The New England Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills last week 25-6 on Monday Night Football with the defense taking the lead role as New England’s offense was stymied by injuries to key players and a strong and aggressive Bills’ defense. After a 1-2 start including losses to Jacksonville and Detroit, the Patriots have won five straight games.
The Patriots led Buffalo throughout the entire game but failed to get into the end zone until the fourth quarter. Stephen Gostkowski made four field goals (missing only from 50 yards) to give the Patriots a 12-6 lead before James White finally powered in from one yards out to give New England an 18-6 lead.
The offense punted four times, missed a long field goal before halftime and scored just one touchdown. It was the defense stepping up against the impotent Bills offense and forcing five punts, a pair of long field goals, two turnovers and a couple of turnovers on downs to end the game.
With running back Sony Michel out, the offense funnelled through James White (eight receptions for 60 yards) and Julian Edelman (six catches for 68 yards) as the running game and big play receivers were all held in check (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted).
New England will play their second consecutive primetime game this weekend and their fourth primetime game in five weeks.This will be their second Sunday night game at Gillette Stadium in 2018. In October, the Patriots had a thrilling 43-40 victory over Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs at home. In September, New England lost 26-10 to Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football.
This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC to a national audience on Sunday Night Football and can be seen locally on NBC 10 Boston and NBC 10 WJAR Providence. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines.
Monday’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One. Kevin Kugler will call the game with the always insightful and interesting Mike Mayock providing analysis.
Locally, the New England Patriots are on the radio on 41 stations throughout the six states in New England, New York and Florida and will feature broadcasters Bob Socci doing play-by-play and local media member and former Patriots backup quarterback and talk radio star Scott Zolak adding color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious on Sunday.
The win over Buffalo was the fifth consecutive victory for the Patriots but ended their four game streak of scoring 38 points or more. The Patriots’ offense that was ranked 25th in the NFL in points scored after week three is now fourth in the NFL with 239 points scored. Coming out of week three ranked 29th in the league on third down percentage converting on just 28.6% of their third downs. Despite a down week against Buffalo, the Patriots are now in the top ten in the league converting 43% of third downs for the season. The Red Zone scoring percentage of 65.5 (19 of 29 drives) is good for ninth in the NFL.
How do the Patriots plan to keep this offensive momentum against the Green Bay Packers?
50 PASS ATTEMPTS
Last week against a stout Buffalo front, the New England Patriots threw the ball 45 times. The pass-to-run ration was out of whack as the offense rushed he ball just 25 times (and two of those were kneel-downs by backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. The Patriots rushed for just 76 yards and the passing game was responsible for 324 yards.
The burden is likely to fall on Tom Brady’s right arm again this week with running back Sony Michel unlikely to play again and even if he does play, he will be at less than 100%. The offense that was so dangerous against Miami, Indianapolis and Kansas City with a healthy Michel has been forced to change-on-the-fly these past few weeks.
Cordarrelle Patterson was the lead back running between the tackles last week as Kenjon Barner got just two carries against Buffalo and James White had just 15 yards on eight carries (though he did find the end zone). The Patriots threw the ball 45 times and all but four targets were directed to White (13), Julian Edelman (10), Rob Gronkowski (8), and Josh Gordon (6).
This week the Patriots need to again lean on the passing game over the running game. Although the match-up screams for New England to run the football against a Green Bay defense that has struggled against the run, the Patriots simply lack healthy bodies at running back.
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Green Bay is 22nd against the run, having allowed 834 yards in seven games and allowing opponents 4.4. Yards per rush. Green Bay is 1-0-1 when they hold opponents under 90 yards rushing in 2018. They are 2-3 when opponent rush for 94 yards or more.
The Bills game was the first win in 2018 by the Patriots when they rushed for less than 90 yards. Previously they were 4-0 rushing for more than 95 yards and 0-2 when they rushed for under 90 yards. Granted, it was the offensively challenged Buffalo Bills and this week is a Green Bay unit capable of shutting down opposing passing offenses.
New England lost a huge piece of their offensive line with Shaq Mason already ruled out with a calf injury. With Marcus Cannon still a game-time decision with a concussion, the right side of the offensive line could have a big target on it.
Green Bay’s interior defensive line is a strength in the pass rush with veteran Mike Daniels, the explosive and disruptive Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry. Daniels is not the pass rusher he used to be, but he emergence of Clark (four sacks in seven games) gives the Green Bay defense that penetrating up-the-middle pass rush that causes headaches for opposing offenses.
Expect the Patriots to throw quick, short strikes to Edelman and White a lot. They’ll use Gronkowski and Gordon when they can block up the pass rush need a big play. If Green Bay is able to slow them down, then they will have to look outside of their regular receivers.
Who needs to step up for the Patriots on Sunday night?
The New England Patriots have used Julian Edelman and James White as their two primary receivers recently. Last week they combined for 23 targets in the passing game–more than half of Tom Brady’s 45 pass attempts. Part of that was the injury to Rob Gronkowski and Buffalo emphasizing taking away Josh Gordon down the field with bracket coverage much of the game.
With White and Edelman the focus of the defense and Gordon yet to make the expected impact, the the Patriots have struggled leaning on an injured Rob Gronkowski. They are going to need their lesser targets to step-up this week against a Green Bay with an excellent and deep secondary and one of the top passing defenses in the NFL in 2018.
The Packers boast a trio of young cornerbacks in first-round pick and budding superstar Jaire Alexander, second-round pick Josh Jackson and last year’s second-round pick Kevin King. They are supplemented by a pair of veterans in Tramon Williams and Bashaud Breeland. Safeties Kentrell Brice, Josh Jones, and Jermaine Whitehead have been so good that the Packers were willing to trade starter Haha Clinton-Dix in order to free up more playing time for their young safeties.
This means a tough game for New England’s receivers getting separation. Gordon, Edelman and Chris Hogan are going too have a tough time finding holes in the Green Bay coverage. This means more emphasis on schemes to get James White and Gronkowski open and putting more emphasis on finding space underneath and pressuring rookie linebacker Oren Burks and Blake Martinez.
New England needs to find other options in the passing game. One option is James Develin. The fullback has been an emergency safety valve but since his drop against the Bears led to a costly turnover, his role is likely to decrease rather than increase.
Dwayne Allen has been all but invisible in the passing game in 2018. He has been targeted just twice and has one reception for negative yardage. His playing time has plummeted as New England has de-emphasized two tight-end packages with his playing time going to Develin.
Phillip Dorsett has seen his playing time plummet in the past three games. After playing 57, 55, 45, 57, and 42 snaps in the first five weeks, he has played just 16 snaps on offense in the past three games combined. Not surprisingly, after having 19 receptions for 191 yards and two touchdowns in the first five game he has just one catch for eight yards in the past three games.
Cordarrelle Patterson has also lost playing time significantly after having a big role earlier in the season. Patterson played 16, 28, 19 and 41 snaps in the first four games for the offense. In the next three games, he played just 20 snaps combined. He had a bigger role in the backfield last week, but was still on the field for just 13 snaps.
Someone of these three will have to step-up on Sunday night for the New England offense in their limited playing time. Dorsett and Patterson both have big play potential with their blazing speed able to negate the coverage ability of one of the top secondaries in the NFL. With his diminished role, Allen–who had three seasons with 395 yards receiving or more with Indianapolis–can catch the football and may actually make a play at some point in his New England tenure.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01