(Note: I’ve been encouraged to write in this blog again, primarily, I think, because people are tired of seeing me constantly post about the Patriots on my Facebook wall. So here I go.)
It was decisive, then it wasn’t, and then it was again. The Patriots, with the exception of a series of hiccups, pretty much dominated the Indianapolis Colts from start to finish in a 38-24 win that pushed the Patriots to their first winning record since going 1-0 to start the season.
First off, let’s pump the brakes a little bit. This Colts team was barely a team. They did not have enough inactive slots, so they actually had to dress players they knew were not going to play. That’s how injured they were. And in reality, even when healthy, the Colts were not a great team. It’s also Thursday night, which in and of itself makes the results suspect. With all that said, it was still as good a win as you could expect given the circumstances.
SIGNAL CALLER SHOWDOWN. Both of these quarterbacks brought their A game. This was very much a clash of two upper echelon signal callers. Andrew Luck made some huge throws and really made chicken salad out of a chicken dung lineup. Sure, his last touchdown was a meaningless score with a minute left in the game, but he delivered two drives to bring the Colts back into it when they looked like they were about to be run out of the state, not just the building. He was also victimized by a ton of drops, one of which led to one of his interceptions. Bottom line, the Colts had a ton of problems, but Andrew Luck was not one of them.
Brady looked excellent, especially in the first half when the Patriots needed to get out to to a lead. He completed 23 of 27 passes for 203 yards in the first half and accounted for all three touchdowns. Brady was also victimized by drops – one in the first quarter by Julian Edelman on what would have been a huge gainer on third down, one by Chris Hogan that led to his first interception, and one by Rob Gronkowski that led to his second interception. Realistically, when you account for drops and throw-aways, Brady probably only really missed on three or four of his 44 passes. The Colts were without their top three corners and Brady did exactly what you’d expect a great quarterback to do in that situation.
FLYING SQUIRREL. It was about as good a start for Julian Edelman as anyone could reasonably expect. He looked good running routes and displayed explosiveness in the passing game and the return game. The dropped pass on third and 5 was ugly because, on top of everything else, he would probably still be running like Forrest Gump after scoring his first touchdown. He was that open. In general, he just opens up the offense so much. Guys slide back into more natural positions and the whole field looks different for Tom Brady.
BRIGHT AND SONY. Sony Michel is running like a full-grown man now. He just became the first Patriots rookie running back to have 95+ yards in back-to-back games since Robert Edwards. He consistently picked up chunk plays when called upon with four of his 18 carries going for 10+ yards – 12, 14, 15, and a 34-yard TD to essentially ice the game. He’s seeing the field well, hitting holes, making tacklers miss, and finishing runs. Exactly what people expected when he was drafted in the first round. Michel is averaging 4.4 yards per carry on the season – 3.5 yards per carry in his first two games and 4.9 in his last two games.
YOUR FEET WILL NEVER BE THIS SWEET. People still view him as a change of pace back, but James White is a straight up stud. You’re not change of pace when you’re setting the pace. He’s such a big part of what the Patriots do and stresses defenses in so many unique ways.
CORDIAL RECEPTIONS. In general, Patriots receivers did a good job against a decimated Colts secondary, but there were obvious hiccups. The two drops for interceptions were obviously big. Josh Gordon, who I’ll get to in a second, ran a comeback route too deep on the Patriots’ 3 and out on the drive from their own 5, which ended up leading to a Colts scoring drive. With all that said, receivers were targeted 22 times and caught the ball 17 times, and accounted for two of Brady’s three touchdowns. Overall, solid with room for improvement.
Josh Gordon’s touchdown displayed a skill set that the Patriots just haven’t consistently had, and beyond that, his presence has drawn coverage away from the underneath routes, the flat, and the seam where Brady loves to operate. There’s a video of Josh Gordon’s touchdown in which it’s pointed out that it looks eerily similar to Randy Moss’ touchdown in double coverage in the same spot vs. the Dolphins. It’s pretty uncanny. Now, don’t get me wrong. Gordon is not Moss. But Brady is illustrating a great deal of trust in his new receiver in a very short amount of time. Thus far, Gordon has, for the most part, rewarded Brady for that trust. And now opposing teams will see this on tape and it is just one more thing to try to defend. Cordarrelle Patterson is in more of a playmaker role and the Patriots keep finding ways to give him a chance to make things happen with the ball in his hand. Phillip Dorsett is looking like a really solid investment as a third receiver.
Patriots receivers have been getting open better lately, but having a full complement of weapons against a banged up secondary made a HUGE difference. Here is Tom Brady’s aggressiveness % week to week, courtesy of NFL NextGen stats. Aggressiveness % is the percentage of pass attempts into tight coverage (a defender is within one yard of the intended target).
Week 1: 25.6%
Week 2: 20%
Week 3: 11.5%
Week 4: 14.3%
Week 5: 2%
LINE-GERING CONCERNS? The offensive line was overall very good as Brady was only hit three times and wasn’t sacked by the ragtag Colts front, but it did have its issues at times. David Andrews, who had been grading as the team’s best lineman, had a rough night with a couple of penalties. Trent Brown continues to look really good when he’s good, but really bad when he’s bad. He especially seems to struggle to get low enough on cut blocks and Brady was exposed at least a couple of times on those types of plays.
MCCOURTYS – MACABRE AND MAGNIFICENT. This was probably Devin McCourty’s worst game of the year as Eric Ebron looked like Gronk against him. To be fair, he was trying to cover him from a high safety position, so he didn’t have the benefit of trying to slow him at the line or running with him downfield. He was essentially asked to react to Ebron moving at full speed from a stationary position and just didn’t get there often enough to make plays. He did make a good play on a strip fumble. Jason McCourty quietly has gone from a roster bubble player to a top-flight corner for this defense. It’s not exactly a no-fly zone, but he’s done very well, limiting opportunities while his tackling has kept yardage after catch low.
LOW-PRESSURE SYSTEM. Even with a banged-up line, the Patriots didn’t get a tremendous amount of pressure on Andrew Luck, but maybe that was the plan. Through a lot of the game, the Patriots featured three- and four-man fronts and didn’t appear to blitz all that much outside of a few stunts and delayed blitzes from the outside. When the Patriots did get pressure, good things happened. Patrick Chung’s interception was directly influenced by Adrain Clayborn’s pressure and Luck threw a few errant passes under duress. The Patriots’ only sack of the game was a big one for 10 yards to put the Colts in a hole early.
TURNOVER TIME. The Patriots defense now has 10 takeaways in five games and at least one in every game. That is after recording 18 takeaways in 16 games last season when it took them until week 10 to reach 10 turnovers. The last time the Patriots had 10+ interceptions through their first five games? 2014. Of course, the Patriots are also turning the ball over at a much higher rate with nine. Last year, the Patriots had three turnovers through week 5. The last time the Patriots had nine turnovers through five weeks? 2003.
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