It’s important to exercise caution before making sweeping judgments based off a single play, series, game or even an entire preseason worth of action.
After all, the preseason is an opportunity for teams to sample various plays, formations, and player combinations so as to test what may be effective when the regular season rolls around. But that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t look closely at preseason action, and particular players, a play or series that could foreshadow struggles in the future.
On Friday night, the Patriots failed to execute on three consecutive short-yardage runs, which resulted in the team turning the ball over on downs on their own 41. (This sequence took place with about nine minutes to go in the second quarter).
The following is an overview of the three plays:
Scatback Danny Woodhead was called upon for a basic power play to the right side of the line, with backside guard Donald Thomas (who was pulling) leading the way. Woodhead was stopped short of the line of scrimmage after tight end Daniel Fells was unable to seal off and control his defender, defensive end Michael Bennett.
The Patriots turned to “22” personnel, with a pair of tight ends and two backs in the game. Fullback Eric Kettani and running back Stevan Ridley lined up in an I-formation, with Kettani receiving the carry on a dive play. The Patriots generated decent push up the middle, but tight end Aaron Hernandez, aligned on the left side of the formation, failed to build the wall in front of his defender, who crashed down and helped to wrap Kettani up.
The Patriots flipped from “22” personnel to “23” personnel, a set teams usually employ on short-yardage and goal-line situations. Aaron Hernandez was aligned off the line of scrimmage as the third tight end (sometimes called the “T” tight end), and motioned from right to left prior to the snap. Ridley and Kettani again lined up an in I-formation, but this time Ridley took the carry. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was unable to control his defender on the end of the line, who was one of the men in the pile to take down Ridley. The Patriots were unable to generate much of a push across the board, and it looked as though both Nate Solder and Dan Koppen tried to chip and then engage linebackers at the second level, but did so unsuccessfully.
The Patriots did not play with a true fullback in 2011, and it remains unclear if they will do so in 2012. Regardless of whether they do or not, short-yardage situations will remain an area of focus, as the team often turned to throwing the football in such a situation last season. Short-yardage situations help an offense establish grit and a hard-nosed mentality. On Friday night, the Patriots did failed to do so on three straight plays.
Again, this series is not indicative of how the Patriots will perform on short yardage during the regular season. Rather, it’s a small sample that they will likely use as a learning and coaching point as the season progresses.