NOTE: If you want a calm and rational discussion of the Patriots' offense against the Packers, please read on. If you don't care to read someone else's opinion, you can quit reading and fire off your nasty Tweet to me right now.
The Patriots used everything but the kitchen sink to put up their 31 points against the Packers in New England's eventual 31-17 victory.
- The 59-yard opening touchdown drive that relied on a no-huddle offense to surprise the Packers and had their defenders gasping for air.
- Receiver — sorry ... playmaker — Cordarrelle Patterson ran 61 yards on 11 carries, including five-straight runs of 43 yards that notched their second touchdown.
- A 37-yard pass from Julian Edelman to James White set up their third touchdown.
- Josh Gordon was left wide-open by the Packers thanks to another deceptive play on the final touchdown.
- Edelman had two rushes for 28 yards that set up Gordon's score, and then gained the game-sealing first down.
There's a lot of original, entertaining, well-timed, well-called and well-executed plays/tactics right there. Good job by the Patriots. All that helped them to get the win. No one is disputing that.
You can stop there, enjoy the win and be done with it. That's fine.
You could also, if you wanted to, stop and ask the essential question that we always ask ... Why? If we hyper-analyze when, say, the Patriots choose to run 45 times between the tackles because they loved the matchup there, or the Patriots drop Brady back 52 times and he threw for 500 yards and four touchdowns because, evidently, they liked their match up there ... then why wouldn't we do the same with a game that sure seemed out of character for these Patriots?
So the question I have is: Why did the Patriots feel compelled to pull out all the stops against a defense that was ranked 20th by FootballOutsiders.com (21st against the pass) and had allowed 29 points at home to Minnesota, 31 at Washington, 31 at Detroit, 30 at home against C.J. Beathard and San Francisco and 29 to a Rams team that played Green Bay straight up?
Why didn't the Patriots, with Tom Brady at the helm and plenty of experienced talent around him, feel they could do the same? Or did they ... and this was just happenstance?
There are plenty of possible explanations — both positive and somewhat negative — for the Patriots' decision, and we'll touch on all of them. But the discussion starts — and, I'm sorry, it is relevant — because of two things:
- Football coaches — especially offensive coordinators — don't do anything accidentally. Yes, they have a section of the playsheet devoted to deceptive plays every week (NOTE: I'm using the term 'deceptive' because that's the football term -- not that they're trying to deceive/cheat. I.E., coaches will refer to a deceptive period in practice where they work on screens, reverses, trick plays — it's a catch-all term). Those plays, or versions of them, are part of the gameplan every week.
- The Patriots coaches — especially Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels — don't do anything without a very specific reason. I've never sat in on one of their game planning sessions, but I have with the next best thing: the Houston Texans with two former Patriots assistants (Bill O'Brien and George Godsey).
This is how the gameplanning goes down:
The head coach sets the tone at the beginning of the week/each morning. From advance scouting and Ernie Adams' work, plus Belichick's own film watching, Belchick tells the coordinators the type of approach he wants to see that week based on what he sees from the opponent and how his team is performing.
Belichick will say something like, "We all know Mike Pettine and he knows us. We know he'll have some designer pressures early in to try to hit Brady so we might want to think about going hurry-up on the first drive and during stretches during the game to prevent that."
Or ... "It looks like we won't have Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel for this game. We're pretty hard-pressed right now to get chunk plays without them and the way we're going, we should have a pretty strong deceptive package ready to go." Or ... "Without Shaq Mason, I don't think we can block Mike Daniels/Kenny Clark effectively so we'll need to account for that..."
With that, McDaniels starts to work at putting together a gameplan — with the assistance of the other offensive coaches who have specific responsibilities (and there are check-ins with Brady) — that follows Belichick's broad strokes. McDaniels and at least Dante Scarnecchia will meet with Belichick late on Monday and Tuesday to present the different pieces of the gameplan and he can approve, veto or adjust certain things. Then the gameplan is presented to the team on Wednesday morning.
So the Patriots almost certainly put all that in the gameplan and practiced it for this specific game for a reason. And it worked. I mean, look at the drive chart — it was basically the opening drive and two four-quarter drives.
[table id=181 /]
Now let's get into the possible reasons, which go from the crazy to the mundane and the mildly concerning:
They're practicing for later in the season: Um, no.
The Patriots just wanted the deceptive plays on film: I'm sure they like them on film, but I don't think it was any kind of driving force.
Patriots respect Pettine: He's been a pain in the rear to the Patriots and Brady specifically going back to his time as Rex Ryan's defensive coordinator with the Jets. Probably a little much to ask for the Packers to play like the Jets in Pettine's first year, but better to be safe than sorry. I do believe this is why the hurry-up was used in this game. They did not want the Packers to get set and spring designer blitzes and coverages at them. The Patriots do that with these types of schemes.