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.

Patriots Run by Bills for Seventh Straight Win

As for the Pats, Mark Twain may have said it best; “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A year after finishing third in the division, the Pats are again eyeing home field throughout the playoffs.

patriots bills
Orchard Park, NY – December 6: New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) hits the hole and is off to the races with the Patriots only touchdown of the game. The Buffalo Bills host the New England Patriots in a Monday night NFL game at Highmark stadium in Orchard Park, NY on Dec. 6, 2021. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Patriots escaped Orchard Park with a 14-10 defeat of the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. The win firmly planted the Patriots as the division leaders of the AFC East. A loss by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday had given the Patriots the top spot in the conference before even taking the field Monday. Beating the Bills was a vehement declaration that the big bad Patriots are back.

For Bills fans, it’s a tale as old as time. A year after winning their first division title since the Jim Kelly-led 1995 season, the Bills were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender but now find themselves fighting for a playoff spot as we enter the final quarter of the season.

The Bills were supposed to run away with the division this year. Now they’re in second place, staring up at the Patriots again. For a team that had finally gotten over the hump in a division the Indianapolis Colts had won more recently before last year, the loss put them back in familiar territory.

As for the Pats, Mark Twain may have said it best; “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A year after finishing third in the division, the Pats are again eyeing home field throughout the playoffs.

Big Time Play in Crunch Time

The game came down to a critical 4th and 14 at the two-minute mark of the 4th quarter. The bills had the ball at the New England 18-yard line with a chance to score and take the lead, or perhaps more damning, to get a first down and run the clock down before punching it in.

The Bills came out in 11 personnel with two wide receivers split left and wide receiver Stefon Diggs flanking tight end Dawson Knox to the right. The Patriots countered with nickel personnel. Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant were over the wideouts to the left while JC Jackson was manned up with Stefon Diggs. Devin McCourty was shaded over Dawson Know on the left flank and practice squad call up Sean Davis in the box covering the running back. The defensive call was a max blitz cover 0.

Explaining Cover 0

Cover 0 is often described as having no safety help, which is true, but in actuality, it means having no help anywhere. No low-hole dropper, no robber, just a defender against the offensive skill player. The play call is aggressive and only works if the defensive guys do their job. The situational awareness that was displayed on multiple layers proves how well-coached this Patriots team is.

In cover 0, a defensive back is taught to break on a wide receiver’s first move. When the receiver makes a cut, the defensive back is supposed to take a straight line to intercept that route. The purpose of calling cover 0 is to force the ball out quickly. The receiver’s first break should be the only break in the timing of the play. If McCourty allows Allen to escape, the play is extended, and the receivers will have the upper hand.

Perfect Execution

McCourty initially isn’t involved in the pressure scheme and only adds after Dawson Knox stays in to protect. When Knox chose to take on the blitzing Kyle Van No, it allowed McCourty a free run at Josh Allen. McCourty plays it beautifully by adding with intent but in control. The reason he does not add at full speed was on display just a few plays earlier. Allen is a slippery QB. Coming in out of control would give Allen a chance to escape to his right, which is his throwing side, and extend the play.

The second aspect of this play that shows the level of coaching the Pats defenders have received was in the defensive backs doing exactly the opposite of the traditional cover 0 rules. The DB’s aligned with depth and allowed the routes to declare. This comes from understanding the situation. 4th and 14. If a ball is going to be caught, it has to be in front of the defender and tackled before the sticks.

The Patriots’ defensive backs played this situation with a match zone technique. Meaning they kept their eyes on Allen while mirroring their assigned WR’s. This technique is what allowed slot corner Myles Bryant to peel from his assignment to break up the pass. This is next-level execution of a ballsy play call for the situation.

Pounding the Rock

The Patriots implemented a power-running scheme almost exclusively against the Bills. The Patriots ran the ball on 46 of 49 plays. At one point they ran 32 straight times. The Pats deployed six offensive linemen on 61% of their snaps and were under center 93% of the time. It was no secret what their plan was. And yet, the Bills couldn’t stop it. The Patriots rushed for 222 yards against seven- and eight-man boxes. 144 yards came after contact.

There is not a more demoralizing way to lose than to be unable to stop the obvious. There is nothing more demoralizing in football than to be clearly physically beaten by an opponent. The Patriots did just that. It was a “you know what we’re doing, now stop us” kind of game. And the Bills couldn’t.

Defensive Dominance

The Patriots’ defense has been incredible the last few weeks. They haven’t allowed more than 13 points in five straight games, a franchise record. A week after being gashed by the Titans for 270 rushing yards, the Patriots’ defense held Bills’ running backs to 50 yards on 19 carries. At the center of that effort was offseason acquisition Davon Godchaux. Godchaux finished with a team-high ten tackles.

It’s rare for a defensive tackle to pace the team. Kyle Van Noy submitted another solid game with four QB pressures, a run stuff, and a batted pass on an early third down. As the weather gets colder, a dominating defense will mean more and more for this team’s chances.

Record Setting Night for Mac

Much was made after the game about a lack of faith from Belichick in his rookie QB, leading to calling only three pass attempts. It shouldn’t be forgotten that against the defending world champs Belichick had his offense run it eight times while throwing it 42 times…in inclement weather. Belichick has his team humming along because everyone in the locker room has bought in. No ego is bigger than the team. Sounds a lot like the teams of the first Patriots dynasty.

In a weird anecdote, the three passes were the fewest number of passes by a winning team in 30 years. The most passes by a winning team in that same timeframe was 70 attempts, thrown by Drew Bledsoe in week 11, 1994. Oddly, both statistical anomalies occurred in each QB’s ninth career win.

The lack of passing calls on Monday night, every other passing concept installed last week in practice is still usable the next time these teams meet. Each week the offensive game plan is formulated on how to attack certain defensive tendencies. Belichick already ran circles around McDermott and now has half the offensive game plan installed three weeks before the rematch.

Nobody is Perfect, Including the Hoodie

Belichick was nearly perfect against the Bills, he did make a questionable decision having N’Keal Harry in to receive punts. It backfired when the ball glanced off Harry’s facemask and the Bills recovered. The recovery set up the Bills’ only touchdown of the night. The Patriots had deployed Gunner Olszewski as the up-man in that situation, an interesting decision as the Bills were punting with the wind.

A simple flipping of position there may have provided a better outcome. Despite that error, the Patriots had the upper hand in the elements throughout the game. Interestingly, the Patriots practiced outside all week leading up the game. The Bills, off for a week and a half thanks to a Thursday/Monday split, took their Thursday practice indoors.

Things to Watch During the Bye

The Patriots are off this week before returning to take on the Indianapolis Colts. On the injury front, the Pats will be watching Damien Harris’s return from a strained hamstring and all will be waiting on news of Adrian Phillips’s knee. Kyle Dugger’s progress through COVID protocols also bears watching.

If you’re gonna be watching football this weekend without the Pats on, some rooting interests include Browns over the Ravens, Buccaneers over the Bills, a miracle Jaguars upset over the Titans, and a Raider victory over the Chiefs.

Go Pats!

Patriots vs Bills: Game Preview

The Patriots look to continue decades of dominance while the Bills hope to maintain their divisional crown. Breakdown of the key AFC East match up by @colbyfau.

patriots vs bills
ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 01: J.C. Jackson #27 of the New England Patriots catches an interception during a game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium on November 01, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Patriots vs Bills is one of the few marquee matchups of an NFL week the Monday Night affair. Not often have the Patriots and Bills been facing off this late in the season with first place in the division on the line. The Bills took advantage of a down year for the Patriots last year. Their clean sweep of their divisional opponent last year led many to predict the Bills would start a new reign in the AFC East, finally making up for two decades of serving as the Patriots punching bag.

Fast forward a year and the Bills find themselves in a familiar spot: looking up at the Patriots in the standings. But these are the same old Bills or the same Patriots that ripped off a 35-5 record against the Bills from 2000-2019.

This is the first meeting for these two foes this year. How the season series goes will not only largely decide the division, but may also have a massive impact on the AFC playoff field. Nobody expected the Pats to be back this soon. How they hold up in this MASSIVE late-season matchup will tell us if they’re back for good.

Pats Run the Ball

The Patriots have become a behemoth of a rushing team since going for -1 yards on Sunday Night Football against the Bucs in week 4. They have now rushed for over 100 yards in eight straight games, including going over 120 in 7 of those. The return of Trent Brown has been palpable on the entire offense but running behind him has had immense success in recent weeks.

The Bills have been a paradox against the run this year. They have only allowed three of their opponents to go over 100 yards in a game. Those outputs also occurred against the better competition that Buffalo has faced this year. And it was only two weeks ago the Colts went for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns on 46 carries.

The Pats running the ball is going to be a key to the game, especially in the forecasted inclement weather. Their power running scheme should find success against the Bills’ undersized front 7. The Pats will feed Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to shorten the game and limit Josh Allen’s possessions.

Advantage: Patriots

Pats Pass the Ball

Mac Jones may not be a world-beater, but he is certainly responsible for operating one of the most efficient offenses in the league this year. Surprisingly, one of the most efficient offenses the Patriots has had in recent years too. The Pats now have the same amount of total touchdowns as they do punts this year; 35 apiece.

The last time the Pats had an offense that scored more than punted was in 2021. There are a lot of very good Brady years between 2021 and now that didn’t have the same efficiency as this current model.

Part of the reason the offense has been so effective has been their ability to keep Mac Jones clean. During their 6-game win streak, Jones has been under pressure on only 22.9% of his dropbacks. During that same stretch, the Patriots’ offensive line has ranked first in passing blocking efficiency. And the line has only gotten better since Trent Brown’s return. Since his return, Mac is getting hit 4 times a game, compared to 5.6 without Brown.

Mac has taken that extra protection and produced. In the last six weeks, Mac is 2nd in the NFL in yards (1379), second in yards per attempt (8.1), second in “big-time throws” (9), fourth in touchdown passes (9), and fourth in completion percentage (69.4%).

Despite his recent success, he’ll have his work cut for him against the Bills’ defense. They are ranked number 1 in passing defense DVOA, allowing only a 57% completion percentage and eight passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks. The Bills did lose All-World Corner Tre’Davious White on Thanksgiving to a torn ACL. His absence will be palpable despite a well-coached and talented defense. Mac will have to choose his spots and generally avoid the Bills’ talented safety duo.

Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have combined for eight interceptions this year and will be leaned upon heavily in White’s absence. If the running game gets going, the play-action passing game will be where Mac makes his hay in Buffalo.

Advantage: Patriots (slightly)

Bills Run the Ball

The Bills designed their offense this offseason to play in high-flying affairs with the Kansas City’s and Los Angeles’ of the world. The sacrifice for doing so came in the form of their running game. They have struggled to consistently put together a strong ground attack this season. With inclement weather forecasted for Monday Night, their inability to run the ball may be their undoing. The Bills leading rusher is Devin Singletary with 459 yards, second on the team is Josh Allen with 383.

The Titans had success last week running the ball against the Patriots, going for 270 on 39 carries. However, the Patriots seemed happy to let the Titans run the ball, evidenced by a Titans playcalling disparity of 39 runs to 21 passes, despite trailing for most of the game.

A similar defensive strategy might be employed against the Bills. Don’t be surprised if the Pats go light in the box, begging for the Bills to try to run it and keeping the ball out of Allen’s hands. Kyle Dugger has a slim chance of clearing COVID protocol by Monday. If he can’t go, his absence as a do-it-all safety will be acutely felt when the Pats go lighter in their defensive personnel. Dugger leads the team in tackles and is good for a couple of bone-crunching hits every game.

Advantage: Patriots

Bills Pass the Ball

The Bills go as Allen goes. The first few weeks of the season Allen looked like an MVP candidate. Lately, he’s looked a little like the Allen of old. He has thrown seven interceptions over the last four weeks and has also lost a fumble during that span. His eight turnovers are balanced by eight touchdowns but the up and down play of Allen has led to up and down success for Buffalo.

Since week seven, the Bills are 3-2 with a negative two turnover differential and sack differential. New England leads the league in interceptions this year and is very good at getting after the opposing quarterback. Neither is good news for Allen and the Bills.

While the Bills boast a talented stable of weapons, the Pats’ recent transformation to a zone defense is sure to make life tough for Allen. Using zones, the Patriots can send a varying arrangement of blitzers and force Allen to identify exotic looks after the snap. The inclement weather is sure to slow down the potentially explosive Buffalo offense and force them to play left-handed. Don’t be shocked to see Belichick get the better of Allen and get a key couple of takeaways in this matchup.

Advantage: Push

Special Teams

In a game where the weather may become a factor, Belichick’s team is likely to have an upper hand. Especially in the third phase as handling kicks and kicking becomes a challenge later in the evening. The Bills feature a talented punter/kicker duo in Matt Haack and Tyler Bass.

The Patriots will also need to contain explosive return man Isaiah McKenzie. The Patriots have been very solid after a shaky start to the season in the third phase of the game.  In a game where points might be a premium, field position will play a big part.

Advantage: Equal

Coaching

As head coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick is 35-7 against the Bills. The Patriots QB’s who played the most in each of Buffalo’s past four victories have been Jarrett Stidham, Cam Newton, Jacoby Brissett (his rookie year), and Jimmy Garoppolo (also a rookie). Mac Jones has proven to be a different breed than those four. Belichick also has his group playing its best football coming down the stretch.

Since week 7 the Pats are first in points per game (35.2), first in opponents points per game (10.5), and first in turnover differential (+13). They are only the fourth team since the merger to average more than 30 points per game and allow less than 10 points per game in November.

Sean McDermott is a solid coach in his own right. His team just isn’t rounding into form the way Belichick has his boys playing. While the Bills have been inconsistent in recent weeks, McDermott will have his guys ready to play. This is sure to be a physical and well-coached game.

Advantage: Patriots

Patriots vs Bills Prediction

The weather will solidly aid the Pats by forcing the Bills passing game to operate at a near-perfect level. Belichick will surely invite the Bills to run the ball and see how patient Allen can be. The bend-don’t-break defense will be alive and well throughout Monday night. The familiarity of these two teams will keep the game close but Allen’s turnovers will be the difference.

Patriots win 27-23

Patriots Beat Panthers to Get Back in Playoff Picture

With another win Sunday the Patriots are sitting above .500 and in the AFC Playoff picture. Our writer @colbyfau brings 15 observations from a big Patriots victory.

Patriots beat panthers
Charlotte, NC – November 7: Patriots DB J.C.Jackson (27) walks on air as he crosses the goal line as he returns a third quarter interception of a pass from Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) for a touchdown. The New England Patriots visited the Carolina Panthers for a regular season NFL football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Nov. 7, 2021. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Patriots beat the Panthers and best pal Sam Darnold on Sunday to get to 5-4 and climb back into the AFC Playoff picture. The victory got them above .500 for the first time this season, and the first time since Week 3 last year.

The team has been firmly on the rise for the last three weeks and maybe even in heartbreaking losses to the Cowboys and Bucs but now are getting the results that matter. The good news for this team; if defense still wins championships then we’ll be seeing them play meaningful football in January. The bad news for them; the offense is still showing signs of needing to figure some things out with rookie Mac Jones at the certain of too many mistakes.

As I’ve said here before, a win is a win is a win and as long as that is the result on Sunday’s the Pats will continue to buy time to tinker with their formula. If they can get it figured out, there won’t be many teams wanting to see Belichick’s team come playoff time. And with a couple AFC front runners stumbling on Sunday (looking at Buffalo, Las Vegas, and Cincinnati) the division and conference are suddenly wide open.

Enough about the future and time for 15 observations from the game against the Panthers.

Matt Judon Has Another Great Game

Matt Judon signed a four year $54.5 million contract in the offseason that had many wondering if the Pats had overpaid. 9 games into his Patriots career and not only is he making that contract look like an absolute steal but he is making his case for the best free agent addition of Bill Belichick’s career. Judon is filling up the stat sheet and when he’s not, he’s impacting the play in other ways. He is the newest Patriot to receive “Gronk rules’-where the refs are essentially blind to most penalties against you.

Judon added 4 more tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle on Sunday, bringing his season totals to 36 tackles, 9 sacks, and 10 tackles for a loss. He has 40 QB pressures on the season and an incredible 17.2% pressure rate. He has single handedly changed the New England defense.

Pass Coverage

The pressure that Judon is consistently bringing is changing the Patriots into a successful zone coverage team. The Patriots have historically been a man coverage team under Belichick. On Sunday the Pats ran 8 cover-1 coverage snaps compared to 32 cover-3 calls and 10 cover-2 calls. Despite running more zone the Pats were effective in pressuring Darnold, affecting the ex-Jet on 51.4% of his drop-backs. That’s a recipe for success.

Jamie Collins Makes His Presence Felt

Despite only playing 16 snaps Jamie Collins again had himself a productive game collecting 3 tackles, a forced fumble, and an absolutely ridiculous interception. That kind of performance isn’t sustainable for a full snap count but he has to be close to getting more than a part time gig at this point. Collins intercepted the ball 0.17 seconds after release, the quickest interception since 2016.

Another Big Day for J.C. Jackson

J.C. Jackson switched his Instagram handle to Mr. INT and if that isn’t the CB1 energy you want there’s a team in New York that wears green and is taking fan applications. Jackson added 2 more picks on Sunday including his first career pick six-despite playing only 38 of 59 defensive snaps as he recovered from his bout with strep throat. Jackson now has 22 interceptions since 2019, most in the NFL. In a contract year he is becoming a bona fide lockdown corner.

Scoring Offense and Defense

The Patriots are now one of four teams in the NFL to rank in the top 10 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Pats have the number 10 scoring offense and number 4 scoring defense, joining the Bills (#4 offense, #1 defense), Cardinals (#2 offense, #3 defense), and Rams (#5 offense, #10 defense). Good company to keep.

Mac Jones Joins the C

Mac Jones joined Andrew Luck and Dak Prescott as the only rookie QB’s in league history to have 5+ wins, 10+ TD passes, and 2,000+ passing yards in their first 9 starts. More good company to keep.

Mac Jones Concern

For the first 8 weeks Mac made a living making sure he wasn’t the reason the team lost. Last Sunday against the Chargers he graded out as a net neutral, not hurting the team but not elevating them either. Unfortunately against the Panthers he was liability. The coaching staff agreed as Mac had a career low 18 passing attempts. The Panthers defense is no joke but the slowing momentum from Mac brings concerns that opposing coaches staff are figuring something out about the rook.

Mac was making headlines on Monday for his play on the lost fumble. Some among the Panthers have called him a dirty player and are calling for a suspension. Mac will probably be fined. The play in question isn’t great for Mac but also not as bad as people want you to believe. Take a look for yourself.

Offensive Line Excels

The Pats settled on a Wynn-Karras-Andrew-Mason-Onwenu offensive line for the first time against the Jets three weeks ago. Since then the starting five are third in pressure rate allowed (22.4%) and second in pass-blocking efficiency. They’ve also had their three best rushing outputs since installing this combo with a season best 151 yards on Sunday against a stiff Panthers defense.

Christian Barmore Has Another Great Game

If you’ve been reading along this season, you know we’re big fans of Christian Barmore. The rookie had another solid outing Sunday with 3 hurries, 2 run stuffs, and 2 batted passes. He ranks first among rookies in QB hurries and batted passes. His 23 pressures are nothing to sneeze at as his playing time has been increasing over the last few weeks. Barmore is consistently disruptive with his rare combination of size, power, and explosiveness. How he feel to 38 is a mystery but the Pats are very happy to be the benefactors.

Historically Good EPA

The Pats were historically bad in early down situations on defense last year. In 2020 the early down defense allowed 0.13 EPA (expected points added), good for 29th in the league. It’s extremely tough to win in this league if opposing offenses consistently find themselves in third and short situations. They have turned it around this year allowing -0.04 (!!!!) EPA on early downs. This largely has to do with Ja’Whaun Bentley returning to his normal role since Hightower’s return. He has been one of the better run stuffing linebackers in the league through 9 weeks this season. Add in do-it-all safeties Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger playing in the box in nickel and dime defenses and the Pats have a very real recipe for success.

Myles Bryant Steps Up

Myles Bryant has done an exceptional job filling in for slot corner Jonathan Jones. He was involved in two more big hits on Sunday, a week after laying the wood on Keenan Allen for a big stop at a pivotal moment. He is starting to turn some heads around the league.

Former Patriot, Stephon Gilmore, Dominates

Stephon Gilmore played well against his former team, basically being responsible for all of Carolina’s points. His coverage on Jakobi Meyers forced Mac to hold the ball a tick longer on the Burns strip sack before later adding an interception of his own. Jones said after the game he needed to look at the film to see what happened but it appears Meyers was picked by the underneath defender allowing Gilmore a clean break on the ball. Without that contact it looks like Gilmore still would’ve had a pass defensed. He continues to be a top NFL corner.

Stevenson Puts on a Show Before Injury

Rhamondre Stevenson had his best game of his career, totaling 106 all-purpose yards (62 rushing, 44 receiving). Stevenson is a split-legged runner, making it tough for defenders to get a clean shot on him and allowing him to quickly change direction. His open field vision is also starting to show. His 41-yard catch in the second quarter was the spark the offense had been lacking for the first 20 minutes of game action.

Both Stevenson and Damien Harris left the game with injuries. Their status bears watching headed into a physical matchup with Cleveland this weekend.

Season Outlook

With week 9 officially over the Pats hold the final wildcard spot in the AFC playoff picture. Their next six games feature matchups with the Browns, Titans, Bills (x2), and Colts. A big opportunity for them to cement their status as a contender.

Patriots vs Texans Preview

Patriots vs Texans breakdown in “who has the advantage when…” style. Preview of the game in all phases of the sport.

Patriots vs Texans
HOUSTON, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 22: Damien Harris #37 of the New England Patriots attempts to break a tackle from Justin Reid #20 of the Houston Texans in the fourth quarter during their game at NRG Stadium on November 22, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Patriots look to double their win total vs a Texans team seeking the same outcome. After a hard-fought defeat to the Buccaneers last week, the Patriots look to take on a Texans team reeling from three straight losses, including the 40-0 smackdown against the Bills last week. It will be a battle of rookie QB’s when the two teams meet up, but how each rookie gained their starting job couldn’t be any more different.

Mac Jones beat out incumbent Cam Newton to win the starting gig coming out of training camp. Texans Rookie Davis Mills (Stanford) was picked in the third round with the Texans’ first pick of the draft to largely play backup to Tyrod Taylor. However, when Taylor injured his hamstring in week 2 against the Browns, it forced Mills into action. A week after holding a living legend to mortal numbers, the Patriots defense will again need to be active on Sunday to help the team win with a skeleton crew of a roster making the trip.

We’ll again stick with last week’s iteration of game preview, using the “who has the advantage when…” style. So, without further ado.

The Patriots Run the Ball

The Patriots are suddenly a team struggling to move the ball on the ground. Don’t expect that to change this week as the only returning starter along the offensive line is center David Andrews. The Patriots leading rusher a week ago was WR Nelson Agholor, who had a long of 4 yards. Collectively, the Pats totaled 8 carries for -1 yard on the ground.

That’s not a typo, a Bill Belichick coached had -1 rushing yard for an entire game. A week before, the Patriots had 49 yards on 17 carries. This has been a downward trend since the season opener against the Dolphins for the Pats. Behind a patchwork offensive line, the work won’t be getting any easier for the Patriots’ running backs.

The silver lining? The Texans have been extremely porous against the run, allowing an average of 137 yards per game to their opponents with an extremely generous 4.5 yards per carry average. While the Texans boast an active linebacking corps, the defensive line has been quiet through the first quarter of the NFL season. The lack of production among their down linemen has allowed the linebackers more than their fair share of chances to pad stats with tackles multiple yards downfield, which is exactly what has occurred.

Despite the Texans’ troubles defending the run, it won’t be an easy day in the office for the Patriots rushing attack. Expect this to be a difficult endeavor to get the ground game going. Damien Harris and the other Patriot’s running backs were having a difficult time executing the Patriots rushing attack behind the starting offensive line, it won’t get any easier behind the patchwork starting five against the Texans.

Advantage: Patriots (somehow)

The Patriots Pass the Ball

McDaniels embraced Mac Jones and his strengths last week against the Bucs. Facing a strong front seven but an injured secondary, the Pats spread it out, often going with three wide receiver sets. These personnel groupings not only plays to Jones’ strengths in the short to intermediate passing game, but it helps the rookie identify defensive play calls before the snap.

The Patriots would be wise to utilize this game plan again against the Texans. With Mac playing behind four new starters up front, putting him in the gun and letting him identify his mismatches before the snap will allow him to get the ball out quick and avoid getting killed. If the Patriots’ running game falters at all, expect them to replace it with a quick passing game to keep the offense in manageable situations.

The Texans’ secondary is largely comprised of “remember them” names. While they may have some notable names on their roster, the Texans’ passing defense has been middle of the pack. They have allowed an average of 260 yards passing per game but have buoyed that performance with timely takeaways and stiff red zone passing defense.

The Texans have allowed 6 passing touchdowns while collecting 5 interceptions. Safety Justin Reid leads the team with 2, while CB’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Lonnie Johnson Jr., and linebacker Christian Kirksey have one apiece.

The Texans pass rush starts with hybrid defensive end/linebacker Whitney Mercilus who has collected 3 sacks on the season. The team has a total of 7 sacks to this point in the season. Outside of Mercilus, these sacks are largely designed pressures and not one on one pass rush wins. Don’t be surprised if some of these schemes and games fool the Pats’ backup o-linemen and we see Mac on the ground more than we’d like.

It’ll all come down to protecting Mac. The Texans will know the Pats want to get the ball out of his hand quickly and would be smart to clog the underneath passing lanes. If so, Mac will need to have time to work through his progressions. If the Pats can afford him that time, then the passing offense will have success. If not, it could be a frustrating day in the office. A big game from the tight ends might be in store if the Pts can consistently get them lined up on the Texans linebackers.

Advantage: Patriots

The Texans Run the Ball

The Texans have been anything but a dominant rushing team this season. Paced by a veteran group (and I mean veteran with a capital V), the team has gained 332 yards on the ground. For comparison’s sake, the Pats have 274. The Texans had 48 rushing yards last week against the Bills, and it wasn’t because the game got out of hand quickly. The Texans trailed 16-0 at the half and 19-0 after three. Still, plenty of reason to stay balanced on offense.

The week before, the Texans rushed for 42 yards against the Panthers. Almost half of the Texans rushing yards (160) came in week 1 against the Jaguars. The Texans again were productive on the ground through the first half against the Browns before QB Tyrod Taylor got injured. The loss of a dynamic runner at the QB position has made the Texans run game one-dimensional.

Just as a porous Texans defense might be the medicine the Patriots rushing game needs to get back on track, facing the Patriots defense might do the same for a struggling Texans attack. The Patriots rank 20th in rush defense thus far into the season. Dont’a Hightower hasn’t been the same player since returning and was leapfrogged by Kyle Van Noy last week in playtime. The loss of Ja’Whaun Bentley hasn’t helped the Patriots rush defense either.

Bentley is questionable to play against the Texans while Jamie Collins is set to make his (third?) Patriots debut. The return of both Collins and Bentley could mean a bolstered Patriots rushing defense. At the very least, it should help keep guys fresh with a more active rotation.

A week after Belichick putting on a coaching clinic against one of the most talented offenses in the league, I have a feeling he keeps his defense on track with a resurgent effort against a struggling Texans run game. The best thing the Pats can do is overplay the run and force a rookie QB to try to beat them through the air.

For a game the features the two franchises planet-sized-defender-of-the-middle Vince Wilfork played for, it’ll be a game lacking in run defense.

Advantage: Patriots

The Texans Pass the Ball

Rookie Davis Mills was highly touted as a draft prospect. NFL evaluators loved his arm strength and ability to spread the ball around along with his above-average escape-ability. However, the negatives from his college tape have translated too easily to the NFL game. He frequently waited for the sure thing to be open, often leaving receivers waiting on his ball to arrive, and tended to be occasionally erratic with his accuracy.

Those negative traits are reflected in his professional stat line: 38/67 for 357 yards, 2 touchdowns against 5 interceptions while taking 8 sacks. The NFL level happens at a much faster speed than college, waiting for a sure thing to happen in the NFL is very rarely going to occur. His high sacks total in two and a half games shows he’s still waiting for his guys to break open while the interception total is reflective of his sporadic accuracy and receivers having to wait on the ball.

A week after making TB12 double clutch and doubt what he was seeing post-snap, the Pats defense should be able to tie this rookie’s brain into knots. Even with the loss of Jalen Mills (hamstring), the Patriots’ secondary should be able to scheme up confusing and effective coverages.

WR Brandin Cooks is the Texans leading receiver by a large margin (Cooks: 369 yards, next leading receiver: 73 yards) and should draw attention from CB1 J.C. Jackson or from a rat concept with slot corner Jonathan Jones and safety Devin McCourty over the top. Belichick is the king of making teams play left-handed and it’s never been so apparent as the Texans unbalanced passing game.

The Texans’ offensive line has long been an Achilles heel and continues to be despite significant investment. Patriots pass rushers Matt Judon and Josh Uche, along with rotating pieces Van Noy, Hightower, Collins, and Chase Winovich should all find success in one-on-one matchups. If the Pats can get Mills to second guess what he’s seeing and hold the ball the pass rush should have a VERY productive game.

Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams

The Patriots’ third unit finally got on track last week (outside of one Matt Slater penalty). They threw everything they had at the Bucs to try to gain an extra possession, but the Bucs handled it extremely well. I don’t think the Pats will be getting too exotic on special teams unless the game flow dictates it late in the matchup. Gunner Olszewski has had a quiet start to the season before a modest return last week, he might be due to break one. Nick Folk has been listed on the injury report since Week 2 but has yet to miss any time. He has been consistent and came ever so close to turning in a snow-bowl-esque kick last week in monsoon conditions.

Coaching

Belichick showed last week he still is the best defensive mind to ever don a headset. His work this week should be quite a bit easier than going against his understudy of 20 years. However, the best don’t let up against inferior opponents. Belichick knows and embraces that aspect of the game, often showing clips of Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods during team meetings to accentuate how the best never is content with simply winning, they want to dominate and embarrass their opponents. Belichick should channel that mentality in running a second consecutive coaching clinic.

McDaniels has been on the receiving end of quite a bit of criticism. None of which has been deserved. He has quietly and steadily been focusing the game plan on Mac Jones’ strengths and will continue to set the rookie up for success. After seeing how disastrous the downfield passing game could be against the Saints, Mac was happy to stay on script against the Bucs and had the best game of his young career. Hopefully, the Pats don’t need to break out Jakobi Meyers for two pass attempts this game.

Defensive play-caller Steve Belichick has been steady as long as the cameras aren’t on him….

Advantage: Patriots

Weather

It’s a dome. Unless the Chargers and Raiders decide to somehow get involved and postpone it, it shouldn’t be an issue. The Texans field is a natural grass surface that has come under criticism in seasons past but thus far in the young season has been in top shape.

Prediction

The Texans average 16.8 points per game, the Pats? 17.8. Seems a bit too straightforward. Mac Jones and the offense finally showed signs of progression last week in the red zone, going 2-3 but scoring points on every trip. The slow conversion of these trips into touchdowns is a welcome sign for the offense. The Patriots defense and special teams will need to help the offense in the scoring department, and I think they end up getting it done.

Mills will turn the ball over; the Pats just need to make them count. This is a game that has a distinct Patriots advantage in every aspect yet somehow feels will be ugly…or this is a game where the Pats outclass an inferior opponent despite having the odds against them and win going away.

Pats win 24-6.