The bye week is the time for rest and self-scouting. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knows that the team isn’t perfect and that there is plenty of tape to review and plays to perfect. With half of the season in the books, the Patriots have to decide what doesn’t work and to increase focus on perfecting what does.
TL;DR below the quote
“Look, you have to answer that question every week, not just the bye week,” Belichick said on Wednesday, “and you do something that doesn’t work out well, so what are your options? Get rid of it, or continue to do it and see if you can improve it. That’s the judgment you make.
“If you really feel convinced that you can do it well, then you put more resources into it and try to improve it. At some point if it doesn’t go well then you might decide that ‘We’ve tried, we’ve invested a lot of time. We’ve invested in this and it’s still not working. Maybe it’s time to move on to something else.’ And then you make that decision.
“I can’t sit there and tell you what the book on that is. I think you evaluate each one individually but that’s what coaches do. That’s what we do. We evaluate it, we look at it and maybe it’s a difference of opinion in the room on the staff like ‘Look, I still think we can do it if we just work harder on it,’ versus ‘We’ve put a lot into it. Let’s do something else. We seem to be on a dead end here,’ for whatever the reasons are and there could be a multitude of reasons. That’s a whole other conversation but in the end you have to make that decision.
“It’s a bye week decision but it’s a weekly decision, too. You just have to decide what direction you want to go. I think in a lot of cases you can improve things. [For] some teams that’s just not their thing. You have to find something else but that’s true in every season.
“Each year I think you have to find a little bit of a different way to win. You can’t do everything exactly the same way you did it a previous year. Your team has changed and the teams that you’re playing may have changed or you may be playing different teams and maybe that dictates that you do something a little differently than you did it in the past against a different set of opponents.
“Those are the judgements that the head coach, the coordinators and the position coaches make whether it’s an overall scheme thing or whether it’s an individual technique thing. It can be a technique thing, too, like ‘Look, here’s the way we’re doing this technique but it’s not as effective for us as we want it to be.’ Do we keep working on it or do we modify the technique and do something a little bit different for whatever the reasons are; our players, their players, their scheme, whatever it happens to be.”
TL;DR: Every week coaches have to decide whether to dedicate more time and resources into specific plays, schemes, and techniques, or whether to scrap them entirely.
“I mean we’ve done both,” Belichick said about improving or scrapping schemes. “We’ve gotten to points, again, it’s not even a midseason conversation. It is a midseason conversation but it could be any time, really, and just say ‘Look, I’m done with this.’ I’ve said that before – ‘I’ve seen enough. I’m done with it. We’re going to do something else. We’ve tried and it just didn’t work,’ or ‘I believe in it. We should be better at it than we are.’
“It’s maybe circumstantial why we don’t have production. Eight guys are good, one guy is bad. The next time its eight guys are good and a different guy that [isn’t]. If we just get this right we’ll be OK but we just haven’t been able to do it. Well maybe you keep trying.”
And so the Patriots will be figuring out what they should and shouldn’t do for the rest of the season. Let’s brainstorm some ways the team can improve.
Do: Play more two-tight end sets
The Patriots haven’t been able to field their two tight end sets for much of the season. Rob Gronkowski was limited for the first four weeks of the season, and then Martellus Bennett suffered an ankle injury in week 5. Hopefully Bennett will be healed after the bye week because these are arguably the two best skill players on offense.
Can you imagine a package with a healthy Gronkowski, Bennett, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Dion Lewis? The possibilities are endless.
Don’t: Sit back in soft coverage after building up a lead
The goal of the soft defense is to avoid giving up the big play and to drain the clock, but the result is a secondary playing like the 2011 defense, allowing easy 20 yard chunks while taking away the touchdown throw. Teams are able to walk down the field in two minute drives, which is the exact opposite of what the Patriots intend.
Quarterbacks are just too accurate to allow them easy passes. The most average quarterback can hit 65% of his passes these days (the Patriots are lucky they have a below average slate of QBs this entire season).
Do: Throw deep to WR Chris Hogan and the tight ends
Gronkowski and Bennett have combined for 12 receptions on 15 targets for 419 yards and 4 touchdowns on passes 15+ yards down the field. This is why the two-tight end set needs to be more involved because the Patriots can attack in the run game or they can attack deep down the field.
Hogan has added 5 receptions for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns of his own on 10 targets. He’s 3 of 3 for 159 yards and a touchdown with Tom Brady under center and 2 of 3 for 61 yards and a touchdown with Jimmy Garoppolo. Jacoby Brissett went 0 for 4 on deep passes to Hogan.
Don’t: Run up the middle on first down
I’ll clarify and say that the Patriots absolutely should run on first down. They’ve been incredible effective running behind the tackles and ends. But they need to stop running behind C David Andrews because it’s setting the Patriots up for a lot of long distance situations.
The Patriots have been stopped for 2 or fewer yards on 1st down runs up the middle nearly 52% of the time, the 8th worst mark in the league. They are surrounded in the rankings by the Bears, Jets, and 49ers. The Patriots young interior line is not strong enough to clear running lanes and RB LeGarrette Blount just ends up running into their backs and into traffic.
Do: Play FS Devin McCourty against the opposing team’s tight end
McCourty has certainly stepped up his play in recent weeks, with his elimination of TE Charles Clay his latest masterpiece. While Patrick Chung hasn’t been as consistent this season, McCourty has been a dominant force in the secondary, knocking away passes and making plays by the line of scrimmage.
This match-up allows Chung to cover the running back- which seems like the best way to compensate for the loss of Jamie Collins’ coverage ability- and Duron Harmon is an extremely capable free safety.
Don’t: Play the defensive tackles on more than 60% of the snaps
I know some of the playing time has been due to injury as Malcom Brown and Alan Branch have been the only healthy defensive tackles on the roster. But both Brown and Branch have played 61% of the defensive snaps this season, including games above 75% of the snaps.
Last year, Brown and Branch played for 60+% of the snaps on just four games combined. Now they’re averaging that rate. The return of Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton should help balance the defense, but it would be for the best if the starting duo dropped back down to 50% of the snaps.
Do: Involve WR Danny Amendola on crucial third downs and red zone plays
The relationship between Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell reminds me a bit of last year’s dynamic between Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Freeny. The coaching staff kept trying to make Freeny a thing, but Mayo was undeniably better every time he took the field. Amendola has played just 30% of the Patriots offensive snaps, his lowest rate since joining the team in 2013.
But 15 of Amendola’s 22 catches (two negated) have come on third down. Both Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo have completed 7 of 8 passes in Amendola’s direction. 50% of Amendola’s plays have gone for first downs or scores. Maybe he needs to get more involved until Julian Edelman is fully healthy.