The New England Patriots easily could have collapsed after consecutive unsuccessful offensive and defensive series’ to open Sunday’s matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Patriots came out of the locker room looking like the team that rolled over in the second half of its Week 1 33-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins. But then the Patriots made some slight adjustments, didn’t lose hope and were aided by a Vikings team that didn’t appear to know what it was doing without running back Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings quickly squandered a 7-0 lead after quarterback Matt Cassel threw an interception to Patriots safety Devin McCourty, and New England cruised from there, scoring 30 unanswered points.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis credited the Patriots’ veteran leaders with picking the team up in the first quarter. They continued to mix up offensive and defensive alignments, focused on what worked in a week of successful practices, and saw results on the field.
Find out what worked and what didn’t in NESN.com’s weekly film review.
Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick might have experienced a body swap before their respective news conferences following the Patriots’ 30-7 win over the Vikings. Belichick was upbeat and positive about the game, while Brady was downright gloomy.
He might as well have quoted the overplayed Bleachers song “I Wanna Get Better.”
Brady was fine on Sunday despite being so down. He made several impressive throws, including what resulted in a 44-yard catch and grab by wideout Julian Edelman and a 9-yard touchdown to the undersized “Z” receiver. Brady compensated for a lack of protection by using three-step drops, designed passes and short throws. He wasn’t necessarily keying in on Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski — his most targeted receivers — they just happen to be the best Patriots targets, and whom offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels designed plays around.
Stevan Ridley nearly doubled passing specialist Shane Vereen in snaps Sunday. Ridley looked great, running through tackles, showing his patented patience and cutting back to make the most of his space. Ridley was counted on to close out the game, and finished with 25 carries for 101 yards for his trouble. (And he didn’t fumble.)
Vereen only received six carries and was targeted just once. He ran hard during his limited chances and will be a key contributor when the offense fully starts clicking again.
Fullback James Develin was mostly solid, but missed a couple lead blocks in the running game. He showed off sure hands by hauling in two catches for 17 yards.
Julian Edelman looked like the Patriots’ best skill-position player for the second straight week. Brady shows a lot of trust in the 5-foot-10 receiver by targeting him on contested passes. Edelman fumbled after slipping on a screen. It was a rare miscue for the trustworthy wideout.
Brandon LaFell was mostly used as a blocker, one of his biggest strengthes in the Patriots’ offense. Brady didn’t target him, though he and Danny Amendola were open on Edelman’s 12-yard reception in the third quarter.
Amendola was targeted just twice. A big 26-yard reception was called back when Aaron Dobson was called for offensive pass interference. Brady overshot Amendola on a deep pass in the second quarter. He wasn’t really open anyway.
Dobson had the Patriots’ lone drop on a diving attempt in the third quarter. The second-year pro caught one pass for 13 yards in his 2014 debut.
Gronkowski received even fewer snaps than he did in Week 1, and he was kept in to block on 14 of his 28 snaps. Gronk made four receptions for 32 yards, but he doesn’t have his full range of mobility back yet. It appears he does have his strength, since he’s still tough to bring down, and he’s been solid as a blocker.
Michael Hoomanawanui struggled as a run blocker, and he made one catch for six yards. He was solid in pass protection.
Tim Wright played just eight snaps and was yelled at by Brady for motioning when he wasn’t supposed to on the completion to Hoomanawanui.
Jordan Devey’s biggest strength is his agility in lead and pull blocks. He got pushed around in the run game, however, and allowed a 2-yard tackle for loss after getting blown up by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
Marcus Cannon allowed the Patriots’ lone sack. He looked good otherwise, and appears to be getting comfortable in his new position at left guard.
Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer didn’t allow any pressures and were solid in their run blocking. Ridley and Vereen typically were tackled by a linebacker in the second level.
Dan Connolly had another strong game in his return to center. He pancaked defensive tackle Linval Joseph on Ridley’s 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
The Patriots used four-man, three-man and hybrid fronts after mostly using a three-man defensive line last week. In the first quarter alone, the Patriots used three very different front-seven alignments.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are standing up on the edge, but make no mistake, this is a 4-3. Both players are lined up as seven-technique defensive ends, with Sealver Siliga at one-technique defensive tackle and Vince Wilfork at three-technique. Linebacker Deontae Skinner is the weak-side linebacker, Jerod Mayo is in the middle and Dont’a Hightower is on the strong side.
The Patriots used two variations of the 3-4:
Chandler Jones and Ninkovich are lined up as outside linebackers in this alignment with Skinner and Mayo on the inside. Chris Jones and Wilfork are playing five-technique defensive end and Siliga is playing nose, right over the center.
In this variation, Chandler Jones is playing five-technique end with Wilfork, and Siliga is still at nose. Hightower and Ninkovich are playing outside linebacker with Skinner and Mayo on the inside. This play resulted in a 2-yard loss.
The Patriots’ modified 4-3 over combines a 3-4 and 4-3. The strength of the Patriots’ defense is shifted to the strong side, with Ninkovich lining up at six-technique, Wilfork at four-technique, Siliga at two-technique and Jones as the seven-technique, or “LEO.” The linebackers get shifted over, with Hightower playing the edge.
Siliga and Wilfork looked much better against the Vikings than they did in Week 1. Both players held their ground well while one-gapping and two-gapping. Siliga still wore a big club on his left hand, and he’ll be even better — especially in pass rush — when his cast is able to come off. Siliga is surprisingly quick for his 325-pound frame, and moves well laterally to make tackles at the line of scrimmage.
Jones was a monster, recording eight pressures, including two sacks and a blocked field goal for a touchdown. Ninkovich had less success as a pass rusher, though he was strong against the run.
Rookie defensive tackle Dominique Easley hasn’t recorded a pressure yet, but he’s eating up blockers and made an impressive diving interception.
Mayo had a great bounce-back game after struggling to get off blocks at the second level in Week 1. Mayo was active at the line of scrimmage and made two stops for losses.
Hightower was all over the field for the second straight game, and he was forced to play three different positions with Jamie Collins out with a thigh injury. Hightower had two sacks and two hurries and made a number of important open-field tackles in the passing game. Hightower also made an impressive pass deflection as Cassel was targeting a wide-open Jerick McKinnon after safety Nate Ebner left him wide open down the sideline.
Skinner struggled early in his first NFL game, leaving Kyle Rudolph wide open twice in the opening drive. He also appeared responsible for running back Matt Asiata on the Vikings’ lone touchdown reception.
The Patriots’ entire defense bit on play action to wideout Cordarrelle Patterson, leaving Asiata wide open on the right side of the field. Oddly, the Vikings stopped using Patterson in the backfield after the first quarter.
Skinner lacks the speed necessary to play weakside linebacker in the Patriots’ offense. He looked better against the run than in coverage.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis covered wide receiver Greg Jennings nearly flawlessly, allowing just one reception for four yards. Revis, cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Devin McCourty all recorded interceptions.
Second-year pro Logan Ryan allowed three receptions for 37 yards against Patterson. He looked comfortable in his first start of the season.
Slot cornerback Kyle Arrington had a key strip sack midway through the fourth quarter. He allowed just two receptions for 21 yards.
Safety Patrick Chung was solid in coverage against the Vikings’ tight ends. Safety Duron Harmon covered the deep half of the field well in nickel and dime situations.