Tom Brady left yards on the field Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Yes, I understand how ridiculous this sounds after the New England Patriots quarterback completed 38 of 59 passes for 466 yards with three touchdowns against the vaunted Buffalo Bills defense.
But, quite frankly, Brady could have played better. He was inaccurate on 10 of his passes, and his receivers could have been more effective, as well, dropping six attempts. If Brady or his receivers were slightly better, he easily could have beat his personal record of 517 yards. With 14 games to go, many of which will come against much weaker defenses, there’s still plenty of time this season.
This only speaks to the potential of the Patriots’ offense. If Brady can throw for 466 yards without putting forth his best performance, imagine how good they will look when everything is truly clicking. Watch out, NFL. Brady’s pissed off.
Let’s get into the minutiae of the Patriots’ 40-32 win over the Bills:
— Brady obviously excelled for much of the Patriots’ Week 2 victory. After going three-and-out with two 1-yard completions and a deep miss, Brady and the Patriots’ offense came away with touchdowns on their next three drives. Brady picked apart the Bills’ defense with quick passes and didn’t allow his offensive line to break down in front of him.
— The Patriots took plenty of chances downfield, but Brady only went 5 of 13 on passes that traveled over 15 yards. His prettiest pass came on a target to wide receiver Danny Amendola, who had to blindly dive for Brady’s attempt as he lost the ball in the sun.
— The Bills promised to double- and possibly triple-cover tight end Rob Gronkowski, but the big tight end still found himself open frequently, catching seven passes on 13 targets for 113 yards with a touchdown. Brady saw a mismatch early in the second quarter, when Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes was covering Gronkowski 1-on-1 down the seam. The play would have gone for big yardage if Hughes didn’t hack Gronkowski before the ball reached its destination. The refs missed the penalty, and Hughes wasn’t flagged for offensive pass interference.
— Wide receiver Julian Edelman usually is as dependable as they come, but he had three drops on the afternoon. Edelman was kicking himself after the game, despite having two impressive touchdowns. Tight end Scott Chandler, wide receiver Aaron Dobson and third-down back Dion Lewis also had drops.
— Dobson had his best game since 2013, catching seven passes for 88 yards. Now that the third-year pro is back on track, Dobson needs to trust his hands and start to find room to run after the catch.
— Lewis continues to excel. He had one drop but caught six passes for 98 yards. Lewis admitted after the game that he rarely ran routes in his previous stops, but he looked like a natural on fly routes and more precise patterns.
— The Patriots’ offensive line had a very difficult assignment, facing off against Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams and Hughes, but Brady made it easier on them by taking shallow drops and releasing the ball quickly. They held up well and only allowed one sack. Brady slid to take another sack.
— Undrafted rookie center David Andrews surrendered just one pressure on the afternoon. He’s performed better in his first two NFL games than Patriots starter Bryan Stork did in his first two matchups as a rookie. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots shake up their offensive line when Stork and Ryan Wendell return.
— Marcus Cannon rotated in for starting tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer for the second consecutive week. Cannon struggles at left tackle, where he gives up way too much cushion to edge rushers as he doesn’t look completely comfortable kicking back to protect the blind side.
— Check out the Patriots’ pass-protection stats.
— Lewis continued his breakout campaign, rushing for 40 yard on just seven carries. I counted eight missed tackles on his seven runs. The Patriots’ offensive line did a nice job opening holes for Lewis, but he’s a master at piling up yards that wouldn’t be there for most backs.
— Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount received one and two carries, respectively. Blount had a 4-yard carry, but the Patriots’ athletic offensive line might be better suited at opening holes for Lewis, rather than trying to plow forward in short-yardage situations.
— Julian Edelman’s jet sweep has become a staple of the Patriots’ offense, and it rarely fails. Edelman ran for 12 yards and a first down. The Patriots tried the same play with Danny Amendola, who’s not quite as big or fast, and they only gained 3 yards. Ironically, despite being smaller and slower, Amendola has more success than Edelman on deep passes from Brady.
— The Patriots only ran the ball 12 times, minus quarterback kneel-downs, so there isn’t a large sample size to judge their run-blocking.
— Rookie guard Shaq Mason missed his pull block midway through the second quarter. He’s one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the NFL, but he wasn’t quite quick enough to peg Mario Williams. The play still resulted in a 3-yard gain.
— Mason struggled while playing fullback for the second consecutive week, missing his lead block. He fared better when playing tight end on a short-yardage run. Mason was solid as a run-blocker otherwise. He’s best at the second level, where he can use his athleticism to his advantage.
— Solder and Vollmer and tight ends Gronkowski, Chandler and Michael Williams blocked well against the run. Williams ran seven routes, stayed in to pass block six times and run-blocked eight times. He’s not overly athletic as a receiver, but he has solid hands, and the fact that he has experience running routes makes him much more dangerous than the Patriots’ past sixth blockers.
— The Patriots rotated Cannon into both tackle spots and occasionally took out Mason to play Tre’ Jackson at guard. Josh Kline and Andrews were the only Patriots offensive linemen who played all 86 snaps. The Patriots also played Cannon at guard in short-yardage situations, where he flourished. It will be interesting to see if Cannon is rotated into the offensive line in obvious short-yardage situations moving forward. It could be a solid role for him.
— The Patriots opened the game in Cover-1 man, but quickly changed to a Cover-3 zone after the Bills had success on their opening drive. The Bills scored on the long drive and Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor took off on a long 23-yard scramble.
— The Patriots then stayed in a Cover-3 zone for most of the rest of the game but occasionally confused Taylor by switching back to Cover-1 man. Cover-3 was the Patriots’ best bet to not only limit the Bills’ receivers on deep routes but also to prevent Taylor from scrambling. The Patriots’ outside cornerbacks — usually Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown — and free safety — either Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon — covered the deep half of the field, and a wall of four defenders made sure Taylor didn’t break a long run while also defending the flat.
— Taylor ran just three times for 13 yards while the Patriots were in zone coverage. The Patriots allowed completions on 15 of 19 passes in zone coverage for 148 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Taylor went 8 of 11 for 94 yards with two touchdowns against man coverage.
— Butler allowed just one completion: a 32-yard touchdown to Robert Woods. Butler, in a Cover-3, had a tough assignment with two receivers in his zone. Butler started tracking Woods before Taylor let go of the ball, but he misjudged the throw and came inches away from breaking up the pass, rather than allowing the score.
— Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who swapped in for Tarell Brown after the starting cornerback appeared to suffer an ankle injury, struggled, allowing three catches on three targets for 59 yards. He also was hit on a 39-yard pass interference penalty.
— Linebacker Jamie Collins showed off his versatility, looking natural while dropping into the Cover-3 zone. He usually was joined by safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty and slot cornerback Logan Ryan.
— Check out the Patriots’ pass-coverage stats.
— Taylor had a long day at the office and was sacked eight times by the Patriots’ versatile front seven. The Patriots sacked Taylor six times while in Cover-3 and twice in Cover-1.
— Defensive end Chandler Jones led the way with three sacks. Linebacker Jamie Collins recorded 2 1/2 sacks, defensive linemen Alan Branch and Rob Ninkovich each had one sack and linebacker Dont’a Hightower recorded half a sack.
— Free-agent acquisition Jabaal Sheard didn’t record a sack, but he had six pressures.
— Ninkovich, Jones and Sheard also showed off their versatility by dropping into coverage. That allows Hightower and Collins to rush the passer without having to blitz. Hightower and Collins are among the Patriots best pass rushers, despite being linebackers.
— The Patriots sacked Taylor on three consecutive plays late in the third quarter. On the second sack, the Patriots sent defensive linemen Jones, Alan Branch, and Malcom Brown, dropped Sheard, and Collins rushed up the middle. Collins got to Taylor before the Bills quarterback knew what hit him.
— Check out the Patriots’ pass-rush stats.
— The Patriots used a much more stout front against the Bills than they did in Week 1, when they mostly relied on one defensive tackle and three defensive ends on their line. This week, there were times when Branch, Brown and Sealver Siliga were on the field together in a 3-4 alignment. The Patriots kept the Bills on their toes with their different front-seven alignments, even with the same personnel, since Sheard, Ninkovich and Jones can stand up at linebacker or play five-technique defensive end. The Patriots still allowed 5.3 yards per carry on designed runs.
— Linebacker Jerod Mayo might not be 100 percent back from last season’s knee injury. He looks a step slower than in past seasons, and it’s affecting his play in the run game, when he has to react quickly and disengage from blocks at the second level. He made an impressive run-stop early in the second quarter, however, stuffing Bills running back LeSean McCoy for a loss of 1 yard.
— Hightower had a monster game and rarely gets pushed out at the second level. Early in the first quarter, he blew up Bills fullback Jerome Felton, then came back and helped make the 2-yard stop.
— The Patriots’ linebackers were overly aggressive at times, however, overpursuing, which opened up rushing lanes for McCoy. That’s more of a coaching/gameplan issue than it is on the individual players.
— The Patriots’ run-blitzing paid off late in the first quarter when linebacker Jamie Collins stopped McCoy for a loss of a yard. Collins has tons of upside, but he’s still a work in progress, especially against the run, where he tends to get pushed around at times.
— Brown made a great play late in the first quarter, when he stood up Bills center Eric Wood and stuffed McCoy for a 2-yard gain.
— Defensive tackle Alan Branch impressed midway through the first quarter, when he completely overpowered Bills guard John Miller, blowing up a McCoy run. Sheard and cornerback Malcolm Butler cleaned up for the 2-yard stop.
— Brown, Branch and Siliga all had moments when they were overpowered by Bills offensive linemen. The Patriots currently don’t have a stout nose tackle like Vince Wilfork who can consistently take on double teams, but there’s hope Siliga or Brown can morph into that type of player. Siliga was dominant at times when he was facing a single blocker.
— Many of the Patriots’ issues against the run came on the edge, where Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones had a difficult time in containment.
— Butler continues to impress with his run-stopping skills. He’s very aggressive on defense, not only in coverage but also while tackling.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images
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