Looking at the Patriots - 2020

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Bill Belichick praised his team’s veteran leaders after its season finale against the New York Jets on Sunday. Belichick went into great detail to point out what leadership means and how important it was for a season as difficult as the one that ended with a 28-14 victory over New England’s division rivals.

“I appreciate all the players and the way the team performed,” said Belichick before talking specifically about his team’s starting quarterback. “Cam [Newton]’s given us a lot of leadership [all year], certainly’s gave it to us today — first run, getting the ball into the end zone. That was just part of the leadership that he’s given us all year, especially with [David] Andrews out, being a little short-handed there offensively.”

It remains to be seen what the future holds for Newton given that he is scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency in March, but he did end his 2020 campaign in style. The first-year Patriot had one of his best performances of the season, and finished with three new franchise records along the way.

When asked about the team captain later on during his postgame media conference call on Sunday, however, Belichick pointed out that the team’s leadership extended beyond just one player — despite Newton playing the most prominent position on the field.

“I could probably say that about 20 players on this team,” he noted when asked about the positive example he might be setting for younger players. “Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Lawrence Guy, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, James White, Matt Slater. Those guys, some have been here for over a decade, and they approach every meeting, every installation and every walkthrough, like they’re rookies, like they’re undrafted rookie players.

“Attentive and trying to get it right, and if something happens then they ask a coach a question as if after 13 years or 10 years or however many years it’s been — five years, doesn’t matter — they have as much of a thirst to get those situations right so that they’ll be prepared, so that when they come up in the game they do the right thing as a rookie would, as a first-year player would, who doesn’t know.”

With the exception of Joe Thuney, who has been as reliable a player as any since joining the team in 2016, all of the players Belichick mentioned served as team captains for the Patriots this season. However, the team’s head coach noted that pointing at one player or group would not do the overall leadership on New England’s roster any justice.

“We have so many players on our team that approach the game that way. I couldn’t just single out one person,” Belichick said. “We have obviously our captains, but there’s a whole different group other than our captains that have the same work ethic, same day-to-day consistency to excel. And part of excelling is improving. They want to do everything right, they want to be physically prepared, mentally be prepared, study, work with their teammates, so that the communication is done properly and efficiently on the field if we have to make a change or an adjustment, all those things.

“Honestly, it’s an inspiration to all of us, coaches as well. Any player who hasn’t been around that, who hasn’t experienced that or doesn’t have that kind of work habits — urge to get it right, commitment to winning, and what you have to do to win in this league — they can all learn from that. We can all learn from that.”

After losing long-time veteran leaders like Tom Brady, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Duron Harmon, the Patriots fielded a comparatively inexperienced team in 2020. This, in turn, put more pressure on players such as the ones Belichick mentioned above to carry the club through a difficult season — one that featured a lot of disappointment, a Covid-19 outbreak, and a rookie class that had to enter the league without a regular offseason.

Despite all that, Belichick seemed impressed by the example the team’s leaders — captains or not — set throughout the year.

“That’s what real good professional NFL players do: they make that kind of commitment on a daily basis throughout the entire season,” he said. “They don’t take days off, they don’t miss opportunities to prepare and study, and be ready to step out on the field and do their very best. They don’t have those up-and-down-type of periods. Anybody that watches those players in their room or on their side of the ball, or just in general, those are great leadership examples.

“They don’t really have to say anything: leadership comes from doing your job and putting the team first when you do it. That’s what leadership’s really about. It’s not about always standing up and giving a team speech. Going in there and doing your job is leadership, and your commitment to doing it for the team is leadership. That’s how I measure it, and we have a lot of that. We have a lot of great leadership on this team.”

That foundation the Patriots built over the years will again be integral this year, and with the team heading into another offseason filled with plenty of uncertainty.

 

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From the Athletic
Even though many want to blame Cam and the offense for our bad season, it was the defense that caused us to have a 7-9 season.

A predictable narrative took hold as the defeats piled up for the 7-9 New England Patriots this season: The team simply wasn’t the same without quarterback Tom Brady. How could it be? The narrative was undeniably true in important ways. Passing frequency plummeted without Brady. Quarterback runs proliferated with Cam Newton in his place. An offense that already wasn’t pretty by New England standards in Brady’s final season with the team became downright ugly with almost zero panache in the passing game.

But in assessing raw output without regard for playing style, the Patriots got about as much production from their 2020 offense as they got from the 2019 version. While conventional stats can capture this decently — both offenses averaged about 1.9 points per drive, for example — the expected points added (EPA) metric is especially well suited for measuring total output regardless of form. By that measure, New England’s offense was among the five stablest offensive or defensive units in the league, year over year. The Patriots’ defense was actually the NFL unit whose production changed the most from 2019. No other offensive or defensive unit came close to changing as much. This aspect of New England’s decline from 12-4 to 7-9 was easy to overlook with so much focus naturally on Brady’s absence.

Below we run through the offensive and defensive units that experienced the largest EPA changes year over year. First, a big congratulations to the Washington Football Team, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. These were the only teams whose defenses experienced EPA improvements from 2019 as crowd noise became a non-factor for road offenses. The offensive scoring gap that had always separated home teams from road teams disappeared in 2020 as stadiums fell silent. That is why you’ll see defensive teams dominate the “largest declines” category, with offenses dominating the “largest gains” section.

Five Largest EPA Declines, 2019 to 2020

1Patriots Defense+220.6-73.0-293.6
2Vikings Defense+51.7-114.8-166.5
3Titans Defense+32.7-130.8-163.5
4Jets Defense+57.4-90.7-148.1
5Bills Defense+98.3-41.1-139.4

1. New England Patriots defense

The Patriots’ 2019 defense ranks No. 1 in EPA out of 670 defenses since 2000, ahead of the 2000 and 2003 Baltimore Ravens. There was nowhere to go but down from such heights, and that is exactly where New England headed defensively, helped along by multiple factors.

The 2019 Patriots faced the NFL’s easiest schedule of opposing quarterbacks. Their schedule appeared tougher heading into 2020 with games against Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. Derek Carr was playing well when the Patriots faced him. Josh Allen’s emergence as a high-producing quarterback within the AFC East contributed. Losing linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung to COVID-19 opt-outs hurt. New England allowed 22 touchdown passes this season after allowing only 13 the year before. The Patriots collected seven fewer interceptions and allowed an additional 1.5 yards per pass attempt.

The Patriots actually improved in offensive EPA from last season while their scoring average plummeted from 23.1 offensive points per game to 18.6. That would seem to be impossible on the surface, but the team’s unusually dominant defensive performance last season set up the offense in easier scoring situations. EPA measures production in relation to expectation. Teams taking over possession with shorter fields should score more. The 2019 Patriots did just that. The 2020 team collected 14 fewer turnovers than the 2019 version. Its average starting field position was worse by 4.2 yards per drive. The 2020 team’s average drives were longer by about one-half play and by 17 seconds on average. New England had 157 offensive possessions, down from 190 last season.

While the Patriots were unrivaled in the size of their defensive regression, defense took a huge hit in the NFL overall, partly because road teams did not have to contend with noisy stadiums. Teams over the previous five years (2015-2019) averaged two fewer offensive points per game on the road. That disadvantage disappeared in 2020 as home and road teams both averaged 23.76 offensive points per game. While the Patriots’ offensive production did not crater, New England still lost ground as offensive production surged overall. Throw in the NFL’s largest decline on defense and it’s easy to see how 12-4 one year became 7-9 in the next.
 

Inspector_50

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Situational football is where the Patriots declined the most. Those plays that win the game, the Pats were bad at.
Yeah this. That one play here and there that would put them over was gone. The real issue on defense was the rush defense, it just went to nothing. Pass defense was not bad. They still held opposing QB's to a low QB rating, but at some point they just could not stop teams from running. I am not surprised that defenses in the league all dropped and they say crowd noise played a part.
 

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Cam Newton talks about his time with the Pats and how difficult it was cramming 19 yrs of offensive evolution into a 2 month study course and then COVID drained him for weeks.

 

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It would be interesting why sCam had such terrible throws...is his arm really shot? Was he dealing with a bad injury? I really thought at first (Seattle game) that he would be a decent sign. But, after he had his Wuhan Wiggle thing...it kinda went to hell in a hand basket. He did have a good game here and there vs Bolts and Ravens...or, didn't suck (that might be more accurate).
 

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From the Athletic
Even though many want to blame Cam and the offense for our bad season, it was the defense that caused us to have a 7-9 season.

A predictable narrative took hold as the defeats piled up for the 7-9 New England Patriots this season: The team simply wasn’t the same without quarterback Tom Brady. How could it be? The narrative was undeniably true in important ways. Passing frequency plummeted without Brady. Quarterback runs proliferated with Cam Newton in his place. An offense that already wasn’t pretty by New England standards in Brady’s final season with the team became downright ugly with almost zero panache in the passing game.

But in assessing raw output without regard for playing style, the Patriots got about as much production from their 2020 offense as they got from the 2019 version. While conventional stats can capture this decently — both offenses averaged about 1.9 points per drive, for example — the expected points added (EPA) metric is especially well suited for measuring total output regardless of form. By that measure, New England’s offense was among the five stablest offensive or defensive units in the league, year over year. The Patriots’ defense was actually the NFL unit whose production changed the most from 2019. No other offensive or defensive unit came close to changing as much. This aspect of New England’s decline from 12-4 to 7-9 was easy to overlook with so much focus naturally on Brady’s absence.

Below we run through the offensive and defensive units that experienced the largest EPA changes year over year. First, a big congratulations to the Washington Football Team, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. These were the only teams whose defenses experienced EPA improvements from 2019 as crowd noise became a non-factor for road offenses. The offensive scoring gap that had always separated home teams from road teams disappeared in 2020 as stadiums fell silent. That is why you’ll see defensive teams dominate the “largest declines” category, with offenses dominating the “largest gains” section.

Five Largest EPA Declines, 2019 to 2020

1Patriots Defense+220.6-73.0-293.6
2Vikings Defense+51.7-114.8-166.5
3Titans Defense+32.7-130.8-163.5
4Jets Defense+57.4-90.7-148.1
5Bills Defense+98.3-41.1-139.4

1. New England Patriots defense

The Patriots’ 2019 defense ranks No. 1 in EPA out of 670 defenses since 2000, ahead of the 2000 and 2003 Baltimore Ravens. There was nowhere to go but down from such heights, and that is exactly where New England headed defensively, helped along by multiple factors.

The 2019 Patriots faced the NFL’s easiest schedule of opposing quarterbacks. Their schedule appeared tougher heading into 2020 with games against Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. Derek Carr was playing well when the Patriots faced him. Josh Allen’s emergence as a high-producing quarterback within the AFC East contributed. Losing linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung to COVID-19 opt-outs hurt. New England allowed 22 touchdown passes this season after allowing only 13 the year before. The Patriots collected seven fewer interceptions and allowed an additional 1.5 yards per pass attempt.

The Patriots actually improved in offensive EPA from last season while their scoring average plummeted from 23.1 offensive points per game to 18.6. That would seem to be impossible on the surface, but the team’s unusually dominant defensive performance last season set up the offense in easier scoring situations. EPA measures production in relation to expectation. Teams taking over possession with shorter fields should score more. The 2019 Patriots did just that. The 2020 team collected 14 fewer turnovers than the 2019 version. Its average starting field position was worse by 4.2 yards per drive. The 2020 team’s average drives were longer by about one-half play and by 17 seconds on average. New England had 157 offensive possessions, down from 190 last season.

While the Patriots were unrivaled in the size of their defensive regression, defense took a huge hit in the NFL overall, partly because road teams did not have to contend with noisy stadiums. Teams over the previous five years (2015-2019) averaged two fewer offensive points per game on the road. That disadvantage disappeared in 2020 as home and road teams both averaged 23.76 offensive points per game. While the Patriots’ offensive production did not crater, New England still lost ground as offensive production surged overall. Throw in the NFL’s largest decline on defense and it’s easy to see how 12-4 one year became 7-9 in the next.

Thanks for sharing. That was quite interesting.

Among the many excellent points raised, it reminded us just how bad our offense was in 2019 when they were continually handed a short field by that outstanding D, so it shouldn't have
been a huge surprise that we struggled minus Brady and the other unique challenges 2020 presented to a team trying to transition. Even more interesting was that, statistically, the offense
improved in certain statistical categories.
 

chevss454

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Perspective.
There's so much to learn from this 2020 injury chart.

-For example, no team had more player games lost than the Patriots during the 2020 season and it wasn't even close.
-Who knew SF had so many player games lost? Of course, JimmyG contributed his share.
-How the hell did Atlanta and Pittsburgh do so poorly last year with the fewest days lost? Glad I'm not a fan of those 2 teams; tough times ahead as their luck with injuries regresses to the norm. Over time, team injuries tend to level out.
-And Miami! This gives us a little better understanding of why the Dolphins surged in the 2nd half last year - the Titans, Rams & to some extent, the Ravens, too.
-The Browns did well despite their injuries; good times should be ahead for them.
-A little luck along the way is always helpful to get to the SB; TB and KC were both beneficiaries of good luck with relatively low injuries.

Eu8fXWXXYAMXfb3
 

Inspector_50

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Perspective.
There's so much to learn from this 2020 injury chart.

-For example, no team had more player games lost than the Patriots during the 2020 season and it wasn't even close.
-Who knew SF had so many player games lost? Of course, JimmyG contributed his share.
-How the hell did Atlanta and Pittsburgh do so poorly last year with the fewest days lost? Glad I'm not a fan of those 2 teams; tough times ahead as their luck with injuries regresses to the norm. Over time, team injuries tend to level out.
-And Miami! This gives us a little better understanding of why the Dolphins surged in the 2nd half last year - the Titans, Rams & to some extent, the Ravens, too.
-The Browns did well despite their injuries; good times should be ahead for them.
-A little luck along the way is always helpful to get to the SB; TB and KC were both beneficiaries of good luck with relatively low injuries.

Eu8fXWXXYAMXfb3
Yeah it was felt for sure. I would like to see a list of the quality of the players lost as well, like how many starters, etc.
 
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