Pick Six: Observations from Game Five

New England defeated Indianapolis 38-24 at Gillette Stadium on Thursday Night Football, only four days after the Colts lost in overtime to the Texans. The final score represented this season’s high water mark (so far) for points scored by the Patriots’ offense and points surrendered by the Patriots’ defense. The game was Julian Edelman’s first meaningful contest since Super Bowl 51. After a significant injury in 2017, and an NFL suspension to start 2018, it was a surprise to no one that the Patriots’ first offensive play was a nine yard hitch route in the slot to the returning Edelman.

Six Observations from Game Five

1. The Patriots received the opening kickoff and immediately went on the attack with [mostly] spread formations – sometimes an empty backfield – and quick passes against the Colts’ zone defense. Sony Michel picked up a third-and-inches on a run behind right guard Shaq Mason, and after that James White stayed on the field. Tom Brady completed all nine pass attempts on the opening drive, and usually in a way that allowed the receiver to gain additional yardage after the catch. The impressive opening drive ended with a screen pass to Cordarrelle Patterson for a score, with Phillip Dorsett and Kevin Hogan blocking up the defensive backs well. The play was identical to Danny Amendola’s two point conversion used to tie up Super Bowl 51 for New England in the final minute of regulation.

2. New England’s defense was fortunate to give up only three points in the first half after allowing Andrew Luck to complete 67% of his passes and giving up 141 total yards. The defense benefited from some errant throws to open pass catchers, like at the end of a promising Colts drive in the 1st quarter, Luck over threw on open Eric Ebron in the end zone to the right, and then overthrew an open Zach Pascal in the end zone to the left. Those misses resulted in a field goal attempt by Adam Vinatieri that was missed. Also midway through the 2nd, Ebron got so wide open that he may have scored a touchdown, but Luck underthrew – which forced his tight to turn around for a circus catch – leading to a tackle after only 17 yards. That offensive drive ended when Luck threw a third down pass too high to receiver Chester Rogers, resulting in a second field goal attempt.

3. Running back Sony Michel ended New England’s scoring with a long touchdown run to the left for the second game in a row. On that scoring scamper, the hole was opened by guard Shaq Mason pulling around to the left to hit linebacker Najee Goode while Rob Gronkowski stood up defensive end Kemoko Turay. That was a theme of many Michel runs: Good blocking from non-offensive line positions. For example, early in the 2nd quarter, Sony Michel had powerful 15 yard red zone run behind a violent trap block from Rob Gronkowski on defensive tackle Al Woods. Late in the same quarter Michel picked up five yards on a run to the left where left tackle Trent Brown got way outside and tight end Dwayne Allen down blocked defensive end Kemoko Turay. On the next play, Michel picked up 15 yards on a dive up the middle in which fullback James Develin crushed linebacker Najee Goode.

4. A double covered Josh Gordon came down with a 34-yard touchdown catch in the 4th quarter on a ball Tom Brady lofted into the right corner of the end zone. It was a busted play – Gordon had shifted to their planned “improvisation” once his post pattern was snuffed out – that could have easily been intercepted if not for the receiver’s impressive play. Maybe Brady was just feeling it, because he seemed to be getting lucky for most of the game. Earlier, in the 3rd quarter, and with defensive tackle Jihad Ward draped on him, Brady found Rob Gronkowski over the middle for 15 yards. Later in the same quarter, defensive end Kemoko Turay ran right past left tackle Trent Brown and was baring down on Brady when the quarterback slung it to Julian Edelman over the middle for 13 yards. Early in the 2nd, facing a third-and-goal from the one yard line, Brady went over the top of the pile for the score – and some contact by the defense – but came away unscathed.

5 . Brady was fortunate, except when he was caught up in a strange sequence of events in the last half of the 3rd quarter. At the Colts’ 30 yard line a pass bounced through the arms of receiver Chris Hogan and was intercepted by Indianapolis defensive back Matthias Farley. On the subsequent drive, Devin McCourty ripped the ball out of Jordan Wilkins’ arms for a fumble recovery. Then New England drove it down to the Colts 25 yard line before a pass jumped off Gronkowski’s hands and was intercepted by linebacker Najee Goode. Andrew Luck would take that possession all the way to the end zone to tighten the score to 24-17, Patriots. In the vein of that 3rd quarter wackiness, Jason McCourty made a 4th quarter tackle on Indianapolis receiver Zach Pascal and the ball popped up to cornerback Jonathan Jones, who made the interception.

6. Running back James White continued beating the Colts’ defense with a pass route that looped around the tackle, continued up the seam, and then broke inside with an in-cut, or post, for an easy completion. On the Patriots’ first drive he successfully ran that route for a first down and then did it twice in the 2nd quarter: One for a first down after New England had gone three-and-out on the previous drive, and then moments later for the touchdown that put them up 21-3. White is showing that he’s one of Tom Brady’s most dependable weapons, especially when he can take a simple swing pass in the flat, juke safety Clayton Geathers, and gain 12 yards as he did in the 2nd. White led the Patriots pass catchers with 10 grabs on 14 targets.

Originally posted on PatsPulpit.com

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