2016-10-25T15:00:03-04:00How game-planning and situational adjustments are affecting the Patriots' defensive statistics. Bill Belichick's defensive philosophy has long been known as a very flexible one that changes every week depending on the opponents' strengths and weaknesses. Likewise he and his coaching staff are known for their aptitude at making halftime adjustments to react to the fluid game situations during a contest. A look at the 2016 New England Patriots' defensive statistics split by halves reveals just how much this philosophy is translating onto the field: The defense that's taking the field to open a game is showing the look of one of the best run defenses in the league. Over a full game the 3.3 yards per carry would rank third in the NFL. Meanwhile the passing defense is severely below average. A completion percentage of 66.9% would be in the bottom three of the league while the 7.52 yards per pass attempt would rank 21st. This picture changes drastically in the second half with the roles flipped around. Helped by leading at halftime in every game other than the week four matchup against the Buffalo Bills the defense is switching the focus towards shutting down the pass at the expense of the run. The 4.4 yards per carry in the second half would rank 23rd over a full game while the 6.30 yards per pass attempt would be good for fifth. This significant deviation between the halves in the passing game gets even more extreme, however, if the week two matchup against the Miami Dolphins, when the Patriots defense played a very good first half followed by a disappearance act in the second, is removed: Opponents completion percentage and yards per attempt in the first half rises to 68.9% and 7.73 respectively. Meanwhile the second half equivalents drop to 58.1% and 5.48 yards per attempt. To illustrate how good that 5.48 yards per attempt is: such a value over a full game would lead the league. Of course, definite observations can't be made without comparing the Patriots' splits to the ones of the competition. Specifically compared to the best defenses in the league with the Vikings, Broncos and Seahawks. This table is comparing the teams' passing defense ordered by net yards per attempt which factors in yardage lost to sacks. While there is a certain measure of variation in all the numbers the Patriots' variation is by far the biggest with 1.1 net yards per attempt including Miami and a staggering 2.1 without. If not for the defensive collapse against the Dolphins the Patriots' 4.9 net yards per attempt would be second only to the Broncos for the second half. Which is quite remarkable considering that unlike the three competitors the Patriots defense is not getting a lift from the defensive line in form of sacks. In fact, the raw 5.5 yards per pass attempt would top the chart. For the rushing defense a similar picture arises with the difference between the Patriots' halves again being the biggest of the four teams in comparison. The core principle of a Belichick defense, no matter which game plan, though is the prevention of scores and this principle is also showing in the halftime splits. Of the four teams in comparison the difference between the points per drive of 0.37 only trails the Vikings' remarkable stability at 0.11. If the Miami game is taken out of consideration this number further drops to 0.20. The Seahawks and Broncos meanwhile experience a significantly higher fluctuation at 0.66 and 0.90 respectively. [...]
2016-10-25T12:00:03-04:00New England opted not to attack the young passer but rather to play mind-games with him. On Sunday, the New England Patriots took on a Pittsburgh Steelers squad that was forced to play without its starting quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger missed the contest due to injury. Instead, the Patriots defense had to face Landry Jones, who made only the third start of his three-year NFL career. Naturally, this made the task of defending Pittsburgh’s myriad of offensive weapons an easier one. However, it did not answer the question of how exactly to defend the Steelers’ offense. Throwing exotic blitzes at the young quarterback? Concentrating efforts to take away Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell? Forcing Jones to make the tough throws? As it turned out, the Patriots employed an easier plan – albeit one not that attractive: take away the deep throw and force Jones to string together multiple successful short- and intermediate passes. New England counted on Jones not consistently being able to do that and as the result shows, the plan worked. 1) 1-10-PIT 25 (15:00) (Shotgun) L.Jones pass short left to A.Brown to PIT 28 for 3 yards (P.Chung). The defense made its intentions shown on the very first snap of the game. The Steelers aligned in an empty 12-personnel set with running back Le’Veon Bell (#26) split out wide on the strong side of the formation. New England countered with what initially appeared to be a cover 2 off-man look with Devin McCourty (#32) and Patrick Chung (#23) as the two deep safeties: (c) NFL Game Pass However, right before the snap, Chung moves closer to the line of scrimmage leaving McCourty as the single high safety. Coupled with the 4-3 linebackers – strong to weak: Rob Ninkovich (#50), Dont’a Hightower (#54), Jamie Collins (#91) – dropping back into coverage, Pittsburgh quarterback Landry Jones (#3) was faced with the following look at the top of his drop-back: (c) NFL Game Pass New England rushed four but given the fact that only one true defensive tackle was on the field – Alan Branch (#97) – Jones had to figure out which players would eventually attack the pocket or drop back (Collins, for example, faked a blitz at the snap). Consequently, the Steelers had a number’s advantage along the line of scrimmage. However, the Patriots were okay with that as relying on the rush was no key component of the game plan. Instead, the team used disguised coverages and placing multiple defenders into the underneath zones to make Jones play the game New England wanted him to play. The assumed goals of this strategy were a) preventing the big play by playing off-man, b) forcing Jones into making smart decisions and c) baiting him into making the easy throw that gains minimal yardage. On the first play of scrimmage, this plan was already in full effect. The Patriots dropped seven defenders to crowd the intermediate zones and Jones simply took what New England gave him: a quick pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown (#84), who ran a short in-route, for a gain of three yards. 2) 3-13-NE 24 (4:53) (Shotgun) L.Jones pass incomplete deep right to A.Brown. The Patriots did not shy away from blitzing Jones but did so only on a few occasions – predominately in the first half – as it naturally created more space in the defensive backfield. Mostly, the team did therefore rely on four- and three-man rushes to put stress the pass protection but more importantly the quarterback’s ability to dissect coverages and make sound decisions. One such play came late in the second quarter, with the Patriots up 14-7 and Pittsburgh’s offense in the red zone. In a 3rd and 13 situation, New England’s defense used a cover 3 zone look with three deep safeties lining up near the down marker: (c) NFL Game Pass With only three players rushing the passer (despite Collins and Hightower indicating blitz), Jones was faced with eight defenders covering the zones. While the pressure did not reach him and he had time to go through his prog[...]
Watch New England’s coaches and players react to the victory over the team’s AFC rival.
On Sunday, the New England Patriots have improved their record to 6-1 by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road 27-16. The Patriots did not play their best game of the season, but in the end a win is a win; especially when it comes to beating a rival for the AFC’s top playoff seed on the road.
Or, as head coach Bill Belichick put it in the team’s post-game locker room video:
It’s tough to come in here and win. It’s a battle, every time. It’s tough to come in here, it’s a tough football team. They’re well coached, they’re disciplined, fast and they’re big.
It was indeed a tough day for the Patriots, who did not make it easy on themselves with fumbles and untimely drops. But in the end, the team was able to prevail by making the big play when it needed to make them.
Like cornerback Malcolm Butler’s first-quarter interception just four plays after wideout Chris Hogan gave the ball away on a fumble. Belichick pointed Butler’s pick – the fourth of his career (including playoffs) – out during his post-game address to the team:
How about Malcolm? We catch ‘em in practice, we catch ‘em in the game. It all starts right there.
Belichick was visible happy with Butler’s pick before turning his attention to another key performer: running back LeGarrette Blount.
That’s a way to run the rock L.G., that’s a way to run the rock. Nice job.
After talking about how tough of a football team the Steelers are and how hard it is to beat them at Heinz Field, Belichick turned the focus to the Patriots’ next opponent, the Buffalo Bills before Matthew Slater took the floor to lead the post-game huddle:
Hey, fellas, that’s a big-time character win. We learned a lot about ourselves today. We proved a lot today.
So, how do the Patriots feel about being 6-1?
2016-10-25T09:57:35-04:00Daily news and links for 10/25/16 TEAM TALK Press release: Patriots release DL Anthony Johnson from the 53-man roster; release DB Vinnie Sunseri from the practice squad. Erik Scalavino breaks down the film of Pats-Steelers, quarter by quarter. Paul Perillo tells us who won their matchups Sunday: Pats grind through miscues. John Rooke Nitpicks and Nitwits: A win is a win, no matter the sin...kicking around the nitpicks...and the Bills and Jets are both buffaloed... Andy Hart highlights Bill Belichick’s morning conference call: Red zone D the huge difference in Pittsburgh. Infographic: Breaking down the win over the Steelers. Angelique Fiske reports Robert Kraft and actor Chris Evans surprised cancer patients and families at Christopher's Haven Monday. Conference Call transcript: Bill Belichick. Patriots locker room celebration following the win over the Steelers. (1.23 min. video) Locker Room Uncut: Matthew Slater (7.41 min. video) and Rob Ninkovich (3.17 min. video). WEEI Patriots Monday: Bill Belichick (16.09 min.) - LeGarrette Blount (11.43 min.) - Patrick Chung (8 min.) LOCAL LINKS Jeff Howe says the Steelers probably figured they formulated the blueprint to stop the Patriots’ offense, but Brady is smarter. Ben Volin studies the film and finds Pittsburgh wanted to take the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands. So the Patriots called 30 pass plays and 25 run plays. Kevin Duffy states the Patriots will continue to play bland defense as long as they keep facing bad quarterbacks. /Interesting assessment. Tom E. Curran says the end result vs. Pittsburgh justifies the Patriots 'bend but don't break' defense. Jeff Howe details the game stats after breaking down the film. Malcolm Butler: 6-of-12, 97 yards, INT, 2 pass breakups. Kevin Duffy notes Martellus Bennett says the Patriots offense is "like a box of chocolates." Michael Hurley takes 'a good old Scrooge McDuck dive" into some leftover thoughts from Sunday's win: Remember when Tom Brady used to never run at all? Chad Finn thinks 27 thoughts on the Patriots' imperfect yet impressive victory over the Steelers. 17. Considering what he’s capable of, I thought Malcolm Butler had one of his better games of the season Sunday, if not his career. MassLive tells us 10 things we learned from the Pats' close-call win: 4. Patriots pass rush was invisible. Kevin Duffy notes Malcolm Butler says it's 'impossible' to stop Antonio Brown. Christopher Price looks at the target breakdown through the first seven games of the season. Julian Edelman remains top option. Ryan Hannable notes Bill Belichick's post-game message to the team was how a good week in practice generally carries over to games. Christopher Price highlights Bill Belichick on D&H yesterday afternoon: We still have faith in Gostkowski; Pats QBs INT-free; More. Zack Cox Patriots Notes: Tom Brady, Pats QBs in midst of historic Interception-free stretch. Adam Kurkjian Patriots Notebook: Tom Brady anti-domestic violence but won't rip NFL; More. Mike Reiss looks at whether it's the shorter kickoffs that are affecting Stephen Gostkowski's field goal tries. Ron Borges lectures the Patriots on how they have to improve, before issuing his Week 7 Report Card. QB: A. Special teams: F. Mike Reiss believes the Patriots showed a toughness in winning at Heinz Field that should serve them well at Buffalo. Ryan Hathaway posts the trailer for Tom Brady's new TV show 'Religion of Sports.' (1.11 min. video) NATIONAL NEWS Sean Wagner-McGough (CBS Sports) Tom Brady finally qualifies for passing stats, leads NFL in every meaningful category. Sharon Katz & Jacob Nitzberg (ESPN) Best and worst QBs of Week 7: Tom Brady at the top again. Jarrett Bell (USA Today) Patriots are beatable, just not by Big Ben-less Steelers. Alex Kirshner (SB Nation) The Steelers made the worst 4th-down decision of the week. Robert Mays (The Ringer) NFL Week 7 recap: There are no elite teams in 2016: Sunday reinfor[...]
2016-10-25T09:00:11-04:00Patriots Nation is on Cloud 9 this week. Week 8 was another strong week for the Patriots as they secured a big road win against a conference rival. With the Vikings dropping from the unbeaten ranks, the Patriots now hold the best record in the NFL at 6-1. The Patriots have a chance to wrap up the division next week and cruise into the bye week, after which the real season begins. Recapping the Patriots win: The Patriots took advantage of a depleted Steelers team, running over their weakened front seven and forcing Landry Jones to beat them. The Patriots held RB Le’Veon Bell to under 4 yards per carry and kept both him and Antonio Brown out of the end zone. The Patriots secondary played a good game despite very little help from the pass rush, although the game plan was likely to force Landry Jones to check down and then just rally up to tackle, as Malcolm Butler had a great game with an acrobatic end zone INT and 3 pass breakups (two of which could have been INTs as well). Julian Edelman contributed with 9 catches, most of which were the result of the Steelers putting LB Lawrence Timmons in coverage of him. TE Rob Gronkowski caught all 4 targets for 93 yards and a TD, giving Tom Brady a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeting Gronk. Even though the Steelers didn’t have their QB and had various injuries on defense, the Patriots C-level effort was enough and it’s still a huge win in the grand scheme of things. Road to home field advantage starts: The Patriots best chance for home field advantage would be to sweep the AFC North, beat Houston, Denver, and win at least 4 of 6 games in the division. The Patriots are 3-0 against the AFC North, beaten Houston, and are 1-1 in the division. In addition, should the Patriots fall short in any of those areas, another goal would be 13 wins. 13 wins is enough to clinch home field advantage in the AFC every year, although 12 might do it this year as the Patriots’ chief rivals didn’t make too many strides at getting better. The Patriots have gotten home field 5 times since 2001 (2003, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2014), reaching the Super Bowl 4 times, winning 2. Over that span, the Patriots are 15-3 (.833) at home in the playoffs. With the Patriots 6-1 start, the magic number to clinch is 7. AFC East results go the Patriots way: The Bills (4-3) lost to the Dolphins (3-4) and the Jets (2-5) beat the Ravens, which is good from the Patriots’ perspective. The Bills were a more immediate threat to the division while the Jets and Dolphins are nowhere close to sniffing the playoffs this season. The loss for the Bills puts them behind the Chiefs (4-2) for the 2nd wildcard spot. The Patriots have a chance to wrap up the division in Week 8 if they can beat the Bills on the road. That would give the Patriots a 3-game lead with 8 games to go, pushing the magic number to 5 games to clinch the division. Injury Report: The Patriots didn’t suffer too many injuries in the game against the Steelers, with Patrick Chung the only player needing to be helped off the field. Chung would later return to the game and denied Le’Veon Bell a receiving touchdown. The Patriots are still nursing injuries to rookie DTs Vince Valentine (Big Vince 2.0) and the President of Run Defense, Woodrow Hamilton. Anthony Johnson was released yesterday, which signals the Patriots are optimistic about their recovery for the game. The bye week comes after Week 8, and is very welcomed as the Patriots are looking for Dion Lewis and Tre Jackson to get healthy over that time. I think we see both returning after the bye week against Seattle. We’re on to Buffalo again: This time Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and LeGarrette Blount will be 100% healthy and available for the game. As stated earlier, this is a chance for the Patriots to wrap up the division before the bye week. The Patriots should have a clear idea of how the Bills are going to attack them offensively. Defensively, I expect Rex Ryan to try to confuse[...]
New England’s quarterback is off to a pretty good start this season.
When the New England Patriots started their season 3-1 despite quarterback Tom Brady being forced to the first four games out, it gave supposed ammunition to those calling the future Hall of Famer nothing more than a "system quarterback" (of course disregarding the fact that Brady is the only steady piece of this ever-changing system).
However, when Brady returned, the Patriots’ aerial attack took a few steps forward and has since become its usual efficient self. The numbers speak for themselves – and thanks to Brady now having thrown enough passes to qualify for the NFL’s statistics, we can compare them to other players around the league.
First, let’s take a look at the 39-year old’s numbers through his first three games (via Pro Football Reference):
As the number’s show, Brady has been phenomenal this season. Comparing him to his peers further cements this thought as the Patriots’ quarterback leads the league in the following categories:
Passer rating: 132.6 (next best: Matt Ryan, 113.6)
Completion percentage: 75.3 (Dak Prescott, 68.7)
Touchdown percentage: 7.9 (Ben Roethlisberger: 7.1)
Yards/attempt: 9.9 (Matt Ryan, 9.6)
Brady has been the best quarterback in the NFL over the last three weeks, leading the league in almost every efficiency metric. His others statistics – despite having played three or four fewer games – are not too shabby either. Brady is ranked as follows:
Touchdowns: 8 (tied 14th)
Interceptions: 0 (tied 1st)
Yards: 1,004 (30th)
Yards/game: 334.7 (3rd)
In short: Even at age 39 and coming off a four-game suspension, Brady shows no signs of slowing down. At this rate, he should strongly be in the MVP race despite missing a quarter of the season.
The Patriots 3rd down defense was one of the worst in the league. They stepped up against the Steelers.
“Ultimately, it’s going to have to come down to us winning on third down as well,” Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower said leading up to the game against the Steelers. “We’re going to have to win on third down. We’re going to have to win in the red area. Those are key components to winning a game. Those are the things we’re going to have to tighten up on.”
Hightower and the Patriots defense focused their attention all week on improving their third down defense and their red zone stops and, to put it simply, it appears the hard work paid off.
The Steelers converted just 31.3% of their third down attempts, the lowest rate allowed by the Patriots all season. The previous best was 38.5% against the Browns. Every other team has converted a minimum of 40.0%; the Patriots allowed 50.0% conversion rates in week 1 and 2.
Multiple Patriots players acknowledged their work on 3rd down after the game, with ED Jabaal Sheard saying it was “something that we looked to improve on,” and CB Malcolm Butler calling it “the biggest key in the game.”
The Patriots defense also stepped up inside the red zone, with CB Malcolm Butler registering an interception. It’s also important to note that the Patriots did a great job of stalling the Steelers in scoring territory by forcing field goal attempts instead of allowing touchdowns.
While it would have been ideal to prevent the Steelers from ever reaching scoring position, the Patriots strategy seems to be working. The Patriots defense is tied for the 4th fewest points allowed on drives that reach the 30 yard line; the unit has a habit of bending in the open field, but they haven’t been breaking.
The Patriots will need too keep up the high level of play on third down defense and they’ll have to reduce the amount of drives allowed to reach scoring territory, but it’s clear the squad is a work in progress- the 3rd down conversion rate has been dropping since the first two weeks of the year.
The defense will continue to improve as it has every year under head coach Bill Belichick.
The Patriots cornerback has emerged as one of the best in the NFL.
You might not have noticed because Steelers WR Antonio Brown had a 100+ yard day, but Patriots CB Malcolm Butler has entered the ranks of the NFL elite at cornerback. Outside of Brown’s 51 yard reception, Butler was extremely competitive in coverage and picked up an interception and three additional pass defenses.
That interception was Butler’s first in 2016. For those keeping track, Butler has had 4 passes defended (interceptions + break-ups) for two straight weeks and now leads the NFL with 12 passes defended. Raiders CB David Amerson (11) and Giants CB Janoris Jenkins (10) are the only other players with double digit pass defenses.
According to Pro Football Focus, Butler is the 3rd ranked cornerback in the NFL and the 2nd best in coverage. Butler is coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2015 and he will be a restricted free agent after the 2016 season.
He is set for a big payday this offseason and he’ll be worth every penny.