When talking about the offensive scheme and coordinators of the Patriots defense, you have to begin by talking about Bill Belichick. The offense is lead by coordinator Josh McDaniels but Belichick gets just as much credit for using his offense to find mismatches versus any opposing defense. New England’s offense utilizes a versatile number of players to keep their offense unpredictable and this year is no different.
McDaniels returned to the Patriots for his second stint as offensive coordinator in 2012. He was the head coach of the Denver Broncos for the 2009-10 seasons before becoming the Rams offensive coordinator in 2011. From 2001-2008 he was held the titles of defensive assistant, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. McDaniels spent one season as a graduate assistant at Michigan State. He played quarterback at John Carroll University from 1995-98.
The Patriots are No. 1 in total offense and passing offense. The offensive line doesn’t receive a lot of recognition but the Patriots quietly have a strong group. Football Outsiders has them as the No. 2 ranked run blocking unit based on adjusted line yards. They’re only 16th in rushing yards but that is not because of the offensive line. Still, the Patriots and McDaniels are experts at exploiting mismatches. Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time due to his poise in the clutch and pocket. They can get the ball out fast and allow their skilled players to make plays in the open field. New England has four receivers with at least 374 yards receiving and two rushers with over 300 yards gained on the ground. That means Oakland can expect a balanced attack that utilizes a versatile set of personnel. Expect New England to utilize RB James White as a pass catcher out of the backfield. The Pats utilize passing plays to RBs as ways to giving their RBs touches in space over traditional handoffs. They’re also Brady’s favorite safety blanket. White leads the team in receptions and the Raiders linebackers are inconsistent in coverage. TE Rob Gronkowski is one of the best players at his position ever and the Raiders are notoriously bad at covering the TE. Thus, the Patriots will use this to their advantage especially in the redzone. Martellus Bennett recently rejoined the team and he could see some targets versus the Raiders too. Speaking of mismatches in the middle of the field, the shift Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan (if he plays) are the agile receivers that Oakland can have trouble tackling. Brandin Cooks is the speedy receiver with the highest yards per reception on the Patriots. Last season, Cooks beat the Raiders for a huge gain when he was with the Saints. He can use the same speed against the bigger Raiders DBs who have been liabilities in coverage. They should push the ball up the field and take some deep shots since the Silver and Black have given up a ton of big plays in the passing game this year. New England is also plus six in turnover differential so don’t expect them to make a lot of mistakes.
The Patriots are far from the perfect unit. Despite their strong offensive line, they’re in the middle of the pack for the running game. They could also be without RB Mike Gillislee and OT Marcus Cannon which could take away some leverage of the running game. Gillislee is their best between the tackles runner and leads the team in rushing touchdowns. That may make New England lean heavier on the pass in goal line situations. Speaking of the pass, the Patriots are only 12th in pass protection and have allowed 12 sacks, per Football Outsiders. Without Cannon, Brady will be on an even shorter pass clock. Oakland must exploit this small weakness to pressure Brady into some mistakes. He’s only thrown two interceptions this year so it’s unlikely the first defense to not score an interception through nine games will convert an int on Brady. Thus, their best hope is to rattle Brady into becoming inaccurate. The Raiders defensive line will need to create pressure to keep the New England offense from exploiting the deficiencies in pass coverage. If Brady is given a ton of time in the pocket, it is only a matter of time until he, McDaniels and Belichick find a mismatch in the coverage. Oakland’s only hope is to make Brady uncomfortable. The Patriots have too many talented pass catchers across the board for the Raiders secondary to cover so they will need some help from their defensive line.