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After Further Review: Patriots-Bengals

Posted Oct 7, 2013

A film study of New England's Week 5 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

For the first time in 2013, we’re examining a New England loss. The 13-6 decision the Patriots dropped in Cincinnati was to a Bengals team that wasn’t all that great itself on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Here’s what stood out after a closer inspection of the game film:

1st Quarter – Offense

…I really like James Develin’s progression as a blocking fullback. He’s getting better and better each week. He started again in Cincinnati (his former club) and helped spring LeGarrette Blount for a four-yard gain on the first play of the game.

…New England’s first drive was a three-and-out, in large part because Tom Brady was sacked on 2nd-and-5. Develin was not in on this play. Blount was alone in the backfield, and there was a play-action the right side. All the o-linemen blocked down to the right, but left tackle Nate Solder did a poor job shielding his man, d-tackle Geno Atkins, who blew right past Solder and into Brady. The QB never had a chance. It looked like Brady was going to fire a pass downfield to the left, where he had two receivers streaking downfield.

Danny Amendola did not start in his return to game action. He came in on the 3rd-and-14, when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called a screen pass to running back Brandon Bolden. The Bengals read this play perfectly and stuffed Bolden well short of the sticks.

…On their second possession, the Patriots began again by running Blount to the left side, but again, Atkins was there to clog up the lane and limit him to just a couple yards.

…After a Kenbrell Thompkins reception gave the Patriots a 3rd-and-2, Brady was sacked again to thwart another drive. Solder was involved in this one as well. The Bengals sent a blitzer to the inside left, which Solder initially helped left guard Logan Mankins seal off, but this allowed defensive end Wallace Gilberry to invade the backfield untouched. It was just a split-second before Solder realized his error, but by then, it was too late.

…The third possession for New England was their best – and last – of the opening stanza, but this, too resulted in a punt. The first two plays were rushes by Blount. Good ones, in fact. The first picked up 10, off right guard, then 7 more to the left guard. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui did an excellent job on the first play to throw an inside block that gave Blount some extra room. On the next play, Cincy’s linebackers were several yards off the line of scrimmage and the o-line did its job there to let Blount slip through. It was an easy pickup for him.

…Thompkins made a nifty move to pick up a first down on the next play, ducking under the defender guarding him. But the very next play, Bolden dropped a wonderfully executed screen pass that might’ve had a chance to go the distance. Brady and the o-line set it up nicely after faking an end-around to Amendola. Bolden just took his eye off the ball too soon before he could secure it.

…Cincy’s d-line did its job on the next play, limiting Bolden to three yards on the ground up the middle. But it was Atkins again, on the next play, who proved the thorn in New England’s side. He simply drove Mankins back into Brady like a tackling sled. This prevented Brady from extending fully on his pass attempt, which fell far short of its intended target, Julian Edelman. Suffice to say, Atkins was the primary reason the Patriots couldn’t capitalize on offense in the first quarter.

1st Quarter – Defense

…New England came out in a traditional base defense (4-3), expecting the Bengals to run, which they did. Rookie Joe Vellano assumed Vince Wilfork’s place at defensive tackle.

…On the first play, linebacker Brandon Spikes, a virtual non-factor in Week 4 at Atlanta, read the play and shot into the backfield. But he overpursued and BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran straight past him, while the Bengals’ o-line did the rest up front to clear the way for him. Green-Ellis picked up an easy 13.

…The Patriots were in their nickel – Kyle Arrington coming in at corner and linebacker Dont’a Hightower coming off – the next three plays. Surprisingly, this was more effective against the run. New England managed to keep Green-Ellis to less than five yards on three straight between-the-tackle runs. Spikes was involved in stopping the first two of those. It’s not surprising that he was more a focus of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s game plan this week, as he is better at run-stuffing than Hightower.

…Rookie back Giovani Bernard took over for Green-Ellis on the second Bengals drive and was immediately dropped for a two-yard loss, thanks to a great effort by Hightower to fight off a block to his side. This slowed Bernard down enough for Spikes to swoop in for the tackle. The Patriots were in their traditional base again to start the drive.

…Nickel the next two plays. Chandler Jones, at his customary right defensive end spot, dropped Bengals QB Andy Dalton for a sack on the next play with pure athleticism. Jones knifed under his blocker with an inside move, then grabbed at Dalton’s legs as Jones fell to the ground. With one hand, he brought down Dalton. Jones fell because the left tackle held him. A flag was thrown, but New England declined because the sack was a better result. That play essentially forced the Bengals to punt two plays later.

…Like the Patriots, the Bengals had their best success on their third drive. They did so mostly by throwing, rather than running, with New England in a traditional base 4-3 to start the series.

…Nickel again after that. Dalton ran a read-option against it for a nice gain. Green-Ellis picked up a short couple for the first down, with Spikes bringing him down again.

…In base, Hightower got juked badly by tight end Jermaine Gresham in the open field. This is where Hightower is supposed to excel, but he’s been deficient so far in 2013. Then rookie tight end Tyler Eifert, who picked up a large gain on the opening play of the series, came back again with another big grab down the left seam. This time, Eifert ran past linebacker Jerod Mayo far too easily.

…Spikes came to the rescue again in the red zone when he intercepted an ill-advised pass by Dalton, throwing across his body to the left. Spikes simply held his ground on his responsibility and was in the right place at the right time, as a result. New England was in their base again on this play, the most we’ve seen of it so far in 2013 coming in this opening quarter at Cincinnati.

…Easily the MVPs of the first quarter were Spikes for the Patriots and Atkins for Cincinnati.

2nd Quarter – Offense 

…Amendola caught his first pass on the first play of the second quarter. His next target was a downfield throw on 3rd-and-7. Brady overshot the mark, resulting in a punt.

…During that first drive of the quarter, New England tried running the ball a few times with Blount. The o-line, however, wasn’t getting a great push off the line of scrimmage. Cincy’s d-line was holding firm, limiting Blount’s gains.

…On the next drive, Brady was again off-target, this time to Hooman on what would have been a nice long gain. The tight end had found an opening in the middle of the defense, but Brady just threw the ball badly behind him.

…Blount was on his way to making something happen as the Patriots were pushing deep into Bengals territory when he was stripped from behind of the football. I thought so watching the play live, and the film review confirmed it: Blount was carrying the ball properly with his right arm, but had no idea the defender was behind him, so, he wasn’t aware that he needed to protect it with two hands at that moment. Tough to assign blame to the ball carrier on that one. Just one of those plays that’s virtually unavoidable.

…In recent games, drops have plagued the Patriots’ receivers, but most of Brady’s incompletions in the second quarter at Cincinnati were a result of bad throws by him. No getting around it. The film clearly shows this. He put his receivers in difficult positions catch the ball when they appeared to be open enough that a better throw would have likely resulted in completed passes. The reason New England was able to get three points on the board at the end of the first half was a great catch by Amendola on a slightly high pass that he managed to haul in with a defender climbing up his back. That was a great individual effort by the receiver.

2nd Quarter – Defense 

…Base again to start the quarter, followed immediately by nickel. Patriots forced a three-and-out. Nickel seems to be New England’s stronger unit, by and large.

…Spikes made another nice read on the second Bengals possession of the 2nd when he shot an A-gap to bring down Green-Ellis for a loss.

…Slant patterns were getting the better of New England’s defensive backs on that second possession.

…Rookie d-tackle Chris Jones should thank Bengals lineman Andre Smith for his first NFL sack. The two were engaged at the line of scrimmage, with Jones bull rushing, when Smith just decided to stop and stand still, allowing Jones to run by him. Not sure what Smith was thinking, but Jones took advantage and rushed right in to bring down Dalton. Good thing, because the Bengals were driving with momentum and may not have settled for the field goal they ultimately kicked.

…With under a minute to go, New England went back into its base to defense what were obvious running plays by the Bengals, who were trying to run out the clock, but with New England holding all three of its first-half timeouts, Cincy’s play-calling was a bit predictable. The Patriots defense held on third down (from the nickel), forcing a punt and eventually kicking a field goal to knot the score at the half.

3rd and 4th Quarters –Defense 

…The Bengals offense looked as bad they did all day on their opening drive of the third quarter. A drop by Eifert, a poorly thrown pass by Dalton, and a great defensive play by Aqib Talib forced a quick three-and-out.

…Cincy’s offense was moving the ball on the next series, in part by exploiting the middle of New England’s defense with passes, before Chris Jones and Mayo combined for a sack that effectively forced the Bengals to kick another field goal. Jones got a good inside rush against the right guard, while Mayo came charging up the middle on a delayed blitz. No one was in the backfield to pick up Mayo, who arrived just as Jones was putting the clamps on Dalton. Good teamwork on that play.

…Another Mayo half-sack, shared with d-tackle Tommy Kelly, came early on the next Bengals drive. This was really all Kelly, however. He just made a basic, textbook move – attacking the blocker with a shot to the shoulder with his right hand, then brining his left arm across – to get right in Dalton’s face and nearly scoring a safety.

…Shame, though, that this nearly being a scoring play for New England wound up being the drive that sealed the game for the Bengals in the fourth quarter was what sealed the game for Cincy. Following that sack, New England surrendered back-to-back 28-yard plays – one pass to Marvin Jones, one run by Bernard – that instantly reclaimed the momentum for Cincinnati.

…It didn’t help that Kelly was injured during that drive, either. Simply from planting his right leg while pursuing Dalton from the backside. No one hit Kelly, it was just the force of his leg and foot hitting the ground at a certain angle that caused something in his right knee to give way. Kelly did come back for a play later, but was later ruled out for what was left of the contest.

…Talib didn’t have his best day. On the Bengals’ final scoring drive in the fourth, he allowed A.J. Green to get the better of him by falling for a juke move to the sideline. Green cut back to the inside and got down to the Patriots 6-yard line. The Bengals eventually punched in the score by adding d-tackle Domata Peko as a fullback for Green-Ellis.

…Peko’s false start only delayed the inevitable, because the Bengals ran the same play two plays later. With no Kelly in the game, New England used a “heavy” package of both Ninkovich, Vellano, both Joneses, Jake Bequette, and Dane Fletcher along the line. There was confusion prior to the snap, however, and this personnel grouping was late getting set, which may have contributed to their giving up the necessary yardage to Cincinnati. It was a shame, too, because the defense had played rather good football throughout the afternoon. This was their worst series of the day, and the offense didn’t support them nearly enough.

3rd and 4th Quarters – Offense

…Brady went from bad to worse in the second half. He had the offense moving on the opening drive, even going into Bengals terriroty, until he got indecisive on a 3rd-and-9. He had several receivers open, but uncharacteristically held onto the ball in the backfield. While trying to back away from oncoming pressure, a defender lying on the ground clipped Brady’s foot to take him down. It was a sack that never should have happened and the blame was all on Brady’s shoulder’s.

…Still, heading into the fourth, the Patriots were only down 10. It could easily have been cut to 3 if Brady had thrown a better lob pass to Solder, who’d reported eligible on a goal-to-go with about 6-and-a-half to play. Solder, lined up in a three-point stance on the right end of the formation, got separation from linebacker Rey Maualuga, but Brady overshot him. Again, poor execution by the QB. New England kicked a field goal, their final points of the afternoon.

…Just after the 2-minute warning, Brady and the O got the ball back again, but the heavy rains that soaked the field before the game returned at the most inopportune time for New England. This may have made throwing and holding onto the ball all the more difficult, yet, the Patriots were still driving into Cincy territory. Then, just as quickly as the rains came, they abated. However, Brady and his young group of receivers seemed to lose touch with one another. Aaron Dobson got open deep down the middle against Cincy’s prevent defense, running a post pattern, but Brady threw to the corner. He was nearly picked off on the play, had the defender been a bit closer to the overthrown ball.

…Brady again went Dobson’s way down the same left sideline two plays later, but this time the receiver was well covered and Brady threw horrible short, allowing cornerback Adam Jones to come down with the football and end the game. It was one of Brady’s worst performances I’ve seen from him in quite some time.

…As poorly as the offense played Sunday in Cincinnati, the Patriots as a team committed no penalties. They weren’t even flagged for any that were declined. Hard to believe, but this was the first time in four years that they’ve managed to go without a penalty in a game. Last time they did so was against their next opponent, the New Orleans Saints, in 2009.


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