Second Read: Patriots find a running game, more Week 4 observations
“Second Read” rewinds the tape after each NFL weekend to determine why the games played out the way that they did … and what it all may mean for the rest of the season.
Believe it or not, the New England Patriots rushed for 247 yards in Sunday’s win over Buffalo. The last time the Patriots had that much production on the ground? A 277-yard showing against Oakland in Week 15 of the 2008 season.
With Steven Ridley hammering the ball between the tackles and quick-footed Brandon Bolden able to turn the corner, the Patriots have a solid 1-2 punch (plus veteran Danny Woodhead, ready to pick up the slack).
More than that, though, they have the personnel up front to run block and, to some extent, that all starts with the tight ends. For as good as Rob Gronkowski is as a pass catcher, he might be one of the most underrated run-blocking tight ends in the league. The addition of Daniel Fells this year has paid off, too — he was in for 45 snaps Sunday, and the Patriots ran on 30 of them.
If the Patriots legitimately commit to the run going forward, it will only serve to make Tom Brady that much more dangerous. The fact that he locked in over the final two quarters, after more than a half of New England grinding out yards on the ground, is no coincidence.
More Week 4 observations:
1. J’Marcus Webb played about as well as he can play: Look, Webb is never going to be Walter Jones. But the Bears have to be thrilled with how he held up against DeMarcus Ware on Monday night. Chicago gave Webb some help at times, but mostly he used Ware’s aggressiveness against him, driving him upfield and allowing Jay Cutler time to step up. Ware’s lone sack was Cutler’s fault, too — Ware had to run completely around the pocket, covering about eight yards, to get to Cutler on the other side of the line.
2. Bill Bentley had no shot against Jerome Simpson: Some of Detroit’s issues in the secondary can be tied to the defensive line — the Lions remain unable to generate much of a pass rush, so a lot more pressure is being transferred to their back seven. But the Vikings targeted Simpson five times Sunday with Bentley in coverage, resulting in three catches for 44 yards and and two pass interference flags totaling 57 yards. Bentley’s biggest problem? Not turning back for the ball. He was in position on at least three of the plays.
3. Less is more for Willis McGahee: The Broncos had to give up on the run pretty early in a Week 3 loss to Houston, so the 28 snaps McGahee saw in that game is a little misleading. The 36 he was on the field for Sunday is more illustrative of Denver’s goal: Use McGahee on about 50 percent of plays, then take advantage of Lance Ball and Ronnie Hillman. McGahee played 46 percent of his team’s snaps Sunday and put up 135 total yards. The Broncos have the ability to keep him fresh, so they should take advantage.
4. The 49ers abused the Jets up front: This will come as no surprise to anyone who watched San Francisco’s blowout victory (or even checked the box score), but the 49ers were totally dominant along both lines. They were particularly strong up the middle on offense, thanks to guards Alex Boone and Mike Iupati. When those two can get to the second level, defenses are in big trouble.
5. Is the Saints’ offense ruining Mark Ingram?: Ingram played just 13 snaps on Sunday, producing a totally ineffective 11 yards rushing on five carries (he also had one catch for negative-1 yard). He seemed hesitant when he had the football, but is the Saints’ play-calling to blame? New Orleans ran 42 offensive plays on second, third or fourth down Sunday in Green Bay — only four were runs, and just one by Ingram. That’s way too predictable, and it helps explain why Ingram seems totally misused so far this season.
6. Arizona tried everything against Brian Hartline: Hartline’s 12-catch, 253-yard performance was arguably the most surprising stat line of Week 4. Even more incredibly, he burned just about every defensive back Arizona had. Greg Toler and Patrick Peterson each gave up multiple catches to Hartline — including one big one against Peterson — but it was Kerry Rhodes who was burned on Hartline’s 80-yarder and William Gay the victim on his 57-yard catch.
7. William Hayes might be earning more time in St. Louis: Hayes has been on the field for a mere 71 snaps this season, 28 coming Sunday vs. Seattle. But he was an absolute menace against the Seahawks in Week 4, coming up with four tackles and three QBs hurries off the edge. He’s not a one-trick pony, either — Hayes held up well against the run, as well as pushing upfield in passing downs.
8. Antonio Gates took Eric Berry to school: If you need a reminder about how good Gates can be, you got it Sunday. Gates had three catches for 59 yards, with all of those numbers coming against Berry, the Chiefs’ standout safety. Berry may have been concerned with Gates getting deep on him, but by cheating long, he left Gates in position for big catches over the middle. The Chargers took advantage.
9. Jabaal Sheard is on the verge of breaking out: Sheard had 8.5 sacks during an impressive rookie season, but he had yet to record one heading into Thursday’s game in Baltimore. He played a sensational game there, though, finally picking up his first sack and consistently using his speed to disrupt the Ravens’ plans. If Billy Winn continues to provide the type of push up the middle that he did in Week 4, Sheard’s ability to fly off the edge will become more prevalent again.
10. Cam Newton still could use another weapon: Greg Olsen is as reliable as they come at tight end — he had six grabs for 89 yards and a TD Sunday. But when Steve Smith is struggling to get open, as he did against the Falcons, Newton still finds himself in need of another option. He threw just two passes to Brandon LaFell, and both resulted in incompletions.
11. The Titans’ shotgun failed them: Chris Johnson ran the football well Sunday, so Tennessee’s insistence on utilizing the shotgun early was a bit odd. It was even more unusual given how poorly that formation fared. Jake Locker was 0 for 3 in the shotgun — two incompletions and one devastating sack that might drive him from action for a few weeks. Matt Hasselbeck fared better, completing three balls out of that formation, but he also took a sack, misfired on multiple passes, and the Titans were flagged for offensive pass interference. It may not be a coincidence that Tennessee scored just seven points in the first two quarters.
12. Rob Ninkovich keeps getting it done for New England: Technically, Ninkovich is a defensive end now for the Patriots. He still plays like a linebacker. He helped drive New England’s resurgence Sunday, putting up an extremely active performance over the final three quarters. He’s a tough assignment for tackles, especially in the run game — his speed and athleticism make him a natural fit as a 4-3 end, but his nose for the football sets him apart.
13. Philadelphia ought to feel good about Brandon Hughes: Hughes had to step up after Nnamdi Asomugha suffered an eye injury Sunday night, and there was not much drop-off, if any, for the Eagles. Hughes held his own, including breaking up a pass for Domenik Hixon in the end zone, allowing the Eagles to keep it together with Asomugha out. Hughes and Brandon Boykin give Philadelphia some intriguing, talented depth at CB.
14. It’s not all RGIII: Robert Griffin III turned in another sparkling performance Sunday, capped by a game-winning drive late. He’s putting his receivers in position to succeed — but they’re doing a lot of the work. Of Washington’s 323 passing yards Sunday, 211 came after the catch, with Darrell Young and Fred Davis each turning in lengthy catch-and-runs in the first quarter to set the tone for the day.
15. Is Vontaze Burfict finally realizing his potential?: The Bengals took a shot on Burfict, despite a bunch of red flags coming out of college, and that gamble might be paying off already. Geno Atkins was the straw that stirred the Bengals’ defensive drink Sunday, disrupting everything Jacksonville tried to do up front and sending Eben Britton to the bench. Burfict, though, aggressively filled the gaps — and the Bengals put his athleticism on display by dropping him into coverage multiple times against WR Justin Blackmon. Burfict even won one of those LB-vs.-WR battles, batting a ball down and nearly coming up with a pick.