Sunday, September 14, 2014

Patriots Defense Dominates in 30-7 Drubbing of Vikings

The Patriots defense gave up seven points to start the game and then pitched a shutout the rest of the way, leading the team to a 30-7 victory in Minnesota. The win puts them at 1-1, one game behind the division leading Bills. Up next week is their home opener, with the reeling Raiders in town, fresh off a 16-point beatdown by the Houston Texans.

The defense led the way in this one, starting on the defensive line with Chandler Jones. He was an absolute beast, tying for the team lead with 8 tackles, he had 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss, 3 QB hits, and a blocked field goal that he recovered and ran back for a touchdown. Never before has a coach's switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 paid dividends so quickly. Jones was overmatched against interior offensive linemen last week, but destructive to the Vikings off the edge this week.

The rest of the defensive line was mostly nondescript for the first two drives. But once they got their bearings, Sealver Siliga and Vince Wilfork did a nice job clogging up the middle. On the outside, Rob Ninkovick was particularly effective, totaling 3 tackles (with 1 for a loss), and getting two QB hits and a sack. Also of note: first-round pick Dominique Easley got his first NFL interception with a nice grab on a tipped ball.

As with much of the defense, the linebackers got whipped badly for the first two drives. Rookie Deontae Skinner was brought in for the injured Jamie Collins, and Skinner was repeatedly out of position and got torched across the middle multiple times. And veterans Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower didn't look much better at first. But after that, look out! Hightower made plays all over the field in the last 52 minutes, hits in the backfield, tackles for a loss, two sacks (for 22 yards), and a hard hit on the quarterback that caused an incompletion. And Mayo looked very good shutting down the run, knifing in to stop plays before they could get started.

Not much bad to say about a secondary where three of four starters had interceptions, and the nickelback forced a fumble. Safety Devin McCourty and corner Darrelle Revis each had a pass defended and an interception. Not to be outdone, corner Logan Ryan had two passes defended and an interception. McCourty uncharacteristically had no tackles, but that was mostly because the linebackers took down everything that came their way. And safety Patrick Chung played well in run support, while corner Kyle Arrington kept pounding people until someone gave up the ball.

The offense is still a work in progress, 30 points notwithstanding. Their scoring drives averaged 33 yards, they went 5-14 (36%) on third-down conversions, and had three three-and-outs (including one to start the game). The offensive line still has some issues, though they were better on Sunday. And Tom Brady's numbers look decent, but too many of those completions required perfect passes to well-covered receivers.

The quarterback's numbers look either pedestrian or efficient, depending on your viewpoint. Brady went 15 of 22, for 149 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions, and a QB rating of 102.3. Most impressive was how pinpoint his short passes were, sometimes going to completely covered receivers in the one spot where they could make a catch. He wasn't perfect: he missed a few long passes, and went for a 30-yard bomb from midfield on a third-and-two play -- once again leading to a Patriots punt. Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have to stop doing that.

The offensive line was much better this week, although still far from perfect. Brady's pockets were mostly clean, and he was sacked only once on the day (though he did take a few other shots). The announcers made mention that the Patriots went with six offensive linemen on many plays; however, they didn't always run from those formations, sending out fewer receivers and keeping the extra linemen in to protect the quarterback.

The O-line wasn't pushed back nearly as much by Minnesota as they were by Miami. Although the only lineman worthy of mention is Nate Solder, who pulled off the rare trifecta of having three penalties on two plays. Nicely done, Nate -- just know that we'll all be expecting much better things from you in the coming weeks.

The oft-mentioned "running back by committee" predictably turned into the Stevan Ridley show. Ridley is the Patriots most complete back, and he showed it against the Vikings with 25 tough rushes for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also blocked well in blitz pickup. Shane Vereen might be more explosive (6 carries for 40 yards), but Ridley gets all the yards you could expect on every play, and sometimes breaks through to get more.

The receivers shared the wealth; six players had catches on just 15 total receptions. As usual, mister reliable Julian Edleman led the way, with 6 grabs for 81 yards and a touchdown. Rob Gronkowski is clearly still working his way back, unable to get the same separation down the seam -- but he still had 4 catches for 32 yards and his run-blocking is almost back to form. Tim Wright was a disappointment; after a decent first game at Miami, he had no catches and was targeted only once. And poor Danny Amendola -- his only catch was wiped out on a penalty.

Special teams had two great moments and a bunch of solid ones. The Jones blocked field goal was a great play by him, and that touchdown almost put the game out of reach before the half. The other great play was by special teams captain Matthew Slater, who literally bent over backwards to knock a punt away from the end zone so it could be downed at the 4 yard-line. Additionally, Stephen Gostkowski's "through the end zone" kickoffs not only neutralized the excellent Vikings' return game, but he hit all three field goals, including 47- and 48-yarders.

The coaches mostly did a 180 this week. Both the offense and defense started slowly, but both coordinators made very good adjustments and the Patriots were dominant in both phases for most of the middle of the game. But the maddening lack of offense in the second half can't become a habit if the Patriots hope to do well this season. Two field goals in the last 30 minutes won't win most weeks, so they have to improve their offensive adjustments at halftime.

So where does that leave us? 1-1 and tied for second (or tied for last) in the AFC East. And playing Oakland next week is the closest the NFL has to a bye week without actually having a bye week. So by the time you get next week's update, the Patriots should be 2-1 and on their way.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots won Sunday 30-7, and they won their previous meeting in Minnesota 31-7 in 2006. At that rate, the Vikings will notch their next home win over the Patriots by a score of 7-6 -- 192 years from now, the 2206 season. Here's hoping I'm around to blog about it :)

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "I'm just glad the coaches realized what everyone else knew already: that Chandler Jones is Cameron Wake, if they'll just use him the same way."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-1!

No comments:

Post a Comment