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Film room: Patriots find success in the ground game on both sides of the ball against the Giants

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A look at the film behind New England’s win against New York.

New York Giants v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are rolling at 6-0 after another dominant win. The Patriots won 35-14 in a strong performance, but the New York Giants certainly put up a solid fight given all of the injuries they had coming into this game. Quarterback Daniel Jones only had 161 passing yards and three interceptions, but he made some impressive throws versus the Patriots’ elite man coverage defense.

New England, meanwhile, controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game with its 3-3-5 personnel, and yet again, got the opposing offense off the field consistently on third down. On offense, the Patriots made some errors and had some bad pass protection breakdowns, but they ran the ball well and got some big plays off of play action.

Let’s go to the film to see how it went down:

Patriots defense

1. Great run defense using 3-3-5 personnel

The Giants’ running backs finished the night with only 44 yards on 14 carries (3.1 yards per attempt). The Patriots’ defensive linemen did a great job of getting penetration and winning their one-on-ones, allowing the linebackers to clean up. New England also had an extra hat in the box against many of the Giants’ running attempts, so the run defense was able to spill the ball to the unblocked defender on many of those runs.

The Patriots used 3-3-5 personnel (three defensive linemen, three linebackers, five defensive backs) on first and second downs versus the Giants to stop the run. They kept this personnel grouping the same throughout the night, but swapped between two fronts. One front had four defenders on the line of scrimmage with two inside Linebackers behind them; the other had five defenders on the line of scrimmage with one inside Linebacker behind them.

Both fronts always had a safety (either Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, or Terrence Brooks) in the box. The personnel grouping with these two fronts offered the Patriots great flexibility, as they could stop the run and also have the speed to defend the pass.

Here’s some clips of the front with four defenders on the line of scrimmage and two inside linebackers behind them:

Here’s some clips of the front with five defenders on the line of scrimmage and one inside linebacker behind them.

2. Daniel Jones versus man coverage

Daniel Jones threw a lot of check-downs in the passing game against the Patriots’ zone coverages and never really strung together enough completions to sustain a drive. However, he did make some good throws against an elite man coverage secondary (Cover 1). The Giants used the “Mesh” concept to create traffic and rubs, and they also had success in winning one-on-ones versus press-man a few times.

3. 3rd down dominance

Once again, New England was too much to handle on third downs for the opposing offense, as the Patriots repeatedly got the Giants off the field. Although the team made a few plays against the man coverage defense, the Giants didn’t get much separation on third downs and converted just two of 10 attempts. New England remains the best third down defense in the league by far with opponents converting 13.7% of the time.

The Patriots were in their dime package and played Cover 1 and Cover 0. Jones did not have the time on a lot of these third downs to find the open man, even though the Patriots secondary did not give up much separation.

Here’s the end zone angle showing the pass rush. The Patriots mixed it up and kept Jones confused. They rushed anywhere from three to six players, despite the front looking the same on most of these plays, and they mixed up their stunts well. Sometimes two players would drop off the line and sit in the middle of the field. Other times, everyone on the line would rush. The result was a lot of quickly collapsing pockets.

Patriots offense

1. Solid running game helps moves the chains

The Patriots ran the ball well against New York. Their running backs had a combined 108 yards on 27 attempts, for an average of 4.0 yards per carry. They ran the ball well when they had a fullback leading the way, as they have all year. With James Develin and now Jakob Johnson on injured reserve, we may see more Ryan Izzo and other tight ends doing some of the blocking responsibilities of the fullback in the running game.

In the second clip, we see Izzo acting as a fullback in 20 personnel lead blocking a Sam linebacker.

The Patriots also had success on the ground when getting it to the edge. They used a crack sweep from empty formation where they motioned the running back into the formation, making it seem as though he would line up next to Tom Brady for a new play, but he sprinted across the formation and received a quick toss and got to the edge easily by way of a great crack block by Julian Edelman on a linebacker.

New England also had success running wide zone out of single back sets, where the offensive line made great reach-and-cut blocks to create big running lanes.

2. Play Action magic

Despite the Patriots not running one of their favorite running plays — Duo — even once, they found great success faking that run in play action. The first clip is New England running Duo against Miami and then the next two clips show the Patriots faking Duo and then throwing the crossing route behind the faked out linebackers/safeties.

3. Pass Protection problems

Poor pass protection hurt the Patriots and Brady again on Thursday night. Like last week at Washington, New England’s offensive line made some bad plays against New York that ended drives. This was especially true with the Patriots one back power play action pass, where they pull a guard to sell the power run. Joe Thuney was beat trying to pull and block an outside linebacker, and Ryan Izzo was beat when he was left one-on-one with a defensive end.

Conclusion

The Patriots have cruised to 6-0 in 2019 to the top spot in the NFL, but there are many things that must be improved on. The Patriots now are without a true fullback, which means very interesting things next week in the run game. So much of New England’s ground game revolves around having a 250-pounder that can dig out linebackers and defensive linemen. Now, they may have to do so with lighter tight ends, or only line up in one back formations.

It’ll be interesting to see how New England’s rushing attack will change in the next coming weeks with the recent signings of Benjamin Watson and Eric Tomlinson. Pass protection may get even worse without a fullback as well, since they use that position to chip defensive ends on their deep shot plays.

New England’s defense, on the other hand, has remained strong without too many holes and I’m excited to see how they fare against some tougher offenses coming up like Cleveland, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.