Two weeks ago, the New England Patriots offense looked lost. Tom Brady and company failed to establish a consistent presence via both the running game and the passing game, was unable to get into any sort of rhythm, and made too many fundamental mistakes to compete on the road against a very good Tennessee Titans defense. As a result, the unit scored just 10 points during one of its worst performances of the season.
Fast forward to yesterday. While the Patriots’ offense was far from perfect during the the team’s 27-13 victory over the New York Jets, it looked much improved in all aspects of the game. It was dominant on the ground, efficient through the air, and also did something else: it had plenty of success attacking the second and third levels of the defense either through big passing plays or runs getting behind the tacklers along the defensive line.
Overall, the Patriots gained 7.4 yards per offensive play — clearly their best number of the season by almost a yard (the previous best was 6.7 yards per play in week six against the Kansas City Chiefs). Overall, this marks a vast improvement when compared to the 4.4 yards the team registered against the Titans and the 5.6 yards average New England had through the first 10 weeks of the season.
One of the reasons for the increased yards per play is the team’s ability to limit negative plays: the Jets defense did not sack Brady once on Sunday and had just one play on which New England lost yards (a pass for -1 to Cordarrelle Patterson in the fourth quarter). The Patriots bringing themselves in positive situations allowed them to control the game and successfully and consistently move the football down the field.
What also contributed to the 7.4 yards per play is chunk-plays. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught the team’s second-longest play of the day when he hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter, said after the game that the team was able to generate big plays especially in the second half. “We were just putting things together each play and putting each drive together – the big chunks, the big plays we were putting together instead of just a couple short plays,” Gronkowski said.
All in all, the Patriots finished the game with ten big plays that went for 20 or more yards — also the team’s highest number of the season, clearly beating out the previous best of six big plays in a single game (in week eight versus the Buffalo Bills). What stands out, though, is how those chunk-yardage plays were generated: as opposed to the first 10 games of the season, it was not just passing plays; the running game came up with some big runs as well.
Entering yesterday’s game, the Patriots had just four total run plays of 20+ yards this season. The team reached the number in one game against New York: Sony Michel had runs of 33 and 31 yards, while James White had runs of 27 and 24 yards — all four of those big plays happened, as Gronkowski pointed out, in the second half and were a key in the ground game registering its first 200+ yard performance since the 2014 season.
The Patriots’ big play offense was successful through the air as well. Six of Tom Brady’s pass completions went for more than 20 yards: Julian Edelman (receptions of 36 and 21 yards), Rob Gronkowski (34), Chris Hogan (27 and 20) and Josh Gordon (23) all caught deep passes — often being able to get free because of the running game’s success, as head coach Bill Belichick pointed out during his press conference after the game.
“It always helps when you can run the ball,” Belichick said about the complementary nature of the team’s offensive success. “It always opens up everything else. It keeps you out of those long yardage situations, which we have been in the last couple of weeks. [...] Some of those play action passes led to opportunities with the running game. Some of the runs led to opportunities in the passing game. They fit together well for us.”
While there is still room for improvement — the Patriots went just 1-of-3 in the red zone, for example — yesterday’s game was a step in the right direction. The big play offense finally waking up again was a key for the team to take it.