Following an 18-15 setback to the Colts in Week 9, the Patriots entered a critical stretch of three straight divisional games, the first two of which would match them against opponents possessing a share of the AFC East lead. With every team in the division owning a winning record, even a Miami squad one season removed from a 1-15 record, the AFC East has become the best, most competitive division in the conference. It’s never too early to be concerned about playoff seeding, and with just one game separating all of the teams, each divisional contest takes on added importance.
A 20-10 defeat of Buffalo at home was a great way to start this stretch off.
And what a brutally efficient display we were treated to during the 4th quarter Sunday afternoon! Plenty of print and bandwidth have chronicled the Patriots club record tying 19 play drive, the other occurring during a Week 2 contest against the the Jets back in 2002, but the author would be remiss as to not mention it in this weeks column. Some other interesting facts (and notes) about this drive:
- 19 plays (Buffalo’s offense logged 43 total on the day)
- 9:08 elapsed (24 minutes real time)
- 6 clock stoppages (5 timeouts and the two minute warning)
- 19 commercials (1.0 commercial per play or CPP) for programs few of us will watch and shit we’ll likely never buy (okay, so that KFC Guitar Hero Big Box Meal is a pretty good value)
Although that drive destroyed any hope of a Bills comeback, up until that point things weren’t always peachy for the Patriot offense. While they moved the ball well (370 yards) and continued their reinvention as a ball control offense (37:40 TOP), their 50% Red Zone efficiency (a season-long concern), a missed field goal and a lost fumble left a lot of points on the field and kept Buffalo alive much of the game.
Thus, the author agrees with Borges (this time) that the Patriot defense deserves a big share of the game ball. Their combination of pressure and confounding coverages held the Bills to a season low 10 points. For this week’s Turning Point, we’ll examine how manifestations of each (a sack and an interception, respectively) crippled two of Buffalo’s second half drives.
After New England’s second half opening drive field goal extended their lead to 10, Buffalo largely abandoned their ineffective ground attack (12 1st half carries for 36 yards and ZERO first downs), believing their greatest chance was to exploit a battered Patriot secondary. On their first second half possession, the Bills even passed on 3rd and 1: a typical West Coast Offense RB dumpoff that fell incomplete and forced a punt. The 3rd and 1 bug must have been contagious as the Patriots likewise failed in their conversion attempt, with Law Firm being stopped for a three yard loss despite a 3 TE, 2 RB goal line offense.
Edwards and company moved the ball with greater success on their next possession, which included a conversion on 3rd and 12 and an actual rushing first down (albeit on 2nd and 1). Following an incomplete pass, however, their drive came to a screeching halt as the Patriot mixed things up:
Situation: 2-10-BUF 45 (:45)
Buffalo Formation: Shotgun 4 WR, Lynch offset right
Personnel: WR 83 Evans, WR 11 Parrish, LT 71 Peters, LG 66 Dockery, C 75 Preston, RG 73 Chambers, RT 68 Walker, WR/TE 84 Royal, WR 81 Hardy, QB 5 Edwards, RB 23 Lynch
New England Formation: Nickel 3-3-5
Personnel: LDE 58 Woods, NT 99 Wright, RDE 97 Green, OLB 59 Guyton, ILB 51 Mayo, OLB 50 Vrabel, LCB 21 O’Neal, SS 31 Meriweather, FS 36 Sanders, NB 23 Webster, RCB 27 Trey Hobbs
Play result: T.Edwards pass deep right intended for R.Royal INTERCEPTED by D.O’Neal at NE 39
Summary: This Patriot front could be classified as 2-4 based on personnel, but Woods clearly served as a down lineman. After the snap however, he stayed on Lynch while Wright, Green and Vrabel rushed. Guyton and O’Neal initially appeared to be respectively matched up on Royal and Hardy but were actually in zone coverage; thus neither followed when the former ran a corner fade route while the latter crossed underneath. Believing Royal had found a seam in New England’s Cover 2, Edwards launched the ball to his tight end, but O’Neal settled underneath for a gorgeous leaping pick.
The Patriots were unable to capitalize and ended up giving the ball right back due to the aforementioned fumble. The Bills subsequent drive also began promisingly, this time with three straight Marshawn Lynch runs. The first came out of the shotgun, a draw play not unlike what the Patriots have often done with Faulk this year. On the second rush, Buffalo operated out of the “Big” Ace, a more traditional run formation. Despite great penetration by Seymour (who likewise did so on the previous play), Lynch broke the tackle with an ankle-splitting cutback. The Bills once again used Ace on the third play, only this time with 3 WRs. By using a TE (Schoumann) as the slot receiver, this gave the Bills superior blocking on the resulting outside run. The three runs resulted in gains of 8, 7 and 5 yards respectively, giving the Bills 2nd and 5 and their second deepest penetration of the day thus far at the New England 36:
Situation: 2-5-NE 36 (11:52)
Buffalo Formation: Shotgun 3 WR, Schouman slotted right, Jackson offset left
Personnel: WR 13 St. Johnson, TE 86 Fine, LT 71 Peters, LG 66 Dockery, C 75 Preston, RG 73 Chambers, RT 68 Walker, WR/TE 80 Schouman, WR 83 Evans, QB 5 Edwards, RB 22 Jackson
New England Formation: 3-4
Personnel: LDE 94 Warren, NT 99 Wright, RDE 93 Seymour, OLB 58 Woods, ILB 51 Mayo, ILB 54 Bruschi, OLB 50 Vrabel, LCB 21 O’Neal, SS 31 Meriweather, FS 36 Sanders, RCB 27 Trey Hobbs
Play result: T.Edwards sacked at NE 42 for -6 yards
Summary: After Lynch went to the sidelines, the Patriots went Cover 2, dropping Sanders and Meriweather deep while lining O’Neal and Trey Hobbs up tight on Evans and St. Johnson, respectively. After the snap, the latter two ran short inward slants, Schouman ran a post and Fine headed for the left flat. Even if one of them had managed to find a seam, which they didn’t, Edwards wouldn’t have been able to deliver as Warren bull-rushed Chambers and sent the young QB to the turf.
Lynch’s checking out of the lineup combined with the shotgun formation probably tipped the Patriots off on what the Bills planned to run. The most critical play of the drive, it put the Bills into an even more obvious 3rd and long situation. The subsequent pass attempt from a 4 WR package was broken up by Mayo’s stellar coverage on Royal, forcing a punt.
Here’s a summary of the Bills second half possessions: three and out, interception, punt, 1 play garbage time passing TD (set up by a long kickoff return). In the entire second half, the Bills possessed the ball for only a paltry 7:16 and mustered just 58 total yards.
Despite mounting injuries (first Crable and now Thomas on IR, Trey Hobbs’s shoulder, Sanders’s hammy, Wheatley’s arm), the Patriots defense continues to improve and has quietly crept up to 6th in the NFL in scoring (17.8 points per game). They’ll need to be at their very best this Thursday night as they’ll be hosting the AFC’s highest scoring offense, led by none other than a gunslinging ‘Hero‘.
Tyler Carter’s ‘The Turning Point’ appears weekly on Patriots Daily. He can be reached at [email protected].