The Rear View Mirror – Game Six

New England beat the New York Jets 24-17 in the Meadowlands in their fourth consecutive game decided in the final minute of regulation. In a game of streaks, quarterback Josh McCown led the Jets to 173 yards, including two long touchdown drives, in the game’s first 18 minutes. The Patriots’ defense stiffened in middle 35 minutes, holding New York scoreless and turning in three consecutive three-and-outs. True to their 2017 form, the Patriots’ defensive damn broke in the last half of the 4th quarter, giving up 79 yards, but this time limiting New York to only a field goal.

Malcolm Butler’s scrappy strip at the goal line curiously saved a 4th quarter touchdown

Photograph by Al Bello/Getty Images and published on

Nine Observations from Game Six…

1. Cornerback Malcolm Butler broke perfectly on a receiver Robbie Anderson’s comeback route at the New England 37 to intercept Josh McCown’s pass along the right sideline right before half time. Midway through the 4th quarter, Butler forced a fumble from Austin Seferian-Jenkins at the Patriots’ one yard line as the tight end was plunging in for a score. In a controversial decision, the mandatory scoring review reversed the original call and gave the ball to New England’s offense as a touchback.

2. Despite his heroics, Butler’s play remains inconsistent this season. Twice in the first half Butler was step-for-step with Robbie Anderson to break up pass attempts along the right sideline. However, on the Jets’ first drive Butler got lost on Anderson’s double move and gave up a third-down conversion for 23 yards. In the 2nd quarter, the cornerback seemed to be aligned out of position to defend Jeremy Kerley’s crossing pattern that resulted in a 31-yard touchdown.

3. For the first time this season, the coaches called a significant number of blitzes for the defensive backs. In the 3rd quarter, Malcolm Butler’s surprise blitz hurried Josh McCown into an interception on fourth-and-one. In the 4th, Duron Harmon blitzed on third down in the red zone to force a short completion and bring up a field goal attempt. Safety Jordan Richards blitzed to snuff out runs in the 1st (Matt Forté) and 2nd quarter (Elijah McGuire).

4. New England’s defense was effective against running backs Elijah McGuire and Matt Forté, holding them to a 2.3 yard average on 19 carries. Defensive lineman Malcolm Brown pushed inside of lineman James Carpenter’s block to bring down McGuire for a loss in the 2nd quarter. Later, Brown peeled off Carpenter’s block to bring down Forté for a loss in the 3rd quarter. Carpenter’s bad day continued when Deatrich Wise Jr. pushed past him on New York’s final drive to sack Josh McCown.

5. Defensive end Cassius Marsh twice was instrumental on run stops on third-and-one: In the 2nd quarter, Marsh got through tight end Eric Tomlinson’s block to be the first to contact McGuire on a delayed handoff; and in the 3rd he was in on a stop of Forté. However, Marsh still struggles in open space: In the 3rd he allowed Robby Anderson’s short reception to go for 21 yards; and a few minutes later he whiffed on a tackle to allow Josh McCown’s quarterback scramble to result in a first down conversion.

Dion Lewis averaged 5.8 yards per carry running behind the center and guards

Photograph published by

6. Running backs Dion Lewis and Mike Gillislee combined for a 4.6 yard average on 21 carries. The duo has seen their run efficiency improve by nearly 50% over the last three games (going from 3.3 yards per carry to 4.8). As it has been in most games this year, New England ran to right side of the line (ten runs) more than the left (three). In the 1st quarter, Gillisilee had the ball stripped by Darron Lee (in on six tackles) after the linebacker had fought off center David Andrew’s block.

7. Solid play by right guard Shaq Mason, who stonewalled lineman Steve McLendon for a nine-yard Lewis run in the 2nd quarter. Four plays later, Lewis followed Mason’s clear out of lineman Ed Stinson into the end zone for a score. Several times fullback James Develin – in on 35% of the offensive snaps – was used to trap the defensive tackle and allow Mason and Andrews downfield to block linebackers. Analytics site currently has Mason graded as the fourth best guard in the NFL.

8. The Patriots’ offensive line gave up four quarterback hits, down from their average of seven. One head-scratching decision by Tom Brady came in the 1st quarter when he threw (incomplete) into triple coverage to receiver Chris Hogan in the end zone. Another came in the 2nd, on a throw off play action to Rob Gronkowski on an out route (incomplete and nearly intercepted). A third came later in the 2nd when cornerback Buster Skrine intercepted a deep pass to a double-covered receiver Phillip Dorsett.

Brady’s offense is in a mini-slump over the last three games

9. Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks combined for half of Brady’s pass attempts and two-thirds of his passing yards against the Jets. In the 1st quarter, Cooks dropped a short pass before Brady went back to him for a successful third-and-five conversion. In the 2nd, Gronkowski dropped an end zone pass before Brady went back to him for a touchdown on the next play. Gronkowski also had a spectacular catch-run-and-score – past diving safety Jamal Adams – on third-and-eleven in the 3rd.

…And one comment about Game Seven.

The Atlanta Falcons will come into Gillette Stadium on Sunday Night Football with a surprisingly pedestrian passing offense that ranks 20th in Quarterback Rating through the first six weeks of 2017. If this game holds true to form, the Patriots’ 29th ranked passing defense will get quarterback Matt Ryan back on track. The home team’s front seven will also have to contend with running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman who are averaging 4.8 yards – including one touchdown and one 20+ yard run – per game.

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