A good test for the New England Patriots in Seattle, a test they almost passed on Sunday night but was not meant to be. On second watch of the game, I came away feeling much better than I did watching the game live. As we have learned over the years watching Bill Belichick coached teams, the difference is in the details, and little details contributed to this loss.
The overall numbers look good and Cam Newton played well, but you can see the difference in passing accuracy and positional nuance between #1 and #12. When Cam knows he wants to throw the hitch to the outside, he needs to use his eyes better to manipulate corners or safeties. Teams like Seattle know he loves the 5-7yd. hitch on the outside. Newton was very lucky he didn’t have 2 interceptions. Mechanically Cam can be a mess because of his great arm strength. He sometimes doesn’t rotate his shoulders for consistent accuracy. Loved his poise in the 4th quarter, but he MUST spike the ball with :25 on the clock after the Edelman catch late in the 4th quarter to save time. MUST.
RUNNING BACKS: C+
To be fair, when James White left the team for his unthinkable family tragedy, it clearly pushed Rex Burkhead into his role, and depending on how the game plan was set up that may have changed the play calling for Josh McDaniels. Sony Michel runs hard when given the ball and he just needs to be patient as opportunity will come. Nice job in protection, especially by Burkhead in the 4th quarter protecting Cam. Right now, the run game is about Cam.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A
This group was productive, confident, and worked hard in the run and passing game. Edelman was everywhere it seemed and laid out for some tough catches. Different catching a ball from Cam vs. Brady. N’Keal Harry made some gritty plays in the passing game and when within the rhythm of the offense, did well. Damiere Byrd is the Cam bail out guy. When the pocket breaks down, he knows to come back to the play and it’s clear Cam looks for him. When the offense picked up its pace, the conditioning of this group was tested and they did well.
TIGHT ENDS: B
Block, block. Block block, BLOCK, block, block. And block some more. Izzo got a few targets and back to blocking. If Asiasi blocks well, maybe they’ll throw HIM the ball. Right now, this unit is being used like a bunch of grunts. Let’s see how the group is acclimated into the passing game as the weeks carry on.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
Cam is not going to be sacked much because of his ability to move. Overall, this unit did a nice job of giving Cam time in the pocket, especially in the 4th quarter when Seattle stopped being aggressive in the final 4 minutes. The run push was good overall. The reason the final play broke down was rookie tackle, Mike Onwenu, got blown up at the point of attack as he lost his feet.
DEFENSIVE LINE/ENDS: B-
Noted here is that John Simon, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, and Shilique Calhoun are included in this grade. The Patriots defense gave up 4.6 yards per carry on 25 carries, when you take out the Russell Wilson runs. Good, not great. The issues were that of containing Wilson in the pocket. 3 time he took advantage of one lineman or rusher out of position, and made the Pats pay. Much better job of rush integrity in the 2nd half. The natural pass rush needs to develop on 3rd and long so there isn’t as much of a dependency on blitzing to create pressure.
This unit was mostly made up of Ju’Whaun Bentley, and Brandon Copeland. And did a solid job. At times, Bentley was the MLB who was to make sure Wilson didn’t slide by him if he escaped the pocket, and Wilson juked him a few times. This was a game where they miss the versatility of Hightower. Communication has to get better especially when Adrian Phillips is lined up as a LB, see the Freddy Swain and Chris Carson touchdowns.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B
Let’s be real here, 2 of the touchdown catches by Seattle receivers, were spectacular plays that were defended well. On the D.K. Metcalf touchdown, Gilmore was there in coverage, great throw, great catch. And the score by David Moore was a ballet type catch that would be tough to duplicate. Seattle made plays on Jon Jones all day long. A pick 6 is an added bonus for the back end guy, overall, I thought one guy and some lack of communication was the big issues.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
The kickers were fine. This is about return yardage. If the ball is kicked 5 yards in the end zone, take the knee and the free yards, J.J. Taylor. And allowing a 44 yard return to Seattle for a momentum swing is no Bueno.
3 Things to Watch For
1) The Patriots to continue to develop the running game as teams load up to stop Cam Newton’s ability to run.
2) Snaps for Kyle Duggar to stay the same or increase a smidge. (Played 54% of Defensive snaps vs. Seattle)
3) Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry continuing to be productive in the passing game.