Patriots 3rd-quarter review: Quick run game

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Picked-up pieces after reviewing the third quarter of the New England Patriots' 16-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders:

1. The quicken-the-pace, hurry-up run game can be effective to keep opponents off balance, but the Patriots struggled with it themselves. Watching the offensive linemen on runs of minus-3 and minus-1 yards led to this thought: “Maybe they are asking too much of this group to execute at that pace.” They looked OK in Week 2 against Minnesota, but this was a step back. The Stevan Ridley run for minus-3 yards (14:39 remaining) was a good example of this as about half the line (if not more) wasn't blocking anyone after the quick snap.

2. Tough quarter for right guard Jordan Devey, who was beaten badly in a 1-on-1 situation by Justin Tuck for a sack, one play after he was penalized for a false start. Devey was eventually replaced by Bryan Stork midway through the fourth quarter and it will be interesting to see if that change sticks going forward. Not to pin it all on the offensive line, because there were more issues than just that, but that's the place to start when factoring in why the offense looked so sluggish. Way too inconsistent.

3. Left tackle Nate Solder also struggled. Credit Raiders rookie defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack with a nice get-off on the play he crunched Tom Brady (6:21 remaining), but Solder can play better technique than that. Solder was also up-and-down in the run game, missing a block on Ridley's run for minus-1 yard, but was excellent in pulling to pave the way on Ridley's 6-yard run late in the quarter.

4. Looked like the Patriots caught a little bit of a break on the third-and-5 incomplete pass intended for Denarius Moore, as there was some pre-snap confusion with safety Duron Harmon and cornerback Logan Ryan in the dime package. But the inaccurate pass bailed them out.

5. Above-field microphones pick up the sound clearly and provide a real in-the-huddle feel. After Julian Edelman's 5-yard run on third-and-1, in which receiver Danny Amendola did a nice job as a lead blocker of sorts, Amendola was kicked out of the huddle by a fiery Tom Brady. “Get out!” Brady can be heard yelling, as the Patriots called on a power package with offensive tackle Cameron Fleming as a tight end on the next play. I wouldn't read anything more into that than what it is -- Brady in command and making sure the correct personnel is on the field. As receivers have said in the past, you have to have thick skin to play with Brady.

6. One other pick-up from the above-field microphones: Matthew Slater calling off fullback James Develin -- “Me! Me! Me!” -- on his field-position-shifting 26-yard kickoff return. That was a big play in the game that was easy to overlook and highlighted how Slater was one of the Patriots' best players on the day.

7. The coaching staff is probably going to look at the film, see tight end Tim Wright's 20-yard catch up the left side after he came in motion from right to left, and determine they need to find a way to get him on the field more. Wright only played five snaps, and as he showed on that play, he can run well and has reliable hands to threaten a defense at multiple levels.

Patriots defensive groupings: Big nickel

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Throughout the season, the New England Patriots’ defensive groupings will be tracked. This provides a guide to better understand player value, as well as how the coaching staff might view the opposition’s personnel.

This is how things broke down for the Patriots against the Raiders:

Base: 30 of 60
Sub: 30 of 60 (20 in nickel/10 in dime)

ANALYSIS: Once again, third-year safety Nate Ebner has emerged as part of the dime package, which was noted last week as well. He’s starting to show up more defensively as a blitzer when the Patriots utilize the dime. With the Raiders running plenty of two-back groupings with fullback Marcel Reece a big part of what they do, it’s not a surprise that the Patriots were in base as much as they were. With the nickel package, it caught the eye that the Patriots had two groupings -- one with cornerback Kyle Arrington as the fifth defensive back, and the other with safety Tavon Wilson as the fifth defensive back to form more of a "Big Nickel" look with Reece in mind.

Overall, this is what we saw from a matchup perspective:

2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/ 1 RB -- base 4-3
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB -- base 4-3
3 WR/1 TE/1 RB -- nickel -- Arrington (short yardage); dime (longer yardage)
1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- base 5-2
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB -- base 4-3 and big nickel

Pats 2nd-quarter review: Hightower rises

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Picked-up pieces after reviewing the second quarter of the New England Patriots' 16-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders:

1. A three-play sequence from Dont'a Hightower (13:43-12:38) showcased his physicality, versatility and athleticism as he is playing at a very high level right now in a three-down role. On third-and-7, he had a strong rush off the defensive left side, keeping his feet against a low block by running back Darren McFadden to produce a pressure on a completed pass. Then he followed up with a Brandon Spikes-like downhill thumping play in which he rocked rookie left guard Gabe Jackson before combining on the tackle of a 2-yard loss. On the next play, Hightower nicely read a pass to fullback Marcel Reece in the flat and raced out to tackle him for a 2-yard loss. The 2012 first-round pick is playing as well as we've seen over the past three years.

[+] EnlargeDont'a Hightower
Elise Amendola/AP PhotoPatriots OLB Dont'a Hightower breaks up a pass intended for Raiders running back Darren McFadden.
2. While Hightower figures to grade out well on those plays, another thing that stood out was his intelligence. At the 4:14 mark, he re-positioned defensive end Chandler Jones, who had initially aligned wide of the tight end on the right side of the line. With Hightower moving Jones more to the inside before the snap, and with the help of a missed block, Jones was freed up to tackle McFadden for no gain. That's the type of thing that doesn't show up on the stat sheet but reflects well on Hightower and his ability to not only make plays, but put others in position to make plays.

3. Why the struggles in the red zone when having a first-and-goal from the 3? That's all on the offensive line. On first down, left guard Marcus Cannon was pushed back by Antonio Smith and running back Stevan Ridley made contact with Cannon's leg before lunging for a gain of 1 yard. On second down, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer couldn't wall off Justin Tuck, who crashed down the line to impede an inside run by Shane Vereen. And on third down, a bad shotgun snap by center Dan Connolly didn't give the play a chance. Just poor offensive line play. When the space gets tight, that's when the line needs to be the rock. It didn't happen on Sunday.

4. Another area in which the offensive line struggled at times was on combination blocks in the passing game. On the long touchdown drive, with 7:18 remaining, Cannon and Connolly didn't effectively work together as defensive tackle Justin Ellis looped around Smith, who had blocked down into Connolly. What resulted was Ellis left mostly unchecked, and Smith ultimately slicing into the backfield as well as Connolly wasn't in position to block Smith after being knocked off his spot. In one respect, credit to the Raiders for their fine work. At the same time, the Patriots can do better up front, as they mostly did on the next play when left tackle Nate Solder picked up a stunting rusher after Khalil Mack had crashed hard into Cannon on Shane Vereen's 9-yard catch-and-run. It just needs to be more consistent.

5. Heady play by Tom Brady on the low shotgun snap to pick it up and hurl it out of bounds, as if he just fell on the football the clock keeps rolling and the Patriots (without a timeout) don't get a field goal. For what it's worth, Bill Belichick didn't have any issues with the time management at the end of the half, calling it similar to the 2011 Ravens game when the team had success by working the clock down to its final ticks.

6. The Patriots might have opened the game with three straight passes, which drew some initial criticism, but upon review, the offense did more than enough from a running game perspective to get the play-action passing game going. It was quite effective, with maybe the best example coming on the play Brady overthrew a wide-open Rob Gronkowski (10:28 remaining).

7. Some of the Patriots' best run-blocking came on Ridley's 9-yard run right after the 2-minute warning. It showed how the line can play power football, with Solder leading the way. It just wasn't happening enough, as evidenced by four runs in the game for negative yardage and another four for no yards.

8. The 15-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that covered 6 minutes, 43 seconds showed what the offense is capable of, including the offensive line for the most part. The Patriots were fortunate to get a defensive pass interference penalty on third-and-2, but they still capitalized on the opportunity. What stood out was balance -- seven runs, eight passes -- as well as no penalties. So they can do it. It's right there on tape. It's just a matter of doing it consistently.

Patriots showing up on special teams

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Special teams are an often-overlooked aspect of the game, and play a significant factor in decisions that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick makes when constructing his 46-man game-day roster.

For example, it seems as if receiver Brandon LaFell's presence on the kickoff coverage unit and as a potential backup on other units gave him more value to Belichick than second-year receiver Aaron Dobson on Sunday. We can debate the merits of that decision, especially given the limited number of kickoffs that are returned this early in the season, but what isn't debatable is the role special teams contributions plays in the process.

With this in mind, here is a breakdown of non-specialists showing up most on the four core special teams units (kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage, punt return) on Sunday:

Four units
S Nate Ebner
LB Deontae Skinner
WR Matthew Slater
LB Chris White
S Tavon Wilson

Three units
DE Michael Buchanan

Two units
CB Kyle Arrington
RB Brandon Bolden
S Patrick Chung
CB Logan Ryan

One unit
CB Malcolm Butler
LB Jamie Collins
FB James Develin
WR Julian Edelman
S Duron Harmon
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
WR Brandon LaFell
S Devin McCourty
DE Rob Ninkovich
TE Tim Wright

NOTES: With gunner Don Jones out with a hamstring injury, the Patriots turned to Kyle Arrington in that role. ... Matthew Slater was credited with three special teams tackles and also drew a block-in-the-back penalty in a dominating performance.

Tedy Bruschi's Patriots chat recap

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Every day after the New England Patriots play a game, Tedy Bruschi hosts a chat on Monday's chat kicked off at 11 a.m. ET, can be recapped here and included some of the following topics:

1. Patriots first-year offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo has his work cut out for him.

2. Players' perspective when a team wins a game "ugly" as the Patriots did Sunday.

3. What happens when opponents take receiver Julian Edelman away? Easier said than done.

4. Positive signs for safety Nate Ebner.

5. Pick routes on offense and receiver Danny Amendola's lack of production.

6. Credit to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who played fearless.

No quick fix for offense

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22

Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.

Q. Tedy, what happens when teams realize that once you take away Julian Edelman, the Pats stall out on offense? Do they try to bring someone in to give Tom Brady another weapon, or somehow try to solidify the line and give Tom more time? -- Matt (Norwood)

A. That's easy to say, Matt, but I think it's going to be very hard to take away Julian from a defensive standpoint. He's like the Patriots' Percy Harvin, and there are so many ways you can use him -- out of the backfield, jet sweeps, reverses, lined up as a slot receiver and outside receiver. He's shown he can do everything. I'm just waiting for him to throw the football -- that's one thing they haven't shown. Maybe we see that in the future. That's how versatile he is. It's sort of like when we played against Wes Welker when Welker was in Miami. You game-plan against him, but first you have to find him -- there are ways with motion and formations to where he is still going to get his production.

Q. Hi Tedy, I don't think you could find anyone at an optimists convention who would have good things to say about the Pats' offense. The public doesn't have access to coaches' film, so you tell me: Is Danny Amendola on Brady's "pay no mind" list, or is he continually not open? And three offensive PIs on pick routes in two games by Brandon LaFell? From the play calling to the play execution, this unit is a mess. Fixable anytime soon? -- John F. (Boston)

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Patriots' 1st-quarter review: OL struggles

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Picked-up pieces after reviewing the first quarter of the New England Patriots’ 16-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders:

1. This was not a good game for the offensive line and the third-and-23 with 1:14 remaining is a good one to highlight as to why that was the case. There aren’t many good plays to convert a third-and-23, but what happened was still alarming. The Raiders showed an initial four-man rush look before dropping defensive tackle Antonio Smith off the line and rushing three. So the Patriots had a 5-on-3 numbers edge and yet they lost in each matchup.
  • Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer’s pass set looked a bit off against LaMarr Woodley in a one-on-one situation, and that minor technique lapse helped Woodley pinch the edge and get quarterback Tom Brady off the spot.
  • A double team against interior rusher Justin Tuck by right guard Jordan Devey and center Dan Connolly was ineffective, with Devey throwing Tuck to the ground for an obvious holding penalty.
  • A double team against edge rusher Khalil Mack by left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Marcus Cannon was ineffective, with Mack getting into Solder, who also could have been called for holding.

If you can’t win a 5-on-3 situation, you really don’t have much of a chance.

2. While there was criticism for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in opening the game with three straight passes against the NFL’s worst-rated run defense, it wasn’t like he didn’t recover quickly. On their second drive, the Patriots opened with three running straight plays with offensive tackle Cameron Fleming (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) as an eligible tight end to get more beef on the field. All three came to Fleming’s side, with the barely-made-it third-down run coming to the left where Solder, Vollmer and Fleming aligned in an unbalanced power look. It wasn’t about play calling on the second drive; it was about execution and simply blocking the opposition – and that was way too inconsistent.

3. The Patriots didn’t necessarily blitz a lot, but they often disguised their intentions by having players drop off the line of scrimmage and have others rush. For example, on the Raiders’ initial third-down play (13:42 remaining), defensive tackle Dominique Easley dropped into a shallow zone where tight end Mychal Rivera caught an 8-yard pass to move the sticks. That was a nice bang-bang play by the Raiders. Later, on a third-and-6 play (7:44 remaining), Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich dropped out, with linebacker Jerod Mayo rushing up the middle and safety Nate Ebner (in the dime) coming off the edge. The Raiders seemed to handle it well. Credit to them.

4. The Patriots’ first third-down play on offense, a 4-yard receiver screen to Brandon LaFell, was just a mess. Because Solder and receiver Kenbrell Thompkins were blocking the same player from different angles (Thompkins from the slot), it actually turned out that Solder plowed Thompkins into the ground with the Raiders defender between them. The play never had a chance. Hard to imagine that was the way it was drawn up in practice.

5. The timing was also off on what was essentially a triple play-action (jet sweep, inside dive and end around) on the first-and-20 failed screen to running back Shane Vereen. That’s a tough play to pull off, and first-and-20 seemed like the time to try it, but Cannon and Connolly looked like they couldn’t get to cornerback Carlos Rogers in time and Vereen was dropped for a loss of 5 yards. Had they done so, perhaps there was some yardage to pick up there.

6. Best Patriots player in the first 15 minutes? Special teams captain Matthew Slater, who drew a holding penalty and made a beautiful open-field tackle, both in punt coverage.

7. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower is playing every snap and it’s easy to see why the coaching staff has the confidence to leave him on the field in all situations. He is playing very well and his pre-snap recognition – as he followed receiver James Jones in motion from left to right – helped set him up to be in the right position to tackle running back Darren McFadden for a loss of 6 yards on a screen pass (5:14 remaining).

8. Ninkovich doesn’t get credit for the sack, but his one-on-one victory against right tackle Khalif Barnes on second-and-6 was just as effective (7:49 remaining). Ninkovich played with power initially before slapping Barnes hands away and bending around him to bear down on quarterback Derek Carr and force an incomplete pass. Similar to Hightower, Ninkovich has played every snap the last two games.

9. Chandler Jones is most effective as an end-of-the-line player on early downs, but the Patriots are still reducing him inside in obvious passing situations. One benefit of that is when he gets his hands into the passing lane, as we saw on his deflection on third-and-14. The Patriots blitzed on the play with a five-man rush and the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jones got his long arms up over left guard Gabe Jackson (6-3, 336).

Belichick explains why he sat Dobson

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Before each game, the New England Patriots -- like every NFL team -- set seven players as inactive. And the surprise inactive this week was wide receiver Aaron Dobson.

With the Patriots' receiving corps struggling to gain any rhythm with quarterback Tom Brady outside of wide receiver Julian Edelman, Dobson was thought to be a player Brady could rely on, specifically as a deep threat.

Last week against Minnesota, wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was inactive and this week it was Dobson. Coach Bill Belichick explained the factors involved with making the decision to sit a player like Dobson.

“We just try to take everything into consideration when we go with our final 46-man active roster,” Belichick said during a conference call on Monday. “The game plan, the matchups, the different roles in the kicking game and sometimes how that affects other positions.”

Thompkins ended up playing 38 of 73 offensive snaps and might have presented a better matchup in Belichick’s eyes against Oakland. Meanwhile, wide receiver Brandon LaFell played 41 of 73 snaps on offense. LaFell also plays on special teams units, which heightens his value over a player like Dobson, who only contributes on offense.


Should Aaron Dobson been active Sunday vs. the Raiders?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,467)

Dobson's recovery from offseason foot surgery could be holding him back, though he did play 31 of 67 offensive snaps in the Patriots’ win against Minnesota in Week 2.

Dobson, a second-round draft pick (59th overall) out of Marshall, is in his second season and recorded 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season. As a second-round pick, Dobson is seen as having high upside with his long frame at 6-foot-3 and the ability to be a vertical receiver for Brady -- something Brady and the offense lack right now.

Belichick said he would like to have everyone on the 53-man roster active on game day, but lines have to be drawn somewhere -- even on players like Dobson.

“So, in the end if we can more than 46 players active, then we would have had several of the guys that were deactivated in the game,” Belichick said. “And there is a good chance that several of them would have played, but we just have the combination of all the things I just mentioned and try to make a decision that we feel was best for the team relative to the 46 guys that are there. And again, that is a function of multiple things.”

Patriots' groupings: Attempt to be balanced

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at the positional groupings utilized on offense by the New England Patriots in their 16-9 victory against the Oakland Raiders (includes penalties but not final kneel-downs):

3 WR/1 TE/1 RB -- 32 of 73
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB -- 30 of 73
2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 6 of 73
2 WR/1 TE/2 RB -- 2 of 73
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB -- 1 of 73
3 WR/2 RB -- 1 of 73
3 TE/1 FB/1 RB -- 1 of 73

ANALYSIS: In Week 1, the Patriots had been forced into more 3-WR personnel groupings, and then last week, they went heavy at the line of scrimmage in a full-fledged commitment to the running game. Week 3 against the Raiders was a mix between the two. The game began with the Patriots trying to throw when they had run-based personnel on the field (2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB) and on the second drive they ran with more passing-based personnel (3 WR/1 TE/1 RB). The intentions seemed based on achieving more balance, and that theme carried through most of the game. There were times, however, when the Patriots put themselves in situations (e.g. third-and-23 on their second drive) that dictated the terms to them because of penalties and lack of execution. In a limited-possession type of game, those mistakes get magnified a bit, as do the red-zone struggles and slow starts for the offense in the first quarter and out of the halftime break.

Tedy Bruschi's Patriots chat at 11

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Every day after the New England Patriots play a game, Tedy Bruschi hosts a Patriots chat. Today's chat is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, and questions can be asked in advance.

Catch up with Tedy then.

Patriots' defensive snaps: Easley eases in

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at snaps played by New England Patriots defenders in Sunday's 16-9 win over the Raiders (penalties included):

Vince Wilfork -- 50 of 60
Chris Jones -- 29 of 60
Dominique Easley -- 16 of 60
Joe Vellano -- 14 of 60
Sealver Siliga -- 11 of 60

Quick-hit thoughts: The Patriots are thin at this spot and vulnerable like 2013 in the event that Wilfork sustains an injury, especially after Siliga left the game in the first quarter (foot injury) after a play in which he was engaged in a one-on-one rush with right guard Austin Howard. That could lead to a waiver claim on rookie Bruce Gaston, who was previously with the club and was let go by Miami. ... Easley, the team's first-round draft choice, played as an interior sub rusher in the dime, and occasionally in the nickel. Still waiting for him to pop in a game from a pass-rush perspective.

Chandler Jones -- 60 of 60
Rob Ninkovich -- 60 of 60

Quick-hit thoughts: Just like 2013, the starting tandem never left the field despite the fact that top backup Michael Buchanan (ankle) was active for the first time this season.

Dont'a Hightower -- 60 of 60
Jerod Mayo -- 60 of 60
Jamie Collins -- 20 of 60

Quick-hit thoughts: Collins returned from a thigh injury and played only in the base defense. At times, Hightower lined up on the edge as he continues to excel in a variety of roles.

Darrelle Revis -- 60 of 60
Logan Ryan -- 60 of 60
Kyle Arrington -- 21 of 60

Quick-hit thoughts: Pretty straight up at this spot, with rookie Malcolm Butler dressed for action but playing only on special teams. Arrington came on in the nickel and dime.

Devin McCourty -- 60 of 60
Patrick Chung -- 44 of 60
Tavon Wilson -- 13 of 60
Duron Harmon -- 12 of 60
Nate Ebner -- 10 of 60

Quick-hit thoughts: Chung is the top option in the base defense, but came out in sub defenses so the coaching staff could tap the coverage abilities of others. Ebner's 10 snaps reflect his growth to emerge as part of the dime defense (6 defensive backs).

Patriots' offensive snaps: Wright's role

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at snaps played by New England Patriots players on offense in Sunday's 16-9 win over the Oakland Raiders (includes penalties but not final kneel-downs):

Michael Hoomanawanui -- 44 of 73
Rob Gronkowski -- 42 of 73
Cameron Fleming -- 12 of 73
Tim Wright -- 5 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: Outside of Gronkowski, the Patriots aren't getting much out of this position from a pass-catching perspective and that is part of why the overall attack is so limited. If Wright is only going to play five snaps, one could make the case that roster spot could be devoted to someone else in search of a spark (Aaron Dobson?). The more likely solution in the weeks to come is to increase Wright's role as he gains more comfort in the offense (and Gronkowski becomes more comfortable blocking-wise) as he is one of the best in-house options to help balance some things out. But it's hard to do it with such limited opportunities.

Julian Edelman -- 71 of 73
Brandon LaFell -- 41 of 73
Kenbrell Thompkins -- 38 of 73
Danny Amendola -- 28 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: The only plays Edelman wasn't on the field were in a 2-WR package on the third drive (7:51 remaining, second quarter) and in the jumbo goal-line package (13:53 remaining, fourth quarter) as he is the team's clear-cut No. 1 option and playing that way. ... LaFell and Thompkins were essentially rotated as the No. 2 receiver, while Amendola wasn't on the field in every three-receiver set as he had been through the first two weeks of the season, which reflects how the club is tinkering with different combinations and Amendola's role is continuing to be diminished a bit. ... Hard to believe 2013 second-round draft choice Dobson (healthy scratch) can't crack this group, which raises the question, "Why do the Patriots have such struggles drafting and developing at this position?"

Stevan Ridley -- 39 of 73
Shane Vereen -- 30 of 73
Brandon Bolden -- 7 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: Ridley is running hard and has earned increased repetitions after playing just 22 snaps in the opener. He's played the most snaps among backs the last two weeks (37 and 39). Bolden's primary value comes on special teams, but he's not providing much spark on offense.

James Develin -- 8 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: Quiet game for the bulldozing lead-blocker, as two-back sets weren't a big part of the plan.

LG Marcus Cannon -- 73 of 73
LT Nate Solder -- 73 of 73
RT Sebastian Vollmer -- 73 of 73
C/RG Dan Connolly -- 73 of 73
RG Jordan Devey -- 58 of 73
C Bryan Stork -- 15 of 73

Quick-hit thoughts: Tough day for this group overall. It will be interesting to see if Stork's presence for the final two drives was because of an injury to Devey, or if it was more performance-based.

Strange but true: The '-skis' have it

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
There was quite an oddity in the Patriots-Raiders game, as pointed out by our friends at SportsCenter (via SBNation).

Every point was scored by a player whose name ends in "-kowski."

Check it out:

Pats' offense has ground to make up

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Renowned author (and tortured soul) Sylvia Plath once noted, "If you expect nothing from anybody, you're never disappointed." Perhaps that's how the New England Patriots should eyeball the 16-9 victory they eked out at home against the winless Oakland Raiders on Sunday afternoon.

Surely, the victory, which was in doubt until the final seconds, wasn't the way coach Bill Belichick drew it up. Judging by the way a measured yet clearly disappointed Tom Brady approached his postgame comments (think Mount Vesuvius with pockets of lava bubbling to the surface), the quarterback is far from satisfied with the way his offense performed.

It most definitely was not what antsy Patriots fans were counting on, as evidenced by the fact that they already were booing their beloved football team at the 1:22 mark of the first quarter, when Brady, on second-and-25 from his own 26-yard line, handed the ball off to Shane Vereen for a 3-yard gain.

The Patriots' offense was disjointed, disarmed and dismayed for huge chunks of the game. Once again, Brady favored the redoubtable Julian Edelman (10 catches, 84 yards) over all others. It's hard to blame him. Edelman continues to find ways to get open and hold onto the ball. His teammates should take note.

(Read full post)

Julian Edelman looms large for Patriots

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- You are a New England Patriots follower and you are mostly disappointed by what you saw in Sunday's 16-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

The offensive line regressed. Quarterback Tom Brady was battered. There aren’t enough viable pass-catchers outside of Julian Edelman who threaten the opposition. The offensive play calling was puzzling at times. Time management was uncharacteristically poor. The defense, while ultimately coming up with the game-sealing interception and holding Oakland to nine points, struggled for stretches against a rookie quarterback making his third career start.

If the bottom-of-the-NFL-barrel Raiders weren't on the opposite sideline, the result almost certainly would have been different, and so this one leaves a bad taste almost across the board and will obviously be analyzed, dissected and opined upon in the aftermath. (We’re handing the ball off to columnist Jackie MacMullan to break it down after this one.)

The little bit of good news to pass along beside the bottom-line result?

It starts with Edelman, the six-year veteran who turned in his fourth career game with 10 or more receptions. On a day when little went right, Edelman shined, kind of like it used to be at times with former New England receiver Wes Welker.

In fact, that’s exactly how Raiders cornerback Carlos Rogers saw it.

“He reminds me of Welker,” Rogers said after watching Edelman be targeted 13 times and total 10 catches for 84 yards. “Tom looks to him the same way and that’s why Wes had 100 catches a year. [Edelman] is on his way [to 100] again -- a lot of short stuff where he can move in space, keep the chains moving -- and he can get in and out of his breaks very fast and he has some good speed on him.”

Edelman's 22 catches through three games easily lead the Patriots and that’s also part of the problem. Little is clicking in the passing game outside of him, as quarterback Tom Brady was 10-of-11 when targeting Edelman and 14-of-26 to everyone else. Brady is completing 84.6 percent of his targets to Edelman through three games, and 51.1 percent otherwise.

What stood out to Raiders safety Charles Woodson was how the Patriots, with little else going for them, maximized Edelman on Sunday. A 17-year veteran, Woodson reflected to his early years in the NFL when coming up with a comparable match for the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Edelman.

“He reminds me of Wayne Chrebet a little bit,” he said of the former Jets slot receiver who played from 1995-2005. “A guy they keep on the move, a smaller guy who has a knack for getting open and making big catches, especially third-down situations. They put him in position to be successful and keep him moving him around and you’re not going to be able to get your hands on him as much if you are in a man-to-man situation with him.”

For his part, Edelman knows that at his size, he has to protect himself whenever possible. He was upset with himself for attempting to hurdle a defender in the second half and absorbing a big hit.

“I’ve got to play a little smarter,” he said. “I’ve got to protect myself a little better with the ball in my hands if I’m going to be there for 16 games.”

That’s a must for a Patriots offense, of course.

Because without Edelman, it wouldn’t be much of an offense at all.