After rewatching the first half of the Patriots' Week 10 victory over the Buffalo Bills, we pass along some picked-up notes and observations.
1. He didn't finish with a sack, but defensive end Chandler Jones nonetheless made an impact as a pass rusher. On the Bills' opening drive, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped back on third and 6, stepped up in the pocket and hit running back Fred Jackson for what would have been first down. The play was nullified, however, because of a holding call on left tackle Cordy Glenn that was drawn by Jones. On the play, Jones used a blazing first step off the ball to get up field before strong-arming Glenn with a push to the chest with his left hand. The power move seemed to catch Glenn off-guard and forced him to hold Jones to prevent a sack. Much like a pitcher squaring off against the leadoff hitter in baseball, the beginning stages of a left-tackle-versus-rush-end matchup involve each player getting a feel for what the other will throw at them. While Jones can wreak havoc with his athleticism, he caught Glenn off-guard with the power push, sort of like a fire-throwing pitcher going to his off-speed stuff.
2. They didn't manage 247 yards this time around, but the Patriots experienced some success on the ground again on Sunday against the Bills. One concept that seemed to work effectively was runs set up by a wham block, which involves a tight end moving inward toward the center of the line of scrimmage and picking up an interior lineman who is usually left unblocked by the center. On their opening drive, the Patriots executed a wham play with Rob Gronkowski whamming defensive tackle Kyle Williams with center Ryan Wendell leading up on the second level. Right guard Dan Connolly blocked down and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer blocked out, creating a nice lane for Stevan Ridley to slide through. The play earned just under 10 yards.
3. Let's be clear: the Patriots' secondary was not very good on Sunday. But credit is due on the first-quarter strip-sack by Vince Wilfork to the secondary, notably cornerbacks Kyle Arrington, Marquice Cole and Alfonzo Dennard for being physical at the line of scrimmage, which disrupted Fitzpatrick in the rhythm of his progression. Couple that with good interior pressure from Wilfork and Jermaine Cunningham, and a strong team effort yielded a big play. Cunningham, who aligned in a shaded technique over the inside eye of the left guard, was freed up after looping around Wilfork, which forced Fitzpatrick to tuck the football and eventually try to scramble before being corralled and stripped by Wilfork.
4. The aforementioned Jones basically has been an every-down player for the Patriots, taking roughly 92 percent of the defensive snaps entering Week 10, according to colleague Mike Reiss' snap charting. On Sunday, the team "bought" Jones some early rest with the insertion of fellow rookie defensive end Justin Francis into the lineup, and Francis had a near mirror-image play to what Jones often brings on a first-and-20 rush. Francis was lightning quick off the ball and beat Cordy Glenn around the edge, streaking toward Fitzpatrick for a pressure and forcing a major underthrow. Francis impressed in training camp with his natural pass-rushing ability, and if he can continue to generate pressure, he may find himself more involved defensively. With veteran Trevor Scott out due to a hamstring injury, Francis has seen the field more of late.
5. The Patriots did not have their best effort tackling on Sunday, and poor tackling is not just tied to missed tackles. On a third-and-15 play with just more than two and a half minutes left in the first quarter, Bills running back Fred Jackson caught a pass on a crafty screen. Jackson darted into open space and was contacted by safety Tavon Wilson first at the 23-yard line, seven yards shy of the first down. A convoy of Patriots latched on to Jackson, but he managed to drag the group all the way to the 30 for a first down. It was a drive-extending play that never should have happened and a precursor of more tacking issues to come.
6. More of a general observation than a play-specific note, but it appeared that when the Patriots went with a single-high safety in their defense, more often than not it was Devin McCourty, not Steve Gregory. The strategy should not come as much of a surprise, as Gregory, when previously active, struggled at times to keep the play in front of him, and McCourty has done well to do exactly that since becoming a safety. The Patriots' secondary again was the culprit of allowing 300-plus yards passing, but if there was a silver lining -- perhaps there was not in the eyes of some -- the team did not allow any big plays over the top. McCourty helps to build the umbrella on the defense.
7. Running back Danny Woodhead recorded his first multi-touchdown game of his career on Sunday, including a 15-yard rushing score in the second quarter that put the Patriots up 17-3. The drive concluded with three straight touches for Woodhead. The first came on a third-and-7 in which Woodhead was checked in coverage out of the backfield by linebacker Nick Barnett. On the play, Woodhead ran what is known as an option route, which means he makes a cut based on the leverage of the player who is defending him. Woodhead stuck a foot in the ground and planted inward, shaking Barnett in coverage and extending the drive. On the touchdown, he was virtually untouched, and credit the Patriots' line for its blocking and the entire offense for getting set quickly and preventing the Bills from getting lined up properly.
8. We've talked previously about the Patriots' ability to work the middle of the field in the passing game by running play-action plays designed for Gronkowski, and the Bills were able to do some of the same on Sunday with tight end Scott Chandler. After successfully converting a first down on a run by C.J. Spiller, the Bills followed up with a play-action throw to Chandler. On the play, linebacker Jerod Mayo froze for a moment upon sensing a run, and Chandler was able to break free relatively untouched for a solid gain up the seam. A follow-up thought on Spiller: He's the real deal. His athleticism and ability to make defenders miss is simply tantalizing, and he is a threat to score on any play.
9. We mentioned already the Patriots' tackling woes, and they were highlighted on Jackson's 14-yard touchdown for the Bills with just more than six minutes remaining in the first half. Jackson took a handoff and made a number of tacklers miss, starting with defensive tackle Kyle Love. After eluding the grasp of Love and linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo, Jackson staved off a last-ditch effort by McCourty. Poor tackling is never acceptable, and most especially not in the red zone.
10. This is purely speculation, but we took notice of a brace around the right knee of tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who made his Patriots debut on Sunday after being activated from injured reserve. Shiancoe was signed during training camp, but lasted only a handful of practices before suffering an unknown injury. Because he was activated on Saturday, the team has not had to list Shiancoe's level of participation in practice on the injury report, nor have they had to disclose what part of his body has been affecting him. It's entirely possible that Shiancoe's injury was something other than the knee issue, but he does not have a history of a major knee issue in the past.