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Film review: Patriots’ 3rd down conversions set early tone against the Bills

Four 3rd down attempts, four 3rd down conversions on New England’s first drive of the day.

When the Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots 16-0 in the teams’ week 4 matchup, the Patriots’ offense was led by rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Naturally, the unit was in a much better state on Sunday with future Hall of Famer and MVP frontrunner Tom Brady at the helm.

Buffalo found that out on New England’s first series of the day.

After the Bills took a 3-0 lead, the Patriots started their ensuing drive on the 30-yard line. With the home team playing some solid defense on 1st and 2nd down, New England was forced in multiple 3rd down situations. Four times the Patriots’ offense had to keep their drive alive, four times they were able to – en route to a touchdown.

Let’s take a look at the film to find out how the Patriots were able to convert on 3rd down.

1) 3-6-NE 47 (9:23) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short right to J.White pushed ob at BUF 45 for 8 yards (Z.Brown). Caught near sideline at NE 47.

On their first 3rd down of the day, the Patriots opted to go with their 11-personnel package. Wideouts Chris Hogan (#15), Danny Amendola (#80) and motion-man Julian Edelman (#11) aligned in a right-side trips formation, with Rob Gronkowski (#87) the lone skill position player on the other side of the field. Tom Brady (#12) was in shotgun with receiving back James White (#28) to his left:

(c) NFL Game Pass

At the snap, Buffalo rushed four defenders. They were picked up easily by the offensive line and gave Brady the time he needed to look off Gronkowski and towards White, who released into the flat. The quarterback hit his running back in stride, allowing him to immediately turn up the field and towards the first down marker.

While Gronkowski was not targeted, he still played a vital role in White picking up the first down. Due to him running a slant and cutting in at midfield, the defender in coverage of White – linebacker Zach Brown (#53) – was caught in a legal natural pick:

(c) NFL Game Pass

Consequently, Brown had to run around Gronkowski and cornerback Stephon Gilmore (#24) to get to the running back; just slightly but enough to force him to take a bad angle. White was not affected by Brown’s attempt at a tackle and was able to pick up the first down to extend New England’s drive.

2) 3-10-BUF 45 (8:06) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short left to C.Hogan pushed ob at BUF 29 for 16 yards (S.Gilmore). Caught near sideline at BUF 32.

Three plays after their first conversion, the Patriots found themselves in another 3rd down. This time – after an incomplete pass and an end-around for no gain – New England had to gain 10 yards to keep its drive alive. The Patriots had the same personnel on the field as on the first 3rd down attempt but moved the receivers on the line of scrimmage around:

(c) NFL Game Pass

The Bills countered with dropping seven players into a cover 4 zone, again rushing four. The offensive line did another good job of picking up the pass rush, which in turn gave the play time to develop – despite left guard Joe Thuney (#62) getting pushed back. The rookie was able to keep his footing, though, and thus allowed Brady just enought time to go through his progressions and reset his feet in the pocket:

(c) NFL Game Pass

At that time, Chris Hogan was able to beat Gilmore’s one-on-one press technique with a free release at the line of scrimmage and a perfectly timed and executed out-cut 15 yards down the field:

Brady threw a perfect pass to the first-year Patriot as the duo once again displayed solid chemistry – and New England picked up another first down.

3) 3-2-BUF 21 (6:13) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short left to J.Edelman to BUF 11 for 10 yards (Z.Brown). Caught in flat at BUF 15.

Another three plays later, the Patriots were in another 3rd down situation. This time, after two runs by LeGarrette Blount (#29), the team needed to gain only two yards to extend the drive instead of potentially settling for a field goal.

New England operated out of its traditional 3rd down 11-personnel package: Hogan, Amendola and Gronkowski – the left-right motion man – were in a trips formation on the right, with Edelman in the left-side slot and White split out wide:

(c) NFL Game Pass

The Bills once again rushed four, using a cover 2 man concept. New England’s offensive line did another stellar job of keeping Brady away from the pressure: The tackles’ low blocks eliminated the threat of an outside rush while the interior was able to fight off Buffalo’s talented defensive tackles.

(c) NFL Game Pass

With perfect protection, Brady had more than enough time to scan the field and make a decision. This time, Julian Edelman was the target – and he ran a perfect route to find a soft spot in the Bills’ zones. As linebacker Zach Brown, who was also in coverage on the first 3rd down of the drive, moved towards the boundary, Edelman decided to just sit down on the top of the route, waiting for Brady’s pass:

Since the Patriots run option-based route concepts, Edelman and Brady needed to read the coverage the same way for the play to be successful. As usual, they did, and the quarterback delivered a perfect strike allowing New England to convert its third straight 3rd down.

4) 3-8-BUF 9 (4:35) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short right to D.Amendola for 9 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Caught at goal line.

Unable once again to gain significant yardage on the early downs, New England found itself in yet another 3rd down three plays after the last one. The Patriots went with an empty formation this time, with the same personnel on the field as they have had on the previous three 3rd downs:

(c) NFL Game Pass

This time, the Bills rushed only three players. While tackles Nate Solder (#77) and Marcus Cannon (#61) were able to move their opponents up the field, neither Thuney nor Shaq Mason (#69) helped center David Andrews (#60) with his assignment, defensive tackle Kyle Williams (#95). Williams was able to beat Andrews – but he was unable to get to the quarterback:

(c) NFL Game Pass

Brady had already started to move up the field by the time Williams shook free from Andrews, extending the play to give his receivers additional time to get open. Danny Amendola did just that. He originally ran a curl route, with the top at the goal line. However, with the quarterback rolling out to his right, Amendola started to do the same:

(c) NFL Game Pass

This allowed the veteran wideout, who displayed great awareness on the play, to gain separation from safety Jonathan Meeks (#36). In turn, Brady had a wide-open target in the end zone – one he did not miss as he threw a well-placed pass on the move. The Patriots were able to convert their fourth straight 3rd down to take a 7-3 lead.

New England faced a tough opponent in a tough environment. Therefore, being able to convert four 3rd downs on the opening possession became even more important. Not only did it help the team take the lead it also helped quiet the crowd a bit and bring momentum back to the Patriots.