Patriots

Patriots' passing attack hits rock bottom against Lions

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Patriots' passing attack hits rock bottom against Lions

The Patriots fell to 1-2 on the season with a stunning 26-10 loss in Detroit against former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Click here for the boxscore, and here to watch what the coaches, players and analysts were saying after the game.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAD THE BALL
Fast start, fast start faststartfaststartfaststart!!!! That was the mantra we heard this week (which is a similar mantra to the one we were hearing late in 2017). Annnnnd, the Patriots went three-and-out on their first three drives against a Lions team that had -- prior to Sunday night -- been run over by the Jets and 49ers to the tune of 357 yards on the ground.

The Patriots' first drive was undone by a run stuff. The second was stopped by a pair of Tom Brady-and-Phil Dorsett missed connections. The third halted when Shaq Mason got driven into the backfield by Ricky Jean-Francois on a third-down piledriving of Sony Michel.

The Patriots have nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to rely on with their passing attack right now. They will complete some throws if their playcall hits against the defense called, but on level ground, Chris Hogan, Cordarelle Patterson and Dorsett are not hard to cover and the throws are contested. They are also contested when they go to Gronk, but at least he’s big enough to wall people off and provide a more substantial target.

I point these things out to make this observation: Sony Michel got the ball a lot because the Patriots can’t throw the ball. Michel finished with 50 yards on 14 carries. The ever-professional James White had another four carries for 37 yards.

Brady had one of those sore thumb games that will stick out on his record -- 14 for 26 for 133 yards and a touchdown. This had nothing to do with his date of birth, everything to do with the supporting cast.

It will improve when Julian Edelman returns. That’s the hope. Maybe it will get a boost as well from Josh Gordon. But for right now, the guys they have are not playing to their capabilities and the discarding of Dwayne Allen on a third-and-1 in the second quarter that led to a squishing of James White is another play I just remembered.

Meanwhile, Gronk – the player Bill Belichick wanted to trade? --  caught four passes for 51 yards. Modest for him, perhaps, but still the only player the Patriots had who provided a matchup edge on their offense on Sunday night.'

MORE HARD TRUTHS

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Patriots surging running game creating big play-action opportunities

Patriots surging running game creating big play-action opportunities

Every moron knows a potent running game will almost always have a positive impact on a team’s passing game. 

And with the Patriots’ increased dedication to running the ball in 2018 (they are fourth in the league with 175 attempts after finishing 11th in attempts last year) and the dividends on the ground they are realizing (4.45 yards per rush over their past four games), their play-action passing game is going to become even more potent. 

Tom Brady, as you have noticed, is really effective regardless of whether or not he’s got a bell-cow back lined up behind him (or next to him). 

According to the analytics website Pro Football Focus, Brady had a best-in-the-league passer rating of 112.8 on 1,178 attempts without play action over the past three season. 

When they did run play-action and Brady faked to Dion Lewis or LeGarrette Blount or Stephen Jackson or Joey Iosefa, Brady was even better on those 334 attempts, putting up a passer rating of 116.1

PFF’s Scott Barrett wrote about the potency of play-action and had the requisite charts, graphs and slide rules accompanying to prove his point that, even if your running game sucks, for God’s sake, just fake a handoff. 

What’s interesting is that the Patriots’ play-action usage rose significantly last season.  

Wrote Barrett: “In 2016, New England led the league in play-action passer rating (131.6) on 207 play-action passes. In 2017, Bill Belichick responded by having Tom Brady attempt 151 play-action passes, the most by any quarterback over the past three seasons.”
And that was without the same kind of run dedication they are showing this season. 

Now, with Sony Michel looking like a bell-cow running behind fullback James Develin and a resurging offensive line, you can expect even more play-action.  

Our guy Phil Perry asked Bill Belichick about it on Tuesday’s conference call. 

“When the running game is effective, that helps the play-action passes a lot so probably nothing has helped our passing game more than the running game and vice versa,” Belichick said. “I'd say that’s really a big key for us. Throwing the ball to some different players or certainly making the plays look the same is tougher on the defense. If you're running the ball effectively that brings a lot more people to that run action than if you're not running it effectively.”

The Patriots were inept running the ball in some key situations against both the Jaguars and Lions. Since, they’ve improved drastically. 

Part of that can be traced to the return of Julian Edelman and the addition of Josh Gordon. Teams have to take them more seriously than the players who were in those spots in the first four weeks.  

With Rob Gronkowski and Edelman both on the field for the first time since midway through the 2016 season, the emergence of Gordon as the outside threat/field stretcher that Brandin Cooks was and Brady’s ability to diagnose, the Patriots are fully loaded in the passing game at this point. 

The breakaway threat Michel poses and the work of the offensive line means defenses are spread thin. 

Being able to add play-action and freeze linebackers for just a split-second is going to open up the area between the second and third levels even more meaning additional open space for Brady’s targets to work. 

Brady still hasn’t had a game where he’s fully dialed in. He’s mentioned plays being left on the field. The same goes for Michel, who – despite his production – said after Sunday’s game there are more yards to be made with the holes he’s been given. 

The Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 in their past three games. And they haven’t even clicked. 

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Quick Slants Podcast: Jerod Mayo breaks down the keys to the Patriots winning 3 straight

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Quick Slants Podcast: Jerod Mayo breaks down the keys to the Patriots winning 3 straight

(2:00) Takeaways from the Patriots win over the Chiefs  

(6:00) Is Dont’a Hightower still not 100 percent? Jerod breaks down what he has seen

(8:00) How important has the improvement of Sony Michel been or the Patriots offense?

(14:00) Who was to blame at how poor the defense played in the 2nd half?

(19:00) Why are QBs around the league playing so much better?

(22:00) Reaction to Nick Bosa taking a year off of Ohio State to rehab for NFL

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

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