Coming off a tough loss to the Seahawks at home it took some searching to find a player who was worthy of player of the week. In what was a uninspiring performance by most parts of the team, especially the defense, only a few players shined. One of those players was LeGarrette Blount.
Blount came into the game tied for the league lead in touchdowns, and Sunday added to it. He now holds a 3 touchdown lead over the NFL with 12 so far. That would be nearly double his previous high, and there are still 7 games to play. Despite his touchdown production, the one they needed the most, at the end of the game was not to be. Another reason he is not the player of the week is because he only averaged 3.3 yards a carry and had a few negative runs. In a game where every play was important, his negative plays were drive killers.
While we come down on Blount, we have to realize the blocking was not very good for the Patriots throughout the game. Sometimes there were simply no holes to run through. There were also far worse performances. Julian Edelman’s fumble alone was a key reason the Pats lost. So take nothing away from Blount, he had a great game, just not enough for player of the week.
Martellus Bennett on the other hand had a great game. With Gronk getting evaluated and disappearing for portions of the game, Bennett became Brady’s favorite target. The pair showed strong chemistry on a couple of hard throws. Bennett also displayed his athletic ability, showing his value to the Patriots offense. Below we will take a look at a couple of key plays Bennett made during the game.
4:15 Second Quarter, 2nd and 10
With the Patriots down 7-12 and Gronkowski on the bench being evaluated for what turned out to be a punctured lung Bennett became the go to receiver. The play starts from the Patriots 50 yard line. Tom Brady takes the snap in shotgun with Martellus Bennett lined up out wide. With a smaller corner back in front of him Bennet get a good release and sprinted up the field with his head looking back. With the corner back running up field Bennet sees the pass is thrown and stops. With the ball perfectly thrown Bennet use his height and strength advantage to secure the catch. He his able to break a tackle and tiptoed the sideline for a few more yards
This play highlights Bennett’s route running ability and body control with the ball in the air. To start the play he uses his hand to get a clean release leaving the cornerback trailing. With the cornerback getting back to Bennett at full speed, Bennet stops quickly to be in position for the pass. The route was run more like a receiver was running it, not a big tight end. He puts his body in the perfect position so only he can catch the ball. Many tight ends are not able to haul in the contested catches. Thankfully for the Patriots both Bennett and Gronk possess good hands and body control.
2:52 Third Quarter, 1st and 10
The next play come with the Patriots down one point near the end of the third. The play starts with Brady under center and Blount behind. Brady play actions to Blount to set up the pass. Almost immediately he faces pressure up the middle and steps around it. He then throws a perfect pass to Bennett. With the ball in Bennett’s hands he is able to break the first two tackles and then makes Earl Thomas hesitate with a fake juke in, and continues down the sideline. He buys himself a few extra yards, then goes on to finish the play with an aggressive stiff arm. Below is a close look at the stiff arm.
The point I would like to emphasize on this play is Bennett’s ability to get yards after the catch. This play could very easily have gone for 25 yards if he had gone down at first contact. Instead Bennet is able to break through and get an additional 11 yards. This dominant physical play will not only wear down opponents, but will be important to setting the tone during the playoffs.
The final line for Bennett was 7 catches on 7 targets for 102 yards. Nearly a perfect stat line for any receiver. Only a touchdown catch was missing. The biggest takeaway from this game is that the Patriots can sleep well knowing if anything happens to Gronk they have a trusty backup. More importantly it is exciting to think about what will happen with both of them on the field at full strength. With Bennett’s ankle and now Gronk’s lung we will have to wait a few more weeks to see the dream come to reality.
Looking ahead to next week against the San Francisco 49ers, expect an even bigger game. The main reason is that Gronk will likely be out to fully recover from his chest injury. While it is not thought to be serious, there is no reason to risk it. This will give Bennett more snaps and more targets. The other factor is the 49ers rank 31 in total defense. All of these factors point to another big week of pitch and catch between Bennett and Brady.