Some thoughts on the Patriots after finally watching the Pats-Vikings All-22 Saturday:
-Minnesota sucks on offense without Peterson, and the Patriots took advantage like they haven’t so many times against bad offenses. They were wary of the read-option/Oregon scheme against Miami and did some weird stuff, but they turned their dogs loose in a good way last week. The Pats dialed up a lot of single high safety and press man looks and a lot less giving cushion and pattern-reading. Most of the (few) times Minnesota got receivers wide open were on hard run-action fakes, finding a few soft spots in zones, and when the pats got mixed up on bunch/crossing routes. Patricia called more stunts/blitzes than he has in the past, and a lot of them got to Cassel.
– The secondary was the best part of the game. Revis is savage at all times. He was in Jennings’ pocket all game and made some good reads and tackles in the run force. Ryan was all over Patterson, and Harmon and Chung looked better than week 1 opposite McCourty, who is a major asset. Arrington is solid, and Tavon Wilson even had his moments in coverage. Players like this on the back end change the game for what the coaches can do.
-Aided by that secondary — along with the Vikings’ O-Line, QB and backs — the front seven had a day too. Hightower tried to go around the tackle and didn’t set the edge on a couple outside runs, but was outstanding anyway. He was great in the pass game, getting good drops in zone and attacking when he sensed checkdowns, along with rushing the passer from a various spots. He and Chandler Jones massacred Vikings LT Matt Kalil rushing the passer at different points, and were both monsters in the run game. Ninkovich had a Ninkovich game, making some inexplicable plays for someone that looks and moves like him and never giving up while rushing the passer. Siligia had his moments, but the 300 LB+ club is why the defense can be even better. If Wilfork/Siliga can hold it down against the run, and Chris Jones/Easley can complement the outside pass rush, Belichick will have his best defense since he won a Super Bowl and it’s not close.
-I’m still not sure what the Pats are running on a lot of plays up front, but it probably involves of 3-4/4-3 combos that I can’t diagnose.
-Deontae Skinner was the biggest problem, and though he did get better as the game went on and got cut after the game, what he represents is a long term issue. With Collins out, pulling a guy of the practice squad and having him play both base and nickel signals that the Pats didn’t have a plan for their linebacker depth. It looked bad after they cut James Anderson, and it’s as bad as feared. Skinner looked like he had no idea what he was doing at the beginning of the game, probably because he didn’t. And the Pats didn’t have a better option. If Hightower/Mayo/Collins lands on IR, we might be done.
-Belichick and Caserio invested a lot of resources in the defense recently. It’s paying off. It has to because the offense is a problem right now. Here’s a list of the Pats’ offensive issues through two games
–Can’t break off a long run without penalties.
–Offensive line can’t execute any sort of zone run with regularity.
–Cannon may be as bad as Devey, affirming the reported fears of the coaching staff about aptitude at guard.
–The supposedly reliable tackles haven’t been much better.
–The center is the best lineman and he’s average.
–Gronk, who needs to be the best player on offense, is far from full form, which would be fine if this were 2011. It’s not.
–Tim Wright is probably a long way from being consistently relied upon.
-Good things about the offense:
–Gronk still gets open on those out routes against linebackers like clockwork.
–The Raiders. A 1 O’clock game at home against a West Coast team is huge for the state the offense is in right now. Ross Tucker also made the point on his podcast this week that old guys on their last big contracts playing for a coach they might not care about is a wonderful concoction for a disaster. The offense needs to get right this week for my sanity.
-Matt Slater, Don Jones, Nate Ebner and Stephen Gostkowski are showing why Belichick invests in special teams. Gostkowski has been the best player on the team this year.
Enlightening Screenshots of the Week
In this one below, Logan Ryan starts out on Patterson on the left, who then motions into the backfield. When he does, McCourty drops down and shifts onto Patterson.
In the next one (same play), Ryan transitioned into deep safety, and McCourty is on Patterson like the corner he once was. That’s Rutgers versatility and football smarts from two of Schiano’s finest.
This is the 3rd down that Skinner got burned on in the first drive. Skinner doesn’t realize/react where Ruldolph is going until it’s too late, and he has to wade through two other routes in the middle of the field. Skinner didn’t look like an NFL player because until Saturday, he wasn’t.
This is the blocked field goal. From left to right, the black Xs are Chandler Jones, Siligia, and Wilfork, and the two blue gaps are the gaps that all three were squeezed into.
Siligia stunted right, occupying Kalil’s (75) left and stretching him as thin as a man that big could be. Kalil tried to get Jones with his right arm, but Jones swam move’d around that and was on his way.
Belichick said on his conference call this week that the angle Jones had to take to block the ball was tough because the ball was on the far hash, so I included that such angle. Jones timed it up, and the game was over.