FOX Sports NFL Writer
Yes, the New England Patriots offense is a fight.
Only five teams have scored fewer offensive touchdowns this year: the Colts, Texans, Broncos, Steelers and Buccaneers.
This is the result. The cause is their worrying offensive strategy.
Specifically on the first downs. In the second half of the season (since Week 8), the Patriots rank:
- No. 29 in percentage of first downs that win a first down (20.5%)
- No. 30 in distance to go on third down (7.8 yards)
The teams are most often not similar in the two rankings. Some teams (most) don’t prioritize skipping third downs. So they might not have a high rate of first downers winning a first down.
However, what these teams tend to prioritize is setting up manageable, third-party situations. Let’s look at some examples:
The Dolphins and Bengals offenses are elite and prioritize getting around third down. They rank in the top 4 in percentage of first downs that win a first down (both by 30% or more).
But as a result, they often find themselves over longer distances to go third. Because when a pass isn’t completed past the sticks on second down, it settles into third and long.
So while both place in the top 4 in bypassing third downs, both place in the bottom 4 in average distance to move up to third.
Craig Carton says Mac Jones became a point guard after last week’s loss to the Bills.
On the other hand, teams like the Colts and Chargers care very little about bypassing third downs. It looks like they are prioritizing getting their offense into manageable third-down situations.
The Colts rank No. 1 in distance to make third down (just 5.8 yards) but rank No. 30 in first down percentage to earn a first down (20.3%). The Chargers are similar, ranking No. 4 and No. 24 respectively.
It’s a sub-optimal strategy, but it’s their strategy nonetheless. If they don’t skip third downs, at least they make them manageable.
The Patriots, however, seem rudderless and without offensive direction.
They’re terrible at getting around third downs (ranked #29) and equally terrible at setting up for manageable third down situations (ranked #30).
There are only two teams in the NFL that rank in the bottom 10 in both metrics in the second half of the season: the Patriots and the team they face Monday night, the Cardinals.
But the Cardinals rank at least better in both (#25 and #27 respectively). The Patriots are the only team to rank in the bottom 5 in both metrics, and they actually rank in the bottom 4 in both.
New England needs to have a better approach to early downs.
Use them to bypass the down third (ideally) or use them to set up a manageable down third. You cannot place in the bottom 4 in both.
Arizona is a perfect defense to play the Patriots against.
On first downs, the Cardinals allow 29% of plays to result in a first down and thus bypass the third down. This ranks 31st in the NFL. And the second half of the season, it didn’t improve at all (29%, n°29).
On third down, the Cardinals defense allowed an average yardage of 6.5 yards (#26) and in the second half of the season it got even worse, ranking #29 (6). ,1 yards to go).
The Patriots have just faced the Bills, Vikings, Jets and Colts defenses. Over the season, using the same metrics we discussed, these defenses rank:
Rate of first downs to convert a first down: #17, #29, #3 and #12 respectively
Distance to be covered for the third attempts: n° 1, n° 19, n° 12 and n° 24 respectively
Now facing a Cardinals defense that ranks in the bottom 4 in the second half of the season, the Patriots absolutely need to take advantage of their first downs and look to get around third down more frequently, if possible. And if that doesn’t work, set up manageable third tries.
But if the Patriots do neither, as they failed to do the entire second half of the season, they could fall below .500 Monday night.
Jalen hurts Dominated on the first episodes
We expected the Eagles forward organization to throw the ball last weekend against the Titans pass funnel defense, which is great against the run but terrible against the pass, and they did. ‘did.
The Eagles were the NFL’s No. 1 most assist-rich offense in first-half first downs (77% assists). And in the first downs of the first three quarters, despite a strong rise, the Eagles remained at 77% success.
On these passes, Jalen Hurts ranked:
- #1 in EPA/att (+0.56)
- No. 1 in success rate (65%)
- #4 in completion rate (79%)
- No. 5 in YPA (9.7)
Watch Colin finally say he’s “all-in” on Jalen Hurts and the Eagles.
Hurts threw for 321 yards alone on first downs of the first three quarters. It was the No. 2 most for any QB in any game this season (Joe Burrow vs. Falcons in Week 7).
Only eight QBs have posted a game with more than 245 passing yards on first downs in the first three quarters of the game.
Jalen Hurts is the only QB to have done it more than once – and he’s done it three times this year.
crows Lack of offensive receiver talent and missing now lamar jackson
Over the past two weeks, aside from Mark Andrews, the Ravens’ top three receivers on the course were:
Robinson was kicked from the Raiders in August.
Jackson wasn’t even with a team in August. Or in May, June or July. His contract expired with the Raiders, he was not in camp with any team and was a free agent until the Ravens signed him in October.
Duvernay is in the third year of his rookie contract. Of the 93 receivers drafted in the first three rounds of the draft since 2000 for playing at least 30 games in their first two years, Duvernay ranks:
- No. 93 of 93 in yards per reception
- No. 85 of 93 in receiving yards
- No. 79 of 93 in receptions
Despite running the 37th most routes of those 93 receivers.
The main running back for the Ravens this year is the Kenyan Drake. Drake, like Robinson, was kicked from the Raiders in August.
This is the skill group that Lamar Jackson works with.
And the Ravens played the No. 8 toughest defense schedule in the NFL.
And yet, the Ravens’ offense ranks sixth in efficiency this season.
Despite playing with these receivers. Despite playing with these RBs. Despite reading this calendar.
Watch Nick Wright explain why Lamar Jackson’s injury is more devastating for the Ravens, not Lamar despite his ongoing contract issues.
That says a lot about Lamar Jackson.
The Ravens are currently 8-4 and the No. 3 seed in the AFC, no thanks to their excellent receivers and running backs.
Their defense is rated lower (#9) than their offense, and their defense has played an easier opposing offense schedule (#12) than the offense has faced.
Jackson injured his knee while picking up a sack on Sunday and will likely be out for several weeks with a PCL injury.
The Ravens can certainly say that their strategy in trying to build their 2022 roster was sound, as they sit in 3rd place in the conference.
But the lack of quality at the WR and RB positions made things extremely difficult for the offense and Jackson. And as a result, Jackson is nowhere near the record year he probably hoped to have entering his final season under contract with the Ravens.
The Ravens have an extremely poor record when Jackson has missed starts. Since becoming a starter, the Ravens are 2-5 in games without Jackson. It will be interesting to see how productive they can be in a big game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Top FOX Sports Stories:
Warren Sharp is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He is the founder of Sharp Football Analysis and has worked as a consultant for league franchises while previously contributing to ESPN and The Ringer, among other outlets. He studied engineering before using his keen sense of statistics to create predictive football models. You can follow Warren on Twitter at @SharpFootball.
Get more from the National Football League Follow your favorites for game insights, news and more