Monday, October 22, 2018

Patriots Wrestle Bears Into Submission, 38-31

The Patriots alternated brilliant plays with idiotic plays and held on to beat the Bears, 38-31 yesterday. The win puts them at 5-2, a game up on Miami for the AFC East crown and tied with the Chargers for second place in the conference. Next up are the hapless Bills next Monday night.

This was easily the sloppiest game the Patriots have one in at least ten years. Three turnovers without an interception. Two hideous penalties on special teams that gave the Bears life twice in the game. Losing outside contain over and over to allow the Chicago QB Mitchell Trubisky to run all over the place. Horrible clock management. Unnecessary timeouts in the first half that left them nearly unable to challenge plays.

It's the kind of football we've grown accustomed to seeing other teams play when facing the Pats. Rarely does  New England play that way, and when they do, they usually lose (see the Eagles game in 2015). The reason they won? The Bears were very accommodating hosts.

Trubisky missed multiple wide open receivers, and he was intercepted twice (and should have been intercepted two other times). The tried to get Cordarrelle Patterson to return kickoffs, and he rewarded them with a fumble -- before he killed them with a 95-yard return for touchdown. And of course, the Pats blocked a punt and returned that for a TD, too.

Painting in broad strokes, here is what went well and poorly.

The pass rush disrupted the Bears offense, pushing the QB out of the pocket and slowing the running game at the same time. However, Adrian Clayborn lost containment way too often, allowing Trubisky to extend drives with third-down runs and to total 81 yards and a touchdown. This game is Exhibit A of why Belichick preaches "setting the edge" and "holding your contain."

It is interesting to see them blitzing more. This probably owes to the new semi-D-Coordinator, Brian Flores. And I suspect they are experimenting a bit to prepare for what they'll need in the playoffs.

The secondary was way up and way down. Far too many open receivers running around, many of which were missed by the Bears. But both interceptions were 50-50 balls that the Pats defenders simply out-fought the Bears for. J.C. Jackson's INT was extremely impressive, as he dove down with the receiver and scooped it away with one hand.

On offense, the Pats mixed run and pass very well. Sony Michel (4 rushes for 22 yards) fumbled once, on a play where he injured his knee and was done for the day. And once he was out, James White (11 for 40) picked up the slack nicely, aided by Kenjon Barner (10 for 36). Add in Tom Brady's "slowest six yards you'll ever see," and the Pats topped 100 rushing yards for the fourth time this season (they are 4-0 in those games).

The run blocking has been excellent for weeks now (they had 173 yards against KC, sorry I didn't write up that one). And in this game, they were actually able to gain rushing yards even when everyone in the stadium knew they were going to run. That's impressive, because they usually can't.

Julian Edelman was doubled all day long, without Rob Gronkowski (who missed the trip with a back injury) to take up defenders. So the Pats depended on White for the short stuff (8 catches for 57 yards and 2 TDs) and Josh Gordon for the long stuff (4 for 100). Chris Hogan had a nice game, too (6 for 63). And all the receivers get special praise for their run-blocking, both on rushing plays and downfield after pass receptions.

Which brings us to special teams. What to say about special teams... hmmmm. Okay, they were great and they sucked.

The good:

  • The blocked punt was something they obviously saw on film. Because they brought 9 or 10 people on that play, when they usually only rush about 5 or 6.
  • Patterson's electrifying 95-yard kickoff return, where he ran right up the gut, made one move, and was then off to the races.
And the bad:

  • A delay-of-game-penalty on the kickoff after Patterson's big return. On a kickoff -- I haven't seen any of the crap teams in the NFL do that in a long time. And I wouldn't expect it from this team.
  • An unsportsman-like penalty on a punt that brought the ball from Chicago's 23 to their 38, giving them a chance to score before the half (which thankfully they did not).
  • A facemask penalty on a kickoff that gave the Bears great field position, from which they scored a touchdown.
  • Short Stephen Gostkowski kicks. Enough already, Joe Judge -- have him kick it through the end zone!
  • A list of unacceptable "net yards" on Ryan Allen punts: 30, 38, and 13. That last one was booted through the end zone from the CHI 33 yard line. No excuse... if you can't drop it down inside the 10, then try for the coffin corner kick. But don't kick it through the end zone (that's Gostkowski's job, Joe Judge!).
The coaches had good offensive and defensive gameplans. But the offense executed while the defense did not. As for special teams, most of what you see above is on the coaches. Might be time for a change there.

Where does that leave us? 5-2 is better than 4-3, so the win was important. I suspect this was a hangover game, after playing KC in prime time last week. At least that's what I tell myself, as I'm whistling past the graveyard :D

Biggest ongoing problem: Still special teams.

Non-Brady MVP: Trent Brown, the left tackle who destroyed one defensive end after another. Not a bad pickup for a swap of draft picks with the 49ers.

Statistical oddity: Including yesterday, the 2018 Patriots have twice lost the turnover battle 3-2, and twice they won the game. (Trivia question: what was the other game... answer below.)

Weekly water-cooler wisdom: "Take the win and do better next week."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 5-2!

PPS. Trivia answer:V
The Pats beat the Houston Texans opening day despite losing the turnover battle 3-2.

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