There’s no sugarcoating the current state of the Patriots offense.
Over the last six games, New England’s attack is dropping down the league rankings as they search for consistency in any avenue of moving the football.
The Patriots are now outside of the top ten in Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) metric for the first time since 2003 (13th), and are trending in the wrong direction.
After six weeks of averaging only 18 points offensively, they’re now 11th in scoring output, at 22.3 points per game, which would also be their worst mark since the 2003 season.
We are witnessing the worst Patriots offense in 15 years, and even at his age, it’s incredible to think that Tom Brady is quarterbacking a unit that’s struggling at this rate.
To make matters worse, things don’t seem to be improving, and breaks in the dam one week are fixed to see others break the next week.
In the loss to the Houston Texans a week ago, the ineptness stemmed from several breakdowns between Brady and his makeshift group of pass-catchers that includes several new faces.
Brady was protected well, only facing pressure on 31.4 percent of his drop-backs.
Fast forward a week to another defeat at the hands of the Chiefs, and the protection in front of Brady looks bleak once again as it did before left tackle Isaiah Wynn’s return.
On Sunday, Brady was under duress on 40 percent of his drop-backs, and the offensive lines 80.5 pass-blocking efficiency rating was its second-worst performance of the season (Week 8).
The Pats OL surrendered three sacks, and ten other quarterback pressures to a Chiefs pass rush that’s middle of the road in pressure rate in 2019, and third and fourth down were a major issue.
Brady felt the heat on ten of his 16 drop-backs on third and fourth down (including penalties), which was the main reason why they were three-for-15 on the money downs.
Let’s turn on the tape now to see where and why the breakdowns occurred on Sunday.
To Kansas City’s credit, their DC Steve Spagnuolo, threw a variety of different pressure looks at a Patriots offensive line that was on its third-string center, which is no surprise with Spags.
Patriots fans might remember Spagnuolo from his days with the New York Giants, where he coordinated the defense that upset the Pats in Super Bowl XLII. He knows how to scheme it, and although this Chiefs front isn’t as talented as that Giants team, he has enough.
The Kansas City defense got pressure by overloading or sending more rushers than blockers with a few different blitz designs, but they also created one-on-one matchups for their top guys.
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(Cannon should let the edge rusher go and take the inside blitzer)
The Pats could’ve blocked down better against the all-out blitzes, taking the inside threat more often, but there’s going to be an unblocked rusher.
Along with the blitzes, Spagnuolo caused problems with four and five-man rushes from on the line of scrimmage.
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Typically, the Chiefs were in a wide four-linemen front with defenders in the B and C gaps, leaving the center uncovered. Ferentz is free to help out to either side, but he’s got a long slide either direction, and the alignment creates space for one-on-one pass rushes. The Chiefs ran bookend T/E stunts to add another layer, but it’s the matchup between right guard Shaq Mason and KC’s Chris Jones that decides the down. Mason tries to land a quick strike on Jones, but the Chiefs premier pass rusher rips through his hands and gets by him, forcing a New England punt on third down.
Kansas City also played a few snaps with five defenders on the line of scrimmage, guaranteeing one-on-one matchups across the board for the defense.
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The Patriots faced a second third down on their opening drive. Kansas City’s top pass rushers, Chris Jones and Frank Clark, won two of those one-on-ones. Jones gave both backup center James Ferentz and Mason problems. On this play, Jones lines up shaded over the center and overwhelms Ferentz with power and a rip move. On the left side, Frank Clark beats Wynn with an inside move. The Pats picked up the first down on a defensive pass interference call, but it was a sign of things to come.
This was also the first regular-season game of Isaiah Wynn’s career where it felt like his matchup got the better of him. Clark was disruptive against Wynn with some timely victories.
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But first, the young left tackle, who was playing in his fifth NFL game, got fooled by one of Spagnuolo’s replacement blitzes on a critical third-down late in the game. Clark lines up over Wynn as he did most of the game, but this time he drops into coverage, and cornerback Kendall Fuller replaces him in the rush. Wynn gets caught looking outside, and Fuller lands a hit on Brady, which forces a low throw to Edelman downfield. A good throw might’ve been a TD.
Back to Wynn versus Clark, the Pats left tackle mostly struggled with Clark’s speed and dip move, which he used on his sack with a little over 30 seconds to go in the first half.
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On the play, Wynn can’t set inside-out as the Chiefs pass rusher explodes off the line and wins to the corner. Then, he bends the arc and dips underneath, giving Wynn a limited striking area to get his hands on Clark to recover. Clark turns the corner and sacks Brady, basically ending the half.
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Clark also got the better of Wynn a few times in the running game, using a powerful punch to get into Wynn’s chest to create separation, causing Wynn to fall off the block.
Jones and Clark are excellent players with power, length, quickness, and tremendous hand usage; they’re tough to block for anyone. But the offensive line has been a topic of conversation all season.
Wynn’s return had them trending in the right direction, but the injury to Ted Karras was a setback.
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Not to rag on a third-string center, but James Ferentz struggled, allowing a sack and three hurries. He’s undersized and got pushed around by the KC front and got blown backward multiple times in the running game.
All season, the Patriots have missed David Andrews’s presence on the field, but they need Karras back now, who is at the very least serviceable and was playing well before the injury.
With the current makeup between Tom Brady and his receivers, the Pats need more games out of their offensive line in pass protection like Houston, and far fewer like Kansas City.
Getting Karras back should help, and they were playing well enough as a whole unit when they were only on their second-string center. But this has been a problem all season.
EVALUATING TOM BRADY’S PERFORMANCE
After watching the coaches tape, Brady’s decision making remains a concern of mine.
From an accuracy standpoint, he has been fine, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d be playing better if the pieces around him improved, especially the protection. Brady is still sixth among quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus grade when kept clean at an elite 90.1.
We are getting to the point with Brady that trust and chemistry have to be the only explanation, and jumping inside someone else’s head is never an enjoyable exercise.
In reality, we have no idea what Tom Brady is thinking, but it’s hard to ignore what’s on tape.
On Sunday, there was evidence to suggest that Brady is at least reluctant to throw to rookie Jakobi Meyers and tight end Matt LaCosse specifically. But you could also say everyone outside of Edelman and the backs.
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Here, the Pats ran a typical vertical route combination out of a “nub” formation, meaning two in-line tight ends are the furthest players out to one side. Watson (fade) and LaCosse (seam) run vertical routes off of play-action. Brady’s first look is to Watson, but he sees LaCosse open with leverage and space to beat the safety in plenty of time. Brady almost pulls the trigger but ends up pulling it down and throwing the ball away.
As for Meyers, he has been on the edge of the circle of trust for a few weeks now.
The rookie had two big drops in the game, and he’s still learning where to be out there, so it’s hard to fault Brady for going to more trustworthy targets in big spots. However, Meyers is open.
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With the Patriots down ten points with 12:26 remaining, they faced a third down from the Chiefs five-yard line. Brady has three receivers to his right in a bunch set. The receivers then “switch” on the release with Meyers, the #3 or inside slot, running to the flat while Edelman and Dorsett break inside. The corner on Meyers has to work over the top of the other two routes, giving the rookie enough space to score if Brady puts the ball on him quickly. Brady glances at it, doesn’t last very long on the read, and takes a sack.
On the last offensive play of the game for New England, Brady understandably passed on Meyers to throw to Edelman. Breeland had inside leverage against a corner route, which you gotta like pre-snap if you’re Brady, but the Chiefs corner made a great play on the ball.
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Nevertheless, Meyers is open on the sticks on an under route, which is a part of Brady’s first read in the progression. Brady is reading the action between Edelman and Meyers, hoping for a rub by Meyers on Breeland, or he can hit Meyers at the sticks if his man goes over the top. Mathieu goes over Breeland, and there’s tons of pressure in Brady’s face, but he’s staring right at an open Meyers when he releases the ball. He trusts Edelman more for obvious reasons.
Trust is a two way street for quarterback and receiver. It can be frustrating to watch Brady ignore the open man, but the new guys need to give him a reason to trust them. Beyond the obvious drops and poor routes, Brady knows every mistake they make; you have to give him a reason to believe in you out there.
GILMORE ISLAND IN FOCUS
Lastly, the all-22 also revealed some defensive snaps that perfectly exemplified what having a shutdown cornerback like Stephon Gilmore brings to the Patriots defense.
The Patriots played a handful of snaps with Gilmore all alone with Sammy Watkins on one side of the field with the safety on the opposite hash over Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
On some of those plays, Mahomes had no choice but to target Gilmore, and Gilmore nearly pitched a shutout against Watkins.
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Here, Mahomes throws a jump ball to Watkins, and Gilmore plays it perfectly from out of phase. The short throw puts Gilmore out of position slightly, so he plays through the receiver. As soon as it hits Watkins’s hands, Gilmore punches the ball out to break up the pass.
All season long, Gilmore’s teammates have said that everything in the secondary funnels through the All-Pro cornerback.