Back again after a week away from the postgame recaps, and no, I didn’t decide to not do one because the Pats lost, I was busy. Ok. Nothing to do with the loss. Nothing at all.
The Patriots week 11 matchup saw them travel from east coast-to-west coast for a battle, well, not really a battle, but moreso a beating order on Brady’s childhood beloved, San Francisco 49ers. Oddly enough, this was Tom’s first ever game played in San Francisco over his 17 year pro career(the Patriots played in San Fran in 2008, but Brady tore his ACL in week 1 of that same season). In his home away from home, Brady threw for 280 yards on 24 completions(40 attempts) and had 4 touchdown passes. The 39 year old clydesdale continues to amaze, with a tremendous 16:1 TD to INT ratio and a career high 123.3 passer rating on the year. Moreover, he’s also completed 70.4% of his passes, and if he can maintain that same number over the 6 weeks left in the season, you guessed it, it would be another career high.
Without his top target, Rob Gronkowski, Brady was still able to make some magic happen with his arsenal of weapons. Julian Edelman hauled in a season high 17 targets, but only managed 8 catches for 77 yards and a score. Rookie wideout Malcolm Mitchell made a big impression in this contest with not only his pass catching abilities where he caught 4 balls for 98 yards, but his 56 yard touchdown came on one of the prettier passes I’ve seen Tom throw all year, but also in the run game. Mitchell has sneakily been a pretty good blocker downfield dating back to even his college days, and we received pure evidence of his skill late in the first quarter when Blount found a hole and ran for a 44 yard gain. It wasn’t until around 35 yards into the play when we saw Mitchell blocking Jimmie Ward nearly half the length of a football field. With the aforementioned Gronkowski absence, many expected Marty Bennett to feast in San Fran. Didn’t quite happen. Bennett only had 1 catch for 14 yards. Great to see Dion Lewis make a return. Both he and James White should serve as a nice receiving duo out of the backfield, a very integral part of the New England offense.
This horse, Legarrette Blount, just continues to make my knocks on the aging runner from before the season look worse and worse. Although, the Niners defense has been historically bad this season against running backs. They’re on pace to allow over 3,000 yards on the ground. The 1978 Bills currently own the record with 3,228 rushing yards allowed. Regardless, Blount’s play has been exceptional all season long and he probably has been the second most valuable player on the Pats offense to this point of the year.
Now, onto my favorite part of each week: Bashing the offensive line. To be fair, they weren’t all that bad, though. Only two real “knocks” this week, and coming from me, that’s pretty good. Everybody’s favorite tackle Marcus Cannon allowed the only Niners sack of the game when he got blown up by rookie DE Deforest Buckner. At the other tackle spot, Nate Solder was up to his Nate Solder antics and took two pretty substantial and bad penalties. People want to call Nate Solder an elite offensive tackle, the problem being, that not one of those people are from New England. His holding on an impressive 35 yard touchdown run by Blount was completely unnecessary since the horse was already past the line of scrimmage and had his sights on the end zone. The drive ended on a New England punt. The next time the Pats got the ball back, Nate picked up a false start penalty and two plays later, New England punted again. It seems to be a trend for Solder when one thing goes wrong, there’s more to come. The inconsistency scares me, but when he is “on,” I have to admit he’s pretty dang good.
All in all, the Patriots allowed only 10 meaningful points to the Colin Kaepernick-led San Francisco 49ers. Doesn’t look too bad on the surface, but tell me, did anybody who actually watched that game feel good about the defense at any point in time? Nope. Easy answer. Without a top cover corner like Darrelle Revis, heck, even Ty Law if we want to take this way back, the Patriots are forced to play more zone coverages to avoid one-on-one matchups. Typically, a cover 3 zone is designed to take away any deep passing pattern and requires each defensive player dropped in coverage to take a 10 yard(wide) spot on the field and cover that specific area. Ideally, you have a few players dubbed “playmakers” to trot out into those areas to, you know, make plays. Guys like Jamie Collins shined in these roles, except he got a bit too risky, but there is no denying those risks sometimes pay off in a big way. Elandon Roberts is one guy who has actually been struggling in these zone schemes. Nobody should have expected Roberts to fully replace an All-Pro caliber linebacker like Collins, but the inexperience is being revealed in the complicated Pats defensive scheme. To give a positive to Roberts, he has been good against the run, and some may argue he even has been just as successful as Collins was in that regard. Despite Jabaal Sheard, who many expected to be New England’s best pass rusher this season, not making the trip to the west coast, the pass rush finally showed up. A day where you can pick up 5 sacks is always good, but only one of those sacks came from a true defensive lineman. Getting pressure on a four man rush is important, especially come playoff time. A prime example was last week against Russell Wilson. If you give Wilson time, he’s going to burn you. Most good NFL quarterbacks will, lucky for the Pats they really don’t have any left on the schedule.
Good to be back. Patriots improve to 8-2. With a battle back on the east coast in the Meadowlands to face the Jets up next, we should expect nothing but another Patriots win. The Jets sometimes decide to show up and give the Pats a game, but these Jets of 2016, aren’t those Jets of 2015.
By Mark Panzini