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After Further Review: Patriots regular-season issues spill into playoffs

20200105-AfterFurtherReview-PDC

First Quarter

-The Patriots first drive of the game summed a lot of the season up offensively. There were spurts of success, including an impressive catch by Ben Watson on the first third down they faced and a screen pass to James White that went 29 yards. Sony Michel even had his usual nice opening run of the game, going seven yards, as the offensive line looked good. But they'd short circuit after a failed flea flicker.

-On third-and-3 from the 18 the Titans were well prepared for the play action pass, dropping a linebacker to the exact spot Brady wanted to go with the ball. No one was fooled and everyone was covered. When things were scripted out of the gate, the 2019 Patriots had some of their better drives, but the quick use of the flea flicker and the inability to finish in the red zone was characteristic of the offense as well.

-The Titans first drive was just like they must've drawn it up, riding Derrick Henry right down the field. The Patriots defense threw a few different fronts at them but nothing was effective as Henry often wasn't even touched until he was four yards downfield. More troubling was that the Pats tackling stunk. Obviously Henry is a tough man to tackle, but New England was whiffing a lot and could not make anything favorable happen.

-Losing Patrick Chung on the first drive was a killer and it wasn't surprising to see the Titans go after Terrence Brooks in coverage on Anthony Firkser on third-and-10 from the 12-yard-line. The Patriots defense would send six rushers but couldn't get there soon enough as Brooks was in off-man coverage and was beat inside.

-The response drive from the Patriots offense started to show the inconsistency that's haunted them all season. While the Titans just kept getting successful play after successful play, the Patriots would alternate between one good and one bad. They used fullback Elandon Roberts more extensively on this drive but again, to mixed results. Running off the edges with Michel and White provided some ground success while Brady found Sanu and Watson over the middle for plays that picked up first downs.

Second Quarter

-Tom Brady would start the second quarter off with the Patriots only touchdown of the game, an easy jet sweep handoff to Julian Edelman. Again it came down to unconventional play calling to get into the end zone, though at this point a jet sweep is pretty close to conventional for this offense.

-Without Patrick Chung the defense inserted Jamie Collins who played his second-lowest snap total of the season and didn't seem like part of the main gameplan until Chung was lost. The heavy snap totals for Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy and John Simon, all playing at or near season highs, said a lot about this matchup and how the Titans were not an ideal matchup. Without tackle depth and better players more suited to defending the pass, the Titans were a mismatch for someone like Collins.

-A fullback dive to Elandon Roberts on third-and-1 went nowhere near midfield after the Patriots forced a punt. Roberts had his moments but is not going to have a long term future on the offensive side of the ball. Didn't love the playcall in such a big moment but the struggles in short yardage were a glaring problem and they were trying anything they could.

-Similarly Mohamed Sanu was filling in at punt returner but got his best return of the season, and his career by default, of 23 yards that set the Patriots up in Titans territory on what would be, gulp, the final scoring drive of the game midway through the second quarter.

-Rex Burkhead would get the offense down to the Titans one-yard-line and the situation would come to encapsulate both the game and the season as the Patriots couldn't get that one vital yard they've gotten so many times before. The first was a pure power run off left tackle from 23 personnel, with a great play being made by the Titans linebacker who cut through the line and got a stop for -1 yard. On second down they went to three wide receivers but again ran to the left side, a spot they had decent success attacking. Still not sure how Burkhead didn't get in as he was stopped dead in his tracks back at the one-yard-line. On third down they went back to 23 heavy personnel, but the Titans won the point of attack, with Ted Karras getting walked into the backfield and Rashaan Evans making another impressive play.

-The Patriots would settle for a field goal there and little did they know at the time that this was the turning point of the game.

-Derrick Henry would go back into beast mode, with a first-down run of 29 yards, followed by runs of 11, nine and three yards before taking a screen pass 22 yards down to the one-yard-line. That was the game as the Titans would take the lead and never relinquish it. No matter what the Patriots front tried they just couldn't make contact with Henry in the backfield and bring him down.

Third Quarter

-The Patriots defense would bounce back on the first drive of the second half, forcing a punt after finally getting some stops on Henry. Putting two linebackers over to the defensive right was a small schematic wrinkle that initially was successful. Terrence Brooks was targeted on third down in coverage on Firkser again, but was close by.

-The offense would continue to sputter on the next drive, almost getting a late-down completion to Ben Watson for 38 yards but Shaq Mason was downfield as he seemed to think Brady was about to scramble before he pulled up and threw.

-It was almost a critical play when Kyle Van Noy forced a Tannehill fumble on a nice pass rush but the ball bounced right into the quarterback's arms. Sometimes that's just how it goes when things aren't going your way.

-N'Keal Harry slowly emerged into a weapon the Patriots tried to involve on offense, showing that they drafted him in the first round for a reason. It wasn't always productive and heavily relied on end arounds, but Harry made some plays in this game and should have some positive takeaways as he embarks on the offseason.

Fourth Quarter

-For a brief moment it seemed like the Patriots finally got the break they needed with Duron Harmon's interception. Kyle Van Noy's patience forced a back foot throw by Tannehill that was off target. Harmon made an athletic play to make the diving pick. But the offense would pick up just one first down with two big incompletions to Phillip Dorsett looming large. Usually the offense jumps on those kinds of chances but this is how it's gone this year.

-The game played into the Titans hands as the fourth quarter continued, as they could lean on their running game and keep the clock moving. They'd eat up 8:01 of clock, using the same punt penalty tactics the Patriots have used in the past to milk a huge chunk of time.

-The Patriots would get the ball back with 4:44 left and got off to a great start with a 20-yard screen pass to James White. It would be the last big play of the game for the Patriots offense, as an Edelman drop on second-and-4 then an incomplete to Dorsett forced them to punt with 3:17 left.

-The last dagger from the Titans once again came with Tannehill targetting Firkser being covered by Brooks. It was a third-and-8 from their own 15 and a stop would've given the Patriots the ball back with well over two minutes left. Instead the Titans would drain most of the clock with three more plays.

-Once again, as they've done many times this season, the Patriots would sell out for a punt block, not putting a returner back. Justin Bethel came oh-so-close to the block but not close enough and the ball rolled all the way down to the Patriots one-yard-line with just :15 seconds left.

-The final play was the ultimate gut punch with a pass hitting off of Mohamed Sanu's hands and into the arms o Logan Ryan who walked into the end zone for an easy pick six that ended at least the game, if not the careers of quite a few notable Patriots. It would be hard to script a worse ending, but overall the way the 2019 Patriots went down was the way they had been losing all season. This game was in many ways like a worst hits playlist for the team.

Personnel Packages

Offense

  • 11 personnel - 36 snaps
  • 21 personnel (FB) - 9 snaps
  • 10 personnel - 7 snaps
  • 21 personnel (HB) - 2 snaps
  • 23 personnel - 2 snaps
  • 22 personnel - 1 snap
  • 20 personnel (HBs) - 1 snap

Defense

  • 3-4 - 26 snaps
  • 2-4-5 - 20 snaps
  • 1-4-6 - 5 snaps
  • 4-3 - 4 snaps
  • 1-3-7 - 1 snap
  • Goal - 1 snap

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