Picked-up pieces from second-quarter review of the New England Patriots' 26-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers:
1. There is a noticeable difference between rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming in the power tight end role and four-year veteran Marcus Cannon, who filled in for Fleming in Green Bay. Cannon struggled. He whiffed on a block on the final play of the first quarter (3-yard LeGarrette Blount run), allowed a blindside pressure to Clay Matthews (5:54) on an incomplete pass, and then had the false start at the goal-line late in the second quarter (1:56). If Fleming is still out Sunday in San Diego, we wonder if the coaching staff might tap someone else for that role based on Cannon's tough day (8 snaps). On the eight snaps Cannon was in the game as the sixth offensive lineman, the result of the plays were:
1st and 10: 6-yard run
3rd-and-2: Illegal shift penalty
1st and 10: 3-yard run
1st and 10: Incomplete pass
1st and 10: Incomplete pass
1st and 10: 5-yard run
1st and goal: False start
3rd and 10: 13-yard run
2. Some of the Patriots' third-down struggles on defense (Packers were 10-of-17) were simply a result of tackling. On third-and-12 at 7:55, with Randall Cobb catching the ball 6 yards shy of the first-down marker and three defenders in the area (Kyle Arrington, Patrick Chung, Jamie Collins), that should favor the dime defense. But Cobb barreled through and was rewarded for his effort with what might have been a slightly favorable spot to move the chains.
3. While Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is known for his excellence in extending plays, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady showed up well in that area too. The 29-yard connection to tight end Rob Gronkowski (15:00) and 23-yard hookup with tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (14:20) to set up the first touchdown both came with him stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure from the outside. Said CBS analyst Phil Simms on the broadcast: “Tom Brady, we talked about it [Saturday] night, he feels like he's faster and quicker than he's ever been in his career. It's not an overstatement.”
4. The catch by Hoomanawanui rates as one of the underrated plays of the game -- good hands and concentration to get the feet down along the sideline. When he's open as a fallback option, he's shown reliable hands.
5. Three things stood out from the back-to-back runs by Brandon Bolden -- 12 yards and then the 6-yard touchdown run: The Patriots were running out of their 2-TE package with tight ends Gronkowski and Tim Wright as the Packers matched in nickel; right guard Ryan Wendell's strong blocks while pulling were critical; and Bolden's patient, powerful running as his workload (7 snaps, 3 carries) was a bit of a surprise. If teams are going to match that 2-TE grouping with nickel, treating Wright as a receiver, the ability to run on that matchup will play a large factor in dictating if Wright continues to see a rise in playing time (30 of 57 snaps versus Green Bay). The Patriots showed the ability to run against it on those plays.
6. Defensive end/linebacker Akeem Ayers's physical makeup doesn't suggest he'd be the type of player who would be called upon to consistently set a hard edge in the running game (he's more athletic than physical), but he showed a competitive streak in that area, holding his ground against tight end Richard Rodgers to keep Eddie Lacy from gaining the edge on a 3-yard run (12:53). Ayers is giving the Patriots some quality snaps (61-of-71 versus Packers), as he later tackled Lacy for a 2-yard loss after defeating the block of left tackle David Bakhtiari (8:42).
7. A big aspect of the chess match in this quarter had the Packers putting receiver Cobb in the offensive backfield multiple times and targeting him in the passing game (first at 11:22 on a wheel route). In his weekly Patriots chat on ESPNBoston.com, Tedy Bruschi explained in detail about how that stressed the defense. Bruschi's chat also highlighted the unique pressure scheme that produced a Dont'a Hightower's sack (6:36) out of a three-man rush, which gets deeper into the X's and O's of the matchup.
8. When the Patriots subbed out cornerback Logan Ryan for Arrington on the fourth series of the game, it changed the matchups: Darrelle Revis then took Jordy Nelson, Brandon Browner went to Davante Adams and Arrington took Cobb. That was a significant in-game adjustment.
9. Not that Patriots followers need any reminder, but Brady simply lives for the competitive environment we saw Sunday. It was easier to pick up on it on TV than live, but he was fired up, with examples coming when he brought his facemask up to the helmets of teammates Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell, with strong words of encouragement.
10. Nelson might have pushed off on his 45-yard touchdown catch-and-run, but if so, Gronkowski could have been called for the same thing (2:06) on his 11-yard catch-and-run on third-and-3. The non-calls seemed to be right calls from this viewpoint.
11. The Patriots blitzed on Nelson's 45-yard touchdown, with Hightower as a fifth rusher. The rush wasn't there quick enough and safety Devin McCourty made the big mistake, with the poor angle that turned what would have been a 15-yard catch into a 45-yarder.