On Monday Night Football, the New England Patriots dropped to 2-2 following a sound drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs 41-14. Against our better judgment, we take a look at the passing attack to find out what went wrong and pray that it might be something correctable.
After completing the review of the coaches’ tape from the Monday night debacle, we were left wondering what one would call a reverse compliment sandwich. There are not enough positives from the film to bracket criticism, so we are left with a bunch of negatives and one good thing. Please enjoy your criticism croissant.
What the OL Missed
Monday’s game was a team failure, but we begin our survey of the evening’s atrocities with the offensive line. Prior to the game Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Dave DeGuglielmo inserted two rookies into the starting lineup: Bryan Stork at center and Cameron Fleming at right guard. Against the Chiefs, pass protection was better at times, but the mistakes were glaring and led to disaster. Certainly Bob Sutton and his defense played and coached well on Monday night, and deserve credit for their game plan and the adjustments they made on the fly. However, the Patriots’ mistakes enabled Kansas City to convert their solid execution into a blowout victory.
On the first play of the 2nd quarter, New England faces a 3rd and 4 in their own territory. Kansas City lines up with a sub package and they show blitz:
Watch Husain Abdullah (#39) on this play. The strong safety is aligned in the B gap just off the line of scrimmage and he comes on a simple B gap blitz:
Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer blocks… nobody. His back turned to the onrushing Abdullah:
Tom Brady completes the throw to Brandon LaFell for a first down but takes a shot from Abdullah after the pass. It is possible that the offensive line protection play call may have left the safety unaccounted for, making him the hot read; LaFell did work into the throwing zone vacated by Abdullah. If that is the case, the protection scheme needs to be changed.
Also, we will note that Abdullah played a marvelous game on Monday night, both against the pass and the run. The safety was all over the field and jumped off of the screen during film review; this was a fantastic effort from the 29-year-old on the national stage.
Next, on this 2nd and 3 play late in the first half, Kansas City has their base defense on the field to combat the 12 personnel employed by the Patriots. The Chiefs run a stunt/blitz combination, and the entire left side of the New England line is made to look foolish:
Brady is forced out of the pocket and does not have time to let the play develop. On the backside, both Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui stay in to assist with pass protection, meaning the Patriots have seven players to block five defenders. The blockers are unable to capitalize on this numerical advantage and fail to do their job, forcing Brady to throw the ball away.
On a night filled with mental and physical mistakes, Kansas City also strip-sacked Brady twice, recovering the second fumble for a turnover. WARNING: Mental mistakes, missed assignments, poor technique and flat-out getting beaten off the (telegraphed) snap lie ahead. Proceed at your own risk.
On their third play of the second half New England has Brady in the shotgun. The Chiefs’ defense shows another B gap blitz from Abdullah, but the safety backs away from the line of scrimmage after the snap:
Allen Bailey blows past Fleming with a speed rush, forcing Brady to step up in the pocket. Vollmer is matched up against Justin Houston, with James White also trying to assist against the defensive end. The combination of Bailey’s pressure and White’s failure to get a good chip allows Houston to beat Vollmer to the inside, right into the pocket where Brady is stepping:
If the view was from the other end zone, perhaps we would be able to see just how much Houston’s eyes widened when he saw Brady start to step up in the pocket. An easy, unimpeded path to the ball and the quarterback. Luckily, the Patriots recovered.
This brings us to the Tamba Hali strip-sack. Pay particular attention to the center Brian Stork’s helmet:
He puts his head down and then picks it back up right before the snap. Hali reads this and gets a fantastic jump on the play. Some stills illustrate just how big a read Hali got. Here is Stork with his head down:
Here is when he picks his head back up. Notice how Hali is the only player on the field other than Stork moving:
Solder does not have a chance here; it is likely there is not a left tackle in the league who can block Hali when he has a jump like this. Cadence and communication are difficult in a loud, raucous environment like Arrowhead Stadium. However, telegraphing the snap count like this is something Stork must never do again.
What They Got Right – Beating the Cover 3
In the Passing Preview, we illustrated how Kansas City ran a lot of Cover 3 in the secondary and how other offenses attacked the coverage. New England employed a number of similar concepts to attack the defensive backfield on Monday night and, scattered among the wreckage debris, had some limited success.
New England faces 2nd and 8 late in the 1st quarter and Brady is under center with 21 personnel on the field. LaFell comes in motion from right to left, giving the Patriots a slot formation on the outside. Kansas City is in their base defense showing Cover 3 in the secondary:
Safety Ron Parker rolls up to the outside flat zone on this play, lining up over Julian Edelman at the snap of the ball. Parker stays with Edelman on his deep route through the flat, after which he hands the receiver off to the deep defenders and resumes patrolling the underneath zone. However, he stays with Edelman just a beat too long and it is enough to open up a window for Brady to find LaFell on an in route. This is a well-designed, well-executed play to attack that outside flat in the Cover 3 zone.
Brady’s best throw of the night takes place on a 2nd and 3 early in the 2nd quarter. New England has 21 personnel on the field, and James Develin comes in motion from the right giving Brady a tight slot formation on the left. The Chiefs are in their base 3-4 showing Cover 3 in the secondary:
From his outside alignment in the slot, Edelman runs a 7-yard out route. Brady links up with the receiver on a perfect throw to the sideline. Kansas City defends this throw well, as Abdullah is underneath Edelman and Sean Smith is covering the deep zone. It takes a perfect throw to complete this pass and Brady delivers.
In “Teddy and Blake” we highlighted the out/slant concept, where an outside receiver runs a slant route and an inside receiver runs an out route. Here, the Patriots use this concept on their own goal line for a first down against the Cover 3:
Again, New England uses motion to set up a slot formation, this time to Brady’s right. The secondary rolls their Cover 2 into a Cover 3 with the strong-safety moving into the slot over Edelman. As the slot receiver breaks out into the outside zone, the safety stays with him. With the rest of the secondary in a Cover 3 alignment, there is a big window for LaFell on a slant route:
Brady makes a strong throw and LaFell gives New England a fresh set of downs.
What Brady Missed
Having said some nice things, let us return to the dominant theme of this night: This was horrible offensive football..
In the Passing Preview we used an example of Jake Locker and the Titans attacking the Chiefs’ secondary playing Cover 3 downfield:
Now, watch Brady and the Patriots:
New England runs nearly the exact same play at Kansas City. Yet Brady waits too long on his throw to Edelman and the pass falls incomplete. Where Jake Locker is making plays, Tom Brady is missing; things are amiss in the universe.
NOTE: It should be pretty clear to our readers that we are doing something right. We highlighted this play by Tennessee in our preview, the coaches saw the same thing and incorporated that play into their game plan, and the Patriots failed to execute it. I mean, come on (video link).
Brady has been accused of forcing throws to Edelman and Gronkowski and Monday night gives us a concrete example of one such pass. Here, New England has Brady under center with 21 personnel on the field and the Chiefs counter with their base 3-4. Develin comes in motion on the right and blocks for a second before releasing into the flat:
Brady forces a throw to Gronkowski who is double-covered on his corner route. This is a still from the moment before the pass:
The three downfield receivers are blanketed, but Develin is in position to catch the ball, stop to make a sandwich, and still make it to the first down marker.
We covered Brady’s first interception in the Offensive Fail of the Week and, while that was egregious, his second interception is even more troubling. New England has Brady in the shotgun in an empty backfield. The Chiefs counter with a dime package and safety Abdullah is aligned as a linebacker over the right guard. As the play develops, Abdullah simply drops into underneath zone coverage. Brady tries to hit Danny Amendola on a post route, to disastrous effect:
We cannot tell what, exactly, Brady saw. Here is the Kansas City defense pre-snap:
Abdullah is not exactly hiding. Now we show Brady in a clean pocket looking downfield:
He is still there, Tom. Now, as Brady tries to jam this into Amendola, look at the break Abdullah has on the route:
The quarterback has to see that defender and pull that down. There is a concept of “blinking” in front of a receiver where, in essence, a quarterback waits for one more second ‒ “blinks” ‒ to make sure a defender is not in position for an interception. Brady does not blink. Tom Brady used to always blink. Of all the things that went wrong Monday Night, this is the most concerning.
As we stated at the outset, this was a team failure. It begins up front, where the pass protection breaks down on a number of plays and the coaching has not addressed problems evident from the Dolphins collapse in Week 1. This leads to Brady feeling pressure when there is penetration and seeing ghosts in the pocket. Some reads are missed, some throws are forced, and potential big plays are left on the field. At this point, it is safe to say that no one on the offensive side of the ball feels comfortable on a given play.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.