If you’ve ever doubted the value of special teams, please refer to the New England Patriots’ Week 12 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
The Patriots’ offense gained just 179 total net yards. Kick returner Donte Moncrief and punt returner Gunner Olszewski (who should have had a touchdown) combined for 142 return yards. Punter Jake Bailey averaged 56.3 yards on three punts and placed one inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Nick Folk hit a 50-yard game-winning field goal and was 4-of-4 placekicking.
Cardinals returners managed just a 7-yard punt return and 18-yard kick return.
Now that New England’s special teams unit has received its due, let’s take a deeper look into the Patriots’ offense and defense.
All advanced stats via PFF unless otherwise noted.
Cam Newton completed just 9-of-18 passes for 84 yards with two interceptions. He averaged -0.45 EPA (expected points added) per play, via rbsdm.com, but it wasn’t his worst performance of the season. That came in Week 7 against the San Francisco 49ers when he averaged -0.60 EPA per play. He also averaged -0.52 EPA per play in Week 6 against the Denver Broncos. Newton did provide .27 EPA per play on the ground in Week 12.
Adjusted completion rate
Of Newton’s nine incompletion, one was a spike, so his adjusted completion rate was 52.9 percent. Newton also threw an interception while getting hit, but it appears PFF did not acknowledge that situation. Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry also dropped a pass, but it was officially charged as a pass breakup.
— Newton’s second interception came on a target to Damiere Byrd that arrived late and to Byrd’s near shoulder when the throw should have been made toward the sideline and away from Cardinals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
— Among qualified quarterbacks, Newton had the lowest adjusted completion rate in Week 12. Nathan Peterman and Colt McCoy (both of whom apparently played Sunday?) ranked just above Newton with 60-percent adjusted accuracy rates.
— Newton didn’t complete his one deep attempt.
— Newton was having accuracy issues all game. Even some of his completions were thrown high or slightly behind his receivers. Newton was coming off four straight impressive performances and did deliver a monumental 14-yard first-down run late in the fourth quarter. We’re certainly not calling for Newton to get benched after one week of struggles in a win.
— Wide receiver N’Keal Harry averaged less than a yard of separation, per Next Gen Stats. He didn’t catch a pass on three targets, lost 2 yards on a carry and was flagged for holding.
Newton: two sacks
LT Jermaine Eluemunor: QB hit
RT Michael Onwenu: hurry
LG Joe Thuney: hurry
C David Andrews: hurry
RB James White: hurry
— Eluemunor played 38-of-54 snaps while rotating with rookie Justin Herron, who played the remaining 16 offensive plays.
— Herron, right guard Shaq Mason, tight end Ryan Izzo and running back Damien Harris were clean in pass protection.
— Newton held the ball, on average, for 5.1 seconds on his sacks. He was 6-of-9 while getting rid of the ball in under 2.5 seconds. He was 3-of-8 while holding the ball for 2.5 seconds or more.
Running back James White took over Rex Burkhead’s red-zone role with two rushing touchdowns. Damien Harris finished with 14 carries for 47 yards. He had two carries of over 15 yards but also lost 8 yards on one rushing attempt.
Harris: 2.79 yards after contact per attempt, three avoided tackles
Newton: 1.78 yards after contact per attempt, one avoided tackle
WR Jakobi Meyers: one avoided tackle
White: 2.2 yards after contact per attempt
Harry: 2 yards after contact per attempt
WR Gunner Olszewski: 1 yard after contact per attempt
— 70.2 percent of Harris’ rushing yards came on “big plays.”
— Sony Michel played just one snap and didn’t touch the ball.
— The Patriots were in 21 personnel (running back, fullback, tight end, two wide receivers) for most of the game, which meant fullback Jakob Johnson played 64.2 percent of snaps. Wide receiver N’Keal Harry played just 26-of-53 offensive snaps. Meyers led Patriots skill players with 50 snaps and led Patriots pass-catchers with five receptions for 52 yards.
The Patriots limited Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who’s been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks this season, to just 170 yards on 23-of-34 passing and 5 yards per attempt.
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley: 5-5, 34 yards
CB Stephon Gilmore: 3-4, 26 yards, holding penalty, defensive pass interference
CB Jason McCourty: 2-2, 24 yards, holding penalty
CB Jonathan Jones: 4-6, 21 yards
LB Chase Winovich: 1-1, 19 yards
LB Terez Hall: 1-1, 13 yards
S Kyle Dugger: 2-2, 9 yards
CB JC Jackson: 2-6, 7 yards
FS Devin McCourty: 1-1, 7 yards
LB John SImon: 1-1, 6 yards
S Adrian Phillips: 1-2, 4 yards, INT
— Gilmore and Jackson had tough assignments against wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. They emerged almost unscathed. When asked about his penalties after the game, Gilmore smiled and said, “It’s an offensive league, so you know. Sometimes you have to deal with it.”
— Jackson appeared to suffer a back or hip injury late in the game. Perhaps we’ll get an update on his status from Bill Belichick on Monday afternoon.
— Gilmore and McCourty’s holding penalties both came in the red zone on third- and fourth-down, respectively. They gave the Cardinals news sets of downs and eventually led to Arizona’s game-tying touchdown.
— Hall got caught in the slot while allowing a 13-yard first-down catch to Hopkins. There was nothing he realistically could have done about it.
— Dugger was great in coverage and continues to see his snaps increase. He actually played more than Phillips, Jones and Jason McCourty on Sunday.
DT Adam Butler: sack, two QB hits
LB Chase Winovich: sack, two hurries
LB Josh Uche: QB hit, hurry
DE Deatrich Wise: hurry
CB Jonathan Jones: hurry
DT Akeem Spence: hurry
DT Lawrence Guy: hurry
— The Patriots did a fantastic job getting pressure on Murray while also containing him in the pocket. Murray, who was dealing with a shoulder injury, is one of the quickest and most agile players in the NFL and only carried the ball five times for 31 yards. Uche, a rookie, was especially impressive at being disciplined as a pass rusher. Some young players struggle with that. He also was doing a nice job of chipping pass-catchers at the line of scrimmage. It’s good to see Uche doing the little things. He’s the Patriots’ most athletic front-seven defender, and the unit should improve as he sees more snaps.
— Butler also had a batted pass that led to Phillips’ interception.
— Spence made an immediate impact in his Patriots debut just over a week after joining the team. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him elevated again next week against the Los Angeles Chargers.
— The Patriots forced Murray to make some ill-advised passes while falling away from pressure. One was incredibly completed to tight end Dan Arnold while another fell incomplete. Both easily could have turned into takeaways against a less proficient passer.
The Cardinals gained 138 yards on the ground but averaged just 4.1 yards per carry. The Patriots had issues containing outside runs early in the contest but solved that issue as the game went along.
Bentley: six stops
Guy: four stops
Phillips: three stops
Butler: two stops
Jason McCourty: two stops
Dugger: three stops, missed tackle
Winovich: two stops, missed tackle
Gilmore: stop, missed tackle
Jackson: stop, missed tackle
— The Patriots did a much better job limiting missed tackles, especially in the passing game. New England let up just 3.5 yards after catch per reception.
— Bentley overall had a solid performance but can still get caught flat-footed at times in run and pass defense.
— Hall has been a nice find in the middle of the Patriots’ defense. He’s not the biggest or most athletic linebacker, but he plays smart.
NESN’s New England football takeaways is presented by Valvoline Instant Oil Change