By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Saturday may go down as the moment the Patriots offense finally got rolling. As a unit they’ve lacked a singular go-to thing, so they picked the Bills apart for 414 total yards by doing a little of everything.
Tom Brady had a mostly clean pocket (no sacks and only four QB hits for Buffalo) and spread the ball around in his most efficient game of the season (78.8 completion percentage). He completed passes to nine different targets. The Pats also ran the ball efficiently with 143 yards on 35 carries (4.1 average).
Josh McDaniels also had perhaps his most complete game of the season from a play-calling standpoint. The Patriots’ offensive diversity extended to the personnel packages and how they utilized them. Rookie receiver N’Keal Harry both caught and ran the ball, as did all three active running backs. They ran out of lighter formations and threw out of the heavier ones. They continued to mix it up even after falling behind, and sticking to the plan ended up working out as they came back in the fourth quarter.
McDaniels explained in a conference call on Monday how he approaches the challenge of figuring out which personnel groupings the Patriots want to use on a weekly basis. The Patriots offensive coordinator commended the players for how smoothly they were able to substitute from play-to-play and execute consistently against the Bills, despite the constant changes in personnel packages throughout the game.
“We have confidence in all our guys that are active, or else they wouldn’t be there. We just try to utilize their strengths as much as we can, and if it’s a skill player, getting them the ball in space or getting them to do some things that they have confidence in, I think that’s important,” said McDaniels. “Whether it’s the line or the tight ends or the backs in the protection game, what do we do well, what suits the team we’re playing the best, how we need to protect? Same thing with the running game. Those groupings are great to have available. Hopefully, we make the right decisions on a weekly basis about which ones to utilize more or how much to utilize them during the course of the game.
“I thought the guys did a really good job the other night too, whenever you’re utilized in multiple groupings like that, of communicating when they’re going on and off the field, because we had a lot of different guys subbing for each other, et cetera. Sometimes the concern could be making sure that we got the right 11 out there and they know what their identity is in the huddle and what role they’re playing, what position they’re in, because we had a lot of guys switching spots and so forth. I thought they did a great job of that. They deserve a lot of credit for that, and then being able to go out there and make the plays when they had opportunities to do so.”
You saw as much diversity in personnel packages as you’ve seen all season on Sunday, and the most important part is that it looked like a cohesive unit most of the time they were on the field. It resulted in a few sustained drives, the best offensive line play of the season, and over 38 minutes of possession.
Here’s a full breakdown of how the Patriots deployed their personnel packages against the Bills. This is based on 71 offensive snaps, including the team’s successful two-point conversion in the fourth quarter and two plays nullified by Patriots penalties.
Snap Counts (71 Total)
— 10 personnel: 2 snaps (2.8 percent)
— 11 personnel: 28 snaps (39.4 percent)
— 12 personnel: 9 snaps (12.7 percent)
— 20 personnel: 7 snaps (9.9 percent)
— 21 personnel: 23 snaps (32.4 percent)
— 22 personnel: 2 snaps (2.8 percent)
— Favorite Package: McDaniels determined his go-to set in 21 personnel to be Sony Michel at running back, linebacker Elandon Roberts at fullback, Matt LaCosse at tight end, and Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu as the receivers. This grouping took the field for a game-high 12 snaps.
— The Patriots’ 23 snaps in 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 1 WR) were the most since Week 5 at the Redskins (28 snaps) and their second-highest total of 2019. It resulted in a season-high 21 snaps for Roberts at fullback, 19 of which came in “21”. The other four snaps in “21” came with two true running backs, either James White and Rex Burkhead or Burkhead and Brandon Bolden.
— LaCosse’s touchdown came out of the Patriots’ most-used package of the game, and it was the first pass of the drive after six straight runs in that grouping.
— Saturday marked just the third time all season that the Patriots used as many as four different personnel packages on at least seven snaps each. The other two times were last week against the Bengals and Week 8 against the Browns.
— McDaniels’ preferred three-receiver set was Edelman, Sanu, and Harry. Edelman and Sanu were the choice for two-receiver groupings. When Edelman left the game to be evaluated for a head injury, Jakobi Meyers leapfrogged Harry for eight snaps with Sanu in two-receiver packages.
— White and Burkhead were the two running backs on all seven snaps in 20 personnel (2 RB, 3 WR).
— The Patriots’ preferred third-down package was 11 personnel with White, Ben Watson, Edelman, Sanu, and Harry. They used this grouping on seven of 14 third-down snaps and converted on four of them. While Edelman was out, Meyers took his spot for two snaps out of this package.
— 10 personnel: 100 percent pass (2/2)
— 11 personnel: 71.4 percent pass (20/28)
— 12 personnel: 55.6 percent pass (5/9)
— 20 personnel: 85.7 percent pass (6/7)
— 21 personnel: 78.3 percent run (18/23)
— 22 personnel: 50/50 run/pass (1/2)
— The Patriots have predominantly run the ball out of 12 personnel, but Saturday marked the first time all season that they passed more than they ran when using 12 personnel more than two times. Watson made two of his three catches out of “12”, and Michel and Meyers also caught passes out of this grouping. Brady went 5-for-5 for 23 yards in “12”, including a third-down conversion to Watson.
— Despite only one pass and one run in 22 personnel (2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR), their lone run was their biggest play of the game – Burkhead’s go-ahead touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Matthew Slater checked in as the lone receiver on the play as a blocker who was sent in motion. Roberts was the lead blocker with Watson and LaCosse also blocking.
— Three of the Patriots’ five pass plays in 21 personnel came with Roberts on the field at fullback. Brady went 3-for-3 for 30 yards and a touchdown, which he threw to LaCosse in the first quarter.
— On their eight running plays in 11 personnel, three different players touched the ball. Michel and White got three carries each. Harry took a reverse for 18 yards and a jet sweep for no gain on the Bills’ pivotal fourth-down stop in the second quarter.
— Underlining the Patriots’ diversity of groupings, they used at least four different packages on six of their nine drives. They used five different packages twice.
— The Patriots had only nine offensive drives in this game, as opposed to the typical 10-12. It’s partially a reflection of their ability to possess the ball and sustain longer drives more than we’ve seen this season. They had three drives of at least 11 plays and 75 net yards, which combined for 13 of their 24 points. Those three drives lasted a total of 23:04.
— Buffalo tied the game at the end of the first half after the Patriots’ fifth drive of the game, which ended in a turnover on downs. The chart above illustrates that McDaniels stuck to the plan of mixing up the personnel groupings even after losing the lead. That was a promising development after the offense seemed to throw their gameplan out the window and try to force big plays in other games where the Patriots trailed.
Season Totals (1,077 snaps)
— 00 personnel: 1 snap (0.1 percent)
— 10 personnel: 60 snaps (5.6 percent)
— 11 personnel: 599 snaps (55.6 percent)
— 12 personnel: 106 snaps (9.8 percent)
— 13 personnel: 2 snaps (0.2 percent)
— 20 personnel: 68 snaps (6.3 percent)
— 21 personnel: 179 snaps (16.6 percent)
— 22 personnel: 44 snaps (4.1 percent)
— 23 personnel: 18 snaps (1.7 percent)
— 00 personnel: 100 percent pass (1/1)
— 10 personnel: 95.0 percent pass (57/60)
— 11 personnel: 69.3 percent pass (415/599)
— 12 personnel: 65.1 percent run (69/106)
— 13 personnel: 100 percent run (2/2)
— 20 personnel: 86.8 percent pass (59/68)
— 21 personnel: 57.5 percent run (103/179)
— 22 personnel: 56.8 percent run (25/44)
— 23 personnel: 100 percent run (18/18)
— In total, we have tracked the Patriots offense for 664 pass plays and 413 runs – 61.2 percent passes on the season. There’s still one regular season game to go, but 11 personnel has long clinched the highest snap count of the season at 599. The final rankings of the snap counts aren’t likely to change as it looks like this heading into Week 17:
1. 11 personnel (599)
2. 21 personnel (179)
3. 12 personnel (106)
4. 20 personnel (68)
5. 10 personnel (60)
6. 22 personnel (44)
7. 23 personnel (18)
8. 13 personnel (2)
9. 00 personnel (1)
— Heading into the regular season finale against the Dolphins, the Patriots’ most unpredictable personnel package (the closest to 50 percent run/pass usage) has been 22 personnel with 25 runs and 19 passes (56.8 percent). In a close second place is 21 personnel at 57.5 percent – 103 runs, 76 passes. We’ll see if either grouping is used enough in Week 17 to change that.
The final Package Report of the regular season comes next Monday after the Pats take on the Dolphins. Then there will be at least one playoff game to report on after that.
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.