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Perry's Report Card: Special teams, defense save the day in sweep of Jets

/ by Phil Perry
Presented By Mass School of Law
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Matt Judon

FOXBORO -- In all likelihood, it's just not a sustainable formula.

Good defense. Solid special teams. Splash plays coming from one or the other. Or both. Those are luxuries more than weekly dietary staples of a good football team.

That's where the Patriots are at the moment, though. And it's why it's hard to call them a good football team.

Yes, they sit at 6-4, inside the playoff picture and in the middle of a three-game winning streak. Still, even they have to know -- after scoring three offensive points in a 10-3 win over the Jets that required a walk-off punt return for a touchdown from rookie Marcus Jones -- they're eventually going to need their offense to do more.

What makes Sunday's result so interesting is that there did, in fact, seem to be progress made on the offensive side of the ball for the Patriots despite their meager scoring output. Imagine that.

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They averaged 5.0 yards per play against one of the top defenses in the league. They managed 297 total yards. They didn't turn it over. Mac Jones completed 85 percent of his passes for 246 yards and averaged 9.1 yards per attempt. His completion percentage over expected, an accuracy stat compiled by Next Gen, checked in at an impressive 10.4.

 

A few weeks ago in Jersey, Jones averaged nearly half as many yards per pass (5.5), he threw for 52 fewer yards (194), and his completion percentage over expected was just 0.7.

Progress? Progress. Seriously.

But it's an indication of just how far this offense has to climb to be considered competent that despite that progress, they still managed only one field goal offensively. Not what they're looking for.

Is the climb they're facing a realistic one for them to make? Can they clean up all that ails them on the offensive side of the ball, grow in the passing game, and enter into the conversation among their division's contenders?

They should be able to fix their penalty problem. They were flagged for two more holds Sunday, a block in the back and an illegal formation penalty. Three of those helped end what were promising drives.

What they're dealing with along the offensive line won't be a simple fix. Jones was sacked six times by the Jets for a total loss of 48 yards. Patriots backs ran for just 91 yards on 23 carries (3.95 yards per attempt). And there aren't many obvious remedies available to them moving forward.

Wilson, Saleh see New York's offensive issues on Sunday quite differently

David Andrews is dealing with a potentially serious thigh injury that forced him from Sunday's game. There continues to be uncertainty at right tackle as Yodny Cajuste finished Sunday's game with three sacks allowed, two pressures allowed and one holding penalty. There's uncertainty at left tackle after Trent Brown was benched -- Bill Belichick called it a "coaching decision" -- to start the game and allowed a pair of sacks himself. Isaiah Wynn, who started at left tackle, left the Jets game with a foot injury. Cole Strange has had an up-and-down month at left guard.

Belichick and Matt Patricia appeared to find a few workarounds for their issues in the trenches, leaning into that which they've done well in spurts all year.

They used "gap" running plays on three consecutive snaps on their third drive, yielding 30 total yards. During the game, I counted what looked like 15 gap runs total that went for 92 yards (6.1 yards per carry). They utilized play-action passes that hit for explosive plays to Jonnu Smith (26 yards) and Damien Harris (15 yards), as well as Jakobi Meyers (20) and Hunter Henry (20) on back-to-back snaps.

 

But the Patriots still went a combined 4-for-16 on third and fourth down Sunday, and they were 0-for-2 in the red zone.

Bad situational football. Sacks. Penalties. A banged-up offensive line.

It's a lot to overcome if the Patriots want to make some noise come January. But they showed they were at least capable of improvement on some level in Round 2 against a talented Jets defense. And that's a start.

Let's get to the grades for Week 11...

Quarterback: C+

Good indication of where this offense is struggling on its very first play back off the bye week. Shotgun. Four pass-catchers aligned wide. Yodny Cajuste can't hold a block. Sack. Loss of seven. Hard to operate that way at quarterback. (The play looked like it had an option for a screen to Damien Harris, but Jones never looked that way for long.)

Jones was sacked six times in all on Sunday. He completed 23 of his 27 attempts (85 percent) for 246 yards, which gave him an average of 9.1 yards per attempt and a rating of 104.6.

Were there moments when Jones could've thrown the ball away instead of going down behind the line? There may have been one late in the second quarter that preceded a a Nick Folk miss off the crossbar, but otherwise there didn't appear to be a lot of hanging onto the ball behind the line of scrimmage, inviting pressure.

In an offensive slog, he really didn't seem to be the primary issue. At one point he completed 11 consecutive throws for 151 yards.

Running back: B

Rhamondre Stevenson continues to impress. Even though he averaged just 1.7 yards per carry -- just a heinous figure -- he showed his strength midway through the second quarter on third and 16 when he caught a checkdown and proceeded to break four tackles to pick up the first down. He ended up leading the team in receiving yards with six catches for 56 yards.

Harris looked healthy with a 22-yard run on a "duo" gap-style run, he also bounced a run up the gut to the outside for a 30 yard gain; by the end of the afternoon, he had 65 yards on eight carries for an average of 8.1 yards.

Wide receiver: C-

This group hasn't provided much in the way of consistency in weeks. That was the case again on Sunday, as they showed inconsistent hands and inconsistent awareness leading to penalties.

Tyquan Thornton had a drop on the second drive of the game, leading to a punt. Jakobi Meyers dropped a slant. Kendrick Bourne picked up an illegal formation penalty by "covering up" Hunter Henry when Henry was on the line of scrimmage. DeVante Parker was later flagged for a block in the back penalty. This unit combined for just 10 catches and 102 yards on 14 targets. Not abysmal. But not exactly what you're looking for.

 

Tight end: B-

I give this group credit. They're two of the highest-paid tight ends in football, but Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry looked like blue-collar fullbacks at times on Sunday. That's a statement on where they sit within the Patriots offense and their inability to perform -- or be used -- like consistent threats in the passing game.

This isn't what they should be in this scheme. But the ability for them to be used as lead blockers between the tackles is also a statement on their willingness to do a dirtier task when the glamorous stuff ain't working.

And some of the more glamorous stuff worked. Henry had a 20-yard catch. Smith had a 26-yarder working out of the backfield, and 40 total yards on four grabs. (He also had a fumble that he was able to recover on an end-around run.)

But I charted 13 plays during which either Smith, Henry or both were aligned in the backfield -- at times in shotgun formations, at times as traditional fullbacks. Seems to signal a change in approach with that pair, and perhaps it's a signal that they're gearing up for more downhill gap-style runs in the second half of the season.

Offensive line: D

Things started ominously for the Patriots as Yodny Cajuste was quickly beaten for a sack on the first snap of the game while Cole Strange seemed to be blocking for a screen that was never thrown. Cajuste seemed to be on the scene for another sack in the second quarter and later on the same drive he was flagged for a hold.

One play after that penalty, Trent Brown was driven back into Jones' legs by Carl Lawson, effectively pushing the Patriots out of field-goal range. Early in the third quarter, both Cajuste and Brown were beaten cleanly and their assignments met in the Patriots backfield for another sack. James Ferentz was penalized for holding. Cajuste was beaten for another sack on a third-and-10 play in the third. The entire group didn't generate much room on a fourth-and-three sweep to the outside that was stopped for no gain.

Late in the game, before the final Jets drive, the Patriots opted to run behind Strange on a third-and-one play. He was driven off the ball and the Patriots were stopped three yards short of the line to gain. Six sacks. Two holding penalties. Three points. Injuries to David Andrews (thigh) and Isaiah Wynn (foot) made a bad day worse.

Special teams: A-

Marcus. Jones. There's a reason the Patriots drafted him in the third round. He's a dynamic athlete who's a threat for a big play any time he touches the football. He'd already shown as much by ranking near the top of the league in kick and punt-return average prior to Sunday.

 

His walk-off touchdown, though, was something that had his teammates in awe in the locker room after the fact. The key block was a double-team on Justin Hardee -- one of the top gunners in the league, who had a pair of tackles in the game before Jones' return. Once Hardee was sealed, Jones was off to the races. It was nearly wiped off the board thanks to a block-in-the-back penalty from Mack Wilson, but the officials kept the flags in their pockets and the score stood.

Nick Folk missed a pair of kicks but players said the wind played tricks on the football all afternoon so those misses don't bury this grade. On Folk's first miss, Matthew Slater said it looked like the ball was lifted up into the air by a gust and then blown left. "It was going in ... It was taken up in a vortex and then blown out. It was the wildest thing."

Helping this mark was the work by new punter Michael Palardy, who blasted it seven times for a 45.3 average, including two that were downed inside the 20. Raekwon McMillan's running-into-the-kicker penalty didn't factor into this grade. Missed call.

Defensive line: A

Deatrich Wise, the captain up front for the Patriots defense, wasn't kidding when he described the performance as "complete domination." This unit held Jets backs to 33 yards on 19 carries (1.7 per carry) and consistently bothered Zach Wilson.

Wise led the way -- more on his teammate Matthew Judon's day when we get to the linebackers -- with a sack, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hit and a pass batted at the line of scrimmage. He also pressured Wilson into a throwaway late in the third quarter. Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy had run stuffs, clogging up the interior to help linebackers and defensive backs come downhill cleanly.

Linebacker: A

Judon will tell you that the reason his sack total is so high is thanks in large part to his teammates. He was in on two more sacks on Sunday thanks to games at the line of scrimmage. The second was a "flush" call with two linemen stunting wide, taking the attention of Jets offensive linemen and allowing Judon to penetrate up the middle for the splash play.

Josh Uche was also a problem for the Jets, creating a pressure that led to an incompletion on the first third down of the game. He did it again on the next drive, helping force a punt when his pressure led to a wayward Wilson pass. He also had a run stuff.

 

Raekwon McMillan came up with a tackle for loss and another stuffed run, and Mack Wilson was ready to make a sack as a spy if Judon didn't get to Zach Wilson first. Anfernee Jennings continues to put together solid performances, coming away with a pair of run stuffs working on the edge. Judon had a bad neutral-zone infraction penalty on third down in this one, but it wasn't bad enough to knock this mark down a grade.

Secondary: A-

The bye seemed to do Kyle Dugger some good. He started the second drive of the game with a run stuff and didn't stop attacking from that point on. He came up for another strong tackle on a short running play on first down in the early portion of the second quarter, he had a sack deep in Jets territory for a loss of eight, he nearly came up with a pick when he broke up a pass along the Jets sideline, and his tackle for loss on third down at the end of the game set up the game-winning punt return. Monster day that helped make it an afternoon to forget for Zach Wilson (9-for-22, 77 yards, 50.8 rating).

It wasn't a perfect game for this group. Devin McCourty dropped a pick. Jack Jones was taken advantage of on an underthrown deep ball along the Patriots sideline. Jon Jones was hit with a holding call on third and 10. Myles Bryant got beat by Elijah Moore on back-to-back snaps in the second quarter. But the physicality near the line shown by Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers and Jon Jones (two run stuffs, pass breakup) keeps this grade in the "A" range.