Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Thursday night’s preseason game against the Rams and offers some of his third-quarter observations:
1. The Patriots continued to play good run defense – allowing few runs over five yards – going into the second half. That set up an early third-and-9 situation. On the play, Rams RB Chris Ogbonnaya caught a dump-off pass but was stopped well short of the first down markers on a solid open-field tackle by LB Jerod Mayo. However, like many other times in the game, the drive was kept alive on a critical penalty; this time, CB Darius Butler committed an illegal contact penalty to draw a first down.
2. On the 20-yard touchdown catch by Rams WR Brandon Gibson, it is hard to fault Butler, who was in coverage on the play. The Patriots blitzed FS James Sanders on the play – and no pressure was generated – leaving SS Patrick Chung as the single high safety. Chung and LB Brandon Spikes both covered the tight end on the far side of the field, leaving Butler on an island with Gibson on the near side of the field. Butler backed off and played Gibson conservatively, allowing for the catch. But Butler then had from the near sideline to far hash marks as the only defender standing in the way of Gibson and the end zone, a wide area to cover alone for any defensive back.
3. Patriots safety Sergio Brown continued to struggle on special teams, this time on Devin McCourty’s 22-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. On the play, Brown misjudged where McCourty was behind him, backing too far towards the return and not even engaging Rams WR Keenan Burton, who wrapped up McCourty without even having to avoid a block.
4. Patriots LB Brandon Spikes is becoming a frequent sight coming up the middle to blitz. On a second-and-10 play late in the quarter, Spikes broke through the line free, getting his hands in the face of QB Thaddeus Lewis. The pressure disrupted Lewis’ short drop and caused him to rush his throw, which was dropped by the intended receiver. However, like many other times in the game, a penalty took the Rams offense off the hook, as Spikes was called for roughing the passer. What would have been a third-and-10 from inside the 10-yard line became a first down from the 25-yard line.
5. Late in the quarter, the Patriots were backed up in their own end zone after a well-placed Rams punt. The Patriots continued to utilize their spread attack which was seen throughout the game, with Brady firing off four straight receptions, including a 32-yard catch by TE Rob Gronkowski which moved the Patriots across midfield. Equally as impressive as Brady’s accuracy was the pass protection of the offensive line. Brady had a clean pocket and a clear passing lane – through the use of cut blocks – for each throw. The passing-focused drive was conducted as if it were a two-minute warning type of march, and culminated in a 20-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski early in the fourth quarter.