Oh come on, did you really expect the Patriots to roll over after back to back losses late in the season? Like I say every time I write one of these articles, the SAME THING happens to this team EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Just last season, the Patriots looked terrible in weeks 14-15 losing back to back to the Dolphins and Steelers. Someone may need to refresh my memory, but I believe that the Patriots accomplished something relatively important after those losses.
My point is, the regular season means relatively nothing to the Patriots. As long as they make it to the show, they believe that they can outplay and out-coach anyone that stands in their path.
Although it may seem like the world is falling down for the Patriots, they are 12-3 and in the driver’s seat for the two seed and a first round bye in these playoffs. They haven’t been playing well for their own standards recently, but when is the last time they have had everything figured out going into the playoffs? No one fixes their problems faster than the New England Patriots, and they showed just that with a masterful performance last Saturday against the Buffalo Bills.
I could talk about the defense all day and how great they played, but that is nothing out of the ordinary for them. What really stood out to me in this game against Buffalo was the offense. It was by no means perfect, but it was more than encouraging to see them get back on track against a very good Bills defense.
How did the Patriots suddenly flip the switch on offense? Well, here is how.
Establishing the Run
Like I have said before, everything in this Patriot offense starts and ends with a solid run game. Through their recent tumultuous stretch of games, one thing has reigned true through all of them – they couldn’t run the ball effectively. Against a rigid Bills front-seven, establishing a solid run game was the first item on their list of things to do on Saturday. I would say that rushing 35 times for 143 yards and a touchdown (4.1 yards per carry) meets that criteria.
There were a lot of reasons as to why they were able to run the ball so well, but there was one reason I thought to have had the largest impact. That would be Elandon Roberts. The Patriots’ situational linebacker has turned into their lead fullback after both James Develin and Jakob Johnson have been placed on season-ending IR. As we saw with James Develin last year, Sony Michel is much better running behind a fullback as it matches his downhill running style better. If the Patriots can roll Sony out there and defenses can fear him again, it opens up so much for the rest of the offense.
You can see here how Roberts sees an un-blocked body and attacks him head on. The guy he is blocking here is no push-over either. That’s Tremaine Edmunds, a second year LB who is a future all-pro. In addition to Roberts rocking Edmunds’ world, you see Thuney get a pancake, Shaq Mason blows his guy three yards off his spot, and Edelman bodies Jordan Poyer to the ground. The Patriots had an edge in the run game, something they have been lacking the past few weeks.
This next play is another great example of how the Patriots were able to use the Bills’ strengths against them all game long. If you read my last article about the Patriots when they played the Bills, you realized that they liked to be overly aggressive and attack downhill as soon as the ball was snapped. They are able to do this by knowing exactly what to do before every snap due to what the offense is “telling” them with personnel and formations. Well, the Patriots remembered this from the last time they played them and decided to do something about it. The Bills, like every other team, make slight adjustments to their defense when certain players go in motion. The split second that it takes them to think about the adjustment they have to make was just enough for the Patriots in a lot of situations. The uncertainty all game long really messed with the Bills ability to attack.
In addition to Roberts laying the hammer again, you see how the pre-snap motion causes the entire second level of defense to shift off their spot, which was exactly what the Patriots want them to do. Not to be overlooked as well is the fact that Sony looked a lot better in every aspect of his game. Vision, power, elusiveness and speed. Turns a seven yard gain into a 20+ yard gain.
Building Off of the Run Game
Obviously it would be difficult to only run the ball every snap and win the game in the NFL, but it is what the Patriots do off of the run game that diversifies and completes their offense.
In the simplest terms, play action when your run game is rolling leaves the middle of the field wide open, especially against a single high safety defense like the Bills run. The linebackers get sucked up (because they love to attack downhill) and Edelman gets an easy catch over the middle of the field. Great run after the catch by Edelman here as well.
In weeks past, when the run game wasn’t solid the play action screens wouldn’t work at all. Here, the run game is working so you see the second level defenders get lost in space and the screen goes for a huge gain.
This play here ties it all together and gives me hope for this offense moving forward. In the week before this game, when the Patriots played the Bengals, they ran N’Keal Harry through for a jet sweep at least twice and had great success both times. They knew the Bills would be studying that film and would be ready for it so they used that same motion as bait. As well as faking a run, they faked the jet sweep and leak Burkhead out to the top of the screen and no one is even close to him. You can see the second level defenders have no idea who has the ball and what is going on here and that works in the Patriots favor. Also worth noting, Tom Brady was as good at selling play action in this game as I have ever seen. Follow him closely on this play and watch how he tucks the ball away from the defenders. Little things make a huge difference.
Look, I am not saying everything is sunshine and rainbows in New England, they still aren’t perfect by any means. I can’t see them going shot for shot with the Kansas City Chiefs per say, but the good thing is they won’t have to with that defense. The Patriots proved to me on Saturday that they could win in any way possible. The defense was very good all game but let a couple of flukey plays lead to 17 points for Buffalo. Scoring 24 points on this Bills team is no joke, as they have only allowed three teams this season to score at least 24 joining the Ravens (24) and the Eagles (31).
This reeling Patriots squad was able to put the last couple weeks behind and completely change their identity within one week. That right there is why you can never count this team out as long as they are still breathing.
Don’t look now, but the Patriots are going to win another Super Bowl this year if they can remain healthy. I know I sound like a homer but if I were every other AFC opponent watching that game, I would be scared. The media has awoken the sleeping giant once again and this Patriots team won’t lose another game all year. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so when it happens. The Flag has been planted.