How Pats went from hot start to getting out-coached – Boston Herald

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This is the state of the Patriots.

Multiple defensive players declared Sunday they did their part after a loss in which they allowed 27 points. A respected veteran openly questioned whether the offense had moved fast enough while trailing by two scores with four minutes left. And Bill Belichick, asked about his offense’s urgency in that moment, an obvious hurry-up situation, mostly agreed with said veteran.

Because the Pats know they are out of options. Bailey Zappe is good for one half per game, then he flirts with disaster. Zappe is also throwing to the league’s worst receiving corps. The offensive line charged with protecting him is now split into two groups: those on the field, and in the trainer’s room. And the Patriots can’t kick field goals or stop committing dumb penalties.

Of course, it’s in the team’s best interest, with a hollowed-out roster and without a franchise quarterback, to embrace defeat. But that’s not happening here.

The Patriots are trying to win. They practiced, prepared and studied for hundreds of hours during the week, then took an early lead on Patrick Mahomes and fought for turnovers in a seemingly lost fourth quarter. Belichick gave the referees an earful throughout.

But none of it translated because life is just this bad in Foxboro.

The Pats need an overhaul. How soon can it come? Not for at least three more weeks, during which time their opponents will continue to determine the distance between these Patriots and a return to relevance.

On Sunday, Kansas City fielded the most well-rounded roster of the Andy Reid era, a team built on a top-10 offense, defense and special teams by DVOA. The Chiefs’ performance proved the Pats are at least a few years away from real contention, especially the way they manhandled their hosts in two phases. The last phase, Belichick’s defense, believed it had played well enough to win – and was still only half right.

Because even there, the Patriots were out-played and out-coached. Here’s what else the film revealed about Sunday’s loss:

Bailey Zappe

23-of-31 for 180 yards, TD, INT

Foxboro, MA – New England Patriots’ Bailey Zappe on the bench during the fourth quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

Accurate throw percentage: 79.3%

Under pressure: 7-of-12 for 71 yards, INT, 3 sacks

Against the blitz: 7-of-11 for 83 yards, INT, 2 sacks

Behind the line: 6-of-6 for 17 yards

0-9 yards downfield: 13-of-17 for 93 yards

10-19 yards downfield: 4-of-5 for 70 yards, TD, INT

20+ yards downfield: 0-of-1

Notes: The difference between first-half Bailey Zappe (115.1 passer rating) and Zappe’s second-half alter ego (8.68 passer rating) comes down to a few predictable factors.

Sample size. Performance under pressure, an unstable metric for quarterbacks (meaning it’s not necessarily predictive game to.game or half to half). And opponents’ adjustments.

Just like his performance in Pittsburgh, Zappe benefitted from a solid opening script and lived on the edge with his first half against the Chiefs. The most notable example was a long, third-down heave to DeVante Parker under pressure that set up his only touchdown pass.

Zappe started 5-of-6 for 53 yards under pressure with a couple sacks, then his numbers nosedived because pressure is bad for quarterbacks, and inevitably — especially when pressured on 42.8% of their dropbacks as Zappe was – they will commit back-breaking mistakes.

Zappe broke on a third-quarter interception that led to a Kansas City touchdown and 14-point lead two plays later. After that, the Chiefs backed off the early-down blitzes Zappe had beaten with max-protect play-action shots and easy-access throws. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien also retreated with his play-calling, going run-heavy on first down despite the Patriots’ growing deficit, which put Zappe in poor down-and-distances the rest of the game.

No surprise: Zappe, a backup facing one of the NFL’s fiercest and highest-pressure defenses, finished with a middling stat line, thanks to a 4-of-12 showing in the second half that yielded 39 yards and a pick.

Critical areas

  • Turnovers: Patriots 1, Chiefs 2
  • Explosive play rate: Patriots 3.9%, Chiefs 9.8%
  • Success rate: Patriots 34%, Chiefs 37%
  • Red-zone efficiency: Patriots 2-4, Chiefs 3-5
  • Defensive pressure rate: Patriots 27.5%, Chiefs 42.8%

Offense

Game plan

  • Personnel breakdown: 45% of snaps in 11 personnel, 39% snaps in 12 personnel, 16% snaps in 13 personnel.***
  • Personnel production: 4.2 yards/play in 11 personnel, 2.7 yards/play in 12 personnel, 4.4 yards/play in 13 personnel.
  • First-down down play-calls: 55% pass (5.1 yards per play), 45% run (3.8 yards per play)
  • Play-action rate: 23%

Player stats

Foxboro, MA - New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry hauls in a touchdown pass during the second quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)
Foxboro, MA – New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry hauls in a touchdown pass during the second quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)
  • Broken tackles: RB Ezekiel Elliott 2, RB Kevin Harris, WR Demario Douglas, TE Hunter Henry
  • Pressure allowed: Team 7 (2 sacks, 5 hurries), RG Sidy Sow 3 (3 hurries), LG Cole Strange 2 (QB hit, hurry), LT Conor McDermott (sack), RT Mike Onwenu (hurry), LG Atonio Mafi (hurry), Elliott (hurry)
  • Run stuffs allowed: Mafi, Team
  • Penalties: Douglas (facemask), McDermott (holding)
  • Drops: None

Notes

  • Despite the Patriots’ building success as an efficient rushing team, O’Brien pivoted to a pass-heavy opening script. He called 11 straight passes over his first two drives and a 66% passing rate on first down before halftime.
  • That mix of quick-hitters and max protection play-action shots prevented the Pats from running into Kansas City’s predictable stacked boxes and run blitzes (as Ezekiel Elliott did for a 2-yard loss on the game’s first play).
  • O’Brien gave Zappe quick outlets against the Chiefs’ man-to-man coverage that accompanied those pressure calls. Zappe had shallow crosses and slants over the middle, and screens and pick-route combinations in the flat.

  • Thanks to those calls, and the play of Hunter Henry, DeVante Parker and Demario Douglas, Zappe opened 7-of-8 for 101 yards versus man coverage; startling numbers given his receivers’ lack of separation this season.
  • Against man-to-man, the Pats believed Henry offered their greatest matchup advantage working 1-on-1 against linebackers and safeties. Henry grabbed a team-high seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.
  • Through Henry’s play-action touchdown in the second quarter, Brien called passes on an unprecedented 81% of snaps through four drives. That play-action fake, dialed up on fourth-and-2, epitomized O’Brien’s pass-heavy mindset.
  • Henry would have scored another touchdown on the next possession, were it not for Conor McDermott’s holding penalty that erased a nice extended play from Zappe. McDermott’s penalty, combined with Demario Douglas’ questionable offensive facemask on the second series, may have taken upwards of 11 points off the board.
  • Still, it’s unlikely either altered the course of the game for the Patriots to win considering Zappe’s uneven play, and how Kansas City both adjusted and consistently controlled the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs started driving on that man-beating route concepts that hurt them in the first half, including an overturned Henry catch in the fourth quarter that led to a knee injury and his exit.

  • In the second half, every Patriots starting O-lineman yielded either a pressure or run stuff, except center David Andrews who nonetheless played one of his worse games.  The Patriots did not pick up a single first down rushing all game.
  • Zappe’s third-quarter interception was a clear turning point in how the Chiefs’ controlled play, and the Patriots retreated. As Patrick Mahomes and Co. enjoyed a cushy lead and opened their playbook, O’Brien grew conservative, just as he did after Zappe’s interception at Pittsburgh.
  • O’Brien’s run-heavy play-calling (60% run rate on first downs) and strange decision to keep calling play-action shots directly led to negative plays that ended two second-half drives.
  • Not that his backup left tackle or rookie guards, Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi, who replaced Cole Strange, did him any favors. Sow and Mafi couldn’t move Chiefs defensive linemen Chris Jones, Mike Danna and Tershawn Warton.
  • Coaching is fully to blame, however, for running just two plays between the 4:00 mark of the fourth quarter and 2:44 remaining. For an offense trailing by two scores, that was unacceptable game management and an inexcusable lack of urgency.

Defense

Foxboro, MA - New England Patriots linebacker Marte Mapu celebrates his interception during the second quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)
Foxboro, MA – New England Patriots linebacker Marte Mapu celebrates his interception during the second quarter of the game at Gillette Stadium. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

Game plan

  • Personnel breakdown: 42% three-safety nickel package, 31% three-corner nickel, 27% dime.****
    Coverage snaps breakdown: 61% zone, 39% man
  • Blitz rate: 15%
  • Blitz efficacy: 9.5 yards allowed per dropback, 50% success rate allowed

Player stats

  • Interceptions: S Marte Mapu, LB Jahlani Tavai
  • Pass deflections: DB Jonathan Jones
  • Pressure: OLB Josh Uche 3 (3 hurries), DL Christian Barmore 2 (sacks, hurry), DL Deatrich Wise 2 (sack, hurry), Team 2 (2 hurries), LB Mack Wilson (sack), DT Jeremiah Pharms Jr. (hurry)
  • Run stuffs: Barmore 2, Anfernee Jennings
  • Missed tackles: S Kyle Dugger, S Jabrill Peppers, Wilson
  • Penalties: CB Alex Austin (illegal use of hands, holding), Jones (illegal contact), ST Brenden Schooler (holding)

Notes

  • Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce didn’t touch the ball on either of Sunday’s longest plays, but the attention he drew from the Patriots’ secondary allowed for both.
  • The Patriots’ hyper focus on Kelce helped leave tight end Noah Gray wide open for a 32-yard gain on Kansas City’s first offensive snap, then let Clyde Edwards-Helaire loose on a 48-yard screen.
  • Kelce drew two defenders’ attention into the flat while running a hi-lo concept that let Gray free deep, then ran left behind the line a fake block while Edwards-Helaire leaked out right into open space.

  • Those calls highlighted how Andy Reid stayed a step ahead of the Patriots, understanding how Belichick would game plan for a team that lacked receiving talent outside of Kelce.
  • Reid’s “trick play” touchdown call, a play out of the century-old single-wing formation that had left guard Joe Thuney snapping to a running back, was another stroke of creative brilliance that overwhelmed the Patriots’ front.
  • But what sustained Kansas City as much as Reid’s play designs was his timing. The Chiefs regularly had answers for the Patriots’ second-down blitzes, designed to back an offense into third-and-longs where the Pats defend best.
  • Reid found screens, roll-outs and other easy throws for Mahomes to beat pressure (and simulated pressure), which allowed Kansas City to at least face third-and-short. Like previous Patriots opponents, the Chiefs scared defensive play-caller Steve Belichick out of an ineffective blitz package, even on a day where he hardly called for extra pressure.

  • Mahomes also hurt the Patriots on a few third-and-longs, as can be expected from the best quarterback in the league. He slung a 31-yard dart on a third down in the first half to beat Jonathan Jones, who was also in coverage on the 32-yarder to Gray.
  • Mahomes’ touchdown to Edwards-Helaire, flicked over the outstretched arms of Jahlani Tavai, was another master stroke.
  • On the positive front, defensive tackle Christian Barmore is still a bad, bad man. Barmore fought through to the end, tallying one sack, a hurry that led to Marte Mapu’s interception and two run-stuffs.
  • Mapu wrestled his interception away from Gray after sitting patiently in a well-executed version of Cover 2. His best position is in the box, not back deep where he’s run into trouble this year.
  • Including that snap of Cover 2, the Patriots played far more zone than expected. Their shift away from what had historically been a man-to-man approach versus Mahomes may have been a result of J.C. Jackson being unavailable.
  • The Chiefs repeatedly picked on his replacement, rookie Alex Austin, who got flagged twice in critical situations. But even in zone, Austin allowed more catches than any other Patriot defender.

  • Part of Belichick’s zone-heavy approach included zone blitzes with slot pressure on early downs, likely an effort to short-circuit first-down play-action passes while Mahomes’ back was turned. Kansas City allowed pressure on 42% of Mahomes’ play-action passes, which included one interception.
  • Kansas City’s only other major mistake was Kadarius Toney’s fourth-quarter butterfingers that allowed for Tavai’s pick. Had the Chiefs held onto the ball, or not knelt the clock out in the final minutes, this may have been a three-possession margin.

Studs

TE Hunter Henry

Were it not for a holding penalty, Henry would have scored two touchdowns for a second straight game. Instead, he finished a team-best six catches and 57 yards.

DL Christian Barmore

A sack, one hurry and a team-high two run-stuffs. Barmore’s midseason run of dominance continues.

Duds

CB Alex Austin

Granted, Austin was put in a difficult spot by J.C. Jackson’s sudden absence, but his defensive holding penalty wiped away a turnover. He was also whistled for illegal use of hands in the first quarter.

CB Jonathan Jones

Jones was responsible for two of the Chiefs’ three longest plays of the game, the 32-yarder to tight end Noah Gray and 31-yard completion to receiver Justin Watson on third down.



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