Patriots Film Review: Offensive Issues Tied To Receivers, Injuries

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December 9, 2015

There’s a good chance Tom Brady was blasting power ballads on his drive home Sunday night after losing 35-28 to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Julian Edelman’s absence in the New England Patriots offense proves you “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone).”

The Patriots’ offense was predicated on short, quick passes to begin the season. That lessened the impact of an inexperienced offensive line, which was being rotated from series to series. Brady was having the best statistical start to his career despite losing starting left tackle Nate Solder, because the Patriots quarterback could count on Edelman, running back Dion Lewis and tight end Rob Gronkowski to get open quickly.

Brady was releasing the football in just 2.13 seconds through the first 10 weeks of the season. In the Patriots’ three games since Edelman broke his foot, it’s taken Brady 2.65 seconds to get rid of the football. Brady was completing 70.8 percent of his passes when releasing the football in 2.5 seconds or less with Edelman. That rate has dropped to 63.4 percent without Edelman.

Brady was 252 of 371 with 3,049 yards with 24 touchdowns and three interceptions with a 67.9 completion percentage and 111.1 passer rating with Edelman. He’s 72 of 137 for 869 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions with a 52.6 percent completion percentage and 80.2 passer rating without him.

Brady was pressured on 30.6 percent of passing attempts with 22 sacks in Weeks 1 through 10. He’s been pressured on 47.6 percent of attempts the past three weeks with eight sacks without Edelman.

It doesn’t appear the offensive line is to blame, either. Brady’s receivers aren’t getting open, so he’s forced to hold the ball too long. He was sacked in 3.24 seconds with Edelman and 3.66 seconds without him. Brady’s line is giving him more time to throw. There’s just no one open.

— The Patriots’ first offensive breakdown in their loss to the Eagles came with 10:20 left in the first quarter when Brady was sacked by Connor Barwin. It took 2.23 seconds for Barwin to get to Brady, who might have gotten the ball out if Edelman was in the offense. Instead, this is what Brady faced as Barwin was bearing down:

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.51.00 PMNot much separation from any of his receivers.

— The Eagles sent three pass rushers on their next play and still got pressure in 2.4 seconds, so the Patriots’ offensive line isn’t blameless. Brady rolled out of the pocket to buy time but didn’t try to throw into the middle of the field, where there were seven Eagles defenders. Instead he threw incomplete down the left sideline to Brandon LaFell, who slowed down on his route at the 40-yard line. Brady’s pass sailed over LaFell’s head.

— Brady was sacked again on third and 13 on the Patriots’ next drive. The Patriots kept in two extra blockers, and it took Brady 3.3 seconds to be wrapped up. His receivers couldn’t get far enough downfield with separation.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 12.06.01 AM

— Brady was sacked once more with :50 left in the first half as the Eagles sent three, when he felt pressure up the middle from defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, turned around and went down. Brady had nowhere to throw anyway after 3.48 seconds in the pocket.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 12.15.45 AM

I wrote after the Patriots’ Week 11 win that the Buffalo Bills exposed a major flaw in the offense when they had success sending just three pass rushers and dropping eight men into coverage. It’s working even better now with Edelman and Gronkowski both out. This is why I believe injuries were more to blame than play-calling in the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles.

— Not all blame can be placed on the Patriots’ receivers on a 1-yard scramble with 13:05 left in the third quarter, though LaFell didn’t make much of an effort to get open once Brady stepped up in the pocket. Brady missed Keshawn Martin on a deep target down the middle of the field.

— It took over seven seconds for a receiver to get open on an incompletion with 9:37 left in the third quarter. Brady moved around the pocket and Danny Amendola finally ran downfield and past linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Amendola suffered his first drop of the season on the play.

— This is what Brady saw before throwing his 99-yard pick six with 7:42 left in the third quarter:

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 12.34.30 AM

With no one else open while facing third and 5, Brady elected to throw to Amendola in double coverage rather than chucking the ball away to take the field goal. It was a bad decision, but it highlights how difficult Brady has it with a lack of offensive weapons.

— Brady was sacked again with 5:37 left in the third quarter. Left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who had a tough game, almost immediately gave up pressure to Brandon Graham. Brady saw tight coverage all over the field and cornerback Byron Maxwell on reserve tight end Asante Cleveland down the right sideline.

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 12.40.52 AM

— Brady insists he was trying to throw his second interception away out of the back of the end zone, but that’s kind of difficult to believe, since Brady was standing at the 47-yard line and could have simply thrown at the feet of tight end Michael Williams, who stayed in to block. It appears there was some miscommunication between Brady and LaFell. Eagles safety Ed Reynolds’ back was turned to LaFell, who was streaking down the field and had a better angle to the end zone than cornerback Byron Maxwell. LaFell turned toward the sideline, however, as Brady’s pass sailed into Maxwell’s arms.

— Brady began to find success in the fourth quarter as he began keying in on running back James White, who had seven catches for 82 yards in the fourth quarter. The Patriots’ luck ran out on their final drive, however, as Brady went just 1 for 7 including a spike. The Patriots suffered drops on their final three plays of the night. They had eight total drops against the Eagles. White was the only player targeted by Brady not to suffer a drop.

— Unless Brady starts targeting White 20 times per game, it’s going to be tough sledding for the Patriots until Edelman and Gronkowski return. Amendola is frequently double-teamed, and if teams continue to rush three and drop eight, LaFell can be doubled, as well. The Patriots must try to get their running game going against the Houston Texans in Week 14 if they hope to consistently move the ball.

Here are some other highlights from this week’s film study:

— Linebacker Jamie Collins forced a key fumble in the fourth quarter and looked explosive coming off a long illness. He was having trouble fighting off blocks in the run game, however. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny also was caught up at the second level, which allowed the Eagles to run for 128 yards. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown and defensive end Chandler Jones had standout plays against the run.

— The Patriots were able to consistently pressure Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. Brown and defensive end Jabaal Sheard each had three hurries.

— Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan each allowed less than 20 yards in the passing game. Each gave up big plays, however. Butler allowed a 10-yard touchdown to Jordan Matthews, and Ryan allowed a 13-yard reception on third and 13 in the fourth quarter.

— Vollmer and guard Josh Kline struggled in pass protection. Center Bryan Stork and guard Shaq Mason gave up the fewest pressures among Patriots offensive linemen with two apiece.

— Running back LeGarrette Blount had his best game since Dion Lewis tore his ACL. Blount had 13 carries for 54 yards and showed good vision on several runs.

Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Dec 6, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell (19) attempts to catch the ball in front of Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Eric Rowe (32) during the last minutes of a game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
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