Second Glance: Observations From Patriots’ 16-9 Win vs. Raiders

The Patriots walked away with a win against the Raiders on Sunday. But the team remains unsolidified on both sides of the ball. (Winslow Townson - USA Today Sports Images)

The Patriots walked away with a win against the Raiders on Sunday. But the team remains in flux on both sides of the ball. (Winslow Townson – USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

They don’t award style points in the NFL. The New England Patriots’ 16-9 win over the Oakland Raiders evidenced why.

The Week 3 home opener at Gillette Stadium netted a total of 10 punts between Oakland’s Marquette King and New England’s Ryan Allen. It saw a total of six field goals between Sebastian Janikowski and Stephen Gostkowski. And by the time defensive tackle Vince Wilfork clung onto his third career interception and the Patriots clung onto the victory, every point in the game had been scored by a player whose last name ended in “-kowski.”

Neither backfield crossed the century mark in rushing. Neither passing game threw for over 235 yards. And combined, the offenses of the Patriots and Raiders converted on just one of six red-zone opportunities.

It wasn’t how it was drawn up. It was, however, more of what it has been for head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots thus far in 2014.

Upon second glance, here are seven observations from Sunday’s tilt.

Though Largely Stagnant, Patriots Commit to the Ground

Heading into the 1 p.m. kickoff, Oakland’s run defense ranked No. 32 in the league with 200 yards allowed per contest. Offenses had run on the Raiders for a tally of 80 attempts over the first two weeks of the season.

The Patriots vied to extend the trend, running the ball 29 times on Sunday. Yet, ultimately, only 83 yards were gained in the process – counting a five-yard jet sweep to wideout Julian Edelman, and discounting three kneel-downs from quarterback Tom Brady.

Coming off a 25-carry, 101-yard game against the Minnesota Vikings, Stevan Ridley remained the workhorse of New England’s rushing committee, but a 19-carry, 54-yard game was his final output. Ridley’s longest rush was nine yards, while 11 of his rushes went for two yards or less.

It was a similar case when Shane Vereen entered for seven attempts and 20 yards, as 11 of which came on one run. And when Brandon Bolden filtered in, two carries for four yards were the byproduct, bringing his season total to eight carries for 12 yards.

Collectively, the Patriots picked up five first downs on the ground.

Offensive Line Shifts, Pressure Continues

New England’s line conceded four quarterback hits by the time the final snap was played on Sunday. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack, drafted fifth overall in May, notched one of them as he ran the edge around left tackle Nate Solder to get Brady in the strike zone.

Those occurrences were not limited to the edge, nor did they dissipate when substitutions were made.

The Patriots made a change in the midst of the second half against Oakland, swapping fourth-round center Bryan Stork into the game and kicking Dan Connolly over to right guard. Those alterations took 26-year-old first-year player Jordan Devey out of the rotation for the duration.

Devey, a member of the 2013 practice squad, was called for a false start on New England’s first series of the third quarter, then was beaten by former New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck on the next play to force a three-and-out.

Devey stayed in the shuffle until Stork entered with 11:15 to go in the fourth. The rookie played the final 15 offensive snaps and appeared to hold up well in pass protection, using his hand replacement to sway Oakland’s defensive tackles away from the point of attack. And in terms of creating lanes for the run, Stork looked comfortable working into the second level when Vereen changed course.

But when the Patriots returned to the air, Oakland returned to pressuring Brady. Defensive tackle C.J. Wilson bull-rushed left guard Marcus Cannon into a parallel position, then sidestepped into the front of the pocket for a second sack. It landed an eight-yard loss.

(NFL Game Rewind)

(NFL Game Rewind)

It remains to be seen if the Patriots can iron out the protection. For now, it remains a significant concern, both outside and in.

New England’s Receiving Corps Looking for Identity

The lack of time afforded to Brady limited what he and the Patriots receivers could do on offense. But it would be remiss to hinge the struggles of New England’s passing game solely on the front five. There were misthrows and misreads on the quarterback’s part when he had the allotted space. And out wide, there were the same constituents finding space to be targeted.

But while Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski continued to get their share of his passes – combining for 13 catches, 130 yards and a touchdown – others did file into the box score.

After seeing the first seven passes thrown his way this season fall incomplete, free-agent acquisition Brandon LaFell caught his first on a four-yard quick screen against the Raiders. While his presence has been felt on special teams and as a blocker, he was able to add 15 more yards on a short post route, 12 on a curl, then on 15 another as Brady eluded pressure and stepped up in the pocket.

But, in a sense, it appears as though New England’s route-runners are still searching for a purpose, and the coaching staff is searching for a purpose for them.

Danny Amendola, who’s recorded three receptions for 16 yards this season, has had three receptions for 60 yards called back by offensive pass interference. Versus Oakland, flags came to fruition as LaFell was penalized for his second pick route involving Amendola.

(NFL Game Rewind)

(NFL Game Rewind)

With the offense transitioning to running personnel, the slot receiver has played fewer total snaps over New England’s last two games than he did in Week 1 alone.

Along those same lines, second-year wideouts Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have seen their playing time come at each other’s expense. That was on display again Sunday, as Thompkins was active and caught one pass for 16 yards. Dobson, on the other hand, was not.

The undrafted Cincinnati product and the second-round Marshall product have yet to play in the same game this campaign. And traded-for “F” tight end Tim Wright has played a total of 34 snaps through three games, according to Pro Football Focus.

Only five of those came versus Oakland. One of them resulted in a 20-yard gain, as the converted wide receiver arced through the seam and underneath safety Charles Woodson.

It was the Patriots’ second longest pass play of the game.

Vince Wilfork, Dont’a Hightower Stand Apart Up Front

His game-sealing interception is what will be remembered from Sunday’s game, but Wilfork pieced together his most complete performance since tearing his Achilles against the Atlanta Falcons 53 weeks ago.

The 6’2”, 325-pound nose occupied multiple gaps and managed to hold Oakland’s run game in check during short-yardage situations. And after Sealver Siliga exited early on with an ankle injury, Wilfork needed to.

Wilfork, as well as linebacker Dont’a Hightower, solidified New England’s front seven versus the Raiders. And for the 2012 first-round pick, the song has remained the same through the first three weeks of the season. Hightower looked the part coming up as an extra rusher, supporting the run, and delegating coverage responsibilities.

The 6’3”, 270-pound thumper was in on seven tackles and one tackle for loss. He was in on one quarterback hit. And while one of his plays was called back due to holding, he even broke up a pass intended for running back Darren McFadden 30 yards down the field.

Platoon Continues Next to Devin McCourty

Things are fluid at the strong safety position in New England’s defense.

Patrick Chung played 42 snaps versus Oakland, per Pro Football Focus. And behind him, fellow former second-round pick Tavon Wilson stepped in for 15 snaps, while 2013 third-round pick Duron Harmon logged another 12 snaps. All of whom played well in the sample size given next to Devin McCourty against the Raiders offense. Yet, as the fourth week of the regular season fast approaches, seldom do you see a trio of players all taking turns in middle of the secondary.

Wilson has already played more snaps through three games than he did all of last season, and the same can be said of Nate Ebner, who has continued to sub in for linebacker Jamie Collins in the dime defense.

Much has been made of the Patriots putting the best 11 players on the field. Right now, it is difficult to determine just who that is on the back end.

Raiders Wideouts Generate Space vs. Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan

Raiders receivers worked the intermediate against Patriots starting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Logan Ryan. And the unit did so primarily by creating separation at the top of routes and working back to the sideline.

Rookie quarterback Derek Carr connected on 5-of-6 passes for 63 yards in Revis’ vicinity, then 5-of-6 passes for 67 yards in Ryan’s vicinity. But, outside of a 29-yard pass to former Patriots wideout Andre Holmes, it was the methodical short throws that moved the sticks for the Raiders.

Along the way, though, Revis and Ryan were responsible for a total of three penalties. However, it could be argued that Holmes pushed off Ryan late on his vertical route late in the fourth rather than vice versa.

(NFL Game Rewind)

(NFL Game Rewind)

That particular call for defensive pass interference cost New England 24 yards. Down seven points with 1:02 remaining, it set up the Raiders at the six-yard line.

Matthew Slater Outlasts Oakland’s Special Teams

Former Patriots linebacker, core special-teamer and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Chatham made note of Pro Bowl specialist Matthew Slater following a fourth-quarter punt on Sunday.

“I’ve said this many times,” Chatham said via Twitter, “but Matthew Slater is as good at his particular job as any player in the league is at theirs.”

That was illustrated as the Raiders elected to not double-team the gunner at the line of scrimmage throughout the game’s punt returns. Slater, in turn, collected a pair of tackles against the delayed doubles of the Raiders, including a second-effort stop on Oakland’s T.J. Carrie.

“Delaying the double doesn’t work. You have to vice him (2 guys) at the line,” Chatham said of Slater on Monday. “He’s just too good.”

In addition to his efforts tackling return men, Slater also fielded his first return of the season on a fading kick by Janikowski down the right sideline. The third-year captain maneuvered up the field for a gain of 26 yards.

He left his mark in a game that relied on the third phase of it.

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9 Responses to “Second Glance: Observations From Patriots’ 16-9 Win vs. Raiders”

  1. rmc says:

    When Mankins went down last year Josh Kline filled in and did a pretty good job. Where is he this year, how can the coaches think Devey is any better? I dont get it. Stork looks like a keeper, but Solder has pretty much sucked. The only thing is the OLINE coach was out of football last year. BB couldnt get a better coach? He cheaps out on coaches (Patricia and Boyer) and players sometimes and it could be coming back to haunt him. Right now I would take Incognito to bring back some nastiness to the OLINE

    • steve earle says:

      I hear your frustration and though Incognito might be a better on field OG his lockeroom history spells trouble. No thanks, there has to be a better option.

  2. Big w says:

    Have to say the oline sucks bigtime they blew by some guys before they got out of their stance. Coaching or thinking that undrafted interior lineman will due seems to be a large part of the offensive trouble.

    • MaineMan says:

      The four OL on the roster who were UDFA are:
      Kline – who was only active for the Minny game when he got a few garbage-time snaps
      Wendell – who was very good until 2013 and who’s been out the past two games with a knee injury
      Connolly – who was okay vs. Oakland, despite being limited in practice all week with a knee tweak
      Devey – who’s received a lot of playing time and who’s made some glaring errors, but probably no more than Cannon or Solder, really

      Overall, as bad as it seems when focusing on the untimely mistakes, it’s probably worth remembering that Brady has complete about 67% of his throws over the last two games, and that the OL helped hang 150 rushing yards at a 4.2 YPA on a Vikes run-D that has been much better in their other two games, @STL and @NOL. IOW, they must be doing at least some things pretty well a lot of the time.

      Playing KC in very loud Arrowhead is likely to be a challenge, of course. Silent snap counts are probably going to need to be a major point of emphasis in practice this week.

      The Chiefs may be somewhat easier to run against than the Raiders. A large portion of the 400 rushing yards that the Raiders had given up before coming to Gillette was from a half-dozen very big plays – otherwise, their run-D had held opponents under 3.0 YPA. In contrast, the 391 rushing yards that KCY has yielded in three games at a 5.1 YPA has included only two runs over 20 yards with the rest being a lot of 4-8 yard gains.

      OTOH, KC’s pass defense is very much pressure-based. Their secondary hasn’t gotten hands on many throws and about half the 713 passing yards they’ve given up have been on receptions of 15+ yards. If the OL can figure out how to handle the rush just a bit better over this week, the Chiefs could be sufficiently vulnerable to the current Pats offense (even without miraculous improvements) to come out with a W.

      • steve earle says:

        I can only hope your right but our current O-line is not preforming well regardless of the cause. I’m hoping something can be done to fix it before long.

        • MaineMan says:

          To me, it’s more a case of NONE of the blockers performing ~consistently~ well.

          I think the issues involve EVERYBODY who has blocking assignments – TEs, RBs and even WRs, as well as the fatties – both veterans and “newbies.” They’ve ALL missed stuff at one point or another in ways that have trashed plays at critical moments. I also don’t think it’s a matter of any one guy playing poorly all of the time because, after all, if they weren’t getting some things right as a group some of the time (or even most of the time), the offense would be even worse than it is, and every game would have been as bad as, or worse than, Miami.

          I also think trying to understand the possible causes is important in trying to gauge what to expect from here. I say “causes”, plural, because it’s almost certainly more than one simple thing or one person, which means there’s unlikely to be one simple fix (like signing Incognito).

          From what I’ve seen, blockers have seemed slow to react at time, to be taking false steps, to be doubling up on the wrong guy and sometimes unsure of who to block. OTOH, there have certainly been other times when guys seem to have reacted too quickly. WRs and RBs have been flagged for holding simply because they started to block downfield just a smidge early. OL and TEs (including Gronk) have occasionally gotten too far downfield too fast to get to one guy on the second level while missing the other guy coming in for the tackle behind them.

          There are several potential causes for all this, all of which may well be contributing factors. For example:
          – Both Guards are, effectively, new. Devey, literally (only a year on the PSQ before this). And Cannon hasn’t had extensive experience at LG. Their struggles with their respective learning curves have a domino effect on the play of the guys next to them – both Tackles and the Center. And, of course, there’s the effect on overall communication, timing and cohesiveness that affects even the non-OL blockers. If you’re not sure that the other guy is seeing the same thing that you are with the defensive set, there are likely to be instances where you jump in to help and it turns out that you shouldn’t have.
          – The OL coach is new. Guglielmo may being making exactly the same points that Scar did, but the odds are that he expresses them a different way simply because he’s a different guy. It’s also possible that he’s been emphasizing different technique points in drills (same overall technique, just a slightly different focus).
          – There could also have been a significant change in blocking assignments, in spite of Guglielmo’s statements that “nothing’s changed”.

          Frankly, this last possibility is the prime suspect for me. It’s not that I think that Guglielmo has arbitrarily imposed his own “system” on the blocking scheme. On the contrary, blocking assignments probably needed to change and probably would have even if Scar was still around.

          Think about it. In 2012, the interior configuration of Connolly, Wendell and Mankins (playing through yet another injury) was among the best in the league. Suddenly, in 2013, they were at the bottom. Sure, Mankins’ decline was a bit more noticeable, but for that same trio to fall off a cliff like that all at once – it seems highly improbable that it was ~just~ them. Brady holding on to the ball a bit longer due to the unfamiliarity of his targets probably contributed, but still, that doesn’t seem to be a complete enough explanation to me. So, I also have to guess that defenses were doing something different.

          Now, by that, I DON’T mean that ALL defenses “suddenly” switched tactics from one year to the next. However, I think there’s been a clear trend toward focusing on getting more interior pressure for several seasons now – and it takes awhile for teams to all catch up with any trend (mostly because it can take a couple-three years or more to assemble the right personnel mix, for draftees to develop, etc.). It could be simple happenstance that most of the teams the Pats played in 2013 who they DIDN’T play in 2012 (at least seven games on their schedule) were teams that had just finally “caught up”. IOW, what had worked well enough for the Pats interior OL against their 2012 slate of opponents just wasn’t working well enough anymore in 2013.

          The assignments that may have needed to change to improve resistance to interior pressure wouldn’t have been limited to just the duties of the interior guys. Everybody would need to change what they’re reading and how they (cooperatively) react to it, at least a bit. But assignment changes mean that every guy now has to “think” about what he’s supposed to do and suppress ingrained habits and muscle memory. And that slows reaction time, leads to misreads, mis-timings, slippages in basic techniques and false steps. Not on every play, but on certain types/sets of plays where the changes are more inclusive and more critical, where all it takes to blow up a play is one guy (out of six or so) making a mistake.

          Since they haven’t been awful on every play, there are probably certain types/sets of plays that everybody has mastered pretty well, where everybody knows what everybody else is going to do and the execution is generally pretty good. My guess is that improvement from here will be incremental – one type/set of plays at a time – and that progress may continue to seem slow to us, or even seem relatively invisible. However, there may come a game – maybe even this week – where the types/sets of plays they HAVE mastered the blocking for may happen to coincide almost perfectly with the sets of plays called for by the gameplan for that opponent, and it may appear to us that they all suddenly “got it.”

          Of course, that event may also coincide with a completely unrelated personnel change which most fans will point to as the sole cause for the “dramatic” improvement when it’s really a matter of enough of the group finally getting to the “tipping point” on enough of the plays.

          In any case, I don’t see this as a disaster. Yet. It seems to me that there have been ~some~ improvements over the first three games, even if only in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back sorta way. As long as they improve enough to get the team to a 12-4 season and the playoffs, I’ll worry about the post-season when they get there.

        • qwerty says:

          Good comment MaineMan.

          You really can’t judge the OL until week 5. Lot of teams go thru this with their OL. The defense has the advantage in the first 5 weeks until the offense fixes timing, blocking assignment and other seemingly minute issues.

          The only thing I don’t like is the coaches using players out of their best position. Maybe they are just experimenting to see what they can and can’t do and things will settle down in a few weeks.

          Playing “prevent” defense with all their secondary talent is my other concern. They have got to learn how to play aggressively so when they get to the super bowl, they can bring it the entire game.

          As long as they win by 1 point, i can live with their mistakes.

          I expect the Patriots to have at least a top 5 defense in terms of the yards they give up.

        • steve earle says:

          Well yes your right MM it does extend beyond the O-line though I was singeling them out because they are the most critical element in the blocking scheams of teams.
          Qwerty, you too are quite correct in what you are saying but realize we Pats fans are not use to this level of poor play from out team. Glad you put it into a little deeper perspective.

        • Jack says:

          MM, there is a lot of truth to your analysis, but I remain unconvinced that the “gelling” solution (for lack of a better term) will be enough to bring the Patriots to the promised land, or even be enough to help them beat good teams. As you cogently pointed out, other teams were “catching up” to the Pats already as of least year, ending in 40 sacks, highest in a long time. I’ve started to understand the reason Brady focuses in on just Edelman/Gronk is that he just doesn’t have the time to go through his progressions.

          I understand the resistance to bringing Incognito in. I read the report and he comes across as a pretty repulsive dude. OTOH, this is a violent game and a lot of these guys aren’t saints. A lot of stuff goes on that we don’t know about and never will. Incognito’s problem is he got caught.

          The Pats have demonstrated the ability to bring in bad actors and turn them around. They come in and realize that if they can suck it up for a while, they can turn their careers around. Aqib Talib is a prime example. Randy Moss and Cory Dillon are others. While the Pats were blind-sided by the Hernandez situation, there is nothing in Incognito’s background that suggest he’s a killer on the loose. Don’t you think the OL and TB could benefit by bringing in a guy with an edge, a proven starter of over 100 games and a former all-pro?

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