By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The 2019 Patriots offense remains a pass-heavy attack with mostly three or more wide receivers on the field. But in Sunday’s 13-9 win over the Cowboys, they made their biggest offensive play and found something to build on in the red zone when they went with two receivers or less.
Tom Brady and rookie wideout N’Keal Harry connected for the biggest and best offensive play of the game, as Brady fired a dart toward Harry’s back shoulder and the rookie combined size, hands, and body control to reel in his first career touchdown. The play notably came in the Patriots’ only snap of the game in “12” personnel (one RB, two TEs, two WRs). Best news is that the snap came at the 10-yard line with a specific grouping used for the first time all season.
Have the Patriots finally found a red zone combination that works?
The specific matchup against the Cowboys defense certainly factored in, but the Patriots haven’t had a red zone weapon like Harry all season. The key for the rookie moving forward is consistency on both a week-to-week and play-to-play basis. But if he makes more plays one-on-one like he did on his touchdown, he has the potential to transform the Patriots’ red zone offense.
You can get more on the Harry touchdown and many other notable offensive plays in the breakdown below. This is based on 66 offensive snaps, excluding two kneeldowns on the Patriots’ final possession and a pre-snap false start penalty for Isaiah Wynn.
Snap Counts (66 Total)
— 11 personnel: 52 snaps (78.9 percent)
— 12 personnel: 1 snap (1.5 percent)
— 13 personnel: 2 snaps (3.0 percent)
— 21 personnel: 2 snap (3.0 percent)
— 22 personnel: 9 snaps (13.6 percent)
— Favorite grouping: RB James White, TE Ben Watson, WR Julian Edelman, WR N’Keal Harry, WR Jakobi Meyers…the group played 14 snaps, the Patriots’ most popular personnel package of the game. It was their grouping of choice on third downs, which isn’t likely to change much besides at receiver.
— Harry was the clear No. 2 receiver, based on his presence on all three snaps in two-receiver sets (“12” and “21” personnel). That could certainly change quickly if Phillip Dorsett and/or Mohamed Sanu return against the Texans. But no other receiver on the Patriots brings Harry’s mix of size and catch radius. Harry may quickly lock up the No. 2 receiver spot in red zone packages.
— The Pats still need to go three-wide to come up with big plays (defined here as 20 yards or more). All four of their big plays came in “11” personnel.
— Of the Patriots’ 11 snaps with two running backs, four came with linebacker Elandon Roberts lined up at fullback. Sony Michel and Brandon Bolden lined up for five snaps, while James White and Rex Burkhead took two together.
— The Patriots busted out “13” personnel (one RB, three TEs, one WR) for the first time all season. Both plays featured tackle Marshall Newhouse checking in as an eligible tight end with Edelman as the lone receiver.
— Watson and LaCosse had a decent split as the lone TE in “11” personnel; Watson played 34 snaps to LaCosse’s 20. They played 11 snaps on the field together.
— Excluding Brady’s final throwaway, the Patriots made positive plays (in this case, five yards or more) on six of nine snaps in two-tight end sets. They gained 4.9 yards per play over those snaps, but a four-yard loss by Michel skews that average (6.0 yards/play on the eight other snaps).
— 11 personnel: 63.5 percent pass (33/52)
— 12 personnel: 100 percent pass (1/1)
— 13 personnel: 100 percent run (2/2)
— 21 personnel: 50/50 run/pass (1/2)
— 22 personnel: 55.6 percent pass (5/9)
— Josh McDaniels continues to try to find ways to throw the ball in two-tight end sets. The aforementioned Harry touchdown is the most notable example of that. But it’s striking that they passed more than they ran in “22” personnel as they try to take advantage of their heaviest personnel.
— Watson, LaCosse, and Edelman was the TE/WR combo on all nine snaps in “22” personnel. Eight of nine snaps featured Sony Michel as the lead running back. Four of Michel and Brandon Bolden’s five snaps together came in “22”, with the other coming in “21”.
— The Patriots’ two plays in “21” personnel were: 1) an incompletion to Julian Edelman on a crossing route that resulted in defensive pass interference, and 2) an 11-yard reverse to Bolden. Unpredictability and misdirection should continue to be a theme when the Pats run “21”, especially since they no longer have a traditional fullback on the roster.
— Seven of the Patriots’ 12 possessions featured exclusively the same personnel package, six of them being “11” personnel. They stuck with “22” personnel on their final four clock-killing plays, including Brady’s throwaway that probably should’ve been enough to run the clock out (White, Burkhead, Watson, LaCosse, Edelman).
— The Patriots used as many as three different groupings on only three of their 12 drives. On their ninth possession, they ran one snap each in “11”, “22”, and “13” personnel before having to punt. Their heavyweight package with Newhouse at TE yielded only one yard on a Michel run on that drive.
Season Totals (790 snaps)
— 10 personnel: 46 snaps (5.8 percent)
— 11 personnel: 444 snaps (56.2 percent)
— 12 personnel: 46 snaps (5.8 percent)
— 13 personnel: 2 snaps (0.3 percent)
— 20 personnel: 58 snaps (7.3 percent)
— 21 personnel: 147 snaps (18.6 percent)
— 22 personnel: 36 snaps (4.6 percent)
— 23 personnel: 11 snaps (1.4 percent)
— 10 personnel: 93.5 percent pass (43/46)
— 11 personnel: 68.2 percent pass (303/444)
— 12 personnel: 73.9 percent run (34/46)
— 13 personnel: 100 percent run (2/2)
— 20 personnel: 86.2 percent pass (50/58)
— 21 personnel: 55.8 percent run (82/147)
— 22 personnel: 52.8 percent run (19/36)
— 23 personnel: 100 percent run (11/11)
— Harry’s success in the red zone in “12” personnel may lead to an uptick in that personnel package. Improvement from both Harry and Meyers could also lead to a return to four-receiver sets (“10” personnel) if and when Dorsett and Sanu are both healthy.
— The Patriots continue to get more unpredictable in both “21” and “22” personnel. They’re inching toward passing more than running overall in “22”, which is consistent with greater trends across the NFL. A healthy Watson and LaCosse, plus continued improvement from Harry, give the Pats a chance to make more plays in the red zone than we’ve seen all season.
— Excluding the final clock-killing possession, the Patriots made two trips to the red zone. They went 1-for-2 scoring touchdowns. Getting to the red zone remained an issue for the unit, but it was encouraging to see them find success in that area with the Harry touchdown. It breeds optimism that they will be able to capitalize more often when they do get to the red area.
Next Package Report comes next Monday, after the Patriots take on the Houston Texans.
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 email@example.com.