Despite ending up scoring only 10 points against the New York Jets, the New England Patriots actually moved the ball quite well in Week 11. They finished with 297 yards on 59 offensive snaps for an average gain of 5.0 yards per play.
Yards don’t win games, however. Points do.
On Sunday, the Patriots were unable to put them on the board outside of a 24-yard Nick Folk field goal in the second quarter and Marcus Jones’ game-winning punt return touchdown with five seconds left to play. All it takes is two words to describe why the offense failed to contribute more than three points in the 10-3 win: negative plays.
The Patriots had several of them yet again, going backwards on 10 of their offensive plays; quarterback Mac Jones was sacked six times while four runs ended with negative yardage. Additionally, the unit surrendered three penalties.
Of those 13 total plays that ended up costing the Patriots yards, 10 took place in New York territory and contributed directly to the team’s inability to finish drives.
Those issues are nothing new, though. New England has had a hard time ending drives all season, ranking just 22nd in the NFL in scoring rate per offensive possession (33.3%), and 25th in touchdowns (3.1%). The team also is 31st in red zone percentage, coming away with TDs on 12 of 28 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (42.9%).
The Patriots did have their opportunities to improve those numbers versus New York, but inconsistent execution held the offense back time and again. It was therefore no surprise to hear quarterback Mac Jones speak about “flipping the switch” on Monday.
Making his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Merloni, Fauria & Mego, Jones explained the phrase and how he wants the Patriots to apply it.
“I learned something on a college recruiting visit,” he said. “I think it was at the University of Kentucky, and — this was when I was really young — they were kind of struggling in the red zone in previous years. And their thing was, ‘Flip the switch’. It’s like when you start getting into that fringe red area: flip the switch. This is when you need to really pick it up. I utilized that at Alabama a little bit too. Obviously, I feel like that would help here.
“Whenever you get to that spot it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s play our best football right here’. Some teams it might be third-down flip the switch, but right now that’s our biggest area where we need to flip the switch and make something good happen. That’s the goal. It’s all about positive plays and just moving the ball forward. We’re going backwards too much, just in that spot. Once we do that we get through there and see where it takes us.”
Against the Jets, the Patriots reached the red zone twice but came away with just the aforementioned Nick Folk field goal. Adding to their issues was the usually reliable kicker missing a pair of attempts from 44 and 43 yards out in windy conditions, and also them getting stuffed on a fourth-down run in the third quarter.
“We moved the ball. We just didn’t have enough points,” said head coach Bill Belichick after the game. “We’ve got to do a better job of scoring more points when we get down there, and when we get close to scoring points, 30-, 35-yard line, get the ball closer to get some points on the board.
“It wasn’t like we couldn’t move the ball. We had several good opportunities, but we just — penalties, negative plays, dropped the ball, missed opportunities. Just have to do a better job there.”
The Patriots will get an opportunity to do a better job this week against the Minnesota Vikings, who themselves have struggled in the red area on the defensive side of the ball. Opponents have scored 20 touchdowns on 28 red zone trips for a success rate of 71.4 percent — the highest such number in the league.
What projects to be a matchup between a very stoppable force and a pretty movable object could give New England a chance to improve its drive-ending skills. And for what it is worth, Jones does believe the unit is close to doing that.
“Yeah, I really do,” the sophomore QB said. “We’ve put an emphasis on it over and over. So, at this point it’s just time to get out there and do it.”
How can they do it, though? For Jones it all starts with improved awareness in this particular part of the field.
“It’s just like a heightened awareness on the offensive side of the ball,” he said when explaining his mindset. “Like, ‘Hey, we’re right where want to be. We move the ball, now let’s go score touchdowns not necessarily field goals. Field goals are good, but let’s go score touchdowns.’ That’s where we want to be.
“It really doesn’t matter what the play is, we walk through, we practice, watch, and do all the hard work to put ourselves in a good position. On Sunday, it’s our job to go out there and do it. We can do better and we will. I think it’s good that we are identifying these things really specifically. I think that’s important. You’re looking at a specific thing that you want to get better at — everything else you got to get better at, too, but this is one area that we definitely want to improve.”