It’s time for a throwback Patriots game plan.
No ground and pound. Not necessarily under center. Even plays from the playbooks of Charlie Weis, Bill O’Brien or Josh McDaniels aren’t running tight.
Instead, focus on the middle of the field, and win games.
It’s where Tom Brady dominated for 20 years in New England, and the Pats should find a groove again Monday night against Chicago.
The Bears own one of the worst run defenses in the league, just like the Packers, Lions and Browns did against the Patriots the past few weeks. But that doesn’t guarantee Rhamondre Stevenson will run wild, considering the last time Cleveland held Stevenson to less than 80 yards. The Patriots need to run smart against Chicago, and hit them on the middle of the play action, which the coaches have added more of the past two weeks.
The Pats also have a matchup to exploit through Jacoby Meyers, who has consistently been their most open and productive wide receiver. Meyers owns the slot.
Here’s how the Patriots can win through it, the line of scrimmage and the regular on Monday Night Football:
1. Run left.
Through four weeks, the Patriots had to go play on the ground: a vulnerable running back in 6-foot-8, 380-pound Trent Brown.
The idea was simple.
Aligning one or two tight ends — and sometimes an extra offensive lineman — to the right side, forces the defense to shift and match strength with strength. Then, give the ball to Damien Harris or Stevenson on the left to bury behind Brown, who should dominate any 1-on-1 matchup. Against fewer defenders and with their biggest blocker in more space, this was often the Patriots’ advantage.
But even the Lions and Browns caught up with plenty of film study, holding the Patriots to one yard on those weak-side zone runs behind Brown. The Pats shouldn’t give up on the run, but rather find new ways to hammer the defense with their left tackle.
The yards are up for grabs against Chicago, which is allowing 5.4 yards per carry on the run left. No Bears defensive lineman is a match for Brown, and it will show if Stevenson and/or Harris are given enough carries.
2. Offensive rookie CB Kyler Gordon
The Bears’ slot defenders have allowed the second-most yards per attempt of any group in the NFL at 10.8. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a passer rating of 115.7 when targeting the slot. Therefore, feed the mayors.
In particular, feed Meyers against Kyler Gordon, a second-round rookie who is responsible for most of the damage that opponents are doing inside the slot. Meyers leads the Patriots in all major receiving categories, including targets (31), receptions (24) and receiving yards (321), despite missing a couple of games.
Meanwhile, Gordon has allowed an opposing passer rating of 126 this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Avoid strong outside cornerbacks in Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor and attack the rookie over the soft middle.
3. Go blank
It’s rare to see a Bears defense without teeth, but when opponents backpedaled, Chicago didn’t scare any of them.
The Bears have dropped a league-worst quarterback seven times around their 11 sacks, tied for fifth in the NFL. Only defensive end Robert Quinn drew additional attention in his first six games. Meanwhile, they refuse to increase their pressure by blitzing, calling for extra rushers on 13.9% of opponents’ dropbacks, the lowest rate in the league.
Given this reluctance to blitz, the Patriots’ passing game should revert to how it ran Weeks 1-3: using five-man protections. When McJones was on the field, the Pats called for five-man protections on more than 80 percent of his dropbacks. The results were mixed, but considering Chicago doesn’t have a true 1-on-1 threat and won’t overwhelm them with numbers, that’s only because the Patriots fill the field with receivers.
Get in the gun, and get to work.