New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 03: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter in the game at Gillette Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The Patriots nearly pulled up the upset of the defending Super Bowl champions, and they did it on the strength of an improving offense and the arm of a precocious young quarterback.

Mac Jones very nearly upstaged Tom Brady in the most anticipated regular season game in Patriots history, but New England ultimately came up a field goal short in a 19-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Seventeen points is certainly not going to be enough to win most weeks in the National Football League, but this team was never going to win by outscoring people most games. What’s important is, are they executing to the best of their abilities? Is Jones getting better each week? And are they making progress in the red zone?

Based on Sunday night, the Pats mostly get a check mark in all three areas. Certainly, they had untimely mistakes that cost them potential points on the scoreboard (like J.J. Taylor’s third-quarter fumble), and the pass protection continues to be a struggle in front of Jones (12 QB hits). But as long as they continue this upward trajectory as the season goes along, and overcome the growing pains that are expected with a rookie starting quarterback, the future is brighter in Foxborough than their disappointing 1-3 record may indicate.

“I think we’ve made progress in the passing game, but there’s still, obviously, a lot more to do,” Bill Belichick said Monday morning. “And you know, we’ll just continue to work on it and work harder on it and try to continue to improve it.”

Let’s take a deeper dive into how the Patriots deployed their offense on Sunday night, which turned out to be Jones’ best game of his young career.

  • Snap Counts

    Here are the total offensive snaps for the Patriots’ skill position players from Sunday night…

    Jakobi Meyers: 56
    Nelson Agholor: 43
    Hunter Henry: 40
    Kendrick Bourne: 36
    Damien Harris: 36
    Jonnu Smith: 28
    Brandon Bolden: 19
    Jakob Johnson: 16
    N’Keal Harry: 15
    J.J. Taylor: 4
    Mike Onwenu (as TE): 1
    Matthew Slater: 1

    Jakobi Meyers continues to lead the way in total snaps, and showed Sunday night that he deserves it. Meyers caught 8-of-12 targets for 70 yards, and completed two double-passes in the game.

    Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (16) dives with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (16) dives with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    At tight end, Hunter Henry saw an increased role, while Jonnu Smith took a step back after struggling against the Saints in Week 3.

    Despite having a week to prepare without James White, the Patriots didn’t increase J.J. Taylor’s workload. They may have been planning on it, before Taylor’s third-quarter fumble stapled him to the bench for the rest of the game. Notably, Damien Harris played on 28 of the Patriots’ 49 passing plays, compared to 18 for Brandon Bolden. However, Harris only saw two targets, while Bolden caught all six of his.

    Slater’s lone snap came on an end-of-half kneeldown, which also included Harris, Johnson, Henry, and Smith. Onwenu checked in as an extra tackle for one snap, which happened to be a one-yard touchdown pass to Smith.

  • Personnel Groupings

    The Patriots have been leaning into their three-receiver groupings more in recent weeks, while the two-tight end sets have taken a backseat. Here’s the snap distribution from Sunday night. (Note: Groupings are defined by a two-digit number. The first digit denotes the number of running backs on the field, while the second digit is the number of tight ends. Ex. 11 personnel = one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers.)

    11 personnel: 58.6 percent (34 snaps)
    21 personnel: 24.1 percent (14)
    12 personnel: 13.8 percent (8)
    10 personnel: 1.7 percent (1)
    23 personnel: 1.7 percent (1)

    Henry has emerged as the Patriots’ go-to tight end in 11 personnel, playing 30 of the team’s 34 snaps in those packages. His 11-yard touchdown catch came out of “11.”

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 03: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter in the game at Gillette Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 03: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter in the game at Gillette Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    Both of Meyers’ pass attempts came out of 11 personnel, with the same tight end (Henry) and receiver grouping (Meyers, Agholor, Bourne). His first double-pass went to Bolden, while the second one went to Agholor with Harris as the running back on the field.

    The Patriots’ lone snap in 10 personnel (one running back, four wide receivers) was a successful one, as Jones hit Bourne for a 17-yard gain.

  • Air Show

    The Patriots may want to be unpredictable and multiple out of each of their personnel groupings, but it was clear from the get-go that Sunday night needed to be won through the air. New England gained a grand total of minus-1 yards on eight carries, while they ran a majority of passing plays out of every grouping.

    Here are the passing play percentages out of each personnel package…

    11 personnel: 94.1 percent (32/34)
    21 personnel: 57.1 percent (8/14)
    12 personnel: 87.5 percent (7/8)
    10 personnel: 100 percent (1/1)
    23 personnel: 100 percent (1/1)

    Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) drops back to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) drops back to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Even out of 21 personnel, which almost always features fullback Jakob Johnson in the backfield, the Patriots passed more than they ran. It was a reflection of targeting the Bucs’ banged-up secondary in lieu of running into their stout defensive front.

    The Patriots’ lone play in their “Jumbo” package, which used Onwenu as an extra tackle, turned out to be a pass. They showed run, then no one followed Smith into the back of the end zone, where Jones found him easily for the touchdown.

  • N'Keal Harry Returns

    The Patriots eased Harry in for his season debut. Harry played 15 snaps and caught his one target for 10 yards.

    Harry was largely unable to crack the lineup in 11 personnel (three snaps), as the Patriots mostly continued to lean on their trio of Meyers, Agholor, and Bourne. But Harry’s usage suggests the Patriots want to take advantage of his size in heavier groupings with two receivers. Harry played nine snaps in 21 personnel and two in 12 personnel.

  • What worked the best?

    The Patriots’ most productive grouping was 11 personnel, thanks in part to the Meyers trick plays. They gained 204 yards on 30 plays, excluding those that resulted in penalties, a 6.8-yard average.

    Here’s the full yards per play breakdown, by grouping…

    11 personnel: 6.8 yards/play
    21 personnel: 2.1 yards/play
    12 personnel: 5.8 yards/play
    10 personnel: 17 yards/play
    23 personnel: 1 yard/play

    For context: the Patriots ran just the one play in 10 personnel, so that’s a minimal sample size. And they only grabbed the one yard in 23 personnel because they were on the 1-yard line.

  • Red Zone

    After starting the season 2-for-8 scoring touchdowns in the red zone, the Patriots went 2-for-3 against the Bucs. Both touchdowns went to each of their tight ends, a good sign of progress all-around.

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 03: Jonnu Smith #81 of the New England Patriots reacts after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter in the game at Gillette Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 03: Jonnu Smith #81 of the New England Patriots reacts after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter in the game at Gillette Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

  • Coming Up Next

    That’s it for the Patriots-Bucs personnel report. Next one comes on Sunday, Oct. 10, after the Pats face the Houston Texans on the road.