Here are our winners and losers from the New England Patriots Sunday night’s 31-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Winner: RB LeGarrette Blount
Blount might have averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, but his 69 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns were necessary against a strong Seattle defense. It’s curious that the coaching staff didn’t use him more on that final goal line series, but Blount really stepped up when it appeared QB Tom Brady injured his knee.
Blount now has 12 rushing touchdowns on the season, extending his career high. He’s tied for 5th on the Patriots single season record list. He just needs two more to tie Curtis Martin for the franchise record. Blount is going to smash it.
Winner: TE Martellus Bennett
Bennett showed what he can do when the opposing defense focuses heavily on Rob Gronkowski. Bennett picked up 102 yards on 7 receptions, his third 100+ yard game on the season and the fifth in his career. He was pretty much the entire offense (along with RB James White) in the first half as the Patriots stalled on three drives in a row.
More importantly, he looks healthy and recovered from his ankle injury.
Loser: WR Chris Hogan
Three targets, zero receptions. Hogan appeared to run the wrong route down the sideline on one attempt and Brady was visibly frustrated. It also looked like Hogan missed another deep ball in the lights, or something, because he pulled up and stopped running despite the fact that he totally could have caught it.
Hogan has been dealing with a back injury so I would expect Brady and the coaches to give Hogan some leeway- but miscommunications are killer.
Brady threw the Patriots first interception of the season on a complete duck down the field. It was bad and it never should have been thrown. I don’t think he has thrown as egregious of a pass at any other point this year. Brady also fumbled on the goal line, but was fortunately able to recover it.
WR Julian Edelman would have been a winner for his 7 catch, 99 yard day, but his fumble late in the 4th quarter prevented the Patriots from taking the lead and allowed the Seahawks to take over at midfield and score the game-winning touchdown.
CB Cyrus Jones also fumbled after a great kick return, but luckily ST Nate Ebner was there to recover. Jones was in his first game back from the dog house. It was not a good look.
Winner: ED Trey Flowers
The coaching staff changed up the defensive line and asked sophomore edge defender Trey Flowers to step up into the starting line-up opposite of ED Rob Ninkovich. Flowers recorded two sacks for the second straight game. He’s made the most of his opportunities and it would be hard to see a reason to move him back to a reserve role.
Loser: ED Jabaal Sheard
Sheard was the biggest loser because Chris Long saw snaps over Sheard. I still think Sheard is the best edge defender on the roster and that a Sheard/Flowers duo would be the best pairing, with Long as the sub-rusher and Ninkovich played the SAM linebacker role. Sheard didn’t see a single snap in the third quarter.
I think the defense missed Sheard on the edge because the Seahawks had no problem running circles around the normally stout defensive front.
Winner: CB Malcolm Butler
Perhaps he looked good in comparison to some lousy players, but Butler appeared to be outstanding on first glance. He was making impact plays against running backs and he did a pretty good job in coverage by virtue of being better than the players he was lined up with. 9 tackles is a lot for a cornerback, but not all of them were his coverage responsibility.
Loser: Every other cornerback
I think part of this was due to scheme, but CB Justin Coleman looked awful in coverage of WR Tyler Lockett and was hit with a pair of big penalties. CB Logan Ryan was often a step behind in coverage and Seahawks receivers were comfortable finding open areas in Ryan’s zones. CB Cyrus Jones had his fumble on special teams. CB Eric Rowe was a healthy scratch. This wasn’t a good showing for the weakest position on the Patriots roster.
Loser: Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia
Every single person that watched a Patriots game knew that the defense wasn’t going to pressure QB Russell Wilson and instead drop seven or eight into coverage. It didn’t work. Wilson recorded 348 yards on a 68% completion rate, with three touchdowns and no turnovers.
The Seahawks only punted twice. They scored three touchdowns and their four field goal drives all reached inside the Patriots 15-yard line. The Patriots couldn’t do anything between the 20-yard lines and that falls on Patricia- especially that horrendous 59-second drive right before halftime.
What has changed between this year’s defensive scheme and last year’s? It seems like the defense and secondary is a lot more passive this year, but it’s not as simple as saying, “they should play more man.” A lot of the bad plays you can remember (Coleman’s pass interference, coverage of RB C.J. Prosise) came in man coverage.
Really the defense is just executing at a much lower level. Part of that is due to the lack of pass rush, although I still don’t know if that’s the fault of the coaches or the players.
Prosise recorded 87 receiving yards as a running back; that’s the most the Patriots have allowed since giving up 87 to Bills RB Fred Jackson in 2011. Only three running backs have ever recorded more against head coach Bill Belichick (Colts RB Joseph Addai, 114, 2007; Vikings RB Mewelde Moore, 91, 2006; Jets RB Richie Anderson, 88, 2000). This was a breakdown of historic levels.
What is the fix? Well, the players have to play better. But it’s also clear that there needs to be some adjustments to better align the defensive schemes to the skill sets of the players.
Like, don’t ask rookie LB Elandon Roberts to cover a former wide receiver-turned-running back. Maybe use SS Patrick Chung instead. Or maybe stop playing such soft zone coverage before the half because it just hasn’t worked. Or perhaps blitz a linebacker up the middle, which had been a staple of the defense but was relatively unseen this week.
There’s a lot of room to improve. This defensive breakdown is on Patricia as the coordinator, even if the players failed to execute at times.