- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Looking closer at the television copy of the Patriots' 28-18 win over the Vikings while focusing on the first quarter:
1. One of the big questions entering the game was how the Patriots would handle Vikings DEs Jared Allen and Ray Edwards in the pass rush. One strategy was to chip block with TE Alge Crumpler, which was evident on the second play -- a 4-yard pass to WR Brandon Tate. Crumpler motioned back to the line of scrimmage from the right side and powered into Edwards, who was preparing to rush against RT Sebastian Vollmer. The Patriots tried it again on RB Danny Woodhead's 8-yard run on a direct snap on third-and-2, but Crumpler was penalized for illegal motion because he was moving forward at the snap. It was interesting to see the Patriots devote more attention to Edwards in the passing game than Allen.
2. There were other times in which the Patriots single-blocked Allen and Edwards, with mixed results. On the positive side, TE Rob Gronkowski handled Edwards on WR Wes Welker's 12-yard catch on third-and-5, using his 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame to drive Edwards out of the play and keep a clean pocket for QB Tom Brady. LT Matt Light won the majority of his one-on-one battles against Allen, although RT Sebastian Vollmer couldn't handle Edwards on the first play of the Patriots' second drive -- with Edwards beating him on a move to the inside -- which led Brady to get rid of the ball quickly for an incomplete pass.
3. One of the disappointments for the Patriots was the inability to get their screen game going, and one such example came on third-and-7 on their opening drive. QB Tom Brady lined up in the shotgun, with RB Danny Woodhead to his right and TE Aaron Hernandez to his left. At the snap, Brady faked the throw to Hernandez, the idea to freeze the defense before whipping around and finding Woodhead. But the Vikings didn't bite and Brady was forced too far backwards, disrupting the synergy needed for a successful screen play. That forced Brady to fire the ball at Woodhead's feet for the incompletion. A more traditional screen, without the initial fake to Hernandez, might have produced better results as the Vikings rushed six defenders on the play -- so the opportunity was there for a big gainer on a screen.
4. The Patriots' run defense had mixed results. Unlike most games when opponents run a three-receiver set, the Patriots stayed in their base 3-4 alignment, and that seemed to create some spacing issues at times, specifically with OLBs Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich. Yet the run defense came up with a big stop on the Vikings' first drive, on third-and-1, when RB Adrian Peterson was brought down for no gain. LB Jerod Mayo made the tackle, and the key came up front, where NT Vince Wilfork, RDE Mike Wright and OLB Jermaine Cunningham won the battle of power and technique. The handoff came to the left side, with Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie blocking out toward Cunningham and TE Jim Kleinsasser looking to turn Wright at the line of scrimmage. Wright got enough penetration to disrupt the play, and with Wilfork disengaging from C John Sullivan and showing impressive athleticism to get outside, he created traffic in front of LG Steve Hutchinson, who couldn't pick off Mayo.
5. The Vikings' biggest gain of the quarter, a 21-yard connection from QB Brett Favre to WR Percy Harvin, was a play in which the Patriots were beaten in zone coverage. OLB Jermaine Cunningham lined up off the defensive left side and he was a step slow dropping into his zone, creating space for Harvin to slip behind him. With the Patriots playing a deep safety over the top of Vikings WR Randy Moss on the other side of the field -- Patriots S Brandon Meriweather was hardly visible on the TV screen -- this was an example of how Moss' presence opened opportunities for others. And also how Cunningham, who played mostly 4-3 defensive end in college at Florida, is still leaning on the job.
Looking closer at the television copy of the Patriots' 28-18 win over the Vikings while focusing on the first quarter:1. One of the big questions entering the game was how the Patriots would handle Vikings DEs Jared Allen and Ray Edwards in the pass rush.