- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Picked-up pieces from review of the New England Patriots’ 30-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:
1. It wasn’t necessarily one play, but in re-watching the way the game unfolded, the Patriots’ offensive approach seemed to reflect Bill Belichick’s belief that bigger is most often better. The Falcons’ biggest defensive tackle is Corey Peters (6-3, 305) and in terms of physical makeup, he’d compare closest to Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano. Think of it this way: When speaking of Vellano in the Patriots’ system, he is sometimes referred to as undersized. It’s not that a smaller defense can’t be successful, but for teams that trend in that direction, the risk is what happened Sunday night when the Patriots overpowered them at times (e.g. Brandon Bolden dragging defenders nearly into the end zone), and offensive linemen easily turned them to create running lanes at other times.
2. Unlike last week, when Aqib Talib followed Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson all over the field, Talib mixed and matched between Roddy White and Julio Jones. Seemed almost close to a 50-50 split.
3. Safety can be a difficult position to get a feel for during a game. It’s a spot where the player can really do everything right and not be a huge factor in the game because the ball might not come his way. Other times, safety play stands out as exemplary and Devin McCourty turned in one example of this on the Falcons’ opening drive. The Falcons had success on the drive, delivering a solid initial blow to the Patriots, and had first-and-goal from the 6. They set up a wide receiver screen to Julio Jones on the left side and McCourty’s combination of recognition, instincts and willingness to tackle led to a tackle of Jones for a 1-yard gain. NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said he wasn’t sure how McCourty sliced through bigger-bodied offensive linemen to make the play, which was an astute observation.
4. Something a bit outside the box that showed up at times was defensive lineman Tommy Kelly lining up about 2 yards back from the line of scrimmage, but remaining in a three-point stance before he rushed. The first time it was seen was on a third-and-20 play with 4:04 remaining in the first quarter (incomplete pass). Bill Belichick explained Monday on sports radio WEEI that it’s similar to when a linebacker blitzes and one of the benefits of doing that is having a little more space/time can clear things up with how the offensive line slides and the protection will go.
5. With two illegal shift penalties, a delay-of-game penalty and a botched center/quarterback exchange on a fourth-and-inches play that would have essentially sealed the game, there’s still plenty of areas that the coaching staff can drill into the offense this week. It was sloppy at times on offense.
6. The Patriots’ play-action statistics were off the charts in this game, with the tone set on quarterback Tom Brady’s first attempt, a 15-yarder to fullback James Develin. Falcons linebackers seemed to bite hard against the run throughout and the Patriots capitalized.
7. The main job of a receiver is to get open and catch the ball, as Bill Belichick sometimes reminds. Blocking in the running game isn’t often discussed, but that’s an area where rookie receiver Aaron Dobson showed up multiple times. He’s not afraid to get physical.
8. Rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan (6-6, 255) runs well enough that coaches have him on the kickoff coverage unit. The unit hasn’t had many kickoffs to cover because Stephen Gostkowski has 20 touchbacks in 22 attempts this season, but on a second-quarter return, Buchanan made the tackle on a nice play. Buchanan (seventh round, Illinois) is mostly making his mark as a sub rusher (25 snaps Sunday) but his work on special teams adds to his value.
9. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth that rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins reminds him of Chad Johnson, Collinsworth said after the two combined for a 49-yard long bomb. Thompkins is wearing the same “ocho cinco” as Johnson, but his results in the team’s system have already been decisively better.
10. Rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano’s third-quarter sack, which was one of the big defensive plays of the game for the Patriots, was a reminder that draft status means little. Vellano (undrafted) earned the decisive victory over second-year center Peter Konz (second round). Likewise on Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted) with his diving 18-yard touchdown catch over cornerback Desmond Trufant (first round) in the fourth quarter.