Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Patriots Advance To Super Bowl With 24-20 Win Over Jaguars

The Pats capped their fourth-quarter comeback with a 24-20 win over Jacksonville Sunday. The victory put them in the Super Bowl for an NFL record tenth time, and another NFL record eighth time for head coach Bill Belichick and quaterback Tom Brady. More on the Eagles soon, but first, Sunday's win...

You've no doubt heard a lot of analysis already (sorry this is late), but there are a few tidbits that haven't been mentioned much. (1) For every Danny Amendola great catch, there were equally great throws. (2) The Patriots made outstanding halftime adjustments. (3) How/Why Jacksonville went conservative and then blew it under pressure at the end.

Without Amendola the Patriots do not win this game. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was ruled out of the game with a concussion in the first half, and usually dependable James White had two drops, one of which he allowed to be knocked away with poor technique. Chris Hogan didn't appear to be himself, and Brandin Cooks was fine on deep routes but sub-average on short ones. Add to all that the lack of a running game, and it was mostly Amendola keeping the chains moving in the second half.

The Pats receiver had just two catches (for 28 yards) in the three quarters, including one on the critically important touchdown before the half. But in the last 15 minutes, he had the 21-yard grab on third-and-18 grab for a first down. A diving grab for another first down inches from the ground. And then the ridiculous back of the endzone Spiderman catch where his barely got the second foot down as he floated out of bounds.

Two drives later, Amendola returned a punt 20 yards to the Jacksonville 30, and it appeared all but preordained that the Patriots were going to score and win. Two more completions to Amendola, and it was Patriots 24-20, and the ballgame. Without his contribution, the Pats would not be in the Super Bowl.

And none of this is meant to minimize how well Tom Brady played, especially with his 12 stitches in his right hand. A few of his early throws weren't up to his usual standards, particularly the touch throws to the flat. But once he got rolling in the second half, he was as accurate as he's been all year.

Four of the throws on their first fourth-quarter touchdown were outstanding. His dart to Amendola on third-and-18, down low where only his receiver could get it, but high enough to get over the defensive line. He followed that up with a quick-snap flea flicker (hand off to James White, who pitched it back to Brady). And he put that pass right on the money where Phillip Dorsett could leap up to make the play over the defender.

After that, his pass over the middle near the end zone, where he waited an extra half-beat and then threw about one inch past the defender where Amendola could only get it -- an absolutely unfair throw! And even the touchdown to Amendola, where he waited for the short routes to clear, stepped up to avoid pressure, and put it where there was no risk of a turnover but his receiver could make a play; what a brilliant throw.

Then there were the halftime adjustments. Reportedly the Patriots had to throw out 80% of their offensive game plan when Gronkowski was injured. So they mostly scrapped the running game and worked enough of the sideline to open up some throws over the middle later in the second half. It helped that Jacksonville played more zone, but that doesn't explain the increased production on its own.

The first half defense was just plain bad. They lost outside contain on multiple running plays, allowed the quarterback to complete 87% of his passes and convert 67% of the third downs, and barely grazed him beyond the one sack they had.

In the second half, it was different. They brought pressure, and pressure from odd places and strange angles. They got burned early on a delayed blitz up the middle, so they came with outside corner- and safety-blitzes that flustered the young QB. These also came in handy when the Jags tried to run outside, bring an extra defender to hold the edge or blow up the play.

In the last 30 minutes, Jacksonville averaged only 2.7 yards per carry and went 10 of 21 passing. The Patriots had figured them out, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia once again shut down a team in the second half. He has a habit of doing that -- the Pats gave up an average of 8.3 points in the second half of games this year. And that tendency will be missed when he's gone (reportedly the new head coach in Detroit after the Super Bowl).

Which leads us directly to how Jacksonville lost the game. First, after a dominant first half, they only led by four points. They had a delay of game coming out of a Patriots timeout (what?!), which negated a first-down gain and forced them to punt with about 2:00 left. And of course, the Patriots scored a touchdown easily against the Jags prevent defense.

Then, to compound the mistake, they knelt on the ball with 0:55 left and two timeouts! The Patriots would never have done that, and I'm sure Belichick was grateful that Jacksonville didn't go for the knockout touchdown or at least a field goal.

In the second half, the Jaguars were way too conservative on offense, with too many first-down runs. They ran on first down five times on seven second-half possessions, for a grand total of four yards. They needed to stick with short throws over the middle to attack the vulnerable Patriots linebackers. But they apparently thought the game was in hand, especially given that their defense was one of the league's best this year.

In retrospect, that was an obvious mistake.

Other stand-out performances:

  • Kyle Van Noy, who had 9 tackles, 1 sack (for 9 yards), a pass defended, and a forced fumble. Their only good linebacker had a good game.
  • Dion Lewis: 32 yards receiving and 34 yards rushing, including 18 big yards to ice the game.
  • Brandin Cooks had 100 yards receiving and 68 yards on two penalties against the Jaguars defense.
  • Phillip Dorsett, who not only had a 31-yard reception but did a great job chipping the Jacksonville ends to slow their pass rush.
  • Stephon Gilmore, with five tackles and two huge passes defended (including a late one to give the ball back to the Patriots).
  • Trey Flowers, except for the time he lost outside contain on a 10+ yard Jacksonville run.
  • James Harrison, but only when they had him rushing the passer and not against the run.
So where does that leave us? In the Super Bowl, baby! Gronkowski is in the concussion protocol and Brady's hand is still healing. Those are the only real unknowns; so enjoy the two weeks!

Biggest on-going concern: Back to the linebackers in pass coverage.

The Eagles won't attack them with running backs, but they have two good tight ends and at least one wideout (Alshon Jeffery) who can exploit the Pats linebacking deficiencies with short crossing routes.

Non-Brady MVP: Amendola, a monster game.

Statistical Oddity: The difference between Jacksonville's first and second halves, courtesy Matt Patricia's defensive adjustments. (Note: numbers projected from each half to a full game, for easy comparison.)

First half projections
  • Rushing: 34 for 120 yards (3.5 yards per carry)
  • Passing: 26 of 30 (87%) for 310 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 sacks (12 yards), 131.9 rating
  • Game Stats: 28 first downs, 8 of 12 on third down (67%), 4-4 in the red zone, 418 net yards

Second half projections

  • Rushing: 30 for 82 yards (2.7ypc)
  • Passing: 20 of 42 (47.6%) for 276 yards, 0 touchdowns, 6 sacks (40 yards), 69.1 rating
  • Game Stats: 16 first downs, 4 of 18 on third down (22%), 0-0 in the red zone, 330 net yards
  • 330 net yards

Bonus Statistical Oddity (courtesy of ESPN): Teams trailing by 10+ points in the 4th quarter of a playoff game in the last 10 seasons:

  • Patriots: 3-4
  • Rest of NFL: 3-70

Water-cooler Wisdom: "Gilmore signing was worth it just for that last play!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 15-3 & 2-0!

No comments:

Post a Comment