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Patriots' 1st-quarter review: Dominique Easley's impact

Picked-up pieces from first-quarter review of the New England Patriots' 51-23 win against the Bears:

1. Rookie Dominique Easley drew a critical holding penalty (12:42) that stunted the initial momentum the Bears had on the opening drive. He aligned in a two-point stance in a wide split to the outside shoulder of tight end Martellus Bennett, and took an initial step to the inside that initially opened up the edge for running back Matt Forte. But Easley showed good play recognition and the ability to shed Bennett’s block attempt to re-establish his outside position. That led Bennett to hold him, which looking back, was a big play in the game. Easley had talked about having patience on the edge compared to playing inside, and that was a good example as he filled in for the injured Chandler Jones. He was competitive on the edge again at 7:59 on a 4-yard Forte run.

2. Easley perfectly executed against a designed screen pass on third-and-19 on the opening drive, sacrificing his initial rush against left tackle Jermon Bushrod (6-foot-5, 320) to chip Forte. That effectively blew up the play. So we often talk about defensive linemen and their impact on the game through the lens of sacks and pressure, but Easley’s edge-setting and play recognition on drawing the hold, and then stopping the screen, were just as high-impact plays.

3. The play didn’t have the desired result, but after linebacker Jamie Collins rightfully took some heat for his struggles playing downhill in the running against the Chiefs on Sept. 29, his physicality showed up on the third play of the game (2-yard run, Forte, 14:00), when he exploded into the hole on third-and-1 and met Forte head-on. That’s the type of decisive, explosive play we’ve been looking for from Collins, who followed up with another nice play in tackling Forte on a 1-yard gain (13:17). Collins was solid against the run in this quarter in maybe his best 15-minute stretch of the season.

4. Notable missed tackle by rookie linebacker Deontae Skinner on the second play of the game (14:29) as he played downhill, which in a sense highlights the drop-off at linebacker after Collins and Dont'a Hightower.

5. With cornerback Brandon Browner covering tight end Martellus Bennett -- breaking up a pass on third-and-6 at 7:17 -- is that a preview of a Browner vs. Julius Thomas matchup against the Broncos? Tedy Bruschi thinks it could be.

6. Any discussion regarding receiver Brandon LaFell should include his knack for picking up yards after the catch. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he’s a tough tackle, as we’ve seen consistently this season. On his 19-yard reception on the Patriots’ first drive, nine yards came after the initial catch as 5-foot-8, 185-pound Tim Jennings was taken for a ride. LaFell’s size to box out Jennings on the in-breaking route was also notable. Play-action passing, with LaFell the first read in the quick-rhythm passing game, seemed to be a big part of the plan.

7. Credit right tackle Sebastian Vollmer for a solid pull and block, left tackle Nate Solder with a powerful kick-out block, and left guard Dan Connolly with two solid blocks to help spring Jonas Gray for his 19-yard run (11:30). For a player Vollmer’s size (6-8, 320) to execute that type of block is impressive. Meanwhile, Connolly doubled inside to knock defensive tackle Stephen Paea down, then quickly moved to the second level to pick off linebacker Christian Jones. Expertly executed and well coached by Dave DeGuglielmo. Those were three blocks that stood out, but they were all really solid across the board.

8. Solder had a powerful block on a pull (4:41) as he flatted linebacker D.J. Williams when Gray rushed for six yards. For some teams, it’s unusual to see tackles pull, but Solder (6-8, 320) and Vollmer are athletic enough to do so.

9. One downer for the Patriots: The hurry-up run-based approach at the goal-line didn’t produce the desired result. Some credit goes to the Bears for that as they played it very well and weren’t caught out of position, which is the intention. The Bears gained penetration up front on all three downs and simply won the physical challenge. A turn of events like that makes one wonder if simply playing it straight-up would have been the way to go, but again, credit should go to Chicago for answering the challenge. Also, in retrospect, I wonder if Bill Belichick would have liked to have called his wind-related timeout (with the ensuing kickoff in mind) a bit earlier than nine seconds remaining. About 23 seconds elapsed before the timeout was called. Maybe something to learn for everyone from that situation.