Tom Brady’s Improved Passing, Aqib Talib’s Dominant Performance Among Five Takeaways From Patriots-Saints

Tom BradyThe Patriots had two options on offense going into their game against the Saints.

They could go all in on trusting the young receivers, or they could simplify their offense so Tom Brady could trust where his rookies would be on the field. They chose option A.

Prior to Sunday’s game, New England kept the offensive play calls complex but limited the no huddle. Against the Saints, the Patriots ran the hurry-up offense on more than half their offensive snaps. They looked very sharp on the first drive, especially when running the no huddle.

The Patriots appeared to get a little sloppier as they moved away from the no huddle. The attack certainly worked on the final drive, when Brady hit Kenbrell Thompkins for a 17-yard touchdown with five seconds on the clock.

In this week’s five takeaways, we’ll check in on coverage and pass rush charting, count the drops on offense and find out which defensive alignment was most effective at stopping the run. Check them out below.

1. Aqib Talib leads the way on defense: Talib may be the best cornerback in football right now. There are very few corners who could cover Jimmy Graham at all, but to limit him to zero receptions is downright mind-blowing.

But that’s how good the Patriots’ No. 1 cornerback is right now. Talib suffered a hip injury midway through the third quarter, but before then, he didn’t allow a reception on three targets.

Alfonzo Dennard was nearly as good. He allowed two catches, including a touchdown that he played perfectly. His hand appeared to be fractions of an inch away from the ball as it landed in Kenny Stills‘ hands. Those two are an imposing outside pairing. Kyle Arrington had another strong game in the slot, as well.

Check out this week’s coverage charting stats below.

Alfonzo Dennard: 2-5, 45 yards, TD, PBU
Steve Gregory: 2-2, 36 yards
Kyle Arrington: 3-6, 33 yards, TD, INT
Jerod Mayo: 4-6, 28 yards
Brandon Spikes: 1-2, 25 yards
Jamie Collins: 1-1, 9 yards
Aqib Talib: 0-3, PBU
Logan Ryan: 0-3
Dont’a Hightower: 0-2
Devin McCourty: 0-1

Check out the full charting stats for the season below.

Dennard: 17-36, 311 yards, TD, INT
Arrington: 18-35, 225 yards, TD, INT, holding penalty
Mayo: 14-27, 146 yards
Talib: 9-29, 139 yards, 4 INTs, pass interference penalty
Gregory: 9-16, 131 yards, TD
McCourty: 5-7, 88 yards, TD
Hightower: 11-16, 80 yards
Ryan: 5-10, 65 yards, TD
Collins: 4-5, 42 yards
Spikes: 2-4, 32 yards, INT
Harmon: 1-1, 3 yards
Ninkovich: 1-2, 2 yards

2. Chandler Jones ramps up the pressure: The stat sheet will say the Patriots only had one sack, but some heavy pressure made Drew Brees get rid of the ball quickly all game. Chandler Jones led the way with 11 total pressures, but Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones and Michael Buchanan also brought the heat.

Jones was only credited with one sack, but I have a feeling he’ll get credited for a second on the Saints’ last offensive play. Brees rolled left, looked to pass, then rolled out again before getting tripped up by Jones. That stutter looking for a target should indicate it was a passing play, not a designed run.

Check out how I saw the pressure break down below.

Chandler Jones: 2 sacks, 7 hurries, 2 QB hits
Rob Ninkovich: 4 hurries, 3 QB hits
Chris Jones: 3 hurries
Michael Buchanan: 3 hurries
Joe Vellano: 2 hurries

Check out the pressure stats for the season below.

Chandler Jones: 5 1/2 sacks, 21 hurries, 8 QB hits
Ninkovich: 1 sack, 26 hurries, 7 QB hits
Kelly: 2 1/2 sacks, 12 hurries, 2 QB hit
Buchanan: 2 sacks, 8 hurries, 2 QB hits
Chris Jones: 1 1/2 sacks, 4 hurries
Hightower: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit
Wilfork: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit
Mayo: 1 1/2 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 QB hit
Vellano: 1 sack, 4 hurries
Spikes: 2 hurries, 1 QB hit
Bequette: 1 QB hit

3. Tom Brady improves his game: Brady had 18 incompletions on the night. As I charted them, four appeared to be the signal caller’s fault, eight were drops, three were nice defensive plays, one was a throwaway and one was a Thompkins drop, but he got clobbered in the head on the play and drew a flag.

Julian Edelman had four drops, Aaron Dobson had two and Danny Amendola and Brandon Bolden each had one. Against Cincinnati, Brady’s poor throws were to blame for the dismal passing performance. Brady’s passing improved in general against New Orleans.

4. Patriots get heavy to stop the run: Bill Belichick got creative to stop the run in the fourth quarter. With Talib and Mayo out of the game, the Patriots went with what could best be described as a 3-6-2. Vellano, Marcus Forston and Chris Jones were on the line, Ninkovich, Collins, Spikes, Dane Fletcher, Hightower and Chandler Jones were standing up and Gregory and Dennard were the defensive backs. That alignment allowed six yards on four carries.

The Patriots’ nickel defense (Ninkovich, Vellano, Jones, Jones, Spikes, Mayo) allowed 76 yards on 14 carries, the 3-4 (Vellano, Jones, Jones, Ninkovich, Spikes, Mayo, Hightower) allowed 36 yards on six carries and the goal line (Ninkovich, Vellano, Fletcher, Forston, Jones) allowed one three-yard touchdown run.

Wilfork and Kelly’s absence made the Patriots go to a 3-4 base defense. It’s also worth mentioning that Vellano and Chris Jones rarely came off the field. Forston was only in against the run on the weird 3-6-2 fronts and in goal line. The rookies did appear to wear down as the game went along.

5. Tom Brady takes off: It seems like it happened weeks ago now, but Brady had two impressive runs in the first half of this game. Brady rarely runs the ball unless it’s a quarterback sneak, so it was nice to see him pick up 16 yards on two carries.

As long as Brady doesn’t get hurt in the process (he’s so slow it looks like he’s hurt already when he takes off), the Patriots signal caller can be effective at scrambling. He picked up five key yards and a first down.

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