One quarter into the NFL’s 2019 regular season, the New England Patriots are still undefeated. Following a defensive battle against the Buffalo Bills that was won with a final score of 16-10, the Patriots are yet again in the driver’s seat for the division title — it would be their record-extending 11th straight — thanks in large part to another outstanding defensive performance, at least partially.
With that in mind, let’s now dig a little deeper and analyze some of the advanced statistics to come out of Sunday’s game.
Tom Brady had his worst game of the season against Buffalo’s stingy defense, and what stands out when looking at his passing chart is his inability to connect on any deep balls. While he was solid in the short area of the field with the exception of his end zone interception — he tried to hit Julian Edelman but did not see a dropping Micah Hyde — he completed only one of nine pass attempts beyond 10 yards down the field.
Before being knocked out of the game in the early fourth quarter, Josh Allen was uninspiring as a passer. He did manage to complete most of his passes in the short and intermediate range, but simply made too many mistakes on his deep throws: not only was the former first-round draft pick inaccurate, he often also displayed poor technique by throwing off his back foot. As a result, the Patriots were able to intercept him three times.
Offensive rush direction
New England’s ground game was hit-and-miss all day long. The team’s ball carriers gained 3.9 yards per attempt, with Sony Michel serving as the main back: the second-year man was called upon on 17 of the Patriots’ 20 rushing attempts, gaining 63 yards in the process. How the yards were gained shows the inconsistency of the entire running game operation against a stout Buffalo defense. While Michel had six runs of 5+ yards, he also had eight on which he gained one yard or less.
The Bills defense played some tight coverage against the Patriots’ wide receivers, with only Julian Edelman getting more than three yards of separation on his average target — the reigning Super Bowl MVP finished with four catches for 30 yards. Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett, on the other hand, failed to consistently get open against Buffalo’s defensive backs. As a result, running back James White emerged as New England’s top pass catcher on Sunday: he was targeted 10 times and finished with eight catches for 57 yards.
The Patriots’ secondary, meanwhile, also covered tightly. John Brown and Zay Jones were unable to get consistent separation, while Cole Beasley also caught only seven of his 13 targets (for a game-high 75 yards). All in all, both defenses successfully shut down their opponents’ passing attacks.
Pass protection statistics
Tom Brady dropped back to pass 39 times, and was pressured on nine of his attempts for a rate of 23.1%: while he was not sacked, the Bills were able to hit him three times and hurry him on six other occasions — plays that could have resulted in sacks if not for Brady’s masterful feel for the pocket. That being said, the 42-year-old appeared rushed at times and as noted above was unable to establish a vertical aerial attack.
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||83||2.0||4||0||0|
|Jamie Collins Sr.||83||1.0||1||2||0|
|Deatrich Wise Jr.||11||0.0||0||1||0|
When Patriots head coach Bill Belichick speaks about the importance of pass rush versus coverage, he points out one thing: both feed off the other. His current team and its game against the Bills is a good example of that, as New England’s defense was able to consistently make Buffalo’s quarterbacks uncomfortable which resulted in plenty of errant throws. The unit pressured Josh Allen and Matt Barkley on 27 of their combined 49 drop-backs for a rate of 55.1%. Led by standout linebacker Kyle Van Noy, the Patriots’ aggressive style paid dividends all day long.
Defensive rush direction
As good as New England’s pass defense was against the Bills, the run defense had some issues to contain veteran Frank Gore and dangerous scrambling quarterback Josh Allen. The only two players to see carries against the Patriots, Gore and Allen combined for 22 rushing attempts and 135 yards gained — an average of 6.1 yards per carry. While the passing game was struggling throughout the game, Buffalo’s ground attack worked well.
Pass rush separation
As noted above, the Patriots’ defense was able to register a pressure rate of 55.1% compared to Buffalo’s 23.1%. However, the average distance of pass rush shows that the Bills’ top defenders were actually closer to Tom Brady than New England’s were to Josh Allen: both Jerry Hughes and Ed Oliver had less separation than the Patriots’ most disruptive defender in terms of a per-pass-rush analysis, defensive tackle Adam Butler.
Pass coverage statistics
|Kyle Van Noy||83||2||1||19||0||0||83.3||0|
|Jamie Collins Sr.||83||2||0||0||0||1||0.0||0|
As mentioned earlier, Josh Allen was unable to get into any rhythm for most of the game and threw some bad passes before exiting the contest with a concussion. As a result, the Patriots’ secondary was able to register three interception off him. Later, Matt Barkley threw another pick when Kyle Van Noy pressured him around the edge; Jamie Collins picked off the ball to decide the game in New England’s favor.
Given how the team’s secondary and coverage players performed all day long, this was a fitting way to end the contest.