The Rear View Mirror – Game Nine

The Patriots won 41-16 in Denver for just the 11th time in 32 attempts. New England scored 24 points thanks largely to contributions by the Special Teams. In the 1st quarter, the punt team recovered a muffed punt that led to a touchdown by the offense. Again in the 1st, the kickoff return team returned a kick 103 yards for a touchdown. In the 2nd, the punt return team blocked a punt that was eventually turned into a field goal. Finally, in the 4th the punt team snapped the ball before the Broncos were set, getting a “twelve men on the field” penalty that extended the touchdown-scoring drive.

Rex Burkhead’s punt block in the 2nd quarter set up a Patriots’ field goal

Photograph by Nancy Lane, Published by Boston Herald

Nine Observations from Game Nine…

1. Rex Burkhead had thirteen “touches” for 63 yards, including a touchdown. In the 1st quarter, Burkhead split out wide left, shadowed by safety Darian Stewart, and ran a slant that opened up behind Rob Gronkowski’s flag route for the team’s first touchdown. Later in the same quarter, tight end Dwayne Allen overpowered linebacker Shane Ray to open a crease for Burkhead’s fourth-and-inches conversion. Burkhead came into the game having played 14% of the team’s special team snaps, and his value on fourth down stood out on his punt block.

2. These seven Patriots are “core”, non-specialist, special team players that have played over half of the snaps in the kicking game so far this season: Jordan Richards, Jonathan Jones, Brandon Bolden, Cassius Marsh, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Johnson Bademosi, and Marquis Flowers. Jonathan Jones took returner Isaiah McKenzie out of the play immediately after he muffed the first punt of game. Also in the 1st quarter, Brandon King laid a solid tackle on returner Andy Janovich, keeping Denver’s first drive start short of the 25 yard line.

3. Dion Lewis ran behind a solid Dwayne Allen block at the 15 yard line and then outpaced three Broncos on the pursuit team for the kickoff return for a touchdown. Lewis also got the start at tailback and lead the team with 55 rushing yards on 14 carries. As a team, the seven of the Patriots’ thirty carries went six yards or over. Running up the middle – between the guards – New England averaged 4.0 yards on 19 carries. Running around the tackle and edges, the team averaged 2.5 yards on 11 carries.

4. New England’s running attack this season started gaining in effectiveness in game four (Carolina Panthers). Starting in game six (New York Jets), the team began running between the guards with greater regularity and efficiency. Fullback James Develin saw his snap count go from 24% to 34% over the past three games before the bye week. Against the Broncos, Develin was in on a season high 64% of the offensive snaps.

LaAdrian Waddle came off the bench with solid play for the offensive line

Photograph by James Silverman, Published by

5. Denver’s one sack of Tom Brady (266 yards and three touchdowns on 34 attempts) came on a third down in the 2nd quarter when safety Justin Simmons’ blitz beat James White’s block attempt. LaAdrian Waddle started the game for injury-scratch Marcus Cannon at right tackle and did an admirable job against linebacker Von Miller (one tackle and one QB hit). Early in the game, the NBC broadcast made note of Waddle pushing a hard charging Miller past Brady on pass play that picked up a first down.

6. The Broncos’ offense ran five plays of 20 yards or more, three of those came on pass plays to receiver Emmanuel Sanders with cornerback Malcolm Butler in coverage. In the 1st quarter, Butler tried to undercut an out route, but Sander’s double move up the left side line left him wide open for a 31 yard pick up. In the 2nd, the cornerback was in press coverage, Sanders pulls in a back shoulder throw up the left sideline for 23 yards. And in the 3rd, Sanders put an inside fake on Butler and shook free for a wide open catch on 23 yard out pattern.

7. New England’s top two corners were locked up in man coverage most of the game: Stephon Gilmore on Demaryius Thomas and Malcolm Butler on Emmanuel Sanders. If you throw in third wide receiver Cody Latimer, the Bronco’s wide outs combined for 14 catches on 24 targets for 209 yards and one TD for a 100.9 quarterback rating. Brock Osweiler’s career quarterback rating coming into the game was 76.1.

8. The Patriots’ defense was aided by some critical drops by Broncos’ receivers. In the 1st quarter running back Jamaal Charles’ drop came on third down in the right flat, bringing up a field goal attempt. In the 2nd, Demaryius Thomas’ drop came up the left sideline, contributing to a punt two plays later. In the 3rd, Emmanuel Sanders dropped a potential third-down conversion with Malcolm Butler in coverage.

9. Denver running backs C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, and Devontae Booker had a strong game, averaging 4.5 yards on 26 carries. In the 1st quarter, Anderson gained 21 yards on a run behind left guard. It appeared both defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacker David Harris thought the run was going off tackle and they over pursued to the outside as Anderson cut it back up the middle.

…And one comment about Game Ten.

New England (7-2) stayed in Colorado, decided to practicing in Colorado Springs before heading to Mexico City to play the Oakland Raiders (4-5). Oakland is in the middle of the NFL pack when it comes to offensive efficiency, but they have been the worst NFL team this season in defending opponent passing plays.

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