Pick Six: Observations from Game Eleven

New England returned from their bye week to beat the New York Jets 27-13 at Met Life Stadium. Over the final 19 minutes of game play the Patriots broke a 13-13 tie by scoring on touchdowns drives of 75 and 80 yards, while their defense held the Jets scoreless on the final three drives. CBS pointed out that this was only the third game this season that Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Sony Michael were in the lineup together. The offense also got a boost with all five starting linemen starting – and finishing – the contest.

Six Observations from Game Eleven

1. Whether it was game planning for New York, or a signal of change of direction, the Patriots’ offense attack looked slightly different than they have most of the season. First, there were no outside runs designed for the tackles to get free off the line and block wide downfield. Instead, almost all of their runs were dives or counters plays designed to go straight up field quickly. Second, there was only one wide receiver screen run, and that was to Cordarrelle Patterson midway through the 4th quarter. Third, running back James White caught only one pass after coming into the game averaging nearly seven receptions per.

2. Coming into the contest, several commentators had noticed that quarterback Tom Brady seemed to struggle more on passes going to the left than those going to the right. On Sunday, Brady completed only eight of 14 short passes to the left (12 of 16 throwing elsewhere), and four of those incompletions to the left were intended for James White. Midway through the 2nd quarter, Brady threw a high pass to White in the left flat that bounced off the running back’s hands and was fortunate to not be intercepted. On back-to-back plays in the 3rd, and once again in the 4th, Brady seemed to underthrow White in the left flat. However, a review of those plays showed that in all three underthrows, the Jets’ defender was closed on White quickly and it appears Brady was trying to get the ball safely down low, possibly to avoid an interception. When considering the rope that Brady – while being tackled – threw to Julian Edelman along the left sideline in the 2nd, and the on-the-money pass to Chris Hogan to the deep left in the 1st, the observer didn’t see mechanical, or arm strength, issues leading to the higher number of incompletions to the left.

3. Mixed results for the Patriots when running the ball with Sony Michel. On the bad side, Michel was held to two yards or fewer on seven of his 21 carries, and only converted one of three third-down runs. On the good side, Michel took two common running plays and broke them for a total of 64 yards in the second half. Also good, New England was able to use the threat of the run to get a total of 35 yards on two play-action passes – one to Chris Hogan and a second to Rob Gronkowski – in the first half.

4. Following their recent trend, Patriots’ defensive coach Brian Flores’ often blitzed in passing situations, and based on the results that practice may continue. On the five third- and fourth-down drop backs in which the New England did NOT blitz, Jets’ quarterback Josh McCown had a quarterback rating of 145.8, including a touchdown pass and scramble for a first down. When New England brought the extra rusher (or two, or three), McCown had a quarterback rating of 47.9, including a sack by Deatrich Wise Jr. early in the 4th quarter. New York’s one touchdown came on a pass to Jermaine Kearse, who easily beat corner Jonathan Jones on an inside slant coming out of trips bunch formation inside the red zone.

5. Jason McCourty started at cornerback for New England and – along with corner Stephon Gilmore, and safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung – played 100% of the defensive snaps (data from pro-football-reference.com). Jason McCourty had good coverage in the end zone on a fourth down incompletion to Jermaine Kearse late in the 4th quarter, but he also gave up a 41-yard catch-and-run to Quincy Enunwa on an in-cut when New England blitzed with seven defenders in the 2nd quarter. On the very next play the Patriots blitzed again and defensive ends Trey Flowers and John Simon got to Josh McCown as he released a deep pass to receiver Robby Anderson – resulting in an interception by Stephon Gilmore.

6. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy came up big in the 3rd quarter when the Patriots’ defense held a promising Jets to a field goal. On a first down Van Noy knocked down a pass intended for tight end Jordan Leggett. Three plays later Van Noy caught running back Elijah McGuire for a short gain on a draw play. On the next play, the Van Noy’s A-gap blitz forced a quick incompletion from Josh McCown. In a similar fashion, Patrick Chung helped to end a Jets’ 4th quarter drive with a violent tackle of New York running back Trenton Cannon for a loss in the left flat.

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