The biggest story lines from the Raiders schedule in 2022

Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

The 2022 NFL schedule was released this week. With that comes record predictions, ticket-purchasing, and more storylines than anyone can keep track of.  The Raiders schedule is no different. It showcases a matchup against the reigning Super Bowl champions, a revenge game 50 years in the making, and more AFC West matchups than your heart can handle. So, let’s look at three of the biggest storylines to keep track of in 2022.

Week 1: Las Vegas Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers

It’s the game you’ve been waiting all offseason for. The Raiders will head to SoFi Stadium for their first game of the season to try and take down Justin Herbert and a revamped Charger’s defense.

As you may remember, the Raiders beat the Chargers in the last regular season game of the 2021 season, sending the Silver and Black to the playoffs, and ending the Bolts season without a second thought. Los Angeles has spent the duration of the offseason trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Since the two teams last met, they have added numerous Pro-Bowlers to their defense including J.C. Jackson, Kyle Van Noy, and former Raider, Khalil Mack.

Mack, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Raiders, was traded to Los Angeles this offseason. He is infamously known for being a player Raider Nation saw leading the team to their next Super Bowl win. That is, until the former regime sent him off to Chicago. Since leaving Oakland, Mack’s statistics have declined. However, his game-changing talent and sure-fire want for revenge is still cause for concern in Las Vegas.

On top of being a revenge game for many reasons, the Raiders second home is in Los Angeles. It’s not uncommon for Raider Nation to take over SoFi stadium and make it their own, adding fuel to the fire.

Week 15: New England Patriots @ Las Vegas Raiders

While there are numerous storylines in between Week 1 and Week 15, the Patriots vs. Raiders game is what everyone will be looking forward to. Head coach Josh McDaniels will lead his new team out proudly (we hope), as he takes on the man that taught him everything he knows.

Before being hired as the Raiders head coach in January, McDaniels spent 13 seasons with the Patriots. He served as everything from their offensive assistant to their offensive coordinator, learning the ins and outs of coaching from one of the best in the business, Bill Belichick.

McDaniels was joined in Las Vegas by new general manager, Dave Ziegler, who also spent the previous seasons in New England. McDaniels and Ziegler wasted no time in bringing their favorite former Patriots to Sin City, making Week 15 even more meaningful.

Las Vegas has added six players this offseason who played for the New England Patriots including running back Brandon Bolden, tight end Jacob Hollister, fullback Jakob Johnson, and quarterback Jarett Stidham, among others. Along with players, McDaniels also hired several former New England coaches to his staff.

The sheer volume of Raiders that have played or coached for the Patriots is something that doesn’t go unnoticed, making Week 15 a must win game for the Silver and Black.

Week 16: Las Vegas Raiders @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Fifty years in the making, the Raiders will return to the scene of the “Immaculate Reception” one day after its half-century anniversary. If you’ve been a Raiders fan for a while, or have ever known a Raiders fan, its likely you know exactly what play we’re talking about. If not, you can read up on the controversial play, here.

No matter how much time passes, it will never be clear what happened that day. You’ll get a different story from every player, and every referee working that game. The Raiders are three Lombardi trophies better off than they were that day in Pittsburgh, but they’ll never forget. And they’ll be sure to remind the Steelers of that in December.

The Raiders schedule is tough, with a lot valuable storylines in 2022. If they want to return to the playoffs for a second consecutive year, they’ll have to prove each and every week why they deserve to be there.

Where do the Patriots fit in a crowded AFC?

While the Patriots may have the future figured out on offense, they aren’t going anywhere until they figure out the Josh Allen problem.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

At first glance, discussing the New England Patriots and their offseason plans aren’t relevant at this point. The Bengals and Chiefs will face off this Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. Before that, the Chiefs and Bills treated us to an all-time shoot out in the divisional round. All three teams feature prolific young passers and a group of stud pass catchers. Only the Bills featured a defense ranked in the top 5 by Pro Football Reference. The days of defenses winning championships may well be over.

So where do the Patriots fit into this future of the conference?

They too feature a young passer, albeit not in the same echelon of Burrow, Mahomes, Herbert, and Allen. Lamar Jackson had a down year but still would be a tier above Mac in a quarterback rankings.

The Patriots got solid quarterback play from their rookie but Mac faded down the stretch, stringing together subpar performances as the Patriots championship aspiration dwindled.

Watching the Chiefs and Bills go back and forth Sunday Night it was obvious that the AFC has transformed into an arms race, where the most potent offenses will succeed.

Belichick has only a few times loaded up on the offensive side of the ball during his tenure in New England. And even in those years he coupled splashy offseason moves on the offensive side with an already stout, veteran-laden defense.

2021 Patriots were good, just not good enough

The 2021 Patriots featured the splashy offseason additions on the offensive side of the ball and a veteran-laden defense, albeit with a couple newcomers on that side too. Despite the poor taste left from the dismantling at the hands of the Bills, the Patriots defense was one of the best in the league in 2021. But therein lies the problem. What does the second ranked defense get the team if it can’t stop a runny nose when it plays the Buffalo Bills?

Belichick has specific physical profiles for every position in defense, whether it be from physical measurables or agility drill times; his defensive players fit a mold.

The linebackers are big bodied thumpers. The defensive line is often stout forward players who are difficult to push backwards. The defensive backs often have top three cone drill times while his boundary guys are preferred to big taller press corners. Only at the safety position has Belichick led the transition to the hybrid types.

Patrick Chung was the first linebacker-safety hybrid but even he failed spectacularly in his first stint with the Patriots.

Against the Bills, the defense looked slow. Forget old. Even the young guys couldn’t keep up with the Allen led attack. The Pats were gashed routinely by the speed and short area quickness of the Bills skill guys.

That doesn’t include the absolute clinic put on by Josh Allen. Allen looked like the older brother who finally relented and let the younger brother and his friends play. Then the older brother showed no mercy for a physically inferior opponent.

Allen was on a different physical level and against the Patriots defense, having been unstoppable for nine straight quarters. While the Patriots may have the future figured out on offense, they aren’t going anywhere until they figure out the Josh Allen problem.

Offseason Plans

That problem will be addressed this offseason. With their current salary cap situation, they will have to choose between adding further to the offense or completely retooling the defense.

The Chiefs just beat the Bills by outscoring them. There was no stopping either offense. The only hope was to have more points than the opposition at the final whistle. That is not typically how the Patriots build their teams. They want an edge in all three phases.

The Pats could add a Davante Adams. A Chris Godwin. They could trade for Calvin Ridley. See if Michael Thomas can be had for relatively cheap. They can add to the offense, one that already features an impressive running game, and try to outscore the upper tier of AFC teams next year.

Or they can retool the defense. Focusing on smaller, faster athletic types to keep pace with the “small ball” trend in the NFL.

The Dont’a Hightower’s of the NFL world may be a dying breed. A dinosaur in a modern game. Sideline to sideline backers is the future of the game. The Deion Jones’. The Darius Leonard’s. Problem is these types of guys don’t grow on trees. The only slightly comparable veteran available in free agency may be Leighton Vander Esch. He of the full-length novel injury history. Nakobe Dean is an uber talented speedster coming out of Georgia, but any draft pick comes as a gamble in and of itself.

What does the crystal ball say?

It is increasingly unlikely the Pats pursue the number one receiver route. They are married to their free agent crop from a year ago. Agholor has a $15 million cap hit in 2022. Bourne still has two years left on his deal and is extremely affordable ($5 million per year).

The Patriots also spent at tight end. Hunter Henry has a cap hit of $6.88 million in 2022. Jonnu Smith has a $13.75 million cap hit in 2022. Smith is signed for three more years, Henry for two. The Pats aren’t moving on from either.

Smith had a disappointing year in his first in New England. Going forward, I’d expect the Patriots to try to incorporate Smith into their attack much more heavily next year before adding more to this offensive cast. They gave him all that money for a reason and hopefully that reason becomes apparent next season.

That leads to the Patriots upgrading the defense. The crop of free agent defenders features many aging veteran pass rushers and a handful of quality safeties. The Pats don’t NEED a safety as Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips are under team control for the foreseeable future. If McCourty hangs it up, the team could kick some tires but it won’t be a splash move.

Upgrading the front seven will be the priority. Matt Judon started on a tear but completely fell off after the bye week. Barmore appears to be the future in the interior of the defensive line. The Pats are in a mess of their own creation. Promising young players such as Josh Uche, Joejuan Williams, and Chase Winovich both hardly saw the field this season. Third round rookie Ronnie Perkins was never active on game day. Maybe they all blossom into full time impact players going forward, but there’s probably a reason they haven’t seen the field much.

The Pats are in a hole of their own creation by missing on a number of their early draft picks in recent years. Now they are faced with a near impossible task of upgrading several positions with limited cap space. Teams have been able to take advantage of rookie QB’s contract situations. The Patriots will need to get creative to do so.

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Patriots vs Jaguars Recap: Playoffs?? Playoffs!

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,

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

How does a franchise with a model of consistency stack up to the 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 vs Colts: A Rivalry Renewed

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

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.