Julian Edelman had five catches Sunday night, but it was his toughness and blocking that really stood out
It’s not exactly breaking news that the Patriots emphasize the concept of team over individual. Still, it’s always admirable when superstars and potential Pro Bowlers give their all to the cause and do the necessary dirty work to come away with victory
It was easy to observe the highlight-reel plays in the Patriots’ 42-20 thumping of the Colts on Sunday night in Indianapolis. Running back Jonas Gray certainly deserves all the publicity this week after his 199-yard, four-touchdown game. But a lot of those yards wouldn’t have happened if not for fullback James Develin and tight end Rob Gronkowski consistently clearing the path for him all night. Or without Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, and even Nate Solder sealing off the hole with perfectly executed trap blocks
Gronkowski’s incredible 26-yard touchdown rumble in the fourth quarter wouldn’t have happened if not for Julian Edelman absolutely de-cleating safety Mike Adams. Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson wouldn’t have been held to 4 yards on 14 carries if not for Vince Wilfork (one tackle) consistently taking on the double team and collapsing the running lanes. T.Y. Hilton wouldn’t have been held to three catches for 24 yards if not for Devin McCourty (three tackles, one pass defended) shadowing him over the top all night. Andrew Luck probably would have completed more than 59 percent of his passes had Rob Ninkovich not consistently disrupted his timing, or had Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins not consistently bumped the Colts receivers off their routes in the 5-yard contact zone. The score could have been a lot closer if not for Kyle Arrington’s touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff return
Not everyone played a great game, but the cliché held true Sunday night — the win really was a total team effort
:Other observations after reviewing the tape
When the Patriots had the ball
Let’s start off with Gray and the running game, which obviously was the driving force behind the offense. All five offensive linemen, plus Develin and Gronk, deserve a game ball for manhandling the Colts’ front four, especially with Ricky Jean-Francois replacing Arthur Jones at defensive tackle. Extra kudos to Connolly, Solder, and Sebastian Vollmer for showing great athleticism in pulling through the holes, and opening up huge lanes for Gray, Shane Vereen, and Edelman, who rushed for 248 yards on a whopping 6 yards per carry. The Patriots used rookie Cameron Fleming as an extra blocker on 38 snaps, and strangely, Colts coach Chuck Pagano never modified his approach, allowing his smallish defense to get pushed around. Veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson looks like he’s on his last legs, and while Erik Walden made Brady’s life miserable on the pass rush, he was pushed around pretty easily in the run game. Gray had success running the ball to all sides of the field — 61 yards on 5.5 yards per carry and a touchdown to the left side, 66 yards on 7.3 yards per carry to the right side, and 72 yards on 4.5 yards per carry and three touchdowns up the middle. Develin had the perfect block on Gray’s third touchdown run, and Connolly had an awesome block on an 8-yard run down by the goal line in the third quarter. It was interesting to see Marcus Cannon sprinting onto the field to replace Vollmer at right tackle in short-yardage situations
It’s not fair to give all the credit to the blockers, because Gray was unbelievable, as well. By our conservative measure, Gray gained 86 of his 199 yards after contact, as he consistently plowed through would-be tacklers and fell forward to gain extra yards. By comparison, Pro Football Focus says Stevan Ridley had 166 yards after contact in six games this year, while Vereen has 131 in nine games. Gray’s most impressive run came on third and 1 early in the third quarter and the Patriots only leading, 14-10. Gray was hit in the backfield, but he kept his legs churning and squirmed his way to the first down. The Patriots scored on the next play and never looked back
Gray also helped open up the play-action passing game in the second half, even after a poor first half in which Brian Tyms dropped an easy catch and Brady threw two interceptions, all out of play action. But in the second half Brady had a nice 12-yard pass to Brandon LaFell out of play action, a 14-yard checkdown to Vereen, a 15-yard pass to Edelman, and the 2-yard touchdown to Tim Wright. The Patriots don’t have many receivers with elite athleticism and separation skills (other than Gronk), and need the play-action fakes to get big chunks of yards in the passing game. Gray proved Sunday night that he can keep a defense honest.
The pass blocking was not nearly as solid, however. Walden had three quarterback hits after consistently beating Vollmer around the edge, and Wendell had issues up the middle. Brady was the “September Brady” in the first half, ostensibly because he felt really uncomfortable in the pocket. He missed wide open receivers, like Gronk over the middle or Develin leaking out on a wheel route, and forced the ball into double coverage and tightly covered receivers. The Colts mostly played Cover 2 man, with Vontae Davis at right cornerback and Greg Toler at left cornerback. They also tried to confuse Brady with zone pressure and came at him on 15 of 30 dropbacks
LaFell bailed Brady out twice with excellent catches on balls that probably shouldn’t have been thrown. Brady’s blind turnaround pass to Gronk that was intercepted by Adams was probably his worst pass of the season, and maybe one of the worst he’s ever thrown in his career. His throw to Tyms in triple coverage wasn’t much better
But Brady calmed down in the second half, and Gray really helped open up the passing lanes. One of the biggest plays of the game came on Vereen’s 39-yard catch-and-run early in the third quarter, during which three Colts defenders followed Edelman across the field and left Vereen wide open
Also a special shoutout to Edelman for showing great toughness. I can’t imagine how sore he was Monday after landing awkwardly on his hip on one play, then limping off the field in the third quarter after a defender fell on his ankle. But Edelman had a respectable five catches for 50 yards, and showed great toughness in the third quarter by fighting through three defenders to get the first down.
When the Colts had the ball
The Patriots’ coverage wasn’t quite as multiple as it was in the Denver game, when they mixed and matched their coverages and personnel on every play, but they used a similar game plan against Luck so as not to allow him to figure out many tendencies or get into a rhythm. They did an excellent job of bracketing Hilton with a cornerback (usually Arrington, who had a really nice game) and McCourty over the top. Brandon Browner generally covered Coby Fleener — it’s becoming quite apparent that even though Browner is a cornerback, the Patriots signed him to cover tight ends — although he handled Hilton and Reggie Wayne, as well. Luck did a nice job of stepping up in the pocket and finding the holes in the zone — usually in the middle of the field or the deep corners — but the passing windows were probably the tightest he’s seen all year, because of some excellent coverage. The Patriots only blitzed Luck six times in 42 dropbacks. The Patriots used Darrelle Revis to lock down Wayne, and then it was all hands on deck to slow down Hilton, Hakeem Nicks, Donte Moncrief, and the two tight ends
Three defenders stood out — Hightower, Collins, and Revis. Hightower and Collins have really taken off with Jerod Mayo out of the lineup, and are excelling in all facets of the game. Both did a nice job of lining up in the “A” gaps to disguise their pre-snap intentions. Collins had excellent open-field tackles on Fleener and Ahmad Bradshaw, did an excellent job covering Bradshaw out of the backfield, and forced Luck to hurry a throw in the first quarter that thwarted an early drive. Hightower also created two pressures with his blitzes to force bad throws, and was great patrolling the middle of the field in zone coverage. Revis had one miscommunication with Logan Ryan and McCourty that led to a 46-yard catch for Wayne, but otherwise he allowed only two short completions for the rest of the night, while also making a great tackle in the run game on Bradshaw and an open-field tackle on Wayne to force a fourth down.
Browner again brought physicality to the secondary, but he was burned pretty badly in coverage, allowing seven catches for 130 yards, mostly to Fleener, who got away with one push-off but otherwise had little trouble shaking free. Ryan needs to work on his physicality – his receiver was consistently able to fight through his jam and get off the line of scrimmage, particularly Nicks on his touchdown catch
There were two uncharacteristic penalties for 20 yards by Rob Ninkovich — his first two of the season, after committing just one in each of the last two years — but we’ll give him a pass, because once again he was relentless in his pursuit of Luck, did a great job setting the edge in the run game, had an excellent tackle for loss on Bradshaw, and once again did a nice job dropping into coverage on zone blitzes. Ninkovich doesn’t get much national attention, but he might be the most valuable player on the Patriots defense
A solid game by Wilfork in taking on the double-teams, and Dominique Easley created some good interior pressure with stunts and twists
Not a bad night, but not the best night either. Don Jones was made inactive, likely for Fleming, and Malcolm Butler really struggled in his place. Butler did a terrible job blocking Dewey McDonald on a punt return, giving him a free shot at Danny Amendola, whom he tackled at the 5-yard line. Butler also was flagged for blocking in the back, and Patrick Chung was busted for holding. If not for Arrington, Dan Herron would have had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown for the Colts
Credit Bill Belichick for doing his homework. The Colts have caught several teams off guard this year with onside kicks. So the Patriots kept seven defenders, one more than usual, up on the 50-yard line to defend against that