Gauging if Patriots defense is historic or opportunistic, what they do to rookie QBs

Travis Somers

We're only a quarter of the way through the 2019 campaign, but the outlook for the season is approaching dismal levels as the Washington Redskins fell to 0-4 with a 24-3 loss against the New York Giants. The Redskins did manage to intercept two passes from Daniel Jones, aiding them in holding the Giants' offense to 17 points. Unfortunately, Washington's offense couldn't overcome the deficit and tallied four turnovers of their own in the effort to do so. But the primary story line leaving this game will be the insertion of Dwayne Haskins in the second quarter.

Leading into last week's game, Gruden remained adamant that he would not be switching quarterbacks. Even when Case Keenum was in a walking boot and questionable, Gruden was unclear on which quarterback would start in Keenum's place if necessary. Despite all this, with the Redskins trailing the Giants 14-0 in the second quarter, Haskins made his first appearance. Gruden is likely coaching for his job at this point, and whether he likes it or not, his fate is certainly tied to the progression of Dwayne Haskins. In two weeks, Washington faces a Miami squad in the middle of the most extreme tank-job we've seen in the NFL. It's extraordinarily difficult to envision Gruden retaining his job should they lose that game. But for now, let's focus on Washington's next opponent: the New England Patriots.

Whereas Washington's hopes are all but dashed, the Patriots are soaring high. Despite a tumultuous offensive showing against the Buffalo Bills, New England sits at 4-0 and first-place in their division. Through the first four weeks, the Patriots defense has been exceptionally dominant.

patriots d
X-axis: Success Rate Allowed, Y-Axis: EPA per Play Allowed

This graph shows the performance of defenses through the first four weeks going back to 2009. The polarity of the axes is oriented such that up and right is a good defense, down and left is bad. As you can see, the Patriots are the best we've seen in the past decade. Granted, the case could (and should) be made that their quality of competition has been sub-par thus far. If we compare how an offense performed against the Patriots relative to their other three games, here's what we find:

Rplot
X-Axis: Opponent EPA per Play in Other Matchups, Y-Axis: EPA Allowed per Play to Opponents

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we see that New England's opponents have generated some of the worst offensive efficiency statistics in the past decade. Naturally, their defense has capitalized. It's not quite fair to take all credit away, as we are talking about the Patriots here. The opponents might have been weak, but the Patriots handled those opponents as a Super Bowl contender should. 

Jay Gruden has not yet confirmed who will be taking snaps this Sunday. Sooner or later, obviously, Haskins will have to take the plunge and experience the growing pains of starting in the NFL. But given the Patriots defensive dominance thus far, I can somewhat understand a hesitancy to throw the rookie to the wolves. Bill Belichick may be the closest living thing to a wizard, and the magic he wields is especially painful to rookie quarterbacks. 

EPA Allowed per Rookie Dropback (since 2009)
EPA Allowed per Dropback Overall (since 2009)

New England

-0.177

0.0296

Rest of League

-0.0501

0.0360

Generally speaking, most teams have an easier time against rookie quarterbacks. But Bill Belichick annihilates them. Should Haskins get the start, he'll be tasked with perhaps the toughest challenge a rookie (or veteran, for that matter) could face. Hopefully "F1" McLaurin will suit up, as the Redskins will need weapons no matter who is under center.

To close out, I pulled together a few "fun facts" for each team heading into Sunday's match-up. It's all thrown together in what I'll call "The Stat Sheet" because, truthfully, I couldn't think of a wittier name. These came together from a few data sources, so I've footnoted the source credit so you can explore these yourself should you wish. 

week 5 stat sheet image

Last week, I touched on the lack of pressure generated by the Washington defense. If getting to Daniel Jones was difficult, hitting Tom Brady will be all but impossible, as only two quarterbacks get rid of the football quicker. This short time-to-throw is inversely related to Gordon's average-depth-of-target, as we'd expect longer throws to take more time to develop. With Washington struggling to apply pressure overall, it wouldn't be surprising for Gordon to see some deeper targets this week. 

The Patriots are coming off a tough, divisional road game, so it's possible this could be a "let-down game." That said, even a mental or physical lapse on New England's part likely won't be enough to erase the coaching and talent disparity between the two teams. But a healthy McLaurin and progression from Haskins would be the ultimate victory for Washington this week. 

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