The Patriots’ QB dilemma; Mahomes surging on third down: NFL Week 7 analysis

By Warren Sharp
FOX Sports NFL Writer

Bengals offense gets back on track with practice tweaks

Over the past three weeks, the Bengals offense has had to face the defenses of the Ravens, Saints and Falcons. All three of these units rank below average in the NFL, but only the Falcons’ defense is truly terrible.

Playing bad defenses helps. But adjusting the coaching can help even more.

In Weeks 1-4, the Bengals ranked 32nd in EPA/game play in First Downs. The last 3 weeks? No. 1

A change from -0.17 EPA/game to +0.20. They also went from the third worst rate of first downs converted to first downs (20.3%) to third best (32.2%).

The coaching adjustment that helped a ton?

A massive shift to using more 11 personnel and more shotguns. Sharp Football Analysis’ Dan Pizzuta first noticed it ahead of last week’s game.

Look at the massive change over the past three weeks:

  • 11 staff, weeks 1-4: 79%
  • 11 staff, weeks 5+: 98%
  • Shotgun, weeks 1-4: 66%
  • Shotgun, weeks 5+: 88%

As a result of more 11s and more shotguns, the Bengals saw far fewer box defenders:

  • 7+ box defenders, weeks 1-4: 47%
  • 7+ box defenders, weeks 5+: 29%

Another workout improvement?

A much lower run rate on the first try, from 55% in the first four weeks to 34% in the last three weeks. Basically, we’re talking 20% ​​more manpower, 20% more shotgun, 20% less games on the first try.

And when they ran the ball on first down, there were more than 7 box defenders on 31% of their runs in the last three weeks compared to 63% in their first 4 games.

The Bengals were always better on first down when passing the ball, but at least their first downs aren’t crippling:

  • 1D EPA/rush, weeks 1-4: -0.26 (2.8 YPC)
  • 1D EPA/rush, weeks 5+: +0.01 (4.4 YPC)

Assault of the Giants

Despite a depleted wide receiver corps, the Giants turned the corner offensively last week because they chose to become more aggressive in the air.

Take a look at their success rate and YPA on the first downs of the first half:

  • Weeks 1-6: 56% Success and 6.3 YPA
  • Week 7: 64% success and 8.1 YPA

Nearly 10% more passes put Daniel Jones in a position to lead forward rather than trying to recover from behind.

At the start of the first quarter, the Giants had 12 plays on offense. They passed the ball at an 83% rate. It was the highest No. 1 in the NFL.

The previous three games?

  • Week 4: 36% success
  • Week 5: 50% subscription
  • Week 6: 60% success

They jumped to 83% completion, by far their highest in any game this season.

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That aggression put them at halftime for only the second game of the entire season (the only other game being a home game against the Bears in Week 4). Unfortunately, disaster struck for the Giants as they lost two starting offensive linemen and their starting tight end to injury during the game.

As they usually do, they gutted the win on the stretch. But it was by far their best performance of the season to start a game.

It remains to be seen who they will have healthy for their game against the Seahawks next week. But either way, the Giants will have a bye in Week 9 and enter the second half of the season with, at a minimum, 6 wins.

The opposing QBs the Giants will face to close out the season?

For seven weeks, the 2022 Giants have been neglected at kickoff in five games this year. They are a perfect 5-0 SU in those games.

It’s the first time since at least 1978 that a team has won every game by becoming an underdog in at least five games. It may be the first time this has happened in NFL history, but weekly lines from Vegas before 1978 are hard to come by.

Defenses play more man against Mahomes – it helps on first downs, but it cuts them out on third down

Without Tyreek Hill, defenses have started to change their approach against the Chiefs this year. Look at their man’s coverage rate on the first downs of the season:

Defenses playing man on first downs:

  • 2022: 29%
  • 2021: 21%
  • 2020: 27%

This didn’t necessarily result in massively worse performance, except for a slight drop in Patrick Mahomes’ YPA. But efficiency-wise (EPA and hit rate), Mahomes is doing pretty similar to men’s coverage in 2022 as he did last year with Hill.

Mahomes on coverage of the first downs against the man:

  • 2022: +0.11 EPA/att, 46% pass, 5.2 YPA (6.8 air yds/att)
  • 2021: +0.02 EPA/att, 47% pass, 6.3 YPA (6.8 air yds/att)
  • 2020: +0.19 EPA/att, 49% pass, 7.5 YPA (8.8 air yds/att)

However, Mahomes is much better against the zone on early downs this year than he is against the man, averaging more EPA, hits and YPA in 2022 than in previous years.

Mahomes on early downs against the zone:

  • 2022: +0.24 EPA/att, 53% pass, 8.8 YPA (6.7 air yds/att)
  • 2021: +0.18 EPA/att, 52% pass, 7.6 YPA (7.0 air yds/att)
  • 2020: +0.19 EPA/att, 53% pass, 8.2 YPA (7.6 air yds/att)

As such, defenses are right to play more man coverage on early downs. Mahomes vs zone on early downs from a YPA and EPA/att is better in 2022 than the previous two years.

However, third downs are a different story. The defenses are playing more men on third down, naturally, but they’re playing 10% more men this year than they were last:

Defenses playing man on 3rd down against Mahomes:

  • 2022: 52%
  • 2021: 42%
  • 2020: 49%

And look at the results. Mahomes on the cover of 3rd Trial Against The Man:

  • 2022: +1.00 EPA/att, 60% pass, 12.7 YPA (10.1 air yds/att)
  • 2021: +0.20 EPA/att, 49% pass, 9.6 YPA (10.5 air yds/att)
  • 2020: +0.28 EPA/att, 52% pass, 8.7 YPA (10.8 air yds/att)

Play area isn’t exactly an answer either. Mahomes on 3rd down against the zone:

  • 2022: +0.84 EPA/att, 57% pass, 13.6 YPA (8.3 air yds/att)
  • 2021: +0.28 EPA/att, 53% pass, 8.7 YPA (9.5 air yds/att)
  • 2020: +0.13 EPA/att, 48% pass, 9.5 YPA (11.0 air yds/att)

Mahomes is simply vastly superior on third downs in 2022, whether defenses are playing man or zone. He sees a lot more men than in 2021 (10% more) and absolutely destroys him in 2022. He holds the ball longer on these plays (46% of his attempts are after more than 3 seconds compared to 31% in 2021) and this invites a little more pressure (pressure rate of 54.1% in 2022 against 53.7% in 2021).

What were the patriots thinking

Far be it from me to surpass the genius Bill Belichick. But I left Monday night’s game scratching my head over his QB decisions.

You are a home favorite with 9 points against the Chicago Bears. When playing an underdog in this situation, especially one that is so heavily run-based, getting an early lead is key to forcing the game to be one-dimensional for the Bears.

The Patriots didn’t do that.

Instead, they always planned to use a quarterback squad. Worse still, they started the player who was still suffering from an ankle injury which had caused him to miss several games.

And this player, Mac Jones, hadn’t started a game for weeks. The chances of him starting this game quickly and accurately were very low.

Look what happened to Dak Prescott the night before. After long injury layoffs, quarterbacks rarely start humming out of doors immediately. The Cowboys trailed the Lions at halftime before retiring late Sunday.

But it was worse than just making a mistake in how you bring a veteran QB back from injury. He was a young QB that you used a high draft pick on.

If he’s not 100%, why are you throwing him, especially since his replacement has won you two games in a row? If he’s not 100%, why is it leaked to the media before kick-off that he may not play the full game? It makes no sense to take the approach the Patriots took last night.

Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems the ideal approach would have been:

1. if our QB #1 is not healthy, he does not play

That, or…

1a. He could be our backup QB if we start our backup (Bailey Zappe) and he struggles or gets injured

Maybe Jones could have played if needed, but the Patriots would have instead avoided playing him the whole game if possible.

In that case, start the Zappe 2-0, and if he’s struggling, bring in Jones.

But starting Jones, seeing him lead the team to back-to-back punts, a natural wait for a QB after injury and not playing for several weeks, hearing the home crowd boo him and chant for his backup, then fire him when he throwing an interception was gross mismanagement.

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.

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