NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
The New England Patriots will enter their bye week atop the AFC East with a 5-3 record following a 45-7 blowout against the St. Louis Rams in London; New England looked unstoppable all game, responding to Sam Bradford’s initial touchdown pass with 45 unanswered points in a dominant performance which was encouraging on offense, on defense, and on special teams.
Tom Brady looks as good as ever, throws four touchdowns in blowout
Tom Brady had no trouble dissecting St. Louis’ defense, passing for 304 yards and four touchdowns on 22/35 passing; he left the game midway through the fourth quarter, with Ryan Mallett entering. Josh McDaniels continuously called deep passes for Brandon Lloyd last week, resulting in a one-catch performance on eight targets; this week, his integration of Lloyd into the offense was much more successful.
Lloyd was targeted just four times but ran a more diverse set of routes and caught touchdowns on both of his receptions; Lloyd burned Janoris Jenkins on a corner route downfield for a 19-yard touchdown in the first quarter and caught another touchdown on a slant pattern against Jenkins in the third quarter. Wes Welker added six catches for 48 yards and was primarily covered by Cortland Finnegan, while Danny Woodhead caught five balls for 56 yards. Julian Edelman was active but caught just one pass.
Rob Gronkowski scores two touchdowns in an unstoppable performance
Rob Gronkowski compensated for Aaron Hernandez’s absence by putting together his most dominant performance of the season. Gronkowski began the game with an outstanding catch on a seam route; Brady placed the ball on his outside shoulder and Gronkowski was forced to dive for the ball, carrying him to the one yard line.
He later caught a pass on a crossing route and concluded the drive with a touchdown catch; Gronkowski was over 100 yards midway through the second quarter and forced St. Louis to continuously rotate defenders in coverage, ranging from linebackers to defensive backs to defensive tackle Michael Brockers (in coverage on Gronkowski’s touchdown catch.) Gronkowski added a second touchdown in the fourth quarter which stretched the lead to 38 points. He finished the day with eight catches for 146 yards and two scores.
Offensive line keeps Brady clean all day, paves the way for a dominant ground game
Patriots left guard Logan Mankins was inactive for the second straight week, but New England’s offensive line did an excellent job of protecting Brady against St. Louis’ pass rush. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer were able to protect the edges from Chris Long and Robert Quinn, while Donald Thomas turned in a solid performance in Mankins’ absence. The Rams did not record a single quarterback sack or hit, and Brady looked unhurried all day. On the ground, New England was able to clear rushing lanes for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, who combined for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
Ridley in particular was impressive, breaking free for 41 yards at one point and running with incredible power all game. The Patriots finished with 155 rushing yards on 25 yards and an average of 6.2 yards per attempt on the ground, including 8.5 per carry for Ridley. Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui also contributed in a blocking capacity, and Hoomanwanui recorded an 18-yard catch and run out of the backfield.
Aggressive Patriots defensive front limits Rams offense to seven points
The Patriots were rewarded for their aggressiveness on the defensive front; Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes blitzed effectively, and two Rams drives ended with sacks: Chandler Jones swiped at Bradford’s legs to force a punt, and Rob Ninkovich sacked Bradford on fourth-and-six. Dont’a Hightower also injured Bradford’s left shoulder earlier in the game on an edge blitz. Pressure prevented Bradford from looking deep often, and most of St. Louis’ rushing yards came late during garbage time.
Steven Jackson carried the ball just seven times for 23 yards. At times New England appeared to have trouble tackling reserves Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead; the Patriots could set the edge more effectively, but overall the performance from the front seven was encouraging. Stopping opponents on third down has been a problem in the past, but the Rams were just 3/10 on third down attempts and 1/3 on fourth downs.
Limited Patriots secondary rebounds from early touchdown pass, suffers more injuries
Sam Bradford’s 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Givens on the first drive of the game was unsettling, but the Rams were largely ineffective through the air after that score. Tavon Wilson fell for Givens’ double move in deep coverage on the touchdown throw, but intercepted Kellen Clemens in the end zone to conclude the game. Clemens had replaced Bradford with New England up 45-7 in the fourth quarter; the two Rams quarterbacks combined for just 244 yards through the air and were intercepted twice (Alfonzo Dennard picked off Bradford earlier.)
Nine of St. Louis’ pass attempts were deflected by Patriots defenders. However, the Patriots suffered two additional injuries: Kyle Arrington left the game early with a head injury, and Marquice Cole appeared to injure his hamstring. By the end of the game, New England was operating with Alfonzo Dennard at left cornerback and Sterling Moore on the right side. Nate Ebner also received substantial playing time at safety.