New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explained to the world that the big battle on Sunday night against the Denver Broncos would come in the trenches. Belichick showed how the Broncos dominated the line of scrimmage and how the Patriots would need to be prepared for a slugfest.
Well, consider it mission accomplished for Belichick and the Patriots as New England won the line of scrimmage for the entire night.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), the Patriots offensive line “allowed just six pressures on 38 passing plays and did not allow a single sack,” the fifth-best performance by a team in week 10. Over the past five weeks, PFF has the Patriots offensive line as the ninth-best in pass protection.
Left guard Joe Thuney had a particularly strong game as he “did not allow a single pressure in the entire game,” his “third such game over the Patriots’ last four games.” Thuney is really turning a corner, much like how Shaq Mason turned a corner in the second half of 2016. PFF ranks Thuney as the fourth-best guard in pass protection over the past four weeks, giving up just three pressures.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots controlled the line of scrimmage against the run, conceding a mere “0.71 yards before contact to Denver’s runners;” the Patriots “was last in the league in yards before contact allowed coming into yesterday’s game,” giving up “an average of 2.63 yards before contact.” They were one of just three teams to allow more than 2 yards before contact.
The fact that the Patriots did it without Malcom Brown or Dont’a Hightower is a positive, as Adam Butler (38 snaps), Lawrence Guy (35 snaps), and Alan Branch (31 snaps) did an excellent job in the heart of the defense. This unit will continue to make strides as Branch works back into form.
The Patriots also found ways to generate pressure, with rookie Deatrich Wise recorded a quarterback hit, extending his streak of pressures to “every game in his NFL career” as he ranks second for most pressures by a rookie pass rusher. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy added three pressures of his own and he leads the NFL in pressures by a 4-3 outside linebacker.
New England received a lot of favorable bounces against the Broncos, but the Patriots certainly took advantage of all their opportunities. If the Patriots can continue to improve and win in the trenches on both sides of the football, then we could witness New England beating every other team on their schedule the same way they beat the Broncos.