This past Sunday was a strange one. Seemed like some breaks didn't go our way and our own mistakes/penalties occurring at the exact wrong times prevented us from putting up more TDs and points (on a different day, Davis and Kroft both catch TD passes from Josh and we feel a lot better about the offense). Still, Josh and the defense showed signs of progress and 5-2 plus first place in the AFC East is a good start. Looking forward to this first test against the Brady-less Patriots in a big division match up.
Same as the previous weeks, I wanted to do an amateur deep dive/scouting session into the Patriots' last three games based on their game highlights (granted it's not the All-22 film but still a combined 40+ minutes of video) and then list some keys/X-factors for our matchup this week. Anyways, hope you enjoy/find this useful:
***Offensive and Defensive Ranks are based on Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average statistics***
October 5th- Week 4 Loss AT Kansas City (4th ranked offense and 5th ranked defense after Week 4, current record: 6-1) by a score of 26-10:
Hoyer/Stidham- with Newton on the COVID list, these two combined for 60 minutes of uninspiring QB play. Two of the three INTs were gifts/bad throws that weren't even close to their intended target. Hoyer took a bad sack that knocked NE out of FG range at the end of the first half and also fumbled in the red zone later in the 3rd quarter which led to his benching.
Pats Running Game- Damien Harris (100 yards and 5.9 YPC in the game) isn't particularly fast or athletic, but is a tough runner with good balance, a typical Belichick RB who always falls forward. Burkhead also ripped off a few big runs. White was such a receiving threat as per usual (7 receptions vs KC), he scares me more than anyone else in their offense.
Julian Edelman (confirmed out on Sunday)- dropped his first target. Used for most of their jet motion stuff, but didn't get any handoffs that I saw. Made a couple big catches in the second half, but was responsible for KC's pick-six as the ball went right through his hands.
N'Keal Harry (likely out on Sunday)- made a couple catches on third down to keep the chains moving and scored the Pats' only TD on a fade pass to the corner of the endzone where he boxed out the defender. He hasn't lived up to his draft status, but his size is an advantage against most CBs.
Pats Run Defense- Held CEH to just 64 rushing yards and 4.0 YPC in this one, but didn't do a good job containing Mahomes when he ran. Noticeably struggled to defend jet sweeps and reverses on TDs by Hill and Hardman. Pats defense appeared to show a weakness towards jet and pre-snap motion and wasn't quick enough to defend sweeps and off tackle runs.
Pats Pass Defense- Mahomes picked on Jonathan Jones a bit in this game and he looks like the weak link of that secondary. Ultimately limited Mahomes to just 236 yards and 2 TDs. Only got one sack (Winovich) and Mahomes wasn't really pressured much.
Miscellaneous- Zuber (who is normally a WR on their practice squad, likely active on Sunday given their WR injuries) ran the ball on a successful reverse play and sounds like he has been involved in some gadget plays earlier in their season. Pats defense bent but didn't break in this game, forcing KC to settle for FGs more often than not. Cam Newton's absence had a huge impact on this game as New England struggled with turnovers and often stalled in the red zone. However, NE made this more of a game than I expected them to and the final score flattered KC in my opinion.
Week 5 Bye
October 18th- Week 6 Loss at Home vs Denver (29th ranked offense and 6th ranked defense after Week 6, current record: 2-4) by a score of 18-12:
Newton- 17/25 for 157 yards, 0 TDs, and 2 INTs. had a pass batted down which led to an INT on their first drive. Apparently Newton has the highest number and/or percentage of passes batted down in the league, hopefully the Bills D-line can take advantage. It's also insane how long he hung onto the ball at times without feeling the pressure that was coming. All (and I mean all) of Newton's successful throws come as a result of play-action so that's something to watch out for. Newton's arm looked noticeably weaker than I've seen it in the past. Had an excellent run in the 4th quarter that set up NE's only TD of the game which he scored on a QB sneak. Sacked four times.
Pats Running Game- Newton was NE's leading rusher in this game. Harris, Burkhead, and White were shut down, combining for only 41 rushing yards. White was NE's leading receiver with 8 catches/65 yards.
Julian Edelman (confirmed out on Sunday)- caught 2 balls for 8 yards. Did complete 2 passes of his own on trick plays though.
N'Keal Harry (likely out on Sunday)- invisible in this game and slipped on NE's final play of the game (4th and 10).
Pats Run Defense- Again struggled on jet sweeps and running plays to the wider areas of the field. Lindsay (101 yards) gave them trouble with his speed (more runs/jet sweeps by McKenzie needed for our match up?).
Pats Pass Defense- JC Jackson made a number of good plays (not even including the gift INT from Lock late in the game) and continued his really strong season (I think he's been their #1 CB this year while Gilmore and Jones have both been victimized at times). Denver's TEs seemed to get open a lot vs the Pats LBs and safeties. Got two sacks (Simon and Bentley) and were able to pressure Lock more successfully than in Week 4.
Miscellaneous- Pats defense did such a good job of forcing FGs, again giving up yards but tightening in the red zone. On Newton's nicest throw of the day, Ryan Izzo caught the ball over the middle and promptly fumbled. DaeSean Hamilton beat Gilmore in coverage on a deep pass in the 4th quarter that could have put the game away, but dropped the ball as he was crossing the 5 yard line. Drew Lock and Denver's offense literally tried everything to lose this game in the 4th, but ultimately got the win.
October 25th - Week 7 Loss at Home to San Francisco (8th ranked offense and 8th ranked defense after Week 7, current record: 4-3) by a score of 33-6:
Newton/Stidham- 9/15 for 98 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs. His arm strength looked significantly reduced for most of this game as well. Badly underthrew Meyers on the first INT. Did launch a deep throw at the end of the first half into double coverage that was picked. Newton was benched after his third pick for Stidham who came in and threw his customary INT (remember when NFL Network said we should be worried about this guy becoming the next Brady? LOL).
Pats Running Game- backfield was fairly quiet with most of their yards coming well into garbage time already down 27 points. Overall NE had less than 100 yards rushing, but some of this was likely due to game script.
Julian Edelman (confirmed out on Sunday)- Used for a lot of their pre-snap motion again, but didn't get any handoffs or chances to throw that I saw. Was responsible for Newton's third INT as the ball tipped off his hands high into the air.
N'Keal Harry (likely out on Sunday)- took a hard hit that knocked the ball loose and knocked him out of the game right at the end of the 1st quarter. Jakobi Meyers (4 catches for 60 yards) made some nice grabs in his place.
Pats Run Defense- Possibly a harbinger of things to come, Jimmy G broke two tackles and picked up a 3rd-and-long on San Fran's first drive. Even more than NE's past opponents, the 49ers used tons of pre-snap motion which really challenged the Patriots. NE to this point had been very stingy defending inside runs, but SF was able to win at the LoS and ran wherever they wanted. Missed an uncharacteristic amount of tackles by their standards.
Pats Pass Defense- Struggled to prevent YAC on short passes in this game, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk gave them fits. Only got one sack (Guy) even though they seem to blitz a lot. The INT from Jimmy G was a simple overthrow. McCourty was in the right place to be fair, but just a bad play by the QB IMO. Kittle dominated, but he does that against everybody so not going to dent NE for that one.
Miscellaneous- I will say that Nick Folk has looked automatic in these three games and the Pats have one of the best punters in the league. NE were lucky to recover 2 fumbles in this game that could have made the result even more lopsided. Also, as a side note, I think Fred Warner is the most underrated player in the NFL. That dude is so good, just the dream modern day NFL linebacker.
November 1st - Week 8 New England Patriots (current record: 2-4, 25th ranked offense and 25th ranked defense after Week 7) Away vs Buffalo Bills (current record: 5-2, 12th ranked offense and 21st ranked defense after Week 7)
Bills On Offense- This is not the same NE defense we are used to seeing from a talent perspective, but the man calling the plays is still the best in the game. I think the Patriots have looked stout up the middle (aside from the SF game), but have looked very vulnerable on the edges. Gilmore is having a down year by his standards, Diggs matches up against him better than any we've had, and the trade rumors are swirling. Winovich can be a dangerous pass rusher, but no one else really inspires fear and based on previous games, I think there should be room for Josh to run. I also believe Beasley and the TEs could have success in this game based on what I've seen from Jones and the Pats LBs.
Bills On Defense- as discussed by several of us in the game week thread, a strategy of stacking the box to stop the run and forcing Newton to beat us with his arm seems like the best chance to get the win. The weather looks like it could lead to a more run-heavy game script as well. The Pats should be without a few weapons like Edelman and Harry and I think White is the one player I'd really try to take away in the pass game. Putting a spy on Newton to prevent him from moving the chains with his legs seems like a good idea as well.
On Special Teams- NE currently has the 9th ranked special teams in the league. Great punter and Folk is having a strong year. Their kick returner Olszewski seems like a average returner...more quick than fast and had a big fumble vs SF. We need good games out of Bass, Bojo, and Roberts to combat the elements and win the field position battle.
Alright thanks for reading! I enjoyed putting this together and will look to do so each week moving forward. The Bills have a tough task ahead of them (division game, losing streak vs the Pats, possible bad weather, etc), but I'm optimistic that Josh has improved a lot since the last time he played NE and as much as people are saying the Pats will be motivated and are playing with their backs against the wall, I'd also venture that they're lacking talent in a lot of places and are in a pretty serious slump. I'm equal parts anxious and cautiously optimistic for Sunday.
All the best, stay healthy, and Go Bills!