FanPost

Are you smarter than Bill O'Brien ? #1 @ Dolphins Edition

By the time you’ll read this article, you’ll probably be more interested in reading about the upcoming opener at Gillette Stadium than in reading yet another report of the Monday Night game against the Dolphins. Well, I’ll ask you to go back one more time to that record-tying game. Hey, you may even like what I have to say.

 

Anyway, welcome to the first edition of ‘Are you smarter than Bill O’Brien ?’. If you thought “Of course I am” when you read the title, you certainly don’t need to read the following article. If you’re one of those guys who can say “Run !” “Pass !” “Play-action !” to your friends before the ball is snapped, then you’re not going to find this very entertaining, and I won’t blame you if you leave. I will be secretly hurt, though. But if you want to understand the offensive play-calls, be able to recognize patterns through the season, or if you are just curious to see who was featured in a game, you could choose a worse place to start.

 

I know the project looks ambitious, and I am not arrogant to the point where I think I can teach you football. That being said, I think valuable pieces of information can be found while checking stats.

 

To check out the play log, use this link.

 

Here we go. We’ll need a Defensive Coordinator’s hat. Not Rex Ryan’s, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fill his shoes. The special teams executed the kickoff, it’s 1st & 10 at the NE 20-y line. The offense takes the field. You’re the DC. You need to send the good personnel to match-up against Tom Brady & co. This is why you’ll check what personnel is on the field first. This is the first move in the chess match that develops for each play call, and is largely what the Defensive Coordinator makes his play call based off of since it is too late to call a play when the offense has lined up in their formation.

 Here is the first attempt at guessing what the offense will do.

I'll break down each personnel grouping for easy reference. Each personnel grouping is referred to by only two numbers: the number of RBs in the game and the number of TEs in the game.  Since there are only 5 skill positions on the field (after you take away the 5 OL and 1 QB), you can also easily deduce the number of WRs in the game.

 

Note : when you look at personnel groupings, the position where they line up on the field doesn’t matter. Hernandez in the backfield is still a Tight End.

 

 

The chart :

Personnel

RB

TE

WR

00

0

0

5

01

0

1

4

02

0

2

3

10

1

0

4

11

1

1

3

12

1

2

2

13

1

3

1

20

2

0

3

21

2

1

2

22

2

2

1

23

2

3

0

I included Fletcher (linebacker) as a RB in the goal-line formations.

 

  • Personnel (First Half)

 

               Call

Personnel

Run

Pass (attempted)

Total number of plays

 

Number of runs

Average

Number of passes

Number of PA

Average

 

00

 

 

 

 

 

 

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

11

2

6.0

10

 

5.7

12

12

7

4.6

11

 

7.4

18

13

3

3.0

3

2

20.7

6

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

22

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

12

4.1

24

2

8.75

36

 

Note : the penalties are not included in the graphics, even if we can see what the play call was. The incompletions count as a 0y passing play, and the sack(s) as a negative passing play.  

 

  • Personnel (Second Half)

 

               Call

Personnel

Run

Pass (attempted)

Total number of plays

 

Number of runs

Average

Number of passes

Number of PA

Average

 

00

 

 

 

 

 

 

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

11

3

5.0

4

1

18.7

7

12

3

4.0

16

2

14.1

19

13

5

4.0

6

2

2.2

11

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

22

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

11

4.7

26

5

11.8

37

 

You may want to pick up a trend during the game, so here is an easy way to do it : take a sheet of paper and a pen, create a chart with several entries for the personnel packages, and check run or pass when you see the outcome of the play.

 

What we can see analysing the personnel packages is that the game plan is really heavy on passing plays (66.7% of the plays in the first half). During the first half, we saw a lot of 12 personnel, featuring Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Dolphins used a lot of nickel defence against the 12 personnel, and this is one of the reasons why the pass was so effective : a size mismatch.

 

The 13 package was also very important, because the defence tried to sub in some linebackers, but Tom Brady caught them with 12 men on the field using the hurry-up offense. Although we don’t have much data to evaluate the effectiveness of the formation (6 plays in the 1st half, 11 in the second), we can see that the formation had some good results on the ground, considering the run was expected in this formation, and used in short yardage situations. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was in for most of the 13 plays.

 

The two-minute offense was executed in an 11 package, with Wes, Deion, and Chad taking the reps. The first two are a given, but Ochocinco ? I have to think that his experience (11 years in the league) made him a good choice to come up with tight play. We may see more 12 personnel in the near future to run the 2-minutes offense if #85 can’t get comfortable with the playbook.

 

We didn’t see much adjustments between the halves. The game plan was working, Tom Brady was firing on all cylinders, and the tight-ends were all over the field. 70.2% of the plays were pass attempts, with mixed results, especially in the 4th quarter. Yes, Wes Welker had a 99 & ½ yards Touchdown, but there was also two ugly 3 & out in the last quarter. By then, the game was already out of reach for the Dolphins, so it’s not that bad. One notable adjustment was the significantly less pass attempted out of the 11 package. Maybe it was to acknowledge the lack of efficiency of the Patriots’ offense at the end of the 1st half.

 

  • Downs (1st half)

                   Call       

Down

Run

Pass

Play-action

Total

1st

8

10

1

19

2nd

3

7

2

12

3rd

3

5

0

8

4th

 

 

 

 

Total

14

22

3

39

  • Downs (2nd half)

                   Call       

Down

Run

Pass

Play-action

Total

1st

4

15

3

19

2nd

6

6

1

12

3rd

0

6

 

6

4th

 

 

 

 

Total

10

27

4

37

 

Well, when we are considering the downs chart, we can see a balanced play-calling in the first half, with a 44% / 66% run / pass split on first down. The Patriots are, after all, a passing team. Bill O’Brien seamed more aggressive with the pass on 2nd down in the first half (70% of the time). The playcalling changes in the 2nd half, with a strong emphasis put on the pass on first down (nearly 79% of the time), with a more balanced calling on 2nd down (50% were running plays). All of the 3rd down plays were passes, which probably lead the offense to be very predictable. The Dolphins defense seemed to have less trouble defending this one-dimensional offense on third down : just look at the 3 & out during the 4th quarter.

 

               Call

Formation

Run

 

Pass

 

 

Number of runs

Average

Number of passes    

Number of PA

Average

Under Center

17

4.6

16

7

7.4

Shotgun

5

5.6

32

1

12.0

Total

22

4.6

48

8

10.8

 

Here I wanted to have a chart for the number of runs / passes out of the different formations. The Shotgun formation was primarily used to pass, but the running backs averaged 5.6y on the ground, which is obviously enough to keep the defense honest. Now that’s interesting: one of the play-action came from the shotgun formation. That’s the proof that Danny Woodhead is as good as anybody in the league at running the draw plays from the shotgun. We can see in this chart that the passing game was very effective, no matter what formation was used. 12.0y on average from the shotgun, or 7.4y when the QB takes the snap under center ? I think Hill nailed it when he said that the only thing that could derail the offense Monday night was the penalties.

 

The running game was a nice complement, even if it wasn’t very used, it was still effective. Monday was not one of these days where you throw because you can’t get anything from your running game. 4.6y per carry on average, and both Woody and Law-firm averaged 4.9y per carry, that’s as good as it gets.

 

Let’s talk about Third down conversion now.

 

3rd downs breakdown

Converted

Not converted

% Conversion

Number of 3rd down

1st half

5

3

62.50

2nd half

3

3

50.00

Formation

UC

3 + 0

0 + 2

60.00

S

2 + 3

3 + 1

55.55

Call

R

3 + 0

0 + 0

100.00

P

2 + 3

3 + 3

45.45

Personnel

11

1

2 + 1

33.33

12

3 + 3

1 + 0

85.71

13

1 + 0

0 + 1

50.00

23

0 + 0

0 + 1

0.00

 

Note : When you read the [Formation] / Under Center / Converted (3 + 0), it means that the Pats' offense converted 3 3rd downs in the first half when the QB takes the snap under center, but they didn't convert any 3rd down in the second half (when the QB takes the snap under center)

Let’s look at the 3rd down conversion of the Patriots’ offense. I dispalyed the difference between the first and second half to show you the adjustments. You could say that the Dolphins were better prepared in the second half, because the offense converted only 50% of their snaps. Or you could just look at the number of 3rd down and think “Boy, Brady was hot !” He converted less 3rd down, but he had less 3rd downs to convert.

 

An area of preoccupation might just be the efficiency of the 11 formation. You probably noticed that when Welker, Ochocinco and Branch were on the field, the results were not always pretty. You can go back to the play log to see that the package in itself was not overly successful, and it also shows up on 3rd down. 33.33% of 3rd down resulted in a 1st down from the 11 package.

 

Meanwhile, the conversion rate using a 12 formation is absolutely stunning. 85.71% of the plays resulted in a first down (or a TD). That’s quite impressive. I think the chemistry with Brady plays a big role when you factor in the presence on the field of Branch or Welker, but the true factor of  success of the formation has be the three other skill positions. Woodhead saw a lot of time lined up as the right wide out, motioning out of the backfield or simply lining up right there. Just spread the defense, and let the tight ends create mismatches. Because that’s what it is : we have learned to appreciate the dominance of Rob Gronkowski both in the blocking and the receiving game, but Hernandez impressed me even more. It’s like “Okay, Gronk just sealed another linebacker out of the play, what else ?” and the next snap “WOW, Hernandez in pass protection, he looks GOOD”. Hernandez is a weapon in the passing game, but he’s underrated as a blocker. And, well, the defense can’t guess what the play is with these two guys on the field on 3rd & short.

 

Another surprising stat came up : a 100.00 % conversion rate of third downs when a run is attempted. All of the run on third down came with one or two yards for the first, and Brady sneaked one for three (on the play where Koppen was injured). The line was dominant in the game, and Brady kept taking the defense off-guard by giving the ball to Woody for the first down (BJGE was a goal-line back, but not a 3rd and short back in this one). I just don’t buy the need to run the ball to run the ball. The running game and the passing game complement each other, and it doesn’t matter how you do it. If you open running lanes because of your potent aerial attack, then great. If the play-action is a good play because you’re running the ball down the defense’s throat, great again. But I can’t think of a situation where, by gameplan, you would put the ball out of your all-pro QB’s hands, especially against a good front seven. And when Brady is that good, you certainly don’t want to adjust.

 

Now, this one’s a shocker : more tight-ends on the field don’t mean more 3rd down converted. The Dolphins used a traditional package against the 13 set, and it is certainly less easy to run against that front seven, but I think we don’t have a sufficient sample size to really say that the 13 set isn’t appropriate on third down. Logic would recommend the contrary, actually. With Hernandez, you basically have a second WR on the field, and the play-action out of this formation is very effective. We’ll have to check next week to see if the 13 doesn’t get love on 3rd down.

 

Please note that these observations don’t take into account the distance needed to convert a third down (except when I talk about the run).

 

 

So, I have been talking a lot about formations, personnel, conversions and all this cool stuff that I extracted from the game, but I feel like I left something uncovered. I’ll share with you some random thoughts relating to the offense players. 

 

The running backs :

 

             Tailback

Call

BJGE

Woodhead

Ridley

Vereen

Brady

Run on 1st and 2nd down

7

14

0

0

0

Run on 3rd and 4th down

0

2

0

0

1

Pass on 1st and 2nd down

10

28

0

0

/

Pass on 3rd and 4th

2

7

0

0

/

 

 

I know a lot of you guys wanted to see Ridley against 1st team defense Monday Night, but quite frankly, he was expendable. A hundred yards on the ground, plus a touchdown, we can’t really complain here, can we ? The solid but un-exciting Danny Woodhead and the small but shifty BenJarvus Green-Ellis are returning this year, and they did belong.

 

Oh, I know I mixed up the names, but I can’t resist, I just want to see who’s gonna comment that I made a terrible mistake, before reading the next paragraph.

 

Green-Ellis took the bulk of the snaps on the first drive and helped set up the play-action early in the game. You will have noticed that the play-action was not very used in this one, but I think it’s because Tommy was so efficient that Bill O’Brien just didn’t want to run the ball. When a defense is punished by the pass, why would it be concerned with small gains to the ground ? And as a result, the “surprise” plays were the runs : 4.9 yards per carry for both BJGE and Woody. BJGE was the running back of choice near the goal-line and in most 13 sets.

 

Danny Woodhead took over during the second drive, and was as close as a feature back as it gets in this game. His versatility helped his case, since he was the #1 choice to run the No Huddle and the 2-minute offense. He lined up pretty much everywhere on the field, including multiple times at wideout, except maybe at RT and safety, but his receiving skills and blocking skills were valuable assets to the offense.

 

A job may have been taken on Monday, but I still think BJGE will remain #1. The gameplan revolved around the No Huddle offense, and Woodhead had a good rapport with Tom Brady. In the future, we may see Vereen featured in similar circumstances. He lined up at WR a lot in college.

 

I’ve  included the Brady sneak for the fun. Maybe we can check next week if this play ought to be run more. Yeah, Brady is a beast in the running game. Maybe we can run the wildcat someday.  

 

On to the Offensive Line !

 

Direction of the run

Left end

LT

LG

Middle

RG

RT

Right end

Number of runs

1

2

4

3

1

6

4

Yards gained

13

9

16

10

8

39

11

Yards average

13

4.5

4.0

3.3

8.0

6.5

2.75

 

We sure lack data at this point in the season, so it is difficult to project anything, but what I can say right now is that Nate Solder seems to be a beast in run blocking. Both back ran early and often to his side of the line, and targeted “his” gaps 10 times in the game. While the backs had some moderate success running to the right end, the gap between Waters and Solder seemed to be the defense’s weakness... which makes sense because Wake is a tremendous pass rusher, but he can be exposed in the running game.

 

And no, you can’t use my chart to say “Light is a beast !”. Bill O’Brien called 3 runs to his side of the line, and they most likely took the defense by surprise because Light certainly isn’t featured in the running game.

 

The wide receivers :

 

Welker is back at 100%, and it showed up. He played in every set, and the majority of the snaps overall. I am extremely happy about his week 1 performance, since he is in his contract year, and we may see an extension signed before the offseason if he continues to play at this level (like the Danny Woodhead contract late in the 2010 season).

 

Welker and Branch have a great chemistry with Brady, and they are the #1 and #2 receivers. They saw an extensive amount of time, and played almost every snap in the no huddle and the 2 minute offense. I like this 12 formation as it is. Branch, Welker, R. Gronk, Hernandez, Woodhead. Your two best WRs happen to be your (arguably) best blockers so you could go run heavy, or just spread the defense by going empty backfield.

 

Let’s talk about the guy we traded for. Ochocinco. #85 clearly wasn’t a big part of the gameplan, who featured a lot of ‘12’ sets, but he failed to shine in the ‘11’ packages (mostly during the 2-minutes offense). He did have a “bad football” penalty that negated a big play to R. Gronkowski, but I think with more time in the playbook that won’t happen. It looks like he was busy trying to read the defense, and didn’t see the TE in motion coming to his side of the field. Well, that wasn’t all that bad. Great catch on the sidelines while he dragged his back toe to stay in bounds. I want more. But hey, I’ll have to be patient. Everybody lauds his work ethic, and he has some experience. He is not pressed to produce, either, and looked good at times. Just not when it counted. He clearly ran the wrong route on a 3rd and 9. I’ll have to lower my expectations a bit. 130 catches, 1800y, 24 TDs only. 

 

Edelman has some good blocking skills. A lot of screens plays were called when he was on the field, and he wasn’t just a backup to Welker (since both were on the field at the same time for a few plays)

 

Slater is a deep threat. I thought his performance in the preseason was nice, but unlikely to happen in the regular season against 1st team defense. Glad I was mistaken. I know it was just a game, and it may not happen again as defenses start to account for him, but right now, I can’t say if it was the beginning of a trend or only a fluke. I guess you’ll have to check my next article(s). Slater had a 46y catch, and dropped what would have been a TD (he was wide open the second time he was thrown to). This is encouraging, especially considering that he only played 3 snaps the whole game.

 

You have probably read enough about the Tight-ends by now, so I won’t inflict you another breakdown. You know what the definition of insanity is ? Keeping doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Well, I am crazy, but I won’t say anything that differs significantly from the ‘pro’ analysts. Gronk is a beast, and Hernandez is un-coverable. Those two young men are electrifying. And Dan looks very good in the blocking game, so...

 

This article is almost over, but before I clean my notebook, I’d like to thank a bunch of people. First, you guys who read that. I think I wouldn’t write articles if it weren’t for you  who are as passionate and as greedy for information about the team we all love as I am. Then, Orz and jkvandal, contributing writers from Bolts from the Blue. They started the series under the name of “Playbook Confidential”, and I thought the PP lacked this kind of stat-dissecting pieces. And last but not least, thanks to Pat Kirwan, ex-coach and analyst, who published the way of evaluating the offense examining personnel groupings rather than formations.

 

See you next week ;)

The views expressed in these FanPosts are not necessarily those of the writers or SBNation.

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