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Matt Patricia: The king of halftime adjustments?

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Is Matt Patricia really good at adjusting during halftime or is that a myth.

AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After the PatriotsAFC Championship win over the Jaguars, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was lauded for his ability to adjust in-game and help shut down Jacksonville’s offense in the second half. After allowing 14 points and 196 yards on 31 plays (6.3 yards per play) in the first half, Patricia’s defense ceded just 6 points and 165 yards on 40 plays (4.1 yards per play) in the final two quarters.

This was the second straight week the Patriots defense seemed to settle in and adjust on the fly. The Tennessee Titans jumped out to an early 7-0 lead thanks to an impressive 95-yard drive. However, Patricia and company shut down the Titans for the rest of the game, allowing their next point with just 1:55 left in the game.

So is this something Matt Patricia’s defense is actually known for, or is this something we only noticed because we just started to pay attention to Patricia three weeks ago?

Let’s dig into the data and find out.

Pro Football Reference is nice enough to have defensive splits for first and second half performances for an entire season, making this data dive extremely simple. Here’s how the Patriots’ defense has performed in each half of every season since Patricia became the defensive coordinator in 2012.

2012 Patriots defense

First half: 6.8 yards per play, 4.0 YPC, 64.4% comp., 7.1 Y/A, 86.2 passer rating
Second half: 8.0 yards per play, 3.9 YPC, 59.9% comp., 7.7 Y/A, 83.9 passer rating

2013 Patriots defense

First half: 6.3 yards per play, 4.1 YPC, 59.1% comp., 6.4 Y/A, 81.0 passer rating
Second half: 7.6 yards per play, 4.9 YPC, 55.6% comp., 6.6 Y/A, 76.0 passer rating

2014 Patriots defense

First half: 7.0 yards per play, 4.2 YPC, 62.1% comp., 7.2 Y/A, 86.0 passer rating
Second half: 6.8 yards per play, 3.7 YPC, 57.2% comp., 6.4 Y/A, 79.3 passer rating

2015 Patriots defense

First half: 5.9 yards per play, 3.9 YPC, 61.0% comp, 5.8 Y/A, 78.8 passer rating
Second half: 7.3 yards per play, 3.8 YPC, 59.9% comp., 6.9 Y/A, 87.4 passer rating

2016 Patriots defense

First half: 6.6 yards per play, 3.8 YPC, 62.5% comp., 6.6 Y/A, 78.8 passer rating
Second half: 6.8 yards per play, 3.9 YPC, 61.3% comp., 6.2 Y/A, 86.4 passer rating

2017 Patriots defense

First half: 7.2 yards per play, 4.5 YPC, 65.1% comp., 7.3 Y/A, 91.4 passer rating
Second half: 7.4 yards per play, 5.0 YPC, 59.8% comp., 6.4 Y/A, 84.1 passer rating

There’s a lot to parse through here, but it’s hard to find any meaningful trends among this data. In five of six years, the Patriots actually allowed more yards per play in the second half than in the first half. Conversely, in four of six seasons, they’ve allowed a significantly lower passer rating in the second half than in the first half. Strangely, in every single season the opposing quarterback has completed a lower percentage of passes in the final two quarters.

Here’s what I take from that date: Nothing. There are no significant trends. There isn’t any clear statistical improvement after halftime in Patricia’s six-year career as defensive coordinator.

But I left out one stat, and some would say it’s the stat that matters the most: points allowed. At the end of the day, most games come down to whether you’re allowing touchdowns or field goals. So let’s compare the scoring numbers between the first and second halves of every Matt Patricia season.

2012 Patriots defense

First half: 9.3 points allowed per half
Second half: 12.2 points allowed per half

2013 Patriots defense

First half: 9.4 points allowed per half
Second half: 11.9 points allowed per half

2014 Patriots defense

First half: 10.9 points allowed per half
Second half: 8.8 points allowed per half

2015 Patriots defense

First half: 8.3 points allowed per half
Second half: 10.9 points allowed per half

2016 Patriots defense

First half: 8.0 points allowed per half
Second half: 8.4 points allowed per half

2017 Patriots defense

First half: 10 points allowed per half
Second half: 8.3 points allowed per half

So the Patriots have actually allowed more points after halftime in four of Patricia’s six seasons. So the adjustment narrative must be a myth, right? Well, no so fast there, my friend.

There’s a bit of a flaw in this data. As we all know, the Patriots have an affinity for blowing out their opponents. They’ve finished in the top 2 in point differential in all but one season under Matt Patricia (2013 they were sixth). That means that in a lot of these games, they were blowing out their opponent. And what happens when you’re blowing out an opponent? You go into prevent defense and allow some meaningless scores at the end of games.

So let’s look at some of the more competitive games in Patricia’s career. What’s more competitive than playoff football, right? Here’s the average split for Patricia in all 14 playoffs games.

First half: 12.4 points per half
Second half: 9.1 points per half

That’s a pretty significant difference in scoring defense, albeit a significantly small sample size. So let’s crown Matt Patricia the King of Adjustments after all!

Well... let’s hold off on that for a minute. You may feel like that’s cherry picking a bit—especially since we’re only pulling from 14 games in Patricia’s 110 games as defensive coordinator. So let’s throw all one-score games into the mix and see what happens. The Patriots have played in exactly 50 one-score games since 2012 (including playoffs). Here’s the split in halves.

First half: 12.0 points per half
Second half: 11.5 points per half

There is a small difference here, suggesting a very tiny bit of adjustment, but it’s essentially negligible.

So what’s the overall take here? Well, the data suggests that there isn’t much of a difference overall in how the Patriots play in the first and second half. 2017 appears to be an outlier in Patricia’s career, which you could take one of two ways. Either he’s learned to master halftime gameplanning in his sixth year as defensive coordinator, or it’s just a statistical anomaly.

I tend to think it’s a bit of an overblown narrative thanks to the recency effect. We’ve just witnessed the Patriots mount two impressive comebacks thanks to a strong second half defensive effort. That may be the tale of the past two weeks, but it hasn’t been a trend for New England over Patricia’s career.