The New England Patriots pulled off a surprise 23-17 victory over Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night. The win was most certainly uncharacteristic of the Patriots' team play so far, and there are plenty positives to draw from this one.
Let's dive right into it, as I am happy to report that this week, this report card is void of any poor grades.
The last Cam Newton turnover occurred in Buffalo. The fumble that needs no introduction, of course. However, fast-forward since that point, New England has a 2-0 record and Newton has zero turnovers. Coincidence? I think not, as the new approach for Newton appears to be protecting the football, letting the offensive line clear paths for him and the running game, and focusing more on throwing the football with sound mechanics.
With a smaller workload, Newton was able to calm down and make sharper, safer decisions, coupled with more accurate throws. He even threw for a touchdown, which he hadn't done since Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Overall, if he can keep this up, maybe, just maybe the Patriots can sneak their way back into the playoff hunt.
Running Back: A
It was real sweet watching Damien Harris run with the ball Sunday night. All the training camp buzz about Harris being the No. 1 back in this New England backfield showed itself against Baltimore. While Harris has been showing strong numbers throughout the season, this was his true breakout game.
Earlier in the season, Harris showed he could play in the league and deserved a spot in the Patriots' backfield committee. In Week 10, he showed that he is the unquestioned starting back moving forward, even with the pending return of Sony Michel.
Harris rushed for 121 yards on 22 rushes. He picked up 5.5 yards per carry on those 22 rushes, which was right on par with his season average of 5.5 yards per carry. Except, that 5.5 yards per carry is even more impressive than previous games as his highest number of rushes heading into this game was only 17. He has now matched his season average on a night in which he had his highest workload since 2018 when he played Louisiana State with the Alabama Crimson Tide. He would average 5.6 yards per carry on 19 rushes in that contest.
On top of a strong performance by Harris, Rex Burkhead also offered his hand in both the rushing and passing game. He caught two touchdowns on four catches (one of those being a pass from Jakobi Meyers), along with 31 yards on the ground off of six rushes (averaging 5.2 yards per carry). Despite Harris being the main back going forward, Burkhead likely still retains the title of the Patriots' best all-around back.
Wide Receiver: B
This grade is a little hard to discern as Jakobi Meyers was the only receiver targeted on the night. However, that still doesn't take away from contributions in the ground game as well.
Both Meyers and N'Keal Harry helped in the blocking game. Harry's physical presence made a impact on the outside running game for sure. While he was not targeted in the game last night, it was good to see Harry back helping in the run game. Strong blocking from receivers is a trait that New England covets.
The real story of the night, however, is Meyers' contributions through the air.
While being the only one targeted made Meyers the Patriots best receiver last night by default, his night is news-worthy as he continues to progress. He caught five balls on seven targets for 59 yards. He continues to improve, along with garner an outrageously large snap count.
Expect Meyers to be the number one guy moving forward, regardless of Harry's contributions, Damiere Byrd's contributions, or even Julian Edelman's.
Meyers is Newton's No. 1 option in the passing game.
Tight End: C+
Little involvement really impacts this grade here. Obviously when talking about the lack of involvement from the tight end position, that just means lack of involvement for Ryan Izzo these days. Izzo played almost every snap, yet, he only had one target all night.
Izzo would haul in his only target of the night on a 20-yard reception for a first down. It would set up a Newton passing touchdown. Still, just like I wouldn't give a Celtics player an A for hitting one three-pointer, I won't give Izzo a high-grade for making one catch. Blame Josh McDaniels, tight end coach Nick Caley, and the weather for Izzo's grade. Just not enough to constitute anything more.
Offensive Line: A+
Week 10 seemed like the first game since Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins in which the offense centered itself around the strong offensive line play they have. It was clear what the intent was. In tough conditions, pounding the rock on the ground was the strategy and it worked like a charm.
Harris had runs where he was untouched almost 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage. He was able to get into the second and third levels of the Baltimore defense without a defender getting hands on him. The run game was spectacular whether it was Harris or Burkhead, and they owe a good chunk of their success to their offensive line.
No more can be asked of this unit. Isaiah Wynn especially, as he cleaned up against the Ravens' defensive unit. Michael Owenwu allowed an ugly sack early, only to go on to not allow another pressure throughout the game. The youngsters looked great. The veterans on the interior (Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason) all played great too. Fantastic showing from these guys.
Defensive Line: B+
Much, much better job from this group. So much so that I took a sigh of relief typing that last sentence.
While far from perfect, the run defense was miles better than we have seen. When it came to tasks like setting the edge, something New England has struggled with all season, they were fantastic.
There is still room for improvement, of course. The hope is that improvement will also come in the form of health, as Lawerence Guy and Deatrich Wise both played with injuries. Another player, John Simon, who saw time on the line and at linebacker Sunday night, also played injured. The hope is that the starters can build on this win and heal up as the season continues to push towards Thanksgiving and into December.
Who knew that this game would turn into the Kyle Dugger show on defense?
We all knew that the faster, more versatile players like Dugger, Chase Winovich, Adrian Phillips and Josh Uche would have success against this option-style, outside run-style offense. However, we did not know that Dugger would end the game with 12 tackles and (much like Harris) make a case to be a starter moving forward. Dugger was everywhere in this contest. A big help in putting a stop to one of the most prolific rushing attacks in NFL history.
While Dugger and Phillips really are secondary players, they spent a lot of time at linebacker last night. Along those same lines, Winovich was never thought of as an inside, off-the-ball linebacker, however, he spent a lot of time at that spot against the Ravens. Winovich playing inside linebacker wasn't just to combat Lamar Jackson and Baltimore's offense, but to also compensate for the lack of true linebacker depth the Patriots have.
Only a coach like Bill Belichick could take down the Ravens' rushing attack after losing pretty much the entirety of his linebacker core between injuries and the offseason. Winovich, Dugger, and Uche all had great performances (Winovich and Dugger especially). Phillips and John Simon had some good plays as well.
Overall, a strong performance from an unorthodox group.
The secondary was without Stephon Gilmore for the third straight week, except Week 11 was a lot more encouraging for the group than their last performance against the New York Jets.
While J.C Jackson struggled in his first action at CB1 last week, this Baltimore game held a different fate.
It was both Jackson and Jason McCourty who tag-teamed in making sure Marquise Brown had a bad night. When everything was all set and done, Brown did a whole lot of running in the rain for nothing. McCourty blanketed him in man. Jackson got his fifth straight interception (franchise record) while covering Brown to close out the half. Overall, the number one target had 14 yards on two catches.
With Gilmore coming back soon, this unit should be solid moving forward, as expected.
Special teams: B-
Nick Folk missed an extra point Sunday night. Besides that, he made two other extra points and drove in a chip-shot 20-yard field goal. The miss was the only blemish in what was a fine special teams display, given the conditions. Jake Bailey and Gunner Olszewski also held up fine in what was a pretty routine performance in the end.
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