Picked-up pieces from first-quarter review of the Patriots’ 26-21 loss to the Packers:
1. Offensively, the Patriots opened with four different groupings on the first four plays, which seemed aimed at gaining initial intelligence on how the Packers would match each package. This was a contrast to last week, against the Lions, when they stayed in their two-TE package with Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright and upped the tempo. A quick snap on third-and-2, with running back LeGarrette Blount stopped and the Patriots also penalized for an illegal shift, backfired as the Packers were set and ready for it. Watching a play like that makes one wonder if it might be time for the coaching staff to reconsider the usage of the quick snap, which also came up against Chicago on Oct. 26.
2. On the preceding play, a second-and-4 run up the middle by Shane Vereen (2 yards gained), some might ask the question why the Patriots are running the 205-pound Vereen between the tackles. Our educated guess is that it was an on-field check by Tom Brady to test Green Bay’s nickel defense against the tightly compact two-TE package, but the Patriots didn’t get a “hat on a hat” in their blocking assignments and left linebacker Sam Barrington unchecked. Gronkowski, lined up tight to the right side, looked like he was running a different play because he initially dropped into a pass set while everyone else was firing off the ball.
3. Early struggles on run defense, with Eddie Lacy’s first two carries going for 13 and 24 yards, came against the lighter six-man box in the nickel package. That was, from this view, a result of linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins either not getting off blocks or running themselves out of their gap responsibility. They quickly settled down and the run defense was better for much of the rest of the game.
4. The Patriots used what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called a “calculated rush," as they almost seemed to be holding up at times with a focus on keeping Rodgers in the pocket. One of the few times they were able to get to Rodgers, on third-and-8 at 11:23, it was a strong penetrating interior push by defensive tackle Chris Jones that sped things up a bit for Rodgers on an incomplete pass in the right-hand corner of the end zone on a nice route by Davante Adams, who had shaken free of cornerback Logan Ryan.
5. Why the “calculated” rush? Bill Belichick could point to a 33-yard connection to Adams at 8:15 as one reason he favored that approach with mostly three- and four-man rush calls (sometimes disguising who was coming by dropping some defenders out). On the 33-yard connection, defensive end Akeem Ayers took his rush too far up field, Rodgers broke the pocket to that side, extended the play, and found the out-breaking Adams for the big gain. That's exactly what they were focusing on avoiding.
6. Brandon Browner’s illegal-use-of-hands penalty for grazing the facemask of receiver Jordy Nelson was a tough one (9:09). Technically, it’s a foul. But if he had a No. 24 on his jersey, I wonder if that gets called.
7. I didn't think it was a good game for Ed Hochuli’s crew. It’s not why the Patriots lost, but with two top-notch teams on the field, the third “team” was a bit off its game from this viewpoint. What were they counting when they incorrectly initially penalized the Patriots for 12 men on defense? Doesn’t give one much confidence they are seeing the game well.
8. One area to specifically credit the Packers, who played well across the board: They didn’t give the Patriots much after the catch. Julian Edelman’s 4-yard catch over the middle on third-and-5 at 2:39 -- with cornerback Tramon Williams with the sound tackle -- sparked that thought. This was one area where the Patriots’ defense wasn’t as effective.
8. The Patriots pulled cornerback Logan Ryan after he was beaten on a double move by Adams for a 45-yard connection up the left side (0:39).Ryan played only four snaps on defense the rest of the game.
10. This was the first game this season where kickoffs were affected by the cold weather. Stephen Gostkowski’s opening kickoff, a bouncing ball to the 9-yard line, was about 15 yards shorter than the norm. His other kickoffs in the game went to the 4, then 1 yard deep into the end zone, and 2 yards deep into the end zone. Green Bay’s Mason Crosby had similar results.