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Patriots Take 2: Rob Gronkowski The New Monster of the Midway

The wins don't come much more decisive than the New England Patriots' 51-23 triumph over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Nearly every unit on the roster played one of its best games of the season.

The offensive line turned in another solid performance to put the early season struggles even further back in the memory bank. The defense continued to live up to its billing as the No. 1 unit against the pass by taking care of business against a top flight receiving core. If Tom Brady lacked "weapons" early in the season, you wouldn't have known it by watching him post his best performance in nearly a full calendar year.

All in all, it was a pretty good day at the office for the Patriots.

With the Denver Broncos looming ahead, the Patriots are playing their best football of the season over the past month. Before we turn the page, let's take a look back at what went right for New England in this week's film review.

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Under Pressure

Here is our weekly look at pressure stats for the offensive and defensive fronts.

Offense (39 pass snaps):

Bryan Stork: 39 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Dan Connolly: 35 pass-block snaps; 1 hit
Nate Solder: 34 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry
Ryan Wendell: 33 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Sebastian Vollmer: 26 pass-block snaps; 1 hurry
Marcus Cannon: 18 pass-block snaps; 3 hurries
Michael Hoomanawanui: 14 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Josh Kline: 10 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
James Develin: 8 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Shane Vereen: 8 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Jonas Gray: 6 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries
Rob Gronkowski: 4 pass-block snaps; 0 hurries

There were a total of seven plays on which the Patriots' quarterbacks were pressured, and one of those was due to Lamarr Houston coming unblocked for a sack of Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter.

For the most part, Brady had all day to throw.


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Here's a snapshot of his pocket on 3rd-and-4 with 11:52 left in the fourth quarter. The Patriots came out with running back Shane Vereen lined up in the backfield and with only five men on the line (tight end Tim Wright was lined up in the slot). The five-man protection held up well enough for Brady to survey the field and find Wright running an out-breaking pattern (although left tackle Marcus Cannon yielded some traffic at Brady's feet after the throw).

There were also a lot of quick passes in the Patriots attack. I counted 29 passes that were out of Brady's hands in fewer than 2.5 seconds.

But even when he didn't have enough time to take a nap and make a sandwich in the pocket, he still made it work.



Brady talked last week about working on improving his ability to throw on the run, and he had an opportunity to show his legs (in a less-than-scandalous fashion) on a big 3rd-and-18 conversion with 9:05 left in the second quarter.

This was the only time all day which right tackle Sebastian Vollmer yielded any pressure, with Bears defensive end Willie Young getting around him. Brady stepped up in the pocket to elude the pressure, scrambled toward the line of scrimmage, and threw the ball at the last possible moment.

The extra time allowed tight end Rob Gronkowski to find the soft spot in coverage, and allowed Brady to find Gronkowski in said sweet spot. This play didn't score, but the Patriots scored just two plays later.

The Patriots offensive line is doing a better job of giving Brady time to throw, but he is doing a better job of both taking advantage of clean pockets and making things happen when the pressure gets to him.

Defense (38 pass snaps):

Rob Ninkovich: 28 pass-rush snaps; 4 hurries; 1 hit
Casey Walker: 25 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Dominique Easley: 23 pass-rush snaps; 3 hurries
Vince Wilfork: 23 pass-rush snaps; 1 sack
Akeem Ayers: 17 pass-rush snaps; 2 hurries; 1 sack
Chris Jones: 17 pass-rush snaps; 2 hurries
Zach Moore: 9 pass-rush snaps; 0 hurries
Jamie Collins: 6 pass-rush snaps; 3 hurries; 1 hit
Patrick Chung: 3 pass-rush snaps; 1 hurry
Tavon Wilson: 1 pass-rush snap; 1 hurry

In total, the Patriots defense generated pressure on 14 of 38 dropbacks (10 hurries, 2 hits, 2 sacks). The Patriots did this mostly without blitzing; they sent more than four defenders after the quarterback only 11 of the Bears' 38 dropbacks.

Dominique Easley stepped up nicely in Chandler Jones' absence by logging three pressures of his own.



Even on plays where Easley wasn't creating pressure, he was still pushing the pocket and creating traffic at Jay Cutler's feet. He put a nice bull-rush on Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod on 3rd-and-4 with 14:23 left in the second quarter, and while the pressure didn't hurry the throw, it helped create the illusion of pressure that led to Cutler getting the ball out of his hands.



Easley was also seen lining up in a two-point stance at times, and that's even how he logged his first NFL sack. Easley did a nice job of getting the initial jab into Bushrod's chest, allowing him to disengage the blocker while continuing around the corner.

We won't say Easley should replace Jones, but he filled in admirably on short notice.



Rob Gronkowski the New Monster of the Midway

The Bears are known as the Monsters of the Midway, but that nickname may be better suited for Gronkowski after the 2011 All-Pro tight end embarrassed the Bears defense on Sunday.



What particularly caught my eye on Sunday were the number of seam routes to Gronkowski. He caught four passes for 79 yards on seam routes against the Bears.

Gronkowski's ability to get open while running straight downfield is a testament to his recovery from ACL surgery. The surgically repaired ligaments have become an afterthought amid his bounceback season.

The seam is always where Gronkowski has been his most effective, but it was also a downfield route last season that resulted in the season-ending torn ACL. It's good to see that he is still comfortable running these routes, and that the team is still comfortable using him for his best purposes.