Tom Brady - Passing Chart
(Short passes = less than 15 yards, Deep passes = more than 15 yards)
Tom Brady’s passing chart on Thursday night gives a perfect explanation as to why he had his lowest completion rate in a game since 2004.
The Chiefs completely took away the middle of the field from Brady, his favorite area to target. Brady attempted just five passes in the middle-third of the field, and over half of his yards gained were on one pass to Danny Amendola. The Chiefs gameplan focused on getting Brady out of his comfort zone in terms of where he was going with the football, and it forced the majority of his throws outside the numbers.
The other story that this tells is that Brady targeted the deep part of the field (passes of 15+ yards) more than usual. Brady averaged over 16 air yards per target against the Chiefs, his highest mark in over ten year. Last season, he never went over 13 yards per target in any game. Kansas City forced Brady’s hand in that regard as well, and he didn’t have much success with the low percentage throws. Brady was just 3-15 on passes of 15-plus air yards, which made it difficult for the Patriots offense to sustain drives, especially in the fourth quarter. The Patriots became a boom or bust offense. We saw the boom with Brandin Cooks’ 54-yard reception, but the forced-upon strategy led to too many incompletions.
Wide Receivers in the Slot
One of the most talked about topics over the last few weeks has been how the Patriots would replace Julian Edelman’s presence in the slot.
The immediate answer was Danny Amendola. Prior to suffering a concussion, Amendola was having a huge game primarily operating out of the slot. We should have expected Amendola to shine with Edelman out of the lineup, and he led the team in targets (tied), receptions, and receiving yards despite exiting the game early.
Chris Hogan also lined up in the slot over half the time, but didn’t fair as well as Amendola. It was an off game for Hogan who had trouble separating from the Chiefs cornerbacks. The Patriots will need more from Hogan going forward, especially if Amendola misses time.
Pass Protection Stats
This was one of Marcus Cannon’s worst games in a while on the stat sheet, but it didn’t get really bad until the last few Patriots possessions. Cannon was responsible for blocking Kansas City’s Justin Houston on the edge, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Houston got the better of Cannon on two sacks late in the game, but both were in obvious passing situations. Still, it wasn’t the best ending to the game for Cannon, who was badly beaten on both plays.
Two standouts in this game were Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney. The Pats guard tandem allowed just one pressure combined (Thuney), and Mason in particular played very well. He did not allow a pressure despite being on the field for every snap on offense, and was a force in the run game. It was a strong performance for both.
Pass Rush/Run Stats
The Patriots pass rush, or lack thereof, was easily the most talked about flaw on this team in the preseason, and in some respects it showed up in the first regular season game.
The Patriots did get some pressure on Alex Smith from Trey Flowers (8 pressures), Dont’a Hightower (3 pressures), and rookies Adam Butler (4 pressures) and Deatrich Wise (2 pressures), but it was far too inconsistent.
The Pats currently lack pass rushers that can beat a blocker one on one, something that most good sack artists are expected to do consistently. Trey Flowers is the closest thing they have, but even he is a bit of a different breed. The Pats have to hope that Butler and Wise continue to grow as rookies, as they are the only hopes outside of Flowers and Hightower right now.
The pass rush wasn’t good, but it wasn’t a complete disaster given that they did get some production out of Flowers and the rookies.
The Patriots run defense, on the other hand, got gashed, and it was a replay of Super Bowl LI in terms of strategy. The Chiefs took advantage of both a flaw in the Patriots roster and scheme in a very similar way to the Falcons last February.
The Patriots run defense is a gap-sound scheme, meaning they don’t do anything exotic with their defensive lineman, opting to plug running lanes person by person across the front, and stalemate blockers.
This makes the strong side defensive end and linebacker vital to stopping the run for the Patriots defense, and the SAM linebacker is almost always Dont’a Hightower when he’s healthy. The role of the strong side of the front is to push outside runs back to the center of the defensive towards help, and towards big run stuffers like Alan Branch and Malcom Brown. If you go to a Patriots practice you will constantly here the defensive coaches and Belichick shouting, “set the edge”.
This is because the weakness of this scheme is on the edge, as it leaves the Patriots vulnerable to big runs on the outside with fewer defenders out there to cover those gaps. The Chiefs gashed the Patriots on a handful of different outside runs, including tosses, which we saw the Falcons do in the Super Bowl.
It’s 100% vital that the Patriots run defense sets the edge regularly, and that Dont’a Hightower is healthy.
The front seven will shoulder a lot of the blame due to the lack of star power, but the Patriots really struggled against Kansas City in coverage.
This was the worst performance by the Pats defense in the Belichick era, and a lot of that had to do with Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith going 27-27 on passes of ten or fewer yards. That’s Alex Smith’s comfort zone, and the Chiefs knew the Patriots had a weakness covering running backs, and they took advantage. The Chiefs dialed up plays to pick on both Cassius Marsh and Kyle Van Noy, and Marsh was the man in coverage on Kareem Hunt’s long touchdown reception. The Patriots are so strapped for coverage linebackers that they have converted safety Jordan Richards to linebacker, which left the susceptible to the run, and the Chiefs took advantage.
The good news is that the back end of the Patriots secondary was somewhat acceptable, besides one huge coverage bust by Devin McCourty and Stephon Gilmore. Ultimately, McCourty was responsible for Tyreek Hill’s 75-yard touchdown catch, as it was a variation of cover-2 where McCourty had the deep half of the field. However, you’d like to see Gilmore carry his man better, and I’m still trying to figure out why the Patriots allowed Hill to release freely off the line. Gilmore was playing off the speedy Hill, and didn’t get his hands on him at all, which would have made it a tough play for McCourty either way.
This was a disappointing night for Matt Patricia’s bunch. As the defense didn’t do anything well enough to get the job done.
(h/t to Pro Football Focus: https://www.profootballfocus.com/products/elite#edge)