Pick Six:  Observations from Game Nine

New England beat the Green Bay Packers 31-17 on Sunday Night Football at Gillette Stadium. A lot of pre-game hype because it was just the second time Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady faced off as starting quarterbacks. Keeping in mind how dangerous Rodgers is, holding the Packers to only 17 points could be considered the defensive high water mark (so far) for this team. New England was helped out by two questionable calls: Green Bay safety Jermaine Whitehead was ejected in the 2nd quarter after slapping center David Andrews (who appeared to blocking after the whistle) and the Patriots were given a first down after Robert Tonyan stumbled into punter Ryan Allen in the 3rd down.

Six Observations from Game Nine

1. New England played fast in their first drive, running ten plays and scoring a touchdown in just over three minutes. Other than receiver Phillip Dorsett replacing receiver Josh Gordon on the fourth play, the Patriots kept the same personnel on the field for the first drive: receivers Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman, tight end Dwayne Allen, and running back James White. White has been a dynamic offensive player for New England this season, and it appears that the coaches are actively trying to limit his “touches”. In the first three games, White averaged 18 total receptions and rushes per game. Over the last three games that number has been cut to nine total touches per game. But when White does get his number called he’s averaging 6.3 yards per touch this season, which compares favorably to the Steelers’ All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell’s career average of 5.2 yards per.

2. Part of limiting the wear and tear on James White has been running the ball on first and second down with receiver-turned-running back Cordarrelle Patterson. On Sunday Patterson carried the ball 11 times and averaged over six yards on runs to the left side or up the middle. This observer thinks left guard Joe Thuney has been playing the best football of his career this season. Patterson had a five-yard touchdown run late in the 2nd quarter when Thuney stood up defensive lineman Kenny Clark and left tackle Trent Brown took out linebackers Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell on a single block. Four plays prior to the touchdown, James White ran behind Thuney’s block of linebacker Nick Perry on a critical third-and-two conversion.

3. The Patriots scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter thanks to variations made to two screen plays that New England often runs. First, Tom Brady lateralled to Julian Edelman, who appeared to be running a slip screen behind Josh Gordon’s and Chris Hogan’s blocks on the right side of the line. Once New England’s linemen got into position on the left side, Edelman threw the ball back over to James White who gained 37 yards running up the left sideline. Four game-minutes later, Chris Hogan appeared to be running a bubble screen to the left behind “blockers” Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. The Packers defense was out of position and Brady was able to fake to Hogan and then hit Gordon 15 yards down field in route to a 55 yard catch-run-and-score.

4. After the game, ESPN reported that the Patriots’ defense pressured quarterback Aaron Rodgers 19 times, the most against Green Bay this season. Although New England started the game playing their more typical zone defense, it soon became obvious that the coaches were going to be very aggressive on third down. Often on third down the Patriots aligned with all eleven defensive players within ten yards of the line of scrimmage, blitzed up front and relied on man coverage on the back end. Although Rodgers threw for 110 yards on third and fourth down, the Packers only converted six of their 15 third- and fourth-down plays into first downs.

5. Safety Patrick Chung is vital cog in the 2018 Patriots’ defense whose contributions don’t always show up in the highlight reels. When the Patriots went to man coverage against the Packers, they usually put the 5’ 11” Chung alone on the 6’ 7” tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham caught a touchdown over Chung on a slow developing crossing pattern in the 3rd quarter, but Chung had previously broken up an end zone pass to tight end Lance Kendricks in the 2nd. Several times television viewers could see Chung coaching his younger defensive backs pre-snap, making sure everyone knew their assignments.

6. New England defensive end Adrian Clayborn made the most of his 17 plays (snap counts by pro-football-reference.com) has he contributed three drive-ending plays. In the 1st quarter he tackled Randall Cobb short of the sticks in the left flat to force a field goal attempt. Midway through the 4th Clayborn ran a stunt with Trey Flowers against guard Lane Taylor and tackle David Bakhtiari that resulted in a nine-yard sack. Late in the 4th Clayborn’s quarterback pressure contributed to an incompletion on fourth down. Clayborn also had a third down sack in the 4th quarter that was nullified by a Patriots’ “too many men on the field” penalty (the second such penalty in the game). Perhaps most impressive were the two times Clayborn peeled out of his pass rush to run laterally with Aaron Rodgers – and keep him from breaking free around the corner – when the quarterback rolled to the left.

Originally posted on PatsPulpit.com

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