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2018 Opponent Scouting Report: Patriots offense, the same results despite being very different

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Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Overview

On October 4, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to take on the New England Patriots. In this week five match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our new look Colts.

The Colts have struggled against the Patriots ever since Peyton Manning took his talents to Mile High. The last meeting between these two teams came in October of 2015 which culminated in a 34 to 27 Colts loss. Currently the Colts are on a seven (7!) game losing streak to the Patriots and the evil empire has put up an average of 40 points per game over that span. Hopefully this Thursday these 2018 Colts will be able to change course on what has been a rough era of Colts vs. Pats football.

This one means a lot to the Colts front office Thursday night should be interesting

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week one.


Offensive Scheme

The New England Patriots use the same offensive system to call plays that the Houston Texans employ but their offenses are very different. The Patriots so far this season have looked to establish the run and play tough downhill football while dialing up a lot of schemed short throws. They will look to take advantage of specific coverages by taking the occasional deep shot, but most called deep passes end up with Tom Brady checking down to a running back. The Pats will look to spread the defense both horizontally and vertically and the system they use wont limit their options.

The Erhardt-Perkins system doesn’t have some of the calling cards of other systems, Air Coryell is going to push the ball down the field, the West Coast offense is going to spread the ball around horizontally. Instead of declaring either one as the guiding principle this system doesn’t discriminate. It’s up to the coach calling the plays and the players executing them to create what this system wants to do.

A team could come out and throw the ball deep 20 times in a game or you could throw 30 short concepts and you’re still well within what the system is built for. Really it’s a system built to convey information in a more efficient way and to understand a teams philosophy we actually have to watch that team play. If I tell you that the Washington Redskins use a West Coast offense, you probably understand the basis of what they do, in the same vein if I told you that the Jacksonville Jaguars use an Air Coryell system, you probably understand the basis of what they do. When I tell you that the Patriots use the Erhardt-Perkins, it should tell you very little. Let’s take a look at what we might see on Sunday.

Through the first three games on first down the Patriots had a run/pass ratio that was very close to 50/50. They had 38 runs to 42 passes. It isn’t a coincidence that they are so close, they want to keep a defense guessing and they’ve done a good job balancing between the two.

I found this stat intriguing so I dug a little deeper to see if there was anything I could glean from a tendency standpoint. If you aren’t sure what someone means when they talk about having specific personnel groupings on the field this link will help you better understand the next few paragraphs.

On first down the Pats came out in 21 personnel 27 times. 20 times they lined up in a traditional run formation, usually both running backs in the backfield. 7 times they lined up in a pass formation. They ran the ball 17 times while throwing the ball 10, without a huge advantage to formation either way. This means when they break the huddle with two backs and one tight end the Pats have run the ball 63% of the time.

On first down the Pats have come out in 11 personnel 25 times. They have thrown 16 passes to 9 runs with one back and one tight end on the field. Good for a 64% tendency to passing on first down in 11 personnel through the first three weeks.

The Pats have shown 12 personnel 17 times on first down through three weeks. When they have one back and two tight ends on the field the Pats have thrown the ball 12 times while running 5 times. This was a really interesting personnel grouping as the formations were so diverse. They could show a traditional run formation and other times they could split 5 out wide while still putting one back and two tight ends. This personnel grouping didn’t have a limited number of formations but they did throw the ball nearly 71% of the time.

11 times the Pats have come out in 22 personnel on first down after three weeks. Having two backs and two tight ends on the field at the same time proved to be a more limited grouping as they were almost always in a traditional run formation. True to form they ran the ball 9 times and threw 2 from this grouping.

These tendencies are very interesting and surprising that they are as predictable as they are. My gut tells me this has to be some sort of a ploy Belichick uses to effect data later in the season. If a team knows that the Pats do x,y, or z on first down with a specific formation they’re more likely to play to that, so it makes Josh McDaniels job easier to get yards they need in situations and games where it matters more. Maybe I’m overthinking it but I put nothing past Belichick. Lets take a look at some of the things I noticed on tape:

A couple things stood out to me in the Pats run game, they have a lot of power running, but every now and then they tried to get first round rookie running back Sony Michel outside in space. Watch Rob Gronkowski go in motion and then seal off the edge defender, destroying any hope he had of pushing Michel back to the middle of the field where he had help.

I noticed Gronk do this a few times, its an effective run scheme and something I’ll be looking for on Thursday night.

The Patriots are going to look to get favorable matchups like the one above. Here Brady has five wide, with a four verticals concept down field and receiver Chris Hogan lined up against a linebacker running a pivot route. Brady realizes he has two deep safeties and a mismatch underneath. As a result Brady takes the easy completion that goes for 9 yards on first down. The execution on this play was better than the play call.

This is a non pick, pick. Gronk runs his route directly at the outside defensive back who just couldn’t get to his man in time. We’re going to see a lot of plays like this, where a single receiver is schemed open and between the two teams I pray the leagues doesn’t plan to reemphasize throwing flags on pick plays or this game might go on for 6 hours.

A lot has been made of Josh Gordon’s arrival in Boston, this was his first catch, nothing spectacular but he did just make it to town. He will be used and his role in the offense is only going to increase as time goes on.

Remember those pick plays I talked about? Here Cordarrelle Patterson uses a blatant pick to catch and run 55 yards for a touchdown.

The Patriots are well coached, that’s not news it’s just a fact. They’re going to have a good plan to attack our defense and Josh McDaniels is going to bring everything he has in his tool belt to win this game. If I had to guess I kind of think he’s going to completely flip all tendencies he’s shown so far and try to completely catch the Colts off guard.

The good news for Indianapolis; the Patriots leading receiver is running back James White. They don’t have a lot of talent at wide receiver and as it turns out the Colts don’t seem to have much healthy talent at cornerback. This offense doesn’t seem to matchup horribly to our defense.


Quarterback:

Tom Brady. There’s nothing I can tell you about Tom Brady’s career that you don’t already know. There might be something I can tell you about his season. As of right now Brady is 87 for 135 with 918 yards, 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, Those aren’t bad numbers but watching the games Brady didn’t look right earlier in the year. He was missing throws he doesn’t normally miss and he was throwing a lot of balls late to open receivers. But then he goes out and does stuff like this:

Tom Brady isn’t done, but watching the tape of those first couple games made me wonder if this was the end. There is one thing the Colts have to do on Thursday that works every time and it looks a lot like this:

If you hit Tom Brady, he will make mistakes. The Colts amazingly have had a very strong pass rush through the first quarter of the season. Both Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz are athletic enough to avoid taking a lot of sacks, yet the Colts were able to get to them both. Tom Brady isn’t going to escape any of the sacks that the last two quarterbacks this team has seen, did. Tom Brady is capable of picking the Colts secondary apart if the defensive line isn’t able to get pressure on it’s own. He will murder them if the Colts have to send a blitz.


Running Back:

James White, currently lead the Patriots with 22 receptions and 21 carries, which should tell you something about how they use White.

Rex Burkhead has received 24 carries for 86 yards but the star of the show on Thursday night will be none other than first round draft pick, Sony Michel.

While I was digging into my personnel grouping I noticed something interesting about the way the Patriots have used Sony Michel through his first three games after missing week one due to injury.

In his first two games he saw 36 snaps and was the focal point of the play (a rushing attempt or target in the passing game) 29 times. Which means when Sony Michel was on the field the ball was going his way 81% of the time, which is a huge tell.

Week 4 came and Rex Burkhead was unable to play due to an injury sustained in their game against the Detroit Lions. I assumed that this meant that Michel would have a larger role in week 4 and his usage would drop significantly.

In the Patriots week four contest against the Miami Dolphins, Sony Michel was in on 33 snaps and received 25 carries and 0 targets. Meaning he was the focal point of the play 76% of the time he was on the field! Through the first three games of his career Sony Michel has received the ball 78% of the time he’s on the field. This is a huge tell and hopefully McDaniels continues this usage as it will be pretty easy to tell who is getting the ball when Michel is on the field.


Pass Catchers:

The most exciting thing to happen to the Patriots receiving corps is Julian Eldelman returning from suspension this week. How they will use the receiver coming off of his suspension for PED’s has yet to be seen. Given the fact that Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson and Chris Hogan tried their best to fill in for him while he was gone, leads me to believe they’re going to throw him in the mix right away.

The second most exciting thing to happen to the Patriots receiving corps was when Bill Belichick sent a late round pick to the Browns for the troubled but talented Josh Gordon. Gordon played in his first game for the Pats last week reeling in 2 catches for 32 yards. We can expect to see his usage increase as the season goes on.

The third most exciting thing for the Pats receiving corps is still Rob Gronkowski.

With Eldelman back the Pats officially have enough talent outside to carve up the Colts secondary. If Tom Brady is given time to throw he’s going to make the right decisions more than he’s going to make mistakes. I feel this game will ultimately come down to the battle in the trenches.


Offensive Line:

The Patriots invested in their offensive line in a big way in the 2018 draft by selecting Isaiah Wynn with the 23rd overall pick. Wynn was viewed by most to be an elite guard prospect after a stellar career at Georgia while playing left tackle. The Patriots, unwilling to mess with success decided to try the 6’3” 313 pounder at tackle despite less than ideal NFL size. True to form for Patriots draftees Wynn went down with a torn Achilles before ever playing a regular season snap.

Instead on the outside the Patriots are playing veteran free agent signing Trent Brown, who has stepped in and provided adequate performance while Marcus Cannon has been average to slightly above in the right tackle spot. At left guard Joe Thuney has emerged as one of the better guards in the NFL and has looked good so far this season. Shaq Mason will hold down the right guard position. Mason recently signed a five year $50 million extension with the Patriots and the big man will have earned every cent as a very good interior offensive linemen.

At center the Patriots will start David Andrews. Andrews was an undrafted rookie free agent in 2015 out of Georgia. Thus far he’s had a similar career arc to that of former Colts great Jeff Saturday, as the 26 year old center has gone from undrafted to being one of the best two or three centers in the game.

If Colts fans were hoping for a complete implosion of the Patriots after Tom Brady falls apart on the field and Bill Belichick gets bored winning Super Bowls, I’ve got bad news for you: the Patriots have an excellent young core of offensive linemen that can and will carry them for years to come. I’ve never been so sorry as I am right now, knowing I had to be the one to tell you of this tragic news.


What to Expect from the Colts Defense:

The Colts absolutely have to get to Tom Brady to disrupt his rhythm, but they have to do it without sending blitzes as he will chew up the blitz and spit it out before the linebacker or defensive back is two yards into the backfield, seriously, he’s still really good at that.

Ultimately the formula for beating Tom Brady is a simple one. It’s been known for more than a decade. The view at the top of Mount Everest is breathtaking, life changing for some, we know this. Getting to the top of Everest is very difficult, hitting Tom Brady enough to impact a football game is very difficult. Which is more difficult depends on where you’re at in life but around 500 people will Climb Everest this year, last season Tom Brady was sacked 35 times. You make the call.