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After Further Review: Patriots offense shows signs of life in soggy win over Cowboys

20191125-AfterFurtherReview-PDC

First Quarter

-The Patriots got 25 rushing yards from Sony Michel on his first three carries and a prominent feature was Matt LaCosse with three nice wham blocks. LaCosse had just one catch in the game but his blocking was under the radar and a nice part of a running game that found some success in this contest.

-The offense used some creative packages on their third possession, bringing on Marshall Newhouse as a third tackle and using Brandon Bolden and Elandon Roberts as fullbacks. It produced one nice 17-yard run, but a Tom Brady sack on the third down forced a punt.

-Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon both had some down plays in this one, both had reasonable excuses, but overall Wynn's athleticism continues to jump off the film. He might have some trouble with bigger bull rushers, but he moves extremely well and has the ability to pass off rushers and shows great lateral agility.

-The defense got strong performances out of their front seven right out of the gate, led by Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy who were consistently winning the line of scrimmage for most of the night. The Cowboys had some screen success, a good formula against the Pats D, but it wasn't enough.

-Matthew Slater's blocked punt was a key turning point in the game as the Patriots made an effort to challenge the Cowboys' ball handling on special teams. Slater continues to put forth one of his best seasons yet. He returned a J.C. Jackson blocked punt for a touchdown against the Bill in Week 4.

-N'Keal Harry would pick up his first touchdown, becoming the 75th different player to catch one from Tom Brady, as he was isolated and thrown a fade. This kind of clear intention to get Harry involved and playing to his strengths is a good sign and shows promise that Harry will continue to get a couple chances per game to make plays.

Second Quarter

-The Patriots played plenty of a 3-3-5 personnel grouping on defense that features John Simon at defensive end and Patrick Chung in a linebacker role (though we'll still count him as one of the five DBs since this isn't really a traditional 3-4). Chung showed why he's so good on a second-and-2 where he charged through the line and made the stop on Ezekial Elliott. Not many safeties can make that kind of play and it was a prime exhibit of what makes Chung so valuable.

-The next play was Stephon Gilmore's interception, as athletic a play as you'll find in the NFL. It's one thing to hold Amari Cooper without a catch, it's another when Gilmore actually gets more catches than he had. Gilmore continues his MVP-type season.

-The Cowboys had some success on the ground in the second quarter but the Pats Bend Don't Break defense was in effect, holding them to a field goal after some nice gains on the ground. Still, none of them were explosive gains and the Cowboys struggled to find double-digit play production. Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy continue to be the anchors up front.

-Jakobi Meyers catch-and-run on first down for 32 yards was one of the nicest of the year. He not only broke a tackle but made another guy miss, picking up extra yardage. Those kind of plays have been lacking this season and it was nice to see Meyers exert his will a bit.

-One thing that continually stands out about the defense is how physical they are. This was the opposite of how they looked against Baltimore when they were on their heels and making wrong reads. The entire defense flies to the ball and arrives with a bad attitude. It's fun to watch.

-The last drive of the first half ended in a missed 48-yarder but it seemed like they could've thought about going for it on fourth down. James White was surprisingly quiet in this game, getting tackled for a three-yard gain on this drive when it looked like he might break it. Not sure why White's role was reduced.

Third Quarter

-Not much was happening for either offense in the third quarter, but Brandon Bolden's 11-yard run was one nice play. Bolden has been a jack of all trades this season and seems to chip in with an end around or similarly designed play in every game. He's provided some spark.

-The conversion on third-and-20 to Edelman was a nice little reminder of just how dangerous the Brady-Edelman connection continues to be in key moments. Edelman looked like he was fighting through a lot in this game, as keeping him healthy this season has been an uphill fight and there's still five regular season games to go.

-Shaq Mason was beaten cleanly on a 3rd-and-11, as the defender slipped right past him for the sack. It wasn't Mason's best game, but Wynn's footwork on this play was impressive even though it forced the team to punt.

-Jonathan Jones has played from safety depth this year a bit, not to call him a safety but it gives him leverage to use his speed as it did on a nice read-and-react play where he came downhill and stopped Randall Cobb short of the sticks. Jones had a solid night though he was a bit overshadowed by Gilmore.

-The offense gave their heavy packages a go again in the third but they didn't produce much. Never good to see eight players along the offensive line and they all get blown back.

-The Patriots played plenty of special teams games with the Cowboys, including putting no one back on a punt return and stacking the line with defenders. It was another example how well Bill Belichick prepares his team and puts pressure on opponents with creativity.

Fourth Quarter

-Nice plays by Sony Michel (15-yard run) and Jakobi Meyers (10-yard catch) helped spark the best offensive drive of the day that would tack on the final field goal. It was good to see two players the team badly needs to step up in some key moments with the game on the line.

-Meyers would add another third-down conversion just one play after missing a pass from Brady. Nice sign to see the quarterback go back to the rookie in a critical situation after a miscue.

-Nick Folk's 42-yard field goal to extend the lead to seven points was a confidence-inspiring kick despite his other two misses. Folk has been better than Mike Nugent, not to say that's a very high bar.

-The defense would give up the biggest play of the game -- 52 total yards to Randall Cobb -- but clamped down inside the red zone with just a one-score lead. It's that kind of mental toughness, not losing their fundamentals just because they gave up a big play, that bodes well for the defense in key moments.

-Edelman's 23-yard diving catch was a highlight moment in the rain and was a huge key toward the end of the game. Edelman continues to make clutch plays look easy in every game and he does it while playing through injuries.

-Sony Michel's 12-yard run at the end of the game to pick up a first down was the kind of clutch performance we haven't seen enough of this year. It was still inconsistent overall, but there were a lot of good runs sprinkled throughout.

Personnel Packages

Offense

  • 11 personnel - 56 snaps
  • 22 personnel - 7 snaps
  • 13 personnel - 2 snaps
  • 12 personnel - 1 snap
  • 21 personnel - 1 snap

Defense

  • 3-3-5 - 23 snaps
  • 1-4-6 - 16 snaps
  • 2-4-5 - 12 snaps
  • 3-4 - 9 snaps

10 Takeaways

  1. Stephon Gilmore is playing like the best cornerback in the NFL. His four interceptions isn't overwhelming but still an amazing stat considering the guys he is covering and how little targets they often get.
  2. Offenses seem to have a lot of their success on screen passes as the Patriots aggressive defense has been susceptible to those at times this year. Those are the only kinds of plays that seem to consistently give them problems.
  3. This was a great game for Jakobi Meyers. Yes, he had his drops and missed connections but Brady kept looking to him and he delivered multiple third-down conversions.
  4. Brady continues to do enough to help his team win. Avoiding turnovers has been his greatest strength these last two games while he continues to make clutch throws when needed.
  5. If there's an area to harp on it's inside the red zone where the offense continues to fizzle out too often. As mentioned in the game observations, once they start finishing short-field drives with touchdowns they'll really start putting up the kind of points we're used to.
  6. Can Sony Michel build on this game? He'll have a great chance against Houston this weekend. Really, if Michel gets on track it will help everyone on offense a great deal.
  7. We have not see the last of the N'Keal Harry back shoulder fade. Brady seems ready to start giving the rookie some chances on jump balls. Still would love to see more decisive route running from Harry to help him get an extra step.
  8. I continue to be extremely impressed with Isaiah Wynn. He's still very early in his NFL career and I don't know what his ceiling this season is and how much he can fix the offense's struggles but he has rare movement skills for a man of his size.
  9. The defensive front will get a useful test this weekend against Deshaun Watson, who is a version of what they struggled with in Lamar Jackson, albeit more a thrower than runner. When they're aggressive and dictating they are really tough to move the ball on.
  10. The Pats have two true tests coming up, at Houston and vs. Kansas City, and there should be reasonable optimism that they'll bring their best offensive games to those matchups. As for the defense, containing Watson will do a lot for their confidence.

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