QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England
QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vincent Verhei

Each year at this time, we like to devote our Quick Reads columns to the two teams headed to the Super Bowl, looking not at when they played their best, but when they played their worst. The Patriots and Eagles are great teams, yes, but they are not perfect. What weaknesses were opponents able to exploit and make these championship clubs look beatable -- and in some cases, beaten? Since New England was the first team to officially clinch a berth in the Super Bowl, we'll start with them today, and cover the Eagles next week.

According to DVOA, these were the Patriots' worst four games this season:

  • Week 1: Kansas City 42, New England 27. You remember this one. It was the season opener, when the Chiefs went into Foxboro and turned a close game into a blowout in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady completed less than half of his passes and failed to throw for a touchdown, while Alex Smith completed 80 percent of his throws and found the end zone four times. There had been talk about a perfect season for the Patriots in 2017, but instead things started with a shocking home loss that showed their era of dominance was at an end. Or, you know, not.
  • Week 3: New England 36, Houston 33. New England's DVOA for this game is probably (ahem) deflated due to unavoidable blips in our opponent adjustments. Our system docks them for playing a Texans team that finished 4-12 with Tom Savage as its leading passer, but the Patriots actually played against Deshaun Watson, who dragged that same roster to a 3-3 record. Regardless, it's never a good thing when your 28-20 third-quarter lead turns into a 33-28 fourth-quarter deficit, but fortunately for the Patriots they have a quarterback who has gotten really, really good at these late-game comeback scenarios.
  • Week 5: New England 19, Tampa Bay 14. An oddball game for New England, the only contest all year where the Patriots failed to score 20 points. Tampa Bay actually had the advantage in first downs (26 to 23), total yardage (409 to 402), and turnovers forced (two to zero), but New England was fortunate that Nick Folk was 0-for-3 on field goals, and that Jameis Winston's pass from the Patriots 19-yard line on the final play of the game fell incomplete.
  • Week 14: Miami 27, New England 20. If you're not convinced that Nick Foles and the Eagles have a fighting chance in the Super Bowl, I'd like to remind you that New England's last loss came at the hands of Jay Cutler and the Dolphins. Cutler threw touchdowns to Jakeem Grant and Jarvis Landry to put Miami up 27-10 in the third quarter. The Patriots rallied and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal in the game's final minute, but Miami recovered the ensuing onside kick to officially end things.

What were the common threads in these four games? Let's start with what went right for New England, and that list begins with the kicking game. The Patriots' average special teams rating in these, their worst four games of the year, was 6.0%. That's not significantly different from their full-season rating of 6.3%, which was fourth-best in the league.

The offense suffered a steeper decline, but this means falling from league-leading levels to the solid middle of the pack. In none of these games did New England's offense fall any lower than a -2.8% DVOA. That's not good, and certainly a far cry than what we would expect from Tom Brady and company, but it still would have finished in the top 20 over the full season (tied at 19th with, coincidentally, the 49ers and Brady's old backup, Jimmy Garoppolo). Brady completed 61.7 percent of his passes in these games, for 7.7 yards per pass, with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He was also sacked 13 times, but all in all these are not terrible numbers. Even at their worst, Brady and the offense gave New England a chance to win games.

If it wasn't the special teams or offense that let New England down in these games, then process of elimination tells us it must have been the defense, and that couldn't be any more true. In these four games, the Patriots defense had an average DVOA of 29.1%, 44.0% against the pass and 11.9% against the run. All of those would have been worst in the league over the full season in 2017. The quartet of Smith, Watson, Winston, and Cutler completed 65.8 percent of their passes against New England, averaging 8.3 yards per pass with ten touchdowns and two interceptions. The four teams also combined for 520 yards on 109 carries (including kneeldowns), an average of 4.8 yards per rush. The Eagles have a very strong defense, but it's not realistic to expect them to shut the Patriots offense down. Instead, their best chance to win could be to overwhelm New England's defense and turn the game into a shootout.

That does not mean, however, that the Eagles should abandon the running game, but they do need to be selective about where they run. In these four games, the Patriots allowed 5-plus yards per carry on runs to the left, right, or middle of the field. However, while there were big plays to be had on the outside, runs to the middle of the defense were more reliable. New England's defense had a -5.2% DVOA against runs to the offense's left, allowing a success rate of just 35 percent; to the right, those numbers were a 0.0% DVOA (seriously) and a 42 percent success rate. Against runs up the middle, however, the Patriots defense had a 20.5% DVOA and allowed a 58 percent success rate.


Maybe coincidence, maybe not, but Patriots opponents found their most success attacking the middle of the field on passing plays too -- New England's defensive DVOA was a mammoth 73.5% on those throws. Mind you, their numbers against passes to the offense's left (51.3%) or right (66.2%) were also dreadful.

More important than where passes were thrown was which players were on the receiving end of those throws. The Patriots covered tight ends well enough, with a DVOA of 7.8% on throws to those players, despite facing talents like Travis Kelce, Cameron Brate, and O.J. Howard. Their DVOA against wide receivers was much worse at 24.1%, and it hardly mattered whether it was opponents' No. 1 receiver, their No. 2, or anyone else -- their numbers were pretty consistent across the board. The players who really scorched the Patriots, though, were running backs; New England had a 57.7% DVOA on passes to runners. Kareem Hunt caught each of five passes thrown his way for 98 yards. Kenyan Drake caught five of six balls for 79 yards. D'Onta Foreman? Only two receptions, but they gained 65 yards. Charles Sims? Five catches for 31 yards and three first downs, including a pair of third-down conversions.

It's important to note that these weren't just screens or checkdowns to backs behind the line of scrimmage, asking them to break tackles and make moves in space. The Patriots allowed 28 catches to running backs in their four worst games. Those catches averaged 7.4 yards after the catch, 3.6 yards in the air. For comparison's sake, the average reception by a running back this season gained just 0.5 yards through the air -- barely beyond the line of scrimmage. The Patriots, however, were more likely to get beaten on pass routes downfield than they were to miss tackles on screens.

How do the Eagles' weapons match up with New England's weaknesses? The running backs could be most important, obviously, in both the running and the passing game. In the playoffs, the Eagles have relied most heavily on Jay Ajayi (33 carries, eight targets), with LeGarrette Blount (15 carries, no targets) and Corey Clement (three carries, six targets) in more specialized roles. Clement, though, may deserve more carries in the Super Bowl if the Eagles want to exploit the Patriots' weakness against middle runs. On 28 carries up the middle this season, Clement averaged 4.1 yards per carry, with a 27.9% DVOA and 61 percent success rate. Those are much better numbers than those posted by Blount (98 carries, 4.6-yard average, -10.0% DVOA, 45 percent success rate) or Ajayi (23, 4.0, -22.9%, 39 percent) on runs up the middle. (Those are Ajayi's numbers with the Eagles -- with the Dolphins, he averaged 3.2 yards on 74 middle runs, with a -7.0% DVOA and 50 percent success rate.)

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On passing plays, though, none of the Eagles' backs seem like especially good options. None of their three top runners was used much as a downfield receiver this season. Blount only gained 3 yards through the air, total, on his eight catches in the regular season. Clement and Ajayi caught ten passes each, but the average reception for both was caught behind the line of scrimmage. One wild-card option: Kenjon Barner. He was used almost exclusively as a kick returner this year, with only five catches -- but those catches, on average, were caught 4.0 yards downfield. Only one time this season did Philadelphia line up a wide receiver or tight end in the backfield and throw him the ball: Nelson Agholor, who was the target on a flat route in the red zone against Seattle.

This is not the kind of game plan the Eagles have used very often this season. Philadelphia ranked 20th in number of runs up the middle in 2017, and 30th in total passes to running backs. Channeling their offense through Clement, Blount, and Ajayi would go against the trends they have shown all year -- but the teams that have used similar tactics against the Patriots are those who have had the most success.


88 comments, Last at 26 Jan 2018, 8:52am

1 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I honestly dunno. I'd think what I would do is come in with four gameplans - two offense, two defense, and just mix them up to make it harder for them to adjust.
Easier said than done, I know.

Maybe just go with what you do best the first half and use the second half to pull out plays the Patriots haven't seen before. I think that's what happened with KC, primarily.

Philly has the defensive line depth to keep wave after wave of passrushers going. They just have to be careful not to get caught in a nohuddle mismatch, though.

10 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Reminds me of a Romo observation early in the year; he said something like "the Pats wouldn't usually blitz there, they did that to throw off anyone scouting their tendencies." I don't understand how he would know that without asking Belichick before the game, but I'm sure that's what he said.

Anyway, ideally you'd have the two gameplans dovetail so that stopping one necessarily weakens their ability to stop the other. I don't think this is implausible at all, for the smarter teams.

2 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Interestingly, Mike Lombardi over on TheRinger said Philly's normal offense being a bad matchup for NE is one of the biggest reasons why he is convinced the Eagles will win. :)

11 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Wait, so instead of paying the refs with money, the Pats paid with voodoo? First of all I can't imagine Belichick ever willingly giving up that much of his voodoo power to anyone in the NFL, but if it's true, that means there are NFL referees running around with legit voodoo power! That is the scariest thing I've ever heard!

12 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I can envision Ed Hochuli sticking pins into little dolls while stewing lambs eyes and wool of bat and fillet of fenny snake over a bed of hot human humerus bones in his back woods sugar shack. "OK Gene... (Sticks pin into the doll's left eye) ...No, Gronk didn't push off on that 45 yard catch and bulldoze... In FAaaaCT... He had his face mask wrenched sideways! By whommmmmm..... YES! Number 9 of the defense!!!"

- Anything is possible when you have no idea what you are talking about.

9 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

If it weren't for Denver, Pats would be looking for a fifth ring next month and wondering which finger to double up on.

So what did Denver do differently? They played a whole game, they didn't let the defense get worn out, they took smart risks and managed the clock, and they jumped out to a lead and then didn't try to sit on it but persisted playing like it was still 0-0.

In other words, they played like Belichick and Brady. They were not just good but also smart.

It's that second part that Seattle and Atlanta lacked.

13 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Denver also didn't have four injured DBs, like Seattle had. Seattle's one healthy DB was injured on the pick-6. They weren't a fully-operational death star after that.

(And before you bloviate about depth in roster construction, two nicked up players costs the Patriots XLII and XLVI against substantiallyweaker teams)

Atlanta was mostly ground down by an enormous difference in play count. (This also happened to Alabama in the 2017 NC game)

16 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Let’s stop using injuries as an excuse. Last year there was no Gronkowski and others also. This year no Edelman, Mitchell, Hightower among others. And Gronkowski missed the second lad last week. He also was hurt for the second Giants Super Bowl. If he is healthy, one fluke Manning pass goes nowhere. Injuries happen to everyone. Part of the game. Deal with it.

15 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

NE was really beat up for both AFCCGs in Denver, which had more to do with the losses than anything strategic Denver did. In 2013 they were a shell of themselves, and would have been smoked by Seattle. In 2015, the OL was in shambles (not good against that DL), the receivers were all battling injuries and the top two RBs were on IR. It would have taken far worse ineptitude by Denver to lose those games than what we saw from Jax on Sunday.

64 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I'm very confused by this post.

First off, they're already playing for their sixth ring.

Secondly, sitting on a lead was a hallmark of those Kubiak teams, always playing like he expected the defense to pull a miracle every time and not even so much as allow a FG. This is exactly how and why New England almost came back, even in a game where Wade's defense played as well as you could ever possibly ask any D to play, and it's exactly how he coached the Super Bowl, which was bailed out by Miller's play and Cam not being Superman that day.

I think you're forgetting how close the Patriots made that game. It took some heroics and the luck of Gostkowski missing that extra point to avoid that game being an awful loss.

I guess if your argument is strictly on the defensive side of the ball - then yes, I agree. They didn't ever at any point go into the lame cautious prevent cover-2 mode. They attacked and attacked. The conservatism/content with the small lead strategy was more on the offense.

22 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

OK, so obviously, #2 is a troll comment, but on a serious note:

What if it's not the game being fixed by New England, but New England gaming the officials? As in, you could imagine New England specifically teaching defensive linemen techniques to make holding more obvious (lateral movement, for instance) and teaching wide receivers techniques to make pass interference called more often, by figuring out what the officials are keying off of and gaming that.

Would that be ethical? Honestly, I don't know. If you're exploiting officials' tendencies to get them to see penalties that aren't there, I'd say it's not ethical. If you're doing things to make *actual* penalties more visible to officials, I'd say it is.

I'm not saying New England's actually doing this, but it's an interesting thought experiment. It also wouldn't surprise me if they were.

24 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

It's an interesting idea. I question the feasibility of asking players to change their technique to try to compensate for officiating tendencies, and imagine a potential downside. If you ask a wide receiver to change something to try to get more PI calls, and instead make him drop a ball that he would have caught if he hadn't changed his technique, you've given yourself a disadvantage. I don't doubt that NE has at least thought about this.

I wouldn't consider it unethical at all; if it is getting officials to seen penalties that aren't there, it's simply illuminating a huge problem with the officiating. And I think that even granting no bias toward or against any team by the officials, there is a huge problem with inconsistency that sometimes impacts the results of games.

As an aside, I heard a radio interview with Mike Pereira yesterday and I learned two things I did not know. One, the current format of putting officials on different crews than they worked on all season was instituted because of a grievance by officials who were individually highly rated but worked on crews that weren't as highly rated, and were thus missing out on playoff games. I think the current system is insane; you can't possibly expect to get maximum performance out of officials who are thrown into a new crew and don't know how to best work together. Two, because there are so many playoff games and because each crew only works one (except for the Super Bowl), what we often hear about the playoff crews being "all-star" crews or the "best" officials based on their regular season rating isn't true. I believe he said there are 17 officials in each role and the top 10 work a playoff game - that means you have some officials who were deemed below average performers, even with their normal crews, working playoff games with people they don't normally work with. It's insane.

26 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Doesn't necessarily even have to be technique. Could be route combinations, or defensive formations. As in, you have a certain defensive alignment (or rush strategy) because it tends to get holding calls more often. Or a certain route (or an adjustment of a route, like changing where a double move or a break happens) that makes the WR more visible for a defender.

I'm torn on whether or not it's ethical if you're getting "fake" penalties. Yeah, you're illuminating a problem with the officiating, but not telling anyone about it to get an advantage. There was a similar situation (but waaay more obvious) that happened in college football in Minnesota vs Penn State: the NCAA added this stupid rule change where a team could get a clock advantage by being intentionally offsides. Minnesota must've been the first team to realize it, because they did it repeatedly as time was running out. So you had a team that realized a problem with the rules (or officiating) and abused the hell out of it rather than letting the NCAA know this was a problem. To me, that's unethical. In that case, it was obvious, and the NCAA quickly was like "don't ever do that again" to all teams, and the rule quickly got changed. But if it's subtle, you could imagine doing it for a *long* time.

Then again, the exact equivalent is structuring a play to hide a penalty from the officials, and that happens all the time and is ethical. So... I dunno.

Anyway, it was just an interesting thought that even if you *did* see skewed penalty stats for one team, it doesn't have to be official bias.

85 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

There was a similar situation (but waaay more obvious) that happened in college football in Minnesota vs Penn State: the NCAA added this stupid rule change where a team could get a clock advantage by being intentionally offsides.

That was Wisconsin, not Minnesota, in 2006. Bret Bielema apparently wanted everyone to know how clever he was.

25 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Honestly, I don't think we even have to look that far back to see a team gaming officials - how many pass interference calls did Joe Flacco draw using Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin?

I suspect these thing will even themselves out - if a ref thinks they're being taken advantage of, they will just stop calling those plays.

Better to just train them to not react to penalties or give away penalties, it seems easier.

(Actually, I think you can probably answer that question by observing James Harden and his foul rates in the NBA - he used to get an absurd amount of foul calls gaming the system. As the refs adjusted to how he did, he started getting less calls - and consequently, lost his cool raging about not getting calls he used to get.)

27 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Yeah, what I'm saying is a little different: it's one thing for a player to end up getting a lot of pass interference penalties just because of how he plays. Those sorts of things even themselves out, like you said.

It's another thing to actively and continually watch and monitor for those things and target them. That *won't* even itself out, because the teams have vastly better data mining than the officials do.

When I thought about this, though, the one thing that really caught my mind was holding, since almost all O-linemen say that holding can be called on almost every play. Since holding is such a huge penalty for an offense, it seems like there'd be a big potential advantage to a team to find ways to manipulate holding called against them vs. the other team.

31 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

"Yeah, what I'm saying is a little different: it's one thing for a player to end up getting a lot of pass interference penalties just because of how he plays. Those sorts of things even themselves out, like you said."

That's not really what the Ravens were doing though - they were taking it a step further and having their receivers cut off DBs and stop/slow down on uncatchable balls in the hope of getting a PI call.

41 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Yeah. Using the Patriots as an example, they adjusted to it, coaching their DBs a bit differently to not quite shadow as closely so as to -not- draw the flags when they play Baltimore.

Does that basically work for or against New England in your 'count' of adjusting to the refs? Does that count for or against Baltimore in your accounting of 'working the refs'?

29 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I expect all teams to do this and would consider it massive incompetence on the part of tae coaching staff if it did not do so.

NE players have said the team scouts officials and informs players of officials' tendencies. Again, I would expect every team does that and again would consider it gross incompetence if a team did not do so.

30 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

There's a difference between scouting officials' tendencies to make sure that you play within the game they want to call and doing so to get penalties called on the other team. I think that's the point.

I mean, it's one thing to know "if this official sees this, it's going to be holding every time" and then making sure you avoid doing that. That's fine. That's just like scouting an umpire in baseball. But knowing "hey, this official calls roughing the passer much more often if you fall like this" - that, I dunno.

I'm a little unnerved that you seem to be of the "whatever it takes to win" mentality rather than actually wanting to see a game that's won, rather than a metagame that's won. I mean, I'd rather teams *report* officiating inconsistencies they see rather than try to manipulate them.

36 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Kindof? I mean, it depends how it's being done. If you're doing certain actions because you know an official doesn't call that PI, that's like figuring out a strike zone in baseball.

If you're doing certain actions because you know an official can't *see* it to call it PI, that I'd be less comfortable with. I'd prefer the holding definition to be clarified so that hidden holding doesn't happen on every play, for instance.

If you're doing certain actions (as an offense) because you know that an official will call it PI even though it isn't... that I'm even less comfortable with. That's basically the same as flopping, which I think is total garbage.

39 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

One other thing here, actually, and it's relevant to the latest AFC championship game:

The Jaguars DBs are definitely coached to clutch and grab and try to hide their DPI.

What killed them in New England was they got caught and started melting down.

So doesn't the Jaguars's experience in the AFC Championship suggest exactly what you're talking about?

35 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

There are certainly shades of gray here.

Defenders who start rushing the passer at the slightest twitch because they know today's ref has a tendency to call false starts on small movements by the OL that most refs let pass as trivial? BAD! That's faking getting drawn offside!

Defenders who take more than usual care to hold back when they see small twitches, because they know today's ref has a tendency to ignore trivial or small movements on the OL? GOOD! That's smart play.

The only thing is...

They are the exact same defenders, just described differently.

37 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

No, I agree, and again, that's not exactly what I mean. There's obviously a spectrum of metagaming here, and some parts are going to be obviously fine with me (knowing you can play a little tighter coverage with this crew) and some parts are going to be obviously wrong to me (knowing that you can flop against this crew, or plead with them, etc.).

Some of this is just me, I get, but it's also interesting to me that there seem to be fans who have *no* boundaries on what's not OK.

44 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

That wouldn't explain how New England ends up so high in penalties called *against the other team*. Not committing penalties is probably fine. I totally agree that New England's low penalty count *against* them is probably just discipline.

Somehow inducing opponents into penalties... depends why. You could say "teams lose their cool against New England because they're losing," and sure, that's fine. Same thing happened with Minnesota/Philly. Now, goading the other team into getting penalties, or gaming the officials to do it? Not so okay with that.

Again, not saying that's what was going on at all. Just curious to see if others see a line there too, and kinda surprised some *don't*.

45 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Have you seen -anything- indicating they actually goad other teams into penalties, or anything? I mean, I think the Patriots are coached into being disciplined.

On the flip side, I don't think the OTHER team is quite as coached into being disciplined.

Here's an example of what I think is the 'being cool' moment.

Jacksonville calls timeout.

They then proceed to get a delay of the game. Somehow. Why? I don't know. I cannot for the life of me think of why they do that.

Same for the false starts. Did anything there indicate the Patriots induced it?

Another example:
This could easily have been called, but when New England scores a touchdown, Myles Jack hits White -way- after he's scored. Could easily have been called a personal foul. It wasn't. (Incidentally, if some idiot posts the 'refs celebrating with the Patriots' meme here, this is the situation it came in, as the refs was busy separating players and accidentally split up a couple of Patriots trying to celebrate with each other, and having to laugh and apologize for doing that.)

It has always struck me that teams that play on the edge like that are more prone to being, well... penalized.

49 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

"That wouldn't explain how New England ends up so high in penalties called *against the other team*."

Is there any evidence that they do?

I mean - look at the penalties on jacksonville -

False Start
Illegal Shift
Delay Of Game
Offensive Holding (declined - QB sacked)
Unnecessary Roughness (hit on Gronk)

The only one that was even subjective was declined.

And then two PI calls. The first call the defender had his arm around the receiver's neck and pulled him down - you can't really fake that. The second one, the defender put both hands on the receiver and pushed him out of bounds while the ball was in the air - you can argue that the ball was uncatchable - but that's largely because the defender was pushing the WR out of the way.

Most live-play penalties occur because a player is getting beat - offensive lineman hold because the defender has position advantage. Cornerbacks hold because they're beat and don't want to give up a TD. Etc.

The simplest explanation for the Patriots causing a lot of penalties (assuming that they actually do) is that they're usually the better team.

52 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

"Is there any evidence that they do?"

Yeah, there is. No team gained more first downs from penalties, more yards from penalties, more automatic first downs, or yards from pass interference on penalties. All in all, they had the third-highest number of penalties called on their opponents in the league, the second highest penalty differential (penalties against team - penalties against opponent), and the biggest penalty yardage differential (by a lot, although this is because of pass interference again).

"I mean - look at the penalties on jacksonville -"

I'm not claiming it's a conspiracy, or that the penalties weren't there. I'm simply saying that the disparity exists. And while you can explain the Patriots not causing penalties away by them being more disciplined, it's a harder explanation the other way.

"The simplest explanation for the Patriots causing a lot of penalties (assuming that they actually do) is that they're usually the better team."

Yes, that's what I said. Teams usually lose their cool when they're losing. The problem with that statement is that if the Patriots *were* goading them, there's no way to tell the difference. And I tend to think that some of the Patriots were goading them, too - I've seen enough out of several players on the Patriots to know some of them are a fair amount arrogant - not saying this is *uncommon* in the league, just *true*. I just don't think it's out of the ordinary in a game of that high stakes (I don't think it's *appropriate*, and I hate when my team does it, too). I do wonder if the Patriots (who are ridiculously detail-oriented) also try to maximize the possibility of a defense being called for a penalty, too. That was what I wondered above, and like I said, I'm not sure how I feel about that if it's true.

The reason I'm mentioning this isn't because I believe there's a conspiracy. I don't. In fact, I think it's ridiculously stupid. The reason I'm mentioning this is because the idea is being criticized wrong. There *is* a huge penalty imbalance this year in favor of the Patriots. You can't deny that. You can try to explain it, but explaining it by saying "the Patriots are just better" smacks of arrogance as a fan.

The *best* way to criticize that idea is to point out that many players and coaches have gone through New England, many have left on bad terms, and so if there was any active bias, someone would have known about it. See Matt Walsh with the Patriots videotaping scandal, or the New Orleans players after the Gregg Williams targeting scandal. Conspiracies don't exist because humans are terrible at keeping secrets.

65 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Even ignoring penalty differential, Pat cited three or four stats that indicate the Patriots' opponents have more penalties called against them than any other team's opponents.

If the Patriots are doing something intentionally that draws more penalties, which is what Pat is saying, that wouldn't be a conspiracy - it would be a (arguably smart, arguably unethical) strategy of the team.

67 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

It'd probably be more instructive to divide up the type of penalties opponents are accumulating (whether on offense or defense) and determine if it's a volume thing based on how many plays are run.

Also compare it to non-Patriot opponents to get an idea too if it's an issue with opponent's coaching (I mean, I wouldn't be terribly surprised to discover that Oakland consistently gets a lot of penalties regardless of who they play, for example.)

70 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Pat cited 3 or 4 stats showing that the Patriots have a highly positive penalty differential - not that they're intentionally doing something to cause other teams to get called for more penalties.

These are not even close to the same thing.

And yes, the Patriots as a team intentionally planning to do something to cause the referees to call unearned penalties on other teams is literally a conspiracy. That's literally what the word means.

73 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

He showed they have a lot of penalties called that benefit them, not just differential. I agree there's no proof the Patriots do something special to draw them.

But if they did, it is literally not a conspiracy. It's only a conspiracy if the refs or league is involved along with the team! When Aaron Rodgers uses a hard count to draw the opponent offsides, it's not a conspiracy - it's a good strategy!

57 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Actually, I have a question here too - how much pass interference penalties is due to the volume of passes the Patriots have made? I.E. what percentage of their penalties account for their offense, playwise and offense-wise?

Is it high because the Patriots draw that many penalties out of proportion with their passing rates, or is it that they pass a lot, so they get more opportunities to draw PI's?

Do they get that many calls against the other teams because they have -that- many more plays?

74 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Well, that proves it. They were cheating.
(end snark)

I did a similar look for defensive holding. For that the Patriots get the benefit of the most calls. It makes you wonder: Just how can you cheat to cause more defensive holding calls?

You can't.

Is there a reason teams would hold more against the Patriots?

Yes. Many. It's the most potent pass offense in the game. A defensive holding penalty may be a better than expected result in some cases, despite being a losing strategy if you do it every play. And some holds don't get noticed, which is a big win for the defense.

75 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Definitely agree with your last point.

But it's not cheating if the Patriots somehow found a way, just like (as I said to Hoodie_Sleeves), it's not a conspiracy. It would be a strategy, unless it is somehow made against the rules.

It's not cheating when Aaron Rodgers attempts to draw his opponent offsides, and it's not cheating if the Patriots run routes that have a higher chance to draw penalties (or whatever they would be doing).

77 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Actually, I can imagine ways you can push the odds of defensive holding in -your- favor.

Like getting a WR matched up on a LB, or a DL, or getting a Gronkowski in single coverage, and forcing defenders to clutch and grab before they lose the receiver.

Or matching up an uberfast WR on a much slower player.

79 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I think what gets the 'trickery' or 'cheating' thing is that these guys aren't athletic specimens that make it -clear- that they're physical mismatches (well, except Gronkowski and Cooks).

what Edelman / Amendola / etc. are are -very good route runners-.

That and Brady or McDaniels moves pieces around to set up routes and force mismatches.

But to people who don't -actually- watch the game, well... I once had a Pittsburgh Steelers fan complain that the evidence of cheating was "Who are those guys?"

81 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I agree... but who are you arguing with?

You're the first person on this page to use the word "cheat" or "cheating" to describe what the Patriots are doing.

The first reference to "conspiracy" (which you haven't used, but Hoodie_Sleeves) has, was Pat saying he didn't think it was a conspiracy.

All I've been saying is that the Patriots could intentionally be doing things that are more likely to draw penalties as part of a strategy, and that would be neither cheating nor conspiratorial. Not sure why you guys act like Pat was accusing the Patriots of either.

82 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I think primarily that the statistics being used probably -should- be parsed better instead.

It's rather frustrating to see 'look, they have the most!' ... without pausing to think, is that -normal- considering they probably get a lot more plays in than most teams?

Of course, I think we were down this road before with 'low fumble rates' too, which feels all too familiar.

83 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I certainly wasn't arguing with you. Nor with Digit other than a tiny nitpick: nothing he listed was an example on the trickery-unethical-cheating spectrum.

Agreed, no one had said "cheating" or "trickery". That was just me gently mocking Pat's "gaming the officials" and "Would that be ethical? Honestly, I don't know." wishy-washy rhetorical style, and more generally the cheating/conspiracy theory crowd.

I am NOT saying Pat is part of that crowd. He uses similar rhetorical style and seems fixated on using the Patriots as his example in this otherwise interesting discussion. Does that make him part of the cheating/conspiracy crowd?

Honestly, I don't know. :-)

(Good ol' Poe's Law - it bites you every time!)

76 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

In the link to nflpenalties.com posted above, you can see that the Pats were called for 100 penalties, their opponents 127. Tennessee was called for 103, and their opponents were called for 131. Is anyone suggesting that Tennessee is paying off the refs or somehow fixing games?

I also don't understand why anyone thinks the NFL would want to help the Patriots in any way, given that they have severely punished them twice for infractions. Seems to me they'd be the last team the NFL would want to do that for.

53 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Also, as I've said elsewhere, Bouye didn't shove Cooks shove out of bounds. It was the other way around - Cooks shoved Bouye, and ended up out of bounds because of the shove. Either that, or they both shoved each other simultaneously (because Cooks *definitely* shoved Bouye). Bouye's hand was on Cooks, but it was on the arm/shoulder that was grabbing Bouye's jersey. It's *possible* that Buoye shoved Cooks as well, but it'd have to be with the left hand (that we can't see, but the official could) and again, it'd have to be at exactly the same time Cooks hits Buoye.

But that's just a bad PI call, it didn't strike me as anything out of the ordinary.

55 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

The ref is there, looking at them in the video.

I'd think he had a better view of exactly who pushed who out, unless you're arguing that he's part of a conspiracy, in which case, that ref is in a no win situation because there doesn't seem to be anything he could say that you'd accept, because you seem to be absolutely convinced your assessment is more correct than his.

56 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Yes, I know he is. That's why I'm saying that it's possible he saw something that we can't see, although it'd have to happen at exactly the same time as Cooks's shove. It's also possible he made a mistake, which I tend to think is more likely.

"because there doesn't seem to be anything he could say that you'd accept, because you seem to be absolutely convinced your assessment is more correct than his."

Of course he could say something that'd convince me! But, of course, we haven't heard from the NFL on this at all, so all I'm left with is the video, which looks way more like a mistake by the ref rather than actual pass interference you can't see. It's entirely possible that the ref didn't realize that Cooks was the one shoving Bouye, for instance, because his hand was out of view of the ref. Doesn't make the call *right* (again, to me, it just looks like a garden-variety screwed up PI call), does make it *understandable*.

71 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Cooks has a right to move towards the ball.
Bouye also has a right to move towards the ball.

Bouye doesn't have a right to keep Cooks from moving towards the ball.

Bouye didn't try to get towards the ball - he tried to keep Cooks from correcting his route - which is clear pass interference.

Bouye is doing both A and E here. This isn't confusing unless you just ignore what the rule is.

It is pass interference by either team when any player movement beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders the progress of an eligible player of such player’s opportunity to catch the ball. Offensive pass interference rules apply from the time the ball is snapped until the ball is touched. Defensive pass interference rules apply from the time the ball is thrown until the ball is touched.

Actions that constitute defensive pass interference include but are not limited to:

(a) Contact by a defender who is not playing the ball and such contact restricts the receiver’s opportunity to make the catch.

(b) Playing through the back of a receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball.

(c) Grabbing a receiver’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.

(d) Extending an arm across the body of a receiver thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, regardless of whether the defender is playing the ball.

(e) Cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball.

14 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

The problem with this is that three of the games were in the 1st 5 weeks of the season when the Pats defense were still trying to adjust to 4-5 different starters from their SB team and since then they have. The MIA game was more on the offense that couldn't stay on the field due to missing Gronk and others (they were 0-11 on 3rd down).

The game that I would look at, if I were the Eagles, would be the LAC game Week 8. The Pats dominated the time of possession, but the Chargers D line dominated the Pats O line in the running game and put a lot of pressure on Brady. If it wasn't for a few crazy plays, LAC would have won as a West Coast team on the road on a 1:00 pm game, something that hasn't been done much in 17 years in Foxboro.

21 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Right - I don't think there's much to be learned from those first 3 losses - the defense was so out of sorts that you just can't really expect anything there to be repeated.

Defensively atleast - I think you can pretty much throw anything out before the bye - good or bad - they're just not playing the same scheme anymore.

Look at the Steelers game, the Jacksonville game, the loss to Miami, and a bit of the LAC game if you want to figure out how to beat the Patriots.

You're not going to learn anything by watching Stephon Gilmore cover the wrong guy in week 1.

23 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

That's a testable hypothesis, though. Look at the other games and see if they have a lower rate of attacking that vulnerability, or if those teams tried those things and the Patriots just defended them better.

It's easy to believe that the defense actually fixed itself, but the other possibility is that other teams just didn't (or couldn't) attack them the same way.

33 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I think you're not understanding what was going on week 1-5 with the Patriots defense.

This wasn't bad coverage. This was guys running the wrong plays - Gilmore playing man when everyone else was playing zone. This was the safeties being completely out of position because Gilmore was supposed to be playing man against WR2, and was instead just standing there in a shallow zone while WR2 ran down the field completely uncovered. It was a shitshow.

He saw a huge reduction in playing time until it got fixed.

Its not an issue of whether or not teams could/couldn't exploit it - its simply not happening anymore.

34 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

It is actually possible for multiple things to be going on: the Patriots defense didn't become magically awesome after week 5. It just became not godawful. Weighted DVOA has almost dismissed weeks 1-5 at this point, and the Patriots' defense is still 20th in the league. I mean, it's not like the article even mentioned the Tyreek Hill screwup, so it seems a little silly to point out a play that the article didn't even mention.

And like I said, if those mistakes stopped happening, then the tendencies seen here should've gone away, rather than just not been chosen as often. Rushes up the middle and to the right, for instance, look like they were consistently successful against the Patriots all year, but certain games teams just... never did it.

Jacksonville, for instance, ran a ton up the middle/guard, but never right side at all. Pretty much same thing with the Titans, too: only 1 attempt off right tackle or around right end. The Jets in week 17 never ran up the middle once.

I mean, I'd agree that not including Pittsburgh here doesn't make much sense, considering the game was (relatively) close. Especially because some of the same tendencies showed up in that game, too: Bell was much more effective up the middle/to the right as opposed to running to the left.

42 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Runs to the right probably resolved by finally getting an NFL caliber edge setter in Harrison.

Runs up the middle are also overstated by DVOA and ypc. NE dealt with a lot of DL and LB injuries this year, which have all been recovered from (excepting Hightower, who is on IR). They also, by virtue of not being talented enough to be good at both pass and run D simultaneously, allowed a lot of run yardage by scheme.

This is why why Jax and TN, who are one dimensional offenses, were stymied on the ground more than DVOA would suggest. A team that can do both proficiently should give NE problems (presuming they don't play according to clear tendencies rooted out beforehand), so how Foles plays will be a primary determinant in the outcome of this game. Not exactly breaking new, I know, but it's even more true than usual. :)

43 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I mean, that's a fair point, but I'd like to once again repeat that Jacksonville and Tennessee never even *tried* runs to the right, so it seems like great amounts of faith to believe that things are somehow fixed. It's not like we have great faith in the abilities of the playcalling of the Titans and Jaguars, after all.

58 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

How the heck would they know it wasn't there if they didn't even *try*? That... seems odd to me. I mean, I *guess* it's possible, but seems a stretch to me.

Better explanation: Jacksonville doesn't run to the right side because *they* can't do it, not because the runs aren't there. They run to the right a bit less than the average team. (I have no explanation for Tennessee).

Philly, however, runs to the ends (both ends) quite a bit more, so that's an interesting thing to watch.

69 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

Seriously - I mean, Jesus Christ - do people even watch these games?

They had multiple defenders doing nothing but keeping Bortles from getting out of the pocket.

Its like when people ask why Brady didn't try a sneak on 3rd and 1 when the defensive tackles and ends are shoulder to shoulder across the middle.

46 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

We’re not talking about weighted DVOA. We’re talking about an article that cites what was done to NE in 3 of their first 5 games as ways to beat them now.

I agree with the other commenters that drawing any conclusions on how to beat the NE defense based on things that happened in the first five games is a fool’s errand. It’s not they were being beat by good play design, it’s that they were failing to execute basic coverages and weren’t even running what the coaches intended due to incompetence on the players’ part.

They eventually got that under control and now at least can run what the coaches call.

That doesn’t mean they’re a good defense. They aren’t. And they and the team as a whole is eminently beatable. But just because something worked in week 3 when the team was incapable of playing defense doesn’t mean it’s going to work now hat they are actually capable of playing defense.

Looking at teams that gave the NE defense fits recently makes much more sense than looking back to weeks 1-5.

50 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

"the Patriots defense didn't become magically awesome after week 5"

Nobody is making this claim - its a strawman.

The only claim I'm making is that its not really worth examining the first couple games, because the "Defenders running the wrong plays" is so overwhelmingly the reason they were awful that the rest really doesn't matter.

Yes, its possible that some of the weaknesses that were seen in those games are actual weaknesses, but it's impossible to actually suss that out from those games because so many players are so out of position.

The fact that there were large gains on off-tackle right runs in those games isn't meaningful once you take into affect that the RCB was having a sandwich in the endzone and the safety was crying and pulling his hair out.

Look at the close games in the second half - not the nonsense of the first 5 games. Its worthless.

51 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

"Nobody is making this claim - its a strawman."

No, it's an exaggeration for effect. The Patriots defense was godawful in Weeks 1-5. You're claiming that the only reason they were wrong was because defenders were running the wrong plays. Therefore, if that ended after week 1-5, any problems seen in those first weeks would no longer occur after that and the Patriots defense would become magically awesome. OK - that's an exaggeration. But none of those problems would be seen any more.

"Yes, its possible that some of the weaknesses that were seen in those games are actual weaknesses, but it's impossible to actually suss that out from those games"

And *that's* an unsubstantiated claim, and it's in fact demonstrably wrong. There were bunches of gains to the right and middle in that game. And for the rest of the season, excluding those games, there were *still* bunches of gains to the right and middle. Significantly more than to the left side. Therefore, he did, in fact, suss out an actual weakness (modulo Harrison, which is possible, but we have no evidence for it) from those games.

68 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

"You're claiming that the only reason they were wrong was because defenders were running the wrong plays. "

This is another strawman.

I am claiming no such thing.

What I am claiming is that analysis of strengths and weaknesses for those games is impossible, because for all intents and purposes, the first 5 games the Patriots were playing a different scheme.

"There were bunches of gains to the right and middle in that game. "
There were huge gains everywhere in those games. The only reason you think the gains to the right and middle are significant is because those were a problem in later games. Your entire argument is basically just confirmation bias.

48 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

NE plays conservatively on defense. The Eagles need to plan a lot of short passes and take the seven yard chunks they can get for free with good execution. Also, once you move Foles off his spot, he's worthless, so taking what NE gives keeps your QB out of bad situations. When running, create uncertainty for the NE LBs. That's the key to the run game; make them have to diagnose quickly, then Roberts will make mistakes. Run at Van Noy with Blount, and he will get knocked backwards every time.

If NE can move Foles off his spot, they win easily. The Eagles had great success with slow developing plays and double moves against the Vikings, because that's what the Vikings risk with their aggressive defense. You will get none of that and only invite disaster against the Pats. The only time Foles should attack downfield is off play action, especially on first down across the middle.

The Eagles defense is in deep trouble this game. They need to use every trick in their book to dial up pressure on Brady without putting holes in their defense. The Pats will chip, double Cox, and give Brady time to attack downfield and destroy the overmatched Eagles secondary.

87 Re: QR Bonus: Keys To Beating New England

I'm not sure why the Eagles defense would be in deep trouble. Jacksonville held the Pats to ten points midway through the fourth quarter, and they're not a better defense than the Eagles, at least not lately; Eagles are -18.1 in weighted defense, and Jacksonville is at -13.0.

You are probably correct about Foles, however, and that could doom the Eagles by itself.