When NFL scouts and coaches prepare for an upcoming opponent, they not only look for strengths and weaknesses but also for tendencies and hints at particular play calls. The more predictable a team therefore reacts in certain situations, the easier it is to scout and to game plan against. Enter the New England Patriots, who are always modifying their battle plans to stay one step ahead of the opposition.
This approach has played a huge role in the success the team has enjoyed over the past two decades, and it is something that continues to be at the center of its preparatory philosophy and process. Staying unpredictable is one key aspect in that regard: the team likes to mix and match its offensive and defensive play calls and personnel packages to gain an advantage however small it might be.
A recent example of that is the Patriots’ red zone offense – one of the most balanced units in the NFL. Through its first four games, New England ran a combined 34 plays inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The plays that coordinator Josh McDaniels called in the red area are almost evenly split: the Patriots ran 18 passes and 16 runs. The resulting 47.1:52.9 run-pass-ratio ranks the team second in the league in terms of balance.
Only the Los Angeles Rams – who ran exactly 27 passes and 27 runs – have divided plays more evenly than New England. This balance has served the Patriots well over the first quarter of the season as the team came away with points on every one of its 12 red zone trips so far this year: New England scored eight touchdowns – seven passes and one run – as well as four field goals. The team’s 5.67 points per red zone trip are eighth best in the NFL.
There is still room for improvement, though, particularly between the 20s: the Patriots’ 34 plays in the red area rank the team just 17th league-wide. Inside the red zone, however, the early signs have been encouraging for a team that will get Julian Edelman back soon and also have Rob Gronkowski and Josh Gordon as potent red area weapons.