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Did Patriots run away from what was working Sunday?

10.08.13 at 7:52 pm ET
By
Bill Belichick. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick’s shorthanded Patriots offense is struggling. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

So much has been made of the transition game in the Patriots passing game this season. The Patriots have run 347 plays this season, with 140 runs and 207 passes, a ratio that is almost exactly 60-40 in favor of the passing game. And it’s been a productive rushing attack. Through five games, the Patriots have been averaging 135.8 yards per game on the ground and 4.2 yards every time they run the ball.

But a closer look indicates a fundamental change in the team’s approach. It’s not how much you pass or run, but when.

On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Patriots had the ball 12 times. They ran on first down six times, including their opening three drives, four of their first five and six of 10 before being forced to pass on their final two possessions when they were trailing. Even without Stevan Ridley (knee) and Shane Vereen (wrist) at their disposal, the Patriots showed a remarkable commitment to the run game. LeGarrette Blount had his number called to open each of New England’s first three series.

In those runs, Blount had carries of four, two and 10 yards. After the game, Logan Mankins indicated that the Bengals did a great job sniffing out the play-action pass the Patriots were trying to set up with the run. But should the Patriots have been looking to more than just setting up the pass with Blount and Brandon Bolden?

On Tuesday, during his conference call with reporters, Bill Belichick was asked to explain why the Patriots seemed to drift away from the run game in the second half when they were reasonably successful in the first half.

“Overall, there might have been some opportunities for us to call a few more runs,” Belichick said. “Some of those plays, at times, some of them are checked and [we] took what we felt was the best look or the best play. Of course at the end of the game, situationally we wound up throwing the ball quite a bit there the last couple series. We’re just trying to find the best matchups and trying to do what we thought was best to be able to move the ball efficiently.”

The Patriots ran the ball 14 times as opposed to 20 passes in the first half.

Even on their final drive, one of their most successful plays was a run — a 12-yard burst through the showers — by Bolden to the Cincinnati 42.

“We did have some plays in the running game,” Belichick added. “I thought we had some opportunities in the passing game too. Could we have gone in a different ratio or percentage? We probably could have but we didn’t really feel that bad about what we were doing, we just didn’t do it well enough.”

The Patriots even tried to punch it in on the ground in their ill-fated goal line chance in the fourth quarter that resulted in only a 19-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

The Patriots finished with 82 yards rushing on just 18 carries for a 4.6 yards per carry average. What will happen Sunday vs. the Saints? Stay tuned.

Here is the rest of Belichick’s conference call from Tuesday.

BB: Just been going through all the New Orleans film. They’re pretty impressive; they do a lot of things well. They look good on offense, pretty balanced. Very aggressive offensive attack and defensively they do a good job as well – they have good personnel and a good scheme. [They’re] obviously explosive in the kicking game as well. You can see why they won five games. They’re a real solid football team, well coached and very well balanced, good in all phases of the game. Another team we don’t know very well and we’ve got to really make up some ground on them preparation-wise this week. It’s just all part of the challenge here; but it’s a good football team.

Q: What kind of matchup problems do Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles present and how tough do they look to defend on tape?

BB: Tough, real tough. Graham’s a very good receiving tight end. They split him out, they keep him kind of in the traditional tight end positions but he’s got a big route tree; vertical receiver that can get down the field but he’s also got good quickness in the intermediate areas, tough to handle on third down. Sproles is a real explosive guy that can take a pass behind the line of scrimmage, screen pass or angle route or flat route and turn it up and turn them into huge plays. Also, he has a pretty big route tree too: vertical routes, inside routes, outside routes. They use some empty formation, not a ton of it, but enough and it’s hard to find him – both of them, they move around quite a bit. They’re definitely tough matchups.

Q: Will Drew Brees change plays frequently or will he look for matchups post snap? How much work does he do at the line to get them in and out of plays? How important is the disguising chess match that you’ll do defensively?

BB: That’s a real challenging part of playing New Orleans here and their offense. I would say that they certainly have the ability to change plays. He will, at times. You’ll see him change plays or change protections. I wouldn’t say that it’s something you see him do a lot, but he certainly can do it. I think they’re a team that plays at a pretty high tempo: quick counts, they come out and they go fast a lot of times, not all the time but enough. I think that the pace that they go at, even though they’re not really a no-huddle team per se, they have a very fast tempo. I think that’s a very challenging part of playing against them. Does he change them? Yes. Can he change them? Yes. Does he do it a lot? I wouldn’t say it’s… we’ve seen other guys do it more. But I would say that he does it probably when he needs to, like if they’re in a play that’s a bad play, he can get out of it. But he plays at a fast tempo and you don’t have a lot of time defensively to see your assignments, communicate them and do them because it all happens in a hurry. They give you a lot of different looks so you have to react to it pretty quickly.

Q: So you have to get lined up, you can’t be playing games and trying to disguise?

BB: I’d say that’s pretty accurate. You have to be careful about trying to do too much with him. You better be able to get to what you have, which does mean that a lot of times you have to show what you’re in, in order to match up against their different looks because they create a lot of different formationing and like I said, detaching the tight end, detaching the backs, they use a lot of different personnel groups with the multiple tight ends – all their backs play, all their tight ends play, all their receivers play. They run them in and out of there in a hurry. Then get lined up and get to go, you have to be ready to play when the ball is snapped because he does a very good job of, when the defense, when they miss somebody, he finds them. They get a bunch of plays every week on I would say, defensive mistakes or alignment errors that he recognizes and just gets the ball to whoever it is and then you’re chasing him. That’s a big challenge.

Q: Defensively, how different schematically are the Saints under Rob Ryan this year versus last year and what are some basic tenets of Ryan’s defense and the personnel they have on defense?

BB: They’ve had a real good start. I’d say last year they were a really heavy blitz, zone team and they gave up a lot of big plays, gave up a lot of yards and a lot of plays. I would say this year under Rob, they haven’t given up very many big plays. I’d say one of the characteristics of their defense is that they play a lot of multiple defensive packages that vary from week to week, similar to what Rex [Ryan] does, or has done at New York, at times, where they might play nickel but one week it’s one version of nickel and another week, it’s another version of nickel and they’ll play dime and they’ll play seven DBs but the players don’t necessarily all play in the same spots, they’ll move them around by game plan and by matchups and by the type of plays or calls that they want to run. Last week was probably a good example, where they came out in kind of a new-look, nickel look against the Bears and sacked him in the first couple series, got a strip-sack and a turnover on a couple, it looked like, protection errors that the Bears had on a couple of their blitzes and they get a couple turnovers, get a couple sacks, three-and-outs early and really kept Chicago from getting into much of rhythm in the game for the better part of the first half, just because of the way it started. You have to be ready for something new, different, that they haven’t shown that they just feel like is the way they match up against you and the way they deploy their personnel particularly in the secondary but really it’s the whole defense. But the way they deploy can change quite a bit from a game to game matchup basis. They played a lot of 3-4 defense early in preseason and that’s certainly their base, similar to what he did in Dallas, but the actual number of snaps that they’ve played during the regular season this year has been a far lower percentage. Again, they’ve gone up against some good passing teams like Chicago and Atlanta, teams like that, Miami has their own style of offense, so, again, he kind of modifies their base scheme based on what he’s facing and it can change from week to week.

Q: Do you think that there are a lot of similarities in Tom Brady and Drew Brees?

BB: I’m sure there are some. Both quarterbacks have had great careers: very productive, won a lot of games. They both do a lot of things well: complete a lot of passes for a lot of yards, for a lot of touchdowns and not too many turnovers and sacks and bad plays in there. So, quick decisions, accurate passing and all that, I think there are a lot of similarities like that. I think they each have their own playing styles that are also different but both very effective, both smart guys that see the field well, make quick decisions and manage the game well, find the right matchups, get the ball to their productive players and let them do a lot of the work and stay out of bad plays. That’s probably a pretty common thread with both of them over their careers.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
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