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2019 NFL playoffs: Tom Brady was excellent against the Chargers; New England dominated in the trenches

Let’s dig into the advanced stats from Sunday’s game.

Divisional Round - Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots left no doubt about their status as one of the NFL’s best teams on Sunday: they blew out the visiting Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in the two teams’ divisional playoff meeting to punch their ticket to the conference championship game later this week. Let’s dig a little deeper into New England’s playoff opener and analyze some advanced statistics from the contest.

Pass distribution

NFL Next Gen Stats

Tom Brady had a very productive day at the office on Sunday: the veteran quarterback efficiently targeted most areas of the field agains the Chargers’s cover 3 zone defense, all while spreading the football around well. Hitting seven players on the day, Brady established a rhythm early by getting the football out of his hands quickly which in turn helped neutralize Los Angeles’ talented pass rushers.

Philip Rivers, on the other day, was mostly kept in check by New England’s defense. The Pro Bowler was held under 50% due to a variety of pressure packages and some strong man-to-man coverage down the field. The majority of his passing yardage — he had just 121 yards through quarters one and two — was produced late in the game, when the Patriots opened up space underneath to help prevent against the big play.

Offensive rush direction

NFL Next Gen Stats

New England’s offensive line had an outstanding day, and was especially productive in the ground game. Together with tight ends Rob Gronkowski, who essentially served as a third tackle at times and helped clear the edge on Rex Burkhead’s 6-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Dwayne Allen as well as fullback James Develin, the group paved the way for 156 yards on 32 non-kneel-down carries (4.9 yards per attempt).

The most productive ball carrier on the day was once again Sony Michel. The first-round rookie ran the football 24 times for 129 yards and three touchdowns, and as can be seen was effective no matter which gap he opted to attack. The right edge, of course, still stands out: Michel burst open for a 40-yard scamper that set up the aforementioned Burkhead scoring run. Another outstanding performance by the rookie.

Receiver separation

NFL Next Gen Stats

One reason for Philip Rivers’ below-average completion percentage is the tight coverage played by New England’s defenders. As can be seen in the graphic above, only tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Tyrell Williams — Los Angeles’ leading receiver with five catches for 94 yards — were open more than two yards at the time of being targeted. The league average, for comparison, is 2.82 yards of separation.

Three of New England’s pass catchers were below that number, while two were more open than that. But while Cordarrelle Patterson’s lone target fell incomplete, Julian Edelman torched the Chargers’ beat coverage to the tune of nine catches for 151 yards. Los Angeles simply had no answer for the veteran, who appeared in his first playoff game in almost two years and had an outstanding performance as Tom Brady’s primary wide receiver.

Pass protection

Pass protection statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Marcus Cannon 83 0.0 1 0
Trent Brown 83 0.0 0 2
Joe Thuney 83 0.0 0 2
David Andrews 83 0.0 0 0
Shaq Mason 80 0.0 1 1
Dwayne Allen 18 0.0 1 0

As noted above, the Patriots offensive line had a very good day against L.A. when it comes to run blocking — and it was equally impressive in pass protection as well. Despite going against one of the league’s best pass rushing duos in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, the unit did not give up even a single sack and allowed Tom Brady to be hit just three times on the day. The quick passing game played a role in this, sure, but so did the blocking up front.

Pass rush/run defense

Pass rush/run defense statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Kyle Van Noy 70 0.0 1 1 2
Patrick Chung 70 0.0 1 0 0
Dont'a Hightower 69 0.0 1 9 0
Trey Flowers 52 1.0 3 1 0
Adam Butler 52 0.0 2 1 0
Adrian Clayborn 50 1.0 2 0 0
John Simon 40 0.0 0 1 1
Malcom Brown 17 0.0 0 1 0
Lawrence Guy 16 0.0 0 0 1
Elandon Roberts 8 0.0 0 0 1
Jonathan Jones 8 0.0 0 1 0

New England’s pass rush was outstanding against the Chargers. Led by Dont’a Hightower’s 10 (!) quarterback disruptions, the team never allowed Philip Rivers to get into any rhythm and successfully challenged the offensive line in front of him all game long. All in all, the Patriots were able to impact the quarterback on 27 of his 53 dropbacks — a big reason for the defensive success the team enjoyed against one of the NFL’s better offenses.

Defensive rush direction

NFL Next Gen Stats

With the Patriots offense scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions, the Chargers were quickly forced to abandon the run. Even when its turned the pass as its primary mode of transporting the football down the field, however, no lanes opened up for the running backs — at least none L.A. was willing and able to attack. After the team attempted just six rushes for 17 yards in the first half, it ran the football just four times for only two net yards in the second.

Pass rush separation

NFL Next Gen Stats

The pass rush separation charts reflect what the numbers above also illustrate: Tom Brady was under virtually no pressure all day, while Philip Rivers was not allowed to get into any sort of rhythm. As can be seen, New England’s blockers kept the Chargers’ defenders away from the quarterback with Joey Bosa the closest at 4.17 yards of separation on an average pass rushing attempt.

For comparison, all four of the Patriots’ own pass rushers — led by Dont’a Hightower, who basically lived in Los Angeles’ backfield on Sunday — getting closer to their target as Bosa. New England won the trenches on both sides of the football no matter if it came to the running or the passing game.

Pass coverage

Pass coverage statistics

Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakups
Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakups
Kyle Van Noy 70 8 2 2 0 0 39.6 1
Patrick Chung 70 6 4 30 1 0 118.1 0
Devin McCourty 70 3 0 0 0 0 39.6 2
Dont'a Hightower 69 2 1 1 1 0 95.8 0
Stephon Gilmore 68 6 1 43 1 1 56.9 1
J.C. Jackson 67 12 5 67 0 0 60.0 1
Jason McCourty 65 8 6 127 0 0 116.7 1
Jonathan Jones 8 1 1 9 0 0 104.2 0

While some of the Patriots’ pass coverage numbers do not look all that spectacular, the pass defense as a whole still had a very good outing versus a talented opponent. Led by starting boundary cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, who had once again very good games (with Gilmore’s lapse on a 43-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen the only exception), the unit pretty much shut down Philip Rivers and company in the first half before turning to a slightly less aggressive approach in the second.

Welcome to Pats Pulpit Live: Victory Edition! The Patriots whooped the Chargers 41-22 and will be heading to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in next week's AFC Championship Game!

Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Sunday, January 13, 2019