As if the game against Kansas City was not frustrating enough, the Broncos at Patriots game took the cake this week.
The last two weeks for the Patriots (and the NFL in general) have been quite the story. Several teams across the league have had players test positive for COVID-19, including a few on the Patriots. With Stephon Gilmore and Cam Newton being the top names heading to the COVID list, the NFL decided to give both the Broncos and Patriots a week 5 bye, pushing their game to week 6.
Since the last game New England played, the team had only one true practice and one walk-thru due to COVID protocols. Newton and Gilmore were cleared from the COVID list in time for the rescheduled game, but with basically no practices, the game was bound to be a difficult one.
Some may say, “it was just the Broncos!” but we all know that in the NFL, any team can show up on Sunday. Records do not matter. What a team did last week does not matter. And circumstances leading up to a game, such as this one, can greatly impact the play of the team and the result of the game.
Despite the obvious struggles on offense, the defense was able to keep this game from becoming a blowout.
In a game that ends in this type of fashion, it can be difficult to find any positive aspects of it. However, there is generally a silver lining to every loss and looking for that lining can be beneficial to the team.
The game was a messy one, there is no denying that. The excitement was there to have Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore back on the field, after both tested positive for COVID-19. With Cam actually missing a game, there was hope for better production from the quarterback than the previous game against Kansas City.
Unfortunately for New England, and their fans, it was not the return hoped for. But luckily the defense showed as a dominating force once again and saved the team from suffering an embarrassing loss.
If what we saw from Ja’Whan Bentley in Sunday’s loss is any indication of what to expect from him the rest of the season, the Patriots will have another star to add to their already stacked defense.
One of the most noteworthy parts of Bentley’s impressive play would be his excellent run defense throughout the game, especially on Phillip Lindsey. Bentley was able to tackle Lindsey 9 times in the game, two of which were for a loss of yards. With this being a consistent issue for the Patriots defense over the years, it is a positive sign the team is working in the right direction.
Overall, Bentley led the team with 12 total tackles, 8 of which were solo. He sacked Drew Lock, had 2 tackles for a loss and knocked Lock down twice in the game. There were a few noticeable hiccups in his coverage but he is filling in for Dont’a Hightower quite well so far.
Playing under the radar the last few weeks didn’t change the high expectations of Jon Jones going into this game. With many different players having the spotlight on them throughout the season so far, this game was Jones’ turn to remind the team why they’re thankful to have him.
Ending on par with 4 total tackles, 3 passes defended and 1 interception, Jones was easily the best player on the field for the Patriots Sunday. The Broncos seemed to want to test Jones in this game, as Drew Lock had no issues throwing in his direction throughout the game, especially in the red zone. But only allowing 1 catch for 16 yards, Jones was victorious with his elite coverage.
The interception he made came at a key point in the game. Because the defense was able to hold the Broncos to only field goals in this game, Jones’ interception with only 3 minutes left in the game gave the Patriots the opportunity to win the game. The offense was not successful in doing so, but the defense did their job in giving them many opportunities to score.
If there was any obvious silver lining to this loss, it would have to be the defensive stops on third down throughout the game. The Broncos made it into the red zone twice but were stopped both times and opted to kick the field goal. Denver was also stopped on third down 4 other times, settling for field goals, making it a total of 6 FG for the day.
On any normal day and game, this defensive performance would be outstanding. But it meant a lot more in this game due to the lack of success on offense. This game could have easily gotten out of hand with the Broncos scoring several touchdowns, but taking the safe 3 points was what the Patriots defense forced the team to do.
To say the events leading up to this game had no bearing on the production of the players and/or the result of the game would be a bit unfair. If believing outside circumstances makes you a, “homer” then so be it. But, as we know, 2020 has been quite a unique year and it’s taking its toll on the NFL, as most predicted.
With several players being placed on the COVID list for either testing positive themselves or being in contact with someone who has, it has been difficult for teams to find the time to hold practices. As the Patriots organization has gone above and beyond the protocols set by the NFL, closing the facility and holding less practices in hopes of keeping players and personnel healthy and safe, this left them with little to no practice time.
The NFL released stricter protocols this week to all NFL teams, and because of this, the Patriots had to place several players on the list as Sony Michel tested positive and others had been in contact with someone who had. With this happening just a day before the game, the team had to adjust their gameday roster.
The struggles from the offensive line were not that surprising, but the severity of those struggles was. With two of the top guys on the line out of the game this week (Shaq Mason with illness and David Andrews on IR), the line had to be adjusted to accommodate. Many of the players were placed out of their normal position, such as Isaiah Wynn at left guard and Justin Herron at let tackle. Even more were shifted after Jermaine Eluemunor was injured in the first quarter. Belichick said after the game that the lineup they had to go with was not one that had ever practiced together as a unit and it was pretty obvious.
Because of the issues brought on from the line, this lead to many other issues throughout the game. Cam had little protection, being sacked 4 times and knocked down 8 times. Often times Cam didn’t have much time to get rid of the ball, while other times holding onto the ball too long which led to 2 fumbles. Being pressured on almost 40% of his drop-backs caused a few panic throws by Newton, which also resulted in two interceptions.
The run game was basically nonexistent this week, too. The team totaled for only 117 yards on 25 carries, with 10 of those coming from Newton for 76 yards and a touchdown, leaving the running backs with only 41 yards total. Averaging 2.7 yards per rush in a game will never be sufficient to get the win. With David Andrews eligible to return from IR this week, he will be a huge improvement for both pass protection and the run game.
In the last two games, the Patriots have had some problems with dropped passes and fumbling the ball. Against the Chiefs and now against the Broncos, the team has 3 or more turnovers with some allowing points on the board for the opposing team. Week 4 can be blamed on having Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham in at quarterback, sure. However, the fumbles are piling up and many of them are coming at the end of the catch, as seen by Ryan Izzo’s fumble in this game.
There have also been some weird pass deflections this season resulting in an interception and another was seen in this game. Cam’s first interception was deflected due to a missed block from Isaiah Wynn. This allowed Denver’s Shelby Harris to tip the ball, landing in the hands of Deshawn Williams. Wynn is not generally a player you need to worry about, but because of the shifts on the o-line, the Pats had him playing at guard for the first time in his career.
It was another game and another week where much of the conversation will be regarding the “lack of weapons” for the Patriots offense. Whether or not you agree with that assessment, it was clear there was not much help from the receiving corps in this game.
Disregarding the help from James White in the passing game, Damiere Byrd ended the game with a team high of 3 catches for 38 yards. Julian Edelman was noticeably absent in this game, which is a bit troubling as he has been an exceptionally reliable receiver over the last several years.
The stat lines were certainly not pretty for the receivers in this game, but the bigger issue was their trouble with gaining separation from defenders. While targeting receivers, Newton was 6/13 for a mere 62 yards and an interception. This is a vast difference than the team we saw keep up with the Seattle Seahawks just a few weeks ago. Because players were not able to get open, this caused Newton to hold the ball too long, getting sacked. Or he would end up panic throwing, one of which ended in an interception.
The success by receivers in the game against Seattle was promising, especially with N’Keal Harry. But since that week 2 game, we have not seen an improvement amongst these players. With this being a glaring problem for the team, it will be interesting to see if any moves are made in the upcoming week, whether it be signings or trades. Cam has declared confidence in the receivers he has now, which is always positive to hear, but the struggles of last season showed once again in this game.
Absence of Tight Ends
After the retirement of Rob Gronkowski following the 2018 season, the Patriots have struggled to find a new dominant force at tight end. Bringing back Benjamin Watson last year had its good points during the 2019 season, but none have had the power that Gronk brought to the field.
In just the last draft, the Patriots drafted two tight ends in the third round: Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. But the pair have not seen any action on the field this season so far. It’s a bit concerning, as many were excited about these pickups in the draft. The team does have Ryan Izzo, who has had very little production during his time with the team.
The Patriots have been a team that likes to use the tight end position, which makes it a bit more odd to see it ignored over the last couple seasons. Only time will tell if these rookies will get more time in games, but with the receivers being inconsistent this season, it would be great to have the addition of Asiasi and Keene on gamedays.
A noticeable inconsistency this year so far has been the play calling. Because Cam Newton is a much different quarterback than Tom Brady and what the team is used to, of course there will be a learning curve on what will work best for the team. But it appears there is some difficulty with how they want to use Cam in games.
In week 1 against the Dolphins, for example, Newton was showing his mobility throughout the entire game. He rushed for 75 yards and scored two touchdowns against Miami, solidifying his role as a mobile quarterback. The following week was a different story, as Cam only rushed for 47 yards (and 2 touchdowns) but also threw for 397 yards and a touchdown.
The game plans each week will be different of course, depending on the team they are playing. But since the first two weeks, it seems there is some confusion on how to use Cam best. In this game against Denver, there were instances Cam could have easily run with the ball but instead took a sack, due to looking for a wide-open receiver. There seems to be a lack of a happy medium with him; Newton is either running a lot in a game or passing. A mesh of the two is needed.
Was this just a one-off game? Was the lack of practice what slowed Cam down? This will be something to watch next week against the 49ers.
Contrary to popular belief, there is almost always some part of a loss where the team did not fail. Not every loss is because the team did not play well collectively. And some losses can be greatly impacted from the events leading up to a game.
Was this game disappointing? Yes. Should it cause for great concern at this time? No. This week was a bit of a wash due to the craziness of COVID and lack of practice. Hopefully the team is able to get back to the normal routine this week and play better against the 49ers. With Cam back at practice and into the groove of things once again, there will be a big improvement from his performance.
There are of course some spots of concern, like the wide receivers and offensive line, to look out for. The next few weeks will be very telling in how this team will play going forward. So don’t take this loss too harshly.
As Cam Newton said on Monday, “There’s no need to press the panic button.”
–Sara Marshall is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @sarmarxo