I think we just keep working hard and keep putting every day – every minute, every hour is important. I think we stress meetings and walk-throughs and then ultimately go out on the practice field and try to execute at a high level. No, it’s a lot of effort and there’s no backing off. - Tom Brady

Three Up, Three Down: Jets at Patriots, Week 17

4The New England Patriots will be the AFC’s number one seed after a decisive 26-6 victory over the New York Jets. Momentum continues to build for this 13-3 New England squad as the playoffs are set to get into full swing. For the final time of the regular season, let’s take a look at three aspects that the Pats did well, and three that will need to be fixed up for the playoffs.

Three Up

Dion Lewis

Seems like every week D-lew is making his way on his list, and this week is for good reason. Lewis was effectively the offense during this game, and he proved his ability to be a workhorse which may be required of him with the injuries at the position. 

Dion carried the ball 26 times which breaks his career high from last week (24 carries). He did not have as much success as last week running the ball, but still found open space on a number of occasions as he racked up 93 yards for a 3.6 yards per carry average, and had a touchdown on the ground. What set him apart this week was his ability to get it done in the passing attack. He hauled in the highest number of catches (6) for 40 yards and an additional touchdown.

When the Patriots began the season there was a lot of speculation on if Dion Lewis would be traded due to the absolute breadth of talent at the running back position for the Patriots. All of those opinions have turned out to have been completely false as Dion is running away with the job, and his success will dictate the Patriots success in January.

James Harrison

Harrison proved to be a valuable asset for the Patriots in his team debut. His performance proved to be fairly exciting as the Pats may have acquired a player capable of bringing a steady pass rush to the front seven.

Harrison accounted for two sacks and a forced fumble in the contest, both coming on back-to-back plays late in the game. He also racked up 3 tackles. The surprising aspect of this was that Harrison dropped back into coverage multiple times. It was of the opinion of many, myself included, that the 38 year old linebacker would be utilized exclusively as an edge rusher on obvious passing downs, but Belichick and company apparently saw his talent in zone coverage and allowed him a few coverage snaps. One of these coverage snaps allowed Harrison to gain an angle on Jets receiver Robby Anderson and come up to make a stop on third down.

The ex-Steeler’s ability to quickly adapt to the Patriots defensive scheme is something to be lauded. While Harrison wasn’t fully utilized in the Patriots defensive formations, he was out on the field for 46% of the defensive snaps. Something tells me that this situation is far more appealing to Harrison than the cold shoulders he was given in Pittsburgh.

Lawrence Guy

The Jets absolutely needed a powerful run game in order to give themselves any chance at defeating the Patriots, and they simply were not able to gain any footing in that phase of the game. Powell carried the ball 13 times for 46 yards (24 of those yards coming on one play), and McGuire had a nightmare of a game with his limited snaps (4 carries, -6 yards). 

A large reason for the Jets inability to get things going in the run game was Lawrence Guy. The Patriots defensive tackle was simply everywhere registering tackles all over the line. Whether Powell was heading for the left tackle gap, the right tackle gap, or bouncing off the edge, Guy was there to register yet another run stuff.

If Guy can keep up this level of production, the Patriots will be a very difficult opponent to beat in the playoffs, but it’s going to get significantly more difficult as they run into teams with more balanced offenses. It’s easy to shut down running attacks when you simply do not respect the pass (and Petty looked downright abysmal during the contest), but it’s still a promising game for a run defense unit that has been prone to struggling in these later games of the season.

Three Down

Tom Brady

The Greatest Quarterback of All Time certainly did not look that way on Sunday against a typically weak Jets defense. The concerns over Brady’s ankle injury seem to be flaring up again after this weak performance, and the theory does have some merit to it, as Brady missed practice earlier in the week and was added to the injury report.

Brady had just 190 yards through the air, but the Patriots seemed content on allowing Dion Lewis to dictate the pace of the game. However, Brady just did not seem to click on many of the throws he typically hits. Often times, a receiver would be open, but the ball would end up skipping a half yard short. He registered his second lowest completion percentage of the season (49%, above his week 1 performance against the Chiefs at 44%), and also had his fourth worst game this season by the metric of quarterback rating.

Of all the Brady performances that have been concerning this season, it is of personal opinion that this outing is the least troubling. Brady will have two weeks to rest his ankle, and the Patriots will likely be getting key members in the passing attack by the time the first playoff game rolls around. Expect a far more consistent Brady come January 13th.

Pass Protection

For exactly one week, I was able to sing the praises of this unit, but then they had to go and let us down again. 

The Jets are a terrible pass rushing team, and they still got to Brady on multiple occasions and sacked him twice. Some of this is not entirely the offensive line’s fault, as the Pats were missing their typical slot and outlet receivers, and plays were taking longer to develop as a result. Regardless, if the Patriots are unable to take care of their 40 year old quarterback against a weak front seven, it raises legitimate concerns if the Patriots were to run into one of the many playoff teams with a great pass rushing unit.

The run blocking from this unit, however, was outstanding and very encouraging to see as the calendar turns to January.

Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski is typically among the most consistent options in Brady’s air attack, and that simply was not the case in the week 17 match up. Well, I suppose it can be stated that Gronkowski actually was quite consistent. 

Gronk was targeted zero times, for zero catches, and zero yards. This may have been just due to preservation attempts, and Gronk was given a more limited duty in the game as a way to keep from becoming rusty, but not completely put himself in the way of injury. It’s still shocking to see a complete non-impact from one of the biggest (figuratively and literally) impact players in the NFL, and one hopes that it’s a symptom of the scenario rather than a symptom of something more serious.

However, this could all be for a far more nefarious reason. Gronkowski ends his 2017 campaign with 69 receptions. You simply cannot make this up. With the way the stats have circulated around that number all season long, it is of personal opinion that Gronk is actually a mad genius who only truly cares about making outlandishly sophomoric jokes via his production in football games. Just be certain to not tell Belichick about the rationale, Gronk.

That will conclude the final Three Up, Three Down for the regular season, but I intend on continuing it throughout the playoffs. Due to there not being a game on Sunday, I’m planning on writing up something a bit different on Friday-Saturday. Hopefully you all enjoy it.

A word to the new followers, thank you very much for expressing interest in this blog. I started this weeks ago with really no expectations of anyone reading it on any kind of consistent level, and the result so far has far surpassed those expectations quite thoroughly. 

I hope I can continue to provide insight and entertainment on this football team that has become such a huge part of my life, and, as always, 

Go Pats.