Patriots vs. Eagles Instant Overreactions: New England's dominant defense is back?

Patriots vs. Eagles Instant Overreactions: New England's dominant defense is back?

Sunday's Week 11 game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles was nothing like their previous meeting in Super Bowl LII. 

The Eagles won that Super Bowl 41-33, but points were hard to come by this weekend at Lincoln Financial Field. The Patriots escaped with a 17-10 win in a game that, at one point in the fourth quarter, saw punts on 10 consecutive drives.

There was a lot to analyze despite the lack of scoring, so let's take a look at four instant overreactions and assess their merit.

1. Ben Watson will be a receiving threat at tight end
: Overreaction

Watson gave his best performance of the season with three receptions for 52 yards, including a 19-yard catch to set up 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line in the first quarter. But unless we see Watson put up these numbers on a consistent basis, it's too early to call him a legitimate receiving threat at tight end at 38 years old. He wasn't even targeted once in the Patriots' four trips to the red zone. That's the area of the field where Watson has to help replace the loss of Rob Gronkowski.

2. Patriots' red-zone offense is a huge concern
Verdict: Not an overreaction

The Patriots drove into the red zone three times in the first half and scored zero touchdowns. The second trip inside the 20-yard line was the most painful. New England had 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line and Brady threw three consecutive incompletions to force head coach Bill Belichick to bring on the field goal unit. Brady nearly threw an interception on that second red-zone drive, too. He has two red zone interceptions this season after throwing just two of them in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 campaigns combined.

The Patriots averaged just 2.1 yards per carry in the first half, and that might explain the hesitancy to run despite being inside the 5-yard line. Sony Michel and the offensive line as a whole have struggled in short yardage situations throughout the season.

New England finished with four red zone trips overall, and its only touchdown came on a 15-yard pass from Julian Edelman to Phillip Dorsett. 

Rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry could emerge as a valuable red-zone threat at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, but it would've been unfair to expect too much of him in this area during his pro debut.

Red zone offense has been a huge issue for the Patriots. They entered Week 11 with a league-high 40 trips into the red zone but had only scored touchdowns on half of them. This weakness must be resolved ASAP if the Pats are going to come out of this difficult stretch in their schedule sitting atop the AFC standings.

3. The Patriots defense is back!
: Not an overreaction

The Eagles scored 10 points in the first half. The first three came as a result of a suspect 49-yard pass interference penalty that put the Eagles in field goal range, and their lone touchdown originally was ruled an interception before replay overturned the call. The Patriots defense dominated for the rest of the game, allowing zero points and only 170 total yards in the second, third and fourth quarters combined.

New England's pass rush was a major factor, and the game shifted toward the Patriots' favor once the front seven consistently put pressure on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The Pats tallied five sacks and hit Wentz 11 times. The Patriots also held the Eagles to 3-for-11 on third down and forced the game's only turnover (a fumble).

New England's historically dominant defense was humbled with a 37-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9. Critics quickly said the unit was overrated and only had great stats because of a soft schedule. Sunday's performance against a quality quarterback and a good offensive line was a reminder the Patriots defense really is one of the league's best.

4. No-huddle should be an offensive staple moving forward
Verdict: Not an overreaction

The Patriots ran a no-huddle offense with tremendous success versus the Ravens in Week 9, and they found more to begin the second half Sunday. New England moved at a no-huddle tempo and gained eight yards, six yards and 10 yards on the first three plays of the third quarter. They ultimately scored a touchdown to cap a 10-play, 84-yard drive that lasted just 4:11. The Patriots hurried the line on six of the nine plays on the drive, and the Eagles had little answer for it. Don't be surprised if the Patriots go back to this no-huddle offense plenty more times in 2019.

WATCH: N'Keal Harry hauls in first reception from Tom Brady>>>

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.