Looking closer at the television copy of Sunday’s game against the Vikings and focusing on the third quarter:
1. One area where the Patriots missed the presence of injured safety Patrick Chung was in covering Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe. On a first-and-10 early in the third quarter, the Vikings lined up Shiancoe in the slot, with the Patriots using safety James Sanders in man coverage. Drawing in ILB Brandon Spikes with a play action, QB Brett Favre found Shaincoe open on a crossing pattern. Sanders was a step late in reacting to the inside move, and had to play for the tackle instead of breaking up the pass. Chung has shown to be a more athletic player who could have disrupted Favre’s pass.
2. Patriots OLB Jermaine Cunningham continues to progress as a run defender, especially in setting an effective edge. Cunningham did just that on the second of three runs by the Vikings on their opening second half drive. In each case, Cunningham set the edge, forcing Peterson to stay inside. On the first run, it was DE Gerard Warren who shed LT Bryant McKinnie to stop Peterson. On the second, it was OLB Tully Banta-Cain who came in unblocked off the weak side to tackle Peterson once he could not find a hole in the middle.
3. On WR Brandon Tate’s 65-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, the initial pressure on QB Tom Brady came from LE Ray Edwards, who put a double-move on TE Rob Gronkowski. Once Brady faked his handoff to RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis and first looked to see if WR Wes Welker was open, Brady turned to his left before feeling Edwards coming from his right side. Even though Brady scrambled to his left, the next defender to pressure Brady was DT Kevin Williams from the far side of line, who TE Alge Crumpler released once the play started to break down. The most impressive part of the play came when Brady then, feeling more pressure, peeked at Tate starting to break deep, spun around, and without even looking again at Tate, hurled an accurate pass in his direction.
4. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 13-yard touchdown run was a well-designed run that aimed to take advantage of the Vikings’ one-gapping defensive scheme. The play was a misdirection run where Brady opened to his right, leading weakside RE Jared Allen to crash inside on LT Matt Light, opening a lane to the outside. That hole was quickly filled by safety Madieu Williams, but a pulling RG Stephen Neal blocked Williams out. The key block came from TE Alge Crumpler, who sealed the inside of the running lane by first chipping LB Chad Greenway before quickly moving in the way of MLB E.J. Henderson. The only block that wasn’t executed was Tate on CB Asher Allen, but Green-Ellis broke Allen’s tackle on his way to the end zone.
5. Making up for a missed tackle on a screen pass earlier in the quarter, OLB Rob Ninkovich made a key tackle on Shiancoe after a catch on a crossing pattern late in the third quarter. The catch came on third-and-3, and with less than a yard to spare, Ninkovich was able to wrap up Shiancoe short of the first down marker, forcing the Vikings to punt and helping to preserve an 11-point Patriots lead at the end of the quarter.