Pats' 3rd-quarter review: Pulling guards

Picked-up pieces from third-quarter review of the New England Patriots' 43-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals:

1. On the third-and-16 run by Shane Vereen (7:28), the Patriots were in their 3-WR grouping and the Bengals countered in their nickel. The Bengals showed a double-A-gap blitz before backing both linebackers out. Some bad rush lanes and forceful re-positioning of defenders by the Patriots' offensive line got the running play started out of the shotgun as it helped Vereen get to the second level. Then it was blocks by pulling left guard Dan Connolly and right guard Ryan Wendell that picked off the linebackers. Vereen wasn't touched, as it was terrific execution coupled with uninspiring defense -- a good example of having athletic guards whose ability on the second level can help spring big runs. Obviously it takes more than those two blocks, but the guard play stood out on that one. That's been a trouble spot for the Patriots up to this point.

2. What else is new? The quarter opened with a solo tackle by special teams captain Matthew Slater on Brandon Tate's 24-yard kickoff return. Slater had three special teams tackles in the game, and was coming off a two-tackle performance against the Chiefs and three the week before that against the Raiders. Eight tackles in three weeks? That's a full season's worth for many players. Slater is a gem, one of the best in the business.

3. Running back Brandon Bolden was another player who stood out on special teams, not only for his forced fumble (6:11), but also for a physical collision on kickoff coverage from the first quarter as the Patriots set an early physical tone.

4. During the game, the first thought was that Ryan Allen's 46-yard punt (11:48) wasn't a very good one, setting up Adam Jones for a 47-yard return. It wasn't his best effort, but the coverage players also didn't effectively stay in their lanes. It looked like linebackers Deontae Skinner and Chris White got bunched together and had bad spacing, helping Jones get through the first layer of pursuit.

5. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took some heat over the last week, but he was on his game Sunday night. The 25-yard Tom Brady-to-Tim Wright connection in the third quarter was a beautiful play design, a fake throw to Julian Edelman out of the backfield in the left flat with Brady selling it perfectly (linebacker Emmanuel Lamur and safety George Iloka bit hard to create the opening down the field), before Brady lofted an on-target delivery to Wright up the left seam. What we liked most about McDaniels' approach: It wasn't overly complicated, it gave players a chance to establish their physical presence with a balanced approach, and it wasn't 100 percent driven on matchups; the Patriots mostly decided to do what they could do well and left it up to the defense to stop it.

6. There was something about receiver Danny Amendola that was a little bit different in this game. While he only played 20 snaps as part of the three-receiver set, he had some notable impact. Vereen's 14-yard run (9:01) was one example, as the play doesn't happen if Amendola isn't delivering a very good block on linebacker Vincent Rey.

7. Tight end Rob Gronkowski might be rounding into form as a pass-catcher, but his blocking remains a work in progress. He was easily beaten by Wallace Gilberry on Stevan Ridley's 1-yard run (11:23) as he was a shade slow at the snap; this coming after he was beaten for a sack in a first-quarter pass-blocking assignment against Robert Geathers.

8. From-the-plays-you-don't-see-often department: Center Bryan Stork's false start penalty (12:48) was a result of a body-twitch despite the fact he had his hands on the football as the trigger-man. Was curious about that one during the game, figuring Stork might have double-clutched the snap, but that wasn't the case.