The Patriots defense delivered another dominant performance in New England’s 25-0 shutout of the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
Bill Belichick’s defense pressured Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on 19 of his 32 drop-backs, or 59.4%, which is a remarkably high number and speaks to the dominance upfront. Furthermore, the Pats pressured Ryan mostly without blitzing, only sending a blitz four times.
The Pats’ run defense also held Atlanta to a 19% rushing success rate (fifth percentile). As cornerback J.C. Jackson said after the game, the Patriots have one of the NFL’s best defenses.
On the season, they’re now second in the league in average points allowed (17.7), fourth in expected points added allowed, and are suffocating opponents at all three levels.
Here are various advanced stats from the Patriots’ seventh victory of the season:
MAC JONES’S PASSING METRICS
Although rookie quarterback Mac Jones wasn’t as sharp, he mainly was a net-positive in his first taste of Thursday Night Football against a veteran defensive coordinator in Dean Pees.
Taking out his third-quarter interception, Jones added 0.19 expected points on his other 34 drop-backs and was still very accurate with a completion percentage over expected of +12.2.
The Pats’ quarterback was particularly effective throwing to the intermediate level of the field (10-20 yards), which is becoming a season-long trend as one would expect.
Jones was four-for-five with 62 passing yards on passes to the intermediate areas. And this season, Mac is ninth out of 35 QBs in PFF passing grade on intermediate throws (90.4%).
Here, the Patriots get tight end Hunter Henry into space over the middle with a crossing route on third down, and Mac throws into tight man coverage to hit Henry for a first down.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will use Jones’s interception as a teaching moment for sticking with your reads and confirming what you see before making a throw.
Still, overall, Jones gave the game what it needed and did enough to win.
PASS PROTECTION STATS
With the Patriots sticking with their same starting five, the good news was that Jones was only under pressure on 23.2% of his drop-backs.
Most of the pockets Jones threw out of were clean, but the Patriots did have issues picking up Dean Pees’ blitzes from the secondary on a few occasions.
The Falcons’ veteran defensive play-caller deserves credit for dialing up timely blitzes that seemed to take the Pats by surprise. Whenever blitzers are coming from depth at the second or third levels, some of that comes down to post-snap reactions by the blockers, while you may also want the quarterback to throw “hot” to beat the blitz which Jones did a few times.
In all, Jones took three sacks while averaging just 4.4 pass yards per attempt on 12 blitzes by Atlanta’s defense. It was certainly something the offense will need to clean up.
RUSHING YARDS AFTER CONTACT
Patriots running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson ran for a combined 125 yards on 25 carries (5.0 average). Out of those 125 yards, 72 rushing yards came after contact.
Harris led the way by forcing four missed tackles, but Stevenson picked up 3.6 rushing yards after contact per rush in another impressive performance by the rookie.
New England has a potent two-headed monster at running back for the stretch run.
DEFENSIVE QB PRESSURES & RUN STOPS
As we mentioned, the Patriots’ defense beat up on a shaky Falcons offensive line, pressuring quarterback Matt Ryan on 59.4% of his drop-backs.
Over the last four games, the Patriots defense is pressuring opposing quarterbacks at a phenomenal rate of 48.5%, dominating matchup after matchup in the trenches.
Leading the way this week was a familiar face, Matthew Judon, who set a new career-high with another sack (10.5 on the season) and added four other quarterback pressures. The Pats got contributors from eight different pass-rushers, including Kyle Van Noy’s two sacks and a hurry.
On Judon’s sack, the Pats’ edge rusher uses a speed-rip move and shows off his flexibility to dip underneath Falcons right tackle Caleb McGary to reach double-digit sacks with six games to go.
As for Van Noy, he made a critical play in the game by sacking Matt Ryan on third down, forcing a field goal attempt that was missed after Atlanta was pushed back further by a penalty.
The Patriots’ defense is getting opposing offenses into favorable pass-rush situations by playing stout early-down defense against the run and play-action.
Once they’re in favorable down and distances, the pass rush erupts with contributions up and down the roster.
In the win over the Falcons, eight Pats defenders registered multiple quarterback pressures.
Along with the pass rush, the Patriots also overpowered Atlanta O-Line against the run.
Leading the way with two stops apiece were Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower. The Pats are getting excellent play out of their linebackers, with them coming downhill to press climbers and pullers while the edges are also stout.
Arguably the biggest turnaround for the Patriots defense this season is in run defense.
The Patriots’ defense was once again zone-heavy in coverage, sticking to the formula that’s working during their five-game winning streak.
Out of 32 pass attempts by Falcons quarterbacks, 26 of those attempts were into zone coverage, as the Pats continued spinning the cover-two/cover-three dial on Matt Ryan.
After the game, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick credited New England’s awareness in zone coverage for shutting down Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts, “they tried to throw a bunch of play-action passes. I thought Bentley, Hightower, Phillips, and Dugger had some good awareness on some of the over routes.”
When the Patriots were in man coverage, safety Kyle Dugger stood out against Pitts. Dugger allowed just one catch on three targets into his man coverage, including a third-down pass breakup against Pitts.
New England is playing excellent team pass defense with their back-seven passing off routes and staying connected in their zone schemes.