Patriots Dolphins Preview: 5 Areas to Watch

FOXBOROUGH, MA – SEPTEMBER 12: Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Adam Butler (70) catches New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) during a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins on September 12, 2021, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fast Start/Play from Ahead

The Patriots are getting ready for their first-ever week 18 game against the Miami Dolphins. Against the Jaguars last week, it was the first time since their bye week that they quickly gained the advantage and held it throughout the game. The buildup of the team makes it important they get a lead; they’re built to run the ball offensively and rush the passer defensively.

It’s no secret opponents want to put the game in Mac Jones’ hands. Before playing the Jaguars, Mac had thrown four interceptions in the two games prior. While he did enough to put the team in striking range in both games, he was also part of the reason the Pats were in holes to begin with.

Compare that with the effort he put together against Jacksonville and he begins to appear as a snowball passer. When things are rolling in his favor, he plays confidently and more aggressively, often leading to better final stat lines and overall team outcomes for the Patriots.

Against the Dolphins, the Patriots must do to Tua what previous opponents have done to Mac. Both teams are built similarly and Miami would love to play with a lead and their impressive secondary. However, when the pressure is on Tua he has wilted of late. If the Pats can jump out to a quick lead and force Tua to beat them, the game shifts in their favor.

Health

The Patriots already ruled out starters Kyle Dugger and Dont’a Hightower, while Damien Harris is still nursing a hamstring injury. A win is still important for the Patriots as they have an outside chance of winning the division, but that starts with a win in Miami.

Despite the desire to win, the Patriots also must keep an eye on the future as they will potentially be suiting up again in the Wildcard round next week. This shouldn’t be a game where the starters are pulled unless the outcome is virtually guaranteed, meaning the Patriots must come out of it without any additional injuries to monitor going forward.

Nelson Agholor will be making his return from concussion protocol against Miami. His departure from the Colts demonstrated how severely limited the passing game is for New England. While Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are competent receivers, they struggle to separate against man coverage. Agholor adds a speed element that opposing defenses must respect. Any injury to a starter for the Pats may provide fatal for their hopes in the playoffs.

Miami Weirdness

You probably don’t need a reminder that Miami is a house of horrors for the Patriots. Outside of Michael Floyd destroying a guy and a Wes Welker full field touchdown, there haven’t been many highlights for New England in South Florida.

This will be Mac Jones’ first trip to Miami. His teammates are sure to have made him aware of the multiple disasters that have happened here if he was oblivious. If this game is close late, the Patriots need to refrain from putting any tight ends on defense and do whatever is needed to secure the win.

N’Keal Harry

The Patriots elevated Kristian Wilkerson ahead of last week’s game and he responded with his first two career touchdowns. As mentioned in that game summary, N’Keal Harry’s career high is two touchdown receptions in a SEASON. Despite this, the Patriots did not elevate Wilkerson ahead of the deadline for Sunday’s game.

The return of Agholor may mean the value of Harry’s blocking is more important to the Patriots offensive gameplan than adding a very real fourth receiving threat.

Or perhaps the coaching staff is giving one final gasp at keeping his roster spot. While his physical style and ability as a blocker are impressive, defenses will start matching up with him as a second or third tight end, negating any possible advantage the Pats once had with him on the field. One thing that should be able to put to rest is Harry will not be returning punts against Miami.

The Scoreboard

Not their own, necessarily. But the Patriots and their fans should be watching the outcomes for other games as well. As of this writing, the Chiefs managed to escape a very game Broncos squad, erasing any chance the Patriots had to get the number one seed. However, they can still win the division.

While the Patriots are playing, the results of Tennessee/Houston and Cincinnati/Cleveland will have been decided in the earlier time slot. With those in hand, the Patriots will know if they are playing for a very real possibility of the number two seed.

Regardless of that scenario, the Jets will be taking on the Bills while the Patriots take on the Dolphins. If the Bills win, they win the division. If the Jets somehow beat the Bills, a Patriots victory gives them the AFC East title. Depending on the outcomes of the game today and on Sunday, the Patriots are in play for anything from the number 2 to number 6 seeds in the AFC.

Prediction

In the first match up, I predicted a close game that the Patriots snuck out in the end. A similar outcome is the most likely in the rematch. The Dolphins did not look good last week against the Titans. The Patriots defense, despite their injuries, will have a chance to again stifle the Miami attack. The Patriots offense will have its hands full with the Miami defense. A couple takeaways may blow this one open in favor of the Patriots. That probably doesn’t happen in Miami as the Pats sweat one out 20-17.

Patriots vs Jaguars Recap: Playoffs?? Playoffs!

New England Patriots Playoffs
Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

The Patriots got back to winning on Sunday, blowing out the Jaguars 50-10. The win snapped a two-game skid and punched a ticket to the postseason. The win was a much-needed remedy for a team that seemed to be getting caught up in the headlines. From the get-go, it was a “get right” game for New England. The Patriots played the part.

If you’ve been following along on Twitter (@patriots_atb), I put together a list of five things to watch for in the game. Putting together the usual “who has the advantage when…” game preview didn’t seem like a time-worthy endeavor, as New England would’ve had a clean sweep in all departments. Instead, a short list of what the team needed to do to get back on track was a more prudent exercise.

The areas to watch I identified were the Patriots getting out to a fast start, making it appear as if only one rookie quarterback had taken the field Sunday, playing complementary football, staying healthy, and figuring out what the hell N’Keal Harry is to this team. The Patriots answered all five on Sunday.

Patriots Must Get Out to a Fast Start

The last two weeks the Patriots have dug themselves a hole to climb out of for the rest of the game. While they’ve gotten close both times, they had been unable to get on the right side of it either time.

The easiest way to remedy this problem?

Don’t give yourself a hole to climb out of.

The Patriots won the toss and deferred to the Jaguars. To get off to a fast start the Pats would need to make a stand on defense to open the game. They did just that. The Jags gained 7 yards on first down before Dont’a Hightower came bursting through the line to drop rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence for a sack and 9 yard loss.

The Patriots would tackle Jaguars wide receiver Laquon Treadwell well short of the sticks to force a three and out on the first defensive series of the game.

The Patriots offense would match the defense fast start by marching 70 yards on eleven plays to open the scoring. The drive featured an efficient mix of run and pass, ultimately being capped off by the first of two Damien Harris touchdowns.

The Pats offense stayed hot, scoring touchdowns on their next four drives before finally being forced to punt. A week after struggling to move the ball consistently, New England was nearly impossible to stop.

Make it Appear Only Rookie QB is on the Field

The success Belichick has against rookie signal callers is well known in these parts. On Sunday, the Patriots needed to make it apparent Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was a rookie while also making it look like Mac was a seasoned vet. The box score tells the story on this one.

Lawrence: 17/27 for 193 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, 2 sacks

Jones: 22/30 for 227 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks

Mac consistently took what the defense gave him and kept the ball out of harm’s way. He put his team in a position to succeed and sprinkled in some splash plays while leading an efficient attack. Mac and the offense have greater success when he is well protected, as he was Sunday. He was his normal safe and consistent self while also showing some wow throws.

Lawrence looked unsure of himself throughout the game. The Patriots didn’t show many exotic looks pre-snap, but did a good job of rotating coverages after. This led to Lawrence holding the ball a tick longer, which allowed defensive players to break on the throw with ease.

The Patriots probably won’t see another rookie quarterback this year. Getting a feel-good game on defense may get them rolling in the most important month of the calendar: January.

Play Complementary Football

This was the most complete game the Patriots have played in over a month. The defense consistently put the offense in good spots. The offense didn’t turn the ball over and maintained a 36:46 to 23:14 advantage in time of possession.

Often the best way to measure complementary football is in third down success. Is the defense getting stops when possible? Is the offense converting and keeping the ball? The past two weeks the Pats simply have not been getting the job done on the “money down.” Against the Jaguars, the Patriots converted 8 of 10 third down attempts on offense while holding the visitors to 3 of 9. Maintaining this level of success will go a long way in winning games in the playoffs.

Stay Healthy

Damien Harris and Adrian Phillips did not finish the game, but both were available for post-game press conferences, a sign their injuries were minor. The feeling here is both would’ve finished the game had it been a closer affair. The NFL season has long been a battle of attrition, and with a 17th game added it has never been more true. Maintaining health down the stretch is often the most important factor to a team’s championship aspirations.

What’s up With N’Keal?

Before inactives were announced, it was expected Harry would be in line for another complete game of work. Harry had played a career high 61 snaps last week against the Bills and finished with two catches for 15 yards. Harry was listed on the injury report throughout the week with a hip condition, but was removed Friday, meaning his inactive status comes as a true healthy scratch. Harry’s replacement was practice squad call-up Kristian Wilkerson.

Unfortunately for Harry, Wilkerson made himself quite an introduction to the NFL. Wilkerson had four receptions for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Harry’s career high for touchdown catches in a season is two. In a time when confidence has been waning in the former first rounder, Sunday may prove to be the nail in the coffin for his Patriots career.

Harry has often mixed incredible playmaking ability with an incredible ability to completely disappear on the playing field. Wilkerson probably isn’t the next Davante Adams but the early returns say he is a very viable number 3 or 4 receiver. It isn’t tough to see where Belichick may go with that one.

With the outcomes of Sunday’s games, the Patriots locked up their 18th playoff appearance under Belichick. For context on how incredible this is; the Lions have made the playoffs 17 times since 1934. The Patriots would come along 26 years later. Whether this season ends with a 7th Lombardi being hoisted by the franchise or not, the Belichick era is one that may never be matched.

New England Patriots and RAS

The New England Patriots RAS score is in the good hands of Bill Belichick’s dog Nike.
(Credit: The Boston Globe)

The New England Patriots bring us back to the realm of RAS, or Relative Athletic Score. This team remains an interesting one from the front office perspective. Bill Belichick has been the head coach/GM of the Patriots since he was hired in 2000. He had split some of the duties with Scott Pioli before he left, but Belichick was still the head guy with final say. With all that being said, there is no reason to go back to 2000. Draft strategies change, so we’ll look back to 2016.

You can find previous parts here: https://atbnetwork.com/author/bmaafi1125/

Quarterbacks:

Generally quarterbacks and RAS scores are kind of unimportant outside of maybe a team here or there. Most teams want a guy who can at least move around the pocket a little and could get a few yards if a play breaks down.

With that, let’s take a look at the Patriots. Since 2016 they have drafted four quarterbacks: Jacoby Brissett, Danny Etling, Jarrett Stidham, and Mac Jones. Etling was the most athletic with a 8.31 RAS score and Brissett was the lowest with a 4.53. All four average out to a 6.38, which ironically enough rates average overall.

In fact, it’s a pretty common average; most teams are around there or slightly higher. All four have been at least 6’2 and 217+ pounds. Essentially, New England likes solid sized QBs, which is also pretty normal among NFL teams.

Running backs:

The running backs for the Patriots are kind of interesting. Belichick has drafted only three since 2016: Sony Michel, Damien Harris, and Rhamondre Stevenson. Michel had the highest RAS score of the three at 8.96, but Harris and Stevenson both rated under 6.5.

At this position, it would seem overall athleticism is not that important to Belichick. All have similar size (between 5’10”-5’11” and 214-230), yet they don’t have any testing numbers that stand out. For example, Michel was the fastest of the three in the 40-yard-dash, clocking in at 4.54. So it would reason pure speed is not that important to them, especially since they all demonstrate average agility.

Tight Ends:

Since 2016 Bill Belichick has drafted only three tight ends: Ryan Izzo, Dalton Keene, and Devin Asiasi. All three are 6’3″-6’4″ and weigh between 253-257. Just going off this, and given the former Gronk factor, the Patriots like larger tight ends. As for RAS scores, this position once again rates average overall at 6.66.

Keene is a freak athlete with a 9.34 RAS score, but Izzo and Asiasi are both in the below/average range. It does look like they want tight ends with decent speed as Asiasi and Keene both run in the low 4.7’s. They all test at least average in explosion factor. All three are average to excellent in their 10-yard splits, so this might be something to watch.

Wide Receivers:

They Patriots have drafted five receivers since 2016: Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien in 2016, Braxton Berrios in 2018, N’Keal Harry in 2020, and Tre Nixon in 2021. The average RAS score of them is a solid 7.58. Even better, three of the five are above an 8.0. Four of them measure between 6’0″-6’3″ and weigh 187+, with two of them currently over 200 pounds.

Outside of Berrios, they seem to prefer bigger receivers. They appear to factor in vertical jump as four of the five registered a 36″ vertical or higher. 40-yard-dash speed does seem to be something they key in as well. Harry was the slowest at 4.53, while the others were under 4.5, including three in the 4.45 range. Four of the five also scored at least average in agility testing.

Offensive Line:

One position the Patriots have made sure not to avoid is definitely offensive line. They have drafted 11 offensive linemen since 2016. Seven of them were interior offensive linemen, specifically guards. There was a solid average RAS score of 7.15. The guards even averaged a 7.51.

tackles:

The tackles averaged a 6.66, but that was mostly brought down by Justin Herron’s 3.99. The other two tackles were Antonio Garcia (7.29) and Conor McDermott (8.7). As to their size, the tackles varied from 6’4″-6’8″, but their weights did not show a lot of variety; they ranged from 302-312.

Arm length seemed to vary from 33 1/3″ – 34 3/4″. Explosion grades were at least average, while 40 and 10-yard splits were all average to a little slow. Agility testing does not seem to be something that they value at tackle; while two had poor agility testing, McDermott tested well.

guards:

The guards heights vary from 6’3″-6’5″, but weight wise there was a lot more variety. The lightest was Dustin Woodward at 295 and the heaviest was Michael Onwenu at 344. Another area that had a big range was arm length, which was between 31 1/4″-34 1/3″.

All of the guards tested at least average in explosion testing, specifically the broad jump. Speed does not seem to be a priority; the 40 speeds range from 4.95-5.34. As to agility testing, it seems that they prefer at least average agility. Only one drafted guard tested poorly in this area: Ted Karras.

Defensive line:

From 2016 to 2021, New England has drafted only three defensive linemen: Vincent Valentine, Byron Cowart, and Christian Barmore. The three of their RAS scores average out to a 6.6. They all do have similar height (6’3″ or 6’4″), while weight varies a bit from Cowart’s 298 to Valentine’s 329. It does look like they value arm length in their DL; the shortest is 33 1/8″ and longest is 34 3/4″.

There’s no explosion testing from Barmore, but Cowart and Valentine tested well, especially on the broad jump. Straight line speed does not seem to a priority here. Barmore ran fast, but his 10-yard split was just average. Meanwhile, Cowart and Valentine did not run well. All three had average to poor agility testing, so that might not be a priority either.

Edge:

Since 2016 the Patriots have drafted six edge defenders: Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise (2017), Chase Winovich (2019), Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche (2020), and Ronnie Perkins (2021). There are only RAS scores for four, and they collectively average out to an athletic 7.9. There does not seem to be any threshold on height with Uche at 6’1″ and Wise at 6’5″.

A similar feature comes from weight – Uche was the lightest at 245 and Wise being the heaviest at 278. Outside of Wise, they appear to trend more on the light side; the rest are between 245 and 256. Arm length does seem somewhat important to them; the shortest arms tested were 32 7/8″ with Wise the longest at 35 5/8″.

They do seem to have a threshold as far as explosion testing, as all of them tested at least average or above. Straight line speed does seem to have some importance to them. Outside of Wise, everyone ran a 4.7 or faster with two running 4.6. They also seem to like guys with good or better agility.

Linebackers:

The Patriots have drafted five linebackers since 2016. Despite this, only three of them have RAS scores. The average RAS score of those three is a pretty solid 7.04. Height wise, they seem to like shorter linebackers, with all between 5’11” and 6’1″. There is some range in weight (two guys at 234 and the the other 248).

Arm length does not seem to be particularly important to them, ranging from 31 1/2″ to 32 1/4″. There does seem to be something to them liking their linebackers with decent speed as they all ran sub-4.75 in the 40-yard-dash. Their agility testing is average, though explosive testing isn’t of importance since they range from bad to very good.

Defensive backs:

The one position the Patriots have loaded up on is defensive back. Since 2016, they’ve drafted eight in this area, with three coming from the safety position. Although this is a trend with most NFL teams, it also seems to be a position where testing scores are more dependent.

The RAS scores on all but one came back with a good average of 8.37. Duke Dawson and Cyrus Jones do bring the average score down a bit; both tested about average (6.62 and 6.45, respectively). If one averaged out strictly the cornerbacks, this score actually drops to a 7.87. Two of the three safeties scored over 9.5, with only Joshuah Bledsoe failing to provide a score.

When it comes to height, three out of the four corners are 5’9″ or 5’10”, so they may have a preference for shorter corners. Of course the fifth is Joejuan Williams, who is 6’4″. With the safeties there is some variety from 5’11” to 6’2″. Weight wise, all eight players ranged from 197 to 217. This position, however, is where explosion testing mattered immensely.

While Cyrus Jones tested poorly, the rest all tested above average to elite. They also seem to like their defensive backs fast, and yes there are teams that do not prioritize it. Outside of Kyle Dugger, all run a 4.49 or faster, while the 10-yard splits are all varied.

In regards to agility drills, the Patriots want their defensive backs to have at least good agility. Of all these players, Duke Dawson was the only one with poor agility scores. Also, the 3-cone drill might be a little more important than short shuttle.

Patriots Playoff hopes dwindling

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Patriots’ playoff seeding is dropping quicker than the temperatures outside. Three weeks after entering their bye as the number one seed in the AFC, they find themselves as the number 6 seed and fighting for survival. Before playing the Colts, New England needed to win out to secure the coveted top spot. Now, the Patriots’ playoff chances are getting slimmer.

The Patriots’ season can be broken into three distinct parts. At the beginning of the season, the team played non-cohesive football and stumbled to a 2-4 start. The middle, when the team found its identity behind a stifling defense and a power running game to win seven straight. And now the end, where the team has reverted to its early-season miscues and overall poor play.

Troubling Trend?

Against the Colts the team played flat through three quarters before giving themselves a chance to steal it late. Against the Bills, the Patriots again showed a lack of physical edge. A month after asserting their will against this very team it was the Bills who asserted themselves. The Patriots are in freefall in the standings. Once sky-high confidence surrounding the team is nowhere to be found. How the team responds will dictate the story of their season.

The Bills came ready to play on Sunday. It was apparent from the first drive that the magnitude of the game was not lost on them. A loss to the Patriots would have all but ended their hopes of winning the AFC East. They did not play desperate. The Bills played confidently despite being down numerous starters due to injury and COVID isolation rules. They made a physical statement on their first drive and didn’t relent for the full 60 minutes.

The Patriots came out flat again. After losing to the Colts in a similar fashion a week ago, the Patriots noted that a lack of focus in practice led to their slow start. They were aware of the problem and wouldn’t let it happen again. But it did. The Patriots were flat in a game that would’ve all but guaranteed not only a playoff spot but a division title.

Where did complementary football go?

The Patriots of the seven-game winning streak were successful because of their complementary play style. That style has been missing in the last two losses. Against the Colts, the defense needed to make one final stop to give the offense a chance. Instead, Jonathan Taylor busted off a 67-yard house call to end it with two minutes left. Against the Bills, the offense and defense both failed each other.

In the second quarter, the defense held the Bills offense to a field goal attempt. The score gave the Bills a 10-7 lead. The Patriots got the ball back with a chance to at least answer, perhaps even take the lead. Instead, Mac Jones would throw his first of two interceptions three plays later.

The defense responded in an adversity situation. Defending a short field, they allowed the Bills to get to the 1-yard line before forcing a turnover on downs. The offense needed to at least gain some yardage to give the defense a breather and flip the field. Instead, a three and out.

Despite the poor play throughout the first half, the Patriots clawed their way back into the game, closing the score to 26-21. All they needed was a defensive stop to give the offense a chance to take the lead.

On the first play, after the Patriots closed the score, Allen and Diggs were on different pages. The result was an errant throw that hit ball-hawking corner JC Jackson in both hands. Jackson has made a name for himself by being a ball magnet, and on perhaps the easiest potential interception of the year, it was dropped.

That wouldn’t be the Patriots’ only chance to stop the Bills on the drive as they stuffed an Allen sneak on third down at their own 34-yard line. The Bills went for it again, as they had 3 times before in the game. A stop here would give the Patriots the ball back with plenty of time to score.

Instead, Allen ran a naked boot to convert. Never mind two Patriots defenders had a chance to drop him behind the line. The Pats just can’t get out of their own way.

What happened to the defense?

The Bills came into the game down both starting guards and lost their top back up early in the second quarter. Despite this, Allen wasn’t sacked for the first time since week 7. The Bills were also down two of their top three receivers. All usual return man Isaiah McKenzie did was go for 125 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches.

The Patriots came into the game needing to limit wide receiver Stefon Diggs (85 yards and a touchdown on seven catches) and TE Dawson Knox (11 yards and a touchdown on two catches) but instead got burnt by a guy who usually doesn’t see much offensive action.

The defense was unusually conservative, sending four-man rushes at Allen throughout the game. They played afraid of Allen extending plays and taking off on runs. Even with an eye towards limiting the backyard ball, Allen consistently found ways to improvise and was the Bills leading rusher on the day. Allen was so impressive Sunday against the Pats; the Bills became the first team to never punt against a Belichick-coached team.

Despite showing up flat against the Bills and Colts, this team has fought their way back to a position to have potentially had a chance to win both games. The loss two weeks ago should have served as a wake-up call that showing up with anything but you’re a game at this point in the schedule is a recipe for disaster. It’s now happened twice, in potentially the biggest games of the year.

If the Pats want to make anything of this season, they must return to their complementary football style. All three phases of the game need to be capable of picking each other up. If not, it may become a season of “what could have been.” If they do get back to their winning formula, perhaps we see another seven-game win streak. Which would mean the next Patriots loss would be Week 2 — of next season. Fingers crossed.

Patriots vs Colts: A Rivalry Renewed

Patriots vs Colts
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Patriots and Colts both were coming off their bye weeks to face each other in what had shaped into a pivotal AFC matchup. It was clear from the onset that the two teams were playing with different energy levels.

The Colts came out playing fast and motivated. The Patriots came out looking like they had just awoken from a long winter’s nap. After winning seven straight games, the Patriots of the first six weeks had returned. They played flat, were careless with the football, and committed penalty after penalty. Essentially, they didn’t play “Patriots football.”

Pats Can’t Make Crucial Stop

With two minutes left to play, the Patriots were somehow still in the game. They even had a realistic chance of at least forcing overtime if they could get one more stop. The Patriots had just scored to make the score 20-17, in favor of the Colts. The defense came out in need of forcing a three and out to give the offense a chance to extend the game.

The defense played an end-around to Ashton Dulin, the same play that gashed them for 37 yards earlier, beautifully; holding it to a 2-yard gain. The defense needed to make two more stops to force a punt. Everyone knew the Colts were going to run it. Jonathan Taylor had been successful the entire game up to that point, but it wasn’t because the Pats were getting dominated in the trenches.

The Patriots often met Taylor early in the progression of plays, only to have Taylor churn 3-5 more yards out after contact. And now with the game on the line, the Pats needed to meet him in the hole, and drop him without letting yards after contact.

Pats Play Scheme Perfectly, Don’t Finish Play

The Colts ran a zone to the left side, behind the strength of their offensive line. They did a great job of collapsing the Patriots’ defensive line down, leaving a huge hole for Taylor to run through. Jamie Collins engaged the left tackle and at least created some semblance of an edge. Taylor veered towards the hole only to see Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty waiting for him.

McCourty plays down from his safety spot, playing outside in. McCourty plays this technique because the linebacker, in this case, Hightower, should be flowing over the top from inside out. If McCourty is going to miss, he has to force Taylor back to his help.

Hightower is flowing over the top, coming from an inside linebacker alignment, meaning he must play his run fit from the inside out, if he misses, Taylor should bounce to McCourty’s waiting arms. Hightower over pursues, allowing Taylor to make a quick cut to the interior of the defense. Him and McCourty both end up on the outside shade of the hole, leaving no one home to clean it up.

This play, which broke the Pats’ back, was emblematic of the entire night for the Pats. A “close, but no cigar” type of effort. The Pats had no business being in the game at that point and yet they were. It was only fitting that two of the Patriots’ most trusted defensive players would be in a perfect position to make a key tackle and simply couldn’t.

Punt Block Example of “Doing Your Job”

The punt block was another case of the Patriots not executing simple aspects of their assignments. The Colts did not scheme anything up to befuddle the Patriots punting unit. It was a simple 8-man rush, with no overload on either side. Four punt protectors, four punt blockers. On punt block assignments, the protection counts the blocking scheme from inside out. Someone near the long snapper is number 1 in the protection, and out to number 4 or 5 over the end man.

Depending on the particular assignment, the long snapper may lean one way or the other to help in the blocking scheme. On the Colts punt block, the number two and three men line up extremely close to one another. The outside man, or fourth in the blocking scheme, is outside the tackle.

In this scheme, Brandon Bolden, the end man, is responsible for number 4 in the blocking scheme, the outside man. Jamie Collins is responsible for number 3, Jakob Johnson, number 2. On the snap Johnson plays down to the number 1, leaving E.J. Speed, the number 2, unblocked to the punter. Nothing complicated, just a lack of execution of the assignment. That makes the third punt blocked against New England this season. Belichick had never had more than one as the Patriots head coach.

Mac’s Struggles

The Colts stated their desire to make Mac win the game earlier in the week. Through two and a half quarters, the Colts looked to be backing up their talk. Trailing 17-0 with just under two minutes left in the first half, the Patriots put together their most promising drive to that point in the game. They faced 3rd and 3 from the Colts’ 15-yard line. The team needed to come away with points. Getting the ball back after half, they could get a double-dip and cut the deficit to a one-possession game.

Instead, Colts’ linebacker Darius Leonard baited Mac into an easy interception. The Colts were playing a zone defense with four underneath defenders flooding the short area of the field. Leonard initially pushes to widen, but with no threat to that side, he can keep his eyes on the QB.

When Mac takes his hand off the ball, something defensive players are told to key on to get a jump on the pass, Leonard immediately shifts his momentum back towards the interior of the field. His great read and immediate response put him in the passing window for an easy interception. The play negated any chance the Pats had at scoring before half.

Not All Hope is Lost

Despite the poor play on multiple fronts, the Patriots still put themselves in a position to potentially win this thing. They didn’t deserve to win the game, and ultimately didn’t, but didn’t really deserve to have it that close either. A loss like this can be extremely important for a young team like the Patriots. There was a lot of teaching tape available after this one, but perhaps most importantly, it showed that the Patriots C+ effort is not good enough to beat opponents in the NFL.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Pats as they now must win out and hope for help to reclaim the number 1 seed in the AFC. That quest starts Sunday with a HUGE game against the Bills. A win here sets the Patriots up to be in the driver’s seat for the division down the stretch run of the season. A loss means they’re playing for a wild card and hoping for help to get the division back.

Most importantly, the Patriots of the seven-game win streak must return and not the group that started the season 2-4. In the loss to the Colts, it was many of the same issues that were evident early in the season. It’s probably a safe bet Belichick gets his boys back in order.