The Patriots will sit down this week and go over film the way they always do, looking for tendencies, looking for weaknesses, looking at anything that can become an advantage if exploited. It might be a coverage scheme in the secondary. It might be a blocking scheme on the offensive line. It might be a formation on special teams. The Patriots, as they do every week, will pore through the film in search of any scrap of useful information they can find.
Oh, and they'll be looking at their next opponent, too.
Apart from rest -- Gary Guyton and Wes Welker said they were headed back to Georgia and Oklahoma, respectively, after practice -- the bye week gives the Patriots a chance to do some self-scouting based on the first seven games of the season.
Every team looks for tendencies in its opponent, so the Patriots this week will take a look at their own tendencies. Plays are called based on countless factors -- down, distance, field position, side of the field, anticipated defensive alignment -- and it would be easy for a team to fall into patterns in certain situations. The Patriots might discover, for example, that they almost always run to the left when they're on the right hash mark in a short-yardage situation, and that's a tendency an opponent might pick up on.
"Every good team has tendencies," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "If you look out there and look at any team in football and basketball and hockey, there's certain things they do, and if they're a good team, they probably do them well. ... I don't think tendencies are necessarily a bad thing, but there's a point where you want to have balance and be able to do things to complement them."
The Patriots are getting a head start on Miami -- particularly the defense of the Dolphins' Wildcat package that has given them so much trouble. But the bye week gives the Patriots' coaching staff a couple of days to look at themselves as an opponent would, to try to figure out where they've become too predictable in the early going.
If the Dolphins -- or the Colts or Jets or Saints, for that matter -- expect a blitz on defensive third-and-longs or a draw out of the shotgun on offensive third-and-longs, it's going to be far easier for them to stop those plays.
"Defensively, is our tendency to blitz in a certain situation or play Cover 1 or Cover 5 or stunt in a certain situation?" Belichick said. "If we're seeing that, our opponents are seeing that. Again, it might be something that we say, 'OK, but that's where we want to be. We're OK with that.' There also might be a feeling that, 'This is getting a little too predictable.'"
That can be done both through statistical analysis and film analysis. It's impossible to take one without the other given the small sample size involved and the myriad factors that go into the success or failure of each play. The rout against Tennessee in the snow, for example, almost has to be tossed out entirely -- there's no telling whether some of those pass plays would have worked if the Titans hadn't had to worry about the snow.
The Patriots can run spreadsheet after spreadsheet with statistical compilations from specific situations, too, and see what they all yield. Maybe they're surrending 4.5 yards per play when they blitz but 5.3 yards per play when they don't blitz, for example. (Those numbers are completely imaginary.) But if a wide-open receiver drops a pass in the end zone, well, that doesn't mean the blitz was a good idea.
"It's looking at all the plays," Belichick said, "looking at all the third-and-3-to-5s, the third-and-6-to-10s, the short yardages, all of the times we were in Cover 3, all the runs against Cover 3, all the passes against Cover 3, all the play-action against Cover 3, all the empty (backfield) plays. Actually seeing them is always a little more valuable than doing a statistical look -- although that's a good starting point and, a lot of times, it'll trigger something. ...
"You look it and say, 'We had a lot of production on these plays, but it's a little misleading -- they had some missed tackles, and, really, it wasn't that good.' There's other things that statistically don't look good, but you actually look them and say, 'We're on the right track here. If we'd just made this block or if we hadn't got that play called back with a penalty, if this guy hadn't slipped, we would have been productive there.' There's no substitute for actually seeing the play, seeing the film."