Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Friday, November 23, 2012
Picked-up pieces from 2nd-half review

By Field Yates

After re-watching the Patriots' 49-19 victory over the Jets on Thanksgiving night, passing along some picked-up pieces from the second half of play.

1. Facing a 3rd-and-2 on their opening drive of the second half, the Jets called for a wide receiver screen to shifty wideout Jeremy Kerley. Kerley hauled in the throw from quarterback Mark Sanchez, but was tackled short of the first down on a hard hit from both cornerback Aqib Talib and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. Cunningham receives high marks on the play for having the recognition instincts to identify the screen and subsequently pursue toward the sidelines and chip in to make the stop. Talib showed good force in coming up to make the tackle and stunt the Jets' first drive of the half.

2. It's possible that quarterback Tom Brady is still taken for granted by some, despite his innumerable accomplishments and continued excellence in his 13th season. It's not just the obvious contributions of Brady that make him so special, but the subtleties to his game that make him such a consistently great player. One thing that he does so effectively, despite how minor some may perceive it to be, is call for and execute quarterback sneaks. Brady is far from fleet of foot, but he has a nose for picking up first downs in short yardage situations, and also an understanding of defenses to the point that he knows precisely when to call his own number. He executed a few sneaks on Thursday night, including a rushing score in the fourth quarter.

3. Some have tagged the Patriots as a bend-but-don't break bunch on defense, and if that is indeed the case, then goal line stops like the one witnessed midway through the third quarter certainly stand out. After an offside penalty gave the Jets a 1st-and-goal situation from the three-yard line, the Patriots tightened the defensive clamps for four straight stops. Two plays really stood out from the sequence, the first of which was a pass break-up from cornerback Kyle Arrington, who did well to reach around the intended receiver, tight end Dustin Keller, without making contact after executing a nice combination coverage along with Talib. On the following play, Sanchez called his own number on a draw to the right side of his line, but linebacker Brandon Spikes darted to the quarterback to knock him down short of the end zone. Big time stand by the Patriots defense.

4. The play that resulted in a safety for the Jets was a tough call against running back Stevan Ridley, but the right one. Linebacker DeMario Davis came on a blitz, and fullback/tight end Michael Hoomanawanui attempted to pick him up just a half second ahead of Ridley. In re-watching the play, Ridley's attempt to cut Davis did not look malicious by any means, it simply looked like he didn't think Hoomanawanui would pick up the blitz and wanted to deter Davis' rush. Nonetheless, because the foul occurred in the end zone, the Jets were awarded the safety.

5. It's rare that we see Brady used in designed move-the-pocket throws, but on a 3rd-and-4 play with just under two and a half minutes to play in the third quarter, Brady used sprint action to his right to create space in the pocket and find Wes Welker for a first-down conversion. We wouldn't count on this becoming a staple of the Patriots' offense, but it's just another way to buy Brady a second of spare time in order to execute his read and make an accurate throw.

6. Perhaps one of the most amazing stats from a night filled with action was that the Patriots converted 11 of 15 third down attempts on Thursday night. To boot, all 11 came in consecutive fashion, as the Patriots missed on their first two and final two third down conversions. The secret behind the success? Well, it mostly boiled down to execution, but the Patriots also did well to put themselves in 3rd and manageable situations that afforded them the opportunity to either pass or run.

7. Prior to the game, we highlighted the value of having Aaron Hernandez back, specifically referring to his red zone and goal line value. Hernandez is a matchup nightmare for defenses near the goal line, and though he was flagged for offensive pass interference on a would-have-been touchdown in the fourth quarter (we'd contend it was a ticky-tacky call), he showed why he's so vital to this offense in scoring chances. The Jets countered Hernandez with man-to-man coverage from safety Laron Landry on the play, and Landry, while a fine player against the run, has coverage limitations. Hernandez gave the Patriots a unique advantage on the play, and look for the Patriots to continue to try to isolate him near the goal line in future opportunities.

8. It wasn't nearly as explosive as some of the Patriots' scoring drives earlier in the game, but the Patriots' first touchdown drive of the second half, a deliberate, 17-play drive, was extremely impressive. The Patriots overwhelmed the Jets on the ground with interior runs, converted on third downs, got receivers the football in space to make plays, and Brady cashed in with a short running score. On a night when the Jets had already been humbled by countless miscues, that drive further demonstrated the disparity in talent between the two teams.

9. Rob Gronkowski was not available, but the threat of play action still was, and perhaps no play demonstrated that more thoroughly than a strike from Brady to Welker to open the team's final scoring drive of the night. Brady faked a handoff to Ridley and found Welker on a deep crossing route as he snuck through the Jets' secondary. Truth be told, the absence of Gronkowski probably makes the Patriots less effective as a play action team, but the dedication to the running game will continue to make it a viable weapon. Daniel Fells was used in a Gronkowski-esque role on Thursday, and though he finished with just one catch, his season-best 55 snaps were pivotal to his team. To that end, it was surprising to see Visanthe Shiancoe on the field for just nine snaps, most of which were at the end of the game.

10. Some wrap-up thoughts from the game: running back Shane Vereen was once again quick and decisive, and looked better between the tackles that I can remember seeing him in previous appearances. He didn't leave many yards on the field. ... The secondary may have yielded over 300 yards passing, but this is a prime example of why that stat cannot be taken in a vacuum. Much of that yardage was tacked on with the game well out of hand. ... Marquice Cole was amongst the surprise inactive players on Thursday, while recently re-signed vetearn defensive back Derrick Martin played. It's probably not as simple as a one-for-one exchange between the two, but an interesting development nonetheless. ... Not to look too far ahead, but if some factors shake out in the Patriots' favor, they could clinch the AFC East with a win over Miami next Sunday.