Advanced stats: Patriots pass defense was phenomenal against Vikings

The New England Patriots played one of their most complete games of the season on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings to improve to 9-3 on the season. Let’s dig a little deeper and analyze some advanced statistics from the Patriots’ 24-10 victory.

Pass distribution


NFL Next Gen Stats

The Vikings have one of the NFL’s best wide receiver duos in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs — two legitimate big play threats down the field. However, the Patriots defense did a phenomenal job against the duo and was therefore able to limit Minnesota’s deep-field passing game by forcing 5 incomplete passes (one of which an interception by Duron Harmon) on 5 attempts. As a result of New England’s terrific coverage, quarterback Kirk Cousins had to focus on targeting the short areas.

Tom Brady had a similar approach: only 5 of his 32 pass attempts targeted areas further than 10 yards down the field. Despite Minnesota losing Trae Waynes early in the game and fielding Xavier Rhodes after he missed most practices leading into the contest, the Patriots felt not comfortable going deep on a regular basis — outstanding free safety Harrison Smith might be a reason for that. However unspectacular New England’s approach might have been, it worked very well to get the passing offense into a rhythm.

Rush direction


NFL Next Gen Stats

The Patriots had tremendous success running the football against the Vikings. Overall, the team gained 160 yards on 38 attempts with Sony Michel once again serving as the lead back. The first-round rookie gained most of his yardage running towards the left-side boundary which speaks for the success of tackle Trent Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski. However, the other areas of the offensive line also were able to generate rushing lanes for Michel.

The team’s two other running backs — Rex Burkhead and James White — saw relatively little action compared to Michel but still had some success on the ground. Overall, though, the two were a bit more inconsistent when it comes to gaining yardage as ball carriers.

Receiver separation


NFL Next Gen Stats

New England’s defensive backs played close coverage all day long as the graph above shows: only one of the team’s primary pass catchers — Aldrick Robison, who was mostly lined up opposite rookie defensive back J.C. Jackson — is the only player with more than three yards of separation when targeted. The rest of Minnesota’s talented receiving corps was covered tightly.

The Patriots’ pass catchers were at times wide open against the Vikings as Cordarrelle Patterson and Chris Hogan both had more than five yards of separation — and they and quarterback Tom Brady made it count: the duo combined for four receptions on four targets for 73 yards. New England’s starting options, meanwhile, were covered more closely as the chart above shows.

While Josh Gordon had considerable separation for a player of his talent — never more than on his 24-yard touchdown reception — both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman were covered tightly when targeted. Gronkowski was still able to catch three of the four passes thrown his way for a combined 26 yards. Edelman, however, came up with just three catches for 25 yards on eight targets.

Pass protection

Pass protection statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Joe Thuney 74 0.0 0 1
David Andrews 74 0.0 0 0
Shaq Mason 74 0.0 0 0
Marcus Cannon 74 0.0 0 1
Trent Brown 72 0.0 1 0
Rob Gronkowski 72 0.0 0 0
LaAdrian Waddle 8 0.0 0 0

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New England’s blockers had a very good day against a defense that averaged 3.3 sacks per game entering Sunday. With all but one starting lineman going wire-to-wire — left tackle Trent Brown had to leave the field at one point but returned shortly afterward — the unit was magnificent when it comes to slowing down a talented pass rush and generating space in the running game.

Pass rush/run defense

Pass rush/run defense statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Kyle Van Noy 61 0.0 1 2 0
Dont’a Hightower 54 0.0 1 1 0
Trey Flowers 48 1.0 2 1 0
Lawrence Guy 30 0.0 2 0 1
Elandon Roberts 28 0.0 1 0 0
Adrian Clayborn 23 0.0 0 3 0
John Simon 23 0.0 1 0 0
Adam Butler 14 1.0 0 0 0

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New England used creative pass rush packages to confuse not only quarterback Kirk Cousins but also an offensive line that has been inconsistent all year long. The plan worked very well as Minnesota struggled to get into any consistent rhythm while Cousins was pressured on multiple occasions. Once again, Trey Flowers had a huge game and impact — but he is not the only player to stand out.

Fellow defensive edge and pass rush specialist Adrian Clayborn also was productive. While he did not register a sack or quarterback hit, he led the team with three hurries. Even though they don’t pop up on the stat sheet like other statistics, hurries and the players producing them can have a profound impact on a passing offense’s play.

Pass rush separation


NFL Next Gen Stats

As the pass protection and pass rush numbers show, the Patriots were productive in both areas — and this graphic visualizes it even further: while the offensive line did a good job of keeping defenders away from Tom Brady, the defense came consistently close to Kirk Cousins. Clayborn again stands out as linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy also had a noticeable day playing downhill.

Pass coverage

Pass coverage statistics

Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakup
Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakup
Jason McCourty 61 6 4 19 1 0 110.4 0
Stephon Gilmore 61 5 4 25 0 0 87.5 0
Devin McCourty 61 4 3 10 0 0 77.1 0
Kyle Van Noy 61 2 2 4 0 0 79.2 0
Dont’a Hightower 59 2 1 -2 0 0 56.3 0
J.C. Jackson 54 9 5 31 0 0 62.7 1
Patrick Chung 52 3 3 57 0 0 118.8 0
Duron Harmon 33 2 0 0 0 1 0.0 0
Elandon Roberts 28 1 1 1 0 0 79.2 0
Obi Melifonwu 12 1 1 5 0 0 87.5 0
Jonathan Jones 2 1 0 0 0 1 0.0 0

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As noted above, New England’s secondary was outstanding when it comes to limiting deep-field play. The Patriots gave up only two passes of more than 20 yards all day and were generally stout against their respective assignments. Third cornerback J.C. Jackson in particular stands out: the undrafted rookie allowed 5 receptions on 9 targets but gave up a mere 31 yards in the process. All in all, the coverage players were very good against the Vikings when it comes to limiting yards after the catch.

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