Sunday, September 27, 2020

Patriots Dispatch Raiders 36-20

The Pats took care of business, beating the visiting Raiders 36-10 at Gillette Stadium. The win kept them one game behind the 3-0 Bills in the division. Next up is a trip to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

If you'd never seen the Patriots under Bill Belichick, this was a clinic in how they won so much through the years. They didn't make critical mistakes, always took advantages of their opportunities, and waited for the other team to crumble under the pressure.

Las Vegas ran for 126 yards (5.7/carry) and their QB threw 2 TDs and 0 INTs for a rating of 119.4. Those stats might make you think they had a big day and won the game. But they lost three fumbles (including two by the QB), had too many penalties (6 total for 44 yards), and had three big special teams mistakes, including a killer missed field goal that would have tied the game in the second half.

On offense, it took a while for the Patriots to dump the run-pass-option plays, which were mostly stuffed early on. Once they started pitching to the outside and then doing quick-hitting inside runs, they took control of the clock and the game.

Rex Burkhead was the star of the game, running for 49 yards and 2 touchdowns and led the team with 7 catches for another 49 yards and 1 TD. Last week he was mediocre in the "James White" role, but with a week to prepare, he handled it a lot better.

The other running backs were no slouches, either. Sony Michel got 117 yards on just 9 carries (13 yards/carry) -- and he was very good on blitz-pickup. And rookie J.J. Taylor had 43 of his own on 11 carries. New England ran for 250 yards total, their second 200+ yard performance in three games.

Cam Newton was good, getting the Patriots into the right play repeatedly, although he did have a terrible interception. He was 17 of 28 for 162 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT (rating 73.8). Those are Tom Brady numbers... circa 2001, his first year as a Patriots starter.

Newton is developing nice chemistry with receivers N'Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd. But he does throw it downfield to covered receivers when there are receivers open for shorter gains. He threw into traffic twice and had that one really bad throw that was easily picked off.

The offensive line played great. The left tackle Isiah Wynn and fill-in left guard Mike Onwenu opened huge holes for the backs and most of the screen passes went that direction, too. The commentators pointed out that most of the snaps were under center (not shotgun), which probably owes Joe Thuney replacing the injured David Andrews at center.

The defense played well situationally, holding the Raiders to 3-of-9 conversions on third-down and forcing Las Vegas to settle for field goals early to keep the game close. The best example of that was after Newton's interception, when the Raiders got the ball at the Pats 14 yard line but had to settle for a field goal.

The secondary was up-and-down; sometimes with blanket coverage but giving up four passes of 20+ yards. The top three tacklers on the day were also from the secondary: Jonathan Jones (7), Adrian Phillips (7), and J.C. Jackson (6). And as a secondary, they knocked away 7 total passes and controlled one of the best receiving threats on the Raiders, Darren Waller

But Stephon Gilmore continues to struggle. It might be time to go back to last year's plan; man-up Gilmore on the opponents second best receiver and double-team their best receiver. Gilmore won the 2019 defensive player of the year, but he didn't take on the top receiver every week. The rules just don't allow a corner to shut down great receivers anymore; so it might be time to go back to the future in the secondary.

The defensive line held up well, especially doing a good job running sideline-to-sideline to cut off off-tackle runs. They sacked Derek Carr twice and recovered two fumbles -- one "returned" for a touchdown. Chase Winovich is playing great on the edge and Adam Butler is doing well stuffing the run inside.

The linebackers continue to be mostly invisible. Head coach Bill Belichick might have thought he could coach-up the young linebacking corps. But it's clear they simply lack the talent needed to cover the pass and are only serviceable against the run. Expect the Patriots to trade for at least one LB before the deadline.

Special teams were mostly very good. They kept the Raiders pinned back, only returned one kickoff they should have knelt on, and did a great job pushing Las Vegas on their last real possession -- when the defense sacked Carr in the end zone and recovered his fumble for a touchdown.

They did miss an extra point; but luckily it didn't come back to haunt them.

On the coaching front, offense coordinator Josh McDaniels excelled in his adjustments, coming up with a new plan when the initial one wasn't working. He called screen passes and outside runs to attack the Raiders both vertically and horizontally, and kept them off-balance the last three quarters of the game.

The only coaching hiccup was having to call three timeouts on defense in the second half. One was on the first play after they kicked off, and the last one was with 12:30 left in the game -- which meant they would not be able to challenge any really bad call on the field. No excuses; they need to do better and make sure the players know the personnel groupings so they don't make those mistakes.

Where does that leave us? 2-1 is good enough for now, and the game next week has they facing a Chiefs team that will be on a short week (just as the Raiders were this week). And after the next game, the "preseason" will be over and I'll write up my season preview :D

Biggest on-going problem: Line. Backer. See last week for details.

Non-QB MVP: Rex Burkhead went flying through the air and burrowing through small creases in the defense to be honored this week.

Statistical Oddity: As head coaches, Bill Belichick and Jon Gruden have only faced each other three times, and in those three games, Gruden's teams have scored fewer total points (33) than the Patriots scored yesterday (36). Probably goes without saying, Belichick is 3-0.

Water-cooler wisdom: "The Pats are building a strong team for the playoffs; tough defense and good running game."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 2-1!

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