Monday, November 28, 2016

Patriots Defense Steps Up In 22-17 Win Over Jets

The Patriots defense stepped up several times in a tense 22-17 win over the Jets in New Jersey yesterday. The victory kept the 9-2 Patriots two games ahead of Miami in the AFC East and helped them stay with the 9-2 Raiders for playoff positioning. Next week the LA Rams come to Foxboro.

The defense should take a bow for this win. They caused two turnovers, made the Jets attempt a long field goal (which was blocked), and forced punts on four other possessions. They opened the game in a 3-3-5 alignment and mixed coverages while holding the Jets to 2.8 yards per rush (they average 4.3ypc), even with extra DBs on the field.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler knocked down two passes and had the aforementioned forced fumble (which he recovered). The fumble killed the Jets momentum and the Pats scored their first touchdown on that drive. Logan Ryan tied for the team lead with 7 tackles and he played decent coverage when matched up with the Jets Brandon Marshall. Eric Rowe made five tackles and even had a pass defensed.

The linebackers looked better with Dont'a Hightower not rushing the passer every down and Kyle Van Noy promoted to starter. There were still some holes in the short zones, but receivers were tackled faster this week. Elandon Roberts even made a tackle for a loss this week. And although all the linebackers combined had just ten tackles, that was mostly testament of the excellent play of the...

The defensive line didn't get great pressure on the QB, but they did everything else well. Malcolm Brown had 7 tackles, Alan Branch had 6, Trey Flowers had 4, Jabaal Sheard had 3, Vincent Valentine had 1, and Chris Long has 1 (a big one). Trust me, 22 tackles is a huge number from the defensive line in a Bill Belichick defense.

Long's lone tackle was a strip-sack that effectively ended the game when Flowers recovered. And Branch and Brown plugged gaps in the middle that gave the Jets running backs little room. Sheard looked good in his return, although no one on that line seems to understand how to hold the edge against the run.

The offense went as quarterback Tom Brady went, and it wasn't always perfect. Brady's right knee injury appeared to cause some accuracy issues, which is to be expected when the QB can't push off the normal way. He still completed 60% of his passes but his 89.2 QB rating was his lowest this season. Still, he threw two touchdowns to Malcolm Mitchell, so it wasn't all bad.

Speaking of Mitchell, his two TDs were both excellent catches, and he nearly had a third (just off his fingertips in the end zone). He has Brady's trust, and the coaching staff loves his blocking and route-running, so he could be in for a long ride with the team. As for the rest of the receivers, Chris Hogan was the long man (17.5 yards per catch), and Julian Edelman was back to being Mr. Reliable (8 catches for 83 yards).

Tight end Rob Gronkowski had no catches and left the game early with a back injury. Then Martellus Bennet injured his ankle, so the team had to use tackle Cameron Fleming at tight end for a while. The health of Gronk and Bennett is becoming a real concern as the team heads toward what will hopefully be a playoff run.

The other receivers were the running backs: James White caught four passes for 22 yards, while Dion Lewis had four of his own for 34 yards. White became much more reliable in Lewis' absence, so having both at the same time is quite the 1-2 pass-catching punch from the RB position.

Lewis also ran for 24 yards, but as usual the bulk of the running was done by LeGarrette Blount (67 yards). The Pats didn't stick with the run as long as they did against San Francisco, but it was effective when they ran (4.3 ypc in the game).

The offensive line allowed too many big hits on Brady, even though he wasn't sacked in the game. They were decent in run-blocking, and the pass pressure subsided when the offensive rhythm allowed quick enough passes. But they still have a lot of room for improvement, and it's up to coach Dante Scarnecchia to get that done.

As for special teams, I'll start with the good and go to the bad. Punter Ryan Allen did a great job pinning the Jets back multiple times. And Alan Branch powered through the center to block a field goal attempt late in the second quarter. However, kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed another makable field goals (39 yards), and it appeared the coaches went for it on fourth-down at least once because they were afraid Gostkowski might miss another.

He officially has the yips, and it's probably time to bring in another kicker, just for a tryout to see if you can light a fire under Gostkowski's ass. If the Pats make the playoffs, they can't be guessing whether their kicker will shank a 39-yarder. They just can't.

So where does that leave us? 9-2 and still sixth in points allowed on the season; not half bad. They have to get the kicking game shored up, and the O-line is a time bomb waiting to happen if they can't improve pass protection. Next week it's the Rams, and rookie Jared Goff could fare better than you think, if history is any indication.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: has to be Mitchell.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots have only four total possessions in the third quarters of the last three games combined.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Division games can be tough, but this one shouldn't have been *that* tough."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 9-2!

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