NFL ANALYST

Cassel: How Pats can take advantage of facing Bills for a third time

NFL ANALYST

When I was with the Patriots in 2006, we had issues with the Jets' blitz packages during our two regular-season matchups. They were pretty elaborate and diverse, and the Jets had DBs walking around before the snap and messing with our protection scheme.

But when we drew the Jets a third time in the Wild Card round, we could go back and review the film to see what really gave us problems. What was the Jets' defensive approach in each game? What adjustments did they make?

After watching the film, we knew those blitzes were going to come up in the playoff game, and they did early and often, especially with their walk-around, amoeba front on third downs.

This time around, we blocked it exceptionally well.

History lesson: How Pats have fared facing teams a third time

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia a great job of defining how we were going to identify the front and block it up. We went to a seven-man protection and called two-man combination routes on the two-receiver side while signaling to the one-receiver side, and that was super successful for us in staying on the field and extending drives.

We had a great game plan going in, and it was well-executed from start to finish. And that’s how we were able to completely dominate them.

The nice part about seeing an opponent for a third time -- especially for the quarterbacks -- is that by the time you get into the office Monday to break down film, you’re not trying to figure out, “What are this guy’s strengths and weaknesses? What does he do well?”

 

You know it. You’ve been through it. So when you're going through the game plan and installing first- and second-down passes, you understand why Josh McDaniels is doing it. You might want to attack one individual player, or you might want to set the run game to the left side because they have a lesser run defender there.

You can spend more time thinking about why you’re calling a particular play and where your best matchups are considering their personnel. You’re able to think more big-picture.

Matt Cassel on facing an opponent for the third time

You just have a better understanding of the opponent overall, and you can spend more time thinking about why you’re calling a particular play and where your best matchups are considering their personnel. You’re able to think more big-picture.

How the Patriots like to approach it is by saying, "What gave us problems, and how can we fix those problems?" That chess match continues during the week: Here's how they might attack you differently, and here's what a wrinkle might look like against that different attack.

You can concentrate on those things so you have answers to the problems that may have come up in the first two games.

For Mac Jones, he'll probably concentrate on making adjustments from that second Bills game, just based on how the first game played out. That second game was also a must-win for the Bills: They put all their eggs in that basket because they knew it was more than likely going to decide the AFC East.

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So, the Patriots can review that film and get a sense of what the Bills really want to do. Were there certain blitzes that gave the Patriots problems? Were there certain run pressures they created or fronts the Patriots weren’t used to from the first game? How did the Bills adjust to what the Patriots did in the first game?

You can make your own adjustments from there and have a more thorough game plan that you can hopefully execute better. Again, that's the advantage of it: You don’t have to spend as much time dissecting their personnel, because you already have a great understanding of their team. You can focus on the detail, the X’s and O’s, and what you need to do to find success.

That said, you can’t reidentify yourself going into the playoffs. At this point in the season, you are who you are, and if you make some crazy change to how you play the game, then everybody is probably not going to be as sharp or on the same page.

 

So, it's more about those subtle wrinkles, whether it's a certain pre-snap motion or a formational correction. You can know your opponent from top to bottom, but you've got to go out and execute to beat a tough opponent like the Bills.

Editor's Note: Matt Cassel played 14 years in the NFL as a quarterback, including four with the Patriots from 2005 to 2008. He serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Boston, appearing on Pre/Postgame Live, as a guest on Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast every Thursday, and as a columnist each week during the season.