Short passes were a big factor in the Patriots 38-7 win over the Bills in Buffalo and will likely play a key role in this Sunday's rematch.
In the first game in early November a combination of good execution by the Patriots and poor tackling by the Bills allowed New England to rack up over 186 yards of offense after the catch. Tom Brady and company transformed what has been referred to as a "dink and dunk" offense into big plays and touchdowns.
And as much as those short passes have been a part of Charlie Weis' offense all year, on that day in Buffalo the screen passes in particular were working on all cylinders. Antowain Smith scored on two such plays covering 13 and 14 yards respectively. Tight end Daniel Graham caught another impressive screen and running back Kevin Faulk scored on a 45-yard catch-and-run that was later ruled a run as it was actually a backward pass.
Regardless of the technical aspects of the statistics, the Patriots simply dominated the Bills in the short passing game. Both Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and Faulk himself point to that domination as the execution involved with the plays, especially that of the linemen involved.
"We executed the plays well and they worked," Faulk said of the screens in the first game as the Patriots put the finishing touches on preparations for Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium. " The plays were called at the right time and we executed them well."
"The biggest thing as a back is to try not to get noticed by the coverage, especially in a man-to-man situation," Faulk added. "Everything else falls on the lineman because they have to recognize if the linebackers are man-to-man on us and try to pick up the cover man. They have the toughest job where they are basically trying to read defenses, finding out which one of the linebackers is man-to-man on the screen pass. That's a tough job for them. Once they recognize if it is man or zone, they have to pick that guy off and there is one other guy there that is just leading the way."
"The screen is a deception play," Belichick said. "So if it's not run correctly it doesn't make a difference, you could screen to Barry Sanders, but if it's not executed well, it won't be a good play. Depending on how you run it, it's got to be executed well by the quarterback, the back, and the line has to make the rushers feel like it's a pass and they're getting in there. At the same time they go out, but if they go out too early, then the line just goes with them, then that's not good. If they go out too late then the back gets ahead of them, and there's no screen. So it's all about the execution and timing of it, and of course, it's important for the other guys who aren't getting the ball, and they know they're not getting the ball, to push the coverage as far back as possible. If they are just out there loafing it and dogging it, then there's no push on the defense, when you do screen they're a lot closer to the screen and there's just less space to run. You really need good execution by seven or eight guys to have a good screen play. If one guy screws it up, then either the back makes a miss, and it turns into a good play, or you've got a guy right in the middle of the screen and you've got nothing."
If the Patriots are as dominating against the Bills this Sunday it is likely that they will have success again in the short passing game. If the Bills put forth a more challenging effort on the scoreboard, defensively it is likely that they will have done a better job tackling and defending the short game. But regardless of the score of the first game, the second time around in the NFL is always about adjustments and a reevaluation of the matchups from the first game. As Belichick likes to say, we'll all have a better idea late Sunday afternoon as to how that worked out.
Brown is the man
Wide receiver Troy Brown was named the 2002 Patriots Man of the Year on Thursday for his contribution to the team on the field and in the community. With the award, Brown is now a candidate for the league's award, the Walter Payton/NFL Man of the Year award. The league winner is selected by a national committee and will be announced during the week of Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego.
Brown is one of the Patriots co-captains and is active in numerous local and national charities. His efforts include work visiting area schools, celebrity fund raising events and programs to combat domestic violence, including the Boston-based R.O.S.E. (Regaining Ones Self Esteem) Fund. Brown is also active in his offseason home of West Virginia and his native South Carolina.
Despite missing two games to injury this season, Brown leads the Patriots with 76 receptions for 715 yards. He is on pace to break the franchise record of 101 receptions that he set himself last season