Below are a variety of advanced stats from the Patriots 31-17 win over the Packers on Sunday night.
TOM BRADY’S PASSING CHART
Brady uncharacteristically missed some throws against the Packers, especially in the third quarter, and his downfield accuracy continues to take a step back from a superhuman pace last season.
This season, Brady has missed 12 open/wide open receivers, which is the fourth-most in the NFL and is on pace for 21 such misses.
Although it’s hard to believe, missing open receivers at times was a problem for Brady even during his MVP campaign in 2017.
Brady had 18 misses last season, tied for the third-most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
As far as the direction of his throws goes, the Packers defense did its best to take away the middle of the field where Brady has carved up opponents over the last few weeks.
In all, 214 of Brady’s 294 yards (73 percent) came on throws outside the numbers on Sunday night after 74.5 percent of his yards went inside the numbers against the Bears and Bills the previous two weeks.
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Brady’s best throw of the day came on a 17-yard completion on third down to wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Brady worked the backside of a full-field progression quickly to find Dorsett, who appeared to be his fourth option on the play. The three-time MVP had to deal with a muddy pocket but was still able to drive the ball downfield to the open receiver. Although Brady’s accuracy has dipped, his processing speed and ability to read the field hasn’t diminished at all.
In the time to throw department, Brady had a quick release once again clocking in at 2.33 seconds snap to throw on average.
The quick release, as it has all season, makes life easier on those blocking in pass protection.
Brady’s ability to release the football quickly, not only by finding open receivers in a timely fashion but also his release itself was on full display on the flea flicker completion to Julian Edelman.
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The five-time Super Bowl champ got the ball back from James White, found Edelman coming across the field, and got the ball out as quickly as humanly possible to keep the play on time.
The story of the game on offense wasn’t Josh Gordon or Cordarrelle Patterson, but rather the performance of the Patriots offensive line in pass protection.
As a team, the Patriots only allowed five total pressures, and Brady was pressured on a season-low 13.5 percent of his drop-backs.
Entering Sunday, the Packers’ pass rush ranked third in the NFL in pressure percentage (37 percent).
There were a few blitz pickups that went awry, and backup guard Ted Karras, who was filling in for the injured Shaq Mason, allowed a sack to Green Bay defensive tackle Mike Daniels in the first quarter.
But the unit was terrific on the whole, giving Brady, who helped things along with a quick release, plenty of time to operate in the pocket.
Of note, two Patriots lineman had clean sheets on Sunday night, right tackle Marcus Cannon and left guard Joe Thuney.
Cannon returned to pitch a shutout after missing two games with a concussion, and Thuney continues to improve every week.
In his third year in the NFL, you can make a strong argument that Thuney has been the Pats’ best offensive lineman this season, especially in pass protection, a perceived area of weakness for the 25-year-old.
Although the Packers did their best to take away the middle of the field, that didn’t stop wide receiver Julian Edelman from producing in the slot.
Edelman wasn’t as efficient as previous weeks, he only caught 50 percent of his targets inside, but he continues to provide a consistent threat between the numbers, and received a lot of attention due to the absence of Gronk.
And how about blocking tight end Dwayne Allen getting into the mix in the passing game?
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Allen’s lone target of the game resulted in a 21-yard completion in the third quarter. The tight end was in the inside slot standing up rather than in a three-point stance at the end of the line. The Pats ran a three-man route combination at the top of the screen with Edelman (slant) and Hogan (dig) creating traffic for Allen (flat). Hogan creates a natural pick on his route on Packers linebacker Blake Martinez, who was covering Allen on the play, and the tight end went up the sideline for a nice catch and run.
Allen is an extremely effective run blocker, but a play design for him in the passing game took everyone by surprise, making it an excellent call by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
PASS RUSH/RUN STOPS
After the game, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gushed about his front seven’s ability to get after Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and for a good reason.
Although the Pats only managed one sack of Rodgers, they pressured the Green Bay signal caller on 52.2 percent of his drop-backs, which was the second-most by Bill Belichick’s bunch this season only trailing the Houston game in Week 1 against a horrendous Texans offensive line.
The Patriots front four deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the disruption up front, and we’ll get to that in a second, but many of the players credited a game-plan specific wrinkle to disguise things with their safeties and linebackers, which slowed down Rodgers’ processing speed and confused the Packers up front.
On his Monday morning conference call Belichick went into detail about the strategy, and here were some of the key quotes from what he said:
“Well, yeah, I think the safeties did a great job of it, and I think it could be more or less important from week-to-week, depending on different circumstances and different things that involve your opponent and your specific game plan for them.”
“So, it’s always a fine line, and that’s why experience at that position is so important. Disguising is good, and you want to try to do it, but you have to be in position to handle your responsibility. So, disguising at the expense of being out of position and not being able to make the plays that you need to make or be where you need to be, that’s a bad thing. So, the good thing is disguising, but the bad thing is being out of position, so you have to try to balance those.”
“Again, that comes with experience from Devin [McCourty] and Duron [Harmon] and Pat [Chung] knowing where they need to be, what they need to do, how much risk or how far away they can be from that responsibility and make it look like they’re doing something else that they would normally do and trying to tie different calls in based on the formations, because we have no control over the formation the offense comes out in.”
“So, you know, we give them certain parameters, but in the end, all the decisions that they make out there are their decisions, and we trust them to make good ones and make the right ones.”
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Here’s one example of how the Pats were able to disguise things on defense on one of their 11 blitzes to create pressure on Rodgers. The Patriots defense loads the line of scrimmage with potential rushers, seven to be exact, and runs a double-safety blitz playing cover-0 behind the pressure. The Packers only have six players in the protection scheme, and Devin McCourty comes unblocked through the line of scrimmage to pressure Rodgers into one of his seven throwaways under pressure in the game.
Although disguising blitzes played a significant role in the game plan, the Patriots mostly got after Rodgers with a four-man pass rush thanks to the stellar play of pass rushers Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn.
Flowers continued to play at a Pro Bowl level this week with a game-high nine total pressures.
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On this play, Flowers bull rushed Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga with such force that he rammed him into the running back taking Bulaga to the ground. On the second angle, you can see how Flowers’ terrific technique comes into play when he rushes the quarterback. So much of football on the line of scrimmage is about pad level. Flowers is excellent in that regard, and he’s simply lower than Bulaga on this play and gets underneath the right tackle’s shoulder pads. Any time you can do that, and add in heavy inside hands into the equation, you’re going to win a lot of these one-on-one situations.
As for Clayborn, he had his first breakout game in a Patriots uniform on Sunday night, leading the defense with an 84.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick loved the fourth-quarter sack from Flowers and Clayborn saying, “We had a seven-point lead, which isn’t very much against these guys and to be able to get the ball back midway through the fourth quarter and get a three-and-out after we’d gotten the turnover the series before and scored, was really a huge – I thought it was a huge play in the game.”
Two of the Pats’ stars of the night on the defensive side of the ball teamed up on the sack executing what Belichick referred to as a “twist game” on the right side of the defensive line.
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Flowers gets inside penetration rushing over the guard, which forces Rodgers off his spot, but when the Packers quarterback steps up Clayborn wraps around Flowers’ rush to converge for the sack. The sack was a great example of wrapping tight around the penetrator (Clayborn) and staying disciplined in your rush lane not to allow an escape route for Rodgers.
In all, Rodgers was 6-18 for 83 yards (4.6 YPA) with a 67.6 passer rating under pressure as the game plan worked to perfection for the Patriots defense.
The pass rush was terrific, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the coverage on the backend wasn’t also up to the task of defending the Packers offense.
The Patriots cornerbacks made it difficult on Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers pass catchers all night long; forcing Rodgers to throw into tight windows and his receivers to battle at the catch point.
And chief among them was the Pats’ top cornerback, Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore covered Packers number one wideout Davante Adams on 33 of Adams’ 54 pass snaps including penalties (61 percent), so he did spend some time elsewhere mostly on Randall Cobb.
But on his first-quarter pass breakup against Adams, Gilmore displayed everything that makes him a top-tier corner in the NFL.
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Gilmore is matched up with Adams in the slot one-on-one. Adams runs a corner route, and Gilmore is trailing him on the play due to some traffic over the middle, yet he’s able to recover and get his hand on the pass to knock it away to save a touchdown. Gilmore’s speed to not only carry receivers vertically when he is in-phase but to make up ground when the ball is in the air is one of his best traits.
Along with Gilmore, Pats cornerback Jason McCourty broke up two passes on Sunday night.
McCourty did allow a long 51-yard completion to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on another cover-0 blitz that gave him no safety help, but to his credit, he continued to compete, and only allowed two catches for nine yards into his coverage outside of the long passing play.
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On one of those pass breakups, McCourty did an excellent job to stay in-phase against the speedy Valdes-Scantling on a go ball down the right sideline. Duron Harmon was shading toward Adams at the top of the screen, leaving McCourty on an island. McCourty carried the long speed of Valdes-Scantling and timed it perfectly playing the hands of the receiver while still getting his head around to avoid contact.
Lastly, one of the few breakdowns from the Pats secondary came on Jimmy Graham’s 15-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, and even this one was highly contested and needed a terrific throw by Rodgers to beat the coverage.
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On the play, it appears that Chung was expecting help from safety Duron Harmon as he plays with outside leverage on Graham at the snap. However, Harmon jumps the slant route from Adams over the middle, leaving Chung without any help in the back of the end zone.
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This play was reminiscent of the Tyreek Hill touchdown on Devin McCourty a few weeks ago.
Although it appears that Harmon should get depth to help Chung, he was likely supposed to key on Adams’ route over the middle as the Pats tried to take away Aaron Rodgers’ top target. As you can see, Gilmore also plays with outside leverage at the top of the screen on Adams expecting the help inside from Harmon. Two defenders either both expected help from the same safety or Harmon’s job was to undercut Adams and Chung was just beat by Graham in a tough spot. Based on how the Pats covered Hill a few weeks ago in a similar route concept, I lean toward the latter.
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