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After Further Review: Signs of life from Pats offense as defense keeps forcing turnovers

20191216-AfterFurtherReview-PDC

First Quarter

-You'd think the Patriots would come out running against the Bengals 32nd-ranked run defense but instead the first two plays were passes, including a play action to Sony on the first play of the game where Brady overshot Sanu. This is the Patriots in a nutshell, do the opposite of what we think they will. The first run of the game came on the third play and was one of the cleanest runs we've see all year with Mason and LaCosse leading the way. Michel picked up eight yards on the play.

-James White's 23-yard screen pass touchdown was another well-blocked play, with Karras and Mason leading the way into the end zone. After avoiding the screen game last week against the Chiefs, the Pats executed this one to perfection as White had a convoy out in front of him. These kinds of plays just haven't been easy this year and it was refreshing to see a perfect screen in a situation where they've had a lot of struggles this season.

-The Bengals got 45 yards on back-to-back run plays to spark a touchdown-scoring drive. They came against the Patriots lighter 3-3-5 front, with John Simon at defensive end, and soon after the Pats would get away from this personnel package, but it was more about missed tackles than anything else. Jamie Collins couldn't bring down Mixon in the backfield on the first one and then Collins got sealed off on the second. Collins is a dynamic player in space but the physical part of the game can offset his athleticism at times.

-Tough matchup for Jonathan Jones on the touchdown as he ended up in man coverage on a tight end, Cethan Carter. Granted that tight end had never caught an NFL pass before but the size difference was a factor, Carter is 6'4". It was well-schemed by the Bengals.

-The Pats went three-and-out on their next possession, with a drop by James White looming large. It seems like Josh McDaniels likes to play with personnel groupings early on in the game and it's more about seeing how the opponent reacts than playing to the Pats strengths. They featured four wide receivers on the first snap (a Michel run) and their first snap of two tight ends on the one White dropped, before going back to their favored 11 for third down, an incompletion to Edelman.

-The defense would go to their 3-4 defense to counter the Bengals heavy running attack and the Bengals shifted to some short passes that had success getting them back into Patriots territory again. The defense would get a stop and hold Cincinnati to a field goal, but avoided their 3-3-5 nickel package, instead going to a 2-4-5 on third down.

Second Quarter

-It's hard not to give N'Keal Harry credit for his flying catch that didn't count because of an Edelman false start. Brady went right back to Harry and he delivered another good contested catch for a first down. He'd follow that up two plays later with a nice end around where he showed good patience in space to pick up his second first down of the drive. There was a clear intent to get Harry involved and this drive showcased his development.

-But it was not a great drive for Sanu, who was targeted on both third- and fourth-down incompletions. The Patriots are still waiting for Sanu to get back to the level he showed against the Ravens when he had 10 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Sometimes he's not on the same page as Brady, other times he's just not making the tough plays, especially on critical downs where Brady has been looking his way.

-The defense turned the course of the game on third- and fourth-down stops that were both great plays by Danny Shelton. When the Patriots defense is on there's a good chance Shelton is leading the way by dominating the middle of the line. Credit to the linebackers, especially Bentley and Roberts who were quick to fill as soon as the ballcarrier hit the line.

-Sony Michel's 12-yard carry was another well-executed play in the run game, with Mason pulling and leading the way, Matt LaCosse making a solid block to seal the defensive end, while Isaiah Wynn showed good ability to get to the second level and deliver the kind of block that has been lacking all season long. This might've been the best game of Wynn's young career. Pro Football Focus thought so.

-The pass blocking was rough on 3rd-and-11 just after the two-minute warning as even with six blockers they couldn't pick up a stunt, especially on the right side with Mason, Cannon and White. It wasn't pretty on the other side but Wynn was able to recover. It's surprising to see the line just get straight-up beat by things they usually handle.

-Great timing and subtle playmaking by Matthew Slater in forcing the muffed punt, as he just got a hand in right as Erickson caught the ball. Could've been a penalty but it was close enough that Slater got the call. The Patriots punt teams are on fire this season and will be a critical component for opponents to handle in the playoffs.

-Unfortunately the offense couldn't do anything with the extra possession. A failed screen pass that was disorganized, an overthrow by Brady (though it was a really tight window up the seam to Sanu) and a blown block off the edge by Cannon stalled the offense out and forced them to settle for a field goal. Those are the kind of situations in the playoffs where touchdowns will be an absolute necessity.

Third Quarter

-Stephon Gilmore grabbed his fifth interception of the season on the first third down of the second half and the defense never really looked back. It was another excellent play by Gilmore in a season filled with plenty of them, showing great body control as he caught the ball with one arm.

-The offense wouldn't spoil their second chance for points off a takeaway, with a screen pass to Michel leading the way with 14 yards. The protection was excellent on third down, allowing Brady enough time to find Harry has he uncovered in the end zone. It was a perfect complimentary sequence to start the second half and set the tone for the rest of the game.

-The train kept rolling with Gilmore's pick six, a perfectly read play that saw him jump the route just as the ball was thrown. Put this one at the top of his 2019 Defensive Player of the Year highlight video. Three-straight possessions with a takeaway and the score quickly went from a 10-10 tie to a 27-10 Patriots lead.

-Disappointing to see the Patriots offense unable to pick up a 3rd-and-1 as Carlos Dunlap squeezed through the line and got a hand on the ball, knocking it free. Luckily Michel recovered it himself and saved the Pats from a big turnover.

-Nice play by the Bengals on Dalton's pass to Eifert for 24 yards that he lobbed over Terrence Brooks. The Patriots sent pressure, but, as was the case for much of the day, the pass rush was a half step too late. The lack of finish from the pass rushers was one of the down points for a defense that took the game over with interceptions, including J.C. Jackson's first of the game coming a few plays later.

Fourth Quarter

-The Bengals would put together one last good drive, but only three plays of the 13 on the drive produced significant yardage as the elapsed 5:38 of time was the bigger factor. The Patriots slowly suffocated them out, holding Cinci to a field goal and maintaining a 14-point lead with under seven minutes to play.

-Rex Burkhead would effectively seal the game three offensive plays later after one play that featured three penalties on the Bengals. The 33-yard scamper featured great blocks by Matt LaCosse, Isaiah Wynn and a pulling Shaq Mason, plus Burkhead made an ankle-breaking cut to break free. These explosive runs have been missing all season long and this was a really positive moment to take away, especially considering it took the team over 30 points for the first time since mid-October.

-J.C. Jackson's second interception of the game put a nice button the defensive performance. The ball was underthrown but Jackson timed it perfectly. He's making a case for an expanded role and appears poised to be a full time starter next year after flirting with it in his first two seasons.

Personnel Packages

Offensive

  • 11 personnel - 37 snaps
  • 12 personnel - 9 snaps
  • 10 personnel - 6 snaps
  • 23 personnel - 6 snaps
  • 21 personnel (FB) - 3 snaps
  • 21 personnel (2RB) - 3 snaps

Defensive

  • 3-4 - 32 snaps
  • 3-3-5 - 9 snaps
  • 1-4-6 - 9 snaps
  • 2-4-5 - 4 snaps
  • 2-3-6 - 3 snaps
  • 4-3 - 1 snap

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