Stock Report: Patriots vs. Bengals Edition

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots

Patriots’ running back Stevan Ridley had a strong outing versus the Bengals, toting the rock 27 times for 113 yards and 1 touchdown.. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

NEPD Staff Writer: Ken Vetrano

The New England Patriots played with emotion and a sense of urgency Sunday night as they beat the Cincinnati Bengals 43-17. Players stepped up and rallied around quarterback Tom Brady. There were a number of areas I could have chose to highlight from this victory. Kyle Arrington for instance played aggressively – making plays on defense and returning a fumble for a touchdown on special teams. Stephen Gostkowski continued to be one the most steadfast kickers in the league, and Darrelle Revis virtually shut down AJ Green for an entire half.

Below are just a few of the bright spots I chose to examine from last night, as well as some areas where New England needs to pick up the slack if they hope to contend later this fall when their schedule beefs up.

Rising

Running Game: Shane Vereen was hitting the accelerator after making his first move, and cutting up field quickly. All too often Vereen gets cute, abusing his ability to move laterally. Against Cincinnati, he took the open lanes presented to him and burst through holes. He averaged 10 yards per carry, and was a tremendous compliment to Stevan Ridley. His best play came in the third quarter on a 3rd and 16 after a Brian Stork holding penalty backed the offense up. The Patriots ran a draw to Vereen who shot up the middle for a 16-yard 1st down. The draw used to be a staple of New England’s offense – made famous by Kevin Faulk – if they can run that play with any consistency, it’s a great escape plan to have on third down.

Setting the tempo with Vereen was Stevan Ridley, who ran with authority and purpose. The problem with Ridley in the past was his violent running style, and tendency to get lazy with ball control. He typically leads with his head and doesn’t square his shoulders enough when making contact. Against Cincy, Ridley ran physically and intelligently. It was a workhorse like performance that helped New England establish an effective play action, and exploit seams down the middle with Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright. He also notched his longest carry ever with a 43-yard run down the sideline. If Ridley is patient, and follows his blocks, opportunities will be there for him to break off big plays.

Tight Ends: The 2-TE offense was back in effect. Wright found separation and took advantage of open gaps in the middle. He has a long stride that takes a few seconds to get going, but has decent speed to pick up some extra change after the catch. His 17 yard touchdown showcased how Brady can take advantage of Wright’s size on top of coverage. He might not be as shifty or explosive as the old #81, but Wright has enough skill to be a productive “F-type” TE for this offense.

It looks like Rob Gronkowski’s feet have finally gotten back under him. He was seeking contact and gaining yards after collision. At times he still doesn’t look %100, but his speed and balance are improving with every rep. The Bengals treated him with softer coverage than they should have, and Gronk ate them up. His motor seemed to have extra fuel in the tank as  the game progressed – as cardio seemed to be an issue with him early on this year. Which is to be expected from a player returning to live action after being shelved so long. If Wright starts to command added attention, that should only open things up for Gronk, and vice versa.

Offensive Line: They played together, got up field fast with blocks and became bullies inside the trenches. Dan Connolly really has had a nice start to 2014, and the rest of the line seemed to catch up Sunday night. Outside of a dumb holding penalty that Vereen eventually bailed him out off, Stork looked good at center. There still seems to be a bit of a rotation going on at right tackle, but overall things are starting to settle down for them. Tom Brady had all day to throw, and was able to read through his progressions while sitting in the pocket. By no means is the line completely fixed, but at least New England has a foundation to work with now. What seemed like a never ending game of musical chairs appears to be over. They went back to the basics concentrating on fundamentals and execution. Moving ahead, Brady can focus on other aspects of the offense, and Josh McDaniels can slowly start dialing up longer range passes.

Falling

Pass Rush: We haven’t seen much from New England’s pass rush outside of the Viking’s game. A lot of this has to do with scheme, and not attacking on a regular basis. However, the Patriots’ rushers must start creating their own success. Few players are winning one on one battles. Chandler Jones needs to stop overusing his bull rush, and incorporate more variations of that swim move he has found success with previously. He isn’t the strongest defensive end, but his length should make him a mismatch versus the majority of offensive lineman. Rob Ninkovich has never been the most athletic DE, and depends heavily on his motor and instincts to make plays. I’m not sure what’s happened to him this season. Casey Walker flashed when he penetrated the backfield and tackled Jeremy Hill for a four-yard loss, but outside of that and Chris Jones’ 4th quarter sack, there wasn’t much to get excited about. There’s nothing wrong with this defense being built around their secondary. Especially considering the pieces they’ve assembled back there, but at some point the front seven has to pull their own weight. Hopefully Dominique Easley will avoid missing significant time and become an asset on third down. Dont’a Hightower getting healthy should help them out as well down the line.

Secondary Depth: Heading into the season this was one of the Patriots strengths, and still could be. But when Darrelle Revis and Devin McCoutry left the game last night, fans realized just how impactful they are on defense. Mohamed Sanu flew by Alfonzo Dennard for an easy 37 yard touchdown shortly after McCourty was sidelined with a rib injury. Whether it was miscommunication – Dennard reacted as if he expected help over the top – or just blown coverage, that’s a play McCoutry doesn’t let get past him. Later in the third quarter, Andy Dalton immediately targeted Logan Ryan the moment Revis left the game, and A.J. Green cashed in with a 17 yard touchdown. The secondary does have talent behind their stars, but players like Ryan, Dennard and Duron Harmon excel at certain roles. Take them out of those roles and things start to break down. It looks like the Patriots dodged a bullet with Revis and McCourty, as Revis returned to the game and initial x-rays were negative for McCourty. Next week the Patriots should get Brandon Browner back, which will allow Bill Belichick to slot everyone where they perform best.

Red Zone Offense: Some might call this nit picking after Sunday night, but one of New England’s worst flaws last season that has bled over to 2014 is their red area offense. The offense should have done a lot more damage late in the game, and if it wasn’t for Kyle Arrington’s fumble return for a touchdown, the Bengals would’ve had a realistic chance to come back in the fourth quarter. Three fourth quarter field goals isn’t going to get the job done against Denver or even San Diego. Getting Wright involved in the Red Zone going forward could be part of the solution. Running fades with Gronk and Wright would give Brady a wider catch radius to work with inside congested space. Dumb penalties and questionable refereeing also didn’t help the cause.

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9 Responses to “Stock Report: Patriots vs. Bengals Edition”

  1. matty says:

    No mention of Patrick Chung. He looks like the same below average SS he always was. He’s just not tackling well enough to compensate for his weak pass coverage. I am shocked he’s even on the team; not an upgrade over Steve Gregory, who couldn’t even find a job this year. This is a looming problem.

    • MaineMan says:

      I completely disagree about Chung.

      Aside from the KC game, when pretty much everybody on the Pats defense was sliding around as if they were playing on rollerskates, Chung has been missing very few tackles and his coverage has been much better than it was during his previous stint with the Pats. He’s not biting on play-action nearly as often as he once did. He’s been staying in more on passing downs the last two games and BB even noted Chung’s good coverage in his presser this week.

      Seriously, he’s been so much better I often wonder who #23 is and ask “where did Chung go?”

  2. Kevan says:

    All good stuff. Tim wright is gonna be a big piece of the puzzle going forward. Very interested to see how Browner and Tyms get settled in. Gronk keeps goin in the right direction maybe lafell and or Dobson can get going, pats could have a pretty formidable red zone offense with all that size. after the bills and jets the schedule gets really fun. Bears,Broncos,Colts,lions,packers,Chargers. That’s gonna be awesome football.

  3. qwerty says:

    I said many games ago that we wouldn’t know the state of the OL until after week 5. Now we are after week 5 and we are all warm and comfy.

  4. MaineMan says:

    Great write-up, Ken.

    I also thought Arrington appeared more aggressive last night while still managing to stay under control. He also looked much better in his couple opportunities to play boundary coverage – best technique I’ve ever seen from him. Gotta wonder if he’s been getting some pointers from Revis.

    Spot on about Vereen’s previous bout of Maroney Disease. That really hurt him and the team against KC. Last night, he was much more straightforward through the LoS, waiting till he achieved the second level before making his sweet cuts to extend the run. Ridley’s technique has showed some consistent improvement so far, as you noted. Wendell’s ferocious run-blocking certainly helped both RBs on runs to the right side, too.

    Yeah, I think the OL looks pretty set now. I never thought that Connolly and Wendell were really as bad as they looked at times in 2013 and both seemed back to their top-notch 2012 form last night. I’m sure it also had Solder feeling more comfortable and confident with Connolly’s experience as his wing man. And, oh yeah, Stork’s a keeper.

    Agree about Chandler’s weak bullrush. He seems to charge into the blocker too aggressively which also gets him into trouble on run plays when he doesn’t shed well and loses contain on the edge on through his gap. IIRC, Nink’s pass rush usually starts the season as more of an “almost getting there” thing and the majority of his sacks and good pressures usually come starting around mid-season. Part of that, I think, is because he’s such a head’s up player. Not that he plays high – he doesn’t. But, when he makes first contact, his eyes are on the whole backfield, not just on the QB, which is why he’s such a consistent run-defender over there.

    Ryan, Harmon and Dennard are all more talented than just about anybody who was starting in the secondary in 2008 and 2009. Ryan needs to play more under control, Harmon needs more experience with making reads from the deep end, and Dennard just needs to get healthy.

    About halfway through the 3rd quarter, after the 86-yard drive that put them up 27-10, I thought the offense generally got more conservative/vanilla, but I didn’t really mind. Their execution of what they were doing still seemed sound, it just seemed a bit easier for the Bengals defense to figure out and stop. If the Pats had continued to press the issue, they might’ve won 63-17, but they also might’ve been exposing more of the playbook than necessary.

    Also agree about the penalties. The Pats racked up 12 for 114 yards. At halftime, Cincy had 8 total 1st downs, 4 of which were the result of penalties on the Pats. The Pats were victims of a couple ticky-tack and and a couple downright wrong calls. The spotting of the ball after Develin’s 1-yard plunge was laughable, and the Unsportsmanlike on Gronk was among the most stupid and unfair calls I’ve ever seen. However, two of the 4 flags against Cincy were also simply incorrect, so I’ll write most of it off to a really awful officiating crew. This particular crew has been poor in past seasons, too, and not only in Pats games. I just hope the Pats don’t draw those guys again, especially in a playoff game.

    Anyway, great observations all around by you. Thanks again for the writeup!

    • Jack says:

      Excellent write-up, and a tip-of-the-hat to you, MM, because you didn’t panic like a lot of us were after the KC debacle. I still say BB needs a counter-weight as a GM and has made a number of questionable moves. But, except for the KC game, it was plain to see that Brady wasn’t the problem – no QB would be effective with the lack of protection he had been getting. Mercifully, and miraculously, they seem to have come up with a good OL combination. Stork looks to have been a great pick, if he can stay healthy. Btw, on the Mankins trade, I said at the time it was one of the better deals Belichick has made, and was puzzled why they weren’t making more of an effort to incorporate Wright into the offense. The guy had 54 catches as rookie? C’mon, get him involved! But, maybe it was a learning curve, or mayb they had to be focused on solving the offensive line woes.

      There were so many good things that happened in that game. Ridley continues to run well and hang onto the ball – Vereen had maybe his best game as a Patriot, at least running the ball – the OL came together!!! – Gronk is starting to look like his old self again!!! – the emergence of Wright – a spectacular performance by Revis – and Brady having one of his best games ever in an emotional performance that silenced the critics (for now) and showed once again that he has the heart of a champion and – still – the skill-set of an elite QB. Jimmy Garoppolo has a future as an NFL QB, and I believe was a steal in the second round. But, there’s no way you can bench a guy with a resume like Brady’s until it’s been conclusively shown that he’s lost his skill-set, as opposed to simply lacking time to throw the ball and weapons to throw to.

      • MaineMan says:

        Thanks, and great added thoughts!

        With Wright, I think it’s been a bit of both – learning curve AND needing more blocking help than he could provide (yet). My only concern with him is the way he appeared to loose his balance in the absence of contact on a couple catches. Minor issue, though, for a guy who got open well and caught all 5 of his targets for 85 yards and a score.

        My only other offensive concern on the night was wrt to Ridley. His stat line is 27/113 for 4.2 ypc, but take away his long run of 43 yards and it becomes 26/70, 2.9 ypc. Still, a 2.9 ypc can produce a 2nd-and-7 and a 3rd-and-4, which is not terrible. Plus, Ridley showed great patience, persistence, BALL-SECURITY and spark, so things are definitely looking up. The other side of the yardage calculation above is that many of the great RBs, like Peterson, often show a similar stat line with 1-2 long runs accounting for the bulk of their yardage, minus which their ypc is kinda mediocre.

        • Jack says:

          MM – you know how I feel about cherry-picking 🙂 Ridley isn’t super-explosive, but he’ll get the yards you give him and maybe a few more. Without the fumbles, he becomes an integral component of the Pats O going forward.

        • MaineMan says:

          Reply to Jack:

          Honestly, I think I prefer a guy who gets 3-4 yards on almost every carry, even if he rarely breaks one for more than 10, over a guy who breaks a 30-40 yarder once every 20-25 carries but who gets 2 or fewer yards on most of his other carries. The first guy makes it much easier to keep the chains moving all game long.

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