Nom, nom, nom. How was your Thanksgiving? I hope everyone spent plenty of time with their family while they watched the Patriots (un)surprisingly struggle against the Detroit Lions in Mo-Town. The Patriots did everything they needed to do to leave with a win and they should be happy with their closing performance. The team got a 45-24 win and only allowed 7 points in the second half. Let's look at the game:
First Half Offensive Line Play - The Lions got their sack and 4 of their 5 QB hits in the first half. Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the Lions' defensive line were lining up to confuse the Patriots offensive line and the line was unable to respond. The defensive ends, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, were pushing Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer all over the field. Suh and Corey Williams were pushing back Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly. Suh was stunting, he was stepping back as a linebacker and he was getting to the quarterback and into the backfield on what seemed like every snap. The offensive line was overpowered by the more energetic Lions' defensive line and the Patriots' offense was unable to function. Tom Brady was unable to generate any offense since he wasn't given any time to throw. The Patriots couldn't run the ball with Suh in the backfield. The offense was ugly in the first half.
Defensive Line Play, except Vince Wilfork - Myron Pryor: Back, Out. Mike Wright: Concussion, Out. Brandon Deaderick: Healthy scratch? The Patriots decided to enter the game with only Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork, Ron Brace and Kyle Love on the defensive line. The Patriots used Wilfork and Love for most of the game, with Warren and Brace switching off. Love, for those who aren't familiar with him, is an undrafted rookie who hasn't really played all season. And he started. Naturally, the Patriots defensive line struggled for most of the game and they struggled hard. They weren't opening lanes for linebackers and they were being pushed around. Wilfork played like a man possessed, forcing the Lions to run to the outsides, so he was not the problem. Love, Warren and Brace all struggled to contain the run and also were easily moved by the Lions offensive linemen. The Lions dictated rushing lanes which, in turn, mildly opened up the passing game. The Patriots missed Deaderick and his ability to move linemen.
Brandon Tate - He had two drops, one on a pass that coulda-shoulda-woulda been a huge gain. He's playing himself out of the offense as a receiver, just like Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman. He's not earning more looks and he needs to start catching what he's given before he's thrown more passes. However, Tate's pass catching ability wasn't the only thing wrong. He was awful on kick returns. Now kick returns aren't a one man show, but Tate was consistently running into covermen of the Lions without much struggle. While there weren't many lanes, he wasn't doing anything to create his own holes.
Kick Off Return Team - This unit is grouped with Tate. This unit helped Tate to a 17.3 yard return average- over 10 yards LESS than his season average. They were unable to open lanes for Tate and they certainly did not block any of the Lions gunners. This unit played a pitiful game and it can be assured this squad will perform better against the Jets.
Read The Bad and The Good after the jump!
Kyle Arrington - Oh, Kyle. Arrington was benched last week in favor of Darius Butler due to his inability to cover Reggie Wayne. This week, the Patriots tried to have Arrington cover Calvin Johnson. That just doesn't seem fair. Johnson caught a touchdown and jumped over Arrington a couple times. Arrington always had his back to the ball when the receiver would catch it, meaning that his awareness was pretty low- and he's struggled with turning around when the ball has been in the air all season. Arrington did manage to get a quarterback hit when he was used in the defensive end position, but overall he had a poor day. He showed that he isn't able to recognize when the ball is in the air and that he needs a safety to sit behind him the whole game.
When Darius Butler covered Johnson, Calvin wasn't targeted. Just saying.
Still, on the following scale:
10 - Flawless
9 - Great
8 - Above Qualifies for "Good"
7 - Solid
6 - Average - Below Qualifies for "Bad"
5 - Kyle Arrington
4 - Bad
3 - Below Qualifies for "Ugly"
2 - Terrible
1 - Cut Them
So Arrington wasn't awful- he just made enough bad plays for me to note him as, "bad."
Finishing Pass Rush - Same old story. The Patriots are able to generate pressure and flush the quarterback out of the pocket; that's great! However, once the quarterback is out of the pocket, the underneath defense bites and steps up towards the quarterback, opening space for a emergency outlet pass.The pass not only gains yards, but also helps the quarterback avoid the sack. Rob Ninkovich and the other outside linebackers don't have the closing speed to finish a sack in the open field and none of the linemen have the speed to chase a quarterback. This team needs to find some speed in the form of an outside linebacker- and not Kyle Arrington. Quarterbacks have been able to throw on the run against the Patriots. It needs to stop.
Pat Chung's Zone Passing Defense Execution -
Oh Chung. Last week, he was torched by the Colts' slot receivers. This week was almost more of the same. Last week I stated that Chung cannot cover the over the top pass, but he's fine with covering underneath. Chung had two passes defended underneath. I think I may have found his problem with the deep pass defense. Chung struggles with zone recognition. He hesitates when players switch zones, which allows receivers to get open as Chung has to play catch up. His zone recognition was on display on the final drive of the Lions when Calvin Johnson caught the 34 yard pass over the middle. The play starts with Devin McCourty taking the outside zone while Pat Chung was supposed to take the inside. McCourty does a fantastic job of staying with the man who enters his zone. Chung leaves Calvin Johnson wide open to run behind him. Pocket created, Shaun Hill throws a pass that hits Johnson for a big gain. Chung needs to learn how to play deep defense, or else James Sanders should be taking all of his snaps late in games.
Edit: After further analysis of the play, Chung's role is actual the underneath zone, whereas McCourty has the top zone. It was actually Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo who were supposed to drop back into that zone where Johnson was waiting. Just watch this video to see.
Kick Off Defense Team - Firstly, Shayne Graham has a noticeably weaker leg than Stephen Gostkowski- at least 10 yards on kick offs weaker. This doesn't help the Patriots kick off defense unit at all. However, the squad definitely struggled today as return man Stefan Logan would break tackle after tackle and hit hole after hole and lane after lane for solid returns. Just like the return team, this unit should sharpen up by next week.
Tom Brady - Perfect QB rating. Brady was hitting all of his receivers and was almost flawless the entire game. He struggled early on, but a lot of that is due to the offensive line's slow start. Brady was hitting players in stride and made some beautiful throws to move the chains. While I was expecting a lot more fire early on while he was sitting on the side lines, he kept his cool and delivered crisp passes all day. If sitting out a day of practice really helps Brady so he can perform as well as he has, I hope he sits out a day of practice for the rest of the season.
Deion Branch - Who needs Randy Moss? Branch delivered the longest play of the Patriots' season and helped with down field blocking all game. He's a spark and a model citizen for this team. He continues to make big play after big play and has been one of the main reasons this offense has been able to function.
Running Game - BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead both had solid games, with BJGE bringing out the truck stick late in the game and Woody helping to move the chains. While neither player posted gaudy numbers, both performed well enough that the Lions defense had to give them attention, which opened up the receivers down the field.
Rob Gronkowski - Robo Gronk helped block all game and kept Brady clean. He also had 5 catches on 5 attempts for 65 catches. The Gronk was stellar as a receiver up the seam as he caught some high passes over the top on second downs to give the Patriots some much needed momentum. While I don't want to label anyone Brady's "favorite target", Gronk has clearly put himself in the coaching staff's good favor, while fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez sees his snaps decrease and his receiving opportunities dwindle.
Wes Welker - Another stellar day for Welker. So much for needing Moss to generate yards. Welker is making plays happen and is getting into the end zone, proving that he's an incredible receiver in his own right. He's seen his average yards/catch bubble by 2-3 yards/reception over the past couple games and has become a threat everywhere on the field. He's also a feisty blocker.
Second Half Offensive Line Play - After a horrendous first half, the offensive line made some adjustments to help keep the ball throwing. The Patriots utilized Gronk and Alge Crumpler as blockers to help give Brady more time, but they also shifted blocking assignments to better contain Suh. Suh faced double teams the rest of the game and he made no noise in the second half. These adjustments are something the Patriots had been missing up until now- this team adapts in order to succeed.
Down Field Blocking - Julian Edelman and Aaron Hernandez. Two players that haven't heard their numbers called in the passing game recently. I just thought they deserved a shout out for their fantastic down field blocking. Edelman helped Welker get into the end zone with some fantastic effort and Hernandez spends most of his time on the field pushing linebackers around. While these players may not get the glory of catching anything, they're definitely still helping out.
Devin McCourty - What needs to be said? He's had two interceptions and was lock down on his coverage. This kid is a stud and opposing quarterbacks are going to start avoiding him soon. He helped against the run, he helped on special teams and he didn't allow much in terms of completions and yardage in coverage. He's awesome.
Stat of the Game 1: The Patriots had 11 passes defended. Prior to the game, the Patriots had 37 PDs on the SEASON. The Lions had 0 PDs, which only helps the Patriots who are #1 in the league with avoiding passes defended (Brady's only had 26 knocked away or intercepted total).
Stat of the Game 2: The Patriots did not legally hit the quarterback, other than their sacks. They registered 3 QB hits all game- on Pierre Woods' and Gary Guyton's sacks, and also on Pat Chung's hit that was called for roughing the passer. This team is not reaching the quarterback.
Stat of the Game 3: 46:25 - The cumulative time in the game before the Patriots held onto the lead. Despite the final score, the Patriots didn't hold onto the lead until the 4th quarter.
On to the Jets!!!