Below are a variety of advanced stats from the Patriots’ 27-20 loss to the Texans in Week 11.
CAM NEWTON’S PASSING METRICS
Patriots quarterback Cam Newton continued his streak of solid performances by averaging over nine yards per pass attempt and 0.23 expected points added per drop-back on Sunday.
Since Week 8, Newton and New England’s passing offense is an above-average unit, with the Pats quarterback ranking 11th in EPA per play and ninth in completion percentage over expected.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels decided to take advantage of Houston’s heavy-focus on stopping the run by going to the air, knowing his quarterback is playing better.
The Texans and interim head coach Romeo Crennel matched New England’s base 21-personnel package with four defensive linemen and eight defenders in the box.
McDaniels responded by playing 42 of New England’s 66 offensive plays in 11 personnel with three wide receivers on the field, and by allowing Cam Newton to cook, which he did.
Newton went 8-of-8 for 207 yards and a touchdown on passes beyond ten yards in the air against the Texans and was more successful on deep passes than short throws.
On Damiere Byrd’s 42-yard touchdown, the Texans matched 11 personnel with single-high coverage still. The Pats send three receivers vertically up the field to stress the man coverage defenders. The post-safety in the middle of the field jumps Jakobi Meyers’s over route, probably part of the game plan, leaving Byrd in single coverage downfield. Newton puts it on him and gets some help from Byrd at the catch point for the longest score of the season for New England.
Newton also made some great throws by manipulating zone coverage with his eyes against the Texans.
Above, Cam starts by reading the middle of the field and eventually pulls the boundary corner on Byrd off his wideout. Once he sees the corner creeping in, Newton throws outside.
Although Newton was carving up the Texans secondary at times, the Pats offense as a whole regressed against the blitz after handling it well in the previous two games. Houston blitzed on 17 of Newton’s 42 drop-backs, and Cam averaged only 4.6 yards per attempt.
Here, the Texans walk their backside safety into the box before the snap and blitz Eric Murray over the pulling guard. Newton has to know that A. Murray serves no other purpose other than to blitz and B. Left guard Joe Thuney is pulling, meaning Murray is unblocked. Newton doesn’t get them out of the play, and Murray gets a free run at the QB.
Not all of New England’s struggles against the blitz on Sunday were on Newton, but he’s missing obvious pre-snap tells and failing to get them out of bad plays.
If Newton doesn’t have the power to change the play at the line, that needs to change, or he needs better coaching on recognizing blitzers, especially if he’s going to continue to throw more.
Although pressure due to blitzing was a significant issue, it doesn’t fall solely on Newton’s shoulders.
Newton was only under pressure on 11 of his 42 drop-backs, or 26.2 percent, but untimely pressure certainly did them in when the Texans blitzed their safeties and dual edge rushers.
On the critical fourth-down play that effectively ended the game, backup left tackle Jermaine Eluemunor seems to get his signals crossed. Eluemunor looks to block inside with Thuney fanning out, you can see they’re moving in opposite directions, and James White stays inside in blitz pickup. Eluemnunor and Thuney essentially block the same rusher, leaving Lonnie Johnson unblocked off the edge. The only explanation that puts this play on Newton is that if the entire line is blocking to the right, he should throw “hot” to Byrd on the slant, but Eluemunor seems lost.
The Pats offensive line was solid in pass protection outside of the mental errors against the blitz with only five allowed pressures on 42 drop-backs.
However, the fourth-down play lost the Patriots 3.4 expected points, and the two sacks of Newton were also killers.
Houston’s defense decided to force the Patriots into throwing the football, and as we mentioned, New England was successful in the passing game.
One of the reasons they were so successful was receiver separation, as the Pats wide receivers averaged 4.21 yards per separation per target on Sunday (league average – 2.86 yards).
Newton, the play design, and New England’s pass-catchers all played a role in that, with McDaniels dialing up a double-pass to get Meyers wide open and other fruitful schemes.
Here, N’Keal Harry’s shallow crossers clears out the middle of the field for Damiere Byrd’s deep dig route. Byrd does an excellent job of coming downhill through his break and is wide open in the middle of the defense for a 30-yard gain.
If the Pats can clean up protection issues, they’ll win with their passing game on Sunday.
DEFENSIVE PRESSURES & RUN STOPS
The New England defense needs to do almost everything better, and head coach Bill Belichick was the first to admit that on Monday.
The Patriots only pressured Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on 27.9 percent of his drop-backs, but that wasn’t necessarily due to a lack of pass-rushing talent.
Instead, it was the game plan, as the Patriots rushed four or fewer defenders on 44 of Houston’s 47 passing plays and only blitzed Watson five times after he burned their blitzes in 2019.
The bigger gripe with New England’s pass rush was that they allowed Watson to move around in the pocket and showed poor discipline in their rush lanes. On the two plays above, the Pats allow Winovich, or he takes it upon himself, to get after Watson. Unlike Lamar Jackson, Watson is a terrific pocket passer, and he was able to extend plays and make throws.
Last week, Winovich got away with an aggressive mentality because the Patriots had good layers behind him and Jackson wasn’t accurate after resetting in the pocket.
However, Watson made them pay for being too aggressive, and it cost the Patriots defense more than a lack of pressure.
On a positive note, New England’s run defense is rounding into form after another strong performance against an admittedly lousy Texans rushing attack.
The Pats got much better play along the defensive line from second-year DT Byron Cowart, and coupled with the emergence of rookie Kyle Dugger, Houston didn’t have a single successful run.
Here, the Texans ran an RPO “slide” concept with the tight end coming across the formation. John Simon is an unblocked defender, so he “charges” the mesh, forcing a handoff. Byron Cowart gets a good push and holds his ground inside while Chase Winovich sets the edge, keeping Dugger clean at the second level. Dugger mirrors the running back into the B-gap and the fires downhill to make the TFL.
The Pats are also doing a much better job of stopping outside zone runs.
The Texans are running outside zone right with Dugger as the bootleg/cutback defender on this play. Lawrence Guy and company do a great job play-side to force the runner back into the middle of the field, and Dugger paces it out and pops Duke Johnson.
Kyle Dugger is becoming a legitimate second-level run defender, and with better play from the interior and edge defenders, the Patriots’ run defense is back on track.
There are two primary ways to be an effective pass defense: either pressure the quarterback endlessly or disrupt receivers downfield with physical and tight coverage.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick decided to contain Watson in the pocket rather than rush him, so the primarily seven-man coverages needed to disrupt Houston’s receivers, which they didn’t.
Watson picked on weaknesses in New England’s pass defense by attacking between the numbers. The Patriots came into Week 11 dead-last in EPA on middle of the field throws, and that’ll only get worse.
In this play, the Patriots ran a replacement blitz with Kyle Dugger rushing the quarterback from off the line and the edge defenders dropping into coverage. Neither Dugger nor the edge defender over the tight end jams him at the line, allowing Jordan Akins to get into his route unimpeded. Then, Adrian Phillips, who is dropping off the line into a “robber” coverage, fails to get underneath Akins’s route, leaving Jason McCourty out-leveraged with no inside help, and it’s a big play.
The Patriots opted to catch and run with the Texans receivers rather than disrupting them at the line, which didn’t work on Sunday.
BREAKDOWN: One theme kept showing up on completed passes for the #Texans vs the #Patriots D yesterday—something beyond just the closeness of the coverage & the quality of the rush. This part matters just as much (if not mo’) when facing a super accurate QB w/ capable WRs & TEs ? pic.twitter.com/ncV7i0unEY
— Matt Chatham (@chatham58) November 23, 2020
Here’s a great breakdown from former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham on another play where the New England defense allows the tight end to get upfield without a jam and then doesn’t provide any inside help for the man coverage defenders taking outside leverage.
New England needs to figure out its middle of the field pass coverage, and quickly, or this season is truly lost.