After a narrow 35-30 loss against the surging Seahawks, the Patriots responded in the only way they know how. Hosting the 2-0 Las Vegas Raiders in an important bounce-back game, the Patriots took care of business. Let me put it this way: you do not want to face Bill Belichick the week after his team loses. Since the 2010 season, New England is 28-8 the week after a loss, good for a 78% winning percentage that comfortably leads the league. The Seahawks are second with a 41-16 record (72%) following defeat.
What did we learn?
Bill Belichick will turn your strength into your weakness
Now, this is not any kind of revelation, but not any less pertinent. Belichick and the Patriots have been doing this for years. The defense has, and will continue to attack opposing offenses with this approach. Identify the focal point of the offense, take them out of the game, and force the opponent to beat you somewhere else. In this case, the focal point was Raiders’ tight end Darren Waller.
The fifth-year Georgia Tech product had 18 catches for 150 yards and a score through two games. Waller ranked second among all tight ends with a 23.8% target share in 2019, and that trend had continued. Enter Bill Belichick. After leading the Raiders in targets and receptions in the first two games, the Patriots turned him invisible. Waller recorded just two catches, both of which coming late in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach. From Stephon Gilmore to J.C. Jackson, to an assortment of linebackers picking him up at the line of scrimmage, Belichick threw everything he had at the Raiders’ number one option, and it worked. With Darren Waller out of the equation, the Patriots loaded up against the run, forcing season-lows from the talented Josh Jacobs (16 carries, 71 yards) and a series of forced fumbles with no safety blanket for Derek Carr to lean on.
With Waller virtually out of the game, Carr instead looked towards Hunter Renfrow. And despite Renfrow (6 catches, 84 yards, 1 TD) hauling in an impressive catch at the goal line to set up a touchdown in the waning moments of the first half, Carr played right into Bill Belichick’s plan. Remove Waller from the equation. Stop the run. Force Carr to use his other weapons, and finally, take over the game on offense.
The Running Back By Committee is Better than Ever
In Week Three against the Raiders, the Patriots racked up 250 yards on the ground. This comfortably set the season-high for the team, and it’s the most rushing yards the Patriots have tallied since December 2018 when they rushed for 273 against the Buffalo Bills. Sony Michel had nearly half of those, and his 117 yards on nine carries was the second-highest total of his young career. Coincidence or not, the last time the Patriots amassed at least 250 yards on the ground, Sony had another career day, rushing for 116 yards and a score.
Moving down the depth chart, undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor is slowly but surely making a name for himself in New England. The 22 year-old out of Arizona ran eleven times for 43 yards and played with noticeable burst that clearly rubbed off on his counterparts. Taylor provides the change of pace reminiscent of Dion Lewis and is slowly but surely carving out a role for himself.
And now, for the main event. As James White remains out of the lineup, the Patriots needed a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield. Rex Burkhead filled that vacancy and some, rushing for two scores and catching a third. Burkhead’s ten targets and seven catches both led the team, and that’s not even mentioning his acrobatic flights into the end zone.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 28, 2020
Through three games, it’s clear that a successful air attack can, and will manifest in a variety of ways. Edelman set career-highs a week ago. Burkhead just led the team in targets and catches. N’Keal Harry’s rapport with Cam Newton is growing by the week. Josh McDaniels is going to keep defenses guessing through the air, because we all know where the threat lies on the ground.
Looking Ahead for the Patriots
The 2-1 Patriots will travel to Arrowhead Stadium for a 4:25 appointment with the reigning champion Chiefs next Sunday. Patrick Mahomes and crew are coming off a dominant performance against Lamar Jackson, so it’s safe to say they have an idea of what Cam Newton can bring to the table. The offense will not only need to keep them guessing, but they will need to score. A lot. And after forcing three turnovers and adding a score, can this renovated Patriots’ defense keep up with the Super Bowl champs?
–Ethan Roy is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @_EthanRoy