Heading into Week 7, we questioned whether Tom Brady and the New England Patriots would survive Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears, how Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints would outwit the Baltimore Ravens’ elite blitz, and if Eli Manning and the New York Giants could take advantage of a battered Atlanta Falcons defense. Here’s a look at how these matchups played out.
Patriots’ offense vs. Bears’ defense
Our first matchup pitted New England’s offense against a Bears defense that had been fearsome in the early going. That was partly due to the success of recent acquisition Mack, who’s been harassing opposing passers off the edge.
But with Mack hobbled by an ankle injury, the Bears struggled to put consistent pressure on Tom Brady. The Patriots quarterback was sacked just once, and New England’s offensive line gave him plenty of time in the pocket to identify and exploit mismatches.
Here is just one example of the Patriots – here, new offensive tackle Trent Brown (No. 77) – getting the job done against Mack (No. 52) in the passing game:
Brown’s a behemoth, listed at 6-foot-8 and 380 pounds, but here he pairs some athleticism with his size, using a cut block to stop Mack’s path and protect Brady’s blind side.
With time to operate, Brady was able to scan for mismatches, which New England exploits in part by using its running backs as pass-catchers. James White was targeted 10 times Sunday and caught eight passes for 57 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His first scoring catch is a good example of how New England creates favorable matchups in the passing game. Here, the Patriots line up in a 2×2 formation for a third-and-goal play late in the first half with Brady in the shotgun and White (No. 28) standing to his right:
Both receivers on the outside run routes over the middle. White, however, is assigned an option route working against outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (No. 94). He can break either inside or outside. With those receivers coming over the middle, that frees up a lot of real estate to the outside – and that’s exactly where White takes his route:
The Patriots’ offense is predicated on identifying and capitalizing on opportunities like this. With time to throw, Brady will almost always take advantage of this kind of matchup – a quick running back working in space against a linebacker.
Saints’ offense vs. Ravens’ defense
The Saints struggled for most of this one, falling behind 17-7 at the start of the fourth quarter before rallying late for a 24-23 triumph. But, for the purposes of this matchup, these are the numbers that matter most: 11-of-17 for 114 yards and a touchdown. That’s how Saints quarterback Brees fared against Baltimore’s blitz, according to Next Gen Stats. The Ravens generated a mere three pressures on blitzes against Brees despite blitzing him on more than 50 percent of his throws.
While we highlighted Brees’ quick snap-to-throw time in our preview, Brees got it done differently Sunday: He used athleticism and play strength to extend plays, as you can see in real time on the last two plays of the third quarter.
On this third-and-8 play, the Ravens bring pressure with defensive back Tony Jefferson (No. 23), who gets a free shot at the quarterback. But Brees flushes out to the right and manages to stay upright – even with Jefferson wrapped around his legs – long enough to find Michael Thomas (No. 13), whose catch-and-run picks up a critical first down.
The Ravens brought pressure again on the very next play, blitzing linebacker Kenny Young (No. 40). This time Brees bailed the pocket to his left before finding Tre’Quan Smith (No. 10) along the left sideline for another big gain:
Brees’ play against the Ravens’ pressure package played a huge role in the Saints’ comeback on the road.
Giants’ offense vs. Falcons’ defense
This matchup focused on the Falcons’ defense facing a Giants offense that has plenty of weapons – and welcomed tight end Evan Engram back to the lineup in Atlanta – but has struggled to execute.
Those offensive woes continued Monday night.
Despite scoring two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game, the Giants couldn’t capitalize on earlier chances to cut into Atlanta’s lead. And When they decided to go for a two-point conversion when trailing 20-12, Manning’s pass for Odell Beckham Jr. was slightly off target and dropped. But the play that seems to encapsulate New York’s offensive woes on the night – and perhaps the season – was a failed fourth-and-goal play on the Giants’ first possession of the second half.
Trailing 10-3, the visitors had the ball at the Atlanta 1-yard line. The Giants went for the six points with Manning (No. 10) under center and a three-tight end package on the field. They put two of those tight ends on the right, with Beckham (No. 13) lined up on the wing:
This play is designed to feature Beckham. The Giants fake a running play with Saquon Barkley (No. 26) and Beckham fakes a block for a second before releasing to the flat. Manning is supposed to roll right and look for Beckham, followed by one of the trailing receivers if Beckham isn’t open:
Rather than throw to Beckham, however, Manning forced a pass to a covered Scott Simonson (No. 82):
From the other angle, you can see that Beckham had a step or two on defender Sharrod Neasman (No. 41), but Manning didn’t pull the trigger:
This created a great deal of consternation for head coach Pat Shurmur, who seemed to wonder aloud why Manning didn’t throw to OBJ.
While there was more football to be played, this failed fourth down told the story of the Giants’ night.
Mark Schofield writes NFL feature content for theScore. After nearly a decade of practicing law in the Washington, D.C., area, Mark changed careers and started writing about football. Drawing upon more than a decade of playing quarterback, including at the collegiate level, Mark focuses his work on quarterback evaluation and offensive scheme analysis. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two children. Find him on Twitter @MarkSchofield.