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After Further Review: Patriots ride fast defensive start to victory over Browns

20191028-AfterFurtherReview-PDC

First Quarter

-The offense got a nice 11-yard run off the right edge on the first play of the game, but went three-and-out after that, getting just one more yard behind Ben Watson at fullback and then two incompletions. One of those was a pass thrown behind Mohamed Sanu, the other was a throwaway. Not exactly the kind of strong scripted start the team had last week and it somewhat set the tone for an up-and-down night.

-The Browns went three-and-out on their first possession but had a good idea on third down with a quick bubble screen to Odell Beckham. The Pats had rushed six, leaving one-on-one coverage across the secondary. Beckham had two fellow receivers as blockers but the Patriots secondary did a great job of breaking down and making the tackle short of the sticks. This attack took the Patriots pass rush out of the equation but they still got the stop because they're excellent tacklers in space on top of everything else.

-Tom Brady's pinpoint 33-yard pass to Philip Dorsett was a perfectly executed third-down play. Dorsett is always good for two or three key catches every game and played nearly every snap as the top X-receiver. It will be interesting to see if N'Keal Harry pushes him for those snaps in the coming weeks.

-Sony Michel's best run of the game was a 16-yarder right up the middle behind Eric Tomlinson at fullback. Most impressive was the push and coordinated blocks that the offensive line got. Michel also got some yards-after-contact. More runs like this would be just what the Hoodie ordered.

-The Pats second drive flamed out at the two-yard-line with a stuffed run and a pass that should've been picked off. The short yardage issues continue for the team.

-Nick Chubb coughed up a fumble because his offensive lineman kicked it out, but credit to Kyle Van Noy for blowing up that offensive lineman and upending him. It was Dont'a Hightower's first score since his rookie debut in 2012 and another amazing start for a defense that just continues to make splash plays like these.

-Chubb got the ball back on the next play after the score, a tosser right that has given past Patriots defenses problems in the past. Chubb cut it up hard and the Pats missed four tackles on him before Jonathan Jones chased him down and forced another fumble. Lots of sloppy broken arm tackles. This might've been a game had Jones not made that excellent play.

-Lawrence Guy's interception on a shovel pass made three-straight plays with a turnover for the Browns and effectively ended the game, setting up the Pats on the 11-yard-line. They'd make it 17-0 two plays later and that would be enough to win the game. It was a disruptive and athletic play by Guy to get his first career interception.

Second Quarter

-The Patriots protection was overwhelmed on third-and-six, resulting in a sack and a punt. Brady seemed to be looking for Sanu but there just was no time for the play to develop, every receiver still had their back to Brady as the rusher arrived. It's plays like this where the offense still looks a ways off.

-The Browns muffed a punt as Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel, the all-world gunner duo arrived at the same exact time. It was almost an immediate dividend from the Patriots dedication to special teams. The Browns managed to recover it, but expect more of these kind of plays that could really swing some important games.

-The Browns only touchdown of the game came as Mayfield found his tight end Harris matched up on Dont'a Hightower all alone downfield. It was an underthrown pass and that helped Harris lose the coverage of Hightower. It was a straightforward pressure led by the three defensive linemen then Simon and Roberts coming late. There was really nowhere else to go with the ball and as Tony Romo pointed out, Hightower might've made the play if he had outside leverage.

-Sanu converted a 4th-and-four just barely but it was a nice button on an okay debut. The new receiver looks like he still needs some refinement but showed good physicality and compete level. He's got quick feet off the line but it will be a process of getting him where Brady wants with efficiency of movement.

-The offense had a long drive in the second quarter that summed up a lot of their struggles. It ended in a blocked field goal. Cleveland took three penalties on the drive that gave the Pats three first downs. Other than a 23-yarder to Edelman, the drive was plodding with just six other plays netting yardage, none more than seven yards.

Third Quarter

-The Browns put together a pretty good drive to open the second half that went 12 plays and ended in a field goal. It was a good balance of run and pass, with Chubb picking up 31 yards himself. The Patriots had some issues with run fits in this game, as Chubb was able to navigate through small holes and turn them into big gains.

-With the score 17-10 and the Patriots facing a third-and-10 it was a turning point in the game as James White grabbed a screen pass and took it 59 yards. Not a lot was easy for the Patriots offense in this game, but this kind of big play changed the course of the game.

-The offense also picked up a third-and-1 two plays later that was almost stopped in the backfield. Michel kept his balance as he was hit in the backfield, he then buried his head to pick up the extra yard behind Brandon Bolden, playing his first snap of the game at fullback. In all the offense used four different fullbacks, led by Eric Tomlinson with the most snaps.

Fourth Quarter

-Stephon Gilmore almost had another interception early in the fourth quarter. His awareness downfield is remarkable as he seems to have an uncanny sense of where the ball is going and the foresight to drop off his man coverage for the exact right spot. Quarterbacks have to be really aware any time they're throwing near Gilmore.

-Sanu's 19-yard catch in the fourth was a sign of things to come. He was strong off the line and Brady hit him with a dart, perfectly in stride. Those are the kind of plays, with run-after-catch that the offense could use more of.

-Ben Watson's 26-yard catch was a throwback to 2009's opener when Brady hit the tight end for two touchdowns up the seam on near-identical plays. It was Watson's only catch of the night as he played a role that included snaps at fullback and the primary 11 personnel tight end. Getting Watson, Edelman and Sanu all on the same page should be a priority, because they can be an effective trio inside the formation.

Personnel Groupings

Offense

  • 11 personnel - 23 snaps
  • 21 personnel - 15 snaps
  • 10 personnel - 12 snaps
  • 12 personnel - 10 snaps
  • 20 personnel - 20 snaps
  • 23 personnel - 1 snaps

Defense

  • 1-4-6 - 17 snaps
  • 2-4-5 - 14 snaps
  • 2-3-6 - 14 snaps
  • 3-4 - 10 snaps
  • 3-4 (light) - 8 snaps
  • 1-3-7 - 6 snaps

10 Takeaways

  1. Three takeaways on three-consecutive plays in the first quarter set up enough points to win the game. The defense continues to amaze and play at a historic pace and that's unquestionably the headline of the first half of 2019.
  2. The offense continued to throw a lot at the wall, as big plays to Dorsett, White and Edelman were enough and there were spot chip-ins by guys like Michel, Watson, Sanu and Meyers.Getting more consistent production from those behind Edelman and White continues to be a focal point.
  3. Sanu didn't do much but between his run blocking, quickness off the line and high compete level, it's clear there's plenty to be excited about with him.
  4. Didn't think it was the best game for Danny Shelton and Dietrich Wise, who saw a spike in base 3-4 playtime as Adam Butler reverted back to more of an interior rush role only. Wise gets upfield but looks out of sync within the defense at times. Still, he brings great energy to the field.
  5. Chubb had more success than anyone would like as tackling was sloppier than we've seen. Shelton wasn't quite as dominant inside as we've seen him be and that opened some creases.
  6. We can hope that getting Isaiah Wynn and Shaq Mason back will spark Sony Michel and the ground game, but after eight weeks that might be asking a lot. The run game had more positive plays than we've seen but was still inconsistent and especially ineffective inside the red zone.
  7. Jamie Collins was all over the field against his old team, leading the team in tackles and getting 1.5 sacks. In a game where Hightower and Van Noy were more quiet than expected, Collins stepped up and showcased his athleticism once again.
  8. Blocked and missed kicks for Mike Nugent will do little to inspire confidence and at this point it seems like we've just got to accept the Pats won't try long field goals and even the short ones they do try will be iffy.
  9. The overall health of the team is pretty impressive at the halfway point. If the last two first-round picks Wynn and Harry come back in the next couple weeks, it should be a really good boost in areas of need. The center and tight end spots are what they are for this year and unless the team makes a move in the next 24 hours it looks like this is the group they'll head to the playoffs with.
  10. Brady continues to hang tough and make plays though it looks like this is one of the clunkier offenses he's quarterbacked in recent memory. Continuity is a big part of that battle though and if the guys they have can stay healthy now we could really start to see some progress from the offense after the bye week. They'll need to be ready for a game when the defense doesn't force multiple turnovers and score points.

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