Monday, December 1, 2014

Patriots Bow to Packers, 26-21

The Packers beat the Patriots in Green Bay, 26-21, dominating time-of-possession and clamping down on the Pats offense like no one has in weeks. The loss puts the Patriots in a tie with the Broncos, but they hold the tie-breaker, so New England retains first place in the AFC. The Buffalo Bills won, so the Pats' lead in the AFC East is down to two games. Next up is a trip to San Diego for a Sunday Nighter against the Chargers.

If you want to know how the Patriots lost, you could just re-read my analysis of their last playoff defeat, in the AFC Championship Game in January of this year (link). Both games played out the same: (1) defense gave up yards but forced strong offenses to take field goals; (2) Patriots offense played poorly in the first and third quarters; (3) the opponent racked up 35+ minutes of possession time; and (4) even though both games ended with close scores, neither was as competitive as that would indicate.

Given the similarities, and the fact that all the way back in September I predicted the Pats would lose this game, I'm not going to do a full-and-thorough breakdown. Unfortunately, the game went as I expected, so there isn't as much to go over.

But they say that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. So here are some stats that tell the story of how the game went -- some that tell the truth, and some that lie like dogs.

Truthful statistics:

1. Green Bay possessed the ball for over 36 minutes, and the Patriots less than 24. The Patriots defense simply couldn't get off the field between the 20 yard lines. And when they had the Packers on the ropes, Rodgers usually bailed them out with a scramble for a first down or to extend the play for a big pass completion.

2. The Packers ran 70 plays and averaged 6.8 yards per play; while the Patriots ran just 54 plays and averaged 5.9 yards per play. The Packers had seven plays of 20+ yards, three of them for 30+ yards, and two of them for 40+ yards; whereas the Patriots had three plays of 20+ yards and zero plays longer than 30 yards.

Green Bay didn't attack down the field as much as they hit short routes that turned into longer plays or got big plays when the Patriots pass rush gave the QB too much time.

3. Patriots scored zero points in the first and third quarters. This is illustrative because it speaks to a poor offensive game plan to start, and then poor halftime adjustments. And that falls to the offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels -- he has to improve performance against good game-planning teams or the Patriots defense will have to bail him out.

Lying statistics:

1. The Patriots had three sacks in the game, and the Packers just one. But your eye tells you that Brady was under much more pressure than Rodgers, all day long. In fact, on one pass play Rodgers had 12 seconds to throw. 12 seconds is a lifetime; and I doubt Brady had more than 5 on any play all day long.

2. The Patriots went 3-3 in the Red Zone, scoring touchdowns on all three drives inside the Packers 20 yard line, but the Packers went 0-4 in the reverse situation. While it's nice to make your opponent take field goals, in the end you have to score enough of those TDs make it stand up. So this looks good on the stat sheet, but the offense didn't do enough with its opportunities to make it mean anything.

3. The Patriots didn't turn the ball over. This did them no good because they also got no turnovers from the Packers. A single turnover might have swung the game in their direction, but so long as the defense couldn't produce one, a draw in the turnover battle was meaningless.

4. The Patriots averaged 4.7 yards per rush. Problem was, they ran only 18 times and could not control the game that way. In the second half, the Packers were happy to have the Patriots run; they had the lead, so it helped them burn time off the clock.

Five Up:

1. Receiver Brandon LaFell caught two touchdowns on five receptions (38 yards). With Gronkowski and Edelman getting all the defensive attention, LaFell and tight end Tim Wright will continue to be targeted in the end zone.

2. Quarterback Tom Brady was under duress all day long, with outside rushers coming hard off the edge and free blitzers on far too many plays. But he ended up 22 of 35 (63%) for 245 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 102.7 QB rating. It just wasn't good enough when the opposing quarterback was Aaron Rodgers.

3. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner controlled the Packers' #1 and #2 receivers much more than they've been controlled recently. It wasn't perfect; Revis got beaten inside on Jordy Nelson's 45-yard touchdown, and Browner had two penalties that hurt the Pats in the first quarter.

4. Combined, linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower had 23 tackles, 2 sacks (for 15 yards), 3 tackles for a loss, one QB Hit, and a forced fumble. Hightower did get beaten on running plays, so there is still room to improve how he sheds blockers. But these two were a bright spot on a defense that had a lot of trouble getting off the field.

5. Running Back LeGarrette Blount had 10 carries for 58 yards (I'll let you do the math), and had a bunch of yards after first contact. It is fortunate the Blount fell into the Patriots lap at this time; with Bolden on the other list and Vereen a better third-down option, they needed knowledge of the offensive schemes and a veteran presence here. Blount brings both things to the table.

Five Down:

1. Wideout Danny Amendola was supposedly signed to replace Wes Welker. So what happened when Welker's actual replacement, Julian Edelman, left the game with an injury? The Patriots brought in Aaron Dobson instead. Amendola isn't doing much to earn his $5 million a year salary.

2. Corners Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, and Kyle Arrington were targeted and beaten multiple times. It might be inevitable that they end up on this list, after all, the Packers weren't going to take a chance with Revis or Browner. But still, these three were covering the third-, fourth-, and fifth-best receivers, and should have had better days.

3. The offensive line looked porous, especially when facing speed rushes from the outside. The best counter for outside pressure is running the ball, but they had just 36 yards on the ground in the first half (and couldn't rush in the second half, because they got behind).

Crowd noise still causes issues with their communication. And when they can't hear the snap count, they get beaten again and again on the outside. Probably time to recommit to the running game on the road, if only to protect the tackles. 

4. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski canNOT miss a field goal that would make it a two-point game late in the fourth quarter. Even if the Patriots had gotten the ball back and score a touchdown to win, he would be on this list. He simply can't miss a 47-yarder when the snap and hold were good. Unacceptable.

5. Running back Brandon Bolden had a touchdown, but too often he free-lanced on running plays and took a loss. That's probably why he rushed just once (for -1 yard) in the second half. Wasn't he listening when everyone praised Jonas Gray for running to the hole the play was designed for?

(Note: Rob Ninkovich escapes this list because even though he had a tough time in pass coverage, he filled in admirably as the Pats long-snapper for the week. He had only one bad snap, and that was not on Gostkowski's miss.)

So where does that leave us? 9-3 is still pretty good, and a game better than I had them at this point in the season. 

Statistical Oddity of the Week: In their three losses this season, the Patriots averaged just 7 points per second half. In their nine wins, they averaged 15.4 points per second half.

Statistical Similarities of the Week: When comparing yesterday's loss with the AFC Championship Game in Denver: the Patriots had exactly the same number of total yards (320), gave up the exact same number of points (26), on the exact same breakdown of scores (2 touchdowns, 4 field goals), were within a minute on time-of-possession (36:35 to 35:44), and scored exactly zero points in the first- and third-quarters of both games.

Please email me if you find a more similar game; to me they felt exactly the same.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "San Diego and KC are the only two teams in the AFC that can control the Pats defense like Green Bay did. We'll see how it goes with the Chargers next weekend; but let's hope they face neither of them in the playoffs."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 9-3!

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