FOXBORO — The Patriots have won their first six games of the season for the fourth time under head coach Bill Belichick pulling away from the New York Giants en route to a 35-14 victory.
In the 11-day lead up to their next game, there’s going to be plenty of doubters of Tom Brady and a New England offense that played sloppy football in Thursday’s game.
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There will be takes abound about how the Patriots don’t have enough weapons and that the offensive line is in shambles and even that Brady himself is deteriorating.
We all fall victim to this, even me, an optimist, but those are all overreactions. Yes, the offense is inconsistent, and health is becoming a major concern with Josh Gordon as the latest receiver to go down. But the formula is there.
Lean on the defense, win in the kicking game, and Brady still marches the offense down the field often enough; that’s a Super Bowl formula, even if it’s different than years past.
Could the Patriots use another wide receiver or tight end? Sure. Every team in the NFL could. But the situation isn’t dire. It’s just different.
Without further ado, here are ten things we learned from the Patriots’ sixth victory of 2019:
1. Stephon Gilmore Delivers Best Performance of the Season to Date
In the first five games of the season, Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore was good but not great. On Thursday night, he was great.
Giants rookie Daniel Jones tried Gilmore six times only completing one of those throws for nine yards while two of them led to interceptions, and Gilmore had five pass breakups.
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In the post-game locker room, I asked Gilmore to explain what allows him to make so many plays on the football. He also led the NFL in pass breakups a year ago with 18.
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Gilmore plays a physical style and isn’t afraid to put his hands on receivers. On the play above, he’s in soft press technique against Giants rookie Darius Slayton. Soft press means that Gilmore won’t go to a jam right away but instead crowds the receiver while staying patient reading the break. He also uses a closed fist when he puts his hands on him at the top of the route, which draws fewer flags than when a DB grabs a receiver and then disrupts the catch point to break up the pass.
As captain Devin McCourty said, nobody works harder than Gilmore on his technique, and the Pats defense can do more things schematically because they have a shutdown corner.
- Related Content – Petraglia: Stephon Gilmore Shows Again Why He’s ‘By Far’ the Best Corner In the NFL
2. Tom Brady Cleans Up His Act After a Rocky Start
After completing only four of his first 11 pass attempts, Tom Brady finished Thursday night’s game by going 27-of-30 with six completions of 20 or more yards. On initial viewing, Brady’s ball placement in the first half was uncharacteristically poor. He was throwing behind receivers and throwing low on other throws, and not intentionally either. On his interception that he tried to fit into Julian Edelman, Brady took the blame, saying, “Bad decision. It was a bad decision, trying to squeeze it in there.”
First game this season where I'm a little worried about Brady. Didn't feel the backside pressure there and had plenty of time in the pocket to make a throw. #Patriots
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) October 11, 2019
His first-half performance even prompted me to hit the panic button slightly, and then Brady shut me up by reversing course on his final 30 throws.
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Here’s a great example of what Brady does at an extremely high level, and that’s complete passes outside of his primary read. The Patriots run play-action, and Brady’s first read in the progression is to Julian Edelman running an out along the sideline. Edelman is covered, so Brady quickly works to a crossing route by Jakobi Meyers for a 23-yard completion.
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Here’s another one. This time, the Giants only rushed three at Brady and the offensive line, as it should, kept him clean. The eight-man coverage holds up for a good four or five seconds, but Brady continues to scan the field with nobody around him. Finally, tight end Ryan Izzo comes open, and Brady hits him for a third-down conversion.
For the second straight game, it took Brady and the passing game some time to find its rhythm.
But he eventually finished the game completing 75.6 percent of his passes for 334 yards.
3. Julian Edelman a Constant Along With Brady as the Offense Finds Itself
Belichick and the Patriots aren’t into labeling receivers by numbers, but time and time again, Julian Edelman proves that he’s a #1 weapon in a productive offense.
Over the last two weeks, Edelman has 17 catches on 24 targets for 223 yards and a touchdown and is the only receiver consistently winning against all types of coverages.
Late in the fourth quarter, Edelman capped off the win with a 36-yard reception on a rare route for the reigning Super Bowl MVP. The Giants doubled him a decent amount, and they did so on this play, but he beat the bracket coverage anyways with a stutter-and-go move.
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Edelman charges hard off the line keeping his pads down to sell his vertical release forcing Giants corner Janoris Jenkins to backpedal. Then, he stops down, firing his feet at the top of the route while sinking his hips like he’s going to break off the route and then goes back into the vertical route.
We don’t usually see Edelman operate on a vertical plane, but he dusted to Giants DBs on that one.
4. Patriots Rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski Contribute in Win
After Josh Gordon went down, and with Phillip Dorsett inactive, the Patriots turned to undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski to carry the load. To exacerbate the issue, the Pats also dealt with injuries to fullback Jakob Johnson and tight end Matt LaCosse.
“Got kind of forced into one grouping there in the second half. I don’t think that’s ever happened in 20 years,” Brady said after the game.
In the second half, the Patriots played one personnel grouping on every offensive snap: three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. The three receivers were Edelman, Meyers, and Olszewski.
For Meyers, he caught all four of his targets for 54 yards mostly operating as the “Z” receiver.
Meyers made a terrific adjustment to a back-shoulder ball by Brady, one that he said he wasn’t expecting in that spot.
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“I kind of expected it over the top,” he told me. “I saw it in the air, and the wind kind of took it, made it die a little bit, so I just tried to adjust to it as fast as I could.”
Both Meyers and Olszewski spoke at length about how they’re leaning on each other through their first games in the NFL. Olszewski had some high praise for his friend and teammate.
“In a game, seeing Jakobi next to me, we talk the whole game. It’s helpful because he’s the smartest guy on the team, behind some of the vets obviously,” Olszewski said.
Meyers credited his high football IQ to his High School days as a quarterback and believes that his IQ is his edge against the uber-athletic players in the NFL.
“Probably being a quarterback just seeing things from a bigger picture,” Meyers said of his football smarts. “I always felt like I wanted to be the smartest guy in the room because I knew I wasn’t the most athletic, so I had to find out what worked for me. Just knowing more than everybody else is my thing.”
As Olszewksi noted, Meyers was already moving around the formation and running routes from multiple alignments in the first week of OTAs with the Patriots back in the spring.
“It was pretty soon [that he learned the offense]. I just knew that you have to do something that gives you a competitive edge against everyone else,” Meyers said.
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Olszewski also made his first NFL catch and caught a 29-yarder on a dagger concept with his buddy Meyers clearing out the coverage with a vertical route so Gunner could run a deep in-cut in the vacated area of the zone.
The Patriots didn’t expect that they’d be relying on Meyers and Olszewski to play serious snaps for them in the regular season, but they contributed in a big way on Thursday night.
5. Brandon Bolden is a Weapon for the Patriots
When the Patriots brought Bolden back this offseason, it was easy to assume that it was for veteran leadership and special teams purposes. Well, he’s a complete player for this team now scoring in three consecutive weeks both on the ground and through the air. We’ll also get to his blocked punt later.
“Yeah, Brandon is a talented guy. He can play on all four downs and play well. We’re very fortunate to have him. He gives us great depth and is just another good football player to put on the field,” Belichick said in his post-game press conference.
The running back position is another area of strength for New England, and Bolden’s all-around contributions give them another weapon.
6. Jamie Collins and “the Boogeymen” Go to Work
The boogeymen were back at it again as the Patriots linebackers registered the defenses only sack (Van Noy), five quarterback hits, an interception, and a forced fumble and scoop-and-score.
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Van Noy’s touchdown, Collins, who is everywhere for this defense, made another terrific play to force the fumble. At the snap, Collins retreats to play in coverage. He then sniffs out the screen, beats the offensive lineman to the spot, and knocks the ball out of Hilliman’s hands.
The Pats linebackers are the best group in the NFL, and they run deep, with contributions from eight members on game day.
7. How Instincts Fuel the Patriots Pass Rush
For the second week in a row, a Patriots pass-rusher made an instinctive play that stood out to me. This time, it was veteran John Simon on one of Daniel Jones’s three interceptions that didn’t end up in his hands.
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On Duron Harmon’s interception, Simon has backside contain on the mobile Jones. It’s play-action, so Simon initially stays home. Once Jones starts to roll out, Simon comes downhill to pressure the rookie along with Danny Shelton leading to the interception.
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For some reason, Simon’s decision to come after Jones reminded me a bit of Dont’a Hightower’s sack last week. The Pats linebackers make instinctive plays like these every single week, and what makes it impressive is that they take calculated risks on the fly.
“Well, it depends on the play,” Simon told me. “We have certain plays where you’re able to do so, and certain plays you aren’t.”
The Patriots give their veteran defense built-in leeway to become playmakers when the situation allows them to do so.
8. Patriots Offensive Line Continues to be Up and Down
There were certainly ugly reps by the Patriots offensive line, and you’d like to see them run the football with more consistency, but they’re holding it together. At left tackle, Marshall Newhouse is hurting the team in pass protection, and Isaiah Wynn’s absence is showing.
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Newhouse is a standup guy and openly admits his mistakes after games. I know that doesn’t make fans feel better about his performance, but it’s refreshing. On the sack he allowed in the first quarter, Newhouse told me that he took one false step and couldn’t recover. As you can see, Newhouse steps out to his left expecting a edge rush, but Giants pass rush Markus Golden slants inside to pressure Brady. Newhouse is trying hard out there, but he’s physically limited to handle left tackle duties.
Along with Newhouse, tight end Ryan Izzo remains on my radar as a run blocker. The Patriots can’t run the ball to the strong side off-tackle because Izzo can’t sustain blocks. It’s a problem.
Until Wynn comes back, or the team upgrades at left tackle, the Patriots need to survive upfront.
9. Daniel Jones Wasn’t Ready For a Belichick Defense
Giants rookie Daniel Jones is off to a good start to his NFL career, certainly better than I expected, but Bill Belichick and the Pats defense swallowed him whole on Thursday night.
The sixth overall pick in April’s draft is at his best in the quick passing game that dates back to his days at Duke, and he made a few nice throws in those situations, but his head was spinning.
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On Stephon Gilmore’s interception, the Pats made a simple post-snap safety rotation going from a single-high look to a split-safety cover-2 zone. Against single high man, a corner route is a good option for Jones, but you can’t throw that route with an underneath defender in cover-2. Gilmore slides of his man and drops into his zone along the sideline, and Jones throws it right to him.
The Patriots forced the rookie to read coverages after the snap and beat them going down the field, and he wasn’t up to the task.
10. Play of the Game: Brandon Bolden Blocked Punt, Chase Winovich TD
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For the second time already this season, the Patriots returned a blocked punt for a touchdown with Brandon Bolden and Chase Winovich involved in the play. Bolden bull-rushed the personal protector backward into the punter, got his hand up to get a piece of the ball, and Winovich caught it in the air and returned it for a touchdown. Here are Bolden and Winovich on the play after the game:
Bolden’s take: “I just made contact with him, and I was driving him back I really had two options. Either throw him into the punter, or just stick my hand up. I stuck my hand up, and the ball really just hit off my hand. It was just luck at that point.”
Winovich’s take: “Yeah, the ball was in the air forever. Shout out to Brandon Bolden for blocking the punt. It was up there with the moon, the birds and the planes for awhile, man. It was fluttering up there. I’m happy that nobody hit me when I was trying to catch it.”