PHILADELPHIA, Pa — Behind their defense and special teams, the Patriots got back in the win column with a 17-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
Based on the product we saw on Sunday afternoon, the Patriots offense isn’t currently good enough to win a Super Bowl. We all know it, and so does the quarterback, who looked as dejected about the play of his side of the ball as you’ll ever see following a win.
Brady’s answers and facial expressions said it all, and the play on the field shows a team that is hurting to get anything blocked along the offensive line and needs to be better at the little things.
Those little things, something Julian Edelman harped on postgame as well, include drops and finding some semblance of success in the red zone where the Patriots were one-for-three.
Although we are used to seeing Brady and Edelman lead the way to championships, the Patriots do have a winning formula that doesn’t call for 30-plus points offensively every week.
On Sunday, the Patriots held Philadelphia to only ten points and 255 yards of offense. After allowing a 95-yard touchdown drive, they clamped down, allowing only 60 yards on the next 30 plays. The Eagles were three-for-13 on third down, and Carson Wentz was marginalized.
Helping out the defense was the punt coverage, which pinned the Eagles inside their own 20-yard line.
Defense, field position, and superior coaching, that’s how the 2019 Patriots win games, and that’s okay, at least for now.
Here are ten things we learned as New England improved to 9-1 on the season:
1. Patriots Make Defensive Adjustments After Rocky Start
After Philadelphia went on a 95-yard scoring drive, the Patriots defense collected themselves on the sideline and dominated the rest of the game.
“I think we made some adjustments,” said Jason McCourty. “We game-plan that way to have some different things ready in the second half. You have to be able to move after you see what they’re going to do, that’s kind of where the chess game comes in.”
Early on, the Eagles attacked the Patriots defense by hitting short passes into the flats, giving their playmakers opportunities to run after the catch.
One of the second half adjustments for the Patriots appeared to be playing more traditional cover-2, which puts defenders in the flats, taking away those quick throws outside the numbers.
Here, the Patriots are in cover-2 with two deep safeties, and the Eagles ran a levels concept with a short out route and a deeper corner or out by their two tight ends. The coverage takes away the shorter option, and Wentz tries to thread the needle to Dallas Goedert. Gilmore plays his assignment perfectly to hang in the flat then break on the deeper route once Wentz commits.
We’ll see what it looks like on tape, but the Patriots players confirmed that they adjusted to Philly’s game plan and were able to get into the right defenses after a rocky start.
2. Patriots’ Defensive Front Flips the Script on the Eagles Offensive Line
With eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, Eagles starting right tackle Lane Johnson left the game due to injury and didn’t return.
From that point on, the Pats defense sacked Wentz five times and landed 12 hits on the Eagles franchise QB. And a run defense that got exposed against the Ravens held Philly’s rushing attack to below four yards per rush.
“We came with the mindset that we have to make plays and compete to get after the ball. I feel like we did,” said nose tackle Danny Shelton about the effort of the defensive line.
Shelton was a man possessed out there on Sunday, tallying seven tackles and a strips-sack in the win. On his strip-sack, the Patriots sent a five-man pressure at Wentz with Dont’a Hightower looping around Shelton’s bull rush. The Pats had good coverage in the secondary, and Shelton and Lawrence Guy collapsed the pocket with Shelton jarring the ball loose and Guy falling on it to create the turnover.
Along with Shelton, the Patriots got a sweet sack from Hightower, who used a jab-and-go move to beat Johnson’s replacement at right tackle, Hal Vaitai.
Finally, the Patriots iced the game with one of their zero blitzes, putting pressure on Wentz, forcing a difficult pass attempt. The New England defense loves this scheme as it evolves depending on the protection and positioning of the back. The Patriots use a “trailer” technique with the blitzer on the opposite side of the back following his teammate through the gap creating a free runner at the quarterback.
Early on, the Eagles offensive line set the tone on that 95-yard touchdown drive, but it was a different story for the last two and a half quarters.
3. Patriots Throw the Kitchen Sink at Eagles Tight End Zach Ertz
Double teams, two different safeties, and All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore: the Patriots through the kitchen sink at Philadelphia Pro Bowler Zach Ertz. Yes, Ertz caught nine of his 11 targets for a game-high 94 yards, but the Pats secondary made him work on every catch.
Stephon Gilmore broke down how he covered Zach Ertz. Said he had to slow himself down since he usually covers faster players. Even let Ertz get half a step and then close quickly after the route declared.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) November 18, 2019
After the game, Pats cornerback Stephon Gilmore broke down how he went about marginalizing Ertz by playing more of a reactionary style against the slower, bigger target. Gilmore said the plan was for him to shadow Ertz on third down.
Along with Gilmore, the Patriots also bracketed Ertz and covered him with Devin McCourty and Terrence Brooks.
Here, the Patriots show man coverage pre-snap, and Wentz thinks he has Ertz one-on-one with Brooks. When we roll the play, McCourty pops out on the opposite side to create an inside-out bracket on the Eagles tight end. Wentz wants to go to Ertz thinking he’s single covered, but when the double comes, it forces him to hold onto the ball and take the sack.
Speaking to Brooks after the win, he said that the plan was to throw as many different defenders at Ertz as possible to keep him off-balance and keep the Pats DBs fresh to give them the best chance. The flexibility in the backend to throw different looks at him shows the versatility and depth of the secondary.
4. Patriots First-Round Pick N’Keal Harry Makes His NFL Debut
A debut ten weeks in the making, Pats rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry finally saw his first game action in Philadelphia on Sunday. Harry played 32 snaps in his debut, 27 out wide and five in the slot, and caught three of his four targets for 18 yards. The first-round pick mostly held down the “X” receiver role opposite the tight end. Although it wasn’t gangbusters right away, he was challenging coverage and threatening vertically with some impressive explosiveness.
On his first NFL catch, one that Harry said was a routine play he expects himself to make, the Pats isolated Harry with a “nub” formation on the far hash. He pushed up on off coverage and slanted inside for a first-down reception. Routine, absolutely, but you still see his size and strong hands and how they can lead to easy catches on in-breaking routes.
Later on, the Patriots threw a screen to Harry. Although he only gained four yards, his quick feet and ability to create after the catch were on display as he makes Malcolm Jenkins miss to get positive yards.
On initial viewing, it appeared that there were more yards out there for Harry that will come in future games, especially once Brady lets loose some deep balls to the rookie.
5. Tom Brady’s Low-Energy Postgame Press Conference
The Patriots quarterback and six-time Super Bowl champ can usually find happiness in a victory even if the offense doesn’t play well. On Sunday, Brady looked demoralized and tired, delivering only a 125-word postgame press conference.
Brady knows what a Super Bowl-caliber offense looks like, and although reading body language is tricky, it appears that he doesn’t think this group is close yet, and he isn’t free of blame. In the first half, his throws were erratic, he nearly threw another pick in the end zone, and he even missed a few open receivers in some critical situations that led to field goals. The second half was better, but the Patriots need more from Brady, fair or not, especially with the current personnel they have. With that said, it’s only Week 11, and there were still several positive signs and great throws from Brady in the game.
Here, the Patriots ran one of their staple concepts, a play-action fake simulated a lead ISO play with Julian Edelman running an over route. Edelman runs across the field against man coverage, and Brady puts the ball in a perfect spot for Edelman to catch it against tight coverage.
Although Brady’s had better games, it’s clear that if his supporting cast improves, he can still play at an MVP level and take this team where it needs to go in the postseason.
6. Patriots Offensive Line Remains a Huge Concern
The most concerning aspect of the Patriots offense is the play along the line of scrimmage by the offensive line. Brady was hit six times, but it felt like he was under duress on every drop-back in the first half, and at times later on in the game as well. Plus, the Patriots can’t run the football, especially to the left side, which makes matters worse and hurts them tremendously in the red zone where passing lanes shrink.
At left tackle, there’s no sugarcoating the play of Marshall Newhouse, who is not good enough to start at that position in this league. It’s lazy to pin the problems of an entire unit on one person, but as the pressure above shows, Newhouse’s lack of foot speed and lateral explosiveness makes it difficult for him to stay in front of pass rushers.
Luckily for the Patriots, they’ll likely get starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn back against Dallas next week. Wynn should elevate the play of the entire line, but a lot rides on him playing well and staying healthy.
7. Jake Bailey and the Punt Coverage Unit Deserve a Game Ball
In a game of field position, the Patriots’ punt coverage unit led by rookie Jake Bailey downed six punts inside Philadelphia’s 20-yard line and three inside the ten.
Bailey was masterful landing a 55-yard punt out of bounds at the Philly five and setting up Matthew Slater and company to pin the Eagles deep. To put into golf terms as many football minds do, he hit the sand wedge and the driver when needed on Sunday.
“We aren’t looking for attention when we do our job. Hopefully, the people that matter will appreciate what we do, and I think coach Belichick shows that by keeping us around. We understand the value in what we do,” said Slater.
The Patriots needed every last ounce of good field position to set up their defense and offense in favorable situations, and the punt team delivered in a big way against the Eagles.
8. Patriots Ride 11-Personnel in the Second Half
Two weeks ago, in Baltimore, the Patriots played three wide receivers on every snap against the Ravens defense.
On Sunday in Philadelphia, the Patriots opened the game by cycling through several different personnel groupings in the first half, including some different two-back sets with both Brandon Bolden and linebacker Elandon Roberts playing fullback.
However, the Patriots went back to 11 personnel in the second half playing 32 of their 36 second-half plays in the grouping (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB).
The Patriots might’ve found an identity with 11-personnel where they spread the field, get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly, and run the ball against lighter defenses. We’ll see if the heavy usage of “11” continues down the stretch.
9. Tempo Could be the Key to a Productive Patriots Offense
Similarly to the personnel groupings, the Patriots found the most success offensively when they went up-tempo and into a no-huddle attack. To start the second half, the Patriots went on a ten-play scoring drive to take the lead, mainly operating out of the no-huddle.
The critical play of the drive came on a 30-yard screen pass to running back Rex Burkhead. The Pats sent Edelman in motion in one direction then leaked Burkhead out of the backfield. Brady makes a nifty flip to get the ball to Rex, who then bounces off the first tackler and breaks up the sideline. One could easily argue that Burkhead’s catch and run was the turning point of the game since he looked dead-to-rights with a defender in his face.
The Patriots’ continued success with a no-huddle approach makes you wonder if they’ll lean on the strategy more and more as we head towards the playoffs.
10. Play of the Game: Julian Edelman’s Second Career Touchdown Pass
To cap of New England’s third-quarter scoring drive, the Patriots went to a little trickeration with a “Philly special” of their own.
On the play, the Patriots ran a double-pass: Brady to Edelman to Dorsett for six. As Brady throws to Edelman in the flat, the deep middle safety and boundary corner to that side come screaming down towards the reigning Super Bowl MVP, leaving Dorsett wide open on the deep crosser. Edelman then turns upfield and hits Dorsett for the score.
“It’s fun to throw the pillow sometimes,” Edelman said. “It’s cool they trust me to go throw the ball.
Here’s the Next Gen Stats diagram of the play. As you can see, Eagles safety Rodney McLeod (#23) completely vacates his zone to close on Edelman in the flat, leaving Dorsett open.