Bill Belichick Explains Why Patriots Abandoned Productive New Offense

'Sometimes the shelf life on that doesn't last forever'


The new, beefier personnel package the New England Patriots debuted Sunday afternoon was never meant to be a full-game solution.

That’s the explanation head coach Bill Belichick gave Monday morning when asked why the Patriots’ offense changed course during the second quarter of their 35-29 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

“Well, when you go into the game with an alternative group, like the big people, it’s not like you go in there with like 25 plays,” Belichick said. “Sometimes the shelf life on that doesn’t last forever. I don’t think you can just keep bringing it in and running the same play five times in a row in this league.”

New England’s “big people” package consisted of a running back (either Damien Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson), fullback Jakob Johnson, tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith and 6-foot-4, 225-pound wide receiver N’Keal Harry.

The Patriots also mixed in some 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) on their second possession and 21 personnel (2RB, 1TE, 2WR) on their third. The Cowboys struggled to stop all three.

Over their first two possessions, the Patriots ran seven consecutive plays out of two-tight end sets. On those plays, they averaged 13.4 yards per play and scored two touchdowns. They stayed heavier on their third drive, running two plays out of 22 personnel, two in 12, one in 21 (a “pony” look with Stevenson and Brandon Bolden on the field together) and one in 11 — the three-receiver set that has been the team’s most frequently used personnel grouping this season.

But after that third series ended with a Randy Gregory strip-sack and a punishing hit on quarterback Mac Jones, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels abandoned what had been working early in the game. The Patriots ran 12 of their next 15 plays out of 11 personnel, and their offense stalled, generating just one first down over a span of five possessions.

McDaniels finally reimplemented some heavier sets on the Patriots’ longest drive of the afternoon — a 13-play, 75-yarder in the fourth quarter capped by a 1-yard Stevenson touchdown run. The Patriots had two or more tight ends on the field for six of those plays and two backs in on another. The “big people” were in on back-to-back Harris carries that gained 21 and 6 yards, and the Patriots deployed two backs and three tight ends (including offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste) on Stevenson’s score.

The Patriots used 22 personnel on two consecutive snaps in overtime, producing 5- and 2-yard carries by Harris. They went back to 11 on third-and-3 near midfield, and Jones and wideout Nelson Agholor couldn’t connect. New England punted, and Dallas scored on the ensuing drive to end the game.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
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