Monday, December 5, 2016

Patriots Cruise to 26-10 Win Over Rams

The Patriots took apart the Rams yesterday, beating them 26-10, though it wasn't really that close. The Pats 10-2 record is good enough to lead the AFC and gives them a three-game lead in the division over the 7-5 Dolphins. The Ravens come to town next Monday for a battle of division leaders in Foxaboro.

The Rams offense is pretty bad, and they compounded their problems with key dropped passes and a ton of penalties. And that also meant giving the ball back to the Patriots offense, which was efficient and deadly, even without tight end Rob Gronkowski (out for the year).

Honestly the Rams put up so little fight, there wasn't as much to analyze or learn from this game. But here are a few things to know.

The Patriots ground game remains solid, even without #87 blocking on the line. Running backs LeGarrette Blount (18 carries for 88 yards), Dion Lewis (5 for 27), and James White (3 for 17) got extra yards by using outside seal blocks by tight ends and receivers. Their 133 yards dwarfed the Rams' 36, and they seemed to be able to run at will.

The offensive line obviously had a great game, blocking for the run and keeping the quarterback pretty clean. Brady was hit four times but never sacked. One concerning statistic is Brady's 5.8 yards per attempt, which is the second-worst of the season, after last week versus the Jets. Obviously it hurts to lose the Gronkowski deep threat.

However, Tom was plenty good enough to earn the 201st victory of his stellar career.  It's quite an achievement; one that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. In fact, Belichick and Brady have been so good, the Patriots have more wins than any other original AFC franchise. Let *that* sink in for a moment!

As for yesterday, the receivers were outstanding. Julian Edelman always came through on third-down (8 catches for 101 yards), and Malcolm Mitchell was a revelation: 8 catches for 82 yards, including outs, slants, and back-shoulder catches. The Pats replaced Gronk by having seven receivers make at least four catches -- and they are always more dangerous when they spread the ball around.

The defensive coordinator finally called some exotic blitzes, sending linebackers, safeties, and cornerbacks at rookie QB Jared Goff And the Patriots players showed they could make that work. The results were impressive: 1 of 12 on third-down conversions, 162 total yards, 3.5 yards per pass attempt, 4 sacks (35 yards), and two interceptions.

There is some interesting stuff going on at linebacker. The Patriots appeared to play DE Jabaal Sheard at 'backer a few times, to great effect. He knocked away three passes and somehow was more effective when he rushed the passer. This also allowed Rob Ninkovich to play more at DE, and he delivered, with a sack, a tackle for a loss, two QB hits, and multiple QB pressures.

The team still hasn't settled on a rotation at linebacker, but it appears Shea McClellin (six tackles and a sack) and Kyle Van Noy (interception) will work with Dont'a Hightower for the time being. Early fave Elandon Roberts seems to have fallen out of favor.

The secondary had a great game. Logan Ryan blitzed twice, getting a sack and a QB hit. Malcolm Butler knocked down three passes and had an athletic interception. And safety Devin McCourty knocked down two passes.

Even kicker Stephen Gostkowski shook off his recent woes and put four field goals right down the middle, along with two extra points.

Quick Hits:
  • Martellus Bennett limped around most of the day. Given that the game was in hand by the half, and he's their last tight end, he probably should have sat after intermission.
  • Great overall play led to the Patriots dominating time of possession: 37:57 to 22:03.
  • Cyrus Jones had another fumble on special teams; you might have seen the last of him in the kicking game for a while.
  • The Patriots more than doubled-up the Rams in first downs (4 to 1), total yards (402 to 162), and sacks (4 to 0). But in fairness, the Rams doubled-up the Patriots in one area -- penalties committed (8 to 4).
So where does that leave us? The Pats cruised in this one; next Monday against the Ravens will be a better test. Their 10-2 record gives them a three-game lead in the division with four games to play, so it appears they'll be at least one playoff game in Foxboro this year.

Non-Brady MVP of the game: Malcolm Mitchell snags this award for the first time in his young career. Very impressed with his grasp of the offense and his precise route-running.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: To underscore how dominant the Patriots were, their defense had to make just 40 tackles. The Rams made 72.

Bonus Statistical Oddity: Aggregate score of last three times these two head coaches faced each other: Belichick 130, Fisher 17.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Now that the warmup is over, it's on the the real thing next Monday!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 10-2!

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