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Bill Belichick wants to see the Patriots stay out of big holes on offense: ‘You just can’t play a game third-and-15′

10.18.16 at 10:21 am ET
Oct 16, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA;  Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams (36) chases New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

LeGarrette Blount (29) runs away from Cincinnati’s Shawn Williams during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. (Stew Milne/USA Today Sports)

As much as the Patriots were able to score 35 points Sunday and take care of the Bengals, Bill Belichick looks at the box score and sees room for improvement. Lots of room.

Before the game-changing illegal contact call on Dre Kirkpatrick on Chris Hogan in the second quarter, the Patriots were not able to generate much on offense.

Ironically, that illegal contact came on a play when the Patriots were facing third-and-18 from their own 17. The Patriots had third-and-long (7 or more yards) four times in the first half. They had second-and-long four other times.

The Patriots were putting themselves in big holes and were having trouble building any momentum.

“The biggest thing for us [Sunday] was just when we were able to avoid negative plays and stay out of long yardage, we moved the ball fairly well. But we got into second and third-and-12, third-and-11, third-and-15, third-and-30. In some of those down-and-distance situations it’s hard,” Belichick noted. “We were fortunate we got off the hook on third-and-15 there. There was an illegal contact penalty which was part of a touchdown drive. When we were able to pick up first downs or get into third-and-four, five, six in those areas where you have a chance to run the ball, you can throw to any of your receivers for four or five yards. You have a lot of options and it’s a lot easier to execute in those situations. I mean you still have to do a good job of it but you have a lot more options.

“When it’s third-and-13 or third-and-15, how many guys on the field can you actually get to that distance to have a chance to pick up the yardage. It’s not very many. When we were able to play the game on our terms we had more success. When we had negative runs, sacks, penalties and we’re in a lot of long yardage situations, then that was a problem. I’d say those negative plays were a combination of everything. A couple plays weren’t great plays. We had some blocking breakdowns; we had some breakdowns in the passing game at all positions. When those negative plays happen and we’re in long yardage, then that’s not where you want to be against a team like Cincinnati. We’ve got to try to avoid those situations and move the ball forward instead of backward. That will give us more options and it’ll give us better results.”

In the second half, things didn’t start off much better, as the Patriots had second-and-12, second-and-17, and third-and-22 before a punt on their first drive. Then Dont’a Hightower sacked Andy Dalton in the end zone and the game changed. The only second-and-long and third-and-long situations came when Rob Gronkowski was called for taunting in the red zone before a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

The Bengals started the second half playing their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage in an effort to take away some of the crossing and intermediate routes that were so effective on New England’s final drive before the half. But Belichick said reacting to that was not nearly as important as avoiding the negative plays.

“You just can’t play a game in third-and-15 and third-and-25,” Belichick said. “You might luck out every once in a while but that’s just not where you want to be. I’d say that had a lot more to do with it than any kind of adjustments to their coverage. They mixed their coverages throughout the game like they usually do and they try to keep you off balance. They do a good job, they’re well coached, have a good team, good secondary, good front. It wasn’t like they just sat in one thing all day. They moved it around. Again, when you’re so far behind in down-and-distance, you’re really working uphill. We had too many drives like that but that’s really been the story in multiple games this year. When we can’t move the ball forward then we don’t have many drives. I know there’s chattering there but that’s just the way it is.”

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