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A breakdown of how the Patriots’ offensive problems led to their playoff demise

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The Patriots were a mess on offense, and it was too much for them to overcome. Geoff Schwartz explains why there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Patriots QB Tom Brady sits on the ground as a teammate reaches down to help him up, superimposed on a gray, blue, and purple background with geometric shapes
Tom Brady and the Patriots lost in the Wild Card Round for the first time in a decade.

The wicked witch of the NFL is dead for the 2019 season! The New England Patriots, with their six Super Bowls and with the mystique of playoff games in Foxborough, were ousted in the postseason by the red-hot Tennessee Titans. Contrary to popular belief, the Titans won this game not because of their rushing attack, but because of the Patriots’ inability to function on offense.

The Patriots’ offensive problems weren’t just one person’s fault, but a collective failure of all the parts.

Without being too obvious, the goal of an offense is scoring points. To score points, an offense needs to be efficient. Efficiency is built through gameplanning, install of plays, coaching, practice, and technique. It’s also built with an understanding of your weaknesses.

Your quarterback can only do so much? You get him easy throws and take chances when provided. You have an offensive lineman or two who aren’t as good as the rest? Give them help. Have a couple of slow WRs? You find formations to get them into open spaces.

When you know what your weaknesses are, you can devise a gameplan to make it work.

For example, when I started my first game in 2009 with the Panthers, the team was worried about putting me into the lineup. They changed protections to help me at right tackle. I got a tight end more often, some running chips. We put in designed rollouts to limit my exposure to pass rushers. In the run game, we set up some double teams. The game went awesome. I played well and we beat a Vikings team that lost late in that year’s NFC Championship Game.

You should be able to hide one or two deficiencies, but what happens when you have multiple issues at once? Well, you’re the Patriots from this past weekend in the Wild Card Round.

Their offense is a perfect example of why an entire side of the ball, or a unit, can struggle: a different person will screw up each play. First, it’s the right guard. Next play, it’s the wide receiver. Then it’s the QB. Oops, now the running back.

When this happens, you can’t “hide” any member of the offense. The playcalling can be conservative because the playcaller doesn’t trust the operation to work, and therefore pulls it back.

As one could imagine, all of this would make a quarterback not play as well. And when that quarterback is 42 years old with some loss of arm strength, it would shake his confidence in the offense. This all showed in the final two months with Tom Brady. He was not confident in receivers outside of Julian Edelman. And while there were signs that Brady is getting old and his play is diminishing, for the most part, that wasn’t the case against the Titans. Other than a few throws, he was his usual pinpoint self.

With that being said, let’s break down the Patriots’ offensive performance from Saturday to show how and why an offense doesn’t work.

8 different times a Patriots player screwed up on offense

Here’s a look at the mistakes the offense made, and who was most at fault, against the Titans.

1. First quarter, 12:46, third-and-3: Right tackle Marcus Cannon

The Patriots marched all the way down the field on their first drive. It was third down and they were attempting a play-action pass here. Linebackers read the action of the OL through to the running back. If an offensive lineman doesn’t sell the run, the linebackers will immediately drop. In general, the Titans attempted all game to limit the Patriots’ ability to generate big plays off play-action pass. They stayed in a two-high safety look, and the safeties never stepped up on run action.

But this play is one where they didn’t need the safeties to move at all, just the one linebacker. Right tackle Marcus Cannon didn’t sell the run on this play. Maybe he thought a twist was coming, or the Titans were bringing pressure and that the linebacker was dropping so he wanted to scoop up the three-technique. Cannon is normally good at play-action sell, as we saw the rest of the game.

However, him not selling the run allowed the linebacker to attempt to hit Edelman and drop back into coverage to disrupt this throw.

Patriots RT Marcus Cannon sets up in pass protection on a play action fake and Titans LB Rashaan Evans drops back into coverage

Rashaan Evans might have been dropping anyway, but selling the run would’ve held him a count, just long enough to open a window. I think Brady thought he wouldn’t be there because this ball could have easily been intercepted.

A tiny technique error might have cost the Pats an early touchdown.

2. First quarter, 3:41, first-and-10: Left guard Joe Thuney and fullback Elandon Roberts

Here’s a toss play. It was set up well with the FB and OC having good pre-snap leverage. Left guard Joe Thuney missed on the linebacker, but Elandon Roberts, the backup fullback who’s actually a linebacker, took a poor angle on the play and whiffed on the LB (what do you expect from a LB playing FB?).

The right tackle knocked the DE so far back that even getting a decent block on that linebacker would have given the Patriots a giant gain.

3. Second quarter, 0:18, second-and-10: Wide receiver N’Keal Harry

The Patriots were trying to score points to end the first half, and they had the right playcall against this deep Cover 2 defense. N’Keal Harry didn’t appear to be running full speed and the connection, which can be made, was an incomplete pass.

4. Third quarter, 9:24, first-and-10: Wide receiver N’Keal Harry

Now we start getting into the meat of the issues. Look at this entire clusterf*** of a drive. Early in the third quarter, the Patriots were attempting to start the half hot. Brady threw a quick pass to Harry, who promptly dropped it.

Notice Brady’s body language afterward. Yikes.

5. Third quarter, 9:19, second-and-10: Quarterback Tom Brady

This was another hard play-action and Brady had two options. He opted for Edelman, as he normally does, but it’s a bad throw.

You could argue he should have targeting the deeper corner, but Edelman was open.

6. Third quarter, 9:14, third-and-10: Right guard Shaq Mason

Next play, it’s third-and-10. Brady had time to throw but couldn’t find anyone. He broke the pocket and started to move toward the line of scrimmage. As this was happening, right guard Shaq Mason tried to block the nearest defender. Mason lost track of the line of scrimmage and/or he believed Brady was running the ball.

Either way, their best pass play of the game — a 38-yard gain — was brought back by this illegal man downfield.

7. Fourth quarter, 12:58, third-and-3: Right tackle Marcus Cannon

The offensive line played an awesome game against the Titans. They protected Brady and ran the ball decently well. So of course when the Titans rushed three, Brady got crushed and he wasn’t able to hit the open WR for a big first down.

Now, to be fair, Brady drifted to his left when he could’ve stepped up in the pocket, but drifting doesn’t excuse the one poor block Cannon had in pass pro. It’s being a lineman.

8. Fourth quarter, 3:26, second-and-4: Wide receiver Julian Edelman

And now to top it off, the most trusted Patriot, Edelman, dropped a sure 10-yard catch that would have continued a drive. Most people believe, and so do I, that if Edelman catches this pass, the Patriots would have eventually scored to tie or win the game.

So in those plays, we have the left guard, fullback, right tackle, right guard, multiple wide receivers, and the quarterback all making costly mistakes. Now let’s get to the playcalling and general philosophy when you’re calling a game without trust in your offensive parts.

The playcalling wasn’t doing the Patriots any favors either

The Patriots were rolling early. They gained 21 yards and 29 yards on back-to-back plays on their first possession. They entered the part of the field, between the 25- and 40-yard line, where trick plays tend to happen. They attempted a flea flicker against the Titans’ defense and the one person who needed to be fooled, the backside corner, was not.

I don’t like the call because it had become predictable in this situation and because the offense had struggled to generate explosive plays this year.

In the second quarter, the Patriots had a third-and-1 ... and they called a fullback dive. I have no idea what they were thinking here. They were trying to get cute again is my guess, but it felt like Josh McDaniels was just trying to find some offense from wherever.

This last play is one that I think sums all the Patriots’ issues up best. For years, they’ve taken whatever the defense gave them, or put a defense in a tough spot because of their offensive scheme, design, and playcalling.

This year, the Patriots were like many teams that can’t create big plays: They tried to force the issue, which normally doesn’t work.

In the middle of the second quarter, the Patriots were in base personnel, with a fullback in the I formation. The Titans were in a two-high shell. When defenses are playing two-high with a fullback in the game, you should run the ball. There are not enough defenders in the box. The offense could run a weak ISO play, or a man scheme to the tight end. There are plenty of options.

Instead, the Patriots forced a play-action pass against a poor look to throw the ball.

In years past, this play could be killed in favor of a run against two-high safeties. Mature offenses, and ones in which the coach trusts the whole operation, would be set up in this manner. But here, it’s clear the Patriots didn’t trust the entire offense and tried to force things. And the Titans were prepared.

As you can see, the Patriots’ offense was a mess. They had different players screwing up on different plays, and they weren’t able to overcome the issues. Credit the Titans because the defense played well, but in the end, the dysfunction on offense was too much for the Pats to overcome. You just can’t gameplan for a different player making a mistake on each play.