Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Patriots let Packers off the hook, abandon four-minute offense in loss at Green Bay

Blount's clean jersey in the waning moments tells Patriots' fans all they need to know about the loss to Green Bay

When a CBS cameraman focused on the Patriots sideline early in the third quarter during their loss at Green Bay, some commented that Patriots' Strength and Conditioning Coach Harold Nash had a leash on quarterback Tom Brady.

Naturally, it was just a resistance band, a terrific way to stay warm and loose in cold weather, and Nash was the one providing the resistance.

"When I'm out there in the game, I don't get a chance to run around like the receivers who are running around the whole game" Brady said earlier this week. "So I just like to stay really loose, as loose as I can in inclement weather.  So that's what it was for."
Brady warming up before the game with resistance band

Many others thought that should have been Bill Belichick on one end, providing resistance to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.  Or maybe just have him on a short leash.

In a game that had power running attack written all over a potential game plan, the Patriots instead aired it out right into the teeth of the strength of the Packers' defense - their secondary - eschewing the run until the final period, turning what should have been a New England road victory into a frustrating 26-21 loss.

"Certainly, when we did run it, we ran it effectively." Brady offered. "And when we threw it, we threw it somewhat effectively.  I could have been better in certain situations, which would have allowed us to run the ball better."

"It all goes hand-in-hand."

Brady's remarks came on the heels of a contest that saw the Patriots run the ball just eight times in the first half (not including Brady's kneel down at the end of the half) and nine times in the second half, averaging 5.14 and 5.33 yards respectively, yet the success of those running plays couldn't convince McDaniels that his best option was to hand the ball to his power backs and run the four-minute offense.

Nor did the fact that the Packers were ranked 30th in run defense, nor did the fact that he has a terrific stable of running backs that can play it any way you want, and a quarterback who is pure gold selling the play action.

But since there was such a disparity between the run and the pass - 35 passing plays compared to 17 on the ground - there was no reason for the Packers' defense to respect a running game that was all but non-existent, and they obliged by playing in the nickle and turning loose their pass rushers, nailing Brady six different times - and while they only sacked him once, that one time was in the most critical time of the game: In the red zone with less than four minutes to play.

Still, miraculously, the Patriots were in position to take the lead on their final drive until the sack of Brady by Mike Daniels forced them into a 4th and 19 from the 29, where Stephen Gostkowski shanked a field goal attempt.  On that drive, the Patriots' got where they needed to be on the strength of Legarrette Blount's hard running, which opened up the play action for Brady - yet when they reached the red zone, the running game disappeared.  Again.

The entire point of the four minute offense, which the Packers ran to perfection while the Patriots only toyed with it, is to run time off the clock while moving the ball methodically down the field.  It isn't fancy and not aesthetically pleasing in any way other than the fact that it works.

So forget that New England produced over half of their rushing yards on the final two drives of the game, one of which ended in a touchdown to slice into the Packers' lead.  Forget that up until the point that the Patriots drove into the Packers' red zone with three and a half minutes to play, the Green Bay pass rush was abusing the Patriots offensive line and beating Brady like he stole something, because New England had a first and 10 from the Green Bay 20 with a chance to take the lead.

The goal at that point should have been to run as much time as they could off the clock, running the ball right at the Packers who had not shown that they could consistently stop the run, and passing only if it became necessary, because the ideal situation would have been to score and not leave Green Bay's terrific quarterback Aaron Rodgers any time to mount a game-winning drive...

...but one run, an ill-advised heave into the end zone for a well-covered Rob Gronkowski and the Daniels' sack left them having to try a field goal that did them absolutely no good at all in that situation.

So instead of running the four-minute offense, McDaniels calls two pass plays, one trying to mismatch Gronkowski on rookie safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who had tight coverage, and the other ending in a sack.  The Packers took over with just under three minutes to play and the Patriots never saw the ball again.

And even if they had scored and taken the lead on the pass to Gronkowski, there would have been far too much time on the clock for the Packers to drive down the field, needing only a field goal to wrap things up.

With football being a team sport, there is plenty of blame to go around for a loss, just as there is praise to go around with a win.  That said, many thought the offensive line was to blame for the loss, but nothing could be further from the truth.  When a team eschews the run like the Patriots did on Sunday, it puts the linemen at a disadvantage.  Without the defense having to respect the run, the pass rush can pin their ears back and come after the quarterback...

...while establishing the running game makes the defense have to respect the play action and gives the linemen that extra split second at the snap of the ball to set and anchor themselves against the rush. That didn't happen and the Patriots took a frustrating loss that woulda, coulda, shoulda been a great triumph.

Because as Brady eluded to, it all goes hand-in-hand.

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