Every week, PFW associate editor and Patriots writer Kevin Fishbain will identify three up-and-comers and three players/units going in the opposite direction in the Patriots stock report.
1. RB Danny Woodhead: The entire Patriots' run game has struggled throughout the season and Woodhead has battled injuries, but he looked like his old self on a few runs on Sunday. He finished the day with eight rushes for 41 yards — nothing spectacular, but a good sign moving forward that the Pats can count on him to scamper for yards.
2. Red-zone defense: The overall defense remains the team's biggest Achilles' heel, but the Patriots continue to stiffen up when it matters most, near the goal line. The Redskins converted only two of their five red-zone trips into touchdowns. The best stop might have been on Washington's first drive into the red area. They had 1st-and-goal from the two-yard line and the Patriots' "D" stuffed Roy Helu on back-to-back plays before a false start backed the 'Skins up, leading to a field goal.
3. Pass protection: This is an area in which the Patriots continue to trend upward. For the third consecutive game, the Patriots allowed Tom Brady to be sacked only one time. OTs Nate Solder and Matt Light shut out pass-rushing OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Brady was sacked 19 times in the first 10 games.
1. Run defense: The pass defense is not improving, but the run defense's inability to slow Helu should be a cause for concern. Helu had 126 yards on 27 carries and backup Evan Royster, another rookie, had six carries for 44 yards (7.3 average). This is where it hurt to not have ILB Brandon Spikes in the game, as the defensive line didn't get a good enough push, allowing Helu to get to the second level, where he is very dangerous.
2. Red-zone offense: We saw this as a problem earlier this season and it returned on Sunday. The Patriots were 1-of-4 in scoring touchdowns when in the red zone, and that included a Brady interception in the endzone. They scored on their first opportunity — a quick hit to Rob Gronkowski, but the Patriots need to look for other outlets to score other than Gronk near the goal line.
3. Tempers: Tom Brady is an emotional player, that's no secret, but the dust-up between Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien is something that stunned everyone. Those kinds of things happen on sidelines all over the NFL, but you don't see it much in New England. Obviously, Brady was frustrated, and he could start that frustration with himself after missing on some throws. As Nolan Nawrocki pointed out in this week's Scout's Eye, Bill Belichick's leadership helped settle the situation quickly, but it is still not a comforting sight for a team looking more and more vulnerable with the season winding down.
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