Sunday, September 20, 2009

Patriots' conservative 'D' a contrast to Jets

It's tough to put any blame on the Patriots' defense for the loss on Sunday. A depleted unit playing without its best player allowed just one touchdown and three field goals to the Jets, an impressive effort from a group widely considered to be the team's weak link coming into the season.

But it's still interesting to look at the contrast in the way Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick deployed their defenses -- and it starts with the "SK" and "QBH" columns on the defensive stat sheet.

Two Patriots had sacks: Ty Warren (a defensive lineman) and Mike Wright (a defensive lineman). Two Patriots had quarterback hurries: Warren and Tully Banta-Cain (a third-down pass-rushing specialist). That's it.

No Jets had sacks. Tom Brady did well to throw the ball away. But five different Jets had quarterback hurries: Kris Jenkins (a defensive tackle) Kerry Rhodes (a safety), Bart Scott (a linebacker) and Eric Smith (a safety) each had one, and David Harris (a linebacker) had three.

The Patriots sent four pass-rushers after Mark Sanchez, a rookie quarterback who one would think would have trouble with a variety of defensive schemes. Sanchez completed 14 of his 22 passes and threw the game's only touchdown. The Jets sent blitzers from all over the place after Brady, and the two-time Super Bowl MVP completed fewer than half of his passes and threw the game's only interception.

The contrast was stark.

How stark? Just for fun, let's look back at the first quarter and at the way the two defenses chose to attack the opposing quarterback (*denotes offensive half of the field):

The Jets against Brady
1-10-21. All three linebackers showed blitz on the game's first play, but only Harris came across the line of scrimmage and was driven back by run-blocking tight end Chris Baker.

1-10-33. Rhodes (S) sprinted to the line of scrimmage but pulled up when Brady cut off his snap count to point him out. Both Harris (LB) and Scott (LB) came flying up the middle when the ball was snapped, but both were picked up -- Harris by Logan Mankins, who let Jenkins (DT) drop back away from him, and Scott by Stephen Neal, who had been double-teaming Marques Douglas (DE) with Dan Koppen before he saw the linebacker coming at him. Scott actually ran right over Neal but tripped in the process and never got to Brady.

2-6-37. The Patriots caught the Jets off-guard a little bit with the no-huddle. Four defensive players were clustered together about six yards down the field, and that's not how Ryan would have drawn it up. By the time Brady handed the ball to Laurence Maroney, all the Jets could do was pursue.

(The play was nullified by a penalty on the Jets.)

1-10-42. Scott (LB) actually put his hand down and lined up as a defensive end. Harris (LB) blitzed up the middle. After Dwight Lowery (CB) crept up to the line of scrimmage well before the snap, he came on a delayed blitz, too. But the Patriots again picked up all three -- Baker blocked Scott, right tackle Nick Kaczur blocked Lowery and Maroney jumped in front of Brady to block Harris. Rhodes came charging on an even more delayed blitz, but Brady unloaded in plenty of time to hit Joey Galloway in one-on-one coverage.

1-10-39*. The next play out of the no-huddle came so quickly CBS still was showing an instant replay when the ball is snapped. Suffice to say that when Maroney was brought down in the backfield for a one-yard loss, it was Scott (LB) and Jim Leonhard (S) who did the honors. Scott tore through a gap between Matt Light and center Dan Koppen, both otherwise occupied, and Leonhard did the same between Kaczur and Baker, both of whom likewise have white jerseys to block.

That's what the overload blitz does: It appears that everyone one of the Patriots' offensive linemen -- with the possible exception of Koppen, who was trying to get a hand on Jenkins (DT) -- was actively blocking someone, but the play still goes nowhere.

2-11-40*. Lowery (CB) timed his blitz perfectly from one side of the field, but Maroney ran the ball to the other side. Waiting there was Scott (LB), who didn't start moving toward the line of scrimmage until he saw Brady hand the ball off, but Kaczur got out in front and got in front of him perfectly. Defensive tackle Bryan Thomas, however, shed a block by Baker and pulled down Maroney just four yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

3-7-36*. The Patriots lined up three wide receivers to the left of Brady and Joey Galloway alone to the right. Only two Jets lined up with their hands on the ground, but it was clear a blitz was coming. Rhodes (S) didn't even disguise his intentions, living up alongside Scott(LB) at the line of scrimmage. Lowery (CB), too, set up along the line of scrimmage, but he ended up following Baker in coverage. Harris (LB) stayed back and put a hit on Baker as he came over the middle.

It wasn't any kind of all-out blitz. Only five Jets -- Rhodes, Scott, Bryan Thomas and two defensive linemen -- came across the line of scrimmage. But because both of the blitzers came from one side of the line, the Patriots couldn't pick them up. Matt Light and Logan Mankins double-teamed Sione Pouha (DE) on the left side, and Koppen and Neal doubled-teamed Thomas (LB) in the middle. Kaczur picked up Shaun Ellis (DE), and Laurence Maroney got himself in front of Rhodes.

But that left Scott free and clear, and with Baker's route disrupted by Harris, Brady had no chance to complete his intended pass to his tight end.

The Patriots then punted.

Sound complicated? It should. It was.

The Patriots against Sanchez
(We'll skip ahead to the middle of the second quarter. The Jets saw a pair of fumbles derail their first couple of possessions, and they didn't put move the chains for the first time until this possession -- one that's sustained long enough for us to get a good look at how the Patriots defended it.)

1.10.33. The Patriots lined up in much the same formation they'd used during the Jets' first four possessoins. Four defensive linemen put their hands down -- Ty Warren, Mike Wright, Ron Brace (in for Vince Wilfork) and Jarvis Green. Gary Guyton and Adalius Thomas stood in two-point stances behind those four, and three cornerbacks lined up across from the Jets' three wide receivers.

When Sanchez handed the ball to Thomas Jones, safety James Sanders came up to make the stop.

2.1.42. Same formation. (The two linebackers did switch sides, with Thomas moving to the weak side and Guyton to the strong.) No movement before the snap. Jones ran into the right side of the line for a first down.

1.10.50. Wilfork returned to the game. Brace went out. Sanchez handed the ball to Jones, who broke through the line and dragged Guyton for a gain of 10 yards.

1.10.40*. Same formation. Still no movement before the snap. Sanders (S) came up to the line of scrimmage to double-team Jerricho Cotchery with Jonathan Wilhite (CB).

The throw, however, went to the other side, a screen pass for Chansi Stuckey with wide receiver Brad Smith blocking out in front. It was Thomas (LB) who eventually got over to force Stuckey out of bounds.

1.10.25*. Same formation. Same personnel. Leon Washington lined up off to the right side but came back to the middle to take the handoff.

2.7.22*. Cornerback Shawn Springs crept up to the line, even going so far as to tap Warren on the hip to get him to move to his right. But with Stuckey and tight end Dustin Keller lined up close to the rest of the formation, he might just have been in pass coverage on Stuckey.

Springs eventually chased down wide receiver Brad Smith, running a reverse along the left sideline.

1.10.15*. Thomas, for the first time on this drive, lined up along the line of scrimmage in his traditional outside linebacker spot. He didn't explode out of his stance, though -- perhaps sensing that the Jets would run the ball. Jones carried it straight up the middle.

2-9-14*. Here's the interesting one. The Jets on this play tried to set up a little bit of a play-action screen pass: Washington came in motion and acted as if he was taking a handoff, but Sanchez pulled the ball pack and instead swung a pass to Stuckey. Patriots cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, not fooled, dropped Stuckey for a four-yard loss.

The success of the play, though, had everything to do with the way Wilhite reacted and not much to do with the scheme. Pass-rushers Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess had replaced Green and Warren at the end of the Patriots' line, but the scheme was the same: Four defenders along the line of scrimmage with defensive backs in man-to-man coverage.

Wilhite, though, made a terrific play to push the Jets back.

3-13.18*. For a moment, just before the ball was snapped, it looked as though the defensive front would show some variety -- but then Banta-Cain got down into a three-point stance the same way he had on the previous play. Sanchez handed the ball to Jones, and only then did Guyton attack the middle of the line, getting a piece of Jones just as Banta-Cain wrapped up his ankles.

The Jets then kicked a field goal.


constant gina said...

This is definitely a confidence boost for the rookie Mark Sanchez, if the Jets keep up like this; they might be in the playoffs...I dont know who is capable of stopping them hands down.

floydiansea said...

I agree ... the Jets looked great. I was pretty impressed. I had a dummy hed sketched in for a Patriots win. Patriots lost to a worthy team, didn't seem flukey.