The Patriots conclude the first quarter of their season on Monday Night Football against the Chiefs in Arrowhead, in what should be a good test for a Patriots team that seems to be going in two different directions on either side of the ball.
Last season the Chiefs were one of the teams that scared me. Their controlled short passing game is just the kind that has given the Patriots defense fits in recent years, but the Pats defense is starting to look reborn after a strong start against three admittedly less-than-formidable offenses.
Offensively the talk all week has been focused on the offensive line, leading many to wonder if there will be some changes upfront for the Pats. Once New England gets their blocking solidified, we should expect to see a much-improved squad. But there’s no guarantee that the blocking is easily fixed, they’ll have to prove it on the field and all eyes will be on them in the hostile environment known as Arrowhead.
The one constant through the first three games on offense has been Julian Edelman and he should once again be the go-to target to keep the chains moving. With star Chiefs safety Eric Berry nursing a high ankle sprain, the Pats should be tempted to attack the deep part of the field, something they’ve been less-than-effective with early in the season.
Their best deep threat Aaron Dobson was back on the bench last week after seeing his first action in Week 2. If ever there was a time to push the Dobson deep plan, this could be the week.
But the bigger question is whether or not Tom Brady will have the time. Even the most perfect gameplans are easily destroyed when the pass rush gets to Tom Brady and the Chiefs have two of the best edge rushers in the game in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. They will test Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, the Patriots bookend tackles. Solder especially had one of the worst outings of his career against the Raiders and he will need to bounce back in a big way or Brady could be on his ass a lot.
Dontari Poe is a big space-eating defensive tackle who should test the Patriots interior line as well, whoever they roll out there.
With Sealver Siliga unlikely to play, Vince Wilfork and the edges of the defense will have their work cut out for them. Electric running back Jamaal Charles is expected to play, while fellow Chiefs running back Kniles Davis brings a physical element.
The Chiefs like to hit the edges of the defense hard, so there will be pressure on Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower to keep containment.
The Pats run defense has been much better since the travesty that was Week 1 against the Dolphins, but this should be their toughest test since then. Joe Vellano held up far better against double teams vs. the Raiders than Chris Jones did, so Vellano could start next to Wilfork.
Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe should provide a good test for the Patriots pass defense but tight end Travis Kelce might be the most dangerous of them all. Patrick Chung has been effective in coverage thus far against tight ends and seems like the favorite to draw coverage on Kelce. If he’s ineffective, Jamie Collins could be called to action.
Five Points of Emphasis
1. Block! - If you’ve read just about any intelligent analysis about the Patriots this week, you know that the offensive line is their biggest team issue right now. What’s frustrating is that the guys who have done it in the past - especially Solder and Vollmer - are not doing it now. They need to be the leaders. Regardless of what kind of personnel changes are made, the offensive line must communicate better and simply play at a higher level — a level they are capable of. They have a great opportunity to right the ship in a tough place to play. That can make a statement.
2. Bombs Away - The Patriots have needed a vertical element to their passing game for going on five seasons. There’s no question the offense is built around Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and they will move the ball with those two as the primary receivers. But for the offense to truly hit the next level, they need attack the perimeter of the defense. The chance is there this week, but only if the offensive line gives Brady the time to get off accurate throws. It’s all connected, but a couple shots down the field is just what this team needs.
3. First Down Execution - Part of the problems this year have been slow starts especially at the start of the game and the start of the second half. The play calling was over-thought and put the Patriots in yardage holes early. They need to start better in every sense of the word. On first down and early in each half, they need to set themselves up for success later in the game and on the set of downs.
4. Physicality on Defense - The Dolphins often overwhelmed the Chiefs in Week 3 with pure physicality and the Patriots have the personnel to do the same. Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones have had superb starts to their third seasons in the NFL and they’ll have to show that to a national audience on Monday night. The defense has shown that they are not the same old Patriots defense we became accustomed to from 2010-2013, and they must continue to build on the success that they have had against a legitimate NFL offense and probably the best quarterback they’ve seen yet this season.
5. Win: As always, what matters most is getting the win. We’re closing out the first quarter of the season, so the time for experimentation and wondering what the Patriots are good and bad at is coming to a close. This game will tell us a lot about the kind of team the 2014 Pats are, especially after a week where a win felt more like a loss. The entire NFL world will be watching to see if there really are any cracks in the Patriots empire. A convincing win on the road in Kansas City would answer that with a resounding “No”.
And now I jump into the All 22 review of the offense, something I’ve been putting off all day. Let’s see if it’s as ugly as I remember…
Still bugs me that the offense would go shotgun on snap one. The Raiders run defense stunk. Running on the first play of the game is almost expected. How about some play action? At least I like the attempt to get LaFell going right off the bat.
Just a gross first possession and that’s disconcerting because they literally had all week to plan it.
Tuesday afternoon means All 22 review! You really haven’t watched the game until you’ve seen the whole field. I continue to be amazed by the thing I missed and what I pick up watching it. Here comes this weeks defense edition:
Dropping Easley out of rush and into coverage. Reward for his interception?
Seems like they’re getting a little more comfortable using Chung in Cover 2. Smart, can’t be in Cover 1 every time he’s on the field.
Really hope Siliga isn’t out for long, he and Wilfork are a tough combination inside to move. It’s really what makes the Pats run defense go. There’s been plenty of 34/43 talk as there is every year, but the overriding early down philosophy is have two space eaters inside with five athletic players around them who can make plays.
It was (looking like) the best of times and the worst of times after the Patriots squeaker win over the Raiders last Sunday.
On defense there were quite a few different options of plays that defined the game, though one choice was infinitely obvious. Defensively I continue to think things are really coming together and again, defense wins championships. If nothing else I’m ready for a Patriots team that is better on the defensive side of the ball. I mean it’s been a decade since the last time that was true.
Offensively, the Pats can’t get much going and look like the same unit that lacked the necessary dynamics to truly take them to the next level. Things still look just a step off up and down the offense, but given the level of compete on this team, I expect we’ll see them take positive strides forward this coming week.
Here are the three plays that defined the game:
A Gronk TD. Why not? It was just about the only really positive play we saw from the offense, not to mention it saw Gronk beat a double team. That’s a positive sign and as Gronk slowly eases into more and more snaps he should become even more of a factor. Three healthy games down, 16 to go!
Possibly my favorite play of the game comes on this 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter with the Pats clinging to a four-point lead. I love the number o f hard hits that keep the Raiders from picking up the first down. That kind of swarming defense is just what we need.
Finally, and most obviously, comes Vince Wilfork’s interception. I can’t say it enough — it’s just unreal how Wilfork has come off such a major injury and looks just as good as he was before it. If anything it appears the year off did the rest of Wilfork’s body some good. Let’s just hope they can keep him this way for the rest of the season.
3 WR/1 TE/1 RB — 32 of 73
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB — 30 of 73
2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB — 6 of 73
2 WR/1 TE/2 RB — 2 of 73
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB — 1 of 73
3 WR/2 RB — 1 of 73
3 TE/1 FB/1 RB — 1 of 73
Base: 30 of 60
Sub: 30 of 60 (20 in nickel/10 in dime)
2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/ 1 RB — base 4-3
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB — base 4-3
3 WR/1 TE/1 RB — nickel — Arrington (short yardage); dime (longer yardage)
1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB — base 5-2
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB — base 4-3 and big nickel
Previous Three GIFs:
The Patriots finally have their home opener Sunday against the 0-2 Raiders! While on paper this might look to be a Pats’ blowout, we’ve seen far too many ugly early-season losses to write in a “W” just yet. Let’s remember this is a Patriots team that lost to the Cardinals at home in 2012. The Cardinals wouldn’t win another road game all year. Figure that one out.
The Pats have been saying all the right things this week — what a legend Charles Woodson is, how good Oakland’s pass defense is, that Derek Carr can make every throw. You know the drill.
But who the opponent is doesn’t really matter, it’s all about focusing on the Patriots and improving. The team has shown glimpses on both sides of the ball, but the consistency has been lacking especially on offense.
Here’s my strategy and points of emphasis that will hopefully get the Pats to 2-1.
Thank Hoodie the NFL puts All-22 film up now, it’s really so much better to help understand what kind of coverages and route combinations are being run. And the end zone cam is perfect for seeing gap alignment.
Early on the Pats rotated through odd and even fronts, running primarily Cover 1 Robber, with Chung in the box. Essentially the Pats traded Steve Gregory for Chung. Chung might get pulled off the field in coverage packages, but he’s definitely a better presence for the “Robber” spot that the Pats play a lot of. So far his weaknesses have been well-hidden.
One Chandler Jones’ 2nd quarter sack it was a great example of team defense. Jones got an initial hand on Cassel, though he probably had enough time to dump it off had the coverage not been perfect. Siliga came through on a stunt and destroyed the pocket. That’s when Jones finished him off.
On Revis’ interception he did the proverbial “ran the route better than the receiver”. His perfect outside leverage prevented the receiver from breaking out of his cut, from there Revis just sprinted right to where the ball was delivered and there was nothing Jennings could do.
Remarkable that even without Browner and Dennard the defense was still able to play a lot of press man. They slipped in some off-man as well, but Press Cover 1 Robber was the coverage of choice.
On third-and-three in the second quarter we saw some zone coverage with two deep, Mayo in the deep middle, four underneath defenders waiting to pounce on the underneath pass. It worked perfectly.
For all the talk of Hightower’s improved pass rush, dropping him into short zones eliminated the underneath passes that gashed the defense on the first drive. Hightower moves better in space than he’s gotten credit for.
Seemed like Ebner was the dime linebacker while Wilson was just the base strong safety to give Chung a breather. Interesting how they’re rotating a deep group of safeties.
Such a smooth Revis-esque play by Logan Ryan to undercut Patterson’s route on his interception. Cassel shouldn’t have tried that throw but there wasn’t anywhere else to go with it. That’s one thing sticking out with the All-22 — just how good the coverage is across the board.
Pats sent 6 rushers on Dont’a Hightower’s third quarter sack from their dime package. Man-to-man coverage was perfect behind it.
Easley was used entirely inside as a pass rusher, just like he should be. He showed good explosion and violence early on but I think he seemed to run out of gas in the fourth quarter. Understandable considering how he saw no game time in the preseason.
Kyle Arrington’s blitz from the slot was well-timed. I thought the Pats did some experimentation being a little more aggresive. PFF had them blitzing on 10 of 44 snaps which is on the high end for BB.
Sticking with the positive this week with three plays that really stood out to me as game-defining. Could’ve put any number of the penalties in GIF form but that would feel like a waste, even though those really defined the game.
You’ll also notice I didn’t use the Chandler Jones field goal block because that one has already been GIFfed and everyone is well aware of what a huge play that was.
First, we start with Devin McCourty’s interception, a play that might been the unofficial start of the Patriots actually playing football this season. Things didn’t look good on the first drive for either side of the ball. Then, after a nice punt from Ryan Allen, McCourty makes this great play on the ball.
There were a few throws of Brady’s that stood out (and weren’t nullified by penalties), but this one was just a much-needed strike. With the Vikes poised to get good field position of a punt, Brady threaded the needle on third-and-14 to pick up the first down en route to taking a 10 point lead.
No defender has been more impressive for the Pats this season than Dont’a Hightower. Hightower has been used more in a pass rushing role at times and he’s delivered with good pressure. He’s just so strong he can over power running backs trying to block him, but also get underneath a tackle like he does here. This sack effectively sealed any chance of a comeback from happening.
Sub: 45 of 68 (32 nickel, 13 dime)
Base: 22 of 68
Heavy/short-yardage: 1 of 68
2 WR/2 TE/1 RB – 26 of 67
3 WR/1 TE/1 RB – 21 of 67
1 WR/2 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 12 of 67
2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 5 of 67
3 TE/1 FB/1 RB – 2 of 67
3 WR/1 FB/1 RB – 1 of 67
Previous Three GIFs: