Many times, the film doesn’t match up with what seemed like a poor performance on the field.
Once you take emotion out of it and look at the entire game, things tend not to be as bad as they appeared.
For the Patriots defense, Sunday’s 37-31 victory over the Bills was not one of those games.
A review of the coaches’ film shows that the Patriots were every bit as bad as their performance seemed to indicate (481 yards and 35 first downs allowed).
The defense was, in a word, atrocious. It had to be among the worst performances by a Bill Belichick defense in his tenure with the Patriots.
In an effort to quantify how bad this was, we went through our data, which goes back to the start of the 2011 season in this regard.
What we do, in an effort to gain a rough idea of how a unit or player performs in a game, is use something along the lines of a plus/minus system. Positive plays, be they impact plays like sacks or hurries, or just successfully getting off a tough block to make a tackle, are tabulated. In the same way, players that don’t perform their perceived duty are tabulated in the negative column for a missed tackle, blown gap assignment, penalty, poor coverage, etc.
It’s far from a perfect system, but if every game is graded in the same manner, then over the course of a season a roughly accurate picture emerges.
Out of the Bills’ 81 offensive plays (including penalties), the Patriots had a positive performance on just 55.6 percent of the snaps. That’s their lowest dating back to the start of last season, edging out the loss to the Giants during the 2011 regular season (56.9 percent).
The previous worst performance this season was 64.9 percent in the loss at Baltimore. Every other game was at least 70 percent, and the seasonal average entering the Bills game was 73.9 percent. The high was 80.6 percent in the loss to the Cardinals.
What that points to is that Sunday’s performance was an aberration— that the Patriots are not nearly as bad as what they showed. That is not meant to excuse the performance. Far from it. The defense — the coaches and the players — should be embarrassed.
What you saw was a woefully unprepared team coming off a bye week against a divisional opponent. That is inexcusable.
Give a good portion of the blame to the players, who failed to perform the fundamental duties of the defense, things they had no problem doing before Sunday.
They were the ones who missed a season-high 15 tackles (on 10 plays), which gave the Bills another 70 yards of offense. They were the ones who at times totally disregarded their gap and edge responsibilities against the run, and in pass coverage were often more concerned with what was happening in the backfield instead of on the routes developing in the acreage behind them. They alone are responsible for the undisciplined penalties that gave the Bills free yardage and moved the chains.
But the coaches must also share in the blame. The coverage players looked lost trying to sort out some of the bunch concepts the Bills used through the air. The Bills did absolutely nothing new. The Patriots obviously weren’t drilled properly.
There was a plethora of communication mistakes that showed a lack of preparation. And the Patriots coaches apparently didn’t have much up their sleeve, either, because there were hardly any adjustments made. No extra pressures dialed up (five blitzes total, or 10.2 percent), and the same vanilla coverages (mostly Cover 3 with a safety and two cornerbacks playing over the top) for much of the game.
However, if recent history is any judge, there is reason to believe the Patriots will right the ship.
After bottoming out against the Giants last season, they tightened things up and put together three of their best defensive games of the season against the Jets (81.7 percent), Chiefs (88.2) and Eagles (80). And in the playoffs, the Patriots played their best defensive ball against the Broncos (87.1), Ravens (87.1), and Giants (83.8).
Yes, the Patriots were bad against the Bills. But that doesn’t mean that’s who they are.
On to the positional ratings against the Bills:
Quarterback (rating: 4 out of 5)
Probably the area in which Tom Brady stood out the most was dealing with the pressure, which accumulated in the second half (15 total pressures in 43 dropbacks). Outside of that, it was one of those games where the degree of difficulty was low against a porous defense. The Bills aren’t very exotic, so Brady easily picked out the weak points. Only error was the final incomplete pass to Danny Woodhead in the end zone. It was there, Brady just missed it. And Woodhead did not go out of bounds — Brandon Lloyd did — so the touchdown would have counted. Continued...