Patriots fourth-quarter review: Packers targeted Logan Ryan early and late

Picked-up pieces from fourth-quarter review of the Patriots’ 26-21 loss to the Packers:

1. It was unclear if cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was injured or pulled because of ineffective coverage (17-yard completion to Davante Adams, 12:17), but that play turned out to be Dennard’s last defensive snap of the game. That meant things came full circle with Logan Ryan returning to the game, and assigned to cover Adams, who had given him trouble early in the game. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers went right at Ryan, who was in coverage when Adams dropped a would-be touchdown (8:49) on third-and-goal from the 5. Then, on the 7-yard catch by Randall Cobb that effectively ended the game (2:28), it was Ryan again in coverage as the Patriots switched matchups on the key play -- putting Darrelle Revis on Jordy Nelson, Brandon Browner on Adams, Ryan on Cobb and safety Devin McCourty on receiver Jarrett Boykin. Ryan was right there, but Rodgers fit the ball into the tight window. Rodgers was sensational.

2. A good example of the trust that has developed over time between quarterback Tom Brady and Julian Edelman showed up on the fourth-and-3 conversion (6:39), with Brady delivering the ball before Edelman was fully out of his break. That doesn’t just happen overnight. Edelman came open as fellow receiver Brandon LaFell helped clear things out initially with his straight-line route, after Edelman had motioned behind him before the snap.

3. Edelman was clearly battling through pain in what appeared to be his left thigh. After that fourth-and-3 catch, he only played two of the final seven offensive snaps. This will be something to monitor in the days to come.

4. Didn’t realize live at the game how close tight end Rob Gronkowski was to making a touchdown catch on the play he aligned wide to the left side and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was in coverage (3:31). That was one of those plays where TV replays show it much more clearly and Gronkowski made a terrific effort to try to bring the ball in, and if Clinton-Dix doesn’t knock it away at the last moment, that could have been ruled a highlight-reel touchdown (it was hard to tell if the ball had touched the ground prior).

5. On the Tom Brady sack that followed that play, forcing a fourth-and-18 situation that led to a field-goal attempt, it simply looked to be a case where left tackle Nate Solder lost his 1-on-1 matchup against Mike Neal to the outside. That created the initial disruption, and left guard Dan Connolly didn’t hold his block against Mike Daniels, who helped clean up the sack.

6. No second-guessing here about not going for it on fourth-and-18. With the factors in play -- two timeouts, two-minute warning, chance to make it a two-point game -- kicking was the right call from this viewpoint.

7. A lot of focus was placed on the Patriots’ struggles on third down defensively, and they tried everything, including a two-man rush. That came on third-and-6 with 13:02 remaining, with the dime package on the field. Ends Rob Ninkovich and Akeem Ayers were the only rushers, as lineman Dominique Easley and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower dropped into coverage. Three Packers players were looking for someone to block, as the Patriots seemed committed to not let Aaron Rodgers run. What resulted, however, was a rather easy 9-yard completion to tight end Andrew Quarless coming across the field, with safety Patrick Chung in coverage.

8. The other play, which stood out as it unfolded live, was the second-and-5 in which Rodgers had more than 10 seconds to survey his options before firing the ball out of bounds (9:03). That play highlighted the Patriots’ plan of having a “calculated rush” that seemed to hold up at times because of its focus of keeping Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. It also showed how defensive backs had tight man coverage with cornerback Darrelle Revis later explaining the technique of “plastering” receivers in those situations. Jets coach Rex Ryan had an explanation on plastering earlier this year as well (via New York Daily News).

9. The only issue that was notable with emergency snapper Rob Ninkovich was on the extra point following Brandon LaFell’s 15-yard touchdown reception (13:55). The snap came in a little low and was nicely handled by holder Ryan Allen. But otherwise, Ninkovich was solid with four snaps on punts and his other deliveries on extra points and the one field-goal miss from 47.

10. LeGarrette Blount’s 13-yard run on third-and-1 to open the quarter was a good example of how Bill Belichick stresses the importance of running backs lowering their pads. The Packers had initial penetration and were in position to potentially stop Blount behind the line of scrimmage as the handoff came to the strong side of the elongated line (3 tight ends to the left of tackle Nate Solder). But Blount lowered his pads, spun, and earned all of those 13 yards as a few Packers bounced off him. Blount followed up with another 13-yard run out of the two-TE package with Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui. That’s the power football we expected to see a little more of entering the game.

11. While cornerback Kyle Arrington didn’t play defense after walking off slowly following an attempt to block a field goal in the third quarter, he remained on special teams coverage units (credited with tackle, 13:55).