on the releasing running back. But still, rookie linebacker Deontae Skinner appeared to give way too much cushion on Rudolph who crossed from right to left, and was in a trail position on a play that reflected a rookie adjusting to being unexpectedly thrust into the fire because of Jamie Collins’ thigh injury.
3. A similar concept showed up three plays later on Rhett Ellison’s 24-yard catch, as Ellison lined up on the right side as the inside tight end in the YY wing with Kyle Rudolph. The Patriots were in a base 4-3 look and Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel sold a hard play-action to that right side. Skinner bit hard on the play-action, and Ellison sold his block well on defensive end Rob Ninkovich before releasing into his route. Skinner was so far committed to the run that it left Ellison, who appeared to be his responsibility, wide open.
4. On the Vikings’ first touchdown, it was a good example of how a player can make a big impact despite not registering on the stat sheet, as receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was utilized as a decoy on a jet sweep to the left side and had almost the entire defense sliding in that direction. As Cassel rolled to the right side, two things stood out – Ninkovich might have committed to Cassel too early with the presence of running back Matt Asiata releasing to that side, and Mayo got caught inside on the play-action and was effectively rubbed by Rudolph, who was clearing out up the middle. Safety Patrick Chung, who went to cover Rudolph, was cited on the television broadcast as part of the breakdown as well but it was difficult to tell how accurate that was. In summary, Patterson’s play-action set up the touchdown and there might have been multiple breakdowns on defense that led to the end result.
5. When Cassel drew the Patriots offside on third-and-1, I wondered if he caught a break based on the NFL’s new point of emphasis in this area. It was a hard snap count and Cassel’s head did bob a bit. While the penalty was called on Hightower, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga also jumped.
6. Two minus plays were jotted down for left guard Marcus Cannon. He couldn’t hold his block on defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd on the first running play of the game (no gain) and was correctly penalized for holding linebacker Chad Greenway on the second level later in the quarter (1:42 remaining). I also wondered if Cannon moved early on Stevan Ridley’s 1-yard touchdown run, and perhaps caught a break from the officials, who didn’t spot his early twitch.
7. Running back Shane Vereen’s 7-yard run on third-and-8 was a case where there were a lot of good things unfolding but one debatable decision by Vereen – to go out of bounds instead of trying to power through at the sticks -- ultimately trumped the good. Tight end Tim Wright came in motion right to left and helped with a nice seal block on defensive end Everson Griffen, while left tackle Nate Solder had a nice kick-out block to create a gaping hole. Edelman was also working hard down the field.
8. Safety Devin McCourty showed great range on his interception. He was playing center field, aligning 15 yards deep as the Vikings had two receivers to the left and one to the right. So he was essentially equidistant from Patterson running a go route up the right sideline and Wright’s post route up the middle. Cassel’s underthrown ball helped the cause, but it was still a terrific play by McCourty, which was followed up by his excellent return. Game-changer.
9. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski effectively negated Patterson by booming two kickoffs through the end zone. Patterson had taken the ball out from 9 and 7 yards deep in the season opener.
10. Underrated play of the day, part I: Ryan Allen’s directional out-of-bounds 59-yard punt after a high snap.
11. Underrated play of the day, part II: Center Dan Connolly’s awareness to pounce on an Edelman fumble despite being outnumbered in the scrum.
12. Underrated coaching decision of the day: Taking a timeout with 36 seconds remaining to give Gostkowski the wind for his 48-yard field goal and also the ensuing kickoff.
13. Underrated coaching decision of the day, part II: Leaving offensive personnel on the field on fourth down before switching to the punting unit, which forced the Vikings to burn a timeout, and later had them caught with just nine players on the field. This seemed to be taking advantage of the Vikings being without suspended special teams coach Mike Preifer.
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB – 26 of 67
3 WR/1 TE/1 RB – 21 of 67
1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 12 of 67
2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 5 of 67
3 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 2 of 67
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB – 1 of 67
ANALYSIS: The breakdown reflects how the Patriots played more snaps with multiple tight ends or two backs on the field, which ties in to the establish-the-line-of-scrimmage theme of the day. In the season opener, the Patriots were forced into more three-receiver packages in the second half, so this was a case where they were able to play the game more on their terms. Overall, the Patriots played 45 of their 67 snaps with two or more tight ends or two backs. Last week, it was 28-of-86. So this was a game to get back to basics and re-establish command up front. It wasn’t always perfect, and quarterback Tom Brady lamented missed opportunities afterward, but a week after the toughness of the offense was questioned they answered rather decisively.
Jerod Mayo -- 68 of 68
Dont'a Hightower -- 68 of 68
Deontae Skinner -- 21 of 68
Quick-hit thought: Skinner, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, was part of one base package that the Patriots mostly used when the Vikings had one back and two tight ends on the field. He played 19 first-half snaps and just two in the second half. In explaining Skinner's promotion, Bill Belichick said, "Deontae has had a couple good weeks on the practice squad and in practice. It is an opportunity for him and I think he was mentally ready to take advantage of it. Sure he will get better as he continues to play. He hasn't played a lot of football for us this year."
DEFENSIVE END/OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Rob Ninkovich -- 68 of 68
Chandler Jones -- 68 of 68
Quick-hit thought: Ninkovich had played 35 of 74 snaps in the opener but was back to full-time duty, perhaps in part because of Jamie Collins' thigh injury keeping him out of action. Meanwhile, Jones was arguably the best defender on the field.
Sealver Siliga -- 40 of 68
Vince Wilfork -- 39 of 68
Dominique Easley -- 29 of 68
Chris Jones -- 16 of 68
Joe Vellano -- 2 of 68
Quick-hit thought: Vellano had started and played 32 of 74 snaps in the opener, but he only took the field for two second-half snaps against the Vikings. A combination of Jones' return from injury, and the Patriots facing an interior tackle tandem of Wilfork and Siliga, contributed to his reduction in workload.
Logan Ryan -- 68 of 68
Darrelle Revis -- 60 of 68
Kyle Arrington -- 45 of 68
Malcolm Butler -- 8 of 68
Quick-hit thought: After Alfonzo Dennard was a surprise scratch (left shoulder), it thrust Ryan into a full-time role and he played well. Revis was excellent and got the final series off, while Arrington was a consistent presence in the slot.
Devin McCourty -- 60 of 68
Patrick Chung -- 37 of 68
Duron Harmon -- 25 of 68
Tavon Wilson -- 13 of 68
Nate Ebner -- 13 of 68
Quick-hit thought: Chung has played the most next to McCourty in the first two games of the season, and he sometimes comes off the field in sub packages, giving way to Harmon. Ebner (two first-half snaps; 11 second-half snaps) was part of the dime package that was used mostly late.
Julian Edelman -- 52 of 67
Brandon LaFell -- 38 of 67
Aaron Dobson -- 31 of 67
Danny Amendola -- 19 of 67
Quick-hit thought: With the Patriots not calling on many three-receiver sets, slot-man Amendola had his lowest playing-time total (when active) since signing with the team last year. His previous low was 32 snaps, against the Ravens last year. Kenbrell Thompkins was inactive, likely because of LaFell's presence on special teams (kickoff coverage).
Michael Hoomanawanui -- 43 of 67
Rob Gronkowski -- 28 of 67
Cameron Fleming -- 28 of 67
Tim Wright -- 8 of 67
Quick-hit thought: Who would have thought that Fleming's snap total would equal Gronkowski's? It's a reminder that Gronkowski is still rounding into form (it wasn't until his fifth game back last year that he was playing every snap). This was a game where the Patriots wanted to go big at the line of scrimmage to get the running game going, hence the low snap total for Wright, whose inline blocking isn't his forte.
Tom Brady -- 67 of 67
Quick-hit thought: Some asked on Twitter why Brady was still in the game late with the team leading 30-7 and the feeling here is that the offense showed it still has a lot of work to do.
Stevan Ridley -- 37 of 67
Shane Vereen -- 20 of 67
Brandon Bolden -- 10 of 67
Quick-hit thought: With a focus on north-south, between-the-tackles running, it was a game to feature Ridley, who ran hard and hit the hole with authority. Vereen had played a running-back-high 61 snaps in the opener compared to 22 snaps for Ridley. The roles were reversed this week based on the game-plan.
James Develin -- 21 of 67
Quick-hit thought: Develin liked the Patriots' persistence in the running game, saying afterwards, "We stayed at it and just kept grinding out those dirty yards, and finally we started breaking them." He brings a hard-nosed edge to the attack.
(Offensive-line stats will be updated in a separate post.)
Instead, they had him blanket veteran Greg Jennings, and he turned in a performance that was so impressive it had Jennings (one catch, four yards) seeking Revis out after the game to laud him.
“He’s definitely a proven vet in the league who makes great plays and is probably their best route-runner,” Revis said of Jennings. “You have to be kind of careful with him, because he’s very shifty and smooth in his route running. You can’t go to sleep because he does all the option routes, he does a lot of double moves as well. You have to be on point with him at all times and make sure as a DB that you keep your eyes on him through the down; don’t start looking back at the quarterback because he can sneak away from you.”
The two had faced each other once before, in a 2010 game when Revis was with the Jets and Jennings was with the Packers. The Packers won, 9-0, and Jennings finished with six catches for 81 yards.
But that was a little different because Revis wasn’t necessarily assigned to Jennings in a matchup-type situation. Still, his health was questioned by some after the game.
Not after this one, as Revis’ uncanny anticipation had him mirroring Jennings at times to the point where he actually looked like the intended receiver on some plays. Such was the case on his second-quarter interception, which he said was a result of film study and anticipating what was coming based on a formation they had shown earlier.
In matching up with Jennings, Revis moved into the slot at times, mostly when the Vikings had a three-receiver package on the field. He has played there in the past -- Patriots fans might recall his work against Wes Welker -- but it’s still an adjustment.
“You do have to play different,” he said. “There is a lot of chaos going on in the slot and things happen really fast [compared] to outside.”
But Revis made it look easy, as he often does.