New England's win over the Broncos Sunday night was unquestionably huge for the Patriots. It was hardly a perfect game, however. The home team was down 24-0 at halftime and it took an overtime frame to pull out the victory.
There is plenty for the coaches to critique this week.
"We've got to do a better job with the running game overall than we did last week," Bill Belichick remarked of his defense. "We're not going to win in games giving up that kind of rushing yardage. We were fortunate. We were in a very close game that could have gone either way and that's one of those things that could have led to our demise. So we've got to correct them. We've got to do a better job of defending the run. We've got to do a better job defensively on third down and in the red area.
"It was good to win and I feel good about the things we did well. But we need to do better at the things we need to improve on or they're definitely going to catch up to us."
Though Peyton Manning's offense has been terrorizing opponents with aerial assaults this season, Denver managed to ramp up its ground game in Foxboro Sunday night. Running back Knowshon Moreno had a career-high 224 rushing yards and a touchdown on 37 carries. The team, which averages just 121.0 yards on the ground per game, gouged New England for 280 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
The Patriots could be cut a break for playing most of the game in defensive sub packages. It only makes sense to take the ball out of Manning's hands, not let him get into a rhythm, and force Denver to dig out its yardage on the ground.
Still, New England is allowing the NFL's second-most rushing yards (139.7) per game. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia agreed with Belichick that it's an area that should be tightened up.
"Certainly the run game can be better," Patricia said. "We have to do a better job, starting with myself, to make sure we have that handled and taken care of in more stout fashion. We'll look at the run game, third down, the read area, we'll continually try to improve on and get better each week."
Next up for the Patriots is a trip to Houston. Though the 2-9 Texans are missing three-time All-Pro running back Arian Foster, who is out for the season because of back surgery, Ben Tate has been a serviceable replacement. Tate has 129 carries for 544 yards so far where Foster had 121 carrie for 542 yards in the eight games before getting sidelined.
"From a coach's perspective, you're always going to analyze it all and take a look at it and want it all better," Patricia said of reviewing film. "I don't think there's one area where you're going to say, 'Hey, this is OK' if they were able to do that against us. I don't think this is the way we look at it and I don't think that's the way our players look at it, which is great.
"As I've said, and as I'll always say, our guys work extremely hard to get better and improve in those areas we've identified weren't executed to the full intention of the game plan."