When the Patriots Run – Edge: Patriots
The Patriots’ running game was unable to build on the slight momentum it had gained in the win over Buffalo and was again quite limited in Miami. While Rhamondre Stevenson ruled with power and conviction, he and Ezekiel Elliott weren’t given much room to work in South Florida. The pair combined for just 77 yards on 19 carries, and that total included a 17-yard run by Elliott in the second half when New England trailed by 14. Otherwise, not many holes were created, and although Stevenson broke a lot of tackles and picked up a lot of extra yards after contact, the output just wasn’t there. But the Patriots should get a chance to fix that this week against a Commanders defense that has struggled in all areas this season. Washington is allowing 117.4 yards per game on the ground and 4.2 yards per punt, both numbers ranking 21st in the league. Based on the staff, these numbers appear to be incorrect. Washington boasts a talented front with Darren Payne and Jonathan Allen in Montez Swat and Chase Young. Linebackers David Mayo and Jamin Davis struggled, however, and the Commanders’ defense was ineffective for most of the season. With the Patriots’ offensive line finally healthy enough to feature the same group from week to week, expect Stevenson and Elliott to enjoy a more productive afternoon.
When the Patriots Pass – Edge: Patriots
The Commanders secondary is even worse than the front seven. Opponents are averaging 256.8 yards per play and an astonishing 7.5 yards per attempt, numbers that rank Washington 29th and 30th in the league. While the defensive line features talented players, there aren’t many answers in the secondary. Veteran Kendall Fuller has one spot at cornerback, but rookie first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes has struggled so much that he recently lost his starting job. Benjamin Saint-Just and Danny Johnson join Fuller, along with defensemen Camren Curl and Percy Butler in the starting lineup. Mac Jones should be able to take advantage of this group, even without DeVante Parker (concussion) and Kendrick Bourne (torn ACL). Emerging Demario Douglas provided a lift, and tight ends including Pharoah Brown chipped in as well. The offensive line will have to protect Jones, which has been an issue for most of this season. The Chiefs do have the ability to spur the passer with 25 sacks on the year, including a team-high 6.5 from Sweat and another 5 from Young. If the defense holds up, Jones should be able to make some plays.
When Commanders Run – Edge: Patriots
The Patriots’ defense remains the team’s biggest strength. Lawrence Guy, Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux and rookie Keion White were strong in the loss to Miami, preventing Raheem Mostert from generating much momentum throughout the game. On the season, the Patriots are allowing just 97.9 yards per game on the ground (ninth in the league) and 3.4 yards per carry, which ranks second. The Commanders haven’t had much success running the ball all season, averaging just 85.9 yards per game, which ranks 26th in the NFL. Part of this is due to game situations, as commanders have often played catch-up. The team is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, which is a respectable 12th in the league. The problem was that the deficiencies prevented Brian Robinson (95 carries, 384 yards, 4 TDs) from being a real factor between the tackles. The Commanders’ offensive line has also dealt with some injuries, but overall play hasn’t been much of a factor for the team all season. Given the robust nature of the Patriots’ front seven, don’t expect Robinson to enjoy a breakout season in Foxborough on Sunday.
When Commanders Pass – Edge: Commanders
Washington has been able to make plays through the air almost every game this season. Second-year quarterback Sam Howell is still raw and taking too many sacks, but he’s also been productive. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,146 yards with 13 touchdowns, and as a result, the Commanders have been involved in several penalties this season. Washington has lost games by scoring 31 points twice and also had 35 points in a win over Denver in Week 2. That’s largely because Howell has solid weapons at his disposal in Terry McLaurin (42 catches, 495 yards, two TDs), Curtis Samuel (35-332-2), Jahan Dotson (30-291-2) and tight end Logan Thomas (29-280-2). By comparison, Bourne (37) is the only Patriot with more than 25 catches. Pass protection is an issue, however, as Howell has been sacked a league-leading 41 times. Part of that is due to the shaky nature of the offensive line, but the group of Charles Leno, Chris Paul, Tyler Larsen, Sam Cosmi and Andrew Wiley allowed just one sack on 53 dropbacks against Philly’s vaunted front last week. The Patriots secondary struggled badly in Miami, allowing a pair of 100-yard receivers in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Their task won’t be much easier against the Commanders’ lesser-known group of pass catchers, unless the front seven can provide some heat.
Special Teams – Edge: Commanders
The Patriots continue to be inconsistent on special teams, especially in coverage. After opening the game allowing a 12-yard punt return, Bryce Baringer’s second punt resulted in a touchdown. On the next attempt, long snapper Joe Cardona was flagged for a false start. That’s not the kind of discipline and consistency the Patriots are looking for in the kicking game. Rookie Chad Ryland has shaken off a slow start to the season and has already made his last five field goals and has yet to miss a PAT. The Patriots didn’t get any input from the return as Demario Douglas (punting) and Ty Montgomery (kicking) didn’t shake things up often. Washington’s punters were solid with Joey Sly going a perfect 17-for-17 on PATs and 10-of-14 on field goals. Punter Tress Way has just one touchdown on 37 kicks and 13 sacks inside the opponents’ 20. Veteran Jamison Crowder handles punt returns for the Commanders and averages over 10 yards on 15 attempts. Antonio Gibson handles kicks, but only has six returns. Both teams struggled at times in shot coverage.