While the loss to the Buffalo Bills is disappointing in many ways, the New England Patriots restored my faith in their effort and intensity by battling to the very end. Last week against San Francisco there was little fight, this week there was fight. The issues with the Patriots right now are partially related to self-inflicted wounds like untimely penalties and poor tackling. This was the first game this season where when I broke down the game I felt the patriots missed both Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung.
Cam Newton was decent in this game. I said last week that it was time to run with Cam, I wrote that assuming he would take care of the football. I was wrong. Josh McDaniels called Cam’s number a few times on the sweep to the left and upon further examination, his ball security was poor on those successful runs. He’s also indecisive at times in the pocket as he decides whether to run or not. He got inconsistent help around him at various point in the game, but it’s simple, you can’t fumble in that spot in the 4th quarter.
RUNNING BACKS: B
Damien Harris is a good downhill runner with power and compliments the Patriots outside running game nicely. He paired well with Jacob Johnson in the I-Formation, especially in the touchdown drive to tie the game at 21. James White was essentially a wide receiver in this game and still has plenty of explosiveness. And Rex Burkhead had the play of the game converting the 3rd and 10 on the touchdown drive that tied the game at 14. The blocking wasn’t as crisp in the passing game, but overall a productive week for this unit.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C+
I grade here on a bit of a curve because my expectations were low for this unit. Jacoby Meyers was the beneficiary of some of the play action rollouts from Cam Newton. Damiere Byrd has the best chemistry with Newton but wouldn’t have played much in the Tom Brady era. There just isn’t enough separation from this group. I never thought I would write this, but they need N’Keal Harry back. And I say that assuming Julian Edelman may not be back this season or the same player if he does return
TIGHT ENDS: C-
Ryan Izzo was the lone TE in this one and his play was up and down. His blocking was inconsistent both in the passing and running game. On Izzo’s second catch of the final drive before halftime, if he had rolled for the first down the Patriots could’ve clocked the ball instead of using their lone timeout with :17 seconds left in the half. May have resulted in one or two more plays to try and sneak in a TD before the half.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-
This grade should be better but the penalties from veteran players at inopportune times slowed the momentum of drives. Joe Thuney had issues with Bills DL Ed Oliver, both in the running and passing game. Overall though this unit did a nice job or opening up some good running room for both Cam and Damian Harris. This unit on the field Sunday is the BEST 5 players they can put on the field at those ‘Big Boy’ positions.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
I feel for this unit. Sometimes there are 3DL on the field, sometimes there is 2DL and 2DE as the front 4. Sometimes there isn’t a front 4 it’s a front 3. The rotation of inside players did the best they could do given that there isn’t a ton of bulk or experience in there at times. John Simon played a better brand of football and Josh Uche as a DE held up ok. Lots of player including Nick Thurman and Tashawn Bower are getting reps, time for someone to grab opportunity.
Ju’whaun Bentley is a one-man band in the middle and he had some issues consistently bringing down Buffalo runners. This was a game whether playing up at the line of scrimmage or in the Bentley role, this team missed Dont’a Hightower.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: B
Stefon Diggs made a few plays against J.C. Jackson, but did not impact the game the way I’m sure the Bills had hoped. And no other wide receiver made any real impact in the passing game. The tackling is what it is with this group. When you can’t practice live tackling, I don’t know how you get better at it other than gameday.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Jake Bailey had a few issues with the wind, as most punters would. As the offense struggles, every yard matters. I thought the Bills won the return game but not by much and the field goal/PAT operation ran well.
3 THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1) Continuous rotating of defensive lineman until one of the younger guys emerge as someone who deserves playing time alongside Lawrence Guy and Deitrich Wise
2) J.C. Jackson to be the next corner that gets paid by the Patriots
3) The Patriots to run all over the hapless Jets this Monday night. Not because the Pats are fixing their issues, but b