Patriots Pick Six: Leftovers from Sunday’s Loss to Green Bay


Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) on the bench during the second half against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 26-21. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots fell just short in their comeback bid against Green Bay on their Sunday afternoon loss 26-21 at Lambeau Field. While the Patriots may be “On to San Diego” another viewing (or three) at the game film reveals there are some issues creeping in on the periphery that the Patriots need to address in the coming weeks. With this trip to San Diego and then a final tour of their divisional opponents with Buffalo and Miami coming to Gillette Stadium and a trip to Jersey to face the Jets, the Patriots still control their own destiny in their quest for the number one seed in the AFC and home-field advantage and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Here are six leftovers from the loss on Sunday that the Patriots will need to clear up in the next few weeks:

Nov 2, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots center Dan Connolly (63), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (76) and center Bryan Stork (66) take the field before their game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Left guard Dan Connolly and the interior of the offensive line did not have a good performance for the second consecutive week. After the initial problems with the center and guard play in the first four weeks of the season, things seemed to run smoother with rookie center Bryan Stork in the middle flanked by veteran guards Connolly and Ryan Wendell. The experiments with untested youngster Jordan Devey and tackles Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming playing inside seemed to have contributed to the inconsistent offensive line play.

Against Detroit, Wendell and Connolly could be excused as they were overmatched by All-Pro Ndamukong Suh throughout the game. However, this week it was Mike Daniels who spent the game tossing aside Connolly. The best illustration was the Patriots first drive of the second half: A holding penalty on Connolly on a rush by Daniels; a free rusher past Stork on the first-and-twenty play causing an incompletion, and then Wendell tossed aside on third down and 13 on another incompletion.

One week is an aberration, two weeks are a trend. The Chargers Corey Liuget is a load inside with size and quickness to collapse the pocket. No one thought Mike Daniels would be a big part of disrupting the New England offense like he did and no one is expecting the same from San Diego’s line (veteran Dwight Freeney has been the most consistent pass rusher coming from the edge). Expect Connolly to be under the microscope this week at practice and maybe even young veteran Josh Kline to be in line for a promotion having flashed some solid play in his two starts in week six and seven.

Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs the ball against Green Bay Packers strong safety Morgan Burnett (42) during the second half at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 26-21. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

2. The running game was expected to be a weapon for the Patriots. Of course, playing from behind the entire game it is difficult to commit to the run. Add in the blitzing tendencies of the Packers and leaning on the run did not look like a valid game plan. The big issue in the running game that was exposed was the poor work done by swing tackle Marcus Cannon filling in as third tackle/tackle-eligible for rookie tackle Cameron Fleming.

Fleming played almost half the game against Indianapolis and was an overpowering presence sparking Jonas Gray and the rushing attack. Fleming missed five games earlier with a finger injury and then missed the last two weeks with an ankle injury. Cannon came on and missed a block allowed a near-sack pressure on an incompletion, then had a false start on first-and-goal. He only played eight snaps, but they were not effective plays and the New England training staff may be spending extra time getting Fleming ready to play on Sunday.

The Patriots ran effectively on occasion, but when the yards were needed, the blocking breakdowns did not allow a conversion. Look at the first drive of the game as it set the tone for the rushing attack for the day: on second-and-four Shane Vereen was swarmed by Green Bay defenders going up the middle and gained just two yards; on third-and-two LeGarrette Blount tried the left side and was stopped for no gain. Situational running did not convert early and the team was in a hole they never dug out of right away.

Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) is tackled by New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (26) after catching a pass in the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

3. Cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard need to show immediate improvement. Granted, not every team is going to have a third option like Davante Adams who torched Ryan and Dennard. Per (subscription required), Dennard allowed two receptions for 29 yards to Adams while playing just eleven snaps. Ryan was on the field for 28 snaps and was targeted seven times with the final straw being the 45-yard connection at the end of the first quarter. Per ESPN Boston, Ryan was on the field just four snaps after giving up three receptions for 90 yards to Adams.

The Patriots shuffled the deck in the secondary after benching Ryan as Kyle Arrington began covering Randall Cobb while Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner took on Adams and Jordy Nelson. Unfortunately, Arrington was injured in the third quarter attempting to block a field goal on special teams and that brought on Dennard who switched it up with Ryan down the stretch. Adams was covered by Ryan again when he was wide open and dropped the easy touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Ryan was on Cobb at one point in the fourth quarter and that was when he converted the first down that let Green Bay run out the clock.

Ryan had been playing better in a limited role during the New England winning streak but he was lit up by the Packers. Dennard is just working his way back into the lineup due to injury after getting hurt in week one and injured again in the Thursday night game versus the Jets in week seven. When he has played, Dennard has been terrible allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 15 passes on 22 targets for 216 yards, two touchdowns and a 111.2 QB rating. If Kyle Arrington cannot go on Sunday against San Diego, expect quarterback Philip Rivers to target Dennard or Ryan if they line-up in the slot against shifty veteran slot receiver Eddie Royal who had nine receptions against Baltimore last week.

Nov 2, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich (50) at the line of scrimmage during the fourth quarter of New England

4. With top pass rusher and edge-setter Chandler Jones injured since week seven the emphasis on picking up the slack for him has fallen on outside linebacker/defensive end Rob Ninkovich. Ninkovich pulled double-duty against Green Bay as he also was the long-snapper on punts, field goals and extra points. Ninkovich did not have a good game and that makes one wonder if he was distracted by long-snapping, just playing bad, or missing Chandler Jones?

Certainly there were some bad play calls by defensive coordinator Matt Patricia that led to Ninkovich giving up big gains in passing game. Credit has to go to the Packers offensive coordinator for identifying and exploiting the matchup. Patriots coaches need to make sure it does not happen again as both times Ninkovich was exposed in coverage as he gave up 33 and 28 yard receptions. Ninkovich struggled setting the edge on occasion and failed to generate much pressure. No matter what, he needs to step it up as soon as possible to get New England’s defense back on track.

Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) is tackled by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

5. Shane Vereen and Tim Wright (and, as usual, Danny Amendola) failed to step up with wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman battling injuries and seemingly half the Packers defense converging on Rob Gronkowski. Green Bay set the standard with third option Davante Adams grabbing six passes for 121 yards while the Patriots’ top coverage cornerbacks converged on Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. For New England, no one else stepped up as that last, needed option for Brady to throw to and make a big play or extend drives.

Wright has seemingly had a one-game on, one-game off production as he flips back into and out of the game plan. Wright had five receptions against Cincinnati in week five then one catch against Buffalo. No catches against the Jets then seven in week eight against the Bears. He had five receptions and two touchdowns playing 62 snaps last week against Detroit but in 31 snaps had just one twelve-yard reception this past week.

Amendola was invisible again as Brady passed over him in his progressions and was targeted just once. Brian Tyms played just two snaps and Aaron Dobson injured his hamstring on his one target and played just four snaps. Despite playing 30 snaps, the Packers were very aware of Shane Vereen he managed just one reception. Someone needed to step up, and the closest the Patriots had was back-up tight end Michael Hoomanawanui who caught a huge 23-yard catch to set-up the Patriots’ first touchdown. The Patriots needed one more option to make plays, but no one did.

Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes the ball during the first half against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

6. Finally, to close out the pick six, just what happened to the Patriots’ deep passing game? Tom Brady is showing slippage going deep downfield after some success earlier in the season.  Brady was historically bad. Brady completed 1-16 on passes thrown over 20-yards in the air in weeks 1-4. He turned it around in weeks 5-9  going 10-21 for 345 yards on the same 20-yard plus passes.

Coming out of the bye week Brady was just 1-5 for 26 yards on passes thrown over 20-yards in the air against Indianapolis in week 11. Against Detroit he was 0-3 and last Sunday the deep ball was not there again as he was just 1-5 for 23 yards. The one completion was the pass to Hoomanawanui who was forgotten in coverage and completely wide open on the sidelines early in the second quarter.

After such a bad start, a strong bounce-back, and another regression, it bears investigation. Is there a physical issue with the pesky ankle injury from week one that keeps popping up intermittently on the injury report? If the ankle injury really did limit Brady, the progression of four bad weeks and needing a month to get it fully healthy, in full health and on-target downfield in weeks five through nine, and then coming off the bye week with re-aggravated ankle injury and battling through it in the last three games.

Of course, it could just be coincidence and the Patriots adapted on offense after a rocky start to the season. Then the opposing defenses adapted and the Patriots have struggled against the revamped coverages and now need to come up with another game plan to get the ball downfield. No matter the reason, the Patriots need to get the big-play strike back into their offense down the stretch.