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Random Thoughts: Defense holds Jags in check

The Patriots defense made some strides in the Patriots 51-17 victory over Jacksonville.

The Patriots rolled to their third victory of the season with a 51-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here are some random thoughts from the big win.

Preseason feel – The Patriots took care of business and dusted off the overmatched Jacksonville Jaguars but there didn't always seem to be a tremendous amount of intensity on the field. Stephen Gostkowski opened the game with a high kickoff that landed just inside the end zone.Corey Grant returned it to the 16 as the Patriots coverage unit was outstanding. Based on Gostkowski's other kickoffs this season it appeared that Bill Belichick intentionally had his kicker try to boot it high and shorter than normal. His next two attempts also went very high but Grant chose to take the touchbacks. Belichick may have wanted to use the game to work on kick coverage, although the coach would certainly never using such an approach.

Fullbacq – We've seen rookie Shaq Mason line up at fullback on a number of occasions this season and on Sunday he enjoyed some success in the role. Mason saw extensive action at his normal left guard spot but he did a nice job leading the way at fullback on LeGarrette Blount's 9-yard run to a convert a third-and-one early in the third quarter. Mason rumbled downfield before taking out cornerback Peyton Thompson while Blount easily moved the chains. Mason also was at fullback when Tom Brady successfully picked up a first down with a sneak in the first half. Mason paved the way for another successful Blount carry on third-and-one later in the game and was part of the goal line package in garbage time as well.

Defensive strides –After struggling for much of the season's first two weeks, the Patriots defense showed some progress against Jacksonville. Admittedly the Jags aren't exactly high-powered on offense, but New England did a nice job of smothering the visitors most of the afternoon. The Patriots held Jacksonville to 213 total yards and 11 first downs while taking a commanding 44-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Jags finished with 293 totals yards and 15 first downs. The biggest area of improvement was run defense where the Jags managed just 55 yards and a 2.9-yard average with rookie T.J. Yeldon held in check. The Patriots used various looks to stop the run with Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown rotating up front with Jerod Mayo seeing periodic action on early downs.

Defensive strides II –The play in the secondary wasn't quite as sharp as the work up front but there were some changes to the lineup that could pay dividends down the road. Bradley Fletcher was a healthy scratch and was replaced by Justin Coleman in his role as the nickel back. Logan Ryan started in place of Tarell Brown, who suited up but did not play after dealing with some foot issues last week. Ryan moved into the slot when Coleman came on the field and that group never allowed Blake Bortles to get in rhythm. There were some minor hiccups – such as Allen Hurns' 59-yard touchdown catch where he beat Malcom Butler and Duron Harmon – but overall it was better than in previous weeks.

Minding the gap –One interesting wrinkle the Patriots defense has displayed early in the season has been Jamie Collins picking a gap with some blitzes. Collins often appears to hide behind an interior rusher, waits for that player to occupy blockers, and shoots into an open area. Against the Jags Collins bought his time behind Rob Ninkovich, who occupied two blockers and Collins eventually shot through almost untouched.

Nitpick department –Early in the game the Jags faced a third-and-15 from the Patriots 22 while trailing 10-0. Bortles' pass fell incomplete but there was a holding penalty called on the visitors, creating a decision for Belichick. The coach chose to decline the penalty rather than set up a third-and-25 from the 32, which would have been on the fringes of field goal range for Jason Myers. It also would have given the defense a chance to make a play against an inexperienced quarterback. Myers eventually booted a 40-yard field goal to put the Jaguars on the board.

Nitpick II –This one really doesn't deserve even a nitpick but rather a mention. During the same Jaguars drive that resulted in a field goal, Bortles lost the ball while throwing and the fumble was recovered downfield by Toby Gerhart for a first down. Collins knocked the ball loose as Bortles began to throw, and Belichick thought it was worthy of a challenge. Replays showed it was a close call so Belichick's decision to challenge was probably worth the risk, but the Patriots lost when referee Walt Coleman upheld the call on the field and the Juguars actually moved the chains on the recovery.

Extended action –Jonathan Freeny received a contract extension last week and on Sunday he was a bigger part of the defense than he was in the first two weeks. Freeny took over as the Mike linebacker in the first quarter while Jerod Mayo remained on the sidelines. The Patriots used more heavy fronts early in the game while trying to control the Jaguars running game, and Freeny was a small part of that. It will be interesting to see if Mayo gradually receives more playing time as he gets more reps under his belt coming off a serious knee injury. So far he's been a bit player while the Patriots have used a lot of sub looks.

The kids are all right –Once again the Patriots used their rookie offensive linemen liberally and all three performed well. David Andrews started at center with Tre' Jackson getting the nod at right guard. Mason entered in the second series at left guard while Josh Kline moved to the right side in place of Jackson. All three played together in the third series and the protection throughout, regardless of the personnel, was solid. Andrews showed exceptional effort on a play that ultimately wound up not counting. Brady tried to hit Rob Gronkowski in the end zone but Davon House picked it off in the end zone. James Sample was called for pass interference on the play, negating the interception, but House eventually returned it 82 yards to the Patriots 26. House looked like he might take it to house but the 295-pound Andrews managed to run him out of bounds, showing tremendous hustle in the process.

New addition –Keshawn Martin suited up as a Patriot for the first time and managed to make some plays. He replaced Aaron Dobson on the third series as the outside receiver and finished with three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown. Martin showed some good awareness on the touchdown when he saw Brady leave the pocket to buy one times and found an opening just inside the end zone. Conversely Dobson failed to build on his solid performance in Buffalo in Week 2 and finished with just one catch for 5 yards and also failed to come up with a very catchable deep ball on a play that he drew a pass interference penalty.

Extra points – The Patriots have scored 119 points, the most in team history through three weeks. … The Patriots improved to 68-0 when leading at the half of games played at Gillette Stadium. … Brady tossed the 400th touchdown pass of his career, a 1-yarder to Danny Amendola in the second quarter. He joined Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the only players with 400 touchdowns. … Brady also played in his 212th game as a Patriot, tying Bruce Armstrong for the most in franchise history. … Stephen Gostkowski went 6-for-6 on PATs, the fourth of which was his 423rd consecutive made extra point and set a record. His streak now stands at 425. … Rookie second-round pick Jordan Richards saw his first defensive action of the season, lining up in some heavier looks designed to help out against the run.

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