The following players stood out on Sunday from the Patriots 30-17 victory over the 49ers.
Winners: QB Tom Brady and WR Julian Edelman
The two California bros returned home and put on a show. Brady was 24/40 (60.0%) for 280 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. While Brady was inaccurate on his deep passes (all of them pretty much to Edelman), he did enough to win the game.
Edelman saw a ridiculous 17 targets and collected 8 for 77 yards and a touchdown. Six of those targets were incomplete deep passes from Brady. Edelman also picked up two carries for 12 yards.
This was as successful of a homecoming as you could expect; I was a little surprised head coach Bill Belichick didn’t pull them off the field at the end of the game so they could get a standing ovation.
Winner: RB Dion Lewis
Lewis (49 total yards) did not pick up as many yards as either RB LeGarrette Blount (124 yards) or RB James White (63 yards), but he was able to contribute in a positive manner in his first game back. He’s clearly going to be a big part of the offense moving forward now that he’s kicking off the rust.
Blount will always be the big back, but the Patriots dialed up some two-running back sets for both Lewis and White to share the backfield. White is too talented to keep sidelined. So is Lewis. I would expect Lewis to cut into the snaps of both Blount and White, so we could see even thirds for each player.
Loser: LT Nate Solder
49ers pass rusher Ahmad Brooks sacked Brady and picked up another quarterback hit and tackle for loss. Solder was not a force in the running game, either, and was called for a penalty that negated a 35-yard touchdown run by Blount.
The Patriots had to rely on the right side of their offensive line to drain the clock at the end of the game. Solder appeared to revert back to his poor technique at times, lunging from his waist and reaching for his defender, which resulted in off-balance blocks.
Winner: WR Malcolm Mitchell
Mitchell more than doubled his career receiving yards (he had 95 yards before Sunday) with a 4 catch, 98 yard, and 1 touchdown performance. More importantly, he was lauded for his run blocking down the field and he didn’t appear to make any real mental errors. He is earning Brady’s confidence, especially with WR Chris Hogan sidelined with a back injury.
I’m curious to see if the Patriots might draw up some deep passes for Mitchell instead of for Edelman in the future.
Loser: LB Elandon Roberts
Roberts has not been standing out at linebacker since he’s replaced Jamie Collins- and while those are large shoes to fill, Roberts has struggled to contribute.
Elandon Roberts has allowed 13 catches on 14 targets for 154 yards with a touchdown in coverage this season.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) November 21, 2016
To put this in perspective, while acknowledging cover stats aren't perfect— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) November 21, 2016
Collins: 18-24, 128 yards, 2 INTs w/ NE
Hightower: 17-23, 108, TD https://t.co/5rG44oK2j6
The Patriots rotated their linebackers to get some experience, but Roberts and LB Shea McClellin were taken to task by the 49ers offense. Roberts has struggled in coverage and he has been too quiet in run defense to justify keeping him on the field.
Loser: ED Jabaal Sheard
Sheard was a healthy scratch and the Patriots racked up 5 sacks on the day, a season high. The run defense wasn’t great as 49ers RB Carlos Hyde picked up 86 rushing yards and 24 receiving yards, but ED Trey Flowers has won a starting job and ED Rob Ninkovich has the trust of the coaching staff.
The battle is between Sheard and ED Chris Long and Long has done well enough in his reserve role to keep Sheard sidelined. That said, Sheard and Flowers would be the best edge defender pair; hopefully Sheard can respond well to being sidelined.
Winner: ED Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy might be the answer to both the Roberts and Sheard questions. Van Noy joined LB Dont’a Hightower at linebacker and played on the line of scrimmage opposite of Ninkovich to form a 5-1 front, with Hightower as the lone linebacker. Van Noy generated some great pressure and he has the ability to drop back into coverage.
Van Noy still has a lot to prove, but it’s clear that the coaching staff thinks Van Noy can contribute more on defense than Barkevious Mingo- and Van Noy played well with 3 tackles, a sack, and a tackle for loss on the day.
Winner: Patriots coverage of wide receivers
One week after getting demolished by the Seahawks wide receivers, the Patriots cornerbacks really stepped up their performances. against the 49ers. WR Chris Harper picked up 35 yards on 2 catches, one of which was an insane 19-yard catch off a scramble play. WR Quinton Patton caught 2 passes for 17 yards on 5 targets.
Logan Ryan shut down WR Jeremy Kerley, holding the 49ers lead receiver to 0 receptions on 6 targets and notching two passes defended. Eric Rowe only allowed one reception on 5 targets. It was a great rebound day for the Patriots cornerbacks.
Loser: Patriots coverage of running backs and tight ends
But the rest of the Patriots defense was bad in coverage. FS Devin McCourty and SS Patrick Chung struggled to cover 49ers TE Vance McDonald (3 catches, 46 yards, 1 touchdown) and TE Garrett Celek (3 catches, 41 yards). Chung used to shut these players down over the past two years; someone has to step up because this is a clear weakness.
The linebackers, including Hightower and Roberts, struggled against the running backs. 49ers RB Shaun Draughn (3 catches, 43 yards, 1 touchdown) and RB Carlos Hyde (3 catches, 24 yards) were able to escape the coverage pretty easily. These are the players that LB Jamie Collins would have covered in the past.
Perhaps Van Noy, or even Chung, could be tasked with covering the running backs out of the backfield, while a bigger cornerback like Eric Rowe could be the one responsible for eliminating the tight ends.