The New England Patriots topped off a two-week spell of game postponements/reschedulings, positive Covid-19 tests, and injuries with a simply horrendous performance on Sunday.
Offensively, they looked 10 steps behind, defensively they reverted back to their old “bend but don’t break” ways of the early 2010s, and the special teams units did nothing to improve field position or provide a spark for either side.
Despite the all-around sluggish performance, the Patriots showed life in the fourth quarter and displayed a few things that can be built upon heading into their showdown with the (depleted) defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.
So before we get into preparation for 49ers week let’s look on the bright side and see the good in a bad loss to the Denver Broncos.
Kyle Dugger shows he’s halfway there
Kyle Dugger (#35) was great as a run defense again on Sunday. Blows up the attempted block by Tim Patrick and scrapes down the line with ease to make the tackle. Extremely fluid and violent. pic.twitter.com/JhIZfn0nsl— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
Watching his college tape you couldn’t help but notice that Kyle Dugger’s superior physical traits helped him out at the Division II level. Luckily, even at the NFL level his physicality and athleticism are far superior than most players’. Once he is able to fully grasp the defensive system — we’ve heard Bill Belichick talk a lot about how far behind the rookies are — the Patriots may have a very special player on their hands.
Joe Thuney uses his spidey senses
Joe Thuney was phenomenal again this week. I thought I’d highlight this neat little design and how he played it to perfection. pic.twitter.com/BFQMptRau5— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
Despite a bad snap in the third quarter, Thuney generally played great at center once again this week. I don’t think there is a single spot on the offensive line that he couldn’t master. He is going to get all of the bags this offseason.
Adrian Phillips continues to shine
@Phillips_17 is on pace for 115 tackles this season, leading the #Patriots in that category. He’s also second on the team with 3.5 TFL. All while playing as an off ball linebacker for the first time in his 7th NFL season. pic.twitter.com/lAHWAWMPDs— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
I’m not sure what we all expected out of Phillips when he signed his two-year, $6 million contract with the Patriots back in March but i’m fairly certain it wasn’t this. The 28-year-old former All-Pro has stepped into the second off-the-ball linebacker role with ease and has become one of the more reliable players on the defense, despite his lack of size at that position.
Jake Bailey is an All-Pro
That’s right folks, this is a 60 yard punt (in the air) with a 5.15 second hang time. Jake Bailey is the best punter in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/R5mkRKoRqs— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
For give weeks now Jake Bailey has been the best punter in the NFL. Nine of his 14 punts have been downed inside the 20, and when he’s been given the opportunity he’s showed how strong his leg is.
Great downfield blocking on Cam Newton’s long run
I’ll always find a way to be positive when it comes to N’Keal Harry and Devin Asiasi. Harry is glued onto his defender and Asiasi makes the smart decision to just get in front of Chickillo instead of decorating him and taking a penalty. Good, smart plays from young guys. pic.twitter.com/kyZZkct3Dd— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
I can’t say enough about how smart this play is from Devin Asiasi. Incredible awareness of knowing what he can get away with in that situation. N’Keal Harry is one of the better blocking receivers in the NFL and he’s proven that, this is just another example. Now only if they would produce in the passing game...
Devin Asiasi is getting open, Cam Newton just needs to find him
Result of each play (1-4) are as follows. Sack, short completion to White, Sack, Newton scramble. The total yardage for all four plays is -2 yards. #Patriots fans should see him targeted more in coming weeks. pic.twitter.com/sRAbEcvHKe— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
This has been the struggle for Asiasi: the Patriots are only sending him out into the flat and Cam Newton isn’t much of a “check it down” quarterback. If his first couple of reads aren’t open he’s going to take off, or in the case of Sunday, he’ll hold onto the ball until they get open or he gets sacked. I would imagine that both of these things will change in the future.
Honorable mention: CB Jonathan Jones. He was by far the best player on the field. Allowed one completion for 16 yards with three passes defended and an incredible interception. His praises were sung a little too much for my liking, though, so we move onto the true Unsung Hero.
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
I think Ja’Whaun Bentley took a turn this week in the right direction. After surrendering the green dot to John Simon and later Devin McCourty, he seemed to play a little more free and had some really impressive moments. For the first time this season he led the team in tackles and showed up in the passing game:
Bentley has always shown up in the run game and this is a good example. Creates separation from blocker while keeping his outside hand free to make the tackle. pic.twitter.com/TWeMqvm0WF— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
First was this play in the first quarter where he bench-pressed Lloyd Cushenberry III with one arm and made a nice tackle with the other. He’s always played best downhill, but on Sunday was a little bit more consistent than in games prior.
Talked out this coverage rep. Did a great job here, encouraging to see him make the right play in coverage. pic.twitter.com/mXr8i3BVoh— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
This play may have been my favorite. Bentley has struggled in coverage throughout his career and I think the Patriots have made a change in how they’re using him. Instead of having him spy a running back from the backfield or follow crossers, they’re sending him out to a spot and telling him to hit whatever he sees. He does that here and also gets some pressure on Drew Lock forcing a throwaway. This was a great way to disguise his limitations against a young QB.
Here is the sack. Times the blitz well and gets skinny in the gap. (though he didn’t need to because Royce Freeman didn’t want that smoke) Kept his arms wide and finished the play. Great game from him. pic.twitter.com/N3IX7nEYMg— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) October 19, 2020
Finally, the sack. One of the biggest things you’re missing from Dont’a Hightower is his ability to rush the passer. Bentley sure as hell isn’t Hightower but he did a great job of disguising the blitz and getting skinny in between the guard and running back (who wanted no part of taking on that block) to find his way through.
Now the focus shifts towards the San Francisco 49ers. Though they’ve seen a lot of injuries they still have a ton of talent and it will be interesting to see how Belichick defends Jimmy Garoppolo.
See you next week!