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After Further Review: Bills-Patriots

A film study breakdown of New England's Week 17 win over the Buffalo Bills.

1st Quarter - Offense*

...The offensive line, fullback James Develin, and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui did a wonderful job run-blocking for LeGarrette Blount and the other Patriots backs. They were using good technique to get leverage and driving their opponents downfield. Blount and the backs, meanwhile, also did a nice job of reading those blocks and cutting to openings in the line.


...On that long pass play where rookie WR Aaron Dobson re-injured his left foot, it didn't appear that there was any contact with the defender. Dobson's foot wasn't stepped on, it just seemed like when he planted the foot after several long strides, something gave way.

... The wet conditions seemed to have an effect on the handling of the football early on. Several of Tom Brady's throws were a little off-target, and some that were simply were dropped by his intended receivers.

1st Quarter - Defense

...DT Sealver Siliga has been a pleasant surprise as a run-stuffer since being called up from the practice squad several weeks ago. Against Buffalo, he was also responsible for a first-quarter strip of Bills QB Thad Lewis which forced Buffalo to kick a long field goal. Pressure from DE Chandler Jones flushed Lewis out of the pocket, and Siliga, who was being engaged by a blocker, stuck his right arm out as Lewis ran by and knocked the ball loose. Lewis recovered, but not before the ball had bounced backward several yards.

... New England's rush defense was very effective - an area where they've been vulnerable this season. The front seven was doing a great job of holding their ground, and they had some help from the secondary at times.

2nd Quarter - Defense

...Though he whiffed on the diving-at-the-legs tackle, rookie CB Logan Ryan still did a nice job of knifing into the backfield to slow down RB C.J. Spiller and allow Jones to mop up and bring him down for a two-yard loss. Ryan read the play well at the snap and left the receiver he was covering to shoot straight into the backfield. Ryan nearly had an interception on a deflected pass earlier in the game and continues to show positive signs of growth as a player, being in the right position more often than not to make plays.

... Great stand by the D on 4th-and-1 from the NE 44. Lewis kept the ball at the snap, but hesitated slightly in the backfield before trying to lunge forward. DE Rob Ninkovich came off the right side of the Bills' formation and was unblocked. He was on Lewis before the QB could advance. Ninko showed good speed on the play, considering he was limited in practice last week with a left ankle injury.

2nd Quarter - Offense

...Blount's first touchdown run was a thing of beauty all around. The Patriots were in a two-TE set, with Hooman and Matthew Mulligan flanking the left and right tackles, respectively. WR Julian Edelman was split wide left, with WR Danny Amendola motioning from the left slot toward the o-line and then back to the slot. At the snap, Buffalo had 10 men in the box, and left guard Logan Mankins initially engaged with a Bills d-lineman, but then shed him to go second-level and attack rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso a few yards downfield. That was the key block. Blount took the handoff into the hole on the left side behind Mankins, then cut to his right to a gaping hole in the defense. Mankins' provided the block that allowed Blount to make that cut, or else Alonso would've been in position to make the tackle for a short gain. Blount did the rest, accelerating past safety Jim Leonhard as he raced 30 yards down the sideline for the score.

...The wet football again seemed to be the cause of Brady's 3rd-down fumble of a shotgun snap that forced the Patriots to punt on a three-and-out series following Blount's touchdown.

...It's been nice to see the return of the screen pass in the New England offense of late. The Patriots have long been one of the best teams in the league at running this play, and OC Josh McDaniels has been calling more of them in recent games. Shane Vereen's 22-yard pickup on a screen in the 2nd Q was a great illustration of this. Brady faked an end-around to Amendola, which fooled the Bills' front and set up the o-line to get in screen blocking position. The three-man convoy of center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly, and Mankins did their jobs down field and Vereen gained some extra yards by slipping a would-be tackle by Alonso that would've stopped him short of the first-down marker. Vereen had another effective screen play later in the quarter that gained 15.

...On Brady's lone sack of the game, he initially had time to throw after a fine play-action fake. However, the Bills secondary had his receivers covered and he held onto the ball long enough to allow DT Stefan Charles to release from Mankins and shoot into the backfield. Brady saw the pressure coming and folded as Charles got his arms around Brady's shoulders.

3rd and 4th Quarter -Defense

...Rookie DT Chris Jones collected his sixth sack of the season on a key play - a third-down on the Bills' second possession of the second half. The play forced a three-and-out as well. Buffalo was in a "max-protect" formation, sending just two receivers out and keeping the other three eligible players back to help block for Lewis. Jones, however, muscled left guard Doug Legursky into the backfield. Chandler Jones and LB Dane Fletcher helped the rookie collapse the pocket onto Lewis, and when he had nowhere to maneuver, he fell to the ground and Jones was there to pounce on him. Good team effort there to force a Buffalo punt deep in their own territory.

...Ryan gave up a deep pass to WR T.J. Graham that helped set up a Bills TD in the 3rd. Graham ran a nice route to get separation from Ryan on a go-route. Learning experience for the still-maturing Ryan.

...Chandler Jones' hands-to-the-face penalty was a bit unfair, as left tackle Cordy Glenn also had shoved a hand into Jones' face. Either there should've been offsetting penalties or no flag thrown at all. Unfortunate for the Patriots, too, because it came on a down when the D had notched a sack of Lewis on 3rd-and-4. The Bills would've been forced to kick a field goal, but instead scored a TD two plays later.

...On said touchdown, Lewis did a great job of scrambling and improvising out of the pocket. He scampered to his left and pointed downfield to receiver Robert Woods in the end zone. This fooled three Patriots defenders, all of whom (playing zone defense) converged on Lewis, including CB Kyle Arrington, who found himself on Graham momentarily. Graham originally lined up wide left, but ran a short in-pattern toward Arrington. Arrington allowed Graham to release off him and turn up field, where there was a large patch of empty space between the line of scrimmage and Woods (who was guarded by safety Duron Harmon) in the back of the end zone. Lewis simply lofted a pass over the three players' heads. No one was guarding Graham as he reached the goal line and hopped into the end zone. Just an example of what an athletic quarterback can do and how a defense breaks down its coverage responsibilities to try to react.

...CB Aqib Talib had a nice game in terms of open-field tackling.

...Safety Steve Gregory, meanwhile, did not. He missed a few wide open shots, including one on RB Fred Jackson early in the 4th that resulted in a Bills TD. Taking the handoff at the NE 5, Gregory had Jackson dead to rights in the backfield, but the shifty back gave a quick fake to the outside that froze Gregroy. Jackson then darted inside and powered his way through LB Dont'a Hightower to cross the goal line.

3rd and 4th Quarter - Offense

...Right tackle Marcus Cannon had yet another holding penalty, his second in as many games and his third penalty overall in two games. It's been a bit of a sloppy end of the season for Cannon, who's played in place of injured starter Sebastian Vollmer much of the year. That was followed by a holding penalty on Wendell, who also has been flagged all too frequently of late. The flags on both players were legitimate in these two cases, as the footage showed.

...Vereen's touchdown catch at the start of the fourth looked similar to one he caught a week ago in Baltimore. Coming out of the backfield with the ball on the Buffalo 5, he ran a simple, short out-pattern. Edelman set a nice pick by running his defender into two other Bills to cause a traffic jam that allowed Vereen to be untouched as he collected the ball and waltzed over the goal line. The ensuing 2-point conversion to Edelman came as a result of the Bills overcompensating for Vereen. The play was to the opposite side of the field (the right), with Edelman again looking like he was in as a blocker for Vereen. When all the Bills defenders ran toward Vereen on the out-pattern, Edelman ducked underneath them to the vast expanse in the end zone where no one was covering him. Brady's pass was slightly underthrown, forcing Edelman to fall to the ground to catch it, but he was still able to convert. Nice work by Edelman.

...Develin delivered yet another key lead block on Blount's second touchdown run late in the 4th, and Hooman and Solder created two nice seals to open up a lane through which Develin and Blount could run. Team effort on display here in textbook fashion.

...Blount's two long returns were a testament to blocking by his teammates on the first one (83-yarder in the 3rd) and his own elusiveness on the second (62-yard effort in the 4th).

... The Patriots were extremely fortunate to have recovered all of their numerous fumbles and muffs during the game.

...Rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins returned to game action for the first time since injuring his left hip at Houston a few weeks back. He didn't get any significant action on the receiving end, but he put in solid work blocking on screens and running plays.

...Kudos to the special teams trio of long snapper Danny Aiken, holder Ryan Allen, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski for successfully converted on every extra point and field attempt despite the slippery football and unsteady footing on the soaked Gillette Stadium turf.

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