Over the years, I have seen game plans that I felt held the offense back and others that made it much more effective. Looking at this year I think the overall philosophy has been leaning toward holding it back, clearly out of a goal of limiting mistakes and turnovers and playing complementary football. When you look over the season this team has been competitive against anyone, blow games open when things go well, but struggle in tight games especially vs good teams. I think the 2 are related.
The game plans that hold the offense back always seem to be games where the priority seems to be staying on schedule on down and distance, getting to 3rd and makable and avoiding poor down no distance situations, while the most effective approach pushes the ball down the field and gets chunk plays.
When you look at the season, offensively they are:
6th in scoring
17th in turnovers
2nd in % of drives resulting in points
10th in 3rd down conversions
11th in red zone TD % (but #1 since the 2/8 start in weeks 1-3
Balnaced, 8th in rushing, 14th in passing (probably would be more like 10 and 10 without the 3 pass game anomaly)
6 in time of possession
Statistically that looks like an offense that would be a 12-5, 13-4 team
2 in points allowed
3 in takeaways
4 in yards
5 in 3rd down conv
2 in red zone
2 in % of drives allowing points
That looks like a defense that would be 14-3 or 15-2
Yet we are 10-7
I want to deep dive into the offense to see where the disconnect may be.
Cumualtive stats over a full season without situational context have little value other than a general overall impression.
Situationally gives a better look at what causes winning and losing.
In this case, the overall #s indicate the Patriots are a good team that plays close games against good teams but fall short more than it would seem they should.
I think the offensive approach of playing conservatively fits into that. You have to make a lot more plays to score, and to score TDs if you aren’t getting chunk plays, and against good teams you have less room for error with a non scoring drive or a turnover,
So here is a break down that I think shows this no other interesting facts. For comparison I used the 2017 offense which I think was good example of a good patriots offense that was more on the aggressive side.
Run/pass ratio. 55% run 45% pass
-we averaged 4.3 per rush and gained 38 first downs on 263 1st down rushes.
-we completed 68.6% of passes, and 68 of 144 completions and 210 attempts resulted in 1st downs
-so less than half of the completed passes gained a 1st down
-only allowed 6 sacks in 216 drop backs on 1st
COMPARED TO 2017
run/pass almost identical at 54/46
-rushing avg 4.6 1 fewer 1st on 4 more rushes
-68.2% but 81 1st downs on 148 completions
2nd down (the key in my opinion prior to looking at numbers)
run/pass ratio 46/54
rush avg 4.6 but only 65 1st downs on 159 rushes
70.9% completion but only 53 1sts in 127 completions, 9 sacks
3.7 per rush 49 1sts in 127 att
69.2% 84 1st in 153 completes, 11 sacks
First interesting fact, 2017 made 133 1sts on 2nd down vs 118 in 2021 with an extra game.
2017 did throw more but also while completing a lower % had A much higher rate of converting a 1st; 55% of completions gained 1st downs vs 42 this year.
To go deeper, on 2nd and 7+ 2021
31 1st on 96 completes out of 134 attempts (71.6% complete but only 23% sufficient yards for a first)
40 firsts on 102 completes and 148 (68.9 complete 27 1st)
2nd and <7
22 first on 31 completes and 45 attempts (68.9; 49)
44 1st on 51 completes and 73 attempts (69.9; 60)
This is a huge difference.
On 2nd and less than 7 in 2017 we threw 73 times and made 44 first downs and this years we only threw 44 times and made 22 first downs.
Compartively this year we are relying so much more on converting many 3rd downs,
IS FIRST DOWN TO BLAME?
2021 % of 2nds with yards to go
avg yards to go 7.7
avg yards to go 7.5
while the 2017 offense produce 12 more 1st downs on first down than 2021, they were almost in identical situations on 2 nd down with very different amounts of success
This is where it gets very interesting
Because they converted 27 more 1st downs on first and second down, the 2017 offense had 495 first down plays and only 201 3rd downs while the 2021 offense had 479 first down plays and 209 3rd downs. 2021 actually has a higher 3rd down conversion rate (43.5 to 40.8). 57.9% of 2021s 3rd downs were 6 or less to go, while 53.3 % Of 2017s were (and 31% vs 29% were 3 or less) so that’s the apparent trade off but it’s negligible.
Overall the 2021 offense scored 4 more points than the 2017 offense, was 61.9% vs 60% in the red zone ( but had 7 fewer trips in one extra game) and scored on 48% of drives vs 49.4%. 2021 exactly the same number of offensive TDs as 2017.
And this is where cumulative stats are meaningless without context. The 2021 team scored 17 or less 6 times and lost 5 of them while the 2017 team scored less than 20 just once and won.
2021 won 3 their 3 highest scoring games by a total of 149-30 and 2017 by 114-70.
The other factor that can’t be overlooked is the 2017 team committed 12 turnovers and 2021 committed 23, and 16 were in losses. But those turnovers only led to the defense allowing 7 more points in one more game.
What I think this illustrates is that overall the 2021 was every bit as good as the 2017 offense, but it was not nearly as consistent or as good against better teams. Underlying that is the conservative play calling. While the offense was unbelievably good overall, and the conservative approach is surely justified, what’s going on inside the numbers is that while we throw as much, and have an almost identical run/pass ratio, and similar completion percentages, we are relying more on short passes on first and second down (and throwing less on 2nd) so a much more methodical drive is necessary. It seems to work even better when we are in control of the game, but it caused the offense to struggle in close games against better teams.
The real question is whether Jones is being coached to do this or choosing to do it himself. The ultimate issue becomes (since the patriots are a high to low progression offense) the definition of open. Mac has to read his first progression and decide whether it’s open and throw or move on. That also includes the factor of how long you wait to decide as the route is coming open. It’s clear that his definition of open is conservative and he passes on the progressions more readily. To compete in the playoffs that is what has to change, and especially on 2nd down he needs to throw the ball up the field, to elevate this offense to be more successful against good teams, like it is against not as good teams.
Im sure there are other opinions to be formed from these numbers, and what we have seen, so hopefully this can create some discussion.