One way the Patriots found success against the Titans on Saturday night was by speeding things up on offense, tiring out a defense that doesn’t substitute much and that matched up poorly against tight ends and pass-catching running backs, two of the Patriots’ strengths.
Going no-huddle in spots, such as the drive that led to James White’s second touchdown in the second quarter, New England ran 80 plays to Tennessee’s 61 and had the Titans looking visibly gassed during the Patriots’ 35-14 rout in the divisional-round game.
On his regular day-after-game conference call, Bill Belichick was asked if he or offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels communicates with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia before deciding to go no-huddle. Upping the tempo can help an offense get in rhythm, but it can also put a defense back on the field sooner.
“Those are definitely considerations, but that being said, the reason why we put the offense on the field is to move the ball and score points,” Belichick said. “If we wanted to punt it then we’d send the punt team out there.”
The Patriots did a great job against the Titans’ run game, holding Derrick Henry to just 28 yards on 12 carries, but tackling a 247-pound runner over and over gets tiring no matter how effectively a team is doing it. Add in Marcus Mariota’s athleticism, and there was reason enough for the Patriots to be worried about keeping the defense fresh.
Belichick said that wasn’t the thought process, though, and that it only would be in a few special cases.
“We’re trying to move the ball and score points and defensively the reason we put the defense out there is to stop the offense from moving the ball and get the ball back for our offense,” Belichick said. “That’s really the job that those units have to do. Our offense can’t play defense and our defense can’t play offense. They have to go out there and do their job and the best thing for them to do is to do a good job at their job. I don’t think anybody would object to our offense going out and scoring a 70-yard touchdown in 10 seconds and giving the ball back to the other team. That’s what they’re supposed to do.”
Belichick said that “there is an element of game management” that comes up occasionally and would lead the coaching staff to consider how something like tempo on offense would impact the defense, or vice versa. He estimated that happens around 10 percent of the time.
“The other 90 percent of the time the offense is trying to move the ball and score points and the defense is trying to get the ball back to the offense.’’
The We-Work-On-That-In-Practice file has a new addition.
One key play in the Patriots’ win over the Titans came in the second quarter, when New England went from punting to a fresh set of downs because of a neutral zone infraction by Titans safety Brynden Trawick.
Initially, the penalty had been called as a false start on the Patriots’ Geneo Grissom, who was in at guard on the punt-protection team.
As referee Ron Torbert explained after the game, the umpire who initially threw the flag hadn’t seen Trawick move, just Grissom. When the officiating crew got together, the line judge said he’d seen Trawick move, prompting Grissom to jump.
“The line judge saw a defensive lineman jump into the neutral zone, did not see the guard across from him move,” Torbert said via a pool reporter. “The umpire saw the guard move and threw his flag for a false start, which is what we initially announced. When we got together and discussed it and pieced together that the defensive lineman across from the guard jumped in the neutral zone and caused the false start, that’s when we changed the ruling from a false start to a neutral-zone infraction.”
Belichick said Sunday that he wasn’t surprised the ruling was changed and that, ultimately, he thinks it was the correct call.
“I thought that Trawick entered the neutral zone and Geneo reacted to him,” Belichick said. “We practice that play every week and if it’s that kind of situation — fourth and less than 5 — and the player enters the neutral zone then we want to react to it and force the penalty and not allow them to get back and reset and not have the opportunity for it.
“I thought it was a heads-up play by Geneo to react to that. That’s what he’s supposed to do and that’s what he did. I thought we did the right thing. He definitely entered the neutral zone. I mean, at least what I saw. I thought Trawick was in the neutral zone, so assuming that we agree on that, if he did that then the player on the offensive side of the ball — if he reacts to that then the penalty is on the defense.”
Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former vice president of officiating, said on Twitter Sunday that he wasn’t impressed by the officials’ process.
“The false start at 6:25 [in] the second was not well handled but the flag did not come 12 seconds after the movement. The mistake was that the umpire called it from deep in the backfield and the announcement was made before checking with the line of scrimmage officials . . . Nothing was called on the center. It was the left guard. The line of scrimmage officials overruled the umpire because they felt the defender moved into the neutral zone before the LG moved. It is very close. I would rather [have] seen it be a false start because it was that close,” Pereira tweeted.