Monday, November 9, 2015

Patriots Punk Redskins As Makeshift Offensive Line, Run Defense Dominates

The patchwork Patriots' offensive line opened up huge holes for running back LeGarrette Blount on Sunday

The New England Patriots are boring.

Well, usually they are, what with head ball coach Bill Belichick's bitchy little points of order, quarterback Tom Brady's minuscule yards per completion average and the defense's increasingly curmudgeonly behavior, but on Sunday afternoon against the overmatched Washington Redskins, the Patriots managed to throw a few curves to the home folks.

Why, Brady didn't even throw for 300 yards, and threw his first 'real' interception of the season. His favorite target, wide receiver Julian Edelman, came down with just five balls and fumbled away one of them and tight end Rob Gronkowski had the quietest game of his season.

Instead New England relied on a powerful running game to pace a balanced attack and a defense that forced two turnovers and held the Washington offense to just 250 total yards - including their second straight game holding an opponent under 40 rushing yards, and third straight under 90 - as the Patriots ran their record to 8-0 with what could turn out as a costly 27-10 victory over the Redskins at Gillette Stadium.

Costly, in that injuries continue to pile up for New England, as left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, passing back Dion Lewis, nickle safety Duron Harmon and reserve linebacker Jon Bostic all left the game in pain and did not return. Of the four, Vollmer's apparent concussion was the most critical, as the Patriots entered the game with just six healthy offensive linemen, and no reserve tackles.

But once again, the resilient Patriots managed to thrive with a patchwork offensive line that saw reserve right tackle Cam Fleming take his first snaps ever at left tackle, while just-activated center Bryan Stork manned the edge on the right.

The result? Brady completed 26 of 39 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns without being sacked, and power back LeGarrette Blount ran over, around and through the porous Redskins' front seven for 129 yard and a touchdown, running mostly behind Stork and left guard Shaq Mason pulling to the right.

For those keeping score, That's a second-year right tackle playing his first ever snaps protecting Brady's blindside, a second-year center forced into service at the strong side tackle, a rookie at the pivot and a rookie at left guard - the crusty veteran of the group being third-year swing man Josh Kline at right guard, a group that opened holes for the Patriots' backs to accumulate their best yardage total of the season and kept the franchise signal caller upright.

They had help, of course, as Gronkowski and reserve tight end Michael Williams saw time run blocking, and the backs stayed in at times to pick up blitzes, but that shouldn't take away from what the line was able to accomplish, as those things typically happen anyway.

Brandon LaFell snagged five of Brady's offerings for 102 yards, a total that equaled the production of Edelman and Gronkowski combined, though the two touchdowns through the air came courtesy of Edelman and reserve back Brandon Bolden, who took over for Lewis after the electrifying scat back strained his MCL and was lost for the game.

Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins found himself the victim of a receiving corps that developed a case of butterfingers, as seven of his throws were dropped outright, the first three of which stalled drives and allowed the New England offense to take possession and build an early lead - and with his running game being stuffed by the Patriots' stout front seven, his 26 of 37 night for 214 yards wasn't nearly enough to overcome all of the mistakes...

...which is now a trend for foes of the Patriots, as their defense is evolving into a truly elite unit of beefy gap pluggers, speedy sack artists and pretentious pass defenders who don't realize they are not supposed to be as good as they are rounding out to be.

How good? On Sunday, a full one-third of Washington's passing yardage came on their final drive of the game when the Patriots go into their three-deep "prevent" shell defense, long after the Redskins had given up hope of establishing any sort of a running game - an in-vogue tendency that has New England as the third-ranked run defense in the entire National Football League.

Which, of course, makes the Patriots even more boring.

But efficiency is boring to the casual fan - and by casual fan, that is to mean the fan that can't figure out how the Patriots keep winning regardless of sitiuation or condition, and writes it all off to them being cheaters - but for those who are true fans, the way the Patriots operate on both sides of the ball is nothing short of awe inspiring.

Some point to those dropped passes by the Redskins receivers as being a majority stockholder in the defense's overall performance - and there's no denying that they helped - but when the offense had already scored 14 points and the defense had already held the Redskins offense to one play, which resulted in a Logan Ryan interception, the game was already out of hand just ten minutes into the game, as it seemed that the Patriots made it a point to race out to a big lead and turn to the running game to offset all of the injuries along the offensive line...

...evidenced by Belichick calling for an onside kick immediately following Edelman's touchdwon reception on their first series of the game - and even though the ensuing series ended with an Edelman fumble in Redskins' territory, the aggressive nature of the play calling spoke for itself.

New England took a two score lead on their next possession, turning Ryan's fourth interception of the year into a short touchdown drive, capped off by a five yard power run by Blount, then a Stephen Gostkowski field goal put the Patriots' lead at 17-0 before the Redskins started to find their stride in their four-minute offense, putting together an almost eight minute drive with outstanding balance, but the the Patriots held in the red zone and Washington settled for a field goal to close the gap to 17-3 heading into the locker room.

The Redskins had deferred to the second half when they won the coin flip to start the game (So much for the coin flip controversy) and had a legitimate chance to double up by seizing the momentum coming out of the locker room with the first possession of the second half, driving into Patriots' territory before defensive tackle Alan Branch forced Washington running back Matt Jones to fumble at the New England 42, and the Redskins never seriously threatened after that...

...going three-and-out on their next three possessions before Belichick put the defense in their prevent shell, allowing the Redskins to put together a 12 play, 83 yard touchdown drive that effectively killed off the final four minutes of the game.

There was no official word after the game regarding the status of players that were injured, but speculation had it that Vollmer was held out as a precaution due to a possible concussion, and that Lewis was headed for an MRI, which was hoped to reveal nothing more than a sprained MCL, though some rumored reports listed him as having a "loose" ACL.

Harmon was seen tooling around the locker room with no limp after he came out of the game with what looked like a knee injury. It remains to be seen how the Patriots approach next week's clash with the hated New York Giants, who will tax and test their depleted offensive line in ways that the Redskins could not, and will put a premium on the Patriots' pass coverage against an offense superior to what Washington offered up.

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