New England Patriots Game Review 4: At Atlanta

New England patriots cornerback Aquib Talib

Talk about a coming down to the wire. The New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 30-23 which included a late stop on 4th down at the goal line to seal the win. The MVP of this game, in my opinion, was Aqib Talib.

He played arguably the best game of his career as he was thrown at 8 times, but didn’t allow a single completion. Thats not easy task especially when covering Julio Jones and Roddy White. He wasn’t the only player with a career game so without further ado.

 

Quarterback

This was easily Tom Brady’s best game of the season. Tom went 20/31 for 316 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was much more accurate in this game and unlike the last two games, only had one or two overthrows. The biggest improvement in this game was where he was how far down the field he was targeting.

In this game, he averaged about 10.2 yards per pass attempt. His previous high this season? 6.25 against the Buccaneers. He is starting to gain more trust in his receivers and was visibly targeting 10-15 yards down the field except for tiny dink and dunk passes. Although Atlanta’s secondary isn’t something to send home about, this was a great step for this offense.

Overall QB Grade: A

 

Running Backs

The enigma that is the Patriots running game continues. They don’t seem to have a leading rusher although it is clear, at least when he is on the field, that Stevan Ridley wants his job back. He has been running very hard the past two weeks and hasn’t come close to fumbling.

Instead of running not to fumble in the game vs. the Jets, he is running straight and with power and although the stat line didn’t show it, this was his best game of the season. A point of note was that he led the team in carries.

The big play though came from the ocean liner himself, LeGarrette Blount who had a 47 yard TD run. Fun Fact, this was the longest touchdown run for the patriots since 2009. The runner? Lamont Jordon. Talk about a blast from the past.

Overall RB Grade: B

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

This was a huge step forward for the receiving core and especially for the rookies. The biggest star was Kenbrell Thompkins who had the best game of his young career. He had 6 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets. He only had one bad drop, but outside of that played extremely well.

This was one of the first times that he was just letting the game come to him instead of over thinking every situation. Like I mentioned with the quarterbacks, he is starting to run routes farther down the field and he is starting to get more yardage after the catch. Just a small factoid, Thompkins has had a better start statistically to his career than Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Dez Bryant.

Just saying. This may have been a coming out game for him, but for the other rookies it was an improvement in other areas. Josh Boyce had 1 catch on 3 targets which is a big deal because he hasn’t been getting on the field much this season and Dobson, although he only had 1 catch, he was blocking extremely well in this game.

Improvements across the boards for the young ones this week. Also, Julian Edelman may have had the quietest 7 catch 118 yard game in the history of the NFL.

Overall WR Grade: A

 

Offensive Line

Best game of the year. Easily. Against an Atlanta defense who is strong against the run, they helped pave the way for 132 total rushing yards. They were even better in the pass game though, as they didn’t give up a single sack and only 2 quarterback hits.

The point of strength for this line has been the two tackles, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and left tackle Nate Solder. Both of these guys have been elite at their positions this year as neither have given up even one hit on Brady.

This upcoming week against the Bengals will be a huge test as they have one of the best defensive lines in football. Carlos Dunlap will be a great matchup to watch against Solder this week.

Overall OL Grade: B+

 

Defensive Line

Any positive production that the DL put up is being masked by the loss of All-Pro Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork who is out for the rest of the season with a ruptured achilles. Thankfully, the surgery was successful and he should be ready for next season. Outside of him the DL played pretty well.

They had two sacks, one by Wilfork’s replacement undrafted free agent Joe Vellano and the other by rookie Defensive End Michael Buchanan who has really come on this season to be our #1 rotational pass rusher.

His presence allows Chandler Jones to play on the inside at the DT position where his speed and strength combo poses a huge mismatch against a Guard. The DL in total had 5 hits on Falcons QB Matt Ryan and were stout against the run allowing only 53 yards on 15 carries.

Overall DL Grade: B

 

Linebackers

This was a very quiet game for the linebackers. The one noticeable thing was the low snap count from Brandon Spikes. This might be attributed to the Patriots running a lot of nickel due to the Falcons high-octane passing attack. The one point of worry for this core was their lack of coverage.

Although it is a tough job anyway, none of the linebackers came close to stopping Tony Gonzalez except at the goal line at the end of the game. Outside of those two plays, Tony G destroyed the linebackers to the tune of 12 catches for a career high 149 yards and 2 TDs.

They were rendered helpless and it only makes you worry what will happen against a team like the Saints who favors throwing to weapons covered by linebackers like Darren Sproles or the seemingly unstoppable Jimmy Graham.

Something to also watch is the snap count of rookie Jamie Collins as it seems to increase every week. He is much better in coverage than most of the linebackers so keep him in mind.

Overall LB Grade: C+

 

Defensive Backs

This was the huge test. Can our secondary hold up against one of the best passing attacks in the league? Yes, they did. Before a string of weird events towards the end of the game, They had given up only 13 points before garbage time kicked in and had in essence taken Julio Jones and Roddy White out of the game.

Before Jones’ one ridiculous 50 yard catch, he was held to 5 catches for only 59 yards. This was largely to how well the Patriots game planned against him. They had Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib on him about 50-50 each. This is a great combo as Dennard is more of a speed corner whereas Talib is more physical.

Talib though in this game was absolutely lockdown. He didn’t allow a single catch on the 8 balls thrown his way and also had an interception, which gives him 4 on the year. That is tied for the NFL lead, but his biggest play came on the Falcon’s 4th down attempt in the red zone at the end of the game.

He played the ball perfectly and swatted down a Matt Ryan pass intended for Roddy White. It sounds silly, but you can make an honest argument that he has been the best cornerback in the league up to this point. His physical style of play has allowed him to take out the #1 receiver on every team they face.

Although Julio Jones is a fantastic receiver, his next challenge is A.J. green who, outside of Calvin Johnson, may be the best WR in the league. In a Bengals offense that really forces the ball to him, taking him out of the game might prove to be the difference.

Overall CB Grade: A+

 

Special Teams

It was a great game on the special teams front as well. Stephen Gostkowski hit all 3 field goals asked of him including a 49 yarder. He has been fantastic up to this point and looks to have regained his confidence that has made him an elite NFL kicker in the pass.

It was also a good game for punter Ryan Allen. Although he only had 2 punts, they went for 56 and 54 yards. He seems to be improving as the season has gone on, but the one thing I want to see out of him is being able to pin the other team inside the 10. He hasn’t had many chances, but when he has he has had 2 touchbacks.

Overall ST Grade: B+

 

Well that’s it for this week. See you next week after their big game against the Bengals. Follow me on twitter @Hrube5297!