How the Pats saved their season with lessons they can take to Buffalo – Boston Herald



It all comes back to Buffalo.

And why shouldn’t it?

In the big picture, the Bills stole the AFC East from the Patriots when they were at their weakest, 2020, the dawn of the post-Tom Brady era. Buffalo is now 5-1 against the Pats since Brady left and a three-time reigning division champion. Their last meeting, a 24-10 Bills win on Dec. 1, again established the vast gap between the two franchises; one a perennial Super Bowl contender and the other a wanderer in the NFL wilderness hoping to stumble upon an identity and then a Wild Card berth.

Since that loss, the Patriots have found an identity. Well, at least defensively. After Bills superstar Stefon Diggs smoked a 50/50 split of man and zone coverage during that 24-10 Buffalo win, the Pats have played more zone than any other team in the NFL, per Sports Info. Solutions; a stretch that includes zone coverage rates close to 90% against Cincinnati and 80% versus Miami.

Underlying this four-week zone pivot is a commitment to Cover 2, which the Pats have called more than any team in the league. Kyle Dugger snatched his game-changing pick-six Sunday as the middle dropper in an inverted version of Cover 2, one of the many variations the Patriots have executed in recent weeks. The coverage is not a cure-all for the Patriots — Joe Burrow and the Bengals carved it up a week earlier — but it represents a necessary commitment for a team that fancied itself a shape-shifting game-plan operation before cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Jack Jones went down with injuries.

Whether by design or circumstance, the Patriots have stopped chasing receivers like Diggs, recognizing it’s best to sit behind their elite pass rush and wait for All-Pro receivers — like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill — to come to them. Their defense has now scored in four straight weeks, while the offense has obeyed a coaching command to simply stay out of the way.

Even with three corners out against the NFL’s best receiver duo, the Patriots could contain Hill and Jaylen Waddle because they committed to their strengths, deploying four safeties (four!) on as many snaps as they used three corners and majoring in zone coverage; a lesson they may have learned from the Bills and will now carry to Buffalo with their playoff hopes likely at stake yet again.

Here’s what else film revealed about Sunday’s win:

Mac Jones

20-of-33 for 203 yards, 2 TDs

Accurate throw percentage: 73.3

Under pressure: 3-of-5 for 70 yards, 3 sacks

Against the blitz: 9-of-14 for 56 yards, 2 TDs, 2 sacks

Behind the line: 6-of-6 for 29 yards

0-9 yards: 9-of-12 for 50 yards, 2 TDs

10-19 yards: 2-of-3 for 42 yards

20+ yards: 3-of-8 for 82 yards

Notes: One of Jones’ most aggressive games of the season had two strange outcomes.

One, it produced a pedestrian stat line, and two, it achieved exactly what the Patriots have sought from their offense since Thanksgiving: keep them in the game, and don’t turn the ball over.

Jones took most of his downfield shots along the sideline against Miami’s man-blitzes that left the Patriots’ receivers in 1-on-1 coverage. He completed just one of these shots, though Jones also feathered a perfect 29-yard pass to Hunter Henry in the face of heavy pressure in the second quarter and found Jakobi Meyers down the seam for 25 yards in the fourth, both versus man coverage. Otherwise, Jones kept his focus within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, where he attempted more than half his passes.

Despite losing almost their entire starting secondary, Miami had a firm grasp on the Pats’ early-down pass concepts. This forced Jones to hold onto the ball longer than desired after his opening touchdown drive, though his accurate throw percentage was nonetheless right in line with his season-long mark of 74.4%. And the coaches must be happy with this: he’s thrown one interception since Halloween.

Studs

DL Christian Barmore

Welcome back! The Pats’ second-year defensive tackle finally found his old form, notching a sack, two hurries, a QB hit and one run-stuff.

OLB Matt Judon

He didn’t register a sack, but Judon was a constant nuisance in the backfield, recording three hurries and two QB hits.

WR Jakobi Meyers

Meyers scored the game-winning touchdown, drew a long pass interference penalty three snaps before the touchdown and caught a 25-yard pass moments before that. He finished with a team-high six catches and 48 yards. Great game.

Duds

RB Rhamondre Stevenson

Despite getting a breather with Damien Harris’ return, Stevenson played one of his poorer games this season. He allowed a sack, dropped a pass and finished with nine receiving yards.

C David Andrews

The Patriots’ longtime center was beaten for one sack, a hurry and a QB hit. He’ll bounce back.

Offense

Game plan

  • Personnel: 82% of snaps in 11 personnel, 7% snaps in 12 personnel, 6% in 13J personnel, 3% in 21H personnel, 2% in 22 personnel*
  • Personnel production: 4.95 yards/play in 11 personnel, 3.75 yards/play in 12 personnel, 3.0 yards/play in 21H personnel, 2.66 yards/play in 13J personnel, 1.0 yard/play in 22 personnel.
  • First down play-calls: 39% run (2.9 yards per play), 61% pass (4.2 yards per play)
  • Play-action rate: 19.4%

Key areas

  • Third downs: 5-13
  • Red-zone efficiency: 2-2
  • Pressure rate allowed: 25%

Player stats

  • Broken tackles: Rhamondre Stevenson 3, Damien Harris 1
  • Sacks allowed: David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Stevenson
  • QB hits allowed: Trent Brown, Cole Strange, Andrews
  • Hurries allowed: Andrews, Stevenson, Team
  • Run-stuffs allowed: Team 3
  • Penalties: WR Kendrick Bourne (false start), OT Trent Brown (false start)
  • Drops: Rhamondre Stevenson, Hunter Henry

Notes

  • Believing he could match the Patriots’ receivers in single coverage, Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer blitzed Mac Jones on seven of eight dropbacks during the opening drive. Big, predictable mistake.
  • Jones went 4-of-6 for 50 yards and a touchdown against the blitz on that series, and had another play nullified by penalty. He hit a variety of routes versus a Miami secondary missing four starters and picked on former Patriots corner Keion Crossen three times.
  • Boyer backed off immediately and realized while its patchwork secondary couldn’t cover, its pass rush could get home against the Pats’ offensive line. The Dolphins blitzed just nine times for the rest of the game, but still pressured Jones on close to half his dropbacks.
  • Jones seemed ill at ease by the Dolphins’ lack of blitz pressure and took his first sack on the next series against zone coverage fronted by a four-man rush. Miami also effectively double-teamed Jakobi Meyers on certain passing downs, though Jones beat that coverage once with a 29-yard throw to Hunter Henry.
  • It wasn’t until the third quarter the Patriots began to find some consistent answers. Jones hit Henry on a stick route (an out-turning curl), then Meyers on a shallow cross and Tyquan Thornton up the seam for 29 yards.
  • Thornton is finally developing. The rookie scored his touchdown on a concept he ran short of the goal line at Arizona, where he uses Henry as a downfield screen before snapping off left toward the sideline. Against Miami, Thornton ran proper depth and snuck in for a touchdown.
  • Offensive play-caller Matt Patricia correctly expected man-to-man coverage on that play and capitalized. He also expected man-to-man on Meyers’ touchdown, when Jones audibled after spotting Dolphins linebacker Duke Riley in coverage against his No. 1 receiver as Miami scrambled in response to the Patriots’ pre-snap shift.
  • On the play, Jones was supposed to hit Rhamondre Stevenson on a “pick” play where Henry screened his defender as Stevenson ran into the right flat after they had motioned out from a condensed formation in a 22 personnel grouping.
  • Aside from an 18-yard run in the first quarter, where he slipped two tackles in tight quarters, Stevenson again looked off. The Patriots will need a bounce-back game from him in Buffalo.
  • Miami defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and John Jenkins got the better of center David Andrews and left guard Cole Strange, though Strange helped spring the Patriots free from their own 2-yard line with a great block on an 11-yard Damien Harris rush in the second quarter.
  • Despite Jones’ initial success against the blitz, the Pats need to arm him with better answers versus extra rushers. Sideline deep shots for Thornton and Nelson Agholor aren’t a reliable solution, and Jones didn’t hit a single one after the opening drive.

Defense

Game plan

  • Personnel breakdown: 59% three-safety nickel package, 38% dime, 3% three-corner nickel package.**
  • Blitz rate: 13.6%
  • Blitz efficacy: 7.7 yards per play allowed

Key areas

  • Yards per carry allowed: 3.2
  • Third downs: 4-14
  • Red-zone efficiency: 3-3
  • Pressure rate: 41%

Player stats

  • Interceptions: Kyle Dugger, Jonathan Jones
  • Pass deflections: Dugger, Jones, Myles Bryant
  • Sacks: Christian Barmore, Carl Davis
  • QB hits: Matt Judon 2, Josh Uche, Deatrich Wise, Barmore
  • Hurries: Judon 3, Barmore 2, Uche 2, Wise, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Team
  • Run stuffs: Bentley
  • Missed tackles: Adrian Phillips, Lawrence Guy, Tae Hayes, Bentley, Dugger, Uche, Wise
  • Penalties: Bentley (roughing the passer), OLB Josh Uche (neutral zone infraction), CB Tae Hayes (holding), S Brenden Schooler (running into the kicker).

Notes

  • OK, so the Pats called a lot of zone coverage. What else?
  • Myles Bryant, a third-year safety/nickelback hybrid, played every snap and all but two of them at outside corner. Entering Sunday, Bryant had taken just 33 snaps at outside corner this season, per Pro Football Focus. He paired with Jonathan Jones on most downs.
  • Bryant and Jones successfully followed the Pats’ central game-plan tenet — protecting against vertical routes — and disguised well as every defensive back rotated through a range of zone spots. The Pats’ top coverages were Cover 2 and Cover 3, with some Cover 4 sprinkled in.
  • On the 14 snaps the Patriots used three cornerbacks, practice-squad veteran Tae Hayes played outside and Bryant returned to his home at nickelback. Hayes’ only glaring mistake was his defensive holding penalty on Miami’s final drive.
  • As the Patriots kept a lid on Miami’s deep passing game, more than half of the Dolphins’ completions found running backs and tight ends; an ideal percentage for the Pats, considering it limited opportunities for Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
  • Miami borrowed heavily from early-season game plans against the Patriots, calling toss plays, counter runs and outside zone in a run-first approach. The Pats had minimal issues with the Dolphins’ rushing attack and were allowed to keep their preferred personnel — 3-safety nickel or dime — on the field.
  • Miami left some yards and possibly points on the table by abandoning play-action. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater moved the chains three times in the first half with second-down play-action passes, hitting voids in the Patriots’ zone coverage after he’d drawn linebackers in with a play fake.
  • Defensive play-caller Steve Belichick paired most of his rare man-to-man calls with blitz pressure, which allowed Jones, Bryant and others to back up, almost eye the quarterback, and match routes as they developed. The most obvious examples were two third-and-long incompletions. Jones also grabbed his interception in man-to-man.
  • Up front, defensive tackle Christian Barmore was a wrecking ball against run and pass. His interior pressure could prove to be a major difference in the Patriots’ rematch with Buffalo this weekend.
  • Inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley single-handedly blew up a play-action screen for the Patriots’ only TFL outside of the sacks Barmore and fellow defensive tackle Carl Davis.
  • Safety Jabrill Peppers played a season-high 45 snaps and showed a control that was missing from earlier games this season. With his speed and power, Peppers was made for game plans like Sunday’s. Ditto for Kyle Dugger.
  • Dugger’s pick-six was a sensational showcase of timing and athleticism. That interception kept the Patriots’ playoff hopes alive.
  • Solid game from Jahlani Tavai, who set a consistent edge against the run and was so-so in coverage.

Statistics for passing depth, broken tackles and missed tackles courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

*11 personnel = one running back, one tight end; 12 personnel = one running back, two tight ends; 22 personnel = two running backs, two tight ends; 13J personnel = one running back, three tight ends (including an extra offensive lineman); 21H = two halfbacks, one tight end.

**Base defense = four defensive backs; nickel defense = five defensive backs; dime defense = six defensive backs; goal-line defense = three defensive backs; dollar defense = seven defensive backs.



Source link

Denial of responsibility! planetcirculate is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.