Monday, October 12, 2015

Patriots Corral Cowboys, 30-6

Al (the weather God as Scott refers to me) here filling in for Scott while he's out of town and unable to watch the game until later in the week. Please forgive me if my prose is not as insightful or elegant, my statistics are not as odd or my trivia is not as difficult as you are used to. We will return to our regularly scheduled writer next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

When I was getting ready to watch this game I couldn't envision a way that a Romo-less Dallas team could give New England any sort of trouble. Halfway through the first quarter with the game tied 3-3 a plausible plan was shown to me. Unfortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, they also had to reveal it to Tom Brady and the New England coaching staff who were able to make the necessary adjustments and defuse the situation. Dallas' hard pressure worked early, but it required an unsustainable effort and by half time the Patriots had the game in hand. 
It was a rough day physically for quarterback Tom Brady early as he was sacked five times in the first half, and knocked down or hurried many more. (Trivia question: can you name the last time Tom Brady was sacked five or more times in a game? Answer below.) After the fifth sack New England mixed in a heavy dose of running to relieve some of the pressure, which worked somewhat well, but the Dallas pressure off the ends still caused several hurries, knock downs and an additional fumble. The fumble probably should have been called an incomplete pass, but caused no harm as Julian Edleman was able to cover it up for a small gain. Tom's numbers ended 20/27 with two touchdowns and zero picks mostly thanks to quick releases on short passes, some of which came with excellent yards after the catch. If you only looked at Tom's stat line you wouldn't even know how much pressure he was facing. Tom also rushed for a touchdown on a one yard quarterback sneak, much to the joy of fantasy football fans everywhere I'm sure.

On the offensive line, Dallas caused the front five fits all day off the ends and up the middle. Tom was under nearly instant pressure on most passing plays even after the Patriots mixed in a heavier dose of runs. On run blocking the O-line did slightly better but still got beat on a couple run blitzes. All in all I'm sure there will be plenty of adjustments coming next week in practice.
On the rushing plays, running back LeGarrette Blount did the majority of the heavy lifting, rushing 13 times for a modest 74 yards. Blount got stopped for minor gains a lot but also ripped off an impressive 34-yard rumble. Dion Lewis tossed in an additional 34 yards on six attempts. A majority of the running plays came late in the second quarter and after with New England all but ignoring the run on their first two possessions. Dion Lewis had a couple of good runs after first contact, but the most spectacular play of the game was his 10-yard catch and touchdown run to finish off the Patriots first drive of the second half. Dion caught a Brady pass in the flat and juked, spun and dove past four separate Dallas defenders to secure the score that pretty much put the game away.

Among the other receivers, your usual suspects shined through again today, but in a less-than-characteristic low volume, high yards manner thanks to some great YAC. Julian Edelman grabbed four passes for 120 yards and a TD. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, was quiet early, but ended the game with four grabs for 66 yards, 33 of which came in a single play where he had some good freight train yards after the catch carrying several Dallas secondary players with him. Dion Lewis had 8 catches for 59 yards and Keshawn Martin and Danny Amendola had a pair of catches each. The Patriots receivers got caught on two offensive pass interference pick plays, a trend that seems to be on the rise and worth keeping an eye on.
On defense, New England loaded the box against the run on first and second down playing man coverage on the receivers. This effectively shut down the Dallas running game and put them in to many third and medium to long situations. In those the secondary played a heavy dose of man coverage with safeties over the top. Devin McCourty was seemingly everywhere logging seven tackles. Dont'a Hightower notched four tackles and a sack, but was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a rib injury and didn't return to play the rest of the game. The defensive eye-opener for me was Jabaal Sheard who only had two tackles, but also added in two sacks in the first half. 
The defensive line played well backed up by the line backers clogging up the middle and holding Dallas' run-heavy offense to minimal yards. The one unfortunate notable event was left tackle Nate Soldier left the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return to play. Rob Nikovich didn't show up big on the stats sheet, but was his usual QB-tracking, end-sealing self and was responsible for at least two blown Dallas plays that won't show up on the stats sheet.

The secondary played well in man-to-man coverage as well as holding four downs in a row in goal-to-go at the end of the game. Logan Ryan was the stand out today with two tackles and a pick. Malcolm Butler continues to impress as the Patriots 'feature' corner.

Special teams played very well. Punter Ryan Allen actually had to work for his paycheck this week and consistently kept Dallas in very poor field position. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was 3 for 3 on field goals including a new personal best 57-yarder to end the half and his only kickoff that wasn't a touchback was downed at the 10-yard line. Danny Amendola had a very respectable 13-yard average on his four punt returns. 
So where does that leave us? 4-0 and coming off the bye a game ahead of both the Jets and the Bills and light years ahead of the slumping Dolphins. Next week the Patriots play in the 'Revenge Bowl' in the Sunday Night game against the fading Indianapolis Colts. If you're a betting person, take the over on that one!

Statistical Oddity of the Week (Credit to Scott for providing this): The Patriots franchise lost its first seven games to the Cowboys, and won their next five games against them (including Sunday).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom:"Dispatching the Romo-less Cowboys was just an appetizer for the Colts revenge game!"

Keep the faith,

- Al, sitting in for Scott

PS. 4-0!

PPS. Trivia answer: The last time Tom Brady was sacked five times in a game was Week 6 in 2013 against the New Orleans Saints.

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