Here is what we learned from the New England Patriots 30-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
QB Tom Brady focused way too much on WR Julian Edelman
In the first half of the game, Brady was 6 of 8 for 43 yards and a touchdown when throwing towards Edelman. He was just 2 for 9 for 34 yards in the second half when throwing to Edelman. Brady finished the day 0 for 6 on passes to Edelman that traveled 15+ yards down the field, meaning that all of Edelman’s production came closer to the line of scrimmage.
It’s pretty clear that the Patriots missed WR Chris Hogan and TE Rob Gronkowski and their ability to stretch the field.
WR Malcolm Mitchell might have entered Brady’s inner circle
Mitchell collected 4 of 5 targets for 98 yards and a touchdown, including an incredible 56-yard catch-and-run-and-score. The only incompletion came on a missed back shoulder throw, where Mitchell and Brady were on the same page, but Mitchell was unable to land his toe in bounds.
Mitchell has a knack for converting first downs on all of his catches and he comes up at crucial times. It will be interesting to see how his role changes when Hogan returns, but Mitchell more than doubled his season yardage total (95 before today). Not a bad day for a rookie.
The Patriots three-headed rushing attack will be a treat to watch
RB LeGarrette Blount collected 124 rushing yards on 19 carries (6.5 yards per carry) when the 49ers knew the run was coming. He had an additional 35-yard touchdown run called back due to a penalty. He is tied for 5th in the NFL with 802 rushing yards and leads the league with 12 touchdowns. He did not see a target in the passing game.
RB James White caught all six of his targets for 63 yards and a touchdown and his 465 yards from scrimmage in 2016 is one shy of his 466 yards from scrimmage in 2015. He did not see a carry in the rushing game.
RB Dion Lewis had 23 yards on 5 rushing attempts. He had 26 yards on 3 receptions. Lewis made an impact in his first game back and it’s clear that he’s almost fully healthy and recovered from his ACL injury.
Lewis is a balanced back, while Blount can be a hammer and White can catch out of the backfield. They all complement each other well.
The Patriots collected 5 sacks for the first time all season
It took a while, but the Patriots pass rush finally hit home as the defense sacked 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick five times. S Patrick Chung and CB Malcolm Butler came from the outside, while linebackers and edge players Dont’a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich, and Kyle Van Noy racked up a sack apiece.
Chris Long generated a lot of pressure as the #3 rusher in the rotation and looked pretty comfortable in his role. The 49ers offensive line isn’t bad- LT Joe Staley is very good- so it’s worth noting that the Patriots pass rush might be closing in a solution.
The defense couldn’t cover a running back or a tight end
49ers wide receivers were targeted 15 times and picked up only 4 catches for 52 yards, including one insane grab by former Patriots WR Chris Harper for 19 yards over CB Malcolm Butler. The cornerbacks had an excellent day.
All other Patriots coverage was a disaster. 49ers tight ends and running backs picked up 12 receptions for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns on 15 targets. All three incompletions were to TE Vance McDonald.
The Patriots linebackers continued to struggle getting into space to eliminate the wheel route to running backs, while Devin McCourty had a rare off day in coverage.