The celebration of the Patriots’ dominating performance over the L.A. Chargers on Sunday was short lived, as they had the tables turned on them just 4 days later by the other team in Los Angeles, the Rams.
As the game began, it appeared it could be a repeat of New England’s week 6 blowout loss to San Francisco. And as the game continued, it felt as if it could become their turn to be dominated in L.A.
Fortunately, one side of the ball was able to do their job and keep the score from getting too out of hand. After having a rough first half, the Patriots defense made their adjustments and kept the score within reach, although they were not able to have much success in the red zone all evening.
The most consistent part of this team is their inconsistency, and this game was the epitome of the word. With everything going right for them against the Chargers on Sunday, there was optimism that their luck and performance would roll over to their Thursday night game. But it was obvious early on that would not be the case.
Last week it was difficult to point out anything that didn’t go well for the Patriots in their week 13 matchup. This week it is far more difficult to see any positive aspects coming out of this game.
Although there weren’t many good moments, there were a few spots that stood out and deserve recognition.
After his success of last week, N’Keal Harry added to his improvement streak on this west coast trip with a night reminiscent of his week 2 performance against Seattle. The numbers may not overwhelm you, as he finished with 3 receptions for 49 yards. But there was a noticeable difference with the young receiver in this game.
It has become apparent over the last few weeks that Harry has grown more confidence in himself and his production over the last two games have shown that. He may only have 5 receptions over that period, but it’s what he did making those catches that stand out most.
The touchdown last week against the Chargers was a thing of beauty. It’s what most people hope to see more of from the first-round draft pick. Although he wasn’t able to make a score on Thursday, he continued using his size and physicality to make important plays.
Not only did he make more contested catches, but he also had the longest reception of his short NFL career with a 30-yard grab on a 2nd and 20 play. He would have added another pivotal reception in the second half, as a deep pass from Cam Newton would’ve been an easy grab. But an obvious defensive pass interference and/or holding was not called on the Rams, forcing the Patriots off the field.
The numbers are still not what people want to see from Harry in his second year, but the improvements he has made over the last few weeks is promising. As he becomes more confident and gains more experience playing consistently in the NFL, he has the potential to get back to the fiery receiver we saw during his days at ASU.
Who knew this would be the week where most of those in Patriots nation would finally be introduced to Myles Bryant?
With J.C. Jackson being the taker of most interceptions this season, it was a surprise to see a lesser-known talent in Bryant make the play on Thursday. He may be an unfamiliar name to most, but Myles Bryant has made quite the impact since joining the team, starting on the practice squad but being quickly promoted to the 53-man roster in September.
As the guy who led the team in pass defenses during training camp, it wasn’t much of a surprise to coaches to see him make that interception, which also started as a pick-6. Essentially grabbing the ball away from Robert Woods, Bryant was able to run it back 32 yards and score. But the call was overturned, claiming Bryant was down by contact. (still unsure about the validity of that, but that’s another story)
Regardless of the score being taken back, the interception couldn’t have come at a better time. The Patriots were getting bulldozed, as the Rams were already up 10-0 in the 1st quarter. Bryant’s interception gave the offense great field position with an easy chance to score. Although that didn’t happen, it doesn’t negate Bryant’s contribution.
With an already stacked backfield, he hasn’t been a name discussed much this season. But after playing in a career-high of 33 snaps last week against the Chargers, it appears Bryant will continue getting more game time and (hopefully) more production like this game.
The defense overall in this game had its ups and downs, starting off horribly by allowing 10 points and a running back having a career day. But after second half adjustments were made, they were able to get back into the type of performance we’ve expected over the last few seasons.
Allowing 99 rushing yards (and a touchdown) and 96 passing yards in the first half, the Patriots defense cracked down and eliminated any potential for Jared Goff to make some good passes. Rams receivers totaled a mere 41 yards in the second half, making only 5 receptions the rest of the game. The struggles to stop Cam Akers specifically continued, as he nearly doubled his first half yardage after halftime. But after an early 3rd quarter touchdown bringing the score 3-24 Rams, the defense did not allow L.A. another opportunity to add more points to the board.
Defensively they did their job, making the adjustments needed for second half success. However, putting the offense in a deep hole early on by allowing 10 points so quickly really set the tone for the rest of the game.
Is there anything from this game that shouldn’t be discussed? With last week’s game going so well in all corners of the game, it was unexpected to see a completely opposite performance just a few days later.
Of course, it’s easy to give the Patriots the benefit of the doubt; playing on a short week against a tough opponent. It was a stretch to believe a repeat of last Sunday’s game would take place again, especially against a number 2 ranked team overall. But no excuses should be made for how this team performed in this game.
Against the Chargers, it was a classic showing of a Bill Belichick led Patriots. The entire team did their job and did their job well. Why was there such a drastic change against the Rams? What happened to that overall dominant team from just a few days prior?
As one of the more consistent groups on the roster this season, despite the number of positional changes, this was a rough showing for the entire offensive line. It wasn’t completely unexpected, however, facing the Rams with the number 2 ranked defense in the league led by the unimaginably real Aaron Donald. But nonetheless, it can’t be said anyone was expecting this type of performance from New England’s o-line.
It was an uncharacteristic showing of all those on the line, as they allowed a total of 6 sacks on the night for a loss of 33 yards total. With a season high of 4 sacks on Newton, it was also worrying to see Jarrett Stidham in for the final 3 drives of the game and get sacked twice in that time.
Although the entire line did not perform up to par, Jermaine Eluemunor struggles stood out amongst the rest. With Isaiah Wynn still out due to injury, Eluemunor has been filling in at left tackle. Up until this performance, he is not a name to worry about. But this game made it obvious that Wynn’s absence is a big problem.
Having to try and stop the dominating force that is Aaron Donald is certainly not an easy task and Eluemunor struggled doing just that. It may be difficult to believe, but in his third matchup against the Patriots on Thursday night, Donald made his first sack in that span. Those stopping Donald in previous games were much more successful in protecting the quarterback than those in this game.
Not only did Eluemunor allow a sack by Donald, but in a stretch of just 5 plays, he allowed another sack by Michael Brockers. It would only be fair to also mention that rookie standout Michael Onwenu also let up a sack in this game, which tells you everything about how the night went.
Donald was a force in this game, having 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 1 tackle for a loss and a hand in the pick-6 in the 2nd quarter. The Patriots line could not put a stop to Donald all night and unfortunately, they paid for it in the long run.
Stopping the Run
The run defense has been a sore spot on this team for quite some time now, as previously mentioned. And the L.A. Rams completely exploited that on Thursday night.
In the first half alone, rookie Cam Akers rushed for 89 yards on 11 carries, one of which he ran for 35 yards. On top of that, Jared Goff was able to run in for the Rams first score of the night. There seemed to be no answer in stopping Akers all game long, as he ended with 29 carries for 171 yards, which was a season high allowed by the Patriots defense.
Coming into this game, the Rams were a middle of the road team when it came to running the football. Ranking 18th in rushing overall, this defense let them run literally all over and through them. The Rams took advantage of the defenses’ shortcomings, realizing early on they weren’t setting the edge and allowing tons of yardage. With L.A. totaling 83 yards in just the first quarter, it was the 2nd most rushing yards allowed by the Pats in the last 20 seasons.
The most noticeable issue throughout the game was allowing successful runs on 4th downs twice on the night. And when they were lucky enough to get the Rams into 3rd and long situations (like 3rd and 12 & 3rd and 18), the line allowed huge pickups of yards or a 1st down. The continuation of these plays, some of which ended in scoring, greatly impacted the offenses ability to keep the game within possible reach.
Josh McDaniels and his play calling has been another highly discussed topic this season. Whether you love him or you hate him, there’s a lot to talk about concerning this season offensively.
Of course, every season there are going to be growing pains. That’s just how a new season with new team is going to work. But when part of your growing pains is adjusting to a new quarterback for the first time in 20 years, things may be tougher to deal with.
Cam Newton is a totally different quarterback than Tom Brady; a large, mobile quarterback who is able to keep plays alive with his legs rather than predominately staying in the pocket. However, it appears McDaniels’ play calling is still that of a pocket passer. Granted most of his offensive coordinating duties have been made in tandem with Brady, it is understandable that the style of play Newton possesses is unfamiliar.
That being said, we are in week 14. Why have plays not been adjusted to suit the strengths of their current quarterback? Cam is a great runner, but he is also a great passer. Many will argue that this season has proven against that, but his downfield passes are some of the highest graded among quarterbacks in the league. So why has McDaniels not allowed more passing?
There are plenty of run first teams in the league, so the Patriots relying on the run game is not something out of the ordinary. But when it’s easy for defenses to predict the next play, that’s never going to end in success offensively.
Why does McDaniels not trust Cam to throw the ball when he is efficient and capable? We’ve seen glimpses of greatness from him in games against Seattle and Houston. Is this more about the cast around Newton rather than Newton himself?
These are questions that have lingered the entire season. It is frustrating to be weeks away from the playoffs and still have no answers. With not much time left in the season, it’s unlikely play calling will drastically change but maybe we’ll learn more about the reasoning behind it all.
As the playoffs now seem to be in the rearview mirror, it will be interesting to see where the Patriots go from here. Coach Belichick said after the game that Newton will remain their quarterback, after replacing him early in the 4th quarter with Jarrett Stidham.
The last 3 games are against the other teams in the AFC East and it’s certainly possible the Patriots will get a couple wins from those matchups. But the biggest questions for the remainder of the season will be how consistent will this team be? It seems inconsistency is more consistent for them. But with a rough and ugly loss to the Rams, maybe it’ll bring another spark for the team to be successful the rest of the way.
Time will tell.
(Photo credits: N’Keal Harry – Ashley Landis of AP Photo, Cam Akers – Keith Birmingham of The Orange County Register via AP)
–Sara Marshall is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @sarmarxo