It’s OK to call this the bounce back game.
There’s so many players on the Patriots roster that bettered their efforts Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. The 30-7 win was sparked almost entirely by the defense, which accounted for four interceptions against former Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel, as well as a blocked field goal.
Here’s our takeaways from Sunday’s win, the Patriots’ first of the year, with the defense almost entirely in mind.
1. Chandler Jones much better on the edge — We’ll remember, probably fondly, Chandler Jones’ blocked field goal, which he scooped up and returned for a touchdown. It’ll make the rounds on the highlights. But of greater significance for the Patriots this season will be his play as a 3-4 linebacker. In Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots opted to use him as 3-4 defensive end, something that did not go over well, despite a couple of quarterback hurries. (Two penalties for roughing the passer and $16,000 fine later, it’s really something he even wants to forget.) But on Sunday, as the outside linebacker, Jones showed Matt Patricia exactly how he should be used on regular basis. Not only was Jones able to get to the quarterback, recording two sacks and three hits while tying the team lead in tackles. As that bigger outside linebacker, he was able to brush off tackles, tight ends, and fullbacks to insert himself into running plays, something he couldn’t do as an interior player. That kind of promising effort is only enabled by the healthy return of Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga. Siliga, in his second game, was a regular alongside Vince Wilfork in the 3-4 for the first time and Chris Jones returned for his first action since hurting his ankle in the preseason. It’s safe to say that with this healthy quartet, this is the lineup of players you can expect going forward, much like you can expect Chandler Jones to dominate the edge for the rest of the season.
2. Swapping wide receivers … what’s the difference? — It was nice to see Aaron Dobson make his season debut for the Patriots but it came at the expense of Kenbrell Thompkins who, like Dobson in Week 1, was a healthy scratch. Dobson caught one pass for 13 yards on two targets. In Week 1, Thompkins caught five passes for 37 yards on 10 targets. You can be the judge for yourself on who was better. But my eyes are on Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola, both of whom didn’t record a reception and were targeted collectively once. Something’s gotta give.
3. No Adrian Peterson to worry about — With Adrian Peterson inactive for Sunday’s game after being indicted on child abuse charges in Texas, the Patriots were off the hook from defending one of the game’s elite running backs. Matt Asiata was the Vikings’ leading rusher with 36 yards on 13 carries. The Vikings compiled 54 yards on the ground in total. It was an unsurprisingly stout defensive effort. There’s no reason the Patriots should feel overly confident about the effort.
4. Logan Ryan should be the Patriots’ top second cornerback — Take away Logan Ryan’s third quarter interception of Matt Cassel and the second-year cornerback still had a fantastic outing against the Vikings. He was in Cordarelle Patterson’s pocket, helping to hold the dynamic receiver to 56 yards receiving on four catches. Ryan had two passes defensed and three tackles, allowing two receptions for 24 yards in the game. He also had two penalties. But his pass coverage was so good, it’s worth giving him a pass after making life difficult for Cassel outside the hash marks. That’s something that Alfonzo Dennard, who was a healthy scratch, could not do against Miami.
5. Dont’a Hightower or Rob Ninkovich? Considering that Rob Ninkovich has been a steady presence for the Patriots defense over the past five seasons, and Dont’a Hightower is still finding his way in the NFL, who would you consider to be a better player to set up on the outside in a 3-4 defense? Without a doubt right now, it should be Hightower. The Patriots linebacker showed that he is better suited for the new defensive scheme and, along with Chandler Jones, can cause havoc for quarterbacks when asked to rush the passer. He finished with eight tackles, two sacks, and a pass defensed. Ninkovich, working partly in the same role, had three tackles and a sack. If the Patriots were to return to a 4-3, I can see Ninkovich’s value rising. But with the propensity to use the 3-4, there should be no reason the team holds back Hightower for the sake of Ninkovich.