New England Patriots Four Factors to Focus Upon After Busting Broncos

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Nov 24, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) recovers a fumble during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

One result of the Broncos dominant rushing attack on Sunday night was pointing out how weak the Patriots defensive tackles are against the run. While rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano are basically in an unwinnable position of being forced into a starting role after all three defensive tackles ahead of them in the rotation are out for the season. Recent acquisition Isaac Sopoaga only played 14 of 90 defensive snaps and likely is dealing with an injury (as his size would have been welcome against Knowshon Moreno).

Jones and Vellano were simply blown off the ball.  As much as New England encouraged Denver to run the ball with their non-stop sub packages, the team would have gladly had suffered a few stops to get their defense off the field a few times. Denver center Manuel Ramirez and guard Louis Vasquez simply dominated the two young defensive tackles. They basically blew up either Vellano or Jones and then moved on to the second level to make additional room for Moreno to run.

Joe Vellano is undersized, but makes up for it with intelligent play and solid technique. He does not  get much push in the passing game, but usually is able to hold his own at the point of attack in the running game.  Chris Jones has been downright terrible at the point of attack, however. Despite a handful of sacks, he has not really provided much push in the pass rush either. In fact, has Jones, at a -21.2 rating, as the lowest ranked defensive tackle in the NFL to date. Vellano, at -7.0 is only the 61st of 70 defensive tackles.

This is a huge concern to New England in the coming weeks and in the playoffs, and a healthy Isaac Sopoaga can only help. It is almost amazing the team can win with two of the ten least effective defensive tackles in the NFL playing the majority of the snaps. This is definitely something to watch going forward in the last quarter of the season as improvement is desperately needed.


Inside the numbers, however, there were some under-the-radar heroes on defense for the Patriots. Considering the Patriots only gave up two “real” scoring drives to the top rated offense this season (and potentially most potent ever), there is plenty of accolades to give out. Defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich stepped up to make plays in the running game. Both starting defensive ends had a quarterback hurry and hit and Chandler Jones scored the only sack of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

At linebacker, rookie Jamie Collins stepped up with some solid pass coverage play.  Add in his big blitz and hit on Peyton Manning in the third quarter, and the rookie finally was able to showcase his athleticism on the playing field. Belichick made a point to mention Collins in his postgame comments noting his work jamming receivers on the line of scrimmage and breaking up passes. Although he only played 22 snaps, he made a significant impact in his limited playing time.

More stand-out rookies were cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon. The Rutgers alumni were forced to play extended periods of time, with Harmon playing all 90 defensive snaps alongside Devin McCourty (yet another Rutgers alum). With veterans Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib toughing it out through injuries, usually rookies have a flashing neon “throw at me” sign when going up against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

Instead, Ryan had a huge interception, a pass defended,and only allowed one completion for four yards in four passes his way. Harmon had some struggles when matched-up against the Denver tight ends (adding Julius Thomas back to that Denver offense makes a real difference), but was a life-saver stepping up to make a number of big tackles in the running game. With starting safety Steve Gregory out and starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard only available for 21 snaps, the Patriots had their two young secondary players step up in a big moment.

On offense, wide receiver Julian Edelman again showed his versatility by having a huge game on offense (nine receptions, 110 yards, and two touchdowns) and special teams (three punt returns for 39 yards and four fair catches in a tough wind). Yes, he muffed a punt and picked it up and had a fumble (thank you Michael Buchanan for wrestling the ball away from multiple Denver special teamers), but he played a huge role in bringing back the Patriots from a 24-0 deficit.

Finally, the Patriots offensive line, carried all season by stellar play from left tackle Nate Solder, stepped up and had their best game of the season as Solder struggled with All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller. Solder allowed two sacks, a hit and three hurries in his worst game of the season, but the line, especially guard Logan Mankins, picked a perfect time to have their best games of the season.  It was a good sign to see the offensive line pick up the slack for the Patriots as their continued strong play is vital to keeping quarterback Tom Brady upright and having time to find multiple options at receiver.