The New England Patriots offense leaned heavily on the rushing attack to the tune of 157 yards in securing the 15-10 victory against the New York Jets. A win on the road against a tough divisional opponent in inclement weather is something for the Patriots to build upon. It may not have been the prettiest win, but this is a Patriots team still finding their way. Their biggest opponent so far this season has been themselves. So how did offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien game plan against a tough defensive front seven?
Bill O’Brien Jump-Starts the New England Patriots Offense With the Running Game
Zone versus Gap Scheme
O’Brien ditched their zone scheme and relied entirely on the Patriots’ gap scheme. The Patriots favored the zone concepts over gap schemes through the first two weeks of the season. The subtle switch was genius for two reasons. First, they haven’t been successful running the ball this season. Second, the vaunted Jets front seven, mainly Quinnen Williams.
The Patriots’ offensive line has been in tatters and hasn’t had a chance to gel this young season. So it made sense for O’Brien to focus on a zone scheme early to allow the line a chance to be successful. Zone concepts should have a better chance of getting everyone on the defense blocked on each play. But for the Patriots, that just wasn’t the case. Coincidently, the scheme was exposing them and allowing them to get beat one-on-one. So if one player missed his block, most likely the play was heading nowhere.
As for the Jets’ front seven, they’re at their best when getting penetration. Spending time in the backfield creates chaos for an offense, specifically Williams. So trying to ask the Patriots linemen to handle one of the NFL’s better fronts one-on-one would have been a suicide mission. That’s why O’Brien and the staff essentially ditched all zone running plays. They were simply not going to allow Williams to take control of the game.
Football is a game of chess, especially at the highest level. The New England Patriots offense, and more specifically O’Brien’s game plan, called two run concepts for the majority of the game: “duo” and “draw.” These two concepts expertly took advantage of a defensive front that wanted to get upfield quickly. So far this season, Williams and company spent most games in the opposing team’s backfield.
Not against the Patriots.
Duo’s name is derived from the offense attempting to get as many double teams as possible, depending on the defensive front. Usually, both defensive tackles are double-teamed back into the second level. If one offensive player can peel off and block a linebacker, excellent. But it’s up to the running back to cut the opposite way the play-side linebacker is rushing.
Coaches oftentimes prefer to run zone over duo because duo can often leave a backside defender unblocked. This creates issues for an offense. For the Patriots Sunday against the Jets, it didn’t matter if anyone in the second level was unblocked. They wanted to execute those double teams as many times as they possibly could, and they did.
Not only did duo open up lanes for both Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliot, but it also wore down the Jets’ defensive line. The Patriots staff saw a chance to wear them down even more to start the second half.
After receiving the kickoff to start the third quarter, O’Brien called duo five times on the drive, splitting carries between both Stevenson and Elliot. It eventually led to a field goal that saw the Patriots extend their lead to 13-3. At the time it felt insurmountable for the Jets, in large part due to the strength of their team, the defensive front seven, becoming exhausted.
Another play Bill O’Brien and the New England Patriots offense used steadily throughout the day was a draw concept. This allows for an offensive line to set up in a pass-blocking look inviting the defensive linemen to rush upfield. Pinning their ears back and looking to get after the quarterback allows the running back to slip by and get to the second level of a defense quickly.
The Patriots weren’t trying to hit home runs with either of these run concepts. The idea was to shorten the game and take care of the football. Relying on a Patriots defensive unit that is getting better each week is a recipe for success. Additionally, the Patriots have had issues with turnovers since the start of the season. The game plan relied on holding onto the football.
So keeping the clock running while gaining 3-5 yards at a time was okay with the Patriots. Alternatively, having to think about what was coming next in the Patriots’ run game slowed the Jets’ defense down. The Patriots don’t have the overall talent to beat such a talented defense one-on-one, so the game plan needed to be perfect.
It was. Case in point, how O’Brien dialed up the perfect play-action pass for the Patriots’ lone touchdown on the day.
Utilizing Play Action
With Bill O’Brien wearing down the front seven of the Jets with duo and draw, he decided it was time to take a shot. On the fourth drive of the game, and after running draw a handful of times already, O’Brien dialed up a touchdown out of 13 personnel (1 running back, 3 tight ends).
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 24, 2023
O’Brien’s game plan saw them call a lead draw, stepback screen fake throw draw, draw play action for a hitch, and a regular draw. These play calls subtly allowed the Jets to let their guard down. The Jets’ defense stepped up on the draw action, and with the safety overplaying the single receiver side, which allowed Pharoah Brown to run down the field wide-open for a 58-yard touchdown.
New England Patriots Offense
The New England Patriots offense over the years has shown an ability to morph into whatever they need week to week. Through the first two weeks of the season, Mac Jones attempted 96 passes. Against this Jets defensive unit, that wasn’t going to work.
So the Patriots pivoted. Gone are the days of being able to overpower opponents with more talent combined with superior coaching. This is a team that needs to win any way they can. Bill O’Brien gave the Patriots that exact opportunity, and they took it. That’s a good sign against one of the NFL’s best defenses.
So while the talk this week leading up to the Dallas Cowboys might focus on the Patriots squeaking by a Zach Wilson-led Jets team, don’t buy into it. The Patriots did what they needed to do to win.
It was a masterful game plan that should get Patriots fans excited. Because just like the Patriots’ defense has done for decades, Bill O’Brien and the offensive coaching staff have now shown the ability to script a game that takes away what a defense does best.
Can the Patriots do the same thing to Micah Parsons in Dallas next week?
Main Photo: Vincent Carchietta – USA Today Sports