By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
If NFL officials were even marginally competent, we’d be talking about N’Keal Harry scoring his third red zone touchdown in four games. But since the Patriots rookie receiver clearly scored on the play that the officials ruled out of bounds against the Chiefs, let’s pretend that’s what has happened.
Harry adjusted his route after a pass play turned into a scramble drill on his touchdown against the Bengals, cutting back toward the back-middle of the end zone as Tom Brady found him for a seven-yard dart in the Patriots’ 34-13 win Sunday. The score was the start of what became a runaway win for the Pats as the Bengals face-planted in the third quarter.
“Those red area extended plays and scrambles are something that you always work on, and this one – really, the work on the practice field, and the technique and the fundamentals of doing things right really paid off, as did the other guys,” said Bill Belichick during his Monday conference call. “I mean, because everybody – on the scramble, everybody kind of went in a different direction, so we didn’t run into each other. We created space for N’Keal to come back inside. He found that space, but I think one of the best parts of the play was N’Keal’s awareness and his strength to stay in the field of play and not get shoved out.”
The Harry touchdown actually came on the Patriots’ only series of the game in the red zone, so they were a perfect 1-for-1. Getting to the red area is still an issue for the Patriots offense, and relying on James White to go 23 yards and Rex Burkhead to run it 33 yards isn’t necessarily a cure for what ails this unit. But it’s a promising sign that when they got inside the 20, their rookie first-round pick made yet another big play.
There’s no doubt that in the case of Harry, who got four touches for 37 yards and the touchdown, the offense potentially found something to build on moving forward. They also produced on the ground against Cincy’s league-worst run defense, rushing 32 times for 175 yards and a score, and had a further increase in use of two-tight end sets.
Here’s a full breakdown of how the Patriots deployed and utilized their offensive personnel against the Bengals, based on 64 snaps. This does not include kneeldowns and included plays that resulted in penalties.
Offensive Snap Counts (64 Total)
— 10 personnel: 4 snaps (6.3 percent)
— 11 personnel: 30 snaps (46.9 percent)
— 12 personnel: 14 snaps (21.9 percent)
— 20 personnel: 1 snap (1.5 percent)
— 21 personnel: 8 snaps (12.5 percent)
— 23 personnel: 7 snaps (10.9 percent)
— Favorite package: RB Sony Michel, TEs Matt LaCosse and Ben Watson, WRs Mohamed Sanu and N’Keal Harry. They ran this 12 personnel look for seven snaps, all runs. This to me is a reflection of a couple of things: the team’s trust in Harry and Sanu to block in the run game, and the way they mixed up their receiver groupings more than usual.
— The Patriots’ most productive package in terms of yardage was 12 personnel, gaining 6.9 (nice) yards per play. They picked up 5.3 yards per play in 11 personnel, which includes two sacks for a total loss of 12 yards.
— In three-receiver sets (11 or 20 personnel), the Patriots’ grouping of choice was Julian Edelman, Sanu, and Harry (22 snaps). They ran Edelman, Sanu, and Phillip Dorsett on three snaps, and gave the injured Edelman a breather with Dorsett, Sanu, and Harry for another five.
— As for two-receiver sets (12 or 21 personnel), the Patriots favored Sanu/Harry in 12 and Edelman/Sanu in 21.
— Dorsett was the odd man out in 10 personnel (four WRs). For one game, anyway, both rookies, Harry and Jakobi Meyers, passed him in the pecking order in those formations.
— Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts continues to be the team’s fullback when called upon, checking in for 10 snaps in that role.
— The Patriots ran 11 personnel on two of three red zone snaps, with the third coming in 21 personnel. Brady and Michel couldn’t connect on what would have been a walk-in touchdown in 21 personnel, which was one of the team’s most unique plays of the day. More on that below.
— 10 personnel: 100 percent pass (4/4)
— 11 personnel: 63.3 percent pass (19/30)
— 12 personnel: 71.4 percent run (10/14)
— 20 personnel: 100 percent pass (1/1)
— 21 personnel: 75 percent pass (6/8)
— 23 personnel: 100 percent run (7/7)
— For just the third time all season, the Patriots called a pass with Roberts on the field at fullback. He’s played 28 snaps in that role. The play should have worked and turned into a Michel touchdown catch, but Brady’s throw went low and inside and Michel couldn’t adjust.
— The Patriots gained 7.3 yards per rush in 12 personnel (73 yards on 10 carries). That’s buoyed by Burkhead’s 33-yard touchdown run. But take that out and they still averaged 4.4 yards on all other carries in 12 personnel.
— They mixed up their RBs on their 11 run plays in 11 personnel. Michel was the RB seven times, with two snaps each for Burkhead and James White. LaCosse played 10 snaps to Watson’s one.
— For the fifth time this season, the Patriots passed more than they ran out of 21 personnel. It was their second-highest rate of passing. They passed on all four plays in 21 personnel in Week 3 against the Jets.
— The Patriots didn’t have to play much from behind, and thus we didn’t see offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels revert to mostly 11 personnel after getting in that situation. The Patriots committed to their two-tight end sets and power running game, in addition to throwing to the backs in two-back groupings, throughout the game.
— Only two drives featured the same package on every play, and one of them was the final clock-killing drive where they fielded the extra-large 23 personnel package with tackle Marshall Newhouse checking in as an eligible tight end. They ran four different groupings on two drives in the first half.
Season Totals (1,006 Snaps)
— 00 personnel: 1 snap (0.1 percent)
— 10 personnel: 58 snaps (5.8 percent)
— 11 personnel: 571 snaps (56.8 percent)
— 12 personnel: 97 snaps (9.6 percent)
— 13 personnel: 2 snaps (0.2 percent)
— 20 personnel: 61 snaps (6.0 percent)
— 21 personnel: 156 snaps (15.5 percent)
— 22 personnel: 42 snaps (4.2 percent)
— 23 personnel: 18 snaps (1.8 percent)
— 00 personnel: 100 percent pass (1/1)
— 10 personnel: 94.8 percent pass (55/58)
— 11 personnel: 69.2 percent pass (395/571)
— 12 personnel: 66.0 percent run (64/97)
— 20 personnel: 86.9 percent pass (53/61)
— 21 personnel: 54.5 percent run (85/156)
— 22 personnel: 57.1 percent run (24/42)
— 23 personnel: 100 percent run (18/18)
Next Package Report comes next Sunday – not Monday – when the Patriots play a rare Saturday game against the Buffalo Bills in a big AFC East matchup.
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.