By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Even in one of the Patriots’ worst-ever offensive performances under Bill Belichick with Tom Brady at quarterback, it’s worth looking back and analyzing what they tried to accomplish.
What stood out offensively in the Patriots’ 16-10 win over the Bills on Sunday is that they tried to reinstall the same 21 personnel groupings that they used with fullback James Develin, who went on injured reserve last week. Rookie Jakob Johnson did a respectable job blocking up the middle and for the most part was the least of the Patriots’ concerns in the run game.
They also got creative with the players they used in certain packages in attempts to get the run going, but the Patriots mostly struggled to move the ball regardless of the players on the field or Josh McDaniels’ play-calling. So as is indicative of such a troublesome performance on offense, the team mixed it up with their packages and calls more than we saw in the prior three games.
Below is a complete breakdown of the Patriots’ offensive personnel packages in Buffalo, based on 62 offensive snaps – including penalties and excluding Brady’s three kneeldowns at the end of regulation.
— 11 personnel: 28 snaps (45.2 percent)
— 21 personnel: 17 snaps (27.4 percent)
— 20 personnel: 10 snaps (16.1 percent)
— 22 personnel: 4 snaps (6.5 percent)
— 10 personnel: 3 snaps (4.8 percent)
— Despite Julian Edelman presumably playing through a chest contusion, the Patriots still utilized three or more receivers on 41 of 62 snaps (66.1 percent). If Edelman isn’t at full strength and can’t get open like he usually does, the onus falls on Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett to pick up the slack. They could not do that, as the top-3 receivers combined to catch just nine of 23 targets.
— Of the 17 snaps in 21 personnel, 15 featured Johnson at fullback. Fourteen of them had Sony Michel in as the running back, with James White getting one look.
— Guard/tackle Jermaine Eluemunor checked in for three snaps as a tight end in 22 personnel, as the Patriots stacked the offensive line with him and Ryan Izzo to try and spark the running game. Outside zone runs aren’t working right now, due in part to Izzo getting pushed around as a blocker. They miss Rob Gronkowski’s run-blocking on those plays.
— 11 personnel: 75 percent pass (21/28)
— 21 personnel: 58.8 percent run (10/17)
— 20 personnel: 100 percent pass (10/10)
— 22 personnel: 75 percent run (3/4)
— 10 personnel: 100 percent pass (3/3)
— The Patriots continue to be entirely predictable in 20 personnel. When they have James White, Rex Burkhead, and three receivers on the field, especially in the “pony” formation, it’s virtually guaranteed to be a pass. Sometimes it’s obvious due to an empty backfield. But it’s just indicative of how challenging it’s been for the Patriots’ running backs to actually run the football.
— Brady completed a pass to Julian Edelman on the lone passing play in 22 personnel. The play featured Michel, Johnson, Izzo, and Matt LaCosse with Edelman as the lone receiver. It would certainly help the offense if they could throw out of these packages more often, but it’s fair to wonder if Brady and McDaniels have enough weapons to pull it off consistently.
— Johnson lined up wide as a receiver on one play in 21 personnel, but the Patriots didn’t get to run the play because right tackle Marcus Cannon flinched for a false start penalty. Develin occasionally splits out wide. This would be another way to help the passing game, if the Patriots could find ways to get heavier defensive personnel on the field before spreading it out for Brady.
— For the second straight game, the Patriots came out in heavier packages like 21 personnel with the fullback before reverting to more 11 personnel for the rest of the game. They avoided 11 personnel on just one of their final 11 drives.
— The Patriots had three straight three-and-outs in the middle of the game, and used 20 personnel on four of their nine snaps. They went 11 personnel three times, and 22 and 10 personnel once each.
— They never stuck with the same personnel on every play of any given drive in the game. It’s a reflection of McDaniels and Brady having to try different things to get a spark in a game that the Bills defense made extremely hard on them.
Season Totals (279 Snaps)
— 11 personnel: 126 snaps (45.2 percent)
— 21 personnel: 72 snaps (25.8 percent)
— 20 personnel: 46 snaps (16.5 percent)
— 10 personnel: 23 snaps (8.2 percent)
— 22 personnel: 10 snaps (3.6 percent)
— 12 personnel: 2 snaps (0.7 percent)
— 11 personnel: 59.5 percent pass (75/126)
— 21 personnel: 59.7 percent run (43/72)
— 20 personnel: 87.0 percent pass (40/46)
— 10 personnel: 95.7 percent pass (22/23)
— 22 personnel: 80.0 percent run (8/10)
— 12 personnel: 100 percent pass (2/2)
— As detailed above, the most concerning percentage is probably the 87 percent passing rate out of 20 personnel. They rarely try handing off in those formations. In other packages, like 10 personnel, more predictability should be expected.
— It will be interesting to see how Ben Watson’s return affects the play-calling in two-tight end sets. As you can see above they have almost never tried 12 personnel this season. Watson’s presence should at least be a marginal improvement over Izzo in the run-blocking department, and a much bigger improvement as a pass-catcher.
The Patriots travel to Washington D.C. for Week 5 at the Redskins next Sunday. We’ll have another Package Report for you the following Monday. Hopefully, for the team’s sake, we’re analyzing a much sharper offensive performance.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.