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Bridgestone Performance Review: Patriots-Vikings

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1st Quarter

…The opening drive wasn't a good one for the Patriots defense. They were trying out various looks and personnel groupings and allowing Minnesota's tight ends to get open on underneath routes, which they then turned into big yards-after-catch gains.

…On the Vikings' lone touchdown of the day, running back Matt Asiata was alone in the backfield behind QB Matt Cassel. From the right side of the formation, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was motioning to the left. At the snap, he was right behind Cassel, who faked a handoff to him that drew the attention of nearly every Patriots defender. Asiata, meanwhile, has squirted out of the backfield to the empty space on the right vacated by Patterson. DE/OLB Rob Ninkovich was doing a good job of holding his ground in that area and could have broken off to cover Asiata. Had he done so, though, he'd have risked the very mobile Cassel running free for a first down or more. Ninkovich went after Cassel, trusting that one or more of his teammates behind him hadn't fallen for the ruse. Sadly, they had, and their pursuit was too late. Asiata made the catch, turned up-field, and headed straight for the goal line. Made it look easy.

…Next possession for Minnesota, on 2nd-and-16 from their own 15, they came out with two receivers left, one to the right, with two men in the backfield for Cassel, who was in the shotgun. Devin McCourty was the deep safety for New England on the left hash (from the defense's perspective) and drifting toward the single receiver on the Minnesota right. Cassel first faked a handoff to his running back going left, then pump-faked toward where McCourty was stationed. Cassel quickly turned his head to the left and fired downfield for his outside receiver, Jarius Wright, whose pattern took him inside along the left (defensive right) hash marks. McCourty wasn't fooled by the initial fake and didn't have much ground to make up to slide over and assist cornerback Kyle Arrington, who would not have been in position to make a play, it seemed, on Wright. McCourty stepped in front of Wright for the ball, and his momentum took him to the ground, but he was never touched, so, he got up and kept running toward the end zone. He nearly made it, but got pushed out at the last moment. He said afterward that he "should've cut inside" the Viking who stopped him just short of the goal line, but upon reviewing the tape, that option might not have helped, as a pair of other Vikings were closing in. McCourty chose the right path, he just missed getting the score by inches.

…RB Stevan Ridley got New England's tying touchdown a couple plays later. The Patriots had two tight ends in the game, plus fullback James Develin in the backfield in front of Ridley, and rookie o-lineman Cameron Fleming as a tackle eligible on the left side. Michael Hoomanawanui was in a three-point stance on the right, and Rob Gronkowski motioned left from a three-point stance behind Hooman before the snap. When he got to the other side, behind Fleming, the ball was snapped and Tom Brady handed to Ridley going left of center, but still between the tackles. Ridley followed Develin's block and found just enough of a crease through which to slide – just barely – over the goal line. Minnesota's front had gotten decent penetration, but the short-yardage play was all Ridley needed to knot the game.

…The quarter came to an end with a nice effort by Chandler Jones to sack Cassel. Jones was playing a stand-up outside linebacker position on the right side and bull rushed the left tackle at the snap, getting leverage underneath the blocker's arms. As Jones got to Cassel's back, he reached around the left tackle and grabbed Cassel's jersey from behind. This forced Cassel to step up in the pocket and abandon his passing hopes. Jones shoot free of the tackle and continued back into the pocket to pursue Cassel, who was trying to elude Ninkovich and d-tackle Sealver Siliga. Jones got to him again and brought him down for a three-yard loss. Nice hustle by Jones.

2nd Quarter

…It got worse for Cassel later in that same drive as it spilled into the second quarter. From his own 38, Cassel faced 2nd-and-10. He had a trips right and single receiver left, with a back next to him in the shotgun backfield. In the trips, Cassel had WR Greg Jennings in a slot position, covered by Darrelle Revis. Jennings ran 10 yards and gave a shoulder feint like he was going to turn to his inside left, but then reversed course and headed outside to his right. Revis didn't buy the juke move. In fact, he jumped ahead of Jennings to where he expected the receiver to continue his route. Cassel made an ill-advised decision (from his perspective) to try to force the ball to Jennings anyway. Revis's anticipation put him in a better position to make the play on the ball. So much so that it looked like he was the intended receiver on the play. Revis admitted afterward that he's seen that same route earlier in the game and gambled that it would be run the same way on that play. Turned out he was right, and it garnered him his first INT as a Patriot.

…Julian Edelman had another great day catching the ball. He was particularly clutch on third down on the drive following Revis' INT. On 3rd-and-14 from the NE 35, he faked inside then cut to the outside and ran down the left sideline. Brady initially faked an inside handoff then spotted Edelman and threw to his back shoulder. The Vikings corner tried to make a play on the ball, but the throw was precise and Edelman backpedaled away from the defender after making the catch. It eventually took safety help coming from the middle of the field to shove Edelman out of bounds… 44 yards later.

… Edelman next came up with a 3rd-and-4 catch that moved the sticks in the Vikings red zone. He motioned toward the line of scrimmage from the wide left side, then ran a 4-yard curl pattern, caught the ball, ducked under the oncoming defender, and dove for an extra two yards. Great awareness of his surroundings, because he was about to get clobbered in the head.

..Very next play, from the slot left this time, Edelman ran a nice corner route with his defender playing five yards off him. Edelman was never touched as he ran what amounted to an easy pitch-and-catch play from Brady, who softly lobbed the ball where only Edelman could reach it near the back corner pylon.

…What might have been the play of the game came just as the first half was about to expire. Minnesota's Blair Walsh lined up for a 48-yard field goal attempt, left hash. Jones was lined up third from the defensive left of the Vikes' long snapper. At the snap, he pivoted his body clockwise to fit through an opening in the Minnesota line, caused when the blockers to either side of him blocked down and away from him. Jones took a step forward and leapt high, extending both arms as high as he could. Luckily for Jones, the ball hit the ground and bounced back up directly to him and all he had to do was hold on and outrun the Vikings kicker and holder to the end zone, which he did. But the play was the result of well-executed technique by Jones to fit his big, long body in between the narrowest of spaces.

3rd Quarter

...Two special teams plays in a row highlighted here. Patriots punts aren't usually big plays, but Ryan Allen's boot after the first drive of the second half qualifies, thanks to co-captain Matthew Slater. Playing his gunner position on the left side of the punt formation, Slater headed for the hash marks and sprinted down inside the Vikings' 5-yard line. Minnesota was late in organizing their punt return unit, so Slater's vice defender was playing off him by about 8 yards, allowing Slater the room to run full-speed to his destination. Slater arrived just before the ball, which was behind him over his right shoulder. Slater reached back with his right arm and managed to slow the drop of the ball so that he could down it just outside the Vikes' goal line. Great concentration and awareness by Slater to make a tough play that gave New England's defense tremendous field position advantage over Minnesota.

…Logan Ryan notched New England's third INT of the day with another great individual effort. Marking Patterson one-on-one on the far defensive left, Ryan baited Patterson into getting inside him on his deep corner route. The cornerback wanted to place himself between the receiver and Cassel, because, as he noted later, he had seen this route earlier (much the way Revis did on his pick). Letting Patterson run essentially free, with just a nominal bump at the line of scrimmage, gave Ryan the position he needed to jump under Patterson's route and step in front of Cassel's pass. Superb recognition and athleticism by Ryan to complete the play.

…LB Dont'a Hightower brought Cassel down for the second sack of the game late in the third quarter. On 3rd-and-8 from the Minnesota 34, Cassel had another trips right, single-back shotgun formation. Hightower rushed from the defensive right side and engaged the left tackle. Hightower got underneath leverage much like Jones did earlier on his sack, but this time, the linebacker was able to duck underneath the Viking blocker and bear down on Cassel unabated from behind. Excellent rush move by Hightower.

The New England Patriots visit TCF Bank Stadium for their Week 2 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.

…Left tackle Nate Solder's double penalty on the first play of the next possession was a rare sight. He was beaten badly by DE Everson Griffen's speed-rush and had no option but to make an effort to slow him down by grabbing him from behind. The contact didn't last long, but it was certainly both a block in the back and a hold, as the referee announced. Only one penalty can be accepted on any given play, however. The Vikings chose the holding call. A rattled Solder then false-started on the next play. Looked like he reacted to Brady's hard cadence. There was no discernable movement by the Vikings defense that would have caused Solder to flinch.

4th Quarter

…Jones sacked Cassel again in the fourth quarter, on a 2nd-and-6 from Minnesota's 24. Cassel was in a shotgun again, with trips left. New England was in a nickel D, with Jones playing standup outside 'backer on the defensive right. Again, he took the left tackle head on, tossing him to the ground this time. Cassel began scrambling to his right, but Jones dove for the QB's ankles and wrapped them up. Four-yard loss.

…The Vikings turned the tables on the next possession, bringing Brady down on 1st-and-10 at the NE 31. From under center, Brady dropped back and play-action faked. When he turned back around, he had no time to throw because backup d-tackle Tom Johnson was at his feet. Johnson used great technique to shove left guard Marcus Cannon back at the snap. As Cannon tried to recover, Johnson gave him another shove to the chest. Center Dan Connolly slid over to try to help, but Johnson knifed between him and Cannon and wrapped up Brady by the legs.

…Cassel was stripped of the ball on his next sack – a corner blitz by Kyle Arrington. New England had nine men at the line of scrimmage to cover Minnesota's trips left shotgun formation. At the snap, Arrington let his man go by him, knowing that he had safety help just a few yards behind him. Arrington shot into the backfield and swiped at Cassel's arm to jar the ball loose.

…Cassel was picked a fourth and final time on the very next play. Asiata released from the backfield and cut back across the line of scrimmage a few yards down field. Cassel's pass was a little high, and when Asiata reached up for it, the ball bounced off his hands and up in the air. Rookie d-lineman Dominique Easley made a nice diving effort to catch the ball before it hit the ground. Not entirely Cassels' fault, but a great play by the rookie Easley, nonetheless.

…On what appeared to be a delayed blitz, Ninkovich registered the fifth sack of Cassel Sunday. Working in tandem with Hightower, the two defenders were on the defensive left. At the snap, Hightower took on the right tackle. Cassel's running back, rookie Jerick McKinnon, chose to help out and double-team Hightower, leaving Ninkovich a clear path to the QB. Cassel had no chance. Poor decision by McKinnon.

…Hightower ended a miserable day for Cassel a few plays later. Coming on an all-out blitz, Hightower just sidestepped left tackle Matt Kalil. Two other Patriots had broken through the line and were charging at Cassel, but as Cassel tried to elude the first, he ran right into Hightower's grasp for a 14-yard loss.

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DO YOUR JOB: Logan Ryan - It would be easy to single out Chandler Jones for his impressive one-man show against Minnesota, but Ryan shouldn't be overlooked. With Darrelle Revis almost exclusively guarding WR Greg Jennings, the task of shutting down Cordarrelle Patterson was left to Ryan, who limited the Vikings' multi-threat weapon to just 4 catches for 56 yards. Throw in an interception for Ryan and it amounted to a solid performance for the second-year corner.

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