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8 instant observations from the Patriots 26-10 victory over the Rams

Here is what we learned from Sunday’s game.

The New England Patriots moved on to 10-2 with a 26-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams. QB Tom Brady recorded his NFL record 201st victory. Here’s what we learned.

The offense needs to some time to adjust to post-Gronkowski life

The offense generated 402 yards, which is the 5th most yards by the Patriots this season. Unfortunately, these yards came over 75 plays, the 2nd most plays by the Patriots in a single game this year. When we look at yards per play to gauge offensive efficiency, this week was one of the worst by the Patriots offense all year.

The Patriots generated 5.36 yards per play (YPP), the 4th lowest mark on the season.

5th: 5.50 YPP vs Cardinals in week 1
4th: 5.36 YPP vs Rams in week 13
3rd: 5.33 YPP vs Bills in week 4
2nd: 5.31 YPP vs Jets in week 12
1st: 4.78 YPP vs Texans in week 3

In other words, the Patriots offense has been as efficient over the past two weeks as it was in weeks 3 and 4 under rookie QB Jacoby Brissett. For reference, the Patriots have averaged 5.98 YPP over the course of the season, the 3rd best mark under head coach Bill Belichick. Sunday’s 5.36 YPP is in between 2008 (5.33) and 2013 (5.41).

Tom Brady didn’t throw too many incompletions, but there were a lot of negative plays on the day. This is partially a product of the Rams defensive line, which is similar to the Jets defensive line from a talent perspective, but it’s something to monitor moving forward.

Malcolm Mitchell is the real deal

Mitchell saw 10 targets (career high) for 8 receptions (career high) and 82 yards (not a career high). He is averaging 74 yards and 1 touchdown per game over the past three weeks. Brady is looking for Mitchell on crucial downs and he’s performing like a veteran. He attacks the ball in the air, which allows him to focus on yards after the catch.

Mitchell, along with Julian Edelman (who is averaging 93 yards per game over the past four weeks) is going to be needed more than ever with Rob Gronkowski out, and with Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett nursing injuries.

Did you hear Aaron Donald’s name?

Rams DT Aaron Donald is one of the best defensive players in the NFL, alongside Broncos ED Von Miller and Texans DL J.J. Watt. He was pretty much eliminated from the game. Donald finished the day with 3 tackles and 1 quarterback hit. That’s it.

Rookie Joe Thuney drew the match-up and shut him down with some help from C David Andrews (how much help will require another re-watch of the game. Stay tuned). Sunday was a great performance by the two players (Thuney, Mitchell) acquired from the Chandler Jones trade.

Both teams were terrible on 3rd down

The Patriots were an awful 4 of 16 (35%) on third down, salvaged slightly by two conversions on two fourth down attempts. The Patriots found themselves in a lot of long distance situations and they needed 7 or more yards on 9 of their 16 third down attempts.

The situation was due to penalties and poor execution on first down, which set up 2nd-and-long and a difficult conversion opportunity.

Fortunately, the Rams were even worse. Los Angeles was 1 of 12 (8%) on third down and their only conversion came with just 6:36 left in the entire game. Kudos to the Patriots defense more making a lot of plays.

Matt Patricia called an excellent game on defense

Shea McClellin, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, and Logan Ryan recorded sacks. Long (2x), Ninkovich, and Ryan each recorded an additional quarterback hit. Alan Branch added a tackle for loss. Malcolm Butler and Kyle Van Noy each intercepted a pass. Jabaal Sheard (3x), Devin McCourty (2x), and Butler (2x) all recorded additional pass breakups.

This was an excellent performance by every player on the defense for a full 58 minutes. Outside of a major letdown after the final 2-minute warning, the Patriots defense absolutely erased the Rams offense. Sheard probably played himself back into the top defensive line rotation.

Patricia was a huge part of it as the pressures he drew up were perfect in affecting a rookie quarterback.

Stephen Gostkowski had one heckuva game

Gostkowski hit two extra points, along with 28-, 48-, 45-, and 45-yard field goals. The Rams average starting field position off of kickoffs was their own 23-yard line. Gostkowski’s kicks were straight and true and not really in doubt. This might have been his best day kicking all season.

The injury bug needs to leave and never come back

Players like QB Tom Brady, WR Chris Hogan, and TE Martellus Bennett appeared slightly limited due to existing injuries, while LB Dont’a Hightower, CB Eric Rowe (hamstring), and WR Danny Amendola (ankle) all left the game with various ailments. Hightower returned to the game.

But the Patriots are thin at all of these positions and can’t afford any serious injuries. Amendola was hurt on a punt return because Cyrus Jones can’t be trusted to hold on to the football, which means that Edelman (foot), Hogan (back), and Mitchell would be the only depth at the position. This will be something to monitor.

The AFC East is unquestionably the Patriots

The Dolphins were obliterated by the Ravens with a final score of 38-6. The Patriots are now 10-2 and the Dolphins are 7-5. That is a 3-game lead with 4 games to go. The Patriots would win the AFC East crown with a win over the Ravens next week to move to 11-2, so long as the Dolphins lose to the Cardinals and fall to 7-6.

But even if it takes a few more weeks, the Patriots are entering the final quarter of the season at 10-2 and in great standing. This is the 6th time that Belichick and company have started 10-2 or better (2003, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2015). That’s pretty good company.