At the risk of sounding like MR OLD TIME FOOTBAW, we've all heard the Woody Hayes quote about passing the ball: There are three things that can happen when you throw a pass, and two of them are bad.
(Pete Carroll, please confirm.)
Through five games this season, despite Pro Football Focus’s somewhat surprising pat on the back for the Patriots offensive line’s run-blocking, New England’s play-calling on third down and manageable (i.e. not third-and-twenty or something) is pretty telling when it comes to their confidence in grinding out the tough yards vs. their confidence in Brady’s right arm.
And by “pretty telling” we’re saying that if you want to win a quick bet with an idiot at the bar, bet them a shot that the Patriots are passing on third and short, and you’ll win that bet roughly 9 out of ten times.
No, seriously, here’s a little bit about the Patriots in short yardage on third down this season from CSNNE’s Tom E. Curran, who was nice enough to crunch the numbers so you don’t have to do any math outside of work or class, cause screw that:
“They throw it 57 percent of the time on first-and-10. On third-and-2, they throw it 86 percent of the time; on third-and-3, they throw 100 percent of the time; on third-and-4, they throw 86 percent of the time.”
Ok, so, style preference aside, and aside from Mike Gillislee sure seeming like he was signed to be able to grind out those gotta-have-it downs, the better question is: does it work?
The answer: sort of.
League-wide, the Philadelphia Eagles somehow lead the NFL in third-down conversion percentage, and they’re moving the chains on 53.4% of their third downs. And two of the teams in the top 5 in third-down conversions may very well have the Patriots defense to thank, since the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs check in second (50.0%) and fifth (46.9%), respectively, at getting themselves a fresh set of downs when they’re down to one shot to get it. If you’re in a charitable mood, the Patriots defense in both of those games could be affectionately referred to as “JV”.
Somewhat surprisingly, especially after the Bucs game last Thursday where Brady got rocked by the defense (again) and New England was only able to chalk up 19 points, the Patriots are still 10th in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage, although they’re converting less than half of them at 42.4%. Even with Tom Brady getting beat up to the tune of 16 sacks and 34 quarterback hits through 5 games, and throwing the ball on almost every third down (again, not counting third-and-forever), they’re still getting it done better than two-thirds of the league.
None of this is inherently bad, it’s just bizarre to see an offense that prides itself on having 18 bazillion plays ready to go and the ability to out-game-plan and out-execute anybody end up being so one-dimensional in these situations through their first five games.
On the other hand, would anybody really be surprised if Ernie Adams had crunched all the data and figured out that this was the best way to attack it anyway?
“Make them defend every blade of grass”, right?