Patriots-Bills Takeaways: Damien Harris Continues To Shine In Top Role

There were a few bright spot in the Patriots' latest loss

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No one wants to hear about moral victories in New England after the Patriots have started the season 2-5 and continue to creep their way out of playoff contention.

However, the Patriots’ 24-21 Week 8 loss to the Buffalo Bills came with some positives.

We’ll go through everything good and bad in our top takeaways of the week.

All advanced stats via Pro Football Focus.

PASSING OFFENSE
Cam Newton had his second-most accurate passing game of the season, going 15-of-25 for 174 yards.

Among those 10 incompletions, two passes were dropped, three attempts were throwaways and two incompletions came while Newton was hit while throwing for an overall 85-percent adjusted completion rate.

— Only three of Newton’s errant passes were unforced.

— Newton also was fairly conservative, not attempting a single deep pass all game.

— The first-year Patriot didn’t throw right at all in Week 7, and he threw right just three times (all incompletions) in Week 6. That issue was fixed Sunday when Newton went 6-of-8 for 63 yards while throwing to the outside right. He was 0-of-2 throwing left and 9-of-10 for 111 yards throwing between the numbers.

— Overall, Newton played fine. Some passes still came out of his hand a little funky, and his footwork and mechanics could still use some tweaking. It was a step in the right direction, however.

Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and tight end Ryan Izzo both accounted for a dropped pass.

— Meyers now leads Patriots wide receivers with 1.92 yards per route run after catching six passes for 58 yards on Sunday. Only running back James White (2.38 yards per route run) has been more productive per snap than Meyers on the season.

— The Patriots missed inactive rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi (personal) and Dalton Keene (knee). Izzo played 48-of-65 snaps, so the Patriots went without a tight end for 17 offensive snaps. They typically replaced a tight end by putting a second running back on the field. New England used two running backs on 18 offensive snaps.

— Meyers was far and away the Patriots’ best receiver and missed just one snap. Damiere Byrd continues to pace Patriots wide receivers in snaps and played 100 percent Sunday.

Pressure allowed
– LG Joe Thuney: three hurres
– TE Ryan Izzo: sack, QB hit, hurry
– Burkhead: QB hit
– LT Isaiah Wynn: hurry
– RT Mike Onwenu: hurry
– C David Andrews: hurry
– RG Shaq Mason: hurry
– White: hurry

— Damien Harris didn’t allow a pressure on two pass-blocking opportunities.

— Izzo was really bad as a pass blocker. He allowed pressure on 33 percent of his pass-blocking opportunities, including a sack. PFF gave him a 10.6 grade as a pass blocker. That’s out of 100.

— Thuney struggled more than usual in his pass-blocking snaps. He was powering through an ankle injury in the game, however, which could explain his issues.

RUNNING OFFENSE
It was a big week for Harris who set a career-high with 102 rushing yards and also scored his first NFL touchdown on a 22-yard slashing run.

Elusive rating
– RB Rex Burkhead: 4.17 yards after contact per attempt, four avoided tackles on seven touches – 238.1 elusive rating
– QB Cam Newton: 4.63 yards after contact per attempt, two avoided tackles on eight touches – 115.6 elusive rating
– WR Isaiah Zuber: one avoided tackle on one touch – 100 elusive rating
– Harris: 3.38 yards after contact per attempt, three avoided tackles on 16 touches – 63.3 elusive rating
– RB James White: 1 yard after contact per attempt, one avoided tackle on four touches – 25 elusive rating

— Harris also set a career high with his 63.3 elusive rating. Of Harris’ 102 yards, 39.2 percent came on runs of 15 yards or longer. He’s the Patriots’ best option as an early-down back and looks significantly better than Sony Michel, who is off of the COVID-19/reserve list but still on injured reserve. Harris has so far lived up to his training camp hype.

— The Patriots need to find a way to get White more involved.

— It’s amazing how many tackles Burkhead avoided while picking up just 31 yards on seven touches.

PASS DEFENSE
Cornerback JC Jackson had the toughest assignment of the day, tracking Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

Coverage stats
Jackson: five catches on eight targets for 84 yards, INT
CB Myles Bryant: 1-1, 21 yards
CB Jonathan Jones: 2-3, 18 yards
CB Jason McCourty: 1-2, 12 yards, PBU
SS Adrian Phillips: 1-1, 11 yards
OLB John Simon: 1-1, 8 yards

— The Patriots managed well without superstar cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was out with a knee injury. There were heavy winds in Buffalo, however, as the Patriots’ secondary limited Bills QB Josh Allen to 154 yards, no touchdowns and an interception on 11-of-18 passing.

— Jackson let up a 41-yard catch to Diggs but also came away with the interception. All-in-all, it was a positive performance from the third-year pro as he sets out to prove he can be a No. 1 cornerback in the NFL (he can).

— Safeties Devin McCourty, Terrence Brooks and Joejuan Williams, linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche, Derek Rivers and Shliique Calhoun and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy received coverage opportunities but weren’t targeted.

Pass rush
Bentley: sack, QB hit
DE Deatrich Wise: QB hit, hurry
Uche: QB hit
DT Byron Cowart: QB hit
Guy: QB hit
Simon: hurry
DT Adam Butler: hurry
Calhoun: hurry
DE Tashawn Bower: hurry
DT Nick Thurman: hurry

— Rivers (two pass-rush snaps), Jones (three pass-rush snaps), Devin McCourty (two pass-rush snaps), Brooks (five pass-rush snaps), Phillips (four pass-rush snap) and outside linebacker Chase Winovich (five pass-rush snaps) didn’t register any pressures.

— Winovich has seen his playing time dip precipitously since Week 4, when he had 37 snaps. He played 22 snaps in Week 6, 13 in Week 7 and just five total in Week 8. It’s completely bizarre that he’s not at least playing on more obvious passing downs since he’s been the Patriots’ best pass rusher this season.

— Uche registered his QB hit on just three pass-rush snaps in his NFL debut. He played six snaps at outside linebacker, five in the box and one split out at cornerback. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker has an intriguing set of skills as the Patriots’ most athletic front-seven defender.

RUN DEFENSE
Woof. The Patriots let up 190 yards on 38 carries and three rushing touchdowns on the ground.

Tackling efficiency
Jones: two stops
Cowart: two stops
Jackson: two stops
Bower: two stops, one missed tackle
Simon: two stops, one missed tackle
Guy: two stops, one missed tackle
Wise: stop
Uche: stop
Phillips: stop
Bentley: three stops, three missed tackles
Brooks: missed tackle
Devin McCourty: missed tackle

— Bentley injured his groin late in the game but struggled again when he was healthy on the field. The Patriots need better play out of their linebackers. Maybe Uche can continue to help as he sees more snaps.

— With Gilmore and Kyle Dugger out, Brooks, Phillips and the McCourty twins played 100 percent of snaps. Jackson missed just one snap when he was cramping.

— The Patriots stayed in dime for the majority of the game, daring the Bills to run. The Bills chose dare — not truth — and ran all over the Patriots.

NESN’s New England football takeaways is presented by Valvoline Instant Oil Change.

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