Patriots offense remains a work in progress
MINNEAPOLIS — The Patriots don’t lose back-to-back games often under Bill Belichick – only six times total since 2001 – and Sunday they avenged last week’s loss to the Dolphins and took care of business against a Vikings team that desperately needs to figure things out at quarterback.
The defense was phenomenal, the special teams were fantastic, and the offense was, well, good enough in the Patriots’ 30-7 win over the Vikings. The defense forced four turnovers for the second straight week — Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, and Dominique Easley each had an interception — directly leading to 17 points. Chandler Jones also had a huge game with two sacks and constant pressure, and made an unbelievably athletic play by blocking a field goal, scooping the ball off once bounce, and racing 58 yards the other way for a crucial touchdown right before halftime.
Some quick-hit thoughts on the game while we head down to the locker room for reaction:
■ OK, so this defense IS pretty good, after all. After getting thrashed by Miami last week, and allowing the Vikings to march right down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive, the Patriots were totally dominant after the first series. They still played some 3-4 base defense, but moved Jones back to outside linebacker (he dropped in coverage on a couple plays) and he responded with a huge day rushing the passer. Interesting to see Sealver Siliga, not Vince Wilfork, playing nose tackle. The Patriots also used a lot of 2-4-5 alignments to get their defensive ends out wider on the edge.
■ Still not impressed with the offense, though. Though it scored 30 points, it was almost all by the defense and special teams. Jones scored a touchdown, McCourty put the ball at the 1, and the Patriots only put one real touchdown drive together (a 61-yard drive after Revis’s interception). There were still way too many penalties (13 for 105 yards) and drives that ended with field goals. The offensive line got pushed around again, as Stevan Ridley only averaged 3.3 yards on 20 carries before tacking on some garbage yards at the end. And the Patriots were only 5 of 14 on third down. Of the Patriots’ three units, the offense is clearly lagging behind the other two.
■ A lot of that probably has to do with Rob Gronkowski still coming back from a knee injury. The tight end is still obviously limited, and only played about 50 percent of snaps Sunday. He had four catches for 32 yards and just isn’t a big part of the offense right now.
■ To deal with the offensive line struggles, the Patriots went big — offensive tackle Cameron Fleming played a ton of snaps as an extra tight end, and James Develin and Michael Hoomanawanui were a big part of the game plan, as well. They desperately tried to establish the run after abandoning it last week — they ran the ball 36 times Sunday compared with 23 passes — and then Brady was efficient with the play-action fake. Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell were ghosts Sunday, and combined for one target from Brady. The trust factor just isn’t there for either player.
■ Revis did shadow a receiver, but it wasn’t the one we expected. He followed Greg Jennings around for most of the game, and didn’t allow a catch (overall Jennings had just one catch for 4 yards). Ryan had an excellent day covering Cordarrelle Patterson, allowing only three catches for 39 yards and coming up with a back-breaking interception.
■ Matt Cassel’s first three interceptions were inexcusable, and the fourth one to Easley was terrible accuracy, as well. After starting 4 for 4 for 75 yards and a touchdown, he finished 15 of 32 for 127 yards and four interceptions. If this is how he’s going to play, why aren’t the Vikings playing Teddy Bridgewater?
■ The Vikings’ entire passing game revolves around running backs and linebackers. They did a good job of beating the Patriots’ linebackers and safeties on the opening drive, but the Patriots looked like they added some zone concepts to their defense to minimize the crossing routes and screen passes, and did a good job of keeping everything in front of them. Jerod Mayo had a really solid game both in blitzing and pass coverage.
■ Nate Solder. Yuck. Flagged for an illegal block in the back, holding, and a false start in one sequence. Didn’t have a great preseason, and not off to a good start in the regular season.
■ The Patriots were flagged 15 times for 163 yards. This obviously needs to be corrected, stat.
■ Shane Vereen was taken out of the game for a long stretch after running out of bounds just shy of the first down marker, and tight end Tim Wright didn’t play much, if at all, after lining up incorrectly on a play and getting scolded.
■ Game balls: Julian Edelman, Jones, and the entire secondary. Impressive defensive performance, especially without linebacker Jamie Collins.