When the Patriots announced that Josh McDaniels would be brought in to replace Bill O’Brien, many Pats fans rejoiced. The feeling was that McDaniels would open up the playbook, run the ball more, utilize the screen pass, and in general make the offense more balanced and less predictable – and therefore more effective and more productive.
We are only three games into the 2012 season so it’s a bit premature to come to any conclusions. Add in Aaron Hernandez‘ injury and the fact that the Patriots have played two high quality defenses, and it becomes even more apparent that it is too soon to make any meaningful determination about this offense or its coordinator.
There are however some trends that are impossible to ignore and beg questioning. Why was Julian Edelman being utilized so much in the first two games, and Wes Welker‘s involvement was curtailed? Why does Danny Woodhead get more carries Sunday at Baltimore than Stevan Ridley? When Woodhead comes on the field it’s a signal the pats are going to go no huddle out of the shotgun; when Ridley is on the field that means the Pats will huddle up and Tom Brady will be under center.
Is the New England offense too predictable?
On first down the Pats mix the play calling up pretty well: 49 runs and 61 passes. At first glance second down looks balanced too, with 32 runs and 36 passes. But on closer inspection you find on second downs of seven or more yards it’s about a 2:1 mix, 14 runs and 27 passes; on second and six or less it’s 2:1 the other way with 18 runs and nine passes.
Overall on third down the Pats are twice as likely to pass as run, with 29 passes and 15 runs. But again they become much more predictable based on the distance: on third and four or more they have run the ball just six times while throwing it 26 times; that’s about an 80% chance of a pass coming in those situations. When it’s third and three or less they run the ball 75% of the time, with nine runs and only three passes.
Granted much of that is dictated by the down and distance; if it’s third and ten or more a pass is more likely going to net you the yardage needed for a first down than a run will. I fully understand that part of the equation, but still, I can’t help but believe the Pats may be be tipping their hand with tendencies that opponents will be able to plan on and react accordingly based on down and distance.
Defensively the Pats seem to start out well but tail off. For example against Baltimore the Pats defense did not allow a single first down on the Ravens first three possessions, but they did not force another three and out in any of final seven possessions. Against Arizona the Pats defense forced five three and outs in the first half; that happened just once in five second half possessions.
It’s as if opponents are making in game adjustments but the Pats are not – or making better in game adjustments than the Pats are. If that is the case, then it’s something that the Patriots coaching staff needs to address, and soon. Brady out of the shotgun isn’t going to catch anybody by surprise, nor is a defense that never blitzes. If Rob Ninkovich can’t beat the man blocking him, how about helping him out with a stunt or an overload to one side? Remember when the Pats would line up on defense with everyone standing up, nobody with their hand in the dirt, and the opposing offense had no idea where the pass rush was coming from? What happened to confusing the opponents with different looks, rushing defenders who looked like they were dropping back in coverage and vice versa?
Games are won and lost in the trenches, and talent-wise Buffalo holds the edge with both their defensive front versus the Patriots offensive line as well as their offensive line versus the Pats pass rush and run defense. To win this game the patriots coaching staff needs to do a better job of putting their players in a position to win individual battles. For that to happen they need to be less predictable and not allow their opponents to become comfortable; they need to confuse the Bills and not let them know what to expect.
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September 29, 1935:
The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana.
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